I took one book with me on my recent vacation- a book that I couldn't finish because it turned out to be quite a bore. I read solely for the escape of it all and I don't finish books that aren't making me escape. I don't feel bad about it, but don't you hate when that happens?? So instead I spent time researching books to read and reading lots of samples to determine what books would make my official summer reading list! Here are the books that made the cut...

1. "Truly Madly Guilty" by Liane Moriarty -  Liane is by far one of my favorite authors, so I am really excited about her new book. The style of her writing is perfection - sharp, funny, suspenseful, sad, and inspiring all in one. I love books that explore the dynamics of marriage, family, and relationships -  and this one is just that. In this book, Clementine and her husband get a last minute invite from her friend Erica to attend a barbecue. Clementine accepts the invite and from then on wonders what her life would have been like if she had declined the invite... What happened at that barbecue??? Can't wait to see what that's all about.

2. "The Third Wife" by Lisa Jewell - If you liked "Gone Girl" or "The Girl On the Train", then you might like this book. I read the sample at the beach and was perturbed when I got to the end of it. It totally left me hanging - in a good way! So it obviously made the list. In the beginning of the book, the inebriated third wife of a man steps out in front of a moving bus and dies. Was it suicide or an accident? Hmm. She supposedly had a good relationship with her husband, his prior wives, and their children. Or did she? Was this just an accident caused by her inebriation? Did someone have it in for her? Or was she just overwhelmed by the minutia of being... the third wife??

3. "The Hopefuls" - Jennifer Close - I've seen this book on just about every summer reading list, so I have to assume its going to be good! It explores the political lives of a young husband and wife who make a new move to Washington, D.C. As the husband is fulfilling his political dreams, his wife is navigating the D.C. scene - the dinner parties, the political clicks, the fashion, the gossip, questionable "friendships," and the pressure of just trying to fit in for the sake of her husband's career. Can their marriage survive this new life? I'm sure they are hopeful...

4. "One True Loves" by Taylor Jenkins Reid - I recently read "After I Do" by Reid and I'm now a big fan. In her most recent novel, Reid writes of a woman who was married to the love of her life until he dies in a helicopter crash. She moves back home after his death and then runs into an old friend - who eventually becomes her fiancé and her second chance at happiness. But then her first husband shows up - alive. Now what??

5. "The Children" by Ann Leary - The family drama is this book has me totally intrigued. The book is told by Charlotte, a 29-year-old blogger who lives and works quietly at her mother's beautiful New England estate. Her mother is "allowed" to live at the estate via a provision in her late husband's (Charlotte's stepfather) family trust. The family has certainly had their issues, but all is sort of calm until Charlotte's stepbrother, Spin, who formally owns the home, brings his new fiancé home to meet everyone. Although she seems splendid, it's around that time when family secrets, lies, and resentments surface. And did I mention that Charlotte is quite a famous blogger - and no one in her family really knows that???

6. "The Year We Turned Forty" by Lize Fenton & Lisa Steinke - The first thing I will say about this book is that I don't think you have to be anywhere near 40 to enjoy it. It makes you think about the decisions you are making right now no matter what age you are. The book revolves around the lives of three best friends who hit 40 and start contemplating past decisions and missed opportunities. Jesse is tackling her personal issues that resulted in an affair that ended her marriage to her ex-husband - a man she still loves. Gabriella chose to focus her fertile years on building her successful career and now she wants a baby more than anything else in the world. Now she must convince her husband to want the same thing. Claire spent most of her adult life raising a difficult daughter who has finally blossomed into a beautiful young adult. Now she has time to think about a man who got away and the bond she wished she had with her mother. We always wonder if the grass would have been greener, but I guess we never know until we try to find out...

What are you reading this summer???

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My absolute favorite time of the day is night time - specifically the hour or so before bed. The day is over, dinner has been made and eaten, the kitchen has been cleaned, and preparations for the next day have been made. All there is left to do is relax and wind down! Love it. I am a very routine person, so establishing and sticking to a routine every night pretty much ensures a good night of sleep for me - and does for most people I think. I typically do these six things (all before 10PM on a good day!), which may seem like a lot, but self-care is everything to me these days. Here goes... 

1. The first thing I do is stretch myself out. I turn on a show on my DVR that I need to catch up on and then use this Magic Circle to stretch out my legs and hips. They have become incredibly tight from sitting at a desk all day for years. Sometimes I'll do a short series of Pilates (the 100, roll-ups, a side-kick series, etc. ) if what I'm watching on TV is worth the extra time and effort... :)

2. The next thing I do is step into my empty bathtub and brush my skin! Dry brushing has become a bit of a craze over the past few years and it's a craze that I'm totally with. It eliminates dead skin and stimulates the body's lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of organs and tissues that rid the body of toxins, which makes dry brushing a super important thing for me to do given my autoimmune disease. Brushing the skin does sort of waken the body, so it almost makes more sense to do this in the morning. But I prefer more time to sleep in the morning to dry brushing, so I do it at night. The next thing I do calms my body back down... 

3. I take a shower every morning and I take a shower every single night. That may be crazy to some, but I like to feel fresh before my day starts and I like to be free of the dirt of the day when the day ends. That's just how I roll. Showers relax me at night have have become a signal for my body to wind down. I know that because I don't sleep well on the rare times that I don't shower before bed. 

Anyway, my nightly shower is where I do the majority of my skin care regimen. My skin gets oiler and dirtier in the summers, so I use my Clarisonic two nights a week to get a good deep clean. If you don't have a Clarisonic yet, get one - like today or tomorrow. Clearer, softer skin and smaller pores are just a purchase away. Its been a game changer for me and most people I know who have one. Clarisonics don't exfoliate the skin, so I exfoliate a few nights a week using this pore scrub. I use this cleanser the other nights of the week and when I use my Clarisonic. I then moisturize with this night cream. 

And yes. All of my facial products come from the same line and can be found at your local drugstore, Target, or on Amazon. No offense to anyone, but I just can't be bothered right now with trying different types of cleansers, oils, masks, toners, and moisturizers that come from tons of different places. My face tends to dislike change, so I stick to what my face likes and this line along with the occasional good-quality facial, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting good sleep, and drinking lots of water is working well for me right now. I'll add things in if things start to change! I still use the products in this post in the mornings... 

4. I've mentioned this soap a few times here on the blog and I feel like it's worth mentioning again. I use the Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap in the mornings and at night. It's organic and all natural and has been a game changer for my skin. The peppermint scent is actually very calming for me, but lots of people I know use the lavender scent particularly at night. It's just good stuff and can do TONS of things other than clean your skin... 

5. After my shower I crawl in bed and do my evening devotion. This is honestly something I just started doing consistently a few months ago. I downloaded this daily devotional book (LOVE it). I read it for the current day - and sometimes it's so good that I read the next day's too! I study the scriptures that are in each devotion and then I make my gratitude list for the day in my journal. I just write down 5 or so little things I'm thankful for that day. Doing all of this makes me appreciate that particular day no matter what it was like and it makes me look forward to the next day - no matter what I'm facing.

6. The last thing I do before bed is meditate. I wrote a full post on here on my routine. I do a 5 or 10 minute "deep sleep" guided meditation that often makes me fall asleep in a matter of minutes. I HIGHLY recommend sleep meditations if you have trouble sleeping. It works so well. I hear this sleep podcast works wonders, too...

Do you guys adhere to a nighttime routine????

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{The view from our balcony - where I spent most of my time...}

HI THERE!!! How are you?? I had zero intention of taking that long of a break from blogging, but life has just been getting in the way over here. I'm still on my healing journey, so I'm still massively cooking and resting most free moments I have. My precious sweet baby of a cat has been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (i.e. severe heart disease), so I've been nursing him and giving him all of the love and attention I can possibly give him. After all of that plus work, time and energy just haven't been there...

But I'm a little more energized now that I'm just back from my FAVORITE place on earth - the beach. My family and I recently went back to Singer Island, FL for some R&R and we had a great time. We all have really busy daily lives, so we planned things as each day came- and most of the time our plans involved hanging out at the beach, watching Netflix (LOVED Season 2 of Chef's Table!!), cooking, and having long chats on the balcony. It was super laid back, which was exactly what I needed. Here are a few moments from our trip... 

{The beach...  Yes. Yes. And yes.}

{Just because I was on vacation didn't mean I vacated my daily meditation practice. The beach made it even more relaxing and enjoyable. The top of that super cute and comfy swimsuit is here. The bottoms are here, and the hat is from here.}

{I'm still on my extra crazy Autoimmune Protocol diet (which is REALLY hard but REALLY working I must say), so we grocery shopped and cooked a lot instead of going out. This was lunch that my brother and I made one afternoon. He made his signature turkey sandwiches and I made organic fruit salad and sautéed zucchini and squash noodles to go on the side... }

{Since I can't have gluten, the sandwiches were out for me, so I made myself this organic chicken & avocado salad. I tucked the rest of the zucchini and squash noodles in there and topped it with a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The chips you see there are Terra Taro chips. I can't have white potatoes right now (I've been dying for just ONE French fry or regular potato chip), but these chips have been a good stand-in... }

{A little evening beach photo session with my brother - a brother who is so patient, super smart, wise, the BEST listener and advice giver, and incredibly talented with the camera. I just love him. }

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These days, I am always looking for a good source of inspiration. Anything that will keep my anxiety at bay and my attitude in check is a good thing! In between my morning meditations and my nightly bible study, I often look at my "Lovely Quotes" Pinterest board to get a boost during the day. I thought I would share a few of the pins I read the most. I hope that they inspire you and give you that little boost you may need to get through your day or any situations that might not be going your way. Happy Wednesday... :)

Images 1 / 6
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If you are wondering if I still love interiors, the answer is unequivocally yes. It's hard for me to watch Food Network these days, so I've watched more HGTV than ever. Fixer Upper is probably my favorite show at the moment (obviously). Chip and Joanna are just the cutest couple and their work is beautiful, updated, and high-quality - unlike the work on some of the other shows I've seen. Anyway, my HGTV watching has unsurprisingly got me thinking more about redecorating my own home. My kitchen reno got put on hold last year, but ideas are populating in my head again, so we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I'm just collecting inspiration/dreaming. Will my next kitchen be white?? While I love a good, clean bright white kitchen, this beautiful kitchen by DeVOL has me thinking outside the norm... The shaker cabinets and concrete counters are dark, but all of the natural light from the steel windows keeps the space bright. Love that balance. It's pretty right??

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{All of my shoes these days have to be cute, comfortable, versatile, classy,  stylish, and long-lasting. Otherwise - I don't by them. I've learned that meeting those requirements means that I have to make a bit of an investment, but I'm never disappointed when I make the investment. I've been on the lookout for a platform sandal for the summer that meets my requirements and I think these are cute! I love the leather (adds to the longevity), I have tons of outfits I could pair these with (versatile), the ankle straps add a little style, and platforms are incredibly comfortable to me. }

{Our annual family beach trip is coming up soon, so I'm hunting for a new suit to come along with me. It's a family trip, so I don't want anything that's "too much," but I do want something that's stylish and classy at the same time. This suit has been wishlisted... 

{Speaking of vacations, I had to point out this recent find. If you are an avid traveler who has mastered the art of only carrying one bag irrespective of the length of your trip, then you know that finding the right carry-on is of utmost importance. This carry-on by Away Travel looks like a good one! It's durable, properly proportioned on the inside to please the most systematic packers, and it even has two built-in USB chargers! Love that... }

{Lace bralettes are everywhere these days and I love them! But they can be quite pricey! I recently found this reasonably priced bralette that is super comfy (i.e. not itchy) and versatile. You can wear it under a blazer, a light dressy jacket on a cool summer night out, or wear it as a little nighty to bed... }
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Yep, it's another blog post on the web about meditation! I honestly steered away from the hype of meditation for a long time myself, so I get it if you are thinking that thought. But I'm here to tell you that all of that stuff you may have seen or read about meditation is very real!! One of the main symptoms of my autoimmune disease is anxiety - something I didn't really experience consistently until late last year. My brain had gotten to the point where it just going and going and going and going and just wouldn't shut up or shut down! I was constantly worried about the small stuff. My Cortisol levels were really high. I started grinding my teeth at night, which contributed to TMJ and migraines, which meant I had to purchase a ridiculously expensive custom night guard and sleep in it every night - ugh. I also noticed that I was unintentionally holding my breath while I was working, blogging, or doing something that required a strong focus. Not good... My naturopath recommended strongly recommended that I start meditating. So I started reading more about meditation and decided to give it a try.

I downloaded several apps to help me get started, including Calm, Headspace, and The Mindfulness App - all of which were very good. But I ultimately purchased the full subscription to the Calm app. I liked the soothing tones of the moderators. The tones on that app kept me more focused than the tones on the other apps. I also liked all of the different types of meditations that were offered. Headspace was my second option...

The first few weeks of meditating were ROUGH! It was so hard to shut down and be in the moment. It was so easy to stray away from breathing and think of all the 1,000 other things I should be doing. But I kept at it - twice a day. After about a month, I realized that going a day without meditation was no longer an option. I was totally hooked! Here are five reasons why...

1. It makes me feel positive and optimistic, which makes me feel positive and optimistic about my day in general and any stressful situations that arise. And I haven't even done the "positive affirmations" meditations yet... However, the meditations I've done have taught me how to be calm and remain calm in stressful situations. Being calm feels good and makes me want to stay calm - and thinking positive thoughts is one of the best ways to stay calm. It's that simple.

2. I sleep MUCH better. Sleep on average over the last six months or so has been so all over the place - which has made me all over the place. But I have to say that meditation has made a huge difference - especially since I started meditating before bed. I typically do the 10 minute "Deep Sleep" meditation. At first, I would be awake the whole 10 minutes. But lately, I've been falling asleep before it ends. And the best part is... I've been STAYING asleep through the night. That's so huge for me... Oh and I can at least take naps without my night guard now, which leads me to believe that I'm probably relaxing my jaws and not grinding my teeth as much at night.

3. I can think, analytically, in a much more clear and concise manner. Brain fog has been one of the most frustrating symptoms of I've experienced. I've always heard that simply breathing and relaxation for just 10 minutes a day has a way of strengthening your brain and making more room for it to work properly. I can totally attest to that. Yes, I am sleeping better and have added more good fats to my diet, both of which also aid in brain health, but I know that breathing, shutting down the brain, and supplying some much-needed oxygen to it helps a lot, too!

4. I am much more aware of the process of breathing. I've been breathing naturally and automatially for over 30 years, which makes it something that is very easy to take for granted. Meditation heavily focuses on breathing, so you sort of re-learn what it really feels like to breathe - and how GOOD it feels when you really tune into it. So the minute I start to feel a little tense or frustrated, I tune into the breath and I breathe. I even do it during really happy moments and it makes me feel even happier.

5. Best of all, I'm much less anxious. I'm so excited about that! I still get little bouts of anxiety right after I wake up in the mornings sometimes, but I feel much more calm once I'm done with my session. I can watch the crazy morning news now without getting in a tizzy. If I do get anxious for a longer period of time, I can actually identify the reason why I feel that way and utilize the things I've learned from meditating to calm myself down. That is such a big deal for me.

Obviously there are tons of health benefits related to meditation including reduced inflammation, increased immunity, etc. Here are 76 benefits alone that are the result of meditating...

My point is that if you are one of those people who have heard all about meditating, think it's strange but have actually thought about doing it - and just haven't done it yet, then please try it! Is it going to cure all that ails you?? No. But it will make you feel so much better and put you in the right direction towards healing if you are not feeling your best. If you are feeling your best, then it will make you feel even better. BUT it only works if you stick with it. I don't think I recognized the benefits until about a month after I started. So stick with it if you try it! :)

Images by me (shot on April 16th obviously, but I've meditated each and every day since then!)

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{My new everyday bag, which is probably one of my favorite bag purchases to date. It's quality, classic, and so convenient for all my random stuff that I "need" every day! }

Hello!!!! This is a blog post! Can you believe it? I have to start off by thanking each and every one of you who reached out to me regarding the last few blog posts. I was completely blown away by your support. So many of you shared your personal stories with me along with wonderful suggestions on how I can get through this. I'm so thankful for you. I'm still getting used to my new diet and trying to get enough rest. But, I am feeling better and have more energy as time goes by, so things are hopefully on the up and up.

Anyway, I dusted off my camera over the weekend to shoot a few things that I'm loving at the moment. Gosh I miss my camera! Hope you all have a good week and thanks again for your thoughts and prayers!

{In all honesty, my love for fashion has increased since my diagnosis. I've always loved clothes, but since there is no such thing as gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free clothing, then I love clothing even MORE now! As long as it fits, is almost more of a need than a want, and is in my budget, I can have it. That makes me happy. This skirt is a new colorful addition to my closet. It was 50% off and I just couldn't pass it up... } 

{Once I started resting a lot more (a requirement of my diagnosis) I quickly realized that I needed to up my pajama game. These pajamas my friends, are the most comfortable pjs I've EVER owned. They are super soft and are the exact same size and texture after I wash them. I swear I'd wear them each and every day if these met my business casual requirement for work. So very good. }

{And while I've been resting, I've been reading. "Lies & Other Acts of Love" by Kristy Woodson Harvey is one of my latest reads and it was a good one! I loved Kristy's first book, "Dear Carolina," (see my review here), and she sweetly sent me a copy of her new book a few weeks before it was released. It's a beautifully written novel all about love, relationships, and the power of family. That's my kinda read... It's the perfect summer read if you are looking to load up your Kindle!

{I have a college reunion coming up and needed a pair of heels to go with this simple dress. I saw these Sarah Jessica Parker heels in the store and immediately bolted to them. I've wanted them since they first out! Lucky for me I nabbed the last pair in the store. And they were and still are on sale!! And they are so comfortable. Go a half size down from your regular European size if interested!}

{And yes. I still love flowers... :) }
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