The Couple Next Door | Shari Lapena

The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Imagine you decide to leave your baby sleeping alone in their crib and go next door to have drinks with neighbours you don’t even really like…

What’s that? No, you couldn’t imagine doing that? Well no, because no one in their damn mind should imagine doing that after what happened with Maddie McCann. And as you can guess, that sets the premise for what is yet another incredibly stupid thriller probably written in the space of three weeks on a subway.

The book doesn’t get much better.

So now you know. The two main characters (I can’t even remember their names, that’s how unremarkable the book was) decide to go have drinks with their neighbours and leave their baby at home. Bringing the monitor will be just fine (no it won’t, don’t even do it), so off they go.

Naturally HE gets White Girl Wasted and makes out with the wife of the neighbour. Meanwhile, SHE, sits politely and thinks about how much she doesn’t want to be there. Eventually they return home and tada! Baby has disappeared.

Thus ensues the usual trite thriller ridiculousness. SHE punches a mirror, cuts her hand, vomits, forgets what happened that night, HE is obviously caught in something somehow.

Slowly the family starts to unravel (naturally) and things begin to catch on fire (not literally though obvi).

Here’s the biggest problem with this book.

The most likeable character is the missing baby.

That’s right. The cute six month old baby girl who doesn’t make a sound or say a word the entire novel is the best character there. HE and SHE are horrible annoying people who are self-involved and legitimately crazy (won’t say who and I’m not mental health shaming here).

Not only that, the surprise moment or whatever you call that in these types of novels was predictable. I could write all the spoilers here, but honestly, you’ll probably already have guessed them if you’re reading this book at the moment.

There are many better thrillers out there with more interesting characters. This was like a Gillian Flynn novel, which I utterly despise. Where are all the good writers in the world anymore?

2/5 stars. Never again RIP.

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Some Great Thing | Lawrence Hill

Some Great ThingSome Great Thing by Lawrence Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have followed Lawrence Hill’s works avidly. I was first introduced to his writing through Book of Negroes and have since read *almost* all of his works. I have never found myself to be disappointed by his works. Unfortunately, I was unable to rate Some Great Thing higher than 3/5 stars.

Some Great Thing is the story of Mahatma Grafton, a young adult man living in Winnipeg, dark skinned without knowledge or interest in his heritage. He rolls his eyes at his father’s proselytizing over their shared heritage and the discrimination that black people face in Canada.

Unfortunately, Mahatma is not very well fleshed out. He is a journalist for a Winnipeg paper and spends his time chasing stories as we are introduced to several other “funk” characters. Despite Hill attempting to grow his large cast of characters, I felt that having so many varied people with different characteristics spun out of control quickly. I wanted to enjoy the characters and learn more about them, but there were just too damn many.

Furthermore, on top of the characters being too confusing and poorly rounded, the plot was lacking. Mahatma spent his time attempting to break a story on the French culture in Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba, but nothing really comes out of that. Some random tragedies occur that you don’t care much about. People die quickly and you’re left scratching your head.

At the end of the book I paused and I couldn’t place my finger on *what* exactly this novel was about. Yes, your eyes are opened to the fact that minorities in Canada face discrimination (and that’s important to raise awareness of), but other than that, the comparison of the French discrimination and the black discrimination was confusing and didn’t segue well into each other.

In my humble opinion, Hill writes best when he focuses on a smaller cast of characters in his novels versus a large jumbled assortment of people that he tries to draw together in a forced way. I still enjoyed this novel though…just not as much as his other ones.

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Sea Prayer | Khaled Hosseini

Sea PrayerSea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have loved all of Khaled Hosseini’s previous works, specifically The Kite Runner. Even though Sea Prayer is a short book with 48 pages that only hold a few sentences, I did not find myself disappointed yet again. As I read to the last page, I was somewhat surprised to find such a short little book, perhaps even more aptly described as a poem or prayer, would overwhelm me with so much emotion. Again, I was surprised to wipe some tears out of my eyes.

My husband asked me if it was an appropriate book to read to our 3 year old and I didn’t know how to respond. The illustrations are stunning and the book raises global awareness. Though there are heavier nuances to it, can the raising of awareness to the plight of those around us ever be wrong? I have not read it to him yet and I probably would not read it ad verbatim as some of the language might be scary or overwhelming, but this is a stunning book that should be instituted in schools.

I hope those who complain about the cost of the book compared to the size of it’s content are aware of two things. One, the book is being sold to raise money for a charitable cause. Two, the quantity of a book does not measure it’s quality and vice versa.

Sea Prayer is the first novel I read in 2019 and I believe it will set a good tone for the rest of the reading I do this year. Please buy this book to support UNICEF and to enjoy something beautiful and moving.

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A Season of Grief

For a few weeks I have been struggling through something I finally feel ready to share with you, my friends.

At the end of November I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant. A pregnancy had not been planned, it wasn’t in my life schedule. I had lists and calendars–pregnancy wasn’t on it. My instinctive reaction wasn’t welcoming. How could I cope with pregnancy and a baby on top of the whirlwind known as Des, work and pursuing post secondary studies?

Over the next few days, I grew excited. Babies are a gift, a blessing. It wasn’t easy for me to conceive, so this was a good thing. We would make it work. I began to envision the baby–would he or she look like Des? What would they be like? I found myself thinking about tiny baby clothes, the little socks that fit on your finger like a glove. Des played with his cousin and I imagined him doing the same with a sibling. Life was so bright.

Through the awakening excitement, I also became aware that something didn’t feel quite right about my pregnancy. I couldn’t articulate it well. I reached out to my family physician to express my concerns and I was dismissed, told that “every pregnancy is different” and “your body is just changing”. I waited three weeks for my first ultrasound, moving from excitement to fear. The day of the ultrasound I let myself hope that maybe everything was alright, even though in my heart I was still inexplicably and deeply worried.

At the ultrasound there was no fetal pole in my uterus. I felt almost a sigh of relief at knowing I wasn’t crazy. There was something off, but it didn’t end there. There was no viable embryo in my uterus, but there was a mass outside my uterus, near my tube.

The doctors were confused. What was the mass? From there I descended into a whirlwind of invasive exams and blood poking. I felt that I was accepting of what happened, but in retrospect, I was numb. After multiple ultrasounds, margins still weren’t clear, but the pain I had been feeling pointed to an ectopic pregnancy, heterogenic due to the second egg in my uterus which wasn’t viable.

The day the doctors became decided on my diagnosis, I was rushed into surgery a couple hours later. The operating team gave me such compassionate care, rubbing my arms, holding my hands and telling me they were so sorry about the final diagnosis. “It’s okay, these things happen,” I replied, trying to convince myself with my calm responses. Post operatively the surgeon told me the egg had implanted in my ovary (which is rare) and it could have been fatal if I had continued on without surgery. I had a D&C to remove the second empty egg as well. I went home two hours later, early morning on December 17th and I carefully lay down on the couch and stared at the Christmas tree lights.

Christmas passed by in a whirlwind. My coworkers knew what had happened and sent me the kindest messages. Other friends who were aware of everything kept checking in on me and showed me their love and compassion. My family supported me from the distance with gifts to make up for missed work shifts. We had a quiet Christmas with a few siblings, but Desmond’s elation at learning how to open gifts filled my heart up. I was okay. I was moving on. On December 26 I went back to work for a short shift.

But grief is funny. Suddenly in this past week, especially the past two days, I changed. My hormone levels dropping probably have affected me, but I began snapping at my husband, who has only supported and helped me through it all. Flashes of anger I couldn’t control came over me. Tuesday night I had a panic attack in a grocery store and had to walk out, shaking and trembling, deeply afraid for no reason. Last night I sat on the couch with tears rolling down my cheeks, unable to control myself. I fell asleep crying. This morning Des knocked my coffee over and I exploded on Matt without reason.

What am I mourning? Something that was never meant to be? Am I truly grieving, or are my hormonal changes affecting my emotional state? Can I feel sad about something I never truly had? Is the mourning for what might have been, the hope I had cherished? Or am I indulging in self-pity?

Therein lies the mystery and conundrum of being a woman, being a mother, being pregnant for even only 7 weeks. Everything is speculation. Specialists say women who suffer a miscarriage/loss can experience moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety after loss, even to the point of being diagnosed with PTSD. There hasn’t been much research done, because when you have your D&C and your levels return to normal, your medical care ends and you are often left to seek treatment for your emotional stability on your own. Or not.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this, except maybe to share my experience with you, which you may be able to identify with if you have gone through loss yourself. Maybe this is another way I grieve. Maybe I needed to write this to work it out in my head and heart. Maybe I need you to tell me I’m not alone and slowly it will hurt less. Maybe I’m hoping to open up dialogue about miscarriage and loss, normalize it so it’s not something we whisper awkwardly about, unsure of what to say. Maybe I’m over-sharing and this will make you feel awkward.

But if you’re quietly going through this alone, I’m there with you. I walk beside you on the same path. I feel your hopelessness and grief. Who knows where we’ll end up with our hearts. All my heart knows right now is fear and sadness, but life carries on and time heals along with love–the neverending love from my husband and son which has held me up. I pray we will one day be healed, or even just more whole.

❤️

The Zookeeper’s Wife ~ Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War StoryThe Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read The Zookeeper’s Wife after seeing the movie trailer. It seemed as though the book would be a fascinating read.

Sadly, I wrong.

First off, I was confused by the book I was reading. I originally believed it to be fiction, for some reason. I knew the movie was based on a novel, wasn’t sure if it was a true story.

As I started reading the book, I realized it was actually probably a non-fiction? I wish I had known that before beginning the book, as I would have lowered my expectations. (I have read excellent non-fiction books, but generally they are on a different level of writing that your standard historical fiction.)

So I settled myself into the fact that this was actually a biography of sorts, but then I began to become even more annoyed with the fact that author apparently decided it was important to fluff out entire chapters with zoological tidbits instead of writing about the actual historical figure, Antonina Z.

In a quick summary: Antonina and her husband Jan lived through the Nazi/German occupation in Warsaw, using their zoo as a stop for the Underground which concealed and kept Jews and other wanted persons safe until the end of the war.

Frustratingly enough, the book rarely actually delves into what happened. It seemed as though the writer was almost taking liberties writing about what she *thought* Antonina’s state of mind would have been during those times. She also digressed into talking about random Jews and what ended up happening to them–and these are people who one has no idea WHO they are or why they were included in the book.

The potential to write a fantastic book about Antonina was sadly thwarted by the author’s flights of fancy into descriptions of animals and their lives, instead of focusing on Antonina and her family. There is very little description of EXACTLY how the zoo was run as a stopping point for the resistance.

Admittedly there were some very interesting parts to the book, especially when the author explained about the lives of Jew living underground, but I feel that the story of the Zabinskis suffered and was neglected due to these useless tangents.

At the end of the book, I had a small realization of why the author chose to inject all these other seemingly useless and random information in her work. She described meeting Antonina’s son Rys in Warsaw years later and she asks him questions about his mother, but he does not have answers. He cannot remember as he was a young boy at that time…and certainly he would not have a grasp of the machinations of the zoo with an adult mindset.

So I believe that the author was simply unable to procure enough research to write a well informed enough book. If you want to attempt reading a WWII biography, I highly recommend Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. In fact, the thought flitted through my mind while reading–that I wished Hillenbrand had written this book as I believe she would have done it more justice.

2/5, wouldn’t attempt read it again.

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The German Girl ~ Armando Correa

The German GirlThe German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The German Girl explores an interesting facet of WWII that I hadn’t read much on — the escape of German Jews to Cuba. Unfortunately, according to historical documentation, Jews were turned away from the country and refused entrance.

This novel is the story of Anna and Hannah. Yes, the writer chose to use some literary prowess and make the names of the two main characters similar. We get it, how clever.

Sadly, despite the fascinating subject, the writer does not do justice to the story. This is a historical fiction novel so naturally one can expect the writer to take liberties with their story telling. However, the novel in itself was boring and the characters were not likable in the slightest.

It seemed some of the main character met their ultimate demise in ways that were basically assumptions. I felt much was left up in the air. I struggled to finish this book.

Just pass it by.

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Chicken Parmesan Squash Casserole

recipes

 

 

Hi all!

It’s been too long since I have posted!   Life has this funny talent of getting in the way of our best laid plans.  Our son has begun his journey into toddlerhood which has been both awe inspiring and exasperating to experience.  Keeping him busy and occupied (leave him for a minute and our place is turned to dust!) means I don’t get nearly as much time to sit down and organize my thoughts.
But now!  Here I am, enjoying some quiet time as my husband picks up some eggs with little D in tow–and I felt it was important to post this recipe.
First off–I have reverted back to my “dieting”, although I use quotation marks as I prefer not to think of it so much as “dieting”, but rather a life style adjustment.  Getting married, being pregnant, dealing with the new demands of being a mom…well, all these things truly knocked me off track of my healthy eating and that’s partially because, as I said before,  life gets in the way of our best intentions.

What’s done is done. Here I am, trying to approach our meal times with a balanced and holistic approach.  We have certainly saved money meal planning and avoiding the easy way out:  take out.

This casserole though…will amaze you.  I will warn you–it’s fairly labor intensive, but if you’re low carb, keto or Atkins, this recipe is a must try and…it is so worth it.

So once again, I have embraced spaghetti squash to create the bulk of this meal.  You want to start out with cooking your squash, whether roasting or in the microwave.  I opted to roast, cut in half, face down brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Once the squash is cooked through, pull out the strands with a fork, drain what you have gather well and set aside.

Of course, you’ll see below that almond flour was used for breading as opposed to regular flour. It is lower in carbohydrates than all-purpose grain flour and I wanted to cater this dish specifically to a low carb audience–myself.

Chicken Parmesan Spaghetti Squash Casserole

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Satisfyingly close to the Real Thing

Ingredients

    For the Chicken
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ___________

    For the Casserole

  • 4-6 cups cooked spaghetti squash
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp dried parsley
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp parmesan
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • fresh mozzarella

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Beat egg in small bowl and set side
  • Mix together almond flour, parmesan, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper
  • Cut chicken into 2″ strips and dip into egg, then breading mixture. Lay to the side
  • Heat olive oil in non-stick frying pan until hot. Cook breaded chicken until brown and then remove off heat onto paper towel on plate
  • Toss strands of spaghetti squash with olive oil, parsley, salt, pepper and parmesan
  • Spread squash in 9×13 casserole dish. Lay chicken pieces on top, cover with tomato sauce and then mozzarella
  • Back in oven for 30-45 minutes until dish is warm and bubbly
  • Serve hot and enjoy!

__________

    Notes
  • Do not be afraid to cook your squash longer if necessary. My biggest mistake has been moving the squash from the oven before it is completely cooked and having to eat it a bit crunchy. Fork a piece of flesh from it if you are not sure and try it out.
  • Consider using a keto tomato sauce (you can easily make your own) or splurge on a low sugar sauce to keep carbs low
  • Use parchment paper in your casserole dish to keep the dish cleaner. I always use parchment paper when baking food in the oven–it makes the clean up so much easier and keep my pans from staining.

There you have it! I promise, this recipe is worth the time and effort to make. Of course, I didn’t think of this recipe all my own–I was inspired by I Breathe I’m Hungry and you can find the recipe here.

“PURPOSE” — Lent, Day 20

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Life.
One of the greatest gifts I have been blessed with is the birth and life of my son.

Like most parents, I want the best for him. I want him to be happy, I want him to be full of joy.
I realize how blessed I am to have been given this little life to teach and to bring to adulthood and then send out into the world.

As I have seen his needs met from infancy (food, milk, water, clothes, a home), I have witnessed him grow into a new toddler. My husband and I often ponder what he will “be like” as he ages.

We can already see the character he is developing: strong, independent, curious.

At this moment in time we are meeting his physical needs but also his emotional needs: we shower him with love and relationships.

When I think of the future though, I realize that my desire is for him to find his calling in life. So many people are deeply unhappy. I see it manifested on their Facebook statuses, in their conversations, through their general demeanor. We all have moments of unhappiness and discontent, but so many people I know seem so deeply empty and unhappy.

I want my son to know, to believe there is more in life. To believe there is a reason for his existence, for his dreams, for his destination.

I want him to know that life is not futile, that we are more than bodies seeking reason and fulfillment from materials around us. I deeply long for my son to have PURPOSE in his life.

Reflecting on how I want him to have purpose, I am only forced to ask myself the very same question.

What has my purpose in life been?
Is this truly my deepest purpose?
What is my passion?
How does my passion and purpose align?

We are never too old to ask ourselves these questions. We are never too old to evaluate where we are in life.

Is the life we are living the one HE meant for us to live?

 

And we know that is all things GOD works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Rom.8:28

 

 

DAILY PRAYER: LORD, make your purpose for my life clear to me, no matter how surprising or unexpected it may be. Give me strength to examine who and what I am living my life for. Amen.

“Abounding Grace” — Lent, Day 18&19

AnnieL grace

 

Over the weekend my husband and I have faced conflict with each other.

During difficult times in life, particularly when it comes to marriage, there a few key ingredients that are more than ever during those moments.

In the previous Lenten devotional we delved a bit into forgiveness and how it essential it is in our lives, especially when it comes to our relationships. Even as we need forgiveness to continue on together, perhaps even more importantly: we need grace.

It’s a strange term “grace”. We probably don’t truly understand it even though it affects our daily lives. We more than likely don’t think about it and talk about it even less.

But the fact is–as we practice our daily walk as believers, the essence of our belief stems on grace. Grace is shown to us in our relationship with God and, with that in mind, we are almost obliged to learn how to practice grace in our relationships with others.

The inherent definition of grace is Biblical. Merriam-Webster defines grace as “a virtue coming from God” or “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification”.

Sometimes I think we trip up on the concept of it. Grace is bestowed by God so therefore we aren’t truly privy to it? We cannot understand or comprehend it? If we aren’t God himself, then how can we be expected to completely grasp what grace is and how to extend it to people around us?

It’s very clear that grace and forgiveness walk hand in hand. Perhaps grace is the divine strength that is given to us so we may extend forgiveness. Forgiveness is a conscious act and grace almost seems to simply flow through us from above.

Is it possible that grace is given to us specifically by the Holy Spirit to gird us for forgiveness and mercy?

It may be impossible for us to truly grasp what grace is, but maybe the point of grace is not to *understand* it, but to accept it and to show it to those around us.

This means that when we are fighting and strident, when we have the moral upper hand, that we show grace and forgiveness. I believe it means we don’t “rub it in” or behave superior because perhaps we have made better choices than our significant others.

In other words—we all need grace: to give and to receive…because we’re not always going to have the “upper hand”, so to speak.

Jesus showed abounding grace in the days leading up to his death and resurrection. Let us remember that as we move closer to the Easter season…and let us show grace (and forgiveness!) to those who need it the most from us, no matter how hard it may be.

 

grace

DAILY PRAYER: Lord, send your grace to me when I need it the most. Give me strength when I am facing conflict and help me to treat those around me with love, grace and forgiveness even when I am hurting. AMEN.

“REALITY” — Lent, Day 17

reality-001

 

It’s Sunday night.  Most of us are gearing up for the week to come.  This week in particular is busy for me and I am in bed already, exhausted from my son’s scrambled sleep thanks to Daylight Savings Time. On top that, the heat is once again not working properly in our bedrooms, which means another cold night with small space heaters to help keep the cold at bay.

There is a lot to be frustrated with right now.  In my life, I find that I want answers right away.  When I am in a conflict of any type, I want resolution instantly.  If I call to complain about heat, I want someone there  fixing it in a matter of hours (not days, as it happened last time).

The fact is:  there are always going to be issues and conflicts in life.  Each week brings them, whether they are small squabbles between my husband and I, larger issues like lack of heat, or even work conflicts.  This is the reality of life.

While I would absolutely love for everything to be perfect, for plans to roll out quickly, for responses to be fast and to my satisfaction, I am constantly being challenged and reminded that life…is actually a big messy series of difficulties and challenges…and that is never  going to change.

Even when we think “we’ve got it” and everything is perfect and copacetic, it’s not! Something is going to come crashing in to destroy (temporarily) our happiness or our best laid plans.

What can you do about it?
Stress and grow angry, take it out on people who love you, worry and have long sleepless nights?

The best thing we can do in life is grow and learn and change. Be like a blade of grass: flexible, surviving storm after storm.  Because the reality is that we are going to be dumped on in life over and over and there is nothing we can do about it.

All we can do is control how we respond to the situations around us.

So be flexible.  Take it each day at a time and remind yourself that you have survived all the ups and downs of life so far… There are many more to come and you will survive those too!

wind

DAILY PRAYER:  LORD, even though life is hard times and reality can really be crappy, please give me the strength to face each day head on.  Give me grace when there are storms around me, whether small or big.  AMEN.