Finding Beauty in New York [& in life]

This week [in Orlando] on our way home from work (my husband and I carpool now) it was that stuck-in-traffic-wish-we-could-get-home-faster-really-annoying -time-of-day. I was in a bad mood just from stopping and starting over and over and going literally nowhere. To our left we witnessed a car rear-end the car in front of it. A black man and a white man stepped out of the cars. I watched intently as the white man reassuringly put his hand on the black man’s shoulder. They each made sure the other was OK. They shook hands. This wasn’t even a normal handshake- this was the kind where you give one hand, and then place your other hand on top. Like a hand hug. The kind of shake friends give. They weren’t short with each other. One even gave a thumbs-up. After a brief once-over, there seemed to be no damage to either car, so they said their goodbyes and all was forgiven. My eyes filled with tears. Today in what feels like a black v white society, this was a true example of people being decent. Didn’t matter that one was black and one was white or even that one hit the other’s car (which may cause any type of person to act a certain type of way in the rude category. They weren’t even RUDE)!!! I threw my hands up. “WHAT A BEAUTIFUL WORLD!!”

It reminded me of this picture I took in New York City, one that gave me that same feeling of beauty. I think that’s why I like this photo so much. It was literally a magnificent sight just witnessing people being decent.IMG_9633

So I thought I’d finally share about all of the beauty I found in New York City.

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Washington Square Park

For starters, it was essentially NYC’s first warm day of the year, so the people were literally FLOCKING to the parks, just to sit on the ground and bask in the sun.  And the cherry blossoms were starting to arrive! This is the first time I’ve ever seen spring SPRINGING! Florida lacks seasons. I don’t care if you disagree. It’s true.

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The Highline

One of my favorite things about this city is there is a beautiful surprise waiting on every corner. And I do mean EVERY corner…

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Do you see the fresh blooms all around the entryway?
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Brooklyn

Beauty around every corner. That’s for sure! There are signs of hope and love hidden for you to find (sometimes in plain sight)…IMG_9540

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But sometimes a creepy looking girl is telling you to have a beautiful day!

We ate some pretty amazing food. Mostly we ate dessert.

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Now for the question you’re all asking- is DŌ worth it? The verdict: No. Or proceed with caution.

I’m so sorry cookie dough lovers. It does taste exactly like amazing cookie dough, and it is beautiful food, but never in my life have I ever thrown out dessert that I couldn’t finish! The first reason I think this happened is because the dough was room temperature. I think I would have been able to indulge more had it been served chilled. The second reason is it was way too rich. Never have I said those words in my life! I got two scoops. Definitely only opt for one scoop OR get it mixed with ice cream. Expect to wait in line. We waited a little over an hour in a line around 2pm on a weekday. The line forms across the street and goes all the way down the block. When you get to the front, an employee gives you a golden ticket that looks like this:

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I got a golden ticketttt

There’s a bouncer at the front door that won’t let you in without this bad boy! We had an amazing time not only waiting in line, but also inside of DŌ. I just feel that I would be insincere if I told you that I recommend it. But, I’m sure you would have a great time trying it too! It just wouldn’t be a do-over for me. But it was a total dream to try it out.

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Dreams dough come true

But we did manage to eat some real food on our adventure in Brooklyn, in my favorite restaurant of all time of anywhere that I want every day. Amen.

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This drink’s name is Champagne Problems.
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I would probably pay $100 to eat this cheddar maple biscuit. Crystallized  on the top.
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I love this cozy dining and lighting and succulents and ceiling and chattering!

And everywhere that we went in Brooklyn we were happier than we were 10 steps before.

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Brooklyn spoke to us.

The perfect Saturday in NYC is spent at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. There are tents of all of the most popular restaurants serving their best dishes right on the shores of the Hudson River. Not to mention the flea market set up right next door so you can shop the cutest goods while eating the best treats.

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Highly recommend Wowfulls!
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Mhmm

I loved spending the weekend with these beautiful friends.

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Melissa and Alexa
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Emersyn

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We certainly never lacked inspiration in the city.

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So basically,

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we love you, New York. Thanks for being so beautiful.

Soon,

the newly whale

 

Throwing Around Ridiculousness

Sometimes I deal with a fast heartbeat. I want to be careful at how I explain this (without complaining) while at the same time being open. Honestly, it can be annoying. However, I want to have perspective about this, because I have had every test under the sun and I am healthy. I am truly and not just saying this, very, very thankful. I am so blessed. Thank you Lord for this life. Thank you God.

Before I get into this story I want to make this blog pretty. Let’s face it, you’re reading words, but you’re more interested in the pretty. Once I get into this story, it won’t be pretty anymore.  Krungthep Tea Time has nothing to do with the story I am about to tell you. But, I would venture to say it is my new FAVORITE restaurant! Yumm. Go get some.

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A few weeks ago we were feeling particularly Asian and ventured to an Orlando hotspot, Krungthep Tea Time. My first tea was Blueberry Cheesecake (left). Yes, I had two teas, judge away. Matt’s was Pomegranate Green Tea. Both of these left us wanting more (they were good but not perfect).
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This guy, called the Thaiger is Crying was oooooooooow clear-your-sinuses spicy, but also so oh oh oh good.
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BUT THIS TEA IS THE MOST AMAZING DRINK IN MY LIFE EVER AMAZING GIMME MORE. This is the Lemon Honey An-Chan. Absolutely the most incredible tea ever to touch your lips.

This week I’ve had a cold and for whatever reason, it’s made my heartbeat janky. (For you clinical people thinking ‘maybe it’s the cold medicine,’ I haven’t taken any). My resting heart rate (sitting down) has been over 100. The first night it was doing this I asked Matt if  it had to do with all the sugar I ate that day (drank apple juice, had a pumpkin bagel for lunch…it wasn’t pretty, let’s just say). He said he doubted it, but that when patients are having a blood sugar problem their pee may smell very sweet like sugar. #benefitsofaPAhusband #alsodownsideofaPAhusband #TMI

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Stop judging me, we shared everything. This is the Sleeping Beauty. I wished it were a waffle instead of toast, but that’s just a matter of preference. Look at it. It tastes as good as it looks.

I was on our living room sofa all showered and in my jammies, and had my feet propped up, and was trying to relax to no avail, so I decided to get up and go to the bathroom. Well, curiosity got the best of me, so after I was done I raised the seat and stuck my face into the bowl to smell if I had sweet pee. All of a sudden, WHAM. MY HEAD GOT STUCK IN THE TOILET. THE TOILET SEAT PINNED ME BETWEEN THE BOWL AND THE SEAT. BECAUSE THE TOILET SEAT FELL ON MY HEAD.

First of all, ow. Second of all, I AM GOING TO THROW UP. I flailed around screaming and reached for the seat to push myself out. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was afraid to take a hot shower because I didn’t want to lower my blood pressure in the warm water with my heart rate still high.(Likely now even higher). Ultimately my germophobe side won over me and I took a coldish shower shampooing multiple times (SO NOT GOOD FOR MY HAIR). And by the way, the smell-  not at all like sugar.

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Bye.

Let’s cheers to your week.

Soon,

the newly whale

 

Our Journey in Australia

Growing up, my parents put a kangaroo or koala in my Christmas stocking nearly every year in hopes of taking us to Australia some day, but we were never able to make it happen. All my life, the dream lingered. Once I got married, my sister reminded me that I had declared as a child that I would NOT have children before traveling to Australia. I didn’t want to let younger me down, and after a little bit of convincing, Matt was in!

The flight to Australia was the longest Matt and I have ever flown. We flew MCO->LAX and LAX->SYD. The total trip was 20 hours each way. We wore some super cute compression socks and I made us walk around the plane every few hours. Safety first!

Upon arriving in Sydney, we took a train from the airport to a mountainous (colder) area called Katoomba. It was about a two hour train ride. Katoomba has beautiful, scenic hiking which we did for two days. We hiked near a natural landmark there called the Three Sisters, which is basically 3 giant rocks that jut up in the middle of the Blue Mountains in New South Whales, Australia. In this area, there is also a man-made-mixed-with-actual-rock- staircase called the Giant’s Stairway. The Giant’s Stairway comprises more than 800 steps descending over 1,000 feet. The first day we heeded someone’s advice and walked down the stairs and rode the world’s steepest train (straight up and BACKWARDS) back up the mountain (such a fun, terrifying experience!). That also meant that instead of walking through the forest, we had to take a cable car suspended in the air across a ravine to get to said train. The second day, we hiked the entire trail down and climbed back up. #wod #tyvm #whew. We were so Hunger Games. Hiking back up was actually more preferable though than that cable car suspended in the air on a skinny little cord. That thing was scary. Prior to visiting Australia, nearly everyone I spoke with asked me why we were going to a country where every single animal is deadly there. That fact was definitely on the forefront of my mind while hiking in the woods alone, but I felt a little better since we were carrying a satellite phone. And in the end it turns out we made it.

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The Three Sisters- when we started that hike, we were standing on the first sister!

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The Blue Mountains are named after their blue hue
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Giant’s Stairway

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The world’s steepest train. There were bars for your knees to kneel on and bars on the ceiling to hold for safety!

 

One thing that surprised us about Australia was that it is similar to the US in being a ‘melting pot,’ especially at the tourist stops. There were all kinds of races of people. Sometimes it can be funny to experience cultures of people around you that are different than yourself. There was one point near the Three Sisters’ lookout that the pathway had become very congested with tourists. All at once, the man DIRECTLY in front of me let out the loudest SHART I have ever heard. It sounded like the one from that rhino in the viral you tube video. I shrieked aloud, but the guy didn’t miss a beat in his conversation. He didn’t even laugh. It was just completely normal to SHART all around.  I. WAS. SHARTED. ON. BY. A. STRANGER.

Our bed and breakfast in Katoomba, (where we stayed when we did all of the aforementioned hiking shown above) Lilianfel’s, was gorgeous– complete with two pools, a spa, and two restaurants way too expensive for us to indulge in. Luckily for Matt and me, they had an absolutely incredible complimentary breakfast, and we split lunch each day, which was enough to hold us over because our sleep schedules were so off. (Australia is 13 hours ahead of EST, so we had our work cut out for us in the jet-lag department). Unfortunately, high tea at Lilianfel’s was also $100 and I couldn’t convince Matt that it was worth it for $100 finger sandwiches just to pretend to be proper. (But they just looked so GOOD). I settled for this chicken and hummus plate with avocado quinoa salad paired with tea. And sat with the high-teaers. So it was like the same. Without the mountain of beautiful pastries. But cheaper.

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My “high tea” substitute.
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Lilianfel’s
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One of Lilianfel’s pools

After two nights hiking and enjoying the view at the beautiful Liliafel’s of Katoomba, it was time to take our holiday back to Sydney.

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Sydney

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Sydney was nothing like I’d imagined. I was picturing a California beach town, but it was gigantic–it felt more like NYC! Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel, Ovolo. If you ever have the opportunity to stay at an Ovolo hotel, DO IT! They gave free surprises, INCLUDING free cocktails and appetizers from 5-7p every night. Free dinner anyone? Not to mention, because of it’s industrial décor it was gorgeous, and yet it was very reasonably priced! Our room was a loft style with exposed brick. It was amazing.

Our first day in Sydney, we took the subway (also known to the Aussies as the ‘train’) and then a bus to Bondi Beach. We had heard we may want to avoid this beach because it is more of a tourist beach,  but I really wanted to see the saltwater pool. (And plus, we were tourists). We were so glad we visited Bondi–we would have missed out on quite a gorgeous sight had we decided to skip it. We didn’t go in the water though, because it was Australia’s fall season, so it was somewhat chilly in the breeze, and more so, that water was freezing! While at Bondi, there was filming for a New Zealand TV series, “The Lake House.” Not so sure why a show about a lake was being filmed at the ocean, but it was fun to watch all of the extras and crew. Spoiler alert: somebody in that scene gets shot.

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Absolutely no filter

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Bondi
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The entire sea wall at Bondi was covered in murals

The next day we got to see our Australian friends, Bec and Ash, that we met at a mutual friends’ wedding in Orlando. They recently had a baby girl named Lucy who we were absolutely dazzled by #ilovelucy. When loading into their car, a spider bigger than my entire hand was on the ceiling of the car, and it scrambled into the air vent. Ash sprayed a can of pest killer into the vent, which I am largely convinced that I inhaled our entire drive all while patrolling the air vent to make sure that thing did NOT come back out. Haha. We drove a few hours south to Kiama, where we spent the day grabbing coffee (coffee is a big deal in Australia), saw Kiama’s natural blow hole, and lunched. Matt and Ash played a game where Matt had to mimic all of the things Ash said in his Australian accent. He did pretty well. (Kind of). They taught us some different ‘Australian’ words, such as pram, which means stroller. They also brought us by their home back in Sydney and we ventured over to the mall for some ice cream. Getting to visit with them was absolutely our favorite leg of the trip. I think Bec is my soul sister, and if we lived on the same continent I am certain we would visit all the time. They are such uplifting, encouraging people and we were so happy to see them!img_0139

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Kiama

The day after we took a ferry over to Manly, where million dollar homes and scenic boats speckled the scene. This was more of what I had imagined when I dreamt of Australia. The wind on the ferry was a bit chilly, and it rained a bit, so we curled up in a towel. Once in Manly, the sun came back, and first we explored the Sea Life Sanctuary. We learned a lot about the native penguins common in Sydney Harbor. They also had sharks, small crocs, and sea horses to see. After, we went to a few shops, of course enjoyed the sun on the beach, and before getting back on the ferry, stopped for some Thai food. Matt ordered some ‘bone-out’ wings, expecting the American version of boneless wings. Instead, what he received were chicken wings with the bones hanging out. Mmm. Mine was good though. Sorry babe!

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Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

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Manly Beach (and manly hubs)

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Later we visited the Opera House + Sydney Harbor. We stayed out until 9 (which seems early, but we’d been falling asleep every night about 6) and got drinks at the Opera Bar right outside of the Opera House on the water. It was packed with locals and beautiful nightscapes overlooking the water and adjacent to the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was the perfect place to soak in our last night and do some people watching. After drinks, we walked the Harbor Bridge and the views were unreal. What we discovered is that Sydney is the perfect blend of true city (with proper public transit and infinite things to do) and quaint beach-town living.

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P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney
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Sydney Harbor Bridge
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Grabbing drinks at the Opera Bar outside of the Opera House

The cities we visited, Katoomba and Sydney, are in the Australian state of New South Whales, but our next stop took us to a new state, Queensland, where we hopped on another plane (just in case we hadn’t traveled far enough), and flew to a city in northeast Australia–Brisbane. I don’t know the exact mileage, but the look of the map and the flight time were comparable to a flight from Orlando to NYC (in a New York state of mind over here). We were SHOCKED that a ticket agent didn’t even ask to see our id to obtain our plane tickets! All aboard, I suppose! Our next destination was about an hour and a half train ride from the airport.

Because if there is one person I think of when I think of Australia, it’s Steve Irwin. I grew up loving the Crocodile Hunter. I couldn’t go all the way to Australia without visiting his home In Beerwah, (near Brisbane), the Australia Zoo.

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When we arrived at the train stop for the Australia Zoo, a zoo shuttle picked us up at the station. They had luggage storage at the zoo, which was nice. We decided to buy 2 day park passes since, I promise you, there is absolutely nothing else to do in Beerwah (it is mostly woods). We hadn’t rented a car because neither of us were comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car. I think when people travel to the Australia Zoo, they likely stay on the Sunshine Coast, which you should do if you go, too.

The Australia Zoo was everything you would think it would be. It was clean, well-kept, it’s mission was conservation, and the animals were amazing. You can’t see a kangaroo or koala just anywhere in the world, but at the Australia Zoo they are in plenty supply. There were even wild iguanas roaming the sidewalks. Who knew. I really enjoyed learning more about Steve Irwin’s story and that of his family at the memorial area, which had pictures and information about their life, and their life’s mission, to teach people about how to protect animals, and how to protect the earth. The croc shows and bird shows were breathtaking, and we got to see the fully operational animal hospital.

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Before we left on our trip to Australia, Matt was talking about our plans with one of his managers at work. She told him he should steer clear of holding a koala, because many of them have chlamydia. I was devastated when he told me this news. I tried to research on my own if this disease could spread from a koala to a human with a scratch from the koala’s sharp claw (CAUSE I DON’T KNOW!)…I searched to no avail, and was undecided on whether or not we should hold them at the zoo. But when we got there, they were just so cute, and fluffy. I reallllllly wanted to hold one…

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Can you seriously blame me for wanting to snuggle that curled up ball of a koala baby?
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Bottom right corner

Standing in line to hold the koalas, I was anxious excited, but the anxiety won over. “Excuse me, sir?” I said to the zookeeper nearby. “Can this koala give me chlamydia?” I only wish I’d snapped a photo then, because all I got was the look. It said stupid American. (So, no. It turns out, no. No is the answer).

So I held the cheeky bear and he was just as fluffy and snuggly as I thought he would be. He was so heavy too! What a lump.

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When we left the zoo, we asked the zoo shuttle driver to take us to our bed and breakfast (who are we?!) because there is only one taxi in Beerwah and it could take hours to catch a ride, and our shuttle driver so kindly obliged. He also agreed to pick us up the next morning (seriously, we’re BOLD!) at the bed and breakfast, which was (by the way), really just a house.

First of all, let’s talk about that awkward moment when you and your husband are on the last leg of your trip. You show up at your quaint, very private, beautiful, country B&B and upon settling in your room, notice a sign that says (in not these exact words but this exact meaning) A PYTHON-MAY-CAN-OFTEN FREQUENTS-IS ALLOWED TO- VISIT YOUR ROOM, SO AND NOW I QUOTE, “DO NOT BE ALARMED AS I AM A HARMLESS PYTHON.” AND ANOTHER THING. That awkward moment when you show up at your quaint, very private, beautiful, country B&B with no car and no food. You explain this to the owner who is a very nice woman and drives you to the nearest restaurant (only restaurant) in town. You show up 30 minutes before they serve food so they tell you the bar is open. You sit down with your husband and a nice pear cider. As you reminisce on the good and funny moments you’ve shared on your beautiful trip, suddenly right next to your pear cider, lands a DIME-SIZED black raisin. You look up to find a gecko above your head on the inside of the window, who has poo’d a poo as big as him on you. The romantic moment has ended, as you very rationally disagree with your husband about the possibility of you or said husband drinking the cider that was right next to a dropped bomb (that could have touched the lip of your drink of the way down- WE DON’T KNOW). I certainly daydreamed of home that night (get it, because I didn’t sleep, not with a python up in here). NOT TODAYYYYY. img_5820

Needless to say, the next time we visit Australia we will rent a car, and commute from the Sunshine Coast. I was disappointed not to visit there anyway as my sister had highly recommended we stay there. Australia is such a big country-it’s a whole continent in fact-so there are many places I want to see when we go back. The Barrier Reef, Melbourne, and Uluru to name a few.

Soon,

the newly whale

 

When Life Hurts too Hard

What do we do when life hurts too hard? When it seems we’ve been dealt too great of pain? This week I came together with my Covenant family and mourned the loss of our mentor and longtime friend, Coach.
Coach Grimes has been our family friend for about fourteen years. He was 45 years old. There were no warnings. In the morning, his wife Haley wasn’t able to wake him. Coach had 4 young daughters.
My sister had just begun working with him this season as his assistant coach for the Eastern Florida State College Women’s Basketball team. He had been pursuing her to work for him for about three years, and this year, she finally said she felt led by God to do so. What timing, right? The day after he passed, their team elected to play in their scheduled game where they honored him. They left his seat on the bench open, covered with the number 4 jersey and Batman tokens since he loved Batman.

When I think about Coach Grimes of course I think about basketball playing me (wow, I know) and going to his camps in the summer with suicides and foot fire, and how every time we went on an away game he made us clean everywhere we went. “Leave it better than when you got here!” he would shout. He had a standard of perfection that he expected from his players and students. He made you feel valuable and for that you respected and obeyed him. But mostly what I think of when I think about Coach are two of the most important lessons I’ll probably ever learn. One of them came from Coach’s wife, Haley, so I’ll start there.

Haley was working for the county at the time, running all of the county summer camps. Does it sound demanding? It was. She was responsible for hundreds and hundreds of kids, what they played, ate, responsible for their supplies, and for their entire adult team. Something only a Grimes could do effortlessly.

She told me they needed to pick up supplies, for what I’m not sure, the details are a little fuzzy. Her male counterpart offered to drive them to Walmart to pick up what they needed (again, hundreds of kids, it was going to be a big trip).

‘No,’ she replied, she wanted to drive separately to Walmart. It was a little bit of an awkward conversation. “Why?” he said.
She responded that she was in a marriage, and in that marriage, she and Coach Grimes had committed to never giving the illusion of sin, even if it was a misconception. It was called living above reproach. Someone she knew running into her in the parking lot could think it was a little funny of her to ride in the car alone with a different man, not her husband. And so, she drove separate. This was a commitment she and coach had decided together. Above reproach. Not because riding in the car with someone else is in and of itself wrongdoing, but that she and coach had committed not to give off the illusion of sin against their marriage.
That touched me straight to my core, and is something I told my husband about long ago, and want to live by every day. I never want to give the illusion to someone of disregard to my covenant with him and with God. I’ve carried that with me since high school and hope to teach it to my children one day.
The next lesson is actually from 8th grade. Coach Grimes was my Bible teacher that year. He was new to the school, and whether or not we played sports, he demanded all students and teachers call him “Coach Grimes.” That was him. So back to the lesson, we were talking about prayer. I don’t remember why, or even how this came about, but this is what he said. He said, “I hate when someone tells me they’ll be praying for me. Don’t tell me you’re praying, stop, stop what you’re doing, and pray right now!” That is something that grew my prayer life immensely. Prayer is now the way that I feel most connected to God. And when I tell someone, “I’ll be praying,” I am planning to, but you know what, I already have too. It’s a rule I’ll stick to for the rest of my life.
On Friday afternoon at Coach Grimes’ celebration of life service, it was as if my entire lifetime sat with me, sobbing, laughing, reflecting. I felt nostalgic, I felt old memories resurface, remembering the loss of my friend Jordan Robinson, whom I mourned with this very same community in 2008, who passed away five days before his twenty-first birthday. That pain was still so vivid, still raw. Now over eight years later, we were back together, mourning another man who was so special. Too unique to explain, too important to relay. Though Jordan and Coach were very different, they were very close, and Jordan had been one of Coach’s basketball players. For me, it felt like losing Jordan all over again.
The neatest part of Coach’s service was hearing the testament of his closest people talk about how he had impacted their life.
Keaton talked about how he came from a different local high school, where he was going down the wrong road. If he had never met Coach, he said he would lead a very different life today.
Tom talked about Coach as his father figure.
Jared said that in college when he was going through some difficult times, he could always talk to Coach, who never judged him, but was always honest and ready to help.
Justin talked about how Coach had been there for him and for Jordan during Jordan’s cancer, and that at his funeral, Coach Grimes said it was one of the greatest honors of his life to know Jordan. Justin echoed that it was one of the greatest honors of his life to have known Coach. That there are many ships, but Coach was a beacon.
Coach’s daughter shared that her dad was her very best friend. One of her favorite memories was from her 17th birthday, where she talked her dad into getting a tattoo for her. She got to pick anything she wanted him to get, and she decided he should get this.
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Meaning that God is greater. God is Lord. God’s plan is sovereign.
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The family had these blue bracelets made that say HE>i and Big 4.

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Jesus Christ was Coach’s Savior. And He is the reason we have hope. Coach Grimes is rejoicing with God in heaven. And no matter who you are, NO matter, God loves you too. And wants you to know Him. He wants you to know that He loves you. Jesus died to save you!
I don’t know how people without faith get through times like this. Because with faith, we have hope that this is our temporary home, and we can look forward to eternity in heaven with God. And in the meantime, when it feels like, now what?
We get on our knees.
We take care of his family.
We live without taking time for granted because we never know when our time is up.
We get by with some help from our friends.
Thank you to these babies who picked me up after my  breakdown in GAP.
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And by babies, I mean those three girls + a LITERAL baby ❤
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Love you girls.
We live hard, smart, together, and for Christ.
For you, Coach. Big 4.

Book Review on The Magnolia Story

 

I recently finished reading Chip & Joanna Gaines’ The Magnolia Story. It’s a little funny reading a book about reality TV stars. I wondered a bit why I needed to read this because don’t I possibly have all the information I need about these people? However, Chip & Jo’s magic doesn’t come from themselves, they make it very clear that their faith in God has given them what they have, and that’s something I can hop-on-board learning more about.

Let me be clear- what faith in God doesn’t give you (and didn’t give the Gaines’ family) is prosperity. The ‘prosperity gospel’ says ‘obey God and He will give you good things.’ This is not real. And it would be sad if it were. God wants to give us much more than mere, fleeting things. He wants to offer us His love, forgiveness, and He wants to make all things new in us, He wants to have a relationship with us, and wants us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Things. They cannot match or compare to being united with God.

So what I meant in saying, ‘God gave Chip and Jo what they have,’ I don’t mean that because they have God, they’re rich and famous. I mean that God inspired (literally created) their talents, planned their steps and prepared them both for the lives they lead today, and that they step out in faith, trusting God to guide and provide for them.

The story of Chip and Jo’s gains (heh heh, punny), resulted from something very important that they didn’t do, which is waste. They didn’t waste their talents, and they certainly can’t afford to waste their time. I feel so inspired by them to really go out and DO. They mentioned time and time again that when one of them got a business idea, they just DID it. They didn’t sit on it, they simply made it happen. (This didn’t come easily for Jo). I laughed out loud several times throughout their story, namely at Chip’s antics when they first had children. But I also couldn’t believe the reality of just how MANY businesses Chip owned. Wash & fold. Lawn Care. Selling scantrons. Buying land. Flipping houses. It is certainly convicting reflecting on how much time I spend on social media and television, knowing that they don’t even have a TV and they run their town.

Another way I was inspired by their story is learning how they view other people. Joanna wrote about Chip’s tendency to help those in need. There was one particular story where a neighbor called in the middle of the night, knowing that Chip would help put up a homeless man. I’m probably not the first person my friends call when they see a homeless person needs help. And I started thinking to myself, why not?

Something that Joanna expressed that is so true of her style is that she wanted her Magnolia store to be not just a store, but an experience. She wanted to wow her customers with the feeling of a quaint New York City boutique. Candles, fresh flowers, music. She said her favorite customer was a woman who never bought anything, but told her that she liked the feeling of being in her store. Jo said that made her feel like she had accomplished what she set out to. I just loved that.

I wined and dined myself yesterday taking a few photos for this post at some local places I’ve been wanting to try. I started with a rosemary and smoked cheddar scone at Buttermilk Bakery, and finished with Foxtail Coffee Co. Both of these places reminded me of the unique, pristine style that Jo is so famous for.

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It was both crispy and fluffy. I’ll defffffinitely be back.

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Besides being farm goals, family goals, and overall lovely goals (their proposal story is too beautiful), I think the most important thing I learned from The Magnolia Story that I really want to take away from is that life isn’t so serious. It’s FUN. I get so caught up in my prim and proper, so caught up in WORRY, so caught up in the rules, and my to-do lists, and what other people think of me (*I’m trying to recover !!), that sometimes I forget to be a little bit silly. It’s OK for life to be FUN. It’s OK for WORK to be FUN. And actually, that’s mostly what Chip and Jo spend their time doing- working. Working for their kids, their neighbors, for their TV show, and working to honor each other. Ultimately though, they desire to work for God and honor Him in their life. It’s motivated me to want to change my culture of negative speak, “work sucks,” and “Mondayest day ever.” (Guuuuuuuilty!!) Chip said in the book that he wanted to, “Live every day like Saturday.” He explained that on Saturday’s his family did a LOT of household chores, but they also rewarded themselves greatly when they finished a task with something like a jump in the lake, or a movie that night. I forget sometimes that God not only allows, but created joy and laughter and silliness. Chip and Jo are always laughing (usually at Chip), and that is something I admire and want to be more like. I want to take away making work, and even just the mundane simplicity of life, fun.

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This blog is something I wanted to do that I knew would be fun for me. If you’re a fan of Chip and Jo like I am, I would recommend you read The Magnolia Story and find out just what it is you’re inspired to do, too.

How to Go to Iceland

Matt and I are home from Iceland and are in. awe. I actually laughed aloud at the “Welcome to Orlando” photos when we got home and walked out of customs in the airport, where you are greeted by pictures of palm meadow bushes. Seriously Florida? Anyway, I’ve had a lot of questions about our trip to Iceland, so while it’s fresh here are a few lessons from our journey:

There are some things you just have to see while in Iceland. If you’re visiting from September to April, you need to make finding the Northern Lights a priority. We used Discover Iceland for our Northern Lights hunt. The tour guides are warm and knowledgeable, we felt very safe, and sure enough, they got us to the lights! Something to note- we were surprised that our cameras could pick up more of a show than the naked eye. The first night when we saw the northern lights, they only appeared white to us, while they were vivid green and purple hues in the photos. I felt a little bit guilty (not to mention disappointed) about saying ‘we saw the lights!’ when it wasn’t quite as it appeared. HOWEVER, the next day Matt and I drove about an hour and a half out to the same national park that the guides had driven us to just the night before, to search for the lights on our own. What we found were more brilliant colors and movement in the light, visible to our eyes without my camera. That’s the moment when I screamed at the sky “OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH” and it felt like we saw them! There are varying degrees of the solar activity. Keep this in mind so as not to be disappointed! We were still glad that we went on a northern lights ‘tour’ the first night-we would have been really scared and unsure of what to do or where to go to see the lights without that first night. If you do decide to use Discover Iceland, be sure to book them online in advance! By the way, there are very specific settings a camera must be on to capture the lights. I m not a professional (or even a good) photographer and am not going to pretend to tell you how. We used a tripod (required), and manual settings, and focused to infinity. Be sure to do your research in advance on what settings to use, so you’re not trying to figure out your camera while you should be enjoying the experience!

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Another must-do: the Blue Lagoon! (The blogs that say it isn’t worth it must not have actually gone. That’s a RIDICULOUS LIE. YOU SHOULD GO). Anyway, I read several blogs and unfortunately not one mentioned that the Blue Lagoon tends to sell out of tickets! When we arrived we found that every day we were there was booked, except on one day at the end of the night. We were grateful to get any admission, but we wished we could have gone in daylight. So book ahead ! They have a beautiful, spa feel there. You can book in-water massage, or take advantage of the mud and algae masks. Another tip- we didn’t think about bringing ‘shower shoes’ -but you should definitely bring ones that you’re willing to toss afterward. You’ll want to use them to walk from the locker room to get into the water. You can bring your own towel or rent one, but make sure to store your towel in your locker. Otherwise it is up against everyone else’s towel on a hook (ew) and you could risk someone taking your towel (double ew). And plan to meet your boy or girl friends at the entrance of the water. Matt and I got separated because I had to go to a different locker room because mine was full. But he didn’t know, so he was waiting for me outside of the wrong locker room, and I was already in the water (oops) waiting by the steps. Once we found each other, in we went! We entered in the indoor entrance (gladly because it was frickin FREEZING out)! The water is hotter in some areas than others. It was a surreal experience, one we will never forget. The beauty of the lagoon is undeniable, and the amount of area to swim is HUGE! It is absolutely incredible. The bottom you walk on feels rocky, mixed with algae, but no problems balancing. It’s actually cheaper if you book online (heyyy) and that way you don’t have to worry about whether or not they have availability! The earlier entrance time you book, the longer you can stay, as the entrance is good for the rest of the day. So if you get there at 11a, you can stay til closing at 9:30p. But if you go in at 7p, you still only get to stay til 9:30. IT. IS. A. MUST. DO.

The Blue Lagoon

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We were really grateful that we drove the Golden Circle. It was so beautiful, we really feel it’s a must-do. Driving ourselves gave us the luxury of going at our own pace and enjoying the gorgeous views.The weather was absolutely perfect that day. We stopped several times for pictures along the road of furry ponies (only where there was space for pulling off- be careful!). Here is the blog we followed for a Golden Circle Day Trip! (lots of other blogs have driving directions for longer Icelandic road trips also fyi)!

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Gulfoss Waterfall

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He tried to nip me!

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Geysir

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By the way, for the trip duration we rented our own car! We were SO glad we did! We picked up the car at the airport, and also rented a gps from the car company (Sixt) and it was the best money we spent the whole time. We found a great deal on Expedia if you’re wondering. If you’re debating, definitely rent a car! We were so glad not to be at the mercy of a bus/tour company. Iceland doesn’t have public transit because of the harsh weather (wind) conditions. So having our own car was a great resource to us! We felt safe driving there (well, Matt drove) because they drive on the right side of the road and left side of the car, just like in America. We looked it up before the trip, and an international driver’s license was not necessary to drive legally there. An American license was adequate. Bear in mind that there are roundabouts everywhere, and the inside lane has the right of way. And you can’t turn right on red unless you have a merge lane. Matt did a beautiful job getting us around safely! It was our first time seeing snow together, nonetheless Matt’s first time driving in snow. A friend of ours that grew up in Illinois said that the advice her mom gave her growing up always served her well while driving in the snow: do everything slowly. Accelerate, brake, turn, etc. We heeded her advice and it turned out great! Be SURE to check the weather before you go driving. It changes so rapidly. The last day we were there the driving conditions were dangerous and we were glad we weren’t far from the airport! We ended up turning in our car and heading to the airport early.

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Ever heard of the fifth gait Icelandic horses have? My husband had never ridden a horse in his LIFE, (howwww?) and I’ve been dying to ride with him! I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride a fuzzy magical Icelandic pony! I found the company the Icelandic Horse on Trip Advisor. Our experience with their company was exceptional. We went on a trail ride through a lava field in the snow, during a snowfall. It was absolutely breathtaking. I felt I really connected with my horse Mani (Icelandic for moon) and wish I could have brought him home with me! The horses behaved so well, we definitely felt safe and secure. You could tell they were very well trained and more importantly VERY well loved. Matt’s lady horse tested him a bit, but he ‘bit back’ so to speak, and she rode beautifully! He was a sexy cowboy, I won’t lie. The owner is a gem-and runs a 5 star business. Our advice for this is to be careful of the address. There are two roads in Reykjavik almost identical in name except by one letter. Our GPS auto-corrected to the wrong name, and took us to the wrong address. It made us a little late, but thank goodness not too late to go on the ride! If you’re interested, I suggest booking this online in advance so they have availability!

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Mani

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The capital city of Reykjavik, was.. fine, but TBH not too much to do there. There are a couple of museums all with pretty dull reviews on Trip Advisor. We did go to the whale museum (called Whales of Iceland) and enjoyed it very much, (but we also happen to be obsessed with whales and needed to get out of the weather for a couple of hours). I would give Reykjavik 2 hours of your time (to eat and walk the streets for a bit) (seriously not more than a short half day), but otherwise spend your time soaking in the beautiful landscapes outside of the city. We enjoyed Braud & Co bakery (GET THE VANILLA BUN, we went back the next day for another) and Kex Hostel for eating best in Reykjavik. (Yes, a sketchy hostel, but go in and you’ve entered the promised land). In the town we stayed (Reykjanesbaer) (aka Keflavik), we enjoyed Olsen Olsen (gourmet hot dogs, for some reason that’s a thing in Iceland-they just taste like hot dogs, it’s not that exciting, but they’re particularly good at Olsen’s), and Fernando’s pizza (pizza with cream cheese baked in ). And we can’t forget when we stumbled upon Valgeirs Bakari, clearly a local stop as this was the only place we went to where no one spoke English, and there was no Trip Advisor sticker on the door (thrill seekers, I know). What we found there, inside that cute little store, was a donut resembling a Boston Cream, but no. What it was instead, is pockets of nutella on the inside, so as not to create just one oozy bite, but many with it’s enjoyment. There is no going up from there and donuts are now destroyed for me.

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Valgeirs Bakari in Keflavik

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THE VANILLA BUN at Braud & Co in Rekyjavik

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Kex Hostel in Reykjavik

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Reykjavik has a lot of strange, dark murals

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Reykjavik

We loved staying at an Airbnb, and we LOOOOVED the town we stayed in (Reykjanesbaer). It was so quaint with a walking trail, on the ocean, with plenty of small eatery’s, and it felt verrrry safe. It is close to the airport and the Blue Lagoon, and about 45 minutes from the capital city, Reykjavik. As far as the physical apartment we stayed in, it was fine, and the owners were so friendly that we will give it a good review just for their hospitality, but the accommodations themselves weren’t beautiful. I’ve never had a poor experience with any Airbnb. I feel you get a bit more authenticity out of your trip when you stay in a neighborhood. We loved it.

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Our apartment

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In Keflavik right down the street from our apartment

So, the ATM… We inserted our card and were guided through the usual prompts and selected to withdraw $100 of ‘just in case money.’ We were surprised at how great the exchange rate was and pleased we didn’t use the money exchanging teller because surely we ‘beat the system.’ Four days later we were at a cafe getting hot chocolate after exploring a beautiful waterfall in the snow. Matt pulled our ATM cash out of his wallet and I was taken back by how MUCH we still had left. So strange. It didn’t feel right. All of a sudden my mouth opened, but words weren’t coming out. Matt looked at me: “What!? What!? Talk!!!” “WE WITHDREW $1,000 FROM THE ATM!” I answered.  Sure enough, we checked the bank and $1,000 was gone. I kid you not the ATM read 100.00. That is- one hundred thousand Icelandic Krona! FYI the decimal is used in place of a comma in Iceland. And also apparently they talk in thousands.. Oops!

The weather was mild in terms of winter for how far north the country is. I wore jeans with tights or leggings underneath for most of the trip. I was grateful to have ski pants during the nights we were hunting for the Northern Lights. The wind was very strong at those times. The coldest it reached was -7 degrees Celsius, which is 19 degrees Fahrenheit (although I don’t know what the wind chill was).

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Whales of Iceland Museum, Reykjavik

If you’re looking for more adventure in Iceland, one of the people I met on horseback recommended the dog sledding tours, though I can’t speak from experience. Also, whale watching is common in Iceland, although we recently did that in Alaska, and as majestic as it was, felt we should spend our money doing new things. But truly, if you’ve never done a whale watching tour, it is the most serene, and the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed to see a pod of orca in the wild.

All in all, In Iceland we

  • UNFORTUNATELY watched hundreds of tourists pose for pictures with hot dogs entering their mouth. Stop it.
  • discovered that “WC” means water closet as opposed to what we thought it meant (waste catcher)..
  • drove up a sidewalk when we couldn’t get to the road we needed because all entries were closed and we were stuck AND THERE WAS REALLY NO OTHER WAY OUT AND NO PEDESTRIANS IN SIGHT WE PINKY PROMISE.
  • learned that Americans are really doing the whole fireworks situation up wrong (we were there on NYE and we’ll never have one better).
  • were relieved to find that the little popcorn balls pouring on me were not asbestos from a torn-down building, but snow, (or maybe hail?). #floridagirlproblems #depopcornedonetoomanyceilings  #imseriousitlookedlikepopcornceiling #itdidntmeltcausemyhandsweretoocold
  • made snow angels
  • saw more shooting stars than we could count

img_8800-1If you haven’t booked your trip to Iceland yet, you should- but here’s how. If you fly Iceland Air, you can fly to a different destination in Europe, say London for example, but have a week long layover in Iceland for FREE (without being charged by the airline for having 2 destinations). (Be warned, Iceland Air is nottt a cushy airline, bring your own food and drinks)! Regardless, I hope to use Iceland Air the next time I travel  to Europe so I can spend one more night in Iceland and see those brilliant blue waters of the lagoon once more.

Until then I’ll be dreaming of fuzzy horses, vast waterfalls, and dancing lights.

Soon,

The newly whale