Monday, July 6, 2020

Summer at the Strand's


Summer at the Strand's is pretty much the same every year. We don't have a cabin, we don't have a bunch of people at our house coming over, we don't have trails or a lake to adventure on. 

What we do have is our little pool, a swing set, and a butterfly cage. There is your proof that you need very little to entertain four kids. 

Every year Olivia becomes The Butterfly Whisperer and she grows a ton of butterflies. I always feel like we should be keeping a tally of how many she grows successfully and releases into the world. She knows their cycle by heart and with the help of her grandpa she has learned a lot about predators and everything that can go wrong with them and what to do. Every week or so she walks down to a place that has milkweed and she looks for new caterpillars and milkweed, brings them home and starts the process. 
We are pretty close to the first butterflies coming out and drying their wings, but until then, Penelope and Lucy are obsessed with every stage of this. 
They watch Olivia all the time and are forever asking to hold them and constantly bugging her about them. It's kind of a cool science/nature project the kids take on. 
I am SO GLAD our pool survived the winter in the shed at the old house, and made it through the move, without getting a hole in it because that would have really sucked. Pools are basically nonexistent anywhere and the ones you can find are outrageously priced. We were going to get a bigger one this year but maybe we'll do that next year because bigger is not happening this year. 
It's fine though because all four kids (and sometimes Matt) can get in the pool. It's not deep by any means, but when it is 90 degrees I suppose it doesn't really matter, right? The kids have spent so much time in it this year so we're getting our money out of it. 
Of course I don't have a finished picture of it, but this summer we did buy a new play set for the yard. It had been on the list even at the old house but we just never got around to it. Then we moved and ended up leaving the swing set for the new owners (who had kids), so that was the catalyst for the purchase this year. 
We also didn't count on corona either so it took awhile to get here, so that was fun. (We also ordered a trampoline that we couldn't buy last summer because they were sold out, so when one became available in February, I bought it. The shipping said we'll get it between July and October, so we aren't even counting on it at this point. Ha!) 

Matt and I have been toying at the idea of buying a smaller RV (like a class C, probably) so we can go camping (easier) or be able to go places with the kids. It has always been a someday thing but with 'rona, traveling is hard when you have to social distance and hotels just don't feel safe at all, and I'm kind of paranoid at this point. 

If you have an RV, give me your tips! We're just researching and trying to learn about what we would need so we can know realistically what we're looking at budget wise. Give me alllll your information. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

FINALLY! The Craft Room-Library-Office tour!

I'm going to warn you, this is a picture heavy post and I am going to try to explain each one. If you have any questions, or want more information, let me know and I'll do my best!

I also need to mention that Matt made this room from scratch. This room is in the corner of the basement which didn't have any walls or anything. The room next to it is our bedroom, which he also made, so he did a LOT of work on this. 

Ready?
As you walk up to the door, this is your view. Not only do I have a door, but I have a door that LOCKS. Granted, I'm directly under Penelope and Lucy's room, and the bathroom, and it isn't soundproof so I won't be blaring music or talking loudly down here, but I really like having a space to hide. 
I have some more photos of the desk but man... this desk took forever. My original plan was to do a 5 foot by 5 foot desk with cabinets/storage all around. Once we moved furniture in and got bookshelves up, that was a bit too big. So I settled on a 4 foot by 4 foot desk, which is still great. Matt made my counter top with a piece of wood and some laminate to match my desk top and he made a base for everything. Again, I'll have more info below on this. 
When you come into the room, this is immediately to the left. All of my adult fiction and non-fiction books are over here. My bottom shelf is some of my scrapbooking thing and I have two large Iris cases on the floor but also Jackson's puzzle he mod podged that I need to get a frame for it. 
I have a tiny window with glass you can't see out of (or in) but I do have a tiny section that opens up so I can get some air in. MOSTLY though, I get dirt from the ground come through so I don't open it much. HA! 

I still have my pink dresser from the old house, which fits perfectly under the window. I have odds and ends in here mostly. One drawer is washi tape and sharpies, the other small one is junk I probably don't need. The first big drawer is bookstagram prop things, the second drawer are my cutting board and trimmer, but also some more school work projects for Penelope and Lucy's school books. The bottom drawer are my stamps and stamp sets. I really downsized when we moved and I only kept my favorites and things I use frequently. 
On this section I have all of my young adult books! You'll notice Edward's head is all that survived and he fits perfectly so he stays. I have my books mostly organized by series and then the singles/duets are toward the bottom. The bottom shelf is some homeschool books/worksheets I'm still working on with Pep & Lu, some of their crayons/color books, my high school yearbooks and diploma things. 
The biggest wall/section of books is romance. When we moved Matt told me to downsize because I wouldn't have as much room. So I did that and now I regret it because I could have kept them! I actually do re-read my books. I don't have these alphabetized or anything, but the same author is grouped together, series are in order, and Linda Howard book are always on top. :)
The tail end of the shelf has my favorite picture of me and my friends, and on the floor is my box containing everything medical related for my book. 
I have an L shaped desk and I love it. I've got the world's crappiest printer on the edge, though I think we are saving for a less crappy one. I've been putting my review books there so I have them at the ready when I am doing stuff on the computer. 
The view looking at my desk. I continue to love my free chair so much and Matt made everything the perfect height so I could still use it. I have some artwork I'm making to fill wall space and I have some photos I want to frame to fill that in. I also decided I'm into letters so I have random "S" letters around my room. Also cool? That white cabinet to the right used to be scrapbook storage and since we sold my old desk with drawers, I repurposed that to be desk drawers and it actually works great. 
Alright, so this wall is almost all craft supplies. Matt made me the wall flower to store paint, it's completely made out of plumbing supplies, I believe. 
You'll notice I don't have a ceiling and its because that metal thing is (clearly) lower than the door and when we looked at the options it seemed to be a bigger pain than I wanted to deal with. It was monkey with that or get a laundry sink so I picked laundry sink. Matt still has to put door trim on but I'm not in a hurry. 

OK, so now I'll talk details. 
I bought this book cart at the other house and I had big plans. The little girls took it over for awhile and I agreed to give them the bottom tray. I am using the top two for book stacks I need to photograph, but I think the middle one will end up my scrap paper area so I can see it and use it while I'm working. 
I've still got my rainbow candles! That's a better look at the homeschool work stuff for the girls, too. 
Say hello to Edward. I know you've missed him as much as I did. 
Fun story: when I was little my favorite thing was this Smurfette stuffed animal and I called her Furfy. She is, and will forever be, Furfy. She even has the original pigtails my mom put in there because I took them out when I'd rub her hair too much. I used to rub her hair on the palm of my hand as an anxiety reducer. Anyways. She was in a fire and though she survived, she looks rough. Matt as a young kid had this Papa Smurf. It's his original one so our Smurfs sit on my shelf together, they used to be on my dresser. I found a set of Smurf glasses from the 80s on eBay for less than $20 so I got them. I LOVE THEM. 
These little PinMates come in my Bookworm Box every month and I used to have them in their boxes but it became so bulky so I took them out. They sit on my romance wall staring at the door. 
There's my favorite friend picture. I think this was my 30th birthday, Chicago for St. Patrick's Day? I also have my cup of bookmarks and the edge of my unicorn bunny gnome. 
Ooh.. ok, so my flowers. I sometimes change out this vase I have for bookstagram, or just use flowers in photos. I used to store them in a basket but now that it would sit out on the shelf, it looked kind of junky. I found these baskets on Amazon for cheap and they actually work perfectly. The blue decoration is something I thought looked like mermaid scales and I had used in Penelope's nursery over the rocking chair. I think I got it at the dollar store in the party section. I still just really like it so it is in here. 
So here is more of a close up of my paint flower. If you want to make your own flower (maybe for a teen's room or your living room, whatever) you can find detailed instructions on JenniferMakers blog, she has SO MANY ideas and you legit cannot screw this up. I can see all of my paints which is already so nice. 
I repurposed that pen holder from another cube I had. It is meant for pens but that rectangle could come out of the cube, and that cube broke in the move. Luckily I could still use that and if I want to I can just bring it to the table. Same with my basket. That basket is only temporary, I found a clear box to store the new Stampin! Up ink pads in since they don't fit in the twirly caddy anymore, but this works in the meantime. Normally that's the basket I use for keeping my Christmas card pieces together while I work on them. 
These drawers.... I wanted the Alex drawers from IKEA. The nearest IKEA to me is in Minneapolis/St. Paul and this was happening as everything is shutting down and they would not ship. They didn't do curbside. The only other place I could find them online was Amazon. I ended up buying two of these and somehow in my head thought they were wider. It worked out find because one set holds my punches, glitter, embossing stuff, and the other set is yarn, kid crafty things, and odds and ends. The drawers are GREAT and slide out really nice, highly recommend. 
Those boxes are kits and crafty things I've ordered and haven't had time to put together yet. My twirly caddy for ink pads. Matt even fixed my paper shelves so they aren't droopy or broken from when baby Penelope thought they were ladders, so that's nice. I really, really, really want this, but Matt hasn't had the time and again, we'd have to go to IKEA to get some parts and just not ready to do that yet. 
I have gotten a few handmade cards since we moved and I am keeping them up there because they just make me happy. 
I also have a bunch of art I've received from other friends and bloggers and I have those all around the room. My friend Beverly does amazing dot art and I just love this piece. 
The goat is cross stitched by my friend Rose who used to blog but we're friends on Facebook. Beverly also did the lilacs, which used to be in our downstairs bathroom at the old house but now it is in here. 
And eight or nine year old Olivia made me the rainbows, but I still had it so it's up. I've got a card from Matt, another S that I made prettier, and my award from Duluth Moms Blog a few years ago. 
I have a wedding picture that used to be in our living room but we don't have room for, my planner, the cutest vase full of Smarties, and my metal Dory I found at a vintage store. 
No, I don't have two computers. My laptop (that I love) is dying and Matt is in the process of replacing it with a new computer. I just have the monitor here so I knew how big it would be. 
My little corner of stuff. I have some artwork from Penelope on the wall and my white board is where I keep track of review books that are coming via mail because I often forget. So if a book comes and its on there, I know where to put it. 
I have a drawer of candy. I mean, when a giant fundraiser box of M&M's goes on sale, that is a sign from the universe. 
OK, so my craft table is made of our homemade counter that I talked about above and two of these cabinets from Overstock. If I had to complain about anything, its that the cupboards don't fit a lot, they aren't big enough. The drawers are OK but those would be amazing if they were a little bit wider and deeper. It's not the end of the world because I've made them work just fine. They are screwed to base so its one solid table but could easily be unscrewed if we had to move or whatever. 
You can see how big the work space is, that is a 12x12 piece of paper and I've got a lot of room!
Under the table there is a "middle" area which is where my feet/legs can go when I'm working. I've been sticking two little chairs under there for the little girls. They cannot sit in the chairs and work because they are far too low, but Lucy can stand on one to reach the table. Penelope does too, but she almost ALWAYS falls off so now she just stands on the floor. I also have a piece of cardboard I use when I'm spraying something so I don't get it all over the place so I just store it under there because it fits. 
I normally prefer to come down here by myself to do stuff but every once in awhile the kids make their way down here to do stuff. 

I absolutely LOVE this room and its easily my favorite craft area I've ever had. Its nice to come down here and work on things and its also nice to come down here and do nothing. Just sit. 

OK- that's the tour! I hope you liked it! Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my very best. Cheers!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Book Review: Let Them Be Kids

I have felt absolutely awful the last couple of days and I have no idea why. Yesterday I took a nap, today I fell asleep out of nowhere after my dentist appointment. Olivia even had to call her dad to come pick her up for work. Thankfully Jackson kept the little girls busy upstairs. Good news, the couch we bought on super clearance in March is actually comfortable to lay on so there's that. 
Let Them Be Kids - Jessica Smartt
As every parent hopes to raise kids with good manners and values, Jessica Smartt’s practical guide fills the gaps of uncertainty and provides tips on how parents can equip their children in purity, faith, and creativity.

Former English teacher and homeschooling mother of three, Jessica Smartt felt the weight of helping prepare her kids for life, especially with all the outside pressures and influence of the world. She struggled with how she could raise her children with a sense of adventure, self-confidence, manners, faith, and the ability to utilize technology wisely.

Let Them Be Kids is Jessica’s offering of grace and confidence to moms, giving them practical ideas to meet these challenges. Her well-researched, tested methods, woven together with her personal stories and witty humor, deliver wisdom on the tough topics of life, such as

family time vs. outside activities,
being “cool” or not,
boredom,
technology usage
sexual purity, and
showing grace when kids disobey.
Part story and part guidebook, every chapter includes doable strategies and encouragement for the journey.

Let Them Be Kids helps moms feel confident and equipped with ways to provide a safe, healthy, Christ-centered childhood for their children. It leads them to conquer fear and find truth that transforms them and their families as it reminds them how to enjoy and cherish the special memory-making moments of building family values together.
I don't know if this book could have come out at a better time, right? We're in the middle of a pandemic and a lot of us moms weren't used to being with our kids 24/7. Maybe they are in school or activities, go to daycare or a play group, maybe we have a sitter that comes so we can go get coffee (alone!) an hour a week. Whatever relief you come to rely on is basically gone and we're having to maintain our sanity but also do something with them. 

I know a lot of parents rely on technology to keep their kids busy and, admittedly, I'm a halfer. The older kids listen to music or a show in the background while they do a puzzle or whatever, and the younger kids get to watch a show or play on their tablet. The nice thing is that with my cognitive issues, I really can't handle noise and things happening, so I don't like the TV on if I'm not actively watching it, but also I don't really like watching TV, so ours isn't on much at all during the day. 

It doesn't matter where you are in your parenting journey, the most dreaded thing to hear is, "Mom!! I'm bored....", am I right? 

I have to tell you that not only is this just a great book to help us get through this time, it is a really great parenting book in general. It does mention the author's faith and speaks of God in areas, but as someone who doesn't consider themselves religious in any way, it didn't bother me at all. I think my most favorite chapter was The Gift of Being Uncool because that is something I see so much of in not just me as a mom but almost every mom I know, we don't want our kid to be uncool. We want them to fit in. Jessica writes on page 79: 
"If you want to give your kids a real gift, give them the freedom to be awkward. Guard them from ridiculous expectations. Let them meander awkwardly into adulthood."
She goes on to three suggestions for doing that: realize your kids are not you, don't be afraid to go against the current, and speak love and like and confidence into your kids. I loved all of these so much. Matt and I are not the world's best parents, we definitely make mistakes every day, thankfully all four of our kids are turning out pretty alright so far. We aren't the parent getting them the latest and greatest of technology, do you think any of them are getting Airpods from us? NOPE. Jackson wants a pair of shoes that are well over $100 and totally ugly and I said he would have to save his own money for them. I could buy them for him but he doesn't need them. Last night he informed me he is half way there. Olivia is saving for her first car and we said we'd match what she could save (to a point) so she got herself a job at age 14. Now, part of me really, really wants to be the cool mom and get those things for my kids because I have friends who do it for their kids and I don't want to be seen as a mean mom. I don't want people to think we're poor. As I list out all of the reasons they all revolve around me, not my kids and not my friends. So I work on that. 

The other chapter I spent a lot of time on was The Gift of Balance that talks about sports and extra-curricular activities. Olivia is in dance, she dances a lot. Jackson does tennis only in the summer. Penelope and Lucy are just starting dance. I know I struggle a lot about this and I know many of my friends do as well. We all want out kids to do well and be recognized for it. We all want people to see how well our child(ren) is/are at whatever the sport is, but our worth as parents is not tied to that. We could be the worst parent ever but our kids might excel. We could be the best parent ever and our kids might just really stink at the sport. The author talks about saying no to some opportunities, and I loved it. Sometimes we say no to practice at ungodly hours of the morning. Or maybe we say no to anything during the week because they have school. Looking at it like what is the realistic goal of this and is it worth it? 

I need to also say I loved her part about failure and how it is better for a kid to fail than it is to win. A win feels good, for a moment, but a fail sticks with you. You learn more from a fail and failing can force you to gain skills winning can't give you, like perseverance. 

Overall, I really liked this book. It definitely isn't something to give to a new parent and tell them this is what you do. I think as we start parenting, this is a good guide, something to look at and think about when you're posed a question you don't know about. Maybe you're wrestling with a decision on how much sport is too much. Maybe you don't know where you stand on sleepovers, this book can give you another perspective that might really fit with you and your family's mission statement. 

Overall? I'd give this one a solid 4 stars. I definitely have some pages tabbed off to think about again and revisit, it is one I'll reference in the future for sure. A huge thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour, and also Thomas Nelson and Jessica Smartt for mailing a copy to me! 
 
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Monday, June 29, 2020

Book Review: This Time Tomorrow

While this one is listed as a stand alone, it kind of is, but if you read book one it kind of comes together more. Book one is called Reborn Yesterday and I absolutely loved it. Would you believe me if I told you I loved this one even more? I'd give it ten stars if I could. Also the covers for this series? Stunning. I loved the cover for Reborn Yesterday and I absolutely love this one. 
This Time Tomorrow - Tessa Bailey
Roksana, heiress to the vampire slayer throne, has performance anxiety.

She’s supposed to kill Elias, but so far she’s only succeeded in maxing out his credit card. Now her failure to stake the brooding vampire has sent her back to Moscow in disgrace to face her mother’s wrath. Expecting punishment by death, she’s given a rare reprieve. She now has three tasks to complete, the last of which is to finally kill Elias. She will not fail this time.

If only the memories of one magical evening—back when Elias was human, would stop holding her back. He claims to have forgotten that night. Why can’t she? Three years ago, Elias was a SWAT team member on a guy’s weekend in Vegas. Playing poker and minding his own business, his life changed forever when a captivating blonde strolled past his table in a light-up bra. He followed Roksana as if compelled, his very bones demanding he do so, his soul resonating with the belief she would be important to him. Always. That turned out to be a vast understatement—and nothing has changed.

Roksana embarks on her mission, determined to win back her mother’s approval, but when an astonishing truth emerges in the eleventh hour, will her stake pierce the very heart that beats in her honor? Or will love triumph over duty?
You guys..... Roksana and Elias were so much better than I could have imagined. I'm not kidding. I loved Roksana in book one and all of the tension/drama brewing between those two in book one was absolutely worth it. In this book we get more of Roksana's back story and we find out how she became a slayer and why, which actually involves Elias and the day he became Silenced (which is when he became a vampire). 

Elias spent years in love with her since becoming Silenced and he knows that Roksana hates him for what she believes he did but he is convinced if she would just kill him she will feel better after exacting her revenge. She just isn't able to do it and doesn't know why. 

Well, turns out they are mates. (Just like Jonas and Ginny from book one.)

I just... I absolutely loved this story and I wanted them to succeed so badly. While Jonas and Ginny were all sweet, romantic, and gentle in book one.... Elias and Roksana are the absolute opposite. They are rough sex, dirty talking, emotional together and I loved it

I always try to give you what I loved about a book and what I didn't love... I can't give you anything that I wish was better. The plot line of vampires vs. slayers continues on except now we have the fae thrown in. Roksana is a hard character and I ended up seeing her in a totally different way, Elias is exactly what I expected but more. I loved the dramatic ending and I loved, loved, LOVED Tucker and who I am 99% sure is his mate. I cannot wait for book three! I love this world Tessa Bailey is crafting and I see exactly where she is going and I'm here for it. I cannot wait for this. 

A massive thank you to Social Butterfly PR and Tessa Bailey for having me on this tour! I said it before and I say it again, if I could give this ten stars I absolutely would. 

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Friday, June 26, 2020

My body is a lemon. What is the lemon law on bodies?

I had an eventful week of doctor appointments, that's for sure. Let's just go appointment by appointment then, how does that sound? 

Psychiatry: I think this may have been my last one with him since he is moving across the country and I am so damn sad about it. Truly, I can't even explain how sad I am without sounding like I'm nuts. This doctor is one of the only ones I trust implicitly. I trust my psychologist too, but she isn't dealing with my prescriptions and stuff, that's talk therapy. My psychiatrist is so damn great and I have trusted him for the last three and a half years to advise me on a lot of things. He always believed me when I said I wanted to die and I wasn't happy. He believes me when I say I really can't do it anymore and I just don't want to traumatize these kids. At the appointment, and I'm glad it was a virtual visit because I hope he couldn't tell I was straight sobbing, he said my greatest obstacle is, and will always be that I'm perceptive, honest, and realistic in understanding my limitations now. That I don't wear rose colored glasses, but I don't curl into a ball helpless. He kept saying I was worthy, I am one of the strongest patients he's had who puts in the work to get better. He said more but honestly by then I was just a damn wreck. If I was in person I probably would have hugged him for dear life and gotten boogers all over him and I'm not even kidding. 

I ended up asking him if he could give me a list of the drugs I've tried that didn't work because I can't find my notebook and at the end of his final note it says, "Med history: Extreme and difficult reactions to Cymbalta, Zoloft, and Lexapro. Failed Strattera, Topamax, Depakote, Nuvigil, Rexulti, Abilify, Vraylar, Modafinil, Ritalin, Adderall IR.". 

So damn. I mean, most of these I had forgotten but this is quite the journey. 

Psychology: I ended up having therapy two days later which was great because I also cried there, too. She doesn't think I'm nuts that I'm so sad and she also totally understands why every day is hard. I was telling someone the other day that being told the happy centers in your brain don't work is one thing, but really understanding what that means is a totally other thing. I thought I understood it years ago but I think I was still in the grieving stages because I was just really angry about it. Angry that people don't GET IT, and no amount of endorphins, exercise, sunshine, oils, sex, whatever is going to fix it. When your brain is busted, it is busted. Now I feel like I'm really accepting it and some days it just makes me sad again. I see photos of me years ago and I look happy. Unapologetically happy and carefree, enjoying life, and now I just feel... here. I guess. I mean, I'm here and that's something I guess. 

It was basically an hour of crying and I can't wait until I can go because I feel like I can't really let it out, you know? 

Gastroenterology: Well I saw him in the morning today and wow, that sucked. So I am still having a ton of issues since having my gall bladder out. Apparently, and none of you are going to be surprised, but I'm in the really small percentage of people who has a body that doesn't adapt well to not having a gall bladder. 

I know I'm not shocked. I'm only shocked we held out hope I'd be normal. 

With all of my issues: the nausea, almost vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, feeling full after a bite or two, etc., I get to do a gastric exit scan. He said I'd be eating a LOT of scrambled eggs with radioactive dye to see how fast I poop it out and basically its journey from eggs to poop. 

Which, isn't that grand? 

I have no idea when this adventure takes place but someone in scheduling is supposed to call me. They are basically trying to see if I have gastroparesis, which sounds awful. It would explain a lot of the issues I've had, so I guess that's something. The doctor said he absolutely wouldn't be shocked if I had it given all of the issues I've had, but also because I have a damaged pituitary gland which means I have no working hormones. Apparently, you need hormones for even your stomach to work and it sounds like it isn't. 

So just a reminder kids, your pituitary gland is important!

Weight Loss: I saw my weight loss doctor in the afternoon, and good news, I am down 31.8 pounds from end of December. I'm officially 174.2 pounds and I have 14 pounds to go for my goal weight of 160. I am pretty happy about it and I am feeling better overall. I definitely breathe easier, my back doesn't hurt at much and just the ability to walk around the entire house without getting winded and exhausted is really nice. Bad news is that he agrees, it sound like I have some kind of gastroparesis and he's concerned about how quickly I seem to be losing weight, like I'm down 9 pounds in a month. So we'll see where I am at when I go back. 

I just feel so damn defeated. On one hand, I'm grateful doctors still give a damn and are trying to figure out what is going on with me. On the other hand, I am so fed up. It is frustrating to think all of the things I deal with were kicked off with my AFE blows my mind. It's frustrating too when doctors blow that off and tell you an AFE is a one time event, it doesn't cause issues later on. Which, I guess it doesn't create havoc forever but it can certainly be a catalyst for things and doctors just don't want to go there. 

Oh well. 

So that's my medical update. If you have information about gastroparesis (or horror stories), let me know. I don't mind knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly, because it at least helps me make a list of questions when I go in. 

Have a good weekend, lambs. 

Book Review: Letters to the Lost

I've kind of been on a young adult kick this summer and I'm OK with it. I've decided I'm going to really try hard (for real this time) to work on my backlist books. I've had this on my list for awhile and I'm glad I jumped it to the top of my pile. 
Letters to the Lost - Brigid Kemmerer
Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. 
I am a sucker for written letters and I think there is real power in writing out how you feel so when I read the description of this book I knew I had to read it. I haven't read anything by Brigid Kemmerer before this but it definitely won't be the last. She has amazing writing and you're left feeling the teenage feelings both Declan and Juliet have and you also feel the mom feelings and just want to hug them. 

In this book we have Juliet, her mother died in a tragic car accident and she feels responsible for it. Misguided, but guilty nonetheless. We also have Declan, doing community service for a car accident he caused on purpose for heartbreaking reasons. They each have trouble at home, in different ways but also similar in other ways, and they only know of each other at school. First impressions are everything, right?

In her grief, Juliet visits her mother's grave daily and she has taken to writing her mother letters. Declan, doing his community services sees a letter on this grave one day and has no idea who leaves them. 

That's how this pen-pal relationship begins. 

I loved everything about this book, you guys. I loved each character although they both frustrated me in so many ways because of their lack of communication but also because of the assumptions they make towards other people and their intentions. I loved their independent tragedies, their grief, the teenage angst which is already hard enough without tragic things happening in the midst of it. I love the road to teenage love and also learning to trust themselves again. 

The best way to describe this book is that it was one I raced to finish but also wanted to slow down because I didn't want it to be done. The author did an amazing job crafting this and for that, I have to give it 5 stars. 

 
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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Book Review: The Secret Messenger

Happy Tuesday! I am so glad I have therapy tomorrow, I can always tell when I must be getting close to an appointment because it always feels like things in life all pile up right before. I've already connected with two friends this week and I am so happy about it. It's just good to connect with people. 
The Secret Messenger - Mandy Robotham

Venice, 1943
The world is at war, and Stella Jilani is leading a double life. By day she works in the lion’s den as a typist for the Reich; by night, she risks her life as a messenger for the Italian resistance. Against all odds, Stella must impart Nazi secrets, smuggle essential supplies and produce an underground newspaper on her beloved typewriter.

But when German commander General Breugal becomes suspicious, it seems he will stop at nothing to find the mole, and Stella knows her future could be in jeopardy.

London, 2017
Years later, Luisa Belmont finds a mysterious old typewriter in her attic. Determined to find out who it belonged to, Luisa delves into the past and uncovers a story of fierce love, unimaginable sacrifice and, ultimately, the worst kind of betrayal…

Today we are going to talk about The Secret Messenger, which is a historical fiction and you know that isn't always my jam. I'll also admit there are SO MANY books around WWII and frankly, I'm over it. While that was an interesting time from every aspect, I'm over it, give me any other time period, truly. 

But. 

I picked this one because I really like a good time hop book and the idea that this story is about a woman who, by all accounts, is leading a double life is what sold me. Also, I really wish I could find something cool like an old typewriter in a house but the closest I got was an electrical how-to manual shoved in a wall near (you guessed it) faulty wiring. 

Let's talk about some things that I didn't totally love:
  • The description of Venice is almost too much. I often get lost in a historical romance because it becomes too much, it feels tedious, and it actually makes me sleepy. 
  • I had a hard time understanding what some Italian words meant and I ended up making up my own definitions. I think though if you were reading this as an e-book you could look them up easier, so this might have been an issue with me. 
  • Stella and her monologue make up most of the book but I don't feel like I every really got to know her. I didn't get to know Luisa much either, but that didn't feel like a big deal. 

With that out of the way, let me tell you that I really loved this book! I loved her radical behavior and the danger element of the Nazis finding out she is running this radical newspaper is what really kept me going. I also loved the relevancy of this book in current times; we have a female advocating change and fairness to all, but she's also a part of the honest media who the Nazi wants stopped at all costs. I feel like you can make connections throughout the book and it's great. The betrayal aspect? Wow. I think I felt the gut punch Stella must have as well. 

Overall I have to give this a good 4 stars. I really enjoyed this one and it just reminds me that we often forget to ask our parents and grandparents and great grandparents their life story. What may seem boring or ordinary to them may be interesting for us. I highly suggest you read this book and then have a cool conversation with your family, see what you find. (Also, go look for cool typewriters.)

 
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Monday, June 22, 2020

The start of summer 2020

Honestly, it feels like it's been summer for months already, right? We've been home for so long we aren't even feeling that summer freedom this year. 

Since moving to the new house we've been slowly setting up fun stuff for the kids to do since we really can't go anywhere, and the stuff we'd like to do isn't even open yet. Every time I want to say screw it and book something, a rash of COVID-19 positive cases goes up and then I get nervous. I'm getting weary, folks. 

Anyways. 

Matt set up the pool for the kids. I'm just grateful our pool from last year has no holes from the move and works great because the chances of buying a new one this year is slim to none! 
The pool isn't very deep (like 30 inches, or 33 inches) so even the little girls can get in it and move around well above the water. Of course they can't go in it without someone watching them, but they are pretty good about it. We haven't had too many pool worthy days but they seem content to go out even on chilly days (to me). 
Poor Olivia hardly gets to play between Upward Bound and her job, but Jackson usually waits to go in until she can. Some days I can get him to go in early and the little girls love it. On that day the water was FREEZING and I don't know how any of them lasted as long as they did! 
I haven't done a medical update in awhile because its easier to add a lot of little things up for one post. For the last 8-9 months my hair has been falling out at an alarming rate. It isn't medication related, it isn't thyroid related, several doctors have checked various things, it's a mystery. (Honestly, I'd be more alarmed if someone had a reason for it, I'm just used to everything having no real reason.) To put it into perspective, I could only brush my hair (or wash it) (or touch it in general) once a week because it would just come out in huge clumps. My hair normally is extremely thick with a wave/curl to it and if I used a hair tie, I was lucky if I could get it wrapped twice without the tie snapping. By mid-June my hair tie felt loose with 4 wraps around. I would run my hand in my hair and have a baseball size clump. 

To be frank, if I had cancer and was on chemo, this is the point I'd consider shaving my head. 

I'm not on chemo so instead of shaving my head, I cut my hair. My hair was down to the middle of my back and I cut it to my chin. My hair is still falling out but not nearly as much so I'm hoping losing the weight of hair helps a little. I do miss my long hair though, and I decided I really don't like my hair this short. 
Oh! I forgot to share my June TBR stack! Not a very big one, but I was trying to be realistic. I have two of them done already (First & Then and Creole Kingpin), I'm working on Roomies, and then I'll squeak Haven in next week. Or maybe this week still, we'll see. 
Also, for those who asked if I was still doing the weight loss thing, I AM! I'm actually doing really well. I see that doctor again on Friday, and I'm excited to maybe get some official numbers! I've been having to go by my scale with I know is 4 pounds off but might be more, but at my last doctor appointment they told me I was 179, which is around 30 pounds less than where I was in December. I started around 212 pounds. I'm not doing anything more than curbing my diet and walking. Totally serious. I'm supposed to get 140 minutes of exercise in during the week and I've been diligently tracking how much I do. Most nights I walk with Matt and some days I get to walk with a friend, so its nice. 

For the rest of the week I have book reviews (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday) and I hope to have some more photos for Thursday to share with you all. How is your summer starting? Do you have any plans?