31 August 2011

We Are All Connected

Good morning, everyone. I saw this video over on Four Leaf Clover yesterday and really loved it. And even though I'm not a huge "I am connected with this tree" kind of person, I wholeheartedly believe that what we do, and the choices we make will have either a positive or negative effect on others, and our environment. Check it out, it's less than a minute long...

I thought this video and the idea that we are all connected also had special meaning today because I really feel like that applies to the blogging world as well. Everything I read, every post that encourages or inspires influences what I write here on the blog. So many of you put out a lot of creative, positive, and hopeful energies out into the web, and as I take them all in they morph into their own new thing here in my little blog space. Cool, huh?

Yesterday, the lovely lady writing at My Beautiful Life connected to me in a very sweet way- by awarding me and some others the Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks you so much, I'm honored! I connected with My Beautiful Life months and months ago...we connected over a mutual passion for watching Rick Steves' videos and a love for travel. She's really a lovely blogger and truely a versatile blogger!

To receive the award one must share 7 things about them...easy enough, right?...

1. My middle name is Neva. Which is my grandma's name. My mother's name is Aven, that's Neva spelled backwards. So I kind of got a two for one with my middle name.

2. I wear the same black running shorts and pink wicking tee every single Saturday because it is comfortable.  When PMSing, I frequently cry about this fact because I feel like I've lost all my young spunk and sexiness.

3. I have too many moles and freckles to count. We did count 61 just on my back! But I love them. They make make my body completely different than anyone elses, and I love how they look on my back and shoulders. I only have 2 ugly ones, and I wish I could get them removed.

4) I add chocolate chips to my chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

5) I hate brushing my teeth. But I do it anyways, twice a day. But if there was one thing I could not do and get away with it...that would be it.

6) I worked in a dry cleaners for close to six years and it was the best job I ever had. If it didn't pay so little I would still be doing it. It's my dream job.

7) This morning I'm drinking a smoothie that looks like this...
...but it tastes like the berries in Captain Crunch Berries cereal.

In addition to my facts, I am supposed to pass it on to 15 other bloggers. Since I like to break the rules and I want the award to be even more special, I want to pass it on to 5....

1. Four Leaf Clover- for posting so many cool things (like that video) and sharing your heart for animals and the environment. You are so cool.

2. Vanisha's Life in Fiji- for posting beautiful pictures of Fiji and having a heart thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis big for kids and education!

3. Amy Around the Corner- for posting about anything under the sun, being real and genuine, and accomplishing your goals.

4. Alkeemi- for posting awesome pictures and posts about Indian culture and design. I LOVE IT!

5. Half & Half- for making me laugh out loud (literally) every time I read your blog.

30 August 2011

Warm Cranberry-Walnut Oatmeal

I mentioned this breakfast two weeks ago in a weekend update. John and I were craving something warm and homey, and something that reminded us of cool weather because we were/are  getting so tired of the boiling temperatures we've been having here in Florida. This homemade oatmeal really hit the spot and kept us full for hours. My blog friend Sienna recommended I post the actual recipe for it, and I promised I would. Sienna, I hope you enjoy this oatmeal on a cool day in London!

Warm Cranberry-Walnut Oatmeal
Serves 2

2 cups raw oats
1 cup water
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a dash of salt
Maple syrup to your desired taste

Boil water and add oats, bring to low simmer and stir until thickened (about 8-12 minutes). Stir in toppings and serve warm! Easy peasy!

Question of the Day:
Do you have a go-to, from scratch, breakfast recipe?

29 August 2011

Weekend Update| August 29, 2011

Me and Boomer Conrad

Good morning, folks! Guess what, I got a kitty!

Ah, not really, but we did get to go play with my good friend Caitlin’s kitty cat on Friday night and John really enjoyed it.  He actually considered getting one in the very near future…then someone mentioned that they are allergic and wouldn’t be able to come over and he changed his mind.  Either way I want a cat…I honestly don’t know if I would allow myself to commune with those who dislike them anyway…  ;-)

The real point of this story, though, is the fact that we finally got to go over to our friends Caitlin and Ben's house for dinner Friday night.. Caitlin was the first friend I ever made when I moved to Orlando for school five (!) years ago. She got married to Ben back in March and we finally made it to their place to see their sweet little love nest.

They cooked us a delicious vegan meal, complete with brownies, and we so enjoyed the natural flow of conversation with them. They are consumer anarchists, too, and much of our conversation was trading ways to save and recent developments in homemade cleaning products. 

Pumpkin Pie Banana Chunk Cookies.... from, guess who....

The fun with friends didn't end on Friday, though. Saturday morning we got up early to help some new friends move into town. Not only did I enjoy moving heavy boxes with my friend Laura and her mom, but it also served as my workout for the day (bonus!)

I can't tell you how excited I am about the new friends God has brought into my life and the ways my relationships with "old" friends has become more and more rich. I really felt so blessed this weekend to be surrounded by great people with similar interests and passion for God. We hung out with friends Friday night, Saturday morning, and had our friends Jen and Nate over for dinner Saturday night.  I didn't realize how much I was in need of community until I started finding it. I hope I never have to go through another season of "alone."

Sunday we went to church and then ran some errands before parking our butts on the coach for some downtime and a movie. We watched one of my favorites...Bottle Shock. It's set in the Napa Valley, and we watched it because we are considering planning a trip there for our second or third wedding anniversary. The more we watched it the more we got excited about the potential for the trip! If you haven't seen this movie, you must. Here's some of my favorite lines:

"You have to have it in your blood, you have to grow up with the soil underneath your nails, the smell of the grapes in the air that you breathe. The cultivation of the vine was an art form. The refinement of the vine is a religion that requires pain and desire and sacrifice."

""Wine is sunlight, held together by water." The poetic wisdom of the Italian physicist, philosopher, and stargazer, Galileo Galilei. It all begins with the soil, the vine, the grape. The smell of the vineyard - like inhaling birth. It awakens some ancestral, some primordial... anyway, some deeply imprinted, and probably subconscious place in my soul."

Question of the Day:

Have you ever visited the Napa Valley?
Any recommendations?

26 August 2011

Friday Replay: Crustless Cranberry Pie

Friday Replay is where I get a chance to replay some of the posts that I wrote back when the only people reading were my mother and husband. So many of them mean a lot to me, and show my heart a bit more, so much so that I want to share them with the many readers I'm blessed to have now!

Crustless Cranberry Pie

This month marked the beginning of cranberry season. This is, perhaps, one of my favorite food seasons, with fresh peanuts, avocados, and nectarines following close behind. Cranberry season always starts this way...

Me (answers phone): Hello?
Mom: Hey sweetie! Guess what time it is!!!
Me: (waits in suspense)
Mom: Cranberry time!

From that moment on we start plotting weekend bake-isodes, calling each other frequently to talk about the latest muffins, breads, or cobblers to leave our ovens. Truly the best time of year. One great things about this season is that, unlike some other fruits, these fresh little beauties can be bagged up, placed in the freezer and used year-round. Enjoy my favorite cranberry recipe here:

Crustless Cranberry Pie

3/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 lg eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup finely chopped pecans

1) Preheat oven to 375. Grease 8" pie plate or 9" square cake pan.

2) Beat butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Fold in flour with spatula. Fold in cranberries, pecans and spread evenly into pan.

3) Bake 45 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Serve hot or cold. Bon appetit!
Question of the Day:
What's your favorite fall food?
P.S. So sorry, friends, for all the radio silence. I'm still around, and I'll be following up on all your blogs really soon...it's been a bit of an insane week.

24 August 2011

Travelogue: Fez, Morocco

Bab boujloud

Hello, connoisseurs! Today is a day I've been looking forward to for some time now. The chance to finally share the pictures and experiences so close to my heart from our honeymoon to Spain and Morocco. Fez is a magical city, and you can't help being drawn in by it! Fez is the cultural capital of Morocco and consists of miles and miles of alleys burrowing through the bustling medina enclosed by huge walls and accessible only through any of the twelve city gates. No cars are allowed in this city, only pedestrians and donkey carts.

Overlook of Fez.

It has been said that to walk every alley of the city would take all of three months to do. They vary from broad to almost impossible to walk through...and one is left to wonder how these buidlings were even build up so close to one another. You look above you to see two buildings leaning on one another and wonder if their ancient stone might crumble on top of you at any moment.

John and I were privileged to spend two full days here. One we spent exploring on our own and the other we spent buying up souvenirs, going on a guided tour, and drinking as much Moroccan tea as is humanly possible.

I know people are anti-guided tour, and usually I am too, but because Fez is so huge, so confusing, so busy, and every single alley looks the same, a guided tour will help get you to the best sights in town that you probably wouldn't be able to find on your own. The only downside to these tours is that they are designed to get you to spend money (and too much of it at that!) so be polite, say thank you, maybe even tip people for their presentation, but don't feel obligated to buy.

One of our stops on our guided tour was to a hand woven fabric store. As you can see they make beautiful scarves, blankets, and even duvets. Any guided tour will take you here, guaranteed. I did purchase here. The prices weren't that bad for what they were (hand dyed and woven). No bartering here...the price is the price.

At the tanneries

Another stop is the tannery. There are many in Fez, but this is the most famous. The prices are VERY steep here, I would buy in another city if you plan on traveling around Morocco a bit more to avoid the Fez mark-up. The tanneries are the largest in the world and smell absolutely disgusting. Part of the tanning process is to soak the skins in fermented pigeon poop, and it smells absolutely rancid. They leave sprigs of fresh mint around the railing to hold to your nose...this feels a bit snobby (in a "I'm so wealthy and can't stand the stench of those lesser" kind of way) but it can't be avoided, the smell will cue your gag reflex.

Many other stops were made, but one of my favorites were to the many mosques in Fez. Fez is known as the "Mecca of the West." As I mentioned, it is the cultural captial of Morocco, but what makes it so is that it is the spiritual center of the country. Here you will find the oldest mosques in the country, and some of the most grandiose.  We were allowed in, Morocco only allows Muslims into their mosques, but you can stand at the front and take a look inside.

As you speak with the locals you find that the people of Fez are very proud to be so. Their attitude is that of a Texan or a Saudi...they believe whole-heartedly that they are from the best place in the world! When you ask people in other Moroccan cities where they are from they might hold their chin high, their hand to their heart and proclaim, ever so loudly and proudly, that they are from "the beautiful city of Fez, the spiritual capital!!"

When you're not touring I recommend walking up and down the streets. There are two main "roads," the Talaa Kebira and Talaa Seghira. There is more than enough to see on these two roads and if you want to venture far off the beaten path just make sure you know those two street names so that people can point you back to them.

When bartering for souvenirs take it slow, build a relationship, and get to know the storekeeper. Stop for mint tea and some schwarma. One of my favorite memories was stopping in a (literal) hole in the wall where an old man was grilling up questionable meat. We decided it looked like an adventurous place to eat and squeazed in the five foot by five foot hole to sit at a wooden table with an absolutely ancient old Moroccan couple already eating their lunch. We sat down and made small talk. Very, very small talk in broken Moroccan Arabic and bits of French. The chef brought us mint tea served in glasses that I swear haven't seen soap in years and we sipped happily away. The old couple slid over their plate of meat and bread and insited we share with them until our food was ready. There we were, with people we had never met, sharing a meal and having a good laugh over...well, I'm not really sure...the inability to communicate, I suppose.

Question of the Day:
When you travel do you do guided tours?
What's your favorite "with the people" memory?

23 August 2011

Coconut-Curried Lentils and Rice

The supplies

Happy Tuesday, folks! Today I have a special recipe to share, it's one of my all-time favorites from Supermarket Vegan, a cookbook by Donna Klein. Vegan or not, you should pick up this book, it is filled with delicious recipes, and I promise you that you won't even miss the animal product. Not only is this recipe good for you, it's also easy to make and tastes like it took all day.

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with juices
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
1/2 cup water (plus more as needed)
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Rice of your choice, for serving

In a large, deep-sided non-stick skillet with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened (3 minutes.) Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add tomatoes, coconut milk, lentils, water, brown sugar, curry powder, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes; bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to low simmer on low heat. Cover and cook until lentils are tender but not falling apart, 40-45 minutes and stir occasionally. Stir in the cilantro and remove from heat. Serve over rice.

Question of the Day:
Do you cook ethnic food at home? If so, what kinds?

22 August 2011

Weekend Update| August 22, 2011

Good morning, everyone! Is your week off to a good start? So far I've seen better Mondays. I woke up with an upset stomach and also had trouble finding pants that fit nicely. I hate mornings like that. This morning did have one thing going for it though...today is John's birthday! (More on the later.) First, a weekend update!

Brett and John (and Gnigel)

Friday night we had our friend Brett over for dinner. I made spinach feta turkey burgers and sweet potato fries. Brett is a new mobilizer at Pioneers and works in the same building as John does. He's a really great guy and we both enjoyed getting to learn more about him and share a meal together now that he's finally moved down to Orlando. 

Also, they are twins. Were John and Brett separated at birth? There's no way to be sure...

Saturday morning we slept in a bit and then I made a big pot of homemade oatmeal. Oatmeal is quickly becoming a weekend tradition in our family...it's so warm and cozy and perfect for a lazy weekend! This concoction has syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried cranberries, and walnuts. I can't wait to whip up some new oatmeal recipes for autumn!

After breakfast, thanks to all your encouragement on my running post last week, we got on our workout clothes and headed for the park!

After our run.

We ran about 1.6 miles and felt pretty good. It was a warm day so we sweated a lot, but we didn't feel like keeling over by the end of our run, so that's something to get excited about.  The only downside was a knee sprain that I got...I think it's a sprain on my MCL and to be honest I'm not really sure how to fix it. I've been trying to stretch it and take it easy. Any other advice?

Also, we joined a gym at a community center near our neighborhood. It was dirt cheap (because it's ghetto) but has all the equipment we need to start building up some  muscle again.  I think that might be half of the problem with my knees...I'm going running and putting all this force on my legs but my muscles aren't really equipped to handle it.

John blowing our his birthday (Yankee) candle. :)

The rest of the day we spent celebrating John's birthday early! For his birthday I had gotten him this nice camera backpack for our D-SLR and a 50-minute massage at a spa in town. So our afternoon was spent out in the Hiawassee area for his massage (which is a very nice area, by the way...) and then went out to our favorite Turkish restaurant for his birthday dinner.

We started a tradition in our family last May for my birthday that for our birthday cake we go to Too Jays Deli and buy up a couple slices of whatever cake we want. So we kept that going Saturday night and feasted like kings when we made it back to the house!

My beauties

For his birthday, I have another tradition....each year I make public professions of why I love John. And I make one for each year he's lived! This year....

25 Public Professions of Why I Love John!

1. I love that he does my laundry.
2. I love that he likes to kiss me on my forehead.
3. I love that technology malfunction can make him go absolutely bizzerk.
4. I love that he always pulls the covers off me when he reaches over to his night stand (this is a love-hate thing...)
5. I love that, when talking to me, he will replace all his "th's" with "z's"
6. I love that he calls me "habibti" (an arabic term of endearment).
7. I love that he worries about finances...it shows he really cares about providing for me.
8. I love that even though he worries, after a while, he'll remember that he needs to trust God.
9. I love his passion for people across the world.
10. I love that he makes instant connections with Persian men.
11. I love that he gets so excited and passionate about photography.
12. I love that I know his exact routine in the shower and little things like the things he has to do before bed. Intimacy, my friends, is the best feeling in the world.
13. I love that he is quick to forgive, and is quick to let me know when he is upset so we can resolve the issue.
14. I love that he listens to me when I have a ton of things on my mind.
15. I love the way he plays with kids and the natural paternal instincts he has.
16. I love the way he decides what shirts look good and which look bad (even though they all look fine.)
17. I love the way he shaves...it's fun for me to watch and I can't help but sit there thinking "man, I snagged me a man!"
18. I love the way he prays with me.
19. I love that he enjoys baking.
20. I love how he really does listen even though he seems distracted. And when I say, "Oh, yeah?? Then what was I talking about??" he can tell me exactly what I was talking about.
21. I love when he sings in the car even when he knows only half the words.
22. I love that he digs every single Usher song he ever hears.
23. I love that he picked me to be his wife.
24. I love he picked Jesus before he picked me.
25. I love that I got to wake up next to him this morning and say "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!"

Question of the Day: 
What are your birthday traditions?

19 August 2011

Friday Replay- Moroccan Mint Tea

Friday Replay is where I get a chance to replay some of the posts that I wrote  back when the only people reading were my mother and husband. So many of them mean a lot to me, and show my heart a bit more, so much so that I want to share them with the many readers I'm blessed to have now!

Green Tea and Mint

Have you been to Morocco? If so, you most certainly indulged in this overly sweet concoction. If you're like me you found that after one or two glasses you suffered from addiction and though it was 100 degrees outside you needed a piping hot serving every hour on the hour. 

Though this recipe can never replicate the actual experience being served mint tea in an old dusty Moroccan coffee shop, it does get quite close to actual flavor. Here's step by step instructions for creating this at home:

What you will need:

Gunpowder Green Tea (I found this brand at my local Middle Eastern market)
A handful of fresh mint leaves (rinsed and patted dry)
Medium sized tea pot (I bought this at M.E. market, but can buy here)
Adorable little tea glasses (these were given to me as a gift, but you can buy something like it here)
Boiling hot water

Step 1: Boil 6 cups water in an electric kettle or a stove top kettle.

Step 2: Place 2-3 scoops of gunpowder green tea in medium tea pot. (See below)

1 scoop

1 scoop is enough to fill the little well in the cup of your hand. (I have tiny hands)

Step 3: While the water is heating, pick all the leaves off the stem of the mint plant and place in glasses (really stuff them in)

Step 4: Pour boiling hot water into medium tea pot (an inch over the spout) and let steep for 2-3 minutes.

Step 5: After 2-3 minutes, swish water around in pot and pour 85% of the water out into a glass (this cleans the leaves, the water should be murky) and then fill, again with boiling water to the same line. This will be the tea you pour into the glasses.

(Final) Step 6: Let the new water steep the leaves for about 6-7 minutes. Add 4 heaping spoonfuls of sugar pour into glasses. The higher you pour, the more the hospitality. And it creates a nice bubbling on top of the tea.

18 August 2011

Finding a Reason to Run

I wish I looked like this when I ran....

                                                                                                     Source: foreverfit.tumblr.com via Hannah on Pinterest

But instead I usually look like this....

                                                                                                               Source: buzzfeed.com via Hannah on Pinterest

As you know, John and I have been "training" for a 5k. I feel like, lately, I've gotten into a rut. I know that if I work at it I will enjoy it, because I have before! Three years ago I took three months to train for a 10k and I felt amazing. There's nothing like being able to run for 20 minutes straight without breaking a sweat, and even though I miss that feeling it's not enough to get my butt out the door.

For some reason I can't find my motivating factor. I've tried...

"Running to stay fit." - Even though my body has definitely seen better days I seem to be content with it's smushy state.

"Running so I can have a rockin' bod." - Even though my body has definitely seen better days I seem to be content with it's smushy state.

"Running so I can eat whatever I want." - I'll eat whatever I want running or no running.

"Running so I'll have more energy." - Yeah, but I don't have the energy to start running!

"Running because it is fun." - Lies.

"Running because people who run are really cool." - Don't worry, I already have that covered. ; )

"Running because you're fleeing from law enforcement." - I've definitely considered committing crimes in an effort to jump start my training.

See? I'm at a loss here! I have exactly 5 weeks left to prepare for my 5k and I'm way behind! I'm trying my hardest to have the fact that I have to run 3.1 miles in 5 weeks be my motivating factor, but there's only one problem there...I'm the master procrastinator. I never worked on a homework assignment early...always the night before. I thrive on pressure! The only problem is, I know that it is impossible to train for a 5k the night before.  Oh Lord, do I need help!

Question(s) of the Day: 
How do you stay motivated to run/work out?
Any tips for training for a race?
What keeps your workouts fresh and fun?

17 August 2011

How We Do What We Do

Today I get to share with you all more of what we do and what we are passionate about. You know that I work full-time at the University of Central Florida, and I’ve mentioned John’s work with a missions agency here in town, but I haven’t really talked about the fact that half of our income comes from the generosity of others who believe in what Pioneers does and how God is using John and I through it. That’s right; you read correctly, half of our overall income relies completely on others' willingness to give!

I have to admit that raising half of our income through support has been challenging, humbling and at times embarrassing. But through it all God has shown that he will come through and provide us with what we need…not always what we want, but always what we need. 

John and I were talking the other day about some potential outlets for building out support team and this blog immediately came to mind. I would be tickled pink if you allowed me to share what we do and ask you to consider partnering  with us through prayer and/or financial assistance if you feel so led.

John in the Middle East (2009) and Me in North Africa (2008)

John and I have always felt called to mission work and have both served overseas through the years. In the summer of 2009 John picked up and moved to the Middle East for the summer on a business internship-style mission trip offered through The Edge (a short-term missions program through Pioneers.) He had an incredible time and came back ready to head back onto the mission field.

We talked about getting married and moving to the Middle East full-time, but after a month of prayer and deliberation we felt that God wanted us here instead. We had no idea why, it didn’t seem like Orlando had much to offer after we finished college, but we listened anyways. It wasn’t a month later when the director of mobilization at Pioneers called John up to offer him a position as the director of the very program he went with just a year earlier. John accepted, we got married, raised some support and he got started.

Now John spends half of the year preparing college students for their short term (1-3 month) summer mission trips, providing a pre-field orientation, send off, and debrief time when they return and offering them direction for future full-time work in missions.  The other half of the year he spends traveling all over the country to various universities trying to recruit young Christian college students with a passion for taking the gospel to the darkest places in the world.

89 Edgers the day before they headed overseas this summer.

What is special about The Edge is…
  • They provide 1-3 month trips that are designed to provide a long-term feel, thus giving the students a good vision of what long-term mission work would look like for them. This is something you cannot achieve in a 1-2 week summer trip.
  • They send students to the toughest, most needed areas where the gospel has yet to be preached. We send students to unreached tribes in China, to remote villages in the mountains of Central Asia (the "-stans"), to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and even the jungles of Peru…to name a few. We desire to send Pioneer students to the places no one else wants to go… where less that 2% of people are Christians and where they may not even have a bible translated into their language yet. 

      This graph shows that the areas of greatest need are the ones with the fewest missionaries going.
      Via The Traveling Team

      God is using this program to change the hearts of students, bring light to the darkest places in the world, and carve a path for the thirsty to the life-giving water of Christ. Trusting God to stay put and wait instead of rushing overseas was one of the best things we ever did, and now that we are in it I have no doubts about why we are here. God is using our time- John’s time- in this job to grow us and stretch us in preparation for future service to the Lord. I know this for fact.

      If you would like to learn more about Pioneers, are interested in going on a summer trip or longer stay overseas or are interested in being on our prayer or financial support team, please contact me at culture_connoisseur@yahoo.com …or click the button below to be directed to the giving page where you can donate a onetime gift or sign up as a monthly supporter (all gifts are tax deductible). Thank you for considering partnering with us and all the support you offer us here on our blog!

      Click to give
      (our acct number is 101284 and the missionary name is John M.)

      *Please note that this mission in no way desires to force people to Jesus or to add notches to our "people I've converted" belt. This is, however, about us sharing about the grace and mercy available to all people through Christ and investing in peoples lives and loving them regardless of where they are at in their spiritual journey.

      16 August 2011

      Photo on Pointe

      Photo Credit: John Malone

      If I'm shooting straight with you, I don't really feel like blogging today. I need a day off, a day more disconnected. And that's exactly what I plan on having! But I didn't want to leave you completely hanging, instead I came to share a beautiful photo my husband took yesterday.

      John has been trying to learn more about the art of digital photography and, in an effort to improve his shots, has started doing the weekly photograph challenge over at the Digital Photography School. This week's challenge is "shoes" so I dusted off my old pointe shoes and let him work his magic. I thought this one turned out lovely, and looks almost like a water color painting with all the yellow and blue hues in it.

      What do you think of this picture?

      P.S. It's amazing the difference 20 pounds makes when supporting your entire body on your toes. My ballerina days are clearly over... 

      15 August 2011

      Weekend Update| August 14, 2011

      Grandma's homemade chicken salad

      Whew! What a whirlwind weekend! I have so much to update you on, but I'll try to do so in as few words as possible so I don't exasperate you.

      Friday evening, John picked me up from work and we headed down to Vero Beach, Florida, where my mom, step-dad, and grandma live. This weekend was my mom's birthday and next week is John's so we wanted to have a little birthday party for everyone. As soon as we got there we were presented with my grandma's homemade chicken salad...doesn't it look divine? It was.

      John opening presents

      We enjoyed a great meal and caught up on the last couple weeks since we had last seen each other. I love having a meal with my family, we always laugh till we cry and enjoy trading stories from work and such.

      We exchanged some presents a day early because we were all so excited to gift-give! John has been talking about wanting a grill for months now, and finally got a nice propane camping grill that works nicely on our tiny porch. (It can be put away so it can go unnoticed...since grills are technically not allowed at our complex.) We're not ones to get hung up on technicalities though...bring on the barbeque!

      Mom opening gifts.

      My mom collects baking dishes just like I do. Actually, on Saturday we helped my grandma move into her new house and I found boxes and boxes of cookware. Apparently this addiction hobby has been passed down a few generations.

      I found some really pretty hand-painted dishes at TJ Maxx for my mom and couldn't wait to give them to her. I think this may be the very first gift I've ever bought her. I always make her things and picking out some pretty dishes for her birthday was so exciting for me. Happy birthday, mom!

      Me and Mr. Squiggles

      David (my step-dad) found an itty bitty garden snake and let me hold him. It's funny how even though their little jaws are two small to bite it still freaked me out when he would spook and cock his head back to attack. He was a cute little thing though, and provided the only connection with nature I experienced all weekend.

      Me and J in matching swimsuits

      Saturday my mom and I helped settle my grandma into her new house and John and David went to shoot guns at the shooting range. John had never gone shooting before (well, since he's been an adult) and did a really great job. And he did so without blowing any of his extremities to bits! (Thank the Lord!) I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of machines that kill...which is a shame, because I'm a great shot.

      Once we met back at the house I cut John's hair. Did I mention that I also cut my own hair last week? We have estimated that by cutting our own hair from now on we will save a whopping $260 a year. (#consumer anarchy.) We've really taken things to the next level. From here the only thing left is to fill our own cavities and perform our own major surgeries. ;-)

      John throwing pizza dough

      Saturday night John and I cooked for everyone. We made pizza and a salad. I came up with three pizza recipes:

      The Piazza Pie (an Italian-style pizza)
      The Plato Pizza (a Greek-inspired pizza)
      The Sasksquash (a veggies only concoction)

      I definitely have to share these recipes with you and plan to do so in the coming weeks. The pizzas were delish! Check out some pics of the meal...

      Spinach, tomato, and fresh mozzarella salad

      The Plato Pizza


      J and I snuggled a little bit after dinner and a walk. Man, there is nothing better than a little one conked out on your shoulder. Nothing makes me happier, and nothing makes me want to throw caution to the wind quicker...I want one! (But know now isn't the time...)

      We headed back to Orlando around 9:30 and went right to bed. Who knew we could be so exhausted as early as 10:45... we are officially an old couple.

      Triscuits and Dubliner Cheese...nom nom nom!

      Sunday we slept in a bit and then headed off to church. We signed up for an "engage class" to learn a bit more about the church and how to get involved. We have been attending there for the past three months and have finally decided to settle down there. We really love the community and teaching and can't wait to grow in our faith alongside other believers in our area. It's good times!

      We spent the afternoon grocery shopping and both had a mad case of the grumpies by the time we got home. We were not happy campers, even these crackers covered in Dubliner cheese didn't improve my mood, which is unheard of.

      The grill master

      But things changed around dinner time when we put together our new grill and got to cooking! John made some great steaks and grilled squash. The steaks were seasoned with brown sugar, chili powder, garlic salt, and pepper. They were tas-TEE! Take a look at the final plating...

      It was one of the best meals I've had in a while...I can't wait to break in this grill a bit more. Our culinary horizons just expanded... a lot.

      All in all it was a great weekend and the time with family was just the icing on the cake. It's really nice to have a change of scenery for a little while even if it's only an hour and a half away from your home.

      Question of the Day: 
       Do you have a grill? Do you use it often or not at all?

      P.S. Can you believe it? Almost 200 followers here on this blog. I enjoy each and every one of you and as soon as it hits 200 it's giveaway time so I can say a big thank you to all of you! I have one hint- it's lasts on year and you can read it.