Thursday, October 28, 2021

Book Reviews: Night Night Angel, and Slothy Claus

I am so grateful we are staring down the end of the week because honestly I'm not sure if I could handle any more week, you know what I mean? Friday is going to be an insanely busy day and, once again, I failed to really look at my calendar before agreeing to things.  It's OK though, I'm basically helping people all day long so I can't hate that, I just need to really take time to listen to my body and take a damn break when I need to. Which, ugh- that's a whole other post... maybe for next week. 

Anyways! I have two children's books for you today and if you know anything about me, you know that Christmas is my absolute favorite EVER. I'm already itching to wrap things, but I'm really trying to hold out a little longer. On Monday I'm putting my office Christmas tree though, that's all there is to it. 

Night Night Angel & Slothy Claus

First, let's talk about these covers because I love them so much. As soon as I heard the title Slothy Claus, I was completely in because sloths are the absolute best and I just really want to hug one. Will it claw my face? Probably. Would I still give it a good try? Absolutely. I can't remember if I mentioned that Penelope is an amazing little artist at age six, and her favorite thing is to recreate covers of books, so I included her version of a Slothy Claus cover. Night Night, Angel has an equally adorable cover because illustrated animals are the sweetest things ever. Again, it makes me think I can go hug animals in the wild, but Matt assures me I absolutely cannot do that because he ruins all of my fun. 

Slothy Claus- Jodie Shepherd
What will children do when a sluggish Slothy Claus doesn't make it to their home in time for Christmas morning? This charming story helps kids learn that Christmas is about more than just presents under the tree.

Slothy Claus has lots of presents for good boys and girls this year, but how is this notoriously lethargic animal supposed to travel all around the world in just one night? You guessed it! Slothy takes his sweet time, and when kids wake up to empty stockings and bare trees, it feels like Christmas is ruined! How will they ever find happiness without their chocolates and toys?
I'm going to start by telling you that not only did I love this story, but so did Penelope and Lucy! The story features Slothy Claus, who is like Santa but for animals. He's packing his sleigh but is slower than molasses, which only lets down the animals wishing for Slothy Claus to bring them goodies. Of course, everyone is disappointed when Slothy Claus doesn't come, but they soon learn that Christmas about gifts but instead, of being together. Eventually though, Slothy Claus does make it.... just not on Christmas. 

Lucy thought this was funny and Penelope looked slightly concerned when I told her this year Santa is taking a break and Slothy Claus is actually going to take over. These girls 100% believe in Santa and everything about it so their first thought was who do they write their wish list to? HA! Of course I told them it was just a story but we had fun talking about the what if's together. Loved this one!
Night Night, Angel - Amy Parker
'Tis the season for joy! Celebrate the family fun and season's blessings of Christmas with a young arctic fox as your family remembers that Jesus is the best gift of all. Amy Parker's delightful rhymes and Virginia Allyn's sweet illustrations make Night Night, Angel the perfect read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers enjoying the Christmas season.

Little fox loves all the excitement that Christmas brings to the forest: making creative presents, placing the star on the tree, and making sure she is spotlight-ready for the big Christmas play. But soon she realizes that the perfect gift has already been given through the baby who arrived on the first Christmas night!
Honestly, who doesn't love a good board book? These are perfect for Lucy because sometimes she has a hard time turning pages even still, her little fingers just can't quite do it some days. Again, this isn't very long and is a great one for beginning readers to practice on- it's full of sight words! 

In here we have all of the animals getting ready for Christmas by doing various tasks that we all enjoy doing as we prepare, baking, making a snowman, making gifts for others, decorating a tree, etc. I should include that in this book it does have a Christ centered approach so if that isn't your thing, know that going in. Our family is particularly religious but we still enjoyed this book quite a bit. 

The girls thought it was hilarious because there is a part that mentions that hanging lights is Daddy's favorite part, and in our family... Daddy strongly dislikes hanging lights! Every year it becomes a thing and it'll likely become a favorite childhood memory of theirs for sure. 

It's a gentle story that is sure to make your little one sleepy, and you, too. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour! It's never too early to shop for the holidays, and I am a big advocate for including books with any gift for children, and these would both make excellent picks!
This post contains affiliate links. 

Fall traditions: Burch Barn and Boo at the Zoo

Every fall we have two things we like to do, go to Burch Barn in Spooner, Wisconsin and then Boo at the Zoo. We have done Boo at the Zoo every year since Olivia was just a month old.  

I honestly wasn't sure if we would make it to Burch Barn this year but we went a week or two ago and we lucked out because it was warmer there than it was where we live. It ended up being a really nice day. The kids had a good time, but I think maybe the older two are less excited to do stuff like this anymore. 

Matt and I are generally always exhausted and I know I'm having a hard time keeping up with the kids anymore. I feel like it takes so much more effort to do things lately, and motivation is non-existent. I'm not even sure if this is a mental health thing or just life in general. It all kind of runs together lately, I guess. 
I did manage to get one good photo of all of the kids. Lucy is of course hamming it up as usual. It was kind of funny though, Penelope and Lucy were so bummed they couldn't milk the pretend cows. There was a line of kids and people just not taking turns and I wasn't going to stand there for an hour and wait. Of all the things to get upset about, the pretend cow milking station was it. 
I'll share better pictures after Halloween of their costumes, but this year Penelope is Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas (she loves that movie so much) and Lucy is a giraffe. Her costumes always crack me up and this year her head keeps sliding down her eyes because her actual head is smaller than normal, I guess. It's hilarious because she randomly says, "I can't see" and just keeps walking in the hopes one of us will fix it while she continues on. These two are such a fun duo, you can't help but laugh when you're with them. 

We've still got Scarium at the Aquarium to go to and then it's basically Christmas. Well, that's not totally true. As of right now our plan is to go to Florida around Thanksgiving to see family again and assuming nothing crazy happens before then, we're banking on that. I haven't gotten dates figured out or anything because we'll be driving so it'll be a much different trip than last year. It would be so nice to see my parents though, I really miss them. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Life just keeps happening in October.

I keep saying it feels like October just started but honestly, we're in the last week and I'm so overwhelmed with life. To think by the end of the week we only have two months left of 2021 is just crazy to me. So much has happened this year and I'm trying to close out 2021 on a happy note, so we're made some changes to how our family functions and how we are going to do things going forward. More on that later. 

I started the month out by getting my hair cut and colored. I was sick of hating my hair and I had money from my birthday in March so I figured, fuck it, I'm getting my hair done. Somehow though, it doesn't seem as dark as when I first got it but that's alright. I'm just happy it's not a weird golden orange anymore. 
Olivia is learning to drive and she can test for her license right before Christmas. Matt has been taking her because my anxiety has been so bad lately but also my own vision hasn't been great so I wouldn't be a good teacher for her. We let her drive out to her grandparents' with Matt so I followed behind with the other kids, it's such a weird experience to follow your kid in a car they are in control of. 
We've spent a few Friday nights freezing our asses off in the stands to watch Olivia play in the band. They did really great and I'm glad she is enjoying it. I think Jackson is looking forward to being out there next year. 
Penelope and Lucy have been super involved with recent book reviews but I even got a quick picture of Jackson and Penelope sitting nicely together without bickering. 
I'm trying to not share much about the kids in general on here anymore but I can't resist showing you Olivia before her first Fall Ball. They didn't get to do any high school dances last year so this was just extra fun. She went with a group of friends and they all seemed to have a fun time. She's such a beautiful young woman. 
I can't even remember if I mentioned it or not but Matt and the kids built me a Little Free Library for Mother's Day this year. Over the summer he put that up for me and we've kept our library stocked with mostly all new releases (if you live near to me sometimes I put some review books in there!) and every once in awhile I get a real doozy that makes me laugh. Last week this one showed up and I had to take a picture of it. 
Both Lucy and Penelope went to their first dental cleaning a week or two ago and apparently between the both of them there are seven wiggly teeth on their way out. Penelope wasted no time just yanking one right out like the first two she lost. She got her $1 from the Tooth Fairy and she's eagerly working on losing more teeth because she really likes money. Don't we all, girl. 
Oh yes, I got my first Christmas gift wrapped with help from Jackson and George. George was more about ribbon control and supervision, though. I've already started ordering things and getting myself organized. I am SO on the ball this year though, I've been saving cash for the better part of five months (next year I'm doing Christmas saving challenges so it'll be even better) and I'm chasing deals to keep costs down low. So far I've only spent $350ish and I am mostly done with the kids, so I can't be mad at that. The rest I have money for, I'm just waiting for the best price before I commit. What am I getting Matt? I have no idea. Literally not one idea. Well, I had one idea, which is what I wrapped but other than that..... I've got nothing. 

So that's how most of October has gone. My office Christmas tree is going to go up on Monday. I might hold out a little longer for our big tree, I'm not that ready yet. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Book Review: Photo Ark Wonders

I am so incredibly behind in life, so expect a ridiculous life catch up over the course of this week. Between being a mom, going on a friend date, going on a husband date, trying get ahead on Christmas shopping, revamping finances, doing PTO stuff for school, and just every other thing I've got going on? I am so overwhelemed. I no longer multi-task well anymore, so then I start panicking, which makes me forget even more, and then things like today happen where I literally burst into tears for no reason and scream into a pillow.  

So things are going well. 

Photo Ark Wonders - National Geographic

A glorious new volume of Sartore’s signature animal portraits, this time highlighting the fascinating shapes, patterns, and expressions of animals both familiar and little known.

Joel Sartore, on a mission to photograph all the animal species in human care, now delights us with more photographs, this time selected to represent the amazing diversity of the world’s animals.
The book’s four chapters -- Pattern, Shape, Extra, and Personality -- invite us to revel in these photographs, many cleverly paired into amusing and often surprising comparisons, like the catfish and the mouse with the same stripes down their backs, the tarantula and the poison dart frog both cobalt blue, or the tiny lizard and the weighty ox both sporting pointed horns.

Each photograph gets its own page or two-page spread.

Scientifically accurate captions highlight distinctive features.

Throughout, Sartore recalls telling moments from his photographic adventures.

With all new image selections, this book expands the best-selling Photo Ark series, sure to be a hit with those who already treasure National Geographic Photo Ark, Birds of the Photo Ark, and Photo Ark Vanishing.

Animal lovers young and old will get lost in the pages of this book, delighted by the spectacular diversity among these creatures and the wit of the photographer chronicling them.
If you have never picked up a National Geographic book by Joel Sartore, you are behind the eight ball, my friend. The photos he presents are so incredibly stunning that they don't even look real. Penelope and Lucy spent so much time over the last few weeks paging through this book with me just talking about animals and things we thought were interested. It is incredible to see some of the intricate detailing on the bodies of various creatures, it's hard to believe these are things out in the wild. 

One of our favorite things to do is go to zoos and aquariums as a family, and we like to see animals and creatures we wouldn't otherwise see in our environment. While that's an incredible thing to do, you still don't always get the intense close up to really pick out the vivid details that make this animal stand apart from others. Things like a Cobalt Blue Tarantula or a Dyeing Poison Frog aren't something we've ever seen and likely never would on our own, but on pages 206 and 207 we see the beautiful coloring of both but also characteristics of each that kids wouldn't know about. The photos are so amazing, we could see what look like teeth on the tarantula and the distinct hairs that make it look fuzzy from afar. Lucy really liked looking at any kind of bird because she doesn't understand why some birds have spots and others don't, or why birds don't have the same kind of feet. Penelope is all about bugs and lizards and wants to know why some lizards look bumpy but don't feel bumpy. We also spent a lot of time looking at the various mice on pages 340 and 341 and comparing them, how are they the same or different? Which one was the cutest? 

The book is broken up into four distinct chapters: Shape, Pattern, Extra, and Attitude, which are all ways to classify the animals. Penelope really liked the bonus chapter on how the photos are made (she wants to know how you get a monkey to stay still). 

If you are looking for some unique holiday gifts this year, I highly suggest anything Joel Sartore does- any animal lover is going to pour over these books for endless hours. Everytime you go through them you learn something new, and it inspires you to step up and do more for this planet. Having these up close and intimate photos of Earth's creatures is not only awe-inspiring, but it invokes this urgency to save them. 

I am so grateful to be on this tour for TLC Book Tours, National Geographic books are some of my absolute favorite. I always feel like an excited kid in the school library going page by page. 
This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Book Review: You Are Revolutionary (children's literature)

How is it even Wednesday already?! I am so grossly behind in all of the things I need to do this week that I really have no time for it to be Wednesday so yeah..... I'm gonna need to talk to management. 

I've had a couple of good doctor appointments recently, not good in the "they've solved the mystery!" but good in the "Sara, you absolutely aren't crazy" kind of way. Frankly, I think we all need to hear that from time to time. I do have a couple of book reviews for you this week and I'll talk about some other things happening around these parts.  

Up first though, a really great children's literature offering that you might want to add to your holiday shopping lists. 

You Are Revolutionary - Cindy Wang Brandt

You have what it takes to change the world!

This is the empowering message parenting author and podcaster Cindy Wang Brandt wants every child to hear and embrace. In this inspiring picture book she speaks to every child who sees injustice in the world, revealing that they already have inside themselves everything they need to make big, transformative change in the world--just as they are. Every kid is a revolutionary! You don't need to wait until you grow up. You don't even need any special skills. Kids who are loud, kids who are quiet, kids who make art, kids who are good at math, kids with lots of energy, kids who are good listeners--all kids have what it takes to make a difference.
You know I'm a sucker for a great children's book and this one is not only great, but it is incredibly timely and especially inspiring for kids who maybe feel stuck in the world. 

The story follows a little girl who notices things in her community that highlight that things aren't fair for all. In particular, she notices a homeless family, but at the same time, there are people protesting against homeless people being able to set their tents up in this particular area. To a child, the logical question is... where should they be? To adults, many consider them unpleasant to look at so they don't care where they go... just don't be here. The little girl wonders what she can do to help and the story talks about no matter your talent, whether it's your ability to write, tell jokes, do math, or more, you have something that you can do to help the cause. Not only that, but that you should help the cause, in fact, we all should. 

It makes me think of Greta Thunberg, how though she is a child, she is making a huge impact among world leaders talking and educating people about climate change. Many adults mock her and say she's just a child, but as this book shows us, sometimes children are the ones we should look to. They come to things with fresh eyes and sometimes the simpliest solution is the best one. I think this is an incredibly encouraging book for children, particularly those who maybe don't feel the like because they aren't the smartest in their class they don't have as much to offer, this book shows them that we all have something to offer, it's up to us to shows people what that is. 

I highly recommend this book, the story is just lovely. The words are easy to read, even for beginning readers, it would make a great classroom or group read-aloud. I also have to mention Lynnor Bontiagao's illustrations, which are so bright and colorful, they really set the tone for the story and are really lovely. 

Thank you to PR by the Book and author Cindy Wang Brandt for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review. I'll include the purchase links below and as always, these are affiliate links so when you purchase I make a small amount through no added cost to you. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Book Review: If The Shoe Fits

I'm trying to get as many reviews out to you, and off my desk, as I possibly can. I realize the likelihood of me hitting my Goodreads goal this year is laughable at best but by God, I'm going to go down trying. Ha!! 

If the Shoe Fits - Julie Murphy

After having just graduated with a degree in shoe design, and trying to get her feet on the ground, Cindy is working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America's favorite reality show, Before Midnight. When a spot on the show needs filling ASAP, Cindy volunteers, hoping it might help jump-start her fashion career, or at least give her something to do while her peers land jobs in the world of high fashion.

Turns out being the only plus size woman on a reality dating competition makes a splash, and soon Cindy becomes a body positivity icon for women everywhere. What she doesn't expect? That she may just find inspiration-and love-in the process. Ultimately, Cindy learns that if the shoe doesn't fit, maybe it's time to design your own. 
I'll be honest, I really loved Julie's book Dumplin', which was one of my very first OwlCrate boxes I believe, but after that it seemed the body positive movement took over and I'm kind of over it. *covers head in shame* But before you come at me! It's not that I think the movement is without merit, quite the opposite, in fact. I'm just kind of over it. I don't think there is anything wrong with plus size characters, the more the merrier, but when I look at characters that I am drawn to, it's not the first thing that comes to mind. Does that make sense? Anyways, I was on the fence about this one going in so I didn't buy it, but when it came as one of my books in a recent Once Upon a Book Club box, I figured it's time to give it a go. 

And it wasn't the worst. It wasn't as terrible as I was worried it was going to be. I'm not a fan of shows like The Bachelor and I think they are the most ridiculous ever, but I understand the basic premise of them, so going into this I had a good idea of how this was going to play out. The best way to describe this book is it is a combination of The Bachelor and the classic story of Cinderella... kind of. Cindy agrees to go on the show her stepmother is in charge of (and her stepsisters are also on the show) and she's hoping that if nothing else, she'll get her face and name out there, and show of the shoes that she designs and makes to hopefully jumpstart her currently stalled career. The bachelor? Oh, he's just the quirky, hot guy she met on the plane but didn't get his name or any information and bam- he's the bachelor she's fighting all of these women down for. 

OK, I really liked the humor of this, it's campy and fun, it definitely makes fun of itself and the insanity that is reality shows such as these. All of the behind the scenes staging is on display, the cattiness of all of the women, but also the toxicity of it all, especially for women who aren't necessarily comfortable and sure of themselves. I also liked how Cindy bucked at the assumption that because she is a plus size woman, surely she must have low self esteem and think poorly of herself. Everyone assumes because of her size she would exclude herself automatically from things and I really liked how she consistently went against the grain and showed them that the only people uncomfortable with her or her body is them. I did love the mention in the ridiculousness of the fashion industry with their sizes and options, I'm not even a large woman even I am at a loss when I'm shopping, it's the worst. 

Anyways. As much as I liked Cindy in those regards.... she was actually kind of an idiot. She absolutely falls for Henry (our bachelor/Prince Charming) but she's one of those characters that gets stuck on one thought and plays it over. And over. And over, through several pages and chapters until you get to the point and say, "I hope he picks literally anyone but you and I don't care if you love him, for the love of everything!" because that's what was going through my head. I just... ugh. I got so frustrated that I literally almost DNF'd it because I was just sick of that same drum being beaten because you can only listen to it so much, you know? For me this really fell flat and I can really only give it 2 stars. I wanted to give it 3 but if I'm being honest, that third star just isn't there. I think if you are a fan of shows like The Bachelor, or if you're a big Julie Murphy fan, you'll enjoy this far more than I did. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Book Review: Love, Only Better

I'm going to be giving you book reviews like crazy the rest of this week! I have finished up quite a few and I want to get as many out to you because the best activity for fall is, and will always be, book buying. You can fight me on this but you won't win, so just go buy books. That's my PSA for today. 

Love, Only Better - Paulette Stout

For Rebecca, sex is a joke missing a punchline. No crashing waves. Only pangs of inadequacy. At twenty-eight, shouldn’t she have had one by now? Her snickering ex thought so. His taunts echo in her ears as he rolls out of her bed. Then out of her life.

Lost, Rebecca seeks expert help, joining a study for women who can’t “finish” in the bedroom. There is such a thing? It’s unconventional, for sure, but she’s desperate for answers. The no-sex mandate is a no brainer. Who’d want to be with her anyway?

Then Kyle moves in. Her blue-eyed, black motorcycle-riding dream of a neighbor lives a heartbeat away. Sparks flew immediately. But could the timing be any worse?

If he learns her secret, she’ll lose her best chance at love. But if her lessons fail, she’ll be left eternally broken. Unlovable.

What started as a search for fulfillment, has suddenly become a quest for something far greater.

Love, Only Better is an intimate quest full of heart, blending a fun next-door romance with steamy dates-for-one. Perfect for fans of Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient), Jennifer Weiner (Good In Bed), Jojo Moyes and fans of women's fiction full of wit, spice and soul.
Oh hey, this is the review that you'll get to really know me, friends. Welcome. Ha! 

I'm going to start by saying that if you look at the Goodreads reviews, you're going to be like, good lord, Sara. Which, I know. This is going to be one of those times where I will tell you to take those reviews with a huge grain of salt because this book, admittedly, isn't for everyone. If discussions about sex, sexual acts, masturbation, etc at all make you uncomfortable, this book isn't for you. And that's okay. This is where I come in with my mom voice and ask you what you thought it was going to be about after reading the description? I'm not sure how you got confused along the way. This isn't a romance so much as a women's fiction, so know that going in. 


I really enjoyed this book and maybe it's because I understood where our main character was coming from. Fun fact, I didn't know what an orgasm was until just after I turned 20. I'm not joking. I remember having sex for the first few years and wondering what the hell the hype was about? Why the heck was everyone raving about this because frankly, it seems kind of pointless? Sure, you make babies, but I wasn't trying to have babies as a teenager, what was the point of any of it? Fast forward to about age 20, I'm dating my now husband and all of a sudden one day, I finally understood. It literally all made sense, it was like a whole new world, and then I was like, ugh- I dated some real losers, didn't I? I sure did. 

So as I went through this book, I really understood Rebecca and all of the feelings she had (or didn't have) and understood how isolating it feels. It's like being excluded from the inside joke everyone knows about you.... except it's a way worse feeling. I remember what it's like having the boyfriend who clearly thought it was you and you alone that was the problem, and then believing them because you don't know anyone else having this problem (or if they did, they certainly didn't talk about it). I wish I had known sex therapy and pelvic floor therapy even existed back then because I would have literally beat their doors down. 

Now I'll be honest and say I understand why some parts of this book would be considered not appealing. Things like how crappy her friends were (they really are, but think of the friends you had early on as a twenty something and the ones you've weeded out- they were the worst), disrespectful jokes/humor Rebecca's mom and friends had (which, agreed, but think of your own parents and just that generation in general- they aren't exactly known for being appropriate with their humor so while these are not OK things to say, these ARE things said in many homes and the kids just smile and keep their mouths shut because it's not worth the fight), and people being skeptical of the therapy... oy. I'll be honest, if I hadn't gone through pelvic floor therapy this year, I also would have thought it was a weird stretch but for real, I had a woman's hand in my vagina, feeling around, asking me to squeeze and if I felt anything when she pushed on different parts, I had vibrators inserted and had to do exercises with it, etc. All services I had to do, while naked from the waist down in a dimly lit room and have a conversation about sensations without laughing like the child I am. It was weird, BUT it was helpful, and I learned a whole lot about your vagina, the muscles in and around it, all of the parts that make up female sexual function and organs, and everything in between. Don't knock it until you're talking about quality of lube with someone. 

I feel like if you've ever experienced any kind of sexual issue, or heck, maybe things just don't work like they used to, this is a book you are going to relate to and find the humor in it. If you're young, your baby birthing days haven't started or haven't ruined your body completely, you maybe aren't going to appreciate this book for what it is. It's funny, it's the book that should make an appearance in mom book clubs because more of us are dealing, or have dealt, with it than we like to admit, and I ultimately thought it was a nod to female empowerment. Our body is our own, we aren't sexual playgrounds for our partners, our needs are worth something too. 

A huge thank you to PR by the Book and Paulette Stout for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review. I'm late in life and I wish I hadn't been sick so I could get everything out when I had planned, but I'm glad you are all seeing this now. You can follow Paulette on Instagram and I'll put the links for book purchase below. If you've read this, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. 
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Book Review: A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale

Between the world going down this week, my computer just... we're still not sure what it was doing, and being on/off sick this week, I've gotten nothing done. Well, that's not true, but nothing seems to be working the way it's supposed to so everything is all mixed up. I don't even know what day it is and I thought for sure this morning that it was Friday and yeah.... no. It's only Wednesday. Sigh. 

A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale 

Karen Schaler

A charming Christmas village, a storybook castle, a royal ball, and a gorgeous prince are the last things New York City reporter Kaylie Karlyle expects to find on her holiday freelance assignment to Europe. But when the family she's interviewing turns out to be the royal family of Tolvania, Kaylie has a meltdown when the quirky queen wants her to write a Christmas fairy tale for the spunky, young princess. Kaylie must battle the princess's father, who doesn't trust the media, and her own insecurities about writing anything beyond the news.

To spark inspiration for the fairy tale, the queen recruits the prickly Prince Alexander to show Kaylie the family's most spectacular royal holiday traditions. And sparks definitely fly when the only thing Kaylie and the prince agree on is that they're both more "bah humbug" than "ho, ho, ho."

But somewhere between sleigh rides and snow angels, merrymaking and mistletoe, upside-down Christmas trees, and a legendary Christmas crown, Kaylie and the prince open their hearts to Christmas and start believing in themselves and each other. It's a real-life fairy tale in the making until Kaylie discovers a secret about a royal Christmas heirloom that jeopardizes everyone's happily ever after. Can the magic of the season save this holiday happy ending?
Is it strange that I've read my first Christmas book of the season before I put my Halloween decorations up? Because I'll be honest, it feels kind of weird? Of course, everything else in my life feels like a mixed up jumble so why not my holiday reading, am I right?! Of course, when it comes to a Karen Schaler Christmas story, it has to be put to the top of the list because she has quickly become the Queen of Christmas romance for me and it's easy to understand why once you've read one from her. 

In this one we have Kaylie, a reporter who doesn't think she has what it takes to write anything outside of investigative pieces, taking on a holiday freelance job and quickly finding herself in over her head. She realizes that she's not working with regular folks, she's actually working with royalty and immediately becomes overwhelmed with her assignment, which becomes writing a unique Christmas centered fairy tale for the Queen's granddaughter. Of course, that means interacting with the granddaughter's father, who happens to be the seemingly grouchy, anti-Christmas, definitely anti-media, father, Prince Alexander. Which, isn't the worst because they at least have the same outlook on Christmas, which they aren't completely in Grinch-mode, but they definitely aren't eagerly volunteering to decorate and lead any kind of celebration because the holidays highlight a significant loss in their lives they don't want to celebrate. Regardless, he makes it his mission to be the rudest possible and make this an impossible assignment in the hopes Kaylie will give up and just go home. 

Of course, in true Christmas romance fashion, things start turning into a Christmas miracle, thawing both of their hearts and perhaps turning into a real romance until.... (dun, dun, dun) we have drama and some things that threaten the budding romance and more, but that's the charm of a good Christmas story, right? You have to have something threaten to ruin it because the best part is the characters overcoming it/that. I won't tell you what it is because of course that would ruin it, but I'll tell you the ending is sweet and once you finish this book you'll be itching to get your Christmas tree up. I'm not joking, I kind of  want to put mine up in my office. I'm holding out until November 1, at least! 

Any book that gets me wanting to put my tree up and skip holidays, and dig out my Christmas baking tools gets a 5 star from me, no question! A huge thank you to TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and Karen Schaler for sending me the cutest Christmas themed package that made me want to get all of my wrapping supplies out. She always sends the prettiest things! 

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Book Review: Kobee Manatee: Climate Change and the Great Blue Hole Hazard

Happy Wednesday, readers! I feel like this week is flying by and I'm not getting near enough stuff done. I just haven't felt super great, it's likely just stress and lack of sleep catching up to me. I had planned on going to do fun family things this weekend, but I think Matt is working all day Saturday and I'm just exhausted. I think I'll spend at least Saturday just trying to catch up. Fun times. 

Kobee Manatee: Climate Change and the 

Great Blue Hole Hazard 

Robert Scott Thayer

Kobee Manatee® and his seafaring pals, Tess the seahorse and Pablo the hermit crab are swimming from the Cayman Islands to Belize to help his cousin Quinn clean up plastic litter at her new, all-veggie underwater bistro called Quinn’s Seagrass CafĂ©. On their Caribbean journey, they encounter harmful effects of climate change and plastic pollution, along with several other unforeseen problems - a distressed loggerhead turtle, a giant Portuguese man-of-war, and a venomous scorpionfish. Then the friends discover the amazing Great Blue Hole. Their adventure takes another surprising turn when Pablo plunges into its huge abyss! Can Kobee and his buddies save Pablo?
I love children's books and having four kids means I own a LOT of them, but also, I get to read them to and with my kids. It's turned out to be the perk of parenting I had hoped for. Also, you might not know that I was born in Florida and lived there for several years before moving to the frozen tundra of Minnesota and Wisconsin, so I have actually seen manatees before and they are the nicest animals. Super chill, just kind of doing their own thing. The next time we go to Florida, my goal is to take the kids to the river to see them in person because I don't about you, but I have never seen one at the zoo. (And we've been to a lot of zoos all over!) 

Which has literally nothing to do with this book, so let's talk about it. First off, I'm going to start by saying that Lauren Gallegos' illustrations are absolutely beautiful. Penelope and Lucy loved all of the bright colors but mostly looking for the garbage and plastic that you see all around, mostly in the background, of every page. They really treated that as a look and find piece of the book, so whether that was intentional or not, that's what they really liked. The illustrations inspired my little Penelope to draw her version of the cover, and I decided that it was pretty good for a six year old, so that's the review photo I went with. 

The story itself was really cute. We haven't read any other books with Kobee and his friends, so we weren't familiar with past adventures, we were going into this as brand new readers. While that was just fine, it's not like a chapter book where you need to read previous stories, this book starts on page one almost feeling like we had missed a page or two because it does reference a previous adventure. It didn't take away from this story at all, but it had even me double checking that we weren't missing a page somewhere. 

The adventure follows Kobee and his friends on their way to see Kobee's cousin, but it is going to be a long swim and they would be going past the Great Blue Hole in Belize, which an actual place and I included a link and if nothing else, go there to at least see a photo of it! Along the way they encounter a lot of plastic and other garbage in the ocean and they rescue some animals who have become entangled in it. I think the child friendly visual of that was good because when we cut our soda rings, we all joke that we need to save the turtles, but now Penelope and Lucy were able to actually see that we aren't joking. Kobee and friends encounter new species in the ocean and while the book covers a serious topic like climate change and what we can do to help, you're also learning too. Each page has a little learning bubble with more detailed information, too. I didn't read those to them that night because it was bedtime and I didn't want to get bogged down by a million questions, but when I went back to read them, older kids would definitely be interested. 

Overall? My youngest daughters really enjoyed this and were very interested in the other Kobee books for sure. This would make a fun classroom read, especially during units around recycling or the climate, or even as an Earth Day activity. You could read this to students and maybe walk around the neighborhood to pick up trash. You could even show kids the Great Blue Hole because that is really cool and I didn't know it even existed! 

Thank you to PR by the Book, as well as author Robert Scott Thayer, for having me on this tour and sending me a copy for review.  If you're looking for an interesting new read for bedtime or the classroom, this is a quick read that keeps kids engaged but also has great moments to ask them questions for comprehension. Highly recommend. 

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Book Review: The Weight of Air

Can I just be honest and tell you that I am 20 books behind in my Goodreads goal? I mean, honestly, I don't know who I think I am thinking I'm going to get there. I keep thinking that I'm going to have some crazy weekend where I catch up, but I think we all know the likelihood of that happen is about the same as me winning the lottery. But! I do have some to share with you this week and next, but beyond that... I need to get my poop in a group, folks. 

The Weight of Air - David Poses

While his wife and two-year-old daughter watched TV in the living room, David Poses was in the kitchen, measuring the distance from his index finger to his armpit. He needed to be sure he could pull the trigger with a shotgun barrel in his mouth. Twenty-six inches. Thirty-two years old. More than a decade in a double life fueled by depression and heroin.

In his groundbreaking memoir, The Weight of Air, David chronicles his struggle to overcome mental illness and addiction. By age nineteen, he’d been through medical detox, inpatient rehab, twelve-step programs, and a halfway house. He saw his drug use as a symptom of depression, but the experts insisted that addiction was the problem. Over the next thirteen years, he went from one relapse to the next, drowning in guilt, shame, and secrets, until he finally found an evidence-based treatment that not only saved his life, but helped him thrive.

With grit, humor, and brutal honesty, David’s story reveals that traditional recovery models actually increase stigma and the risk of overdose, relapse, and death. As depression and addiction rates skyrocket and overdose fatalities surge, The Weight of Air is a scathing indictment of our failed response to the opioid crisis—and proof that success is possible.
First off, wow. I mean, if I could legitimately leave you with a one word review, that's the word I would choose, and it's not even a great word. I could not put this book down and when I finished it I felt as if I had been holding my breath the entire time and I had to gasp for air. When I tell you this was a good book, it was a really freaking good book

You know I'm a fan of a good memoir, but you give me a memoir about mental illness and I am here for it. I know next to nothing about addiction or recovery, but listening to people detail their story about either/both and I'm just absolutely fascinated. Drugs and/or alcohol changes your brain in strange ways and changes how it functions, and I always am interested in how it is different for different people. I really got sucked into David's story because his story is presented like a chicken versus the egg story, was it the depression or the addiction that caused the other? Which, I know people in my life who that debate would absolutely apply to, while others it's pretty clear which one came first. 

Especially when we live in a time where depression is rampant, we're learning that more people than not struggle with some form of mental illness, though many are either in denial or tell nobody and seek little to no help, it's no wonder people turn to substances that can take them away from that, even if it's only a short while. Also, as someone who has never struggled with substance abuse or addiction, I appreciated the frankness of what living with that is like, but also edging it with humor. It's the perfect balance of getting serious, but not too serious where it feels like you're being lectured. I learned so much about how difficult it actually is to get help and successfully recover, for the long haul, and how it isn't as easy as "just stop doing it". While I clearly know you can't just do that, I think society is conditioned to think if you just go to a few meetings, you'll be fine, but there is so much more than that, not to mention all of the things in your life that become tangled with your addiction. It can mean literally leaving your safety area, and even those of us in the best situations would struggle with that. 

I struggle with mental health issues and I thank the stars every day that I haven't had to worry about addiction. My biological father is an alcoholic, and probably on some prescription medication that affects his day to day living, so I know genetically, I'm predisposed to addiction. I know it every time I take a prescribed medication that could potentially be addicting. It scares me outright so it's a one and done because I don't know where that road would take me but I'm can bet it wouldn't be good. 

I so highly recommend this one if you yourself are in recovery, or even thinking about recovery. If you're teetering on the edge of addiction and you can still step back, this book is for you. If you have a friend or family member struggling, this would be a great read for you to understand the situation they are in. Honestly, given the pandemic and knowing so many are quietly struggling, this feels like a book we all need. 

Thank you so much to TLC Book Tours and Sandra Jonas Publishing for sending me a copy for review. 

This post contains affiliate links. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Rage cleaning.

Are you a rage cleaner? I didn't realize that was a thing until a few years ago. My therapist told me it's an anxiety overload thing, but also probably some OCD thrown into the mix, too. I realize now that all of my crazy cleaning marathons that I would go on years ago were likely my anxiety taking over because life was hard. Life was busy and I only had two kids then, but I was working full time, so I just never had time to do.... nothing.  

Fast forward to now and while technically I have the time to do nothing, I don't have the opportunity. Most of my days are spent trying to keep up with all four kids, but trying to keep the house relatively clean. I've long since given up my magazine worthy kind of clean for my house, because I don't have the energy levels to do that but also, just vacuuming the one rug exhausts me and I have to lay down for a half hour just so I can then make some toast for myself for lunch. 

God knows I haven't done a deep clean on anything in years. My standards have gone down drastically. 

This last weekend though, I realized the front porch was out of hand. It's the catch all area for toys and kid things, it's basically a play room for them. We never needed a play room before but since we moved, and downsized in space by almost half, we've had to get creative with space and storage. The front porch became the toy room, play room, storage for kid crafts and books, and other. It doesn't take long for things to get out of hand, let's put it that way. So I decided that I was going to spend the time to clean it out and get rid of the things we no longer need. 

I was hoping for help, but this is what my helper opted to do instead. Granted, it was significantly warmer outside than I thought it was going to be, so I know it slowed me way down. Twinky decided he was going to live his best life on the couch while the fan above blew cool air onto him in his indecent position. Jerk. 
It took me hours and I really mean hours to go through every box, every drawer, and every shelf. I went through every single toy piece by piece. Matt ended up hauling out two bags of garbage and a couple of boxes of things to donate. We were able to get all of the kid things onto one side of the porch, so it's not a spread out mess. 
Now we have this whole other side to either leave it empty or do something with. I think the horse (behind my rocking chair) might go soon, I'm not sure. The cats like that cat tree there since they can be the neighborhood watch from there. I'd like to get some kind of lounge chaise or something so I can read out there in the sunshine. Other than that though, I don't have any ideas. I might move some plants out there to see if they do better with more sunlight. I'm trying to get into house plants but so far I've not been real successful. I'm trying, though! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Self care, parenting insanity, and bad drivers

I try to be pretty honest about life around here, and I really don't sugar coat things. When I say that I am literally driving the struggle bus, I am not joking. I feel like I was having a pretty good stretch this summer but right before our trip to Iowa, things kind of imploded and it's been absolute chaos ever since. 

I haven't been taking care of myself like I'm supposed to. Not so much out of purposeful neglect, but things have been so chaotic and stressful that my memory is just shot, so I am forgetting to do all of the things I am supposed to be doing for myself to stay functional. So the other day I decided screw it. Can we afford me to go get my hair done? NOPE. Am I going to go do it anyways because I need to do something relaxing for myself? YUP.  

And that's just what I did. I decided that I'm over the blonde because summer is over, fall and winter are on their way and I just needed a change. I found a last minute appointment with someone new to me and took a chance. 
Best chance ever because I love it. It's darker but depending on the light it looks completely different. It has different shades of brown in it, a super light blond going through it in spots, it's just really very pretty. It's like two shades darker than my natural, so that's kind of my limit on how dark I'll go, but I'm glad I went. It was almost a four hour process and it was nice to be alone, talking to another adult, and not giving any kind of crap on anyone else in my house. It was glorious. 
Which made up for the day before, where I took Lucy to a physical medicine physician for a second opinion, only to come out to see that some asshole clearly scraped my car as they were (likely) backing out of their spot. I'm parked perfectly dead center in my spot and even still a person couldn't get out. This is a brand new vehicle, I got it in March and now someone has totally scraped it. Leaves no note, nothing. How freaking rude. I think Matt is going to take it to get it looked at, maybe it can just be buffed out (crossing fingers) but it just makes me mad because I try really hard to keep my things nice, I don't touch or ruin other people's things, and I feel like people are just assholes. Sigh. 

To make up for it though, I got this amazing package in the mail from a friend. It's a sunshine box and it was the CUTEST thing ever. I mean, I may or may not have eaten candy under my desk while crying the other night, but it's hard to get too sad when I can aggressively throw a mini beach ball around my office while I rage at the things that are making me angry. 

I have really been struggling as a parent lately. I find myself bouncing between wanting to be a really, really good mom and being available at all times, but then also being completely over everyone sucking me dry. I think my family doesn't understand that my capacity for caring and being available isn't what it used to be, that tank is very small now. Sometimes I'm not sure if they don't understand that or if they just don't care and think I should just do things for them anyways. I'm learning that part of saying no to things in life means saying enough is enough to your own family sometimes. I'm also learning that part of letting them grow up is realizing I'm not responsible for their happiness. I can do nice things for them, I can be supportive and encouraging, but coddling isn't love. I feel like I'm maybe crippled them into thinking it is, so I'm trying really hard to fix that. It's incredibly difficult to explain to someone that I love them but I also can't be an emotional crutch anymore. At some point you have to pull your own weight. 

Throw in some puberty mood swings and teenager angst that only highlights how immature they are, and we've been having fun times. Then on the other end of the spectrum, I have an incredibly artistic and intelligent six year old who needs to be challenged more and that's exhausting on its own, and I have a five year old having on/off mobility issues that I haven't really had time to look into because the other kids are sucking me dry. I feel like I'm tapped out, I've got nothing left for anyone. 

It won't be surprising at all to you then, when I say that I've been sicker than sick. Oh yes, because when life gets stressful and chaotic, your body pumps out cortisol to help you and your brain function with the changes. Guess what my body doesn't do because it doesn't have a functioning pituitary gland? That's right, it doesn't pump out cortisol! So that means that I am constantly sick, and even when I take extra medication, it's never the right amount, so I always feel like I'm depleted and lethargic, I'm often throwing up with a headache, constantly dizzy, and exhausted. That's especially fun, because it's usually on the days I feel my actual worse that I get to hear how one of my kids wishes I was a better mom and did more. 

Yes, because I don't feel guilty enough. 

I'm just over it. I'm really over all of it. I'm tired of everyone relying on me for every part of their life. I'm tired of everyone expecting me to make them happy. I'm tired of everyone expecting me to do something for them. I'm tired of listening to people tell me I'm wrong and don't know anything when in fact, I'm not wrong and I actually do know things. It's so frustrating. I feel like I'm supposed to be enjoying this time as a mom and I'm not. I actually really hate it. I'm exhausted and I'm finding it hard to even care. I'm sure some of this is my own depression at play because this is a really awful time of year for me, but of course, I can't even work on me because all of my time and resources are going to people who just take, take, take. 

It's exhausting. Some times I wish I could just disappear. Walk right off the side of the planet and never come back. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Book Review: Stalker Stalked

It feels like I haven't blogged in forever, and to be fair, that's probably true. Life has been really busy and crazy for me and I'm really struggling. It's just a really crappy season of life. 

Stalker Stalked - Lee Matthew Goldberg

Lexi Mazur is a depressed, alcoholic, pill-popper whose only joy has become her reality TV shows, often fantasizing that the people on TV are a part of her world. After her boyfriend Steve leaves her, she fixates on the show Socialites and its star Magnolia Artois, following every facet of the girl’s life on social media in the hopes of befriending and becoming more like her.

But stalking isn’t new to Lexi. She ultimately won over her ex Steve by following and manipulating every minute detail about him so he’d fall for her. In fact, she landed her other ex-boyfriend Jeremy in the same way. Being a pharma rep, she’s used to manipulation to get doctors to buy her drugs, along with the perk of saving pills for herself.

But what happens when the stalker gets stalked?

Recently, Lexi has felt someone watching her: in her apartment in Queens, at her job. At first, she thinks her mind’s playing tricks, but the watcher is behaving just like she would. And soon they begin leaving threatening clues like she starts to do to Magnolia once her obsession grows more dangerous. Is it one of her exes out for revenge? Her only real friend from childhood who she’s always had an unhealthy rivalry? A detective who may have figured her out? The reality star Magnolia trying to turn the tables? Or even someone she might not know?

Lexi learns the only way to beat her stalker is to use her own stalking prowess to outsmart them at their own game. But has she finally met her match?
I haven't been reading as much (or as fast) as I wish I was right now. I'm really struggling in all areas of life, so you'll notice my reviews are slowing down. I'll catch back up soon, but I do have a couple for you this week and they are pretty dang good. 

Today though I'm bringing you Stalker Stalked, a really interesting story that I don't know how to really explain this one.... in a good way. Our main character very clearly has mental health issues but she also drinks a lot.... and does a lot of drugs, neither of which really help the mental health issues obviously, but let's just keep that in mind as we go through this. She really believes she's being stalked, which is an ironic thing for her to deal with because she's used to being the one who does the stalking. She's basically pro level of nuts, and it almost kind of feels poetic because it's karma, right? 

I'm not going to go through the whole book because honestly, it's best to go in with as little information as possible because the whole premise is a bit bananas, and it's really entertaining to constantly be blown away as things keep happening. Every time you think it can't possibly get stranger, it does. The creepy factor keeps going up, and then throw in the absolute obsession with reality TV, and this book feels like it's going off the rails but you can't stop. You literally can't stop because every time you put the book down, your brain wants to know what's going to happen with Lexi. This isn't even the kind of book you are rooting for the character in a good way, you're really torn between wanting something to turn around and go well for her and wanting her to get what she deserves. But what does she deserve? I still don't know how I feel about the ending. The best way to describe this is it really is the car wreck you can't look away from. It's disturbing in a way, but it also makes you think about things differently, like how we consume reality television and how invested we feel in celebrities lives. 

A huge thank you to TLC Book Tours and Lee Matthew Goldberg for having me on this tour and sending me a copy of the book for review. This was a good book to break a rut, that's for sure, easily 4 stars for me. 

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