Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Renegade's Pride (review)

*This post contains affiliate links that I may make a commission from; however, all opinions and thoughts are my own.*

Oh lambs... I have some really big things happening in my world right now and I'm not going to jinx anything but if you can, send all of the positive vibes, happy thoughts, prayers, whatever you got, our way. I'm going to be playing catch up with some blog posts this week so some things might seem like old news to me, but they are new to you.

Renegade's Pride - B. J. Daniels

In the nine years since Trask Beaumont left Gilt Edge, Lillian Cahill had convinced herself she was over him. But when the rugged cowboy suddenly walks into her bar, there's a pang in her heart that argues the attraction never faded. And that's dangerous, because Trask has returned on a mission to clear his name and win Lillie back.

Trask gets the showdown he's after when his boss's body is recovered from a burning house. Hawk, Lillie's marshal brother, believes Trask's homecoming isn't coincidental to the murder, but Lillie isn't so sure. Something is urging her to give bad boy Trask a second chance, even if it leaves her torn between her family and the man she never stopped loving.

YES. I absolutely loved this book, and coming in at just over 300 pages, it's a really quick read and I settled in on a particularly windy and cold weekend with this one. Particularly exciting is that this is the first book in the Cahill Ranch series and it sets it up so well and I am excited to meet the rest of the boys as we go through this series. A few years ago I would have snubbed my nose at contemporary western romance but I'm finding as I get older I appreciate it more so I don't ignore that section in the bookstore.

In this book we have basically first loves Lillie and Trask, who had a tough breakup when Trask left town. Lillie is convinced she's fine and she's moved on but Trask suddenly shows up in the bar and bam- Lillie feels that familiar pitter patter of looooove, and Trask wants to win her back. The characters in this book? Hilarious. And likeable, it makes you want to read the rest of the series. With it being the first in a series, there is a LOT of back story given that I'm sure we won't have as much but it does set the rest of the series up well. The story also has a great suspense arc in it with Trask's suspicious involvement in a murder he didn't commit, which is what brings him back. Of course, bad decisions is the theme so we see a young man make some poor ones (shocker) and make his life more difficult than it ever needed to be.

Anyways, I'm giving this book a solid 4 out of 5 stars. I'm all about Twitter right now (follow me!) so you can follow the author on her Twitter, website, or Facebook. There is also a really cool giveaway happening, so I encourage you to head over HERE and enter!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Medical round up, not just me anymore!

On this episode of Strand Medical Round Up...

I'm not even kidding, it's starting to feel like we are always handling medical related paperwork, doctor appointments, doctor bills, medical phone calls, etc. It's so much. I told Matt that some days I feel like I'm working in a medical office just not getting paid for it. I am seriously struggling with keeping track of information and no amount of notebooks, calendars, and reminder apps are working. I have missed Lucy's six month well child check TWICE.


We finally made it last week, and she's officially seven months. Which is fine because I still haven't gotten her three month baby photos done so you can see how well I'm mothering this child. She's going to be the one who has half-assed everything and will need counseling as an adult. We may as well save for that versus college for her. Sorry, Lucy.

But at seven months she is 18.5 pounds and 27 inches long. She's just a chunky little love. If I was a really on top of it mother I would have kept the well child stats for each kid so I could compare but alas, I tossed all of those because my desire to not be a hoarder is stronger than my desire to know this kind of information. She's happy and relatively healthy. Well, the doctor heard what she described as a really "strange, and not totally normal" sounding murmur. She listened for a long time, did the rest of her check, and then listened again. She said her gut is telling her that we should just get it checked out because it could be nothing, but it could be something. And given how she is my AFE baby, there just isn't research out there about what effects that could have on her. Yes, she was born seconds before all hell broke loose with me, but did something happen to her before she was born that lead to my AFE? Nobody can ever know, so her doctor said we should really just be proactive.

And I agree.

So tomorrow morning I am taking Lucy to have an ECHO and appointment with a pediatric cardiologist. I am worried it could be something and I am worried that I'll forget something important a mom should remember.

That's really another stressful think about AFE recovery, I don't know what I don't know and I think I'll remember something, and I won't always. Then I won't remember what it was I should have but I'll have that nagging thing in my head telling me there was something I was supposed to do, remember, say, etc. and I just can't remember. I never feel like I've gotten all of the details of something even if I've written them down. The longer I deal with this the more I realize there aren't enough coping mechanisms out there to help it and I question if I'm going to be able to work again. Because truly, I wouldn't hire me. Not even close. I would get fired if I lied through an interview because it would become blatantly obvious I'm not quite right rather quickly.

Sigh- a worry for another day.

This week I also meet with my psychologist and I'm hoping we can find a solution for my depression. I feel almost bi-polar. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense at all and I know that I am not, but I bounce between feeling upbeat, great, even normal, and then it switches and bam- I want to die. I want to be alone, in the dark, and I want to die. It's hard to get out of those funks and sometimes they last for days. I want to cry, I feel like it would be such a powerful release of negative energy and the medication prevents it. It's like an itch I can't scratch. It's frustrating to say the least.

My neurologist feels sorry for me, understands my frustration, can't help me. Can't tell me if I'll get better or when, it's literally wait and see.

My primary care doctor also feels sorry for me and I think I am a hard patient to help because she just doesn't know what to do. I don't see her for a few months again. Who knows what that'll be like. So until then, I deal with daily pain and exhaustion, nobody knows why or how to fix it.

My endocrinologist does not feel sorry for me, he really enjoys seeing me because I'm a fun patient with a cool medical study. But in these last seven months I've learned that endocrinologists are kind of nerdy so that's to be expected. I head back to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for a follow up in May with that endocrinologist so I'm hopeful they can help me manage daily pain and exhaustion. Surely someone somewhere can, I just have to keep trying.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Tell Me Everything You Don't Remember (review)

**This post contains affiliate links that I may make commission from; however, all opinions are my own**

You know that I have gone through hell and back this last year with my health, all of which started with an Amniotic Fluid Embolism during the birth of my fourth child, Lucy. Not only did I have that, but sometime in the trauma of all of that, I had a stroke. Not a major, leave me incapacitated for life stroke, but one that had an immediate impact on my memory, both short and long term, and affects my day to day ability to function now, seven months out.

I saw this book mentioned in a blog post about strokes and I pre-ordered it as soon as I heard about it. Later, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee would be on MPR and a few friends actually heard her piece, thought about me, and immediately told me this is right up my alley.

As it turns out, we were all right.

Tell Me Everything You Don't Remember - Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

A memoir of reinvention after a stroke at age thirty-three.

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on the morning of December 31, 2006. By that afternoon, she saw the world—quite literally—upside down. By New Year’s Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, her doctors informed her that she had had a stroke. 

For months afterward, Lee outsourced her memories to a journal, taking diligent notes to compensate for the thoughts she could no longer hold on to. It is from these notes that she has constructed this frank and compelling memoir.

In a precise and captivating narrative, Lee navigates fearlessly between chronologies, weaving her childhood humiliations and joys together with the story of the early days of her marriage; and then later, in painstaking, painful, and unflinching detail, the account of her stroke and every upset—temporary or permanent—that it caused. 

Lee illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest, meditative, and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event has provided a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self—and, in a way, has allowed her to become the person she’s always wanted to be. 

I have to tell you that I identified with this so much that my book pages are literally bent on so many corners and I have notes all over it on post it notes so I could go back and remember something poignant. I feel like the biggest hurdle in my recovery is dealing with other people, everyone wants you to just be better because then they are off the hook with being nice, going the extra mile, caring, whatever. It's like, "Oh, she's not sick anymore, thank god!" and I'm standing here like, "Yes, yes I am. I am just really good at faking it so I don't feel stupid and you don't feel obligated." But as I read this book, Christine gets it

I don't remember much of anything from the day before I gave birth until sometime at the end of October. Everything since October is spotty at best but I'm able to fake it every day. The great thing is that everyone who interacted with me, particularly early on, all confirm that I had no idea and I really was like Dory from Finding Nemo, and I was argumentative, at one point convinced Matt was out to get me and lock me up in the loony bin. On page 44 she writes, 

"But in those first few weeks I was lost without knowing I was lost. I was searching with a deep belief that all would be well, not out of resilience or hope but out of ignorant bliss. I was in a hospital room, sheltered from the world, where nurses and doctors protected me from overstimulation, where everything happened on schedule, and where the blank white wall was not an acre of boredom but of great comfort. My world was that room, and in that room my struggles had little measured impact."

God yes. I don't remember much but what I do remember of my hospital stay are quick snippets, like snapshots, and in every single one of them I have a feeling of safety and security, a feeling that I didn't want to go home but of course I couldn't really place why. Her book chronicles first visitors who are at first buoyed by how great she looks, how she doesn't look sick but are quick to realize that things aren't right, the memory isn't there and basically that she didn't know what she didn't know. 

And that's the way I describe those first months, I didn't know what I didn't know. I frequently say I don't know if I'm actually getting worse or if I'm just realizing how bad things were and still are. 

I also have had to confront how much I hate medical attention. I am very much the non-complainer. I have been to the doctor more times in the last two months than I had been from the ages of 16-34. Easily. And that counts during my previous pregnancies. I am very much that person who will not go to the doctor unless there is a damn good chance I'm terminal. Same with my kids. Ear ache? You aren't going to die. We are not going to be the people who become immune to anti-biotics. So the entire concept of going to the doctor to fix myself is a difficult adjustment. On page 146 she writes, 

"It felt strange, actually, to pick up the phone. It felt completely self-indulgent to ask for medical attention. I was still so afraid of showing vulnerability. To say 'something is wrong' was to say something in my body was failing was to say I needed someone was to say I deserved help. I did not think I deserved help."

Preach it, sister. 

There is also a passage where I re-read it so many times because I felt like it highlights my time now, battling depression and anxiety, reeling with being someone with PTSD and how people laugh at that because it's not like I went to war or anything. But I've learned that dying in any kind of way is terrifying, and nobody comes back unscathed. Christine writes on page 205, 

"..I knew the last mile is the hardest. It is the mile you often travel on your own. Where you must go outside your comfort zone. Where coping is finding a new way to do the old things. Your doctors are no longer there, your friends think you are fine, and you are functional enough to not elicit any sympathy."

And god, I'm there. I'm so there. 

She also writes, on page 235, 

"I felt no one wanted to talk about it - not my cadre of healthy friends, anyway. When I said, "I can't remember-ever since the stroke, I can't remember little things," they told me they could not remember things, either. That it was old age, that it was their recreational marijuana use, that it was exhaustion, that it was normal. Not the stroke."

God, YES. I swear to you, if I hear someone tell me this is normal one more time, I'm likely to lose it. You'll see me on the Today Show as the woman who lost her shit in a grocery store or at after school kid pick up. I'm not saying I can't remember things to elicit sympathy, I'm stating a fact. I'm letting you know that this is still a problem, and it's not normal. None of what I am dealing with is normal. You might have hormone problems, but you don't have them from having your pituitary gland shot during the course of bleeding to death while stroking out. It's different. Everything about me is different and special but it all sucks. 

So yes. This book. This book was EVERYTHING that I needed right now. I didn't even know I needed it. I wish I could just hug this woman because this book feels like a life preserver for me right now. I cannot recommend this highly enough, it should be a mandatory read for any stroke survivor. 

Just buy it. Now.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mitford at the Hollywood Zoo (review)

**This post contains affiliate links that I may make commission from; however all opinions are my own**

I know I told you I would have amazing posts coming for you this week, but Lucy is pretty sick right now so the time I would be spending crafting thoughtful posts for you have instead been spent reading while Lucy snuggles on my chest. She is absolutely pitiful when she's sick so I just can't put her down. You understand.

Instead, I have a review for a children's book for you today and then tomorrow I have one for a really amazing non-fiction book about a woman who had a stroke. Stay tuned!

Mitford at the Hollywood Zoo - Donald Robertson

Mitford is a giraffe. But not your everyday, live-on-the-savanna giraffe. Mitford works at Cover magazine, in one of the biggest cities in the world! 

But now another city needs Mitford, and soon the chic giraffe is surrounded by palm trees and super-famous celebrities! It would be great to sunbathe by the pool, but it's the day of the Academy Zoowards and these movie stars must have the most fabulous dress or tux ever
Can Mitford deliver everyone's fashion demands on time?

Anytime I get a children's book to review I always rely on my own children as the audience to give me thoughtful opinions, but I also like to use my first and second grade friends at Bryant Elementary. My own children go there, I was the PTO President for five years, I have spent countless hours as a classroom volunteer in every grade, and I even worked for a year in the library as an assistant. The staff at this school put such a high emphasis on reading and I absolutely love it. If I could nominate this school, the collective of amazing teachers, the curriculum, everything for any kind of award, I absolutely would. I cannot give them high enough praise and it's so great that they are welcoming to community readers and always game to weigh in on a new book. 

The other great thing is that these students are always so enthusiastic to be read to. I have never had a classroom audience be afraid to tell me what they really think about a book, so I knew that they would be my perfect guinea pigs on this book. I recently read to all three second grade and all three first grade classrooms, split into two groups, and we read the book. They are learning how to write their own opinions so this was good practice for them. 

Let's talk about some of the things they didn't love about the book: 

  • Hard words: (some of the words would be difficult for a newly independent reader)
  • They didn't fully understand the play on real celebrity names or have enough knowledge about the fashion industry to understand what Mitford's job was and translate that into knowing that it's somebody's actual job in "real life". 
Alternatively, the students really liked: 
  • The illustrations! Every class had more than half of the students enjoy the fashion sketch-like illustrations, and how silly the animals were "dressed up". 
  • They loved seeing a rhino covered in butterflies, a whale painted, animals walking down the sidewalk- the whimsical parts of the story made them laugh. 
Grown up thoughts: 
  • My immediate thought is that while the book is cute and funny now, fast forward a few years and the celebrities mentioned will be out of the lime light (or perhaps just less popular) and it won't be relevant as much. 
  • Most kids are not going to catch the celebrity name puns and unless you want to point them out every time and then explain what show they are on or what song they sing, that's maybe more for the adults, but that's really the charm of the book, isn't it? So it's hard to say how popular this will be among the 6-8 age group. 
  • The theme was supposed to be stay positive and follow your dreams, but I thought it was more along, think outside of the box, be a hard worker, and follow your dreams. 
  • I always judge a children's book by my top criteria: is this a book I would buy as a child's birthday gift? A "I was thinking about you" gift? Probably not. Not that I wouldn't buy it, but it certainly wouldn't be one of my top choices or even something I'd rattle off on a recommendation list off the cuff. It was cute, it was funny, but it's forgettable. 
If you have a kiddo that loves interesting illustrations, animals, fashion/celebrity, check this book out and let me know what you think: 

Donald Robertson also wrote Mitford at the Fashion Zoo, which is his first, and that might be a cute companion book to purchase at the same time: 

I promised the kids at school that I would donate my copy of Mitford at the Hollywood Zoo to their school library so they could check it out but also so all of the students would have access to it, so it can be found in their school library now!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Holden (review)

*This post contains affiliate links that I may make commission from; however, all opinions are my own.*

I have all kinds of things for you this week, but let's start off with a book review. A romance, no less.

Holden - Delores Fossen

When a baby goes mising, a Texas marshal and a woman from his past discover there's a whole lot more behind this kidnapping 

Holden Ryland certainly didn't become a marshal just to end up busting his ex, Nicky Hart, for taking files from Conceptions Fertility Clinic. But only Nicky knows just what was really stolen: a newborn being held for ransom. A newborn who is kin to both her and Holden. The missing boy is only the start of a mystery that snakes through Texas, winding its way through their families. Bad blood may linger between them, but Holden can protect his nephew back at the Silver Creek Ranch. If they can lay their past to rest to rescue this child, is it possible for them to have a future together?

I can't remember a time when a book I've read recently that started with action from page one, but this one does. A common complaint I've heard about romance novels is that they can be a bit slow to get into and that's absolutely not the case with this one. Immediately we have a hostage situation, a kidnapped baby, missing files, and a hero and heroine with a complicated past but reluctantly forced to work together for a common goal. Admittedly I have read the others in this series but I'm interested now because I'm a fan of Delores Fossen anyways so I knew going in I'd most likely enjoy the book. 

My biggest complaint with contemporary romances is that the plot line likely isn't plausible or just veers too into the "this can't be real at all, come ON" category and this one does for sure. I mean, the odds that an investigative reporter just happens to stumble on the illegal use of embryos/sperm but not just that, but just happens to be the genetic material belonging to her sister and brother in law, both of whom are deceased? The odds of this are slim to none, but I'm going to go with it because the book hooked me on chapter one. Anytime you start with dramatics right away, I'm all in for the long haul. 

Overall? I'm giving the book 4/5 stars. It's action packed, the romance is steamy, and it leaves you wanting more. Not just more from Holden and Nicky, but of the entire series because the characters are all connected. The bad blood between Nicky and Holden's family? Sure, I get enough information in this book to get it, but I want to read the earlier book to get the full picture. So that's already been ordered, should be here by the end of the week. Woo hoo! 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Abby's Journey (Review and Giveaway)

**This post contains affiliate links that I may make a commission from, though all opinions are my own.**

It's my birthday! While I could give you a meaningful post, I'm going to put that on hold and instead give you a book review. Not just a review,  but a giveaway too. Good luck, lambs!

Abby's Journey - Steena Holmes 
Twenty-year-old Abigail Turner has only known her mother, Claire—who died shortly after she was born—through letters, videos, postcards, and journals. Abby’s father, Josh, has raised his precious daughter himself, but his overprotectiveness has become stifling. Abby longs to forge out on her own and see the world after a childhood trapped indoors: she suffers from bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which means a case of the sniffles can rapidly escalate into life-threatening pneumonia.
But when Abby’s doctor declares her healthy—for now—her grandmother Millie whisks her away to Europe to visit the Christmas markets that her mother cherished and chronicled in her travel journals. Despite her father’s objections, Abby and Millie embark on a journey of discovery in which Abby will learn secrets that force her to reevaluate her image of her mother and come to a more mature understanding of a parent-child bond that transcends death.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes offers a tender and heartfelt exploration of parental love and a daughter’s longing for connection in the poignant next chapter following Saving Abby.
It had been awhile since I've read Saving Abby, and I wish I had more time in my review schedule to have read that and then this one so it was back to back, but alas... life had other plans. I am such a fan of Steena Holmes anyways so I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed. For anyone who has lost a parent, particularly the same sex parent, I think this book is going to grab at your heartstrings. In this book, Abby has been declared healthy enough to explore the world essentially, she takes the first chance she can to go with her grandmother to learn about her mother. Not just that, but Abby is hoping that while learning about her mother she discovers herself and maybe find the connection with the mother she never knew. I guess what pulled at me was that while reading her mother's journals, Abby feels like her mother had an unfulfilled life, a sadness, an emptiness. In all, I kind of related to her mother in a way and reading this made me wonder if my daughters would feel like Abby as an adult? I don't know. But as we work our way through the book I was so worried about the ending (or specifically, the ending after Claire dies) and it's good. I felt so much better about the entire story, like there was a point to the trip, all of Abby's unsure feelings about her mom, and I think in the end it was the best thing for Abby's relationship with her father, too.

Overall I'm giving this book 4/5 stars. I really liked the book and it's such a great follow up to the first book, and I am so glad we got the answers about Abby's mother and I totally get why it warranted its own story. Well done!!

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters (Review AND Giveaway!)

**This post contains affiliate links that I may make commission from. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

I'm behind! I know I just got back from vacation but I am already behind in life. So much for rest and relaxation. I basically feel like I've been dragged through a row of bushes at this point. This week is going to be all over the place as I play catch up with life.

Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters- Amy Rivers
A year after she is elected mayor of a prosperous Colorado city, Gwen's career and life are fully on track, all according to plan. So why is she in such a slump emotionally and physically? New conflicts keep boiling over in city government, and her earlier allies no longer support her. She and her boyfriend have an ideal relationship, which she finds inexplicably dissatisfying. Without telling her, he decides to take a new job that has him traveling out of state every week. Suddenly unexpected developments turn everything topsy-turvy, and Gwen is forced to re-examine her carefully-planned life. 

You maybe remember me reviewing another book by Amy Rivers called Wallflower Blooming at the very end of last year, so when I saw that there was a follow up, I jumped right on board! At the end of Wallflower Blooming, Gwen is elected mayor and she meets a guy and that kind of set the wheels for this book to be born.

For me, Gwen is SO hard to like, and that's probably because she's just everything I'm not. She's driven, she's bossy, she's popular, she's a go-getter. She's in a relationship with Jason which was a bit hard for me to get into at first because in the first book I got the impression Gwen was more of a "love 'em and leave 'em" type gal but relationship Gwen is what's being sold here. Things are going along swimmingly until Gwen finds herself on the verge of breaking up with Jason, being a mayor isn't as easy as she planned, former allies aren't playing along, she's feeling restless and moody, and of course there's a reason for it all- which is her own personal disaster. (And no, I'm not spoiling it though I'm certain you can guess what it is.)

The two books are certainly stand alone worthy but they are similar in that Val in the first one and Gwen in this one have complicated family history. Gwen struggles with her ability to navigate her new course because she doesn't have a terrific familial history and doesn't know if she can succeed without having a model to follow. It's a witty book (I won't go as far to call it funny, but there are moments where I had admittedly chuckled to myself), and I think a lot of female readers are going to be able to relate to it. It's a solid follow up to Wallflower Blooming, but I have to emphasize you do not need to read the first one to enjoy this one, but if you have read that one you'll enjoy visiting the characters from the book again.

Order your own copy of Best Laid Plans, but also visit the author's website, Facebook, and Twitter!

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