Friday, 2 December 2016

Christine's Christmas Countdown {Excerpt}

No matter what kind of holiday you plan, Christmas almost always crazy-making. Shopping, holiday cards, decorating, meal planning, co-ordinating families, travel, wrapping gifts, school concerts, house-cleaning, etc etc etc...It just goes on. It can feel very overwhelming.

Christine's Christmas Countdown is an adorable little book that has covered everything you could possibly think of needing to do to prepare for the holidays. I particularly love how there are pages pre-organized for you to fill out directly in the book about with of the various lists we need to make this time of year!

Below you can find an excerpt of a few things to start thinking about around this time of year. They may not all apply to you, but you may find one or two tips here that hadn't yet crossed your mind!





Mid – End November. Now is the time to buy all the boring essentials that you will need over the Christmas period. Some goods you require irrespective of it being Christmas, some are regularly used items that you need more of and some are additions to the usual shop because it is Christmas.

Remember:

1. Cling film, kitchen foil and extra wide for the turkey, freezer bags, non-stick baking paper, ice cube bags, washing up liquid, washing powder, fabric conditioner, dishwasher tablets, cleaning agents, kitchen rolls, bin bags, toilet rolls, tissues, paper napkins, sellotape, light bulbs, firelighters, matches, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bars of soap, liquid hand soap, shampoo, hairspray, nail varnish remover, tea, coffee (also decaffeinated), breakfast cereals, pet food, Elastoplast, Paracetamol, Calpol.

2. If you have babies, make a list of all their daily needs according to their age and get as much as possible now, in particular nappies. Have some thermometers to be on the safe side!

3. Discuss alcohol requirements and, according to taste, purchase wine, spirits, mixers, fruit juices, soft drinks, bottled water.

Special buys:


• Advent calendars for your own children and for presents.
• Wreath for the front door if you are buying an artificial one.
• Buy any additional decorations as desired while there is still a good selection in the shops.
• Christmas wrapping paper, brown paper and jiffy bags for posting parcels.
• Santa sacks and stocking fillers.
• Balloons.
• Christmas crackers, a must for the Christmas table to create a festive atmosphere, fun from the jokes and laughter from the hats. You can of course make your crackers. There are numerous websites with instructions.
• Music for Christmas. Check what you have for background music, parties and Christmas numbers. Now is a good time to review your collection, know where to find them and buy some new ones.
• Treat yourself to some good hand cream (so that your hands don’t portray how much work you have been doing!) and make sure you have very effective facial cleansing agents for removing the party makeup.


Dr. Christine Harrington is a retired Consultant Dermatologist who now lives in a farmhouse in South Wales where she spends her time gardening. Christine loves nothing more than spending time with her family and dogs, especially over Christmas.

Thank you so much to Clink Street Publishing for sending me a copy of Christine's Christmas Countdown and for providing this excerpt!

xo
Jenn




Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Miracle on 5th Avenue - Book Review and Giveaway!

I just loved Sleepless in Manhattan by Sarah Morgan when I read it earlier this summer and have been waiting not so patiently for the next instalments to come out to find out what happens next with Paige's friends Frankie and Eva. Frankie's story can be found in the second book of the series, Sunset in Central Park.




Sarah Morgan definitely saved the best for last with her story of Eva and Lucas in the Miracle on 5th Avenue. In this holiday-themed romance, hopeless romantic Eva ends up stranded at Lucas' penthouse apartment during an epic NYC snowstorm. The world is waiting for Lucas' next great crime horror novel which is due shortly for publication. The only problem? He feels completely blocked and hasn't yet written a single word. While Eva is stranded at his place, decorating for Christmas, and cooking up a storm, her presence starts to inspire Lucas to write again...and when Eva finds out what exactly Lucas has been writing about her, she's not likely to be too pleased!

Sarah Morgan is one author who always keeps me up late reading her books. I loved so much about Miracle on 5th Avenue. It has romance, books, Christmas, Tiffany's, and even a little Pretty Woman parallel within the story. Basically all of my favourites!

I found Eva's optimism to be infectious, and her positivity really made me feel so happy while I was reading this book. She and Lucas were excellent together. All of Sarah Morgan's books are the perfect combination of sweet and sexy, and I certainly look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

And just for fun, I want to share my favourite quotation from the book. Especially since lately I feel like I'm a little "extra curvy".

"Extra curvy?...Is that like extra strong coffee? In other words, more of the part that's already good?" 
- Lucas Blade

It's impossible not to love him!


Thanks to Sarah Morgan and TLC Book Tours, I'm excited to share an opportunity for you to win a $25 Amazon gift card. You can pick up your own copy of Miracle on 5th Avenue (which I highly reccomend you do) and you can also get a jump start on some of your own holiday shopping!

xo
Jenn

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer - I was sent a complementary copy of Miracle on 5th Avenue from the publisher and TLC Book Tours. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. To see what other bloggers had to say about this lovely book, check out the full book tour here.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Does Writing In Books Ruin Them?



Do you write in your books?

This was a question I asked on Facebook last week, and I was actually surprised with the answers I got back.

" A prof once told me a book well crumpled is a book well loved because it shows just how often you've read it..."

"I do not feel that you are defacing the book, you are just making it more special to you..."

" I feel conflicted about this too, but lately have been highlighting passages that resonate with me in books I am learning from."

"I always read with a pencil near by. I write in the margins and put brackets around passages I want to remember. I don't see it as defacing a book, I think it's a compliment to the author."


I was totally expecting all of my friends to tell me that they absolutely would never write in their books, but instead almost every comment was in support of marking up the pages.

I feel so conflicted about this. Other than university textbooks, I almost never wrote in books. On rare occasions I would underline (in very light pencil) something that stood out to me.

But now that I've been reading so much more, I find so many beautiful lines that jump out at me. It almost feel like I'm being ungrateful to leave them unnoticed. I want that line or phrase or paragraph to know that it has connected with me. Maybe it made me laugh, maybe it gave me pause to think, or most likely, maybe it put words to a feeling I've had and could never quite explain.

When we buy almost anything we aim to keep it looking as new as possible for as long as possible. But does the same rule hold true for books?

Bookshelves of pristine hardcovers organized by size and colour are beautiful. But I think I'm going to give myself permission to love the insides of books a little more than I have in the past. I love the idea of making a book more uniquely mine in this way, and I'm looking forward to flipping through my books in the future and having these beautiful words stand out to me again and again.




xo
Jenn

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

NAIT, Miracles, and the (Almost) Million Dollar Baby {Guest Post}

Today I have another special guest bravely sharing her miracle baby story. My friend and colleauge, Kerry-Ann Grant, had a baby with NAIT disease. This basically means that, while pregnant, her own antibodies could attack the baby's which could lead to terrifying consequences when the baby was born. NAIT is not a common disease, as you will learn, but Kerry-Ann and I both wanted to share her story to raise awareness to this rare condition and bring comfort to anyone else who is dealing with NAIT. Welcome, Kerry-Ann! 





People say babies are miracles and it's true: every single baby born into this world is a miracle. I knew this was going to be especially true for my baby. If he made it, he'd be considered a medical miracle on top of just being an everyday miracle. You see, even before my husband and I were married, even before we were engaged, I knew that any potential child of mine would have a 50% chance of having a disease called NAIT. 

NAIT stands for Neonatal Alloimmune Thrombocytopenia. It's a shit-ass disease. According to the organization naitbabies.orgNAIT is characterized by the destruction of platelets in the fetus or newborn in response to certain platelet antigens that the fetus has inherited paternally but are not present in the mother. The mother sees these antigens as ‘foreign’ and may respond by producing antibodies against these intruders. Antibodies, an important part of the body’s immune system, may cross the placenta, enter the baby’s bloodstream and destroy her unborn baby’s platelets. Spontaneous bleeding into the brain ICH (intracranial hemorrhage) or other major organs may occur putting the baby at serious risk of death or permanent brain damage causing lifelong disabilities.”

Like I said, it’s a shit-ass disease. 

We did the testing to find out if our baby would have this disease and, yep, he would. That was a pretty awful day. I remember getting the call at school from the hospital with our results. I told my partner it was fine, he didn’t need to be there. It was just a phone call. They were either going to say, “No, your child wouldn’t be affected or yes, your child would be affected.” Easy. I got this. I was prepared. I knew it was 50/50. 

Wrong, I wasn’t prepared. When the nurse told me over the phone that not only did we have to deal with NAIT, but it turned out that I was in that 2% of the world’s population that had a double negative platelet type. I think I stopped breathing. About 86% of the world’s population has double positive platelets, 12% have positive/negative platelet type and 2% have double negative. 

2%: that’s what it boiled down to. 

The nurse asked if I had any questions and that an appointment had been set up for us to meet the maternal fetal specialist, Dr. Greg Ryan. Although, I think I stopped listening after I heard, “Yes, you will have a child who is affected.” I walked across the hall to a colleague and told her I was leaving. I was crying. I was in a trance. I don’t really think I even thought about my kids (I teach Grade 3) who were in French class or something. I just grabbed my purse and walked out.

I drove home somehow and then stopped the engine in the garage and continued crying my eyes out. I don’t know how long I sat there crying, but eventually Blake (my husband) came out to find me. I’ll never forget that day in October because it was one of the worst days of my life finding out that my baby would have this disease. It was also the day I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I had found my life partner. 

Blake opened the car door and pulled me out. He knew what this meant. He kept saying, “It’s okay. We can do this. We’ve got this. I’m going to be with you every step of the way.” He asked me to marry him exactly a month later. He knew what he was getting into, and he loved me anyway.

NAIT only effects about 2% of the world’s population so it’s pretty darn rare. I have never met anyone that knows about NAIT except people in my family and others I have met through NAIT organizations, and Dr. Ryan, our NAIT specialist who treated us. Any of the doctors or nurses that we had to see through a triage department (because that happened a lot) had never heard of NAIT. I got so sick of explaining to the doctors what NAIT was, what they should be looking for when they were doing the ultrasound, what could be happening to our baby, my husband and I practically had a script that we memorized and could spit out automatically each time we ended up there.

So here’s what my pregnancy looked like. It didn’t look “normal” or what any of my friends’ pregnancies looked like. But it was my pregnancy and my baby, and damn, I was going to try to make this pregnancy look like any other pregnancy. I got real good at self-talk and really good at putting on a smile. I fully completely adopted the method of “fake it ‘till you make it.” I believed that if I remained positive, up beat, optimistic, Caleb could fight this. We could win. He would win. I kept saying things like, “You will arrive healthy. You are a warrior. You’ve got this. I’m here with you every step of the way.” Kind of like what Blake said to me back in the garage all those months ago.

After we got pregnant, I was monitored pretty regularly. For my first 19 weeks, I either had an ultrasound, blood work or a combination of both at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto every week or two. We had met with Dr. Ryan multiple times now and had a game plan. I would begin treatment starting at 20 weeks pregnant. Because this was my first pregnancy, Dr. Ryan explained that my body didn’t really know what was going on. It was like a “slow learner” (his words, not mine). My body knew something crazy was going on “like what the heck are these positive platelets doing running around my body,” but it didn’t know what to do about it yet.

At exactly my 20th week of pregnancy, I began my first IVIG treatment. Platelets regenerate every seven – 10 days so every seventh day I had another treatment. My treatments always happened on a Friday. Wednesday ultrasound, Friday treatment. It became our thing. 

IVIG stands for intravenous immunoglobulin. Basically, the doctors had figured out that this IVIG treatment, which is taken from over a 1000 blood donations, somehow helps the body fight back. They aren’t completely sure yet if the IVIG blocked the antigens that my body was creating to attack the babies platelets or if the IVIG put a kind of bubble around the babies platelets or even something else. What they did know was that women who received this treatment had a much higher chance of delivering a healthy baby. 

And that’s what we did. Every Friday, we’d set off at 8am to be ready to start treatment by 9am. We left the hospital between 4pm and 5pm to head back home. The treatment was long. They inserted an intravenous line into the tops of my hands, alternating each week. They did this so my veins would have a chance to recover each week. By the end of it, my veins had “collapsed,” and it was nearly impossible to get the needle in each week. But we soldiered on. I was hooked up to fetal monitoring each week so Nurse Sue (who became an incredibly important person in our journey) could monitor Caleb during the seven-hour to eight-hour treatment. It often produced vomiting, migraines, and always, exhaustion. It wasn’t fun. I cried every week during them at least once. But every time, I also got this huge rush of strength and pride. At least I was doing something to help Caleb fight. I began to feel like a warrior myself. I began to believe that Caleb knew what was happening and he was up for the fight. We could do this together. We could kick NAIT on its ass. Blake came with me for every treatment but two. My mom came, my mother-in-law came and my friends came. I was never alone, not for one minute. I was blessed.

Each treatment costs between $12,000 – $15,000 (Canadian). Each Friday, that’s how much it cost for Caleb to have a chance at survival. That price tag was just for the weekly treatment. There were separate costs for the in utero samples we needed, the times we ended up in triage, the steroid injections, the blood work, the extra nurses assigned to me and to Caleb. I live in Canada so every single penny was covered with our health care.  People joked that Caleb was going to be the million-dollar baby, and it was close.

By the time our son was born, I had had over 10 blood tests, 16 IVIG treatments, 25 IV’s put in, about 15 ultrasounds, four trips to triage, two fetal procedures, around 13 appointments with specialist doctors, and began to feel that the seventh floor of Mount Sinai was our second home.

There were a lot of scary days and nights for us. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy. During that time, I really learned what faith was. We had to have it in spades. We chose Caleb’s name solely because it means faith. 

During my second in utero fetal procedure where they were trying to figure out what Caleb’s platelet count was (on average you should have a platelet count of 150 000 – 400 000) we were yet again prepared to deliver Caleb. My first procedure was at week 30. I was given a steroid shot for Caleb’s lungs in case today was the day, and I was sedated so Dr. Ryan could do the procedure. That probably was the most frightened I’ve ever been in my life. I knew there was a strong chance that if something went wrong during the procedure or Caleb’s counts were too low, they would be “taking the baby” (again, their words not mine.) 

Being inside a “procedure room” in the hospital and having Dr. Ryan, a teaching fellow, an anestiologist, three nurses, and Blake all “work” on me was so surreal. After Dr. Ryan got a blood sample from Caleb’s liver (he was suppose to get the sample from the umbilical cord but Caleb was in an awkward position so he couldn’t), he literally hands the sample to a “runner” who runs down to the lab and they process the blood right away. About three minutes later the phone rings. Dr. Ryan answers and says, “Okay, is that confirmed? Did you test again? Okay, sending down another sample to double check.” He hangs up the phone and turns to me and says, “No baby for you today. 279.” 

279,000 platelets. That’s how many platelets Caleb had in his little body at that exact moment. 279,000. Never had there been a sweeter number. 

We continued our plan: seven more weeks of treatments, one more fetal blood sample and one more count of great numbers. Dr. Ryan told us after the second in utero blood sample Caleb had seven days to come naturally or I would be induced. Babies who have NAIT walk a fine balance between being in utero long enough to grow and develop properly with being in utero too long where the anti-bodies that the mother creates can harm the baby. Caleb’s time was up. The treatment appeared to have worked, but now we had seven days because who knew what would happen after the seventh day when his platelets begin to regenerate.

I was induced on my birthday, August 11th. The greatest gift I’ve ever received. It was a crazy labour due to our circumstances and Caleb taking his sweet ole time. He was born at 4:31 am on August 12th





Before the umbilical cord was even cut, they had taken a blood sample from the cord and from his heel. Another runner ran. Three minutes later the phone rang. 264 000. 

It was the first real time in over nine months where I exhaled. 

Caleb spent his first week having multiple blood tests just to make sure his platelets were steady and wouldn’t drop. We knew that between 7 – 10 days we would be out of the woods. It took me about six months to really trust that. 

On his ninth day of life, we had a celebration of life for Caleb.  Over 60 friends and family and Nurse Sue, who so lovingly cared for me during all those treatments, came to meet Caleb. 

The almost million-dollar baby.

So why have I shared my story? Because NAIT can be detected by a simple blood test. So many babies’ lives could have been saved. So many babies could have been born without life-altering disabilities. So many mothers and fathers could have been saved the suffering of losing a child.

I was lucky. I knew my baby might have NAIT because my sister’s children did. So I got tested. But because NAIT is such a rare disease they don’t do any screening for NAIT when you get pregnant. That’s what many of us are fighting for. I belong to an organization called naitbabies.org (check us out), and we are slowly trying to spread awareness. Two percent doesn’t seem like a lot, but, if it was your baby, two percent is everything. We have people all around the world – Australia, Canada, UK, Germany that are trying to spread the word. NAIT doesn’t discriminate. Most people don’t find out about NAIT until they’ve lost a baby or sometimes, even more tragically, more than one baby. If your baby suffers an ICH (intracranial hemorrhage) in utero, many doctors don’t even know why or that it could have been caused by NAIT. If you think you or someone you know might be affected by NAIT, you can go to these websites to get more information.




You could also call your local hospital and ask to be connected with a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist. If you live in a big city, your chances of someone knowing about NAIT are greater but the above websites can help you find doctors in your area that can help. 

And you can always contact me at kerryanngrant1972@gmail.com.

Caleb Ryan Grant-Lambert just celebrated his 5th birthday. And yes, his middle name is for Dr. Greg Ryan, who helped us get our miracle.



Love from one proud mama,
Kerry-Ann Grant

Monday, 14 November 2016

My Etsy Holiday Gift Guide {for pretty much anyone on your list}



When it comes to the holidays, I can swing drastically between a laissez-faire, leave the dishes in the sink and pass me a glass of wine relaxed attitude, and then feeling totally overwhelmed and ready to snap. I suppose my husband finds it all to be part of my charm :)

One thing that helps me make it through the holidays in one piece is ordering as many gifts as possible online. I avoid the mall, and then beautiful, unique gifts arrive at my house ready to be shared with my friends and family. Etsy is one of my favourite places to shop online. Below I've put together my favourite ideas for anyone on your shopping list this year!


Gifts For Her

(your wife, mother, babysitter, or your BFF)






Etsy always has one of a kind style items that are sure to glean compliments each time they are worn. I love this t-shirt and beanie because they both look so cozy and beautiful!




I have a weakness for all things bookish and Parisian, so I actually own both of these items and love them so much. (These Paris notecards are also my favourites).




One of the things Etsy does particularly well is share luxurious handmade skincare products. These make great gifts because they are not always the type of products someone would buy for themselves regularly and instead become a really special treat.


Gifts For Him 

(your husband, father, grandpa, brother-in-law)




The shaving kit from OrangeFuzz is one of my favourite gifts for the men in my life. I've gifted it to my husband and brother-in-law each more than once because they've repeatedly requested it. The shaving kit comes with their signature Cedarwood Guinness beer soap (which my dad also loves). I promise, you cannot go wrong with these!













Personalized gifts are always wonderful ideas because they are so meaningful and will be cherished for many years to come. If you have a little one just learning to write, getting a keychain engraved with their exact message would be such a wonderful surprise for any father or grandpa. Also, we have that exact hammer set and the quality is excellent!



Gifts For The Littles










Etsy has the absolute best t-shirts for little ones. Our son gets loads of hand me downs, so it's fun to leave room in the children's clothing budget for one or two shirts you'd never find in the mall.  I've been eying this Lettuce Turnip The Beet one for awhile, and the other set is super adorable (and perfect for a lazy parenting day haha!)







These two toys are perfect for inspiring creative play! Nature-based learning is a growing theme in elementary school learning, and these wooden blocks help bring some of that outdoor play home. The play silks are so fun because they really can be anything! Blankets, clothing for toys, fire, water, etc. I prefer purchasing toys that can "do" more than one thing, and the possibilities for these are endless. 



For even more wonderful gift ideas, be sure to check out Etsy's Editor Picks as well!

xo
Jenn

Monday, 7 November 2016

Beaulitful Reads Box October 2016



I love The Bookish Box (curated by Appraising Pages), and when I saw that they were coming out with a romance-themed book box I knew I had to try it out, even just once!

Beaulitful Reads is a newish monthly subscription box and book club that will feature a new adult or chick-lit romance novel each month. Also included are a few high-quality bookish goodies.

Cost $24/month + shipping. There is a small discount if you prepay for 3 months.

This month the book featured is Beautiful by Christina Lauren. It also came with a signed bookplate! Here's a blurb about the Beautiful:


After walking in on her boyfriend shagging another girl in their place, Pippa Bay Cox ditches London for the States to go on a drunken road trip with Ruby Miller and some of her Beautiful friends.


Scaling the career ladder is the default way to deal with heartbreak—and to just deal—for Jensen Bergstrom. Absolutely buried by his drive and workload, he rarely takes time for himself. But when his sister Hanna convinces him to join the gang on a two-week wine tour, he has a rare moment of cutting loose. Of course, it’s only once he’s committed that he realizes the strange girl he met briefly on the plane is coming along, too. She might be too much for him…or he might realize his life has become too small and needs her to make it bigger, crazier.


With this circle of friends there’s always something going on: from Chloe and Sara’s unexpected personality swaps to Will’s new domestic side to Bennett’s text message barrage and George’s own happily-ever-after. In short, their adventures in love, friendship, and hilarity are nothing short of Beautiful.

I've been reading a ton of romance lately, and this book is highly reviewed on Amazon, so I'm looking forward to reading this one!

Beaulitful Reads also has its own Facebook group for organized book club discussions with the authors about their featured books.

Along with the book Beautiful, the Beaulitful Reads box this month included a silver ampersand bracelet and an extra large stemless book club wine glass.

I've actually been craving a stemless wine glass for awhile now, but haven't picked any up because I have perfectly functioning regular wine glasses at home, so I am so excited to have received one in this month's box!! Plus I'm super impressed that it was packaged well enough to be shipped to me without breaking.



I always think the value of the boxes by Appraising Pages are excellent because the items are such high quality, and with Beaulitful Reads they've also clearly done research to ensure that the books featured are extremely enjoyable.

Happy Reading!
xo
Jenn

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Diaper Drive 2016!



While we all know that November/Movember is the month of the moustache, I'm taking things in a different direction for the next 30 days.

Sebastian may be well passed the diaper stage, but I still remember the extraordinary expense they cost us each month. I've done this once before, and I'm determined again to help out mothers in need by donating diapers to The Diaper Bank and raising awareness about the need for diaper donations.

The Diaper Bank of Toronto shares some pretty startling facts about the need for diapers. Here are a few:
  • 1 in 5 Canadian moms have experienced diaper need. (In Toronto, the number is closer to 1 in 4.)
  • 24% of Canadian moms cut back on clothing so they can buy diapers. Even worse, 16% cut back on food.
  • Babies are kept in wet and dirty diapers for extended periods of time, leading to increased fussiness and irritation. In extreme cases, babies are using diapers for a full day or disposable diapers that have been cleaned or dried out.
  • This may also lead to babies who cry more, have worse diaper rash, and may be at greater risk for developing infections.
  • A mother's physical and emotional well-being suffers. They report feeling guilty, stressed, like a 'bad mother', frustrated, and anxious.  
The Diaper Bank says that "providing clean diapers provides moms with a sense of pride, joy and connection to their children."

Two years ago I held my first diaper drive with the goal of collecting 1000 diapers. Thanks to the generosity of my friends and family, I was able to collect and donate 1402!! So this year I'm aiming higher. My goal is to collect 1500 diapers for donation by November 30th.

The diapers can be new packages, opened packages, or even just loose diapers. Any size will do. Unfortunately, cloth diapers are not realistic alternatives for families experiencing diaper need so only disposable diapers are accepted by the Diaper Bank.

If you'd like to participate (and I hope you do!), you can give the diapers right to Rob or I when you see us, pass them along to someone who will be seeing one of us this month, or you can drop them off at the door of our house if we're not there. I love doing this drive in November because I'm so happy to know that a few more moms in the city will be able to spend less time worrying about diapers over the upcoming holidays and be able to spend more time making amazing memories with their little ones. 

So bring me your diapers (or even plan your own diaper drive) and help a mother out! 

xo
Jenn

PS - If you are in the US, check out the National Diaper Bank Network for information on how you can donate as well!

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