Reading Goal for 2019 (Check!)

Early this year, I shared all of the books I had read so far in 2019. My goal for the year was 20 books and I'm happy to say that I've already hit 25 books read this year. Goal met, goal exceeded. I have to admit, I almost never meet my book reading goal so that feels pretty good. The combination of not working and being awake in the middle of the night feeding Whitaker provided a real boost to my reading life this winter and spring.

Reading has been a bit slow for me this summer. The kids have been home and they aren't exactly the best at letting me finish a thought, much less a book, without interrupting. Back to school is just days away and I expect that I'll be able to up my reading game again once the older kids are gone all day. In the meantime, I wanted to share what I've read since February. 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
The Au Pair by Emma Rous
The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Water From a Deep Well by Dr. Gerald L. Sittser
Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Overall this was a great group of books. Like most of America, I absolutely loved Where the Crawdads Sing. I did not want it to end. Definitely add this to your reading list if you haven't read it yet. The Book of Essie was another favorite, it felt like a new kind of story, a departure from formulaic reads. I also really enjoyed An American Marriage, again a new-to-me kind of story and not at all what I expected it to be. The Au Pair was another one that really kept my attention. Half of What You Hear and Before She Knew Him were both good psychological thrillers. Along the Infinite Sea was good historical fiction. Leaving the world of fiction, Water from a Deep Well is an enjoyable survey of church history, reminding us of how much we can learn from those who came before us.

I'm excited about what I'm reading next. I'm currently reading Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle.

The next two titles on deck continue the nonfiction trend. The Universal Christ by Fr. Richard Rohr and Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando by Richard E. Fogelsong. 


I tend to need a break from nonfiction, preferring to lose myself in a story between nonfiction titles. If you have recommendations for great nonfiction, let me know. Until then, happy reading!


Florida Surprise: Epcot

Months ago I started writing about the surprise trip I took Elia on to Florida. (Parts one and two of the trip.) Now, six and a half months later, the trip is nearly a year and a half in our rear view. Still, I want to finish up my posts on that trip. I have a bad habit of blogging half a trip and while I know no one is waiting with bated breath, it's nice to have a complete record to look back on later.

So, without further ado, let me take you back to April 2018, to one of the most fun trips I've ever taken. We visited my aunt on the Space Coast, then headed to Walt Disney World where we explored Disney SpringsMagic Kingdom, and now we find ourselves in Epcot.

As a kid, I just loved Epcot so I was excited to explore it again as an adult. The World Showcase is just the best. Even though it could be criticized as a caricature of cultures, I think it's a great introduction to the countries showcased at each pavilion. I was excited to experience it again and enjoy it with Elia.

We got to Epcot before it opened for the day and made our way as quickly as possible to the Norway pavilion so Elia could meet Elsa and Anna. I'll take a bow as I tell you we were the second or third group in line to meet them.

After meeting them we stopped by the Kidcot Fun Stop location in Norway and get Elia a Duffy, a paper bear that served as her activity passport for the day. She was excited to earn stamps on it by doing different art projects around the park. After leaving Norway, we realized (well, I realized) that the World Showcase wasn't open yet beyond the Norwegian pavilion. We found plenty to do in the rest of the park while we waited for it to open. We happened to be at the entrance to World Showcase, in anticipation of meeting Belle, when it was time to open at 11:00. The cast members let Elia, along with some other children, open the World Showcase for the day, which was very exciting for her.

One of the biggest draws for Elia at Epcot was meeting characters. She loved meeting each one and I was again so impressed by how lovely every one of the characters were to each child they met. 

Who We Met:
  1. Elsa
  2. Anna
  3. Belle
  4. Mary Poppins
  5. Mickey
  6. Goofy
  7. Minnie
  8. Daisy
  9. Donald
  10. Mulan
  11. Snow White
  12. Aurora
  13. Cinderella
  14. Ariel
  15. Jasmine
  16. Alice

Five of the characters that we met were at a character lunch that we booked. We met Mulan, Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, and Cinderella at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion. The food was fine, not great but good enough yet the princess experience was wonderful. Elia was in the height of her princess phase and she was completely enchanted by being able to meet so many princesses. Each one came to our table and spent time with her and Snow White even chose her to help lead the princess parade around the restaurant with her. Elia was over the moon.

The annual International Flower and Garden Festival was also happening while we were there. It meant some interesting food options were available and there were beautiful topiary throughout the park. Both of us enjoyed the food and seeing the character topiary.

What We Rode and Did:
  1. Frozen Ever After
  2. Explored the Aquarium
  3. The Seas with Nemo and Friends
  4. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Tres Caballeros (twice in a row, maybe three times - no line for the win!)
  5. Kidcot Fun Spots
  6. Watched the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats
Epcot is not a ride heavy park anyway and we spent a lot of time pursuing character meet and greets so this is a short list. I was happy to do run around but because of the timing of the meet and greets and the layout of the park, it meant a ton of walking. Some characters were on one side of the lagoon and others were near the entrance and my feet were so tired by dinner time. Thankfully, Elia was beat too so we went back to our hotel for dinner and went to bed at a reasonable time so we could catch our very early flight home the next morning.

Epcot was just as fun as I remembered it. It would be easy to spend several days there enjoying everything it has to offer.

That wraps up our surprise Florida trip back in April of 2018. We had a blast I can't wait to visit again soon! 


January + February Reads

Happy March!

After what seemed like the longest January ever - thank you alllllll of the snow days - February seemed to speed by and I can't believe it's already March. Making it through February makes it feel like spring is just around the corner and that is so exciting. This morning, we actually heard birds chirping outside the windows, we have tulips in the house, the signs of spring are here!

Anyway, I have been reading a lot this year and thought I'd share a little reading update. In my post recapping the books I read in 2018, I shared that my reading goal for 2019 is 20 books. I'm off to a strong start, having already finished ten books already this year.

The Justice Calling by Bethany Hoang and Kristen Johnson
The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
Our Little Lies by Sue Watson
The Ex by Alafair Burke
Educated by Tara Westover
The First Family by Michael Palmer
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I've really enjoyed most of these books. It's been a good mix of nonfiction and fiction. Of everything I've read so far this year, I can't recommend The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper enough. This book talks about justice and reconciliation in the context of Genesis. I finished it six weeks ago and can't stop thinking about it. Lisa Sharon Harper also spoke at my church in January and was fantastic. If you're interested in social justice issues, racial reconciliation, issues between genders, and how that fits into your faith, you have to read this book.

On the fiction front, I really enjoyed The First Family by Michael Palmer. It's a medical-political thriller, if that's even a genre. I've been reading a lot of psychological thrillers, which I enjoy but they're pretty formulaic so this was a nice diversion from that format.

I have a few other books in progress:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
Water from a Deep Well by Dr. Gerald L. Sittser

I heard great things about Becoming Mrs. Lewis but it started dragging for me and I think I might abandon it altogether. I hate not finishing a book and almost never do it but there are so many books to read that I'm allowing myself to give this one up, at least for now.

I also wanted to share what I think is a great resource. I buy some of these books but I get as many as I can through the Libby app. Libby allows you to borrow eBooks and audiobooks by linking up your local library card to the app. It's great. They don't have every single title but they have a good selection, the same selection your local library has, you can join wait lists for books, and then they just show up on your Kindle when they're available. It's awesome. There are other similar apps like Hoopla and RB Digital but I've found that Libby has the best selection for my library system and interests.

As always, I'd love your recommendations. I have a few books on my "want to read" list and could use more!


Florida Surprise: Magic Kingdom

We woke up early to get to Magic Kingdom before it opened for the day to squeeze every possible minute of magic out of the day. We were able to quickly gobble down breakfast at our hotel (Mickey waffles, of course) and catch the resort bus to the park, arriving before it opened.

We got through the security lines and into the park fairly quickly. This allowed us to enjoy part of the daily welcome show and get some photos in front of Cinderella Castle before Main Street was too crowded.

From the minute we stepped into the park, Elia was enchanted. I loved watching her take everything in. I knew we would have fun but experiencing Disney with her was more fun than I could have imagined. I decided that we would just do whatever she wanted all day long and it paid off. Seeing what she was interested in and what rides she liked and what attractions and characters she was drawn to was the best part of the day.

What We Rode:
  1. Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
  2. Enchanted Tales with Belle
  3. Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid
  4. Peter Pan's Flight
  5. Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  6. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  7. Mad Tea Party (aka, the Magic Tea Cups)
  8. Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  9. Jungle Cruise
  10. Swiss Family Tree House
  11. It's a Small World
  12. Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid (Again)
Because we were staying at a Disney resort, we were able to book our FastPasses up to 60 days ahead of our trip. If you're not familiar with FastPasses, you basically go into a special line during a reserved time frame so you get into rides without such a long wait. You can book up to three at a time and once you use them all, you can added more, one at a time through the My Disney Experience app, throughout the day. I snagged FastPasses for Enchanted Tales with Belle, Journey of the Little Mermaid, and Dumbo ahead of time and shuffled some things around during the day to get more rides in.

My favorite ride was Peter Pan's Flight, same as when I was a kid. It's nostalgic for me, Peter Pan was by far my favorite Disney movie as a kid plus I remembered the ride fondly from childhood trips to Disneyland and Disney World. To my delight, Elia loved it too, deeming it her favorite ride in Magic Kingdom.

Another highlight of the day was seeing Elia meet different characters. Before the trip, I did not think she would be interested in meeting any characters but got her an autograph book, just in case. She was a little hesitant at first but meeting characters ended up being one of her favorite parts of the trip. While we didn't meet so many characters at Magic Kingdom, meeting characters became her main goal at Epcot but more on that later.

Who We Met:
  1. Belle
  2. Ariel
  3. Anastasia and Drizella
  4. Aladdin
  5. Tinker Bell
  6. Elena of Avalor
  7. Cinderella
I was really impressed by the character meet and greets. They were more that just photo ops, each character spent a good amount of time with each child. They were so friendly and made Elia feel so comfortable and special.

Elia says her favorite character to meet was Elena of Avalor because "She's the best! I love her!" but she hadn't heard of her before we met her so... who knows. Elena was very sweet though. In my recollection, Elia liked meeting Tinker Bell the best. Tink told her that she was in the middle of a game of tag with Peter Pan and asked Elia to tell him he was "it" and stick out her tongue at him. Elia thought that was hilarious.

We had a very full day and after much fun, we headed to our dinner reservation at Tony's Town Square, inspired by the restaurant in Lady and the Tramp. We were happy to rest our feet for awhile and the food was pretty good. After dinner, my mom and Linda departed, they both had to get ready to head home. We had such a fun day exploring the Magic Kingdom with them!

Elia and I weren't quite ready to call it quits so spent the next few hours exploring more and meeting a few characters I mentioned above. We also decided to stay for the nightly fireworks show. It was a beautiful show but too loud for Elia so we ended up sneaking out part way through. We headed back to the hotel for the night and collapsed into bed, exhausted and happy.

What a fabulous day we had at the Magic Kingdom!

Next up, I have more magic to share about our day at Epcot. See you real soon!


Florida Surprise: Disney Springs + Pop Century Resort

As you read in my previous post, after a great few days on the Florida coast, we were off to Disney World! Elia, my mom, and I set off to Orlando with my Aunt Linda just behind us. We arrived in the late afternoon and headed straight to Disney Springs for our first taste of Disney Magic.

We ate outside at The Edison, a great start to our Disney experience. It wasn't busy and we got a table overlooking the lagoon. We watched car boats go by as we enjoyed a late lunch and I indulged in a colorful cocktail.

I was really looking forward to checking out the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM so Elia and I made a beeline towards it after lunch. She was so excited to pick out her cupcake and watch it come out. It's a fun and unique concept and next time we're in Disney Springs, we'll definitely repeat the experience.

After wandering around Disney Springs a bit more we went to our hotel to check in. We stayed at Disney's Pop Century Resort. Pop Century is one of Disney's value resorts and I was really impressed. When we were there, most of the rooms at the hotel had recently undergone renovation. We stayed in one of those refurbished rooms and they felt so new and fresh. Elia loved that she got to sleep in a Murphy bed and the Disney themed room decor.

On top of the lovely room, the theming at the hotel was over the top. Elia definitely could have been convinced that our hotel actually was Disney World. I kid you not, we could have just stayed there for the next two days and she'd have been none the wiser. There were huge one- and two-story tall figurines from Disney movies and different large scale versions of popular toys such as a Rubik's cube, a gigantic foosball table, and Mr. Potato Heads throughout the property. I didn't take very many photos but you can click here to see photos of the grounds.


We spent the rest of the afternoon getting settled in, exploring the hotel and swimming. After we were sufficiently tuckered out, we ordered a pizza to our room, and got ready for bed. Another great feature of staying at Disney resorts is that they start playing a bedtime story on the TV a few times every hour in the evening. The story features Duffy, a bear that Minnie makes for Mickey, and Elia just loved watching the story from her Murphy bed as she drifted off to sleep. Even without experiencing the parks on our first Disney day we were off to a great start and ready for a good night's sleep so we could wake up bright and early to squeeze as much fun as possible out of our day at the Magic Kingdom.

Next Up: We visit the Magic Kingdom.

P.S. You can watch video of Elia getting her cupcake from the Sprinkles ATM on the Facebook page. Click here to "Like" the page and watch!