Wednesday, March 31, 2010

That's where I wanna go to get away from it all

My husband and I and 4 friends just got back from a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean and already, I want to go back. The clear waters, warm weather, and overflowing buffet could make a girl quit her job and live on the seas for the rest of her life. Nedless to say, it was just what I needed. the perfect escape from everyday life, no cell phone signal for miles around.

This being the first time my husband and I have been away from our 1-year-old daughter, we were a little nervous about how she was going to handle being away from us. Ok, we were also a little nervous about WE were going to be being away from her. We reluctantly left her in good hands with her Yaya and Papa Bear, and made the 17 hour drive to Miami with our essentials (clothes and a bag of Cadbury chocolate eggs - Easter candy only comes once a year you know). As we boarded the Carnival Valor, we waved goodbye to Miami and said hello to a week full of beautiful Caribbean weather and no set plans but to get lots of sun and sleep (which is hard to come by due to the aforementioned 1-year-old).

We had 4 ports that we visited: Grand Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Roatan Islands, and Belize. These ports were actually the same ones Pat and I visited on our honeymoon 2 years ago, so we were excited to go back with friends this time. In our group, we also had 2 first time cruisers with us. We had a great time exploring the islands and doing some shopping. The scenery was amazing, I've never seen such clear waters and beautiful trees and flowers. We could tell that Carnival has poured a lot of money into making the ports look "appropriate" for the tourists - many of the areas we visited are steeped in poverty and rely on tourism for a major source of income. There were what I call "tourist approved" areas which generally consisted of areas gated off for the tourists where they can shop, visit the beach, and drink all they could hold (and many did).

One of my favorite parts about the cruise was the food. As with any other cruise, there is always the buffet that is available for breakfast and lunch, but the truly good stuff is at dinner. Each night, they would have a few featured entrees like steak, lobster, lamb, and salmon and they were all amazing, but the best part was Carnival's warm chocolate melting cake.

This cake was like every good memory you ever had condensed into one little chocolate souffle. When you cut into this cake, it has a warm, chocolate-frosting-meets-cake batter center. Words can't describe how good that cake is. That's probably where the 4 pounds I gained came from, but I'm ok with that.

All in all it was a great cruise. We ate some amazing food, hung out with great people, had so many laughs, and none of us ended up in the brig (no matter how much some of them tried). And when I got home, my little girl gave me a big grin and a hug and had a great time with Yaya and Papa Bear while we were away.

So when are we going back???

Thursday, March 18, 2010

3 more days....

...until I'm on a cruise ship headed to the Western Caribbean with the most handsome, wonderful husband in the world. So close and yet so far...warm weather, here we come.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lace up

I love running. I usually run 12+ miles a week, indoor or out (depending on the weather; I'm a self-proclaimed weather wimp and won't run outside if it's too hot or too cold). My running shoes are well-worn and have seen many a dirt path, road, and sidewalk since I began running when I was about 15 years old. Now, 11 years (and countless shoes) later, I've continued to run - with a few brief breaks in between - and it's become more than a hobby, it's part of my life.

A friend at work asked me recently why I love running. It's a valid question, most of us have bitter memories of P.E. back in middle school and high school when we were forced to run The Mile. In my memories, The Mile was always run first thing in the morning when it was freezing cold. I clearly remember hating every moment as I plodded around the track, lungs heaving from the cold and from being out of shape. I didn't always love running. In fact, I started running to lose some of my baby fat at the beginning of high school. Running and I have had a love/hate relationship because I abused it at the beginning and made it into a forced chore rather than appreciating it for the freeing activity it is (but, more on that at another time). Now though, I can't see myself not running.

So why do I love something that others see as a punishment? I'll tell you.

1. To stay in shape. The most obvious reason I suppose. Who doesn't feel better about themselves when they're in shape?

2. I feel closer to God. I love being outside in nature, whether it's outside in my neighborhood or on a trail among the trees and water. I feel God in nature. The wind in my hair, the smell of freshly cut grass, the sun shining off of a lake - they all whisper His glory. And in those moments, I feel like I'm being allowed to witness part of Him.

3. Running makes me feel strong and healthy. I remember what it was like when I first started running. I was out of shape and wheezing by the end. Now when I finish a run, I feel a sense of accomplishment because I did something that I couldn't before.

4. I can think clearly. After running for so many years, it is more than just exercise.Running is a time to clear my mind and think things through. All the stress and noise of everyday life stops and I forget that I'm running and become lost in thought. Somehow, everything becomes simple and quiet and I can think straight again.

5. I know who I am. Many times in my life, I feel out of place. Like a little girl playing dress up, I feel like I'm acting out a part - a small child in a grown-up's shoes going through the motions of being an adult. When I run, I know who I am. I know my body and what it can take because I've done this so many times before. I'm confident and sure, I know my place in the world.

Do I always feel like running? No. Do I have bad days when I count down the minutes until the run is over? Yes.

But why should I let that stop me?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fairies, Flowers, and Food, oh my!

As those of you who have been reading my blog know, I have been busy planning my little girl's 1st birthday in Pittsburgh. Even though she just turned 1 and won't remember anything we did for her, we still went all out and planned everything with a "fairy/garden" theme (thanks to lots of help from family!)

My sister-in-law and mother-in-law decorated the living room and kitchen with lights, flowers, and fairies everywhere. Even the fan had fairies hanging from it, so turning it on was not an option unless you wanted to chance having a kamikaze fairy fly into your eye.

For the food, we had lots of skewered fruit with fruit dip, veggies, meatballs, mini egg rolls, pigs in a blanket, and chips and dip among other deliciousness. I tried my hand at food art by attempting to make little bouquets out of the cauliflower and broccoli and putting them in flower pots. For only feeding 18 people, we made a TON of food. Unfortunately, we had to drive back to Tennessee the next day so we couldn't stuff our faces a second time.

And then of course, there were the cupcakes. If you remember, I had been planning to make toadstool cupcakes (think Toad of Mario Brothers fame) with homemade buttercream frosting and red fondant as the dots on the toadstool. My husband and I ran 2 trial runs and finally got the recipe right on the second try so I felt pretty prepared.

I bought a pack of basic colored fondant (red included) and went about my cupcake making, only to find that the makers of the fondant included 2 yellow packs of fondant instead of one red and one yellow! I had to think fast since going back to Michaels wasn't an option, so I made cupcakes with flowers on top using all of the fondant colors instead. I still wish I could have made the toadstools, but they still turned out good, so I'm told. I never did get to eat one now that I think about it, but with all the trial cupcakes I've been making, I'm all cupcaked out anyway :)

Haley made out like a bandit when it came to gifts.It looked like Christmas all over again. She was so cute though, she would help me rip the paper off of her packages and then smile and clap after we got them open. She got tons of cute clothes, a kitchen set and playfood, Little People playhouse, bath toys, and a handmade stuffed monster from her Aunt Shannon that she absolutely adores.

We put all of her new toys in her playroom when we got home the next night, and I wonder what we ever did without it. She has so many toys that we couldn't fit them all in her room, so I'm sure they'd find a home in the living room like they were before. I'm glad that she now has a room to herself that is dedicated completely to making a fun mess.

When it came time for Haley to sit down in her high chair for her giant birthday cupcake, it seemed all so surreal. Just over a year ago, I had been sitting at home going about my everyday life and thinking about how I would be having a baby in (what I thought would be) 4 1/2 weeks. That night, I was in the hospital giving birth to my little 6 lb. 2 oz. Haley. Now, she's much bigger and acting more like a toddler and less like a baby every day. She says 6 words, walks with assistance, and gets into just about everything. I guess I need to get used to the word "toddler."

Or not :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy birthday

Happy 1st birthday to the most beautiful, perfect baby girl on the face of this earth. Here's to many many more!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


My husband and I went to Sam's Club last night to pick up a few things. I don't know if I can use the phrase "pick up a few things" here though because when you go to Sam's, you can't buy just "a few things." Everything comes in large quantities.

2 giant bottles of grape jelly.

A gallon of syrup.

6 pounds of hamburger.

5 jars of salsa.

A hammock of cake.

OK, that last one isn't a real measurement, but you get the idea. I love Sam's Club. It gives me a reason to buy a 2 pound bag of M&M's and use the excuse, "it was the smallest bag they had!" But that's not my favorite thing though. My absolute favorite thing about Sam's Club is their samples.

When we were kids, my parents would take my brother and I to Sam's Club after church and we would eat our way through the samples and call it lunch. This was back when we used to go to a Presbyterian church, and for those who don't know, Presbyterians do church like runners do marathons. Church was a long, exhausting event for me as a child.

First, there was bible study for my parents while my brother and I were paraded off to Sunday school. After that, there was service in the sanctuary. In reality, church was probably about 3 hours long but at that age, it seemed like an eternity. Do you know how hard it is for a young, growing (aka plump) child to stay full for that length of time without snacks? I got really excited on the Sundays that we took communion because that meant I at least got some form of sustenance in my body, even if it was a thimble of grape juice and morsel of bread.

Sam's Club was heaven after the long wait. I would hone in on the location of each sample lady, and make a beeline for their table (with a parent of course, they didn't want kids like me filling their pockets full of meatballs). If I was lucky, they wouldn't remember that they had already given me a sample and I could come back later for more of the good stuff.

These days, I don't need a parent to accompany me to the sample table anymore, but I still get just as excited as I used to. I try to be as nonchalant as I can when I approach the tables, but in reality, I'm having a little party in my head. When the Sample Lady asks me if I would like to try something, I try to act surprised. "Oh, what's that? A sample you say? Sure, why not. I may as well since I'm here." Then I'm on to the next one.

Thank you, Sam's Club, for your wonderful array of affordable groceries. But more importantly, for your samples.


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