Tuesday, October 31, 2017

OT, PT, and Rheum, OH MY!

I have so much happening medically lately that I am (frankly) really overwhelmed. I feel like it would be really great to have someone to go to all of my appointments with me but then it feels like such a pain for people and honestly, pointless? Like what are they going to do? I'm struggling with being in control of as much as possible and coming to grips that I can't be in control because I'm just not capable anymore. I am learning that it's really hard to give up things and admit it's time to let go.

One of the things I really struggled with while I was hospitalized was physical therapy and occupational therapy. Matt says I was adamant that I absolutely didn't need either, there's nothing wrong with me, having a baby doesn't make me handicapped.

Clearly I didn't have a handle on what had actually happened to me.

I've gone an entire year not needing either and my therapist flat out said to me a few months ago that maybe, maybe, I need to reconsider that. That maybe my impairments aren't going to improve, but maybe there are modifications that could help me be less frustrated and angry about it. Maybe I won't be running 5k's and training for a half anymore, but maybe there are exercises I can do to make it less painful to get out of bed in the morning.

She isn't wrong. I know it in my head, logically, but dammit. I hate that this is what my life has come to. Needing modifications and exercises to stay mobile.

So last week I met with a physical therapist, Dave, and an occupational therapist, Anne, really briefly. I'll meet with Anne more maybe sometime this week even (my appointment has to be rescheduled since Friday we had a bit of a nasty winter weather day and they didn't want me to try to drive there), we'll see. Dave the physical therapist was really great, though. He wanted to know the whole story, he wanted to know what I was like physically before and since. What hurts, what doesn't, what happens if I do this or that, what diseases and conditions are ruled out and what's still on the table. He was really great and the best part? It's happened a few times with doctors but it really makes me feel like they get it, when they look me dead in the eye and say, "Your situation really sucks. You should be dead, I understand why you still wish you were and I can't say I wouldn't feel the same." I usually always come back with, "well, it could always be worse. I could be paralyzed, or have cancer, it can always be worse" and Dave? Dave just sat there and said, "I guess. But this is pretty bad and I understand why you're at this spot. I get it. It's pretty bad."

I felt so VALIDATED.

He said he recommends me to come three days a week for at least four weeks, and that's significantly more than he recommends for most patients but that I'm kind of a problem. So I guess we'll see? I left there with three stretches to do in the morning, two before I even get out of bed and one after I pee (because let's face it, my bladder is really, really, REALLY full when I wake up) and I haven't really noticed a difference? It's only been a few days though so I'm sure in another week or two I might feel a little different. I'm hopeful.

Rheumatology... sigh. I feel like I don't have a good read on this doctor at all. Some interactions make me feel like she feels sorry for me because I'm clearly crazy, and other times she makes me feel like there is something wrong with me, she just can't figure it out. So my labs were kind of a mixed bag so she repeated a few of them this week. My inflammation one is still high but something with my muscle is OK so she started me on Plaquenil to see if that does anything for me. That's a drug used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus, so now I'm like- I thought you said my tests were negative, why are we doing this?! After reviewing my family history and seeing my mom has RA fairly severely, she tells me that sometimes you can still have RA and Lupus with a negative test.

Honest to god, I don't know what to think anymore. I'm not kidding.

So I've taken that for like 3 days now, feel no different. I'm so incredibly tired though and I wish we could find something that fixes that. She wanted to start me on Prednisone and I just really, REALLY don't want to do that. It's another steroid, I have never heard of or seen anyone have a positive experience with it, I don't want to gain 50 pounds in two weeks, and I'm always angry and lashing out now, I can't afford for it to get worse on that. I voiced all of that and I told her I wasn't thrilled about it and I see she did not call it in. So maybe she listened? I'm going with that versus she forgot about it, because she seems pretty thorough so I don't think she would have forgotten.

But as you are reading this, I'm at the Mayo Clinic. Today I'm taking the fat kid education class in the Bariatric Clinic (mandatory before you can see one of those doctors) and then I am going to the Women's Health Clinic to talk about my estrogen replacement options. It's an exciting day, right? Well, I'll report back on the thrilling details later. In the meantime, I really hope that my appointments end early enough for me to get on the road before noon so I can take the kids Trick or Treating. I'll be really sad to miss that.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Vicious Cycle

I bought this book at my local Barnes & Noble solely for the cover. It's been on my shelf for.... alright, it's been there awhile. But I'm on this mission to really get through the books I already have before buying new ones. Noble, right? Just know I'm failing because I already bought the next two books in this series.

Deacon Malloy’s life is dedicated to the Hell’s Raiders motorcycle club. Tough, hard, and fast with his fists, he serves the group as sergeant at arms. But his devil-may-care approach to life is thrown for a loop when the five-year-old daughter he never knew existed lands on the club steps.

Alexandra Evans is devoted to all her students—but there’s always been something about Willow Malloy that tugs at her heart. There’s an aura of sadness about her, a girl in need of all the love Alexandra can give. When Willow stops coming to school, Alexandra’s search leads to a clubhouse full of bikers…and a father hell-bent on keeping his daughter always within sight.

The moment Deacon sees Alexandra, he has to have her in his bed—and he’s never met a woman yet who couldn’t be persuaded. No matter how attracted she is to Deacon, Alexandra refuses to be just another conquest. But it’s Deacon himself who could be seduced—into a brighter future for himself, his daughter, and the woman he’s falling for against all odds.

This book is advertised as being a good read for folks who are fans of Sons of Anarchy, and I suppose I get it. It's got a motorcycle club, we've got the good girl falling for the bad boy, we've got the bad boy wanting to be a little better but knows he's held by the balls by the club, and we have the loyal side kicks (who get their own books).

At first, I almost put this book down and didn't look back. It's starts with little Willow seeing her mother be murdered at the hands of a biker. Next chapter is Deacon murdering a fellow biker who double crossed the club. It's fairly graphic and that just isn't my thing, so it was kind of tough to stomach. (To be fair, I really loved the Sons of Anarchy show but there were a LOT of times I suddenly had laundry to do). We soon get into the meat of the story, white bread good girl Alexandra is teaching Willow at a public school and once Willow is missing a few days, Alexandra does a home check. Turns out, Willow's dad is a bad guy biker and new to the whole parenting thing. Alexandra offers to home school Willow (because there's a threat against Willow and it's a whole safety thing) otherwise she would call CPS, who would be a headache for the club. Deacon reluctantly agrees and insanity ensues.

Deacon and Alexandra fall in love (no shocker there, right?) and out of nowhere Alexandra actually has balls! Not literally, but she fights other bikers, shows Deacon two can play the game, and puts Deacon in his place. Tit for tat.

Overall? It was pretty great. I rushed through the book and I ordered the next two before I was even done with this one because I'm desperate to know how this series ends. If the sexy scenes are half as good, I'm going to be a happy girl. I'm giving this one a solid 4/5 stars. Some of it is a little hokey but I don't even care- Deacon's character surprised me in the end and made this a pretty fun read.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Beautiful Player

I'm just going to start this review by telling you I need ALL of the books. All of them.

A bombshell bookworm. A chronic Casanova. And a lesson in chemistry too scandalous for school.

When Hanna Bergstrom receives a lecture from her overprotective brother about neglecting her social life and burying herself in grad school, she’s determined to tackle his implied assignment: get out, make friends, start dating. And who better to turn her into the sultry siren every man wants than her brother’s gorgeous best friend, Will Sumner, venture capitalist and unapologetic playboy?

Will takes risks for a living, but he’s skeptical about this challenge of Hanna’s…until the wild night his innocently seductive pupil tempts him into bed- and teaches him a thing or two about being with a woman he can’t forget. Now that Hanna’s discovered the power of her own sex appeal, it’s up to Will to prove he’s the only man she’ll ever need. 

YOU GUYS. I just... I literally don't know where to even start with this one. I can only tell you that I am going to purchase this entire series. Immediately. I read the first book years and years ago and I vaguely kind of remember it but honestly, I could stand to read it again and it would still be amazing. If you want a romance with really great characters that you will shake a fist at, and some romance (you know what I mean, ladies...), this is absolutely your next read. Hands down.

In this book we have socially awkward Hanna who (after being slightly admonished by her family) decides to reach out to Will, a friend of her brother's that lives in Manhattan and asks him to basically... teach her the ways of getting out there. Being social. Dating. The whole works. Things start out awkwardly when we realize that Hanna had always had a thing for Will growing up, and the age gap (she's 24, he's 31) is kind of a biggie- they are at different points in life. Will is a bit of a man whore and though she's no virgin, Hanna isn't a sex pot. She's awkward, she fumbles, she isn't sure what to do and she (in an act of desperation) asks Will to tutor her.

And tutor he does. *Swoon* Sexy times ensue but Will finds himself developing feelings for Hanna that extend beyond friendship. He has almost no experience in a monogamous relationship and he can hardly believe he's entertaining the thought. Then we have Hanna who is convinced Will isn't able (or willing) to change his man whore ways so she (of course) makes an ass out of herself versus being up front with her feelings. Which, considering how blunt of a person she is with everything else, the sudden clam up of her feelings didn't feel genuine. That is really my only critique of the book. I finished this over last weekend and I really, really, REALLY enjoyed it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Blue Zones of Happiness

I am always pretty up front when I say non-fiction isn't the first thing I'll grab from the shelf. Sometimes I'll see one and think, "this is in front of me for a reason" and that's how I feel about this book.

New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner reveals the surprising secrets of the world's happiest places—and shows how we can all apply the lessons of true happiness to our lives. 

In this inspiring book, Buettner offers game-changing tools for setting up your life to be the happiest it can be. In these illuminating pages, you'll:
• Meet the world's Happiness All-Stars—inspiring individuals born in places around the world that nurture happiness as well as Americans boosting well-being in their own communities.
• Discover how the three strands of happiness—joy, purpose, and satisfaction—weave together in different ways to make Denmark, Costa Rica, and Singapore some of the world's happiest places.
• Use the Blue Zones Happiness Test to pinpoint areas in your life where change could bring more happiness—and then find practical steps to make those changes.
• Learn the Top 10 ways to create happiness, as revealed by a panel of the world's leading experts convened specifically for this project.
• Boost your own happiness by applying the lessons of Blue Zones Project communities—America's largest preventive health care project, which has already improved the health and happiness of millions of people across the United States.

I don't hide my personal struggles with mental illness since the birth of my fourth child. Her birth was traumatic, I died, I was revived, and I haven't been the same ever since. My depression is the worst it's ever been, my anxiety is through the roof, I now battle PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. If there was anyone meant to read this book- it's me. I jumped at the chance to review this specifically because I'm essentially desperate to be happy. I don't even want to be SUPER happy, but anything is better than wanting to die everyday, so I went into this book ready to take notes and make changes.

The book itself is a rather fast read and it covers all major areas. The author talks about happiness in different parts of the world, things that could affect your happiness, places that happiness could happen (your job, your community, your financial well-being, personal life, etc) and of course- what IS happiness? We say we want to be happy, but what does that really mean? Of course, it's subjective- what makes me happy won't necessarily make you happy or rate high in your life and vice versa. This book sets out to help you figure out what areas you need to make changes, how to prioritize the things that make you happy, and what to do if you're stuck. Sometimes it might mean being brave and quitting that job you hate and do something that (maybe) isn't as financially rewarding, but it could open up new doors to happiness for you.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book was discussion on building happiness within communities. Of course, it could mean the city you live in or communities could be smaller circles of people that you operate in (clubs, groups, school, etc) and what you can do to foster happiness within the community. I found it interesting because the city I live in has gained a reputation of being the lamer of the Twin Ports cities, we have a lot of bars and dingy areas, we need more jobs and essentially an entire revitalization of the city. We're making progress but when you go to city meetings or even look at the community social media pages you find two groups of people: the we've-always-done-it-this-way group who offer no positive solutions but love to give criticisms, and the dreamers, the people who have a positive outlook and are excited at the strides we're making. I find that when you have those people, and you hear their enthusiasm, it's catchy. All of a sudden I'm doing what I can to join the revolution, so to speak. So that's my really long way of saying I think this would be a really good book for young adults. Seniors in high school, college students, those just starting out in the workplace as a grown up- we (as communities and a nation) need more dreamers, more happy, positive people with the goal of making everything better.

If I had to find a critique, and you know I try to always balance a review, I didn't get a lot of information about mental illness. I'm depressed, how do I get happy? How do I turn the ship around? It's most geared towards general happiness versus specific solutions to specific problems, if that makes sense.

Overall? A solid 4/5 stars. I really flew through this and I could see this being adapted for a public speaking engagement or morale boosting sessions.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Grown Up's Guide to Teenage Humans

Parents!! Do you remember when you were pregnant and you obsessively read the What to Expect When You're Expecting book? Then you read the What to Expect: First Year, and then they had a toddler book but by then you were so tired you didn't have time to read.

As bad as it was, everyone teased you with, "Just wait until they are teenagers!" and it seemed super far away and surely by then you'll know what you're doing and it won't be so bad.

Spoiler: It's now and you still have no idea what you're doing. This book is your new manual. Trust me.

A practical guide to understanding teens from bestselling author and global youth advocate Josh Shipp.
In 2015, Harvard researchers found that every child who does well in the face of adversity has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult. But Josh Shipp didn’t need Harvard to know that. Once an at-risk foster kid, he was headed straight for trouble until he met the man who changed his life: Rodney, the foster parent who refused to quit on Shipp and got him to believe in himself.
Now, in The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans, Shipp shows all of us how to be that caring adult in a teenager’s life. Stressing the need for compassion, trust, and encouragement, he breaks down the phases of a teenage human from sixth to twelfth grade, examining the changes, goals, and mentality of teenagers at each stage.
Shipp offers revelatory stories that take us inside the teen brain, and shares wisdom from top professionals and the most expert grown-ups. He also includes practice scripts that address tough issues, including:
FORGIVENESS: What do I do when a teen has been really hurt by someone and it’s not their fault? COMMUNICATION: How do I get a teen to talk to me? They just grunt. TRUST: My teen blew it. My trust is gone. Where do we go from here? BULLYING: Help! A teen (or their friend) is being harassed. DIFFICULT AND AWKWARD CONVERSATIONS: Drugs. Death. Sex. Oh my.
Written in Shipp’s playfully authoritative, no-nonsense voice, The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans tells his story and unpacks practical strategies that can make a difference. Ultimately, it's not about shortcuts or magic words—as Shipp reminds us, it’s about investing in kids and giving them the love, time, and support they need to thrive.
And that means every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.
Nobody wants to read a bland how-to manual and Josh Shipp delivers with this book- it's funny in all the right places. It gives you practical information, relevant problems you will face with your children, stunningly accurate descriptions of all the times you consider strangling your children, and excellent pep talks as you're standing on the ledge wondering why you even wanted kids in the first place. 

Clearly my favorite part of this book is actually part 3: Troubleshooting Common Teenage Challenges. It covers topics like eating disorders, using drugs, sex and sexting, cutting, stress, how to talk to them about sex, or death, and most importantly - WHAT TO DO ABOUT ANY OF THIS. He gives you actual steps on how to handle the situation, what to expect from them, what they need to get from you, and reassures you that even though those brats are snapping fingers and rolling eyes at you- they ARE listening, and they ARE grateful you are giving them rules and boundaries. 

Also important? The Teen Cell Phone Contract. Josh even provides the web address of where you can find the teen cell phone contract and customize it to your child(ren). You better believe I've done this with Olivia. He gives you 42 ways to connect with your teenager, as well, and a few of those I'm going to adopt as regular things I do with each kid. 

Even better? Josh doesn't leave you hanging- he gives you options to connect with him and learn even more. The best part about this book is not just how it can help you and your child but it also mentions how your relationship could be influential for their friends. How can you be a helpful and loving adult in their lives, too. Some kids don't have that positive force and they seek it out because at the core, teenagers need to be guided. They say they don't and they know exactly what they want, but on the inside they are desperate to be guided down the right path. 

I'm going to give this book 5 stars. Seriously. I'm not normally a big fan of non-fiction but I really enjoyed this book because it felt like this was my own therapist telling me what to do, a friend who has already been there telling me what NOT to do, and we're at an age where our kids face challenges we never had so we don't know how to navigate that ourselves. This book covers it all. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How to Turn Your Mom Into A Monster

I know I've been cruising along with book reviews for grown ups, but I'm not forgetting the kids! I really love children's books and I have read many in my years as a mom! I have a 12, 9, 2, and 1 year old so I read quite a bit. I even did a stint at an elementary school library and I really enjoyed reading to those kids, showing them interesting books, and helping them find books that interest them. I'm convinced that if you can find the right book to spark that love, you can turn any kid into a reader for life.

Do you like smearing your lunch all over yourself? Do you fight with your sister just because she's there? Do you find yourself unable to go to bed because mysterious ninjas keep stealing your pajamas? Then you're a little monster! Guess what: Mom can be a monster too! It's up to you to make your mom's monster come out to play . . .

If ever there was a book that was a how-to on becoming my darling Penelope... it would be this one. I love that little two year old ball of spunk to the moon and back but man alive, she really wears me out. She brings you right to the brink of insanity and then does something cute or gets all cuddly and you can't help but let it all go. 

With Halloween right around the corner, I assumed this would be a Halloween inspired book but I was wrong! It's a really playful how-to book on how to turn your mom into a monster (or in adult speak, how to bring her to the edge of insanity like Penelope does). All of the actions in the book, "make a big mess" , "writing on the wall with lipstick" for instance, are all things that moms experience at least once during the super fun early parenting years. Also featured is a fun "Reason Chart" for why the child can't go to bed- they pick one word out of each of the three columns and that's their reason! One example was, "I can't go to sleep because the dinosaur tooted on my snacks." - exactly something you'd hear out of a reluctant sleeper, right? 

For example, I'm typing this review as I hear Penelope saying "morning" at the top of her lungs at the gate in her doorway even though it's only 8:11 p.m. She went to bed eleven minutes ago but she firmly believes she has had enough sleep. 

Save me. 

I've got to point out the illustrations because I'm a big believer that illustrations can really make or break a book. You could have a cute story but with the wrong illustrations, you aren't grabbing your intended audience. This book features brightly colored monsters throughout, different shapes and sizes. If you were a fan of the Monster's Inc Pixar movie, you will like this because these monsters could have fit right into that movie. Overall? I really loved this book. I read it to Penelope and Lucy and they really thought it was fun and Penelope learned what the word "tooted" meant and says it constantly. Ha!

If you are doing some holiday shopping and you have a young child to buy for, this is a really cute book they will enjoy.. and their parents not so much. Ha! You could pair it with some fun monster pajamas, maybe a monster stuffed animal, and some treats, for a really fun gift. I also thought this would be a fun book for a babysitter to read to kids before bed. Lucky for you, there is a giveaway opportunity for you! 

But if you aren't feeling lucky, you can always purchase the book on Amazon! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Kings of Leon: Mommies Night Out

I have actually seen Kings of Leon.. five times before last night's concert, which was my sixth. Sadly, I only blogged about three of them and you can see those here, here,  (that one was my FAVORITE) and here. So when I heard about them going on tour to promote their newest album WALLS, I wanted to go REALLY badly.

Sadly, I am poor. I knew there wasn't any way I could buy tickets.

My friend Jennie wanted to go and we had a collective moment of sad because I'm poor. I had seen Kings of Leon twice before with her, so clearly it was even more sad.


She texted me and said to mark my calendar because we were going! I'm like, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, I'M POOR?!?!?! (I may have even used shouty caps on text). She informed me that someone anonymously paid for my ticket so I could go. She wouldn't tell me who, or give me any hints (she's like a VAULT, I tell you!) so whoever did that:

Thank you. I really can not tell you what that means to me. I would have been really bummed out to miss Kings of Leon coming so near me and I really appreciate that you helped me go. It was a GREAT night with one of my friends. 

Sigh. Really, the only bright spot since having an AFE is seeing the good in so many people. I am really grateful that I have so many kind and loving people in my life.

So we went. She drove because I am not supposed to be driving at night and I was surprised at how much I remembered- like I remembered where to park, where the restaurants were, how to get back onto the highway (kind of). It was surprising. I'm trying to push myself to remember because I know it's all in my head, I just have to figure out how to get it out of there when I need it!

Before the concert we went and had dinner across the street and I don't remember eating there before. The local radio station was there to hype up the concert so we put our names in to win prizes, specifically the tickets for the suite box to view the concert. My name actually got called and I had to pick an envelope and by this point there were only 5 envelopes to pick from. I didn't win tickets, instead I won a water bottle. Which is still cool, something I can use, right?

After a messy dinner we walked back across the street to get into our seats. Once we got there we walked the entire circumference of the Xcel Energy Center and could not find the stairs to go up, since we were in the balcony. A very nice employee informed us we had to get our tickets exchanged because they had to rearrange things, so we went to the other side and found the exchange area. Turns out, our seats were UPGRADED and we ended up having really great seats!  These would have been significantly more money but we didn't get charged and that was a really cool surprise.
Me and Jennie, right after the opening band (Dawes) played. They were OK, probably not something I'd rush out and get the album but they weren't terrible.

Around 8:30 Kings of Leon took the stage.
 Some observations, Caleb looked amazing. As usual. He's my favorite.
Matthew has lost a LOT of weight and his pants were too short.

Nathan looked SO rough and they didn't really close up on him much except for once and I was taken aback at how swollen and kind of awful he looked. Jared.. we have to talk about Jared. He has bleach blond hair and was wearing white skinny jeans and what looked like heeled boots. I just.. his wife must hate him because who lets that kind of thing happen? It needs to be stopped.  Some kind of intervention needs to happen because that look isn't good on anyone.
They played a few songs off their latest album, WALLS, but obviously the favorites were from all of the previous albums. I'm not loving the WALLS album but there are a couple of favorites on there. 
One of my favorite things about KOL is that they are really terrific live. Easily one of the best live bands I have ever seen. They play their instruments, Caleb's voice has a perfect gravel which, by the end of their 2.5 hour set, was sounding hoarse. 
Caleb did mention at one point that they only have a few shows left of this tour and you could tell they were tired, but they played all of the favorites. They played just about 2.5 hours, which is so great because you know you will get your money's worth at a KOL concert. 
Their stage set up changed a few times, the screen artwork was strange but interesting, and they all interacted with each other,  which they kind of lost on their last tour.
Overall? Amazing. I definitely did not want it to end. I decided that one of my bucket list items is to get VIP meet and greet tickets on one of their tours. I know I'd maybe have to sell a kidney but it would be worth it. Their albums are the soundtrack to so much of my life.

I'm going to leave you with one of the songs that make me cry every time I hear it. This wasn't from the show I saw, but instead from 2014 Lollapalooza.

"Jesus don't love me. No one ever carried my load. I'm too young to feel this old." 

And then I'm going to share their cover of one of my favorite songs, Robin's Dancing On My Own

And finally! The best cover of Sex on Fire performed by Macy Gray. 

Sigh. I miss the Followill boys already. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Leo's Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Grocery shopping STINKS, but meal planning helps.

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

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


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

Anyways .

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Weekend Shopping: Underrated Books (part 3)

Let's just get to it, shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy shopping!

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Opposite of You

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

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

I’ve sworn off men. 

All men. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want the opposite.

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017


YES. Buy this book.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lilac Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Ballad

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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