Monday, December 10, 2018

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing Book Review

Do you know when you finish an amazing book, but you weren't quite ready for it to end? So you delay beginning something new, just because you'd like to spend a little more time with just these characters in your mind? That's how Hank Green's An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is for me. It was so lovely and insightful, I just didn't want it to end. Also, never fear, there are no spoilers here!

This book is so weird, y'all. I tend to put things on my to be read list months before I read them, and then forget what they're about when my turn at the library comes about. So I went into this knowing it had a fabulous title and nothing else. The plot this novel follows is incredibly odd and twists and turns with the characters, but the basic premise is this:

NYC graphic designer discovers giant sculpture in the middle of the sidewalk, proceeds to investigate.

I'm sure the book jacket does a better job of summarizing, but I think going into this book open minded and without expectation really allows you to immerse yourself in the story and suspend your disbelief. That's where the real magic happens.

There are many things I love about this novel, but one that stood out immediately is this: the main character is bisexual, and that's not what the book is about. It's just a part of her, as naturally as my heterosexuality is for me. One of the many reasons I get so engrossed in books is the opportunity to walk in another person's shoes- someone different from me, but also alike. There are ways in which I'm like April, the protagonist, and there are ways I'm different. But our differences don't make us enemies. They just make us different, and able to learn from one another. I really enjoyed being in the mind of someone different from me, but not having those differences be the point of the story. It's just a part of who she is.

I really adored this main character. April was really great at being able to tell when she was being self-destructive and when something might ultimately become a temptation for her. I think that kind of self-awareness is incredibly valuable (although some is acknowledged as hindsight). But what I love most about her is her ability to see the good. She has a natural inclination to believe the best, even when she's been shown the worst. Yet she perseveres in her good natured belief, and I love seeing that played out in a new and unexplored arena.

I also love the inside look at the potential consequences of viral video fame. This book delves deep into the world of internet fame versus other types of fame, and it's enlightening. It's easy, especially with social media influencers and YouTube stars, to see the persona instead of the person. It's also simple to assume they're one and the same, and not that the persona is a carefully curated and palatable version of the person. There's always more to the story than meets the eye.

The inherent risk of always having to 'be ahead of the story' is also explored in a way that many books with journalists as protagonists miss. Pressure and adrenaline affect decision making, and the pressure of making those decisions, followed by endless content creation decisions, is overwhelming.

If you're itching to read this now and not later, here's the Kindle link on Amazon:

I'm obsessed with the Kindle and the ability to highlight books without damaging them, and I love how you can link to Goodreads and see your highlights long after the library book has been returned. You can see some of my favorite highlights here, but be warned: there may be spoilers in the highlights, or you may be able to deduce things, so proceed with caution!

If you'd like to follow me on Goodreads to see what I'm reading or wanting to read, you can do that here!

Have you ever had a book unexpectedly knock your socks off? Do you read books without refreshing your memory about the plot?

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This is like a commission from Amazon and is of no cost to you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Holiday Gift Guide

Tis the season to be gift giving, fa la la la la. I love giving gifts.  It allows me to show love to people near and far. One of my love languages is definitely gift giving. My best advice is to find something they wouldn't think of getting for themselves, but that they would enjoy. Here are some ideas for those hard to shop for loved ones in your life!

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. That just means I get a commission from Amazon at no cost to you if you follow my links! It's a simple and easy way to support a blog you enjoy.

For the pet parent:

This special dog tag will love on them and their pup at the same time! And it's completely customizable.

Other options include leashes and collars in their favorite team colors, or this super comfy looking pet bed with a one year warranty, washer safe material, and a design pretty enough to fit in with their furniture!

For the Toddler

Toys and puzzles are wonderful and lovely, and will be enjoyed and exclaimed over. But the real hit, I've often found, is kid sized furniture. They get a kick out of furniture just their size, and it's useful and enjoyable. Whether it's a couch, table, or chair, they're going to enjoy it and feel extra special every time they use it. (Of course I picked Disney. My kid's have this in Lion Guard and when they first got it, they napped on it- that's how much they loved it!)

Best Books for Teens

If you've got a teen in your life that loves to read, selecting books can be difficult. Here are my favorites! They appeal to a wide range of interests and have thought provoking plots.

You can find my review here.

You can find my review here.

This is the perfect choice for your Hunger Games fan!

For the Book Lover

Buying books for bibliophiles is challenging. The natural choice is books, but what if they've read it or it isn't in their taste? Try these alternatives instead.

A book store scented candle may just help them read what's on their to-be-read pile rather than buying more books, and either way, you're helping them set the mood for a perfect evening spent reading.

Book Log: Keeping track of what you've read can be tough. Try these pretty book to keep a list of what you've read and when!

If you're looking for a stocking stuffer idea, bookmarks are great. Magnetic bookmarks are my favorite, as there's no fear of losing your place if a certain toddler runs off with your book. Follow this link to see one adorable option, and then search for magnetic bookmarks for more designs to find the most suitable for your recipient.

For the Busy Mom

The best gift you can give a busy mom is a free babysitting coupon! The gift of time is so valuable. An afternoon to herself while knowing her kids are being loved on is the best.

If you live far away, you can give her the gift of indulgence. Some yummy chocolates and bath fizzies for after the kid's bedtime will give her some at-home pampering.

For the Doting Grandma

I love to give photo gifts to my mom. From when she was a kid to my babies, a photo gift is something that will bring joy and practicality that'll be used and enjoyed daily. Whether it's a canvas collage, a photo mug, or a calendar, she appreciates the thought and effort that goes into making it as well as getting to enjoy it and wax nostalgic whenever the desire arises. I use Snapfish and Shutterfly to craft my photo gifts.

The Big Gift
If you're looking to be a little more spendy and are shopping for something for your reader, be they a wife, kid, or in-law you want to impress, I highly recommend the Kindle Paperwhite. I adore mine, and use it all the time. It's full of great features, from instantly downloading library books without any cords to having a built- in booklight that automatically turns itself on when you need it (then you can keep getting stubbed toes like me as you walk through the dark house reading and not watching where you're going!). They are on the expensive side, but my husband gifted me this one for Mother's Day and it's definitely one of the top two gifts he's ever given me (the other one being a KitchenAid mixer for my baking addiction). Bonus- they're now making them waterproof for the bath reader in your house!

Or if you want the one that's similar to mine without the built-in book light and a little less expensive:

What are your favorite gifts to give and receive?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Hate U Give Book and Movie Review

Have you ever loved a book so much you had trouble gathering your thoughts about it?

This isn't going to be a critical review. I devoured this 488 page book by Angie Thomas in less than 24 hours. True story. To say I'm obsessed would be an understatement.

It was perfect. Each character was such an individual. If there's a way to my literary heart, it's well developed characters. The dialogue was incredibly well done and realistic, the plot heart wrenching, and the narrator spoke in such a clear voice I could hear her in my mind.

It was about race, family, community, faith, forgiveness, and discovering how to balance the different sides of yourself, and own up to your own actions and inactions in a real and honest way. Trying to balance the different sides of yourself is a universal struggle, but the protagonist Starr is in an entirely different circumstance. If she isn't constantly guarded, the her classmates will relegate her to one of many stereotypes people of color have to deal with daily.

Starr's struggles opened my eyes quite a bit. Its one thing to talk the talk, but quite another to walk the walk. While I've always considered myself an ally, I have not been using my voice to speak up when others are being silenced. Starr's story, though fictional, has inspired me to be an ally of action instead of silence.

One of the best ways we can learn is to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. Fiction can open that door for us, and let outsiders glimpse just a little bit of what someone else's life is like. Once you've felt your heart pound for Starr every time she glimpses a police officer, you feel a deeper empathy than ever for anyone else who feels the same in their real life, and not just in the pages of a book. I feel as though this should be required reading for so many reasons, one of which to encourage empathy and show privileged people how privileged they are in a non-abrasive way, but also to illustrate the struggle all teens have of finding who they are and where their voice belongs. While dealing with huge social justice issues, Starr is also struggling with her boyfriend, her family, and finding her place in the world. These universal themes show how teens often don't only just deal with teen stuff or just grown-up stuff, but have to instead deal with it simultaneously. Which is really just another reason to treat everyone you encounter with kindness, regardless of their age or anything else. Just love, people. Just love.

After reading the book, of course I had to see the movie version! I thought the director did an amazing job of staying true to the tone and theme of the book while also successfully adapting it for the screen. Although changes obviously had to be made, as they always are, they were clearly carefully considered so that the course of the characters stayed genuine and true to the novel. Some characters didn't make the cut to the screen, which was a little disappointing for me since I'm so fond of almost all of the characters. There were also some artistic changes at the end to give you the same jarring shock that the list of names in the book gives. The fact that there was a bit of a twist I wasn't expecting kept me on my toes and not assuming I'd know automatically how everything ended.

There was only one aspect of the film I didn't like, which was a change from a small plot point in the book. I won't reveal any spoilers, but it was a symbolic moment in the book I appreciated that the movie not only skipped, but changed the tone of. I'll address it in the comments IF anyone wants to discuss further, so that this post remains spoiler free in the actual post.

Have you read the book or seen the film? How did it affect you?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Knoxville Moms Blog Post: Spooky Not Scary Family Movie Night

Halloween is a beloved time of year...and the perfect time to curl up with some candy corn popcorn and watch something not scary (hello, I'm a scaredy cat!) Check out my latest Knoxville Moms Blog post to get ideas for the perfect family movie night- without the scare factor!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Buy a Straw Cleaner and Save Your Sanity

This post is NOT endorsed by any company. I truly love these products and want to share them with you. 

Do you know what my kids have an absolute ton of?

Cups. Sippy cups, cups with built in straws, pop up cups, promotional cups. I have so. many. cups.

Guess what I also have?

Straws of my own. I received these amazing Pioneer Woman reusable straws as a Christmas gift THREE YEARS AGO and I'm still using them and I adore them. I love them because they allow me to drink like a normal human being without spilling (ahem, something I am apparently not capable of without a straw) yet I'm not harming the environment with hundreds of plastic straws a year.

You can even see one here, in my post on Peach Sweet Tea!

What I didn't have was a way to clean those awesome straws. And, after 3 years of continual running through the dishwasher, it just wasn't getting the job done. I wanted to deep clean those suckers. Enter these amazing straw cleaners.

I was able to clean my awesome Pioneer Woman straws, and now they're nice and clean. I squirted a little dawn on the straw brush, ran it through the straw from both ends, swished it around, rinsed...and then put it in the dishwasher too, because I really want to kill ALL the germs and my dishwasher has a sanitize cycle that puts my mind at ease.

The real power of these straw cleaners wasn't just on my straws. I whipped out the kids cups with straws and was able to clean not only the straw, but the mouthpiece too.

Y'all, the horror. Truly, the horror. The white straw cleaner came out black. BLACK. Some of that was residue from chocolate milk. But I know some of it was dead mold that had just been sitting in those straws, unbeknownst to me or my kiddos. Ewwwww. You just can't unsee that.

Of course I then cleaned every straw and mouthpiece in the dang house, because now I knew. And once you know, you must clean, clean, clean.

If my hands hadn't been covered in soap, I'd have filmed it to show you. It's insane. And super gross.

These straw cleaners are definitely the best thing I've purchased this year. I KNOW. It's $5 and it earns that title, because now I know my kid's (and me) are drinking through super clean straws.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

Knoxville Moms Blog Post: Daniel Tiger Made Me a Better Mom

Once upon a time I had a two-year-old and a newborn and I was slowly but surely losing my mind. Then we discovered Daniel Tiger on PBS Kids and I watched Mom Tiger with her endless patience and kindness and I felt like the biggest failure, and the worst mom, in the whole wide world.

Want to read more? Check out my latest KMB post, Daniel Tiger Made Me a Better Mom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Bathroom Update for less than $60

Once upon a time, we walked into a gorgeous, spotlessly clean house. Then we bought it. Then it started falling apart.

The reason it was spotlessly clean is because it was freshly painted and then no one lived here. So when we began, you know, living in our house, that paint didn't hold up too well. It turns out it was a matte finish, which shows every. single. smudge. And the whole house is painted in it. Short of buying stock in Mr. Clean's Magic Erasers and driving myself crazy with constant wall cleaning, painting seemed like the best option. But in most spaces, I've hung photos and placed furniture and y'all, I just don't want to paint my whole dang house.

But the bathroom. Oh, the bathroom. It's our only full bathroom upstairs, and it's in the hall, so visitors use it too. We have a lot of little ones through here, and well, they just aren't that great at washing their hands yet. Or at least my little ones aren't. So we had a huge swath of area under the light switch which was a lovely shade of almost-washed-off-dirt. Regardless of how many Magic Erasers I used, it was tinted from all my scrubbing.


So one day, I snapped.

I went to Lowe's, taped two paint chips on the wall for a week, returned to Lowe's, and purchased a gallon of Valspar paint in Lei Flower ($36 before a $10 rebate I'm still waiting on). I also bought an edging tool. I cleaned and taped and cleared out the bathroom. I use Dollar Tree shower curtain liners as drop cloths, so I laid those down.

Then I put on some tunes, and painted.

And painted.

And painted.

I was extremely sweaty and my playlist was just about out of music, but I was finally finished.

Oh, and all of this took place in a single day while my oldest was at Kindergarten and my youngest got to have way more than usual TV time.

After showering and lunching with my youngest, we headed to the car pick up line so he could nap. We picked up big brother, and headed to Target for a new shower curtain.

Lei Flower was a little brighter than I anticipated, and my butterfly shower curtain (purchased at least 14 years ago) was just a little too feminine paired with it. But I knew a nice gray would even it out, and wouldn't you know I'd just seen a gorgeous shower curtain at Target the other day and it was currently 20% off?

Total Cost:
Paint- $36
Edging tool: $3
Shower Curtain: $14
Tiny Paintbrush- $1

I already had painting supplies like rollers, brushes, a paint tray, my Dollar Store drop cloths, and my trusty painter's tape.

I'm not totally done; I'd like to paint the vanity a gray to match the shower curtain and frame out the mirror. It turns out, life isn't like an HGTV show. The whole project doesn't always get done in one go. We were able to do this small project by doing just part of it, and now I don't cringe when I walk into the bathroom. Now walking into my bathroom makes me happy, instead of stressing me out. And that makes the work and expense totally worth it.