Hello Marilu

Mostly Beagles, Babies, and Books...

Book Reviews: What I Read in July 2017

I read so, so many good books last month!  With the exception of one book, I read all female authors with strong women as main characters.  This was totally unintentional but made for an empowering mindset throughout July.  My thoughts on each of this month’s reads are below, listed in order of when I finished each book (no spoilers, I promise).

We are leaving for the Bahamas today, so don’t be alarmed when I don’t post until next week.  I look forward to sharing photos and stories from our trip when we get back!


White Oleander – Janet Fitch

 My sister Mellie brought me this book and told me it was one of her absolute favorites, so it got to skip the TBR stack and go straight to my bedside table.  White Oleander is a dark coming-of-age tale of a girl named Astrid who moves from foster family to foster family throughout childhood.  She finds herself in terrible and disturbing situations throughout the story but grows stronger from each.  More than anything, White Oleander is about Astrid’s relationship with her absent mother.  This was a truly haunting tale that has stuck with me, similar in tone to Bryn Greenwood’s All The Ugly and Wonderful Things (reviewed here).  I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone – if you are a sensitive reader who is uncomfortable with intense situations, this is not the book for you.  However, Oprah and I both enjoyed it very much!

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy was my Book of the Month Club pick from May.  It took me awhile to get into this book.  I read about 50 pages, then put it down and didn’t pick it up again for a month or so.  I’m so glad I finished it, because it gets better and better as it goes on.  The reason the book is called Priestdaddy is because the author’s father is a Catholic priest, which is very, very unusual as Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate.  Her father was married with kids before he became a priest, so he got to take advantage of a loophole.  Personally, I thought the name and the cover of this book were needlessly creepy as this book isn’t as much about Lockwood’s father as it is about her.

Priestdaddy is unlike any book I’ve ever read.  It is billed as a memoir, but in each chapter, the author gives you a different story or observation about her life or her family or the Catholic church.  I could tell by the flowery language and incredible use of metaphor that Lockwood is a poet at heart, and reading this book aloud (which I do when I’m nursing my babe) is a really enjoyable experience (I skipped the curse words, of course).  This is another book I can’t recommend to everyone (religious topics are iffy), but I am glad I read it, especially for Lockwood’s beautiful dexterity with words.

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele was a delightful and short read written as a letter to author Adichie’s friend on how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist.  Adichie offers great advice on ways to empower our daughters to become strong, independent women.  Adichie addresses self-worth, double standards, standards of beauty, and use of words, and she does all that in easy-to-read, yet extremely powerful, language.  This book is chock-full of quotable material, but one of my favorites is “‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.”

The Hopefuls – Jennifer Close

I heard about The Hopefuls on the podcast From the Front Porch, and when I saw it on the shelf at my local bookstore, I purchased it, thinking it would be a nice, light read.  The Hopefuls tells the story of Beth and Matt, a young couple who move to Washington D.C. after Matt gets a low-level job with the Obama administration (Note: There are heaps and heaps of praise for President Obama in this book, so depending on where you fall on the political spectrum that may or may not get on your nerves.).  They make friends with another couple and end up on the campaign trail, where lots of domestic drama ensues.  The Hopefuls was interesting  in that it gave the reader insight into what life would be like living in Washington D.C., and the setting and storyline provided a great taste of politics without having to turn on the news.

State of Wonder – Ann Patchett

I listened to State of Wonder on audiobook because I really enjoyed the two books I have read by Ann Patchett (Commonwealth and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage).  This story is about a woman’s quest on behalf of her pharmaceutical company employer into the Amazonian jungle to retrieve more information about her deceased lab partner and the drug he was sent to investigate.  State of Wonder was absolutely fascinating to read/listen to, partly due to Patchett’s lush descriptions of the jungle setting, and partly due to the twists that just keep on coming.  There was one part near the very end (you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve read the book) that the author threw in that seemed unnecessary and left a very bad taste in my mouth, but other than that not-so-minor detail, this was a great read.

Eveningland – Michael Knight

Eveningland was a simply wonderful collection of short stories about memorable characters in times of personal crisis in Mobile Bay, Alabama.  Knight is a masterful writer with strong command of Southern language, humor, and nuance, resulting in a feeling of deep emotional connections with characters the reader just met a few pages ago.  I really enjoyed this book.


Confessions of a Domestic Failure – Bunmi Laditan

The writing and plotline are pretty basic in this story, but when I picked it up, I was looking for light, cute, and funny, and Confessions of a Domestic Failure certainly delivered.  Laditan tells the story of Ashley Keller, a struggling stay-at-home mom to an eight-month-old baby girl, who gets the opportunity to attend a super-mom boot camp hosted by her favorite mommy blogger.  Needless to say, hilarity ensues.  As a new mom who feels like I am just treading water sometimes, this was a relatable and timely read.  I’d recommend this to any mom who is feeling down, because I can assure you that you have it all together compared to Ashley Keller.

Bonus: Bunmi Laditan shares some incredible and extremely quotable writing on parenthood on her Instagram account.

The Almost Sisters – Joshilyn Jackson

Wow.  I am not a quick reader, but I finished this book in just a few days and loved every minute of it.  I picked up this novel because it was the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club pick for July, and I wanted to read it before their online discussion with the author herself.  Listening to Joshilyn Jackson talk about this story and about the process of writing a novel was a great experience.

The Almost Sisters is about Leia, a 38-year-old white comic book artist from an old Alabama family who “falls pregnant” after a drunken one-night-stand with a black Batman at Comicon.  But that’s not all!  It also tells the story of Leia’s grandmother’s developing dementia and the dark family secrets that are revealed as a result.  But that’s still not all!  The Almost Sisters explores the complicated relationship between the main character, her stepsister Rachel, and Rachel’s husband Jake.

This book is so packed with intersecting storylines that it is impossible to get bored, and there are “Easter eggs” sprinkled throughout that are delightful to discover (Dr. Who and Buffy references, a parallel to a Biblical tale).  Joshilyn Jackson is a masterful writer, and with The Almost Sisters, she has constructed an emotional and honest story about race in the South.  This is one of the best books I have read this year.

Have you read any of these books? What was the best book you read this month?

What have you been reading lately?  Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for more book reviews.

FYI: If you decide to purchase any books from this post, I recommend you buy them from a locally owned bookstore if that is an available option for you.  If you decide to purchase from Amazon by clicking on any of the book covers in this post, I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  Also, if you sign up for the Book of the Month Club(which I highly recommend) by clicking on any of the links in this post, I get a free book. Thank you!

Monday Musings

​We’re back!!!

I’m looking forward to catching you up on what we’ve been up to.  In the meantime…

Here are some links I’m loving this week…

  • how to keep a journal
  • why newborns smell delicious
  • I took a nap yesterday and it was glorious.  I recommend you try to fit more sleep into your life.

How was your weekend? What have you been loving lately?



Monday Musings

When I was little, anytime there was a lunar eclipse or a meteor shower or any other kind of astronomical event, my mom would wake me and my siblings up in the middle of the night to go outside and lay on a blanket to watch the sky.  I remember that feeling of total wonder and awe at the expanse of the universe.  I also remember the excitement we felt about being outside long after bedtime witnessing something so special with the people we loved the most.  These memories are some of my fondest from childhood.

Carla May will be too young to appreciate it, but there is a solar eclipse coming up in just a couple of weeks.  The Destin Library is hosting a special eclipse viewing event at the Morgan Sports Complex that day, and you can bet my nerdy family will be in attendance!

Sidenote: Anyone else’s dog set up like this on the kitchen floor as soon as you start cooking?

Here are some links I’m loving this week…

  • how the “yuppie” has evolved from a conspicuous consumer to an inconspicuous one
  • why our country has some catching up to do
  • one of my favorite easy dinner recipes – toss it over some pasta with fresh tomato sauce

How was your weekend? What have you been loving lately?


Friday Favorites: Laser Tag, GlamGlow, and Tombow Pens

This week was a crazy one (I feel like I say that every week) trying to get everything done at work so that I can actually relax when we leave for the Bahamas next Wednesday.  Carla May has been an angel this week but she is SO mobile now.  Every outfit gets dirty as soon as I put her down because she immediately starts army-crawling around (not sure what that says about my floors…).

This week, CM has been playing peekaboo by herself or with the dogs by raising and lowering the nursing cover/sheet/shower curtain/etc, and it is absolutely adorable.  She also loooves waving her entire arm and saying “heeeeeey,” like you may have seen her do with the ducks if you follow my Instagram Stories.

Every time I think she can’t get any cuter, she does.  Raising kiddos is truly a magical experience, y’all.

Here are a few more things that brought me joy this week:

Laser Tag

Chatham’s 30th birthday was on Monday, so I surprised him (he never would have agreed otherwise) with a laser tag party at the new Thrills Arcade.  I had never played laser tag before, but it was SO much fun!  I obviously did not realize that the facility was lit entirely by black light, or I would have worn an outfit more conducive to hiding from my opponents (I wore all white).  Chatham of course smoked us all, but everyone had a blast!

Sorry for the terrible photo quality – black lighting is not the best for good pictures.. who knew?

Tombow Brush Pens

Practicing hand lettering is one of my favorite ways to relax.  I had heard a lot about Tombow Brush pens (mostly from bullet journalers and my mom), so I finally purchased and played around with a set.  They have a tip on either end – one is a brush-style tip and the other is a fine-point tip.  I only use the brush-style tip, because my Staedtlers are much better for when I need a fine-point.  (Side Note: I realize how nerdy this sounds.  The fact that you’re here hopefully means you aren’t judging me too hard.)  Anyway, these pens are so much fun and I highly recommend them if you are the least bit interested in hand-lettering!

GLAMGlow SuperMud Mask

Image result for glamglow super mudConfession: I have asked for a sample of this mask every time I have gone to Sephora for probably the last three years.  I finally worked up the nerve to impulse-buy a jar this week.  The GLAMGlow SuperMud Mask is the best face mask I have ever used.  Not only does my skin look and feel super smooth after using it, watching all the oil get sucked out of my pores and into the mask is so, so satisfying (I know there are some skin weirdos out there who know exactly what I’m talking about).   Another blogger posted great reviews (with pictures) of all of GLAMGlow’s masks here.

How was your week? What brought you joy?


10 Things No One Told Me About Being a Mom

Looking back on the last nine months of #momlife, I am blown away by how little I actually knew going into this whole thing.  As a researcher by nature, I rarely go into a situation unprepared,  so throughout pregnancy, I studied up.  I read a huge stack of books, took a baby care class at the hospital, and spent time with my niece and nephew.  I knew, of course, that I’d learn a lot on the job when I had a baby, but I figured it couldn’t be too hard.  I was a babysitter in high school, so I already had plenty of experience, right?  Wrong!  Here are ten things no one told me about being a mom (plus some photos from my daughter’s newborn shoot because I can’t believe she is already 9 months old).

1. Part of your job is to pick someone’s boogers.

Sure, I registered for the suction bulb and the NoseFrida, but it hit me as I was trying to fish a boog out of my newborn’s tiny nostril with my too-big pinkie that the snot of another human being will be an ongoing concern for the next chapter of my life.

2. You will never sleep in again.  Ever.

Even if my child magically sleeps past 6 am, my beagles have already learned that they go outside at 5:30 am and wake me up accordingly. If I were allowed to sleep as long as I wanted (which hasn’t happened in at least 9 months), I have absolutely no idea what time I’d wake up.

3. Mom Bod

I was extremely lucky (?) in that losing the pregnancy weight wasn’t very difficult for me (thank you, colic…). I was not prepared, however, for my new mom bod, and I certainly was not aware that a “saggy bellybutton” would ever be on my list of personal concerns. I am proud of what my body has accomplished and couldn’t be any happier to have my sweet baby girl, but I am also delighted that high-waisted and one-piece swimsuits are in style.

4. You will look forward all day to finally having some alone time.  When you finally get it, you will just look at pictures of your kid the whole time.

Sometimes I even consider waking her back up…

5.  What did we even talk about before?

I remember having conversations about topics other than my children, but I cannot for the life of me remember what those conversations were about (probably my dogs TBH).

6. Changing a diaper is like wrestling an alligator.

And the stakes are extremely high.  Just wait, you newborn moms, just wait.

7. You are no longer the star of your life.  You are the supporting actress.

And there is no other role I’d rather have.

8. You will receive the creepiest/sweetest dental examinations.

Every time I nurse my daughter, she sticks her hands in my mouth and feels around.  Sometimes she even scratches me with her little baby talons that I am always too afraid to cut.  Yeah, babies are strange.

9. Some days you go straight from coffee to wine, and that is ok.

No judgment here.

10. Time has never gone by so quickly.

I would give anything to pause this moment, keep her tiny, because how could it possibly get any better than this?

Monday Musings

Happy Monday! Last week was more stressful than I’d like, and I may or may not have eaten Ben & Jerry’s for dinner more than once.  My goal this week is to relax and not letting myself get overwhelmed about things I cannot change.

Over the weekend, I went to the library and checked out Joshilyn Jackson’s new book Almost Sisters and spent all my spare time reading it this weekend.  Jackson’s Southern storytelling is masterful.  It has been awhile since I binge-read something, and it was extremely gratifying.  I have to pick up her most well-known book, gods in Alabama, which I’ve heard is incredible, soon.

Anyone else’s kid react like this as soon as you pull a tub of ice cream out of the freezer?

Here are some links I’m loving this week…

  • photos of cute animals cuddling (TY, Letitia! <3)
  • HAIM‘s cover of Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” (TY, Jane! <3)
  • why reading every day is like compound interest
  • just in case you needed another reason to own a dog

How was your weekend? What have you been loving lately?




Friday Favorites: Playdates, Reading to Babies, and a Bookish Podcast

Happy Friday!  We had a super busy workweek, and we are so looking forward to a vacation.  CM comes with me to the office a few days a week, and she is a trooper on weeks like this one!  We have a trip planned in the next few weeks to the Bahamas for my sister-in-law Leah’s wedding (#GuanaGetMarried!), and we can’t wait to celebrate with her and her wonderful fiancé Matt.  This will be our longest trip since CM has joined the family, but she is such a good-natured baby, I am certain we will have a great time!  Any tips for traveling with a wiggly 9-month old???

Anyway, here are a few things that have brought me joy this week:


This week, one of my best friends from high school came down to Seacrest on vacation.  Her little boy is only a couple of weeks older than CM.  We drove out to spend a day with them, and oh boy!  These babies were a hoot!  They were very interested in each other and watching them interact was so much fun.  Sorry for the photo overload… I could not pick my favorite!

Reading to Babies

Excuse the mess on my child’s face, but she is always eating… An article I highly recommend is How to Raise a Reader, which recommends reading to babies as early as possible.  In the last few weeks, Carla May has gotten very interested in holding books and flipping through the pages herself.  We’ve started keeping a stack of board books on the bottom shelf of the coffee table so they are always within her reach.  Now that she can crawl and choose where to play (to some extent), I always smile when I see she’s crawled over to the board book stack!  I try to rotate the books in the “easy access” stack so that she doesn’t get bored (so punny, haha) and keeps coming back for more.

A Bookish Podcast: From the Front Porch

From the Front Porch is a podcast I’ve recently started listening to that I have really been enjoying so far.  The co-hosts Annie Jones and Chris Jensen (of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA) are obviously very intelligent and well-read.  Their banter is witty and oftentimes hilarious and their book recommendations are great.  Both hosts read a lot of ARC’s (Advanced Reading Copies, a term I didn’t know before listening to this podcast), so they are able to recommend books before they are released to the public.  I particularly enjoyed Episode 119: The Politics of Being Southern, in which Annie and a special guest discuss life in the South, and Episode 128: Love It or Loathe It?, in which Annie, Chris, and other guests had a book club-style discussion of Priestdaddy, which I also read this month (totally coincidence).

How was your week? What brought you joy?



Meal Planning with the Organic Vegetable Co-op

This week, I would like to share with you how to plan out your weekly meals with produce from an organic vegetable co-op bin.  I’ve mentioned before on the blog that we are members of the Emerald Coast Organic Co-op, an organic fruit and vegetable co-operative based at Cafe Organic in Fort Walton Beach, which allows us to purchase a bin of assorted fresh, organic groceries at a discount twice a month.  Because the co-operative orders seasonal produce for the entire group, we never know what fruits and vegetables we will get until we arrive to pick up our bin.  The variety of produce challenges me to try new recipes.  I had never cooked leeks, kohlrabi, beets, bok choy, or watercress before we joined the co-op, and now we have them all on a regular basis!

Meal Planning with Co-op Veggies

Meal planning based on the produce we get in our co-op bin is not unlike how vegetable gardeners or frequenters of farmer’s markets might meal plan.  Basically, you just center your recipes around the produce you have on hand.  I’ll take you through this week’s bin as an example.  We normally cook at home three or four nights a week and eat leftovers or eat out (usually at La Paz) the other nights.

Each bin is FULL of produce, more than my family can typically eat, so we actually split it with a friend – we take turns picking items from the list until all produce is accounted for.  From the bin this week, I picked lettuce, collard greens, sprouts, broccoli, corn, onions, potatoes, ginger, and garlic.

Meal #1

My husband likes to grill out steaks, ribs, or wings one night each week, so I always choose vegetables that will make good sides for that night.  This week, those sides will be oven roasted corn on the cob (I add salt and pepper to the foil packs in the linked recipe) and creamy mashed potatoes.

Meal #2

I usually try to do some type of chicken recipe as well, again centered around whatever veggies we receive.  This recipe for caramelized onion and garlic chicken looks delicious!  I’ll probably make my favorite crock-pot collard greens (I add red pepper flakes) as a side, along with some crusty French bread.

Meal #3

The third home-cooked meal of the week is either breakfast (bacon, eggs, and fruit), spaghetti (in which I throw any and all remaining vegetables into my favorite tomato sauce base) with steamed frozen peas on the side, or a crock-pot freezer meal that I’ve prepared in advance (I make 20 or so freezer meals every 3-4 months just to have on hand for easy suppers – possible future blog post to come on this!).


We will use the lettuce and sprouts in salads and sandwiches for lunches this week, and my sister picked the ginger to use in homemade juices.  We love the variety and quality of the organic produce we receive through the co-op, and the discount to what we’d pay in the store is nice, too!

Planning around seasonal veggies is something human beings have been doing for a long, long time, and I find that the extra effort of doing so is definitely worth it.  With high-quality vegetables, you can sautée, roast, or steam them with just butter, salt, and pepper, and you get an absolutely delicious flavor with very little work involved.  All that to say, I highly recommend participating in your local co-op or buying seasonal produce from your local farmer’s market and meal planning accordingly!

While I was sorting vegetables, this is what my little monkey was up to….

Anyway, some of my favorite sources for easy weeknight recipes are listed below.  Enjoy!

Monday Musings

Happy Monday!  I always have a project list about a page long, and it takes me forever to get around to even simple things, like updating the baby book or putting my daughter’s newborn photo in a frame, let alone big projects like organizing the linen closet or putting together a playroom.  I finally got around to framing CM’s newborn photo last week (only 9 months late)!  Anyone else desperately seeking time to knock out home projects?

Here are some links I’m loving this week…

  • reassurance that reading slowly is just fine, thank you very much
  • a reason to make relaxation a priority
  • an interview about why dirt is good for kids
  • school supplies.  I can’t be the only one who gets excited to buy school supplies every year, even if I’m not in school….

How was your weekend? What have you been loving lately?


Friday Favorites: Grease Stain Trick and Being a Tourist in Your Own Town

How is my baby 9 months old already???  I can hardly believe Carla May has been rocking our world for 18 months now.  She is talking up a storm and army-crawling all over the place.  She can grab a dog tail like no one’s business, and our doggies have learned to watch their backs.  Hayduke and CM are obsessed with each other, and I smile all day long.  I’m not sure how I got so lucky.

Here are a few more things that brought me joy this week:

How to Get Grease Stains Out of Your Clothes

My sister Mellie is living with us this summer and working in the evenings as a server at La Paz Restaurant.  Anyone who has ever worked in the food service industry knows that grease stains are inevitable.  She did not know my special trick for getting grease stains out of clothing, so I thought some of you might could use that information as well.  Before washing your greasy item of clothing, pour dish-washing liquid directly onto the stains and let the clothing sit overnight before machine washing as usual.  The dish-washing soap lifts the grease out of the fabric just like it does the grease on your dishes!  Voila!


Santa brought Carla May this Little Tikes swing, and I finally got around to putting it up (mom life, right?).  She LOVES it!  On nice mornings before it is too hot, I’ll bring my coffee outside and swing her while I mentally prepare for a day of adult-ing.  It is a wonderful way to start the day.

The Best Cookbook Out There

My mother-in-law got me the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook for Christmas a few years ago and I use it nearly every week.  The cookbook is a compilation of recipes formulated by America’s Test Kitchen.  They figure out the absolute best way to cook something and not only do they share the recipe, but also the science behind why that formula is ideal.  Using this cookbook has definitely made me a better and more knowledgeable cook.

Being a Tourist In Your Own Town

Many of the items on our Summer Bucket List were touristy things to do around Destin, including visiting the Destin History and Fishing Museum, where we took the photos below.  I have learned that being a tourist in your own town is a blast!  It is easy to get stuck in a routine and only go to the same places and do the same things all the time, but making the extra effort to step out of the box is so worth it.  In fact, research suggests that we can actually slow down our perceived passage of time by doing new things!

How was your week? What brought you joy?


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