Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mayo, not just for sandwiches

I've had kind of a mixed bag with my experiences at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. It's kind of THE place to go if you have something bizarre going on with you because these are the experts. These are the people who see the worst of the worst. On one hand, that's awesome because if there is something to find and fix, they will (presumably) be the ones capable of doing it. So though I know my diagnosis list are accurate (so far) I keep going hoping that my quality of life will improve. 

This visit I met with an entirely new doctor because the woman I had been seeing is no longer practicing at Mayo, and I'm OK with that. I don't feel like she really understood where I'm still struggling as far as my endocrine system goes. The new doctor was really lovely and the supervisory doctor was really nice, even if he spoke to me as if I was special needs or something. The doctor took a really thorough "why are you here" assessment, she sounded like she had read my file (the good, the bad, AND the ugly) and she had a handle of what I've done, and where I'm at. 

My biggest complaint is my fatigue- my level of exhaustion is laughable. When I tell you that I could nap on demand, I'm not joking. My night time sleep has greatly improved since my pulmonary doctor got me set up with a CPAP machine, I sleep like a rock at night, I don't flip and flop around, I am dead to the world. I still wake up feeling like I could sleep indefinitely. Some of that is because my pituitary gland is shot, so the hormone that gets you going during the day, Cortisol, is something I don't produce at all. Which is why I take my first dose of hydrocortisone first thing in the morning, to help me wake up. 

Except that it doesn't do anything. No matter how much I take. 

Secondly, part of my crisis plan for secondary adrenal insufficiency says that when I feel "ill/unwell", I need to take my emergency dose of hydrocortisone. It was explained to me that what they mean is the feeling you get when a normal person would think, "I should maybe call into work today". Which, OK- that's pretty severe in my case because I basically suffer through when sick. But the problem is that I feel that all of the time. Every day I essentially feel like I have the worst flu of my life. The only comparison I have is the time I had H1N1 flu years ago and I thought that I might actually be that person who dies from flu. That's how I feel, every day. My hair hurts. My skin hurts. I feel like I have a fever, but I don't. I feel like I have the worst body aches of my life. If I try to do exercise (a light walk, nothing crazy) it hurts worse and the next three days I'm bedridden, in full pain and hardly able to move. 

It's crazy. And awful. 

Well, the doctor was absolutely perplexed. My labwork confirmed that my pituitary gland is 100% dead. The last labs I had done, in May, showed such a tiny amount and they weren't sure if it was my gland trying to do something or residual of my medications. This time, I had no meds for 12 hours before labs and I limped to my labs, yawning the entire way. The labs themselves were dismal but at least it confirms I am not going to get better, if anything my symptoms might get worse. 

Secondly, my estrogen is gone as well and though birth control pills give me migraines, I need to take them regardless. I have bone deterioration already and despite all of the risks that taking birth control at age 35 and beyond, I don't have a choice and I need to take my chances because I can't have my bones falling apart at age 35. 

Third, I get to go to what I'm calling a fat kid class in the Bariatric Center. I have to do that before I can see a bariatric doctor, which I need to do because I desperately need to lose weight. Except I'm on steroids for life so that makes it tough to lose weight, but more importantly, I can't be exercising. I can go on light walks and a little water aerobics but that's about it because my body doesn't produce (dun, dun, dun) Cortisol! Guess what your body produces when you exercise? When you put any kind of stress on your body? Or when you're stressed out about life in general? 


So when life gets stressful, I actually will worry myself sick. Being stressed out will make me sick. 

I know, you're laughing, aren't you? It's OK, because I started laughing and quickly deteriorated into crying because I'm a mom of four kids, I'm deeply in debt, and I have no idea how we get by each month- MY LIFE IS STRESS. 

The other nice thing about Mayo? Is that you learn a lot. So I learned that Sheehan's Syndrome is different that being born into panhypopituitarism and adrenal insufficiency or having it gradually come on because in those cases your body slowly adjusts to the slowing flow of hormones and your symptoms slowly start popping up, signaling to you that hey- we've got a problem here. In the case of Sheehan's, it's brought on by a major post partum trauma, your body has hormones, next minute, nothing. There isn't that gradual slowing down of the hormone faucet, so to speak. You're instantly smacked into worst case scenario with your symptoms and it's hard. It's really hard on your body. 

Will I get better? 


I was officially told that as awful as this is, as awful as I feel, it's 100% guesswork with my medication and it won't make the worst of the symptoms go away, but I'll be alive. I'll feel awful every day, but hey- I'm alive. 

Honestly, it doesn't even feel like a perk, to be honest. Imagine living the rest of your life with the worst flu you've ever had, times 100. I can't even enjoy the things I used to do knowing full well I'm going to pay in pain for days. It's totally depressing. 

Monday, August 28, 2017


You know what's fun? Winning books! I won a copy of this in a Facebook group I'm in a few weeks ago, but even cooler is it came signed. Who doesn't love that? Non-book nerds, that's who.

Awkward, 21-year-old Greta Donovan, the fiercely intelligent daughter of a philandering physics professor, doesn’t relate to people nearly as well as she relates to facts and figures. While Greta gets quarks and string theory, she hasn’t a clue where men are concerned. 

Which is exactly why she doesn’t see it coming when someone tries to kill her. 

Newly transplanted in L.A. after being kicked out of her father's house, Greta moves in with her best friend Daphne Saito, a troubled girl with an abusive past. The charismatic Daphne teaches Greta how to wear stilettos, apply lip gloss, and navigate 1990s Hollywood nightlife. Daphne is determined to succeed, and she drags an unwilling Greta into the limelight with her. 

When Greta walks out on her, Daphne tries to win her back. But Daphne’s desperate tactics just push Greta further away. Reeling, Daphne betrays her friend. Can Greta survive? Can she forgive? 

For the first in... forever perhaps, this is one time where I am not going to rush to buy the sequel. In fact, I will likely not remember this book in a month or so. (Which, admittedly isn't much courtesy of short term memory loss) I saw this advertised in this Facebook group I'm in and I loved the cover. Loved it. I didn't actually read the description, I went for it solely for the cover. The problem here is that the cover is really deceiving and this is maybe the first time my "judge a book by the cover" tactic failed me.

I'll just tell you my number one complaint were the characters- both Greta and Daphne. We have Greta, who is described as socially awkward but I honestly think she has some kind of disability, perhaps a form of Asperger's? I'm not sure but I had a hard time liking her character because she was too aloof, too socially awkward, to the point of being absolutely clueless. Then we have Daphne who is an absolutely terrible friend and is so possessive of Greta's friendship and companionship she's willing to do terrible things in order to be the center of Greta's world. It's so terrible and awful and if you had a friend like that in real life you'd dump their ass immediately and change your damn phone number.

Even more frustrating was Greta's treatment of her mother, who is dying of cancer. She doesn't get along with her father who has done everything short of moving the mistress in, so she decides one day that this is it, she's never coming back. She lets her mother die without her by her side, doesn't even go to the funeral, and she went her whole life believing something about her father and mother and it turns out, it's not even true. So instead of being a mature adult and apologize for being a terrible daughter, that part of the story kind of ends and we focus more on Greta and Daphne.

Which, hot mess city. Truly. I have to say, that though these two were train wrecks for characters, I really liked some of the secondary characters, namely Sandy and Timmy. Sandy is an experienced actor who befriends Greta and ends up saving the day. Kind of. Then we have Timmy, Greta's boyfriend, and he's written almost as if we're supposed to be on the fence about him, but he's the most normal and level headed one of the group. You can tell he really cares about Greta even if she's fully stupid and clueless.

Honestly, I can only give this one 2/5 stars, and one of those stars is simply because I finished it and I wanted to know why the books starts off with Greta in the hospital. It took almost the entire book to get there but we did and... it was kind of anti-climatic. I expected more with that kind of build up, which is why I'm only giving this one 2 stars.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

In This Moment

One of my favorite books of all time is Come Away With Me by Karma Brown. I love it so much. If you haven't read that book, you absolutely must, and you're going to need some tissues because chapter 53 is going to kill you. Just... if you missed my review of that book and all of the reasons you need it in your life, go HERE and catch yourself up and you'll see why I will always enthusiastically buy anything Karma Brown is trying to sell me.

Meg Pepper has a fulfilling career and a happy family. Most days she's able to keep it all together and glide through life. But then, in one unalterable moment, everything changes.

After school pickup one day, she stops her car to wave a teenage boy across the street…just as another car comes hurtling down the road and slams into him. 

Meg can't help but blame herself for her role in this horrific disaster. Full of remorse, she throws herself into helping the boy's family as he rehabs from his injuries. But the more Meg tries to absolve herself, the more she alienates her own family—and the more she finds herself being drawn to the boy's father, Andrew.

Soon Meg's picture-perfect life is unraveling before her eyes. As the painful secrets she's been burying bubble dangerously close to the surface, she will have to decide: Can she forgive herself, or will she risk losing everything she holds dear to her heart?

I wanted to read this one for a couple of reasons, the first being it's Karma Brown. You know I love her. Second, the concept of waving a kid across the street and someone else hitting them? A conversation my mom and I have had so many times. Our town is notorious for not stopping for pedestrians and if you're going to cross a busy road, you are absolutely taking your life into your hands. It doesn't matter if you have a small child or a stroller, cars just whiz right on by. Sometimes they'll wave fun gestures at you as they do. But I always stop because I remember what it's like to wait and wait. Also, we live in northern Wisconsin, the weather is awful 75% of the time so nobody should be losing feeling in their face from the temperature because cars won't stop. (end rant) The fear is that, while stopping, someone is going to not see us stopped, or not see the person walking and just run them over. My biggest fear is hitting someone in my vehicle, which is why this book called to me.

Let me reiterate that I love, love, LOVE Karma Brown. I did not love this book. In fact, I so strongly disliked Meg that I almost didn't finish it, and the only thing that kept me going was knowing how well this author pulls it together at the end. Unfortunately it just didn't happen for me this time. We have Meg, who very much reminds me of my old self, always on the go, juggling everything for everybody, sometimes dropping the ball and everyone acting as if it's the end of the world when it's a small blip in the day considering how much got done. Meg is picking up her daughter Audrey from school and, as we all do, she sees Jack waiting to cross the street so she stops and waves him across.

Only to see a car next to her slam violently into him and send him sailing.

That is the catalyst for the rest of the story which is carried by Meg's repeatedly terrible choices and assumption that she is always right. As it turns out, Meg isn't always right, and she's seemingly the most selfish character I have read about even though the book centers around her feeling so guilty that she does whatever she can to make up for it. We delve into her past and the death of her best friend Paige, how she was never honest with people about that trauma, we see current Meg who is getting a little too close for comfort to the boy's dad, not attending to her marriage, screwing up at work, and trying to control her daughter to the point of driving her to rebellion. The worst is that the ending, to me, felt so rushed and without any real conclusion? Everything was kind of up in the air and it just felt like we got through all of the plot points, so let's finish this up.

It was so hard for me to get through this and I know I'm in the minority. Sometimes I'm not able to look beyond a character's flaws to the story and that's maybe the case here. I think other people are probably going to love this book, and maybe her debut novel set me up for unrealistic expectations. Overall I can only give this one 3/5 stars and it kills me to do that but I have to be honest.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Big milestones involving feet and poop.

The last two weeks have been pretty up and down with my mood. Some days I feel almost like my old self and then the next day it all comes crashing down and I feel like I'm in the worst hole of my life. It's hard to decide if a new anti-depressant is working when life is like that. I mean, do I shoot for 2-3 good days and decide that the medicine is working? Should I have good days every day? Most days? I don't know. I'm just so tired and frustrated with it all. I go back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota on August 28 (next Monday) but that's for endocrinology and I have a list of questions, hopefully I'll leave there feeling better than last time.

I just found my camera and realized I never took the pictures from Lucy's party off it, so I thought I'd share a few with you.
I love this picture so much, not just because my niece is in it, but because it showcases everyone's personality. Adriana is friendly and quiet, Lucy is interested and the observer, and Penelope is Penelope, rolling around in the background.
This is how you'll find Penelope most days now. She's going to be a gymnast whereas Olivia had exactly zero interest in flipping and tumbling around.
Penelope and Adriana are only six months apart in age, so it's really fun seeing them play together. Penelope is so wild and full of it and poor Adriana was like, "Settle down, kid". HA!
Lucy got a bunch of great gifts we've been enjoying since her party. It's so nice to have different things for her and Penelope to fight over.
But this one year old is walking! Well, she's taking the tentative steps without hanging onto anything but then she feels unsure or unsteady and goes back to crawling as fast as she can. She loves this pony toy my mom got her and can get on and off by herself, and she'll just sit there rocking on it. It's pretty adorable.
I love, love, LOVE this picture. I am so glad I finally got a picture of her making this face because my favorite thing about Lucy is her excited expression. She makes this face anytime she's excited, when she sees food, or right before she gets angry because she wants something Penelope has.
She's just now getting to the age where she will fight back for what she wants. Thankfully Penelope is coming around and plays nicer with her, but some days it's really tough. Having two so close in age isn't ideal, I don't care what anyone says. If anyone asks me I'm going to vehemently argue against having two so close together.
Most of the time though she is the sweetest love bug. She's content to sit on your lap and cuddle, she likes to take things out of containers, she still wants to be rocked to sleep snuggled next to you, she randomly gives hugs and kisses, and is very ticklish. I really love her. I don't remember rocking and snuggling her when she was younger, I'm sure I did it I just don't remember, so now when I rock her I try so hard to bank it in my memory so I don't forget. I don't remember her baby smell, the sound of her coos, or the looks of adoration she gives, I so badly want to remember something
Certainly not to be outdone, but Penelope is a mini rock star at potty training. We've been doing it about two weeks now, with the first day by far being the worst. I went to bed in full tears convinced we'd have to wait until the summer before kindergarten to potty train. The next morning I got up, fully dejected, and just said to her that we need to really try to get to the potty.

And that was that. She just did it. I don't know if she sensed my desperation or it was obvious even to a two year old that I was ready to lose it. Either way, I'm grateful.

We still have accidents here and there (usually when she's eating or really engrossed in an activity), and we wear a diaper or pull up for nap time, bed time, and if we go out, because it'll be awhile yet. But it's been GREAT not changing so many diapers in a day. She's a fan of panties so we have a basket full of Trolls, Minnie Mouse, Dory, and plain panties (I swear we must have 20 pairs) and she takes great care picking out a new pair every time she goes. Oh yes, she has to be stark naked to use the potty but that is not the hill I want to die on so we're going with it for now.

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!