Operation Christmas Child

Books You'll FALL Into! New Good Reads to Curl Up With.



If the air is turning crisp and cool where you are, and you’re ready to pull on a cozy sweater and curl up with a great book, I’ve got the perfect list for you. New contemporary fiction releases, one hilarious romp, some suspenseful thrillers to compliment Halloween season, a star studded memoir, and a few non-fiction surprises make up my latest book recommendations. Grab your pumpkin spice latte, then relax, sit back, and get ready to book shop. What’s better than that? 



FICTION





This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell 
Word lovers rejoice, because the prose in here is deliciously brilliant. Part love story, part analysis of the complexities and humor in a marriage, O'Farrell weaves a plot that you won't soon forget. You will find these characters satisfyingly flawed yet lovable. 







This little gem is must read for book lovers, bookstore lovers, and library lovers. Meet Nina, a bookmobile owner with a knack for literary matchmaking, and follow her on a journey to change lives with the power of storytelling.  A real treat for fans of Meg Donahue and Sophie Kinsella. 




                                       

Razor Girl: A Novel by Carl Hiaasen
Carl is back at it with another surreal and wickedly hilarious romp through Florida, with a cast of characters you can't imagine writing or even existing,  but they do. This is Hiaasen at his best- raunchy, brusque, and wildly entertaining. Prepare to be bent over laughing and shaking your head at the same time. 





                                        



Small Great Things: A Novel by Jody Piccoult
Picoult dares to go there with this gripping tale of power, prejudice, race, and privilege. This drama will keep you thinking and page turning, and manages to tackle tough issues with thoughtfulness and wisdom. Picoult fans may find it her best yet. 




                                       

The Perfect Girl by Gillian Macmillan
Macmillan is back at it with another gripping and twisting story that keeps us guessing until the end. Psychological suspense fans will devour this quickly, as well as anyone needing a page turner with intelligence and deeply intense character development.




                                      

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Imagine the most idyllic neighborhood, yet up and down the street everyone is hiding something. Exploring the dark parts of suburbia and the secrets people hold, Whalen weaves a rich story of conflict and compassion. A Kindle Book Club Pick for August.



                                        



The Trespasser by Tana French
Crime novel lovers buckle up, because the latest from French will consume you whole. An Amazon "Best Book Pick" for October, The Trespasser is a brilliant whodunit, and French brings a fresh new voice to the crime drama genre that readers will delight over. 




                                      



Faithful: A Novel by Alice Hoffman
Very much a feel good story intertwined with tragedy and redemption, Faithful tells the story of a young woman making her way through the world after a difficult beginnings. Hoffman fans will appreciate another deeply moving novel, and mothers and daughters will enjoy this tale as well. 


Non-Fiction



                                            

If you miss The Carol Burnett Show like I do, do yourself a favor and get this book. Carol gives readers complete access to all the behind the scenes tales of the show, including anecdotes and hilarious stories about all of the many famous co-stars and favorite sketches which helped make The Carol Burnett Show the recipient of 25 Emmy Awards. I laughed my way through this entire book, and reminisced right along with Carol about the genius that was her show. 



                                       

If you don't know who Jenny is and you have a family to feed, than you are truly missing out. This title is a must in any family's cookbook collection, and will serve you well through the many hundreds of  must make meals you find yourself, well, having to cook. With beautiful pictures and stories between the recipes, Jenny's warmth and motherhood humor in the kitchen make her latest a delight to flip and cook through. 




                                           

Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction by Elizabeth Vargas
I have always been a huge fan of Vargas, and this honest story about her battle with alcoholism and anxiety has made me an even bigger fan. Told with inspiration and hope, this brave and raw memoir will have you looking at addiction through different lenses.




                                         

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
Fixer Upper fans rejoice! Here is the story of the humble beginnings of our favorite shiplap loving renovating couple, including the story of how they met, their humble beginnings, and how they became America's most loved demo day crushers. I love these people, and this book did not 
disappoint.




                                       

The Peppermint Bark Cookbook: Over 75 Recipes for Delicious Homemade Treats, from Milkshakes to Cheesecakes by Dominique DeVito
Yep, I'm going there, because Christmas is coming and peppermint bark is straight from the heavens, so why not have more of it? Includes 10 basic bark recipes (gluten free!) and then a variety of treats to make with all your bark. A great hostess gift for all your Christmas parties!












                                               














Moms, GO FIND YOUR TRIBE!





This post will be about a women’s retreat I just returned home from. 
A running** retreat. 

Wait, stay with me here.

** Disclaimer- I am, ahem…a slow runner. You’re not gonna see a lady flying gracefully when you see me run. Nope. You’re gonna see a regular mom who is probably running like a bat out of hell from her laundry room, then sneaking out the door and away from the incessant needy calls from her kids. It’s my therapy. Always has been, always will be. I started about 18 years ago walking around my block and I’m still going strong- to the tune of ten marathons and counting. Left foot. Right foot. Repeat. Stay out of the looney bin. Keep the kids alive. #lifegoals
I took a huge leap of faith this weekend and traveled to a running retreat for mothers. It was hosted by Another Mother Runner, an online community of mother runners. I flew almost 3,000 miles to spend three days with over 50 total strangers, and though I have interacted with the AMR community online and have written for their website, it would be the first time I would be around this amazing tribe of women IRL. Like IN REAL LIFE ya’ll. Scary! Even for someone like me, who is easily able to open up to people through my writing, IRL is a whole different animal.
So I put my big girl panties on, packed my running shoes, and headed way out west to find my people. I went in search of my tribe of women who would serve as my mom battery charger- the inspirational jumper cables I could hook up to my dead spiritual battery so to speak.

They did not disappoint. 

Because sparks people. BIG. SPARKS!  Everywhere I looked.

Here’s the thing about the mother runner community and the kind of women they are.

They start out as strangers, and in five minutes become your long lost best friend.

They GET you. Period. They get that you are juggling a million balls in the air, and struggle to find not only a mom/work/life balance, but one in which it’s also OK to make yourself a priority, and to put your health and mental wellness FIRST.

They come in all body shapes and sizes, all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. They are in every different season of life, some mothering toddlers, some struggling with teens, some doting on grandchildren. They are married, divorced, single, separated. But put them all in running shoes, give them some coffee, say “Go!” and the conversations, laughter, and smiles are nearly impossible to suppress.


Some run fast, some slow, some walk, and some absolutely soar, but there is an unspoken rule that pace and performance just doesn’t matter. There is no judgment at the start line. Zero. It’s all about showing up and covering the miles at your own pace. 
And what a metaphor for life that truly is.
I don’t know what personal battles they are fighting in their life, their running motivation, or the reasons they lace up their shoes in the dark on Saturday mornings, and quite honestly, I don't need to know. Because when we gather together and start moving forward, it no longer becomes about all the burdens and stresses that weigh us down, but more about how all of those things magically fall off while we run.
My wish for you as a woman and a mother is for you to seek out your mother support tribe, any kind, any type, and anywhere. Find them wherever they are, doing whatever mutual passion you share, and then join them.

I am grateful for all the different mother tribes I am in, including the one here on 4boysmother. You all are one of my tribes! But I hope after you read this, you will begin to put yourself first, and you will look high and low for your mother tribe. 

Don’t be shy. 

Step out of your comfort zone and go find your people, because your people are waiting for you, I promise.





10 Things Moms of Teen Boys Must Know



My favorite blog post last year came from a kindred spirit, and someone I truly believe is living the same life as me, albeit just a few years behind.  Rita Templeton, also a mom of four boys, and blogger over at Fighting Off Frumpy wrote an absolutely hilarious piece titled "10 Things Boy Moms Must Know"  As I read each point  I literally found myself yelling out “AMEN! Yes! Preach it mama! TRUTH!”  and when it ended at number 10, I slumped in my chair. Keep going! You have only scaled the tip of the testosterone iceberg!   Then it hit me- she hasn’t experienced the teenage boy. Well holy AXE spray, zit cream, and hairy legs, I. AM. THERE.  I am treading water in the teen angst cesspool (also known as their bedroom) desperately gasping for sanity,  in male adolescent hormone infested waters. Waters that run deep, wide, smart-mouthed, and scruffy chinned. Where dirty boxer shorts,  crumbled up and forgotten homework assignments,  lost ear buds, sweaty socks, and junk food wrappers are forever afloat. Unfortunately, these waters do not come with a lifeboat. (Honestly, I don’t need a lifeboat, I need a pressure washer and a bullhorn but we will get to that in a sec.) Don’t get me wrong, my teenagers are great kids, they do well in school, are witty, empathetic, amusing, and are actually growing into really cool adults. But there are minutes, days, sometimes weeks where I -in teen terms-  like, TOTES. CAN’T. EVEN.  wrap my mind around their behavior. 




I wish someone would have told me...........




1. Everything will smell.

Their car. Their closet. Their bathroom. Their bedroom. The hallway that leads to their room. It will be a funky, sweaty, noxious, musty, foul, deodorant soap covered perspiration,  “I am no longer a little boy” type of odor. No candle, plug in, floral spray, or wax melt comes even close to touching it,  so stop trying. When they move out, painting the room and replacing the carpet may help. (MAY.)

2. They will suddenly want to wash their own sheets. 

They will bounce down the stairs with all of their bedding wrapped up in a tiny ball, duck into the laundry room,  and out of nowhere suddenly want to start the washing machine with no help.  Don’t ask. Don’t help. Don’t acknowledge. Move on mom. This doesn’t involve you. Just a boy and his dreams.

3. There is no frustration greater than teaching the male brain how to drive.

I’m almost done teaching my second son how to drive. I’ve got chewed up cuticles, severe hair loss, and a prescription to reduce heart palpitations to prove it. No matter how cautious, careful, and smart of a driver they appear to be, and even with mom riding shotgun, dents will happen. So will things like, “Does yellow happen before or after green?” and "Is 65 the FASTEST I can go?" Shoot. Me. Now.

4. When not sleeping, they are eating.

Ever wake up at 3 am to what sounds like raccoons in your kitchen digging through the garbage for food?  Folks at Costco finally give you your own parking spot up front? Then you get it. I live in  “Never Enough Burritos” land.  Someone please invent a pepperoni pizza patch that I can slap on their arms that will offer 24 hour continuous nourishment. 

5. When not eating, they are sleeping.

Never, ever, EVER did I think when I had a house full of babies that woke everyday before sunrise that I would ever sleep in again.  But teens? They SLEEP THE HELL IN!!  Like until NOON. Comatose almost. Not gonna lie, it’s freakin' awesome. Awesome until they have to wake up at the crack of dawn, like, say, for school. Then you are totally screwed.  Invest in a bullhorn, and pray for Saturdays. 

6. They will take risks.

Big ones. Mind numbing ones.  Risks that your shy, overly cautious, hesitant little boy would never take.  (Personally, I think the part of the brain that kept him wary and watchful is now controlled by images of boobies and butts, but who knows.)  Basically, boy brains are fearless, reckless, and sense zero consequence. If you’ve ever uttered the words  “Not my kid” take it back. Take it back right effing NOW. Trust me.


6. They think they know everything. 

Yes, that cliche is true, and they will actually say this to your  face. I literally recorded mine saying it to me. Even he laughed.  This brazen way of thinking must  somehow be a survival mechanism. Perhaps if they had an authentic grasp of adulthood and what real life will throw at them someday, they may not even want to reach 18. Let’s just allow them to keep thinking they know everything. Why ruin the party?


8.  They will not want to hug much anymore. 

Like ever. But keep trying. You will become the physical form of kryptonite, and when they see you with your arms outstretched they may run away in horror. Keep trying anyway. Because out of the blue one day they will toss their arm around your shoulder and give a squeeze, a grin, and say “I love you mom.” (It may only occur when your trunk is full of Doritos and Cheez-Whiz but hey, take what you can get.) They may seem aloof and un-wanting of your affection, but don’t believe it. They want it. Hug when and if you can.

9.  Showers. All day. Every day.

Go ahead and buy the low flow shower head on their 13th birthday, as it will save you about $500 a year. Kids you previously had to  beg, bribe, and literally chase down and throw into the shower now spend one fourth of their entire day in there. And yet, still #1.  Washing diligently? Probably not, but just don’t be that mom who knocks and cracks an embarrassing joke. Just don’t. 

10. You thought your newborn grew overnight?  You won’t believe these spurts. 

The mere fact that these boys that I have to crane my neck and look UP to now used to fit in the football hold under my arm is mind boggling. But it happens. And it does so at warp speed.  They will go to bed one night with the voice of a Vienna Choir boy and walk out the next morning Pavarotti. Pants that one day you have to roll up will be capris the next. We have skipped three whole shoe sizes at one time. Must have something to do with #4. In the blink of an eye you will go from holding the soft padded hands of a little boy to holding a hand that feels like your husband’s.  Your boys will become men right before your eyes. And if you must know ONE thing, it’s pretty darn cool raising men.  




You Won't Believe How Fast It Goes Now






I remember everything about that morning. The breakfast, the getting dressed in the tiny navy shorts and uniform polo, tying his shoes, packing his favorite  lunch foods in the Blue’s Clue’s lunchbox.  I remember the sad drive there, and thinking silently in my head, “Is he going to be ok there all day? What if he just wants to come home? His teacher doesn’t know any of his likes and dislikes! What if he cries?”

That was 14 year ago, on my oldest son’s first day of kindergarten.  I was nervous, hesitant, excited,  yet leery.  I was holding his hand, my three year old’s hand, and squeezing my swollen pregnant belly through the classroom door.  I was having that surreal moment that every mom has on their first child’s first day of school. I said with disbelief out loud, “How did this happen so fast?” Another mom overheard me. She too had a son starting kindergarten, but also had older children in school. Together, we watched the  five year old miniature soldiers march into the classroom, and I said it again, “I can’t believe how fast that went. He was just born.”  She shook her head and raised her eyebrows, smiled, then sighed, ready to impart some been there done that wisdom on this first time school mom.

“If you think that was fast, you won’t believe how fast it goes by now.”

I will never forget that moment, or how that simple sentence has lived up to its magnitude tenfold. It’s as if the second they cross the threshold into school, childhood shifts into warp speed. I  have since spoken it myself to other first time school moms. And every fall, on the first day of every school year, I too shake my head now in disbelief,  then sigh and wonder how this happened. How does time metamorphosize itself like that, all at once passing painfully slow and then passing painfully fast? Where was all that time that spanned and then magically transported our children faster and faster into adulthood? How did we spend those school years?

We spent it making pancakes and wiping counters, folding pajamas and cleaning skinned knees. We spent it making Halloween costumes and hiding Easter eggs, watching endless baseball innings, soccer games, and 5 hour rounds of youth golf. We spent it glueing shoebox projects, signing permission slips, and changing soiled bed sheets. We spent it packing sleepover bags, athletic equipment bags, and lunch bags. And we spent it yearning for the school year to just hurry up and end, because we were exhausted and eager for summer break, only to find ourselves three months later, totally exhausted, and yearning for the school year to hurry up and start again. 

Next week my little boy*, who I hesitantly dropped off at kindergarten 12 years ago, will get in his car,  and together with that  three year old (now 14) they will drive off to high school. They will leave at 7 a.m., and return 12 hours later after classes and sports. I like to think of it as warp speed weaning in a sense, because for now they are out of my reach 12 hours day, but in two years, that little boy will be away at college, and then out of my reach for weeks, maybe months at a time. Ouch.

I will help out next week at the elementary school’s annual “Boo-Hoo Breakfast” for kindergarten moms that is held on the first day of school. I will pour  hot coffee and serve blueberry muffins to nervous new school moms, and I will watch them shake their head in disbelief, and mumble to themselves, “How did this happen?”  I will hang back in the shadows, and at one point I will find myself talking to an older mom, whose child just graduated college and started his very first job.  I will lament that my teenagers are driving me crazy, and I cannot imagine my 16 year old, who most mornings can’t find his pants, actually being a college graduate and joining the ranks of society as an adult. She will shake her head and raise her brows, smile, sigh, and say, “If you think high school is going by fast, the college years pass by faster than you can say keg party. Just. You. Wait.”  I am genuinely frightened at how right she may be. 

*As of August 2016, that little boy is now a college freshman. GAH!!






11 of Summer's Must Read New Books



It’s summertime readers!  Are you ready to relax, hit the beach, put down your phone, and pick up a nice new book? Great! Because this summer’s newest book releases from your favorite authors and some fresh debut titles will have you lounging in your beach chair for hours on end devouring each and every word, while ignoring each and every iPhone ding. Whether you fancy psychological thrillers, contemporary fiction brain candy, chick lit, historical fiction, or even a steamy page turner, there is something for everyone on this list. 






Perhaps the most anticipated release this summer, Moriarty is at her finest in this keep you guessing multi-family drama surrounding a tragic event at a casual neighborhood barbecue. You will not soon forget this cast of troubled yet very likable characters, and the relationships that both bind and nearly destroy them. 




First class chick lit as well as a love letter to New York, this delightful charming story around the happenings of one little black dress and the women who wear it is a sweet, simple, satisfying, and cheeky summer read. You'll want to dig your little black number out of the closet and play along.




If you loved “A Man Called Ove,” you will be happy to know Backman’s latest is just as good. A heartfelt story including a keen description of one woman’s OCD, this novel is both funny and starkly real, and you'll quickly fall in love with its varied and lovable cast of characters. 




Gone Girl fans rejoice! This wickedly written psychological thriller will keep you up late into the night. Forever twisting and turning, this novel will take you down a spinning and gripping rabbit hole of jaw dropping “I didn’t see that coming” moments. 





The steamiest one of the bunch, this light erotica is intelligently and beautifully written, and boasts a cast of characters that actually have depth and are relatable. This deep yet delicious debut will get you warm in all the right places.  If you long shied away from this genre, give this one a try. You won’t be sorry.  




Two rocky marriages and one trip to Italy form the basis of this sharply written and suspenseful novel that digs deep into the intricacies,  paradoxes, and secrets of married  life. Booklist describes it as a “bewitching take on relationships—marital, parental, casual, and serious—in this read-in-one-sitting, escapist escapade with a message.” A heavy, edgy,  and thought provoking novel. 




Green, a NYT bestselling author, is back at it with this story of a young woman’s journey from leaving home to finding herself, and ultimately discovering who she is and what she wants out of life. Set in the backdrop of busy Manhattan and then small town Connecticut, Green’s version of the struggles befalling contemporary women is both warm and intelligent. This is a tall glass of cold lemonade on a hot day.





Fans of historical fiction this needs to be your go to summer indulgence.  Set half in the late 1800s and half in modern day California, this coming of age story for two women linked by a tragedy is a fascinating tale that manages to seamlessly stay woven together. 



A Library Journal starred review that states,  “Reading this novel is a test of how fast you can turn pages,” this debut novel will have fans of Girl on the Train relieved to have found another compulsively readable and unpredictably delicious  book to devour. 




If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading Ann Leary, you’ve been missing out on some very special storytelling. Her latest is no different, and is filled with dark humor, layers of edgy prose, and  is fast paced enough to be the perfect vacation read.






Chicago Sun Times has called Giffin a “Modern day Jane Austen” because of her ability to write with ease the inner feelings and emotions of both a female protagonist and antagonist. Here she does it exceptionally well, with a sweeping story of the bonds between two sisters who are worlds apart, yet find they need each other more than they ever knew. Giffin fans will not be disappointed.