The One with His Birthday Day(s)

Kevin’s birthday celebration went off just as I planned. I had a few surprises up my sleeve, and I was all but bursting at the seems with excitement in the days leading up to his birthday. For the first time ever, I actually managed to keep him totally unaware of my plans and beyond that he wasn’t able to predict what I might be working on (which he is so good at doing.) 
On Tuesday we decided to head to Ruby Tuesdays to cash in on his FREE birthday burger. Our check was just $9.00. Not too shabby. And totally delicious. (You should definitely join the birthday club. Plus you get monthly coupons for BOGO entrees and such. Great deals.)
All morning Wednesday I was a busy bee preparing for my grandiose plans. There is a beautiful Erie Canal Schoolhouse Bed & Breakfast in our town and the owners attend our church. Pastor Randy & Kevin often have Monday meetings at the B&B just for a change in scenery. I decided to email Jeri at the last minute to see if they might have availability on Wednesday evening. PR had told Kevin to take the day off for his birthday so I knew Wednesday was the best opportunity. I baked a rhubarb pie (one of Kevin’s favorites) and even cut out an adorable design in the top crust– 

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I packed a suitcase for the two of us full of his favorite clothes–comfy pants, slippers, sweatshirt–and a toothbrush for good measure. :) I even remembered his iPad charger! I cooked a batch of popcorn–our favorite evening snack–and headed over to the inn with the luggage in tow. Jeri & Lou were so welcoming and generous, not to mention excited about my little surprise. I moved our stuff into the room and made it home before Kevin. 
Wednesday afternoon when he came home from work, I asked if we could go out for dinner since we wouldn’t get a chance on the day of his birthday (seminary class all evening.) He was up for that–even though it meant putting off writing a paper for another day. I went about teaching my piano lessons until 6pm, grabbed my bag of crochet stuff and sneaked his most recent book into my bag, and we headed out to the local family restaurant. We had a really great time together. Conversation was sweet. Fried Halibut was delicious. Prices were good. 
When we got to the car I said, “I’m driving to our next destination.” At this point he was quite confused but certainly running through every possible outcome in his mind. By the time we arrived at the B&B he was pretty certain of my plans. I was thrilled to see he was excited about our secret “getaway” and impressed with my preparation. 
While at the B&B we enjoyed fresh rhubarb pie, hot tea, Criminal minds, crocheting/book reading, sleeping in, freshly made breakfast, a tour of the historic schoolhouse, a hymn sing with me at the piano, and his gift exchange. I had arranged for our teens from Monroe to put together a package full of birthday cards for Kevin. He was so appreciative. From me Kevin received 3 more 2 liters of Faygo’s Rock N Rye and brand new Union28.net My Wife Rocks and My Husband Rocks tshirts.

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So yeah, it was fabulous. I loved surprising my Love!

The One with My Husband’s 25th

Today is my sweet husband’s 25th birthday.

He still makes me smile like this–eight birthdays together later.

We still look good together (in my semi-humble opinion)–like we did in college.
We still do crazy things together….
like dancing on ice skates…
He still gives me kisses like this. 
We still give each other squeeze hugs
He still lets me cut his hair. (which I really need to do.)

He still lets me boss him around. What a guy, right?

He still gets this look on his face every time I bake cookies. which is often
We still love each other every bit as much as when we celebrated his 18th birthday together. (And yes, Kevin, I’m going to go out on a limb and say we loved each other from the start. I blame the Linus & Lucy theme song. And God. JK. But really.)

 I am so thankful God *forced* us together. You are the logical to my emotional. The stable to my fragile. The wit to my ridiculous. You are the only one who can make me smile even when I’d rather not. You believe in me when I continually doubt. You are the peanut butter to my jelly. (and boy, do I ever love peanut butter.) You are the cake to my frosting (for realz). The bread to my butter. 
And now that I’ve taken the food metaphors way too far, I’ll just say I love you, KM (as your mama calls you). Happy 25th Birthday. May we share 80 more birthdays together. 

The One with the Real Crocheting

I am a little crocheting maniac right now. And I’m loving it! Mostly I’m loving it because I *think* I actually know what I’m doing this time around. Yeah, all those years, all those scarves, all those patterns that were far beyond my ability–all of it was thanks to my totally backwards method of crocheting. 
It was kind of like how I learned to French braid. I learned on my own head first, but I couldn’t translate the hand movements to someone else’s head (namely, my American Girl doll, Samantha). When attempted on Samantha’s head it always ended up being an “upside down” or “inside out” French braid. Also known as a Dutch Braid–when the braid looks like it’s laying on top of the hair instead of lying flush with the hair. Like this. Kinda cool, yes. But not what I was going for. 
I finally figured out how to retrain my brain and my hands to cross over the opposite way I had been braiding. And voila. The French braid was born. (or at least, I had mastered this tricky little braid.) 
Yeah, so my issue with crocheting is kind of like that. I hadn’t even been chaining the right way. Yep–my most basic skill in crocheting was way off. I am beyond thankful for my Mom-in-law for helping me diagnose the problem and teach me the correct way to crochet. She worked with me as I figured out how to follow a pattern and learn the single and double stitches. I was constantly having to take out stitches (as in, EVERY stitch) because I had crossed the yarn the wrong way or had forgotten to chain 2 in between double and single crochets. All of this unstitching and stitching business does a number on that poor strand of yarn. It was almost unraveled, making my job even more difficult.
I know, none of this actually matters to you. But it’s a milestone for me, friends. So it’s being documented. 
After Mom E left, I went about solidifying the lessons I had learned and attempted a project sans pattern. I just wanted to get the triple crochet down. It took a while but soon, I was getting comfortable. I was finally learning to control the yarn with my left hand instead of awkward handing it with my right. My style grew comfortable and easy. And my stitches actually resembled a well-worked project
But then I ran out of yarn. And I didn’t have the original label to tell me what kind of yarn to buy. Our Walmart had almost no yarn selection, so I dragged my husband into a large JoAnn Fabric’s. I was overwhelmed. Four aisles of yarn. FOUR!
After *way too much* deliberation, I finally decided to start fresh. I had the crochet skill down and it was time to buy new yarn (and enough to finish my project) and actually follow a pattern. I eagerly (re)started my project last night and it’s going swimmingly. I am totally loving this hobby of mine and can’t wait to see my first completed piece (hopefully in a week or so.) And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll keep up with my skills and continue crafting away, while happily “watching” season after season of Gilmore Girls. 
Do you have a hobby? Are you crafty? If you crochet do you have any tips to share or patterns you recommend?

The One with the Bountiful Baskets

Today is just one of those days when I have so much on my mind, I can’t seem to settle on just one topic to expound upon. My thoughts are forming a gigantic tangled web and if I don’t start talking, I might just explode, but yet I have no clue where to begin. Can anyone relate? 
My poor husband is probably going to get an earful when he comes home for lunch. Have I mentioned how much I love that we live a block from the church? No driving required. We don’t need more than one vehicle. I can visit him or bring him something if he needs it. He can stop home whenever…No biggie. LOVE. it. 
I also love being able to walk to the bank or the post office or the library. Or to Coldstone with Kevin when he gets his Coldstone Buy one Creation of any size and get the second of equal or lesser value free. Yes, I realize walking a block doesn’t exactly negate the effects of the ice cream, but it’s the thought that counts. (Ok, it’s really not. But this is why I run in the morning, people. It’s all for the ice cream.) 
Speaking of getting fat, last night I had this epiphany while Kevin was doing a fun youth group game that involved slide show pictures and questions about our dating years. Maybe the reason I bake and cook so much is to get him to gain weight so I feel even skinnier. HA! Just kidding. He’s done a phenomenal job of not gaining weight–people are constantly impressed that neither of us weighs 400 pounds with all the baking I do. But my theory of “get him fat so I’m skinny in proportion” was quite entertaining, albeit totally untrue.
On top of my usual baking and cooking frenzies, this month is Pastor Appreciation Month and boy do these people do it up right! It’s incredible and yes, we’ve felt extremely appreciated. Coffee cakes to die for, cookies, peanut butter pie, and a 12 pack of Kevin’s favorite Faygo pop that only seems to be found in Michigan–Rock N Rye. I’ve been trying to freeze the desserts to spread out the goodness. Also, because Kevin’s birthday is Thurday and we’re going to want to mangia, mangia
I’m also totally excited about the baskets full of fresh squashes that I’ve never even heard of, peppers, apples, carrots with the awesome green stems still attached–I’m talking REAL food, friends. I can’t wait to cook up some healthy meals for us! 
And now, though I still have a million things on my mind, my stomach is growling. I’m going to fix lunch. 

The One with an Appreciation of the Crispness of Fall

Today I am thankful for…
…the chill in the air, the smell of fallen leaves, the sunny blue sky mixed with deep blue weather-filled clouds. 
…pounds and pounds of Empire apples for only $0.39 a pound. My kitchen is overflowing with apples and I love it
…the opportunity to help my sister build an awesome resume to score the job she dreams of and deserves!
three (maybe four) new piano students to add to my studio schedule. That means my studio has doubled just this week! Praise Jesus.
…last minute Friday night visits with a friend–and being totally cool showing up unannounced in lounge pants and a bowl of popcorn. 
little girls who shout, “MELANIE!” every time they see me. and hold my hand, and hug my neck, and attach themselves to my leg. 
…cute new glasses that my husband loves. (Now, I just really need to get them adjusted so they don’t dig into my scalp.)
…Apples. did I already mention apples? 
…my newly acquired actual crochet skills. I am totally rocking the triple crochet. Thanks, Mom-in-law! (Now I must hunt down additional skeins of the same yarn I bought 2 years ago. Oi.)
What are you thankful for this fall weekend?
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The One with Family, Apples & Cake

Last weekend our home was full of family, food, and fun. Mom & Dad E, Brian, and Grandma & Grandpa E made the 8ish hour trip to our new home in our new state all the way from the Mitten. We didn’t have anything in particular on the agenda, but we quickly managed to fill our time together. 
Friday evening (after a quick home tour of course), it was birthday party time! With Kevin & Brian’s at the end of October and mine in November, we can kill 3 birds with one stone cake. I was thrilled with my newest addition to my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer family–a rubber scraper beater blade. Woot! (Seriously, this is me EXCITED.) 
After presents we all jumped in the van and headed to Red Lobster–the birthday restaurant of choice. Kevin had been eagerly anticipating this all week because of the endless shrimp special. And boy did he give that restaurant a run for their money. (I’ll just leave it at that.) We had a bit of a wait to get seated and then served (it was 7 o’clock on a Friday night, after all), but this gave us all plenty of time to get caught up on one another’s lives. (By the way, thanks, Family, for always listening with eagerness as we tell of the news of our ministry. We appreciate how much you care about our passion and love for teens.) 
Saturday morning dawned windy rainy and downright cold, but we managed to brave the elements multiple times. We visited the Methodist Church Bazaar and came home with some sweets and fresh Butternut squash (thanks, Grandpa!). We went back  to the bazaar to check on an item I had bid on in a silent auction. We ventured out to the apple orchard and had a ball filling our stomachs with tasty samples and freshly cooked apple cider doughnuts (my favorite! YUM!) We filled the trunk with cider and 80 pounds of apples (no joke!) to split between our families. 
That evening I made an enormous bowl of pasta with sausage and peppers–a specialty of mine. It must have been a hit with everyone, because that big beautiful bowl (passed on to me from my Italian grandpa) was empty. We all managed to save room for dessert though–I made Annie’s Eats Caramel Peanut-Topped Brownie Cake and homemade vanilla ice cream. Pastor Randy & Sheryl and their 4 kids joined us to help us celebrate all of the birthdays.  It was so much fun having a house full of friends and family, serving my kitchen creations and seeing smiles on everyone’s faces. I love me some hospitality
Besides watching the Tigers lose tragically to the Texas Rangers in the last game before the World Series, the weekend was a total success. Thanks for visiting, everyone! 
Do you love to host family & friends? Or maybe you enjoy being the guest? (I love both!)

The One with the Sensitivity

I love when God gives me glimpses of His purpose for me, of how He is seeking to use me for the His Kingdom. Even the smallest revelation is powerful when I recognize it as God at work. 
Relationships matter most to me in ministry. I like to seek out those who seem alone, or someone who might need a listening ear (which happens to be almost everyone). And I naturally have a deep perception of individuals’ emotions. Kevin jokingly refers to me as his “little empath“–taking on the emotional overtones of any environment. Though this can be harmful to my well-being, I also believe it is a gift from God. 
Even in a large group setting I can see when I person has been offended, embarrassed or hurt. I know how someone is going to interpret the message sent their way, even when I realize the original intent message is far from the reception. 
I know when a person is struggling through a message, be it amongst teens or adults. I notice when someone finds a discrete place to sit so as to not draw attention to their pain or their tears
And in each of these cases, my heart breaks for that person. My gut wrenches inside me. I long to offer tenderness and grace to them–right then and there–but I have learned how to be patient and wait for the right time and place to approach them. 
When the opportunity arises, I go to them with gentleness and compassion–offering my ear, my shoulder, my heart, my tears. God often gives me a message for their hearts, to bind up their brokenness. And I do my best to deliver it, and stay out His way. 
I am thankful for my sensitivity and for the lessons I’ve continually learning to use this precious gift as God would have me do. 
I encourage you, friends, to be on the lookout for God’s gifting in YOUR life.

The One with a Candy Corn Confession

Are you a fan of candy corn? It seems to be one of those divisive foods people love or hate. You know, along with Bleu Cheese dressing and Cilantro. 
I have a few specific thoughts concerning this autumnal sugary snack
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First of all, I like my candy corn to be soft and chewy, not hard and sticky. The hard corns just seems old. Unfortunately, the candy corn I bought the other day–the first (and only) treat for my season–was the not-so-good kind. I’m still eating it though. (You’re not surprised, I’m sure.)
I am not a fan of the candy corn with the brown stripe. Nuh uh. And the pumpkins? They’re tolerable, but just plain overly sweet
Honestly, the overpowering sweetness of candy corn is the reason I’ve not always been a big fan. I don’t like to eat more than a couple “kernels” on their own. 
But combine candy corn with dry roasted peanuts (I prefer unsalted)?! And you’ve got yourself a dreamy snack. Seriously, people. This is the best combination in the world. (That’s totally not true, but I’m going with the exaggeration-for-effect thing.)  
If you don’t believe me, TRY IT. I double dog dare you! The traits of a candy corn all but disappear and combine with the crunchy peanuts to form an unbelievable flavor and texture treat. 
You’re welcome. 
Now, I just have to keep my hand out of the candy jar. *slap*
Have you ever tried this tasty combination?
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The One With the Reasons I Love Running

Since moving to our new town, I’ve been surrounded by runners. It’s a whole new experience for me because I’ve always been one of the only people I know who runs. I’ve never had friends nearby to talk to about running–the pros and cons, the strategies, the recovery, the competition. So I’m loving this. Poor Kevin is probably feeling like the odd guy out, but at least I’m not pestering him to run with me now that I have a running buddy. (disclaimer–I definitely wouldn’t turn you down, Kevin, if you decided to run with me. :D) 
After coming back from another 8 mile run today, I thought I’d share some of the things I love about running.

{Top Ten Things I Love About Running}

1) Running burns lots of calories (this article says it burns more calories than walking, mile-for-mile.)
2) Though running seems to be becoming more and more vogue in recent years, it’s still an activity that only a small percentage of the population ever participates in. For some reason, knowing I’m part of a small group of athletes, makes me feel awesome. 
3) Did I just say “athlete“? Yeah. I guess running makes me an athlete. Something I never thought I would be. I was always the chubby, uncoordinated, last-to-picked kid. Now I’m an athlete.
4) Running is competitive. Even if it’s just competing with myself, I’m all about the competition. (Maybe that’s why Kevin doesn’t want to run with me? Hmm. Because we’re super competitive about everything already.)
5) There are some really awesome running clothes out there. I only have 2 or 3 different outfits, but ever since I bought actual workout gear, I’ve felt pretty great about my runs. 
6) Running is a total body workout. It’s amazing to me that my abs and arms end up sore after some runs and are getting toned in addition to those leg and butt muscles that I knew were getting worked. 

7) I always feel great after a run. The sweating, the heart rate, the cool down, the fresh shower, the feel wide awake. It’s all awesome.
8) Running is one workout that can be done anywhere. The first thing I do when we’re looking for a hotel or visiting family or friends is map out the best running route. I don’t mind running in the cold, I can put up with a light rain, and the only equipment needed is my running shoes. Done!
9) I am an early morning runner. I love being up before many are awake–watching the sunrise, enjoying the stillness of the day.
10) Can I just be really honest with you? I totally love my toned calves & quads & hamstrings. I used to be totally embarrassed by my legs, but now they’re my favorite part of myself. I love having visual evidence of the work I’ve done.
Running rocks.  
You may not be a runner (and that’s totally ok) but how do you like to feel the burn?
This post is linked up with Oh!Amanda’s Top Ten Tuesday

The One with a Grilling Plea

We love to grill. 
Ok, ok. My husband loves to grill. I love to eat things that have been grilled. 
Every time I try to use the grill, I almost burn my eyebrows right off my face. No joke. Just ask the teens we took camping this summer. I started that mini propane grill many times, and all but once I lit up the sky with flames. 
Same thing happened the first summer we were married. Kevin had come home from work, and I decided to be an awesome wife and grill our dinner for us. I headed out to our teeny tiny balcony-porch-thingy and turned on the gas. Unfortunately, I left the lid closed until I was ready to click “ignite” and WOOSH! Kevin heard the mini-explosion in the other room. I’m lucky to be alive. and that I didn’t burn down our apartment complex. You’re welcome, Detroit. 
We moved that trusty old 40-dollars-at-a-yard-sale grill all the way to Monroe and we used it quite a few times. But before the too long, the darn weather had its way with her. The base of the grill totally corroded. And at some point, our entire propane tank was stolen. Seriously? How did that happen? 
We tried the charcoal grill thing. It seemed like the frugal option and the hard-core-grilling way to go. We were brave. 
It didn’t work out for us. 
Mostly because we’re too impatient to wait for the perfect time to place the slabs of meat on the preheated charcoal. And because we were just really terrible at starting much a fire in the charcoal at all. Oh well. We tried. 
We sold that grill at our garage sale for 20 bucks. Not bad. 
But now, we’re craving that flavor that only comes from the outside grilling process. As much as we love burgers cooked on the stovetop (this is how I cook them, for the sake of my eyebrows), we need a grill. My man needs a manly grill. Don’t tell him I said that. 

This is where YOU come in. Please, give us your recommendations for grills. Where to buy? What to buy? How much to pay? What bells & whistles to look for or avoid?