Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Look out London, Here we come!

We are packed up and preparing to leave for our 19 day trip around Europe....first stop London, England! Our friend Kristen was gracious enough to drive us to the airport and at 2:35 PM we will be boarding our flight and heading across the pond to London (with a quick stop in Chicago). After a year of planning and much deliberation, we both can't believe it is finally here.

Of course anyone that knows me well, knows that I am a meticulous planner. Thank goodness I have had the summer off, because I have been busy reading and scheduling to ensure we get to hit all of our "must sees" in each city. My sister, Meagan, and I have had a blast planning this trip together. Here is our tenative plan.

Day One
1. Arrive in London at 8:30 AM, July 15.
2. Catch shuttle transport to Novotel West hotel in London.
3. Head to Westminster Abbey, where we start a walk that tours all the major sites; Big Ben, London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Trafalgar Square.
4. Grab a bite to eat and maybe even some afternoon tea and crumpets (I love that word!)
5. Take the Thames River Cruise which passes many of the sites above as well as St. Paul's Cathedral, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London Bridge and the Tower of London.
6. Take the Tower of London tour.
7. Take the tube to the British Library. Here I'm most excited about seeing the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, handwritten Beatles lyrics and sheet music.
8. If we aren't too exhausted, we are meeting a guy Nick knows in London for dinner and a drink.

Day Two
1. Head to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
2. Visit St. Paul's Cathedral.
3. Catch a train to Windsor Castle. I am very excited about visiting the gardens here. They are supposed to be BEAUTIFUL. Also Marie Antoniette's home is on the grounds.
4. After we are finished at the castle, we will head back into Central London for lunch. From here, we might need to catch up on sleep and try to get over our jet lag, so we've planned a relaxing afternoon to do just that!

I just hope I can sleep tonight...with all this anticipation I'll be lucky if I catch a wink before we board the flight tomorrow. Goodbye Dallas, Hello Europe!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bloom Where You Are Planted

This morning, we were fortunate enough in Dallas to get a combination of no rain (finally) and cooler weather. So I headed out to the garden to do a little cleaning, before we leave for Europe. Since I had the brillant idea this year to grow a small garden in our backyard, I have been trying to figure out how to actually get enough vegetables for Nick and I too eat. We have also overcome a few obstacles, such as our dog Kobe getting into the garden three times and eating tomatoes and peppers. Somehow the plants have managed to recover, but I'm just starting to get fruit from those two plants. Here are a few pictures of my garden:

The first picture was went I planted the garden in April, the second picture is in May and the third picture is today. I had to pull up all the lettuce, because summer is not a good lettuce season. It's a good thing because this little innocent looking zucchini plant in the back....

turned into this massive giant....

The other issue I'm having is my cucumber plant. While I can't seem to get ANY tomatoes to grow, I have more cucumbers than I know what to do with. I have been frantically searching the internet to come up with recipes to use with cucumbers.

This is just one weeks worth of cucumbers. So today I will be headed to the store to buy some supplies to make cucumber salad, cheese stuffed cucumbers and cool sesame cucumbers. I also cut my first batch of zinnias from my zinnia bed. I received zinnia seeds from my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Bobby, from a place in Fredricksburg called Wildseed Farms. So I planted them this year in my front bed and they have done beautifully. The joy of these flowers is you can cut the flowers and the continue to grow more blooms all seasons. They really brighten up our kitchen table.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Meet Jack and Jill

Meet Jack
As you can tell from this photo, Jack has never met a couch or blanket he doesn't like. If you are sitting, Jack is in your lap. If you are standing, Jack is waiting for you to lift him up. He is the most lovable dog in the world. He is much more high maintenance than his sister, but you can't help but want to snuggle with him. This is hard for Kobe to handle, seeing as how Kobe likes to pretend that no other dogs in the world exist besides himself. In fact, he has perfected the art of ignoring Scout. With a dog like Jack around, he is having to work particularly hard to get all of Nick's attention.

Meet Jill
The elusive Jill...I snapped this one and only picture of her from across the yard. Apparently Jill is a little camera shy. When she sees the camera come out and take aim she is jumping or dashing out of the viewfinder before you can say "cheese". All the rest of the photos I took were simply a blurry streak. Jill is the only female staying at the Mauldin house, but is the least prissy of the bunch. She keeps to herself and much prefers some alone time, to being trampled by the other dogs. The sole exception is when she is running the fence line trying to chase the two Beagles that live next door.

Kobe and Scout are very excited to have houseguests of the furry persuasion around for the next week. It will be interesting to see what adventures lie ahead for them over the next 5 days.

Monday, July 5, 2010

4th of July Fun

Last night, Nick and I went to grill and have game night at Meagan and Jason's house. Jason made delicious blue cheese burgers from Sprouts, one of our favorite grocery stores. Once it was dark, Jason used his mad photography skills to snap these photos of us playing with sparklers.

We always have a great time hanging out with them and are getting excited about getting to travel around Europe with them for 19 days! I can't believe that we leave in a little over a week.
Today, Nick's parents came into town to drop off their two dogs, Jack and Jill, before they leave for their vacation in Colorado. We also are so lucky to be borrowing Nick's dad's fancy Nikon camera for our trip. We took Kobe and Scout to the lake and we snapped a few photos of them playing in the water. Kobe is a little water baby...he loves to swim and try to pounce on the waves. Scout is a little more reserved about getting in, but even he went swimming today.

I also got a chance to snap a few cute pictures of Scout, while I was trying to learn how to use all the features on the camera. Isn't he precious! We are so grateful to get to use Steve's camera. The pictures from vacation will be amazing because of him. We had a great time relaxing and visiting with family this weekend!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July

Nick just got the mail from yesterday and we were surprised to find the CUTEST card from my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Bobby. They always send the best cards, but my personal favorites are the ones of their dog, Bubba, decked out in thematic costumes. This was the adorable card we received for 4th of July. I only wish we were this creative with our holiday cards. We are lucky if we even get cards sent out, let alone come up with something this cute! Doesn't this just make you want to dress up your pets for pictures.

"Geeking Out" at SGC 2010

This weekend Nick and I helped out our friends, Craig and Kristen, at a gaming convention run by Craig's company ScrewAttack . We have never experienced a convention revolving around video gaming before and it was definitely an experience. The people in attendance and their level of excitement about all things "gaming" related is unreal. These guys (and some select girls) might typically be classified as nerds, but this convention made them feel as if nerds ruled the world. It's always refreshing to see a place where people are celebrated for their uniqueness and made to feel awesome for it. And I have to say, that though they were a quirky bunch, they were some of the nicest people I've ever met (especially the ScrewAttack staff). Not being a huge video game fan myself, aside from a few select Mario games, it was eye-opening to see such a large gathering of people, who build their entire lives around video games. We were both so impressed with Craig, his staff and the fan-base they have built. The whole event was so impressive and we were honored to get to help out and be a part of the action! Plus, working at the registration desk gave me my full share of laughs for the weekend. There were definitely some interesting characters who graced the halls of the convention center.

There were some highlights to the weekend's events for me...the Main Stage wall that was made entirely of balloons, Keith Apicary being pushed around on a grand piano while his minions sang the "Neo Geo" song, the volunteer guy who asked me about 20 times about his lost staff shirt, the Wet Conga Line, the WHOLE brentalfloss concert, Kristen and I getting SOAKING wet running to the car to go to the airport only to find that we no longer needed to drive anywhere, planning a rockin' VIP party in Kristen and Craig's penthouse suite, the dog dressed up as Pyramidhead for the Cosplay Contest and, of course, meeting Adam and Kristy who worked the registration desk with us. You get a little crazy sitting at a desk for 9hours but we had fun doing it! I hope a fooled people into thinking that I wasn't completely clueless about what was going on.
Now it's Sunday, July 4th and we are resting up, getting ready to dog sit for Nick's parents. Soon we will have not 2, but 4 wild and crazy dogs running around the Mauldin house. I am so excited for Scout and Kobe to get a visit from Jack and Jill. The trick is going to be to try and snap a picture of all four of them at the same time!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Skinny Nachos

Today, as I was surfing the web, I came across an excellent website that has delicious looking healthy recipes. Since I am not in school, I find I have a lot more time to cook dinner. Nick affectionately refers to me as "Summer Erin" during this time of the year. He says that in the summer I clean more, cook more and am generally more relaxed and easy going. Anyone who is a teacher can relate to this summer state of tranquility. During the summer I am all for trying out new recipes, even if they take an hour to make. Fortunately, this recipe is one I can add to my year-round rotation, because it is both quick and super tasty! And for anyone who has a husband that isn't a huge fan of healthy food, this is a great recipe to sneak in. These "skinny" nachos are full of flavor!

Skinny Nachos
7 pts for 14 Nachos (this is very filling)
Gina's Weight Watcher Recipes
Calories: 347 • Fat: 9.4 g • Protein: 27.1 g • Carb: 40.6 g • Fiber: 7.1 g

4 oz baked tortilla chips (I used Baked Tostitos Scoops)
8 oz 99% lean turkey breast (I used extra lean ground beef because Nick isn't a fan of ground turkey)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
1 cup fat free spicy black bean dip
1 1/3 cup reduced fat Mexican cheese like Weight Watchers
2 cups pico de gallo salsa
1/2 cup light sour cream
2/3 cup fresh cilantro
Preheat oven to 425°. Place chips on four oven-proof dishes or one large baking sheet.

Heat a large nonstick sauté pan over high heat. Add turkey. Season with cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper and sauté until cooked through, breaking up meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. When cooked, add bean dip and mix well.

Spoon the turkey mixture over the chips and sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake until cheese melts, about 6 minutes.

Remove the nachos from the oven, top with pico de gallo, sour cream, cilantro and jalepeños. Serve immediately!!

Our New Wheels

Two days ago, Nick and I decided to trade in the Maxima for a brand new Nissan Murano. It is BEAUTIFUL! I hardly ever say that about a car, but I truly love it. We had been talking about trading in my car for a couple months, but we finally got serious about looking. Nick had been looking around for deals and I thought we were leaning towards a Hyundai Sante Fe. He called me up Tuesday and said that he had been talking to the Nissan dealership. They were willing to give us a great deal on the Murano LE, that was chock full of upgrades.

It has a navigation system, which is a huge help to my "directionally challenged" self. The color is called "Painted Bronze" and it has "Caffe Latte" leather interior. I love the random color names car companies come up with. I have never driven an SUV before, but it is so easy to handle. The last two days, I have been coming up with excuses to run errands the last few days just to get to drive it around.
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