Dry Skin Drama–Restored Body Butter to the Rescue!

Hi everyone! Ok, I know it’s been a hot minute since I’ve blogged. What can I say, fall, a new school schedule, the holiday season, and a few other changes in our routine totally got to me and I was swamped. But I’m back, and hoping I will get back in the blogging swing of things starting today 🙂

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So it’s November, which is one of my favorite months. Like everyone else, according to my Instagram feed, I love fall and all of the holidays, beautiful foliage, and fun activities that come with it. BUT, we live in Utah. Utah is basically the driest place on the planet (ok, maybe not but I did verify that it’s the second-driest state after Nevada) and so when cold weather starts to hit, our skin suffers. Not just mine, but Ella’s and Dave’s as well. Growing up in Alaska, the long, cold winters were pretty hard on my skin. I think I permanently damaged my hands from blasting the heater in my little Honda on the way to school in the morning, and sticking my frozen little mitts right up on the heat. I would have chapped, cracked hands for months (super attractive when you’re an already-self-conscious teenager), but life in the dessert is its own beast, as I’ve learned, and if I’m not careful I’m an itchy mess by April. When it comes to winter, I NEED something that works and doesn’t have to be reapplied 50 times a day, because who has the patience for that?

Therefore, when Tiffany at Restored Natural Body Care offered to send me some of her body butter, I jumped at the chance to try it out! I’ve tried plenty of body butters before, but this one immediately stood out because of how natural it smelled and felt. Restored products are free of the 3P’s: preservatives, parabens, or phthalates. The majority of the products are organic and there isn’t a huge long laundry list of ingredients. The philosophy is that you don’t need a huge list of ingredients and preservatives for something to be effective! Just choose simple, natural ingredients that work, like shea butter and coconut oil.

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I tried the Lemon Fresca Body Butter which smells amazing! I love that this product is scented with essential oils. It smells fresh and invigorating. The butter is whipped, so it’s nice and light, but a little goes a long way! The texture is a little greasy, just because the product is oil-based to avoid the need for preservatives, but it soaks into skin very quickly. In fact, that is wayyyyyy less greasy than more mainstream brands that I’ve used for years, like Aquaphor.

Another aspect of this company is the fact that Tiffany owns and operates it on her own! Everything is mixed, packaged, and shipped by her and her alone. Her story about how she gained interest in skin care is really cool, too. And she donates 5% of all sales to local nonprofits. Pretty cool.

If you are interested in checking out any of Restored Natural Body Care’s products, you can use the code SLAPTHANKS for 20% off all orders until December 2nd. So if you’re in the market for some new winter skincare (she’s got a line of lip balms and scrubs as well), or you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift, consider supporting a small business!

*I was compensated with product to review for this post. All opinions and thoughts are mine. Thanks!

Twice a Month Grocery Shopping: First Month’s Results

Last month I wrote a post about my new aspirations for grocery shopping less, utilizing more of what was already in our house, and hopefully saving time and money in the process. Here‘s the original post if you missed it!

So, a month in, I’m really pleasantly surprised with how not-overwhelming and cost-efficient it is to only grocery shop twice a month! As I mentioned before, I was previously spending about $70-80 on my “main” shopping trip each week, and then usually around $10-20 on little side trips throughout the week to get something we were out of, or something we were craving. In the three times I’ve shopped for two weeks at a time, I’ve spent between $100-$120 and so I’m really happy with that! I feel like meal planning for two weeks at a time has helped me notice bad patterns in our eating that might not be as noticeable if I were to just kind of fly by the seat of my pants. We also just naturally buy less junk food, because, let’s be honest, you’re probably going to buy one or two not-so-great things each time you do a bigger shopping trip, but if I’m only doing a larger haul twice a month that’s not soooooo bad, right? Girl’s gotta have her candy.

Full disclosure though, I haven’t been perfect at not running to the store for other things. For example, we got together with some friends for dinner spur-of-the-moment once, and I definitely ran to buy the ingredients for that. And we ran out of eggs last week and I totally bought more because we use those constantly. So I’m figuring it out and it’s a work in progress! 🙂

I also just have a general sense of satisfaction over wasting less food. I just read that the average American family wastes $1365-$2275 annually on uneaten, spoiled food–and based on our family’s past habits, I’d believe it! Not to mention it puts a strain on environmental resources. I’ve definitely noticed that over the last month, I’ve become better at using what we already have in the fridge, even if it’s not what I necessarily want right then. So yeah, the last few days before I shop aren’t the biggest party (not that we are going hungry….I am reasonable…..but, like, if I want bagels I don’t go buy a dozen bagels right then. Even though I really want to).

Shopping also doesn’t take as long as I would have thought–even though I’m buying food for double the length of time, it doesn’t take twice as long to shop. Still, I’d recommend leaving small children at home if at all possible….this is what happened the last time I took Ella with me:

Car-cart abandoned promptly when we discovered it contained no restraining device.

So it goes without saying that I LOVE not having to drag her to the store as often! Saturday is usually my shopping day, and it’s great to wake up every other Saturday and not dread dragging her through the busy aisles (as I’m typing this I’m wondering why I don’t switch to another day?….).

The very hardest part of this system is the meal planning! It just seems like such a daunting task and figuring out what’s for dinner is always such a chore–I love cooking, and I don’t really mind shopping, but planning is a pain. It’s just that nothing sounds good, and I get bored of the same meals over and over, so I definitely take a while figuring out what we are going to be eating for the next two weeks. I set aside time after Ella has gone to bed, get the laptop (for Pinterest, duh) and my cookbooks, and just go to town browsing. I try to avoid too many of the same kind of meat for dinner (like, not all beef dishes, or chicken, etc.) as well as a few meatless things. My all-time favorite recipe site is Mel’s Kitchen Cafe–seriously I don’t think I’ve ever tried a dish I haven’t liked! And, the Paprika app is the best for saving recipes that I love and will make again.

For lunches we usually just do sandwiches, leftovers, or pasta, and breakfast is usually cereal, toast, or scrambled eggs unless I’m feeling fancy, so that part is pretty easy to plan for. We usually do Costco once a month and I get the requisite Cheez-its, dried fruit, and fruit snacks for her royal tiny highness.

So, I hope this little report has been helpful! To sum it up, yes, shopping less frequently definitely takes some more effort and discipline but it’s awesome to not have to deal with it as often, and it’s saving us money and sanity!

Making the Sabbath a Delight….with a Toddler

 
Most of you who read this blog probably know that I am a member of the LDS church. We believe in the commandment that the Lord gave in the Old Testament to keep the Sabbath day holy (as many religions do), and set Sunday aside as a day of worship and rest, and a day dedicated to doing activities that will bring us closer to God. In return, we are promised that we will be blessed:
 
I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal. God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty, with physical and spiritual relief.–Elder Russel M. Nelson
 
But to be totally honest, in spite of how they should be, Sundays have not exactly been my favorite day of the week since I had Ella. It just didn’t really fully sink until she was born that, when you’re a parent, there aren’t any days off! While the Sabbath used to truly be a break–from school, work, and other activities that I was participating in–with time for learning at church, personal study, contemplation, spending time with loved ones, resting, etc., now it’s a little nuts.
 
What I wish was a reflective, peaceful day is usually comprised of: trying to get to church on time (when Dave and I both sometimes have assignments for our callings that take us away from home before our meetings), wrangling Ella and trying to get her to be somewhat reverent at church (aka shoving fruit snacks at her and hissing empty threats),  missing naptime (we have church from 1-4 this year–LDS congregations rotate meeting at different times annually), and trying to keep Ella happy and entertained all morning when we aren’t really doing our normal routine. Needless to say, we are all a little frazzled and out of sorts by the time the day is over. If you have young kids, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, because I’m sure it’s similar for you too (if not way harder depending on your circumstances–I mean, we only have one kid!)!
 
If I sound like a big fat whiner, it’s because I have been. I’ve truly had a terrible attitude toward Sunday for the past little while, and sadly, I’ve sort of just accepted that it would be a stressful, frustrating, chaotic day while I have young kids, and I’ve been going through the motions rather than really consciously dedicating my day to the Lord.  In the talk that I quoted above (read the whole thing, it’s really good!), Elder Nelson quoted this scripture:
 
“And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, … the fulness of the earth is yours.”–D&C 59:9-16
 
What an amazing blessing we are promised if we use our Sunday to rededicate ourselves to our Father in Heaven–and view it with gratitude instead of as just a day where our baby’s routines get thrown off. 🙂 So, like President Hinckley once said, I’m going to try a little harder to be a little better.
 
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
 
1. Prepare
 
What’s the old saying? If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail? While that’s usually reserved for those pseudo-inspiring posters in school hallways I think it has some application here. If I really want Sunday to go smoothly and be a day of rest and renewal, I need to work harder to get ready for it. Things like planning dinner, making sure church assignments like lessons and talks are taken care of before Sunday morning, and even getting the diaper bag packed so Dave doesn’t have to get it pulled together if I’m gone in the morning. Plus, then we will have more time in the morning for constructive family activities, rather than scrambling to get out the door in one piece. Getting enough sleep is a huge one too! Since we started having church at one, I am totally guilty of thinking, “Oh, we can stay up late tonight because we can sleep in tomorrow.” Well, with alarm-clock Ella that doesn’t really happen, so then I’m tried and grumpy, and not really in a good frame of mind to get a lot out of church!
 
2. Communicate
 
This kind of goes along with preparing. If Dave and I both have responsibilities for our calling, home or visiting teaching appointments, and family plans (his parents Facetime from their mission and my sisters come over for dinner quite often) we need to talk that through and make sure we know who needs the car at what time and where Ella is going to be. Just talking through our plans and responsibilities for the day goes a long way.
 
3. Learn to say no
 
Reading through this, I’m realizing that I sometimes overextend ourselves on Sunday. Therefore, I don’t really make it a day for strengthening my relationship with Heavenly Father, as much as a day to get any church-related responsibility accomplished, or making plans with loved ones.  While there definitely is room for those things on Sundays, I think I could be better at saying no sometimes. Often home and visiting teachers want to come by, or people want to schedule presidency meetings, and I always feel bad saying that another day would work better for us because I want to be accommodating. But I am realizing that crowding Sunday with too much is the fastest way for me to resent it instead of it being a day I look forward to, and pretty soon there is no time for the quiet time that I think should take place.
 
4. Embrace reality
 
Like I said above, before we had Ella, there used to be a lot more time on the Sabbath for relaxing, reading General Conference talks, writing in our journals, etc. As nice as those things are, and while I think we can still find time for them, the reality of our lives right now is that we have a toddler and she doesn’t really care what day of the week it is, and she needs to be fed, entertained, and cleaned up after–that’s just life 🙂 And, we need to think about how we can use this day off from school and work to teach her about the gospel too. So, here are a few things we are going to try, to make Sunday a special day for everyone in our family:
 
-Family drives
-Walk around the temple grounds (we are lucky that we live close to two!)
-Have special toys/books/movies that are Sunday only (my mom gave us some of her Living Scriptures videos because….let’s be honest Ella would freak if she couldn’t watch a show after waking up in the morning. It’s just the truth of the matter).
-Family home evening (Dave usually works Monday nights so Sunday works better)
-Just having pretty hymns on in the background as we get ready
-Visit extended family/members of the ward who might like company
-Trade off Ella duty with Dave so we can each have some personal time (that should probably be communicated early in the day, though, if it’s going to happen).
 
5. Change your attitude
 
Admittedly, there have been a few Sundays where I’ve wondered what the point was of even bringing Ella to church.  But when I started to think about what I was teaching Ella by showing her that we attend church even when its inconvenient, things got a lot better. And when we were at our peak of hall–pacing (probably from months 10-18), I would just try to think of ONE thing I had learned or felt at church that week. Dave and I would usually trade off having Ella so there was at least a little time that I could sit quietly and listen or learn (I know that’s not possible in some people’s situations and I commend you!). And there’s always light at the end of the tunnel….she’s in nursery now and it’s awesome!!!
 
Elder Nelson also said that we should think about what sign we want to give God, in relation to our activities on the Sabbath. I think just carrying that thought in our hearts as we go about our day makes our priorities and what we are doing fall into place naturally.
 
So there you have it. These are a few things we are going to try to do better at in our family. I really hope that in a few months I can honestly say that Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I’d love to hear any ideas for Sunday activities with little kids or how you keep them happy at church!

My Fall 2015 Reading List

It’s that time of year….the weather is cooling down, the leaves are starting to change, and Pinterest is flooded with pumpkin recipes. It must be fall! Time for a new reading list, but first, a few updates on my summer list:

The Girl on the Train was over-rated and not nearly as suspenseful as I was expecting it to be. Mostly just depressing haha.

This is Where I Leave You was really funny and well-written but really raunchy and I wouldn’t recommend it or read any of his other books now, sadly.

-I ate Belong to Me right up (and I wrote about it here).

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen (and Listen so Kids Will Talk): This is really good so far. I’m still working on it, and I like how in the introduction the authors suggest reading it slowly and practicing different techniques in the book before moving onto a new section. That being said, I think it’s probably aimed at parents with kids that are a little older than Ella. Still helpful for the future, though!

And…the rest of my list I didn’t get to. Instead, I went through a phase where I read the memoirs of Ann Romney, Hoda Kotb, and Kathie Lee Gifford. What can I say, I am a middle-aged cat lady in 20-something’s clothing.

This fall, I’m not tackling anything too lofty, haha. These are all books that have been on my “to read” list on Goodreads for a while, and I was lucky enough to find Still Alice and A Walk in the Woods at The Dollar Bookstore today, so they made the fall reading list cut!

Small side-note: If you live around Utah Valley, you have to check this place out! There is a location in Orem and Spanish Fork. It’s a used bookstore and all books really are only $1! And they actually have a lot of good stuff. I looked around for about half and hour and easily came away with several books I was pumped about (I think Carl’s Christmas was actually the one I was most thrilled by. I really want to build up our Christmas book collection!).

Without further ado…here’s what I’m excited to read this fall!

1. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: Ok, ok, I recognize that any girl under the age of 40 has already written about her excitement for this book to come out so I’ll just add my name to the list. I really do believe that Mindy and I would be best friends if she got to know me, though. I just know it!

2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: This book has been around for a while and I’ve heard how funny it is about a million times so I figured it was time to give it a try!

3. The Royal We by Heather Cocks: This seems a little more “chick-lit-y” than I’m usually into, but I’ve heard it’s such a fun, cute story I am intrigued. And, isn’t it a little bit based on Kate Middleton? So sign me up.

4. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande: I found a recommendation for this book on Everyday Reading, and her review was so glowing, I was really interested. Admittedly this topic (the science of dying) isn’t really normally my cup of tea, but I’ve been known to embrace some less-than-warm-and-fuzzy subject matter if it’s written about in a captivating way (Nothing to Envy, anyone?).

5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: This book had its heyday this summer and I want to see if it lives up to the hype! I mean, Pulitzer Prize? Seems pretty promising.

6. Still Alice by Lisa Genova: (I know, I’m late to the party on this one too haha. I have to hear a lot of good reviews before I take a chance!) The idea of a book about early-onset Alzheimer’s seems almost too sad for me but….it’s supposed to be extremely moving and triumphant. Plus it’s got a crazy high Goodreads average so that’s a good sign, right? Also, I found it for $1. Sometimes that’s enough to convince me to read something.

Let me know what you think! What’s on your reading list this season?

Quick and Easy Homemade Cornbread!

I am the type of person that has to weigh the costs with the benefits when it comes to making something from scratch. Sure, I love to cook, but if it’s going to take five times the effort and time, and create basically the same end result as a pre-packaged item….I’m afraid the frontier woman in me caves to convenience. Such is my train of thought when it comes to Pinterest-inspired endeavors like homemade cheez-its or fruit snacks. I’ll pay the $3.50 and take the yellow dye 5, thanks! If I’m going to make it myself, it has to be significantly cheaper, healthier, or yummier than what I could grab at the store.

This *ahem* efficient attitude led me to believe that cornbread from a Jiffy mix was pretty much as good as it gets! What does it cost, like $.79? Just add milk and eggs and there you have it. Well, thankfully I have a best friend named Lizzie who introduced me to the wonders of homemade cornbread. When I first tried hers, I was like, “wait, why is this better than any other cornbread I’ve ever had in my life?” Come to find out….it was made from scratch. Who’d of thought! No offense to the good people at Jiffy, but I was never going back after that.

This particular recipe is one that my sister-in-law Jenny Rebecca submitted to our family cookbook. We make is super frequently and it’s SO easy and foolproof. Honestly, it takes like 2 minutes longer than using a mix would, and the result is exponentially better. Now that it’s getting to be fall and I’m making soups and chili more often, I’m sure we’ll be seeing it even more! And as Lizzie said, “It’s basically just an excuse to eat cake with dinner.” Hey, you won’t hear me complaining.

cornbread-recipe

 

August 2015 Monthly Snapshot

This month started off with a bang for me with NYC (if you haven’t seen my painfully drawn out recaps….here) and then the day after I got home, Ella and I hopped on a plane for a quick weekend in Wyoming for my grandpa’s 90th birthday party! We wish Dave could have come, but he had a test the day after the festivities, so if we had driven we would have made such a long trip to stay such a short time. So Ella and I decided to just make it a quick girl’s trip and fly one last time before we have to pay for her 🙂
                 
Ella got to see Grandma and Grandpa which she (and I) loved. My mom let her have any and all junk food and TV that she wanted. She’s not above buying Ella’s love.
This was the only group pic Ella was in, as she promptly melted down beyond consoling after this wonderful shot. But here are my grandma and grandpa with all of their great grandkids! I told Ella she was crazy to cry because she got the coveted spot on the birthday boy’s lap!

 

Ella got to hang out with her second cousins Kinley and Truman who are her exact same age! PS–I’m realizing that in every picture she has the same stone-faced, non-expression. I promise she is a happy girl! She just doesn’t emote for the camera.
I loved comparing these pics that are pretty much exactly a year apart. I think that high chair was my aunt’s as a baby! Gotta love the treasures you find at Grandma’s house!
I love my Grandma and Grandpa Hopkin. They seriously have so much energy for people of their generation! My grandpa still has a huge beautiful garden and sent me home with some fresh corn. We had a conversation about family history and he had all kinds of names and dates he was throwing out off the top of his head. And my grandma couldn’t be busier. She volunteers to do hair for the ladies at the nursing home, and many of them are younger than her! I hope I can be as spry as they are when I’m their age! It was a really fun weekend, seeing my parents and all of my cousins, some of whom I hadn’t seen in probably like eight or ten years. I’m so glad we could make the quick trip and celebrate my grandpa.
We got together with some friends who just had babies! These guys were all roommates before we all got married and it’s so fun to see everyone’s families growing. I think they were laughing because Evan asked if I have an iPhone 4 (I do) with the most incredulous voice.
Dave had some time off of school between summer term and fall semester so we tried to squeeze in some fun family outings during the day before he went to work in the afternoon. My sister in law Marcy mentioned that she had taken her nephews and little girl to Chuck-e-Cheese and they had all loved the little rides (“rides” is used loosely…like the little cars you put a quarter into….but they are the perfect size for Ella and Marcy’s little girl) so we thought that would be something fun and indoors since it’s so hot right now. Well….Ella freaked out on this one truck that rumbled and it was kind of a lost cause, until the very end when she decided she loved this trolley. I felt pretty classy hitting up Chuck-e-Cheese on a Monday afternoon but man was it a trip down memory lane. I used to LOVE that place.


I already posted this on insta, but we picked raspberries and I tried my hand at freezer jam! I was intimidated by the whole canning process but freezer jam was quick and easy so I’ll totally be making more. And Ella went nuts in the berry patch. We will most definitely be going back! She was literally running from bush to bush, frantically shoving berries in her mouth. Thankfully she didn’t make herself sick, and I thought it was a cool opportunity for her to learn that food grows from the earth (here I’m having this hippy dippy nature moment in my head and I can pretty much guarantee that Ella learned nothing of the sort). And don’t worry, we paid extra at the end since she ate so many berries before we weighed them.

Another day was spent up north, visiting our dear friend Christine and her new baby and then eating our way through Salt Lake. If you live in the area and haven’t already, PLEASE try Oh Mai. Seriously, the best sandwich of my life. And super cheap, too, for the quality. I’m salivating thinking of it right now!

 

We also grabbed donuts, hit up Trader Joes (it was a food-themed day, ok?) and took Ella to Liberty Park. I remember going there as a small child but had heard it was a great place for summer fun and I wish we lived closer because it was awesome! Splash pad, creek, aviary, huge playground, little rides, etc. Ella heartily approved.
And we finished things off with a morning at Bartholomew Park. I’m almost reluctant to mention this place because I am so in love with it and don’t want it to become over run and gross, but who am I kidding, I’m not exactly the informant of the masses on this blog, so what the heck. It’s this awesome man-made lake/pond that a benefactor built and donated to the city and it’s awesome!!! Nice shallow water, groomed sand, nice walkways, bathrooms, parking lot, etc. Ella can just putter around in the sand forever. I think it just opened this summer and I am already excited to go back next year.

And it wouldn’t be a true recap of our month if I didn’t mention that August 2015=naps from h***. Seriously, Ella probably napped like four times this month. Instead of falling asleep, she entertains herself in her crib with such tricks as taking off her diaper, climbing out of her crib (thankfully she hasn’t hurt herself and I think mostly scared herself from doing it again), chucking board books and her water cup, tearing her quilt off the wall, and prying her dresser drawers open from between the slats and putting on all varieties of clothes. It’s impressive, really. Good thing her mom thinks she’s got the face of an angel, or I’d be mad 🙂 I don’t think she’s old enough to give up naps, and she definitely falls asleep in the car/is crabby, etc. which leads me to believe she needs the sleep, so I’m not giving up yet.

#boardbooks #parenting #kids #babies #childrensliterature #readtothem

9 Board Books That Won’t Drive Parents Nuts!

#boardbooks #parenting #kids #babies #childrensliterature #readtothem
 

Before I had Ella, I don’t think I realized how many weird children’s books there are out there. I had images of us happily reading for hours, tickled pink by the wide array of stimulating prose and lovely illustrations we would encounter (ok, that’s a little much). I was mostly thinking about the classics, like “Goodnight Moon,” or “The Runaway Bunny.” While we have had a lot of fun reading together, I’ve realized that a lot of kid’s books are just plain boring or annoying! And of course, those are often the ones they decide to become obsessed with, right? Ella had this book about cupcakes (my fault….I bought it for $.50 at a library sale) which was her favorite for months, and I’m pretty sure it was just because there was glitter on the cover. If I never read the words “You Are My Cupcake” again, I’d be happy.

So….how do you sort through the mindless puppies behind flaps and TV show adaptations and find the stories for your little one that are truly witty, educational, and sweet–books that you, as a parent, can happily stomach night after night and aren’t tempted to hide or “accidentally” drop into the trash? Well, this is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are a few board books that we really love (as you can tell by the wear and tear on the spines in the pic above!) and I feel like have really helped her learn a thing or two. I’ve just stuck to board books, as currently, if you try to read a normal picture book to Ella she will very calmly take it from you and toss it across the room. So board books it is.


1. My Big Animal Book
: So, think isn’t so much a story (though it does have little questions on the bottom of each page which are a little over Ella’s head) but Ella LOVES seeing the huge pages of animal pictures, and I fully attribute the fact that she knows “owl” and “guinea pig” to this book. Because I certainly didn’t think to teach them to her. Cat and Dog is about as complicated as I get.

2. Olivia: This one is a bit of a cheat because the original isn’t in board book form (though the story is simple enough thar it works well), and chances are you’ve already read it because these books are adorable and have won all kinds of awards, but it deserves a mention because Ella and I both love it. Who isn’t charmed by a spunky little pig who loves ballet? And Ella is always very interested in the part where Olivia gets time out. Probably because she can relate.

3. Pride & Prejudice: If you haven’t seen these BabyLit books already, you need to! They are the cutest little “babyfied” versions of classic literature. This one is a counting book (5 sisters, 2 handsome gentleman, 3 country estates, etc.) but as a parent who loves the original story I find it witty and the brightly colored illustrations are perfect for toddlers. I kind of thought this one would be more for me but Ella really loves it!

4. Barnyard Dance! : Sandra Boynton is no newbie on the board book scene but this one is our favorite! The rhyme and the rhythm are really pleasant and the image of barnyard animals having a hootenanny is cute. I probably read this to Ella like 400 times between July and December of last year. Hence, my ability to impress everyone at Christmas with my recitation by memory, complete with actions (they were…not actually that impressed).

5. First 100 Words: I love this book because long before Ella was really into characters and storylines (ok….at 22 months I don’t think she’s really there yet, even now) she really loved books that had actual photos instead of illustrations. While this book might not seem that exciting, I actually think it did great things for her language and recognition skills. It’s still one of her favorites and we go through it and point out things or ask her to point to the ball, the airplane, the boots, etc. Maybe not the most creative book ever, but really worthwhile.

6.Good Dog, Carl: I remember reading this as a kid, and I’m so glad Ella loves it too. It’s mostly word-free, which makes it fun because we can kind of just talk about what’s happening on each page, or now, we’ve started having Ella tell us what’s happening (because she basically knows it by heart). It has pretty illustrations and the idea of a baby and dog getting into mischief while mommy is away is charming (though, one has to wonder what kind of mother thought leaving a black lab in charge was a good idea).

7. Mommy Loves: I think I found this on a book list somewhere (I can’t remember where!) and ordered it on a whim. It’s a really sweet little book about how all mommies love their babies, with a counting element thrown in. And it highlights the names for different kinds of baby animals (mice are “pinkies,” etc.) which is always kind of fun.

8. Baby Faces: Again, like First 100 Words, this isn’t going to win any awards for innovation, but Ella loves books with photos (especially other babies), and this one shows babies feeling different emotions: nervous, happy, scared, etc. You know, I thought talking about feelings might be a good thing. Empathy is nice. Although at this stage, every baby is just “sad”–even the laughing one. We’re working on it.

9. The Mitten:  I thought the story might be a little complicated for a not-quite-two-year-old, but Ella loves it–and the idea of these different woodland creatures squeezing into a mitten is sweet. Plus, the illustrations are killer, as they are in all of Jan Brett’s books, so I can be entertained by the gorgeous Scandanvian vignettes as we read 🙂

 

So there you have some of our current favorite board books! I’d love to hear some of your family’s favorites in the comments! I’m particularly looking for ones that teach letters and colors, as I’m realizing we don’t really have many of those. So suggest away!



I’ve linked to the books I mention on Amazon. These are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase through them I make a  small commission, so feel free to shop around for the best price!

NYC Days 3-4: The Met and 1D!

Before I start this final (I promise!) post about this trip, I feel compelled to mention that, lest anyone worry that Ella was forgotten and lonely at home (unlikely), she was having the time of her life with Dave and the friends she got to play with while Dave was in class. I was so thankful for my great friends that watched her and for Dave for working his schedule so that I could go on this trip! I owe you guys big time. It was really amazing what a few days away did for my psyche. I felt like mostly human again (I kid).
Dave made it through church solo and even did Ella’s hair on his own (his biggest worry before I left, haha). Round of applause emoji! Notice he traded the diaper bag for a manlier backpack. Smart thinking.
I had never Face-timed Ella before–seeing as I’ve never spent a night away from her–and it was so funny! If I pretended to kiss the screen, she would go in for a kiss as well. And literally kiss the screen.
Dave even hiked the Y with her in the backpack, and if you’ve ever done that hike you know it’s not a piece of cake so….I was suitably impressed!
So our last full day in the city started off with a minor tragedy, as we missed our bus in the morning. I got cocky and suggested we try to catch it at a stop closer to our hotel, but since Nyack didn’t have any clearly marked bus stops (is it just a word-of-mouth system there, or what?) and we watched in silent horror as our bus passed us right on by and cruised down the hill and around a corner. So, we got into the city an hour later than planned. We did, however, have a little time to kill at the hotel until the next bus, so we were able to catch the end of One Direction on GMA. It got us nice and pumped for the concert the next day!
The second, larger, tragedy was that our first stop, the Neue Gallery, was closed on Tuesdays–and seeing as it was Tuesday, and our last day in the city, we were out of luck! Super sad because we wanted to see the painting from The Woman in Gold in real life (have you seen the movie? SO good!). So we headed right over to Dean & Deluca to abate our sorrows in upscale groceries.

Another way that we saved money was buying food at grocery stores instead of restaurants (not that we invented this tactic–lots of seasoned travelers do this!). Anyone who’s ever been inside of a Dean & Deluca knows that it’s a food lover’s dream, so you’re not missing out on the New York foodie experience by getting something to go from a grocery store rather than a formal eatery. We probably spent like 40 minutes looking around and trying samples before deciding what to get for our picnic outside of the Met.

Since we were going to be getting burgers later, I went with something a bit healthy–this kale, shrimp, and noodle salad with some kind of delicious sesame dressing. It was SO good, and at like $6, much cheaper than getting a salad in a restaurant would have been. As you can see, we had to try the sea salt and dark chocolate cookie too. We HAD TO.
Grace took to phrasing her texts as lines from Gossip Girl throughout the trip, so chilling outside of the Met was fitting.
If I had to pick my favorite thing that we did in New York, it was probably the Met. It’s mind-blowingly huge and overwhelming, but awesome. Like, you find yourself passing by works of art and just being like, “oh, that’s a Monet? Well, it’s not one of the more famous Monets, so I’ll keep going.” There’s just SO much famous, cool stuff to see. I spent wayyyyy too long in the first gallery we went through and found myself trying to make up time later on, so I’m positive I missed things I would have wanted to see, but oh well.
For the first little bit my sisters and I decided to pick a gallery to see, but go through things at our own pace and meet up at the end and then pick another one to start on. Well, I decided to stick with Tess, since she’s the art expert in our family, so she could tell me what was famous?But I was taking my own sweet time, and got separated from her, and so I found myself just wandering doing and seeing who knows what by myself. I ended up in the Egyptian section and a kindly tourist noticed me taking pics and offered to take one of me. By myself. In front of some kind of Egyptian sentinel. Why not?
I was so charmed by this elementary school group just sitting around sketching a Klimt. What a field trip! I’m pretty sure my second grade class went to the post office.
And I’ll ignore the hoards of people crowding around, feverishly taking pictures of a Van Gogh behind glass because we know it just makes me ragey.
I think we spent four hours there and barely scratched the surface. So many iconic paintings and not enough time! I really wonder how long it would take you to visit every gallery and every room in this museum.
After the Met we headed over to Shake Shack and I have to say, it really lived up to the hype! I feel like any time I read a blog or instagram post or whatever about anyone visiting New York there’s a nod to Shake Shack, so I wanted to try it but I was skeptical. These things are rarely as good as expected. But it was! I mean, if you like burgers, fries, and shakes, which I do. I knew that Utah has truly sunk it’s claws into me, though, when I realized that I was having true stress over the fact that this place doesn’t have fry sauce.
We also checked out Bloomingdale’s and Magnolia Bakery after this but somehow I didn’t get any pictures. My thoughts on Magnolia Bakery–yummy cupcakes, but I don’t really think that they are any better than plenty of other ones I’ve had. I don’t know if I’d need to make a pilgrimage there the next time I’m in the city.
The next day was pretty much entirely consumed by getting to the One Direction concert–let me clarify, the concert started at 7pm. Well, the opening act was starting at 7pm. Since I have the compulsive need to self-sabotage and be late to everything in my life I was baffled that we needed to be there super early (I was thinking we could roll in around 7:30 or so…..I’ve never been on time to a concert before), but Anne was in charge that day, and visibly stressed, so I just let her lead the way. So after checking out of our hotel in Nyack, taking an Uber (or is it just “taking Uber?” I’m not cool.) to New Jersey, and getting something to eat, we got to the stadium at 4:30.
We had plenty of time to kill with selfies.
So I had never been to a concert with this crazy level of fandom before. I mean, so many shirts (plenty of “Mrs. Styles” or “Team Payne,” etc.) , homemade signs, crazed screaming–it was so nuts! I was handed both of these signs by little teeny boppers who had printed out thousands on their own dime and just wanted to spread their love to the boys, I guess. We were supposed to fill in the top one with the date that we started “loving the boys” and wave them at a certain time.
Icona Pop opened and they were actually pretty good! I only really knew their hits but they were entertaining and played for about 45 minutes. By that point I was like, “Ok, we’ve been here for four hours, they’ve got to be coming on soon.” No dice. That was my one complaint about this concert–wayyyyy too much time between the opening act and 1D actually coming on! But I guess you can see from this pic that they needed time to fill in the seats and for it to get dark.
When the guys came on, I have to say, it was totally worth it. They were awesome! I love 1D–they helped me realize that I am, in fact, beautiful–but I will admit I wasn’t expecting them to be great live. But they were! Harry, especially–what a rock star. He was running all over that stage like a crazy person. No wonder there are so many videos of him tripping and falling during concerts. I was sort of expecting him to be too cool for school, but he was super funny and worked the crowd like a pro. Can you tell I love Harry? No shame in my game. It really was a once in a lifetime experience to be in a crowd that was THAT crazy for a band. They sang “Drag Me Down,” which had dropped like 48 hours ago, and everyone in the stadium knew every lyric (granted, it’s not exactly complicated. They rhyme “me” with “me.”). And you know what? We didn’t even miss Zayn.
And with that, I hopped on a plane and went back to my little family the next day!

NYC Day 2: MoMA, Chelsea Market, and The Highline

Day two of our NYC trip was supposed to start off with the Museum of Modern Art first thing, but I begged to take a short detour to Rockefeller Plaza to see the NBC studios. This would be the first (well, not actually the first, I think the first day had several too) of many de-railings of our agreed-upon itinerary that I would impose upon our group and my sisters were agreeable, but warned me that this was all I could demand for the day (hey, I was child-free for a few days and ready to go wild! As in, not paying attention to our schedule at all).
I am a huge fan of basically any and all NBC comedies from the past several years, especially 30 Rock, so as cheesy as it was I was super excited to see the actual building! Unfortunately, Liz, Jack, Kenneth, and the rest of the gang were nowhere to be found.
We were there a little after The Today Show would be filming but I couldn’t help but sneak a peek into the studio. We thought about trying to get to the Plaza early in the morning and watch the broadcast but we decided for how early we would have to get up and how much time it would waste, it just wasn’t worth it. Still, a little part of me hoped to see my idols just chillin in there after the fourth hour. But I had to settle for the KLG and Hoda graphics instead.
Please also appreciate that I am wearing running shoes with shorts, thus completing the tourist ensemble.  stupidly only brought Saltwaters for walking and after the first day my shins were dying. Arch support is nothing to mess around with, peeps! Learned that lesson.
Yes, my shirt also came unbuttoned in the back. Killing it on the fashion scene that day!
After our little sidetrack we walked a few blocks to this food cart, King of Falafel and Shawarma. Just writing this reminds me that I need to go on Yelp and give them five stars immediately. SO GOOD! And cheap, too. I think my Falafel was $5 and had super fresh veggies. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing. Food in NYC is expensive but we found that eating at less touristy and formal places saved a ton of money.
Diet Coke was not included but a very necessary side purchase. We all agreed that we drink more pop when we are together because if any one of us gets one we all realized that we need one too.
Our next stop was the MoMA. I had been here the first time I came to New York but it had been over ten years and I’m really glad we went back. So much famous art (coupled with very odd things like a book covered in nails with a knife sticking out of it–which, I’m sure is some kind of brilliant commentary on society that is just over my head) and it’s way more accessible than the Met. We hit up the main galleries and a few of the newer exhibits in a few hours. Whereas in the Met you can spend like five hours there and feel like you’re still skipping a ton of important things (see next post!).
One thing that really drives me bonkers is the fact that, around the super famous pieces of art, you can’t even really just stand there and enjoy the painting because people are going nuts trying to snap pictures. I know that’s hypocritical because I just posted a collage of paintings that I took pictures of….but a quick snapshot is fine. It’s just people standing there forever trying to line up the perfect shot, or sticking their camera in the air and therefore blocking anyone around them from seeing it. I get that it’s fun to have a picture for the memory, but really…..are you going to lovingly study a poorly-lit cell phone picture of a painting after the fact? I’m pretty sure Van Gogh would cut off his other ear in rage over this. I wish galleries would just go back to no photography. You can look the paintings up online, people!
What is it about looking at art that just kills your back? Benches are a must.

After the MoMA we hit up Chelsea Market and that might have been the best surprise for me of this trip! When we were all coming up with ideas for what to do while in NYC, this wasn’t on my list (not that I didn’t want to go, I just hadn’t heard a lot about it beforehand) but I am so glad we checked it out. From what I understand–don’t quote me on this–this used to just be a complex of industrial food production sites that kind of fell into decay as the area became less industrial in the 1990s. It used to be the site of Nabisco, and the Oreo was invented here so….I was immediately impressed. A developer had the idea to connect all of the little brick buildings all with this cool corridor and create an indoor food vendor marketplace. Upstairs is the Food Network offices and I think a few other TV channels too.

We just strolled through and tried things that caught our fancy, and, let’s be honest, that we had googled beforehand. These donuts were amazing (in searching my brain for more creative synonyms for “amazing” all I came up with was “amaze-balls,” “the bomb.com,” and “out of this world,” so my modifiers need some help). Seriously, the food options were endless and everything we tried was super good, and everything we laid eyes on looked fantastic. I could have eaten until I was sick!
We took our sweet time at Chelsea Market and then checked out The High Line on our walk back to the metro station. Anyone who’s been to NYC recently already knows about this….I felt like this was the hot new thing on every list I read before this trip….but it’s an above-ground park built on an old raised train track. Very clean and well-kept, and it was fun to get some up-high views as you strolled along.
I will say that living out west, you just kind of get used to having access to wide-open spaces at your fingertips at all times. With this park, and Bryant Park, I was like “….oh, this park is very small (duh, Claire, it’s on an old railway track). Where do kids play?” I know that probably makes me sound really naive! It’s just so different there, but in an awesome way. And The High Line is a really creative use of space and included a ton of cool plants with little plaques about them too. If you’re in that part of the city I would for sure check it out! I read some reviews that said it was over-hyped but I didn’t think so.
Hopkin girls on the town!

The City So Nice, They Named It Twice: Day 1

I mentioned a few post ago  that I had the amazing opportunity (I feel like that phrase is soooo overused but I can’t think of a more original way to say it) to visit New York City with my sisters during the first week of August! The stars just sort of aligned and Dave was so great to let me leave he and Ella for a few days, and I most definitely owe him, but I had such a blast! I was going to compile all of this into one post and it was getting colossally long so….day-by-day recaps it is. Feel free to come back in a week or so if vacation synopses are not your thing. Totally understandable.
We stayed outside of the city in the little village of Nyack. We did this for a couple of reasons, but number one, it was significantly cheaper than staying in the city would have been. Like, a third of the price! We just took a bus into the city every morning which wasn’t a big deal at all. So if that’s something you were ever considering, I can say I would really recommend staying somewhere that has transportation into the city (basically everywhere around here) and just commuting in, if you’re pretty flexible on timing. Obviously, if it’s a once in a lifetime trip to NYC, though, you may just want the whole city experience including staying in the middle of it all.
                      
Another perk of staying at a good ol’ Best Western was we got free breakfast, which saved us some money too (being on a budget was the only way this trip was going to happen). We were sort of just expecting the typical cereal, bananas, toast, etc. thing that most motels offer but this place was like a full diner complete with surly waitresses and huge portions. Apparently the Nyack Best Western hotel restaurant is famous for their cheesecake….and the advertising was plastered on every corner of the place, including cocoa mugs. Sadly, we were so stuffed when we got home each night that we were never in the mood to try any, so I can’t vouch for Lisa’s Cheesecakes myself. But apparently she won the New Jersey State Fair so…..Lisa’s a pretty big deal in Nyack.

Sorry this is way grainy….stole it off my sister’s Insta

Once we got into the city our first stop was church, since it was Sunday (Anne was with her bf for most of Sunday so they attended church at his ward). We attended one of the wards that meets above the Manhattan temple, which was really cool! I know that every Mormon that visits New York writes about this but….I can’t help it! It was so different and yet the same as attending church in suburbia! And since it was testimony meeting we got to hear from really interesting people from all over the world.
                     
Our next stop was the Staten Island Ferry to get views of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline. All of us have visited New York before and had done the ferry and tour of Liberty Island as we decided we didn’t need to do that again, and we just wanted to try something new. But if I had never been before, I would have definitely done the whole shebang, and visited Ellis Island too, since I remember that being a great experience. For second-timers though, I LOVED riding the Staten Island Ferry! For one thing, it’s totally free! It’s actually set up to be a commuter shuttle but it happens to offer pretty good views of Lady Liberty, so we decided to give it a shot.
It was fun being out on the water and it felt less touristy than a lot of the big sights around Manhattan, even though I know plenty of tourists take the ferry too. Since it was a weekend it was pretty packed but the rush to get on and get a good seat was actually kind of fun. The first pic on this post was about the best shot I got of the Statue of Liberty, though, because right as we were actually passing it, a huge commercial cruise ship–complete with water slides on the roof–passed right in front of it! It was actually pretty funny! Since we were hitching a free ride, I guess we can’t complain. You get off on Staten Island and reboard through the terminal and just enjoy the views from the other side on the ride back. Totally recommended!
We then rode the subway (Train? Metro? What do real New Yorkers say?!) back to Grand Central Station and took a little audio tour that we had downloaded onto our phones beforehand. We didn’t stand out as tourists at all 🙂 Tons of cool history here and the sleekest Apple store I’d ever seen in my life.
Tess trying out the Whispering Gallery on the lower level. It works!
We then walked towards our bus terminal by way of Bryant Park (I must confess we also stopped for Chipotle on the way…..I know, who goes to a chain restaurant in NYC?! We had big plans to try this fancy salad place but ran out of time and I had a coupon on my phone….) Ok, I’ll be honest and say that Bryant Park was pretty and all, but I read so many things that just raved about it, I guess I was a little underwhelmed. The fact that it has so many community services, like the reading room and the art cart for kids, etc, makes it super cool, but if I didn’t know why it was significant, I would have walked through it and just thought it was a nice city park (and I guess it used to be a hotbed of crime and they’ve really cleaned it up recently, so that’s admirable too!). I wouldn’t travel across town just to check it out, but since we were walking that way anyway, it was definitely worth strolling through.

Our bus terminal was like a block away from Time Square, so we walked through there as well. Time Square is at once breathtaking and horrifying. It’s like the perfect representation of all that is commercial and garish in America. I mean, it’s got Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s Believe it or Not right next door to each other! You can tell just by glancing around that basically everyone walking through (at a snail’s pace, because it’s packed) is from out of town, or trying to sell you some bus tour or caricature. And who goes to New York and gets Cold Stone (says the woman who ate at a Chipotle half and hour earlier)?! BUT, it’s truly one-of-a-kind, and really entertaining for people watching sake. So it was worth a short visit.

Grace and I had a short panic (Tess said she likes being the youngest because several other people have to fail before she’s expected to step in) when we couldn’t figure out where our bus depot was–for some reason, there were two buildings designated “42nd Street Port Authority”–but thanks to a helpful lady in the wrong terminal we found our way. I wish I had a picture of the three of us freaking out that we were getting on the wrong bus back to Nyack, though, even after we knew we were in the right depot. For some reason the bus departure gates have these tall, skinny escalators up, but not down, and so we thought we were trapped at the wrong gate. You can imagine all of the commuters waiting to get on their bus home after a long day and seeing these three frantic girls running back and forth within the glass waiting area like hamsters. Thankfully, we were in the right place, ha! What’s traveling without a few mishaps?