Sunday, August 25, 2013

"You're never alone when you have books" - Alex Dunphy

I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while but... this week has been crazy.

Absolutely crazy. Frustrating, busy, full of hard work and physical activity... crazy.

I'm not going to get into all of it, but for now if you could just say a little prayer for my dad, that would be great.

Instead, let's talk about the books I read this summer! Some were re-reads, some were new to me. And one I finally just gave up on.

I think this is the only Harry book I re-read this summer... but it's my favorite.

This book takes place in an alternate present. In the early 1980s children started being born known as "Brilliants" - geniuses with specialized abilities, like following patterns, recognizing body language, computer coding, musical giftedness, etc. The only problem is that "normals" and the government have begun fearing the brilliants (or "abnorms") and persecuting them, forcing some of them to band together in terroristic acts. 

It's an interesting premise, but I was mad to have finished the book and discover that it's another stinking series. Sometimes I just want to get involved in one great book instead of a whole series, you know? But it was an enjoyable read, and an interesting Kindle find.

Believe it or not, this is the first time I ever read this book! It was so cute. I loved reading it and I am sorry I never read it before in elementary school or otherwise.

This might be my favorite new book that I read this summer. For some reason books dealing with faith have been appealing to me lately... I think maybe because my faith has grown stronger over the last couple years, with my unemployment and subsequent depression and ups and downs. I might not go to church every week, but I feel like I have developed my relationship with God anyway. Mitch Albom's writing is fantastic, and I love his story telling ability. He interweaves the stories of two men of faith - one, his Rabbi from childhood known as "The Reb," and the other, a Christian pastor named Henry who followed a (much) less traditional path to preaching. Definitely worth the read.

This was another re-read that I started last week. I love the Fablehaven series almost as much as the Harry Potter series.

I really enjoy reading historical fiction, and this book was a Kindle Lending Library find. I LOVED it. I feel like when we learned about WWII in school, we talked a lot about the tactical and political parts of the war, and the Holocaust, and even Japanese internment camps and how the nuclear bombing affected people. But I don't remember talking much about how the British people were affected by the war and the bombing of England. I knew a little bit, because of the Chronicles of Narnia and how the kids were sent away to the country. But this book made everything so real to me and made me really appreciate the sacrifices that everyday citizens, especially women, made during the war. I got a copy of this for my grandma, because she also loves getting lost in a book. She said it was interesting for her because she actually lived through the time period and remember hearing about a lot of the events and things mentioned in the book. 

Because I liked War Brides so much I decided to check out Helen's other book, The Sisterhood. It was also pretty awesome. It's hard to explain, but it's based around a woman named Menina who finds herself stranded in Spain after a series of very unfortunate events. She takes refuge in a convent, and while staying there discovers very interesting things about the history of the convent and the surrounding village. Bryan interweaves Menina's present-day story with journals of the nuns and women who stayed at the convent in the 1500s, and their voyage to the New World as missionaries. There is a lot of faith-related substance in this book too. It was a great read. Someday I'll own both of these Bryan books : )

And finally...

You guys. I tried. I tried so hard. I just can't.

I made it about a third of the way through here, and I had to finally throw in the towel two weeks ago. I can't keep track of the characters, I don't care too much about their problems... I don't know. I am aware that this is one of the classics and it's supposed to be a great love story, but I just don't get it. Maybe someday I'll try again.

I might have read a few more books in there, but if I did I guess they weren't that memorable : ) LOL

Anyway, school starts back up tomorrow so I might be scarce again for the next week. Have a great week everyone and I'll catch up with you later : )

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

HONEYMOON! post: "Be Our Guest" restaurant review

The pictures in this post are mine so please don't steal them!!!

Spoiler alert: It's awesome.

I have always been a big fan of Beauty and the Beast. It's not my favorite Disney movie, but I would rank it near the top --- for the record, I think this is how it would go:
Tie for #1: Tangled & Aladdin
#3: Beauty and the Beast
#4: Sleeping Beauty
#5: The Emperor's New Groove/Finding Nemo/Up! -- I can't pick one.

I think B&tB would beat Aladdin if not for the Genie. He's my favorite.

Anyway, when we were picking restaurants and I was getting ready to make dining reservations, I was hearing all of these things about the New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom and I knew, JUST KNEW, that I needed to go to Be Our Guest.

Luckily, we were able to snag reservations for 4 in the afternoon - so we had breakfast that morning, split a lunch around 1, and that held us over until our dinner - even though our reservations were at 4, we probably didn't get in until around 4:15. Which was fine. We waited outside the restaurant on the bridge with the gargoyles and I took some fun pictures of New Fantasyland while we were there:

Beast's (Prince Adam's) castle

Prince Eric's Castle, seen from the bridge to Be Our Guest

Our buzzer malfunctioned, so our waiter Christopher actually came out calling our last name. When he led us into the restaurant, all of the other hosts/waiters/bussers were standing in two lines, forming a tunnel of sorts, and clapped for us as he led us through. That was pretty sweet. The lady at the end was actually French, according to her nametag, and wished us a "bonjour." : )

The first thing we saw was the Grand Ballroom. I. Can't. Even. I just wanted to stand there. It's modeled after the ballroom where Belle and the Beast dance in the movie, complete with chandeliers built to scale - like, 12 feet wide. 

This is not my picture... I couldn't get a picture that did this room justice. It's gorgeous. It's so accurate right down to the paintings on the ceiling.

Unfortunately we did not get to eat in the Grand Ballroom. Instead, we got to eat in the West Wing. Immediately I said to the waiter, "Are you sure we won't get in trouble for that?" and he said, "Oh no, the Master knows about it." I LOVE DISNEY WORLD SO MUCH.

The West Wing was complete with slashed bed curtains and the slashed portrait of Prince Adam pre-transformation hanging above the mantle, as well as the Enchanted Rose. I am completely aware that I am nerding out right now just typing this, so just try to imagine me in person. A. was struggling to hold in his laughter because he knew I was geeking out so much at the time. He's a good sport. : )

Every once in a while, the music in the room would change, it would thunder a lot, a petal would fall from the rose, and you would hear a kind of roaring as the lights flickered - and if you looked quickly enough, you could see the portrait of the prince change into the beast and back, once or twice. 

Like I said. Geeking out.

So, besides the atmosphere, let's talk food. The food was SO GOOD.

First of all, when we sat down, our napkins were folded into roses:

We got our appetizers. I ordered the French Onion Soup, which one of my students had told me was necessary - and when a second grader tells you to order French Onion Soup, well, you have to go for it. A. got the Potato Leek Soup, which I actually liked better than the French Onion, but that was just me. : ) 

For our main course, I ordered Pan-Seared Salmon on Leek Fondue served on creamy saffron-crushed potatoes:

Perfect. It was sooooo delicious. I wish I could have eaten all of that salmon, but unfortunately I filled up too fast. Just looking at it right now I want to eat it again. The potatoes were so good, and while "leek fondue" doesn't sound like something I'd ordinarily attempt, it was pretty amazing.

A. got Sauteed Shrimp and Scallops served in a puff pastry with a creamy lobster sauce:

I don't remember even getting a bite of his, so it must have been good... haha. He said this was his second favorite meal of the week, next to the dinner we had at Fulton's Crab House.

Even though we were both stuffed, for dessert our waiter rolled over a pastry cart full of assorted cupcakes, and we could pick which kind we wanted. I got the Triple Chocolate Cupcake - chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling and chocolate ganache. (Can't go wrong with that, right?) A. got the Strawberry Cream cheese Cupcake, which was vanilla cake, strawberry mousse filling, and cream cheese icing.

You'll notice the plate in the middle of the table:


I have to take the opportunity to say that our service was incredible - Christopher, our waiter, was extremely attentive and he had a great sense of humor. 

When we were done eating, we were allowed to wander the restaurant to take pictures and investigate the other rooms. Other than the Grand Ballroom and the West Wing, there is also the Rose Gallery, with a larger-than-life music box featuring Belle and the Beast dancing. The story is that Maurice built it for them as a wedding gift:

Then we had our picture taken with the Beast before we left. I made sure to thank him!

Overall - the restaurant was gorgeous, the service was fantastic, the atmosphere was great, and the food was delicious. I only wish I could have eaten it all. : ) We'll be back in the future!!!

If you're stressed - it's fine dining we suggest! Be our guest, be our guest, be our guest!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

HONEYMOON! post: my new favorite things at WDW

It's a beautiful day today : ) One of my school friends is getting married today! Also, it's my parents' 28th anniversary! So all of that is pretty cool. : )

I love talking about our honeymoon, so I'll continue today by talking about my new favorite things at WDW... most of them belong to the Magic Kingdom. We did hit all four major parks while we were down there, and we also went to Downtown Disney - although it was POURING while we were there, so we didn't really walk around and really check things out.

This was my fourth time at Disney, and before this trip, my favorite things were:
Splash Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain
The Main Street Electrical Parade

Mickey's Philharmagic

The Great Movie Ride

The American Adventure
Spaceship Earth
Kali River Rapids

On this trip we got to most of those things except Fantasmic and Big Thunder Mountain. We were lucky because we either had a short wait or did a Fast Pass for all of them, except Soarin' - we did wait 90 minutes for that and it was totally worth it.

Here is what I would add from this trip:
Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor - oh my gosh, we did this twice because we loved it so much : ) the first time, they put one of my jokes up during the show! Ohhh yeah!

Celebrate the Magic! - between the Main Street parade and the fireworks (Wishes, which are pretty fireworks but I'm not a big fan of the "wishes" soundtrack... IDK) ... they added this thing where they project images onto the castle. The music is awesome, and I love the projections! It's like the castle is a big movie screen. Love. It. Saw this twice, as well.

If you're going to watch this video, you should really hit the "full screen" button. It's so worth it : ) Also, the show in this video is a little different than the one we saw - instead of the Lion King/Jungle Book part, we had a Lilo & Stitch/Little Mermaid part. This gives me hope that the next time we're there it will be a little different again : )

Be Our Guest restaurant - I will probably dedicate an entire post to this because seriously... it's my new favorite thing. I think everytime we go from here on out I will be trying to get reservations to eat here. It's THAT GOOD. Also we ate in the West Wing and I was geeking out the entire time.

Walking around the world at EPCOT - I don't know if it's because I'm older, or because it was just A. and me and we didn't feel obligated to try to do EVERYTHING... but I really enjoyed our trip around the world this time at EPCOT. It was relaxing and pretty.

Lunch at Mexico - we sat on the gazebo that overlooks the whole lagoon, which was gorgeous, and ate some really good food. Can't go wrong!

Finding Nemo the Musical - this was so cool to watch! The puppets were neat, the singing was great, and we escaped into air conditioning for 45 minutes - what's not to love?

Until next time -- I will be reliving our Disney vacation and planning the next one : )

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

HONEYMOON! post - Accommodations

All of these pictures in this post are my personal property so HANDS OFF : )

I loved our honeymoon so much.

I know I posted a lot about the planning process on here, but I have to say it again - I am so glad we ended up going to Disney. It was such a fantastic vacation. I am also glad we went right after the wedding - I know some people wait and then go a few weeks or months later, but it was definitely worth it for us. I feel like it would have been such a letdown after the business of the planning and the wedding weekend if we hadn't gone anywhere and A. just would have gone back to work on Monday. Blah.

Anyway, we had an early-morning flight to Disney, so we stayed over in Pittsburgh the night before. My aunt very generously used her Hyatt points to get us a room at the PIA Hyatt. It made everything so easy! We parked in extended parking, and walked to the people mover, which scooted us along to the entrance to the Hyatt. The next morning, we put our overnight bag back in the car, got back on the people mover, and continued right into the airport. Since we were super early, checking our bag was easy, and going through security also wasn't bad.

Fun story about that though - I stuck my hair up in a messy bun in the morning because I didn't want to put forth much effort, it being super early and us traveling and me having a ton of hair. So when I went through security they had to frisk my bun to make sure I wasn't hiding anything in my hair. You know that someone had to have tried something for them to have to do that!

The BEST THING about staying at the Hyatt was that they upgraded us to a suite since we were on our honeymoon!

The suite was SO HUGE! We didn't even use the room with the table and chairs. The bathroom was really big, as well. It was a great way to start our honeymoon!

Then... then we got to Florida. We used Disney's Magical Express to get to our hotel - which was great because we didn't have to wait for our bag at the baggage claim, we just went right to the bus and it drove us straight to the resort. They played a video on the bus and everything which just got me more excited for the week!

We stayed at the Port Orleans: French Quarter resort after a recommendation from a friend who frequents Disney. We were NOT disappointed!

The room was plenty big for the both of us, and I loved that the sinks were outside the toilet/shower area. It made getting ready very easy. "Mousekeeping" was in every other day - we kept the privacy sign on our door every other day because we really weren't that messy... But they left cute little surprises like those Mickey ear towels when they came in each time. : )

The back entrance to the lobby....  unfortunately I didn't get a picture of it but there was a guy standing there most days in full Mardi Gras attire to hold the door and greet you as you were coming in. On the weekends there was also a guy handing out Mardi Gras beads. 

The pool and water slide at the resort... too cute! The temperature of the water was perfect, BTW. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to use the water slide.

Outside the pool area

"Street signs" on the corners of the pathways in the resort - most of them were music-related

We stayed in building 3, the tuba building - each building had an instrument assigned to it

The landscaping at the resort was really beautiful, and we had a garden view room, so anytime we left our room we had a gorgeous view.

We tried to walk around a few times and really enjoy the resort, but let's face two honest truths here: we were honeymooners, and we were at Disney World. One of the most important bits of advice I read before our trip was that to remember it was okay to play hookey and stay in and not follow a really strict schedule - we didn't need to open or close the parks every day. 

We did walk over to see the other side of the Port Orleans resort, Riverside, at one point while Mousekeeping was in our room. It looks equally as gorgeous on that side. One of the bonuses though, of staying at the French Quarter, was that frequently we had our own buses to get to and from places - we didn't have to worry about stopping at a bunch of depots around the resort. We only had to share buses with the Riverside a few times the entire week. 

In case you are curious, this sign refers to golf carts.
But we didn't know that at the time, so I took a picture because it was completely random.

There was also excellent food at our resort... but that's another topic for another post. : )

We are definitely looking forward to going back again!!!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wedding post: Wrapping it up

I'm not really into posting selfies on my blog, but here is a picture of me with some of my girls:

I had a Morilee gown and my girls also had Morilee gowns, in grape. I got a dual-headband headpiece and I had a veil that was tucked in under my updo. My shoes - which you can't see in the picture above - were purple Nine West slingbacks, and I love them so very much. : )

Something Borrowed - earrings from my friend Michelle
Something Blue - My toenail polish
Something Old - my mom's pearl bracelet from her wedding
Something New - My dress/shoes/headpiece/veil/ring

Here are my shoes... my feet are bent all crazy so I could take the picture haha

Overall our wedding day was super wonderful. If I could do it over, I would only change a few things - 
1) make sure the church doors stayed unlocked, because one of my friends and her son arrived late and missed the entire ceremony (still feel bad about that)
2) make the ceremony earlier so we had more time for pictures
3) use my time before the ceremony more wisely for pictures
4) double check all of the groomsmen's tuxes before they left the shop

But really, we made the most of everything and it was a really great weekend. : )
Honeymoon posts to come!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wedding post: Decorating my church pews


It's been a while.

You know why?

Because I had band camp last week.
Band. Camp.
It was a long week. My kids were great. There were a lot of extenuating circumstances (waxing floors inside the school, paving parking lots around the school, a barn burning down behind the school, and me completely losing my voice, to name a few) that made it a difficult week for us, but they powered through and accomplished a lot.


A while ago I published this post about antiquing sheet music, and hinted it was for a project for my wedding. I finally got pictures from my mom of said project, and while they're not great, I can finally show you what I antiqued all that music for!

It was these!

After seeing the following pins on Pinterest (oh, the bane of the existence of wedding planners everywhere...) I decided I could, myself, create a similar effect and make it my own for our wedding. 

So I showed those pictures to my florist, and everytime I talked to her then - between November 2012 and June 2013 - she would ask me if I'd made my cones yet.


I procrastinated SO HARD. I had good intentions. I ordered the music in December. I bought the ribbon with coupons. I bought contact paper at the dollar store. And yet... it sat. And sat. And gathered more dust, and sat.

Then finally, a few weeks before the wedding, I realized this needed to get done. So as previously mentioned, I spent an entire evening antiquing all of the music. Then the next day, A.'s sister (one of my bridesmaids) came over and helped me construct the basic cones - together it took us about an hour and a half, and was much less frustrating than I'm sure it would have been on my own. Basically, this is what we did:

1. Coupled the sheet music according to lightness/darkness of the antiquing.
2. Lined up the sheet music on my countertop two at a time, upside down.
3. Covered the back of the sheet music with contact paper - it made them stick together, and made a great casing for putting flowers inside.
4. Hot-glued the overlap once we flipped the music over.
5. Formed the cone shape and hot glued the flap down.

Later, I took a cone to my church and measured the amount of ribbon I would need to glue to the cone and tie it in a bow. I think I went through about 6 spools of ribbon, because I didn't want dinky little bows. I also dropped a cone off for the florist (she was probably like FINALLY) so she could see how many flowers she needed to fill them.

Then before the rehearsal we hung the cones on the pews (they still smelled like coffee, BTW) and the next day before the wedding, the florist filled them.

This is how they turned out:

Photos courtesy Nick Finochio Photography

Anyway, so they turned out pretty nice and I'm very happy with how they looked! Hooray! : )

Okay, back to work... but I'll be back soon! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wedding Post: Pinterest edition - Pins I DID use!

I know, I know... I have been terrible at this lately. I started band camp this week, I got sick, my friend C came to visit this past weekend, and both A and I have been very busy with the ever-rambunctious puppy Penny. Along with, you know, daily life kind of stuff. (When will we next get to the grocery store?... the world may never know.)

Anyway, I bring you some of the pins I DID end up using for our wedding : )

This is one of those things I pinned myself and actually went back and bought... I was going to DIY my programs but I ran short on time and energy (and room). We used these programs and they looked nice and I don't think anyone had a strong opinion on them one way or another, which was fine. LOL

We did in fact make welcome bags for the hotel and I did in fact paste black and white copies of our engagement pictures on to the front of brown paper bags, and then stuff them with turquoise and purple tissue paper on top.

There are many variations of this pin on Pinterest, but this is the closest to mine - I had four taller vases of varying sizes with floating candles, and three votives surrounding them, with the taller vases sitting on a round mirror (the mirrors were provided by my venue). I got the tallest vases I had from Michaels, borrowed the votives from my cousin, and got everything else from (my order did come quickly and everything was in one piece - no scratches! Huzzah!) My friend S. and I did spend the Thursday night before the wedding in my parents' master bathroom washing all of the vases with dish soap in the bathtub. Memories!

For the record, here is the closest picture of it I have - one of my aunts took a picture of my cousin through the centerpiece. : )

WE DID A VARIATION OF THIS and I am so excited about it and I really hope it turns out. Both of our sets of parents are still together and their wedding pictures were great. : )

I made one of these for our nephew using a cheap ($1.00) polo from Wal-mart and an iron on T-shirt transfer. So. Cute.

And it's getting to be that time again... so until next time!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wedding post: Pinning ALL THE THINGS, part 1 - Pins I did not use

There are many things I could be accomplishing right now while the dog is sleeping next to me on the couch... but I'm blogging instead. Oh well.

So, let's talk about Pinterest. It's a blessing and a curse. You can pretty much find anything you'd ever want on there, and I know I'm not the only teacher with the opinion that using Pinterest should qualify as professional development. While planning a wedding, Pinterest can get a little overwhelming. There are so many neat ideas on there and DIY ideas and ideas of things you'd never think of in a million years. Then you start looking at things and thinking, "Do I need to do that? Is this a mandatory wedding thing?"

The answer to that - by the way - is that there is no mandatory wedding thing, other than the very important inclusions of, you know, vows.

Anyway, there are plenty of crazy wedding things I pinned that I never ever used but still liked to look at:

... Pretty cool. But for the record, here is what our cake looked like:

(Do you see the design from our invitation there? Muah ha ha...)

I love this idea in theory but I knew that if I put one more thing on our guests' dinner tables, it would be overload.

Also a cute idea that didn't lend itself to what we were doing.

I was totally going to get these, my mom offered to help pay for them and everything - and then I realized what a waste of money they would be when I could just make table tents instead (for the glass clinking cards in my last entry).

I loved this idea and I thought it would be a great way to tie in the purple with the groomsmen's tuxes, but then I realized - I would probably have to lace all of their shoes myself if I wanted this to happen. So I dropped that one too. (I also considered purple socks, but ran out of time on that one.)

My cousin tagged me in this pin and it would have been so cool to try - but we ran out of time for pictures, and also, I'm not sure if we could have made a "Z" with our bouquets. It might have taken some creative license.

So, there you have it... some things pinned with good intentions that were never used. : )
Stay tuned for pins I did use!