top 10 reads of 2020 so far

Ok so this is actually the top 12 books but that didn’t have the same ring to it… My goal for 2020 was to read 46 books! That would be double what I read last year. I’m currently 30 books in so I’m happy with my progress! I mainly listen to audiobooks I check out from the library using the “Libby” app. I love audiobooks because I can listen while working on other things (laundry, blog posts, etc.). There are some audiobooks where I can’t stand listening to the narrator so I try switching to an ebook or print book before giving up on the book entirely!

Here are my top ten(ish) books of 2020 so far in the order that I read them!

Love from A to Z

This was one of the first books I read in 2020. Love from A to Z follows Zayneb as she is suspended from school for confronting a teacher’s anti-Muslim teaching. She goes to stay with her aunt in Doha, Qatar where her path crosses Adam. Their meeting is both a marvel and an oddity that unwinds beautifully.

Well Met

The enemies to lovers trope is one of my favorites and Well Met does not disappoint! Emily gets roped into helping her niece at a local Renaissance fair where she meets Simon. Simon is uptight and annoying, except when he starts acting at the fair. His double personality confuses Emily – are the feelings real or just a part of their fair characters?

Love and Other Words

Ok there have been a couple of books this year that don’t pass my “only happy things rule” and Love and Other Words is one of them. A love story decades in the making between Macy and Elliot with lots of heartbreak and family secrets AND ALL OF MY TEARS.

99 Percent Mine

Darcy has been in love with Tom Valeska ever since she laid eyes on him as a young girl. The only problem is that her twin brother met him first and they have been best friends ever since. Tom moves back to help Darcy restore her grandmother’s house and, well, YOU KNOW.

The Hating Game

Same author as 99 Percent Mine with my favorite enemies to lovers trope. It is seriously SO good. Office rivalry, job promotion, love affair. Loved it.

American Royals

A book about what life would be like if America had become a monarchy instead of a democracy. The Washingtons are the royal family and they have a lot of royal secrets. Perfect for fans of The Royal We!

The Friend Zone/ The Happy Ever After Playlist

Ok I grouped these two together because they are a continuation of the same story. These both did NOT follow my “only happy things” rule. They tackle infertility and loss in the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful way. But it was hard for me to get through them because they were so real.

The Bromance Book Club/Undercover Bromance

I loved BOTH of these books. They also continue characters from one book to the next which is so fun. Gavin gets roped into joining a secret book club with some prominent men in his city. The only catch is that they only read romance books. The goal? To woo their women! Book two is about the only single guy in the group, Braden Mack, and his quest to open himself up.

Tweet Cute

This YA book was SO AMAZING. I was turned off by the name but I was pleasantly surprised. Pepper is helping her mom run the Big League Burger twitter account and ends up in a twitter feud with a small, local grilled cheese shop. Eventually she finds out that her classmate Jack is the one behind the feud and chaos ensues.

Real Men Knit

A sweet and sassy story about four brothers who take over a Harlem knitting shop after their mom passes away. This book centers around Jesse, the youngest brother, and Kerry, a young woman who worked with Jesse’s mom at the knitting shop. Let me just tell you, I am looking forward to more stories about the Strong brothers!

There you go! My favorite reads of 2020 so far. I’m looking forward to more reads this year. Have any suggestions?? Make sure to comment below and they might get added to my list! 🙂

xo, Rachel

clean shower routine!

This post may contain affiliate links. All thoughts and opinions are my own. A few deals: currently new customers can get 20% of at beautycounter with the code CLEANFORALL20. Also, use this link to get $10 off of your purchase of $50 or more at credo.

Ok so I have crazy hair. Mind-of-it’s-own hair. It has changed during and after each pregnancy and then I developed bad scalp psoriasis after Emmy was born. It used to be super curly, but it has gotten less curly as I’ve gotten older. I also started going gray when I was about 20 (thanks Dad!) and started dying my hair about 3 years ago. Just some background to keep in mind as you move forward throughout this post!

Pre-Shower

Drunk Elephant recently came out with hair care and so I jumped on the T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub. I’m really liking it! I apply it about 15-30 minutes prior to a shower. It has a nozzle that helps apply the scrub directly to the scalp. Rub it into your scalp a bit and then leave it alone.

Right after I apply the scalp scrub, I use the Acure Moroccan Argan Oil all over my hair and wrap my hair up in a towel wrap or shower cap to let sit for 15-30 minutes.

Shower time – hair!

I have a lot of hair… have I said that? So there are several steps to this shower routine. I should also mention that I only wash my hair every 5-6 days. This took training but works for me! Here are the steps:

  1. Pura D’or Scalp Therapy Shampoo – I use this just on my scalp and massage in with the…
  2. Vanity Planet Groove Scalp Massager before rinsing the shampoo out.
  3. Next I use the Innersense Organic Beauty Pure Harmony Hair Bath to shampoo the rest of my hair.
  4. Beautycounter Daily Conditioner is what I use when I wash my hair. And then every other shower I use…
  5. Briogeo Be Gentle Be Kind Moisture Mask on my hair from the mid-shaft to the ends. Leave this mask on for about 5-10 minutes before rinsing out.

Shower time – body!

  1. Countercontrol Clear Pore Cleanser is my “shower face wash”! I like this cleanser because it has a gentle exfoliation which always feels nice after steam from the shower.
  2. The Beautycounter Sugar Body Scrub is maybe the best part of my week. Ok that’s a little hyperbolic BUT it is amazing. I use it before shaving my legs. It’s a great full body exfoliator!
  3. I use the Billie Razor to shave and I’m a big fan! It shaves super smoothly (is that a thing??) and you can subscribe so they automatically send you replacement razor heads! I’ve also heard good things about their shave cream but I haven’t used it.
  4. Originally this was meant for Bryan but I used it once and loved it, so for my body wash I use Beautycounter’s Counterman Energizing Charcoal Body Wash.

Post-Shower

For my body I LOVE Countermatch Adaptive Body Moisturizer.

For my hair, I spray on Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave In Conditioner while my hair is still damp. If I am leaving my hair curly, I also spray in Innersense I Create Waves while my hair is still damp and let it air dry (which takes approximately 72 days). If I am blowdrying my hair I use the Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer which is the only blow dryer I have ever owned.

And that’s it! Does it make sense why I only wash my hair every 5-6 days?? Because this is definitely a ROUTINE. Bryan makes fun of me because on hair washing days my showers take like 45 minutes. But this is what works for me. I don’t think you can go wrong with products from any of the brands above! They’re clean and effective which is a win-win. I’m always happy to answer any questions – drop them in the comments!

xo, Rachel

A non-exhaustive list of diverse books – black characters

Hi all! It’s been a minute. But after my instagram post on diverse books the other day, I have had several people reach out for more book recs.

Here’s what I am going to focus on: books from all genres that are not necessarily about historical events/figures OR culture. There might be some of those things in the books below but my main focus was to highlight books with diverse characters.

IMPORTANT: do not read this as “books about the Civil Rights Movement or slavery are not important.” That is NOT what I am saying by any means. The reality is, most books written about people of color (POC) are about historical events and do not display a black character as the protagonist in a fairy tale or the star of the soccer team. I want my students to learn about history but I also want them to be KIDS and to see themselves in stories that kids enjoy just for the fun of it. So that is what this list is focused on.

Books that feature black characters:

Two Problems for Sophia

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Ada Twist, Scientist

When God Made You

God’s Very Good Idea

What If…

Teddy’s Favorite Toy

Grace for President

The Adventures of Sparrowboy

All Are Welcome

Molly Mac Series

Beautiful

Green Pants

Hands Up! (This one is about protesting at the end but is a beautiful story)

Princess Truly Series

I am Famous

Jabari Jumps

Nighttime Symphony

Little Red Gliding Hood

Please, Puppy, Please

Dancing in the Wings

Mary Had a Little Glam

Monster Trouble

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

The Word Collector

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion

Billy Bloo is Stuck in Goo

Do NOT Bring Your Dragon to the Library

I Like Myself

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do

Excellent Ed

The Snowy Day

I hope this list is a good jumping off point for you and that you start looking for books that include diverse characters as you buy. I was going to include books with hispanic children and books with asian/middle eastern children but I think I need to make a separate list! I purposefully didn’t link each of these books because I would love for you to support a local and/or black owned book store. But I also understand that sometimes we just need to amazon prime things!

*I’ll end with a list of black owned bookstores.*

https://www.braveandkindbooks.com/

https://bookshop.org/shop/Semicolonchi

https://brainlairbooks.handseller.com/category/categorysearch/Childrens

https://www.afriwarebooks.com/store/c4/AFRICAN-AMERICAN-CHILDRENS-BOOKS

https://www.detroitbookcity.com/

https://www.mahoganybooks.com/

https://unclebobbies.indielite.org/

https://ashaybythebay.com/

https://bookshop.org/shop/thelitbar

https://www.cafeconlibrosbk.com/

https://frugalbookstore.net/collections/all

Love you all.

Rachel

a very Cricut Christmas!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Cricut. The opinions and text are all mine.

Alright alright alright! Christmas is almost here and it is time to finish up those DIY presents you thought were a really good idea about a month ago. For my work friends, I’m making personalized tumblers using my Cricut Explore Air 2!

Here’s what you need:

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Here we go:

First, get your design ready in Cricut’s Design Space. When it’s cut out, cut a piece of transfer tape to approximately the same size as your design.

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Remove the transfer tape and smooth it over the top of your vinyl design. Use the scraper that comes with your Cricut to help adhere the transfer tape to the vinyl.

Peel the excess vinyl away from the transfer tape, making sure that the design stays attached to the transfer tape. This can be done with your hands when you have a simple design but might need the weeding tools if the design is more complex.

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Your design will be the only thing left on the transfer tape!

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Carefully place your design on the tumbler and make sure that it is where you want it to be. When you have it in the correct place, smooth the design down with the scraper. Slowly peel the transfer paper back – the design should remain attached to the tumbler.

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For a fun extra touch, I add confetti to the inside of the tumbler and then tie a tulle bow around it. I’ll probably also put a hand cream or gift card in the tumbler too! It turned out super cute and was so easy!!

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Good luck!

xo, Rachel

 

Stocking stuffers!

Hey y’all!

Here’s a quick guide for stocking stuffers! Be sure to order soon so it’ll get here in time. And mom, if you’re reading this, I won’t hate the pearl headbands if they appear in my stocking 😉

 

xo, Rachel

 

Dear 2009 me…

So it’s been popular lately to post a before/after of the last decade as we round out the 2010’s (that feels weird to type!). There’s something so striking about these images and the transformation that can occur over a decade, but it also had me wondering about how these people had changed mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually over the last ten years. You know, it’s on the inside that counts and so on and so forth, yada yada.

Well I can’t ask everyone that because people tend to think it’s too personal, so I did some self reflecting. At this point in 2009, I was a senior in high school. My hair was bigger, my waist was smaller, and I would say that I was only moderately satisfied with my life. There was a lot I was about to embark on and what a wild ride it’s been. So here goes…

Dear 2009 me, 

High school sucks. Mom was right when she told you not to peak yet (you haven’t, don’t worry). The rumors, the friendships, the betrayals – they feel like a lot now but soon they won’t matter. In ten years, everyone will be on the same playing field and no one will care anymore about who partied and who didn’t and who was “cool” and who wasn’t. It’s pretty nice, actually. You’ll discover that for the most part, everyone turns out to be a pretty decent human being.

I’ve got a secret though… pay special attention to the cute red head that is about to waltz into your life. Well, I already know that you DO pay special attention to him, but enjoy the moment. He’s going to set your life on a completely different trajectory. Hint, hint: you aren’t going to study theater in college and you will end up living down the street from mom and dad. As much as you think you’d like to live as far away from them as possible, this is much better.

These next ten years are going to be really difficult. Long distance relationships, ministry, loss, heartache. But it will change you. You will no longer care about things that you don’t need to care about. Your perspective will be eternal and that will be difficult at times but amazing at others. You will be angry at God (often) and He will always be with you. You’ll learn that He does give you more than you can handle and sometimes things don’t happen for any reason other than we live in a broken world.

The road to becoming a mom will look different than you want it to. Even after you have two precious girls in your home, your heart will ache for the babies who aren’t with you. You’ll learn about things like infertility, miscarriage, prematurity, and the NICU – words that I don’t think have every really crossed your mind.

Like I said, these next ten years will be one hard thing after another. But you’ll also learn what true unconditional, sacrificial love looks like. You’ll find amazing friends who rally around you. You’ll gain a husband that spoils you by doing things like cooking and cleaning the house. One day, ten years from now, your miracle two year old will grab your face, look you in the eyes, murmur a bunch of nonsense and give you a big sloppy kiss. And the rest of the world will melt away. Oh how wonderful these last ten years have been.

Here’s to the next ten.

xo, Rachel

P.S. Here’s my ten year comparison – oy!

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Tis the Season for DIY!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Cricut. The opinions and text are all mine.

Y’all. I discovered Cricut machines last year and I was ob.sessed. All those cute DIY projects you see on Pinterest but thought you could never recreate?? YOU CAN! And you don’t have to have a creative bone in your body!

So naturally, I needed one of my own! I just received the most beautiful Cricut Explore Air 2 and started playing as soon as it came in. Here are five things I love about it so far!

1. Easy to use!

This machine is super simple. Turn a dial to indicate which material you are using, load the machine, and viola! It also has a fast mode which makes DIY projects 2x faster! I was a little intimidated at first but it truly does all of the work for you.

2. The variety of materials you can use.

This machine cuts over 100 materials! I most frequently use vinyl but I’m so excited to experiment with other materials for future projects! I think my next project will be personalized cardstock gift tags for Christmas…

3. Design Space

The Cricut Design Space makes it so simple to create designs from your computer OR an app on your phone or iPad. Design Space organizes your projects into mats and printing your design is as easy as plugging into the Explore Air 2.

4. The color!

It might seem silly to love the color of a machine but my Explore Air 2 is a beautiful emerald color that goes perfectly with other decor in the room. The color choices make your machine feel like it was made just for you!

5. The writing tool

Not only does the Explore Air 2 cut different materials, you can also attach a pen and it will WRITE FOR YOU! No more attempting pretty handwriting – all you need to do is load the pen and it will write in any font you select. This was a game changer for me.

Moral of the story, this machine is fantastic and you absolutely need one for yourself!

Do you have a Cricut?? Leave your favorite projects in the comments below!

Comments submitted may be displayed on other websites owned by the sponsoring brand.

a gift guide for the men in your life!

Men can be hard to shop for, but I think I’ve found some gifts the men in your life will be excited to open. Well, as excited as they get at least – which for Bryan means I’ll get an “Oh, cool!”

1. Why are men so obsessed with fried things? Who knows, but this air fryer will be a huge hit for sure!

2. Ok I have a lot of friends whose husbands travel and Bryan has started traveling more now that Press is expanding. This Carry-On Garment Bag is classy AF and holds all of the things someone would need for a few days away! There’s a place for hanging clothes, shoes, folded clothes, laptop, etc.

3. Ok I found this Neck Massager through blogger, Dani Austin! It looks hilarious but gets amazing reviews! Bryan is literally always asking for a back rub so maybe I can get out of that now – ha!

4. Who doesn’t love a good pair of sneaks? These Cole Haan Sneakers are nice quality and can be dressed up or down.

5. Ok this Nike Vest is a little funky but occasionally I like to help Bryan think out of the box a bit!

6. I don’t really get the whole cooler phenomenon either but apparently getting a Yeti Cooler is THE gift for guys!

7. Men deserve great (and safe!) skin care too! A good start would be the Counterman Beard Regimen – and there are products for our non-bearded friends too!

8. Ok I asked Bryan for ONE recommendation and he said Grill Grates . Apparently normal grill grates have to be replaced and these are aluminum or something which essentially means they’re made out of grilling gold and will last through the apocalypse. So I think I know what I’ll be getting Bryan for Christmas!

 

Good luck shopping!

xo, Rachel

baby, toddler, + kid gift guides!

Have I mentioned that gifts are my favorite? Listen, I appreciate the sentiment of “Let’s focus on the reason for the season and go gift free this year!” but I also know that some people (hi, me!) love giving gifts. It’s important to focus on quality over quantity for me, but some people do tons of little gifts and that’s ok too. There is not a right or wrong answer when it comes to gift giving – do what is best for you and your family.

That being said, here are my favorite gifts for babies, toddlers, + kids!

*Disclaimer – some links below are affiliate links. That means I’ll make a small commission if you purchase via that link! Just trying to feed the family 😉 

1. This kyte baby sleep sack is THE COZIEST thing I have ever felt. It’s nice and long so I think it’ll definitely fit Emmy next year too. Did I mention it’s SO COZY???

2. I will never not suggest books books books! Yes, even for the little babes. Just the presence of books in the home has such a huge impact on student success later on. and there are so many good ones out there – we love “Beautiful Oops!”

3. Because baby’s sight is still developing, these high contrast black and white cards are perfect for your wee littles!

4. And as they start to grow and walk, this walker will be great! I love that it also comes with blocks so it’s multifunctional!

5. Need something to keep the baby entertained while you sneak a quick shower?? The sophie rattle will do that for you! I don’t know why babies love Sophie so much but I love that this rattle is more interactive than the regular Sophie.

6. Have someone who likes to buy practical gifts? The baby essentials bundle is perfect for that!

7. Bath toys are always a hit in this house! Be forewarned – these toys might lead to wanting to take a 45 minute bath!

8. Finally, this activity table has taken us through Lainey as a infant, transitioned to a regular table when she was a toddler, and is now back to an activity seat for Emmy! We love it so much, my parents bought one for their house too!

1. I might completely regret this but I think Lainey would love this wooden drum set! I love wooden toy sets  because they don’t clash with my decor – ha!

2. Ok, the nugget couch is a cult favorite and is often sold out! I’d suggest signing up for email notifications if you are interested in snagging one.

3. Lainey loves her alphabet puzzle and I love this one that comes with the upper and the lower case letters.

4. Have I mentioned that kids of all ages should be surrounded with books??

5. I found this coloring book and markers recently and fell in love! It’s wipeable so the kiddos can color to their hearts content and then wipe it off and color some more. Genius.

6. We also recently got this wooden rocker which is the perfect toy for Lainey to grow in to.

7. I just can’t with how cute these dress up sets are! I like this dress up set or this one!

8. Lainey could spend all day outside! I think she would love this tricycle!

 

1. You can’t beat some quality outdoor swinging time! Our neighbors have this swing and we sneak over and use it sometimes! It’s so fun!

2. This interactive osmo for iPad kit is a great way to use technology in a purposeful way!

3. Everyone in this house loves magnetic tiles (Bryan most of all)! They are another great gift for any age.

4. Did y’all have a pogo stick when you were growing up?? I used to love this thing and think it would make a great present this Christmas!

5. Am I a broken record yet?? You should get your kids some books! The DogMan series is extremely popular and the newest book is available for pre-order now. It comes out December 10 so it’ll be here in time for Christmas!

6. Want to teach your kids how to code? The ozobot is the best beginner coding robot for kids! You don’t need a device to operate it – just use the markers that it comes with. My students, kinder to sixth grade, all love it!

7. Got someone on your list who is into art? I love this pixel art kit because it has endless possibilities!

8. Finally, good ole’ puzzles and board games – you can’t go wrong! This tetris  puzzle could keep the kiddos entertained for a while!

 

Non-gift gifts: 

We are asking for gymnastics lessons for Lainey from my parents! Lessons can be pricey so it makes for a great gift!

Other ideas include:

  • a membership of some sort (zoo, museum, arboretum)
  • babysitting (ok this one is for mom and dad)
  • a subscription service like Literati, KiwiCo, etc.

 

Obviously this list is not exhaustive, but I hope it helps you get some ideas for the smaller people in your life!

xo, Rachel

IT’S GIFT GUIDE SZN!

Y’all. I love gifts. I love giving them, I love receiving them, I love picking out gifts. My love language is gifts (in case you couldn’t tell!) and I’m super PUMPED to put these gift guides together!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be putting together guides for…

  • Babies, toddlers, and kids
  • Grandparents
  • Teachers
  • The men and women in your life
  • Those who are impossible to shop for!
  • And obviously – gifts for you!

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GET EXCITED!!!

xo, Rachel