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!

Weekend Reflections 08.22.2020

Is anyone else getting really sick of themselves? I feel like the longer I’m shut away in my house the uglier my personality is becoming. Mostly (fortunately?) my ugly parts are staying IN my head and not bursting out at the people around me. But it’s making me really dang sick of being in my head all the time. I keep finding myself fixating on choices other people have made that have literally nothing to do with me, but I don’t understand or necessarily agree with them, so I can’t stop wanting to argue my points, but also won’t actually do it because I can’t stand conflict or having people angry with me. I’ve been crazy resentful of the people who stopped caring about the pandemic or are willing to take a lot more risks than I am because it feels like they’re rubbing their freedom in my face. I envy everyone who has kids that are still excited about and up for outdoor adventures when I can’t even get my kids to go on a walk anymore. I cried for two days when I felt like someone had “stolen” one of my cancelled vacations even when I logically know that I have no claims to a vacation spot. The other night Greg went on his first bike ride of the year and rather than cheering him on I became irrationally upset when I saw that he not only beat my longest bike ride, but his speed was almost triple what mine usually is. It made me feel so stupid for being proud of myself and everything I’ve accomplished this summer. I’m so, so sick of all these ugly and icky emotions, but I can’t seem to rid myself of them. The things I’ve been using to distract myself don’t seem to be working anymore. I have way too much time to think and stew. I wish I could just turn it all off and be happy. Some days are just really, really hard.

Anyway! I didn’t mean to get so depressing there – sorry. It’s been a very up and down week, as usual. That’s just life, right? At least that’s what my therapist keeps telling me. 🙂 It was a double therapy week and I think both sessions actually went pretty well. We were extremely disappointed to learn that our first in person therapy with Caden was once again postponed and switched to virtual. The last session was such an epic failure that we almost cancelled this one. But he actually cooperated this time, better than he ever has before. Then I was able to get a last minute session in for myself on Friday, which I really needed after a lot of very difficult things happened this week. I talk a lot about parenting struggles with my therapist and this week she suggested an official diagnosis that she thinks might fit Caden, as something to look into. I did a little reading on it and it really sounds just like everything we’ve struggled with his whole life. Why did none of the other therapists ever suggest this as a possibility?? I’m hoping we can continue on with a professional psych evaluation, as his therapist suggested a few months back but hasn’t been able to happen yet with no in person sessions. It might really help us going forward to know more about what we’re dealing with and continue getting him the right type of help.

Tuesday was Shepard’s half birthday. We usually celebrate half birthdays in our house by letting the special person choose a restaurant or place to get a good dessert. They’re also typically allowed a little more freedom to do whatever they choose that day. I picked up a cherry kringle for his breakfast, but then Greg ended up taking him for the day to work/game at his parents’ house. I had planned to get takeout for dinner, but Greg took him out to lunch and after he had a migraine (the first in quite awhile) on Monday after eating so much crap over the weekend it didn’t seem very responsible to take him out again. Then we had another big blow up (not from him) and I ended up leaving and spending the entire evening sitting in my car at the cemetery reading. It was honestly a pretty terrible half birthday for him. Much like his actual birthday when we brought him to one of his favorite restaurants in the Dells, but he was instead very angry about the spontaneous change of plans. I used to be the kind of person that wanted to celebrate every little holiday, but they always seem to be set ups for disappointment these days. Better to just keep every day boring and predictable.

Most of my week was really just spent sewing! I’m going to be on vacation next week (more on that in a bit!), so I really wanted to get another restock in this week. I’m trying to pay off the bike I preordered, so I’m a little more pressured than I usually am to stay focused on being super productive. I pretty much worked sun up to sun down, but I managed to make nine dolls between Tuesday morning and Thursday night! They all sold right away on Friday, so that’s always a plus! I think I’m going to have to switch over to fall and Halloween dolls when I start up again next weekend. While I’m normally desperate for fall to come, I’m really dragging my heels this year. Fall means winter is right around the corner and winter means we will truly be trapped in our house. Fingers crossed we have a very late cold snap this year!

When I was really upset last weekend about all those ugly feelings I decided to think about what I could actually do to change my circumstances. I’m a big believer in not getting swallowed up by things that you really CAN change. And something I could change was getting us all out of our house for a few days. I spent hours and hours doing research and ended up booking an airbnb in the middle of nowhere on 40 acres of land next week! It looks like the perfect spot to have a low key but really nice and SAFE little vacation before school starts. Annie can even come with us! I’m really looking forward to a change of scenery for a few days and a forced stop from being so focused on productivity every minute of every day. It also goes a long way in alleviating the guilt I feel about not taking my kids to do anything exciting this summer. It will be good for all of us.

I’ve biked every morning this week for a total of 45 miles. I’ve been feeling pretty strong this week, which makes going out a lot more enjoyable. But at the same time there seems to be something wrong with my bike, so it’s an added stress to keep worrying something might blow apart and break at any minute. I’m clearly not very knowledgeable in bike maintenance, but there’s been a lot of clicking in my chain and as the week has gone on I realized I really only have two working gears on my seven gear bike. It’s been stressful trying to figure out if I should sink money into it to try and fix it or just power through and hope it stays together until early December when my new bike arrives. When Greg went out for his second bike ride last night he ended up blowing a tire, so he’s actually taking his tire and my bike to a bike shop today to see what can be done. Hopefully it’s a cheap fix, but it will definitely make me feel better about my next three months of biking.

Making food every day continues to be the bane of my existence. It’s such an inconvenience! Especially when you’re madly trying to get a bunch of dolls finished. I keep trying to remind myself that keeping everyone fed a variety of healthy foods is truly my most important job right now. It kind of sucks that it’s totally my responsibility and it’ll never ever go away, but that’s life. I just don’t understand how people with more than two kids manage to do it, though. I’m hanging on by a thread trying to keep my kids full. It’s so much work!

For Shepard’s half birthday I made french onion dip, roasted salsa, and giant cookies. One night we had marinated grilled hot dogs and zucchini which was pretty tasty. We had make your own salad night. I’m still trying to use up tomatoes, though getting a little sick of them. Last night we had jalapeno popper grilled cheese. And a few days ago I tried to make salted caramel roasted nuts as a somewhat healthier dessert option, but they ended up being more of a candied nut and were so sugary that I’ve gotten massive headaches both days I ate them. My body has been very clear lately on its dislike of sugar.

Overall, it’s definitely been more of a down week for me. But I’m optimistic about next week and our little getaway. I’m nervous about it being the last week of summer, though. Emotions might be getting pretty intense by the end of the week when that realization sets in. Even though life won’t change THAT drastically once school does start, it’s still going to be a shock to the boys to suddenly not have all the daily screen time they’ve been revelling in. But I’m hoping once we all settle into the new normal it’ll actually be okay. Never ideal, but I think we’ll figure out how to make it work.

Weekend Reflections 08.16.2020

This is going to be brief this week, I promise! I’ve had a pretty emotional day and am too tired to go back and look through any of my photos from the week that I didn’t also put on instagram. So – quick recap!

Last Sunday we celebrated my brother’s birthday at my parents’ house. It was a beautiful day and fun to spend some time with Hudson. He was at his best, running around and wildly entertaining the rest of us. So cute!

Everyone was pretty worn out afterward!

We also had a chance to babysit Hudson on Thursday. He was very reserved and shy that day, so we just walked to a couple of parks and played on the playgrounds. It was kind of a tough visit, to be honest. I hate dealing with the tricky circumstances and emotional balancing of trying to see relatives during this stupid pandemic. Wanting to play with our only nephew and cousin, but also trying not to get too close because he’s out in the world a lot more than we are and was visibly sick with something. Fortunately we haven’t had to make a ton of hard decisions like this in the last five months, but when they come up it’s never easy balancing the benefits and risks.

Shepard got his cast on Tuesday! He picked black, not really any surprise since most of his wardrobe is black. The doctor said that when he comes back in four weeks there is a fifty percent chance he’ll be able to get it off then. I really hope so! Then he’ll only have to balance schoolwork left handed for a couple of days.

On Friday morning I had a dentist appointment. I was pretty nervous about being there and not having a mask on for the majority of the appointment. I assume they have a ton of safety measures in place, but there were just a lot of people there and a lot of random things that needed to be touched. I didn’t like it. As a reward for getting through this week I had planned to stop in at both Marshall’s and TJMaxx. Before the pandemic I was going into at least one of these stores every single week! Since the pandemic I’ve only been into them once, in early June. Unfortunately their stock is still really low, so I didn’t find anything and it felt like a big waste of time. But I did get some delicious Chipotle for lunch! And then I ran into Hyvee for just a few things, but it was late enough in the day by then that the store was absolutely packed and the cart and cleaning situation was very confusing, so I pretty much just left and now have to go back to Madison tomorrow to get the things I actually need.

We’ve had more parenting struggles, as usual. Caden decided he doesn’t like living with us, so he went to go “live with” Grandma and Grandpa for a couple of days. So Shepard and Greg ordered pizza Friday night for their mini at home date while I was in the other room eating my BLT. But then they went over for dinner on Saturday and Greg came back with Caden and left Shepard behind. I think it did us all some good to get a bit of a break from each other.

It was a pretty good food week! I made a really great mojo chicken and key lime bars on Monday. Roasted garlic, jalapeno, and pepperoni grilled pizza on Tuesday. Pulled pork sandwiches on Wednesday. Thursday…leftovers, I think? BLT/restaurant pizza on Friday.

I didn’t take any bike photos this week! I actually took three days off from biking, much to my dismay. Though one of those days I did go in the evening, but only a short distance. I didn’t go today either after a really rough night of sleep. I’m slacking! (My foot has also been hurting the worst its hurt since I started biking.) Maybe I’ll head out after I finish this. 🙂

Pandemic living has really been getting to me this weekend. My life feels so small. In many ways, I’m okay with it. I HATE being busy, I hate having obligations I’m not fully into. I’m getting SO much more work done because I’m hardly ever leaving the house. I’m finding more joy in cooking (most days) because I don’t really have a choice – we need to eat. And eat often. I’m able to go on long bike rides every morning because I don’t need to be back home at any certain time since Greg is here too. I have more time to take care of myself and there are so many less distractions pulling me from what I really want to spend my time on. BUT. I feel like I’m missing out. I’m feeling like I deprived my kids of doing anything fun or exciting this summer. The most exciting thing we’ve done is go to a dog park where Annie got sick (and they complained the whole time) and then to a park five minutes away (where they also complained). Every time I open up my timehop app I’m reminded of all the amazing August trips I’ve taken in the last few years – most of them by myself (my favorite way to travel!). Every single time I open up social media I’m bombarded with everyone who has still found a way to take a vacation this summer. I’m resentful of the people that are constantly pushing the boundaries just so they can get out of the house every day. I’m angry at the people who just don’t care and continue to risk themselves and their children by going to as many activities as they can fit in, and if a mask isn’t required all the better. I feel so trapped by my circumstances. And I’m so sick of having this always responsible/type A/wouldn’t break a rule if my life depended on it personality. We are still following social distancing rules and staying home as much as we can. Besides this week’s trip, I only go to one grocery store a week. That’s it. That’s how many times I’m in a building other than my house in a week. ONE. Greg goes to the post office. That’s it for him. The boys have only been in one grandparent’s house this entire time, no other places or events or anything. We’ve been trying so hard to stay safe and it all just feels so completely pointless when most of the world has given up. We’re never going to get this under control and it scares me, but it also just pisses me off that I’m going to continue to follow all these rules, but I’m also going to continue feeling like I’m really missing out because of it. It’s been weighing on me a lot the last few days. I hate all of it. I want my normal life back.

Anyway. Greg was trying to cheer me up, so he packed a small picnic and he, Caden and I went to a park across town to eat it today. And despite my mood, it really did help to just get that change of scenery. And like most problems I have, after wallowing in it for a bit, I decided I needed to DO something. So I spent my entire afternoon researching and ended up booking us an airbnb in the middle of nowhere next week. It looks amazing, it is affordable, it has tons of beautiful open space to explore, AND Annie is allowed to come with us. And best of all, it will go a long way in helping me feel better about giving us all a breath of hope for better days ahead.

Friday Favorites #13

Welcome to Friday Favorites! I’m starting this post at 4:30 in the morning in hopes that I’ll actually get it written this week! And because I don’t know how to sleep. For awhile there these early mornings were really working for me because I’d get in an hour of biking before anybody else woke up and feel really great about my myself. But now it’s just too dark for comfort, so I keep having these very awkward super early mornings where I can’t fall back to sleep but I also can’t convince myself to do anything productive because I don’t WANT to keep getting up this early. I used to work in the early mornings, but that’s a great recipe for major burnout when I am also typically still working until the boys go to bed at night. I think my life would be a whole lot better if I actually got a solid night of sleep. But I don’t know how to DO that, despite years and years of trying. So frustrating!

Anyway! I’ve been working on this list since my last Friday Favorites, but still don’t have a ton of new things to add. It’s hard to find new and exciting products when you only leave your house once a week. (You also have SO MUCH MORE TIME when you stay home!) But I want to share a couple of my tried and true favorite recipes, a few new recipes, my favorite summer pajamas, one of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read, and a few other fun things. Read on!

Food Stuff

Fool Proof and FAST Pizza Dough – We’ve been making homemade pizzas once a week for at least the last six or seven years. I’ve tried so many crust recipes it’s ridiculous. But I finally landed on this one about a year ago and I keep going back to it because it just works so much better than any other I’ve tried. It comes together in a stand mixer very quickly and unlike most doughs that need closer to two hours to rise, this one is about ready to use in 30 minutes, in a pinch. I try to wait an hour as directed, but sometimes I’m just in a rush (or more likely – SHEPARD is). I love that, though, because it’s so easy to mix up at the last minute. My favorite part, however, is how easily it rolls out. Most doughs I’ve tried continue to pull back into itself no matter how many times you try to roll it bigger. It drives me crazy! This one will roll out easy peasy. The recipe suggests that this is only enough for a single pizza, but I always split it in half and freeze the second half for later. I wanted to give the single pizza size a shot this week, though, and made an ENORMOUS pepperoni grilled pizza. It worked, but the crust was also so thick that it detracted from the flavor of all the toppings. If you have a huge pizza stone then have at it. But I think you’ll like this a lot more if you split it up and make a much thinner crust.

Dry Rub Air Fryer Wings – I’ve tried making chicken wings at home a handful of times over the years and it was never a success. I’m pretty turned off by certain aspects of food and my own chicken wings always struck me as being too gross to actually eat. But then one day Butcher Box offered some sort of deal where you pay $35 once and then you get three pounds of chicken wings in every box forever. So I needed to learn how to make chicken wings! I had just gotten the air fryer at Christmas and decided to try this recipe out. They were PERFECT. Honestly just spicy, crispy, delicious perfection. I’m never even going to try another wing recipe because this one works out so great. The only frustrating thing is that you definitely need to make it in two batches (if you’re making 3 lbs), so you have to deal with either half your wings being cooled off or sitting around at the table waiting for the second half to finish cooking. But they’re SO worth it. I’ve even used this dry rub recipe a few times on grilled chicken breasts. So delicious!

Doner KebabsI made this recipe a few weeks ago and it was so tasty! Caden said it was the best meal I’ve ever made. It did require a bit of work to marinade ahead of time, plus make the garlic yogurt sauce, but it was worth it. I would have loved to have eaten it on a pita or flatbread, but we had it with rice and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Yum!

Vegan Maple Almond Butter Granola – I’m always on a mission to find more breakfast recipes that aren’t too sweet. Major bonus points if it actually has a lot of nutritional value. This one was perfect! I used the lesser amount of maple syrup and stuck with the slivered almonds, culling the temptation to add more nuts (though that would have been delicious!). I also added my favorite secret granola ingredient – puffed quinoa! It adds an extra fun texture and crunch with a bit more protein and fiber as well!

Tony’s Chocolonely’s Milk Caramel Sea Salt Bar – This is the new weekly grocery store treat I pick up for myself. It costs about $5, but it’s really substantial and I’m usually very satisfied only breaking off a small chunk here and there. I’m not exactly thrilled with the name of the bar because I expected salty gooey caramel, but it’s really bits of toffee. Then every once in awhile you get a good bite of extra salt and it’s just perfection!

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries – Okay, this one is most definitely a splurge. I first heard about them from Erin Moon on a Popcast live AUA show a few months ago. They’re meant to be used very sparingly in cocktails, only one or two needed to get a great maraschino flavor. I tried to make a cocktail, but…I still don’t like alcohol. So I ended up eating these on chocolate ice cream. And OH MY GOODNESS. You’ll fall over when you try this combo. It’s magical. Definitely something to hide away from the rest of the family and treat yourself with when you need a special snack!

Drink Stuff

Tiesta Nutty Almond Cream Tea – I’ve been simmering down on my coffee drinking lately, trying to add a lot more tea back into my days. I picked this one up at the grocery store and was surprised by how much I liked it! Though be warned, it doesn’t really taste nutty, almondy, or creamy. It’s more of a really delightful apple flavor. I expect to be drinking a lot of this in fall!

Apparel Stuff

Ekouaer Women’s Nightgown – The pandemic life is all about being comfortable, right? I’ve made a couple of different pajama purchases in the last few months since I tend to put them on earlier and earlier in the evenings, desperate for extra comfort. I’ve never been a nightgown person, but I decided to give this a try since it has so many great reviews. And I love it! The fabric is so soft and feels wonderful against the skin. It’s flattering, it’s long enough that it usually stays down even when you’re moving around in sleep. I just love it. I own it in wine red and purple (so far!).

Health Stuff

Fiber Choice – I take a lot of different vitamins and supplements to help with all my various ailments. I’m never really looking to add to my pile because it already takes me a whole day to swallow them all. But one day I was looking for something to add to my cart to hit the free shipping mark from Target and decided to try out some fiber gummies. Everyone needs more fiber, right? And they were fine. I went through the whole bottle and figured it was a worthy experiment and nothing much changed, so I could live without them. But then I went a week without taking extra fiber and realized how much hungrier I suddenly was. NOT GOOD. I wasn’t really thrilled with how the other gummies tasted, so I sought out a different brand and these are SO much better. They have more of a fruit snack chew to them than a gummy bear, if that makes sense. I’m disappointed every single day when I realize I already took them earlier in the morning and can’t take them again. I’m not sure if they’re really giving me any extra energy or helping my metabolism, but they are definitely helping curb my appetite and that alone is worth continuing to take them! (Also, I just looked at my bottle and you can actually take up to 6 gummies a day. So…that might start happening!)

FabCBD Oil – I’m pretty sure this was one of my Friday Favorites a couple of months ago. But I’m adding it again because I’m genuinely finding a lot of value in taking this every day. My original reason for taking the oil was to help with my foot pain. But it’s had the added benefit of also helping ease my anxiety and depression. I was hoping it would also help with my sleep, but so far my nights are still just as short, but I think the actual quality of my sleep has improved (at least according to my fitbit!). It definitely takes some trial and error to figure out your correct dosage. I’ve finally landed on the 1200mg bottle, taking .5mL in the mornings and .25mL at night. I tried to cut the morning dosage in half (to make the bottle last longer), but I really did notice a difference in my pain levels that week, so I bumped it back up. CBD oil is definitely expensive, but this particular company comes very highly rated and they almost always have some sort of discount code available. I think it’s completely worthwhile for what I need it for – natural pain management and a calmer disposition. I’ve tried the mint, vanilla, and berry flavors and mint is definitely my favorite. I’m just starting the berry bottle now and I kind of hate the taste, but I’ll suffer through until I can get the mint one again!

Book Stuff

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron – I both read and listened to this book last week. And it is LIFE CHANGING. If you’re not familiar with the enneagram, this is a wonderful place to start. If you have a vague knowledge of it and mostly pay attention to your own number like I did, this is also wonderful because it will provide a lot of enlightenment. I found this book to be most mind blowing because it helped me FINALLY understand why my kids act the way that they do, once I made a pretty good guess on which numbers they were. (Disclaimer that you’re not supposed to typecast your kids, but Caden is WITHOUT A DOUBT an 8 and I’d guess 90% that Shepard is a 7. I’m a 4. I’m undecided on Greg, waiting for him to finish reading and tell me what he believes he is.) Anyway, I’ve found enneagram discussions very interesting the last few years (on podcasts, nobody in real life is ever into the same things as me!), but it REALLY helped to read this book and gain a deeper knowledge into how each personality type ticks. It was absolutely fascinating. I highly, highly recommend it.

Well, here we are almost twelve hours later, finally finishing this up. In my defense, I was gone half the day and then took a much needed nap! But here you go, some new favorites to try out and hopefully love as well!