Meta and another dinner party

My friend, Maria, is in town, so this morning we went to Bikram together. We had a great time, despite the profuse fountain of sweat spurting off of the man behind us. Afterward Maria humorously referred to the situation as “his hydroponics.” That made me laugh.

Then we went to Liberty Heights for cheese, and then to Harmon’s for groceries and lunch. We ate in their little cafe area and talked a lot about blogs.

Maria had a lot of great insights into blogging, one of which was that our children deserve privacy. I agree, and so I came away conflicted about my own blog (which deprives my children of that right). So I’ve been thinking, and here are the reasons I blog:

a) personal therapy/fun

b) to preserve memories and chronicle our family life

c) for my sweet grandma’s daily reading material

d) to help any interested people to get a glimpse of how some Mormons live (light on a hill and all that stuff, except when I’m writing all the bad stuff down–then the light gets pretty dim!). I know there are a lot of monetized Mormon mommy blogs out there, and from what I’ve read and heard of them, I don’t think they represent my “Mormon mommy” life at all. So even though I would never try to monetize this blog or even try to reach a large audience, at least I’m representing my reality as best as I can.

e) because I must be a narcissist. I mean, who else blogs their thoughts every single day? Even though this troubles me greatly, the thoughts keep happening and the blogs keep getting written…

For reasons c and d, not to mention what a hassle it was for me to read my own blog when I had the password system in place, my blog is public. But maybe sometime in the future, that will change again.

We also talked about reading blogs. Personally, I’ve cut out reading any blog that does not teach me to do something (like cook or craft). By my standards, I would not read my own blog if it weren’t my own.

So enough meta. Tonight we had a great dinner party with Maria, her husband, Kyle, and a mutual friend, Cynthia Barlow. I had heard a lot about Cynthia but never met her before tonight. What a lovely person! I am excited because I think she might buddy up with me on a yoga pass, which would be awesome.

Also, to record the bad stuff: I burnt the squash for the dinner party. It was pretty mortifying. I did the squash rings again, and I was SO excited because I amped up the egg and cheese in the filling…but then I baked them on the bottom rack so that there’d be room for the souffle (tonight’s menu was an exact repeat from our dinner party on Friday), and the bottoms of the squashes burned. So sad!

Today’s pictures are few, but here they are:

Abe and Lydia playing with Lydia's play food.

Abe and Lydia playing with Lydia’s play food.

Then Abe left, so Lydia and I played with her new doctor set. After curing me, she helped out her sick doll, Tessa. At one point, Lydia took all of my measurements and exclaimed, "You look great!" I love this little girl.

Then Abe left, so Lydia and I played with her new doctor set. After curing me, she helped out her sick doll, Tessa. At one point, Lydia took all of my measurements and exclaimed, “You look great!” I love this little girl.

Lazy, sleepy Sunday…

First of all, I fixed yesterday’s links, so that the scherzo is now public. Oopsy! Thanks, Mom and Grandma, for catching that. Also, apologies for how out of tune the piano is. It’s right by a huge single pane window, and the temperature changes may have just permanently damaged it. The upper register is especially unpleasant.

Today at church we made it through Sacrament without having to take the kids to the hall! Wonder should abound at this abnormality. Our strategy was basically to feed them junk food the entire time, and wow–it worked! The families surrounding us were probably aghast at the things our children were eating so early in the morning, but hey. I’m trusting in the good influence of church to ease judgment all around.

And that was basically the apex of our day. We spent the rest of the day sleeping, eating, and watching The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe. We used it as an intro to understanding the atonement, although Lydia’s grasp of that concept still seems precarious–at best. Since C.S. Lewis was SO explicit in his analogy, our job of translating the story to Lydia was easy, but the hard part came when we tried to explain the concept of laying down innocent life to save the transgressor. No problem with the resurrection, though; the minute Aslan appeared again it was all cheers, smiles, and hooray.

After the girls went to bed, Abe and I finished off Prince Caspian (started yesterday) for good measure. We are movied/analogied out.

Here are today’s pictures:

This really should be in yesterday's blog, since I organized it yesterday. After the influx of Christmas books, I overhauled the bookshelf in the girls' room and moved a bunch of books to other parts of the house. This is the final product--I am SO proud.

This really should be in yesterday’s blog, since I organized it yesterday. After the influx of Christmas books, I overhauled the bookshelf in the girls’ room and moved a bunch of books to other parts of the house. This is the final product–I am SO proud.

Abe took pictures during our bedtime routine.

Abe took pictures during our bedtime routine. Mary had just finished brushing Lydia’s hair.

I got lots of snuggles tonight.

I got lots of snuggles tonight.

She also played with my lips...

She also played with my lips…

competition upload complete!

Thanks to the combined baby-sitting efforts of Tom, Suzanne, and my mom, Abe and I were able to sneak off to the temple this morning. Some of the women who worked in initiatories radiated so much light and intelligence that they reminded me of my mom, and then I got to thinking: How do I get from point A (who I am now) to point B (where my mom and these women are)? Maybe it’s a matter of time, experience, and perhaps more suffering. But maybe it’s also a matter of constant mental discipling; I need to consistently notice and replace any thoughts that don’t serve a compassionate or loving cause. That’s hard! But I really, really, really, really want to be a wiser, kinder person by the time I’m a grandma, so I figure no time like the present to get started.

On that note, I will refrain from stating all of the negative, self-critiquing commentary that bubbled up when I watched the videos I recorded tonight. My competition deadline is December 31st, so Abe helped me record some pieces tonight. I won’t even post the Brahams, because after watching it I realized I need to overhaul the whole piece…but here are the Chopin Scherzo no. 2 and the first movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto.

Also, today’s pictures:

I tried making zimsterne again for my grandma. My mom went back to Springfield this afternoon, so this was another early morning project...

I tried making zimsterne again for my grandma. My mom went back to Springfield this afternoon, so this was another early morning project…

My mom loves her new scarf from Karin and wanted me to take a picture in case Karin reads this entry.

My mom loves her new scarf from Karin and wanted me to take a picture.

Lydia loves being with her cat again.

Lydia loves being with her cat again.

She gets wistful when she thinks about his adventures and says, "I hope my cat stays with me!"

She gets wistful when she thinks about his adventures and says, “I hope my cat stays with me!”

She also dressed herself today.

She also dressed herself today.

More fun with Puss.

More fun with Puss.

Mary hugged me when I got back from the temple. Instead of hugging her back, I took advantage of the camera in my hands and got this instead.

Mary hugged me when I got back from the temple. Instead of hugging her back, I took advantage of the camera in my hands and got this instead.

While I was practicing before my recordings, Abe let Lydia wear this headlamp and be Dora the Exploreer. They explored the whole house and then did crafts in the dark.

While I was practicing before my recordings, Abe let Lydia wear this headlamp and be Dora the Exploreer. They explored the whole house and then did crafts in the dark.

day after the day after

I started off the day trying to make zimsterne for my grandma, since my mom flies back tomorrow. They were the biggest flop! I wanted to cry by the time we were done; the kitchen was a wreck and my cookies were an ugly, sticky mess. First world problem, I know...but I still felt legitimately frustrated. Lydia felt fine about it all, though. Obviously.

Before I brushed my teeth or showered or ate breakfast I tried to make zimsterne for my grandma, since my mom flies back tomorrow. They were the biggest flop! I wanted to cry by the time we were done; the kitchen was a wreck and my cookies were an ugly, sticky mess. First world problem, I know…but I still felt legitimately frustrated.

I spent the rest of the morning and most of the day organizing. That felt great.

Abe did Insanity again with the girls:

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After cleaning, I jumped right into cooking for our dinner party with two of our friends, Jon and Shirley. Abe is marrying them this May, and so they wanted to talk about what goes into all of that. Balu came too, and so the occasion felt festive (made even more so by the fact that 10 minutes before everyone arrived, both girls changed out of their pj’s…)

I tried the squash rings again, and it worked! I just needed smaller squashes. These are golden acorn.

I tried the squash rings again, and it worked! I just needed smaller squashes. These are golden acorn.

I had extra cheese and extra time, so why not make a souffle?

I had extra cheese and extra time, so why not make a souffle?

The most exciting news of the day just might be that our new microwave is up and working. I had no idea what a difference that would make; Abe and I agreed that the strata I made for Christmas actually tasted better microwaved than it did when we ate it the first time. Thanks, Clark and Swathi! You’ve changed our lives!

 

day after Christmas

It’s past midnight and my desk chair is currently at the dining room table because we had another family dinner tonight (with Tom, Suzanne, Jere and David). My mom and I spent the morning swimming (we each did a mile!) and grocery shopping, and the rest of the afternoon I spent cooking. The whole house smells like fried shallots, and the after-smell isn’t that great. The smell is also stuck in my hair, which is unfortunate, since I can’t escape.

In other news, Abe and I are on a movie kick! We have more than doubled the movies we’ve seen together in the last two months. Tonight we saw The Hobbit. We were a little late and sat in the front row, but I liked that because it meant that all of the scary fighting scenes were so blurry that the scariness was significantly mitigated.

Anyway, my elbows and knees are going numb, so here are today’s pictures:

Abe and Lydia did an Insanity work-out together.

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I baked pears again. They are so easy! I just peeled them, put them in a buttered pan, sprinkled some cinnamon and allspice cloves on top, and put them in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then I poured some cream over them and baked for 20 more minutes. We paired these with Argentine Caramel ice cream, and voila! Yesterday's brunch food became today's dessert!

I baked pears again. They are so easy! I just peeled them, put them in a buttered pan, sprinkled some cinnamon and allspice cloves on top, and put them in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then I poured some cream over them and baked for 20 more minutes. We paired these with Argentine Caramel ice cream, and voila! Yesterday’s brunch food became today’s dessert!

After dinner, this is what we looked like. It's officially the day after Christmas.

After dinner, this is what we looked like. It’s officially the day after Christmas.

I stole Abe's chair.

I made space for myself next to my hubby.

Also, ever since the doctor told me to aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week, I have been keeping meticulous track. Today’s swim put me at 170 minutes. It is a testament to the horrific amount of sugar I intake that all this exercise manages to be consistently offset by my poor (but oh, so yummy) diet.

Another also: If anyone knows how to get fried-food smell out of your house, I need your knowledge! The last time I fried food in this house was last Thanksgiving when my friend, Jennifer, heroically stepped up to the plate and fried shallots for this green bean casserole. I’m scared of splatter, so I needed her help. I made it again today because I’d a) gathered my courage and b) totally forgotten the smelly side-effect of frying…

Merry Christmas!

Last year was probably my favorite Christmas ever since it was Lydia’s first Christmas where she understood what was going on. This year is a close second, though. It didn’t feel rushed or harried or crazy, even with all of the activity.

Here’s what the activity was: homemade orange rolls, spelt/gruyere/spinach strata, quinoa pilaf, roasted brussel sprouts, baked pears and hot chocolate. Two family get-togethers. Three rounds of present openings. There was also Skyping with Uncle Clark and Aunt Swathi, a little piano and some dish washing thrown in there. From morning until night, this Christmas was filled with family and fun, and it made me happy that my original Christmas wish was not granted (that we just skip over Christmas and go straight to tomorrow–I know, super grinchy wish, right?).

Karin, Jay, Jere, David and Balu joined us for brunch and present round #2. We had lots of fun conversation, and Lydia enjoyed sneaking as many caramels as she could while everyone was distracted. Then Tom and Suzanne came over for present round #3; we had only fifteen minutes before we were supposed to leave for the Darais family dinner in Pleasant Grove, so that round of present unwrapping was craaazy. And then we headed down to Pleasant Grove, where we ate more. Lydia loved watching the other kids play, and she especially loved trailing behind Isabella, the only cousin on that side that she actually knows. At the end, she watched a bunch of girls around Isabella’s age and just started calling them all Isabella.

During the family Christmas program, Lydia wandered around having full-blown, animated conversations with herself. I need to ask the pediatrician if this is healthy, normal toddler behavior or if I need to renew my energy on the play date front.

Here are today’s many pictures (and I considered myself restrained and even negligent on the picture front today, which, in light of all the pictures I’m posting, seems ironic):

Lydia was reunited with her cat!!! It was a joyful reunion.

Lydia was reunited with her cat!!! It was a joyful reunion.

Uncle Clark and Aunt Swathi gave the girls a castle tent. Now each girl has one.

Uncle Clark and Aunt Swathi gave the girls a castle tent. Now each girl has one. (Last night Loralee gave the girls another one!)

Opening one of Nana's gifts--a mailbox.

Opening one of Nana’s gifts–a mailbox.

Mary with her new Eric Carle "smart pad."

Mary with her new Eric Carle “smart pad.”

I took a picture of the tree because I will miss it.

I took a picture of the tree because I will miss it.

Mary got a bump. Nana helped her feel better.

Mary got a bump. Nana helped her feel better.

Lydia watched the Muppet's Christmas Carol again, this time snuggled up with her cat.

Lydia watched the Muppet’s Christmas Carol again, this time snuggled up with her cat.

Some of the food. I forgot to take pictures of the rest...

Some of the food. I forgot to take pictures of the rest…

Present round #2. Showing off her new shirt from Jere and David.

Present round #2. Showing off her new shirt from Jere and David.

Present round #3. Thanks, Grandma! Lydia loves her new craft set!!

Present round #3. Thanks, Grandma! Lydia loves her new craft set!!

Mary unwrapping a present. Lydia helped her open most of hers, but she did this one by herself.

Mary unwrapping a present. Lydia helped her open most of hers, but she did this one by herself.

Thanks, Grandma! Mary loves her new toys!!

Thanks, Grandma! Mary loves her new toys!!

Before we left for Provo, I discovered Mary here. She was loving her new tent and toys.

Before we left for Provo, I discovered Mary here. She was loving her new tent and toys.

Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas! Technically, it’s already Christmas. All I can say is, at least Abe and I are not in the throes of assembling Lydia’s kitchen–which is what we were doing last Christmas until 3am. He’s still downstairs wrapping the last present and tidying up, and I am typing as fast as I can so we can go to bed. Tomorrow I have to get up at 6 am to start the orange rolls.

Today has been loooong. It started with scriptures and Bikram yoga–a delightful combination, made better by Anique’s company at yoga. Then we both did some last minute grocery shopping, after which Abe and I went to Barnes and Noble to do our Christmas shopping. Before today, we had not even started to think about the process. The busy mall comforted us and helped us feel better about the fact that we are not the only procrastinators of the season.

Then I came home and played some piano, after which we headed over to the Miner’s for their Christmas Eve celebration. They do readings, songs and a talent show of sorts, so that was fun. I always miss the First Presbyterian Church of Evanston on Christmas Eve, because the pageant there never failed to bring home the story of Christ’s birth for me. But since there’s no similar event here, it is really nice to celebrate with Suzanne’s family. Plus they have a great cookie buffet at the end.

After that, we put out cookies and a letter for Santa, and we told the girls to listen for the reindeer as they fell asleep. Abe shook some bells outside their door and said, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” We could hear Lydia inside telling Mary to be good and that Santa was here to bring her cat back.

Then I made stratas for our brunch tomorrow, and Abe wrapped all of the presents. We still have to order some gifts online, and then we’ll be done and ready for bed!

Here are today’s pictures:

The girls started the day in bed with Nana reading books.

The girls started the day in bed with Nana reading books.

Lydia sometimes cries so much she gets a nosebleed. Or she picks her nose to the point where she gets a nosebleed. I think the latter happened here.

Lydia sometimes cries so much she gets a nosebleed. Or she picks her nose to the point where she gets a nosebleed. I think the latter happened here.

Leaving cookies for Santa.

Leaving cookies for Santa.

Writing a note to Santa.

Writing a note to Santa.

The note Lydia helped dictate to Abe.

The note Lydia helped dictate to Abe.

See that blue bag? I didn't see it until this evening, but Abe brought it up from where he's been storing it, and it turns out that Clark and Swathi sent us a microwave for Christmas! Those two. They are the sweetest siblings ever. But Abe has been eyeing the bag the microwave came in, and he used it as "Santa's sack." Also, note Lydia's cat peeking out of her stocking. We are so excited for her to reunite with him!

See that blue bag? I didn’t see it until this evening, but Abe brought it up from where he’s been storing it, and it turns out that Clark and Swathi sent us a microwave for Christmas! Those two. They are the sweetest siblings ever. But Abe has been eyeing the bag the microwave came in, and he used it as “Santa’s sack.” Also, note Lydia’s cat peeking out of her stocking. We are so excited for her to reunite with him!

the best Christmas cookies and neighbor love

Watching the Tchaikovsky piano concerto no. 1 this morning on Youtube was so thrilling that I accidentally gave myself shin splints running to the music. But tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so lying around nursing sore legs was not an option. Instead, Lydia and I turned out several batches of Christmas cookies before we packaged them up and delivered them to our awesome neighbors.

I had never made zimsterne before, but they are my new favorite Christmas cookie.

Cinnamon stars. Oh my gosh, I can not believe I had never tried making these before. The cookie is a nut meringue with a meringue icing baked on. I could live on these, I think.

Zimsterne (cinnamon stars). Oh my gosh, I can not believe I had never tried making these before. The cookie is a nut meringue with a meringue icing baked on. I could live on these, I think.

They are perfect for making with kids. Every step is kid friendly, and Lydia was so proud of herself.

They are perfect for making with kids. Every step is kid friendly, and Lydia was so proud of herself.

After I took this photo, I taught her how to spread the icing all over the cookie.

After I took this photo, I taught her how to spread the icing all over the cookie.

This is out of order. Between the meringue-making and the cookie icing, Lydia pooped in her pants for the first time ever since we took away her diapers. She made it to the potty for most of it, but I wonder if the meringue set her off....

This is out of order. Between the meringue-making and the cookie icing, Lydia pooped in her pants for the first time ever since we took away her diapers. She made it to the potty for most of it, but I wonder if the meringue set her off….

I forgot to post this picture a couple days ago. I am so proud of this hair...even though it all fell out within a matter of hours. I need to find kid-sized bobby pins!

I forgot to post this picture a couple days ago. I am so proud of this hair…even though it all fell out within a matter of hours. I need to find kid-sized bobby pins!

Anyway, my favorite part of today was dropping off gifts to our neighbors. It felt like Halloween again; we got short visits in with so many wonderful people, and I just love my neighbors! For some crazy reason, we decided to drive the gifts around and our car got stuck in a snowbank across the street from our house. I felt SO dumb, but luckily, the three boys who live across the street pushed the car out. The whole incident made me feel even more grateful for good neighbors who have compassion and help their apparently idiotic neighbors across the street.

Abe worked late tonight, so this day that started at 6:45am did not slow down until 9pm when I finally got the girls in bed. After that, I lay in bed watching Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Olga Kern, and Yuji Wang (respectively) play the Rachmaninoff 3rd piano concerto. At that point, Abe kicked me out of bed so he could go to bed and I could blog.

Ah, sleep.

The Simmons and a prayer

We got to church over an hour late today…oops! Guess we stayed up too late last night.

During Sacrament meeting, Mary lay on the floor and cuddled Chester, a service dog. (His owner is our friend and gave us explicit, unsolicited permission.) Lydia, who is scared of dogs, interrupted the whole meeting by crying in a loud, terrified voice," Daddy!! Get May-wee! Chester is going to eat her!!"

During Sacrament meeting, Mary lay on the floor and cuddled Chester, a service dog. (His owner is our friend and gave us explicit, unsolicited permission.) Lydia, who is scared of dogs, interrupted the whole meeting by crying in a loud, terrified voice,” Daddy!! Get May-wee! Chester is going to eat her!!”

In other news, we caught up on sleep all afternoon, and then I cooked for the rest of the day. We had Balu, Fallon, Morgan, Audrey and Eli over for dinner. I made stuffed pumpkins again ($1 pumpkins at Sprouts right now!) and followed through with the actual kale-garlic mashed potatoes recipe that I didn’t quite finish last week. Last night I dried out spelt bread for the pumpkins. I think this time was the best go of the pumpkins yet; the quality of the bread makes SUCH a difference! In my ideal world, the next time I’d try this would be with brioche or challah…but let’s be serious. That type of bread wouldn’t last long enough to go stale in my house, so spelt might be as good as it gets.

Audrey and Lydia and Mary spent the evening running around the house playing with each other. It was so cute to see how Audrey and Lydia included Mary in their play and even became distressed when Mary would wander back to the grown-ups. Meanwhile, the grown-ups were going ga-ga over 23 pound, one-year old Eli (his 3 year old sister, Audrey, weighs a mere three pounds more than he). He kept flashing the table these adorable, mile-wide grins that melted us right down through the floor.

Balu was a great sport and endured another dinner conversation about parenting, Provo and potty-training, and he remained jovial through it all. We love him.

At bedtime, Lydia said the most beautiful prayer of her life. I have Balu, my mom, and Abe to corroborate what I’m recording, and I hope if I get any of it wrong or leave out parts, they’ll help me amend this post later. We did not help Lydia at all–this is just what was in her heart tonight.

“Fank-you (“thank-you”) that Balu and Nana could come over. Fank-you that Daddy could get a new job. Fank-you that May-wee and me can get a good sweep (sleep). Fank-you for Marian (Anderson, the African American opera singer from the 30’s). Fank-you for my new books. Fank-you that we can sleep in late. Fank-you for all of my bwessings (blessings). In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

I’m sure I’m leaving parts out because it was quite a long prayer, but that’s what I remember. At the end we were all so grateful for our sweet, grateful little girl.

Here are today’s pictures:

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After Mary's nap, we neglected to go to her right away. We then found Lydia by Mary's Pack 'n Play saying, "Ma-wee, are you awake sweet baby? Do you want to get out of your cwib?" It was very touching.

After Mary’s nap, we neglected to go to her right away. We then found Lydia by Mary’s Pack ‘n Play saying, “May-wee, are you awake sweet baby? Do you want to get out of your cwib?” It was very touching.

A perfect ending

I started off the day with an 8am session of Bikram Yoga. It felt awesome, and I hit 180 minutes of exercise this week! When I saw my doctor last week, he said to shoot for 150 minutes, so it felt really great to meet that goal.

I also finished the Book of Mormon yesterday, so I started again on the title page today. I have been thinking a lot about truth, courage, and missionary work lately. Missionary work confuses me, but thinking about it in terms of absolute truths helps me understand it a little better. Finishing and restarting a reading of the Book of Mormon always gets the juices flowing around truth, so my scripture study felt meaningful.

I even got some practice in, although my piano is by a huge window and can NEVER stay in tune. Right now it’s so out of tune I almost shudder to hear some registers (especially the upper), but I pressed on (!) through the awful sounds.

We also played in the snow today. Abe is sure that by the end of winter we will have a full blown snow fort, so he and the girls worked hard on it today:

Working hard on the snow fort.

Working hard on the snow fort.

Mary was at the ready.

Mary was at the ready.

And happy about it.

And happy about it.

:Lydia busied herself decorating the ground with snow angels.

:Lydia busied herself decorating the ground with snow angels.

The snow fort.

The snow fort.

We also went to This is the Place Heritage Park for their Candlelight Christmas with Balu, Tom, Suzanne, Steve, Charlie and Henry. We walked all over, sampling gingerbread, square dancing, learning about the first Christmas cards, signing Santa’s lists, meeting Santa, eating the best doughnuts I have ever had, and feeling moved by the live Nativity. Lydia spent the whole day anticipating the Baby Jesus and kept talking about how she would be quiet and not wake him, how she’d give him a binky, and how she’d take off her gloves when she saw him (I have no idea about that last part, but she was adamant…). Anyway, I love that place. To make it even better, at the end, Abe bought me a new wedding ring!!! I can only wear a plain band in my lab classes, and we found a plain silver band for $14.50!!!!!! It fit perfectly, and since I’ll probably wear it for the next decade, I could not be more pleased.

Mary Berry in her poof outfit. She toddled all around the park in this and kind of stole the show.

Mary Berry in her poof outfit. She toddled all around the park in this and kind of stole the show.

When I came home, I baked more cookies.

I baked a forest of bittersweet chocolate Christmas trees. Now if I can just get around to packaging them and giving them away before I eat them all...

I baked a forest of bittersweet chocolate Christmas trees. Now if I can just get around to packaging them and giving them away before I eat them all…

Oh! I made another pint of lemon curd today. I think I’m going to make this for Christmas brunch. It just so happens I have a lot of mascarpone and now a ton of lemon curd in the fridge already. Now I just have to make a million crepes and it’ll be all downhill from there.

And now, my mom is here!!! So I’m going to stop blogging and go talk to her.