Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Cozy Winter Days and Nights

A complimentary Puffy Blanket was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. 

December 1st: A little early in the season for my liking but here in NEO, it is a blustery and snowy day. The kids are glad to be home on their first official snow day of the school year. It means a day filled with cuddling up to read and to watch movies and television. This means that everyone will grab for their favorite blanket as they look to stay cozy while the snow blows around outside.

Blankets have always been a big deal for us. I think it started when I was a kid. I had that special afghan that Grandma made me and I remember using it in the family room as we hung out watching tv, curling up under it while I read and sleeping tucked in beneath it at night. When I got my first apartment, having a cozy bed with fluffy and cozy blankets was a must. It was part of my vision for my new place. When we became homeowners and went on vacation, a blanket was the souvenier of choice on more than a couple of trips. Last year, I had the opportunity to learn to make a chunky knit blanket and then came home and helped my daughter make another one for herself.

Blankets are a great add for themed gifts too. A popcorn bucket, some candy and a pack of popcorn, a couple of DVDs, a cozy blanket and socks for watching movies is one example of a basket that I have put together for friends. One year, I did a Christmas themed basket for friends that just bought a new house. I filled it with a Christmas print blanket, a new home ornament, some candy canes and hot chocolate and two mugs. Another theme where a blanket is a great addition is a Picnic theme basket. Of course, here we need to do an indoor picnic at the holidays. Start with a blanket, include a bottle of wine, a couple of glasses, a corkscrew and some crackers and a charcuterie board.

This year, we have a new family favorite blanket - the luxurious faux fur Puffy Blanket
My daughter was quick to adopt this blanket when it arrived right before Thanksgiving. She describes it as big, cozy and warm. It is the perfect size for using on a bed or covering up while watching your favorite show or reading your favorite book. When I asked what she liked best, the two different sides with different textures to keep you warm. She often debates which side should be on the inside - my answer, whichever one feels best to you.

This blanket is warm, with a cozy texture and available in multiple sizes, making it a perfect gift option for those that long to be cozy. It makes a great housewarming basket gift or a straight up gift to someone that loves blankets like we do.
A complimentary Puffy Blanket was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.

Monday, November 16, 2020

24 Days of Tea Advent Calendar and 12 Days of Tea Gift Set

A complimentary Tea Advent Calendar and 12 Days of Tea Gift Set was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. 

When I was a kid, I was not a fan of tea. I'm not sure where or when I had had it but I remember thinking that it was without flavor and left a 'dry' aftertaste in my mouth. I knew that I also had tried and didn't care for sun tea. My feelings about hot tea changed when I was in high school. I had a really good friend that was a fan of tea and when I was at her house to work on a project or doing homework, she would often times drink tea but it wasn't plain tea. Rather she was always drinking different flavors and the aroma was enticing. I think the first tea that she had me try was a peppermint tea around the holidays. There was something that was so good about the fresh pop of the flavor. She also introduced me to apple cinnamon, lemon, and probably a few other flavors.

As I got older, I became more adventurous and liked to try new flavors. Dining out, hotel breakfast bars, and offerings at business meetings were the easiest places to try new flavors and further experience tea. There are a few that are definitely not for me and I have a tendency to primarily purchase herbal teas. I enjoy a mix of loose tea and tea bags. I like the flexibility to adjust the intensity of the tea with loose tea but there is an on the go convenience to bag tea. My tea making supplies expanded with time too. I have a tea kettle for boiling water. I have both a ball infuser that screws together and a snap ball tea strainer. One year for Christmas, I received a carafe with a center infuser that allows me to make several cups at once. A few years ago, I picked up a ToastTEA travel tea infuser from Adagio tea which makes taking loose tea on teh go a little easier.

Winter is my favorite hot tea season and it is my go to beverage when I am looking for something warm in the afternoon or evening. Lately, I have been preparing myself a mug of tea after the work day winds down. Being at home, makes the transition a little different but I have found that putting up my feet and sipping on tea is such a great way to relax and unwind. I think that with all that is going on, the ability to take a few minutes of down time and relax is an important thing for mental health.

If you are looking for a gift for someone on your list, check out these two items from Adagio tea. The 12 Days of Christmas Tea Gift Set comes with 12 varieties of tea, each in it's own tin that you can hang from your tea or stack for a cute ornament image. I love that they are each ornaments that you can hang in your tree. How fun it would be to seek each numbered tin on the tree. The teas include: White Pear, Rooibos Peacan Turtle, Lavender Lemon, Candy Cane, Golden Monkey, Jasmine Pheonix Pearls, Blue Mango, Cream, Cha Cha, Earl Grey Bravo, Fruit Medley, Rooibos Nutcracker. I'm curious to see what Golden Monkey is and the Rooibos Nutcracker I am expecting to love. Of course, it not only makes a great gift for the poeple on your list but you may also decide to make it a gift for yourself and experience the twelve flavors.

Looking for a unique Advent calendar? This Tea Advent Calendar from Adagio makes an 8 oz serving of tea each day, as you count down to the holidays.
It gets the thumbs up from my daughter, as she noted, the numbers are not in order, which from her point of view makes for a better Advent calendar.
I was thinking that buying one for your friends and family, could be a fun way for everyone to connect through a common experience. Enjoying a cup of the same tea while video chatting with your friends or family could help bring your together in a year where there is real potential that more families are apart during this time of year than normal. With 24 unique teas, you will have the chance to try many flavors. If you are enjoying it as a group, perhaps you could make a chart and rate the groups' favorites. The added bonus is that you would then have insite and could order more of their favorite tea as a gift in the future.

Do you have a favorite variety or flavor of tea? Who in your family would enjoy these gifts?

A complimentary Tea Advent Calendar and 12 Days of Tea Gift Set was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Just Under 6 Weeks to Christmas!

For as long as 2020 has felt, it is so crazy to think that Christmas is less than 6 weeks away. I think I am ready to start getting out Christmas decorations and adding a little extra cheer. There are already a handful of houses where I have seen Christmas lights and other decorations and it makes me smile.

I expect the holidays will feel different this year. We don't often travel for Thanksgiving, so it will probably be similar for us, with the exception of no plans for Black Friday shopping. Sales have started early this year, which I guess has been nice. When my mixer that had served me well for 25 years stopped working a few weeks ago, I was able to take advantage of a Black Friday deal at Target to pick one up without even going in the store. In fact, I imagine a lot more of my shopping will be online this year. I have been doing a majority of my shopping online with shipping or curbside services since March. I have always been a look and see shopper, so this was quite an adjustment for me. I have returned to buying produce in person because the items I was getting through pick up services were not to my liking.

The gatherings that normally fill my schedule for Christmas will look a lot different this year. The normal outings with girlfriends and friends, I assume will fall to the wayside this year, especially if our governor decides to close restaurants for 4-6 weeks as is currently being speculated. There won't be carry ins or outings for work. I assume that the extended family, for the first time in my life, will not be planning a family get together with family, food, and gifts. It is always a great time, a chance to see cousins that I don't get to see through out the year. With over 100 people though, it just isn't likely. Assuming that it makes sense, we do hope to see my family over the holidays for a family dinner after the holidays.

I think that gifts might be a little different this year. In part, the difference will be driven by shopping online. Plus, as the kids get older, their lists of wants and needs seems to be getting smaller. I have turned back on my Gift Guide link on the side bar. It will lead you to not only new posts from this year but ideas that I have shared over the years. I continue to stand by my approach of Foster Imagination, Stimulate Creativity, Challenge Their Problem Solving and Stretch Their Minds. I am a big fan of experiences, over things but that might be harder this year with concerts, plays, musicals, escape rooms, laser tag, and other like things being postponed/closed.

How do you shop? How will your plans change this year?

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Plans We Made by Kathryn Cushman and Lauren Beccue

A complimentary copy of the book was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. 

When I first heard of the new book from Kathryn Cushman and Lauren Beccue called The Plans We Made, this quote came to mind:

"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." -- Robert Burns

I was immediately intrigued by the title and wondered what type of an adventure we might be in for. I decided it was a book that I must read.

Suffice to say, I was quickly drawn in to the story and as is often the case, found myself wanting to read just a little more before putting it down. It translated to a couple of later nights and a few lunch hours where I was reluctant to get back to work.

I enjoyed getting to know the two (although not called out I think there were actually three) main characters. I was so disappointed in Caroline's fiance and his assumption that she would simply follow him wherever he went regardless of her own dreams and desires and when this perspective didn't change even after a broken engagement, I was not only mad at him but frustrated with her willingness to consider accepting less than what she deserved. It was good though to witness the growth that she had and watch as Caroline came to learn more about herself and her value. Linda was a strong character who recognized that she had to be stronger and vulnerable to do the right things and open up about the secrets that she had kept from absolutely everyone. What a tough spot, the relief she could finally feel by sharing something that no one else has known about her was well offset by the ripples that revealing it caused in her family and community. Chris was the third main character in the story. I loved the foil that he provided to Caroline. They simply were fun together, even though they were on opposite sides with their respecitve employers in the battle for a historic home, there was a nice balance in how they each pushed the other to be better and to be courageous in taking the next steps that each faced as they grew and put their faith in God.

Despite things not turning out the way you might expect, it is refreshing to know that things can still turn out in a way that works.

Many plans are in a man's mind, But it is the LORD'S purpose for him that will stand (be carried out). -- Proverbs 19:21

If you are looking for a story that brings together love, loss and growth with a warm and endearing group of individuals, this is one book that is definitely worth checking out.
About the Book
When past secrets hold the only key to hope for the future… Caroline Chapman is reeling from a broken engagement. Determined to start again, she moves cross-country for her dream job of planning events in the historical mansions of Newport, Rhode Island. Just as her life is getting back on track, she gets an email that shakes her very foundations.

Linda Riley’s life looks picture perfect - a wonderful husband, two great kids, involved in church and the community. Then comes the diagnosis that shatters the facade. In order to save her son’s life, she must reveal secrets that can rip everything apart.

Connected by more than painful circumstances, these two women discover a sacred bond. In this beautiful story of love, loss, and the fight for life, Caroline and Linda experience the reality that life doesn’t always go according to The Plans We Made.

About the Authors
Kathryn Cushman graduated with a degree in pharmacy from Samford University. After hanging up her lab coat, she shifted her focus toward writing. Her previous works have received multiple nominations for both the Carol Award and the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. The Plans We Made is her tenth published novel. Learn more at kathryncushman.com. Follow Kathryn on Facebook (@authorkathryncushman) and Instagram (katiecushman1).

Lauren Beccue graduated from Holy Cross with a BA in English and now lives with her family in Santa Barbara. She writes about faith and family, with an emphasis on agricultural passages of the Bible. This is her first novel. Learn more at laurenbeccue.com. Follow Lauren on Facebook (@beccue.lauren) and Instagram (@lauren_beccue).

You can check out the trailer for the book here: Enter to win your own copy of the book here:a Rafflecopter giveaway If you pick up a copy on your own online or your local book store, be sure to participate in the author's giveaway:
MAKE YOUR PLANS IN PENCIL! Now, go buy your copy of The Plans We Made online or at a local bookstore, then be sure to head to Lauren’s website to claim your bonus freebie! THREE CUSTOM PENCILS: Make Your Plans in Pencil The Plans We Made Proverbs 19:21 Just contact Lauren with your name, address, and where you purchased the book, and she’ll send you a set. That's it! (US only and get 'em while they last.)
A complimentary copy of the book was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. 

210 Days - A Habit Times 10?

Back in the spring, we things started to shut down, I was concerned that I needed some routine in my life. I was unemployed and soon my kids were going to be home all day, every day for at least a while. (It turned out they were home for the rest of the school year but even when they started 'school' online there was little routine to what they were doing.) The reality of Schmursday was about to be very real for us. Family dinners each night (in spite of crazy schedules for other meals), semi-standard bedtimes (maybe not normal but at least consistent) and a daily walk were my best stab at having routine.

Little did I know when I started my plan to walk at least 30 minutes a day that I would be sitting here in the fall, having completed my 210th day in a row yesterday. It feels good. I have always heard it takes 21 days of repition to make a habit and I can tell you that having walked that many days consistently, I don't want to not walk. Even when it would be easier to just chill and not worry about it, I still recognize that I need to find a time to get out there. I would hate for a silly reason to be the reason that my streak comes to an end...that is serious motivation.

I would say that over 95% of my walks have been over the same space, around my neighborhood. I have 'met' many other people that live in my neighborhood and although I haven't had an extended conversation with them, they are a friendly and familiar face when we cross paths on our individual journeys or while they are working in their yards. I have come to meet most of the neighborhood dogs and know which ones are a little too yippy, which ones don't like people walking near their yards and which ones are so well behaved, patient and kind. I have watched the flowers, tress and bushes through three seasons. There are some really pretty plants that I will consider next time I update my landscaping.

The few not around my nieghborhood were to the ice cream shop with my husband; twice around the pool while my daughter was at practice; once around a park with my brother, his wife and our girls and once with his wife near their house; twice around the car dealership while my car was being serviced for a warranty issue; and once around the hotel while traveling for a night.

Most of the time, my weather has been good. Sure, I have adapted to morning, afternoon or evening to hit the 'best' weather for the time of year or on a daily basis. I had one walk where there were a few pop up showers and I had to pause under a tree for a while (timer paused) and then continued my journey tree to tree to maximize my walk time and to keep reasonably dry. I had one wear I simply didn't have enough time and had to finish the last 5 minutes walking a loop around my first floor.

My committment was at least 30 minutes and I have walked anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour, with the majority around 45-50 minutes.

I am glad that I made the committment and have stuck with it. It really does feel good. I know that it has been a huge help mentally - a chance to get away from things and decompress. I know that each day, I am walking hills and getting my heart rate elevated and helping to keep myself healthy. When my friends joke about the Covid 20, I know that my walking consistently has offset my less than stellar eating and drinking habits over the past seven plus months. I know that working remote I simply don't get the steps I would at the office - to/from car, to/from coffee pot, to/from meetings, and so on. It used to be that on a typical day I would get 10K at the office without a walk and now, I'm not always able to get that many even with a walk. My hope is that I will keep up the walking even as other parts of life return to normal and I can couple improved eating, a more active day and my walks to help me lose weight too.

This is one habit that I hope I can keep up for the long term. What new habits do you have?

Monday, August 17, 2020

Game Night - Telestrations Upside Drawn

As a participant in the Tryazon Telestrations Upside Drawn party, I received an Upside Drawn party pack which included two copies of the game and coupons to buy the game to share with my guests. All opinions expressed are my own.
I love to host a good gathering. There is a lot of work that goes into planning and hosting a gathering but I enjoy it. Finding the right food for the event, preparing the house for the arrival and planning the preparation of the food, so that it all comes together at the right time in the right way. I enjoy it and the sense of satisfaction when it all comes together. With Covid those gatherings have all but disappeared from our social calendar. We have had a few bonfires with friends, where we can all sit socially distant and visit, relax and enjoy each other's company. Everyone has brought their own drinks, snacks and chairs. 

This weekend we extended our gathering to include a cookout and plans for a small game night. All planned for outside where we could rely on the benefits of sunlight and the lack of close quarters. We kept the cookout simple with burgers, chicken and hot dogs. For sides, we had garden veggies, fruit, macaroni salad, and salad. We also had chips with homemade onion dip, fresh garden salsa and a jalepeno dip. For dessert, we went Disney inspired options. We made chocolate cupcakes with chocoalte hazelnut buttercream frotsting. Our friends brought their soft serve maker and Dole whip mix so we could all enjoy Dole Whips. And, of course, with a bonfire planned to cap the evening, we had all the makings for S'mores. 

As with most plans, we had to make some adjustments. As we approached the day, we confirmed that some were unable to join. I forgot to buy watermelon, so fruit was scratched from the menu. Then, the day of the event, as we were finishing up the cookout portion, we were concerned briefly about rain as the cloud cover increased and the sky darkened. It didn't rain but we wound up having to relocate to the front of the house to follow the sun and the warmth when the non-rain cold front passed through and the temperatures dropped. 

 It was so nice to have an event to plan. It was so nice to hang out and visit with friends. As sometimes happened, we spent less time than planned playing games because we got caught up in visiting and eating! Fortunately, my daughter had played the games many times with friends and was able to easily explain the game and roles that everyone on the team would play. Telestrations Upside Drawn

is a unique in that the artist is one of the guessers. They don't know what they are drawing but rather are taking instruction from the guide as they move the drawing board under the marker, providing up or down instructions telling the artist to lift or lower the marker back to the board. Needless to say, even more so than other drawing games, the pictures can be pretty interesting as a result and lead to laughter and kidding when the answer is learned. Fortunately, there are hints along the side of the board that you can guide the board to (be sure to have the marker up as you move so you don't cross thorugh the drawing). The game is enjoyable but I will say that I think I still prefer the original Telestrations game - the 'telephone' game of drawing and guessing has been the center piece of many game nights at our house over the years. 

All in all, it was a good night. The group was smaller than expected. The cupcakes were a big hit. The bonfire was enjoyable and I even got to have a couple of toasted marshmallows, even if it was after the guests left. We even had a bonus copy of the game that we got to share with friends to enjoy at their own game nights.

What are some of your favorite games to play with friends?  You can find Upside Drawn at Amazon and Target.

As a participant in the Tryazon Telestrations Upside Drawn party, I received an Upside Drawn party pack which included two copies of the game and coupons to buy the game to share with my guests. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Fitness Goals - Staying Active!

Sometimes it can be hard to maintain consistency in working out. For me, it is usually because life happens and I'm busy or up late or have to be somewhere early. I have generally had success with morning workouts. When the kids were little, if I got up before them I could get my workout in before really starting the day. I have done it on my own and taken classes. I enjoy the accountability of a class. When others ask "where were you" when you miss a day, it makes me think twice about missing without a good reason. 

With Covid19, there wasn't much of 'life' getting in the way. Everything that we normally were busy with seemed to one by one close or get cancelled. But, I did have to be on my own the past 5 months to work out. In our area the schools closed 151 days ago and the Y cancelled classes and the eventually fully closed for 12 weeks 148 days ago. Even when they reopened, the group classes did not return. 

When the schools closed and knowing that the Y had been cancelling classes, I made an assumption that the Y would likely close, so I decided to make a commitment to make it outside for a 30 minute walk each day. I needed to have something to keep me active, something to allow me to decompress from all the news and continuous fear that seemed to be presented and with everyone home all day, every day, I needed some me time. Yesterday marked 150 days in a row that I have managed to successfully complete at least a 30 minute walk. Probably 90% of those walks have been within my own neighborhood. I started at 30 minutes but stretched it to 50 minutes most days. I have walked any time of day from first thing in the morning until the sun was setting. I walked in the snow and rain, under sunny skies and cloudy skies, in the heat and the cold. Most days, even with weather, I was able to find a 30 minute break in the precipitation where I could get in my walk. There was one day where my timing was off and I walked the last 10 minutes by circling the rooms on my first floor over and over. It feels good to have made the commitment and stuck to it. I think my next target is 183 days (1/2 a year) and then likely 200 days will be my next target. How long will I continue? I don't know. It will be a sad day when I can't fit in the walk and my streak comes to an end...so much like others asking me "where were you" I think the fact that I have such a long streak, I will think twice before I just decide to skip a day. 

Before and after closures, my other primary activity this year has been swimming. I swam a few times in December but really started swimming regularly at the beginning of the calendar year. The YMCA posted about their 100 Mile Swim Club (with a 150 mile anniversary challenge). When the Y closed in March, I had been on pace to complete the first 100 miles by the end of March. When they finally reopened in June, they had limited hours, were limiting total time in the pool to one hour and limiting one swimmer per lane. In addition, I fortunately was starting a new job which meant less time available to swim. The good news is I was still able to complete my first 100 miles by the end of July. 3,520 laps (yup, down and back). I hadn't swam with consistency or purpose for almost 30 years, back when I swam on a team. It felt so good to be back in the water. I missed it when the Y was closed and am glad to have it back...even though I generally only make it 1 or 2 days each week. I am still on target to reach the 150 mile challenge by the end of the calendar year. 

How have you been staying active? Have you any streaks or accomplishments that you are celebrating?

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 (ignitermedia.com).

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 www.andrewhuffbooks.com. 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 www.andrewhuffbooks.com.

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 dinner...my 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?