8 (mostly) little things I’m loving for mid-summer

I like to keep a list in my bullet journal of the (mostly) little, everyday things bringing me a disproportionate amount of happiness these days. And I like to share a handful of these things with you occasionally—but I just realized it’s been ages since I have!

Let’s catch up with this little sampling of small things making me happy right now:

1. The Family Road Trip Trivia podcast. I never considered my science-loving youngest child would one day outgrow Wow in the World, but it finally happened—and thankfully, my genius husband stumbled upon this crowd-pleasing substitute for short (or, later this summer, LONG) family trips in the car.

In every short episode, the hosts ask a series of questions on topics ranging from The Simpsons to holiday movies to Greek myths. You get to play along in your car, and we’ve found the trivia questions spark great conversation for when the episode is over.

We downloaded this for our 11-year-old, but it truly is fun for the whole family.

2. New book series, and series installments. Isn’t it such a gift to fall in love with a new book series, or learn a new installment is coming out in a series you already love? While this is of course fun for me, I really love it when my kids find a new series or series installment, because it’s hard to keep them in good books. Especially my youngest, because he reads them so dang fast!

Recently my 14-year-old and I browsed a different location of our local indie than we usually visit—the one with an extra-large children’s section—and she was delighted to discover new titles in series she already loved, like Truly Tyler in the Emmie & Friends series (Bookshop | Amazon) and Merci Suarez Changes Gears (Bookshop | Amazon), which has been out for well over a year and we didn’t know it!

And while my 11-year-old has resisted some of the Gordon Korman titles that seem (to me) like they are perfect for him, he’s currently hooked on the Masterminds series (Bookshop | Amazon). It’s only three books—I wouldn’t mind longer—but they’re keeping him busy for, well, at least four whole days. I’ll take it!

(Pictured above: a stack of books he’s loved in the past—because I know I’m not the only one who has a hard time loading up my kid’s TBR list!)

3. Salads (in the right bowls). I tend to eat the same thing for lunch everyday; this summer that recurring dish has been a salad of some kind. My most-repeated combo is greens, snap peas, radishes if I have them around (by July, I usually don’t), tiny slices of preserved lemon (more on that in a sec), chicken, quinoa, plus lemon poppyseed or green goddess bottled dressing.  

A salad is better in the right bowl, and this month I’m loving these pretty and functional salad bowls a kind friend gave me.   

My tiny salad tip: it’s a small thing, but I enjoy my salads so much more when I toss them before serving, instead of drizzling the dressing on after. I don’t love that this method dirties another bowl, but if I wash that bowl away, it takes mere seconds to wash it. Worth it.   

4. This Will Make It Taste Good. (Bookshop | Amazon) About those preserved lemons: I have long loved using these in the kitchen, but didn’t use them multiple times per week until I started making my own. And that brings me to Vivian Howard’s second cookbook: I bought this on a whim at my local indie when it first came out, and have been referring to it ALL THE TIME ever since.

In this cookbook, Howard shares recipes for ten food staples she relies on in her own home (not restaurant) cooking, the “flavor heroes” that make simple food taste really good. I’ve been making several of those basic recipes ever since: recipes like her spicy tomatoes, sauerkraut, and preserved citrus.

At this point I’ve not tried many of the book’s recipes—but the ones I’ve made, I’ve made A TON. Most of all, I appreciate her extremely detailed directions to preserve not just lemons but limes, oranges, and other citrus as well.

5. Shower stuff. I have a friend who gives the best gifts: she’s responsible for much of the good stuff I’ve shared in these loving-lately round-ups over the years! Recently she gave me this Body Hero Daily Oil Wash from Glossier (maker of the cult classic Boy Brow, which I also use every day), which I’ve happily used every day since. She told me she couldn’t decide if the smell reminded her of a chic French girl or her grandmother, which made me laugh, because the scent is EXACTLY that of the rose-shaped soaps my grandmother kept in her bathroom for years!

I love the feel of this stuff, and that my dry, sensitive skin actually likes it, too.

6. Parks and Rec. Will and I watched the whole series back in 2017 (thanks again for talking us into it!) and then recently, once our family ran out of Corner Gas and Kim’s Convenience episodes to watch together, we tentatively started Parks and Rec.

We’d tried several years ago and they hated it, but this time we skipped season one, started with season two, and they were HOOKED. It’s such a relief to find something everyone enjoys watching together (that’s not easy with a family of six), especially something that keeps making us laugh and laugh.

7. Earl Grey and tonic. While on the hunt for something non-alcoholic but still fun and festive—and more interesting than seltzer + juice—I stumbled upon this recipe on one of my longtime favorite cooking sites. The Earl Grey syrup has a heavier mouth feel than plain old juice or other mixers, and I’ve always loved the citrusy-bitter taste of tonic water, so it was a big hit around here.

I like Earl Grey, but if it’s not your cup of tea (I couldn’t help myself), the recipe says you can sub in another tea or herbal teas in its place.

And despite the recipe’s recommendation for Fever Tree Indian tonic, I use Q tonic—it’s what we happen to have on hand this summer, and it works great.

8. Olly Sleep gummies. It’s nice to have these in my toolkit, for me and for the kids. I often end up taking (or dispensing) just a fourth of a dose—so maybe at that point it’s just the placebo effect—but I’m happy to have these in my bedtime arsenal. I imagine I’ll be even more glad to have them once I’m traveling again.

What (mostly) little things are bringing YOU a disproportionate amount of happy lately? I’d love to hear in comments.

P.S. Previous editions of little things I’m loving: 9 (mostly) little things I’m loving lately: kitchen edition, 8 (mostly) little things I’m loving for early fall9 little things I’m loving this September6 things I’m loving for early summer5 late fall/early winter favorites7 little January favorites9 October favorites, and 7 not terribly exciting things making me really happy these days.

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  1. Addie Yoder says:

    I have emailed you in my head over and over for recs from your 11 year old! My 12yo usually has the same tastes. She has the Mastermind series on her radar now! and YES. Olly Sleep gummies for the win!

  2. Katie says:

    I’d love to hear more about which recipes you are loving from This Will Make it Taste Good. I have a copy from LFPL and was frankly put off by the photography, but am still intrigued!

    • Anne says:

      In addition to the flavor hero recipes, the one we’ve made the most, hands-down, is the rice and black bean pilaf. (I double the preserved lime because I love it, but if you don’t have that handy, you could omit it and still have a tasty dish.) We also really like the vinaigrettes and R-rated onions.

    • Nancy Ewing says:

      Yes, please! Specific recipe recommendations. I read “This Will Make It Taste Good” cover to cover early in the pandemic, but I haven’t made a single recipe from it. I have a tree full of lemons waiting to be preserved.

  3. Not a series, but a REALLY wonderful new middle grade novel is “A Place to Hang the Moon” by Kate Albus. Oh, I loved it! Takes place in 1940’s London, and starts off a bit like Narnia, where the kids are sent to the countryside to avoid danger from the war. They’re story of finding a home is heart-breaking.

  4. Alex says:

    What an awesome list!

    Do you think Wow in the World would be too advanced for a 5-year-old? My oldest is starting to gravitate toward science-y things, and I wonder if it would be a good fit.

    • Brie says:

      Alex, yes! My 4 year old and 6 year old love it! It was their preferred podcast for our recent road trip. (They also love the Story Pirates podcast, but WinW engaged them for HOURS!) 🙂

  5. Katie says:

    Two things I’m loving lately both involve the kitchen! My husband and I always get a $25 Bed, Bath, & Beyond gift card from his grandma at Christmas. Since we don’t shop there often, we didn’t spend our gift cards until my birthday in June! We both went in on a 14″ cast iron skillet – an upgrade from our beloved 10″ Lodge. This has been a game changer! We are a family of 6 (the youngest being a baby) and cooking for 5 means cooking in two batches when using our skillet (which is used so much it lives on the stove.) Now with the much larger pan I can cook dinner in one go!

    My other thing is my ball canning book and canning supplies I bought myself for my birthday. I’ve been wanting to learn to can for years, but was always intimidated. So I finally made myself do it when we inherited several well producing tomato plants at our new to us house. And it was so easy. And so fun that I’ve “put up” almost 40 jars of food from 6 recipes. Y’all might wanna buy stock in ball jars because I’m not slowing down LOL.

    • Ruthie says:

      I’ve long been intrigued by the thought of canning, but too intimidated to try. You give me courage! This might be the summer…

    • Anne says:

      That large cast iron skillet sounds like a great investment!

      And after years of contemplating I’m beginning to think I’m ready to try some canning … (Vivian Howard has some canning anecdotes in her cookbook that make it sound both appealing and doable.)

  6. Amelia says:

    Oh, I so love Parks and Rec! It’s one of those series I can pick up and start it anytime. I rewatch and rewatch all episodes but I will always come back to Harvest Festival and all the episodes leading up to that one. Delightful and silly and lovely. Glad you tried it again!

  7. Karen Webb says:

    I love when my kids find a new series also. My 14 year old boy has mostly stopped reading because he said there is nothing to read. The most recent series he read was by Jennifer Nielsen. Any suggestions?

    • sarah says:

      I am interested too because I also have a 14 year old boy. It’s tricky finding something he is interested in and not too “childish”, but also not too mature.

      • Susan says:

        I’m facing the same dilemma with my 14 year old. Last time we went to the library I scanned the young adult section but couldn’t really find any that I thought he would like. He’s always been a reader so to see him slow down concerns me some.

        • Lisa Root says:

          A good non-fiction choice for 13, 14 might be All Thirteen – a beautifully done, coffee table style book about the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team Rescue. It’s full of pictures, side articles about so many sub- topics. My students love it!

          • Angelique Richardson says:

            My teen reader LOVED the Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann. He’s gone back and re-read a few times. He’s 15 now and recently read Sooley by John Grisham and said it was really good too. Totally different from Unwanteds though.

          • Barbara says:

            I read All Thirteen recently and concur that it is a great book! Great explanations–hypothermia, caving, cultural differences affecting rescuer relationships, etc. Even thought I KNEW all 13 were rescued, the book still grabbed me emotionally. Highly recommended.

    • Louise says:

      Was it the False Prince series by Nielsen? If so, he will most likely love the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Another fantasy series that has a similar flavor is Creatures of Light by Emily B. Martin. Whalen Turner is the master of the unreliable narrator and unexpected twist, and Martin is close on her heels.

  8. Weezie says:

    I try to never miss your “favorites” posts. Thank you for sharing them. I always learn new tips from you plus it’s fun to read.

  9. Keri says:

    I love Parks and Rec! It’s one of those shows I can turn on anywhere (maybe not season one) and enjoy it. My husband works for a small town and let’s just say Parks and Rec is somewhat of a documentary!

    I’m going to try the Earl Grey recipe ASAP.

    • Alison says:

      Definitely going to try the Earl Gray and Tonic recipe! What a great idea.

      Personally I have 2 things saving my life right now. The first are some quick, tasty, and healthy dinner recipes from Cooking with Cocktail Rings’ site. My favorite is the Peach and Tomato Mozzarella Salad with Crispy Prosciutto.

      The other thing is a book of prayers I read each morning called “The Valley of Vision.” So good!

  10. Jennifer says:

    I ❤️ Earl Gray tea so I can’t wait to try the tea and tonic. And my son is going to love the trivia podcast!

  11. Adrienne says:

    What a great list! I had never heard of preserving lemons like this…. Going to have to try this out! Do you just dice up the preserved lemon rind and sprinkle it in your salad? or…???

  12. emily says:

    I’m going to jump on the Boy Book Request Train. My 13-year-old loves to read, but finding titles that aren’t too juvenile/too grown-up is becoming more challenging!

      • Megan says:

        Has he read anything by Alan Graatz? Those have been a hit at the library where I work (children’s librarian). They are historical fiction/realistic fiction.

        Also the Unwanteds series, seconding Ghost (and the others in the Track series), and Kwame Alexander’s books. Tim Green has quite a few football books.

    • Claire says:

      Is the Skuduggery Pleasant series available where you are? I’m reading it with my almost 10yo but it would be absolutely fine for a 13yo boy too.

  13. Kim says:

    Re the Vivian Howard cookbook – I borrowed it from the library and loved it! Now I have to get a copy for myself. If you haven’t made the LGD (Little Green Dress) olive relish, it is a wonder. I’ve stirred it into so many things, and have even eaten some if it straight from the spoon!

  14. Loni Iva says:

    The Little Green Dress recipe in Howard’s book is amazing. I have added it to twenty things to make them better, and adding it to mayo or yogurt for a dressing or a dip elevates veggies like nothing else.

  15. Ruthie says:

    This post (like quite a few others of yours) got a red star in my emails. It’s my version of a gold star, to mark particularly interesting and/or amusing and/or helpful editions of the newsletters I receive. Thanks for spreading the happiness with that great round-up!

    • Susanne says:

      Yes to the Redwall series! I think my son read the entire series twice through his young and middle teen years.

  16. Catherine says:

    If your 11 year old is still interested in Max and the Midknights a second book in the series came out in December. We were quite happy to find Max and the Midknights: Battle of the Bodkins in our local library catalogue earlier this year.

  17. Kathleen says:

    I started using the Olly sleep gummies a couple weeks ago after seeing you recommend them in a different (I think?) blog post. My son and I went on a 10-day camping trip and both found them helpful those first few nights as we adjusted to sleeping on the ground. I am still using them now that we are home and just recommended them to my dad. They’ve made a huge difference in helping me quickly get to sleep at night. Big thanks!

  18. Love this!
    *I’m loving an afternoon iced coffee or cold brew on the porch. I have the Panera Coffee subscription so I’ve been utilizing that a few times a week. I also make Rhee Drummond’s Perfect Iced Coffee recipe with half decaf and 1/2 regular coffee grounds. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ree-drummond/perfect-iced-coffee-recipe-2042391.amp
    *I’ve been living in casual, breezy dresses this summer. It started out of necessity (had gallbladder surgery) but I ended up really enjoying the comfort!
    *And, of course loving some new to me authors this summer…Emily Henry, Nadia Hashimi and Kristy Woodson Harvey.

  19. Heather says:

    Corner gas and Kim’s convenience! How Canadian of you! Not sure if you’ve heard of Schitt’s Creek but we found it pretty funny too (also Canadian)..but maybe us Canadians have a pretty dry sense of humor..not sure about watching with the kids? Lately stretching and a couple of yoga poses every morning seems to be saving my life..and beach days with friends..and obviously all the beach snacks too..haha!

  20. Suzy says:

    I’ve been watching old M*A*S*H episodes, and they are just as funny, heartwarming and topical as when they aired in the 70s. Not sure if they are readily available; I’m getting them from the library on DVD.
    In my house I’m loving re-purposing the lower kitchen cabinets and counter that my mother discarded; now they’re in my office, freshly painted teal, and serving all my office needs! Clutter be gone!
    For book love, I am SO ENJOYING the literary talent of Elizabeth Wetmore in “Valentine”!! Wow, what a novel! She is GOOD, akin to Eliz. Strout and Monica Wood.

    • Valentine was one of my top four from last year! Loved it so much. You’re right she is a talented writer. (My other three— if you’re interested— were Miracle Creek, Anxious People, and Dear Edward.)

  21. Valerie says:

    So funny to see you mention two of our favourite shows here, Corner Gas and Kim’s Convenience. My boys have watched every episode of both the live and animated versions of Corner Gas, plus the movie and were sad when Kim’s Convenience came to an end earlier this year. Interested in trying out the Earl Grey idea.

  22. Tara says:

    Oh Anne have you tried Early Greyer from Republic Of Tea? It’s my favorite Earl Grey by far! And it smells AMAZING! I run a local coffeehouse and we can’t keep it in stock!

  23. Thanks for the recommendation for This Will Make It Taste Good ….I can’t wait to try the preserved lemon recipe. Although I keep telling myself I have enough cookbooks, I’m going to order this one.

    Cheers from Ontario, Canada!

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