One Book South Dakota: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

I didn’t know what to expect with Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. I decided to read it simply because it was designated as the 2017 One Book South Dakota. I loved it. The author beautifully combined food, gender roles in the Midwest, and interesting characters in a quick, yet moving novel.


Food is such an important part of our culture. This book looks at how the food we eat defines us geographically, and socio-economically. It also looks at the relationships we build and what really defines a family.

One of the most moving pieces in the book features Pat Prager, a sweet church lady and unappreciated housewife who enters her bars in a fancy Minneapolis baking contest. She is shamed by the younger, more sophisticated foodies.

This is where the main character, Eva Thorvald, shines as an interesting, yet dimensional protagonist. Eva gives Pat, and Midwestern home-cooking the respect they deserve. Stradal packs a lot in this short novel, and I was hanging on every word. At the end I was torn between wanting him to pen a sequel and wanting to just leave it at what the story was for fear of ruining a good thing.

The Motherhood Milestone I Hoped to Skip

The seasoned moms told me it would happen and I cautiously waited. I waited, watched, and wondered when it would happen to me. But it didn’t. Months went by. Then my daughter turned one. Then two. Then three. Still nothing.


But then the unthinkable happened last night when I turned my head for just a second to check on her baby sister. My completely potty trained (or so I thought) three-year-old pooped in the bathtub. Not only did she poop, but then she attempted to clean it up which made things far, far worse.

I scratched my head, baffled. Where to begin the epic cleansing of the tub, toys, bathroom floor, and child. Meanwhile, the aforementioned baby sister began to wail. I pulled my older daughter from the tub and attempted to dry her off without smearing feces everywhere. Two really nice wash cloths we got as wedding gifts were lost to this cause, and many, many Clorox wipes were used.

My husband had picked the perfect night to work late and arrived home after the girls were both clean, happy, and full of smiles for Daddy. It was one of those mothering moments that seem like a complete and utter circus. And one I’ll be delighted to share with any and all of her future boyfriends.



From Fires to Hurricanes: How to Give

It seems there has been no shortage of devastating disasters hitting our nation recently.

Yesterday the house of some good friends of ours living in the U.S. Virgin Islands was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. They are doing OK, but it really got me looking at options for doing what little I can to help.

If you’re like me, you want to know the money you give is being used responsibly and to go to the cause for which you designated it. I don’t want to donate to fire victims so the CEO of a non-profit can install a new pool at his home. Still, I realize there are some major costs associated with operating a non-profit. Advertising alone can cost a pretty penny and is critical to effective non-profit campaigns.


(Image from

When doing your research, look at a non-profit’s Cost of Impact, essentially their ROI. There are some unbiased websites out there that rank the effectiveness of non-profits. GuideStar is one of the most robust and is easy to use.

The American Red Cross receives a platinum GuideStar rating and makes it simple to give anything from $10 to $1,000 online.

The United Way is a good option because  you can designate a specific community to which you want to donate. Having spent a brief period of time in the non-profit fundraising sector, I can tell you The United Way does not spend dollars willy nilly. There is careful consideration taken in regards to financial stewardship.

As annoying as it is to be asked in the store checkout lane if you “want to donate a dollar to (insert charity name here),” what’s the harm in adding an extra dollar to your bill when you’re swiping your card? Some chains like Target and Walgreens give 100% of those donations to the cause for which they’re collecting at that time.

So I understand there is some skepticism surrounding charitable giving, but I hope that won’t stop you completely from helping when and where you can. There are still a lot of good people and organizations out there doing great things. Do something.

If you can’t give financially, considering donating blood or giving your time. The American Red Cross also offers tools to search for blood drives and volunteer opportunities.

If you have other ideas for the most effective ways to help out our fellow man (and woman and child) please comment here.

Boca, Cincinnati

I love trying new restaurants so you know Boca in Cincinnati is pretty outstanding if I ended up eating there two of the three nights we stayed in the Queen City. The food, service, and ambience were out of this world.


Boca does a great Midwestern take on Italian cuisine.

Cincinnati August 2017 (8)

David, our server, was the best. This guy could serve me stale bread and I would still think he was great.


But no stale bread here. Far from it. Instead I ordered the corn cappallacci, which were little homemade pasta pockets with sweet corn and black truffle. I can still smell it now. It was one of the very best things I have ever eaten.


The restaurant’s signature dish are these delectable pommes soufflées. These puffed potatoes are a nod to the old building the restaurant occupies. They are so complicated that the chef that one out of every three batches gets thrown out. And they’re divine.


Boca was a delicious find I will not be forgetting.



I think it would be worth a trip to Cincinnati just for the corn cappallaci and pommes soufflées.


All 50 by 40: Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana

I was pleasantly surprised by the city of Cincinnati. People were welcoming, weather was gorgeous, and the food was fantastic. Newport, Kentucky and our riverboat cruise on the Ohio River were both fun. Indiana, maybe I didn’t give you a fair chance, but you’re now crossed off my list nonetheless.

Cincinnati August 2017 (4)

My mom and I did a lot of walking because the weather was so great. We ate two absolutely delightful meals at Boca (more on that later) and watched the Reds play the Cubs on one of the most beautiful evenings of all time. We shopped at Tiffany’s (kind of funny that the first Tiffany’s I have even been into was in Cincinnati, right?)

Cincinnati August 2017 (10)

Cincinnati August 2017

We got pedicures at Paragon, went bowling, and visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I had a mint julep in Kentucky and ate some delicious Cincinnati ribs. I didn’t take as many photos as I usually do, but I was enjoying time with my mom and that’s what really made this trip count.

Cincinnati August 2017 (6)

As we visited with people throughout the trip, I was touched by their support of my goal to see all the states. I missed my daughters tremendously and was glad we kept the trip fairly short. However, travel continues to be important to me and I hope they catch the wanderlust bug a bit themselves. Eight states left!

Cincinnati August 2017 (9)

Cincinnati August 2017 (7)

The Updated List



Hawaii (scheduled for January 2018)

Michigan (I have been to airports)


Texas (I have been to airports)

West Virginia


All 50 by 40

I love traveling and lists, so it seemed only natural to set a goal of visiting all 50 states before I turn 40. I have a six short years left to visit the remainder of my list, which you’ll see below. I have detailed the rules, essentials, and list below. After hitting Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky later this month and Hawaii in January, seven states remain. If you have been to these states, what are your pointers? If you live in one of them, do you have a couch I can sleep on? (Kidding, not kidding).


The Rules

I must set foot in each state for them to count.

Airports don’t count (sorry, Texas and Michigan)

Extra credit for eating local fare.

The Essentials

Enablers: These are the people who are willing to hop on a plane with me, stay home with the kids, or drive me five hours out of the way so I can cross Idaho off the list (my mom, husband, and bestie, respectively).

A plan: I have a full-time job, two kids, and have to stay within budget. Having a game-plan is important.

Willingness to explore the boring ones: People keep asking “why Ohio?” We’ll make it fun!

The List



Hawaii (scheduled for January 2018)

Indiana (scheduled for August 2017)

Kentucky (scheduled for August 2017)

Michigan (I have been to airports)

Ohio (scheduled for August 2017)


Texas (I have been to airports)

West Virginia









He Was Here First

Do you ever wish your husband would look at you the way he did when you first started dating? Guess what. He probably wishes the same thing sometimes. Instead, he often gets that look you give him when you’re trying to load the dishwasher and he’s standing in the way looking at ESPN on his phone. Do you know that look?

But we’re pulled in a lot of directions. We are distracted by work obligations, raising kids, volunteering, maintaining friendships, and household tasks. Sometimes making time for one more person is just too much. I’m so guilty of putting the hubby on the back-burner. Most of the time he is not getting the kindest, most patient version me. I spend all day trying to be as courteous as possible to everyone else I encounter, then snap at him when I see an innocent pair of dirty socks on the bedroom floor.


(Photo by Alyssa Crawford Photography)

We know children benefit from observing their parents having positive relationships with their spouse, friends, and family. Still, when we’re taxed and tired, it’s easy to use up all our kindness on everyone but the guy who had all our attention on a second date at a mini golf course many years ago.

We can’t wave a magic wand and create more free time, but what we can do is be more aware of our priorities. Our husbands should be one of them. Weekly date nights aren’t as possible as they were before kiddos, but carving out a few minutes of one-on-one time usually is. Take a minute to appreciate him. Ask him about his day, and actually listen.

I’m trying my best to take this advice because I love this guy so much, and after all, he was here first.