Freckles in April

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

9 Pretty Christmas Dress Options for Women

I haven't bought myself a Christmas dress in ages but this year I got the itch and I've been online window shopping like crazy. Here are nine (+3!) options for a variety of tastes and budgets:

Velvet Crush

To be honest I wasn't on board with the velvet trend until I started shopping for Christmas dresses and then I was like SIGN ME UP. When I sent screenshots of velvet dresses to some friends, opinions were decidedly split. Some are super on board and all kinds of heart-eyed over it and others are like, nope did this when I was 8 hard pass. So if you fall more into the former camp than the latter, here are 3 I love:
1. Shop Henly | This deep cranberry wrap dress is to. die. for.
2. eShakti | Dark floral is perfect for Christmas but still works all fall and winter long.
3. ASOS | I can't pull off kimono style dresses despite MULTIPLE attempts but gaaah I adore the silhouette and this color.

I ordered this one from SheIn to try. My expectations are reeeeal low but the reviews are good and the price was right so why not. I will likely report back on my IG story.


LBD Forever

I have a couple friends who wear exclusively black. They always look super chic while openly admitting that they're just really lazy and an all-black wardrobe makes life easier. If you're of the opinion that black is perfect for all situations at all times of year, or you just really like the ease of a LBD, here are a few options for you:



4. eShakti | Apparently statement sleeves are like A Thing right now. Mostly I'm meh about that idea but these bell sleeves caught my fancy. I love that they're on a shift, which is theee best style for hiding the food baby we're all carrying around this time of year.
5. ASOS | tbh I love tuxedo anything. I'd 100% wear this dress with its structured top and drapey bottom and perfect satin lapels and I'd look dang good doing it.
6. SheIn | For people who are like I AM NOT ASHAMED OF MY FOODBABY. But seriously, I love the clean, classic shape and tall lace at the hem. A classy dress for classy broads who like paying only $15 for their holiday wear.


Plaid is Rad

Plaid (and buffalo check) is my jam. I've had this one red plaid shirt for years (it's appeared here a bunch but, because I am terrible at labeling my pictures, I can't find it) that I still get a TON of wear out of. I just love the way it looks with jeans or a leather skirt or, lets be honest, my sweatpants. Anyway, if you are similarly enamored, here are some lovely plaid choices:



7. eShakti | It's like DRAMA but in PLAID, you know? Also, if you haven't bought from eShakti before you may not know that you can add sleeves, change a hem or neckline, etc. I have no fewer than TEN of their dresses in my closet. The quality is fantastic, the fit is excellent, I am a super fan. They are not paying me to say any of that- legit unsponsored raving.
8. Shop Henly | Basically pajamas and I am here for it.
9. J Crew Factory | A woman from our church wore a super similar dress last week and paired it with a cream colored tasseled scarf and sparkly jewelry I probably scared her with how quickly I grabbed her arm like WHERE DID YOU GET EVERYTHING YOU ARE WEARING. Her dress was old from Anthro but totally doable from other, less pricey sources.


BONUS: I prefer skirts, TBH

I got you, boo.



10. Gap | My thoughts on sequin skirts: I got one on clearance a few years back because I couldn't bring myself to pay full price for something that I would only wear a few times a year. But I gotta tell ya- I LOVED pulling that skirt out around Christmas and NYE. If you fancy a sequin skirt, my dear, you should get a sequin skirt.
11. ASOS | Remember the Bride Seen Around the Pinterest World in her white tulle wedding dress with a plaid shirt on top? Do your own take with this ethereal little number (or really, just go look at allll the pretty tulle skirt options on ASOS right now and think of all the dreamy outfits you could create)
12. SheIn | I've come back to look at this skirt a handful of times. I love the windowpane print. The fuller shape makes it a bit fancier. It'd be perfect with a crisp button down, a glittery bracelet and some killer black heels.

Honorable mentions because I forgot how much time it takes to put together images for posts like this and I want to go do something else: ModCloth has some really good plaid skirt choices this year. I don't love lace but I'm pretty into this textured number from Called to Surf. Amazon kept recommending this Gatsby-esque dress and the more I look at it the more I like it so there's a fancy option for ya.

I think there are some pretty big gaps in the market though- very few good options in Christmas green or in a large scale classic red and black buffalo check, BOTH of which I am interested in (and was last year as well, to no avail). Get on it, clothing makers!!

Are you getting a Christmas dress this year? Let's see it!

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Don't Put Off Until Tomorrow What Could be Done Today. Or, How I Stay Sane During the Holidays

From our 2013 visit to Chicago and the Christkindlmarket


I spent years feeling vaguely discontented by the holiday season. Since I became an adult it feels like I have never had enough time to really get into the spirit of it. The Christmas activities I really wanted to do often got dropped just because we never got around to them. I often thought about things a hair too late to actually get them done (looking at you, neighbor gifts). It all seemed rushed and unsatisfying.

When my oldest was a baby I decided it would help a lot if all the gifts were bought and wrapped by the time December rolled around. I've gotten really good at this over the years- I have a spreadsheet with everyone I need to buy for that I re-use every year. I start keeping my eye open for gift options in July and usually have half my list covered by the end of October. I finish the rest of my Christmas shopping in November and get it all wrapped before December 1st. It takes a lot of the stress off! But it didn't go quiiite far enough.

with the siblings at the Mesa temple lights. Which we didn't even get to a couple years ago because..it just never happened.


At some point I started using the first week of November as my holiday planning and prep week. This makes the entire holiday season SO MUCH MORE ENJOYABLE for me. I'm not stressed. Everything gets done. I get to do all the extras I want to do. It's amazing how much it helps me get in the right groove.

Here's how it works for me:

I sit down sometime during the first week of November and write two lists: things that I need to do for the holidays and things I want to do. I break each item down into individual to-do lists and then I do as much as humanly possible that week. Could it be done later? Sure. But why put it off if I can get it done now when life isn't as crazy?

Here's what my list looks like this year-

NEED TO DO
Thanksgiving
-email families- who is hosting? [me]
-plan menu [created Pinterest board]
-make side dish assignments for parents and in-laws [check!]
-plan decor [went to Michael's, got garlands for 80% off]
-Ask mom about china

Family Photos
-Schedule with Aaron [doing these Saturday!]
-Coordinate outfits [we had almost everything, only had to buy a sweater for The Caboose]

Christmas Cards
-Send out address request [I use a google form and sheet to collect addresses every year. I post the form on FB, people fill it out and it auto-adds their info to my sheet. It makes life easy]
-Get family photos done
-Order cards
-Order Christmas stamps  [we're doing Snowy Day this year]
-Address and mail by Dec 1

Gifts
-check spreadsheet [I use the same spreadsheet every year so I can see what I've done in years past and what I've traditionally spent on each person/family]
-gifts still needed: [made a list of the people who still need gifts]
-Shop! [between Amazon and a local fall boutique, I'm almost done! Just a couple people left]
-Buy gift wrap (TJ Maxx?)

Christmas Meals
- Get together with parents and in-laws to figure out who is doing what and where [this can wait a bit...I already bombarded them with Thanksgiving related emails and they need a breather before I attack them with Christmas Eve and day meal planning. But it's on my radar!]


WANT TO DO
Outdoor Christmas movie?
-ask Aaron if technically possible [still figuring this out]

Schedule Christmas Activities
-temple lights
-Favorite things party with Alta Mesa girls [scheduled!]
-Train park lights with neighbors [scheduled!]
-Christmas Performance of some sort [Found a local Nutcracker performance, bought tickets]
-Kids ornament making party [scheduled and got a Pinterest board started!]
-Aquarium with cousins when they're in town [scheduled!]
-Look into service opportunities

Neighbor Gifts
-Get molasses cookie recipe from mom
-Make list of neighbors [done!]


I did 90% of this during one naptime. If you look at the list, most of it involved a little focused computer time and some texting with friends and family. A few things need their own dedicated to-do lists before they happen but at least I've gotten the ball rolling and I won't be scrambling at the last minute to get things done (or have to cut something out altogether). I feel totally ready to enjoy the heck out of this Thanksgiving and Christmas season and I'm really looking forward to the things I have scheduled.

Do you have any special tips or tricks for making the holidays go more smoothly? Share in the comments! 




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Monday, July 10, 2017

Marriage After a Mormon Faith Transition

Twelve years ago today a tall, skinny, smart guy (totally my type) asked me for my email address after sacrament meeting at church. You can read more about that here but in honor of the anniversary of the day I met my husband I thought I'd share this post.

My college friend Celeste has an excellent blog devoted to marriage and several years ago she asked me to write a guest post for her about how my marriage survived my change of faith. I had been out of the church for about a year at that point and finally felt like we had reached a happy place. I stand by the post I wrote back then but I've updated it a bit to reflect a couple more years worth of experience and the "new normal" we've settled into. 





When I went through my faith transition I think the thing that scared me the most was that I might lose my husband. We went into our marriage being on the same page and then, over the course of a year or two, it's like I jumped into a completely different book. When we were talking about getting engaged I clearly remember him asking me if I could commit to a life of service to God in our church. At the time I though, "Well of course! I mean, what else would I be doing?" I was raised in our church and couldn't fathom that my faith would ever change.

But my faith DID change. I went from a fully believing Mormon to a questioning Mormon to an agnostic ex-Mormon over the course of about 4 years. It wasn't until the last 6 months of my struggle prior to leaving our church that I even talked to my husband about it. I wasn't sure where to even START and I had heard too many stories of couples in similar situations who ended up divorcing. I was terrified. 

Fortunately I married a good man who loves me even though I couldn't hold to that promise I made so many years before. He told me that it would be silly of him to expect me to never grow and change from the person I was at age 20.

One of the most important things we've done to maintain our marriage during my faith transition is TALK. I try to explain why I find certain things painful or uncomfortable, or I explain the ways in which my understanding has changed, and he listens and asks good questions. He tells me about the good and positive things he sees in the church while I listen and acknowledge that good. We've always been decent at communicating with each other but we've gotten really good at it in the past couple years. 

Aaron's nonjudgmental listening and question-asking are the best things he could have done for me as I struggled. I was feeling so tender and raw and he was earnestly trying to understand where I was coming from rather than convince me of his point of view or change my mind. I knew he was hurting from my changes in belief but he never put that on me or pointed fingers. He has defended me and bolstered me all along the way.



Conversely, I try to be supportive of his continued belief. He finds peace and joy in the church and I have no desire to rob him of those feelings by pushing my own agenda. I attend sacrament meeting with him and our kids every other week. I haven't pushed my beliefs on him and he hasn't pushed his on me. We've let each other be and focused on love. We're far from perfect at it, but we are really trying.

To other couples in a similar situation, this is my advice:

1. Practice GOOD communication. This means no accusing or blaming. Try to understand your spouse before you try to make them understand you. Make your peace with the fact that you probably won't change each other's minds. Talk with the goal of understanding, not converting. Find common ground wherever possible. 

2. Remember that life goes on...and it will look pretty much the same. It may feel like a monumental shift has happened in your home but then you'll realize that you're still going about your day-to-day life and watching Parks & Recreation together while eating Oreos and it's all fairly normal. If you're worried about how much things are going to change you may find comfort in the fact that things probably won't change that much. 

^I got a lot of pushback on this point when my post first went up over 2 years ago and I'd like to edit and say that individual mileage may vary. I heard a lot of stories about spouses who lost their faith and became alcoholics and adulterers. In those cases I'd like to refer to point number 3 below. 

Also, commenters made the point that the husband leaving the Mormon church affects the family a lot more than the wife leaving due to no longer having the priesthood in the home. Side-eye at institutional gender inequality but yes, I understand that point as well and how that adds an extra layer of complications. But, unless your husband was the type to give daily priesthood blessings or something, I'll still argue that your day-to-day won't change much and I think there's a lot of comfort in that. The big days (baptisms, wedding, etc.) will be hard but they're not easy at our house either (maybe someday I'll write about the weirdness of my son's baptism day). Please check out point 4.

3. It's ok to seek professional help. Aaron and I managed to wade through and figure things out on our own but I kept the number of a marriage therapist handy just in case. Going by what I've seen in my interactions with other people who have left the church but have believing spouses, therapy is pretty common and extremely helpful. [edit: I ended up going on my own]

4. Find your balance. Compromise. Bend. Find middle ground together. We have Family Home Evening as often as we ever did (which is to say, not often) but we have it on secular topics like "how to identify and handle your emotions" and "conflict resolution." Scripture and prayer still happen most nights but it's usually just Aaron and our 7-year-old who participate. My family attends church regularly and I go to sacrament meeting with them every other week. Aaron goes to the temple once a month, usually in the early morning hours so he's not leaving me alone with crazy kids at the witching hour after work, which would definitely make me resentful. Set boundaries for what's ok and what's not and make sure that you're being reasonable. No one ever wants to give ground but if you want your marriage to work then you're going to have to. This might mean attending church sometimes with your believing spouse or not freaking out if your ex-mo spouse goes out for a drink with friends occasionally. 

I'd like to point out that this takes time. Possibly a LOT of time. I left the church over 3 1/2 years ago and our balance took a long time to settle. It still shifts occasionally when someone's needs change or there's something we think we can do better.

5. You CAN make it work. I think one of the most helpful things for me was seeing that other people had come through the same thing and were happily making it work. It was proof that we could do it. You're going to have to discuss and compromise and reevaluate and then discuss some more but you'll get there. Finally, at some point you'll look at your spouse and realize, "Hey...we're doing this. And we're ok!" It will always require that you work together, but isn't that the very heart of marriage?

Edit: Sadly, both couples that I was referring to in my last point have since divorced. However, I'm past the point of needing to see other couples making it work in order to have faith in my own marriage. WE are making it work. Honestly, we're about as happy as we ever were before when I was a believing Mormon. We have rough patches but they're the same issues we dealt with before that are mostly due to the fact that I'm prickly and he's a bit clueless. Normal marriage stuff unrelated to religious conflict. We've gotten to a point where church doesn't come up much anymore. He quietly lives his faith in the same way he always has and I barely think about church at all except for when I wake up every other Sunday morning and realize I should probably wash my hair. I'm respectful of his faith and we've been able to find compromise and common ground when it comes to issues that pop up. 

My point is: it's doable. If you're still at the beginning wondering how on earth you're going to make it work, I want to reassure you that you can. It gets easier. Feelings become less raw. Expectations adjust. Everyone sort of settles in and makes some sort of peace with the situation. It takes time but if you're both willing to work at it then you can get there.





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Friday, July 7, 2017

In Which I (Kind Of) Surprise My Husband with a Trip



In December I wrote out my resolutions for 2017 (which, as I go back through, I am seriously rocking that list), including "Take Aaron on a surprise trip."

Last week was the week, my friends.

Aaron is not super happy in Arizona. We're here for the long haul due to deep family and career ties but he loves to daydream about retiring somewhere (anywhere) else. Back in January he made a comment about how we should retire somewhere near both a body of water AND a forest and maybe we should start checking out some potential options. My brain went, DING! TAKE THAT MAN TO TAHOE.



If I had done a shorter weekend trip then I think I could have pulled off a total surprise of the "Pack a bag, we're taking a trip today!" variety but going to Tahoe meant more time and more money (which I didn't feel comfortable spending without his knowledge) so I did tell him that I was planning a surprise trip. Telling him also allowed me to get some input from him when making some trip choices. I gave him two options: we could fly directly to our destination (Reno) OR fly to the nearest big city (San Francisco) and spend a couple days doing the tourist thing there and then drive 4ish hours over to our final destination. He chose the big city option and I think involving him just a little bit got him even more excited.

We stayed at the Marina Inn in the Marina district in SF. It was old and kind of beat but with cool details. Which is basically San Francisco in a nutshell.


I got our SF hotel through Hotels.com and our condo in Tahoe through AirBnB. I also got a couple Groupons for activities. This made it so our credit card statement never showed exactly WHERE we were going, just a general charge through a non-location specific company.

Got a Groupon for Bay City Bikes so we could bike the Golden Gate


I kept the details of the trip a secret for MONTHS only to have Google Calendar spill the beans for me a week and a half before we were to leave.

See, Google likes to be SUPER helpful and when I got confirmation emails about our flights and hotels, it added them to my calendar. Fortunately, I noticed that early on and quickly moved everything to a secret calendar. EXCEPT! Google (again, trying to be helpful) assumed that I wanted to share that calendar with Aaron since all my other calendars are shared with him. So in late June Aaron came to me with guilt all over his face. "I think I know where we're going. It showed up on my calendar today."

SWEAR WORDS.

On the plus side, we spent the last few days before our trip planning more specific things and it was fine. Still, it would have been a lot more fun to just give Aaron his plane ticket the morning of and be like SURPRIIISE.

Maybe next time.

The Brian Head wildfire made for a really dramatic drive through southern Utah


I drove my kids up to Utah so they could spend the week playing with cousins then I caught a super early morning Uber to the airport and flew to San Francisco...by way of Phoenix. There were no direct flights so yeah, I flew back home and then Aaron and I were on the same flight up to SFO.

We spent two perfect days in the city. We ate amazing food and walked (and biked) all over and reeeally enjoyed wearing jackets.

The best places we ate while in SF:

The Grove Fillmore- Recommended by Kristen Pear. We walked the mile-ish from our hotel and had a suuuper yummy breakfast. It was the perfect cozy spot to eat on a foggy morning.

Super yummy breakfast at The Grove
Delarosa- a Yelp find while we were in the area, this place had excellent pizza. We both love burrata and they have a burrata margherita that was SO GOOD. Aaron got spicy coppa on his half but I had mine straight and we both loved it. Perfect little lunch spot.


La Boulangerie de San Francisco - right around the corner from The Grove! We walked the same mile the next morning to get breakfast from this little French bakery. I had the turkey and brie croissant and Aaron had some kind of breakfast sandwich and the sour cherry lemonade before we split a chocolate croissant. All excellent.

We had dinner in Chinatown one night- some of what we ordered was really good, some was pretty mediocre. Not really worth recommending but it DID put us right by Coit Tower so we made the climb and had gorgeous views.



View from Coit Tower

Can you spot Lombard Street there at the back?

We stopped at Ghirardelli Square, obviously. We had to get a hot fudge sundae AND hot chocolate- for balance.

We biked the Golden Gate one day and spent some time exploring Sausalito, which Aaron was completely sold on. The city was chilly and gloomy but Sausalito was warm and sunny and totally bike friendly. We had lunch at Le Garage. The stuffed squash blossoms were REALLY good but everything else was good-not-great, which was kind of disappointing considering how pricey the restaurant was.




June Gloom as we biked across the Golden Gate

On Wednesday evening I discovered I'd made a huge mistake: I somehow didn't book a rental car. The plan had been to pick up a rental car on Thursday morning to make the drive to Tahoe but either something went wrong or I just never clicked "book" but I went through my email over and over and I could not find a confirmation anywhere. We had to book a last minute car and it was DOUBLE the price it had been when I looked 4 months prior. It was painful. I felt awful.

So Thursday morning we picked up our practically gold-plated rental car and drove to Land's End on our way out of San Francisco. I never made it to that area while growing up in the Bay Area and I've always wanted to. It was so so good. We did a small stretch of the trail and saw whales and it was just perfect.


Sutro Baths

There's a little whale plume in the back of this photo

The second part of Aaron's surprise was that his good friend from college, Andrew, and his wife Shawna were meeting us in Tahoe. They arrived in Tahoe shortly after us on Thursday and we had a late dinner with lots of laughs and catching up.

Dorks


We kayaked, swam, hiked, ate and laughed for 3 days. It was the best. We're already planning on taking a trip together again next summer. We said over and over that we were so glad they were there with us. It made the trip just that much better.

Exploring the Truckee River




You know how I'm always linking to cheap bikinis on Amazon? I finally got one and it was awesome. The bottoms were a bit too tiny (like, they sort of exposed my c-section scar) so I usually wore a pair of plain black bottoms with them instead. But I love the top and $20 was totally worth it.

SO GORGEOUS but I kind of wish the water was like 15 degrees warmer. Tahoe is COLD y'all.



Mission accomplished!! Aaron was surprised (I mean, 2 weeks ahead of time, but still! surprised!), we got out of the heat and had so. much. fun.


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Friday, June 23, 2017

The Best Books I've Read This Year (So Far)

I have read so. many. good. books. this year. Half the time I finish a book and think, "This is one of the best books I've read this year." I don't know if I have just gotten really selective or what but there have been very few duds (and those I just returned to the library without finishing. Life's too short for bad novels or yawn-inducing non-fiction).

So here are a few of the best books I've read so far this year and what I loved about them:

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History-- Without the Fairy Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

This was an impulse Barnes and Noble purchase. It was like $6 in the store (it's more expensive on Amazon, boo) so I grabbed it based on the title alone. I got 4 chapters in and ran out and bought two more copies as gifts for a couple feminist friends who I knew would appreciate it.

The chapters are each short-ish stand alone tales of princesses in history and mythology who didn't fit the standard princess mold. There are warrior princesses, mentally ill princesses, murderous princesses, and princesses who ran off with the wrong guy (a couple different times). History can often be too dry for me but McRobbie injects a lot of humor into her writing and I really got into the stories. Also, I really appreciated the bite-sized nature of the chapters- you could sit and read a ten page tale and then go on with your day without having to remember long strings of names and dates and places. Unfortunately, I didn't QUITE finish before I accidentally forgot this book on a nightstand in a Vegas motel. It's possible the last couple chapters were abysmal but going by the 90% I DID read, I'm not too worried. If I come across it again in B&N I'll buy yet another copy.



The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

I debated between including this one or the also excellent The Righteous Mind (which you should probably also read!) but ultimately decided on The Happiness Hypothesis mostly because I felt like so much of it was applicable to my life and things I have experienced. I've talked to several other people who have said it's one of their favorite books for that reason so I know I'm not alone in that. There's philosophy, religion, economics, psychology, and cognitive science all stirred together and poured out in a wonderfully accessible and cohesive portrait of what happiness is and how to improve our own happiness levels.

Chunks of the book feel a bit self-helpy but I don't think it's really a self-help book. There's definitely information here that could help you make positive life changes but this was definitely more of a psychology or philosophy book for me (my fav).



Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America by Bob Herbert  

The author, Bob Herbert, was a New York Times columnist for 18 years and he quit in order to write this book. I listened to this one and I just remember hiking in the mountains one morning and thinking, "omg I get it." It's no secret that I'm not a Trump supporter but this book helped me finally understand people who are. I found myself a little irked at Obama for not tackling some of these issues and I could see how people might have seen Clinton as more of the same and why they might not be interested in that.

He talks about the collapse of America's infrastructure (I have no desire to cross a bridge ever again) as well as the economic collapse and plight of middle class and the poor. It was incredibly well researched and offered a fantastically well written perspective of an America that I didn't see or understand before.




Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

I spent the past couple weeks binge-reading the CRAP out of this series. It's not new- the first book came out in 2012 and the fifth book came out last year- but for some reason I only JUST heard about it a couple months ago when I overheard my mom and sister talking about it. Fantasy isn't usually my jam so it took me a while to get around to picking up the first book. But when I finally did, hoo boy. My family didn't hear from me for a while. Pop Tarts for dinner kids, mommy's busy!

The main character is a badass female assassin. There are witches and demons and secret identities and kingdoms to save. Also: a parade of love interests. High five to Maas for keeping things unpredictable in the love story arena! There are also plenty of secondary characters that I actually care about and that doesn't often happen for me in books like this. I'm currently number 83 on the list for the fifth book and I am dyyyying to know what happens next.


There are several more that I could link here but my kids are begging to make cookies and I'm not one to turn down the opportunity to eat cookies. As I was looking at the books I've read so far in 2017 the vast majority are non-fiction. I could use a really good novel- any fiction recommendations?

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