Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

From the back of the book: Caroline Cashion is beautiful, intelligent, a professor of French literature. But in a split second, everything she’s known is proved to be a lie.

A single bullet, gracefully tapered at one end, is found lodged at the base of her skull. Caroline is stunned. It makes no sense: she has never been shot. She has no entry wound. No scar. Then, over the course of one awful evening, she learns the truth: that she was adopted when she was three years old, after her real parents were murdered. Caroline was there the night they were attacked. She was wounded too, a gunshot to the neck. Surgeons had stitched up the traumatized little girl, with the bullet still there, nestled deep among vital nerves and blood vessels.

That was thirty-four years ago.

Now, Caroline has to find the truth of her past. Why were her parents killed? Why is she still alive? She returns to her hometown where she meets a cop who lets slip that the bullet in her neck is the same bullet that killed her mother. Full-metal jacket, .38 Special. It hit Caroline’s mother and kept going, hurtling through the mother’s chest and into the child hiding behind her.

She is horrified—and in danger. When a gun is fired it leaves markings on the bullet. Tiny grooves, almost as unique as a fingerprint. The bullet in her neck could finger a murderer. A frantic race is set in motion: Can Caroline unravel the clues to her past, before the killer tracks her down?

I finished The Bullet over a month ago, but have spent the past 30ish days hoping that I'd be struck with divine inspiration about how to review it, because I'm still just not quite sure what to think or to say. The concept of the novel intrigued me right away. Right off the bat, I found Caroline Cashion as a lead character to be smart and engaging--someone that I could imagine being friends with. I really, really enjoyed the first 65% of the book or so. 

But then, at some point, the novel started to lose its identity--was is a coming-of-age novel or a suspense novel? A romance? Maybe a thriller? Surely there HAD to be a plot twist coming could not be this predictable, could it? Did Caroline start using drugs halfway through the novel? Because if  not, I'm not quite sure how to reconcile the fact that all of a sudden Caroline started to make straight up *stupid* decisions that did not jive with anything we had been told about her personality or character up to that point.

It wasn't a bad book, though. I did enjoy most of it, and it was a quick read that would probably be perfect for a summer vacation. That said, I think the bottom line for me was that I loved the concept so much, and was ultimately let down by the execution of the last half of the book.

This seems to be a book that people either love, or were disappointed by. Unfortunately, I fell into the latter category. But overall, if the premise sounds interesting, add it to your list. It's definitely worth a fair try.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: Hugo & Rose by Bridget Foley

From the back of the book: Rose is disappointed with her life, though she has no reason to be - she has a beautiful family and a perfectly nice house in the suburbs. But to Rose, this ordinary life feels overshadowed by her other life - the one she leads every night in her dreams.

After a childhood accident, Rose's dreams take her to a wondrous island fraught with adventure. On this island, she has never been alone: she shares it with Hugo, a brave boy who's grown up with her into a hero of a man.

But when Rose stumbles across Hugo in real life, both her real and dream worlds are changed forever. Here is the man who has shared all of her incredible adventures in impossible places, who grew up with her, even if they aren't what either one imagined. Their chance encounter begins a cascade of questions, lies, and a dangerous obsession that threatens to topple everything she knows. Is she willing to let go of everything she holds dear to understand their extraordinary connection? And will it lead her to discover who she truly wants to be? 

Since the time I was about twelve, I have often dreamed of a particular city. I could tell you about the riverbanks that I played on as a child--the same ones that I had late night bonfires on in high school. I could tell you about the shops and store owners on the main drag. I could tell you where to eat lunch, and where I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. I could tell you about the dusty library, and also about the tree that I picked ripe cherries from almost every day. This city was like the gatekeeper of my dreams--the place in which all of my other dreams occurred. I have often wondered how I would respond if I ever found the city in real life--would I want to pack up everything and move there? Would I drive out of town as fast as I could, never looking back? What would it mean if it really did exist?

Needless to say, the concept behind Hugo & Rose immediately caught my attention, and I couldn't wait to read it. Based on the cover and the summary, I expected it to be a whimsical and fun novel (probably a love story) with a fairly predictable ending. I was wrong. 

In reality, Hugo & Rose is deep and it is pretty dark. It examined hard themes, such as how someone who seems to have a perfect life can still be exhausted, depressed, and just want to escape. It explored how one secret can worm its way into your life, slowly at first but quickly taking over every corner in a way that is completely terrifying. It allowed for twists and turns that I *never* expected, and certainly didn't see coming. The darkness of Hugo & Rose was unexpected, but wasn't a bad thing at all. I've never read anything quite like it, which is always a plus in my opinion.
Like all books that incorporate some magical realism (think The Night Circus or Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore), the plot-line does require a certain buy-in from the reader. If you can't get past the idea of two people sharing a common dream, then you probably won't enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you can get there even temporarily, then you're in for quite an emotional ride. If you're unsure, read an excerpt here first.


 Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book for review through Net Galley. I did not receive any further compensation for this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. You all should know by now that I couldn't lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer

From the back of the book: From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family’s future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story—Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn’t settled down—their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

I remember reading Ann Packer's book The Dive From Clausen's Pier when it was first released and being blown away by how Packer wrote and developed characters. I've been pretty ruthless with my collection of books over the years, giving them away or taking them to the used bookstore for credit, but The Dive From Clausen's Pier is one that I've hung on to. Suffice to say, I had high expectations for The Children's Crusade

I've been mulling it over now for a couple of months, trying to put words to how I feel about this book, and I guess what it comes down to is this--I think Ann Packer is a master of characters. She writes them well, she develops them well, I always enjoy reading about them, and always find them to be genuine (though not always likable). However, where this book differed from Clausen's Pier was that in this case, I was completely ambivalent about the outcome of the central plot line that the characters were engaged in. I'm not sure whether Packer intended for the book to be solely character driven or whether Clausen's Pier was clouding my expectations, but The Children's Crusade was largely different than what I expected or hoped for in this way. 

So, it wasn't what I was expecting, but that's not to say that I disliked it. I think that once I adjusted my expectations and tuned into the fact that The Children's Crusade was really a character study, I enjoyed it a lot. I liked having a glimpse into each character's perspective on both the past and the present. I do wish that we heard more from Penny herself, rather than everyone else's perspective ON Penny though, and I wish that the family had been brought together to tell essentially this same story under a different set of circumstances.  

Overall, I think that if you like character driven novels, you'll probably enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you're interested in reading it because you loved Clausen's Pier, it may not be exactly hoping for. Either way, I vote that you add it to the nightstand stack. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Free Printable: Known & Loved

One of my goals/resolutions for this year was to continue to practice and learn more about graphic design. Any time I make a printable either for myself or for my mom's group, I always try to incorporate a new technique so that I can learn something new. One of the things that I've wanted to learn for awhile was how to use glyphs in Photoshop--I'd have these gorgeous fonts that I knew came with beautiful swashes and embellishments, and I couldn't figure out how to access them in Photoshop. Well, the short answer is that you just can't. The long answer is that you CAN access them in Illustrator and then just copy and paste into Photoshop. Ha. Now I know.

So anyway, yesterday was all about glyphs, so I knew that I wanted to make a simple little printable that incorporated them. Recently, my friend Emily blogged about being encouraged by God that she is known & loved, and her words have really stuck with, this printable is for her. And for me. And for you.

Here's how to get it for yourself:
1. Click on the image above, which will take you over to Flickr.
2. In the lower right hand corner, you should see an arrow pointing down to a line. Click on it.
3. Then choose "all sizes", and select whichever size you'd like to download (I recommend downloading the original).
4. Print the image at home.
5. If you print it and love it, please consider pinning it on Pinterest so that others can find it as well.

The flower graphic used in this printable came from We Lived Happily Ever After, and you can find it here. The font used in this printable is the Cresilda Script, which happens to be part of Creative Market's April Big Bundle (which I think is available for purchase through today, and is filled with tons of awesome graphics and fonts for only $39).

Important note: I wasn't asked by Creative Market to tell you about the April Big Bundle, nor are any of these links affiliate links. I just think that when you get $1209 worth of stuff for $39, that's a pretty good deal worth sharing. Happy Tuesday!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday Free Printable

Last year around this time, I posted a free "He is risen!" printable here on the blog that I made for our Mom's Group before Easter. I loved having it up in our home last year as a reminder of the hope that this season brings, and I still see it kicking around on Pinterest every once in awhile, so I thought I'd make another very similar, but slightly different version this year as well!

He is Risen2

Please feel free to click through to Flickr, download, and print. The flower graphics are one of my favorites from Graphic Stock, and the font is Simon Script, which is free for personal use via

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday Printable: Depths of the Ocean

So, my hard drive crashed. I'm a day post-op from thyroid surgery and crossing everything crossable
that I won't have to go back and have the other side removed as well.

But, it's a new day. The sun is shining. It's the first day I've been warm in...months?....years? There are blessings even in the sucky and this is one of them--one of my favorite verses ever.

Hopefully, you'll be  able to right click and save this image. Uploading from my phone has not come without challenges! If you can't, leave your email in the comments and I'll send it to ya :)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Review: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

From the back of the book:On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

“The words you can't find, you borrow. We read to know we're not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. The analogy he is looking for is almost there. We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.
In the end, we are collected works.” 
-The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

 It's no secret that I love books about books, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is really no exception there, because it's not just about books, it also feels a bit like a love letter to everyone who truly loves reading. A.J. Fikry reads books. He talks about books. He makes his livelihood by selling books. His most prized possession is a limited edition book. Indeed, nearly his whole life seems to be filtered guessed it...books. Now that's a main character that I can relate to! :)

All that said, it's taken me awhile to write a review for this one because I wasn't entirely sure what to say. See, it's kind of a vanilla book. Safe. Clean. Predictable. Even the drama isn't particularly dramatic. Nothing about it is revolutionary. But I also really enjoyed it, and found that it was one of those books that I carved time out of my day to read. You know the ones--the ones that you carry with you and sneak a moment or two of reading wherever you can. I liked A.J. All of the supporting characters were developed well, and I really, genuinely liked all of them.  It was a fun book to read, and it reminded me of both The Rosie Project and Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore in terms of the overall vibe of the book (both of which I really enjoyed). It was quiet, it was charming, and it was wise.


Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book for review through Net Galley. I did not receive any further compensation for this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. You all should know by now that I couldn't lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time For Your Checkup.

So. Let's catch up.

I had the biopsy. It sucked, but also wasn't as bad as I remembered. Honestly, the hardest part was that Justin was working out of town at the time, and I was alone with my thoughts and worries at night.

During the biopsy, the endocrinologist told me that she was almost certain that it would be benign, but that on the off chance that it came back as indeterminate, she had also taken a sample for genetic testing.The biopsy was on Monday. By Wednesday, she called and said that it was benign, and that the only thing we needed was to follow up in a year and make sure the nodule hadn't grown too much. We celebrated. I slept...hard, for the first time in MONTHS. And we seriously enjoyed the holidays.

A few weeks after Christmas, I saw my endocrinologist's office number pop up on my cell phone, and my heart dropped. As it turned out, the sample that she had taken for possible genetic testing was supposed to have been thrown away since my biopsy was benign. Somehow, someway, it was accidentally submitted. And it came back positive for a genetic mutation that predisposes me for thyroid cancer. She explained that the type of cancer that I'm predisposed to is the "best" kind to have, but also the hardest to detect via ultrasound or biopsy, so she was no longer comfortable leaving such a big nodule in my thyroid, and she recommended that I have surgery within the next 3 months to remove that lobe of my thyroid.

She then referred me to a surgeon, who I saw last week. The surgeon agreed that with the information that she had, coupled with the fact that my grandmother had to have a total thyroidectomy, that lobe needed to come out. She said that the goal is to remove only half, but that they will do some testing while I'm under, and they do have the option to remove the whole thing if needed. We set the surgery date for Jan 27th at the surgery center attached to the ENT's office. On my way out the door, the office lady said, "Be sure to bring a check--your portion of the surgery will be due in full that day."

I asked her how much that would be, and she said, "Oh, somewhere between a couple hundred and a couple thousand. We'll call you sometime between now and then to let you know."

Right. Because that's realistic for most people I know.

Anyway, they called later that day and said that I would have to pay about $3100 the day of the surgery in order to proceed. That was 12 days away, and I told them that just wasn't feasible for us, and asked about payment plans. The office said no, they don't offer them. That the surgeon considers everything that is not cancer to be an elective procedure, and that their office policy is that all elective procedures must be paid up front. After calling around, this seems to be the new norm for surgeons around here.

I asked what would happen if someone just didn't have that amount of money and couldn't come up with it, and they told me that they just couldn't have the surgery until they did. Period. Nice, right? 

It was a SUPER stressful couple of days for me. I mean, that is kind of a significant chunk of money to expect someone to have readily available within only a few days.

So, after a LOT of phone calls, we discovered that it is actually much less expensive up front (by about half) for me to have the surgery at the hospital instead of the surgery center. So, I'm set for surgery there on Feb 18th. We will end up paying a bit more in the long run, but the hospital will work with us on payments, and it's actually kind of nice because it's the same hospital that we already have a payment plan set up with for the biopsy and ultrasound. It's still a lot, especially since this is essentially the third time in 3 months that we've met our insurance deductible (I believe we had met it in 2014, then Justin's work changed insurances in December, we had a new deductible that we either met it or came close to meeting in December, and then it rolled over again on Jan 1st--hooray!), but it seems like it is probably doable.

I am ANNOYED about it all, because it drastically changes some plans we had for the next year financially, but it is what it is. I'm lucky that they caught this when they did. I totally know, understand, and appreciate that.

And I'm still really annoyed to be re-opening a chapter of my life that I thought was closed, you know?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Deja Vu.

Well, it's been awhile little old blog. I feel kind of weird jumping in with a post like this, but I need the processing that writing gives, so there you have it...

In October, I went to my normal doctor for a physical. He said that my thyroid felt a little enlarged. My OB had tested my thyroid back in April--that's just something he does as a part of annuals once you get to a certain age :). Anyway, all my levels were totally fine then, so my doctor ordered an ultrasound to take a look.

I had the ultrasound in November. I remember that the girl performing the ultrasound was quiet during the whole thing, but I've been told that that's common--that the people who perform the ultrasounds at the hospital aren't actually allowed to tell you anything during the procedure. I don't know.

Anyway, the ultrasound showed a "4cm heterogeneous solid with vascularity", which means that I have a biopsy scheduled on Dec 8th. This whole thing is kind of weird, because the endocrinologist that I've been referred to had a biopsy opening before she had a consult opening, so she's actually doing the biopsy without me ever having had the chance to meet with her or talk to her first. I feel like I'm a little in the dark here!

What I do know is this--I know that the size and the vascularity make it slightly more likely that the "nodule" is malignant, but it apparently could still be benign. Several people have told me that 4cm is the threshold for removal whether it is malignant or benign, but I haven't talked to the endocrinologist yet, so I'm not sure if that's her approach or not.

Sometimes, I think I can feel the nodule. Sometimes, when I'm reading to the girls for a long time, I feel like I get a little hoarse, which freaks me out. Then again, I'm not sure whether those are *actually* symptoms, or just in my head. Right now, I kind of freak out with any sore throat, cough, etc...even though those symptoms could easily be explained by my allergies (I'm allergic to Christmas trees!), or any other number of things as well. But, I'm freaked about my thyroid, so I assume it *is* my thyroid.

But really, here's the thing. When I was diagnosed with the weird, rare skin cancer, it was December 12th, 2011. Lizzy was essentially the same age that Becca is now. Several times, I've been sitting in the waiting room for a thyroid appointment, when my Timehop app pops up a status update about waiting for an appointment regarding the skin cancer on that same day 3 years ago. And let's face it, with a biopsy on December 8th, there's a real possibility that I could hear back from them on December 12th this year.

Of course, that doesn't mean anything. I could go in, and find out that it's benign and the endo could feel totally comfortable monitoring it instead of jumping right to surgery. I'm trying to take things one day at a time and not put the cart before the horse, but at the same time, this feels like the weirdest, most surreal deja vu EVER. I'm having a hard time not going "there", to the worst case scenario. To cancer, and surgery, and having to coordinate time off and hospital bills and insurance forms. I just don't want to, you know? I am SO tired of medical stuff. I'm annoyed, and I'm DONE with it, and I don't want to deal with it anymore.

I mean, I will if I need to. I just don't want to.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thursday Printable: Give Thanks

Oh, hey there blog. Long time, no see.

I wish I could say that I'll be posting on the regular from now on, but the truth is....that's probably not going to happen yet. Though I do miss blogging, a lot. But no, really the only reason I'm posting today is because I made a printable for my Mom's Group this week, and I like to toss all the printables up here for easy access.

So, long story short, here's a Thanksgiving themed free printable! Woo-hoo! The wreath graphic came from Besotted and the pinecone graphic was made by We Lived Happily Ever After. Both sites have some amazing graphics that are free for personal and/or non-commercial use that you should *absolutely* check out. In the meantime, feel free to download this baby, print her up, and stick her on your fridge or in a frame--I know that *I* will need this reminder over the course of the next week!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Busy Season

Summer is always the busy season for us. It just is. This year, Justin even decided not to play baseball this summer, but somehow it still feels insane. Right now, a lot of that insanity is due to Justin's crazy work schedule where he's been getting up anywhere between 3am and 5am to head to work, and then working until 5 or 6pm (or later). He's tired, and has asked me to help make sure that he gets up and doesn't sleep through his alarm in the mornings, and so then I'm finding myself waking up almost every hour in a "CRAP! Did we sleep through the alarm?!" panic. Work for Justin is crazy, but at least there *is* construction work for the first time in many years. Still, we are both very tired.

Southern Oregon is experiencing some crazy forest fires right now. It's really scary. On Monday night, lightning struck and started a fire near my sister-in-law's house, and we headed over to help them evacuate. At the end of that night, there were 5 homes in danger and the fire was 50 acres. As of this morning, just three days later, the fire is 600+ acres with 130 homes in danger, and the governor has declared a state of emergency. The firefighters have been absolutely incredible, both on land and from the air, and so far have saved every home. But, the fire is not contained at all, and many, many families that we know personally are displaced, and/or have damage to their property. It's a terrifying thing, and we would all appreciate your prayers.

 {Smoke in the valley over the past few days. Bottom left is a photo of one of the many helicopters doing drops from the Rogue River. Bottom right is stolen from my friend Amanda, and shows the smoke from the fire near my sister-in-law's house}

Other than that, I'm still working out consistently, though I've switched from P90x to P90x3, because hello...30 minutes. It's just easier to make that happen. I'm currently in week 4, which is sort of like the rest week before moving to block 2. I haven't seen any crazy dramatic differences in month one--about half an inch lost each from my waist, hips, and thighs--but I wasn't expecting a lot of difference either. I've heard that with P90x3, most of the change comes in blocks 2 and 3, so I'm trying to keep eating well, keep trucking, and not get discouraged.

{Week 1 on the left, Week 4 on the right}

Our garden is doing well, the kiddos are as crazy (but fun) as ever, I've made some really, really delicious food (thank you Pinterest). Life is good.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made (U-NEEK by Dayspring Review & Info)

A few days ago, we were out grocery shopping when Lizzy spotted someone with an eye-patch. "Look! She looks like a pirate!" Lizzy yelled. This is actually not the first time that we've had an encounter with an eye-patch, and it hasn't always ended well. Thankfully, this woman totally rolled with the punches and gave a good "Arg!" and reference to The Pirate Fairy movie (Lizzy was thrilled).

We've talked to Lizzy quite a lot lately about how everyone looks different, and that's okay. The world would be a really boring place if we were all the same. But still, she's just at that age where she's really noticing the differences a lot. She couldn't care less whether someone has long hair, short hair, or no hair, but you better believe that she notices, and she definitely intends to let the whole store know that she notices. Still, we've been working lately on kindness, and have basically told her that it's only okay to compliment people that we don't know on their appearance.

Recently, Dayspring came out with a new line of product called U-NEEKS that really affirms the idea that everyone is unique and wonderfully made, which really aligns with some of the things we've been working with Lizzy on lately. We were offered the opportunity to review some of the products, and although you may have noticed that I've majorly backed off the number of reviews and giveaways that I've done in the past year, I said yes to this one because I really and truly love everything about it.


The line is based around a group of characters called the U-NEEKS. Each individual character has a name (Indigo, Wally, Alliebird, & Dweeber are pictured above), and comes with some info about their favorite things. Each character has their own favorite Bible verse, but the overall message for the whole line is "Fearfully & Wonderfully Made!" Each character's tag says "We are fearfully & wonderfully made, a little bit quirky, a little bit strange, and completely U-Neek!"

Thus far, I have really let the girls decide what toys they want to play with, but sometimes I get sick of all the perfect princesses and baby dolls. We all know that's not reality. I like that the U-NEEKS  dolls are a little more funky and a lot less perfect. We have already spent a lot of time counting eyes, ears, teeth, and comparing hair, etc. It's a good starting point to talk about all those issues we've been working on with Lizzy, and helps me break it down in ways that are meaningful and understandable to her--these dolls may not look like her princesses, but they are just as fun to play with! Not only that, but that there's only one Lizzy in the world, and it's okay that she's not going to look or act just like any of the other kids in the school--God made her just the way she is, and he did it on purpose, FOR a purpose! 

I thought my girls would be most excited about the dolls, and while they do love them, I was surprised that Lizzy's favorite part of the collection has been the greeting cards.

Earlier this summer, Lizzy's aunt Renee broke her foot playing soccer. One of the first things Lizzy said when she heard was, "I want to make her a card!" Sweet Lizzy busted out the Alliebird "Owl be praying for you" cards, and went right to work. Now, anytime she hears that someone is hurt or sick, she asks to make them an "owl card". I have to admit that I am NOT great about sending cards to people, and I always wish that I were better about it, so I love that Lizzy has this desire already and am trying to do my best to foster it!

We also received these sweet Encouragement Notes, which I have been saving with the intention of sending them along with Lizzy's snack to school this next year. Each card has a sweet note of encouragement, and it has really been incredible how much of an affect they have on Lizzy--she really lights up whenever I read them to her! The card that Lizzy is holding above says, "Never frog-get, I think you're amazing." So simple, but such a good thing for kiddos to hear affirmed regularly!
These coupon books to reward kids for good behavior are also SO AWESOME. Another thing that's really simple, but really effective, for Lizzy in terms of her behavior and attitude. Again, she totally lights up at the recognition.

The U-NEEKS collection is available on the Dayspring website, but you can also see them in-store at Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart stores until July 15th. I really suggest going and checking out the coupon books and encouragement notes--they are awesome, and can definitely be used independent of the plush toys above!

Disclosure Statement: I received the U-NEEKS product from Dayspring in exchange for my honest review and thoughts.  All opinions and photos are my own, and all links above are non-affiliate links.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Type of Story No One Likes to Talk About

Around this time every year, Facebook seems filled with cautionary tales about all kinds of summer dangers--secondary drowning, pool safety, how to check kids for ticks, and pieces about leaving kids in cars.

Leaving kids in cars, especially, always seems to be a hot topic. Inevitably, the comments start to include things like:

"What kind of horrible person forgets their kid in the car?"
"How can someone not notice that they forgot their kid in the car?!"
"I hope they burn in hell."
"If you leave a child in a car, you don't deserve to be a parent."
"If you're so busy that you forget your newborn, you need to seriously re-evaluate your life."
"There is NO excuse for forgetting a child in a car."
"How do you forget a child?! Mine are the first thing on my mind, always!"
"If you can't manage to look in your rearview mirror and make sure there isn't a kid back there, you're an idiot."
"If you're on autopilot while responsible for a baby, you're doing something wrong."

I get it. I understand how incomprehensible it is. But let me tell you a story.

The spring after Becca was born, I was having a playdate with a friend who has a little girl Lizzy's age. During the playdate, she had a serious family emergency occur, and asked me to take her kiddo home with me. No problem.

It was a weird day--my aunt was flying in to the airport, and we were meeting her there. My sister was also meeting us there and then everyone was coming back to my house for a visit. So, my sister, the kids, and I piled into my car and we headed home.

On the drive home, Becca fell asleep in her carseat. Lizzy and her friend were getting tired, were both hungry, and were also doing that whole, "MOM, she said I'm not hungry, but I AM!" thing. I dug out a couple of juice boxes, hoping to tide them over until we got home.

Anyway, we got home, and I unloaded the two bigger girls first. One of them had to go potty RIGHT THEN, so I ran up to unlock the door so that they could go inside while I grabbed Becca. Only, she had an accident on our doorstep. I helped her get to the bathroom, and on to the toilet. While I was doing that, the other kiddo somehow squirted her juice box everywhere, then proceeded to slip on it, and cut herself. I got her a band aid. The kiddo in the bathroom started crying because she couldn't reach the toilet paper. I reached the toilet paper for her. My phone rang, with Justin calling about something urgent (if I remember correctly, I think he was working out of town at the time). Lizzy and her friend both started whining that they were SO HUNGRY. I grabbed them some fruit snacks. I felt like I had been putting out small fires all morning.

I did a mental check that I'd tried to start doing since Becca was born--one kid? Check. Two kids? Check. Then, I sat down on the couch and sighed.

About that time, my sister said, "So, do you want me to grab Becca out of the car, or do you want to let her sleep there?"

You guys, it still makes me want to vomit just typing this, but I had completely and totally forgotten about Becca. Had my sister not been there that day or not said anything, I have no idea how long she would have sat in the car before I remembered her.

At that point, she had probably been in the car for between five and ten minutes. We don't have air conditioning in our car, so in the spring and summer, all the windows are always down, and she was totally fine and sleeping away happily. But my mind couldn't stop going to all the "what if" scenarios that could have resulted in and ending that was not nearly so happy.

I really don't know if I can explain how I felt that afternoon. I called Justin hysterically crying. I felt like the worst mother in the history of the world. I still don't like to talk about or even think about that day.

I was one part exhausted. I was one part off-routine with three kids instead of two.

But what I was not (and it's taken me awhile to be able to say this confidently) was an idiot, a bad mother, someone who doesn't care about her kids, a horrible person, or someone who needed to re-evaluate her life.

A few years ago, Gene Weingarten wrote a piece for the Washington Post about forgetting children in cars that won a Pulitzer. If you haven't read it already, I really would suggest it. It's not an easy read, but it's an important one.

The part that sticks with me the most?

"The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.

Last year it happened three times in one day, the worst day so far in the worst year so far in a phenomenon that gives no sign of abating.

The facts in each case differ a little, but always there is the terrible moment when the parent realizes what he or she has done, often through a phone call from a spouse or caregiver. This is followed by a frantic sprint to the car. What awaits there is the worst thing in the world."

It happened to me, and it could happen to you too.  I don't care if you are rolling your eyes because you think there's no way. It could.

I'll also note here that there are simple things that could help. The biggest thing is to make a plan with childcare providers that if a child isn't dropped off as usual, they call, and sooner rather than later.

Some parents put their left shoe in the backseat along with their kids in car seats, I took to putting my purse back there.

Inventors have begun producing things like a smartphone car seat monitor (though at $399, it's still a bit spendy).
But really, the point of this all is that pointing fingers and saying "That would NEVER happen to me--they must be bad parents!" is not only untrue, but it's also unhelpful. It certainly hasn't decreased the number of tragedies at all. But talking about it, openly and honestly...might. Talking about practical solutions that help...might. Realizing that people who have forgotten their children are, by and large, not criminals or druggies or terrible parents, but people just like you and me...might help as well.

And in this situation, "might" is better than nothing.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Life Right Now

Last Thursday, Lizzy finished her last day of preschool. Next year, she'll be in pre-K and going three days a week, and she already CAN NOT WAIT. Actually, she cannot wait for kindergarten, and doesn't quite understand why other kids who will be five will be in kindergarten next year and she won't (she's a January birthday, so she's past the cut-off). But, she'll survive :)


After her last day of school, as we were driving home, she was looking at the yearbook that her school does. She told me, "I'm just looking at the pre-K kids, to make sure I know what I'm supposed to look like next year!" She is so funny sometimes.

This past week, I also took the girls around the corner from our house to do an annual sister picture. And because you KNOW I'm a sucker for comparison pictures, here's the batch from last year, June 2013:
And then this year, June 2014:
Becca, at 18 months, is actually wearing the same dress that Lizzy wore in the 2013 pictures, when she was 3. It is crazy to me sometimes how different Lizzy and Becca are, both in terms of personalities, and also in terms of size. Lizzy was a lot more verbal at this age than Becca is, and I think sometimes we treated her a lot older than she really was (we still forget sometimes that she's only 4!). Becca knows plenty of words, and is totally on track for her age, but because she isn't nearly as verbal as Lizzy, it's easier to treat her like the age she really is. I'm sure part of it is a second child thing too--with the first kiddo, I feel like I was more excited for all those milestones and "firsts", and with Becca, I am 100% fine to hold off on some of those things, ha!

On the other hand, there's also a set of things that I think Becca will do more quickly than Lizzy, because she has someone to keep up with!  For example, Lizzy was practicing her scooter on Saturday, and Becca was royally ticked that she didn't have one of her own to ride--she kept yelling "Beppa! Turn!" (her version of "Becca's turn!"). Justin would help her stand and roll a bit, and she could not have been more proud of herself.

Lizzy has been asking over and over if she and Becca can share a room. She talks about bunk beds NON STOP, and I secretly think she's trying to teach Becca to climb out of her crib so that we'll be more likely to want to transition Becca to a different type of bed. On one hand, it would be really nice to have them share a bedroom and maybe have our third bedroom be a toy/playroom. On the other hand, Becca still naps and Lizzy does not, but she usually still goes into her room and reads for quiet time. I feel like going to a shared room is going to eliminate Becca's nap since she'll want to be just like Lizzy, and I am definitely not ready for that! I feel like why rush it unless we have to. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Tale of the Tooth.

So, I've mentioned a couple of times that one of my goals for this year was to get us all to the dentist, and happily, that happened in April! I was really nervous about going because I hadn't been in awhile for a variety of reasons--we didn't have the money, we didn't have the insurance, and then I was just embarrassed that it had been so long. By that point, I *dreaded* going to the dentist. This whole process would have been slightly easier had I been able to choose our dentist, since we happen to have several friends who are dentists. But unfortunately, our dental insurance is through Justin's work, and is tied to one specific office--we can only go there.

Anyway, I actually went in before my appointment in April because one tooth was hurting and I was having trouble sleeping. The dentist did x-rays, poked around, and ultimately told me that the tooth looked fine, and he thought I had a sinus infection or just that my allergies were really bad, which apparently can sometimes cause tooth pain. My allergies felt better in the next few days, and so did my tooth. Awesome.

In April, I saw a different dentist in the practice for a cleaning. By then, the tooth was hurting a little bit again, I told the dentist, and he did a cold test- he started in the back, touching each tooth with something ice cold, working his way to the left incisor. OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. Nothing. Apparently, the "nothing" tooth was dead, and needed a root canal. Several weeks after the cleaning appointment, I took a sip of water, and suddenly had half of a tooth in my mouth. Not, the dead tooth, another tooth. After talking about options, they (and I) decided to pull the tooth, and I dealt with a fun extraction over Mother's Day weekend.

A week or so after Mother's Day was also when I had the root canal scheduled. The dentist drilled a bit, and I could pretty quickly tell by the noises that he was making that it wasn't going well. He eventually stopped, and told me that he was having trouble accessing the canal, and that he was going to send me to a specialist,  someone who had more experience with calcified canals.

A few weeks later, I was back in the dental chair, this time with a specialist. He drilled. He took x-rays. He drilled some more. Took some more x-rays. We repeated this process for about two and a half hours before he said, "I've never seen anything like this. Your tooth is completely calcified. It looks like a 95 year old woman's tooth. I've drilled all the way up and I can't find a canal anywhere, I can't do a root canal on you."
He told me that once they put a permanent filling in, the tooth might be okay just to be left alone for awhile, but that if it started to hurt again, it would have to be pulled. Awesome. He also told me that he was 99% certain that the tooth was so calcified because I had been hit in the mouth in softball or basketball and just didn't realize that it actually caused some damage. He said it was clearly a case of trauma. So,  while people on the street might think I'm toothless because I suck at brushing and use me as a cautionary tale for their kids...NOPE.

Maybe two weeks later, I suddenly had severe pain...yep....right where the failed root canal tooth was. I took ibuprofen. I rinsed my sinuses. I took vicodin. I tried garlic, and every other home remedy known to man, and none of them worked. I didn't sleep (because of the pain) for 48 hours before my appointment back at the dentist.

By this point, I knew what was coming and I didn't even care. They were going to pull one of my front teeth. Oh, and as a bonus, it was infected, meaning a hefty dose of penicillin for me, and decreased birth control pill effectiveness as a bonus! Ha. Anyway, the only question from there was whether they were going to do a bridge, implant, or something else. They said I wasn't a good category for a bridge, and recommended an implant, but implants aren't covered by our insurance, and require a $4,000 payment up front...not something I was prepared to fork over that morning. The dentist said that it didn't really matter, even if I did decide to do an implant, I'd have to wear a flipper (a retainer with a tooth attached) for awhile and possibly have a bone graft before the implant. So, he made a flipper, and said that we could decide more later.

Only, when I say "he made a flipper", what I really mean was "he made a mold for a flipper", and then as I later found out, "the guy who works at the lab they sent them to was on vacation". So, I was toothless from Friday morning until Wednesday the following week. It was awesome. I felt like a pirate.

Which I could occasionally laugh about, because honestly, there are worse things in the world (this same weekend, my sister-in-law broke her foot, and can't walk at all for three months!) but most of the time I just felt really self-conscious, and spent my time like this:
Had this not been Lizzy's last week of school, I seriously would have kept her home yesterday so that I didn't have to do the toothless drop-off. Everyone said, "Oh, it's not that bad!" They lied. It was bad. Even Justin told me, "I didn't realize how big that tooth was until it was gone!" He also tried to find me a pirate costume to take a picture in. But then on the flip side, he also did an awesome job taking care of the girls while I was drugged up all weekend.

So anyway, today I finally got to go in for the flipper retainer. This dental office has lost my complete file, and I've also showed up with appointment card in hand only for them to have no idea why I'm there. So I kept having panic attacks that I would get there and they wouldn't have the flipper for me.

I arrive. I wait. And wait. And wait some more. Finally, I get called back and the hygenist happily says, "So, what are you here for today?"

"For my flipper!" I respond happily.

Her eyes get wide. She says, "I'll be right back," and walks out of the room. I see her grab another hygienist and say, "HELP ME. There is no flipper here for her."

I know where this is going. Crap. CRAP. CRAP. CRAP. I text swear words to Justin.

They shuffle around for a little while, and then eventually find the flipper. The hygenist pops it in, and says she needs to make an adjustment. She does, and then pops the flipper back in my mouth...AND IT WILL NOT STAY IN. It was *amazing*.

I text more swear words to Justin. And tell him that I want to cry. I was so irritated.

The dentist comes in and tells me that they are going to put something called re-line on the retainer so that I can leave with it today, but that this re-line stuff is temporary, and that eventually I will have to come back and have it sent to the lab, where they will make the re-line stuff permanent. If I want, I can order a second flipper out of pocket while this one is gone, and just to have a backup. For $600. Otherwise, I'll just be toothless again while it's at the lab. Oh, and I might be able to eat with the flipper in place, but I also might not.

I was on the verge of tears, and also really irritated. I HAVE WAITED SIX DAYS, I WANT A TOOTH, DARNIT!!! By the way, I just realized that I'm mixing tenses like crazy here, which really irritates me, but if I try to go back to fix it, this post will never get published. So, I'm sorry. Anyway, I about sobbed right there in the dentist's chair. I just kept saying, "I DON'T. UNDERSTAND. WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED!"

Eventually, the dentist explained it to me. From my perspective, the hygienist messed up. But what really happened was that they took a mold of my mouth before they pulled the tooth. That helped them to shape the replacement tooth correctly, but what it didn't do was show my gumline once the tooth was pulled. They estimate, but in my case it wasn't a great estimation, and there was a gap between the fake tooth and the gum. The hygienist had made an adjustment--she sanded off a part of the retainer that was covering my back molars. It couldn't have stayed, but with the gap at the gumline, it was also the only thing holding the retainer in place. Basically, it was a mess, but at least I look human again.
(This pic is flipped, so it's the tooth just to the right of my two front teeth here, 
and it actually matches the other side and color quite well.)

They were able to fix it temporarily, and I can (sort of) talk (with a lisp). I tried eating with it in, and that was ridiculous. Hopefully, it will get better as I get more used to having the darn flipper. If not, we are never eating out again. I go back in six weeks, once my gum has fully healed, and they'll do another mold and/or re-line of my mouth, and send it off for a new flipper. They have assured me that next time, it will be a same-day or overnight scenario.

So, I look normal again, which is a great start. But this is still a really long road ahead of me, whether I go the dental implant road or not. I'm bracing myself.

(See what I did there?!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

From the back of the book: Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.


Rosemary, the 22 year old narrator, begins by telling us that it’s been ten years since she last saw her brother Lowell, and seventeen years since she last saw her sister Fern. The twist here (which I’m not sure can really be called a “twist” as it is referenced in both the book description and cover art) is that Rosemary’s twin Fern is actually a chimpanzee.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves started out with a unique, interesting concept, and I sped through the first half of the book exceptionally quickly, devouring every word. But then something strange happened—mid-way through the book, Rosemary takes some drugs, and the book does an excellent job depicting her disorienting trip. The problem was that after that point, it felt like Rosemary’s “voice” changed to me. Instead of the usual chatty and conversational tone that we had been introduced to in the first part of the book, I’d find myself wondering  when I accidentally clicked over to an expose about animal testing and cosmetics. Or a textbook about psychologists. Certainly, these things were relevant to the story, and it appeared that the author had done extensive research into these areas, but it started to feel more like an op-ed piece in the newspaper than a novel. I felt that in the second half of the book, Rosemary’s voice was lost a bit (I feel like I must add that I didn’t dislike the message about animal testing and cruelty that this novel was trying to present—it just wasn’t integrated in a way that felt cohesive and consistent with Rosemary’s character, to me).

I’ve read Karen Joy Fowler’s other work (such as The Jane Austen Book Club), and I think that she’s an incredibly talented author. That said, I enjoyed this novel less than I’ve enjoyed others that she has written, simply because Rosemary’s character just didn’t feel genuine to me all the way through. That said, this book has received high reviews across the board, so it may just be me--if the concept interests you, I would certainly recommend giving it a try.


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