Saturday, April 10, 2021

Book Review: Play The Rules

It's the weekend and I am HERE for it. Honestly, I need this weekend to be a whole bunch of nothing. It mostly is, Olivia has a dance class on Sunday evening, but other than that- I'm going to read, do some crafts, and literally nothing else. 

Maybe laundry because clean underwear and socks are a luxury I'm not willing to give up, even in the name of relaxation. 

Play the Rules: How to Stop Doubting Yourself 

Be Your Own Superhero/ine! 

Dr. Monica Armillotta

Play the Rules is the self-help book for people who hate self-help books! Offering a colorful mix between the semi-autobiographical, humor and provocative genres and advocating a counter-intuitive approach to life, Play the Rules delivers on its promise by defining its own category. This is a modern success story—an antidote to conventional fairy tales!

Standing by what I preach, this book provides the ultimate tips and tricks from a lawyer (myself—indeed defying the stereotype by example!) who got bored with playing by the book and decided to write one instead.

Through a no-nonsense, yet unfailingly humorous approach to our everyday messy lives, which are always full of surprises and where the only constant is indeed the unexpected, Play the Rules outlines 33 down-to-earth Rules aimed at challenging our most common stereotypes. Each novel turn (of page and of life) offers a unique chance to stop, rethink our next move and reinvent our own story. Each Rule and Charm directly calls upon the superhero/ine that each of us disguises: our true selves, awaiting to rise as our champions and take back control of our own lives. My ultimate goal? To reach those who are looking for inspiration to dare to live (not just think) outside the box, and to chase after their dreams!

Dr. Monica Armillotta is a senior corporate lawyer, passionate writer and owner of a lively blog, daring you with a counterintuitive approach to life.

Born in Italy and currently living in Germany, her travels across Europe, Asia and the US offer unspoiled material for her first semi-autobiographical, highly whimsical and defiant book: Play the Rules.

Challenging conventional stereotypes and humorously defining herself as a "writer at heart, challenger by nature, and lawyer by profession (and chance),” Monica has worked with major multinational companies as a senior legal advisor and negotiator.
I'm going to be that person to say that self-help books are sometimes a struggle for me. I have a thing about excessive positivity and I'm learning that toxic positivity is a thing and there is a reason my eye twitches when people are all, "at least you're alive!". Normally when I read a declared self-help book it is mostly full of that but also that your life might be a mess but Jesus says it's fine so just be happy, dammit. 

I just can't work under those conditions.  

When I did some research on this one, I love that it's not really a self-help book but more of the common sense stuff we already KNOW but it's the push for us to actually do it. Chapters are referred to as "rules" and there are 33 overall. It sounds daunting, but each is rather short and you can get through this book in a weekend easily and go back to work on Monday refreshed and maybe with a completely new game plan. 

I had a few favorites in the book, so I'll share a few of those just so you get the general idea of the book. Rule #24 was "Let Your Present Be Your Present; Live in the Moment" and I know that we all know this, half of us have some kind of wall art telling us to do just that. I am the absolute worst at doing this and I know that I need to be better at removing distractions. It's just not good for me in any way, considering I already have a slower cognitive function level post stroke. I also wrote down a line in the book that really stood out and it said, "Befriend chaos. Darkness is not your enemy, but your ally. Even stars can't shine without darkness." and man.... I need that. I struggle in any kind of chaos and going with the flow is just not my go-to action at all. I know I need to work on that and that takes effort on my part. 

Another rule that really stood out was Rule 16: The More You Do, the Less It Means. Focus on What Matters. I know less is more, and sometimes I disagree on that, but for the most part.... I get it. I always get a bit prickly when people say money doesn't make you happier. I agree it doesn't make you happier, but it does make life more comfortable and comfort makes happiness easier to achieve. I can't feel happiness when I'm stressed about feeding myself of my children, for instance. She also touches on whether having more options would make us happier and I don't necessarily think so. It's kind of like children, if you give them an entire closet to pick from, it will lead to a meltdown every morning. Give them three to pick from and they'll find something they are happy with for the day. 

Also, towards the end of the book there is a line that says, "Trolls die if you don't feed them." and I loved that. It's so applicable in every part of life, right? I've found some real freedom in the last few years deleting friends and family from social media and out of my life in general. I didn't realize how much of their rhetoric and negativity, or even toxic positivity, was affecting me until I erased them completely. I'm making conscious decisions on who I give my time and attention to and it's amazing how much stress you feel come off once you start making some of those moves. 

Overall? I really liked this one. I appreciated her humor throughout and the conversationalist nature of the book. It didn't feel like a textbook but rather sitting down for coffee with someone set to helping you make a plan. I appreciated her personal stories to support some of the rules and showing how they can be practically applied to your own life. I think you'll find yourself tabbing off several pages of this book to come back to and spend more time thinking about them. 

A big thank you to Red Clover Digital for sending me a copy for review! If you're looking for something to spark your motivation, this will be a great place to start. 

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Book Review: Lies We Bury

I normally don't really read a lot of thrillers until the fall, but I've had a good run of them lately so I have to just talk them up.  

If you know me in real life, you know that I really love true crime and I'm all about a true crime podcast and this book is really one for you if you're the same way. 

Lies We Bury - Elle Marr

I was born in captivity…

Two decades ago Marissa Mo escaped a basement prison—the only home she’d ever known. At twenty-seven, Marissa’s moved beyond the trauma and is working under a new name as a freelance photographer. But when she accepts a job covering a string of macabre murders in Portland, it’s impossible for Marissa not to remember.

Everything is eerily familiar. The same underground lairs. Sad trinkets and toys left behind, identical to those Marissa had as a child. And then there is the note meant just for her that freezes Marissa’s blood: See you soon, Missy.

To determine the killer’s next move, Marissa must retrieve her long-forgotten memories and return to a past she’s hidden away. But she won’t be facing her fears alone. Someone is waiting for her in the dark.
Whoa, boy. I actually flew through this book because I was totally caught up on my Morbid podcast episodes, and this one was dark. I'll even call it a psychological thriller because the book really centered around the memories we have, how time can change them, and how several people can go through the same traumatic event and all have wildly different memories of it. I told someone else that this story was pretty bananas and I didn't even figure it out because my brain couldn't get all the way around this, so the ending was kind of intense. I honestly felt like Claire trying to process things at the same pace. The things I remembered from earlier in the book maybe wasn't the way it really was so I was trying to figure the ending out based on information I don't have totally right.... if that makes sense. 

The story really starts with Claire, who used to be Marissa. She is one of three children who were born in captivity after her mother (and the other two moms) were abducted/held captive by Chet. Eventually they escaped and Claire has grown up being "that girl" and you know people are- they spread rumors, make up stories, treat them like a news piece instead of actual people dealing with a traumatic life. Claire fares slightly "better" than her sisters do, though that is really debatable because it is clear she isn't well. It's approaching the twenty year anniversary of their escape and suddenly Claire finds herself back in the crosshairs of a killer, possibly one that knows HER and her story. She reaches out to her sister Jenessa, who after a few stints in rehab is seemingly back on track who assures her it probably is just a prank or an opportunist. Claire wants to believe that but as new murders happen in Portland, she's just not sure and it seems like the killer is setting her up for something. 

This book was wild. I couldn't put this one down and I found myself trying to figure this out for Claire because things just seemed too odd. By the time all of the details unraveled? Wow. What a story. I can only imagine the notes the author had to keep to organize all of it and to let it flow the way it did. It is PERFECT for fans of true crime because you'll really enjoy trying to piece the original story (the book flashes back to before their escape to present day) and decide how it ties in with the murders happening now. It's also a great piece on what childhood trauma can do to a person and also bring up the nature versus nurture debate. 

A huge thank you to Thomas & Mercer for sending me a copy of this for review- WHAT A RIDE. If you're a fan of Jennifer McMahon, this is a good comparison and I'd read anything by Elle Marr, she is incredibly talented and I'm excited to see what comes next. 
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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Book Review: Everybody Fights

I know it feels like I'm the world's worst blogger as of late, and I kind of am. I'm kind of the world's worst everything lately, so I guess I'm excelling at that. I won't even tell you life is busy because it is for everyone, but I will say I'm really struggling to keep up with life. I feel like even when I take things off of my plate, it doesn't help- it just moves priorities around and I still feel like I'm a mess. When I think about what life would be like if I had no priorities, no responsibilities... even that stresses me out because I'll always feel like there's something I should be doing.  

It's really a no win and I need to find better ways to manage this. Clearly my lists and reminders aren't enough. 

Everybody Fights - Kim & Penn Holderness

My wife drives me crazy sometimes. My husband should already know what I need. Is our marriage in trouble if we fight all the time? Is it possible to learn how to fight?

For the last several years, Penn and Kim Holderness have done the hard maintenance and the research. With the help of their marriage coach Dr. Christopher Edmonston, they break down their biggest (and in some cases, funniest) fights. How did a question about chicken wings turn into a bra fight (no, not a bar fight; a bra fight)? How did a roll of toilet paper lead to tears, resentment, and a stint in the guest bedroom?

With their trademark sense of humor and complete vulnerability, Penn and Kim share their ten most common Fight Fails and how to combat them. Throughout the book, they offer scripts for how to start, continue, and wrap up hard conversations. Couples will emerge equipped to engage and understand, not do battle—and maybe laugh a little more along the way.

In Everybody Fights, couples will learn how to
  • conjure the magic of metacommunication
  • break free of secret contracts
  • banish the three Ds—distraction, denial, and delay
  • carry their own individual baggage while helping each other deal with theirs
Penn and Kim metacommunication want people to know they’re not alone. Marriage is messy. Marriage is work. But marriage is worth it. Fight for it. 
If you've been on Facebook anytime in the last couple of years, I guarantee that you have seen the Holderness Family and their hilarious music videos. Honestly, the ones made in the early days of the quarantine gave me life and I just remember one where he's rolling the garbage cans down the driveway and Kim is like, "garbage came last week" and the look on his face was all of us. To this day I cannot tell you if it's garbage week and I've stopped trying to figure it out. 

What's endearing though is that you can tell this couple love each other and get along really well, genuinely have fun with each other- but we all know that cameras turn off and doors close.... then what? I love that they have written this book because one of the things I'm most proud of is how hard Matt and I have worked at keeping our marriage going. I say it often, but we have LITERALLY tested each and every vow at least once. We've had bankruptcy, infidelity, miscarriage, unplanned babies, me dying, me being not well, discovering we have WILDLY different ideas on a lot of different things, and then a bunch of good times, too. Of all of the people we know who got married the same year we did, we are the only ones still going strong. Not to say we're some super couple, sticking together out of spite at this point, but we have worked so hard at making it work. I tell people all of the time that absolutely nobody realizes going in that marriage is harder than anything. It's harder than parenting, and we're in the middle of doing that times 4, marriage is by far harder. You know why? 

Because someday the kids will move out (hopefully) and then it'll just be Matt and I. We don't want to get there only to realize we don't even like each other anymore. 

If you are at all married, wanting to be married, might be getting married, struggling in a marriage, divorced and wondering what's wrong with you, etc.- you need this book. Reading this book is like sitting with the best marriage counselor you can find. No, it's like watching people you know end up on a daytime psychiatrist show and knowing what they need to do but still watching it to the end to validate you were, after all, right. I always know what other people should do but when it comes to me... it's a mystery. 

One of the BEST pieces I got from the book, that I know is my worst fault: "..when you're trapped in a fight, you can't bounce around all over the place trying to find a way out. We had moved on too quickly to the next issue before we had the first one resolved." This was early in the book and it was after they argued over chicken. Well, actually a bra. No, she was cooking chicken, she took her bra off, he was having a bad day, he was sick of chicken and said let's go out, and she's like, "no- my bra is off" and from there it went down to "you never help", "but I did what you asked", "why did I have to ask, you're so selfish", etc. 

I know for a damn fact Matt and I have this argument at least once a month. 

Other sections that really hit home? The one about snuggling.... I'm not a big snuggler. I think I used to be and that's what gave Matt the impression that hey, "this girl likes to the cuddle and hug!", but since dying and such? Yeah.... stop touching me. I don't like hugs that drag out, not even from my kids. If I want to snuggle, I'll initiate it but good god GET OFF OF ME. 

We're still working through that. 

Also? The chapter on money. I think the face that Matt and I have been together since the beginning of our 20's makes us a bit different. We were never really financially set on our own, and never really figured out responsibility and future planning on our own, so trying to learn all of that WITH someone at their pace? 

It's been..... a challenge. 

Some years he's our super saver and financially fiscal person. Some years he falls off the wagon and it's me, the chronic spender trying to guide the ship and that's no good. Getting on the same track at the same time has been really hard, even more so now that he's the only one working and the money dynamic is different. I feel like money is so hard because it's the easiest thing to turn into a weapon. 

I could go on and on about this book, but I'll end it with I love their suggestion of being your partner's publicist. I know people get annoyed with the "my husband is amazing" posts but you know what? I love them. I don't look at it as making it look like our lives our so great, it tells me your husband did something pretty cool and that you want others to admire him for it. Maybe it doesn't have to be a public thing, sometimes just a note in his lunchbox that says, "I'm thankful you work so hard for our family. I love you for that." is enough. We are not telling each other the things we like or appreciate about them and it does amazing things. One compliment can turn someone else's entire attitude around. 

A huge, HUGE thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and Thomas Nelson for sending me a copy for review. This is maybe one of the best books on marriage I've read, it's a fast read and easy to get through but also apply to your own relationships. 

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Jackson is a TEENAGER

If you haven't been around since the beginning of this blog, you'll not know that I basically started this blog to update my far away family on my kids shortly after Jackson was born. I felt terrible that so many of them weren't getting to see my kids and learn how cool they were, so I thought I'd start a blog, and so it is 13 years since the start of this blog, which means..... Jackson is officially a teenager. 

It doesn't really feel like a huge milestone sometimes because he isn't my last baby anymore, but then there are times where I'm like, if I didn't have Pep and Lu.... I'd only have five more years and my kids would be adults. 

That is really kind of weird to think about. 
If you don't know my kids in real life, you're really missing out because they are pretty great. Jackson is, and has always been a total mama's boy. He's my boy. He loves me more than anyone, he goes out of his way to help me at every turn, he worries incessantly about me, he is always looking for my approval, and he is such a great helper. You know, when he wakes up at a reasonable time. 
If I'm sick, he's the first one to bring me an ice pack or a bucket... depending on the day. When he's sick he absolutely wants me to completely baby him and we both agree I make the far superior grilled cheese. He's banned from making pudding. 
He's incredibly sensitive and it doesn't take much to hurt his feelings. He isn't "all boy", he doesn't love sports (he tolerates tennis and will willingly do it), he hates physical labor, and he has a weak stomach like me. I wish he didn't, because it would just be a lot more convenient if we weren't both gagging when having to clean certain things up from the pets HE wanted. 
If I could hand pick a boy for my very own, I would 100% have picked Jackson. He has all of the best qualities, and his laugh is contagious. He is also ridiculously indecisive and I have no idea where he gets that from, probably his father. 
He's also the best big brother even though he's insistent that Penelope and Lucy don't like him. They actually love him, they just really enjoy giving him the hardest time ever for the fun of it. 

His birthday falls on Easter this year and he completely hates sharing his birthday with a holiday, let alone Easter. He's never been a fan of Easter, so we're going to celebrate today. If you see him out and about, wish him Happy Birthday, but not Happy Easter.