Friday, July 17, 2020

Twelve Years!

Crazy to think that twelve years ago today, I wrote my first blog post. I knew nothing of blogs and started it on a bit of a whim when one of the guys (young guy, just out of college) said to me, you seem to know so much you should blog. I have really enjoyed my time blogging and being able to share tips, tricks, what works for me and reviews of many different things with everyone.
I have changed a lot over the past 12 years, as I imagine many of you have. I will say that I didn't really know what busy was when I started this blog 12 years ago. I had a lot more free time and down time with my family. Now, even with things still being only partially reopened, things are much busier in my life. I have shifted a bit on what I blog about, I still seek out deals but finding the time to plan and share deals just doesn't always fit into my schedule.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

One Hundred and Ten days!

It is a little bit crazy to sit back and reflect on the last 110 days. It is 110 days since 'normal' life took a shift.

From an accomplishment perspective, I have held to my commitment to walk at least 30 minutes every day for the past 110 days. There have been a few times that I just didn't feel like it but I found a way to persevere and get the walk in. As a result, I have achieved my step goal almost every day in that same window. I had one day where my watch hadn't updated to the new goal and so the goal 'fireworks' went off but I discovered the next day that I was 4 steps short of the goal. I had one day where we were at a bonfire and I didn't realize it was midnight and wound up 100 steps short because I had been sitting most of the evening. I had one day where a tornado sent me to the basement for the last hour plus of the day and I wound up 200 steps short. I had one day where I simply fell asleep with less than 100 steps to reach the goal. The orange bars that show up when I look at my 4 week step history over the past 3-4 four week periods make me sad but I also realize that most were not a true lack of effort but just bad timing.

In addition to my daily walking, I was finally able to get back to swimming earlier this month, after 12 weeks of the pool being closed. I had been on target to complete the 100 mile swim club (for 2020) back in March, until the pool was closed down due to COVID19 orders. Even now, the pools are open but we are only allowed to swim for an hour (75 minutes in the building is the rule) at a time, which has made reaching the 100 mile mark a little harder. I did get to just over 90 miles swam as of the end of June. I should be able to reach 100 in July and hopefully make some steady progress towards reaching the special anniversary 150 mile challenge that they included as part of the 100 Mile swim club for this year. Essentially, I need to swim at least 10 miles per month to reach that goal. That is very doable and I should complete it easily before the end of the year.

It was just over 110 days ago that schools were closed for the rest of the year, and now graduations are being held in parking lots because of gathering limits. Our school was hoping to have theirs at the stadium but did not receive the approval (not sure who had to approve) to do that, so they went with the contingency plan for a parking lot ceremony. They held Prom two nights before graduation across two venues - food trucks at the high school (with in car service) and then a movie at the drive in (where they are being asked to stay in their car). I'm glad they got a night to celebrate but wonder why we couldn't find a way when wedding receptions are permitted for up to 300.

In our area, conversations have started with groups of parents, teachers and administrators meeting online to talk about what school could look like in the fall. Our school is looking at three approaches - 100% online, hybrid in school/online and back to the classroom. They are gathering info from the CDC, studies/findings that have been published, perspective from schools in other countries and counties and other sources that participants are sharing to help inform their proposal. They have done parent and student surveys. In the return to the classroom approach, it definitely feels like parents are divided on whether they will send their child back to school if it resumes in the fall (and fortunately, the schools are making plans for that contingent of students within their option of fully returning and hybrid approach). With back to the classroom option, there are those that think masks make sense but another portion that is expressing concern with the challenges with them being worn correctly, teachers/students being able to effectively communicate, safety/adverse consequences of wearing them. I have heard that one thought is require masks at arrival/departure, in the hallway, and other places where they will pass each other in close proximity but allow them to remove masks in the classroom where the desks are spaced, so as to balance ability to teach/learn. I don't ultimately know where things will land but my hope is that we will have them back in school and take sufficient precautions without being too prescriptive or doing things that will negatively impact learning. We will know more next week when they present the proposal to the school board...then I think the Board of Health has to weigh in.

What goals have you set? Were you successful in meeting them? What is the plan for school in the fall where you live?

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Win a copy of Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff

No compensation was received for this post. I am sharing this giveaway, not hosting it.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me. 

Last week I shared that I had read A Cross to Kill by Andrew Huff. This week, I had the chance to read the second book in the series, Cross Shadow. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to catch up with characters that I have met before in a new adventure; this new adventure takes place about 8 months after the first book. The good thing is that if you haven't had the chance to read the first book, you can still enjoy this second book as a stand alone story.
The book opens on an ordinary day. Christine is heading out to interview for a role at a new network. We get a glance at the budding relationship with John as they chat on a video call on her walk to the train. She ends the call quickly, realizing how busy the platform is and wanting to make sure she catches her train. As she settles in on the train, her minds is racing with reflection and what-ifs. Forcing herself to be in the moment and relax, she concentrates on the car's passengers, making observations about each. When her eyes settle on a young man at the front of the car, she starts to notice things in his demeanor and his physical features...a drop of sweat trailing down the side of his face, the way he keeps his eyes on the floor, the excess licking of his lips, the oversized jacket he wore...she started to put them together, recognizing but struggling to identify the profile; until it clicked - it's at this point that the action begins and doesn't let up until the end of the book.

John is a former CIA agent turned pastor. Christine is a journalist. They have been dating since the end of the last book, although it sounds like they connect around life and don't always give their relationship the time it deserves. Christine has always been a woman that could take care of herself (which John knows and admits) and with John's training she has learned to be more aware of her surroundings, plot her course of actions and remember the small details. Even so, John can't help himself in wanting to protect her. She struggles with him not trusting her. Together, they make a dynamic team; brought together for another adventure filled with suspense, danger and challenges to their faith.

The story is fast-paced, driven by a lot of action and suspense. The author does a great job describing everything that goes on during the story; the way he writes the car chases and fights, makes it easy for the reader to visualize the scene in their minds. The twist and turns and the continual discovery of who can and can not be trusted keeps the reader guessing and at points, worried about the safety of the characters. Thankfully, they seem to have the right allies on their side (CIA, former military, law enforcement) that always seem to come to the rescue with information, identities, technology and resources, especially when things are at their worst. I'm always amazed at the technology shared in some of these thrillers - some because it sounds really cool (molar mic, glasses with embedded cameras), some because it sounds unbelievably realistic and down-right scary (military robots). Together, the high action, the suspenseful plot that keeps you guessing and the difficult situations and decisions that the characters face create a captivating thriller that you don't want to put down.

About the Book:
All journalist Christine Lewis wants is the truth. All pastor John Cross wants is to avoid it.

Former CIA agent turned evangelical pastor John Cross is busy caring for the small community of believers he ministers to in Virginia. Journalist Christine Lewis is busy with the demand for her talents from top news agencies in New York City. Neither has any time left for their relationship, which began eight months before when they paired up to prevent the detonation of a chemical bomb in the nation's capital.

But when Christine hears that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Texas, they team up again to discover the truth about the crime. Untangling a web of conspiracy, the couple finds themselves in the center of another dangerous situation-and in trouble far deeper than they expected.

With an assassin on the loose, a trusted colleague acting as a double agent, and unreliable artificial intelligence connected to mercenaries who have Cross on their hit list, these two may not get out of the Lone Star State alive.

About the Author:
Huff spent ten years in local church ministry as a youth pastor and creative arts pastor before pursuing God’s calling into creative storytelling and media production as the product director at Igniter Media, a church media company (

He is a two-time finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis Contest for unpublished authors (2014, 2017) and also won the best screenplay award at the 2015 48 Hour Film Festival in Richmond, VA. A Cross to Kill and Cross Shadow in the Shepherd Suspense series are his first releases.

Huff holds a bachelor of science in religion degree from Liberty University and a master of arts in Christian education from Dallas Theological Seminary. He resides in Plano, TX, with his beautiful wife, Jae, and their two boys.

Learn more Andrew Huff and the Shepherd Suspense novels at He can also be found on Facebook (@huffwrites), Twitter (@andrewjohnhuff) and Instagram (@andyhuff).

This book did not disappoint, living up to the expectations set by the first in the series. Cross Shadow was another action-packed suspense story from Andrew Huff. I would recommend this book for anyone that likes a good suspense novel. The book reads well on its own but you really should consider reading the first book in the series too because it is good. The third book comes out next year but you can read the first chapter at the end of this book.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.


I am so glad to finally be getting back to a more normal course of activity. I have enjoyed the down time and the time spent with family but it is good to have things starting to return to our schedules. Today marked the okay to open for playgrounds, museums, zoos, theaters, and a few other things in our area. Next week it is amusement parks and casinos. Some of the plans released seem a bit weird and some make me wonder if the experience is worth the hassle. I assume that those things will begin to relax in due time and until then, I am just glad for the steps that we are making.

Summer baseball has started and it feels about 95% normal. The bleachers are closed, which seems like an odd set up because I find that it leaves less space for parents to be spread out but heard that they were closed to allow the players a space in which to spread out when their team is in the dugout. The umpires (at the games we have been at) are calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher and the field umpire stands behind 1st only (rather than moving to a more centralized field position once runners are on). One game though, our home plate umpire was behind the pitcher calling balls and strikes but the field umpire was behind the catcher, set up to better make the calls at home and foul balls. Makes you kind of wonder why he could be back there for that but that the home plate umpire can't set up there to calls balls and strikes. From what I understand, the decisions have been made on a per league/per tournament basis so we may see variations. In fact, the one umpire showed up with the intent to stand behind the catcher at another game and was told that he couldn't because the coaches didn't want for him to get in trouble.

It is nice to have restaurants open again. In some, you simply don't see that they have changed things because they moved and removed tables. Sure the servers are wearing masks and there are little things (including signs) that are different but they feel mostly normal. We went to Chili's this weekend after baseball though and there it felt obvious - every other table is marked with blue tape, the ketchup is brought out in little cups with lids, the water glasses can't be refilled so they bring you a new one each time. We went because we had a gift card and honestly, we wanted to make sure to use our gift card...there have been some restaurants where all of the local locations have closed - not sure whether it was because of the pandemic or if that was the proverbial straw. The service was excellent, the food was delicious and the portions good, and it was nice to enjoy a meal out with the whole family. This next weekend we are in a tournament and we will likely enjoy a meal out with the team...that will definitely be a unique experience.

The swimming pool opened for lap swimming this week. They are limiting us to 75 minutes in the facility/60 minutes in the pool - I'm not sure how much they are monitoring / enforcing but it seems everyone is complying. I was on target to complete the 100 mile challenge back in March and am hoping even with the shortened swim time that I will be able to complete it in June. Swimming time feels normal to me, just me back and forth in the pool alone with my thoughts and the occasional greeting of a fellow swimmer that I haven't seen in 12 weeks. My body definitely was tired and achy after returning to a workout that I hadn't done in so long and I was slower for sure. I am starting to pick up my pace a bit and hope to have it back up to where I was by the end of next week. Seeing the Camp kids playing in the rec pool and then the runners outside as I leave, certainly feels more like normal.

I have continued my daily walk but fitting them in is a bit more tricky now that I am also trying to swim 4-5 times per week. I am up to 89 days of completing at least a 30 minute walk with my typical walk now being up to 55 minutes. It was crazy warm here yesterday and today it was the humidity that was the challenge, I decided to walk before I swam, which meant walking in my glasses instead of my contacts. It worked okay but the glasses do steam up with the high humidity and me walking.

I start my new job next week. Having half of my time unemployed be during the pandemic has been interesting. One of my friends asked me today if I felt like a kid on the last week of summer vacation. I said yes, actually I do. I have developed a new routine (second one if you consider the pre- and during pandemic routines) that will be hard to move away from. I got a lot done that was on my to do list but feel I have so much more that I had hoped to accomplish during my time off. With everyone being home, the motivation and schedule seemed to be in my way. I have a few more things that I will tackle this week and the other things can simply wait. There wasn't a great urgency to getting them done just things on my list.

How is your summer starting? Are things opening up near you? Have you been out? What was your experience?

Monday, June 1, 2020

A Cross to Kill by Andrew Huff

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me. 
The weather lately has been wonderful. We had a few days in a row where the weather was rather warm and humid but this weekend brought the return of spring like days. I took the opportunity to sit on my front porch and start a book. I had just received a copy of A Cross to Kill by Andrew Huff, as a bonus to his new book Cross Shadow, so it was the book that I chose. John Cross is a former CIA assassin that found God and left his CIA life behind (mostly) and is now a pastor at a small church. Christine Lewis is a reporter who had been kidnapped in Jordan and is going to be executed on camera. When she is saved from a certain death through the amazing heroics of Cross and makes it home, she wants the chance to say thank you to the individual that rescued her and decides to seek him out. This unfortunately puts them both in danger's way.
The action started right on the first page and didn't really stop until the story was done; once I started reading I simply didn't want to put the book down. The author's description of the action was well done and allowed me to vividly picture what was happening in the story which helped draw me in. With the story in continuous motion, the author does a good job sharing about the characters over the course of the story, revealing more about them through background and dialog as the story unfolds. The story is told from a somewhat omniscient narrator point of view, still allowing the reader insight to what the characters are thinking and feeling. The characters were well developed and you quickly find yourself cheering on the main characters and loving the quirky supporting characters as well.

The story was full of drama, adventure and of course, that element of unknown that makes it a great thriller. Being a work of Christian fiction, there is an underlying thread of faith that is easy to read and well incorporated to the story line. John has a newer found faith and is still learning and struggles to not revert back to his former life. Through the course of the story, we see him sharing his faith and encouraging others to renew (or find) their faith. He wants others to learn from him and share the same type of benefits that his faith has provided to him. But, will his sharing be enough to help others take the high road and have the faith to get through this adventure with him? That being said, there was one short scene where the Christianity thread felt a little too forced and off pace from the rest of the book - but that was only about a page of the book and the story quickly moved forward leaving that slow section behind. The twists and turns leave the reader guessing and as often is the case, leaves you surprised and even shocked as you learn the truth. In balance to the suspense, or perhaps to help drive it, there is a bit of romance mixed in the story.

About the Book:A gripping debut thriller pits a man of God against terrorists—and his own deadly past.

John Cross is a small-town pastor, bent on leading his flock to follow God's calling. He's not the sort of man one would expect to have a checkered past.

But the truth is that the man behind the pulpit preaching to his sheep was once a wolf--an assassin for the CIA. When John decided to follow Christ, he put that work behind him, determined to do penance for all the lives he took. He vowed never to kill again.

Now someone wants the peaceful pastor to pay for his sins with his own life. And when a terrorist out for revenge walks into the church, John's secrets are laid bare. Confronted with his past, he must face his demons and discover whether a man can truly change. Can he keep his vow--even when the people he loves are in mortal danger? Will his congregation and the brave woman he's learning to care for be caught in the cross fire? In the end, John's life may be the only sacrifice he has left to offer...

About the Author:
Andrew Huff is the product director at Igniter Media, one of the largest church media companies in the nation. He has also spent ten years in church ministry as both a youth pastor and creative arts pastor. Andrew currently lives in Plano, Texas. This is his first novel. Learn more at

An action packed, mind bending suspense with a twist, I would recommend this book for anyone that likes a good suspense novel. I look forward to starting the second book shortly and have high hopes based on his first book.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Summer Time is Coming

As we enter the last weekend of May, I am looking forward to summertime. I'm not sure that it will feel much different than the last several weeks for the most part, but it is nice to finally be getting back to some more normal things.

As a family, we went out to lunch yesterday and ate at the restaurant, inside because of the rain. It sounds like a small thing but it has probably been almost 3 months since the last time we went out to eat as a family. It was nice to to relax and just hang out.

This past week both kids returned school books and empty out their lockers. The school year is officially over. Online learning was okay at best. It was nice that several teachers would post a recording of the learning. It gave them the opportunity to watch the lesson on demand, on their schedule. I don't know that my kids did it but it also gave them the chance to rewatch the lesson if there was a question or something confusing. I think though that I would have liked them to do the lesson live in an interactive classroom space - like they do at school - where the kids can ask questions and the teacher can get real time feedback on how well the group was responding to the lesson. They all had office hours but they were not always at convenient times and some overlapped. As an example, math classes all had their office hours, a live chat space, from 8 - 9 am. The kids would need to watch the current lesson before the office hours or use the office hours for the last lesson, which was not always convenient. In addition, since all the math class office hours were at the same time, if you had multiple math classes (my son had two), you likely could only get to one or the other. Unfortunately, several teachers didn't do online lessons, video or live. They simply relied on the kids reading the book and shared some notes. I also feel like the lack of classroom discussion was a loss. How many times as a kid did you pick up on something based on what a classmate shared. Whether discussing a classic like Great Gatsby or asking a question about a chemical reaction, sometimes hearing it posed by someone else helps you process or clarify it for yourself. And then for activity driven classes, there was again a loss of opportunity. For my son, we boiled eggs for different lengths as a chemistry experiment but that was really the only experiment that the class did the last 12 weeks of school. I would have expected more labs as part of a chemistry class. And for my daughter, who was in Family and Consumer Sciences the last quarter of the school year, she missed out on so much. They normally make a drawstring bag but with stores on limited operation and most students not having access to a sewing machine, the pattern was simply shared if they wanted to try it. For the kitchen half, the lessons were limited. She made a dish with an egg (souffles for her), a bowl of fruit salad and a vegetable. She still learned from the videos her teacher would post but they normally make so much more in class. The other gap was the absence of spring sports, spring dances, lunch room socialization, after school socialization on the bus or the walk, and so much more together time with fellow students. It is a unique experience that has impacted my kids and something that they will remember always but I do hope that we can return to classroom learning in the fall for the benefit of all students.

Baseball season is restarting for my son. He had three practices this last week and we have games next weekend. I have missed the families and the experience of being at games. It will definitely not be the season we had planned - the boys didn't have their high school season and had limited access to facilities so mostly had to keep in shape on their own. We have already learned that one tournament was being rescheduled which caused the team to drop out of that tournament and pick up another one. Many schools are not opening their fields so there is a scramble to locate fields for games. In the youth program locally, several kids have dropped out (not sure if it is concern, the change in timing for the season or some other factor). I am happy to have baseball back and hope that it is as near normal as possible.

I continue with my daily walks and have done at least 30 minutes (usually closer to 50 minutes lately) each day for the past 77 days (today marks 78 but I haven't gotten out yet). It has been a great way to stay active but also a chance to 'get away', let my mind unwind and destress and a chance to relax and soak in nature and sunshine (and rain on occasion). I have easily 80+ pictures to illustrate the soaking in of nature - I have trees and flowers, blue skies and cloud formations, 'artsy' shots with puddles and capturing the droplets collected on the leaves. It has been nice. I do hope to continue the daily walk. We heard yesterday that the pool at our gym will open in just over a week for lap swimming only. I am very glad to hear that news and will try to get there 4 or 5 mornings each week and likely move my walks to later in the day when I do. I was at almost 100 miles swam since January when the pools were closed with the gyms almost 11 weeks ago. My goal is to complete the 100 mile challenge and then try for another 100 miles yet this year.

My schedule as a whole will be changing here in a couple of weeks. I was offered a job and accepted it (actually, was offered two but one required relocation). It is such a relief after 6 months of being unemployed to have a job lined up. Job seeking during closure was interesting. I did all of my interviewing from home - a mix of phone and video interviews. It will be even stranger starting a new job at a company that is (at least right now) still work from home. I will be doing remote onboarding and orientation. I will meet the team that I will be partnering with by phone. I should have ample opportunity to explore the software and learn about the products on my own. I am a people person though, so it will definitely be strange.

Made some bread last night and it was perhaps the best batch yet. This morning, I am trying a new cinnamon roll / muffin type recipe.

What have you been up to? How are things opening up where you are?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Young Vines by James Russell Lingerfelt

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me. 

This past week, I spent my evenings reading Young Vines by James Russell Lingerfelt. The book is the third one in the collection of books sharing about the lives of three college friends: Ryan, Oz and Finn. This third book features Ryan and is primarily set at his Grandmother's vineyard. You can read my reviews of The Mason Jar (featuring Finn) and Alabama Irish (featuring Oz) by clicking on each book's title. As with the other two books, each can be enjoyed on its own but if you have the chance, I would recommend reading all three.

Young Vines is a contemporary novel about life, love, loss and good friends. When Ryan learns that he has inherited his Grandma's vineyard, he reaches out to his friends to have them join him for a couple of days at the Vineyard - in part to have time together and in part to not face it alone. At its heart I think it was a love story and as with the other two books there is something so enticing about reading a love story from a guy's point of view, especially when written by a man. The vineyard is the perfect backdrop for Ryan to reflect on the memories of his time there with his Grandma and provides him a place to heal and prepare to move forward. Lingerfelt does a great job developing characters by using a mix of active story telling and reflection and his rich descriptions help bring the surroundings to life.

This book (really, the whole collection) would be a great addition to your library and makes a great summer read.

about the novel
Dr. Ryan Lockwood is known as a professor who deeply cares for his students. Having grown up as an orphan, he now serves as a literature professor at Pepperdine University, his old alma mater. Located in Malibu, California, Pepperdine holds some of his most treasured memories. It's where he dated and married his first love, and it's where he met his two best friends, Clayton "Finn" Fincannon (The Mason Jar) and Brian "Oz" Bailey (Alabama Irish).

Now, Ryan's on track to become the department Chair, a position he's dreamed of since graduate school. At just thirty-two years old, life couldn't be better. But when his wife passes away unexpectedly, and his grandmother follows soon after, Ryan falls into a deep depression.

His grandmother leaves him her vineyard in Tennessee, where Ryan spent his childhood summers. Since the estate hosts sell-out jazz concerts and the best wine in the southeast, Ryan plans to sell the estate to the highest bidder. But when he visits the vineyard, he meets Rachel Young, the twenty-five year old daughter of the vine dresser. Rachel is good-sensed, hard-working, and she's one of the prettiest women Ryan's ever encountered.

Ryan has sworn to never fall in love again, the vineyard is auctioned at three times it's value, and Pepperdine offers him his dream. Now, Ryan must make a decision: Return to his career and friends in California, or begin a new chapter in life with a young love in Tennessee.

A love story set among the beaches of Malibu, and the lakes and pastures of Tennessee, Young Vines teaches us that sometimes we must let go of old dreams to embrace new ones.

about the author

James Russell Lingerfelt is also the author of The Mason Jar and Alabama Irish.

Find James online: website, Facebook, Twitter

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Eight Weeks

8 Weeks! For (over) 8 weeks, I have made an effort and taken a walk. It didn't matter the weather, I found a window with less rain or snow or put on an extra layer, and I found time to fit in a walk of at least 30 minutes every day. On nice days, it typically stretches to 45 or 50 minutes, but my official 'target' was to make time for at least 30 minutes. As a result, I have also managed to hit my daily step goal every day (but one where there was a tornado that touched down in town and we had to spend the last hour of the night in the basement and I missed my goal by 100 steps) for those same 8 weeks. One auto goal management, it adds around 10 to 20 steps most days but does add more if I have really exceeded my goal. Now that I have made it 8 weeks, I would like to continue to fit in a walk everyday. I would like the streak to be much longer. Some days when I walk, I find myself wishing I was done before I have even 10 minutes in; some days, I walk very leisurely; some days, I walk as if on a mission to beat my pace. My VivoFit tried to prevent from success with the screen display failing (checked by replacing the batteries a couple of times in case one of the sets was old) and then Amazon's lead time for a new Garmin was 2 weeks because they were focused on essential shipments. I learned to 'count' the pressing of the button to start and stop my workout and to get the VivoFit to sync. Fortunately, my replacement shipped sooner than expected. I actually upgraded my device and really enjoy some of the added features, like getting my messages on my watch.
8 Weeks! It has been 8 weeks since the kids last went to school in the classroom. It has been 8 weeks since the last sports practice or event. They seem to be adapting to at home learning but certainly miss the social aspects of school. They have found time most days to fit in a workout. My son has tried to mix up long toss, pitching, and hitting (off the tee, bp or live pitching). Yesterday was the senior's last day of school for the year. To celebrate, they organized a parade and drove their cars through most neighborhoods in town. It was awesome to watch and cheer them on. It made me tear up a bit to think about the things they were missing out on. Our school is hoping that by postponing prom, graduation and baccalaureate, that they will be able to do them in person...but still have a back up plan in place. At the same time, it was impressive to see them driving through with signs and tin cans, mortar boards and decorations on their cars. And, the support in the community - there were families at the end of their drives and roads, with noisemakers, signs or simply a wave to acknowledge the completion of the kids' senior year. I hope that they add this as a new tradition, and based on posts I have read, others feel the same way. The birthday parades too! We have one lining up outside our house right now. They are such fun. Love the gatherings but what another great way to acknowledge and help the birthday boy or girl celebrate.

8 Weeks! For 8 weeks, I have been trying new recipes and dishes. I hit the jackpot earlier this week when we were enjoying chicken and rice bowls for son said that he thought that the bowls that night were even better than Chipotle! Boom! Mission accomplished. My goal is that home made versions of our favorite dishes are just a touch better than we eat out. Don't get me wrong, I love to eat out but for years have been doing my best to recreate family eating out favorites at home. I started using the 'Copycat' cookbooks but for many of the dishes I have been able to find my own way. I have had to reinvent a few when favorite ingredients become unavailable. We have enjoyed very good bread - it's not the same as some of the bread loaves we pick up at the store but it is very good. We have enjoyed several iterations of donuts. I found a good 30 minute donut recipe but an even better glazed yeast donut recipe. We have enjoyed homemade pizza and burgers on the grill. We have also done our part by ordering in from the local places that are just trying to get through this crazy time. We have bought beer from a couple of different local craft brewers that we love. We found out that outdoor dining can open next Friday and indoor the week after. We have already talked about where to go when outdoor dining is open.

8 Weeks! For 8 weeks, we have had some unusual weather and fortunately, some beautiful sunny days. We have had crazy rain. A tornado touched down in town and a couple very close to here. We had snow in March, snow in April and yesterday and today - even snow in May! We have really appreciated the sunny days and the warmer days, where we could get outside and get some fresh air. The flowers and the trees have been in full bloom welcoming spring. We have had some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
8 Weeks! For 8 weeks, we have used technology in new ways. We have used Skype and Zoom and MSTeams for game nights and girls night; we have used them for classes and for homework help; we have used them to interview for jobs and for coaching sessions. I had a dream last night that I had started a new job. The details were vague - I parked near the building on the street, the dress was business casual with jeans appropriate, and there was snow on my car when I left at the end of the day (coincidental with yesterday's weather I hope and not a sign that it is still months away). I had only gotten the offer the Friday before I started, hadn't told my family and when I came home, I realized I didn't even know what the offer had been and was trying to find the details. I was excited and elated. I was glad to know that I would be on an employer sponsored medical insurance and saving for retirement again. I hope it was a sign that good news would be coming soon. I found out last week that I didn't get one role that I thought I had a pretty good shot at (it was down to 2, so I knew it was at least 50-50). When it comes to reading, I have stuck with the old-fashioned paper book format. I have been reading through a stack of books that I have bedside that I picked up at book sales and just never got around to reading. This weekend though, I started a brand new book by James Russell Lingerfelt, Young Vines. I will share more about the book when I am done reading. I previously read his other two books, you can find those reviews here (Alabama Irish) and here (The Mason Jar).

Over the last 8 weeks, I have become better at ordering my groceries for pick up and last week managed to pick up from three stores in the same day that I placed the order (long story - was trying to catch some deals and so I ordered from more than one store last week - haven't done that in a while). I have tried new brands and learned that there are some brands that I would skip in the future and others that might be worth trying again. Online ordering isn't as bad when you are getting it the same day but I will have to determine if the fees are worth the effort saved (and the extra effort to order). The out of stocks are fewer but have shifted categories.

Last weekend, as the StayAtHome order shifted to StaySafeOhio, we decided to have a socially distant bonfire with friends. It was a nice relaxing evening and a great chance to catch up in person. It was just one other family and we were outside the whole time. They brought their own chairs and own drinks. It was a dose of what we needed. My son finally got his braces off this week too. He was scheduled to get them off a month ago but when the StayAtHome order went into effect, his orthodontist was among the places that had to close.
As I wrap up this post, I think the cats have had enough of us being home - they look chill here but they just want us to get back to it. My one cat comes and sits on my night stand next to my alarm clock in the morning meowing at me to wake up and feed her but I think she may also secretly be hoping that it will go off and it will mean we are all back to normal schedules and she can have peace to sleep all day.

Monday, April 27, 2020

New Habits and Activities

This time at home has lead to the development of some new habits and have introduced new things into our lives - some bad, some good.

As a family, we stay up later and sleep in. The first couple of weeks when it was all new and we didn't really have a feel for how long it might last, we were especially bad, not really paying attention to the time and really messing up our schedules as a whole. It is hard to argue why not one more episode of the show or one more chapter in the book or one more game, we literally have nowhere to be and no specific time to be there. I started seeing it impacting us, so I made the decision that we had to get better at it. Certainly bedtimes didn't need to align with normal but we needed to be reasonable. We successfully shifted and are getting to bed at more reasonable times and getting up to start the day earlier in the day. We also enforce more regular schedule during the week and allow a little flexibility on the weekend. This has helped us return to more normal eating schedule and with both sleeping and eating back on a more normal schedule, everyone generally feels better and has a better attitude too. It will still be tough when we have to be up and out the door at a specific time again but with a more normal schedule it will be a little easier to shift back to that then it would have been.

As a family, we have shifted from team workouts/group workouts to more independent workouts and activities. It's not that we are more or less active or burning more or less calories, we are simply doing it differently. I used to do group exercise and swimming workouts with an occasional lunchtime or evening walk to clear the head, now that those classes are cancelled and the gym is closed, I rely on walking for my daily activity. I have steadily increased the distance so as to stay ahead of my step goal in my otherwise stay at home lifestyle that we have had to transition to. I have successfully walked at least 30 minutes every day for the past 44 days. It has been tough on days that it was rainy or snowy but I watched for the breaks and even dealt with the light sprinkle of rain to get to 30 minutes at least once. It is noticeable too; when I was out walking on Saturday, two different people that were hanging out in their driveways commented on my regular walking. Strange thing is that the time of day I walk can vary greatly so the fact that they noticed surprised me. I have also used these walks to observe the world around me and captured many pictures; yesterday it was fun playing with taking pictures using the puddles.
My husband has been sticking with his running routine but doesn't have the bike/treadmill option on the cold or wet days like he used to. He has switched to running virtual races, as his race schedule for the spring and summer has slowly been cancelled or converted to virtual races. My daughter does a daily work out and often times fits in a short run too. My son, in addition to keeping up with throwing and hitting for baseball, has done several runs and has put more miles on his bicycle than he has in years.

We are cooking and baking more. The cookie jar is almost never empty. There is fresh made bread in the house every weekend. We have found ways to create the tastes of our favorite dining out meals at home. We have tried many new recipes - although it seems they are mostly desserts or at least sweets.
My daughter has Home Ec (they call it family and consumer sciences now though) this quarter - so far, there has only been one hands on assignment - make an egg dish. She chose a souffle - it was good and she really did learn things - separating eggs, why we fold in egg whites, why we cover custard with wax paper, why a souffle will rise and come out of the oven fluffy and deflate within a short window following. Even with that, we are still trying to support local and try to order in at least once a week from a local restaurant and get beer from the local brewery.

We are binge watching series and catching up on movies. On some shows, we have to wait for a new episode to come out and on others we have a few seasons to go. I have started watching new series on HGTV and Food Network, just for a little variety. Some shows we watch as a family, some we watch in smaller groups, some we watch on our own - we use our family room, our media room, our computers and the iPad to provide the flexibility. It helps us as we look to find the right balance of together and alone time - since we all are here pretty much all of the time.

We are reading more. I have been reading from the stack of book sale books that I have near my bedside. My daughter has been reading a couple of different YA series and has even been trying her hand at writing in the style of some of those books.

The kids are playing more. Together and apart. My daughter is spending more time on the swingset. She has always loved it but it is a way to be outside and change up the scenery. They have been playing games / challenges together. They set up a course the other day with dominoes, strings, weights and more. They sat at the top of the stairs and tried to toss a ping pong ball into a cup at the bottom of the stairs.

I am trying to continue the clean-up/purge journey I began when I lost my job. We went through the backroom in the basement and organized and got rid of and sold things that we no longer needed or wouldn't use again. We have gone through the kids clothes to pull out the things that don't fit (or don't wear) and have been trying to sell those. I have gone through some of my files (there are always more and I can only do so much at one time). I used this stay at home to organize the freezers and inventory the food we have on hand so that I could focus on what we needed at the store and ensuring we used things up. I am trying to work through my stack of magazines that have arrived monthly over the years and I simply never had the time to read them. I read them, pull out the page or two that has something that I want to try or look into and off it goes.

We finally have time to tackle home projects and it gives us something to plan and to do. I have painted doors and frames, I have painted (portions) of the playset in the backyard (limited by paint not time). My husband cleaned up and cleaned out the garage. Moved things to mark the change in season and make outdoor activities more accessible.

I have changed the way that I shop (but I will go back at least in some ways). I really like Target's drive up service. I think I will use that for more things even after this stay at home order. If I know I need a few things, it really is easier to order them and pick them up than to park and run into the store. I went for detergent and fabric softener yesterday. The whole trip - drive time and order pick up time was 10 minutes. Since I live 5 minutes away, it essentially took no time to get my order. I am convinced that the 'let us know you are coming' gives them perspective on how close you are when you push the button. They almost always are walking out the door with my stuff as I shift my car from drive to park. I love that the app / their spots are connected and it automatically lets them know I am there. I'm generally not a fan of grocery pick up service - although, I might be more of a fan when they return to allowing you to pay at pick up. I get frustrated that I can't simply maintain and add to my list as the week passes - I have to process a payment each time I make an update. I can start my cart a week out when I reserve the timeslot but I don't always know a week out what we will be low on or be craving or otherwise need when I do pick up. I also struggle to find the magic way to search sometimes. I have gotten better at managing the substitutions so that I get what I want...but that also means that I do without on some things because I ask for no sub even though I might sub if I was in store. I don't like that sales are fewer and/or that sale items are bought out all the time. I like to be able to shop the sales and stock up, so I don't have to buy during non-sales times.

What new activities or habits are you developing? What shows are you watching?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Observations from StayAtHome

As I woke up this morning, I was reflecting on this time we have had at home over the past five weeks. It's only officially been four weeks since we learned of the true StayAtHome order (and still a few days short of it being four weeks its been in effect) but it was five weeks ago that things started to close. First to close for us was the schools, then restaurants for dine-in, then gyms, then non-essential businesses and so on.

On one hand, I feel isolated with no where to go and miss time spent with people (outside of those that I live with). I miss going to the kids' sports and school events. I enjoy watching them do the things that they love and the chance to connect with friends that I only see at those events (who has time in their schedule to see them otherwise). I miss being able to go to the gym and visit with people as I walk on the track or swim in the pool or take a class with friends. Sure, I am getting out and walking each day but even though I am getting in my activity and decompressing in the process just like I would at the Y, it is not the same as it lacks that social element. (Actually, I am pretty proud that I have found the opportunity every day for the past 35 days to get out for at least a 30 minute walk. Considering the rain and snow, I had to make an effort to find the right time to get out.) I miss getting together with friends for hanging out or game night, I miss going out for dinner or trivia, I miss having plans.

I know that the kids are also feeling it too, although I would say it feels like it is impacting my son more than my daughter. He has reached the point of bored where he went for a 7 mile bike ride last weekend. No destination, just a ride. Yesterday, it was snowing and he wanted to get outside for a bit. He wasn't sure what to do but settled on getting in some swings of the bat, hitting the ball off the tee into the net. This actually surprises me a bit because I would have always said my daughter is more social than my son - I think though now that I reflect on it, he has always been very dedicated to sports and spends a lot of time on a sports field and even when he hangs with friends there is usually some type of sport involved. It isn't that he isn't social, its just that he does more group social activity than one on one. My daughter is all about spending time with friends and although she does a lot of that through sports too, her and her friends can spend hours just spending time together.
I don't even get my normal weekly get away to the store (one constant that I can always count on regardless of the schedule is getting to the store to buy food), as I am almost exclusively shopping online for curbside pick up of my groceries. As I have shared, I am an in person shopper - in part to connect with others and in part because I like to explore and consider my choices - so this shopping online is not natural for me. I also find it is not easy to explore products online - you can't exactly walk down the aisle and see all your options. I have found that some stores do more abbreviating in their names making searching challenging even. I am very appreciative of those stores that have apps and I can scan barcodes of the products I have at home, then I don't have to figure out how to locate the item online. I am still rotating through stores based on what time slots I can get. Normally, I am going out about every 10 days for groceries and every other day it seems to Target for a pick up of odds and ends. This next week is an odd one as I have two grocery pick ups scheduled. The one store has a sale on 2L of soda and the other has the beer that my husband enjoys and we are out of. I haven't yet filled out my orders but anticipate that the first one will be a really light order, since I just picked up groceries last week and have been buying for two weeks at a time. I will likely make the second one be my next 'regular' pick up and fill it out with milk, bread and eggs.

On the other hand though, having no plans, no place to be has been kind of nice. There is a certain leisure to being able to get up in the morning and take care of a few chores and then to simply sit down with a coffee and a book or movie or my puzzle. It is nice to be able to have time to bake each week - I have used the same bread recipe each week but it is a little different each week (better in my opinion).
It is nice to be able to find time for a 30 minute walk each day - without having to try to squeeze it in between things or before it gets too dark. In fact, everyone is finding time to get out and be active - whether going for a walk, a run, a bike ride or simply playing in the yard. It is nice to sit down as a family each day and enjoy our meals at a normal time (we usually eat together, it just is squeezed in or after all our things) and to spend our evenings hanging out watching Jeopardy!, a TV series or a movie. Everyone has developed a new routine. We are staying up later and sleeping in. We are keeping our meals mixed up to avoid boredom and still finding a chance each week to do pick up from a local restaurant (and occasionally from Chik-fil-A because who can resist those sandwiches).

This time home has certainly made me appreciate time at home. Normally, it's only on that random Saturday where games got called due to rain that we legitimately have a completely unplanned day. I like doses. I suppose right now, as we all have our new routines, that it feels a little less unplanned but certainly is unrushed. The kids have flexibility on when to do their schoolwork most of the time, the exceptions being when there is a class online or a quiz that has to be done in a certain timeframe. Most of their work has a weekly rather than a daily due date.

We learned this week that the governor hopes to begin to open things up on May 1. There is officially a light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, the opening will be gradual and will not be 'full' but it is a move in the direction of returning to normal. I am hopeful that all of us will remember this time and will find ways to keep some unplanned/unrushed time in our schedules and will appreciate the little things that we had taken for granted.

How are things in your part of the world?

Friday, April 10, 2020

As the Week Winds Down

It has been a good week. Following the productive weekend, I feel like we accomplished some good things this week. I think in part it may have been helped by the updating of the models for COVID19. I don't know where you all live but here in Ohio we were significantly under the model and the updates lowered the expected peaks significantly and brought the peak in a few days. I am starting to believe (not just hope) that we will have a return to normal following the current stay at home order expiration.
Of course, Ohio weather has been typically weird weather. We have had some gorgeous days, where we could get outside in short sleeves and enjoy the sights of spring. We had a couple of tornadoes touch down within a few miles of our house. We had that gorgeous super moon, of course it was partially obstructed but we got some cool pictures when it wasn't obstructed. We had flurries and sleet yesterday and then this morning, we woke to a covering of snow.

I have learned, when we are home we bake. We have always been bakers but in 'normal' schedule time we are generally limited in frequency and often I do most of it. During the break, my son has been doing a good amount of the baking. I had to add flour, butter and eggs to my next order to make sure that we can continue to bake. We have made 2 batches of biscotti, 3 batches of cookies, a batch of macarons (trying all-purpose flour in lieu of almond flour), a batch of beignets and two batches of bread. The kids would like to give another try to an alternate recipe that uses all-purpose flour for macarons.

We also cook. Again, not that we don't do a lot of cooking when we are not on a stay at home order but we seem to be on the go enough that we have a lot of quick fix meals rather than longer prep meals. Over the past couple of weeks, we have made homemade macaroni and cheese and a childhood favorite chicken in gravy over biscuits (and they were homemade biscuits). We have also tried knock off versions of restaurant favorite dishes. Homemade pizza has been a staple of our weekly menu.

Tonight, we celebrate our 21st Anniversary. Normally, we would have planned a dinner out as a couple or with the family. Or, if the timing worked out, we might have even planned a getaway as a couple or a family (Niagara Falls area is one of our favorite getaways). We are getting carry-out pizza from a local place and a growler of beer from the local craft brewery. Supporting local and celebrating us.

I definitely miss people. As much as I am a homebody, I also love being with people and being social. I want to host a game night or sit with friends watching kids sports and visiting or go to trivia with friends or just visit around a bonfire. During this time, it is nice to catch up with friends on the phone or via chat - but it is not the same as in person interactions. I find great joy in crossing paths with others when I am out for a walk. Sure, I cross the street or walk on the edge of the road to allow appropriate space but just waving to the walkers, the runners and the cars that drive by gives me that sense of connection with others. It was nice to visit at a distance with the owners at the craft brewery as I picked up the growler - hearing about their dog and his peculiarities.

The other night, I woke up in the middle of the night. I was thinking about what I had to do the next day and became a little disheartened that we really have gotten to the point where the next day is the same as the last and the next. Even with looking forward to our anniversary and Easter, there still isn't much different. We still don't have 'plans' or get to see family and friends. I am excited for the Easter dinner that I will make and the little bit I have pulled together for the kid's baskets, yet without being able to share it with family, it seems less than it should be. Knowing that this social distancing and stay at home order is really having an impact is the shining light that continues to give me hope and helps me to keep moving forward.

How are you holding up?

Monday, April 6, 2020

A New Week

Today is the first day of spring break for the kids. With my son being on the high school baseball team, it's been a while since we did something more than a day-trip or stay-cation for spring break. Even though we would only get away one day, we generally filled our time with other fun activities - hanging out with friends, mother-daughter pedicures, laser tag with friends, mini-golf and go-carts, sleepovers, swimming and ice cream. This year we simply are home. I have to say, it feels a little weird.

It's not like spring break is the only unusual thing going on though. One positive of this whole experience is increased family time. I am seeing it at my house and in the neighborhood. This weekend we took a family bike ride, just over 6 miles round trip from home to lunch and back again. We picked up carryout from a local favorite and biked back to the school to use the picnic tables to enjoy our lunch before biking home. We have always loved family bike rides (okay, who am I kidding, my husband and I love them and the kids come along because they have to and sometimes with a bit of whine as we plan for it) but finding time for them lately with two very active children (and parents) has been a challenge. Normally we do closer to 20 or 25 miles round trip but the restaurants we use as destinations on the journey are sit down places, that although I assume are doing carry-out wouldn't be as conducive to finding a picnic table or eating outside. It was nice to get in a bike ride locally and spend some active time together as a family. As we were out biking, I saw a lot of families walking together, biking together, doing yard work together and playing ball in their yards. It really was a nice sight to see.

This weekend we also enjoyed a family movie night in. We are definitely a movie family and have even included destinations like the dine-in theater as part of one of our staycation adventures. We watched Onward on Friday night on Disney+. It wasn't a movie that we had talked about going to see or were anxiously awaiting, in fact, even when we suggested it, my daughter wasn't really interested in watching it but we all did and discovered it was a good movie and everyone enjoyed it.

We also tackled a few projects around the house this weekend. We are entering the eleventh season with our Ultrabuilt playset this year and the kids (my daughter much more so than my son) still enjoy it. In the early years, I was very consistent in making sure that we gave it a fresh coat of paint each spring or at least every other spring to help protect it from the sun and rain. More recently, we have been a lot more busy and it has fallen to every three (or at least that is how long we think it was) years. This was not the best idea as we found a couple of boards that had not maintained the seal created by the paint (or maybe I missed a spot during the last one?) and had a bit of rot within those boards (or was it carpenter ants or something similar?). We made the repairs that were needed and then I used the paint we had on hand to paint the main slide platform and adjacent rails. We will need more paint so I can seal the rest but the store we bought it at doesn't carry that brand anymore and we tried but couldn't figure out how to do an online order for a paint blend - we could get the base gallon but there was no where to enter the color or see/select the color from samples. The rest will just have to wait until we can get back into the stores. We also had a water issue on the frame for our back door. We put in french doors several years ago and it looks like the flashing above the frame wasn't properly overlapped and so we have had a slow trickle of water in around the frame. This caused some of the wood to rot. We used some caulk to address the issue with the flashing and then tackled the frame. We dug out the bad part and filled it with wood filler to rebuild the space, sanded it and will paint it. Again, we don't have the paint we need, so in the short term we will use what we have from the front porch and will have to repaint later when we can select the color we need at the store.

I have found that I have fallen into a steady routine. I know that I am cleaning things more often trying to reduce risk. Each morning, I get up and feed the cats. If I sleep longer than they like, they make sure I am up by climbing up on my bed and sitting on my stomach to cry about eating. Then, I open up the blinds on the first floor to maximize the sunlight we are getting inside. Then, I start by cleaning up the kitchen - put away clean dishes, address any that were soaking from the previous night, take out trash and recycles, and then I wipe down all of the counters. To be fair, I had wiped down the counters and cleaned up after dinner too but I want to make sure that we are starting each day fresh. I then wipe down the counters, the faucet and the toilet in the main floor bathroom. It is the first place we go when we walk in the door to wash up from being outside the house - whether just out for a walk or coming in from the store - so I want to make sure that nothing was left behind on a surface in there. Then, I wipe the inside and outside door handles for all three entry doors and the button on the garage door opener. Then I swap the towels in the kitchen and half bath and add them to the washer to be cleaned with the next load. Then, I will typically work a bit on our puzzle, check e-mail and Facebook, have breakfast, maybe watch a show or movie, check out job postings and hopefully apply to one or two viable options. I typically will go for a walk in the afternoon but adjust based on weather - so far, I have found a way to get in at least a 30 minute walk each of the days that have passed since social distancing began.

We found out last week that school closures have been extended to May 1st and then that the Stay At Home order has also been extended to May 1st. I am glad that they didn't go as far out as some other states; I have heard June 10th for some state(s). I am hopeful and pray that we will be able to start to return to normal come May 1st. I know it may be a gradual return but a start to return is at least a beginning and something to look forward to.

Interestingly, I counted and May 1st represents 40 days of social distancing. I counted because I saw a blurb on Facebook about the number 40 and the significance. It referenced among other things, the 40 days of the great flood, the 40 days of Lent and so on. Of course I left to verify something and couldn't find the post when I went back into Facebook and I can't remember what friend had shared it. My husband found a similar one but it had less of the connections. One of the things it referenced (and one of the things I left to verify) was that even the word quarantine comes from the Italian word meaning 40 days (from Wikipedia: The word quarantine comes from quarantena, meaning "forty days", used in the 14th-15th-century Venetian language and designating the period that all ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during the Black Death plague epidemic).

This week, I was able to schedule a grocery pick up, so I should be able to stay out of the stores this week but likely will do my own shopping next week. In part because it is so hard to get a time and in part because I still find shopping for myself easier but also a little riskier than I want - we learned this weekend that someone that works at our grocery tested positive. We are on about a 9 - 10 day schedule for groceries at this point. I am buying two weeks worth of bread and milk products each time so that we can stretch the visits out and have partial coverage if they are out of stock. The one thing that is harder to stretch is produce. We just make sure that we get our fruits and veggies fresh when we first shop and then we can move to frozen or canned later in the time between grocery trips. When we have a Friday evening without plans, we like to stop by the store and pick up a fresh baguette to enjoy as a snack. Not wanting to go to the store for one item, this weekend I made bread. I have made bread before but it has been a while. It turned out good and was a nice accompaniment to our dinner on Saturday as well. I will definitely plan to add flour to my shopping list so that I can make more.

How have you been doing? What adaptations have you made? How long are things 'closed' in your area?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The New Husband by D.J. Palmer

A complimentary advanced readers copy was provided to me.
I have always loved how a book can transport you to another place, another time...can completely immerse you in the storyline to the point that you are there alongside the characters and living and breathing their joys, their sadness, their fears. During a time like we are living in, the ability to escape is a wonderful opportunity that awaits in books. I recently completed reading The New Husband by D.J. Palmer (aka Daniel Palmer, son of Michael Palmer) and it did not disappoint, it had me fully engrossed and wanting to keep reading (to borrow a word I saw describing another book - unputdownable).

The New Husband is a riveting thriller about the lies we tell ourselves from D. J. Palmer, the author of Saving Meghan.

Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you know them.

Nina Garrity learned that the hard way after discovering that her missing husband, Glen, had been leading a double life with another woman. But Glen's gone―presumably drowned while fishing on his boat―so she can't confront him about the affair or any of his other misdeeds. A year and a half after the accident, Nina considers herself a widow, even though the police never found a body. Following a chance encounter with Simon Fitch, a teacher from her daughter Maggie's middle school, Nina finds love again and has hopes of putting her shattered life back together.

Simon, a widower still grieving the suicide of his first wife, has found his dream girl in Nina. His charm and affections help break through to a heart hardened by betrayal. Nina's teenage son, Connor, embraces Simon as the father he wishes his dad could have been, but Maggie sees a far darker side to this new man in their lives. Even Nina’s good friends wonder if Simon is supremely devoted―or dangerously possessive.

But Nina is committed, not only to her soon-to-be new husband but also to resuming her former career as a social worker. Before she can move forward, however, Nina must first clear her conscience that she's not making another terrible choice in a man. In doing so, she will uncover the shocking truth: the greatest danger to her, and her children, are the lies people tell themselves.

Wow! That really is my first response to this story. The first couple of chapters were a little slow, as he was setting the scene and I wasn't sure where we were going, but once it got going, I didn't want to stop. I needed to know what really was going on - how did Simon seem to know so much, why did he seem to be so controlling yet not really, how was he always there at just the right points, what was Maggie seeing and why wasn't her mom and brother seeing the same things, who was telling the truth. And the twists, the turns, the! (there's that word again)

I liked the story-telling method he used of having multiple characters share the story from their lens, allowing the reader to get different point of views around the same events and allowing you to draw your own conclusions. The story was so realistic and plausible, the thrill is so real and told in a way that really pulls you in to the story and the lives of the characters.

I definitely recommend this fast-paced, chilling read from DJ Palmer. Definitely a book that will have you so engrossed, you may be able to forget (temporarily) what's going on around you. The New Husband is scheduled for release in hardback on 4/14 but looks like you can get the Kindle version now.

You can learn more about DJ Palmer and his books on his website. And, since we all have a little more time now, if you love a thriller, be sure to check out other books by DJ Palmer (and Daniel Palmer) and Michael Palmer. I have not been disappointed by any of them that I have read.

As I thought back on the story, I actually found myself reflecting on the other books written by Daniel Palmer and those written by Michael Palmer. Michael Palmer wrote a number of medical thrillers and as I read them, I would always wonder how did he come up with these ideas. Concepts that were so well written and told that you knew that they could be true but didn't really want to believe that they could be true. Yet, here we are living the real life version of a medical thriller and as in the books, I feel like we don't know the whole story yet and we just keep reading, hoping that we will learn more and find the answer that will resolve this and allow us to breath a collective sigh of relief and return to (a new) normal.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Keep on Keeping on

This post contains some sponsored content (or links).

Did you have a good weekend? Were you able to 'break it up' from the everyday?

With the kids back to doing school work, the weekend was a nice break for them from spending their day doing school work. We learned yesterday that the schools will remain closed through April at this time, with a reevaluation towards the end of April. Next week is spring break, so the kids won't have work that week but then will have three more weeks of online learning. They seem to be doing good with keeping up with it and still finding down time.

The weather was pretty good at the end of last week and into the weekend. If we have to be at home, warm and sunny weather is definitely a welcome break. Somehow it makes me feel less 'locked in'. We were able to leave our doors and windows open and get some fresh air in the house. We were able to get out and get some fresh air, on walks and runs. My son got a chance to get out and do a some throwing and a bit of hitting at a nearby field and batting cage. My daughter spent some time playing on the swing set and then did some chalk art on the driveway. Look at the intensity of the colors in that art, I am pleased with the crayola chalk we picked up. (you can see that even following a rain, the color is still pretty intense) On my walks, I took in the sights and sounds of spring. There were daffodils blooming and birds singing, there were people grilling out and and having bonfires. It was also fun to see the different chalk drawings, pictures and encouraging messages. There were several notes written to friends and teachers on the sidewalks. Some made me smile, some made me a little sad - it is not in our nature to be isolated and not interacting, especially the kids.
Being home all day, every day has also caused us to think more creatively with eating and trying to find some old favorites to mix in to avoid feeling like we are always eating the same thing. I also have been saving some new recipes to try that friends are sharing...I am hoping that they leave a review so I know whether to try the recipe or not. I am still trying to cook once and eat multiple times and providing 'flex' options for the protein each night. I am also trying to make sure that we use up everything and don't allow any leftovers or food go bad or be wasted. Last week when I made a chipotle sauce for a restaurant knock off that is a family favorite, I threw in the remaining fresh tomatoes that were starting to get soft and a little bit of enchilada sauce that we had from dinner earlier in the week. Last night, I made homemade drop biscuits (usually use a mix) for having chicken in gravy over biscuits. I made a whole chicken in the pressure cooker and when I cleaned the chicken I set some aside to be used for Chipotle-style bowls and put the rest in the gravy. We are trying to mix up the sweets too. On Sunday, since we couldn't get donuts, we made beignets and this morning we used up some milk to make mini-muffins. When I go shopping (or do grocery pick up), I always include a good amount of fresh fruit, knowing that if it isn't all eaten that we will freeze it. Then, when the fresh stuff is out, the kids can still get fruit by making smoothies. I really appreciate the Ninja blender we got in the fall because each kid can make their own fruit combo and I don't have to hear about she used that or he didn't use that.

The cats are content. They don't seem to mind that we are hanging out more. We continue to tackle our puzzle and to play games. The other night, I even made my kids both answer one of those 'ask your kids' that is out on Facebook. I didn't share their answers on Facebook but I did keep them for my own memories.

This morning, I set an alarm to go to the store. I didn't need it, I was tossing and turning all night worrying about making the trip to the store. Unfortunately, pick up times are all booked so it was the only option that I had. I am trying to stretch time between shopping trips and got a little more than normal today to help facilitate that. They were in stock on most things on my list, except yeast, soap and toilet paper. On other items, I had to use a different brand than normal but things that were out last time I went were back in stock. I'm hoping that I might be able to do a small pick up order sometime early next week to get the couple things that were out of stock and a few things to extend the time to my next visit to the store. Thankfully, I was able to use Scan, Pay and Go and keep my time in the store to a minimum and only handle the groceries once. There were several people at the store wearing masks or scarves to cover their mouth and nose and I saw some wearing gloves as well.

Out of an abundance of caution, I let most of the pantry type items sit outside in my garage for several hours before bringing them in the house. For the refrigerated and frozen, I did what the one doctor suggested and saturated a paper towel with cleaner and gave them a quick wipe down before putting them away. For the fruit, I cleaned it and put it in a bowl, throwing out the original package. I don't know how much is too much or too little. The articles I have read seem to be contradictory (who do you trust - NIH or CDC - normally, I see them both as authorities but the data they have is not consistent) but many have talked about the fact that although the virus can be detected on the different package types that the risk may not be as high because the virus begins to decay right away, so even though it can be detected there is likely a diminishing risk over time; someone would have had to cough or sneeze right on the package or into their hands and touch the package to put virus on the package to be transferred to you; and even then you would have to touch that 'right' spot and then touch your face. So, I feel like giving them a few extra hours for any potential virus to decay before handling the packages again to put them in the pantry and knowing that we aren't going to 'touch' them until we use them which may be a few days or more, I feel I took ample precaution.

How are things in your area? Have you tried any new dishes?

This post contains some sponsored content (or links). All opinions and content are my own.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Bright, Sunshiny Day

Wednesday is Day 12 of Social Distancing and Day 2 of the Stay At Home order. I've started to lose track of how many days its been and sometimes have to count what day it is.
Wednesday was a bright, sunshiny day with birds chirping and reasonably warm out. When I went out for my daily walk, there were simply more people out and lots more cars too. Most of the groups out were families playing basketball or scooting around the block but there were reports that there were groups congregating at parks (wondering how much was they all had the same idea and how much was coordinated meeting). (Un)Fortunately, on Thursday morning they posted a note saying that the skate park (as an example) was closed. They had hoped to keep it open for recreation and fresh air but because too many people were gathering there that to be compliant they had to close it for the time being.

My kids got out and spent some time in the backyard, my son and husband threw the baseball, my daughter spent time playing on the swing set and riding scooters.

Wednesday evening, with my doors and windows open, I also decided to bake. We have stuff in the house but everyone seemed to be looking for that baked good option, so I made a batch of chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies, a batch of caramel macchiato biscotti and a batch of M&M and chocolate chip biscotti. They smelled great and tasted even better. Hopefully, they last us a week or so, but with everyone home all day, I'm not sure how likely that is.

Wednesday evening was spent like many other recent evenings. Curled up in the family room watching some tv.

I'm looking forward to Thursday, which is supposed to be more sunny and warmer.

How are you holding up? What are you doing to occupy your day?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Exploring Grocery Pick Up Options

I am an in person shopper for most things. There are some things that I always buy that I am comfortable ordering online through Amazon or have used Target pick up for but otherwise, I am inclined to head to the store for most things. During these unprecedented times though, I have turned to online ordering for pick up at store. Some of my learnings may not apply to normal times but still are included below.

Giant Eagle - I know that normally you don't have to book over a week out but that is the current norm...if you can even find a pick-up time. As such, my pick up this week from Curbside Express may be a one and done scenario. I loved that I was able to update my order once placed until about 24 hours before pick up. This was nice because I was able to reserve my spot a week out and then add to the order based on what we needed and the current sale deals.

I was disappointed that you can't rely on their online status once order is completed. There were several things (not surprisingly) cut from my order that were either missing from the order summary and others that said unavailable. When I saw those cuts, I used the information to head to another store on the way to fill the gaps. Only, when I got to Giant Eagle to pick up my order, they had in fact filled many of those things with substitutions.

I recognize that currently stock is limited and they are doing their best with substitutions but I learned that I need to be much more specific in my notes and/or simply don't allow substitutions. Unfortunately, their choice is allow substitutions or don't, and they offer a spot for notes regarding the item on your list. They don't seem to use the notes for your substitution - at least not in the one that I put a note about what to substitute. They do however review the substitutes and allow you to decline items, so that was good. As an example, I had ordered 3 x approx 1# packages of boneless, skinless chicken breast from their current sale. They were out and the swap was two value packs, each just under 3#. Unfortunately, they couldn't honor the discounted $/# pricing on the larger packs - not sure if that is typical or due to the current situation. I know that in the past, I have been able to have them honor the sale price and/or repack to smaller counts for me, when I was shopping in store.

During this time, I was appreciative not to have to spend the time in store but some things were things I wouldn't have skipped when the item I wanted wasn't in and should have said no substitutes. The produce selection was okay. The tomatoes were softer than I would have bought but not bruised, the red peppers were too heavy for their size but still sweet and the avocado was not as firm as I prefer. The meat that I ordered looked good. The expiration dates were good. All in all, they did okay with the shopping.

Giant Eagle offers Curbside Express free with a $35 order (at my location, since it says varies). I would be most inclined to use it when I need a couple of items and don't want the hassle of running in the store but that is not an option.

Acme Fresh Market - Acme I was very lucky and able to get an appointment for pick up within 2 days of placing my order. The first day I scheduled, only 2 of the items on my list were available. They called me before completing the order and I was able to cancel the order and then copy it into a new order for pick up on a different day. The shopper who called was even able to check the schedule to see when the next truck was coming in and I was most likely to find more items in stock.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way in the system to change the order once submitted. This was disappointing because there were things I would have liked to add or update after placing my order.

Their substitution approach was more comprehensive. Their drop down allowed you to select whether to up count or to change brands or flavors or no substitution and they also allowed you to choose a substitution from a recommended list. I only got one substituted item on my list but it followed my request.

When I did my pick up they had about 1/2 of what I ordered. I did not get a call that time.

Acme typically has a nominal fee for picking up an order, so I could use it for a small order but if I want to maximize the value probably wouldn't.

Target - As I said, I have used their drive up and/or pick up for items in the past. The biggest issue that I have is that it is not offered for several items, including dairy, frozen, produce or bread and (I know because we tried to order them for pick up) windshield wipers. Aside from some limitations on the selection that qualifies, it is great and during normal times your order is typically ready to pick up in less than 4 hours. I have used it get ingredients for baking, soup and medicine in the past.

Most of the time, their app is accurate on inventory but I did have an item cut from my order that had shown in stock and was likely purchased between my order being submitted and shopped. This past week, I used it to get Gatorade and shop ahead for Easter treats (since I'm not sure when we will have the chance to get treats for the baskets). The drive up process is super easy and once you tell them you are coming, if you leave the app open it knows when you arrive and alerts them. The order was out within a couple minutes of my pulling up.

What has been your experience with online ordering groceries for pick up? What is your favorite thing about shopping that way?