Sunday, November 30, 2014

17, almost 18. And some 16.

Seriously, I suck as a blogger as of late. To my defense, things are busy. I have LOTS to tell you about, lots of pictures to share, and my goal is just to actually sit down and blog several things all at once and keep you coming back every day this week.

Because you know you want to.

16.5 weeks pregnant

So here's the deal, right now I'm 17 weeks pregnant and I'll be 18 weeks on Wednesday. It's kind of a weird "is she pregnant or fat" phase I'm in right now, but there is definitely something there. Some days it feels all hard and other days it feels like I'm literally just super fat and gross.

The good news is that I'm not throwing up anymore! I come close some mornings because I randomly start coughing and if I don't have a silent, "You stop coughing RIGHT THIS SECOND" conversation with myself in the mirror, I will cough until I throw up and I don't count that.

As of right now, I'm actually down four pounds from where I started. So... that's good? I mean, obviously I'm protruding, so something is growing in there, so I'm not worried. The heartbeat two appointments ago was 176 so the old wives' tale says that means it's a girl, but my last appointment it was 146, so that says boy. We officially find out (hopefully) at our next appointment, which is December 15.

I get a lot of people asking how I feel and basically, I feel no different. I don't really feel pregnant at all. I occasionally get swollen ankles but it goes away quickly. I've had heartburn on and off, but I had it 24/7 with Olivia so this is nothing compared to that. I sleep OK at this point, but I am tired literally all of the time. I really think my hemoglobin is low and I'm pretty sure I'll get put on special iron supplements like with the other two pregnancies, and that sucks because everything tastes vaguely like metal then. But if it means not feeling like a zombie a little while longer, I'm game.

The cool thing was last night I was able to feel one kick from the outside of my belly. I've been feeling things since 14 weeks, but honestly, it's so rare and random it's hard to feel like I've hit that milestone. I'm kind of excited when it's a constant thing, or at least something I can feel far more often. Soon, I suppose.

Olivia and Jackson are getting VERY excited about the baby. They've seen my new niece (post on her soon) twice now, and both don't pay much attention to her when she's here, but when she leaves I get lots of questions. Today my brother and sister in law were here with Adriana, the baby, and we heard Adriana cry a little bit. I think it made Jackson nervous. After they left he asked me if our baby is going to be that little and squirmy, and if I thought it would cry a lot. I said yes and he looked kind of scared. But his number one concern is not having enough toys for the baby. He is so worried the baby is going to be bored and mentions it every time we go to the store, that we should maybe pick up a toy or two. It's kind of adorable.

So that's where we're at. I'm going to post pictures of the nursery soon. As it turns out, Matt can't find the hammer (shocker) so he hasn't been able to hang up my cute wall hangings. He promises he'll look for it tonight.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Supernatural Enhancements

I have wanted to read this book since I heard it was coming out and I read a teaser chapter quite awhile ago. Then I tried to win a copy off of Goodreads and SURPRISE! I totally won! It was my first win off of there, so obviously that was exciting. Then I read this right around Halloween because it's nice and creepy, but it is also a mystery/thriller book so you can read this anytime.

The Supernatural Enhancements - Edgar Cantero
The Supernatural Enhancements
What begins as a clever, gothic ghost story soon evolves into a wickedly twisted treasure hunt in The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero's wholly original, modern-day adventure.

When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a "second cousin, twice removed" in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .

Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?

Told vividly through a series of journal entries, scrawled notes, recovered security footage, letters to Aunt Liza, audio recordings, complicated ciphers, and even advertisements, Edgar Cantero has written a dazzling and original supernatural adventure featuring classic horror elements with a Neil Gaiman-ish twist.

Seriously, this book is straight screwed up but in the best way possible. I will say that even though I was ridiculously excited for it and it has an amazing cover, I struggled to get through it. It's certainly not a fast read and I think that's because so much information is covered in it. That, and the story flip flops between A's point of view, Niamh's point of view (which is interesting considering she's a mute), letters to A's aunt, transcribed recordings, etc- it's really hard to keep pace with this book. But the story is incredibly odd and it ends up being the perfect way to tell it. Let's put it this way- it's like the Blair Witch of books. 

The best thing about this book is clearly the ending because I can't even tell you how incredibly brilliant and perfect the ending was. A close second is going to be the fact that the author is constantly surprising you. The story starts like a regular haunted house but it quickly escalates into something truly bizarre, terrifying, and flat out creepy and it really isn't like anything you've read before. Honestly, I feel like I was maybe spoiled for any other book in it's genre because it's going to be hard to pass this one up. The entire book is basically a riddle full of weird codes you have to decipher and it's probably a good thing Niamh is a mute because it enhances her intelligence in other areas and she quickly becomes the brains of the duo as A battles with terrible unexplained nightmares and starts going crazy essentially. Which is exactly what happened to the relative that died- he slowly went nuts and killed himself, which is how A finds himself inheriting this house. But once you find out why all of this has happened? It's pretty creative and downright strange. 

I'd have to give this a 4/5 stars. I can't give it that last start because it was cumbersome and rather difficult to get through, but I am very glad I didn't give up on this. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bitter Greens

You want to talk about a lofty book? This is it. Easily.

Bitter Greens - Kate Forsyth
Bitter Greens
The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love
French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens...

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.

Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.

Yes, it's a re-telling of Rapunzel. Yes, it's really long and it's really hard to get through. Yes, it is absolutely worth it. I will say that because I confess to getting bored with this at several points and wanting to actually give it up. I did not, because I'm kind of a fan of classic stories being re-told and I figured I had already gotten this far, I'm this much invested, I'll keep plugging along. And I'm really glad because though for a good chunk of the book I had no idea how Kate was going to tie three stories (all different time periods, no less) together and make it seem logical to the story of Rapunzel. Somehow, she did it. Do I think chunks could be removed? Yes. Very much so. It's just so boring in parts that I fear a lot of less dedicated readers would give up, especially those who aren't avid readers as it is. 

But we have the store of three women: Margherita, the young girl stolen from her family because her father stole bitter greens from Selena Leonellia (La Strega), we have Charlotte-Rose, who is sent away from Louis XIV court because she basically sleeps around a little too much, and then the story of La Strega. The story is actually Charlotte-Rose learning of the actual story of Margherita, and then she compares it to her current situation, which is living in a home for nuns and it's treated like a prison, essentially. And we have La Strega, who is kind of like Charlotte-Rose herself because La Strega was basically forced into her situation and does whatever she can to fight the awful things that have happened to her in her life. I didn't care so much about her story, and I was highly interested in Margherita, but Charlotte-Rose was maybe my least favorite character. 

What is highly interesting is that after I finished it, I see how each woman is like Rapunzel. All were taken, all were essentially in a tower, all had injustices done to them, yet all of them remain hopeful. In very different ways. The story itself is extremely complex and I can only imagine the time it would take to not only research French history to get the characters and original story correct, but then to weave in fictional characters so it all feels real- that had to be a mass under taking. 

In the end, I actually loved it. It was so hard to read and get through, I wanted to give up but I am so glad that I didn't. I would have missed a really great ending that ties it all together kind of perfectly. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Things are looking up! *knock on wood*

Seriously folks, 2014 can just kiss it as far as I am concerned. I have to be honest and say this has been one of the most difficult years we've had in awhile and I am so ready for it to be over. I'm not one to wish days away, but I've just about had it and I can only think that 2015 is going to be good to us. Surely we can't have a streak continue, right? But here are some things that are happening in the land of Strand this week:

* there is a slim chance that some of our medical bills are going to be re-submitted to insurance. As it turns out, my prenatal appointments from earlier this year weren't actually coded as such, which is why I have been paying on a ridiculously huge medical bill all of these months. There is a chance, if the hospital agrees to re-code them and resubmit them, that they will get taken care of and I'll be paid back some of what I have already paid. Not by Christmas, I'm sure, but hell- I'll take it when I can get it.

* I honestly think I'm done with the nausea. Sure, this morning I threw up a lot but I think that had more to do with waking up with a raging headache. Anytime I wake up with a headache, I will inevitably throw up during the day, not related to anything else with me or what I eat, but that the pain level just gets to the point where I will throw up.

* I'm 15 weeks along this week! Seriously, next week I'll post a picture. Swearsies. I have to stay consistent with when I took pictures with the other two because I can't have that crazy un-evenness in my scrapbooks. Surely you understand.

* I accepted a part time job at my kids' school as a library assistant. It feels like it's going to be a perfect fit. Right now I am hoping I can keep both part time jobs, at least for awhile yet to catch up on bills and get ready for baby, but we'll see. If I can't make the schedules work, I have to make some tough decisions and I don't like that. I feel guilty no matter what, and I know I shouldn't.

* I am getting ready for Christmas and I kind of love it. Christmas is my favorite holiday, my favorite time of year, and no matter how bad things get- I always look forward to it. I'm trying to plan some fun holiday/winter outings with my kiddos to get every bit out of fun I can out of it.

* I don't think I mentioned how great Matt and I are doing right now. Seriously. We have been spot on with our communication, we feel like a team, and I am blown away at how helpful and supportive he is with this pregnancy. I keep telling him that this is amazing and I love it, and I love him. It feels good to know that I made the right decision when I decided to stick it out through the really awful years, because we are at an amazing spot right now.

OK- more soon. I have some picture updates coming for you... just as soon as I remember where I put my camera. As it turns out, pregnancy brain is an actual thing, and the third time is obviously the charm because this is the first time I've had it. (Did I tell you I keep putting random things in the freezer? Like all of the time, yet have no recollection of it at all?) So I'll find it. I have to. Mostly because I need it soon and we only have the one. But I'm going to look again before asking Matt for help- I think he's starting to worry I have dementia or something. HA!

Made For You

I'm going to say it- maybe one of the best books I've read this year? Certainly one of the few who kept me engaged the entire time!

Made for You - Melissa Marr
Made for You
When Eva Tilling wakes up in the hospital, she’s confused—who in her sleepy little North Carolina town could have hit her with their car? And why? But before she can consider the question, she finds that she’s awoken with a strange new skill: the ability to foresee people’s deaths when they touch her. While she is recovering from the hit-and-run, Nate, an old flame, reappears, and the two must traverse their rocky past as they figure out how to use Eva’s power to keep her friends—and themselves—alive. But while Eva and Nate grow closer, the killer grows increasingly frantic in his attempt to get to Eva.

For the first time, New York Times bestselling author Melissa Marr has applied her extraordinary talent to contemporary realism. Chilling twists, unrequited obsession, and high-stakes romance drive this Gothic, racy thriller—a story of small-town oppression and salvation. Melissa’s fans, and every YA reader, will find its wild ride enthralling.

I absolutely have to add Melissa Marr to my to-read-more-of authors because this book was really great. First of all, creepy ass cover, enticing book description, and really interesting writing and story line. All of these things hooked me from the first word and I had a hard time putting it down. 

Basically it's the story of Eva, who is seemingly the town princess only because of her lineage, and her group of friends. She isn't totally happy and feels a bit restless and just wants to do something outside of what is normally expected of her. Very early in the story we meet the cast of characters, all of which we learn more about throughout the book, and Eva is hit by a car. Not just by any car, but by "Judge" who is fixated on Eva and believes he is sacrificing her. 

Unfortunately for Judge, Eva doesn't die. Instead she's in tremendous pain, her face is scarred, and she can now see how people are going to die when they touch her bare skin. Judge only knows that she is alive and takes this as a sign that he was too hasty and now he has to make it up to her. In order to do that, he starts killing off friends and acquaintances and sends "messages" to Eva which do nothing more than terrify her. And to give it a romantic twist, while this all happens, Nate comes back into Eva's life and she has to figure out who Judge actually is, how to save her friends, and how to save herself. 

For someone who doesn't normally write in the YA genre, Melissa Marr really nails her first attempt. It's everything that you want out of a YA novel, and the writing is superior to a lot of the YA authors out there right now, and that is always an absolute treat. The best part is that it's absolutely creepy and she nails the mindset of a sadistic, religious stalker perfectly. It honestly made me think this could be a really great Lifetime movie- you know the ones you decide you will only watch until the commercial and suddenly you're asking people to bring you snacks because you don't want to miss anything and you're stuck to the end. So good. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guarded Heart

I haven't read a romance novel in awhile and every time I come back I wonder why do I bother reading anything else since I love these so much. BUT, this is one that I won off of Goodreads, so that's even better!

Guarded Heart - Lisa Andres
Guarded Heart
Jesse Dubicki learned to channel all of his pent up rage into his fists. Now, he's just hired one of the best coaches in the world to help him succeed in becoming a top MMA fighter. Carissa Hart is a woman that has seen more in her young life than many people will in their lifetime. She's finally on her own two feet and determined not to let anyone hurt her again. Jesse's been abandoned by everyone that he's ever loved. Carissa has been abused by everyone that she's ever loved. They are inexplicably drawn to each other. Neither of them wants to be hurt again. Will their relationship survive when a shocking secret from Jesse's past threatens to change their life forever? ****** Author's Note: While this book is part of a series, it can be read as a stand alone novel. The book contains graphic sex scenes and is intended for mature readers.

Full disclosure, I have not read the first Dubicki's novel but it's really OK. I am such a fan of a series that doesn't require you to read things in order because it never fails, I find something once it's already started and I hate feeling like I have to catch up to enjoy my new find. But that's not the case here, and that's perfect. Also perfect is that the book comes in at 158 pages so you can easily knock this one out in an afternoon, or a weekend if you are a slower reader (or have multiple interruptions!). 

The story follows Jesse, an MMA fighter with crap luck in relationships and Carissa, also with crap luck but a history of abuse and neglect that has held her back in life. These two get paired up and it's electric. Carissa acts a bit like a caged animal, she's eager, but absolutely terrified because she can only see the worst case scenario, and then we have Jesse who really likes Carissa but unfortunately for him, a secret from his past will threaten it all. The secret? Well even Jesse doesn't know it until 3/4 of the way in and I can't believe I didn't see it coming. I've read enough romance novels to know that this? This is a common secret but damn, didn't see it coming. 

Of course, Carissa doesn't react well (but does any romance novel female character? No.) and it throws Jesse for a loop and he goes into a downward spiral. I get so angry when the female characters act stupid like this because it's frustrating. Though I suppose not everyone is a rational thinker like me, and maybe it wouldn't make for a compelling read if it was all, "Oh- that sucks but I'm 100% sympathetic and supportive and I fully understand why you withheld this information.", right? So I'll let that go as a complaint. The funny part is that some people say they had a hard time visualizing these characters and I did not. You know who I kept picturing? Ronnie and Sammi from Jersey Shore. No, I'm serious. I didn't even watch that many episodes but no joke, when I look at the cover that's what I see and I can't get the imagery out of my head. So there you go. I've helped you out. 

Overall? I liked this book. It was fast, it was fun, I liked the romantic scenes in the book, and it was a good one to get me out of my rut! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Increase your productivity, and become Wonder Woman

I get asked a lot how I stay on top of things. Being a wife to a husband who works 80 hours a week means I am on my own for a lot of the parenting and household things. Having two kids in school means I'm busy being involved with their studies, their school, not to mention their extra curricular activities. Working part time means I'm fortunate enough to work outside of the home as well as get all of these things done. Then we toss in that I'm a book reviewer, a crafter, and the PTO President at my kids' school. It all adds up to a crazy life, an even crazier schedule, and that's hard to manage.

So how do I do it?

It's taken awhile to develop a system that works for me, but I can tell you that I live and die by lists. Lists make me feel calm, even when they are lengthy. Having everything I need to get done laid out in front of me feels much more manageable and the feeling of crossing things off is great!

I do a lot of book reviews and the easiest way for me to keep track of them is a double system to catch myself in case I forget it in one area. As soon as I book a review, it goes right into my day planner. I write the book title and which company is organizing the tour under the date it is due. Every month I update my white board (shown here) with the current month and the next month, which books I have due and what dates. This is usually where I look first when I go to grab a new book to read and every time a review is typed up, it's erased off the board.
I also have two desks in my office. I know that sounds insane, but it has turned out to be really great as far as keeping things straight. This is my every day desk, it's where I pay my bills, run my blog, maintain social media, and do anything that requires a dedicated work space. The only things I keep here are things that go in and out.
Everything else, whether it be crafty, kid related projects for school, or PTO information, happens at this desk. It's actually a built in cabinet meant for an entertainment center, but it has turned out perfect as a second desk. This way none of this stuff crosses over to the work area and I can keep myself straight and work just in the area that I need to. Sadly, this is the desk that often sees piles, but you see I've got one manageable pile here, I swear it's not for your viewing benefit!
I mentioned that I live and die by lists, but you will also never see me without my daily planner. Though I have a full size one here, in January I am going back to a 6 x 9 size (or around that) because this isn't as handy as I thought it would be, I'd much rather have something that fits into a purse easily. But in my planner I use a color coded system. On the month-at-a-view page, I only write down my actual work schedule. Any other activity is marked on the corresponding date with an asterisk- that's my mental clue to turn to the page for that specific date. On that page, anything for Olivia is written in purple, for Jackson it's blue, PTO related things is green and all else is either teal, pink, or red... whatever I have handy. This color coded system has worked out tremendously!

The other thing I highly advise? Is no matter how small it is, even if it's something you do EVERY Tuesday, write it in your planner! Anytime you have to make plans, you really need to take in everything you have going on that day, be realistic! It's OK to say no to things and to say you really have too much happening on any given day.

Another totally random thing that I have found that helps me a lot is actually having a plan for cleaning, a cleaning schedule, if you will. I know, it sounds silly to say, "On Mondays we mop." but truly, it helps! Who wants to blow their entire weekend cleaning their house? Break it up into smaller, more manageable chores over the week so you can actually relax and enjoy your weekend. The hidden bonus to this is that it then becomes easier to dole these things out to children and spouses.

It takes time to develop a routine that works for you and your family, but I promise that once you hit your groove, you will feel like Wonder Woman and people will wonder how you have it so together!

If you are fortunate to already have a really good routine down, and you feel like you need to grow your business but you are lacking funds? A really great resource is Kabbage. They help you grow your business, increase your productivity, and become more successful in your endeavors by providing small business loans. The great thing is that Kabbage knows you are busy, so you can find out what they can do for you really quickly, and that helps you get more done in your day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On the cusp of 14 weeks.

Is it just you or does it feel like I have been pregnant forever? Because I'm going to be 14 weeks tomorrow and already I feel a mix between "holy crap, second trimester!" and "Jesus- will May 6 ever get here??" So here's a run down of what 14 weeks, the third time around feels like:

  • I pee a lot. And I really cannot emphasize the "a lot" enough. I don't think I ever had to pee this much with my other two. Maybe towards the way end when your baby is on the bladder, but I feel like I pee substantially more this time around. Matt's theory is that because the other two were perfectly easy, not interesting pregnancies, this one is going to give me every symptom and exaggerate them. So far, I am not impressed with this. 
  • The puking? It's getting better! I'm on day two of not puking! It's kind of great. I won't take for granted the bliss that is not puking every day. The worst was the other morning when I puked when I first got up and literally, all I puked up was water. Baby Strand and I had a little coming to Jesus discussion that if you are going to make me vomit, at least be productive. A questionable lunch? Alright, I'm fine with that. Puking for the sake of puking? That's just out of line and unnecessary. 
  • Sleeping sucks. Again, I never had issues sleeping with the other two. This time around sleep deprivation is kicking my ass. It's not even that I'm not tired- I am so tired. I purposely don't nap after work so that I can fall asleep. I hold out until 9 or 10 at night so that I can sleep all the way until 6 in the morning. None of it works. It just doesn't matter, I'll be up at 11, 12:30, 1:15, around 2:30, 3:30, 4:45 and then that's it. I'm wide awake at 4:45. Until around 6:00 and then just sheer exhaustion comes over me and I mentally weigh the pros and cons of wearing pants to work or can I be trendy and call my shirt a long dress. Though nobody would want to see that. Ever. 
  • This week marks the return of my ability to cook. I haven't cooked in weeks (no lie) and yesterday I made dinner. Matt was pretty damn surprised, but really grateful to not have to resort to sandwiches or cereal again. I couldn't eat what I had cooked, but I at least made it without vomiting. WIN. 
  • Tonight I learned that though I can cook, I cannot handle the smell or the look of ground beef. Nope. Cannot do it. So I'll be having cereal. Again. I'm kind of sick of Raisin Bran or Frosted Mini Wheats. 
  • I have officially started nesting. It's ridiculous. This didn't kick in until month six with the other two and here I am, frantically washing, folding, organizing. I'm purging things from the house at an alarming rate and Matt is concerned that his sanity is going to be at risk soon. I can't even lie, he's probably right and has cause for concern. 
That's where we're at. It's kind of a fun and exciting time. It's also a little stressful. I feel overwhelmed at times with what I still need, what I want to have done, and knowing that I don't actually have that much time. People are like, "You have until May!!  You're fine!" but I'm a planner at heart and I know that shit can hit the fan anytime. What if a huge bill comes in a month and that sets us back financially? I'd rather have all of my ducks lined up and ready to go as far in advance because it makes me feel better. And more relaxed, believe it or not. 

So here we are. I'll probably give you a belly picture in two more weeks, after my appointment. It seems to be a good trend to keep.