All You Need is Love…

I don’t think it’s a secret that we love music in this family. Months and months ago, Cortney said, “hey…did you know there’s a new show coming to Netflix with Beatles music and Eddie Vedder sings one of the songs?”

Usually I am the one giving the first-to-know Netflix news, but when it comes to Pearl Jam/Eddie Vedder, Cortney is usually the one in the know first.

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We sort of forgot about it until a big box came in the mail the day I had my hernia surgery. Inside was a tambourine, harmonica, hats, and a microphone. I wondered for a moment if Netflix was trying to kill me, but then remembered that Beat Bugs was now available to watch!

The first day I was home with the kids after my surgery (which was 5 days post-op), I busted out the box of noise because I thought it would keep them occupied. I was right. Naturally they loved it. Naturally.

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He is singing, “I LOVE MY DAD EVEN WHEN HE IS MAD AT ME I LOVE MY DAD DAD!!!” in the most metal voice…so funny.

It was only after the kids put on an epic rock n roll concert that we settled down and found Beat Bugs on Netflix. Eddie was all like, “hey, they sing a song in every episode. That’s neat.” And Charlie was like, “I love songs!” And Alice just shook her booty.

I was like ZOMG THE BEATLES!  AND EDDIE VEDDER JUST SANG “MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR!” And is that P!nk singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”? SHUT UP!

I mean, the show is cute. Yeah.

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Do you want to hear something funny? Cortney was actually a little mad we watched the show without him!  Ha!  We are usually late to the new shows, but we jumped on this one because it has everything we like: cute characters (look at Buzz! Just look at her! She is adorable!), great music, and umm…that’s it. That is all we require in a great show. It’s surprising how few shows meet these qualifications, really.

The only draw back (other than the fact that Netflix sent noise to our house via FedEx) is that Eddie keeps arguing that one really does need more than just love. “Love will not fill your tummy with food mom, even if you DO say the secret ingredient in your ice cream is love. I’m pretty sure it’s not.”

Rock on, fellow Netflix watchers!

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This post is not sponsored. Netflix provides free streaming and a device to watch on. I provide my own opinions.

Pearl Jam at Wrigley Take Two

Three years ago, in 103 degree heat, while rocking a UTI, and then being evacuated for three hours due to a wicked lightning storm and high winds, Cortney and I saw Pearl Jam at Wrigley. It was epic for a number of reasons. Clearly. In fact it took THREE blog posts to write all about it.

Things went much more smoothly this year, but not at first.

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We were about an hour or so into our drive in pretty stormy weather (my weather app told me Chicago would be done with rain that night for the show, but we would have to drive through some gnarly stuff), when my phone blew up with tornado warnings. Um. Apparently there was a tornado sighted just east of where we were driving. Since the weather was moving quickly to the east, we decided to stay on the road and keep driving (sorry, mom!). Then I checked Facebook and saw that my parents’ (who had the kids) were also under tornado warning, so I texted my mom to make sure everyone was in the basement.

Everything ended up fine; no one was swept away in a tornado, and in the end we had one of the quickest trips into Chicago we have ever had despite the severe weather.

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We got to our hotel right at 3pm for check in and then headed to the closest train station to get our tickets so we wouldn’t get stuck in the mad rush before and after the show. Then we decided that since we skipped lunch and it was close to 4:30pm our time (3:30 local), we would grab burgers at the Weber Grill.

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After dinner we were super full and had some time, so we headed up to the room to refresh from the drive and get ready to head out to the show. When we left the hotel for the train, the sun was shining and we were super excited.

As soon as the train came out into the open, it was pouring rain. Thankfully, it only last a minute and by the time we found our way to the Will Call line, it had passed. Good thing because it took almost an hour in line at Will Call to get our dang tickets.  Longest line EVER.

But it meant there was lots of time to people watch. Before we got there, my brother and his friend saw the drummer, Matt Cameron, walking around with his little kid. We were not that lucky, but I did see a LOT of beards and undercuts.

I also listened to a bunch of conversations because, well, it was crowded and everyone was very close. Lots of talk about the last time PJ played Wrigley and we were all evacuated for 3 hours due to the storm. Most of those stories had a lot of “dude!” in them.

The couple behind us made me realize how long we have been journeying to these shows. The guy was on the phone with what I assume was one of his parents. I heard snippets of “when you get there she will probably have to go pee pee or maybe some poops” and “at bedtime just read her a book and sing her a song. You can just make it up, but put her name in it. She will probably go to bed then, but if she says no, just say, ‘one more song and then you have to go to sleep’ and that will usually work.”

I chuckled to myself as I calculated that it had been eighteen years since my first PJ show (Alpine Valley, WI in 1998), and those were NOT the conversations I was hearing back then. At all.

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One in we quickly found our way to the field where we had 4th row tickets (think right field) behind the general admission people. So, excellent seats, basically. This friends, is why Cortney keeps his fan club membership current. It pays off awesomely for shows.

My brother and sister-in-law were also there and we found them before the show. My brother, Chris (the older of my two younger brothers), was with me when we both saw our first PJ show. Again, eighteen years ago. We both confirmed that at 38 and almost 36 we were too old for general admission tickets and needed a seat for our aging booties.

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They also had 4th row seats, but in left field. After the show we met them back at the Weber Grill (because it’s attached to our hotel) for drinks and snacks. It was fun to be able to have a little adult time with them since between us we have six kids.

The show started shortly after 8pm and went until just after 11pm.

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The last time we were here, there was the most blown out couple of all time in front of us. This year we got The Pearl Jam Mega Fan. He remembered to pack not just his air guitar, but also his air drum set and air keyboards. He had a Tommy Boy hair cut and jumped around like House of Pain was giving him direct orders. You better know his favorite songs were the old ones from Ten that have been played to death on the radio. Dude almost lost his mind when they played “Alive.”

We were entertained.

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I absolutely loved the show. Loved it. They opened with “Low Light” (after the opening chords of “Baba O’Reily”) which is one of my faves and then went into “Release”. I admit to crying. That song has always been a powerful reminder to me of how hard I fight my depression and anxiety disorders.

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in the lower left corner you an see PJ Mega Fan jammin’ out.

This is the whole set list:

  1. “Low Light”
  2. “Release”
  3. “Rain” (Beatles cover)
  4. “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”
  5. “Do The Evolution”
  6. “Last Exit”
  7. “Lightning Bolt”
  8. “Sad”
  9. “Amongst The Waves”
  10. “Evenflow”
  11. “Light Years” (Dedicated to Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip)
  12. “I Got Id”
  13. “Mind Your Manners”
  14. “Unthought Known”
  15. “Masters of War” (Bob Dylan cover)
  16. “I Am A Patriot” (Little Steven cover)
  17. “Daughter” (with the “W.M.A. tag at the end)
  18. “Jeremy”
  19. “Betterman” (with the “Save it For Later” tag at the end)

Encore #1

  1. “Bee Girl”
  2. “Just Breathe” (had a couple on the stage: Amy and Kyle. Kyle is a serviceman and Amy surprised him with tickets, so Eddie Vedder had them on stage. Kyle proposed during the song to Amy. ADORABLE)
  3. “I Believe in Miracles” (Ramones cover)
  4. “Let Me Sleep”
  5. “Inside Job”
  6. “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd cover)
  7. “Interstellar Overdrive” (Pink Floyd cover)
  8. “Corduroy”
  9. “Porch”

Encore #2

  1. “Go”
  2. “Black”
  3. “Surrender” (Cheap Trick cover)

Encore #3

  1. “All the Way”
  2. “Baba O’Riley” (The Who cover)

Cortney made the statement–I don’t think it was a complaint, but maybe a little?–that the show was “cover heavy”. That is true, they did eight covers (9 if you count the started the show with the opening of “Baba O’Riley too). He also mentioned it seemed “slow” compared to three years ago when he felt his face had been melted by the sheer rock n roll of it all.

I didn’t feel my face was melted, but I definitely enjoyed this show, maybe even more than last time because I wasn’t dying of heat, drenched from rain, or exhausted because it was almost 3am.

I would have liked to hear “Future Days” rather than “Just Breathe” and it would have been nice to get a few songs of No Code. They only played two songs off their latest album, Lightning Bolt, which I thought was surprising. More songs than I would have liked from Ten, but what can you do? People like the old stuff, I guess.

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I couldn’t help but think about how Eddie Vedder used to hang from the lighting equipment during “Porch” and he even reminisced about where the song “Bee Girl” came from  talking about how he used to worry about the boy from the “Jeremy” video who was only twelve at the time it came out. Lots has changed now that the band members are all around fifty instead of thirty.

And we fans aren’t teenagers anymore and have our own kids. In fact, they play another show at Wrigley tonight and my brother is bringing his eleven-year-old son with him.

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But man, Pearl Jam can still fill the stadiums. The place was PACKED. And even though there were definitely some “interesting” people there, Pearl Jam fans are still, for the most part, super cool. People are kind and helpful and fun. They are devoted too! We met a couple in our hotel who was there from Florida!

If seeing Pearl Jam wasn’t awesome enough, the next morning we got to have brunch with my best friend and her husband and son who live in Chicago.

I went home a very VERY happy girl. It was the perfect way to kick off my last week of summer vacation before heading back to school for the year.

Thank you to Cortney for picking me as his date to the show!

Clean Up With Groupon

This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own.

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Cortney and I got married just over eleven years ago. Since I cannot tell a lie, I will admit that one of the most fun things about getting married is all the showers and fun house stuff that is gifted.

I’ve mentioned before that my love language is gifts, yes? I love to give, but let’s be real…I also love to receive.

I remember the joy of opening packages with sheets and towels and dishes that Cortney and I had taken great care to choose for our registry that we thought would be perfect for our first home together. We even made a pact to wait until after we were married and back from our honeymoon to use any of it.

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The joy of receiving bath towels cannot be compared.

So I moved into the house we bought and stored all the gifts in the spare bedroom. After the wedding we added more and left on our honeymoon. When we returned I giggled with glee as I opened and washed and found homes for all our beautiful new things.

It’s now eleven years later and many of those things have had to be replaced…or should be. Our towels are looking ragged, we have a different bathroom color-scheme, and our scale has long since broke.

While I wish it was socially acceptable to through showers for ourselves every ten years of marriage (seriously, how great would that be???), we’ve had to suck up and purchase new things on our own. That is, after all, being an adult, right?

The good news? There is no excuse to pay a bagillion dollars for a new shower curtain or hand towels for the bathroom anymore, because GROUPON GOODS!

$300 towels for $70? Done. Bath sets that are normally over $50 for under $20? DEAL!

What were the first things you needed to replace after getting married? Pretty sure ours were the bathroom rugs (by the way Groupon has a deal where you can get those sweet memory foam ones for only $15! NICE!)

Mother Teacher

Back to school surprised me this year.

I was going along, enjoying summer, having hernia surgery, thinking everything was grand and then there it was, staring me in the face: Back to School.

It started with an innocent text to a friend, The Pastor’s Wife. We had talked about having a cocktail hour on her deck all summer and it hadn’t happened yet, so I texted to see if she wanted to put something on the calendar. The Pastor’s Wife happens to teach at the college level, and her response was: I would love to, but I go back on Monday.

I just stood staring at the text for a couple seconds. How could that be possible? It was still early August!

When I asked her as much, she said, well, students are back Aug 22, so inservices, etc.

That is when it hit me: it was NOT the beginning of August anymore, and I had to be back to school August 29…two weeks.

The spell of summer was broken and my brain officially started thinking about my classroom and all that had to be done. I couldn’t shut it down, the launch sequence had begun. So I went in and started gathering my thoughts…and putting desks in groups.

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I’ve got lists and piles and projects to tackle in the next couple weeks before a new crop of 8th graders walk through the door to room 103 on September 6.

While I prepare, I am still in the role of Stay at Home Mom for a couple weeks too. Counting today, I still have the kids all to myself for five more full days. While I am excited to start a new school year and get back to being a Working Mom, I am finding myself realizing we won’t have a summer with a 7, 4, and 1 year old ever again.

We recently finished up Eddie’s back to school shopping. We were given his supply list back in June, so as soon as I saw sales, I stocked up. Going into 2nd grade this fall, the coolest new purchase for him was a new lunch bag since his old one up and fell apart after two years of abuse. This afternoon we get to head to his school and see what teacher he will have. They go old school and post class lists on the office doors…just like when Cortney and I were little.

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My Charlie Bird is going to school this year as a big preschooler! We bought him a backpack–dinosaurs, as requested, and just received the letter in the mail telling us that his teacher is a friend of mine from high school! He will be going four afternoons a week and he is pretty excited about it. I actually am too. I remember being SO sad when Eddie was school-aged, but I am excited for Charlie! He is going to do so great!

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Alice will be back with Ms. Carolyn full-time. They adore each other, so I am not worried about that in the least, but I will miss my little shadow. It was so darn much fun watching her grow from a baby to a toddler with sass this summer. I know when summer comes around again she will be that much bigger and more independent, so I am trying to get in as many little snuggles and cuddles as I can with my Alice Beans.

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We have worn a groove into the summer: Mondays for library, Tuesdays at Ms Carolyn’s, Wednesdays to the Farmer’s Market, Thursdays at Ms. Carolyn’s, and Fridays for Free Fun. I even had laundry loads assigned to each week day so that we would be free for family time on the weekends.

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I was supposed to be keeping track for Eddie’s Summer Stretch homework of how many minutes he/we read this summer. He was supposed to do 100 minutes a week. I just told him to color in the whole chart. I’m sure we read enough. We averaged 20 books per week at the library plus the books we already have at home, plus the countless reading he does over my shoulder, on TV, on signs…it seems like if it has words, he’s reading it to me. Including a sign that said, “Bitchin’ Kitchen” while we were on vacation last month. HA!

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So the end of summer caught me by surprise. We posted a Wish List in June of what we wanted to do this summer. It included:

  • go on vacation (check)
  • go to the beach (check…more than once!)
  • go on a boat (check…thanks, grandpa!)
  • go swimming (so much check!)
  • swim in a pool (check)
  • go to the splash pad (check)
  • visit the Farmer’s Market (lots of checks)
  • play at some parks (check)
  • have a campfire (this has sort of happened, but not as a family)
  • run in the sprinkler (lots of checks)
  • play with friends we love (lots of checks!)
  • visit the zoo (maybe next week?)
  • go to the playground (check)
  • eat lots of ice cream (CHECK!)
  • Go to Sundaes on Wednesday at church (check)
  • Play on the slip n slide (check)
  • Chalk up the driveway (check)
  • ride bikes (check)
  • wash the cars by hand (check)
  • go fishing (check)
  • go to the donut shop (check…many times)
  • visit the library (check…each week)

I’d say we’ve had a pretty darn good summer. And if we can get to the zoo next week, that will be a great last hurrah before I head back to work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the boys and I are doing some bead art stuff while watching Loony Tunes while Alice naps before we head out to see about that class list. I am required to help sort colors.

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ps. do you like the new header on the blog? That was done by Erin Barkel Photography. She really did a fab job!

pps. I have a project that needs funding over at DonorsChoose.Org. I need shelving for my classroom library! Can you help? Donate here.

Recovery

Be wary of anyone who tells you that recovery from any type of abdominal surgery will be “a piece of cake”.

A piece of cake is delicious and a totally good time. Abdominal surgery, and the recovery that goes with it, is neither.

My first experience with any sort of abdominal surgery was August of 2005. After less than two months of marriage, I had to rush Cortney to the hospital to have his appendix removed. Emergency surgery like that is frightening anyway, but our circumstances were complicated by the fact that I was rushing Cortney to the ER moments after he said goodbye to his dying dad.

The recovery was complicated by needing to be able to dress up in a shirt and tie, walk up a church aisle, and read scripture at his dad’s funeral three days after surgery.

My first abdominal surgery was an emergency C-section. That recovery was complicated by postpartum depression. As was my second C-section.

The recovery from my third C-section was simpler, but I would not classify it as “cake”. It still hurt. I still had frustrations and setbacks.

Hernia surgery was, by all accounts, the easiest abdominal surgery yet. The recovery was not what I expected, although it has been textbook. I wanted to be back to normal in days. I wanted to be back doing what I do with no lingering pain or other inconveniences.

But that is not how recovery generally works, is it? Recovery is usually at least a little hard. Because as soon as the initial numbness wears off, we have great pain. And that great pain can be controlled, but it’s not gone right away. Things are not “normal” just because we take some meds.

Other people are generally affected when we need to recover too. It’s obvious that when Cortney had his surgery, I took over household chores, and he took over pretty much all of life when I had all my surgeries. Once we had kids even more people rearranged their lives to help us out: people to care for our kids, help out at work, bring us meals.

And in all cases, once recovery is declared over, there are scars left to show what we went through. I have a long scar on my lower abdomen: the exit route of all three of our children. And now I have a little frowny face over my belly button (or as Charlie calls it, “a button rainbow”).

Recovery has been on my mind lately not just because of my own recent surgery, but also in terms of recovering from a pain that isn’t necessarily physical, but emotional. Which brings me back to Cortney’s abdominal surgery: his appendix.

We had been married just under two months and just left his dad and stepmom’s house where his dad lay prone on a Hospice bed, unresponsive, barely breathing, dying of lung cancer. We weren’t even out of the subdivision when I got the text that he had passed, but we couldn’t go back because Cortney was having an emergency of his own.

Once it was confirmed that he would have an appendectomy, I went to work making phone calls so everyone knew where we were and what was going on. I called my parents to please come sit with me at the hospital. I called my best friend and told her Cortney was having surgery…and that his dad died…and could she please start a phone chain to all our close friends. I ran home and threw some clothes and toiletries into a bag and grabbed my pillow in hopes they would let me stay the night with him (they did).

It was a whirlwind in every sense of the cliche.  We’ve been in recovery ever since.

I don’t think this is the kind of recovery you call call complete, although it does leave scars.

Sometimes, even after almost 18 months, my C-section scar will bother me a little. Sometimes it itches, sometimes there is a twinge. Grief is like that. Each time our children to things that make us think about what their grandfather is missing, our heart hurts where the scar of loss is. Each time I see the dimple in each of their smiles, I think of their dad’s dimple, and then I think of their Papa’s dimple. Each time Cortney has a house project to work on or tells me he is going to ask my dad’s opinion of something, the scar flares up.

I think of him at least once every single day.

Sometimes it’s a fleeting thought or a smile. Sometimes it’s a “what if he was here…” thought. And sometimes it just hurts.

Then I think about how if this is how my “recovery” is going, how much more hurt it must still be for Cortney and his siblings. For Cortney’s stepmom. For his Grandma. For his aunts and uncles.

He was my father-in-law for 57 days. The only photos I have of me with him are from my wedding to his son. How much deeper are the scars of those who had a lifetime with him?

I can’t even imagine.

With time after our surgeries, Cortney and I were finally deemed fine. And now, eleven years after Steve’s death, we are fine.  But the scars don’t go away. The emptiness doesn’t go away. The memories of the hurt don’t go away.

We will always be in recovery.

I love this picture for a thousand reasons, but one of the big ones is that Cortney now looks and acts so much like his dad then. And Charlie now, looks and acts so much like Cortney then.

I love this picture for a thousand reasons, but one of the big ones is that Cortney now looks and acts so much like his dad then. And Charlie now, looks and acts so much like Cortney then.

About That Hernia

So I have a hernia.

Well, I guess I don’t anymore. Friday I had it repaired. I don’t recommend having a hernia.

I first noticed mine when I was pregnant with Alice. It was a hard bump right above my belly button that was really tender. I figured that it was an elbow or knee or heel or something since I was carrying her super high.

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After she was born, it was still pretty tender. When I put the boys to bed, I sit in Eddie’s bed and Charlie sits in my lap and likes to lean his head back against me. There were times when I thought I was going to jump through the bunk bed with pain.

One night, I walked upstairs pushing around on the tender spot. I noticed a lump in there and made Cortney push it too. He said, “you’re going to get that checked out, right?”

INSERT GIANT SIGH.

I hate getting stuff “checked out,” but I messaged my doc. Um, so I have this lump type thing above my belly button and it hurts a ton and Cortney said I had to ask you about it.

His response was something like, Could be a hernia? I’d have to see it. You should come in.

So after a few more weeks of putting it off, I finally call and of course can’t get in to see my doctor for like six months or something because his schedule is so packed. I reluctantly agree to see another provider. This was in April or May. So you know, I put up with this hurting lump for over a year at this point. Also at this point, I am coming home from work feeling horrible. Carrying anything against my torso feels like death and it’s all bloated and hurting.

My appointment with this provider lasts less than 10 minutes. She has me lie back, pokes around my owie lump thing and says, “yup. an umbilical hernia. We’ll get you a surgery consult.”

I’m like, “wait. I need surgery?”

And she’s all, “Well, you need it fixed or it’s going to get worse and then bad things happen.”

That was it.

So naturally I put the surgery consult off until school was out. When I finally went in, my hernia wasn’t bugging me much anymore, but the surgeon took a poke at it and said, “yup. Let’s fix that.” He also told me that hernias poke out of weak areas, and that it was probably a birth defect that I just hadn’t noticed until my third pregnancy finally put enough pressure on it that a little bit of my intestines started to bulge through.

I asked if it was an emergency situation. He said, no, but that I would want to get it taken care of.

That was in June. Again, I put the actual surgery off until, well, this past Friday.

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I walked in feeling fine. My hernia hadn’t bothered me even a little all summer. I felt dumb for going in and I knew that this would inconvenience a lot of people, but mostly Cortney. I was told firmly to stop saying it was dumb and to just get it taken care of.

So I did.

Well, the team of docs and nurses did. I just laid there unconscious.

I was in quite a bit of pain the first 24 hours, but now that I am past 48 hours, I am doing better. I am at that point where I want to do more than my body will let me. I’m sick of being in bed, but it’s where I feel best and where no children (um, Alice) are crawling all over me putting knees and elbows into my very tender torso.

I ate dinner at the table tonight rather than in bed, and I’m not icing my incision area anymore. I’m also trying not to take the prescription drugs and just do the OTC stuff.

It’s definitely an easier process than after a C-section, but it’s still abdominal surgery and I’m trying to remember that I need to give my body time to rest and heal. I’m just not a very patient person when I feel like I should feel better and I want to do more than just lie around.

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The kids are being troopers, Cortney is being amazing, and I’ve had lots of great texts from friends and family showing their love.

I’ll be back at it sooner than later, until then I will try to relax and let my body heal without pushing it to do too much.

Five Summer Reads

five summer reads

So far this summer I have read quite the eclectic array of books. I had friends publish books, so I wanted to read those. I also wanted to read some more adult fiction since I spend a good deal of time reading YA lit, however I do love YA lit, so I have still be reading lots of that too. While I have read a LOT of books since school got out (around a dozen or so), these five stuck out as ones I wanted to pass along in case you needed something to read by the pool, beach, or on the couch while the Detroit Tigers are losing.

Letters for Scarlet by Julie C Gardner 

I have a confession. When my friends write a book I get very nervous to read it. I mean, what if I don’t like it? How will I tell them? Thankfully this has never actually happened to me. Letters for Scarlet is written by my long-time blogging friend, Julie. I have read her blog for years and marveled at her ability to write. To be able to hold her book in my hands made me giggle happily.

The book is one I would totally choose to read on my own. Corie Harper is a late-twenties English teacher. She and her husband, Tuck are trying to get pregnant, but can’t. One day, Corie gets a letter from herself–one she wrote senior year of high school when she was best friends with Tuck and Scarlet. Corie and Tuck had a falling out with Scarlet and hadn’t heard from her since. Until Scarlet’s mom wants Corie to find her and deliver the letter.

Scarlet, on the other hand, does not want to be found. She has a great job and finds out she is pregnant. She thinks having the baby would be a terrible idea.

Both women are running from the memories of one particular night their senior year. The book gives you bits and pieces that just keep you turning pages to find out what happened…and if Scarlet will keep the baby…and if Corie and Tuck will make their marriage work.

All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr

I love historical fiction because I feel like I am getting a glimpse of life from a different time in a way no history class could ever teach me.  All the Light We Cannot See does this so beautifully. The story is engaging, sure, but the writing!  The writing captured me and just would not let go in the best kind of way.

The novel is really two stories that wrap around into one. Marie-Laure lives with her grandfather in Paris near the Museum of Natural History. At age six, she goes completely blind, and he builds her small models of Paris and it’s roads so she can have a 3D map of sorts to learn her way around. When the Nazis capture Paris, they are forced to run away to the walled city of Saint-Malo to live with a reclusive uncle. Marie-Laure is unaware that they have carried something extremely valuable and dangerous with them.

Werner is an orphan who lives in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany. He is brilliant at building and fixing radios. The Nazi party catches wind of this and recruits him into the Hitler Youth. Eventually Werner finds himself in the basement of a building in Saint-Malo trying to fix some equipment. His story is about to meet Marie-Laure’s…or has it already?

The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet

Jennie is another one of my very wonderful blogging friends. I’d already read (and loved) her memoir, but this was my first time reading her fiction. As usual, I was nervous I would not like it, especially since this one was being touted as a romance. Romance is not what I would pick up, but it’s summer and I love Jennie and I thought, “what the heck? I’ll give it a go!”

I am so glad I did! This book is not what I would think of when I think of a typical romance…or maybe I have the wrong idea of a typical romance? Chastity is a single mother and high school English teacher in France. One of her students is the son of Viscount Charles Jean Anne de Brase. Now, don’t let not knowing what a viscount is get in your way of reading this one. I know next to nothing about France, and I was able to figure it all out with context clues. Jennie’s writing is accessible to anyone who wants to read it!

Chastity is unimpressed with the Viscount’s off-putting personality when she asks to meet with him about his son’s academic performance. She has pretty much written him off as a total rude snob, when her ex-boyfriend–straight from prison for drugs–shows back up and wants to spend time with their son. An accident involving their son throws the Viscount further into Chastity’s life than she could have imagined.

Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman

This book may be my new favorite YA read. Having dual narrators is hot right now, but Schusterman takes that to a different level by having the narrator always be Caden Bosch, but from different states of mental health and awareness. Sometimes he is first-person narrating from the reality of his family and friends, other times it’s from aboard a ship with a deranged Captain and a talking parrot who both give him direction. Is he hallucinating? Is this a different world he has created for himself? Does he have another personality? Other times he falls into second person narration when he seems the most disconnected from reality. His ship world and the “real” world are connected, but you have to keep reading to find out how.

This might be the most beautifully tragic journey into and through mental illness that I have ever read.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Anything in the genres of paranormal or fantasy are a big stretch for me. In fact, I have never read Harry Potter (Don’t shoot!).  But I had A) heard this was very good and B) let myself get intrigued by the real photos that were used. I flipped to the back of the book and learned via the interview with Randsom Riggs that he found all the photos first and would write little stories to go with them. I found this a fascinating way to jump start a novel.

Jacob, a sixteen-year-old, finds himself traveling to a remote island off the coast of Wales in search of some family history. He finds, instead, and abandoned house that used to be Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. After searching some more, he finds that maybe these children were more than just strange…and maybe, somehow, they are still alive even though it is said they were all killed in a bomb attack during WWII.

Just like with Stephen King novels, I found myself drawn to how real Riggs made everything seem before introducing the paranormal/fantasy elements. I was already drawn in and invested in the characters before what would normally turn me off occurred. I was already hooked! I look forward to the next in the series (that I will have to borrow from my own classroom library!).

So what have you read so far this summer? Anything I should add to my list?

Mirror

So often

I see reflected in my children

that of which I am ashamed

in myself.

yelling

anxiety

unkind words.

I am SO over you right now!

I can’t deal with you!

Get out of my face!

JUST. LEAVE. ME. ALONE!

these reflections are so clear

but occasionally

those effigies shine

kindness

grace

forgiveness.

I love you.

These are for my brother.

I forgive you.

In those moments

I am

assured that

it’s going to be ok;

They

will be more

than Ok.

mirror

The Best Part

This past weekend our little family joined my mom and dad in a little cottage up in Pentwater, Michigan. I love that cottage. My parents have been renting it on and off for more than 20 years. I have some great memories there, so it was so fun to take the kids and help them make some great memories too!

At the end of each day, we would ask the boys, “What was the best part of today?” They would laugh and giggle recollecting all the fun we had. It was always difficult to choose just ONE best part.

pentwater, michigan

I will say the 90-minute drive was not my personal favorite. Usually I enjoy the trip; it’s a very beautiful drive, however you see how close the boys sit to each other? And Alice is rear-facing behind me. Yeah, there was loudness.

pentwater, michigan

Breakfast was always a highlight. Grandpa made lots of breakfast meat and french toast for the troops. You can see that Charlie is dressed and has his backpack on. He was so ready for the beach, man. SO. READY. Sandboxes are his love language and the beach? Dude, it’s one big sandbox.

pentwater, michigan

See? Homeboy is in heaven. We had the best possible beach weather ever. Charlie still talks about this as being one of his “best parts”. He would live at the beach if he could. Annnnddd…cue beach pics….

pentwater, michigan

Alice hates sand and dirt and getting dirty. Such a diva. But she sat in that little beach chair just as nice as can be for two plus hours with her cold drink looking cute. That is really my kind of beach day too.

pentwater, michigan

Grandma gave the boys a snack of Vanilla Wafers…on frisbees! Grandma is so smart when it comes to snack distribution.

pentwater, michigan

Even Alice enjoyed some beach vanilla wafers. With her cold drink. In her chair. Not touching the sand at all.

pentwater, michigan

It was a super hot day, but it was quite breezy, so we didn’t feel like were were sweating too much. Plus Lake Michigan was around 75 degrees.  I could have stayed much, much longer, but Alice needed a nap and the boys were getting sunned out.

pentwater, michigan

We did plenty of sitting around too. That was probably one of my best parts. I enjoyed not having too much access to wifi and having no TV or other screens available. I read a whole book from start to finish from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon. My mom and I both brought a plastic horse shoes/ring toss game, so the boys had a good time sticking the stakes into the ground and making up rules about what “level” they are on. My very patient parents went along with these nonsensical rules and laughed and laughed as my mom pretty much missed every time she tossed.

pentwater, michigan

When we got home, Eddie made the comment that Grandma is so good at helping us find things to do when we might be bored. My mom totally understands that four and seven-year old boys need to keep busy. If there started to be hints of whining or fighting because of boredom, grandma would swoop in with a game of Go Fish, or Old Maid, or going for a walk to the dock or around the block. Eddie helped set the table most of the time, and Charlie helped carry out food.

pentwater, michigan

Charlie made a comment that we are pretty lucky to have a Grandpa who shares his boat and fishing hooks with us…and “cuts up a good watermelon!” Charlie is pretty much his Grandpa’s shadow–both lefties, both bearing the name “Thomas”, both loving watermelon and “putzing” around.

pentwater, michigan

Speaking of watermelon…apparently I bought a good, crisp, juicy one! It wouldn’t be a summer vacation up north in Michigan without a messy delicious watermelon after dinner.

pentwater, michigan

Alice even needed a sink bath after she demolished a huge chunk of melon. All of the sticky in her hair and on her whole body!

pentwater, michigan

I mentioned my parents have a boat. They were kind enough to haul it all the way up north and my kids LOVED it. They boys always love boat rides. When we out of the channel and onto the big lake, my dad “put the hammer down” and as we lifted up, Charlie–who was sitting in the “first mate” seat–said to Cortney, “THIS IS MY BEST PART!” After a ride, we circled back to the beach.

pentwater, michigan

It was another HOT day, but with no wind. My dad anchored off shore from the beach and we all took a dip! The boys jumped off the boat over and over into the refreshing water!

pentwater, michigan

Both boys showed us all the things they learned in swimming lessons, but with life jackets on since we were in water that was around 6 feet deep. Little Bird paddled around for hours!

pentwater, michigan

It was so hot we even got Alice to float around a bit with her Daddy! She clung pretty tightly to him, but I think she enjoyed the cool dip.  In fact, she fell asleep on me on the ride back to the boat launch.

pentwater, michigan

Both boys have fishing poles my dad gave them for their birthdays. They were so excited to fish with Grandpa! He was super patient with them as fish after fish swallowed up his hooks. I even showed off my casting skills (that my dad mocked!) and ability to reel in a bluegill when Charlie got a little nervous about doing it himself. I think Cortney was impressed!

pentwater, michigan

It rained on our last morning at the cottage. My parents tried to keep everyone busy with Old Maid and other games, but things got a little punchy by afternoon. Luckily, the sun came out and we were fortunate enough to get to town to get my dad the ice cream cone he was craving and find treasures for the boys to take home to remember their vacation.

pentwater, michigan

Even Alice was getting antsy to leave the cottage by the time the sun came out. It’s a lovely cottage, but it’s small for seven people–three of whom are small people with a lot of energy!

pentwater, michigan

Before we left, we put jammies on everyone so they would be all ready for their beds when we got home. But we couldn’t leave without one more tickle session with grandpa!

pentwater, michigan

We were all stinky and tired and ready for our own beds…and showers…by the time we hit the road homeward bound. But we were happy. Because being able to spend so much time with Grandpa and Grandma was definitely the Best Part.

Thank you, mom and dad, for the awesome time. We are grateful to you for sharing the cottage with our noisy, energy-filled crew. Hopefully you got some sleep and quiet after we left! We love you!

Lessons from Netflix

We just got back from being without screens for four days. It actually went really well because we were so busy the boys didn’t have time to want to watch anything. Even before bedtime when a show is usually what chills everyone out, they were so tired from all the swimming and playing that a listening to a couple books was enough to knock them out.

Last night, though, when we got home around bedtime, the first question was: Can we watch a show? Of course I answered “yes” because I too, missed the electric glow of the screen. As we watched yet another episode of something the boys are currently obsessed with, I realized that over the past three years, we have learned a lot from Netflix. Here they are in no particular order.

  • I should probably not supplement my income by making and selling meth with a former student. (Breaking Bad)
  • Vampire squid can see in the dark. (Octonauts)
  • Tomato juice works for getting skunk stink off. (Curious George)
  • We all enjoy waving our hands in the air like we just do not care. (Home)
  • All guys experience the “vinegar strokes.” (The League)
  • There were dragons in the time of Vikings. (How to Train Your Dragon and Dragons: Race to the Edge)
  • Not everything on Netflix is 100% nonfiction (see above lesson)
  • When the children are watching a show and everything stops and the little loading circle stops at 25%, there will be shrieking and gnashing of teeth.
  • It’s fun to go to the “search” option and just type random letters and see what offerings pop up.
  • Excellent nonfiction books can be turned into ridiculously addictive fictional television series. (Orange is the New Black)
  • My kids will watch anything that has been on the Cartoon Network and I will hate all of it.

I have also learned that my kids can binge-watch just about anything, where I simply do not have the binge gene. I can watch a few episodes of something at a time, but I feel like I am wasting my day if I turn on the old Flix then, and at night I am too tired to watch more than a few episodes.

Even so, I have learned that I don’t think our family could go with out Netflix. We all have our favorites shows and movies (um, Back to the Future is now showing. Yes, the entire trilogy!), and it’s become a preferred way to relax at the end of the day…together.

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