Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book Review: Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake By Anna Quindlen


By Anna Quindlen

Published April 24, 2012


In this irresistible memoir, the New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Anna Quindlen writes about looking back and ahead—and celebrating it all—as she considers marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, faith, loss, all the stuff in our closets, and more.

Anna Quindlen is an American journalist and opinion columnist whose New York Times column, Public and Private, won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992.

She began her journalism career in 1974 as a reporter with The New York Post. Between 1977 and 1994 she held several posts at The New York Times. She left journalism in 1995 to become a full-time novelist. She currently writes a bi-weekly column for Newsweek and is known as a critic of what she perceives to be the fast-paced and increasingly materialistic nature of modern American life.

This is a delightful memoir that had me crying, laughing, reflecting on my own life, and nodding my head along with Quindlen's experiences.  I sadly have to admit, this is my first book I've read by Quindlen, but you can bet I will be reading more of her novels.  If she can write so eloquently about her own life, I can't imagine how well she can create lives for others.

I had so many pages marked up from this book; things I want to remember with my children, quotes I want to write down, perspectives I want to rethink.  I usually pass on my books to the local library after I am done reading them, but this one I will be keeping.

I think my favorite part of the book was the very beginning where Quindlen talks about the things she would tell her 22-year old self about life.  I thought for a bit about that myself.  What would I tell my 20 year old self as I am turning 40?  What do I wish I had known then?  That may be a post for later, but it would definitely include taking risks, savoring relationships, and having hope.

My second favorite part of the book includes Quindlen's take on conquering a headstand.  How she physically didn't think it was possible, but was determined to build up her strength and finally, flipping her body into a complete headstand.  It made me wonder, what is my "headstand"?  What am I afraid to accomplish, do, conquer?

If you haven't figured out, I truly enjoyed this memoir, even not being familiar with the author.  The book will encourage you to reflect on your own life, whether you are 22, 42, 62, 82, or somewhere in between.  I guarantee you will leave with life lessons, wisdom and full-blown honesty.

If you are looking for a quick, enjoyable read, check out this book.  If you are also new to Anna Quindlen's work, check out her website, HERE or like her FACEBOOK page, HERE.

I received an ARC of this book from Random House.  I was not compensated in any other way for this review.  This review is my honest opinion.  I only review products that will benefit me or my family.  

Scenes From Our Week - Week 30

This has been a stressful week to say the least.  My mom is still battling some health issues and there have been lots of phone calls and stressful moments trying to decide the best course of action.  This next month is going to be full of dr appointments but, also, hopefully some answers.  Please continue to keep my mom in your prayers.

On Wednesday, I was able to attend a field trip with Reagan's class.  We went to  Wikiup Hill Nature Center where they learned about salamanders, turtles, and snakes as well as lots of other things about nature.
Reagan is ready to pet the salamander

Posing in front of the pond

Swinging at the park
Reagan trying on ALL her new hairpieces at once!  She got these on her  "date night" with Aunt Julie.

Reagan had her elementary spring program Friday night.  She had her own little speaking part and did such a great job.  

Even Aunt Elaine came down for her program!

Saturday night wasour niece, Ali's Senior prom.  She looked absolutely beautiful.  Reagan couldn't wait to see her!

You know where she got her beautiful looks, her mom, Julie!  Proud mom moment for my Sister-in-law, Julie! Ali, I hope you had a night to remember!

Finally today is our niece, Jena's birthday. So, I am taking this opportunity to wish her a very happy day today.  She is studying super hard to be a Physician's Assistant.  Her drive and attitude are such that success is most definitely in her future.  I'm so proud of you, Jena!  Isn't she gorgeous?!?!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Scenes from Our Week - Week 29

Patrick turned 12 on Wednesday as you may have read in an earlier post.  One of the things he is most excited about with being 12, is being able to finally sit in the front seat of the van!  It will be different to have someone riding next to me now....where will I set all my stuff now with the front seat being taken up with a person?????

 Patrick is a huge Miami Heat fan and I found a LeBron James rookie card for his birthday!  Yep, I am the cool mom!

Of course, he also wanted NBA 2K12.  He LOVES basketball!

But, the gift that stole the show was this LeBron James jersey! Happy Birthday, Patrick!

Reagan had her dance recital on Saturday.  She did a beautiful job and looked so pretty in her costume!  I was so glad my parents were able to come to the recital.  My mom had gotten ill on Friday and needed to go to the emergency room.  After running some tests and having an x-ray, they found a large mass on her lung as well as smaller ones.  This was totally unrelated to her illness and kind of a fluke that they were even found.  So, having mom come to the recital the very next day when she wasn't feeling well, meant a lot to Reagan and me.  

After spending all day yesterday with doctors and specialists, I am going to take this opportunity to ask for prayers for my mom.  The doctors believe her masses are cysts and her type of cysts are actually rare.  These are usually not cancerous, but more tests need to be done to be sure.  Also, because of the size and location of her 7 cm mass, there is some concern and the hope that it can be drained.  So, a biopsy will be done in a few weeks to test the fluid in the cyst as well as hopefully drain it to reduce the size.  I pray that the procedure goes smoothly and without complication and we get the proper care needed to take care of these.  I also pray that her other medical condition that brought her to the ER in the first place is remedied and she is feeling back to normal again.

I think we all take our health for granted, and then it is times like this that we are reminded that every day we are pain free, healthy, and energetic are blessings.  Tell those you love how important they are to you and be thankful for your health.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ebook Winner

Sorry to be so delayed in posting the winner.  I had to leave town unexpectedly yesterday and have just returned.  And the winner is...........................................................
True Random Number Generator
Powered by RANDOM.ORG
The winner of the ebook EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS by Lisa April Smith is entry #5, Angie. 
Thanks to all for entering and if you would like to purchase the book for $2.99 on Amazon, click HERE.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Commercial Rewind

Today we were eating and Bennett dropped his hash browns into his french toast syrup.  He is my kid that doesn't like his food to touch.  He said, "Oh no, my hash browns just got into my syrup." and I instantly thought of that old commercial for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  So, since the kids didn't know what I was talking about I had to look it up on YouTube.  Do you remember it?

I love the clothes, the headphones, the man in the back ground.  Oh, those were the good ol' days of commercials!  I remember taking a Hershey's bar and putting into my jar of peanut butter.  MMmmmmmm.  I think I want to do that right now!  Is there any better combination than chocolate and peanut butter?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I have a 12-Year Old.  I have been a mom for 12 Years.  Sometimes you feel like time is flying by so fast.  But, then I also feel like I can barely remember my life before I was a mom.

As I look at this photo I remember feeling this overwhelming rush of feelings: love, fear, protectiveness, trepidation, excitement, anxiety, and happiness.  All these feelings come at me and yet, when I looked into Patrick's sweet little face, it all melted away and I just wanted to just "be his mom".

Patrick at 10 Weeks

Pat and I were just married a year when Patrick was born.  We were still learning about each other and then we added a baby to the mix.  Life was stressful and crazy and wonderful all at the same time.  I went from working at a job that I LOVED and hated to leave, to being home full-time with a baby.  Thankfully, Patrick was a piece of cake and such a joy.  He loved being read to, talked to, and sung to.  He was easy.  We loved being parents and taking him places and giving him all our attention.

Patrick 14 months

When Patrick was just 6 months old, we found out we were going to be having another baby.  I didn't know how I was going to have two kids so close in age and yet give both the attention they needed.  There were definitely some sleepless nights and days without showers, but I wouldn't change it for the world.  Patrick adored his little brother and was so patient while I tended to Bennett.  This is when Patrick fell in love with watching The Wiggles and Barney and would occupy his time with singing and dancing.  Who knew then that he would grow up to be so musically talented?!?!  I worried, as most parents do, that I was taking things away from him by having another child so soon.  I worried that he would "miss out" on things.  But, as I know now, it was the way it was supposed to be.  Bennett didn't liked to be rocked much, so since Bennett wanted to be put in his crib to fall asleep, I was able to go back and spend my one on one time rocking Patrick.  There were many books read and songs sung during that time.  How precious that time was to me.

Bennett and Patrick have been the best brothers and friends.  I am so grateful they have each other.  I have always told them that because they have a brother, they will always have a best friend.

Patrick loves sports and music.  He is talented in piano, plucking out a tune after hearing it on the radio or memorizing a song after just a few practices.  He is an awesome drummer and loves to pound out a new beat on his set.  He loves to shoot baskets and can be seen (and heard) in our driveway shooting hoops until dark.  If we can't find Patrick he is usually in the basement, playing a basketball, football, or baseball video game or watching sports center.  If you need to know history or stats on a team or athlete, Patrick is your man!

Patrick has fit perfectly into his role of first born, being a great big brother to both Bennett and Reagan.

I found this photo on the computer that Patrick must have taken with the webcam.  This photo shows his true personality.  He is witty, funny, insightful, and bright.

These 12 years have been such a joy.  I'm so proud to be Patrick's mom.  Patrick I love you and I hope that every day you go to bed knowing that you are loved and we are so proud of you.

Happy Birthday Patrick!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: The Promised Land: A Novel by Valerie Stocking


By: Valerie Stocking

Published: January 13, 2012


It’s 1966, just two years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is changing dramatically. Born and raised in the white suburbs of Connecticut, Joy is moving to Willets Point, Florida to live with her mother Jessica because her parents are divorcing. Hoping it really is the Promised Land that her mother describes, she joins in Jessica’s enthusiasm only to find out how horribly wrong that vision is. 

Unfortunately for Joy, the move does nothing to change her mother’s emotional and mental instability, resulting in a continuation of the physical and verbal abuse she is all too used to receiving. Her new school is years behind her old one, the kids dress and act differently, and on just the second day, Joy has a run-in with her geography teacher. Things are going from bad to worse until Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy from that same geography class, offers his friendship. The two become close, sending shockwaves that dovetail with a growing sense of tension and unease in the community as a whole. Clay’s father Clytus, a well-educated black man, attempts to open his own clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. This causes Jessica’s new lawyer cum boyfriend and leader of the local Klan chapter, Bill McKendrick, to join with other white citizens in using great force to block Clytus’ dreams. Tempers flare and emotions run high when Clytus refuses the Klan’s subsequent demand that he and his family move out of the white neighborhood they live in, setting off an explosive confrontation that will change them all forever.

Stocking's story evolves over a very critical period in our history.  What plays out in the story is at times difficult to grasp and stomach.  It really saddens me to read of the horrors that were done to African American people in America.  Unfortunately, I am sure these stories are just a few of the thousands that were perpetuated all across the south.

This book is full of many themes including mental illness, racism, parenting, the 1960's, and teen issues.  I can imagine book clubs having really deep discussions around the themes in this book.  It is definitely a novel that makes you think about how you treat others and wrongs being made right.  

I was really shocked at the blatant racism in the book.  As a child born in the Midwest, I haven't seen the harsh, horrible acts of racism that were portrayed in this story. It really made me sick to my stomach.  On top of that, I had to "witness" Joy's mom's mental breakdowns that resulted in Joy being neglected and verbally and physically abused.  Both of these issues in the story were integral, but tough to grasp.  It was hard to like the main characters in the book.  I certainly didn't feel sorry for them.   

I think the most difficult passage in the book for me to read was after a fire had occurred in The First Baptist Church and several children were killed in the fire:
"I understand that a few pickaninnies lost their lives in a fire here, at the First Baptist Church......Yes, folks, we all have to look at this in perspective.  After all, ladies and gentleman, these weren't little children. They were little niggers."

I am cringing just typing and reading this passage again.  I can not imagine ever thinking this way or anyone I know thinking this way.  It just really broke my heart.  

Because, this book was set in 1966-1967, I had to realize the limitations of the era as well as the how children related to their parents.  Situations were much more hush hush during that time.  Joy didn't have the knowledge or experience to battle against society or her parents.  

Even with all the hate in the book, Stocking does leave you with a glimmer of hope at the end.  You want to believe things will change and you know they eventually do.  But we also know, that in the Spring of 1968 is when Martin Luther King, Jr was killed, so there was still quite a bit of unrest and racism that was yet to be overcome.

The author shares that this book is about her childhood and many parts of the story are based on things she witnessed as a child.  I can't imagine the horrors Stocking experienced and I hope writing this was a bit of healing for her.  

To learn more about the author as well as her other novels, check out

Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Books and Valerie Stocking for sending this book my way.  This review is my honest opinion.  I was not compensated in any other way for this review.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Scenes From Our Week - Week 28

I have lots of photos to share this week from Easter, a band concert, soccer and birthday parties.  It seems there are always lots of activities in the spring that keep us running from place to place.

After arriving home from the sunrise service, I was able to snap a quick photo of the kids before they rushed back in to their comfy clothes for the day!

The aftermath....baskets found and torn apart, eggs found and candy eaten.

 Reagan couldn't wait to try out the crayola colorful bubbles.  They are neat, but MESSY.  They are thicker than regular bubbles and can stain clothing or items if the bubbles land on the them, so be careful when using.

The table is set and the food is ready for our Easter meal.  It was delicious if I do say so myself!

Patrick playing the xylophone for the Festival of Bands.

Bennett concentrating hard on playing the snare drum.

Patrick had some friends over Friday to celebrate his upcoming birthday.  They had a ball and it has been so much fun watching these boys change and grow over the years!

Soccer season has begun.  Patrick (in yellow) goes after the ball.

Bennett always puts 110% into whatever he does.  Even after finding out he had walking pneumonia on Thursday, he still hustled on the soccer field on Saturday.  

Reagan had to show off the new opening in her mouth after the tooth fairy came Friday night.

We celebrated Patrick's upcoming 12th birthday with family on Saturday.  What a great time!

May all your wishes come true, Patrick!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Before You Say YES......

"None of us can be all things to all people.  Figure out what's important in your life.  Don't be afraid to pull back from the things that aren't."  Stuart R Levine

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all you have committed to?  Is your kids' schedule keeping you in constant taxi mode?

This is how our calendar looks most months.  I have meetings, commitments, sub dates, church obligations, Bible study, and book clubs.  We have family events.  Pat has church obligations and work appointments.  Then the kids....piano, dance, sports, band practice, and girl scouts.  Then, of course, all the other stuff that isn't even on the calendar.  Sometimes, it is just too much.  But when I look at the list, there isn't anything that I would really want to give up.  I chose all those things because they are important to me.  The kids love all of their activities and they are good at them.  So, how do you balance this calendar with....

this calendar.  This is boring.  If this was our life, I think we would go crazy.  The kids would be constantly saying, "I'm bored!"  I wouldn't know what to do with all my free time.  Pat and I would probably be sick of each other. (Ok, maybe not) But, really, how do you balance the two?

As a family, you need to decide what is important.  As an individual, you need to look at how much you can really fit into a day/week.  You need to decide what is truly important.  My cousin, Melanie read the book 18 MINUTES: FIND YOUR FOCUS, MASTER DISTRACTION, AND GET THE RIGHT THINGS DONE by Peter Bregman,which I want to read too.  In it she said that Bregman that tells you to make five goals for yourself and then only commit to things that fit into those five goals.  There are lots of excellent authors out there that offer skills in time management, but, what they all really come right down to is committing yourself to only those things that you truly love.  Everything else can be dropped.  Follow through on your commitment and then don't recommit.

One of my favorite self-checks came from THE ORGANIZED PARENT.  I keep this right on my fridge so I can see it when I go to my calendar.


Before U Say Yes

Ask yourself:

Am I saying yes because I would feel guilty if I said no?

Is my gut reaction, "How can I get out of this?"

Am I saying yes because I'm the mom who always says yes?

Am I saying yes only because my friends said yes?

Will saying yes bring stress to my family life?

When it's done, will I just be glad that it's over?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then reconsider saying yes to this particular request.  Remember it is OK to say NO.  Saying NO is saying YES to U.

As we come up to the close of the school year, consider your family's schedule and look at what can be dropped (after you have followed through on your commitment) and what do you truly want to keep on your schedule.  Make lists about what is important, what are your goals for the summer, for the next school year, for the calendar year? If the commitment doesn't fit, it doesn't get a yes.

How do you manage your family's commitments and schedules?  How do you decide what gets a "yes" and what gets a "no"?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Exceeding Expectations by Lisa April Smith



By: Lisa April Smith

Published: December 1, 2011

It’s 1961 and Palm Beach socialite, irresistible rascal and devoted father Jack Morgan encounters genuine danger while staging his suicide to shield his beloved daughters from disgrace. Next, meet his daughter Charlotte (Charlie), an over-indulged 23 year-old struggling to cope with the traumatizing loss of her beloved father, her sister’s resulting mental breakdown and the discovery that she’s suddenly penniless. Fortunately Raul, an admiring young attorney, appears to offer assistance. As terrified as she is about daily survival, Charlie soon realizes that she has to learn what drove her father to kill himself. With Raul’s much needed ego-bolstering, the drive of necessity and unforeseen determination, Charlie finds a practical use for her annoyingly lean 5’ 11” frame. In time, this career finances her hard-wrought independence, her sister’s costly treatment and an emotional eye-opening journey to Paris.

Jumping back in time to romantic pre-WWII Paris readers meet young Alan Fitzpatrick – aka Jack Morgan – lack-luster artist, expert lover, irresistible rascal, and the bewitching girl who will become the mother of his children. Not even Charlie’s relentless detective work will uncover all Jack’s secrets, but in a fireworks of surprise endings, she discovers all that she needs to know and more: disturbing truths about her father, hew own unique talent, crimes great and small and a diabolical villain.

This book would fit those who love reading mystery/suspense novels as well as those who love women's contemporary fiction or chick lit.  I love books set during WWII and this book really sounds like it would keep me turning the pages. 

Author, Lisa April Smith lives with her husband, He-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous, in Eternal Playland, Florida, a delightful spot just off I-95.  Ms. Smith describes Eternal Playland as: "a little piece of level heaven with occasional dampness, where the bugs are plentiful but respectful, and even the smallest strip mall contains at least one pizza place and a nail salon." Smith and her husband have a son and a daughter as well as four beautiful, brilliant, and talented grandchildren.

Before discovering a passion for writing, Ms. Smith sold plumbing and heating, antiques, taught ballroom dancing, tutored, modeled, designed software and managed projects for IBM and returned to college multiple times to study anthropology, sociology, and computer science, in which she holds degrees, as well as psychology, archeology, literature, history and art.  Combine those widely diverse interests with a love of travel and a gift for writing page-turners and it is easy to understand all the praise she has received for her books. 

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS has 18 reviews on Goodreads, with a rating of 4.78 stars and 9 reviews with a rating of 5 stars on Amazon.  More praise for EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS:

“fantastic characters” “well told, well plotted out and executed perfectly.” “I was absolutely trapped by this book. " . . . held me right to the very last page.” “a surprise at the end that will have you sitting with your mouth hanging open" Natalie Hillier
* * * * *
“Smith . . . has woven an intriguingly rich tapestry of delightful well-developed characters into a perfectly balanced plot bursting with riveting mystery, crimes of the petty and the horrible sort, suspenseful twists, and romantic tension complete with love scenes that sizzle and pop.”
Cari Pestelak
* * * * *
"5 Soaring Stars" ". . . it's the authentic details of the time-periods that make it fun to read . . .” “historical and fictitious characters work in sync as they are perfectly set in these time frames, and midst the transitory madness of WWs I and II Paris.” “Smith's writing isn't over-blown with emotion and sappy romance; rather, it is sophisticated and subtle. It’s witty, fun and sassy.”
Deborah Previte:
* * * * *
“This book has it all! . . . romance, mystery, sex and crime. . . . a story that you will not be able to put down.” Charla Wilson * * * * *
"If you like a thrilling read pick up this book.”
* * * * *
"Smith's books have the pace and heat of Jacqueline Susanne and the style and sophistication of Dominick Dunne." Amazon reviewer

For more on Lisa April Smith, check out her website
You can also follow her on Twitter, HERE.
You can "Like" her on Facebook, HERE.

If you would like to read the FIRST CHAPTER of EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS, click HERE.
Smith is already working on the sequel to EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS titled, PARADISE MISPLACED.


I have a giveaway for one Ebook copy of EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS.  If you are interested in winning, please fill out the form below.  This giveaway is open until Sunday, April 22, 2012.  I will choose a winner using on Monday, April 23, 2012. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Movie Review: The Lorax in 3D

Today was our final day of Easter break and I found out the small town near us was showing THE LORAX in 3D. I have been avoiding the whole 3D movie craze.  I have seen different 3D things in the past and have gotten queasy or a headache from watching them.  I also haven't wanted to pay all the extra money to watch the movie in 3D.  So, today was a treat.  We had passes that we got in an auction and it was only $4 per ticket, so I figured, why not?

I was so pleasantly surprised.  Technology has come a LOOONG way.  I thought the 3D enhancements were excellent.  I didn't get a headache or feel queasy at all.  I did get a little tired of wearing the glasses, kind of like I do when I have been wearing my sunglasses for awhile.  But, it really was quite fun.

The movie, of course, has a great lesson about standing up for what you believe in, as well as taking care of our natural resources.  It reminded me a bit of Disney's WALL-E and what can happen if we take our world for granted.  It really was a sweet story and the time flew by.  The movie was also filled with fun, catchy songs that made it more a musical rather than just a movie.

If you haven't treated your family to a 3D movie yet or seen THE LORAX, I highly recommend it.

Have Your Child's Allergies Been Driving You Crazy?

Our oldest child, Patrick, seems to have the worst time with allergies in our family.  He is always stuffed up and sneezing, especially in the morning.  Allergies can really take a toll on kids, making them tired, run down and cranky.  I can tell those mornings that Patrick is really struggling with his allergies.  He doesn't want to get up and is in a "fog".  Lately, here in Iowa, the days have had high pollen counts, so it has been a constant struggle.

Patrick isn't very good at swallowing pills yet, but with the liquid, he has to take so much.  That is why I have found the Claritin Chewables to be our best option.  They are grape flavored and easy to take.  Children's Claritin Allergy Chewables provide Non-Drowsy 24hr Allergy relief with one pill a day.  So, we just take them in the morning and we are done for the day.  Check out the website, for more information about all their products.

I have been chosen to be a spokesperson for Children's Claritin as being a member of their Mom's Crew.

As as member of the Children's Claritin Mom Crew, I receive product samples and promotional items to share and use as I see fit.  No monetary compensation has taken place.  Any opinions expressed by me are honest and reflect my actual experience.  Please note that I am NOT offering medical advice, just letting you know about products that work for our family's needs.  You should speak to your family doctor or pharmacist to see what will work best for your needs.

Allergies can have a serious impact on your child.  It can make it difficult for them to concentrate on their school work and other school-time activities.  Up to 40% of school children are affected by allergies and nearly 2 million school days are missed due to the symptoms of seasonal and indoor allergies.  (According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology)

If you think your children, might be suffering from allergies, I encourage you to make an appointment with your family doctor and see what the best option is for you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Scenes From Our Week: Week 27

We started the week celebrating Palm Sunday with the kids singing in church.  They did such an awesome job!

Thanks to my friend Andrea for getting this photo.  I wasn't sure I could direct and take a photo at the same time!

We then spent the afternoon and evening with family celebrating our nephew, Zach's 15th birthday!

We are really enjoying the warm weather and all the gorgeous plants that are blooming so early.

We planted this crab apple tree our first spring in this house, 8 years ago.  I have enjoyed seeing the tree grow and bloom each spring and watching the kids grow up beside it.  This is the first time we have taken the picture this early.  We have even taken it in May before, just as it has been blooming.  What an early spring we are having!

Decorating eggs on Saturday

Just some of the eggs we made.  Guess I will be making egg salad this week!!