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!

Weekend Reflections and Intentions (x 2) 12.01.2019

I have two weeks of recaps to run through today! I’ll try to stick with the highlights. Like this bread (lol). My neighbor gave me the recipe of this gluten free bread she loves to make – as well as a couple of slices. It was really delicious! I never would have guessed it was gluten free. So I bought the supplies and made my own loaf. It turned out perfectly! Unfortunately, the second day, after eating a few pieces for breakfast, I did NOT feel well. I was having pretty intense stomach pains and the only thing I could think of was that it was the bread. So I waited two full days until I felt fully better and then ate it again – a glutton for punishment. But I didn’t have the same symptoms, so it’s a mystery. I’m a bit hesitant to make it again, but I’m sure I will! Though I’m also trying to put my focus more on actual whole grain breads, since those are what’s best for my liver. I’m still not very clear on if gluten free flours are actually whole grains, or just NOT gluten. And gluten’s not my issue, the WHITE refined flour is.

One of my only real work related accomplishments this month was curating six beautiful themed “gift baskets.” I had SO much fun doing it. Plus it justified all my many TJMaxx random purchases! I sold four of them right away, but the other two are still currently available! 🙂 If I had all the time and space and the right customer base who was ready to spend tons of money on such things, I’d make gift collections like this for a living. SO much fun.

I had a sign painting party! I was really excited about hosting it, but then was a bit overwhelmed that I had to keep nagging people and practically begging for more participants. I don’t like feeling like I’m forcing people to do something! But we met the required 9 sign ups (plus one extra at the last minute!) – whew! And it was such a great evening!! I prepped a big cheese tray and flourless chocolate cake and then we all gathered for painting and conversation. I’m not sure I’d ever want to host again, but I’m still addicted to the creating part!

This is the sign I did. I painted it exactly like the example because I loved the color combination so much.

I was feeling a bit blue by this long and melancholy month that really felt nothing like FALL, so I decided to go ahead and swap out my Christmas mugs a few weeks early. They bring me so much joy!

My food adventures continued with a loaf of grainy bread and my favorite granola recipe. The bread was just okay. The flax seed made it taste very…healthy. It wasn’t awful, but I don’t think I’d make it again when I can buy a loaf of pretty healthy whole grain bread at the store that tastes a whole lot better. The granola recipe is delicious, but also not the healthiest. But I swapped the original pecans for red walnuts, which are supposedly the healthiest of walnuts and best nuts for people with liver disease.

Last Saturday was Caden’s Lego League competition. It started at 7:30 in the morning and went until after 5 at night. Greg and Caden were there from the start and Shepard and I went with the grandparents a few hours later. It was a really long and emotionally draining day for him. But I’m proud of him for sticking with it, despite how frustrating it sometimes was. He was going through a lot of mixed emotions throughout the day because he didn’t want to do well enough that they moved on to sectionals – he wanted to be DONE. But he also really, really, really hates not being great and getting recognition for things, so he was upset at the same time that they weren’t doing amazing or won any awards. But overall, they got in about the top 40% of the 38 teams there, which is pretty great considering they only had three members, they were all fifth graders (it went up to eighth grade), and it was their first year competing.

On Sunday, I had SO many things to catch up on. I was really feeling the impending deadline of BLACK FRIDAY and desperately needing a larger inventory so I could have a sale. I barely sewed at all this month between my vacation and liver biopsy related stuff and hosting and attending various get togethers. I had a pretty good plan for the day, but also made the suggestion that maybe we could bring the tree upstairs and get a start on it since Thanksgiving was so late this year. Greg proceeded to bring up every single Christmas decoration we had, giving me no choice but to ditch my agenda and spend the entire day swapping out decorations and setting up trees. Once it was done, I was thankful to have done it and to have done it early (it certainly made this past weekend so much more relaxing!). But at the time, I was basically on the brink of hysteria. I don’t like my agendas being messed with. I couldn’t have done anything I had planned anyway because every surface was covered in Christmas stuff! Anyway, for the record, I am thankful Greg made us power through and was quite helpful with the setup – not to mention carrying all those boxes and trees up and down our precarious basement steps so many times. But it was a stressful day.

By the end of the night I had the living room completely done. Greg set up the family room tree on his own, though I guess I haven’t taken a photo of that one yet. But we got enough done that all the boxes could go back down and I could sigh in relief!

On Monday I had a ton of errands to run. I knew I was going to be out the entire day, so I made a plan to go to this new restaurant Ancho and Agave that opened last month. It’s in Middleton, so I’m not there very often and didn’t know when I’d next have a chance. Anyway, the restaurant was really cute and the food was delicious! I loved all of it except the pork taco, which was cold by the time I ate it and kind of fatty. But I was so full by that point it didn’t really matter. I’d definitely go back. I like that I made myself go to a really tasty sit down restaurant rather than just grabbing something fast and terrible for me, the way that I used to do on long shopping days.

On Tuesday I set up my treat box for the delivery drivers! I’m so glad I saw this idea online a few years ago because I always feel guilty for how many packages I get. At least I can feel a little better by giving them treats the last five or six weeks of the year! Though I think it’s kind of funny that I decided to put pretzels and popcorn in the box to start, thinking maybe the delivery drivers would like slightly healthier options than chips. Nope! The only things taken all week were the Little Debbies and Oreos. I’ll pick out some different things when I get to Costco this week. (For the record, right after I wrote this paragraph a FedEx driver dropped off a package. Earlier today a USPS woman brought a pile of packages. So apparently it no longer matters that it’s Sunday, they’re still out working.)

On Tuesday I finished up a couple more Christmas dolls and then made a squash curry soup for our at home date night. I got the inspiration from Antoni on an episode of Queer Eye, but didn’t follow any specific recipe. I just roasted butternut squash, onions, and garlic with curry seasoning, salt, and cumin in the oven for awhile, then mixed it in the blender with chicken bone broth, put it back on the stove to simmer with a little bit of heavy cream, and then topped it with a teeny swirl of sour cream and cilantro. Anyway, Greg and I are not typical squash eaters, but we both loved the soup. I’m actually just really not a soup eater, but it’s kind of blowing my mind how easy and healthy it is to whip up something from scratch without a recipe, so it’s turning into a weekly occurrence.

Wednesday was more of a kitchen FAIL day. My only assignments for Thanksgiving dinner were to make rolls and one dessert. My favorite part of Thanksgiving meals are just eating little turkey sandwiches dipped in gravy – I’m not such a fan of all the traditional sides. So I wanted to make something I could eat without feeling guilty and chose a honey wheat recipe that looked fool proof. I also made some honey butter rolled Parker house buns, but it only made 12 and we were going to have 10 people there and I assumed most of them would want the white option. So then I decided to make a cranberry walnut loaf of bread with an 18 hour rise time – but with wheat flour instead. I finally moved on to the pecan pie cheesecake, only to forget to add the heavy cream at the end – which I had poured into the measuring cup, but for some reason didn’t add to the cheesecake! I think it turned out fine without it, but of course I didn’t know that until the next night when we ate it! Meanwhile, Greg came home and asked if he could have a wheat bun. He took a bite and said “Is this from a bad batch?” And then I burst into tears and immediately started hunting down other recipes. I proceeded to spend the entire night making pretzel buns – very untraditional, but also the only rolls I never mess up – and a new beer cheese roll recipe. And of course during all this I was also trying each roll, even though I shouldn’t be eating three of them, but I needed to make sure they were servable. What sounded like a pretty easy baking assignment this year turned into twelve solid hours in the kitchen with the only thing that seemed to really work being pretzel buns, and I was kind of a wreck by the end of it. I baked the cranberry walnut bread in the morning, but decided not to bring it with me. (This is my all time favorite kind of bread and changing it to wheat was a sad disappointment. I’ve still been eating a slice for breakfast every day, but it’s definitely not the same!) In the end, I realized that everyone else really just wants to eat the sides and after sitting on the counter untouched for the last few days, I dumped them all last night. What a waste of my emotional energy! Remind me next year to just make pretzel buns and be done with it. 😛 Or just BUY SOME. Caden and I are very similar in this regard (and a lot of things) – I want to be really great at everything I do, and I am not great at roll making. I should stick with desserts because I’m actually good at that.

Thanksgiving Day was really nice! I took Annie to the dog park in the morning – our tradition. Then we took our Christmas card photos by the tree. The boys would only cooperate for two rounds of 10 shot photos, but we actually got a really nice one right away. I was able to order cards for super cheap on Friday.

We spent the rest of the day at the in-law’s, just relaxing and eating! I was mostly reading because my brain couldn’t handle playing board games like everyone else. The food was delicious, as always! I tried my mom’s sweet potato casserole for the first time this year and am mad at how many years I was missing out on something so delicious! The cheesecake also tasted great, though as usual I seemed to be the only one actually interested in dessert because I don’t go crazy overboard during the meal. Overall, it was a really nice day together with family.

Earlier in the week I had a great idea to solve my lack of new inventory Black Friday problem. PRE-ORDERS. Every year I get so many people asking me for ornament sized dolls and every year people are disappointed if they didn’t get one. So I had the grand idea to offer pre-orders this year, rather than a discount. And I think it worked out perfectly! I ended up with 18 doll orders. Enough to feel very successful, but not so many that I’m crazy overwhelmed by it. And it hopefully made everyone happy! On Saturday I offered a 20% off sale that was supposed to end at midnight, but is still running today, apparently. Oh well. There might be one last slightly better deal tomorrow for Cyber Monday. My hope is that I’ll make enough sales this weekend that the pressure will be off to produce a ton more new dolls in December.

On Friday afternoon I met my in-laws at the theater and we saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It was a really great movie!

On Friday night we went to Columbus’ Christmas parade, like we always do. It seemed slightly bigger this year! The weather wasn’t too bad and it was a fun time. Our neighbor friends came with us.

Yesterday was a fairly relaxed day. I have a zillion different things I should be doing, but I’m trying to force myself to let it go and just do what I want to do on weekends. I recently finished reading a book about managing and reversing liver disease and one of the biggest factors in diseases starting up or not getting better is actually just plain stress. And I’m stressed ALL. THE. TIME. And most of that stress is self-inflicted. I HAVE CONTROL. The problem is that I’m very controlling of myself and my time and I think it’s maybe destroying me. I need to let loose more often. Or…just do nothing.

I did participate in the local wine/soda walk yesterday with my friend Laura. It was so much fun! We were mostly interested in just checking out the fun little gift shops around town and spending a few hours hanging out. I purchased a few little items at every store, making me feel like a great Small Business Saturday shopper! 🙂 It was a really enjoyable event.

And now it’s December! Twinkle the Elf made a re-appearance. All week long the boys have been talking about how they can’t wait for him to come and bring donuts. With all these new healthy mindset thoughts CONSTANTLY on my brain, I had a tough time buying these donuts for them. But it’s apparently one of their all time favorite traditions, so it needed to happen. We also got to open day one on our five advent calenders! Greg surprised me with a hot sauce advent! Jack was very jealous of Annie’s calendar, so we had to bring over a bag of cat treats so he can get something every day too.

Shepard and I set up my last little rainbow Christmas tree this morning, so now we’re officially decorated. The rest of the day has just been very chill! I wrapped up orders, made a pizza, and took my first nap in ages. I’d like to get a jump on my pre-order dolls tonight, but we’ll see how I’m feeling. I need to meal plan too.

Sunday Intentions

I think it’ll be a pretty low key week! Annie has a grooming appointment tomorrow, so I’m hoping to really devote the whole day to sewing. Tuesday will be errands. Wednesday more sewing. Thursday sewing and cleaning. And Friday prepping for my Favorite Things Party that night! Friday’s also St. Nick’s Day. It should actually be a pretty great week.

My biggest goal for the week is to get to Friday and feel prepared. I still have no clue what St. Nick might be bringing everyone this year. I also need to gather and wrap my favorite things for the party. I don’t want to spend Friday feeling like a crazy person trying to get everything cleaned and set up last minute, the way that I did before my sign painting party. If I can stay on track all week doing little things here and there, it should all go smoothly without too much stress.

My other goal this week is to go through a stack of cookbooks I bought about a month ago and haven’t even opened yet. I want some serious inspiration AND A PLAN for cooking whole and delicious foods this month. I want to be prepared so we’re not resorting to frozen meals. They’re fine every once in awhile, but I want to really focus on feeding myself and my family nourishing food at home to counteract all the other things we’ll be eating when we’re out of the house around Christmas. Balance!

Anyway, no meal plan yet since I’m hoping to go through a cookbook yet tonight. But first – treadmill time!

Have a good week and happy December!

Friday Favorites #2

A whole week has flown by since my last Friday post without a single update. Life has been TOO CRAZY this fall. Right when I think I have a handle on my life, something comes up again and I’m flailing around once more. I’m hoping to claim a little bit of down time this weekend to catch up on my end of the month posts, as well as actually RELAX. But I’m not very good at that, so we’ll see.

Anyway! It’s been such a busy week that I haven’t discovered many NEW favorite things, but I’ll share with you what I’ve got!

EAT

  • For my dessert contribution, I made this Pecan Pie Cheesecake for Thanksgiving. I made it a few years ago and remember calling it the best cheesecake I’ve ever had. And at one point in my life I wanted to open a cheesecake restaurant, so I’ve eaten a lot of cheesecake! But cheesecake is usually something you only make for bigger fancy gatherings, so I haven’t made it since then. I looked back at my notes and saw that the first time I halved the entire recipe and baked it into a pie pan instead of a springform pan. This year I did the whole shebang and it was still delicious! I even forgot to add the heavy cream and I don’t think it made a difference. The only thing I wish I had done differently was actually follow the stovetop instructions for the pie layer. I think I cooked it a tad too long, making that layer extra gooey and very hard to cut and bite. But the combination of salty/sweet/creamy/crunchy is really great!
  • This summer I ordered a bunch of new hot sauces to try and 708 7 Pot Citrus by BigFat’s has definitely been my favorite. It took me awhile to come around to the citrus spicy flavor combination in so many hot sauces (I’m not a fan of citrus in any form), but now I can’t get enough of it. I think that kind of hot sauce is perfect for something loaded with cheese. My favorite form of comfort food I use it in is a bowl of (brown) rice with chihuahua cheese and chips. I’ve been eating this for months (especially once I ran out of one of my favorites – Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce), but I seem to be eating it at almost every non-Thanksgivingy meal this week because it’s so dang tasty. I also really like it with beef tacos. For chicken tacos I prefer a more straight heat.

WATCH

  • So I literally just came home from seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with my in-laws. It was so good! There are so many theater movies I’d love to see right now, but this is the one I was invited to, so I went! It did feel kind of slow…quiet, I suppose. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate movies like that when we’re so used to action and comedy and nonstop drama. But I really enjoyed it. Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys were both excellent in it!
  • I’ve been watching A Million Little Things from the beginning and I definitely liked the first and second seasons. But this third season? Now that we’re finally past all the John’s death related plot points, it’s SO good. It’s moved up to one of my most anticipated weekly watches. This week the mid-season finale aired and it was absolute perfection.

I can’t think of anything else that struck me as being extra special this week – and we’re about to go watch the local Christmas parade, so I’ll end this now. Enjoy!

Friday Favorites #1

I’ve been learning a lot about the importance of an email list. I’ve started paying attention to the weekly and monthly newsletters that I most enjoy reading and they all have one thing in common – they’re lists of recommendations and favorite things. So with no real originality, I’ve decided to do my own version of the same thing because it makes me so happy to share the things I’m most excited about, especially when they’re new and unique. The exception – for now – is that this will appear as a new weekly blog post installment that’ll pop up on Fridays. I don’t have an email list yet, and quite honestly I don’t have the time at the moment to figure out how to make one. So in the meantime, I can’t let all these awesome favorite things be wasted, so I’m starting today with where I’m at! These might be short, they might be long, but I’ll try to stick to things that have really brought me a lot of joy in just the past seven days.

EAT

  • I am obsessed with THIS GRANOLA RECIPE. I’ve tried many granola recipes in the past few years, most of which had a peanut butter base and some chocolate thrown in to make it all a lot more dessert-like. But I needed something simpler for Caden’s birthday party a few months ago to top granola and fruit and gave this a shot. I LOVE it. Brown butter maple granola by Two Peas & Their Pod. It’s delish.
  • Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Bacon. About six months ago Costco sold a three pack of thick sliced brown sugar bacon that was AMAZING. And like basically everything I fall in love with at Costco, I never found it there again. I’ve been on the hunt for something of similar taste and I finally found it at Trader Joe’s this week. I picked it up because the coloring was unique – it’s very brown. It must have some sort of sugar rubbed into it or something. But seriously, it is legit good. The only downside is that I believe it was around $6 and there are only 7 slices in the package. I’m not sharing it.
  • This week at Costco I picked up a giant wedge of Beemster Classic Aged Gouda. Gouda is one of my favorite types of cheese and I love nutty aged ones the most. My previous favorite has been Trader Joe’s 1000 Day Gouda, but this one is also REALLY tasty. The cashier confirmed it was a new item she’d never seen before, so chances are it won’t be around for long.

LISTEN

  • If you need any kind of encouragement that you are OKAY and you are ON THE RIGHT PATH, listen to this incredible spoken word album by Arielle Estoria. She was at the Hope*Writers conference I attended and blew me away. I listened to Symphony of a Lioness while I was at my sewing machine and it was truly so powerful. I highly, highly recommend it.

WATCH

  • Is anyone else watching Succession?! Greg and I ran out of things to watch together, so we started this up after I kept hearing Knox and Jamie rave about it on The Popcast. And they were right – it is SO GOOD. I can’t believe how intense the show can be when barely anything is actually happening. It’s great acting.

SHOP

  • TJMaxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods. I feel like I shouldn’t even let people in on this secret of mine because it’s where I find allll my greatest gift ideas and treasures. These stores are AMAZING if you’re willing to go to them often and visit different locations. I’ve always loved them, but my obsession has really gone up a level or two in the last few months. I finally had to make some gift sets for Heartstring Annie to justify buying some more great things. My absolute favorite thing to hunt around for is mugs. I’ve been finding so many great Christmas ones lately that I finally gave in and switched out my fall mugs this morning. They bring me so much joy!

DRINK

  • Counter Culture Coffee. I recently spent DAYS going through Food and Wine’s extensively researched list of best coffee in every state. I created an amazon list of every single coffee I’d like to try from all of those roasters. (The LIST stops me from wanting to immediately buy them all for fear that I’ll forget and miss out on something amazing. Mind games, guys. Always.) Counter Culture Coffee was on the list and low and behold, they were the featured local coffee at all the grocery stores I stopped at on my trip to North Carolina. I purchased and brought back the Hologram and Big Trouble blends and have been drinking them this week. They’re creamy and delightful!
  • August Uncommon Tea’s Big Easy Blend – sweet green tea with lemongrass, pineapple, and barley. I’m trying to drink multiple mugs of green tea every day to help detoxify my liver. I NEED a big variety, though. I get bored so easily. I ordered a bunch of sample size packs from August Uncommon and so far this has been my favorite. Maybe my favorite of all the green teas I’ve tried so far. It honestly just tastes like pineapple, which is delicious in my book!
  • Speaking of green tea, I also just found out that Harney and Sons makes their famous hot cinnamon tea in a GREEN variety! Their black hot cinnamon tea used to be the only kind of tea I’d ever drink. And recently, Greg has become obsessed with it, drinking it all the time. The boys love it too. When he ran out a few weeks ago I was THRILLED to see that it also comes in a green variety for me! And honestly, I can’t even taste the difference between the two. It tastes just as good as the black – and it’s better for you. (It ALSO comes in herbal!)

I think that’s it for my first installment of Friday Favorites! See you back next Friday for more great finds!

A Solo Trip to North Carolina

Late last night I arrived back home after six wonderful days in North Carolina. I was apprehensive about this trip from the beginning – was it too self indulgent to go on a second major solo vacation this year, after my trip to Book Bonanza in Dallas in August, plus also having already been on two major family/couple vacations earlier in the year to Florida and Colorado? Was it selfish to insist on doing another thing that only benefited me and made life a lot trickier for everyone else in my family? And in the most recent months, was it worth risking my wavering mental health to go to a conference that could very well just end up making me feel worse about myself by not spending more time on this thing I supposedly love so much? Between just LIFE stuff, being so behind on Heartstring Annie, and now all the uncertainty with my liver and needing to completely upheave my entire lifestyle…the CONFERENCE aspect of this trip felt overwhelming. But I couldn’t exactly back out of it at that point, so I decided to trust that I made the right decision way back last spring when I told Greg that I needed to make this investment in myself. And honestly? I think this might have been one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I don’t regret a minute of it.

I’d like to write more about what I learned at the conference after I’ve had a few more days to collect my thoughts and process all of the encouragement and new ideas I was given. Tonight I’ll just tell you a little bit about the trip itself!

I had a pretty early flight on Thursday morning – but out of Madison! I never fly out of Madison! So the boys slept over at Grandma’s and Greg dropped me off at the airport bright and early. Well, technically it was still dark, so not bright. And the roads to Madison were sheer ice after yet another snowstorm the day before. WHY is it snowing so much and already so cold in early November?! Anyway, I made my way to Charlotte without any issues until I picked my rental “car” that was supposed to be in the same class/size as the cars I own and am used to driving. I was instead given a Jeep Compass. Which I guess compared to other vehicles, is really not THAT big. But it was a whole lot bigger than what I’m used to driving. Plus, MY car is 17 years old. I am so not used to driving newer vehicles with all their bells and whistles. It was a pretty stressful start, especially because I could not for the life of me figure out how to connect the GPS from my phone to the vehicle, or find any kind of navigation system on the vehicle alone. Trying to drive a huge vehicle in heavy traffic while also holding my oversized phone in one hand in a city I’ve never been to before – it was rough. My phone wasn’t even verbally giving me any of the directions and at one point when getting on a highway it fell under the seat! Fun times, you guys.

Alas, I made it to my first destination! Superica – the restaurant owned by the author of Tex Mex, my all time favorite cookbook that came out earlier this year. I realized after eating there that I should have asked how they pronounce the name of the place. All this time I’ve been calling it in my head “super-ICA,” and realized later it’s probably supposed to be more like “soup-erica”, like “America.” It just seems like I should maybe know how to properly pronounce the name of the restaurant I was most excited about eating at! Anyway, the place was huge and really fun! They gave me a ton of chips with two salsas – the smoky verde was delicious. (I believe the recipe is in the cookbook!) I ordered a combo from the lunch menu of chicken tortilla soup and chicken suiza enchilada. Oh, and the seasonal aqua fresca – pineapple/banana/mango/ginger. It was a ton of food! But very delicious.

I had a long list of unique shops and areas that I wanted to hit up on the trip. But after the stress of just getting from the airport to the first restaurant, I knew very quickly I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself. So I looked up the one place that sounded most intriguing – a gift store called Paper Skyscraper – and realized it was only a few blocks away, so I put more money in the meter and booked it over there. The store was so amazing! One of the best gift shops I’ve ever been to. I purchased a rainbow heart mug (based off of a graffiti mural of the same thing that I didn’t find out about until days later and was SO ANNOYED to learn was actually just on the other side of the block from Superica!), a really cute Christmas mug, and a Christmas in Carolina candle. All of which were added to the very large box of things I bought on the trip and shipped back home to myself and will hopefully arrive in one piece!! I probably could have stayed for hours in that store, but I didn’t give myself a ton of time (ran out of change! forgot how slow I walk!) and needed to get back.

My next stop was my hotel where I was thankfully able to check in an hour early and take a short nap. I had planned on getting a quick dinner or coffee before the conference started at six, but chose the extra time to rest instead. Then I headed out to register and find my seat at the conference! The whole thing took place at a large church and there were 450 attendees, though it honestly didn’t feel like that many. We jumped right in with a short performance by Arielle Estoria and then our first session on the six writing stages Hope*Writers has come up with. It was a great start to my learning!

Afterward I was pretty keyed up – and hungry – so I found a Cava. I love Cava so much. I get it every time I go to DC. I wish they’d come to the midwest! I just get a pita with harissa, chicken, diced cucumber, and lemon dill tahini, but it’s just so dang good. I haven’t been able to replicate it at home with the same quality. It was a great treat after the long day. I also stopped at a grocery store before driving back to the hotel in the pitch black pouring rain (that was fun). I LOVE hitting up grocery stores when I visit new areas of the country. Normally I’m on the lookout for unique flavors of chips and cool snacks, though now I’m mostly interested in local products and coffee.

Friday was a full conference day. It was a bit overwhelming, but so awesome.

At the lunch break I went to a place called Emmet’s Social Table, one of the founder’s favorite restaurants. It was cute, but I was hit with my new constant predicament of what can I eat? All this liver stuff I have going on right now is very confusing. I have a general idea of what I should be avoiding, but I’m not so clear on what exact substitutions I should be making. Normally eating out is my favorite part of every vacation, but was really just a huge source of stress this time around. My meals were sporadic and not the most enjoyable. I figured at this lunch I could have a “splurge meal” and immediately regretted the decision. It was my first time (okay, so I did have a pita the night before) in weeks eating white bread and potatoes and fried items. It was all good, but also just made me feel like crap. And made me really, really wish I liked salads. I was trying to make BETTER choices at every place I went, but choosing the BEST options was never really on the table for me (yet). It’s too depressing.

The afternoon portion of the conference was really great as well, but I was so tired and just overloaded with information by the end. There was an optional/encouraged night out at The Nester’s barn with food trucks and a bonfire and fellowship with other hope writers. But it was also a 45 minute drive each way, in the country, in the dark. I wasn’t comfortable yet with my Jeep, was not super interested in having more awkward conversations with strangers no matter how nice they might be, and just needed to rest my brain for a bit. So I didn’t go to that part and really don’t have any regrets. Before going back to the hotel, though, I stopped at a place called Viva Chicken and had a Peruvian Tacu Bowl. The photo is before I loaded it up with an amazing spicy sauce. It was very tasty. (But I shouldn’t have been eating the rice.)

Three food photos in a row! That’s really all I took pictures of on the trip… Saturday morning I was back at the conference for the final day. I went to a place called Sabor Latin Street Grill for lunch and had two chicken authentic tacos with chips and a bunch of salsas from their salsa bar. It was my cheapest and simplest meal, but it was really delicious.

I forgot to mention that on Friday night I made the leap and JOINED Hope*Writers. The conference was open to anyone, but the majority of attendees were actually already hope writers. I am proud to say I am now one too! I’ll have opportunities to learn every week with fresh teachings, plus access to all the archives. I can also connect in smaller hope circles with other members to spur each other on and achieve our goals together. I haven’t had a chance to do much besides just sign up yet, but it’s one of my top priorities in the next few weeks. Another investment in myself that I hope will also be the right decision.

The conference ended around three and then I booked it out of there because I had to get to my next hotel in Wrightsville Beach, almost four hours away. I was really hoping to get there by sunset – just to drive in the light and also see the beach before it got dark. Unfortunately, the sun sets really early! I didn’t make it. And then I was very confused by my hotel and couldn’t figure out how to get to the beach. And I was irritated by all the bored valet drivers that kept watching me whenever I went in and out of the building. The parking lot was also quite confusing and I didn’t want to leave again worried I wouldn’t have a spot when I got back, even though I also really wanted some dinner after only having that one meal the entire day. (Breakfasts – too much work!) I spent a ridiculously long amount of time trying to figure out how and where I could order food, but nothing was really sounding good. Well, real problem – everything was loaded with carbs and/or fried. So I decided to just go out and walk, despite how dark and terrifying it was, until I finally came across a tiny ice cream shop and decided to just have a chocolate peanut butter malt for dinner and call it a day. I was kind of a wreck by that point. Despite being on this trip by myself and technically having a lot of time in the evenings, I only got about five hours of sleep each night I was there, no naps other than the first day, and so much stressful time driving. Plus the mental exertion of learning so many new things! I was just at my breaking point by Saturday night.

Sunday was my one totally free and open day. I took my time getting ready in the morning and then finally found the beach! I got my workout in, squatting in the sand for an hour picking up the prettiest shell fragments. It was really fun! The weather was about as perfect as it could be too. Fallish temperatures (45-65) and lots of sunlight. All the natives kept apologizing for the cold weather when they found out I wasn’t from around there. I just laughed every time.

I wanted to spend my day finding cool shopping areas – it felt more feasible than in the busier Charlotte areas. I ended up parking in Wilmington and walking all around the downtown area. There were a couple of buildings that had multiple shops inside of them, which was fun. I finally found my first local coffee shop – after four days! I didn’t really like it, but felt obligated to drink it. I believe the only thing I bought in that area of town was another North Carolina scented candle. I smelled every single one of the shop’s about one hundred scents and liked the very last one the most. Again – hope it gets back to me in one piece tomorrow!

My boring lunch at Front Street Grill before rushing back to my car right when my time ran out. I mostly just ate the chicken salad plain and the bowl of fruit. That was a depressing meal when the rest of the menu items that I would have picked out at any other occasion before my liver stuff came up, sounded SO much more delicious.

I spent the next portion of my day hitting up my favorites – TJMaxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods. You better believe I find those branches of stores in every single city I visit on every vacation I ever take! You never know what you’re going to find! It’s such a treasure hunt! I don’t even feel dumb about it (I did last year in Minnesota when I probably visited at least 20 versions of the same store because literally every single city has all three of the branches). They’re my favorite place to dig around and I’m not going to apologize for it anymore. I also went to a bookstore and another grocery store. I finished my night having dinner at a place called Flamin’ Amy’s Burritos. It was a rush menu decision at the counter so I picked a Jerk Chicken burrito and didn’t take a picture because how boring is a picture of a burrito? I don’t even like burritos. I don’t like flour tortillas. So it was another disappointment. I just ate the filling with some chips. I was pretty fed up with eating in general at this point. I did have some snacks with me, but no matter how good those snacks seem when packing for a trip, they fall VERY flat when it’s the only thing you’re filling yourself up with.

I stayed up really late back at the hotel on Sunday night. I shouldn’t have, but I was still having a hard time shutting my brain down and needed to force myself to just chill out. I also set my alarm so I wouldn’t miss the sunrise on the beach – since I had missed both sunsets. I actually got to the beach about an hour before it officially rose and took about a million photos, but cell phones just don’t really do it justice. I was the only one on the entire span of beach that I could see, and it was a really beneficial time for me. I wish I had an outdoor space like that around home where I could watch a sunrise or sunset. I’m generally not a beach person because I hate being hot and in the sun. But at this time of year, it was incredible.

After making one more stop at Marshall’s and a local fresh/healthy foods only grocery store, I began my long trip back to Charlotte. I wasn’t in the mood to keep hunting around for new things to do, so I chose a large antique mall near the airport and spent about two hours just wandering around. During that time I was getting texts about every five minutes saying my flight was delayed another half hour. My flight was already later than I would have liked, so this wasn’t helping! By the time I left the antique mall, however, it was suddenly back on time! I didn’t know airlines could go back and forth like that. But it was a relief!

I wanted to get some food before I got to the airport – it was already 3:30 at that point and I hadn’t eaten at all. So I picked something close by – a Caribbean restaurant with a ton of great google reviews. I ordered the jerk chicken. Let me just ask – does that look like chicken to you?? The third piece in the background was definitely a leg. But the two pieces in front? The shape of them – those were bones. What kind of CHICKEN has bones like that?! There was also a goat curry on the menu, and I think they maybe gave me that. Which kind of makes me want to cry. Sorry, I do NOT want to eat a sweet cute goat. There was hardly any meat on any of the pieces – it was just skin and bones. The SAUCE was delicious. But it was a pretty disappointing meal.

The rest of my night was very uneventful! I got to the airport about four hours before my flight because I was so tired and needed to just be done. I spent most of that time walking around every terminal because I was so tired and didn’t know how else to stay awake. I got a Starbucks coffee and it gave me a stomachache. I read a whole (short) book. And then we finally took off, flew across country with no issues, and landed to fresh snow and ice and 7 degree temperatures. Oh, Wisconsin.

And that was my trip! I feel like I should go back and re-title this post to “All the food I couldn’t eat in North Carolina.” Sorry about that. I know nobody likes to hear about food restrictions and limitations. It’s just so high on my mind right now, with my liver biopsy happening TOMORROW. For that reason alone, it was not a good time to go on a trip. But I’m so glad I went and I really had the most fantastic time. I will write more about the depth of things I learned (and not just what I ate and where I shopped!) at another time!

Book Bonanza

We’re already halfway through August and I have so much to catch you guys up on! But I’ll start with my most recent excitement – a trip to Book Bonanza in Grapevine, Texas!

Book Bonanza is an event that started last year, created by my favorite author Colleen Hoover, her sisters, and her team at The Bookworm Box – a bookstore and subscription service that Colleen also founded and uses as a tool to donate thousands upon thousands of dollars to charity. I wasn’t aware of Book Bonanza until it was actually happening last year and I was SO jealous. I definitely jumped at the chance to go this year – buying my ticket last September and preparing for it in the following eleven months! If you read my monthly book recaps you’ll notice I’ve been VERY heavy on Book Bonanza authors the last few months, trying to make sure I fit in as many of the most highly recommended books that I could before I had a chance to meet those authors in person.

The event this year (and all future years) was held at the huge Gaylord Texan Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas. There were around 150 attending authors and close to 2000 attendees. It was a massive event, but SO well organized and thoroughly planned out. There were multiple facebook groups (attendees and those planning to go solo) with plenty of opportunity to meet people ahead of time, talk books, and really get hyped up about everything. This was my first time in Texas, so I decided to really take advantage of the trip and added on a few days in Dallas afterward to do some exploring. After eleven months of planning and paying attention to everyone’s insane game plans for getting author signatures and all the other prepwork that went into this event, I was actually feeling pretty apprehensive about the trip by the time I left. But all in all, I think it turned out pretty great!

I was able to take an uber to the hotel from the airport with a fellow solo attendee to cut back on costs (one time lol) and was really excited to able to check into my hotel a few hours early. After a little bit of exploration I decided to eat at their Riverwalk Cantina. It was a Mexican restaurant that was entirely enclosed, but also had a river running through it, giving you the appearance and feel of sitting outdoors at an adorable little cafe. Their chips were so tasty! The brisket tacos were good.

Book Bonanza didn’t officially begin until Friday morning, but we were able to check in and pick up our swag bags on Thursday afternoon. They also had a smaller version of their bookstore completely set up, where basically everyone immediately ran to after checking in! That began my weekend of standing in lines. SO MANY LINES. The cool thing is that everyone was just so happy and excited to be there, that the atmosphere was fun and friendly. I didn’t really make any new friends – I also didn’t even try – but it was great to have that camaraderie and be surrounded by so many book loving kindred spirits.

I realized pretty quickly I really should have brought more snacks! There were technically nine different dining options inside the hotel, but I only ever walked by three of them – two very expensive sit down restaurants and more of a convenience store type place. I wasn’t hungry enough for a full meal, but also didn’t want to skip eating all together, so I picked up a turkey sandwich (that was gross) and an enormous peanut butter Texas sized cookie. My original intention for the night was to head out into Grapevine and explore a little. But I knew I was too tired for that, so I thought I’d just read in my room and rest up for Friday. But there was just so much excitement going on in the halls, that I kept going back out to just walk around and soak it all up. And check out the bookstore a few more times!

Friday morning kicked off with a welcome panel of authors that have had their books made into movies or tv shows – Colleen Hoover (Confess), Caroline Kepnes (You), Anna Todd (After), and E. L. James (50 Shades). After that everyone split up and chose between six different options of author panels each hour for the next three hours. The first one I went to was called “ROMCOM,” which was pretty funny. The only author I had read from that group was Avery Flynn. Next I went to “Giving Us the Giggles,” which was hysterical. I hadn’t read any of those authors – but I plan to! I finished with “Redeeming the Bad Guy,” which turned out to be a much more serious discussion than I was expecting. I really enjoyed the panels – and doing something other than looking for author signatures. My only regret was that I should have chosen to go to panels with authors I already knew, rather than choosing by topic alone. I might have had more fun with it. Though I did really enjoy seeing how many of the authors seem to be genuine real life friends with each other. I guess it never even crossed my mind that writers seek out other writers and form some great friendships!

After the panels was a two hour block for lunch – which most people took to stand in line for the first signing block at 2:00. I got in line for lunch, which turned out to be a sandwich that looked a whole lot like the one I bought the night before. So I took it to my room to eat later (which I never did) and chose instead to go back to the Cantina for their lunch buffet. Allllll the chips I could eat. Actually, very few people were in the restaurant and I felt like the waiters were all staring at me, so it was kind of a very uncomfortable meal. But it was delicious!

The line was already so ridiculously long by lunch time (many people also skipped the panels to get an earlier place in line), that I gave myself a little break and didn’t join the line until 2:45 – when I expected everyone would be in the room by then. Nope! The line snaked through the entire convention center and the entire indoor river area. It was insane. I was least interested in getting author signatures – when I went to my first book signing last summer (Colleen Hoover’s), I felt so awkward and stupid, it was an experience I never really wanted to repeat. And then I came to Book Bonanza, where this was like the whole point. I honestly would have probably skipped it entirely, but I had a few books preordered from authors and the only way to get them would be to face the crowds! The more popular authors went by a wristband system, so you got a numbered wristband and then waited for your number to be up – ensuring only about 15 people would be standing in a line at a time. Of course the two authors I whittled my list down to – because of the preorders – had long waits. I ended up walking back and forth to my room multiple times during the block.

I was about ready to give up, when in the final ten minutes the volunteer for Penny Reid let me stand in her line, even though my number wasn’t anywhere close to being called. I love Penny’s Winston Brothers series, and two of her newest books in the Dear Professor series. I was really excited to get to meet her in person – and get my photo with Cletus, one of my all time favorite book characters!

Penny told me that she loved my braids and my earrings, which is why she wrote about watching me creepily. Anyway, most of the attendees were there just to get those author signatures. Everyone had carts full of books. I only ended up bringing three books from home – and then didn’t even attempt to get them signed. I can understand the excitement of seeing authors you adore, but it was hard to muster up enthusiasm (for me) to talk to people I haven’t read before. While I was waiting I did get a few authors to sign a Book Beau I had bought (it’s a padded book case), but every single one of them asked me what my favorite of their books was and I had to hem and haw and finally admit I hadn’t read them. AWKWARD. I was more than happy to skip the signing blocks on Saturday. It’s just not my thing.

Right after the signing, there was an event called Rocking at Book Bonanza, which was basically another signing with only 26 of the authors in a different location. We were all given a free autograph book for that one, so I stood in line for the book and promptly went back to my room! The evening ended with a Q&A session between Colleen, Anna Todd and actor Hero Fiennes Tiffin and a showing of their movie After. It was a late night! But I was excited to see the movie since it only lasted about a week in the theater here. Everything that made me so incredibly angry about that book did not come through in the movie, so I’m definitely interested in continuing the series to figure out why it’s such a phenomenon!

So, I kind of played hooky from Book Bonanza for most of Saturday. The only thing on the schedule was a four hour signing block, another bagged lunch which I assume would be the same turkey sandwich, and then another four hour signing block. I had no interest in any more signing attempts, so I had a somewhat lazy morning and then took the first available shuttle bus into downtown Grapevine to do a little shopping. It was already SO HOT by then. I’m trying not to be annoying about this because obviously it was Texas and it’s August and it’s just going to be hot. I knew that. Clearly. But it didn’t take away from how hot it actually did feel. I’ve never felt so disgusting and sweaty and suffocatingly hot in my life, every day that I ventured outside. It was awful.

I walked through Grapevine’s indoor farmers market and their small outdoor one. It was fun to see all the stuff, but also depressing because I would have loved to have bought some salsas and hot sauces, but I just didn’t trust the airline’s ability to not break a glass container in my suitcase. I went into a couple of stores and bought a few spices at a spice market. I finally had a very late breakfast of this amazingly delicious sugar donut – fresh from the fryer – and a mocha at a coffee shop (that was not good). I only lasted two hours before I was more than ready to hop back on the shuttle and go back to the hotel.

I took a little break back in my room and then spent some time walking back and forth to get boxes from BB’s shipping station, pack up all my books and swag, and go back to ship it all out. I forgot to take a photo of all my stuff before I packed it up, and I don’t have it yet at home, so I’ll have to add that on later! I ended up with quite a stack of new books – most of which were free. I even ended up leaving eight free books behind because I was pretty sure I’d never read them, so why pay to send them home? I still had a lot of time before the evening festivities, so I took an uber to a Mexican restaurant I had researched. It was good. I picked that one because it was across the street from an enormous mall – making the price of my uber ride a little more worth it. I walked the whole mall, but nothing was unique or special about it. Kind of a waste of an afternoon, honestly. At least I got some good food out of it.

At 6:00 there was a cocktail party put on by Passionflix. I stopped by to see what it was and got a small plate of cheese and crackers. I wasn’t really in the mood to try and mingle with strangers – most of which had buddied and grouped up after standing in so many lines together. I went to my room again and finished the night at the closing ceremonies and karaoke night. This was a charity event, and in the end it raised $80K which was split between multiple causes. Once the ceremony was over, the authors did karaoke and eventually anyone could participate. I stayed about another hour until I figured that was enough!

Anyway, I really had a great time on Friday, but for obvious reasons felt pretty disconnected on Saturday. I’m definitely glad I got to experience it and be at such a fun event, but I’m also not sure it’s something I’d do again. Next year they’re changing the scheduling up a bit and having it over three days, which does sound intriguing. But two years in a row would be a lot. This was an expensive trip! The hotel alone – yikes! (But worth EVERY PENNY to have a room to myself to relax in!) Book Bonanza has opened my eyes to the possibility of seeking out OTHER book conferences and events, though. My original uber friend was telling me about a few that she’s been to where it’s almost all panels and speaking. I think that might be more my thing! I’ll have to look into those possibilities in the coming years. 🙂

On Sunday morning I packed up and ubered to my next hotel in downtown Dallas. I planned to store my bag and go exploring, but I was actually able to check in already at 10:30! My first stop was a walk to the Dallas Farmers Market. They have a permanent indoor building which is all smaller restaurants – one of my all time favorite things to seek out in larger cities. And because it was the weekend they also had an outdoor market set up, also with many actual meal food booths. Very little produce! And a crazy number of stands that just sold infused waters and juices and teas. Texans at least know the importance of staying hydrated in that heat!

I got a mango juice outside that was divine and after three walks around the building landed on jerk chicken sliders from a Caribbean restaurant inside. That was by far the best meal I ate on the trip. It was so spicy and SO delicious. I picked up some macaroons to eat later, though I’ve realized for the second them they really just don’t appeal to me.

I went back to my hotel afterward and picked up a fresh watermelon infused iced tea from the attached coffee shop. It was really tasty! Then I finally took a nap – the only nap I took the entire trip! I somehow thought this vacation was going to get me so rested up. No such luck! I honestly felt so icky and crappy the entire trip. I know I’m showing you a lot of good food pics, but most of my meals I only ate about half of. I’m not sure if it was simply the heat or I was actually sick, but physically it was a really rough trip.

In the evening I went for a walk about six blocks around my hotel and saw the JKF Memorial and some other downtown sites.

I was stuck again with not feeling great, not being particularly hungry, but not wanting to just skip another meal since I was already only eating like one meal a day, so I stopped at this wing place I had researched ahead of time. I only ate a few bites – really should have just skipped it.

Monday was my last full day and I was bound and determined to try and suck up my heat wimpiness and make the most of it. For breakfast I had a cold brew at the hotel.

I took a walk to the famous cattle drive sculptures. That was cool to see!

Next I took an uber to the Bishop Arts District of Dallas. I was under the impression this was going to be a long street filled with unique shopping opportunities, but in actuality it was just a single block with a handful of stores that weren’t set to open for another one to two hours later than when I got there. There was no way I was going to just sit outside that whole time, and I didn’t want to wander too far, so I stopped at the first restaurant I happened upon. I thought I was going into just a coffee shop, not a sit down place, but figured I might as well stay once I was there. I had banana bread french toast with fruit.

The shops ended up being a disappointment. There was one local artist place that I waited an extra hour for it to open and bought a couple of 4×6 prints. The main reason I wanted to go to that side of town in the first place – for a unique bookstore and a grilled cheese restaurant – were rendered pointless since I had just eaten something else (and was feeling really sick) and the bookstore didn’t open another two hours. So I picked another random place online and ubered to an antique store, also assuming there would be other places nearby to check out. Nope! That one was on the side of a highway! I was totally over exploring in the 112 degree heat at that point and went back to the hotel.

One of the first restaurants I had researched was called Wild Salsa. I was so excited when I realized it was only a block from my hotel. I realllly wasn’t feeling up to it, but it was my last chance to eat there, so I headed over on Monday night for dinner. I have to say I’ve had way better Mexican food in Madison for a whole lot less money. I just went back to the hotel for the rest of the night. Though I should point out that my Dallas hotel had a giant bathtub and I had brought a bunch of pampering things, so I was plenty happy to have the time to just chill out and relax. It’s just hard to shake the feeling of not doing enough, when I’m on a vacation to see a place I’d never been to before.

I had zero ambitions about doing anything else on Tuesday morning, so I went to the airport three hours early and just walked and walked and walked. I picked up this honey butter chicken on a jalapeno biscuit from Whataburger and it was the second best thing I had to eat on the trip – shocking!

The rest of my day was very long, but mostly uneventful. It was one of the worst plane rides I’ve ever been on – I honestly was on the brink of a panic attack because it was so flippin hot and I felt like I was suffocating. The airplane couldn’t counteract the heat from however long it was sitting in Dallas. That combined with the turbulence made for a pretty miserable flight. But I rewarded myself with a stop at Home Goods and Marshall’s before coming home to my family! They were all very excited to see me. I missed them too.

And that was my trip! I’m really glad I went and I did genuinely have a good time. But I really have no desire to ever go to Texas again, especially not in summer. It also reminded me how much more joy I find in vacations with outdoor spaces to breathe and appreciate beauty. Big cities are SO not for me. It was a great break from reality, though, and is really going to help launch me through these final weeks of summer. Solo vacations are the best!

My Favorite Things

Last night I hosted my fourth annual Favorite Things Party. It’s one of my favorite holiday traditions! It’s a great way to see friends and celebrate the season together in a unique and fun way. It’s also an awesome way to give and get some really cool presents! (I am ALL about presents!) All you do is invite a group of great people over and ask everyone to bring three of their favorite things in a certain price range (I did $8-10 this year) wrapped and ready to give. Provide a bit of food (I always do a mega cheese tray and wine), let everyone else know they’re welcome to bring their own treats if they choose, and then gather and enjoy! After a proper amount of time to linger and eat you have everyone put their name three times on paper in a bowl and go around the circle drawing recipients for each of your gifts and explaining a little about why that item is your favorite thing. It’s really fun, you’re pretty much guaranteed to go home with three really great little gifts, and you have plenty of ideas for other special things you might want to check out later. It always turns out to be a great night!

As I was thinking about my favorite things for this party, I decided I really ought to do a blog post of my favorite things of the year. I kind of have a tendency to get totally obsessed with certain items and I just want to share them with the world! I’ve been considering doing a more regular post on my favorite new thing of the week or month, so keep a lookout for that! 🙂 In the meantime, here’s a pretty comprehensive list of everything I’ve been obsessed with in the last year.

Formula 10.0.6 Peeling Face Masks

This was the first item I picked out to give at my party. I first tried the orange Get Your Glow On Peeling Mask earlier this year when I saw them at Target and picked a few up as little Valentine gifts for some friends. (They don’t sell them at the local target anymore, but you can find them at Ulta and target.com.) I think the peeling masks are so much more fun and feel so much more useful than sheet masks (which I’m not against, I just like the peeling!). This one smells great. I was really excited to see Ulta put out a sample set of all six of their masks this Christmas. I immediately bought one for myself and my party gift. Funnily, my friend Laura is the one who ended up with it – one of the friends I gave the original mask to at Valentine’s Day, who I also gave a set of masks to for her birthday last month because she told me how much she loves them, and she brought these masks as one of her own favorite things to give! They’re great. 🙂

Bones Coffee

So I only started drinking coffee on my 33rd birthday when my mom gave me a Keurig that I wanted pretty much just because the cool robin’s egg blue color matched my kitchen. In the last 14 months I’ve become a bit of an addict. While I definitely love my Keurig for its speed and ease (the boys especially love it for making their own hot cocoa whenever the mood strikes), I’ve really been venturing out into “real” coffee the last four or five months. I don’t really like the way any of it tastes in the Keurig’s reusable cup, so I’ve since acquired a french press, an aeropress, and from a Cyber Monday sale – a little pourover. I think I like the taste from the french press best, especially with this brand of coffee, but the pourover is really winning me over because it’s so much easier to clean (with our plumbing issues I have to try crazy hard to not get ANY grounds going down the drain). Anyway, I think I just came across Bones from a random facebook ad and took a chance on it buying multiple sample packs over the last few months. And I love it! It’s incredible to me how each of the flavors comes through so strongly (I only liked flavored coffees). My favorite flavor is one that they had this summer as a limited edition – chocolate covered strawberry cheesecake. The chocolate, the strawberry, the cheesecake – every flavor was so distinct in every sip. I’ve liked every flavor I’ve tried except perhaps the chocolate orange. But I’m not a huge orange fan to begin with and the flavor was super strong on that one.

Candles from TJMaxx and Marshall’s

The third gift I gave at the party were three little candles from Marshall’s in holiday themed scents. I’ve always loved candles, especially in wintertime, but in the last couple of months I have been seriously obsessed. I have to look at them in every store I go to, but my favorite place to buy them are discount stores like TJMaxx and Marshall’s because you can get the most bang for your buck and most of their candles really smell amazing. My favorite company, and the one they seem to sell the most of, is DW Home. The cinnamon scents are always a sure bet, but I like a lot of their pines and vanillas too. Though Greg is apparently super sensitive to pine scents now, so I’m not allowed to burn them when he’s home. 🙁 If you enjoy candles and don’t want to spend a ton of money on them, I highly recommend checking out these stores. The variety is huge and it changes with every season.

Third Love’s 24/7 Perfect Coverage Bra

I was on the hunt for a new bra for over a year. I tried so many online companies and went to pretty much every store I could think of that sells bras for more (ahem) well endowed women. It was so discouraging. I had heard about Third Love a million times because they’ve sponsored so many of the podcasts I listen to. But I was pretty turned off by the price. Eventually, armed with a good coupon code, I decided to give them a shot. And I will never go back! They are seriously the most comfortable and well fitting bras I have ever tried. I did their fit finder quiz and they recommended a size different from what I’d been wearing and it worked so perfectly. The only downside to Third Love is that they seem to sell out very quickly whenever they have a size in stock. Also, if you need the bigger sizes, this is the only style they sell them in so it’s the only one I can vouch for. It’s taken me about eight months, but I’ve now acquired six of them and threw away all my old ones. These are the best and SO worth the price to have something that fits properly and will last a long time.

Mantraband Bracelets

I discovered Mantrabands when I was laid up after my ankle surgery. Something about the simple cuff with words of encouragement so plainly stated really resonated with me and what I needed during those months. I have four of them now and wear them when I’m feeling a little down on myself or my life. I really like that they come in multiple colors and have so many different mantras to choose from. There have been a couple times in the last few months they’ve even offered the chance to write your own mantra on a band. I think these would make perfect gifts for anyone going through a time of struggle and needs a little uplifting.

Mezzetta Habanero Hot Sauce

This has been my favorite hot sauce for probably the last eleven years. I have very vivid memories of stopping at the only store in Minnesota that I knew sold it on my way home from work before I had Caden. Because it’s been such long standing favorite and I eat it multiple times a week right now, it definitely deserves a spot on my favorites list. I love spicy food, tacos are my true love, and I need a good hot sauce to spice everything up. I’m not a fan of cayenne based sauces, jalapeno sauces are rare and kind of weird, but habanero – the best. Over the years I had a hard time getting ahold of this because it was only available on their website with massive shipping costs. But now it’s on amazon and makes me so happy! It can never, ever go away.

Only Love Today Book

I’ve been reading this book for over a year. Not because it’s crazy long or hard to get through, but because I want to savor each little nugget it has to offer. It’s hard to describe exactly what kind of book this is, but I’d probably call it a bit of a devotional, with less (but not no) emphasis on religion/God. I think it’s an amazing book for anybody who has children living at home with them. Rachel Macy Stafford offers so much wisdom on putting those little lives and your relationship with them above everything else because love is what truly matters in life. Each “chapter” is only a page or two long and I usually read one a day during my morning quiet time. I can’t recommend this book enough!

Cool and Unique Mugs

My coffee obsession has come with a mug obsession. And I’m pretty picky about what I like. For awhile I was mostly using handmade pottery mugs that I picked up at craft fairs. But more recently I’ve gotten addicted to checking out Marshall’s or TJMaxx for mugs. Every once in awhile I find an amazing one – and it’s usually the only one there (like this pumpkin spice llama mug above). I’ve started collecting so many that I only have space to store 10ish at a time, so I’m now fully committing to have an arsenal of mugs to rotate by season! This was definitely my favorite fall find. A few weeks ago I found an amazing Santa one I use almost every day.

TJMaxx/Marshall’s/Home Goods

Okay, yes, I have a problem. Like seriously, an absolute addiction to these stores. I can no longer pass one up, EVER. I think this began when we lived in Minnesota and every month or two I’d drive to the next town over to visit their TJMaxx Home Goods. I’ve always liked stopping by them when I’m shopping in an area with one, but lately – I NEED to go in. Always. When I took my Minnesota vacation in August by myself I went to every discount store in every town. That’s seriously all I did for an entire day. I think I like them so much because every visit is like a treasure hunt. The stock changes so rapidly. Lately, with all the fun seasonal things out, I’ve been going to the closest Marshall’s almost every single week. I can’t stop. I’ve already mentioned candles and mugs are my favorite things to look for, but I also really love checking out the bath and beauty section, the food area, the blankets (they have THE BEST blankets) and pillows, and the small stationary/notebook section. The only areas I rarely look at are clothes, which I guess is the bulk of the store. But there are so many treasures to be found around the edges! I’ve also realized that one day every week or so, tjmaxx.com offers free shipping. Dangerous! I’ve gotten a few great blankets and pillows online that I haven’t seen in store. I’m super excited that they’re currently building a TJMaxx and a Home Goods store right between the Target and Costco I shop at every week in Sun Prairie! I can’t wait!

Bombas Socks

This is a new obsession, but already a favorite. I’ve never been that excited or interested in socks, but with the shifting winter weather I had been getting frustrated with all the lighter weight socks I wore all summer (needed tennis shoes every day for my ankle – lame!). Bombas had so many great coupon codes around Black Friday that I decided to check them out. And I LOVE THEM. Definitely pricey, but they seem to be very high quality, very thick and comfortable, and they offer coupon codes pretty often. I love these so much that (spoiler alert) a lot of people might be getting a pair for Christmas this year!

Frostbeard Studio Candles

My brother gave me this candle for my birthday and I loved it so much! I’ve heard of Frostbeard Studio before, but had never ordered a candle before. I loved that it’s a candle for book lovers (great marketing for book lovers! :)) and it actually smelled amazing. I’ve since ordered a few more in Christmasy scents. The Bookstore one is still my favorite and I really like Christmas in the Burrows. I currently have Bah Humbug lit right next to me. These candles are definitely more expensive, but I use it as a little treat to myself when I’m sitting down at my computer or in my chair to read for a long period of time. It doesn’t appear to be available at the moment, but I’m really hoping to get their Bookworm and Old Books scents sometime in the future.

Coffee Gator Pour Over Kettle

If you’re making coffee in any of the methods I talked about above, this is almost an essential accompanying item. Also – all of those coffee things are really only best if you’re making one cup/coffee for only one person. Which works great for me, but maybe not the best if you drink more than a cup at a time or are making for multiple people. Anyway, this little kettle is so much cooler than microwaving water and trying (and often failing) to get the perfect temperature. This one will tell you when it hits the ideal temperature. I love it! It really works great with the same company’s little pourover in teal that I bought last week.

Scribbles that Matter Bullet Journal

I started a new bullet journal at the beginning of this school year and this is the brand I went with. It’s really so great! The pages are really thick and it lays flat when opened. I’ve tried many other journals that regular bujo’s recommend, but this has definitely been my favorite. I love all their fun color combinations too!

Pentel EnerGel Pens

Last year I was all about Papermate Flair pens. Which I still LOVE and use every day in my bullet journal. But this year I’ve discovered these and use them everywhere else. They write so smoothly and the colors are great. I of course have a rainbow set at my desk and blues in the area of the house where I actually have to sign important things. 🙂

TACOS

Tacos have been my favorite food for as long as I can remember. But it’s only been in recent years that I realized tacos can be soooo much more than seasoned ground beef, hot sauce, and cheese in a hard taco shell. I’ve become seriously obsessed with tacos in all their flavors and forms. Whenever I go on a trip I’m immediately looking for cool taco joints. I went to a few amazing ones in DC this fall. There’s one in Madison called Bel Air Cantina that we all love. I usually eat at Chipotle or Qdoba every single week on my big errand days. I recently bought a tortilla press and figured out how easy homemade corn tortillas are to make. I often whip up chicken tacos for my lunches multiple times a week. I even occasionally eat egg breakfast tacos – and I don’t normally like eggs! I try to make Taco Tuesday an actual thing and try different recipes every week. I have at least six different taco cookbooks. This is my most recent one and I love all the simple yet delicious ideas it has. Tacos are the one food I could never, ever live without. SO GOOD.

A Space of Your Own

I fell in love with our house because of this living room. And because the tv and video games and everything are in the family room at the back of the house, I’m the one who spends the most time in this pretty area (where my computer also is). I realize not everyone can basically claim a room mostly for themselves (and their dog!). But I think it’s so vitally important to try and carve out a little nook for doing whatever makes you happiest. When we lived at our apartment, that was my sewing area. And while I also have a great full sewing room at our house, my favorite area is my little book corner with the amazing gigantic chair Greg got me for my birthday. I try to spend at least a little time reading there every day. Sometimes I just sit and savor the comforting solitude. It’s awesome in December when I also get to take in all the Christmas decorations and candles. This is pretty much my favorite place in the world and I’m so lucky I get to spend my time in it every single day!

BOOKS

I’ve saved my ultimate favorite thing of all time for last – BOOKS. I absolutely adore, love, and lust after books almost every minute of every day. I’ve loved reading for always, but this year actual books in their physical form have become so beloved to me. Granted, I still really like reading on my kindle because it’s easier and more portable and can be done in the dark. But I love BOOKS so much. I want them all. I want to research them, look at them, hold them, shop for them, think about them, read them, share them, gift them. If all anybody ever gave me for the rest of my life was books I would be so very happy. My favorite of the year has been The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I read it back in February, but I still think about it often. It was so fun and delightful and a delicious romance. I know it might not be for everyone, but I loved it soooo very much. I’m so excited for Thorne’s next book coming out in January!

I think that’s about it! I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but this is a pretty comprehensive list of everything I’ve been obsessed with this year! I would LOVE to hear about your favorite things!

November 2018 Reflections

Happy end of November!

I’m so behind in my posts, I decided to just go ahead and do my monthly recap instead of trying to remember what I did every day the last two weeks and just write about that. It feels a little irrelevant and boring at this point. Or maybe always?! 🙂

Looking back at my goals from the beginning of the month, I was planning for a slow November. It was far from slow! Something about this school year, or this fall, seems busier than it’s ever been. We’re constantly running around, seem to have things going on almost every night, and I am just crazy busy trying to balance everything during the day. It’s so exhausting. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or this is just the season of life we’re in right now and I need to learn to deal with it. I’m really hoping winter will finally quiet down. Because I’m terrified of walking on potentially slippery ground EVER AGAIN, I think winter will be quiet just because I’m going to flat out refuse to go anywhere!

Anyway, here’s a quick recap on the goals I was aiming for in November. I think I did a pretty great job this month!

1. Write EVERY DAY

Well, I gave up on this one in the middle of the month because it was stressing me out and putting too much pressure on my already overloaded mind. It’s funny how by giving myself permission to prioritize writing, I suddenly had very little interest in doing it. I’ve just been too busy to even want to stop and get my thoughts down. But…it’s okay. I guess this is why I’m not a career writer. Maybe that is never meant to be.

2. Stop eating fast food for the sake of having a fast meal

This has been really tough, guys. This whole weight loss journey I began about five weeks ago has been A STRUGGLE. So many emotional ups and downs. So many days of the scale going up and down. As of today, 34 days after I started, I’m down 8.4 pounds. Which is great, I think! My goal was to lose 10 pounds by the end of January, so I’m doing far better than I expected of myself. But most of the loss was in those first few weeks when I was using Noom and Lose It. I’m proud of myself for still going down now that I’m doing everything totally on my own without counting calories, but the changes day to day feel very insignificant. Anyway, I definitely have times of being totally hangry pretty much every day. I miss eating  what I want, when I want, and not thinking about portion size. I REALLY miss grabbing fast and easy food choices when I’m out running errands and feel like I’m starving. I realized that I just can’t have a full shopping day and expect myself to still come home and take the time to make a healthy late lunch for myself. So once a week I’ve been going to Qdoba or Chipotle which feels like a very worthy reward for being pretty good the rest of the week. And since errand days are always the days I get the most steps, I feel justified in splurging for the extra calories. As for actual fast (fried) food, I’ve only had it once. I planned it, which was within the rules I set for myself. I ordered a chicken and waffle sandwich from KFC. And it was SO not worth it. I’m going to stick with this goal for next month too. I just want to remember how crappy I feel after eating certain foods and drill it into my brain that it is not worth feeling like crap just for the convenience of something fast I can eat while I drive back home.

3. Finish 75% of my Christmas shopping

Okay, I’m not going to do the math, but I’d guess that I’m at least 90% done!! It’s been a pretty crazy two weeks of doing research on what to get everyone, finding the best deals, trying to take advantage of all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. But with the exception of a few small filler gifts, I’m basically done. With everyone! I’ve been a bit overwhelmed, though, because when you do all your Christmas shopping for about 25 people – most of them needing multiple gifts – in a week and a half, all of those gifts start showing up at your door at the same time. Part of the reason I feel like I’m getting absolutely nothing done this week is that every single day a massive pile of boxes is delivered to my door and I need to figure out what to do with all of them. I did a round of wrapping earlier this week to try and further get ahead of everything, but it’s just A LOT to deal with. But when it’s all done, hopefully within the next week, I will be SO relieved to just sit back and relax and not have to worry about gift buying anymore in the month of December.

4. Write a Book Bonanza reading list

This is probably one of the easiest and most enjoyable things I’ve assigned myself, but I haven’t done it yet. There are maybe around 120ish authors who will be at Book Bonanza in August, and I’ve at most read books by 5-8 of them, I’m guessing. I’d really love to do a quick search on every author and find at least one book of theirs I’d like to read by the time I head to Texas in August to meet them. I suppose the month isn’t over yet, but I did buy my Book Bonanza ticket almost three months ago, so I really need to get going on this list!

5. Have a meaningful date with Caden

We did this! A few weeks ago we went to The Mineshaft and shared a huge pile of appetizers followed by games in the arcade. It was really nice! I want to make this a more regular part of our monthly routine.

Reflections on the last two weeks

Treat your delivery drivers

I heard about this idea last year from Jessica Turner at The Mom Creative. You fill up a box of treats (ideally food AND drinks, but the drinks are too risky in the below freezing temps most days around here) and leave it out for all your delivery drivers. I started a this a few weeks earlier than last year since all of my packages have already been rolling in. I also got a cover this year because last year the squirrels realized that box of snacks existed and raided it every single day, leaving food wrappers strewn around the neighborhood. Anyway, I think it’s just a really fun thing to do. Maybe they’ll take something, maybe they won’t, but at least the gesture means something. My dad has worked at FedEx my whole life and I know how insane this time of the year is for all delivery workers. I hope that getting a little treat when they stop by our house brings a joy to their day! And because I love variety, I have about ten different options in that box and try to switch things out every few days, taking note on what gets eaten the most (Little Debbies) and make sure things like that are in stock. 🙂

Pre-Thanksgiving date night

Exactly one month after I left DC, I saw Dianne and Jack again as they were in town visiting her dad for Thanksgiving. It’s nice that she can always kill two birds with one stone when she’s in the area and make some time to see me too! The four of us went out for Mexican the night before Thanksgiving. It was fun! I wish we could do couple dates more often.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving began the way every holiday begins – with a sick child. Caden, who rarely gets tummy sick, was rolling around with a bucket and moaning and groaning. He sort of spit up once and then laid in bed all morning, while we tried to decide what to do. Seeing as he seemed to be getting better, we continued on with our initial plans.

We always have Thanksgiving at Greg’s parents’ house and my parents come too, so we don’t have to eat two meals anymore. Shepard and I worked on this gingerbread turkey before the meal.

I was in charge of desserts, like I always am (and am thrilled about!). I always try to make my most unique things for Thanksgiving that still kind of fit the traditional offerings, but with a few twists. This was an apple gouda sage pie. The gouda was in the crust and I didn’t taste it at all. I only put in half the sage because I don’t like sage, but I couldn’t taste that either. But…it was a really good apple pie!

This was a triple cherry pie with a chocolate crust. My dad told me I ruined it with the chocolate crust and refused to even taste it, which is kind of a shame since I halfway made it for him because I know he loves cherry pies. But Greg also loves cherry pie and this was his request. Of course the recipe called for fresh cherries, which you will not find in November! I used frozen cherries, twice the amount called for, and it was kind of a juice explosion disaster. But if you only ate the top crust and a scoop of the filling it was delicious! And I normally don’t like cherry pie at all.

I only planned to make two pies since our group was pretty small this year, but I was so worried about the cherry pie being too juicy to eat that I stayed up late to make this black bottom peanut butter mousse pie. I added a bit of salt to each of the layers and it was PERFECTION. In retrospect, three pies for six eating adults (the boys didn’t have any) was definitely overkill. But as we’ve already established in this blog post, I love variety!

Shepard showing off the themed desserts he made on Wednesday night with my mom. He was very proud of them!

A moment of calm in the midst of a pretty trying day with a certain child. I know he wasn’t feeling the greatest, but he was also still being the way he is at basically every family gathering these days. It was rough. It’s ALWAYS rough.

And finishing the evening with some Thanksgiving Mad Libs and clay art projects with Shepard and the grandmas and me. I love how much of a kick he gets out those stories! Overall, it was a very nice Thanksgiving and I am forever thankful that I’m not responsible for the turkey or the sides!

Black Friday

I had big plans to work together to get the house fully decorated on Friday. But Thursday was so difficult with Caden that Greg decided to go into work so he didn’t have to spend the day with us. I still really wanted to get the tree up, but of course I had a few other things I really needed to do first (shopping!). Shepard was very impatient with me and started the tree on his own. He gave up right after I joined him and I ended up doing pretty much the entire thing myself. The boys spent the rest of the day playing with their friend while I decorated and cleaned.

After dinner we all went down the road to the Christmas parade! It’s really like the tiniest parade that has ever existed, but so many people show up and the atmosphere is festive and fun. Afterward Santa and a few people make a super long speech at the library that I have never been able to hear a single word of – I have NO CLUE what they talk about for so long every year. But then Santa lights the Christmas tree and everyone cheers.

Since everyone was actually in a good mood after the parade we powered through and finished decorating the tree. Greg and Shepard also put up the smaller tree in the family room and went crazy hanging twinkling white lights around the entire room. Our main tree shifts positions in the living room every year, but I really like this year’s placement. I have a perfect view from my big reading chair to the left.

Work Stuff

I spent a lot of time debating how to make sales over the Black Friday weekend. I decided to stay up late Thanksgiving night to finish these 12 ornament dolls. I offered one free with every order placed on Friday and Saturday. On Small Business Saturday I added an extra 15% off. I had exactly 12 sales on those two days so it worked out perfectly. On Cyber Monday I offered 25% off everything and made a giveaway doll that every sale for the day got entered in to win. Overall, it was very successful. I’ll probably do the same series of sales next year. There were a lot of people who wanted to just outright buy the ornament dolls, though, so this week I’ve been working on a batch of 24 of them to list for individual sale. I’ve just been so busy with other stuff I’m still not done with them.

McKenna’s Birthday Party

On Saturday night we went to my goddaughter McKenna’s 6th birthday party. It was also her sister Alaina’s 3rd birthday party – they have the same birthday. It was so fun to hang out with them! But also really sad that it’s been an entire year since I last saw her. This year just flew by.

Such a happy and fun little girl!

House Stuff

One of my totally random purchases in the last few weeks were new shades for our living room. Before we had a pretty translucent white curtain that was broken and couldn’t properly be opened (See tree pic a few paragraphs earlier.). It definitely looked a little bare at first, but I LOVE this new upgrade. I got the light filtering shades so it’s still pretty bright in here even when they’re closed. But I also feel like we finally have a lot more privacy in this room in the evenings, which makes me really happy. Unfortunately, that big curtain was also hiding a bunch of paint that peeled away when we put those plastic window sheets on our first winter here. I was really hoping to immediately patch all that up this week, but again – NO TIME. I’m hoping in the next year or two we can replace all the regular blinds that are left in the house with shades like this. They just look so much nicer.

Other Decorating

It’s taking me so much longer than I’d like, but I am very slowly making sure the rest of the house is decorated and ready for Christmas! One of my completely unplanned for Black Friday purchases was this little Christmas tree for our room. I love it so much! This is the first tree that I was ever able to pick out – not a hand me down or one we got on super clearance because it was the only one available. Putting this tree up inspired me to finally clean up our dresser top and reorganize my whole makeup area. Our room is looking very spiffy right now!

Edible Slime

Shepard saw a video the other day of people making edible slime and insisted he had to do it too. I bought the ingredients he told me to (gummy bears, cornstarch, sugar) and he and Greg made it. It looked so gross!

I’m not sure I’d call it a successful experiment, but they certainly had a lot of fun doing it! What a sticky mess, though!

End of the Month, by the Numbers

  • I worked about 61 hours this week over 21 days. Most days just 2-4 hours which is pretty realistic for what I can fit into my schedule right now. I’m still hoping to someday just have a normal work at home DAY and not work on nights or weekends at all. But I haven’t figured out how to do that yet!
  • I took Annie to the dog park 13 times. Our number is going up because I’ve been driving the boys to school more often with the cold or snow or their inability to get ready on time. If I’m already in my car with Annie it just makes more sense to get a little dog park time in!
  • I ate at restaurants 9 times this month. Better than last month’s 15, but still feels like a lot. At least I know my choices this month were a lot healthier.
  • I know they were healthier because I concluded that I “felt good” 22 days of the month. In October I only felt good in my body 9 days of the month. That’s a lot of progress!
  • I felt like I did some sort of nourishing self care 13 days of the month. Not so great. I’m hoping that number will jump significantly in December and I stop letting my to do list stress me out and rule my life and happiness so often.
  • I had a pretty even amount of quality time with Greg, Caden, and Shepard this month. I had 3 days of friend quality time.
  • My average happiness rating for the month was 6.7, only a tiny bit higher than October’s. I’m not very generous in my rating system – I’ve never given myself a 10/10 day. But I did have a lot of 7-9’s this month.

And that’s it for November! Happy December!!