Favorite Books of 2015

Hello, friends. Happy belated New Year.

I started this post, then Milo got sick. I have lost my train of thought about everything for a few weeks, but if I don’t publish this soon we’ll be halfway through 2016.

DT will surely call me a certifiable nerd for this, but….I’m so mad I missed my Goodreads 2015 reading challenge by about 200 pages. Where did December go? I got off to a great start early in the year and had a few spells where I was just tearing through books, but alas. Came up short.

I read some good books in 2015 (also some not-at-all good books). You win, you lose. Below are the highlights, hope they bring some reading inspiration to you.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg – I read Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage right before and knew I’d want to check out her first book. Food, storytelling, and reflecting on life always go well together. (I also started listening to her podcast, Spilled Milk, and following her blog Orangette.)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – A rather eccentric, loner, curmudgeonly bookstore owner receives a surprise delivery that gives his life new meaning and a reason to find joy again. I could easily transport myself to Alice Island in this sweet story.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand – Wow. This is an extraordinary story. I was in awe of the capacity for human survival and spirit for nearly 500 pages. I don’t know how many times I said, or thought, “I can’t imagine….” Because I can’t. I really, really can’t. A true history lesson.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain – I just enjoyed this unapologetic behind-the-restaurant-scenes memoir. I love watching cooking shows and I have my favorite celebrity chefs. This book showed a completely different side to the industry, and I didn’t mind the raw honesty.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick – This was a strange, but sweet story. I’m kind of over the quirky, over-the-top-out-there characters I feel like I’ve read a thousand times. But Bartholomew Neil stole my heart a little bit and made me sad. I wanted him to come out of his shell and I was so happy when he and his little motley crew of friends set out on their adventure.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper – Whoopsie, I watched the movie before I read this book. I enjoyed both. A dysfunctional family grieves their patriarch over the week-long Shiva and learns a whole lot about each other. The movie has a big-name cast, so I found myself thinking of the actors and actresses who played each character as I read the book. Which wasn’t a bad thing.

The Dinner by Herman Koch – Dark. I felt like the whole time I was reading, it was dark. Two families hiding the horrible secret of their sons. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable, if that comes as any surprise with that description.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler – I listened to Amy Poehler read her book to me in the car, and as if I didn’t already like her….I LOVE HER now. I loved her stories and her wisdom, and she has plenty of both.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell – The mafia and a hospital….two of the most fascinating things to me in one book. So, LOVE. This book is fast-paced – Dr. Peter Brown is in survival mode and doesn’t give a flying rat’s behind about anything.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – A story, actually two stories, that toggles across the ocean and women who are distantly intertwined. I enjoyed the relationship between Nao and her 104- year old Buddhist grandmother. This was a bond the girl seemed to so desperately need for the wisdom, grounding, and esteem she could not find at home.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – This book was so sweet, and I just ached for June and her grief for her uncle Finn. Finn’s sad death comes with the revealing of a new friend for June, also revelations about her family and the complicated circumstances around Finn and Toby. I really, really liked it.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – I couldn’t help but think of Gone Girl when I read this book. I didn’t feel quite as dirty, but certainly as uncomfortable. A lost, lonely, woman with an addictive personality rides a train to a job she doesn’t have. Every day, she observes the world outside the tracks, and eventually gets herself wrapped up in a big old mess. The end was a little like….”Wha?” for me. The story, and its characters, just kind of messed with my brain the whole time.


Sir Milo

Oh, this is a tough one.

Sir Milo Sidney died at home on January 7, 2016, lovingly surrounded by his mamma, dad, and brother RJ. He was 17 years old.

I adopted Milo when I was 20. 20! A young, dumb college kid with roommates and a crappy Chevy Corsica decides to adopt a cat. This is where our story begins.

Milo and me

I went to Animal Allies in Duluth to see the kitties they had. I found Milo. Actually, his name was Sidney and his nickname was “Smudge” for the little faded grey splotch on the left side of his neck.

He was about two years old, a stray who had been in a foster home once or twice. How someone could foster this guy and send him back to the shelter? I do not know. But their loss was my gain. As I was scanning the cages in the small corner of the room, I felt a soft little tap on my shoulder. A white cat with grey spots was beckoning. I looked around at the other cats, but after that tap….I knew who wanted me to take him home.

Milo lived with me in Duluth and moved with me to Alexandria, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and to his last home in Richfield. He also had a couple-month visit to my parents’ in North Branch while I was traveling after college. He was quite the moving buddy, although car rides were not his strong suit. Once, in the 10-15 minute drive from my apartment in St. Paul to DT’s apartment in Minneapolis, Milo pooped, peed, and vomited. We called it the trifecta of bodily functions. At least it was in DT’s car.

In the course of over 15 years with Milo, we have thousands of memories. Right now it’s both painful and a blessing to have so much to look back on. Here are some of our adventures:

The lifelong diet: I can’t remember how much Milo weighed when I got him – he was average size and weight. After some time together, though….he got a little big. I think portion control was hard for me to impose on him in those early days. My bff/then-roommate Nancy was going shopping one day and I asked her to pick up cat food for me. She came home and sheepishly-apologetically, yet firmly, said “I bought him diet food.” That was that, Milo was on a diet.

Milo on the floor

The teeth (or lack thereof): In 2004, his vet discovered Milo had gum disease and needed to have 10 teeth pulled. He spent the rest of his life gumming food with one fang. Not that it at all hindered his food intake (see “The lifelong diet,” above). Little one-fang wonder.

The chirping: One of Milo’s sounds was chirping like a bird. It was a quick little squeaky trill, and it usually meant he was happy or simply demanding that you pay attention to him immediately. I imagine him stomping his paws if he was demanding attention immediately. My Chirpy Bird.

The bath: I had to give Milo a bath once in our life together. It was a complete nightmare for both of us. My apartment in Alexandria had an enormous, ancient, industrial-looking heater in the living room. While I was away for the weekend, Milo jumped behind it and rolled around in all the dirt and dust and grime. My white cat with grey spots was now all grey. The bath was at least an hour-long affair and in the end, I was more soaked than he was.

The ceiling: I lived in a duplex for a couple of years in Duluth with my dear friend Gretta and her kitty Hansel. We lived on the top floor of an A-frame style house. One night we realized Milo wasn’t around and went looking through the apartment for him. In closets, under beds and couches, behind shelves, every place we could think a cat would hide and hang out. We couldn’t find him anywhere. After a while we opened our front door to the stairway/hallway and there he was. We didn’t think much about it, other than he must have run out the door at some point. Later that week I brought our rent checks to our landlady, who lived across the street from us. She started laughing and said she couldn’t believe our curious cat. I had no idea what she was talking about, but apparently, Milo had snuck into the cupboard underneath the kitchen sink, which led to a crawl space on the side of the house. As he was nosing around, he crashed through the bathroom ceiling of our downstairs neighbor. Rather than return the strange cat in his bathroom to the upstairs tenants and obvious owners, our neighbor just tossed him into the hallway. Weird, but so was Milo falling through the ceiling.

Milo in suitcase

The first impression: Also in the Duluth duplex….Gretta’s parents came to visit, I think it was the first time they had seen our new place. It was also their first time meeting Milo. While Gretta was showing them around, Milo found a bug on the floor and started toying with it. After his fun, he ate it. A few minutes later we were all visiting in the living room, Milo in the middle of the floor. He started to retch and gag and heave, then he threw up. He got up and moved to the other side of the room and threw up again. Then moved to another corner and threw up one more time. Poor Gretta’s mom….she had to leave the room! So nice to meet you, Milo.

The candle: Also in the Duluth duplex….Gretta and I often burned candles in our apartment. One morning I noticed Milo had no whiskers on one side, and the little ends that were left were brown and smelled like burnt hair. He’d gotten too close to the fire and singed his whiskers off. He was a bit asymmetrical and imbalanced until they grew back. Also, he never much cared about candles after that.

The neighbors: My apartment building in St. Paul was very cat friendly. A couple who lived there had a little grey kitty named Noodle. We often joked that Milo had a crush on her. These were the days when Milo loovvvved to dart out the door and escape into the hallway, he was such a monster. He actually was pretty fast, bounding up and down past the other apartments. One day he got underfoot as I opened my door and he ran out. I trolled the hallways on both floors looking for him, and arrived at Noodle’s apartment. They’d left their door open and there was Milo, camped out on their couch like he moved in three minutes ago. He was right at home and looked at me as if to say “What are you doing here and what do you want?”

Milo in the buggy

The window: Milo stayed at DT’s apartment in Minneapolis quite a bit. At that time, DT had a cat named Lester who was older (about the same age difference as Milo and RJ). It was nice for the kitties to keep each other company. The apartment was garden level, and during the summer DT installed a window air conditioner in the bedroom. The a/c didn’t cover the entire width of the window, so some insulation filler was used to cover the extra space. One morning DT came home to find the added barrier had been pushed through, open to the outside. Lester was on the bed right underneath the window, his big owl eyes wide. Milo was nowhere to be found in the apartment. A brisk walk around the block to hunt for that bad, bad cat….there he was, perched on the neighbor’s front porch. Who knows how long he had been out that night. BAD cat! He could be so damn naughty. (See so many stories, above.)

The plastic bags: I think a lot of cats have a thing for plastic bags, but Milo was especially obnoxious with them. He’d lick them, roll around in them, get inside them, then lick some more, then roll around again….over and over and over. And he’d just FIND them, even when we thought they were safely out of his reach. Do you want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? Cats in plastic bags is right up there.

The friends: Milo was friends with everyone. (See also “The neighbors,” above.) Family, friends, strangers, plumbers, contractors, adults, kids, people who are very allergic to cats, dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits….he did not discriminate. Milo was a social butterfly and absolutely insisted that you accept his friendship.

The persistence: Milo needed, nay, required human contact pretty much all the time. It wasn’t enough to just sit next to you, no no. On you, all over you, in-your-face was his end game and he didn’t often take no for an answer. He’d just keep trying until you lost your will. I caved sooner than most in our house, and sometimes begrudgingly. Once he was in my arms or in my lap, though….it made me so happy. Milo always knew what I wanted (him). And oh, the snuggling. Milo was the best snuggler. Something I miss so fiercely right now is holding him during a nap. When he woke up he would strrrrrretttttch way out and reach his front paws to touch my face.

Milo and flipflops

When I talked to my dad after he died, one of the things he said to me was “You did everything right.” This, along with so much that long last week, just broke my heart.

Not only did I worry about Milo and the situation at hand, I worried about the decisions I made, or would have to make. I worried about his comfort. I worried about him suffering. I worried about how long to let things go before I had to make a decision. I worried about being selfish in wanting more time. I worried about his quality of life. I worried about the future….what if he did get better, then what? I worried about borrowed time. I worried about doing absolutely everything in my power to do right by Milo. I worried that I didn’t always know what that meant, or when the lines blurred between what was right by him, or what was right by me. I worried about staying objective and seeing his condition as it really was, without letting all the emotions take over. I worried, I worried, I worried.

So, to get to the end of it all, and look back….I don’t know if I did everything right, but God I hope so. It’s just a comfort to hear someone say it. In my time as Milo’s mamma, this ending was so, so important to get right.

His ending was at home, with DT and I right next to him. Holding his little paws, dabbing his lips with water, scratching his head, stroking his back. Talking to him and telling him “I love you” again and again and again. I’m so thankful we were there and he wasn’t alone. I’m so thankful we could comfort him and that he knew we right beside him.

I wouldn’t wish this hurt on anyone, but I wouldn’t trade my life with Milo for anything. I am so blessed to have had him, to have had his friendship and trust and loyalty all those many years. I didn’t always deserve it, but he never kept score and never held a grudge. I was always his mamma and that was all he asked for, all he required. So simple – just, be mine and make sure I am always yours.

Thank you, sweet sweet Milo for tapping me on the shoulder that day over 15 years ago. You knew even before I did that we were meant to be. I am the luckiest to be yours. Rest in peace – I love you so much.

Your mamma always xxxxoooo

Milo's 16th birthday

Milo’s 16th birthday, 10/31/14.


One of our chickens, Priscilla the Plymouth Rock, died over the weekend. DT and I were out of town and came home Monday night to find her lying on the floor of the chicken coop. We don’t know what happened – there didn’t appear to be any trauma or distress. She just died.

I feel terrible that it happened while we were gone and to have found her like that. I hope she didn’t suffer. I wish I knew the cause.

I know that in the grand scheme of life losses, it’s a chicken. But she was our chicken, our pet, part of our lives, and I’m still very sad. It’s so different without her and it’s amazing what a gaping hole can be left by a yard bird (my dad’s term of endearment for them). I feel like a crazy crying chicken lady.

Chickens eating mozzarella

The girls devouring a ball of fresh mozzarella – Gertrude, Deborah, and Priscilla.

I wrote about our chickens before – all three have/had such unique personalities, and Priscilla’s was really one of a kind. As far as chickens go. DT and I thought of her as the dim younger sister, always one step behind, trying to keep up, a bit slow on the uptake. The exception for this reputation was her figuring out how to weasel through the fence barricade we set up so they stay confined to the back of the yard. Gertrude and Deborah would be so mad and flustered (pace-pace-pace, back and forth-back and forth along the fence) to see Priscilla liberated on the other side.

And was she ever chatty. She looooooved to squawk and we were so entertained by her. I always enjoyed our talks. The yard is much quieter now.

I found this photo in a post from a backyard chicken group I follow and saved it on my desktop months ago. This, in a nutshell, perfectly encapsulates our funny Priscilla (and looks a whole lot like her):

Priscilla's mantra

Anyway. Again – perspective. But I’m sad and doing some grieving and adjusting to the change that is life without her. I just wanted to acknowledge and pay a small tribute for her being her. I’m thankful to have had sweet, strange, clucky little Priscilla in my life, however short our time was and no matter how silly it is. I won’t ever forget her and I know our family won’t either.

Rest in peace, Priscilla.

Dam to Dam 2015

DT and I headed south last weekend to run Des Moines’ big Dam to Dam half marathon.

I was extremely slow on the uptake with photos over the weekend….I just didn’t have the ol’ shutterbug in me. I’m a little bummed that I missed some good shots, but I’ll also get this post out quicker without much to edit. 🙂 See? Trade-offs, I guess.

While I’m missing the visual flair, I still wanted to write about the weekend because we found some new little treasures (and revisited some old favorites) in Des Moines and I didn’t want to forget them. AND I wanted you to know about them too.

First – big, fun news. Hellraising Hot Sauce has officially entered the Des Moines market! Through family/friend connections, DT and I met Rory at AllSpice Culinarium in the East Village neighborhood. We dropped off an order of sauce on our way into town and got to see his fantastic shop.

Hellraising Hot Sauce at Allspice 1

Hellraising Hot Sauce at Allspice 2

We ate our ritual, pre-race meal at Tavern Pizza Friday night. Nightcaps at Charlie’s Filling Station (their specialty – Screwdrivers with fresh-squeezed OJ) before a quick, restless night of sleep.

Saturday/race day was much cooler and wet than we expected. It wasn’t pouring ran, thankfully, but misting enough to be annoying and downright cold as we waited at the starting line.

I borrowed/stole this selfie from my brother-in-law Tom.

Dam to Dam 2015

Up front L-R: friend Pat, brother-in-law Tom. Behind L-R: DT’s sister Jill, DT, me.

DT and I crossed the finish line together and it felt so good to be DONE. High five!

We headed to Exile Brewing for celebratory post-race beers at 9:30 am. They were delightful.

DT, me post-race

DT and I ate lunch at Court Avenue Brewing Company. We nearly fell asleep at the table once we had food in our bellies. Sooooo….nap time!

Later, we met up with Jill, Tom, and a group of friends for drinks at MALO. It was packed! Next stop for drinks was Royal Mile.

We’d heard so much about Fong’s Pizza, we had to check it out. The rumblings were true – Fong’s makes delicious pizza. Super thin and chewy crust, zippy sauce, and a bunch of topping options.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend! I always feel like our time in DSM goes by way too fast. We’re already plotting a return summer visit so we can get another Iowa fix. 😉

The New Hellraisinghotsauce.com!

Just a quick post to announce something exciting for DT’s and my little hot sauce endeavor….the launch of Hellraisinghotsauce.com!

We’ve been relying HEAVILY on our Facebook page to promote our business and share updates about what we’re up to. We’ll continue to be active there of course, but this website is going to be an awesome resource. You can learn about our sauces and the peppers we use, see Instagram pics, find recipes and inspiration to use Hellraising Hot Sauce in your cooking, read the HHS blog, and ORDER ONLINE!

Cool, yes?

Many thanks to Rough Ride Creations for bringing this site to life – it will be a tremendous asset to our lil’ biz.

Please go check it out! 🙂

Spicyland in Costa Maya 2015

Our last stop of Winter Cruise 2015 brought us to Costa Maya, Mexico. This was a brand new port for both DT and me, so we were excited to check it out.

DT always does so much research for our trips, I’m lucky that way. Here, he found us another gem in Maya Chan, a day resort about 20 minutes away from the cruise port.

It was a verrrrrrrrrrrrry bumpy cab ride….the twisty backroads were either under construction or badly needed to be. The drivers to and from took it slow and dodged bumps and potholes as best they could.

Maya Chan entrance 3

Maya Chan is a family-run operation. Kevin greeted us at the entrance and proceeded with the tour. As you can already see, the grounds were spectacular.

And yes – that is a dog lying in the sand below….but don’t worry, he’s alive! It’s a little jarring to see that figure in the photo. We counted four dogs that hung out at the resort and on the beach. To be a beach dog….whatta life!

Maya Chan entrance 1

our cabana 1

It was a very rustic place – wood Adirondack chairs and huts lined the beach.

Here was our home base for the day.

our cabana 2

The friendly Maya Chan staff brought welcome drinks along with chips and salsa/guacamole. Their guacamole = SO fresh and delicious!

welcome salsa and guacamole

Maya Chan kayaks

Most of their equipment (kayaks, inflatable floaties and rafts, etc.) was included in the cost of the day pass. We didn’t get too ambitious, though – we stuck close to the beach and explored up and down.

Maya Chan bar 1

Maya Chan beach 1

You can see the cruise ships off yonder.

Their tree house was a fun little perch!

Maya Chan treehouse 1

It was cozy up top but had great views of the water and surrounding resort.

view from treehouse 1

view from treehouse 2

me in the treehouse

The steps back down, though….ayyyyy! Steep and skinny. Those railings got the death grip from me!

Costa Maya beach 3

It was another AMAZING day….the weather on this trip was surreal.

One definition of paradise could include a sunny day on a beautiful beach in the Caribbean, a glass of wine, and a/an [e]-book.

iPad on the beach

I’d say I accomplished all of those things pretty successfully at Maya Chan.

Costa Maya selfie

Maya Chan bar 2

Maya Chan beach 5


When it was time for lunch, Kevin gathered us around their counter, filled with freshly prepared food. A make-your-own-taco bar!

Choose your meat, then add some or all of the authentic fixings – sauteed peppers and onions, pickled onions, beans, cheese, rice, homemade salsa, guacamole, and hot sauce.

lunch buffet

They were so accommodating and offered a vegetarian plate for me.

veggie fajita fixins

I loaded up those tortillas with the beyond-flavorful ingredients….sooooo tasty! Easily one of the best meals we had on this trip.

veggie fajitas

bar kitty

Bar/beach kitty! And can I just say – about a THIRD the size of our big, fat, slobby felines at home!

Costa Maya port 1

Back on the ship, waving goodbye to our last port. Where has the week gone??

Costa Maya coast

The sixth night's little towel friend

The second-to-last night dazzled us with another fiery sunset.

Night 6 sunset 1

Night 6 sunset 2

Night 6 sunset 3

And with that, another cruise in the books. Another wonderful, relaxing, beautiful, fabulous, amazing, leisurely, FUN, have I also mentioned WONDERFUL and AMAZING?, cruise.

Until next winter, then!

Spicyland in Roatan 2015

Wednesday morning….I stepped out onto our balcony as the ship was docking in Roatan.

docking in Roatan 1

Perfect timing!

docking in Roatan 2

Another gorgeous (HOT!) day ahead.

Caribbean skies – morning, noon, and night – just slay me. Unbelievably beautiful, without fail.

Mahogany Bay morning

Since we did excursions of some kind at the other three ports on this cruise, it was kind of nice to just hop off the ship here and walk to a fantastic beach straightaway.

Remember two years ago at Mahogany Bay?

Mahogany Bay entrance


I didn’t take as many photos this year, but it was just as we remembered.

view from the pier 1


view from the pier 2

After sufficient Roatan beach/sun/lounging/reading/drinking time – and sweating our ears off, this by far was the warmest stop – we headed back to the ship for a late lunch.

Psssssstt….do you see what I see??

Hellraising Hot Sauce planted

DT and I planned a little covert operation with our Hellraising Hot Sauce on this trip. We planted a bottle of Sweet Suffering at the Blue Iguana Cantina, where made-to-order burritos and tacos are served for breakfast and lunch.

There’s a condiment bar and you can accessorize your meal with a slew of fixings – a variety of salsas, vegetables, crema, cheese, and that’s right, HOT SAUCE. Two big, long rows of hot sauce bottles.

We slipped ours in the first day and made a game of passing by each morning and afternoon to see how much had been used.

The situation was a bit puzzling at times. Some instances Sweet Suffering would be right there in the lineup – others it was nowhere to be found. So we thought we were totally busted; that the keeper of Blue Iguana hot sauces recognized the invader from outside the usual inventory and it was tossed. But then the next day it would be back again. But then two days later, gone once more.

It TOYED with our emotions! Kidding, kind of. It was just fun to see it, standing proudly on a Carnival cruise ship, holding court with the other sauces. And when we could see that it had been used, when there was less sauce in the bottle than there was before….very cool. (DT: “Sweet Suffering is out there, I checked the level – it’s DOWN! People are using it!!” Me: “SHUT UP! Can you believe it??”)

You know, we’re just big hot sauce nerds now. This is how we spend our time.

Roatan sunset 1

Roatan sunset….

Roatan sunset 2

Roatan sunset 3

leaving Roatan

….like I said at the top of this post – Caribbean skies, man.


Roatan sunset 4

Night five's little towel friend

The fifth night’s little towel friend.

Our cruise is winding down….waaaaahhhh! Our last port is coming up, and it was a new one for us – Costa Maya!