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. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Book Review: America The Beautiful (non-fiction)

If you are like me you are already shopping for Christmas gifts because if there is ever a year to avoid crowds in stores, it is 2020. Once again, National Geographic is coming through with some amazing books that are perfect for you or for gifts. Let's talk America. 

America The Beautiful - National Geographic

America the Beautiful showcases the stunning spaces closest to our nation's heart--from the woods in the Great Appalachian Valley that Davy Crockett once called home to the breathtaking sweep of California's Big Sur coast to the wilds of Alaska. It also celebrates the people who have made this country what it is, featuring a wide range of images including the Arikara Nation in the early 1900s and scientists preparing for travel to Mars on a Hawaiian island. Culled from National Geographic's vaunted photo archives, spanning a period of more than 130 years, this provocative collection depicts the splendor of this great nation as only National Geographic can, with a dramatic combination of modern and historical imagery--from the creation of architectural icons like the Golden Gate Bridge and Lady Liberty to the last of the country's wild places preserved in our national parks.

With a structure inspired by the original song "America the Beautiful," this book recognizes what makes our nation great, region by region. And all 50 states and six territories of the U.S. are honored with 50 words from celebrities, historians, activists, conservationists, and politicians who call America home. Profound and inspiring, this is a book for everyone who has ever marveled at the beauty of the United States.
Everything that you love about National Geographic is in this, we have beautiful photos, education, and enough persuasion to make you wish you could go there right now. 

The book is broken up four real sections (The West & Pacific, The East & Mid-Atlantic, The South & Caribbean, The Midwest & Central Plains) but it also features information about the image collection and a find-your-state so if you are new to where you live or you're just curious what they've included, you can easily find it. Also cool for celebrity watchers are the celebrity stories about why they live where they do, what they love about their home states, etc. and those are just fun to read. 

I live in Wisconsin and I was pretty happy to see they featured the ice caves on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore of Lake Superior (page 322). It says Michigan, and maybe Michigan has some but I'm almost certain the photo is from the Bayfield/Cumberland area, and that is in Wisconsin. 
It is still beautiful and while the picture is stunning, it really doesn't compare to seeing it in person. I didn't realize how different it would be until I did just that!
We went to the ice caves way back in 2014. It was January and it was so unbelievably cold that winter. When we set out on our hike it was cold, like layers upon layers cold and you will lost feeling in your extremities. The hike out there was amazing. 
The hike back was absolutely brutal because Lake Superior is not one to underestimate and a storm was coming right off the lake. We had to hike over two miles with two kids who could barely walk with all of the clothes they had on and me yelling at them to stop crying otherwise it will freeze to their face. A good time was had by all, obviously. 
In case you're wondering, this is what the caves look like the rest of the year! Matt and I kayaked on it in 2009. 

I absolutely loved this book. It wasn't because it covered the amazing beauty and wonders of our country, but it also featured industries and the people all over and how different we all are. If you are looking for a patriotic gift for someone, this is definitely a great choice. It is really astounding to look at some of the aerial photos of untouched lands and think, the whole country used to be like this. It used to be all beautiful and wild and now it is still beautiful.... in a modern and disposable way, I guess. I think you will really enjoy this. Treat yourself. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and National Geographic for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review! These are my absolute favorite to read because I find myself going through them over and over again. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Book Review: Selling Christmas Review & Excerpt

I'm going to be honest and tell you I've decided to have more than one tree in my house. I'm going to be that person now. In fact.... I maybe have already purchased the second tree for only $20 with a coupon and it is in the back of my car. I decided I will hold out until Saturday. I'm going to stay strong on that. Until then, I can read Christmas books. Fight me. 

Selling Christmas - Angelina Goode

Three bed, two bath, room for Santa…

Helping people find their dream house has always come natural to Caroline. She’s able to set the stage perfectly so her clients can imagine spending the holidays in their new home, even though she doesn’t decorate her own. When her boss assigns her to oversee the first annual Christmas Tour of Homes, Caroline thinks she may be in over her head.

Luke has always made sure his daughter, Ella, had all that she needed for Christmas, including a home bursting at the seams with tinsel and holly. Even if it meant working extra shifts patrolling the town. So when a house of their own is at the top of Ella’s Christmas list, he can’t help but set out to find one.

As Christmas fate brings Caroline and Luke together, they just might be exactly what the other needs to make it through the holidays. Caroline begins to find the inspiration and joy in decorating again and Luke learns from Caroline how to look for the spirit of Christmas in all that’s around him.

Until Luke unknowingly stumbles across Caroline’s past. A past that keeps Caroline from looking to a future with Luke.

Can Caroline and Luke find their way to happily ever after? Or is the only thing keeping them from finding it, each other? 

If you are already feeling kind of Grinchy or not feeling Christmas, you need this book. I had such a good time literally laying in bed with this one a few weekends ago and I had no problem getting through the whole thing. I really felt like I could identify with Caroline in a lot of ways because like Caroline, I like doing things (random acts of kindness) for people but I like to do it all year. It is actually one of the things I do when I am at my most depressed because it keeps me off the edge, basically. 

Reading this feels like you are reading the script for a Hallmark movie and frankly, that is kind of the measure of a good Christmas novel for me. Also, if you are a fan of home decorating/home staging shows you will get into this one because that's what Caroline is in charge of in this story. I really liked Luke, and I liked Caroline though once you learn about her past I didn't feel like it was as big as it was built up to being. I liked the slow decent into them each falling in love, and I loved Luke's daughter Ella kind of being the subtle glue keeping them together throughout the story. The story is lovely, sentimental, will have you buying extra trees for your house, but also cherishing the memories that make your holidays special to you. I absolutely loved this. 


Chapter 1
The gravel crunched under the tires as Caroline’s car made its way up the long drive. As she reached the crest of the tree-topped hill, the driveway made a sharp turn to the right, then opened up to a small grassy field with an old but clean wooden house sitting squarely in the center of it. She pulled her car up to the side of the house and turned off the ignition. As she opened the door and swept her scarf around her neck, the cold air reddened her cheeks. She shivered.

The small porch that led to the front door was bare but for a pile of firewood. Caroline shook her head. Curb appeal was always important when trying to sell a home, even if the curb was a mile from the front door. First impressions count, and this curb was lacking appeal. She turned the key in the lock, and as she pushed the door open, she was hit with a gush of warm air filled with the scents of gingerbread and pine cones. She smiled. This was more like it. She made her way through the house, smoothing the bedspreads and tidying pillows on chairs.

As she straightened the table setting, there was a quiet knock at the front door. She ran her hands down her sides and put her friendliest smile on, then headed for the door.

“Come in, Dave and Sandra,” she said as she swung open the door. Her clients entered. “Let me take your coats.” She hung them on the hooks just inside the foyer, hoping it would help them envision living there.

“Caroline.” Sandra’s hands flew to her mouth. “It’s adorable.”

“Wait until you see the kitchen,” she added, then held her hand out to the side, encouraging them to explore. Caroline followed them through the kitchen, emphasizing the retro appliances, and out the back door to a large patio overlooking an expansive yard with a peaceful brook running along the side.
When they re-entered the house and passed through the living room, Sandra cuddled her growing belly in her hands and stopped, staring at the quaint space. “The piano would fit perfectly right there.” She pointed to the wall on the right.

“A Christmas tree would be really lovely over there.” Caroline pointed to a corner between the fireplace and a wall with a large, picturesque window.

Dave stepped in closer to Sandra and put an arm around her. “I can see us singing carols on Christmas Eve.”

She leaned in and whispered something back to Dave.

“I’m going to give you a few minutes to finish looking around and talk privately.” Caroline headed to the kitchen. She took a gingerbread cookie from the table and was about to take a bite when she realized it was in the shape of an elf. She giggled, then bit off his head.

She passed the time staring out the window, appreciating the lush evergreen trees and watching the robins flit from one tree to another.

“Caroline.” Dave stepped into the kitchen. “We’d like to put a bid on the house. It’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

She smiled. “Of course. I have the paperwork in my bag.”

As Dave and Sandra signed the house bid, Caroline glanced at her watch. It would only take her fifteen minutes to wind her way back down the drive, up the highway, and into town where she would meet Lauren for dinner. She waved goodbye as they drove off, then she locked up the house, heading on her way.
The hostess that greeted Caroline was dressed as an elf, pointy shoes and ears and all. She led Caroline to Lauren, who sat in a dim alcove illuminated by lights muted with Santa hats. A mug in the shape of a Santa boot sat on the table in front of her. Caroline tossed her coat on the booth and rolled her eyes at Lauren. “You chose this place on purpose, didn’t you?” She gestured at the decor around them.
“For someone that loves to celebrate the spirit of Christmas, you sure don’t like all the decorating that comes with it.” Lauren took a sip from her mug.

Caroline giggled. “You know I love Christmas. But all this is too much. It’s not what Christmas is about. It’s supposed to be about giving and kindness. This is all commercial.”

“You could at least get a tree. That’s not commercial.”

“You know me. I don’t decorate. I will provide a tree for someone else to help them feel the Christmas spirit, but—”

“No decorating. I know.” Lauren rolled her eyes. “How did the house showing go?”

“Spectacular. It was right on the outskirts of town like they wanted. They put an offer on it, and I expect it to be accepted. Which is great because it will help fund my Christmas spirit. How was work for you today?”

She shrugged. “You know. It’s heartbreaking to see so many people without a place to go day after day. But I’m doing my best to change that. The police department has been very helpful this year. They’ve even assigned us a delegate to make sure we are helping all the people we can. Plus, the shelter’s Christmas Eve dinner is going to be extra special this year.”

“That’s great. And that’s the Christmas spirit I’m talking about.”

“Speaking of that, I have just the thing you’re thinking of. They are a great family that has fallen on some hard times and need a little help.” Lauren pushed her curly hair behind her ears and dug in her purse. She pulled out a piece of white paper folded in half. “You know, it’s really great that you do this.”

Caroline took the paper from Lauren and tucked it into her purse, then plucked a menu from the end of the table. “I just want everyone to experience Christmas the way I did as a child. No one should miss out on that.”

Lauren nodded. “What should we order? Should we start with an appetizer?”
As Caroline drove home, passing through the neighborhoods with their lights strung and flickering in the night, she felt a tug at her heart. She slowed as she approached a home with wooden reindeer on the lawn and lit snowflakes hanging from the trees. Her dad used to love to hang snowflakes around their home. He always said he felt like it encouraged the snow on Christmas Eve.

A car behind her honked and she was brought back to the present. She waved an apology in the mirror and moved on, heading home for the night.
Mary was hovering by the door when Caroline arrived at the office. Her hair was immaculately coifed, and she held a steaming mug of coffee that read I Sell Houses—What’s Your Superpower?
“I heard the offer on the house yesterday was accepted. Good job.”

Caroline’s eyebrows raised. She should’ve checked her email before heading into the office this morning. “Thanks. I’m about to straighten out all the details now.”

“Great. I also have some exciting news at the meeting this morning. Don’t be late.”

Caroline nodded and stopped at the coffee machine before going to her office. “Good morning, Sarah,” she said to the office assistant, who was standing beside a large box with a long strand of tinsel wrapped in her arms.

“Hi, Caroline. Would you like me to decorate your office for you? You’re the only one that hasn’t done it yet.”

“I think I’m okay.”

Sarah’s eyes fell. “Oh, okay.”

Caroline paused. “Well, I guess you could maybe decorate the outside of my door. Would that work?”
Her eyes lit up. “Yes. I’d love to. I have just the thing.” She pulled the rest of the tinsel out and found a large, bright-red bell.

Caroline took a sip of her coffee then disappeared into her office to call Sandra and Dave and tell them the good news. Sandra squealed when she heard, and Dave sounded as though he was getting choked up. “Do you think we can be in by Christmas?” he asked.

“Maybe. It’s only about four weeks away, but I’ll see what I can work out with the sellers.”

Sarah knocked on the door just as Caroline was hanging up.

“The meeting is about to start,” she said.

“Thanks.” She grabbed her notebook and followed Sarah into the meeting room.

“Welcome everyone. We have a lot to discuss, so let’s get started right away.” Mary paced back and forth across the small room as she spoke. “This year, we have decided to partner with a local furniture store to do a fundraiser for Sweet River Children’s Hospital.”

Caroline turned her attention to the room. This was exactly the Christmas spirit that motivated her. Everyone looked to one another, nodding encouragement and smiling with delight. Mary stood, pleased, her hands folded in front of her, her shoulders back. Her short, straight bob swayed softly as she turned from one side of the room to the other to take in all the excitement.

“We are going to host a Christmas Tour of Homes featuring four of our properties that are currently for sale. Anderson’s Furniture Store will provide the decor and we will do the decorating. I have put together a team of agents that have shown interest in decorating and have selected one person to be in charge of the team and decorating the locations.”

Sarah raised her hand. “Is this the kind of tour where people buy tickets to visit the properties to see how we have decorated them for Christmas?”

“Yes,” Mary said, nodding. “We get a weekend of heavy foot traffic into the homes we are selling while raising money for the children’s hospital. It’s a win-win deal.”

Caroline gave a sigh of relief that she wouldn’t have to help. It may be for a good cause, but she was clearly not the one for the job. She turned her focus to her notebook and started making a list of things she had to do for her clients.

“Caroline.” Mary’s voice was clear and direct.

Caroline sat up straighter in her seat.

“Caroline will be leading the decorating team. Sarah is handing each team member a packet detailing the homes that will be on the tour and the proposed rooms to decorate.”

Caroline’s jaw dropped. She lifted her index finger to protest, but Mary continued.

“Of course, if you find you’d like to decorate additional rooms, that is at your discretion, Caroline. This is your project. You are in total control.”

Caroline shook her head, still unable to find the words. She looked to Sarah, who had sat back down. “I’m honored to be on your team,” Sarah whispered.

The rest of the meeting was a blur. Caroline tried her best to stay focused, but visions of tinsel and nutcrackers and tree ornaments the size of her head kept popping up in her mind. She tried to shake them free, but it seemed to only serve as encouragement. Her coworkers were encouraged, too. Before the meeting was over, she had already received eight emails from fellow agents and their ideas for the Home Tour.

As everyone exited the room, Caroline hung back, hopeful that she would get a moment alone with Mary. Surely, she would understand. She simply was not the one for the job.

When the last straggler had filled his plate with Santa-shaped sugar cookies from the snack table and made his way out, Caroline threw her shoulders back and approached her boss.

“Mary. I have some concerns about the Christmas Tour of Homes.”

“Of course. I knew you would. But timing is not an issue. Three weeks is plenty of time to get the homes decorated.”

“That’s not it. I just…” She had to pick her words carefully. She didn’t want her boss to think that she was refusing an important job.

No, she would do it happily, if she thought she was capable. “I’m not sure I’m the right person for this role.”

“Nonsense. I spoke with Sandra and Dave this morning, and as soon as they told me they bought the house because you helped them picture what Christmas would look like there, I knew you were the one to lead the team.” Mary gathered her paperwork and slid it into her briefcase. “You’d better get started. As I said, three weeks is plenty of time, but it will pass very quickly.”

She gritted her teeth together, wishing she had never mentioned the Christmas tree last night. They had been so concerned about where to put a tree in the previous homes she had shown them, it seemed like the logical thing to do at the time.

Now she was in charge of decorating four homes? Her back stiffened at the thought of it. She swallowed hard, then nodded as she watched Mary leave the room.

Looked like she’d be decorating this Christmas after all.

Thank you to Pump Up Your Book and Angelina Goode for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review! If you are in the market for a Christmas read to jump start the season, I definitely suggest this one as a perfect first for the year! 

Monday, October 26, 2020

CT scan from hell.

I don't know how to even sum up what my journey through gastroenterology has been, but you can see some of it on my Instagram where I have a few videos.  To say it has been a nightmare is an understatement. 

The last failure was pain management, and they sent me back to gastroenterology because my immense pain after injections that should eliminate pain was a signal that hey- something else is wrong with me. Thankfully, my gastroenterologist was a little more fired up at trying to figure this out and was actually kind of angry this wasn't cut and dry, which I'm 100% OK with because I am also angry and I am hoping two angry people can come up with a solution. 

We went over everything again. He decides we are going to do an unbelievable amount of lab work to rule out IBS and Crohn's for good. He's positive it isn't either of those but he definitively wants them ruled out. He said I was going to get an abdominal CT done, easy peasy. It's the nausea though that is a hang up for him because nausea doesn't mean a stomach issue. Nausea is a weird thing that is a symptom of everything. Just because you're feeling like you're going to barf in the middle of Target doesn't mean something is up with your digestive system. A lot of the time it can be a neurological thing, so if my labs are alright and my CT scan is alright, HE is going to order an MRI of my brain and we are going to hope that we see something different in it from my MRI from 2018. 

That's where I'm at: I am actively hoping for something glaringly obvious to be glowing on a screen saying I'M THE PROBLEM because at this point I really just need to know what the hell is going on. I mean, am I dying? Do I have cancer? Is it something I can fight/fix? Is it something I take medication for? Special diet? Am I going to do die in six months, because if so I'd like to know so I can plan it out. I mean, these are all the things going through my head as I wait for my labs. 

Spoiler: my labs were mostly fine. Just a couple of things were slightly low but nothing that signals something really going wrong. So my next hope was the CT scan. 


I did that on Friday and everyone told me it is like a 5 minute thing, which.... technically, the scan itself WAS a 5 minute thing. The scheduler said I had to be there 90 minutes before to "get set up" which, alright. I figured I would bring a book or something. 

Imagine my shock when the lady comes out with this beverage and a straw and says she'll be back in 20 minutes. Alright, weird but I can do this. The drink itself isn't the worst. It really was like flat Sprite that never had fizz and not sugary at all but more... salty? It really reminded me of the glucose drink when you're pregnant. Here I thought I was done with that horror but nope. 

I got it done in 20 minutes and thought THANK GOD I'M DONE just as the lady is coming out with another one. 
Then she informs me I actually have to drink three of them and I get 20 minutes per bottle. 

You guys. I am not someone who can eat or drink things I don't like, I really struggle. I actually managed to get all three down and the others in the waiting room were whispering "chug it" as motivation but I barely got it down. That last sip I thought for sure was going to be thrown up. 

A more pressing issue was my bowels. They said I could pee (which thank god) and I ran for my life and I had never peed that much in my life. Never. Not only did I pee but I realized that, oh yay, I now am going to have a bout of uncontrollable diarrhea. Isn't this grand? This is exactly why I don't eat/drink much at all outside of my house. Or if I know I won't be going home right after, my intestines cannot be trusted. 

Once I feel like I'll be good for a little while, I go back in just as they are calling me. I go in for my scan, they run an IV so they can do contrast which, alright. I don't know what it is about the techs that do scans but they cannot do IV's on me and this guy tried hard but my arm looks like I'm an intravenous drug user right now. Also, some kind of liquid got sprayed all over my sweatshirt and it's in the wash and I hope it came out otherwise I'm going to be angry, it's new and my new favorite. Anyways. We do the scan and I can feel my bowels waging war and I'm getting legitimately nervous. He tells me the contrast will make me feel like I've peed my pants but nobody ever has and in my head I'm wondering how many people have crapped their pants in here because I really don't want to be the first. 

By the time the scan is done (I did not crap my pants), I literally RAN for the bathroom and spent the next 45 MINUTES typing a strongly worded email over the patient portal to my gastroenterologist that he needs to freaking warn someone that these drinks are basically giant laxatives and MAYBE you should have told me to buy an adult diaper or bring a towel, or SOMETHING. 

After I felt somewhat alright, I go out to my car where again, I wonder if I should go back into the bathroom or try driving and I just want to go home so I decided I would speed home. 

That turns out to be a terrible plan because guess what? Construction. There is a construction project beginning and four lanes of traffic merging into one at the end of the work day on the freeway. 

I actually thought about what my plan would be if I really couldn't hold it, do I get out and just... hope I don't end up on the news? I mean, WHAT WOULD YOU DO? 

After almost 30 minutes barely moving, I get to the Wisconsin exit and literally haul ass. I think I blew a stop sign, for sure a red light, I drove like I stole the car. I got home and I barely made it to the bathroom. And I really mean BARELY. Fast forward twenty minutes of losing my bowels and I go down to get into my pajamas, throw clothes into the wash, and again.... diarrhea. This continues for hours. Oh, but then about two hours into being home I start (wait for it) vomiting! 

Take a guess how great vomiting up flat Sprite is- I'll wait. 

Spoiler: it is awful. It is as awful as you can imagine anything but combine it with diarrhea at the same time

This is when I write my second strongly worded email over patient portal because by this point I am angry. I can't remember being this angry in awhile. 

I give up around 8 p.m. and decide the diarrhea is down to like once an hour so I'm going to try to go to bed because now I'm just exhausted. Also, keep in mind that I have Sheehan's Syndrome and secondary adrenal insufficiency so if I start throwing up or have diarrhea I need to take more of my medication because I could easily go into an adrenal crisis and that's bad. So I take more meds and go to bed, hoping I don't crap in the bed. 

I made it through the night but all day Saturday I felt absolutely awful. I was nauseous and I hadn't had stomach pain that bad since the day I had my gall bladder removed. The best part is I got the best call from my doctor's assistant who kind of chuckled at my emails (she is familiar with me, we can laugh together) but then tells me it is usually the IV or the drink, and if it is the drink you only need one. 

ONE, you guys. 


I had three. 


On the bright side, all of my insides were really expanded or whatever so there is no reason they can't see stuff, right? 

As of right now I have no other information from the scan, but cross your fingers something glaring is on there, OK? I know that sounds odd, but I really need to know what it is because living with pain and nausea all day every day is a bit much at this point. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Basement Re-do

If you've been following us for awhile, you'll know that we sold our house in April and moved into my parents' home since they've gone to Florida. We're paying rent but while we're here we are paying down our debt and it has been an adjustment downsizing but now that we are a few months into it, we are really loving the smaller space. It isn't tiny home small, but it is about half of what we had and we ARE a family of six so you know, it was tight to start. I feel like we've adjusted well and everyone has their own little space.  

We also got rid of a lot of things and honestly? I don't hate it. It has been so great for my anxiety to be around less stuff. 

In the effort to make it homey, we had to build a bedroom for us and Matt built me an office/craft room/library and it is maybe the best room I have ever had. I love it so much. Both of these rooms are in the basement after we hauled things in, we realized the floor needs to be painted. 

So we started that. It was a BIG job and in hindsight, I wish we had thought to do this before you know, we moved our stuff in because it would have been easier but no- we have a tendency to make everything harder on ourselves. It's just how we roll. 
Instead, this project consisted of doing one section of floor at a time, then moving stuff to do another section of floor. Admittedly, those two shelves in the back are SO heavy and we didn't do under those. We basically gave up but it is in a dark corner and we'll do it eventually. Probably. 
The floor was in great shape, it just hadn't been painted in awhile and who thinks to really paint a basement floor? We did it in our old house as we were selling just so it looked fresher and we were so surprised at how great it looked so we thought it would do the same here. 
We looked into other flooring options too but it just didn't make sense right now and we're on a budget so paint it is because our Menards rebate covered it. *Bonus*
Because I know someone will ask, this is the paint we used. I really don't know if it is satin or semi-gloss finish, I just know it is that brand, porch & floor paint, and in battleship gray. Which honestly looks more like a blue/gray in person to me, but I think it looks really nice. So this is the after (and no, we didn't sand the floor down because I don't care, I just wanted it painted, don't come after me HGTV) and it already looks SO. MUCH. NICER. 
Seriously, look how much bigger it looks! This is the view if you're standing in my bedroom doorway. We also painted the walls white so it just looked cleaner/brighter in here. 
Matt's little desk area is a million times cleaner now that he organized his shelf (he has baskets, you guys!), computer parts aren't all over the floor in "organized piles", tools are out to the garage, and crap that we don't need is actually gone. 
This is the doorway from my office. Matt said he isn't going to finish those walls so I need to just be OK with half done walls. Which, I honestly don't care at this point. I have a dresser there that stores our kid things I'd like to save, and my new filing cabinet that opens all the way. I know, I'm 38 and I just now got an actual filing cabinet, I feel like a real grown up now. It is just so much nicer down here. We kept the floor swept and mopped regularly but now that it is all one color it just feels cleaner. Is that weird? 

We even have our treadmill and recumbent bike down here in one area. I'm trying to talk Matt into us getting a small home gym thing because we actually have room for a smaller one. Nothing huge, but something a little more compact than the big ones. Maybe in the new year when everyone and their brother is trying to buy one, right? 

So that has been one of the things taking up our time lately. I have a few things I'm working on and Matt is working on making a door (or changing a pre-made one to fit the weird space) for under the basement stairs. One of the things I miss from our old house is the closet in my office. I stored EVERYTHING in there but it was especially great for Christmas gifts. I threw most things in there and then when I had time to wrap, I'd wrap and stack everything nicely in there and Christmas Eve would be all easy peasy. 

We do not have that here and it makes me wonder where the hell my mom store Christmas presents when were kids in this house?!

Anyways. Matt is fixing something up for me. But it'll be nice and double as the place to store mops (is there a good way to store mops?!) and then my wrapping paper containers. I have all of my gift wrap in these two huge containers and they are awesome, but odd size and I'm forever moving them around, so they'll go in this area. I'll share pictures when it's all done, don't worries!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Book Review: Prospects of a Woman

Happy Wednesday! It's hump day, I'm half way through this dumpster fire of a week and I realize I need to get things together for our family photos on Saturday. It's not that we're doing anything fancy, we are literally only going to JC Penney because it's inexpensive and almost no work for me. I have outfits picked and I'm just hoping they all fit. Cross your fingers, folks. 

Prospects of a Woman - Wendy Voorsanger

Elisabeth Parker comes to California from Massachusetts in 1849 with her new husband, Nate, to reunite with her father, who’s struck gold on the American River. But she soon realizes her husband is not the man she thought—and neither is her father, who abandons them shortly after they arrive. As Nate struggles with his sexuality, Elisabeth is forced to confront her preconceived notions of family, love, and opportunity. She finds comfort in corresponding with her childhood friend back home, writer Louisa May Alcott, and spending time in the company of a mysterious California. Armed with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, she sets out to determine her role in building the West, even as she comes to terms with the sacrifices she must make to achieve independence and happiness. A gripping and illuminating window into life in the Old West, Prospects of a Woman is the story of one woman’s passionate quest to carve out a place for herself in the liberal and bewildering society that emerged during the California gold rush frenzy. 
I am super excited to talk about this because though I'm not really a fan of historical fiction, every once in awhile I read one that really just piques my interest and that's exactly what this one did. I will tell you I went into this thinking maybe it was a little more romance but it really wasn't. It was still really good and I'm so glad I picked this one up. 

Taking place during the Gold Rush, we have Elisabeth who marries Nate in the hopes to escape poverty (and basically her parents checking out on her). All of those hopes are dashed because she finds herself with a man who is possibly MORE unloving than her parents were to her but even more poverty. They are going west and west at that time was a very different life than anywhere else in the world. In California in that time women actually had more rights than back east and that's an attractive piece of information for Elisabeth. The author does a GREAT job describing the wild west, you really feel the wildness and the general feel of what it was like during this developing time. 

Despite the more modern time out west, Elisabeth doesn't have it easy at all but she's determined and that's what carries her. We learn so much about Elisabeth and her past but we also see her expanding independence and that was the best part of this book for me. I won't tell you this book has no romance because it has some. I can't even really say it's romance so much, more like her sexual awakening... kind of? It is really part of her growing independence but I will tell you that if infidelity (or even the idea of it) is a trigger or deal breaker for you this book might not be for you. I normally don't like to read about that but Elisabeth and Nate were both deeply unhappy and have their own reasons for not divorcing when these things were happening and while I don't agree, I kind of understood it in a really odd way. Nate isn't my favorite but thinking of the time they were in, I understand his struggles but Elisabeth doesn't deserve a life held back because of his truths. 

Overall I really liked this one, definitely a 4 star read for me. The only thing keeping this back from a 5 star is I felt like Elisabeth was unlikeable at times and I struggled with Nate. Every other component of this book was so great and if you are a fan of historical fiction you will love this, but those who are partial to the Gold Rush period will love it even more. 

A huge thank you to PR by the Book and Wendy Voorsanger for having me on this tour and sending me an ARC for review. I highly suggest this, it would make for a great fall or cozy winter read for sure!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Book Review: You're Pulling My Leg

I know you're like me and you're thinking about the holidays, and that means getting together with people. This year is clearly different so maybe you're keeping it to your small family, either way- entertainment is key. I feel like everyone drifting to their phones ruins basically all of the fun. I've got a solution!

You're Pulling My Leg (Junior) - Allen Wolf

Have you ever eaten too much pizza? Gotten gum stuck in your hair? Surprised a friend? You'll laugh out loud as you and your friends and family try to fool each other with hilarious stories from your lives as you play this storytelling game.

After you choose a question, the secret flip of the coin tells you if your answer should be true or made up. When you hear a story, vote points on if you think a player is telling the truth or pulling your leg. You'll win points if you're right but lose them if you're wrong.

Think you can bluff your friends and family? Don't let them fool you! Score enough points, and you win!

This game book features cards with over 600 questions and instructions on how to play this game in person or over a video call with two or more people.

I feel like we ALL have that one family member that has all the jokes, right? They would make a great storyteller to get the game started! In this game you only need two players but you can have as many as you want. You earn points by correctly voting on whether someone is being honest OR if they are pulling your leg. Players can vote on a story by putting fingers down (1, 2, or 3) and the first person who gets to 21 points wins. The fun part about this game is you can even do it online if you're doing a zoom gathering, which would be really fun.  

The book that I have is the junior version but there is an adult version (which would be fun, am I right?!) There are 225 cards to play through but three options on every card so you can play this game many times and it will never get old, especially if you change out your players. 

Example of a card? Card 54 wants you to tell me about a time you thanked someone OR a time when you forgot to do something OR (wild card) players wearing green on their clothing lose 3 points. 

I had a great time playing this a couple of weekends ago (I won because obviously I know everything) but it was so easy and so fun. Someday we'll get to have birthday parties again and this would be GREAT for teens, but since we're living online mostly, you really can play this over Google Hangouts or Zoom. I know school has already started but if you are a high school teacher this might be a fun activity to break up the monotony of information heavy lessons. 

The author has a LOT of games on the website so if you are looking for gift ideas, you can make a great game night basket for someone. I have to also say thank you to PR by the Book for having me on this tour and also Allen Wolf ensuring I have a copy to play along with! 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Book Review: Lola Koala's Travel Adventures (Children's Literature)

I know I normally don't post on the weekend but I have SO many review books I need to talk about so you might be seeing more of me, even on the weekends. Today (and tomorrow) I am sharing some children's literature, which is a favorite in our house. 

Lola Koala's Travel Adventures 

Join Lola Koala as she travels the globe, teaching your little explorer important language skills along the way. Children will love lifting the flaps to answer questions as they find clues that will help them to figure out where in the world Lola has traveled to this time!

If you have been around the blog for a while you'll know that my Lucy, age four, is in speech therapy for apraxia and possibly other issues. She's been in speech therapy for about a year now and though we've seen some improvement, she is still difficult to understand if you aren't around her regularly. Even I struggle to understand her sometimes. 

We try to use the skills her speech therapist uses when she's at home for consistency and that has been really helpful. It seems like her little brain moves much faster than her mouth can and it will come out as gibberish. A technique we use frequently is to have her slow down and we ask her yes/no questions. Sometimes we'll ask her clarifying questions such as, who is sitting at the table, what color is Jackson's shirt, which fruit would you like? Instead of open ended questions, which are sometimes hard for her, we give her three or four answers to choose from and that helps her stay focused on the question. 

Which is where this book comes into play. I read a LOT with my kids! Olivia and Jackson mostly read on their own (which I love to see) and I am book recommendation central for them. Penelope (5) is an emergent reader so she's learning letter sounds and we're working on sounding out words. Lucy though, she is all about the story. She wants to be engaged and she likes to be involved so a lift the flap book is absolutely perfect for her. 

The story is about Lola Koala going on an adventure and you have to use picture clues to guess where she is going, all the while you are learning about this new and exciting land. 
Each page has a series of four questions, each with it's own flap, and your child picks the answer based on the four pictures on each flap. It's pretty easy, but for children in speech therapy or struggling with reading comprehension, this is teaching them basic beginner context clues. Even if you have a kiddo who isn't struggling on any of this, this is such a great book to keep in the car to keep them entertained, throw it in your purse or diaper bag to look at while running errands, or even use in a gift. 
Lucy had a great time going through this book and she can't wait to bring it to show her speech teacher! I'm glad it is a sturdy board book because she's hauling it around everywhere so at least I know it'll hold up for awhile. It's only 22 pages and great for ages 2-6.

Thank you to PR by the Book and Dr. Tinita Kearney for sharing this book with me for review. Lucy is having the best time with it and I'm so glad to see her so engaged in a new book. You can purchase your own copy of Lola Koala's Travel Adventures (also your child's very own passport booklet or set of postcards) on LolaKoalaExplorer's website. You'll find plenty of FREE resources including grade level resources, games and activties, and ways to connect home and school- perfect for all of the parents currently participating in virtual school looking for new things to do. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Book Review: The Outlook for Earthlings

Happy Wednesday! I keep thinking it is Thursday or Friday and that is just... depressing. Such a let down. The kids don't have school for the next two days which is nice but... if I don't get a decent nap in either day I'll probably end up crabby. I'm just saying. 

The Outlook for Earthlings - Joan Frank

The Outlook for Earthlings traces an unusual, difficult friendship across a lifetime, between women of stunningly opposite natures. Melanie Taper is timid, compelled to obey and venerate authority. Yet in unguarded moments she demonstrates such deadly insight into human foibles as to suggest a strength that has, for dark reasons, deliberately hidden itself. Scarlet Rand, by contrast, is rash, willful, and impatient of reverence of any stripe. Scarlet is shocked by Mel's passive reserve; despite her obvious gifts, Mel is—bafflingly—self-erasing. Mel's saintliness maddens Scarlet—because finally and most troublingly, Scarlet disbelieves it. Their friendship suggests to each a final frontier, a saving sanctuary. Yet at its core, a pained impasse soon becomes evident: each woman takes a secret, moral offense at the other's inmost nature—and choices. Living out these differences—against awareness of the illness which is slowly destroying one of them—proves an ultimate challenge. In each, a reckoning must occur. The Outlook for Earthlings examines what women want, amid conflicting layers of need. It ponders beginnings, endings, and Virginia Woolf's declaration that good angels must be killed. It considers the limits of friendship—and of the act of witnessing. At its heart, it asks how we may finally measure a life—and who should do the measuring. 
Wow, OK, I'm not even sure what to write about this or what to talk about that doesn't really give away the best parts about this book. It is definitely a literary fiction so if that is your jam, this is one you are really going to enjoy. It's not very long (just over 200 pages or so) but it covers a lifetime. I think we are all at the age where we start looking at relationships we've had, and lost, or thought we lost who have come back, and what they meant to our greater life. I know that I have friends that have gone through the good, the bad, and the ugly, but also everything in between. The boring, the shame, the sorrow, the nothing. 

Which is what this book is. 

The author does an amazing job describing everything and everyone, so much so that you can easily visualize this as you go, and I felt like that was important to the story. The story itself is about Scarlet and Mel, and their friendship over the years but it is really about all of us, how we change over time. The idea that friendship is like marriage, albeit a little different. The arc of a marriage is excitement/fun in the beginning, trouble/difficulties arise and people drift apart a bit but come together again, and you settle into a kind of comfortableness. It's the same as friendships, particularly with Scarlet and Mel. 

I feel like this book is PERFECT given the current climate we are in as a country, we're seeing lifelong friendships and even family being torn because of polarizing political views. The story delves deeper into the meaning of not just being a friend but a good friend. It talks about how sometimes we have to look past a person's choices (even if they are completely questionable and you know you are totally right), maybe the relationships they choose, or even the way they move through the world. 

I loved that even though the girls grow up together, go their separate ways and do vastly different things with their lives, and when they come back together they are happy to see each other but.... they do the thing we are all guilty of, they start the mental conversation with ourselves completely judging them instead of asking how you can support them. Which is the moral of the story. The way we get there in this book is beautiful and something so many can identify with in our own lives in some respect. 

I also think this is going to make a wonderful book club selection, especially if your club is all women, because so many conversations will happen around friendship. It might even encourage you to find your best friend from elementary school, who knows? 

A huge thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour but also Joan Frank for sending me a copy of her book!


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

October (almost) wrap-up

It is really crazy to think October is already half way done. I have done so many things in the last month it was kind of overwhelming to go through it all. I didn't even include all of it here, I'll save that for another day!

Way back in June 2018, I did a boudoir shoot and it was definitely a learning experiences for me. I had a lot of feelings immediately after but also the more time that went by, the more I seemed to have. In 2019 I took part in a little mini group for the session about body positivity and started digging into some of the reasons why I feel the way I do about my body and self. Certainly, lots of it requires more work than something this group could cover and I get that. I've since spent some more time really thinking about it. 

One thing though that I really have a hard time getting past is my abdomen. Never mind that it is totally not functioning the way that it should be and that's frustrating. Everyday though, when I wake up and I get dressed, I see my floppy tummy and I see my c-section scar. It isn't the fact I have a scar that bothers me, instead, it is a visual representation of trauma. I have something on my body that everyday reminds me of the trauma I have been through and it's panic inducing for sure, but it is also really scary. It reminds me that I have no control. 

And control is a big thing for me, I really don't do well if I don't have it in my personal life. 

So when I saw an opportunity to participate in a RAW session for the same studio, I figured what the hell? Why not? You had to apply and worst case scenario, I won't get picked. 

Turns out I was picked. I had a short session with Emily and honestly? I got so much more from that one and I felt beautiful. Sure, all of my lumps and bumps are visible. I've got no makeup, my hair isn't done, I'm wearing a stretched out bra, a tank I wear to bed normally, but also my most comfortable underwear, and I felt more like me. I know my boudoir photos are beautiful... but that isn't me. I don't even own lingerie... or matching bra/panties even. I don't wear much makeup and I never wear heels. But these? These photos were me and I loved it. I'll share more another day, maybe when my photos are live on their end... maybe. I'll share this one though, easily my favorite. 

Let's see.. we went to see alpacas! If you are friends with me on Facebook these aren't new, but I love them anyways. 
I am so glad we finally made the trek to Frosty Ridge Alpacas in Duluth, Minnesota! Easily the nicest husband/wife duo, a very cool little farm, and a pretty nice gift shop area too (I bought a magnet and a little alpaca for my desk). 
I learned a lot about these super furry (and soft) creatures and the baby loved me. As did the white one behind it. Penelope and Lucy LOVED them and would have stood there petting and feeding them all day. We didn't stay long because it was close to the end of their day, so we did leave after about 45 minutes or so. Olivia didn't come because she went with a friend to go apple picking, so we were a group of five that day. After leaving the alpacas, we decided to go to Enger Tower in Duluth because Penelope asks to go see the "castle on the mountain" so we went. 
It was ridiculously busy and I hate traffic, I hate looking for parking, I hate people who just skateboard through parking lots like morons, and I hate when people panic when parking or getting out of their spot so they freak out and stop.... half way out of a spot so now nobody can do anything. If you panic when parking, parallel parking maybe isn't for you. I'm just saying. 
Penelope and Lucy both made it up all five stories of steps and Penelope would have gone more if there was anywhere else to go. I barely made it and I stood up there for maybe a solid minute before I wanted to come down because there were SO MANY people up there and germs. Hard pass. I hustled down a lot faster than I went up. 
I wasn't feeling well that day, physically or mentally, so Jackson kind of hung back with me because he's a good kid like that. 
We decorated the house for Halloween! It is a terrible picture but the upper windows have eyes and the porch have (handmade) teeth. The little girls love it! I also have a spider and a spider web to put up but it has been so windy and I'm afraid it would blow away. I'm also not 100% sure where it is going to go or how I will get it there so... eventually. 
What else? Oh! I participated in a two day virtual conference, the Champions for Change Summit for MoMMA's Voices. I went as a representative for the AFE Foundation and it was great because I got to "meet" other AFE survivors and hear more about their stories and just different things they've done, or would like to do, since their AFE. 
I had a lot of anxiety going into it and I don't really know why? It isn't like I had to talk or anything but maybe it was just the not knowing what to expect? 
I will say that I learned SO MUCH about other post-partum issues and I learned that there is such a thing as bereavement doulas- did you know that was a thing? 
I really had a good time and I'll say by the end of the second day my little brain was feeling fried, I think I went to bed not long after! I hope I can participate in things like that again and I hope I can do more as a maternal mortality and morbidity advocate. 
There's our little AFE group! 

I'll leave you with some statistics and information that has really stuck with me: 
  • Each year, 700 women die from pregnancy related causes and 2/3 of those are completely preventable. 
  • The CDC has a new Hear Her Campaign (I highly suggest you watch that video) and not going to lie, it really triggered me because I could be in any of those videos. 
  • In the Merck for Mothers session we learned that the United States is 1 of only 8 countries where maternal deaths are INCREASING. The United States is also 55th in gender equality. 
So just think about that. We all know someone who is pregnant, trying to be pregnant, or just had a baby, and how many of those women know any of this? We say having a baby is pretty safe but is pretty safe good enough? I feel like the United States could, and should, be doing better than we currently are. I hope someday we do. 

What have you been doing the last few weeks?