Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Great Falls Park, VA

Great Falls lies on the border of Virginia and Maryland.  Near the Nation's Capital, the Potomac River plunges a total of 77 feet over a series of rocks and flows through one-mile-long Mather Gorge that makes it a scenic site to walk and picnic with friends and family. Biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and kayaking are among the possible recreational activities.  Nearly a half million people visit Great Falls Park each year.

On our long weekend trip to Washington D.C. this summer we decided to check out Great Falls Park, since I'm always on the lookout for parks.  We went with Dave's friend living in the D.C. area and together ventured out for a hike. Unfortunately when we were heading to the park the sky opened up and sheets of rain were falling, which trickled down to a drizzle as we attempted to take in the sights of the Great Falls.

Lucky for us, the falls are a very short walk, 5-10 minutes only from the visitor center and parking lot.  So if your family/friends only want to do a brief looksie at the nature sights without any hiking, this is your opportunity.  The 3 overlooks are spaced close together, and all within a short walking distance (great for rain, small kids, elderly or lazy). There are even some rocks to scramble over, which add that fun factor. Although in the rain with mud and puddles, it's not nearly as easy, still fun, but not easy.

The falls provided a short scenic stop and were unlike falls I've seen before.  There wasn't anything close to the amount of water from Niagara Falls in New York that we had visited the previous summer.  It wasn't the tall narrow waterfalls like in Hawaii, or the waterfalls we've hiked to see in Yosemite National Park in California or even the mountain runoff into the Colorado River.  These were so very different because of the steep jagged rocks and the flow through the gorge, also the Potomac River isn't known for it's cleanliness.  Now we can check Great Falls Park off our list and search for more parks and wonders to behold!

Great Falls Park  9200 Old Dominion Drive  Mclean VA 22102  http://www.nps.gov/grfa/index.htm

Friday, July 25, 2014

Niagara Falls, NY

Maid of the Mist
Niagara Falls State Park in New York and Canada is one of the hot spots for newlyweds.  On our honeymoon travels out east, my husband and I became one of those statistics as we stopped to take in the sights at Niagara Falls. 

When I think of New York I don't think of a state park, but once there we realized just how popular it was for tourists. If you have time you could even head over to the Canadian side and hit up the shopping and dining offered.

If I were to sum up Niagara Falls I'd have to say, it's just a whole bunch of water. What makes it impressive is just the amount of water. When you learn that millions of gallons of water rocket over the falls every minute it can be hard to register that in our brain.  It seems so overwhelming. Just think that 750,000 gallons go over the falls every second, Yikes that's a whole lot of buckets! 
Cave of the Winds

Other FUN facts:
*There are 3 Falls at Niagara Falls State Park: The American Falls, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls
*The water falls at 32 feet per second over the falls, hitting the base of the falls with 280 tons of force at the American and Bridal Veil Falls and 2,509 tons of force at the Horseshoe Falls.  
*Oldest park in the USA, started in 1885
*Four of the five Great Lakes drain into Niagara River

The two popular activities that enhance the experience at the park are:
1) "Maid of the Mist" boat ride that takes you near the set of falls.
2) "Cave of the Winds" walking tour which takes you almost directly below the churning water.

We opted for the Cave of the Winds, and boy was that fun. Again the force of the water is crazy, and the amount of water flooding the decking makes it an exciting, but safe adventure. Loved the sandals you get to keep as souvenirs and the snazzy rain ponchos too! Note: You'll still get wet :)

Cave of the Winds
If you're close to the area it's worth a slight detour, but I wouldn't suggest making this a primary vacation destination.  The actual city of Niagara Falls was underwhelming, and totally a tourist trap, but not the good kind.  Also, bring some food for a picnic, or snacks to tide you over.  Based on our experience we wouldn't suggest doing a sit down dinner in the State Park. The only reasons those restaurants stay in business (at least on the U.S. side) is because everyone likes the idea of sitting down to dinner and observing the falls (which you really can't), so the waitstaff and food can continue to be sub par. Might seem like I'm ragging a bit on the park, so don't get me wrong we enjoyed the adventure, but if we got a 2nd chance we'd definitely do somethings differently and would prefer others learn from our own experience.

Niagara Falls might not be as majestic as the mountains, but it's hard not to be in awe of this natural wonder! It's a great State Park to make a pit stop and mix things up, instead of just hitting the vacation spots near mountains or beaches.  If you time it correctly you might even catch the lighting that they use to illuminate the falls in the evenings!  Interested in seeing more or visiting the falls?  Check out the State Park website.

Horseshoe Falls

American Falls

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bridal Memory Book

A special part of getting married is your chance to share such a life changing moment with family and friends.

The bridal party members are there every step of the day to support you, and likely are in that role because they supported you long before your wedding day.  And your wedding, although important, is special due to the people you're surrounded by.  Those special relationships you've experienced with the people that are genuinely happy for you and there to support you and your husband, are in my opinion what makes a wedding.

A gift I received from my maid of honor, bridesmaids and attendants the morning of my wedding was one of the my favorite wedding presents.  This bridal memory book was compiled by everyone I treasured, and something I'll keep forever.  From each was a personal handwritten note to me recalling our friendship, the fun and touching memorable times we shared.  Some included pictures of me and them. Fun to see the changes we've all gone through.

My maid of honor, Melanie, pulled me aside, amidst the chaos of everyone getting ready and on their way to pictures, to take some alone time to look through it.  The fact that my makeup was already finished is the only thing that held my tears in check.  I had many emotions. One minute I was laughing and the next chocked up by their thoughts.  It was absolutely perfect because it gave me the perspective to take a minute and remember it's not about the pictures or if things go smoothly.  It's about the ladies and gentlemen standing up besides us that got us to this point.  It was about marrying the man I love surrounded by everyone else I love.

You can see how much this gesture meant to me so I knew I had to return it when Melanie got married the next summer.  Since I wanted to mimic the idea, but not copy it exactly I went with a durable binder that all her ladies were able to add their scrapbook pages.  Melanie's turned out more as a scrapbook, loaded with pictures and short messages from the bridal party members. 

And I learned from my experience to give it to her before the makeup application. 

How to Make:

The ladies could add a single page or multiple ones.  It was a personal choice of how they wanted to share their thought to Melanie.  I reflected on our times through college and included two collages of pictures...6 years with hundreds of pictures made it too hard to choose only a few.  The end result of everyone's contributions looked homemade and clearly filled with love for Melanie on her big day.  A good time to collect the pages is at the bachelorette party or day of the wedding, just be sneaky.

I recommend letting the participants know of the memory book at least a month ahead of time. Give specific parameters (size of sheets, pictures, number of submissions etc.)

This is a great idea if you're in a wedding party.  You could even include groomsmen...but I say this with love in my heart, that boys aren't always sentimentally serious and dependable for this sort of thing.  And it is still very special between just us girls. 


A memory book for the bride on her wedding day, designed by her ladies to reminisce about their past and share their support for the future.  


For something so memorable it's hard to believe how easy it is. 


 What a truly special wedding gift!!!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Broccoli Salad

Always on the lookout for items I can bring to parties, and potlucks, I stumbled across this recipe and thought it was worth a try. This was a slightly different take on the typical broccoli salad.  It's funny how broccoli salads used to be such a popular item to bring and it's faded away for a while, so I thought I'd see myself if it's worth bringing back.

Overall my family enjoyed this on our RV trip, it's just the flavors and textures that seem a little odd.  Raisins? Some like em in the salad, some don't. It's up to you whether you want to sprinkle the little treasures in your salad.  One of the main differences is the tomatoes, and some don't even have this cheese! But if you're tired of your old broccoli salad, see if this one is worth swapping.

Broccoli Salad                      By: Paula Deen      6-8 servings       15 minutes

1 head broccoli
6-8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup raisins
8 oz sharp cheddar, chunks or shredded
1 cup mayo
2 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper

1) Trim off large leaves from broccoli stem.  Remove tough stalk at the end and wash broccoli head thoroughly.
2) Cut the head into florets and the stem into bite size pieces.
3) Place in large bowl.  Add crumbled bacon, onion, raisins, and cheese.
4) In small bowl combine remaining ingredients for the dressing. Stir well then add to salad and toss gently.

Other great salads to whet your summer appetite:
Caprese Quinoa Salad
Chicken Taco Salad
Italian Tortelini Pasta Salad Strawberry Chicken Salad
Avocado Corn Salad
Watermelon Arugula Salad 
Pioneer Pasta Salad
Buffalo Chicken Salad

Check out our Market Inspirations for Summer

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Giver Quartet

http://www.loislowry.com/index.php?option=com_djcatalog2&view=items&cid=4:the-quartet&cid=4:the-quartet&Itemid=185A popular series for the upper elementary and middle school aged adolescents.  I read The Giver back in middle school myself.  When the second one came around I read that too.  But WOAH was I surprised when I was now working in a middle school and discovered there was a whole series.  Crazy how long the books are spaced out, but the quartet is finally finished.  Now it'd been quite a while since I'd read the first two and my memory of them was a bit spotty.  So I went back and this time I saw the books with a new perspective.  I could grasp the concepts better and have more life experience to apply and digest the message of the series.  Although written for adolescents it's a worthwhile read.  For others not in that age range, especially if you've read The Giver it's a bit perplexing, but the thrilling series is sure to keep you on your toes.

Keep an eye out for the movie premier of The Giver this summer,  August 15th 2014.

Summary of The Giver:
A boy inhabits what seems an ideal world: one without conflict, poverty, unemployment, divorce, injustice or inequality.  At the annual ceremony each 12 year old receives a life assignment determined by the Elders.  Jonas is chosen for a special position.  A selection that leads him to a man called The Giver.  It is under his instruction that Jonas begin to sense secrets that could topple his fragile perfect world.  


Friday, July 11, 2014

Buckeyes & Buckeye Brownie Bites

Living in the state of Ohio, the home of the Buckeyes, the last 3 years I've learned a few things.  One deliciously tasty thing I've learned is this Buckeyes Recipe! These chocolate peanut butter morsels are deadly! They are rich and addicting.

It was from one of my husband's fellow graduate students, a fella that LOVES sweets just as much as I do, that treated us to a tupperware full of these goodies. When he shared the recipe I just about choked on the ingredients! No wonder they are so tasty. Resigned to eating only a few, but failing miserably, these treats are better made for parties or large gatherings.  With more people there's a better chance I won't be "obligated" to eat them all.

The recipe below is in the quantities for such an occasion so feel free to knock it down a scale if you're making Buckeyes just for your family. And whether you're living in Ohio or not, these chocolate peanut butter bites should be enjoyed everywhere!


1lb Butter (bluebonnet is great!)
2 cup Peanut Butter
3 lb Powdered Sugar
dash of Vanilla Extract
12 oz bag of chocolate chips
**Note: Can also use brownie mix to make buckeye brownie bites and then follow steps 2-5.


1) In a large mixing bowl combine peanut butter, butter, vanilla and sugar. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet.  **Note: If the dough looks dry that's fine.

2) Using toothpicks, insert them into the top of each ball and chill in the freezer for a good 30 minutes.

3) While they're freezing, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or in a bowl set over simmering water on the stove top.  Make sure to stir frequently so the chocolate doesn't burn.

4) Remove the frozen balls and dip them in the melted chocolate, by holding onto the toothpick.

5) To make them look like true buckeyes, leave a small portion of the peanut butter ball showing.  Place the buckeye on the baking sheet and store them in the refrigerator until the chocolate sets and you're ready to serve them.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July!!!

While you are all probably outside enjoying the beautiful weather and the gorgeous MN lakes, I am inside nerding out over this blog post. I have been waiting to write this one for a number of months. The 4th is such a wonderful holiday. It is a time to be outside, join family and/or friends, eat fresh food, drink some good beer and enjoy blowing things up. 

Favorite firework anyone?? Mine is the gold fireworks that at first look like any other firework but then they begin to fall slowly. They look like a giant gold chandelier, sparkling and falling lower and lower to the ground before gracefully fading. 

While you might not be able to use the two recipes I am about to share with you today, they are great for the summer and there are plenty of other patriotic holidays the rest of the year!

Fruit Flag

My friend Maureen made this beauty. I still think it is adorable and its not too time consuming!!

- Package of blueberries
- Package of strawberries
- Three bananas
- Set of wooden skewers
- Serving plate

1. Cut strawberries and bananas right before serving.
2. Add fruit to skewers and arrange to display the flag.

Bomb Pop Cocktail

- 2 oz Bacardi Razz Rum
- 2 oz Lemonade
- 2 oz Blue Caracao

Have a relaxing, explosive and sparkling 4th of July!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tea Party Shower

A group of women from our Christian Community threw a beautiful tea party bridal shower. This was thrown in honor of my friend Mary, getting married in July, and myself. What an honor it is to have people who love you!!

  • Big hats and fun fascinators
  • Elegant but simple dresses
  • Summer clothing
  • Tea! Lots of tea!
  • Coffee
  • Summery flavored water
  • Fruit
  • Finger sandwiches
  • Mini desserts
  • Tea cups and teapots
  • Bud vases and flowers
  • Whicker baskets
  • "Cup of Joes" trivia (Both grooms are named Joe!). Questions about the brides and grooms.
  • Teapot drawing. Put a paper plate to your head without looking at have 1 minute to try and draw your best teapot. Bride picks the winner!
  • Guess the tea. Get many different kinds of teas and smell each before guessing its flavor!
I was honored to have my Grandma, Mom and sister join me. Cheers!!

Click on our other bridal shower themes: (more games, food & decor ideas)
She's Hooked Bridal Shower

Throwing the bride a bachelorette party? Here are our ideas: 
"Wedding Day" Theme
Western Hoedown Theme  
Beauty and the Beast Theme

Gifts for Bridal Shower/Bachelorette:
Bridal Memory Book  
Family Recipe Binder 
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