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!

November 2019 Goals

I was struggling to come up with a list of goals again this month because October was such an epic disaster. I’m still just in survival mode right now and can’t handle adding anything extra on top of the things I’m doing just to get through my days. So – I’ll stick with those! I think November is going to fly by so quickly. I’m going on a five day trip, which will immediately launch me to the middle of the month, even though the month just started. Then I’m hosting a big sign painting party which feels like it’ll basically consume a whole week of my time to prepare for. And then it’s pretty much Thanksgiving, which also means it’s basically Christmas! I am not AT ALL prepared for Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday sales and have no clue how I’m going to get even close to making enough dolls to feel worth it. But….I don’t want to lose my mind to stress and being overwhelmed this month. I just want to focus on those couple of things that matter above all else and the rest will hopefully just fall into place. Or be good enough. And I’ll have to be okay with it.

1. Focus on health above all else.

THIS is what’s important right now. While my official diagnosis is up in the air and who knows if I’ll even figure it out this month, I NEED to start taking the steps to be a healthier person. Not a diet to lose weight (though hopefully that’ll be an outcome), but realistic lifestyle changes that I can manage for the rest of my life. I have three main things I want to focus on this month to kick things off.

  • Use the treadmill every day until it becomes a habit. No goals for specific times or distances yet, I just want to GET ON IT every single day. Well, every day except the five days I’m out of town this month. I started a notebook to log all of my walks, so hopefully I’ll feel a nice sense of accomplishment every time I add another one to the list. Caden also started a log so he can see how much he beats me every time…
  • Cut out almost all white flour and processed foods. I don’t want to be insane about this, or be super annoying to people who have to eat with me in the coming months. But I do want to make a conscious effort to avoid them as much as possible. Especially when I’m home alone and most prone to mindless snacking. But I don’t plan on being super strict with myself when I’m on vacation, or a date night, or like Thanksgiving day. But MOST of the time, I am going to learn how to just say no and find a better option. I’ve been working on this for two weeks now and it’s gotten easier, for the most part. I did have noodles at HuHot last week and pizza at my brother’s birthday party last night. I did try the lemon cake I made my friends on Friday. But I’ve been doing pretty good at all the times in between. As long as I have other options available, it’s going okay.
  • Avoid fast and fried foods. I think some of my biggest food related downfalls are when I’m running a lot of errands and extremely hungry and tempted by all the surrounding restaurants and just desperate to get something delicious and fast in my stomach. I actually don’t eat that much fried food to begin with, but fast food chains are definitely an evil temptation on my busy days. I’m nervous about feeding myself three meals a day for five days a week when I go on my trip later this week. I know it’s going to be challenging not to overindulge. But if I stick with the plan to avoid fast food and fried food, it’s a good starting point for picking healthier – and probably much tastier! – options.

2. Go to my Hope*Writers conference with an open heart and mind.

When I bought my ticket to this conference last spring I was SO excited about it. It felt like the best possible investment I could make in myself and the future I’d truly like to have as A WRITER. And then life, like always, got in the way. I still struggle a lot with what I’m really meant to be doing with my time and my life. I love doll making, I do, but it’s not essential to my happiness the way it was a few years ago. It’s definitely more a job now, and one that I’ve really been slacking on. In theory, I would love to be a writer, but I have some serious self doubt and just aren’t sure I could, or would even want to, make a full time career out of it. But I still want TO WRITE, whether it’s only on this blog or even just journal entries that nobody will read except myself. The majority of my writing comes out in emails to a friend – the truest story of my life for the last fifteen or so years. I would really like to direct that writing desire to other things and I’m hoping this conference will help give me hope again. Pour some optimism into my heart that I’ve lost along the way. I’m definitely nervous about the entire thing, but I know it’ll be good for me. I leave super early Thursday morning, have a few hours to explore Charlotte, and the conference begins that night and goes through late Saturday afternoon. Then I’m heading three hours east to the coast for two nights in a waterfront hotel just for the fun of it. For the last few weeks it’s felt like this conference couldn’t come at a worse time. But now – I’m ready for it. I’m excited for a break from my everyday life and maybe a chance to get some perspective on everything. I’m going to trust that no matter what, I am meant to be at that conference at this time in my life.

3. Buy/Craft/Plan at least 1/2 of all Christmas presents!

I really, really love gift giving. But I also get super swept up in the excitement of it all and go way overboard every year with impulse purchases that feel too good to pass up. This year I need A PLAN. A focused direction for every gift I give, trying to cut back on spending, be more creative (if I have time!!), and just generally be a whole lot more organized. I’m also trying to work up a treat plan – something to gift neighbors and friends that is maybe something different than cookies and candies. Baking was one of my first loves and continuing to bake without being able to freely eat the fruits of my labor…I think it’s going to be too hard. And I know so many other people are always trying to eat healthier too. Something I never have been that great about respecting. But now I get it and I want to only gift things that will truly be appreciated and used. It’s a lot to think about! But I’m hoping if I spend more time in November working on gifts, I can spend more time in December actually sewing for my customers. Most years I take the bulk of December off because I can’t handle everything happening at once. This year I’d like to be more accomodating. But only if I’m prepared with all the other gift stuff ahead of time!

October 2019 Reflections, a Little Early

October has shaped up to be one of the busiest and hardest months I’ve ever had. It’s been filled with a lot of great pockets of time connecting with friends and family. But it’s been alternated with so much stress and anxiety and emotional overwhelm. I don’t think I’ve ever let go of so many things go at once that are important to me in order to just survive my day to day life. I stopped filling out my bullet journal and organizing my tasks and giving myself a solid plan of what to work on every day. I stopped writing even the weekly blog posts that tend to ground and guide my weeks, and haven’t even considered writing anything beyond the occasional journal entry. I stopped listening to most podcasts in favor of soaking up the very rare silence or just listening to music instead. I slowed down so much on doll making, going up to a week at a time without even picking it up. And I’ve stopped reading. Not entirely. But this has been the slowest book month I’ve ever had. Lack of actual time is a big reason why, but I’ve definitely picked mindless phone scrolling over reading way too often.

There have been plenty of good things that have been filling my time that I definitely don’t regret. A group of my friends threw me a little birthday lunch, which was really awesome. It meant a lot to me that they cared about celebrating with me in the midst of their own crazy busy lives. I’ve also had two morning coffees at my house this month – with another one happening on Friday. I had a lunch date with another friend. And I have a lunch date with a friend this week as well. It’s been great reconnecting with everyone after what felt like an incredibly long dry spell. Female friendships are so important and we should all fight to keep them alive and thriving.

I’ve been dipping into some Cricut projects – really the main reason I wasn’t sewing for awhile there. These are the first three projects I did, using free files I found online. I was most impressed with how the mug turned out and might just focus on making more of those for gifts on upcoming holidays. I designed one myself to make for my friend Julie’s birthday and it turned out really nice. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed using my graphic design skills. But it also feels like starting completely from scratch – forget all those college classes and degree from a million years ago! So it’s very time consuming, requires a ton of research and searching for free things to work with before I can entirely design my own, and – I’m not that great at some of it. The main reason I wanted a Cricut was to make stencils and wooden signs. I’ve done a couple of stencils on canvas so far and they haven’t turned out at all. I’m hoping it’s just because of the canvas. I bought some wooden planks a few weeks ago to start practicing for real, but we haven’t found a time yet for Greg to help me use the rotary saw. That thing scares me.

Last weekend we got to spend a lot of time with Hudson, Timmy, and Brittany. The boys and I joined my mom in babysitting him on Saturday night and on Sunday we celebrated Brittany’s birthday. He was so much fun to hang out with! He’s talking so much and giggling and laughing about everything. His favorite thing was wrestling with the boys. He liked joining in on all their random snacking too.

It’s hard to go so many months in between seeing him, but it’s fun to see how much he’s changed in those time periods. He’s such a little cutie.

This last Thursday night we finally had some free time, so we carved pumpkins. Except that I was SO tired – it’s been a pretty sucky week, but more on that in a minute. Shepard had just cut his thumb playing gaga ball and didn’t want to get it full of pumpkin juice. And Caden was just not wanting to participate because he never wants to participate in ANYTHING. So Greg did all the scooping, we drew the faces, he did the carving. And he did it all in record time!

I worked on cleaning and making our pumpkin seeds. We always do one batch of salt, one dill and salt, and one chex mix flavors.

On Friday night we walked to the annual town bonfire. I always think it’s just a really nice memorable thing to participate in each year. It wasn’t quite as fun as last year because there was no DJ and Caden had zero interest in playing with his friends. I don’t know what’s been going on with him lately, but he’s having a rough time. Or he’s making choices that are making him feel like he’s having a rough time because he refuses to even try to be friendly with people anymore. But Shepard had a blast.

In a single day I actually made six little boy dolls from start to finish. It’s the first time I’ve made boys in almost two years. It’s the first time I’ve made dolls this small in probably at least six months. Dresses and long hair are what take the longest, so boys are very speedy! They all sold instantly. I started a second batch right away. I’ve needed a break from fall and Halloween dolls. Seasonal dolls kind of drag me down. It’s hard to feel super inspired when I feel like I have to make them. I don’t like being told what to do! So it was fun to throw in something different.

Last night we had our annual Halloween party with the grandparents and the city trick or treating. I wasn’t feeling super inspired this year, so I just made my annual pizza snake and a few snack mixes. Cindy brought caramel, apples, veggies and dip and sparking caramel apple cider. My mom brought a ham and cheese mummy and two desserts. It was a nice evening! Caden was being especially moody, but he perked up a bit as we were trick or treating. He was dressed as a dabbing taco. Shepard was his favorite youtuber, Unspeakable. Only one person recognized him and most people probably wondered why he wasn’t wearing a costume.

Annie was a rainbow and received A LOT of attention. The boys lasted longer than years past, but Shepard was still antsy to get back home and help hand out with Greg. Caden went back out for a few more houses.

Later in the evening there was a flashlight pumpkin hunt set up for older kids. I had signed Caden up thinking it would be something really fun to do, and extra special since only he was old enough. But he DID NOT want to go. But we were already planning to take Willow with us and I was sure he’d cheer up once he got there, so we went. It ended up being inside because it was raining by then, but we had to stand around for 40 minutes waiting for it to begin and he was moping and scowling and begging me to go home the entire time. Once the whistle blew he seemed to kind of enjoy himself, but it definitely wasn’t the fun memory I was expecting to make.

I just don’t know what to do with that kid. He’s always been like this – never wanting to do anything outside of the house. But it seems to be getting even worse. It’s infuriating trying to find this balance of encouraging things that might surprise him, while also realizing he is VERY much like me emotionally and not wanting to push him into more than he can handle. It’s hard to make him do things when I’m also in this season of life where new things are being thrown at me and added to the calendar every single day and I feel like I’m absolutely drowning, no matter how much fun those events might be. Despite the fact that he was super excited about the idea months ago, we didn’t force him into joining basketball this winter – a 3-4 night weekly commitment that he was flat out refusing to do. The deadline was this week and I just let it slide, even though Greg wanted to make him do it. I felt like that was just going to guarantee three months of all of us being miserable. I DID, however, make him sign up for chess club again. He loved it in spring, but wanted nothing to do with it this fall. They included a few younger grades this year, so Shepard actually joined too, which is probably the only reason he was convinced to go (he wasn’t “missing out” on game time if Shepard was with him at school). I’m trying so hard to help him with a balance, but he doesn’t make it easy. Ever.

So I had my annual doctor’s exam a few weeks ago. Which is more intensive than it used to be since I started having blood pressure and liver problems last year. All my female parts are in good working order and my blood pressure is under control with my meds. But my liver – it’s not good. I had to go back a second time since I hadn’t fasted the first time to get my labs done. I got the results the next day and my cholesterol is high and my liver values have doubled since February. NOT good. I won’t try to interpret the numbers on my own just yet, but I’ve been referred to a GI doctor and will see her this Wednesday. I obviously don’t know what she’ll say and what next steps might be, but this was the wake up call I guess I really needed to start genuinely changing my life around. And I’ve been going through all the shame and depression and mourning that comes with a self-induced disease that I have to somehow buck up and change entirely on my own if I want to stay alive. It sucks.

Changing my diet is basically the hardest thing in the entire world I can imagine doing. Last year when I had an ultrasound and was diagnosed with mild fatty liver, I was upset, but also motivated to start losing weight. I joined Noom, I started tracking food, and then I did really well for about four months when life took over and I gave up. This year, I don’t want to focus on losing weight. Because that feels temporary. Something to strive for, achieve, and then fall back into old habits. This time around, I NEED to change. I need to change basically everything. And I’m so, so overwhelmed by it. And honestly….just really sad. Refined carbs are the biggest contributor to fatty liver. And…I live on refined carbs. Hence my self induced disease and dealing with the shame that this is all my fault. I did this to myself. And I’m maybe doing it to my kids by allowing them to eat the same way I’ve eaten my whole life. So now not only do I have the pressure of changing my own diet, I’m also responsible for the three other people in my family and trying to change their diets too – which is SURELY going to be met with so many riots and anger and additional stress. I really don’t know if I can handle it.

I’m still waiting to see what the GI doctor specifically tells me I need to do, but I’ve started this week by eliminating almost all my usual carbs, trying out some keto recipes, adding green tea to my day, finding ways to add bone broth to many meals, and avoiding as many bad fats and sugar as possible. I’ve found some good ideas and worked on looking for substitutions to my favorite things to try and not make it feel like I’m suddenly doomed to a life of deprivation. But I’m also really struggling with how I’m going to live with this long term. I don’t like soup, unless it’s loaded with cheese and chips or crackers. I don’t like salad unless it’s covered in ranch and croutons. I have no idea what to eat for breakfast that will fill me up and not have carbs in it. I’ve been having yogurt with granola and bananas every day this week and while it is filling, it’s not really what I crave. It’s too sweet, mainly – I never like to eat sweet things in the morning because I get headaches from it. I honestly think I’d be okay giving up most desserts and sugary things, but I don’t know how to give up the salty things I basically live for. English muffins, chips, sandwiches, peanut butter toast, tacos, rice bowls. This whole week I’ve been cycling through feeling hopeful about some new ideas and absolute depression at how many things I have to let go of forever. I can’t encourage bad behavior by thinking I can eat most things in moderation. I know I can’t. I have to say give them up or this is never going to work.

Anyway, this whole process is just beginning and it’s been hard. But I honestly can already tell the difference in how I feel. Yesterday I was going up and down stairs over and over again and realized hey – my legs don’t hurt as much as they usually do. I’ve had some extra energy and have been taking Annie on two walks every day. And I haven’t given carbs up completely – I did still have grilled cheese and some amazing tomato soup twice this week, and I had a few small pieces of the pizza snake last night. But just not having anything refined for breakfast or lunch is already starting to help. And I want to hold on to those positive changes I can already see after such a short period of time and start craving more of that instead of only thinking about how much I’m losing. I have a long road ahead of me.

Well, usually when I write these monthly recap posts, I just address how I’ve come along on my goals for the month. And I’ll just sum it up quickly by saying I’ve been an utter failure this month! I couldn’t handle it. I did read SOME of my seasonal book stack. I have been taking a lot of walks, but haven’t done any yoga videos or enforced the idea of doing it first thing in the morning because so many mornings have held appointments or important errands. My daily writing practice has only come in the occasional early morning journal entry. And I did go to the theater – Greg and I saw Downton Abbey for my birthday date. I was still hoping to go on my own at some point, but there hasn’t been anything worth seeing.

I think that’s it! I’m finishing October off with a Culver’s fundraiser with Shepard tomorrow night, lunch with my friend Laura on Tuesday, the doctor on Wednesday, and a coffee morning on Friday. My trip to North Carolina is in just a week and a half, so I’m also trying to prepare for that. There’s been a whole lot of anxiety and doubt about that trip as well. It’s hard to feel excited about a writing conference when I haven’t been making writing a priority in a long time. But I have to trust that how I felt when I signed up was true and this WILL be a good thing. But now I also have the added stress of trying to find restaurant options ahead of time that will support these new dietary needs without getting there and having a ton of anxiety every time I need to eat. There’s just so much going on. And it’s not slowing down anytime soon. Maybe in January??

It was my birthday.

It’s been a busy two weeks since my last update. SO busy. Again. Tons of really fun things, but it’s starting to feel a bit overwhelming. I’ve barely been home, I’ve had almost no time to sew, and worst of all – almost no time to read! I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining, but this isn’t a lifestyle I can sustain long term. I love doing fun things, but I HATE feeling so out of control and behind on literally everything else. But, the last two weeks have been full of great memories, so I want to share!

Earlier this month I was running all those random and annoying errands I talked about in my last post. One of which was the boys getting flu shots. They did great!

I also hosted my second coffee morning! I’m still working out the kinks to see if I can make this a very dependable and regular event, but every week is so different I think I’m going to have to continue taking it month by month. Unfortunately, the coffee morning coincided with some awful rains that left most of the town dealing with flooded basements – us included. So not as many people were able to come, but it was still really great to connect with those that could! Greg worked at home that day to shop vac the back room in our basement that doesn’t slope to the drain over and over again. That’s also how I spent my Thursday that week.

Thursdays are proving to be the one day of the week I never seem to have a ton of stuff going on and I SHOULD be using that time to actually get to work, but both of the last two Thursdays were spent doing more self care type activities instead. Special candles, longer reading sessions, long naps, etc. I really need a solid chunk of time like that to recharge if I want to make it through a weekend.

Birthday presents started rolling in! My friend Dianne sent me these awesome hot sauces that she taste tested and picked out for me in NYC. I’m excited to try them out! I don’t have any photos, but I also got a happy lamp and face roller from my sister-in-law and her fiance that they gave me at Caden’s party.

Grandma gave the boys these big blanket sweaters and now they wear them ALL THE TIME. It’s hilarious. But also – it’s gotten really cold!! They will really come in handy this winter.

I had so many restaurant plans in the days before and after my birthday that I had to make sure the one day we were eating at home it was something I really liked, so I made my all time favorite jalapeno popper pizza on pretzel crust! It’s a tiny bit more work to make the crust, but SO worth it. Plus they have to be smaller sized, so we can all pick which toppings we want with no compromising.

One of my treats to myself this month was signing up for a weekly Halloween coffee subscription from my favorite roasters, Brandywine Coffee. Each week for five weeks I get a small bag of unique Halloween flavored coffees. So far “Halloween” tastes very savory. I’m hoping the closer we get to the actual date they make the blends a little sweeter!

Another present in the mail from my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I don’t think I’ve ever read Little Women! I’m excited to read it before the new movie comes out. I think it’ll be a good November read. And a gift card to go toward a rug I really wanted, and maybe already bought (keep reading lol).

That Saturday night we went to my parents’ for my first official birthday celebration! I just realized now that it’s larger I wasn’t even looking at the camera – oops! I made myself a butterscotch cake I’ve been wanting to try out for weeks. It was pretty good! Maybe a bit too sweet, though. I’d maybe do it with chocolate frosting if I did it again.

My parents made me a delicious dinner of foods that I like! And they gave me a great collection of coffee themed birthday gifts. I love the rainbow mug! And a larger pour over for my coffee mornings since my current one can only make a single cup. And local coffees! I’ve only tried the Nunatak Marsh Mud so far, but it’s really chocolatey and delicious!

I spent last Sunday finishing up some dolls. I decided to take a break from fall and Halloween and focused on birthday dolls and things that I enjoy – like tacos! This taco doll is still available, by the way. 🙂 She turned out so cute!

On Sunday afternoon we did the one thing that I like doing most on or around my birthday – picking out pumpkins! This year we decided to check out a new place everyone was talking about where the pumpkins were only $1. And they were so big too! The kids were much more interested in trying to find all the kittens, while I mostly picked out the pumpkins.

And then on Sunday night (it was a busy day!) the boys went to Grandma’s for a sleepover and Greg and I went on our first date in awhile. I picked Bartaco in Middleton, the place I went with my mom and the boys once this summer. They have my favorite tacos. They’re super tiny, but SO delicious. Greg loved them too. Afterward we walked around Hilldale Mall for a little bit and I splurged on a box of fancy chocolates. Greg was a little wide eyed at my financial life choices, but then he got an equally expensive Moscow Mule at the movie theater, so we were even. We finished the night watching the new Downton Abbey movie. I really liked it!

And finally, Monday was my birthday! I am officially 35. I feel like 35 is the year you officially become an adult, and I’m not so sure I like it. It could definitely be argued I “became an adult” the day I had my first child. But I’ve still felt relatively young, until now! I’m in the next age bracket on every survey I’ll take in the next 9 years! Anyway, there was no school on Monday because it was conference day, so Cindy kept the boys at her house a little longer so I could have the morning to myself. I wish I had spent it actually relaxing, but I was rushing around trying to catch up on tasks. Right after they got back we headed to school for conferences. They’re both doing great!

We met my mom at Ponderosa for lunch afterward. Then we went to Horicon to the place where we usually get pumpkins every year and they were no longer in existence! Quite the disappointment. So we stopped at the meat market while we were in town and then headed back home for a little bit of game/reading/rest time.

When Greg got home I opened my presents. They gave me a Cricut! I’ve been obsessed with the idea of making my own signs since I took that first class in August. I really wanted a Cricut so I could do projects on my own at home. I’m really excited to try it out, but also very intimidated. A week later, the box is still right where I unwrapped it. TOO BUSY. I was hoping to spend some time with it this weekend, but I’ve barely been home. I will, though! Soon.

My brother and sister-in-law sent me this bracelet. I already have it in gold and loved it so much I wanted it in silver too since I wear silver a lot more often (and strongly hate mixing metals). It says “She believed she could, so she did.” I’m trying to wear one of them every day to keep me motivated with taking better care of myself and never giving up, even on the hard days.

One other thing I bought for myself was this awesome rainbow “bookshelf” wall hanging. Awkward photo because it’s so high up on my wall above my desk. I LOVE it. I’ve been eyeing up this etsy shop’s instagram page for months, just waiting for a rainbow one to pop up. It was perfect timing for my birthday! I’m in love with it.

Caden had Lego League, but Greg, Shepard, our neighbor friend Leverett and I ended the night at the dog park. The weather was gorgeous, but unfortunately, Annie got attacked AGAIN. This was a full blown attack where the dog looked and sounded like he was legit trying to kill her. The other owner had to tackle his dog off of her. It was really scary. I have enough PTSD after the whole ear biting fiasco and this trip did not help ease my anxiety. We loved the dog park so much, and now I feel like we can’t trust it. Or we at least can’t trust it at night when a lot more unknown dogs are visiting.

Overall, it was a pretty low key, but really nice birthday. As good as it could be with the boys home most of the day. I’m more of a fan of weekday birthdays where I can do whatever I dang well please during the day and just enjoy my family for a few hours at night (lol). I was a little bit resentful that after two years of weekend day birthdays, I had to have yet another one with my kids home (and one of them super angry at me half the day because he didn’t feel like he had enough game time). But…it worked out pretty well.

By Tuesday I really needed to run errands, but Shepard was also home with me because he randomly threw up in his sleep Monday night. He did have some questionable yogurt before bed, so we’re guessing it was just that because he didn’t have a migraine. He was perfectly fine on Tuesday, but couldn’t go to school, so he ran errands with me. He’s a pretty great shopping companion on his own, but NEVER stops talking. We had a little down time at home in the afternoon before picking up Caden and bringing him to the doctor for his well child visit. He was much worse at the doctor this time, mostly because he was mad we were FORCING him to go out to eat again. I’m pretty sure all other children in the world would LOVE going out to eat multiple times a week, but not Caden! It’s pure torture, apparently. After the doctor we headed back to Sun Prairie to eat at HuHot and celebrate my birthday with Greg’s parents. I haven’t been there in ages, despite it being one of my favorite restaurants. It was SO good! And the boys absolutely loved the experience. At least until Shepard decided he NEEDED to know how to perfect his chopstick technique and it wasn’t going his way so he started crying and throwing his body around the booth while slamming his fists on the table. If you’re ever under any illusion from my instagram posts that life is just always hunky dory around here, believe me – IT’S NOT. Caden spent days acting like I was the worst person in the world simply for having a birthday and making us busier than normal so he couldn’t have as much game time as usual. I’m such a bad mom.

More lovely gifts! They gave me some new Pioneer Woman dishes and bowls, earrings, a Qdoba gift card, and some money to go toward my rug.

The birthday fun continued for one more day with a special joint birthday lunch out with my friend Nora! We went to Nitty Gritty and Beans and Cream for a coffee dessert. She made me a beautiful unicorn embroidery to hang in my sewing room. It was such a nice time together!

In between all the outings this week, I was also working hardcore in my sewing room to get things reorganized and cleared out to make room for my Cricut and more painting supplies, plus cleaning out under and around furniture to make more room for my new rug. I spent Thursday taking care of all kinds of random things, like switching out the boys’ school pictures. They both look so much older this year! It was a pretty exhausting day, but I felt very accomplished by the end of it! I had to remove some of the more decorative items that I don’t love as much as I used to and cleared off a whole shelf for my Cricut and changed another shelf as storage for all my paints.

I FINALLY sat down and started sewing on Friday morning. I decided to only make two large witch dolls this time around. Then my new rainbow rug arrived in the afternoon! I am obviously really bad at mental measuring because it is A LOT bigger than I was expecting. My last rug was 5×7 and always felt too small under the table of roughly the same dimensions. But this rug was only available in 4×6 or 8×11, so obviously I had to go with the bigger one! The real challenge is that I REALLY wanted to keep the matching runner in the room. I didn’t realize the chevron stripes were going to be wider on the bigger rug – I prefer the smaller ones and rainbow rugs really only belong in this one room of the house, so I had to make it work! It was a much bigger challenge than I was anticipating, but I think it looks pretty good in the end! Maybe a little silly, but they’re bright and beautiful and will really make the room warmer this winter. The pets love the carpeting!

On Friday night the boys got shipped off to Grandma’s again because we had tickets to see Rory Scovel’s comedy special in Madison! We both listen to the podcast Penpals, and we saw the other half of the duo, Daniel van Kirk, earlier this year, so we HAD to go see Rory when he was in town. Plus, he’s more of an actual celebrity and I thought it would just be cool to see him! We had dinner at a super cute, but very loud restaurant, Lucille. Greg loved his more unique pizza, my pepperoni was just okay. Then we rushed through the 30 degree raging winds down State Street (I don’t think we’ve EVER had good weather on a State Street date!) to Comedy on State. It was definitely a new experience for us – we had to lock up our phones in little cases, so no photos were taken. We were also required to buy a minimum of two drinks per person, which I was apprehensive about ahead of time because I really don’t drink and don’t like the idea of being forced to – but their cocktail menu was AMAZING. I had a salted caramel martini that was delightful, followed by a non alcoholic Bailey’s Mint Kiss coffee. And the show was great! So funny. We both really enjoyed it.

I spent almost all day Saturday doing a whirlwind shopping trip around Madison with Cindy. It was really fun! We both picked up some unique new treasures and gifts. Then I had a date with my computer to watch The Popcast’s live stream of their Dallas live show. It was such a fun experience! Maybe even more fun than being at a show in person because I got to be wildly entertained by the chat taking place at the same time among all the other Patreon supporters. They’ve only had two live shows this year, but are promising many more next year. Hopefully another will be within driving distance for me – I really enjoyed the one I went to in Chicago last year. But I’m really liking this new live stream thing too. Their $7/month Patreon is SO worth it.

And we’ve made it to today! I worked all morning and then Shepard and I were signed up to serve at his school’s community soup social. I was a little nervous about it, but he really wanted to do it and this is our last year at DCS, so we gave it a go. And it was really fun! I was at the drink station, filling up all the juices as they were taken. He was in charge of refilling all the cracker bowls around the tables. He and his friend Ava were having a grand time together!

I took a nap when we got back and then worked a few more hours until I finally finished up these witches! I LOVE this huge doll pattern. But, they’re also pretty expensive, so haven’t sold yet! I think this might be the last I make for Halloween. It’s another really busy week and doesn’t seem worth it to try and squeeze any more in when I know I won’t have any real time to sew until Thursday again – and that’s my self care day!

Sunday Intentions

Okay, briefly! I just said – busy week ahead. A LITTLE bit less busy. I definitely need to go run errands tomorrow. You could argue that I could save them for Tuesday when I’m going to be in Madison anyway for my doctor’s appointment, but I don’t like to give myself too many things to do in a day because I get angry and resentful and way too tired. So I’ll plan to do speed errands tomorrow morning and then MAYBE have time to check out my Cricut in the evening. Tuesday, I have my annual exam. I’m actually much more dreading the doctor’s lecturing on my internal health instead of all the womanly stuff. I know she’s not going to be happy with me. But Wednesday some of my friends are throwing me a belated birthday lunch, so at least I have that to look forward to! But the boys also have an early release from school, so it’ll be hard to get much done that afternoon. Then things slow down a little bit until Science Night at school Friday. And we get to hang out with my brother and his family this weekend! I know I should sew at some point this week. And I’d really love some more substantial reading time…

I think that’s it! I’m sick of arguing this point and wasn’t going to even bring it up, but….it was a good birthday run. I sometimes get teased by people for making too big of a deal out of it. I honestly don’t feel like I do and I already pointed out that it’s NOT all sunshine and rainbows around here. I just want to create situations in my life, especially around my birthday, where happy memories can be made in the midst of all the harder stuff. Plus, I feel like it makes sense that my family would want to celebrate with me? And my in-laws? And my husband? Yeah, I could try to somehow cram all of that into a single day, but it would be miserable. I need space between events. I need down time or I lose my mind. So year after year, despite what anyone else might think, I’m going to keep doing this. Making the most of the days before and after to take care of myself and my happiness and do the things and connect with the people that will bring me joy. It is WORTH IT. You can do it too.

Early August Festivities

Well, I told you guys all about Book Bonanza and my trip to Dallas the other day, so now it’s time to catch you up on everything that happened before that trip. It’s been such a busy month!

Greg and I spent the first few days at the Secret Cottage – a beautiful little place we discovered a few years ago.

This was our third visit there – we first went for my 30th birthday, then again for our 11th anniversary. We’re talking about going again in January for our 20th anniversary of being together – mostly so we can officially say we’ve stayed there for every season! It’s gorgeous at any time of the year, but I bet it would be especially cozy in the dead of winter with the fireplace and snow covered trees surrounding it.

We were only there for two nights, but it was such a wonderful break from reality. I think it’s the first vacation we’ve ever taken where we seriously just chilled out and did basically nothing. We only went out once to get lunch because I hadn’t packed enough food. It was such a nice trip!

Right after that, Timmy, Brittany, and Hudson came to visit! They spent the first day hanging out at our house. I think this was the first time ever that Hudson didn’t take a really long time to feel comfortable with us. Maybe he finally knows who we are from visit to visit?! He was having so much fun exploring everything and trying to pet the cats.

We went to the pool for awhile. The water was pretty chilly, so Hudson just hung out on the edges. It was quite a challenge getting the three of them in a photo together – impossible to get them all smiling!

We had a pizza and snack party afterward. Hudson is just the cutest!

Midpost PSA to tell you if you’re looking to make your own cold brew at home, this is a fabulous combination. (I should write a post on coffee soon!) I really prefer to buy cold coffee drinks at coffee shops and wanted to up my game at home this summer, making my own instead of buying the premade jugs of cold brew. I’ve been trying out a lot of different brands, especially the fancy brands that make a specific blend for cold brewing. This Sunny Spot by Grounds & Hounds has been my favorite by a mile. It’s so good. It’s even better with this new Nitro Creamer. If you’re local, I found it at Woodman’s. Unfortunately when I went there a few days ago to buy another bottle, they were all expired. Hopefully they’ll stock some fresh ones!

We spent that Sunday at my parents’ house to celebrate Timmy’s birthday a few weeks early. It was a beautiful day with lots of time outside.

Annie was feeling very jealous of all the attention Hudson was getting. She definitely likes to be the baby of the family!

Greg saying goodbye to Hudson. 🙁

On Monday morning all of us, except Greg, went to the State Fair! The boys and I got there a few hours earlier than everyone else and walked around the mostly deserted park checking out some of the animals.

We normally start our annual fair visit with a bag of apple cider donuts. But Shepard was feeling especially hangry and couldn’t wait until 9:00 when that side of the WI products building opened. So they settled for kringle slices instead.

Then Shepard and I got grilled cheeses. I’ve reached the point where I can’t eat anything remotely sweet in the morning or I have a massive headache all day long, so grilled cheese was perfect!

We found Hudson! And he had already found a donut.

Caden wanted to get a baked potato. That reminded me that he LOVES baked potatoes, but I never, ever make them. Poor deprived child!

We split up for a little bit because they wanted to watch the pig races and we didn’t want to sit in the sun for that long. Shepard was already being pretty difficult about everything at that point. The whole day was really very up and down. Caden was FANTASTIC. Shepard was really testing my last nerve. There was a lot of either miscommunications or simple ignoring of when I thought we were going to be meeting back up with everyone after brief splits, which was extremely frustrating to me. A lot of wasted time on our part, thinking they were coming to us, when they were instead just doing something else without letting us know and we had to go hunt them down. It’s hard going to events like that as a large group. It’s hard for me to accept that not everyone is like me in the way that they think and go about life. But…yeah. Let’s just say I had a really good time with Caden. I think maybe next year Shepard can stay home and have a Daddy day!

I think the cream puffs were Hudson’s favorite treat!

The boys and I finished our day (at like 1pm lol) at the super crowded building that sells our favorite beef sticks. I also finally found a coffee option that sounded good to me. The boys had a great time looking at all the hot tubs for sale – until Shepard became infuriated that I wouldn’t buy one. Because we totally have the set up to just buy an enormous room sized hot tub and stick it in our house. 😛

We said our goodbyes to Hudson who was off to find a place to take a nap. We won’t see him again until possibly late October.

Finished up our fair visit with Shepard getting some cotton candy – what he wanted from the minute we arrived. I was disappointed to realize that once again I filled up on all our regular foods that I didn’t have any desire to spend the money on something unique. NEXT YEAR.

After fair day, I was just super busy getting packed up for Dallas and trying to make sure Greg and the boys had enough food at home for easy meals to last them while I was gone. It was a very chaotic two days!

Back at home this week, I’ve just been trying to get settled back in. I still haven’t been feeling the greatest, plus just SO TIRED. I thought I’d come home from my solo vacation feeling relaxed and rested, when the opposite was definitely true. I’ve tried to lay low this whole week. We did go grocery shopping asap on Wednesday morning, followed by some school haircuts. I’m not particularly thrilled with either of them, but at least I know Shepard’s will grow out looking really cute! Caden fought tooth and nail to have a haircut at all and you can barely notice a difference. But…that’s what he wanted. And I said I’d be respectful of their personal body choices.

Otherwise I’ve just been working! I finished up six new dolls this morning and took two custom orders that I’ll start working on tonight. I’m happy to be back at it, but also really feeling the pressure to make as many as possible as fast as possible. There are basically just two weeks left of summer and my goal was to keep prioritizing my family and making the most of the days we have. But honestly…I want September. I want school. I want regular schedules. I want quiet days. I want to only make lunch for myself. I want to take naps where I don’t have to be in the next room with one ear open to any shenanigans that might occur. Summer is EXHAUSTING. But it’s almost over and I think I can survive. Hopefully. 🙂

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!

A Full Complete Happy Person

This afternoon I listened to the latest episode of a podcast called Empower Her that my friend Lexi recommended to me. This is the first time I’ve listened to this particular podcast and it was basically a 20 minute blast of hard truths, but things I (and probably many women!) needed to hear. The episode topic was on boundaries, which is definitely something I struggle with. But the thing that really jumped out at me is how many times the host, Kacia, said the words “what I need to do to be a FULL COMPLETE HAPPY PERSON.” That description really got me thinking about what I need in my own life to be a full complete happy person. I decided I definitely needed to make a list to help me remember these things when life starts feeling tough. I challenge you to write one as well!

Time to Myself

This is probably the biggest one. The biggest truth for all introverts, right? We need time alone to recharge. Not enough time to ourselves and we basically implode. This is the number one reason why summer is so hard on me. Even though my kids aren’t in my face and needing my attention every minute of the day, they’re still HERE. I crave quiet and solitude like I can’t live without it. I think the most important time of day for me is right when I wake up. I’ve always been a very early riser and I revel in that 30-90 minutes I often have before anyone else comes downstairs. But there are also days where a kid gets up early and follows me down the stairs. Those days my heart immediately sinks because most of the time it’s the kid that wants to talk talk talk and is doing his own reveling in some one on one attention. The one little extrovert of the family. Don’t think I’m terrible because I’m glad to have the bonding time with him too. But it sets me up for emotional exhaustion from the get go and it’s so hard to recover from that. I also really need time to myself in the afternoons to read and rest. It works out perfectly during the school year. It’s much harder in summer. And I always end my day alone, reading in bed. I essentially need a good chunk of time all three points in the day to feel the best. If I’m not getting those regularly, then I need to get out of the house and find it elsewhere – usually at a bookstore or movie or dog park or walk.

Daily Connection with Greg

Greg and I don’t have a ton of things in common. And we don’t honestly spend a whole lot of time together because he’s usually doing something with the boys whenever they’re all home (which is basically all the time). But I still feel like most of the time we have a pretty strong connection because we make a point of talking to each other throughout the day. He’s at a computer programming and is usually able to message with me throughout the day. I can tell him any random thing that comes to mind without feeling like I’m bothering him too much. Though I try not to be TOO annoying. We also end almost every single night watching a tv show together while he rubs my foot and ankle. It’s not a lot of time, it’s nothing extravagant, but it’s a routine that I think we both depend on to be in touch with each other despite all the distractions of family life. And we usually have one night a week where the grandparents take the boys, and we can spend more together. Once or twice a month we usually have a date night out of the house, which I think is our best way to connect.

Books

I don’t think I could survive without my books. I’m pretty sure a day has never gone by in my life without at least a few minutes to read. I NEED THEM. Reading is my greatest escape from reality and my all time favorite way to spend any available down time. Even when I’m not actually reading, I’m always on the hunt for more books, researching new authors, checking the weekly new releases, following bookstagrammers, meandering through bookstores, contributing to bookish conversations on facebook, tracking all of my own reading habits. It brings me such unadulterated joy. A day with little time to read is never a very good day.

Creative Outlets

Fortunately for me, being creative is my job. I love the thrill of creating something new. It’s how making ragdolls became such an obsession that turned into a pretty lucrative part time job. I hold that creativity so tight that I often struggle with accepting custom orders or remaking dolls that I’ve already done because it so strongly stifles my desire to always be thinking of something different and unique. Most of my creative energy is funnelled into doll making these days, but I used to direct it toward baking. Which I also still really enjoy, I just don’t have as many people or places to share the finished products with, so I try not to bake as often as the urge might strike. I also love being creative with decorating my house and putting together gifts for people.

Writing

Writing really is the greatest fuel for my emotional well being. It’s so cathartic as I gather my thoughts and spit them out into the world. Most of my writing is actually in the form of daily emails to my best friend. Which certainly helps maintain our almost 30 year friendship. But I do wish I could put more of that energy toward other writing projects. It’s just nice to have a response! I also go through spurts of writing journal entries, I just find it hard to get in the habit of that because there are always so many other calls on my time. I went through something really tough last fall, though, and writing extremely long journal entries is the only way that got me through it.

Female Friendships

This is the biggest hole in my life because it’s the hardest thing to accomplish on my own – I really need another person to have a fulfilling friendship! I think if I could design my perfect friendship life, it would be to have a standing weekly night out with maybe 1-3 other moms. Not enough of a demand on my time that it feels overwhelming, but often enough to really connect with a few people and truly feel like we care about each other. It feels so tricky for me because during the school year, the moms that are still available during the day almost all have young children and are only interested in getting together for play dates. I have no kids at home anymore, so of course I’m not asked out. I’m almost always available at night because Greg is a super parenting partner and our kids are rarely involved in things, but everyone else is SO BUSY. It’s nearly impossible to schedule something, especially once you get more than two people involved in the planning. Spontaneity is nonexistent and when it takes over a month, sometimes more, to actually get something on the calendar it ends up feeling pretty depressing. The last time I tried to get together with two of my closest friends it took us five months to find a time that worked. FIVE MONTHS. Even when I do get things scheduled, someone almost always cancels. And then I feel rejected. Honestly, I think of all my attempts to gather people together in the last year, I’ve been fully rejected at least 75% of the time. And maybe people just don’t like me! So I need to find the people that do. Female friendships, even in the busiest season of life, are so important. I truly believe that.

Close Extended Family

I think this is pretty important for general family happiness. We’re so lucky that our kids are growing up with grandparents so supportive and immersed in their lives. I’m so happy to have my mom, who I text totally ridiculous pet pictures to all day long because she’s the only one who would appreciate them. She’s probably the only person in the world I actually have a ton of things in common with, so I’m glad we have that bond. I do wish I were closer and relationships were easier with all our siblings. There sometimes feels like a lot of strain in those relationships and I honestly don’t think it’ll ever go away unless we spend a lot of time together just living life. And…that’s not going to happen. But it would be nice!

Good Food and Lots of Variety

I spend way too much time thinking about food. I honestly wish I didn’t. But…it’s also a great avenue for creativity and personal pride. I love finding that perfect cookbook that is going to provide me with a plethora of incredibly flavorful meals. I am obsessed with walking through every grocery store I ever come across, searching for unique chip flavors or spice blends or ethnic sauces or hearty breads or smoked cheeses. Whenever we go on vacation I spend so much more time searching for restaurants with delicious food than looking for things to actually do. I’m also constantly on the hunt for great new coffee companies and flavors, and most recently – hard candy companies (because hard candy helps me eat less!). I really love food, especially spicy food. And I love new and special treats. It adds a lot of joy to my life.

Exercise and Dogs

These go together because I basically don’t exercise without Annie at my side. (More accurately – pulling me down the sidewalk.) In those few months after I broke my ankle last year, I was LOSING MY MIND not being able to go on walks with her. In part because I know she didn’t understand it and was overly hyper and it was so frustrating not being able to do anything about it. But also because walking really is a great way to get fresh air, burn some calories, and just generally be healthier and happier. I’m struggling this month because my allergies are just so terrible I’m avoiding long walks at all cost. It sucks to know that as summer goes on the mosquitoes are also going to get even worse. But I’m definitely happiest getting a really long walk in first thing in the morning. I just need to be a whole lot better about actually doing it, even when it’s tough.

Space of My Own

Much like needing time to myself, I also need space to call my own. I’ve honestly been pretty selfish about it since we moved into our house three years ago. I have the entire dining room as my sewing room. Which I genuinely do need the space for because it is my real job and I spend every day there. But I’ve also basically claimed the living room as my own as well. It’s definitely the best room in the house. And everyone else is welcome to be in here, but there are no electronics in this room (except my computer). They like electronics more than an awesome room, so it’s mostly mine. Last year Greg bought me an amazing huge and cozy chair, and I really went all out making it into the best book reading corner of all time. I love it there. I can’t say this for my sewing room, but I do put a huge amount of effort into always keeping the living room clean. It’s a sacred space I can always count on to offer peace and quiet, even if the entire rest of the house is in disarray.

Solo Vacations

This is something I started maybe four years ago, when I decided to take a winter weekend trip to Galena on my own. Since then I’ve gone to Door County, Chicago, and Minnesota for solo vacations. Coming up in August I’m going to Texas on my own for six days! In November I’m going to North Carolina for five days. Honestly, even if it’s just a single night in a hotel room an hour away – it is SO WORTH IT. I see it as an absolutely necessary retreat for my soul, to get away from my life and to do lists and constant stress, just to spoil myself with great food, awesome shopping, beautiful nature spots, and endless time to read and relax. It might feel hard to justify the expense of a vacation by yourself. But it’s honestly about my favorite thing in the world. I can guarantee you it’s really helping me get through these harder days of summer, knowing I have an amazing trip coming up in less than two months. It’s going to be the perfect reset that’ll leave me refreshed and ready to tackle those final weeks of summer and the crazy pace of September.

Lots of Treats

Okay, so maybe I sometimes go overboard on this. But I try to keep myself motivated to get through the hard times with plenty of treats to bring me up. One of my favorite things is to get lunch at Qdoba or Chipotle almost every week after I’ve run all my errands. I also like to take special shopping days to my favorite stores when I know I need a break from life. I enjoy treating myself to a new book if something comes to my attention that sounds amazing. I sometimes splurge and order myself some special chocolate or candy that I won’t have to share with anyone. I am obsessive about taking an afternoon break every single day to read, at least try to nap, and then make myself an amazing cup of coffee when I wake up before I get back to work. I enjoy looking for little things that I know will make me happy – my most recent discovery is Maybelline Baby Lips. They’re so cheap and every single color makes your lips look amazing! I mentioned this a month or two ago, but gifts are my love language, and I’m not getting many gifts from other people (Greg got annoyed with me for saying this, but it’s the truth!). Which is fine! But it’s also why I gift myself things. It may sound super selfish if this is not your thing. But it’s a form of self love that truly keeps me happy and motivated and better equipped to deal with life when things are hard.

Well, this turned out to be quite the list! If you made it to the end – congrats! (lol) Now write your own list and refer back to it when you need a reminder of how to reset your life to become your own full complete happy person.

Our Colorado Vacation

At the beginning of the month, Greg and I took a trip to Colorado to celebrate (a little early) our 13th anniversary. I’m still not sure if the timing of the trip was the greatest idea because we really needed to get away and didn’t want to wait until late July when it next worked out best. But it also left me frantic and more overwhelmed than ever to get back home having missed an extremely valuable week in keeping up with everything that needs to be done in the month of May. I don’t think I’d purposely go with that timing for a vacation again, but the trip itself was definitely worth it! We really had a great time exploring a state that neither of us had ever been to before.

Wednesday

We began our trip on Wednesday after bringing the boys to school. Even though we had a direct flight and no delays, it felt like one of the longest travel days ever. But we finally made it to Boulder in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, it rained that entire first evening we were there, but it was the only day we had bad weather, so I can’t complain.

Our first order of business was getting SOMETHING in our stomachs. We ran out of time to eat at the airport as planned, so we found a coffee shop first thing and I got a mocha and Greg had a smoothie. Then we went to the Boulder Farmers Market, which was our main reason for heading straight to Boulder from the airport. It was their first Wednesday market of the season and fairly small, but still worth checking out! Every booth had samples and at least half of them were various hot sauces and dips. We bought a sample pack of six sauces to bring back home with us that were delicious. Then we walked around Pearl Street, checking out some of the shops. We were basically the only people there! It was my favorite of all the shopping areas we went to. My favorite store was the Art Market Gift Shop, filled with cool things local artists made.

We also went to this amazing kitchen store called Peppercorn. They had the biggest selection of cookbooks I had ever seen. Absolute heaven!

We had dinner at a restaurant called Mountain Sun. The decor was very eclectic and unique. Greg had a chorizo burger and I had a blackened chicken sandwich. This was probably my least favorite meal, though Greg liked his. I also just wasn’t feeling the greatest that whole day and not super interested in eating anything. After dinner we headed to Target to buy some water and soda and then checked into our hotel – The Westin in Westminster.

Thursday

We started our day mid morning at a restaurant right by the hotel called Snooze an A.M. Eatery. This is a chain restaurant around Denver which is apparently VERY popular in the mornings. I have to say, it did not disappoint!! Greg loved his french toast and my sandwich was incredible! It was a soft but toasty everything seeded bun with green goddess cream cheese, an egg, bacon, and some sort of citrus vinaigrette arugula. So good.

I took a picture of this same view on Wednesday afternoon when it was completely gray with the windshield coated in rain. This day it was so much nicer!! We could actually see the mountains as we headed toward Estes Park.

We drove all the way up to the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and then decided against going in. There’s a $25 fee and at the beginning of May, very little of the park is actually open due to so much snow left on the roads. Instead we drove back to a little information building and walked around.

So I mostly wanted to go to Estes Park because my parents are having their vacation there next week and I didn’t want to find out they did something really cool that we had missed because we chose not to drive that far into the mountains. Unfortunately, we didn’t really find much to do there, other than walk around the little town and stop at a few mountain and lake scenic spots. It didn’t help that we were FREEZING and definitely not dressed for such high winds and cold temperatures and snow beneath our only pairs of shoes.

We drove really high up to Lily Lake, which had a simple trail around the edges. But I was way too cold to even attempt it, plus there was still snow and slush on everything. But it was pretty! We had enough after that and headed back east.

Our next stop was the Sawmill Ponds hiking area near Boulder. It was a 1.2 mile loop that took you past 18 different ponds! I think this might have been my favorite thing we did on the trip because it was absolutely gorgeous and there was hardly anybody else there.

I will admit that the trail was so deserted that for the first time in my adult life I had to pee “in the wild.” I was desperate!

So beautiful! Perfect weather, perfect everything. I loved it there.

We had dinner at another really unique place called The Sink. We got some happy hour martinis, jalapeno poppers, and a delicious bbq chicken pizza. It was all really tasty!

Before heading back to our hotel we stopped at another park to view the Flat Irons in Boulder. I think Greg would have liked to have walked a little further into the trail, but my legs were SO tired and that martini hit me harder probably than anything I’ve ever had before (I almost never drink).

But we sat on a big rock and just enjoyed the views. We really loved all the gorgeous nature areas we could just pull off of and revel in. Our best vacations together are the ones filled with beautiful outdoor sights.

I felt pretty bad about it, but we went back to the hotel at 5:30 because I was so tired. Strangely, this was the vacation that Greg wanted to go go go and I wanted a little more resting time. We’re usually very much the opposite! Though to be fair, I was still waking up at my normal time, meaning I was awake 4-5 hours before him every day!

Friday

I was a little on the cranky side Friday morning. Mostly frustrated with my body and how out of shape I’m in and how much my ankle has just wrecked me from ever feeling normal and good. We went to The Denver Biscuit Company for a late breakfast, which is a restaurant I absolutely wanted to check out. But the wait took forever and then we were seated at the bar and the food did not sit right with me. Greg had a chicken biscuit with local honey, stone ground mustard, and pickles. I had a Nashville hot chicken biscuit with ranch dressing and pickles. Somehow the combination of flavors on mine just did not taste great, but I wanted to go there so badly I tried my best to finish it off and then felt kind of crappy for the next half the day.

Our next stop was the original Tattered Cover Bookstore. We realized later they have locations all over, but I think we went to the biggest one. It was amazing! So big and unique. Our only sadness is that only a small portion of the store was actually used (and cheaper) books. But we spent quite a long time just looking around at everything. I bought two books and a notebook.

Our next stop was the Denver Botanic Gardens. Honestly, I was not that impressed. I think Olbrich Gardens in Madison is nicer. And it’s free! I was also just cranky and tired and not feeling great, so all the wild and loud school groups touring, plus all the very slow elderly people looking at every single plant, were just all getting on my nerves. It was hot too! That Colorado sun is blazing, even though the temps were only in the 60’s. I’m not sure how long we actually spent here, but it wasn’t probably more than an hour. There were certainly some pretty flowers, but nothing that blew me away. It all felt a bit artificial and contained compared to the amazing mountain views just twenty minutes outside the city.

Next we searched out Union Station. I love food markets and Denver apparently has like five or six of them. Once we realized how horrific the parking situation was, we just picked one. It was kind of a nightmare trying to find a place to park that wasn’t going to cost a fortune and then we had to walk so far to get there. I was surprised to see how few stores were actually in Union Station, which is, in fact, a working train station. But it was cool to see and Greg got some ice cream and I had a delicious blackberry honey latte. I love checking out new coffee shops hoping they have some sort of signature or seasonal drinks. This is the first place on the trip that actually did. After the station we walked a few blocks to Milk Market, another food market. That one had tons of options, but we were saving up to eat at a taco place. We finished our two hours we paid for of parking by checking out the Millennium Bridge.

We had dinner at a place we both found independently on our searches and really wanted to go to, Tacos Tequila Whiskey. They just had a menu filled with tacos and salsas and you filled out which ones you wanted. Greg had some sort of fried chicken and pork tacos. I had a saucy chicken and a vegetarian one with grilled cheese and poblano peppers and corn in a chipotle sauce. They were SO good. I ordered another vegetarian one and Greg ordered their special taco, which was pork belly and some sauces. Overall, a really delightful meal!

Our next hotel was in Colorado Springs and the traffic was pretty terrible for a Friday evening, so we took a short detour to Matthews-Winters Park to walk around and sit by a stream. It was SO beautiful there. Everything was beautiful really! But this particular spot was like in the center of a valley and we had mountains on every side. I loved it.

We managed to go to these new mountain ranges every night about the same time – they were amazing to see in person, but terrible for taking photos when the sun was hitting at exactly the wrong spot!

We finally made it to The Academy Hotel in Colorado Springs. We were here for three nights and I was really disappointed to see that our only window looked over the hotel lobby/pool/breakfast area/fire pit resting area. I can’t believe anyone would design a hotel next to the mountains and not let every room have an outdoor window!! I think the hotel tried really hard to still provide a great experience with an awesome breakfast and lots of amenities, but the lack of a view made our room just feel very dark and depressing.

We finished the night going to Ute Valley Park, a few miles from the hotel. Gorgeous! There are no bad views in Colorado if you’re outside!

Saturday

On Saturday we split up. The entire reason we picked Colorado in the first place was so Greg could visit one of his college friends before he moved out west. He was planning to take a trip no matter what, so we combined it into our anniversary vacation. We had breakfast at the hotel and then went to Poor Richard’s, which was a unique book/gift store. Then we wandered around Colorado Springs until Greg eventually got picked up and I did some more shopping on my own. I’m not sure if it was because it was so early and a Saturday, but Colorado Springs seemed SO much nicer than Denver, in terms of just walking around and checking out shops. And ease of parking! I had lunch at TByrd’s Tacos with a chicken and fried avocado taco. They were good, they were just unexpectedly both piled high with onions (descriptions both said peppers) which I had to take off, which then took off most of the sauce and cheese. But it was a good choice for eating on my own.

I really liked the store Terra Verde and some fancy chocolate shop where I bought these blonde pearls which were AMAZING. I really wish I had bought the bigger bag. I stopped at Pikes Peak Lemonade, at the recommendation of someone on facebook. I don’t like lemonade, but I tried a few samples and then bought a raspberry puree iced tea. My only complaint about Colorado restaurants is that they don’t seem to believe in using ice with their water, so it was nice to have a refreshing cold drink! I was pretty tired after that, so I went back to the hotel for a nap. Then I sought out this recommended Decadent coffee shop for a coffee, which I didn’t really like much.

I met Greg and his friend for dinner back in downtown Colorado Springs at Bingo Burger. I wasn’t super hungry, so I just got the loaded tater tots, which were sooooo good. I love that in Colorado they have green chile things added to so many menu items. I had some version of them on almost everything I ate the whole trip. Loved it.

Greg and his friend spent the day at Seven Falls, exploring the outskirts of Garden of the Gods, eating, and playing at an arcade. Greg and I went back to see the official Garden of the Gods park after dinner. Amazingly, very few people showed up in my photos, but there were a ton of prom kids everywhere posing for pictures. But the further we walked the less crowded it was. I’m really glad we went that night instead of saving it for morning as planned.

I kept looking for the “kissing camels” part of the rock and we didn’t find it until the very end. I realized last night going through my photos it was actually right at the entrance and I had already taken a photo of it without realizing!

We finished the night seeing the Balancing Rock. Couldn’t avoid getting extra people into those pictures.

Sunday

By Sunday we were kind of floundering on what to do. I didn’t plan the second part of the trip as well as the first because everything was really up in the air with Greg’s friend and I didn’t want to overschedule us. But, I should have found the time to make some solid lists of ideas because it would have avoided some stress of the day. But I think it worked out okay. We started at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, which I didn’t realize was something we had to pay for as it’s also a museum and large gift shop. The dwellings were a lot smaller than I was expecting, but it was still really interesting to see and imagine the Pueblo Indians actually making their lives in such cramped quarters.

The only time of the trip we had perfect selfie lighting! 😀

Where they baked their bread.

As we continued down the road toward Pikes Peak, we stopped next at the top of a mountain for Cave of the Winds. The shortest tour was an hour and a half and cost a lot, so we opted to just walk around the grounds. We were there for the mountains anyway, not the caves! Plus we didn’t have anything with us to get warmer underground, as that was the hottest day of the trip so far (only low 70’s, but that sun!).

I was legitimately terrified driving up this mountain, but the views at the top were stunning. We actually spent quite a bit of time here just walking around and taking it all in.

Caden really likes ropes courses, so we took a photo of this one to show him. Even though he’s scared of heights and it’s hanging off the side of a mountain, he said he definitely wants to do it and expects us to take him to Colorado ASAP just for this attraction. I couldn’t even go on the overhanging decks because I was so freaked out.

We stopped in Green Mountain Falls (thinking there would be falls, but if there were, we never found them) and walked out to this little island gazebo. There was a drawing next to the walkway of the town in winter with all the kids ice skating on the pond. It was so idyllic.

We drove as far as Woodland Park, trying to get some good photos of Pikes Peak, which never happened. We stopped at a place called Coffee Leo where I ended up getting a chocolate banana coffee shake and an everything bagel for a snack. The one frustrating thing traveling with Greg is that our eating (okay two things – also our sleep schedules) schedules are so polar opposite. I was STARVING by the time we ate this around noon, and he was still full from his small hotel breakfast. We didn’t have a plan for any specific restaurants that day, so I convinced him to get a bagel too (they were so good!). Afterward we stopped in Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City for me to walk around and check out the shops. I wasn’t prepared for how touristy they were going to be. But it was still nice to see what was there. I was pretty exhausted and we were getting pretty crabby with each other by that point (lack of a plan is never good for us), so we went back to the hotel so I could take a nap.

Because it was Cinco de Mayo and Mexican food is always best, we decided to join the masses and went to a Tex Mex place called Chuy’s for dinner. After a ridiculously long wait (about an hour), we engorged ourselves on all this food. I know Mexican food never photographs well, but it was SO good. My chimichanga was on a bed of Colorado green chile sauce with a side of green chile rice – perfection!

We stopped one last time at a “scenic overlook” right off the highway before turning in for the night.

Monday

Our last day kind of turned out to be a bust. Our flight was at 7pm and our original plan was to spend the day in Denver doing whatever we missed on Friday. But neither of us liked Denver that much and didn’t want to deal with the traffic and people again. So we were packing up and trying to decide what to do when we got a text from the airline that our flight had been cancelled! I’ve never had that happen before. Fortunately we were able to quickly book another flight four hours earlier. So we originally would have gotten home after midnight, and now this put us at 8:30. Which is a lot better! I’m not sure why I didn’t pick that flight originally, unless it were a lot more expensive. So it worked out, it just ended up being kind of a waste of a day. We went to Castle Rock and checked out a few shops, returned the rental car, and then spent a long time at the airport. This is the only photo I took the entire day. I had a super dry and totally generic $10 turkey sandwich with a peach tea and Greg had a giant bowl of Asian food. We made it back in time to surprise and say goodnight to Caden. Shepard was already sleep.

And that was our Colorado vacation! It was genuinely one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. I had so much fun seeing all the beautiful sights with Greg and we got to eat a lot of great food. What more can a girl ask for?!

Positive Pep Talk

I am drowning in negativity lately. I’ve been blessed with the wonderful ability to internalize every single bad vibe that floats my way, or anywhere even near me. I am always reading between the lines and analyzing facial expressions and actions, hurt by things that may have been – or more likely were not – intentional, and harboring that hurt pretty much forever. I am overly sensitive to any conflict aimed at me or others I am close to. Injustice, duplicitous conversations, and unreliability can set me off in an instantaneous rage, at least internally, and it eats me alive. Basically, I’m a real fun person to know!

There has been so much going on in the last few weeks that has constantly fed into all the bad thoughts and feelings that I no longer feel like I can get away from. A lot of it doesn’t directly affect me, but I’m still absorbing the blows like they do. I’ve also been dealing with a lot of personal attacks as well. People have been making me feel worthless and less than and inferior and it isn’t fair. I’ve also just been in CONSTANT battles with Shepard and his strong-willed personality that has increased tenfold since his eighth birthday. The fact that these battles are over the stupidest things makes it even worse. Bit by bit all of it is just chipping away at me and leaving me either empty or flat out crazed depending on the situation.

I was planning to write all about these situations, though in abstract form to retain some semblance of anonymity, but realized nobody really wants to read that, right?! So instead I’m going to dig deep and try and find some positive things about myself and my life right now that can help me focus on the good, let go of the bad, breathe, and smile.

I know who I am.

I’m quite proud of the fact that I’ve always kept an identity all of my own. There are so many women that have kids and suddenly lose themselves. Or they set aside their lives, placing all of their hopes and dreams on hold for eighteen plus years, with the assumption they’ll have time for the things they want to do later. What if they don’t?? There are definitely seasons of sacrifice and those baby and toddler and preschool years are always going to be tough when kids need you for their very survival. Don’t get me wrong – if motherhood is what you WANT to identify most strongly with, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But you don’t need to sacrifice who you are in the process. I like the fact that even when Caden was a baby and literally breastfed round the clock for about twelve hours a day for over an entire year, I never stopped thinking about and doing the things that made me ME. Those unique hopes and dreams for myself have only clarified and multiplied in the years since.

I work really dang hard.

It may mostly be in my head. But there have definitely been many, many occasions over the last ten years where I felt belittled or shamed for being a stay at home mom. There are even years where I’ve felt that way about myself. I was really, really smart in high school and college. My entire identity was wrapped in my grades and my accomplishments. And then I gave it all up to stay at home with my kids – a job I’m still not entirely sure I was right for. But it’s the choice we made and the choice we’re sticking with and I don’t regret it. I may not have taken the career path I originally saw for myself, but I work HARD, you guys. I give just about everything I do my best effort. Why else would I be constantly writing these blog posts about my goals and evaluating how I did at them? Sure, it may sometimes come across that I’m living the life of leisure, going out for lunch or coffee dates, taking a break every afternoon to read and nap. What you don’t see are the days like today when I was awake and working for three full hours before anybody else was even up. Or all the time I spend organizing and planning to make sure our schedules and family life run smoothly. Raising kids is no easy task! Heck, raising PETS is no easy task! Sometimes I think taking care of all of Annie’s needs is more overwhelming than the boys’. Or it’s at least a lot more inconvenient! Anyway, I may not have a typical 9-5 professional career that would surely bring me a lot of pride. But I DO work all the time. I am actively trying to be my best self every waking minute. And that’s not something to be ashamed of.

I am a successful business owner.

I’m not sure why I always downplay this. I often don’t even bring it up with new people because “I make dolls” is not usually something strangers respond very enthusiastically to. I mean, it’s kind of weird. If you’re not already immersed in a community of makers through social media or an avid craft fair/vintage shopper, this is an avenue of work that most people don’t understand. Should I say I’m an artist? A designer? Sometimes I say that I sew, but then people assume I’m a seamstress, which I want NOTHING to do with. When I do try to explain exactly what I do, most people comment on how that’s a nice little hobby and I agree and say it’ll never pay the bills, but it’s allowed me to stay home with my kids and for that I’m thankful. But…it’s more than that and I think I need to start owning that. I’ve now run Heartstring Annie for just about six years. It’s a business I kind of started on a whim, just to bring in a little extra fun money for myself, but also to give me a bit more of an identity outside of my family role. It’s grown into what I do consider my full time job, even if I don’t always put 40 hours a week into it (at least not in the last year or two when I’ve actively tried to stop letting it overtake my entire life). No, I don’t usually make enough money to even cover our mortgage, if it came down to that. But it brings in enough money for me to take solo vacations multiple times a year, buy clothes from sources beyond what I can find the cheapest, and it allows me to splurge on special gifts for people throughout the year. Last year, I made 224 sales, selling 297 dolls. That’s almost a doll a day. Business is absolutely thriving. I can’t keep up. This is so much more than a hobby, and even if people think it’s weird, that doesn’t discredit what it is and what I’ve built. Also, I think I’m pretty great at it.

I have an awesome family.

I have a seriously awesome husband. Greg has been nothing but 110% supportive of anything I have ever wanted to do. He has been an incredible dad from day one – I can honestly and truly say, there is NOTHING I would have ever changed or wished for more of in his role as co-parent. He works so hard for us, providing a stable and substantial enough income that I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do – for the past ten years, but also for all the years to come. He never makes me feel bad about who I am, he never belittles me for anything, he never shrugs off my sometimes crazy emotions. He’s been a steady and stable force in my life for the last nineteen years and I know I can count on him for anything.

I also have some pretty great kids. Yes, Shepard has been fraying my last frazzled nerve these last few weeks with his ridiculous arguments over EVERYTHING. But he has bloomed so much in the last few years and I’m so incredibly proud of him. In preschool and 4K and even many days of kindergarten, I had to literally carry him kicking and screaming into school because he didn’t want to leave me and the comfort of home. Now? He is fiercely independent. He knows who is he and he’s not going to back down from that. He is friends with everyone and the most popular guy around. His silliness and laughter can light up a room and even though I think it’s going to be getting him into more and more trouble as he gets older, I am proud to call him my own.

There’s something very strange that happens when one of your kids is suddenly less than a head shorter than you. I feel like Caden has grown up so much in the last year. Whereas Shepard is always a wildcard, Caden is completely responsible and reliable. He definitely has a strong-willed personality as well, but I think he is growing into a person that can be counted on. He is so smart and we’re told by his teachers every year how he’s the most helpful kid in the class. I believe he’s going to go far in life and I can’t wait to watch it happen.

I also have an awesome set of in-laws and mom who provide a great support system to the four of us. I’m so glad that we live near each other and get to experience life together. It’s invaluable to our kids.

I’m not going to be hot this summer!

I loathe summer. It’s my least favorite season – because of the weather, because of the lack of structure, because I have zero time to myself. It’s been especially difficult since we moved into our house because it’s SO HOT that I can’t even function. We added a window air conditioner to the kitchen last year that at least helped when I was in there, but did little to cool any other room in the house. But this week we decided to invest in a REAL air conditioner! It’s still going to only cool the lower half of the house (with two window units upstairs), but I’m confident we’re all going to be so much more comfortable this year. Trust me, I will be a much happier person if I’m not sweating and breathing in muggy air 24/7.

I’m going on vacation!

In less than three weeks Greg and I will be off on our 13 year anniversary Colorado vacation! I’ve been doing a lot of research and we at least now have a solid thirty or so awesome restaurant options (lol). I have quite a list of things to see and do too. I think it’s exactly the break from regular life that we need. Our schedule these last months of the school year are crazy town. It’s going to be wonderful to get a reprieve and spend some solid time together. Something that has been pretty sparse lately.

If all else fails – books. 

Always reliable and always the best form of escape. And at least in my case – always abundant! I think I need to spend more time actively avoiding the internet related things that are stressing me out. Read more. That should always be the answer.

Okay, this concludes my personal pep talk. I guess it sort of became a defense of who I am and justification for why it’s okay to be me. But – it IS okay, and I’d do well to remember that!

10 Things to Tell You Prompt: What are you assuming about others?

I’ve been thinking about this particular podcast prompt for a couple of days now and I’m still not quite sure how I want to delve into it. Most of my assumptions about other people are in terms of how they must be thinking back about me. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t the point of the question, but that’s the only way my brain can seem to wrap around it. So I guess I’ll just go with it!

1 – I assume that nobody else is having the same struggles with their children that I am.

I definitely recognize that parenting is a struggle in one area or another for basically everyone. Nobody has a perfect child. Nobody is a perfect parent. I don’t mean to say that my struggles are WORSE than anyone else’s. But I also assume that nobody can really understand the exact kind of struggles we have. Unless you are my husband, I can guarantee you do not understand the full extent of the struggles we’ve had these last ten and a half years of being parents to our particular children. And sometimes in the worst of days it’s very easy to think that nobody else is going through what we are and couldn’t possibly understand what it is like.

2 – I assume that others do not think I am important/a high priority/a valued person in their lives.

Again, unless you are married to me, or you birthed me, I have a pretty steeped belief that nobody really cares all that much about me. I hold the assumption that most people that are connected to me just kind of put up with me. And if I’m out of sight, I’m out of mind. And often in sight, I’m also not really valued for what I can bring to the table.

3 – I assume other makers have their lives figured out.

This is a hard one for me. I follow a lot of other creative makers on instagram and facebook and they always seem to have their stuff TOGETHER. I feel like my own creative business is such a mess of trying to find balance, struggling to stay motivated, and debating on how to promote myself without feeling like I’m trying too hard. I hold the strong assumption that at least for most of them, they just sit down in the morning and work all day, nary a struggle to be had. Which is completely the opposite of how I feel in my own work.

4 – I assume nobody sees me or understands me completely.

I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately and am not quite sure how to explain it, other than I feel like everyone I know can only relate to a small part of who I am and not a single person out there can feel connected to me as a complete person. I feel like the choices I’ve made in my adulthood have alienated me from a lot of deeper friendships and sibling/sibling-in-law relationships. And now that I have a handful of mom friends that relate to me in terms of family stuff, they don’t seem to have any of the extra stuff in common with me, which alienates me in different ways. I am in so many facebook groups filled with kindred spirits, but can’t seem to find any of those people in my real life. I don’t need or want to only be friends with people who are exactly like me. But lately I feel the differences between me and others have been so hindering with very little connecting points drawing us together anymore. It’s lonely to feel so misunderstood and outcast all the time.

5 – I assume other people think I’m a pretty crappy mom.

I feel like we’re getting into my deepest and darkest secrets now. This one has been at the forefront of my mind these last few weeks as some school/kid related issues have been brought up around town. It’s made me think about how little I know about what goes on in my boys’ days. I am a thousand percent not a helicopter parent and like to let my kids have freedom to make mistakes and try to figure out their own problems. I will of course advocate for them if a specific incident were to occur, but as long as they seem happy and healthy, I’m good. I feel like my kids are smart and learning well and it’s not my job to constantly be interfering with the system. If they were struggling, I’d feel differently. It just seems like lately, my lack of fight and vigor, might be misconstrued as simply not caring and being a pretty bad mom.

6 – I assume other families always have fun on vacation.

Please tell me I’m wrong on this. Guys, there is a reason that more often than not lately, I go on vacations BY MYSELF. I feel like family vacations are almost always disastrous. With the exception of our recent Florida trip, which still had some struggles, but was overall pretty good, every family trip we’ve ever taken has not been enjoyable, at all. Even my vacations with Greg are often disappointing. We just never want to do the same things or have different ideas of what a vacation should be (relaxing vs adventurous in our case). I get so excited about vacations and always come home from them full of regret. When other people go on vacation? It looks so fun and easy. It makes me wonder what in the world we’re doing wrong. Or, see #1 on this list.

7 – I assume everyone else knows who they are and are good living the life that they chose.

Ugh, this is a big one. I spend every day wondering about the choices I’ve made and trying to figure out the core of my identity. EVERY SINGLE DAY. I never know if I’m doing the right thing, living the life I should be, making the best choices. One day I feel like I have it all together and the next day I’m a total emotional mess. Why does it seem like nobody else has these struggles?!

8 – I assume that very few people are interested in this little blog I keep.

This just ties into everything I’ve already talked about, but I think about it all the time. I would love for my writings to be “popular.” I know that people look at my site because I can see the traffic statistics. But nobody comments, EVER. Only a handful of people I know follow my facebook page for post updates, and almost all of them are related to me in some way. I assume that if anybody was really my friend on facebook they would see that I also have a business page and a blog page and follow both, and if they don’t, they probably don’t care at all. I struggle with promoting myself and feeling self indulgent, trying to force people to know more about me if they don’t actually care. I assume that the people who do read this probably just do it to humor me. I hope saying all this doesn’t offend anyone, because I truly appreciate the ones that read all my posts. I just wish I could make more of this platform, but I don’t know how to do it, when I feel like the majority of the people in my real life aren’t interested, so why would strangers care?

Okay, I think that’s enough assumptions for one day! After re-reading this I kind of feel like I’m a very obnoxious and exhausting person to be around, so my assumptions must surely be true. But hey, I wanted to write more this week, and I am. Do with it what you will!