Sometimes March is Cool

Guuuuuuyyyyyyys!! I am seriously struggling here. I have a goal to post once a week and here I am trying to figure out what to post and I have next to no ideas! I’ve been a slacker in the organization department this week so I don’t have anything delicious or creative to share…

But I was thinking the other day about how for a long time I’ve felt like March is the worst month. And it’s nothing personal, really, it’s just that I think March is the ugliest month and therefore is deemed “the worst.” But it’s been totally gorgeous here for the past week or so and it made me think that maybe March isn’t so bad after all. And then I remembered that Ben proposed to me in March (yesterday…five years ago!) and also March last year was when we found out that I was pregnant!

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Baby Girl Brown giving us a wave!

So here, because I don’t have anything else to post, is the story of how we found out we were expecting! And I realize that this topic might make some of you nervous…but I’m definitely going to try to keep things as un-weird as possible. Normal. Aight?

So really I’ve gotta set the stage by reminding everyone that we were living in Bush Alaska at the time (I know, it seems like 10 years ago to me too). Ben had gone out to Pilot Point in October and, after Christmas break, I joined him. I had been off the pill for a few months at this point so along with the rest of the toiletries I hauled to Alaska was a package of pregnancy tests.

Sometime in February I finally had an excuse to bust open that particular package (eh? eh? vague-ish but not weird???). I even waited a few extra days just to be sure. I told myself that on Wednesday morning I’d wake up early and take the pregnancy test. And when Wednesday morning came I could hardly stay in bed I was so excited. I mean, I had seriously been feeling pregnant, you know? Like I had to pee all the time and I was getting more headaches and Jaeger dog was wanting to snuggle me more. I was positive that I was pregnant and that little pregnancy test was all I had to do to confirm it!

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Every post including pregnancy should have a picture of an uncomfortably chubby woman, right?

Now you can all make fun of me for this next part but when I opened that package I was surprised to find nothing more than three itty bitty strips of paper and some shoddy instructions. I had never seen this kind of pregnancy test before! I read the instructions and re-read the instructions and just to make a long story short I wasted 2 of those strips of paper because I had no clue what I was doing (seriously, guys, the instructions were awful!). Finally knowing what I was doing with the final strip, I dipped it, set my alarm and buried my face into the couch until the timer dinged. And the test was….

Negative! Apparently, I was NOT pregnant!

But…but…what about all those signs? I mean, I had seriously been peeing SO much! Right? But the test said no…so I guess that was that.

Funnily enough (is funnily a word???), that very day my sister-in-law and brother texted us a pic of their own positive pregnancy test (it was a punk, from the previous year-their baby and Wendy were born almost exactly a year a part), but the text was just one of many reasons why I couldn’t get that stupid negative test out of my head.

I had been sure I was pregnant but now I was totally not sure. I mean, maybe the pregnancy test was wrong (I may or may not have dug it out of the trash multiple times to double check its results). But if it wasn’t wrong then there was something else going on with me and that scared me too!

Here’s where the fact that we were living in the Bush is critical. One might feel inclined to ask, “Why didn’t you just go buy another pregnancy test to make sure?” Well, because there was only one teeny store in town. It was doubtful that they carried this particular item and even if they did, there was no way I was buying it there! I mean, the whole village would’ve known about it the next day (I may be exaggerating the point slightly…but I don’t think so). So casually stopping by the drugstore as an anonymous citizen was not possible (especially because they did not have a drugstore)…

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Around Easter, Ben and I started frequenting the ridiculously over-priced grocery store. I blame the pregnancy!

So that very day I went online and ordered the top rated pregnancy test (the ones I had used were a dollar for the three. Moral of the story: buy better tests!) and prayed that we’d have some sort of mail miracle and get the order soon!

But of course all the elements combined together against me and we had some of the worst weather in the following weeks. Mail in the bush is always slow. It’s slower when you’re waiting for something really important to come!

While I waited I never, you know, got any proof that the pregnancy test had been right. So I just waited and worried.

Two and half weeks later (two and a half WEEKS, people! It might as well have been a year!) the mail finally came! And those top-of-the-line (ha!) pregnancy tests were there nestled in a box alongside some peanut butter. Praises be!

I had planned this all out ahead of time to wait until the morning to actually take the test because I heard that’s when your hormones are the strongest…but PLEASE! Ain’t nobody got time for that when they’ve been waiting 3 years! (Or three weeks, whatevs). So I decided to do next best and not pee for 2 hours before taking it (another recommendation. I’m not sure either of these things are true or necessary). So I went out for a run and took my time. Upon returning home, I opened the door to a truly horrifying stench…bacon! I told Ben that the smell made me nauseous and Ben replied, “If bacon makes you nauseous, you don’t have to waste your time taking that pregnancy test!” So true. So true.

I waited the remaining hour or so, took the test, set the timer….waited….aaaaaaaaaannd…..two pink lines! Obviously you guys knew the end of this story before it even began but suffice it to say that I was so happy and, honestly, so relieved! I had been seriously stressing! When I told Ben he said, “I knew it.”

Me: Whaaaaa?!? Really???

Ben: Yeah. You knew it too. That other test just freaked you out.

Too true. I think I really did know all along, but I was afraid to admit it in case that first test really was right.

Stupid crappy pregnancy tests!

Dumb slow Bush mail!

But now I think all of it was quite hilarious…and it was actually pretty nice finding out later (“Oh my gosh-I’m already 7 1/2 weeks!”).

So, yeah. March, I guess you’re alright after all.

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DIY Microwave Popcorn

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Wellllllll…this is basically the easiest way EVER to make delicious popcorn. You know, just FYI.

The kitchen we are in right now (renting!) is teeny tiny and so I had to be pretty choosy about what would be awarded cupboard space and what would be returned to storage. And, sadly, my popcorn maker did not make the cut and was promptly returned to storage.

It didn’t take long for me to find out that store bought popcorn is not very good, so when I discovered this method I was super excited. It’s easy, tasty, cheap and fairly adaptable.

Basically you just mix your oil and popcorn (and any flavorings you’re feeling)…

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And dump it into a paper bag (P.S. The above picture is a bit deceiving, you know, to be more visually appealing. I usually just mix everything up right in my two-thirds measuring cup…).

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Fold down the top 2-3 times and microwave…

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Boom. Roasted. Well, microwaved. Popcorn.

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So. Easy. And now that I’m posting this I’m wondering just how many different flavors I should probably try. Brown sugar? Ranch dressing? Paprika? Cayenne? Hmmm…Too many possibilities! Here are the basic amounts:

DIY Microwave Popcorn

1/3 cup popcorn kernels

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

AND generous pinch of salt

OR 1-2 teaspoons sugar and pinch of salt

OR 1/2 teaspoon stevia and pinch of salt

Mix kernels with oil and add salt and/or sweetener. Again, you could probably mix just about any flavor in that you feel like. Mix it all and add to a standard size paper bag. Fold the top of the bag down 2-3 times and put in microwave. Set the microwave on high for 3 minutes but don’t go anywhere! Stay by the microwave and remove your bag as soon as the popping has slowed down to 1 pop every 2-3 seconds. For me and my microwave that has always taken just about 1 minute and 20 seconds. Let it cool down for a few seconds before you open the bag and enjoy.

Note:

-You can use butter as your oil, if you want, but the butter flavor doesn’t really come through, so if you want butter flavored popcorn, I’d suggest adding the butter after popping.

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Tutorial: DIY String Art

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I finally finally got around to making some string art! I’ve seen it around for quite awhile now and I only recently got on board to make some of my own. Turns out it is so so easy. With a little bit of planning anyone can make string art. Serious. It does take some time-especially if you need to treat your wood. But it’s the kind of project where it’d be pretty hard to completely mess everything up. I even think that with some supervision (and maybe some help with the drilling) it’d be a great project for older kids.

So.

Here’s what you need:

  • Wood (I used inch and a half thick pine that was left over from the table Ben made us. Scrap wood is great, just make sure it’s thick enough that your nails won’t pop through to the other side and still be in far enough to not wobble).
  • Picture/Outline of desired image 
  • Tape
  • Wood Stain and Sealer (optional)
  • Drill (optional-but it sure makes life easier. I used a 1/16 drill bit)
  • Hammer (I’ll be honest, I bought myself my own hammer for this project. I tried doing string art with Ben’s hammer and after many curse words and bruised thumbs, I quit. This time I went with one much lighter and it was a dream)
  • Nails (Mine were 1 1/2 inch #16 nails. Choose whatever you want, just make sure the head is big enough to keep the string from slipping off. WalMart’s nails were the cheapest I found which is good to know because you need A LOT)
  • Yarn or Sturdy String in desired colors (I used Sugar ‘n Cream cotton yarn. They’re like $2-$3 each)

First, find, print or draw the image that you want to create.

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I looked online for ideas and then just free handed the drawings onto paper to make it the right size. Choose something simple that doesn’t have super close detailing. For example, the eyes on my raccoon ended up being a bit of a headache. They turned out okay but I’d keep them like the fox’s eyes if I ever repeated this project.

Next cut and sand your wood to the right size. My wood pieces were roughly 1 foot squares. I made my images to fit that size of wood…not the other way around.

Tape your image to your wood.

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Use your drill to drill holes along the outline about every half inch or so. You could definitely mark where you want to drill before hand, but I just eyeballed it. Also, Ben recommended putting a piece of tape on your drill bit marking how deep you want to drill, so that your holes are consistent. Try to keep your drill upright and at a 90 degree angle to your wood.

Also, personal preference, but if you come to spot where you could fit 3 closer together holes or 2 farther apart holes…go with the 2 farther apart holes. Trust me.

Drill all the way around your outline and then remove your paper.

If you are staining your wood, follow the instructions on the packaging of the stain. Follow the stain with a sealer, again, following the instructions on your sealer.  The picture above right is after my wood was stained and sealed. This is what takes the longest with this project! But I LOVED how the stained turned out!

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Once your sealer has completely set, start nailing! If you didn’t pre-drill your holes, bless you! You’ve got your work cut out!

Every so often, tug on your nails to make sure they are firmly set into the wood and aren’t going to pop out when you start stringing.

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Nailed it! (sorrynotsorry) This guy’s ready to go!

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To start stringing, tie your string into a knot, but before tightening it, slip it onto one of your nails. Tighten really well then tie one more knot on the same nail. Snip the loose tail off the yarn.

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Then have it! Lead your string to a random nail, wrap it around once and then lead it to the next random nail. Make sure your string is taut. Try to always cover a new area (don’t just go over the same spot again and again) by using every nail at least once.

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I wanted to “outline” my images, so I looped around each nail (like a dot to dot) on the inside and then on the outside.

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To finish, you do basically what you did to start. Give yourself several inches to work with and cut the yarn. Tie yarn into a knot and slip onto your final nail before tightening. Tighten really well and then tie one more knot on the same nail. Tighten again then snip off the excess yarn as close to your knot as possible.

I’ve seen other people use glue to hide their ends, but the knot method worked perfectly well for me.

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Complete each area with its corresponding color. You can see above that I only outlined where it would be seen. I knew I wanted the mask etc. outlined but in it’s own color.

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Ta-Da! You’re done! Cute and affordable! These little critters went to my brother and sister-in-law in anticipation for their new baby…but now I’m trying to think of what to do next…for ME!

February GBOMB

Well…I actually liked doing the GBOMB last month. So here’s the next monthly installment of Good/Bad/OnMyBrain also known as: Things That Have Been Going on With the Browns.

Good

  • As everyone knows February brings Valentine’s Day! And every year Ben tells me how much he hates this holiday and how we should not celebrate it. And every year I say, “Yeah, whatever, Ben.” And every year I still get him something. And every year he gets me something too, my favorite of which is always the note he gives me. I guess neither of us are into crazy elaborate portrayals of love. But a sweet little note goes a long way, in my opinion.
  • One of our sweet friends runs a small Etsy shop making different things. A week or so ago, she sent us one of her BabyNests as a gift to Wendy, and, seriously, it has become one of our favorite things ever! If you follow me or Ben on Instagram, you’re probably like, “Okay, lady, we get it.” But seriously, this nest is so so so awesome and also super cute! We put Wendy in it on our couch or on our bed to make sure that she doesn’t roll off (she’s not rolling yet, but she’s getting super close so we try to be careful!). And I think it’s going to make transitioning from her slightly inclined bassinet to a flat surfaced crib a breeze since it’s obvious she still feels snuggled up and safe in the BabyNest. If you’ve got a baby on the way or a friend with a baby on the way, I would highly recommend getting one of these. Love love love it. Anyhow…check out her Etsy shop here.
  • My sister had her baby!!! And I can’t even wait to meet that sweet little girl!!!
  • My family has had babies scheduled to come in February, March and April! It’s super exciting! My twin’s wife is pregnant and they are planning her shower for early March. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to make it to the shower, but I asked my mom if I could help in any way. I was able to make and send the invites and I also made some decorations they can use for the shower (and hopefully can also be used for a nursery). The decorations turned out super cute (tutorial coming…) and it was just nice to have something to do that had a deadline. Is that weird? Yes. Probably. But still, it was nice.
  • Poor Jaeger dog…I don’t think he’s having a ~hard time with baby…but I do think he’s kind of like, “Hey, I like to be loved too!” Like whenever I nurse Wendy, Jaeger insists on claiming any remaining lap space. The other day Ben joked that whenever we have our next baby, I’ll have to find a way to fit Wendy, Jaeger and baby on my lap. But anyway, we decided to take Jaeger on a little trip to PetCo so he could choose out his own little bed. And he seriously loved it. The trip was stimulating for him and he has absolutely loved his new bed. Ben said he really feels like the message (Hey! We still love you!) was received.
  • As always, Wendy has been a total sweetie. She’s learning and growing (although the growing isn’t happening very quickly-she was in the 3rd percentile for weight at her 4 month check up two days ago) and she just makes us happy.

 

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Bad 

  • Four month shots for my poor baby! She’s handling them a lot better than last time though.
  • So I did this 30 day cleanse. It wasn’t as hardcore as the Whole30. I basically couldn’t eat sugar, processed grains, yeast and a few other odds and ends. Ben quit after 4 days (the man does what he wants). I kept going because, you know, baby weight. And after 4 weeks…I had not lost a single pound!!! I was pretty disappointed. But the upside is that I’ve decided that sugar free is not the life for me! Feel free to use that saying in your own lives. I’ll let you know when the bumper stickers are made 😉
  • Our car has been kinda freaking out electronically. And while it is still running, car trouble is always lame.

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On My Brain

  • I’ve been trying to get better at menu planning and grocery shopping…and I feel like I haven’t really found my rhythm yet…and maybe I never will? The plans just end up being too restrictive or I plan too many meals and don’t get around to making them and then ingredients go bad. I’m definitely more the type of person who can think of ingredients we have and determine what to make from that. Maybe a menu isn’t for me and new recipes should be introduced one at a time??? I’ll keep working on it.
  • Our stake had a women’s conference and there was one speaker who just did an excellent job. She spoke about music and, to make her point, she played songs on her iPod, had her daughter sing, played songs on the piano, and shared a couple of Mormon Messages. She just explained how music has such huge effect on our moods and attitudes. She pointed out that any sort of media we use is simply a guest in our home. If it’s disturbing the vibe we want in our home, it is our right to kick that media out, and maybe replace it with something better.
  • The Reader’s Digest had a small story about author Kurt Vonnegut who responded to some student letters. I really loved reading it (you can read the whole letter here-it’s short) and I especially loved this line, “Practice any art–music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage–no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” Love it. Makes me think, yeah, that’s why I blog or learn new songs on the guitar or attempt sewing clothes. And it makes me want to push myself further in these areas and others.

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Finished Project: Elephant Baby Blanket

One of these days I’ll do an actual tutorial type post on one of the quilts I make….one day…

But today I’m just going to share a blanket I made for Wendy’s cousin who was born only 6 days before her (on Ben’s side).

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Baby blankets are probably one of my favorite projects of all time because #1. They are soft and snuggly, and #2. They are so small that you can finish them in no time at all! If only I could finish all quilts in the time it takes me to do baby blankets…

I kept things simple with the top. I had some already cut 5 inch squares, so I just laid them out and sewed them up. I was going to keep things simple with the whole quilt…but then I started getting ideas…

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I can never just let things be! But I guess, in this case, I was glad to think of this. I got the idea (via Pinterest) from this site. My sister-in-law mentioned that they were wanting to decorate with elephants so this seemed perfect! I just Googled “Elephant coloring pages” and found one I liked to be my template. I used fusible interfacing (a.k.a. sticky iron on) to iron the elephants onto the backing to hold them in place.

It was my very first time machine appliqueing and I’ll admit that I had a bit of a rough start. The background fabric is minky, which is a little bit stretchy so sewing around the curves was a challenge. But I eventually got the hang of it.

I made this blanket before we moved to Arizona, which meant that I had the pleasure of taking advantage of my mom’s sewing room! She has every sewing tool you could ever dream up to use and whenever I had sewing questions I’d just have to go, “Mooooommm!!!” You know, like I was living at home again. Ha!

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But the best part was being able to use her quilting machine (that’s how I made those fun loopy flowers). Having access to that machine has completely spoiled me. I’ve yet to successfully quilt something on my little sewing machine and I think it’s largely due to the fact that I’m used to the giant and oh-so-workable quilting machine my mom has. Things just get way too crampy and in the way if I attempt quilting on my machine. So I usually end up hand quilting, which I enjoy, but it takes forever. Which brings me back to this baby quilt. I quilted it in just over an hour. So speedy. So easy. It was a dream!

And I loved how this little blankie turned out.

I’ve got a couple of large quilts in the works but looking at these pictures just makes me want to scrap them all and do baby blankets the rest of my days! Then maybe I’ll be able to finish the projects I start…

Papa Brown’s Marinara Sauce

Other appropriate names for this sauce are:

  • My Very Favorite Marinara
  • World’s Tastiest Marinara
  • Best Ever Marinara Sauce

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And all those titles are 100% accurate. This pasta sauce is the last recipe for pasta sauce you’ll ever need because it’s that easy and that good.

Ben’s dad served his mission in Italy and he brought back with him a love for San Pelligrinos and this recipe. Both have become family favorites (San Pellis are a soda, the most Italian of which, in my opinion, is the blood orange, and they’re really good). In fact, Ben has the same birthday as his dad, and every year Ben requests his birthday dinner to be Papa Brown’s Marinara, mixed with pasta, topped with cheese and baked until melted.

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The sauce also holds a little fame because Ben made that pasta bake for me while we were dating…back in the day where he cooked more food for me than I cooked for him. Things have definitely changed…but this recipe stays one of our favorites!

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Here’s the recipe!

 

Papa Brown’s Marinara Sauce

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cans (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon beef base
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon parsley
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Minced garlic to taste (I usually do 1-2 teaspoons)

Heat oil in a medium sized pot over low-medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender. At this point you can add the remaining ingredients to a blender, blend to desired consistency, and pour the mixture into the pot. OR you can put the remaining ingredients directly into the pot and use an immersion blender (wand blender) to reach desired consistency. Slow simmer at least 5 minutes or up to an hour. Five minutes works just fine, but it does get more delicious the longer it’s simmered.

Notes:
–You can add any meat you want to this recipe. I usually cook the meat first and just use the fat from it to sauté the onions (no need to add olive oil) just don’t blend everything with the meat…because that would be gross.
–Use whatever sweetener you have on hand. I’ve used regular white sugar, coconut sugar and agave and they’ve all worked just fine.
–The cayenne pepper here just adds a little dimension, it doesn’t make it spicy whatsoever. So don’t worry and just trust me on this one:) Conversely, if you want more of a kick, add more cayenne.
–The original recipe is double what I’ve written and it makes quite a bit of sauce. I normally cook the amounts written above since I’m just cooking for me and Ben, but the sauce freezes well, so if you want access to an easy dinner later, double it and freeze half for another meal.
–We love to use this with regular pasta, meatballs, in lasagna, baked with pasta and cheese, and recently I baked the sauce in some spaghetti squash and we loved it.

January Things

Well, a blogger I know does a post every month called a GBOMB. It stands for Good, Bad and On My Brain. Basically, I love the idea and I hate the idea. I love that it gives you a chance to recap the month…which is something I’d like to do here. But I hate that it makes you think back to bad things that happened. It seems  a little…negative (?) to me, to actually sit down and think, “Hmm, what were some of the crappy things that happened this month?”

Not my fave.
And, yet, the concept is intriguing… so Imma give a try…and if I hate it I’m just going to go back to random bullet points.

Deal? Deal.

So…here’s my January GBOMB:)

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GOOD

  • We welcomed in the New Year with Ben’s family in Idaho…while Ben slept peacefully on the couch. Ha!
  • Ben did not have to go back to school until after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was crazy and I loved it! After our trip to Utah and Idaho we had a whole week of just hanging out before he had to get back to it.
  • Snow! For the first time in a long time I have totally LOVED getting a heavy whallup (definitely not a word…) of snow! I think it has everything to do with the fact that there’s not a whole lot of places where I have to go…which almost completely erases my most dreaded winter task: driving in the snow. Not to mention, those beautiful piles of snow (we got over 2 feet) meant that Ben got a couple of snow days since his break wasn’t long enough already.
  • We took Wendy swimming for the first time! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a little bit and we took a free Saturday to go to the Aquaplex here in Flagstaff. Wendy was…underwhelmed. Ha! She had the exact same look on her face the whole time…that of a trying-not-to-seem-too-impressed teenager. BUT I’m still glad we went.
  • I finally pulled my La Passacaglia quilt back out. I packed it up a week before I had Wendy and we’ve just had so many visitors, I haven’t wanted to get it back out (English Paper Piecing isn’t messy…but I am messy when I English Paper Piece…or do any sewing).
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Our backyard, lawn chair, and Jaeger Dog.

BAD

  • During the week before Ben went back to school, we all got a little cold, Wendy included. It broke my heart a little bit. But she was a total champ and had a good attitude throughout. I was glad Ben was there to help aaaaaand we all got better pretty quick.
  • We had to take down the Christmas tree! I know, I’m so lame! We kept the tree up until Ben was back to school (yeah, such a faux pas), and as soon as I took it down and packed it in its box, I thought, “Oh, man, that was a mistake!” Glitter, lights and happiness…why can’t it be up all year?
  • Wendy’s growing! Ha! Okay, so I know that it’s not really a bad thing…but I feel like I just blinked and suddenly she’s not a newborn anymore and I’m like, “Wait! I wasn’t done with that sweet fresh cuddliness!” Babies grow so fast! And I’ve always known that but I’ve never known that, you know?
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What??? Pigtails???? I don’t ever do her hair like this because it makes her look too old!

ON MY BRAIN

  • Sooooooo….we took Wendy in to her 2 month doctor’s appointment where she got her first set of immunizations….and….for like 2 whole weeks after we felt like her demeanor changed. She became a lot fussier than normal and just didn’t seem to be her happy and content self. It was weird and it just made me wonder if that’s normal…or if it’s something that we should expect after every immunization. I was worried we made the wrong choice in getting her immunized. But she seems to have gotten back to her sweet self. Anybody else notice that problem?
  • I started reading French Kids Eat Everything and I’ll definitely include it on my next book review, but the concepts in it are so interesting and most of them make so much sense. The French love food and take their eating seriously. The book pointed out that Americans love food but we treat eating like it’s an inconvenience, which is so true (at least for us). Ben started reading it as well and it’s been a great catalyst for discussing our own meal time routines and what we want to improve.
  • So…one topic of conversation Ben and I talk about basically every day is PhD programs! Ah! Kinda scary…although not as scary for me I guess! Ben is still a little flip-floppy as to whether or not he wants to take on a PhD program (which is fine because he still has about a year before he’d apply), but I definitely think he’s leaning more towards doing one than not doing one. We talk a lot about what (linguistics or literature), when and where. Time will tell, I guess…
  • Summer! I’m still doing fine with the snow, but people are starting to talk about summer trips and it gets me all sorts of excited! Ben will teach through the summer so we won’t have any super crazy trips but I’m hoping for a good backpacking/camping trip and a trip to see my family! My sister just had a baby (technically a February thing) and we’ve got 2 more Lifferth cousins coming and I can’t even wait to meet all of them!!!

Books I’ve Read Lately

I know lots of people start the New Year off with goals to read more. I am a nerd and such a goal for me would be terrible…because I already plow through books. Reading any more would put a serious dent in the things I’m able to get done in a day (catch me in the middle of a really good book and I’m worthless!). But I do have a goal to continue reviewing books…because I think it keeps me accountable and encourages me to switch things up in the reading department.

Here’s a scale on my recommendations:

  • ⭐️-1 star-Terrible! Don’t waste your time! (And, hopefully I don’t waste my time by reading such a book and then writing about it…)
  • ⭐️⭐️-2 stars-Meh…Not particularly fun/funny/interesting. Basically, nothing to write home about.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️-3 stars-Pretty Good. Except for a few lame/boring/inappropriate parts, I thought this book was (like I said) pretty good.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️-4 stars-Super Good. I enjoyed this book a lot and if the content interests you, have at it!
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️-5 stars-Excellent! I personally think everyone in the world should read this!

Here’s some of the stuff I’ve read lately:

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Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

This book’s about: the world famous racehorse, Seabiscuit! Reading more like a novel than the non-fiction it is, Hillenbrand chronicles Seabiscuit’s humble racing start to how he became one of America’s favorite stars (like, seriously. His name appeared more in America’s newsstands than Hitler’s!). It also gives a thorough history of “The Biscuit’s” owner, trainer and jockeys.

My thoughts on it: 

  • Set right in the middle of the depression/WWII, Hillenbrand really does an excellent job at painting a picture of what life was like back then. With the technology we have today, I think it’s really difficult to imagine the magnitude of the events Seabiscuit participated in. I mean, he would have thousands come just to watch his workouts, (nevermind his races). But Hillenbrand gives enough background to really grasp the excitement and awe that surrounded horse racing.
  • Hillenbrand is incredibly thorough in her account. Sometimes her tangents were a bit unnecessary, but more often than not, I thought they were fascinating and definitely added to the text.
  • Before Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit, she was writing for a horse magazine. As someone who knows basically nothing about horses or racing, sometimes the terms she used were so specific that I wasn’t able to completely picture what she was describing.
  • I think a great writer is able to elicit emotion from a reader. So it says a lot about Hillenbrand’s writing when I say that I cried when I read about the race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. I mean, it’s horse racing. And I cried.

My Recommendation: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️-4 stars

Cherry Cheesecake Murder (Reprint):KMass Template (3/4 spine)

Cherry Cheesecake Murder by Joanne Fluke

This book’s about: Hannah Swensen, local cookie shop owner, and the rest of the town is getting excited about a movie being shot right there in their small Minnesota town. But during one of the shoots, the director is murdered! Hannah, along with a couple friends and her family, do some snooping to see if they can figure out whodunnit. Complete with recipes!

My Thoughts on it:

  • When I find an author I like, I become totally obsessive and I read all of their books. This is a classic example as I’m on my 5th Hannah Swensen Mystery Novel in 4 weeks. Oops.
  • I love mysteries but I’m a total wimp and anything too scary gets me nervous to be home alone. This series is totally lighthearted and doesn’t psych me out in the slightest.
  • Let’s be real, folks. If I’m using “lighthearted” in the same sentence as “murder,” you know that we also have to mention the word “cheesy.” The dialogue can definitely get a little bit cheesy, but it’s not overbearing.
  • Sometimes one of the plot lines involves Hannah’s cat…which I’m just kind of meh about…but whatever.
  • I also enjoy this series because the mystery is totally solvable without being super obvious which always makes me feel like a sleuthing genius.
  • Recipes are included! And they always seem extra yummy! I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, but I have a handful written down waiting to be made.

My Recommendation: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️-4 stars ***If you do read, I’d suggest going in order and the first book is Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

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Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

This book’s about: CeeCee, a 12 year old girl who’s life gets uprooted when tragedy strikes. She suddenly finds herself living with her great-aunt in Savannah, Georgia. She’s plunged into a world with eccentric neighbors and Southern hospitality. CeeCee tries to get comfortable in her new surroundings as she slowly learns to cope with her past.

My Thoughts on it:

  • This is one of those books that I’d heard great things about but never remembered to snag on my trips to the library. I finally changed that, and I’m so glad I did!
  • CeeCee’s story is so many things! It was sad, heartwarming, zany, hilarious…so much goes on in the life of this little girl.
  • The adventures CeeCee has! Hoffman was incredibly creative in conjuring up a realistic albeit eccentric world. And she describes so vividly that you almost feel like you’re there…and you definitely feel like you know the women in the story.
  • The symbolism was a little bit obvious…which might seem cheesy, but I thought it was fine. I think more important is that even with the sadness, there’s a happy ending and that portrays itself in some of the symbolism present.

My Recommendation: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫-4 1/2 stars

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Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

This book’s about: Mindy Kaling and her thoughts on stuff.

My Thoughts on it:

  • I’d say the main point of this book is Kaling’s rise to stardom and how she worked her butt off for it….but it really is also just about stuff. Like she talks about everything from her thoughts on weddings to Hollywood’s body shaming. It’s random but hilarious.
  • So most of the book is centered around her show, The Mindy Project. I watched Season 1 a few years back, but forever in my heart, Mindy Kaling will be Kelly Kapoor. And I love her writing style because her tone is so distinct it’s almost as though she is reading the book aloud. Or Kelly is. Same same.
  • There was a little bit of inappropriateness in her book…some swears and a small section on sex. All things considered, I thought it was fairly tame.
  • The very end of her book is when she really focused on her main point, which was confidence. And I really thought what she had to say on the topic was super interesting and conversation worthy.
  • Also, she was asked to give a speech at Harvard for the Law graduates, which she included in the book, and it was hilarious. I wish she gave a speech at my graduation.

My Recommendation: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫-3 1/2 stars

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You are my Cupcake by Joyce Wan

This book’s about: Cupcakes…and peanuts…and pumpkins!

My Thoughts on it:

  • Well, thanks for letting me include one of our favorite baby books! Ha! This book is just super cute! It takes all of 1 minute to read (I’ve read it a couple dozen times…with many dozen more to come, I’m sure), but it’s adorableness on every single page. I love the artwork. Super fun.
  • I may or may not have been attracted to this book because…sparkles!
  • For the record, my sister-in-law bought Joyce Wan’s My Lucky Little Dragon for her 4 year old son, and he loves it! Boy appropriate and great for older teenies too.

My Recommendation: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️-4 stars

Baby Girl’s Room

Ah. The baby’s bedroom.

The place where we spend a lot of time and money on something the recipient couldn’t not care less about.

But, gosh it’s fun, right?

Truthfully, I didn’t spend too much time (or money) on Wendy’s room because we are renting so no need to get super crazy, and family pitched in way cuter stuff than I could have dreamed up, which made things super easy!

And, honestly, I don’t know why I was so worried about getting it ready before she came. She sleeps in our room. And with all the visitors we got after she was born, I ended up taking down most of the stuff anyway. Whatevs.

The wave of visitors has subsided for the time being, so back up everything goes! It’s not perfect, or even anything to brag about, but I really love how Baby’s little space turned out.

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Hello, Walmart Bag in the corner (oops, sorry!). This is it! The other half of the room has a futon that is not exciting at all.

Yes, we just have a pack-n-play instead of a crib. That might change someday…but for now, it works (and, actually, she has yet to use that since she has a bassinet to sleep in for now).

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A month or two before baby came, I started freaking out that she didn’t have enough receiving blankets, so I whipped this guy out. It came together really quickly (although, I shamefully admit that I had to google how to cut equilateral triangles…), and I hand quilted it in the white triangles. Buuuuut I shouldn’t have been worried because both of Wendy’s Grandmas pulled through and gave her the best blankies ever. We never use the one above. Oh well, I still think it’s cute.

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Here’s her picture wall. My pregnant self may or may not have cried a little when I found the sparkle sign at Ross. And I need to swap out the family pics now that we have pictures with Wendy in them!

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My super awesome sis-in-law Linda made these flowers and used them at my baby shower. I selfishly packed up every one of them so that I could use them in baby’s room. My only regret is that I don’t know how to make them myself.

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My mom (she’s a sewing wizard…like, for real) made us this teepee! She made it to set up at the shower and I seriously still can’t get over it! I love it so much that I insisted we find a way to pack it back to Flagstaff right after the shower even though we were seriously lacking on space in our car. I know  Wendy won’t appreciate the teepee for another couple years, but it’s up. And I love it.

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And that’s her room. I know it will change…soon, even. I’m currently making an embroidery to put up somewhere and I need to make some sort of bow hanger…but it looks good to me!

And I’m grateful she doesn’t have very many clothes because heaven knows we need to use her closet to store all our crap.

Should You Buy an Electric Pressure Cooker? (+a recipe!)

I find it fascinating that food goes through fads.

You know, like first everybody uses butter and then suddenly butter becomes a faux pas and you should only use margarine and then if you use margarine you are basically trying to kill your whole family and then everyone needs a zoodle maker.

Or something like that.

And have you read this article about the history of Jell-O? It’s super interesting.

All that’s neither here nor there…what I really mean to talk about is what seems to be the current cooking trend: Electric Pressure Cookers.

I was first introduced to EPCs (can I? It’s so much easier) a couple of years ago. A coworker brought hers in and, while singing its praise, made everyone lunch. After lunch we were singing praises to the EPC as well, but a look at the cost made me think that I could keep on keeping on without one.

But a few months later my poor CrockPot died. Not died died. The ceramic pot developed a crack that I tried to ignore but it just got worse and worse until I had to throw in the towel. It was a sad day, but it opened up my opportunity to buy an EPC-which also has the function of a slow cooker.

After lots and lots of research I ended up getting the Instant Pot 6 in 1 Programmable Pressure Cooker (at the time it was like 20 or 30 dollars cheaper than the 7 in 1…but that’s no longer the case).

Here are some things I love about my EPC:

  • Probably one of the most talked about things is that they cook things really really fast. And it’s true. It’s pretty fast. However, I feel like I need to add a note to this. While recipes claim that your dinner will be cooked in 6 minutes, that’s only partially true. It doesn’t take into account any prep work, time for sauteing, time for heating up, or time for letting your pressure cooker release its pressure (whether it’s released naturally or manually). All those things add up and while it still gets your dinner cooked quickly, it’s not quite 6 minutes quick.
  • The pot is stainless steel which means it won’t suffer the same fate as my CrockPot. Plus it’s way lighter and super easy to clean. That alone makes me want to stick to EPCs forever and always.
  • My Instant Pot doubles as a slow cooker. One less small kitchen appliance to have to store.
  • It also has a Saute function, which seriously rocks. I can do a whole meal only using that one pot.
  • All the cooking is timed and as soon as it’s done cooking, it will automatically stop cooking and turn onto warm. I can be out and about and not have to worry about turning it off (it’s also supposed to have some sort of anti-burning capability…and I’ve never burned anything in mine so it must work).
  • I’ve never used this particular function, but apparently you can also set it up to start cooking at a certain time. While I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable cooking everything like this, I think it would be nice if I was working full time again to be able to set it in the morning to start cooking in, say, 7 hours so that I could come home to a fresh, hot meal.

Here are some things that are not my fave:

  • My Instant Pot boasts 6 different functions, but in reality, I only use 3 of those-Manual, Saute, and Slow-Cook. I don’t hate that…I guess it’s just unnecessary hype?
  • It seems that my lid, no matter how many times I wash it, will forever and always smell like the last thing I cooked in it.
  • Another complaint about my lid is that it does not hinge. I know you can buy EPCs that have a hinged lid, buy mine doesn’t. Which means that when I’m cooking I have to find a place to put the lid, which in my teeny kitchen, really is an issue.

Should you buy an Electric Pressure Cooker?

When I think about recommending an EPC, the cost comes to mind. The prices vary depending on the brand and the model, but pretty much no matter which way you  go, it’s expensive. So here’s what I think if you are even remotely interested in getting an Electric Pressure Cooker:

If money is no issue to you, you should get an EPC.

If money is an issue to you, but you are: A) moderately to extremely busy B) a parent C) working full or part time OR D)any combination of those, you should get an EPC.

That covers everyone, right?

I guess I’d highly recommend an EPC to pretty much anyone. Even if the trend ends tomorrow, I still think EPCs are awesome and totally useful.

If you do buy an EPC:

  • I love my Instant Pot and would recommend it to anyone. However, you can find cheaper ones for sure, and I bet they are awesome too. If you are set on an Instant Pot (and are the winner of the waiting game), I know that they can go on a crazy sale during Black Friday/Cyber Monday (but who wants to wait that long?)-like 50 or 60 dollars off.
  • No matter what brand you get, I would definitely suggest getting one with a Saute function. It turns your EPC from super cool to totallyawesomeloveitloveitloveit status 🙂
  • I also totally love this cookbook from Bob Warden. The recipes are straightforward, don’t require any weirdo ingredients, and are delicious. Having that cookbook definitely helps me take full advantage of my EPC. (It works with any Electric Pressure Cooker; it’s not brand specific).
  • One of my frying pans has a lid that fits the stainless steel pot of my EPC, so I can just put the whole thing in the fridge. But it doesn’t come with a lid, and while it’s not necessary, it is nice and you can buy one separate.
  • The next thing I want to buy for my EPC is a 7 inch springform pan, because you can totally make cheesecake in your EPC. I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard they turn out delish!

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And finally, if you’ve got an EPC, here’s one of our very favorite recipes. It’s quick and delicious and I make it all the time:

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

(adapted from Bob Warden’s Great Food Fast)

2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed

3 Tablespoons flour

salt and pepper

3 Tablespoons butter

1/2 an onion, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

2 large carrots (or 2 handfuls baby carrots), chopped

1 1/4 cup wild rice

4 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 cup heavy cream

Mix flour with salt and pepper and then toss in the cubed chicken to coat. Turn cooker on medium heat to Saute (or Brown) and heat butter until it’s sizzling. Put chicken in cooker and cook until pieces are brown, about 5 minutes. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook 1 minute more. Add wild rice and chicken stock and then put on the pressure cooker’s lid. Set the cooker on Manual on high for 12 minutes. Make sure the knob is in the sealed position. When it’s done cooking, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then turn the knob to “venting” and allow the rest of the pressure to release. Remove lid, stir in heavy cream and serve.