Sun Times, Fun Times

July is quintessential summertime.  Hot days and warm nights, no students around at work, fresh produce from our garden.  It’s wonderful.  While July 2013 did not hold anything monumental for us, it was a great month.  Here’s a quick recap of what we did just to keep you up to date with our lives right now.

We hosted an Independence Day cookout and some of our dearest friends came.  No pictures because we were far too busy enjoying our company to get out the camera or even an iPhone.  The second week of July we both helped out at our church’s VBS.  I won’t post any pictures here for the sake of privacy for the kids who attended.  There are some on Facebook if you are interested.  I did all the music (translation: I did 2.5 straight hours of aerobics every night for a week) and Kevin led the 2nd graders.  We both had a great time and loved serving this way.  However, there’s nothing like interacting with other people’s children to ensure we’re not ready to have our own!

We left immediately from the VBS closing program to head up to Michigan for a weekend with the Napps.  Kevin had a high school reunion that we spent some time at.  Mostly, though, we got to spend time with his family.  It was so great to see them!  On Saturday, we borrowed a family friend’s Jet Ski and hit the lake.  Perfect way to spend a summer afternoon in my opinion.

July 2013On the way home from Michigan, we stopped for dinner at Ruby Tuesday.  No one outside my immediate family may understand the importance of the picture above.  Kevin got the salad bar and brought me a plate of croutons.  This man takes good care of me.  Oh, and if you’ve never had these croutons, get to a Ruby Tuesday stat.  They are delicious.

July 2013

The following weekend, Kevin hit the road again.  He headed to Indiana for a Brotherhood Weekend (that’s what his college friends call it when they get together).  Scott & Mychaela have a new baby and the guys went to meet her.  You can see her with her Uncles Bonzo above.  Cute stuff.  They also managed to squeeze in a baseball game and plenty of other manly activities.

Meanwhile, I spent the weekend being uber-productive and indulging in some girl time of my own.  Back at the start of the summer, we got a membership to a great organization called Enjoy the Arts through LivingSocial.  In short, it’s an organization that encourages young adults to expand their horizons and attend fine art events in Cincinnati.  You buy the membership and then get one pair of free tickets to a variety of organizations.  When I saw that Kevin would be out of town on one of the weekends the Cincinnati Opera was putting on Aida, I immediately knew who to call.  My wonderful friend Clara, who I met the very first night of college, shares my affinity for the arts.  We got dressed up and headed out for a fantastic girls’ night!

When I ordered the free tickets, I was expecting nosebleed seats – the cheapest available.  Imagine my giddy shock when the tickets came a few days before the event and they listed our seats in the fourth row of the orchestra seating!  That’s the fourth row of the theatre!  We could not have asked for better seats!  The tickets were valued at $125 each and we paid nothing for them!  We did end up having to sit in the back for the first of four acts.  We had a parking fiasco that made us about 60 seconds late.  We had no cash to pay for parking and there were few garages in this district of Cinci.  We ended up at a parking meter about a half mile from the music hall.  We even sprinted back and forth to feed the meter between the second and third acts – in heels!  We barely made it back for the third act, coming in with the last of the smokers.  We landed in our seats, sweating and panting, just as the curtain rose.  We could not have been more proud of ourselves!

The opera itself was simply beyond words.  To be that close made a good experience a truly great one.  The cast sang beautifully; the woman playing Aida had performed the role previously at the Met in New York!  The set was gorgeous.  The chorus was huge and quite talented in their own rite.  The orchestra played perfectly.  And, of course, Verdi was a master so the talented performers only caused his music to shine brighter.  I could not have imagined a better night at the opera.

July 2013Back home, Zach spent Sunday night with us before heading back to Philly.  In his honor, we made a mega cookie.  While I have never ending problems making chocolate chip cookies (seriously, I’m cursed or something), I made this one a mint chocolate chip cookie using fresh mint from our garden.  It turned out wonderfully.  Zach told me it tasted like Christmas, which is about as high a compliment as one could get from Captain Christmas himself.  If you’re wondering whether this night broke my string of cookie disasters, don’t get your hopes up.  I made two batches of regular cookies with this dough as well.  The second got forgotten about and came out of the oven with a nice black hue.

Burgers, caramelized onions, peas, and glazed carrots

Burgers, caramelized onions, peas, and glazed carrots

Speaking of food, we’ve been eating pretty well lately.  We challenged ourselves to cut back on food spending this summer.  We have done great, cutting our food budget nearly in half!  Part of that has meant eating at home a lot more.  Notice how many vegetables are on that plate!  My mother would be so proud.  And no carbs, either!  Does a meal like that mean we’ve gone Paleo?

July 2013

Shrimp & Veggie Primavera

Definitely not.  My love affair with pasta continues.  In the above shot, you can see that I pretty much tossed every vegetable in our fridge into the pasta primavera.  We had those two meals two nights in a row.  You can imagine how proud of ourselves we were for eating so many vegetables.  Never fear, meat lovers.

We’ve had a turkey in our freezer since we bought in on sale just after Thanksgiving.  We finally thawed it out for the last weekend of July.  Now, if you’ve ever been around me in November, you know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday ever.  I’m quite passionate about it.  So, imagine how happy I was making a full Thanksgiving dinner in July!  Turkey, mashed potatoes, two kinds of stuffing, and green beans – we feasted like kings!  I ended up using the carcass, some additional veggies, and herbs from the garden to make stock for future meals.  Kevin, being the wonderful sous chef that he is, suggested I use the stock ingredients to make two batches.  What a smart man!  I was a little nervous to let the second batch simmer overnight, but our house is still standing, so I guess I had nothing to worry about.  I probably didn’t need to check it twice in the middle of the night.

All in all, July was a great month for us.  Kevin shot some of the best golf games of his life in his Wednesday night league.  We spent a lot of time with friends and family.  It’s been a really hard few months at work for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here, at least not yet.  In spite of the tough days, we have been so blessed to have such a wonderful support system.  Meanwhile, August is off to a great start.  And why shouldn’t it be?  It’s BIRTHDAY MONTH!!

What did you do in July?

June is for Weddings

Thanks to minimized screen time and the plethora of Disney posts, we missed out on a whole month of Napp activities to post about.  Instead of spreading it out, I’m going to pack it all into one post for you today.  Hold on to your hats; we are about to fly through June.

We started off the month by heading up to Mt. Vernon, OH for a wedding.  But not just any wedding.  In a joining of families long imagined, my cousin married my sister’s best friend (and my honorary second sister).  Jim and Brittany were sweet enough to ask me to sing for their ceremony.  It was a beautiful day and one of the most fun weddings I have been to.  Kevin even got out on the dance floor!

The third weekend in June was filled with community theater performances.  Earlier in the spring, I auditioned for a part in our town’s Broadway Revue.  I performed as part of the Dance Chorus and also sang a duet (“Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You” from The Last Five Years) with one of my dear friends.  I had a lot of fun.  I rarely get to perform like this any more, so having the chance to be on stage again was priceless.  The highlight was probably being cast as Fantine in the “Les Miserables” medley.  I got to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” and a be a part of a beautiful trio at the end.

Also that weekend, we had the pleasure of attending the wedding ceremony of one of Kevin’s coworkers.  It was right in town, so we got to go before my Saturday matinée show.  I am so glad we did.  There’s nothing quite like watching one of your friends experience the same joy you did not too long before.

IMG_0207Back at home, the flowers around our house bloomed beautifully.  We inherited some nice landscaping from our home’s previous owners, including some gorgeous lilies and a rose bush.   I especially appreciate these features of our house when Kevin clips some flowers and brightens our kitchen with them.

IMG_0209June also brought with it a big event: my parents’ 30th anniversary!  Since they are not party people, my sister and I found a different way to honor their life together.  We contacted friends and family from over the years and asked them to write a small note of congratulations for my parents.  We also gathered pictures from every era of their relationship.  The result: this beautiful book.  We got it from Milk, which, despite its horrible design interface, really put together a nice product.

The fourth weekend of June found us headed to another family wedding, this time in Georgetown, KY.  My cousin Matt and I have always been very close.  He and his brother served as ushers for our wedding and I was honored when he and Alyssa asked me to sing for their wedding.  I could not possibly be more happy for these two.  They both deserve so much love and God has truly blessed them with each other.  The wedding was beautiful and a truly worshipful time.  It was also super fun to see Jim and Brittany who were just back from their honeymoon.  On a completely side note, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Georgetown and were really surprised and impressed with how nice it was.

On the way home that night, we visited the drive in movies to see World War Z.  Now, we had gone to the drive-in last summer as well.  It’s the sketchiest place, but so fun.  We had a Groupon for a double feature that included a large popcorn.  We didn’t stay for the second movie, which didn’t start until almost midnight, but we enjoyed the inexpensive way to see Brad Pitt’s latest.  Only downside: we ran the battery down on our car and had to get someone to jump us before we left.  It didn’t turn out to be a problem at all, but it definitely made the night more eventful!

We closed out the month by cashing in a Groupon for a canoe trip down the Little Miami.  It was a cool day and we made great time.  In fact, upon on return, the staff couldn’t believe how quickly we had done the trip.  We’re canoeing champions!  You can look for us at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  We had a great time making our way down the river and doing something different.

Oh, and after the canoeing we celebrated our third annual Little Kid Day.  This holiday originated when we were dating.  It involves eating snacks we ate as children (i.e. juice boxes, Gushers, etc.) and picking a movie we loved as kids.  It used to involve making a blanket fort as well, but then we realized that those aren’t nearly as fun when you have to disassemble them yourselves.  This day we were inspired by our visit to Disney to watch the classic Swiss Family Robinson.

Also in celebration, I attempted a grown-up version of a meal my mom made when we were little: mac and cheese with smoked sausage on the side.  Now, as a kid, I only ate the Kraft blue box mac and cheese; I was long overdue for an upgrade.  Martha Stewart’s recipe served the occasion perfectly and was delicious.  As with any Martha recipe, it required a good amount of time invested in it, but it was well worth the effort.  (I did cut the huge recipe in half and it still was way too much for just us two!)

There’s no denying that we love summer.  June encapsulated that perfectly.  There is so much to do and we have been staying very busy fitting in as much as we can!  July hasn’t slowed down much for us at all, so make sure you keep coming back to see how we’re filling these (finally!) hot days.

What did you do this June?  Has your summer been as filled with weddings as ours?

Indulgence

It’s no secret that the Napps love food.  We experiment in the kitchen at home, we grow our own food, and are always in hunt of a great new restaurant.  Whenever we leave our small town and its limited food choices behind us, we know that discovering new places to eat will be one of the best adventures of our new city.

If that city happened to be Nashville, we can say with certainty we would not complain about the food.

DSCF0428We ate at some great places while we were down there a few weeks ago, including several restaurants at Opryland.  We got the chance to try three local Nashville eateries and would happily return to any of them.  Of course, I only remembered to take pictures at one.  Sorry about that…

Thursday night, we met up with two of our favorite Nashville-ites, Taylor & Rachel.  They took us to a fantastic little burger place, The Pharmacy.  They have these awesome, unique burgers and some really amazing fries.  The ambiance tops their food, though.  You can see pictures on their website, but they basically have this backyard area full of picnic tables and strung up with lights.  So fun to go and hang out and grab a bite with friends.

DSCF0424Friday, we had the privilege of seeing my cousin Matt and his fiancée, Alyssa.  These two are getting married in just a few weeks!  They both went to school in Nashville, so they know the area.  They very kindly drove over two hours from their new home in Alabama to spend the day with us.

DSCF0425

For dinner, they had actually been hoping to take us to The Pharmacy as well!  That’s how good those burgers are.  We ended up at Silly Goose.  It was, in Kevin’s words, the ultimate hipster restaurant.  All the pictures from the post are of our time there, including that cheese plate we started with.

DSCF0432That’s the sandwich Kevin got.  They call it the “Bird” sandwich: grilled chicken breast, sun-dried tomato, avocado, bacon, and peppered goat cheese on wholegrain bread.  He loved it.  I even had a bite, despite the presence of avocado, and enjoyed it as well.

DSCF0430Now, I know the picture there may not look that appetizing, but my entrée was delicious.  I got “Commander.”  It’s cast iron flat iron steak, rapini, roasted grapes, gorgonzola, caramelized fennel, celery root, rosemary smoked pine nuts, a madeira demi glace, and gremolata.  I’ll be honest; as much of a foodie as I am, I had never tried most of those ingredients and had never even heard of some of them.  Perfect food adventure and it paid off.  The roasted grapes were an especially nice sweet note in the midst of the richer flavors.

DSCF0427You can see a little from this picture what I mean by this place being a hipster palace.  We drank from Mason jars, the menus came on clipboards, we had bandanas for napkins, the food has a strong push toward natural ingredients, both menu items and the restaurant itself had quirky and nonsencial names, and our server had wore a flannel shirt, skinny jeans, and a beard.  It was so cliché, and yet so good.  We would definitely go back if given the chance.

Saturday night, we went out with Taylor and Rachel again and they took us to Soulshine Pizza.  Once again, I forgot pictures.  Let me paint the scene for you: indoor and outdoor seating on two levels.  Upstairs on a crowded patio there’s live music.  Down on the street level, we sat enjoying the evening breeze with more light strands hanging above us, each bulb reflecting on the modern art of the colored glass windows in the storefront.  The pizza was great, but the company was better.

So that’s what we ate in Nashville.  And we feel as though we just scratched the surface.  We drove down several streets where we said, “If we lived here, we would make it our goal to eat at every restaurant on this strip.”  That’s the kind of people we are.  No shame.  I don’t think our wallets or our waistlines could afford goals like that, but we would be very happy residents of Music City.  Maybe someday?

IMG_0109Oh and for one last glimpse into my penchant for the indulgent, take a look at this amazing used book store Matt took me to.  He shares my adoration for the written word.  It’s called McKay and I would like to set up a cot in the back of their store.  This picture shows a part of their immense inventory of used books, movies, and music (including vinyl!).  It was a great thing we were on a schedule and I was restrained by packing space because I could have spent weeks and hundreds of dollars there.  I escaped with only 4 books, although Kevin probably wouldn’t use the word ‘only.’

Big Sister Pride

Grad Family

We had the immense privilege of seeing my little sister graduate with her undergraduate degree a few weeks ago.  She received a degree in Social Work and did so with honors.  Could not be more proud!

Kevin and I have been to a few Christian college graduations now (our own, other Cedarville ceremonies, Kristen’s graduation from Calvin last year, and now Whitney’s).  We both came away thoroughly impressed by Indiana Wesleyan’s excellence in everything from facilities to ceremony to parking attendants.  Maybe I’m betraying my alma mater by admitting that, but it’s true.  The whole day really was excellent and we were impressed.

My mom and I tried to get a few pictures of her actually receiving her degree, but mine turned out blurry and my mom got blocked by the head of the man in front of her.  So, sadly, all we have are a few pictures of her getting ready to walk across stage.

Graduating!There’s also this one from right after the graduates processed into the chapel.  Classic Whitney.  Oh, and some guy’s nose.

Classic WhitneyAfter the ceremony, much to the dismay of the men, we took quite a few pictures.  It was such a gorgeous day and they really turned out well.

Graduate & ParentsGraduate and proud parents.  The most impressive part of this picture is not Whitney’s diploma.  It’s the fact that my dad is actually smiling.  Must have been early in the photo shoot.

Graduate & GrandparentsGraduate and grandparents.  Love them so much and so happy they were there with us.  Kevin and I got the immense honor of taking them to breakfast before graduation.  No one loves breakfast restaurants more than my grandpa.

Graduate & BFFGraduate and her bff.  Kevin and I had so much fun having Brittany drive out with us.  Our family could not be more excited that after decades of friendship, Whitney and Brittany are finally getting their wish.  Brittany is officially joining the family soon by marrying one of our cousins.

Classic Sister PoseClassic sister pose.  Every occasion ever.  The most important part of this picture, though: Whitney’s shoes.  Pretty sure I’ll be borrowing those at some point.

Graduate & boyfriendGraduate and her great boyfriend.  It takes a good guy to drive to another state in a car with her parents and grandparents.  And he’s taller than her even with her wearing those adorable heels.  So many points for Aaron.

Sisters & their menGraduate, proud sister, and their men.  We are two very blessed women to be standing by these men.

Graduation Full FamilyAll of the Merrins together.  (Notice that both my dad and grandfather are executing the classic Merrin move of hiding behind your wife in photographs.)  We’re all so proud of this beautiful woman!  There is no doubt that God has great things in store for her.  Congrats, Whitney!