Sunday, August 31, 2014

This Sunday I'm Missing Mackinac Island

So last Sunday, I rushed out a quick Sunday post because I was being kidnapped by my girlfriends. Today, I will post my beautiful girlies and then spend the rest of the time talking about my trip with lots of photos!

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Here are my beautiful girlies. Bria was down in Chicago for the weekend on a youth temple trip and got home this evening. And yes, Sophia chopped her hair off the other day! Don't worry, she didn't do it herself! We did it at a salon, and she is donating her hair. I think she looks absolutely adorable, but I'm mostly excited about not having to comb out her snarls for half an hour every morning.

School starts on Tuesday. I do look forward to more structure and organization, but man, this summer sure flew by. Tomorrow we will have our traditional back-to-school feast and introduce a new family theme for the year. I must admit, I chose this year's theme because I need it more than my children do, but we could all use the reminder. You'll have to stay tuned to see what it is! I'll try to have it posted by Wednesday morning.


Mackinac Island.

Can I first just say I have the best husband ever? He is always griping about how he can never surprise me with anything, and he has kept this 40th birthday surprise trip under wraps for a long time. And I didn't suspect a single thing. He knew how much I loved Mackinac when I went with Bria for a girl scout trip (see all those photos HERE and HERE) and so when it was on MaryFran's list of places to go, he jumped on it. MaryFran is my amazing friend who ought to be a travel agent and planned this whole trip.

Four of my friends came to get me in the minivan on Sunday afternoon and we drove the five hours to St. Ignace, where we stayed the night in a motel there. The next morning, we hopped on a ferry and landed on Mackinac Island around 11:00 am. It was a grey and rainy day. So rainy that I ended up buying an umbrella first thing! I don't have a lot of photos of that first day on my big camera, but we shopped and ate at a nice restaurant and shopped some more.

Then the weather cleared up and we went to the pool at the resort we were staying at, after which we dressed for dinner and headed out to eat again.

Here are a couple photos of us after dinner, courtesy of a random stranger who didn't know how to get a good focus on my camera. Behind us are Mackinac's cell tower (oops! We were hoping for the marina) and Fort Mackinac.

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Jane, MaryFran, me, Victoria, MargieJo

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MaryFran, Victoria, me, Jane, MargieJo

The next morning, we got up early to rent some bikes and bicycle the 8.2 mile perimeter of the island. That was easily my favorite part of the entire trip! The following are a few of the photos I took on that bike ride (we stopped frequently!):

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The marina near our hotel

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My view as I rode through downtown before it was full of tourists and shoppers

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Riding by Lake Huron
All of our bikes on one of our stops

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The biker gang

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Arch Rock. I was hoping we'd get a chance to climb it, but it never happened.

After our bike ride, we went back to shower and eat, and then we headed out to the Butterfly House.

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After the Butterfly House, we headed to the art museum (no photos allowed), to the Grand Hotel for ice cream, and more shopping and sight-seeing.

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We saw a funeral procession! Fascinating to see the horse-drawn hearse. (No cars allowed on Mackinac Island, bikes and horses everywhere.)

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Look closely and you can see the Grand Hotel in the background. Legend has it that Mackinac Island is actually the back of a giant turtle.
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I do love all the horses.

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Sunset on the mini-golf course. We ate at a restaurant overlooking the lake and the golf course and then did glow-in-the-dark golf, which was an absolute blast!

The next morning, we managed to squeeze a little more shopping in, but it was time to leave the island. Only because we all had to get back for the Elementary School Open House for our children to meet their teachers! Otherwise we would have stayed longer!

Good-bye Mackinac!

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View of the island as the ferry leaves

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I love the water spray on the ferries!

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Beautiful Mackinac Bridge

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The Grand Hotel

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Back in St. Ignace--but I really loved how this photo turned out!

I took a few more fun shots with my phone and put them on my Instagram. If you want to look them up you can find it HERE.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dark Hope: A Book Review

Dark Hope by Monica McGurk is the first book in a new trilogy entitled The Archangel Prophecies. It is a young adult novel with a fantastic twist. Instead of the typical vampires, this book has angels.

I really enjoyed it. I felt that Hope is a strong female character--one that I wouldn't mind my own teenager reading about. Sure, she doesn't always make the best decisions, but she does have some incredibly tough decisions to make. I was especially impressed with the way McGurk was able to weave the very real life issue of human trafficking into a story that is based more in fantasy than in real life.

The book takes the main characters, Hope and Michael, from Atlanta to Las Vegas to Utah on a wild adventure in which they take on both human traffickers and fallen angels. I especially loved the parts where they were in Snow Canyon, Utah. I used to live near there and drove through the canyon every Saturday morning to go teach at Tuacahn. I loved being able to envision exactly what the landscape looked like as they searched for The Librarian.

Of course, I've been to Vegas many times, too, but I had a harder time envisioning that one because I am not a high roller, nor am I a human trafficker. The information I learned about this issue that happens in our country made me very sad. I am pleased that the author is donating a portion of all the book's proceeds to help with the cause of human trafficking. Everyone should buy a copy for that reason alone.

But also because it is really good. I wanted Bria, my resident teenage reader and fantasy lover, to read it before this review was due, but she's been working through a really long series this summer and she hasn't gotten to it yet. It's in her pile, though, because she read the summary and thought it sounded like something she would really like. And I think she will really like it.

As for me, I liked it enough that I am already anxiously awaiting Book Two, because there's a lot of resolution that needs resolving, and I would like to know what happens! It's the one thing I hate about book series--waiting for the next one to be released!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gluten Free Chicken Enchiladas With Green Sauce

Delicious gluten free chicken enchiladas with green sauce—just six ingredients.

This gluten-free chicken enchilada recipe is super easy to make and everyone loves it!

It's no secret that The Maestro does most of the dinner cooking around here. But I have a few signature meals I make, too, and these gluten-free chicken enchiladas are one of them. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they are the highest requested birthday meal in our household. Sophia, who had the most recent birthday, requested them for her birthday dinner recently and so I thought I'd share the recipe with you today.

(I was forward thinking and took photos, but people were impatiently waiting to eat it and so I have exactly zero photos of what it looks like dished up on a plate.)

Gluten Free Chicken Enchiladas with green sauce. A simple recipe with only six ingredients that your family will love! Easy to make either gluten-free or with wheat.

Because we are a gluten-free household, and especially because Sophia is the one with Celiac, I adapted the recipe to be gluten-free. When I made these last October for Bria's birthday, I found out the hard way that most enchilada sauces contain wheat. I have included the recipe to make gluten-free chicken enchiladas here, but it is easy enough to make it normally (easier, probably).

Gluten Free Chicken Enchiladas

The only two ingredients that are not naturally gluten-free are the tortillas and the enchilada sauce. It is not difficult to find gluten-free tortillas and I have included affiliate links for our two favorite gluten-free tortilla brands. I have also included an affiliate link for the brand of gluten-free enchilada sauce that we found.


5-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
12-15 gluten-free flour tortillas (I used Food for Life brand GF Brown Rice Tortillas here, but I recently found these tortillas that work even better.)
1 block cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 white onion, diced
1 small can diced green chiles (optional)
1 large can gluten-free green enchilada sauce (La Victoria brand is a good gluten-free enchilada sauce)
1 16 oz block monterey jack cheese, grated


Cook the chicken breasts in a crock pot on low for about 4 hours. Let cool a while, then shred thoroughly.

Shred your chicken in the KitchenAid!

I actually use my Kitchen Aid mixer to shred my chicken.

Shredding the chicken was always the absolute worst part of making this meal until I learned this trick. It has changed my life!

Throw your cooked chicken breasts into the mixing bowl and using the paddle attachment, "mix" the chicken on a lower speed for about 30 seconds. That's all it takes!

Time saving kitcehn tip--Shred your chicken in the KitchenAid.

And, voila! You have shredded chicken. In 30 seconds. What once used to take me up to 20 minutes to shred properly now only takes 30 seconds. I'm still absolutely delighted by this fact.

Gluten free chicken enchiladas

Add the cream cheese, sour cream, and diced onion to the shredded chicken and mix well. I just continue doing it in the Kitchen Aid since the chicken is already in there.

If you want your enchiladas to be spicier, you could add some actual green chiles to the mix, too. I have done this before, but my children prefer it without. The chiles also add a bit of color to all the whiteness.

Making gluten free chicken enchiladas with brown rice tortillas

Fill tortillas with a couple spoonfuls of the chicken mixture, roll up and place in 9x13 casserole dish.

I like to fill mine up pretty full, but you'll have to gauge how much of the chicken mixture you have to how many tortillas you can fit in your casserole dish. Sometimes some of the rolls are definitely more full than others.

gluten free chicken enchiladas

Pour enchilada sauce over tortillas, covering thoroughly.

Gluten free chicken enchiladas with green sauce

Top with grated monterey jack cheese.

Bake at 350 for approximately 45 minutes or until cheese begins to brown.

Gluten-free Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

I usually serve these enchiladas with a green salad and some sort of corn dish on the side. They are incredibly filling by themselves, so you don't need much to go with them.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family does!

Here are some other gluten-free main dishes you may enjoy:

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Front Door Makeover

The problem with living in a very old house is that the list of improvement projects is never ending. Well, this front door project has been on my list forEVER!

We've now lived in our house for five years. It was built circa 1908, so it's already seen many a tough winter, and we did not realize just how hard the winters could be on a front porch--especially when it's made of painted wood!

We repainted the steps a couple years ago using the paint color that was labeled "front porch, front door, shutters" by the previous owners. We didn't use the actual paint they had left in the basement, but went and had more formulated with the same recipe. Well, it wasn't the right color, so I'm not sure what happened there! We have lived with the steps being a slightly different green than the front door and the shutters for a couple years. Meanwhile, the porch steps have looked worse and worse as the interminable winters and ridiculous amounts of snow did their damage. It was time.

This time, I went down to Sherwin-Williams and picked up every single green paint chip they had. And we found what was pretty much a perfect match in SW 2860 Sage.

Front Door Before

So here is what we started with. Not only are my steps looking raggedy, but the front door itself is rusting at the bottom due to all the snow, and my poor wreath is pretty bedraggled. Also, I was not a fan of the house numbers. They're super ugly, and in the winter when there was three feet of snow, nobody could see them anyway.

While we were at Sherwin-Williams trying to match the green, I mentioned to The Maestro that I really just wanted a red front door, and he said "why not?" So, I also found a red that I really liked that went well with the Sage green color. I chose SW 7588 Showstopper. Also, I really liked the name of the color, and hoped that's exactly what my new front door would be.

Because the front door was a red color, priming is absolutely necessary. The paint guru at Sherwin-Williams told me I should prime in a grey and helped me pick out all of the proper tools for painting a metal door. We first cleaned it really well with TSP, then lightly sanded the door with a coarse grit sandpaper. The Maestro did some more vigorous sanding where the bottom was rusting with the electric sander. Finally, we primed it grey with a small roller, let it dry and began painting. It took about three coats and a bit of touch up, but the final result made me pretty darn happy!

Front Door Middle

Together with the newly painted steps, I was even happier. Now the steps don't match the door, but they do match the shutters on the rest of the house. And I am really loving the pop of red!

The next step was to replace my bedraggled old wreath. While I have good intentions of changing my wreath with each month/holiday, I don't usually bother to do it until the fall holidays and Christmas, which are my favorites to decorate for. Consequently, I wanted a wreath that will look nice for spring/summer/early fall because it would most likely be on the front door that long!

Front Door Wreath

I went down to Michael's and couldn't find anything I liked. I looked online and couldn't come up with anything I really loved, either. Finally, we were in Walmart and I headed down the craft aisle. I saw some green silk hydrangeas and liked how they looked. So, I just bought a foam wreath form and a ton of the hydrangeas. I went home, cut up the stems, and stuck them into the foam. I am in love with the result. It's just what I was hoping for--simple, elegant, and perfect for a year-round decoration.

Front Door Numbers

The last step was to deal with the house number. We took it off when we repainted and I threw it right into the garbage. Finally, I had the idea to put the number right on the front door itself with vinyl. I don't have a Silhouette--much as I wish I did, but I have friends who do, and one of them was lovely enough to cut the numbers for me (check out her blog here--she does some seriously gorgeous furniture makeovers!).

Front Door After

The final result truly is showstopping. I've gotten so many compliments on it, and I no longer feel like my front porch area shows its age quite as much. It's still 106 years old, but I think it just got some of its youth back. I can't wait to take the girls' first day of school photos in front of it!

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

I'm Being Kidnapped...

And the 40th birthday amazingness doesn't end, folks!

The girls took their own Sunday photo while I frantically packed for a kidnapping. When I walked in the house from church, Joel accosted me with a poem to read that informed me that my big surprise party a couple weeks ago was just a foil for the REAL surprise.

My friends and I are going to Mackinac Island for a few days and we were leaving within the hour!

They'll be here in 5 minutes...

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 Things I Wish I'd Brought Camping

We have never been big campers, The Maestro and I. The first time that we went camping together as a family was when Chloe was a baby and Bria was three. It was for a church camping trip and so we borrowed a tent and headed up the mountain with everyone else.

It was kind of awful. Chloe cried all night long. All. Night. Long. And I could hear coyotes everywhere (this was in Arizona) and it was uncomfortable and I swore I'd never do it again.

But then, we went on our Epic Vacation in 2012 and decided to camp across America. We purchased an awesome, spacious tent (to see it click here: Coleman 8 man tent) and other necessary camping supplies and had a wonderful time doing it. It might be because we didn't have a baby or super young children anymore, but whatever it was, it was fun.

So we like to camp now. And we've been trying to find a time to do it this summer that would work with both the weather and the schedule. The Maestro finally found that time and picked me up from work one day with everything ready to go.

Except. We forgot a few things...

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The first thing we forgot, and quite possibly the most important:

Marshmallow Roasters

I mean, it all turned out fine in the end, because the girls found some sticks and they worked okay. But we didn't have a sharp enough knife to really make them work wonderfully. You can see in the above photo that Chloe is working on hers diligently with her little camp knife that she purchased at the Outpost, but it cost her all of 3 bucks, so I'm sure you can imagine how effective that was!

(Okay, so maybe I should add a good camping knife to this list. The Maestro has this leatherman, and this knife is also a good choice and if you want a REALLY good knife for camping, this one is top-rated.)

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Now, to be honest, we don't even OWN any marshmallow roasters. But they are on my list for next year. And we didn't forget the gluten-free graham crackers, so all's well that ends well, right?

Of course right! Because S'mores! And next time I will bring these awesome telescoping and color coded marshmallow roasters I bought online.

Extra Camera Battery

I already blogged about this a little bit. The Maestro picked me up from work, we headed to a wedding reception, and then we quickly came back home to change (camping in wedding reception dress is not recommended). I grabbed my camera after I changed my clothes, knowing full well that the battery in it was not full, but thinking it would be okay because I didn't have time to grab my spare battery.

Dumb move!

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The sun was setting just as we were driving into the state park and it was breathtaking. I made The Maestro pull over, grabbed my camera, and ran down to the beach to get some photos. I managed to take exactly four before my dang battery died.

I took a few with my iPhone after that, and even though they turned out okay, I like the ones out of my big camera much better.

Porkies iphone sunset

I couldn't get a nice zoomed photo (never zoom on the iPhone—it just makes a crappy photo)and the color is washed out. It's still a lovely photo, so if all you have is your phone, use it!

It frustrated me that I was stuck with my phone for the rest of the camping trip, though.

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The iPhone has a hard time with exposure for photos like this one, and I get frustrated with it. I like the control of my manual camera much better!


Either too dark or too light. Hard to get it just right. And I can't shoot in RAW like I do with my camera.That way I can adjust the exposure later if I get it wrong in camera!

Oh well. Next time, I assure you that I will have both batteries fully charged and ready to go! And I will also bring this car inverter just in case my batteries both go dead.

Extra Blankets

I know it's the middle of August, but camping in the mountains (or in the Upper Peninsula!) means that it can get pretty cold at night. We did have some of our best summer weather for the camping trip but it was pretty cold at night.

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Chloe and Sophia both have lighter youth-sized sleeping bags that worked great for camping in the Badlands, but not so much the Porkies—which are beyond the End of the Earth.

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The two younger girls were especially cold at night and decided to get warm by snuggling into me as tightly as they could. We did have the blanket we use for the beach with us, but it didn't do quite a good enough job in keeping them warm.

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Extra blankets would have also been awfully nice for the morning. The girls didn't think to bring anything much warmer than a hoodie, and I think we all could have used our winter jackets until mid-morning. The Maestro decided not to start a fire for the morning, since it was too much work and we used a camp stove for cooking breakfast. These fleece camping blankets would have been perfect.

More Camp Chairs

We actually only own three of them right now, which is why we only brought three. But they are inexpensive enough that we should have bought two more. These ones would have been perfect.

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Yes, there was a picnic table at our campground, and there was even a log to sit on near the fire pit, but it would have been so much nicer if we could all have had a chair! Especially for getting nice and close for roasting those marshmallows!

Our Letterboxing Supplies

I've written several times before about letterboxing and how much we like to do it. I didn't even think about it when we left to camp, though.

Which is silly, because places like National and State Parks usually have TONS of letterboxes hidden in them.

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Lucky for us, the visitor's center not only had printouts of all the clues to each letterbox hidden in the park, they also had stamps and notebooks for us to use. How cool is that? We were a little sad not to have our signature pineapple stamp, but we used a butterfly instead and found a few letterboxes together.

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We also found "Super Mario Brothers" mushrooms, as Chloe very excitedly called them. I think that might be one of my favorite things about letterboxing—it makes you look at your surroundings a little more closely and you might find some hidden treasures.

What We Remembered

Even though there were a few things I wish we would have had, we remembered the important stuff. And I'm not just talking about our tent and sleeping bags and plenty of food and water.

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We remembered to have fun and be together as a family. Which is why I think I like camping so much.

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And even though all of these photos are taken with our phones, I still love looking at them because I just loved our camping trip.

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If the Lara from ten years ago who had a miserable time camping in Arizona only knew!

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Happy Camping!

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