In search of Aurora

Seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) has long been on my bucket list.  I’ve followed a handful of pages on Facebook for a few years and have several websites bookmarked which give forecasts and alerts of upcoming Aurora events.  About a year ago we started planning a trip to Iceland with my Mom.  I found a great house to rent in the town of Vogar – one of the reviews of a previous renter said they saw the Northern Lights right from the back deck, perfect!  And an even greater stroke of luck, there is a direct 5 hour flight out of Boston.  We read that it is best to have at least 4 nights in order to have a better chance at seeing the Lights, so we went from Tuesday morning to Saturday evening.  It was actually Monday night when we left Boston, with the flight and time change it was early Tuesday morning when we landed in a super windy rain storm.  We had rented a car from Budget (we didn’t plan on any off-roading so no 4WD) and braved our way out to the car and only got lost two times driving to the rental house.  We slept for a few hours and then went on an afternoon drive to the southwest peninsula (Reykjanesbaer) where we had lunch at the Rostin cafe.

The first night we saw the brightest Lights we would see all week and right from our back deck, beautiful! (the first picture is a 3 second exposure taken on my cell phone)  We are amateur photographers so our camera settings weren’t perfect but seeing the Lights in person was amazing, although we give the display about a 2 out of 10.  It was also mostly cloudy the whole time we were there and there was quite a bit of light pollution across from where we were staying. One night we did drive out to a darker spot, but after waiting about 2 hours in the car for the lights we called it a night. We are now planning another Northern Lights trip, considering North Pole Alaska as they seem to see the lights in some form every night.


We drove the Golden Circle on Thursday which was forecasted to be the warmest/sunniest day but we found ourselves driving through mini snow storms most of the day.  We started out at Thingevellir National Park to see the Tectonic plate separation as a result of earthquakes in 2000.  This is also where Game of Thrones filmed Eyrie Pass scenes – pretty cool!

Next up on the drive is the Geysir – pretty neat to see snow on the ground but warm water is running down the hillside and steam rising from random spots in the ground. We saw the main Geysir erupt, it seems to erupt every 3 minutes or so.

The final stop is the Gulfoss waterfall. You can hear the waterfall before you see it, and it is immense. Such an amazing sight.  It was cloudy when we were there but it is said when the sun shines there are mini rainbows everywhere from the mist.

We drove down from Gulfoss and through the Southern section of the Golden Circle route, where we saw many geothermal vents in the town of Hveragerdi which has the highest concentration of greenhouses in Iceland and where much of Iceland’s homegrown produce is grown.

On Friday afternoon we went into Reykjavik to complete a few other “must do’s”- we ate fish-n-chips at the Reykjavik fish house (and happened to meet a couple from the city next to where my Mom lives!). I found the EVO Gamer monument for a friend whose name is on one of the tiles. Then we headed down the street to find the famous hot dog stand – Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – for a hotdog with the works. Next we drove to the Sun Sculpture (there is temporary  free parking right by the sculpture) and took a few pictures. Our last planned stop had been the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral but in talking to a couple while getting our hotdogs they said there was a funeral going on and part of it was under construction so you couldn’t go inside…so we decided to just drive by on our way back to Vogar.

Earlier in the week we had found a Dunkin Donuts inside a gas station store and there was a little cafe called Ginger – we ate there twice!  The chicken with vegetables (roasted sweet potatoes!) were delicious. Because of our schedule of staying up almost all night to catch the Lights, we weren’t very adventurous in going to any local restaurants. The two grocery stores are Bonus and Kronan – we preferred Kronan as it more resembled the typical US grocery store.   We found shopping in the grocery store slightly confusing – we had brought coffee creamers with us but ran out so we attempted to buy coffee creamer…it turned out to be yogurt!  We went back to the grocery store and a very nice couple helped us find the right one – if you go, the product on the left is yogurt, on the right is creamer –


One attraction we did not check out was the Blue Lagoon – the geothermal hot spa. It was fully booked the whole week we were there! And after reading some reviews and cautions we decided this was for the best for our hair and Mom’s knees.

During the trip we were both reading books by the same author 🙂  And I got the idea to paint my nails in Northern Lights inspired colors from (naturally) Pinterest –

The weather was what I would classify as ‘winter’ – mostly cloudy, in the mid 30s and one day we had a snowstorm with about 3 inches. We didn’t have plans to hike in the snowy areas so we didn’t bring special weather gear and we were plenty warm. The houses there are heated with geothermal heating which worked very well – we could walk barefoot and feel the warm tiles under our feet. We were plenty warm at night and even considered opening a window as it was at times too warm for us to sleep!

The trip was fabulous overall, great time spent with my Mom and our entire travel experience was A+!  Turning my thoughts next to my new and improved garden, looks like the weather will be perfect on Saturday here for beginning the construction…


Operation: Turkey Day in F-L-A

I’ve been meaning to post this one for weeks, December flew by!  About a year ago we started planning to spend Thanksgiving with my Mom in Florida. Because we hate leaving our 3 dogs in the kennel we started searching for a dog-friendly rental home.  We found a great one on the FlipKey website – it was harder to find one with a full fenced back-yard than I thought!  It was only a few miles from my Mom’s and about 20 minutes from the Disney parks. We rented a small SUV to not put miles on our own car (it was 800 miles one way).   Next on our list was to get Disney tickets…we are military so took advantage of the Salute to Heroes promotion and got 4 day park hopper passes for about half price.  These passes also included the Fast Pass which turned out to be a huge benefit.  I thought I’d share a few things I learned from this Disney experience:

1) We had no idea how busy Disney would be the week of Thanksgiving…but yeah, us and a billion of our closest friends.
2) The passes we purchased at the Military Morale office were just “vouchers” and so had to be exchanged at a ticket office for actual park passes.  So we planned ahead and went to Animal Kingdom on our first day in FL (Sunday), received our passes and spent a few hours exploring the Africa exhibit. Note that you cannot use the Fast Pass until you have the actual passes, so once we had the passes we were able to load them into the app and reserve our times for Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth (on Tuesday!)
3) Parking: we purchased preferred parking at Animal Kingdom and had to walk for about 3 minutes to the front gate.  They are really efficient with the trams though so on the other days when we used regular parking, there was never a long wait for a tram. Note that if you hop parks in a day, the parking you pay for at one park is good at another park (this was helpful when we went to Hollywood Studios in the morning and then Epcot at night).
4) Getting into the park: if you have a bag you have to get in the line to have it searched, those without bags go right to the gates.  The times we went (10am)  it was not a long wait, maybe 10 minutes.
5) Fast Pass: priceless.  I used the Disney app on my phone to register our passes and then I was able to use the Fast Pass to set up times for us to ride Soarin’, Spaceship Earth and Space Mountain.  Other rides were already fully “booked” with the Fast Pass (like I said there was a billion people there!) and wait times were over an hour and a half at some points :/
6) Disney phone app: priceless.  You can set up your Fast Pass times, see the wait times at all the rides/attractions, get maps etc.
7)At all the parks I was impressed with how clean it was given how many people there were in the park, and there was never a wait for a bathroom!

We didn’t spend hours and hours at each park, we went around 10am and stayed until around 1-2pm.

We first went to Animal Kingdom and made our way through Africa, the bird enclosure was so cool with different brightly colored birds.  The meerkats were super cute and of course the Tree of Life was an amazing sight.  We would definitely return here to see the rest of the park and ride the Safari.

We went to Epcot during the morning to ride Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth. We took the boat ride across to the American Pavilion and just missed seeing the American Adventure (runs once an hour). One night we went back for the Grand Illumination and took time to see the O Canada! attraction which was very interesting (and air conditioned!) The Grand Illumination and Fireworks are brilliantly presented, a definite don’t miss!

We went to Hollywood Studios mostly to see a childhood friend who is a Disney actor, we used the Fast Pass to get on the Great Movie Ride (slow moving through iconic movie set ups) and then walked around a bit. We are not huge roller coaster fans so Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith coaster didn’t hold any appeal for us.  I was sad to find out the Backlot Tour ride had closed in 2014, it was one I remember being so very interesting and exciting.  There are a bunch of new things happening for Hollywood Studios with a new Star Wars and Toy Story attraction area, so some things are already closed off for that construction.

Magic Kingdom we spent the least amount of time at – we arrived right in time to see the parade which was neat, we rode Space Mountain, had lunch and then tried to walk around the Castle…there was just so many people it was not enjoyable.   I would definitely like to go back at a less-crowded time and see the Castle at night.  We heard that Tinkerbell flies down the guidewire from the top of the Castle to the Tomorrowland pavilion at night during the fireworks show!

This was a wonderful trip, capped off with a turkey dinner and swim with my family on Thanksgiving day at my Mom’s ❤

It’s just a bunch of Hocus Pocus

I love Halloween! The pumpkins, ghosts, things that glow in the dark, oooh!  I have always loved having a spooky themed dinner party and dressing up. About 10 years ago I dressed up as a fairy from the Nickelodeon show Fairy Godparents and my Mom was gum stuck to the bottom of a sneaker shoe (you see where I get my creativity from 🙂 ) . When I was younger I dressed up as the Marvin Martian from the Looney Tunes cartoon…complete with a metal colander on my head!  Last year I decorated our foyer in a Harry Potter theme – complete with “floating” candles, sorting hat, magic wands and glowing potions. I was going to dress up as Professor Umbridge but it was 100 million degrees that day and I ended up just wearing a glow in the dark shirt.

One of my all time favorite movies is, of course, Hocus Pocus.  So much so that I saved it to the DVR last year and have periodically watched it all year long .  For some reason I have never dressed up as one of the Sanderson sisters, but this year I decided to be Winifred!  I started pulling everything together in July.

Turns out there are a lot of other Hocus Pocus fans out there and Pinterest has been a solid resource for the DIY costume:   the red wig is the same one as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the under dress is a purple renaissance costume, easy to find green and black striped socks and a green velvet cape.

For the spell book, I found a cardboard version which I painted goldish-auburnish, a cool pendant with an eye in it, and some shape-able rubber snakes that I painted silver.


My husband found a lacy over-dress and collared tunic and chunky beaded necklace at good will. I used glitter glue to make the symbols down the front of the dark green lace over dress, and thin gold rope along the edges of the collard tunic and as a finishing detail, used floral wire to insert in the corners of the collar to make them curl under.  I crafted the belt “buckles” with the gold rope  and the glitter glue and took apart an old costume necklace for the center stones.

Here’s the final result, my most epic costume yet!  And lucky for me, Thackery Binx stopped by dressed as a black pug 🙂



A bug in the craftroom

One of my BFF’s loves ladybugs and I when I saw this on Pinterest I knew I had to attempt it – an applique ladybug table center piece.  Thanks to pre-selected fat quarter sets picking out the fabrics was easy, the back is a pre-quilted pre-batted black and white paisley print.  I happened upon a ladybug party invitation which was the perfect template for the ladybug. After a trial run I discovered the black fabric I picked out was too flimsy for the head and antenna so I found a thicker fabric and that made it much sturdier.


Two parts of this project were  a challenge for me  – getting the corner blocks sewn in properly (my seam ripper got a workout after I realized my first mistake) and the ladybug applique.  Thank goodness for YouTube videos on appliqueing! I did a practice run which was helpful to say the least.  I wanted to prevent the sides of the ladybug from lifting and because I didn’t quilt the whole piece it needed something to hold the middle down. So I experimented with some stitches on my sewing machine and found this scalloped one –


I was really happy with the effect! I learned when using one of these automatic stitches you need to let the machine do the work and not hurry it along, you can see a few scallop stitches that are not as dense as the others where I pulled the fabric too quickly (patience ladybug!!).  I will definitely experiment more with the stitches on the machine now that I have some confidence.

My next project is my Halloween costume which I am SUPER excited about and will be posting about soon!


And the verdict is…

All negative! No celiac, no gastritis, no Barrett’s esophagus. While I’m grateful there’s nothing medically wrong with me I’m frustrated because this most likely means IBS and/or it’s my food sensitivities (wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy). <sigh>

So after way too much googling and learning a lot, I decided to start with giving up my coffee. It wasn’t a several pots a day habit, just 3 coffee mugs a day – about 14oz per mug though – and the first morning cup always on an empty stomach which I’ve learned provokes all kinds of undesirable reactions. Tough at first, I definitely went through caffeine withdrawal, but it’s been effective in relieving 90% of my symptoms.  I should say 95% giving up because I have experimented with just one cup of brewed ground coffee (based on some things I learned on the internet) a few days a week with only a slight reaction.  On several celiac blogs I found a recommendation to try chai tea to “mimic” the coffee, which really works! Admittedly I use 3 tea bags in one mug with just a little non-dairy creamer, but so far so good.  I am in love with Tazo brands flavored chai – Vanilla Caramel, Chocolate, and Pumpkin Spice.  (psa: they were on sale last week at Target for $3/box!)

I’ve been lenient on the dairy and wheat intake, but am still 90% better than I was a month ago.  So now to focus on better clean eating and seeing if I can narrow it down to what irks my GI tract – which probably means I should truly eliminate the sensitive foods for at least 2 months. One idea I thought of to get more of a range of veggies/fruits is to have a different color for each day – like Monday would be orange: oranges, cantaloupe, orange pepper, butternut squash – etc.  This strikes me as easier than trying to eat several different ones each day!  And provides me with a neat list of blog posts to make 🙂

In addition to my what-to-not-eat obsession, Fall season and Halloween dabbles abound, I’m SUPER excited about my Halloween costume for this year…stay tuned!

Winter is coming!

And not soon enough if you ask me (or Jon Snow).  Thoroughly disappointed in my garden this year – after all my hard work with the cover crop, using hay as a mulch/cover, fighting off the slugs, etc, just ugh. All for a handful of tomatoes, one spaghetti squash and well, enough cucumbers for 2 half batches of pickles so that’s a positive.  I’m currently babying my 8 or so corn stalks to possibly bear me one, JUST ONE, ear of corn.  Couldn’t resist having the DH grab the last brussel sprout and baby broccoli plants at the local home store, those are going to have to go in a container though I think.

As un-fruitful as the garden has been, it is apparently very hospitable to my “Charlottes” (aka sewing machine spiders or Argiope).  For the past few years we have had one or two pop up in mid August around the pool and in the garden and they are so cool to watch!  And huge, holy moly I’ve never seen a spider that big.  We named them both Charlotte – Pool Charlotte and Garden Charlotte – and they do their thing and then disappear, and an offspring appears again the following summer.  Well, THIS summer we have had EIGHT Charlottes!!  As of this morning I counted 7 though so someone moved out, but the rest are all hanging out in large webs strung between the shrubs, or the cucumber trellis or between the fence and the asparagus.   Strangely only two of them are really big right now, the rest are sort of medium size so will be interesting to see how big they all get and if there are any egg sacs leftbehind for the winter.  These are the two biggest(about 3″ top to bottom) they are outside the garden area:


This sneaky one made this web overnight from the fence to the asparagus ferns, I almost walked right into going to water the corn (it’s only about 3 feet off the ground):


Okay so back to my disappointment garden –  my brain started turning and hatched the garden re-do project, woo! I’ve decided to tear out the existing boxes (4 years old), take down the fence and create a whole new garden with smaller and deeper boxes.  Of course new soil too which (already crossing my fingers) will be beneficial for next years plants.  Only dilemma is moving my asparagus – next spring will be year 4, I hate to dig them up as I keep reading they don’t do as well when transplanted but they can’t stay where they are!  My strawberry plants were going into their 3rd year, I haven’t researched how well they do with transplanting so may just start over with those in a dedicated box (or one of the neato strawberry planters that I see all over Pinterest).  Off to the drawing table!

Sometimes you just need a little sparkle

I used to have my nails done in acrylics for years and years, sometimes french tipped other times a daring dark or blinding bright color.  I had the same nail tech for all those years who I loved, and second in sadness only to leaving my longtime hairstylist behind was leaving my nail tech behind when I moved South.  And while I finally found a new hair stylist to love I just never found a new nail tech.  And so I’d grown out of that phase a little and embraced my natural nails (after taking 6 months to heal from the years of acrylics 😮 )

Every once in awhile I get the urge to have my girly acrylics though, especially the french tips.  I tried the drugstore diy kits…and those were a pretty big fail for me. My right hand never looked anything close to acceptable (I’m right handed) and I could never get that ridge between fake tip and natural nail to be smooth.  I’d always end up peeling them off after maybe 2 days because I couldn’t stand the imperfections.

Recently I tried an at-home gel system, bought the LED lamp and all.  I was super impressed with the Sally Hansen 3 step gel – easy to apply and with the lamp it’s totally dry within minutes, bonus! (as you can read about here I’m not known to sit patiently for long).    I picked out “Purple Prisms” -which on the box looks like a lavender base with sparkles – in reality it’s a clear polish with sparkles. I actually put a coat of Sinful Colors “Tempest” (a pretty lavender and a gift from my Mom) on first, then the prisms, then the top coat. Came out really pretty and it stayed on for days and days, almost a whole week. (side note, the Sinful Colors line is really durable – my “Tempest” pedicure lasted 3 weeks!)

Earlier this week I got an inkling to have some french tipped nails and I  happened to have some french tips in my manicure bag from the earlier failed diy attempts…so I get the bright idea to try the gel over the tips since it’s self-leveling.  Not super crazy about the sparkles over french tips (I AM in my late 40’s afterall)


but my bright idea worked! No ridge, yay!


I managed to snap 2 of the tips off within 24 hours – my natural nails aren’t very long right now, would work better with more natural nail to glue the tip to – but I know now I can pull this off for special occasion fancy manicures.  Or when my week just needs that bit of sparkle.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post…

In the midst of all my gardening, cooking and crafting dabbles going on I’m now taking on the challenge of going wheat-free :/  long story short, I’ve been dealing with some issues that just weren’t going away no matter what I ate or didn’t eat so my dr ran some allergy tests and boom, there it was – high allergy to wheat, low allergy to corn, eggs, dairy and soy. The dairy I pretty much suspected so that’s not so difficult to not eat/drink. But 2 eggs on top of wheat toast with a slice of cheese is my all time favorite breakfast…not to mention pasta and corn chips and taco shells and crackers and and and – talk about a shift in my universe!

I know there is hope and I have been quite sucked into the abyss that is google and pinterest lately, all my other dabbles are feeling neglected (like the pile of fabric that is to be a ladybug table mat)  I have dabbled in eating the Paleo way so I’m not feeling completely lost I just need to be more strict with following the guidelines.  I did almost fall off my chair this morning though when I read that coffee is on the “no” list. But after a few articles I found that eliminating it for 2 weeks and then adding it back in allows you to see if it’s a trigger. This might have to wait as a last resort since I’m having to give up my normal breakfast…

More dr appointments coming up to determine if it’s celiac disease, in the meantime I’m experimenting with gluten/egg/dairy free baking – so far my main problem seems to be under-cooking which is so weird because my oven runs hot so I typically bake things 10-15 minutes less than a recipe will indicate.  And with the wicked hot weather we’re having here I could probably start baking food outside!


One Potato, Two Potato

Going to combine two topics in one post today – garden and coffee roundup. Coffee first, as always!   Happy to report we have used up two of the nine bags of coffee – the Jamaican Blue Mountain dark roast and Gevalia Dark Gold Roast.  This week I’m aiming to get two more down – Green Mountain Coffee Co Vermont Country Blend and New England Coffee Co Hazelnut Creme (which I’ll probably have in the afternoons as hubs isn’t a huge fan of the flavored stuff).

Now to the garden – my experiment with growing potatoes in trash cans was a success!


I likely harvested them a little early as the plants were wilted but still green, I was worried any potatoes that might be in the cans would rot as every week we are getting inches of rain.  I expected to find potatoes growing at all levels of the buried stalks…but all of these were at the bottom which was a relief to find out.  33 total potatoes, “All Blue” and “German Butterball” I’m excited to taste them tomorrow 🙂  I will definitely grow these again, they were pretty easy to take care of.  I may take a few of these, let them sprout eyes and re-plant them for fall harvesting.  Now that I am thinking ahead though, I might utilize one of the trash cans and plant pumpkin seeds…

The rest of my garden is doing great, I really think the whole cover-crop and rototilling made a huge difference. Plus the hay mulch is really keeping the soil from drying out on our 90+ degree days.  I have one spaghetti squash happily growing in size and starting to turn yellow, cucumbers are vining up my trellis and have picked 4,  jalapeno’s are showing up and the tomato plants all have at least one green tomato.  The container summer squash is doing ok, have two squash now but noticed one of the vines rotting (did I mention it has been raining inches here every week?) so pretty bummed out about that; the zucchini plant in the garden is also doing ok but certainly not where I expected it to be by now, I had to pull up the radishes as they were monstrous and going to seed but I have yet  <knock on wood>  to see the dreaded squash vine borers.  I planted a few more zucchini seeds and some corn last week, fingers crossed!

Every year I’ve lived here we have had a sewing machine spider in the yard somewhere, they are biggest spider I’ve ever seen in the wild!  Last year we had TWO! We called them  Garden Charlotte and Pool Charlotte. I don’t expect a Pool Charlotte this year as we moved the huge grass by the pool pump that she was making a home in last summer, and wasn’t sure I’d have a Garden Charlotte as I dug up the rosemary bush that she was using for her home.  Normally we don’t notice them until they are really big and obvious, but yesterday I saw TWO baby ones in my garden, yay! Of course this one in the picture was on the potato plants so I carefully cut the plant branch and placed it in the garden, the other is on the spaghetti squash vine.


Looking forward to watching them grow along with everything else in the garden 🙂

The Coffee Roundup

A few weeks ago I did an experiment with eating sort of “prepper” style with using mostly what we had in the pantry already and buying very few fresh ingredients.  We used up some of what we had on hand and this gave me the idea to do the same thing with our coffee “stash”.  We enjoy coffee possibly more than the average person…such that we have NINE bags of ground coffee in varying amounts hanging out in the cabinet and freezer.  I’m not even going to count the k-cups (let’s just say if the zombie apocalypse happens, I will be well caffeinated!) So this week I am going to try to refrain from using the Keurig (it’s sooooo fast though) and use the drip coffee maker instead.

For Monday we have Jamaican Blue Mountain dark roast that we bought in Jamaica on our vacation last year.  It’s all measured out and ready to go, just have to hit brew in the morning 🙂 Happy July 4th!