Thursday, December 31, 2009

"It was all started by a Mouse..."

Amy here. Attempting to tackle the "Orlando blog". I'll try to keep the pixie dust to a minimum, but no promises. Prepare yourself for a whole lot of Mickey!

So in order to spend some quality time with our favorite cartoon characters, we spent several days with our new friends Jerry and Amber in Orlando. This connection was probably one of the most obscure yet on this trip... we met our hosts through at least six degrees of separation, but the point was that we connected. And it was simply AWESOME. Seriously, this couple is phenominal. They have such great hearts for our world and are taking this idea of loving our neighbor seriously. I loved these guys and am so much richer a woman from our late night conversations.

And Amber took us to a dueling piano bar, which has been on the road trip bucket list for quite some time. It wasn't exactly as epic as we had hoped, but at least it was highly entertaining... and there was some major talent - these guys could play any tune! Here is one of the performers of the evening.

So besides Mickey (I promise we're getting to that) one of the main reasons we came to Orlando was my fabulous Aunt Lori!! As we have traveled the country, Bethany and I have been able to visit almost every single relation we have, which has been an awesome opportunity to connect with family. Lori was the only relative on my mom's side that we had left to visit, so visit we did! She was an absolutely fabulous tour guide while in Orlando - she really put forth a lot of thought and energy into it and we had a BLAST! But this was mostly due to the fact that she's a really wonderful person with a big heart for people and full of wise advise, as well as an adventurous side - she even went on a roller coaster with me! Basically, she is one cool aunt.

Lori surprised Bethany and me with a holiday treat of tickets to "It's a Wonderful Life" performed by a local theatre company. I loved it - always get a little teary eyed as George Bailey runs through the streets shouting "Merry Christmas movie house! Merry Christmas Emporium! Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building and Loan!" Oh, it really is wonderful.

Ok ok - here it is, what you have all been waiting for: DISNEY WORLD!!!!!!!

Thanks to Aunt Lori, we were able to spend three terrific days visiting several different Disney Parks. As usual, it was magic. I know, I'm too old and too realistic for this, but truly - I love Disney World! The rides, the characters, the music, the parades, the fireworks, the excessive use of mickey ears, the boat ride, the lines, Prince Charming (and Aladin, and Tarzan, and Jack Sparrow, and... haha!). And as much of a facade as it is, there is just so much stinkin happiness there. And I'm always for some happy!

Here we have Bethany - always dressed appropriately for the moment. Mickey almost swooned when he caught a glance of these ears!

Splash Mountain!!! If you look closely you can see our faces amid the thorny brambles... oh it's such a great ride. However, I spent the majority of it describing to Bethany who "Brer Rabbit" is... not the easiest thing to do while plunging 5 stories. She got the gist of it though. (:

Ok, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse has been my favorite since I was a small one. The first time I climbed through it, I started making mental notes for treehouse construction and totally came home and tried to rig up a water wheel to my treehouse. It didn't go so well. However, I discovered that this is still my favorite spot in all of Disney. It's so stinkin cool!

It's a Small World... actually, we're finding that it's really quite large. However, the ride was quaint as usual. Until our boat got stuck in the room with all the spinning geese and can-can dancers. Yep. Guess what song is still stuck in my head?

Here it is - the Mouse himself! Totally worth the 45 minute wait!! Oh boy were we excited!!! The reality of now being taller than Mickey was a little strange at first, but he seemed pretty secure in his height, so we got over it. I'm still kind of confused about his tail though... where is it?

(note the super cool matching sweaters - a sweet gift from Aunt Lori!)

Sleeping Beauty couldn't be left out of the holiday decor and made sure her castle was covered with icicle lights. It even "snowed" sudsy snowflakes on us as we made our way out of the Magic Kingdom... Oh Florida.

Although at this point our feet were so very tired, we still had Epcot to explore. So explore we did. (FYI - Epcot is the coolest park at Disney in our opinion!)

Here we find Bethany, the Viking conqueror and tamer of all things troll. Norway was quite beautiful and full of tantalizing pastry shops. Mmmm.

Oh I loved China and Japan! Super cool architecture and really fun people to talk with. This is my "ode to Asia" pose... for some reason I regularly am asked if I'm of Asian descent, which I find hilarious, but have decided to embrace it. So here I am, trying to fit the slipper.

Ok - great story here! Aunt Lori decided to sip on some fine Arabian coffee while Bethany and I roamed the corridors of Morocco (our favorite Epcot country). As usual, we made a friend. Not so usual, she taught us to belly dance. Well, she at least tried. But the funniest part was that as we flailed around, laughing our heads off, a crowd gathered and people started taking pictures as if we were some sort of Disney street performance!! Haha! Hoo boy... We definitely got a kick out of that!

In all, it was a fantastic weekend. And to think... it was all started by a Mouse.

Cuban food on my plate..

Holy moly. One more reason (in my long list) to love Florida!

Amy has this tactic of reverse psychology that she uses on me quite often...where she will downplay a certain place so that my expectations are really low...and then I'll end up LOVING it. Which was definitely the case with Florida. I expected to think it was kind of lame...but it is now rivaling NYC on my list of favorite places we've been on this trip.

I have to admit...I am a fairweather location enthusiast. If a place is warm and sunny, I'm a fan. So when Florida bathed me in its 85 degree weather, I couldn't have been happier.
But warm weather wasn't the only thing I will rave about because there's the amazing...

dun dun dun...


The first to introduce us to this was the wonderful Aunt Lori, who said that we must have Cuban food. So we did. And we feasted on coconut shrimp, mariquitas with mojo sauce, fish, yucca fries, black beans, rice, and fried sweet plantains:

While at the restaurant (Padrino's in Orlando) we got a condensed Cuban history lesson from the hostess. And it made me really want to go to Cuba.

Then when we were in Miami the next week we decided to go back for more. This time however, our waitress didn't speak any English (welcome to Miami) and we were both kicking ourselves for not paying more attention during High School Spanish class (thanks anyways Mrs. Ramirez).

This time we had more mariquitas (picture on left) which are fried plantains, but they are savory rather than the typical sweet fried plantains. And they come with this amazing garlic dipping sauce (mojo). It's good and good for you, but not so great for your breath. We smelled rather strongly of garlic by the time we had consumed our fill of mariquitas...but it was totally worth it.

This time we stuck with the same: black beans, rice and fish, but we added a sangria to our order.

And, third time's a charm. We were in Key Largo and were lured in by signs of Cuban cuisine. How could we resist? This was by far the most Cuban-y place we went to. Maybe the closer you get to Cuba the more authentic it gets? Mostly what I mean by this is that we were the only two white people in the place. It's moments like those that I just tell myself to try and "fit in" which, if you know me at all is kind of a funny thought (tall, blonde hair, pale skin...ya know). But it was completely worth feeling conspicuous when this lovely meal graced our table; yellow-tail fish:

Amy working on his head:

Needless to say, it was delicious.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orange groves, sandy beaches, and SUNSHINE!

Well friends - we made it.


The culminating point of this trip!

From the very beginning of this trip when asked where we were going, Bethany has confidently stated "We don't know exactly, but we are going to Florida" as I stood next to her with one eyebrow raised, not fully believing that this would happen. I mean, Florida is really really really far away.

And it is. But we made it!!! And you should have seen Bethany's face... actually, here - you can:
This is Bethany's "We're in Florida and it's WARM" face.

We actually spent a total of 16 days in the Sunshine State - our longest stay in any one state on this trip - and boy was it glorious! Bethany started smiling the moment we crossed the border and she hasn't stopped... it was really refreshing for us to be in warm weather. I realize that most everyone who has been reading this blog is currently under the frigid grip of Mr. Winter - hopefully this blog and the blogs to come aren't too offensive! In fact, go crank up the heat, throw on a hawaiian shirt and let us share some stories from the tropics!!

So first of all, we were told numerous times that we "MUST go to Saint Augustine". Being compliant, we did. And it really was cool. Think cobblestone streets, mission style architecture, salty air, and a hint of pirate, all lit up by countless strands of twinkle lights. We really liked America's oldest city (yes - oldest! Who knew? And we thought the Pilgrims were the big deal.)

We walked around on the grounds of the Lady of La Leche Mission (note the gigantic cross), the Lightner Museum, the Flagler College, and drove past the Fountain of Youth but didn't stop. I don't even know what we would have done with any more youthfulness.

So on our first day of basking on the beach, we began to compose a little ditty about this fine state... in the form of a rap. Haha! No joke... we're in the process of trying to figure out how to post it to the blog. Until then, just know that we love Florida enough to write a song about it.

Stay close - Disney World, Aunt Lori, and Cuban food are on the way!

Georgia's on my mind

So in our southwardly fashion: after South Carolina, it's time to hit Georgia! And everyone told us "You MUST see Savannah." So we did.

We got there and went down to River Street, which is the main old street which is now super tourist-y. This picture doesn't really do it justice, but the buildings looked amazing. They were really old and had things growing on them and just generally looked fascinating.

My summation of River street is: cobblestone, corny T-shirts and sweet shops. We got so many pecan praline samples that day, because we went to sweet shop after sweet shop and
they all have the same sugary goodness. We also thought it necessary to eat something to do with peach (we were in Georgia after all) but as it was December, apparently peach things are hard to come by. So we settled for [more free samples] some peach taffy. Amy didn't like hers so she gave me her piece too, so I was the peach consumer for the day.

We seriously searched high and low for some peach cobbler, but we kept getting redirected to restaurants all over town, and by the time we got to the seventh one we gave up. After all, if Paula Deen doesn't have cobbler, who does??

Then we stumbled upon a fun little shop and tried on these really cool dresses for a while, but just ended up buying some incense, because our car has taken on an interesting smell as of late. (Don't worry, we aren't burning the incense in the car)

Something new I learned while in Savannah was that John Wesley spent some time there. He lived there from
1736-1737 and worked as a missionary with all of the colonists and hung out with the Moravians. There's a big park with a big statue of him in Savannah. Gotta love the Wesleys..

Then after we had walked all over and seen what there was to see, a giant storm rolled in. Everyone was closing up shop and heading home for the day, schools were letting out early and the river was predicted to flood. I guess they take their thunderstorms seriously in Savannah!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Didn't they do more than just stuff their faces in South Carolina?

Yes indeed. Although the last blog was all about our Thanksgiving extravaganza, there were a few more blogworthy events that took place during our stay in the Palmetto State.

Rosemary (who starred in the previous blog) was not only a great cook, but turned out to be a fab tour guide. She showed us the in's and out's, the what's what, the coolest of the cool of Charleston on a beautiful sunny Black Friday.

So my thoughts on Charleston: it's a charming little old Southern town. Very genteel feeling. Lots of fun old things to look at, such as sweet grass baskets. Apparently these baskets go way back (to slave days) and are native to the South Carolina coastal areas. They're really pretty. And really expensive.

Then we went to go and see Rainbow Row, which was a bunch of really cool old buildings all next to each other and all sorts of different colors. It was hard to capture the entire street, but here's a bit of it.
They also had gas lamps on the outside of the houses, which was pretty dang cute.

My other favorite thing to look at while in this region is Spanish Moss. I have never seen the real deal before, and it's pretty amazing stuff! Apparently it's neither Spanish nor moss.
I was reading it was named Spanish because people thought it looked like Spanish men's beards. And I forget the rest. But anyway, it's hangy and it has been harvested in the past for things such as stuffing for beds. Ya know. The usual things you would use Spanish Moss for.

This photo is an excellent segue from Spanish Moss to plantations. This particular picture was taken at the Magnolia Plantation. Which boasts the US's oldest gardens. (As does the plantation down the road, as does the plantation across the street.) The gardens were impressive though, and the shrubbery maze was a-maze-ing. It was also incredible to realize that we were walking around a real, old honest-to-goodness plantation. It suddenly made everything I've read in history books about the slave trade and the Civil War become much more real. And bizarre. It was bizarre to walk around in the old slave cabins and see a smidgen of what the slaves went through. To see how "normal" it was back then and how wretched of a piece of US History that was. (And to know that slavery is still happening today, all over the world) To think that we could actually own a human being?

An old slave cabin:

The rest of our Charleston time was filled with things like yummy Thanksgiving leftovers, laughs with Rosemary, Fried Green Tomatoes, Corn fritters, and sunshine & seashore.

After Charleston we headed South for Edisto Beach. Some of Amy's friends generously offered us their time share condo for 4 days, and we gladly accepted.

Our four days generally consisted of naps, jumping around on the beach, trying to record our song (still in the works), making food (stir fry and curry: our two current favorites!), and watching TV. Neither Amy nor I are TV watchers (I've probably watched TV about 10 times this entire year) so this was quite the novelty for us. We even caught Obama's speech about deploying more troops to Afghanistan. So for the first time in a long time we felt "in touch." And then we watched some good ol' VH1 reality TV (oh boy) as well as some Wife Swap on Lifetime. Some bizarre happenings in TV world.. but incredibly entertaining.

The condo was managed by Wyndham resorts and I so enjoyed this plastic sleeve around the pen they left for us that I had to take a picture.

The decor was my second favorite thing (after the pen sleeve). Here is a snapshot of the wallpaper in our kitchen. It had these happy little monkeys all over it. We named this one Nicolai.

Then Sunday rolled around and we decided we wanted a legit Southern Baptist church experience. We were in the South after all. So Amy called up the front desk (she became great friends with all of the people at the front desk by the end of our stay there) and asked them where would be the best place to go to get an authentic Southern Baptist experience? And so they sent us to the New First Missionary Baptist Church just up the road a piece. And authentic it was! The ladies wore their dresses and hats and the men wore their suits and everyone shouted "glory" and "hallelujah" at frequent intervals. There was a choir (and a cowbell!!) and a whole lot of friendly people who invited us back, anytime we happen to be in town. It was quite the experience!

And of course, we spent some quality time with the lovely Atlantic. We got an insider tip to go down to a certain stretch of the beach at sunset in order to see dolphins. And so we got there and waited and looked and waited and looked and sure enough...we saw dolphins!! We saw their little fins gracefully glide up and down from below the surface and we jumped up and down in excitement. Who doesn't love dolphins?

And then we spent an entire afternoon leaping around the shoreline and taking pictures. There is a whole series of these, but I particularly liked this one of Amy.

Thus ends our Carolinian adventures.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

So very thankful… in South Carolina.

Many people have generously offered their homes to us along the way this month in which to celebrate Thanksgiving – including my mom. (: And many more have asked us where we planned to be for the holidays. We didn’t really know, and actually weren’t too concerned. We knew wherever we were would be the right place and that God would set it up according to what was on His heart. So, it was not Brooklyn NY, it was not Sanford NC, not Atlanta GA, not Boise ID, and not Salida CO. It was in fact Charleston SC where we ended up cooking the bird.

There are many reasons that this specific Thanksgiving will be memorable to me. One being that it was 70 degrees outside and Bethany and I got to unzip the “warm clothes” suitcase! Tank tops on turkey day is a new one for this Colorado girl! Another memory making moment was listening to the sizzle of turkeys being deep-fried all over the city. Wow.

But the best part of this Thanksgiving was my new friend Rosemary. Bethany is friends with Rosemary’s granddaughter who connected us with this gem. Truly, Rosemary is the bee’s knees. And boy can she cook! She could basically host her own tv show… it a was a privilege being in her kitchen! We had it all: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, veggies, onion pie, cranberry sauce, rolls, and of course pumpkin pie! Bethany oversaw the mashed potatoes and I had my first experience with making cranberry sauce – turned out to be quite tasty. Here is the recipe if you are looking for a way to shake things up for your Christmas meal. But don’t ask for the onion pie recipe – Rosemary keeps that one under lock and key!

Perfect Cranberry Sauce -Empty a 12 oz. bag of fresh or frozen cranberries into a saucepan. Transfer 1/2 cup to a small bowl.

Add 1 cup sugar, 1 strip orange or lemon zest and 2 tablespoons water to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the reserved cranberries.
Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Cool to room temperature before serving.

(Following is the variation we made)
Nutty Cranberry Relish:
Quarter 1 each unpeeled orange and tart apple, remove seeds.
Roughly chop the fruit with 1/2 cup sugar in a food processor.
Fold into Perfect Cranberry Sauce along with 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans.

So here is a picture of “The Family” that met around the table that day. Neighbor John joined us and spun tale after tale of hunting gators and 5 foot long rattlesnakes. Rosemary kept me laughing through the whole meal, what a character. Bethany looked lovely in gold. I like this picture a lot – and to think we had just met the day before!

Although the day has passed, the need in us to express gratitude has not. From the bottom of our hearts, Bethany and I want you to know that we have been blessed by each one of you so deeply this year. Thank you for your friendship – old and new. Thank you for your encouraging words. Thank you for supporting us on this crazy adventure. Thank you for opening your homes to us. Thank you for opening your refrigerators to us. Thank you for listening to us. Thank you for sharing your stories. You have taught us so much. Thank you for your advice. Thank you for good directions. Thank you for being spontaneous. Thank you for welcoming us. Thank you for cheering us on as we depart. Thank you for keeping in touch. Thank you for worrying. Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for your notes and emails and voicemails and blog comments. Thank you for being a part of this country.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Carolina of the Northern persuasion

Well, I (Amy) am finally entering back into the world of blogging. Bethany has been doing such a fine job that I almost decided to let her take over logging our adventures. But then we went to North Carolina and I had so much fun that I am gladly back in business.

So North Carolina is officially the 25th state that we have been to on our trip – half way there! It was highly celebrated, although I can’t really remember how… I’m sure it involved some sort of shouting and fist pumping with the windows down. Yeah, that sounds like our style.

One of the driving forces for coming to NC was my friend Micah whom I’ve known for several years. We met at an Aretha Franklin concert and since then he has visited us in Colorado for two summers, in which we have had some pretty intense adventures together. Micah has quite the aptitude for mathematics (which works well for him being a highschool math teacher), a great hand at breakfast foods, some amazing musical skills, two of the best dancing feet I know, and has some great words to live by such as “don’t should on yourself” which we have been putting into practice. Needless to say at this point, we had loads of fun with Mr. Tyler. Here is our “good ole boy” on one of our adventures in the woods.

Since we had such a great experience of going to school in the Bronx (see previous post), we asked if we could sit in on Micah’s math class, which of course he agreed to. Bethany thoroughly enjoyed herself, being the math whiz that she is. I colored. But the best part of our school day was meeting some true North Carolinians who introduced us to (deep breath!)…. (really – you need to take a BIG breath for this one)…….. eating coon. And no – it’s not raccoon – most definitely “coon”. We were informed that we must be from another planet for not knowing how delicious this vermin was. In fact, it was going to be gracing the Thanksgiving table for many this year. We learned that coon is best baked and can be stuffed like a turkey. It’s good to check if it has rabies simply by looking at the eyes – if they are rolling all around like marbles, shoot it dead, but no eating. Oh – and coons are apparently some of the cleanest animals because they wash their hands twice; once before eating and once after.

Seriously, we laughed til there were tears pouring down my face. Such an educational experience. Bethany and I both agreed that if either coon or possum were offered to us, we would heartily agree to try it. (Yes – Bethany – the vegetarian!) If only we had known earlier… we’ve passed up at least a dozen meals lying on the side of the road in Vermont.

The next Southern phenomena was of course “The Pig”, or Piggly Wiggly. Here is Bethany and Micah saluting the fine establishment. In it we found ourselves overwhelmed by another phenomena, which was their PLETHORA of barbeque and hot sauce. I have never seen this much sauce in my life. And oh the names… “Bone suckin sauce”, “Larry Loose Lips”, “Firebreather”, and maaaany others.

Our next Micah adventure took place at his “coffee house” – he converted the front room of his house into a music venue complete with a stage, sound system, and sparkly lights. We invited a bunch of people over for a house show or open mic of sorts. This was a big night for Bethany and I as we have been working on a song for our road trip for a couple months now. And I’m so happy to say WE FINISHED OUR SONG!!! This was perfect timing and I’m also happy to say that the debut went over very well. We are currently working on recording the song and will post the link soon.

The other accomplishment of the evening was our attempt at making a southern specialty: Sweet Potato Pie! I had never even heard of the thing, but since sweet potatoes are North Carolina’s state veggie, I was excited for the experience. And boy, I was not disappointed. It may even replace pumpkin pie in the years of Thanksgivings to come for me! This picture is somewhat deceiving in that I look mighty pleased with myself… in truth, I was a little nervous because the taste testing was about to begin and we were serving this to our guests – one of which was a chef and the other was a true Southern belle… but both gave the thumbs up and even asked for the recipe! Sweet relief.

As I mentioned before, Micah has some fancy feet, and so we all migrated to Durham for a night of swing dancing! Ohhhhh I do love to dance! They had a live band who really knew how to groove and we cut loose for about 3 hours. Bethany definitely gets the most improved award – by the end of the night she was truly cutting a rug with the best of them. I still have blisters on my toes!! It was quite a fun time. And I think we worked off a portion of the fried foods we’ve been consuming! (At least I can hope!)

On the way home, Bethany and our new friend Kate fell asleep in the back, but Micah and I still had some energy so we decided to find a real cotton field; which we did and picked a couple handfuls of it. This was definitely not legal, so I’d appreciate you keeping this little tale to yourself. (: However, I loved touching it and thinking about how much this little ball of fluff defined the lives of so many… how so many heads were bent in the hot sun and fingers once worked to the bone in these fields and injustice ran rampant. And it makes me wonder how this piece of cotton goes from the plant to being the shirt on my back today – who made the thread? Who dyed it? Who sewed it? And were they fairly paid for it? What kind of conditions are their factories? Is slavery truly ended or have we just made it less visible to ourselves? I’ve been made aware of enough facts on this subject to know the answers to these questions. The real question is how am I responding. Hmmm… thoughts in a dark field.

So after an action-packed weekend with Mr. Tyler, we packed up and headed to Charlotte where we met the “boom boom Saluoms”! Oh boy – simply spectacular folks! They fed us incredible Lebanese food, laughed at hummus jokes, and provided a wonderful atmosphere for us to take a day off and rest. We felt so well taken care of! Both George and Sarah fed me well, both with food for the stomach and with food for thought… of which I’m still chewing upon.

Our next stop was in Asheville. We knew nothing about Asheville. Except that everyone said it was cool. And so we went. And it was cool. Lots of art. Lots of hippies. Lots of words like “organic” and “vegan”. Those words make us happy. (: We met up with a sweet girl named Kaitlyn who gave us a quick tour, which included exploring this HUGE inn that was hosting their annual Gingerbread house competition. Wow. I’ve never seen gingerbread of this caliber. Definitely inspiring! If you keep your eyes open, you might catch the winning frosted houses on Good Morning America.

Asheville was also our first experience with Couch Surfing. For those of you who don’t know what CS is, it’s basically an online network comprised of people who are willing to let other people stay in their homes for free. Yes, I know it sounds sketchy, and yes, we have been overly warned of the potential dangers. But we’ve only ever heard good things about it, so we gave it a try and were not disappointed. Especially because the house that we stayed at was right outside of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Which meant one thing: MOUNTAINS!! Oh, it’s been awhile… It truly did my heart good. I got to go for a run along the ridge and watched the sun pour into valleys and clouds move in and out of peaks – totally beautiful. Bethany and I spent the day driving through these blue mountains and even stopped for a lovely hike, hoping to find a waterfall, but we never find waterfalls… it was still wonderful. The country mouse got her fill. (:

Basically, North Carolina was great. Coon and all.