Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How to Build a Piano Bench

I should probably be clear right now and tell you that not only do I not know how to build a piano bench, I only passed eighth grade shop class by stealing a project from a previous student and turning it in as my own.

I feel better just putting that out there. But now you also know I won't be telling you how to build a piano bench. I'm certain you can buy one that'll do just fine. Ha! 

A Humble Philosophy for Great Success

“Get an education, get off Petain Street, and amount to something.” These are the words that Ruthi Postow Birch’s father said to her when she was a little girl living on a red-dirt road in Pritchard, Alabama, a town that straddled the poverty line. And that is exactly what she did. How to Build a Piano Bench is Ruthi’s humorous and heart-warming story about growing up in southern Alabama, the life lessons she learned there, and how she applied that knowledge to build a successful business in Washington, DC. Full of anecdotes and advice on how to use both your strengths and weaknesses to work to your advantage, this wonderful story will inspire and delight anyone who has ever had a dream to be something bigger than what they are.
Normally not a book that I would pick up if I'm walking through a book store, mostly because I feel like these are so hit and miss as far as taking something away from it. Also, once you read it, you read it, it just sits on my shelf and I never pick it up again. I have seen this show up in my recommended reads list, I've seen it on review lists, and each time I thought about it.... so finally I figured a book that keeps showing up places is showing up for a reason, I'll give it a try. I'm at a point in my life where I will take anything that can help me with some self help and reflection, so I gave this a try.

The book starts with young Ruthi, growing up in a seemingly poor community in Alabama. She learns from a young age that if something needs to be done you do it, one step at a time. There is always the right next step to every problem. We get a sense of the family dynamic and how she grew up, which (as described on the cover) heavily shaped who she became as an adult, but also how she grew into her career. All of her challenges aren't unique to her, they are all things many of us encounter, especially if you're a mother trying to develop your career into something you can be proud of and have a sense of accomplishment.

Some things that I found hard to work with is that it is more of a business how to versus a memoir. It's a business how to with memoir touches, if you will. Also, some of the sentences throughout the book feel stunted and choppy, like an entire paragraph could have been reduced to one really well constructed sentence.

Things I loved? I really loved the sentimental connection to the dirt road she grew up. She richly describes it so you can perfectly imagine it. She gives you a picture of her home, her family, all of the interactions and you feel like you're a visitor to the home. I identified with her in that, while it wasn't easy and they weren't rich, she was rich in so many other things. Instead of looking at her childhood and how she grew up as a disadvantage or something to be embarrassed of, she was proud, it shows how far she came by her own work and by making good choices and learning from failure. Easily my favorite part of the book is the last chapter, aptly named Leftovers. It has advice that any of us can use, whether we're in business or not, and it reminded me so much of things the volunteers I used to work with would say. They were all senior citizens and they really loved to give insight and advice, and I learned to listen to them because they knew what they were saying. They had a perspective and a view from an angle I couldn't yet see, one you can only have with time.

Overall? It was a good book, a solid 3/5 stars for me. Is it one that I had some take away from? Yes, absolutely. Is it one I'll pull off the shelf and re-read again and again? Not likely. Is it one I'd recommend for a college graduate? Absolutely. I really think this would make a great graduation gift, or maybe even a "you're starting college- use this to guide you" because so many of these things can apply to them and their older selves. Frankly, we could all use this at some point.

If you hurry, there is a Goodreads Giveaway for this book ending on August 31, 2017 and if you're feeling lucky, go HERE to enter! 


Monday, August 21, 2017

Shopping for men stinks, let me help you.

I'm usually really great at buying gifts for people. My favorite is doing boxes of awesome, which is where I get a cute container (or box if I'm mailing it) and filling it with really awesome things I know the other person will love. I pick up little things all of the time that my friends will love and when I have enough for a box, off it goes.

My biggest challenge for gift giving? My husband.

Matt is awful. Every time I think I have a great idea, and I'm super excited to give him The Thing, I get a lackluster response. One time I waited over THREE HOURS at a ski lodge trying to get him a ski pass because I knew he loved skiing and I thought it would be a sweet gesture AND get him to relax after working so hard all week. I spent three hours in this lodge, freezing, with two kids who were starving.

He wasn't super excited about it and only went skiing once.

One time, friends.

Thankfully, we have websites like Uncommon Goods to help us. It's 2017 though, and so many of us are being selective on where we spend our money, which is why Uncommon Goods is a great solution. You probably don't know this, but Uncommon Goods features many products that are organic, recycled, or handmade. Are you an animal lover? You'll be pleased to know Uncommon Goods doesn't sell products containing leather, fur, or feathers either. Do you love to give back even when you're shopping? Perfect! When you shop with Uncommon Goods, you have the option to donate $1 to a selected non-profit organization, courtesy of their Better to Give program, which has already donated $1,000,000 since 2001. By focusing mainly to online retail, they've cut down on their paper usage (hooray for the environment!) from printing catalogs.

So that's super awesome, but let's shop!

The really great part of Uncommon Goods is they have done all of the hard work for you and have curated these collections specific to what you are shopping for. I know Christmas is coming, despite not being ready for it, but this is the time of year I start looking for ideas and buying items so I don't get stuck in the mailing frenzy in December. Not only do I have Matt to shop for but we have our dads and brothers and they are all awful to shop for. (Sorry, guys!) Clearly my first stop was going to be a collection just for men because it's broad and has something for everyone. Right off the bat I found something that Matt absolutely needs in his life because as a machinist, he comes home filthy.
I am so sick of him using all of my soap trying to work the grime off of himself. He needs this in his life. Immediately. Before Christmas, even.

Here's a confession. If you've ever shopped with me you know I stick to the "one for you, one for me" policy so I have a terrible habit of shopping for myself while shopping for others. So of course, I'm scrolling through the collection and I see THIS. You guys, I NEED THIS. I have a medical condition that requires me to drink a lot of water so when I go for walks, I need to bring a water bottle. But I also need my phone because I get lost a lot and I like to listen to podcasts, so then I have my ear buds. This handy item does it all. Your phone (and some cash in case on your fitness walk you stumble upon an ice cream truck) stores inside the water bottle. You're only carrying one thing versus considering a fanny pack. Say no to the fanny pack.

Needless to say, I found a lot of items for the holidays.

If you are still looking for a gift idea for the hard working, mechanical nerd in your life (cough, MATT, cough), Uncommon Goods also has a collection aimed for groomsmen that also has every day men's gifts, too.
You know what we gave to our groomsmen? A leatherman tool. Had Matt seen this, he would have insisted we get these. These are the weird things Matt is into and this is something I would totally stick in his stocking. This little box has everything you need to perform 12 tasks and this is just right up Matt's alley.

What do I do for my anniversary? That also is a killer to shop for because Matt isn't sentimental, but I definitely am. So whether you are shopping for your husband, or your wife, you absolutely have to peruse the anniversary collection they've put together. Almost immediately I found something that is 100% Matt and I.

One of the things I love most about Matt is his total acceptance when I say I want to go on an adventure. Our goal has always been to see all 50 states and while we haven't got a great start (I think we only have nine states so far), it's hard to travel a lot with four kids. THIS would be an amazing art piece for our home, a cool conversation piece for visitors, and act as an incentive to get more pins up there! Not only would this be great as an anniversary gift, I think it would make a cool wedding gift for a new couple, too. Or maybe a graduation gift and instead of two couple's names, put the student's first and last names and they can mark off places on their travels. (There is also an international map, too!)

Speaking of weddings, if you can't quite find the right thing for your anniversary, or you're getting married and want to get a great gift for husband or bride to be, Uncommon Goods also has a fantastic wedding guide full of amazing gift ideas. Anyone can roll up to the gift table with a waffle iron you know you're re-gifting, but the best gifts are always personalized ones!

Happy shopping, friends. (I can fully say that because I just saved you hours of walking around the mall and you didn't even have to put pants on. WIN.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Shopping Saturday: Teacher Gift Ideas

Let's just admit that this is going to be a steady thing now, OK? We are all going to shop together on Saturdays. That's all there is to it.

School is starting soon (except for the lucky people in the south who have already started) and I know some of you do a teacher gift for the first day. I totally do because I feel like at some point at the end of the first day they probably sink into their chair, look at the mess left behind by all the students and think, "It's going to be a LONG year.". Maybe not, but I think that happens more so than not. Then I try to think, what would cheer me up?

A basket of AWESOME STUFF, that's what.

Here are some things I've included before, things I'm including this year, and some ideas.

Most every teacher at my kids' elementary school knows I'm a huge book lover so I always include a book. In fact, I almost always include a book with all gifts because I love books. I'm forcing my love of books onto others. This year I purchased this one because I have heard nothing but great reviews for it and I want to read it so badly.

Jen Dixon is not your typical Kansas City kindergarten class mom--or mom in general. Jen already has two college-age daughters by two different (probably) musicians, and it's her second time around the class mom block with five-year-old Max--this time with a husband and father by her side. Though her best friend and PTA President sees her as the-wisest-candidate for the job (or oldest), not all of the other parents agree.

From recording parents' response times to her emails about helping in the classroom, to requesting contributions of-special-brownies for curriculum night, not all of Jen's methods win approval from the other moms. Throw in an old flame from Jen's past, a hyper-sensitive -allergy mom,-a surprisingly sexy kindergarten teacher, and an impossible-to-please Real Housewife-wannabe, causing problems at every turn, and the job really becomes much more than she signed up for.

Relatable, irreverent, and hilarious in the spirit of Maria Semple this is a fresh, welcome voice in fiction--the kind of novel that real moms clamor for, and a vicarious thrill-read for all mothers, who will be laughing as they are liberated by Gelman's acerbic truths. 


How great does that sound?! It sounds hilarious. Who doesn't need a hilarious start to the year? And it's a new release so they likely won't have it yet so it makes it even better. 
Now, depending on how well you know the teacher, you can also get this book. I usually save this one for Teacher Appreciation Week and get it ONLY if I know the teacher is fun and OK with a few swears. If they aren't, steer clear. 
Teacher Misery perfectly encapsulates the comical misery that has become the teaching profession. Morris’ strange, funny, and sometimes unbelievable teaching experiences are told through a collection of short stories, essays and artifacts including real emails from parents, students and administrators. From the parents who blame their son’s act of arson on the teacher for causing him low self-esteem, to the student who offers to teach the teacher how to sell drugs so she can pay her bills, to the administrator whose best advice is to “treat kids like sacks of shit,” one story is more shocking than the next. An important read for teachers and non-teachers alike-- Teacher Misery paints an amusing and thoroughly entertaining picture of what has become of our education system, without detracting from the overall point that what teachers have to put up with today is complete, utter, unacceptable insanity.

You see how maybe this one isn't for everyone? It's pretty funny and it's one I always forget to order for myself. 

So you can get the teacher a book, pair it with a gift card to a place to get coffee and a breakfast to-go, and/or a gift card to a place that will deliver lunch to the school. Not every place does (especially where I live, we have limited places that deliver) and you know there are some days that you forget your lunch at home but don't have the time to run out to get lunch AND eat it. They can save the gift card in their desk for those days. 

The next idea I will do is start with a cute container or basket and shove it full of useful items. My favorite bins to use are from Thirty One and they are really super handy and versatile: 
 Oh Snap Bin: only $10!
 Carry All Caddy: only $14!

Of course if you get any kind of personalization on them the cost goes up a little, and I've never done that. But these little containers can hold quite a bit, can be used again and who doesn't love Thirty One? But if you are on a small budget or can't wait for something to be shipped, the Target dollar section will always have your back. This year I found a cute little blue tin with a lid that has a little chalkboard label on it I can write on. That's what I'll be putting things in for Jackson's teacher. 
* Travel sized Tylenol or Advil because you know damn well your kid will give them a headache. 
* Travel sized Tums or something because you know damn well eating cupcakes for every birthday is too much and sometimes the staff potluck is questionable. 
* Sticky notes like these because they go through a LOT and it's handy to get more without having to pay for them. 
* A coffee mug that will keep their drinks warm. I really like these ones because they are cute and you can use it as a container for gift cards, pens, etc. 
* A water bottle! I'll be honest, I usually go for a water bottle over a coffee cup because I figure everyone does the coffee mug thing, and everyone at some point strives to drink more water in the day. This one is great because it's double insulated (won't sweat all over their desk) but it also has the nifty thingie to infuse their water with fruit. Kind of a cool option. 
* Either way, include some drink packets! Walmart sells a huge selection of different water enhancers, some that include caffeine even, and they make a good filler for a basket, too. 
* Thinking Putty. Have your kids asked for this yet? It's WAY BETTER than that homemade slime crap. Ugh. This comes in so many sizes, colors, variety. It's a cross between Play Doh and Silly Putty. It's pliable like Play Doh but strong like Silly Putty. You can buy magnetic putty, hyper color that changes color the more you play with it, stuff with glitter, glow in the dark, etc. It's very cool. My kids each have a small tin that fits in their pocket but in my therapist's office she has a large tin and it is really a cool stress reliever. 

* The best pens in the entire world. I love these pens SO MUCH. Truly. I won a pack of them on Facebook and I have thrown out all of my other pens, that's how much I love these. I've got them in my purse, in every pen cup, in my van, in pretty much every drawer in my house next to a pack of sticky notes because I'm always writing myself notes. (Sure, I don't know what they mean later but I'm making the effort!)

And of course, throw in candy. Throw in some planner stickers. A little lotion and some hand sanitizer (Bath & Body Works has those mini ones that are often $1 or at least on sale and you can get yourself some!). Lastly? Include a card wishing them well. Let them know you're able to help in the classroom, on a field trip, and if your kid is being a turd, they are welcome to contact you immediately. Let them know you are a partner in your child's education. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Before the Dawn

*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review, all thoughts are my own. This post contains affiliate links as well.*

If you know me at all you know my weakness is romance novels. I can't help myself, I absolutely love them. If you have romance novels with a little crime drama? EVEN BETTER. So as soon as I saw this one come up on my review list I couldn't sign up fast enough and I am so glad I did.


Ex-SEAL Tucker Frost knows that the world is full of evil. He saw it in the face of his own brother, Jason Frost, a cold, methodical, sadistic killer. A killer Tucker put down with his own hands in order to save Jason's final victim--Dawn Alexander, the only girl who got away from the infamous "Iceman." 

It's Tucker's up close and personal experience with evil that's made him perfect for Samantha Dark's experimental profiling division in the FBI. And when women start turning up murdered with the same MO used by the Iceman, Tucker is sent back to Louisiana to investigate. 

Seven years have passed since the night that Tucker faced down his brother...and since he last saw Dawn, his one-time lover. But as Tucker and Dawn grapple with a desire that never died, they must also face the shared shadow from their pasts. Both have the same question--has Jason Frost come back from the dead to hunt again? And this time, will he succeed in killing the victim who got away?


Normally when I read a book for review, it's done in my living room on my favorite chair, with snacks and my ice water next to me, feet propped up and it's a whole thing. When we left on our Florida trip I was packing some books and I just grabbed this one off my review shelf thinking I probably wouldn't get to it but maybe. Turns out, I read this on our drive back home from Florida to Wisconsin and it was so worth it. I also should confess I did not read the first book (this is book two in the Killer Instinct series) and it's totally fine. I actually had no idea that there was a first book so this is 100% a stand alone title. Secondly, this is my first (gasp!) book by Cynthia Eden and I would put her right up there with Karen Robards and Linda Howard, which are two of my favorite authors. She really nailed this story. 

We have Tucker, who is now an FBI agent but formerly a SEAL. He also is Jason Frost's brother, which puts him on a special team comprised of people who have had close/intimate contact with serial killers because of their unique perspective. Jason was the Iceman and has a plethora of victims, all frozen to death but not before he sliced them methodically. 

Enter Dawn. Dawn was the last victim of the Iceman, but the only one to have gotten away. Her and Tucker were romantically involved but after Jason attacked her, that relationship obviously went to the wayside. Seven years have gone by and both Tucker and Dawn have gone on to make lives for themselves. But when it looks like the Iceman killer is making a comeback, it brings the FBI (and Tucker) down to Louisiana, and Dawn finds herself in danger.. again. Cue all the romantic feelings that never went away, and amazing crime drama, and lots of suspense. 

(Also? The reveal of the killer? SO GOOD.) 

I flew through this book, I absolutely loved it. I really felt terrible for Tucker because his entire life was ruined because of a crappy childhood and a serial killer brother. Sure, he's made a name for himself but still, the whole nature versus nurture thing nags at him and he worries that the same darkness inside of his brother is inside of him. I was kind of on the fence with Dawn because she seems a bit unreasonable, and I KNOW she's a victim and that changes who you are but... I feel like she never gave Tucker a real chance. I mean, they come together in this book but the major hangup for her is that Tucker looks similar to his brother and that's hard for her. Rightfully so. I get that. I just wish she had done a better job at working on that versus avoiding it. 

Anyways. I'm honestly giving this book 5 stars. I know, I don't do that much but when a book makes me wish there was more story, or I want to hurry and buy all of the author's books? I have to give it 5 stars. Truly. This is one I would easily buy for friends in a gift, I'd recommend it if someone is looking for a good read, it's one I'll read again. I really, really enjoyed it. 

If you're like me and like to keep up with great authors, I invite you to catch up with Cynthia Eden on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter! And if you want your chance at a $25 gift card to celebrate the launch of Before the Dawn, click HERE


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer is almost over. Ready and not ready.

The fun thing about short term memory loss and all of my other cognitive issues is that I have no sense of time. I know, lots of you are gearing up to say, "Oh I have that problem too!" and stop. Just stop. I also had that issue pre-AFE but I'm telling you as someone on both sides of it that this is vastly different. For me the months and seasons go by and I'm constantly surprised by it, but then I can't remember anything. And again, it isn't anything like the memory loss you're thinking about, huge chunks of my life are gone completely. I can't even explain it enough to do it justice but I am certain I took for granted my ability to remember stupid things and I couldn't appreciate it.

So I find myself here, in mid-August and I don't remember what I've done this summer. I did decide I need to take more pictures of every day things because if I can't remember it, maybe photos would help me? I'm not sure.
Both kids have a square foot garden this summer and they are loving it. If you are interested in gardening, but in small doses I highly suggest you try this. My in-laws purchased this book for Jackson and it's a very basic how-to. Last summer his little square foot garden produced a LOT of stuff. His garden is divided into a grid for 12 different items so it's a fun experience to get your kids into gardening. His problem is he is so anxious to harvest his items and you can see by this picture he pulled his first carrot up a little prematurely. I swear, if you look REAL close you can see a tiny carrot. He thinks his tomatoes (two kinds!) and green beans are going to be ready soon. We'll see. I think dad needs to supervise.
Very slowly we have been re-doing our kitchen. We moved into this house in 2013 and didn't do anything. The walls only had a primer coat on them, the floor is gross, we had the pilgrim tiles on the wall, old lady curtains up, it was just super ugly. I will do a reveal post showing you the before and after as soon as we change the flooring. Right now we are kind of debating on what we're going to do. The floor needs to be the same in the kitchen, to the back hallway, and the downstairs bathroom, but I also want to do that flooring in the front porch so it's just not so mis-matchy every where. It's going to come down to cost and what Matt wants to install over what I think is pretty.

But before we do that, we have to start some kind of fencing in our yard. Our neighbor wants a fence too so I feel better about doing it. I didn't want to offend them or make them think I'm trying to ignore them, but he came over and mentioned it and I told him how relieved I am. I explained we need a fence to keep Penelope in the yard, I just can't run after her and it's too hard to be outside when she can run into the street. He totally understands and so him and Matt are going to figure out fencing and install it together, at least the fence that will go between our houses. It doesn't help me for this summer, but that means NEXT summer we can be outside more. And I'll feel not so on edge.
I do know most of my free time, not just this summer but always, has gone to doing laundry. My family, bless their hearts, have a terrible habit of throwing things into the hamper they just don't want to put away. Matt's guilty, the kids' are guilty, it's awful. Nothing send me over the edge like finding still folded items in my damn hamper. If you see me on an episode of Snapped, that will be why.

As summer comes to an end, it feels as busy as the school year. Olivia has a dance recital in a couple of weeks, and she has started cheerleading already. Jackson is finished with tennis camps this week but brought me a flyer for October-December lessons, which are going to be $100. That's actually not bad but it's only one time a week so I feel like that's kind of spendy? I don't know. I know I don't have $100 but he really likes it and I'm so grateful for him to have found "a thing" that I'm going to try really hard to pay for this and get him there.

I go to the Mayo Clinic at the end of this month and I'm not looking forward to it. I feel like a human pincushion. Olivia and I are going to the technology meeting at the middle school and things are starting to get rolling for that and I think the nerves are setting in for her. I'm SO nervous for her. I think I am more nervous about sending her to middle school than I was to send her to kindergarten. She turns 12 on the first day of school so I have to figure out what I'm going to do for her birthday. I basically feel like life is rolling along and I'm slowly losing the ability to keep up.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Boys South of the Mason Dixon

*This review is courtesy of my own bookshelf as I work through all of the books I haven't read yet. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.*

I don't think I need to tell you that I bought this book solely for the cover. You know I judge books by the cover and it never fails me.


The only thing hotter than the weather South of the Mason Dixon line are the boys. Worn, faded blue jeans, slow Southern drawls, and those naughty moments in the back of pickup trucks a girl never forgets. 

Welcome to the world of the Sutton boys. 

Five brothers who fight, party, drink a little too much, but more importantly, they love their momma. Nothing can tear them apart… until the girl next door wins more than one of their hearts.


You guys. I don't know how this book is averaging 3.92 stars on Goodreads because I really loved it. Maybe that means I have terrible taste in books, maybe I'm really a terrible reviewer and don't have a pulse on what's actually cool. I don't know but I loved this book. Abbi Glines is a new-to-me author though I have a few of her books on my "when I get some money" wish list and I've heard solid things about her books. But I'm shallow and I bought this one solely for the cover and I feel no shame. It turned out to be a solid decision because it always is.

We  have Asher Sutton, who is an absolute stud. All of the girls love him, and some of those have had sexy fun times in his notorious truck. Except Dixie Monroe. She has loved him since she was 13 years old and he gave her a ride home from school after an unfortunate bullying incident. She longs for him to see her other than a little girl and finally, at age 15, she gets her wish. Asher makes a move and they are inseparable. Until inexplicably, Asher breaks up with Dixie, doesn't tell her why, and leaves town. Dixie spends a long time trying to get over Asher, and eventually starts dating his brother Steel, but it's not like what she had with Asher.

All of a sudden Asher is back in town and all of the feelings Dixie has tried to put behind her come roaring back because he looks as good as ever. When Asher sees Dixie he realizes he absolutely still loves her, but there's a secret he has kept to himself all of these years that makes it impossible for him to be with her, and Steel can't either.

I can't tell you the secret but when I found out what it was I was so angry and devastated. Ugh. All the feels, lambs. ALL THE FEELS.

But then!!

We come around the circle and when the path is clear, it's hard for Asher and Dixie to find themselves back to each other. UNTIL! (Enter major medical scare that shows everyone that life is short, appreciate life and do what you want!)

If I had to give a little complaint, the ending felt rushed. We have major medical incident and then... hurry up and resolve relationship issues and THE END. Wait, what?

It does set us up for book #2 which I'm sure is going to be Bray and Scarlett. He's the messed up brother out of the five of them and I'm sure his story is going to be interesting. Anyways. I'm giving this book 4.5 stars. SOOOO close to five but that rushed ending kind of irked me. I flew through this book in a day (233 pages) in between naps, diaper changes, and toddlers gone wild.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rise of the Isle of the Lost

*I received an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review, all thoughts and opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.*

Are you a Disney fan? Were you bummed out when your little kids grew up and got "too old" for the Disney movies? That was me until we discovered the Disney Channel tween shows and of course, the Descendants. If you have a tween who was a Disney fan as a little kid, get them these books- they are SO GREAT.


Ride with the tide! 

Deep beneath the waves, King Triton’s powerful trident has passed through the magical barrier that surrounds the Isle of the Lost—keeping villains in and magic out. And when Mal’s longtime rival Uma, daughter of Ursula, gets wind of this, she can’t believe her luck. The tide has dragged in something good for a change, and Uma is determined to get her wicked hands on it. But first, she needs a pirate crew. 

A storm is brewing back in Auradon, and when Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay hear that the trident has been washed away, they realize they’ll have to find it before anyone from the Isle does. Luckily, they seem to have a talent for locating missing magical objects. 

As Uma readies for the high seas alongside Harry, son of Captain Hook, Gil, son of Gaston, and the toughest rogues on the Isle of the Lost, the reformed villains of Auradon devise their own master plan. And with King Ben away on royal business, they won’t have to play by all the rules. Using bad for good can’t be totally evil, right?

The thrilling, perilous race to the trident puts old friends—and current enemies—against each other with the future of Auradon on the line. Both teams might like to make waves, but only one will come out on top of this one.


I absolutely love the idea of iconic Disney characters having kids, and their kids being stars in their own right. I love every part of that and these books are so great. I can't say that enough. One of the favorite Disney movies in our house is The Little Mermaid (in fact my toddler now watches it all of the time and it just really holds up over time) so when this showed up in my mailbox, I was excited! I knew my oldest daughter Olivia (age 12) would love this book because she's a big fan of the Descendents movies and she read the other two books.

If you haven't read these or seen the movie musicals, you should know that long ago, all of the villains were banished to the Isle of the Lost. The island is in a dome so none of the villains can get out but they also can't access their power because that's locked outside of the dome. Make sense? But now it's twenty years later or so and all of the villains children are teenagers now. We know that teenagers are apt to forge their own way and find a way off the island. So we have the villains kids (Jay, Mal, Carlos, and Evie) and they aren't friends (because villains don't have friends, obviously) but they are forced to work together for the common goal.

Oh, but their answer is granted when they are allowed to go to Auradon (where all the nice characters live) and go to school with the heroes kids. Ben (who is the son of Belle and the Beast) is convinced if they were allowed to mingle with heroes they could be rehabilitated. (It's kind of a play on the nature versus nurture argument.) Book one and two of this series is these kids kind of learning the ropes of Auradon, struggling to decide if they are really evil or is it possible for them to be good after all? So cue to book three and we have King Triton's trident missing after one of his granddaughters "borrows" it for some innocent fun. Somehow the trident slips through and gets to the Isle of the Lost and all of the villains are frantically looking for it, knowing it's the key to getting out.

Uma (who is the daughter of Ursula, naturally) is desperate to find it. Enter Jay, Mal, Carlos and Evie again, who decide to find it first and save Auradon. Yes, they are trying to do good instead of evil!

I absolutely loved this book. The first two books were setting you up for the drama and this book IS the drama. I loved Uma because she feels like... a fun Ursula, if you can imagine it. I also really liked her posse- a bunch of rogue pirates,  and then Harry (Hook's son) and Gil (Gaston's son). We also get to see a little more of how Auradon operates under King Ben, too. Clearly, this is destined to turn into a movie as well and it should be. I really like how these books (and movies) feel like it's Disney's way to grow up with our kids. I am such a fan of Melissa de la Cruz and she does an amazing job making these stories engaging for all readers. Sure, the book is geared towards the middle grades but even the YA and grown up readers will enjoy them because they know these characters. Add to that, the movie musicals are really entertaining and a fun family program. I'm really anxious to see which characters the fourth book is going to center around.


If you don't have the first two books, pick those up too and the three book set would make a great gift for a Disney fan in your life! 
     

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tweens at Paramore

One of my favorite things about being a mom is experiencing things with my kids. I knew that I was going to take my kids to concerts and I really hoped that they would gain a love for live music just like me. I haven't taken Jackson to a concert but I'm always on the lookout for a band he likes, but I recently took Olivia to her third concert: Paramore.

I don't even know when I bought the tickets but I ended up buying a third one in the hopes that I could bring one of her friends. Her very best friend in the whole world is Paige, and I had such a great time bringing these girls to summer school, hosting a bunch of their friends over the summer, and this is a really fun age. It just is. Sure, there's hormones and all of that, but the girls are growing into the adults they'll eventually be and I just really like watching them grow up.

This was actually Paige's first concert so that made it more exciting. We all went out to dinner and got to the casino in Hinckley just in time.
Obviously we had to hit the merch table and the girls got matching shirts, we went and found some water and treats, bought glow bracelets, and made our way to our seats.
The opening band was X Ambassadors and they were GREAT. Our seats were on bleachers behind all of these folks, and online it looked like it was a balcony but it wasn't, it was just bleachers. This actually ended up being really great because once Paramore came on the girls could walk further up if they wanted to, so I'm glad I didn't splurge for more expensive seats.
They had a great time people watching and kept pointing out oddly dressed folks. Especially the one busty gal who honest to goodness was only wearing what looked like pasties over her nipples. That was a treat. But everyone we sat next to were super nice, totally respectful of the girls and generally just really nice people to sit next to.
 
Once Paramore came on the girls basically ignored me completely. HA! Paige was in awe that famous people were "right there" and that we were "breathing the same air!!". It was adorable. Both girls sang along, danced, and had such a great time.
I've actually seen Paramore live before so I knew they would be really great and they still were. You can tell Hayley Williams has grown up, is more mature, and their newer album reflects that.

It was such a great night out and I'm so glad I was able to do this with them. So many days I feel like the worst mom in the world and like I can't give them the experiences they deserve, this day I felt like old me, even if just for a little while.

It Takes One to Tango

*I received an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review, all thoughts are my own.*

If you are a long time reader of this blog you'll know that I've been married to my husband Matt for thirteen years. It has been a hard road to say the least. I haven't really talked about the giant pot holes we've experienced, mostly because it isn't my story to tell. We've gone to counseling. I have read countless books. I have realized that after fifteen years together total, Matt is not the person who is going to change. He is a terrible communicator, he isn't great for my emotional needs, and when it comes to empathy he rivals a dead houseplant. I've come to realize that if I'm going to be happy, I am on my own. I cannot count on Matt for anything other than financial stability,  heavy lifting, killing spiders, and cleaning up blow out diapers and puke. All big, important things, OBVIOUSLY, but sometimes I want to cry and have my spouse care.

Clearly, this book was screaming my name.


With a focus on self-empowerment and resilience, this refreshing and witty relationship guide has a reassuring counterintuitive message for unhappy spouses: you only need one partner to initiate far-reaching positive change in a marriage.

Conventional wisdom says that “it takes two” to turn a troubled marriage around and that both partners must have a shared commitment to change. So when couples can’t agree on how—or whether—to make their marriage better, many give up or settle for a less-than-satisfying marriage (or think the only way out is divorce).

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

It Takes One to Tango is a groundbreaking guide that shows how one determined partner—acting alone—can spark lasting, significant change in a marriage, often accomplishing change that cannot be made any other way. It doesn’t matter how short-fused, argumentative, or seemingly impossible your partner can be—or how long you’ve been stuck.

Marriage and family therapist Winifred Reilly has this message for struggling partners: Take the lead. Doing so is effective—and powerful. Through Reilly’s own story of reclaiming her now nearly forty-year marriage, along with anecdotes from many clients she’s worked with, you’ll learn how to:

-Focus on your own behaviors and change them in ways that make you feel good about yourself and your marriage
-Take a firm stand for what truly matters to you without arguing, cajoling, or resorting to threats
-Identify the “big picture” issues at the basis of your repetitive fights—and learn how to unhook from them
-Be less reactive, especially in the face of your spouse’s provocations
-Develop the strength and stamina to be the sole agent of change

Combining psychological theory, practical advice, and personal narrative, It Takes One to Tango is a fresh and engaging guide that will empower those who choose to take a bold, proactive approach to creating a loving and lasting marriage. 

Let's just get into this, shall we? The book is broken up into three parts (For Better-or Worse, Now What Do I Do, and Welcome to Your Stronger, More Loving Relationship) and each part has little sub-chapters in it. The first section is basically a background of the author's own marriage and how she had an Oprah like "AHA moment" at a continuing education conference led by Ellyn Bader who talked about marriage. Winifred Reilly is a counselor and often deals with couples on the brink of divorce, for various reasons, and she (like so many others) finds difficulty on guiding these couples through troubled waters when her own marriage isn't an example of what a relationship should be. Like so many couples they bicker, fight over stupid stuff, and over time drift apart. Winifred and her husband had wildly different measures of contentment and the status quo so it's no wonder they were at odds all these years later.

And raise your hand if that mirrors your own relationship- I would bet all of us are sitting at our computers with our hands in the air like morons.

So part two is the meat of the book, it's essentially free marriage counseling with concrete how to steps on changing your marriage, all by yourself. So many of my friends are open to counseling but their husband won't go, doesn't see the point, doesn't think anything is wrong with him, etc and that's OK- that's why this book was written. Easily my FAVORITE chapter was the "Keep your anxiety from running the show: Strengthen your tolerance for the things that push your buttons" and holy hell, that is what I needed. Matt and I are very different communicators. I am very open, I'm willing to talk about anything and everything, and if I have an issue- I say it. Matt is the exact opposite. He says nothing. Ever. I could ask him a point blank question and I will get absolute silence. Eventually, when I get so angry at getting zero response, he'll say things like, "I was trying to think.." and then I lose it all together because I'm a mom, I will wait you out, buddy. We will sit on this damn couch for 45 minutes until you think of something but you damn sure aren't getting out of here without saying a word.

Cue the silent showdown. It's really terrible and I hate it. This book covers that. I'm trying really hard to implement the suggestions and it is HARD. At this point I seriously wonder if he is trying to send me over the edge on purpose.

The other chapter I really identified with was called, "What Happens Once You Calm Down?- Growing Separately, together". The best time in our marriage was around 2012-2014. I decided that since Matt didn't like to do the things I liked to do, and it was a nightmare to find a sitter for over nights and he always works, that I would go out with my friends. I went to concerts, I went to dinner with friends to talk, I would go out running and really took care of myself. I was the best wife during those times because I was happy. Not only that, but I was a great mom. I got breaks away from it all and I really feel like that was the key to a happy marriage/life. I didn't let the small things bother me, I felt like I more attentive to Matt, our communication was better, all things were functioning better in our relationship. When I look at life  now and it's really awful, I see I'm not doing any of those things and we're all paying for it. I don't think having separate interests means you're bound to grow apart, it did the opposite for us. On page 220 there's a line that has always been a guiding thing for me, "..it's our job to make ourselves happy in our relationship." and it is so true.

Overall? I'm giving this book 5 stars. Truly. You know I don't give those out willy nilly but this is one of the first self help books I've read that left me feeling inspired and optimistic. I really think this is a great gift to newly married couples who think they'll never hit that rut, because we ALL hit that rut. I think that's why the divorce rate is so high, people think the lovey-dovey phase will always be around and nope... it sure won't. That fades, but you have to look around and see what is still there, hopefully a solid foundation. There is a certain calm and confidence you have when you know that without a doubt, you have someone who will always have your back even if you are dead wrong. Which reminds me of the time I made a scene at a local business because I was absolutely SURE I had just gotten ripped off. Matt was with me but figured it out far quicker than me that I was actually totally wrong and making an ass out of myself. He went along with it, backing me up, and as we were leaving he says, "you know you were totally wrong, right?", to which I replied, "Yup, but I was too far in before I figured it out." and we just laughed. So though Matt drives me to the edge of my sanity, I know he will always have my back.

You can catch up with author Winifred M. Reilly through her website, her Facebook, or on Twitter!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Super cool things to buy. Because shopping addiction is FUN.

I really believe that stay at home mom's need to come clean and admit to having a shopping addiction. All of the morning shows feature products that "will change your life" or just super fun to have. I can't really shop at that moment so I usually write things down and look it up later. And sometimes I see things that would make super great gifts for people and lord knows I'll never remember in December, so I try to order things well ahead of the holiday shopping rush. So here are a few things I thought were pretty cool.

This thing is the coolest. (See what I did there?!) But this water bottle isn't just your run of the mill water bottle, it does a whole bunch. You can drink out of it like you would any other bottle, but this one has a sprayer AND  mister on it.

I know. This will change your life.

This would be perfect for kinds in sports, runners, if you go camping, amusement parks, the beach, etc. You know how sometimes you're walking around (with kids, because kids are jerks) and you drop their cup, pacifier, whatever? This water bottle can be used to spray it off. You can use it to wash your hands in a pinch. You can spray sand off your feet. Even better? It works upside down. Truly, this is the coolest water bottle I've ever seen. I know it's spendy, for a water bottle, but think of how often you could use this!

Let's ask ourselves, where the hell was this when I went to Florida?! I could have used this and maybe the van wouldn't have looked like we were living in it. If you click on the image it'll take you to the Amazon page and they have two videos showing how you can use this luggage. Do you fly on planes and refuse to pay to check luggage? This will save you. Also, if you are a parent who doesn't like to haul a diaper bag AND a purse, this would be amazing. You can stick all kinds of things in the smaller bags, compress it, throw it into your purse. Imagine only having to bring this small bag, with ALL your stuff in it, versus an entire diaper bag! Right now you can get a set of 3 for the same price as a set of two, so that's kind of great. 

When I was watching the Today Show when these were featured, they were really trying to recommend these for kids shoes. Which would be a great alternative to Velcro. I know when my kids were in Kindergarten they couldn't tie their shoes but they (especially Olivia) didn't want to wear Velcro shoes. Also, once you get to a certain size they just don't make Velcro shoes anymore and that's a problem if your kid just can't get the whole tying-your-shoe thing. 

BUT. 

I am a 35 year old woman who absolutely hates to tie shoes. Hate it. Nothing annoys me more than having to tie my shoes. Penelope is now obsessed with laces so she fully enjoys untying my shoes and the simple act of bending over to tie them is just terrible. I really love to wear my sneakers though because they are so comfortable but dammit- I always have to tie those laces. AND they come undone easily. 
But look at these!! You lace them onto your shoe and just snap it shut. You can get your shoe on and off easily without having to bend over. It's amazing. It's about time we adapt to lazy people. 

A long, long time ago we were gifted one of these push cars. Someone at my inlaw's church had given us one as a shower gift after I had Jackson and it was intended for Olivia. We used it every day it wasn't snowing or raining. It was easily the lightest thing I have ever pushed with a kid in it, it went over all terrain easily, and Olivia (and eventually Jackson) would happily sit and steer as long as I wanted to walk. They'd load the storage area with all their favorite things and off we'd go. Then they grew up, and I was sure we were done having kids, so I sold it at a yard sale. I was legitimately sad to see it go but neither kid fit it anymore and they moved onto scooters and first bikes. 

Fast forward to now and dammit if I don't regret getting it. Penelope and Lucy could each have one and my hope is for Christmas or Easter I can get them each one. Truly. This was the best toy ever. If you are going to a toddler birthday party, you want to surprise a toddler with a cool toy, or hate pushing the stroller because your kid is trying to climb out of it, I absolutely recommend this. This is so lightweight, you'll have no problem pushing it along. 

Alright, that's it for your weekend shopping. I think I'm going to turn this into a regular thing because there are always amazing things to buy.