Monday, 24 July 2017

Donate Life: How I Lost A Kidney And Found My Faith (Guest Post)

Please welcome to the blog today Mary Katherine Backstrom from the fantastic Mom Babble. She's here to share a story of bravery and faith. I hope you love it as much as I do.



Proverbs 16:8: The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
The hospital room smelled of gauze and alcohol. As my body was scrubbed clean with a harsh orange soap, a nurse walked in twirling a Sharpie. I changed positions on the bed and fidgeted with my bright green bracelet. Donate Life, it said. I’d been wearing it for a month; a badge of honor I hadn’t yet earned.
“You are donating your right kidney, correct?” Sharpie Nurse asked without really needing an answer.
“That’s what my kidnappers said,” I cracked, as she pulled aside my hospital gown. She scrawled a big YES on my right side and a NO on my left. I felt cold. The color was draining from my face. The nurse snapped the marker top back on and paused to look me in the eye.
“Honey, are you sure you want to do this?”
Was I sure? I had prayed and fasted and cried and wrestled over this decision. From the day my mother was ruled out as a possible donor, there was a tug at my heart. A silent whisper that spoke to me saying, “Step forward. Have faith.”
Stepping forward, it turned out, was the easy part. Having faith…?
“Yes, of course I’m sure,” I croaked, sounding anything but.

I was terrified. I knew exactly what God was asking of me, but still doubted every part of His plan
.
I hadn’t even started a family. Would this cause risks to my future pregnancies? What if I got sick in adulthood? What if my husband did? What if I needed this kidney I was giving away? What would the scars look like? Could I handle the pain?
Jeremiah 29: 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
In pre-op, Ian hovered over my bed. His blue eyes held a sea of worry, but he offered only assuring smiles and a kiss on the forehead. He told me he loved me, how brave I was, and how proud he was to have married me.
I smiled, drooled a little, and asked if he would go buy me a double cheeseburger. The drugs were kicking in. My husband’s floating head was the last thing I saw.
When I woke up, there was a hole where an organ used to live. It screamed inside of me. The inflation gas from surgery had dissipated and settled in my shoulders, burning like coals beneath my skin. I’d never known such pain. For 12 hours, I drifted in and out of a narcotic sleep, crying for my mother.
There was a knock at my door.
“MK, there is somebody here to see you. He wants to know if you can go for a walk.”
“No freaking way,” I grumbled, reaching to press the button that released meds into my blood stream. Then I noticed something. A lime green bracelet had found its way back on my wrist. Donate Life, it said.
And holy crap, I had done it.
My heart filled with gratitude as I recalled God’s voice encouraging me. “Step forward. Have faith.”
Slowly, carefully, I hung my legs over the side of the hospital bed. I placed one foot in front of the other and I walked toward my uncle, whose cautious smile hinted at something he hadn’t known in a while: Hope.
We shuffled our way around the Nephrology unit, making small talk between gasps of pain. Uncle Mikey had a new craving for Starbucks. The very idea of coffee disgusted me.
“Must be the kidney!” we laughed.
My uncle had a new lease on life. I had a new set of scars. He had a new kidney. I had a lime green bracelet.
But in that moment, walking around the hospital wearing IV bags and puppy dog slippers, I learned a powerful lesson about God and giving.
Because it wasn’t my Uncle Mikey who had received the greatest gift that day.
Acts 20: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Through all of my fear and doubt, my anguish and physical suffering, God was leading me to one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not because I had done something to be proud of. Not for the accolades or the gratitude of my family.

The gift, you see, was in the giving. And all I had to do was step forward and have faith.

For more information on becoming a tissue and organ donor, please visit Donate Life.

For more from Mary Katherine, be sure to visit her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and especially her blog. She is one of my favourite writers!

xo
Jenn

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery - Book Review + Author Interview

Kelly Murphy's life as a tulip farmer is pretty routine - up at dawn, off to work, lather, rince, repeat. But everything changes one sun-washed summer with two dramatic homecomings: Griffith Burnett - Tulpen Crossing's prodigal son, who's set his sights on Kelly - and Olivia, her beautiful, wayward and, as far as Kelly is concerned, unwelcome sister. Tempted by Griffith, annoyed by Olivia, Kelly is overwhelmed by the secrets that were so easy to keep when she was alone.

But Olivia's return isn't as triumphant as she pretends. Her job has no future, and ever since her dad sent her away from the bad boy she loved, she has felt cut off from her past. SHe's determined to reclaim her man and her place in the family...whether her sister likes it or not. For ten years, she and Kelly have been strangers. Olivia will get by without her approval now.

While Kelly and Olivia butt heads, their secrets tumble out in a big hot mess, revealing some truths that will change everything they thought they knew. Can they forgive each other - and themselves -and redefine what it means to be sisters?
(via Goodreads)


Secrets of the Tulip Sisters is my first Susan Mallery novel, and I really enjoyed it! This story weaves together themes of love, family, friendship, hurt feelings, divorce, trust, and the ties that bind us all together.

I enjoyed the playful and fun writing, the love story (stories!), and I was quickly engaged in this book. I especially loved Griffith, how direct he was, and how much he secretly loved Kelly even though he kept saying he didn't "do love" anymore.

This is a love story, but not only between couples searching for their happily ever after. This is also very much about the bond that can disappear, and then grow again, between sisters. The relationship between Kelly and Olivia was central and so important for them both to work through before they could finally create their own true paths in life. I particularly appreciated how the author didn't make Olivia a typical mean girl. I feel like Mallery quite easily could have chosen that path for that character, but instead we learn Olivia is broken because of decisions made for her at a young age, and she is sincerely trying to figure things out, so she can mend her relationships for the better. She's desperate for a place to belong, and you can't help but cheer her on.

Lately in my reading life, I've been focused on choosing novels I can really trust to leave me with a happy ending. I don't mind bumpy rides or being torn apart through my novels, but I just want to make sure I'm put back together again at the end, and Secrets of the Tulip Sisters fit perfectly.





I had the opportunity to ask Susan Mallery a few questions about Secrets of the Tulip Sisters. I hope you enjoy reading the interview!

What inspired Secrets of the Tulip Sisters?


I live in Washington State, where there's a Tulip Festival every spring in Skagit Valley. A couple years ago, my husband and I were driving through these breathtaking fields of tulips, just completely enveloped in the beauty, when I started to think about how much work it must be to harvest the flowers and get them into the hands of florists around the country. (I know, a very practical, unromantic thought for a romance writer.) That led me to think about the people who would do that work—farmers—and that led to the conception of the farmer's daughters. One loves the land as much as her father, and one left when she was young and hasn't been back for ten years.

Here's the twist—Olivia didn't just leave. She was sent away… and, although she didn't know it, her banishment was her sister's fault.

Ultimately, what inspired me were not the fields of tulips, pretty as they were, but the idea of complicated beauty, such as that of friendship and family.

 

Do you have a favorite scene?


I love the emotional midpoint of the story, when the secrets that have been lurking in the characters' minds begin to spill out, and everything they thought they knew about each other—and about their own pasts—turns on its head.

 

Did any of the characters surprise you along the way?


Yes! OMG, yes. I wrote a character named Sven, who was supposed to be just a walk-on. I didn't even give him a last name! But boy, he walked on, and I couldn't let him go. I fell in love with Sven to the point that I commissioned an illustrator to create three fabulous illustrations of him. If you want a laugh, visit Sven-the-Viking-God.com. Seriously. Go check it out and then come back. I'll wait.


See? Sven is fabulous. That apron picture came straight from a scene in the book. I can't wait for readers to meet him.

 

What would you like readers to take away from this book?


A pure sense of emotional satisfaction, something that will leave them feeling happy and uplifted and more prepared to face the challenges of real life. My stories are meant to reinforce readers' belief in the world as a good and just place, where decent people work through their problems and achieve happiness. I want readers to know that happiness is possible.

 

As a reader, any recent book favorites you can share?


Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that while I’m writing a book, I can’t read a book in the same genre because it gets in the way of my own story. Since I’m almost always writing—four new books this year, plus a novella—I don’t get nearly as much time to read as I’d like. When I finish a book and before I start the next one, I try to squeeze in a few stories. Category romances are great for this because I can finish one a day and get that wonderful intense focus on the romance. I recently read The Maverick Fakes a Bride! by Christine Rimmer. So good! It’s a friends-to-lovers story and a fun twist on the marriage of convenience trope.




Thank you so much to Susan Mallery for answering my questions! You can connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, and her website for more. Secrets of the Tulip Sisters is available pretty much anywhere! Check it out on Amazon.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of Secrets of the Tulip Sisters from the publisher and TLC Book Tours. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. To hear what others had to say about this lovely novel, you can visit the whole book tour here

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Paris All Your Own - Book Review

If you're ready for some first-rate wanderlust, you are going to love my latest read.

Edited by Eleanor Brown (The Light of Paris), A Paris All Your Own is a charming collection of 18 Paris-themed essays written by bestselling female authors who have each published novels set in the City of Light. Authors like Paula McLean - The Paris Wife, Julie Powell - Julie and Julia, and Michelle Gable - A Paris Apartment.

In this anthology each woman was asked to share their own personal stories of Paris.

And Paris, with all of her sophistication and experience, is not a simple city. She is kind to some and not to others.



There were romantic stories solidifying our understanding of why Paris is the city of romance and love, and then other stories that pretty much went the way you'd imagine them to go if you were thinking about dragging sleepy teens around Paris.



I've been to Paris a handful of times (As a French teacher, I have a soft spot for France) and reading these stories brought me back to so many places I remember. The Eiffel Tower. Montmartre. The cobblestone streets. And then this book also gave me new ideas of what I'd like to do next time I visit. (Mainly, my next goal would be to sit beside the Seine with a bottle of wine, bread, some macaroons, and watch the world go by.)

Apart from allowing me to daydream about my next trip Paris, I really enjoyed learning about the research phase of the writing process many of the authors described. Some visited the city before writing, some while writing, and others didn't visit until after their books were complete. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to learn about the role that Paris played in their lives and in their careers.

As a final bonus, upon reading A Paris All Your Own, you instantly have the titles of more than 18 Paris-themed books by these authors to add to your "to be read" list! Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, is one of the new titles I'm interested in checking out.

Whether you've travelled previously to Paris or not, you will love to visit it from the coziness of your own home through A Paris All Your Own.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of A Paris All Your Own from Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, 10 July 2017

5 Netflix-Inspired Parenting Television Shows (Guest Post)

Here's a special treat! Gail Hoffer-Loibl from Maybe I'll Shower Today is here sharing her ideas for how to make a few parenting-inspired alterations to popular Netflix shows. Enjoy!



I have few loves in life, my husband, my kids, and, of course, my Netflix. Give me a night with Francis Underwood or the ladies of Litchfield any day. And, while those shows are fantastic, they don’t always reflect the everyday mundane reality of parenthood. Just like I offered some parenting-inspired tweaks to some popular network programs, I thought Netflix could use some of its own.
1. Orange Is The New Food My Kid Won’t Eat 




Will it be oranges or will it be mashed potatoes? Tune in to each episode of this riveting drama to find out which food your child now hates.


2. 13 Reasons Why My Kids Are Bored




They have a million toys, T.V., three different tablets and it's a beautiful day outside, yet they have nothing to do. And you will hear about it. 


3. House of Crayon-Covered Walls


The parents think they have control of the house, but one crayon-wielding toddler is out to prove them wrong.
4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Has Kids

She survived life in a bunker and a crappy New York City apartment, but can she survive a 30-minute tantrum at Target?
5. Stranger Things I Never Thought I’d Do As A Parent


A woman enters an upside down world where she allows T.V. before two, snacks that aren’t organic, and children to sleep in her bed.
Which show would you like to see on Netflix?
*This post was originally published on Gail's blog, Maybe I'll Shower Today. For more from Gail, follow along with her on Facebook.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me - Book Review



I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me (What My Favourite Book Taught Me About Grace, Belonging & the Orphan in Us All) by Lorilee Craker. It is a charming true story that weaves together the author's passion for Anne of Green Gables, her own adoption story, and the adoption story of her daughter.

I adored this book right from the very first page. As the author takes us through her own journey and connections to Anne's story, it made me think of my own. While adoption is not a piece of my story, I think we can all relate to Anne Shirley's struggle to find her place with the people she hoped to love, and she hoped would love her in return. Anne of Green Gables is possibly the very first book that I ever truly fell in love with (certainly Gilbert Blythe was the my very first book boyfriend), and I have always identified with Anne as someone who was never "popular", who disparately yearned for close friends, and as someone who sincerely enjoyed school.



Any Anne of Green Gables fan will love revisiting many anecdotes from the novels, and I also learned more about Lucy Maud Montgomery herself. We used to live in New Brunswick, right around the time I was first falling in love with Anne, and my parents took us camping a handful of times to Cavendish, PEI. We visited Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery's birthplace, the beautiful red beaches, and Craker's memoir brought back many of those childhood memories for me.




The writing in this book is beautiful. The author's stories and prose brought me to the brink of tears multiple times (saved solely because I was reading in public). And chapter 7! This one just pulled at my mama heart so much. The chapter on Gilbert Blythe/Jonathan Crombie gave me all the feels.  All of them. I fell in love with Gilbert all over again and, again, mourned the much too early loss of Jonathan Crombie.




Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me has filled me with the desire to re-read all of her books, re-watch all of the movies, and travel back to PEI. While a trip to Prince Edward Island is not likely to happen in the near future (although I promise myself to return one day), I have made it a priority to visit Lucy Maud Montgomery's Ontario home. It's not too far from me, and it is where she wrote, among others, two of the Anne novels - Anne of the Island (1915) and Anne's House of Dreams (1916).


This book speaks to the Anne in each of us and importantly illustrates how our favourite redhead is still relevant today. Craker best summarizes one of the key messages in her book when she says,

"Through Anne, Maud speaks volumes about the desire we all have to belong and to matter to the people we love."

I don't know how some gems get lost in the mountain of publishing, and you likely won't find this book in your local library (I know the Toronto Public Library doesn't have a copy), but I promise you won't be disappointed adding this one to your permanent bookshelf. It is available for purchase from Amazon and Chapters Indigo.

xo
Jenn

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Spotlight on Blue Mountain Concepts




My parents have always been crafty. I grew up watching them make beautiful creations out of wood or fabric. Hope chests, grandfather clocks, the coziest pyjama pants around. They each have a gift.

Now that they are retired, my parents have even more time to put towards their projects, and because their creations are stunning, they are now selling their products. Their business is called Blue Mountain Concepts. From Blue Mountain Concepts, you can get quality, handmade items for your home.

Here are some of my favourites:

End Grain Cutting Boards ($125-$230)

Tip - these double as really pretty cheese boards!
Here are two of the designs available and custom requests are also taken. 









Cork Trivets ($25-$45)

Cork trivets are made from "experienced" corks (hehe) and come in small square or large rectangle sizes. 




Microwave Bowl Cozy ($10)

We have 5 of these in our house and they get used multiple times a week. Microwave bowl cozies are useful for anytime you need to heat something up in the microwave. The cozy prevents you from burning your fingers when you're removing the hot bowl. They clean up easy with your dishtowels in the laundry.



Microwave bowl cozies come in a variety of colours and patterns. 


You can check out the full Blue Mountain Concepts inventory on their website, and you can place an order by contacting them at bluemountainconcepts@outlook.com.

You can also follow connect with them on Facebook

xo
Jenn

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