Small-Budget Crushes 12.14.18

December 14th, 2018

Happy holiday shopping! xo

sherpa pullover

white sailing ship kite

fur embellished plaid cape coat

read banned books

outdoor wine table

lucite handled tote bag

velvet block heels

hardsided luggage set (in so many fun colors!)

cheese & crackers serving board

christmas morning person

one step volumizing hair dryer

minky robe (loads of colors and under $20!!)

fairy garden kits

record player

runner’s light gloves

chenille sweater in three hues

bill murray socks

super mario tee

harper satchel

2019 planner

you’re my favorite lounge pants

zip-up sherpa pullover

3 tier utility cart

chi air spin curler

marathon training bubble list

Keep on window shopping by visiting all of my Small-Budget Crushes. This post contains affiliate links!! xoxoxo


9 Cozy Books for Winter Reading (Plus a HUGE GIVEAWAY)

December 13th, 2018

Winter is my favorite reading season because there is nothing that fills my cup more than sitting my the fire, sipping a warm drink, and flipping pages on a cozy new read.

I am hoping you can’t think of anything better too and that is why today’s post is such an exciting one. Not only am I sharing a great reading list, but I’m also sharing the brand new Kindle Paperwhite with one lucky reader.

Today I’m partnering up with The PickUp Line to giveaway a brand new Kindle Paperwhite with all its new bells and whistles.  The new Paperwhite has TWICE the storage and it is WATERPROOF.

I mean, how awesome is that??

The Pickup Line is a newsletter that can keep you informed on the headlines, help you figure out what to make for dinner, and even provide a playlist for your ride, look no further than The Pickup Line.

If you are a book reader,  you will love knowing that each week I share a book selection for moms AND a YA book selection for tweens/teens each week with their subscribers. I would love for you to subscribe over here.


In honor of today’s giveaway, I’d love to share 9 cozy reads I recommend you put on it for the winter season!

The Snow Child by Eoywn Ivey

The Snow Child takes place in 1920 in Alaska where a city-bred girl Mabel and her husband Jack are trying to make a life for themselves in the isolated woods of an Alaskan farm. More than anything Mabel & Jack have longed for a child, but have remained childless and are beginning to drift apart. Mabel is in the throes of a deep depression and Jack is beginning to wonder if their decision to move to Alaska was a sound one.

One night, amid the first falling snow, Jack & Mabel have a moment of tenderness and begin playing in the snow. They decide to make a snow child and add little additions from Mabel’s wardrobe to wrap her in.

The next morning, their snow child is gone, but they begin catching the glimpse of a child running through the woods wearing Mabel’s items that were once on their snow child.  This child  of the woods contentedly runs around the forest in the freezing cold with a red fox. Mabel and Jack are left wondering…is this a real child or is this a fairy tale child that they are simply hallucinating?

This is a grown-up fairy tale that is just so beautifully written that your heart will be aching for Mabel and Jack that they can make this child that they have longed for to be their own.  I was enraptured with the story from the first page and I have a feeling you will too!

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

If you are craving an escape from the holiday crazy, I can think of no better suggestion than an evening with, Seven Days of Us.

The entire Birch family must come together for seven long days to be locked down into quarantine for the holidays. Olivia, their daughter, is a doctor and has been treating an epidemic abroad and they need to insure that no germs are spread. The family hasn’t been together this long in years and, as we all do, everyone falls back into their old roles. Children become children again, parents resume fighting, and they all must learn to live with one another again.

Each of these family members is carrying a secret that holds detrimental consequences for the entire family. Told from their alternating perspectives, the chapters begin to twist together as these secrets are revealed.

Even in the predictable moments, this made for a highly entertaining read and is a great way to unwind over the holiday weekend. It made me smile in many of the same ways of some of my favorite holiday films. I think you will love this one!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I’m not even going to lie, this novel is absolute perfection from start to finish. Never a lag, never a dull moment, audible gasps at shocking plot twists, a steamy sordid love affair…friends, THIS is unbelievable.

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

As a reader, you are taken on a Dickens-esque roller coaster ride with plot twist after plot twist. I could not put this down and can’t wait to dig into more of her books now that I finally know what all the fuss is about. This book was amazing!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I really loved The Nightingale and had really been hoping Kristin Hannah would tackle another historical fiction book, but this contemporary coming-of-age story ended up being sweetly satisfying for a winter escape.

This story is set in the seventies and is about a former POW father who comes home from the Vietnam War completely changed. His behavior and decision-making is wildly erratic and when a property becomes available in rural Alaska, he decides that they should seize the opportunity to live off the grid and make a different life for themselves.

Braving harrowing and life-threatening conditions is what is all about and thirteen-year-old Leni is caught in the middle of it all as they attempt to carve a new life in the wild frontier.

Living off the grid is not all it is cracked up to be and neither is surviving the difficult Alaska winters.

Braving the wilderness is tough and Hannah writes so eloquently about this impossible marriage and the honest struggle of a Vietnam veteran.

If you are looking for book club ideas for the winter, I highly recommend this one and even share 7 tips for hosting a successful book club all around this incredible read.


Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Described by one reviewer as Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups, my favorite book this month was definitely, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance. I can’t recommend this one enough for a gorgeously written escape, with equal parts myth and relatability.

Weylyn is an orphan and has been raised by a pack of wolves which is just one of many reasons why he can’t seem to fit in with others.  When he finds that he can single-handedly stop a tornado, with his own powers, he realizes just how different he really is.

Weylyn finds a sweet friendship with a girl named Mary and her devotion has never ended, even as they have gotten older. This beautiful relationship is followed as Weylyn brings magic into everything he does, even as an adult trying to hold down a regular job. The gift he has though is a blessing and a curse and we get to hear his story through the eyes of many in this book.

I could not put this one down and would recommend it for anyone who enjoyed, The Snow Child, because it has that fairytale quality to it that makes you never want to stop flipping the pages until you reach the very end of the story.

Although not labeled as a YA, I would confidently pass this one on to my children because it is a clean, sweet, and magical story. In fact, that’s just what I did. It’s the type of book that you just want to share with others, with unforgettable characters and unbelievable storytelling.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Winter reading is made for classics so I had to include my favorite.
This story is one of the most unbelievably beautiful, heart-wrenching, unexpectedly laugh-out-loud funny in portions, make me weep in others, and heartwarming books that I have read in my life.The story is about Mary Frances Nolan (also known as Francie) and she shares the story of her life from the tender age of eleven until she turns sixteen.

Growing up as a poor girl in Brooklyn, she shares the story of the survival that they must go through to keep food on the table and the difficulties of family life when ends just don’t meet. With a mother who is doing the best she can to keep their family afloat and an unreliable, but loving father who works as a singing waiter and takes to drinking at night to cope with the realities of his life, the family lives in a tiny flat in Brooklyn where they try to make the most on the very least.

Francie is forced to be older than she is from the very beginning of her life. Often saddled with the task of bartering at the grocery store, figuring out a way to get into a better school so she can get her education, and made to get jobs to help with the family finances or assist her mother on jobs, you can’t help but admire Francie’s resourcefulness throughout the book.

The Christmas scenes, the things that the children treasured the most, the tin can filling with pennies of earnings that would later feed them, the diary entries carefully edited because of her mother who didn’t want Francie writing about her father’s alcoholism, the impractical gifts that the children gave to each other (and their mother let them) only to discover their mother was right, those feelings of first love- all beautifully captured in prose that held me and wouldn’t let me go.

While I can’t say that there is a definite plot to the story, the book is told almost in short story format sharing the daily trials and tribulations of growing up in a poor family, it really did not need a focused plot because the writing was so beautiful. 

I would say that it mainly focused on the self-discovery that Francie makes about herself and about her parents as she becomes more aware of what is happening around her and as the responsibilities later shift to Francie’s shoulders when she struggles with wanting to be an adult and support the family, but also desires to get an education.

No words can describe what a treasure this book is to read. Despite being written so long ago, the themes are still so current- the need to keep up with one’s reputation, the importance of hard work and honesty in life, the discovery that money isn’t everything, but that it does make it easier when you don’t have to focus on it, and the importance of loyalty to your family.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Does anyone else get sucked into food shows and creating comfort food in the winter season? If you are a foodie like me, you are going to love this pick!

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

This book is perfectly quirky in every way. The reader gets to go on a journey chapter by chapter with different narrators who are all somehow connected to an incredible little girl named Eva, that grows into a woman of major culinary talent. As with any book with changing narrators, some chapters you are more drawn into than others, but it does not take away from the quirky hilarity written in each chapter.

Being a Midwest girl, there were many references that made me feel nostalgic about my own Midwest roots as Eva’s coming-of-age story unfolds. I had a hard time putting this one down! Fans of Eleanor & Park will really appreciate the quirk in this one!

You can read my interview with J. Ryan Stradal and read more about his passion for food & the Midwest in our Sundays With Writers series.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

When winter hits, I always crave a fun holiday read and One Day in December fits the bill perfectly. If you are looking for a fun romantic read around the holidays, I would DEFINITELY snag this one (Pssstttt- it is one of the BOTM selections this month!!)

Laurie never believed in love at first sight, but one snowy day in December, she sees a man that she just knows is THE ONE. Unfortunately, the bus takes off before she can do any of the romantic things she has dreamt of wayyyy after her chance has passed her by.

She shares about this moment with her best friend, Sarah, and each of them keeps hoping that Laurie is going to run into him again so Laurie can be with the guy of her dreams.

As the holidays approach again, the two host a holiday party and Sarah couldn’t be more thrilled to bring together her boyfriend and Laurie for the first time. Wouldn’t you just know it that Sarah has found the guy of HER dreams and it is THE ONE that Laurie has been waiting for.

The story follows the three over the course of ten years as they navigate these muddy waters.

Although it was light, it has some surprisingly deep moments that make it both fun and compelling.

If, “Love Actually,” is your favorite holiday movie too, you are going to adore this read.

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

Dreaming of escaping the cold? How about a romantic island adventure for your stack?

I’m a sucker for a good love story and I can’t rave enough about the beauty of, Castle of Water.

In this story, a small plane crashes in the middle of the South Pacific leaving two of the passengers stranded as they both washed ashore on a small island.  If you think this sounds a bit predictable, I did too, but Huckelbridge writes a story that is anything BUT predictable as the two castaways work together to try to remain alive in the face of numerous hurdles.

The writing is surprisingly witty and laugh-out-loud funny, while still giving you that ache in your heart at all they have lost. Being stranded on an island requires a writer to really drive this story with strong characters. This character development is the heart of the story as these two seem to lift off the pages.

While the ending didn’t bring all that I had hoped, it felt truthful to the storytelling and didn’t overshadow this beautiful story! Run, run, run and get this one!

It’s giveaway time with The Pickup Line. One lucky winner will receive the NEW Kindle Paperwhite!

You have three easy ways to submit entry today!

1- Leave a comment and share your favorite winter read. Don’t worry, you don’t have to choose just one, bookworms!

2- Subscribe to The Pickup Line Newsletter. Once you subscribe, just check the button that you have are part of their mailing list

3- Subscribe to the MomAdvice Newsletter. Once you subscribe, just check the button that you are part of my mailing list.

Good luck, everyone and happy reading!

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9 Great Gift Ideas for Someone Living With Chronic Pain (Giveaway with Quell 2.0!!)

December 7th, 2018

I received a Quell 2.0 in exchange for my honest thoughts & opinions.

Do you know someone who suffers from chronic pain? I have gotten several emails and messages over the past few months asking if I would share some gift ideas for a friend or family member who is battling a chronic illness and/or suffering from chronic pain.

Today I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite ideas for gift-giving AND share a giveaway with you for the newly designed Quell 2.0 (!!!).

I can tell you already that this would be the most incredible gift to share or to gift to yourself this holiday season.

I was lucky enough to give the new Quell a try and I can’t wait to tell you more.

Be sure to scroll all the way down to enter today’s contest!

9 Great Gift Ideas for Someone Living With Chronic Pain


Heated Throws

One of my most relied upon items for relieving pain, especially in the winter, is my heated throw. I treated myself to a sherpa version of the Sunbeam throw (it’s a tad pricier, but I feel like the fabric holds up a tad better)  and it has been such a game-changer for me throughout the day.

Thanks to this blanket offering three settings, you can be warm without getting overheated or you can crank this baby up and get some relief from those brutal Midwest temperatures like I do.

The sizing is perfect for two or one really cold woman who wraps herself like a burrito in it.

Gift Certificates to Offset Costs

In case you didn’t know, having a chronic illness can be very expensive, especially when so many of the alternative care options aren’t covered by insurance.

You don’t need to necessarily spend full price on a gift card for a loved one though.

I rely a lot upon sites like Groupon to try to get the most bang for my buck when splurging on myself.

I feel a tad less guilty when I am paying half price for these services.

Packaged up with a note that they are being thought of by you is a very special gift and will be greatly appreciated.

Each person is different in what they might be looking for so be sure you have a good understanding of what services will be helpful to the recipient.

Groupon covers everything from massage to discounts on meditation apps to discounts at my local natural foods store to help offset some of the costs on my supplements.

You may not know that they also offer prepared meal services which can help your recipient get a night off from cooking.

Once again, just check in with them about what would be most helpful, places they like, or dietary restrictions that would need to be addressed when planning your gift.

Supportive Slippers

It may sound a little silly, but a good pair of slippers has really made a big difference in my pain and can be a great gift for anyone who suffers from back pain, diabetes, Raynaud’s disease, or foot problems. I have had good success with these UGG slippers and am even giving them to my mom this year for her holiday gift.

The nice thing about this brand, in particular, is that you can switch out the inserts and make them feel like brand new again from season to season, offering that continuous support that you need.

To save on costs, be sure to check sites for coupons or even check eBay for brand new slippers at a fraction of the cost. Almost all of my shoes and slippers have been found there and have saved me half the price.

If your recipient has a wider foot, I have found the ABEO brand from The Walking Company to be amazing and they offer incredible built-in arch support.

Elevate Their Evening Soak

Many chronic pain sufferers get relief from a warm bath and the people in my family have learned that they can never go wrong gifting me something for my bathtime.

In fact, pictured here is my favorite weekend setup! My hubby’s parents gifted me this amazing full body bath pillow that completely cushions all my sore joints while I soak in the tub and has become my absolute favorite thing. The best part is that it can be thrown in your washer and it dries quickly so no mildew issues at all.

I pair it with a bath tray, a good book, a few scoops of epsom salts, and a glass of wine for the perfect night in.

On bad pain days, I have added an evening dose of CBD oil to my evening routine to help me unwind and this muscle roller is amazing for rolling out tight muscles.


Make Their Grocery Day Easier

I have been so thankful for the grocery delivery services that we have in our area, but to save money, I am still doing some of our shopping myself.

I have found that a rolling shopping cart is really invaluable for getting our groceries into our home.

Not to mention those library hauls we have been making (*ahem*).

It is such a simple thing, but it saves me several trips of going back and forth to my car!

Another great option would be to purchase a gift card for Instacart or Shipt to deliver groceries (if they offer delivery in their area) so they can not worry about the shopping part at all. These services have been invaluable to me on difficult days!

Pitch in for a Quell

Longtime readers know that I absolutely love my Quell and I was so excited when they reached out to see if I would be interested in trying out the newly redesigned Quell 2.0 AND the opportunity to share a GIVEAWAY with you so you can experience it too.

After trying the Quell 2.0 out, I can honestly say that I am so impressed by the improvements they made.

The first thing that I noticed was that the sizing is so much smaller and the device is quicker and more intuitive than their first version. They have managed to shrink all that technology into this tiny gadget.

If you are unfamiliar with the Quell, it  is a wearable intensive nerve stimulation device, that is clinically proven to help manage chronic pain. It is 100% drug free, doctor recommended, and FDA cleared for 24/7 use, during the day while active and at night while sleeping, so you can get relief when and where you need it.

This device is worn just below the knee and activated by simply clicking a button. This position (on the calf)  is where a lot of the sensory nerves are located so the pain can be blocked at the spinal cord, which helps you feel widespread relief from your pain and not just relief in a specific part of your body.

These sensory nerves send neural pulses to your brain that then trigger a natural response that blocks pain signals, leading to widespread pain relief for many people.

The company refers to it its intuitive abilities as “OptiTherapy” technology that can automatically adjust therapy and dose to ensure you receive optimal pain relief.

The best part is that you can start and stop therapy sessions, as well as adjust the intensity of therapy all from the Quell app on your smartphone (app works for both iOS and Android).


Headphones & Listening Material

Many people with chronic illness are often stuck at home because they don’t feel well. A pair of bluetooth earbuds can serve double duty for taking phone calls without putting any strain on the body or for entertainment purposes.

Give them a list of the current best podcasts or get them a gift certificate for Audible or Scribd so they can listen to audiobooks to help them fill the time.

Gifts to Make Their Bed More Cozy

I, personally, love anything that makes my bed more cozy and there are lots of helpers that can make that space better for someone with a chronic illness. A laptop desk tray can be a great gift for working or just catching a few flicks and being able to adjust the tray helps a lot with neck strain.

Need other ideas? How about this bed shelf, a mini space heater, a rice pillow, remote controlled outlets, a cozy throw, a magazine subscription, a weighted blanket, a supportive pillow, a streaming service they don’t already have, compression glovesfuzzy socks, or a sleep jacket.

Also, if you have a larger room (as ridiculously meme-worthy this is), I can’t recommend one of these enough. It is my winter savior, amen.

Cooking Helpers

Losing some of my hand strength has made me more aware of the things I struggle with in my kitchen. If your recipient is low on strength or energy, I have a few helpful kitchen tool ideas.

My favorite things are my jar opener and chopper to help reduce strain on my joints.

Other helpful kitchen items can be a kitchen prep stool (all the heart eyes for that one!!), a cushioned kitchen mat, an electric can opener, and a cookbook stand.

I’m sure there are SO MANY things I’m missing so please chime in and let me know how you manage pain.

By following the steps below, you will be entered to win the NEW Quell 2.0 Starter Kit, valued at $299.99!!

I’m SO excited to share this drug-free pain relief option that has made an incredible difference in my own pain management (you can read my full story and how this amazing tool works over here from their first version). 

Quell also shared a coupon code for our MomAdvice readers to help offset some of the costs. You can use the coupon code HOLIDAY30 for $30 off your purchase

The most important thing that they wanted to share with you though is that if you do not have success with the device Quell offers a 60-day money back guarantee if it doesn’t help alleviate your pain.

You have nothing to lose….especially if you win one!

Please follow the steps below to enter to win!

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This post contains affiliate links.

Small-Budget Crushes 12.06.18

December 6th, 2018

Here’s hoping I can help you check off a few more gifts this holiday season! xo

lace blouse (3 colors)

hand drawn maps (pick your favorite city) 

stoneware mugs

ipad stand

stovetop popcorn maker (use coupon code POPCORN to get this for under $30!!)

short twig colored pencils

blue wrap dress (get $20 credit when you sell it back!!)

illustrated yoga calendar

she’s blooming print

cookbook stand

west elm duffle bags

space playhouse

ribbed turtleneck sweater

miracle face erase (great stocking stuffer for teen/tween)

packable blanket (great for outdoor sports!!)


walkie chalk

metallic pleated skirt

punny foodie calendar


yoga mat bag

richard scarry’s merry christmas book

unicorn scissors

my comic book set

classic popcorn maker (use coupon code POPCORN to bring this to only $79.95!!!)

doing my best tee

electrical wine opener

luster earrings

acupressure mat

2-way stole

heroic girls in books poster

personalized key chains

diy ukulele kit

toy car storage

bluetooth earbuds

ribbed top (so many cute colors!!)

dryer balls

the united states puzzle

double book light (to illuminate both pages!)

Keep on window shopping by visiting all of my Small-Budget Crushes. This post contains affiliate links!! xoxoxo

Amy’s Notebook 12.05.18

December 5th, 2018


Love the notebook? Sign up for my free weekly newsletter with more incredible articles!!

How cute is this pom-pom scarf for the holidays?

Now this is such a fun creative gift for kiddos.

Gosh, I love this idea!! Those are gifts that keep on giving.

I started a ten laughs for Tuesday and it has been a little sunshine in my week. I hope it can give you a chuckle or two too.

I have forgotten how to read.

5-ingredient meal ideas for dinner this month.

I made you something.

How to upgrade an inexpensive wreath– so smart!

Knitters- how cute is this knitted tree garland?

I’m always working on better morning routines and this is some great inspiration.

This is an adorable holiday craft to do with your favorite little crafters.

I love that this was your favorite purchase this month.


7 fun new date night ideas. I can’t wait to try a few of these with my hubby!

I read this book yesterday and absolutely adored it. Can’t wait to see the movie this week!

So much Christmas decorating eye candy in this post. #bigfan

20 rules for hosting holiday parties with kids. I can’t wait to try a few of these ideas!

If you are still on the hunt for gifts, I love these!


I love this step-by-step guide on nailing an outdoor planter.

Who wants a basement laundry room that looks like this? (raises hand!)

Pretty sure this is the perfect holiday doormat!

Struggle with reading retention? I do! I love these strategies for rectifying that.

Well, this cauliflower dish is going on my menu plan stat.

Here are the 10 best books of 2018. Shocking, I’ve only read 2!

17 reasons the modern woman is struggling. The struggle is real!

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

Please note, there are affiliate links in this post- thank you! xoxo

The Best Gifts My Kids Ever Received

December 3rd, 2018

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

What kind of shopper are you? Are you the type who buys everything in a frantic flurry on Black Friday? (I suppose I shouldn’t make assumptions; I hereby recognize you may attack the post-holiday sales with military precision and a budget Dave Ramsey would admire.) Or do you collect presents for your loved ones all year long, stashing them away after entering them into your top-secret gift spreadsheet?

I fall somewhere in between those types, attempting to buy presents ahead of time but occasionally forgetting what I’ve bought, who it’s for, or where I hid it.

And don’t even get me started on all the great intentions I’ve had for saving up for the holidays — or the ways I’ve abandoned those plans with, well, abandon.

Current state? I have small piles of packages in a few places around my house, one in plain sight yet strangely overlooked by my nosy kids, and a spreadsheet about said gifts that was updated sometime before school started. And hopes for a year-end paycheck that comes in time to hit the best sales (on the internet because this mama doesn’t do Black Friday or mall madness).

But as I started to feel stressed while making a list of all the stores I need to visit and purchases I have yet to make, I remembered how I felt on my oldest daughter’s birthday this fall.

As I’ve shared before my daughter is an enormous fan of all things Harry Potter. It was a given that her 11th birthday party would have a Hogwarts theme, and thanks to my tendency to lose my Pinterest-loving mind when it comes to planning parties, going all out for this celebration was also a given.

From the invitations and the decorations to the games and the food, we went crazy.

In a good way.

Planning the party was a blast, and my Griffyndor-wannabe (I get it, I do. But Pottermore sorted her into the house of Hufflepuff, and I do not question Pottermore.) was thrilled.

However, the best part of the whole weekend wasn’t a display of floating candles in the dining room or chocolate treats turned into golden snitches.

It wasn’t even the set of paperbacks I’d found on sale weeks before (though that did earn a whole lot of hugs and thanks).

The best part of my daughter’s birthday weekend happened when one of my best friends drove three hours to help us set up the party, bringing her own Hogwarts robe and magic wand and spending hours talking with her about details of the characters and plotlines I can’t keep straight.

The weekend got even better when another one of my best friends and her husband showed up for the party in full costume, down to preppy vests and scary tattoos.

My girl didn’t stop smiling that day and has yet to stop talking about how amazing it was that, not only did her friends come to celebrate her birthday, but so did mine.

The fact that adults who are not related to her (or obligated to spend time with her) showed up in such a big way was an incredible gift.

When I think about the best gifts my kids have received, experiences and quality time come out miles ahead of any toys, books, or clothes they’ve been given. Trips to the art museum with my brother, pumpkin carving and bread baking and apple picking with my parents, notes in the mail from a Sunday school teacher who shows up every single weekend, questions and conversations from my friend who always takes time to sit down, make eye contact, and really connect with my kids on their level — all of these blow coloring books and stuffed animals and iTunes gift cards out of the water when it comes to gifts that matter.

I do realize, by the way, that this illustrates my family’s privilege.

Our basic needs are met this year, so wishlists and shopping lists can be about presents just for fun, but we’ve had other years when we’ve been exceedingly grateful for winter coats or backpacks for school that the grandparents have purchased. If you’re in a season where the gifts your kids need are sturdy jeans, a new toothbrush, or help paying for dance class or soccer cleats, I get it.

However, if you are looking for fun gift ideas this holiday season, tangible ways to show your kids they’re loved, or answers to aunts or friends or grandpas who ask, “What should I get them?” — my number one suggestion is time.

Here are a few ways you can give (or recommend other loved ones give) your kids the best gift ever:

  • Sign up for a lesson or class together. Learn to cook a new dish, improve your golf swing, or make a birdhouse for the backyard.
  • Buy gift cards to a restaurant or coffee shop, with the plan and promise to use them together.
  • Put together a craft kit to pass on a skill or art you’ve mastered. This could be cross-stitching, calligraphy or hand lettering, or making the perfect pancake.
  • Create a doable bucket list for the next year (or month). Maybe even create it together!
  • Buy passes to a sporting event, concert, play, book signing, or other event they’d like to attend — and go with them.
  • Buy tickets to local attractions, such as the zoo, museums, or parks — and go with them.
  • Create a coupon book of low-budget ways you can spend time together — and follow through whenever they want to redeem a coupon.
  • Make a list of conversation starters and put them in a container. Use them regularly to get to know your kiddo better.

All kids want to know they’re valued, that at least for a few hours they’re more important than work or schedules or chores or even their siblings. And the gift of time — a shared experience, a regular “date” or plan to get together — lasts so much longer than toys that fall out of favor and use within months (or sometimes even before they go back to school in January!). I still have some shopping to do, but this year I’m making sure I plan for gifts that focus on quality time, shared experiences, and ways to grow closer to my kids.

Looking for more advice for the holiday season? Check out these posts!

the real santa story

choose your own adventure christmas gift

christmas tree cinnamon rolls tradition

celebrating st nicholas day

free printable advent calendar (for big kids!!)


What’s the best gift your kids ever received?

Mary Carver is a writer, church planter, wife, mom and recovering perfectionist. She writes about her imperfect life with humor and honesty, encouraging women to give up on perfect and get on with life at also contributes to and, and she’d love to connect with you on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram.

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November 2018 Must-Reads

December 2nd, 2018

Looking for your next great book? Check out this stack of 6 must-reads. From YA to Romance to Science Fiction. I’ve got you covered!

I can’t believe that we are closing in on our last month of reading this year.

I am on the struggle bus for December as I try to put 11 books under my belt to reach my 100 books goal, but I am determined to make it happen. If you are on the struggle bus too, this quick reads to reach your reading goals list might be the ticket for you.

This month I had the best time joining in as co-host for the Currently Reading Podcast. If you haven’t listened to this podcast before, you are in for a big treat. Kaytee & Meredith share their bookish moments and discuss what they are reading with kindness and honesty. I loved sharing about a few of the books that I had been reading as well as some tips for starting your own book club.

Speaking of book clubs, did you see that our 2019 selections have been announced?

After a month of research and gathering, I am REALLY excited about these picks and can’t wait to share them with you. My fingers are crossed that I have found a few of your new favorites for 2019!

Speaking of great books, did you know that Prime members get a book for FREE every single month BEFORE it is released to the public? Be sure to select a free book for December! You earned it!

My Usual Reminders

If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there!

There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there!

In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Looking to add some variety to your stack? Feel free to join our book club!

announced our selections (here is what we will be reading in December) and you can find them pinned at the top of the group page.

Need another challenge to push you out of your reading comfort zone?

Be sure to download this year’s Reading Challenge Worksheet.

The Book of Month Club Selections Are Out!! (I already read TWO of these so check out the reviews below!!)

This month’s selections:

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

One Day in December by Josie Silver

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Severance by Ling Ma

This month’s special:

When you give a Book of the Month subscription as a gift this season, you’ll get a gift for yourself: one free month! We have 3-, 6-, and 12-month subscription plans available for purchase. Give a gift, get a gift! today.

I HIGHLY recommend this one as the perfect holiday gift. It has been a hit with ALL of my friends and family. It is also SO fun when a gift can be enjoyed over a few months rather than just for one day!

Also, using code NICE2MEETU, new members can get their first book for just $5.

Here are 6 must-read books I tackled in November:

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I chose  An Absolutely Remarkable Thing as my Book of the Month selection, just knowing that this would be a book that I could pass on to my husband and son. Both of us read and loved this fun science fiction debut from Hank Green.

In this story, April May happens to be roaming her way around NYC in the wee hours of the morning when she stumbles upon a giant sculpture. It is an unusual looking ten-foot-tall industrial Transformer-type sculpture, unlike anything she had ever seen before.

Her friend, Andy, happens to be trying to make an audience on YouTube so she calls him to come and film her making a video of her with it and shares how she notices that even a sculpture of this size barely catches the eye of any New Yorker that’s passing.

In the morning, April awakens to find that her video has gone viral…and so has this sculpture. You see, this sculpture didn’t just end up in NYC.  It ended up in cities all over the world and no one knows how they got there.

The story builds out from there as April tries to be the first to discover the mystery of these metal fixtures (nicknamed Carl). She isn’t the only one looking for the answers though and this becomes a contest that the whole world seems to be participating in.

My husband loved all the geeky fun in this one, but I loved the more complex moral exploration of how social media can change us and our relationships with others.

Although this one is supposed to be in the adult category of literature, it read more like a YA read to me.

This was a strong debut (what else could we ever expect from John Green’s brother?) and the ending to this one screams sequel.

Fans of Ready Player One will LOVE this fun read!

5 out of 5 Stars

One Day in December by Josie Silver

I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

When winter hits, I always crave a fun holiday read and One Day in December fit the bill perfectly. If you are looking for a fun romantic read around the holidays, I would DEFINITELY snag this one (Pssstttt- it is one of the BOTM selections this month!!)

Laurie never believed in love at first sight, but one snowy day in December, she sees a man that she just knows is THE ONE. Unfortunately, the bus takes off before she can do any of the romantic things she has dreamt of wayyyy after her chance has passed her by.

She shares about this moment with her best friend, Sarah, and each of them keeps hoping that Laurie is going to run into him again so Laurie can be with the guy of her dreams.

As the holidays approach again, the two host a holiday party and Sarah couldn’t be more thrilled to bring together her boyfriend and Laurie for the first time. Wouldn’t you just know it that Sarah has found the guy of HER dreams and it is THE ONE that Laurie has been waiting for.

The story follows the three over the course of ten years as they navigate these muddy waters.

Although it was light, it has some surprisingly deep moments that make it both fun and compelling.

If, “Love Actually,” is your favorite holiday movie too, you are going to adore this read.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones

I thought I might be a bit burnt out on thrillers, but I read this twisted thriller in about 24-hours, proving that I am still digging this genre.

The Other Woman has had some pretty polarizing reviews so I have a feeling that this is one that you will really love or really hate. I joined the loving it camp because it was just what I need after a busy holiday weekend and I liked the fun twists that Jones weaved into this story.

Emily meets the guy of her dreams and they fall into a fast and heavy relationship in a matter of weeks. Although she seems unsure if he really loves her, Adam asks Emily to move in with him and then to be his wife.

Although Adam is reserved and Emily is unsure where she stands with him half the time, the real issue is his mother.

This woman does everything she can to sabotage their relationship and Adam is (or pretends to be) oblivious to all of his mother’s games. From snide comments to inviting someone to her hen party (gosh, I love that party phrase so much more than the ol’ bachelor party phrase) that she had a major falling out with, Pammie will stop at nothing to make sure that the two won’t get married.

Oh, and did I mention that Emily is having feelings for Adam’s brother?

I don’t want to say too much more, but things escalate quickly and Pammie is a pretty infuriating character.

In fact, I am pretty sure I can blame my jaw pain on her this week since my teeth were clenched through almost everything she said.

Although I thought I knew where this one was going, the ending surprised me a lot more than I had expected and I found this ride, even though it was predictable at times, to be worth the wait.

If you are looking for something quick and light to break up the heavy stuff, this one just might be the ticket.

4 out of 5 Stars

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

If you are looking for a really good YA read to add to your stack, My Name is Venus Black REALLY captured my heart this month.

Venus Black is a good kid, fascinated by astronomy and a strong student. That is why it is so unbelievable and shocking when she commits a crime that tears apart her family.

No one knows why she commited the crime and Venus refuses to talk about it, yet puts much of the blame solely on her own mother.  In the chaos of this crime, her developmentally challenged brother, Leo, goes missing.

Five years late, Venus is released from prison, but struggling to be released from her own identity. She tries to get a fresh start in a town, but no matter how hard she tries, she is unable to escape her own past.

Meanwhile, Leo is living his own challenging life and it has been doubly challenged by his environment and the person who kidnapped him. This change in residency though just might yield a different kind of family for this boy as those around him come to know and love sweet Leo.

This book is BEAUTIFUL and I loved every bit of it.  Since so many wanted to read this one, you can catch an impromptu discussion (lead by Kaytee!!) in our MomAdvice Book Club.

I couldn’t put this one down and I know that these characters will be in my heart for a long time!

5 out of 5 Stars

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

Fans of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda will absolutely ADORE What If It’s Us and will not be able to put this charming coming-of-age love story down.

Arthur is in New York for the summer and never expected that a trip to the post office would change his life. While standing in line though, he chats with another guy who is at the post office to rid himself of his ex-boyfriend’s items. The two strike up such a great conversation that Arthur just knows that the two were destined to meet.

Wouldn’t you know that a flash mob decides to come in to perform on that day and Arthur realizes that the boy of his dreams has left before he was able to get his name or number?

With encouragement from friends, he decides to put in an ad on Craigslist to see if he can find this newly single guy.

Magically, the universe delivers and the two find each other and end up going on some really terrible dates.

They aren’t willing to give up though and repeat their “first date” many times, getting to know each other through the process. What unfolds is an awkwardly sweet and honest teenage love story that I am such a sucker for.

I listened to this one on audiobook and it was a really fun one to listen to. The chapters alternate between Arthur and Ben and I found myself laughing out loud and even quite teary as I remembered my own dating struggles when I was growing up.

This was charming, adorable, heartfelt, and perfectly imperfect…as all love stories are.

5 out of 5 Stars

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I really enjoyed these two authors first collaboration in The Wife Between Us so I was excited to get my eyes on an advanced copy of this one.

Guess what?

You can get your hands on it too thanks to this being one of the selections for Book of the Month.

This book kept me up until the wee hours of the night and I was completely hooked within the very first chapter.

Jessica works as a freelance makeup artist and ends up doing a job for a woman that completely changes her path. When she overhears that her client is planning to turn down a psychology study that is paying a good sum of money, Jessica decides to turn up in her spot to see if she can take her place.

In a room alone, the survey on the computer begins with, “Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?”

That is just the opening question though and the questions start to become more and more invasive.

The thing is, Jessica starts to enjoy answering these questions and since she is doing such an incredible job, the doctor conducting study asks if she can assist in further research.

The money is too good to pass up and this is how Jessica finds herself becoming more and more paranoid as she worries that things happening in her daily life are really her being tested in the study.

Jessica could never guess though just what Dr. Shields is really up to and, at times, neither can the reader.

This is a smart psychological thriller with a well-thought plot.  If you love Black Mirror, I have a feeling you will love this one as it toys with the moral compass and what happens when we choose the wrong keeper to our secrets.

5 out of 5 Stars

Read With Me This Year:

January 2018 Must-Reads

February 2018 Must-Reads

March 2018 Must-Reads

April 2018 Must-Reads

May 2018 Must-Reads

June 2018 Must-Reads

July 2018 Must-Reads

August 2018 Must-Reads

September 2018 Must-Reads

October 2018 Must-Reads

What did you read this month? Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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Small-Budget Crushes 11.30.18

November 30th, 2018

Hope this helps with some of your holiday shopping! xo cozy pom pom throw

dinosaur duvet set

grab & go ponytail holders

eggs & bacon socks

pleated midi skirt (SO cute for holiday gatherings!)

faux fur throw (several colors)

femiknits bag

fuzzy slippers (loads of colors and under $20!!)

blue & gold unicorn

crushed velvet throw (several colors!!)

crosley record player

waffle knit thermal loungers

nyc map ring (find a city that’s special to you!)

what do you meme game

personalized photo locket

tabletop shuffle board

ribbed poncho (several gorgeous hues!)

tartan plaid bow flats

faux leather trim leggings

knit pom pom throw (several cute colors!!)

bicycle repair kit

alexander hamilton bag

over-the-door storage

monogrammed blanket scarf

Keep on window shopping by visiting all of my Small-Budget Crushes. This post contains affiliate links!! xoxoxo

MomAdvice 2019 Book Club Selections

November 26th, 2018

Check out the 2019 MomAdvice Book Club Selections and join our FREE book club today!

Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter for more great reads for your stack!

Can you believe that I am picking our 2019 MomAdvice Book Club selections this week? This year has flown by and I have SO enjoyed sharing books and discussions with you.

If one of your goals this year is to join a book club or read more, I’d love to introduce you to our FREE book club you can join. This is  an AMAZING Virtual Book Club group filled with almost 2,000 (!!!) readers where we all share in a monthly discussion together.

The best part?

There is no commitment to participate in chats (although I love it when you do!). This is a place to get opinions about books, find out what everyone is reading, and start chats of your own about books you would just love to talk about.

I wanted to get this list up a little early so you have loads of time to make requests to your local library or read ahead on any of these selections.

How Does the MomAdvice Facebook Book Club Work?

Scroll through the book list below to see what we have in store for you in 2019.  The discussion is held on the last Friday and an Event invite is sent out at the beginning of the month to join a virtual chat. Once you RSVP, Facebook does its thing and sends out reminders to you.

Discussion questions are posted throughout the event and you are able to hop on at anytime during the day (or when you finish that book) to answer the questions at a time that is convenient for you.

How fun is that?

Feel free to join us and let your friends know about the group too.

The more the merrier!

How Much Does it Cost?


Well, What Do YOU Get Out Of It?

I want this to be fun and free for you. I post the daily Kindle book deals and I share our book club picks though through something called an affiliate link. Basically, this link gives me a few pennies on each of your purchases that help pay for the web hosting on our website.

The web hosting currently costs me about $200 monthly and your purchases from this group basically help to offset that cost for our family at no cost to you.

I promise that I try to only share the good stuff and good books.

I know I can’t appeal to everyone’s taste, but I am really trying!! 

I also would like to think I made a lot of great bookworm friends too in this group. It’s been fun to have a place to obsess about books, to share what we are reading each week, and just hang out with other people who just get you.

I have tried to cultivate a positive environment and the group is filled with those kinds of drama-free people that you want to have filling your Facebook feed.

Escape the political nastiness and join a feel good kind of space.

I’m thrilled to share these 12 selections with you from a pool of talented writers. As always, I try to keep a good mix of fiction, nonfiction, YA, memoirs, and mysteries.

MomAdvice 2019 Book Club Selections

January- A Ladder to the Sky

February- My Sister the Serial Killer

March- The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

April- Little

May- The Friend

June- The Editor

July- In Sight of Stars

August- There Will Be No Miracles Here

September- No One Can Pronounce My Name

October- The Lying Woods

November- The Library Book

December- Virgil Wander

Join in on the MomAdvice Book Club HERE! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

Over 350 Kindle Books On Sale Today

November 26th, 2018

Let’s talk about some of my favorite deals today for Cyber Monday 2018! As a minimalist, I found Black Friday to be underwhelming this year, but I did find a few favorites for today.

If you love to read, this is a pretty incredible deal day on Amazon with over 350 (!!!) books on sale today. I’m sharing my recommendations below, but if you just want to get right to the list, head on over here.

Also, if you have been waiting for a good deal on the Paperwhite, today is also the day to score that with a discounted price of $79.99. Get this cover and you can even read while stirring a pot on the stove (hahaha!)

Amazon Kindle Book Deals (my favorites offered today!)

The Great Alone, $2.99

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, $2.99 (my favorite book of 2017!!)

Vox, $1.99

The One, $1.99

The Child Finder, $1.99

The Ministry of Ordinary Places, $2.99

The Winter Soldier, $4.99

Need to Know, $1.99

Children of Blood & Bone, $2.99

Far from the Tree, $1.99

Every Breath, $3.99

The Three Body Problem, $3.99

Leah on the Offbeat, $1.99

Another Woman’s Husband, $2.99

Not Our Kind, $1.99

American Gods, $2.99

I’m Judging You, $2.99

Artemis, $2.99

The Truth We Bury, $1.99 (or FREE with your Prime!)

The Handmaid’s Tale, $2.99 (or FREE with your Prime!)

Outlander, $1.99

It Was Me All Along, $1.99

Love & Ruin, $2.99

Hillbilly Elegy, $3.99

Murder on the Orient Express, $2.99

The Dutch Wife, $2.99

Tailspin, $4.99

The Snow Bride, $1.99

Vicious, $2.99

The Lost City of the Monkey God, $2.99

Racing to the Finish, $3.99

1984, $2.99 (or FREE with your Prime)

Money: Master the Game, $3.99

Other Deals To Get Excited About!

Take $5 off  when you spend $20 on books (this is a rare deal- take advantage of it!)

TODAY ONLY- take an additional 15% off sitewide at Target

Get $10 credit when you order a Prime Book Box for Kids.

Hunter Boots– under $100 today!!

LOFT– 50% off sitewide plus free shipping

Ann Taylor– 50% off sitewide plus free shipping

Old Navy– 40% off sitewide

Outerwear- HUGE discounts (good time to snag winter coats for next year!!)

Instant Pots– $79.99 plus free shipping (this is my favorite kitchen appliance)

Get a FREE 5-Piece Mrs. Meyer’s Gift Set with your first order (divide this set up for hostess gifts for the holidays!!)

Take an ADDITIONAL 20% off magazine subscriptions today with coupon code BDMCYBER20!! (these make great gifts that give all year-long or fabulous stocking stuffers)

Snowed in too? Redbox has $.16 rentals today!!!

16¢ DVD Rentals– Use coupon code DVD16

16¢ Blu-rays Rentals– Use coupon code BLURAY16

16¢ Game Rentals– Use coupon code GAME16