Friday, January 31, 2014

Segway tour of St. Augustine

Months ago I received an email from John H, asking me if I would be interested in a Groupon for a double date. It sounded like fun, the price was reasonable, and I'd never been on a Segway! 

We presented the certificates to our spouses as Christmas (Denise) and birthday (Michael) gifts and finally settled on a date in January. Between John's call schedule and Michael's travel schedule, it was tricky finding a date that would work. We finally picked a Sunday afternoon.

We met up at the bike rental location on King Street. Turns out there was one other couple from Atlanta that was part of the tour. They had Segwayed before so they were considered the old pros. After a brief explanation of how to mount, steer, and dismount, we took turns getting on and practiced starting, turning, stopping and getting off. After a few minutes of wheeling around in the parking lot, we were off!

Sandy was an excellent guide, very friendly and very knowledgeable about both the Segways and the history of St. Augustine.
She took us throughout the city, taking us down little back roads that we didn't even know existed! We learned about Henry Flagler and the buildings he built, about Flagler College, about the Spaniards and the town they built, and about the runaway slaves that joined the Spanish settlement. We rode along the sidewalks and in the streets and up on the sea wall. 

It was growing dark by the time we headed back. We were able to see a little of the "Night of Lights" as we rolled through the square in front of the Lightner Museum. 

Oh, remember The "experienced" couple? He took a fall near the end, and the wife ran into Michael as she turned to see what had happened, so she took a tumble too! They were okay, just a little bruised, hands, knees and ego.

We had a wonderful time, followed by dinner at the A1A Ale House. The dinner was okay, not spectacular. But it was delightful to share what we enjoyed about the experience and to thaw out! It was pretty cold after over an hour riding around!

(No, Michael did not get a gold tooth. That's a great lighting trick though isn't it?)

This is part of our "St. Augustine in 2014" motto for this year! We plan on exploring St. Augustine monthly, learning more about the history and the eateries in "the oldest city."

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Another milestone

Today marks a new change in my life. Yesterday my middle child turned 16 and of course part of the day consisted of a trip to the DMV to get a driver's license. We have another driver in the household.

Although we already went through this with our first-born, I'm finding it doesn't get any easier with the second. I clearly remember the day Michael and I drive two cars to the DMV, then watched Tommy drive off to school alone. That was hard. Reeeeeeeealy hard.

I relived that day today, but this time Timothy and Annie drove off together to go to PEP.

( There goes my liiiiiifffe... running through my head)

And another string that binds my children to me is severed. 

And another little piece of my heart breaks off. 

This parenting thing is the hardest roller coaster I've ever ridden. With exhilarating peaks and steep drops, it often stops me in my tracks, gasping for breath, eyes blurred.

Today is one of those moments that quickly drops me to my knees in prayer for my children. Lord, pleeeeeeaaase keep my children safe on the road! Keep all bad drivers far from them. Give Timothy wisdom in how to handle any situation that arises.... And then I receive the required text: WE MADE IT ALIVE. 



Tears. (I'm such a sap, I know.)

And I've got to do this aaaaaaallll over again in two years! (I just felt another hair turn grey.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wine and Cheese party

Another fun get together happened just last Friday. In the "Bread and Wine" spirit we decided to host a wine and cheese party. Everyone was supposed to bring a wine and a cheese for tasting. We ended up with 11 people, a hearty mix of church and homeschool friends.

To add to the simple menu, I also made the bacon-wrapped goat cheese stuffed dates from the book and oh my WORD were they good! The perfect blend of sweet and salty. Annie helped me and we made quite a few, two cookie sheets full! A friend also brought brie tartlets which were also amazing! We also had my mother's fabulous sourdough bread, dried apricots, fresh grapes, Spanish olives and pecans. Michael and I made a meal out of it!

For my introverted self, this was a good sized party - big enough to have plenty of interesting conversations, yet small enough to be able to talk to everybody. In December I had hosted a ladies holiday party and even though all the gals that came were friends, not a stranger in the group, I felt myself retreating into my shell. So I'm learning to whittle the list down to make it more enjoyable, mix up the guest list and keep doing them! 

Follow-up to Bread and Wine

As a follow-up to my review on the book Bread and Wine, I decided I would blog about the times that we get together intentionally with friends, as a way for us to remember them (hammering a stake in the ground), a log of sorts.

The first one for this year happened to be a few weeks ago when a friend texted me to see if we were available to hang out that weekend. A quick glance at my Google calendar revealed that we were booked for both Friday and Saturday nights but Saturday morning was wide open. My amazing husband had the brilliant idea to invite them over for coffee and breakfast. Why should "entertaining" be exclusively an evening event?

So Saturday morning found us around the kitchen table drinking cappuccinos, eating scrambled eggs and bacon and catching up on the previous year since we hadn't been together in that much time. You know those friends that you just pick up where you left off? They are those kinds of friends and we quickly entered into deep conversation about the struggles and successes we are having in our family, in our work, and in our ministries. 

We have known this family for almost all of our married life together. We have gone to each other's children's baptisms and birthday parties, but somewhere along the way our lives drifted apart with the busyness of school, church activities, and the daily "tyranny of the urgent." Our kids used to be close friends but except for Facebook, I'm not sure they'd recognize each other now that are grown!

After a sweet SWEET time of prayer together we decided that we would not let much time go by before we got together again! 

Have you had friends over for breakfast rather than dinner? What did you serve? 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: Bread and Wine

I received this book as a Christmas gift from a dear friend. She had mentioned that when she read the book she thought of me. The title and this comment intrigued me. I wanted to lock myself in a room with a glass of Chianti and read it immediately. But since I had some unfinished books that I wanted to complete before beginning another one, I was able to wait until the new year. 

Oh my.

I am in love with Shauna Niequist! This gal is cut from my same fabric! (Except that she is a skilled writer.) I am certain we would be close friends if we ever had the chance to meet. She GETS me!

Once I started reading, I had a hard time setting this book down. And yet I wanted to savor each chapter as it was filled with such wonderful stories and, more often than not, delicious sounding recipes, so I forced myself not to rush through and read the whole book at once. 

The similarities between us are remarkable: she loves to cook but does not consider herself a good baker, she has run a marathon, she likes to have friends over, she travels, she "is a bread person" as well as a "wine person." I know there are more that are escaping me at the moment. I should have kept a log as I was going through the book! 

Of course there are differences as well: she's married to a musician, her father is a pastor, she lives up north where she battles cold temperatures, she has struggled with infertility. And yet even the differences offer me a view of life from a different peak, a familiar yet new vantage point, where the landscape is the same and yet altered. 

The book is a "collection of essays about family, friendships, and the meals that bring us together." It's a book about "food and family and faith." Can you see now why it's my kind of book?

I read parts of the book aloud to my husband, Michael, as we were driving to and from Orlando for the Disney Marathon weekend. After reading and discussing several of her essays, we decided that we wanted to be more intentional this year about gathering friends together and living in community with them around the table. What is becoming clearer and clearer to Shauna really resonated with me as well, when she says, "...that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God's presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table. The particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving what I've made with my ownhands, comes together as more than the sum of their parts. I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls forks clinking against plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed." (p. 13) Isn't that beautiful? I feel these same things!

I am Italian. We eat meals slow, lingering around the table as we clean our plates, sip our wines, finish our conversation. Growing up, Sunday dinners were sacred. I was free to do what I pleased with friends on Saturday, but Sundays were family days and I was expected to be present. I could invite a friend, and later a boyfriend, to join us, but it was understood that I would participate in the weekly ritual. Sometimes we would go for picnics on the beach in Taormina where the meal consisted of fresh bread, a rotisserie chicken with roasted potatoes, cheese and salami. Later we'd stop for a gelato or a granita for dessert. Or we might drive "up the mountain," (Etna, a live volcano) and cook sausages on a grill in the pine forest, go for hikes, nap in a hammock strung up in the trees, throw the frisbee around. Later we would stop off at a bar for a pastry and an espresso for the adults. But mostly we would gather at the dining room table or in the glassed-in balcony on a sunny winter's day to soak up the warmth from the sun, the company and the food and eat mom's pasta, or chicken, or beef stew. 

These days we live in Florida. And when my parents are in town for the winter, we still gather at their house after church, my brother and his growing family and me with my shrinking one and we continue the tradition of eating mom's delicious home cooked meals, sometimes with friends, sometimes with just immediate family. My kids are also allowed to invite friends, and girlfriends, but they know that this is what we do on Sundays. They've learned to expect it, and now as they are getting older, to cherish it as something special that is part of the fabric of our family. It's what we do; it's who we are. Perhaps that is the main reason that I enjoyed this book so much. It's something that we are already doing and it excites me to see that there are others who think the same way I do about "life around the table." 

I agree with Shauna that it's not necessarily about the food but rather it's about "what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories." Personally, I am learning that life is really about relationships. It's not about success, fame, the accumulation of wealth or the next fad. The ONLY thing that will last into eternity is relationships. And what better way to foster relationships than through food? The Bible is filled with mandates to celebrate, to eat and be merry, to live together in peace and harmony with one another. From the Passover meal, to the wedding feast in Cana, to the Last Supper, the Bible illustrates for us how life around the table with others is supposed to be. 

In Psalm 23 we are told that God prepares a feast for us and that our cup runs over. I just love that mental picture of food and wine and a party and joy. Is it any coincidence that the Hebrew toast is L'chaim!? To life! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Disney Half Marathon

One goal completed! Kinda. 

I had set a goal time of 2:17. I missed that by a long shot.

We were supposed to submit a proof of our time by Nov. 1. We thought it was by the end of November. When we realized we had missed the deadline, we also realized that we were going to be placed in the VERY last corral. Behind the walkers. Behind the people who walk a 20 min mile. *sigh*
At the expo
Honestly, I didn't really care. I quickly realized that this was a running EVENT for me and not a running RACE. Michael and his brother, John, ran with me since they had signed up for the Goofy event. The idea was that they would run easy with me on Saturday and then run hard the next day. They weren't counting on all the starting and stopping required by the crowds as well as all the off-road running in order to pass people. So they ended up being quite sore and had trashed legs for the marathon the following day. Oops!

Here we go!
But I digress. Back to the race! Disney just does everything so well. There were Disney characters, cheerleaders, high school bands, huge TV screens blaring music, cast members cheering, volunteers passing out water and Powerade, and spectators ALL along the way. In the half you run through two parks, in the full you run through all four parks plus ESPN zone. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Did I mention that there were 16 corrals? They started with A and went through P. Yes, we were in corral P. We couldn't even see the start line or hear the announcers where we were. We had to walk quite a ways to even get in position. Disney had trash boxes set out along the way for garbage, recycling and clothes. 

Corral P circa 6:00 am
This is what it looked like standing in Corral P for over an hour. Each corral had their very own start complete with fireworks.

Get ready! Set! Go!!!

The race started at 5:30. Since each corral had their own start, we waited more than an hour before we started. Here is ours. See the stage and large screen? And the fireworks?! Donald Duck gave our "Ready? Set! GO!" 

The first of two highlights of my race was seeing Annie on Main Street. I've gotta brag on her a little bit. She figured out on her own how to come find us, by herself! First, she walked to the front of the campground, then she caught a bus to the back of the campground where she caught a boat to the Magic Kingdom. She texted us her location so we could look for her. 

When she got in position it was dark
It turned light while she waited for us for almost an hour!
So happy to see Annie!
It was an overwhelming feeling to hug her mid race in the midst of that sea of people.

She tried to find us at the castle, but I didn't know to look for her (missed that text).

She then caught the monorail to Epcot so she could see us at the finish line. She wormed her way to the front of the line and again texted us her position so we could spot her as we came out of the park.

The second highlight for me was running into Bob and Prudence along the routes these are friends of ours from church who were also running the Goofy. We happened upon the around mile 9 and ran with them for a few miles. Those miles just flew past! It's so fun to run with friends! 

The best part was finishing. I so enjoyed running and finishing with my husband. That was a first for us! 

All done!
And at the very end Timothy met up with us. Felt great to be done! 

The next day the three of us got up early to cheer for the twins during the marathon but we kept missing them at different points (Magic Kingdom, Grand Floridian and Polynesian). We finally met up with them at mile 18 at ESPN zone.

Timothy handing out high fives!

Feeling good!
Silly boys!
All together now!

At the finish line we were able to connect with old friends. (Love those cell phones!) He was our priest from our church in Tampa and I had worked with his wife as a classroom assistant in her 5th grade class. It was so sweet to see them! They had read our Christmas letter and knew we would be in Orlando for the race. Since their son was doing the Dopey Challenge, we were able to connect!

Hanging out with the Stulls
All in all it was a great time at Disney! Although it's hard to be there and NOT go to the parks, we still enjoyed hanging out in my brother's RV at the Ft. Wilderness campground, riding the monorail and the boats around, shopping at Downtown Disney and eating at Trail's End restaurant.

Downtown Disney Princesses

Enjoying the weather on the water

Saturday night dinner

Now I want to run another half marathon so I can hit that goal time!