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Ladies Day Off Event Debuts This Saturday

Jun 26, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

Ladies' Day OffToday I learned about an event that sounds like it could be a lot of fun. It’s called Ladies’ Day Off, and its debut will be taking place this Saturday, June 28th at Queen’s Harbour Yacht & Country Club from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. What really caught my attention about this event is that its focus is to provide a retreat for women from their professional and personal responsibilities by giving them an opportunity to network, relax, learn about local services and products, as well as support local charitable organizations.

Saturday’s agenda includes:

  • Yoga on the lawn
  • Make-up demos
  • Mini spa services on-site
  • Giveaways
  • Hors d’oeuvres
  • Cocktails & more!

While all of the above sounds amazing, I’m already spoken for this weekend. However, the women behind Ladies’ Day Off have graciously offered to let me send one of my readers in my stead. Pretty neat, huh?

If Ladies Day Off sounds like something you could use (and I imagine that’s most of us), use the entry form below to stake your claim! Because the event takes place this Saturday, you don’t have much time to put yourself in the running – I’ll pull a winner via Rafflecopter tomorrow at 5 p.m. ET!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Photo Adventure: Scenic Swamp on Campus

Feb 23, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

Christopher got me a 50mm lens for Valentine’s Day this year so I could work on my photography, and I’ve been really eager to try it out. (And what better way to do that than by taking advantage of a beautiful day and hitting the UNF trails to see what it could do?) Because I’m still a padawan when it comes to photography, I’ve never owned  a lens that only adjusted manually, so the goal of the day was to practice, practice, practice!

I don’t think we could’ve asked for better weather – the sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze for the duration of our hike, and the humidity was next to nothing (for Florida anyway). The only hiccup to our perfect hiking weather was the miniature swamps that cropped up along the trail due to the deluge the area received the day before (and let’s be honest…it really did more to set the scene that we were actually on some grandiose adventure).

I’m always happiest when I’m outdoors taking in the natural beauty we Floridians are blessed with. Be it salt marshes, sand dunes, surf, pine forests or cypress swamps – it’s gorgeous in my book, and I want to experience it all. Mother Nature didn’t disappoint on Saturday. While we only technically hiked 3.5 miles, the adventure took us the better part of two hours, because I was stopping CONSTANTLY to take pictures. (I needed the practice after all.)

My favorite shot of the day was near the end of our hike after cutting a path parallel to our submerged trail so that we could make it to a bridge in the middle of the cypress swamp. The sun filtered through the treetops and created a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of highlights and shadows.

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While I still have a lot of work to do in learning to master this new lens, I think I made some pretty decent progress during my first day out. I put together a small gallery of my favorites below!

Thrift Store Monsters & Friendship Bracelets

Jan 29, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Crafts & DIY, Slice of Life

TicTac

There’s nothing my cats love better than Craft Day. Seriously. It’s like Christmas, catnip, empty boxes, felt mice and warm laundry fresh out of the dryer, all wrapped up into one glorious event. It could have something to do with the fact that my craft room/office is strictly off-limits to them without supervision, so they leap (quite literally at times) at the chance to enter the restricted area. But it could also be because they’re also pretty social creatures (you may not have realized that about cats), so they look forward to opportunities to show off for our house guests. TicTac, pictured above, is the worst offender.

1. Craft Day Set Up

Craft Days are a pretty special event for me too. They’re a chance to spend time with some of my girlfriends, catching up on life, the universe and everything, while trying (and figuring) new crafts and projects. We only had a couple in 2013, but we’ve resolved together to try to find time to have them more frequently. Last year’s projects included water-coloring, spray-painting plant silhouettes and sculpting little animal figures from polymer clay, and this year’s ideas are proving to be just as exciting.

As you may imagine, a lot of our ideas come from projects or products we find on Pinterest, but they also come from things we stumble across in real life or on Etsy.

Steph stumbled across the first idea for our January Craft Day over at Apartment Therapy. They had a blog that highlighted some artwork that someone had created for their home by adding monsters to thrift store paintings - brilliant! I’m not a great painter (mostly from lack of practice), but I fell in love with the idea and immediately went on the hunt for a painting. I found the little metal sign, pictured left, at the Goodwill by my house for a whopping $2.99.

The second idea was to try our hand at crocheting our own version of these cute friendship bracelets. Steph found on Etsy. I love to crochet, so was definitely on board with giving this a try.  Because they were a for-sale item, we didn’t have a step-by-step guide to follow, but thankfully we both knew enough about crochet to muddle our way through.

The great thing about both projects is that between Steph and I, we had all the supplies we needed (minus the thrift store paintings) already on hand. That almost NEVER happens. When Steph arrived, we wasted no time in jumping into to Project #1, and by some crazy happenstance , we both ended up purchasing watery-themed pieces, so had similar ideas of creating a kraken-like creature for our paintings.

3. Craft Day - Steph Painting

I absolutely LOVE how Steph’s kraken turned out, and the poor fisherman never saw it coming!

4. Craft Day - Aliera painting

I ended up painting a little octopus, who ended up better than I had hoped, which means that I’ve stumbled across a new hobby (like I needed another one), but I can’t help myself. I can’t wait to try this again!

5. Detail Shot (Aliera Painting)

Stitch made an appearance after all the hard work was done (typical Stitch), but seemed to enjoy hanging out and getting to know Octavius (the little guy had to have a name after all). I was actually so excited about how the painting turned out, that I immediately hung it up in our guest bathroom.

6. Friendship Bracelets

While our paintings dried, we started on the crocheted bracelets, which worked up much faster than I expected. We kept things simple by making one really long single crocheted chain, then sewing a button on one end to serve as a fastener. I didn’t have any charms on hand to embellish the bracelets with, but if I try this project again (which I very likely will) there’s a lot of versatility and customization to play around with – stitch styles, buttons, charms, yarn types and colors.

And because we like to know where our next craft is coming from, we’ve already decided what to do for our February Craft Day. Steph found a pretty great (if daunting!) tutorial on how to make rustic, handpainted wooden signs that we’re dying to try.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what crafts you’ve tackled already this year. Share your favorites in the comments below!

 

 

A Photoshoot with the Littlest Princess

Sep 23, 2013 by     1 Comment    Posted under: Slice of Life

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Adventures in Baking: Andes Mint Cupcakes

Sep 17, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

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.

Andes Mint Cupcakes from Your Cup of Cake blog

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.

What’s your favorite kind of cupcake?

AndesMintCupcakes

 

 

Backstreet’s Back, All Right!

Aug 27, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

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.

Favorite Moments 

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BSB Collage

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What were some of your favorite bands/groups from the late 90s early 2000s? 

 

 

Save Our Shelters!

Aug 5, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

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.

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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.

Our local non-profits, such as the Jacksonville Humane Society and First Coast No More Homeless Pets, are already subsidizing JACPS, and they cannot afford to increase that subsidy. A couple of quick facts to chew on:

  • 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.)

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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.

Thanks everyone! You rock!

Dad’s Birthday Adventure at Fort Matanzas

Jul 29, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

Fort Matanzas
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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). ;)

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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.

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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.]

Independence Day on Kingsley Lake

Jul 5, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

IMG_6373(Resize)Would love to hear what traditions your family has for the 4th. Feel free to share them in the comments below!

{concert} Earth, Wind & Fire

Jun 22, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

Earth, Wind & Fire During the summer, my job does this wonderful thing called Summer Half Days. Every other Friday for eight weeks, we get to take a half day (as long as our projects are completed, of course.)

This past Friday, I took one of my half days and headed down to St. Augustine to enjoy a girls’ afternoon/evening out with my mother-in-law (specifically to see Earth, Wind & Fire at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre).

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…”

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