What we're reading with the boys

Our favorite children's books | RISING*SHINING

We try to keep toys simple and few at our house but I'm happy to have children's books in every room. As a result, reading is an activity option at any time of the day. We're also building a collection of children's books via Audible and we listen to stories when we're in the car with the boys.

You can purchase Audible audio books through Amazon without an Audible membership. The jack to plug in my phone to the car speakers is broken so I play the books on my Audible app and put my phone in a cup holder that folds out from the front seat console to amplify the sound - works great in our small Prius.

Books and reading and two of my favorite, favorite things and I so hope that my boys will grow up to be avid readers. So far I think we're off to a good start! If one day I look up from my own novel to see Dashiell and Cedric across the room with noses in their own books my heart will surely burst.

Although we L-O-V-E books we don't own a ton although despite my minimalist tendencies books are something I don't mind accumulating. We usually ask for books for birthdays and Christmas and now that Dashiell is truly enjoying story books, and Cedric close behind, I'll probably start buying more here and there. What I often do is browse Amazon and their recommendations and then make a long request-list for the library. 

We've been reading lots of great books lately and l'd love to share. For books that we listen to I'll also link to the audio version. I have found that Dash seems to be more into the audio versions of books he is already familiar with (this was a tip from The Mom Hour) so if I get a new audio book I'll try to also request it from the library so we can look at it.

Where the Wild Things Are (audio)

A classic! I absolutely love reading this book and every time think what a great writer Maurice Sendak is. I especially love the ending, "and it was still hot." And an aside to share: one day when Dash was super mad about something he yelled at us, "Be still!" which was adorable and kind of heartbreaking too, just to see him so mad and expressing that. But I did have to love his use of literature to articulate his feelings.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (audio)

Dash LOVES the story of Goldilocks and sometimes I draw out the story for him on a whiteboard (despite the fact that my drawing game is zero). I have one tiny issue with this book, however, because it includes this line: "Goldilocks was one of those naughty little girls who did exactly as she pleased." I bristle because would a boy be described this way? Is this similar to a boy being described as independent whereas a girl would be described as bossy? Goldilocks does go on to break into a house so perhaps she is naughty but that line somehow felt anti-feminist to me, thoughts?

Dr. de Soto (audio)

A mouse dentist has to decide whether or not to risk having a fox as a patient. 

Owl Moon (audio)

A beautiful story and gorgeous illustrations about a little girl accompanying her dad one night to go looking for owls for the first time.

Caps for Sale (audio)

Another classic from my childhood. A peddler's caps are taken by monkeys in a tree and he has to get them back. Dash gets really into this one and loves to mimic the monkeys and stamp his foot along with the peddler.

The Gruffalo (audio)

A mouse goes walking in the deep dark woods and must be clever to outsmart all the creatures that want to eat him, including the Gruffalo!

Blueberries for Sal (audio)

Love this classic book about a little girl who goes blueberry picking with her mother.

A Chair for my Mother

A lovely book about families supporting each other and also about saving money. Does anyone else have vivid memories of the Reading Rainbow episode featuring this book?


This was a gift from my mom and I absolutely love reading this Thai lullaby and the illustrations are lovely. Several of my friends' children may be getting this for Christmas this year...Cedric loves it as well and mimics the sounds of the animals, which are especially neat because the animals don't make the typical sounds: a duck says, "ghap, ghap!" a mouse says, "jeed, jeed," etc.

Last Stop on Market Street

A boy and his grandmother take a bus ride to volunteer at a soup kitchen and the boy observes ways that different people live, like his friend having a car while he doesn't and the surroundings of the soup kitchen not being very pretty. His grandmother offers sage perspective. Won the Newberry award for children's literature. If you've come across other books like this, that talk honestly about money and people being in circumstances that are challenging, I would love to know about them.

Families, Families, Families

Animal families of every variety are shown ("some kids live with an aunt.....some have two dads....some children's parents are married...and some are not") and ends with "but if you love each other you are a family." A great conversation starter.

Good People Everywhere

This was a gift from a  sweet friend and my throat catches when I read this book, it's such a lovely reminder amidst so many horrible things happening in the world. The book shares different simple scenes of good things people are doing throughout the world: a farmer is growing food for us to eat, a girl is trying her best on a math test, a boy is helping a friend who fell down at the park, a midwife is delivering a baby (cue the tears).

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

A tiger living in uptight animal society isn't happy. He takes action and "goes wild!"


Five toys sit on a window sill waiting for different things, a very calming read. We checked this out from the library but Dash requested it so frequently I'm thinking of buying it. 


A book without words in which each turn of the page zooms you out a little bit farther from the scene.

The Red Book

Another book without words in which a little girl finds a red book with fascinating contents.

Are You My Mother?

This book has been inspiring Dash's story-telling lately and I love the way he says, "And then this big ol' fing lift me up!"

Goodnight Moon

I read a little board book version of this to Cedric every night and he finds the mouse on every page of the room. Confession: did not know there was a mouse in every room scene despite reading this to Dash many, many times! But I kind of love that each boy interacted with the book in a different way. Cedric and I pretend to scoop out a bite of the mush and feed it to each other.


I would love to know what you are reading with your little ones lately or what books you remember loving in your childhood!


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Ending breastfeeding at 17 months

A few weeks ago I nursed Cedric for the last time. There wasn't a last symbolic time in the big red chair where I've spent hours nursing my boys and I didn't get Chris to take a picture as I had envisioned. I actually don't specifically remember nursing for the last time because at the time I didn't know it was the last. So often with parenthood we don't realize something is the last time until it's already passed!

I made the decision to stop nursing on a Saturday; the boys were up before 5 am and I was tired. Cedric asked to nurse and I knew that he would want to nurse all day long, whenever anything upset him and since he woke before 5 am I knew that would be often. That made me feel exhausted and a little overwhelmed. And so I scooped him up and offered almond milk instead. 

After I distracted him once I decided to keep it up and on Sunday I had already made it a day and kept making the decision to be done. I had been thinking about this for a while although I made the decision somewhat in the moment. Each day Cedric asked fewer times to nurse and distracting him became easier. Still today if I set him on my lap facing me he might get a smile, sign "milk" with both hands and says, "nuhse?" but I smile and tell him, "No, we don't do that any more." He smiles back, as if we shared a little joke, and we find a book to read or a toy to play with. 

When I've been breastfeeding with both boys it's such a big part of my life, less so towards the end but still there. And then so quickly it's just done. Ending is a little bittersweet; I know Cedric would have continued to nurse if I let him and it was a sweet time with him in my lap - although now he spills out of my lap! But it also feels good to be done and to have my whole body be my own and I'm thankful that I was able to nurse both of my boys for as long as I did (Dashiell was nearly 15 months when we stopped).

One of my 2016 Year of Kelsey goals is to go on a solo trip as a way to celebrate the end of breastfeeding and nearly four years of being continually pregnant and/or breastfeeding (whoa!). Now that I'm done nursing I'm thinking of that trip and looking forward to planning it in the next six months!


Tips for an awesome book club

Tips for an awesome book club | RISING*SHINING

When I moved to Arizona eight years ago this month (!) I was just out of graduate school and eager to read novels instead of textbooks. I had always loved the idea of belonging to a book club and as I put together my post-school adult life I set out to find one.

The first book club I came across on Meet Up was the East Valley Casual Women's Book Club which described exactly what I was looking for and it turned out to be a perfect fit. Just as I suspected I love having a book club in my life. 

There is no one magical formula to creating a lasting book club; I think it's a combination of book club structure and member personalities and what works for one book club might not work for another. But I do think there are several things that have helped to make our book club sustainable and a place where I've found dear friends. I'd love to share some of the things that make our book club work well for us:

On membership...

Our fearless leader Becky founded the book club in 2007 by creating a group on Meet Up (I joined in October of 2008). This resulted in a group of women who didn't necessarily know each other but lived in the same next of the woods (the Phoenix Valley is a BIG place) and had the common interests of books and meeting new people. When book clubs are made up of friends who already know each other it's easy to fall into talking about the things you always talk about when you get together and not the book. This isn't a bad thing, but just something to keep in mind. 

There are two important considerations for the right number of book club members. One number is how many people generally show up for a book club. We've found that a group of 5 - 8 is great; there are enough people for a lively discussion but no one has to wait too long for their turn to give a review of the book. For 5 - 8 people to show up for each meeting there will likely need to be 10 - 15 members of the book club, but of course this will depend on each group.

Through the years our membership has swelled (once we had to have two separate tables to hold a discussion!) and waned. Over time a group of committed members emerged and we decided to close membership to the general public and moved our online page to a secret Facebook group. Now new members join our group by invitation. A couple years ago membership had dwindled and in the new year we each invited one new person. 

Choosing books...

Our book club is democratic but with an executive leadership branch (aka our founder Becky) and it works great for us. Becky sets up each book club meeting as a Facebook event and chooses the book although we can always suggest books and occasionally we'll have a Facebook poll to choose a book. I appreciate having someone else make decisions about books and I've read - and enjoyed - many books that I never would have considered this way.

We don't have a specific book genre although we tend to stick to contemporary fiction but do occasionally read non-fiction and classics. The only rule might be no straight chick lit.

Having a casual but committed group...

We have the following membership rules for our casual group:

+ after a few no-shows to book clubs for which you RSVPed you'll be removed from the group (with fair warning)

+ at minimum be active on our Facebook page if you aren't attending meetings; no activity in four months says you're no longer interested and you'll be removed from the group

+ you don't have to finish the book or even start it to come to book club as long as you don't mind hearing spoilers. There are definitely months when I haven't finished the book or didn't have interest in the book and I still go to book club just to hear what everyone else thought and to socialize.

Meeting at a consistent, neutral location...

By neutral I mean "not someone's house." While I love my book club friends I love not going to their houses for book club. Here's why: meeting at someone's house means that someone has to host and will inevitably worry about cleaning, and about having drinks or snacks. I get a bit stressed when I host so that would make an aspect of book club stressful for me. Plus it would be hard to do dinner/bedtime with my young kids and successfully host bookclub. It's also hard to breeze in and out of someone's home. You enter and are greeted, there is chit chat. When you want to leave you say thank you and make chit chat about how lovely it was. At our book club you can arrive late and leave early if you need to and can do so easily, I love that.

My book club meets at a neighborhood Irish pub (some of us get drinks or food, some people don't and the restaurant is fine with that) and for years before that we met in the cafe of a Barnes and Noble (with their blessing). We ended up getting a bit boisterous (ahem, language) for the book store and so moved to a bar conveniently just a couple doors down. I love that I know exactly how long it will take me to get to book club each time and I know exactly how to get there, no looking up directions or having to trek across town one evening. The exception is that our December book club is held at Becky's house for holiday-ish get-together. 

We also always meet on a consistent day: the second Wednesday of every month. There will always be someone who can't make it to book club and scheduling is easier if scheduling isn't a question.

Meeting structure...

Our book club meets at 7 PM and we start our official meeting a few minutes after 7. We go around and each have at turn to give our thoughts on the book and each give the book a letter grade, A+ down to F. While someone is speaking someone else might make a comment here or there but generally we try to let each person have the floor for their review. After we've gone all the way around the circle then we have open discussion. 


That's about it! I would love to know what works well for your book club. Or if you've been wanting to join or start a book club DO IT, I will definitely be your cheerleader!

P.S. Everyone is welcome in The Girl Next Door Podcast Book Club!

P.P.S. Keep up with what I'm reading on Instagram, I'm using the hashtag #kelseyreadinglately

Creating time to create


In the past few years I've come to see creating as essential to who I am and the more I create the more creative I feel.

My life is full, as I'm sure that yours is, and ample time to create does not just happen; I have to be intentionally about creating time to create. Three years ago I had the idea to write an ecourse for working moms that would be the resource I wish I had had when I went back to work after having Dashiell. I worked with Andrea to develop the concept of the course and then during the summer of 2013 outlined the material and started writing.

And then life happened: working full time, caring for a baby, producing a podcast and later a second podcast and then later growing and caring for a second baby. But I still believe in my ecourse and bringing it to life and I'm recommitting to finishing it.

Working in fits and starts post-bedtime (yaaawn) or on the weekends works okay for blog posts or podcast editing but not so well for the material for my course, when I feel that I need time to relax into the content. And so recently I planned two days off work for a creative retreat at home with the specific goal of working on my ecourse. 

This was at least the second creative retreat that I've completed; last year I took three days off to update my blog design and make it mobile friendly. Creative retreats not only give me uninterrupted time to work but it also gives me a taste of what working on writing projects full time would feel like, which is what I hope to be able to do in a few years when we accomplish our big financial goal. I would highly recommend a creative retreat if you are trying to make progress on a project or considering going full time with a creative side project and you don't have to go to a cabin in the woods to make them happen! 

I'd love to share a few tips for creative retreats that I've learned: 

Plan for at least four hours. One or more full days is ideal for a creative retreat but if that is not possible try to get at least four hours. This is enough time to relax into a project and to have time when you aren't distracted by how little time is left. 

Find a quiet place. I can't focus for long if my boys are in the house, even if I'm holed up in our office. Taking vacation days from work is an ideal situation because I can work at home while my boys are at daycare. But I've also been able to carve out weekend work time by working at our local public library where private rooms are even available (this is where Erica and I had our recent podcast retreat!). Coffee shops are hit or miss for me. I hate taking up a table for hours plus if the music is slightly too loud or someone is having a lively conversation next to me I'll be distracted.

Make use of vacation days from work. I'm astounded when I read statistics that say most Americans don't use their vacation time each year. If you work and have vacation time it's your time to take and it doesn't have to be for going out of town. I understand how precious vacation days can be but if you are passionate about something I would argue it is certainly deserving of a precious 8 hours of time off work.

Plan ahead and decide what your focus will be. Here's a problem I have with my creative retreats: I realize I have two! whole! days! to do all! the! things! I want to work on my ecourse, catch up on my blog, plan for social media, organize my email inbox, and oh! maybe I can also clean out my closet and also make our family photo book I've been meaning to get to...and should I try that new pie recipe I bookmarked last month? Which is when I have to say, "Shut it down, Kelsey." Having open time when your life is full is hard because there are so many thins you could fill it with. During a creative retreat I have to decide on ONE focus.

Stick to your focus, ignore everything else. Once I have my creative retreat focus I have to guard it ferociously. I have to actively ignore my inbox, the blog posts I want to write and the pile of dirty dishes. 

Celebrate all progress. Creative work can be slow going and after two days of working I had written two new days of content for my course - of a five week course. It felt like a very small dent but instead of seeing how far I still have to go I celebrated the fact that I had the time to work and the writing that came from it. 

Plan how to continue the work. Towards the end of a creative retreat, if there is still work to be done on a project, I like to think about how I can keep working in smaller chunks of time in the coming weeks so I can keep the momentum going.

Happy creating!

Goals - June 2016


In May I rocked the solo parent thing for four days, we had the house painted and enjoyed coolish mornings and evenings. I didn't do a great job on my goals and only accomplished going on a breakfast date with Chris in downtown Gilbert, but that was a great goal to accomplish!

But I did fit in some other things in May that weren't on my goal list: I had a gal date with my friend Becky and checked out a cute new place sandwich shop in downtown Mesa; I had a great creative retreat with Erica to plan for The Girl Next Door podcast and the next week we met to talk about developing a newsletter for the podcast; I had a two day creative retreat at home and made some progress on my ecourse for working moms; Chris and I took our dear friends out to a favorite restaurant for a goodbye dinner before they move (wah!) and I had creative huddles with Sarah and Rachel. I've also been loving keeping up with Sarah and a few other friends via Voxer!

I've also been sharing weekly spreads in my GET TO WORK BOOK on Instagram with the hashtag #weekly GTWB. It's been motivating me to spend some time looking ahead to the week and planning goals and things just for fun.  

In June we have some fun things coming up and are also looking forward to laid back weekends and starting swim lessons with the boys. I'm actively working on learning to love the crazy hot summers here. We're heading into the 100+ temps this week so wish me luck!

Big things happening in June:

+ Book club retreat to Sedona! I'm spending three days in Sedona with my book club and exclamation points are an understatement. I love the gals in my book club and am giddy to be in beautiful Sedona with them and to hike, enjoy coffee (and later cocktails) on the porch and long, uninterrupted conversations. 

+ Chris is out of town/my mom visits! While Chris helps a friend move out east (boo!) my mom is coming for a visit and to help with the boys. While she's here I'm looking forward to taking a day off work to hang out and maybe get a little house project done, which we always love to do together. 

+ Work with a sleep coach. We are Skyping with a sleep coach TODAY and are eager to implement a sleep plan. It's been tough, friends. Change is always hard so I imagine there will be some rough days and nights but we are feeling excited for what's on the other side. I'll share updates for sure!

June goals: 

+ Sort and organize the boys' clothes. Dash is solidly in 4T clothing and Cedric in 2T (!). As Dash grows we put his clothes in storage for Cedric and as Cedric grows we hand down or donate his clothes.

+ Three work sessions on my ecourse. Extra projects on top of a full life don't come easily but this month I want to find three times to sit down and work on my ecourse, whether it's 30 minutes or 2 hours each time. Every little bit counts. 

+ Get our compost healthy. Guys, our compost has so many roaches, it's disgusting. I L-O-V-E composting but not the roaches. We've let the compost get too dry and don't turn it enough so I'm committing to keeping it watered and turned and am hoping that will help. Otherwise we might consider getting an above-ground composter. Any tips for me? We put all our vegetable scraps in the compost; do we need to add grass clippings or something else? Otherwise the compost actually looks very healthy, everything breaks down quickly and turns to rich, black compost. The perk is that the boys love coming to the compost with me to look at all the bugs :)/:(

+ Make popsicles! We just ordered this cute popsicle mold and I've been telling Dashiell that "in the summer we go swimming and eat popsicles!" so I need to be true to my word! I'd love to try these and these

+ New bras and underwear. Real talk, people! Putting this out here for accountability, can you relate? I absolutely love my ThirdLove bra, which I purchased when I was done with nursing bras so I'd like to buy a second and it's been a minute since I bought new undies, eeek.

Recurring monthly goals:

+ Exercise three times per week. On Monday and Friday mornings I go to Orange Theory. Fitting in the third work out has been inconsistent but I'm going to try taking Dash with me in the jogging stroller for early runs - or maybe he'll still be sleeping!!

+ Publish to RISING*SHINING on Mondays and Wednesdays. Working on getting back to this!

+ Record and produce new episodes of The Girl Next Door Podcast and Matrimoney on schedule.


Would love to know what you are up to this month!  

Happy June!