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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: My Fathter's Gardens by Karen Levy *****5 STARS*****

Book Review: My Father’s Gardens by Karen Levy

Review by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto
My Father’s Gardens is a memoir written so eloquently it reads like poetry. Levy tells the story of her upbringing and coming of age. She is an Israeli native torn between her home land and the United States just as she is torn between her warring parents. Levy writes: Beautiful families keep ugly secrets, contained in pretty boxes. Yet Levy herself keeps no secrets from her readers. She shares her lessons and her love through her art of storytelling. My Father’s Gardens is beautifully written and will tug at your heartstrings from cover to cover.

Levy’s style of writing reads like the loveliest poetry. I found myself highlighting sentences and phrases because of the pictures I was able to conjure through her words:
·         Bolts of electricity mythological in proportion rip through the night skies…
·         I can’t remember what you said that made me feel beautiful. Maybe because you were beautiful too, there under the olive trees…
·         …was gone, but like water streaming into a freshly dug hole in the sand, someone else steps right in to take his place.
Author, Karen Levy
My Father’s Gardens is written in cinematic short meaning short scenes with the focus on showing the reader instead of telling the reader. I absolutely love this style as it allows for so much emotion from the reader. I was able to envision the beautiful landscape of Israel but what amazed me most was Levy’s ability to draw me in. I am a native of the United States and she somehow managed to help me feel as though I was looking at my own country through new eyes. The passion of Levy’s story and her passion for writing come through very strongly on each page.


For anyone who has ever felt they did not belong, or has felt torn about where they belong, the moving memoir, My Father's Gardens will really hit home. Levy questions whether she is more Israeli or American and she works through finding herself and realizing where she really belongs. She comes to the calm and confident realization as her worry fades and she arrives, no longer conflicted! I would certainly recommend this book and have ranked it on Amazon with five stars! 
Thank you to Karen Levy for contacting me requesting 
I read and review her memoir.
~Crystal

Book Summary:
My Father's Gardens is the story of a young girl who comes of age in two languages, and on two shores, between warring parents and rules that change depending on the landscape and the proximity of her mother. Struggling to find her voice and her place in the world as a result of her frequent travels between her native Israel and the United States, she feels that she must choose a place to call home. As her scenery alternates between warm Mediterranean and snow capped mountains, loud-mouthed Israelis and polite Americans, so do her loyalties: Is she more Israeli or American? How will she know when she has arrived? And while she chooses she is slowly transplanting bits of her father's gardens on foreign soil.

Author Bio:
Karen Levy is an Israeli-American writer. Born in Israel, Levy spent her childhood traveling between her native land and the United States. Following her military service, Levy returned to the U.S. where she earned her B.A. in Comparative Literature and an M.A. in English, Creative Writing. Her memoir, My Father's Gardens is a candid account of a life divided between countries, friends, languages and alliances.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank You - The Best Job In the World!


Call me sappy, emotional, goofy, awe-struck, or off my rocker. I have the best job in the world and I thank my boss every day for the opportunity to work here. The hours are tough and some of the work smells funky, but I couldn't imagine doing anything else. When my husband balances the check book he wishes I had a better paying job, but we have food on the table and I go to sleep smiling each night. My feet throb from the long hours on them, and some days I don't have time for a lunch break - someone call the department of labor Puuhleez!!!!
Photo by Olivia Brey of Oh! Photography

If you don't already know, I am a stay at home mom. My day starts wells before 5am and ends somewhere around midnight. Our nursling is 9 weeks old, so I'm "on call" through the night and often up just an hour or so after laying down and then again a few hours after that. I am a jack of all trades and can teach a child to tie their shoes while nursing an infant and balancing my coffee on my thigh. I can wash clothes, clean house, and cook lunch while making up songs and dancing around with an infant in my arms. I can go days without finding time to shave my legs and yet have the superpower enabling me to help with homework while balancing the checkbook with my right hand and stirring dinner with my left.

I no longer worry about the best color lipstick, the trendiest hair cut, or what the celebrities are eating for breakfast. That worry has been replaced with confidence about what my children are learning, who they spend time with, and now that I've mastered nursing an infant ... I am confident I can do just about anything. My body and my mind continue to amaze me each and every day.

My husband has given me a gift. Several years ago he pointed out that I was missing out on life because I was working too much and even when I was home, I was emotionally somewhere else. I didn't know how to engage with my children and I had become the woman who lived to work instead of working to live. There are weeks we have no money in the bank, but we have a different kind of wealth. The gift my husband has given me is absolutely priceless. He gives me the gift of being a mother. I have time to learn silly nursery rhymes (or make them up), and I have time to live and love and laugh.

This Thanksgiving I find myself thankful again for faith and family and for my God-fearing husband who loves us enough to make sure our priorities are exactly as they should be!

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and thanksgiving!

Hugs,
~Crystal

Monday, November 25, 2013

Product Review - SunCups ** Gluten Free / Nut Free Treats!!

WE ARE IN LOVE WITH SUN CUPS!!!
I was approached a few weeks ago about trying and reviewing a new to me product with chocolate as a main ingredient. Of course I accepted the challenge with a great big smile on my face. Sun Cups are made in Colorado, the ingredients are certified organic, and their scrumptious treats are nut and gluten free. I'll be
Delicious Sun Cups
honest, I was expecting them to taste terrible. We were pleasantly surprised - and it wasn't just me ... my husband loved them (the dark chocolate in particular as he said it complimented the sunflower butter quite well), the children tried a bite of each and used words like scrumptious and delicious to describe the flavor. The texture was smooth and creamy and the flavor delightful - hard to believe these could be nut and gluten free, but they are!
Visit Sun Cups to place your order and try these for yourselves - you will NOT be disappointed!
http://suncups.com/http://suncups.com/

Friday, November 22, 2013

Baby-Related Reviews!

I sure got behind ... I have oodles of products to review so I'm going to group lots of them together in this post. Here goes:

We either loved them or hated them...some baby items we couldn't imagine life without and some we were happy to pass along to someone else. A single star rating just means the product wasn't a good fit for our family or our lifestyle ... this doesn't mean it won't be fabulous for someone else. The views expressed on this blog are simply opinions and not written maliciously.

We are in love with the Rock n Play - this is a versatile bassinet that is great for naps but can also be used as a bed for the newest of babies. Breccan wanted to sleep with us and couldn't get cozy in his crib or the pack and play. We received the Rock n Play as a gift and immediately we were all sleeping soundly through the night. The Rock n Play folds small enough to take along (we brought it to grandma's the day of baptism so our little sweetie could take a nap). This is a great shower gift for a friend and is an absolute must have at our house!
Tommee Tippee

After several attempts at finding a bottle that would integrate with our goal of nursing for Breccan's first year, we FINALLY came across a bottle that seems to work like, look like, and feel like a natural breast. We are very happy with the Tommee Tippee bottle. And trust me... we spent over $50 before we found this one. The Tommee Tippee bottles are not super expensive and if there's a Target in your town, you'll find them right on the shelf (no shipping issues, no waiting, etc...). A great bargain and you shouldn't have any latch problems when nursing because this bottle truly is shaped like a breast.

our diaper stash & wipe warmers



We are super busy (as are all parents) and I've chosen to baby-wear as a way to keep Breccan happy while still meeting the needs of our businesses and our family. My favorite way to wear baby Breccan at this stage in the game (he's 8 weeks) is using either the Moby Wrap or the Ergo Carrier. The Ergo is quick and easy to put on where the Moby takes a bit more patience, but the Moby is less bulky and doesn't have any 'hardware'. There's certainly a time and place for each one and both are nursing friendly. I do not have a photo of either, but feel free to follow the links below to check them out for yourselves!

Moby Wrap: http://www.mobywrap.com/mw/Home.htm

Ego Carrier: http://store.ergobaby.com/

Here at the Otto Farm, we do our best to be thrifty as well as environmentally responsible. We have chosen to cloth diaper. It's a little too early to tell you which style diaper is our favorite. I can tell you we wouldn't be without a diaper wipe warmer (for cloth wipes) and our other must have is the Snappi which is used instead of pins to keep cloth diapers secure. Some of the diapers currently in our stash are: GroVia, BumGenius, FuzziBunz, SunBaby, Bumkins, and Goodmama. You may see some of them pictured at the right (along with TWO wipe warmers - that tells you how absolutely important those are)!

Now for the tough part....
items we didn't like...


The Medela Calma bottle seemed great at first but resulted in latch problems since the nipple is not breast shaped. I ended up with a little boy who only wanted to nurse off the very tip of my nip...ouch!!!

The Seven Sling was next to impossible to get both of us into - we got it for cheap, but its long gone...nice patterns, but not a great design.

Lansinoh cream may work for others, but it made my nipples burn. After 3 Dr visits thinking we had thrush, I tossed this stuff out! (we now use no creams and a washable nursing pad called Bamboobies)

WELL FOLKS - THAT'S WHERE WE ARE AT RIGHT NOW...HOPE SOME OF THESE THOUGHTS ARE HELPFUL IN YOUR PARENTING JOURNEY!

May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine. and products that make your life a little easier (one day at a time)!
Hugs,
~Crystal

Lactation Cookies - Yum Yum!

As promised - here is my recipe for lactation cookies. You may want to call them something else...we've sort of decided to call them freckle cookies around here since I'm eating them to increase my milk supply to nurse our littlest whose name is Breccan. Since we lovingly call him Breckle-Freckle we thought Freckle Cookies would be a great name for these high energy cookies!



Enjoy!

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. oats
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 c. almond butter
1/2 c. softened butter
1 1/4 c. flax (ground)
4 T brewer's yeast
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 c/ chocolate chips (12oz)
1 c. cashew pieces

1/3 c. water - boiling....then add 6-10 capsules of each: fenugreek and blessed thistle
**stir until the capsules are dissolved and you have a thick paste of the herbs then add the paste to your mix of ingredients above

Mix everything thoroughly.

Pre-heat the oven to 380 degrees.

Use two spoons to place a dozen cookie "dollops" on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 380 degrees. Remove cookies promptly, allow to cool, and enjoy!!

And here is the happy young man who reaps the benefits of these delicious cookies!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Tour - The Howling Heart by April Bostic




Title: The Howling Heart
Author: April Bostic
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Published on August 8, 2013 by Eternal Press
Length: 220 pages

Synopsis:
Paige Donovan is an ambitious college graduate who aspires to reach the top of the corporate ladder. She’s climbing fast when given the promotion of a lifetime at a prestigious fashion magazine in New York City. Her bright future comes to an unexpected halt after news of her father’s death. She inherits his old cabin in the Colorado Rockies, and just when she thinks her luck couldn’t get any worse, she has a car accident in the mountains and awakens in the small, remote community of Black River.

Soon, she’s engulfed in the mystical world of Varulv---wolves descended from 13th century Scandinavia and blessed by Norse gods with the ability to appear human. Paige is desperate to return home, but never expects to fall for her rescuer, Riley Gray, a charming young werewolf from England who offers her an alternate future with his pack.


Now, she must choose between the career she’s always wanted and the love she’s always dreamed.

Excerpt:

     Riley walked away and took a few steps toward the river. With his back facing me, he stood while looking at the waterfall. It was a beautiful scene—his tall, shirtless body with his blonde hair tousled and gently blowing in the wind. He took another step and surprised me by kicking off his boots. Then, he leaned down and rolled up his pant legs. He jogged over to a cluster of large rocks, his footing quick and poised, and sat with his bare feet dangling in the water.

     I yelled out, "Is it safe to do that?"
     He looked at me and laughed lightly. "Yeah, it’s safe. Do you think there are piranhas or crocodiles in the river?" He continued to chuckle, and a toothy smile broke free on my face. "Don't worry. There isn't anything deadly in these waters—just harmless fish, frogs, and Northern Water snakes. They won't hurt you." He beckoned to me. "Come over here and join me. The water is nice and cool." He kicked his feet, making splashes in the water.

     I was hesitant to join him, but the water intrigued me. I decided to trust him, so I walked over to the rocks. They were flat, smooth, and slick. My steps were wobbly as I tried to avoid getting a foot stuck in the cracks or slipping on the moss. Once I stood next to him, he looked up at me with a wide smile. I removed my sneakers, peeled off my socks, and rolled up my sweatpants. Riley was right. The water was pleasantly cool and refreshing.

    He kicked his feet again, this time making a bigger splash. I tried to outdo him, but my smaller feet were no match for his large ones. We laughed together, but the rushing water overpowered the harmonious sound.
     I stole a glance at him while he looked at the river. He leaned back casually on his elbows, and I couldn't help but admire his six-pack abs and toned chest. Little, brown moles spotted his torso, and I imagined playing connect-the-dots with my tongue. His skin enticed me, and I wanted to run my hands all over it. A lustful feeling washed over me, and I swallowed thickly, averting my gaze.
    Riley chuckled low in his throat, and I knew he caught me staring. His hand touched my lower back, and I looked at him over my shoulder. A grin spread across his lips as he tugged the shirt hem.
     "This is my shirt, isn't it?" My eyes widened, and I whipped my head around. In less than two seconds, my face flushed with heat.
     "Um, yes," I mumbled. "Sorry. I borrowed it, because Quinn's clothes were too small for me, and I didn't feel comfortable browsing through Celia's wardrobe." The latter reason was a lie. I was just  determined to cover
myself with his clothes.
     "No worries. I don't mind," he soothed. "You can borrow whatever you want. What's mine is yours, love."
     I turned my head slightly to peek at him, grateful his focus was still on the shirt. I recalled the words he spoke earlier. "Let's say hypothetically I did stay here with you. How would we be together when I'm human and you're a wolf?" "If you're referring to us being biologically compatible, M├íni and Freya blessed us, so we can breed with humans."
     His foot brushed against mine under the water. It came back a second time and then a third. He sat up and scooted closer to me, until our thighs were touching. I looked over at him and almost fell into his seafoam pools. I had to regain control before I did something I would regret...like lean over and kiss those bee-stung lips.


Author bio:
April Bostic is a New Jersey-based, Adult Romance author who enjoys unleashing her creativity and letting her imagination run wild. Her love of romance books inspired her to become not just a reader, but also a writer. In December 2008, she self-published her first novel, a contemporary romance with a supernatural twist entitled "A Rose to the Fallen".

Her first short story, "Right Here, Right Now", released in January 2012, is an erotic romance with a dash of S&M. The following year, she released two more short stories: a romantic urban fantasy inspired by the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche entitled "Eros, My Love", and a sexy romantic comedy entitled "Love Addiction".


After five years, she released her second novel, "The Howling Heart" in August 2013, a paranormal romance that delves into the mystical world of werewolves and Norse gods. To end her busiest year in publishing, April will release her fourth short story in December 2013, a historical paranormal romance entitled "A Dark Scandal".

Author links:

Buy links:



Monday, November 18, 2013

Ladies' Home Journal Essay Contest - "The Best Decision I Ever Made"

Ladies' Home Journal Essay Contest 2013
I'm in the middle of writing my own entry for a fun personal essay contest via Ladies’ Home Journal, and I thought, as a member of the writing community, my readers might want to hear a little bit more about it too! 

This year's theme is "The Best Decision I Ever Made," and the contest is calling for genuine, original essays to be entered through December 6, 2013. The winner of the contest will receive $3,000 and the chance to have his/her essay published in Ladies' Home Journal (the publication reaches 10 million women each month!), and work with one of the senior editors on it. In fact (and here's why this is such a uniquely wonderful opportunity), every story is read by an editorial staffer as they judge the entries, and they have published entries that didn't win the contest as well (and paid the writers, of course).


Follow this link for more details: www.lhj.com/essaycontest.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Breccan's Birth Story - Part 2 (Godspeed Little Man)

Well - things didn't go exactly as I had planned when it came to Breccan's birth. Part of me wanted to pick a date and go in for an induction (yes, I'm a control freak ... I know this about myself) and part of me wanted to just wait. I didn't want my water to break at Fleet Farm or anything like that, but I didn't want to rush things either. Or did I? I was certainly conflicted ... especially when I learned that my husband had been taken 2 weeks early and was still a 10 lb baby. I certainly knew I did not want to go past my due date. Well, I went in for a regular weekly check up on Friday, September 20th and the Doctor on call asked me to come back later in the afternoon for a re-check. I had been dialated to 4 for weeks and I seemed to be further than that and since it was a Friday it made sense to know what we were up against before the weekend rolled around. At 4pm that Friday, the Doctor sent me to the hospital to be admitted.


Now I know I'm amazing, but my cervix is even more amazing...after walking the halls of the hospital, I un-dialated...what?? Anyway - at 11pm we headed to Taco Bell for dinner and then went home. I didn't do much all weekend. My father in law and husband decided I shouldn't be feeding calves or doing barn chores, so I baked cookies, and spent time indoors with the children. Monday morning I called my regular Doctor and he agreed I could come in for an induction. I would still be able to have my natural birth, but they would give me some pitosin to start labor. So - on Monday, September 23rd 2013 I drove to Holy Family Memorial Hospital in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and prepared to meet my son face to face.

I was fairly comfortable most of the day (they started the pitosin around 1pm) and at 7:45pm they broke my water. It didn't take long before I asked my husband to turn off the television. I was having a hard time concentrating on anything but the contractions. They were coming pretty quickly and I no longer felt like laughing. I was happy to have my husband, my sister in law, and our dear friend Olivia Brey of OH! Photography with me. We turned off the television and decided Michael Jackson was a decent artist to listen to during child birth.

At 9:23pm I asked the nurse how much longer she thought it might be before Breccan was born. She smiled and said "shouldn't be more than 2 hours" and I swallowed my pride asking for some pain medication. My Doctor was right outside the door and took that as his queue that it was time. Two pushes later and my little man entered the room and he was absolutely perfect!

Breccan's Birth Story - Part 1 (Miracles & Belly Casting)

Well, it's taken seven weeks to get this down on "paper", so you'll have to excuse any inaccuracies. I should preface this story by saying it is true to the best of my sleep-deprived, new mommy recollection.

Breccan's birth happened Monday, September 23rd at 9:33pm but in reality, his birth story began much much sooner. Now, my gestation period is 40 weeks (same as all other humans)...so this may seem confusing at first. Breccan's birth story begins mid-October 2012, nearly a year before his official birth.

Mark and I were married in August 2012 and hoped to conceive on our wedding night. We didn't conceive until mid-October and we were super excited. I remember saying "we may not have a honeymoon baby, but maybe it happened the night of your birthday!" Well, regardless of when it happened, we were excited. We went to Sneek a Peek studio in Green Bay to get an early ultrasound. It was so reassuring to see the baby's heartbeat at 6 weeks. I was relieved it wasn't twins - or maybe I was a bit disappointed - either way...nice healthy baby. We named him/her Jackson just to eliminate any "it" references. A few weeks later, it was time for my 12 week check up. Mark (my husband if I didn't already tell you that), and my 4 year old son, Andre came to the appointment (Carmen who was 5 at the time was in school). It was Wednesday, December 12th and it was freezing outside. We were excited for Christmas and even more excited about sharing our good news with the rest of the family!

I'll spare you the details of the appointment and just tell you I learned about something called a 'missed miscarriage' and had to make the choice whether to schedule a d&c or wait for my body to expel the tissue that was no longer baby Jackson. The emptiness I felt is indescribable.

December 14th in the wee hours  of the morning, we made love. We knew it would be weeks before we could be intimate. It felt great to hold one another close and afterward, I cried. It is difficult to mourn the loss of a child; having my husband by my side eased that pain a bit. Later that day, I checked into the hospital for a d&c. I didn't want anyone with me and Mark was planning on picking me up after milking and chores that same evening.

I remember hearing the Doctor's strict instructions about waiting "two cycles before trying to conceive" and he reminded me that if we did not wait we would increase the risk of another miscarriage. I went home feeling defeated and alone.

2 months passed and it was Valentine's Day. It was a Thursday evening.I still had not gotten a period and was quite concerned. Not only was I anxious about conceiving again, but I was worried that something had gone wrong and maybe we would never be able to have more children. I called the Doctor and went in to find out what was going on. That was the day I found out I was 8 weeks pregnant. It seemed impossible. How could I have become pregnant on the very day I had a d&c? I had so many questions and an incredible amount of fear.

If you ask me to explain how Breccan was conceived, I will tell you "God is Good" because beyond that I cannot explain the medical phenomenon that must have taken place. Apparently my ovaries knew Jaxon was gone but my uterus did not? I must have ovulated and somehow we must have conceived in those wee hours the morning of the d&c. Then, that fertilized egg must have hung out somewhere outside of the uterus until the d&c was done and then safely implanted. Sounds pretty far-fetched to me...regardless...283days after my d&c I gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Breccan Leland Otto.

Breccan will come to know his big brother Jackson who helped paved his way. Each of our children is very special and they are truly a gift from God. Breccan was celebrated a bit differently than the other children and instead of keeping a pregnancy journal, we did a belly-cast to freeze time and make something lasting to remember those last few weeks of pregnancy. Thank you to Emily Shier from Beautiful Birth who took the time to meet with us and talk baby talk while creating the belly cast. Thank you to my dear friend Tess Fallier of Tess Fallier Photography who was with us to photograph this portion of our adventure. Check out the amazing photos below!