Friday Five: Guess where?

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Right now Joe and I are on the road, heading toward a weekend free from work, responsibilities, email and dirty dishes.

After not having a true summer break of any kind, we were itching to get out of town and enjoy our last free weekend until like March. I only slightly exaggerate.

It was a last-minute decision and ever since, we’ve been running around the house like Bilbo.

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Some of you already know the destination currently programmed into our GPS (no spoilers!), but for those who don’t…here are five hints that may help…or not:

5. We purchased a head mount for our GoPro specifically for said adventure. It’s about to get real up in heeah.

GoPro Head Mount

4. We’re going to one of the last places PSH was photographed.

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In other news, Joe just asked me last night why I’m so morbid. Answer: I have no idea.

3. I have packed an entire suitcase with food, including my favorite pumpkin muffins and an array of cheese dips.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

2. We have the cutest backseat driver ever.

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I’ll go wherever she’s going.

 1. We’ll be chilling at an altitude over 7000 ft. Exploring by day and unwinding here at night.

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Any guesses? Happy Labor Day, everyone!

# a love-Lee visit

Joe’s brother was in Utah last week to help with band camp, play with Bells, introduce me to a hilarious comedian and try Indian food. A success all around.

Unlike last year, there wasn’t a sunny evening for me to come take pictures, but I did catch a few photos before one of the storms.

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Joe is so Utah in that hat. Indiana Joe? Crocodile Falvey?

Last year Lee didn’t get to really enjoy or explore the mountains, so this year we vowed to change that and spent his last days up the canyon getting our Utah on. The weather was finally nice, so we headed up to the Wind Caves.

You ready for some pictures?

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When we got to the trail, it was a whopping 46 degrees. On an appropriate side note, now might be a good time to mention the very harsh winter we’re expected to have this year.

My view for the beginning of the hike. They were on snake-watch duty. If we saw one, it was Game Over for me.

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City Slicker:

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I spy Joe.

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Other wind caves on the side of the mountain:

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You know what live in there? Snakes. …probably. Just a hunch.

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Do you know what’s on the other side of those baby trees? Shrubs, really. A drop-off. Do you like my guessing game?

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Last year we saw a pretty butterfly, but this snail was the only life we saw thanks to all of the recent rain. Well, this and a lot of worms I didn’t deem blog-worthy.

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We made it to the top! Right now we are directly above the actual Wind Caves.

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#mountainselfie

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Panoramic view from the top — not bad! (Click to make larger.)

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Joe walking the plank.

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It’s hard to capture just how large and breathtaking this cave is.

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Lee livin’ life on the edge.

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The hike took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to get up (with water breaks, panting breaks and photo-op breaks) and only 45 minutes to get down. We were haulin’ it back to the car — a point which our knees reminded us of the next day. #ouch

Since we were already in the canyon, we wanted to take Lee to Bear Lake. One of our faves.

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I will never EVER tire of this view. Doesn’t it look like Bob Ross brushed on those happy little clouds?

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One more panoramic view to make you swoon…or visit…or both. (Don’t forget to click on it!)

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And it’s not a trip to Bear Lake without a famous Raspberry Shake. It’s offically raspberry season here, so this was particularly tasty. Joe and I are slowly trying all of the shake establishments.

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Thanks for coming, Lee. Hope you enjoyed your mountain and puppy fix. #ripcord #boomer

Friday Five: Marching Memories

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Before I talk band camp, can we go back to the Fitbit? This thing = awesome. I’ve hit my step goal every day since I started until…today. Wah wah. I have a little over 2000 steps to go, but considering it’s been pouring rain since I left work I guess I can try to pace my living room?

After my post I had six people say they either were going to get one or ordered one. Love it! Let’s all be Fitbit friends.

I’ve been walking solo this week since Joe has been wrapped up in all things band camp. Lee, his brother–our best man, is here helping. Just like last year.

With band on the brain, I thought I’d sort through my buried high school memories and pull out my favorite marching band moments.

5. Busted

That one time….at band camp??  When the 6’5” trombone player marching backwards ran into me and drove my mellophone into my teeth? Yeah, it was horrible. Blood dripping down my chin, black lip, but lucky all teeth intact. It was a small miracle. I’m still friends with that guy…he now has a PhD in higher education and works for a Seattle university. I plan to cash in on his guilt someday so Joe and I can visit. I’m comin’ for you, Josh.

4. Rain or Shine

When I was a freshman we did a marching contest in a torrential downpour. I think we were the last band to perform before they deemed it too dangerous for anyone to be contained in a metal stadium. Lovely! I remember the band boosters finding some basement or church or something where the entire band crammed it to dry off. One parent bought out Walmart’s stash of athletic socks. We were covered in mud and dripping in our uniforms, but we were loving it.

3. Stink Eye of the Tiger

Speaking of weather, my sophomore year was the senior year of a one Rocky Calmus, superstar of Oklahoma football. During a playoff game, rain turned to freezing rain as the sun went down. Woodwinds got to pack up and go under the stands, but the brass? We played “Eye of the Tiger” (get it? ROCKY Calmus?) over and over and overandoverandoverandover. My valves were frozen. My lips were numb. I thought I was going to die playing the Rocky theme. (We won.)

2. Crowd Surfing

My first two years of high school were spent at a football dynasty school. The crowds for which we played are probably some of the largest crowds I’ve EVER performed before. I remember the pure adrenaline rush when I had my first solo. Just thinking about it gets my heart pounding. There will always be a special place in my heart for “Someone to Watch Over Me” because of it.

1. Sibling Love

Four out of five of my memories are from my first high school, mainly because I abhorred my band directors at the second school. ANYWHO…I do have one very special memory from my junior and senior years…and I didn’t have to go far from home to get it. I absolutely loved seeing my brother perform as drum major. He was amazing and it gave me so much pride to see him up there doing his thang. He was a total natural, as a leader and as a conductor.

Pictures of this week to come soon. Anyone else have favorite band camp stories?

 

# facetime fun, version 2014

As per tradition, this week I had my last summertime facetime session with Lil before she started…wait for it….first grade.

Lily 1st Grade

Raise your hand if your jaw is on the ground. How could she possibly be so grown up?

To give you a glimpse into her sassy, sweet self, here’s the play-by-play of our annual summer send-off, which was extra special since it was also her daddy’s birthday.

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Hi, NoNo.

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Want to see my brother?

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My teeth are growing back in!

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Can you see my nubs?

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Me: Did your mom tell you to say that word to me?

Hahahahahahah.  Hey guess what? I played golf with my daddy yesterday and took a picture of a squirrel. Do you see it?

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Here, I’ll take a picture of you.

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See it?

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Me: Are you excited about 1st grade?

*shrug*  Here, take a picture with my daddy.

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My teacher’s name is Miss Connor. 

Me: What’s different about 1st grade?

I don’t know. I have a desk–that’s different. And there are two new boys in my class.

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I can speak Scotland. 

Me: Really? Say hello in Scotland.

Hull-oh. 

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Me: Say something else in Scotland.

“Mom, I can’t do this, I’m too young.”

Me: ???? (A little Merida influence going on right now, we think.)

Want to see something, NoNo? This is my bow and arrow. 

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*shoots it across room* That’s how you do it.

Here’s Linc.

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*Linc rolls over — yay, Linc!*

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Happy Birthday, Daddy!

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Hey NoNo, I want to show you something else. These are my rocks.

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I found this one in my OWN BACKYARD. It has tiny, tiny fossils. Can you see them?

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Guess where they live? The (Hard) Rock Hotel!

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Me: Are you excited about a new class?

Yeah. 

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I’m going to take music and library and PE and religion….and Spanish.

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Me: Spanish? Say hi in Spanish.

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Hola.

Me: Count to five in Spanish.

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Me: Wow, that was six. Okay…count to five in Scotland.

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won, twuo, a-three, a-four, a-five

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hahahahahah!

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Look, I’m Princess Leia.

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Funny face time!

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Me: I hope you have a great first day tomorrow.

Okay, thanks.

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Me: I love you.

Love you, NoNo.

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And just like that, she seems a million years older. *sigh* Where can a girl get some Scotland Rosetta Stone?! Love you to the ends of the earth and then some, Lil. Please stop growing up so quickly!

Friday Five: Fitbit First Impressions

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Some of you tuned in to Instagram might have noticed the newest accessory I received Monday night.

A Fitbit Flex!

I first learned about the Fitbit line from my dear friend, and long distance work-out buddy, Amy. She uses the Zip version and has loved it. And then I noticed that some of my favorite bloggers also swear by it, crediting it with their recent weight loss success.

This device (whether in clip or bracelet form) tracks your steps, distance walked, calories burned (estimate, of course), active minutes and your sleep patterns (bracelet only). You can also manually input your daily weight, food and water consumption, and activity minutes (anything other than walking/running), none of which I’ve tried yet (other than my weight).

The Flex version is a comfortable, completely waterproof bracelet that comes in different colors. I chose the black option for it to be less noticeable at work, but I’m really loving some of the fun, brighter colors for evening/weekend wear.

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There are even DESIGNER bracelets, complements of Tory Burch. (Too fancy for my blood.)

So, with that background, here are my first impressions of the Fitbit Flex, four days in.

5. Awareness

Way before I clicked the CONFIRM ORDER button, I knew that a Fitbit would be good for me and my lifestyle, which consists of a full-time job, a part-time contract job, an Etsy store, and hobbies like reading, binge-watching TV, and cooking/baking. That’s a lot of time sitting still. I go to the gym, but spend most of that time lifting weights so I’m still not MOVING a lot. This device would be the Rolls-Royce of strings on my finger. The ultimate reminder to get up and get going. Since wearing it, I’ve even found myself walking across the office to ask a question rather than send an email. *gasp* Fitbit, what have you done?!

4. Lunch Breaks

Before Fitbit (B.F.), I would spend every single lunch break reading. I would eat my lunch at my desk while working (a horrible habit, I know) and then take my break in the afternoon when it’s quieter and I can escape and read without distraction for an hour. Now I’m painfully aware that maybe I should do more during that hour. I have a beautiful campus at my disposal and I should explore it via power-walking before it’s covered in snow soon. Bonus – I’m less tired in the afternoon. Here are a few pictures of my lunch walks and one from my evening walk on Wednesday. Oh, Utah.

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3. Dashboard

Here’s a sample of the mobile dashboard that I’ve been checking no less than 30 times a day. Obsessed!

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The Fitbit also comes with a USB plug so you can sync to a desktop computer. Its dashboard is a little more detailed, so I usually use it to debrief at the end of the day to check my stats.

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I really get a thrill looking at the sleep data – how much (and when!) I was restless, what my sleep efficiency is (97%!), and how long it takes me to hit the zzzzs.

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Joe’s impressed it only takes me 2 minutes to fall asleep. My secret? I read (with all of the lights off except one lamp) until I feel my eyes droop once, then put the book down, turn off my lamp and that’s that. Don’t force it! Sometimes it’s 10:05 and other nights it’s 11:42 – I just roll with it.

Speaking of sleep…the Fitbit also has an internal silent alarm that you can schedule on the dashboard. It wakes you up with soft, pulsing vibrations rather than a screaming clock. This might be my favorite feature. It’s so gentle, it doesn’t wake-up Joe and I feel a whooole lot calmer in the morning.

2. Connect and Compete

Like anything these days, you can link up with your friends to compare numbers and activity. So far I’m only linked to Amy, but the thing I’m loving most is that I can compete with myself. Using information that you input upon set-up (like gender, age, height, weight, etc), your Fitbit sets daily goals that you can alter. My default was 10,000 steps a day and I haven’t changed it yet, mostly because 10,000 steps a day is a lot for me right now. That’s me walking through my lunch break and taking Bella for a walk at night, which is a very good thing. I’m loving that time with her. On the Fitbit Flex, it keeps track of how close you are to your goals in the form of five lights, so at any point in the day I can double-tap the bracelet and the lights will tell me how close I am to my goal. Amazing. I’m a double-tappin’ fool! And then when you reach your goal, the bracelet vibrates fast and hard. It’s like a virtual pat on the back, which I look forward to every night. It’s a nice touch for someone as competitive as me.

1. Moving Forward

I’ve never wanted to use this blog to talk about weight, specifically MY weight, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in the foreground of my thoughts on a regular basis. It’s something I find myself working on, failing and succeeding at (depending on when you ask), and is a constant battle for someone who loves and finds comfort in food as much as I do. I do have a weight goal for December and I know just walking 10,000 steps a day won’t get me there, but it will help considerably. This Fitbit will be my accountability partner, 24/7. I’m loving the reminder to get up, step out of my comfort zones, and appreciate the beauty around me, as well as my health. ….as long as those five dots blink at the end of the day, so help me god!

Verdict Haikus:

affordable fun
keep up momentum I hope
love, love, love, love, love

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right-left-right all day
thinking dreaming and smiling
left-right head so clear

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if you are on fence
fitbit flex you must try now
no disappointment

All opinions are my own. Fitbit has no clue who I am; I’m just a big fan.

# the vore-tex

It’s been roughly 6800 minutes since Sean and Wallis left.  Give or take a few.

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When I was little and somewhere away from home having fun, I was like any other little kid in throwing a fit when it was time to leave. My parents’ mantra,”If you don’t leave nice, you don’t get to come back,” whispered to me during frowns, screams and right-foot stomps, still haunts me. Like the little halo-clad angel sitting on your shoulder that you so badly want to ignore. So, last Sunday, I let two of my favorite people in the world leave nice…with the hopes that they’d come back.

I try very hard not to take for granted that, as adults, we have now had two summers with our some of our oldest and dearest friends. It’s the rarest treat and oddest of coincidences that we are all together in such a small town in the mountains, but I’m not questioning any of it.

This summer looked a lot different than last year’s when we had just arrived in Utah, when our days were spent at the pool avoiding the sea of boxes that needed to be unpacked. This year I had a job, and the three of them were constantly in rehearsals or performances. Sundays were our only day we could all be together. A day when almost everything in Utah is closed. But, no matter. We were livin’ the dream.

Here are a few of our Sunday highlights:

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Joe’s golf camp!

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Golf 1

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We also took Bella and Sophie to the dog park one week.

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Sophie stuck close to her parents…

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until Joe got them riled up.

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Mom-imposed water break.

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Their new friend!

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Bella slinking through the dust…typical.

Here’s us after our only performance together this summer. #CCMreunion #HorribleOverheadStageLights

Pioneer and Patriots Concert

We also got to hang out with Sean’s newly-retired parents and their awesome new RV:

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Storm on one side, beautiful sunset on the other. So Utah.

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A little Hand & Foot throw-down…

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What a great night. What a great summer. There’s no better place to be than in the Vore-tex.

Hurry back…I played nice!

#012

Friday Five: Musicals on my Mind

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

In the last week, I’ve seen two musicals close to my heart, Les Misérables and Oklahoma!. They’re even better when your friends and hubs are in the pit, celebrating the last week of their festival with energized performances and texts during intermission.

As much as I love being part of the action, I love sitting in the audience too – basking in the glow of everyone’s hard work without breaking a sweat, not having my heart race before a hard or exposed section. I just get to take it all in. It’s pretty blissful.

My background is definitely in opera. I played a lot of it in school, performed with a huge opera company for three years and worked for another for one. Opera is amazing. But…BUT…I love musicals. I have since I was a little girl, when Disney movies WERE musicals.

Since leaving the theater this week I’ve had songs from the shows running through my head constantly. (Right now? A Little Fall of Rain.) Can’t stop, won’t stop: I’ve got Broadway on the brain. I think I’m 1/6th jazz hands.

When I started making my list of favorite musicals, it got out of hand fast. In the first brain dump I had over ten and that was me barely putting any thought into it. So, I had to make a few categories for Friday Fives—a Broadway Series of sorts. Today’s list are my pinnacles—the best of the best—where each song is its own hit—the shows I know entirely by heart.

There will be other lists, like favorite shows to see live, musicals I want to see, best movie musical adaptions, etc…but today, this is as good as it gets for me. And, spoiler alert, there’s not a Andrew Lloyd Webber title in sight. For shame!

5. Grease

This musical also wins the award for “Best Musical that is Routinely Ruined by High School Productions.” Step away from the auditorium and see this on a big stage, or better yet, the movie screen. It’s before John Travolta got weird and weirder. It’s total perfection and I frequently have “You’re the One that I Want” blasting in my car.

4. The Sound of Music

Here’s another one repeatedly botched by inexperienced kids and high school administrations that want to shy away from any hint of Nazis. But, when it’s done right, this is a classic of “Barbra Streisand” proportions, which translates to “biblical” in Broadway talk. This show permeates my childhood memories and still pops up when my sibs and I do the “Sound of Music pose” for photos.

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3. Miss Saigon

When it comes to sheer power, this musical would be my #1. I’ve known the soundtrack since I was little, when I confiscated my parent’s CD. I certainly didn’t understand what it was about, but I loved the beautiful music and quickly learned both parts of “I Still Believe”—which I sing in my car all the time. But, after seeing this live, my face was puffy for a day from all of the crying. It’s such a great story, made even better with stunning music. I mean, “Bui Doi”? It’s like four minutes of constant chills. If this is coming to a theater near you, please go. You’ll be forever changed. Not convinced? Watch this awesome promo for its revival in London’s West End. #chillsfordays

2. West Side Story

*snap* *snap* *snap* I. love. this. musical. Like, with every ounce of my being. There isn’t one moment where I’m not entralled when watching. It’s way better than the Shakespeare from which it’s based. Blasphemy! But TRUTH! Bernstein proves his mettle in WSS’ unforgettable score, a score that’s made even more awesome in the hands of Stan Kenton…if that’s even possible. (It’s our go-to CD for road trips.) But, my favorite song has got to be “One Hand, One Heart,” which we had played by horn quartet at our wedding. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

1. Les Misérables

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. There will never be too much Les Mis in my life. I’ve seen it live at every opportunity, I own the movie, I’m obsessed with the 25th Anniversary Concert, and it makes for a pretty incredible drum corps show. It also is the foundation of my family’s sing-a-longs, which have me and Booh battling it out for Eponine. Bryan does a mean Javert and would easily give Russell Crowe a run for his money. In my mind, this is the most perfectly crafted story + score from beginning to end. Forever my favorite, it’s my 2-4-6-0-#1.

Anyone sad there’s no Cats or Phantom on this list? Bryan, are you singing Aida as you read? What would be on your list of faves?

# baked pumpkin doughnuts

Round two from our slumber party: Doughnuts and Homemade Breakfast Crunchwraps!

(Did you read Round One yet? You might wanna.)

I should do a post sometime on our favorite fast food knock-off: Taco Bell’s Crunchwraps, but for now I’ll just win over your hearts and minds with these delicious doughnuts.

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Considering we didn’t go to bed until Sunday morning, this quickly turned into brunch. But more lunch than breakfast. So….blunch?

The crunchwraps take some time to prepare, assemble and make, so thank goodness I had made these killers the day before. It was like a blunch appetizer, quickly filling our stomachs with something other than cookie bars, jalapeno poppers, and Tums. That was important. It was needed.

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I love anything pumpkin. I even have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to my obsession. And as soon as I had my doughnut pans, these were pretty high on my to-make list.

Fall seems like the perfect time to enjoy anything pumpkin flavored, but I could eat it any time. And I do.

The craggily top side of baked doughnuts gets me every time. It’s character!

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If you want your doughnuts to look more rounded and perfect, you can follow the directions and only fill up the pan wells ¾ of the way. But I go almost to the top, because that’s how I live my life. Kidding …kinda.

There are so many pumpkin cake doughnut recipes out there, but I chose King Arthur Flour’s version. My only complaint was that the cinnamon and sugar mixture didn’t magically stay on the doughnuts, like it seemingly does in their pictures.

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Mine were hit or miss. Some barely had any on them and others looked like a snowstorm had hit.

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In the future, I’d brush the tops with some melted butter and dip that part in the mixture. Much like my favorite Doughnut Muffins. That way you get a little layer of sparkle and crunch on an otherwise spongy, delicate cake.

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“Spongy”…that’s how Joe described these. He couldn’t be more right.

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Like any cakes, I had to make a few high-altitude adjustments like using less leavening (in this case, baking powder) and upping the oven temp a bit. Works like a charm. Every time.

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I’ll definitely be making these again come football season, which is like tomorrow right? They scream for scarves and boots and leaves. But I can now attest they also pair well with sleepy friends, cuddly dogs….and Tums.

Enjoy!

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Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 ½ c. granulated sugar
1 ½ c. pumpkin purée (about 1 cans worth – NOT pumpkin pie filling!)
1 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ¾ c. + 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
about 3 Tbs. cinnamon-sugar mixture
2-3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease two standard doughnut pans.

Combine the oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin, spices, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth and well combined. Add the flour, stirring just until smooth. Do not over mix!

Fill the wells of the doughnut pans about 3/4 full and smooth top with a knife or small spatula.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and after about 5 minutes, loosen their edges, and transfer them to a rack to cool.

While the doughnuts are still warm (but no longer fragile), brush melted butter over the tops and dip them into the cinnamon-sugar.

Cool completely, and store (not wrapped tight) at room temperature for several days.

(Filling the wells to near the top produced 16 doughnuts for me.)

# tagalong cookie cake bars

Our time with Sean and Wallis is coming to an end. <insert not-so-quiet sniffles here>

Can we puuuhleeease go back to June and do it all again?!  I want one more Herm’s. One more pool therapy session. One more Sunday of laundry and Sister Wives. One more Jimmy John’s. One…okay, two, maaaaybe three…more Rancheritos runs.

Guys, I’m going to chain myself to your car on Saturday night in protest. You’ve been warned. Actually, I’m just going to call our friend Brian to boot your car. …. Too soon to joke about that?

Since Sean’s parents are in town visiting, we managed to throw together one final Fab Four hurrah last weekend after the Les Mis performance.

The show didn’t get out until almost 11pm, so we agreed it would best be a slumber party. Let me let you in on a little secret: A slumber party in your mid-30s looks and feels a lot different than one in your teens or early 20s. Despite managing to stay up pretty dang late, there might have been copious amounts of Tums consumed and ‘we’re-too-old-for-this-$*&@’s muttered.

I wanted to make a few special treats for both that night and the next morning, so much like my daily life, I’ll start with dessert first!

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Does anyone else hide their Girl Scout cookies in the freezer? I swear I get this tendency from my mom, who would bury sweet treats in the depths of the frozen abyss so A) she’d actually get to eat a few herself and B) make them last longer than a few hours. Newsflash: We were always on to you!

Joe and I stock up hard every spring on our Girl Scout cookies, which is easy to do when your favorite little and guest blogger is also the cutest Daisy in the world.

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How can you say ‘no’ to this face? You can’t. You won’t. Which is why she raked in hundreds of dollars in cookies this year.

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God, I love her.

Joe prefers to dig in right when we get the cookies, but I try to prolong the shelf life of those once-a-year beauties as much as I can, which leads to boxes of Tagalongs and Thin Mints hidden away in the freezer. Perfect for a rainy day.

or a delicious recipe.

I’ve never even thought of baking with my Girl Scout bounty until I ran across this recipe on Pinterest. It was calling my name. It was beckoning my stash.

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Tagalongs = Peanut Butter Patties, depending on which part of the country you live in.

So I gladly sacrificed my last box of Tagalongs for the peanut-butter-loving friends who spent a summer by my side…who filled my days with endless wonder. #sorrynotsorry #LesMisAddict #IDreamedaDream

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The original recipe calls for a few cookies shy of the entire box. How. convenient.

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My favorite part, hands-down, was the layer of peanut butter and sweetened condensed milk. I want to pour it on everything now. Think it’d be too much for my Cheerios?

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The bars will look pretty gooey right out of the oven and that’s all fine and dandy. You’ll want to let them cool completely before slicing or removing from the pan so they can seal and form that perfect hand-held, no-mess bar.

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It doesn’t get much easier than this, folks. So, unless you also stockpile to avoid a Girl Scout Cookie Armageddon, save this recipe for your next haul and be sure to buy twice as many Tagalongs than normal!

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And if you want to make them now, you could easily substitute chopped Nutter Butters, Oreos or Peanut Butter Oreos, or even salted peanuts and peanut butter chips. Go cray-cray, as Lily would say. (Breakfast treat coming up soon…)

(Psst! – there’s a Thin Mint version, too!)

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Tagalong Cookie Cake Bars

Adapted slightly from Kevin & Amanda

1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 box of Girl Scout Tagalong (Peanut Butter Patties) cookies, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish generously with nonstick cooking spray or line bottom of dish with parchment paper and spray the paper and sides.

Place cake mix, butter and egg into a large bowl, mix until dough forms. (I used a hand-held mixer to initially whip up the butter, then moved to mixing with a spatula and my hands.) Spread globs of dough in bottom of prepared baking dish and use your fingers to press into one layer. It doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty. Just make it as even as possible.

Sprinkle top with chocolate chips.

Stir sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter until well combined and pour over dough and chocolate chips. Top with chopped cookies.

Bake uncovered for 23-25 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing or serving.

Shelf Life: Summer 2014

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August 1. Can you believe it? Wasn’t it just May like yesterday?

Seems like a summer flies by when you aren’t moving cross-country or exploring a new home. The monotony of a full-time job made the summer blur into an endless Groundhog Day in many ways.

There were no trips this summer—maybe a first for me?—which makes me feel equally sad to not have had some sort of non-Utah adventure and giddy over the lack of stress and money spending in my life.

But that’s not to say our summer hasn’t been fun. It just means that school here starts in two weeks, band camp happens before that and before you know it we’ll be consumed with all things Fall. And football.

And then it will be cold again.

Well that escalated quickly.

Here’s a few glimpses of budding life before getting to the books that kept me company during our fleeting warm weather.

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How circle of life of me!

On to the books! And I’m happy to report that, compared to last summer’s abysmal reading product this summer felt like a slam dunk.

1. Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander

Confession: I actually read this during my Spring Shelf Life, but forgot to include it! Whoops!

Some of my best book scouting happens at airports. I stand in front of their best-seller section and take pictures of book covers with my phone so I can request them from the library when I get home. For someone that has moved seven times in the last ten years, I don’t need to be buying every book I want to read. Ain’t nobody got time space for that!

This one really caught my eye. I’ve been a little heaven/afterlife obsessed after reading Heaven is for Real and watching my grandfather pass, so I jumped at the chance to read about a doctor’s near-death experience. It was truly fascinating, but, man, someone should have helped Eben get over his ego and just tell his story. No, I don’t care that the robe you grabbed before realizing you were sick was of the plush, scarlet red, terrycloth variety. I also don’t care that the hospital that employed your father was a feeder hospital to Harvard. *pat on the back* But, the few chapters where he describes his incredible heaven and journey to the beyond is worth every ego-stroke in the book.

2. 10% Happier, Dan Harris

This is totally another airport find. I don’t make it a habit of reading Self Help books, but I do love reading about happiness and where people find it. This was more about big-picture meditation and mindfulness, something I could do better for sure. Here are some of my “ah-ha! takeaways”:

– Our entire lives are governed by a voice in our heads. It’s engaged in a ceaseless stream of thinking, most of it negative, repetitive and self-referential.

– The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete. It’s constantly comparing itself to others and it thrives on drama. It keeps our old grievances alive through compulsive thought. It’s obsessed with the past and the future, at the expense of the present. We live exclusively through memory and anticipation.

– Mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now–anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever–without getting carried away by it.

– What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.”

– We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these “if only” thoughts (if only I was married, if only I got a promotion, etc), and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.

– All successful people fail. If you can create an inner environment where your mistakes are forgiven and your flaws are candidly confronted, your resilience expands exponentially.

3. A Feast for Crows, George R. R. Martin

685 pages and two very sore arms later, I did it. *fist pump*

The author’s first sentence in his acknowledgements? “This one was a bitch.” Haha! Speak the truth, George!

This is the fourth installment of the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, which Joe and I avidly watch. At this point, I’ve been reading one book a year because they are so long and consuming, but I’ll have to read the fifth book soon since it takes place at the same time as book four and is where the show picks back up in January. I’m just working up enough courage to start it!

4. The Giver, Lois Lowry

Most people my age read this in school, but somehow I missed out on that bandwagon. Two girls in my office raved about it recently and after learning I’d never read it one quickly loaned me her copy. It was such a fast read, but I really wanted to see it before the movie comes out. As soon as I finished the book I watched the trailer, which—in hindsight—was dumb since the story could not have been more fresh in my mind and of course they hollywooded it. And, I’m sure like most books, the movie version will never compete. Even if Meryl is involved.

5. Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou

When news broke that Maya Angelou had passed away, I probably spent a good hour on YouTube listening to her speak or read sections from her books or poetry. What a true inspiration and what a voice! I knew that she read many of her own books for their audio versions so I did a quick library search to see what they had. This was the only one, which was great because I’d never read it and it was all about her complicated relationship with her mother. I played it through the TV every night after I had already climbed into bed and turned out the lights. It was powerful. This is probably the only time I’ve ever listened to an audio book without being on a road trip, but I just needed to hear her voice. Here’s a collection of powerful excerpts from the book:

6. Delancey, Molly Wizenberg

Molly, like me, is an Oklahoma girl who grew up in a food-loving family. When I read her A Homemade Life, I felt like I had just met an old friend. She beautifully and magically put into words so many of my own childhood memories. She spoke my language. This is her second book and it revolves around the opening of Delancey—the pizza restaurant she owns and runs with her husband. Her story-telling is just as beautiful as before, but one thing is certain after reading of their trials….I never want to open a restaurant! (But I do want to visit Seattle!)

7. Delicious!, Ruth Reichl

I fell in love with Ruth’s writing (and dream job) after reading her autobiographical Tender at the Bone a few months ago, but this is her first foray into fiction. It was verrrrrrry predictable, but you really can’t beat the way she describes food. She obviously knows her stuff and does her best to make it shine. It was a fun summer read—quick and no-brainer-like. Plus, as you can tell, I love reading, thinking and dreaming about food, so that helped.

8. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

And even though I’m *only* 615 pages into Anna Karenina (over ¾ way through!), I’m going to go ahead and count it for this Shelf Life. It’s only 175 pages to go and after reading over 600 that’s nuthin’. This has been on my “to-read” list for years and I’m so glad I’ve now read it. Stories aren’t written like this anymore. People don’t use this language, which is both a very good thing and also sad. What a grand life Tolstoy imagines. I highly recommend taking a month out of your year (which is what it will have taken me) to delve into this amazing piece of literature.

Next up in the queue:

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (Still! AND it’s being made into a movie!)
A Dance with Dragons – George R. R. Martin
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Vacationers – Emma Straub
The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (aka J.K.)
Running to Normal – Sandra Clark