Favorites #18

I’m dropping the “Friday” out of Friday Favorites so I can feel the freedom to write this post whenever I please!! I have a few things to share and one of them is time sensitive to January, so I don’t want another week to go by without telling you about it since I’m already so behind!

Book Riot Reading Log

This is such a fun way to track your reading for the year! I’m pretty obsessed with the Book Riot website in general, but when I discovered this reading log they put out every year, it became an invaluable resource for tracking my reading. I’ve actually kept my own master spreadsheet since 2007, so I can see all the books I’ve read in one place. It’s great for looking a book up to see if I’ve read it or not in the past. I also use Goodreads for tracking toward a number goal each year, but I only started doing that consistently four years ago. The Book Riot log is fun for seeing a true breakdown of what types of books you’re reading, what country they were published in, which gender the authors are, which format you read in, etc. You can also hide the columns that you don’t have interest in tracking. If you love to know that kind of stuff – like me – this is a great resource. Oddly, Book Riot does not making actually finding this log very easy after it’s initially released, so I wanted to make sure I could bookmark it for you!

Made by Mary Family Florals Oval Disc Necklace

I wrote about my love for Made by Mary jewelry in my 2020 Favorites blog post, but I’ve since received the Family Florals necklace that I bought with some Christmas gift money, and I LOVE IT. It’s gorgeous. I’m always a huge fan of jewelry that can be personalized or have some sort of meaningful message, rather than just wearing something because it’s pretty. I thought this necklace was really unique because you could pick how many blooms you wanted. I liked the fuller bouquets, so I went with seven to represent my family of four and our three pets. This is now my new favorite gold necklace and I wear it all the time. I upgraded to the satellite chain as well for that little extra something.

Crossroads Warm Pretzel Candle

My candle obsession continues. It’s basically my greatest joy in the gloomy days of winter. This particular candle is one I picked up at the craft barn in the Dells on one of my solo vacations last fall. It’s a different jar design with a picture of a pretzel on it. We all love soft pretzels around here and the smell was intriguing so I bought it. I just wasn’t sure when to light it since “pretzel” is not really a seasonal scent and I like to be seasonally appropriate in everything I do these days! Anyway, I finally took it out the other day to replace a candle in the family room and was AMAZED by the scent. It smells so good! But what’s really incredible is that it fills the ENTIRE HOUSE with scent. I’ve never had a candle do that before!

Stone and Skillet English Muffins

On Christmas Eve I had a Wolferman’s honey wheat english muffin at my in-law’s house and it was so tasty. What’s ironic is that about a year and a half ago I ordered a bunch of Wolferman’s english muffins – like 12 packs of them – and most of the flavors I tried I didn’t really like so I ended up eventually throwing them all away. Including the honey wheat, which I had never even tried. Anyway, because it was so tasty it set me on a mission to look into other english muffin brands and I came across a website that ranked them all by taste. Bay’s is the store brand they recommended, but Stone and Skillet is what they rated as the best english muffin for a true treat. So OF COURSE I ordered them. And I love them SO MUCH. I picked out the original, wheat, and everything flavors. The wheat is my favorite, but I really like the other two as well. What’s interesting about these english muffins is that they’re a lot squishier than the thin crunchy kind you’re used to from the grocery store. But they have such an incredible depth of flavor. I always eat mine with butter and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Absolutely delish!

Don Chilio Chile Crisp Jalapenos

Let me introduce you to another one of my recent food obsessions – little fried jalapeno pieces in spicy olive oil. It’s amazing. I’ve now had all three versions of this – the habanero, serrano, and jalapeno. I live for spicy food, but the habanero is too hot for me. I’ve only used it mixed into queso and I put like three tiny little pieces in it to flavor the whole thing. The serrano is good, but it’s still very spicy. The jalapeno is perfect. Fairly mild on its own, but if you get some of the oil with it it’s perfect. My favorite way to eat it is to make toast or a bagel, cover in plain cream cheese, and then drizzle the jalapenos over the top and top it all with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. It’s really delightful.

Soley Fruit Jerky

This is something I found at Costco last month that I really liked. The Costco bag was a mix of pineapple and mango varieties. I liked the pineapple the most and Greg enjoyed the mango. I then bought a variety pack on amazon, but I was not a fan of the banana or spicy flavors. So I’d stick with pineapple or mango, but they taste really good and the only ingredient is the fruit it uses!

Palo Popcorn Movie Theater Popcorn

I’ve been a fan of Palo Popcorn for a long time. They have a magical way of infusing every single kernel of popcorn with a full burst of flavor. I used to only get the jalapeno cheddar popcorn, but last year I started buying the regular cheddar and mixing it in with my homemade salted caramel corn. PERFECTION. I also really like the Mexican street corn flavor. On Friday I was at Pick n Save and noticed that they now have a movie theater flavor. Sometimes you just want “normal popcorn” so I picked it up to try and I think it’s my new favorite. It’s seriously amazing. I haven’t seen the original salted flavor in any stores, but I’d love to try that too. YUM. I can see myself buying this for special family movie nights instead of making our own because the flavor is just that good.

Gingerbread Biscotti

Okay, we’re out of the holiday season now, but I wanted to make sure I shared this recipe. I didn’t make a lot of Christmas cookies this year, but I made this one twice. These gingerbread biscotti are amazing. And then ten times better if you dip them in coffee. Even better if you dip them in a gingerbread latte! I’m not even a huge fan of gingerbread, but I couldn’t get enough of these cookies. Biscotti feels like an intimidating cookie to make, but try it out and you’ll realize it’s really one of the easiest things ever. And so worth your effort!

My Favorites of 2020

I wanted to end the year with something FUN. I noticed that a lot of my favorite internet follows have been curating lists of their favorite things of 2020 and since I LOVE “favorite things” I decided I needed to make my own list! I’ll be honest, a lot of these things might have been featured in my Friday Favorites posts over the year. I’m not going back to look. Instead I went through most of my purchases this past year and took note of everything I used and loved and wanted to share. I’m also including my favorite books and tv shows of the year too. Head’s up, this is going to be a long post!

Favorite Fiction Books
I read 138 books this year and 115 of them were fiction. I love the joy and escapism that comes with diving into a great book. Lighter romance (as in, not the erotica type) is my favorite and my list shows that the haters to lovers trope is clearly my favorite. I read a lot of light love stories this year, desperate for the happily ever after. I actually read less YA than usual (37), but five of them still made my top list (and one middle grade, a genre I almost never read (4 this year, if you were wondering)).

Favorite Nonfiction Books
I know I say this all the time, but I am such a slow nonfiction reader. I love the idea of nonfiction, but when it comes to doling out how I spend my time, I’m almost always going to choose to jump back into whatever fiction book I have going. But this year I really tried to take time in the early mornings and late evenings to read a little bit of nonfiction here and there. I still didn’t get through nearly as many as I would have liked (I have hundreds of unread nonfiction on my shelves just waiting for me), but I gave almost every one I finished a very high rating. If it can hold my attention enough to get to the end, it’s a good book!

Candles
I’ve always loved candles, but they were typically reserved for October-December when I really wanted that extra boost of seasonal cheer. This year, however…I kind of lost my mind searching for new ones to fit my every mood. It became a bit of an obsession trying to pick out the perfect scents for each area of the house that I spend time in and then making sure before I light that particular candle I’ll be in that spot long enough to truly enjoy it. It’s basically nonstop babysitting, properly taking care of candles. But I’m addicted to it. And in a year where I basically never left the house, I found immense joy in them – the ambiance of a flickering light, but also the power of scent to change a mood.

  • P.F. Candle Co. Smoky Cinnamon Special
    I had this candle lit during October in my reading area and I was addicted to it. It had such a strong and intoxicating scent. I purchased a second one, but it was December by then and it didn’t feel quite right, so I’m saving it for next fall. It’s not even currently for sale anymore, so it must always be a seasonal release.
  • Ranger Station Leather + Pine
    While I don’t particularly think this smells like leather or pine, it has an incredibly fresh winter morning scent to it that I adore. It really fills a room too. I loved it! As an added bonus, the glasses are designed to be cleaned out at the end and used for whiskey (or whatever).
  • Apotheke Charcoal
    This is not marketed as a Christmas candle, but actually has a really wonderful smell reminiscent of the holiday season. I also love the black wax – it’s a nice change from the mostly glass jar white wax candles I typically burn.
  • Frostbeard Bookstore
    This wasn’t a new discovery in 2020, but it might be my all time favorite candle. I love the scent, so, so much. I always burn it at my desk when I plan on writing for a long time.
  • Novelly Yours Joshua Templeman
    This isn’t a new scent for me either, but it’s also one of my all time favorites. I originally bought it for the novelty because Joshua Templeman is the leading man in The Hating Game, one of my favorite books. But I ADORE the candle and keep going back to purchase another every time I finish one.
  • The Burlap Bag Baked Bread
    Again, not a new scent this year, but I love it. It genuinely smells like a fresh yeasty loaf of bread. I’ve never smelled another candle even the tiniest bit similar. I like to burn this one in my bedroom at naptime!
  • Forget Me Not Candle Co. Midnight Bonfire
    Bonfire type scents are one of my favorites because they’re great in summer and they feel equally as fitting in winter. This is a new one I picked up and I love it! Shepard thinks it smells like bacon. It really has a distinct smoked scent, but I love that smell!
  • 7th Street Salvage Picket Fence
    I almost forgot this one because I haven’t burned it since early summer. It’s only sold seasonally, but I ADORED it. It was such a wonderful scent for the season. I’ve liked all the candles I’ve gotten from this company and particularly enjoy their unique jars with recycled wood tops.
  • DW Home Sugar Cookie
    Okay, so this was a candle I bought last year but didn’t have time to light. I brought it out this Christmas for the family room and was amazed at how strong of a delectable vanilla scented throw it had. I usually get DW Home candles from HomeGoods or Marshall’s, so be on the lookout next year for this scent to come back! They usually have it in fun Christmassy styles.

Nail Polish
I’ve never been a nail polish person – and definitely not on my fingernails. I’ve only had a manicure once in my life before my wedding and I hated the experience. But this year I just needed something different and special that I could do for myself. Painting my nails seemed like a good and inexpensive thing to delve into. And boy, did I! Like most things in my life I found extreme joy in coordinating my nail colors with the seasons (I also only burn seasonal scented candles and use seasonal mugs and drink seasonally flavored drinks now). And now that I actually take care of myself, giving myself mini manicures every few days, I love looking at my nails! It’s a tiny thing, but it brings me great joy.

Blankets
When you’re home all the time you start to really appreciate all the little comforts that make your space more welcoming and warm. Especially through the long and cold Wisconsin winters! My favorite touches to any room are switching out blankets and pillows with every season or holiday. Basically any excuse to always pick up a new throw or pillow that catches my eye! I’ve gotten a couple new blankets in the last month or so that I’m totally in love with.

  • Dreamothis Sherpa Weighted Blanket
    I believe I shared this in my last Friday Favorites post a few weeks ago, but it was out of stock at that time. It’s back – for now! Only in this teal color, but I happen to think it’s the prettiest of the ones they had originally. I first got one in a purplish pink color that I use on my reading chair. But I loved it so much I got another for my bedroom for nap time. Then each of the boys got one for Christmas. Then I ordered one for my goddaughter. I LOVE them. They’re so warm and cozy, but not as suffocatingly heavy or slippery as other weighted blankets I’ve tried in the past.
  • Pottery Barn Throws – All of them, any of them
    So I was listening to a podcast about a month ago where they were talking about some of their favorite gift ideas and they spent quite a while discussing the benefits of gifting people with Pottery Barn throw blankets. Apparently they are recognized as being really high quality throws. I started obsessing about this possibility, especially as it was starting to get really cold in the house and we don’t really have any good “winter” blankets. I also really hate how unwelcoming our family room seems and decided the reason this is is because I don’t decorate it with piles of cozy blankets and pillows the way that I do the living room, where I spend the most time. So I bought myself two – one is plaid knit on one side and faux fur on the other (it was on clearance, no longer available), and the other is the Cozy Pom Pom Throw. I adore them both. So do all the pets. And the boys. And it REALLY makes me like the way the family room looks and feels so much more. There’s another one that I was looking at over and over and over again and is on a huge one day sale today, but I’m trying to restrain myself. I also LOVE the look of this one, but doesn’t look very practical for sharing with hairy animals. Similarly, the edging on this one is gorgeous! From my somewhat limited experience, I really do think these are pretty great!

Skin and Body and Hair
Since I didn’t have much else to do, I decided this would be the year I’d finally start taking care of my skin. It started early in the pandemic when I took a selfie of myself and was horrified by the big wrinkle I had between my eyebrows. I’ve since been religiously applying night cream and doing masks every week to try and keep on top my wrinkles before they become so obvious everywhere! I’m definitely no skincare expert, but these are some products I started using this year and really have enjoyed.

  • Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum
    My sister-in-law gave this to me last Christmas and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, but it seemed expensive, so I kept it around. Then I started using it this summer – just slathering some on before my moisturizer in the morning. I’m still not even quite sure what it is or what it’s for, but I’m convinced it helps! I’m not sure if I’ll repurchase when I run out, but my skin has enjoyed it this year!
  • Olay Regenerist Retional24
    This is what I chose as my night cream. There are just so many options out there, it’s overwhelming. But this one seemed to work great and didn’t make me break out the way other creams have in the past (and the reason I never used them long term before).
  • Soap & Glory Heel Genius
    This was the only foot product I’ve ever used (I’ve tried them all) that actually fixed the skin on my feet. Well, this and starting to use a foot grater, which is possibly my favorite thing of all time.
  • Soap & Glory Smoothie Star Body Buttercream
    I’m not big on lotion, but I picked this up during a sale and actually really like it! The smell is quite nice too.
  • Versed Back-Up Plan Acne Control Body Mist
    Here’s a fun one for you – and possibly TMI (lol). But when I started biking so much this summer I found myself breaking out on my chest quite a bit. I happened to see this at Target and decided to try it out. And shockingly, it worked super well. It’ll last forever too and is so easy to spray all around your back or front.
  • Bliss Mint Chip Mania Facial Mask
    I really like face masks that you smear all over your face (as opposed to sheet masks, where I question how much they actually help anything, plus are always freezing cold and slimy). Earlier this year Target had a big sale on all Bliss masks, so I got a couple different ones and this is definitely my favorite. It legit looks like putting mint chocolate chip ice cream or frosting on your face, but it smells so good and seems to really improve my skin.
  • Aveda Cherry Almond Leave in Conditioner
    I haven’t done much of anything with my hair this year – nobody sees me! But because of the lack of attention – and haircuts – it was getting very hard to keep combable by the middle of summer. So I gave this a shot, massaging some into my hair right out of the shower. It worked really well. Now that it’s been another long chunk of time since the one pandemic haircut I got, I think it’s time to pull this back out again. Tangles are the worst!

Jewelry
I LOVE jewelry, but I haven’t had much reason to wear it this year. It felt a little silly loading up on jewelry when nobody ever saw me. But I did try to pull myself together a couple times a week and it was always fun to remember how much I love so many pieces in my collection. I didn’t add many new things this year, but I have two recommendations!

  • Made by Mary Moonstone Necklace
    I’ve hated gold jewelry all my life – until this year. I suddenly kind of love it. I don’t like MIXING metals (other than my white gold wedding rings), but I really like the way gold jewelry looks better with a lot of my more jewel colored tops. Anyway, this moonstone necklace is my favorite gold necklace. I love it so much. It’s the perfect size, length, and has such a pretty chain. They also have a couple other colors. I got the orange one for my best friend for Christmas. My sister-in-law introduced me to Made by Mary – she loves their rings. I’ve picked up a few rings for myself in the last few years and have been highly impressed with everything I’ve gotten. With some Christmas money from Greg’s grandparents, I ordered myself this necklace (with seven blooms for the seven people and animals I’ve spend so very much time with this year!). It shipped yesterday and I’m SO excited for it to arrive.
  • RQP Studio I Trust in the Lord Unicorn Wax Seal Necklace
    Greg gave me this for Christmas and I love it SO MUCH. I’ve been wearing it every day. I’ve purchased a couple other wax seal necklaces from this company over the years and have always really liked them (though I always get a heavier chain from amazon that doesn’t feel so breakable). But this one is my favorite. It’s just so ME.

Clothes
I’m not sure that I have specific clothing items from this year that stand out as my absolute favorites, but I do have two SOURCES of clothing that I bought almost exclusively from this year. It’s tough finding plus size clothing that are both flattering and cute, but these two places continue to come through for me.

  • Stitch Fix
    I highly recommend giving Stitch Fix a try. It’s been the main place I’ve gotten clothes for the last five or six years. The more fixes you get – especially if you stick with the same stylist – the better curated the selection. My stylist knows me so well and always sends me the greatest things. My favorite way to shop these days, though, is the actual Shop collection with ever changing options of things that will interest me. I love it. Many of the items are definitely more expensive than your regular department store prices (much of my sewing money goes to buying myself clothes!), but if you have a hard time finding clothes like me, it is SO worth it. I’ve been very, very happy with them.
  • Fabletics
    This is my new favorite place to buy leggings. There are SO many styles (and tons of options in plus sizes), they seem to have a lot of great sales and deals – at least around the holidays, and they fit so well! I’ve gotten a handful of pairs in the last few months and I genuinely love them. The tops? Not really for me – I’m not going to be walking around in a sports bra or crop top anytime soon. (Though they look really cute if you can pull it off!) But the leggings are amazing. I especially like the styles with side pockets!

Other Wearables
Here are a couple other things that I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this year!

  • Crocs
    Yes, I know. Not stylish at all. But…nobody sees me. My feet are the worst. I wanted something I could put on very quickly when I had to take Annie out and all the better if it could get dirty and cleaned up quickly. I got some regular bright green crocs in spring and wore them all summer. Then I ended up getting furry lined ones to use as house shoes this winter and I honestly think they’re fixing my plantar fasciitis. When I wear these shoes all day I almost have no pain at the end of the night. I can’t remember the last time my feet have felt this pain free. Four years ago, maybe?
  • Ililily Face Masks
    I tried so many different styles of face masks at the start of the pandemic and this style is by and far my favorite. I only have two of them that I switch back and forth wearing (remember I only go to one store once a week, so I don’t have a HUGE need for a ton of masks).
  • Baleaf Thermal Helmet Liner
    This has been a lifesaver in keeping me out biking through fall and into winter. It looks ridiculous – like a swim cap. But it’s mostly covered by your helmet and actually really will keep your head and ears warm. I wouldn’t bike in these freezing temperatures without it.

TV Shows
Okay, I watched a lot of tv this year. A LOT. I won’t recap any of them because this post is already getting crazy long, but here are the ones that stood out to me as being really worth watching!

  • Robbie
  • Succession
  • A Million Little Things
  • PEN15
  • Manifest
  • Outer Banks
  • Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
  • The Resident
  • The Good Doctor
  • The Rain
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • Sneaky Pete

Random Quarantine Purchases
We bought a lot of bigger ticket items this year in lieu of going on vacations and to try and improve our lives since we were all home all the time. I’d say almost all of those purchases were worthwhile, except perhaps the trampoline, which was the most expensive and the least used. The novelty of trampoline jumping wears off when you have one in your yard. Especially when you break your arm on it and then never want to go on it again… But everything else was great. Here are some of my favorites!

  • Bear Hybrid Mattress
    Greg and I had been using the same pillow top mattress since we got married and it was so lumpy. I’m always in pain (thanks, fibromyalgia) so we finally decided to get a new mattress. After weeks of research, this is what I picked. I’m very happy with it!
  • Hoover Pet Max Vacuum
    We’d also been using the same $50 vacuum cleaner since we moved into our Columbus apartment nine years ago. It was time for an upgrade and it was AMAZING what a difference it made. We do have hardwood floors in our whole house, but the area rugs get so dirty from the pets and kids, so it’s nice to have a more heavy duty cleaning method!
  • Frigidaire Retro Mini Fridge
    Earlier this year I converted my “writing desk” – that was basically just a dumping ground for random things – into a big drink making area. It was pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done with a small space in my home. But I really wanted the area to be complete with a small fridge where I could store my creamers. Which sounds kind of ridiculous, but we were also having a ton of problems fitting everything into our regular fridge now that we were all eating a lot more food at home and going out to grocery stores a lot less often so I was always trying to be stocked up. This fridge was the perfect solution. Now we keep all our extra drinks in it and it’s freed up tons of space in the main refrigerator.
  • Char-Broil Grill
    I’ve been wanting a new grill for years and with everything that happened this year, we decided it was time to finally get a new one. I did SO much research (I feel like I did an entire month of nonstop research on all this new stuff, most of which was purchased in May!) and then ended up just getting the same one my brother has and recommended. No complaints!
  • Priority Turi Bike
    I think I did more bike research than any other after a couple of months of daily biking on my old beach cruiser and desperately wanting something better. The biggest issue was that nobody had bikes in stock anywhere to even try out, so I had to base such a huge decision only on what I could read about it. I finally took a gamble on this Turi bike from a very small Brooklyn based bike company and then had to wait four months for it to arrive. But I LOVE IT. I haven’t had a ton of opportunity to ride it yet because – snow and ice. But I can’t wait to get back to my daily sunrise rides on my new wheels in spring!

Random Food Purchases
I bought so much food online this year! I used to depend on going to a variety of grocery stores – it’s one of my favorite things to do – to find unique new things. But that was not really a safe or responsible option this year, so I just ordered a lot of random things to try out.

  • Luxardo Cherries
    This is a luxury purchase for sure. Not to be shared with your children – they won’t appreciate it. They’re meant to be put in cocktails where you’d only have one or two at a time. I used them as an ice cream topper. And they are incredible.
  • Dorothy’s Comeback Cow Cheese
    This was a middle of the night facebook ad purchase. And it is hand’s down the best brie I have ever had in my life. I’ve bought it multiple times in the last six months and have gifted it to many. I also saw it at the Sun Prairie Pick ‘n Save once, so you might be able to find it locally as well.
  • Bushwick Kitchen Bees Knees Salted Honey
    If you want something AMAZING to accompany your cheese, get this honey! I’ve been eating it all week on a cave aged gouda. The combination is absolute perfection. But it would also be fantastic on brie!
  • Don Chilio Chile Crisp – Jalapenos
    So this is a totally random purchase that I am completely addicted to. I first bought the habanero variety and they are SO spicy. The only thing I’ve used them for is stirring into queso and I only use the tiniest amount. I loved the idea, though, so I asked for the jalapeno ones and got them for St. Nick’s Day. I ate the whole jar in a week and am almost done with the second jar I ordered for myself. On their own they’re kind of a weird thing. But I’ve mostly been eating them on toast that’s covered in cream cheese. Just spread some jalapenos on top, make sure you get some of the oil from the bottom of the container because that’s what’s actually spicy, and then add a bit of flaky sea salt. It’s amazing. My second jar didn’t have much oil in it, so I added some because it’s the best part.

Coffee and Tea
Let’s end with my favorite collection of beloved things – everything new I’ve gotten for my tea and coffee area!! I love it all. It brings me so much joy. I use that area multiple times a day. I bond with the boys over each day’s new drinks. I’ve experimented with every random coffee recipe I’ve seen online. It’s just so much fun!

  • Gator Pour Over
    This continues to be my favorite method for making coffee. I’ve tried them all, seriously. I think pour over tastes the best, has the easiest clean up, and is basically fool proof. BUT it’s not conducive to serving more than one person at a time, so I only use it when I’m making coffee just for myself. Which in normal life would be all the time, but in pandemic life is only a few days a week.
  • Cosori Electric Gooseneck Kettle
    Okay, this isn’t new this year – my mom gave it to me for my birthday last year. But I use it like 3-5 times a day. It’s incredible. This is how I heat the water for my pour over coffee, but it’s also how I heat the water for all the tea I drink. It only takes a minute or two to heat to the perfect temp.
  • OXO Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
    I got this from my in-law’s for my birthday this year and it’s so great! I was just using a cheap grinder before that constantly made huge messes. This one is SO much better. I only use freshly ground beans for my coffee so I love having the freedom to pick what type of grind I want and only the exact amount I need for that brewing method so my coffee tastes the absolute freshest. This is another thing I did a TON of research on and this grinder is at the top of so many charts as being the best grinder out there (without paying an arm and a leg).
  • OXO Brew 8 Cup Coffee Maker
    I bought this with my birthday money. I did a lot of research, but mainly bought it because it was new, had amazing reviews, and matches the grinder that it’s sitting next to on my table! I really wanted the ability to brew a larger quantity of coffee at once since the boys like to drink it with me (and I’ll hopefully eventually be able to resume my friend coffee mornings!), but I also wanted it to still TASTE GOOD. Comparable to my pour over. And this is the best I’ve found.
  • Nespresso VertuoPlus
    You might be wondering why I need a Nespresso when I already have a pour over and a drip brewer (and a Moka pot and a cheap but very annoying espresso maker and multiple french presses). But…I like having a fast option. Especially for espresso. Which isn’t my favorite type of coffee, but I do really love using it for iced drinks in summer. I got this on major sale earlier this year and I actually really love it. It’s so much fun watching all the froth appear at the top of the mug! Despite my extensive mug collection, I always use a glass mug with the Nespresso because I love seeing the colored stripes of coffee and cream. 🙂 And yes, it tastes worlds better than Keurig k-cup coffee – which is how I started my coffee journey a few years ago.
  • Nespresso Aeroccino
    So this came free with my Nespresso. I wouldn’t have bought it on my own because I had two other milk frothers already (I thought I had lost my first one, so I bought another, and now I have three). But this is the one I use right now. I LOVE being able to froth my creamer or milk before adding it to my coffee. I also love that it heats it up so the whole drink stays hot a lot longer. I used to use a cheap hand frother which works well too – it just doesn’t heat it up.
  • Bayka Floating Shelves
    This has nothing to do with coffee itself, but they are the shelves I picked out to hang on the walls above my coffee area. It’s where I keep my tea and syrups and sugars. And they look really, really nice. I love them.
  • Spinning Tea Storage
    I used to store all my tea in a drawer. It was such a mess that it really stopped me from actually wanting to make tea. But now I store it in one of these where it’s so easy to find what I’m looking for and looks cute to boot! Mine is black to match my aesthetic, but I can’t find that one anymore.
  • Farmhouse Tabletop Mug Rack Tray
    I love this thing. I purchased it from Antique Farmhouse, which is a deal site with curated things that are only for sale for a couple of days – but do eventually come back. I’m so happy I found this when I did because it’s my favorite way to display my top six seasonal mugs. And I use the tray portion to hold all my nespresso pods. It looks great, is very functional, and matches my coffee area perfectly.
  • Brandywine Coffee Roasters
    This is hands down my favorite coffee roaster. I almost exclusively use their beans because they are SO GOOD. It doesn’t even matter what roast you pick, I guarantee it’s going to taste amazing. I love the uniquely designed bags and I especially love that they’re constantly releasing new blends. I’m stocked up for awhile because I bought a 12 Days of Christmas variety pack from them, but I’ve got my eye on this 2021 roast!
  • Bixby Vanilla Creme Brulee Coffee
    I gave up artificially flavored pre-ground coffee awhile ago, but when I saw this creme brulee whole bean option I just had to give it a shot. And it’s amazing!
  • Twinings Buttermint Herbal Tea
    I’ll drink pretty much any tea that isn’t black (lol), but have heavily leaned on minty flavors this year. This buttermint tea with a hint of vanilla is my all time favorite. I really do buy it in six packs from amazon so I always have it on hand. I also recently saw it at Woodman’s, if you need a local option.
  • Oatly Barista Edition Oat Milk
    I’ve been trying to stay away from regular creamers (like Coffee Mate or International Delight) now that I drink a lot more coffee than I used to. I do still use more pure ingredients only creamers (like Chobani), but I wanted to try something with more nutritional value. My friend recommend this one and after checking multiple stores with no luck I ended up buying it online since they are shelf stable until opened. I’m so glad I did because I really love it! I don’t alway use this, but it’s perfect for a latte. I froth it (it froths SO well) with a bit of flavored syrup and it tastes fantastic.
  • J.T. Cooper Flavored Syrups
    I’m such a sucker for great packaging and design and these grabbed me the second I saw them. They’re really great if you want to make coffee shop drinks that would typically use syrup. My favorite is actually a sample size I got of the Grenadine. I mixed it with a sample of the single origin chocolate and combined with a rich coffee and frothed oat milk it made the most delicious cherry mocha! Cherry mochas definitely feel like a February seasonal drink, so I’m going to have to order a large bottle of it soon!

Well, congratulations if you made it to the end of this insanely long list of all my favorite things of 2020! I was feeling bad that I never got around to making gift guides this year – I had so much fun doing it last year! But this kind of doubles as a gift guide for your future use! Or if you just want some ideas of tried and true items that might brighten your day – or your life. Thanks for checking it out!

Friday Favorites #16

Happy Friday! Life has been a bit crazy again these last few weeks and I haven’t had much spare time to write. But I’m hoping to catch up soon! I wish I could go back to writing these posts every Friday, but there just aren’t enough new things coming into my life right now to talk about. But it makes the posts I do write that much more exciting because I’ve been storing up my favorite finds for weeks now! I hope you’re able to find something useful in this batch!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

I first tried this recipe many, many years ago. And now I’m pretty sure it’s the recipe I’ve made more than any other. It’s so easy! It’s absolutely delicious. And it can be dressed up or down according to any occasion. Our favorite way to make it is to top it with fresh berries in summer. I think I first made this for my sisters-in-law on one of their July birthdays. This year I made it for both Caden and Cindy, just three days apart! I’ve also made it for a different sister-in-law and kept it plain, but we ate it with salted butterscotch sauce and fresh whipped cream. Either way, it’s going to be a hit!

Salted Butterscotch Sauce

Speaking of salted butterscotch, I should probably share that recipe too! I make it A LOT. I found the recipe in the book Food Anatomy by Julia Rothman (this whole book series is so much fun!). I should probably take back what I said about making flourless chocolate cake more than anything else, because this is probably the true winner, though I obviously don’t (just) eat it on its own. I normally make it for topping cake or ice cream or sometimes adding it to coffee. This week I added it to the top of an apple galette (my belated birthday dessert). Anyway, it’s very simple:

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (I usually use light because that’s what I have on hand, but if you can get dark it will definitely have a deeper flavor)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I often add twice this and then some flaky sea salt at the end – I really love salty sweets!)
  1. Over medium heat, melt butter and stir in brown sugar until completely moistened. Let sit until it starts to bubble, just a minute or two.
  2. Stir in heavy cream and let it come to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally. This also only takes a couple of minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in salt to taste. That’s it! It’s basically foolproof (unlike salted CARAMEL) and it tastes amazing.

Seeds of Change Quinoa and Brown Rice Packets

In the last few years I started making a lot more foods to go with rice because Greg loves rice so much. Once I started adding things to spice it up, I really started enjoying rice as well. But – shocker – white rice is not good for you. So I’ve been on the hunt this last year to find more whole grain alternatives and this is by far my favorite find so far. I’m not great at making brown rice the traditional way – it’s never cooked properly. And quinoa always seems so finicky as well. But these packets of both mixed together that only take 90 seconds in the microwave? Perfection. One packet is just enough to satisfy Greg and I – with a spoonful for Caden (Shepard refuses to touch rice). I usually buy it at Woodman’s for $2.50 a packet, but now that I see it’s a much better deal on Amazon I’ll be stocking up there from now on.

Mary’s Gone Super Seed Everything Crackers

I’ve been trying really hard to get back on track food-wise the last couple of weeks. One of my biggest downfalls is how hungry I get between meals. I’m such a snacker, but I’m also a huge emotional eater and emotions have been all over the place the last seven months. The main type of food I crave is something crunchy and salty. Instead of reaching for chips I’ve been trying out some alternative options and I really like these crackers. I’ve only had the everything variety, but they’re really delicious. Not necessarily salty, but definitely crunchy with a really complex and appealing flavor. They really fit my craving and I never feel compelled to overeat them either. Five or six and I’m good! I need more snacks like this in my life.

Chobani Coffee Creamer

I’ve been drinking a lot more coffee lately because it’s a nice little treat to break up my morning or afternoon. But I’ve been struggling with the health dilemma of putting regular creamers into my coffee. Granted I eat plenty of other things that are bad for me, but creamer seems like pouring myself straight chemicals and that’s clearly a bad choice. But I don’t see myself ever being able to drink coffee black, so I’ve been trying other options. Like all the options. Almond creamers, oat creamers, macadamia nut creamers, natural creamers, regular milk and sugar, heavy cream, half and half, basically anything the store has to offer, I’ve tried. So I finally picked up a Chobani brand creamer and I think I’m sold! It adds a wonderful sweet creaminess to the coffee, and doesn’t have any junk in it. So far I’ve had the sweet cream and hazelnut flavors and both have been wonderful!

Vornado Flippi Personal Fan

Okay, so it seems odd to add a fan to one of my favorite things in the middle of October when it is currently below freezing outside. But LAST weekend it was really warm! I was at my airbnb and it did not have any way to control the temperature (it was just a tiny studio apartment in a larger house) and I couldn’t open the windows because they didn’t have screens. So I ran to Target desperate to find some sort of solution to help me feel more comfortable. I didn’t have many options, but I grabbed one of these Vornado fans because it was small AND cute – the one I got is a really pretty coral color. It’s obviously not going to cool you off in the middle of summer, but it’s going to HELP. And it’s going to be cute and small, which are huge advantages to me. Anyway, I’m just adding this on here in case you want a little fan for your desk or nightstand or kitchen. I love mine!

Tek Gear Ultrasoft Crewneck Fleece Tunic

I’m hoping to continue biking all the way through winter as long as there isn’t snow or ice on the ground (which let’s be real, will be A LOT of winter, but I’m hoping for a lighter year!). But I realized pretty quickly after a few 30ish degree mornings in the last month that I needed warmer clothing that wouldn’t be too bulky or uncomfortable. I resorted to Kohls, as I often do for more basic clothing, and tried out one of these sweatshirts. I ordered a size bigger than I normally wear to make sure it didn’t feel too restrictive and it’s perfect! SO warm and cozy and actually a really flattering fit as well. I originally ordered gray and hot pink (different listing than what I linked, I think those were their summer colors) and came back to purchase again in green and red. I can see myself wearing these A LOT in the next few months!

P.F. Candle Co. Smoky Cinnamon Special Candle

I’m obsessed with candles. More so now than ever because they’re such a simple way to bring me immense pleasure all day long. I love the warm cozy feelings that flickering candlelight brings to a space, but I also love an intoxicating scent. I’ve purchased more candles from small companies in the last six months than ever before and it’s been such a joy to discover the ones that make me happiest. This is one of those candles. It’s possible I like it so much because it’s so different from the tried and true scents I normally lean toward. (I also have to avoid a lot of scents because Greg is particularly sensitive to them.) Without going back and looking at the candle listing when I first lit this the other night I was guessing that it had a tobacco and musky scent. I’m actually not getting much cinnamon, it just smells intensely masculine. After lighting it a couple of times I’m getting more of a warm vanilla scent as well as what must be patchouli. Which I never thought would be a type of candle I’d lean toward, but there you go! Shepard walked by and hated it, so it’s probably not for everyone, but I’m really into it! The smell is also really strong without even being lit.

Tule Fog Apple + Clove Candle

Apple is probably the most dependable candle scent there is. No matter which brand you choose, it’s going to be good. I am very seasonal in when I light which type of candle and September and October are reserved for apple, cidery, and vanilla (birthday!) scents. My sister-in-law gave me one of these for my birthday from a company local to her that I’d never heard of before. And I LOVE it. It’s one of the cleanest and brightest apple candles I’ve ever smelled. The clove is pretty subtle, but I’m fine with that. After smelling this I immediately went to their website and ordered some more varieties to try. Of the four others I bought, I’m really liking the Moss and Pine and can’t wait to light it in December! Greg doesn’t handle pine scents well and it’s one of my favorites, but I’m hoping the unique combination with mossy smells will help!

Stranger Sessions

These started popping up in one of my facebook groups and I’m so excited every time I see a new session because they give me so much joy! It’s exactly what it sounds like – a photographer finds two people (I’m assuming they’re usually single) willing to take part in a “stranger photography session.” What’s incredible is how much chemistry is usually seen between the two models even though they’ve never met before. Some of the sessions I’ve seen are just really sweet and happy, but this particular one from photographer KayLa Ruiz on September 20th (Israel and Christina) is HOT. You have to read all of her captions as well, and some of the top comments! They’re hilarious. If you just want to see something happy and hopeful, I’d highly suggest checking it out. (After writing this I went through KayLa Ruiz’s facebook page to check out more of her photos and it seems like all of her sessions end up being pretty sexy with models she uses in multiple setups. I’ve seen a lot of great outdoor sessions from other photographers that are more on the sweet end, with more “realistic” looking people.) 

Friday Favorites #15

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

Food and Drinks

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


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

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

Life Management

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

Beauty

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

Get Out of the House!

Airbnbs

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

Harrington Beach State Park

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

Spicy, Smoky, Creamy Tomato Soup

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

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

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

Spicy Smoky Creamy Tomato Soup

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

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

For the soup base

Everything else

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

Friday Favorites #14

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

Olive & June Nail Polish

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

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

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

DMC Pearl Cotton Size 8 Embroidery Floss

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

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

Skechers Arch Fit Shoes

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

Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce

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

Korean Fried Chicken Tacos

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

Happy Spaces JUST FOR YOU

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

Weekend Reflections 08.30.2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Favorites #13

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

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

Food Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drink Stuff

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

Apparel Stuff

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

Health Stuff

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

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

Book Stuff

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

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

Weekend Reflections 08.01.2020

This has been a really emotionally taxing week. I’ve been working through a lot and it’s left me a bit of a mess. I won’t get into all the details, but I’m trying to climb my way out of the pits. It would just be a lot easier if each day wasn’t bringing on new battles!

I believe I mentioned in my last post how I’d been suffering from one of the worst headaches of my life. I think stress is a big part of it, but being too tense on my morning bike rides is probably the main culprit. It’s SO discouraging to me how every time I get excited about some new physical activity that I think will finally change my life around, it causes a new negative issue with a different part of my body, kind of rendering all the benefits null. I’ve been loving my early morning rides so much that I never take a day off from them. But it’s wreaking havoc on my neck and shoulders so I finally forced myself to stay home on Tuesday, for the first morning in the month since I started. I was so angry at myself because I don’t want to start giving in to lame excuses and taking more and more mornings off without a really valid reason. But a whole lot of people told me that breaks are necessary and not to be so hard on myself and on Wednesday morning I actually started feeling a lot better. Now I’m trying to alternate long bike rides with shorter ones every other day. I’m still pretty tense and have a constant lingering headache, but it’s not as bad as it was last weekend.

I listed some dolls last Sunday as well and had more people than usual upset with me that they missed out on a doll they wanted. I had one customer in particular quite angry with me for having a restock a day earlier than I had mentioned “probably” having one to her the week before. (Which I genuinely forgot about, otherwise I would have given her a head’s up.) This is a frustrating aspect of owning your own handmade business that continues to wear me out. I avoid conflict like the plague. I hate having people angry with me. But I also really, really thrive on having my own creative freedom to make whatever I want, whenever I want, with zero outside pressure on me to perform to somebody else’s standards. Which is the main reason I almost never take custom orders and I refuse to make duplicate dolls. But I get tired of trying to explain that to upset customers, especially when so many other handmade businesses depend on making duplicate items as their main source of income. I just don’t want to do it that way. And I wish I didn’t always have to justify that to other people. The whole ordeal really messed with my motivation to start new dolls this week. I did end up making six, but it’s been hard to get myself to sit down and actually work.

We had therapy on Tuesday. It went shockingly well a few weeks ago, so we stupidly assumed it would go well again. It didn’t. At all. I won’t get into it, but it was a pretty sucky day. Fortunately our next session will be in person for the first time with this particular therapist. I think it will go better that way. Virtual therapy with a kid who can just walk out of the room whenever he pleases is just a recipe for disaster.

In positive news, however, I started reading the book The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron. It’s about the enneagram – something I hear about all the time in my online circles. I’ve owned the book for quite awhile, but only finally picked it up because a small group of online friends invited me into a buddy read discussion with them about it. And I honestly think this is going to be the book that will make a bigger impact on my life than any other. One of the first chapters talks about one of the personality types that fits Caden to an absolute tee. You are not supposed to typecast your kids – or try to tell them what they are until they’re old enough to understand all of it, like late teens. But seriously, this was Caden. And it opened my eyes to an understanding of who he is that I have never, ever been able to grasp before. I was uncontrollably crying while I listened (I’m doing audio and physical book) to that chapter. I’m working on getting Greg to listen to it asap so we can maybe finally understand what’s going through Caden’s mind all the time and why he acts the way he acts. And maybe really come up with an effective plan to help him – FINALLY.

I started my week making a batch of donut muffins, with my newfound plan of always having breakfast foods on hand. Of course everyone ate them all in the first day, so it didn’t last! I did go to Costco, however, on Wednesday and picked up quite a few easy options. Not exactly healthy, but some weeks you just need to roll with it. This was our last week of getting free school meals, so my efforts will need to go up a notch next week.

On Monday I made carne asada on the grill. It was my first time grilling such a large cut of meat and it worked pretty well! I’m still not really a fan of steak, but I will eat a bit of it if it’s on a taco. Everyone else loved it.

Chicken wings on Tuesday. This dry rub is amazing. It will most likely show up in my next Friday Favorites!

The rest of the week I kind of gave up cooking all together. We had a Costco rotisserie chicken on Wednesday and on Thursday we ordered Mexican and ate it with Greg’s parents on their deck. I did make this beautiful chocolate ganache tart for dessert, though! It was fun making a fancy dessert – that used to be the only kind I made! Now I just make cookies or brownies, whatever is fast and easy. Yesterday Greg was finally able to pick up some of his things from work, so he also grabbed a Qdoba family meal for lunch. And tonight he’s getting Chinese because that’s Caden’s favorite and he always gets so disappointed when we pick up food from other places.

I continue to pick through my garden every morning to get the next few ripe tomatoes and peppers. I was really excited about that purple bell pepper! I thought none of my pepper plants were the same, but I keep getting so many weirdly shaped long light green ones on multiple plants. I’m not even sure what they are, I just cut them up and throw them into whatever I’m making that day.

I also had my own therapy session on Friday. Some weeks our talks are pretty surface level and some weeks they get a lot deeper. This week we talked a lot about body image and just trying to focus on being healthy rather than what you look like. It was a pretty triggering conversation. It’s frustrating to me how I’m exercising an hour, sometimes more, every single morning and it doesn’t seem to be making a difference yet. I have never consistently exercised and definitely never more than 15-20 minutes tops! It seems like I should be feeling and seeing progress! There are days I feel stronger – on the bike – but every day activities like walking around? It’s can still be so hard, which is pretty infuriating! My body continues to deceive me and I can’t seem to get out of this downward health spiral no matter how hard I try.

Anyway! It’s been a rough week. But maybe the kind of week I needed. It’s really helped to remind me I need to take better care of myself, every aspect of it. This weird pandemic season of life has been so, so hard. But it’s not all bad. I think I’m growing. I have a LONG way to go, but I’m giving it my best effort and I feel good about that.

Weekend Reflections 07.26.2020

Another week behind us in this weird pandemic existence. It’s been such a stressful week as we try to make a decision on what to do about school in the fall. Weighing the pros and cons of going full virtual versus a split week for Caden and a four day in person week for Shepard has been really overwhelming. Every time I feel confident in our decision somebody throws out another perspective I hadn’t considered and then I doubt our choice all over again. (Or it’s validated!) We haven’t turned in our final decision yet – we have until Friday – but I’m about 95% sure we’re going the all virtual route. I’m not happy about it. It’s going to be HARD. But it’s the only way I can guarantee my children will be as safe as possible. And other kids and teachers and our family as well. I wish I knew what all virtual will actually mean in terms of a time and workload commitment, but I guess we’ll find out in five weeks! I really hope a vaccine will come out soon and we won’t have to do this for an entire school year. My brain can’t even handle thinking about that possibility right now. Being home, all of us, all the time…it’s rough.

We visited the puppies on Monday! I liked how both of them immediately climbed into my lap and settled in. In reality, owning a dog that wanted to be held all the time would drive me absolutely insane. But it’s pretty sweet to visit them and have them cuddle up!

I had a farmers market pick up scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. My first in about a month. Instead of doing a grocery pick up as well I decided to go in a couple of stores, but it ended up being incredibly stressful. I normally only go in stores in the early mornings – in pandemic life AND in regular life. So I wasn’t prepared for how busy it was going to be. Then I had to make an extra stop because Caden was out of sunflower seeds and he can’t survive a week without them (he kept texting me “MY LIFE IS OVER!!!!). Then I had a very low tire and had to learn how to refill it for the first time. By then I was pressed for time on my Trader Joe’s run, which was supposed to be an extra special treat. And then I barely made it to the market on time. I was so upset that the one thing in the week I was really looking forward to turned into such a stressful disaster. I really miss when shopping was fun.

The boys have been fighting so much this week. They always fight a lot – because they refuse to EVER be apart from each other. But it’s seemed even worse than usual this week. I suggested a small field trip to the dam on Thursday after dinner. I somehow keep thinking a change of scenery will do us all some good, but it often makes their moods even worse. Caden calmed down, but was uninterested in the adventure aspect of the trip. Shepard enjoyed walking through the river until a giant spider landed on his hand and then he was traumatized. But Greg, Annie and I still thought it was fun to get out of the house and do something different for a little bit!

On Friday Greg surprised me by asking his parents to babysit for a few hours so we could have our second pandemic date night. We ordered Chili’s and went to a park to eat and walk around. I just picked the park on a whim from google maps and it turned out to be such a beautiful surprise! I’m definitely looking forward to walking around there again soon.

I didn’t take any pictures, but on Saturday morning my friend invited me over to walk around some trails near her house. I probably scared her a bit with how enthusiastically I jumped on that opportunity! It was really great to see a friend in person – it’s been almost two months since my last outdoor friend visit. And it was fun to walk around in another new and beautiful place too! Annie came with me and loved the adventure.

This morning I took the boys back to my parents’ again for another puppy visit. Six days was a long time between visits! They were both pretty sleepy today and much more interested in sleeping on the ground instead of us. But it was cute to watch them!

I biked all seven days this week for a total of 45 miles! I’m still loving it! There are certainly a few mornings here and there where I’m dragging my feet a bit more just because I’m not used to getting up early and immediately leaving the house. I much prefer getting up early and enjoying some peace and quiet at home before everyone else wakes up. But these bike rides are totally worth it. I love the days I’m out early enough to catch the pre-sunrise, but I get so frustrated at how poorly my phone captures the beauty! I’m pretty tempted to bring along my real camera, but haven’t done it yet. I bought a mirror so I’d feel more comfortable on the busier streets (though let’s be honest, “busy” in a very small town at 5am usually means I see three cars at most), but I can’t figure out how to secure it properly so it actually stays up. I also bought some bike cleaner and lube to try and learn how to take better care of it, but haven’t gotten around to learning about proper bike care yet either. The only downside of biking is that even though I’m in an upright pedal position, I’m still apparently tensing my neck and back quite a lot. I’ve been having daily headaches from it and today is one of the worst I’ve ever had. I still think it’s a worthwhile trade off, but I wish it didn’t happen at all.

I haven’t done quite as much sewing this week, but still managed to finish nine more dolls. I’ve been binging the show Manifest while I watch and I’m really into it!

I didn’t put a ton of effort into food this week. It’s just one of those things that I really care about or it’s the neverending responsibility that breaks me. There is rarely an in between!

We had a big batch of hamburgers, hot dogs, green beans, and pretzel buns on Monday night. Greg really likes the burgers from Butcher Box. This is the first time I tried their hot dogs and I didn’t like them at all. But I’m pretty picky about what kind of hot dogs I like and these didn’t fit the criteria. But now I know!

I used my new little espresso maker and try and replicate the salted caramel iced latte I always get at my favorite coffee shop. It was pretty close! I have determined that making full espresso drinks is actually a lot of work (lol), so I only have one every few days. I don’t even drink regular coffee every day, but I like to have the option!

I needed to use up some farm eggs I had bought on a whim before they expired, so I tried out this magic custard pie recipe one night. It was really good! I don’t normally make non-chocolate desserts, so it was fun to have something really different.

We ordered pizza and a calzone on Wednesday night. I love those calzones SO MUCH. They’re just amazing.

After my stressful shopping adventure I decided to try out an improvised cocktail using my new fancy maraschino cherries and liqueur. I don’t usually drink at all because I’m not so fond of alcohol and it’s not great for my liver problems! But I wanted to give it a shot. And….still not my thing (lol). But the cherries taste AMAZING on ice cream.

I used my farmers market produce and a couple things from the garden to make some fresh pico de gallo. I’ve been eating a lot of the tomatoes mixed with cut up string cheese, pepperoni, olive oil, salt flakes and fresh pepper. So good! And I used the zucchini to try a new brownie recipe, but was disappointed it ended up just tasting like chocolate cake. I’m not a chocolate cake fan.

Looking ahead, I can’t believe it’s already the last week of July. Normally I’d be thrilled that summer is officially 2/3 over, but I’m trying to really soak up these outdoor opportunities while I can this year. Now that we’ve decided to keep the boys home for virtual learning, I’m really dreading winter and those long cold months of truly feeling trapped. I need to make the most of these days while I can.

It feels like another busy week, with appointments or something on the calendar every day. Most of those will only be an hour or less of my time, but it still feels like a lot. Especially with how headachy and stressed out I’ve been lately. I’d love some truly lazy days, but I don’t think they’re going to happen.

My biggest goal this week is to get more on top of having pre-prepared snacks and meals around the house. We continue to have breakfast arguments every single dang day, though my struggles are usually with Shepard because he’s just not happy with whatever we have on hand or whatever the school gave him and he loves to make sure I know just how enraged he feels about it. Caden’s pretty much given up, he just won’t eat anything and I don’t even really care anymore. But like every struggle we have, I get sad or upset about it and then I pull myself together and figure out a way to do better. And as frustrating as this whole neverending food debacle is, the food making is still my responsibility so I need to try harder.

Have a great week, everyone!