Category: Review

Our experiences with equipment, locations, and events.

Book Review: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Book Review: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

I’m sharing a book review of The Sword of Shannara because I just finished my first book of the year. My goal this year had been to read 52 books. The first book on the agenda came from Terry Brooks – The Sword of Shannara.

I had watched the Chronicles of Shannara on Netflix (don’t be shocked that Netflix doesn’t stay true to the clean nature of the books – I don’t think the streaming service has it in it) and since they decided to cancel the show, I decided to go in search of more. I am fortunate that my father-in-law had taken a shine to the series when they were originally published. We have the full set.

I am now convinced it would be better to plan to read a certain number of pages in one year as opposed to a certain number of books. This epic adventure came out to 726 pages. There may have been a time when I could have read through it in a weekend, staying up until the sun came up, but those days are long gone.

It has be a little bit at a time for me these days.

Still, it was a very exciting story and clean. That was refreshing. Too often these days, there has to be sex and curse words before the story can be considered complete. This is my second ready from Terry Brooks and not a single issue has shown up.

Book Review for The Sword of Shannara

  • THE BOOK touches on a dystopian future where the men of our time destroyed the world and the world the evolves includes men of different statures. We would call them dwarves, gnomes, trolls, and elves – but the truth is they are all different ways man has evolved after the devastation of the world.
  • THE ELEMENTS include druids, magic, and otherworldly creatures. It could be categorized as a dystopian fantasy adventure – or that is what I would tell you if you asked. There are also epic battle scenes – lots and lots of battle scenes. If none of this is to your liking then you definitely don’t want to wade through the 726 pages. If you like adventure along the lines of Tolkien, then you might want to give it a read.
  • THE STORY caught my attention and kept my attention for the most part. There were times when the detail descriptions of scenery lost me and I was scan over the words – much like I would have scanned over the scenery. But all in all, it was a page-turner.
  • THE CHARACTERS were interesting, to begin with, and grew along the way. As is often the case in a grand adventure, not all make it to the end. Those that do make it grow and stretch and become more than one dimensional. My biggest struggle was trying to superimpose my images from the television show into the written characters.
  • THE PLOT made me wish I had read the first book and the second one closer together – although the first book was actually written after the second one to explain some of what happened in the second one – which is why you can read this one without having read any of the others.
  • WHAT I LIKED LEAST about the book was the bulkiness caused by the over described moments – many that could have been left out without harming the storyline.
  • WHAT I LIKED BEST about the book was the simple moral that crosses from the fiction into real life. We all need more books that leave you feeling hopeful and closing the cover with a justified smile.

I look forward to more adventures, and I dare to wager that at least one of the remaining 51 books I intend to read will be in this series. I want to know what happens next. You’ll see more book review posts as I make my way through the stack by my desk.

Now it’s your turn!

  • What would you like to see in the book review posts?
  • Do you have any books you believe must be read?
  • Do you have any reading goals for 2020?

I look forward to hearing your book reading and book review post suggestions.

The Mom

You can use my affiliate link to purchase your copy of The Sword of Shannara.

A First Look at Butcher Box

A First Look at Butcher Box

Reviewing of the Butcher Box Service

UPDATE: March 3, 2020

Subscription services are not for everyone and the customer service for these services is not always quick to respond. FAIR WARNING!

For several years, we invested part of our income tax refund into organic beef. Basically, we would go in with several other folks to purchase a cow and then when it was butchered we’d collect our portion.

It’s expensive if you consider it has to be paid all in one lump sum. It’s not as expensive when you realize we have beef for almost a full year.

Or we used to. I got made at our stand up freezer because I had to keep defrosting it – plus, it was big and took up a large portion of my laundry room. Plus, the older boys were off to college so I didn’t have as many folks to feed. Plus, the youngest and husband go off to school all day so I don’t have as many meals to make.

I wanted the organic beef, but I didn’t need as much of it. Plus, I also wanted other organic meats as well.

I had been seeing the advertisements for Butcher Box for several months, but after a visit to the grocery store sent me home empty-handed (I was searching for a free-range chicken), I decided now was as good a time as any to make the leap.

Besides, there was a bonus of free ground beef for life and that’s ALWAYS an item I can find a way to use.

The ordering process was simple. I chose a variety of chicken, pork, and beef. Fortunately, I only ordered one whole chicken because the school served chicken six out of ten days after I ordered. My family is not thrilled about chicken at the moment.

It took longer than I expected for the package to ship, and then I was panicked about the delivery. We had an issue earlier in the week with the FedEx guy mixing up our address with the neighbor’s address and I didn’t want that to happen with a box of meat (especially with a momma bear and her two cubs wandering the neighborhood – but one issue at a time).

I called the local FedEx office after lunch to make sure things were still on track. The lady who answered assured me they would make the delivery before the end of the day.

As I was telling my husband about the call with FedEx, the FedEx guy showed up.

I enlisted my son to help with the unpacking.

I was surprised that the meat wasn’t in a styrofoam box – the last time I ordered meat delivered, it came that way. But this had boxes around boxes and an empty plastic bag which I suspect had once been dry ice.

We moved all the meat from the box to the sink and sorted the frozen from the thawing.

I then used the Butcher Box chat feature on the website to update them about our shipment.

We just received our first box and we were almost the last delivery of the day for FedEx. All of the dry ice was gone, and the items on the bottom of the pack were thawed or in the process of thawing.

There were four sirloin steaks, two of which were completely thawed and the other two on their way. The ground breakfast sausage was also partially thawed. The chopped sirloin tips were also partially thawed.

We brought the box in as soon as FedEx delivered – but that was 4:30 pm our time.

We checked the box, and it only had one place where it said the items were perishable. It might have been all frozen had it been delivered earlier.

I’ll keep up updated on how things go.

Thank you, Kathryn

. They immediately responded and offered me some safety tips about temperatures of meat (which I didn’t know). After using my digital thermometer to measure the internal temperature, two of the steaks were right on the edge.

Grace offered to make it right, and she did. She then sent me an email with a complete transcript from the chat, which I definitely appreciated (and it’s the first time I’ve had a chat service do that). It makes it easier to keep records – and also to blog later on about the moment.

Most of the meat went into the freezer. Some of it went into the meat drawer of the refrigerator because I know I’ll be using during the next week. I originally put the chicken in the refrigerator, but I’m think about holding off on thawing it for now.

All and all, it was an eventful start. It may not have started out the way I expected, but it’s good to know that they are willing to back up their product.

If you want to try out Butcher Box for yourself, you can use

Be sure to let me know what you think of the experience and I’ll keep you up to date about how I put these treats to work in our meal rotation!

Have you ever tried a meal service? Share your thoughts, concerns, or blessings!

The Mom

Use Grocery Delivery to Make Up Lost Time

Use Grocery Delivery to Make Up Lost Time

Being already behind the cart doesn’t make me excited about needing to go to town. Don’t get me wrong. We only live eight miles from town, but when all is said and done it will take at least an hour for any trip and it was an hour I didn’t have (since I had already misplaced a few).

But I needed some items from the store to finish the task I was tackling. We had several shelves of leftovers that I had started doling out for freezing before I realized my entrees outnumbered my sides.

I needed some veggies and I needed them fast.

Option #1: Text my husband and ask him to stop what he was doing to bring me what I needed to do what I was doing. Any time I can interrupt my husband at work is a good thing . . . yeah, I didn’t think you would believe that.

Option #2: Try out the delivery option from Publix.

I chose option #2.

I had been watching friends take advantage of these grocery delivery services, but I didn’t think it would work for me. I can’t even get Domino’s to deliver to my house, so why on earth would the grocery store help me out?

I clicked on the delivery option, did my shopping, paid for the groceries, and then waited.

Within a few minutes I got a message that Ashley was doing my shopping for me – all while I sat at my computer working. Wow! Thanks Ashley.

It’s only been a few minutes and the phone buzzed to tell me Publix was on the way (now I’m wishing I had ordered that sub sandwich for lunch).

Thirty minutes after hitting the buy button, I have the groceries unloaded and put away.

This was definitely a win moment for my day and helped me get back some of the lost minutes I didn’t think I could capture.

Publix Grocery Delivery for the WIN!

Using Grocery Delivery

  • Keep it simple. Choose the items that are standard. Canned foods, frozen foods, and packaged foods are perfect for delivery because they are all the same.
  • Be gracious. You have the option to give a tip, so do. The shopper (and the one delivering) made your day easier. Show your thankfulness.
  • Be realistic. A yearly subscription costs $99 (for the Publix site I used). How many times would you need to order before you recouped your cost?
  • Think outside the box (aisles). You could order take out from the deli to be delivered instead of the same old fast food for those times when you need an easy fix. Or, let Publix deliver your next party!

I will confess I had my doubts about anyone ever delivering to my house. It was quick and easy, and the lady was a delight.

I have no doubt I will be using this service down the road.

The Mom

Check to see if the service if available in your area using:


And be sure to let me know what you think or how you use grocery delivery in the comments below.

Two of the freezer meals (a total of 10 today) – this is blackened chicken alfredo with veggies
Holiday Inn Express Offered The Mom a Rare Weekend Alone

Holiday Inn Express Offered The Mom a Rare Weekend Alone

You can always find a reason to complain – or you can find a reason to praise. The difference is not just in your experience but in the experience you leave with those you encounter.

find positives
The Mom had a treat this past weekend. I had the opportunity to spend two whole nights in a hotel . . . ALONE!

I had to work the days at WordCamp Birmingham 2018, but I had the hotel room all to myself.

The Holiday Inn Express in Pelham, Alabama was one of the sponsors for the conference and that was the hotel of choice for many of the attendees, speakers, or organizers. Not only did HIE provide a great group rate AND amazing amenities, but it was also within walking distance of the Pelham Civic Complex.

I checked in after we met to get set up for the weekend event, and was immediately impressed with the ease of the process. The staff welcomed me and had me checked in within a couple of minutes – even though I didn’t have my confirmation code available.

I LOVED the room!

Room at Holiday Inn Express

The next morning, the breakfast offerings caught me off guard. The omelets were tasty and just what I needed to get my morning started, but I’m fairly certain I could have eaten the cinnamon buns all day. If you can make a cinnamon bun delicious without having to drip it in icing then you have my attention.

I tried to say relatively “smart” in my breakfast choices, so I did complete the meal with some yogurt.

The hotel was packed full for the weekend, as was the parking lot, but even with folks having a party in the indoor pool area (or maybe it was the meeting room – I didn’t bother to investigate), my space was quiet and I had a second peaceful night’s sleep.

Breakfast on the second morning was even more of a surprise – because I came in expecting the same offerings. Sunday morning featured bacon . . . do I really need to say any more?

Great Parts of My HIE Stay

  • The room was fresh and clean – but not overly scented. I have stayed in hotels that used air fresheners to “present” clean, but that much scent only gave me a headache – NEVER fun when you are on a trip.
  • The staff was amazing! Everyone greeted me with a smile and was helpful (and even eager) to answer my questions. Sometimes you can run into crowded weekends that wear out the staff, but these folks never seemed to slow down.
  • Coffee

  • Coffee! The breakfast was spot on, but the never-ending coffee was even better. I was only a few doors from the lobby coffee, so it was easier to walk down and get fresh coffee than it was to make coffee in my room. *BONUS* The lobby cups were much larger than the room cups.
  • The location was perfect for WordCamp Birmingham 2018. It was easy to get to all the different after events, the conference, and even local stores.

All in all, I can say that HEI met and exceeded my expectations.

The Down Parts of My HIE Stay

  • The in-room refrigerator was small – not normally an issue, but with all the left-overs from the event, I could have fed my army of men for a few days if I could have kept it all cold.
  • COFFEE! Okay, so the lobby coffee wasn’t exactly never-ending. Day two of the conference left us without afternoon coffee and me without afternoon energy. I slipped away from the event to grab some lobby coffee from the hotel and was sad to find that at 3 pm there was not coffee to be had.
  • Ground floor room – which was great for getting in and out of the room but not so great for opening my curtains. I like to sleep with the curtains open so the morning light pours in and wakes me. Being on the ground floor meant I had to keep my curtains closed the whole time. *NOTE* I believe the staff would have moved me if I had asked – and a room had been available – but I knew I wasn’t going to be in my room that much so I adjusted.

The down parts of my stay at Holiday Inn Express Pelham were easy to adjust around and not really things I expected (as much as wanted). I could have found things to complain about – like the fact that the parking lot stayed crowded and there was always one 18-wheeler in the lot at night – or I could focus on the praise – did I mention the cinnamon buns to you yet? Often the place where I put my focus determines my experience – and also affects the experience of the people around me.

Thanks to the HEI. It was a wonderful stay and I appreciated that they were willing to join WordCamp Birmingham 2018 as a Community Sponsor.

Share your stays

Share your stories of “nights away” in the comments below. Share your favorite parts and how you think it could be better (or what others should watch for).

Review of The Raw Food Detox by Ani Phyo

Review of The Raw Food Detox by Ani Phyo

I was walking through Mike’s Merchandise when “The Raw Food Detox” by Ani Phyo practically jumped into my cart – which was quite a feat since I didn’t even have a cart. It was in that moment that I remembered WHY I had avoided going into Mike’s for so long. The book aisles are too tempting.

The book had made such an effort, I decided to bring it home with me.

I confess the concept made me nervous. The idea of eating nothing but raw foods was not new to me. I did a Green Smoothie Challenge several years back and went almost all raw for that. It was 28 days. There was something about the cover of the book and the idea that there was a set plan that set my nerves on end.

*Those of you who know me, or have met me, or have read anything by me already have a clue that I am not good at following rules*

Ani Phyo did not expect me to jump in blind. I appreciated that before she expected me to dive into the process, she took the time to explain the benefits. She also invested more than a few pages to explain WHY the choices were beneficial.

RAw Food Detox Book Review

Because I wanted to reap the most from the experience, I determined I would follow the recipes. If nothing else had caused my nerves to fire then trying to follow a recipe would have done the trick. I don’t think I’ve followed an actual recipe since I was in the 4th Grade 4-H competition and I HAD to follow the recipe. Most of the time I guestimate my measurements and hope for the best.

I made it for the first three days before I started changing the recipes. I tried to stay true to them, and I did try them all first, but I made modifications so that I would enjoy them more and so that I would continue the process.

It is not a hard read and it is a great introduction to eating raw. The recipes were diverse enough to provide a wide range of flavors sure to please any palate. I will not be moving to a raw lifestyle anytime soon, but it did remind me that fresh and raw are tasty and filling.

What are your experiences with raw food options? Share your links and comments below!

Mystery Rock – Family Tourism Adventure Novel

Mystery Rock – Family Tourism Adventure Novel

Mystery, adventure, letterboxing, my love for the beauty of Alabama and the Gulf Coast all ran into each other. I won the 2012 SELTI Short Story Contest and wanted to turn that story into a tourism literature work.

Although I did find a way to expand it into the third book of the Big Springs series, it lost its tourism feel for me. I tried forcing the tourism aspect, but the characters were not cooperating.

That year, I determined to win #NaNoWriMo – which means, I determined to finish the National Novel Writing Month challenge of crafting 50,000 words in the month of November. I had read recently about a boat that was uncovered on the Gulf Coast after a hurricane. It lead me to wonder what else might be uncovered and that is where Mystery Rock was born.

As the story grew and I focused on the locations along the Gulf Coast, I begin to think of ways to could shine the spotlight on the locations. Adding the links to the sites seemed natural. Adding letterboxes to the locations seemed BRILLIANT.

Mystery Rock from the Scouting Out Adventure series

I worked with SELTI and Alabama Tourism to begin making contacts at the different locations. My family began making plans for a trip to the beach – the fact that we needed to go was of little importance. It took time. It took patience. Eventually, the plans came together.

We visited the Gulf Coast and toured some of the sites. The trip had two purposes in my mind – to scout out locations and to determine the validity of the story ideas. We returned home and began the process of finalizing the project.

My family was greatly disappointed when I informed them that we had to make a second trip to the coast. We plotted out our tour. We designed our letterboxes. We even worked with a stamp carver to get special stamps – when they are all four put together they form a single image from the book.

The trip to the Gulf Coast helped to stir the fuel of excitement about “Mystery Rock” for my family and for the locations where we hid the letterboxes. We took pictures of the locations, but sharing them was vetoed by the oldest son. “It’ll make finding them too easy.” We wrote the clues and tried to create the same excitement and challenges that the boys faced in “Mystery Rock.”

“Mystery Rock” shares the adventure of a family in a way that will allow your family to share the adventure. Read the story. Visit the sites. Discover the letterboxes. And in doing all of these, discover a part of Alabama that you may not even know was there.

Get your copy of “Mystery Rock” today!

Review of the Mobile Drury Inn

Review of the Mobile Drury Inn

The Drury Inn, Mobile, Alabama offered some great perks for our one night stay. The price compared to the other locations in the area. It also allowed for all five of us to stay in the same room.

We arrived later than I had planned. The Drury Inn offers an evening meal to guests, as well as drinks. Our arrival happened about thirty minutes after they had finished serving, but my crew was too tired to eat anyway.

The check-in went smooth and the attendant was very pleasant. We found a parking place next to our entrance and unloaded.

The moment we walked in, my son made it clear that we had chosen well. Spencer awed at the chandelier hanging in the lobby ceiling. We found our room and settled in for the night.

It was a tight fit for our crew, but everyone slept just fine.

Most hotel rooms offer little privacy for study or work. Occasionally, a suite will have a nook where I can get away. The Drury Inn had several niches around the first floor that worked perfectly for my morning quiet time. It was only two doors down from our room so that I could keep an eye out for early wakers. Breakfast started serving at 6 am, so I got a cup a coffee and enjoyed my quiet time.

The rest of the crew began to stir a couple of hours later. Spencer was first to wake and request breakfast, so he and I made our way to the breakfast spread. They offered sausage, gravy, biscuits, toast, bagels, eggs, potatoes, oatmeal (not instant) and “make your own waffles.” My son went straight for the cereal – because he never gets that at home. The rest of the crew made their way to the lounge area and filled up for the morning adventures.


The Drury Inn, Mobile is easy to locate – IF you have some understanding of the Mobile service roads. It can be a little more of a challenge otherwise. The Drury Inn sits just off I-65 and Airport.


There are not enough positive adjectives to describe the staff. I even had the chance to meet one of the customer service operators (who happened to be staying there) and she was a delight. They were all friendly, greeted me with a smile, and were helpful – at 10:30 pm and at 6:00 am.


The room and facilities were clean. The bed was comfortable. The room was quiet. The Drury Inn is extremely pet-friendly and kid-friendly.


The evening meal can be a great way to save a little money and some hassle while traveling with the family. Most hotels now offer some type of breakfast, but the Drury Inn is the only one that we have encountered that offers the evening option as well.


This chain is pet-friendly. We have stayed at hotels that allowed people to bring their pets, but this is the first one where we have seen people traveling even with their large dogs. Your elevator experience is taken to a new level when you have the chance to share it with a Labrador.


There are only three Drury Inns in Alabama at this time. Adding one to Tuscaloosa is a much-needed addition for this chain. P.S. Locate it close to downtown for my convenience.

Review of the Gulf State Park Primitive Camping

Review of the Gulf State Park Primitive Camping

The Gulf State Park offered fun and adventure for the family. It also had some potential for hidden surprises that did not seem so appealing to me. Anyone that has met me has probably heard at least one story that proves I have few fears of things in this world. I have been known to get up close and personal with snakes to determine their identity. Spiders and I have no issues.

My concerns are more of the exotic type – or at least the salt water type. I have no love for sharks or their land walking cousins the alligators. Alligators actually creep me out even more than sharks, but that is probably because I have never had a shark grin at me. The information about the local alligators almost had me shying away from the benefits that the Gulf State Park had to offer.

I endured for my family because I am just that kind.

I spent weeks talking myself into the trip – or maybe it took me that long to block out the natives. My Facebook alligator nemesis took those very weeks to take a hiatus.


We packed for our trip and drove down to the Gulf on a crystal blue afternoon. My husband got us checked into the campground and we drove to our assigned primitive camping spot. The men unpacked and I drove off to the grocery store while they set up camp.

I returned to find our tent set up just five yards from a small canal. All of the efforts to eliminate the land walking shark cousin from my mind went right out the window. I was sleeping next to their hunting ground. I tried to keep my eyes off the canal while never turning my back to it. It was an interesting time.

The next day my oldest son pointed out that the canal was only a few inches deep. I may have slept easier had he pointed that out before we went to sleep (or tried to sleep). I still believe he did it on purpose.

Despite my unease, the wildlife kept their distance. We never saw an alligator – or a shark – the whole time we were there. We did see lots of birds, several types of crabs (on the beach), and even a coyote – across the park.

The campsite was perfect. The Gulf State Park recently added the primitive sites. They are set back in the trees and shrubs so you have plenty of privacy in the sites. The fire pit was nice, but it was too deep to be practical for cooking with the items we brought with us. I will know for next time to take our grilling set and maybe even a grate to put over the pit.


The primitive sites come without electricity or water, but we were only a short distance from the bathrooms so it was never an issue. After the meals, the guys would walk up to the bathrooms and wash out the pots or pans. It took them about as long to wash as it did for me to pack up from cooking.

Basic Review of the Alabama Gulf State Park


I give the Gulf State Park 10 out of 10. The area around the park was clear of debris and the bathrooms were very well kept.


The camp site was very nice and I appreciated the seclusion that the primitive sites provided. The park had set out mulch on the sites, and that made for some rough sleeping. The site we were in could have used about three or four more feet on either side. I give the camp site 8 out of 10.


The camping area was very family friendly. I would say the majority of people camping the weekend we were there had children. People stayed pretty active until later in the night, but we turned on a small fan and the white noise helped block out their enthusiasm.


The scenery around the Gulf State Park is amazing, and it is always a bonus for my crew to be within a few miles of the beach.

Review of the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove

Review of the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove

My first meeting with the single burner camp stove came after the April 27th, 2011 tornado outbreaks in North Alabama. Our little area was hit with four funnel clouds, the last of which ripped up four telephone poles along the main line. I knew we were in for the long haul, and the single burner (Coleman) was just the thing I needed to make things work.

I fell in love with the ease of use, the flexibility, and especially the amount of heat the small burner produced. It could handle the heaviness of a cast iron skillet, or manage the perfect temperature for percolating coffee.

Our first family camp out down at the beach expanded my love – and our cooking family. As we set up that first night, I realized that the single burner had not made the trip.

Ozark Trails single burner camping stove

I understand that meals can be cooked in a variety of ways. When you mix together ingenuity, creativity, and a dash of patience, anything can be possible . . . or almost anything. Try as I might, I could not figure out a way to make coffee with the limited resources that had made it to the gulf with us.

I tried to survive, but I realized by that next morning that a single burner was necessary (even if only for the coffee). I sent my family off to Walmart to purchase a single burner and they returned with the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove.

He told me when he returned that he had considered investing in a double burner. “It required a different fuel canister.” We have learned that consistency in the fuel can be vital when it comes to camping activities. The single burner was similar to the one we already had at home, and it took the same fuel as that single burner as well as the camping stoves that we own.

Coffee was ready within moments of their return.

My favorite feature of the single burner is the versatility. It worked well with my large soup pot and just as easily with my small tea pot. It also helps that the single burner is easy to set up, takes up very little space, and breaks down just as easily as it sets up.

We were smart this time around and kept the box for repacking. In the future, we may find a container that will hold both single burners and also have space for the fuel canisters. For now, we are happy to have the Ozark Trail Single Burner Camp Stove join our family.