Hands down, my favorite thing about 2013 so far has been the birth of Sophia, my brother and sister-in-law’s first child, and my first niece. There’s something pretty spectacular about being an aunt (I know Rhiannon would agree), and something even cooler about the fact that Sophia was born the day before my birthday (Happy Early Birthday to me!) So when Bianca mentioned an idea she had for a photoshoot for Sophia about a month ago, I was thrilled, because I knew it’d be adorable. Little did I know that events would transpire that would put me in the role of photographer, but man, was it fun!
Because Halloween is right around the corner and we were dealing with a rainy forecast for the weekend, Bianca wanted to make sure we started out with her first Halloween costume (ever) – Snow White. With a borrowed bridge and mirror, a basket of apples, and the seven dwarves, we managed to stage a pretty magical outdoor retreat in just a few minutes.
This was Sophia’s first time playing in the grass, and we definitely had our hands full trying to keep her attention. But she was a trooper, and gave me enough time to take about 100 photos or so before she’d had enough of outfit #1.
Because Sophia was born right after my brother deployed to Afghanistan, she hasn’t had a chance to meet her daddy face-to-face yet. When Bianca told me what she had in mind for outfit #2, it took everything I had not to tear up. (I’m a total marshmallow.) While Bianca got Sophia ready, Chris and I set up the backdrop for our “Welcome Home, Daddy” pictures. Equipped with Sean’s white barracks cover, combat boots (which he wore while in Iraq) and dog tags, as well as an American flag, confederate flag and camouflage, we were ready to add Sophia.
My brother is coming home from Afghanistan toward the end of October, and I can’t wait for to see his reaction when he meets his little girl for the first time. Sean’s dog tags and boots were a hit with the littlest princess (which made all of us smile), and she put up with Bianca and I rearranging her constantly quite well, although toward the end of this round, she let us know in no uncertain terms that she was close to her limit.
Outfit #3 proved to be the last straw for our little darling, and she had a mini meltdown before letting me take any pictures. She still looked ridiculously adorable dressed up in the butterfly fairy outfit Bianca made for her, but she was tired and hungry and ready for a break.
I’m still going through all the photos I took yesterday, and haven’t had a chance to add any filters or make any edits, but as a proud auntie, I couldn’t help but share her cuteness as soon as possible.
A couple of weeks ago, Chris asked me if I’d be willing to help his team at work by making something for their bake sale to support Light the Night. If you’re not familiar with the event, it’s a walk to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Our Jacksonville walk will be taking place on November 7 at the Jacksonville Landing, and leading up to the event, teams from all over Merrill Lynch are working to raise money to support the cause.
It’s been awhile since I’ve baked anything spectacular, and I wanted to make sure I made something that people would love (purchase), so I scurried off to Pinterest for ideas. It didn’t take long for me to stumble across Lizzy’s (Your Cup of Cake) recipe for Andes Mint Cupcakes and after salivating over her photographs, I knew I’d found a winner.
Photo Credit:Lizzy from Your Cup of Cake You can find her incredible Andes Mint Cupcake recipe here.
I did make a couple of modifications to her recipe to cut some corners on time (no, I didn’t make my frosting from scratch), and overall was pretty happy with the result. I think Chris’s co-workers agreed, because all 24 cupcakes sold, raising $48 for the cause, which makes me think I should have made more. (Can I now take a moment to lament the fact that I didn’t get to sample one?)
I’m looking forward to making another batch in the near future so that I can actually taste them for myself and make the frosting from scratch according to Lizzy’s recipe (she also has a cupcake cookbook for those looking for even more tantalizing treats.
For anyone who was curious about my frosting shortcut, it took 2 1/2 containers of cream cheese frosting, 1 tsp. of peppermint extract and 10 drops of green food coloring to get the desired result. On my next go-round, I also want to purchase some frosting tips and disposable frostings bags, because while my cupcakes were cute, they lacked the “finished” look you get with the decorative frosting tips. Lesson learned.
Oh my god, they’re back again…and I couldn’t be more excited. The Backstreet Boys (prefaced by DJ Pauly) hit Jacksonville by storm last night, and it was amazing. Words can not do justice to the ridiculously good time I had last night with Devon, Tyler and Desi, as we danced our butts off and sang our hearts out to the adrenaline inducing harmonizing of the Backstreet Boys. To make the night even better, we bumped into our friends Kendall and Shannon at the show, effectively turning the concert in a mini-AAF Jacksonville outing.
Things I Learned
Devon is (and always has been) a Kevin Richardson fan
Desi likes them all as long as they’re harmonizing (but secretly has a thing for AJ)
Brian (my fave Backstreet Boy) and Kevin are “cousins from Kentucky.” (Thanks for that random trivia, Desi.) :)
I really should pick up their latest album – they’ve still got it.
And apparently, Brian’s son will be following in dad’s footsteps. He kicked off the show by singing Mariah Carey’s Fantasy, and did an AMAZING job.
What were some of your favorite bands/groups from the late 90s early 2000s?
As a serial animal rescuer, the issue of animal welfare in the Jacksonville community is very near and dear to my heart (just ask Jackie, TicTac, Pixel, Aries, Sushi or Kyo – they’ll back me up). I’m a strong supporter of the Jacksonville Humane Society and First Coast No More Homeless Pets (and their support of Animal Care & Protective Services), and thankful for their efforts to move Jacksonville toward the goal of being a no-kill community by 2014.
Through their dedication and efforts, Jacksonville has made huge strides toward becoming a no-kill community over the past few years. In November of last year, we achieved a no-kill rate of 92% – a huge milestone for our local animal welfare community. However, with recently proposed budget cuts to Jacksonville Animal Control & Protective Services (JACPS), that forward progress is at risk.
Over the last five years, the JACPS budget has been cut in half. Under the proposed budget cuts, JACPS will no longer accept animals from people who want or need to surrender their pets or strays that are brought in off the streets.
Animals will have 14 days to get out of the shelter alive before being euthanized, which will result in approximately 3,000 additional animals being killed each year.
Due to proposed staff cuts, up to 900 animal control complaints will go unanswered each month, which will result in an increase of free-roaming animals and would threaten public safety.
Additional Issues to Consider:
The Jacksonville community’s efforts of becoming a no-kill city would not be possible without generous grants provided by organizations like Best Friends Animal Society. Between grants to JHS and FCNMHP respectively, Best Friends provided over a half a million dollars to our city this year. However, in order to continue receiving those sources of funding, we as a city have to show that we’re committed to providing our own financial support to the cause. It’s likely that additional budget cuts will result in the loss of these funding source in addition to the proposed cuts. (Get more information about the grants from Best Friends Animal Society here.)
Jacksonville also has one of the lowest per capita budgets for animal welfare in Florida (even though we’re the largest city in the state). We allocate just over $3 per resident annually toward animal welfare services. Other cities in Florida allocate $5-6 per resident. (National averages fall somewhere in the $5-8 range.)
How You Can Help Turn Facebook Orange. Head over the Jacksonville Humane Society’s Facebook page and download the “Save Our Shelters” profile image and cover photo to add to your personal Facebook profile. (I added the following cover photo to my personal FB profile and the Facebook page I created for the blog.)
Sign the Petition. Head over to First Coast No More Homeless Pets’ webpage devoted to the “Save Our Shelter” initiative to download the petition. Pass it around to friends, families and neighbors.
Wear orange on August 22nd. The financial committee meeting is slated to take place at approximately 10:30 a.m. on August 22nd (JACPS is slated to be 7th on the agenda. If you can attend, AWESOME. Wear orange, make a sign, and come join the crowd of local animal supporters. (You can find event details here.) If you can’t attend, still wear orange and share your photos on the City of Jacksonville Facebook page, so that city leaders know you support animal welfare.
“Like” the Save Our Shelter Jacksonville Facebook page. Supporters of Animal Care & Protective Services have created a Facebook page to help share information about the proposed budget cuts. You can “like” them here.
Spread the word! Send an email/letter to our city council members. Share information about the “Save Our Shelter” initiative on your social media channels. Email friends and family to let them know that our local animals are at risk.
To celebrate my dad’s birthday this year, we loaded up the car and made the 45-minute drive down to Fort Matanzas in St. Augustine. Located on Rattlesnake Island on the Matanzas inlet, it’s one of my dad’s favorite local haunts. We got to the park right right as the opened at 9 a.m. and were fortunate enough to catch the first ferry over to the island.
For those of you not familiar with the history of this particular monument, Fort Matanzas was built by the Spanish in 1740-1742 to protect St. Augustine from British/French invasions to the south. The area got its name, “Matanzas” (the Spanish word for slaughter) because of the massacre of Ribault and his men that happened earlier in 1565 by Menendez.
I know a lot of general history about the fort from past visits, but the park ranger who led the tour on Sunday really knew his stuff, and I learned a lot. For instance, when the Spanish soldiers built the fort back in 1740, they used 400 pine trees to create pilings to bolster the marshy terrain. And when the Spanish controlled the fort, its coquina walls were plastered and white-washed, the main barracks had a stone floor, and personnel consisted of an officer, four infantrymen, two gunners and a dog.
When the English gained control of Fort Matanzas in 1763, they bumped up the regular roster at the fort to 31 soldiers and nine dogs, replaced the stone floor of the barracks with dirt, and removed the plaster covering the coquina walls, which eventually led to the introduction of mold and mildew into the fort.
I could probably go on at some length about everything we gleaned from this as well as other visits, but instead I’ll finish up the history portion of this post with some other random fun facts gleaned from today’s adventure (I probably should’ve been taking notes):
The Spanish soldiers of that day and age were very short – usually around the height of a musket (just over 5 feet tall).
If a soldier wore red, that denoted that he was a gunner.
The “men” who staffed the fort were actually boys 14-16 years of age.
In the Catholic church at that time, you could get married as early as 12 years of age with permission of the church, although St. Augustine was a bit more conservative, and required newlyweds to be at least 16.
Life expectancy at this time was 44-45 years.
My dad’s a huge lover of history and made sure that all of us (Sean, Rhiannon and myself) got healthy doses of the local lore growing up. We spent a lot of time at each of the local forts: the Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas, and Fort Caroline, as well as hiking the trails through salt marshes, woods and beaches that make up each national park.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather today as we explored the for: the sun was shining, and there was a great breeze. When we returned from exploring the fort on Rattlesnake Island, we “hiked” the short trail back on the mainland, watched the 8-minute overview and history of the fort and national park, and then combed the beach taking in the sights.
Sean and I especially have some great memories at Fort Matanzas with Dad. He took us fishing at the park one summer, and we caught more than a dozen fish between the two of us. Dad spent so much time helping us take the fish we caught off the line (we were strictly catch-and-release), and baiting and casting our lines, that he didn’t get the chance to fish at all. And one of the best parts of that adventure was the fact that we each caught a fish that was our favorite color: green for Sean, purple for me (just ask my Dad, he’ll vouch for us). ;)
We had a pretty awesome adventure today as well. While walking on the beach, we saw an army of fiddler crabs waving to potential mates, an osprey with a fish struggling in his talons, and a little green snake who’d fallen out of a tree at the edge of the beach. He was bright green, about a foot and half long and skinnier than a pencil. He was also having a difficult time getting traction in the soft sand, and navigating his way back to the brush at the edge of the marsh. My sister and I ended up using a couple of reeds placed in front of him to help get back to his tree.
While I’m by no means an expert on snake identification, I’m pretty sure he’s what’s known as a “rough green snake,” and as such, nonvenomous. I know there are a lot of people out there that feel pretty strongly about snakes, but as far as this little fellow goes, I thought he was beautiful, and watching him stretch his body back up to the tree (no small feat, I wish we’d taken video), was fascinating.
We wrapped up the day’s adventures with lunch at Mango Mango’s . Dad and I both chowed down on the Island Burger (my favorite item on the menu), complemented by a side of yucca fries (which are to DIE for).
As a family, we tend to do a lot of outdoor activities. How do you celebrate birthdays in your family?
[And to see more photos from today's adventure, check out my gallery on Flickr.]
Every Fourth of July, Chris and I join his family at their lake house on Kingsley Lake, a tradition that I look forward to every year.
It’s a chance to disconnect (mostly) and enjoy the beauty of the lake – the sound of the water against the house (situated literally on the lake), the feel of the sun on the dock, and the cool, calm water after the heat has driven us from sunning on the dock.
It’s also a chance to reconnect with family and friends that we don’t get to see as often – some family from Thomasville, friends from Starke and more family from Gainesville.
This year, in addition to our traditions of grilling out, swimming and taking the boat out, we came armed with fireworks, and joined the dozens of families around the lake setting off sparklers, roman candles, and fireworks into the intermittently stormy skies. It was a BLAST! (Pun intended.)
Would love to hear what traditions your family has for the 4th. Feel free to share them in the comments below!
Prior to the concert, I brushed up on my EWF favorites to make sure I remembered all the words to hits like Shining Star, September, Boogie Wonderland and Fantasy. (And let me tell you, there were a lot of concert goers who were surprised by my knowledge of their repertoire.)
Earth, Wind and Fire put on a great show, and I had a lot of fun dancing and singing along to their music with my mom-in-law.
People watching at the concert was also pretty incredible because of the diversity of individuals attending – young and old, casual and dressed to the nines, sun-kissed and weathered and those who’d obviously had work done.
My favorite, however, were the people who danced. There were several couples in the two rows ahead of us that had obviously loved to dance to this, the music of their youth, and that weren’t shy about recapturing those moments. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and I couldn’t help but boogie along right beside them.
I’ve been to a number of concerts, and I’ve learned through those experiences that the audience is a huge determining factor on how much I’ll enjoy the show. From a crowd perspective, this is probably one of the best concerts I’ve been to in awhile. Everyone sang their hearts out, danced their butts off and traded memories with their neighbors of when/where they were when they heard a particular Earth, Wind and Fire song for the first time – it was an incredible camaraderie to experience.
Another amazing part of the experience came after the show, when talking to my mom-in-law. As I don’t usually dig into the history of the musicians I admire but rather delve into their discography, I was shocked to learn that the founding members of the band were in their late 60′s/early 70′s. Can I just say that I hope I’m as full of energy and song when I’m their age?
All-in-all, it was a great show and I highly recommend catching their act if you haven’t seen it, or catching it again if you have. After all, you’ll always “remember how the stars stole the night away…”
It’s official! In 100 Days, Chris and I will be hopping on a plane and heading to Hawaii! It’s a trip that we’ve been trying to plan for quite some time – since one of my besties, Emily, moved there with her husband (he’s a captain in the Marine Corps).
Now that we’ve secured our plane tickets, our next steps are to spend some time ironing out the details of all the things we want to do while we’re there. At the top of my list are hiking, snorkeling and paddle boarding. I’m also hoping to capture some photos of rainbows (Em’s been sharing photos of her drive into work – and she’s got what seems like dozens of photos of rainbows).
We’ll be staying on Oahu, and I’ll slowly accumulating a list of things I want to see. So far on my list, I have the North Shore (because I love the movie), Waikiki Bay (surf lessons & swimming), Leahi (aka “Diamond Head” for its views), Hanauma Bay (the best snorkeling on the island), and Waimea (it’s a legendary surf spot).
As I do a little more research on the things there are to see and do, I’ll be updating my list. Stay tuned!
One of my fondest memories as a tween/young teen was not actually a singular moment, but rather a collective recollection of trips taken with my dad and brother to the Willie Browne trail, part of a trail system in the Theodore Roosevelt area of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. (If you recall at all from recent posts, Chris and I rediscovered the Willie Browne trail back in February after several weekend trips to the Fort Caroline area, relying on my childhood memories of the journey, to find the entrance to that specific area of the park.)
Recently in a conversation with my dad about our explorations, he mentioned how cool it would be to go back and see how everything changed in the years since he’s been on the trails. Thus my idea for the perfect Father’s Day adventure was born.
Sunday morning dawned bright and perfect, and it was with a giddy enthusiasm that Chris and I packed up our hiking supplies – namely bug spray and heaps of water – and headed out to meet my parents at Tombo’s for breakfast. I think I was probably borderline irritating at breakfast, because I couldn’t stop fidgeting due to my excitement about the day’s planned activities. After what felt like hours (but was really just one), we wrapped up our meal and headed to my car to begin part one of the day’s adventures.
The drive over to the Willie Browne trail isn’t a long one, but it felt like forever. When we finally turned onto the supposedly two-lane dirt road, I think everyone was ready to get out of the car and stretch their legs. At this point, I think it’s important to note that when it comes to the great outdoors (especially hiking), I am definitely my father’s daughter. He and I matched each other stride for stride as we set out from the beginning of the trail head, all the while making frequent (and often sudden) stops to point out various wildlife – mostly skinks and anoles – and to reminisce about our favorite discoveries down offshoots from the main trail.
I think one of my favorite things about this particular area of Jacksonville is that the wildlife and various ecosystems transition abruptly – one minute you’ll be walking through a longleaf pine sandhill, then a few steps will take you into the salt marshes, and then by climbing up several shell mounds, you’ll find yourself in a scrub forest with sandy soil littered with deer moss.
One of the neat things we observed on this particular trip was a fallen cedar tree about 30 yards off the main trail. A short trek to the base of the fallen tree afforded us a peek inside its split trunk, which was full of cedar trunks (great fire starter if we’d been looking to camp out).
This is the view you’re rewarded with if you make it out to the Willie Browne observation deck. It’s a view that really makes me appreciate the wonders of home, and no matter how many times I’m out there, it never gets old.
I always forget to check the tide when we head to the trails, but going at low tide is usually interesting because walking out to the flats allows you to observe the hustle and bustle of the local crabs while listening to the smack and pop of the oysters.
The sea oxeyes were in full bloom this trip, which meant that the whole area around the observation deck was drenched in color (and butterflies). Over the course of our two and half hour adventure, we saw a myriad of yellow barred and orange barred sulphurs, one or two palamedes swallowtails and dozens of zebra longwings. (As an aside, I have the Jacksonville Zoo to thank for my butterfly classification abilities.)
About two-thirds of the way through our hike, we decided to take part of the loop toward Spanish Pond and discovered the area where UNF students are digging in search of the original Fort Caroline. There were several roped off areas and a whole series of squared off holes, stakes and tarps where there work was in progress. I’ll admit the sight triggered thoughts of Indiana Jones, and made me wish all over again that I’d taken more classes in archaeology when I was at FSU. (And speaking of FSU, along our hike, we ran into three separate groups of hikers that consisted of FSU graduates and their folks taking in the sights of Fort Caroline – it almost felt like a mini-reunion.)
After spending several hours in the heat, and walking all over the trail system, we decided to turn back toward the car so we could rehydrate. To bring our trip down memory lane full circle, we ended up at the Bono’s on Merrill Road – our go-to refueling station after soccer games, soccer practice and hiking back when we lived in Arlington. All-in-all I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the man who encouraged my insatiable desire to explore all the beauty this world has to offer…my dad.
Talking about my love for video games has always been a little challenging for me (probably because means admitting I have a problem). It may sound funny, but when it comes to video games, I completely lack self-control. They’re one of the few things in my life that takes me completely out of the present, transporting me to this magical world where time has no meaning. Sounds wonderful until I snap back to reality and realize that HOURS of my time have slipped by.
“That happens to everyone,” you say, and you’d mostly be right, but I think I’m more of an extreme case. (See examples below.)
In 2001, my dad gifted me with Final Fantasy X for PlayStation 2, my first foray into the Final Fantasy Series and into RPGs in general. That day, I accidentally logged 16 hours. I was elated by the gift, but horrified that I’d managed to lose track of 16 hours! (I still swear to this day that it only felt like three or so at most.)
In 2002, Bank of America had their annual family festival which was hosted that year at Adventure Landing. I’d recently begun playing Dance Dance Revolution at home, and was thrilled at the opportunity to play at an arcade without ponying up $1 per game. A little while later, my dad was physically dragging me off the game and insisting I eat something.
“I just had breakfast, Dad. I’m not hungry.” was my retort.
“That was eight HOURS ago.” his strained reply.
When what he said sunk in, my legs gave out (although I’m sure 8 hours of competitive dancing might’ve played a teeny role as well.)
Hmmm…let’s just call it World of Warcraft and leave it at that, okay? (And mention that all my last minute studying, and paper-writing in college may have had more to do with my growing video game addiction and less with the fact that I was a procrastinator as most people assumed.)
So where am I going with this? Video games are one of my FAVORITE things in the world, but because of how easily my attention is ensnared by their endless characters, quests and challenges, I usually try to keep them at arm’s length. Ratchet and Clank was the first video game I ever finished from beginning to end (Chris and I played this together in fall of last year.)
Thanks a gift from the Easter Bunny (Okami HD), I’ve been staying up even later than usual. According to Chris, I’m pretty late to the Okami fandom, but I guess better late than never. Here’s to adding another game to my “completed” list and renewing the struggle of time management while being pulled into a great story.