Friday Favorites #17

Happy Friday! It’s December, everyone. We made it. What are you doing to take care of yourself this month? I’m focusing on everything comfy and cozy and peaceful. My list of favorite things this week will really reflect that! November turned out to be a pretty crazy month trying to prep for Black Friday sales and keeping my customers happy, but now that the calendar has changed I find myself really wanting to just hunker down and snuggle up. I also want to embrace every little joy that is attached to this season, using as many of my senses as possible. Celebrating the season – like by making a full Christmas mug and holiday tea station – has really become one of my greatest joys these days. It’s the little things, right? They add up.

Harney and Sons Gingerbread Festival Tea
I’m not sure if this is a new tea blend for them, but I don’t remember seeing it until a few weeks ago. I immediately ordered it because it was something different from my current winter teas which are almost all varieties of peppermint. Plus the white and gold tin looks so pretty and festive! I’m not actually a huge fan of gingerbread, I really don’t like ginger, but it’s a flavor the guys all love so I figured they’d like it even if I didn’t. Anyway, I brewed my first cup of it last week and I LOVE it. It seriously tastes like drinking a gingerbread cookie. I’ve never had a tea that tasted so absolutely spot on. It continues to amaze me! So if you like gingerbread at all – this is a great one to try! I like ordering directly from Harney because they almost always have deals, shipping is free, and it arrives pretty quickly. Plus – supporting small businesses is very important to me and even when something can be found on amazon these days, I’m trying to move past that middleman and order directly from the company.

Bixby Vanilla Creme Brulee Coffee
As I’ve gotten deeper into my coffee journey, I stopped buying cheap pre-ground and especially artificially flavored coffee. I really buy almost exclusively from Brandywine Coffee Roasters because their beans taste worlds above everything else I’ve tried. But I do LOVE variety (it’s a bit of a problem), so I get lots of emails from other small roasters. Anyway, when I saw this Vanilla Creme Brulee coffee – that are actual beans with actual vanilla mixed in – I just had to try it. Actually, to be honest, I ordered it for my mom for Thanksgiving, but it didn’t arrive on time. And when it did come it smelled so incredibly delicious that I kept it for myself. (Sorry, Mom.) And it IS delicious. True coffee beans that taste so intensely of vanilla. It’s really good. Try it. And if you want it to taste even better? Use it to make Half Baked Harvest’s Salted Caramel Brulee Latte. I did that for the boys and I the other day – incredible!

Oatly! Barista Edition Oatmilk
I continue to search for the perfect creamer alternatives now that I’m drinking coffee every day. I don’t drink cow’s milk on its own – I never have – so I always feel weird about putting a lot of it in a latte. I was trying a few different almond milk creamers, but a lot of times you could see them split in the coffee and that seriously grossed me out. I finally did some research on the best milk alternatives specifically for coffee and oatmilk came up again and again. And multiple articles listed Oatly! as the brand to get. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find Oatly! in the stores I checked around here. But I finally gave in and ordered a six pack online and it came really quickly. And I love it! It honestly don’t have any kind of weird off tastes, the barista edition foams up beautifully, and it won’t split in your coffee. I usually froth mine with a bit of a flavored syrup (from J.T. Cooper) to get some sweetness. Clearly it’s not stopping me from getting more sugar into my body, but at least I’m not putting the fake junk of marketed coffee creamers anymore. I’ve also found that I really like Chobani creamers. I’ve had all flavors except the Cookies and Cream and loved them all. Anyway, it’s just something different to try if you’re looking for a milk alternative!

Dreamothis 10 lb Sherpa Weighted Blanket
Okay, I hesitate to recommend this blanket to you just because it seems to be sold out everywhere right now. But…I’m OBSESSED with it. When weighted blankets became a big thing a few years ago I bought one for both myself and Caden. And we both hated them. They were too heavy, too slippery, and mine came in two separate parts that had to be snapped together so you could wash the outside and it was just way too much of a hassle. But last month I had some Kohl’s cash and I’m always checking for new cozy blankets to help beat the winter chills. I saw this weighted SHERPA blanket and I just had to give it a shot. My expectations were low, but…I’m completely in love with it. The 10 pound weight does not feel overly heavy and the sherpa on both sides make it oh so comfortable. It really traps in the heat too. I can literally feel my blood pressure going down when I put it on top of me. I keep it on my big reading chair for relaxing, but I’ve also used it for a few naps and feel like I’ve slept better than ever. I was able to order another one from Target a few days ago that I’m going to keep on my bed specially for my nap time! Though the boys have discovered the blanket too and now they both want one, but they seem to be sold out. Target does restock things like blankets fairly regularly, so hopefully they’ll come back. I did see it on the QVC website as well, just for more money. Dreamothis does have a few other weighted blankets on the Target website, they just don’t look quite as plush and cozy. I love this one, though. Jack does too! Yesterday he laid down around 8am and didn’t get up for eight hours!

Lauren Conrad Extra Soft Pajama Sets
Looking for some really soft and warm pajamas for winter? These are IT. I love them. I’ve slowly been replacing all my pajamas that aren’t as warm or comfortable. These are cute too!

Fabletics Leggings
Now that I’m into “working out” (okay, really just biking), I’m realizing how much more confident you feel when you’re actually wearing workout clothes. A few months ago a friend of mine was having a Zyia party, so I ordered a few pairs and I absolutely hated them. Mostly because they were so tiny – meant to be stretched very tightly – and I was at the biggest size which was probably a little bit too small. Anyway, I’m happy to have tried them out, though, because it led me to look for alternatives. And Fabletics are the winners! I never considered them before because I don’t like companies that make you have a recurring credit every month – even when you always have the option and ample opportunity to cancel that month’s charge. But when I realized they had SO many plus size options, I really needed to give them a go. And I’ve been so, so happy with the pairs I’ve gotten so far. They seem to be really high quality, they fit me really well, I love all the color and style options, and they seem to have a lot of good sales for VIPS (especially around Black Friday!). This morning I wore HOT PINK leggings on my bike ride. And I felt pretty cool lol.

Crocs Fuzz Lined Shoes
So you’re probably well aware by now that I seem to have neverending foot problems. And I think they’re not getting any better because I’m barefoot walking on hard floors about 98% of my life right now. I went on a big internet hunt a few weeks ago for slippers that would be supportive and warm and not feel like wearing anything too restrictive. I did actually order some, but they haven’t arrived yet. I also decided to get these Crocs – mostly because even though they’re not that stylish, I know that they fit me. And finding ANYTHING that fits my feet properly is basically an impossible feat. So this felt like a sure bet and I’m very, very happy with them. I’ve been wearing them most of the day every day this week and my feet don’t hurt at all! I love the fuzzy lining and strap because they feel warm and cozy, but they also don’t have those weird bumps that are on regular Crocs and can sometimes get irritating. I’m really glad I got them.

Soap & Glory Heel Genius Foot Cream
Here’s another thing I started using to try and help some of my other foot problems! For awhile there the bottoms of my feet were so callused, but also cracking and peeling and there were days I could barely even stand up, let alone walk around. So I FINALLY grabbed one of the many products I’ve purchased over the years, but never consistently used, and decided this would be the time I finally stick it out. And it actually only took a couple of days to significantly soften my feet. I also dug out a foot grater thing I purchased a long time ago and that really helped as well. But the foot cream is great! I also got a Soap & Glory body butter that feels and smells amazing. And then since I like those things so much I also just started using a Soap & Glory face wash that smells heavenly too!

Native Limited Edition Holiday Body Wash
Speaking of things that smell great – and going back to my idea of FULLY embracing the season through all of your senses – I discovered that Native makes some really delightful holiday scented body washes (and other products). For Christmas they have a Candy Cane scent and a Sugar Cookie scent. I have both of them in the shower right now. I also have a sugar cookie deodorant! I’m all in, guys.

Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask
This is something that I’ve been using for a really long time and never thought to share it with you! Now that we’re back into cold weather I’m really trying to make sure my lips never reach the point of being chapped and peeling. I’ve always been a lip balm addict, but I like putting something heavier on at night meant to truly hydrate your lips. These balms from Laneige are certainly more pricey than something you would find at Target, but I think they work really well. And they come in a lot of fun flavors! I’m currently using the Mint Choco one every night. I have a little pot of that and my heel cream sitting prominently on my nightstand so I’ll never forget to use them!

Calm Christmas
Okay, I’ve got one more recommendation for you that I think would be a great way to really get your MIND focused on Christmas. This book is meant to be started in late November, but you could still start now and be fine. It’s a really great book about getting the right attitude around the holidays and finding quiet and calming ways to truly enjoy the season, rather than get caught up in the busyness and commercialism of it all. It feels especially poignant for this year when most of us will not be celebrating in the ways that we usually do. I’m not done with the book yet, but I’ve loved reading bits of it here and there over the last few weeks. It’s available on amazon as well, but I really prefer the cover version that Target sells. It’s beautiful!

Christmas Reflections 2019

I’ve been dreading writing this post because I’m not quite sure what to say about Christmas this year. I like to be authentic and honest in this space, refusing to gloss over or hide the truly hard parts of life. But at the same time, I know that I’m fairly pessimistic a lot of the time, and people don’t want to read about depressing things. Especially in what should be a light hearted, warm fuzzy memories Christmas post.

You learn pretty early to set your holiday expectations LOW when you have kids. Babies and toddlers are on their own schedules with their own agendas and they don’t handle chaos and change very well. You expect Christmastime to be this magical experience and it’s usually anything but. You learn to adapt to what your kids need, deal with the disappointment of relatives when you have to say no to things, and try to keep everyone as happy as possible when all you really want to do is go hide in a dark room and cry. It’s so much about putting on your brave face, ignoring what’s really going on in your heart, and just trying to get through it, focusing on the good parts of the season.

I’ve gotten so used to this over the last eleven years, being blessed with a child who is especially difficult when literally anything changes in his homebody lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how exciting the holiday or event, it doesn’t matter what relative he adores is in town, it doesn’t matter what he’s promised as a reward or what he’s threatened as a punishment, he WILL NOT COOPERATE. He will make sure everybody knows in the most dramatic, violent, cruel, and angry way as possible how upset he is about these new expectations on him. Normally if we talk things through over and over days in advance, he’s a little bit better about going with the flow when the time comes. But this year? He wasn’t having it. He made it his life goal this past week to make every morning before we left the house as terrible as he possibly could. Which really puts a damper on our own ability to carry on and have a great day ourselves.

I do want to make it clear that once we left the house, at every party and event we went to, everything was fine. He didn’t act out anywhere else, which isn’t always the case, so…progress? I’m thankful for the time we got to spend with family and how much effort our parents went to to provide some really great Christmas get togethers and meals. Nothing about my negative Christmas experience has anything to do with anyone other than the members of my immediate family. I think it was even harder this year because normally I can at least depend on Greg to be on my side because he’s the only other person in the world who understands how difficult it is dealing with this particular child. But we seemed to keep getting our signals crossed this year, resulting in a whole lot of silent treatment – our best fighting skill. So in the end, it felt like a very lonely couple of days.

Anyway! Now that that’s out of my system, back to my recap of the week. Sunday was the day I was most worried about because it involved three different events. After a repeat of Saturday’s morning, we decided to leave Caden at my parent’s house with Annie for the day, eliminating his presence at two events. It ended up working out well, giving him time to play with Hudson and giving my mom a little time to get a few things done, while the rest of us got a much needed break from his verbal abuse. We joined Greg’s family at church to watch his dad in the cantada. Then we drove up to Oshkosh for the big extended family party. Shepard kept refusing to do anything with the other kid cousins, but he was making himself pretty comfortable with older male cousins and uncles that he barely knows, joining in their conversations like a tiny adult. I thought it was hilarious.

We stopped at Starbucks after the party to reward Shepard for behaving so well and to give me a much needed pick me up.

We spent the rest of the day celebrating my dad’s birthday. It’s unfortunate that his birthday is right by Christmas when he’s working like 18 hour days at FedEx. But he had the whole day off, Timmy, Brittany, and Hudson were also available, so we were able to celebrate all together.

It was a really nice low key and relaxed evening.

I really liked watching the cousins play together. Hudson was obsessed with going in Annie’s kennel and kept insisting the boys go in with him. He’s so cute! I’m glad my boys are willing to play with him at his level and aren’t “too cool” for toddlers yet!

On Monday morning we did our own family Christmas at home. I like to do it early every year before the novelty of big gift exchanges wears off. Though they don’t seem as overwhelmed by it as they did when they were younger. But it’s still nice to carve out half a day just for us in the midst of so much extended family time.

Shepard picked this mug out for me when we did our Target shopping a few weeks ago. I laughed so hard when I opened it! Greg said he went right to that one and insisted on it. Such a funny kid.

We spent the night of the 23rd exchanging gifts and having a nice dinner with Greg’s family. Normally we do both families on the 24th, but we had to rearrange a bit this year with Greg’s sister and brother-in-law needing to fly out on the 24th. I really liked separating the events, though. It felt so much more relaxed during the opening (because we didn’t have another one to rush off to) and during our annual brunch on the 24th (because we weren’t rushing to get to presents). I didn’t take any photos that night, unfortunately.

We went over as early as we could get moving on the 24th to have brunch with the Noe side. It was really nice!

We used a selfie stick to get a picture with everyone in it.

We left at the same time all the siblings went to the airport to spend as much remaining time with Hudson (and the rest) as possible on their last day in town as well.

It was a little bit cooler, but still nice enough to play outside for part of the afternoon. I heard that we had record breaking warm temperatures this week, which is crazy. Normally I’m all about wanting a white Christmas, but this year it’s been really great NOT having to constantly worry about falling, or trying to fit shoveling into already very busy schedules.

Annie got to have a sleepover on the 23rd, spending lots of time with Grandma and her dog aunts. She loves going over there with a huge fenced in yard to run around in. Plus three other pet dishes to steal food from!

I tried really hard to stay on track with my eating plans in the days and parties before just so I could indulge in this snack feast with no guilt on Christmas Eve. This probably wasn’t even half of the food that my mom kept adding to throughout the day! I totally went overboard, but it was so worth it. YUM.

My dad got home from work at 4 – probably the earliest ever! (Though he also had to get up at 2!) We had to have a round of Christmas carols and toddler tunes before we could open gifts.

After the big present opening, everyone just kind of zoned out. I was really zoned out half the day, I was so wiped out! It was really nice to just read and doze for a couple hours in the afternoon while Hudson was napping. Christmas is exhausting!

We both looked pretty out of it by the end of the night! Hudson tried on some new jammies and we said goodbye.

And the night ended with a Santa visit. Despite how the beginning of this month started with a lot of questioning, both of my kids still firmly believe in his existence. I’m happy to have had another year of the magic, but I can also see how things could feel a lot easier once they know the truth. One of the hardest things this year was that Shepard’s list for Santa only included things that were ridiculously expensive and inappropriate for an 8 year old. Like an iphone, a gaming computer, some sort of massive four wheeler. We’ve NEVER had Santa bring the bigger gifts, so I don’t know why he got it into his head that this year would be his year. His reasoning was that Santa doesn’t need money because he makes everything, so he’ll bring kids what they ask for. It was kind of hard to see how sad he was to not get any of those things, even though it really was unreasonable. He told someone a few days later that his favorite present was a box of Nerds because it was the only thing on his list that he actually got. (Though it didn’t come from Santa!) Sigh.

Everyone was up bright and early Christmas morning. Annie took care of Santa’s cookie and milk leftovers. We opened our gifts and stockings and then Greg went back to bed, the boys went to game, and I spent basically the entire day reading and napping. When Greg woke up again he went to spend a few hours with his family, while the rest of us stayed home to chill. It was so luxurious to have a day where I truly felt I could ignore all responsibility and just relax. I did put together an easy but nice dinner, but the rest of the day was just doing what I love most – reading an addictive book.

Thursday, the 26th, is what I like to call my annual wrapping paper restock day. I left the house as early as I could to get to Target to stock up. I also did a big grocery run, walked through all the clearance at TJMaxx, and zipped down to Trader Joe’s to get a few fun treats for New Year’s Eve. I was planning to spend most of the day out and about, but Greg and the boys went to Beaver Dam again and the draw of having a few hours home alone was just too strong. Though they got home soon after me, so I just spent the whole afternoon in bed reading and napping. This week has done a number on me – I’m so tired! Later that day Shepard had an eye appointment and he picked out new glasses – the same pair, but with slightly different coloring. I made another nice dinner (I’m always so excited about making dinner after a week of snacks and treats!) and we picked up Culver’s ice cream for dessert.

And Friday. MEH. I was in a pretty crappy mood Friday. Greg and Shepard had bad colds at the start of all the Christmas festivities, but Caden woke up with a cold AND a hacking cough on Christmas Day. So even though I was so desperate to have more time at my own house, now that I feel like we’re trapped here because of his sickness, it’s depressing me. I really want to go see Littleย Women with Greg, but…Caden. I also spent half the day in the kitchen, which is always a blessing and a curse. I love making good food, but I resent the fact that it’s always all on me to do it. And when it literally takes up half my day, I get frustrated. I’m always stressed out by the piles of new gifts that I know nobody but me is ever going to put away or organize. I have so many things I could and should be doing, but I have a terrible time concentrating when there is so much going on around me, so I feel like I can’t really do anything. I can’t even do the fun things, like watch my own tv shows or listen to my podcasts or music. And I’m SO angry at my stupid foot and how it’s stopping me from exercising. So…it wasn’t a very good day. Not because of anyone else, just me reacting to a lack of time alone, lack of quiet, lack of sleep, lack of physical outlet for my building stress.

But it’s a new day. I’m hoping to power through and get a few things done this weekend, even if it means wearing ear plugs or dragging all of my stuff upstairs to my bedroom. I think it might also be a good idea to just start some dolls. It’s been almost a month since I’ve done any sewing and I NEED that creative outlet in my life. There are still five more days before everyone goes back to work and school and I need to make the most of them.

So that was our Christmas! The usual rollercoaster of emotions. I had a really nice time seeing all of our out of town siblings and nephew and enjoying drama free get togethers with everyone. I really wish things on the home front had gone a lot more smoothly, but this is our life, mess and all.

Christmas Crazy

Merry Christmas!

The last five days have been such a whirlwind of holiday festivities for us! We’ve been jam packed with family get togethers, lots of quality time, and way too much delicious food.

Friday was my dad’s birthday and the last half day of school before break. I spent the morning running around doing cleanup and then Timmy, Brittany, and Hudson came over! We haven’t seen them since Halloween, which felt like forever. Hudson was in such a smiley and fun mood the whole night!

We all had some Christmas coffee to try and wake up. Shepard was wearing his brand new long underwear, which he’s pretty much been wearing for the last six straight days. I did wash them once in the middle of that span… Two more pairs will be delivered tomorrow, since apparently long underwear is the coolest thing ever!

Getting our selfie in!

Hudson and Annie were pretty much glued to each other’s sides the entire night. They were both fascinated with each other. It was pretty hilarious!

The point of the get together was to celebrate my dad’s birthday, though we weren’t sure he’d be able to even make it. But he switched for a Columbus route and was able to come over during his 30 minute break. I think we set a record for world’s fastest birthday party! We ordered pizzas from a local place, I had Caesar salad and garlic bread made, and we had a giant chocolate Costco cake for dessert. It was a really fun night!

On Saturday morning we had our family Christmas. It was definitely a rocky start because one child did not want to stop playing video games. But we eventually got them in the room and they noticed their new bikes, which we made no attempt to wrap! Both were a little bit too big. I’m not sure Caden will be able to ride his at all yet. We realized later that Shepard’s bike was actually broken and couldn’t be ridden at all. ๐Ÿ™ It was damaged in the mail, but we Greg didn’t realize until after he had built it and Shepard actually got on it.

Anyway, once everyone settled down, it was a nice morning. The favorite gift was definitely the shared hoverboard. We decided to go with only getting one and having them share, though it’s caused a ridiculous amount of fighting since then. They’re so expensive, though! Plus – bikes. Greg gave me a new end table to go next to my reading chair, a book, a candle, two pairs of earrings, and a couple of Willow Tree figurines from the boys. Oh, and an upholstery cleaner! (lol)

Mid afternoon Greg’s family came over for the night. We just hung out and everybody took turns cuddling under Caden’s new weighted blanket.

Shepard had to show off his hoverboarding multitasking skills. We had Italian roast beef sandwiches for dinner, but also snacked all afternoon on a big cheese tray, veggies and curry dip, and chips and salsa.

On Sunday morning we headed to the big extended family party on Greg’s side. Shepard continued to have epic tantrums every day for one reason or another. I assume they were born from him just not feeling the greatest with a long lasting cold. But still – so annoying to deal with. Besides hoverboard fighting, Caden was shockingly really great the entire week!

Chilling out during the party.

Looking a bit tired!

After the party we took Shepard to Walmart so he could pick out a new bike, again. They didn’t have the same one in stock, but he liked this one more because it was so shiny. It was already built (hallelujah!) and he got to walk it through the whole store and out to the car. Every single person we passed commented on how cool it was and told him merry Christmas. I’ve never seen so many nice people at Walmart!

Greg spent the rest of Sunday playing board games with his family and I took the boys back home for some down time.

Christmas Eve is our biggest day. We got going as early as we could and went to Greg’s parents’ house first. I didn’t really take any pictures besides this one. But we had a big breakfast and then opened all our gifts. The big exciting gift that the boys got to open was our trip to Universal and Harry Potter World in February! Greg’s parents are taking the six of us over Shepard’s birthday weekend/week (because they’ll miss the least amount of school in that time frame, not necessarily because it’s his birthday). I’m so glad they finally know about it so we can talk openly! They were both super excited and immediately started going through the guidebooks to pick out places to eat and rides to go on.

After things died down, I went back home to just sit and chill for an hour. It’s hard to be around people nonstop, even when nothing is going wrong. I also had to get Annie since she couldn’t stay locked up all day. While I was home Greg’s new glasses finally arrived! I brought them back with me and then we had to take another selfie with his new look. He hasn’t really adjusted to them yet.

We ate A LOT of food while we were waiting for my dad to get home to open presents. Gracie was being very protective of my mom and her food!

It was pretty chaotic and crazy once the present opening started. Hudson only lasted a few minutes and then went up to bed. I didn’t take any photos besides this one. But it was a really great day!

Back at home Greg got the boys to bed and Santa came! We have about the world’s biggest stockings, but I still can’t get all the presents into them.

Everyone got up around 7 on Christmas morning – even Greg! We took our time opening our stockings and the boys’ gifts. Santa mostly brought books and board games, but also karaoke microphones and saucer chairs that are supposed to be in their rooms, but they are both using as gaming chairs right in front of the tv.

Annie took it upon herself to finish Santa’s cookies. Jack had to come running to see what she was getting that he wasn’t. He drank Santa’s milk the night before and immediately threw it up everywhere. It was only like five drops, but he is apparently EXTREMELY lactose intolerant!

We hung out at home for a few hours and then went to see Greg’s family for a bit and then mine. It had snowed overnight – an unexpected white Christmas! And Hudson just got new boots from his other grandparents, so he was outside checking out the snow when we got there. Such a wonderful smile!

We had a repeat table full of delicious snacks and then hung out and soaked up our last few hours with Hudson.

And we finally went back home around 4:00 to settle in for the rest of the night. Shepard immediately went to work weaving bracelets together. He also learned how to finger knit on Friday and made himself a gigantic purple “scarf” that he wore all weekend.

I finished up the Christmas night snuggled on the futon with Rory next to me and Annie below me and a pile of books at my side. It was a really nice Christmas and I’m so glad that everyone was able to travel to be there, completing the families on both sides this year. But I do sometimes wish the days could be a bit more laid back with a lot more relaxing and comfy clothes and no responsibilities. I guess that’s what the rest of the week is for!

I hope everyone else had a very wonderful Christmas as well!

Christmas as a Gift Giver, Life as a Gift Giver

Many people by now have heard of the five love languages – the five ways that everyone experiences and expresses love, developed and thoroughly researched by Gary Chapman over twenty years ago. These love languages include receiving gifts, physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Each person usually has one or two languages that they are dominate in and that is how they express their love and how they best experience love from other people, particularly their spouse and family.

When I first read this book as a young adult, it felt groundbreaking to me. I finally had validation for one of the biggest parts of my life. A part of my being that so few people seem to understand or appreciate. You see, my dominant language is receiving gifts. The language that I believe is the least understood and the one that people will probably look down upon. When I say that I need to get gifts from people to feel loved, I sound selfish and greedy and materialistic. When I give gifts to people, if I do it the extent I actually want to, I’m often made to feel ashamed and rebuked for “going overboard” or flat out anger at me because they don’t have anything to reciprocate (which is not why I give!!).

Unfortunately for us, Greg’s least dominant love language is receiving gifts. Though strangely enough, him giving me gifts is one of the things that made me fall in love with him. As 15 and 16 year olds, he would give little gifts every month on our anniversary of being together. He’d give me a sweet piece of jewelry or sentimental gift every January on our yearly anniversaries. He’d shower me with notes every day and write me full notebooks when he went on trips away from me and bring me flowers for no reason. He showed all signs of being a huge gift giver as a teenager, but it must have just been him blinded by young love because that is absolutely not his personality now.

I don’t mean for this to be an attack on Greg by any means. But it’s definitely something that has made our marriage more challenging over the years. He’ll buy me obligatory birthday and Christmas and Mother’s Day presents. But picking me up something on a random day just because he thought of me? Definitely not. In turn, the little things I get to show him that I care every week often go unnoticed or unappreciated. I honestly can’t do a day of errands without picking up at least one special little treat for each of my family members. I put so much thought and effort into every holiday gift, always giving little things on every possible occasion. The response is most often that I shouldn’t have. And no, not in a cute little way he didn’t really mean, but NO, you shouldn’t have, because it’s not important to me.

To be fair, Greg’s dominant love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. Want to know which two are at the absolute bottom for me? Right. So no matter what, we’re always missing the mark with each other in how we’re giving and what love language we’re receiving and internalizing AS love. I’d say the thing that’s holding us together is that acts of service are both pretty high for each of us. Acts of service can often been seen and felt as a gift, so I’m not feeling depleted entirely. Acts of service are quietly going about your days doing as much as possible to make the lives of the ones you love easier. Because we both do so well with this, our household responsibilities are split pretty evenly and for the most part, run smoothly.

Anyway, like most of the world, Christmastime is when I think most often about gift buying. It’s also when I spend way too much time thinking about my highest love language. I do it for birthdays too, but at Christmas, when every single person that means anything to me deserves a special gift in their hands, my brain kind of explodes. I want every gift I buy or make to have meaning and be valued. Most of our siblings and their significant others and parents have been making it significantly harder on me because they don’t create wish lists anymore and we don’t spend enough time with them to get the best ideas of what they might like most. And no, I’m not going to buy something just to buy something. It NEEDS TO BE thoughtful and well received. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, but it does need to fit who they are and what they will like. The pressure is real high, you guys. I love it. And it consumes me and maybe sometimes destroys the season for me.

Christmas as an inherent gift giver can be pretty overwhelming. I’d say I devote about a solid month of my time to all things Christmas gift related. The thinking, the research, the price shopping, the actual buying, the unpacking of all the online shopping boxes that arrive at once, the hiding in the house, the creating, the wrapping, the dividing for each location, the measuring out to make sure everyone is getting roughly the same amount of gifts with roughly the same value. Then there’s the actual in store shopping, where I often find my best gifts to give because I go on these treasure hunts and almost always happily stumble on something that’s perfect for someone and can’t possibly be passed up. But then I need to reassess again to make sure everyone is still getting about an equal amount of gifts. I also have to spend time making sure I have things for neighbors and teachers and postal workers (yes, because they work dang hard for me at this time of the year!!). And then there are the friends I want to get gifts for simply because they’re my friends, but I have to constantly be reigning it in because I don’t want them to feel like I expect something in return, because I don’t. There’s really quite a bit of reigning it in this time of year, which is starting to ruin the season for me. I want to give what I want to give. I don’t want to be criticized for giving too much or judged because I have a generous spirit and have a really hard time saying no when I come across a gift that will be perfect for someone. Unfortunately, all these adverse reactions to my gifts is truly starting to wear me down and take a lot of joy out of the one thing I seem to do really well.

Then there’s a part of the Christmas season that’s hard to talk about when your love language is RECEIVING gifts. The actual gifts you want for yourself. How can you talk about this without sounding like a selfish child? I don’t think you can. But yeah, I really look forward to opening my own gifts. I’m a pretty reserved person and it’s very unlikely I will outwardly gush over a gift given to me, which maybe makes it seem like I don’t care. But believe me, I really, really do. I get so excited about one of the only times of year I get gifts from Greg. I love that the boys still usually make some sort of art project at school that is meant to be a gift because the handmade and personal things are truly the most treasured. Really, any gift that shows a person knows ME is a gift I will treasure. Adversely, a gift that clearly has shown no thought at all is worse than no gift at all. Another thing that causes more trouble than good at this time of year. A gift with no thoughtful intent means nothing. I try to counteract these possibilities by trying to ensure my tank is going to be filled up, even if it means taking measures into my own hands. I spend a ton of time cultivating wish lists of things I would be truly joyful to receive. I make lists for the boys to try and ensure they will also get things they’ll truly use and enjoy. I’m in charge of filling my own stocking (and all the rest), so I use that as an excuse to pick up all kinds of little treats for myself. This year I even took things a step farther and bought myself two different advent calendars – a sticker advent from Pipsticks for the entire month, and a bookish 12 days of Christmas advent surprise box from Once Upon a book Club. In this time of the year when I’m focusing so much on gifts for others, I’m also giving myself two little surprise presents every day to keep ME happy. No, of course it doesn’t mean as much as someone else gifting me surprises. But self care and self love are important and this is what I do to fill my own tank at Christmastime.

There really is no point to this post, other than I needed to get it off my chest. I’d say in my whole circle of people close to me, there is only one , maybe two, other people whose stronger love language is gifts. Everyone else? It really doesn’t matter to them. Which is unfortunate to all of us! I am simply putting it out there to everyone that if you’re given a gift this Christmas season, or for no reason at all at any other point in the year, just be thankful for it! Don’t say you shouldn’t have, don’t comment on the expense, don’t flat out refuse to accept it. Don’t belittle the time and effort and thought that a person put into picking out that gift for you. They didn’t have to, but they chose to, because they love you. It matters to them. Maybe more than you’ll ever realize.

Christmas Extravaganza 2017

20171222_133400(0) our christmas

Merry Belated Christmas! The last four days have been jam packed with Christmas festivities around here. Lots of family time, tons of presents, much laughter, and the usual amount of meltdowns peppered in between every thing. We’ve been busy! It’s been great, but also a little bit exhausting. I love all of our yearly traditions, but I do wish we could spend more time at our own house with a little more down time. I guess that’s what the week after Christmas is for, though. Anyway! I’ll try to keep my explanations brief, but I wanted to share all my photos from all our Christmas celebrations.


On Friday after school we had our family Christmas! Like I said in my last post, I like doing ours early when we (usually) get the boys at their best. This year everyone was a little short-tempered (everyone being mostly Caden and I) and we had to take a few breaks in between gifts. But we made it through.

IMG_3893 minifig

IMG_3902 sunflower seeds

IMG_3917 annie opens

Annie was a little hesitant about opening her presents, but she sure wanted it once the paper was off!

IMG_3926 groot poster

Shepard got Greg a Groot poster. Fortunately, Greg decided to hang it in Shepard’s room and not our family room. ๐Ÿ™‚

IMG_3940 shepard ornament

The ornament Shepard made me at school. I love it!

IMG_3948 seed shirt

IMG_3953 annie lounging

During one of our breaks.

IMG_3956 annie chip face

I love Annie’s face in this picture! Give me some chips!

IMG_3991 raggedy ann

Greg made me a Lego brick head Raggedy Ann! This is my favorite present.


I laughed so hard when I opened it!

IMG_4002 necklace

Greg also managed to surprise me with this necklace I’ve been wanting. He usually has the very unfortunate luck of ordering me things that then arrive in the mailbox in their actual packaging. I’m pretty much never surprised.

IMG_4005 brick headz

Found this limited edition Brick Headz set at Target.

IMG_4017 sweatshirt

Now he can alternate sweatshirts. I don’t think he’s taken his gray sweatshirt off since October.

IMG_4019 bark box

I gave Annie a one month Bark Box, trying to see if the subscription would be worth it. The treats looked great, but the toys for the Christmas box were so ugly! And her “long lasting chew” lasted about thirty seconds.

After the present opening we just spent the night enjoying our gifts. I also got an Instant Pot, which I’m anxious to learn how to use. And a calendar, passenger seat protector for my car (for Annie), a couple of Willow Tree figurines from the boys, and a lot of coffee. In the evening we had our usual Friday night pizza.

20171223_092451 andrew birthday

On Saturday morning we went over to Greg’s parents’ to follow them to Oshkosh. We gave Andrew his belated birthday gifts first.

20171223_111643(0) pennys birthday cake

In Oshkosh, we attended Greg’s giant extended family party. I think there were about 50 people there this year. The grandchildren have been repopulating like crazy. 16 great-grandchildren in the last nine years. 15 of those, age 6 and younger! We also celebrated Grandma Penny’s 80th birthday with her favorite cake.

20171223_114308 shepard lego

The kids had a Secret Santa type exchange this year so they could take part in picking out gifts for one of their cousins. I know my kids really enjoyed picking individual gifts for their two matches. Shepard got this fun lego set from Natalie.

20171223_114515 caden art supply

And Caden got lots of fun art supplies from Reese. He was really excited!

20171223_123345 star wars socks

The highlight of the party is always the huge white elephant type gift exchange. This year’s theme was gifts that start with “S.” It’s definitely always a crap shoot on if you’re going to get something good or not. I personally think it’s a lot more fun when everyone actually brings something they think is a good gift. Some years that’s pretty rare. Greg was very happy with Star Wars lounge pants that he stole for the final time. I ended up with socks, skittles, a Santa hat, and silly putty. After the game Caden traded my socks for someone’s giant pack of spearmint gum.

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Hanging out after the gift exchange. When we got back to Beaver Dam, I went on home to take care of Annie and do some baking for Sunday.

IMG_4039 attempt family pic

Christmas Eve is always our really big day with present openings and meals with both families. It’s always fun to have so much excitement in one day, but this year I was kind of wishing we could have split it up somehow. I was SO tired by afternoon. It’d be nice to just give each family one full day with a little more relaxing and less rushing. But I’m not sure that’ll ever work with so many schedules to work around. At least every year it gets easier with the boys and them not needing to be on such a tight sleep schedule.

IMG_4044 brunch spread

We started with a big brunch at Noe’s.

IMG_4045 cinnamon braid

I need a better powdered sugar duster lol. It tasted okay. Most of the butter and cinnamon sugar leaked out overnight. It probably would have tasted better warm. I cooked it at home so it was cold by the time we ate.

IMG_4054 snowboard

Shepard was so excited about his snowboard! Even though the wind chill was like negative ten degrees, he spent at least an hour outside trying it out down the little hills in the yards. He’s pretty good at it! If there’s enough snow I’m going to take him to a real sledding hill later this week.

IMG_4057 hotel present

I could barely see Caden behind his present stack! This was a paper telling him they were going to WI Dells next month with Grandma and Grandpa.

IMG_4062 lego piece

Greg wrapped a single lego piece from a creation he made a few years ago for her and Melissa lost. She actually guessed what it was before she opened it, to everyone’s amazement.

IMG_4064 salad shooter

Salad Shooter. I use mine solely for cheese! But I think she’ll hopefully find some good uses for it!

IMG_4066 silhouette bracelet

My favorite gifts this year were silhouette bracelets of the boys (and Hudson for Brittany and my mom) from La Papier Studio.

IMG_4068 skyping

We had video chat present opening with Sarah, Alex, and his parents in New Jersey. We missed having them around this year, but I think it’s great they were able to at least spend it with his family.

I’m pretty sure our present opening took three hours! I got all kinds of awesome gifts! I got the final four chairs to match my work table I got last Christmas. That table has been like the greatest gift ever. I use it every single day for a million different purposes. But it’s amazing for sewing, which is its intended purpose. Anyway, I also got some new pots and pans, some awesome taco cookbooks, fun new makeup to try out, and lots of other fun things.

IMG_20171224_150822_815 sleepy hudson

In the early afternoon, I went back home with the car loaded with presents to get Annie for the second half of the day. Then I went back to pick everyone up and we headed to my parents’. Once again Hudson was sleeping when we got there! ๐Ÿ™ So I snuck in to peek on him. I used to HATE it when people did that with Caden because it was so impossible to get him to sleep in the first place. But I am now the annoying relative that does it too.

IMG_4071 wooden puzzles

These wooden puzzles were the first thing Caden opened in the morning and he worked on them all day.

IMG_4073 birthday wallet

We gave my dad his belated birthday present. A new wallet filled with gift cards to his favorite restaurants. It’s the first year I ever remember him not working on Christmas Eve! Because it was a Sunday and FedEx was closed…I think. We’re usually waiting for him to get home from work to get on with the present opening. This year it was Tyler who was working. But only till six, so it was fine.

IMG_20171224_152658_904 hudson selfie

Hudson woke up! Those eyes!!

20171224_153543 hudson coo

He loves his jumperoo!

20171224_153550 hudson giggle

20171224_154223 caden hudson

IMG_20171224_153745_036 annie hudson

20171224_163829 shrinky dinks

Working on some shrinky dinks.

IMG_20171224_155533_024 bw hudson

Tummy time! He’s so cute!

IMG_4092 reading time

IMG_4096 reading time

IMG_4100 reading time

IMG_4102 greg and hudson

IMG_4108 pizza braid

Time to bust out the snacks. My pizza braid tasted delicious!

20171224_181513 snacks galore

So many snacks! My mom has so many bowls!

IMG_4113 hudson bracelet

Once Tyler got home and settled we opened gifts! I made Brittany open her Hudson silhouette bracelet first.

IMG_4114 bracelet

And my mom had to open her three grandson bracelet at the same time. I really liked how they looked with three silhouettes. I’m kind of tempted to order one for myself with the boys and Annie as my third child. ๐Ÿ˜€

IMG_4125 annie at gate

Speaking of Annie…we had the room sort of gated off so Hudson could go on the floor safely. Annie had no problem jumping over the first gate. She’s much more agile than my mom’s dogs! After the taller board was up she just stood here looking sorrowful lol. I was literally close enough to keep my hand on her. But it wasn’t good enough. We opened it up after awhile and then she was content to go somewhere else and take a nap!

IMG_4127 third pack socks

My dad opening his third pair of socks in a row. That’s what he asked for!

IMG_4133 poor annie

Keeping Annie company.

IMG_4134 hudson's toys

Awesome mini versions of classic toys from Uncle Tyler.

IMG_4141 shepard street

My mom found this awesome sign at an antique store! On Timmy’s birthday we walked by Shepard St. in Milwaukee and Shepard thought it was so cool. Now he has his own sign!

IMG_4152 peanut butter sauce

Gigantic peanut butter sauce. I really want this for myself, but they only make the gigantic jars! I’m not ready to pull the plunge for myself, but I gifted it to him.

IMG_4157 octopus

We gave Hudson an octopus themed gift. This stuffed octopus is so cute, but way bigger than him!

IMG_20171224_202636_784 sleepy shepard

Shepard was getting so tired by the end of everything. He just kept laying on the floor about to fall asleep. Even though it was probably one of our earliest Christmas Eves, I was super tired too. And because it surprised us and snowed all day, we knew we still had to shovel when we got home, so we got out pretty quickly when gifts were over. It was lots of fun, though! I got many more great gifts. We’re pretty spoiled at Christmas!

IMG_20171224_211650_690 cookies

Caden was still awake when we got home. For what I think was the first time ever! So he arranged a tray of cookies and milk for Santa.

IMG_20171224_212956_278 cat pizza

While I was waiting for Caden to fall asleep and Greg was shoveling, I entertained myself by watching Jack sniff out his new cat pizza from Grandma. They’ve both been using the pizza as a bed today! So funny.

IMG_20171224_221649_658 santa came

Santa came! And then I could finally go to bed.

IMG_4164 christmas morning

Christmas morning! It was kind of an odd morning. Shepard said he was up at 4. Caden was up at 5:30. I went downstairs at 6. And the boys were much more interested in playing on their chromebooks than getting Greg up to open presents. I mean, they’ve already opened a million presents in the last few days. But it really bummed me out how little they seemed to care about the magic of Santa coming. It was kind of a rough morning for me. My kids are growing up. And maybe it’s a good thing they don’t care about presents that much? It’s just hard not to take it personally because that’s what I’m good at and that’s what I love doing.

IMG_4172 christmas tree

Once everyone was finally up we opened stockings.

20171225_083352 ring stack

In my stocking was a Lisa Leonard Passage ring that I’ve been coveting for years! I didn’t plan on wearing it with my wedding ring stack, but it’s the only finger it properly fits on. I think it looks pretty nice all together! Maybe a little bit over the top, but I still love them. Santa even surprised me with an unexpected bracelet and pair of earrings in my stocking!

IMG_4186 two switches

This was the biggest box, so Shepard was thinking there were not one, but TWO Nintendo Switches in it. Sorry, kid! He didn’t say anything about the lack of an air hockey table, so I don’t think he was overly disappointed.

IMG_4207 snes classic

No Nintendo Switch, but they did get an SNES Classic! That won as their favorite gift, of course. Pretty much haven’t played with anything else since opening it.

IMG_4212 annie

She seemed to enjoy her first Christmas with us! Maybe a little bit confused and probably a little sad that she hasn’t been to the dog park or on any long walks. But there’s been a lot of excitement to keep her entertained.

IMG_4235 giant nerf

Shepard LOVED this thing.

IMG_20171225_095350_873 happy jack

Jack was so happy after he played with his new toys! He hasn’t had any new toys since we got Annie and she ate them all. He’s always loved playing with toys, so I feel bad I haven’t gotten him new ones in nine months.

IMG_20171225_120830_604 stockings

Late morning we went back to Noe’s to open stockings and have lunch. Santa brings some stuffed stockings at their house!

20171225_142855 grandma stockings

And then we stopped at my parents’ again for more stockings and more food and more shrinky dink making. I think we can guess what Shepard wants for his birthday!

20171225_144233 sitting with dogs

Dogs galore.

IMG_20171225_102708_263 book stacks

Back at home I had to document all of our new books! I had a ton of books on Caden’s wish list and he received quite a few of them! Plus a bunch from us. He’s pretty hard to buy for. He doesn’t play with toys. He specifically told us he didn’t want any legos this year. And he never once said a single thing he did want. He reads whenever he’s not allowed to play games, so books it is! I’m really excited about my own stack of books! I’m going to be making so many tacos! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

IMG_20171225_170800_260 reading in bed

I finished Christmas spending two hours in bed reading a great Christmas book with the cats snuggling around me and Annie on the floor next to me.

Overall, it was a great Christmas! Now onto the week of aftermath!! I spent the morning clearance shopping for my annual wrapping paper stock up. I had many great intentions of cleaning and organizing the rest of the day, but really didn’t do much of anything besides editing all these photos! Tomorrow will hopefully be more productive! I know the rest of break will just fly by and then the pressure to get back to workย  will start to overwhelm me. So I need to make this week count! And do a lot of resting in between.

I hope you had a fantastic Christmas weekend!

Saturday Reflections 12.23.2017


Christmas is here! I was really hoping this last week would be totally stress free and relaxing. But that’s fairly impossible the week before Christmas, right? I’d say I had about an equal mix of doing way too many things I didn’t really feel like doing but needed to be done and some well deserved hours of self care. Overall, a pretty good week!


On Sunday evening we went to see Santa at the Dodge County Airport. He came in very slowly on a little airplane. Caden was angry the first time he heard about it and angry about going because it HAD to be a fake Santa because Santa only comes in a sleigh with his reindeer. Shepard thought it was really awesome. Santa shook his hand when he walked through the building and he thought it was just the coolest thing that he touched Santa! The whole event was pretty packed, but everyone was in good spirits and it was a fun experience. We never take our kids to see Santa because they’ve always been terrified and I’m strongly against purposely scaring your kids for the sake of a picture. But I guess they’re old enough now that they’re only slightly apprehensive, and definitely not going to cry about it.


I’m pretty sure this is the last year that Caden will believe in Santa. Side note on that – if you tell your kids the truth about Santa, can you PLEASE tell them not to go to school and tell all their friends??? I was absolutely devastated when my friend repeated the whole conversation she had with her mom about Santa not being real when I was nine. I get that it’s something kids will probably talk about regardless, but I hate to have my own kids heartbroken in the same way. There’s definitely been plenty of seeds of doubts planted in Caden’s mind this year from his friends. Greg’s starting to be bothered about flat out lying to him, but I want him to believe in the magic for as long as possible. It’s just never the same once you know the truth.

Anyway! Caden asked Santa for his own Nintendo Switch. Shepard asked Santa for an air hockey table. They’ve both spent the entire week talking about how of course Santa is going to get those things for them because it’s the first time they ever asked him in person for something. So….Christmas morning might be a bit of a disappointment! ๐Ÿ™ At least Shepard has a birthday coming up and an air hockey table might be a possibility. A smallish one. Caden will just have to keep on dreaming!


Monday was supposed to be my big baking day, but I definitely didn’t get as much done as I wanted. By the time I take the boys to school, take Annie to the dog park, get all the pets situated with food and water, and finally eat my late breakfast, it’s like half the morning is gone. And this Monday I also had to get some groceries and prep some food for the crockpot. I was ready for a nap by midday. Annie enjoyed the candle fire in my place.


Tuesday was another crockpot meal. I should really try harder to do those more often. I hate giving up part of my morning on meal prep, but it certainly makes the afternoons so much easier!


By later Tuesday night I finally finished all my baking and made up boxes for the neighbors. The boys and I snuck around leaving boxes on everyone’s porches. I picked seven of my favorite tried and true cookie recipes and realize that all of those only made really small batches! Almost everything I made was just about gone after divvying up between neighbors!


I really don’t know what I did on Wednesday! I think I was scurrying around finishing up all the wrapping, working on laundry, running more errands. Shepard helped me make some Rudolph noses in the evening. I kept thinking I should do more baking, but it was pretty much the last thing in the world I felt like doing.


Thursday was FINALLY my day of rest! I planned to spend the entire day lounging on my futon with my book and candles and soft music playing. It was great, but I also had a really hard time relaxing enough to enjoy it. I’ve been so amped up for weeks trying to get so much done. It was hard to properly enjoy a day with permission to just BE.


I did enjoy the afternoon just staring at my pretty tree and gift piles! I really love our house, but especially this room, and particularly at Christmastime. It makes me so very happy. ๐Ÿ™‚


Thursday night I tried to get ahead of the game and work on a pizza braid that I’m bringing over to my parents’ for Christmas Eve. I love how it turned out! I wrapped it up and put it in the freezer to bake that night. Hopefully it survived!!


Friday was pajama day at school. Trying to get a nicely posed picture with these three together is nearly impossible! Annie does NOT like to cooperate for posed pictures!

I spent Friday morning fighting the crowds at Target because the boys realized they didn’t pick out gifts for each other or Greg. Poor planning on my part, I guess. They just HATE going to stores, so I thought we’d skip it this year. But I want to encourage them gifting to other people instead of just thinking about themselves, so they each sent me with a list of what they wanted to get. I tried my best to find what they wanted. Next year we’ll make it a higher priority.

Then I met my mom at the theater to see Pitch Perfect 3! I thought it was really good! Not like an incredible movie, but definitely entertaining and light and happy. Just what I needed. We had a delicious lunch at Monk’s and then I headed home.


Friday afternoon we had our family Christmas! We usually do it on the 23rd, but the last two years we’ve had big family parties that day so we moved it up a day. It’s kind of nice to have our family opening when the boys are still fresh and excited about everything. It gets a little overwhelming by the time Santa comes and they have their last gift opening. I’ll write more about this on a separate Christmas post in a few days. ๐Ÿ™‚


I was so happy to receive this letter from our mail carrier! It made me really glad I put out that box of treats every day. I’m glad she liked the chocolate covered peppermint topped candy cane Joe-Joe’s from Trader Joe’s! They were so good, which is why I gifted them to many people this year!


And today we had Greg’s huge family party in Oshkosh. I’m told there were 49 people there! Always a fun time, especially the big present exchange/war.


I came home after the party to check on Annie and do some final baking. I had to take pictures of everything I’m making ahead of time in case something disastrous happens by the time they’re baked and served! This is a cranberry, bacon, and brie wreath for tomorrow night.


And a cinnamon braid wreath for brunch tomorrow. I also made another batch of cookies. That’s enough baking for awhile!

That was my week! I won’t be writing a Sunday Intentions post this week. I don’t have any priorities other than to just enjoy whatever comes in the following days. We have Christmas with both our families tomorrow. Santa on Monday and maybe some extra family time. Greg is taking vacation on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m hoping to get a lot of reading in and hopefully some writing. Finally! I’m so behind on all the posts. Of course there’s also all that end of the year stuff swirling around in my brain about what I want to do differently next year. Lots to think about, lots to write about. We’ll see how much I get to. ๐Ÿ™‚

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

Saturday Reflections 12.09.2017

December is flying by! Christmas is only two weeks away! How is that possible?! I’m starting to feel the panic setting in. Mostly because I’m not getting the dolls made that I wanted to. I’m SO DISTRACTED. There are just so many things grabbing my attention. Though I finally finished shopping for everyone last night, so maybe with that off my mind I can find some focus for the upcoming week. I really strive to sit back and enjoy December and it hasn’t happened yet. But I’m getting there. Hopefully.


Anyway, I really tried to take each day this week one day at a time and solely focus on the one most important thing I needed to work on. Monday was a work day. I finished up three gift dolls, four dolls for the shop, and wrapped and shipped out a few gifts that needed to be mailed. I also had to wrap all the St. Nick gifts, which took way too long! Nothing terribly exciting, but it needed to be done!


Tuesday was errands, dentist, and party prep. I have two cavities, which the dentist took great joy in announcing while trying to shame me for not flossing enough. They didn’t have an appointment available until January to get them filled, so I’m not going to worry about it right now. They were so busy that day and wait times were ridiculous. I was not happy considering how many other things I needed to do afterward. Shopping for the party, dinner, and making these cookies. They’re my favorite. SO GOOD. I can only make them for other people because nobody in my family will eat things with nuts on them and Greg won’t eat anything with extra salt on it. He is MISSING OUT.


Wednesday was St. Nick’s Day! We were lucky that it happened to land on a late start day this year. Greg was hoping to open gifts with us before he left for work, but of course of all days, Shepard slept until 7:20! He’s usually up well before 6 (much to my annoyance!). The boys were all really excited about their gift piles. St. Nick brought everyone a book and a card game, as well as some mustards and sauces and jams and a variety of bath products. He brought me the bookย Dot Journaling and a blank journal. I’m hoping to give bullet journaling another shot in the new year. The boys opened Greg’s presents for him while they video chatted before school.


Annie got a stuffed Christmas tree. I couldn’t believe how we opened the french doors and she immediately ran over and grabbed her toy! Zero sniffing around or investigating, she just seemed to know it was there waiting for her. She pulverized the toy in less than five minutes.


Real smiles! Hooray!


I made our favorite croissant treats for breakfast. I just buy a box of croissants from Costco and then slice them all open, put a layer of chocolate chips and flaky sea salt inside, close them up, brush on maple syrup, top with coarse sugar, and bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes. It really makes a normal croissant taste a million times better.


After the boys went to school I spent the rest of the afternoon setting up for my FAVORITE THINGS PARTY. Also known as one of my favorite nights of the year! This is the third year I’ve hosted it and every year it gets bigger and more fun! The rules are pretty simple – bring three of your favorite things and at the party we each draw three names and have a big gift exchange. It’s so much fun to see what people bring. I also asked everyone to bring an appetizer or dessert or drink this year, so I wouldn’t have to provide that much food. I made the cookies and this cheese tray. I love making cheese trays!


Annie was ready for the party in her ugly Christmas sweater!



I didn’t get many people pictures, but I believe we had 16 people there this year. So much fun! So much delicious food too.


Annie was the life of the party and trying so hard to stay awake!

I kept meaning to put together some gift guides this fall because I LOVE looking at gift guides. But of course I ran out of time. So I’ll just give you a mini gift guide of what I gave for my favorite things this year. You’re technically supposed to just give one thing, but I always like to make it a little bundle because it looks more special, and if the recipient hates one of the things she might still like the accompanying item.

my favorite things

  1. Only Love Todayย by Rachel Macy Stafford
    I love this book so much! I’m not done with it yet, but it’s the one part of my morning routine that I never miss. The book is divided into seasons and each season has 1-2 page chapters/essays/devotionals. It has a Christian perspective, but it’s not technically a devotional with a scripture base. It’s just so many amazingly insightful glimpses of what you could be doing to make your life happier, more joyful, more filled with the things that actually matter. I love this book. Get it for yourself, a friend, basically anyone.
  2. Paper Mate Flair Felt Tip Pens
    I am obsessed with these pens! I use them to underline passages in the book, which is why I gave them with the book. Plus they look really good together with the similar colors! I also use them in my planner. Every week I pick out four colors and each color is meant for a different aspect of my life (commitments, to dos, blog posts, meal plans) in the planner. I’m a nerd.
  3. Tarte Quench Lip Rescue Lipstick – in Cherry
    My sister-in-law gifted me a huge lipstick sampler for my birthday, and this is the one that I absolutely fell in love with. I’m a bit of a lipstick junkie, but I’m really particular about what I like. It needs to feel nice on my lips and also been shiny and preferably sheer. This one fits all the requirements with the added benefit of tasting like peppermint. The Cherry color is my favorite. It looks really bright in the tube, but is much more subtle on the lips. I also love the Berry. I own Nude and Rose too and like them as well.
  4. Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm – in Red Dahlia
    More like a chapstick than a lipstick, this one still provides a really sheer beautiful layer of color. My mom and I both fell in love with these this year and I think Red Dahlia is the favorite of both of ours. You don’t need to look in a mirror to put it on, so it’s a great addition to your purse anytime you want a tiny pop of color.
  5. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Organic Lip Balm
    Chapsticks are definitely my first love! I keep 2-3 varieties in no less than seven different locations around my house so I can always put some on. Dr. Bronner’s has been a new one I tried this year and really love.
  6. Merry & Bright Mugs
    I was so excited when the Heart & Home Collection was released at Target this fall. This mug was an instant favorite – and also nearly impossible to get. I tried to order one online at 5am the day they came out and they were sold out by the time I got to my cart. But persistence tends to pay off and from three separate orders I ended up with eight of them in my possession. I kept two, gave two for this party, and gave the other fourย as individual gifts. I love how cute and understated they are. They’re also small, which is something I prefer for my hot drinks of choice.
  7. ย Frozen Bean Latte Frappe Mixes
    As a new coffee drinker, I decided to pick these up at Walmart one day. They’re surprisingly really tasty! They have an option to make cold in a blender with ice for a frappuccino, or hot like a latte. I’ve only done the cold method, but it’s great!

Okay, back to my week! Thursday was a total recovery day. I was so tired from everything. I spent most of the day just mindlessly looking at things online. I also ran to my favorite gift store to check out their Christmas decorations. I put zero pressure on myself to actually get anything done. Probably not how I really should have spent the day, but I needed it.


Friday I was just all over the place. The deep seated need to FINISH Christmas shopping was pretty much prevailing over all other thoughts for the day. So I just pulled the trigger on a bunch of things I’ve been putting off. And other than a gift or two for one person who is causing me issue this year, I’m pretty much done!


Annie had a playdate in the afternoon with my friend Kristin’s dog Rosie. They’d never met before, and hit it off pretty well!


And the rest of the day was spent sewing. So many dolls left. Next Saturday is my hard deadline for finishing them. But I’d like to have them done on Wednesday. I’d really like to have them done on Tuesday! The sooner I get them done the sooner I can wrap presents, bake cookies, read books, write my backlog of blog posts, and just RELAX. But I need to get these done first.

Anyway, it’s time to get back to work! I have a few hours to sew this morning and then the boys are off on a sleepover and Greg and I are having a date day! We’re seeingย Ladybird and eating – somewhere. Not terribly festive, but it’s just so cold out!

Hope you had a great week!

A Very Merry Christmas


Christmas was pretty great this year! The boys are at about the best possible age to truly enjoy the holiday season. They both still fully believe in Santa and are super excited about everything. Between their enthusiasm and having our first Christmas at the new house, it really felt like a magical time of celebration.


On Christmas Eve morning we got ready as early as we could and headed over to Greg’s parents’ house for The Noe Christmas. We had a wonderful brunch and then gathered around for present opening.



Caden got a basketball hoop from Grandma and Grandpa. I think it’s something that the boys and all the neighborhood kids will get a lot of use out of for many, many years to come!


Shepard was really excited about his new telescope. He loves looking at the moon and stars and always has a great view out of his window at night.



I got a new table for my sewing room!!! This is what I was hoping for the most, so it’s super exciting my in-law’s bought it for me! It’s going to be my work table (I was currently using a plastic folding table), but also double as a nicer and bigger seating area for when we have company or just want to have a fancier meal. My sewing room is technically the dining room of the house, so it’s a good spot for an awesome table!





Obviously the best place to holster his crossbow!


Caden was really excited about the upcoming hotel stay at Great Wolf Lodge gifted by Grandma and Grandpa.


A heater so Greg can keep working in his basement “office/game room” during the winter. He actually got two of same heater, so everyone knows how cold we’ve been!


Neko played with his new toys for literally ten seconds and then passed out from exhaustion. Getting old is tough.





Lots of great gifts were had by all!


After we opened we enjoyed our new toys! There was a whole lot of techy/coding/programming talk going on between Greg, Andrew, and Caden.


A rousing game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.


Around 1:00 we headed over to my parents’ house to spend time with that half of the family. They were just getting lunch on the table when we walked in the door. And not even half an hour later my dad came home! He works for FedEx and we’re usually waiting late into the night for him to get home so we can open presents. It was shocking to have him there so early! Definitely a record. It was awesome we got to do everything so much earlier, though it threw off the timeline of events we were all thinking would happen that day!


Timmy and the boys went outside for awhile to run off some steam.



Juno loves eating sticks. She was pretty excited to find such a tasty red swirly stick in the snow! ๐Ÿ™‚


It wasn’t great sledding snow, but they made the most of it!


A little later in the afternoon we gathered for presents. Shepard was sneaky and saw that the present bags on these gifts didn’t go all the way to the floor!



Taking a quick break to make punch.


The boys played with these sleds at Fleet Farm for at least half an hour about a month ago. I was really hoping to get them to a real sledding hill this week, but it’s been so rainy and warm I’m afraid we won’t have any snow left!




The dogs were obviously so tired, but they couldn’t leave the action. They’re a lot like Shepard and need to be where the action is every second of the day!




Timmy got a little obsessed with beating a Rubik’s cube in under a minute this year. Everyone caught on and bought him related gifts!

As a side note, I realized Brittany didn’t show up in a single picture. ๐Ÿ™ She was there…on the couch between Timmy and I. Sorry, Brittany.


We got my dad a Costco membership because he’s always talking about all the Costco food his coworkers love. Hopefully he can make good use of it!


Again, many good gifts had by everyone! Caden got Pokemon Sun, which is what he wanted the most. He’s had games taken away for a couple of months now, so he was taking full advantage of getting them back on Christmas.



And that’s a wrap for Christmas Eve! We were back home with cookies set out and the boys in bed by 8:00. Earliest Christmas Eve ever!


Santa was able to come around 9:00 this year! And took a picture before anything was messed up. ๐Ÿ™‚


I’m a little obsessed with stockings. I took full advantage of the gigantic ones I ended up hanging this year. Despite their length, all the gifts still wouldn’t fit! I wish I had gotten a picture of the cookie plate before Santa ate it because Shepard made a reindeer out of carrots, for the reindeer. It was really cute how excited he was. Normally every year they fall asleep on the way home from Beaver Dam and I just set something out on my own.


Christmas morning! It was the first night in probably a month and a half that Shepard slept the entire night without coughing. Which was fairly amazing considering he coughed almost nonstop all night every night up until the night before. I kept waking up and worrying about him! Surprisingly, Shepard slept until 6:00 and Caden 6:20. We were expecting a much earlier wake up call!



Shepard was really excited about his new motorcycle bike!! It’s just a bike, fyi, but looks like a motorcycle. ๐Ÿ™‚


Caden doesn’t do jokes. Not so amused with “reindeer poop.”



We did stockings first and the guys each got three minifig bags. I was looking at the sheet of paper after Caden opened his and was really excited about the mom and baby set. So Shepard and I were THRILLED when he opened his and we got it!


CUTEST LEGO EVER. I’m totally stealing it because he’ll forget it even exists after a day or two.


Minifigs are awesome.


I got a Steiff collector’s edition teddy bear in my stocking! I saw this bear about a year ago and totally fell in love with him. I’m always on a treasure hunt at antique stores for vintage Steiff bears, but occasionally check out their website for new ones. When I realized this bear was already sold out, I couldn’t resist an ebay search. I think a collector’s bear might have to be a new Christmas tradition! I loooove teddy bears.


His official name is “Big Timmy” which I thought was pretty funny.


Whereas Shepard got a bike, Caden’s big Santa present was a huge nine person tent. Now that we have a yard to set it up in, I figured it was worth the investment. Greg hates camping, but I think the boys are old enough now I can probably handle taking them on my own a couple times over the summer. It will be fun! And we have room for other people to join us if they wish!






After presents, Shepard had to get his bike in action! The annoying thing is that the seat isn’t adjustable and he’s just a tiny bit too short for it. I think he’s starting to get the hang of it now, but he was having a tough time getting started on his own.


It was a weird, rainy Christmas morning.


After a couple hours of playing and relaxing at home we headed back to Noe’s for more family time. The boys love sitting on laps. I wonder when Caden will start feeling too old/big to do it anymore.


Melissa and Shepard building the giant Star Wars set she gave him.



I think this was the first year all ten of us were there for all three days of parties. The occasion needed a photo! Wish I had thought to bring my tripod!


Sadly we had to say goodbye as everyone got ready to go their separate ways last night and this morning. I’m not sure when we’ll all be in the same place again.


And finally, one last Christmas stop at my parents’ house. This is all the dog stuff my mom got! Plus three pairs of socks that didn’t make the picture.


Oscar graced us with his presence this day.


Caden spent all day playing Pokemon. I spent most of the day reading a book in the midst of everything, so I can’t really blame him.


My mom and I both loved brie, so we basically had this for dinner. It’s a caramelized onion baked brie with onion, cranberry, and pistachios. It was delish.


Shepard was too excited to sit still doing anything for more than a few minutes at a time. He loves being by people!



And that’s about it! I had one of the best Christmases ever. I hope you did too!

Our Family Christmas


We had our family Christmas tonight! We usually have it on the 23rd, so we can claim a little bit of nuclear family time before the 24th and 25th which are so packed with extended family. It’s nice to have a quieter celebration with just the four of us when the excitement is new and everyone is happy. We have a family party on the 23rd this year, though, so we had to push it back to the 22nd. It worked out well, though. Greg started his vacation today, so we spent the day together and had a nice lunch date. Then we picked the boys up from school and jumped right into present opening!





Shepard and his I have a cold and for whatever weird reason I have to always be sucking on my top lip mustache. He’s been wanting this lego set for a really long time.


For some reason I was actually in a store with just Shepard, so he picked out his gifts for Caden in person. He was so excited about this nerf gun.


They played with this the rest of the night, so it was a hit!


A couple of weeks ago I asked Shepard what kind of present he would get for me if he could. He said a really big shiny star for the tree. I guess he told Greg that idea and they got me one. It’s big! ๐Ÿ™‚





Greg said that on his own Caden came up with the idea of getting me a yoga mat for Christmas. He knew I already have one, but he wanted to get me one in my favorite color and he’ll take my old one and we can do yoga together. I better find some videos for us to start!



Shepard saw these pajamas in the Target catalog and REALLY wanted them. Despite the hilarious facial expressions in this picture, he was really excited about them, put them on immediately, wore them the rest of the night, plans on wearing them tomorrow for Pajama Day at school, and told me it was his favorite present of the night!


I found this cake pan at a vintage barn sale. I told him it was a decoration, so he took one of my pictures off the wall and hung it up…




Shepard’s gift for Daddy because they love building lego sets together so much.


Caden’s gift for Shepard. He picked this out on his own too. Said that the only reason Shepard watched one of the Star Wars movies was because he wanted to watch these walker things, so he knew he’d like the lego set.


Shepard also really wanted to get Caden Monopoly. A couple of months ago Caden mentioned wanting it out of the blue and when we were at Target Shepard remembered! I was pretty proud of their gift giving talents this year!


Caden was REALLY excited. Greg is a Monopoly hater, but according to all the amazon reviews, this version of Monopoly has a much shorter game play! We shall see.




Caden gave Greg a Stardew Valley map because they bond over video games.




This was the hilarious present of the night! It’s from one of my favorite podcasts. I read the first couple of pages and was laughing so hard. Can’t wait to read the rest! I also got some house things – a wall lamp to go by my computer, an LED lamp for my writing desk, sheer curtains for our bedroom, a new snow globe, and some candles.


I wanted to make our dinner tonight extra special, so we set up the table in my sewing room and tried to make it look fancy. I’m pretty terrible at cooking more than one dish at a time, so three at once was quite a feat for me! It’s not exactly a balanced meal, but it was good!




Overall, it was a really special night together! Now I’m even more excited to see what the next couple of days bring!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Favorite Things Party


Last night I threw my annual Favorite Things Party. I started this last year and quickly decided it’s my favorite Christmas tradition that I do solely for myself and my friends. It’s a really unique way to get people together and have a gift exchange that’s a little more exciting than your typical white elephant ordeal. It’d be fun for any time of the year, but especially festive around Christmas!

I did some research on favorite things parties and everybody does it a little differently. A common theme is to have a set number of participants and then everybody picks one favorite thing and brings enough of it for each person at the party to take one home. I love that idea, but I imagine it could get really expensive really quick. So I altered the rules a bit and asked everybody to bring three of their favorite things. It could all be the same thing, though variety is sometimes a lot more fun. At the party everybody writes their name on three slips of paper and then we take turns going around the room and drawing names for each of our gifts. It’s exciting to see what everybody brought and always fun to get three presents back for yourself!



Last year I threw this party in the morning for my fellow stay at home moms. It was fun, but also a bit more chaotic with a bunch of little people running around. This year I wanted it to feel more special and celebratory, so I planned it at night and was able to invite some of my working friends as well.

My favorite party food these days is a well planned cheese board, so that was the focus of our “meal.” ๐Ÿ™‚


I also bought a package of fancy Italian meats from Costco. I realized I most definitely do not like fancy meat, so if anybody wants all the leftovers…


I also made a veggie pizza wreath.


And a cranberry salsa that was so easy and so delicious!


I wanted to keep all the party food relatively simple and stress free to make, so I bought some fancy chocolates, made my favorite cookies, and my new favorite salty caramel corn treat from my favorite cookbook of the year: The Cookies & Cups Cookbook.


I had a hot chocolate bar.


And wine! The pink moscato from Innocent Bystander is my all time favorite wine. (Seeing a theme, here? :))


The gift pile. A lot of people asked me if they should wrap their presents or not and I suggested not since you usually say what and why you brought each thing. But I guess everybody preferred to wrap anyway! ๐Ÿ™‚ We had a really nice selection this year, with 14 people at the party. Some items included books, coloring books, wine, blanket, coffee, socks, notebooks, pens, movies, mugs, lotions, and a wide variety of sweet treats.


Last year I knew exactly what I wanted to bring and this year I had a lot harder time narrowing it down. I wanted to give things that were truly my favorite, but would also make a nice gift for someone to take home. The book Bread & Wine is one of the best I’ve read this year. It was my first venture into the food memoir genre, which has quickly become of my favorite types of book to read. But it’s also about friendship, family, entertaining, faith, and simply finding joy in the people around you and the food that nourishes you. I adored this book.


The second gift I brought was a Turkish towel. I discovered the awesomeness of these towels this past spring. I found it to be the absolute perfect little blanket to toss in my purse for park outings, baseball games, and even the pool. They’re bigger than your average towel, but extremely lightweight and fold up SO tiny. I have two of them and I’ve used them many times for a variety of purposes.


I really struggled with my third gift. Most of my favorite things are more abstract or a bit too expensive for this kind of exchange. I really hesitated about giving a media item since everybody’s tastes are so different. But I loved this CD so much I had to do it. I’ve never even heard of JJ Heller before, but I randomly came across her new Christmas album on Spotify and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since. It has all of my favorite Christmas songs on it, but they sound so fresh and unique. I totally love it.






Overall, I’d call the party a raging success! ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t wait to do it again next year!