Monday, October 23, 2017

Leo's Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Grocery shopping STINKS, but meal planning helps.

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

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


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. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Boo at the Zoo!

One of my favorite things to do with the kids around Halloween is go to our local Boo at the Zoo. It's kind of a sad little zoo that is kind of going downhill and the last few years there have been pushes to revive it, but I think unless they get millions of dollars to revamp it all over, it's not going to happen. It's a bummer because I like our little zoo and the kids really enjoy going to this every year.

It also needs to be mentioned that if you hear I'm going on a certain weekend- go when I go because we have always gone on the best weather day. It's held on two Saturdays in October and one is always really nice and the other is crap. My streak continues and this Saturday was so nice!

Costumes this year were kind of whipped together willy nilly. I don't usually go crazy with costumes anyways and it was never my thing to dress up and go big, so the kids get whatever is cheap.

BUT!! I had to spend $30 on Lucy's because is she not the most adorable flamingo you've ever seen?! Uh... I could squeeze her guts. She even walked around flapping her arms- I think she thought she was a real bird. So damn cute.

Olivia has two costumes this year, a Minnie Mouse and this... broken down baby doll, apparently. This is the one she's wearing for the Halloween dance at school and she's doing Minnie on Halloween when we go trick or treating. Auntie Kate is going to help with make up because she's pretty great at it and I can barely put my own on.

Jackson is Fantasia Mickey, Grandma Renae made his to match the hat he got at Disney with them last spring. He was pretty excited about it and he was thrilled to have a costume he can dress warmly under.. which is key because it's usually absolutely awful here on Halloween.

Oh, and Penelope. Not surprisingly, Penelope opted to be Princess Poppy from the Trolls movie, which we have seen countless times. It's her favorite. She really hated wearing the headband but I told her if she took it off they would kick us out of the zoo. 
You can see how she felt about that. I actually can't remember if this face is because of that or because I told her she absolutely could NOT eat rocks and she can't touch goose poop.

I'm the worst mother in the world.

Lucy remained chill the entire time, not a peep out of my little flamingo. She was content to ride around and was totally thrilled to get a lollipop and clung to that for dear life the entire way.

We don't get very many outings with all six of us but fall is like our last hurrah before winter comes, and I hate the cold so much so I don't leave my house unless I have to. And even then I try to get out of it.

Overall it was a good day. The kids had fun, they got some candy, Olivia enjoyed all of the Skittles she could because she gets braces next week and those will be on the no no list. Kind of sucks she's getting them before Halloween (for her) but it's a win (for me) because I get to eat her good candy.

That may or may not have been strategic scheduling.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Full Share

If you are loving my book reviews, you're in for a treat this week because I have several for you and I'm finishing up my weekend underrated books roundup, as well!

I'm starting this week off with this review because (shocker!) this isn't a book that's been sitting on my shelf, it's actually one I recently purchased. It came in a special Girl's Night Bookworm Box I ordered. You get two of everything, one for you and one for a friend, and I shared my box with my friend Andrea, who is also a big reader. I don't know if she has read hers yet so I'll have to ask what she thought of it, but here are some of my thoughts.

Nora Hargrove’s post-grad life includes a horrific entry-level job, a cave of an apartment, and a strict avoidance of all interpersonal relationships. She knows only one thing about herself—she wants to be left alone.

Avoiding her mother’s forced family time, she seeks solitude on her own terms. In a poorly ventilated, overcrowded Dewey Beach rental, she discovers there’s no place to hide. Not from yourself, not from your life, and not from love. This is the story of Nora Hargrove’s full share.

I learned the healing power of a good bloody Mary and a dip in the Atlantic. I kayaked in the dead of night and witnessed the only shooting star I’ve ever seen. I fell in love on a bed made of pallets. I lived.

Life is deep. Dive in.

I'm going be upfront and tell you that at best, I can only give this book 3/5 stars and it's saved only by Jack. I really, really did not like Nora. I thought she was an idiot who needs extensive counseling. The book begins with readers finding out that Nora's mom is a bit of a hussy and is having sex on Nora's bed with Nora's French teacher.

Awful? Yes. Traumatizing to the extent this book brings it? No.

That act alone paralyzes Nora so not only is she apparently incapable of forming meaningful romantic relationships, she becomes socially awkward, seemingly stops maturing after the age of 16, gives up on life, and has no idea how to function as an adult. I know I'm kind of a "buck up and deal with it" person but this was almost fully ridiculous.

Nora decides to avoid her parents for the summer and instead become a full share in a beach house her roommate from college is organizing. She only knows this roommate, none of the others, so when she arrives and finds out she doesn't have a room to herself and instead sharing a porch with someone else, she isn't thrilled. But the money is spent and she needs a break from her job so she sticks it out. Originally she's meant to share the porch with twin girls but they somehow switch for Jack, a handsome, outgoing, really nice guy who immediately decides Nora is going to be his and he's going to try to convince her of that. Frankly, I don't know why Nora would be so rude to someone who expresses interest in her but, nothing about this book is making sense to me.

It goes on to be a really full summer- a friend overdoses and goes to rehab, she makes some new friends, one of her favorite friends dies, and a relationship blossoms. The book left me with some unanswered questions but honestly instead of reading the rest of the series, I'm going to let this be a one time thing.

I'm kind of bummed I didn't love this book but I'm clearly in the minority because so many people have given this book 4 and 5 stars... I'm just not there. If we didn't have Jack's character I would have certainly rated this book lower but I really liked him and I felt like he was too good for Nora. Far too good.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Weekend shopping: Underrated Books (part 2)

I am having a lot of fun coming up with this list so I hope you're enjoying reading them. The three books I'm featuring today are some of the first books I reviewed as an official book reviewer.

An extraordinary debut from a talented new voice, Up from the Blue untangles the year in Tillie's life that changed everything: 1975, the year her mother disappeared.

Tillie Harris's life is in disarray—her husband is away on business, the boxes in her new home aren't unpacked, and the telephone isn't even connected yet. Though she's not due for another month, sudden labor pains force Tillie to reach out to her estranged father for help, a choice that means facing the painful memories she's been running from since she was a little girl. 

Anytime I'm asked about a book that shook me to my core, or one that I identify with, I will ALWAYS pick this one. Not only is it profoundly sad for Tillie, but when you find out what really happened to her mother, your heart breaks in a thousand pieces. At the core, this is about mental illness and when you think about the 70's, people just weren't educated on it and it was taboo, hidden. I read this years ago but when I think about it now, I relate to Tillie's mother so much and Tillie herself reminds me of my Olivia. Just so much about this book pulls at my heart. 
Prudence Burns, a well-intentioned New Yorker full of back-to-the-land ideals, just inherited Woefield Farm—thirty acres of scrubland, dilapidated buildings, and one half-sheared sheep. But the bank is about to foreclose, so Prudence must turn things around fast! Fortunately she'll have help from Earl, her banjo-playing foreman with a family secret; Seth, the neighbor who hasn't left the house since a high school scandal; and Sara Spratt, an eleven-year-old who's looking for a home for her prize-winning chickens.
I so enjoyed reading and reviewing this one because it involves a sheep with maxi pads stuck to it. That alone should make you want to read it. If I had to run a farm, I guarantee you this would be exactly how it would go.

Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera is the true story of a family's battle with alcoholism and drug addiction. In many ways, it is a cross between Mary Karr's The Liar's Club and James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. Dina's grandfather and father were alcoholics. Her grandmother was a pill addict. Dina is an alcoholic and pill addict, and all three of her daughters struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, including her youngest daughter, who started using heroin at age fourteen. 

Dina's household also includes her husband and his unemployed identical twin, a mother who has Parkinson's Disease, a grandson who has cerebral palsy, and various other friends and family members who drift in and out of the household depending on their employment situation and rehab status. On top of all that, Dina is trying to make it as a stand-up comic and author so she can quit her crummy job as a grocery store clerk. Through it all, Dina does her best to hold her family together, keep her faith, and maintain her sense of humor. 

I hate to end this post with a heavy book but what can you do? Especially given the drug epidemic in this country, this book is just as relevant now as when it came out. It's a memoir about a woman who is surrounded by addicts and alcoholics. It makes you question whether addiction is hereditary (I believe it is), and essentially it's a cycle of addiction. Dina has humor and tries to make light of the serious situation her and her family is in, and it's a glimpse into middle America. Low end jobs and how they cope. Fascinating book.

Again, here are the buy links so you can start your Christmas shopping early. Some jerk put a meme up on Facebook about how many Fridays there are until Christmas and it's like, NO. No, stop it, I can't handle that kind of stress! So I'm helping YOU out.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Gatekeepers

I had to go into the vault for this one to show you how much I love Jen Lancaster:
WAY back in 2011, my friend Amy and I drove to Milwaukee for the sole purpose of attending the book signing for Jen's book If You Were Here. You see me complete with my baby pink polo and pearls. We were the last people to get our books signed, but it was worth it. It also needs to be noted that Milwaukee isn't just a quick drive up the road- it involved me driving 2.5 hours to Amy and her driving us another 5.5 hours from there. It was such an exhausting trip, but I had a great time.

I mention this so you know that I am a Jen Lancaster all the way back to her Bitter is the New Black days, so when I found out that she was dipping her toe into teen fiction, you had to know I would be all over that.

The Gatekeepers - Jen Lancaster

Anyone passing through North Shore, IL, would think this was the most picture-perfect place ever, with all the lakefront mansions and manicured hedges and iron gates. No one talks about the fact that the brilliant, talented kids in this town have a terrible history of throwing themselves in front of commuter trains, and that there's rampant opioid abuse that often leads to heroin usage.

Meet Simone, the bohemian transfer student from London, who is thrust into the strange new reality of the American high school; Mallory, the hyper-competitive queen bee; and Stephen, the first generation genius who struggles with crippling self-doubt. Each one is shocked when lovable football player Braden takes his own life and the tragedy becomes a suicide cluster. With so many students facing their own demons, can they find a way to save each other—as well as themselves?

Inspired by the true events that happened in the author’s home town. 

I have to comment on the length of this book, coming in around 450 pages, it's a bit excessive. Easily a quarter of this book could have come out... if not more, even. I had a really hard time getting into it because the high point in the plot really doesn't even come until the middle the of the book, the entire first half is spent establishing the cast of characters and getting a feel for each of their voices. Secondly, there are a LOT of characters to keep track of. They each have their own issues, their own  connection to the larger issue of academic pressure, and then their own connections to the students who ended their lives, ultimately because of academic pressure. We learn early on of two earlier suicides, one after another, but we don't really find out the why for those until much later in the book; in fact, you put it together yourself once the third student dies and you're seeing the pattern with the deaths and the struggles with the students we're following in the story. Those are my primary complaints.

OK, I have to admit, if you didn't know who the author was and were a long time reader of Jen Lancaster, you'd know it was her immediately because of all of the John Hughes mentions and references, which doesn't feel relevant to today's youth- how many teenagers do you know even know who John Hughes was and what movies he made? None. On top of that, the book is actually a really heavy read so the intended humorous quips throughout the book leave a sour taste. You can't make a book about teen suicide fun or funny, you just can't.

All of that aside, the draw of the book is obviously the struggles of today's youth to achieve, be better, do better, push themselves, excel, all of that. On top of that, many students are suffering, privately, with other issues while at the same time trying to talk each other off the ledge so to speak. I feel like if we didn't spend so much time developing the characters and more time delving into the students who ended their lives, this book could have had more of an impact.  I didn't care so much about the majority of the characters, I wanted to know more about the ones who died. I guess that's maybe true of everyone who ends their life, we always want to know why. What didn't we know? What could we have done? How can we prevent the next one?

As a parent, this was a fascinating read because we look at the pressure we put on our kids even from a young age. Be good, don't do that, stop being so loud, play nicer, try harder, listen to all of the things we say without a second thought all day long. We'er all guilty. It's definitely a generational thing and it's really too bad because a lot of kids no longer get to be kids. We push expectations on them, we give them access to social media and technology, and then we wonder why they are failing? We aren't helping them, we're ultimately hurting them.

Overall? I'm giving this book 3/5 stars. I didn't hate it, I was genuinely interested and invested in these characters, I wanted to know how they would turn out. The deaths that come in the book are sudden and you truly don't always see it coming, so they hit you hard just as they would if these were real life people you see everyday.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Medical Update- can you hear me now?

Oh lambs. I've had some fairly interesting medical things happening and it's just so... it's frustrating. I told my therapist that I just want a label, a diagnosis, and a treatment. I'm just shuffled from one place to the next and nobody knows what to do for or with me. We wonder why people get discouraged and just kill themselves- I'll tell you why:


So here are my updates:
  • I'm being referred to OT/PT for an evaluation. It's the consensus that I should have seen them immediately after my AFE because early intervention is an important thing. I'm not totally sure what to expect from that but I'm told it is going to be a long appointment. 
  • Things they are going to look at are things like Auditory Processing Disorder. I've mentioned to several doctors that I can't handle any noise. I used to be a huge concert goer, I loved being in crowds, I could tolerate loud things. Now? I can't even handle hearing my family talk. Honestly, the sound of their voices make me so angry I can't stand it. I can't handle being in this house. I hear every single thing and all at once (if that makes sense) and sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I just shut down. It's like my brain gives up and I can't understand anything. So if someone is speaking to me, after awhile my brain just stops. I'm legitimately not listening to you. Apparently auditory issues are common after traumatic brain injuries, so who knows if this is a forever thing or not. 
  • I am counting down the days until I go back to my psychiatrist- I need something other than Wellbutrin. I'm so on edge and angry all of the time, I'm screaming at everyone for everything. 
  • The biggest thing? I got approved for disability! On the first try! The bad news is that my doctors and the Federal government have deemed me "unfit/incapable" of handling my benefits and all paperwork, so I had to provide them with the information for my "representative payee". It's one thing to lose my independence, but now I'm basically an invalid. There is no dignity in any of this. I'm just hopeful this helps me with my medication costs because I'm really worried about how I'm going to pay for them. I figure I have enough on my credit card for five more grocery shopping trips until the end of the year. Sigh. 
  • I took a TON of labs for the rheumatologist and so far, those have been kind of disappointing. The tests for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus both came back negative. What came back high is my C-Reactive Protein which means I basically have inflammation. It can be from an infection (I don't have any) or a "long-term disease", she said. It can mean I have inflammation around my heart, which means I'm a heart attack or heart disease risk. She said I'll have to have more labs at my next appointment, four weeks away, to see what direction I'm heading in. 
It's starting to sink in, like really sink in, that things aren't going to get better. That I have to figure out a new meaning to my life, a new purpose. I have to think about how I'm going to fill my days when Penelope and Lucy go to school. I feel like I have a lot more wrong with me that we don't know about, that the AFE/stroke/major blood loss did more damage than originally thought. Sometimes I wish I would just be admitted and a doctor from every department could just give me a head to toe evaluation. 

I need Dr. House, basically. 

And not just find a problem, but give me some kind of coping thing because how I'm living right now is awful. It's just getting worse and worse. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Making a list AND checking it twice. Sometimes three times.

Normally by October 1 I have my Christmas card list done, I have cards almost done, and envelopes addressed and ready for stamps. And when I say "normally", I really mean every year other than last year, obviously. Last year I somehow managed to make and mail 85 cards, get a family letter in there and get them out before Christmas.

Fine, I'll admit some cards didn't get mailed until the day after Christmas, but at least I got them out, right?

Christmas cards are kind of a thing for me. I spend a lot of time thinking of what card I want to make, not to mention the time it takes to make the card, then I take an evening to write out a family letter highlighting all of the good (and bad) during the year. A lot of our family isn't on Facebook so doesn't necessarily see stuff, so I try to share relevant stuff but not bore people who do follow me.

Every year though, I get fairly annoyed at how few cards we get back. I know it's not everyone's jam but I really miss the days of holiday cards being a big deal. Is that weird?

So this year I'm trimming our list. I've trimmed a little bit the last couple of years (we used to mail out 125!) but I think this is the year I really cut back. I think ever since I had the AFE, it's really become a priority to only put energy towards people who give a damn. We have some family who never called, sent a "so happy you didn't die" card (Hallmark DOES make those because we got some!), and lots who didn't ask what they could do to help. So I think this is the year we cut them. Yeah, I'm cutting family. Sometimes it just needs to be done, ya know?

Now I'm trying to decide what am I going to do for a card? Do I continue making them? Do I say screw it and settle on a (significant pause to clutch my pearls) photo card?

You know I hate photo cards. Nothing says, "I give up" like a photo card. That's essentially the only cards I get in the mail and that's cool if that's all the effort you're putting in, but I just... I can't. But I also know I don't have the patience or attention span required to make my own cards. I feel like I have to make a decision soon, like by the end of the week, so that I can make myself a plan to do this.

What are you doing for Christmas cards this year? Do you have a favorite holiday tradition?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Spotlight: The Ship of the Dead

Do you have kiddos who really enjoyed the Percy Jackson books? Maybe they are really into Greek mythology, good versus evil, or fans of Thor? If so, you really need to pick up Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. The latest installment is available now and already hard to find at bookstores!

Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin's chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn't naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus and his crew must sail to the farthest borders of Jotunheim and Niflheim in pursuit of Asgard's greatest threat. Will they succeed in their perilous journey, or is Ragnarok lurking on the horizon?

I haven't read any of the books OR seen the movie Thor (don't judge me!) but my son was all about this book and was pretty excited that it showed up in the mail. Since I haven't read it but he has, his comments about the book are that he's worried about Percy, and he had lots of questions about Magnus and Alex. My guess based on his questions are that they are a couple, or maybe want to be a couple, but he didn't seem to understand the greater meaning of that (he's nine). Overall? He liked the book and asked if there was more coming, and I am pretty sure this is the last one, but who knows. Stranger things have happened, right? 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Weekend Shopping: Underappreciated Books (part one)

I get asked a lot about books I'd recommend, or maybe what some of my favorites are, and I have a lengthy list. A lot of them aren't super popular, or maybe not really head of, and I think that's a damn shame. So periodically I want to feature some books that just don't get the love I think they deserve.

It's 1960 in the Panhandle town of Charnelle, Texas -- a year and a half since sixteen-year-old Laura Tate's mother boarded a bus and mysteriously disappeared. Assuming responsibility for the Tate household, Laura cares for her father and three brothers and outwardly maintains a sense of calm. But her balance is upset and the repercussions of her family's struggles are revealed when a chance encounter with a married man leads Laura into a complicated relationship for which she is unprepared.

As Kennedy battles Nixon for the White House, Laura must navigate complex emotional terrain and choose whether she, too, will flee Charnelle. Dramatizing the tension between desire and familial responsibility, The Girl from Charnelle delivers a heartfelt portrait of a young woman's reckoning with the paradoxes of love. Eloquent, tender, and heart-wrenching, K. L. Cook's unforgettable debut novel marks the arrival of a significant new voice in American fiction.

I read this book... almost ten years ago, I think? It is STILL with me. I think I mailed my copy to my cousin and I wish I hadn't because now I have to buy another copy. This isn't one I would have picked up at a bookstore but it was so great. Laura's character just pulled at you and when I found out this was a debut? Blown away.
When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed an act of violence so brutal that it changed their lives forever. The federal government lured them into the Witness Protection Program with the promise of safety, and they went gratefully. But the program took Melody's name, her home, her innocence, and, ultimately, her family. She's been May Adams, Karen Smith, Anne Johnson, and countless others--everyone but the one person she longs to be: herself. So when the feds spirit her off to begin yet another new life in another town, she's stunned when a man confronts her and calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovaro, the mafioso sent to hunt her down, knows her, the real her, and it's a dangerous thrill that Melody can't resist. He's insistent that she's just a pawn in the government's war against the Bovaro family. But can she trust her life and her identity to this vicious stranger whose acts of violence are legendary?
I picked this book up at the library simply because the cover looked interesting. The story itself is a bit far fetched, but the larger story of a young girl essentially being hunted by the mob because she something she shouldn't have, and what that means for her entire life, is thought provoking. Then you bring in the mobster sent to hunt her down and how that plays out? I really enjoyed it. A lot.

Meet June Parker. She works for L.A. Rideshare, adores her rent-stabilized apartment in Santa Monica, and struggles with losing a few pesky pounds.

But June’s life is about to change.

After a dark turn of events involving Weight Watchers, a chili recipe, and a car accident in which her passenger, Marissa, dies, June finds herself in possession of a list Marissa has written, “20 Things to Do By My 25th Birthday.” Even though they barely knew eachother, June is compelled by both guilt and a desire to set things right and finish the list for Marissa.

The tasks before her range from inspiring (Run a 5K), to daring (Go braless), to near-impossible (Change someone’s life), and as June races to achieve each goal before the deadline, she learns more about her own life than she ever bargained for. 

Again, I picked this one at the library because I loved the cover. I also have to tell you that this book was the book that made me create, and do, my 30 before 30 list. The story is about June, who is involved in a life changing car accident, and subsequently finds her passenger's bucket list. At a crossroads in her own life, she takes this as a sign that maybe she needs to go outside of her comfort zone so she decides SHE will finish the list in Marissa's memory. I loved this book and it really did inspire me to start my own list, which ended up being the best years of my life, if we're being honest. So I guess that's why this book holds a special place in my heart.

Below you'll find the purchase links for all of these and truly, if you want to read something not everyone is talking about, you will enjoy these. I'll feature three more next Saturday and hopefully by the time I'm done with my list, you'll be overloaded with Christmas gift ideas.