Category Archives: celebrations

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: London!

It’s kinda funny that summer just officially started and I’m already pretty much done with my summertime excitement.  But it’s all good. With a baby on the way, I’m happy to get my fun in while I still can. And that’s what we did.  We went to London to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, as a babymoon, and as kind of our last hurrah because with two kids, we probably won’t have time for cool international trips for a long time.

Can I just tell you how awesome London is?  It really is.  I’ll admit we chose London based on how easy it was to get there – it was the most bang for our air miles. But wow.  Just walking around that city is amazing. I feel like we barely made a dent in everything there is to see and do there.  We took it slower than we had planned (my pregnancy kind of tired me out more than I thought it would), but it was still a great time to be there, especially since we were there for the final celebrations of the Queen’s Jubilee.

We visited some great sites, but mostly we just took it easy and enjoyed our time.  Looking back, we probably should have done a quiet, relaxing vacation, not a ‘here’s a great city that you need to soak up’ kind of trip, but I’m happy we got the chance to do this.  I could bore you with the details of the sites and attractions we saw, but I thought I’d share some of the cooler moments that you won’t find in a guidebook:

Lushness: I don’t expect a city to be lush and green.  I knew London had tons of parks, but I wasn’t prepared for all the businesses having flower boxes and hanging plants.  Some places looked like mini tropical rainforests with greenery cascading everywhere.  Especially the pubs.  They were always colorful and lush.  It’s like little beacons of joy in a city of gray.  This lushness added so much charm and warmth to what could be a cold, gray, uninviting city.

Fiction Meets Reality:  I walked down Drury Lane (as in, “Do you know the muffin man who lives on Drury Lane?”).  I hopped on a train at Paddington Station, home of Paddington Bear.  I rode past Hampstead Heath, where countless girls in my favorite chick-lit novels go on their lunch breaks and/or romantic dates. I also shopped for groceries at Marks and Spencers’, where all those girls seem to get all their nutrition.  I strolled by St. James’ where Sir Lucas (of Pride and Prejudice fame) was presented. I kissed my husband same altar where just a year ago, William and Kate got married (I know that’s not fiction, but kind of surreal, you know?).  It’s like all these things I read about came to life right in front of me.

Street Life: I saw a guy playing a flaming tuba.  I saw a group of musicians playing the lambada on the tube (underground/subway…whatever you want to call it). I saw a guy in short shorts and a tank top walking around one of the ritziest areas in the world in the middle of the work day (was he perhaps going to a WHAM! party in the middle of the day?)  This kind of stuff simply doesn’t exist in my world.  I live in the suburbs of North Carolina.  I get in my car, drive where I’m going, have a good time, get back in my car and go home.   Occasionally, a kid might draw a penis with sidewalk chalk in my neighborhood, but that’s about as crazy as it gets here in the burbs.  It’s nice to see such life and activity buzzing around you all the time.

The Hubs: Hands down the best part of the trip. It’s so nice to spend time with my hubby and not have to worry about bedtimes, diapers, keeping a toddler entertained, etc.  Maybe I’m just selfish.  But I think it’s so important for us to have time to ourselves.  Date nights are great, but it seems that having everything ready for a sitter, making sure the pj’s are laid out, dinner is made and all that jazz is barely worth the hassle for a couple of hours in the burbs.  It was nice to have conversations, and be out after dark, explore a new place and just be together. We even had a picnic at the gardens around Buckingham Palace.  My favorite ‘us’ moment was when we checked into our second hotel.  They had white wine and truffles waiting for us in the room – nice!  Of course, I couldn’t have the wine, but happily dove into one of the truffles…only to find it was about 50% rum.  So, he took it upon himself to test them, and if one didn’t have liquor, he let me have it.  He enjoyed the spoils, but it was sweet of him to share with me.

What are some of your favorite vacation moments?

The Happily Ever After

Last week, my hubby and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.  Ten years.  A whole decade.  And we’re still happy and in love.

I remember when I was little, we were flying to Florida for a family vacation and at the gate, there was an old man holding flowers, waiting for someone.  All of a sudden his eyes lit up, and a little old lady came up to him.  They kissed.  It was a passionate, “I am so happy to see you, my love” kind of kiss.  The type that should be on the cover of Time magazine.  They walked to baggage claim holding hands and leaning into each other.  And I was shocked.  I’d never seen that kind of passion in people older than high-school age (except maybe for my grandparents, but in a much more proper manner).  But I remember thinking “I want that someday.”  Maybe they were newlyweds, and not the life-long partners that I’ve thought them to be, but still, it’s given me something to shoot for.

It strikes me that that’s not always the case.  So many people get divorced, and a lot of people who are married aren’t really happy in their relationship.  I hate to admit this, but until the past few years, I didn’t think long, happy marriages were possible. It seemed to me that if people stayed together they just kind of settled into a comfortable partnership – a ‘good enough’ scenario.   Except for a couple of oddball marriages that I thought were just pure luck, it wasn’t until I began working at a church when I moved up to NC that I started seeing these life-long happy, loving marriages as true possibilities.  I began to ask the secrets to a long and happy life together every time I got the chance.

On our recent flights, we met some great people and the subject of marriage came up.  On the first flight, we met an older man who was taking some of his family to Europe as a birthday present to his granddaughter (lucky lucky girl). He began asking us about, well, us and of course how long we’ve been married.  He said his secret is to never go to bed angry, always listen to each other, and to let faith in your marriage.  Pretty much the same thing that the old couples at my church job have told me, although I have to say I’m not sure I agree with the ‘don’t go to bed angry’ thing.  I think there’s a point where you need to say “Baby, I’m not happy about this, but I love you and we’ll get through it.  Not tonight, but we need sleep so we can talk with a clear head.”

Then there’s the school of thought that makes me giggle and say “Damn right!”  Like the man we met on the flight back.  He is a two-star general in the Army, in charge of some heavy-duty stuff that keeps our country safe and keeps it moving forward.  He shared with us a lot of his thoughts on raising a family.  He really opened my eyes to being more strategic and goal-oriented with our kids and with ourselves.  He and his wife periodically go through a goal-setting process, where they separately write down goals in different areas of life and then come together to discuss their goals, how they fit together as a family unit, and how they can support each other in their personal goals.

But his keys to a happy 28 years of marriage (and where I mentally said “Damn right!” and fist-pumped) are:

 1) “Happy wife, happy life” and

 2) “Yes Dear.”

He said once he figured that out, his life has been much, much better.  Talk about a wise man.

All jokes aside, I think there’s definitely something to that.  I strongly believe in women’s intuition.  Traditionally, women may not have been as educated or accomplished as their husbands, but women tend to kind of run things, whether men know it or not, right?  We have a sixth sense about things that I’m willing to bet are right nine times out of ten.  And it seems to me that the happiest relationships, especially when I look at the older couples where women weren’t as ‘powerful’ as men, it’s those relationships where they treat each other as equals, and where the man really values his wife as an intelligent, critical part of his life where there’s that true spark that stands the test of time.

The key seems to be communication, but perhaps more than that.  There’s some sort of intangible give-and-take, not just talking and listening, but taking to heart what is being shared.

The couples I see that are happy after decades have genuine concern for each other.  They wait for each other, open doors for each other, hold hands – even when their hands tremble.  When they are apart for more than a few minutes, you can see them looking out of the corner of their eye to see if their partner has come back.   You can see there’s true respect, admiration, concern and love for each other.  You can see a lifetime of shared experiences, both good and bad that have entwined them into one solid unit, not just people that have shared a house for a few decades.

I’m still not sure how much of that is luck and the stars aligning when you meet someone, and how much is hard work and commitment to your relationship.  But I have every intention of finding out how to get that happily ever after.

What do you think are keys to a good marriage?

A milestone.

I’m really dating myself with this post, but here it goes.  Today, I’m celebrating ten years of being a Gator grad.  I’m also consoling myself.  I mean, how can I be ten years out of college?  Am I that old?  I really feel like I just graduated college, but then again, it seems like a million years ago that I strolled through campus as a student, trying to avoid the Hare Krishnas and other religious representatives/preachers on the Plaza of the Americas – a task as futile as trying to avoid the hot Florida sun.

But I have to be thankful.  This sounds so cheesy, but being a Gator grad is one of the biggest achievements of my life.  The academics at UF are top-notch, and they make sure you know it and make you work hard for that degree, which in the end makes you a stronger person, ready to take on the tough stuff life throws at you.  I am always surprised when I mention the term ‘weed-out class’ and get blank stares from people, as if it’s a new concept to them.  Do other schools not have these?  Regardless, it’s not just the education that made my college experience so amazing and memorable.  It’s the whole package.  I mean, a top academic school and a top party school all in one?  Talk about the best of both worlds.

I guess my college years weren’t all that unusual.  I’m sure my experiences were the same as many people’s – football games, sorority rituals and socials, frat parties, hanging out with my best friend whether it was going out dancing or staying in and baking, trying not to get chomped by alligators when canoeing at Lake Wauburg, doing a PR research project at a prison for men with deep psychological issues (read: violent rapists), waking up every football game day to Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits thanks to some awesome alumni with a decked out orange-and-blue RV who tailgated a few feet from my apartment (no sarcasm here – it’s one of my favorite game day memories and to this day, listening to Buffet transports me back to energy-packed Saturday mornings in Gainesville), Friday afternoons on the front lawn at The Swamp, meeting my husband at The Swamp and our first kiss after the Homecoming game, being on the UF Dance Marathon staff and helping out Children’s Miracle Network while getting to meet some amazing Miracle kids, being on the Gator Growl staff and seeing all the backstage stories as they happen (like a popular comedian with major stage fright who thought he was signing up for a college-town gig and not an 85-thousand seat stadium show and didn’t realize it until he showed up to campus), the privilege of working as a public information intern for the fire department during the Sept. 11 attacks and being able to see a completely different side of our firefighters than most people get to see (I still get chills when I think of looking at my fire department pager in the middle of class on Sept. 11 and seeing ‘The Pentagon has been hit’ come across it), almost failing statistics because of the professor who was obsessed with Star Wars and all his tests were one long Star Wars story that I didn’t understand (and then after every problem, he put ‘Thank you sir, may I have another’ – no joke)…

I could fill the entire Internet with memories of my days at the University of Florida – memories that have shaped who I am.  I never thought I would carry my college years with me as close to my heart as I have.  In the past decade (eeks!) since graduation, I’ve noticed that there’s something different about Gator grads that I just don’t see in other alumni.  There’s a certain level of boastful pride that is part of a Gator’s DNA – I think it has something to do with our bold and boastful school colors (which I love dearly).  It’s like the Orange and Blue seep into your blood and change you. Being a Gator stays with you the rest of your life.

Everywhere I go in the world, I not only see fellow Gators, but actually get greeted by “Go Gators!” – and often a Gator chomp. Seriously, this has happened to me in every country I have visited, no matter how remote I am, and  my husband has encountered the same thing in his business travels which have taken him even further abroad than I’ve been.

Even here living in North Carolina, I can’t believe how many times I’ve been honked at while driving just to see someone hanging out their car window giving me the Gator Chomp.  It was so nice to see so many Gators the day I moved up.  It made this state that I had never stepped foot in seem a little more like home right away.  I’m lucky to have a welcoming alumni group that prides itself on serving the community as much as being the social Gators we were born to be.   It’s kind of cool to know that there’s this whole slew of people who get it, who know what it’s like to be a Gator, even though we’re so far from the sunshine state and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Perhaps my attachment to my college days is a bit much.  Perhaps it’s normal. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic and my pregnancy hormones are raging.  I don’t know.  But chances are that if you’re a Gator, you get it.  So today, I’ll be celebrating and consoling myself on a decade of being a UF grad.  This week, my twitter and Facebook feed have been bombarded by graduation messages, and while I’m excited for the new crop of Gator grads to join the world, I’m also a little melancholy that I’m one more year removed from that time in my life when I learned so much, not just about books, communication law (which has got to be massively different by now) and PR strategy, but about myself and who I want to be and who I became thanks to my years at the University of Florida.

PS – I decided to treat myself in this milestone with this charm for my Pandora bracelet so I can make this bittersweet day more sweet than bitter. It’s the little things in life, right? 😉

Hong Kong on My Mind

Happy Chinese New Year!

Not even a year into our marriage, I had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong to meet up with my husband.  The circumstances weren’t great (he got appendicitis while on a business trip), but looking back, that was probably one of the best experiences of our lives and one that brought us closer together.  But that’s a different story.

My trip to Hong Kong was just days before the Chinese New Year, so the holiday always takes me back to that trip.  Much like our new year, the Chinese New Year reminds me of new beginnings, new experiences and clearing the slate.  One of the most memorable moments of the trip was in the airport on the way home.  While checking out who my fellow passengers would be (we all do that, right?), I noticed that there was an incredible number of babies.  Not a good realization when you think you’re going to be on the same airplane for 18 hours. But as I watched them, I realized that these were all newly-adopted babies, just starting to bond with their new families.

I sat there and watched these ‘strangers’ bond and become families.  It was just beautiful.  My husband and I had kind of gone through the same thing.  Even though we knew each other (obviously), that time in China was definitely what took us from two kids in love to married partners for life and allowed us to get to know each other in a new way.

I thought that I’d share with you some of the photos from our trip so you can take a walk down memory lane with me:

1. City View with Lanterns: These lanterns were all over.  It’s part of the decorations for the new year.  This was a particularly amazing display.

2. Tiny Orange Tree: These trees full of tiny oranges were also all over the place.  Someone told me that it’s part of the new year festivities.

3. Architecture: The architecture in Hong Kong is amazing. This was one of my favorite buildings. Hong Kong is so unique in that you have these buildings and temples that have been there for ages, juxtaposed agains these innovative modern towers, but the traditions still hold firm in daily life, like one building looked too much like a candle, so the architects put a pool on the top to ‘extinguish’ the candle (I forget why the candle was a bad omen).

4. Flower: This was on the pool deck in our hotel.  I fell in love with this flower, and I’m not sure what it is.  If anyone knows, please tell me.

5. Teddy Bears: The hotel had the best turn-down service.  They tucked these tiny little teddy bears into bed and left orchids on our pillows.  My hubby gave his teddy bear to one of the babies on the plane to make her smile (excuse me while I swoon).

6. Old Pagoda: I’m not sure what this is or where it was, but it’s cool.

7. Old Temple: I can’t even begin to say how beautiful this place was.

8. Boat People: There’s this whole community of people  living in boats just off the shore.  They have been there for generations.  It’s kind of surreal.  Tour boats go around the community to gawk at them.  They tie their kids and pets up so they won’t fall in the water.  The whole thing was bizarre.

9. Me and the hubs at the Tian Tan Buddha: This place is off in the middle of nowhere, and then there’s a giant bronze buddha on top of a mountain.  It’s amazing.

10. Dragon Carving: This was at one of the temples that was part of a monastery, adjacent to the buddha.  I love how intricate it is.

11. Another shot of the buddha once we were closer.  And yes, we did climb the mountain and then went inside the buddha.  It was a museum with exhibits and relics about this particular buddha.

We didn’t plan this trip, so we weren’t able to really prepare, but I’m glad we got to see as much as we did.  I hope someday I can go back and see more of China, and have a game plan.  I’m just thankful that I had the opportunity to go.

DIY Cake Stands

Hey everyone! I had a lot of people ask me about the cake stands I made for my son’s second birthday, so I thought I’d try my hand at a tutorial for you. These are so easy that I started them in my car on our drive to Thanksgiving which is why the photography leaves a lot to be desired (sorry about that).

I’m pretty lucky that my car has a regular electrical outlet so I can plug in my glue gun!  We have done a little birthday cake/singing thing over Thanksgiving weekend at my husband’s family’s farm in Georgia because it’s close to his birthday and he’s been too young to enjoy a real birthday party.  Plus, this allows us to take advantage of having our family already together in one place.  It’s a great plan, but everything I do has to come with me on the 8+ hour drive to the farm because there is not much going on in that small town, so I don’t have a place to run out and get something if I need it. There’s not even a bakery for me to get a cake!  So I end up doing a mini-birthday on the go. I try for everything to be simple, not fragile (so it can withstand the drive), but still fun and exciting for my son.  I think these fit the bill.

Here’s what you need to make the stands:
– foam base (or anything that will hold your cake/platter – I used three foam cubes)
– craft paper or wrapping paper (optional)
– tissue paper (I used about 20 sheets for three 5-inch cubes)
– scissors
– tube of lip balm/chapstick (or a small cylinder shape)
– hot glue gun/glue sticks

Start by wrapping the foam with the craft/wrapping paper (only if you want to reuse them).  Then, I loosely folded the tissue paper, cut it into strips and then cut the strips into squares (I cut the squares as I needed them to reduce the mess) like this:

Then, I folded/scrunched the squares onto the tip of the lip balm (free from my dentist!), put a dab of hot glue on the end and pressed it onto the cube:

I continued this way until I covered four sides of each cube, leaving the top and bottom uncovered so it would be flat on the table and have a flat space to place my cakes.  That’s it! Here’s another look at the stands in use:

That’s it!  Told you it was easy, right? And cheap!  I spent $9 on the foam and $1 on the tissue (a mega pack from the dollar store that I already had and I still have a bunch of pink left). This would also be great to add different heights to a buffet or entry table display…I can see it with a solid color or metallics…the possibilities are endless!

And a little bonus tip: I used cheap plastic table covers to cover the cake boards.  They are pretty thin, so I doubled it up. This is great because it makes the cake board prettier, and it doesn’t soak up oils from the frosting and get messy like covering with paper would do.

Linked up with:
Tip Junkie handmade projects

Thankful.

(source)

Many of you who know me know my slightly ‘bah-humbug’ attitude towards Thanksgiving.  The reality?  Although I don’t see why we have turkey, I love the holiday.  I love the thought of spending the day in the kitchen, making special dishes with fresh ingredients, celebrating an amazing time of the year, then getting together with those we love the most, whether it’s just you and your hubby or a whole gaggle of family and friends to reflect on everything that’s good in this world.

This year, I’m thankful for:

My husband who has been so supportive of me this past year, when I have been pushed to my limit and stood by me as I transitioned from working mom to SAHM/crafter.  The day I met him (just over 11 years ago), I knew by the end of the evening that he was The One, and it’s been true.

My son, who makes me smile more than I knew was possible.  Even when he’s up to no good (and at almost two years old, that’s pretty much all the time), I have to smile at his sense of wonder at the world, his quest to learn about every single thing in front of him and the incredible amount of energy that keeps him going all day long.  I am thankful that he’s a mama’s boy, because I could never get enough of his hugs, kisses and cuddles.

The opportunity to start The Teal Magnolia and the great feedback I’ve received.  It has meant so much to me to be able to do what I do and have your support!  It’s an incredible ride that I’m on and look forward to seeing where it goes.  Thank you so much for cheering me on every step of the way.

I could keep going on and on and on about everything that makes my heart beat a little faster, but that would be incredibly boring.  So, even though for the time being I won’t be able to cook and plan Thanksgiving and set the big fancy table that all crafty people dream of doing, I am celebrating by remembering the reason for the holiday and being thankful for what I have.