Sesame Peanut Noodles

Woo–my first recipe post of 2015!!!! I actually hadn’t planned to do a recipe post this week, but I’ve fallen into some bad habits with my recipe posting cycle. It usually goes a little something like this: 1) make a new dish, usually add a few tweaks, 2) take picture of said creation and make big plans for a forthcoming post, and finally 3) get busy/lazy and forget the tweaks I made to the recipe when (or if) I finally finish the post. In short, it’s not a very efficient system.

I was reminded of this cycle of inefficiency as I was making this noodle dish the past weekend. I’ve made it a couple of times before and decided to tweak the original recipe. I really liked the changes I made and didn’t want to forget them, so I decided to get this post done ASAP! So here it is world!

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Sesame Peanut Noodles

Adapted from: Good Housekeeping

Sesame Peanut Noodles

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked chicken

*~1 pound Rice Noodles (I used a 14 oz box)

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced.

1 large Kirby cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half-moons (optional)

peanut sauce

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Dash of crushed red pepper (optional)

~1/2 cup water

garnish

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Sriracha (hot chili sauce)

*See notes at the end of the recipe

Instructions:

Heat large covered pot of salted water to boiling on high. Cook pasta as label directs.

In a large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, a dash of crushed red pepper (if desired), and about 1/2 cup of water. Note: To avoid making the sauce too thin, I add the water in stages to achieve the desired viscosity level. The exact amount of water I use varies–sometimes more, sometimes less than 1/2 cup. The result should be a smooth, easily stir-able sauce that is not too thin or too viscous. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Add garlic, onion, and red pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Stir in the cooked chicken and warm for 3-5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the peanut sauce. Warm for about 5 minutes.

Finally, the add pasta and cucumber to the skillet. Toss until well coated. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with Sriracha, if desired.

Notes:

1) The original recipe calls for spaghetti noodles, but I prefer rice noodles in this dish. Obviously this is a personal preference, so use whatever noodles make you happy. 🙂  

2) We only had an orange bell pepper on hand the day I took this picture. It works just as well as a red one!

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2014: A Year in Reading

I’ve finally finished my yearly reading stats post! As I’ve done in previous years, I also attempted to choose my favorite books from the year (it’s always so hard!)! Overall, I’m really pleased with the amount and variety of books I read in 2014. I’ve made an increasing effort over the past several years to diversify my reading selections, and I think the reading stats are starting to show that.

If you’re curious, you can click the following links to see how 2014 compares to previous years: 2012 & 2013.

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Reading Stats for 2014:

Number of books read: 59

Number of paperback/hardcover: 29

Number of e-books: 1

Number of audiobooks: 30

Number of fiction: 47

Number of non-fiction: 12

Average Rating (out of 5 points): 3.78

Most books read in one month: 7 books in January, May and August

Longest book read: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin at 784 e-book pages (1060 paperback)

Longest audio book listened to:  Dangerous Women edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois: 32 hours and 49 minutes (800 hardcover pages)

Female author : male author: 35 : 24 (note I have left off an anthology which featured selections from both male and female authors)

Total number of books read that were NOT set in the United States: 25

Total number of unique countries read: 11 (United States, Canada, Spain, Chile, United Kingdom, Nigeria, India, Australia, China, France, and Democratic Republic of the Congo)

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I still can’t believe I read 59 books last year…that just doesn’t seem possible! I’m also very happy with the number of non-fiction books I read (12!?)…I think this is the most I’ve ever read in one year. In 2015 I will be participating in challenges that will encourage me to read both books in translation and books set in countries that are not the US, so hopefully I’ll have more than 11 different countries to report!

In addition to collecting the stats, I also reflected on all the books I read and attempted to choose some favorites. It’s always hard to pick the absolute favorite, so I listed some runners up as well.

Best Fiction Book: Middlemarch by George Eliot

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Choosing a fiction book was so, so hard this year, but this epic, wise, and very entertaining novel is the clear winner in my mind. I definitely plan to re-read this novel and more George Eliot in general in the future.

Runners up: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Best Non-Fiction Book: Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

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Just ask my (long-suffering) boyfriend…I’m STILL talking about this book. I was already familiar with some of the facts Moss described in this book, but learning more about the science of taste (and how much time and money the processed food industry has invested to both acquire and exploit this knowledge) has forever changed the way I eat and think about eating in general. It’s not that I think the giant food companies are inherently evil or that I will never eat processed food again…but lets just say I go much farther out of my way to find an alternative than I did before reading this book.

This book is eye-opening, interesting, and totally worth your time if you have access to a copy.

Runners up: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Best Audio Book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

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I absolutely loved this book, and the fact that it was read by Cheryl Strayed herself.

Runners up: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

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Next up will be my 2015 reading challenges…and then I’ll be all caught up(ish)!!!

My 2014 Reading Challenges: How did I do?

At the end of every year, I like to look back and examine how successful (or unsuccessful) I was at completing my yearly reading goals. In addition to being a time for me to nostalgically remember the great books I read over the year (and the disappointment in the duds), I also use these “year in reading” posts to re-examine my reading selections and habits. Other than the joy of connecting with other book bloggers and learning of (even more) great new books to read, this process of consciously chronicling my reading habits is one of the things I value most about having this blog. I can tell how much I’ve grown as a reader since I started blogging in April of 2012–the proof is in the difference in my reading lists! So with that being said, I hope you’ll forgive me dear readers for looking back at my 2014 year in reading (for the next two posts)…even if it is February.

As you’ll see below, I finished almost every reading challenge I set for myself in 2014. It was a stretch sometimes to get  all the right books read at the right times, but overall I really enjoyed it. Note: Click here to see how my 2014 Reading Challenges compared to my 2013 challenges.

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 My 2014 Reading Challenges–How did I do?

Challenge #1–Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Books and Chocolate

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Why I Joined (as per January 2014):

“I really enjoyed participating in this challenge in 2013 (even though I was one book short of completing it) and look forward to reading more great classic literature in 2014!”

How I did:

Requirements to complete the challenge:

1. A 20th Century Classic: The Call of the Wild by Jack London

2. A 19th Century Classic: Middlemarch by George Eliot

3. A Classic by a Woman Author: My Antonia by Willa Cather

4. A Classic in Translation: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

5. A Wartime Classic: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Optional Categories:

1. An American Classic: White Fang by Jack London

2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller

3. A Historical Fiction Classic.

4. A Classic That’s Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series.

Takeaways:

I successfully completed this challenge in 2014 and even managed to read a book from the optional categories! My favorite book I read from this challenge would have to be Middlemarch, by George Eliot. Although it is epically long and was written nearly 150 years ago, it still felt very modern and I related to many of the situations in it. It’s definitely a book I want to re-read someday.

Overall, this was still one of my favorite reading challenges and I will definitely attempt to tackle it again in 2015. I like this challenge because it not only encourages me to read more classic literature, but it also helps guide me to different classic literature that I might never get around to reading otherwise.

Challenge #2What’s in a Name, hosted by The Worm Hole

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Why I Joined (as per January 2014):

“I really enjoyed this challenge in 2013, and am looking forward to tackling it in 2014 as well!”

How I did:

Requirements to complete this challenge:

1. A reference to time:Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo

2. A position of royalty: The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

3. A number written in letters: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

4. A forename or names: Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende, Stella Bain by Anita Shreve, Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, My Antonia by Willa Cather, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

5. A type or element of weather: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Takeaways:

I still love this challenge because it is both unique and an actual challenge to complete. It has also had the added benefit of getting some long standing “to-read” books off the shelf and into my hands. I’ll definitely do this challenge again in 2015.

It’s a 3 way tie for my favorite books from this challenge: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Maya’s Notebook, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Challenge #3Audio Book Challenge, hosted by Teresa’s Reading Corner

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Why I Joined (as per January 2014):

“Audio has become one of my favorite ways to enjoy a good book. I’m looking forward to seeing how many I can tackle in 2014!

How I did:

I hope to listen to more than 25 Audio Books.

I listened to 30 audio books in 2014. In the interest of saving some space, you can view the full list here.

Takeaways:

Now that audio is such an established medium in my reading habits, I don’t really feel like it was that difficult for me to complete this challenge. It definitely helped me get into the audio groove in 2013, but I don’t think it’s stretching my reading “muscles” anymore. However, I do still think the number of audio books I read is an interesting statistic and therefore will continue to track it in 2015.

Since I listened to so many good audio books last year it’s REALLY hard to pick a favorite. Or even 3. So I’m not even going to try right now. 🙂

Challenge #4New Authors Challenge, hosted by Literary Escapism

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Why I Joined (as per January 2014):

“I enjoyed tracking all of the new authors I read in 2013, and look forward to exploring at least 25 new-to-me writers in 2014!”

How I did:

I am signing up to read books from 25 new authors.

I read books by 47 “new to me” authors in 2014. In the interest of saving some space, you can view the full list here.

Takeaways:

Like the audio book challenge above, the majority of the books I read now are from “new to me” authors. I think that signing up for this challenge two years in a row definitely encouraged me to seek out new voices, but again this habit is now so ingrained that it’s not really a challenge for me anymore.

Since the number of “new to me” authors basically encompasses my entire 2014 reading list, I don’t think I’m going to even try to choose a favorite.

Challenge #5The Eclectic Reader, hosted by Book’d Out

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Why I Joined (as per January 2014):

“I like to think of myself as someone who attempts books outside of their comfort zone, but admittedly there are a few genres in this challenge I’ve never attempted (namely graphic novels). So, I think it will be fun to try some of these–maybe I’ll find a new favorite!”

How I did:

Select, read and review a book from each genre listed below during the year for a total of 12 books:

1. Award Winning: The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo,  Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Insurgent by Veronica Roth, Allegiant by Veronica Roth, World War Z by Max Brooks, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

2. True Crime (Non Fiction): In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

3. Romantic Comedy: Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

4. Alternate History Fiction: World War Z by Max Brooks

5. Graphic Novel

6. Cosy Mystery Fiction: The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot

7. Gothic Fiction: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

8. War/Military Fiction: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

9. Anthology: Dangerous Women edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

10. Medical Thriller Fiction: Cut to the Bone by Jefferson Bass

11. Travel (Non Fiction): The Longest Road by Philip Caputo

12. Published in 2014: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Takeaways:

This was an awesome challenge and I got exactly what I hoped for out of it. Even though I didn’t finish it (I still haven’t read a graphic novel) I definitely read some books I wouldn’t have otherwise. I will definitely be attempting to complete this challenge again in 2015.

The biggest pleasant surprise was the anthology! In the past, I avoided collections of short stories because I thought just as soon as I got attached to a character or story it would be over. I was also afraid that in a big collection (like Dangerous Women) there would be like one good story and 20 medicore ones. Luckily this wasn’t the case for Dangerous Women, as there were many stories I liked and a couple that I loved. The positive reading experience has inspired me to put more collections of short stories on my “to-be-read” list!

Challenge #6Monthly Keyword Reading Challenge, hosted by Bookmark To Blog

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Why I Joined (as per January 2014):

I didn’t really give any specific reasons in the original post, but I assume it was because it was similar to the “What’s in a Name?” challenge (i.e. challenge #2 from above).

How I did:

In this challenge I will attempt to read one book each month whose title includes one or more of the key words for that month:

Jan- Angel, Secret, Clock, Black, Day, Wild: The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Feb- Her, Life, Night, Red, Dark, Island: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Mar- Forever, Inside, Storm, Sky, Flower, Stay: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo

Apr- Star, Light, Never, Princess, Break, Clear: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

May- Dawn, Death, End, Lost, Beautiful, And: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Jun- Color, Beyond, Found, Place, Grave, Road: The Longest Road by Philip Caputo

Jul- Crash, Ship, Prince, Whisper, Sun, Of: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Aug- Forgotten, Down, True, Run, Danger, Me: True Believers by Kurt Andersen

Sep- Number, Take, Shadow, Ice, Who, After: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Oct- Ocean, Blood, Still, Out, The, Fate: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Nov- Into, Sound, Blue, House, My, Last: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Dec- Kiss, Fire, Ruin, White, Promise, Infinity: The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

Takeaways:

I finished it!!!! This one really required me to plan ahead, but I found I enjoyed the challenge of trying to find just the right book to read every  month. Although I really enjoyed this challenge, I don’t think I’ll participate in 2015 since I’m already 1.5 months behind.

Challenge #7Chunkster Challenge, hosted by Chunkster Reading Challenge

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Why I Joined (as per January 2014):

“In this challenge, the goal is to read an adult or YA book that is 450 pages or more. I like the idea of this challenge because it encourages you to read longer books. In 2013 I was so focused on trying to read 52 books, that I avoided reading anything that was too long. This year there are no set levels for this challenge, so I will attempt to read 2 chunksters in 2014.”

How I did:

1. The Pact by Jodi Picoult (497 pages)

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (512 pages)

3.  Middlemarch by George Eliot (794 pages)

4. Dangerous Women edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois (736 pages)

5. Divergent by Veronica Roth (487 pages)

6. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (525 pages)

7. Allegiant by Veronica Roth (544 pages)

8. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin (784 pages)

9. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (560 pages)

10. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (544 pages)

11. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (487 pages)

12. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (546 pages)

13. Duty by Robert M. Gates (640 pages)

Takeaways:

I totally exceeded my own expectations with this challenge. I intend to set the bar a little higher for myself in 2015.

Personal Reading Goals:

I will try to read 35 books in 2014. Of these 35 books, I’d like at least 5 to count toward finishing The Big Read List and/or 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.

How I did:

1. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

2. The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

3.  Middlemarch by George Eliot

4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

5. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

6. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

7. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

9. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

10. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

11. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

12. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

13. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Takeaways:

Again, I exceeded my expectations here. Many of the books on this list were among my favorites from 2014, which I think speaks to quality and relevance of the books off these lists for me.

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Coming soon: A more general 2014 year-in-reading wrap-up (with statistics!) and the 2015 reading challenges I’m hoping to complete!

November and December 2014 Recap

Oh me, oh my! Is it really already February…of 2015??? I feel like it was just December and I blinked and now it’s February. Alas–such is life. To say January was crazy would be an understatement. I was out of town for work (and had to extend the trip), and then was busy frantically trying to prepare a presentation to present on this work. Basically, I had almost zero time for blogging. I finally had to start putting “spend 10 minutes on blog post” on my to-do list, which is why this post took me greater than 1 month to finish. BUT I FINISHED IT. It’s the little things folks…

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[1]

I read 11 books in November and December, which is surprising considering how busy I was. I even found time to review 4 books! Overall, I read a whopping 59 books in 2014. Holy wow–I think that’s a new record for me. I still plan to summarize my “2014 year in reading” (even though we are well into 2015), so stay tuned for that.

Books read:

1. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

2. My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

3. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

4. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

5. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

7. The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

9. Duty by Robert M. Gates

10. Chocolat by Joanne Harris

11. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Book Reviews Posted:

1. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

2. A PhD Is Not Enough! by Peter J. Feibelman

3. The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

4. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

[2]

Recipes Posted in November and December:

1. Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

2. Bacon Chicken Breast with Sweet Potato Mash

[3]

After a strong showing in October, I kind of fizzled out in November but regained some momentum in December. I’m pretty proud of my December mileage because I was traveling most of the month and had to make a real effort to get those miles in.

November-DecemberOverall, I logged a grand total of 704 miles in 2014. Obviously I didn’t hit my original goal of 1000 miles or even my revised goal of 873 miles (my 2013 total + 1 mile), but I think the important thing is that I kept at it even when I realized I wasn’t going to hit either of those goals. I also realize that I probably had way more than 704 active miles in 2014 (since I don’t have one of those fancy fitness trackers that logs my every move), but these were the miles I completed with the intention of exercising. I’m pretty happy with these numbers, and plan to solider on in 2015!

[4]

Fun things I did in November:

1) Attended a “Pre-Thanksgiving” Cocktail/Housewarming Party

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I had a great time at this party hosted be Dan and Deniz. Everyone dressed up, drank fancy cocktails (or champagne in my case), and ate lots of delicious hors d’oeuvres.

2) Spent Thanksgiving in (a very snowy) Michigan

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It started snowing the day we showed up and it continued to snow in little bits for the rest of our trip. While the humans in the house didn’t mind the snow, there was one certain dog who really enjoyed it:

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Snoop, aka Snow Dog

Seriously, he just loves to burrow in the snow and hang out. So cute (but so weird)!

On Thanksgiving day, K’s parents cooked a big, delicious feast. We had two other grad students from the university join us for dinner:

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Snoop wasn’t sure how he felt about having company, but we sure enjoyed it!

Overall I had a really great Thanksgiving. It was very peaceful and relaxing–definitely a nice break from the insanity of graduate school.

Fun things I did in December:

1) Attended a holiday potluck and celebrated Bernie’s birthday

The 2014 holiday season was chock full of parties and fun events, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For the last several years my friend Beth has hosted a holiday potluck, and for one reason or another I’ve never been able to go. Luckily I could this year! There was delicious food, mulled wine (which I was a few minutes too late to be able to have before it ran out), and a pretty tree. Basically it had all the perfect elements of a nice holiday gathering.

After the meal, we walked over to Kingston Mines to listen to some blues music in celebration of Bernie’s birthday. There were many photo-worthy opportunities throughout the night (The food! The tree! All. The. Friendship.), but the only picture I have from the entire night is this really grainy selfie…

 

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So I guess it’ll have to do? 🙂

2) Went to Michigan for an early Christmas celebration

About three weeks after we said goodbye to K’s parents and Snoop from the Thanksgiving trip, we were back! And so was the snow…

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Usually we have a brief “re-acquaintance” period with Snoop when we come back to Michigan after having been away for awhile, but since the period between the two trips was so short this time he seemed excited to see us pretty much right away. And boy were we excited to see him! I mean really, how can you resist this face!?

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So cute and surprisingly tolerant of the ears!

As usual, we had a really nice and relaxing time in Michigan. We spent some time with K’s friends from high school, and enjoyed some really great meals. Since we were leaving before Christmas day, we celebrated early with a fantastic meal cooked by K’s dad:

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We also exchanged gifts. I even got to open up Snoop’s stocking, which made me his favorite for about 10 minutes

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It was short-lived, but worth it!

We were sad to say goodbye to Michigan, but we had a great time!

3) Celebrated Christmas in Kansas

A few days before Christmas, we flew to Kansas to spend some time with my family.

We also have lots of little holiday traditions, one of which is to have my grandmother over for dinner on Christmas Eve. We even remembered to take pictures this year!

Family-xmaseve

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My parents also kept another holiday tradition alive–new p.j’s on Christmas Eve!

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Special thanks to our p.j. model, Jen

Thanks Mom and Dad!

Christmas day is always a little crazy in our household. We do our gift exchange in the morning, host my dad’s family for lunch, and travel over to Grandma’s for dinner with my mom’s side. It’s crazy and a busy day, but always very fun. This year was no exception! I’m so happy I was able to be home and got to see everyone!

I also got to catch up with the ladies from high school and my friend Erin while I was in Kansas! I don’t make it home that much (and probably will even less so in the future), so it’s always so nice when our schedules coordinate and we can get a quick visit in.

Overall, it was a great trip back to Kansas. We got in some quality family time and had lots of good food–smoked turkey, smoked pork, prime rib, ham, and of course Chet’s (aka Dad) breakfasts. We sure were spoiled!

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Yay! I finally finished this post! Now on to re-cap January…