What I Read March 2020

Well, we’re more than halfway through April so I thought maybe I should write about my March books! With all the crazy things happening it was a pretty terrible month for reading. I DNF-d more books last month than I have in my entire life. No apologies. I just needed to find books that could hold my attention and it was pretty hard to do. (Spoiler – I have NOT had this problem in April – my April reads are amazing!) Despite how many books I weeded through, I did read a couple of great ones, though. Check them out below!

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Rating: 3.5 stars

Alisha Rai is usually a pretty reliable author for a good romance novel. After a couple more DNF’s (there were so many in February), I thought this would be the perfect choice to get me interested in a story again. And – it was okay. It was a lot less steamy than most of her books that I’ve read – which is fine. But all the character backstory was almost a bit boring to me. I didn’t like the main character, Rhiannon, that much, which made it hard to cheer for her. I’ve come across this in other contemporary books too – I have zero experience with dating apps, assume I’ll never need to use them, and therefore really don’t care about reading whole books centered around them. It’s a personal preference, no shade at the book itself. Overall, I enjoyed it and it kept my attention to read in two days over a weekend readathon when I was focused on reading and not much else. But it wasn’t one of my favorites.

Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was a really sweet, albeit very predictable, romantic comedy that plays on all the iconic rom com meet cute scenarios. I thought that it was a bit slow at the start, but I really got into it as the book went along. I did have a bit of a gripe about one of the characters, but I don’t want to give any big spoilers, so I’ll keep it to myself. But it’s the reason for knocking it down half a star. Overall, a really cute and laugh out loud funny book.

P.S. I Like You by Kasie West (re-read)
Rating: 5* stars

I’ve definitely been in the mood this year to reread some of my favorite books as a method of self care. I used to think it was crazy to re-read a book when there are always so many new and potentially great books out there. But I’ve really discovered how great it is to pick up something I know is going to be wonderful and bring me all the comforting feelings. This is one of those books. It’s been quite awhile since I read it the first time, but the story really stuck with me. It was fun to pick it up again. I still love the epistolary aspect of anonymous letters being exchanged while the characters are also building a relationship in person. It really brings me so much joy. If you love a sweet YA romance, this is a perfect one to pick up.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Rating: 3 stars

Lina is a wedding planner who was left at the altar and three years later finds herself working a pitch to land a huge gig as the wedding planner for a large hotel chain. Surprise, surprise, she’s paired up with none other than her ex-fiance and his brother, the ex-best man. Lina chooses Max to be her partner and they are forced to work together to come up with the best pitch so they can both prove their worth and get better jobs. Overall, this book was just okay for me. I thought there was too much filler about the jobs and making a plan that was never even really talked about later on. I liked that Max was just a genuinely nice guy, rather than the stereotypical bad guy. But I was very distracted during this book and it took me a full week to read when it should have only taken a few days.

Play with Me by Alisha Rai
Rating: 3 stars

A short and steamy novella about a couple who reconnects after a very long span apart realizes their chemistry is just as intense as it was when they were teenagers. I chose this book right after all the coronavirus school closures when things started feeling very intense and I desperately needed a distraction in the form of a book that would actually hold my attention. This worked. The book itself wasn’t incredible, but it also has two more books after it that I may or may not ever get around to reading.

Thief River Falls by Brian Freeman
Rating: 3 stars

I was hoping a thriller would be the thing to catch my attention this month after so many dnf’s. And this was…okay. I’m writing this review a few weeks after finishing it (I usually write them immediately) and I can barely remember my thoughts.

Someday Someday by Emma Scott
Rating: 4 stars

This was an unexpectedly complex m/m romance that was a lot more heavy than I wanted this month. Not the book’s fault, just bad timing. The characters in this book are both dealing with issues of rejection by their families for being gay. Their stories are extreme with one of them being sent to a very intense and horrific conversion therapy camp and one being totally kicked out of his family. So much of the book is about the pain they both went through. It was an eye opener to me. But it also made the book just…heavy. Not a lot of fun.

Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies by Tara Schuster
Rating: 5* stars

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It really helped that it found me at the perfect time in my life. SO much of what Tara writes about in this book are things I’ve also talked about in therapy – sometimes the chapters even coinciding with the topic I’d discuss each session. It was such a beautiful companion to really drive home the messages that I truly needed to hear. I savored this book slowly, only reading a chapter every morning so her words could really sink in. I loved every word of it so very much. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

The Cake King by Rosie Chase
Rating: 2 stars

This book really irritated me. It had all the makings of being a great story, but the author rushed through all the potential areas of development. It felt like a book that was written very quickly to hit all the high and low points of a story without doing any of the hard work of filling in all the stuff that would make a reader actually care. I certainly didn’t. I try not to be too harsh in my reviews since writing a book in the first place is a pretty awesome accomplishment. But this one just made me mad because of all the missed potential.

Marked by Jenika Snow
Rating: 2.5 stars

Okay, this popped up as a free novella in one of my facebook groups and I thought the cover was so hilarious that I read it. But then I was annoyed when they used that cover photo and tagline when it really wasn’t part of the story at all. Anyway, for a short erotic story with relatively nice characters, this will do.

The Honey Don’t List by Christina Lauren
Rating: 5 stars

Finally! A book that actually kept my attention and stopped me from checking my phone every few minutes! Christina Lauren really know how to tell good stories. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Though the underlying stress of secondary characters got a bit old, I loved the deepening connection between the main characters, two very competent assistants to a famous HGTV couple. I realized while reading this that I shouldn’t have been spending the last few weeks trying to distract myself with shallow erotic romances. What I really needed was REAL romance between two very likeable and kind characters. It was so much more hopeful and joyous than anything else I’ve read this month.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
Rating: 5 stars

I finally picked up another middle grade novel from my shelves! I buy these books because the covers are beautiful and the storylines are intriguing, but then I never get around to actually reading them because they feel too childish or boring to me. Not this one! I adored it. Coyote and her dad Rodeo are living in a converted school bus as they travel around the country with no rhyme or reason, trying to escape the pain of remembering the rest of their family that died five years ago. Coyote is a 12 year old who is precocious and smart beyond her years. They’ve both been happy to continue living the way that they have until Coyote’s grandma tells her that a park is about to be bulldozed where she and her mom and sisters once buried a memory box. Coyote’s mission is to get her dad to drive from where they currently are in Florida to where they need to be in Washington in the span of a week – without him realizing that’s the final destination because he’d never go for it. Of course this all turns into quite an adventure with a couple of unique characters joining them along the journey. I loved the book, but was unprepared for how emotionally triggering the end would be. I was literally sobbing through it. If a book can make me do that – it’s well worth reading. I passed it along to Caden and he loved it as well.

How I’m (Trying to) Survive Self Isolation (for now)

I’m going to jump right into this. You know what’s going on. And it sucks. Big time. Our family decided to start self isolating nine days ago now, on the night of Friday the 13th when they first announced school closures. We’ve had extremely limited contact with anyone since then. Greg took two very fast trips to the grocery store with a wipe in his hand for everything he touched. We’ve been to the dog park twice without touching any surfaces. We picked up school supplies on Tuesday in a drive thru. Shepard had very brief contact with some neighbor kids earlier in the week. And that’s it. It’s just us, at home, like so much of the world right now.

Also like much of the world, I feel like I’ve been on a ridiculous emotional rollercoaster this past week. The first few days were REALLY HARD. I was already really struggling after months of at least one extra family member being home for most of the week, week after week, because of random illnesses or bad weather. My routine hasn’t been “normal” since November. And my mental health has not been good. I’ve been working with a therapist to come up with ways to take care of myself and most of those solutions entailed leaving the house by myself. And then…this happened. I was not mentally healthy enough yet to deal with everyone home all the time with no place to go. I’m not handling it every well. But I’m trying.

After two weekends with a week in between, I think I’ve come up with a pretty good plan to survive this. To be totally honest, MY life hasn’t really changed that much since I work at home anyway. My social life was pretty limited to 1-2 gatherings a month, so it sucks not to have that anymore, but it’s also not a huge change. I just can’t ESCAPE. I can’t go shopping. I can’t go out to eat. I can’t go on two (probably three, maybe four) trips I had planned in the next few months. I realize that so many other people have had to cancel and postpone much more monumental events. I’m not trying to compete with that. It sucks for EVERYONE. But considering this isolation period will probably last weeks – most likely months – I need to have a concrete list of ways I can fight back to find the good in all of this. So here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Follow a Schedule

My kids think this is the worst thing in the entire world. But after the first few days of working out the kinks last week, it made all of our lives SO much better. We all do better with knowing expectations, having boundaries, and following the same routine day in and day out. My initial schedule was a bit too rigid, but we reworked some of the time blocks so the boys have about an equal amount each day of screen time, “learning” time, free outdoor play time, family walk time, and quiet reading and art time. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that learning time has been the most difficult. They will have real school lessons starting up in a week, so I’m sure we’ll need to adjust things again depending on how many hours their teachers expect them to be present. But I think this is the best way for all of us to survive. I can really vouch for that after having a “normal” weekend of basically unlimited screen time and me feeling totally overwhelmed and sad and trapped again. I didn’t feel quite so helpless when we were following the schedule during the week.

Walking as Much as Possible

We have two daily walks on our schedule every day. And for the most part we’ve followed those, though we did have a lot of both rain and snow this past week. Greg and I have also gone on occasional walks alone when one of us needs to get out of here. Annie is getting a lot of exercise! Everyone always says that exercise is the best way to reduce stress and I’ve never craved that outlet as much as I have this past week. Today we even changed things up by hiking around a (deserted) county park. The boys were NOT happy with it (less screen time), but it made me feel a lot better to do something a bit more rigorous and in a new setting.

Writing A LOT

Though I’ve been very quiet on the blog, I have been writing a lot in other places. Mostly I’ve been keeping up an ongoing daily log of the changes that are happening in the world and how our family is dealing with it all. Just a private space that only I’ll ever see where I can vent out everything in my head. I’ve also been writing in an actual journal every morning and adding a list of ten things I’m thankful for, trying to get in the right headspace for the day. And most nights I write some sort of public instagram post about how that particular day has gone, which helps me feel like I’m being heard and connects me to other people with my honesty.

Quiet Time

During my normal life, during the school year, I take a nap almost every afternoon. I always feel like I need to justify that fact with a reminder that I get up at 4AM EVERY DAY. And this past week? I’ve barely been sleeping at all. I’m allowed to take a nap! I know for an absolute fact that I will not survive this isolation period if I can’t also isolate MYSELF for a chunk of time every day. I’m also trying to enforce individual quiet times for the boys too, even though they keep wanting to sneak into each other rooms. They fight nonstop, but also can’t seem to stay away from each other. The boys have a 1.5 hour time block in their rooms for reading and art followed by 1.5 hours of screen time. So that gives me THREE hours to myself every afternoon. It will be my lifesaver.

Make Big Meals

This is maybe the most stressful part for me. The expectation of needing to feed four people three meals a day, while also monitoring all their snacks, for an indefinite amount of time in the future. Also – THE DISHES for all those meals. It’s so much mental gymnastics trying to figure out how to use up the most perishable food first at every meal so we’re not wasting anything and prolonging trips to the store for as long as possible. My only real solution to this is that whenever I do make a new meal, make it as large as possible so it’ll last at least two or three more meals in leftovers. I was very overwhelmed by this last weekend, but it’s becoming more of an enjoyable puzzle each day, getting creative with the food we have on hand. Though I do really miss running to the stores for random ingredients for special recipes. My plan right now is simple and big.

Sprinkle in Some Take Out

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at the start, but I’ve done some more research on how unlikely it is to catch coronavirus from having a no contact delivery food experience. It feels like a safe option. It’s also a huge morale booster. And it helps support our local small town restaurants for as long as they’re open. So far we’ve gotten a pizza and Mexican food. As long as they’re open we’ll probably continue to order about twice a week.

Being Creative

Lucky for me, being creative is my job. At first I considered closing my etsy shop all together for the time being because I was worried it would be too much added pressure. Now I’m realizing it might be the absolute best option for keeping myself sane. I’m mostly just sewing during the boys’ learning time, so we’re all doing something productive at the same time. But I’ve spent a few nights doing it as well. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to produce a certain number of dolls a week or anything, I’m just using the creativity to keep me happy. I’m also looking forward to trying some other craft projects I always put on the back burner and maybe even picking up one of the many coloring books I have, but never actually use.

Talking to a Therapist

I really picked a good year to start up online therapy! Yikes. I mentioned this a few posts ago, how I signed up for therapy through the company BetterHelp. I connected really well with the therapist they assigned me and it’s been such a positive experience so far. It’s so nice knowing I have that impartial person to talk through all of this with. She’s helping me problem solve a lot of the issues that have popped up. And she’s really helping me deal with how much anger I’ve had at certain people for not taking everything seriously. I know it probably feels like a frivolous expense in such uncertain times. But if you’re really having a hard time, I think it’s worth it, even if you only sign up for a few weeks or a month. With daily conversations it could really do a world of good to change your perspective.

Meditation

To be honest, I’m not so great at this. But I’m also on day 47 of a meditation streak using the Calm app, so I’m not giving it up. I still have a very hard time concentrating, but I’m committed to the effort. I like this app in particular because there’s a new 10ish minute meditation every single day, so I never have to think about what I want to do, I just sit down and do it.

Drink Tea

I am trying to train my brain to see tea as an ultimate form of comfort and self care. It’s fast and easy to make, it’s cheap, it forces you to slow down for a few minutes, and once you find a few kinds you like, it’s really quite delicious (and calorie free!). I try to drink at least four cups a day and it’s my go to every time I need a little warmth and comfort.

Reading

This one is NOT going so well. It’s been so hard to concentrate. But I’ll never give up on reading! It’s been more frustrating that I don’t seem to be connecting with most of the books I pick up. I’m dnf-ing quite a few. But then a book comes along that I like and it’s a great distraction. I’m hoping as we all settle into this new normal reading will once again become the great joy it’s always been to me. In the meantime, I might just keep rereading all of my favorites because they’re a surefire way to bring me hapiness.

Connect with Other People

I’m going back and forth on social media lately. On one hand, it seems like so many more people are connecting on deeper levels since this all began. Everyone has more time to read and write more honest posts and support for each other has been a lot more prevalent. But I’ve also had days this week where it felt like other people’s comments were being directed at me which I took very personally and kind of lost it. I don’t handle my feelings being invalidated very well. Even if it wasn’t intended to poke at me, I certainly felt like it was. I’ve also been getting incredibly angry at people who are continuing to live their lives the way they always have and taking unnecessary risks. But for the most part it’s been a positive space lately. I’m also trying to stay in contact with my friends. And of course family.

Celebrate the Things You’d Normally Celebrate (and maybe a little more)

St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays, but it really got lost in the midst of all the chaos this year. Fortunately I had already picked up my box of Lucky Charms, so the leprechauns were able to make their annual trek to leave it out for breakfast. And I made an effort to make a festive dinner that night. Tomorrow is Annie’s 5th birthday and Caden’s 11.5 birthday (we’re big on half birthdays around here). I’m making chicken tacos at Caden’s request and will come up with some sort of dessert for him. I’ll probably try to find some kind of dog treat cake to make Annie as well and we’re planning a trip to the dog park to celebrate. I’ve been buying things online so I’m fully prepared for all our normal Easter festivities, minus the time with extra family. And I’ve been trying to put together a nice selection of gifts to send my sister-in-law whose bridal shower is (I assume) definitely not going to be happening in a few weeks as planned. Even though life is totally crazy right now, I’m trying to remember to celebrate all the things I’d normally celebrate while also making an effort to help other people celebrate as well. We could all use a little more cheer to get through these hard times.

Lower all Expectations

I hope it’s obvious from my list that while I’m trying to find many ways to bring joy and normalcy to our life right now, my expectations are still quite low. Caden is really struggling with the indefiniteness of everything being so uprooted in his life. Shepard, as the most social of us (by far!), is really struggling with not seeing his friends, especially all of those that are running around right outside our windows. Greg is probably struggling working in such a distracting environment and not being able to leave the house for a job he enjoys. I’m struggling with the constant noise, constant arguing, constant need to prepare, make, and clean up after meals. The messes that are never full cleaned up, the enormous piles of laundry waiting to be folded, the inability to do any of the things I really love doing that nurture my soul, and the disappointment of so many trips being cancelled. But I’m also enjoying how much longer and freeing my days feel, without any real plans or restrictions. I find myself actually WANTING to exercise and really enjoying every chance I get to walk around outside. I hope that if I continue to focus on the things I CAN control, I won’t be so overwhelmed by all the things I can’t. And that somehow, we will all come out of this devastating pandemic for the better.

March 2020 Goals

Well, I took two months off from monthly and weekly goals as an experiment and I think it’s time to get back to them. I’m undecided if it was a good thing or not. I like having intentions in the back of my mind as I go about my days because it helps me to make better choices. But if the goals feel too overwhelming, then I feel, well, overwhelmed. But even without goals, I’ve really been flailing these last two months. So if I’m going to be overwhelmed either way, I might as well have those grounding intentions to get me back on track.

I think the key to setting goals for myself is to limit it to only a few, choose things that I definitely feel like I can achieve, and pick things that will genuinely give me a better life. I’m taking a break this year from trying to be “successful.” Even productive, if I’m honest. I want to be HAPPY. I want to be healthy. I want to feel full of joy and warmth, not on the brink of tears and desperate to escape my life. So I thought hard about what I want my March to look like and only wrote out goals that will help me achieve that happier life.

1. Go through my social media accounts and unfollow anything that brings me down. In turn, seek out accounts that will genuinely inspire me and help me on my journey.

I’ve realized recently how happy I am when I see a pretty and concise instagram post that promotes body positivity or taking care of yourself mentally. I’ve also noticed in the last year how some “inspirational” accounts only make me feel like a failure. I need to find and follow only the ones that help ME. I want to clean up the messages that flow into me every time I’m scrolling through my phone and save a collection of quotes and images that will inspire me on the hard days.

2. Go out on (at least) two days with Greg. Out of the house.

Between bad weather, so many illnesses, and Shepard having basketball two nights a week, we have not been having very regular date nights lately. And when we do have them, we stay home for logical reasons like the fridge is overflowing with leftovers and we need to eat them. There’s nothing wrong with at home date nights, but Greg and I seem to connect so much better when we’re outside of our regular environment. I want to make it a bigger priority.

3. Plan and carry out (at least) one special day over spring break to do something fun with the boys.

We have a full week of spring break this year, which is pretty rare for Columbus (especially since we ALSO have an Easter break, which is usually our “spring break.”) I know my kids and I know they’re really just going to want to stay home and play games all week. And sometimes I’m okay with that because it means I can still carry on with sewing and reading and everything else I need to take care of. But I hate to see an entire week go by with nothing to show for me. I want to make GOOD MEMORIES. So we need to think of something. I asked them today what they would want to do and they couldn’t say play games. They both answered “buy games.” Sigh. It’ll be a challenge, but we’ll come up with something.

4. Also plan and carry out one special day during spring break FOR ME.

The one thing I have been most desperately craving the last few months is time to myself. Ideally, time to myself at home, but it’s hard to kick three people out of the house when they have no desire to ever go anywhere or do anything. So I’ll think of something I can do for myself out of the house. For a whole day. I’d love to do a whole day AND night, but that might be pushing it. I do have a one night getaway to Milwaukee planned in April, but it’d be so nice to have something sooner to look forward to. It’d help me get through these hard days that seem to never end.

5. Do one nice thing for myself every day.

This is one of my therapy goals. Because even though I’d love to keep relying on escape to ignore my problems, that’s not a realistic option most of the time. So I’m supposed to be finding things every single day to treat myself well, to nurture myself, to nourish my body or soul. I have a specific notebook I just cracked open to record what I pick each day so I can report back at the end of the month. The tricky thing about this goal is that it needs to be something that genuinely feels like a treat that specific day. Like, reading for example – I do it every day and I will never go a day without it. It’s an essential part of who I am. But will you find me reading at 10am on a weekday? Very unlikely. But if we have another string of days with kids home sick and I feel like I’m going to absolutely lose my mind? Reading at 10am and ditching whatever productive activity I had planned would be a treat. Same with exercise. I’m trying to do it every day no matter what. But today, when it finally warmed up, I took Annie for an extra long walk down one of my favorite streets that I very rarely actually walk down. It doesn’t need be elaborate, it just needs to feel like something special I’m giving myself. And the real key – paying attention to my choices so I’m more aware of how much better it makes me feel.

I’m not writing it out as specific goals, but in the last few weeks I’ve really been focusing on a list of things that I want to do every single day, no matter what, because I know they’ll help me. Reading worthwhile nonfiction in the mornings, journaling, exercising, making wholesome meals, taking a nap if I didn’t get enough sleep the night before (who does?!), and meditating in the afternoons before everyone else gets home from school and work. Just doing those activities every day has been keeping me pretty busy. I’m not getting a whole lot of work done. But in this season, I just have to believe it’s the right thing for me to focus on. I’m tired of battling this cloud of depression and losing. It’s time to fight back and this is what’s going to help me.

What I Read February 2020

February just might have been the worst reading month I’ve ever had. I couldn’t connect with anything I was picking up. I’m not normally one to DNF a book. I always have this niggling hope that SURELY it’s going to get better. This month? I just didn’t have the patience for it. I probably gave up on at least ten books, maybe more. When normally it’s maybe five a year?! And I gave up on them well into the story, wasting days and days of time I could have been reading something better. It was disappointing, to say the least! I only finished ten books and most of them were pretty middle of the road. I adored my reread of The Hating Game and was captivated by the last book I finished, In an Instant, and I had one great nonfiction read with Lost Connections. No cookbooks this month!

Bared to You by Sylvia Day
Rating: 3.5 stars

This was a random pick from my kindle when I decided I needed a romance to distract me from my life. And…it was pretty steamy. And somewhat problematic for a variety of reasons. But I was pretty interested in the characters, despite the red flags. And I was VERY annoyed to get to the end and realize there are not one or two, but FOUR more books in this series. I would not have read this at all if I had realized. I want some closure! But I’m not sure I want to read that many more books. So…I am left frustrated and annoyed!

Dirty Letters by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Rating: 4 stars

First of all, I would let to object to whoever titled this book. The title led me to believe this would be more of an erotic novel, but it was actually a very well developed love story about two people who started writing to each other as seven year olds and reconnected 18 years later, after a 10 year silence. Which – believe me – I prefer to read about. I just wasn’t exactly expecting it, so it was a pleasant surprise. I really liked this book and the characters with their flaws and quirks. It was definitely a bit cheesy in parts, but overall it was just really sweet.

The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin
Rating: 4 stars

I’m not sure where I first stumbled across Emily Winfield Martin, but her paintings fascinate me. The muted colors bring such a fantastic imaginary world to life and I can’t get enough of them. When I found out she was releasing a book just of images attached to random phrases that came to her over the years, I immediately preordered it. And it’s beautiful, just like all of her paintings. It’s just not very long. I’m confused when artists decide to make a book like this, before they’re prepared to stuff it full. Emily’s paintings of children are my favorite, but there aren’t many included in this collection – probably because they’re all in her children’s books! Which I’m seriously contemplating buying just so I can page through them whenever I need a few minutes of escape and imagination. Overall a lovely book, I just wish there was more to it.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was a deeply fascinating look at all the reasons why depression is not “something wrong with your brain.” I read it during the last month when I’ve been having a lot of my own depressed feelings and found it to be immensely helpful in understanding my lost connections and what I could do to help myself. It’s written by a journalist who spent years researching the topic while trying to make sense of his own lifelong depression. It definitely comes across as a very long journalistic essay filled to the brim with different scientific studies and evidence to support their claims. I wish that the author had made it a bit more personal, rather than only very briefly commenting on his own struggles here and there. It would have made for a stronger and more relatable book, in my opinion, if he had expressed a bit more vulnerability in his writing. But overall, I thought this was a fantastic book that I would recommend to anyone and everyone, depressed or not.

Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
Rating: 3 stars

This book was so bizarre. It’s a psychological YA thriller and you definitely get the sense right from the very beginning of an unreliable narrator. You’re never quite positive who is narrating each chapter. There were just so many ridiculous twists and turns that the whole story was crazy. I was intrigued enough to read the whole thing, but I didn’t like it.

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey
Rating: 4 stars

Even though this was a different set of characters, I really wish I had realized it was the second book in a series before picking it up. There wasn’t a ton of overlap, but enough that I wish I had read the other couple’s story first. At any rate, I rather enjoyed this book. It was about a couple who has been together since middle school and whose marriage was feeling very empty – with the exception of their red hot once a week sex life. The couple temporarily separates while they each start working on their own issues to be able to come back together and give the other what they need to feel loved. This book comes in HARD on love language lectures. I’m a big believer in love languages, but also a little prickly about them for personal reasons. It’s a little hard to read a book where all of the couple’s problems can be solved if they just constantly remind themselves of the other’s love language. It felt pretty realistic to me, about two people who truly do love each other, but lost the communication and fun experiences that would keep their relationship alive. It was a good book.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (reread)
Rating: 5* stars

I’ve been saving this up for a reread for a really long time and decided Valentine’s Day would be the perfect day to pull it back out. I loved this book so much the first time and two years later I think I loved it even more. This whole office enemies to lovers romantic comedy is an absolute delight. It’s hilarious, sweet, and so full of heart. It’s so much more about building trust and understanding in the relationship than just jumping into bed together the way most romances go. I deeply adore this book. Josh and Lucy are just the best. I savored every word of this reread and look forward to reading it again and again in the future!

Cosy by Laura Weir
Rating: 2.5 stars

The first few chapters of this book gave me all the wonderful cozy feelings. It reinforced all the ideas I have about making my own spaces comfortable and colorful and exactly the way I want them to be. And then the book turned and became so British-centric that it no longer felt relevant. British brands of blankets to buy (I looked it up – they cost over $1000!), British places to visit, etc. Lots of name brands. Lots of things Americans really have no access too. Not that books need to always be geared toward us, but it felt so over the top that “cosy” can only be achieved if you live in Great Britain. There was also a lot of what I felt like was unnecessary Hygge shaming because it’s so commercialized now. I mean, who cares?! Get cozy and comfortable and happy in whatever way you want! Despite how happy the beginning made me feel, I was very disappointed with the rest and how utterly pretentious it came across.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Rating: 4 stars

The beginning of this book felt very much like another plane crash book I DNF’d last year. You know from the beginning that only one person – Edward – is going to survive this plane crash. So why is so much time devoted to the other passengers? Why should I care? I felt less irritated with the plane chapters as the book went on, but I was SO much more interested in Edward’s present situation. That being said, I enjoyed this book. Or as much as you can enjoy a book about a 12 year old boy who lost his whole family in a plane crash. It was heartbreaking, but he had such an amazing support system after the crash that you can’t help but love how it all turns out.

In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn
Rating: 5 stars

You will feel the full range of human of emotions in this book. Whew. It’s a doozy. So a group of two families – four adults, five teenagers, a “slow minded” 13 year old, and a college student they pick up on the road, fall off the side of a cliff in their camper. One of the teens, Finn, dies instantly and the book is told from her perspective. She’s in kind of an in between world where she can still see everything that’s going on, but not interact. It’s not really important other than she provides an impartial narration to everything that happens between the rest of the characters as they try to survive and then move on with their lives. I’m going to tell you right off the bat that almost none of these characters are likeable or admirable. Their worst traits come out when it comes to trying to survive while injured in the midst of a blizzard fallen off the cliff in the middle of nowhere. You’ll be shocked by how some of them behave, heartbroken, and then strangely inspired. There are so many complicated twists of agony, yet the book is still so hopeful. It’s about love and moving on and cherishing your memories of those you have lost with joy, rather than pain. It really was a captivating read and I couldn’t put it down.

Here’s to a better reading month in March!

Friday Favorites #10

Happy Friday! I am so frazzled today. I had so many things I wanted to get done today and all I’ve managed is hanging out with a friend, booking Annie a boarding claim in a few months, and taking a nap. The weekdays just go by WAY too quickly. But I’m determined to get this post written this week!

Eat

  • On one of the many days the boys didn’t have school this month, I decided to try out this Crispy Chipotle Chicken Taco recipe. Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever made (or eaten) a taco with ground chicken. And they were really good! Shepard actually said it was the best taco recipe I’ve ever made. I normally have issues with the texture of ground meat, but even though this didn’t look the most appealing, it was still really tasty. I didn’t add the onion to the meat or the cilantro at the end, but added a bit of a cornstarch mixture to thicken it up a little bit more – it was still super juicy and messy, though. (The leftovers were much thicker.) The cilantro lime ranch was a great addition. I didn’t even need any extra hot sauce (which is kind of sad lol) because the meat itself was so spicy.
  • I’ve always wondered how restaurants or specialty places make such pretty looking granola, when my oats always seem to come out of the bag in a pile of dust. At Target last week I happened to see this tucked away bag of Bob’s Red Mill Extra Thick Oats and admired how beautifully perfect each oat was (lol). I used it to make granola the other day and it turned out so great! I’m not sure I’d use these thick ones in oatmeal, since I’m pretty picky about oatmeal to begin with. But I’ll definitely be using this style for granola from now on.

Cook With

  • Okay, so I’ve never been an onion eater – unless it’s in the form of a thin and crispy onion ring or straw. But lately I’m kind of obsessed with a good oniony flavor in a lot of my foods. I’ve been using this Spice House Toasted Onion and it is AMAZING. The smell alone is practically intoxicating. In the last few years I’ve really focused on buying higher quality of the spices I use most often and it really pays off. This is a million times better than a generic cheap regular onion powder.

Drink

  • I bought this Milk Thistle Tea last fall when I was trying to change my liver values quickly and was just getting into drinking tea (now I drink it all the time!). I’ve since purchased MANY different flavors of tea, but this is one of my all time favorites. The flavor is sweet and delicate and I genuinely really like it.
  • My tea drinking adventure really started with trying to incorporate GREEN tea into my daily routine. But I was quickly sidetracked by so many other delicious flavors. One of my friends highly recommended this Tazo Zen Tea, though, so I picked it up last week and I actually love it! I’m not a fan of spearmint, so I had my doubts, but it’s really quite delicious. And comes with all the great green tea health benefits. I’m glad to have this in my daily arsenal of great tea choices.

Candle

  • So I had plans this month to reread The Hating Game on Valentine’s Day as an act of self care. I decided to go ahead and buy myself this accompanying Joshua Templeman candle to light while I read as kind of a joke. I’ve had it on my wish list for ages, but was a bit unsure of the scent combination. I’m so glad I bought it, though, because it smells delicious! Coffee is the strongest note coming through, but the others really round it out to a beautiful and non offensive scent.

Read

  • So I haven’t technically finished this one yet – I’m about 1/3 of the way through. But I love it SO MUCH that I feel confident calling it a favorite. I’ve been trying to be super intentional about the nonfiction books I start my day out with this year, prioritizing a good chunk of time every morning to this bit of personal development. This particular book jumped out at me at the perfect time since I’m basically going through the same thing – trying to change my life for the better with as many tools as I can find. I would highly, highly recommend picking up your own copy of Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies by Tara Schuster. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Saturday Reflections 02.22.2020

I think I need to start writing more. My emotions around writing have been all over the place since early November when I went to that writing conference. I went from being totally committed, to feeling completely inadequate, to deciding writing doesn’t really fit into my current life goals, to circling back to the realization that I NEED to write. For ME. And I’m going to start showing up for this little corner of my world again because it feeds me in a way that nothing else can. So hello. I’m back.

The last few weeks have been really hard. The short of it is that winter is killing me. Whittling away at my soul by taking away my inability to spend time outside, making me feel cold and uncomfortable ALL THE TIME, to keeping all the gross sick germs circling around every building, to keeping my family members home SO MUCH OF THE TIME and equally losing their own souls. I’m over it. The last two weeks have been particularly hard on me because Caden was sick and then Greg caught it and was even sicker for even longer. The pressure was SO high for me to stay healthy so I could pull off Valentine’s Day as well as a week’s worth of birthday festivities for Shepard. I literally could not afford to get sick. And now today, when it’s finally all behind me, I expected to feel relieved and relaxed and excited. Instead I feel like my entire body is just shutting down. I’m so tired and irritable and sore and bleary. Can it just be spring already? Can I be whisked away on a solo vacation to properly recharge without all the constant responsibilities of home and work? February, I am so over you.

Valentine’s Day was actually a really great day. I bought the boys festive donuts for breakfast and then had an early morning therapy session before heading to a friend’s house for a coffee/cheese plate brunch. As much as I like my always open chat room with my therapist, I’m finding our weekly live sessions even more valuable. That alone put me in a pretty good place, but seeing my friends (and getting out of my house after Greg and Caden being sick the whole week!) really helped too. I made plenty of time that day to take care of myself with an afternoon nap and pockets of time throughout the night to read one of my favorite books.

I made a much larger cheese and chocolate plate for our dinner. It was a bit much for me after only eating cheese and chocolate all day already, but the boys think it’s just the coolest meal. Greg joined us at the end of the table, even though he was literally shaking because his fever had come back with a vengeance. Not a good week for him!!

On Saturday the extended family was in town, so we split our afternoon between families. (Greg stayed home.) The boys were having a blast playing with Hudson! I really enjoyed watching a 2 year old’s version of hide and seek! We had dinner with the in-law’s then, which was really nice as well.

We moved Shepard’s birthday party to my in-law’s house on Sunday morning since Greg was still feeling so awful on Friday night and we didn’t want to risk it. I have to say it was really nice not needing to prep a whole lot (lol)! I made french onion dip, Cindy had tons of fruit, my mom made veggie pizza and punch, and we ordered a bunch of pizza and boneless wings. I made Shepard a cookie dough ice cream cake that looked beautiful, but turned into a soupy mess by the time I cut the first piece. It was good, though!

This was the only selfie I got with Hudson this trip. He’s a pretty active toddler! Plus I can’t just grab him and force him to take a picture (in my defense he was HANDED TO ME for this one!) the way I could when he was a little baby!

The boys didn’t have school on Monday for Presidents Day. They basically just never have school on Mondays in January and February. It’s SO ANNOYING. Technically, I mean, they have had school. But at least one of them has also been sick every school Monday the last two months. Which is super frustrating to me since Monday is my favorite day of the week to run errands, get lunch out, and celebrate five days ahead of feeling some sanity and accomplishment. When I don’t have my Mondays, I get very grumpy. This Monday in particular was frustrating because we had plans to go to the Dells for Shepard’s birthday dinner at Moosejaw. Instead we had another six inches of snow pile up in the afternoon. Trapped again!

Shepard’s official 9th birthday was Tuesday! He wanted donuts for breakfast, so a cheap pack of mini donuts from Pick n Save that I picked up Monday right as the snow started was the best I could do. I made little edible cookie dough cups for his school treat.

We made a spontaneous decision to go to Moosejaw on Tuesday after Shepard opened his presents. In hindsight, it wasn’t the greatest decision since it essentially meant spending most of the night in the car. Plus Caden was NOT happy about it and made sure we all knew it. Caden hasn’t been happy about any birthday things, no surprise. But the food was good and I think Shepard enjoyed it.

We had Shepard’s birthday brownies on Wednesday night.

On Thursday I ran a lot of errands, but also picked up two new plants and repotted some of my others. I’m so terrible at taking care of plants, but I really like having the live greenery around the house.

Yesterday I had morning therapy again and then met a friend for coffee. Then I threw about the lowest key birthday party I’ve ever had. I didn’t want to do a friend party. I thought we were over these. Shepard didn’t have one last year because we were in Florida, so it seemed a logical time to stop having them (he really didn’t like his the year before because it was too crazy and wild). But he took things into his own hands and invited people over, so…we had a party. I made tacos and a donut tower and the small group of kids mostly played Fortnite and laughed at their own boy jokes. I think he had a great time.

Today has kind of been a waste of a day. I did take care of a lot of lingering computer tasks I’ve been putting off for ages right when I woke up. I listed some dolls. And then I took Annie to the dog park for the first time in weeks. After making lunch I went upstairs and spent three hours reading/sleeping in bed! Greg took Annie for an hour and a half walk during that time, so she is totally blissed out right now. I wish I could love exercise even a fraction as much as she does! I’m still totally failing on that front thanks to my stupid plantar fasciitis. But I think it’s MAYBE getting better. Maybe by the time real spring weather hits it’ll be gone! Fingers crossed.

I think that’s a pretty sufficient update on how the last few weeks have gone! I might possibly be back tomorrow with INTENTIONS. Maybe it’s time to start easing them back into my life…

Friday Favorites #9: Valentine’s Edition

Happy Friday and Happy Valentine’s Day!

I love to live my life by the seasons in as many ways as possible. And whereas February is technically supposed to be the month of love, I always find myself really focusing on self love and care at this time of the year. This year, like most, I’m trying to get over the dreary gloom of January while also trying to remember spring is probably still three months away, so I need to start looking inward and finding ways to love myself to make the days a little brighter. So most of the items on my favorites list this week are featuring the ways I’ve found to love or treat myself right now.

True Self Care

  • Two weeks ago I signed up for online therapy services through BetterHelp. (I believe this is an affiliate link for one week of free therapy if you’re interested in testing it out.) It’s not something I plan on talking much about, but it’s also not something I want to keep a secret, so now you know! I’ve felt many, many times in the last year or so that I wish I had a counselor or somebody to talk to, but because we’ve had such rotten luck with finding a good fit for Caden over the years I didn’t have much hope of finding someone I could trust and like, while also being conveniently located (very hard in a small town!) for myself. But these last three months have been particularly hard and I knew I needed to do something to help myself. Lo and behold, ONLINE THERAPY. I didn’t even know this existed until recently. And honestly, it’s so perfect for me. I write so much more openly than I speak. I’m a thousand times more comfortable talking about hard things through a screen than face to face. The best part, for me, about BetterHelp specifically is that I can write to my therapist as often as I want and she responds every single day. I can also schedule actual sessions via chat, phone, or video once a week – if I want. I’ve had two live chat sessions so far, on top of the daily correspondence, and it really is an extra bonus. Anyway, it does feel expensive – $65 a week. But I think it’s completely worth it if you communicate the ways that I do. You couldn’t have daily in office therapy sessions for $65/week! Or even once a week! Plus I’ve finally come to the conclusion that nourishing my mental health is a worthwhile expense no matter what. I’m sure everyone’s experience with BetterHelp is mostly dependant on still actually having a good fit with their paired therapist, but I really like who they assigned me (you can change if you don’t like who you got) and it’s going well.
  • In addition to therapy, I’ve also started using the Calm app to meditate and start to teach myself mindfulness. Meditation doesn’t come easy to me, but I’ve been hearing so much about mindfulness all over the place lately that I really want to learn how to use it to help in all areas of my life. The app itself seems pretty amazing. You do have to pay for it, but I think if you’re serious about meditation it is worth the price. (I probably shouldn’t say this, but I didn’t go through with the purchase the first time I opened the app and they soon sent me a 40% off email code. I also have five 30 day free guest passes if anyone is interested in trying it. They also offer a 7 day free trial.) For the last week I’ve been doing a seven day series on mindfulness for anxiety, but I’m really excited to try out some of the many other features.
  • I go back and forth on how I feel about essential oils, but at the moment I’m back on the train, guys. I just found out about a brand called Saje Natural Wellness. I’ve been most interested in their oil blend roll-ons and recently ordered a couple to try out (if you buy 3 they’ll let you pick out a soft sided carrying case!). The whole point of essential oils is breathing them in and letting the oils soak into your skin/blood/brain is how they can treat a variety of symptoms or help you feel a certain way. But one of the main things I don’t like about essential oils is that none of them smell all that great to me and I don’t want other people to find me offensive. But I guess the good news is that I rarely have to interact with other people, so it doesn’t matter all that much (lol)! But of the two I’ve used so far (Peppermint Halo and Stress Release), I really have liked the scents. I truly believe that they do help – especially oils meant for easing colds and sleeping better. So I’m excited to start building these oils into my daily self care routine again.

Save Money

  • Have you guys heard of Honey? I’m not sure how I ever learned about it in the first place, but it’s just a browser extension that will search through the internet and find coupon codes for any shopping site you’re on. It also can tell you the stats on when the best time to buy things on amazon might be. It’s really pretty awesome. It’s free, so you might as well get it! It’s saved me tons of money (I do a lot of online shopping lol) through discount codes that I never had to do a thing to find. I love it. Shepard noticed I was using it last night and he knew exactly what it was. Apparently they talk about it in his favorite youtube videos…

Eat

  • For some reason Walmart is the store that always carries the new and unique flavors of candy bars. And I very rarely shop at Walmart. But the last time I was there I grabbed one of these Mint Kit Kat Bars and I fell in love. Kit Kat Bars are my favorite candy bar and I also love mint, so they’re a perfect combination. I may have bought myself a 24 pack on amazon to have in case of chocolate emergencies, even though I’m really not supposed to be eating candy.

Listen

  • Speaking of chocolate, I recently checked out the podcast Inside Trader Joe’s because someone on facebook mentioned loving their chocolate episode. And this is such a fun podcast! I’ve listened to the three most recent episodes on chocolate, cheese, and holiday foods. I’m obsessed with Trader Joe’s, maybe because I get there so rarely. But grocery shopping is like my favorite thing to do, so I go at least once every season to check out the new items. The podcast itself is informative, light, funny, and so very interesting.

Treat Yourself

  • If you DO go to Trader Joe’s, buy yourselves some flowers. Seriously. They’re crazy cheap and so beautiful.

Jewelry

  • This Kendra Scott Jack Bright Mix bracelet was my Valentine gift from Greg. Technically, I bought it for myself. But technically, he really wanted to get it for me for Christmas, but it was sold out for months, and he told me if it ever came back in stock he still wanted me to have it. So, I checked every single day when I woke up and finally it was there, so to my cart it went! I love it. 🙂 And actually, at this exact moment, it is once again available online. I had this bracelet on the Rainbow Christmas gift guide I did way back in November and was kicking myself for not just buying it because I wanted it so badly. I’m glad I was able to snag one before they’re gone for good.
  • In terms of bracelets in general, though, Kendra Scott has some really great ones. They’re such good quality too. I’m not as impressed by the necklaces – mostly because they’re super short and look stupid on me. But I love the bracelets. My favorite style is the Elaina. I have it in a couple of different colors and they’re so understated but beautiful. My favorite is a Kyocera opal that matches everything.

Read

  • The Hating Game by Sally Thorne is one of my all time favorite romantic comedies of a book. It’s just so FUN. I’ve been dying to reread it, but I’ve been saving it up for today – a special Valentine’s Day treat to myself. You should read it too if you haven’t. Such a great read.

Write

  • I have a slight addiction to personalized journals from Minted.com. It’s possible I’ve written about these before, but I’m too lazy to go back and look. I love a good notebook, though, and Minted seems to always be adding new styles. This is what I did for teacher Valentine gifts this year. And Shepard was so fascinated by them that I let him pick out and customize two last night as a birthday present for himself. He’s super excited about them. I of course also added on another rainbow notebook for myself since I was already placing an order!

I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day! Even if you don’t have a significant other (or if yours is sick and totally out of it like mine), do something to make the day a little more special for yourself. You deserve it.

What I Read January 2020

My reading life is off to a great start this year! I read 18 books in January, with a huge mix of genres and ratings. January was my biggest reading month last year too and now I remember why – it’s too miserable to do basically anything else!

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Rating: 4.5 stars

You probably know by now that my love of epistolary novels is strong. I was especially intrigued by this one, which is a debut novel by a 70 year old author. The entire book is a correspondence between a middle age woman in England and a recently widowed museum curator in Denmark. What begins as a slow and somewhat unexciting exchange of intellectual letters, quietly turns into a beautiful friendship of connection and understanding. It took me a lot longer to read this than I expected and I almost set it aside multiple times in the first half because it wasn’t what I was expecting. But as I continued on, the letters between the two of them brought me to tears multiple times as I reflected on how beautiful a friendship through words alone can be. As all epistolary novels do, I wish this had ended a little differently. But overall, I really enjoyed this beautiful little book.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
Rating: 5* stars

I couldn’t put this book down. When I HAD to put it down for a chunk of the day, it’s all I could think about. It’s hard to explain exactly what this book is about without giving away too much, but the idea is that in a “county” at some unknown point in time, there is a rule that all girls are sent away during their 16th year to get rid of their magic. This is the baseline for the story, but it’s also the least explained part, which did get a little frustrating to me. But I got so lost in Tierney’s journey and everything she was experiencing that I was able to gloss over the things that didn’t make as much sense to me. This book reminded me a lot of The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. It’s harsh, yet hopeful, devastating, yet beautiful. I’d highly recommend it.

Relish by Lucy Knisley
Rating: 4 stars

I enjoyed this graphic novel all about the love and appreciation of good food. It was fun to read and helped me to look back on my own memorable food experiences over the years. I did sometimes feel like the author/artist had a tiny bit of an agenda as most of book was about her parents in relation to her food experiences, but other than that, it was a good read.

The Skinnytaste Air Fryer Cookbook by Gina Homolka
Rating: 5 stars

I asked for and received an air fryer for Christmas, though I really wasn’t sure what to do with it. Which of course led me back to amazon to order the best looking air fryer cookbook I could find – this one. And I’m SO glad I got it! I’m really excited about this cookbook. It’s relatively small – only 75 recipes – but I want to try almost all of them. And not in the usual “I should try these because they’ll be good for me,” but because THEY LOOK DELICIOUS. I immediately did the tomatillo salsa verde recipe (a weird thing to make for your first time using an air fryer!) and it roasted the vegetables so quickly and so perfectly that I am really excited to try everything else I marked down. As usual, I have no interest in the seafood chapter, but everything else looked fantastic.

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren
Rating: 4 stars

Okay, so this book definitely does not follow the format I usually prefer when it comes to romance. It starts hot and heavy between a boss and intern that hate each other. These days, there is all kinds of ick factor that comes with that sort of relationship, but if you can gloss over how wrong it would be in the REAL world, it was easy to fall into the passion of these characters and how intensely they felt for each other. Christina Lauren is one of my favorite sets of authors, but this is the first erotic novel that I’ve read by them. It was definitely steamy, but the character development was still prominent and kept me glued to the story.

Say Yes by Elle Kennedy
Rating: 3 stars

This novella popped up for free in an email and I decided to read it one night when I was once again putting off reading Love Lettering (up next). It was fine. Predictable. A cute little romp.

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Rating: 3 stars

I wanted to love this novel so badly. A sweet romance that revolves around typography?? It sounded so perfect for me and the reviews were glowing, so I immediately ordered it. Unfortunately, it just was not holding my attention. I read two books in the middle of reading this one. I probably should have DNF’d it, but I bought it and felt responsible for reading it. It was FINE. But, as many reviewers stated, it is also “understated.” And that’s understating it. Overall, I’m just really glad to have finished.

Skinnytaste One & Done by Gina Homolka
Rating: 3 stars

I had such high hopes for this cookbook after loving the Skinnytaste Air Fryer Cookbook I also read through this month. Unfortunately, it just isn’t for me. I should have realized, a cookbook entirely filled with recipes that can be made in just one appliance – the instant pot, skillet, baking sheet, air fryer, etc. That is basically code for meals that are all mixed up together, which is not a type of food that I or my family enjoys most of the time. We like our foods SEPARATE. As a whole, if you like food like that, this is probably a really great cookbook. The photographs are gorgeous and make every recipe look so appealing. But of the 140 recipes, I only marked 24 of them that I’d like to try. One reason is that there were also a TON of seafood recipes, which is a category I’m just never interested in. I do plan on keeping this cookbook around because the ones I marked look great. But it’s definitely never going to be a favorite.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Rating: 5 stars

Both of my kids were reading books by Kate DiCamillo at school recently and they both kept talking about the books – which is highly unusual. I commented that I happened to have a book by her on my shelf – another middle grade novel that I only bought because I was IN LOVE with the cover (I have the Barnes and Noble special edition, which is different than pictured above). Once again, why are middle grade cover artists so AMAZING? Anyway, I was a bit surprised (pleasantly) to open the book and see it’s really a younger “middle grade” book, with a large font and big spacing, so I was able to read the whole thing in an hour or two. I loved it, though! Louisiana was such a likeable character. The entire thing was really sweet, despite being heartbreaking at the same time.

Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
Rating: 4 stars

This was a really great book about mindful parenting practice that I wish I could have read five or ten years ago. The author’s kids are the same age as mine are now, so most of the examples given are for kids more of the toddler and preschool age. You can still use the advice, but it doesn’t feel quite as applicable for older kids. I definitely resonated with so many of the hard parenting examples given and the author made me want to learn how to meditate to become a more mindful parent – and person. The essential message of the book is to focus on connecting and building a relationship with your child and in turn all of your conflicts will be easier to handle. Great advice, but sometimes very, very hard to implement. The book was interesting and relatable and I read it relatively quickly. I almost never make it through parenting books, so that’s saying something!

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (reread)
Rating: 5* stars

I really wanted to reread this book before reading the second book that was released this month. And I have to say – I loved it just as much the second time! I don’t read a lot of fantasy because it’s easy to get bogged down and confused by all the details, but this series is pretty straightforward. Few characters, a simple directive to break the curse: fall in love. The characters are so likeable, particularly Harper as she really comes into her own in a new land, fighting to save the kingdom when she could have put up a fight at every turn to get back to her family faster. Like all of Brigid Kemmerer’s books, I absolutely loved this.

A Heart so Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer
Rating: 5 stars

Okay, I feel like there’s not a ton I can say about this book without giving too much away. I really had no idea what to expect, other than seeing one ARC review months ago suggesting that it was definitely not as good as the first. And…I disagree, for what it’s worth, so maybe don’t let reviews sway you either way. This second book does feel decidedly DIFFERENT than the first book because it’s a lot less about the characters and their relationships (the reason I love the first one so much!) and more about duty and responsibility to the characters’ respective kingdoms. Like so many YA fantasy series, this is where it starts to lose me. I hate reading about battles and war. I just want the relationships! But Grey is such a beloved character and I fell harder for Lia Mara than I did Harper, which really helped me love this book as much as the first, even though it gave me SO much emotional anxiety! I thought this was another amazing book by Kemmerer and I can’t wait to read the third, even though it hasn’t even been announced yet.

Ama by Josef Centeno
Rating: 4.5 stars

It’s no secret that Mexican/Tex Mex food is BY FAR my favorite to both make and eat. Even though I already have tons of cookbooks, I’m always on the lookout for more. This one seemed like a sure bet, so when no one bought it from my wish list this past Christmas I immediately ordered it for myself. And it seems great! I haven’t yet made anything from it, but I marked so many of the recipes. I’m actually most intrigued by all the sauces and salsas at the beginning of the book – much more so than a lot of the meals. I took off half a star because not all the recipes had photos, and many of the recipes called for unique ingredients that definitely aren’t readily available in Wisconsin, especially in wintertime! Kumquats, persimmons? I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen any of those EVER in a store, and I go to a lot of grocery stores. And they’re included in multiple recipes, as an example. But I’m still very excited about the cookbook and plan to use it often.

Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstein
Rating: 2.5 stars

I didn’t like this book. Eliza, owner of her own small jewelry shop in New York, accidentally posts a photo of herself wearing the shop’s most outrageous engagement ring and her sales start skyrocketing. She decides to turn the small mistake into a huge farce, including planning a full out wedding without actually having a groom. She latches herself on to a guy who would be great for her, pretending her feelings are more than they are until he actually proposes and she convinces him to have a shotgun wedding. And then she tells him the truth and shocker – it all falls apart. Honestly, the only part I liked about this book was hearing about the jewelry. It made me REALLY want some new jewelry (lol). Everything else just continued to make me angrier and angrier.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
Rating: 5 stars

If I got this specific in my ratings, I’d probably really give this a 4.75, but I decided to round up to a 5 since a 5* is MY specific highest potential rating. My reasoning? I almost quit this book so many times in the first 70 pages. I was bored and annoyed with the traumatic but very vague past of the the main character and didn’t find much interest in the story itself – a woman trying to fit in with a group of male firefighters. But around page 70 everything turned and I could not get enough of the book after that. This turned into such a beautiful story of redemption, forgiveness, and ultimately – love above all else. I adored the characters and was so very happy with how everything turned out. It was also a great life lesson kind of book. Overall, if you can power through the beginning, this book is really worth reading.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
Rating: 5 stars

This book epitomizes everything I love in a sweet YA romance. Two lovable and realistic teenagers that are faced with plenty of daily problems, but can still find fun and laughter in their relationship with each other. This one was particularly fun because it had a smattering of an anonymous texting friendship as well as a national twitter feud between their family restaurants. There was a lot going on! But I loved the characters so much. It was sweet, very innocent, and absolutely enjoyable.

I Know You Remember by Jennifer Donaldson
Rating: 4 stars

I went into this book blindly, just randomly picking something that looked like it might be a thriller from my plethora of unread books on my kindle. It turned out to be somewhat of a mystery/psychological YA thriller about a teenage girl whose mom died so she moves back to Alaska to live with her dad and new step-mom and step-sister, only to find out that her best friend from childhood is missing. I was definitely pretty lost in the story as it went along, impressed with how dedicated Ruthie was to finding Zahra. But certain things happened – cue the psychological thriller aspect – that I’m not so sure are believable. Overall, it was a solid read that kept my interest.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Rating: 3 stars

I had a really hard time getting into this book, but I can’t explain why. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with it, I just felt very disconnected. Which is kind of weird, because I found it to be super interesting that the main character is a woman who suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic pain, something I also deal with and it’s so rarely talked about and would almost never show up in a romance novel! I liked how that fit into the story and the way the characters interacted and accepted each other, flaws and all. I really enjoyed the male lead, Red. But overall, this book was just an okay read for me.

Friday Favorites #8

Happy Friday!

You’d think after taking a few weeks off from this post I’d have a ton of things to share. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But I didn’t want to put it off another week, so here’s what I’m recommending to you this week!

Winter Uplifter:

  • CITRUS CANDLES. I’m obsessed with them right now. I’ve always tried to only light candles that are seasonally appropriate throughout the year because that brings me the greatest joy. Apple in September, pumpkin in October, cinnamon in November, a little bit of pine in December, lilac in spring, and ocean and fresh scents in summer (though most of my candle usage is September – December). Winter used to be all bakery scents, but this year I’m switching it up with citrus. I think it makes a huge difference in making this dreary time of year feel a lot brighter. My favorite place to find candles is HomeGoods/Marshall’s/TJMaxx. I think my all time favorite is the DW Home Grapefruit one pictured above, though they haven’t been as readily available as they’ve been in years past. I just picked up a Limoncello one the other day that also smells incredible. Here are some other favorites I’ve discovered:
    Chesapeake Bay Love & Passion (Grapefruit and Mango)
    Opalhouse Rio de Janeiro (Pink Pineapple and Sugar Cane)|
    DW Home Grapefruit
    Root Candles Sugared Grapefruit
    Wisconsin Candle Company Lemongrass and Sage

Eat:

  • I never thought I’d be a person who made VEGETARIAN TACO MEAT. But I saw this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers a few weeks ago, happened to have all the ingredients, and decided to give it a shot. And I LOVED it. It was honestly SO delicious. I think I MAYBE even like it better than regular beef tacos – because beef tacos are the only form of beef I eat and as delicious as they are, they also kind of gross me out. Nothing gross about eating this. I originally made it just for myself, but Greg helped me eat the leftovers and really liked it too. I’m planning on making it again tonight and we’ll see how the boys react. I bet if I don’t say anything they won’t even notice that it’s not meat.

Craft Project:

  • A few weeks ago I started seeing these yarn rainbows all over the internet. I have A LOT of yarn and you know I’m obsessed with rainbows, so I had to figure out how to make one for myself. It did require a little hunting around to find the nylon rope and floral wire (I ended up using jewelry wire because I couldn’t find floral) before I could start. But this tutorial made learning how to make the rainbow very clear! The most annoying part was just getting the rope and wire prepped. I did the whole thing start to finish in about two hours and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. If I ever make more (I hope to!) I think I’d like to find a more natural linen type rope to use instead of the bright white nylon, but this definitely worked pretty well.

Pamper:

  • So my friend gave me this Exfoliating Foot Mask for Christmas. I’ve done a foot mask one time in the past and it was just for moisturizing – and I don’t think it helped even the tiniest bit. I assumed this was the same idea and didn’t even really read the package, just wrapped up my feet and tried not to think about how tingly and cold they were for the next hour! I also skipped the direction about rinsing your feet off after you take them off and a few hours later my feet felt like they were on fire. But all that aside – I was in SHOCK a couple days later when my feet started peeling like crazy. It was both fascinating and horrifying. This thing REALLY WORKS, you guys. But I definitely would not use it if anyone else is going to be seeing your feet within two weeks of doing the mask. It probably took a good week to finish all the peeling, but it took off even the toughest layers of skin on my heels and toes. It’s worth a try!

General Reflections on the Last Few Weeks

Life has been really hard lately. I keep alternating between feeling desperate for more time to myself and extremely lonely. I have this constant emotional war going on in my mind that I don’t think anybody understands, myself included. But I’m pretty sure it keeps circling back to one or the other as the base problem.

In a normal school year, I should have four, sometimes five, days a week to myself. A solid seven hour chunk every day to work, run errands, prep food, read, rest, and recharge so I’m ready to emotionally deal with the rest of the night. This last month? Between school holidays, sick kids, and bad weather, I’ve had zero or one day, every single week. And it’s killing me. It’s felt like those three months of summer where every single day whittles me down to the point I’m honestly not even sure I’m going to survive to the end. Except in summer everyone has the option to play outside, go on walks, see friends, go to the pool, find ways to occupy themselves in locations other than the walls of this house. And I’m not REALLY placing the blame for my emotional distress on my family members, not really. But I can’t explain how I’m feeling without immediately offending them. And without thinking there is surely something wrong with me because MOST PEOPLE do not have four days a week to be alone! I always fall into the trap of belief that my issues are not valid because I’m coming from a place of privilege to begin with. I don’t feel like I’m allowed to have these feelings, which makes the problem that much more intense and that much more hopeless.

I think what bothers me so much about having people around ALL THE TIME is that there are so many expectations on me, with none of the connection. I need to make food for everyone alllllllllll the time. Preparing and cleaning up after those meals takes huge chunks of time as well. I will be the first to admit that I do very little of the major house cleaning in this family, but I AM responsible for all the daily upkeep, which is that much more stressful when four people are contributing to the messes all day long. It leaves me with very little time or energy left to do the other things I need, or especially want, to do.

I’ve thought many times over the years that video games have basically been the worst thing to ever happen to us. But how could we deny them to our kids when it’s something Greg has always loved so much? I wish we could go back and do things a little differently because it’s nearly impossible to change their expectations and demands at this point in time. What annoys me so much isn’t even the games, but the stupid youtube videos. When my kids are home, that’s basically all I ever hear. They do have pretty strict screen time rules during the week, but Caden’s gotten around them by going on the treadmill for three hours every night (NOT an exaggeration) so he can keep watching his videos while he walks. What used to be a safe haven – my beautiful living room – is now filled with that awful obnoxious noise all the time. It makes me feel trapped and overwhelmed, especially because of how much my kids like to bully me into more screen time until I finally give in – or they just start watching anyway because I don’t know how to stop them. Ever since Christmas break when Caden was fully determined to destroy every single day before we even left the house, I’ve had very little fight left in me. The behavior challenges we’ve had with him his whole life only seem to be getting worse. And the more I feel like a failure as a parent, the less I want to try to be a better one. I resent how he makes me feel, I resent how many things he’s ruined, and that resentment has seeped into how I feel about everyone else. I’m sick of trying and I just want to be alone.

That’s probably a little more honesty than I should share. I try not to talk too in depth about our parenting problems these days because he’s very aware of this blog and could access it if he wanted to. But…that’s my truth right now, so I’m keeping it in.

All that aside, I’m also feeling very lonely. When life feels so hard, I’m like most people and would rather hide away than find positive ways to deal with it. I was determined to get past the overwhelming sadness Christmas break brought and immediately planned a coffee morning with my friends at the start of the month. But only one person showed – and I’m certainly not mad at the people who couldn’t come, they had valid reasons! But it also made me feel like maybe I don’t want to keep trying to organize things. It frustrates me so much that the only way I ever see anybody is if I organize it. Is it because everyone else is just too busy? Is it because they’re really not that interested in hanging out with ME? I somehow keep expecting friendship to get easier and it only gets a million times harder. Where are the people who long for deeper connection? Where are the people who will immediately say yes to something without making me feel like I’ve only made their lives harder? Where are the people I can count on to show up and actually care about me and respect my feelings? Where are the people who want to just do life together and not reinforce the idea that I AM a bad mom or person because of the way things are going right now? I’m honestly ready to put some sort of personal ad out online because SURELY those people must exist. They exist in my facebook groups! They exist online. But in real life? Why can’t I find them?

Anyway. That’s basically how my January has gone. I’ve been keeping my mouth shut, my head down, working a lot, reading a lot, cooking a lot. Trying to make sense of what’s going on in my heart and my brain. Hiding.

Greg and I did get away for a night in Milwaukee to celebrate our 20th anniversary of being together. It was kind of a stressful situation because Shepard had some type of influenza that entire week and we weren’t sure if we should leave him and we weren’t sure if we’d catch it and that would ruin the trip anyway. So we compromised and cut our two nights into one – also because we were expecting a huge snowfall the second night and didn’t want to drive home in that mess.

The trip itself was really nice. We had lunch at a really cool taco place and then went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the photography exhibit that was featuring a photo of my grandpa in his barber shop. Then we relaxed at the hotel for a few hours before heading out to a cool restaurant across the street. We ended the night rushing through the super cold streets of Milwaukee to see a Doughboys Podcast Live. It’s Greg’s favorite podcast and I usually only listen when we’re in the car alone together (rare!), but I really enjoyed the show. It was so funny! We finished the trip walking around Milwaukee Public Market and having a huge brunch at the cutest European cafe. The whole trip was a great reminder that we can still laugh and have fun together. But it also ended with a reminder that kids are always on the back of our minds, as we struggled with whether or not we should come home even earlier in order to meet Caden after school and let him stay with us (while a fevered Shepard was still with Grandma). Nobody was even supposed to know we were coming home early to avoid that ever present sense of parental duty, but there were some communication mix ups that really ended the trip on a sour note.

The boys had off of school on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was the first day Shepard was finally feeling better (though he doesn’t look it!), so I was determined to make the most of it and take them out for lunch and Starbucks. But if we were already going to be in Sun Prairie it made sense to me to also get some groceries, which is NEVER a good idea with kids in tow. At least MY kids. Or…KID. They weren’t being naughty, exactly, just…made the whole trip very stressful. And not at all fun because all they wanted was to rush through the food and go back home to their games. Just like every time I try and do something special to connect with them, it falls flat. I was also supposed to take Caden out for a lunch yesterday, but he is a master of self sabotage, so that fell through too.

I’ve still been cooking, a lot. Using my air fryer every day! I’m trying to keep reminding myself that eating good food is part of nourishing myself and should be my number one priority. But I’m really losing steam. Mainly because I’m not losing any weight. I lost 10 pounds right away last fall when I started making changes, and then absolutely nothing in the last two months. It’s really frustrating. I’m not trying to FOCUS on the weight loss, but it also seems like with how many beloved foods I gave up, I should really be having some accompanying loss!! As you can see from this photo I’m not exactly eating salads every day (lol), but I’m still almost entirely gluten free, no processed snack foods, no desserts unless they’re also gluten free/low sugar, a lot more fruits and vegetables than I used to eat. I’m not trying crazy hard to eat perfectly, just avoiding the things that will most harm my liver. So I guess it’s to be expected that the weight isn’t falling off. But I’m still discouraged!

In happier news, I finally reopened my shop the other day after a six or seven week break! I had 20 new dolls and sold 12 of them so far. I’d like to really keep the momentum going with a couple new batches listed a week, but this week when I’ve been so obsessed with work again has really reminded me how much falls to the wayside when I prioritize that. And I’m not sure I’m in a great place at the moment to just work all the time again. I need better balance. So…we’ll see what happens. At any rate, it’s nice to be making some money again! And just creating in general. I love it.

So that’s what’s been going on with me lately. I’ve been tempted to just stop writing until I get my stuff figured out, but writing is what helps me, even if nobody is interested in reading this depressing update on my life! I’m trying to figure it out.