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Prayers for Joplin and Minneapolis

By | Family, Friends, Weather | No Comments

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I snapped a few photos of the clouds last night after terrible storms ripped through our area. They were incredible, as was the sky, which blanketed our area in a glowing pink and gold sunset. Near Springfield, our friends were snapping photos of a beautiful rare double rainbow. It amazes us that amidst such terrible destruction, we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in ages.

As Neil is from Southwest Missouri, about an hour east of where a tornado has devastated Joplin, and I’m from Minnesota, where another tornado hit North Minneapolis last night, we were huddled around the police scanner and news reports all evening. Our family and friends are safe, but our thoughts are with those in need and suffering, particularly in Joplin. If you are able, please donate what you are able to the Red Cross.

Weekend Recap: Floating on the Current River

By | Backpacking, Camping, Clive, Floating, Food, Friends, Jessica, Neil, Travel | 14 Comments

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On a whim, we decided to hit the Current River with a group of Neil’s friends this weekend. They are camping and floating weekend warriors, often starting as early as January and sometimes taking trips in late November as weather permits. With my crazy schedule this semester, this is the first time I’ve been able to go, so I was determined to make it, come hell or high water. Little did we know, one of those situations would be greeting us very soon.

With all the rain we’ve had in the past month, the river was quite swollen. One one hand, it made the normal shallow points in the river easy to navigate in a canoe, a perk that allows consistent momentum and little worry about scraping the bottom of the river. On the other, it required close attention because the river was moving FAST. The first 11 miles of our 22 mile float were swiftly over in a matter of several hours. A quick look at our Garmin GPS indicated that without paddling, we were floating at a rate of 5-6 miles per hour. Definitely more of an amusement park water ride than a lazy river float.

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I was not the only new member along for the trip, Clive also made his debut on the river this weekend. We’ve been wanting to get him on a trip to get a sense of how he’d do in more remote camping situations, and an overnight float seemed the perfect short test run. The only sticky point was the whole floating part. If you remember from a few of our trips (here and here) last year, Clive is not a fan of the water. So how would he fare in a canoe?

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Lucky for us, Clive took right to canoeing. After a few minutes of nervous shaking after drop-in, he was quickly diverted by the tour of what had to have been his nose’s paradise. He just kept smelling and smelling, watching the world go by and having someone paddle him around. He is a spoiled pup after all.

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While Clive took to floating like a champ, we were unprepared for the weather. After being spoiled with warmer temperatures all week, they suddenly plunged into the 50’s on Saturday. On the river, it felt more like lower 40’s. Despite Neil’s calm and happy demeanor in this photo, we were freezing. Look at his purple legs and you’ll understand why he switched to pants on the next stop. The photo bombers behind him had the right idea.

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We saw some amazing sights. Beautiful cave openings flooded with bright aqua water in the rocks and freshwater springs. This was the biggest one and there were about six canoes and kayaks in there.

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I also saw my first Brood 19 Cicada of the season. I work in a plant sciences and entomology department, so I’ve been hearing a lot of about their impending arrival. They are here a little earlier than expected, and are a lot bigger than I remember. Don’t worry, it was dead, I just couldn’t help but get a macro shot of the wings, aren’t they beautiful?

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I snapped a shot of my finger, which was completely numb after about an hour. I’ve had frostbite before (its basically a rite of passage in Minnesota), and this is the closest I’ve felt to having it again. I wanted to remember my finger in case I lost it.

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About a quarter of the way into our float we had our first and only dump of the trip. A dump is when someone overturns, usually as a result of hitting something in the water, or something in the way of the path. In this case, it was tree that had recently fallen over the water. One of Neil’s friends, Justin, brought his cousin, Kaycia, and she followed Neil’s brother Ben into a more narrow pathway and got snagged by the tree, which overturned her kayak. Poor girl was soaked to the bone and her kayak quickly filled with water and started to sink as it kept moving down river. Justin quickly retrieved it while Ben got her to the nearest sandbar. Justin towed it ashore, emptied the water, then decided to swim it upstream to her.

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Grazy bastard! That water was freezing! Don’t judge, but I couldn’t have done it. Maybe I’m just not that good of a person…

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With two of our group members soaked, and the cloudy day quickly growing darker, we decided to make camp at the next sand bar and get a fire going.

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With the brief appearance of sun, the smorgasbord was on! If Clive had any doubts about camping, they were quickly gone when he realized there was people food to be had.

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Matt quickly became his new best friend. He had hot dogs and snacks!

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“What do you have that I can have?”

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Stringing up a pineapple. Apparently this is a Futurama reference? Anyone? I was just ready to eat it. Fresh pineapple has to be my favorite fruit.

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Neil sliced it up like a pro, I was so proud. It was a sticky mess though. Pineapple is not really an optimal camping food choice. Its deliciousness redeemed it though.

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How about some pineapple and kielbasa kabobs with complimentary penis jokes on the side? One can not expect to camp with men without such topical entertainment.

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We ate so much food! I was SO stuffed and didn’t partake of nearly 1/3 of what everyone brought to share. I love the simplicity and informal nature of camping food. No one is pretentious, everyone shares, and everything cooked over a fire has a beautiful flavor.

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Oh look it’s me! Neil snagged the camera to get a few shots and got one of me before I noticed. Is it weird that this is my blog and there are rarely any pictures of me?

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Water brought to us by Ben. This is a really sweet device that Neil and I would like to someday add to our inventory. It’s called the Katadyn Base Camp Water Filter. It’s great when you’re in large or small groups. There’s no pumping or repetitive trips to the river to filter enough for a CamelBak or Nalgene bottle. Simply fill the bag and hang it, and it filters as you use it.

We sat by the fire late into the night and finally passed out around midnight. I always fall asleep early on trips and wake up around 5 or 6 am. Maybe I should sleep outdoors more often?

The next morning…

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No, raccoons did not get into camp, this is all us. I can’t decide whether to call this “Beer-nado” or “The Morning After.” I think it is accurate to say we had a great night.

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Bacon and eggs for breakfast, with a twist…

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…in a bun with a hot dog? I stuck with eggs and salsa.

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Soon it was time to hit the river again and head home. Clive was suited up and ready to go. He even hopped in the canoe on his own. I’m so proud of my little water dog! We’re definitely going to get him a better float coat for the next trip. This one is great for little lake trips, but he’s in need of something more serious and better fitting for movement. We’re eyeing The Big Eddy by Ruffwear, but are open to suggestions if you have any!

So even though it was cold and we didn’t swim and really didn’t see a lick of sunlight, we had a great time. The river was quiet, we rarely saw another soul and it was great to really feel like we were leaving civilization and spending time with friends and each other. This was my first Current River trip, and of the rivers I’ve canoed in Missouri thus far, this has been my favorite. We’re definitely going to have to save a little money and expand our inventory to include kayaks and a canoe. The further we dive into camping and backpacking the more we see our gear needs changing. It doesn’t help that companies are constantly putting out great tools that make packing and enjoying the trip easier!

Stay tuned, I have a few new camping recipes to share! I’ll give you a hint: browned butter and bourbon…

If you’re interested in canoeing the Current River, you can find more information and trip planning routes and tips here.

A Texas-style Bon Voyage to Blake

By | Accessories, Automotive, Friends | 4 Comments

Blake-o

I don’t think any of us were in doubt that eventually the day would come when Blake would move away. You’re in a long distance relationship, you decide to look for jobs and eventually the right one comes along. And although Blake and I have always had a very surprising, non-traditional relationship (he’s my high school ex-boyfriend), I feel like I’m losing a brother. To Texas of all places. I won’t say I wasn’t a little worried at first. What will slender, geeky, politically progressive, non-hyper-masculine Blake do in a place like Texas!? He’ll stick out like a sore thumb! So Neil and I did some thinking…

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…and really, what better way to camouflage Blake than with a huge shiny new pair of truck nuts! If you can believe it, this classy accessory was on our Jeep Jeep when we bought it. We knew immediately that when Blake’s day of Missouri-departure finally arrived, that they would find their new home, zip-tied to his bumper. Best of luck Blake!

Meeting Ree Drummond – Pioneer Woman Book Signing (St. Louis Edition)

By | blogging, Books, Cool Stuff, Food, Jessica | 11 Comments

Pioneer Woman Book Signing

I’ve been squealing online for weeks about the Pioneer Woman book signing that happened in St. Louis over the weekend. I’m not a crazed PW fan or anything, but when your freelance and grad school ambitions keep you from getting out much (read: keep you from getting out at all), you tend to get excited by almost anything out of the norm. I’m wearing clean socks today!

My best friends (Anja, Rachel and Liz) and I decided to make a FULL weekend of it, so we booked a hotel room and made the two-hour (five hours for Rachel and her friend Allison, that’s dedication) drive to St. Louis. Somewhere on that car ride we became the CIA, hell-bent on stalking our target and being FIRST in line. Nothing is worse than a book talk/signing and being the last in line and in the back. So after scoping out our target, the St. Louis Public Library, we grabbed lunch and headed back to what we thought would be no line.

We weren’t first. We were somewhere in the area of 30-35th in line.

Fail.

Apparently in the midst of our relaxed mall Mexican-fusion lunch and our sidetrack to Williams-Sonoma, we’d been compromised and beat to the punch by some really insanely loyal fans. I’m talking people bringing at least five books and a gift. A gift!? I thought that was a little strange. Don’t get me wrong, if Eddie Vedder showed up for a book signing, I’d bring a gift (the gift of ME. Sorry honey, celebrity encounter rule!), but it just seemed a bit, I don’t know, over the top? I’m not talking about trinkets either, I’m talking gift baskets. Google “Pioneer Woman Book Signing St. Louis, I dare you. She even apparently has haters, but I won’t even go there.

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So after waiting two hours in line, we finally filed into the library, conveniently cleared of patrons and lined with more chairs than I could capture with the camera.

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Pioneer Woman Book Signing

Look at the scowl on that woman’s face. I’m thinking she wasn’t so amused by my charm. Or my huge camera lens.

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The talk didn’t actually go that long, I think the people who weren’t there for the signing were kind of peeved. She was very shy and seemingly still baffled by her fame. She answered a few questions, and fielded a few to her husband, Marlboro Man, who had tagged along. Rachel was so impressed that they had driven to St. Louis because it meant they drove through Springfield to get there. In the true spirit of being Neil’s wife, I was just wondering what they had driven.

After the talk, they released us in groups to get our books signed. Here are the girls waiting after Marlboro Man had signed our books. I swear I saw an old lady try to cop a feel. Apparently his reverse side is quite famous?

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Pioneer Woman Book Signing

This girl is smug because she was first in line.

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And Rach…

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And all of us…

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And ME!

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Our signed copy.

In case you’re wondering, no, I haven’t read the book, Black Heels and Tractor Wheels, yet. It looks good, and it’s an incredibly gorgeous looking book. It’s even beautiful beneath the jacket it if any of you true bookworms decide to take a look. I typically save these books for travelling, and the next time that looks to be happening is June, though I might try to sneak some reading in here or there before then if I can manage it.

I had so much fun going to this event, for more reasons than just having the opportunity to meet Ree. Maybe some of you can relate, but I feel like blogging is sometimes the more socially acceptable alternative to being a Trekkie. Despite the fact that the Internet is so mainstream, there still seems to be a stigma surrounding those who meet, operate businesses and socialize online.

Maybe it’s because so much of my life and occupation involve technology, but I just don’t get it. I’ve met and maintained my best relationships online (including with Neil), and operate a business that has exploded over the past year because of Twitter and this blog. Some of my family and friends think I’m a bit strange for blogging, etc. but at events like this, everyone has a huge camera and a netbook, and you knew in an instant that they were there doing the same thing as you, and it’s thrilling! I don’t say it enough but thank you so much for continuing to read and watch us grow, and for giving us a community to feel a part of.

So on that note, are you reading any good books lately?

Dark Lord of the Snow

By | Art, Clive, Funny, Weather | 8 Comments

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In the midst of Snowmageddon a dark lord descended upon Columbia…

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Ssssnnooooooowwwwwwwwww…

There is no question in our mind that this has been the longest winter we’ve had in years. I know I say it every year but seriously, I really mean it this time! Every week the weather seemingly bounces from sunny and Spring-like to blizzards and sleet with a chance of tornadoes, to once more threatening indeterminate amounts of wintry precipitation, i.e. “Satan’s Tears.”

We’ve been good sports but it’s a little nuts and we’re going a little nuts. So much so that on a whim, we called and convinced our friend Blake to dust off his Darth Vader costume for a little winter freak show. We definitely got some looks as people drove by and saw Darth climbing the snow bank, Neil and I photographing and laughing almost maniacally, and Clive barking bloody murder because he is of the ring and not the Jedi.

I’m thinking this could be a series, thoughts?

Impulse Grocery Shopping

By | Friends, Pizza, Weekend | No Comments

Hard Ciders, a fave.

J.K’s Scrumpy Hard Cider and Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider

Kashi Mediterranean

It was a terrible—albeit giddy—idea to go to the grocery store after the gym. We were S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G, and what started as a quick trip for bread flour and essential gluten ended up netting us a few impulse items.

Leftover Salad

Fresh Salad…

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"Pizzazo"

Kashi Pizza

My best friend Rachel, who resolved to get eat better and change her diet this year was writing the other day that grocery shopping is a lot less fun now that she’s eating more healthfully and ethically. It was for us initially too. Passing all the bright and colorful packaging, and the cookie aisle, OH THE COOKIE AISLE! But once we got into it, it wasn’t so bad. And as you can see, it can still be fun and spontaneous sometimes.

Eventually the reward of doing something good for you, that makes you feel good for the right reasons, outweighs the short-term thrill of the binge food buy.

NOM anything good this weekend?

POM Wonderful Dinner Pary – A Non-Traditional Holiday Feast

By | Contests, Cool Stuff, Crafts, DIY, Food, Friends, Frugality, Recipes | 3 Comments

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This past weekend, we hosted our Pom Wonderful Dinner Party that we told you about a little over a week ago. Although you might be vaguely familiar with the promotion from other participating bloggers (who by the way are completely rocking my WORLD with their entries), you might be a little entertained by how we came to be participants.

I got the contest email at work. It was a typical weekday. I was tired, overworked and feeling maxed out. But when I saw the subject line “POM Wonderful Dinner Party,” I was instantly excited. Neil and I love POM. It’s just a drink that makes you happy. Everything, from the taste right down to the shape of the bottle makes you feel like you are doing something good for yourself. So I entered, even though I thought getting chosen was a longshot.

Big boxes of pomegranates

The entry form asked us to describe what kind of meal we would serve using pomegranates as a main ingredient. I winced. Pomegranates? The juice comes from a fruit, I knew that, but they are so COMPLICATED! My pomegranate experience is limited to the one and only pomegranate I’ve ever bought. Not knowing what to do with it, I carved a tiny hole in it and for the next week, siphoned the little ariils out like I was defusing homemade explosives.

So I did what any newb would do: I just wrote whatever popped into my head. I thought for sure they’d laugh at my ideas (at the time they seemed REALLY out there and I was very vague with the details) but I wrote them down anyway. I enter contests all the time and never win, so why not? I filled in my contact information and hit “send.”

POM inside!

Well here we are and obviously they didn’t think my answers were as crazy as I thought they were. They wrote and said we’d been chosen and a week later three huge boxes arrived on our doorstep filled with awesome swag and pomegranates. Make that tons of pomegranates. In addition to all this, they’re offering ten prizes based on three criteria:

    Contest Criteria

  • Best incorporation of pomegranates into the menu/drinks
  • Most inspired pomegranate decor
  • Most successful “How to Open a Pomegranate” presentation

We decided that the theme of our party should be “A Non-Traditional Holiday.” As twenty-somethings family all over the country, the holidays are often a ping-pong game of trying to see everyone. Often times, like last year, it didn’t work out. Stuck in town with a horde of other misplaced yuppies, we threw together a meal and invited anyone who could make it out of their driveway. Cooking non-traditionally is not only flexible, but doesn’t leave you in a coma like a 20-lb turkey and gobs of mashed potatoes.

We enjoyed playing Iron Chef for a few days, experimenting with our yummy new subject and infusing pomegranate arils and juice in every area of our menu we could think of. This required a lot of juicing:

Step 1, slice the head off of the pomegranate

Start by slicing the head off the pomegranate.

Step 2, slice on the membrane lines into half

Slice in half, using the membranes as a guide.

Step 3, slice on the membrane into quarters

Slice each half in half, and place all four pieces into a bowl of cool water.

Step 4, put in water and gently remove seeds

Keeping each piece submerged, remove arils and empty membranes gently with your fingers, making liberal use of your thumb and the inside of your palm. The arils will sink, the membranes will float, so they are easy to scoop out with a slotted spoon or spatula.

Pomegranate seeds removed and strained

Drain arils into sieve and lightly rinse, removing any leftover membrane.

Step 5, roll or squish pomegranate seeds in a quality freezer bag

Place arils in a sturdy freezer bag and roll with a rolling pin or your hands.

Pomegranate seeds juiced and strained

Strain juice into a container and you’re set to go!

Pomegranate center piece

For our decor, we decided to create a warm ambiance with some added pomegranate-inspired flare (yes I said flare). Our centerpiece was a bowl of decorative balls with a pomegranate on top, flourished with red accents I picked up inexpensively in my mom’s basement (thanks mom!). I then created placeholders using individual pomegranates to hold the name cards by making a slice in the top of each of the pomegranates:

Pomegranate table settings

Each name card was created with two pieces of handmade paper, and cut with a custom paper cutter to create the lacy accent. A piece of sheer ribbon was folded between the layers of paper and inserted into the stem.

Pomegranate name card holders and goodies

Sushi table settings set

The stoneware sushi place settings were a Christmas gift my sister brought back after she and the fam returned from a 2-year enlistment in Japan. I accented the table with my extras from my wedding candle stockpile and put the swag bags at each setting to create a bit of excitement when my guests arrived. Nothing excites parents and a kindergarten teacher more than free totes!

POM red hearts

I also accented our light fixture with Pom Wonderful-shaped hearts to bring more red into the decor. All in all I spent a grand total of nothing decorating for our dinner party. It was all created from items I already had around the house!

Pomegranate marinated tuna steak sushi

For our main course, we served pomegranate-infused fresh tuna sushi rolls. The tuna was marinated with a mixture of fresh pomegranate juice, lime juice, and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. For the good stuff inside, we used a pomegranate slaw of julienned cucumber, shaved celery, sprouts and fresh pomegranate arils mixed with a little lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. We also added a layer of pomegranate-infused cream cheese to give the sushi a bit of a creamy touch.

To top it off, we created a sweet and salty pomegranate reduction sauce, made with pomegranate juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and a touch of rice vinegar to drizzle over the sushi.

(If you’d like to learn how to make sushi at home, check out our easy tutorial on how to prepare the ingredients and make your own fillings!)

Pomegranate dressing salad, and sushi roll

To accompany the sushi, we served a simple tangerine and pomegranate salad. A bed of greens with pickled shallots, tangerine slices, and pomegranate arils dressed with a simple pomegranate and red wine vinaigrette.

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To drink, we made pomtinis; pomegranate martinis made with vodka, Triple Sec, and pomegranate juice, garnished with fresh arils for added flavor.

Refreshing Morimoto Soba Ale

We also snuck in a new favorite, Morimoto Soba Ale.

Pomegranate flavored cream cheese Rangoons

We finished with a dessert of fried chocolate wontons, made with pomegranate cream cheese and dark chocolate. They were to die for, so we made some more the next day as well.

How to open, seed, and juice a pomegranate from Kohler Created on Vimeo.

Finally, because we know you couldn’t be there to see us prepare all the wonderful goodies at our dinner party, we put together a short video tutorial on how to open a pomegranate, remove the arils and juice them. Fair warning, this is the first video we’ve made of ourselves, so we really have nowhere to go but up as far as quality.

Felix loves when we get new boxes

So there you have it. A wonderful pomegranate-inspired dinner party that is simple and light on the wallet. We want to thank our guests, Kate and David of CapturingComo.com, and two of our best friends, Anja and Blake, who are a constant source of support, pet sitting, and are willing to eat all the interesting things we’ve cooked up over the years.

Check out all the photos from our Dinner Party on our Flickr and stay tuned for a break down of each recipe!

A Working Weekend

By | Automotive, Backpacking, Contests, Food, Jessica, Kitchen | One Comment

The weekend is finally here, and although I’m stoked and grateful to be off work, I know we have a lot going on this weekend and plenty of projects to tackle. After several weeks of hard work, Neil’s beautiful 350z has been stripped and is ready to go off to the fabricator for its new steel skeleton. He’s actually at home, putting the finishing touches on it right now.

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Before (Spring 2009)

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When he started

passenger side clean

Now after lots and lots of work

We’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning to take it to St. Louis where we can hopefully find time to also celebrate our four-year anniversary. I can’t believe we’ve been together for four years already! Since we typically spend our wedding anniversaries backpacking, we like to spend our “original” anniversary in St. Louis taking in plenty of good food and all the food stores we don’t have here in Columbia, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. We’re so destitute.

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We’ve also been doing tons of freelance. One of my recent little projects is the promotion for Have a Healthy Holiday, organized by Crystal of The Thrifty Mama, and involving a wonderful group of bloggers, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with also. I’m usually pretty mum on my current projects, but since this is out there now and involves healthy food and sharing recipes, it’s probably right up a lot of your alleys. I know I’ll be participating!

We’ve also been chosen to host a POM Wonderful Party, and just received our supplies in the mail. Tons of great ideas and tools and two MASSIVE boxes of pomegranates to play and cook with for our Dinner Party. I entered for a chance to host on a whim thinking my ideas were crazy and somewhat vague, but am excited they liked them enough to choose us. We’re putting together ideas this weekend, and can’t wait to share what we’ve come up with. We’re totally humbled as two of our favorite bloggers La Fuji Mama and Bell’alimento are also participating!

So lots of stuff going on around here, but all of it good and exciting, and every week is different and full of unexpected surprises!

What are you up to this weekend?

Our Weekend Halloweening

By | Clive, Cool Stuff | 2 Comments

Clive and Fred

I won’t lie. My brain is still in weekend mode. Wasn’t it just Friday? How does it go so fast!? We had so much fun this weekend, even while pup-sitting Anja and Steve’s puggle Fred. He was a wiggly little handful, but Clive kind of took the brunt of his energy and this morning had to be carried outside to pee because he was still so exhausted.

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:)

Clive socializes with the guests

We went to an awesome bonfire Halloween party at our friends Bob and Renee’s house. You may remember them from several weeks ago when we went to our first Renaissance Festival. We had a great time, and even dressed Clive up so he could attend. He of course, was a total hit, and they started calling him the “ladies man.” He felt pretty confident strutting around in his costume. Clothes make him feel like a person.

Bob and Jessica

Bob and I. He was a pirate and I went as a Volturi from Twilight. No, I’m not a twi-hard, just happened to have a cape and black dress.

Stephen Colbert and the pirate

If you didn’t already know, Neil is a serious Stephen Colbert fan. He decided to go as his idol. Pretty clever eh?

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I can’t help but take pictures of food. The Black Widow Cookies were so clever, that I plan to recreate them for myself (maybe Thanksgiving themed?).

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By the end of the party we couldn’t tell if Clive had been to a party or a rave. All in all a great weekend. Last night was pretty low-key. We settled in for a night of design work and scary movies. We watched Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (2004), and my all-time favorite Rear Window (1954). We ate far too much candy and bowl after bowl of our new chili recipe that we’ll be sharing later today. We need an extra day to recover from our weekend!

How was your weekend? Did you dress up? Eat any cool new foods? We’d love to hear about it so leave us a comment!