Julie - "Girl on the Move"

Book Recommendations – 2018 List

41,599 pages read in 2018.

At the beginning of 2018 I set a reading goal of 156 books and promptly asked everyone I knew for book recommendations. And then I started reading. A lot. Whether I met the goal is a matter of how you want to look at the data. Technically, I entered 195 books on GoodReads (where I track all of my books) during 2018 but only 110 of them were chapter books. The other 85 were picture books as I read one book a day with my 4th graders. So even though I didn’t technically read 156 books for me this year, 110 is still pretty awesome!

I regularly have people ask me for book recommendations so I thought I would take a look back at 2018 and share my favorite books.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the link.

Historical Fiction Book Recommendations

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly – This is one of the best World War II historical fiction books I’ve read. The fact that it is inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine moves it even higher on my list of book recommendations. I’m looking forward to reading Lost Roses, also by Martha Hall Kelly in 2019 and discovering the connections to the characters in Lilac Girls.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – This book is why historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I love when author is able to share a piece of history through incredible storytelling and when I finish the book I race to Google to research the historical event. Which is definitely what happened with this book!

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter – Hunter does something not all authors are able to do well, write a story that covers quite a few years and quite a few characters. And the fact this incredible story is inspired by a true story makes it even more remarkable. Another excellent World War II book.
The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith – Set during World War II, this book was quite thought-provoking. Reading made me think about how war might change what you will and will not do for your family.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan – Another World War II book inspired by a true story. Not only was I not able to put the book down, but this book has helped me inspire my travels in Europe.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – Sometimes it’s important for my reading to wander beyond World War II and out of Europe and Hannah did that by taking me to Alaska in the 1970’s. An outstanding read that made me think about right and wrong and whether the line can ever be moved.

General Fiction Book Recommendations

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan – Admittedly, I am a royal watcher…and not just the British Royal Family! Although I would be happy to talk about the awesomeness that is the Duchess of Cambridge anytime!  This book was just a downright fun read and would be a great beach read and a must-buy for any royal fans.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman –  I connected with this book because I’ve definitely had seasons of my life where I was okay with things just being fine. Ng looks at a life that is more than fine.

180 Seconds by Jessica Park – I truly do not think I could articulate just why I liked this book but every time I scanned back over the list of books I’d read in 2018, this one came to the top.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – As an avid reader I love finding new bookstores and connecting with others who love reading, so this book was the perfect dive into an intriguing literary world.

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch (Young Adult Fiction) – Fun young adult fiction (because sometimes my brain needs a break from heavy World War II reading) that will make you want to head to the nearest airport and hop on a flight to Italy.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (Children’s) – I love children’s books with a theme of friendship because I think that’s so important for kids to read about it. And Brown does an outstanding job with the illustrations (he also has lots of great picture books!) and a compelling story.

After reading over 100 books last year, here is a look at my book recommendations with historical fiction, general fiction, non-fiction and children's!

Non-Fiction Book Recommendations

Finish by Jon Acuff – This was the first book in read in 2018 because I had a couple of big goals (read 156 books, become debt-free) and I wanted 2018 to be the year I actually finished my goals. I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone setting any type of goal.

Power of Moments by Chip Heath & Dan Heath – Fantastic read on how to create memorable moments and why it’s so important to create those moments.

Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines – I enjoy reading biographies and memoirs and after several years of watching Chip & Jo on TV I was excited to read Chip’s book. And it was well worth it. Great to take a closer look at their journey and who they are as people.

The Disney Way by Bill Capodagli & Lynn Jackson – Disney has been successful year after year and decade after decade for a reason. And this book gives you a sneak behind the curtain at Mickey’s house and how to implement the strategies yourself.

Picture Book Recommendations

Here’s the thing…picture books aren’t just for little kids! This school year I’ve committed to reading a picture book every day with my 4th graders and it is one of our favorite parts of the day. Since we’ve already read nearly 90 books this year, it’s difficult to pick just one or two favorites, so here is a look at some of our top favorites from the first half of the year…

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin – We’ll be reading the sequel in the spring!

After the Fall by Dan Santat – A book about trying again even when it’s really hard.

What If You Had An Animal Tail!? – In the words of my students, “It’s both informational AND entertaining!”

The Bad Seed by Jory John – Is it possible to change?

What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada – The process of nurturing ideas until they come to life.

Water Princess by Susan Verde – Raising awareness and inspiring action for global access to clean water.

Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt – Fun read!

Rot, the Cutest in the World by Ben Clanton – You’re perfect just the way you are!

2019 Book Recommendations

I’d love to hear from you in the comments, what books should be on my 2019 reading list? My first goal is to see how long I can go without getting any new books while I read all the books already on my shelves, but then I’m open to suggestions!

Other posts you might like:

Orange County Bucket List

Haiti: More Than an Earthquake

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Travel Inspiration: Road Trip Bloggers

I love traveling and exploring new places and one of my favorite ways to travel is to road trip! There’s just something about not only enjoying a destination, but exploring and discovering new things along the way. I was one when I took my first road trip and I’ve road tripped more than 100,000 miles since then. Along the way I’ve found a lot of travel inspiration from various road trip bloggers.

These bloggers share can’t miss roadside attractions, unique lodging, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that can’t be passed by and adventures to take in places you may never even have considered visiting. These bloggers inspire me to pack up and hit the road so I wanted to pass on that inspiration to you as you plan your next adventure! You can also find great road trip inspiration on Pinterest!

Road Trip Bloggers

Back Road Ramblers – Tara and Eric share about road tripping in the United States and have an interest in small town destinations, traveling with teens, hiking, glamping retreats and more.

Backroad Planet – Howard and Jerrry are from Florida and they travel off the beaten path and share out-of-the-way historical places, scenic routes and the hole-in-the-wall places you just can’t miss.

Dang Travelers – David and Angela are obsessed with travel and highlight amazing locations, pass along budget-friendly tips, share our favorite travel resources, and to post about our journey from part-time to full-time travel.

Exploration America – You’ll have the opportunity to follow this family of five as they explore America one city at a time.

My Road Trip Marriage – The name says it all for Jerry and Rebecca.

If you're looking for some travel inspiration, these road trip bloggers will inspire you to pack a bag and hit the road for your next adventure!
One Road at a Time – Abi and Patti have lived on both coasts and they now redefine retirement one road at a time.

Roost and Wander – Nikki shares a great mix of travel and recipes/traditions from life at home.

Travel Inspired Living – Tonya started her blog in a 31-foot motorhome and has grown and evolved to share thoughts on family travel, travel in the US, cooking in hotel rooms, and as every good road tripper needs…Tonya shares roadside attractions!

Have you been on any road trips lately? Are there other road trip bloggers that inspire you to hit the road for your next adventure? GOTM post signature

More Than An Earthquake


Land of Mountains.

Pearl of the Antilles.

Long held public perception of Haiti is that it is a country filled with destruction and mass poverty. People imagine millions upon millions of Haitians living in tents unable to feed themselves or their families. People imagine piles of rubble from the buildings that collapsed in the earthquake. People imagine a country only able to survive with the help of outside organizations.

And there are kernels of truth in those perceptions. 25% of Haitians live in extreme poverty. Haiti ranks 163rd out of 188 on the 2016 Human Development Index. The literacy rate hovers around 60%. Haiti is prone to natural disasters and it is indeed a third world country. There is corruption in the country.

But it is also so much more.

It is a country filled with serene beaches, breathtaking waterfalls, vibrant art, and valuable history.

It is a country filled with people working hard despite limited opportunities.

When Haiti gained its independence on January 1, 1804,  it not only became the first black republic in the world, but it became the first country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery. There is so much rich history to be gleaned as the Haitian Revolution is the world’s only successful slave rebellion.

Haiti was a major tourist destination in the Caribbean after World War II and people came in droves to visit this island nation. The art, the music, the culture, the beaches drew people in to this nation occupying the western portion of Hispaniola.

Several natural disasters and a tumultuous political period have left pain, heartache, and uncertainty, but they have not extinguished the beauty.

Sans-Souci Palace

The ruins of Sans-Souci Palace, built from 1810-1813, look different than when King Henri I was in residence but what remains nestled in the vibrantly green mountains are worth seeing (And on this point of interest I’m slightly biased because this is where my sister and brother-in-law got married).

Wedding photos courtesy Hunter Kittrell Photography

Ile à rats

Ile à rats, translated Island of Rats, is a serene escape with a misleading name as there is not a rat to be found! However, there is a grove of trees in the center surrounded by fine white sand and snorkeling in waters whose color is not found in the 8-pack of Crayolas but only in the 120-pack!

Haiti travel will reveal a country filled with serene beaches, vibrant art, valuable history and people working hard despite limited opportunities.


The Citadelle sits on top of Bonnet a L’Eveque and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Haiti.  The trail to the Citadel is 7 miles and can be travelled on foot or horseback. The top of the fortress offers breathtaking views in every direction and throughout the fortress you’ll find more than 160 cannons and tens of thousands of cannonballs resting in piles.

Haiti travel will reveal a country filled with serene beaches, vibrant art, valuable history and people working hard despite limited opportunities.

Haiti is so much more than an earthquake and it is open for business. I would highly encourage you to explore the idea of Haiti travel in this beautiful country. The Haitian Tourism Board says it best, “If you like history, culture, adventure and you want to be stimulated by the new and the different, it’s time to EXPERIENCE HAITI.”

Haiti travel will reveal a country filled with serene beaches, vibrant art, valuable history and people working hard despite limited opportunities.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the link.

If you’d like to experience Haiti travel, I wanted to give you some additional reading I’d encourage you to explore…

Reading about Haiti

Haiti Tourism 

Day in Labadee

NY Times Haiti Tourism GOTM post signature

Orange County Christmas Bucket List

After publishing a much loved Orange County Bucket List (seriously y’all…I love seeing your posts checking things off the list!) I decided it only made sense to create an Orange County CHRISTMAS Bucket List!! I am obsessed with the holidays and I love everything about the entire months of November and December. And Orange County has a lot to offer during the Christmas season…surfing Santas, tree lightings, ice skating, sledding, boat parades and the list goes on! So without further ado, the Orange County Christmas Bucket List…


Explore the Winter Wonderland of the Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy (Laguna Beach, tickets required, five weekends beginning in November)

Santa watching at the Surfing Santa Competition (Laguna Niguel, FREE, mid-November)

Attend Fashion Island’s Holiday Tree Lighting (Newport Beach, FREE, mid-November)


Attend the Seal Beach Christmas Parade (Seal Beach, FREE, early-December)

Go sledding at the Christmas at the Mission (San Juan Capistrano, tickets required, early-December)

Take a candlelight walk at Heritage Hill Historical Park (Lake Forest, tickets required, mid-December)

Head out on the water for the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Cruise of Lights (Huntington Beach, tickets required, mid-December)

Holidays Around the World (Costa Mesa, mid-December)

Watch the Huntington Harbour Boat Parade (Huntington Beach, FREE, mid-December)

Attend the Golden West College Nutcracker Performance (Huntington Beach, tickets required, mid-December)

Snoopy House (Costa Mesa, FREE, mid-December)

Travel the world at the International Celebration of Christmas (Huntington Beach, FREE, mid-December)

Watch the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade and Ring of Lights (Newport Beach, FREE, mid-December)

Drive through the Living Nativity Drive-thru at First Christian Church (Huntington Beach, FREE, mid-December)

All Season Long

Drive through Christmas lights displays (Throughout Orange County, FREE)

Go ice skating at the Downtown Disney Winter Village (Anaheim, village is FREE, ice skating requires tickets)

Enjoy the falling snow at Knott’s Merry Farm (Buena Park, tickets required)

Visit the Joyeux Noël Christmas Boutique at Roger’s Garden (Corona del Mar, FREE)

Sledding at Winterfest OC (Costa Mesa, tickets required)

Visit The North Pole at South Coast Plaza (Costa Mesa, combination of FREE and tickets required)

Watch A Christmas Carol at South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa, tickets required)

Experience the Magical Flurries snow shows at Bella Terra (Huntington Beach, FREE)

Visit the Gingerbread Extravaganza at the Ritz Carlton (Laguna Niguel, FREE)

Have a cup of tea at Yuletide Tea at The Resort at Pelican Hill (Newport Beach, tickets required)

Ride the train at Irvine Park Railroad Christmas Train (Orange, tickets required)

Explore the Science of Gingerbread exhibit at the Discovery Cube (Santa Ana, tickets required)

An Orange County Christmas Bucket List for the season! Boat parades, tree lightings, festivals and more ways to celebrate Christmas in Orange County
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Mission San Juan Capistrano

When I published my Orange County Bucket List and began making plans for how I could start crossing things off my bucket list, I knew one thing with certainty.  I had to begin at Mission San Juan Capistrano.  This mission is considered the birthplace of Orange County so it seemed fitting.  The Mission was the 7th of 21 missions and was founded on November 1, 1776 and is considered the Jewel of the Missions.

As with most of my posts, this post may contain affiliate or referral links.

I have vague recollections of visiting a couple of missions in 4th grade as we studied California’s history but don’t recall visiting many missions since then.  Now I regret this and I realized I should be planning a road trip to visit all of the missions.  One of the biggest things I walked away with after my time at the mission is the importance of studying history.  And not just from a textbook where I’m absorbing facts I can find in any number of books.  But actually exploring history and studying the people and places of our past.

The stories of the passion and conviction of the priests in their missionary work.

The stories of the way of life for the Acjachemen people.

The stories of how the priests and Acjachemen people co-existed.

These stories helped me understand a piece of California’s history and I think when we take the time to truly study history we’re able to build connections between what was, what is, and what can be.  And those connections are what help us learn from past mistakes, repeat past successes and gain a better understanding of people and culture.

Whether you're a 4th grader studying California's history or if you're planning a trip to California, here's planning tips for Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Whether you are a 4th grader (or the family of a 4th grader) working on a project about the California missions or just planning a trip to Southern California, I would highly recommend a trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Tips for planning a trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano

*Go early.  I was there right when Mission San Juan Capistrano opened and it allowed me to enjoy the first hour or so in peace.  I could spend as long as I wanted at each exhibit and never felt crowded.  And I could capture pictures without other people in them.  This is especially valuable if you’re working on a mission project for school!

*Take advantage of the resources.  There is a complimentary audio tour available and there were docents throughout the mission.  Both were an excellent source of information and provided stories I would not have heard had I only explored the mission on my own.

*Plan your trip.  Head online before you go to the Mission San Juan Capistrano website and browse the schedule of tours, exhibits and hands-on opportunities.  There are days when you can pan for gold, try your hand at basket weaving, hear from descendants of the Acjachemen people and more.  So if you’re able to plan your trip around things that are interesting to you, I’d highly recommend it!

*See the swallows.  If you’re able to time your visit to go in March during the Swallows Day Parade you’ll be in for a treat as you learn about the legend of the swallows.

Have you ever been to any of the missions in California?  What is your favorite? GOTM post signature

The Best Girl Scout Cupcakes

If you’ve spent any amount of time here on the blog or on my social media then you know I love cupcakes!  Like they’re my favorite y’all!  A world with cupcakes is just a better world.  But I have discovered a way to make them even better…use Girl Scout cookies to make them!  So I figured it would be the kind thing to do to gather up all of the best recipes for Girl Scout cupcakes and share them with you.  This way you can take your cupcakes to the next level.

As with most of my posts, this post may contain affiliate or referral links.

The great news is, if it’s not cookie season you can order them from Amazon (each type of cookie has a link where you can get them on Amazon).  Which means you can make these cupcakes in the middle of summer.  Even if you’ve already eaten the last box of Thin Mints you stashed away in February!

Samoa Cookies

Samoa Cupcakes from Baking Mischief

Decadent Samoa Cookie Cupcakes from Virtually Yours


Tagalong Cookie Cupcakes from Inside Bru Crew Life

Tagalong Cupcakes from My Baking Addiction

Thin Mints

Thin Mint Chocolate Cupcakes from “Cents”able Momma

Thin Mint Cupcakes from Your Cup of Cake

Thin Mint Cupcakes from Just 2 Sisters

And if these Girl Scout cupcakes aren’t enough cupcakes for you, you can find more cupcake inspiration, go check out my Cupcakes board on Pinterest.  This is a carefully curated board filled with hundreds of yummy ideas!  And I’m certain hundreds of cupcake recipes is always a good thing. GOTM post signature