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!

Weekend Reflections 07.19.2020

This has been such a busy week around here! Probably the busiest we’ve had in months. Lots going on and many, many photos to share!

Last Sunday I was feeling pretty down and wanted to do something fun and different to brighten my spirits. It was the first somewhat cooler day we’d had in like four weeks, so we decided to go to the Token Creek Dog Park. It’s one of my favorite Dane County dog parks, and one of the two closest to our house. We hadn’t been there at all yet this year, so I was excited to get out and explore. The boys were not very cooperative, but I’m never surprised by this anymore. They don’t like doing anything outside of the house. So Greg and I tried our best to just ignore them and had a fun time walking around the park while Annie checked everything out and then we had a picnic before going back home.

Unfortunately, later that night Annie started acting a little off. We assumed she just got a bit overheated at the park, even though we weren’t even there for more than half an hour and she didn’t do that much running. But it was in full sun and she has long dark hair, so it still seemed like a logical conclusion. But on Monday she was clearly feeling worse, spending most of the day walking or sitting with her head hanging off to the side, not eating anything, and almost no energy. On Tuesday it was even worse and in the afternoon she started vomiting all over the house. Her stomach was pretty empty at that point, so it was mostly just bile, but then the blood started coming. I called the vet and was able to get her in immediately so I rushed her over and then spent two hours in my car waiting for the verdict. Her x-rays and blood panel came back fine, so at least it wasn’t anything that needed surgery. But we also really have no idea what happened, other than she PROBABLY ate something at the dog park. I took her back home with a bag full of meds and by the end of the night she wasn’t even walking anymore, Greg had to carry her around. It was pretty scary, especially after my mom’s dog passed away with similar symptoms just a few months ago.

I woke up Wednesday morning to a pretty horrific poop explosion in the family room and Annie still obviously feeling pretty awful. But with each day and each dose of medicine she’s been feeling a lot better. I wouldn’t say she’s 100% quite yet, but her appetite is back and she seems much more like her old self. I’m so glad I was able to get her to the vet so quickly because I’m not sure we would have had the same results without all the medication.

While the whole situation with her this week has been scary and sad, I’m also just really bummed that we probably can’t in good conscience go back to that dog park again. I’m pretty wary of going to ANY dog parks at this point because she probably just ate a random weed or something which could very well be growing all over the place! I purchased an annual pass when we were there on Sunday and I briefly felt elated that I now had another option of something fun and free to do that would get us, or at least me and Annie, out of the house every week or so. And then a day later that option was taken away. It really sucks!

I continued on with my early morning bike rides every day this week. Actually, there were two days that I had to postpone because of rain or storms, which is really annoying because I can’t tell those things are actually happening until I’m standing outside ready to leave! But I still got a ride in all seven days, which has been great! Earlier in the week my legs were really tired and then around Thursday it was like I suddenly graduated to a level of being just a bit stronger and it all came easier to me. But then it got super humid and gross, so yesterday and today’s rides were pretty short. I’m hoping to make up for it with an extra long ride tomorrow morning.

I’ve made twelve new dolls this week (one of my photos does not want to upload!) and had a restock on Wednesday, selling out within minutes. I’ve really been having so much fun now that I limit myself to making three at a time, completing a batch every day or two. But I still struggle with feeling like I’m not making enough or not making them fast enough. At the same time it’s like I literally do not know what else to do with myself anymore, so sewing is practically my whole life. It’s probably not very healthy. But it distracts me from feeling utter despair over the state of our world and our lives right now.

I was pretty on top of meals this week. I’m trying to get back in the habit of actually caring about what goes into my body, as well as using up as many random ingredients as I can before they go to waste. Most days I enjoy the challenge of seeing what I can cobble together. I made a delightful grilled bbq bacon jalapeno and roasted garlic pizza earlier in the week. We also grilled steak kebabs and I made roasted garlic and bacon mashed potatoes – my first time ever making mashed potatoes and I didn’t even use a recipe, but they were great! We had a giant pretzel from Milwaukee Pretzel Company for dinner that night I took Annie to the vet. I made a blueberry honey simple syrup for coffee drinks, though I honestly can’t taste the blueberry, so it was a bit disappointing. I also tried out my new espresso maker a few times. I need some practice making “official” drinks, but it works pretty well! I tried a new granola recipe that I really like because it’s the first one I’ve made that doesn’t taste too sweet. I have a lot of problems eating anything even remotely sweet in the morning without getting a massive headache, so I finally found a winner. It’s great with fruit! We needed more freezer room for our latest Butcher Box, so I made some banana bread, but with a gluten free flour mix this time. (A large chunk of our main freezer is filled with frozen bananas.) So good! Especially the third I made for me topped with lightly salted walnuts.

I forgot to take a picture of the actual meal, but last night I made a grilled Turkish chicken that we ate with curried rice, fresh tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers (all from the garden!), and a Greek yogurt garlic lemon sauce. For dessert we had fresh cherries topped with a mascarpone whipped cream, fresh mint leaves, and shaved dark chocolate. YUM. Caden told me multiple times over the evening that it was the best meal I’ve ever made.

On Thursday the boys and I went to meet my mom’s new puppies, Herbie and Ollie! She knew she was getting Ollie since he was a few weeks old, but Herbie was an added surprise. They are SO CUTE. Ollie is very snuggly and Herbie seems a lot more interested in playing. The boys were in love and back on a campaign to get their own puppies.

On Friday night Greg and Caden had a camping trip in his parents’ backyard. It was a reward for Caden FINALLY cooperating at therapy this week. I was concerned Shepard would be really upset about being left out, so we planned a fun night together too. We picked up some Burger King and then went over to play with the puppies some more! We plan on going over every few days whether they want us there or not so they get used to us!

We made it back home with just enough time to make popcorn and ice cream and watch A Dog’s Purpose together. Shepard listened to the audiobook recently and wanted to see the movie. Then in the morning we went on a short bike ride together. It was really fun! It’s pretty hard to get the boys to spend any individual time with me when they’re both home and distracted by their screens, so we should probably plan to split them up like this more often.

Today is my sisters-in-law’s birthday, so Greg and the boys went to Chicago to meet one of them for lunch and a walk around the botanical gardens. I wasn’t yet comfortable going into a major metropolitan area when I knew I’d definitely need to use public bathrooms multiple times, so I opted to stay home. I spent most of the day sewing, doing laundry, and cleaning. Which feels like a really dumb use of my rare alone time, but it’s so refreshing to clean a room and actually see it stay clean for a whole day, instead of just three minutes until Shepard grabs his next snack that half ends up all over the floor. I also picked up some Mexican for lunch. I love getting food from the place in town because it’s definitely enough for two very full and delicious meals! I added chile toreados to my usual order today and it was a great spicy addition eaten with the flautas.

Besides all the Annie stuff and one terrible night with the children, it was a pretty good week overall. I’m hoping this next one is a little bit quieter, though!

Weekend Reflections 07.11.2020

For the first 99 days of quarantine I was writing nightly instagram recaps of what I did each day and how I felt about everything going on. It was quite a cathartic ritual for me to process this extreme change in our daily lives on a much smaller and more personal scale than a long public blog post. My favorite thing to come out of that exercise was realizing just how much I do in a single day. I’ve always been cursed with constant feelings of “not enough” and it was so helpful to see that even though it felt like my entire life was reduced to just cooking and cleaning and cooking some more, I was still living a very full and productive life, even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted or what I was used to. I stopped doing those nightly posts around the time I went into a store for the first time in three months. Quarantine was officially over about a month before that so it started to feel silly to keep counting the days after I had been doing a lot more regular pre-coronavirus activities. (Though going into one store a week isn’t exactly “a lot!”) I also started feeling like the days were becoming very monotonous and my mental health was taking another dive, so it was better to stop doing those nightly evaluations when I couldn’t think of anything positive to say anymore. I want to always be honest about what’s going on with me, but I also don’t want to come across as being whiny and ungrateful all the time.

In the last few weeks since then I’ve been pretty quiet on social media. I’ve been quiet in real life too. Summer is always the hardest season for me for so many reasons and it all just feels so amplified this year after already having the entire family confined to the house for three months before summer even began with three long months ahead of us and still no guarantee that any part of life will go back to normal come fall. It’s really overwhelming to this extreme introvert who only thrives when she gets a ton of alone time and space to exhale. Being caught in the middle of so much familial conflict and screen time noises and always having so many demands on my time and energy to cook, clean, and again cook – it’s really starting to get to me. I feel so trapped. I’m irritated with everyone all the time. I struggle to even know who I am anymore outside of these bizarre new circumstances we live in.

Fortunately, I am a fighter. And even though I’m prone to wallowing in despair more often than I should, I also like to problem solve and work on finding solutions to make at least my own life easier and better. Unfortunately, most of the solutions I’ve come up with in the last month have had unexpected negative consequences because my life is invariably linked to the three humans (and three pets) that live with me. Which is really frustrating. But I’m doing my best to just keep moving forward because what other choice do I have?

The best part of my life lately has been going on an early morning bike ride almost every single day. I started about two weeks ago and it quickly became the favorite thing I do. I’ve never, ever been a person who enjoyed exercise. But apparently I’ve just never found the right thing to connect with. I’ve also struggled greatly since breaking my ankle two and a half years ago and getting plantar fasciitis every single time I make a commitment to start walking more. Amazingly, biking doesn’t hurt my feet nearly as much as walking and my ankle seems healed enough (finally!) that it doesn’t hurt at all. My legs certainly get tired when I’m out – probably because I can’t seem to go a day without it right now. But the only lingering effects I have are feeling calmer mentally, feeling less restless physically, and sleeping more soundly (though so far not for longer lengths of time). There are ONLY POSITIVES. Okay, there are actually some negatives, like this morning when apparently one of our pets decided to open the French doors and go wake everybody up while I was out. All three of them get so hyped up when they see me ready to leave the house so early in the morning. It’s really annoying! Both Rory and Annie know how to open those doors to get upstairs if they work at it long enough, but the blame was still placed on me. My biking every morning also means that I’m too tired to go on our regular morning family walk, so those have just disappeared completely. Greg will often still take Annie, but he prefers to go on his own than try to force the boys to go with him when I’m not also trying to make them follow through on this four month long ritual. It really bothers me that I found something I’m enjoying SO MUCH with so many health benefits both mentally and physically, but it still means other things then fall to the wayside as a result. But I’m trying to just focus on how happy it makes me and go with that feeling for as long as I can! I really like going early because there aren’t many other people out (though surprisingly still quite a few at 5am in a very small town!), the streets are free of cars, it’s much cooler out, I can usually catch the sunrise – though my options for seeing it on a more rural road (for a better photo!) are pretty limited – and it’s just a great way to start the day.

I’ve also been taking a lot of joy in my garden this week! We’ve harvested all of our radishes, a big bouquet of broccoli, one huge cucumber, a variety of hot peppers, and our first two tomatoes. I usually check for ripe produce every morning after my bike ride and it always surprises me to find at least one new vegetable ready to pick every day. I’ve always loved the idea of gardening, but am terrible at following through on them. Since we don’t have much else to do with our time these days we’re really taking good care of it and I love seeing the fruits of our labor!

After a month of being more productive sewing dolls than I have in years, my sewing room was a bit of a disaster. I also had this corner that I used to use when I was bullet journaling and doing devotions every morning and night, but haven’t really sat down and used in probably a year. I wanted to make it more useful to who I am right now so I finally went ahead with a project I’ve been toying with for a long time – making my own drink station!

It took awhile to perfect how I wanted it to look, but I’m very happy with the results! Since I’m really the only one that uses it I decided to have a more minimalist look with only two mugs out at a time, even though I have quite a collection. If I’m ever allowed to have friends over again I’ll add in a fun mug tree display. I was also happy to finally find a good place to display this adorable little pebble family art that my best friend gave me.

The real winner of all my hot drinks is this Cosori electric kettle that my mom gave me for my birthday last year. I use it multiple times a day for tea or coffee. It’s amazing.

I usually drink more tea than coffee, so I picked up a fun spinning tea bag display to make it look a lot more organized. And of course some tasty syrups that I like to add to cold drinks.

My beloved little pour over pot is what I used most often. The Moka espresso pot is the only thing I couldn’t actually use IN my drink station area, but because I still wanted the ability to make fancy drinks I actually ordered a small real espresso maker. I haven’t taken it out of the box yet, but I’m antsy to set it up and give it a go! I will be a full on barista by the time people are allowed back into my house for visits!

Coffee grinder because I’m hoity toity and only drink coffee from freshly ground beans. My ember mug is my favorite for tea since it tends to take me so long to drink a mug. And a recent addition – a milk frother which is a total game changer. I actually whip up my regular creamer in there and it’s amazing. I also used it for salted caramel cold foam on top of a cold brew the other day.

The main addition was adding in a cute mini fridge! While I of course just wanted it for looks and convenience of having all my coffee items in one room, it also solved the problem we’ve had since quarantine of having more stuff shoved into our main fridge than we technically have room for. It’s amazing how much more space has opened up now that I took all my extra things out of there! Plus we have room for Greg’s soda again – he had to sacrifice that space awhile back. And of course space for my emergency chocolate supply!

I also bought this really cute set of three shelves to add some layering and dimension to the drink area instead of just shoving it all on top of the table. I ran out of things to display by the third shelf so I grabbed a rainbow of my favorite books and added this delightful candle which smells like blueberry pie.

Once the drink station was complete I spent another couple of days reorganizing and slightly rearranging my entire sewing room. The biggest difference was changing the direction of the table. My main reason for choosing to put it there is that I wanted to find out if I could carve out some space for an exercise glider I’m thinking about buying in a few months when it gets too cold and icy to do anything outdoors again. I think it’ll definitely fit, but for now I’m really enjoying how spacious the room suddenly feels! The table definitely looks more like a workspace now rather than any type of welcoming entertaining space, but who knows when we can entertain again so I need to make the room work for what I need now and this is perfect! I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in the last few days just staring at my beautiful room!

I also managed to make seven (one not pictured, I’m not that bad at math!) dolls in between everything. It feels like a bit of a disappointment after making at least 15 a week in the last month, but still better than nothing!

I have had some pretty decent alone time this week, so I shouldn’t complain too much. Greg and the boys went to his grandparents’ house on Sunday so I had about eight hours to myself, which was very much needed! I treated myself to some local Mexican food, which we haven’t ordered since Mother’s Day, I believe. So good! Their chile relleno is my ultimate comfort food. Then on Friday I had a grocery pick up, but made a point of ordering myself some lunch from Canteen for pick up as well. Remember right before all this started and I declared it my mission in life to hit up every taco restaurant in the Madison area? Canteen is definitely at the top and it’s been my favorite curbside pick up place I’ve tried because you can easily order online and the directions for pick up are very clear on where to park, who to text, and they rush it right out. They also have the most amazing arbol salsa, which I prefer to eat with their wagon wheel duritos instead of chips. Yesterday I had carnitas and barbacoa tacos and both were so delicious.

As for other food adventures this week, I haven’t been that energized about trying new things – it’s too hot. But after the millionth morning of the boys arguing that they hated the school breakfast food (another solution that has almost only caused more problems) I tried out a new recipe for chocolate peanut butter muffins that don’t have any flour or grains in them. I was really impressed by how well they turned out, but I probably wouldn’t make them again because it required a 1.5 cups of peanut butter and 3/4 cups of cocoa powder. That’s a lot of relatively expensive ingredients! The only really big dinner I made were grilled chicken shawarma and spicy potato and tomato skewers with a roasted garlic sauce. We did run out of propane halfway through cooking, but it was worth the wait! And on Friday we went to the in-law’s house and they ordered food which we ate out on the deck. Today I also made some pretty tasty grilled raspberry jam, bacon, jalapeno, and havarti sandwiches, but I forgot to take a photo.

Well, this is quite a reflection post, so I’ll leave you now with this photo of me holding up this cute rainbow unicorn bottle I bought a few weeks ago when I went into TJMaxx for the first time in 3.5 months! Happy weekend!

Friday Favorites #12

Happy Friday! I have a fun list of new favorite things this week that I think you’ll enjoy. It’s trickier to try out new products when I’m not going into stores that often, but I still have my ways! I see in editing this that I really should have made a whole separate post just about migas considering how passionate I am about them (lol). I hope you guys can find something new to try from this list!

Food Stuff

MIGAS – So this is one of my favorite breakfasts and something I’ve been eating quite often lately. Oddly, I’ve never been a fan of eggs, but if you make them spicy and salty they’re pretty darn delicious. I’ve even gotten the boys to eat them and they NEVER eat eggs! It’s a pretty fast and easy breakfast because all you need to do is scramble an egg (or two), mix in some Mexican cheese, and throw in some crunched up tortilla chips at the end. Then top it with your hot sauce of choice, flaky sea salt, and cracked pepper. I also really enjoy popping all that on a good tortilla to make a migas taco! That’s how the boys eat them. You can obviously do any combination of cheese/sauce/chip/etc. But this is what I use for the PERFECT plate of migas:

  • 1 scrambled egg (it multiples quickly with the cheese and chips)
  • VV Supremo Chihuahua Cheese – I am OBSESSED with this cheese. It’s the only cheese we use for any Mexican style foods. I usually buy the giant bag at Costco. I was feeling pretty depraved those first few months of quarantine when I couldn’t get my hands on it!
  • Pasqual’s Cantina Original Southwest Tortilla Chips – These used to be pretty hard to find, but now they seem to be readily available in pretty much any Madison area grocery store or Target. They’re not my favorite salsa chip (though they are Greg’s), but they taste AMAZING with eggs.
  • Mezzetta Habanero Hot Sauce – I don’t think there is any other food product in my life as beloved as this. I first found it at a Festival Foods in Bloomington, MN that I just happened to stop at after work one day. And that was it for me – true love. It’s the perfect hot sauce. Definitely spicy, but such an incredible flavor. There were some sparse years there where it was pretty hard to find, but now I’m able to buy it by the case from Amazon. I probably have at least twenty different open bottles of hot sauce in my fridge on any given day, but this is my go to for eggs because I can really slather it on without it being too hot to handle.
  • Maldon Sea Salt Flakes – Okay, so I’m also obsessed with this. I put flaky sea salt on just about everything. It makes everything you eat just sing with perfection. Try it if you’re not already. Try it on ice cream! And definitely on eggs. And tomatoes. And roasted vegetables.
  • Fresh Cracked Pepper – I’ve never liked black pepper. But Greg adores it, so for his birthday this year I gave him a set of pepper mills and a couple different varieties of peppercorns. Now I’m a true convert. It adds such a wonderful depth of flavor.
  • La Tortilla Factory Yellow Corn and Wheat Tortillas – I’m also a corn tortilla convert as of whenever I started going to fun taco restaurants a year or two ago. I can’t do flour tortillas, I just hate them. But corn? So good. I’ve tried a bunch of different grocery store varieties, but this is what I keep coming back to. Though I didn’t realize until recently that they’re corn AND wheat, so that was a bit of a disappointment when I was trying so hard to be mostly gluten free for awhile there. But the addition of wheat means these tortillas are basically indestructible. They will not be falling apart on you! I used to buy them at Woodman’s, but when quarnatine started and I couldn’t get any pick up slots I ended up buying them directly online. I ran out just around the time I went back into Woodman’s for the first time a few weeks ago, but they didn’t have them anymore, so I just ordered another box.

Gluten Free Turtle BarsThis is a really simple and super delicious gluten free dessert. I made them last week (minus the nuts because nobody would have eaten them except me) as directed in a 9×13 pan and they were good, but also kind of dried out. I noticed on the pinterest page I found this on there was one of those speedy videos and the lady made it in a square 9×9 pan instead, so I tried the recipe again yesterday like that and it was SO much better. Same cooking time and everything. They’re really tasty! Oh, and – surprise – I added flaky salt to the caramel layer. Don’t skip that.

Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough Chunks – I’m not a huge ice cream eater, but when I do eat it I want it to be totally overloaded with extra yummy things. I have a lot of nostalgia around cookie dough in particular because we went to Dairy Queen so often when I was a kid and I always, always, always got a cookie dough blizzard. I saw these cookie dough chunks at Target last time I was there and they didn’t disappoint! I realize that yes, I could very easily make my own cookie dough chunks for ice cream, I’ve done it plenty of times in the past. But sometimes you just want EASY. I got the peanut butter chocolate chip ones at Target, and I got the regular chocolate chip variety in my Woodman’s pick up order today.

Apparel Stuff

Ililily Face Mask – A few months ago I figured out how to make my own face masks like most of the country and they worked out okay. When it became apparent that masks are just going to be a regular part of life for awhile I started ordering different styles and brands. This one was a bit of a splurge, but it turned out to be the one I like the most. It’s PRETTY, it has adjustable ear straps so you can fit it perfectly to your face, and it stays in place so you don’t need to keep messing with it. I bought a second one and those are the only masks I use in my once a week errand runs. I pair them with a filter just to be extra safe, but I’m not sure it’s necessary.

Modcloth Simplicity on a Saturday Tunic – This is my all time favorite shirt. I now have it in six different colors. They just released it in green (I’m wearing it in a photo further down) and I think it’s my favorite! They have a very flattering fit, seem well made, hold up well, and are a great canvas for a long necklace or fun earrings.

Coffee Stuff

Honey Bee Mug – What’s a favorites list without more coffee things?! I’ve had my eye on this mug for awhile, but it always sells out almost instantly. But they seem to restock every few weeks and you can sign up for notifications on when it’s available. I was finally able to snag one and I absolutely love it. It’s probably one of the most gorgeous handmade mugs I’ve ever seen.

Brew Bike Cold Brew Kits – I normally make my own cold brew (almost exclusively using this Grounds and Hounds Sunny Day Blend), but this summer I can’t seem to get my ratios right so I stopped making it. I happened upon this Brew Bike brand and decided to give it a shot, buying the chocolate and the brown sugar cinnamon blends. I really, really like the chocolate one! I’m not a fan of cinnamon in coffee (but love it in tea!), so that one doesn’t appeal to me as much, but it’s good enough to drink. These pouches are quite a splurge since each package only makes five servings. But it’s a fun treat for a super hot day.

Stainless Steel Straw Set – I originally found the Strawesome straw set on an independent bookstore’s website a few months ago and picked it up for myself. Then I checked out the website to see how many different sets they have. I just think they’re super cute and fun! I always use them with my cold coffee and tea drinks.

Household Stuff

Easy Dose Laundry Detergent – Okay, so here’s something that is actually super useful and not just a splurge item. I’m not sure how long this kind of laundry detergent has existed, but it’s definitely new to me. And it’s AWESOME. The bottle is so much smaller than a big jug of normal detergent (which is important since our laundry room is also Greg’s office right now) and you only need to squeeze the bottle one time for the perfect dose! No mess! I don’t think I’ll ever go back to another kind of detergent after this!