Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Words for Wednesday: What I'm Reading

Today's Words for Wednesday post is from the book I am currently reading LOVING! I devoured it! Sarah Addison Allen is a beautiful storyteller. I have loved all of her books with their small town feel filled with bits of magic. They are always just a perfect dose of sweetness for my soul and First Frost was not different. I would highly recommend it. Here's a peek at some of my favorite quotes and maybe you will see why. 
*If you do choose to read First Frost though, start with Garden Spells. It is one of her earlier books and features the same characters. 

"A woman's ability to surprise herself is far stronger than her ability to surprise others."

"Somehow, it's the real stories that are the hardest to tell." 

"...a prison sometimes isn't a prison at all. Sometimes it's simply a door you assume is locked because you've never tried to open it." 

"Happiness isn't a point in time you leave behind. It's whats ahead of you. Every single day." 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Happy Monday Shopping! Because Adoption Rocks: Guest Post

Happy Monday!! This weekend got a tad crazy and what was supposed to be a 5 on Friday post only got partially finished and so it has now become a 5 on Monday post, because sometimes that's how it has to roll. While I would have just saved it for next Friday (like typically happens) I really wanted you to see this post because of #1, so I am actually going to share just that... because very soon you might be one very lucky recipient of an awesome new wardrobe and because ADOPTION!

1.) Shop and Support, because cute clothes rock but adoption rocks more!! 
 The following is a guest post from the mom of this sweet family. 

Every morning, I stumble out of bed, grab my Coke-bottle glasses, and shuffle my way across the hardwood floors into the kitchen. Our four-year-old waits patiently for his oatmeal, and his hand always seems to find mine as I make breakfast in the early morning hours. I pour myself coffee as our two-year-old, his bedhead just as wild as his little heart, comes hustlin’ out of his room.


Motherhood, you guys. It’s chaotic and sleep-deprived and sweet and 100 kinds of awesome.

became a mom in a fashion that only God could create. I was a young, twenty-something newlywed learning more about the world, and more about its creator, every day. We were stumbly and we weren’t perfect, but we couldn’t help but sense that God was leading us both down a path to parenthood that, in the world’s eyes, was a bit unconventional.

My husband and I both started to feel the tug on our hearts for children who didn’t have families. We both grew up in safe and loving two-parent homes, and we couldn’t shake the idea of little ones not growing up without the structure and nurture a family provides. We knew we couldn’t do everything, but we could be open to doing something. We prayed, and asked God to lead.

One billion “only-God” stories later, and we were getting off a plane, welcoming our incredible one-year-old son into our arms, forever. Joseph joined our family via adoption from West Africa (you can learn much more about that here), and our lives have been so radically blessed by his presence. We grieve for what he lost with his fist family, but we praise God that he writes beautiful stories from brokenness.

Fast forward two years, and we welcomed a second son into our lives, this time the old-fashioned way. Asher fits into our family perfectly, and it’s a joy to see my sons grow and learn and play and explore life together.

And now, our hearts are open to more. And we continue to believe that God will form our family once again through adoptionThere are children here and abroad waiting for safe and loving homes, and it’s at the core of our heart that we might have the privilege of being a family for another little one (or ones). Due to logistics, this time our process will happen in the U.S. instead of abroad. We’re not quite sure what this adoption will look like, though we know we want to be a family for a waiting child.

Over oatmeal and apple juice in sippie cups, we talk about adding a new brother or sister to the mix. “I know, Mommy!” Joseph says, scooping in another mouthful of breakfast. “We’re going to have two sisters! And name them Mommy and Daddy!”

--

So, there’s a tiny glimpse into the big story God is writing. It’s a humbling, profound privilege to parent a child or children not born to me, and it’s not something I take lightly.
As we walk into the unknown and trust God that he will form our family in the ways only He can, we go through all of the paperwork and processes to ensure everything is done correctly and ethically.

We have just completed our home study, the giant 500-billion-page document written by a social worker who has poured over every detail of our lives to ensure that we are approved to be an adoptive family.

Adoption, as I’m sure you’ve probably heard, can be costly. Social workers, attorneys, agencies -- each are compensated to ensure things are handled the right way. We’re a young family that has been saving for a second adoption since we completed our first. Every Christmas gift, every extra bit, has gone into a special account for “someday.” And someday is here!

My husband is a pastor who took on an extra job as a high school speech coach this year, and I’m a freelance writer/editor who has taken on extra projects to make this adoption a reality. We are also trying to think of creative ways to tackle the fees.

Here’s where the fun part comes in: We’re hosting a GIANT shop-our-closets sale this coming Monday, April 27 at 7 p.m.

      I gathered more than 10 of my most stylish friends of all shapes and sizes, and together, we cleaned out our closets.
      We have around 200 gently-worn items in quality brands (think J. Crew, Banana Republic, Gap, Free People, Anthropologie, Sevenly). Basically, my basement looks like an amazing women’s boutique right now. You’re going to want this stuff!
      We’re selling it ALL (think 25+ dresses, 75+ tops, skirts, ethically-made jewelry, scarves, heels) in aHUGE Instagram auction-style fundraiser to combat adoption fees.
      To join in on the sale: Follow us at @craigsadopt, and get those bidding fingers ready!
      Each item will have a fairly low starting bid price, though we hope you have fun and bid generously! The sale will go on for 24 hours.
      To bid, you must have a PayPal account. If you don’t, go sign up here!

These shop-my-closet sales have become so popular on Instagram, and I love them! (I love scoring thrifted treasures -- you can have on-point style on a budget!)

Think of this sale as us doing the dirty work for you -- all you have to do is sit back and bid away -- knowing that 100 percent of all money is going directly to our adoption account.

From Me, 
The sale will be starting so very soon! I am excited to shop and am excited for what I am shopping for! While I not sure what our family will look like in the coming years as we grow from a family of 2, but I do know that I have a large tug on my own heart for adopting, fostering or a combination of both. I think families grow in all kinds of beautiful ways and I am excited to follow along on this sweet families journey! Now enjoy a little sneak peek of some of the awesome items that will be up for bid! 
Happy Shopping Friends!! 



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday Trippin! Carnival Breeze Ports of Call


So the glorious Florida sunshine has me missing the open seas! I had been meaning to "unpack" more of our last Carnival trip a long time ago and just have not gotten around to it. But my longing to be on a boat right now has me ready to reminisce. We went on the Carnival Breeze in November and loved pretty much every minute of it. However, we would have loved even more minutes had we been more aware of what could be found at each port prior to our trip. I had done plenty of research before we left and I thought I had a pretty clear picture of what would be best, but some of the details weren't super clear. So I thought I would share a little bit of what we discovered for any of those planning a similar trip!

1.) Miami
We didn't really think this one through, we were pretty cruise ship destination oriented and being from Florida our plan was simply to get on the boat. However, as we were leaving the ship on the way home we realized we probably should have given ourselves an extra day to explore places around Miami. Even though we are both born and raised Floridians we have never done a trip to the Everglades. That will be added to the next trip FOR SURE! I want to wade with the gators!!

2.) Grand Turk
This is undoubtedly our favorite island, not only of this cruise, but of any cruise we have been on. Grand Turk is 7 miles total. You are in port for 7 hours. That is a whole hour to explore each mile and we did pretty much just that! I knew going into it that I wanted to explore the lighthouse. While you don't actually go up into the lighthouse the grounds are beautiful and I heard that not a lot of people head out that far; the lighthouse is pretty much at the exact opposite point from the cruise port and based on what they tell you there is "no beach". However, I had read differently while researching, so we decided to head out on our own. One, because we like it that way anyways and prefer to spend our days in port just the two of us, without tons of other people who book the same excursion. Two, because the ship excursions don't really allow you to go at your own schedule/ pace. And three, because they charge way more than it will cost if you choose to explore on your own.

So upon exiting the ship we found and rented a scooter and started our trek out to the lighthouse. I will admit I was nervous being on a scooter, but Babe was a great driver and we arrived safely at the lighthouse (no admission fee). It was amazing!! There are two trails leading towards the water from the back of the lighthouse. If you take the one to the right you can explore an old armory that is now falling to ruins, as well as the coast line from the top of the cliff. However, if you explore the trail to the left it will take you down the cliff (not super steep, but rocky towards the bottom. I would recommend water shoes if you have them; we didn't) to a pristine white sand beach. There was no one else there but us and the rocks from the cliff had formed this perfect little pool so that the water was calm and swimmable. It was glorious!!
We stayed there for about two hours (lighthouse, trail exploring and private beach swimming) before we started making our way back to the boat. We made sure to leave ourselves time to stop at all the off-beaten places we spied on the way to the light house. One included an old, run-down, abandoned hotel (pretty sure it was named Coral Reef, but you can see what the entrance looks like in the above far left picture of our Grand Turk stops) and the other was a shipwreck at a pretty popular beach located right near the boat. I was surprised no one else was exploring the shipwreck. But we hopped right on. You can swim to it from the beach (not far at all, would even be reachable for older kids). We explored the length of the ship (interior) and then used the ropes hanging from the riggings to make a swing!! Seriously my favorite cruise port day of all time!!

*If you are looking for a more relaxed, less adventuorus day, the beach where the shipwreck was located is walking distance (probably .5 miles) away from the cruise port. They have lounge chairs, crystal clear water, snorkel rentals and a huge ship to explore. 

3.) La Romana
Photo from: Carnival
We didn't end up doing much in La Romana due to rain. Instead we decided to use the money we would have spent on an excursion to go and use the ships spa for the day. The ship has this glorious spa room with these therapeutic, heated lounges for you to lay on. They were so nice, and Babe, who had a sore back, said they really did help relieve a lot of the tension. However, if you do get off in La Romana this port is one that you can't explore from right off the ship. You walk off the ship to a transportation depot. You can't walk anywhere nearby. We did walk to the end of the gate to see if there was a better deal on renting a taxi to get to the old ruins (what we had been bound for when the rain really started coming down), but the deals are the same at the gate as they are at the terminal. However, still a better value than booking through the ship.

4.) Curacao
Oh Curacao! I had been so looking forward to this port. You see, I have ALWAYS wanted to go cliff jumping. I had found blogs that talked about this great place to do it from and so I was all set to go and try! We get off the ship and give the people the name of the beach we need to get to, but no one knew what I was talking about. Apparently there are older names for beaches and some have new or alternate names. So we walked further into the town center hoping someone would know which beach we meant. When I told them what we were looking for they realized we were looking for Playa Knip, which is 45 minutes from the port we were at. Because we got to port so late in the day it was too late for us to try to get there. Had we known more in advance we would have immediately gone to the Avis car rental (which is directly to the left as you exit the ship. We had looked for one right away but didn't see it; it is hiding behind a bush) and taken a car up the coast and then made our way back once it got dark (you are in port until 10pm). Instead we scratched our original plan, got back on the boat, showered and then went back out for dinner after the sun went down. Curacao is a great place for shopping and dining if you want to stay nearby. It is a beautiful town with bold colors and a fort like feel; great for pictures. The more adventurous exploring is further from the ship port. Next time!

*You can also book car rentals ahead of time, either through Avis or through the Budget Car rental at the casino in Curacao. By the time we got to the Budget place all the cars were gone and they would have had to be returned at 4:30, it was already 3:15.

5.) Aruba
Aruba probably ties for our second favorite port! It's a toss up between Aruba and The Baths in Virgin Gorda, which you can access by ferry from Tortola. Aruba was another destination where we knew we would be renting some type of our own motorized vehicle. We planned to go to Arikok, the national park in Aruba, which has a natural pool. I had read that the only way to get directly to the natural pool was by ATV, so that is what we got. It took a good bit of time to get out there and I would definitely recommend some type of off-road vehicle. However, it might be worth it to pay a little more for an ATV which has a back seat or cushion. We got a one-seater and I just sat in the extra space on the back; once you hit the rocky path, ouch!! My tailbone kept hitting the metal bars and it was not a pleasant ride. But the scenery was stunning, the natural pool totally worth it and the caves were amazing to explore! I won't give too much away, because you should get to be surprised, but you really should try to check out as much of the park as you can in the time you have. We did both main caves, the pool and even had time to stop at the little cafe on site to eat (it was decent, but not great). I do wish we had thought to pack a heavier snack so we could have spent more time exploring instead of stopping to eat.

*If you are afraid of bats the caves may not be your thing. I was fascinated by the bats, but they do fly freely and while there were not a whole lot, because it wasn't night, there were quite a few that flew right past us.
*You can take any vehicle into the park, however, you can not take cars directly to the pools. You can park some distance away and will be walking (a pretty fair distance) over rocky, steep terrain. Even from the top of the natural pool (where you will park the atv) you must be able to walk down stone steps. You should be pretty physically able to reach the pool.
*If you choose to swim in the natural pool, you should be a strong swimmer or else stay furthest from the rock wall that seperates the pool from open ocean. Every so option the waves will hit and come over the rocks and you will get swept up in the wave. You won't get pulled out of the pool, but will definitely get tossed around a bit. 
*This would be one cruise excursion I would be willing to look into booking through the ship. They rode in these open-air, off-road, jeep-like vehicles and mostly kept pace with the rate we were going. They had maybe 15 less minutes at the pools and I am not sure if they explored the second cave, but otherwise the cushy seats and guide might be worth the extra money. Though if you are prone to car sickness (I can be) I may think twice, the drivers were spinning donuts and driving crazy! It looked like a lot of fun, but it also might have been a cause for Dramamine.

Overall I think this was one of our favorite cruises, between the ship itself and the ports of call. I would highly recommend it if you are a cruise lover like we are!

Disclaimer: Choosing to do your excursions on your own can pay-off (see below), however, we know that we take the risk of something happening and not having the insurance provided by booking through the cruise. If you book your excursion through the cruise and something happens while on the tour (bus breakdown, accident, etc.) you are insured through the cruise and are guaranteed to make it back to the ship. If something happens and your tour gets stuck or you are late getting back to the ship they will make sure the ship doesn't leave you. However, if you book your excursion on your own time the boat will not wait for you if something happens. Ultimately, if you book your own excursion and something happens you are on your own. And if you miss the call time to be be back on ship, well, you're just SOL. We always make sure we are back near the ship an hour before call time, just in case we run longer than planned (hit traffic, etc.) we are safe to make it back in time.


An example of what we saved by going out on our own:
In Grand Turk
Our cost:
Scooter rental: $60.00 (+$15.00 tip after; optional)
Extras: $10.00 snocones and drinks at lighthouse
total: $85.00
perks: we had plenty of time to stop, explore and even pet the donkeys
VS.
Ship cost:
Excursion: $69.99 per person
total: $139.98
* The excursion is only about 2 hours and you are completely at the mercy of the tours time schedule. The bus that got to the lighthouse only stayed for about 15-30 minutes, which (in my opinion) is not enough time to explore the whole area even if you don't plan to swim. 

In total we saved over $50 dollars and also gained more freedom and time to explore at our own pace.
Hope you found this helpful! Happy cruising!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Words for Wednesday: Dreams and Things


I have been thinking a lot about my "bucket life list" recently. Trying to think of the things I want to do, the places I want to see, in my lifetime. I love this quote for many reason, but ultimately for all the promise it holds. We are made up of every bit of our past, present and future thoughts. The places we have visited before, the things we have already read, but also of all the dreams we hold and all the places that call to us for some reason. Right now what is calling to me is a nagging desire to see the world immediately around me, to immerse myself in it and explore its hidden corners. I would love to have a tiny house, hooked onto the back of a truck, that could take me from town to town. Take me from my little slice of Florida, all the way across the U.S., to the seas of the Pacific and back again. I would love to spend a few months trying out different states; eating in the mom and pop diners, browsing the shelves of a local bookstore, sipping coffee on the sidewalk of the corner bistro. And while I don't know if that will every really happen, at least not anytime soon, I believe that specific desire is a part of my soul for a reason and I believe it's part of the make-up of who I am. 

Who are you? What dreams are part of your makeup?