Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: Make Me Yours

It feels like it  has been forever since I've been on my own blog but I feel like I really needed the break. I just feel overwhelmed with life right now in general and sometimes I need to just admit that and do something about it. 

So I took a mini break. Did I get rest and relaxation? No, but I was able to take a few things off my plate for a few days and in the life of a mom, I guess that's the same thing as rest and relaxation, am I right?

Make Me Yours - Melanie Harlow

He’s my brother’s best friend.

The hot single dad next door.

And one accidental sext later, my massive crush on him is no longer a secret.

It’s my own damn fault. I’m thirty years old, for heaven’s sake. I’m a kindergarten teacher and a (reasonably) responsible adult. I should know better than to get tipsy and draft a fake text listing all the dirty things I wish Officer Cole Mitchell would do to me.

I wasn’t supposed to hit send.

He wasn’t supposed to see it.

And he definitely wasn’t supposed to text back telling me to go on . . .

Because after that, things escalate quickly.

Cole is everything I’ve ever wanted. He’s sexy and protective. A devoted father to his little girl. A dedicated cop the whole town adores. The kind of guy you can trust to keep his hands to himself, even when you’re desperately hoping he won’t.

I’m not the girl he thought he’d end up with, but after all this time, I might finally get the chance to say the words I’ve always dreamed of . . . make me yours.
If you remember way back in August, I reviewed Drive Me Wild, which is book one in this series so this is book two. We pick up where Drive Me Wild leaves us (though this can be read as a stand-alone, don't worry), Blair and Griffin are getting married. Griffin's younger sister Cheyenne is a local elementary school teacher, living at home to regroup after a series of terrible breakups. Practically next door is Cole, Griffin's best friend, who is a single dad after his high school sweetheart wife died during the birth of their daughter, and is living at home to also regroup. 

Cheyenne babysits for Cole's daughter periodically so they've grown quite close and though Cheyenne adores her, she really adores Cole. She has since she was 13 and just never acted on it because it wasn't the right time and frankly, she's a bit of a chicken. What she doesn't know is that Cole is starting to see her differently but he feels like she's completely off bounds because he's best friends with her brother but also, he isn't sure if he's ready to move on from his wife and is hyper-focused on being the best parent he can since he's the only one his daughter has left. 

This is a trope I sometimes struggle with because it's a taboo/out of reach romance, they decide to get together, something happens to jeopardize it all, and then happy ever after. It's too cookie cutter and I just... I get bored. While this one almost had me bored, the fact that these characters were so... normal, I guess, really helped. They felt like real people, with real feelings and responses, and I could understand Cheyenne's feelings on not wanting to be the one to push. I could also understand Cole's fears about being alone, or going through the pain of loss again. 

Overall? I really liked this one, it was an entertaining read while on an airplane, though the guy next to me was CLEARLY reading over my shoulder and was pretty uncomfortable during the phone sex pages and serves him right. HA! I loved coming back to this greater cast of characters, I can't wait to see how the other relationships play out (I have an idea of what book three has in store and THAT is the one I'm excited for!), but I also love that this had real emotion in it, it made the ending so much sweeter. 

Thank you to Melanie Harlow and Social Butterfly PR for having me on this tour! I am so glad this is what I had as my traveling read, it made the ridiculous layover a little more bearable. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Life is random and sometimes hard but sometimes OK

I know that these are the days we miss when everyone grows up. I know that. 

It's really hard to appreciate all of the days that I don't feel well, having to parent four children and function throughout the day is so hard some days. Some days I'm OK and I can do it. Others I really struggle and I just hope my kids look back and still think they had a good childhood. I just hope they end up OK. 

Most days everyone wants to be on me, which I suppose is a sign they like me, right? Twinky is a highly affectionate dog and he wants to cuddle someone all of the time. Between him and the two littles, I always have someone on me. Always. 
On the way to school a few weeks ago I was really stunned by the sun, it was so bright. The sky was just right so we could really see it and it looked like a ball of fire in the sky. I would have looked longer but I had to keep going and get kids to school on time. 
Batman, our last remaining cat, sits between the tub and the shower curtain. All of the time. It's so strange because there aren't water drips for him to watch, he's just.... sitting there. 
I am still working on hanging pictures up on the wall and I am always getting baby Penelope and baby Lucy things mixed up. Honestly, they look so similar. I'm probably mixing photos up of the two. (If you by chance know which is which here, let me know because I'm not actually sure. I should write the name on the back once I figure it out.)
Olivia and Jackson really struggled on making Christmas lists for me this year. They eventually gave them to me and I am working on our Christmas shopping. I am probably going to do the rest by shopping online because Covid cases are really spiking here. My poor mailman. 
About a month ago I found the PERFECT cabinet in the window of a thrift store. We have been looking for something small that fits my crockpot, lunch boxes, random sized things, but fits in this very small spot, AND can be a catch-all for keys and such. 

And here it is! I'll have to take a picture of it in the space but it is perfect and it was even painted a color that matches my kitchen decor, so that's nice!
Lucy LOVES to play with Play-doh and she nicely showed me what my boobies look like. Isn't that lovely? * sarcasm *
All of my Christmas stuff is up around the house. I have trees everywhere, I'll have to take pictures of them because they are lovely. I've got my cinnamon candle because it's my favorite. I also remembered I cannot for the life of me use a regular lighter and I cannot tell you how many times I have burned myself. 
Also, the outdoor illumination is up. Matt was less than pleased at my superior sale radar and even less pleased that I got it all in the back seat. This doesn't include the 9 foot inflatable penguins on top of presents I had in the trunk. I am really hoping I can find deals on more because I'm all about outdoor Christmas decorations. 
I also found these at Target and I had to hold myself back with only one bag. Cinnamon candy is also my jam but I also like spearmint. I'm not a fan of peppermint so much, but spearmint is where it's at.  
I also got my first box of Christmas goodies in the mail from my friend Lauren! I have packages to mail and hand deliver and I'm slowly getting those out. I started writing our family Christmas letter but I'm having a hard time remembering what we even did. I mean, pandemic had us in the house and frankly, we haven't done much, I guess. 

Our schools are going virtual until January sometime so I'm hoping we can go back. The distance learning is kind of going OK for us right now but knowing we are possibly looking at a long term situation is pretty damn depressing. I'm trying to hang in there, though. As usual. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Halloween That Broke Me

I'm not trying to be dramatic with the title, but it really feels like Halloween is going to be the event I look back on to say, this is it- this is where I lost my actual mind. It wasn't the start of the pandemic, it wasn't even summer. It was Halloween.  

Halloween was supposed to be OK. I really debated for weeks on what we were going to do. I chickened out and didn't buy tickets for Boo at the Zoo. I bought costumes and I bought candy to hand out thinking maybe we would go out. In the end, I chickened out because I was afraid we'd get sick but also, I was afraid numbers city wide would spike and we'd be virtual schooling so I thought I would do my part. 

So my shark, Golden Armor Wonder Woman, teenager, and tween panda all stayed home in the end. 
I solidly convinced them that staying home, staying up late to watch movies, eat candy, and hang out would be WAY cooler than trick or treating in the wind. The big kids were in charge of handing candy out to people who came and everyone who did come got handfuls, several handfuls of candy, from us. We watched Hocus, Pocus and, fight me if you must, but I think that movie is stupid. Penelope agreed with me and she's basically always right. The big kids and I made pom pom's (more on that in a different post) and it was fine. 

It was a fine Halloween. 

Fast forward a week or so later and, SHOCKER, Covid numbers county wide spiked because people didn't social distance, had Halloween parties, hanging out at the bars, doing all of the things we would do on a regular Halloween. So now? 

Now we're virtual schooling until at least the end of November but I'm not stupid and I don't realistically think numbers will go down to safer levels until the end of January at best so here we are. 
It is really as bad as I thought/knew it would be. Granted, it is far more organized than it was in the spring and I am so thankful our school district is as great as it is. I have zero time for people who critique our district like they do because ours is great. It's organized, everyone is doing their best, there are systems in place, and staff at all levels are working their asses off.

When I see people who are "I worry about the mental health of people" on social media? You need to worry about me. I am the mental health issue. I am barely making it. If you ask me how you can help or what I need? I need someone to do it for me. Let me sleep and be alone because that's the extent of what I'm capable of right now. 
Olivia and Jackson are doing great, but they are pretty responsible and great all on their own so I had no worries. Both are keeping great grades, I get nothing but compliments from teachers and it is totally fine. No worries. 

Penelope... I think the problem with Penelope is she is impatient and too smart. That is kind of a dangerous combination in general but when you're in a virtual learning environment, it is pretty awful. 

Day one she was all about it. She has a computer from school, the novelty of doing things on the computer hasn't worn off, and it is all fun and exciting. Day two until now (which is literally only a week, it's only been a full week) and she's over it. She's bored, I have to bribe/fight her to get on, let alone participate. We take all of the screen breaks, we do activities, I've had crafts set up during break time so she doesn't get bored. We've gone outside, we've done exercise, we've had snacks, we've played toys, we've listened to music, etc. It all goes meh until I say, "a few minutes left and then we will get ready for writing/math/etc" and all hell breaks loose. She cries, screams, throws her body wherever, it is not pretty. 
We've had some highlights, like gym class, art, and music. Those have been OK. Granted, we've only had one class of each over the week so far so it's early yet. She flies through her work and worksheets. She refuses to write, she refuses to add to a picture and says, "you can't force creativity, MOM!" and just imagine she's screaming it because that's what it is. 

It's so hard. 
Meanwhile I've got Lucy who would do school, in any form, 24/7. She wants more and more. I've been finding things for her to do but at the same time, I can only do so much with her because I'm forever trying to get Penelope to sit down and focus. We've tried different rooms in the house, having someone sit with her the entire time, its just a struggle. 
No joke I asked Matt how against pulling them from school all together he was and he didn't say no.... but it's not like he wholeheartedly agreed, either. 
Plus Lucy loves it and is fully engaged. She's even doing well with virtual speech therapy so I'm hopeful that continues. *knock on wood*

In the meantime, I'm just over here crying all day on breaks. I'm so over all of it. I'm sick of things being the way they are, I'm sick of people saying we all need to get sick and build immunities because they are so stupid and I just can't anymore. The fact that people who barely passed high school science classes think they know more about viruses and herd immunity than say, lifelong career scientists, is beyond me. 

Beyond. 
I'm just trying to get through this week. We are flying to Florida to see my family next week. We have reasons for going, and I'm not sharing it here, but know that if I felt like we had other options, I'd take them. It is not ideal, I am scared shitless, I haven't slept in days because I am terrified of getting sick but equally terrified any of our little family will get sick, but we are taking every precaution. It's a quick trip, we are quarantining afterwards, and I'm hoping for the best. So, think good thoughts for us. 

Because we're also flying there, like I mentioned, and the little girls have never been on a plane so yay. I'm THRILLED. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Book Review: Hell and High Water

I have had quite a few days and I feel like I'm completely clueless and I don't have my life together. I mean, I probably don't, but I like to pretend I totally do. Our school has switched to virtual classes for the rest of November and I am on day two and yeah... it's fun. *sarcasm* The great thing is that we are in a great school district and my kids all have amazing teachers so it could definitely be worse. The struggles aren't because of them, it is fully me. I was telling someone that I just can't prioritize and organize things like a normal person so I am anxious all day thinking I'm really messing things up (even though I'm not... I don't think) and then I get more anxious because now I feel late to things, etc. It's terrible. I'm a mess. HA!

Hell and High Water - Keenan Powell

Alaskan attorney Maeve Malloy isn’t sure she’s cut out to be a lawyer anymore. She takes a kitchen job at a remote lodge, hiding her past from her new friends. Just as a storm rolls in, a tourist is murdered. With no escape or rescue in sight, the police ask Maeve to investigate. Her cover is blown and her new friends aren’t so friendly anymore. To find the killer, she must expose their deepest secrets, sort lies from truth, love from hate, and the innocent from the guilty.
Disclaimer- this is book 3 in the Maeve Malloy Mystery and I haven't read books 1 and 2, and while it isn't important, I think it would be beneficial. Hell and High Water starts with Maeve, a disgraced former lawyer, picking up her life and going to Alaska to work in a lodge and reevaluate her life. I really wish I had read books 1 and 2 because I wanted to know how she got to this point and I felt like maybe I missed some key pieces of her personality. 

Even with that, I really liked this book. I was drawn in immediately, and the author does a fabulous job at keeping you invested in the story and it really was nonstop momentum throughout. It didn't have unnecessary fluffy filler (which is a huge pet peeve of mine, don't make a story long for the sake of being long) and I felt like I couldn't put it down, I just wanted to know who the heck our killer was. But I also found myself really rooting for Maeve because she's a really flawed character but I don't know, I feel like we all feel the way she did at some point in our lives. 

I also really liked that she was a recovering alcoholic and I think the author did a great job writing from that perspective. As someone who doesn't drink because I just don't want to, I really understand some of Maeve's feelings. There was a moment early on where someone bumps into her and spills a little beer on her and that was an issue for her. She wasn't rude and didn't say anything but she had to change her shirt because just the smell could be challenging for her. I think it was things like that really nailed the character profile. 

I loved the Alaskan setting, I really don't know why that isn't a more commonly used setting, it's perfectly moody. It's kind of depressing (sorry, Alaskan friends, it really is), and it is a perfect read as we head into colder months and our moods are heading down, you really feel like you're a part of the story. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour, but also Keenan Powell and Level Best Books for getting me a copy for review. If you are looking for a cozy mystery to get into, I highly suggest this one!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Book Review: Drives of a Lifetime

How are you all doing? Are you hanging in there? I feel like I'm barely hanging on and honestly, this world is just too much sometimes. I had therapy today and I really needed it. I'm not any better but at least I have some coping mechanisms to try and I feel like I'm not losing my mind. Well, I am, but at least I don't feel crazy about it. We are going on a "vacation" to see my parents and grandparents at the end of November but it's not really going to be a vacation. We might get to do something fun but no touristy things for us thanks to Covid. We also aren't driving because we don't have the time but I love road trips! When I saw this book up for review I knew I had to read it because my greatest hope is someday I will be old and be able to just road trip and see things. 

Drives of a Lifetime - National Geographic

Compiled from the favorite trips of National Geographic's legendary travel writers, Drives of a Lifetime spans the globe to reveal the best celebrated and lesser-known road trips on the planet. Inside this fully updated and revised edition--featuring more than 20 new drives--you'll find routes through spectacular landscapes, ideas for quick getaways, leisurely journeys of discovery, and revelations of secret worlds beyond Google Maps. Some are legendary long-distance odysseys; others are easy day trips close to home, taking you down charming local byways. All will inspire you to pack up the car and hit the road. The possibilities are endless: Take Colorado's San Juan Skyway for a 10,000-foot climb over towering mountain passes. Or travel the ancient Silk Road on an expedition across Central Asia and through time. Or why not drive the perimeter of Puerto Rico, a tropical paradise with many beaches along the way? Whatever your taste and budget, you'll find plenty of routes tailored to your interests. Alongside detailed descriptions, full-color maps guide the way and planning tips help you make the most of your journey; top 10 lists offer quick, easy side trip ideas. Beautiful, informative, and inspiring, this luxurious volume is a lifelong resource that readers will treasure.
I think we can all agree we are in desperate need for a vacation. Literally anywhere at this point that isn't a hot bed for coronavirus. I don't even need great food, I'll take a juice box and a bag of chips at this point if it means I can get myself to the beach. Sadly, that's not going to be the case for awhile. 

Raise your hand though if you love vacations but you can't always afford to fly somewhere. Maybe you would rather stay in your country because you only have a week of time to use but you just have to get out of your city, that's where a road trip really comes in handy. I have a family of six, two adults and four kids ranging from ages 4-15, so I know that the cost of travel can be astronomical just getting there and back, letting alone being able to do anything at  your destination. We've found that a great way to travel is by car. I know, you're like, "NO WAY" and I'm saying yes way! Traveling by car is so much fun because while you're saving money from not flying by plane, you're avoiding layovers and lost luggage, but you're also seeing the country around you from a new perspective. You might even see quirky roadside attractions along the way! 

If you're in the market for trying a road trip but you aren't sure where to start, Drives of a Lifetime is what you need to pick up. It has 500 of the world's greatest road trips so no matter where you are in the world, or where you're going, you can find an adventure in this book. 

The book has eight sections: Hills & Mountains, By Sea & Shore, Rivers, Valleys & Canyons, The Road Less Traveled, Village Byways, Urban Excursions, Driving Through History, and Gourmet Road Trips that you can get lost in. I really enjoyed Hills & Mountains and By Sea & Shore the best because that's the kind of scenery I like to look at as we go. I also really liked Driving Through  History because I like to learn and see things from history while on my trips. 

If I had to give a little improvement in future editions, I wish the book was broken down by continent as well. For example, I got pulled into a photo (because I'm a photo junky and those sell me) of The Garden Route and yup- it is in South Africa. While the route looks and sounds amazing, the likelihood I'll find myself with a car in South Africa is fairly slim. 

If you are a foodie the Gourmet Road Trip section has every dream vacation you could think of. Truly. I am the exact opposite of a foodie so none of those appealed to me but I do have friends who would indulge quite a bit on that one! 

Surprisingly, two of the trips featured in the book are routes right in my own backyard! One of the road trips that is on my bucket list one summer is the Lake Superior Circle Tour but I have to get passports for us before I can do that because you go up into Canada for a few sections.
The North Shore Loop is featured in the book and it was so fun to see our little area featured! The best part about these sections is that it really does give you things to do while you're driving that you'll be going right past. It gives you the best times to go, important information, the roads/distance/driving time it'll take you and everything. If you take this one, let me know and I'll give you food recommendations along the way!
Also in my backyard is the Wisconsin's North Woods section. I live at the starting point, Superior, Wisconsin and I can tell you this is a beautiful drive! It briefly mentions Copper Falls State Park and truly, if you get the chance to drive this, stop and go around that park. It has several waterfalls and the trail is a perfect loop around and you will be glad that you stopped. Don't forget to stop for candy in Hayward, either!

Overall I really loved this book, it made my wanderlust a little stronger, that's for sure. If you are looking for a gift idea for the travel enthusiast in your life, this is definitely a great idea, pair it with a gas gift card or a cool road trip organization thing and you've got the perfect gift. (I once got these organizers that hang on the back of your seat and I love them!!) 

Thank you to National Geographic and TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour! These are maybe my favorite books to review because I like learning about new places of course, but it also gives me crazy ideas for our next family vacation... thankfully my family are good sports and go with the flow for me. 

If you could road trip anywhere, where would you go? 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Book Review: School Squad (The Popularity Pact #2)

 


School Squad - Eileen Moskowitz-Palma

Picking up where The Popularity Pact: Camp Clique left off, the second book in this exciting duology finds former best friends Bea and Maisy preparing for the new school year. Bea kept up her end of the bargain, getting Maisy "in" with the girls at camp. Now it's Maisy's turn to fulfill her promise to ingratiate Bea with the popular girls. When Bea is accepted into this new inner circle, she begins to lose sight of what true friendship is all about. As Bea seems prepared to sacrifice anything to be "cool," Maisy realizes there's more to life than hanging out with a bunch of mean girls. Can she convince Bea that the popularity pact was a mistake? Can these former friends find their way back to each other?
I normally don't post on the weekends, as you know, but I have so many great books in October that I just have to talk about so aren't you lucky?! I feel like it has been awhile since I've showcased a middle grade book and the holidays are coming- this is a perfect series to get started on for anyone ages 8-12 for sure. Especially girls. Girls will totally get the stories and they will be able to relate to the characters. The authors does a great job making these characters realistic to make the reader feel like they are in this middle school trying to fit in with the M&M's. 

You definitely need to read book one, Camp Clique, because that is where Maisy and Bea meet but the start of the popularity pact happens, and you need to know about that before you get into this one. I mean, I guess if you HAD to, I guess it could be a stand alone, but if I was going to purchase this as a gift, just get both. 

The best part about these books is that it isn't just fluff about wanting to be popular and dealing with middle school AND middle school cliques, these books also touch on real life issues that kids are facing everywhere. We have one girl dealing with a parent who is addicted to drugs and fresh from rehab, and struggling with feelings about that. We also have another girl who has parents are divorcing but also moving forward with new relationships and that's confusing and difficult. Both girls are feeling overlooked and in very different ways, they have the same feelings in common. I loved how complex their characters, and individual stories, were and it made me stay with this book. As a mom to teenagers and younger, this had me nodding my head because this is EXACTLY how kids are. Truly. You can hardly get mad at the sometimes awful things they do because they have valid reasons and it seems completely rational to them. 

I really enjoyed this one and if you are a third, fourth, or fifth grade teacher or librarian? This would be such a great book to have on your classroom or library shelf, no doubt. It would be such a great read especially for a child who is maybe struggling with middle school transition, or changes in friend groups, or maybe just struggling with being this weird tween age, they will really identify with one (or both) of the girls in this story. 

A huge thank you to Running Press Kids, Eileen Moskowitz-Palma, and Kathleen Carter Communications for having me on this tour, I am so glad I got to see what part two for Bea and Maisy played out! 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Book Review: Family Reference Atlas of the World

I am kind of loving the fact I have read, what I'm pretty sure, is my record number of non-fiction books in one year! It doesn't hurt that I have read some really great National Geographic ones (my favorite) and this is one of them.

Family Reference Atlas of the World

National Geographic

This exquisitely updated edition of National Geographic's popular and reader-friendly Family Reference Atlas features authoritative maps, detailed artwork, and explanatory graphics--an indispensable source of information for inquiring minds, young and old. In these richly illustrated pages, every country in the world is represented by a detailed map within its geographical context and also its flag, key statistics, and secondary maps with environmental and population information. Special sections feature maps and facts about the ocean, the solar system, and the universe beyond. Newsworthy topics from climate change and human migration to languages and digital connectivity are explained in maps, graphics, and photos. Fully indexed, and written to engage all ages, this indispensable atlas belongs in every family library.
Do you remember being in elementary school and hauling one of the huge reference books off the library shelf and just going through it totally amazed? That is exactly how I felt going through this one. I remember loving globes and running my hand over the globe and feeling all of the ridges and being amazed at the Earth and the globe made me feel both like I could see it all but also that I couldn't possibly see it all. 

Of course National Geographic is known for amazing photography and this book does not disappoint in this book. The book is divided twelve real sections (Changing Planet, Wildlife and Wild Places, The Human Journey, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Oceania, Antarctica, Oceans, and Space), of course there is an appendix and index but those aren't sections I get excited about. 

Anything about the ocean is the first section I gravitate to because I'm a Pisces, and this was fascinating. I didn't realize there were so many seas, but what blew my mind? Did you know the fifth ocean, Antarctic Ocean isn't for sure an agreed on ocean?! AM I THE ONLY ONE FEELING DUMB?? I always thought that was a for sure thing, but now I feel like I've been lied to my whole life. Ha! Aside from that, I loved the maps of the oceans that shows you just how deep they are in different parts of the world, and it goes to show how little we know about them. 

Let's also geek out over space, OK? I am always so fascinated by space, it is my second favorite section, but I am also so completely confused by it. I just can't wrap my head around the concept of it, I guess. I feel like everything has boundaries... like a box- there has to be a side, a top, a bottom, etc. Space has none of that and I feel like... there has to be SOMETHING. But then... what would be beyond that? I mean, I'm right here. I have a house around me. My house sits in a city, that sits in a state, in a country, in a continent, in a hemisphere, on a planet, in a solar system, etc.... what is beyond THAT? Does it just go forever? That is what I can't wrap my head around but dang it if I don't like to read about it and get more confused. 

Another random thing I liked learning about? Earth's freshwater. Totally random, right? Well I live on Lake Superior, which is in a watershed called the Mississippi-Missouri and one of the world's 10 largest watersheds. The book is full of amazing maps and if you have kids, eventually they will be assigned a science assignment that will have you digging for information and this would be an amazing resource to start from. I love having books like this around my house because someone always picks them up and finds themselves paging through it for a long time. They also make the BEST gifts! 

A huge thank you to National Geographic and TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review. I am always so excited to get one of Nat Geo's books because I find myself going through them multiple times because I enjoy them so much.