Monday, October 23, 2017

Leo's Gift

I know it's early to be talking about Christmas but let's face it- it sneaks up on us every year and we need to be prepared.

A few years ago my parents gifted my children with music instruments and lessons as a gift. Very generous, of course, and it mostly came out of guilt of not being able to do that for my brother and I when we were younger. I really wanted to learn how to play piano, and I wanted to be in band at school, but our family budget didn't allow for that so I didn't get to do it. Fast forward until now and my son is learning drums and my daughter gave up guitar and is now onto flute in the middle school band! I mention this because if you are considering a first instrument as a gift, or you have a child who seems interested in music, this is a GREAT book for them!

An intensely shy six-year-old boy overcomes his self-doubt to discover that he has a beautiful gift to share with the world—just in time for Christmas!

Not necessarily a quick bedtime read, this story has more to it. We meet Leo, a shy little guy who watches his older sister Meredith during her piano lessons. Meredith would much rather be playing outside than practicing piano, but Leo asks her about playing. She gives him the first keys and from there his love of music blossoms. As it turns out, Leo has a natural musical talent that may never have been discovered if he hadn't been given the opportunity!

It makes you wonder about some children in your life, do you have an aspiring Mozart in your home?

While Leo is waiting for his sister to finish at basketball practice, Leo finds a piano in the music room and begins to play. He's met by the music teacher and they forge a friendship as Leo discovers not only his natural ability but his love of music in general. He discovers his gift at a Christmas recital, and we have a happy ending.

It's an adorable book that even my 9 year old liked! My 12 year old wasn't as interested, but she's a moody tween so what can you do? Jackson maybe liked it better because he is really in love with learning how to play drums and he takes it pretty seriously, he reminds me a lot of Leo.

Again, a really adorable book with great illustrations and a great message. Not surprising because one of the authors, Susan Blackaby, is already an acclaimed children's author but also was formerly an editor for Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, which is one of the best children's programs ever made. Hands down.

I think this would make such a great gift for a budding musician in your life. Music is proven to enrich education across the disciplines and can bring so much joy for a child, let's encourage that.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Grocery shopping STINKS, but meal planning helps.

One of the worst jobs in this house is far and above grocery shopping. It takes me a really long time to make a menu and make a shopping list. It takes me even longer to shop and I usually forget something, get confused as to what I'm doing, and I always come home angry. Not at the shoppers or the store, but just my own limitations now.

For example, today? Today my cart was so full, literally overflowing, and I couldn't push it anymore. A very nice guy offered to push it for me until I was done. It was really nice and I must have had the "I don't know what to do, I need this stuff, but I can't move it" look on my face. But I came home really irritated because I hate that I need help. I hate being dependent on other people. It's really frustrating and demoralizing for me.

Anyways.

But people wanted me to share my menu for the next 16 days to get an idea about menu planning. Matt's paychecks are bi-monthly, always the 7th and 21st, so on long months with 31 days, the wait for his next check is kind of a pain. Bill paying wise, this is a great set up because I always know what bills go with what check, but when life happens, that's not fun. Matt does a lot of the budgeting, bill paying, numbers stuff now because I'm just not able. And again, really frustrating and demoralizing.

Anyways .

So here we are, our menu. I'll make notes and if you want a recipe, I can give you the link or email you what I do, just leave a comment and your email and I've got it handled!

Crockpot Chili (we had this tonight- delicious! I have more than enough for lunch tomorrow)
Shake & Bake Chicken, Macaroni, vegetable
Tacos
Spaghetti
Meatball subs, pasta salad, chips (I use my leftover spaghetti sauce for this. I put the sauce and meatballs in crockpot, cook all day on low)
Crockpot Cube Steak with egg noodles, and mashed potatoes (for Matt) (This is SO GOOD.)
Lasagna (I make my own)
Burgers, baked beans, macaroni
Crockpot Chili Mac (I found a new recipe, so we'll see how it is. I'll have this cooking so Matt doesn't have to cook as I'm driving to Mayo Clinic for appointments.)
Order Pizza!  (It's a Halloween tradition that we order pizza, plus I'll be coming home from Mayo around dinner time.)
Spaghetti
Crockpot Chicken Tacos (This is AMAZING. It always makes a lot and I use it on a salad or nachos the next day for lunch.) 
Crockpot Beef Stew
Pork chops, stuffing, corn
Steak, scallop potatoes, vegetable
Pancakes, sausage, eggs

So you can see I use a lot of crock pot meals. Tuesdays are sometimes tough because Olivia has dance so I make sure to have dinner done right at 4 when Matt comes home so we can eat together. We almost never get takeout for dinner, that's usually a weekend lunch while we're out and about. We always eat together at the table. Even on days when Olivia has to be somewhere by 5, we're eating right at 4. Every meal will have some leftovers for Matt's lunch next day and for Penelope and Lucy's lunch. Sometimes Matt doesn't bring leftovers and opts for a sandwich instead, and that's cool. I also try to make one dessert in my calendar, so this time I picked an Orange Cake that I found on Pinterest. I had everything except the orange that it calls for, so we'll see.

A long time ago I did a post all about my menu planning (an actual step by step guide on how I do it), so if you go HERE you can see that if this is still confusing.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Weekend Shopping: Underrated Books (part 3)

Let's just get to it, shall we?

Forty-one-year-old school nurse Kate Cypher has returned home to rural Vermont to care for her mother who's afflicted with Alzheimer's. On the night she arrives, a young girl is murdered—a horrific crime that eerily mirrors another from Kate's childhood. Three decades earlier, her dirt-poor friend Del—shunned and derided by classmates as "Potato Girl"—was brutally slain. Del's killer was never found, while the victim has since achieved immortality in local legends and ghost stories. Now, as this new murder investigation draws Kate irresistibly in, her past and present collide in terrifying, unexpected ways. Because nothing is quite what it seems . . . and the grim specters of her youth are far from forgotten.
I have to start by telling you this was a debut novel and every single one of her books are JUST AS GOOD. This isn't very long (250 pages or so) but it will hook you immediately and you will never see the ending coming. All of her books are so messed up, basically, and nothing is ever as it seems. I've always finished her books in one sitting and they are just so great for someone who loves a good murder mystery but doesn't have a lot of time to read.

When Frances accepts an invitation to visit Stiltsville, a community of houses built on pilings in Biscayne Bay, she has no idea that her simple "yes" to a new friend will determine the course of her life for the next two dozen years. Set in Miami from the late '60s to the 1990s, Stiltsville is a sweeping journey seen through the eyes of one woman as she experiences love, motherhood, friendship, hurricanes, racial tension, and finally, a tragic death in slow motion.

In her debut novel, Daniel describes the experiences of three generations in one family whose spiritual heart is centered in a modest bungalow built a few feet above the water. When Frances meets and marries Dennis, she learns to live her life on the water, from bay to ocean to everglade to bayou. She navigates through it all: infidelity, empty-nest syndrome, and debilitating illness sometimes with grace and humor, sometimes with anger and bitterness, but always with the same people by her side.

One of my, hands down, favorite books of all time. There is a quote towards the end that is maybe the only quote I've ever been able to remember verbatim and it speaks so much to my own marriage. I read this at a time when Matt and I weren't on steady ground and I was really questioning how people who are married fifty years really do it because it can't BE this hard always, right? It starts off slow and I didn't realize that it wasn't about any one climax, instead it's like a slow burn. A look into a marriage, the good and bad, exciting and boring. Truly, I think a lot of you will relate to it and it's one I pull out from time to time and just love. Her next book, Sea Creatures, is just as good if not better.

She was just three years old when her mother signed on as the organist of tent revivalist David Terrell, and before long, Donna Johnson was part of the hugely popular evangelical preacher's inner circle. At seventeen, she left the ministry for good, with a trove of stranger- than-fiction memories. A homecoming like no other, Holy Ghost Girl brings to life miracles, exorcisms, and faceoffs with the Ku Klux Klan. And that's just what went on under the tent.

As Terrell became known worldwide during the 1960s and '70s, the caravan of broken-down cars and trucks that made up his ministry evolved into fleets of Mercedes and airplanes. The glories of the Word mixed with betrayals of the flesh and Donna's mother bore Terrell's children in one of the several secret households he maintained. Thousands of followers, dubbed "Terrellites" by the press, left their homes to await the end of the world in cultlike communities. Jesus didn't show, but the IRS did, and the prophet/healer went to prison.

One of the most fascinating memoirs I have ever read. I read this right after I read a book I'm going to feature next week and they both had religion as the main theme. This book follows Donna as she essentially grows up inside a tent revivalist community. It's a really fascinating look at what life is like in that kind of community, and it makes you question how God fearing these people actually are. This does no favors for religious fanatics but I look at some churches even today and some of the same characteristics can be seen. What kind of people fall for this, do they ever leave, what are the consequences of leaving, should you follow your faith blindly, is it immoral to ask questions, etc. Again, not a lengthy book but I was immersed in it and have borrowed my copy out quite a bit.

Happy shopping!
   

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Opposite of You

I'm trying to read my books from my book subscription box the same month I get them so my to-read shelves (yes... it's plural) doesn't get out of hand. Well, more out of hand than it already it is.

My October box was pretty nice, I got this delicious book, a pen, a bookmark, and a really nice journal I'm going to use for my medical notes once I fill my other one up. Like a LOSER. But the book looked promising so I decided that once I finished my scheduled review books due this week, I would crack this baby open. It was amazing.


I’ve sworn off men. 

All men. 

Famous last words, right? You’re expecting some epic tale of reluctant love and my dramatic change of heart? Well, you’re not going to get it. 

I’m stubborn. And headstrong. And I’ve just survived the worst three years of my life. After escaping an abusive boyfriend to live in hostels and cheap hotels while I worked my way across Europe, I’ve come to two conclusions. 

The first? Now that I’m back home, I’m going to squander my expensive culinary degree on a food truck that caters to the late night drunk crowd. 

The second? I’m going to prove to the bastard across the plaza that my street food is better than his fussy five course monstrosities.

Killian Quinn might be Food and Wine’s Chef to Watch Out For. He might have a Michelin Star. He might have every food critic in the city wrapped around his too-large fingers. But he’s also pretentious and unbearably arrogant and the very opposite of me. 

So he can keep his unsolicited advice and his late night visits and his cocky smiles. I want none of it. Or him. 

I want the opposite.


I'm going to be honest and tell you I wasn't super hopeful when I started the book. Mostly because I didn't love Vera as a character. She's a year out from a terribly abusive relationship, scared to get back into the dating scene, has her confidence shaken, and is trying to muscle up her cooking skills by opening up a food truck directly across the street from the best restaurant in the city, Lilou. Of course, the kitchen at Lilou is run by a really gorgeous, and rightfully cocky, Killian Quinn. He's tall, handsome, and has a beard (I see you beard lovers, I see you) and he's the total opposite of what Vera wants. Well, opposite of what she should want.

But... the heart doesn't lie and neither do the lady parts.

It turns into this fun banter between the two of them, he is challenging her skills, she is trying not to admit he's right- she could be doing better, going farther with her technique and flavors. Before it can get serious of course the ex comes back, someone gets a scathing review, futures are questioned, and big questions are asked (and answered).

Phew.

It was a fast read for me, once I started it on Sunday I had to finish it. I really enjoyed the story as it progressed, I absolutely LOVED Killian's character and I came around to Vera. Honestly, the only complaint I could make, if I had to, is that there is not nearly enough sexy times between Killian and Vera. It's just alluded to basically and with Killian's character I expected it to be so much more, if that makes sense. It certainly doesn't take anything away from the book- I loved it. In fact, I'm not only giving it 5 stars but I am making a public plea to the author to get the next book The Difference Between Us on paperback. I hate reading on an e-reader and I won't do it. Period. Get that baby on paperback because I love you.

And that's not me being weird and creepy because you'll notice I'm not in your front lawn begging. I'm not above that, but I'm poor and can't afford to get there so this was my plan B.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trust

YES. Buy this book.


Being young is all about the experiences: the first time you skip school, the first time you fall in love…the first time someone holds a gun to your head.

After being held hostage during a robbery at the local convenience store, seventeen-year-old Edie finds her attitude about life shattered. Unwilling to put up with the snobbery and bullying at her private school, she enrolls at the local public high school, crossing paths with John. The boy who risked his life to save hers.

While Edie’s beginning to run wild, however, John’s just starting to settle down. After years of partying and dealing drugs with his older brother, he’s going straight—getting to class on time, and thinking about the future.

An unlikely bond grows between the two as John keeps Edie out of trouble and helps her broaden her horizons. But when he helps her out with another first—losing her virginity—their friendship gets complicated.

Meanwhile, Edie and John are pulled back into the dangerous world they narrowly escaped. They were lucky to survive the first time, but this time they have more to lose—each other.


I just want to make a small comment that the book I have features a different cover than shown here, but I love this cover SO much more. It speaks far more about the book than a shirtless guy with washboard abs. Sure, that's nice to look at and maybe is what makes you choose the book, but I think this cover speaks more about the story. 

Anyways. 

I'm actually going to give this book 5 stars and it isn't because the story is so amazingly written or because it has some greater message you carry with you. I'm giving it 5 stars because this book really captures what it's like to be a teenage girl, interested in boys but not sure what to do, all of the awkwardness of "Is he my boyfriend or not? Does he want to be?", and losing your virginity. I smiled through this entire book because I remember what all of that feels like, what the butterflies in your stomach feel like when you like a boy, or when you make a decision that changes your life. I might be an old lady at 35 with significant memory loss, but that's something seared into your brain.

The book starts with Edie walking into a regular ol' gas station, stocking up on snacks for a sleep over with her friend, who is outside waiting in the car. Edie is all of us who didn't have a boyfriend in high school but had a best friend was as good or better than a boy, anyways. Enter Chris, obvious meth addict, who decides he's going to rob the store. That alone would be scary and traumatizing, but the rest of what happens in that store that day shapes who Edie is. She meets John, her would be savior, and though he's the neighborhood bad boy, the incident shapes who he is as well, and he decides to turn his life around.

Through several turn of events, Edie finds herself starting over at a new school.. that John attends. They eventually strike up a friendship and Edie starts on a little streak of rebellion. John helps her through that, constantly her savior. I can't.. tell you all what happens next but you have to know,

I LOVED EVERY WORD OF IT.

I devoured this book in a weekend, I literally could not stop myself. I know Edie could have been an annoying character but I loved her so much because she reminds me of myself at that age. I also loved John so much and if I were a high school girl, that would be the boy I'd be drawn to as well.

I cannot tell you enough how much I loved this book. This is the second book I've read by Kylie Scott and if I had money, I'd be ordering every single one of her books right now so I could devour them.

Although we know Edie does lose her virginity in the book, I honestly would be OK letting my teenager read this. Mostly because I know as a teen I read far dirtier books than this, I wouldn't blink an eye to this in my kids' shelf. Wrong? Maybe. It's not geared for teens, but I think a lot of the topics in the book are things modern teens can relate to. Just sayin.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lilac Lane

You don't even need me to tell you I picked this book for the cover, do you?


No one writes about friends, family and home better than Sherryl Woods. Told with warmth and humor, Lilac Lane is a brand-new story in her beloved Chesapeake Shores series, one readers all over the world have waited two years to read!


At the heart of Lilac Lane is Keira Malone, who raised her three children alone after her first marriage broke apart, and who, after years of guarding her heart, finally finds love again. But that love is short-lived when her fiancĂ© suffers a fatal heart attack. Grieving and unsure of what’s next, Keira agrees to move from Dublin to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland, to spend time with her daughter, Moira, and her new granddaughter, Kate, as well as to help her son-in-law, Luke, with his Irish pub, O’Briens

Not wanting to live underfoot, she rents a charming cottage on Lilac Lane, replete with views of the ocean and her neighbor’s thriving garden—not to mention views of the neighbor himself. The neighbor is none other than Bryan Laramie, the brusque and moody chef at the pub, with whom Keira is constantly butting heads. But things get real when Bryan’s long-lost daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, shows up out of the blue. As Bryan and Keira each delve into their pasts, reopening wounds, the rest of the town is gearing up for the Fall Festival Irish Stew cook-off, and making no bones about whose side they’re on. It’s Kitchen Wars meets This is Your Life—a recipe for disaster…or a new take on love?

I think it plays in my favorite that I haven't read the rest of the series because it's my understanding that Keira is featured throughout and people maybe haven't loved her character. I can easily understand why you wouldn't love her, she immediately comes off as an abrupt, sometimes cold and rude, person- everything you would say were characteristics of an awful mother in law. Every book and movie that has that character, this is what Keira is. The book begins with us learning that while she FINALLY finds love (although reluctantly), he dies right away and she's left again. So her daughter and grandfather (and his new wife) decide they are going to lure Keira to the United States (from Ireland) to help Moira with her new baby, maybe help out at the pub Moira's husband runs, and (hopefully) decide that life here is better among family.

Keira comes and from the start things aren't falling into place quite so easily.

Eventually she meets Bryan, who is just as crabby as she is, and it's the start of a (rather comical) war so to speak. Bryan is a chef at the pub Keira finds herself consulting for to make it truly authentically Irish, and they butt heads over how things should be done. He's kind of a mystery because he doesn't talk much, but Keira ends up being his neighbor, and they strike up an out-of-work friendship... it just doesn't carry over into the pub. I got the feeling that Keira wants to be happy and in love but she has a reputation to uphold and doesn't want to appear weak- she's lived her entire life on her own and managed to raise her children alone by being tough and no nonsense. Love is something she doesn't have time for and can't afford to let herself be broken by someone else again. Third time's the charm?

If you didn't know, you would think this has "Hallmark movie" written all over it and as it turns out, it's part of a Hallmark Channel Original series. So if you are a fan of Hallmark movies, the feel good family based stories, or maybe a romance that isn't all hot sex and bad boys- this is for you. Truly. I think readers who enjoy romance but not with all the kink are going to enjoy this. Obviously if you're a fan of this series, this is a great addition. All of the favorite characters make an appearance (which is nice because if you were a fan of Moira and Luke, you are going to really love this book because they appear quite a bit and you get to see how they, and their new daughter Kate, are. Overall I'm giving this book 3/5 stars because I think I like a little more kink? This is maybe too vanilla for me to randomly pick up, but I also know a lot my blog readers aren't into kink so much and this would be right up their alley!



Are you interested in a free trip? If you pre-order your copy of Lilac Lane, you can enter to win a trip to the town that inspired this book series! You can visit HERE for more information!

The Last Ballad

Full disclosure, I follow Wiley Cash on all of his social media and I adore his posts. I know some people say authors (and athletes) need to stay in their lane and I disagree. I don't think there are lanes, and I really love his viewpoint. I've been a fan of his since I read This Dark Road to Mercy and I just love his writing.

 

Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and others workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband John has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever she can find. 


When the union leaflets first come through the mill, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including lies, threats, and bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.



Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the whole story of what happened to Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929. 



Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early Twentieth Century America—and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent new novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

I have to be upfront, I didn't think this book was going to be a tear-jerker for me but oh, how wrong I was. I also didn't anticipate this book to be reminiscent of current events, so much. It puts things that we look back now and say, "Holy crap- that was SO wrong!" into perspective when you think that perhaps... we haven't really changed as a society. We still discriminate against minorities, we still discriminate against poor people, and when we do right by them we expect to be applauded, pointed out and say, "They do so much for the underprivileged.", when really, that shouldn't be applauded- it should be a normal, every day thing we do without question. I really was taken aback by how awful it had to be living in this time period, in horrific working conditions, and saddled with children. I think about what I would do if that were me today and I would be truly lost. I also want to point out that it really shows how industrious people were when they had to be. Do I think any one of us would handle things like Ella May? Stretching food, money, supplies like she? I don't. I think that's a skill long ago lost.

Anyways. I've gone off track. The book starts off in present day, Lilly writing a letter to her a nephew, presumably because he's asked her about his grandmother and maybe the story of their family. In my experience working with older people, many don't like to speak of things like this and they sometimes believe you leave the past in the past. I'm also of the belief that we should all have the opportunity to know where we come from, what stories (good or bad) lay in our family tree, so right away I liked Lilly.

We're then brought back to 1929, Ella May finds herself with her husband long gone and saddled with a handful of children. She's working at American Mill No. 2, in a sea of African American workers, which makes her controversial already because while we no longer have slavery, things are still racially divided. Ella has a pamphlet about the up and coming labor movement and hears of a rally happening in a nearby town. Curious, and with nothing really to lose, she makes the fateful decision to jump onto a truck in head in. Obviously met by protesters, Ella gets her first taste at the anger so many feel towards the labor movement, thought to be Communists, and she is rightfully scared. She attends the rally and suddenly finds herself propelled on stage to speak about her story and she sings. She quickly becomes a sensation, the face of the movement in the South. Soon she's attending rallies, going to Washington, D.C, trying to rally her African American friends to join the union (though it's not encouraged by everyone, the racial divide is still alive and not everyone is willing to work alongside African Americans, good cause or not).

I loved this book so much, even more so when I finished it. It's hard to appreciate the greatness of something while you're in it, but as soon as you turn that last page and you have it's entirety to look back on- it hits you. This book is rich in American history, but it's also relevant to the current political times. A lot of the same feelings portrayed in this book are felt today and maybe that was the author's intention- make it glaringly obvious that while some things have improved, as a whole we really haven't changed as a society.

I have to share the very last line from Ella's perspective because I read it over and over again and just thought about how it relates to my life. It's one of those lines that's going to stick with me.

"She felt her breathing slow, something warm and comfortable overtake her. She wanted to reach up and touch one of the bolls, to feel its softness against her fingers, perhaps hold it to her cheek, but she found that she could not lift her arms, could not open her hands. Instead, she lay with her eyes fixed on the cotton, thinking, What a small thing. What a small, little thing."

When I finished it I immediately wanted to know what happened to Ella May's children, and we find out a little bit and that little bit was heartbreaking for me because I thought of my own children. How, if split up, Lucy likely would never remember Olivia, and how great Olivia was with her. Perhaps Penelope wouldn't even remember her. It's sad and yet... it was reality for so many families. It made me think of another one of my favorite books, Orphan Train, and I was so glad to see the author, Christina Baker Kline, wrote kind words about this book as well. 

Truly, if you are looking for a book that brings history alive, ties it to the present, and leaves you with feelings and thoughts, this is the book for you. Wiley Cash is right up there with my favorite authors and his books always leave you wanting more and you finish the book as a different person than you were when you started.