Saturday, June 25, 2016

Crafty Saturday: scrapbook queen!

It's been kind of nice having a chunk of time every day during Penelope's nap to work on some crafty things. I might even have a few things for the Etsy shop soon, too!

I have been doing some re-organizing in my office/library/craft room and sorted through pictures of the last few years. You'll be happy to know I think I might be totally caught up from 2010 and previous. HA! I'm trying to see the bright side to being six years behind..

I should have waited to do this page because two days later I got my order from Crafty Steals with Fourth of July stuff, but that just means I can do the last couple of years with stuff, right?
I totally forgot about the time we took the kids to Copper Falls!! It was fun finding these photos on the bottom of the drawer.
As it turns out, I don't take many Easter photos, but I have a lot of Easter supplies. Figure that one out, because I certainly can't.
Finally. I went skydiving in 2010 and I've been hanging onto to my certificate that fits in no drawer and I didn't want to get rid of, and I finally printed some photos for a page. I ended up cutting the certificate border off and just keeping the pertinent information so it was a one page spread.
In past years, we've done SO much over the course of summer that the entire season has it's own small book, but for the sake of time and wanting to get photos done, I ended up just picking my favorites from 2010 summer and doing the page.
Also? The downside of scrapbooking things from years past is I spend a whole bunch of time staring at the photos in awe at how small my kids were. Remembering how hard I thought everything was at the time and now thinking those were the easy years! They've both changed SO much in just a few short years, it's kind of remarkable.

OK- so that's what I got done this week! I have some SUPER cute projects I'm going to show you in the next couple of weeks. Next week is going to be a Paper Pumpkin kit someone gifted me that's Fourth of July related, then I'll show you new stuff I've ordered and I need to start working on birth announcements for Fetus Four. Yikes!

Friday, June 24, 2016

And then we had cheesecake. Kind of.

Do you remember a few weeks ago when literally everyone's Facebook feed had the video for the no-bake birthday cake cheesecake?? I don't know about you but these videos always mysteriously show up in my feed in the afternoon when I really want to eat all of the things, and then I get excited only to find out I'm missing one or two ingredients and can do nothing about it.

I could go into why I feel this is all a conspiracy, but I won't, mostly because I feel scattered and it could end up in a dark, dark place my friends.

Anyways.

So I had been seeing it and finally it dawned on me that this is a thing I need to do because the universe is practically forcing me. Thankfully, the only ingredient I needed to buy was the heavy cream so I went in my pajamas and then made this during Penelope's nap time. Now, if you want to do this, you can click on that green link a few paragraphs up and it'll take you to the original page it was posted on. OR, if you are super lazy, I'll post it for you here.

1 1/2 cup heavy cream
12 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup birthday cake mix (I used that Funfetti stuff)
1 graham cracker pie crust
Rainbow sprinkles

In a large bowl using an electric hand mixer, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form.
I felt like this step took forever. My elbow was starting to hurt.

Add softened cream cheese and sugar and stir until completely combined and no clumps remain.
Fold in birthday cake mix.

Pour mixture into pie crust, smoothing over top with a rubber spatula.
Top with sprinkles, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours.

Which is torture. But I also have to note, I have no idea what size pie crust other people's store carries, but mine is just a regular one and there was NO EFFING WAY all of that mix was fitting into the pie crust. I had like a third of it not fit so in hindsight, I would only use maybe 8 ounces of cream cheese instead of 12?

The verdict? The kids LOVED it. I didn't. Matt didn't eat any but he's not huge into dessert like I am. I haven't found a no-bake cheesecake recipe I really like because I like my cheesecake to be a bit firmer, I guess. I would make this again just for the kids if I had the stuff laying around but it isn't going to be a recipe I go to automatically when I need a dessert. Sad stuff.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Follow the River Home

I don't know if you remember but back in February I reviewed a book called Beneath Still Waters and I raved about how great it was. If you missed that, I highly recommend that you check it out because it really was so great. But this book reminds me so much of that one, which is why they will be companions on my bookshelf.

Follow the River Home - Corran Harrington
DANIEL ARROYO has suffered a lifetime of guilt over the sudden death of his infant sister, who died when he was eight years old. He now lives his middle years between that guilt and worsening episodes of PTSD from a Vietnam he left thirty years ago. When a violent encounter on a dusty highway forces Daniel to face what haunts him, he finds himself pulled back to the neighborhood of his youth, where old houses hold tired secrets. What really happened on that steamy August afternoon? The answer comes spilling from the old neighborhood, and Daniel begins to find his way home. Corran Harrington takes the reader along the Rio Grande, from its headwaters to the sea.

The writing is really so great that even though, for me, it starts off a little slow and feels a little choppy with the start of the story, I'm drawn in. Another thing that I didn't realize is that it is, but isn't, one story. The first section is basically a novella and the rest of the book are just pieces that go with the novella, if that makes any sense? It's really a unique way to pull it all together and I have to be honest and say it's the first time I've ever read anything like that.

But let's talk about the meat of the book. It really focuses on Daniel, who feels immense guilt over the death of his infant sister during his childhood. There's a particular line in the very beginning of the book where he talks about his other siblings having their favorite and we hear Daniel telling his fresh from the hospital sister that she was going to be his. I thought it was so sweet and it really set the tone for what her death would mean for Daniel throughout his life. We also have him, along with every young boy entering manhood, awaiting the results of the draft for the Vietnam War. Would they be going? Daniel, and his best friend, would be going but only one of them would be coming back. For me, that's really the theme that stuck with me the most throughout the book. Not the death of the infant, not his obvious attraction to men versus women, but the draft and the war. What it did to young men who went away. It's one thing if you join the military and are called to serve because you knew that going in, that there was a chance you would be fighting in a war. But the draft.. these were boys who didn't want to go into the military and were forced to go. They were sent in with no mental preparation for what they were going to see and do, let alone how to deal with that once they came back. When he comes back, life at home has changed and so has he, and he is struggling with PTSD. His struggle though, becomes his catalyst to figure out what happened to his infant sister because he carries extreme guilt over her death. The second half of the book was a bit strange for me, but I get what the author was trying to do, I don't know if it's totally successful. It's not enough for me to say skip this book because I think you should absolutely read it, the writing is beautiful as is the story. If you are in the market for a book club read, this would be a really great one to pick up that is relatively short (200 pages).

You can find your own copy of Follow the River Home on Amazon right now.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Keep You Close (and giveaway!!)

You guys- are you loving all of the book giveaways as of late?? Hopefully there will be more this summer and you can snag a fun new read. In the meantime, here is another great book and it isn't a romance! I know, I'm getting crazy on you here.

Keep You Close - Lucie Whitehouse

When the artist Marianne Glass falls to her death, everyone insists it was a tragic accident. Yet Rowan Winter, once her closest friend, suspects there is more to the story. Ever since she was young, Marianne had paralyzing vertigo. She would never have gone so close to the roof's edge.

Marianne -- and the whole Glass family -- once meant everything to Rowan. For a teenage girl, motherless with a much-absent father, this lively, intellectual household represented a world of glamour and opportunity.

But since their estrangement, Rowan knows only what the papers reported about Marianne's life: her swift ascent in the London art world, her much-scrutinized romance with her gallerist. If she wants to discover the truth about her death, Rowan needs to know more. Was Marianne in distress? In danger? And so she begins to seek clues -- in Marianne's latest work, her closest relationships, and her new friendship with an iconoclastic fellow artist.

But the deeper Rowan goes, the more sinister everything seems. And a secret in the past only she knows makes her worry about her own fate .


I haven't been reading enough thrillers and I always forget about that until I get a good one and then I wonder why it's not a genre I go to automatically. Also, Lucie Whitehouse is a new to me author and I am in love. It's been about a week or so since I finished the book and I still can't remember what book this one reminds me of, it's like on the edge of my brain and I'll remember at some bizarre time and forget to tell you, but I think maybe that's why I liked this one so much. The book itself is billed as a psychological thriller, which it is, but it does have a little romance in it, but not enough where you would call it a romantic suspense, if that makes sense. I think every good thriller gives you tastes of another genre or two and this one does just that, it keeps you on the edge of your seat with the plot as well.

We have Rowan, who learns of Marianne's sudden (and kind of suspicious) death via phone call. The two were once great friends but had a falling out years previous that they never truly recovered from. I will warn you that there is quite a bit of backstory which I suppose you need, taking into consideration that without it you wouldn't have any idea why they had a falling out and how they both ended up where they were. So though it may seem tedious to stick with it, keep going because once you get through the backstory and you get caught up on the last ten years, you start getting into the meat of the story- how did Marianne fall to her death? Can Rowan figure it out in time and ultimately save herself? Are any of the characters who they pretend to be?

I can't obviously go into it without ruining it for  you, but I'm telling you to stick with it. There were a few times in the book where I was taken off guard and I found myself re-reading passages to make sure I read what I think I read, points that turned the course of the story for me, which is SO FUN because it's not very often that I am actually surprised by something in a thriller. So that alone makes me give it 4 stars. The only thing keeping me from giving it 5 stars is the fact that it does start out a bit slow and I worry that all of the history and backstory will turn someone off, but I really think if you would just get through it (it's like the first 80 pages or so?) you will see it was all worth it.

If you are in the mood for a thriller, definitely pick this one up, which you can do on Amazon right now! In the meantime, you can find Lucie on Twitter and Facebook- she has a few other books you might be interested in as well. If you're feeling lucky, I'm giving away one copy of KEEP YOU CLOSE (US/Canada) only!

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Saving Abby (and GIVEAWAY!)

Oh my goodness, lambs. I don't know what I was thinking reading this book while pregnant, but I was a hot, hormonal mess the entire way and I cannot recommend this book enough. I just can't because it is everything.

Saving Abby - Steena Holmes

All children’s book illustrator Claire Turner ever wanted was to be a mother. After six years of trying to conceive, she and her husband, Josh, have finally accepted that she will never be pregnant with a child of their own.


Yet once they give up hope, the couple gets the miracle they’ve been waiting for. For the first few months of her pregnancy, Claire and Josh are living on cloud nine. But when she begins to experience debilitating headaches, blurred vision, and even fainting spells, the soon-to-be mother goes to the doctor and receives a terrifying diagnosis. Since any treatment could put their unborn baby’s life at risk, the Turners must carefully weigh their limited options. And as her symptoms worsen, Claire will have to make an impossible decision: Save her own life, or save her child’s?



USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Steena Holmes brings us an unforgettable story of one woman’s courage and love.


I have to start by telling you that this book is not for those of you who cry at everything. I have become a cry baby as I get older but being pregnant right now this book was just SO HARD to get through yet I couldn't stop reading it at all. Secondly, I don't know how this book isn't getting five stars everywhere because it's just so damn good. The main complaints I've heard are that the characters are either too good to be true or the medical aspects of it aren't what it would be like in real life, which if that's all that you can say about a book to bring it down- go home. Seriously. This book is phenomenal and maybe being a mother to almost four kids makes me a little bias, but I could relate to this all the way through.

So we have Claire. Claire, once upon a time, had a baby at a really not great time and gave him up for adoption. Fast forward years later and she's married to Josh, her absolutely amazing, adoring husband. They try for years to have a child of their own and knowing that she already had one and gave him away stings a bit because she knows she can do it, but for whatever reason the stars don't line up for them. So after a heartbreaking decision, they decide that it isn't in the cards. Then SURPRISE! Claire finds out she is pregnant after all hope was lost and they couldn't be more thrilled. It's like everything in the universe is going to work out.

And then.

Claire starts getting horrific headaches and a myriad of other bizarre symptoms while she's pregnant. She assumes it's pregnancy related so she goes in and ends up finding out she has tumors, rapidly growing ones, and her and Josh now have to decide- do they start treatment now (and potentially put the baby's life at risk because treatment is aggressive), or does she wait it out and hope that treatment can still be successful once the baby is born? Ultimately, she decides to wait and so now we read about her pregnancy, while fighting aggressive tumors and suffering daily from it, and how every pregnancy milestone is possibly bittersweet, every celebration is difficult, but also never giving up hope. Claire wants nothing more than to be a mother and hold her sweet baby so your heart just absolutely breaks for her the entire time.

And then.

We find out that because of the tumors she has to have the baby via c-section (planned) at 27 weeks, which is scary enough because that's premature and that's a whole set of worries and fears. But it's the best decision if they want any hope of saving Claire.

I can't tell you anymore beyond that just know that in my heart I knew what was going to happen and I just didn't want any of it to be true because it's scary and heartbreaking. But the ending of this book was ROUGH for me and I just.. yeah. You've got to read it. It's such a great story, in the end, about unconditional love and how you're a mother from the start, not just when you give birth. It's a really remarkable story about a mother's determination to do everything she can, even at her own expense at times, to give her child the best possible start at life.

And I will tell you I cried for a solid hour after finishing it. And it's on my shelf in rotation to read again because it was so great.

You are so lucky because I happen to be giving away ONE copy (US/Canada only) to one of my lucky readers! In the meantime, follow Steena on Twitter, Facebook, her website, blog, or Instagram! If you aren't feeling lucky or you don't win the giveaway below, you can find your own copy of Saving Abby on Amazon right now!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wisconsin Dells was... the best decision EVER.

Before I get into the post, I want to announce the winner of the Sleepless in Manhattan book giveaway that ended yesterday...
Congratulations, Ada!! You'll be getting an email from me soon- I hope you love the book as much as I did!

I have SO many photos for you and so many fun things to talk about so go get a drink and get comfy. So if you remember we didn't tell the kids beforehand where we were going. I gave them vague and ambiguous clues that were in not intended to be helpful at all. I really wanted the first trip to the Dells to be super exciting. It's truly rare for us to do stuff like this and I want these to be fun memories of their childhood.
So we got in the van after taking Twinky to my mom's so he didn't chew our furniture. I had everything loaded the night before so it was basically a no stress morning. We drove and drove. And then drove some more. We decided to not go to the hotel first and make them squirm some more so we went on our Upper Dells Boat Tour.  We truly didn't have money for this trip so the "splurges" were going to be few but I knew I wanted to do one touristy thing outside of the hotel and because we like hikes and boats, I decided this would be fun. And it WAS.
We met a bunch of super nice people and the kids kept giving them the clues to see if they could figure out what we were doing. Of course they couldn't.
We also learned Penelope absolutely hates car rides and boat rides. Crying and wanting to run free.
But the boat ride was gorgeous. It wasn't a full boat and honestly? That's OK because we got to know the folks on the boat with us. All of which kept asking me if I was going to have the baby on the boat. Har, har, har folks.
The kids had a really great time.
Especially on the two stops you get out at for quick walks around the area.
Even Penelope kind of got into it at that point but was pretty irritated to be contained in the carrier.
And I managed to walk with no issues. Sure, my feet were swollen and my back was sore as hell, but there was no way I was not getting off the boat. The tour itself was about two hours, so by the time we were done our room at Great Wolf Lodge was ready.  I wish I could share the video of us revealing the surprise (I made them close their eyes as we got closer) but Matt's phone won't for some reason. But rest assured, they were SO surprised, Olivia said thank you immediately and Jackson says, "I always wanted to go here!". I have never felt more grateful for them, truly.
Our priority for night one was to eat and go to MagiQuest because one of the clues was that they could get a wand. And I have no pictures of MagiQuest because it was STUPID. It was seriously the dumbest, most expensive thing we have ever done. My kids are 8 and almost 11 and even the easiest game was kind of over their heads and they don't do riddles well so I got annoyed and took Penelope to bed and let Matt try to last it out with them but even he gave up.

The second day was going to be our full swimming day. We could only afford to stay for two nights so I knew day two was going to be nothing but swimming and that actually turned out to be smart.
Penelope had a GREAT time. This was her first adventure in water, outside of the bathtub, and she totally enjoyed it.
She missed nap time and meals/snacks were screwed up but she took it in stride. Of course, we paid for this dearly when she screamed for three hours at bedtime, but during the day we thought we were the smartest, luckiest parents ever. HA!
It was also the first time my kids have ever been to a waterpark of any kind. We've done hotel pools and our little yard pool but nothing like this. I was worried they'd be too scared to go in but nope- they took off and it was literally hours before I saw them again. They went on every slide there was and there wasn't an inch of the park they didn't visit.
Oh yes, and Penelope learned how to use a straw. Who knew giving her an ICEE would be the motivating factor. Once she figured it out she was like a total addict. Even now, she sees a straw and she wants it.

After a LONG day of swimming, it was decided Matt would take her to the room to sleep (laughable), and I would take the kids to the arcade, then go back to change into pajamas for the night time party stuff.
Most of my kids' arcade tickets came from my winnings at Skee-ball. You guys should know I play some mean skee-ball.

I went up to the room and hey- baby is NOT tired. At all. I'm assuming it was from the 7 ICEE's she had on her own so I thought I'd bring her down to see part of the party to burn off some energy.
It's hard to see but she was petting Violet, the lodge character.
The kids played games and won some prizes.
We took photos of them being cheesy tourists.
Jackson refused to dance and Olivia was the oldest kid there, but she was a sport and tried to dance with Penelope.
But Penelope didn't last long so her and Matt left while I stayed back so we could see the Clock Tower Show.  Honestly, the best part about Great Wolf Lodge is that if you have kids six and under? They will keep your kids BUSY. Older kids like mine.. meh. The activities aren't really for them anymore but we still hung out because I'm all about seeing the experience. We ended up not staying for the big kid dance party because they were tired but yay us- we got to hear Penelope scream for three hours. She would not sleep in the pack and play, and I don't know if it was because it wasn't her bed, she is teething, who knows. But it was a rough night with very little sleep.

But the next day we had about an hour or so to do something before checkout, so I told the kids to get their swim suits on because we were going to swim until the very last second to get our full money's worth.
So that's what we did.
I even got a GREAT picture of Matt and Penelope being splashed by the big bucket!
And the kids waving to me on their way to the slides.
Penelope loved this little splash things so much I feel like maybe she'd like the sprinkler at home.
Oh yes, and my 32 week pregnant self got into a bathing suit BOTH days! I didn't swim a whole lot, I mostly followed Penelope around, but still. This is a total first for me in all of my days as a pregnant person. And it was alright. I had a lot of people staring at me and I had one guy tell me I was "brave" which was kind of offensive and irritating, but I can see how he maybe thought he was being supportive and kind. But still. It's not brave, I'm in a swimming suit because I'm in a water park. That's kind of what the appropriate attire is. Sigh.
Oh and Matt got a picture of us being splashed because I didn't hear the bells warning you it was going to dump.
To be honest, I think the big kids tricked me on purpose.
So yes. Me and all four of my kids (!!!) had a great time. Matt even had a good time, which is saying something because he hates people. But coming during the week (Monday check in, Wednesday check out) was really nice because it was not crowded at all. Yeah, there were plenty of people there but it wasn't bad at all. The restaurants had great food and a good variety, even for picky eaters. The only thing I wish I had done was buy the souvenir cups on Monday instead of lunch time on Tuesday because they were $12.99 a piece and you got free refills your entire stay. And by god, we drank $26 worth of drinks over three days (we bought two cups). So if you're going, maybe hit up the snack shop and pick one up because you can take it into the restaurant, too.

Our drive back was horrible and long. Penelope cried most of the way. The big kids fell asleep and Matt drove while I tried to entertain a 13 month old in a car seat for five hours. It was pretty brutal. But oh well. The trip overall was absolutely worth it and they already want to go back!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Let's play catch up before I squeal about our trip!

First of all, we have to announce the winner of the one copy of Lone Star Nights which ended on Friday.

Random draw says it will be thotlady! So yay!! I'll be emailing you soon so keep an eye out for that! I will be announcing the winner of Sleepless in Manhattan tomorrow so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, I have a bunch of photos I wanted to share on what's been happening around here. I know, you want to see stuff from our trip from the Wisconsin Dells and I promise you that you'll get them tomorrow with a full review of what we did. I'm getting things off of my phone because my camera is total crap in the pool area so I relied on my phone. Yeah, I live dangerously like that, walking around a water park with my phone in hand!

I'm in full nesting mode at this point. This is driving everyone nuts because I'm forcing them to get into it with me and they hate it. But a big project so far this summer was the SHED. The shed in our yard is where all of the lawn and pool toys go, everything we don't want kids in the garage trying to get to. I didn't take a before photo, but just assume it looked like someone picked the shed up and shook it because that's what it was. It's SO organized now.
I may or may not have threatened bodily harm or grounding for life if they mess this up. Also not shown is the fact that their bikes fit in here AND Penelope's little pool. Even the kids have mentioned how easy it was to find stuff now.

Funny how that works.
We've had maybe five nice days so far this summer but otherwise it's been cold, windy, and rainy. Total crap but I guess for me being so pregnant it's working out. But on the warm days we've been out in the yard because Penelope loves it. She will bang at the back door until we go.
We also got her a small toddler chair for the yard because we've had some incidents where she fell off a big one, so now we have one just her size and she feels like a big kid.
Oh yes, and the sandbox. Well, she doesn't understand what she's doing but she's always crying in absolute disgust when she remembers you can't eat the sand. Well, you can, but it tastes really bad.
Matt's been working hard on some projects (photos coming soon) and this is my favorite picture this summer so far. She absolutely adores dad.
This weekend it was SO WARM on Sunday and Matt was busy putting the pool up so the kids got to take advantage of it. It was probably the highlight of their weekend.
I totally took this picture from my office window because it's rare I get things like them holding hands and talking about life. I say it a lot, but I am so grateful my kids actually like each other (most days) and consider each other friends. It's really nice to not worry because I know they have each other's back. Love their guts.

OK. So tomorrow we'll talk about the Dells. I have three book reviews for you this week and a bunch of other stuff lined up. I've been busy, busy and oh yes- a belly picture. Soon. Promise.