The first book I finished in 2021 was Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris. If you read and enjoyed The Tattooist of Auschwitz, then I would recommend Cilka's Journey. Cilka's story is a follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and it follows the title character Cilka. At 18, she is liberated from Auschwitz only to be taken to The Vortuka gulag (work camp) in Siberia. She is sentenced to 15 years there and this is the story of how she uses her wits, intellect and charm to survive.
Reading books like these are always hard. Cilka was so young when she was captured by the Nazis. She did what she had to do to survive, and that includes giving her body over to Nazi soldiers. She is petrified that the women she befriends in Siberia will find out what she did in Auschwitz and shun her because of it. It's a story of growth, of coming of age, and finding love in the darkest of places. But it's not easy to read. To read about the starvation that these women endured, the conditions in which they lived, and the manner in which they were treated makes me very grateful for all the comforts we have. And to read the author's notes and find that Cilka was in fact, based on a real person, makes the story even more poignant.
If you're looking for a World War II novel, this is a great one.
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For so many of us, our phones are a huge extension of our daily lives. We communicate, we take photos, it wakes us up, we work from them. The list goes on! I love finding new apps that help make tasks easier, and here are 5 that I've discovered recently that are great!
1. Alpaca - Tired of sorting through 24,000 photos on your camera roll like me? Alpaca groups together like photos (ex: when you take 15 photos of the kids to make sure you get one good one) so you can go through them quickly and select which ones you want to keep. I've been trying to use it at the end of each day to cut down on the excess photos on my phone.
2. Hallow - A Catholic meditation app that offers guided meditation sessions, prayers, and daily readings. If you've been looking for a way to incorporate some of these things into your day more easily, check this app out. There is a subscription if you want to access everything, but there are also many prayers you can access for free.
3. Splitwise - If you take trips with friends or family and want to make sure you split expenses, this is a really good one. We used this with our friends on our recent trip to Lake Oconee and it was so easy to keep track of the expenses.
4. Instagram Threads - This is for my social media peeps. I often get messages on Instagram asking me to caption my stories because people are watching them while baby is sleeping or they don't want to disturb someone around them. Instagram Threads allows me to caption my stories and use my favorite Instagram filters at the same time.
5. Libby - I have talked about Libby before! I use this to borrow digital copies of books from my local library, which saves me a TON of money. You can place books on hold, and once you borrow them, they stay on your device for 21 days. If Libby doesn't work with your library, you can try Overdrive.
Let me know if you try any of these and how you like them! And if you have any other super cool app suggestions, let me know - I'd love to try them out!
Since 2020 took a lot from us, we knew that we needed a change of scenery. Back in January, we booked a house in Lake Oconee, Georgia for the end of July. We wavered back and forth for a long time on whether or not we should go, and even the weeks leading up to it. In the end we decided that we were minimizing our risk by driving and we followed everything we would have followed at home. We ended up having such a great time when we went in July and found the drive to be doable, so we decided to do it again for our Christmas vacation.
Because we did follow social distancing precautions, the travel guide is not that extensive. I'll share the few things we did do that we really enjoyed, as well as some of the things that there are in the area.
First of all, why Lake Oconee? We wanted a change of scenery, something we had never done before, and we wanted it to be within driving distance of Miami without having to stop at a hotel for the night. The drive is about 10 hours - while long, it is definitely doable. We packed sandwiches, snacks and electronics, and we stopped only for potty breaks, gas, and coffee. We left early in the morning and we arrived with daylight to spare.
Another requirement was being able to rent a house. We did not want to stay in hotels as we wanted to be able to cook our own meals and be okay with just hanging out at the house. We have had great luck with vacation rentals on vrbo.com. We stayed in two different houses. They were both very nice, but they were different and located in slightly different areas. The first house was more on the outskirts of the lake and part of the town of Eatonton. It was not part of a community therefore we did not have access to amenities and it was just the house. The second house we stayed at was in the Reynolds Plantation area, which is a (HUGE) community with a gated entry. There was a playground, a marina, a pavilion, a golf course, and plenty of walking paths as well. If you are looking to have additional amenities, I highly recommend the Reynolds Plantation area. Aside from that, both houses had docks, 4 bedrooms and 4.5 baths, outdoor areas, grills, and fully stocked kitchens (tool-wise).
There is a Publix in the area which is where we bought all of our groceries. I realized this time around that you can do a pickup order there so you don't have to go inside if you don't want to, but we didn't take advantage of that. We also wanted to have a special meal on New Year's Eve, so we ordered stone crabs from a local market called Pounders Meat & Seafood Market. We also had some food from Georgia Butts BBQ and it was absolutely delicious.
There are several restaurants you can dine at or order from, we ordered from Mellow Mushroom pizza once and Marco's Pizza. Both were great. We did have dinner one night at Linger Longer Steakhouse at the Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee.
Over the summer, we visited a farmer's market (it was next to The Harbor at Harmony Crossing). They had baked goods, fresh fruit, and local artisans.
Both times we rented a boat. Over the summer, the Lake is full of boaters and people stopping in different spots and jumping in the lake. We did this and had a really great time. We rented the boat from Oconee Wild Watersports for four hours and really took advantage, stopping in multiple places and jumping in the water. This time, we rented from Young Harris Watersports for 2 hours (because it was cold and we didn't think we would be able to be on the water for 4 hours). It was chilly but it was so nice to cruise around the lake for a little bit. Both rentals were smooth and the boats were in good condition, although the one from Oconee Wild Watersports was a little bit newer.
We also visited the Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee a few times - once for coffee and to walk around a bit, another time to visit the spa for a couple of treatments (which were absolutely lovely), and finally to dinner at the Linger Longer Steakhouse. They usually have marshmallow roasting and additional activities for the kids in the evenings, but a lot of those activities were not currently available to non-hotel guests. For anything at the hotel, make sure you call ahead and make reservations, as everything is not open due to COVID precautions.
There is The Alice Walker Driving Tour you can complete. This self-guided driving trail takes the visitor to various points of interest applicable to Eatonton native, Alice Walker and her family members. Alice Walker is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the novel "The Color Purple."
Aside from that, there are several other outdoor things to do in the area, and plenty of walking/hiking trails. I'm sure there are more things to do, but again, due to the pandemic we wanted to limit how much we interacted with others. We really enjoyed both times we spent in Lake Oconee. We truly felt like we were able to get away and disconnect, and we are already looking forward to when we can go back.
In my last post, I shared a little bit about my word of the year for 2020, and I've finally been able to articulate why I chose the word CONNECT as my word of the year for 2021.
As I stated before, having a word of the year really allows me to set focus and intention for everything I do. Connecting is something I began to do more of 2020, and I'd like to continue to carry it through 2021. The key to being successful with this is giving myself ideas for each area. Kind of like small, attainable goals. At the end of the year, if I didn't necessarily achieve something, I don't feel like I failed at it because it's not a goal that's set in stone (like "work out four days a week").
Connect with my family. Turn off devices more often, or at least set them aside. Family dinners (which we haven't been very good about ever) and family walks/activities minus the distractions from the outside. Reading with my kids more often, and being present while they are home from school.
Connect with my husband. Rid ourselves of the nasty habit of spending so much time on our phones before bed. Kiss longer. Smile at each other more. Shower one another with praise.
Connect with my mind. Read. Pray. Do the things I truly love without distraction. Understand what makes me anxious, what makes me happy, what gives me peace. Connect more to those peaceful moments.
Connect with my body. Do what feels good when it comes to exercise. Eat what makes me feel good (and not just what tastes yummy). Stretch. Breathe.
Connect with my home. Clear the clutter and find a rhythm.
Connect with my work. Take on more projects that inspire me or move me. Do less of the work I don't love.
Connect with others. My extended family, my friends, other parents at school, my audience. Make real connections with them.
Have you done a word of the year? What is it?
My bracelet set is Taudrey and you can get it here. Use the code topknot10 for 10% off.
When we all think of 2020, we initially think "Good Riddance!" But last night, while having dinner with friends, we talked about how for us (and we recognize that many people had terrible years in many senses of the word), 2020 wasn't really all that bad in hindsight. Was it hard? YES. Did it push every button it possibly could? Also YES. Did it challenge us in ways we didn't think we would be challenged. HECK YES. But 2020 has given us a lot of good things too.
This morning I listed all the accomplishments I felt I had achieved in 2020, and the list was longer than I thought it would be. The accomplishments weren't all huge, but they were all significant to me somehow. Some of the highlights of 2020 have been big - Eddie started a new job and smashed it right out of the gate, I won the 2019 Best Parenting Blog by South Florida Bloggers, I secured partnerships with some household names, started a podcast with my friend Leci, and I reached 10,000 followers on Instagram. But some of the highlights of 2020 have been smaller - Caleb lost a couple teeth, Chloe started school, we got to know our kids so much better. We grew more intimate relationships with friends because we limited our circle.
In 2019, I did a Word of the Year for the first time, and I felt like it was so successful that I decided to do it again in 2020. I'm not sure I ever shared my word of the year this year, but it was Consistency. I applied the word to everything - my sleep schedule, my diet, moving my body, the kids' schedules, and how I worked. It was definitely a year where it was hard to keep consistent some days, but in the end, it was worth the effort.
So while 2020 definitely challenged us, it won't go down as the worst year ever in my book. And at the stroke of midnight, things won't magically be "normal" again. But the new year always brings the promise of a fresh start, new goals, and new dreams.
Cheers to the end of 2020 and to a happy and healthy 2021!
South Florida Bloggers
2019 Best Parenting Blog