What’s Making Me Happy: July 2017

Summer has been playing ping-pong with our weather here in Massachusetts. Some days it’s sunny, 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, and disgustingly very humid. Other days it’s rainy and hovering around 70. (Though there have been glorious days in between, often with good timing for my Cape Cod trips. *smiles*) And personally, my month of July mirrored that fluctuation. Without going into detail, it went back and forth between contentedly quiet and productive, to stressful and tiring. 😐

So I’m partly glad that July is almost over, especially since it means the NYC trip is getting closer. (Yay!) It also means that today marks the next installment of What’s Making Me Happy. (Double yay!) So I’m linking up once again with fellow DIY MFA columnist Leanne Sowul and sharing five things that made me smile when I needed it most this past month.

I Baked Peanut Butter & Jelly Cookies

I found a recipe for these delightful cookies from Stonewall Kitchen years ago, and this month I finally gave it a whirl. They’re basically peanut butter thumbprint cookies (where you use your thumb to make an indentation in the middle) filled with jam. I made them for a get-together with friends, and we all agreed that they make an excellent summertime dessert that isn’t overly sweet. It’s also a great option for anyone who’s not a fan of chocolate. (Though I bet a chocolate filling would be YUMMY.)

Interested in the recipe? Check it out at Stonewall Kitchen’s website. Jessica Gavin the Culinary Scientist also has a flourless version here. I recommend natural peanut butter to get a rich PB flavor without the additional sugar, and I alternated between two jams (strawberry and strawberry-peach) that paired well with the dough. These cookies also freeze well, so you can enjoy the leftovers later on.

I Watched “War for the Planet of the Apes”

This might surprise some readers (unless you read this post from 2015 or this one from 2016), but I’ve really enjoyed the Planet of the Apes reboot films, though I haven’t watched the original series. So this month I went with Younger Brother to see the third reboot film, War for the Planet of the Apes. I’ll skip a summary, since I don’t want to spoil anything from the first two films… But I’m still reeling from it days later.

War is (not unexpectedly) the darkest and most violent of the reboot films, and it shows the ape leader Caesar (played by Andy Serkis, who deserves the title of “King of Motion Capture”) wrestling with his inner demons. But it’s also a movie about hope, family, compassion, and remembering what’s most important in life. And while I wasn’t surprised by part of the ending, it still left me speechless and with a lump in my throat. In fact, it feels weird to include War in this post, since it’s not a happy film by any means. But I do think it was incredibly well done and a fitting end to the reboot series. (Or maybe not? Because apparently they’re planning to make a fourth film?? *bewildered head-scratching*)

I’m Listening to Ayreon’s The Source

Back in May, I revisited an album by Guilt Machine, one of many side projects by multi-talented Dutch songwriter / musician Arjen Lucassen. This month, it was all about The Source, the newest album by Arjen’s most famous project, Ayreon. It’s a science fiction metal opera – a description which might leave some of you saying, “HUH?!” So maybe this is a better description: heavy metal meets progressive rock, electronic elements and synthesizers, and folk / classical music, with each CD telling a sci-fi story and involving characters played by some of the most powerful and emotive vocalists (male and female) on the rock and metal scene.

Or I could just say it’s some of the most complex, insightful, and awesome music I’ve ever listened to. Either statement would be true. 😉

Here’s a YouTube clip of “Into the Ocean” from The Source. Not only does this track have a great retro vibe, but it features one of my favorite singers, Tommy Karevik of Kamelot and Seventh Wonder. (You can hear him from 2:53 to 3:22 and from 4:13 to 4:53.) The album also features Simone Simons of Epica, Floor Jansen of Nightwish, Russell Allen of Symphony X, and several other guest vocalists and musicians. If you like what you hear, I also recommend “The Day That the World Breaks Down,” “Sea of Machines,” “Star of Sirrah,” and “All That Was.”

I’m Using doTERRA’s Melaleuca (Tea Tree) Touch 

A couple months ago, I attended a yoga and essential oils workshop run by two local yoga teachers who are also sales representatives for doTERRA, one of the leading essential oil companies in the U.S. I purchased two of their oils that evening; and while I love the Whisper blend that I’m using as a fragrance, I’m even more happy with the Melaleuca (Tea Tree) Touch stick. In fact, I need to get a new one soon, because mine is almost empty!

Tea tree is known more for its health benefits than as an aromatherapy oil. It has an herbaceous, minty scent; and it’s excellent for the nails, hair, and skin. This particular tea tree product from doTERRA is diluted with fractionated coconut oil (which is also good for the skin) and features a roll-on applicator for easy use. I’ve used the stick for acne spot treatments at night and alternating with Neosporin on scrapes or paper cuts. And so far, it has helped everything heal more quickly and with little to no irritation. Also, the stick is small enough to carry in your pocketbook or makeup bag, so it’s handy on to the go.

I’m Grateful for OnDemand Cable

This spot was originally reserved for Game of Thrones (because AAAAAHHHH Season 7 has begun and #WinterIsHere AFLJALFJAKFALKFJALKSKLA). But this month I decided to stop watching TV after 9 PM. I typically don’t anyways; I’d already been using my cable’s OnDemand option to watch Black Sails and American Gods at dinnertime. But I was SO excited about Orphan Black‘s Season 5 premiere in June and GoT’s Season 7 kick-off two weeks ago that I made exceptions for both.

Now I know better. Even if I stay up to watch a 10 PM show on a Saturday and sleep in on Sunday, I’m exhausted and unable to focus for days. (Imagine having that [insert favorite TV show title] zombie-hangover for almost a week. Ugh.) It was a lesson twice learned that I should stick to a regular sleep schedule and rely on trusted “wind-down” methods (reading, soft music, and/or journaling) instead of hoping I’m not overstimulated. With OnDemand, I can catch up on each episode whenever it’s more convenient for me. And apart from a couple hiccups, it’s worked out well – and I’m not so sleep-deprived.

What were some of the things that made you happy in July? What are your favorite summertime foods, either healthy or dessert? Do you have any upcoming trips planned?

34 thoughts on “What’s Making Me Happy: July 2017

  1. I’m dying to try essential oils! I’ve read so much good and bad about them, though, I don’t even know where to start.

    As far as what I’m happy about, I have very mixed feelings about this upcoming weekend, when my husband and I take my son to college orientation. I think I’m more nervous than he is!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you want to try essential oils, maybe start with lavender. It’s one of the most popular and easiest to find (I bought mine at Whole Foods), though I don’t remember the brand name off-hand. (It’s not doTerra – that brand is sold exclusively online and through sales reps.) I’ll take a look and let you know what it is, because that particular brand lists suggestions of how to use the oil for lotions, body mists, linen sprays, baths, etc. They do recommend diluting most oils, too, with water or liquid coconut oil so that the oil isn’t too harsh on the skin.

      You might also want to check out this book from Sonoma Press. I bought it a few months ago, around the time I decided to start trying essential oils: https://www.amazon.com/Essential-Oils-Aromatherapy-Introductory-Guide/dp/098955869X

      I hope this weekend goes well for you and your family. I’m not a parent, but having been on the child / student side of attending college, I know how nerve-racking orientation can be. Just remember that it’s part of the process of freshman year, and he’ll hopefully make new friends and meet his roommate which should make the transition a little easier come time to move in for the fall semester.

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  2. Ooh, those cookies look good. 🙂

    July has been a month of ups and downs for me too. I would like the weather to get a bit better here though, it feels like autumn at the moment! I am looking forward to September and getting back to college, and finally doing the course that I wanted to do last year.

    When are you heading for NYC?

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are good. And addictive. Which may or may not be such a good thing… *lol*

      That’s great about the upcoming college course. What is it about?

      I’ll be in NYC three weeks from now. 🙂 And your comment indirectly reminded me that I should double-check my conference schedule now that all of the speakers / seminars have been confirmed. So thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My course is an Access to Higher Education course. I think I’ll be studying English Literature and History.

        That’s exciting! Reminders can come from funny places. 🙂 Have fun. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I know what you mean about ups and downs! But I’m glad you’ve had some really lovely weather and those cookies look delightful:)). I recall watching the earlier version of The Planet of the Apes which was excellent, with Charlton Hesten in the lead role – I haven’t seen any of the subsequent versions, though. I hope that August is a great month for you, too – minus the stress and tiredness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sarah. 🙂 This weekend was quite nice weather-wise, more like fall than a typical end of July here in MA. It’s nice to not have to run the air conditioning once in a while!

      I think August *should* be a better month, mostly because of the upcoming trip. That’s the mentality I’m adopting, anyways. Best wishes to you for a fruitful and joyful August as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ahh you beat me to the punch! I’m a little late on my WMMH post this month. It’ll come out Monday or Tuesday. I’d like to say I’m too busy doing the happy things to write about them, but the truth is I’m doing things like painting the laundry room and taking the cats to the vet. Summer always seems like a good time to do yearly things that don’t get done during the school year, but I tend to forget that my motivation is at its lowest during long, hot days. I just want to relax with my family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *lol* It’s OK. And you’re doing things that might not necessarily be happy-happy, but are things that are important and need to be done. I’ve got a (relatively minor) organization project that I’m aiming to finish before WDD. Sometimes it’s hard to pin down time for it between work, Cape trips, and writing. But it should be done before then. I’m too close to “done” to not get it done before then.

      Make sure you take a little time now and then to relax, btw. It makes the hard work of your household projects more rewarding, doesn’t it?

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  5. Oh, those cookies! ❤ I’ve made chocolate thumbprint cookies before, but not this version. They look delicious! 🙂

    It’s not summertime here, but rather the monsoon. Hot snacks in the evening with tea while it’s raining outside is the most popular monsoon ritual here. Last Monday was the start of a new month in the Hindu (lunar) calendar and this is the time for festivals. There’s something to look forward to pretty much every week and the food prepared is festival-specific, so there’s some delicious variety of foods to be had this season.

    July has been a very hectic month for me. As you know, work has started for me, so my blogging has taken a backseat. So has visiting other people’s blogs. I’m trying to find a schedule for reading blogs and pre-writing my posts on weekends for August. Let’s see how that goes!

    I tried my hand at Camp NaNo as well, but that didn’t go quite as planned. I instead participated in two readathons and was very happy to finish 7 books in as many days. It was a very rewarding experience! 🙂

    I hope August is filled with joy for you, without these little fluctuations. I hope your trip to NYC is everything you wished for. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • They’re so good, Nandini. I actually caved and took two of them out of my freezer at lunchtime. After I ate my salad, of course. 😉

      Snacks with tea are an excellent pairing. What kind of snacks, by the way? And any particular kind of tea? I know India’s plantations grow mostly black teas, but each kind has its own “personality.” (*facepalms because she’s such a tea-nerd*)

      I can imagine how crazy it’s been for you, adjusting to not just the job but also the long commutes you told me about. But it sounds like you have a strategy to try to get yourself back in the blogging swing. Just remember to pace yourself so you don’t get too overwhelmed. 😉

      7 books in 7 days?! (*flabbergasted*) Gosh, I have no idea how you and other readers can do that. I’m glad to just finish one book in 7 days! *lol* What books did you read, btw?

      I can’t WAIT for NYC. Less than 3 weeks away now! 😀 And I hope your August goes a little more smoothly than your July!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, cookies are just too tempting not to pick up. My office has a different one each day (store bought mass produced ones though) and I pick some up when I pass by the jars. *smiles guiltily*
        Oh, they are usually fried ones. Samosas are quite popular. We dip vegetables in batter (gram flour) and call them “bajji”. My grandmother’s sister makes them once a month and we all get together to enjoy them. 🙂 I think I can make a whole post on this someday. There are too many to list. 😂 We pair it with Assam black tea. We get the Lipton Yellow Label in my house. Most households use big brands rather than special ones. I don’t know if that answers your question appropriately. 😅
        I talked about the readathon on my book blog, but not on Pages That Rustle. I wanted to talk about it in a wrap-up post on Friday, but that didn’t happen. I shall leave a link to it in my Monday post for sure. I mostly read during my long commute to and from office. It’s amazing how much I can get done in that time!
        Woohoo! 😁 I can sense your excitement. Thank you! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • My office does something similar. On the Fridays when I work (my schedule includes having every other Friday off), someone brings in two dozen donuts from a local bakery. But that I can pass on, since I don’t care for donuts. But if someone brings in cookies or cake… that’s more difficult to avoid. 😉

        That all sounds so yummy. I admit that I didn’t have my first taste of Indian food until last year’s trip to NYC, when I went with 6 or 7 other writers (including a few DIY MFA folks) to an Indian restaurant after Gabriela’s launch party for the DIY MFA book. I had chicken tikka masala and some naan, and I liked it a lot.

        *lol* No worries about the tea. I was curious, that’s all. I know that India is one of the world’s biggest producers of tea, but I’m not familiar with how it’s consumed there. (I hope that makes sense; I wasn’t sure of how else to word it…? *blushes*)

        That’s great that you’ve found a way to pass the time during your commute – and with one of the best methods possible! I tend to tear through books faster when I travel than when I’m at home on my normal schedule. In fact, I’ve already picked out my book for my NYC trip.

        Am I allowed to keep counting down? Because TWO WEEKS FROM TOMORROW. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • I had two slices of (different flavour) cake yesterday (too many birthdays on the same day) and I couldn’t help myself either. I know exactly how you feel. 😁
        Indian food has a lot of variety, mostly because it is such a diverse country. I hope you didn’t find it very spicy. That’s one of the most common complaints about our food. 😂
        Haha, I got what you meant, so don’t worry about that. 😅 A lot of the good tea is usually exported, just like most of the other things India is famous for. For example, finding Kashmiri apples in India is like going on a quest, whereas Fuji apples are very common.
        You seem all set then. Who really needs an extra pair of clothes when you can take a book instead? 😂 Of course you’re allowed to count down! 😁 I don’t leave my house without a book in my bag or on my phone because I can get a lot of reading done during my commute. I want to switch to audiobooks but there seems to be no local option and Audible doesn’t do business in India yet. 🙁

        Liked by 1 person

      • I liked the chicken tikka masala a lot, actually. I have to be very careful of spicy foods for digestive reasons. So I asked one of the other writers there for suggestions, and that dish was one of them. It was flavorful, but not overly spicy. 🙂

        Huh. Interesting. I know I’ve heard of Kashmiri apples, but haven’t seen them in grocery stores there.

        That stinks about Audible. Do you have other audiobook services available in India? I read your review of Illuminae this morning, and I think you mentioned you listened to the book instead of reading a print copy.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Writing Links 7/31/17 – Where Genres Collide

  7. Very interesting Shares Sara! The experiences sound fantastic. Thank you for introducing me to Ayreon’s ‘The Source’. It reminded me of the lyrics and voices of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’! For me there are many, although the greatest joy that July gave me was enabling me to spend time with my husband and fur kids! Take care. Mary

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve been enjoying the reboot Planet of the Apes series as well. I doubt I’ll make it to theater for this one, but I’m definitely renting it once it’s available.

    Those cookies look delicious! I’ll have to try out that flour free version soon.

    I hope you enjoy this year’s NYC trip too; I look forward to hearing about it!

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  9. I need to see War of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve heard so many good things about it! I took several trips in July so I’m tripped out for right now, but I will be doing some events in my area come September. 🙂

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a good movie – good in terms of execution, acting, and themes, but not good in the “feel-good” sense. And have you seen the first two reboot films? Having the context from its predecessors will really help with understanding how things have become so dire in War.

      How was Realm Makers, btw? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cool. I’ve seen the first reboot film and now I need to see the second and third.

        Really good! I’m giving a full report tomorrow. ^ ^

        Liked by 1 person

      • The second one (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I think is the title?) is my favorite. It tells the strongest story of the bunch, I think. And I first saw it around the time when I started working on the Character Evolution Files, and I went nuts in the best way possible because Caesar has an incredible arc in the second film. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Lol at the Game of Thrones freak out. I’ve always been tempted to watch the show but… I don’t know what’s keeping me back now, especially since Hulu now offers the option to add HBO to it.
    I love cable on demand too because I hardly watch TV so I have to marathon things whenever I’m in the mood for TV watching.
    Those cookies!! I’ll have to see if any place close to me sells them. I don’t like being in the kitchen.
    What made me happy in July is that I got a new job and it’s awesome since I get to travel a bit. I spent July feeling proud of myself.

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    • That freak out still applies. In fact, that gobbledygook might be the only way to describe my feelings about Season 7 when all is said and done on the 27th. XD But yes, definitely watch GoT when you have a chance, starting from the beginning. It’s well done for the most part, especially in the acting, and it’s true enough to the spirit of GRRM’s books that I’ve been pleased with the TV adaptation overall.

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pre-packaged version of the PB&J cookies… But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. 😉

      That’s great about the new job! Glad to hear you’re enjoying it so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Here’s your friendly reminder (a.k.a. late visitor) that you were happy in July :).
    I have to confess that the American “peanut butter and jelly” mix is one of those things I just can’t wrap my head around. It’s not even that it tastes bad to me – it’s like in my perspective those two things don’t belong together. But I’m glad you’ve found a recipe that works for you. Good homemade cookies are always the mood lifter. 😉
    I think I’ve seen only the first of the new Planet of the Apes. Not sure if it was it, since it was a few years ago, but if you recommend it, we might have a look at the boxsets and get all of them.
    I also understand your reluctance to watch tv until late in the night. Ever since I moved over to the US and stopped losing sleep because of the time difference in a long distance relationship, I’ve had much more energy. I also adapted Inq’s sleep pattern: he goes to bed at 9-10pm and gets up at 6am which got my body clock in a routine. I think it helps a lot with being productive and having more energy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This put a smile on my face, on a day that I really needed it. Thank you, Joanna. 🙂

      *lol* Yeah, PB&J is very much an American food. When I was growing up, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were something I ate often, probably because they were easy to make. Plus, most American peanut butters are sweet (lots of added sugars, in other words), so the flavors didn’t clash too much. I eat only natural peanut butter now, though, so I imagine the combination might not be as appealing anymore.

      Oh yes, I’ve really enjoyed the Planet of the Apes reboot films, especially the second one. So I’d recommend the whole series without hesitation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Back when I was a kid, there wasn’t any peanut butter in Poland. We only had what Poland and other communist countries produced, so I guess I just didn’t have the chance to get used to it. Even now I only like it in moderation, and I’m not a fan of PB-flavored things.

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