Friday Five: No Sugar Challenge – Week 3

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

Salt or sugar on a teaspoon isolated on white background

I’m closing in on Day 19 of my 30 Day No-Sugar Challenge. Amazing. Two-thirds of the way there! Thanks to those doing this challenge with me and those that text or call asking for updates. I appreciate all of the support. It certainly hasn’t been nearly as bad as I was feared, but it’s nice to know people have my back in this.

Here’s an update on how it’s going:

5. Hide and Seek

Sugar is hiding everywhere. Some days I feel like I’m eating a raw-foods diet because so many processed foods have sugar. Salad dressings..forget about it. Cereal…OMG. Yogurt…wow. I feel like it’s stalking me.

4. Steps for Success

I was pretty thoughtful before I started this to figure out ways to eliminate certain temptations, like Instagram. I stopped following half of my list since they were bakery owners, ice cream makers, {desserts} food bloggers. I didn’t want to look at all of that sugary goodness all day every day. But, the exception to this rule has been Pinterest. I still love browsing through it every few days and somehow the never-ending scrolling past treats doesn’t bother me. It even makes me feel better some days. Isn’t that strange?

3. P.E.

Like I mentioned after Week 1, physically I feel awesome. It’s been such a learning experience for me, these weeks. To see that I don’t have to be irritable when my blood sugar drops…that my blood sugar doesn’t have to drop…that I don’t have to eat snacks to have more energy. I feel stable and consistent. Not exactly the describers I was going for when this started, but definitely ones I’m happy to have and keep.

2. Emo

Somehow during stressful times, or wake-up early times, I’ve equated sugar to feeling good. I’ve convinced my mind and body that to keep up with work and schedules and, during the summer, long rehearsals and performances, I needed sugar to keep me going. Totally not true. I knew it then…that’s why I’m doing this…but it’s so much more apparent now that I’m in the thick of it. Sugar does not bring me reward, relief or rest. (This has been my new mantra.)

1. To Be Continued…

I’ll do another recap when this is all said and done, but at this point I’m not sure when that’ll be. I don’t think I’ll have a binge on Day 31. I do think I’ll have cereal again, though. But, maybe I’ll keep some parts of it going longer as I figure out what’s next. To process what I’ve learned and channel my energy into making healthier choices and feeling better. I haven’t quite figured out what that looks like yet, but that’s my goal for this week.

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# chocolate bourbon peanut butter cake

Today marks the halfway point of my no-sugar challenge. So, naturally, I thought it most appropriate to blog about a cake.

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My willpower is Rocky Tough right now. But that doesn’t mean yours has to be!

This is a very belated post about a very delicious cake celebrating a very special boy.

I always let Joe pick his birthday treats. You might remember the coconut cake of high-altitude-baking fame. Or the jarred s’mores. He picks some clear winners, but this year took the cake. (har, har)

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I don’t think you can ever go wrong when combing chocolate, bourbon and peanut butter. Turns out bourbon is the perfect third wheel to my chocolate-peanut butter marriage.

This is the very best cake I think I’ve ever made. Let that sink in for a minute.

For starters, it has the most delicious cake layers with a mind-blowing combo of coffee, bourbon, chocolate and greek yogurt that then sandwich a decadent peanut butter layer. Then you smother all of that with the world’s most perfect chocolate buttercream frosting.

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I’m not kidding when I say this is hands-down the best buttercream frosting. I won’t ever try a different recipe. There’s a magic ingredient to it, so read on.

Then! As if that’s not enough, you pour over a richity rich rich bourbon ganache that seals everything with a kiss. Or maybe it’s a punch. Either way, you like it.

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I’ll never get tired of pictures like these.

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A thick blanket of perfection draping over the entire cake. It’s a stunner. Good job, Joe. First on being born and now this excellent choice of a cake. You’re just winning left and right.

Of course, our friends from Bavarian Inn joined us per our weird birthday tradition.

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See that peanut butter layer? It’s taking a pickaxe to my current willpower.  chip…chip…chip…

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The original recipe is a three-layer beauty topped with buckeyes, which Joe thought might look too pro-Ohio State (not to mention TOO MUCH in general). Ha! I made a more manageable two-layer version and used the leftover batter for perfect cupcakes.

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Make it for your next birthday celebration!

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Chocolate Bourbon Peanut Butter Cake

Source: Half Baked Harvest

For the Cake:

7.5 ounces bitter-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup bourbon
1 cup strong hot hot coffee
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs + 2 egg yolks
1/4 cup canola oil
2/3 cup plain greek yogurt (I use Chobani 0%)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Peanut Butter Layer (half this amount if only making a 2-layer cake):

2 1/4 cups peanut butter
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup powdered sugar

For the Chocolate Bourbon Ganache:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon

For the Best Chocolate Buttercream, read below.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the cake, add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt to a bowl. Mix to combine and set aside. Grease 3 (or 2) 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter/spray with cooking spray and flour the pans.

In a microwave safe bowl add the butter and chocolate. Microwave on high for 30 seconds intervals stirring in between until melted. Once melted stir in the bourbon and coffee. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the 4 eggs and 2 egg yolks and sugar. Beat on medium-high speed for about 4 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy and pale in color. Add the canola oil and greek yogurt. Mix to combine. Carefully add in the chocolate mixture until well combined and smooth. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and make sure everything is well mixed, beat one last time.

Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. It is ok to have the batter be lumpy.

Pour the batter among the cake pans and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are just set and no longer wiggly in the center. (If using two pans, reserve leftover batter for cupcakes.) Remove and let cool five minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the pan. Grab large flat plates, line them with wax or parchment paper and invert the cakes onto the paper lined plates. Cover and let the cakes cool completely before frosting. (I made my cake a day early and kept them well wrapped in the freezer.)

While the cakes cool make the filling and frosting. For the peanut butter filling, add the butter and peanut butter to the bowl of a stand mixer (or you can use a hand held mixer) and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until combined and smooth. Remove from the bowl and set aside.

Now, make the buttercream:

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The Best Chocolate Buttercream

Source: Joy the Baker Cookbook

Yields: Enough to frost one 2-layer 8- or 9-inch cake, or 24 cupcakes

¾ c. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. salt
2 ½ to 3 c. powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Scant ½ c. heavy cream
1/3 c. Ovaltine powder (secret ingredient!!!)

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, cocoa powder and salt. Mixture will be very thick, but cream for about 3 minutes on medium speed.

Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the 2 ½ cups powdered sugar. Turn the mixer on low to incorporate the sugar while adding the milk and vanilla. As the sugar incorporates, gradually increase the mixer speed to medium-high. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat until smooth.

In a 1-cup measure, stir together the cream and Ovaltine. Turn the mixer to medium and pour the cream in a slow and steady stream until the frosting reaches your desired consistency: smooth, creamy and spreadable. Add more powdered sugar to adjust consistency. (Can store in fridge up to five days.)

Now grab your cakes. Place one cake on a cake plate or platter and add a large dollop (about 1 cup) of the peanut butter filling. Using a knife, or offset spatula, spread the filling out to the edge of the cakes, but leave about 1/4 to 1/8 inch border. Now grab another cake, place it right on top of the peanut butter layer. Add another large dollop of filling and spread out to the edges. Grab the last layer (if using) and place it (rounded side down) on top of the peanut butter layer. Add a small dollop of the peanut butter filing and spread out in an even thin layer.

Now take the chocolate frosting and add a large dollop right on top of the cake. Spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

To make the ganache, in a microwave safe bowl add the chocolate and cream. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stirring between each until melted. Once melted, stir in the bourbon. Pour the ganache on to the middle of the cake and spread to just the sides, allow the ganache to drip down the sides of the cake.

Store in the fridge in a sealed container, or at room temperature.

Friday Five: Big & Small

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

As with every August, life is feeling much like a whirlwind these days. End of summer! Back to school! New season starting! It’s exciting and exhausting. Thrilling and terrifying. Where did the summer go? And why are wild fires in California making Utah so gross right now, making everything so much worse? Hashtag-can’t-breathe.

Here are all of the other updates–both big and small:

5. Reunion

Tomorrow I’ll be reunited with these guys after not seeing them since late June/mid-July. We have a lot of catching up to do over Boom Boom sauce.

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4. Scentsy

If you know me, you know I love me some Scentsy. Yesterday I changed out all of our scents and I’ve decided this to be a new favorite. It’s the perfect pre-pumpkinpalooza that usually triggers Fall for me, but still a detour from summer and a nice nod to back to school. The would be the little of the updates, but sometimes it’s the little things…

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3. Band Camp

Band Camp started yesterday and Lee arrived today, so it’s getting real around here. Looking forward to a great season and a lot of late nights for the Brothers Falvey this week. It’s like their adult-version slumber parties.

2. No-Sugar Challenge, Week 2

I’m almost halfway there! Noticeable differences from the me 12 days ago include: feeling less bloated (hate that word) in general…less puffy, losing weight and having more energy than I’ve had in months. Amazing. Too bad I miss the stuff.

1. Bella

This would be the big news of this post. Bella and I met with a new vet today to take a look at her ears and get a general idea on where things stand. The good news is that I loved the vet and her staff, and am relieved to have found someone I feel like I can trust. The other good news is that when examining her ears she said they look amazing for a cocker her age. Clean, not swollen, pliable cartilage (ew), and in better condition than she could hope. The bad news: There’s nothing to treat to fix her acute deafness.

As crushing as it was, I was thankful for the almost two months I’ve had to get used to the idea. The weeks I’ve had to cry and grieve and build my resolve. Bella has adapted much quicker and stronger than I have. In fact, other than her hearing, she seems almost normal in every other way. She’s still the happiest, most affectionate puppy. And for that, I’m grateful.

There were options of cranial x-rays and chiropractic care, but right now I think we’re going to stay the current course. If she was younger, maybe, but I don’t feel like putting her (or me) through anything else at this point.

We are adjusting to our new normal and it doesn’t look so bad when she’s in the picture.

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# facetime fun, version 2015

In the now end-of-summer, back-to-school tradition, I interviewed Lily two nights ago, the night before she officially became another school year older. Like last year and the year before, it was quite a riot. Without further delay…

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Me: Hey, Lil!

Lily: Do you see that?

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Me: Are those bunny ears? Is there a bunny on your Dad’s head? …Happy Birthday, Tim.

Lily: Yes! A bunny!

{Slight detour to celebrate Tim’s birthday and open presents.}

Me: What grade do you start tomorrow?

Lily: Second.

Me: Did you meet your teacher today?

Lily: Yep.

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Me: What did you think? What does she look like?

Lily: She has hair to here…

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Me: Does she wear glasses?

Lily: Yes, but not NoNo glasses…just rectangle glasses like these.

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Lily: Want me to read you her letter? {Reads letter about what they’ll learn this year and names of all classmates.}

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Me: Do you think “Andrik” is a girl’s name or a boy’s name? (Don’t judge me, Target!)

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Lily: Boy’s. For sure.

Booh: Tell her what group you’re in.

Lily: I’m in the red group.

Me: Red. Red for power?

Lily: I’ve never been in a red group before.

Me: You’ve been in yellow.

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Lily: That’s not red.

Me: …. yes…I know. …Other than spiders and the state fair and Iditarod races, what else do you think you’ll learn about this year?

Lily: The Civil War.

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Me: You think you’re going to learn about the Civil War this year?! Did Poppa tell you to say that??

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Lily: My tooth said it. Hey, look, it’s stuck on my tooth.

Linc: Hi, NoNo….Hi, NoNo

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Me: What do you want to learn about the most?

Lily: Spiders. Not like as big as my mom’s hand or head, but this size.

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Lily: If they were bigger I’d be scared to pieces.

Me: I’m already scared. Only tell me about the nice ones.

Lily: Yeah, and then I’ll terrify you….

Me: What?

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Lily: hahahahahhahah

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Me: Tell me about your summer.

Lily: It was the worst summer I ever had.

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Me: Well, that’s dramatic!

Lily: I had a cast! And a brace!

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Me: What was your favorite part?

Lily: Spending time with NoNo (Sweet girl, I’ll pay you later.)

Me: That’s adorable.

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Tim: Can you see my old man eyebrow hair???

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Lily: hahahhahahahahahaha!

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Me: That’s *not* adorable.

Me (regrouping): What will you miss about the summer, Lil?

Lily: I don’t know.

Me: What about popsicles and staying up late? And no homework?

Lily: Yes, all of those.

Linc: Hi NoNo, Hi NoNo!

Me: Goodnight, Linc! Can I have a kiss?

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Me: What are you reading right now?

Lily: Little House on the Prairie

Me: What’s happening in the book?

Lily: An Indian just told Pa that he shot a panther.

Me: Sounds intense. What will you read next?

Lily: A Magic Treehouse book.

Me: Have you ever heard of Ramona Quimby?

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Lily: {shakes her head no}

Me: Up until now, she was my favorite second grader, but now that’s you! Do you think Ramona is a funny name?

Lily: I guess.

Me: Well, wait until you hear her sister’s name….BEEZUS. Isn’t that funny?

Lily: Beezus?

Me: Yeah, it’s like Jesus, but Beezus. So now you can pretend I’m Ramona and your mom’s Beezus. You can call her Beezus.

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Lily: hahahaha!

Tim: We’re trying to get her to call her mom!

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Lily: Yeah, and my dad wants to be called Pa.

Me: No. I’m vetoing that since he vetoed Bonzo. (long story) What else do you call your mom, Lily?

Lily: Boohbacca.

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Me: Ah, her Star Wars name. What’s your Star Wars name?

Lily: LilyLeia…or something with Lily or Leia in it. Linc can be Tiny-One, instead of Obi-Wan.

Me: Sounds good. What’s mine?

Lily: Mar2D2

Me: Right! And Mikey Joe’s?

Lily: Joe-C3P21. (oooorrr C3P-Joe…close enough)

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{Wouldn’t be a back-to-school facetime without a close-up of her teeth.}

Me: Do you remember how last year you had learned to speak Scotland?

Lily: Mmhmm, but I can speak a new language better.

Me: Oh yeah, what’s that?

Lily: British {starts singing really fast in an accent}

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Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you singing?

Lily: Sings *this* slower.  I can sing it in English too. {tries to sing again} Wait…what was it again?

Me: That’s impressive.  Tell me what happens next month.

Lily: I’m going to your place and seeing mountains for the first time.

Me: Are you going to hike a mountain?

Lily: Sure, but not to the tippy top, just up and back again.

Booh: …Bilbo Baggins.

Me: What are you going to wear tomorrow?

Booh: A skirt or a jumpy?

Lily: Skirt!

Me: What’s a jumpy?

Lily: It’s like overalls with a skirt.

Me: Can Bella say hi to Molly?

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Me: I know you’re ready, but do you think NoNo and your mom are ready for you to be in second grade?

Lily (whispering): She’s not ready! I don’t want to hurt her feelings.

Me: She’s not?! I’m not either. I hope you have a great first day, though. I’ll be thinking about you. Call me with an update?

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Lily: Okay. Love you, NoNo.

Me: Love YOU, Lily.

I know I’m not the only one whose head is spinning that she’s a second-grader now. I mean, I can still remember exact moments of being her age and the kids that were in my class, not to mention my crazy teacher. Amazing that it’s her turn to be in the second-grader spotlight. Shine on, my Lil!

Friday Five: No Sugar Challenge – Week 1

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

Salt or sugar on a teaspoon isolated on white background

Yes, you are reading this right. Last Monday I started a month-long challenge to go without sugar. Not the strawberry kind, but the cookies, ice cream and cake kind. *shrug* Me…one who would always rather be baking…is currently on a spoonful-of-sugar hiatus. Take that, Mary Poppins.

I came to this idea on my own accord after some deep thinking about ways I needed (and wanted) to change my life. My sugar dependency came immediately to mind. But I wasn’t always like this. I’d say my taste for sweets definitely snuck up on me after I turned 30, which is unfortunate since that’s when my metabolism started waving goodbye. But the addiction is real and must be stopped.

I was once addicted to Diet Coke. I mean, addicted in the I-drink-at-least-six-a-day kind of variety. This was in college and in a moment of clarity (or insanity) one Christmas break, I decided to stop cold turkey. I remember that first day so well. The shaking, the headache, the anger, the crying, the frantic feeling of an addict without her supply. It was scary how out of control I felt. Needless to say, I no longer drink caffeinated soft drinks. One sip and I’m back.

I can feel myself pulling toward sweets the same way I pulled toward Diet Coke. It’s been a whopping five days since I last had sugar (in the form of a PB&J sandwich….but…still), and here are a few thoughts I’ve been stewing over.

5. Tendencies

I’ve noticed since working from home that when I find myself bored, or stressed, or thinking through a problem, I easily and all too quickly find myself in the kitchen looking for something sweet. I tell myself that I need its exciting burst of productivity and clarity, paying no mind to the soul-crushing low that inevitably will come an hour later. The first step in changing a habit is to recognize why it’s there and where it comes from. Hello, self awareness.

4. Energy

Let’s go back to those highs and lows of my addiction. It’s like an energy and emotional roller coaster that I’m sure Joe is thrilled I’m stepping off. I wanted to eliminate the manic mood changes I’d have when my blood sugar would crash and I also want more long-lasting, consistent energy. Those are relationship goals that sugar will never have, so I knew I had to dump it.

3. Food

I should be clear that I’m not cutting carbs. That’s a deal breaker for me. But, I am cutting out a lot. I also started tracking my food–writing it down before I would eat–and you’d be surprised how much less snacking I do just because I don’t want to see it on paper. Ha! Hey, whatever works! Breakfast has truly been the hardest thing for me to tackle. I don’t really want to eat (or cook) eggs every morning, so I’ve been making steel-cut oatmeal with cinnamon and blueberries. It’s bland, but it’s working. I’m anxious to try fancier concoctions like this and this, minus the granola.

2. Cravings

These were bound to be around, especially in this first week, but I’m surprised at how minimal they’ve been. I had one stress-induced headache on day three–it was a doozy and one I would normally medicate with a jolt of sugar. Without it, I found myself grinding my teeth. #ew. Let’s not trade one bad habit for another. But, other than the familiar pang for a super sugary mocha iced coffee after my 5:30 wake-up call, I’m doing okay with everything else. Hopefully this resolve will last through the weekends, when I’m at my weakest and sugar = fun.

1. Goals

Things I want to accomplish with this challenge: I want to break my dependency on sugar for energy and feeling good. It does neither, at least not in the long run. I want to feel better in general. (Mind-blowing, I know.) I want to train new habits and find new foods that fuel me and not hurt me.

5 days down, 25 to go. Let’s do this.

Huge shout-outs to my sugar-busting partners in crime, Aunt Pam and OGE-bestie Ben. Thank you for doing this challenge with me, keeping me accountable, supporting my craziness and championing my end goals. You guys are awesome! Any others out there who want to jump on our no-sugar-added band wagon?

More updates as the weeks pass!

# the vore-tex 2015

Last Sunday we said goodbye to our BFFs Sean and Wallis after seven weeks of fun, food, hilarity and soul-searching conversations. Pretty typical for us.

I remember when they first got here and I sat down with our festival calendar and plotted out every service one of us had.

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Color-coded, duh.

It looked packed. I immediately was worried that we wouldn’t have enough time together. And by “enough” I usually mean every single day when it comes to them. I can’t get enough.

But, somehow, between a slew of services and work, we made the most of every chance we had.

The last concert that we all four played together was a Richard Rogers tribute concert. During the rehearsals I had half-listened to the pieces the horns didn’t play, but during the concert I had no choice but to focus on all of the songs and was struck by the last one, “Thank You So Much.”

It was everything I could think of to say to Sean and Wallis about our time together, especially that it is almost always “something between ridiculous and sublime.”

I might have cried on stage.

I don’t have the words to tell them how much their friendship means to me. I feel like I could say anything or do anything and they would just shrug and ask what we wanted to do for dinner. I love them for their all-encompassing support and care. So, thank you, guys. “Thank you for such a little, but lovely time.”

Here are a few highlights from our summer together:

# Argentian BBQ-ing, complete with homemade empanadas and a torrential downpour

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# Horning around

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# Afternoons by the pool…and, this year, taking on the slide like champs

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# Movie Nights and Sleepovers

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Last year we tackled our favorite childhood movies from the 80s. This year was all 90s movies. Choices included: Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Pretty Woman and The Rock.

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Movie night sleepovers usually involves trying new drinks…

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…with a side of my favorite enchiladas…yum.

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This is what my kitchen usually looks like after we hang. ha!

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# Road-tripping it up in Salt Lake City

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Introducing them to Caputo’s…

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…and dragging the boys to Pottery Barn Kids to find a baby gift. Thrilled, aren’t they?

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# Cuddling with the cutest puppies of all time, Bella & Sophie

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# Jump-starting cars…unlike last year’s flat tire lesson

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# Eating

FroYo after concerts…

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…introducing them to the magic that is Paco’s…

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…hitting up Herm’s for breakfast…

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…and, always, Rancheritos for the boys, who both seem to be mid-chew.

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These boys are serious about their Rancheritos.

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# And on the last night…Bowling

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This is what happens when you walk away from the lane to find a better ball. #bluedevilz

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It was such a fun night.

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And then that was it. Don’t make me cry.

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Here’s to a wonderful seven weeks and to seeing them sooner than next June. <insert all of the heart emojis>

Friday Five: Cha-cha-cha Changes

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

Today I feel is the turning point of my summer. And I’m reveling in it by sitting at my desk, working on a new website for work while streaming Cincinnati Symphony & Pops’ incredible Lumenocity.

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Unreal. (Even with the bad phone photos from my computer screen!) Those are laser lights on the facade of their grand Music Hall building. You can watch it live tomorrow night, too, at this link beginning at 9:35 EST. It makes me so grateful that I get to work in the arts during such an exciting, groundbreaking time. Classical music is alive and well, my friends. Kudos to my friend Amy, and all of the other CSO staff who make events like this possible.

There’s been a lot of movin’ and shakin’ this summer, but today marks a return to normal and the start of some new “yay!” and “ack!” things. Here’s a quick (boring) update:

5. Carousel

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After seven weeks, I’m officially getting off the Carousel. It’s been a fun ride, but I need my life back like yesterday. Our last performance was today and I might have done a happy dance in my head as I packed up my horn.

4. Kondo’ing

I’m halfway through cleaning up my life and I’m anxious to finish the KonMari steps before school and seasons starts. Everything’s gotta go!

3. Work

Lots of changes coming at work: staff shifts, a completely new website and some interactive program notes that I’m spearheading. We’re less than a month away and it’s scary to think about the amount of work that needs to happen before Labor Day, but somehow it always falls into place.

2. Bella

No change here, but I am going to meet with a new vet soon to check her ears and get a new plan of action in place.

1. The No-Sugar Challenge

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Because I don’t have enough going on (ha!), I’ve decided that starting Monday I’ll go 30 days without sugar. I had my last iced coffee this morning and savored every drop. It might seem a little dramatic for someone who loves to bake (and eat) as much as me, but I know when I have a problem and I’m too reliant on sugar to get through my long days. I lack energy so I constantly pump sugar into my veins for a quick fix only to completely crash hours later. It’s been a vicious cycle and I want off. Hoping to break my addiction and find a new moderation for the future. Anyone want to join me? I have one more cake recipe to post from LAST MONTH, but consider that the last sweets recipe for a while.

Here’s to the last haul of summer and finding my normal again.