Best of 2019: Photos

This is a look back at some of my favorite images from this year. I have so many, it was really hard to choose. Not all are here because they are the best quality, but because of what I managed to capture and is an image I’m kind of amazed came out of my camera.

Did any of you have a favorite? Are there any that you thought I should have included in this list that I missed? There have been times I’ve been surprised that photos I don’t think are that great are well liked and others that I LOVE seem to not be as popular. I’m always fascinated to see how other people see art and photos and what appeals to them. It would be amazing to see if there is a reader favorite.

If I had to pick a favorite (which I always balk at doing), I’d have to say it is that high contrast black and white iris. I loved that image so much, I had a large print made and framed. It is now hanging on the wall in my living room and holds pride of place as the background on my tablet.

*click any image to bring this gallery up in a slideshow of larger images.

Best of 2019: Books

I don’t tend to set reading goals as I already probably spend too much time with my nose buried in a book. Maybe. It’s debatable. I have no desire to ever again hit or even get close to my highest book count in a year, because that 508 was nuts. I can say that based on the numbers below, I can probably still hang onto my my “picky, moody reader” label.

Books read in 2019

258 New to me; 28 Rereads; 14 DNF
5 Stars: 12
4.5 Stars: 7
4 Stars: 91
3.5 Stars: 34
3 Stars: 80
2.5 Stars: 13
2 Stars: 21
Below 2 Stars: 0

*I didn’t start recording half stars until I changed my rating system in May. I also fully plan on adding at least one or two more books to this before we reach “one” on the countdown clock.

Of those twelve 5 stars I handed out, it isn’t a bit of a surprise that most of them came from authors at the top of my favorites list. Faith Hunter, Anne Bishop and Michelle Sagara (West).

Firstborn
War
War
Circle of the Moon
Circle of the Moon
Wild Country
Wild Country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of others were standouts even among those few that managed 5 stars and are worth mentioning again.

 

Kimberly Belle’s Dear WifeDear Wife

 

And G.A. Aiken’s The Blacksmith QueenThe Blacksmith Queen

 

One of the other things that I wanted to do as a final wrap up to my 2019 reading is to mention my top Indie Author reads for the year. Keep in mind that these are books that I KNOW are indie books. There are probably dozens of indies on my read list for the year, but not all authors are upfront and it isn’t always easy to tell. If I wasn’t 100% certain, I didn’t notate that a book was an indie.

These are the best indie reads for me this year.

 

Stephen Paronlini’s Beautiful Sky Beautiful Sky (4 Stars)Beautiful Sky Beautiful Sky

 

Kameo Monson’s I Not David (4.5 Stars)I NOT David

 

I highly recommend any of the books I’ve listed here. If you haven’t read one of them yet, you really should add it to your 2020 TBR.

*click on any thumbnail to go to the review for that book*

On The Flip Side

I have only just now had a few moments to go through all the photos I took over the last several days. Nearly all of them are family related, but I did manage a minute or two to play with my new toy, a photography sphere. I’m going to have so much fun playing with this!

Today is going to be focused on getting the remaining messes picked up and put away from the last few amazing days followed by the post holiday crash. We really had a wonderful, drama free holiday, so I’m very much a happy camper. Even more so because I got to be evil mom to MC by making his one and only gift something he had to really work for to get open. Let’s just say that multiple layers of wrapping and boxes culminated in woven packing tape can only be broken into if you cheat and use scissors. Even that took more work than he expected. The look on his face when he got to that layer absolutely made my day and was so worth all the time it took to set that up.

Everyone is off of work and school until after the new year, so I probably won’t be back to regular posting until then, though I’ll try and sneak in a couple here and there. This time of year is always family time and filled with food and movie marathons and lazy time.

Hoping you all had as amazing holidays as I did and will keep enjoying this fun time of year!

 

Book Review: I Not David, Finding Me – Book #1

Author: Kameo Monson
Book Name: I Not David
Release Date: November 20, 2019
Series: Finding Me
Order: #1
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: When three-year-old Joey is diagnosed with autism, Kat’s heart sinks. With a single phone number and a few suggested therapies, she and her husband Derek are left to wade through the unknown abyss of ASD. Derek assures Kat their son will grow out of it, but she has done enough research. That never happens. Still, Joey can improve, and Kat vows to make his life better any way she can.

Jumping feet first into the depths of therapies and developmental preschool, Kat gives it her all. Everything should get easier. But Derek still can’t handle Joey’s meltdowns, and now he only wants to spend time with her. What happens if his attitude doesn’t change?

As Kat’s world continues to crumble around her, she finds something in herself that she didn’t know was missing.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4.5/5 Stars
Believability: 4.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

This book ticked most of my boxes for what makes a really good, emotional book. It is a small snapshot of life as a mother learns to parent her autistic child and all the struggles that entails, including the strain it can put on a marriage.

The first couple of chapters felt a little choppy with a lot of events happening quickly and jumping to the next, but it smoothed out after a few chapters and I was able to sink into Kat’s story. As a mother that only ever barely brushed up against a tiny fragment of the issues presented in this book, it was easy for me to relate to and sympathize with her struggles from that mother’s perspective and to understand her willingness to do anything and everything to give her child every opportunity for a good life. The story touches on a lot of typical parental fears for their children and magnifies them through the lens of autism.

Having no background knowledge of autism, I wasn’t sure how accurate the experiences and scenarios regarding diagnosis and treatment were throughout the book, but they felt authentic. Something that stood out for me and had me questioning the reality a bit was the lack of support or suggestion of counseling for the parents or available resources to support them and help them learn to raise an autistic child. There is plenty addressed with regards to support and treatments for Joey, but there wasn’t any mention of any resources to help the parents with such a drastic change in the way they would need to parent him and how those changes could impact them as a family. There aren’t even mentions of support groups. After finishing the book and reading the author’s comments about the background of the story and her personal history, I’m a little floored that this is apparently reality, or was at the time of her experiences (at least not as something that is ever mentioned in the book).

This book only covers a small span of time and leaves several threads open at the end (most likely because this will be part of a series). There aren’t any cliffhangers, but there are some larger pieces that do not get resolved by the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story and the very real glimpse it gives you into life with a young, autistic child.

*I received a copy of this book from the author. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

Book Review: A Madness of Sunshine – Nalini Singh

Author: Nalini Singh
Book Name: A Madness of Sunshine
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Thriller/Suspense/Crime/Romance
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates.
 
That is until one fateful summer—and several vanished bodies—shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.

Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape.

It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Believability: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

This is a very different book for Nalini Singh with the genre, but still very much on the same level of quality, detail, and great story telling that her readers have come to expect. Stepping into a different genre for an author can be risky, so I really wasn’t certain how much I’d like it. I really shouldn’t have been worried as Ms. Singh has always done a great job at building her stories, no matter the genre. While this does have romantic elements to it, they are light in comparison to the rest of the story.

The only real dings this takes from me are in the couple of places (one in particular) where a little piece was dropped like a hint, but never picked up or addressed later in the story and in a couple of other very minor hits on believability. Otherwise, this was a great story that kept open so many different options for the outcome all the way through to the end, it really wraps up in unexpected ways. It isn’t often that an author can find that balance of keeping readers realistically guessing and giving it away with obvious clues. This one hit that perfect balance for me.

 

 

Absolutely Epic

Normally starting my day cleaning up cat puke would set the tone and the rest of the day would be full of not fun, but I ended up having one hell of a day yesterday.

I finished my gift baking. Got all my presents wrapped and under the tree except the couple that hadn’t arrived yet. Got the kids to wrap their gifts to each other. Heard from the people that I shipped gifts to that they got their packages early. So, in all, it felt like I’d accomplished a lot, which was really good.

I was stressing the hell out trying to finish getting my pizzas assembled knowing I didn’t have a ton of time left as the kids were due home and I still had to work with the kids on their gifts, start baking the pizzas, take a shower and fix BG’s hair all before we had to leave for her Christmas program.

MC gets home as I’m rushing around and tossed out that he has to call his college choice back as they’d tried to call him while he was in school and left a message for him to call them back. I honestly didn’t think about it when he told me as I was too focused on finishing everything in time, but he comes down only a few minutes later with a kind of stunned look on his face.

He was officially offered the scholarship with full tuition and is the runner up for the tuition with room and board scholarship (he will get it if either of the top candidates choose another school). That means he was third out of all of the applicants for the competitive scholarships. He frickin’ did it! All his hard work over the years, all his dedication to getting those amazing grades and doing so well absolutely paid off in spectacular form. I’m so damn proud of my kid. He is still a little bit in shock over it all and I think it may take a little bit for that to sink in.

After all the crazy and the excitement, I then got to go watch BG do her Christmas program for tap and jazz. This is something like the 9th one I’ve sat through, but it was a little different because of the class she is now in. Being the older girls (sophomore, junior and seniors) the program is a bit more intense, with harder choreography and steps, plus it is treated with a little bit more import as the girls aren’t those cute little girls anymore. It is still full of fun, but it is just that little bit more mature. The difference is subtle, but still noticeable.

It was so much fun to watch her. I mean, it always is, but this year she has put so much more effort into it than she ever has and it really shows. Being an assistant has made her look at all of this a little differently and it has become even more important to her. For the first time ever she agreed to let me take group shots of her and her friends after the program and damn! The smiles I got! She was absolutely glowing.

I could not be more proud of my kids. They are growing up in this amazing way that shows how amazing they are going to be as adults. I think I won the lottery when it came to kids with these two.

Need A Second…

I’m having a moment. A moment when I’ve discovered that a reader not only enjoyed my book, but, based on what they’ve said about it, got it exactly as I’d hoped a reader would. Every single piece. That review pretty much makes all the hard work and stress and self doubt worth it.

And yes, reviews ARE for readers, but those good ones sure as hell help the writer feel as though they did something right. I cannot thank the book reviewers in general enough for taking a chance on such a newbie, no matter how they feel about my book, but the ones that really loved it and want to share that love? You are frickin’ amazing. Thank you!

I’m going to go do an happy dance. Or cry. I haven’t quite figured out which. Probably a bit of both.

Frozen Fog Aftermath

It was a little baffling when the kids got a second snow day, called the night before, because of a prediction of fog. Other factors played into that, but it was odd when we got the call, especially because not all news stations even mentioned the fog.

Yesterday morning was indeed extremely foggy. It didn’t clear off until closer to 9 am, which is when I got out to take this. It was absolutely stunning. It isn’t often that we get that combination of well below freezing temps and fog. We are more likely to get a coating of ice or snow, but not frozen fog.

While I didn’t get much done that I had planned to do yesterday (kind of difficult to wrap presents when the kids are home), I did get out and take some more pictures. So glad I did because all that pretty coating dropped as soon as the sun started peaking out in the afternoon.

I’ll be back in the kitchen today working on my FIL’s annual food presents. It really, really sucks that Thanksgiving was so late this year as I really feel like there wasn’t my normal time between the holidays to get everything done. Now I’m feeling rushed.

 

Snowy Day At The Pond

Sadly, the pretty snow was bad enough to force the studio to cancel BG’s performance yesterday, something they almost never do because of how difficult (really impossible) it is to reschedule. They will do most of it during the first class period back after the new year, but it won’t be the full thing as they don’t do pointe, just ballet.

I was sad but also really glad because all the roads in the area were a horrible mess and I really didn’t want to attempt to get out in that disaster. Instead, I froze my butt off to go take some pictures as the conditions were perfect for it. Or, mostly perfect. I would have stayed out longer, but the snow was really coming down and it was getting impossible to keep my camera dry, so I wasn’t out too long. Long enough to get a few good shots. I love snow covered landscape shots, but I can rarely ever seem to really capture what I see.

 

Careful What You Wish For

You just might get it. Apparently Mother Nature was listening to me moan about not getting snow and decided to be generous. Sadly, of all the days (and there really were only a total of 2) that this really need to NOT happen, today is one of them as it is BG’s ballet Christmas program.

What you see here is only the beginning of what is already proving to be extremely nasty with area highways shut down and accidents all over the place. Predictions are for multiple inches today and then again tomorrow. We still have a few hours before we have to leave, but it will be snowing the entire time. I have my fingers and toes and pretty much everything that is crossable crossed that it tapers off in enough time for the roads between here and the studio to get clear, but I don’t think I’m going to get that lucky.

This would be the second ballet program we will miss since BG started pointe if we can’t get to this one. The last time was her first year in pointe and we had a nice ice rink outside our house.

Seriously Mother Nature? You couldn’t postpone this just a day? Okay, I get it. There are programs for different classes all week, so if it isn’t ours today, it will be someone’s. Maybe just hanging on to this until Christmas would have been best.

That said, the conditions are perfect for getting out and taking some amazing photos, so if I can’t get to watch my daughter do beautiful, impossible things, I’ll go watch Mother Nature do it instead.

Repost: Easy Fudge

Reposting this as I made a batch of this yesterday. I’ve updated some of the measurements to include weights on the dry ingredients based on my measuring cups and spoons. Still working on trying to get something for the liquid measurements (though there are a few places online that can convert those).

This fudge recipe is super easy. I always make up 2 different kinds, peanut butter and chocolate espresso. It used to be full batches, but it makes so much, I finally figured out how to do a half batch.

Fudge - Ingredients

Unless you can get a jar of marshmallow fluff/creme in just the right size, halving this recipe really does require that you have a scale. I’ve discovered in all my years of baking that there are just some things that really should be weighed rather than use any kind of measuring cups and this is one of them. You also should really use a candy thermometer. My original recipe uses time rather than temperature, but if you go too long or not long enough, this just doesn’t come out quite right.

Easy Fudge, Full Recipe – Peanut Butter & Chocolate Espresso

3 Cups Granulated Sugar (600g)
3/4 Cup Butter – cut into chunks (172.5g)
2/3 Cup Evaporated Milk (1 -5oz can)
12oz Chips (Chocolate or Peanut Butter)
7oz Marshmallow Creme
1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 Cup Chopped Nuts (Optional)
2 tsp. Instant Espresso Granules (For Chocolate Espresso) (5g)

Mix sugar, butter and evaporated milk in sauce pan (add espresso if making the chocolate). Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a metal or wooden spoon until comes to a full, rolling boil. Continue stirring and cooking for 5 minutes (candy thermometer should read 238­°). Remove from heat. Stir in chips and marshmallow creme until mixture is smooth, scraping the side of the pan. Stir in vanilla and nuts. Spread into lightly greased pan (size will determine thickness, 13 x9 will give a thinner fudge, if you want a thicker, taller fudge, use 9×9). Cool and cut into squares.

Makes about 3 pounds total.

You need to use a pan that doesn’t have a non-stick coating. No matter how good those pans are, with the amount of stirring that gets done with this, you will have flecks of that coating end up in your fudge and you will be wondering when you added pepper.

This really isn’t a fussy recipe and is actually kind of hard to mess up. I’ve played with a few different flavors, using things like Khalua instead of the vanilla. You may end up with a slightly softer fudge (my chocolate always ends up softer than my peanut butter), but it will still set up.

While this doesn’t take all that long to make, you do have to stir it the whole time. Making two batches, your arm may be a bit tired by the time you are done.

I always coat my pan in butter to grease it that way it doesn’t add any other flavor to the fudge by accident.

Fudge - Setting Up

Once it is completely cooled, it is ready to cut. Fair warning, this is stupidly addictive. I barely had any of this cut before both the kids and Hubby were hanging around, snatching pieces.

Fudge - Finished

Annual Holiday Lights Tour

Tonight we are going to do our annual tour of driving around and looking at all the holiday lights. We have been doing this since our kids were little and even now that they are both teenagers, this is still an activity they love and look forward to every year.

We start with grabbing dinner that we can eat while driving around. I make hot chocolate and the kids have been known to get their PJs on or grab a blanket to ensure the mood is perfectly cozy. There will be nothing but Christmas songs on the radio and more than half the time we will all be singing along or, just as often, making up our own lyrics that have us all laughing.

I’m really a little surprised that both MC and BG still really want to do this again this year. I love that we have this tradition that they both look forward to and get so excited about, especially knowing how few teenagers would be caught dead having fun hanging out with their parents. I have no clue if this will be MC’s last year to do this with us since he will be doing the whole college thing next year, so I’m going to savor this one as much as I can.

This is just one of the sights we get to see while we are out doing our rounds. Twice actually. And every single day of the season because it lives next door. It is kind of crazy and has sparked all kinds of jokes over the years, but it is also fun. We see so many cars coming to look and it’s fun to see how amazed all the little kids get at the decoration overload.

Decoration Overload House
Decoration Overload House
Decoration Overload House - Santa's Workshop
Decoration Overload House – Santa’s Workshop
Decoration Overload House
Decoration Overload House