Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Ohio

Visiting zoos on important family days seems to be a trend for us.  Our first anniversary was spent at the Toledo Zoo. Our second anniversary at the Minnesota Zoo.  On Mother's Day last year we took my visiting parents to the Columbus Zoo.  This year, we celebrated Father's Day with my husband's side at the Cleveland Zoo. Can you tell we like zoos? 

Something unique about this zoo is the The Rainforest portion that lies outside of the zoo (still included in the zoo ticket).  It's a 2 acre 2 level exhibit with 600 jungle animals from Asia, Africa and Americas.  They even simulate a rain storm, which kids love.  One of the least expected, but incredibly interesting exhibit was the leaf cutter ants.  The cases gave you the opportunity to see their tunnels and constant activity.  With clear tubes you'd see ants transferring leaves from one glass case to another.  Very impressive to see the amount of work these small creatures could accomplish.

CATS:  If you're like my father in law and like cats these are the cats to see : Lion, Cheetah, Snow Leopard, Black footed cat, Fishing cat, Ocelot, Siberian tiger.

*Also my father-in-law LOVES the red panda, which with the outdoor exhibit set-up made viewing the 2 of them easy, and I'd say was the best compared to the other zoos we've visited listed above.

BEARS: Sun Bear, Sloth Bear, Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Andean Bear

MONKEYS / LEMURS: these animals were well represented at the zoo, with some of my faves being Gorillas, Mandrills, 3 Tamarin varieties, Orangutan

Just like the Columbus Zoo, the Cleveland Zoo features koalas (MY FAVORITE) in both an indoor and outdoor cage. Lucky to catch a few minutes of both of these guys waking up for a few minutes, partly because we checked back periodically every time we walked by the exhibit.

The African Elephant exhibit had five elephants in it, and gave you the opportunity to view the animals from different perspectives, which was nice since the elephants were spread throughout it.


Other locations in Ohio worth a visit on the blog:

*Columbus Zoo

*Toledo Zoo

*Cedar Point Amusement Park

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

DIY First Dance Frame


Back in the day, Dave and I were blessed enough to have had a song that we both enjoyed rise in popularity as we started dating.  Every time the song "Forever" by Chris Brown came on we'd just get in the dancing zone.  We know all the words and would belt it out whenever it would come on the radio.  And with the growth of its popularity, we got to dance and sing to it a lot.  So somewhere along the way it became "our song."

Fast forward four years, "Forever" was the obvious choice for our first dance.  One easy thing to check off the wedding decision list.  We danced, and it was perfect for the two of us.

Determined to hang a photo to represent our first dance, and the lyrics we know by heart I finally buckled down to making something for our 3 year anniversary.  My goal had been to make one 3 years ago, then the next summer, then the next.....boy, where did that time go?

Good news, only took me a little over an hour to type up the lyrics, choose my photos, edit my photos, edit the lyrics, choose a font, measure for a frame and get it printed and ready for our anniversary the next day.  Now, if you know Dave this isn't exactly "his" type of gift.  But our anniversary gave me the perfect excuse to make something free to represent our wedding day 3 years ago, and folks he truly liked it. Score.

Our main anniversary gift this year to each other was a 2 day trip to our engagement spot, Cedar Point Amusement Park. So I kinda broke the rules since we weren't exchanging gifts, but really this was a piece for the both of us.  And I have the perfect spot for it in the bedroom, juxtaposed from Lisa's hand-drawn piece of Dave and I on our wedding day. Talk about perfect.

Other ideas for first dance frames:
*print onto a canvas with the words wrapping around the sides
*choose a specific phrase from the song and focus your piece just on that
*don't have a photo you love from your first dance, frame the lyrics and overlay your initials & wedding date

Monday, July 20, 2015

Highly Happy Marriages

Tomorrow marks my 3 year wedding anniversary, WOW! We've been together 7 years, and it seems so cliche, but time sure is flying. In honor of our anniversary tomorrow, and for all those other married couples out there I had to share this book I just finished.  Titled, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn. 

Coincidentally it coincided with my anniversary, giving me the perfect opportunity to share some ideas from this book, and prompt you to take the time to read it yourself.  Always willing to read about self-improvement and learn more about myself in the process, I gave this a go.  Even if I consider myself in a highly happy marriage, I'm very receptive of learning more about how to maintain and grow our marriage. This book is all about those little things that make a big difference in a marriage.  Some of it's obvious, other parts I caught myself going "huh, we do that, but I never really grasped how important it was" or "we could improve in this area, that is so easy, we just got to start trying that."

I'd say a lot of these highly happy marriage techniques (comprised from her studies of those couples that both say "YES!" I'm happy in my marriage) are also applicable to improving a variety of relationships.  I really recommend this book to anyone, even if you're just a dating couple. 

The author takes a religious perspective throughout, which I personally enjoyed, but for those that don't incorporate faithful practice into their marriage, she makes sure to do so in a way that isn't in your face.  The psychology/sociology teacher in me appreciates the studies and research she uses to back these techniques, and although filled with surveys, it's well put together to be an easy read. 

Here are some of my favorite highlights from the book!

http://www.shaunti.com/book/surprising-secrets-highly-happy-marriages/*Happy spouses keep track of what their mate is giving and what they need as a result, and deliberately try to give back.

*Highly happy couples quickly stop a negative train of thought or action, replacing unhappy or angry thoughts or actions with positive ones, in order to change their feelings. 

*When highly happy spouses are legitimately hurt, they refuse to believe that their mate intended to hurt them, and they look for the most generous explanation instead. 

*The happiest spouses often mentioned that faith in God was vitally important to their marriages.

*Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness.

*If I treat you the way God wants me to, then you'll be happy. And then I'll be happy. Wow - that's a great deal!
*We can choose to not hold our displeasure over our spouse's head when they do try to reconnect with us. 

*If you wouldn't say it that way to a close friend, don't say it that way to your spouse. 

*A happy spouse looks at the other person as their best and closest friend - a friend they want to stay close to no matter what.

*Song of Soloman 5:16 "This is my beloved and this is my friend."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Math Wedding Table Names

The Head Table
Married to a mathematician I'm quite used to being surrounded by intelligent people that throw around math terms.  With him attending grad school for his PhD this can happen quite often.  Sometimes I'm envious, but most times I'm just impressed.  Heck, they could be talking nonsense and I'd think they're the next Einsteins.  It also means once the conversation starts to get past an algebra II and stats course vernacular I tend to zone out.  It's for my own survival.

Dave is really sweet about trying to include me, but I don't take offense when he needs to talk math. Part of where this math love grew is from his own father, a statistics professor at the college we attended.  So when his dad got married last summer I wasn't surprised to see that his loving wife had thoughtfully included math into their wedding.....more than I was willing to do at ours.

In my defense most people wouldn't have gotten the references, instead we chose to name our tables based on key events, words or things that depicted Dave and I as a couple.  Guess I'll just have to show my support in typical Marie fashion......by throwing him a Math PhD party in a few years when he receives his degree.  Then I can go crazy with math terms, corny math jokes, pies etc.

When I saw these at the wedding it made me so happy, what a way to personalize their wedding beyond the typical numbered tables.  Plus, when it's a wedding between an actuary and a mathematician, table names geared towards cleverly chosen math terms seemed fitting.  And of course they chose to be different and not use whole numbers! And even if this family isn't "normal" a bell curve served as the perfect head table name.  By the way, how sweet is the use of infinity for a newlywed couple?

So in honor of their 1 year anniversary today, here are their own devised wedding table names.

These lovely photographs were taken by Monika Rae Photography

Other Ways to Personalize a Wedding: 

Personalize Your Wedding: with Photos
Personalize Your Wedding: Drinks and Desserts
Personalize Your Wedding: Guest Favors
Sand Unity Ceremony
Little Wedding Details
Little Wedding Details: Part 2
Our Bride and Bridesmaid Bouquets.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Strawberry Chicken Salad

Strawberry Salad on a Summer Saturday was calling my name!

I've had a few such strawberry salads, and this one has stuck around as a preferred choice.  Pretty basic, it's similar to most other strawberry chicken salads out there.  With red luscious strawberries, crumbly salty feta cheese, bite with green onions, finished off with pecans on a nice bed of lettuce greens.

By the way, this makes an awesome wrap too, great for school or work lunches.  But if you're trying to cut out the carbs the salad can hold up its own in the tasty department.  Salads are meant to be easy, healthy, light and refreshing and this certainly lives up to those expectations!


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup balsamic vinaigrette (bottled)
12oz package of mixed salad greens
4 green onions sliced (white & light green)
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
4oz of crumbled feta (substitute goat cheese if you want a stronger flavor)


1. Marinate the chicken breasts by placing in a large plastic storage bag. Seal the bag, leaving a small opening, then pound the breasts until they're uniform in thickness. Pour in half the balsamic vinaigrette, then seal the bag and marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour. 

2. After the chicken has marinated, grill it until it's done, which will be about 5 minutes per side. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.  When you can handle it, dice up the chicken.

3. Add the salad greens to a large bowl. Add half of the remaining dressing and toss it to coat the greens.  You can always add more later if the salad needs doctoring.

4. Add the strawberries, chicken, green onions, and pecans. Toss it gently a few times until it's all combined. Top with crumbled cheese and toss.

Other great salads to whet your summer appetite:
Avocado Corn Salad
Watermelon Arugula Salad 
Broccoli Salad 
Pioneer Pasta Salad
Buffalo Chicken Salad

Check out our Market Inspirations for Summer

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Animal Print Bridal Shower

I have been reliving some of the wedding madness going on at this time last year. Hard to believe that this adorable animal print shower took place almost a year ago!!

Over the years, I have collected a large amount of animal print pieces. Way before I got engaged, I started a box with odds and ends that I thought I might like to have during the wedding planning months. I must confess that I am a bit of a closet hoarder. I loved the thought of an animal print themed shower so kept my many findings in this box.

Once the shower planning began, one of my bridesmaids, Miss Meghan, agreed to take on throwing a friends shower. And she immediate inherited all of my animal print stash. She was a trooper! From there, she planned the set up, food and games. This shower theme is perfect for any lady loving animal print! It was classy but fun at the same time!!

I had most of these goodies stowed away before passing them on for the shower. Many pieces were fairly inexpensive and would be easy to find at your local craft store. As always, little details go a long way.
  • Cheetah print burlap for a table runner. (Found at Michaels in a large roll)
  • Tiger print ribbon for the jars on the food table. (Found at Michaels)
  • Giraffe figurine. (Meghan found the sweet guy at Marshalls)
  • Ask all attendees to dress in anything animal print to make the decor even more vibrant! 

  • Cheetah and Zebra print cupcakes. (Liners and picks found at Michaels)
  • Fruit skewers on a zebra print charger plate. (Charger found at Michaels)
  • Flavored popcorns.
  • Other mini apps like veggie cups and caprese sticks.

These were not animal themed games but they are classics!
  • Grab an animal print piece of paper and write your favorite memory. The bride then guesses who wrote which memory.
  • Record the groom answering some questions. Have the bride guess his answers. If the bride gets it wrong, she drinks. If the bride guesses correct, the rest of the ladies drink. This was possibly one of my favorite games from all my showers!! 
  • Grab an iPad or camera and take some photo booth pictures. I had some awesome masks from Michaels that we used as photo props and Meghan added some darling animal print party hats to the mix. The pictures are such cute mementos!

Check out our other bridal shower themes:
She's Hooked Bridal Shower

Throwing the bride a bachelorette party?  
"Wedding Day" Theme
Western Hoedown Theme  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sour Cherry Jam

One of the adventures of renting your first place with your husband is that you get to learn new quirky things about your home all the time. This summer, I have especially loved watching each plant pop up and getting to see all the different flowers immerge. We had the most lovely magnolia flowers in the spring, beautiful peonies in early June and are now just finishing the lily season. Just the other day, I noticed berries growing on the tree outside of our window. My aunt confirmed for me that it is a sour cherry tree and the fruit is edible! Naturally, I hopped on Pinterest and started searching sour cherry recipes. I decided to attempt a jam recipe!

Growing up, my mom and aunt used to make the most delicious strawberry jam. One year, my aunt even put a jar in the Christmas exchange and it was the most coveted item! But I had never tried to make it and was a bit anxious about how it would turn out. If you are a beginner, do not worry! It might take a little extra time but the end result is worth it.

I started by picking a massive bowl of cherries. My trusty helper, my husband, ended up eating most of his since he thought they tasted like sour Warheads (Anyone else remembers Warheads?!). But nevertheless, we got a big bowl full of perfectly ripe cherries. For the rest of the recipe, I suggest grabbing your iPad and throwing on some music or a TV show. I think I blew through four episodes of Grey's Anatomy while cleaning, pitting, cutting and cooking!

- 6 cups of sour cherries
*Note: This measurement is after the cherries are pitted and includes the juice
- 4 cups of granulated sugar
- Juice and pulp of two lemons

1. After you pick all your cherries, start by rinsing and pitting them. I didn't use a fancy trick but I know some people swear by using a bobby pin in the top of the fruit. I just used my hands since sour cherry juice is pretty clear and didn't stain. I dropped the pits in a bowl and the rest of the cherry in another bowl.
2. Cut the cherries into pieces and make sure to save as much of the juice as you can. I also left a couple of the cherries whole.
3. Put the cherries and juice into a non-reactive pot and cook for about 20 minutes. The cherries should be wilting and a deeper red when they are ready.
4. Remove from heat and measure out exactly how many cups of cherries and juice you have. Put back into the cooking pot once measured.
5. Add lemon, lemon pulp and sugar to your cherry mix. The sugar amount should be 3/4 the amount of your cherries. I had six cups of cherries and juice so added four cups of sugar. Once mixed, put the pot back onto the burner to begin cooking your jam!
6. Stir constantly and make sure to scrap the bottom of the pan. I kept my burner on medium to high heat for most of the cooking, only turning down the heat when the mixture bubbled up.
7. When I started to feel the mixture getting thicker and coating the spatula with a thin gel, I took the pot off the heat and tried the freezer test. The freezer test is when you take a small spoonful of jam and put it in the freezer. It works best if the spoon is in the freezer while you are cooking so that it is already cold. Leave it for a few minutes. If you test it and the mixture wrinkles, the jam is done. If not, cook for another few minutes and try again. This step took me a little while since I had to test several times. Better to undercook than overcook your jam. If you cook too long, you will caramelize your mixture.
8. Once your jam is ready, remove from heat and ladle it into clean jars. Make sure to wipe off any drips before sealing.
9. Let the jam cool at room temperature before putting in the fridge. The jam should keep for several months if it stays sealed and refrigerated.
10. Add cute labels or string for a personal flair on your homemade creation!!

Friday, July 3, 2015

American Flag Beer Bottle Project

I have been collecting bottles and jars for many months now. My kind husband is great about putting his beer bottle or the pickle jar in the sink instead of the recycling. I had an idea to use the jars for this project but did not have the quantity that I wanted so instead, I used beer bottles. This is the perfect patriotic centerpiece or shelving decor for the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Flag Day, etc!

- Five beer bottles or jars
- Red, white and blue paint
- Painters tape

1. If the bottles still have the labels on them, soak them in hot water until the label is saturated. Then remove with a scrubbing brush or sponge. Make sure to remove the glue behind the label as much as possible to avoid streaks in your paint.
2. For the three striped bottles, I wrapped each bottle with several pieces of painters tape. Be careful to make sure there are no bubbles in the tape and make sure to make the stripes even.
3. For the three striped bottles, begin by painting your white. I painted two coats on my bottles before letting it fully dry. Once dry, remove the tape.
4. For the three striped bottles, paint the remaining stripes red. If desired, you can re-tape over the white to avoid errors.
5. For the blue bottles, I mixed some paint and then covered the whole bottle. I used two coats on these as well.
6. Once dry, you can finish with a finishing spray or leave as-is for a rustic look. Fill with sparklers, flowers or top with candles!