Book Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I had the privilege of hearing Bryan Stevenson speak this past August at the Global Leadership Summit. He engages his audience with insightful observations while pulling them into the story he tells. That day as he spoke, he both empowered me and broke my heart. He spoke of the need to change the narratives in our society that sustain injustice. His speech encouraged his listeners to change their proximity to the vulnerable populations in our society. “There is power in proximity.”

I ordered his book, Just Mercy*, that evening after I left the Summit. It took me a few days to open the book and start reading. My hesitation was a curious thing because my usual pattern after enjoying a speaker is to devour their writing as soon as possible. I remember discussing this hesitation with my mother and saying, “I’m scared to read this because I think it’s going to make me want to return to law school.”

When I did open the book, I found his writing as engaging, thought provoking, and powerful as his speaking. In Just Mercy, Mr. Stevenson tells a bit of his own story and his journey to becoming an advocate for reform in the American criminal justice system. However, the crux of this book is his telling of other people’s stories – people wrongly convicted in the criminal system. He does more than put faces to the issues; he puts his heart into them and encourages his reader to do the same.

Mr. Stevenson reminds his audience that the men and women who are serving time in prison are people. They are not just the sum of their crimes or their life circumstances. He discusses racial inequality, excessive sentencing, inhumane treatment of prisoners, wrongful convictions, the discrimination of the poor, and many other issues in the American justice system. He tackles the issues through telling the stories of people who experienced these issues firsthand.

The book tackles tough issues without condemning or shaming the reader. Instead, Mr. Stevenson brings awareness and ultimately offers hope that everyone can make a difference. He explains that the words we use and the narratives we perpetuate go a long way in shaping our culture. Mr. Stevenson encourages his audience to stand up for the poor and the disenfranchised because they are worthy of love and dignity.

I encourage you to read the book. It made an impact on my life and my vision for the future.


More resources that include Mr. Stevenson:

13th – Documentary

Pass the Mic Interview with Bryan Stevenson – Podcast


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Borrowed Traditions

Do you ever notice certain traditions and think, “That’s not really my thing?”

That’s how I felt about china sets. My mom didn’t have china, and my relatives who did have sets chose to display them in cabinets that made navigating around the dining room a challenge. Once or twice a year, they’d pull the china out for a special occasion and caution us all to handle the dishes carefully. That seemed like a lot of space, money, and effort for something only used a few times a year.

Flash forward to 2016. I was at a church yard sale (because they’re the best) and a beautiful serving platter caught my eye. There was a matching dinner plate next to it along with a cardboard sign: “Setting for 12 with serving pieces. $35”

The pattern was elegant and the lines of the dishes were simple…just my style. So, my mom and I inquired about the details of the set. Surely, such a vintage set couldn’t be a full setting for 12 and only cost $35?

The lady we asked told us we’d have to speak to the woman who donated the set, and went to fetch her. The woman who donated the set had a hard time making eye contact when she approached. She explained that the set was her grandmother’s and she didn’t want to sell it. I didn’t know what to say except that I’d recently lost my grandmother and I wished she’d been able to pass such a beautiful collection down to me.

The woman hugged me and said that I was the perfect person to own the set. My mom purchased it for my 30th birthday. The collection was missing three teacups and two soup bowls, but otherwise it was a full setting for 12!

I took the set home and stored it in the basement for another year. This fall,

A piece of the newspaper that held the dishes for over 30 years.

I pulled out the boxes because I realized that storing the dishes in newspaper from 1982 wasn’t a great idea. I unwrapped all the pieces, carefully washed them, and purchased replacement teacups and bowls online. Then I ordered some awesome storage boxes* on Amazon to properly store everything.

I never expected to own a set of china, but I couldn’t imagine a cooler way to acquire it. All told, it only cost about $200 to buy the set, the replacement pieces, and the storage containers. The price would have been much higher to purchase and store a new set of comparable quality and quantity. Plus, I have the story of the lady at the yard sale and a responsibility to honor her love for her grandmother. The china was wrapped in newspaper and stored before I was born, but I feel like it was waiting for me. The set has a unique story and so do I. They won’t be my everyday dishes, but I’ll use them more than a few times a year.  Even small things are worth celebrating, and these dishes are meant for those moments.



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Book Review – A Man Called Ove

Welcome to a new (hopefully regular) feature on the site. The plan is to add a new book review once a month. This is a short review, but length will vary based on the book.

Book Cover Art property of Simon & Schuster

My friend Corey recommended “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman a few months ago. I usually read books in a sitting or two, but I took my time with this one. I’d read no more than two chapters in a sitting because I could just tell this book was special. Each chapter taught me something I wanted to savor before diving into the next passage.

I read many books, but rarely does one move me the way “A Man Called Ove” did. I don’t want to give away much of the story line, but it chronicles the mostly ordinary life of a Swedish man named Ove. The chapters are mini-stories within his life. The tone of the writing is matter-of-fact, almost nonchalant, but each vignette adds to the fabric of the story until you’re utterly connected to Ove.

Ove is grumpy. He’s set in his ways. He sticks to routine. He’s amusing and he doesn’t know it. He knows he’s broken. He’s the grouch with a hidden heart of gold. Throughout the story, your heart breaks for Ove and your heart is happy for Ove. The book moved me to tears because we’re all Ove in one way or another. We all at some point think we have life figured out…until it surprises us.

To put it simply: it is a story about a man who thinks he lost love, but then love captures him again in entirely unexpected ways.

Take a journey with Ove…you’ll be glad you did.


February Ipsy Bag

On this first day of March, here’s a look at what I received in my February Ipsy bag.

Marsk Mineral Eyeshadow in Toast – I’m not a huge fan of loose shadows because they don’t travel well. This one is a pretty shade, but you have to apply quite a bit to get it to show in a swatch:

Swatch of Mineral Eyeshadow

Luna by Luna Cosmetics Highlighter in Calypso – This is a good size for a sample. It’s a silvery highlight, and while I usually gravitate toward gold undertones, I’m excited to give this a try.

Soo Ae Sheet Mask Duo – I love sheet masks and the fact that they included two is awesome!

Rodial Smokey Eye Pen in Black – While this isn’t a super exciting product for me, I can always use an extra black eyeliner.

Luxie Beauty Rose Gold Blush Brush – I love getting brushes and tools in my Ipsy bag. This brush retails for $18 on the Luxie site.

This Ipsy’s value definitely exceeded the $10/month price tag for the subscription. I’m very happy with this month’s selection. We’ll see what I get next time!

My Planner Set-Up for 2017

Hello! I know it’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted here, but life takes precedence over the internet. We’re most of the way through the second month of 2017, but I wanted to share the systems I chose for staying organized this year. I filmed a quick video overview of the three items I’m using. I hope to film an in-depth look at how I use bullet journaling for my daily plans, but for now you get the quick look!

I’m also using a goal-setting workbook by Laura Casey. I have big plans for the year, but I have a hard time breaking down my goals into manageable steps. This workbook helps with that process and I love it!

I also keep a separate planner for work. Each year I have to write my performance review and note any new tasks. It can be difficult to remember all the little things I do in a year, so I’ve developed a habit of writing everything down in a central location. I refer back to the planner when writing my review in September.

The video covers the name brands and some examples of how I use my planner system. What methods do you use for schedule organization?

My Skincare Favorites on sale at Hautelook

Two of my favorite, affordable skincare items are available on Hautelook for the next few days, so I thought I’d put up a quick post. Sheet masks (for your face) and the sparkling peeling gel are two things that I use regularly.

Sheet Masks

sheet-maskI love sheet masks. It’s an easy way to relax for a few minutes, and they’re not nearly as messy as the face masks where you have to paint stuff on your face and let it dry. Here are the steps for using a sheet mask:

  • Open the pouch
  • Unfold the mask
  • Place it on your face
  • Wait 15-20 min
  • Remove the mask and massage any remaining serum into your skin

There’s a huge price range for sheet masks, but I usually wait until the Korean Beauty masks appear on hautelook and buy them for a good price. Today, they’re on sale for a dollar a mask. I’ve seen them as low as 75 cents per mask. I took several sheet masks with me on my business trip and used them every other evening. I’d put on the mask and lay down for the 15-20 minutes…it was so relaxing!

Sparkling Peeling Gel

sparkling-gelThe sparkling peeling gel is now a regular part of my skincare regimen. I use it once a week to exfoliate my face. It’s really simple to use. You rub the product onto your clean, dry face. As you massage, you’ll see and feel the dead skin leaving your face. When finished, wash your face as normal. I do this once a week and my skin has never looked better! I only use a small amount each week, so a tube lasts me a few months.

What is HauteLook?

For those of you who don’t know, Hautelook is a discount website. It’s affiliated with Nordstrom Rack. Every day they have new “events” where a specific brand or category of items becomes available for a certain number of days. The key is patience. Brands will cycle through every few months, so if you missed something it will probably appear again. Also, when you purchase an item it can take up to three weeks to arrive at your house.

Some of their products are great values, while others are not…you just have to pay attention to what you’re buying. I got a NorthFace coat for 60% off the retail price and I love it! They regularly have name-brand clothing, shoes, and cosmetics available. The return policy varies by item and is listed on the item’s description page. I purchased a lovely pair of shoes a few months ago, but they didn’t fit quite right. I was able to walk into my local Nordstrom Rack and return them with no issue!

Business Trip Packing – Cosmetics/Skincare


I spent most of the month of November in Dallas. It was my longest business trip to date. Packing was a feat because I needed plenty of professional outfits, but I also needed casual attire. When you combine that with cosmetics, skin care, shoes, and accessories…it can be tough to get it all into luggage that is manageable.

I divided my packing video into categories of items, and I’ll be showing you a new category every few days. The cosmetics/skincare packing was a bit of a challenge. The trip was too long to use the travel size version of several things, and the full-size items added extra weight. Plus, the trip was too long to ignore my full skincare regimen, so I had a lot more items than I would pack for a week-long vacation.

To store my cosmetics/skincare/hair care I used an old cosmetic roll-up from Mary Kay and a zipper bag from Ikea. I have a bunch of other options for storing these items, which I’ll show you in another post, but this combo worked very well for this particular trip.

Check out the video if you’d like to see what I packed for cosmetics and skincare!

Stocking My Paleo Pantry

When I switched to a modified paleo diet about a year ago, I wasn’t sure where to start. I read everything I could find on the internet and basically came up with recipes I wanted to try. I tried to plan out my menu a week in advance to go grocery shopping and make sure I had everything I needed.

In the beginning, I was only purchasing exactly what I needed for my weekly recipes. But what happens when you miscalculate your portion planning and run out of your dinners before the week is over? I couldn’t just open the cabinet and bake something or throw some pasta on the stove. About the only thing in my pantry that I could eat in a pinch were nuts…and that gets boring after a while. Continue reading “Stocking My Paleo Pantry”