asheville away…

Finally, a road trip! And now, I’m going to do it twice in one week! Whodathunkit? But on Tuesday, some friends and I drove to Asheville, NC, for the day and had a blast. I actually haven’t been to Asheville since high school, when I went to the Biltmore Estate, but this time, we headed for the downtown. And now that I realize I’m headed to Seabrook for the weekend, I really have to get on top of sharing some of the photos. : )DSC_0680

DSC_0679Let’s see, where to start? Some grad student friends of mine had time off, especially now that one of them successfully defended his Master’s thesis. I’d say that deserves a day off, wouldn’t you? We started the day early enough to get a leisurely breakfast at the Potbelly Deli in Clemson, and then headed for Asheville.DSC_0682

DSC_0683After the usual driving round-about in order to find parking, we started off at Pack Square Park, and if anyone can tell me the name of that main sculpture/conversation piece, I would be interested. Yes, I do mean the big space station looking thing. But the memorial stones, designed like the buildings behind the “sculpture”, or to honor “Ellington’s Dream” of seeing those two buildings overlook the downtown and the lovely park.DSC_0684

DSC_0689DSC_0692We enlisted the use of our smartphones quite a bit, examining Google maps to see which streets had shopping and restaurants, and even veered off, curious to see what the Thomas Wolfe Memorial was. To my (possible) discredit, I’ve never heard of Thomas Wolfe, didn’t know he was an author, and had never heard of his books… so when we arrived at the memorial, the paintings on the walls were pretty cool, but we didn’t stay to view his boarding house. The people working the memorial were really nice, though, so I didn’t tell them we didn’t know anything about it.DSC_0699

DSC_0705DSC_0720My friends had decided in advance where we would eat, because there are two really good Indian restaurants in Asheville, so they voted for Mela over Chai Pani, but maybe we’ll go there some other time. The buffet food came with either a draft beer or a hot chai, but we voted for chai. To their delight, they found that Mela’s chai is just like what they get back home, so it was a good choice. It was delicious, but very gingery, which was a surprise to me. I didn’t know you could get all that ginger flavor into a drink… well, except for a ginger beer, maybe. They explained everything to me on the buffet line, and I’ve forgotten half the names, but I loved the fried eggplant and the chicken masala, as well as the lentil wafers and naan bread to go with everything. And the semolina pudding with cashews, cardamom, raisins and a few other things… it was absolutely scrumptious!DSC_0723

DSC_0727After stuffing ourselves, we had to walk it off, and made our way through the downtown. I’d heard there was some fantastic graffiti around, so I had hoped to get some good pictures. When we finally found these chickens, it was fascinating to see that the artists must have laid down canvas or tape of some type, over the brick, before painting them. If you look closely, you can see where the bricks become more visible on the edges.DSC_0730

DSC_0735From there, we’d heard that the Grove Arcade was a renovated historic building with shops, so we wandered that way, drooling over chocolate and ice cream shops on the way, as well as stopping at rock and mineral shops to examine geodes (all of us) and jewelry (me). It was a lovely building, but I think they tried to make it look older than it is, though the stairwells are obviously modeled on the Biltmore style. Which, in case you were wondering, we definitely didn’t have time to go visit. Biltmore Estate will have to wait for another day.10368725_10152402531289976_649870436_o

DSC_0753DSC_0760We decided to take the time to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at the Pisgah Inn to have coffee or eat, if anyone was hungry by then. I was, so I had a delicious chicken pot pie, while we enjoyed the view from the restaurant windows. And made sure we took some pictures on the porch before leaving.DSC_0766

DSC_0776I drove for the whole trip, but I enjoyed the twisting back roads and now and then, we found a nice pull-off zone to take pictures, like at Looking Glass Falls. It also had a sign explaining that it used to be part of the Vanderbilt property, even as far away from Asheville as we were, which is amazing even to someone who knows how much of that corner of the state was Biltmore land, back in the day.DSC_0778

IMG_20140513_181617728So, I do hope you’ll enjoy these pictures from our trip, while I get to work packing for the beach. My Seabrook conference starts tomorrow, but unlike usual, I don’t think I have to get up early and meet anyone in town, beforehand. So, I can finish packing and doing laundry during the morning, before heading out, instead of rushing! So nice. If you don’t hear from me until then, have a marvelous weekend!IMG_20140513_193357260DSC_0809

of publix, soup, & chocolate…

We had a new Publix grocery store open, recently. Everyone in Clemson knew it was coming, of course, because they ripped up and reformed a whole section of land in a hole-in-the-wall section of Tiger Boulevard. Some were aware because of the construction traffic, others because their bank informed them they would be moving to the new plaza. And then, eventually, the ads came in the paper for the Opening Day.

The last time I was at a Grand Opening for a grocery store, I was in Australia, and took my kiddos there twice in one day, and they got balloons and were oh-so-excited about it. I tried to block out this memory enough that it wouldn’t bother me much, when I got to the new Publix. If you break down in tears, in the middle of a store, people will think you’re nuts!DSC_0475

I waited a few days, and then went to see what it looked like. Fortunately, I remembered in time that they were probably still going overboard with their “We’ve Just Opened!” friendliness, so I braced myself. Sure enough, a line of managers were greeting everyone at the door, along with someone dressed up in a dinosaur costume. If I was a little kid, I would’ve been horrified by the costumed greeter, instead of enthralled. As it was, I hurried past the greeting committee, hoping to stay unnoticed while I wandered.

Fat chance. It seemed that in every aisle I went down, someone in a dress shirt and tie would greet me and ask to help me, and I managed to smile and say “no”, when I wanted to tell them to go away. Come on, I just want to wander and think and be left alone! I’ll ask you if I need help! You may think I’m a crank, but seriously, the cheerfulness can be taken too far, and how can you ever see anything if people are constantly stopping you? No, I can’t find anything, because you won’t let me look!DSC_0483

And then, I came to a halt in the International Food section, staring at a small section of shelves, loaded with what was mostly British treats and sweets. But among other things, I found Mars bars and chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. I became excited, and even hoped to find Vegemite, but no, all they had was a small container of Marmite (British version of Vegemite).

I waffled over what to get, after wandering the whole store, and eventually came back for the chocolate candy. That was after I had ascertained that they had every imaginable thing in the frozen food section, like pot pies and pizzas, but not a meat pie to be seen. It was a sad sight. After getting the chocolate, I remembered one other thing that I had run across earlier.

My shopping expeditions do not usually have me looking closely at anything that’s labeled “organic”, but I accidentally came across the organic soups. And after staring for a moment, the butternut squash soup finally caught my attention. Once the wheels began to turn, I realized that this was probably the only “pumpkin” soup that I would ever find in an American grocery store. Because our squash is Aussie pumpkin, and I still haven’t figured out what their green pumpkin is, in the United States. But butternut “pumpkin” soup? I had to take it home and try it, even if it was organic and more expensive than it should be.DSC_0480

Once I got home, I tried out the candy, cutting up the Turkish Delight so that my brother could try it. I saved some pieces for my parents, too. It isn’t that I loved Turkish Delight, whether covered in chocolate or not, but I remembered it especially. When I first found it in Australia, I had always wondered what it was like, after reading about it in the Narnia books (and then seeing it in the movie). My first try of plain Turkish Delight was dreadful (it tasted like floral soap), but for some reason, Aussies really like Turkish Delight in their chocolate. Cadbury puts it in some of their chocolate bars.

Mostly, my family wasn’t a big fan of it, but I hadn’t really expected them to be. I just wanted them to have a chance at trying it. It’s not something I could bring home in my suitcase, because it would have melted. And the texture of “jelly” is different than many of our gummy or jelly candies. It’s a bit thicker than a gum drop but softer than a gummy bear. I wanted them to have one small experience that I had, while I was away.

The Mars bar… I’ve never been sure, but I think it’s somewhere between a 3 Musketeers bar and a Milky Way. No, I didn’t look it up online, so I’m exactly sure of the difference. But it was just something that I had pretty often, when I was overseas. A memory triggered by taste.DSC_0485

The soup was wonderful. It doesn’t really look like much in the pictures, but to someone who got to eat it regularly for an entire year in AUS, this tasted fantastic. When there was a variety of brands to choose from, in Emerald, I eventually figured out which were the best-tasting of the canned ones, though the best type was really homemade. I should probably get a recipe from my Aussie friends and make it myself. Americans don’t know what they’re missing. I think they’re just put off at the idea of eating squash, because it’s a vegetable that not everyone is a fan of.

After escaping any number of Publix employees and managers, I took my few items to the register, and the bagger ( who had to be ten years younger than me) called me “hon”, several times. I’m not a fan of being called pet names, unless you’re close to me, or you’re a waitress in a diner (then, I put up with it). But then he offered to carry my bags out to the car for me, which told me that the managers had INSISTED that they offer this service to everyone. “Don’t take no for an answer!”, is what I can just imagine them saying.DSC_0484

Now, remember, I had two bags that probably weighed less than my Nikon camera. I told him I’d be fine, I could take them out myself. And then he tried again, a little more insistently. I almost got snappish with him (almost), and practically had to snatch my grocery bags from him.

And before anyone decides to be silly and suggest he was being sexist, don’t think it. I’ve met managers like those that were probably drilling the “Don’t take no for an answer!” into their heads. He probably had it written into his contract to do that with everyone. I hope that if ANY person with a huge load of groceries came through, he would offer to help THEM, and not waste his time with my bags. My grocery bags had “heavy” things in them, like tweezers, cards, and soup. It took some muscles, but I managed.  : )

So, there you have it. The new Publix is open, everyone in there is excessively friendly and helpful, and they have some soup that I will have to go back and try again. I’ll avoid the chocolate, after this, because buying them is not good for my waistline or for my wallet.DSC_0487

summer fears & laziness…

I’m not really afraid of the swimming pool, but last summer, I couldn’t talk myself into going there for a swim. All summer long. At the time, I was still six months out from my Christmas-time illness, in Australia. I went swimming in a pool, got an earache, didn’t deal with it fast enough, went to see the doctor, and then took antibiotics. The antibiotics made me so sick that it almost ruined my vacation, and I was starting to think that hospitalization sounded good.

You can see why I was a little wary of going into the water, afterwards. Oh, I did, several times, but only when invited to do so. It was never my idea. I’m pretty sure I went tubing on Lake Maraboon, once, and I was in a pool with all my Aussie kids. But despite the Aussie heat, I didn’t seek out any swimming opportunities. And when I arrived home, summer was on the doorstep, and I couldn’t talk myself into going to the Clemson Pool.

Today, it was in the 90’s, and even being inside, in the air-conditioning wasn’t keeping me from being too warm. Of course, when I’m doing any kind of physical work, I overheat quickly, so by the time I left after cleaning up, I was roasting. And then stepped out into the heat and humidity, still in my work clothes. Ugh.

Once I was home in the air-conditioning, though, laziness set in. It’s no longer fear of the water and what it might do to me, but it’s been so long since I’ve been in it, I needed to vault out of my rut. So, after doing a few necessary things at home, I forced myself to go find my swimsuit and towel, and drive up Old Stone Church Rd.

When I arrived, I was surprised at so many of the changes, until I saw the showers and bathroom looks exactly the same, a bit dilapidated. But in the years since I’ve been in Australia and PA, they’ve redone the pool, the eating area, and even the outside of the buildings. Also, the gate on the fence, that stays closed, and I almost couldn’t figure out how to open it. The edges of the pool now have fancy stonework, and the bottom of the pool no longer has any lanes. But it’s still the rough bottom to the pool, that will eventually wear the skin off your feet, if you spend as many hours in there as the kids always do.

I managed ten minutes in the sun before adult swim, and then got in the water. Immediately, the clouds came out. And after fifteen minutes of adult swim, the sun wasn’t coming back. In fact, the clouds were rolling in. So, I headed home in time to beat the storm, though it had yet to thunder.

It’s a start, though. I no longer fear ear aches, as a result of swimming (besides, we have tons of hydrogen peroxide, if needed). But no reason to keep wearing that rut down. Time to go swimming, while summer is still here!

origin is coming…

State of Origin, that is. I’ve been reliably informed that Queensland is now going for its 8th win! I say reliably, because I don’t trust my reckoning, even if I google it. I lost track of what number they were at, shortly after leaving Australia. I suppose it would help if I just read my own posts about the serious-as-all-get-out rugby competition between Queensland and New South Wales? It’s probably a good idea, but I doubt I will. When I reread what I’ve written a LONG time ago, it messes with what I might write NOW, off the top of my head.

A couple of days ago, a co-worker was bored, so they demanded to know what my favorite basketball team was. Um, I don’t watch basketball, so no favorite. He tried again… football team! Nope, sorry. I don’t watch football, either (gridiron, that is). I would much rather play a sport than watch it. So, at a momentary stand-still, a few minute later, he asked, “Favorite My Little Pony?!”state_of_origin

After a bit, I told him that I watched rugby sometimes, but apparently rugby doesn’t agree with him. I neglected to tell him that I love to watch the haka at the beginning of games with the New Zealand All-Blacks. I don’t know what he would have thought of that.

Since coming back to the U.S., I actually haven’t looked for a rugby team to follow, because cheering on teams has never been my style. If you don’t really watch sports on tv, then you don’t really have a reason to cheer a team on. I’m more likely to root for (Aussies, don’t be snarky, you know what I mean) a local team. I’ll cheer for Clemson, because that’s where I’m from. I’ll hope the Carolina Panthers defeat the New England Patriots, in the Super Bowl… but I’ll still mostly watch the commercials.

And so, I’ll cheer on the Queensland Maroons, if I can just find somewhere to watch them! Of course, I will also cheer for them because they’re just the best team in State of Origin, anyway. But I know some will disagree with me there. I have an American friend who works in Canberra and has lots of friends in NSW, so of course he’s on their side.

I remember my first Origin game. I was sitting on the arm of the couch, trying to figure out what was going. These amazingly strong AND fast guys were running constantly, making me never want to take my eyes off the television. If I did, I might miss something. That’s another reason I like it, the constant movement, the ongoing game, that only stops for a short break in the middle of the game. I hate games that stop and start, allowing your mind to wander to more interesting things.

When I missed the second Origin game of 2011, I made sure I was in a house full of friends for Game 3. It was a riotous group, with mostly Maroon fans, and a few Blues in the room. I’ve never been one for actually clapping, cheering, and shouting during a game, unless I really understand what’s going on. So, I just sat with my eyes glued to the screen, and my eyes were probably as big as dinner plates, trying to take it all in. It was so exciting! The Maroons were so awesome!

As I write, if I have the dates correct, then my Queenslander friends are just a few hours away from cheering on their team. The drinks will be out, the snacks will disappear, and they’ll be shouting their heads off. And even if I can’t watch with them, I’m cheering for the right side, in my head, from South Carolina. Go Maroon!

 

Related posts:

rugby league…

State of Origin ’11, game 3…

go maroon!

what isn’t here & why they were there…

I was doing it again. I only had one or two items to pick up at Ingles, and since I was in a not-so-familiar grocery store, I began to wander. Sure enough, I ended up in the ethnic food section, searching for familiarity. You may find that odd, since my year overseas was spent in Australia. But consider, I found jars of buttered chicken in the Indian section and sweet chili sauce in the Thai section. How many times did I buy coconut milk, pappadums, and other ingredients for dinner?

Admittedly, there’s a tiny confused section of my brain which expects that if I stare at the shelves long enough, a shelf will appear that’s labeled “Esther, Imogen, Amy, and Claire all cooked these.”. Of course, it’ll come with a list of recipes. I’ll finally figure out why I liked Aussie barbecue sauce when I was there, but hate the American kind. Maybe it’s just because I like it on pizza. Of course, when I had it on homemade pizza, I would combine it with tomato sauce (NOT ketchup), and then add all my own meaty toppings. But NOT capsicums (peppers), either fresh or the ones preserved in olive oil. I did try them, once or twice, and just can’t handle them.

As I think over this grocery store issue of mine, I am reminded that as of April 23, I will have been back in the US for one year, and May 3 will be the two year anniversary for when I arrived in Australia. Lots of anniversaries are packed into April and May, for both Australia and my blog. It has really been that long since I returned to American soil, just as it’s really been THAT long since I went to AUS. Did it go by fast? I’m no longer sure.

Because I’ve had this post on my mind, I drove by McDonald’s, today, and I was thinking that it will never be Maccas to me. The Maccas of Australia was one place I would go in order to read a book, drink a mocha, and veg out while reading a book. Usually while munching on a scone or some other form of dessert. I love coffee shops over here, too, but they’re just not the same. I’m pretty sure ours have a lot more sugar, but since I never worked in a coffee shop overseas, I really don’t know what makes the difference.

Hearing from an Aussie friend of mine reminded me of how much I miss our outings to Bogey’s, and left me with a craving for potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. And a mocha, with an Aussie marshmallow on the side. A craving that can’t be satisfied, because even in Australia, I never had potato wedges that were as good as those served at Bogey’s in Emerald. Sure, maybe I’ll be able to find some over here, eventually, and buy myself sweet chili sauce from the Thai food section… but it still isn’t the same.

I haven’t only been thinking about food. Honest. But if you’ve been reading my blog lately, I’ve been thinking about the idea of friendship and how we go about making friends, especially when we’re outside of our comfort zone. It makes you think about the friendships that you had to work for and fight for, as well as the ones you fell into by accident, which seemed to be tailored just for you.

Some might say that it was a coincidence that I met the group of friends that I did, while in Australia. But was it really? You could say that I had two small groups of friends, from two different churches, that occasionally combined into a big group. We mixed and moved around, if you will. From the very start, I was drawn into their circles and welcomed, having common ground to stand on. As I recall, only one of them moved away, while I was still living there, because he wanted to go to Bible school.

And then, during this last year, they began to scatter. A large family of my friends moved to Tasmania. Another friend moved to Brisbane (capital of Queensland). One got married and moved to Sydney. I’m not sure when it happened, but another somehow got herself to Victoria (another Aussie state). And yet another is getting ready to move back to the “big smoke”… which after some digging, I found also referred to Brisbane.

I believe that it was part of the Lord’s plan that I go to Australia and meet these amazing people, and that He had the right ones waiting for me in Emerald. I do not think it was just a coincidence that they were all in Emerald, for that time. Their friendships have enriched my life and changed me, and I will always be thankful for them. And now that some of them have moved on (geographically), I will have a lot more places to travel, when I get back Down Under, eventually!

Maybe I should be talking more about my last year in the U.S., now that I’m remembering the one year anniversary since I returned. But I’ll be here for a long while yet, and you’ve been listening to me yak about America for a year now, so I don’t think I need to go over it. Maybe sometime this summer, I’ll have more to say about this past year in America, and its effect on me. But until I figure it out for myself, I don’t have anything to tell you.

To all my friends and readers, thank you again for sticking with me, no matter what country I happen to be in. I plan to keep writing for a long time, so I’ll keep searching for the little stories that make up the great big story which is my sometimes-interesting life. Have a wonderful week!

two whole years…

Yes, you heard that right. It’s been two entire years.

In the two years since I started this blog, I’ve been to Australia and back again. I went there all by myself, the first time I’ve ever flown halfway around the world on my own (I’ve flown halfway around the world with my dad and cousins, before). I’ve driven to Minnesota and back, and some of you know how that went. And now I’m back in my hometown of Clemson, for the time being.

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April ’11, before I left for AUS

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April ’11, before I left for AUS

My first few blog posts were about the joys and trials of packing for moving to the other side of the planet. I had just bought a new laptop computer, in order to keep in contact with my family more easily, to update my blog, and to Skype anyone who wanted to talk with me. It is still my go-to “vehicle” for all my blogging and communication needs. Even the headphones, which used to be for Skype, are used to block out the background noise of the household, and allow me to write.

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One of my first pics in Australia

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Yeppoon, QLD, Australia

I had just bought a new camera, a Nikon D3100, which allowed me to take beautiful photos of Australia, as well as the occasional video. With it, I was able to visually show everyone what I was seeing, while I did my best to describe it in words. In those two years, using my camera has become much more natural than it ever had before, and I’ve been using cameras since I became a teenager. I have always said that I like to take pictures, but only now do I consider myself a photographer. My DSLR taught me how to do more than just point-and-shoot… though I still love my Canon PowerShot for certain things.

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June ’11, one month after arriving in AUS

Also new to me was my Kindle, one of the older black-and-white versions, which allowed me to take a large number of books with me. It was an excellent supplement to my local library visits, and as much as I love real books, I like having the e-books handy, as well. I was NOT thrilled that it go broken, on the return trip to the U.S., but at least that allowed me to upgrade to a Kindle Fire.

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My bub, 11 mths old, June ’11

When I returned from Australia, I left behind all the friends and loved ones that I had made in the previous year. How had the year gone by so quickly? How had these friendships become so strong? The Lord truly blessed me with the friendships I made, and now, when I eventually return to visit all of them, I’ll be putting in some serious travel. Because instead of staying in Emerald, many of them have moved away! My friends are scattered from Queensland to Tasmania, and I have to see them all again, someday. I look forward to that trip.

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April ’12, right before leaving AUS

During my time back in the United States, I had to learn how to blog again. I didn’t really need to reinvent my blog, so much as reinvent how I looked at the everyday things, in my home country and my hometown. You can become blind to the things that surround you, the things that you take for granted. Now, I wanted to share the adventure of home with my friends in Australia, as well as remembering that life is interesting, you just have to know where to look.

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April ’12, right before leaving AUS. My bub’s almost 2 years old.

I have become fascinated by taking photos of everything from buildings to flowers. I have explored the town of Clemson and the Clemson University campus, and I’m still not finished yet. I look closely at the budding flowers and look straight up at the tops of the trees, looking for the interesting shapes of the branches. I want to see what will look good in black and white, and what only needs a touch of color to come to life in a photo.

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Botanical Gardens, Clemson, SC May ’12

Just thinking about my writing, photography, and life experiences, I’ve come a long way in two years. But if you’d told me back in the summer of 2012 that I would end up working on Clemson’s campus and actually enjoy being around the students, I would have thought you were on something. College students have always intimidated me, but I’ve come to enjoy them (ok, some of them), and actually like the campus. And when you take the time to get to know a place, looking through a camera lens, you’ll find you like it even better.

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Riggs Hall, Clemson University March ’13

Some of you have stood by as I tried to straighten out how to write about my work on campus and my life here in Clemson. Thanks for putting up with me, because I think I’m back on track. Again, the search for the interesting, the fascinating, and the adventures will continue. And when you’re looking for something, you often find it.

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GWH, March ’13

Yes, this blog and I have come a long way. Here’s to many more years of writing and photography, with a few road (and plane and cruise) trips scattered in between!

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Mom and I
Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013

P.S. I just realized that this is my 444th blog post! So, I’ve averaged 222 posts a year, though I know I blogged more when I was in Australia.

look out, it’s a valentine!

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve been thinking about a book store. I know, I know, such a romantic thing to think about, but at least I’m an honest bookworm. Unlike some people, who plan to get their party on by watching The Princess Bride, while drinking sparkling grape juice, I have no such exciting plans. In fact, as of this moment, I have no plans, so what can I talk about, Princess5_Lwhile the rest of the world is out receiving roses, going to fancy dinners, or perhaps bursting into tears because they didn’t get the aforementioned roses/dinners?

I was thinking about Christmastime in Australia, when I was spending my vacation with a friend in Brisbane. Of course, I was sick during that time, but still striving to achieve some aspects of normalcy, while mentally cursing all side effects of antibiotics. My friend and I went to visit a Christian book store, and I was thrilled. I’d been to our local book store in Emerald, many many times, but I hadn’t been into anything bigger for some time. And a Christian book store? My goodness, what fiction might they have come out with in the last year?

Oh, I knew, deep down, that I shouldn’t be buying much, because any book I bought, I would have to ship home. My Kindle was my mainstay for any book that I just HAD to have, and couldn’t get at the library. But in the meantime, real books were at my fingertips, and I was going to drool for all I was worth. And to make things even better, the book store had a coffee shop. Don’t ask me which one, it surely wasn’t Starbucks or Gloria Jean’s, but I could get a latte and carry it around with me. My body was probably going to object to it, later, because it was objecting to everything I put in it… but I didn’t care.

Oh, did I wander through that store and check out all the sections! But at first, I was very good, and only picked up one Christian fantasy book by Donita K. Paul, because I couldn’t find it on Kindle. It wasn’t as good as the originals in that series, but I still enjoyed reading it. And I found a biography of sorts, about G. K. Chesterton. Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton is a biography, but it goes through the life of Chesterton by way of all of his writings. The whys and wherefores behind everything he wrote, how he was changed and how he changed others by what he wrote.

If you’ve never heard of him, it was his book, The Everlasting Man, that C. S. Lewis credits with bringing him to Christianity. And yes, if you’re only aware of Lewis because of The Chronicles of Narnia, please remember that he was a very well-known Christian apologist, as well. But Chesterton was a colossus in the field of writing and knew something about everything. He was the king of quotes, and I became of a fan of his, several years ago, when my summer staff kids and I were reading up on him.

So, I bought my two books, and thought I was finished. But opportunity mustn’t be wasted… I was in a book store, and found myself unable to sit still. I kept wandering around, and found a stand with all sorts of Christian magnets. Among them, I found some that were shaped like Australia, with Bible verses on them. Just The Five Love Languagesperfect for a few small gifts to bring home to my church friends! I went back up to the register, and bought those, too. I felt a bit silly, coming back again.

Finally, I was starting to get tired, so I went look for a place to sit down. And found a chair in a section I hadn’t noticed. Yes, I was in the relationship section. Oh, dear. And I say that, not because that section is upsetting (remember, I am single), but because I find it so fascinating. As a result, my wallet can be in danger. I told myself that I was done shopping, I didn’t need to go look at any of the books… but no, I couldn’t resist. I hopped back to my feet, and picked up The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, by Gary Chapman.

The reason I picked up The Five Love Languages is because I’d already read quite a few that were on the shelves there, and I’d never gotten around to that one yet. Think I’m joking? I’ve read two books by Emerson Eggerichs (Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs  and Cracking the Communication Code), two by Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl), and two by Shaunti & Jeff Feldhahn (For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men and For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women). There are probably several others, but I can’t remember them, at the moment.

These are all great books, by the way, and if the title interests you, check it out, whether you’re a Christian or not. These were written for everyone, because everyone is confused by the opposite sex, all the time, right? A girl pal and I have hilarious memories of booking our way through the Feldhahn books, while we were in Hawaii, and discussing them. Yes, both the For Women Only AND For Men Only. Because we all want to know what they’re telling the opposite sex about us, right?

I have many good examples of dating relationships and marriages that I’ve observed over the years, but I’ve always figured that as long as I’m single (and even after I get married, someday), why not learn everything you can, so you can try and avoid a few mistakes. Nothing wrong with being prepared. I think that a lot of marital and dating problems, nowadays, come from not preparing yourself for the work involved in a relationship.for-women-only Because honestly, do guys really understand girls, and do girls understand guys? Of course we don’t. So, read up, learn a few things, and prepared yourself for the fight to finish the most wonderful, exciting race you’ll ever run.

Oh, have you been raised to believe that marriage is the ball-and-chain situation, where all the romance drains away, and you eventually grow bored with each other? Well, if you put no effort into your marriage, then perhaps that is true. Love is an action and marriage is not all daisies and Valentines. You have days when you adore each other and days when you can’t stand each other. That’s because you’re human. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work your way through the good and the bad together and come out the stronger in the end.

There I go again, giving advice on something I haven’t yet experienced.  : )   No firsthand experience of marriage yet, sorry. But I have seen lots of long-lasting marriages during my whole life, from a family that I’ve been blessed to be a part of and a large group of friends, some my age and some older. I think if you can’t learn by observation… what are they there for, if not to observe? I know some of my friends and family members well enough to KNOW that their marriages are not easy, all the time, but that just makes the joys all the greater. I hope to follow in their footsteps, someday.

When I picked up The Five Love Languages, I was curious to know what my friends were always babbling about, talking about “their love language” and how their hubby tried so hard to speak it, even when his was another. Usually, they’re talking about what specific one that is their favorite to use, but they’ll have a secondary one. After opening the book, I was hooked on the first few pages… and went up to the cash register for the third time, figuring I had to take this one home with me. By then, I was exhausted by our expedition, so I didn’t move from my chair again, until it was time to go.

If you’ve never read this book, then let me explain a bit. The idea is that all of us uses a particular “language” to expressimage.axd their love or affection for those around them. You might not know what your own is, but you probably know what one belongs to some of your family. Because when you use it on them, they are SO appreciative. Or maybe they use theirs on  your all the time.

The choices are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Affection, Quality Time, and Gifts. Now, if you’re like me, you probably think that ALL of those sound great. But which one or two sounds better than the rest? There’s even a quiz in the book, to help you figure it out. Immediately, I know that one of my cousins uses the Gifts language, because the dear girl sends thoughtful and funny presents to people in the mail, all the time. She LOVES to do this, and all of her friends love that about her. So, imagine if someone gave her something delightfully thoughtful, wouldn’t she feel loved?

My suspicion is that a certain member of my family has the love language of Acts of Service… not just because she is always doing things for others, but because of how she reacts when one of us empties the dishwasher, does the laundry, clears the counters, and vacuums the living room. If you can make someone light up, just by giving them a hand around the house, do you think this might be one on their “language list”?

Short explanation (these may sound obvious, but give it some thought): “Words of Affirmation” is to express in words how much you appreciate someone and the things they do/are to you. “Acts of Service” is to show someone you love them by mowing the lawn, washing the car, and cleaning the bathroom. “Affection” is to show your love with hugs and kisses, the people that hug you as soon as they see you, or pat your back while conversing with you. “Quality Time” is spending time with that person, whether talking or just being with them, just so that you’re there and listening, not pretending to listen. And, of course, “Gifts” are what you receive from that person who thinks flowers, cards, and little gifts are just the way to show their love… all year long, not just on Valentine’s Day.

When I took the quiz, I came up with a three-way tie, which might be unusual. But then, I’m a little uncertain about the third one, because I only show affection to those that I’m absolutely closest to, other than that, don’t get into my personal space. If I am not 8749748_origclose to you, as a friend, you will not be on my “hugging list”. If I ever get to date someone, then I’ll figure out how this one goes.

I was a bit shocked to realize that though I knew Quality Time would be on my list, Words of Affirmation was probably even higher on my list. Have I ever asked you if I’m bothering you, when calling you on the phone, or talking to you on chat? Yes, I have a tendency to think I’m in the way, so if I ever find someone who speaks that love language, naturally, I’ll be flying high.

Ok, I wasn’t really intending to do a complete soul-searching session there, but I thought you might be curious what I found for myself in that book, not just my family members. I definitely found that everyone should be loved and respected in a way that makes them feel loved. You might be showing them that you love them, but they might not realize it, because they don’t “speak” it that way, themselves. So, for Valentine’s Day, don’t just think about what color of roses your wife/girlfriend will like, but maybe think about whether you’re showing them love in the way that they can see it.

Don’t forget, love is an action. Love is a verb. If love was all mush and goopy feelings, we’d run the first time our loved ones got a virus that had them puking their guts out. You don’t feel the fluffy, butterflies-in-your-stomach when someone’s throwing up. Remember to act on your love, and show them how much you care. Forget about being selfish, for once, and put them first. They’ll love you all the more for it.

P.S. If you want something fun to WATCH, then check out Mark Gungor on YouTube, in his talk called A Tale of Two Brains. My Brisbane friend sent it to me, and I’ve been shrieking with laughter over it, the last few nights. Good advice and good fun, especially if the above subject interests you.

blessings of the New Year…

One year ago, I was in Australia, and I was sick. I had made it through Christmas without my family, been welcomed by my friends in Brisbane for a few weeks, and traveled extensively beforehand. My brain never could comprehend that it really was Christmas, because for one thing, it was HOT outside. Christmas is not supposed to take place during the summer, if you’re an American, and it never did completely click.DSC_0738

It started with an earache. If you read my blog post about Magnetic Island, I walked to the chemist’s (pharmacy) to get some hydrogen peroxide and ended up running back to the bus station in the noonday sun. The results of that were not only near prostration for this non-runner, but that I lost my library book, which has never ceased to irk me. The symptoms went away, and then returned with a vengeance on Christmas Eve Day. Who wants to be at the after-hours clinic on Christmas Eve? Not me. But my friend’s mom cheerfully called every doctor in town and then took me to the hospital.DSC_0740

At that point, I was willing to take anything to get rid of the pain, because it hurt so badly, I couldn’t move my jaw. Despite the delicious Christmas dinner my friends cooked, I wasn’t able to enjoy it properly. I slept the afternoon away and then talked to my family on Skype, during their Christmas morning.DSC_0745

Over the next two weeks, I regretted that medication like I’ve never regretted anything before. I wanted my earache back, because the side effects… caused everything to go through my system quickly, leaving nothing to sustain me. I had to eat and drink every few hours and I didn’t want to eat or drink. Over the next two weeks, I visited another doctor on New Year’s Eve, and he wasn’t able to help, and I ended up flying back to Emerald early, because Aussie roads don’t have regular rest stops, like in the U.S. That’s the only plane ride where I ever got motion sick, and I finally understood what my friends regularly go through.DSC_0748

I arrived back in Emerald and went to my local doctor, immediately. I trusted him to fix this problem, because I knew him from my last several illnesses AND since I didn’t think I could take much more. I lost ten pounds in two weeks and was starting to think that going on a drip sounded good.

When I arrived back at my Aussie family’s house, they were all delighted to see me, and there is something to be said about going on a trip, in order to make those you love excited to see you when you return. My Bub’s face, when she saw me, made it worth it to come back. The adults helped me haul my luggage upstairs, because I didn’t have the strength to do it. And once inside my room, I found two boxes from the United States waiting for me.DSC_0749

On Christmas morning, when I spoke to my mom, I joked with her that she should fill my stocking and hang onto it until I arrived home in May. She gave some sort of noncommittal answer, but I never really picked up on it. So, when I opened my Christmas box, I was unprepared to find my stocking in that box. There were other gifts, but for some time, I saw nothing else. That stocking had been mine since I was a baby, and while my brain could not be convinced by the calendar that it was Christmas, that stocking certainly could.DSC_0750

I picked that stocking up and hugged it like it was my only hope of survival, while I bawled like a baby. I had nothing left, no energy, no defenses against those tears. Being sick had taken it out of me, and if I couldn’t have my mom or my entire family, that stocking was the next best thing. Thankfully, there wasn’t anything breakable in it, because it was a while before I could let it go. But, of course, between opening all my gifts in that box, and the other box my friends had sent me, I did a lot of crying.DSC_0751

This story ends happily. The medicine finally kicked in, and my bosses stopped worrying that I wasn’t going to make it. My mom stopped trying to figure out whether she could get overnight plane tickets to Australia. I started to like the idea of eating and drinking again, and hope I never take it for granted again.

Maybe this seems like an odd story to share on New Year’s Eve, but I’ve been thinking about it for some time. Not only because I was too embarrassed to tell it LAST year, but because of the memories that surfaced this year, when I saw my Christmas stocking. Such a little thing to break through the walls to being homesick or being overly emotional. But then again, it’s not really a little thing. This year, my mom’s gift of two children’s books that I remember from Australia almost made me crack again, but I held it together. I hugged those two books hard, instead of crying on them.DSC_0753

I hope you all have memories of both recent Christmases and far distant New Years, memories that touch you to the core. Memories of family and friends, loved ones present and presently-in-heaven. And if you don’t have any of these memories that you treasure close to your heart, I hope that you’ll make some to share with those you love, in the future. Everyone should have those moments that they cherish and remember.DSC_0755

Now, I can see the humor in my episodes of illness. I can treasure the memory of my Aussie friends that took care of me while I was sick (and I was sick several times, while I was over there). I can even stand the inevitable teasing over getting mono, while in Australia. And I can cherish the reminder of how dear my family is to me, no matter where we are, at home or overseas.

As you celebrate this New Year, make some good new memories to share with your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, or share some happy remembrances with your friends of many years. Don’t forget to tell them all how much you love them. Be thankful for them all, and may your New Year truly be blessed.DSC_0756

of heroes & home games…

Football and I have a strange relationship. At the drop of a hat, I would probably tell you that I hate football. But that wouldn’t be entirely true. In actuality, I don’t understand the sport, and have never seen the attraction of watching several lines of guys in strange uniforms run into each other repeatedly. I prefer to play sports than to watch them, but since I can’t get my hand to grip a football, I can’t throw one properly. Much rather throw a frisbee. DSC_0244

DSC_0248I’ve never had anyone motivated enough to explain the game to me, make me see why it’s so interesting and exciting to them. I figure there never will be someone that motivated, unless I marry someone who’s crazy about football. Meanwhile, I fell in love with rugby league football, while watching the State of Origin games with my Aussie friends. Now, there’s a sport that keeps moving constantly, with the players being a cross between the swift soccer players and the beefy gridiron football players. How do they do that, and survive?DSC_0251

DSC_0252But my curiosity has begun to grow. Despite living in Clemson, where people bleed orange and breathe football fanaticism, I’ve been relatively untouched by exposure to the sport. In fact, it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been inside Death Valley Stadium. And over the years, I’ve begun to think that football is more of “America’s pasttime” than baseball, but I can’t take that to the bank. DSC_0253

Along with that, when watching The Dark Knight Rises trailer, and I realized the bad guy bombed a football game (no, I haven’t actually seen the movie yet), I felt the slam against America that it represented. It’s a sport that is supported by families, and I have friends that have been attending those games since their mom’s were pregnant with them. Children wave excited hands, wearing their “spirit fingers” (gloves with pom-poms on them), caught up in the excitement of their parents and siblings.DSC_0255

So, I took a walk on Saturday, and went into Death Valley. The last time I was in there, I was about 13 and had been dragged unwillingly to a game. I was bored out of my mind, too hot, and unable to understand why these people wanted to watch this sport.DSC_0257

When I entered the stadium, it was empty. I was amazed by how small it seemed in there, but maybe that’s just because the stadium was empty. It created an optical illusion, from where I stood, that I was closer to the field than I thought. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d be able to see the players clearly, even if I was in the “nose bleed section”. DSC_0258

So, I walked down the steps to the ground level, and tried to take in the whole place. Tried to picture all the crazy fans that I see on television. Picture the huge guys barreling down the field. Visualize the whole scenario. And I’m afraid my curiosity continues to grow, wondering what it would be like to see a football game live. When I think about it, I realize I’ve never been to a baseball game (or any other live sports game, for that matter), either. It’s strange to realize, but my younger brothers are less interested in sports than I am, last I checked. We’ve always preferred to play than to watch.DSC_0259

But despite my growing interest, I won’t be buying a ticket for myself any time soon. I know full well that you don’t experience it properly, if you go see a game by yourself, one that you don’t understand. And I will not play third (or fifth wheel) to anyone that doesn’t genuinely want me along. So, that first game day may have to wait a long time.DSC_0261

DSC_0267As I left the stadium, with my legs screaming after all the stairs, I made a beeline for the front gate that faced the new Memorial Park. I was unaware of the new dedications on the wall, under the sign for Memorial Stadium and Frank Howard Field, for those Clemson Alumni that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Plaques from all branches of the military are displayed on this wall, though I don’t have room to show them all.DSC_0273

DSC_0279DSC_0278My other purpose of this walk was to see the new Scroll of Honor Memorial and Memorial Park. Crossing the street, and guarded by the tiger statues, is a Memorial to all those alumni that gave their lives for their country. The reflection stones are arranged like the points on a compass, with stones to mark north, east, south, and west, as well. DSC_0295

DSC_0290DSC_0284DSC_0299I watched the flag for a while, hoping to get a gust of wind to blow it out, but there was very little wind that day. I love the reminders that freedom is never free. As I circled around, reading some of the unfamiliar names on the stones, I wondered how many generations of these families still send their children to Clemson University, and they can now point out their heroic relatives, remembered in the stones.   DSC_0296

DSC_0303DSC_0300Exiting the Scroll of Honor Memorial, I walked up the street, and then entered into the Memorial Park (I think they’re separate, though they share the same block of property). You could walk through the grass from one to the other, but that would’ve felt wrong. Besides, when you go in at the proper entrance, you can read the words that are written into the path. How many of us think about the sacrifices of our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines? DSC_0304

DSC_0305DSC_0306 DSC_0307 DSC_0308I was stopped in my tracks by these questions, “What will you give to? What will you commit to? Who will you protect? Who will you respect?”. “What will you give a life for?” Would you even do such a thing? These brave men did. When I reached the center of the park, my eyes were drawn towards the Scroll of Honor Memorial, which the Memorial Park was built to highlight, it seems. And then I spotted the words on the rocks. Can you see them?DSC_0310 DSC_0312

I’ve highlighted them further.12-1 Clemson & Memorial Park

As I left the park, I saw that the pathway of questions on respect, bravery, commitment, and sacrifice was repeated on that side. No matter which way you enter the park, you can’t escape these thought provoking words. And shouldn’t we be confronted with them? As the 71st anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack has just gone by, shouldn’t we remember what the great men of our country have sacrificed, that their children and grandchildren should continue to walk free?DSC_0317 DSC_0320

And so, though I may never understand Clemson University’s favorite past-time, I support their quest to remember the sacrifices of our predecessors, and to build up men and women that understand the principles of freedom and love of country. I salute our military and those who have given their all for this country. And I salute those that support our armed forces, and Clemson is certainly on that list.DSC_0322

once upon a pie crust…

Once upon a time, I was in Australia. And I had friends that weren’t familiar with certain kinds of food, so I introduced them to pumpkin pie, buttermilk biscuits, white chili soup, Christmas cut-outs, and no-bake cookies. In return, they introduced me to eating lamb, potato wedges (with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream), pumpkin soup, lamingtons, pavlova, and vegemite. It was an excellent trade-off, but now that I’m not over there, I would give anything to have an Aussie meat pie or sausage roll.

The week before I left Australia, my friends threw me a going-away party. The joke was that they were celebrating my departure, but really, it was wonderful to know that they would miss me. During my final week there, I was so busy packing and doing last minute tasks, that I didn’t really have time to visit everyone, nor did I want to have to break down over numerous goodbyes. So, a massive sendoff from all my closest friends was just perfect.

On the day of my party, I had decided to bring some American desserts for the party, but I was on my very last can of pumpkin. That meant there wouldn’t be enough to make a pumpkin pie for both my friends AND my Aussie family. So, I decided to make pumpkin bars and funny cake.

Now, when I originally planned this post, I couldn’t find some of my recipes, because they had been packed, and I didn’t want to put both recipes in the same post. Reviewing my blog dashboard, I don’t believe I ever wrote that pumpkin bar post, either. So, I’m going to stick with the original plan and write about the funny cake, and give you the recipe for pumpkin bars later. Bear with me, I’ll get it together. This one is three months behind, as it is.

Funny cake is a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. Back in the days when Germans were settling Pennsylvania (you know, in the 1600’s), they were referred to as “Deutsch”, but the word was eventually Americanized into “Dutch”. In that part of the country, you’ll find many foods that are of German origin, which you won’t find any other places in the country. For example, you don’t get “shoo-fly pie” almost anywhere else, and that’s a sad loss, because I love shoo-fly pie. It’s a pie made with molasses, in case you’re wondering.

My dad’s family is from Allentown, PA, and they grew up eating funny cake and other PA Dutch dishes, and so did we. We even have it instead of birthday cake, sometimes. When I heard my older brother got it for his birthday, when I was in Australia, I was very jealous, which is probably why I decided to make some in Australia.

It isn’t a small recipe, as the mixture makes three pies worth. I knew it would be plenty to share with both friends and family, before I left. It never lasts long, at home, because we’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if we can get away with it. Originally, I thought it was called a funny cake because it’s put into a pie crust, but it’s really a cake. But my parents told me that it’s really a funny cake because if you put the cake batter in first, and then pour in the chocolate sauce, the chocolate sauce still ends up on the bottom of the cake. So, you can try the recipe, and decide for yourself why it’s a funny cake.

While overseas, my determination to introduce my friends to pumpkin pie gave me a lot of opportunity to improve my pie crust making skills. Even when the dough was being completely uncooperative, I could “press” it into the pie plate, eventually covering the whole thing, and it would still come out beautifully. This was a good thing, because I would have to make three pie crusts for the recipe, which required me to go buy another pie pan, because my Aussie family didn’t have enough of them. I also found a pasty blender (finally!) at the housewares store, so I could use that instead of a fork! Hooray!

Just for a reminder, here’s the pie crust recipe, first, and then the recipe for funny cake:

Flaky Pastry for 1-crust pie

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp butter (or Crisco)

2 to 2.5 tbsp cold water

Combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in shortening with pastry blender until mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Sprinkle on cold water, 1 tbsp at a time, tossing mix lightly and stirring with a fork. Dough should be moist enough to hold together when pressed gently with a fork. It should not be sticky. Shape dough into smooth ball with hands and then roll. Put crust in 9-inch pie pan and crimp edges.

~

Funny Cake

Cocoa Mix:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup water

1/2 tsp vanilla

Cake Mix:

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup margarine

2 eggs

2.5 cups flour

1 cup milk

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

Mix up cocoa mix, separately, and set aside. Cream butter & sugar (make sure butter is soft), then add the other ingredients. Pour cake mix evenly into THREE pie crusts. Then pour even amounts of cocoa mix into cake batter. Chocolate will sink to the bottom, while in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

~

My pie crust making went beautifully. If you’re reading my recipe, one way of making this a “funny” cake is that you can pour the chocolate in after the cake batter, and it will still sink. But you can do it the other way, too, which is how I did it. I poured the cocoa mix in first, so that I had an even amount in each pie crust. Then, I poured the cake batter, evenly, into the crusts. The cake batter will just pile in the middle, for the time being, and the cocoa mixture will sit on the sides, but that’s normal. It will settle down when it’s in the oven.

When your cakes are finished, let them cool for a while, but you can refrigerate them if you need them to cool faster. Unless you have a house that’s prone to ants, though, you don’t need to keep them refrigerated. They’ll probably get eaten too fast to go bad, anyway. I’m sorry, I never took pictures, but when you first cut into the funny cake, you’ll find a flaky crust with a thin layer of chocolate right above it, and then a delicious yellow cake on top of that. But it holds together so well, you can eat it with your hands.

Oh, and by the way, when you look at these pictures, I found out later that I had pulled them out just a LITTLE too early. So, they were a little underdone in spots, though they still tasted wonderful. So, you want the tops to be a little more of a golden brown, not quite so yellow.

At my going-away party, I’m sorry to say (ok, not really), we all ate too much food and dessert, so that we weren’t able to distinguish the deliciousness of some of the new desserts. In other words, my friends were too sugared up to figure out how well they liked the funny cake and the pumpkin bars. Instead, I left them with plenty of leftovers, and brought the last funny cake to Bible study, on Sunday. There, we all chowed down, and watching the guys take several pieces made me feel a lot better (and yes, we mostly ate it with our hands).

When I remind myself that this was over three months ago, I’m amazed that time has flown by so easily. That Sunday was the day I had to pull it together, while I hugged everyone goodbye, one last time. Now, I have my “I-miss-Australia” days, regularly. Whether I’m working on a writing project, involving my Australia blog posts, drinking Russian Caravan tea, or talking to an Aussie friend on Skype (I did that this morning), there are times when I just battle the homesickness. I also think of extravagant (and sometimes silly) plans of how to get back there, as soon as possible. But in the end, it always comes down to this… I need to save up the money.

Yes, I can’t go back and visit my friends, every year, until I have a savings account that will allow me to travel that far, and take 2-3 months off of work. This isn’t just a visit to my friends, but the chance to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Great Barrier Reef, and other places that I didn’t see when I was there. So, it’s a long-term goal that I have to strive for. Accept the tears of homesickness that slaps me, now and then, and just continue to resolve to go back and visit.

And so, I’ll keep my long-term goal in my mind, and meanwhile, I’ll plan to share that pumpkin bar recipe with you, shortly. I know where my recipes are, now, it’s just a matter of pulling the box off my shelf. All you foodies, stay with me until then.