Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Financial Peace University: Week One

I haven't blogged about Christmas yet, but I promise you it's coming. And it's going to be absolutely worth the wait. But I want to blog about this first because it ties into Christmas, but also because Matt and I started this and I want you to see our journey as we go through it.

Part of the gift we got at Christmas was the kit for Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. If we complete all nine weeks of the clas and do the assigned coursework, within the allotted time frame,  the organization that helped us will gift us $1,000 to go towards our debt.

Which is HUGE.

We decided that we were going to sign up for the first available class and it just happened that one started in January, it goes for nine weeks, and it's in Duluth, MN. We weren't familiar with the church it was at but honestly, who cares? We have nothing to lose and everything to gain at this point so we went to our first class on Sunday.

Each class is pegged to be about an hour and a half long and (so far) consists of us watching videos, group talk at our table, and working in our workbook. You know I'm not going to sugar coat things for you, so as we go through this you are going to get my honest, unbiased opinions and commentary.

The first thing you'll notice as you watch the video (which is the actual video we watched) is that it's very Christ-centered. Which maybe isn't a big deal for you but Matt and I aren't really church going folks so right away we felt kind of uncomfortable. Also considering that it seemed like everyone knew each other except for us because I'm assuming they all go to this church it's held at, which makes sense. But that's OK, I'm sure after nine weeks we'll all know each other well!

The class this week basically centered around learning what the 7 Baby Steps are, and getting to know our little group. Our class has 40 people or so in it so we're in tables of 8, and we have a nice table. It's mostly young, married couples but at our table alone we have two single guys. Well, I think one guy is married but his wife wasn't there. But we had five small group discussion questions to go through after the video, like what we think our challenges and struggles are going to be as we go through this process and what we hope to get out of it.

We also have weekly homework. This week we have to register for the online tools, complete the Quick Start budget form and the Financial Reality Check (where we add up all of our non-mortgage debt and try not to choke on the number), and some reading out of the book included with our box. But of course, our priority is to figure out ways and start saving our $1,000 emergency fund. We basically need to hoard every dollar that we can, pay minimums on every bills and stock pile money until we get to that $1,000. Once we get there, we will start working on Baby Step 2, which is pay down debt using the debt snowball.

I'm a little nervous to go through this because I know it's going to mean tough decisions and saying no to ourselves, especially when we really don't want to. So in the spirit of this, my job this week is to find things I can (hopefully) sell and put the money towards our emergency fund.

Wish us luck!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Endocrinologists are a little bit nerdy.

One thing about my Endocrinologist locally is that he is VERY knowledgeable about my current health situation and he really loves "fun facts" about the pituitary gland. I have all of the faith in the world in him and he seems to enjoy lab work and knowing what's going on in my body. He's not messing around and he's given me great information.

So while there's all that, it kind of feels like I'm cheating on him when I'm seeing Endocrinologists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I'm fairly confident he's going to love having additional information to pour over so my March appointment with him maybe won't be terribly awkward.

But last week my mom drove me to Rochester so I could see doctors at the Mayo Clinic. I basically let everyone talk me into getting a second opinion and it dawned on me while I sat in the waiting room that I had no idea why I was actually there. I don't feel as if my doctors have missed anything in my diagnosis or prognosis, and I don't feel as if any mistakes have been made. Fortunately, the things I have been diagnosed with are pretty straight forward and you can't really misdiagnose them. You either lost a lot of blood during birth or you didn't. My visit was with a doctor and a visiting doctor from Singapore. Both were very nice but I did get the impression that they weren't totally sure why I was there either.

But here is what I was diagnosed with by them (which is basically the same as here, except for the last item):

1. Panhypopituitarism due to Sheehan syndrome
2. Neurocognitive problems
3. Secondary amenorrhea
4. Secondary adrenal insufficiency
5. Secondary hypothyroidism 
6. Secondary hypogonadism

I've included the Mayo Clinic links for those items in case you're nerdy and want to learn more about each. I haven't had time to read up on all of it yet but I will. The only one that is new to me is the last one, which is a fancy way of saying I'm not producing enough estrogen, and that's put me into pre-menopause. I'm also not producing enough testosterone (yes, women produce that, too) so somewhere down the line I might decide to supplement that but it's not imperative.

What is imperative is that I get myself a Medical Alert ID bracelet and have it engraved with "hypopituitarism- give Cortisol". Apparently, should something happen to me and I'm unconscious or not able to communicate my health situation, a first-responder would need to know this because without it, I could very well die. In addition, let's say I get sick and I'm at risk of dehydration because I'm vomiting or I have diarrhea, I have to have Cortisol injections on hand and know how to inject myself because it's the same situation. I could go from OK to very, very sick (adrenal crisis) rather quickly because my pituitary gland is basically useless. The only way to treat Sheehan's Syndrome (hypopituitarism) is lifelong hormone replacement.

Because my pituitary gland doesn't work, it also means I am not producing ACTH hormone. You have no idea what that is, but it's basically what makes your adrenal glands do their thing such as helping my body handle stress, immune system, my heart, etc. That's kind of a big deal. Everything else in that list is also a result of my pituitary being useless.

I left there with more medications (yay) and appointments to come back to see the endocrinologists but also to see a PGA nurse to learn how to inject my Cortisol should I need to and also... see the neurologists.

I know. I know I said I wasn't going to do brain testing again if I could help it but as it turns out, they don't want to see what the doctors here did, they want their own data. Which I guess I understand and they are the best of the best, so who am I to question them? So I am driving down Wednesday night so I can do brain testing at 7:45 a.m. Isn't that disgusting? I can't imagine I'll do well that early in the day. Frankly, I can barely make Lucy's bottle at 8:30 and I have been up for an hour usually by then. So we'll see. Then I meet with the neurology team on Friday to go over my test results and see the endocrinologist again. Then I'll drive home and hopefully get here at a decent time to go to bed early. It's such a long drive but I'll be OK. I really want to go on my own to prove that I can. The bright side is I hope I get to meet my friend Amy for dinner one of the nights- I haven't seen her since mid-pregnancy with Lucy. It's been forever. Maybe I'll even bring my laptop. We'll see. But I sure hope these neurologists have a little more information for me but again, I'm going in with low expectations. Just in case.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nerves got me tingly.

So I haven't told you about my upcoming visit to the Mayo Clinic, which is tomorrow. I toyed with the idea shortly after I came home, but I was so overwhelmed with appointments so I didn't give it a lot of thought. Then everyone kept telling me I should go and get a second opinion, just in case what I was being told here wasn't the full picture.

And can I be honest?

I'm so tired of feeling like I can't decide for myself what is good enough. Because I feel like, sometimes, I'm the only one rationally thinking. To be honest, I don't think they are going to find a damn thing wrong with me that I don't already know. I don't think I'm special. Yes, I survived an Amniotic Fluid Embolism and that's pretty damn rare, but people don't understand that AFE is an event, it's not an illness. So no, doctors really don't care that I survived it because every one of us all have different things wrong with us in the aftermath. Some are just fine, some are more debilitated, and some are just like me. But no, doctors don't want to see me because I survived some fantastical thing.

The plan right now is for me to do a full day of labs and see the Endocrinology specialists while I'm there. As it turns out, Neurology doesn't want to see me, and flat out said I'm not bad enough for an appointment. They see people with serious issues, far worse than me, and I get it. I'm just a mom who forgets things, is overwhelmed by life, and I'm not me anymore. I'm still functioning.

So I'm going into this appointment with very low expectations so I can't leave disappointed. I'm kind of annoyed at myself for even going, but then I think what if? What if they give me a new piece of information? Then I guess it wouldn't be a total waste. And considering I have to pay for a hotel and gas to get there, that would be kind of awesome.

But I am nervous to go. I'm nervous to be poked and prodded, and I'm worried I won't remember to tell them something. I have my paperwork completed and a symptom list, but what if I forgot something? What if I'm not including something pertinent because I don't think it's important?

And you know what else is weird? What do I do when I stop seeing doctors every few weeks? Is that it? Because there's an end to all of this and then what do I do? Just weird things I think about.

So I'll update you when I'm back from Mayo. My mom is going with me, Matt is staying here with all of the kids. We figured logistically it'll be easiest that way. So we'll see. Cross your fingers and think good thoughts.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

This Is Where It Ends (review)

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll see I started this book last week. I bought it on a recent trip to Barnes & Noble solely for the cover. I was wandering the aisles of the teen/young adult area, looking for books that are appropriate for Olivia and I saw this. I saw it and walked away. I ended up walking around it, circling it like a shark for several minutes, until I decided I was going to make the damn purchase and then I started a day or two later.

This is Where It Ends - Marieke Nijkamp

10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival. 

I am kind of a sucker for books where teenagers kill other teenagers. I don't know what my deal is but these books always grab at my heart so it's basically a guaranteed good read for me. I was careful to not read any of the reviews before hand because this felt like I needed to go into this with fresh eyes. You guys know I'm nothing if not honest and I have to tell you, I can only give this book 2/5 stars. And that's being generous.

The strongest complaint about this book is the actual writing, I had to keep checking because I thought perhaps an actual teenager wrote it.  Maybe it's supposed to feel like that on purpose, but I have to be honest, it was distracting and made the book feel less consuming. It could have had a much larger impact on a reader, to the point where you buy five copies and start handing them out to people declaring that they absolutely must read this.

This is not going to be that book.

It starts off with kids at school, listening to a boring assembly, and some kids at a track meet. The Principal finishes her assembly and before excusing students, we have the gunman, Tyler, come up and start his frantic and seemingly pointless rampage. The book switches points of view from different students, features some would be tweets and blog posts from people connected to the situation, and it just feels... unbalanced. The entire time I'm reading this book and I feel like we're gearing up for this big finale reveal on why this is all happening. And sure, we get an answer but it's so.... anti-climatic that I felt like we wasted all of this build up. There are also so many passages in the book that are absolutely eye roll worthy. When the shooting happens, the kids at the track practice freak out. One student quickly tells another to "figure out" how to hot wire a car.

Um, why?

Nobody is just going to figure out how to hot wire a car when these are track students, shouldn't they be able to run to get help? I mean, come on.

The author builds up this plot revolving around Sylv and Autumn (the shooter's sister) and we get no real satisfaction with it. All of the events leading up to the shooting are basically skirted around, hinted at, whatever, and it makes it feel like this author was in over her head. You want to write a provocative book? OK, but you better make damn sure you're equipped to handle it. The ending fell completely flat for me. So many loose ends.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the one thing that is guaranteed to send me right over the edge with teen books: when kids whine about not belonging in the community they live in.


Maybe if you lived in the Bible belt and you were transgender, I'd get it. But you're just any other kid, moaning about not belonging? Shut up. Seriously. I hate when authors throw this story line in there thinking it'll make the kids reading it feel connected to the writing. It's just so frustrating and makes me feel like instead of writing a gripping book, we're just throwing every cliche into a few pages and then calling it a "must-read". It's not. There are so many other books that approach this topic that do it tremendously well. Do I think teenagers will like it? Yes, I do.  But as a parent of a soon-to-be teenager, I didn't find it realistic. Sorry.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Those Texas Nights (review & giveaway)

*This post contains affiliate links that I may make a commission from; however, all opinions are my own.*

I know it's only January, but I'm "right on track" with my goal of 100 books this year on the Goodreads challenge! It's helpful when I'm reading romance novels because I fly through these quickly, especially anything by Delores Fossen!

Those Texas Nights (Wrangler Creek #1) - Delores Fossen

The Granger siblings thought they'd left their ranching days behind, until fate sends them home to Wrangler's Creek, Texas and into the passionate arms of those they'd least expect

It's some run of bad luck when Sophie Granger loses her business and gets left at the altar all in one day. Desperate to not appear jilted, Sophie begs Clay McKinnon, Wrangler's Creek's smoking-hot police chief, to pretend they're having an affair. But Clay refuses, leaving Sophie to retreat to the family ranch to lick her wounds.

Hoping to leave his disreputable past behind, Clay moved to Wrangler's Creek for a fresh start. But that looks unlikely when Sophie's ex-fiance shows up married to Clay's impulsive kid sister. Overcome, Sophie resuggests the affair but this time for real. Clay is hesitant. City-girl Sophie isn't usually his type. But he can't deny the desire she elicits or his yearning to have her plant her cowboy roots for good.

Do I have to tell you I loved the cover of this book or is it just assumed? Because YUM. I will tell you that when I started this book I got a little worried because how Clay and Sophie meet each other is a little... it's not conventional and I thought that we had hit a real low in romance novels. Basically, Sophie gets dumped the day of her wedding and instead of handling it like a grown up and telling her family, she runs out and decides to go up to a stranger (Clay) and asks him to be her "date" and basically go along with the story that she was seeing him all along. So... you'd rather be seen as a cheating whore versus someone who got dumped? Riiiiight. Seems legit.


But once you get past that, it's actually an endearing book. Not only is she dumped at the altar, but their family business is basically stolen by a family friend/their Godfather/trusted CFO for 40 years, so now she's jobless as well and forced to move back home to Wrangler's Creek. To top it off, her ex-fiance is engaged to (dun, dun, dun) Clay's younger sister!

Cue drama!

I can't give you much more information than this because it'll ruin the story, but I'll tell you I'm giving this one 5 stars. Surely, the beginning is eye roll worthy, but the rest of it was funny, it was sweet, and it was a fun read. I got through this in one evening because I wanted to keep going. I am SO looking forward to the rest of the books in this series, I anticipate they will be as engaging as this one. This has all of the charm of small town living, with some big city characters trying to acclimate, and it's just a really great start to the series.

I highly recommend this read if you want something fun and airy, but want to have the best parts of a romance novel as well! I encourage you to enter the giveaway HERE, but in the meantime, you can follow Delores on her website, Facebook, and Twitter! I'm a big fan of Delores so definitely check out some of her other books as well!

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Darkest Torment (review)

*This post contains affiliate links that I may make a commission from. All opinions are my own.*

The Darkest Torment - Gena Showalter

Can Beauty tame her Beast? 

Driven to his death by the demon of Distrust, Baden spent centuries in purgatory. Now he's back, but at what cost? Bound to the king of the underworld, an even darker force, he's unable to withstand the touch of another and he's quickly devolving into a heartless assassin with an uncontrollable temper. Things only get worse when a mission goes awry and he finds himself saddled with a bride just not his own.

Famed dog trainer Katarina Joelle is forced to marry a monster to protect her loved ones. When she's taken hostage by the ruthless, beautiful Baden immediately after the ceremony, she's plunged into a war between two evils with a protector more dangerous than the monsters he hunts. They are meant to be enemies, but neither can resist the passion burning between them and all too soon the biggest threat is to her heart.

But as Baden slips deeper into the abyss, she'll have to teach him to love or lose him forever.

Alright lambs, just in time for the movie version of the classic, we have Gena Showalter giving us a grown up version of Disney's The Beauty and the Beast, the twelfth installment in her Lords of the Underworld series. I know people are going to tell you that these are stand alone books and that you won't miss much if you don't read them in order, but they are liars. I'm telling you right now you need to read these from the start not just because it's a damn good series, but because there is so much from the lore and backstory that won't make any sense to you if you just jump in on this book. But I'm telling you it's worth the journey because these guys... woo. It's not just my pre-menopausal hot flashes happening in here, lambs! 

If you've been keeping up with this series then you know that this is Baden's book. Baden is screwed over by the demon of Distrust so you know that he's going to struggle with distrust on his journey. Enter Katarina, who he basically gets dumped into his lap and dun dun dun....he kind of starts falling for though he shouldn't. Never mind that she gets married to a guy so her dogs aren't tortured, so the whole Baden and Katarina relationship is starting off on a terrible foot. I will say that the biggest complaint about this book for me is I'm not loving Baden and Katarina as a couple at all. I think the author could have really done this so much better and it makes book twelve feel rushed and like not as much care went into planning this book out. And it's not much of a spoiler, but it IS a stretch because I went into this book with the romanticized Beauty and the Beast thoughts in my head, then I read this and OK- she treats him basically like a dog while having sex (because he's not used to touch so she's essentially "training" him) and it's just SO WEIRD. So, so weird and I just couldn't get into it and it was just... it was just a really strange way to get yourself to the Beauty and the Beast comparison. There were SO MANY other ways to do this. 


This is one of my least favorite of the series, but I'm not saying it's worth skipping. You need this in your life if you are reading this series. I'm just.. I'm disappointed that this is where we went with Baden. I liked Baden, though my memory of him is kind of foggy because either I missed something big, or it's a plot hole, but I don't know how Baden got into purgatory with Pandora?? Am I missing something? Granted, I read books 1-11 awhile ago but still, I feel like I've forgotten something crucial. 

Overall I'm giving this a 3/5 stars. It isn't up to the standards of the other books but it's not the worst. It's pretty middle of the road for me. I think if you are a hardcore LOTU fan you are probably going to nitpick a little more and be a little harder to please, but for me, the casual fan, it was alright. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wyoming Brave (review and giveaway!)

*This post contains affiliate links that I could make commission off of, all opinions are my own*
I have been on a reading roll, lambs!

Wyoming Brave - Diana Palmer

The Wyoming men are back! In their quest for true love on the range, are these ranchers bold enough to open their hearts to the women under their protection?

Ren Colter may own an enormous ranch in Wyoming, but he scorns his wealth. He's closed himself off since his fiancĂ©e left him years ago, so he's shocked when he allows Meredith Grayling to stay with him. He tells himself it's only to protect the blonde beauty from a stalker, but Ren's alpha instincts soon kick in. 

The last thing Merrie wants is a devastatingly handsome man like Ren lurking around her. He's too experienced, too appealing for her already shot nerves. What she needs is just to get away from it all: the man haunting her waking dreams and the one hunting her like an animal. But no woman escapes this Colter cowboy!

You know I absolutely love a good romance and one of the go-to authors is Diana Palmer. This is the sixth book in her Wyoming Men series and I have read four of them so far and they are all solid if you are in the market for a rugged male lead and not raunchy sex scenes. The romance is solid and true and it is everything you'd expect for this genre.

We have to talk about the characters because I was really worried when I saw this was Ren's book because he's.. hard headed, kind of arrogant, kind of comes off as a jerk and a little cold. With that, when we meet Meredith I'm like- OK, these are polar opposites. Merrie clearly is that magnet for abusive relationships and clearly lets everyone walk all over her so I wasn't sure if this was a great match. (Though it could be argued that it's the exact perfect match because he is so Alpha and wanting to be the provider, etc and Merrie is not that "I'm a bad ass woman, hear me roar" gal.) My only complaint about this book (which can be said for a lot of romance novels, let's be honest) is that so much stuff is repeated. Admittedly, I have some serious short term memory issues right now, but it was driving me nuts how many details of Ren and Merrie's past are repeated, not just for reader benefit but also in dialogue. It's like, JESUS, WE GET IT. We are remembering these facts just fine, stop talking about it.


I will also admit that the story itself is a little far fetched, as all romance novels are, but how many cowboy romances have a mob boss in it? Huh? Not many, lambs! This one totally does and it's kind of eye-roll worthy, but it plays into the cheese factor of this book. Is this the kind of romance novel I'm reading "alone", but it's a solid little romance that cheered me up while it's winter and gloomy. No thought needed, just get comfy and read your afternoon away. I love the setting of these books, I love the Colter family, and I liked the Merrie and Ren dynamic even though I wasn't sure I would get it, I did in the end. Overall? I'd give this book 3/5 stars.

If you want to enter the giveaway, head over HERE! Your chances are good, you just might win! You can also check out Diana's website and her Facebook page to see what she's up to and check out some of her other books, including the rest of the Wyoming Men series.

Dancing and Singing December Away

I didn't include these in a December phone dump post because they are kind of special all on their own and I don't think I shared them. It's no surprise that I feel like I'm struggling as a mom even on my best days. By the time the big kids get home from school I am so physically and emotionally exhausted from my day with the little kids that I feel like I have no time for them. It's just... I just want silence and they, of course, want to talk about their day and all of the drama they encounter at school and I can't, man. I just can't.

Cue the feelings that I'm screwing my children up and they'll be telling their future therapists that their mother wasn't emotionally available to them. Forget the college fund, I'll just set money aside for therapy. It's more beneficial anyways.

But in December I went to Olivia's dance recital.
And she did so well. The entire group did a great job and I enjoy watching her dance and I like seeing all of these girls get into their routine and just beam with pride. Normally I tear up when I watch her dance, always have, and it's because I'm just so damn proud of her and she's so beautiful and I just want to run up and squeeze her. I think what blew me away this year was realizing, long after I got home, that I didn't tear up. Yes, I was proud of her and I cheered and I clapped like a maniac. But it occurred to me that I didn't tear up and get all emotional.

Which only highlighted to me how off I am with depression. I don't know if it's the medication just numbing my brain or what but it's not a good feeling.

Later on in the month, the kids had their holiday concert at school. Again, I normally look forward to it, wave like that maniac mom in the crowd, and totally embarrass them. This time I snapped one photo of each kid and just sat there. I was such a mess that morning and I'm supposed to give myself credit for just going. But I can't because that's the bare minimum.
But can we all just say the collective "awwww" over Jackson? He wore his bow tie to school, kept it on ALL DAY, and was a little stud in the sea of ladies. And he sang. He didn't sing a whole lot but I saw those lips move enough where I could tell sound was actually coming out of them.
Then of course Olivia looked absolutely beautiful and was right up front. She is turning into such a stunning young lady, it's weird to see her change so much so quickly. This was her last winter concert in the elementary school and again, why wasn't I a mess? I know I would normally be a mess. I'll really be able to use the spring concert as a measure of my messed up head because if I'm not a blubbering mess at that, we'll know I'm really off the deep end.

I'm learning that not every day is going to be good. In fact, most days are going to be absolute shit. I can't even say that I'll have the glimmer of a good whole day here and there, it might just be a good moment or collection of moments from the day that I can call good. And maybe that's just going to be it for me, at least for awhile. I have to try to find one good thing in every day otherwise it's too easy for the sadness to drag me down.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Her Every Fear (review)

*This post contains affiliate links that I may make commissions from, but all opinions are my own*

If you don't follow me on Goodreads, you probably don't realize that I participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge every year. And every year my goal is always the same: 100 books. Some years I make it (2015) and some years I don't (2016, but I was SO close), but we'll see how I fall this year. It's already helpfully reminding me I'm behind one book so far, so I need to get cracking.

Her Every Fear - Peter Swanson

Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full-blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

Soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered. When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own—curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey’s. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey’s place, yet he’s denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman’s old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves--until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment and accidentally learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? What about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn’t sure. Jet-lagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself, so how could she take the chance on a stranger she’s just met? 

Sometimes I steer away from thrillers because they can get tedious for me and I can usually figure out what's going to happen and then I end up angry and annoyed (like with The Girl on the Train). But then I decide that not every thriller is going to be lame and I pick another one up, which is where I found myself as I started this one. I have to be honest and tell you that my biggest complaint with books like these is that characters are SO hit or miss for me. Kate is that miss character for me, she just... I get that she's neurotic and paranoid and obviously has trauma in her past that lends her to being that way but man alive. Just stop and use your brain a bit, can we? Can we just stop writing characters that are just... stupid? Because I'll tell you what, if I moved into my cousin's apartment for six months (a cousin I had never even met so let's be real, all the "but he's family" arguments are frankly out the window) and his neighbor is found dead? You can bet your ass I'm going to assume  he did it. I mean, am I the only one who watches crime shows? Forensic shows? Anyone?

So not only do we have that but the entire book has a stalker vibe to it so honestly, you're left kind of creeped out especially if you aren't binging on this in one or two sittings. My only other complaint is while the book switches narrative (which I'm totally OK with and it works here), every time we switched perspective we had a repeat of information. It's like the character really is assuming we aren't switching back and forth and it's frustrating because I want the meat of the story, I don't need to keep getting the same information over and over again. (And this is a person with documented memory issues complaining here, I feel sorry for all you non memory issue folks, you might have more of an issue with that.)

Overall? I'm still giving it 4/5 stars. The plot is good, the suspense is good, it has that dark and sinister vibe to it and you're questioning things right along with Kate. It was hard to put down and I found myself having a hard time falling asleep after a reading a good chunk of it. Her neighbors are all weird, we've got murder and mayhem, Kate isn't really well enough on her own but throw her in with this cast of folks and who knows what's going to shake out of the bag. If you're a fan of a good suspense and thriller, I think you're going to really enjoy this. You can purchase the book HERE, but in the meantime, you can check out the author's web page and Twitter!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I've decided everyone should have a psychiatrist.

On Friday I ended my week of non stop doctors at the psychiatrist's office. To say I was going into this appointment exhausted is an under statement. Not only was I legitimately exhausted from lack of sleep because Lucy had been running a fever and a chest cold for three days, but I was absolutely sick of leaving the house. I swear if one more person tells me that getting out of the house is going to be good for my mental health, I'm going to officially lose it.

Having never been to a psychiatrist I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew going in was that I had exhausted every avenue my regular doctor had as far as anti-depressants, my psychologist said it would be a good thing to try, and I'm suicidal, so at this point I don't really have anything to lose by trying something new. As it turns out, this was kind of an interesting appointment. It was the first one in awhile that I left there feeling like someone actually got it, they haven't trivialized it, and they aren't treating me like I'm a fun experiment.

Which was just.... refreshing.

It was a two hour appointment and while I couldn't give you the blow by blow of what we talked about, but it was a lot. I learned that I was on a pussy dose of my anti-depressant so he increased that for me. I learned that I am grossly deficient in vitamin D, so I have a prescription for that. He's hoping that this combination is going to help me step back from the ledge of the bridge, so to speak. But the best part of the entire appointment was feeling like all of the things I have been feeling aren't necessarily normal, but more so that if I wasn't feeling those things, he'd be more seriously concerned about the stability of my mental health. It's like someone giving me the free pass to actually feel horribly about my situation.

I also left there being told that I have to stop feeling guilty. That when I feel like I can't do it today, it means I can't do it today and I need to not feel bad about it. I need to tell someone that hey- I can't do it today, and I just let people take over. I struggle with this because I feel like these are my kids, this is my house, I should be taking care of this. There are people out there who have it worse than me and I need to not be a baby. I feel like although it's been drilled into my head the last five months on repeat, it's just now starting to sink in.

It's OK to struggle. It's OK to not be able to do it.

I also learned that all of my fatigue isn't depression so much, it's my actual brain telling me it's time to shut down. It's on overload and it needs to restart. (Which explains why I don't feel in control of myself and I feel confused when I start getting tired.)

I now struggle with not feeling guilty with Matt. Because god knows, he has got to be at the end of his rope. He works SO many hours just so we don't get behind in bills. Not only that but then he has me, and I'm basically useless right now. Sure, I am taking care of the kids and I'm trying to stay on top of the household things but I'm not doing a good job at all. Honestly, my house now is nowhere near what it would normally be like. I feel like I'm failing as a mom. I'm desperately trying to tread water and I feel like most days by nose is barely above the water. So for me to say, "Oh hey Matt- I realize you just worked 12 hours but boy am I fried, I'm going to bed!", it feels unfair and unrealistic.

So that's where I'm at.

At least I feel like my anti-depressant change might make a difference, I go back in six weeks to the psychiatrist to give him some follow up. By the time I go to that appointment, I will have seen my therapist a few more times, my neurologist, and my regular doctor. Oh, and had my appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. But more on that another day.

Until then.. just keep swimming.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Now I Know It's Not My Fault (review)

I'm hoping to have a couple of book reviews for you this week, but let's start this week with one that was a bit of a heart heavy read, scary for any parent to read.

Now I Know It's Not My Fault - Laurie B. Levine
Alexandra Geller is a bright, underachieving fourteen-year-old coming of age in the big hair 1980’s. Alex is from an accomplished, well-educated family. The sudden death of her mother five years ago, and her relationship with her well-meaning but emotionally unavailable father, leaves her unmoored and vulnerable as she tries to figure out who she is. Early in her freshman year, she’s befriended by Paula Hanover, a young, attractive science teacher at her high school. Paula’s irreverence and charm attracts the attention of the girls, who look up to her, and the boys, who have crushes on her. Alex is thrilled to be chosen by this woman and relishes the feeling of finally “belonging” to a mother figure. Paula’s intentions aren’t so benevolent, as she slowly and carefully draws Alex into a relationship designed to meet her own needs, not Alex’s. Desperate for maternal attention, Alex finds ways to ignore the vague sense that something is wrong. Her compelling story sheds light on a common, but rarely talked about kind of trauma which is subtle, and occurs under the radar.

You know I'm not one to sugar coat a review, so don't expect me to change that in 2017. I'm just going to get my issues out right at the front: the cover doesn't pull you in, the time setting of the 80's is outdated and makes the book feel like it isn't relative to modern times I'm a stickler and I found a few grammar errors that make the book feel like it got the quick edit and made it distracting for me. 

But if you can get past that, the story is really compelling. We have Alex, who is going through high school and she's got a lot of home issues she's battling at the same time. I'll tell you I picked this book because the premise of a girl having a mother who has passed away and an unemotional father is something that my kids almost could identify with. Reading this was straight up scary because you realize that some children are basically targets for predators of all kinds, and it doesn't necessarily mean a sexual relationship. This book explores the world of emotional and mental manipulation and what that can do to a child who is desperate for positive attention. 

It's immediately obvious that the teacher, Paula, is inappropriate towards students and looks to more of a friend rather an authority figure. She wants to be seen as cool versus there to further their education. She seemingly can pick out the students who need the "extra" attention and she is a classic groomer of these kids for not just her abuse, but sets them up for a future of abusive relationships. Just like other books that explore the sometimes abuse between children and an authority figure, so many in Alex's life essentially fail her and she's forced to stick up for herself, hard for even adults to do. The book is around 330 pages, but I didn't find it to be a quick read. For me it was easy to put down and pick something else up, but then I'd come back to this one because I wanted to know what was going to happen with Alex. Overall, I would give this book 3/5 stars. 

*I received a copy of this book for an honest review*

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Paper Pumpkin - November

We're playing a bit of catch up with the Paper Pumpkin boxes but I'm working on a few other ideas for upcoming Crafty Saturdays, including a giveaway for next week.

I know I mentioned last week that I like the kits that will give me cards to mail out over the projects, and that's true. Especially this time of year, I am that person who sends out thank you cards for Christmas gifts, even though I suspect it drives some people nuts. Sorry, not sorry. I won't lie and tell you that every time I mail a card, I don't feel like I'm single-handedly keeping the United States mail service alive.

The kit for cards this month though was just SO LABOR INTENSIVE. So much so that only one card looked like the finished product.

The other cards did not have the string tied on the top because I literally could not be bothered. By the time I was done stamping and adhering the three layers of cardstock and layer of vellum, I was done. You're lucky you even got sequins adhered to your card. This is one card where I thought, "you know what, let me go head and buy thank you cards", even though in my world that's blasphemous. I haven't purchased a card in over a decade, folks. I just can't bring my self to pay $2 (or more.. GASP). I just can't.

But again, I mailed out the last of these cards last week so I'm back to having almost nothing in my stash. Yikes!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Well it's confirmed, I'm not gifted

Honestly, I feel kind of cheated because had I taken this kind of brain test before my AFE I am pretty confident I totally could have wound up in the gifted category at least in a few areas.

But noooooo....

We'll never know because I'm impaired in four different areas.

Let us all take a moment to mourn what used to be. (It's OK, I've been doing this for months, take all of the time you need).

But on Wednesday I went back to Essentia to meet with the neurologist there that ordered me to go to brain testing. I really didn't know what to expect because the tests were all so strange, some were timed, some weren't, and a few were repeated, and honestly it was hard to know what the heck they were even looking for. As it turns out, they can tell a whole bunch from these random little tests. I'll give you the quick and dirty from my memory (ha!!) but I am supposed to be getting a more detailed record in the mail eventually. I do have to say that the neurologists that I have seen have been so thorough, really nice and thoughtful, and fairly optimistic. Which basically just means I feel pretty confident that even if I go for a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, I'm going to come out with the same information, essentially.

So I'm going to try to explain this as best as I can from my memory. I'll use the diagram Dr. Sharland kind of drew out for me because it kind of helps to see where I am now.
Results are essentially graded on a bell curve, so in the large box he drew, 85% of the population would fall into that category and that is considered "normal". Any result in that box is considered fine and you shouldn't worry. Gifted folks are all of the way to the right, and you'll see I'm not there. Now I'm testing in the normal region in a lot of areas, things like memory, non-timed essential functioning, etc. I'm considered impaired in three "main" areas: timed essential functioning, attention, and "PS" which I can't remember what it stands for, but it's basically... I can't remember. HA!

What it comes down to is that if I'm given information and I can take my time with reading it, trying to absorb it, and can do it at my own pace- I can recall the information pretty well. My working memory, the memory you use in order to complete a task, is good. I'm able to organize information in my head and pull it out in the order that I need to in order to do something.

What I can't do as well as I once could are things like timed essential functioning- basically being able to make a quick decision. I will likely be the last person you want with you in a crisis situation because my brain just isn't going to fire as quick as it would need to. My attention span is kind of a joke. It's like my brain flips through cards non stop and it's not necessarily able to focus on one thing as long as you could. And I forget what my other area that I'm impaired in but I think it has something to do with depression? I forget what he called that.

The test can't tell me things like, will I be like this forever? Will my brain improve? Things I have going for me is that I'm only five months out from my traumatic brain injury, which included lack of oxygen and multiple units of blood changing in and out of me. He said he is more optimistic that I will have some improvement over the course of the next year as my brain heals. How much? Nobody knows. Apparently the brain is a fickle creature and it's a slow healer and anything could happen.

So what do I do?

Apparently I scored terribly on emotional control and self regulation, which is the boss of your emotions and rational thoughts. He seemed concerned about my suicidal thoughts and depression, obviously, and feels confident that my brain could heal better as soon as I get my depression under control. Then obviously things like diet, exercise, staying on top of my medications. It does make me feel better with my Sheehan's Syndrome diagnosis, I hit all of the marks that would be expected of me to hit with my pituitary gland being shot. My results also indicate that I am my own worst critic and that my self impression is incredibly bad. Like I clearly think I am a worthless piece of poo and everybody honestly would be better off without me, I'm clearly a burden, and I'm not able to get around that. I test right down the middle of extrovert and introvert, so I like meeting and being around people but then when I'm done, I'm done, and I need to go into a hole and be all alone.

What's next?

Well my next step is to go to a psychiatrist (which I'm doing today) to get my anti-depressant medication figured out. It's expected to be a two hour appointment and I'm told this doctor is incredibly thorough, so I'm pretty optimistic about this. I'll report back on that when I have more information.

On Monday I am currently scheduled to see an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I have to decide by the end of the day today if I'm going to keep this appointment or re-schedule it. I am kind of undecided. Everyone (doctors) are telling me to go to Mayo only if I want to, but go in with low to no expectations. If I go down there thinking I'm going to walk away with this huge revelation and aha! moment, I'm going to be disappointed. I tried to get in with neurology and basically, they aren't interested. Not because I'm not a unique case but because I'm too new of a unique case. Dr. Sharland said if I was a year out from my AFE, had my other medical conditions well under control and still experienced my brain issues, then absolutely, he'd help me fight tooth and nail to get there. So I feel like I haven't exhausted all of the avenues that I could here.

And if we're being honest? I'm kind of tired of it all. I'm tired of feeling like crap but I'm tired of doctors, tests, people not knowing, and still feeling like crap. It's exhausting. I try to keep it in perspective and tell myself at least I don't have cancer, stop being a freaking baby and be happy you're only dealing with this. You're being a whiner and nobody cares, if it's that bad, just kill yourself already. These are the things that are on a ticker through my head all day, every day.


So we'll know more soon. I guess. I'll keep trucking.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Therapy is really tough, lambs.

When I came home from my AFE, everyone suggested I see a therapist to get my bearings. Work through the feelings I was having and bound to have because you don't die and not have feelings. And I was having the feels, trust me. I went into counseling with low expectations because my only other experience with counseling was going to marriage counseling with Matt and being told that he was totally fine, and that I just needed to not be so close minded and things would be fine.

Needless to say, we didn't go for long, and I never went back on my own though I desperately wanted to. I just wasn't ready.

So who knew that dying would be the catalyst to spur me into that? But it did and I've been going regularly since November, every two weeks. And that seems like it was so long ago, but truly, it's not been that long. And I really like my therapist, she is really great. I feel totally at ease with her, I can swear and she swears, and it's all really like I'm talking to a friend. I never feel judged, even when I tell her things like I want to die. I think every single day about dying. It consumes me all day, every day. I wonder and Google how many of whatever pill would I need for it to kill me? Would it be painful? Could I do it and die in my sleep? I don't want my children or husband to find my body grossly mutilated like from hanging or a gun shot or something, I'd like it to look like I just... died in my sleep. She tells me she would never talk me in or out of ending my life, but to get me to a place that I'm at peace with whatever I choose.

Do you know how.... freeing that is? I felt at immediate peace being told that my decision would be respected by someone. I had no idea that was what I needed to hear until she said it. She made me feel right then that the way I was feeling was 100% legitimate and that it's totally normal. It's not to be ashamed of, it's something to work with. I feel that way right now, and maybe I'll feel like that a long time, but I have choices. Every choice, killing myself or not, has consequences and I need to be OK with either set.

I also know it's not my job to make someone else happy. I can't do that. I can't stick around for someone else's sake. Yes, I have children, and a husband, and I have countless family and friends who love and care for me. And I'm not ungrateful for any of that, god knows that is what keeps me trucking along most days. But I also know that I can't make any of you or them happy, it's not up to me to spare feelings. It's all well and good to tell a person to be selfish and do what you have to so you feel good, until that causes others to feel uncomfortable.

And I guess I understand that.

I find that I really look forward to my therapy sessions, like those are my only life line. My 45 minutes of verbal freedom where I can unload it all. The good, the bad, the ugly. She just takes it and listens to me and offers me that safe place. I oftentimes get in my van afterwards and cry because it's another two weeks until I can go again and it feels so far away.

But I have an assignment before my next session, and I thought I could whip it out easily but I'm finding that I am really struggling with it. Basically, if I could start my life all over, no kids, no husband, no worries- what would my life look like? I mean... I don't know. I can't even wrap my head around this. It's not to say I could even have any of that, I certainly can't pick up and take off but if I could... what would I imagine?

I have no idea.

Have you ever really thought about that? If, with the flick of a wrist, you could change your life to be exactly what you'd want, what would you change?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Phone dump- November

I'm kind of digging these general posts where I show you random things from my month. Sometimes I want to share things but I don't have to write to justify a full post so I'm just going to do this. You're flexible like that, right?

So way back in November, one of my best friends invited Olivia and I out for a Mommy & Me paint night at a local art studio. Olivia and I aren't real great but Tammy had been to this kind of thing before and said it was a fun time.
And she was so right. I had been having a pretty rough week and it was the week I was switched to a different anti-depressant, and I was feeling like I wasn't doing enough for Olivia since I know my recovery since my AFE has been hard on her as well. It was just really nice to meet up with our friends for a fun girls night out.
And as it turns out, our paintings didn't suck, either. I'm hoping to do another one of these classes soon, I didn't realize how relaxing it would end up being.
I don't think I've mentioned my hair is falling out. So yeah, my hair is falling out. Huge clumps like this. That is just from running my hand through my hair. Nobody knows what it is causing it for sure, it could be a medicine, it could be hormones, nobody knows. It's to the point where in December I got crazy and cut several inches off thinking maybe if it wasn't so heavy it would help. As it turns out it's still falling out and now I have bangs. Sigh.
Last year we never made it to Bentleyville and I felt horribly guilty about it. Penelope was just a babe and I was exhausted, and yeah. We didn't do it and the kids reminded me that I had failed them. So this year it was unseasonably warm in November so I decided on a whim one night that by god, we were going to go. So poor Lucy not only was outside for the first time at night ever, but a cold one at that. And windy.
Penelope rode in the stroller (pretty well) and Matt carried Lucy on his chest in the carrier. Granted, it was not nearly as cold as it had been in previous years but I am no longer equipped to handle the elements so I complained a lot.
But we saw Santa, spent a full 15 seconds on his lap and hustled the hell out of there. I think we were in and out within an hour. I know people who linger forever seeing the lights and I'm like, "Yup- they are on, look at that" as we're walking as fast as we can through everything.
I started writing a book. I know, it's true if you can believe it. It's set to be my recovery from dying and what it all means. I think. I don't actually know where it'll end up but hopefully I'll be published someday.
I took a picture of each kid on Thanksgiving Day. This year it was pretty much agreed nobody wanted to cook so we went to a buffet. And it was amazing, so stress free, and absolutely something I want to make a tradition. I kind of hate Thanksgiving anyways, so I have never looked forward to it, but this year wasn't so bad.

So that was my November, folks. I feel like we did a lot in November. Strange how long ago it was already.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Brain testing, psychometrist, and exhaustion.

I have been mentally pumping myself up for my "brain testing" appointment that was last week. It was supposed to be on Friday but it got bumped to Thursday, which meant I had to re-schedule my appointment with my regular doctor and have Matt take the day off work so he could take the kids to school and Penelope to her appointment.

But it all worked out and everyone got to where they needed to be.

Going into this appointment I had no idea what to expect because the term "brain testing" is kind of vague and the neurologist who ordered the testing said it's just a lot more involved testing that what he did in his office, and told me it would likely take me "all day". Which, OK. That's pretty awful sounding, but if it means we can find a solution to my brain feeling like mush, I'm game.
So I drove myself to the Essentia Lakewalk Clinic building in Duluth, which is lovely, albeit a bit overly fancy for what is in there. They also have a terribly rude receptionist who checks you in. My appointment was at 8 and she was already acting as if she's got the worst job in the world, so I can only imagine what she's like by 4. But I didn't have to wait long until my psychometrist came out.

Oh, what's a psychometrist? Glad you asked because I Google'd it and found this:

I will say he was very nice but to be honest, we really didn't have any small talk. He was right to the point and administered hours of tests. I had mentally prepared myself to be there from 8-4 because that's what my paperwork said, so I had vending machine money and snacks. Turns out it was for nothing because I was done by noon.

As far as the testing goes, it was kind of bizarre. A lot of it was testing my attention and repetition abilities. He would recite a list of several words and then I'd have to repeat back how many I remembered. I'd look at 50 images and then be asked which pictures I saw. I was given a test where I looked at an image and then had to draw it from memory. The worst was the computer tests because those gave me an instant migraine. It was a series of letters flashing on a screen and I had to hit the space bar every time I saw a letter, but not the letter X. I know I didn't do well on that one. But the one where it was numbers flashing on the screen was the worst, and I think it's because it was a colored background and it made me feel like I had to blink a lot. It was strange. Then of course, I had like a 400 question survey on all kinds of things, I'm guessing to gauge my mental and/or emotional health? But I left there with a migraine and absolutely exhausted.

So  I did what anyone else would do.
I went to Wendy's to treat myself to some lunch. And it was worth it.

I drove home and told Matt I absolutely had to take a nap. I don't think even taking the ACT's in high school stressed me out that much.
And my elusive cat Ginger took a nap with me.

I find out the results of my brain testing on Wednesday, so we'll see. I don't know what to expect from the results either way. I tried to ask the psychometrist some question and all he would say was that the neurologist would answer my questions. Normally I'd be panicking about this but I guess worst case scenario it yields no real answers and I'm back at square one, I suppose.

But after my nap I came downstairs and decided to have some dinner. I felt pretty terrible to have missed Penelope's doctor appointment and to not have spent any real time with her or Lucy.
And Lucy let me know by staring me down while I ate. It doesn't matter what I'm doing but if she can hear my voice she's always searching me out. Penelope and Jackson did that too, but she does it ALL the time, more so than her siblings. It's like I'm her actual life line sometimes and I wonder what she's thinking. Sometimes I wonder if she knows how I'm feeling, that I'm only here for her, I want her to remember me.

I don't know. Deep thoughts for someone who feels dead on her feet. So we'll see. This week is full of appointments including my regular doctor, my therapist, the neurologist, and then ending the week with the psychologist to get a solution for my depression, or at least something better than what we're doing now.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Paper Pumpkin - October

Oh lordy lambs, I am so behind in showing you my Paper Pumpkin projects! I haven't been letting them sit, I've actually done October and November, I just forgot to share them. So I'll share this one, but look for a Paper Pumpkin giveaway happening soon!

Easily my favorite Paper Pumpkin boxes are the ones that will give me a set of cards to complete. I use these far more than the "projects" and these are things I can see myself replicating again sometime in the future.The other nice thing about these is that these cards are a little more involved than what I would normally make so these aren't the type of card you'll crank out in a short amount of time. Sure, there aren't a lot of steps, but they can be a bit tedious, a nice way to break yourself out of your comfort zone as a crafter.
I really liked this set because they were shaker cards! I have never made a shaker card because it seemed a bit more involved than I like, but this was actually really easy if you used the foam adhesive strips that it came with! I do remember back in my day of having cable TV with a crafting station, that you can use transparency sheets to be the clear piece that holds your sequins in, but in this box they gave you pre-cut pieces so it went faster.
Would you believe me if I told you I've already used these all up?
It's true! They are all gone! I should also note that I like to dress my envelopes up with a little bit of washi tape (I like my envelope to stand out in someone's mail) and this tape is actually left over from a previous Paper Pumpkin box but matched perfectly!

If you're interested in having a little box of fun come every month, you can get your own Paper Pumpkin for $19.95/month!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Phone dump- October!

I've decided that at the end of each month, I'm going to do a phone dump post of random pictures that were in my phone. The hope is that will keep me accountable on taking photos off my phone and storing them on my computer in the correct folders since I'm not good at remember when things happened anymore. But also because sometimes I take cute random pictures and I want to share them, but they aren't necessarily good for one post. So let's combine them.

One of my favorite things in the whole world are little tiny toddler toes. My kids all have their father's feet, and they are just weird, but when they are a toddler they are still super cute. Penelope let me paint her toes with some super quick dry nail polish and then let me take a picture of her "tiggy toes". Adorbs.
I think I made a comment to Olivia about the tooth fairy going broke from how many teeth she was losing. She left a note letting the tooth fairy know how many teeth she had left to lose and my grandma in Florida, who I love dearly, sent Olivia this note and $2 for each tooth yet to come out. Seriously, my grandma is better than yours.
Penelope. She is really fascinated with putting her face on different surfaces. She's really a character.
Oh yes! For Halloween this year (it was rainy and kind of crappy) I had an extra kid! Olivia wanted to trick or treat with her best friend Paige, in the middle, so that's what we did. Olivia made her own costume, a cat, Paige was a gypsy, and Jackson was a skeleton. We went out in the rain and poor Paige had her foot in a boot for an injury but she was such a trooper.
Then she spent the night, and the girls spent most of the time sorting candy and then watching scary shows in the basement. Paige is one of Olivia's best friends and I love having her here. Plus Penelope thinks Paige is basically the greatest ever.
And Jackson, speed sorting here. Apparently it's a serious process to sort.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Strand Family Photos

I keep forgetting to share with you the photos my best friend Andrea took of us this year as a gift to us. She's so great and I know she'll deny it, but I rely on her to take pictures because she is FAR better than I am. She did such a great job taking pictures of Olivia this year at cheerleading, so much better than I would have done. Honestly, if my camera was better (or, let's be honest, I knew how to work my camera) I think I could crank out some cute ones but alas, I just am not there.

Not only did Andrea volunteer to take our family picture (we haven't gotten any pictures, even candids, with all of us yet), but she bought the kids matching outfits.

I'm serious. She thinks of everything.

I was able to find a red sweater (sadly, almost nothing I own fits me right now) for $9 on Thanksgiving night and Matt wore a sweater he wore to a wedding like 14 years ago (I'm not kidding) but it turned out great anyways.

Clearly, my favorite. Not only are the kids in their "fancy clothes" (these outfits came from my mother in law who found some sales), but we have everyone looking, Matt doesn't look drunk, Lucy is as chunky and bald as ever, and Jackson is wearing a bow tie. (Note: I have been trying to get him to wear a bow tie for YEARS and this year he said he would do it but only because he really loved me.)
Can we just appreciate that Jackson's love does not extend to tucking his shirt in and wearing something other than sneakers? I mean, just socks would have been OK but no, we wear sneakers.
Just my babies, with poor Jackson trying so hard to not drop Lucy, who was probably pushing 15 pounds here. Things were starting to go downhill for Penelope so you can see Andrea brought out the first bribery toy, the dog.
You can't see it, but bribery toy #2 is just out of range, but it's a singing pig. But Lucy isn't looking, otherwise this would be my favorite picture because this is what I picture when I think of the four of them together. But these are the outfits Andrea picked out and she did such a good job coordinating them! And getting sizes right the first time!
Can we all just collectively "aww" over sweet Lucy and her chunk? She is seriously the roundest baby and I nibble her SO much over the course of the day. She's going to think nibbling is a sign of affection, I just know it. But she has a dimple on her left cheek and I hope it stays forever because it's so cute.
Not to be outdone, Penelope gave us the face I see more times than I want to admit in the course of a day. She is such an emotional toddler, I really don't remember Olivia and Jackson being this way but I'm sure I've just repressed it all. I refuse to believe Penelope is more beastly than any other toddler. It was my grandpa that said 1 in 4 are serial killers, this might be the one in my group. Bare minimum, Matt and I hope she moves out someday and doesn't choose to live in the basement and is able to get a job. HA!

I'll write more about this next week most likely, but little did we know that while doing our family photos, Andrea was on a secret, covert mission and was measuring things and we were none the wiser. Sneaky, sneaky.