I’ve been putting off writing today because I’m in a pretty crummy mood. Namely, I’m hungry. I was so proud of myself for making this banana bread steel cut oats with almond milk breakfast in my instant pot this morning. It seemed like such a wholesome and filling breakfast idea. And it was delicious! And fifteen minutes after eating it I was starving. I’ve gotten a bit lax in my diet the last few days with the abundance of cheese and crackers filling every square inch of refrigerator and pantry room. I don’t want to be up and down like this. I want to stay the course and just have these set food rules that I follow ALL THE TIME NO MATTER WHAT. But it’s hard. And discouraging on days like today when I’m really hungry and I just don’t know what to eat. Someone please just make my food for me so I don’t have to make so many decisions all the time.
I’m also really hung up on some negative interactions or incidents I’ve had with people in my life recently. Little things that then brought up stuff that happened with those same people multiple times this year and I just can’t stop stewing over it. I have a very hard time forgiving and forgetting. It’s probably one of my biggest flaws. But it baffles me how some people can be so kind and friendly and then turn out to have zero common decency about other things. It makes me feel stupid for putting in the effort when they apparently care so little in return. It also makes me question the authenticity of all my friendships.
At any rate, I’ve had a very lazy day, which felt….weird. There were plenty of ways I could have spent my time today, but I mostly just read an entire book. I did force myself to take Annie for a walk. I took TWO naps. And we just watched Elf. I should have accomplished at least a little more, but I couldn’t work up the energy.
I think it’ll be a pretty low key week ahead. Normally about this time I’d start stressing about what baking I should do this year, but…I don’t plan on doing any! And it’s such a relief! As much as I like baking, the pressure to do so many things at once to give away to neighbors and family was always just one more thing to try and squeeze in. This year, I’m over it. And I’m good with it! I do need to get started on wrapping presents, though.
Wednesday is the only “big” day this week, with a coffee morning at a friend’s house, the boys have an early release, and Greg will be in Chicago for work. Other than that, my time is surprisingly free! Maybe I can FINALLY catch up on some Hope*Writers classes. They do a live class every Tuesday and every Tuesday I end up being out of the house or desperate for sleep because there’s something big happening that night. I keep planning on watching them later, but haven’t had time. I’m beginning to doubt this is the community for me again because I just don’t seem to have the time for it. I don’t know.
Anyway, this is feeling like a very depressing post so I should probably just end it! My intention for the week is to simply work on my goals for the month. Make healthy food. Wrap some Christmas presents. Read. Walk. Hopefully after a night of sleep and trip to the store to get some more food options will put me in a much better mood tomorrow!
The first week of December was gone in a flash! This has been a very focused yet stressful week of hard work that ended with an awesome party and a Saturday with nothing that absolutely needed to be done.
I had my biggest sale of the year on Cyber Monday, with 30% off. I’m only putting this picture up here because this particular set was my favorite and it’s STILL AVAILABLE (lol). I had a surprising number of sales over the weekend, basically wiping out most of my inventory. Which was great because it took some of the pressure off of feeling like I needed to make more dolls this month. I’m sure my customers would be thrilled if I did, but I need a break. But like always, I’m two days into my break and already wondering what type of dolls I should make next. I really do love making them. It just stresses me out to not have time for everything else I want to do.
I spent most of Tuesday working and then I did some whirlwind errand running in the afternoon. Grandma picked up the boys after chess club and I met Greg at the theater to watch Knives Out. I wish we could have had time to eat something too, but it was still a nice little date night at the movies. I’m not sure why, but I always want date nights in December more than any other month of the year. Hopefully we can have a real one at some point in the next few weeks.
I worked all day Wednesday and then had a coffee creamer comparison test. I’m still trying to find a good alternative to my favorite Italian Sweet Cream coffee creamer. I’ve tried just milk or half and half, the most logical swaps, but milk is so blah and I HATED the half and half taste. I had hazelnut almond milk creamer at the conference I went to with their free coffee and didn’t really like it either. So on Wednesday I tried macadamia fudge creamer, which was like a thick chocolatey substance, vanilla oatmilk, and French vanilla almond/coconut milk. They were all OKAY, but also all without sweetener, so not great. I finally bought some coconut sugar the other day, so I want to mix that in with the alternative creamers, but haven’t had a chance yet. I also picked up a “toffee tidings” almond milk creamer WITH sugar in it – but not so much other crappy stuff, so I’m hoping maybe that will be okay. I really wish I could just like black coffee! Maybe I can wean myself down to it. I’ve only been a coffee drinker for two years, so I’m still working on the acquired taste.
I kept my focus and continued to work hard all day Thursday until I FINISHED all the ornament sized pre-order dolls I sold on Black Friday! I honestly thought it would take me until at least Monday to complete them, so getting them done by Thursday afternoon was really exciting. I wouldn’t want to do pre-orders regularly, but it was a really convenient way to make money quickly AND make my customers very happy. This might need to be my new Black Friday tradition.
Yesterday was St. Nick’s Day! Since I was up early as always, BUT didn’t have work to do, I decided to make gluten free gingerbread for a breakfast treat. I’m actually not very fond of anything ginger/molasses flavored, but this was really good! It seemed a little labor intensive with so many ingredients, but it was nice to have a tasty warm breakfast ready for everyone when they woke up.
St. Nick brought us all some gifts. We each got a book (I got two!), the boys got mini rocket kits, the guys all got a condiment, Greg got tea, and I got a holiday coffee sampler. Nothing terribly exciting, but I at least thought it was nice, even if I was really just gifting to myself (lol). Shepard was mad that he didn’t get an iphone… He’s in for a lot of disappointment and feelings hurting this Christmas if he expects everything he opens to be an iphone. He was, however, quite excited about his bottle of bbq sauce.
I SHOULD have spent my Friday cleaning up and prepping for my party, but instead I ran to Madison to check on my favorite stores and put together little Christmas gift bags for all of my friends. That took my whole day, but it was totally worth it to make everyone feel appreciated AND knock them all off my present list so early in the month! I still had some time to spare before setting up my giant cheese tray.
The party was great! It felt a little more low key this year, but it was very nice. We all ate a lot of cheese, had good conversation, and enjoyed the favorite things gift exchange. I love this annual celebration with my friends! I continue to be so thankful for the women in my life who show up and make the effort to stay connected, even when life is crazy.
And that brings us to today. I was determined to have a day without putting any pressure on myself to DO THINGS. My only requirement was going on a treadmill walk because I haven’t been very consistent this week. I spent too much time on my computer, like always. Still determined to get my Christmas shopping done. I’m SO close. After lunch (more cheese) I went up to read and ended up sleeping for two and a half hours!! I probably could have slept more, but somebody started running up and down the stairs over and over for some unknown reason. I was really excited to come down and see that I got a surprise package from a Christmas book swap I signed up for. I’ve actually done four swaps in the last few weeks, but only received one and a half of them back so far. The first one a few weeks ago had some fun unicorn socks and tea – she told me she had books to send, but I still haven’t gotten any. It’s funny that in two BOOK exchanges, I haven’t actually gotten any books yet. Give me the books, people! I want ALL THE BOOKS. But today’s present was awesome! It was so spot on and perfect just for me, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even know me! It just feels so good when someone actually gets me. The group for this exchange partner is called “Sharks of Awesome” (for Penny Reid fans), which is the reason for the shark pencil sharpener – with a rainbow pencil! Anyway, it’s not been a very happy day around the house, so this really cheered me up.
Overall it’s been a pretty stressful week, but the worst is behind me! I’m really excited to spend the rest of the month just focusing on getting ready for Christmas, relaxing, reading, and spending time with family!
I have a few quick minutes while I’m waiting to get the final food set up for my Favorite Things Party, so I wanted to get my list out for the week!
If you’re looking for some great Spotify playlists this holiday season, check out Kendra Adachi’s (The Lazy Genius) curated Christmas lists! I haven’t had a chance to listen to all of them yet, but I really love the Happy Christmas list. It feels festive and fun, yet really fresh and different. A perfect playlist to have on in the background during a party. Kendra is always making new playlists – something I really enjoy!
You know how I said the other day that I’m still consuming a little bit of chocolate every day? One of the things I’ve been eating are Skinny Dipped Almonds. I’ve seen them at Target for months, but never bought any because if I’m going to eat a chocolate covered almond, I want it to be a good thick chocolate. But, that’s not really allowed anymore, so I gave these a shot with all their whole and limited ingredients. And they’re really good! My favorite is the peanut butter flavor. It seems really weird to coat an almond in peanut butter powder, but I love it. I also really like the raspberry and peppermint. I haven’t tried the rest.
So this is hardly an original idea, but I thought maybe I should throw it out there if you’re looking for a fun lunch or dinner idea with your kids. I do it almost every single weekend. I grab every kind of cheese, fruit, vegetable, meat, cracker, etc. that I can find and put it together on a single tray. Then everyone gathers around the tray and digs in. The boys think it’s so much fun to pick and choose what they’re going to eat. And it’s SO EASY.
I wear pajamas A LOT in winter. There’s a lot less chance of someone showing up at my house unannounced when it’s cold outside, so I tend to wear at least pajama pants basically any time I’m going to be home for more than a few hours at a time. So every year I’m also looking for new pairs because I get sick of wearing the same ones again and again. This year I tried these Lauren Conrad pajamas from Kohls and I LOVE THEM. They are so incredibly soft and warm, with the cinched fabric at the ankle so I’m not always tripping on them the way I do with regular pajama pants. They also have them in plus and petite sizes.
ORGANIZE and TRACK
I’m obsessed with tracking my reading. I’ve kept a regular spreadsheet with the book name, author, and my rating for about the last ten years. It’s such a valuable resource when I want to look back and remember which books were awesome and I could recommend or purchase for someone as a gift. Plus it’s nice to know if I’ve actually read something or not and can’t remember! I’ve been tracking on Goodreads religiously for the last couple of years as well. But last year I found out about an AWESOME tool – Book Riot’s reading log. If you’re curious about your reading statistics, this is such a cool way to keep track of everything. Plus it gathers all the data on the second page and you can see your results. I’ll be sharing all my stats with you for the year in a few weeks. I’m really excited the 2020 log has been released!
We went to see Knives Out the other night and really liked it! I hadn’t heard anything about it, but Greg kept saying he wanted to see it, so we made it happen. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I liked it even more.
I caught up on all my regular tv shows, so I started watching some Netflix movies this week. I really enjoyed Let it Snow and haven’t heard anyone else talking about it. It was sweet and festive without being overly cheesy.
And that’s it for today! Time to set up my giant cheese plate and make sure everything is ready for my party!
We’re already almost a week into December and sitting down to write my goals for the month has been nearly impossible. But – good news – I just finished up all the Black Friday pre-order ornament dolls and I think I am done sewing FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR! I’ve been working insanely hard this week to try and get them done so I can get them out of the way (and my mind) before my big Favorite Things party tomorrow night. And I did it! I just haven’t had time to do basically anything else.
My goals are pretty low key and fun this month. It doesn’t make sense to try and actually be productive in December. It’s more about slowing down, managing stress, and enjoying the people around me.
1 – Read only happy books
I usually devote December to reading lighthearted Christmas romances. Unless I get tired of them, which can definitely happen, and then I’ll switch it up. The point is that I don’t want to read anything that’ll bring me down (like the sexual abuse against children book I was reading over Thanksgiving – bad idea). I’m hoping now that I’m (probably) done working for the month and after my party tomorrow, I can finally slow down a little bit and justify spending more time each day reading. I can’t wait!
2 – Treadmill OR walk outside 6 days a week
Last month I set a goal of walking on the treadmill every single day. I found that I was avoiding walking Annie outside on the nicer days because I needed to get my treadmill time in. Given the choice, I’d always like to prioritize walking outside because it’s good for her too – plus fresh air and sunshine for me. I’m sure the treadmill is a better actual workout, but the point is that I’m moving and it shouldn’t matter which location I’m doing it in. While there’s no snow or ice on the ground, I should be choosing to go outside a lot more often before I’m trapped in here for months at a time. I also want to give myself one day off without the guilt. I felt so much guilt every day that I skipped in November, no matter how justified my reason for doing it.
3 – Make SOMETHING on my Cricut
I had such grand plans to make everyone a Christmas present using my new Cricut skills. And then I went over a month without even touching it. I’m sure the two weeks between now and Christmas festivities will still fly by very quickly and be filled with other things to do, but I want to make sure I give myself a little freedom to be creative with it and learn a few new skills.
4 – Take two weeks of “vacation”
I was planning on making a few more dolls after I finished up these ornaments. But honestly, this week has been so incredibly stressful. Plus I made a lot more money over the big weekend than I was anticipating, so I feel like it’s okay to call it. I usually don’t work much in December anyway because I want to preserve my sanity! But I also tend to really miss it after some time away, so if the mood strikes I’ll make a few, but I think I’m going to save them for January to sell. I’m almost completely sold out of inventory, so I’ll probably put the shop on vacation mode in about a week and then reopen in the new year once I have a bunch of fresh dolls to showcase.
5 – Prioritize cooking
So I’ve been going through a cookbook this week written by a woman who lost 125 pounds in a year, simply by making all the same diet changes that I’m making right now. At first, I found it encouraging. And then I realized that if I want to have the same kind of success (or even remotely similar – I have no expectations to be THAT successful that quickly!), it’s going to mean devoting SO much time to making almost all the food I want to eat from scratch. Honestly, it feels like it’s going to be a full time job. A job I really don’t want. But apparently a job that’s unavoidable if I want to get us all on a healthier path. There are definitely nights I love making dinner. But there are many nights when I feel very resentful and stressed out that the responsibility is always on me when there are always SO many other things I’d rather be doing. My goal in December is to shift my mindset to focus on how WORTH IT doing all this extra work will be. I want to go through all the cookbooks I have laying around and be filled with new inspiration. I want to make better meal plans and grocery lists and carve out whatever time is necessary to make those meals happen. I want to try and make myself become addicted to the high of creating wholesome and delicious meals day after day. It’s really important. More important than most everything else.
6 – Be present
I’m noticing more and more often how much my own personal agenda gets in the way of actually connecting with people. On one hand, there are ALWAYS so many things that need to get done. Things that need to get done BY ME. On the other hand, my kids are rapidly growing up and I spend very little extra time with them. Usually almost none in the evenings because I’m so busy doing all the things I didn’t have time to do during the day when I was forcing myself to be responsible and actually work during work hours. This month I want to be better about saying yes when Greg asks me if I want to watch something with them. I want to think of ways to connect with my kids on my own. I want to stop planning out every minute of my every night and weekend, so I have more freedom and desire to spend time with them instead. It’s just….hard. I don’t know how to be less busy when I’m always behind on something. But I’m going to try.
November felt like such a long month. Which was odd when every other month has been flying by. So many things happened and the days just kept coming! Overall it was an emotionally overwhelming month in both good ways and bad. I only gave myself three goals to focus on, but they were big ones. I think I did pretty well.
1 – Focus on health above all else
It seems like I spent every waking minute thinking about my health in November. Mostly agonizing over what I could eat, when I would eat, what I could make, what I had to avoid, how I’d survive when it felt like the control was taken away from me. Plus all the accompanying guilt when I realized just how terribly I’m letting my kids eat too, putting them on the exact same path I am on, but not knowing how to drastically change their diets without a war on my hands. It’s been exhausting. But it’s actually been easier than I expected it to be to make some healthier swaps and eliminate, or mostly eliminate, certain foods from my diet. I’m still taking it relatively slowly, not making EXTREME changes and not doing anything that’s going to make myself feel crazily deprived and depressed. For the most part I’ve cut out almost all processed foods since about mid October. The first couple of weeks were really hard and then all those cravings that used to rule my life disappeared. It was incredible. I feel like I’ve been a slave to my salty snack and sweet dessert cravings for my entire life and now after a few weeks of forcing myself to say no, I finally have control. I’m still having a tiny amount of chocolate almost every day, but JUST a tiny amount and it’s enough to satisfy me and move on. The hardest thing to eliminate has been coffee creamer. I haven’t yet. I assume it’s a big contributing factor to fake junk that’s destroying my liver, but none of the substitutions I’ve tried are coming even close to hitting the spot. I don’t want to give up coffee since I’ve become so obsessed with it in the last year, but I also don’t want to drink it if it’s going to taste like crap!
Cutting out white refined carbs has been a little harder. Baking has always been such a huge part of my identity. It’s also one of the biggest ways I’ve been able to show love to my family, through special breakfasts and desserts multiple times a week. I’ve been experimenting with a few gluten free and whole grain recipes, but it’s just not the same. If I had to give up ALL grains I wouldn’t survive. I consider myself pretty lucky that whole grains are good for me! But I keep finding myself wanting to rely on them a little too heavily to keep me satisfied. Brown rice and certain whole grain breads have proven to be great alternatives and I barely miss the white stuff. But I do miss baking and knowing whatever I make is going to taste amazing.
Avoiding fast and fried foods has been pretty easy too. My only real issue was when I was in North Carolina and never had a ton of readily available options. But I did my best. I did eat at Taco Bell the night of Caden’s lego league competition. But other than that I’ve steered clear. I think it’ll really only upset me when I go to a sit down restaurant and see all my favorite fried foods as an option. But I haven’t been to many restaurants lately because of that fear.
2 – Go to the Hope*Writers Conference with an open mind and heart
Though it already feels like ages ago, I definitely did this! I honestly think that conference was one of the very best things I’ve ever done for myself. But it also kind of feels like a dream, in retrospect. It’s easy to get super excited about your writing aspirations when you’re away from home and away from responsibilities and surrounded by people with the same dream. Then you come home and you’re hit again with all these lifestyle changes you need to make on top of all your regular responsibilities and the added pressure of running your own business at the busiest shopping season of the year AND Christmas just around the corner. I was affirmed at the conference that I am a writer if I write. And I DO write. But not nearly as much as I’d like. Or as elequotely or with a solid direction. My biggest fear in going to the conference was that I’d get there and only feel like I’m failing at one more thing in my life. I didn’t really feel that while I was there because the community of writers was so encouraging and kind. But now that I’m back at home and I can barely even get a word to the page for days at a time…it’s discouraging. But I’m really glad I went to the conference.
3 – Buy/Craft/Plan at least 1/2 of the Christmas presents
So Christmas shopping has basically become my full time job this last week. I was desperate to figure out what to get everyone and at the best possible prices during all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. I’m trying not to agonize over it and become extremely stressed out the way I was last year. I have a lot of people to buy for! My original plan was to MAKE a lot of gifts this year, but it’s clearly not going to happen. I couldn’t even get new dolls in my shop, let alone explore other crafting avenues for gifts. Oh well. Looking at my list I’d say I’m probably 75% done right now. Basically just the hardest people left – the male in-laws. I am very relieved that a few weeks ago I didn’t have a clue what to get the boys – literally not a single idea. But a few things came to mind recently and I’m close to being set with them, I think.
That’s about it! I’m glad to have just survived November. It was a hard month, mostly because of all my liver and diet changes. But the vacation and conference were a great escape from reality for a few days. And I came up with a great Black Friday sales plan, putting November at my biggest month of sales ever, despite not selling a single doll the first two and a half weeks of the month! We’re obviously already a few days in (no time!), but I’m excited about December and hopefully having some down time in the midst of the crazy to have fun and relax and remember all the reasons life is good.
I have two weeks of recaps to run through today! I’ll try to stick with the highlights. Like this bread (lol). My neighbor gave me the recipe of this gluten free bread she loves to make – as well as a couple of slices. It was really delicious! I never would have guessed it was gluten free. So I bought the supplies and made my own loaf. It turned out perfectly! Unfortunately, the second day, after eating a few pieces for breakfast, I did NOT feel well. I was having pretty intense stomach pains and the only thing I could think of was that it was the bread. So I waited two full days until I felt fully better and then ate it again – a glutton for punishment. But I didn’t have the same symptoms, so it’s a mystery. I’m a bit hesitant to make it again, but I’m sure I will! Though I’m also trying to put my focus more on actual whole grain breads, since those are what’s best for my liver. I’m still not very clear on if gluten free flours are actually whole grains, or just NOT gluten. And gluten’s not my issue, the WHITE refined flour is.
One of my only real work related accomplishments this month was curating six beautiful themed “gift baskets.” I had SO much fun doing it. Plus it justified all my many TJMaxx random purchases! I sold four of them right away, but the other two are still currently available! 🙂 If I had all the time and space and the right customer base who was ready to spend tons of money on such things, I’d make gift collections like this for a living. SO much fun.
I had a sign painting party! I was really excited about hosting it, but then was a bit overwhelmed that I had to keep nagging people and practically begging for more participants. I don’t like feeling like I’m forcing people to do something! But we met the required 9 sign ups (plus one extra at the last minute!) – whew! And it was such a great evening!! I prepped a big cheese tray and flourless chocolate cake and then we all gathered for painting and conversation. I’m not sure I’d ever want to host again, but I’m still addicted to the creating part!
This is the sign I did. I painted it exactly like the example because I loved the color combination so much.
I was feeling a bit blue by this long and melancholy month that really felt nothing like FALL, so I decided to go ahead and swap out my Christmas mugs a few weeks early. They bring me so much joy!
My food adventures continued with a loaf of grainy bread and my favorite granola recipe. The bread was just okay. The flax seed made it taste very…healthy. It wasn’t awful, but I don’t think I’d make it again when I can buy a loaf of pretty healthy whole grain bread at the store that tastes a whole lot better. The granola recipe is delicious, but also not the healthiest. But I swapped the original pecans for red walnuts, which are supposedly the healthiest of walnuts and best nuts for people with liver disease.
Last Saturday was Caden’s Lego League competition. It started at 7:30 in the morning and went until after 5 at night. Greg and Caden were there from the start and Shepard and I went with the grandparents a few hours later. It was a really long and emotionally draining day for him. But I’m proud of him for sticking with it, despite how frustrating it sometimes was. He was going through a lot of mixed emotions throughout the day because he didn’t want to do well enough that they moved on to sectionals – he wanted to be DONE. But he also really, really, really hates not being great and getting recognition for things, so he was upset at the same time that they weren’t doing amazing or won any awards. But overall, they got in about the top 40% of the 38 teams there, which is pretty great considering they only had three members, they were all fifth graders (it went up to eighth grade), and it was their first year competing.
On Sunday, I had SO many things to catch up on. I was really feeling the impending deadline of BLACK FRIDAY and desperately needing a larger inventory so I could have a sale. I barely sewed at all this month between my vacation and liver biopsy related stuff and hosting and attending various get togethers. I had a pretty good plan for the day, but also made the suggestion that maybe we could bring the tree upstairs and get a start on it since Thanksgiving was so late this year. Greg proceeded to bring up every single Christmas decoration we had, giving me no choice but to ditch my agenda and spend the entire day swapping out decorations and setting up trees. Once it was done, I was thankful to have done it and to have done it early (it certainly made this past weekend so much more relaxing!). But at the time, I was basically on the brink of hysteria. I don’t like my agendas being messed with. I couldn’t have done anything I had planned anyway because every surface was covered in Christmas stuff! Anyway, for the record, I am thankful Greg made us power through and was quite helpful with the setup – not to mention carrying all those boxes and trees up and down our precarious basement steps so many times. But it was a stressful day.
By the end of the night I had the living room completely done. Greg set up the family room tree on his own, though I guess I haven’t taken a photo of that one yet. But we got enough done that all the boxes could go back down and I could sigh in relief!
On Monday I had a ton of errands to run. I knew I was going to be out the entire day, so I made a plan to go to this new restaurant Ancho and Agave that opened last month. It’s in Middleton, so I’m not there very often and didn’t know when I’d next have a chance. Anyway, the restaurant was really cute and the food was delicious! I loved all of it except the pork taco, which was cold by the time I ate it and kind of fatty. But I was so full by that point it didn’t really matter. I’d definitely go back. I like that I made myself go to a really tasty sit down restaurant rather than just grabbing something fast and terrible for me, the way that I used to do on long shopping days.
On Tuesday I set up my treat box for the delivery drivers! I’m so glad I saw this idea online a few years ago because I always feel guilty for how many packages I get. At least I can feel a little better by giving them treats the last five or six weeks of the year! Though I think it’s kind of funny that I decided to put pretzels and popcorn in the box to start, thinking maybe the delivery drivers would like slightly healthier options than chips. Nope! The only things taken all week were the Little Debbies and Oreos. I’ll pick out some different things when I get to Costco this week. (For the record, right after I wrote this paragraph a FedEx driver dropped off a package. Earlier today a USPS woman brought a pile of packages. So apparently it no longer matters that it’s Sunday, they’re still out working.)
On Tuesday I finished up a couple more Christmas dolls and then made a squash curry soup for our at home date night. I got the inspiration from Antoni on an episode of Queer Eye, but didn’t follow any specific recipe. I just roasted butternut squash, onions, and garlic with curry seasoning, salt, and cumin in the oven for awhile, then mixed it in the blender with chicken bone broth, put it back on the stove to simmer with a little bit of heavy cream, and then topped it with a teeny swirl of sour cream and cilantro. Anyway, Greg and I are not typical squash eaters, but we both loved the soup. I’m actually just really not a soup eater, but it’s kind of blowing my mind how easy and healthy it is to whip up something from scratch without a recipe, so it’s turning into a weekly occurrence.
Wednesday was more of a kitchen FAIL day. My only assignments for Thanksgiving dinner were to make rolls and one dessert. My favorite part of Thanksgiving meals are just eating little turkey sandwiches dipped in gravy – I’m not such a fan of all the traditional sides. So I wanted to make something I could eat without feeling guilty and chose a honey wheat recipe that looked fool proof. I also made some honey butter rolled Parker house buns, but it only made 12 and we were going to have 10 people there and I assumed most of them would want the white option. So then I decided to make a cranberry walnut loaf of bread with an 18 hour rise time – but with wheat flour instead. I finally moved on to the pecan pie cheesecake, only to forget to add the heavy cream at the end – which I had poured into the measuring cup, but for some reason didn’t add to the cheesecake! I think it turned out fine without it, but of course I didn’t know that until the next night when we ate it! Meanwhile, Greg came home and asked if he could have a wheat bun. He took a bite and said “Is this from a bad batch?” And then I burst into tears and immediately started hunting down other recipes. I proceeded to spend the entire night making pretzel buns – very untraditional, but also the only rolls I never mess up – and a new beer cheese roll recipe. And of course during all this I was also trying each roll, even though I shouldn’t be eating three of them, but I needed to make sure they were servable. What sounded like a pretty easy baking assignment this year turned into twelve solid hours in the kitchen with the only thing that seemed to really work being pretzel buns, and I was kind of a wreck by the end of it. I baked the cranberry walnut bread in the morning, but decided not to bring it with me. (This is my all time favorite kind of bread and changing it to wheat was a sad disappointment. I’ve still been eating a slice for breakfast every day, but it’s definitely not the same!) In the end, I realized that everyone else really just wants to eat the sides and after sitting on the counter untouched for the last few days, I dumped them all last night. What a waste of my emotional energy! Remind me next year to just make pretzel buns and be done with it. 😛 Or just BUY SOME. Caden and I are very similar in this regard (and a lot of things) – I want to be really great at everything I do, and I am not great at roll making. I should stick with desserts because I’m actually good at that.
Thanksgiving Day was really nice! I took Annie to the dog park in the morning – our tradition. Then we took our Christmas card photos by the tree. The boys would only cooperate for two rounds of 10 shot photos, but we actually got a really nice one right away. I was able to order cards for super cheap on Friday.
We spent the rest of the day at the in-law’s, just relaxing and eating! I was mostly reading because my brain couldn’t handle playing board games like everyone else. The food was delicious, as always! I tried my mom’s sweet potato casserole for the first time this year and am mad at how many years I was missing out on something so delicious! The cheesecake also tasted great, though as usual I seemed to be the only one actually interested in dessert because I don’t go crazy overboard during the meal. Overall, it was a really nice day together with family.
Earlier in the week I had a great idea to solve my lack of new inventory Black Friday problem. PRE-ORDERS. Every year I get so many people asking me for ornament sized dolls and every year people are disappointed if they didn’t get one. So I had the grand idea to offer pre-orders this year, rather than a discount. And I think it worked out perfectly! I ended up with 18 doll orders. Enough to feel very successful, but not so many that I’m crazy overwhelmed by it. And it hopefully made everyone happy! On Saturday I offered a 20% off sale that was supposed to end at midnight, but is still running today, apparently. Oh well. There might be one last slightly better deal tomorrow for Cyber Monday. My hope is that I’ll make enough sales this weekend that the pressure will be off to produce a ton more new dolls in December.
On Friday afternoon I met my in-laws at the theater and we saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It was a really great movie!
On Friday night we went to Columbus’ Christmas parade, like we always do. It seemed slightly bigger this year! The weather wasn’t too bad and it was a fun time. Our neighbor friends came with us.
Yesterday was a fairly relaxed day. I have a zillion different things I should be doing, but I’m trying to force myself to let it go and just do what I want to do on weekends. I recently finished reading a book about managing and reversing liver disease and one of the biggest factors in diseases starting up or not getting better is actually just plain stress. And I’m stressed ALL. THE. TIME. And most of that stress is self-inflicted. I HAVE CONTROL. The problem is that I’m very controlling of myself and my time and I think it’s maybe destroying me. I need to let loose more often. Or…just do nothing.
I did participate in the local wine/soda walk yesterday with my friend Laura. It was so much fun! We were mostly interested in just checking out the fun little gift shops around town and spending a few hours hanging out. I purchased a few little items at every store, making me feel like a great Small Business Saturday shopper! 🙂 It was a really enjoyable event.
And now it’s December! Twinkle the Elf made a re-appearance. All week long the boys have been talking about how they can’t wait for him to come and bring donuts. With all these new healthy mindset thoughts CONSTANTLY on my brain, I had a tough time buying these donuts for them. But it’s apparently one of their all time favorite traditions, so it needed to happen. We also got to open day one on our five advent calenders! Greg surprised me with a hot sauce advent! Jack was very jealous of Annie’s calendar, so we had to bring over a bag of cat treats so he can get something every day too.
Shepard and I set up my last little rainbow Christmas tree this morning, so now we’re officially decorated. The rest of the day has just been very chill! I wrapped up orders, made a pizza, and took my first nap in ages. I’d like to get a jump on my pre-order dolls tonight, but we’ll see how I’m feeling. I need to meal plan too.
I think it’ll be a pretty low key week! Annie has a grooming appointment tomorrow, so I’m hoping to really devote the whole day to sewing. Tuesday will be errands. Wednesday more sewing. Thursday sewing and cleaning. And Friday prepping for my Favorite Things Party that night! Friday’s also St. Nick’s Day. It should actually be a pretty great week.
My biggest goal for the week is to get to Friday and feel prepared. I still have no clue what St. Nick might be bringing everyone this year. I also need to gather and wrap my favorite things for the party. I don’t want to spend Friday feeling like a crazy person trying to get everything cleaned and set up last minute, the way that I did before my sign painting party. If I can stay on track all week doing little things here and there, it should all go smoothly without too much stress.
My other goal this week is to go through a stack of cookbooks I bought about a month ago and haven’t even opened yet. I want some serious inspiration AND A PLAN for cooking whole and delicious foods this month. I want to be prepared so we’re not resorting to frozen meals. They’re fine every once in awhile, but I want to really focus on feeding myself and my family nourishing food at home to counteract all the other things we’ll be eating when we’re out of the house around Christmas. Balance!
Anyway, no meal plan yet since I’m hoping to go through a cookbook yet tonight. But first – treadmill time!
November has been a weird reading month for me. I started the month with a bang, finishing a book every day or two. Then one book took me ten entire days to complete and threw everything off. The best books I read this month were nonfiction – which is usually the case, so I wish I could force myself to devote more time to them! I also read one cookbook, one re-read, and a lot of lighter romances.
It’s taken me a long time to pick up book four in the Winston Brothers series, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first three. But the final book in the series just came out and there is SO MUCH hype around it, that I really need to catch up! I have to say that I enjoyed this one a lot. I think I’d been putting it off because we were introduced to Shelly in book three and there wasn’t much appealing about her. But I really grew to love her in this and how hard she struggles to overcome her OCD. My affection for Beau grew as well. The weird thing is that this book takes place at the exact same time as book three and even though there aren’t exactly repeat scenes, I did keep questioning if I’d actually read this installment already or not. Overall, I really enjoyed this one.
I had a hard time deciding what to rate this cookbook. IF you buy this because you’re on the Keto lifestyle, or looking to start it, this seems like a great resource with a lot of viable recipe options. If you’re like me, just hoping to find some great lower carb recipes, it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. I’m not on the Keto diet, nor do I plan to be, so it was a little surprising and maybe disappointing to realize how many substitutes you need to make so many different recipes. And how so many of the recipes are “easy” but it is all 100% made from scratch, which just isn’t always realistic. I’m not going to make my own mayo that’s only good for a week before I use that mayo to make another recipe in the cookbook. I’m not interested in filling my pantry with multiple sugar substitutes. I don’t want to cut out the fruits and vegetables that are apparently the most carb filled, but also the ones I like the most. If my doctor had told me to go on this diet, I’d be more open to trying things, but she didn’t point me in this direction, so I’m not going to worry about it. All that being said, I did still find about 25 recipes that looked fantastic and I’m definitely excited about trying at least a few of them. It helped me to think of ways to make some of my favorite dishes more low carb and a better fit for my own needs. The whole cookbook was well written, colorful, with a beautiful photograph for every recipe. Even if I might not use it all the time, or even follow all the keto substitutions, I plan on keeping it on my shelves for inspiration.
I re-read this novella because Colleen Hoover announced she’s releasing a new novella around Thanksgiving and you need to read this one first. I first read it over five years ago and didn’t have any recollection of it. I just went back and saw that I gave it 5 stars the first time around, but I’m sticking with 3.5 for the re-read. I think the reason for the lower rating is that Daniel did not appeal to me as much this time around. He’s too charismatic, too over the top charming. I don’t trust people like that (lol). Overall, it’s a short and interesting story, but once the plot came back to me I just felt such doom around the whole thing it was hard to enjoy. Colleen also said her upcoming novella will connect Finding Cinderella to All Your Perfects – if you’ve read both the connection seems like it will be very obvious! I like what she’s doing tying things together, but it’s also a little confusing. If she wasn’t my favorite author, I wouldn’t have the energy to try and keep track of everything the way I have. It’s the main reason I don’t often read series of books. Just figuring out what book comes next is too much work!
I found this to be an incredibly approachable book about making small daily habit changes that compound and really transform your life. Every chapter was short, interesting, filled with examples, and not loaded with science that makes my brain glaze over. Much like Eat That Frog, which I read in September, I was happily surprised to realize that I’m actually doing many of the habit tricks the author writes about. It’s a great reinforcing message that I’m on the right track and should continue in that direction. While this book isn’t specifically about losing weight or getting healthier, I found that so many of the chapters also applied to those types of habits, which is exactly what I needed as I’m making many changes to my lifestyle right now. It did take me over two months to get through this because I have the hardest time in the world picking up self help books. But – it was worth it. I highly recommend.
In this book a husband and wife who have grown rapidly apart in their three year marriage are on the brink of divorce. Desperate to save the relationship, but not sure how to do it, a group of Gavin’s guy friends secretly bring him into their bromance book club – a club where they read romance novels to learn how to better their own relationships. I preordered this book IMMEDIATELY after author Avery Flynn was raving about it at Book Bonanza this summer. I was anxiously awaiting it, hoping it would live up to all my expectations. And it was good! But reading a book about a failing marriage brings on a lot of more complex emotions than a fresh new romance between strangers or friends or even enemies. While some of the things that happened in this book were a bit unbelievable, it WAS believable that a marriage could fall apart in the ways that theirs had. My only pet peeve was that their twins couldn’t have been more than two, or just turned three, yet were talking and acting like and going to school as if they were at least 5 or 6. It seemed like a glaring oversight that kept bothering me. But overall, this was a sweet story about a man who made some mistakes, but was willing to do anything possible to win his wife back before it was too late.
I really should have learned my lesson by now about listening to fiction on audio. It’s NEVER going to hit me the same way that reading the word on a page will. (I have the opposite learning style when it comes to nonfiction books, however.) I listened to this book while I was driving all over North Carolina in my rental car. So I can definitely say that I was paying attention this time around! But the author’s deeper “male voice” for the main lead, Drew, was such a turn off to me. I think if I had read this in a book without connecting the character to that bizarrely female yet gruffish voice, I would have liked him and the romantic aspect of the story a whole lot more. But these are my issues and really no reflection on the book itself. Anyway, if you want to read about being stuck on a tiny island in Key West during and after a hurricane when most of the islanders have evacuated, this is for you. It never gets too serious – there are a lot of happy endings, which I’m sure is a very glossed over concept compared to the reality of hurricane aftermath. I was surprised by how much of this book is about animals and pets. I liked that everyone was such an animal lover. Overall, it was a pleasant listen while driving around, but I think I probably would have loved if had I read it on paper instead.
Okay, sometimes you just need a good straightforward romance. I read this while I was in North Carolina and my brain was completely overwhelmed by the writing conference I was at. I needed a book that didn’t require a ton of extra thinking. Alisha Rai is a really good writer, though, who can write something steamy that still has meaning and depth with a lot of character development. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not AGAINST romance, it’s just not something I can read all the time – unless it feels justified. This was a nice one.
I should point out that both of these books were actually novellas. But reading them back to back made it feel like a complete book. The second installment was less about the steam and more about the relationship. I enjoyed it. I read the entire thing while I was at the airport and on a plane.
I heard so many great things about this book and I’ve loved all the other books the author has written (that I’ve read), so I thought this was going to be a winner. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t that into it. I did enjoy learning more about another aspect of history I knew absolutely nothing about – Sepetys is great about exposing all those untold stories. But this book felt very slow and disjointed to me. The chapters were SO short – normally something I love in a book, but because it jumped around to so many different characters, it felt like I had to step back and refocus every other page. I was much happier with part two of the book (which was only about 1/4 of the book or less), but I felt the actual ending was really lacking the closure I was anticipating. Overall, a well told story, but did not draw me in the way her other books have. As a side note, it took me TEN DAYS to read this book. That’s practically unheard of. If it had been any other author I probably would have dnf-d it.
My overall opinion about this book is that it was a nice read. The characters were very nice to each other. The book was enjoyable and sweet, but I also wasn’t highly invested in it. I liked that as the second book about the Donner Bakery this one actually had some baking elements in it. Not many! But it was still a fun little quirk.
Let me start out by saying that this is not a good book to read around the holidays (I read it over Thanksgiving) or if you’ve had any kind of sexual or physical abuse. Trigger warnings galore. The quick synopsis is that a teenage boy who had his memory essentially erased through shock therapy begins seeing other people’s worst memories when he’s in proximity to them. He can’t stop seeing the memory until he writes it down, so he’s spending almost the entire story writing down the awful memories of people he comes in contact with. It’s a downer, you guys. I was intrigued enough to power through and read it quickly, but it was also a little over the top. It kind of felt like an excuse to just describe all kinds of horrific sexual acts done to children. I’m not NOT recommending it, but I think it’s probably something I could have done without.
This was EXACTLY the book I needed to read this month. After a lot of uncertainty and fear around a liver biopsy I had a couple of weeks ago, I really needed something concrete to read and help me understand what was going on with my body. Doctors will never have enough time to fully tell me all I need to know, so I’m really happy I purchased this book. It was understandable, relatable, encouraging, and filled with useful advice and plans to turn your life around and start taking better care of your liver – before it’s too late. The last part of the book contains a bunch of healthy yet tasty recipes. Overall, I think this book would be incredibly useful for anybody to read. I never knew any of this stuff about my liver! But if you’re having any kind of liver issues – GET IT. Don’t hesitate.
A whole week has flown by since my last Friday post without a single update. Life has been TOO CRAZY this fall. Right when I think I have a handle on my life, something comes up again and I’m flailing around once more. I’m hoping to claim a little bit of down time this weekend to catch up on my end of the month posts, as well as actually RELAX. But I’m not very good at that, so we’ll see.
Anyway! It’s been such a busy week that I haven’t discovered many NEW favorite things, but I’ll share with you what I’ve got!
For my dessert contribution, I made this Pecan Pie Cheesecake for Thanksgiving. I made it a few years ago and remember calling it the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. And at one point in my life I wanted to open a cheesecake restaurant, so I’ve eaten a lot of cheesecake! But cheesecake is usually something you only make for bigger fancy gatherings, so I haven’t made it since then. I looked back at my notes and saw that the first time I halved the entire recipe and baked it into a pie pan instead of a springform pan. This year I did the whole shebang and it was still delicious! I even forgot to add the heavy cream and I don’t think it made a difference. The only thing I wish I had done differently was actually follow the stovetop instructions for the pie layer. I think I cooked it a tad too long, making that layer extra gooey and very hard to cut and bite. But the combination of salty/sweet/creamy/crunchy is really great!
This summer I ordered a bunch of new hot sauces to try and 708 7 Pot Citrus by BigFat’s has definitely been my favorite. It took me awhile to come around to the citrus spicy flavor combination in so many hot sauces (I’m not a fan of citrus in any form), but now I can’t get enough of it. I think that kind of hot sauce is perfect for something loaded with cheese. My favorite form of comfort food I use it in is a bowl of (brown) rice with chihuahua cheese and chips. I’ve been eating this for months (especially once I ran out of one of my favorites – Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce), but I seem to be eating it at almost every non-Thanksgivingy meal this week because it’s so dang tasty. I also really like it with beef tacos. For chicken tacos I prefer a more straight heat.
So I literally just came home from seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhoodwith my in-laws. It was so good! There are so many theater movies I’d love to see right now, but this is the one I was invited to, so I went! It did feel kind of slow…quiet, I suppose. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate movies like that when we’re so used to action and comedy and nonstop drama. But I really enjoyed it. Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys were both excellent in it!
I’ve been watching A Million Little Things from the beginning and I definitely liked the first and second seasons. But this third season? Now that we’re finally past all the John’s death related plot points, it’s SO good. It’s moved up to one of my most anticipated weekly watches. This week the mid-season finale aired and it was absolute perfection.
I can’t think of anything else that struck me as being extra special this week – and we’re about to go watch the local Christmas parade, so I’ll end this now. Enjoy!
I’ve been learning a lot about the importance of an email list. I’ve started paying attention to the weekly and monthly newsletters that I most enjoy reading and they all have one thing in common – they’re lists of recommendations and favorite things. So with no real originality, I’ve decided to do my own version of the same thing because it makes me so happy to share the things I’m most excited about, especially when they’re new and unique. The exception – for now – is that this will appear as a new weekly blog post installment that’ll pop up on Fridays. I don’t have an email list yet, and quite honestly I don’t have the time at the moment to figure out how to make one. So in the meantime, I can’t let all these awesome favorite things be wasted, so I’m starting today with where I’m at! These might be short, they might be long, but I’ll try to stick to things that have really brought me a lot of joy in just the past seven days.
I am obsessed with THIS GRANOLA RECIPE. I’ve tried many granola recipes in the past few years, most of which had a peanut butter base and some chocolate thrown in to make it all a lot more dessert-like. But I needed something simpler for Caden’s birthday party a few months ago to top granola and fruit and gave this a shot. I LOVE it. Brown butter maple granola by Two Peas & Their Pod. It’s delish.
Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Bacon. About six months ago Costco sold a three pack of thick sliced brown sugar bacon that was AMAZING. And like basically everything I fall in love with at Costco, I never found it there again. I’ve been on the hunt for something of similar taste and I finally found it at Trader Joe’s this week. I picked it up because the coloring was unique – it’s very brown. It must have some sort of sugar rubbed into it or something. But seriously, it is legit good. The only downside is that I believe it was around $6 and there are only 7 slices in the package. I’m not sharing it.
This week at Costco I picked up a giant wedge of Beemster Classic Aged Gouda. Gouda is one of my favorite types of cheese and I love nutty aged ones the most. My previous favorite has been Trader Joe’s 1000 Day Gouda, but this one is also REALLY tasty. The cashier confirmed it was a new item she’d never seen before, so chances are it won’t be around for long.
If you need any kind of encouragement that you are OKAY and you are ON THE RIGHT PATH, listen to this incredible spoken word album by Arielle Estoria. She was at the Hope*Writers conference I attended and blew me away. I listened to Symphony of a Lioness while I was at my sewing machine and it was truly so powerful. I highly, highly recommend it.
Is anyone else watching Succession?! Greg and I ran out of things to watch together, so we started this up after I kept hearing Knox and Jamie rave about it on The Popcast. And they were right – it is SO GOOD. I can’t believe how intense the show can be when barely anything is actually happening. It’s great acting.
TJMaxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods. I feel like I shouldn’t even let people in on this secret of mine because it’s where I find allll my greatest gift ideas and treasures. These stores are AMAZING if you’re willing to go to them often and visit different locations. I’ve always loved them, but my obsession has really gone up a level or two in the last few months. I finally had to make some gift sets for Heartstring Annie to justify buying some more great things. My absolute favorite thing to hunt around for is mugs. I’ve been finding so many great Christmas ones lately that I finally gave in and switched out my fall mugs this morning. They bring me so much joy!
Counter Culture Coffee. I recently spent DAYS going through Food and Wine’s extensively researched list of best coffee in every state. I created an amazon list of every single coffee I’d like to try from all of those roasters. (The LIST stops me from wanting to immediately buy them all for fear that I’ll forget and miss out on something amazing. Mind games, guys. Always.) Counter Culture Coffee was on the list and low and behold, they were the featured local coffee at all the grocery stores I stopped at on my trip to North Carolina. I purchased and brought back the Hologram and Big Trouble blends and have been drinking them this week. They’re creamy and delightful!
Speaking of green tea, I also just found out that Harney and Sons makes their famous hot cinnamon tea in a GREEN variety! Their black hot cinnamon tea used to be the only kind of tea I’d ever drink. And recently, Greg has become obsessed with it, drinking it all the time. The boys love it too. When he ran out a few weeks ago I was THRILLED to see that it also comes in a green variety for me! And honestly, I can’t even taste the difference between the two. It tastes just as good as the black – and it’s better for you. (It ALSO comes in herbal!)
I think that’s it for my first installment of Friday Favorites! See you back next Friday for more great finds!
This is the third year that I’ve participated in the #onedayhh instagram photo challenge created by Laura Tremaine, joining in with thousands of other people who post throughout the day that one day a year, sharing their ordinary lives without filter or perfection. I was excited this fell on a day that truly was ordinary for me because it sticks with the spirit behind the sharing. If you follow me on instagram or facebook you’ve already seen all these photos – I posted a lot. But I wanted to get a quick recap all in one place.
I began my day around 4:30. Which is honestly pretty typical. I never set an alarm, unless it’s a very rare day I genuinely need to be somewhere early in the morning and want that safety net in case my internal alarm doesn’t go off (that never happens). Getting up so early is both a blessing and curse. I’m usually incredibly productive in those hours before anyone else is up – I wake up wide awake and raring to go, always. But I can barely function by noon, which is apparently the price I pay for my morning productivity. I’ve learned to almost never schedule things in the afternoons because I need that time to recharge. I look forward to that break time, but I hate that I feel like I NEED it. Because I really do.
It was a normal morning of working on some dolls, getting the boys and their breakfasts ready, arguing with Caden about his toast – it’s always something with one of them, and standing outside with Annie because the snow scared me too much to walk on the sidewalks.
The only “unusual” event of the day was that I went to my friend Katy’s house for coffee with a group of friends. Though it’s not really that unusual anymore, it just usually happens at my house. I didn’t want to commit to hosting that week since I had just gotten home from North Carolina and had my liver biopsy two days before. As much as I love hosting, it was really pretty awesome just having to show up somewhere and not have to do anything to get ready for it.
Back at home I fit in my daily treadmill time – not much because I was still recovering from the biopsy. But I got on it and that’s what counts. I worked some more and made myself a pretty lame lunch of healthy organic tortilla chip nachos. I finished up my book swap dolls I was working on and went to take my afternoon nap!
I spent a few hours in the afternoon working on my gift guides. The temperatures rose and the snow melted, so I was able to take Annie on a short walk after all. And then I worked on dinner prep, we ate, and I spent another chunk of time on my gift guides. I finished the evening with some reading, tv with Greg, and in bed around ten.
What I really enjoy about this annual challenge is that it reminds me how much I truly do in a single day. Sometimes I feel like such a failure. I’m always questioning my worth and if I’m doing ENOUGH. Because nothing EVER feels like enough. But when it’s all right there in front of me and I can visually evaluate how many things I managed to do in 18 hours, it brings me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I don’t want to equate my worth with how much I can do in any given time, but it helps to see that I AM doing things. I even had time to see friends! I spent short, but quality time with each of my family members. I walked on the treadmill AND walked Annie. I completed a couple of great gift guides. I made two dolls almost completely from start to finish (the first dolls I’ve made all month!). I made three actual meals. I took a nap. I read. I took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the sunlight streaming through my windows. It was a completely ordinary day and a very accurate representation of what most of my days look like. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to join in this challenge for another year.