Book Review #89: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity”

When I did a recent Tag post, I picked this book as “An intimidating book on your TBR.”

I wrote: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton. I know the backstory behind this book, Betz-Hamilton’s memoir, from the Criminal podcast. (Make sure you listen to Episode 51 first, then Episode 125). I want it to be as amazing as I think it is, based on the podcast episodes that were so masterfully produced.”


As soon as I heard about Betz-Hamilton’s book on Episode 125 of the Criminal podcast, I added it to my wish list. I was so thrilled when I opened it as part of my Christmas gift from Al at the end of 2019.

It took me nearly six months to get to it, but I knew I was avoiding it. I had so many high hopes for this book, and I did not want to be disappointed.

Thankfully, this was not disappointing.


It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away certain things. But, I will say that I hope Betz-Hamilton writes more books. She did an incredible job with this. It’s such a personal story, and she truly turned it into action. She has done incredible work with helping identity theft victims for many years, while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of identity theft in her own family.

If you’ve wanted to learn about identity theft, and its interesting history, this is a great book to read. Betz-Hamilton started her investigation with hardly any resources, and little law enforcement involvement. Times have certainly changed, and she helped educate many people along the way. Without her work, I don’t think identity theft would be as widely known or investigated now.

I related to this book in a few ways. Axton and I were both only children. I struggled with my relationship with my mom, especially as I became a teenager. But, I realize how good I had it. Axton lived in a version of hell under her mother’s roof until she went to college. I recognized so many signs of abuse, sadly.


The chapters were the perfect length. I flew through multiple chapters every night, and struggled with putting the book down.

It was so interesting to read about her life. This book spanned from before she was born up through the early 2010s. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes, mixed in with academia and identity theft history. I’ve found myself searching for presentations she’s given. I’m hoping she’ll offer a course on identity theft. I want to learn more from her.

This is currently my favorite book of 2020. I’m always planning to re-read it next year.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #82: “Janesville: An American Story”

This was one of the books I picked up through a generous Barnes and Noble gift card from my parents. I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by non-fiction and human-interest stories. Amy Goldstein was one writer I had not heard of that afternoon in August, but something called to me.

As I started reading, I felt an instant connection because of the setting – Wisconsin. Just the cover alone made me think of the snow-covered hills and woods at my cousin Ryan’s house in Hortonville when we visited in the late 1990s.

But this story is more than that. It’s about multiple families and their take on one thing, one monumental event – The GM plant closing in 2008. What follows is the next five years of how this town of industry claws its way back from the brink, and how so many people were affected by what is now known as the Great Recession.

I liked how Goldstein divided the book by year. It doesn’t always work out well this way, but the way she structured it was solid. Keeping up with the cast of characters was a bit challenging, but it was nice to have a list of them at the beginning, before you even start reading.

One of the biggest takeaways of this book is how large the ripple effect is. It not only affects the workers, it affects the unions, their marriages, their relationships, their families, their political focuses, and more. And still, by the end of the book, Janesville has reached 2013. Have things gotten better? It’s hard to say. Goldstein’s on-the-ground reporting, going deep into Janesville and its people, is amazing research. I could tell she really got to know the people in the book, as well as a sense of the whole community.

Goldstein also attempts to balance the light and dark, so to speak. She looks at the GM workers and those struggling with layoffs and disappearing industry. A few pages later, she ties in Mary, the well-to-do head of the local bank, who is fundraising and trying her best to help others, while she is at the top of the heap in terms of wealth. Goldstein also shines a light on Paul Ryan, other political candidates, and Governor Scott Walker.

As complex as this book is, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I read it. I felt a sense of understanding, but not empathy. In 2008, as the Great Recession was beginning, I was starting my sophomore year of college. I know I come from a family of privilege. My parents only had to worry a handful of times when the government shut down and my dad was furloughed.

That was certainly stressful, but not nearly as stressful, heartbreaking, and frustrating as watching your livelihood simply vanish. And trying to keep your house. Keeping your marriage and family together. Watching your teenage kids work one, two, three jobs to help out. Sometimes losing loved ones entirely, whether it was health issues brought on by stress, or not finding a way out other than wanting to end your life.

Website: amygoldsteinwriter.com

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #100: “What Mum Taught Me” – Boundaries

Image Credit: Psych Central

This post originated from a friend’s Facebook post. I found it on Thursday, October 24, 2019. A. saw it and felt compelled to share.

It was originally shared on Facebook by Leslie Gaar, Writer on October 10, 2018.

The photos / screenshots come from Erynn Brook’s Twitter account. I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety.

I read Erynn’s story. And re-read it. And I’ve been coming back to it nearly every day since stumbling upon it on October 24th.


One thing is for sure: Boundaries are hard. Setting boundaries is even harder. But, at 31, I feel much more at peace with myself because of the boundaries I have set for myself. Many of them are unspoken, for me and myself only, but there are others that I make known, loud and clear.

Why? Unlike Erynn’s awesome mom, I was taught to stick it out. To not quit. To not leave. To not ruin anything.

And I’m now realizing how damaging that is.


I understand why, in a way – My parents are of a different generation. Overall, I think they did a good job of raising me. I know, as an only child and born severely premature, they sheltered me and protected me fiercely.

But, I don’t want to raise my future child or children like my parents did. I want to do some things differently.

Like Erynn’s mom, I want my child or children to have choices, to feel like it’s normal to come to Al or me with anything at any time, to not feel like they are bothering us, to express their discomfort openly. And Al and I both agree that if our child or children call or text at any time, asking to come home, we will come immediately, no questions asked.

Two of my family members have this rule with their daughter – Call us at any time, and we will come get you. There won’t be any questions when we pick you up. There may be questions in the morning / after whatever happened, but there won’t be any questions from us at the time we come get you.


What do you think about this? Let me know in the comments.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #185: Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my mom’s birthday!

I’m so happy to have been able to celebrate with her. Today was our regularly scheduled blood drive, and she ran it like a champ. Everyone sang to her, and I bought a fun rainbow birthday cake! We had a good time. She was going to take a nap later.

Hoping to take her out to eat sometime tomorrow.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Adventure Time: Florida Edition (Round 4 – Family Visit)

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One of the views from the boardwalk at John’s Pass, the entertainment district of Madeira Beach. This is part of the Intracoastal Waterway, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

After resigning from my job on August 13th, I was asked to leave the company immediately. Given I had a bit of paid vacation ahead of me before starting my new job on September 3rd, I was toying with the idea of visiting my Grandpa Stricker in Florida. Thanks to the encouragement of Mom, Dad, and Al, I decided to book a flight and spend several days in the sunshine.

I flew down on Tuesday, August 27th. Southwest was great. I changed planes in Baltimore, and landed in Tampa a little earlier than scheduled. I rode the Super Shuttle with several people from the airport to Grandpa’s condo.

After I got settled, I caught up with my Aunt Marny. I hadn’t seen her in person since my wedding in 2015!

For dinner, we had amazing chicken salad from this place called Chicken Salad Chick. It started in Auburn, Alabama. It has 135 locations total, as far west as Texas and Oklahoma, and up through Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio. There is one location in Virginia! If you live in the Richmond / Glen Allen areas, you’re in for a treat!

On Wednesday morning, Aunt Marny asked if I wanted to have brunch at the Sweet Sage Cafe and Boutique in North Redington Beach. I didn’t hesitate!

I had their delicious “two’s two’s” item, where I chose French toast, bacon, and yummy eggs. There was sangria, too.

A happy accident happened to me, too. I had been casually searching for a 4ocean bracelet after one of my co-workers at Riverside had bought one. The boutique sold them! I picked the green one, and found out later it’s the “sea turtle” one. Perfect!

One of the many funny signs inside the Sweet Sage Cafe.

The exterior is so colorful and calming.

Love Radar!

Hook, Line, and Drinker.

After brunch, we went to John’s Pass, the entertainment district of Madeira Beach.

Pelicans taking a rest.

A fun tiki bar boat tour.

A beautiful heron.

An old-fashioned taffy pulling machine in action.

On Wednesday night, we went to PJ’s Oyster Bar early for happy hour and seafood!

Aunt Marny and I both enjoyed a Yuengling. We all got something different – Grandpa had his shrimp, Marny got clam strips, and I got the crab cakes, fries, and Caesar salad.

There were Blues Brothers statues everywhere!

I had a really good trip. I’m glad I took the time to visit!

Have you visited Florida?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

 

Getting Personal #164: Happy Birthday, Uncle Richard

Happy Birthday, Uncle Richard. This is your first one in Heaven. We know you are celebrating with Grandma and Grandpa! We miss you so much here on Earth. You are loved!

I think back to this day last year. It was the first Saturday in April, which is always a blood drive day, I kept telling Al to remind me to call Uncle Richard, to tell him Happy Birthday, before we went out to dinner with our friends Casey and Beth. I had such a wonderful 20-minute conversation with him, and I could hear his smile in his voice. I was so thrilled to have remembered to take the time to do that. Little did I know what would happen next.

My Uncle was a life-long bachelor, never married, no kids. He went to Vanderbilt. He was a flight attendant for National Airlines, and then they merged with PanAm. He lived 15 minutes from my grandparents for decades. He loved history, movies, food, and laughter.

He selflessly took care of Grandma Grace and moved her in with him from 2010 until she died peacefully in July 2013.

He always called me his favorite niece. I always laughed, since I was his only niece.

We worried about him for several years, but he persevered through happy times and challenging times.

I called him on Saturday. On Tuesday, the world as my family knew it came crashing down. He’d been in a car accident, four blocks from his house. We found out later he’d suffered a massive stroke. My parents, bless them both, literally dropped everything here in Virginia and got to Miami as fast as possible. My mom, Richard’s kid sister, took charge, and my dad bent over backwards. I stayed put, checking on their house and getting their mail.

Everyone in Florida were wonderful. The church community gathered together and offered everything, especially prayer.

After several weeks, the difficult decision was made to bring in hospice care. He’d fought hard, but his body was failing. He was coherent until the very end, saluting my dad, as he always had since my dad had served in the Coast Guard for more than 23 years. One of them brought the wedding photo of us to his room, and he knew who I was. I was able to call one last time. He wasn’t able to speak or respond to me, but my mom said he was nodding and recognized my voice. I told him I loved him, and then I couldn’t talk any more. I’d said my piece. I felt at peace.

He died peacefully on April 25th. It was the hardest four weeks my parents had been through, and many more months of challenges would follow, making sure his estate was taken care of. Months later, my mom gave an incredible presentation at a church fellowship dinner, dubbed “The Miracles in Miami,” where so many amazing God Things happened during this horrible, tragic, trying time.

Here’s to you, Uncle Richard, from your favorite niece.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Adventure Time: Norfolk, VA Edition (Round 6 – An Evening with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox)

Al and I discovered Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) on YouTube within the last year. When we found out they were touring and coming to Norfolk, we bought tickets in April!

Sadly, Al wasn’t able to go because the concert date conflicted with his recent work trip to Mexico. So, we invited our 13-year-old niece, Mia, to be my date. It was awesome!!

The ensemble told everyone up front that photos and videos were definitely allowed, which was amazing!

This was the set before the concert started. The curtain was gorgeous!

There was such a vintage theme. I took pictures mainly because of all of the costume changes!

This woman. Holy cow! So soulful, and beautiful. She reminded me so much of Aretha Franklin!

All of the different dresses!

One of the singers, and the resident tap dancer!

The beginning of their rendition of “Africa.”

The whole band! Every single one of them was awesome!

They were singing and dancing to “Umbrella.” So colorful!

The trombonist’s last night on tour was in Norfolk. He was awesome!

The tap dancer! I love this action shot!

She sang a fabulous version of “Time After Time.” It brought the house down!

It was such a wonderful experience! If they come to your city/town, it’s completely worth the money!


For more information, check out these links and videos:

There’s so many more on YouTube!


Have you heard of Postmodern Jukebox?

If you have, do you have a favorite version / rendition of theirs?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂