Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Back to School 2023-2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2023

Summer of Concerts: Sam Smith

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Book Review: Ride or Die

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

Ride or Die - Jarie Bolander

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post contains affiliate links. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

Book Review: The Wolf and the Wildflower

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

The Wolf and the Wildflower - Stacy Reid

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Book Review: Shattered Dreams

 Hello friends! I'm still reading like crazy and one of my recent books is the last in the Beautiful Nightmare series from Abbie Roads and I want more. 

Shattered Dreams - Abbie Roads

A crooked cop. Corruption. A woman convicted of murder. A man determined to prove her innocence.

When Helena Grayse is released from prison, all she wants is to say a final goodbye to her old life. But when a man finds her trespassing on his property, instead of turning her in, he takes her in. Accepts her. Loves her.

But someone decides to serve Helena with a death sentence.

Shattered Dreams is the third book in Abbie Roads’ Beautiful Nightmare Series of dark romantic thrillers. It features a felon heroine who never thought she deserved love. If you devour true crime and romance novels then you’ll love a series that combines both in a roller-coaster ride of danger, mind games, and swoon worthy love.

I'm going to try to talk about this without giving anything away and ruin it. To be fair, I didn't read the synopsis when I started it so I went into this kind of blind. We have Thomas, who after a tumultous childhood with a harrowing, violent event, lost the ability to see color. Until Helena, who after an unbelievable awful stint in prison for a crime she didn't commit. With Helena near him, he can see color and that's alarming to him. She isn't mute, she's selectively quiet so Thomas finds it difficult to communicate with her but he's still able to. 

After a chance encounter in the woods, Thomas sees this as fate, but Helena is still terrified and doesn't know why Thomas is being kind to her and she doesn't trust it. They quickly learn that Helena is in grave danger, and it is connected to the danger finds Thomas finds himself in and it's a larger problem than either can imagine. Helena's dreams may have the key to unlock all of the questions. 

I loved the romance, I loved the interesting connection between the two and the connection to the larger stories. I loved Abbie's writing, she makes every story a fast read. I loved the romance angle, and I loved the connection to the legend the totem pole the books are written around. (I understand that sounds bizarre, just go with it.)

Overall I really liked this and this series. I need to read the first one because I'd like to see how the series started, but the second one was just as good as this one. Each couple has strange challenges and I liked the creativity. I can't say that I've read anything quite like that and I'm here for it. 

Thank you to Xpresso Tours and Abbie Roads for having me on this tour and providing a copy for review! A package from Abbie is a bright spot in any kind of day, I can't wait to read what she does next! 
This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Strands do Tennessee. And Kentucky. Kind of.

 One of my goals in life is to visit all 50 states and because last summer we didn't go on any roadtrips, this summer I wanted to get the most out of our summer. First trip was to Tennessee/Kentucky. We could only go for a few days if we wanted to fit our second trip in this summer to cross another state off. 


We left in the middle of the night so we can get to Tennessee in one trip (16 hours) and it ended up working out really well. 

Lucy would agree. I feel like we're road trip pros when a 16 hour drive doesn't even phase us. 
In Tennessee, our destination was Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge which I actually didn't realize was such a tourist mecca. It was like Branson, Missouri in my opinion. 
Highlights of our trip was Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. I highly recommend it if you're in the area, especially if you're a fan of sharks. They have a really cool shark area with species I hadn't even heard of. I'm not even sure we saw every area but the kids were getting tired (we walked around for two hours). I definity wouldn't recommend the "boat ride" which is literally a glass bottom boat, tethered, and goes in a slow circle and you see everything you saw in the shark area. It was an outrageous money grab and the kids were disappointed. 
We also went to the Skylift Park and Skylift Bridge on what felt like the hottest day of the week. You ride up on a gondola to get to the top, which is the gorgeous park area. The bridge itself is long with a glass bottom at the mid-point. It was SO hot outside so I only made it to the half way point before I had to turn around. I think a combination of the heat and height got to me because on my walk back I got so dizzy. I had to rest and hydrate when I got to the end. Conveniently, the park has lots of chairs to rest and enjoy the view. 
I mean, I could sit and look at this for hours. 
Jackson didn't love the height of the day so he was the real sport this day. 
We did some walking around Gatlinburg to see some shops and Jackson hit the motherlode when he found a small music store. He got some vinyl he's been searching for at an unbelieveable price, and a couple of posters that will look great in his room. 

We spent a night having dinner at the Island in Pigeon Forge and went with Margaritaville, a favorite of Jackson. We also walked around there and the little girls rode some rides. I was actually surprised it wasn't more busy, but maybe it was the heat. 
The next day we went to Dollywood and unpopular opinion.... I thought it was overrated. We didn't do the water park side, just the amusement park, but I wasn't impressed. It was overpriced, the food wasn't great, there was almost no shade and sitting areas in the shade, it was just a really long, rough day. The only positive was the lines for rides actually weren't that long so the kids were able to ride as many as they would like to. The best part of the day was paying the extra $45 for preferred parking because by the end of the day my legs were screaming. 
Another part of our trip was going to the Titanic museum, which was a wish from Penelope. She's obsessed and she was all over the place taking it all in. Unfortunately, my traveler and Jackson's traveler died, everyone else's survived. 
Even the big kids had a great time. I definitely recommend this if you're looking for something to do indoors. 
We also did some mini-golf, as recommended by all of the kids, and I had actually never mini-golfed before so I got to do something new. Recommendation: go to Pigeon Forge to golf, and go in the morning, otherwise the lines are long and you'll be rushed. 
Our very last day we drove to Bowling Green, Kentucky so we could go to Beech Bend Amusement Park. We weren't doing the amusement side, just the water park side. The kids a great day, I spent almost seven hours sitting in a shaded cabana because I forgot my book at the hotel and didn't have a current one on my phone. Rookie move! The park was OK, I'm not sure I wouldn't go out of my way to go here again, but if you're in the area and need somehting to do, it might be a fun day. 

Overall? We had a really nice week. It was so nice to go on vacation with all of us again, I can't wait for our next one to Michigan. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Long live through the cruel summer.

We have been having a very busy summer, doing all kinds of things left and right. Our summer kick off was basically the Taylor Swift concert, which was a Christmas gift for them last December. Even if you aren't the biggest Swiftie, I think being able to say you went to the concert of the year is going to be something. 

I'll be honest, I can't remember who the opener was, (maybe Owenn?) but he wasn't great and we couldn't get into it. 
The second opener was Girl in Red and I am SUCH a fan so I was almost more excited about them and they did not disappoint. I wanted more and it was such a great set. 
Of course Taylor came on and everyone lost their minds. Even us 40something moms had a good time. 
It was so great hearing all of the crowd singing along and everyone was so happy. It's a pretty great, uplifting feeling to be surrounded by so many happy people, all enjoying the same thing, and being friendly. 

If I had to critique anything, I'd say there needed to be more monitors for those of us in the nosebleeds. I know there were the two smaller ones on the sides of the stage and one on the far end, but it basically only focused on Taylor, we didn't always get the full effect of the stage. Is it a big deal? No, but for a tour being touted for the visual piece, it would have been nice if everyone had the opportunity to see the same thing. 

Also, we went to Minneapolis night 2 and unpopular opinion, I think the song Dear John sucks so the fact we got that was a giant eyeroll for me. With the lecture of "be nice" when she knows good and damn well people are going to attack John Mayer with or without her blessing. It's like telling a kid to stop that even though as a parent, you're laughing at what they're doing. It's the same thing. I hoped so hard for a Bon Iver duet considering he lives not far from Minneapolis but it wasn't our luck. I didn't care for either surprise song, but I know I'm in the minority with that. 

The real fun came after we left, it began to rain, absolutely pouring, and after walking to the other side of the stadium to find our ride, I got knocked off the sidewalk and curb by a drunk person walking backwards. Do you think anyone, literally anyone other than my two teenagers, would say, "Shit- do you need help?!"??? No. No, and that was disappointing. Needless to say, I sprained my ankle badly and almost a month later, my ankle is still painful. Thankfully it didn't break, I thought for sure I fractured it some how that night though. It cut our weekend fun short though and we ended up just going home the next morning. 

Did you go see Taylor Swift? Is still on your agenda this year?