Denver, CO

A few weeks ago we traveled to Denver, CO, for a a little winter vacation. We’d been talking about visiting one of my best friends in Denver for almost a year, and finally made it happen this month. We had a few things to celebrate: my birthday, Bryan’s defense, a big move to the MidWest (more on that later!). That’s right, I’m now married to Bryan Tucker, PhD!! I’m so extremely proud of his hard work over the last 4 1/2 years of graduate school and it has all finally paid off. He defended the week before our trip, so it was perfect timing to take a break and enjoy some mountain views.

We started our trip at the New Belgium Brewery for some day drinking and tour. We both had to acclimate a little to the altitude and dry weather, so we took it very slow the first day.

We went to Avanti for dinner which is “A collective eatery” with many food truck-style restaurants to choose from. Genius! We were exhausted from traveling all day so we crashed after dinner, ready to explore the next day.

Day 2 we headed to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs to do some milder “hiking”. We enjoyed a picnic in the back of Emily’s car (couldn’t find a picnic table) before starting the trail. To see those massive red/orange rocks high up in this bright blue sky was beautiful to take in. We handled the altitude well with no issues and got some pretty stunning pictures. Avett (Emily’s furry friend) stole the show while meeting tons of new people and posing so well for all of our obsessive pictures.

Dinner that night was at The Squeaky Bean which was a more upscale farm to table restaurant. There was no food left on our plates! After dinner, we got drinks and ice cream at Union Station, the train station with restaurants, shopping, and hotel all in one location. If you go upstairs, there’s a less-known bar with beautiful decor and a more intimate setting.

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Thanks Emily for dressing me all week!

Day 3 we made it out to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park where we reached our peak altitude for the trip. I finally got to see snow and it was absolutely gorgeous against the green trees and blue sky. We picnicked in the park right beside this rock slide-made waterfall; it was amazing to sit out in that 30/40 degree weather and actually still enjoy it. Those views are so breathtaking and I found myself overwhelmed by their size even in the distance. I couldn’t even begin to take pictures in some settings because a camera couldn’t capture enough.

That night we went to Steuben’s, which was my favorite dinner of the trip. It was a relaxed atmosphere with good cocktails and classic American dishes.

Breakfast on Day 4 was another highlight of the trip, and there’s no one better to brunch with than Emily. We speak the same love language of breakfast food. We found ourselves at the most charming Victorian house turned Louisiana-style restaurant, Sassafras. The menu boasted 9 choices of mimosas all served in cute mason jars. My mouth is literally watering right now as I reminisce over that jalapeño cheddar drop biscuit sandwich.

We had original plans to go back to the mountains that day, but our brunch coma left us highly unmotivated. After an easy afternoon, we took a very windy walk around Wash Park with Avett stealing the show again, enjoyed some beer and wings at Denver Beer Co., and eventually made our way to dinner: ramen at Bones. It’s safe to say the food on this trip did not disappoint!

Thank you Emily for being the best hostess! You planned everything just perfectly so there was flexibility but we didn’t have to make decisions, and I really appreciate that. It was the most relaxing week I’ve had in a really long time. You are the best!

We will definitely be returning to Colorado in the future!

My Christmas in July

This Fourth of July, Bryan and I crashed my parents vacation in St. Augustine, again. We ate seafood, sunbathed (read as: sunburned), took naps, and admired my dad’s wheezy laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed my time this weekend, but it is not the same holiday I celebrated as a child.

   
   
As Bryan and I drove back home Monday night, catching glimpses of the celebrations of other families and communities, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed thinking of what that holiday used to look like for me. It was my Mamaw’s Christmas, though she did that one up big too. This holiday was for her and my dad. They would prepare weeks in advance by taking a day trip to buy fireworks and planning the order for setting them all off. My dad grilled ribs and made his famous sauce every year. I loved waking up to the smell of his sauce and the sight of that old stained cookbook he used year after year.

 

Ignore the awkwardness that defined my middle school years

 
  
Those fireworks brought back such vivid memories of lawn chairs and fireworks in the backyard, writing our names with sparklers in the air, eating homemade ice cream, laughing till I couldn’t breathe. Mamaw and Dad lit up on this day and you couldn’t help but do the same when you were around them. I did my best to explain this emotional nostalgia to Bryan on our ride home, how the turmoil of bittersweetness filled my insides, when he gently and perfectly suggested that maybe this can be my dad’s holiday with our kids one day. I love that I have these memories and that even almost ten years after the last celebration of its kind it is still defined by the greatest woman I’ve ever met.

Flying Solo

I never imagined as a nurse that I would get opportunities to travel for work, but in my new role as a research nurse I’ve been able to see a whole different side of my profession. Usually, my trips are full of meetings and dinners with no free time for exploring, but this week in Dallas I had a free evening to do a little bit of lone traveling. I didn’t do it very well, but maybe I’ve learned I’m not quite as socially inept as once thought and can handle my own sometimes.

I managed to maneuver through two very busy airports on my own, network on my flights, not hyperventilate while up in the air, and find my way to a driver and my hotel. I was very tempted to stay in my room and order room service, you know minimize the potential awkward socializing, but instead utilized concierge to find a restaurant within walking distance. I made my way to a Tex-Mex bar where I indulged in a delicious margarita and an entire bowl of chips and salsa all to myself.   I tried not to look too awkward while I ate alone at a bar that was too tall for the stool I was given, but I’m sure I didn’t pull that off. I quickly made my way back to the hotel and stayed in the rest of the night. So adventurous! But really, that’s more than I usually do. I heard later that we were within walking distance from The Sixth Floor Museum that walks you through the assassination of JFK and could kick myself for not looking into more possibilities than I did. This was a great trip to prove I can be alone and not combust, and may motivate me to be more adventurous in the future.    At the hosted dinners, it’s also easy to eat and leave quickly after you’ve finished your meal, but I made a conscious effort during this trip to talk with the other study coordinators around me. I love hearing about life all over the country and getting to brag about the South a little. The other attendees also took this time to share ghost stories as our hotel was apparently haunted. We stayed at the Adolphus hotel downtown, where the 19th floor is haunted by a guest who hung herself back in the 1930s after being left at the alter. You can imagine how well everyone slept.

It doesn’t help that you feel as if you’re stepping back into the 1930s. The hotel is very ornate in the lobby with old wood panels, grand chandeliers, intricately painted ballrooms, and creepy wood and mirrored elevators. They also serve afternoon tea each day. The rooms, however, were very modern, maybe if only to help the guests put the ghost stories out of mind at night.      I am grateful for these opportunities to see other parts of the country, and think it is just the right amount of professional traveling for me. It’s pushing me out of comfort zones and allowing me to grow individually and professionally.

Sister, sister

I don’t have any other siblings to compare to, but having a sister has to be the best thing someone can have forced upon them. You get an instant best friend, unsolicited honesty, constant laughter, free beauty and fashion tips, and someone to talk about your parents with. I just got to spend a few, long overdue, days with my sister and the aftermath emotions are starting to settle in, right on schedule.

We live almost 7 hours apart and she is very busy with work and school so it’s difficult to even talk, much less hang out. Even when we visit for the holidays, we are sharing time with other family members (which is also much needed and enjoyed) and don’t have much time for filling each other in on our life drama.

I wouldn’t trade sharing my life now with my husband for anything, but occasionally it’s nice to have weekends of teenage flashbacks with your sister: fighting over mirror space while getting ready, modeling several outfits for the night, sitting cross-legged on the bed giggling about boys, having someone to fix the part of your hair that just won’t cooperate. It’s nice to not have to beg to take a picture together out in public (ahem, men!), instead we just naturally gravitate to a photographic pose and wait for our guys to capture the moment (you can thank our Dad for this one!).

I so enjoyed having you in my home. I love hearing the adventures of your life, witnessing the evolution of your maturity, getting to know the guy who’s making you so happy, and just being in the presence of your bubbly self. I’ll always struggle with the big sister complex, but I think I am beginning to enjoy hearing your opinions and taking your advice more as we grow into our adult sisterhood.

Thanks for spending your vacation days on me! I love you little sssissster!!

Living Room Update

We moved, AGAIN, in the beginning of April to what has been the best place we’ve had in Gainesville. The landlord put a lot of money and hard work into this house and transformed this 1960s cinder block home into something with style. I was excited to get in and start making it our own. We were still rocking my college couch, the biggest sectional I’ve ever seen, and had wrestled with moving that thing way too many times. We decided this move would be the one for parting ways, and a Craigslist shopper took it off our hands. We made a very adult purchase and got a couch and love seat for our new living space, one that I’ve had my eye on for quite some time.

I actually remembered to take before pictures with this move, rather had Bryan take them, so you can see something for comparison. Everything in the house was painted white, which is good for creating neutral space and quite a relief after having a floor-to-ceiling giraffe painted in our other place. The challenge, though, is overcoming the insane asylum feel to every room.

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Couches (Included two pillows each): Cindy Crawford at Rooms To Go

Coffe and End Table: Furniture Country (Gainesville local)

Rug: Target (on sale!)

Picture frame: HomeGoods

Curtains: Target
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Curtains: Target

Table: A gift from Bryan at a Kennesaw, GA, antique store

Bar Cart: handmade Bryan Tucker original_DSC1447

What’s a blog post without the little girl.

These purchases have been made over 3 years, so it definitely takes patience for us, but we’ve definitely made progress. I’ve got my eye on some decor items that would help warm up the place, but the big purchases were the priority and they made a huge difference.

Sweet Summertime

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Let me start by saying there is nothing sweet about the weather here in Gainesville from now until about September. This post is quite overdue as we are no longer able to enjoy outdoor anything after the month of May. But there are some that may still be able to enjoy grilling if you live in a kinder climate than North Central Florida.

We love trying new recipes, and especially love grilling and eating outside on our patio when the weather is more amiable. So I’m compiling a list of our favorite SIMPLE recipes for this summer so far.

1. GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWICH WITH AVOCADO AND SRIRACHA AIOLI SAUCE

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I leave all grilling to Bryan, because I’m not a fan of open flames. He seasons the chicken with whatever spices we have on hand. We also grilled the buns for a crispier texture. I’ve become a huge fan of avocado and try to add it into a dish at least weekly. For the sauce, I just mix together mayonnaise and sriracha sauce until the mayo flavor is muted for Bryan, but before the sriracha makes my lips fall off.

2. CARNE ASADA TORTAS

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Click on image for recipe

Bryan found this recipe on his Weber grilling app, and it did not disappoint. The recipe itself looks a little overwhelming, but it was really so easy. The sauces and sides are what made such a difference. Again, Bryan grilled the sirloin steak and the buns, while I prepared the rest. Just adding a little salsa to refried beans helps you forget you just scraped it from a can. Now I won’t eat them any other way.

3. CAESAR CHICKEN TORTELLINI

I have no picture for this one, but follow the link to see the original. I found this through Pinterest, and it’s such an easy, flavorful meal. Basically chicken, cheese-filled tortellini, and caesar dressing. My kind of recipe!

4. MEDITERRANEAN BAKED CHICKEN

Again, no picture, but I can promise you it turned out just like the picture here. It was basically throw all the veggies in the oven, brown some chicken, and throw it all back in the oven. Neither Bryan nor I had ever had artichokes before this meal, but I have to say I’m now a huge fan! This dish makes a lot of food, is fun and colorful, and pairs well with brown rice, a Greek salad with feta, cucumbers, and greek vinaigrette, and pita bread. We made this dish for our friends after returning from the hospital with their new baby girl. It was a delicious meal, shared with great company!  Such an easy thing to throw together and so full of flavor.

This new love of grilling and outdoor dining has forced us to venture out from our strict love of red wine, too. We are experimenting with white and Rosé wines, and are finding them quite refreshing on these 90+ Florida afternoons.

I’d love to hear other Pinterest successes and favorite summertime meals. I can always use help with meal planning!

Back to Southern roots

Last night was a long overdue date night for Bryan and I. With my new work schedule, end of the semester for Bryan, and moving, we haven’t been able to enjoy a full evening out in too long. We decided to try some new restaurants in downtown Gainesville, both of which feature a lot of Southern charm and sucked me right in.

Mojo Hogtown BBQ was our dinner spot with traditional Southern BBQ and sides. We started with Kentucky mules, shrimp with sweet and spicy BBQ sauce, and worked our way through a delicious Southern plate.     

  

     They had a wide variety of sauces to choose from, and it made for great flavor combinations. I had my eye on the banana pudding, but my stomach could not handle anymore food. We will have to make another trip just for that dessert!

We then headed over to OAK (Original American Kitchen) with an entryway full of sunflowers to welcome guests.  They feature a beer and whiskey wall with a pay-as-you-go, help-yourself system. They also have a menu full of twists on Southern cuisine and fun cocktails. We were too full for anymore food but enjoyed some of the signature cocktails.  

It was like a little piece of Georgia found its way into our Florida lives. We will definitely be visiting again!

Friendship

Moving away to a new city has really helped define true friendship for me. I used to “rank” friendships based on who I would hang out with often or see on a regular basis. Adulthood and living in Florida has taught me otherwise.

Instead, I’m learning friendship is all about intention. It’s just a matter of being proactive. The difference it makes when a friend from 1,000 miles away schedules weekly phone calls, when friends drive hours for just a short visit or host us anytime we drive through their town, or when friends utilize technology and social media to keep me connected to their life.

I’ve also learned that true friendship also comes from family. Once the hostile years of the teens and college years passed, I was much more open to the idea of befriending my family. They have unconditional love and years of wisdom, so why wouldn’t I consider their friendship? There’s still a sense of advice seeking, but now it’s a much more equal peer relationship. We get to share in our adulthood experiences, laugh and/or cry at failures, and dream at our futures.

Marriage brought on a whole new set of friendships from my husband himself to my in-laws. I look forward to catching up with them as much as my own family and friends from high school. I feel a true sense of friendship with my new family and Bryan, that is not always common.

I’m very thankful to the new friends we’ve made here for making efforts to include us, for giving us the same sense of community that we left in Georgia, and for giving me a reason to miss Florida one day.

I’m a very blessed girl and thank all of you who have made an effort to continue our friendship. I do not take it lightly, and it makes the world of difference in my life!

Living Room…Finally

We’ve had the living room of our rental decorated for a few months now, I just never got around to posting pictures. With the exception of one wall, and a few shelves on the built-ins, I’m very pleased with the way it all came together. I did a terrible job of taking “before” pictures, but we knew we wouldn’t be painting so the change isn’t super drastic.

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Don’t mind the shameless Zaxby’s in the shot

The majority of the house is a blue/grey color, which worked with most of our existing decor. Our gigantic sectional, which had to be broken up to fit, takes up most of the living space but we’ve made it work. The room is narrow and long with a lot of empty wall space above the couch. Because I made the color scheme work with the things from our apartment, we really only had to buy curtains for this room.

I used red as our accent color, since we already owned a red pillow, throw, and lantern. The room came complete with built-in shelving framing the french doors. I’m not great at shelf styling, but I’m pleased with some of them. I’m sure I’ll eventually invest in some more cohesive decor to fill those spaces. I recently (as in yesterday) printed new pictures to update our frames; some pictures were from our dating years. Now I’m proudly displaying friends and family throughout the house!

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I’m still working on ideas for above the couch. It’s a huge space, so I’ll need something large to fill it. I’ve spent a few hours in Hobby Lobby already!

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This is my favorite part of the living room. It’s probably the most complete space in the house. I love the character of the fireplace, and it was so much fun decorating it for Christmas. Bryan handmade the bar cart to the left, and I will be working to decorate that as well. I’ve found some vintage bar posters on Etsy that look promising!

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Pictures from our wedding day and first anniversary

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I’m so impressed with his handiwork

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We had this collage hanging in our apartment, and it fit perfectly on this empty wall. The white frames contrast nicely on that steel blue color.

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IMG_3514Styling is not my forte, especially since these shelves are so tall. I did have fun displaying some of my favorite pictures, though.

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Our home security system base fits in nicely with our decor, don’t ya think?

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I searched forever for a tray that would work on our coffee table, and found this one at Target (of course!). I added some of my favorite editions of Better Homes and Garden and HGTV magazines, as well as the “T” coasters we got for Christmas. The Florida coffee table book was the guestbook at our wedding and has sweet messages from everyone in attendance. I like having it right there to read through whenever I want.

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No blog post is complete without a Penny-pic. She has her favorite spots in the room, mostly in the corners. She absolutely loves the concrete terrazzo flooring and seems so much more content with all this extra space.

Wine Dinner

This Christmas break, we realized we are about halfway through our time in Gainesville and we need to make the most of it. We made it our goal for the rest of our time here to be more proactive in getting involved and making memories.

The restaurant we tried for our second anniversary (Manuel’s Vintage Room) hosts a wine dinner on the last Monday of every month. They are themed dinners, January’s was Italian, and the wines all come from this country. We were treated to a five course meal with wine pairings for each dish. A sommelier walked us through each wine, the owner Manuel personally welcomed all of the guests, and the servers kept our glasses full the entire night. We were joined by some friends with great taste for one of the best dinners I’ve ever had.

Shrimp Crostini paired with 2012 Cesari Lugana Cento Felari

Shrimp Crostini paired with 2012 Cesari Lugana Cento Felari

Our first course featured the only white wine of the evening, and I actually enjoyed it. It wasn’t too sweet and paired wonderfully with the shrimp; it was like they planned it!

Filet Antipasta paired with a 2008 Carpineto Vino Nobile Riserva

Filet Antipasta paired with a 2008 Carpineto Vino Nobile Riserva

This dish may have been my favorite, and began our evening of red wine. The filet mignon strips were served atop an arugula salad, cranberry stilton cheese, roasted red peppers, and a cherry glaze. I’m normally not a fan of dark meat, but the flavors of this dish with the sweet and savory combination won me over. I was so excited about this dish I forgot to snap a picture before my first (few) bites.

Duck Two Ways paired with a 2011 Magliano Sinarra IGT Maremma

Duck Two Ways paired with a 2011 Magliano Sinarra IGT Maremma

Duck sausage and sliced duck breast served over creamy mushroom sauce. I have never ordered duck or mushroom, so this dish was definitely out of my comfort zone. This is why I need dinners with a set menu, because I am forced to try dishes I would normally be too afraid to order myself. The dish did not disappoint and introduced fungus to my naive palette.

Veal Osso Bucco paired with 2010 Cesari Bosan Valpolicella Superiore

Veal Osso Bucco paired with 2010 Cesari Bosan Valpolicella Superiore

This braised veal shank was served over gorgonzola and saffron infused mashed potatoes. This wine was our favorite and ended up coming home with us. We just need a good reason, and meal, to open it. The portion was heavy for the second to last dish, but I still managed to eat the whole thing.

Tiramisu paired with NV Penfold Club Port

Tiramisu paired with NV Penfold Club Port

My favorite part of any meal, dessert! Especially a dessert infused with flavors of another of my favorite treats, coffee. The portion was big, but I did not complain about more lady fingers dripping with flavors of coffee and chocolate. I haven’t had a port since our trip to California in 2013, so I welcomed this sweet drink happily.

Even though it was a lot of food, and wine, I didn’t leave feeling sickeningly full. The entire evening was informative, full of good conversation, sophisticated, and DELICIOUS! It gave us a fun night out with friends, a nicer opinion of Gainesville, and very happy bellies.

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