I’m dropping the “Friday” out of Friday Favorites so I can feel the freedom to write this post whenever I please!! I have a few things to share and one of them is time sensitive to January, so I don’t want another week to go by without telling you about it since I’m already so behind!
This is such a fun way to track your reading for the year! I’m pretty obsessed with the Book Riot website in general, but when I discovered this reading log they put out every year, it became an invaluable resource for tracking my reading. I’ve actually kept my own master spreadsheet since 2007, so I can see all the books I’ve read in one place. It’s great for looking a book up to see if I’ve read it or not in the past. I also use Goodreads for tracking toward a number goal each year, but I only started doing that consistently four years ago. The Book Riot log is fun for seeing a true breakdown of what types of books you’re reading, what country they were published in, which gender the authors are, which format you read in, etc. You can also hide the columns that you don’t have interest in tracking. If you love to know that kind of stuff – like me – this is a great resource. Oddly, Book Riot does not making actually finding this log very easy after it’s initially released, so I wanted to make sure I could bookmark it for you!
I wrote about my love for Made by Mary jewelry in my 2020 Favorites blog post, but I’ve since received the Family Florals necklace that I bought with some Christmas gift money, and I LOVE IT. It’s gorgeous. I’m always a huge fan of jewelry that can be personalized or have some sort of meaningful message, rather than just wearing something because it’s pretty. I thought this necklace was really unique because you could pick how many blooms you wanted. I liked the fuller bouquets, so I went with seven to represent my family of four and our three pets. This is now my new favorite gold necklace and I wear it all the time. I upgraded to the satellite chain as well for that little extra something.
My candle obsession continues. It’s basically my greatest joy in the gloomy days of winter. This particular candle is one I picked up at the craft barn in the Dells on one of my solo vacations last fall. It’s a different jar design with a picture of a pretzel on it. We all love soft pretzels around here and the smell was intriguing so I bought it. I just wasn’t sure when to light it since “pretzel” is not really a seasonal scent and I like to be seasonally appropriate in everything I do these days! Anyway, I finally took it out the other day to replace a candle in the family room and was AMAZED by the scent. It smells so good! But what’s really incredible is that it fills the ENTIRE HOUSE with scent. I’ve never had a candle do that before!
On Christmas Eve I had a Wolferman’s honey wheat english muffin at my in-law’s house and it was so tasty. What’s ironic is that about a year and a half ago I ordered a bunch of Wolferman’s english muffins – like 12 packs of them – and most of the flavors I tried I didn’t really like so I ended up eventually throwing them all away. Including the honey wheat, which I had never even tried. Anyway, because it was so tasty it set me on a mission to look into other english muffin brands and I came across a website that ranked them all by taste. Bay’s is the store brand they recommended, but Stone and Skillet is what they rated as the best english muffin for a true treat. So OF COURSE I ordered them. And I love them SO MUCH. I picked out the original, wheat, and everything flavors. The wheat is my favorite, but I really like the other two as well. What’s interesting about these english muffins is that they’re a lot squishier than the thin crunchy kind you’re used to from the grocery store. But they have such an incredible depth of flavor. I always eat mine with butter and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Absolutely delish!
Let me introduce you to another one of my recent food obsessions – little fried jalapeno pieces in spicy olive oil. It’s amazing. I’ve now had all three versions of this – the habanero, serrano, and jalapeno. I live for spicy food, but the habanero is too hot for me. I’ve only used it mixed into queso and I put like three tiny little pieces in it to flavor the whole thing. The serrano is good, but it’s still very spicy. The jalapeno is perfect. Fairly mild on its own, but if you get some of the oil with it it’s perfect. My favorite way to eat it is to make toast or a bagel, cover in plain cream cheese, and then drizzle the jalapenos over the top and top it all with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. It’s really delightful.
This is something I found at Costco last month that I really liked. The Costco bag was a mix of pineapple and mango varieties. I liked the pineapple the most and Greg enjoyed the mango. I then bought a variety pack on amazon, but I was not a fan of the banana or spicy flavors. So I’d stick with pineapple or mango, but they taste really good and the only ingredient is the fruit it uses!
I’ve been a fan of Palo Popcorn for a long time. They have a magical way of infusing every single kernel of popcorn with a full burst of flavor. I used to only get the jalapeno cheddar popcorn, but last year I started buying the regular cheddar and mixing it in with my homemade salted caramel corn. PERFECTION. I also really like the Mexican street corn flavor. On Friday I was at Pick n Save and noticed that they now have a movie theater flavor. Sometimes you just want “normal popcorn” so I picked it up to try and I think it’s my new favorite. It’s seriously amazing. I haven’t seen the original salted flavor in any stores, but I’d love to try that too. YUM. I can see myself buying this for special family movie nights instead of making our own because the flavor is just that good.
Okay, we’re out of the holiday season now, but I wanted to make sure I shared this recipe. I didn’t make a lot of Christmas cookies this year, but I made this one twice. These gingerbread biscotti are amazing. And then ten times better if you dip them in coffee. Even better if you dip them in a gingerbread latte! I’m not even a huge fan of gingerbread, but I couldn’t get enough of these cookies. Biscotti feels like an intimidating cookie to make, but try it out and you’ll realize it’s really one of the easiest things ever. And so worth your effort!
December was a pretty good reading month for me! Fifteen books, my second highest month of 2020. Of course most of them were pretty light and quick, but that’s exactly how I wanted and needed to end the year. Check them out!
Holley is a journalist in charge of running a Bachelor Anonymous contest. Chloe is a teenager who enters her dad Jake into the contest unknowingly and of course he wins the vote for being the bachelor. It takes some convincing – and a whole lot of time together first – but Jake agrees to enter the contest as long as he gets to meet with Holley to plan each date ahead of time. To be honest, the premise of this whole book is pretty weak because the contest has very little to do with anything. But you won’t care because you’ll just want to see as much of Jake and Holley together as possible. I thought this book was hilarious. I loved both characters so much. It was heartfelt and intriguing and a really nice love story!
Paige is a teenager who suffers from fairly extreme anxiety. When faced with the decision of spending Christmas with her best friend Fitz who she has secretly been in love with for years or visiting New York City for the very first time with her mom, she is paralyzed with indecision. Then she slips and knocks herself out and the story splits into parallel universes following Paige in each of her fates. I thought this was a really unique way to do a story. Don’t get caught up in the details of living in a multiverse, just think of it as two separate stories. I thought it was fascinating to see how differently Paige acted in each of her fates. And the conclusions she drew after her very different Christmas celebrations. I wasn’t sure if I’d like this book because of how strongly the anxiety presents itself. But I found myself getting quite teary by the end. It was a really great book.
I read this book in an afternoon. It was delightful! Riley Kennedy keeps having email issues with her coworker from another branch, Kennedy Riley. The two meet at the Christmas party and end up making a pact to visit each other’s houses over Christmas to help deal with some of their family drama. This was definitely a quick read, but it was so much fun! Both characters were really entertaining to read. It’s also quite an innocent romance, if you’re looking for something tame! I loved it.
Benji is a quiet and inexperienced gay college freshman who has had a lifelong crush on his older brother’s best friend Ace. When Benji’s brother convinces him to come to the same college as them, but then takes a fellowship across the country, Ace wants to help Benji get more comfortable with the college life. Ace also finds himself bi-curious the more time he spends with Benji and concocts a way to help give him more confidence by pretending to be his secret admirer. Overall, this book was fine. There was a lot of angst on both sides with constant narration about their feelings. It got pretty repetitive. But overall, it was an okay book!
Noel is returning to her hometown to be with her estranged father in his dying days after 16 years away. Unfortunately, he has already passed by the time she gets there. A series of other unfortunate events keep her in town running his bookstore through the holidays while she decides what to do with herself. And of course she is destined to help get over her lifelong anger toward her father and find a way to move forward with her life. This book was kind of a downer. I’m not a big fan of stories that have no hope of reconciliation. Yes, a character can change going forward, but I hate when there is no chance to truly make amends. The story was really not that interesting to me. Honestly, the part I really loved the most is that each chapter started with a great quote about writing. I was recently trying to find a good writing quote to put on a journal’s cover and was having the hardest time coming up with anything that fit. This book was filled with ideas! Anyway, Richard Paul Evans is guaranteed to write a book that’ll pull at your heartstrings, but this one felt a bit too over the top and preachy to me.
Colleen Hoover’s first paranormal book. Whew, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this. I don’t do paranormal books. But I wasn’t going to skip a Colleen book! I’m going to tell you now that it’s only SCARY for like one page. So…if you don’t do paranormal either, this book won’t terrify you. It’s about Leeds, a struggling musician who meets Layla dancing at her sister’s wedding. They immediately hit it off and never go back to their regular lives. Then something happens that leaves Layla with a very different personality and Leeds trying to figure out how to bring back the girl he fell so instantly in love with. They go back to the now abandoned Bed and Breakfast where they met to try and rekindle their spark. And then things get weird. As always, this book was compulsively readable and interesting. But it didn’t really hit me in all the feels the way Colleen’s books normally do. But I still thoroughly enjoyed it and appreciate that she continues to churn out two great books every year for me to get really excited about!
I basically picked out this book because I loved the cover. Amazon has a different title (and publishing date of a year ago), but Target and independent bookstores have this gorgeous embossed cover that immediately made me feel like it was the perfect book for this holiday season. And – it was. I really loved it. The whole book feels like a warm cozy hug and the exact encouragement you need to let go of the busyness of the season and find a way to make this Christmas the best you could imagine. This book is meant to be started in late November and finished around the New Year. I finished halfway through December, but still really took my time going through it. It was a lot of great food for thought and gave me comfort, especially this year when so many of our celebrations won’t be happening. It helped me to see the possibilities of what we could do instead. Anyway, by the time you see this review it’ll be too late to really apply it to your Christmas season (obviously), but I still recommend picking up a copy for next year!
This is a delightfully festive and fun book about a woman in her mid-thirties trying to find a little romance in her small English town. She signs up for a twelve nights of Christmas event, going on dates with twelve separate men throughout the month of December. She meets a few winners and a few losers, but she also can’t seem to stay away from grumpy cafe owner Matt, her first love, but also the man who ignored her for a decade. Overall, this is probably one of the most developed Christmastime books I’ve ever read. It did take me awhile to get into it, mostly because there were SO many characters. It was hard to keep track of everyone and also confusing that the author named two of the main characters Mac and Matt. Why so similar?? But I loved Kate and found it quite delightful that she was a fabric designer, always out in nature trying to get new inspiration for her drawings. She was also a baker for Matt’s cafe, which is equally as exciting to me. 🙂 Anyway, I just really enjoyed all the festive little details that made this book feel so utterly perfect for reading right before Christmas!
I was a good chunk of the way into a more serious “Christmas” book and decided I wanted something lighter and this seemed like it would fit the bill. Annoyingly (lol), it was also pretty heavy. It felt a little too heavy at times for a book that falls somewhere between a novella and novel length story. Two characters with troubled pasts involving unhealthy relationships with their parents manage to fall for each other, but not without a lot of hesitation and fear. Other than the Christmas decorations in the tattoo shop where they both work, very little of this book is about Christmas. Overall, it was fine. Just not exactly what I was hoping for.
Ava is in desperate need of a boyfriend by Christmas to take to her sister’s wedding and her high school reunion. After many failed internet dates, she manages to finally convince her best friend of fifteen years, Luke, to pretend to be her boyfriend for all of the events. This is my second Max Monroe book this month and I enjoyed it as much as the first. I really appreciate that the characters are actually kind and funny and good people. It’s so refreshing from the typical romance trope where the guy starts out as an absolute jerk. I thought this was a sweet and enjoyable Christmas book.
After reading mostly Christmas books all month, I actually found myself desperately needing a change in the few days before Christmas. I picked up this one because thrillers are always a great way to break the romance streaks I tend to find myself on (especially this year when I mostly just wanted light and happy predictable reads!). This one definitely held my attention! A wedding party is gathered on a cold and treacherous Irish island and everybody has their secrets. The chapters alternate between many of the guests and as the story progresses you begin to find out how many sinister ways they’re all linked to each other. While I definitely enjoyed trying to piece together the mysteries in the book, I did feel like it went a bit overboard on constantly pointing out all the things the reader did not know and wouldn’t find out until the end. It was minorly frustrating. But overall, I think this book certainly earned all of it’s amazing reviews this year!
Calder is a jerky sculpture artist who crashes into timid painter Raelyn on the street and convinces her to “work with him” to create a custom sculpture for her sister’s husband before Christmas. This was a novella, which I typically don’t read, because they annoy me. This one annoyed me too. The characters had very little depth, everything was ridiculously easy and predictable, and the sex scenes were not earned. It was fine for a light read on Christmas, but I have no real appreciation for it.
Prudence and Quint are science lab partners but constantly butt heads. They find out on the last day of school that their final project that they worked all year on only garnered a C because they didn’t actually work together and it was very obvious. Prudence refuses to accept this grade and manages to convince both her teacher and Quint that they can redo it over the summer to raise their grade. This leads to the two of them working at an animal rescue center that Quint’s mom runs. They continue to constantly get on each other’s nerves, but also begin to understand why they each are the way that they are. In the meantime, there’s also this side story where Prudence slips on some beer, gets knocked out, and can now dole out “instant karma” punishments and rewards for people she observes doing good or bad things. Basically – there is a lot going on in this book. A lot. I enjoyed Quint. Prudence was really getting on my nerves at some points in the story. Type A personality to the extreme. I started to feel like part of the book was a lecture on taking care of sea wildlife and it lost me for a bit. But overall the book was still enjoyable. I just felt like it was maybe trying to do a bit too much. One thing I genuinely enjoyed was that this was an immensely clean book. No swearing, no hints of sexual endeavors. It was a really refreshing change from basically every book I ever read.
This book was an absolute delight. I saw it the day it came out and immediately ordered it because it sounded so perfect for me, but I also adored the cover. It’s probably the fastest I’ve ever read a nonfiction book because I loved it so much. The first half is absolutely hilarious. The author talks about her crazy love and devotion for her dog Peter and all the ways she’s tried to connect and bond with him. I could relate so much to her fascination with Peter as I’m equally as fascinated by Annie and could spend my entire day just watching her, except that it seems to make her uncomfortable at a certain point so I stop. My cats don’t seem to mind, though. The book did slow down a bit when Kelly started researching what felt like rather random things – like if Peter could see ghosts or if a pet psychic could communicate with him. This is the point in the book when I realized she might actually be a bit crazy lol. Not really, but – it was a lot. But overall this is a really sweet and genuinely funny book that is PERFECT for any dog lover. I highly, highly recommend it!
This is a modern southern reimagining of Jane Eyre. Jane is a poor dog walker with a load of secrets, working in a rich Alabama suburb. And then she meets Eddie Rochester, whose wife mysteriously disappeared – presumed dead – just six months earlier. She’s attracted to him, but also sees him as a target – an in for the lifestyle she’s always wanted. And then things get interesting. I enjoyed this book, though I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. You really need to keep in mind that it’s a reimagining, not exactly a retelling. Otherwise you might get hung up on the differences. Overall, this one really held my attention and it was a great book to finish out my year of reading!
I wanted to end the year with something FUN. I noticed that a lot of my favorite internet follows have been curating lists of their favorite things of 2020 and since I LOVE “favorite things” I decided I needed to make my own list! I’ll be honest, a lot of these things might have been featured in my Friday Favorites posts over the year. I’m not going back to look. Instead I went through most of my purchases this past year and took note of everything I used and loved and wanted to share. I’m also including my favorite books and tv shows of the year too. Head’s up, this is going to be a long post!
Favorite Fiction Books I read 138 books this year and 115 of them were fiction. I love the joy and escapism that comes with diving into a great book. Lighter romance (as in, not the erotica type) is my favorite and my list shows that the haters to lovers trope is clearly my favorite. I read a lot of light love stories this year, desperate for the happily ever after. I actually read less YA than usual (37), but five of them still made my top list (and one middle grade, a genre I almost never read (4 this year, if you were wondering)).
Favorite Nonfiction Books I know I say this all the time, but I am such a slow nonfiction reader. I love the idea of nonfiction, but when it comes to doling out how I spend my time, I’m almost always going to choose to jump back into whatever fiction book I have going. But this year I really tried to take time in the early mornings and late evenings to read a little bit of nonfiction here and there. I still didn’t get through nearly as many as I would have liked (I have hundreds of unread nonfiction on my shelves just waiting for me), but I gave almost every one I finished a very high rating. If it can hold my attention enough to get to the end, it’s a good book!
Candles I’ve always loved candles, but they were typically reserved for October-December when I really wanted that extra boost of seasonal cheer. This year, however…I kind of lost my mind searching for new ones to fit my every mood. It became a bit of an obsession trying to pick out the perfect scents for each area of the house that I spend time in and then making sure before I light that particular candle I’ll be in that spot long enough to truly enjoy it. It’s basically nonstop babysitting, properly taking care of candles. But I’m addicted to it. And in a year where I basically never left the house, I found immense joy in them – the ambiance of a flickering light, but also the power of scent to change a mood.
P.F. Candle Co. Smoky Cinnamon Special I had this candle lit during October in my reading area and I was addicted to it. It had such a strong and intoxicating scent. I purchased a second one, but it was December by then and it didn’t feel quite right, so I’m saving it for next fall. It’s not even currently for sale anymore, so it must always be a seasonal release.
Ranger Station Leather + Pine While I don’t particularly think this smells like leather or pine, it has an incredibly fresh winter morning scent to it that I adore. It really fills a room too. I loved it! As an added bonus, the glasses are designed to be cleaned out at the end and used for whiskey (or whatever).
Apotheke Charcoal This is not marketed as a Christmas candle, but actually has a really wonderful smell reminiscent of the holiday season. I also love the black wax – it’s a nice change from the mostly glass jar white wax candles I typically burn.
Frostbeard Bookstore This wasn’t a new discovery in 2020, but it might be my all time favorite candle. I love the scent, so, so much. I always burn it at my desk when I plan on writing for a long time.
Novelly Yours Joshua Templeman This isn’t a new scent for me either, but it’s also one of my all time favorites. I originally bought it for the novelty because Joshua Templeman is the leading man in The Hating Game, one of my favorite books. But I ADORE the candle and keep going back to purchase another every time I finish one.
The Burlap Bag Baked Bread Again, not a new scent this year, but I love it. It genuinely smells like a fresh yeasty loaf of bread. I’ve never smelled another candle even the tiniest bit similar. I like to burn this one in my bedroom at naptime!
Forget Me Not Candle Co. Midnight Bonfire Bonfire type scents are one of my favorites because they’re great in summer and they feel equally as fitting in winter. This is a new one I picked up and I love it! Shepard thinks it smells like bacon. It really has a distinct smoked scent, but I love that smell!
7th Street Salvage Picket Fence I almost forgot this one because I haven’t burned it since early summer. It’s only sold seasonally, but I ADORED it. It was such a wonderful scent for the season. I’ve liked all the candles I’ve gotten from this company and particularly enjoy their unique jars with recycled wood tops.
DW Home Sugar Cookie Okay, so this was a candle I bought last year but didn’t have time to light. I brought it out this Christmas for the family room and was amazed at how strong of a delectable vanilla scented throw it had. I usually get DW Home candles from HomeGoods or Marshall’s, so be on the lookout next year for this scent to come back! They usually have it in fun Christmassy styles.
Nail Polish I’ve never been a nail polish person – and definitely not on my fingernails. I’ve only had a manicure once in my life before my wedding and I hated the experience. But this year I just needed something different and special that I could do for myself. Painting my nails seemed like a good and inexpensive thing to delve into. And boy, did I! Like most things in my life I found extreme joy in coordinating my nail colors with the seasons (I also only burn seasonal scented candles and use seasonal mugs and drink seasonally flavored drinks now). And now that I actually take care of myself, giving myself mini manicures every few days, I love looking at my nails! It’s a tiny thing, but it brings me great joy.
Olive and June JJ This might be my surprising favorite color of the year. It’s a brownish mauve and something about it just called to me over and over.
Orly Turn it Up It’s no surprise that I’m obsessed with rainbow things. I picked this one up on a whim and I have a lot of fun layering it over different colors!
Blankets When you’re home all the time you start to really appreciate all the little comforts that make your space more welcoming and warm. Especially through the long and cold Wisconsin winters! My favorite touches to any room are switching out blankets and pillows with every season or holiday. Basically any excuse to always pick up a new throw or pillow that catches my eye! I’ve gotten a couple new blankets in the last month or so that I’m totally in love with.
Dreamothis Sherpa Weighted Blanket I believe I shared this in my last Friday Favorites post a few weeks ago, but it was out of stock at that time. It’s back – for now! Only in this teal color, but I happen to think it’s the prettiest of the ones they had originally. I first got one in a purplish pink color that I use on my reading chair. But I loved it so much I got another for my bedroom for nap time. Then each of the boys got one for Christmas. Then I ordered one for my goddaughter. I LOVE them. They’re so warm and cozy, but not as suffocatingly heavy or slippery as other weighted blankets I’ve tried in the past.
Pottery Barn Throws – All of them, any of them So I was listening to a podcast about a month ago where they were talking about some of their favorite gift ideas and they spent quite a while discussing the benefits of gifting people with Pottery Barn throw blankets. Apparently they are recognized as being really high quality throws. I started obsessing about this possibility, especially as it was starting to get really cold in the house and we don’t really have any good “winter” blankets. I also really hate how unwelcoming our family room seems and decided the reason this is is because I don’t decorate it with piles of cozy blankets and pillows the way that I do the living room, where I spend the most time. So I bought myself two – one is plaid knit on one side and faux fur on the other (it was on clearance, no longer available), and the other is the Cozy Pom Pom Throw. I adore them both. So do all the pets. And the boys. And it REALLY makes me like the way the family room looks and feels so much more. There’s another one that I was looking at over and over and over again and is on a huge one day sale today, but I’m trying to restrain myself. I also LOVE the look of this one, but doesn’t look very practical for sharing with hairy animals. Similarly, the edging on this one is gorgeous! From my somewhat limited experience, I really do think these are pretty great!
Skin and Body and Hair Since I didn’t have much else to do, I decided this would be the year I’d finally start taking care of my skin. It started early in the pandemic when I took a selfie of myself and was horrified by the big wrinkle I had between my eyebrows. I’ve since been religiously applying night cream and doing masks every week to try and keep on top my wrinkles before they become so obvious everywhere! I’m definitely no skincare expert, but these are some products I started using this year and really have enjoyed.
Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum My sister-in-law gave this to me last Christmas and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, but it seemed expensive, so I kept it around. Then I started using it this summer – just slathering some on before my moisturizer in the morning. I’m still not even quite sure what it is or what it’s for, but I’m convinced it helps! I’m not sure if I’ll repurchase when I run out, but my skin has enjoyed it this year!
Olay Regenerist Retional24 This is what I chose as my night cream. There are just so many options out there, it’s overwhelming. But this one seemed to work great and didn’t make me break out the way other creams have in the past (and the reason I never used them long term before).
Soap & Glory Heel Genius This was the only foot product I’ve ever used (I’ve tried them all) that actually fixed the skin on my feet. Well, this and starting to use a foot grater, which is possibly my favorite thing of all time.
Versed Back-Up Plan Acne Control Body Mist Here’s a fun one for you – and possibly TMI (lol). But when I started biking so much this summer I found myself breaking out on my chest quite a bit. I happened to see this at Target and decided to try it out. And shockingly, it worked super well. It’ll last forever too and is so easy to spray all around your back or front.
Bliss Mint Chip Mania Facial Mask I really like face masks that you smear all over your face (as opposed to sheet masks, where I question how much they actually help anything, plus are always freezing cold and slimy). Earlier this year Target had a big sale on all Bliss masks, so I got a couple different ones and this is definitely my favorite. It legit looks like putting mint chocolate chip ice cream or frosting on your face, but it smells so good and seems to really improve my skin.
Aveda Cherry Almond Leave in Conditioner I haven’t done much of anything with my hair this year – nobody sees me! But because of the lack of attention – and haircuts – it was getting very hard to keep combable by the middle of summer. So I gave this a shot, massaging some into my hair right out of the shower. It worked really well. Now that it’s been another long chunk of time since the one pandemic haircut I got, I think it’s time to pull this back out again. Tangles are the worst!
Jewelry I LOVE jewelry, but I haven’t had much reason to wear it this year. It felt a little silly loading up on jewelry when nobody ever saw me. But I did try to pull myself together a couple times a week and it was always fun to remember how much I love so many pieces in my collection. I didn’t add many new things this year, but I have two recommendations!
Made by Mary Moonstone Necklace I’ve hated gold jewelry all my life – until this year. I suddenly kind of love it. I don’t like MIXING metals (other than my white gold wedding rings), but I really like the way gold jewelry looks better with a lot of my more jewel colored tops. Anyway, this moonstone necklace is my favorite gold necklace. I love it so much. It’s the perfect size, length, and has such a pretty chain. They also have a couple other colors. I got the orange one for my best friend for Christmas. My sister-in-law introduced me to Made by Mary – she loves their rings. I’ve picked up a few rings for myself in the last few years and have been highly impressed with everything I’ve gotten. With some Christmas money from Greg’s grandparents, I ordered myself this necklace (with seven blooms for the seven people and animals I’ve spend so very much time with this year!). It shipped yesterday and I’m SO excited for it to arrive.
Clothes I’m not sure that I have specific clothing items from this year that stand out as my absolute favorites, but I do have two SOURCES of clothing that I bought almost exclusively from this year. It’s tough finding plus size clothing that are both flattering and cute, but these two places continue to come through for me.
Stitch Fix I highly recommend giving Stitch Fix a try. It’s been the main place I’ve gotten clothes for the last five or six years. The more fixes you get – especially if you stick with the same stylist – the better curated the selection. My stylist knows me so well and always sends me the greatest things. My favorite way to shop these days, though, is the actual Shop collection with ever changing options of things that will interest me. I love it. Many of the items are definitely more expensive than your regular department store prices (much of my sewing money goes to buying myself clothes!), but if you have a hard time finding clothes like me, it is SO worth it. I’ve been very, very happy with them.
Fabletics This is my new favorite place to buy leggings. There are SO many styles (and tons of options in plus sizes), they seem to have a lot of great sales and deals – at least around the holidays, and they fit so well! I’ve gotten a handful of pairs in the last few months and I genuinely love them. The tops? Not really for me – I’m not going to be walking around in a sports bra or crop top anytime soon. (Though they look really cute if you can pull it off!) But the leggings are amazing. I especially like the styles with side pockets!
Other Wearables Here are a couple other things that I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this year!
Crocs Yes, I know. Not stylish at all. But…nobody sees me. My feet are the worst. I wanted something I could put on very quickly when I had to take Annie out and all the better if it could get dirty and cleaned up quickly. I got some regular bright green crocs in spring and wore them all summer. Then I ended up getting furry lined ones to use as house shoes this winter and I honestly think they’re fixing my plantar fasciitis. When I wear these shoes all day I almost have no pain at the end of the night. I can’t remember the last time my feet have felt this pain free. Four years ago, maybe?
Ililily Face Masks I tried so many different styles of face masks at the start of the pandemic and this style is by and far my favorite. I only have two of them that I switch back and forth wearing (remember I only go to one store once a week, so I don’t have a HUGE need for a ton of masks).
Baleaf Thermal Helmet Liner This has been a lifesaver in keeping me out biking through fall and into winter. It looks ridiculous – like a swim cap. But it’s mostly covered by your helmet and actually really will keep your head and ears warm. I wouldn’t bike in these freezing temperatures without it.
TV Shows Okay, I watched a lot of tv this year. A LOT. I won’t recap any of them because this post is already getting crazy long, but here are the ones that stood out to me as being really worth watching!
A Million Little Things
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
The Good Doctor
Random Quarantine Purchases We bought a lot of bigger ticket items this year in lieu of going on vacations and to try and improve our lives since we were all home all the time. I’d say almost all of those purchases were worthwhile, except perhaps the trampoline, which was the most expensive and the least used. The novelty of trampoline jumping wears off when you have one in your yard. Especially when you break your arm on it and then never want to go on it again… But everything else was great. Here are some of my favorites!
Bear Hybrid Mattress Greg and I had been using the same pillow top mattress since we got married and it was so lumpy. I’m always in pain (thanks, fibromyalgia) so we finally decided to get a new mattress. After weeks of research, this is what I picked. I’m very happy with it!
Hoover Pet Max Vacuum We’d also been using the same $50 vacuum cleaner since we moved into our Columbus apartment nine years ago. It was time for an upgrade and it was AMAZING what a difference it made. We do have hardwood floors in our whole house, but the area rugs get so dirty from the pets and kids, so it’s nice to have a more heavy duty cleaning method!
Frigidaire Retro Mini Fridge Earlier this year I converted my “writing desk” – that was basically just a dumping ground for random things – into a big drink making area. It was pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done with a small space in my home. But I really wanted the area to be complete with a small fridge where I could store my creamers. Which sounds kind of ridiculous, but we were also having a ton of problems fitting everything into our regular fridge now that we were all eating a lot more food at home and going out to grocery stores a lot less often so I was always trying to be stocked up. This fridge was the perfect solution. Now we keep all our extra drinks in it and it’s freed up tons of space in the main refrigerator.
Char-Broil Grill I’ve been wanting a new grill for years and with everything that happened this year, we decided it was time to finally get a new one. I did SO much research (I feel like I did an entire month of nonstop research on all this new stuff, most of which was purchased in May!) and then ended up just getting the same one my brother has and recommended. No complaints!
Priority Turi Bike I think I did more bike research than any other after a couple of months of daily biking on my old beach cruiser and desperately wanting something better. The biggest issue was that nobody had bikes in stock anywhere to even try out, so I had to base such a huge decision only on what I could read about it. I finally took a gamble on this Turi bike from a very small Brooklyn based bike company and then had to wait four months for it to arrive. But I LOVE IT. I haven’t had a ton of opportunity to ride it yet because – snow and ice. But I can’t wait to get back to my daily sunrise rides on my new wheels in spring!
Random Food Purchases I bought so much food online this year! I used to depend on going to a variety of grocery stores – it’s one of my favorite things to do – to find unique new things. But that was not really a safe or responsible option this year, so I just ordered a lot of random things to try out.
Luxardo Cherries This is a luxury purchase for sure. Not to be shared with your children – they won’t appreciate it. They’re meant to be put in cocktails where you’d only have one or two at a time. I used them as an ice cream topper. And they are incredible.
Dorothy’s Comeback Cow Cheese This was a middle of the night facebook ad purchase. And it is hand’s down the best brie I have ever had in my life. I’ve bought it multiple times in the last six months and have gifted it to many. I also saw it at the Sun Prairie Pick ‘n Save once, so you might be able to find it locally as well.
Bushwick Kitchen Bees Knees Salted Honey If you want something AMAZING to accompany your cheese, get this honey! I’ve been eating it all week on a cave aged gouda. The combination is absolute perfection. But it would also be fantastic on brie!
Don Chilio Chile Crisp – Jalapenos So this is a totally random purchase that I am completely addicted to. I first bought the habanero variety and they are SO spicy. The only thing I’ve used them for is stirring into queso and I only use the tiniest amount. I loved the idea, though, so I asked for the jalapeno ones and got them for St. Nick’s Day. I ate the whole jar in a week and am almost done with the second jar I ordered for myself. On their own they’re kind of a weird thing. But I’ve mostly been eating them on toast that’s covered in cream cheese. Just spread some jalapenos on top, make sure you get some of the oil from the bottom of the container because that’s what’s actually spicy, and then add a bit of flaky sea salt. It’s amazing. My second jar didn’t have much oil in it, so I added some because it’s the best part.
Coffee and Tea Let’s end with my favorite collection of beloved things – everything new I’ve gotten for my tea and coffee area!! I love it all. It brings me so much joy. I use that area multiple times a day. I bond with the boys over each day’s new drinks. I’ve experimented with every random coffee recipe I’ve seen online. It’s just so much fun!
Gator Pour Over This continues to be my favorite method for making coffee. I’ve tried them all, seriously. I think pour over tastes the best, has the easiest clean up, and is basically fool proof. BUT it’s not conducive to serving more than one person at a time, so I only use it when I’m making coffee just for myself. Which in normal life would be all the time, but in pandemic life is only a few days a week.
Cosori Electric Gooseneck Kettle Okay, this isn’t new this year – my mom gave it to me for my birthday last year. But I use it like 3-5 times a day. It’s incredible. This is how I heat the water for my pour over coffee, but it’s also how I heat the water for all the tea I drink. It only takes a minute or two to heat to the perfect temp.
OXO Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder I got this from my in-law’s for my birthday this year and it’s so great! I was just using a cheap grinder before that constantly made huge messes. This one is SO much better. I only use freshly ground beans for my coffee so I love having the freedom to pick what type of grind I want and only the exact amount I need for that brewing method so my coffee tastes the absolute freshest. This is another thing I did a TON of research on and this grinder is at the top of so many charts as being the best grinder out there (without paying an arm and a leg).
OXO Brew 8 Cup Coffee Maker I bought this with my birthday money. I did a lot of research, but mainly bought it because it was new, had amazing reviews, and matches the grinder that it’s sitting next to on my table! I really wanted the ability to brew a larger quantity of coffee at once since the boys like to drink it with me (and I’ll hopefully eventually be able to resume my friend coffee mornings!), but I also wanted it to still TASTE GOOD. Comparable to my pour over. And this is the best I’ve found.
Nespresso VertuoPlus You might be wondering why I need a Nespresso when I already have a pour over and a drip brewer (and a Moka pot and a cheap but very annoying espresso maker and multiple french presses). But…I like having a fast option. Especially for espresso. Which isn’t my favorite type of coffee, but I do really love using it for iced drinks in summer. I got this on major sale earlier this year and I actually really love it. It’s so much fun watching all the froth appear at the top of the mug! Despite my extensive mug collection, I always use a glass mug with the Nespresso because I love seeing the colored stripes of coffee and cream. 🙂 And yes, it tastes worlds better than Keurig k-cup coffee – which is how I started my coffee journey a few years ago.
Nespresso Aeroccino So this came free with my Nespresso. I wouldn’t have bought it on my own because I had two other milk frothers already (I thought I had lost my first one, so I bought another, and now I have three). But this is the one I use right now. I LOVE being able to froth my creamer or milk before adding it to my coffee. I also love that it heats it up so the whole drink stays hot a lot longer. I used to use a cheap hand frother which works well too – it just doesn’t heat it up.
Bayka Floating Shelves This has nothing to do with coffee itself, but they are the shelves I picked out to hang on the walls above my coffee area. It’s where I keep my tea and syrups and sugars. And they look really, really nice. I love them.
Spinning Tea Storage I used to store all my tea in a drawer. It was such a mess that it really stopped me from actually wanting to make tea. But now I store it in one of these where it’s so easy to find what I’m looking for and looks cute to boot! Mine is black to match my aesthetic, but I can’t find that one anymore.
Farmhouse Tabletop Mug Rack Tray I love this thing. I purchased it from Antique Farmhouse, which is a deal site with curated things that are only for sale for a couple of days – but do eventually come back. I’m so happy I found this when I did because it’s my favorite way to display my top six seasonal mugs. And I use the tray portion to hold all my nespresso pods. It looks great, is very functional, and matches my coffee area perfectly.
Brandywine Coffee Roasters This is hands down my favorite coffee roaster. I almost exclusively use their beans because they are SO GOOD. It doesn’t even matter what roast you pick, I guarantee it’s going to taste amazing. I love the uniquely designed bags and I especially love that they’re constantly releasing new blends. I’m stocked up for awhile because I bought a 12 Days of Christmas variety pack from them, but I’ve got my eye on this 2021 roast!
Bixby Vanilla Creme Brulee Coffee I gave up artificially flavored pre-ground coffee awhile ago, but when I saw this creme brulee whole bean option I just had to give it a shot. And it’s amazing!
Twinings Buttermint Herbal Tea I’ll drink pretty much any tea that isn’t black (lol), but have heavily leaned on minty flavors this year. This buttermint tea with a hint of vanilla is my all time favorite. I really do buy it in six packs from amazon so I always have it on hand. I also recently saw it at Woodman’s, if you need a local option.
Oatly Barista Edition Oat Milk I’ve been trying to stay away from regular creamers (like Coffee Mate or International Delight) now that I drink a lot more coffee than I used to. I do still use more pure ingredients only creamers (like Chobani), but I wanted to try something with more nutritional value. My friend recommend this one and after checking multiple stores with no luck I ended up buying it online since they are shelf stable until opened. I’m so glad I did because I really love it! I don’t alway use this, but it’s perfect for a latte. I froth it (it froths SO well) with a bit of flavored syrup and it tastes fantastic.
J.T. Cooper Flavored Syrups I’m such a sucker for great packaging and design and these grabbed me the second I saw them. They’re really great if you want to make coffee shop drinks that would typically use syrup. My favorite is actually a sample size I got of the Grenadine. I mixed it with a sample of the single origin chocolate and combined with a rich coffee and frothed oat milk it made the most delicious cherry mocha! Cherry mochas definitely feel like a February seasonal drink, so I’m going to have to order a large bottle of it soon!
Well, congratulations if you made it to the end of this insanely long list of all my favorite things of 2020! I was feeling bad that I never got around to making gift guides this year – I had so much fun doing it last year! But this kind of doubles as a gift guide for your future use! Or if you just want some ideas of tried and true items that might brighten your day – or your life. Thanks for checking it out!
Happy Friday! It’s December, everyone. We made it. What are you doing to take care of yourself this month? I’m focusing on everything comfy and cozy and peaceful. My list of favorite things this week will really reflect that! November turned out to be a pretty crazy month trying to prep for Black Friday sales and keeping my customers happy, but now that the calendar has changed I find myself really wanting to just hunker down and snuggle up. I also want to embrace every little joy that is attached to this season, using as many of my senses as possible. Celebrating the season – like by making a full Christmas mug and holiday tea station – has really become one of my greatest joys these days. It’s the little things, right? They add up.
Harney and Sons Gingerbread Festival Tea I’m not sure if this is a new tea blend for them, but I don’t remember seeing it until a few weeks ago. I immediately ordered it because it was something different from my current winter teas which are almost all varieties of peppermint. Plus the white and gold tin looks so pretty and festive! I’m not actually a huge fan of gingerbread, I really don’t like ginger, but it’s a flavor the guys all love so I figured they’d like it even if I didn’t. Anyway, I brewed my first cup of it last week and I LOVE it. It seriously tastes like drinking a gingerbread cookie. I’ve never had a tea that tasted so absolutely spot on. It continues to amaze me! So if you like gingerbread at all – this is a great one to try! I like ordering directly from Harney because they almost always have deals, shipping is free, and it arrives pretty quickly. Plus – supporting small businesses is very important to me and even when something can be found on amazon these days, I’m trying to move past that middleman and order directly from the company.
Bixby Vanilla Creme Brulee Coffee As I’ve gotten deeper into my coffee journey, I stopped buying cheap pre-ground and especially artificially flavored coffee. I really buy almost exclusively from Brandywine Coffee Roasters because their beans taste worlds above everything else I’ve tried. But I do LOVE variety (it’s a bit of a problem), so I get lots of emails from other small roasters. Anyway, when I saw this Vanilla Creme Brulee coffee – that are actual beans with actual vanilla mixed in – I just had to try it. Actually, to be honest, I ordered it for my mom for Thanksgiving, but it didn’t arrive on time. And when it did come it smelled so incredibly delicious that I kept it for myself. (Sorry, Mom.) And it IS delicious. True coffee beans that taste so intensely of vanilla. It’s really good. Try it. And if you want it to taste even better? Use it to make Half Baked Harvest’s Salted Caramel Brulee Latte. I did that for the boys and I the other day – incredible!
Oatly! Barista Edition Oatmilk I continue to search for the perfect creamer alternatives now that I’m drinking coffee every day. I don’t drink cow’s milk on its own – I never have – so I always feel weird about putting a lot of it in a latte. I was trying a few different almond milk creamers, but a lot of times you could see them split in the coffee and that seriously grossed me out. I finally did some research on the best milk alternatives specifically for coffee and oatmilk came up again and again. And multiple articles listed Oatly! as the brand to get. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find Oatly! in the stores I checked around here. But I finally gave in and ordered a six pack online and it came really quickly. And I love it! It honestly don’t have any kind of weird off tastes, the barista edition foams up beautifully, and it won’t split in your coffee. I usually froth mine with a bit of a flavored syrup (from J.T. Cooper) to get some sweetness. Clearly it’s not stopping me from getting more sugar into my body, but at least I’m not putting the fake junk of marketed coffee creamers anymore. I’ve also found that I really like Chobani creamers. I’ve had all flavors except the Cookies and Cream and loved them all. Anyway, it’s just something different to try if you’re looking for a milk alternative!
Dreamothis 10 lb Sherpa Weighted Blanket Okay, I hesitate to recommend this blanket to you just because it seems to be sold out everywhere right now. But…I’m OBSESSED with it. When weighted blankets became a big thing a few years ago I bought one for both myself and Caden. And we both hated them. They were too heavy, too slippery, and mine came in two separate parts that had to be snapped together so you could wash the outside and it was just way too much of a hassle. But last month I had some Kohl’s cash and I’m always checking for new cozy blankets to help beat the winter chills. I saw this weighted SHERPA blanket and I just had to give it a shot. My expectations were low, but…I’m completely in love with it. The 10 pound weight does not feel overly heavy and the sherpa on both sides make it oh so comfortable. It really traps in the heat too. I can literally feel my blood pressure going down when I put it on top of me. I keep it on my big reading chair for relaxing, but I’ve also used it for a few naps and feel like I’ve slept better than ever. I was able to order another one from Target a few days ago that I’m going to keep on my bed specially for my nap time! Though the boys have discovered the blanket too and now they both want one, but they seem to be sold out. Target does restock things like blankets fairly regularly, so hopefully they’ll come back. I did see it on the QVC website as well, just for more money. Dreamothis does have a few other weighted blankets on the Target website, they just don’t look quite as plush and cozy. I love this one, though. Jack does too! Yesterday he laid down around 8am and didn’t get up for eight hours!
Lauren Conrad Extra Soft Pajama Sets Looking for some really soft and warm pajamas for winter? These are IT. I love them. I’ve slowly been replacing all my pajamas that aren’t as warm or comfortable. These are cute too!
Fabletics Leggings Now that I’m into “working out” (okay, really just biking), I’m realizing how much more confident you feel when you’re actually wearing workout clothes. A few months ago a friend of mine was having a Zyia party, so I ordered a few pairs and I absolutely hated them. Mostly because they were so tiny – meant to be stretched very tightly – and I was at the biggest size which was probably a little bit too small. Anyway, I’m happy to have tried them out, though, because it led me to look for alternatives. And Fabletics are the winners! I never considered them before because I don’t like companies that make you have a recurring credit every month – even when you always have the option and ample opportunity to cancel that month’s charge. But when I realized they had SO many plus size options, I really needed to give them a go. And I’ve been so, so happy with the pairs I’ve gotten so far. They seem to be really high quality, they fit me really well, I love all the color and style options, and they seem to have a lot of good sales for VIPS (especially around Black Friday!). This morning I wore HOT PINK leggings on my bike ride. And I felt pretty cool lol.
Crocs Fuzz Lined Shoes So you’re probably well aware by now that I seem to have neverending foot problems. And I think they’re not getting any better because I’m barefoot walking on hard floors about 98% of my life right now. I went on a big internet hunt a few weeks ago for slippers that would be supportive and warm and not feel like wearing anything too restrictive. I did actually order some, but they haven’t arrived yet. I also decided to get these Crocs – mostly because even though they’re not that stylish, I know that they fit me. And finding ANYTHING that fits my feet properly is basically an impossible feat. So this felt like a sure bet and I’m very, very happy with them. I’ve been wearing them most of the day every day this week and my feet don’t hurt at all! I love the fuzzy lining and strap because they feel warm and cozy, but they also don’t have those weird bumps that are on regular Crocs and can sometimes get irritating. I’m really glad I got them.
Soap & Glory Heel Genius Foot Cream Here’s another thing I started using to try and help some of my other foot problems! For awhile there the bottoms of my feet were so callused, but also cracking and peeling and there were days I could barely even stand up, let alone walk around. So I FINALLY grabbed one of the many products I’ve purchased over the years, but never consistently used, and decided this would be the time I finally stick it out. And it actually only took a couple of days to significantly soften my feet. I also dug out a foot grater thing I purchased a long time ago and that really helped as well. But the foot cream is great! I also got a Soap & Glory body butter that feels and smells amazing. And then since I like those things so much I also just started using a Soap & Glory face wash that smells heavenly too!
Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask This is something that I’ve been using for a really long time and never thought to share it with you! Now that we’re back into cold weather I’m really trying to make sure my lips never reach the point of being chapped and peeling. I’ve always been a lip balm addict, but I like putting something heavier on at night meant to truly hydrate your lips. These balms from Laneige are certainly more pricey than something you would find at Target, but I think they work really well. And they come in a lot of fun flavors! I’m currently using the Mint Choco one every night. I have a little pot of that and my heel cream sitting prominently on my nightstand so I’ll never forget to use them!
Calm Christmas Okay, I’ve got one more recommendation for you that I think would be a great way to really get your MIND focused on Christmas. This book is meant to be started in late November, but you could still start now and be fine. It’s a really great book about getting the right attitude around the holidays and finding quiet and calming ways to truly enjoy the season, rather than get caught up in the busyness and commercialism of it all. It feels especially poignant for this year when most of us will not be celebrating in the ways that we usually do. I’m not done with the book yet, but I’ve loved reading bits of it here and there over the last few weeks. It’s available on amazon as well, but I really prefer the cover version that Target sells. It’s beautiful!
Ooh boy, this is my third monthly book post in a row. I haven’t been around here much. November has been a weird month, I’ve been very heavily focused on work and don’t have much mental space left for writing or doing much of anything else. There are also so many distractions. It’s interfered a lot with my reading life this month as well. I was back to not picking up very great books and not getting all that into any of them. You can also see that I’m pretty heavily focused on light reads only right now. I don’t want the heavy stuff. Life is heavy enough! Especially going into these dreary, dark, cold days of winter. Anyway, here they are – and be sure to check out the last one on the list – it was really great and a perfect read for December.
This was my election day reading material. I picked it up over the summer, but never got around to reading it. I wish I had as there are so many cold summery drink recipes to choose from! I’m very weird about only wanting to drink seasonally flavored drinks in the correct season, so I have a lot to look forward to next summer! Overall, this was a very simplified yet cute book. I learned a few things about the different brewing methods, despite having tried all of them already on my own coffee journey. It was fun to get a little primer from an expert, though. There aren’t any photos in this book, but the illustrations were really nice. I marked quite a few recipes I’m looking forward to try, which is really the main reason I wanted this book in the first place. Most of the recipes require using some form of espresso, but I’ve found a moka pot to be an extremely fool proof and cheap way to make it if you don’t have other options. I got a Nespresso a few months ago, but never use the espresso pods – now I have a reason to!
I have very mixed feelings about this book. It’s about a 16 year old girl, Brooklyn, who loses her mother and goes to live with an uncle she barely knows. She is able to attend the most elite private NYC high school because he is a janitor there. Brooklyn immediately develops a crush on Matt, one of “the Untouchables.” But she also falls for the school’s drug dealer, Felix. Matt is a dream – in private, but completely ignores her at school. Felix never acts ashamed of her, but he’s, well, a drug dealer. The story follows Brooklyn as she struggles to go back and forth between each boy, really just desperate for some sort of love after losing her mom. This book drove me CRAZY because Brooklyn was being so stupid about each guy! But I was also really into the story and thoroughly enjoyed it. So if you can get over how ridiculous she is being and all the red flags both boys send out, it’s a fun thing to read.
The first book finished with a crazy cliffhanger. I was so happy that the second book was immediately available because I jumped right in. And head’s up, the second book has an even crazier cliffhanger. Anyway, in this book Brooklyn goes to live with her father, a man she never knew about and is quite the NYC elite, and also possibly a mobster. She’s assigned a bodyguard who is required to watch her 24/7. He also just happens to be super cute and only a couple of years older than her. And guess what? Shock of all shocks, Brooklyn also falls for him. While still having feelings for Matt and Felix. At one point in the book there is also a fourth boy and in about a one day span she either kisses, says she loves, or (JUST) sleeps with all four of them. It’s kind of insane! There is VERY CLEARLY only one guy that is good for her, but Brooklyn is kind of stupid. (lol) Okay, she’s just a grieving and lost teenager whose entire life has been upended twice in a very short amount of time. I liked this book better than the first.
I chose this as my November BOTM because it was classified as a romance (the genre I tend to always pick because I’m most likely to want to keep it on my shelf to read again someday) and I loved the cover (always a big draw for me). Unfortunately, it reminded me so much of One Day in December – also a BOTM romance that ultimately disappointed me. I don’t want to read a “romance” where the main characters are going through their whole lives constantly missing each other. What is the appeal in that? Why would that kind of book bring anybody any joy? It’s seriously depressing! Honestly, this book was pretty boring. It took me a whole week to read. I only powered through because I paid for it. But I didn’t particularly like any of it.
The third book in this series ended up coming out only days after I finished the second, so I was able to jump back into this weirdly compulsively readable series that I also could not stand. I also didn’t know how to rate these books because I didn’t want to put them down, but they also made me really angry. I truly thought this crazy world where a 16 year old grieving girl draws the intense attention of every guy around her would result in some sort of ultimate lesson to choose the RIGHT guy. The only one who didn’t send her constant red flags for unhealthy relationship ahead. Spoiler – she didn’t choose him. This book was even crazier than the second one. To the point of almost absurdity. And the ending – I was not prepared. I’m not sure I can genuinely recommend these books, at least as an adult reader, because I think they’ll drive you as crazy as they drove me. But if you want an escape, these might be the right choice anyway.
Greer is a first year English teacher at a high school in a new town. She immediately rubs Arlo, head of the English department, the wrong way with her unconventional teaching methods. But of course they also have undeniable chemistry. I actually really enjoyed this book because most of the characters were so quirky and fun. I liked reading about a group of teachers who formed a really fantastic friend group with each other. This is the first Meghan Quinn book I’ve read, but I assume that she has books featuring some of the supporting characters because they were all so fleshed out. This is a bit more open door romance than many of the books I read – I’ll actually classify it as a romance in my big spreadsheet for the year. But it had a lot of depth as well. I’ll certainly be reading more Meghan Quinn in the future!
Jenn Bennett is an author who wrote a book I loved (Alex, Approximately), so I keep pre-ordering her newest books with the expectation that they’ll hit me in the same emotional way. And so far they’ve all been a disappointment. There is nothing inherently bad or wrong with this book, I just had a really hard time connecting with it. There were a couple individual moments that I absolutely adored, but overall I just could not get that into it. Josie is a teenager whose mom moves her around the east coast every couple of months – until the end of her junior year when they decide to move back to their hometown to take over the family bookstore for a awhile. Josie is able to reunite with her childhood best friend Lucky, but he’s changed – a lot. Through a series of events they finally start talking again and eventually get close. This book was FINE, I just wish it had a bit more going on to really draw me in.
Okay, so I really needed a fast palette cleanser after taking what felt like forever to get through my previous book and a lot of stuff going on in real life. So I heard about this new retelling of Beauty and Beast and grabbed it on kindle unlimited. It’s a pretty straight retelling, just without the hope for a curse to be undone and no magical objects that were once people. But Beast is indeed a Beast and they do have sexy times. Which was honestly just so funny and disturbing to me that I didn’t find it sexy at all. It was a fast read, it was entirely predictable, it was surprisingly gory near the end. I don’t really have much of an opinion on it other than that!
This book came out in early October, but I held off on reading it until the holiday season – the day before Thanksgiving (lol). I’m glad I waited. It wasn’t SUPER Christmassy, but it does take place the week before and on Christmas, so it was nice to read going into December. I really enjoyed this one! It was heartwarming and sweet. I was honestly a bit apprehensive because I never am that interested in reading or watching something that is stuck in a time loop. It feels so repetitive. But they did a good job with it here. Maisie does go back in time and repeats a few days over again – but it only happens three times (sorry, that was a spoiler, but maybe it’ll help you be more intrigued if you knew that). The book takes place at a cabin where four families meet and spend Christmas together every single year. It was really sweet how they formed their own large family group and have such close relationships and longstanding traditions despite not spending a lot of time together throughout the year. Maisie is in love with her fellow “kid” (who is now 30), Andrew, and has been for most of her life. When she keeps getting sent back into the past for a redo of Christmas week she finally learns to step out of her comfort zone and become the person she was meant to be. I think this was a really great escape read for this year of all years. I definitely enjoyed it.
November 1st – I’m right on time this month! I was actually going to write this BEFORE the end of the month, but I had one last book to squeeze in last night. October turned out to be a pretty good reading month. After a pretty rough couple of months I finally got my groove back and reading once again became my favorite delight. I have a couple of great recommendations this time around!
Henri is fresh out of luck at her fifth unsuccessful wedding when she meets Luca, professional baseball player who has sworn off love. She concocts a plan to convince him to teach her how to not fall in love so she won’t have to go through the pain and embarrassment of another failed wedding. This book started out pretty wildly. I honestly couldn’t even get a grip on what was going on because every character was so off their rocker. I’ve never read a Pippa Grant book before, and this is listed as a standalone book, but felt VERY clearly like a book further along on a series and it would have helped to have known about some of the characters before diving into this. It was entertaining, laugh out loud funny at some points, but also utterly ridiculous. Everything did settle down as the book went on and I enjoyed it, I just really dislike reading books where I always feel like I’m missing something.
This was a fresh and unique book – at least compared to most of the books I’ve been reading the last seven months! Seventeen year old Avery is living in her car after her sister’s abusive boyfriend moves back in when she finds out she has inherited a massive fortune from a man she’s never met. The only condition for keeping the inheritance is that she must live in the manor with the rest of his family for a year. That family includes four grandsons, all around the same age as Avery. The reading of the will leaves the grandsons and Avery with letters from the grandfather, each with clues to help solve a riddle – the reason why he chose to leave his fortune to Avery. This book is a series of puzzles to be solved while Avery tries to figure out which brothers to trust and which will turn on her for their own gain. I really loved the storyline because it felt so unique and intriguing. My only complaint is that it all got a bit repetitive at times and I wanted more from the Hawthorne brothers. I would have liked to have dug a little deeper into them so I felt more connected. But other than that, I truly enjoyed this book and am really excited to see that it will have a sequel!
I was really intrigued by synopsis of this book and all the initial rave reviews I saw for it. Addie LaRue makes a deal with the devil to gain a little freedom from her small and predictable life and ends up becoming immortal. The catch being that nobody can remember her after they leave her sight, so she has all the freedom in the world but no ability to make long standing connections. Until around three hundred years later when somebody remembers her. This is the most literary book I’ve read in quite awhile. It started as a great change of pace, but I really lost my enthusiasm for the book about halfway through. It was very long and honestly, not a whole lot happens. Chapters switch back and forth from the present time and different parts of Addie’s life, mostly within the first few years after she gained her immortality. Later in the book I kept really wishing we’d just stick in the present since that’s really all I cared about. I’m pretty surprised by how many people continue to rave about this book being the best they’ve read all year. It just didn’t hit me with that same intensity. My favorite part of any book is character interaction and there isn’t a lot of interaction with a woman who spends over 300 years damned to loneliness. Anyway, it was a very well written book and a long and strung out story, if you’re into that kind of thing. I didn’t dislike it, I was just frustrated with how slow it seemed and how long it took me to finish it.
Okay, let’s start by saying just how much I hate books with half naked ripped men on the cover when the story itself is not super sexual. It annoys me because it feels like it cheapens a story that was so much more than a gratuitous romance novel. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything wrong with romance – I read quite a few, especially this year when it’s the easiest type of book to concentrate on. This book was a lot more than that, though. Country singer Lucy is on the run after a scary stalker situation in Nashville when she meets Sheriff Duke Evans who wants to know why she gave him a fake name and what she’s really doing in town. I really enjoyed this book. Duke and Lucy were both so NICE. It was really wonderful reading about such pleasant people. There was also a bit of mystery and suspense which made the book that much more readable. I read it very quickly and was so excited to keep picking it up.
Kendra Adachi is one of my favorite internet people. I don’t actually listen to her podcast The Lazy Genius very often, but I AM a patreon member of it so I have access to the exclusive Lazy Sisters podcast she does with her sister Hannah. It’s one of my favorite things to listen to every month. Anyway, I preordered Kendra’s book the second she announced it like last year and was really looking forward to reading it. It did take me quite awhile to get through it because I need a lot of time to process new ways to organize my life, but I really, really liked it. She makes great suggestions and strongly encourages you to only focus on what matters TO YOU. Don’t get bogged down with that you think you’re supposed to do, or what everyone else is doing. Stay in your own lane and make your schedule and your space and your choices be what is important to you. She gives plenty of practical tips throughout the book, but also just a lot of food for thought. I highly recommend this book!
Sadie is a newspaper columnist who also takes over fulfilling letters to Santa around the holidays. In early summer she receives a random Santa letter from a sweet 10 year old girl who only wants to bring some happiness to her widowed father. Sadie decides to fulfill her simplest wish and ends up very intrigued by Birdie and her dad. And what follows is a heartfelt and just a tiny bit cheesy love story between them all. I enjoyed this book because it was so heartwarming and sweet. It does also have a bit of a Christmas feel, so it would be a great book to read in December. Parts of this story were definitely a little far fetched, but it did make for a fun read. My only complaint is that 10 year old Birdie really read as like a six year old. I was having a hard time seeing her as the age she was supposed to be, which was very distracting.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been intrigued by a newly released cookbook so I picked this one up for fresh inspiration. Dzung Lewis is – from what I can gather from her cookbook – a widely known youtube cook, though I have never heard of her or seen a single video. Perhaps if I had I would have enjoyed this cookbook a little more. It was fine, I enjoyed that each recipe had a story behind it. But only about half of the recipes had photos, which is always a disappointment. I’m guessing I marked maybe 25% of the recipes as something I’d be interested in making, but none of them really blew me away. Normally this would be grounds for not keeping the cookbook at all, but I think I’ll try a few of the recipes out before making my final decision.
I could not put this book down. It’s the first book in months that I was so intrigued by that I literally spent most of my day sitting my chair reading it. I guess it’s also the first psychological thriller I’ve read in quite some time, so the difference in my normal pandemic reading genre might be partially why I was so intrigued. But I thought it was fantastic. Twins set out on a voyage across the Indian Sea and only one of them survives. She is mistaken as the dead twin, the more favored twin, when she finally lands on shore and decides to play along in both her grief and her desperation to win her father’s inheritance by producing the first grandchild before her five remaining siblings. I really thought this whole story was so twisty and unique. I made the mistake of just looking at the amazon reviews and it seems half of the people loved it, half of the people hated it and were bored to tears. I certainly didn’t find this boring! Anyway, I highly recommend it for a fun and intriguing read!
I think I’ve finally got my reading groove back! I LOVED this book. It begins with a very steamy scene between strangers – something that usually turns me off in a book. But it was already so intriguing and funny within the first chapter that I had to see what happened next. And then proceeded to read and read and read. I laughed out loud so many times while reading this. I fell completely in love with Ben. It does turn out to be an office romance type of book – but with a boss who is actually kind and wonderful, not a closed off jerk. There were certainly a few more serious underlying complications between their love story, but most of the book was just so cheerful and fun. I will definitely be picking up a copy for my shelves to re-read again and again in the future.
Conrad and Alden are rivals in a huge card game phenomenon. They play each other often for Gamer Grandpa’s youtube channel and end up with promotional tickets to a huge convention in Vegas. For separate reasons they decide to drive across the country rather than fly and after a series of events it ends up just being the two of them on the trip. As expected, they begin to get to know each other a little better and their rivalry turns into something much sweeter. Overall, this was a very predictable, yet cute book. Basically the two characters just talk and talk and figure out their own feelings. Which I’m fine with – I love character interaction above all else in a story. I didn’t really care about any of the card game stuff, but it didn’t interfere enough in the story to bother me.
Okay, I am way behind on this one! September was a really tough month for reading. With the start of virtual school and all the other stuff going on, I couldn’t concentrate on my books at all. I’ve realized nothing puts me in a greater funk than when I can’t fall back on a good book to escape life for a few minutes here and there. It was pretty discouraging. But I managed to finish a few and am starting to get back on track this month.
I was so excited to read this second book in the League of Extraordinary Women series after loving Bringing Down the Duke last fall. Unfortunately, this one did not live up to my expectations. It took me EIGHT DAYS to finish. It never takes me even half that long to finish a novel. Granted it was very poor timing with the first week of virtual school and life being insanely chaotic and stressful. But I just could not connect with the story or find much interest in the characters. I would have DNF’d it if I hadn’t been looking forward to it so much – plus I had purchased it. The last third of the book really picked up and I enjoyed that, reading it all in a single sitting. But it wasn’t enough for me to love the book as a whole.
This was a really interesting listen for my 100th book of the year! I don’t listen to many audiobooks because I have such a hard time paying attention to them, but I definitely didn’t have that problem with this one! I listened to the entire thing in two days, loving all of Bryan’s stories. Each chapter was probably only a couple of pages long, so it was easy to digest each story. You’d probably get the most out of this book if you actually watched most of the shows Bryan has been in (especially Breaking Bad since it takes up the biggest chunk of stories), but there were plenty of general family and life stories as well. Bryan’s lived quite a fascinating life! I really enjoyed this memoir – and it’s a few years old so the library wait for it is really short!
Meg is an 18 year old who is struggling to remember who she used to be before her parents’ divorce last year. Colby is an 18 year old who is struggling after his father’s suicide the year before. Meg works for a nonpartisan call center to encourage voter registration and ends up talking to Colby. They exchange phone numbers and build a phone call only relationship, the only place where both of them can be totally honest about what’s going on in their lives. I really wanted to love this book. It sounded so promising and has a cute cover (always a bonus!). But it just didn’t hit the spot for me. It was a fast read, I was definitely interested enough to fly through it pretty quickly. But I didn’t believe their supposed love for each other. All they did was argue. It seemed like a very bizarre direction to take their relationship when Meg was constantly bringing up how much her own – divorced – parents also fought. Is that really the foundation you want in a relationship? Anyway, it turned out to just be an okay read for me.
I spent the entirety of this book feeling like I must have missed something. Granted, it is the third book in a series and I haven’t read the other two. But they’re different characters who only very minimally interact, so it felt okay to jump to this one. This book is about Rosie and her bookish and movie star crush, bad boy Vance Reigns/Commander Sonds. Rosie accidentally finds herself on a property Vance is hiding away at and destroys a priceless book. In order to pay off her debt it’s agreed that she will work to reorganize and catalog the house’s library. What felt like to me should have been a very important part to the story is that Vance and Rosie met before – wearing masks, where they apparently spent the entire night together talking and connecting and never revealing their identities. But that portion of their story – right at the beginning, so this isn’t really a spoiler – was just so briefly skimmed over and rarely mentioned again! I didn’t understand why that didn’t all play a bigger part. I’m not a novelist by any means, but the author’s decision to not spend more time on that just baffled me. It would have brought a lot more to the story and helped me sympathize more with Vance who is otherwise a very unlikeable character with very few redeeming qualities. I guess this book does get some credit for being one of the only books I managed to finish that month – my worst reading month ever. But I did not particularly like it!
I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. Clara moves across the country to live with her childhood best friend and lifelong crush. Unfortunately he made other plans to go on tour with his band and dumps her off that very first night with his new subletter, Josh. Josh seems like a great guy, but then Clara finds out he’s a world famous porn star specializing in prioritizing female pleasure. She has some hesitancy around him after that until they discover an important project to work on together. Overall, this book was FINE. It really felt like a full length novel dispelling the virtues of pornography. I liked Josh, he was a really nice guy. I don’t read many books where the hero of the story is genuinely kind from the very beginning. But I still couldn’t find a lot to really care about in this story. I plowed through it, mainly because I just wanted to finish it. I purchased it at the recommendation of many highly trusted sources and it’s a lot harder for me to DNF a book I put money in. If I hadn’t, I probably would not have finished.
This is the second book in a series that takes place in a small town Renaissance Faire. I loved the first book (Well Met) and was really excited about the second. This installment is about Emily’s friend Stacey and how dissatisfied she feels being stuck in the same town doing the same things while she keeps an eye on her aging parents. At the end of Faire on a night she has too much to drink she ends up messaging her summer hook up, Faire musician Dex McLean. For the next year they write emails and text each other, building a wonderful relationship through words alone. And then Stacey finds out she wasn’t actually communicating with Dex. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I definitely got a little bored with some of the “obstacles.” It’s beginning to feel like all the books I read are so predictable and I’m getting a little tired of it. But it was a pleasant feel good read and pretty much the only book I read so far in September that I actually wanted to get back to.
This book was an absolute delight! I’m not big on the classics so I haven’t paid much attention to them since school when it was required reading, but I find it hard to believe I’ve never even heard of this one or the author. Someone in my facebook book club suggested it, though, and once finding out it’s an epistolary novel (my favorite!) I immediately grabbed it for free on kindle. I powered through it in a day and absolutely loved it. Jerusha Abbot is an orphan who spent her entire childhood growing up in a dull and monotonous orphanage. When she turns 18 she finds out that a trustee of the orphanage would like to fund her college education and provide her a monthly stipend with the one condition that she write to him about her studies. Jerusha – who renames herself Judy – finds that she loves writing so much, and pretending that Daddy Long Legs is her one and only family member, that she writes to him constantly throughout her four years of college. After the first chapter or so the entire book is composed of her letters to him. Which I always find very fun and a unique way to tell a story. But like always, I do wish the letter writing would eventually drop so you could see what was happening in real time. Alas, that does not happen in this book either. But overall, I really, really liked this. It’s hard to believe it was written over a hundred years ago. It’s charming and uplifting and also provides a lot of great nuggets of wisdom. Highly recommend!
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks around here. I turned 36 earlier this month and celebrated by taking a four day vacation BY MYSELF, which is basically the greatest joy in my life. I had an amazing time, but all the days before and after that trip have been hard. I’m so sick of living on this emotional rollercoaster that never seems to come to a stop. My own internal happiness seems so dependant on the emotions of the people around me and their emotions have been all over the place too. We continue to persist in this pretty small bubble of all living together every minute of every day with almost no space apart and it’s really wearing thin. All four of us are hurting in our own ways and instead of coming together to share in the pain and find healthy ways to cope, we’re turning on each other and lashing out or hiding or shutting down. It feels like the only way to regain our balance is to get back to normal life. And “normal life” may never come back. At least not the way we had it before.
I think I’ll work backward and explain that much of my anxiety in the last few weeks was riding on my annual doctor’s appointment which I had yesterday. I hate that day of the year more than any other. The vulnerability of the exam, the awkwardness, the pain – I hate every second of it. But what makes it so much worse is how my last two years of exams ended – with finding a problem that needed more appointments and procedures. Two years ago is when my liver problems appeared and I had to switch to an internal medicine doctor and then have a liver ultrasound. Last year my liver values were worse, so I was referred to a liver specialist and had to have a biopsy, the after effects giving me some of the most terrifying body pains of my life. I hate doctors, I hate having these lifelong health problems that never seem to get fixed, and I just don’t have much faith in my ability to get better or a doctor’s ability to help me.
The root of my problem is that I need to lose weight. Exercise more. Just BE HEALTHIER. But that’s a tall order during normal life, it’s nearly impossible during this awful year we’re all experiencing. I was actually on a great path after my biopsy last year and lost a lot of weight those first few months. Then the pandemic hit and life fell apart. I’m an emotional eater, and emotions have been A MESS this year. It’s also a huge struggle trying to feed myself healthier meals while still keeping the three other people in my house fed and satisfied all day, every day. When I was home alone to make meals only for myself two times a day, it was SO much easier. The only positive improvement this year has brought food-wise is that I’m making all our food. We almost never go out, and fast food – for me at least – is a thing of the past because I’m never out and about and starving and picking up the easiest option, which is something that might have happened multiple times a week in years past.
Exercise-wise, this has been a great year for me. Or at least since June when I started biking almost every morning. And once my plantar fasciitis started to get a little better, I’ve been trying to take walks most nights as well. It still doesn’t feel like a lot, but it IS a lot more than I’ve ever done before. A minimum of 45 minutes of exercise every single day? That has never been my life until this last summer. It’s been more of a sanity thing, but it’s been working.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling this impending doom about my annual appointment all year, really, feeling the stress of pandemic life, knowing I should be doing better, but not sure how to actually implement those changes in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty. But the fear of what awaited me yesterday got significantly worse in the last week, to the point that I really couldn’t concentrate on anything else. My internal medicine doctor retired in April, so I was being put with a new doctor I’d never met and didn’t know what to expect. Would I get someone nice or would I get someone who leaned heavy on the fat shaming (the way my internal medicine doctor was)? Would I find out that my liver values were even worse and I’d need another biopsy? Would I have another issue that needs to be dealt with? The fear of yesterday was overwhelming. There is so much shame attached to having a liver disease that’s a result of poor diet. I try to always focus more on how I FEEL than how I look or what the scale says, but the truth is still in the numbers, at least when you go to the doctor! And you can’t hide from the numbers in front of them.
In the end, my doctor’s appointment was not so bad. I survived, at least. 🙂 I really liked the new doctor, she was very kind and caring and empathetic to how hard this last year has been. She was also incredibly encouraging with lots of praise for my exercise improvements. And the best news – I got my blood panel results by the end of the day and after sitting down and comparing all the numbers, I’ve actually gotten better!! My liver values are still high, my cholesterol is still a little bit high. But both are BETTER. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked. But also so, so proud of myself. Despite how many challenges have arisen in the last year, I’m finally on the right trajectory to improving my health and quality of life. Sure, I have a long way to go, but that’s not the focus right now. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, keep trying to improve my diet as I can, but remember that I AM doing better. I really did turn things around. And I’m so proud of my progress.
Okay, back to my birthday…
My actual birthday was very nice. It was super low key, but that’s how I want my birthdays to be. I was kind of dreading my birthday this year since it was just in the middle of the week with everyone else still working and doing school. Nothing felt special about it. But most importantly, I couldn’t have all those one on one fun restaurant outings with friends or family or Greg, or have a celebration with a group of friends the way that I did last year. I couldn’t have any time to myself, either. Though I’m not allowed to complain about that one since I hightailed it out of here for four days right after my birthday! But considering the circumstances, it turned out to be a pretty nice day.
A few of my friends like to make fun of me for having a birthday week or month. I choose to believe that they’re just jealous of my ability to celebrate myself! If I’m not going to carve out time and special events for myself around my birthday, then who is? Nobody. I’ve realized long ago that if I want something like my birthday or Mother’s Day to feel special, I can’t depend on anyone else to make it that way. That’s a surefire way to bring on disappointment. If I take the time and energy to plan things for myself doing the things I want to do then I feel much more loved and pampered because I proved that I’m worth the celebration. (You are too.) Plus, why would you want to try and fit all your celebrating into a single day?! That’s exhausting! I prefer to plan one thing to enjoy on each of the days leading up to and after my birthday to really spread the joy out. I’m not trying to be selfish or act like I’m more important than anyone else on their birthdays, if that’s how it comes across. I just like to find ways to be happy.
My celebrating started on the Saturday night before my birthday with a short date night. We left the boys home on their own for the first longer stretch of time like that, and it was pretty successful. I don’t think either of them moved at all while we were gone, though Shepard started non stop messaging Greg around the two hour mark. Anyway, it was a super crappy weather night and I was ready to just ditch the whole date idea after a long and tiring day. But we powered through and picked up food from a taco place I’d never heard of before, Senor Machetes. Neither of us were very thrilled with the food, but it’s always nice to try something new. After eating in the car we drove and walked around Edgewood, picked up Dairy Queen, and came back home. I truly appreciate any time away with Greg that I get these days, so I still enjoyed getting out, despite the subpar dinner and bad weather.
On Sunday night we celebrated with my parents and brother and the puppies. Hudson called in to sing me a happy birthday. It was a little chilly, but not unbearable. They made me some delicious food and gave me some great gifts!
Monday was a really busy day with no school, but the vets had their annual checkup, Shepard had his final arm x-ray, and we had a couple of conferences with the boys’ teachers. Shepard was finally given the all clear for physical activity again, so we celebrated with a bike ride. He’s very intrigued by my sunrise bike rides and really wants to go with me sometime, but I think he needs to work up a little stamina first. And wake up earlier!
On Tuesday night we celebrated with Greg’s parents out on their deck. Ordered takeout from Benvenuto’s and had a caramel apple pie from Walker’s. They gave me some flowers and awesome gifts as well!
And Wednesday was my birthday! I tried to have a low key morning, sitting down to eat and have coffee and enjoy my pretty flowers.
Greg and Caden were out of town for an appointment in the morning, so Shepard, Annie and I met my mom at the dog park for awhile. It was a beautiful day!
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. I had two friends stop by with gifts, which was a sweet surprise. I’m pretty sure I took a nap! I packed for my trip. Greg picked up Wendy’s on his way home for lunch and we got Mexican for dinner. And we took a walk together as the sun went down. It was a really nice birthday!
Thursday is when the real fun began – I left on a trip! I planned this trip in early September, once we decided going to airbnbs was a safe enough way to leave our house. Then I ended up taking that more spontaneous trip to Port Washington first. But this was the trip I was really looking forward to because I’d get to experience some fall colors and go on unique bike rides. Plus it was a pretty good way to guarantee I’d get a real birthday break, something that’s unlikely to happen at home.
I picked Sparta for my home base because I planned on riding the Elroy-Sparta Trail, but also wanted to spend some time in La Crosse and around the Mississippi River for best fall foliage views. Unfortunately, the fall colors didn’t exactly cooperate with my trip dates. There was SOME color, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. But still absolutely enjoyable!
I spent most of Thursday slowly making my way to Sparta with plenty of stops at nature areas along the way. I had three state parks I wanted to check out, but two of them were already closed for the season, which was baffling. So I had a lot of extra down time while I waited to check in to my airbnb. And once I did check in I realized how hot the place was and knew I wouldn’t be comfortable until I bought a fan. So I headed over to La Crosse earlier than planned to stop at Target, pick up HuHot for dinner, and made a spontaneous decision to go up to Granddad’s Bluff for some sunset photos.
Despite my best effort, I did not sleep in on Friday, but I did force myself to spend a little time relaxing before getting out the door. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to see the sun rise, the way I did on my Port Washington trip (and basically every morning of my life when I’m biking). When I finally got moving I stopped at an awesome bakery and then headed to La Crosse again. I ended up on Pettibone Park, which is an island on the Mississippi. It was gorgeous! I started walking and then realized I’d have a lot more joy seeing it by bike. I only learned how to put my bike on the rack the day before, so I was nervous about dealing with that – it’s really tricky with the oddly shaped middle. But I’m SO glad I did. I could have stayed there biking laps around the paths all day. It was such a gorgeous day too.
I stopped at a really nice park on my way back to the airbnb. It had a big pond to walk around, which I’ve decided is my favorite type of walking trail. No trees, like my recently favorited Quarry Park, but it was still really pretty.
After a break back at my airbnb, I ventured out to try and catch the sunset. Which meant I was literally in my car driving west trying to find ANY good place to pull off and take a photo. I ended up at this amazing park with the most iconic part of the La Crosse River Trail. I would have loved to have spent more time there, but it felt a bit creepy when I saw a man coming down the opposite way toward me. But it was really pretty!
My plan was to be as busy as I wanted to be on Thursday, but then have each day be significantly more restful. It didn’t end up being that way because I was so desperate to catch the fall colors and enjoy the absolutely perfect weather conditions. But I did make sure I spent a lot more time on my bike on Saturday and Sunday – the whole reason I went to this location in the first place. So Saturday I finally got on the Elroy-Sparta trail in the Norwalk location, so I’d be closer to a tunnel. It was a pretty exhausting ride, but I finally made it to the tunnel, only to be too scared to go in! But there was tons of water dripping down, and bats, and I had planned on turning around at the end anyway, so I skipped it. But the ride itself was so amazing! Exhilarating, really. I can’t wait to go back again.
I spent way more time than I should have driving around in search of new parks after that. I drove all the way down to Viroqua to stop at a unique public market that I missed out on in August. Then I went to Wildcat State Park, which was really pretty, but also packed with people. And finally headed back for a nap. I finished my last evening picking up some tacos from a permanent food truck and walking around all of the bigger parks in Sparta. While I did not find the city itself to be that exciting (although they have pretty parks!), I am IN LOVE with that area of Wisconsin. Especially in fall. Every time I hopped in the car I was just blown away by the beauty. It was a really lifegiving thing for me.
On Sunday morning I got up early again so I could start the Sparta trail at sunrise. Unfortunately I once again did not get a very good sunrise, but it was awesome to have the trail all to myself! It felt like a totally different trail on this end, even though Norwalk was the next destination. The ride was easier, but mostly enclosed by trees on either side, so it felt like going through a tunnel. I would have loved to have rode and rode, but I was worried about going further than I could handle. Plus I still needed to get back to shower and pack up before checkout. I loved the bike rides, though, and am SO glad I took it with me. Honestly, the whole trip was just amazing. Exactly what I needed.
I finished my vacation with a stop at Buckhorn State Park, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere dead center in Wisconsin, but it was gorgeous! Hardly any people there and wonderful fall colors. I once again found a pond to walk around and took about a million photos. I went on two separate hikes before finally deciding it was time to head home. All in all, a fantastic getaway!
Well, I started this blog post seven hours ago, thinking I could whip it out while I had the desire to write. I didn’t expect to spend half my day on it! I’m not sure I actually did any reflecting, despite the title, but oh well! I’m 36 now. I’m surviving, trying to thrive despite the weird circumstances of life right now. I’m finding ways to seek out joy and happiness for myself, whenever I can.
Happy Friday! Life has been a bit crazy again these last few weeks and I haven’t had much spare time to write. But I’m hoping to catch up soon! I wish I could go back to writing these posts every Friday, but there just aren’t enough new things coming into my life right now to talk about. But it makes the posts I do write that much more exciting because I’ve been storing up my favorite finds for weeks now! I hope you’re able to find something useful in this batch!
I first tried this recipe many, many years ago. And now I’m pretty sure it’s the recipe I’ve made more than any other. It’s so easy! It’s absolutely delicious. And it can be dressed up or down according to any occasion. Our favorite way to make it is to top it with fresh berries in summer. I think I first made this for my sisters-in-law on one of their July birthdays. This year I made it for both Caden and Cindy, just three days apart! I’ve also made it for a different sister-in-law and kept it plain, but we ate it with salted butterscotch sauce and fresh whipped cream. Either way, it’s going to be a hit!
Salted Butterscotch Sauce
Speaking of salted butterscotch, I should probably share that recipe too! I make it A LOT. I found the recipe in the book Food Anatomy by Julia Rothman (this whole book series is so much fun!). I should probably take back what I said about making flourless chocolate cake more than anything else, because this is probably the true winner, though I obviously don’t (just) eat it on its own. I normally make it for topping cake or ice cream or sometimes adding it to coffee. This week I added it to the top of an apple galette (my belated birthday dessert). Anyway, it’s very simple:
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup dark brown sugar (I usually use light because that’s what I have on hand, but if you can get dark it will definitely have a deeper flavor)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt (I often add twice this and then some flaky sea salt at the end – I really love salty sweets!)
Over medium heat, melt butter and stir in brown sugar until completely moistened. Let sit until it starts to bubble, just a minute or two.
Stir in heavy cream and let it come to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally. This also only takes a couple of minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in salt to taste. That’s it! It’s basically foolproof (unlike salted CARAMEL) and it tastes amazing.
In the last few years I started making a lot more foods to go with rice because Greg loves rice so much. Once I started adding things to spice it up, I really started enjoying rice as well. But – shocker – white rice is not good for you. So I’ve been on the hunt this last year to find more whole grain alternatives and this is by far my favorite find so far. I’m not great at making brown rice the traditional way – it’s never cooked properly. And quinoa always seems so finicky as well. But these packets of both mixed together that only take 90 seconds in the microwave? Perfection. One packet is just enough to satisfy Greg and I – with a spoonful for Caden (Shepard refuses to touch rice). I usually buy it at Woodman’s for $2.50 a packet, but now that I see it’s a much better deal on Amazon I’ll be stocking up there from now on.
I’ve been trying really hard to get back on track food-wise the last couple of weeks. One of my biggest downfalls is how hungry I get between meals. I’m such a snacker, but I’m also a huge emotional eater and emotions have been all over the place the last seven months. The main type of food I crave is something crunchy and salty. Instead of reaching for chips I’ve been trying out some alternative options and I really like these crackers. I’ve only had the everything variety, but they’re really delicious. Not necessarily salty, but definitely crunchy with a really complex and appealing flavor. They really fit my craving and I never feel compelled to overeat them either. Five or six and I’m good! I need more snacks like this in my life.
I’ve been drinking a lot more coffee lately because it’s a nice little treat to break up my morning or afternoon. But I’ve been struggling with the health dilemma of putting regular creamers into my coffee. Granted I eat plenty of other things that are bad for me, but creamer seems like pouring myself straight chemicals and that’s clearly a bad choice. But I don’t see myself ever being able to drink coffee black, so I’ve been trying other options. Like all the options. Almond creamers, oat creamers, macadamia nut creamers, natural creamers, regular milk and sugar, heavy cream, half and half, basically anything the store has to offer, I’ve tried. So I finally picked up a Chobani brand creamer and I think I’m sold! It adds a wonderful sweet creaminess to the coffee, and doesn’t have any junk in it. So far I’ve had the sweet cream and hazelnut flavors and both have been wonderful!
Okay, so it seems odd to add a fan to one of my favorite things in the middle of October when it is currently below freezing outside. But LAST weekend it was really warm! I was at my airbnb and it did not have any way to control the temperature (it was just a tiny studio apartment in a larger house) and I couldn’t open the windows because they didn’t have screens. So I ran to Target desperate to find some sort of solution to help me feel more comfortable. I didn’t have many options, but I grabbed one of these Vornado fans because it was small AND cute – the one I got is a really pretty coral color. It’s obviously not going to cool you off in the middle of summer, but it’s going to HELP. And it’s going to be cute and small, which are huge advantages to me. Anyway, I’m just adding this on here in case you want a little fan for your desk or nightstand or kitchen. I love mine!
I’m hoping to continue biking all the way through winter as long as there isn’t snow or ice on the ground (which let’s be real, will be A LOT of winter, but I’m hoping for a lighter year!). But I realized pretty quickly after a few 30ish degree mornings in the last month that I needed warmer clothing that wouldn’t be too bulky or uncomfortable. I resorted to Kohls, as I often do for more basic clothing, and tried out one of these sweatshirts. I ordered a size bigger than I normally wear to make sure it didn’t feel too restrictive and it’s perfect! SO warm and cozy and actually a really flattering fit as well. I originally ordered gray and hot pink (different listing than what I linked, I think those were their summer colors) and came back to purchase again in green and red. I can see myself wearing these A LOT in the next few months!
I’m obsessed with candles. More so now than ever because they’re such a simple way to bring me immense pleasure all day long. I love the warm cozy feelings that flickering candlelight brings to a space, but I also love an intoxicating scent. I’ve purchased more candles from small companies in the last six months than ever before and it’s been such a joy to discover the ones that make me happiest. This is one of those candles. It’s possible I like it so much because it’s so different from the tried and true scents I normally lean toward. (I also have to avoid a lot of scents because Greg is particularly sensitive to them.) Without going back and looking at the candle listing when I first lit this the other night I was guessing that it had a tobacco and musky scent. I’m actually not getting much cinnamon, it just smells intensely masculine. After lighting it a couple of times I’m getting more of a warm vanilla scent as well as what must be patchouli. Which I never thought would be a type of candle I’d lean toward, but there you go! Shepard walked by and hated it, so it’s probably not for everyone, but I’m really into it! The smell is also really strong without even being lit.
Apple is probably the most dependable candle scent there is. No matter which brand you choose, it’s going to be good. I am very seasonal in when I light which type of candle and September and October are reserved for apple, cidery, and vanilla (birthday!) scents. My sister-in-law gave me one of these for my birthday from a company local to her that I’d never heard of before. And I LOVE it. It’s one of the cleanest and brightest apple candles I’ve ever smelled. The clove is pretty subtle, but I’m fine with that. After smelling this I immediately went to their website and ordered some more varieties to try. Of the four others I bought, I’m really liking the Moss and Pine and can’t wait to light it in December! Greg doesn’t handle pine scents well and it’s one of my favorites, but I’m hoping the unique combination with mossy smells will help!
These started popping up in one of my facebook groups and I’m so excited every time I see a new session because they give me so much joy! It’s exactly what it sounds like – a photographer finds two people (I’m assuming they’re usually single) willing to take part in a “stranger photography session.” What’s incredible is how much chemistry is usually seen between the two models even though they’ve never met before. Some of the sessions I’ve seen are just really sweet and happy, but this particular one from photographer KayLa Ruiz on September 20th (Israel and Christina) is HOT. You have to read all of her captions as well, and some of the top comments! They’re hilarious. If you just want to see something happy and hopeful, I’d highly suggest checking it out. (After writing this I went through KayLa Ruiz’s facebook page to check out more of her photos and it seems like all of her sessions end up being pretty sexy with models she uses in multiple setups. I’ve seen a lot of great outdoor sessions from other photographers that are more on the sweet end, with more “realistic” looking people.)
I came here today to write about the last two weeks and realized it’s actually been THREE weeks since my last Weekend Reflections post. Yikes. September has been a rough one, guys. Probably the hardest month yet in this whole pandemic living mess. Life has been HARD. It hasn’t been easy to motivate myself to do much of anything and writing some sort of reflective and positive recap of the weeks is definitely at the bottom of my list. But I want to remember these days, the good and the bad.
I think virtual school – REAL virtual school, not like what was scrapped together in spring – may be the the thing that takes our whole family down. And let me be clear, I’m not blaming the teachers or the school or the classes. It’s my kids. They are fighting tooth and nail to make this whole experience as miserable as possible for all four of us. And while it can be infuriating spending literally hours a day arguing about doing certain assignments, it’s also incredibly sad watching their spirits deflate and lose the remaining hope of normalcy they had.
Caden is doing okay. Every day gets a little easier with him as he realizes he really does have to spend a full class period working on certain subjects. He wants everything to be easy and throws a fit when it’s not. He was also assigned an elective that he did not sign up for and it’s the class he gets the most work in and he HATES it. If he didn’t have that class then we might just be smooth sailing with him.
Then Shepard. Oh Shepard, my most stubborn of the stubbornest of children. Let’s just say learning virtually with the expectation of doing most of your work independently is not a model that works for him. He needs a teacher to keep him on task. He needs classmates and friends to connect with and blow off steam with. Instead he’s stuck in his room with often eight, nine, ten, even eleven hours of school work a day, that he has to keep track of and complete on his own. Greg has to micromanage every single thing that he does and he still can barely finish everything he’s supposed to each day because he just digs his heels in and flat out refuses. He also abhors being on video, and you need to be on video calls or record yourself doing certain things a whole lot in virtual school. It’s been so, so hard with him. And every day seems to get worse instead of better.
Greg wanted to be the one to take on most of the school stuff with them. He kept insisting on it. But it didn’t take very long to realize he can’t sustain that level of interaction if he still wants to do his own job. It’s honestly a miracle he gets any of his work done with how often he has to stop and help either of them. I TRY to get involved, but I’m usually out of the loop to begin with and by the time I try to offer my assistance they’re all too angry to explain to me what’s going on. They’re also all on the second floor of the house and I’m on the first floor doing my work, or cooking or cleaning, so I’m never the parent they’ll come to because it’s too inconvenient. But short of sitting in the hallway just waiting for an opportunity to help, I don’t know how to change anything. And doing that would be a HUGE waste of my time and so many other things would go undone that it would cause a whole new set of problems.
So. I’m not really sure where to go from here. But entering every single week day like it’s a battle has really taken its toll on all of us. It’s destroying us, to be honest. I can’t imagine going an entire school year like this. I can’t imagine another month of this. But what other choice do we have? Yeah, we COULD decide to send them to school. There are very few kids in our district that chose this all virtual model. But Wisconsin covid cases are skyrocketing right now. We have the second highest number of cases in the country at the moment. It feels too risky to send them to school after all the preventative measures we’ve taken the last six months. Plus Caden would still be home three days a week anyway (Shepard one). So instead we just power on. And pray it gets easier.
In happier news, I was able to go on my first solo vacation of the year! I had a couple planned in spring that I had to cancel and just figured I’d never get to do it again. Which was extremely disappointing since it’s basically my all time favorite thing. No offense to Greg or my kids, but my kind of vacationing is very different from theirs and we realized a few years ago it really just works better for everyone if I go on my own. Plus it’s the perfect chance to recharge. Those opportunities have been few and far between this year. I actually scheduled a post-birthday trip first, but after how September started off (worst week of our lives??) Greg urged me to take another trip sooner. He didn’t have to tell me twice! I immediately searched around and found a perfect place to stay in Port Washington a few days later.
I left as soon as I could that first day and stopped at Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit State Park for a short hike. Then I grabbed a snack and coffee and headed up to my airbnb in Port Washington where I was able to check in really early. Next I walked around Lion’s Den Nature Preserve. It was a really beautiful spot, but it was SO crowded. This was on a Sunday, and the weather was beautiful – the first really nice day after a week of rain, so it made sense that people were flocking to great outdoor places. I managed to never get other people in my photos, but it was kind of a stressful situation. The water and the clouds looked so pretty that day, though!
On Monday morning I was up and out the door by 5:50am and didn’t come back to the airbnb until late afternoon. The weather was just so perfect that I didn’t want to lose a minute of outdoor adventuring. I was hoping to see two amazing sunrises on the beaches, but my trip coincided with some of the worst air quality conditions that came over from the west coast and the sky was just a flat gray the majority of the trip. Kind of a disappointment, but at least the weather itself was really nice. Plus it was nice walking around the lakeside Port Washington parks so early in the morning.
I had plans to stop at a bakery for breakfast, but missed the memo that they were only open on weekends now. So I picked up a coffee and then headed to my next destination – Harrington Beach State Park. I walked the beach trail and enjoyed watching the seagulls play in the waves.
The real treasure, though, was walking around Quarry Lake. I LOVED it here. It’s an old quarry that filled up with water and then they created a nice easy trail with plenty of places to rest around the entire lake. It was so serene and beautiful. I only encountered about two other people the entire time I was at this park. I’m sure it’s filled up in summer, but for a September Monday morning it was perfect for me.
I definitely ended up doing a lot more driving around on this trip than I ever anticipated. I barely spent any time at my airbnb, which was my only regret. But I was actually having a really hard time finding meals. I definitely wasn’t going to eat IN any restaurants, I didn’t want fast food, and I only wanted to pick up food from a place I could order online from. The late lunch I got on Sunday made me feel pretty crappy and I wanted to try a lot harder to only eat the foods that feel safe (as in, nothing fried). And there just weren’t the right kinds of options nearby. Mexican is what I always seek out because it’s my favorite and it never makes me feel sick, so I eventually did some shopping and landed at a fun taco place much closer to Milwaukee. I brought it to Doctors Park and ate in a quiet field and then hiked down to the beach. It was a really beautiful park too!
I went back to my airbnb in the afternoon for a late nap and then headed out again to check out some other Port Washington parks, but managed to get back to the apartment around 7 so I could enjoy a couple of hours of relaxing before bed. The night before I wasn’t back until after 9 and then I spent an hour trying to better plan out Monday so I wouldn’t waste so much time searching around on my phone. No matter how much research I do ahead of time for a trip (A LOT), it never seems to be enough.
On Tuesday morning I headed out before six again, still hoping for a nice sunrise. The sky was slightly more colorful and when the sun finally rose it was a bright neon pink behind the haze. I grabbed another coffee – a harvest (apple and butterscotch) dalgona coffee – which was so tasty!
My airbnb was so pretty, I really wish I had spent more time there. I loved all the beautiful places I went – nature really soothes my soul. But a third night would have been nice to allow a little more time for resting. I was SO exhausted by Tuesday. Not really how I wanted to feel heading back into reality! When I got home I actually changed my October trip by adding a third night so I hopefully won’t have this problem again. I need a better mix of adventure and rest!
After I left the airbnb I went back to Quarry Lake for another walk. Then I checked out a couple of gifty stores in West Bend and ended the trip grocery shopping so I wouldn’t have to go out again that week. Overall, it was such an amazing getaway and exactly what I needed. Obviously taking vacations by myself every month is not exactly affordable or always feasible, but I’m really thankful I had this one and another in two weeks. They really boost me up for getting through the harder days.
Nothing terribly exciting happened the rest of that week, until Caden’s birthday party on Saturday. I was pretty stressed out about how we could give him a party while also trying to stay relatively low risk, but I think we pulled it off nicely. It was VERY low key, but that’s the perfect kind of party for Caden. We set up the food in the garage, arranged tables on the driveway that were all distanced from each other and could only seat the people that lived with each other. The two sets of grandparents and my brother were the only guests.
We had tacos for dinner and ice cream for dessert. Easy!
The puppies also came! And Caden got all of the computer and techy gadgets that he asked for. Pretty much the perfect birthday celebration for him!
This last Monday was the day it took Shepard 11 hours to complete his schoolwork. It was a really hard day and he was so defeated. So we took a break after dinner and ran to a $1 pumpkin patch out in the middle of nowhere. The mosquitoes were awful so we didn’t stay long, but we got five big pumpkins to decorate the porch. It was a good break for both of us.
Caden’s 12th birthday was on Wednesday. It was a late start (even though everyone does virtual on Wednesdays) so the workload was a little bit lighter that day. Caden got his games back after a three week hiatus, so he played a few hours in the morning and for most of the evening. He opened up his presents first thing, we had his birthday cake at lunch, and for dinner I grilled him a bunch of meat. He’ll eat pretty much anything, but doesn’t really have any real favorites (other than tacos, but we’d been eating them for days at that point), so I just made a big variety. He loved it! He kept thanking me and telling me it was the best meal ever. Overall it was a really nice day.
This weekend has been really busy! On Friday night I had another Pen Pals zoom show, which was a lot of fun. I think they’re planning on having shows once a month until they can start performing in live venues again, so it’s something special to look forward to just for me. I’m also participating in a readathon with my favorite facebook book club this weekend. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a ton of time to read, but it’s still fun to feel part of something special with other like minded people!
I placed my first Saturday farmers market pick up yesterday when I realized I won’t be able to go the next two Wednesdays and I’m missing out on so much great produce! I spent half as much money as my last huge order (no baked goods lol), but still ended up with a massive amount of food. I need to figure out how to use all of it this week. It’s a challenge I haven’t felt up to starting quite yet.
And then we celebrated Cindy’s birthday! I made my second berry topped flourless chocolate birthday cake of the week and we hung out on their deck for the afternoon. It was very nice!
And that brings me to today! There are so many things I could have done today. But I’m trying to build in more downtime so I stop feeling like I’m losing my mind with stress and anxiety all the time. I’ve never been a big fan of weekends, but this month I’ve joined the masses with looking forward to these two days all week long. Any day we don’t have to deal with school and work is a win now. Normally I do MY work during every spare moment I have (often around 4am and 7pm these days). But I’d like to try and take weekends off as well. There are plenty of other ways to spend Saturdays and Sundays.
This morning Greg and I took Annie to a beautiful county park to hike around a bit before the rain came. It was really nice! As hard as these days are, I’m really finding a deeper appreciation for little things. A great cup of coffee, fall flavored baked goods, a perfect scented candle, every ounce of seasonal outdoor joy. Fall has always been my favorite, but I don’t want to miss a moment of the beautiful colors and weather this year. It’s probably what is going to need to sustain me through our long cold winters!
The week ahead is pretty quiet, thank goodness. This has been such a busy month. We do have some appointments midweek, but for the most part it should be a slower couple of days. I’m hoping to get a lot of work done and maybe make some sort of breakthrough on how to make virtual school easier. Maybe??
Have a good week, everyone! It’s almost October! (The BEST month. :))