Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Our Trip To North Carolina

It'd be a hardsell to get me to move out of Florida, but I would absolutely consider moving to the Charlotte area where my in-laws live! They moved there about 8 years ago, right as Blake and I were planning our wedding. We just love going up to visit them. 

I made a quick trip there last summer, with my parents for a business trip, but I'm having a hard time remembering the last time Blake and I went! That's just means it's been too long! His parents have been to see us plenty, but it was definitely our turn. 

Originally, we were going to make the trip over Labor Day weekend, but due to a death in the family that didn't work out. We rescheduled for the week of Thanksgiving since everyone had off work. I'm glad we did that instead, because this trip was still too short! 

We were pretty exhausted from our drive (which we did Wednesday afternoon), so on Thursday we woke up leisurely and had an amazing breakfast. One of my favorite things about visiting Blake's parents are the meals we eat together! They spoil us, and they can really cook. 

A trip to North Carolina is not complete without a trip to the greenhouse where my father in law works. He is so proud of where he works, and he should be. This is the largest greenhouse in North America, or something like that. I'm talking acres on acres of flowers-as far as the eye can see. He is the mind behind the temperature controls for the plants. There is SO much science here. We've been several times, but every single time I'm still impressed. Plus the flowers are gorgeous! 

You have to take a golf cart around the place, it's huge!! They have beautiful 8 seater golf carts, but my FIL insisted the smaller ones are easier to drive, so we all piled on! 

These plants are sold at Walmart and Lowe's, so chances are this is where your flowers started out! It's really amazing how much work goes into something that we typically take for granted. 

Friday was the real highlight for me! We popped over to Asheville to visit The Biltmore Estate! We have been once before, about 5 years ago. Blake's cousin Staci was with us, and it was her special request. I'm so glad we went because I had forgotten how much I love it there!! 

It was pretty busy, but not miserably. The shuttle from the parking lot pulled up to the front door with one minute to spare before our tour time. I have no idea how we managed that! After touring the house we grabbed a cocktail and a soft pretzel from The Conservatory Cafe. We were going to sit for just a minute before continuing our exploring, but the gin spritz ended up being way stronger than we anticipated so we just hung out in the courtyard for a bit! It was so gorgeous out. I can't picture a better afternoon than laughing, sitting outside in the sun and having such good snacks. Plus it's prime people watching. 

We realized that our lunch reservation was in 15 minutes, so after a quick look in the gift shop we headed to the Stable Cafe! It's such a cute place! We sat in a booth, which was nestled in a horse stall. So cool! 

When we passed by this fountain, I had to get Blake to recreate this picture that I took when we were there last! He looks exactly the same, I think maybe his hair is brushed in the opposite direction now though. (He definitely went from head to toe American Eagle to head to toe J Crew!)

I remembered him being on the other side of the fountain, and I wished I would have gotten it right! 
                                       2017                                                                               2012

One of my new favorite pictures! It was so fun to get out of Florida and actually see some orange leaves. And I got to wear my Barbour coat for the first time! (I've been stalking them on Ebay for months.) We could not have had better weather. It got a little chilly when the sun started setting, but we warmed up in the conservatory before heading home. 

I had so many memories while we were there! I remembered that I had just gotten my DSLR a month before our first visit-so I was going crazy with the photography. At that point you couldn't take any pictures inside of the house. You can now. This time I did bring my big camera with me to North Carolina, but I didn't feel like carrying it around in Asheville. So you just get phone pics! I never regret the pictures when I actually bring my camera, but I can never convince myself it's worth the hassle. 

On Saturday, after some french toast, we headed to Charlotte for something I've been wanting to do for ages! I had bookmarked The Brews Cruise when I saw it online a few years ago. I thought it would be really cool, but it hadn't worked out yet.

Breweries are popping up everywhere. These tours are great because they choose 3 different breweries to take you to. You get a backstage tour and 4 samples of different beers at each place. (Generous samples too!) 

We had Hannah as our tour guide and she was so knowledgeable. I personally learned a lot! Even my father in law, who loves beer, said he learned quite a bit about the process.

Our tour included Birdsong Brewing, The Unknown Brewery and Heist. Birdsong was our first stop. They definitely had no frills, but I think that was their goal. Just good beer! We all bought beer to take home from that stop. Unknown was a cool place! It was right near the Panther's Stadium and I can really see tailgating there would be a lot fun. Heist was a place I could absolutely hang out in! It was more like a restaurant, with a hostess. That was our last stop, and where we ate. Their beer cheese was out of this world. I am not eating dairy right now, but it smelled so good I had to have a taste. 

It wasn't until I was typing this that I realized I took hardly any photos from our tour! It was really immersive and I like that I didn't feel inclined to take pictures. 

They have Brews Cruise tours in many cities! I think it's an awesome thing to do with your family (drinking aged family) and a different way to tour a city you are visiting! Or even your home city! I was really impressed. 

I was definitely not ready to leave on Sunday! The drive is long, and it was a holiday weekend anyway so traffic was quite heavy. Thank goodness for Google maps helping us navigate the back roads along the way! 

After a long weekend of eating like kings, I'm determined to get back on track with a healthier meal plan. In fact, as much as I adore traveling, I am becoming such a homebody in my 'old age'. Coming home to the pugs and my own bed is just as sweet as the excitement leading up to a trip! 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Club: Before We Were Yours

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancĂ©, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation . . . or redemption.

What I Didn't Like:
I really did not enjoy the present day main character of this book. It was obviously crucial to have a modern day aspect to this story, but the main heroine is lifeless to me. You find out what job she has, what her family is like...but Avery's personality is nonexistent. She is just a means to find out what happened in the past, but has no appeal as a character. The random love interest really bothered me also. 

I also had a hard time keeping names straight until almost the end. There are a lot of people to keep up with and their names are changed just as you get used to who is who.

What I Liked:
This reminded me SO much of the Orphan Train, in that it really taught me something about history I didn't know. I really enjoy historical fiction for that reason. It's incredible that this really happened to so many children. The headline about Georgia Tann being a serial killer was so chilling. 

This was a super quick read and not overly graphic which I think it could have been. 

Overall Rating:
3.5/4 out of 5 Stars (1: hated it, 2: didn't like it, 3: liked it, 4:liked it, 5: loved it)

Some things were done really well with this story, and others not so much. It was very fascinating and I loved the older women's storylines. What could have made this book so much better was a different modern day main character. Or just written differently. She had no personality to root for. I think it should have been a daughter or son instead of a granddaughter, personally. 

This book in on the top seller list! And it's the one my mom meant to give to me, when I did my last book review. Overall really enjoyable, but not perfect. Worth reading at least. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Homemade Pasta Sauce Recipe // You Never Have To Buy It In A Jar Again!

EASIEST Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

We had some new friends over last month, and that always makes me a little nervous. It's kind of stressful to think of what to make for dinner when you don't know your guests all that well. I usually stick with Taco Night, but we did that the last few times we've had people over and I wanted to mix things up at least a little. Spaghetti is typically a safe choice. It's also really easy to make a meal out of-just add a salad and garlic bread and you are done! 

So I went with pasta! During dinner, the husband said "Well, Kristen, I think this is the best sauce I've ever had!" His wife piped in with, "That's because he's used to Prego." I was almost embarrassed to tell them just how easy it is to make! 

That's why I want to share my recipe with you today. Who doesn't appreciate an easy, crowd pleasing meal that seems fancier than it actually is!? 

EASIEST Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe        EASIEST Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

EASIEST Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe
My Ikea dutch oven may have been the best purchase I've ever made!

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 small chopped yellow onion
1 small chopped green bell pepper (optional)
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes & liquid
1 28 oz can crushed tomato
Dried oregano
Dried basil
Salt & pepper
Freshly torn rosemary
Freshly torn basil

Heat olive oil in large saucepan or dutch oven on medium low.

Add garlic, onion and option bell pepper. Simmer until fragrant and onions sweat. About 4 minutes.

Reduce heat to low. Stir in tomato paste. Then add diced tomatoes and the liquid from the can. Stir in crushed tomato.

Season with oregano, both kinds of basil, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Save some fresh basil for garnish.

Cover and simmer on low for at least 30 minutes, but all day if you’d like. Stirring occasionally.

Garnish with fresh basil and serve over the pasta of your choice. Feel free to add in cooked ground beef, meatballs or any vegetarian meat substitute. My suggestion is to add it in and allow to simmer at least another 20 minutes before serving.

I absolutely love making this sauce on days when I'm going to be home all afternoon. There is just something so wonderful about having dinner simmering on the stove. It makes the whole house smell so good! The longer it simmers the better it tastes, but it still works just fine if you only have 30 minutes. 

Before going vegetarian, I added ground beef which was really good. Now we just eat it plain, but I have added vegetarian meatballs as well. 

Oh, and a note on the bell pepper! It really adds a lot of flavor, but I know some people don't like them or it upsets their stomach. Basically, I add one if I have one on hand, but it's still good without it. 

Leave a comment below if you stress out about what to make for guests! I'd love to know what your go-to recipe is for a crowd pleasing. Do you have a 'secret' recipe that is actually a lot easier than people think?! 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Five

one// I take way too many pug pictures!
I share quite a few pictures of my pugs on instagram, but it's actually embarrassing how many dog pictures I have on my phone. They are just so cute, I can't help myself.

One hilariously awful thing they did this week: Blake got a bag of beef jerky as a gift (long story) at work and brought it home. We haven't been eating meat, so he figured he'd break them up and give them to the dogs as treats. Well it's like they got the taste for blood since that first bite. Bailey has been stalking the bin in the pantry. I headed out to my sister's house this week, and Blake got home about 15 minutes after I left. Within that 15 minutes, these dogs got into the bag of beef jerky, shredded it open and ate every last piece. Their bellies are so fat right now. We will have to double up the walks. 

two// Wedding Ring Saga
We got a telescopic ladder at work, and while I was trying to figure out how it worked, I slammed one of the rungs down on my hand. Later that night my wedding ring felt really tight on my finger, so I just slipped it off thinking I ate too much salty food at dinner. Well the next morning, I went to go put it back on and I found it like this....bent and missing a diamond! 

I'm so grateful to my jeweler, who made it look better than the day I got it! It only took a week to fix, but I didn't get it to the shop for a week, so 2 weeks without your wedding ring just feels so wrong! Protect those rings ladies. 

three// Allergies. 
Oh, how depressing this is for me. I've always had sensitive skin. There are certain laundry soaps I can't use, grass makes me itch like crazy...the list goes on. About 2 weeks ago I had a particularly bad allergic reaction. It was a rash on both of my entire arms, legs and my face. (#hideous.) I did my usual Benadryl regime, and nothing happened. It stayed the same, if not got worse. After a lot of research my rash appeared to be food related, not from contact with something. 

I could obviously go to the doctor, and I do intend to get a Scratch Test soonish. But, I thought it would be a lot easier to just do a quick elimination diet of all the major offenders and just see what happens. I decided dairy or tomatoes were the most likely offenders, so I'd start with one of those. Tomatoes are literally my favorite food, so I went with dairy first. After 2 days my skin was 98% back to normal. It's pretty obvious to me that's the problem. (Seriously though, 75% of the world's population is lactose intolerant.) 

So I'm just over a week with no dairy products. This is HARD. There is dairy in almost everything. On the bright side, eating out has never been less of a temptation and my pants feel looser even after just a week. Plus Ben & Jerry's has a dairy free carton! This is definitely just the beginning of this story, so maybe it needs it's own post once I know more. 

four// Things have just been working.
When I designed my schedule a few months ago, I really hoped it worked. It's SO nice to be 3 months into that new schedule and everything going perfectly. I don't feel stressed, and everything feels like it's under control! 

Most of that is because we are keeping it super simple. Simple kinda means boring for the blog, but I'm relishing in it. So thanks for following along, even though posts may be more sporadic. I only had 2 posts in October, but last October I only did 3, so I guess things are normal. 

Here I am on Sunday! It was finally cold enough to wear some layers! Honestly it was warm enough to take off the vest, but we were heading to Publix for our weekly shopping trip, and it's always freezing in there! 

five// My sister is having another baby! 
I'm just so so happy for them. Last night she did a gender reveal party. I've never been to one before, because I guess it's kind of a new thing. It was a really fun way to celebrate this little life and to surround them with support. Plus it was really fun to decorate their backyard in pink and blue, and dress in the color of the gender we thought it would be. 

Blake and I lit the colored smoke bombs, which was a lot of pressure! Photos and Video by Black Tie Cinema. I didn't cry at the actual event, but I definitely did watching the video. Being an Aunt is one of my favorite things in life. 

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Friendship in Your Twenties

How friendships change in your twenties!

A few weeks ago, I planned to spend a Saturday with my mom. Since our day was going to start really early, I decided it was best to spend the night before at my parent's. It worked out that some of my old friends were getting together, and since I'm hardly ever in my hometown, socially, I was excited to get together! 

We had dinner together, and I had this amazing introverted thoughtful moment that I had to suppress. Within the first 5 minutes of being together it was so plain that my friends were exactly the same. The group wasn't any different. It was the same dynamic, same style of humor, same funny stories. But, it was so blatantly obvious (to me at least) that I wasn't the same. We had a great time, but I couldn't stop thinking about how different I was. It was kind of like when you see an older picture of yourself. And, it really shouldn't be surprising because I am almost 10 years older than when I moved away. 

But, then! After my mom and I had an awesome day, I was driving back home. On my way, I got a phone call from another friend I've had since childhood. We talked for an hour and it was like we hadn't missed a beat. She moved to North Dakota this year (!) and we hardly ever get to talk. But when we do it's like we pick up right where we left off. How different these interactions were. Both old friends, but the difference is the personal growth of both parties matched. 

It's really made me think about friendship in general, and how friendship changes as you get older. I vividly remember praying when I was 15 years old that I could find good friends. My prayer was absolutely answered as I got closer to my sister and I made other friends that made my teen years so much fun! (Becoming old enough to drive really helped that along too.) 

Then, I entered my twenties, and things really changed. I think your twenties are a very strange transitional time. I met Blake when I was 18 and we were married right before I turned 20. (Blake was 26.) I had friends who were already married, and some who had never had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Some friends were traveling, some were trying to finish up school and some were already thinking about kids! Everyone is kind of choosing their path at that point. 

Friendship changes from going out to the movies with the biggest group you can assemble, to having people over for dinner so you can use your wedding presents. It's sort of natural that some friendships will fade and others will blossom. When I got married it became important to me to find 'couple friends' and balancing single friends was challenging (read: I was bad at that.). 

Something else that changed for me, was the gender of my friends. When I was a teenager, two of those friends I prayed for were guys. We had SO much fun, and my parents definitely let my sister and I do more things because we had the guys with us. I still love them so much, but things had to evolve. I got married, and so did they. I can't text them as freely, knowing I'd feel so weird if a girl was texting my husband. 

The friends I have now weren't easy to find, and they didn't all show up at once. As I settled into my own life, and got through that transitional early twenties phase, the gate for those friendships opened up. I'm not sure what it is, maybe the fact that you now know who you are (or going to be) and what's important to you is obvious to others. Then those who align with all of that are drawn to you, and vice versa! For me, that meant finding friends who were older than me, instead of looking for people who were my age. 

A conversation about friendship without mentioning my marriage would be incomplete. My friendship with my husband baffles me, and is frankly humbling. We went through that weird transitional time together. I turned 27 this year, and I think I changed more than ever in the last year, and yet we are still best friends. The people you can grow with are just treasures. 

Those true, lifelong friends are precious and rare! Hold on to those people! I've learned that you don't have to be friends with everyone. In fact, I'm really reserved when it comes to calling someone my friend. Those real friends, the kind that you show your true inner person to, are such blessings. I still pray to make friends. But something that also came with getting older, is the fact that I now pray that I can continue to nourish the friendships I already have and always be thankful for them. I pray that I can be a real friend as well and that we can all be each other's #1 fan! 

Leave a comment below if you have had a similar experience! Do you have one of those lifelong friends you can just pick up anytime with? Or are you still searching for your tribe? Does anyone else feel like your twenties are such a huge transitional time?

In case you are curious, the photo above is me and my cousin Anna-who I consider my first friend. I'm the one being buried in the sand. I really hope she doesn't hate me for sharing that picture! =]