Monday, August 5, 2019

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies

This might be a pretty uncool thing to say, but cookies might be my all-time favorite breakfast dessert.

Yes-- I love cake, ice cream is good, cobblers and pies are fine, and you can never go wrong with a good hot fudge brownie-- but, I honestly just think that cookies are superior to them all.

And here's the interesting thing about cookies: even though they are probably the most casual of sweet things and have reputation for being the cool, fun person that you want at every party, they are actually probably one of the most touchy, least-forgiving of the common desserts, in my opinion.
(Oh my gosh, cookies are the Taylor Swift of baked goods!)
Not only do they have more of a drastic difference between store-bought and homemade than most other desserts, but you can mess them up pretty easily by over-baking them or leaving them on the pan for too long or just having a sup-par recipe.

Because of my love and respect for chocolate chip cookies in particular, I spent a couple of years trying out tons of different recipes in search for THE ONE. The perfect, cookie soulmate.
(This was also during the years I was chronically pregnant and nursing babies all day, so I had the time and motivation to commit to such a noble cause.)

And, you guys, I'm proud to say that my pathetic life priorities TOTALLY paid off because I found it.
The perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.

They're thick and chewy and moist (sorry.. there's really no way to warn people when that word is going to pop up out of nowhere) and perfect.

It turns out that the secret all along was: corn starch! Who knew?
Also, I like to use milk chocolate chips, rather than semi-sweet, which can get a little too rich.

Say goodbye to thin, dry, crispy cookie imposters forever, because your heroes have arrived.
The only possible downside I can think of to making these would be that people might start only liking you for the cookies and then you won't know who your real friends are. 
(Which must be how Taylor feels all the time, poor thing.)

But, who cares! You'll have cookies to drown your sorrows in!

Enjoy :)

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies
(found somewhere on the internet with a link that no longer works)

3/4 cup (a stick and a half) softened butter
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons corn starch 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees
-Cream butter and sugars together, mix in beaten egg and vanilla
-Add dry ingredients, then chocolate chips.
-Drop spoonfuls on ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 8-10 minutes (edges should be golden)
-Transfer to a cooling rack and try not to devour all at once.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Marriage: 9 Years/9 Reminders

Photo by Kuenne Photography

This summer, Luke and I celebrated our 9 year anniversary and this fall, we will have been together for 10.
I love being married and I love the way that it's changed and grown me.
But it's hard.
And it takes a lot of fighting for our marriage for it to be good and healthy. Sometimes fighting each other, but mostly fighting ourselves.
Luke and I had both been hurt by marital dysfunction and divorce before we said our vows, which made those vows that much more important to us. We were going to make this work, or die trying. What we had seen was that marriages never suddenly break. They crumble. 
Grain by grain. Hurt by hurt.  Divorces are never sudden, they are always years in the making, no matter what the circumstances involved. 
We've also seen lots of God's grace and healing and redemption through those crappy circumstances. There are no ashes that He can't make beautiful again.

Even though 9 years is nothing in the grand scheme of things (if anything, the longer you are married, the more you realize how LITTLE you know), I feel like time and life have shown me what the important things are. The things I need to be constantly reminding myself of, to grow in or not get lazy about, that keep my marriage from crumbling and make it sweet and safe and lasting.

(None of these are fixes or bandaids for abusive or toxic relationships, please don't hear that. There is a lot of additional help, like counseling and law enforcement, that is absolutely necessary for those.)

This is not a How To list written by an expert, but a Reminder list written by a sinner.
If anything, this list is for myself. 
But I hope it encourages you and your marriage too.

1.) Be kind to each other.

We can check off all of the lists of best practices in marriage we want. But things like ‘Weekly Date Nights’ or ‘Never Going To Bed Angry’ won’t matter at all if we overlook this simplicity in its purest forms.

Being harsh and sarcastic and cutting each other down will cause more damage than we realize in the moment.
Being gentle and kind and patient and encouraging will always go farther than we could ever imagine.

 There are plenty of ways to joke or flirt or call each other out without taking low blows. Work hard to make genuine kindness the primary language of your home. The rewards of it will last long and leave a sweet legacy.

2.) Say “I’m sorry”, quickly and often.

Say it about the little things and the big things. 
Say it before we dig our heels in and fire back.
Say it without adding “but, if you hadn’t…” afterwards.
Say it in front of our kids so that they learn how to say it.

Say it because we value humility over arrogance.
Say it because we love our spouse more than we love our our own pride.

3.) Forgive, quickly and often.

Bottom line, we can forgive, because we’ve been forgiven. 
I can give Luke mercy over the little things and the big things, because he’s given me mercy over a million little things and plenty of big things. 
Even if he hadn’t, God has forgiven me of even more. Way more than I deserve.
When we know how desperately in need we are of forgiveness, it becomes easier to extend it.

Forgiveness doesn’t equal trust. But trust can be restored too. 

4.) Have good sex.

The world is constantly yelling in our ears all sorts of things about sex, and the Church has a sad history of barely whispering about it, if not being completely silent on the subject.

So let me turn up the volume a bit. Here’s what I mean by good sex: 

Hot, passionate sex. 
Clumsy, laughing sex. 
Half-clothed, quickie sex. 
Sick, tired sex. 
Crying sex. 
Grief sex. 

The sum of all of these parts is good sex. Not elevating one of them as the standard of success or failure, but having and appreciating it all. In different days, weeks, and seasons and frequencies.

Good sex changes with two people who are changing together. 
Good sex keeps other people out of the bedroom, whether they are real or a fantasy or behind a screen. 
Good sex is honest, and puts love and grace to where shame is. 
(Read that again. Until you believe it.)

Good sex has magical healing properties. Have it often and watch what happens.

5.)  Speak truth to the lies.

They don't love me. They don't see me. They don't care.

The list goes on and on and the lies get way more specific and way more ugly. 
But those things we believe when we're hurt or lonely are usually just that: lies.
Even when the busyness of life and both of our own selfishness makes a mess of things, there is usually always at least some evidence around us that contradicts the lies. Evidence of them loving us and seeing us and caring for us, even if it's not shown in the way we'd prefer.
There are also a million reasons why we married our spouse in the first place, and those are worth remembering when we start going down the dark hole.

See the lies for what they are, speak truth to them, and fight to believe the best of each other.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  
1 Corinthians 13:7

6.) Have each other's backs.

This covers a lot of different areas and looks different in each one.
It could mean picking up the slack when they're overwhelmed, or being the family cheerleader when they're down. (Or it could mean the opposite: not being Pollyanna for a few minutes and just being real and empathetic.)
It always means:
Being there for them to process hard things. Protecting their vulnerability. Not trashing them to our friends or family. Challenging them to be the best version of themselves. Being fiercely loyal.

Translation: Just be a good friend.

7.) Have good friends.

I’m a big believer in the importance of having deep, healthy friendships outside of marriage, for the sake of your marriage. In our closest friendships, we encourage each other, challenge each other, get REALLY vulnerable, have a lot of fun, never compete with each other, watch each other’s backs, and preach the Gospel to one another. 
 Luke and I regularly encourage each other to go out and spend time with our friends, because we know how important it is for our souls. (And we only get close with people who root for both of us and our marriage, and never against it.) The ways that both of our close friendships and our couple friends have grown us and been a safe haven have only helped our relationship.

Take the time to invest in close friendships and find couple friends. They keep your marriage stronger and make life more fun.

8.) Don’t expect them to be you.

Or you to be them. The differences of each team member are what makes them good. The differences are almost as important as our common ground.

Not everyone should be the quarterback on a team or the drummer of a band or the color red in a painting. It would be a boring, sad, dysfunctional unit if everyone was doing and acting the same. What makes anything beautiful is the combination of unique traits. 

It can sometimes drive us crazy to deal or work with people who aren't like us or who we can't understand. But there's so much good purpose in that.
Look at your marriage and see the beauty of the different qualities that you both bring to the table. Don't try to homogenize the colorful life out of it, welcome and appreciate it.
Because God will use your differences to make you both better.
And your team has way more to offer this way, than if it was just you.

9.) Don’t expect them to make you happy.

Let me explain. 
There will be, or should be, lots of happiness. 
Joking and laughing and fun and romance and intimacy are a must. Those things are gifts, and they create a deep and unique bond that fill our hearts with life and joy.

But there is a longing in every soul that’s deeper than that. It’s a desire to be known and loved and understood and satisfied. And no matter how often we ask other humans (particularly our spouse) to fulfill that sense of belonging and value, they won’t ever fully be able to. 
And often without realizing, we end up resenting it and punishing them for it.

Only God can fill that void, because He created us to have it. 
We were always meant to be satisfied by Him. 
And sin broke that. But when we put our trust in Him, and our restless souls are filled with His word and prayer and community with other believers, our void is filled. And our souls find rest.

I know I’ve used this meal analogy before (food is my thing, ok?), but it’s applicable here too:
Marriage isn’t dinner. It’s dessert. We need to stop asking it to fill us up. 
It’s meant to be enjoyed when we’re already full.

The person sleeping next to us can’t ultimately make us happy in life. 
Our kids can’t either. Neither can our jobs or our hobbies.

But Jesus can. And no matter how much we’ve run from or avoided Him, He welcomes us home with open arms every single time.

Experiencing God's love and grace doesn't just give rest to our restless souls, but it makes us able to love others for who they are, instead of who we want them to be. Especially the person we're married to. 

This is will always be the most important reminder to myself and Luke's to himself. And our constant prayer for our marriage. That God would bind our wandering hearts to himself, and keep us trusting and seeking Him together and fighting for each other.
 Until the end of our days.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Current Faves: Colorado or Bust Edition

Tonight we are heading out on a family road trip to Colorado, where Luke and I are from.  We have all sorts of fun things planned, like trips to the Zoo and Garden of the Gods, a spa day with just me and my mom, and some get togethers with friends and family. 
After the last couple months we've had, we've been really looking forward to the quality time together and the relaxation.

(You really can't help but relax in a place where the air is so thin. Also because everywhere you go there's at least a small whiff of pot.)
(Just kidding.)
(Sort of.)

Anyway! We like to do the majority of our road trip driving through the night, so that our kids sleep as much as possible (limiting bathroom stops and "Are we there yet?''s) and we have as much time with family as possible, even if we're completely loopy once we get there.

But before we head out, I wanted to share some of my current favorite things with you:

1.) As You Wish (The Audiobook)

I'm convinced that there are only two types of people in this world:
1.) People who LOVE The Princess Bride, and grew up watching and quoting it regularly.
2.) People who have never seen The Princess Bride.

If you're in the first category and you haven't read As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (the actor who plays Wesley) please stop reading this right now and go find a copy.
Specifically a copy of the audiobook, and here's why: not only does Cary read it himself, making it that much more endearing and personal, but his impression of Rob Reiner whenever he's quoting him is pure gold. It makes me smile or laugh EVERY TIME. Also there are excerpts from the other actors/filmmakers (like Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, etc.) who voice it themselves and it makes it that much more special to hear their experiences from them.
This book is such a gem because he lets you in on what it was like to make the movie that most of us consider to be a magical part of our childhood or adolescence. He shares what it was like to be cast as Wesley, the search for his counterpart which would be Robin Wright, mishaps and disasters that almost ruined the movie, the nerve-wrecking intensity of having to learn sword fighting from scratch, and so many incredible stories about the lovable Andre the Giant.
It's completely enchanting from start to finish, and will make you appreciate the movie in new ways.
Luke and I are planning on listening to it (again!) on our trip tonight.

It's available on Amazon, Audible, or at your local library.

2.) My New Hobby Lobby Earrings 

Yes, you read that right- they're from Hobby Lobby! I almost didn't get them because I have a problem with stripes (the problem is that I love them and half of my wardrobe is striped), but I decided to throw caution to the wind and I'm so glad I did.
In general I'm drawn to big, leathery earrings (which these are) and I've found that the black and white stripes stand out in an unusual but really cute way. I've gotten compliments on them every time I wear them, and YOU CAN TOO!

Go grab them for $6.99 (which is basically stealing), and some of their other cute earrings while you're at it (I've got my eye on those blue leafy ones too).
 You can find them up at the front towards the registers. 
(Right past the magnets, bibles, Joyce Meyer books, and those TY stuffed animals with the big, creepy eyes.)

3.) Seasoned Tuna Packets

Okay, I realize that packaged tuna can definitely be filed under 'bizarre things to get excited and or/write about', but you know how I get when I'm jazzed about something and there's no stopping that train. Plus, let's face it, I'm sure I've written about and recommended weirder things to you than this.

These have been my go-to summer lunch or snack, because they are so magnificently flavorful for something so easy and healthy. Both brands Bumble Bee and Starkist offer a ton of different flavors (found in the aisle with the canned fish), my personal favorites being the Lemon Sesame & Ginger and the Spicy Thai Chili (followed closely by the Siracha). You can eat them on their own (yes, they are that good) but I usually try to involve an avocado, maybe some hard boiled egg and cucumber.

They go for a buck a piece, people. They are so refreshing and delicious, you need them in your life.
So please.. move past the concerning fact that I just spent time out of my day writing about tuna, and trust me on this. You will not be disappointed. 

4.) My New-ish Boxing Gloves/Bag

Earlier this spring, I got myself some boxing gloves and a punching bag (which Luke hung in our basement for me) and it's been awesome.
I wanted a different exercise option at home other than workout videos or lifting small weights, and because I have hyper-mobility (douple-jointed!), a lot of standard exercises like push-ups are hard on me and my over-flexible limbs and joints. (I'm like Elastigirl! Except that she can use her powers to save the world whereas I'm borderline useless. Other than that, we are basically the same.)

But I've always enjoyed kickboxing, and am able to work muscles that I usually have a harder time getting to, like my shoulders and certain arm areas. Plus I've loved that depending on the intensity and pace, I can get a really good full-body workout in a pretty short amount of time.

Punching bags can be pretty easy to find on Craigslist or at sporting goods stores, and the Everlast gloves (make sure to buy hand wraps too) are pretty widely available. I got mine HERE.

If you have the space for it, and you're looking for a treadmill or workout video alternative, this might be a fun option for you.

Plus, lets face it, you guys.... it's just fun to punch stuff.
Enough said.

Well, thats all for now.
 I have to go finish packing and make sure the kids didn't smuggle anything weird into their stuff, like I don't know.. the cat.
OR a bunch of sauce packets from Taco Bell (this has happened before and ended horribly.)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Hair Cuts, Cats, and Foster Care

Hello! I haven't been able to write in awhile because we've had a lot going on in life, so it feels good to be back and at it again. Here's a few quick life updates:

1.) We lost our kitty :(

Stella, our farm cat, who has been the most amazing cat for the last couple years, disappeared over a month ago and hasn't been seen since. We live in the country, and she spends most of her time outside so common sense would suggest that at this point she's probably not coming back. 
We've been sad about it, because she really was the most sweet, patient cat who was a great mama and mouse hunter.

Fortunately, we had kept one of her kittens around (the rest we had already found homes for) and she is as delightful as ever. 

If there was labrador puppy version of a cat, this one is it. 
She loves everyone, follows us around, cries when she gets lonely, purrs whenever she's touched, and plays ALL THE TIME. 
While Stella's magnificence is irreplaceable, Buttercup is a pretty close second (my mom named her while we were watching The Princess Bride and it just kinda stuck.)

2.) We ended our season of being a foster family.

After some time of thinking and praying about it, Luke and I decided that we needed to not renew our foster license (which was coming up next month) and focus on some important things at home.
Recently a couple of our biological kids, one in particular, have been going through some hard and challenging things, and have just really needed our attention in unique ways and extra amounts. 
It became pretty obvious that as much as we have all loved this ministry, that we needed to mainly just focus on our first one now.

The past 2 years have been a really precious season. We've fostered 10 different kids and we're able to love on and care for and pray over them all for different lengths of time. The whole experience was hard and crazy and beautiful and challenging and good. It ran the gamut of emotions, anywhere from "We wish we could keep them forever!" to "Oh my gosh, WE CANNOT HANDLE THIS." 

It grew us and grew our kids, and was not at all but also exactly what we expected it to be. 
So it's been a bittersweet process for this season to come to a close, because of our love and passion for this ministry. But we also are going into a new season with a lot of hopefulness and peace that what is being taken off and put on our plate is exactly what God has for us right now.

Maybe we'll foster again someday, but until then we have our priorities ordered and our work cut out for us.

We had two foster girls living with us for the past two months, so the morning after they left I took the kids to the store and let them each pick out whatever garbage cereal they wanted as a special treat. It was a Thank You for sharing their parents and their space and their life for the past couple years, and being examples of Jesus to all of these little kids.

They were super blessed and excited and then they pooped neon green for three days.

What a gift.

3.) Vienna got a haircut!

It got to be that time again to chop my darling daughter's hair off.

As much as Luke and I both love her hair long (especially with that natural blonde ombre that most people have to spend a fortune to get), she also just has A TON of it. And the responsibility of having to brush it out every day (or at least, you know...every few days) has just proved too great a burden for a busy 8-year-old to bear. Which hey, I completely understand! When you have legos to build, and paintings to paint, and swing sets to swing on, and mermaid/princess/pirates to transform into every hour of the day--you just don't have any minutes to waste in front a mirror.

But then of course, it only takes so long of living with that level of beauty regiment before your hair starts dreading itself and you consistently look homeless. 

So we decided it was time for an easy, summer cut that wouldn't require a ton of work or tears for either of us.

This is the picture I took right after we brushed it out as much as we could and before I cut it.


At least six inches gone and looking six years older (that part is unacceptable.)

I was hesitant to cut it now before her bangs had grown out to chin length, but I decided to go ahead with it and just shape them a bit to make it work.
It's about an inch shorter than I was planning on going, but I came across a pretty bad knot that would have cost us an hour of combing and crying to get out, so I decided to just cut it out. But this way, I probably won't have to give her another haircut for a couple of months.

She's looking adorable and she's super happy with it (possibly because now that she has even less to maintain, she'll aspire to reach new levels on the Ragamuffin Scale.)

But we'll call it a success either way.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Spring Day!

Yesterday we celebrated our family-made, annual tradition of Spring Day.

Luke and I invented this day a few years ago so that we could enjoy all of the seasonal fun activities with our kids, like baskets and egg hunts, without it completely overtaking Easter Sunday. It's become one of our favorite days to spend together as a family, which probably has something to do with the fact that we get to do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, and there's no pressure of any outside obligations.  Literally the perfect made-up holiday. 
Outside of maybe Galentines Day or Festivus.

This year I filled their "baskets" (which were actually just paint pails from Menards) with chalk, bubbles, kites, umbrellas, garden stakes, bug catcher sets, and little pots with flower seeds in them.

Every year is a little bit different, but I always stick to the theme of things to do or wear outdoors, and I love being able to bless them with some new, fun things for the season.

And they enjoy it a little too.

Before we gave them their buckets, I had gone outside with a bag of plastic eggs filled with peanut M&Ms, and hid them all around our property. 

They each had around 18 to find, and they have their own designated colors (which we learned we had to do after the first year when it was a free for all, and one of our kids ended up collecting 90% of them all in under 10 minutes, because she's fast and has a wider gate than her brothers. Lesson learned.)

We unleashed them to go hunt for eggs and enjoyed watching them go from confused to victorious over and over and over again. 

And yes, I did put a couple of eggs high up in a tree. 
Look, I really believe that as parents, it's our job to create safe, loving environments to challenge our children in, and if we happen to find a little sick satisfaction in those moments, well then so be it.

 As we watched Boaz awkwardly navigate through branches, Luke said "Babe, that is so savage and I LOVE it."

I also hid a few in our chicken coup and underneath the cars. 
Parenting is fun.

This year we also hid one golden egg that was available for anyone to find, which had a couple quarters in it. I honestly could not be more proud, or shocked, that it was August who found it.

This is the same kid who who will collapse into a full blown nervous breakdown because he can't find his shoes WHEN THEY'RE RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM.

Hopefully this is the first sign of a major breakthrough.

We always enjoy the first day in the year when we're able to play outside together as a family. It might not have been super warm out, but the snow was almost all melted and there was just enough sunshine and wind to enjoy flying kites, blowing bubbles, and coloring with chalk.

We eventually came inside to dye eggs, and even though it sort of looks like I'm wearing my I'm super annoyed right now face, it's actually my Look how relaxed I'm being while my happy kids are dropping breakable objects into wobbly bowls of dye that are spilling all over my table face. 
(Not to be confused with my I really need a root canal face. They probably all kind of look the same.)

Anyway, yes that is me. Miss Cool and Collected!

Seriously though, I'm almost as proud as of myself for staying so chilled out as I was of August for finding that gold egg. Neither of us ruined the whole day with our weird life struggles, and I feel like that was a big win for both of us.

We helped the kids plant seeds in their mini terra cotta pots, got dirt everywhere (which paired nicely with the spilled dye and all of the paper stuffing strewn across the house) and called it a day.
A really good day.

I also use Spring Day as a reason to start putting up Easter decor, which I feel always helps me get into the spirit of celebrating. We've really enjoyed the practical benefits of separating this day and Easter, so that I don't have to squeeze a million magical activities into an afternoon in between dressing up, church, and making a big feast. 
Plenty of people can handle that without being medicated, I'm just not one of them.

I especially love celebrating the coming of Spring because we live in Minnesota, where winters are long and cold and dark. It gives us the opportunity to point our kids to the awesomeness of God, who created different seasons and unique beauty in all of them. I think we have a deep and special appreciation for all of the new life He brings this time of year, because we feel like we're kind of coming back to life a little bit too.

God is so good. And as cheesy as it sounds, there really is nothing better than celebrating His goodness and beauty together as a family.

Especially when it includes watching our kids collect eggs from ridiculous places.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Current Faves: Can It Be Spring Now? Edition

Well, it's that time of year again. 

We are post-holidays but pre-spring, so here in Minnesota, we're all trapped in seasonal limbo where we have to make peace with the fact that it's just going to be cold until it isn't.

Some people make that peace just fine (...I mean, I don't know who they are.. but I assume they're out there) and some people (Hi!) have to fight extra hard to not slip into a seasonal depression coma with lots of exercise and weird vitamin supplements that their mom sent them. 
(Thanks Mom! ..These are legal, right?)

Speaking of waiting, my slutty farm cat is VERY pregnant again and we are all on high alert for her to go into labor at any moment. It feels like it's been a while since our house has had a bunch of adorably hyperactive kittens running around everywhere, so we're all excited.

And in between all of the waiting and the cold and the weird supplements, I have been enjoying a few things, namely:

1.) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

My sister-in-law recommended this Netflix original movie (with a ridiculously long title) to me last year, and I finally watched it on one of my flights to Utah a few weeks ago. You know how every so often you watch something that becomes an instant all time favorite? This was that for me.
Set in the post-WWII era of Great Britain, it follows a young female writer who is struggling to enjoy the new normal now that the war is over and she's gaining success as an author. She ends up traveling to the island of Guernsey and befriending the members of a book club there, while also trying to unravel the mystery of what happened to one of their club members.

I really cannot understate what a stunning film this is.
The whole movie, literally every single scene, is captivating and beautiful, from start to finish.
It's so rich in visual beauty, between of all of the little details like old book pages and flower petals and typewriter clacking, to the grandness of the British coastline.
It's also so rich in it's heart-felt themes of a group of people finding refuge and hope and healing in community.
It's pure and charming and ends happily (which is an important quality to me for books and movies, and I will not apologize for that.)

I loved it so much that I literally came home from my trip to Utah, had my husband watch it with me, and then made my brother watch it again with me the next weekend. (They both also enjoyed it, by the way.) So I would say being excited to watch one movie THREE times in a two week period is a pretty strong testament to it's enjoyability level.

So go watch it ASAP on Netflix, and feel free to invite me over, I'm obviously down for another viewing.

2.) My New Ukulele

So I've had a little crush on ukuleles for a while now and whenever Luke and I have seen or heard them for the past few years I usually mumble something like "Man, it'd be so cool to play the ukulele..." and apparently SOMEONE was listening and decided to get me one for my birthday.
Which is... so sweet. That guy sure knows how to earn points with me, and has become an awesomely creative gift-giver.
Funny Story: When Luke and I were newly engaged, for my birthday he got me.. struts.
I still don't even know what those do!
But apparently my car needed them and there is nothing more romantic than fixing a Toyota Camry for your confused fiancé.
So that little anecdote is proof, not only of how someone can make such a successful turn-around in the gift-giving department, but also the power of young, slightly blind love. Because there is no way that now, almost nine years into marriage, anything purchased at Napa Auto Parts would be considered an acceptable birthday gift.

Anyway, back to my ukulele, Luke got me a build-your-own kit, so that we could do it as a project together and choose whichever stain/paint/decoration I wanted it to have. We've been working on it for the past few weeks and we finally got it done, which means that my family now gets to enjoy the beautiful sounds of their musically-incompetent mother try to learn a new instrument.

Aaaaand not to brag, but I almost have 'You Are My Sunshine' nailed down like a pro, so I'm pretty much expecting a call from America's Got Talent any day now.

On Sunday, Vienna requested that we take pictures of each other with my Ukulele and I think she kinda looks like an American Girl doll holding one of those guitar accessories.
But way less creepy and with better bangs. 

And here's a blurry picture of me, laughing at my daughter, who has inherited so much of my clumsiness, that she was literally tripping while just standing there taking a picture. Bless.

3.) Salt Fat Acid Heat (The Book)

Speaking of great gifts that Luke has given me, for Christmas he got me a copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat (the book that inspired the Netflix special that I wrote about in my last current faves post.)

It is such a down-to-earth yet highly educational guide to, like the title says, master the elements of good cooking. I wish I had this book over decade ago, when I would sit in Barnes and Noble, reading cookbooks and bringing stacks of them home from the library (I still do those things.) I love food and reading step-by-step recipes, hoping to absorb as much knowledge of cooking and ingredients that I can, but most cookbooks really lack teaching actual food principles. They are great at instructing the What, When, and How of a recipe, but not the Why. WHY should I cut it this way or add this first or season it at this time?
I whole-heartedly believe that we should be asking Why? in both the small and big areas of life, a tendency of mine that I'm sure has exhausted plenty of people (like say, my poor parents and every teacher I ever had), BUT has also been the means of how my faith and beliefs and methods have been strengthened (if they're good and true) or weakened (if they're bad and false) time and time again.

Ok, I've derailed a little bit again, but here's my point- How will we ever really understand and enjoy and be confident in the purpose of something unless we ask Why?
Samin Nosrat is not only a talented chef, but an amazing teacher who does the incredible job of answering every Why? before we even know to ask it. She doesn't just want to give out recipes, but she genuinely wants to help us develop our own flavor instincts to build off of. Even though I wish I had this book years ago, I'm so happy I have it now, as a constant reference guide to how to bring out the best in ingredients and create amazing dishes.

 I think everyone who loves food should have a copy of this, whether they love to cook or hate it. I would even bet that understanding the Why's and How's of food would actually produce an anti-cooking convert. Get it on Amazon HERE.

4.) Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Last fall, I was hanging out with an old friend when I was in Colorado, and he told me that I desperately needed to watch the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I didn't know much about it, but the only previews I had ever seen for it hadn't ever left me particularly interested, and it sort of came across like a cheesy sitcom, so why waste my time? But he told me that it was "SO FUNNY" and I asked how good it was compared to Parks and Rec (which to me is the gold standard), to which he said, and I quote... "Oh, it's just as good."

And I gasped, because this lunatic was obviously uttering television blasphemy. How could it possibly be that good?

But fast forward to last month, I was in bed with a head cold and needed to mindlessly veg out on something, I decided to give this show a try.

You guys.
I am happy to admit that I ate a big, fat piece of humble pie that day because it turns out that my lunatic friend was ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.
It is soooooo funny. I laugh out during pretty much every episode.
And unlike a lot of shows, where you have to just shut your eyes and survive the entire first season before it finds its groove, the pilot episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine will have you entertained and hooked right away. The show is centered in a Brooklyn police precinct, and the main character (played by Andy Samberg) is a naturally smart, talented detective who is great at his job, but has the maturity of a 15-year-old boy. Which just makes for good comedy.
 If you love the clever and witty banter of Arrested Development, the pranks and shenanigans of The Office, and a group of lovable and unique characters who have a bizarre loyalty for each other like Parks and Recreation... I guarantee you will enjoy this show.

All of the seasons are available on Hulu.

Well, that's all for now.
I hope that one or more of the these little gems can spice up your life a little too while we wait for Spring. If all else fails, I can always come serenade you with a lovely rendition of 'You Are My Sunshine', which will FOR SURE put you in a better mood.