Happy Birthday to Me!

It’s been a long time.

We have both been insanely busy at work so our evenings have been spent crashing, not writing blog posts. We’re back, though, and hopefully this post will bring a bright spot to my dear mother-in-law’s day!

Exactly a month ago now, I reached the ripe old age of 26. I know, practically on Social Security. We had a great time celebrating over the course of Birthday Week; most of the festivities fell on the weekend.

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Friday night we headed to the Greene and met up with friends for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. I truly could not have chosen better people to spend the evening with. Thanks so much to the Babcocks, Deardens, and dear Clara for coming.

Saturday, my actual birthday, Kevin had to work until early afternoon.  Once he got off, though, we headed up to Columbus.  We met up with my family and headed to the Food Truck Festival downtown.  There were more than forty trucks all serving various treats.  We sampled all sorts of things.  It was a perfect birthday dinner.  Although, we did have an unreasonably long wait to get jerk chicken at one truck.  Strike two, Jamaica.

Sunday, Kevin had planned a special “Surprise Day of Awesome” for me!  We started off enjoying the local fare in Yellow Springs at Sunrise Cafe.  I cannot believe we had never been before; it’s truly a local gem.  They served us hot chocolate in tiny individual teapots and the food was delicious.  Kevin got a really excellent buffalo sausage patty.  The decor is fun and unique – classic Yellow Springs.

From Yellow Springs, we headed down to Cincinnati.  We spent most of the afternoon at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  This trio of  museums resides in the former Grand Central Station of Cinci.  The best part of the afternoon was the behind-the-scenes tour we took of the building.  Such incredible history!  I have never seen such great Art Deco architecture and decor!

Yep…I chose to spend my birthday at a museum.  And I loved it.  #totalnerd  Of course, we did not pass up to get sundaes in the ice cream parlor in the lobby.  The whole parlor is decorated with Rookwood tile.  The tiles in that room alone are worth more than the whole building.

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After we finished at the musuems, we had some extra time before dinner so we swung over to the Newport Aquarium.  Our last visit was the weekend we “officially” started dating so it was fun to go back.  We spent a long time watching the sharks and the penguins.  We even got to get closer to the sharks than we did swimming with them at Disney.  My childhood dreams of being a marine biologist were satiated for the year.

We capped off the night at Sotto in downtown Cinci.  This Italian restaurant sits just below street level and is the most authentically European restaurant I have eaten at in the States (granted, my experience is somewhat limited here in Ohio).  Water was served in one large glass bottle at the table, no ice.  The menu was structured by course and varied slightly from the typical American routine.  The food was good, though not exceptional.  Overall, though, the atmosphere and experience made Sotto the perfect choice for my big day.  My only regret is that I did not order their house-made pasta.  Seriously…what was I thinking??

The weekend really was great.  Adult birthdays try so hard to live up to the standard set by childhood experiences.  I think I am finally learning that adult birthdays are not bad, they are just different.  The most important thing is doing what you love with people you love.  I definitely did that.

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We’ve come a long way since we first stood overlooking the Ohio River together back in March 2011!

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30 Before 30

Guys – this week is Birthday Week!!  If you’ve never been around a Merrin girl close to their birthday, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.  Let me enlighten you.  Birthdays are a huge deal.  They deserve more than one day of celebration.  Hence, Birthday Week.  It’s awesome.  We have some fun things planned to celebrate my 26th next weekend.  You’ll hear about those later.

In the spirit of getting older, we decided to make a list of 30 things we want to accomplish before we turn 30.  This list has been ruminating for a while.  We both are so proud of all we have done so far.  Neither of us feels we wasted our single years or early 20s.  We want to continue to live life to the fullest.  This list is not about becoming better or different people.  It’s about continuing the adventure of life together and not losing momentum and becoming boring, content people.

While we may not complete everything on this list (especially considering we have no idea what God has planned for our future), we think these are attainable goals if we stay focused.  We have goals from a variety of “categories” including travel, spiritual growth, and some silly stuff, too.  We have 25 shared goals as well as 5 individual goals for each of us.  We will track our progress here, so you will always be able to check in and see how it’s going.  We are excited to share this journey with you and to see how God uses these goals to grow us as individuals and as a couple!

  1. Buy a house
  2. Move out of Ohio
  3. Go SCUBA diving
  4. Go snorkeling
  5. Go white water rafting
  6. Go ziplining
  7. Visit 10 more states
  8. Visit 3 more countries
  9. Go on a couples vacation with friends
  10. Go on a completely spontaneous, unplanned trip
  11. Visit the Grand Canyon
  12. Visit Niagara Falls
  13. Visit Boston
  14. Get involved in a small group at church
  15. Go on a missions trip
  16. Get mentors
  17. Get involved in community service
  18. Get better at home improvement
  19. Get our masters degrees
  20. Go to a casino
  21. Restore “Chairy”
  22. Upgrade some of our furniture
  23. Reach our goal amount in savings
  24. Reach our goal amount in our IRA
  25. Watch all Tom Hanks movies

Kevin’s 5

  1. Be a mentor
  2. Run a half marathon
  3. Go to 3 new baseball stadiums
  4. Read 30 books
  5. Shoot an 80 on the golf course

Alise’s 5

  1. Get better at sewing
  2. Finish 100 Best Novels list
  3. Make a soufflé
  4. Make risotto
  5. Make coq au vin

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?

Friday Favorites (Episode 2)

Our inaugural Friday Favorites proved such a big hit, we’re back with more!  Here are a few things us Napps enjoyed this week (starting with that homage to bacon above):

  • Prince George Alexander Louis arrived! Seriously, how could anything else be first on this list?  Congratulations to the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their precious son.  I know I am not alone in my excitement.  I have no shame in admitting that I spent a good portion of Monday and Tuesday with a live feed of London hospital doors on my second screen. Yes, you did read that right. She watched a video of a door…..yet she didn’t like last week’s cat video. Got to love her 🙂  While I know there are some haters out there, it was a great week for Kate Middleton fans like me.
  • In our last episode, a Kevin-provided YouTube video about a sad cat proved a big hit with you readers.  Continuing with the animal series, we offer this gem. Credit goes to my co-worker, Shamus for showing this to me. The over the head throw is what gets me laughing every time. This guy seems to have adapted a pretty good strategy for dealing with mangy raccoons.
  • This article has been making its way around the internet lately.  Some person out there with way too much time on their hands concocted this theory connecting all Pixar movies.  It’s quite the read.  It’s long, but worth it for any fan of the Pixar’s films.
  • We’re big baseball fans here at the Napp home.  Granted, considering that we root for the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, it’s shocking we still love the game.  But we do.  We are watching the biopic about Jackie Robinson, 42, as I type this.  We even play in a fantasy league together (where I’m three places ahead of Kevin!).  Anyway, when Jimmy Fallon sent Mets pitcher Matt Harvey out onto the streets of New York to interview baseball fans, this great video was born.  Seriously, everyone, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, stay away from cameras. I doubt I would be able to recognize all of my favorite athletes in street clothes either, but the guy in the Harvey jersey should be a bit ashamed.
  • Speaking of baseball, the cast of one of Kevin’s childhood favorites reunited recently to celebrate 20 years since the release of their classic movie. Small’s was a no show though – “You’re Killing me Small’s”
  • On a more serious note, if you have any interest in North Korean culture, you should find this article interesting.  It’s a fascinating reminder that people there live in another world.  Keep North Korea in your prayers.  They need Jesus.  How awesome would it be to see the revivals sweeping South Korea sweep across the 38th parallel.

That’s it from the Napps this week.  Have a great weekend!  We’re finally busting out the turkey that’s been in our freezer since post-Thanksgiving sales.  Kevin will be living on turkey leftovers until August.

What are your weekend plans?

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?

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday!

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In celebration of the end of a long week, we thought we’d share a few things that made us smile recently. (Kevin’s remarks are italicized.)

  • Fireworks are practically everywhere this time of year.  Most shows get spread out over a predetermined length of time.  This video, from 2012, hit a snag when all the explosives went off at once.  It’s short-lived, but pretty epic.
  • If you have ever heard Kevin talk about Sarah Jessica Parker (Seriously, how did she ever get on screen?), you will understand why this meme made him oh-so-happy.
  • We are nowhere close to having babies ourselves, but some of our friends are starting down that path.  It’s so exciting to watch their excitement and be even the smallest part of their joy.  And nothing expresses baby joy like this video.  Mom, get out your tissues before you watch it – even I teared up.  Bradey and Heather, who also happened to have done our wedding video, are my first close friends to be adding to their family and I am thrilled beyond words for them!  Plus, they are going to be completely awesome parents.
  • Speaking of kids, we helped out at our church’s VBS this week.  I ran the music and Kevin wrangled 2nd graders.  There’s nothing like spending a week with precocious children to remind you that they say the darndest things.  For example, one 2nd grader told Kevin that he has hunted lions with a crossbow (This young hunter extraordinaire has also bagged a hippo, deer, rabbit, and a blue fish.) Another told me that the only thing he fears is when his sister paints her nails.
  • We both read Gone Girl in the last year and loved it. (It was really good, and helped me get through my home-school conferences this year.)  It’s not for everyone.  In fact, my guess is that the upcoming movie will be a strong PG-13.  Still, we will definitely be seeing the movie and were thrilled to see that Ben Affleck is in talks to play Nick.  We both think he would be perfect for the part.  Say what you may about Affleck’s Gigli days; he’s come a long way from there.  The man made a movie that won the Oscar, for goodness sake!
  • A constant source of disconnect in our marriage stems from YouTube.  Kevin loves it; I, for the most part, don’t get it.  Case in point: this cat video.  Kevin found it hilarious (enjoyed it) and watched it a bunch of times (2 times); I found it mildly amusing and barely made it through the whole thing. (She loved it but doesn’t want to admit it.)
  • We discovered this week that we have a fundamental difference of opinion when it comes to applesauce.  I put plain cinnamon on mine, while Kevin adds cinnamon sugar. (Don’t knock it until you have tried it.)
  • I could not be more excited for to see this movie.  Tom Hanks is already getting Oscar buzz for it and the rest of the cast looks phenomenal as well.  As Kevin put it, it’s a Disney movie about a Disney movie with Walt Disney as the main character.  As I put it, what could be better? (Probably my cat video.)
  • Oh, and in case you live under a rock and weren’t aware, the Royal Baby could be born literally any time.  I could not possibly be more excited.  Every time my Breaking News app goes off, I freak out a little bit.  Could Kate Middleton and I just be best friends already?

That’s it from the Napps this week.  Stay tuned next week for some updates on what we’ve been doing this summer.

Have a great weekend!

What Internet treasures did you stumble upon this week?

My Latest Accessory

If you have noticed a slowing of new posts in the last several weeks, blame my eyes.  I have been suffering increasingly terrible headaches over the past several months.  Recently, they reached a point where I was having trouble making it through a full day at work.  Kevin and I could not figure out what was causing the issues until my family suggested a trip to the eye doctor.

Duh.

As soon as I heard that, everything started fitting.  It’s a classic story of a girl who reads too much and spends far too long in front of screens each day.  After a frustrating process trying to find an eye doctor who is covered by our insurance and could get me in, I had an appointment a week and a half ago.  She confirmed our suspicions.  Too much screen time and, turns out, I am ever so slightly far sighted.  I was prescribed glasses, frequent breaks from computer work, and a few eye exercises.

I have had perfect vision my whole life – until now, that is.  I had not even been to an eye doctor since high school.  That’s probably why is took an outside person like my mother, who works in an optometry office, to see the problem.

Now, if you know us, you probably know that Kevin is about as blind as a bat without his contacts.  I may or may not gloat about my vision from time to time in our marriage, particularly when playing the alphabet game on road trips and I can read the signs all the way down the road.  One may say I’m getting what I deserve.

We were hoping we would be able to pick up a pair of cheap reading glasses for me from a drug store rack.  Turns out, however, that my eyes are too good for those glasses.  Ridiculous.  I need +.50 and reading glasses like that start at +1.00.  Also, it was important that I get special anti-reflective lenses to help with all my computer time at work.  After a painful week of waiting and avoiding computers as much as I could, we picked up my new accessory on Saturday!

Technically, I only have to wear them for reading, computers, and TV.  Let’s face it, though…that’s most of my day.  I already wear them most of the time.  It’s pretty weird for a glasses newbie like me, but I like them so far.  What do you think?

IMG_0244Oh, and now that I have my glasses, I hope to be back blogging consistently.  We have so much to share!  Stay tuned for our final Florida post, our thoughts on the Disney experience, a recap of what we did in June, and more!

We’re Gonna Eat This Stuff

GardenOne of the oh-so-domestic things I have gotten into in the last few years is gardening.   I had a small selection of herbs on the pack porch of my apartment in 2011.  I bought them because I had started to fall in love with cooking – particularly with fresh ingredients.  Those herbs and I got on splendidly.

When Kevin and I found the house we live in now, we were thrilled to see a decently sized garden plot in the backyard.  Last summer, we spent a good deal of time back there and harvested a pretty successful crop.  And we had fun, too!  With gardening, Kevin’s love of landscaping and the outdoors meets my love for food and cooking.  We have found a wonderful activity to do together; it’s even a productive, delicious, money-saving activity!

GardenAfter completely ignoring the garden through the entire winter, we were pleasantly surprised to see the return of some perennial herbs this spring.  We planted our first spring crops in early April and then finished out with our summer crops in mid-May.  

Garden

By the time I took these pictures in May, our spring crops were flourishing!  In the picture above you can see (left to right) our garlic, shallots, and spinach.

GardenIn the middle, we have the herbs.  Left to right: rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano, parsley, two basil plants (I adore basil), and mint.  The mint and basil look a little pathetic in this picture as they had just spent two days in our kitchen before planting due to a few particularly cold nights.  At the top of the picture are our six tomato plants: two big boy and four sugary (grape tomatoes).  The one random plant on the left between the tomatoes and the herbs is an onion left from last year.  Not sure why it came up this year instead of last with all its friends, but we’re letting it grow.

GardenDown at the end, we have snap peas.  Kevin built a beautiful little playground for them to grow on.  We looked around quite a bit for a nice, in expensive trellis for them.  We could not find anything in our price range, until we got to Lowe’s and they did not have enough of the kind we wanted.  Thankfully, the extremely helpful Lowe’s employee suggested building something like this of our own.  Turns out it was cheaper than buying even one trellis!  We have contemplated adding more butcher twine in case the peas can’t reach the bottom strand or they get to heavy, but have decided to deal with that on an as-needed basis.

GardenWe absolutely love our garden.  The first thing we do every day after work is go out and look at it together to see how all our little baby plants our doing.  We’re like super annoying, coddling, over-protective parents.  And you can tell what total city kids we are.  Even after all our success last year, we are just as amazed this year that the tiny seeds we plant in the ground turn into things we can eat!  We understand agriculture on a scientific level, but in practicality, it still completely amazes us.  God really designed an incredible world!

Do you have a garden?  What have you had success growing?  Any total failures?  For us last year, our big failure was green beans.  What are your favorite things to eat fresh?

Keep Scratching

DSCF0415Way back in February I found a great website called uncommongoods.com.  I found it during my search for a Valentine’s gift for my dear husband.  When you are going to live with someone for the rest of your life, the pressure to find creative gifts increases significantly.

Scratch MapI knew I had hit the jackpot when I found this scratch map of the world.  The concept is simple.  The countries are covered by that same scratch-off material on lottery games.  You scratch off where you have been.

Scratch Map

The map is a unique size, so we went to Michael’s to get it framed.  We ended up buying a standard size frame off the floor and getting a custom mat.  While it was not as cheap as we were hoping, it definitely cost less than getting a custom frame – those cost a fortune!

Scratch MapWe decided to only scratch off places that we have been together.  Right now, our map looks pretty pitiful with only a portion of the Midwest and tiny little Jamaica uncovered.  We will be scratching off more soon, though!  Our one complaint is that, when you scratch things off, the residue can make a bit of a mess.  One can hardly expect differently, though.

We plan to scratch off sections of the USA in state-size chunks as we go.  The likelihood is we will travel more in the US, so we do not want to scratch it off all at once.  Other countries, though, we are more likely to visit only once and therefore, will probably scratch off the whole country at once.  I mean, we would love to go to Moscow, but Siberia does not fall too high on our list of future vacations.  Still, Russia is a big country and we want to be able to scratch it off!

It’s a little daunting to see how much of the world still lies under the gold covering.  Invigorating, though.  The world holds so much to see and we want to see as much as possible!  I love that we will have a visual reminder in our home of all the adventure we have taken and all the adventures yet to come.

Scratch MapOur plan is to collect a picture frame wherever we go together, then put a picture from the trip in the frame.  We bought one in Jamaica, although we have yet to get a picture printed from the trip to go in it.  Eventually, we will hang the pictures from all our travels all around the map which shows where we have been.  We cannot wait to have a whole gallery wall full of them!  The map has already proved a great conversation piece and we know will only become more of one we scratch off more and more.

Have you found any unique gift ideas lately?  Do you have anything you collect when you travel?

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!