Friday, January 29, 2016

The Lady's Command

I know, I'm late! I usually have these ready to go for you but I fell asleep last night before I could type this up. Whoops!

The Lady's Command - Stephanie Laurens

The instant Captain Declan Frobisher laid eyes on Lady Edwina Delbraith, he knew she was the lady he wanted as his wife. The scion of a seafaring dynasty accustomed to success, he discovered that wooing Edwina was surprisingly straightforward—not least because she made it plain that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Declan’s vision of marriage was of a gently-reared wife to grace his arm, to manage his household, and to bear his children. He assumed that household, children, and wife would remain safely in England while he continued his life as an explorer sailing the high seas.

Declan got his wish—up to a point. He and Edwina were wed. As for the rest—his vision of marriage…

Aunt of the young Duke of Ridgware and sister of the mysterious man known as Neville Roscoe, London’s gambling king, even before the knot was tied Edwina shattered the illusion that her character is as delicate, ethereal, and fragile as her appearance suggests. Far from adhering to orthodox mores, she and her ducal family are even more unconventional than the Frobishers.

Beneath her fairy-princess exterior, Edwina possesses a spine of steel—one that might bend, but will never break. Born to the purple—born to rule—she’s determined to rule her life. With Declan’s ring on her finger, that means forging a marriage that meets her needs as well as his.

But bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is required to sail to West Africa. Edwina decides she must accompany him.

A secret mission with unknown villains flings unexpected dangers into their path as Declan and Edwina discover that meeting the challenge of making an unconventional marriage work requires something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.

So, obviously from the title and the cover you can tell this will fall under the historical romance category. Now, I'm admittedly not the biggest historical romance fan, but on occasion I've picked one up and I'm always pleasantly surprised, and this one was pretty solid.

Some of the best things about this book include the writing style and of course, the leading woman, Lady Edwina Delbraith. The writing style of this books feels more like an authentic historical romance- does that make sense? Most of the historical romances I've read sound like modern day conversations and that's not really what it would have been like in the early 1900's and even older. Stephanie Laurens knows what she's doing and she has a command on the voice of these characters and it really sets her books ahead of so many others. My other favorite is definitely this lead. When you think of women and these earlier time periods, they are expected to be the modest, quiet, demure companion for their rugged, authoritative, charming husbands. I think our lead male, Declan Frobisher, really thought Edwina would be that but oh- is he completely wrong. Edwina has her own agenda, it's clear she's very intelligent, can read people better than anyone, and knows how to get her way subtly. Declan knows he has his hands full when she demands that she accompany him on a secret mission. It turns out to be an asset to have Edwina along, but it's very unconventional, to say the least.

The only drawbacks to this book is that the mystery element isn't really very strong. If you are buying this book hoping for mystery- keep shopping. But if you are a fan of historical romance and you want something that feels like it was written during this time period, this is a book you should have in your collection, hands down. My other drawback is I was hoping for more passion. Now, I know that in the 1800's modesty is a thing but I was hoping for a little extra oomph. The lack of it doesn't make this a book I would pass up because I did like the story and I wanted to see what would happen with Edwina and Declan on their epic journey on the high seas. It was a cozy read next to my fireplace over the weekend, for sure.

You can get your own copy of The Lady's Command on Amazon. In the meantime, you can follow Stephanie Laurens on her website as well as on her Facebook page.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


The worst part about a series is that no matter how much I struggled through the first one, I am compelled to keep going. Surely this is a registered mental illness.

Halo - Alexandra Adornetto

Three angels – Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, the youngest and most human – are sent by Heaven to bring good to a world falling under the influence of darkness. They work hard to conceal their luminous glow, superhuman powers, and, most dangerous of all, their wings, all the while avoiding all human attachments.

Then Bethany meets Xavier Woods, and neither of them is able to resist the attraction between them. Gabriel and Ivy do everything in their power to intervene, but the bond between Xavier and Bethany seems too strong.

The angel’s mission is urgent, and dark forces are threatening. Will love ruin Bethany or save her?

So I found this book on some list on some blog as being the first in an "amazing trilogy" and I was fresh off of Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush series which was gold. Absolute gold. I was in the mood for another angel series and while I knew this couldn't be a replacement for Becca Fitzpatrick, I remained hopeful. I found all three books of the trilogy on a used book website for less than a dollar each and it turns out they were library copies, and I felt like I got super lucky.

You know why these were less than a dollar? Because, I'm making an assumption because I haven't read book two or three yet, but this was b-o-r-i-n-g. This took me WEEKS to read. Weeks. Absolutely ridiculous. I would have stopped reading it if it was a stand alone and not in a trilogy that I own the rest of but here I am, feeling obligated to finish.

So where to start? Well I should start with the author being 18 when she wrote this. She has a strong educational writing background and wrote her first novel at 14, I believe. To write a trilogy at 18 is a lofty goal so I'll give her that. But let's be real, over half of this book could, and should, be edited out. There is literally no reason for it other than the fact she clearly wanted to write a long ass book for basically no reason. Secondly, you can tell the author is a teenager because of the contents of the book. Yes, it's a YA book but the entire thing has a high level of immaturity that no adult author, seasoned in basic relationships, could fake.

The next issue I take with it is for as much as we're teased about Gabriel and Ivy and their status in Heaven, they are basically useless characters in this book. We have Bethany, who has zero idea of what the hell she's doing as an angel and of course, falls in love with a boy with some kind of hero complex and they are inseparable. Enter bad boy villian who doesn't really do much. Well, he does do a lot of bad things but it's overshadowed by page after page of us reading about Bethany and how great she thinks Xavier is.

And while I understand the book is about angels on Earth to help out, they seem pretty useless and not helpful. But the book is really over the top preachy. The book also ends with a rather lame ending, we have a huge build up and then.... nothing. I'm not even sure if I'm really going to bother with book two or three or if I should just put this trilogy in the donation bin. But I'm not anxious to read anything else by this author because it was really terribly written.

So. Whomp, whomp- total disappointment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Keep swimming. I'm supposed to keep swimming, right?

I know when I last wrote a legit blog post last week I left it kind of on a dark, sad, depressing note. I wish I could tell you things have turned around but I'm a pretty terrible liar so I won't insult you doing that.

Things are really tough. It feels like it comes and goes like waves. Some days I feel really great, I feel like things are really turning around, that maybe it was all just a weird phase and I'm on the road to feeling normal. Everything is good, Penelope is awesome, Matt and I are doing awesome, Olivia and Jackson are being amazing, the pets aren't puking, all is right in the world.

Then there are other days where I know, from the moment I wake up, that it's going to be a bad day. I can't tell anymore if everything is actually bad and awful, if I'm making things be bad and awful with  how I feel, or if it isn't bad or awful and I'm seeing things in the wrong lens. I'm not even sure anymore if the things I see happening are really happening, if I'm exaggerating them, or if I'm losing my mind all together.

I sat down with Matt, twice now, and really laid it all out on the table for him. Everything I feel, everything that I perceive to be real and happening, and I basically just get a blank stare. The logical portion of my brain is telling me his lack of response is not because he doesn't care but because he really has no idea what he should or could be doing. Matt is that person who has zero ability to make anyone feel better because he has no concept of what empathy or sympathy is. None. That's a post for another day, but it leaves me feeling guilty for burdening him with this. It's like telling someone your deepest, darkest, scariest secret and that person can't do a damn thing about it, but they know about it, so it eats away at them, too.

I've reached out to some friends and they are legit worried. I don't want people to be scared, I really don't. I am not a danger to myself or my kids, or even Matt. I really am not. What I am is sad. I'm sad and I feel this crushing cloud of depression over me and I can't get out from under it. I want to, but I'm stuck.

And this is where I have to say how fucking lucky I am to have the friends that I do. I'm not kidding. Earlier this month I got a box of cookies in the mail from a high school friend who thought it would cheer me up because I had mentioned how I didn't have it in me to bake over the holidays. I was so grateful to know that someone is paying attention to me, and in that small moment I didn't feel like I was doing it by myself, if that makes any sense. I had one friend bring us pizza for dinner two weeks ago. This weekend I had a friend bring me pickles and Twix candy bars. I think everyone is really scared at what has happened to me and I want to reassure everyone I'll be OK but some days I just don't know if that's true and again, I'm a terrible liar and I don't think it would be very reassuring.

But I'm trying. I'm trying really hard to be normal and good. I'm eating really well, I'm getting outside even if it's just to walk up and down my sidewalk a few times, I'm doing some light exercise because the thought of anything more makes me unexpectedly emotional. I see my doctor on Friday and she already called me with some medication options, none of which ever worked for me even in the highest doses in the past, so I have this fear she's going to tell me I have no options.

As my one friend said, I'm trying to find rational ways to make my depression a non-issue. I'm trying to find the source of it so I can fix it, and make it all go away. It's like I cannot accept that I have something mentally wrong with me. And god help me, if I hear, "you're a strong person, one of the strongest I know- you'll get through this" one more fucking time, I might punch someone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Ex

I have posts for you, hopefully later this week. Things haven't been good, and I'm just trying to stay afloat. Since I can't sleep at night, I've been reading every night and this one was a fabulous page turner!

The Ex - Alafair Burke

Twenty years ago she ruined his life.

Now she has the chance to save it.

Olivia Randall is one of New York City’s best criminal defense lawyers. When she hears that her former fiancĂ©, Jack Harris, has been arrested for a triple homicide—and that one of the victims was connected to his wife’s murder three years earlier—there is no doubt in her mind as to his innocence. The only question is, who would go to such great lengths to frame him—and why?

For Olivia, representing Jack is a way to make up for past regrets and absolve herself of guilt from a tragic decision, a secret she has held for twenty years. But as the evidence against him mounts, she is forced to confront her doubts. The man she knew could not have done this. But what if she never really knew him?

OK, so I know I'm not alone when I tell you that I was riveted by the Netflix series Making a Murderer, and this is such a great choice for reading material that will give you a similar feel. I read one of Alafair's earlier books that I wasn't totally thrilled with, it felt like it wasn't as good of a web as I thought she could do. Fortunately this book more than makes up for that- she hit it out of the ballpark and I wasn't able to put this book down. Fun fact: I can go to the bathroom without stopping my reading. That's how great of a multi-tasker I am.

So the story centers around Olivia who is a New York City defense attorney. Her personal life has kind of been in a tail spin since her breakup with Jack twenty years ago that resulted in him losing his mind completely, his brother's death, and her guilt. Fast forward and life turns around for Jack until his wife is gunned down with several others in Penn Station, victims of a random shooting, and Jack finds himself single parenting their daughter Buckley. All is well until Jack is arrested for the shooting of three people in the middle of the day, with ties to the assailant who killed his wife.

From there, Olivia finds herself as Jack's defense lawyer and while her gut instinct is telling her that there is no way the Jack she knew would do this, she is cognizant to realize it has been twenty something years, what if he isn't the same Jack? What if the trauma she inflicted him changed him to the core and she doesn't know who he is or what he's even capable of anymore?

I kept flipping back and forth on whether I thought Jack was guilty or not. When you find out what REALLY happened, you are pretty much blown away. I kind of suspected it just for a bit but I quickly dismissed it because no way, and how mentally calculating it would have been to get all of the dots to line up just right in order for this person to go free? Holy moly.

Such a great book, and it comes in around 320 pages which sounds hefty, but I promise you that you will fly through it. And when you do, let's discuss it because wow- such a great ending. HUGE improvement from the first book of Alafair Burke's that I've read and I am excited to see what she does next!

You can order your copy of The Ex on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you want to keep up to date with Alafair Burke, you can find her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Then there were four. Or six, depending on your view.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you knew this post was coming. I could have posted about it last week but I'm nothing if not honest, and I'll tell you- things have been rough. Let me back track a bit.

Way back in 2010 I had posted about not knowing what it felt like to be "done" with babies. (Go back and read it. As a bonus, you get to see pictures of when my big kids were just tiny!) I knew I wasn't done, I never had that finished feeling all of my friends had gotten. When I was pregnant with Penelope, I toyed with the idea of another. I had a hard pregnancy at some points but I knew the greater good would outweigh all of that. I could do anything for a healthy baby, none of the pain, exhaustion, uncomfortable nights, or stress would mean anything once I held that sweet babe in my arms.

And it was so true.

I don't think I had ever felt like I did in that moment. Sure, she was my third baby and I was a seasoned pro at this mommyhood thing. But this baby... there was something special about her. Even after I had her, I thought, I could do this again.

But as time went on, I felt done. It was a slow realization that I was going to be done and I was totally OK with that. Finally, after all of these years I finally had the feeling I knew I should feel. Our family was full, we were complete. We weren't missing any pieces. I was taking all of the appropriate birth control precautions so that we would have no surprises.

I have struggled since Penelope's birth. I am now doing the stay at home mom thing and while that has it's own way of being fulfilling, I feel like I am getting dumber and dumber every day. I don't feel like I am contributing enough to the greater good of our family. I feel like I could, and should, be doing so much more. I feel like I'm giving my daughters mixed signals- that a woman's place is at home. I don't want my son to grow up thinking the woman takes care of everything. It's really a hard balance for me to find.

Add this to post partum depression. I had it really bad after Olivia and it took me a year to start to feel normal. I find that the longer I go with Penelope, the worse it's getting. I'm going backwards. I'm usually able to keep it together in front of people.

But in late November that has all changed.
December was hard.

So hard.

I should be happy. And I am not. And I hate that I am not. I know so many who would do just about anything to have a baby of their own. It makes me feel terrible and selfish.

But what I am right now is barely hanging on the edge.

I am barely keeping it together. I am crying every day, most of the time I don't even notice it until the kids ask me if I'm OK. I am having panic attacks when I need to leave the house, but I feel trapped in here. I don't sleep at night. I'm so exhausted and I lay there just on the edge of sleep but it never comes. Then I'm obviously so tired during the day I can barely function. I can't sleep because I have an eight month old baby to take care of but also because if I sleep during the day, I'm really screwed at night.

But the worst, the absolute worst?

The worst is this never ending, overwhelming, sadness. Being sad for no reason is maybe the worst feeling in the world. I feel alone and sad.

Matt has no idea what to do for me. My friends are trying and I just... I can't. I can't hang out, I don't want to talk, I don't want to go anywhere, I don't want to answer my door, I just want to cry. Alone. In bed.

Then I realize I have to hold it together because I need to get the kids to/from school. Penelope is fully dependent on me. I have pets to keep alive. I meals to make, a house to clean, and I have to really make an effort to shower.

On top of ALL of this, we're financially stressed out, maybe the worst it's ever been. And then.... I feel terrible physically. There is nothing in me that feels emotionally (obviously) or physically ready to grow a baby. I don't feel like I am doing a good job for this baby already. I talked to my doctor about an anti-depressant (obviously) just so I can get through the damn day. But I have this irrational fear I will take something and end up with a baby who has a birth defect or health problem. Then I'll feel like the worst mother in the world who couldn't just keep her shit together for the greater good of her baby.

I no longer feel like I am working with a full deck anymore. All of my volunteer positions are precarious- I feel like tossing my stuff at the groups and say screw it. Every time I have an obligation that forces me to leave the house, let alone put on real pants, I feel angry and anxious.

And yet. Here we are. Soon to be a family of six. I'm not ready. I am terrified. I am sad. I am anxious. I feel hopeful I will be happy soon. It all works out. Until then... here I am. Just trying to get through the day without crying the entire time.

Currently 10 weeks
Due: August 8

Monday, January 11, 2016

Menu planning ideas and updates

It's been awhile since I've given you an update on my menu planning and shopping so I thought this would be a good time to do that. Typically in the winter months we are significantly more broke than usual because we're coming out of Christmas, utility bills are higher and just life in general is more expensive. We have a few other reasons this year is especially tight so I have to be extra mindful on where we spend our  money so it's been challenging.

This shopping trip totaled $142 and I bought a few extra meals just in case Matt's check isn't great (or we have higher bills) and some deodorant for Matt because it was buy one get one free and he is on his last one. But here's our menu:

Chicken Parmesan (served on rice)
Chicken Noodle Soup
Shake & Bake Chicken, butter noodles, peas
Meatball Subs, garden salad
Pork Chops, long grain wild rice, corn
Hamburgers, french fries, baked beans
Sloppy Joe's, chips, garden salad
Fish Sticks, macaroni & cheese, mixed vegetables

Extra meals I bought for either to use for the next meal cycle, or if I get lazy and don't want to put any effort into cooking, or if there is a day I just say no thanks and I make Matt cook. But those meals include: a few hamburger helpers (which I don't like, but they were $1 and Matt can make that), frozen lasagna, tortellini, and chicken tacos. I might even make the chicken tacos for lunch this week because I can get a few lunches out of that for myself. Yum!

A common question I get is what do we eat for lunches and breakfasts? Well for breakfast I always have a variety of cereal on hand, frozen waffles, frozen pancakes, and Jackson really has taken to liking the Toaster Scrambles. I have things that the kids can make with little to no supervision in the morning. On the weekends I usually make hot breakfasts of eggs, french toast, pancakes, and all of that and those are actually pretty inexpensive to make.

For lunches the kids usually bring a lunch with the exception of a few days they have school lunch. When they make their own it consists of a sandwich (I always have a variety of lunch meats and sandwich things on hand), a snack item (granola bar, crackers, fruit snacks, grapes, apples, etc) and a juice box.

In the city I live in, we have a gas station chain called Kwik Trip and they have the best prices on butter, bread, eggs, and milk, so I get all of those things there, oddly enough. We do have an Aldi in town now but I haven't gone there yet, I always forget about it. Plus it's clear on the other side of town and I just don't have it in me to drive that far some times!

Does this make sense for you all? If you have questions I haven't covered in this post (or this one where I really detail my process for menu planning), let me know and I'm happy to answer them!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Into the Dark (First Force #3)

I am a huge fan of Cindy McDonald and this has been a really fun series to get into. I'm so fortunate that I got to review the third book in this series, I already can't wait for the fourth!

Into the Dark - Cindy McDonald
Ghosts from her past are chasing her! Four years ago Dr. Rayne Lee lost her husband and her four-year old daughter, Sierra, to a group of hostile guerrillas in the Amazonian Valley of Peru. It had taken every bit of her constitution to rebuild her life and to join her uncle's international security team, First Force, as the team's head medic. She still desperately missed her husband and her daughter, but all in all everything was back on track--until the phone calls started. A young girl was calling claiming to be Sierra. The tiny trembling voice said that the guerrillas were holding her captive, and there was only one way for them to be reunited--Rayne must travel to Peru and give them something that she has. Moreover, they had another stipulation: She must come alone. Suddenly the ghosts from Rayne's past are chasing her down a dark road. What could they possibly want from her? Could she return to the place where her family was murdered and she was brutalized for seven horrid months? Was it really Sierra calling? Rayne knew that she had to take the risk--she had to find out!

I'm going to hesitantly tell you that this is a stand alone book. You won't feel totally lost if you haven't read the previous two, but it certainly would help, because Rayne and Jack (this story) are first introduced to us in the first book, Into the Crossfire. So, if you can (and you really should because they are equally as good as this one), pick up that one as well as book two, To The Breaking Pointe.

With that said, THANK GOODNESS Rayne and Jack "finish" their story. Seriously. I had been rooting for them since book one and I thought maybe the first book would finish their story, but it obviously would have been too soon since Jack's wife dies in book one thus starting this series. We also get a glimpse of Rayne's backstory in book one, but this book really delves into it and we learn what happened to her husband and her daughter in the jungles of Peru. Which, it's not good (obviously), and Rayne finds herself in years of therapy.

One day, just as things are heating up with Jack and she's forming a real bond with his small daughter, she starts receiving these calls from a small girl claiming to be her long assumed daughter Sierra, who died brutally at the hands of Peruvian drug runners and lords. This obviously sends Rayne into regression and she doesn't know if she should tell Jack (or the rest of First Force) and seemingly talks herself into believing she heard the name wrong and it was a wrong number. But when she receives more calls and eventually a demand, she knows she has to act. She knows for certainty her daughter is dead but what if, and she couldn't live with herself unless she went.

It is obviously a trap for Rayne but she doesn't know that something has been hidden in her body during her subsequent capture (after her husband and daughter were killed) and that's what these smugglers are after. First Force is called in to assist but everything goes to shit almost immediately and it's up to Rayne to save herself and find out if her daughter Sierra really is alive.

If you are a fan of romance, military romance, and characters who are complex but written well, you will really enjoy this book. I really love how the author gives us an update on previous characters while giving you a solid story, and casually giving you a glimpse into the next possible set of characters without making the story feeling cluttered.

I encourage you to follow Cindy on Twitter and Facebook, and check out her webpage for updates on this series as well as her other books. Into the Dark went on sale on January 5, so you can pick that up now on Amazon now!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Owlcrate: Get Inspired Box

I know I'm late in posting this and I'm sorry. The fact that I even am getting around to it is a big deal. Like, I don't think I took pictures of my last Bookworm Box, so don't expect that post. Unless I saved them somewhere weird, but I don't think I did. *sigh*

I'll get it together eventually, folks.

But this month for Owlcrate the theme was "Get Inspired", which got me excited because if there is anything I need in my life right now, it's to be inspired to do anything.

So here's a quick peak of the box contents, and remember, this box costs $29.99 plus shipping and handling. The contents included:

  • One of two reading journals from both Penguin and Chronicle Books. I don't know which company mine came from but it's a small notebook with elastic closure that will easily fit into my purse. My plan is to use it as books I want to read and take it with me when I go shopping and I can flip through the pages to see what I want to read. 
  • A soy candle from Frostbeard Studio, along with a 15% off our first order. I didn't love the candle and actually gave it to someone else because it was a mix of coffee and chocolate. I pretty much hate coffee anything. The only scents I can really tolerate without getting a migraine are fruity, citrus scents and then cinnamon. Everything else is blech. 
  • We got the COOLEST to-do list notepad from Boy Girl Party. I absolutely love writing out to-do lists and these have a reading octopus on them. Pretty awesome. 
  • We also got a little magnet from Sandra Vargas, which is on my fridge. 

Here's a better picture of the reading journal and notepad. Super cute!
Then of course, the point of the box, is the book. The book this month is Da Vinci's Tiger by L.M. Elliott. The quick description reads as, "This historical fiction novel takes place during the Renaissance, and follows our heroine as she discovers a world of artists, philosophers, and other creatives. When she meets a young Leonardo da Vinci her life changes forever as she learns about her inner desires and creative voice." So, not something I would normally pick up, but I'll probably get to it later this spring, if we're being honest. I have a LOT of review books in my pile right now so it might be awhile until I get to this, but my sister in law is reading it so we'll see what she says about it. The book also came with it's own magnet set so you can make your own poetry. Which is also on the fridge and Olivia is mostly playing with.

Overall? I love this subscription box. I feel like for the $35 I pay after shipping and handling, I am getting my money's worth, easily. The theme for January is "Magic" and the teasers keep saying if you like Harry Potter, you are going to love this box so I am so excited for it!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Christmas is great with kids.

Christmas is easily my favorite holiday. I enjoy going out to find gifts for people, I don't mind wrapping. I love making my cards and getting them in the mail, I love receiving cards in the mail. I don't totally mind making a large meal, and I like to bake cookies. 

This year started out strong in November. I was doing so well and I felt good. Then I started getting sick in the beginning of December and it literally sucked the life right out of me. I only baked two small batches of cookies (everyone was pretty disappointed about this), I half-assed our dinner. I got depressed because by mid-December more bills came in than expected so I was really broke and couldn't get Matt the things I really wanted to get him, which only made me feel terrible. And then my volunteer responsibilities at the kids' school, despite best efforts, grew exponentially and I ended that week feeling really angry. 

Then depression hit. I knew it was only a matter of time, but I really had hoped maybe Christmas would head it off another week or two, but alas- it hit me and hit me hard. Has managed to stick around and I really feel defeated. Which, it's a post for another day. But Christmas still came and this is what it looked like. 

We spend Christmas Eve with Matt's family every year. It's dinner and presents and hanging out for a bit. The kids were super excited to go out there and I just felt awful. It was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning.
They got some really great presents and Penelope was totally into ripping wrapping paper. Takes after her mom, clearly. But she got this fun little ride on elephant, which she totally loved that night. Now when I put her on it she cries. So, that's weird. But hopefully when she can balance on it on her own a little more she'll love it. It is super cute.
Uncle Karl got Olivia an expanding sphere, which Jackson is ridiculously jealous of. They both play with this thing all of the time.
Uncle Karl also got Jackson a gun that shoots a ton of darts really quickly. YAY ME. I cannot wait until he has kids because Auntie Sara will take her revenge.

Matt got some work pants he needed and a few other things I didn't even see. I got a griddle, a book, and a few other things. Overall it was a pretty fun night.

Once we got home we set out cookies and milk for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer. The kids were pretty excited there were just a few carrot crumbs left on our sidewalk. We got them to bed and I got the tree set up.
This year was a lighter Christmas than usual. Usually I try to go all out because they don't get anything all year. Even on birthdays, they get one small gift from us because usually that's all we can afford. This year I got them mostly all things that were activities, crafts, building things, etc. And a few new clothes because they had outgrown some pants and sweaters.
My friends Gini & Eric sent my kids a Christmas package this  year and they were dying to open them. It was the first thing they opened! It turned out to be the coolest animal slippers ever and no lie, they wear them all of the time. Penelope think they are hilarious.
We always open stockings first and everyone got their obligatory candy. Jackson got "shave gel" (which is foaming bath soap) and Olivia got nail polish. Penelope got a sippy cup and play cell phone.
I didn't get many pictures of kids with gifts, this is actually the only one. Jackson had asked the mall Santa for a tablet so we found a $30 cheap one at Best Buy and Matt used his reward points on his credit card so we didn't pay anything for it. Which was nice. Olivia had asked for a Lego Friends "singer" set and this was the closest I could find. She was pretty excited.
Penelope got a lot of great presents as well. Her favorites were the Fisher Price lunch box, bath time boat set, and these keys my mom got her.
Oh, and Penelope got her own little bunny slippers from Gini & Eric. She pulls them off to suck on them but they are the cutest!
After we open our presents as a family, I usually clean up and have kids haul their new things upstairs to their rooms so I can get the house ready for my family to arrive. My parents and grandparents came over, we had a pretty good dinner and then the kids had even more presents. This is the kids opening their "big" presents from my parents. Olivia got American Girl doll Julie and Jackson got the Scooby Doo Lego set he's wanted for MONTHS. They were so excited! They got some really nice things from my grandparents, and Penelope got some adorable clothes (which she totally needed!!).
After all of the guest left, the kids started opening boxes and Jackson quietly worked on his Lego set. It took him about two hours but he built it totally by himself. He was SO proud of himself. Now he has it displayed on his dresser for anyone who wants to come see it. Olivia started working on her weaving loom I got her and has already made four potholders and requested a loom refill! 

Then after Christmas, my very best friend Tammy sneakily dropped off presents for my kids. They were so excited to get Barnes & Noble gift cards and other little things. If you give these kids a gift card to anywhere, they get so excited they could burst. 

Usually the day after Christmas we spend time in the morning writing out our thank you cards. Santa got the kids a new art set (in a super nice, small rubbermaid tote) and they diligently wrote them out. If you haven't gotten your thank you yet, it's because it's in my purse waiting to be mailed. 

I haven't left the house with the exception for an appointment on Wednesday since Christmas Eve. I just don't have it in me to go out into the world. Matt said I have to get out today so he's making me run errands. Which... I mean, I'll probably just sit in my van and cry for awhile if we're being honest. I don't know if I should be worried that I'm looking forward to it or not. 

But that was our Christmas. It was good for me to see my children happy. I am so grateful to have such great friends who think my kids are as great as I do. I'm lucky to have family who do so much for us. If I didn't have either of those things, I honestly don't know where I would be. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

8 Months.

I almost forgot to take Penelope's eight month pictures but thank goodness the kids have a better idea of what the date is, let alone the day of the week. It's all basically the same for me at this point.

Penelope at 8 months is really very fun. These are always the months I enjoy because they are starting to communicate with you, can play toys, and their little personalities are really blossoming.
It's getting harder to do these pictures each month because she's really more interested in eating the sticker and my camera is literally the crappiest ever so most of my pictures end up blurry and you can't use them for anything.
Fun things she does: she's a little bit shy. Sometimes when you say hello to her or pay any kind of attention to her, her left arm goes up and she ducks her head like this. It's pretty damn adorable. She got a toy camera for Christmas and if I say to her, "Say cheese!" this is the pose I get.
She's hilarious. She doesn't talk a whole bunch but some days it seems like she can't stop. She laughs and can now blow raspberries at me.
She puts her arms up when she wants you to pick her up. My favorite thing is when we play, she will sometimes yank me over to her and she just wants a hug and kiss and she's good, pushes you away again. It's like she just wants a little reassurance or love. That reminds me of Jackson so much, but to me, she looks just like Olivia. It really blows me away sometimes- she'll look at me and it's like I'm sitting with baby Olivia all over again.

She sleeps mostly through the night. She is teething something fierce so she will occasionally wake up in tears and just need a little love and she's good. Matt still feeds her around 4:30 in the morning, right before he goes to work, and then she can make it until 9 which is when I'm back from bringing the kids to school. We have a pretty solid routine so that's nice.
Overall she is an absolute joy. She is definitely the easiest of the three. I keep saying that, and it's totally true. Even on her worst days, she's easier than the other two ever were. She's so sweet and I can tell she's going to be a kind heart as she gets older.

The Past

I don't know if you follow me on Goodreads (let's be friends!) but my reading goal for 2016 is 100 books. For 2015 I had a goal of 110, but I only made it to 97. Sad face. That was the first year I hadn't reached my goal. But so far for 2016, I am on a roll and it's on the first week!

The Past - Tessa Hadley

Now, I'm going to start by telling you that I read Tessa's book Accidents in the Home and wasn't totally in love. It was alright, it wasn't anything that I felt like I should or had to recommend, it was just OK. But then I saw this book come up and the synopsis for it is pretty solid and I've had pretty good luck with other books that had a similar story line, all of them went very different routes so I was curious to see where Tessa Hadley would go with this. And I'm left feeling the same as I did with the other book, it's OK. It doesn't blow me away, it's not one that would make a top book list, and if I was staring at my shelf trying to recommend a book, it isn't one that would necessarily jump out to give to a friend. But it wasn't bad. It just didn't have the extra oomph I really wanted.

What we have is the story of a bunch of siblings, brought together in a childhood home "one last time" but they all have problems/issues with each other. The trip is obviously meant to maybe re-live the glory days but also, under the surface, some hope to resolve the family issues where some are desperate to continue ignoring them. All of the siblings are vastly different, and I'd venture to say if you put this hodge podge of folks together you wouldn't even really consider them to be a family since they have zero in common with each other. But then you also have the children (and pseudo step child, kind of) of these siblings who are observing the adults and basically coming up with their own conclusions of what's going on. We learn about a few family "secrets" that have prevented them from being close as adults.

The problem for me, is that there isn't really a plot in this book. It's just us learning about the family, none of which I really liked or cared about. I kept waiting for some big thing that made everything make sense- some big family transgression that basically exploded them into their own corners of the world, but you'll be disappointed because there isn't one. Well, I suppose you could say the second part of the book is maybe that, but it's not really enough to explain all of the drama and hurt between everyone.

I have a friend who is also reading this and she said I am an absolute idiot and she is loving this book. But she is also a big fan of Tessa Hadley so maybe I'm missing the boat. The boat has clearly left me on the wrong damn island. It's not a fast read, and it doesn't have anything really exciting in it, but if you really like to read about family dynamics and perhaps compare to your own, I will suggest this book to you. If you really want something more fast paced and action packed, maybe move to the next book on your to-read list. I will say, the nerd in me loves this cover and it is light years above the cover for it's first release. This is so much prettier!

You can find The Past on Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Everything leading up to Christmas. Catch up with The Strands.

I know many have said it but December absolutely kicked my ass. Absolutely kicked it hard. I can't even believe I made it out alive, to be honest.

I spent most of December getting ready for Christmas, obviously. I didn't feel well pretty much the entire month so every day was a struggle. The kids only had school until the 18th, but that last week of school was jam packed with so many things.
They had their holiday sing a long at school. I couldn't get any good pictures of them on stage, so I got one after school of them dressed all nice. Imagine Olivia's hair curled and Jackson's shirt tucked in and vest zipped. I swear those things were true when they left home in the morning. But they did so well and I always like seeing them do these concerts.
Olivia also had her dance recital, which Matt didn't go to because he had to be home with Penelope. It didn't even start until 7 p.m. so no way would Penelope have made it. Olivia is the back row, far right. She did SO WELL. Seriously. I was blown away at how well she has improved even from last year, it was really impressive.
The big kids got to do some other fun Christmas things that I couldn't afford to take them to, including this Christmas Train thing and then The Nutcracker. Jackson said it was pretty boring and he wasn't sure why there were no words. Olivia gave a non-committal "it was good" when I asked. So, maybe they were too young to appreciate it.
Penelope took naps in the morning but really fights me in the afternoons though she's clearly exhausted. She now prefers to sleep on her side or tummy.
Some of the afternoons got to be PRETTY challenging so we resorted to playing with wrapping paper and bows for fun, which doubled as practice for Christmas. She was pro immediately.
The kids spent the night out at Matt's parent's house and Jackson found someone's old Tin Man costume in the attic.
Olivia finished knitting her first scarf on her loom, which I think she gave to a friend.
Our Elf, Sam, was pretty lame this year but he went out with a bang on Christmas Eve by putting streamers in their rooms while they were away.
The kids kept telling the Elf what a waste this was and how they were too tired to be dealing with this. Elf won this battle.

So that was a super brief run down of December before the week of Christmas. I'm exhausted just talking about it.