Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Secret Santa Claus Club- REVIEW

I hope your holiday season is going swimmingly and you're totally on the ball with all of your to-dos! I know some parents struggle on what to do when you have a child whho maybe is on the verge of not believing in Santa Claus or are straight away asking you questions. Some parents just don't know what to say, but today's book is a great resource!

Secret Santa Claus Club - Jeff Janke

Why do we spend so much time and effort creating a fairytale world for our children, just to take it away from them? Author Jeff Janke faced that dilemma three years ago when his daughter started questioning her belief in Santa Claus. Like most parents, he had two problems to solve--how to gently teach his child the true meaning of Christmas, and how to prevent her from spoiling the fairytale for other children. Out of this problem, Secret Santa Claus Club was born.

Secret Santa Claus Club is a beautifully illustrated story about a little girl thinking back on the magic of each Christmas. She remembers meeting Santa at the mall and seeing her first bike under the tree on Christmas morning. As time goes on, she starts to wonder if it's all real. When she decides she's ready to know the truth--her parents help guide her to the true meaning of the holiday.

Secret Santa Claus Club was written to be a tool for parents during these challenging moments. Combined with love, patience, and compassion, SSCC will help transition the reader from believing to becoming. At the end of the story, your child will be invited to join Secret Santa Claus Club. They'll understand the importance of keeping the secret, creating the magic for believers, and helping other members of the club.

My youngest children, 8 and 7, still believe in Santa but my older two, 18 and 15, don't. I remember fielding the questions about Santa and being so nervous I was going to say the wrong thing and ruin all of their best Christmas memories. Luckily for me it was right around the time my 8 year old was being born so I could use the "now it's your turn to be a Santa" and I included them in with gift giving for others. My 15 year old is currently in charge of our Elf on the Shelf and he gets really into it, last year making an elaborate sleigh out of popsicle sticks. But even still, every year they still get Santa gifts. 

I love that this book takes that same idea, that once you're old enough, you too can become a Santa. IT talks about the meaning of Christmas and the idea that a lot of thought goes into special gifts for someone and how we're Santa all year long. It encourages the loving, giving spirit towards others and talks about being a Santa Claus is a real responsibility. 

Overall this book is really well done. Beautiful illustrations, carefully thought out story that explains Santa in a gentle, loving way. There might be still be questions but this is an excellent starting point without worrying that you're going to hurt their heart. 

Thank you so much Jeff Janke for having me on this tour and giving us a wonderful story! 

You can enter below for your chance to win a copy of Secret Santa Claus Club and some swag!

Friday, October 13, 2023

Book Review: The Writing on the Wall

When I tell you that I haven't felt well and have slept through most of this week, that's no joke. Doing something like eating breakfast was exhausting, so I'd take a nap well into the afternoon and barely make it until my bedtime, which is normally 10. Then I'd sleep all the way through the night like I've never slept before. I feel generally run down and crappy, so I don't know if my body is fighting something off or I have something else going on. Regardless, it is annoying and I am so behind in everything. 

The Writing on the Wall - Marilyn Howard

This timely and entertaining memoir about a woman entrepreneur explores existing challenges and her winning strategies to conquer and succeed in the 1970s and today. The author portrays her youthful travel adventures, harrowing legal battles and romantic surprises. Her route winds around a semester in Italy, breaking through a glass ceiling as art director at an advertising agency, skiing in Aspen, wandering through Mexico, working in Hawaii and enjoying group houses in the Hamptons before beginning her startup and family. New territory was charted in 1970 with the founding of Creative Freelancers Inc., the first central agency for freelance commercial artists and writers. It operated in Manhattan for over 25 years and in 1997 it was the first agency on the web. A late marriage to an older, sophisticated New York man made her a mother to two of her own children and three surprise stepdaughters. Finding herself with a family needing support and great business potential, she was pressured to make the business grow. Events converge and uncanny predictions come true.
A fascinating look at how the author became an entrepreneur and all of the successes (and failures) since the very beginning. I'm not sure if its sad or reassuring that things have been remarkably the same but also very different. Yay for consistency? 

One thing I could really relate to was her journey into motherhood while maintaining a career. A man is never asked if he plans to stay home with the baby, its just assumed a woman would give up her career once the baby is born. For this reason alone this book is such an encouraging read for any new mother, whether she stays home or not, because it is so easy to lose your identity to motherhood and we are so much more than that. Just because we become a mother doesn't mean we give up all of our interests and ambitions, we just have to adjust and make room for all of it. I could relate to the struggles of a baby who was a lot, both my first and third baby were a lot. A lot, a lot, and I remember crying many times because I just didn't know how to take care of them. I really felt like I was failing. I was good at so much but why can't I be good at this? Needless to say, I wish I had a Vi. (Vi is a nanny of sorts, a woman of many talents.) I loved her description of the different stages of parenting, and I feel like I'm in all of them at once right now! She offers helpful advice and a new perspective on parenting I hadn't yet considered. 

Highly motivating, this is a positive and encouraging book for women, and teach you how to say no and when to say yes. It's great for career focused women, parenting/family focused women, and the women who are going to do it all. No matter which path you take, Marilyn Howard assures you that its the best path for you and that you've got this. 

Thank you to WOW! Women on Writing and author Marilyn Howard for having me on this tour and providing a copy for review! All opinions are my own. 

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Summer of Concerts

I feel like I went to almost all of the big concerts that came near us this summer. I missed Pink, and I'm sad about that because she's great live, but concerts are expensive and you just can't do them all. I still have the Eagles to see in November, and Aerosmith but that's pushed back to 2024 and honestly, I don't hate that. I am kind of concert'ed out.  

In....I don't even know, maybe August, I say The Lumineers with Olivia and her friends. I hadn't ever seen them live and I know a few of their songs, so I was pretty sure I'd have a good time. Can we talk about the ridiculous road construction in Somerset, Wisconsin? It's terrible. They have little to no detours so you're just left to figure it out yourself. I also remembered I hate festival parking. I hadn't been to Somerset in YEARS and I forgot you park in a field. During the day time it isn't a big deal because you can see where you are. At night though, you can't find your car and you realize all of your land marker clues are useless because it looks the same no matter where you are in the field. The great news is my car has distinctive lights and a horn that doesn't sound like everyone elses, otherwise we would have had to wait until the majority of cars left. 

I also forgot how much have 300+ cars trying to get out of one exit when at least half are drunk or at least partially impaired sucks. It is an absolute free for all and you're forced to play chicken with everyone around you. You also have to have stellar peripheral vision because at least one Subaru barreling through the crowd will narrowly miss hitting you. 

Despite parking and driving shenanigans, it was a really good concert. It was perfect weather, a totally clear night, and quite possibly, the most perfect night to have an outdoor concert. 
I also discovered I absolutely love the Lumineers and didn't even know it. They sang all of the things I knew, Olivia and her friends had an absolutely great time. 
Thank god the drive home was much less eventful once I got out of the damn parking lot. It was a late night and it took me a few days to recover. I'm not in my 20s anymore. Sadly. 
In September, Matt and I went to the Twin Cities to see Old Dominion. These tickets were super cheap, for great seats, so I figured a date night was in order. 
Our old asses ended up leaving early because its a two and half hour drive home. It was fine, we still got a bunch of hours to hang out without kids. Shout out to Cass for holding down the fort when we were gone. 
Oh! Let me just say I left the concert absolutely loving "Priscilla like Presley, Block like Party" because she was such a fun time. She has a great live voice and her stage personna was so much fun. 
The last of the summer concerts was 50 Cent, which I was a reluctant attendee. I didn't plan on going to this but a last minute in who was going, but it worked out just fine. Busta Rhymes was the opener and he talked far too much and seemingly did cocaine while on stage. Not even slick about it, and then starts talking about his 15 year old son in attendance. Which, stellar parenting. *eye roll* 

I wasn't sure what to expect with 50 Cent but you know what? He was GREAT. I have all of his albums so I knew all the songs, he sounded great, he looked great, it was a super fun night. 
We left before the last song so we could get ahead of traffic and not get stuck in the parking ramp, and the drive home was pretty uneventful and just fine. I felt good and didn't feel like death the next day, so that was really nice. 

The last concert of the year is The Eagles, and that one is with Jackson, and I won't even tell you how much those tickets cost. Lets just say I would never, but Jackson had money, he loves this band, and it is their farewell tour and he had real FOMO. That concert isn't until November though, so I've got time to pregame it. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Back to School 2023-2024

I feel like we've had a really great, long summer, and it felt like more than three months. We managed to get a ton of concerts, two road trips, a county fair, swimming in our pool, and lots of yard play. It was a pretty great summer, but like every year, school has begun. 

Olivia is a senior this year and I'm not even ready for it. She's ready for it though and it is so exciting to see all of her hard work all of these years coming to an end. She's gearing up for new adventures, but I hope she enjoys this year to the absolute fullest. Jackson is a sophomore and he's going to be learning how to drive this year and that feels weird to me. I'm actually excited about that because that kid needs freedom and that's the gateway to freedom. 

Penelope is in third grade and she is READY. Multiplication and division is her biggest challenges this year but if anyone is up for it, it is most definitely her. Lucy is in second grade this year and she's nervous about it. It's so hard seeing her grow because I want her to stay little but it is also exciting seeing her hit new milestones. Now if she could just learn how to tie her shoes, we'd be set. 

It's exciting because Jackson is trying a new sport, Olivia is going to continue with dance, same with Lucy, and we might get Penelope into swimming. She needs to find an activity she feels fits her, we just haven't found it yet. 

I am hoping to get into good routines again now that everyone is in school. I need to get back into my weight loss routines, I need work on positive self talk, I need to get back into being mindful, and I really need to get back into doing kind things for others. I always due, but I think I need to do more, more often. I'm trying to make goals for each month and really work towards them, including budgeting. I'm doing well with that but you know, we can always do better. 

But fall is here, and I'm here for it. It's going to be a good fall. I'm trying to not let mental health get the best of me like it usually does, so stay tuned. It'll be OK. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

Summer of Concerts: Sam Smith

When I think back to the summer of 2023, the whole year actually, I will remember how many concerts we went to this year. I wouldn't trade it for anything, spending time with my teens is always great because the time is fleeting. Soon my oldest will be in college and it'll be so quiet. And weird.  

One of the concerts we went to this year was Sam Smith, which was a last minute ticket for us. There were seats for $25 so who is turning that down? I mean, really. 

Back in the day I could drive to St. Paul and back (it's about two and a half hours one way) with no problem. Now I have to pre-game and by pre-game I mean I have to take a nap knowing I won't get to go to bed at my usual time of 10pm. I'm old now and I don't even feel bad about it. On this day I didn't get my nap because I had appointments so by the time I got to the concert I was exhausted
The opener was Jessie Reyez who I wasn't familiar with, but she was pretty good. 
I've already seen Sam Smith live before and I know that he is a tremendous performer. With that said, I'm not a huge fan of this weird Gloria phase he's in, but you know, do you, booboo. 
Jackson isn't a huge fan but he's a fan of live music, but Olivia really likes Sam Smith, so she was all about this. 
It ended up being a great concert. We left with like five songs left but truly, I was fading fast and having to drive another two and a half hours in the dark was daunting. We were missing the newer stuff so I was OK with that. 

We had a good time though and I'm so surprised it wasn't sold out. He's a great live performer and if you get the chance to see him, especially at $25 for a seat, absolutely take advantage of that! The people watching alone was completely worth it. I'm always a fan of drunk people hanging over balconies and you're just wondering if they are going to go over or puke. It's really a toss up, you know? Either way, it's bonus entertainment. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Book Review: Ride or Die

 I can't believe I didn't post at all in August. We did go on our second road trip of the summer and then the back to school prep kind of took me out. I'm back now and with one of the best memoirs I've read in awhile, a husband's journey through grief. It isn't very long but oh so impactful. 

Ride or Die - Jarie Bolander

Modern society has a warped sense of the partner-caregiver role, especially for men. Too often, men are ill equipped to handle switching from provider to caregiver, and the “just suck it up” advice so many offer up falls as flat as the Kansas prairie in the face of the reality of life and death.

Ride or Die takes its audience through the intimate conversations and thoughts of a Gen-X latchkey-generation husband—a man who has always had to fend for himself and believed that it’s up to him to solve his own problems—as and after his wife, Jane, succumbs to a terminal disease.

Jarie Bolander wrote this raw, heartfelt tribute to Jane and her handling of her illness to help men and the people who love them through the experience of loss and grief. A frank chronicle of how an intimate relationship can change and grow—even when the people involved feel there is nothing left to give— Ride or Die offers a detailed exploration of the male experience of grief, in the hopes that others suffering through it will not feel so alone.
Right off the bat, this reminded me of Matt and I. Sure, I don't have cancer and I am not dead, but it just struck me that this could have been Matt. And though I am not dealing with cancer, after having Lucy I haven't been anywhere near the same. I'm left with a multitude of ailments and illnesses and complications that are here for the rest of my days and that's meant that Matt had to change, too. Where I was once overachieving working and PTO mom, volunteering us left and right and going out of my way to help everyone while maintaining a perfect home and cooked meals everyday, I am now that absolute opposite. It is hard to get out of bed, I'm not volunteering anywhere, I'm not working, I had to quit the PTO, my house is a mess and I can't cook to save my life. But, like the author mentions, "the sickness and health" seems like an abstract thought until you're hip deep into it. 

In Ride or Die, we follow Jarie at the unexpected start of a cancer battle with his wife, Jane. We know she doesn't survive so its a real arc and you feel like you're on this journey with them. I absolutely loved this book and read it in one sitting because I couldn't stop. Jane reminded me so much of myself and Jarie reminded me of Matt, except I don't know that Matt would have even offered to keep my business afloat! 
Me, fresh out of the ICU, and Matt- August 2016

I really loved the circle of friends Jane and Jarie had and how in their own way, each one rallied to support them even in the darker days. Jane was the strongest woman battling leukemia and I'd like to think I can understand what her frustrations were maybe like having been an everything to everyone woman myself and knowing I can't do it, but I want to, that need never shuts off in your brain. You still have those expectations of yourself despite being unable to do it, which makes you feel bad and guilty. So for her to battle that, and leukemia, at the same time is just remarkable. I'd like to think she'd be proud of her husband for everything he did for and around her. 

I highly recommend this one, it's powerful and just heartbreaking, but a true testament to love. Big thank you to SparkPoint Press for inviting me on this book tour, all thoughts are my own. 

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Friday, July 28, 2023

Book Review: The Wolf and the Wildflower

 You know how I always say I forget that I love historical romance until I'm reading it? Yeah, I'm no longer saying that. I keep reaching for historical romance and I'm not hating it. This one was such a fun, and unique, read. 

The Wolf and the Wildflower - Stacy Reid

London is buzzing with the news that James Winters, the Duke of Wulverton—thought lost at sea a decade ago—survived in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon. Now he’s been returned to his family, his responsibilities, and a nightmarish world of artifice and noise. He has three weeks to become a refined, elegant duke for the Queen…or doom the entire family to ruin and scandal.

Promising psychologist Jules Southby knows a lot about disguises. She’s secretly been living as a boy since birth, enjoying the freedoms of men and knowing little about how to behave like a woman. When she meets the alluring duke, she’s unprepared for his raw, masculine beauty and icy intelligence…or that he can see through her darkest secret.

Jules has very little time to transform the duke into a true semblance of an English gentleman. Yet his very presence seems to unravel her in every way. Their attraction is stark and achingly real—and forbidden. But loving the lost duke would mean losing every sacrifice she’s made to earn her freedom…
Let me just get into this, James was lost in the wilderness for ten years so when he makes his miraculous return, its imperative that he find a duchess. In his family's preparation of his return to the haute ton, the Duchess of Wulverton (his mother) hires a psychologist and his son Jules to come in and evaluate James' abilites. Is he crazy? Is he feral? Is he able to look and act normally?

The psychologist's son, Jules, is a promising student who is hopefully following his father's footsteps to someday take over his promise. Jules is immediately taken with the duke and the duke can seemingly sniff out Jules' secret. Jules isn't a man after all, she's a woman in a manly disguise who is fooling her father and hopefully, society. How does a dad not know his son is a daughter? That's a great question answered immediately in the book. 

The love affair between James and Jules is quite adorable and promising. I really loved the romance, and I loved the duke's frankness. The story ultimately requires both James and Jules to decide, are they willing to drop all pretenses and the life they know to hang onto their love, or is the life they've made and what comes with it more important? Even though I knew exactly what the climax was going to be, I was only partially right and for that I am grateful. I really enjoyed this one!

Thank you to Entangled Publishing for sending me a copy for review, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Stacy Reid does it again, I can't wait to read what she does next! 

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