Friday, January 29, 2010

Surprise, surprise

Our car insurance claim has YET to be settled.

We first dealt with one of the most dishonest and rude people I've ever had the misfortune of encountering, one Frank Vargas. From that time, we are only working with his boss, a Ms. Pam Jackson who appears to be much more reasonable and honest. It is our hope that with her sensibility we will have this resolved by the end of the week. Please keep fingers crossed and pray for us.

As I've been doing research about car values, outside appraisals and Allstate in general, I found this report from J.D. Power. Allstate was in the 20th percentile of customer satisfaction for auto claims. Or, out of 25, Allstate ranked 20th. Way to go guys, you should be proud.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recipe: Chicken Marsala

Today I tried my first new recipe of the new year. My "brother" Aaron got me a Sandra Lee cook book for Christmas, so I decided to try out this recipe.

1/2 cup flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 lbs. chicken breast, bone-in, sliced in half
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. bullion chicken paste (I substituted bullion powder, couldn't find the paste)
1 cup water
1 cup Marsala cooking wine
1 packet Knorrs garlic and herb sauce mix.

First you combine the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Thoroughly coat each piece of chicken.

In a large skillet, combine 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil and the butter, until it melts. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 10 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Remove the chicken breasts and set to the side. Add the other Tbsp. of olive oil and cook the onion and garlic for 4 minutes, or until the onion starts to turn translucent. Add in the water, bullion, and wine and bring to a boil.

Add back in the chicken and simmer 30-45 minutes covered. I think it would have been good to flip more frequently toward the end - it was ok for the first 30 minutes, but in the last 10 or so it started sticking.

Remove the chicken and add the Knorr's sauce mix to the pan. The instructions said to bring to a boil, but mine was pretty thick. I just heated and stirred enough to thoroughly combine.

Add sauce to chicken and serve.

Some thoughts:
I'm not sure why the chicken needed to be bone-in. I actually found that this made things more difficult. I think boneless chicken breasts would have been easier to work with.

I also think I cut the chicken breasts the wrong direction - I laid them on the counter with the widest side down and cut from one end toward me (a vertical cut, if you will). I think I was supposed to cut horizontally, to have two wide, flat pieces. This would have made the 10 minute cooking in the flour much more even.

In the end, I was surprised how it tasted - it didn't look too good, but was pretty tasty. It was a little salty, so I may cut back on that and some of the bullion, but I'd definitely make this recipe again. Though not on a weekday - it took too long.

For Miss Courtney

My co-worker Courtney and I were discussing home redecorating today, commiserating over our inability to paint our apartments. I mentioned some of the great ideas I've gotten off the design blogs I read every day.

So, Courtney, here they are! And if any of you have others you subscribe to, please let me know. I can always use more home eye candy.

Some favs:
Apartment Therapy - A massive site that posts hundreds of times each week. It's not so much with the instructions or how-to's as it is with home tours and trends. It's a great resource for browsing tons of pictures to get ideas of what you like.

Dear Designer's Blog - Features tons of great finds. "Look at this! This is cool!" A lot of times it's furniture and pillows, but sometimes really neat accent pictures like this DIY carton cubby.

Decor8 - My favorite part about Decor8 is their Take 5 Tuesdays in which they feature select Etsy vendors. Like this from Etsy vendor Sarah + Bendrix. It's a great blog for wall art and other accessories.

Design*Sponge - One of my top choices. Cool looking everything. Home tours, various products, how-to projects and tons more. I can't wait to try the instructions for this homemade Valentine's project.

Desiretoinspire - Ah, all the pretty pictures. They group things together - small bathrooms, dining rooms, stripes, etc - to make it really easy to see how to do one idea many different ways. They truly live up to their name and inspire me daily.

How About Orange - Great resource for DIY projects! It's where I got the idea for the starch and fabric wall coverings.

Ish and Chi - Sleek and simple, I love watching the room makeovers and DIY art projects that Ish and Chi posts. I also love that they share my love of typography and combine it with art.

Making it Lovely - She loves pink. And is making her house pink. It's happy and beautiful and fun and wonderful. It's a step by step process, but it's fun to see how little improvements make a big change.

Young House Love - These two are my heroes. A young couple in their first home, they have been completely remodeling every aspect of it. The before and after photos are incredible! Now they're branching out and offering their readers advice on room makeovers. It's just a great site for before and after shots, which I always love.


Knock Off Wood - Another hero. Ana lives in Alaska and has a taste for expensive furniture. So she taught herself to build furniture. That's right, she builds it. And she blogs her plans so her readers can build furniture, too. Hans and I actually tried one of these plans that I'll blog about in a post yet to come.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The thrill of the hunt

As I've mentioned before, I love bargain hunting. There's something about finding just the right product at a killer deal that makes me giddy.

Lately, Hans and I have managed to snag some amazing things at ridiculous prices. When I need something, I'd rather spend more time looking for the quality thing at a cheap price instead of buying the cheaper version to save time. It works for some people, not everyone.

Forgive the nasty iphone pics - best I could do today.

As we've been updating our bedroom, I really wanted a big mirror for the wall between the bathroom door and closet door. It's kind of a weirdly shaped strip that didn't seem appropriate for much else. Can't put furniture there - it's right in the thoroughfare. Even a big picture frame still looked too small on the wall. Plus, I love how a good-sized mirror can open up a space and make it seem so much larger. We hunted around for weeks, going to over a dozen different stores. I really thought we'd find what we were looking for at Hobby Lobby, but after hitting several we found that they were either the wrong color or just too ornate. All our usual standbys - Bed Bath and Beyond, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel Outlets, Target, Ikea - all failed us. We tried branching out to places we don't usually think to look, like Aaron Brothers, Pier One, and World Market. As we were leaving World Market, about to give up and head home, I noticed a Kirkland's Home two doors down. We figured we'd give it a try and were so surprised to find that all their mirrors were deeply, deeply discounted. We ended up scoring this gigantic floor mirror for $50. It does wonders for our room and already makes it feel more refined and full.

This past weekend, we ventured down to the San Marcos outlets to get Hans some clothes for work. Previously, everyone pretty much just wore jeans, t-shirts and flipflops, but a new client in town means that a dress code had to be created.

Fortunately, J. Crew was having a mad sale on men's dress shirts. Hans was able to get three and paid half price for them. I think they make him look really hot (but I'm a little biased). I'll have to snap a pic of him in them for you.

While at J. Crew, I stumbled across this beauty. At the end of last year I'd been hunting around for a nice winter coat to wear on fancier occasions and to church and such. I have a bunch of blazers and jackets, but nothing church-y. I didn't have much luck - everything was either unlined, too casual, or too expensive. But not this. It's beautiful. Rich purple color, creamy silky lining, perfect length. One left. My size. More than 85 percent off the original cost. We were meant for each other. I'm pretty sure Jalaine has the same coat, but hey! She's moving to Las Vegas soon, so we won't be all matchy matchy. Unless she comes to visit. Which she should.... often.

Rounding out our bargain hunting spree, we have this gorgeous beauty from Crate and Barrel. For Christmas, I got some very nice CB gifts, but a few duplicates. We went to return the extra items on Saturday and wandered around the store trying to decide what to exchange them for. Stainless steel measuring cups and spoons? Another cook book? A bread box? We debated whether or not to bother going upstairs to look at all the furniture.
"Why bother?" I asked. "It's not like there's anything we can afford."
"It's just for fun!" Hans said. "We can pretend that we're rich and can buy anything we want."
Sure enough, most of the pieces were beyond what we'd ever dream of paying for furniture. But pushed into the center of one room we found a bunch of discontinued, slightly damaged and open box items on final sale. Including this. Originally $829, it had been marked down three times until it was $119. Why no one wanted it, I'll never know. With the credit from the items I had returned, we paid only $75 out of pocket and walked away absolutely thrilled with our stumbled-upon treasure. It perfectly matches everything in our living room and gives us some much need storage space for decorations, books, and dvds. It really brought our living room together and makes it feel so much more complete.

Know of any good deals, either in Austin or on the web? Let us know!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A beautiful story

Back in October, a couple that we knew in high school had a baby. Little John was a beautiful little boy and his parents beamed with joy in every photo. They had been wanting to have a baby for quite a while and it had been difficult.

But L.J. had a problem bigger than his little baby self could handle - he was born three months premature, weighing only 2 pounds. He was so small that he could wear his parents' wedding rings on his little arm.

For such a tiny little man, LJ fought courageously. He seemed to make progress every day, growing stronger in his little lungs and little heart.

LJ's parents posted his progress every day on a blog for him. Hans and I read it each day, cheering on his progress and crying over the beautiful pictures of the day that Jack and Jessica got to hold their son the first time. We prayed for his little body to grow stronger and healthier. We watched each blog post full of hope.

And we cried great buckets of tears the day that Jessica and Jack lost their beautiful little boy. My heart ached for their loss. We didn't realize how much we had come to love their son just by reading their blog.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I was truly astonished by Jess' courage, strength and trust in God. Her faith in His plan for her family never ceased. I was filled with deep admiration for her optimism and hope. One day she wrote:
"There is no logical earthly explanation or justification for what happened.  Only divine.  As we move through the Advent season, I can’t help but think that God is using our story to illustrate his power over death, over pain, over suffering.  A good friend reassured me that we will be greeted again by LJ one day because we believe God is who he says he is!"
How many of us could say that we would react this way? I think it'd be so easy to blame God, to be angry at Him. Yet here is this amazingly strong woman demonstrating what true faith is.

And in his infinite goodness, God has blessed their family. Only a few weeks after LJ passed, Jack and Jessica were approached about a family looking for someone to adopt their daughter's soon-to-be-born child.

In an amazing twist of fate, little Grace Caroline was born last Thursday and officially joined the Allen family on Saturday. She is a beautiful little girl and I can't help think how incredibly lucky she is. She is so lucky to have a birth mother who loves her and wants the absolute best for her - even if that means letting her go. And she has two parents who have loved her since they first knew she existed. I haven't talked to Jessica in many years, but I know that she was born to be a mother. And she will be an incredible mother to little Grace, and Jack will be an equally wonderful father. Their home will always be full of much love.

I know that the Allens will never forget LJ. We will never forget LJ, either. His story touched our hearts deeply. We know that he has gone to live with our Father in Heaven. He was so innocent and pure that he did not need to endure the trials of this lifetime and our Father took him right back home. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the priceless example of love, strength, and faith that the Allens have demonstrated. And equally full of joy for the new family they have begun.

Congratulations, Jack, Jess, and baby Grace. And thank you for sharing your story with us.

Thai food and ice cream

I think that's the longest I've gone without blogging in quite a while!

We had a very eventful weekend that kept me away from my computer. But I made sure to take plenty of pictures so you'll get to hear all about it.

Friday was one of the first days in a very long time that I haven't had something pressing to do, to prepare for, or some place to be. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to catch up with my old buddy Parker.

Parker is my Thai food buddy. He's about the only person I know who will actually go eat curry with me (what can I say, I have weird friends!) Our favorite place is this little hole in the wall right off campus called Thai Kitchen. It doesn't look like much, and the parking sucks, but the food is amazing. The food was so good we both ate til we were sick.

But that didn't stop us from heading over to yogurt planet for some froyo. Yum! Chocolate with peanuts and strawberries is my standby - at at 110 calories, I don't feel too bad about it. I even picked up some extra mint ice cream with crushed andes mints and chocolate chips and took it to Hans at work. Ain't I a good wifey?

In the evening Hans and I went to the outlets (more in next post!) and then we topped off the evening by having Parker over (twice in one day, how lucky am I?) to watch Fantastic Mr. Fox. I was pleasantly surprised - it was really funny! George Clooney was perfect for that role.

Wonderful, wonderful day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I'm a Gleek.

I just read on E News that Idina Menzel is on set filming for Glee. Freaking awesome.

Wicked and Glee were probably two of my favorite discoveries last year and now they get to combine! By the way, has any one else noticed how much Lea and Idina look alike?

This season is also rumored to feature Jennifer Lopez as a lunch lady and Neil Patrick Harris. I can't it's believe not coming back until April! Not cool, Fox. Not cool.

Are you watching Glee? If not, you're missing out.


I've never been terribly do-it-yourself talented, but as I troll design blogs many of these projects make me want to jump in and try.

Like this, from Knock-off Wood. Like Ana, I have a taste for expensive furniture but not enough to cough up the dough. She promises that anyone can build these and I'm itching to give it a try!

(pottery barn version)

Knock off wood reader Kelsey (age 22) and her dad built this. She said it took 3.5 hours and less than $50. I'm sold.

After that, maybe i'll branch out to a book case or two....

(Made by Ana at Knock Off Wood... this is in her bedroom!)


I'd love to eventually build these two pieces, which Ana says take a bit more intermediate skill.

(Still can't believe she MADE that herself!)

I think I've raved about that blog enough for today... moving on...

I've been lamenting the fact that our apartment complex won't let me paint the walls. I've thought about painting them anyway and just painting them back before we leave. Hans wasn't thrilled with this idea. But then I came across several posts that say you can actually upholster a wall with lightweight fabric and liquid starch. Awesome! I hope this works.

(from Kristen Dirmeier's blog "Silver Linings")

 (top row, left to right: Bohaute; How about Orange. Bottom row, l-r: Bohaute again;

What about an upholstered headboard? I love the look of this one, but I don't want to pay $1200 for it! I wonder if there's a way to DIY it....

(Holley and Gill, via their Etsy shop)

I've been assessing our rooms and over the next few weeks (months) there's some tweaking I'd like to do:
  • Bathroom: More towel hangers, one more piece of wall art, some loofahs, a trash can, white pillar candles

(etsy vendor LimeTreeGraphics)

(Pottery Barn apothecary jars with soaps and loofahs)

  • Bedroom: Headboard, wall art, bedside lamps, door panel, end of bed bench, maybe an ottoman, console table, decorative ties to hold back the curtains
  • Living room: Window panels to hide the nasty vertical blinds, floor lamp, wall art, book case, console table, maybe a new rug

(Squawk Fox painted canvases with stripes and dots. Easy and cute)

(Our friends Jessica and Arthur made this great art by stretching Ikea fabric over wooden frames)
  • Dining room: three floating shelves (a la Young House Love, below), vases, maybe refinishing the dining room table (it's ancient!)

  • Kitchen: cookbook storage, wall art for above the sink, something (i don't know what!) to decorate above the cabinets
  • Hallway: glass frames for marriage certificate and diplomas, some sort of storage organizer for mail, keys, leashes, etc.

(Pottery Barn's Daily System in black)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

But if not....

Many recent events have repeatedly brought to mind a conference talk by Elder Dennis E. Simmons. I think about it at least a couple times each day and try to use it to change my perspective.

Total faith is so hard to have. I don't know if you're like me, but it's hard to give up control. It's hard to say "Well this is what I want, but if you want something else, that's good, too." Sometimes we think we know what we want. Sometimes we think we knows what's best.

But the truth? We have no idea what God has planned for us. Sometimes, if we're lucky, we can see where he was leading us when we look in the rear view mirror. But looking down the road, it's nearly impossible to tell.

In the end, it doesn't matter if we don't get what we want, or think we need. Because in the end, it all works out. If we put our faith and trust in our Heavenly Father, we will be guided down the path he has set for us.

So as I pray each morning and night (and lately, several times throughout the day), I try to remember to follow "Heavenly Father, here is what I would really, really like to happen" with "But if not, I know you will make everything be ok." It's hard, and apparently I'm a slow learner, but I have felt such great peace and comfort as I turn more and more of my trust over to the Lord.

From the April 2004 conference, Elder Dennis E. Simmons, "But if not..."

Men accomplish marvelous things by trusting in the Lord and keeping His commandments—by exercising faith even when they don't know how the Lord is shaping them.

Elder Dennis E. SimmonsAs a young man, I returned home from an eighth-grade basketball tournament dejected, disappointed, and confused. I blurted out to my mother, "I don't know why we lost—I had faith we'd win!"

I now realize that I did not then know what faith is.

Faith is not bravado, not just a wish, not just a hope. True faith is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—confidence and trust in Jesus Christ that leads a person to follow Him.1

Centuries ago, Daniel and his young associates were suddenly thrust from security into the world—a world foreign and intimidating. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow down and worship a golden image set up by the king, a furious Nebuchadnezzar told them that if they would not worship as commanded, they would immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. "And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?"2

The three young men quickly and confidently responded, "If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand." That sounds like my eighth-grade kind of faith. But then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, "But if not, . . . we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."3 That is a statement of true faith.

They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn't turn out the way they hoped.4 They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him.

Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego knew they could always rely on Him because they knew His plan, and they knew that He does not change.5 They knew, as we know, that mortality is not an accident of nature. It is a brief segment of the great plan6 of our loving Father in Heaven to make it possible for us, His sons and daughters, to achieve the same blessings He enjoys, if we are willing.

They knew, as we know, that in our premortal life, we were instructed by Him as to the purpose of mortality: "We will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them."7

So there we have it—it's a test. The world is a testing place for mortal men and women. When we understand that it's all a test, administered by our Heavenly Father, who wants us to trust in Him and to allow Him to help us, we can then see everything more clearly.

His work and His glory, He told us, is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."8 He has already achieved godhood. Now His only objective is to help us—to enable us to return to Him and be like Him and live His kind of life eternally.

Knowing all this, it was not difficult for those three young Hebrews to make their decision. They would follow God; they would exercise faith in Him. He would deliver them, but if not—and we know the rest of the story.

The Lord has given us agency, the right and the responsibility to decide.9 He tests us by allowing us to be challenged. He assures us that He will not suffer us to be tempted beyond our ability to withstand.10 But we must understand that great challenges make great men. We don't seek tribulation, but if we respond in faith, the Lord strengthens us. The but if nots can become remarkable blessings.

The Apostle Paul learned this significant lesson and declared, after decades of dedicated missionary work, "We glory in tribulations . . . knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed."11

He was assured by the Savior, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."12

Paul responded: "Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . . I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."13 When Paul met his challenges the Lord's way, his faith increased.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac."14 Abraham, because of his great faith, was promised posterity greater in number than the stars in the heavens, and that that posterity would come through Isaac. But Abraham immediately complied with the Lord's command. God would keep His promise, but if not in the manner Abraham expected, he still trusted Him completely.

Men accomplish marvelous things by trusting in the Lord and keeping His commandments—by exercising faith even when they don't know how the Lord is shaping them.

"By faith Moses . . . refused to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter;
"Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
"Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. . . .
"By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king. . . .
"By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land. . . .
"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down."15
Others "through faith subdued kingdoms, . . . obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
"Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight."16

But in the midst of all those glorious outcomes hoped for and expected by the participants, there were always the but if nots: 

"And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, . . . bonds and imprisonment:
"They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about . . . being destitute, afflicted, tormented; . . . 17
"God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect."18

Our scriptures and our history are replete with accounts of God's great men and women who believed that He would deliver them, but if not, they demonstrated that they would trust and be true.
He has the power, but it's our test.

What does the Lord expect of us with respect to our challenges? He expects us to do all we can do. He does the rest. Nephi said, "For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."19
We must have the same faith as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.

Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. . . . Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not . . . . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. . . . Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. . . . He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, . . . we will trust in the Lord. 

Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. . . . He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. . . . We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, . . . we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.20 I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Belated thoughts for 2010

Since we were out of town from the start of the year until just last week and it took me that long to blog about our trip, I'm FINALLY getting around to posting some New Year's "Thoughts" (not resolutions!)

The past few months have been jam-packed. Since August, there was frantic wedding planning, frenzied new site building at work, preparations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, and our amazing honeymoon. All our "free time" (read: time not spent at work, school, or church) has been spent preparing for one of these things.

Now, for the first time in a very long time, there's nothing on the imminent horizon. At first, I thought this seemed kind of sad. There's nothing to look forward to!

But now I'm kind of reveling in it. This past weekend, we were able to spend Friday and Saturday doing little things we've been meaning to do for months, cooking, watching tv and generally enjoying life at our own (slow) pace. It was some kind of wonderful.

So I have a few thoughts about what I'd like to do this year, most of which will probably shape the way this blog ends up looking.
  1. I'd like to read more! I've been reading the same books over and over again. I think I read all of the Jane Austen books three times each this year. One thing I'd really like to do is read more Gospel literature. Not since reading A Marvelous Work and a Wonder and The Miracle of Forgiveness a while back have I had a good Gospel book to read. I'm interested in learning more about Emma Smith - can anyone recommend a good book about her?
  2. Continued weight loss! Last year was about 15 lbs, but some of it creeped back on during the holidays/honeymoon. I'm going to increase my workouts and pull in the reigns on my eating habits and see if I can get to having more energy and more confidence with my body.
  3. Experiment more with cooking. Hans and I love to cook together. Prior to our marriage, I used to take frozen Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones dinners to work every night. Since getting married, cooking together is something that we do for fun. It's kind of our time together. Often on the weekend, we'll make several meals to eat throughout the week. I haven't taken a frozen dinner to work since our wedding. And I love it. It's so much more satisfying, and fun! But I often find myself making the same recipes so one goal for this year is to branch out more and experiment with new recipes. I'll post the good ones here.
  4. Home improvement stuff. This is probably what I'm looking forward to most. Hans and I have decided that we're staying put in this apartment until we can move into a house, so while our lease still has 11 months left, I think we'll probably renew another year. Bottom line: we're not going anywhere for a while. and I want to nest. I've become obsessed with Crate and Barrel catalogs, home design blogs, and bargain hunting for home goods at Marshalls, Bed Bath and Beyond and Hobby Lobby. I'm trying to find simple, affordable ways to make our apartment into our home. Expect many "before" and "after" blogs about room makeovers and way too much detail about the "hows" and "wheres." Sherry and John at Young House Love have truly inspired me to totally make over my house. Seriously, check out this bathroom makeover for an example of how awesome they are! I want to do this....

Most of my other goals for this year are to improve on good habits started last year -
- Read the Book of Mormon at least once a year;
- pay tithing regularly (instead of letting it build up a couple months before paying it off, like last year);
- attend the temple at least once monthly, if not twice;

-  work on paying off all our debt. It's not much, but I'd like to get rid of it.
- And of course, start saving for a house! The fund is started and it won't be long now :D

I can already tell that 2010 is going to be a very, very good year.

Saddest day ever.

Knowing that Monday was our last day in paradise, we still wanted to do several things before it was time to go.

We woke up pretty early and went to the hotel's spa at 8 a.m. to get a couple's massage.

Unfortunately, Belize and Mata Chica are not used to, nor prepared for, the cold weather we were experiencing. None of the guest rooms were equipped with heaters and the spa was no exception. The room was cold. I don't think spas should ever be cold. You're not wearing any clothes! You need to be warm.

Despite that, the massage was glorious. I swear, that masseuse felt like she had fifteen hands and they were all fluid and wonderful. The parts on my neck, feet, and head felt the best. I didn't want to move when she was done. And the aromatherapy smelled glorious.

I don't think Hans' experience was quite as good. He said his masseuse was pretty much beating him up. "I was glad my face was in that little hole," he told me later, "so that she couldn't see the painful grimaces I was making." Even though she was rough, I think when she was done his body felt very loose and relaxed.

I wish I could get a massage every day. It makes my whole body feel other-worldly.

We ate one final breakfast on the patio and then tried to lay out on the beach on last time. It wasn't any warmer than it'd been the past few days, but at least if you laid right in the sun it was pretty warm. I don't think we got any color, but at least we were able to enjoy lounging on the most beautiful beach in the sunshine one last time.

With very sad faces, we said goodbye to our lovely Cocoa, the beautiful beach, and the warm and friendly staff of Mata Chica.

(This was "our table" for all our many breakfasts and lunches!)

The boat captain, who we dubbed "Charlie Ninja," took us back to San Pedro in Mambo, the awesome boat, and then drove us to the airport in a golf cart.

Our flight was supposed to be at 1, getting into Belize International Airport at 1:15 so that we could check in for our 4:15 international flight the requisite three hours ahead.

For some reason I can't comprehend, our 15 minute flight was delayed an hour. I don't understand - Maya Air runs that shuttle back and forth like 12 times a day! How is it possible, then, that one didn't come for a whole two hours? Not cool. We ended up catching a 2 o clock flight and I was really worried we'd get hassled for not being there three hours late.

Turned out my worries were in vain (as they usually are), as our international flight was also delayed - an hour and a half. Boo. Continental, to apologize for the delay, offered us vouchers to use to buy lunch at the hotel's one restaurant. Well, that was nice of them.

But oh wait, nothing on the menu is less than $9 USD and the voucher you gave us is for $7 USD. Really? What was the point of that? And really... not good food. We tried the hamburgers because we figured "That's hard to mess up" but it tasted burnt and soggy. Blah.

After we got through security (without any problems, thankfully) we made our way to the gate to carve out a spot to wait out the next four hours. As we're walking up I hear a familiar voice saying "Heeeey, it's our traveling buddies!" and what do you know, but there are the Marks from our excursion, chilling out waiting for the same flight. We were able to sit with them and talk to help pass the looooooong wait, which helped.

Finally around 6:30 we got onto the plane. Lights out, everyone asleep. We got into Houston around 8:30 and said good bye to the Marks as they dashed off in an attempt to catch their connecting flight to Colorado. We felt pretty fortunate that we only had to go to Houston - almost everyone else on our flight had a connecting flight to Seattle, Colorado, San Francisco, Salt Lake, and a couple others I think, that they were desperately trying to make in spite of our long delay. Don't know what happened - hope they all made it.

Hans' mom was waiting for us outside and we went back to her house. We rested there for a little bit, telling them about our trip and procrastinating the drive back to Austin. We finally left somewhere around 9:30 or 10. Never has that drive felt so long.

We got home just before 2 and the puppies went nuts. We've never really left Hudson before and I think he thought we had abandoned him. He yipped and jumped like crazy. It's a wonderful thing to come home to so much love.

And so ends the great adventure of Hans and Erika. Thanks to the many, many of you who helped to make the trip possible. It was truly the honeymoon of our dreams and the trip of a lifetime.