What I Read September 2020

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.

A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore
Rating: 3 stars

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.

A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston (audiobook)
Rating: 5 stars

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!

You Say it First by Katie Cotugno
Rating: 3 stars

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.

Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston
Rating: 2.5 stars

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!

The Roommate by Rosie Danan
Rating: 3 stars

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.

Well Played by Jen DeLuca
Rating: 4 stars

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.

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
Rating: 5* stars

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!

Birthdays and Reflections

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!

Sparta Vacation

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.

Friday Favorites #16

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!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

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!)
  1. 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.
  2. Stir in heavy cream and let it come to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally. This also only takes a couple of minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in salt to taste. That’s it! It’s basically foolproof (unlike salted CARAMEL) and it tastes amazing.

Seeds of Change Quinoa and Brown Rice Packets

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.

Mary’s Gone Super Seed Everything Crackers

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.

Chobani Coffee Creamer

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!

Vornado Flippi Personal Fan

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!

Tek Gear Ultrasoft Crewneck Fleece Tunic

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!

P.F. Candle Co. Smoky Cinnamon Special Candle

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.

Tule Fog Apple + Clove Candle

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!

Stranger Sessions

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.) 

Weekend Reflections…for all of September

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. :))

Friday Favorites #15

Good morning! I know it’s not Friday, but our internet was being very finicky yesterday, picking and choosing which websites it would load, and this was not one of them! (It was really fun going all day with four frustrated and anxious people who couldn’t get their wifi to work.) I really wanted to get my Friday Favorites out this week, though, so here they are!

Food and Drinks

Thai Mango Curry
This is a recipe I sought out many years ago after ordering mango curry from a restaurant and falling in love with the flavors. That restaurant is only in Madison, but I’ve never managed to go back to it. Instead I make myself this every September as a sort of celebration lunch for getting my life back. Unfortunately, this fall my life is not back. But I needed to make the curry as my unofficial ushering in of the fall season. Greg’s allergic to mango and I like to make it REALLY spicy – that’s why I normally make it as a special lunch just for me. My kids love spicy food, but I did take it back a notch this time to be safe. Greg risked the allergy attack and ate it too. I follow the recipe pretty closely, but always like to add potatoes to mine because that’s how it was served in the restaurant. I also usually add extra mango chunks, but I was trying to tone it down a bit for Greg’s sake. I like to serve it with rice, naan, and a lot of peanuts and cilantro. Delicious!


Pork Tacos
Tacos are so obviously my favorite food. We eat them more than anything else, but I do really try to switch up what kinds of meats, shells, and toppings we use. While I enjoy carnitas tacos, it’s always kind of a pain to work with such a large cut of meat with so much fat that needs to be trimmed off. When I found this recipe about a year ago I was really intrigued. Pork tenderloin tends to go on sale pretty often, but I’ve never particularly liked the way it tastes. But I gave this recipe a shot and I love it! Honestly, you can barely even tell it’s pork. With all the seasonings it’s just a delightfully flavored chunk of meat. I didn’t make the avocado cream sauce this time, but I do think pork and avocado are the perfect pairing, so I’d recommend giving it a shot. Or at least cutting up some avocado and flaky salt for topping!

Death Wish Pumpkin Coffee
Full disclosure, I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin spice lattes or any kind of fall coffee drinks. But I am fully embracing all the little perks of fall this year since I won’t be able to enjoy most of the bigger things I normally get so excited about at this time of the year. I wanted to find some good pumpkin coffee (I already had some pumpkin spice tea – also good!). A facebook group I follow highly recommended Death Wish because they roast their beans with real pumpkin for a very intense flavor. I immediately ordered some and then spent two weeks trying to find a pumpkin spice creamer to pair with it. They’re either not out yet, or everyone is thinking the same thing and it’s sold out everywhere. I finally found the Starbucks brand and it’s a great pairing. The coffee has a really good pumpkin flavor without any artificial tastes. It’s funny how quickly my coffee palette in the last two years (when I first started drinking coffee!) changed from only drinking flavored k-cups, to liking artificially flavored pre-ground coffees, to only liking the highest quality of small roasted beans that I can grind myself. I was apprehensive about buying a flavored coffee after graduating out of that coffee league awhile ago, but this really impressed me. 

Life Management

Bloom Daily Planner
I go back and forth on how I feel about planners. On one hand, I LOVE to be organized with a very visual representation of what I need to get done every day. On the other hand, sometimes those neverending lists start to stress me out and I feel like I can never take a break because there are always more things to do. I haven’t used one at all in the last six months, but then September rolled around and the calendar started really filling up. We have so many random appointments and school dates to remember that I wanted to be a little more organized. It’s also about time I just accept that this is my life now and I need to figure out how to make it work for me. So I ordered one of these Bloom planners, which I’ve used in the past, because they’re inexpensive, undated (so I can take days off if I start to feel overwhelmed by my lists), and just really useful! I always do best when I can prioritize only three things a day, but also doing a brain dump on everything else that needs to get done so I can stop thinking about it all. And it’s helpful for me to fill in what I ate, or what I plan on eating. I like recording my exercise too. Anyway, if you’re just looking for a decent organizing tool to get you through your day, this is a good one.

Beauty

Orly Turn it Up Nail Polish
My nail polish obsession continues! I started following a couple of instagram accounts of people that just model new nail polish. It’s really fun to see so many different colors on an actual hand. My favorite accounts always seem to be modeling glitter polishes. I never thought I’d like glitter polish, but it has the potential to look SO PRETTY with multiple coats and careful spreading of the glitter. When I was on my vacation earlier this week I stopped at a few stores that sold beauty products and picked up a few glitter polishes to try. This is my favorite because it’s just so FUN. A literal party on my nails. I’m wearing it now for Caden’s birthday party tonight. I used one of the Olive and June nail polishes that I didn’t like very much on its own as a base coat. It really shows off all the colors in the glitter mix. Fun!

Get Out of the House!

Airbnbs

I know I am really late to the game here, but airbnbs are AMAZING. I think the idea always turned me off because it felt so weird to go stay in someone’s space. I don’t even particularly like staying with people I know, so why would I want to subject myself to the awkwardness of living with a stranger? I think when airbnb first became a thing, most people were just renting out their actual houses and apartments (or maybe I’m making this up, but it was my perception) or a room in their house. It felt way too uncomfortable and weird. But now that the pandemic happened and we started getting desperate for a change of scenery but were very apprehensive about the higher risk factors of staying in a hotel, airbnb became the perfect solution. I’ve stayed at two in the last month and have another one booked in three weeks. I love that most of them are about the same price as a hotel room, but you have so much more space to live in. Plus you don’t have to worry about contaminated shared public spaces. The best part is that there are just SO many options. If your dates are flexible, you’re open to visiting anywhere within a few hours of your house – you can find almost anything, even at the last minute! I’m sure there must be plenty of bad airbnb experiences, but I’ve been really happy with the two I’ve stayed at so far. And there are just so many different spaces available right now, it’s easy to weed out the winners just by reading the reviews. Now that I’ve started down this airbnb road, I may never leave it. Hotels? What’s that?! Especially when we travel as a family, I see this as a much more viable option for the foreseeable future. It’s probably also going to be the thing that keeps me sane every few months when I desperately need a break from the responsibilities of life.

Harrington Beach State Park

If pandemic life is really getting you down, let me strongly, strongly recommend getting out into nature. Sometimes it’s hard to justify making a trip – especially if you have kids like mine who whine like crazy every time we suggest leaving the house. But I’m realizing it’s worth it. And for me personally, going outdoors by myself is about the most life giving thing I can do. It’s pretty amazing how many parks, trails, bodies of water, etc. are probably within an hour or two of your house and you’ve never made the time to explore them before. NOW IS THE TIME. When I was in Port Washington earlier this week I went to as many different parks and nature preserves as I could. My favorite, though, was Harrington Beach State Park. I went twice I loved it so much. It borders Lake Michigan, so you can have some beach time if that’s your thing. But the best part is that it contains an old quarry that has filled with water. The picture above really does not do it justice. It was absolutely gorgeous there. So serene and majestic. There is a 1.5 mile trail that goes around the entire perimeter of the lake with plenty of benches and picnic tables to stop and rest at. But the trail itself is flat and easy to walk. I just loved it. It maybe helped that I went on weekdays in September, but I practically had the place to myself. I also checked out a third area of the park, Puckett’s Pond and drove through all the campsite areas just to see how they looked. I’ve never even heard of this state park before and it’s only an hour and a half away. I definitely plan on going back again. And exploring as many other parks as I can before it gets too cold!

Spicy, Smoky, Creamy Tomato Soup

You guys. I just made the most delicious tomato soup EVER. Okay, I probably shouldn’t claim that because I’ve only had tomato soup about four times in my life, all in the last year, all made by me. But this one? It was perfection. And I made it up as I went so I’ll probably never get that same symphony of flavors again. But because I want to remember what I put in it, I’m going to attempt to write it all down right now so you can make it too! But mostly so I can refer back to this post the next time I want a good soup recipe to go with my grilled cheese. Just keep in mind I measured absolutely nothing as I went along, so follow the basic recipe, but feel free to add or omit anything you’d like!

I only became a tomato eater at all this past year, mostly out of desperation to add a little more variety to my snacks and meals. I’m still pretty picky about how I eat them, cheese and flaky salt are basically a requirement. But I’ve been open to trying more recipes. Especially this year because I planted 19 tomato plants! Granted the majority of those plants stayed tiny and gave me 1-3 actual tomatoes, but a few of them have been quite prolific. I’ve been on a steady schedule of making Greg batches of salsa, but I really wanted to do something different today. I already had pimento cheese that I made a few days ago, and some crusty bread that was getting stale, so making tomato soup seemed like the most logical choice.

I first tried tomato soup last fall after watching Kendra Adachi’s (The Lazy Genius) instagram story on how easily she whips up homemade tomato soup every time they eat grilled cheese. She has the Tomato Soup story saved to her account if you want to watch that and get a basic idea. I just like maximizing strong flavors in all the food that I make. Bland things are not allowed in this house! I’m also obsessed with smoked paprika, and this is a terrific base to really bring out that flavor. This is the first time I made it with fresh roasted tomatoes instead of canned tomato sauce (though fire roasted tomato pizza sauce is a great option in this!) I also added some peppers this time for extra spice. All the vegetables were grown in my garden except the shallot (I forgot I had homegrown onions!) and the garlic.

Spicy Smoky Creamy Tomato Soup

For the roasted tomatoes and peppers (remember you can really do however many or few tomatoes and varieties you want! peppers too!)

  • 4 medium tomatoes cut into sixths
  • 8 grape tomatoes cut into halves|
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 1 anaheim pepper
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

For the soup base

Everything else

  • 2-4 cups of chicken broth (depending on how many people you’re feeding, I’m home alone today (!!!) so I used about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp celery flakes (or add fresh celery to the base!)
  • 1 tbs smoked paprika
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • a little bit of crumbled parmesan or similar cheese (if you want!)
  1. Heat oven to 425. Coat tomato chunks and peppers in olive oil and salt. Roast for 25-30 minutes.
  2. While that’s cooking set a large pot on the stove and start sauteing the butter, carrots, and shallot or onion. Once everything has warmed up add the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. I stepped away from the kitchen a bit too long and about half my shallots ended up getting crispy, so I just added a bit of olive oil to soften them back up.
  3. After 8-10 minutes, add the chicken bouillon base and garlic. Stir for about a minute and then dump in all the roasted vegetables and their juices.
  4. Slowly add the chicken broth, heavy cream, salt, pepper, parsley, celery flakes, paprika, and sugar. Stir until boiling and them lower heat to a simmer. At this point you should use an immersion blender or regular blender to break up all the vegetables into one smooth soup. Then let simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  5. You know on cooking shows they always tell you to taste as you go? I rarely do that, but think it’s a requirement on this soup. You can decide if you need a bit more salt to really bring out the flavors, or maybe want to experiment with a different spice. Dill perhaps? When I made this last fall I added a fancy parmesan rind that I had in the freezer for just such an occasion. Today I added just a small crumbling of Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar – which has kind of a nutty parmesan flavor. It’s just a nice little addition to really elevate the final taste!
  6. Serve with grilled cheese for dipping (grilled smoky pimento cheese is perfect) or it will also taste fantastic – and healthy!! – eaten alone.

Weekend Reflections 09.06.2020

This last week has been one of the most stressful and overwhelming weeks of my life. But I’m sick of dwelling on it, so I’m not going to dive too deeply into everything that happened. It’s just been really, really hard. And if this week is any indicator of how every week of virtual school is going to go… I’m not sure how I’m going to survive this school year. It was quite a wake up call to realize just how much we were letting screens babysit our kids over the summer. Take that away and expect them to suddenly be organized and studious and excited about learning? Yeah, not going to happen. I feel like I can’t even complain since Greg was the one working with them literally all day every day because they supposedly needed that much help (or they were just taking advantage of his willingness…). But the chaos and restless down time between new assignments and the arguing about getting back on task and the hours long fighting with Shepard about reading the book he got from his teacher. It was SO MUCH. Too much. Too much on my already very fragile mental state going into fall and deep in mourning about the life I no longer have. I’ve never been a fan of weekends, but I have a feeling that’s going to change this year. It’s probably going to be the only time I can get anything done.

After a truly terrible Monday morning, Shepard and I went to my mom’s to play with the puppies for awhile. We needed a distraction from the worry about the first day. We also picked up some Wendy’s for lunch. Seeing this picture reminds me Shepard has now eaten Wendy’s three times this week. Good parenting…

We spent last weekend getting their rooms in shape so they can hopefully have a clean space to do their schoolwork every day. Shepard’s room is already a huge mess a few days later. Cleaning is not his strong suit! Caden ended up constantly roaming the house with his laptop, never staying in the same spot for more than 20-30 minutes. I had this very wrong expectation that they’d be quietly working in their rooms all day, Greg would be working in his “office” in the laundry room all day, and I’d actually have hours to myself on the main level to sew and cook and keep everything running smoothly. News flash, life is NOT going to be that easy for me. Every single time I even tried to listen to my music or a podcast, Caden suddenly appeared in the room with me watching a class video, so I had to shut my stuff down. It really didn’t help anything on my end.

Shepard was actually really excited on Tuesday morning and very cooperative with our annual first day photo shoot.

I got this one very nice picture of all three of them. Annie, looking so stoic!

One fun thing is that the boys decided to have a porch picnic with a different friend each day. It’s convenient that two of their best friends are also doing virtual school and live within a block of us. And their other friend is Caden’s age so she’s home three days a week. I’m not sure if this is something they’ll do every day, but it was REALLY great just seeing them laugh and talk and hang out with friends. After six months of almost no friend interaction? They need it. I really do hope it becomes a regular thing.

Wednesday turned out to be a really busy day for me, but it was great to have a reason to escape the house for a few hours. I had my first pandemic haircut. It took me a long time to work up to that level of comfort, but I reached the point where I was using such a ridiculous amount of leave in conditioner every day just to get a comb through my wet hair that I couldn’t stand it anymore. Unfortunately, the whole thing was a pretty terrible experience. The stylists were not wearing masks (despite the statewide mandate), she spent the whole time talking about how she refuses to make her kid wear a mask, and I feel like she purposely did a really terrible job cutting my hair to kind of get back at me for wearing one. I’ve been to this girl probably five times and I always love how it turns out. This time was terrible. Fortunately it’s long enough I can still put it up, but I left very frustrated.

Afterward I had a lot of errands and pick ups. I stopped at Pick n Save first because soda was on sale and I’ve been trying to find Cherry Coke Zero for Greg. It’s the only soda he likes and there is apparently a shortage of aluminum and artificial sweetener right now, so Coke is not currently producing it! Then I stopped in at Trader Joe’s as a treat. I love it there, it’s just so far away and inconvenient. Then I had a massive farmers market pick up! I went a bit overboard, but I did have plans ahead of time on how to use everything I bought so nothing would go to waste. I had a little extra time before my next scheduled pick up so I stopped in at TJMaxx and found a fun fall candle and then ordered a coffee in the drive thru of a new coffee shop. I had a Woodman’s pick up order next and this is when my day went downhill (besides the haircut!). They lost my order and made a big deal about me being there to get it when I never had a confirmation email that it was ready – even though I was there during my scheduled time. It took them so long to figure out that the order was just never put together that I was late for my final pick up at Mod Pizza. Greg told me to just come home with the pizza and he went back to get the groceries later. And half of the things I ordered were “out of stock” – probably because they were rushing to get it done. (Like 2% milk. Are you really telling me that nowhere in the gigantic dairy section of Woodman’s did they have any brand of 2% milk??) I wish I had just gone in myself to get everything, but I try to avoid grocery stores in the afternoons when they’re so much busier.

The pizza was a nice treat. And just not having to make a meal in general. We haven’t had Mod since Aprilish when we made our very first grocery pick up order at HyVee (also a disaster!). Caden even got a cheese-less pizza and really liked it. I spent the rest of Wednesday night cleaning and cutting produce.

On Thursday I finally finished setting up my fall drinking area. I love it so much! It really makes me happy to have that little corner of seasonal drinks to return to again and again throughout the day.

The boys ended up going to Grandma’s on Thursday night. Considering I was on my fifth or sixth day in a row of total emotional breakdown, I was SO thankful to get them out of the house for a few hours and spend some one on one time with Greg. That rarely happens these days. I made a tasty dinner, we went on a bike ride, and then we both spent some time doing our own things – very rare for him these days too. Caden ended up sleeping over.

Friday during the day was more of the same. But I was excited to spend my evening in the cemetery again, reading and walking. Unfortunately through a series of missed communications, Shepard ended up getting left home alone, so soon after I got there I had to go back to pick him up to join me. Not the peaceful night I was looking for, but it was actually really nice to have one on one time with him and discuss a whole lot of topics related to death (lol). If I could bring Annie into the cemetery, I’d walk there all the time. I love the peaceful silence of it. But alas, I am a rule follower above all else and dogs are not allowed!

Yesterday I had never been so happy to see a Saturday! But I knew it would still be a long day (Caden lost screens for three weeks), so we went to my mom’s again for a few hours to play with the pups. Then in the evening the guys went to have dinner with the grandparents, so I had a little time to myself.

I was also supposed to have all day today to myself, but the rainy weather changed everyone’s plans. I know it wasn’t anybody’s fault, but I realized the only thing getting me through this last week was knowing I’d have today. And then I didn’t have it anymore. I was pretty upset all morning, but Greg took the hint and still left the house with them for a few hours. I wish it could have been more, but it did give me enough time to finally lower my stress levels. And Shepard ended up staying at Grandma’s for a sleepover, so it’s been a pretty low key afternoon with just one kid around.

I really wanted to start being super on top of meals this week. It turned out to be the last thing in the world I felt like doing every afternoon, but I got through it! I made waffles and bacon (not pictured) for the last day of summer, Korean tacos for the first day of school, enchiladas, blts, pimento tomato bacon sandwiches, a skillet cookie, roasted salsa, stir fry and chicken brown rice, grilled chicken shawarma, two kinds of watermelons I chopped up, and a big cheese plate to end the week.

I got a new phone on Tuesday. Which turned out to be a very exciting surprise because it takes AMAZING sunrise photos! I take pictures every single morning that I bike, but rarely post them because they look so disappointing in the photo. Not anymore! The day I caught this one…Thursday, I think, was incredible. I saw that it looked like a good one so I biked as fast as I could to this countryside road to capture it before the colors weakened. I’m really excited about my new photo possibilities!

And that was the week. I guess despite “not dwelling on it,” this was still a pretty negative recap of the week. I know it was just the beginning and things are sure to be tricky as we all navigate this new way of doing school. It’s not even school itself that is my issue. It’s how difficult the boys were being about it. I hope they’ll acclimate to these new expectations and it’ll be easier on all of us. I’d really like to get back to work. I’d really like to not feel on edge and waiting for the next argument or disaster every minute of the day. I am not cut out for living in constant conflict. I just have to keep hoping it’ll get better. And find better ways to manage my stress in the meantime.

Friday Favorites #14

Welcome to Friday Favorites! And happy September! I have a couple of great things to share with you today! My newest self care obsession, an upgraded craft supply, shoes that actually fit me, and two of my favorite recipes. Check it out!

Olive & June Nail Polish

I have never been a nail person. I’ve gotten a manicure one time in my life – before my wedding – and I found it to be so painful and I messed up my polish before I even walked out the door. I have rarely worn nail polish since because my nails are so tiny and raggedy looking that it seemed like a waste of time. BUT pandemic life has left me desperate for some new little joys in my life and I started paying attention to how many instagram people I follow kept posting about how much they love their Olive & June nail polish. So I jumped in head first, the way I usually do, and ordered the big Everything Box which includes all their tools, a remover bottle, cuticle serum, a top coat, and six nail polishes of your choice. After using everything I’m not quite sold on the tools – I’m not sure you specifically need theirs, though the polish remover works super well (just not if you want to remove paint from your toes – then you’re screwed). But I really love how the polish turns out and how long it lasts. I’ve been nail obsessed ever since that first coat! It was especially exciting when they released their new fall colors a week or so later. I ordered the pink (LD) and green (WKF) right away. While I don’t exactly love all the original six colors I chose, I ADORE the two fall shades I picked.

My nails obviously aren’t magically perfected, but I’ve also been using a couple other tools that have REALLY helped. Tools that I didn’t even know existed until I started this new journey!

  • Cuticle Pusher – I must have bought one of these many years ago, but immediately gave up on using it. I’m not sure why because it works so well! Especially if you’ve done literally nothing to take care of your cuticles before.
  • Cuticle Trimmer – Maybe I am extremely naive for getting to age 35 before I realized such a tool existed. But now that I found it I understand just how magical it is! Obviously it made the biggest difference the first day I pushed all my giant cuticles back and then didn’t know what to do with them. I ordered one of these and wow! You do have to be careful not to overdo it and cut yourself, but it’s an effective cheap little tool!
  • Sally Hansen Dries Instantly Top Coat – I actually did not particularly like the Olive & June top coat. It was very gloopy. I ordered one of these to see if I liked it any better and it was so much easier to work with. I can’t attest to the longevity of it yet, since I just used it for the first time last night. But I think I’m going to like it at lot more.
  • Cuticle Oil – There seem to be a million different kinds of cuticle oil out there, but this is the one I’m currently using because I love the milk and honey scent. I’m not sure if it’s actually making any difference, but I definitely like the cute bottle and the way it smells!

DMC Pearl Cotton Size 8 Embroidery Floss

I’ve liked embroidery for quite awhile now, but I haven’t made time for it in the last year or two. I happened to see one of my dollmaker friends post a few months ago that she uses DMC thread for her doll faces. I haven’t had any issues using the size 10 crochet thread I always use, so I didn’t look into it, but was mildly intrigued. Then an instagram lady I follow (my life choices are obviously ruled by instagram influencers) who does embroidery projects for fun started talking about how much she loves DMC floss. That was enough to finally get me on the site and order a few to try out. And I LOVE them. Unlike the usual embroidery floss you can buy at a craft store that instantly splits into a bunch of tiny messy threads – this stuff stays together and is a dream to work with. I originally just bought colors that I thought I could use for doll noses since I’ve really been changing things up this year. But then I went back again to order every color that struck me so I could start some embroidery projects in my spare time. They are amazing!

If you’re interested, this is where I purchased the pattern for the rainbows. You could definitely just draw your own rainbows and patterns, but I wanted my first set to be as perfect as I could make them. Annoyingly, the pattern is all in German, so if you actually need to know how to stitch things, you’re going to have a tough time learning from this! The rainbows were also centered on separate pages, so I had to print them on three separate dissolvable paper sheets – which wasted a lot of space. And to fit on the 4 inch hoops I used (because that’s all I had), I had to print them at 80%.

Skechers Arch Fit Shoes

I have a never ending struggle trying to find shoes that will work for me. My feet are very wide, which is first obstacle. It’s unbelievable how few shoe companies make attractive shoes in a wide width. I’m also a half size, which eliminates even more options. Then my right ankle is permanently swollen from my internal hardware, so many shoes don’t end up fitting in that area. Then add the plantar fasciitis and finding shoes that properly support and don’t aggravate my heels is suddenly an impossible feat. I can’t wear any type of shoes without a back. I can’t really wear sandals at all anymore, not if I want to walk more than a block or two. I did discover that Crocs work pretty well for me this summer, but I’m too embarrassed to wear them in public. I just wear them around the yard. Anyway, my mom told me about these Skechers shoes and I ordered the Rainbow View gray slip on sneakers because at the time they actually had my 9.5 wide size in stock. I hesitate to recommend that style because there are only two obscure sizes left. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re so popular or because they’re already phasing them out. But there are a lot of other styles to choose from as well. They fit me PERFECTLY. They’re comfortable, I love that they slip on and can be used without socks, and they’re also kind of a little cute! I’ve been using some other slip on shoes for biking this summer, but they slid around on me feet and supported me in weird ways that I couldn’t actually walk very well in them (I’m so lame!). These are perfect for biking AND walking.

Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce

I came across this recipe on pinterest and was intrigued by the raving description of it on the website. I’m actually not a fan of enchiladas because I’ve never liked the sauce. When I do make them I always make the green variety (which I love!). But I gave this a shot and I’m SO glad I did. I LOVED it. It wasn’t actually red for me because my chili powder was a really deep brown to begin with, so it wasn’t that appetizing (lol). But it was super tasty. I made the chicken earlier in the day in the crockpot with salsa, then mixed in some of the straight enchilada sauce. I added a little bit of cream (less than the suggested addition amount) to the rest of the sauce that I poured over the top. I used my favorite La Tortilla Factory tortillas so they wouldn’t split, filled with chicken and a little chihuahua cheese, baked, then topped with my garden tomatoes, hot peppers, avocado, and cilantro. Delicious!

Korean Fried Chicken Tacos

This is one of my tried and true all time favorite recipes from my all time favorite food blogger. When I first started making it a few years ago I followed all the directions to a tee and while it was wonderfully delicious, it was SO much work. I’ve started taking many shortcuts over the years so I can get these tacos in my mouth more frequently, but the finished product is still fantastic. I do always fry flour tortillas into a shell shape. It’s the only time I ever eat flour tortillas, but they really taste best with this. The most convenient shortcut is to use popcorn chicken or lightly breaded chicken chunks that you just need to cook in the oven rather than frying your own. I didn’t end up having either this week, so I used chicken nuggets (I don’t really suggest that alternative!). The sauce, though. THAT is what you can’t miss out on. Gochujang, I love you. It’s really intense and spicy, but super good. The crumbled queso fresco, thin crispy rice noodles, and fresh cilantro are also HIGHLY recommended. The slaw part of the recipe is good, I just rarely have cabbage on hand. But stick with the sauce and a few toppings, it will blow your mind with amazing flavor.

Happy Spaces JUST FOR YOU

This has honestly been one of the most stressful weeks of my life. Like I’m legitimately concerned I might just fall over dead one day because my stress levels have been so high. (I strongly recommend not taking away all of your son’s screens for three weeks the same day that you’re all starting a new virtual learning school year.) The highlight of my week (besides biking!) has been working on my drink station and giving it a fall theme. I’m SO happy with how it turned out! It’s nice that my mini pumpkin plant happened to give me one perfect early pumpkin to add to my decor! I also picked up some pretty mums at Trader Joe’s the other day. I got out all my favorite fall mugs (including a new one from Anthropologie) and took all my fall flavored teas and added them to the display for easy grabbing. And I added a new Harvest candle from Target – I love the tiny crock! The mustard colored placemat is new from Target too. You can’t see it, but the bottom basket of the mug holder is filled with fall colored wrapped chocolates and caramels. Anyway, the whole thing is like 1.5 square feet of space in my entire house, but it brings me so much joy! I am highly advocating that you do something similar for yourself. Especially if you’re still living in the same boat that I am – with the rest of your family home with you 24/7 and the house basically falling apart because there is no ideal time or system to keep it clean. I have a couple of little areas (like my reading corner!) that I ALWAYS keep neat and tidy and happy just for myself. It always makes me smile!

What I Read August 2020

I’m so excited to write this post today because August was FINALLY a really great reading month for me! I read 14 books, and 12 of them I rated 4 stars or higher. I love that kind of data! I don’t think I even DNF’d more than one or two books this month either. I just finally picked out some good ones. Anyway, check them out!

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
Rating: 4 stars

Avery was an elite gymnast when an injury ended her career just before the Olympics. Over the next seven years she struggles to make a new life for herself after years of being emotionally abused by her coach. After breaking up with her boyfriend she decides to move back home and take a coaching job with another former gymnast, Ryan, who she of course had a big crush on as a teen. Ryan and Avery work together coaching Hallie, trying to get her to the Olympics as well. I wish going into this book I knew literally anything about gymnastics. I don’t, and I don’t particularly care, so the long descriptions of moves and routines were lost on me. I enjoyed how Avery took a much different approach to coaching than what she grew up with and how well the three of them worked together to coordinate her new routines. But I found Ryan to honestly be pretty boring. He was nice, but he didn’t stand out as being a very good leading man. Overall, it was an enjoyable book, it just could have been better.

My (Mostly) Secret Baby by Penelope Bloom
Rating: 3 stars

Damon and Chelsea meet on the street and have a fiery chemistry that leads them to sleeping together just minutes later in the first empty room they find. They walk away and don’t see each other for another five years when Chelsea goes to Damon’s company for a job as her last resort. The secret? She had his baby and never told him. This book was interesting enough to keep me reading, but still a pretty stereotypical boss/subordinate romance, which feels pretty boring to me at this point. The five years of denying Damon his rights as a parent for really no good reason was a bit unbelievable and brushed past rather quickly, but sometimes it’s nicer to just have a light hearted book without any of the heavy stuff weighing it down.

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile (counting this book twice because I both read it and listened to the audio this month!)
Rating: 5* stars

This is the most life changing book I’ve ever read. I don’t know why I put it off for so long! I’ve been deeply interested in the enneagram from the very first time I heard about it on a couple of podcasts many years ago. I took a bunch of assessments and followed a bunch of instagram accounts, but mostly focused on my own number. I finally decided it would be worth my while to learn more about all the numbers and see how they might connect to the people in my life. And honestly, this book just blew my mind. Not every person is a picture perfect example of their number. But SOME people are. And some of those people are part of my life and it was quite a revelation finally being able to understand how they tick. I simultaneously read a physical copy of this book while also listening to it on audio so I could get through all the chapters more quickly. The audio was great, but a physical copy is a must so you can highlight and refer back to each number and their traits. It starts to get a bit confusing if you’re going through them as quickly as I was. I wish I had read this book sooner, it might have helped me understand and relate to the people in my life a little better. But the obsession is truly peaked now and I’m anxious to find out even more. But pick this up first for a great introduction to the enneagram and how each type is determined. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Always Only You by Chloe Liese
Rating: 4.5 stars

I really enjoyed this second book in the Bergman Brothers series. It’s a story about Frankie, an autistic woman who also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. She’s the social media manager for a hockey team in which Ren Bergman is a player. Ren is a happy, playful, and modest guy who has always caught Frankie’s attention, but she’s sworn off relationships after disasters in the past when her partners got sick of dealing with her challenges. I’m fairly certain I’ve read books about autistic characters before, but this one especially intrigued because it definitely clued me in to how they are truly just regular people. The author herself mentions at the end how she is also autistic, which is how she felt qualified to write this story. I’m always up for reading a romance book, but it makes me SO much happier when they have a lot of depth and growth as part of the main plot. This book covered all the bases and I really enjoyed it, particularly later on in the book when it started to pick up pace.

All Things Reconsidered by Knox McCoy
Rating: 4 stars

As an enormous fan of all things related to The Popcast podcast, I will always be a supporter of Knox’s writing. He has such a wonderfully self deprecating and conversational writing style that is extremely personal, funny, and easy to connect with. He writes the way that he speaks which makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable to me. I also enjoy that Knox had a very similar upbringing to me, so it’s always interesting to hear stories of growing up in the church and youth group and an evangelical family because I can relate so well to them. A lot of this book is about those topics and how he’s grown to reconsider a lot of the black and white ideas he was presented with as a child. But there are other chapters thrown in that have nothing to do with his faith, but are absolutely hilarious. It’s definitely worth a read. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it did take me two months to read because many of the topics while presented in a light and easy to understand way were still indeed heavy topics. It wasn’t the subject matter I was always that excited to pick up when I had a few spare minutes to read. But I’m glad I continued on because it was a really great book!

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Rating: 4 stars

Rachel is a true crime podcaster visiting a city for a couple of weeks to cover the current trial of a rape victim. On her way there she receives a mysterious letter about another crime that happened 25 years earlier – a drowning under mysterious circumstances.While Rachel is researching and interviewing about the rape case she can’t stop thinking about the drowning that she keeps getting letters about. She simultaneously starts looking into both cases and the connections are intriguing. This is definitely not a light read. The subject matter is heavy with rape, sexual assault, and violence. I did have a hard time keeping the two cases separate in my mind for the first half of the book. But it held my attention through the end. I kept expecting some sort of crazy twist, but this is just a thriller, not a psychological thriller which is apparently the only type of thriller I’m used to reading! I also thought this book was unique because it didn’t have ANY romantic components. I can’t remember the last time I read a fiction book without that being at least a small part of the story. And surprisingly, I didn’t miss it. I thought Rachel was a fantastic journalist and really loved the way she treated everyone as she researched the cases.

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Rating: 5* stars

Rowan and Neil are neck and neck in the race for valedictorian after four years of academically besting each other again and again. Their rivalry is notorious and is known for going to extreme lengths to prove they are the best. It’s the last day of school and the two of them end up spending the majority of the day together during the traditional senior scavenger hunt around Seattle. As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of enemies to lovers romance and I’m obsessed with YA love stories. This book was PERFECTION. It had absolutely everything I wanted in a book. It’s the first book in ages that I was willing to give up sleep for because I couldn’t put it down. Then four hours later I woke up to read some more. (I gave up my bike ride too.) It had depth, it had wonderful character development and interactions, and it had such a delicious slow burn tension. I adored this book and definitely plan on reading it again!

What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Rating: 5 stars

I read most of this book sitting in my car at a cemetery because I desperately needed to get away from my house and couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. Needless to say, I wasn’t in a great place emotionally when I read this and I had some big reactions to the story. In the beginning there were parts that I hated it. By the end I was completely in love. This book started out light and finished being everything I needed it to be. A perfect reminder that there are always going to be good days and bad days, joyful moments and devastating ones. It’s up to you to choose to see the good and revel in the joy because that is what makes life worth living. This was a message I desperately needed and I’m so glad I picked this book up. I suppose I should actually tell you a little bit about the storyline… Sam is a epileptic school librarian who works at one of the most creative and unique elementary schools in Galveston, Texas. Duncan is a teacher that she had an extreme crush on at her last school, but was too reserved to act on it. She finds out Duncan is coming to be principal at her current school and is so thrilled yet terrified to have him in her life again because she knows the crush will come back. But then he arrives and it’s like his entire personality has been replaced. He is no longer the fun, adorable, exuberant person she once fell in love with. Duncan, when he arrives, is what I reacted most strongly to because it felt like one more blow to my day that I couldn’t handle. But it was worth it to charge on. Such a good book.

Heart Bones by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 4.5 stars

Colleen Hoover is (obviously) my favorite author, so I was of course really looking forward to this book even though she didn’t give us any kind of description on what to expect. Turns out it was a YA novel about two “damaged” people who were well versed in keeping their secrets close and never getting emotionally tied down to anyone. Until they of course get close to each other. I liked this book a lot, but I have pretty high standards for Colleen Hoover and this one fell a little bit flat to me. The romance seemed a little too immediate and the fact that the whole relationship is based on NOT telling each other things…that annoys me. I want characters to open up and connect in ways people rarely seem to in real life. But still, I really liked it!

Runaway Road by Devney Perry
Rating: 3 stars

Londyn is running away from her life for the third time after a nasty divorce. She’s taking her refinished Cadillac back to California to give it to the boy she lived in it with as a runaway teen. But her car breaks down along the way and she finds herself in an idyllic town with an irresistible mechanic. I enjoyed this book for what it was – a sweet escape into a guaranteed love story. It was definitely predictable without much tension in the plot, but I needed that this week. Overall a perfectly fine read.

Wild Highway by Devney Perry
Rating: 4 stars

This second book in the series picks up with Londyn’s childhood runaway friend Gemma selling her cosmetic company for twelve million dollars and taking the Cadillac on the second leg of the journey, stopping in Montana to make amends with her friend Katherine. But going back to Montana, where she briefly lived after leaving California, brings back a lot of old memories and she decides to stay awhile, much to her teenage crush Easton’s dismay. I really enjoyed this installment of the series and spending time on a Montana ranch and lodge. Gemma and Easton both felt much more complex and I enjoyed getting into their heads. So far my only beef with this series is the extreme abundance of wealth (as adults) that can clearly make their lives a lot easier. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to see where the Cadillac heads next.

Quarter Miles by Devney Perry
Rating: 4 stars

Of the three books completed so far in this series, this has definitely been my favorite because it was the most swoon-worthy. Katherine is on her way to drop the Cadillac off with Aria in Oregon to try and clear her head and get over her secret crush on her best friend and roommate Cash. But Cash finagles his way onto the trip and they both realize just how deeply they feel about each other. I really liked this one – at first – because Cash was so much more easy going and lighthearted than his brother Easton in the previous book. But about halfway through it felt like he had a total personality change and turned just as broody and angry as Easton, maybe even more so. That’s what turned this from a 5 star into a 4 star rating to me. But other than that, I really enjoyed this one! Now to wait for the final two books in the series!

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Rating: 5* stars

Quiet and sullen teenagers that have rich inner lives as famous anonymous identities on the internet who happen to find each other both online and in real life? Sign me up! I adored this book. Eliza has created an amazing webcomic over the last several years and has millions of followers. But in real life she is very private, quiet, and friendless. Until she meets the new kid Wallace who is also very quiet, but is a fan of her comic and one of the major contributors to her fan forum. Paralyzed with fear of losing her anonymity, she chooses not to tell him who she is in return. The two of them slowly figure out how to be friends and maybe a little bit more over time. This book turned out to be a lot more serious than I was expecting with a lot of deeper issues popping up near the end. I was also a little perturbed at how much more I identified with Eliza’s parents and their frustration with how obsessed she was with her internet life and angry or quiet around them (too many parallels to my own life right now!). But I thought it ultimately had a really great message about finding your worth in the right ways and not getting too caught up in what people think you owe them. I honestly wasn’t all that interested in the comic itself and all the fan fiction related ties to this book, but it didn’t stop me from loving the story.

Weekend Reflections 08.30.2020

We made it through the last week of summer! It was even a much more exciting week than usual because we went ON VACATION. I had a lot of complicated feelings this week, as I always do with the end of summer break. More so this year because our fall isn’t going to be anything like it usually is and I’m mourning that loss more than anything else that has changed in the last six months. But now that we’re two days away from school starting I’m a little more optimistic that we WILL survive this, no matter how hard it turns out to be.

To celebrate the end of summer and really just give everyone a much needed change of scenery, we rented an airbnb near Richland Center. It’s in the driftless area of Wisconsin which shockingly, I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to before and it’s only about an hour and a half away. Maybe I went as a kid, but I don’t remember it. There aren’t many bigger cities in that direction, but the landscape is absolutely gorgeous. I loved our drive there on the curvy backroads. Taking car trips further than Madison or Beaver Dam feels like such a rare treat these days!

The first night we arrived after our normal dinnertime, so it was a bit chaotic trying to get everything unloaded and organized while I threw together a meal. I took a video in our first walk through of the house, but didn’t get a chance to take any photos before our stuff took over the place. It was SO beautiful, though. This was our first airbnb experience and it probably spoiled us for all others! Most of the house was on the main floor, but there was a loft area with a bunch of beds the boys could pick from. We thought Annie would sleep up there too, but she was scared of the slotted staircase. She seemed to move around a lot in the night, but spent most of them on the floor by our bed. She can’t usually go in our bedrooms at night, so it was a treat for her too.

After dinner we explored the 40 acres of land the airbnb was on. We didn’t actually end up walking around it as much as we anticipated because most of it was a huge valley. My ankle doesn’t do well on uneven ground and it was also crazy hot this week (at least MUCH hotter than all the other days this month). But Shepard went down to the trees at the bottom and then walked back up to the top on the side of the hay fields. There were a couple of small barns and sheds up on the property as well. It would have been an amazing place for Annie to run around (the reason dogs are encouraged to stay at this airbnb!), but we still don’t trust her off a leash. It was a little annoying to constantly be hanging on to her leash, but I’m really glad she was able to come with us.

Watching the sunrise has been one of my favorite things this summer, so I was really looking forward to watching it over the hills. Unfortunately, it rained the first night and was very cloudy the second night, so neither of the first two sunrises were that beautiful or exciting (the third morning was much prettier). BUT it was really awesome being able to just be outside and walk around in my pajamas – and silence – not worrying about anybody seeing me. That’s one thing I really, really wish we had at our house. Some sort of outdoor space with actual privacy.

You guys don’t even want to know how many photos of the sunrise I took for the two hours I was outside each morning watching it (lol). Shepard was with me for most of the time too trying to catch his own sunrise photos.

My main regret about this trip was that it turned out to be so hot. Which was obviously out of my control. But after such a beautiful August it was really disappointing to deal with the overwhelming heat when we wanted to be out exploring the area every day. It would have been nice to have lazy mornings and go out later in the day, but we needed to get out of the house as early as possible if we wanted to do anything. On Tuesday morning we found a really neat hiking trail at a county party and then we stopped at a bunch of parks with bridges in Richland Center. We attempted to walk a more scenic trail too, but it was a pretty bizarre place and we couldn’t figure out where to actually walk. It was also in the thick of the woods going up pretty steep hills. We gave up on that one. The boys were great for a few hours, but got pretty crabby by lunch time. We picked up some food from a takeout restaurant, ate in the car in a parking lot, and then went back to the house to relax the rest of the afternoon.

There were a lot of fun places to lounge around in the house! Both of these chairs were in the “porch.”

On the second night I made tacos for dinner. The owners stopped by to tell us some more about the property and they gave the boys a ride in their new vehicle across the fields. They also dropped off a big plastic sheet to use as a slip n slide by the barn. After they left we ran back into town to the same place we had lunch to get some ice cream. Then we made a fire, though it was so hot nobody except Greg lasted very long. The house also had a huge bathtub, so I enjoyed a bath that night.

The second morning’s sunrise was pretty uneventful until the sun actually came up and it was such a cool neon pink color. Of course that didn’t translate in my photo, but it was really pretty to see in person. Shepard was fascinated by it.

I didn’t take many photos because it was just so hot, but we went to the Kickapoo Valley Nature Reserve on Wednesday morning to hike a few trails. We kept trying to walk toward a river and dam, but we never ended up finding it. Shepard and I gave up on one of the trails because the uneven and wet grass pathways were really getting to my ankle and Shepard just couldn’t handle being in the heat any longer. We were closer to Viroqua by then so we stopped at a grocery store that sells a lot of local foods and I went in to quickly explore and pick up some local cheese, meat, cookies, crackers, and coffee. Then we found another county park to have a picnic lunch at before heading back to the house.

After a quiet afternoon we set up the slip n slide and the boys tried it out for a few minutes. It wasn’t really that long, but it was nice to see them having fun with something outside. Then we ordered Chinese takeout and went to eat it at another park. It was so good!

On our last night we watched a movie together and then went out for some dusk yard games (for the boys) and photo shooting (for me).

I finally got a really pretty pre-sunrise on Thursday morning. The sky was so pink! Annie and I both sat down to watch it for a really long time.

Our last morning was more relaxed since we weren’t rushing to head to another park. I walked around a lot more outside taking pictures and then got everything gathered and tidied up.

It definitely wasn’t a perfect vacation – those don’t really exist when you have kids. But overall, it went better than I had expected. The super high temperatures really sucked. The internet wasn’t that great and caused a lot of extra tension with the boys and their devices. But it was still awesome just to get away from home and realize we really can have exciting moments and stay safe in the midst of this never ending pandemic lifestyle. I’m glad we took the boys with us on this trip, but being in even closer quarters made me really, really wish I could go on a trip by myself. Maybe even back here! I loved it so much there and would definitely go back again.

We took a little side trip on the way home to ride the Merrimac Ferry. It’s just a couple minutes across the water, but a fun experience! Annie was a little concerned about what was going on, but Shepard enjoyed standing with half his body out of the sun roof watching as we crossed. It was a nice ending to the trip!

Friday was back to reality. I still couldn’t get back to biking because it was storming, then I had to get groceries, and then we had to pick up virtual learning supplies from school. I was pretty stressed out because we’d been bombarded with new school information all week and I finally had a chance to sit down and go through it all. I’m definitely worried about how it’s all going to work out – especially since it seems like Shepard might be working more independently and Caden will be livestreaming his teachers in the classroom all day. Their learning styles would probably benefit better with the opposite teaching methods. They also might end up having very mismatched schedules and workloads, which is going to cause a lot of problems between the two of them (and therefore all of us). I hope it turns out pretty evenly, but it’s definitely too early to guess.

The highlight of my Friday, though, was sitting down by myself (Greg even took the boys out of the house for awhile) with popcorn, tea, and a candle to watch a live Pen Pals podcast show. There was a different podcast show I was looking forward to watching earlier in the week too, but it didn’t work out with the poor internet connection at the airbnb. So I was extra excited about this one and it turned out to be SO enjoyable. It was great to have that special thing to look forward to, even though I didn’t have to leave the house for it. It was a fitting treat at the end of a pretty rough emotional day.

I spent about three hours on Saturday morning cleaning Shepard’s room. I’ve been harping on the boys all month about getting their rooms cleaned so they can work better in a tidy environment. Of course nobody actually listened to me. I knew I’d finally have to give in this weekend and just do it myself. Greg and Shepard did help after awhile and we got it cleaned up. Now to keep it that way! Greg and Caden worked on his room this morning, but it wasn’t as bad. I intended on helping, but I’m just so tired of cleaning up messes that aren’t mine that I bowed out. To write this. 🙂

It wasn’t a terribly exciting week for food. I was going for the easiest meals I could think of on vacation just to make my life easier. But at home before and after I made four mini pizzas to use up random ingredients, jalapeno popper grilled chicken, Caribbean jerk grilled chicken, four different types of grilled meats and potatoes, my favorite migas tacos, a tiny brie from the shopping trip, gluten free banana muffins, and guacamole.

The garden really exploded this week. I picked a bunch of tomatoes and peppers on Sunday and made a couple batches of salsa before we left. Then I picked a lot more when we got home to make pickled jalapenos, guacamole, and I strung up some Thai peppers in my sewing room to try and dry them out to make chili paste in a few weeks. Hopefully that plan works because my little Thai chili plant has been by far the most prolific plant in my garden (besides the grape tomatoes – NOT my favorite) and I’m not really sure what to do with them other than add them to curries and stir fries. This morning I found my first mini pumpkin and accidentally picked it. Shepard and I planted SO many pumpkin plants. Only three or four of them actually grew, but I hope we’ll still have lots of mini ones pumpkins decorations in a few weeks!

No biking pictures this week! Greg took my bike to the shop last Saturday and then went to pick up my mom’s to borrow until it was done. I biked on it Sunday and Monday and then we packed it up to bring on the trip, but I never ended up using it. We really didn’t understand just how hilly and twisty the roads were going to be! I didn’t feel physically fit enough or safe enough to try it out. Plus it was just too hot. I was anxious to ride again by Friday, but then it was storming! And then my bike was done in the shop, six days earlier than they expected. So I really enjoyed getting back on it this weekend and look forward to many more beautiful morning bike rides before winter comes.

Because I was attempting to force myself to be on a true vacation this week, I haven’t done any sewing! But I did finally get out my embroidery supplies after years of not using them and made myself this rainbow. I finished a second one on Friday night. I have one more I’d like to complete before I get back to my dolls. I’m kind of antsy to get back to work, but I know as soon as I have them started I’m not going to be as openly ready to deal with any school related problems that might arise this week. So I’m trying to put it off a few more days. I’m not so sure I’ll make it!

I think that’s about it for this past week! I’m nervous about the week ahead, but I think I’m ready to tackle the challenge. At least more ready than I was a few days ago. I’m also really excited to get my fall decorations out and start enjoying my favorite season! I’ve been mentally pushing it off because fall means winter is close behind, but after how hot it was this week I am MORE than ready for the cool and crisp days ahead!