That Time I Was Crafty & New Beginnings

You guys. I was crafty. Not just crafty, but crafty and decorator-y. Twice. Be proud of me, I know I am! I’ve been wanting to make a picture wall for the longest time, but just kept putting it off. Then, the other day someone on freecycle was giving away picture frames, and the stars aligned and I got it done! Look! Isn’t it beautiful?

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I made all of the canvas looking ones using this method. I used some ¼ inch MDF and got the people at Home Depot to cut it to the sizes I wanted. It was so easy and cheap and now we have large-scale pictures for our wall!

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You’ve got to love pinterest when you’re feeling crafty. Pinterest taught me this cool way to arrange and hang the pictures so that everything is straight in the end. I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you’re going to hang multiple pictures. I now have a strong love for my level.

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I happened to get the picture wall done just in time for my parents and in-laws to visit for Evan’s White Coat Ceremony. Talk about perfect timing!

My second take at being crafty brought about some Halloween decorations! I like to refer to last year as the year without holidays. Both Evan and I were working on Halloween and the day after Halloween, so we didn’t do a single thing to celebrate. We were also both working on Thanksgiving. Luckily we were able to go and have a little belated family time with my family the weekend after Thanksgiving. We planned to spend Christmas with Evan’s family, but I had to work the day after Christmas. So we spent a few days skiing and hanging out with Evan’s family (which was lovely), but then got on a plane on Christmas Day. And Evan had to work on New Years Eve. And we both had to work on our anniversary. Ugh!

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LOOOOOVE holidays, so it was a little rough, but I’m determined to never let that happen to us again. Luckily a trip to the dollar store, Walmart, and Pottery Barn (we still had a gift card left over from our wedding) got our apartment modestly decked out for the holiday. And I probably spent a grand total of $10-15 outside of gift cards. It was great! I followed this blog for the black bunting (which I kind of love), found some acorns on the ground and bought some candy for the big glass cube, made some little yarn pumpkins for the smaller cube, bought a dollar store skull, and put out a fall-colored candle. Bam! Instant Halloween. It was very, very simple, but it was so fun to be a little festive! Oh, and we put out our Mayan calendar, too. Because it’s a little spooky and it’s orange. Maybe mostly because it’s orange.

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You can also see another one of our large scale mod-podged pictures above our mantle. Yay for Costco’s large, inexpensive prints!

I also made this little wreath that makes me happier than it probably should. It’s just so fun and simple and cute! I combined this tutorial and this tutorial to make it.

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Looking at these pictures it seems like our decorations weren’t all that significant, but let me tell you, our simple little decorations made both Evan and me very happy. I love how holidays can bring so much excitement with them!

Sidenote, our Halloween was very much like our decorations: low key and fun. We went to our friends’ house and had dinner in a pumpkin and just hung out. It was just what we needed. And next year, we’ll dress up again!

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Well we’re rapidly approaching another holiday, and I still have my Halloween decorations up, but I have some good news to tell you before I start worrying about that. I got a new job!! So now I won’t be missing holidays anymore! I’m going to work a normal person schedule (just with earlier days so that I can miss traffic!) This was my first week and I loved it. I love the work I’m doing better, I love that I get more than 2.5 waking hours at home at night, and I love that I feel like I have more control over my life. I’m very excited about all of the opportunities that this change has created for me, both professionally and personally. It’s good. It’s very good. Yay for new beginnings!

Summer in Review Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of things I did this summer! I hope you’re enjoying the stories! I’m certainly enjoying reliving our adventures!

While we lived in Utah, Evan and I fell in love with rock climbing. It was the perfect hobby. It was exercise (only time in my life when I could actually do pull ups and real push ups), it was time outside enjoying the beauty of God’s creations, it gave us goals and places to travel, and, most importantly, it was a hobby that we loved doing together! Evan’s first love (hobby-wise) has always been, and probably always will be, hockey. I love cooking. We both have fun dabbling in each other’s passions. I like trying to ice skate with Evan (trying being the key word) and he likes to hang out with me in the kitchen, but rock climbing was something that was ours. Of course we do lots of fun things together and enjoy whatever time we spend together, but we do truly miss rock climbing. We were both lamenting our lack of outdoor hobbies (most of Texas is not very outdoor-hobby friendly) after leaving the beach house, and then it hit us. (And by us I mean Evan who slowly convinced me that a monetary investment in an outdoor hobby could be a great thing.) While Houston has zero elevation and we live at least an hour away from any decent rock gyms, we do have some beaches pretty close! And the sweltering heat of Texas is much more enjoyable in the water! And thus…

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We bought a soft-top surfboard! And we love it! We got the longest board possible that would still fit in our car since I’m a super newbie and Evan still considers himself new. It has been super fun and so nice to have an outdoor hobby again! I’ll be honest, I’m pretty awful, but it doesn’t even matter. I did get better, and it’s still something active we can do outside, together. We started going to Surfside, which is this adorable little beach community, and we fell in love. Has surfing taken the place of climbing in our hearts? Not at all. But it will definitely be a fun way to enjoy the hot outdoors together while we’re in Houston! I’m so glad we made the plunge and bought it. I was talking to my sister the other day about how growing up in Dallas I saw the outdoors as primarily a place to be super hot and be eaten by bugs. But after living in a place where the outdoors are not only beautiful, but fun and full of adventures, I want to make sure that I always have an outdoor hobby wherever we’re living.

That was a very long story. But it was a significant part of our summer! After our summer full of beach time, we took a break from the water and went up to visit Evan’s parents and sister in Philadelphia!

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Evan’s mom and sister picked us up from the airport and we went straight to downtown Philly! Evan and I had both been there before and done the historical side of things, so this time we did more of a cool sights/foodie tour of the city! It was so much fun! We went to Redding Terminal and had this amazing ice cream from Bassetts!

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Seriously, this stuff was Calabash Creamery quality. After ice cream, we had to get some gelato from Giro, naturally! We tried to be responsible adults and dilute all of the sugar in our bellies with some real food so we went to a super tasty noodle place called Honeygrow. Unfortunately for our good intentions, this amazing cookie place was next door to the noodle place. So, to swing the concentration of food in our stomach back to sugar-loaded, we went and picked up some Insomnia cookies. That cookie in my hand is a S’mores cookie and let me tell you, it was divine. One of the best cookies I’ve ever had for sure! You should definitely check it out if you’re ever in the area!

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If you can’t tell, this trip could also be titled The Trip of Selfies. I definitely took more selfies in our few days in PA than I have in the rest of my life put together! In between episodes of stuffing our faces with all the things, we went and ran the Rocky steps and walked all over the city. We went to Love Park, too! I had never seen it before, but it was a fun little spot in the city.

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This was a different kind of visit to Philly than either of us had ever had before, and we had a great time! It was great to see something other than the historical district of Philadelphia. The next day we woke up early and took a train to New York City. I heart NY. Cliché? Maybe. But true nonetheless. It’s so big and busy and there’s so much to see! We went up to the High Line where they converted an old rail system into an above ground park. It was really neat to see! The area around the park seems like it’s really going from run-down to super trendy, so you get to see both sides of the urban coin, which is always interesting.

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There was this big grass patch overlooking a street, so Amy (Evan’s awesome sister) and I tried 1,562 times to get a good jumping picture. Our perseverance paid off!

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We walked all over the city and ended up at Chelsea Pier and walked through their sports center. Evan got to gaze at their ice rinks while I tried to talk him into moving to New York for a year at some point in our lives (probably won’t happen, but the prospect of hockey did help the cause).

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There was this cool carousel next to the activity center and we all decided to channel our inner kid and go for a ride! (I also discovered my phone’s ability to take panorama pictures on this trip. You’re welcome. And I’m sorry.)

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I rode a falcon. You know. ‘Cause I’m legit.

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There were a few signs across the city that reinforced the New York attitude stereotype, but this one was for sure my favorite.

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Haha, that doesn’t sound like the most productive option, guys. Of course we had to get some street gyros for lunch!

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These were my first gyros and they were pretty divine. Unfortunately, they didn’t give Evan or me red sauce like we asked, which in Evan’s eyes, was a tragedy. So, naturally, we had to get street gyros again for dinner. I wasn’t complaining, though!

We all walked through Little Italy and China Town and enjoyed the different sights, sounds, and smells associated with each culture!

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While we were in Little Italy, we had to get more gelato. You can never have too much.

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I love the way the old buildings with the fire escapes look!

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We went in this super creepy voodoo-ish shop that I’m pretty sure catered to a wiccan audience or something. There were strange stones and bones all over. It was fun to see something so different. I felt like I was in New Orleans again!

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We met up with Evan’s dad and picked up some Magnolia Bakery for dessert…

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And gyros numero dos for dinner!

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The next day we were pretty beat from two full days of travel and city exploring, so Evan’s parents took us on a tour of the little towns where they live. Their love for their area is palpable, and it was fun to see all of the things they love about their town. We went to a little town square that happened to be having a blueberry festival. They had a folk band playing and everything! I also saw this gem of a mug while there.

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Haha! When we got home we played this game called sketch it. It’s essentially like telephone, but you draw the word that’s given to you, then the next person writes what they think the drawing is and so on and so on. This was my favorite drawing, though. Can you guess what it is?

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It’s a tongue twister! Evan drew it. Once you know what it is it makes perfect sense, but just looking at it I would have no idea what it is. We ended the night with a fire outside and S’mores!

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Trips filled with family and fun are always welcome vacations! I’m so glad we got to see Evan’s family and their new home!

Soon after we got home Evan started school! It was an exciting whirlwind of a time! Evan is going to school with some truly stellar people. They are all so kind and they seem to create a strong community atmosphere. I think that’s so important! In any kind of competitive schooling, it’s easy to get people that are looking to build themselves up by pulling others down, but it seems like most of the people at Baylor really try to create an atmosphere where they can all grow together. Evan definitely enjoys that kind of environment, and it’s been a great experience for him!

About two weeks after school started, Evan had his white coat ceremony! That’s where all of the students get their med student coats to start their journey to being doctors. Both of our parents came out for the occasion, and it was fun to have them both over and show them where we live! Somehow this is the only picture that I have on my phone! But it was a very nice ceremony. I’m so proud of Evan for all of the work that he’s done to get to this point, and I’m so glad he’s going to be able to learn in such a good environment!

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After the ceremony, things settled down considerably. Evan having a set schedule and endless amounts of things to cram in his head have made our personal lives a little slower.

One day, out of the blue, I got a text from one of my good friends from high school saying that he and some of my other friends were going to be coming to Houston for a day! I jumped at the chance to get together with all of them again! The four of us became besties in middle school and our friendships grew all throughout high school. It was so fun to get together with them again and catch up! And I got to meet Ethan’s wife for the first time (she’s super lovely and perfect for Ethan)! Evan had to study for the first part of the day, but luckily he was able to hang out with us at night! I’m so glad I had such great friends growing up and I’m glad that those ties still exist today!

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Last story for this post. I have an intense love of the Texas State Fair. In college I didn’t get homesick too much. I could always call my family and they were there for me through the phone, and I went home for most major holidays. Despite this, I got a little homesick every year when it was State Fair time. I told Evan over and over “It’s really just like any other fair. Don’t get too excited for when I take you someday. But I love it so much!” It was my fair. I went with my family every year growing up. So this year, after 5 years, the State Fair and I were reunited.

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A few years ago while I was away at school, Big Tex (our awesome ginormous cowboy statue that talks, telling us to have a great time at the fair and whatnot) burned down! I don’t remember the details, but it was tragic. It was a sad time for Texas. Luckily a new Big Tex emerged from the ashes of the old, and I was very happy to see that they didn’t try to fancy him too much. He was just a shiny, new version of the old Big Tex!

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We moseyed around all of the pavilions checking out all the cooking shows, massage chairs, car shows, and arts and crafts displays we could fit in! They had this cute little kids’ area where the kids walked around to different stations and learned about farming and ranching. Look at my adorable nephew in his little apron.

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It was so fun to go with my family! I think my wonderful niece and nephews love the fair as much as I do!

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This persistent little guy wouldn’t rest until he got to ride the tractor!

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Evan’s analysis of the fair was (as I predicted) that it was pretty much like any other fair, only bigger. His one exception to that was that the petting zoo was the most legit petting zoo ever. It had giraffes and wallabies and musk oxen and who knows how many other exotic animals!

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It even had this donkey/zebra hybrid! (There were regular zebras, too.)

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And, of course, no trip to the fair is complete without fair food! Evan got a turkey leg and I got a corn dog! So good.

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All in all, we had a pretty fantastic summer full of travel, fun, and family. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Summer In Review Part 1

Well hey there! Remember me? Blogging kind of took a back seat in my life this summer. I’m sorry. But I’m here to bring you a recap! So if you’re just here for the food, tune back in later (don’t worry, I already have a recipe photographed so it shouldn’t take another 4 months to post). But if you want to hear all about my adventures this summer, the next few posts are for you! I warn you, they’re going to be long.

After hearing the very exciting news that Evan was for sure going to med school at Baylor, we decided to cram in all of the trips possible to take advantage of our relatively workable schedules. Once it started getting warmer, we decided that we wanted to go to Corpus Christi to experience what I remembered to be some of the best beaches in Texas! I grew up in Dallas, and it was pretty universally known that Galveston was kind of gross, Corpus Christi was pretty nice, and the southern part of South Padre was pretty dang beautiful. We go to Surfside (near Galveston) on the regular because it is so close, and the southern part of South Padre is forever away. So this time we decided to hit up Corpus Christi (and go camping on the northern part of South Padre…if this is too much Texas geography for you, I understand. Here’s a map to make this make more sense.)

So we left for our free campsite after work, and got there after dark. This probably wasn’t the best planning because it meant that we were competing for free campsites on a weekend at one of the most popular beach spots in Texas in the dark, but we were excited so we just kept driving until we found a campsite. Then came the real trouble. Setting up our tent in the dark with the coastal winds blowing and the albino sand crabs attacking. At this point we were kind of cursing all of our decisions that had led to that point. We decided that it would be nice to just relax by taking a walk on the beach we had come so far to see. We had a flashlight to scare off the albino crabs, everything would be fine. We flipped our car around to face the water and turned the lights on to see the scenic view we were about to walk through, but instead we found this:

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Except in the dark. Apparently the cold winter prolonged the reproductive period for all of the seaweed in the Gulf, and when it washes on shore and dies it turns blood red. So, thanks polar vortex. Thanks for making the beaches look like a scene from War of the Worlds.

We decided to forgo our beach walk and just go to bed. Thankfully the morning was much better. The albino crabs were sleeping in their little holes, the seaweed didn’t look quite as scary in the light, and the wind could be used to fly our kite instead of make it impossible to put up our tent.

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So that’s what we did.

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And we ended up having a blast.

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We were still too scared to go in the seaweed-of-death water. But we had lots of fun soaking in the sun and flying our kite. (P.S. That’s a trick kite that my sister got me for my birthday, so you can make it spin and dive and do lots of cool stuff. It’s super fun, and we use it every chance we get.) After we had our fill of kite-flying, we decided to head into Corpus Christi and check that out. South Padre is an island that goes along most of the southern coast in Texas, so it makes the waves on the mainland beaches milder. I remember always preferring South Padre because the harsher waves led to finer sand. On this trip, however, the disadvantage of the coarser sand paled in comparison to the massive advantage of South Padre catching all of the seaweed, leaving Corpus Christi virtually seaweed free! Which meant that we finally went in the water!

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And we checked out the Blue Angels’ plane and read about some history.

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It was a short trip, but it ended up being super fun and gave us some good stories!

Our next trip was to Sunset Beach in North Carolina to visit Evan’s grandparents. I love visiting Evan’s grandparents. The beach house is everything that a beach house should be and everything that your grandparents’ house should be all rolled into one. So it’s pretty much a little slice of heaven. And Evan’s grandparents are some of the kindest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met, so I always love spending time with them.

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We spent pretty much any time we could in the water. Evan rekindled his love for surfing, and I became relatively competent at boogie boarding.

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And just like with any trip to a grandparent’s house, our meal times were filled with delicious food and treats! Here we are at the Calabash Creamery (one of the best ice cream places ever.)

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And here’s Evan in front of the Provision Company, home of the most incredible shrimp burgers around.

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My sister even came up to visit for a few days! She had recently moved to North Carolina herself and was able to come visit on her weekend! While she was there we went on bike rides on the beach and did a little shell hunting (a beach house staple). We played in the ocean and ate even more delicious food! It was super fun to have her there.

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The rest of our time there was more of the wonderful same! We were spoiled by grandma’s wonderful cooking, and enjoyed all of the local favorites.

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We even went to Spin to work off all of our indulgences! Evan’s grandparents are an inspiration. They were on those bikes doing better than me! They inspire me to work hard now, so that I can keep working later!

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Evan’s grandma is a part of the organization that protects the sea turtles on the beach, so we went to Turtle Talk and learned all about sea turtles! It was really fun! We even wore some turtle shells!

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I might be a more awkward looking turtle than Evan, but I’m much more authentic. ;) We filled our time with every bit of togetherness and relaxation we could.

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Of course you can’t go somewhere called Sunset Beach and not take excessive pictures of sunsets, so here are a few.

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And here are a few pictures of the beach, just so we can all be jealous.

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It was a wonderful week with wonderful people. I hope this is a tradition we can continue every year. It won’t always be easy to find the time, but I think it will be worth it.

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The day we flew home from the beach was my birthday! The beach was my main birthday celebration, but once we got back to Houston, we went to Ruggles and had delicious happy hour desserts! Can I just say that dessert happy hour should be adopted everywhere. I definitely want to go back next time I need a fix!

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My wonderful friends at work got me a cake, too! They’re super sweet.

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A week or so after we got back my mom had a conference in Galveston, so she brought my oldest sister and her kids down to the beach for the weekend! We joined right after work and had a lovely weekend with family! Unfortunately, my mom had to be at her conference most of the time, but Evan and I had tons of fun with my sister and her small ones! The first night we were there, we walked across the street to the beach, just to see it. My littlest nephew had never seen the beach before, and he was mesmerized. He kept saying “Oooooo!” and pointing at the water. When we got closer he would call out “Touch it! Touch it!” and then dive bomb out of Evan’s arms so that he could touch the water! Haha, the child has complete faith that his people will keep him alive, despite anything that he does. Luckily he has a good uncle who kept him safe!

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The next day, my sister introduced us to geocaching! We went on an adventure to find a little piece of paper hidden in a palm tree near our hotel. It was fun! It was a little hot for the small ones, and they were definitely dragging half way through, but the promise of treats and beach time kept them going!

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Later we took a ferry to a little, remote island off of Galveston. The island was pretty cool, but the ferry was the main reason for the trip. Not only is it cool to drive onto a boat and then be transported across the water, but there are also a ton of seagulls that follow the boats. So you can bring bread and watch them catch it out of the air! I remember going to Galveston as a family when I was little and watching the seagulls take the bread right out from between my dad’s fingers. It’s always fun for kids and adults alike!

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Look! The one on the left caught one in his mouth!

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This might be one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip. My littlest nephew loves birds. He always wants to touch them (are you sensing a pattern here?) and then gets very frustrated when they fly away from him. On the boat he and my other nephew and niece were chasing birds and then this one started flying away when he was super close. You can see the combination of fear and delight on his face!

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That experience didn’t keep them from continuing to try to catch the birds, though!

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My mom would come and meet up with us at nights and we’d tell her about the fun we had at the seaweed ridden beaches and the dolphins we saw when we were on the ferry. One night we went out to eat at the Rainforest Café (such a cool place) and we got my mom a volcano cake for her birthday (which is the day after mine)! It was a super fun weekend full of fun and family. Time with wonderful people is always time well spent, and we were very glad to spend the weekend with them.

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We’ve still got plenty more stories from this summer to cover, but I’ll split it into two posts for you guys. I hope you enjoy!

Enchanted Rock + Exciting News

So, I’m bringing you another trip report today. Sorry! Unless you like those, in which case, you’re welcome! I certainly like them. But first: exciting news! About 2 months ago (I know, I’m behind) we heard back that Evan got into Pitt Med School and Baylor College of Medicine!! YAY!!!! I can’t tell you how nice it has been to see all of his hard work pay off and know that he is going to get to live his dream. It has been pretty fantastic to see something concrete in our future as well. All of our contingency plans and what if’s have been forgotten as we’ve been preparing to start his road through med school (which starts in about a month and a half!)

After we found out, we decided to take a celebratory rock-climbing trip out to Enchanted Rock. On our way there, we stayed with my good friend Emily in Austin! It was pretty awful timing on our part, being the night before her big senior presentation and all, but we went out to dinner and had a great time anyways! Somehow I managed to not get a picture of Emily at all (sadface), but just know she was there and she was awesome. Goodness gracious, the Austin area really is the pretty part of Texas. It’s so green!

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When we got to the city, we had some time to kill before Emily finished with her presentation group so we took in the sights! We saw a sign for this outdoor art festival that was randomly happening the same day we were there, so we decided to check it out if it wasn’t too pricey. We walked up to the ticket booths, but they were empty so we just walked in! Apparently we happened to get there right before it closed so they let us in for free. We were just walking around for fun, so we were able to spend exactly as much time as we wanted looking at all of the unique booths.

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We saw the capital and took copious pictures of ourselves in front of the cool murals and interesting sculptures throughout the city.

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The Royal Blue Grocery is going down!

I’m also pretty sure that Austin is the Portland of the South. Growing up in Texas, I saw all of the tie-dye shirts telling us to “Keep Austin Weird” but I never fully understood what it meant. I get it now. Austin is weird, in the coolest of ways. Two weird Austin-y things we saw during our afternoon in the city: 1. Apparently there was a race going on that required men and women alike to sport a sparkly and/or frilly red dress and run through the city. Greatness. I’m sure it was for a noble cause like heart health awareness or something, but it certainly looked pretty ridiculous. 2. We also saw something that looked like a trolley, but was powered by everyone on the ‘vehicle’ pedaling bike pedals. Austin is a pretty hilly place and we happened to see them passing when they were going up a tiny hill. You could hear the leader yelling “Come on, just a little further! Keep pedaling!” And everyone else in the trolley grunting and laughing as they pushed. Ha! I just kept wondering what they did when they got to the really big hills. Maybe they just avoid those parts of town. Or just wait until they get a large group of really eager people. Either way, Austin is weird and super fun.

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After our stay in Austin, we drove on over to Enchanted Rock and took in some of Texas’s natural beauty. Enchanted Rock is a nice mix of desert and green. Does that make sense? I bet the pictures will help. Look! Bluebonnets!

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We sported our climbing gear and hiked all around looking for places to climb. This is where we probably could have done things better. We didn’t get a climbing book, because we have an app that tells us where climbs are. Which would have been fine if our phones worked out there. Which they didn’t. So we ended up just walking around looking for bolts. We found some, but the routes looked pretty difficult and we didn’t have anything to tell us how doable they actually were so we ended up just hiking around. But it was actually quite lovely! I love having a laid back approach to vacations (especially road trips) so you still have amazing memories to look back on even when things go wrong. And really, it was GORGEOUS! Get ready for me to spam you with pictures (including some gems of Evan)!

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There were such pretty desert flowers and little baby cactuses everywhere!

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That last one is one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip. It was a tiny little cactus, too. Just to give you some perspective.

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We even saw this cool lizard hanging out next to it!

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After our day of exploring we went back to our campsite to make some dinner and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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I also found a woodpecker! And then proceeded to take an obscene number of pictures of it. But it was so cool! Did you know that woodpeckers can hold themselves onto a branch even if they’re upside down? It’s true. I have proof.

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This is my favorite picture of our little woodpecker friend.

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That night was the night of the red moon lunar eclipse so we stayed up until something like 2:00 am to watch it! That is very late for me right now. I normally wake up for work at 4:00am, so it was a challenge.

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It was pretty cool. Something I probably wouldn’t do again on my current schedule, but cool nonetheless. Here’s a blurry picture! Sorry, it was really hard to get a good picture without a super awesome lens and a tripod.

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They next morning we made the hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. It reminded me a little bit of hiking in Moab with it’s big, solid, reddish rock. It was a harder rock than the sandstone in Moab, but it still took me back!

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And we saw another even cooler lizard!

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The top of Enchanted Rock has all of these little oases! It was pretty cool! Each oasis was in a different stage of growth so it was cool to see them all.

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And the view was beautiful.

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Evan decided to take a little nap.

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We even found a cave to explore! We didn’t go all the way through the cave, but it was fun to go through the first part before the steep and narrow drop into darkness.

In the end, our rock-climbing trip turned out to be a bit of a bust, but our camping and hiking trip was absolutely divine! I’d recommend Enchanted Rock to anyone in the area. It was the perfect celebration for some wonderful news. I hope Texas is happy with us because we’re going to be here for 4 more years!

Our Louisiana Adventure

Oh my goodness, you guys. It’s almost May. Where have the last two months gone?? I feel like every time I look at a calendar it’s almost a new month. Slow down, world!

Anyways, I wanted to tell you about the trip to Louisiana we took last month. While we went to Louisiana under sad circumstances, we had a lovely time there. I was able to reconnect with all of my mom’s side of the family, and Evan got to hear the dizzying array of “This is (insert name of new person), they’re the (insert relation) of (someone Evan does know).” It was great to get to see everyone and share time with so much family.

After the funeral, my mom wanted to take my niece and nephews to a playground near where the service was held. Our whole family went and played on some of the coolest playground equipment I had ever seen. I’ve never really outgrown the whole playing-on-playgrounds thing. Even through high school my friends and I would go to playgrounds at night just to play around all the time. I realize that sounds sketchy, but I promise my friend group was very PG. I would even go swing at the parks near my house by myself when I wanted to think or just get out of the house. Now that sounds emo… I’m painting a very misleading view of my childhood here. I was a happy, normal teen who just loved playgrounds. All of this is to say that I have experienced many a playground feature in my life, but this place… this place in rural Louisiana, free of the ridiculously-over-protective parents pushing legislation to rid the world of the coolest playground equipment one target at a time, had it all. Most importantly, it had that spinning saucer thing. I had never seen one in real life before, much less played on one, and boy was my life incomplete without it. That thing is the best! And caused way fewer injuries than the see-saws (which claimed quite a few victims in our short time there.) Moral of the story, let’s bring these babies back to our suburban scene STAT. (P.S. I completely forgot my nice camera, so all of these pictures are from iPhones…sorry.)

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Look at my parents being adorable! I just love them. Watching my parents play together is one of my favorite things. My parents then took me, Evan, and my niece and nephew on a sort of family history tour where we saw where a surprising number of my ancestors’ graves. Apparently most of my mom’s side of the family is buried around Alexandria.Image

Later that night we went out with my aunt, uncle, and cousin to experience our first bit of Louisiana cooking (from a restaurant, at least.) We kicked off our culinary adventures at the heart of Cajun springtime with three whole pounds of crawfish. That was all for Evan, mind you. I got some fried fish (but still tried the crawfish of course.) My cousin, the seasoned veteran of the crawfish boil, polished off a whopping 5 pounds of crawfish. I also enjoyed playing with the little crustaceans, because apparently if this post has taught you anything it’s that I’m five years old. Aaaaanyways, after stuffing ourselves silly and enjoying some quality time with family, we headed back to the hotel for our last night in Alexandria.

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The next day we said goodbye to everyone and broke off on our own. Our trip to Louisiana happened to coincide with some days that I had already asked off of work, so we decided that we should hit up New Orleans while we were already in the state. Because why not! And because beignets. Mostly because beignets. We hit Baton Rouge (home of LSU) right at lunch time and went to The Chimes at the suggestion of my co-worker. I work with a lot of people from Louisiana, and when I told them I was going there they all told me I had to try alligator. I was very skeptical. I thought it would be chewy and gross and probably something you have to fry to be able to swallow. But I figured when in Rome, eat the alligator like you’re told to. So we went to The Chimes and got the blackened alligator appetizer. It. Was. Divine. I mean blackened anything is pretty good, but the alligator itself wasn’t at all the chewy mess I imagined it to be. It was tender and delicious and I couldn’t get enough of it. Image

We finished off our meal, utterly stuffed yet again, and wandered around LSU campus. Surprise of the trip: Louisiana is beautiful! When I thought of Louisiana I thought of a swamp. Turns out swamp = lush green landscape with beautiful water views. Who knew? Much like the rest of Louisiana, LSU campus was beautiful. LSU was my grandpa’s school, so it was a nice tribute to get to wander around the campus after his funeral.

So, LSU’s mascot is the tiger. Turns out LSU is a little more hard core than other schools in that they have an ACTUAL, REAL TIGER outside of their football stadium. Only in the South. But really! They have a multimillion-dollar tiger habitat! Their tiger was sleeping in a corner when we were there, but here’s a picture of me riding a statue tiger. It’s almost just as good.Image

From there we continued on to New Orleans. We wanted to stay in the French Quarter, but didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg to do so. Consequently we got a fairly ghetto and run down hotel that had the following sign in the elevator. When we first checked in, we gathered all our things together, headed to the elevator, and pressed our floor number. Then we waited for the doors to close. And kept waiting for several minutes. The woman at the front desk just looked sheepishly at us and said she was sorry and it would just take a minute. Haha, eventually the doors did close and it did take us to our floor. Needless to say, we took the stairs exclusively. Apparently we were pretty lucky in our plight. I heard several of the other guests complaining that they had gotten stuck inside the elevator for 20 minutes! But hey, they gave us a MASSIVE room at a fantastic price. And we don’t mind taking the stairs. Win!

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We didn’t really know how New Orleans would treat us seeing as how we’re not really partiers, but it was super fun! We walked all around the quarter and spent most of our time walking down Bourbon St and taking in the party. Almost every bar/club had a live band playing jazzy/bluesy/party jams. It was the best. We were still super full from lunch, but I spied a banner at Cafe Beignet where we were listening to a jazz band that said Alton Brown featured their beignets on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Sold. We of course had plans for beignets for breakfast at Café Du Monde, but I once again thought: when in Rome, eat massive quantities of beignets. And so we did. They were delicious! All in all, the New Orleans night-life was super fun and easy-going, and I loved it.Image

The next morning we got a late check out and walked over to Café Du Monde for breakfast and had their world famous beignets with hot chocolate. So. Good. They were different from the beignets we had the night before, and they were both delicious for different reasons. I had also made the Cooks Illustrated beignets a while before we went, and now think I can combine what I loved from all experiences and produce my ideal beignet. I will for sure let you know if it works out.Image

Taking the first delicious bite.

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We walked around for a while taking in the GORGEOUS New Orleans architecture and charm (which we could now see better in the daylight,) and decided that we loved this place. The beautiful building below was hundreds of years old! It really is different than any other place I’ve ever been to, and I’m so glad we went.

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On our way home I was reaching the point of I-need-to-stretch-my-legs-or-I’m-gonna-die right before seeing a sign on the side of the road that said “Hold Baby Alligators! Exit here!” Well, ok! Exit we did, and we found our way to Gator Chateau. Outside there was a cage with a pool and alligators of varying sizes. I thought it was cool, but was a little underwhelmed. Then we went inside of the building and found a super nice retired school teacher who pulled out a baby alligator from an incubator and started telling us all about them! Seriously, I learned soooo much about alligators. And I got to hold them! Their organization cares for orphaned baby alligators and raises them to go live in a wildlife preserve. The alligators are raised inside in an incubator and fed a soy diet until they’re big enough to go live in the pool outside. That’s why we were able to hold them, they hadn’t developed a taste for meat yet. Gator Chateau is completely free for visitors and is run by volunteer, retired school teachers who simply want to educate people about the animals. If you’re ever in the area, I would DEFINITELY recommend stopping by here for an amazing experience. Here’s Evan with one of the bigger ones. I believe it was about two years old.

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Look at me with one of the little guys! Evan just kept saying how much they look like little dinosaurs.Image

After that we got some dinner and headed home. Under different circumstances, I’m not sure we would have ever gone to Louisiana, but I am so glad we did. It really was a great trip.

Wow, this is long. If you made it to the end, congratulations! I hope you enjoyed the ride. I sure enjoyed reliving our adventure!

Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder

Since Evan and I are in Houston for a still-to-be-determined amount of time, we try to make the most of the Houston-specific activities that wouldn’t be available to us if we had to move. So naturally, we were pretty stoked when we heard that the Houston Rodeo, one of the biggest rodeos in the nation, was coming to the stadium just a few blocks from our apartment! Last Friday morning Evan and I both had the entire day off (for the first time since Christmas, I think), so we walked on over to the rodeo and took in a new and unique piece of Houston. The rodeo itself doesn’t happen until the evening, so we just walked around and saw all of the daytime attractions. We saw all sorts of baby farm animals, lots of sheep and pigs, tons of cows and horses, massive quantities of fried food, and a carnival. Look at this longhorn we saw!

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We watched the cow show and realized how different life would be if we were raised on a farm. We watched little, pre-teen kids push around massive animals to make them stand exactly where they wanted for judging. Afterwards, we meandered over to the carnival section and saw a wildlife show filled with exotic animals like sloths, giant tortoises, camels, and hedgehogs. Who knew porcupines were so big! The one we saw was at least a foot and a half long! Anyways, I couldn’t help but think of Kristen Bell when they brought out the sloth. Oooh my goodness, that video gets me every. Single. Time.

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I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I was super excited to go to the rodeo was because I wanted a funnel cake, so of course we had to fulfill that dream. We also got some chocolate covered cookie dough on a stick for good measure. Did you know that fairs like to put every food on a stick? Somehow I never realized that, despite my intense love for the Texas state fair. Regardless, the cookie dough was delicious, and the funnel cake made my dreams come true.

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Probably the coolest thing we saw was the mounted shooting event. People galloped through an obstacle course with their horses and shot balloons as they raced by. It was both really cool and slightly terrifying. Don’t worry, a quick google search informed us that they just use gun powder in the guns which still produces enough of an explosion to pop the balloons without actually propelling a bullet at the audience. It was pretty crazy to see someone shooting a gun directly at you, though! It was super fun to watch. It looks like it would take lots of practice. We actually saw one girl whose horse slid out on a turn! She fell off and the horse got back up and kept running. Luckily she was fine, but it showed the control both the riders and the animals have to have for that kind of an obstacle course. Sorry for this crappy picture, it’s a still shot from a video that I can’t figure out how to embed. But it gives you an idea of what it all looked like.

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All in all, we had a great time at the fair.

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Today I have a delicious soup recipe for you. I know soup season is kind of on the out, but this soup is comforting and delicious any time of the year. Give it a shot and you’ll be glad you did!

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Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Print

  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
  • 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from canned peppers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 chicken breast or about 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 2 15-ounce can sweet corn, drained
  • 1 15-ounce can cream-style corn
  • 1 cup crushed tortilla chips
  • Juice from 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
  • Chopped cilantro, to garnish (optional)

Start by prepping your veggies. Seed and dice your red pepper and poblano peppers and mince your garlic and chipotle pepper in adobo. Melt the butter in a large pot and add the three peppers, garlic, and spices. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until the peppers are tender. While the peppers are cooking, peel and dice your potatoes.

Add the flour to the pot and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Once the flour no longer looks raw, slowly stir in the milk and broth, scraping up any bits that might have formed on the bottom of the pot. Add the potatoes and bring mixture to boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. While the potatoes are cooking, cook and dice your chicken breast if not using precooked chicken.

Once the potatoes are tender, stir in the cheese a little at a time until fully melted. At this point, add the corn, creamed corn, diced chicken, and tortilla chip pieces, adobe sauce, and lime juice. Stir and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until heated through. Serve and enjoy!

STEP BY STEP PHOTOS

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Start by prepping your veggies. Seed and dice your red pepper and poblano peppers and mince your garlic and chipotle pepper in adobo.

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Melt the butter in a large pot and add the three peppers, garlic, and spices. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until the peppers are tender. Add the flour and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

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While the peppers are cooking, prepare the potatoes. I normally don’t peel my potatoes, but I’m glad I did this time. Visually, this soup has a lot going on and I think it looked better without the extra color and texture.

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Once the flour no longer looks raw, slowly stir in the milk and broth. Scraping up any bits that might have formed on the bottom of the pot.

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Add the potatoes and bring mixture to boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

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This is a great point to cook your chicken if you don’t already have that prepared. I cooked the whole chicken breast and diced it afterwards, but you could just as easily dice the chicken first to make things move a little faster.

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If you do cook the whole breast remember to pound the breast flat first and season it with salt and pepper.Image

Once the potatoes are tender, stir in the cheese a little at a time until fully melted.

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At this point, add the corn, creamed corn, diced chicken, and tortilla chip pieces, adobe sauce, and lime juice. Stir and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until heated through.

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Serve and enjoy!

 

This is a sad post…

I debated about writing this post for a long time. In the end, I decided that while I definitely want this blog to be a wonderful food blog, it’s also my journal. As such, it might occasionally have posts that are both not food related and not super happy-go-lucky. That being said, if you’re here for the food, feel free to wait until later today or tomorrow, and I’ll have some more of that for you. But for now, as the title suggests, this is a sad post.

 

Almost two weeks ago, my grandpa passed away. His health had been deteriorating for a while and took a turn for the worst about a month ago. A week before he passed, I was able to go and visit him. When I stepped into his room I was expecting the worst, but what I found was my same loving, joking grandpa that I have always known. I visited him with my sister, and we talked and teased and sat together. He held our hands with a strength that didn’t fit the scene of the sick man laying in front of us. I left with lots of hugs and a peace in my heart.

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That picture is a little old, but I love it. I asked my mom to email it to me after it was taken, and the apple mail app on my computer somehow glitched right after she sent it. It would open up every time I opened my computer, which was a little annoying, but then it would load this picture as the most recent email I had received. It made me smile every time, despite the annoying glitch. This went on for about a year before I had to change the email on the app to my work email, but I’ve loved this picture ever since.

My grandpa was a great man whose life was built around serving his family. Whether it was the family he was born into, or the family he created with my grandma, he gave everything to protect and care for the people he loved. And the people he cared for loved him greatly in return. I don’t know how to better measure someone’s life than that.

My grandpa was a rancher–a strong, southern rancher–and when I was very young I was a little intimidated by him. Most of my earliest memories of being with my grandparents revolve around my grandma, who was the absolute picture of a loving, nurturing grandma. As I grew older I grew closer to my grandpa, and I truly gained a respect for him and the way he had lived his life. I strive to be even a little bit as selfless and hardworking as he was.

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Look at that adorable little baby! I bet she grew up to be the most awesomest person ever! Jokes, jokes, I was not the most adorable baby ever. It’s ok, I was well loved. I love old photos. They always make me wonder how unfashionable pictures of me will look in 20 years. Not that I’m all that fashionable right now or anything. Haha. But I really do love old pictures and how they can bring back so many feelings and memories. It’s impossible to talk about my grandpa and not talk about how much he loved my grandma. There’s a quote out there that says, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” I think all of my grandpa’s children would say that they were blessed by how much he loved their mom. You can even see it in that picture above. After my grandma passed away, my grandpa kept a picture of her right next to him all the time and he would look at it any time he would talk about her. The love he felt for her was tender and palpable, and I feel like a better person for having witnessed it.

Evan and I went to his funeral in Louisiana last week, which was a beautiful service. People stood and shared memories they had of Grandpa, which was my favorite part, and afterwards they played an upbeat, instrumental version of How Great Thou Art. My grandma used to hum constantly, and something about that song sounded exactly like a song she would have hummed. During that song I envisioned my grandpa seeing my grandma in heaven and them dancing together. At first I saw it as the grandma and grandpa I knew and loved…

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But then I started seeing it as the young man and woman who met, fell in love, and built a life together.

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I know that those two love birds are dancing together now, in each other’s arms. I know that they’re happy together after being apart for so long. Those left behind will miss them both, but we’ve been left with their excellent examples to strive to follow until we can see them again.