Our Maple Tree

Keeping up with The Maples


2 Comments

Valentine’s Day

For the 8 years Randy and I have been together, we have not really been into celebrating Valentine’s Day. Nothing against the holiday, just didn’t see the point of it all. If you want to show someone you love them, you don’t need a holiday to do it. But this year is about change for us. This year, we were going to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

This year Randy was going to be out of town on business for Valentine’s Day, in San Francisco. Now let me give you a little back story on why this was such a big deal for me.

My favorite TV shows in high school and college were, “Great Hotels” and “Passport to Europe” with Samantha Brown. I love her! She has always been my idol, in a way. I love her shows so much, that she was my inspiration for my Italy series …”Passport to Italy.” I would love her job… I mean, I could stand in for her every once in while, couldn’t I?

brownvsmaples

Ok… moving on from my childhood fantasy. I watched her show on “Great Hotels” where she visited San Francisco and just fell in love with the city. It has been on my top ten list of most wanted cities to visit in the US. So this year, I was going to meet Randy in San Francisco, during Valentine’s Day weekend! How romantic is that?

Well, it would have been… if it had not been for the snow storm Pax. That storm cancelled both of my flights and I never made it out to San Francisco. 🙁

I was very, very upset and disappointed. Not only could I not make it out to one of my dream vacation spots, I was snowed in at home, alone. After a glass (or two, or three) of wine, I put on my big girl pants and went to work that Friday (Valentine’s Day).

During my work day, Randy surprised more than once. He was able to get a flight back home early and was going to be arriving late on Valentine’s Day. Yay! And since I couldn’t meet up with him in San Francisco, he sent me flowers at work. Isn’t he the best!?

flowers

Later that night I picked Randy up from the airport and we had a wonderful Valentine’s Day dinner – filet mignon, roasted asparagus, roasted ranch potatoes and sauteed mushrooms. And most important, one of our favorite wines, Torii Mor pinot noir. We had our dinner picnic style by the fire. (Be still my hopeless romantic heart!) For dessert I made Randy’s favorite, chocolate lava cake!

valentinesdinner

We enjoyed this dinner so much, that we decided to have it again the following night! I know, I know! You will find me on the treadmill this week for sure! To change it up a little bit, we sliced the steaks thin and drizzled balsamic vinegar glaze on top… just like in Italy.

SAM_0718

SAM_0705

We had a three day weekend this weekend, which is the best. Monday we slept in and made a wonderful brunch! Eggs-in-a-blanket, bacon, strawberries, coffee and you can’t have brunch without it, Mimosas!

brunch

Our Valentine’s Day was not what we planned, but in the end, turned out fantastic. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter where Randy and I spent our Valentine’s Day, what mattered is that we spent it together. I am grateful to have Randy in my life, without whom, I would be totally lost.

I hope your Valentine’s Day was filled with everything that you love and with all the people you love! I know mine was; great company, great food and great wine…. now it’s time to get on the treadmill! Have a great week!


Leave a comment

Passport to Italy: Advice and Tidbits

Now that the holidays are over, I finally had the time to write this! And it helps that I am snowed in with nothing to do!

After almost two years of planning our Italy trip, it was done and over with in a blink of an eye. Now I am dreaming of going back. But while I am dreaming and scheming on how to get back, I thought I would put together a post on things I learned from Italy.

1. Planning two years in advance was a wise thing to do. Lots of museums and sightseeing sites tickets sell out quickly. I advise (and so do lots of guidebooks) to buy your tickets a least a month in advance. I also advise to buy your tickets through your hotel, if all possible. Otherwise, when you buy online, you can sometimes pay a hefty reservation/conversion rate. I advise to start planning your trip at least 8 months to year in advance. Especially if you are going during the high season.

2. Guidebooks are essential, at least in my opinion. They helped me plan out our itineraries and they were very helpful for picking out restaurants. Also, I read a lot of forums – Rick Steves and Trip Advisor are the two I referred to the most. Maps are important too, they helped me plan our days efficiently. Most guidebooks come with maps – we also bought a gazetteer, which saved us more than once.

3. If you rent a car, rent the smallest car possible. There is a reason why cars are smaller there than here in the states. Because all the roads and parking lots are tiny! You will be grateful for a small car when you are trying to fit the car into a three foot by three foot parking spot! 😉

4. Learn a little bit of the language. You don’t need to be fluent, just learn key phrases. We learned Italian through Rosetta Stone and Rick Steve’s phrase book. Pretty much everywhere we went, people spoke English. But they appreciate it if you try to speak Italian first, they like for you to try to make an effort. (Just like with our gondolier, he was unfriendly to us until we starting talking in Spanish.)

5. When it comes to packing, pack as little as possible. I am glad I didn’t pack much because the things we brought back took up a lot of room! Also, I am glad I had a back pack. It was a lot easier to move around in the cities and trains. I used an Osprey pack from REI. Much easier than toting a wheeled bag on those uneven cobbled streets. We packed a lot of clothing made up of wicking material and SmartWool socks. And this is a given, but pack comfortable shoes. We walked over 110 miles in Italy, an average of 10 to 15 miles a day!

6. Italy is known for pickpockets. I read some terrible stories about people getting pick pocketed and it scared me a little. So to ease my mind, I ordered a pac safe purse. This purse is amazing! It was large enough to carry all our maps, tickets, passports, water bottles, etc. And it was safe, which made me feel better. Now we didn’t have any problems, no one bothered us. But you do need to be aware of your surroundings. Just watch people and don’t let your guard down and you will be fine. But if you want a little peace of mind then I suggest getting one of pac safe’s purses or bags.

7. Download Rick Steve’s App. This app saved us a ton of money! We downloaded all the tours that he had regarding Italy. By doing this, we were able to have audio tours for free for most places. Most sightseeing places offer an audio tour for an additional fee, they ranged from 10 to 20 euros per person. Plus, Rick Steves’s audio tours are very entertaining. I found myself smiling or laughing through most of his tours. They also come with handy maps, which you will need to download before leaving your free wi-fi at your hotel. (Unless you can afford an international data plan!)

8. Most restaurants/cafes in Italy charge a cover charge to use a table. If you want to save some money, just order your food to go or drink your espresso at the bar. Most Italians do this. One of my favorite lunches in Italy was in Venice. We ordered some sandwiches and wine to go and we ate along the canal. We sat on a low wall – along with all the locals. It was so much fun! But there were times we were so tired that we just had to sit down and recoup. Sitting at a table costs about 5 euros, which when you are exhausted, isn’t so bad.

9. Some advice on restrooms. In a lot of cities in Italy, they do not have public restrooms and if they do, you have to pay to use them. Try to use the restroom before you leave your hotel. But since you are out all day, drinking wine… you will need to go. So you can use the restroom for free at museums and restaurants (as long as you are a customer). Sometimes, in some restaurants, there is only one unisex restroom, but most places have separate restrooms.

10. Hotels, as you know, are different in Europe than they are here in the states. Most of them are very small and do not have some of the accommodations that we are use to. But I feel like we were very lucky in our hotels. I did a lot of researching on hotels and found some of the best places. We chose to stay in B&Bs, which were about the same price as a normal hotel. Rome was a normal hotel but it did offer a continental breakfast (which was croissants, meats and cheese). So all of our breakfasts were already taken care of (one less thing to worry about). But you will have to find hotels that suit you and your personal tastes. B&Bs are more of what we enjoy and we loved everywhere we stayed.

11. Espresso is amazing in Italy! I do not like espresso normally, but now I am in love with it now! It is so smooth and not at all bitter. In Venice, our B&B had the best espresso! Davide (the owner) showed us how he made it and what kind of beans he used. He used a mocha pot and lavazza ground coffee. Randy ordered both of these on amazon during our trip so it was waiting for us when we returned home. If you want to make some espresso at home, get these two things! It makes some pretty good espresso! Oh, do not order American coffee! It is not good! It is basically watered down espresso!

12. And my final bit of advice, don’t be shy. Get out there, meet people and make some new friends! You will find that most people are more than willing to help you or just talk to you. We met some of the most interesting, nicest people on this trip. The people we met were the highlight of our trip – they made the beautiful culture of Italy come alive.

I know this is a lot of information at once, but it was stuff that we learned before and during our trip. I hope it will help you in planning your next adventure! If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, please feel free to do so! Any advice will be helpful for the future!

I would love to return to Italy someday… *sigh*. It was the best trip I have ever taken. Italy is beautiful, filled with beautiful scenery and people. I sometimes day dream about our trip and going back. But next time we go to Europe, it would be nice to visit another country. I was thinking London would be fun or maybe Paris or Belgium! Anyone been to any of those places?


Leave a comment

Birthday Blessings

This past weekend we went to my family’s to celebrate my grandfather’s 88th birthday, my sister’s 37th birthday, my nephew’s 17th birthday and my brother’s 26th birthday. Lots of birthdays! It was the first time we had all of my family together, in one place, in a long time. It was really nice to see everyone and I think it really made my grandfather’s birthday.

But what really made my weekend very special was my grandfather. As we arrived at my grandparent’s house, my grandfather gathered us all in the living room. One by one he placed his hand on our shoulder and prayed a blessing for us. It has always been important to my grandfather that we follow the Lord and my grandfather has always been the ultimate example for all of us.

Psalm 138:8 – “My children will fulfill God’s will and purpose for their lives.”

He would take a few moments to tell us how proud he was of each of us and how blessed he was to have his family. I don’t believe their was a single dry eye in the room.

Psalm 127:3 – “My children are a reward and gift from the Lord, and I will enjoy them.”

It was probably the most touching moment I have ever experienced with  my family. Us Greenes, are not a very talkative group, especially regarding feelings. 😉 But pa-paw expressed it all in the best possible way. I just wish that I had recorded it or filmed it so I could look back on that memory again and again.

Afterwards we enjoyed a wonderful meal. My mom’s wonderful salad, my aunt’s meatballs, my grandmother’s traditional jalapeno cornbread… mmm… my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

I brought red velvet icebox cookies. Little note: if you make these, let them sit, iced, for a little while. Otherwise, they are a bit crunchy!

(Recipe came from SugarHero, but the recipe is down below.)

SAM_0677

Red Velvet Icebox Cookies

Ingredients

    For the Red Velvet Wafer Cookies:
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 oz butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2-1 tsp red gel food coloring
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • For the Cream Cheese Whipped Cream:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • Sprinkles (optional but very cute!)

Instructions

    To Make the Red Velvet Wafer Cookies:
  1. In the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter. Mix on medium-high speed until well-combined. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix again until combined. Add 1/2 tsp of red gel food coloring and mix everything together until you get a vibrant red color. If your color seems muted, add a bit more food coloring—it will darken when you add the dry ingredients, so you want to start with a really bold color.
  2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, and mix on low speed until almost fully incorporated. Stop the mixer and finish mixing everything together with a spatula, take special care to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Form the dough into a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper until it’s 1/8-inch thick. Cut 2.5” circles of dough, and transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined baking sheet. If the cookies are too delicate to transfer cleanly, slide the rolled-out dough onto a baking sheet and freeze it briefly, until you can easily move the cookies onto the baking sheet. Bake the cookies at 350 for 10 minutes.
  4. Press the scraps together and re-roll the dough, continuing the process of cutting, freezing, and baking until all of the dough is used. You should end up with at least 36 cookies. Cool completely. Cookies can be made several days in advance—just store them in an airtight container so they don’t get stale.
  5. To Make the Frosting and Assemble the Cakes:
  6. Place the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat them on medium speed until light and fluffy, and the cream cheese is free of lumps. Keeping the mixer running, slowly stream in the heavy cream. Once all of the cream is in, stop and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then continue whipping until the frosting holds firm peaks. Transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round coupler.
  7. If you want to be able to easily move the icebox cakes after they’re assembled, cut 2.5” cardboard rounds to put underneath them. Otherwise, assemble the cakes directly on the serving dishes.
  8. Place a small dab of frosting onto a cardboard round, and press a wafer cookie on top to affix it. Pipe a thin layer of frosting on top of the cookie, about the same thickness as the cookie itself. Place another cookie on top and gently press down, to squeeze the frosting until it is flush with the edge of the cookies. Add more frosting, and repeat the layering process until you have added 6 cookies total. Top the final cookie with a swirl of frosting and a pinch of sprinkles. Repeat until all 6 cakes are assembled.
  9. Refrigerate the cakes overnight. If your refrigerator has any strong odors, it’s a good idea to keep them in an airtight container, so they don’t absorb any funky smells. Icebox cakes can keep up to a week in the refrigerator.
http://ourmapletree.com/birthday-blessings/

SAM_0676

My little cousin really liked the cookies! 🙂

SAM_0678

After eating we took family photos. Randy and I unfortunately forgot our camera… I know! Worst thing! But I did have my point and shoot camera, which was better than nothing. The pictures are not great, but at least we have some.

SAM_0681

It took a couple of times to get a good shot! 🙂

SAM_0683

I believe this one turned out to be the best one.

SAM_0684

SAM_0685

Me, my siblings and my grandparents.

SAM_0686

Next mom wanted some pictures of just me and my siblings.

SAM_0697

And we had some fun with it. 🙂

SAM_0693

SAM_0694

SAM_0695

And this is where we use to eat breakfast whenever we spent the night as kids. It is a little bit tighter than I remembered! 😉

SAM_0699

Our weekend was a blast! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. And it is my hope that you can spend quality time with your families as much as possible. I know that it can be difficult to find the time and gathering everyone from different cities is near impossible. But family really is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. And I think that every second spent with family is a precious one and one that is worth working for.

I hope everyone’s week has gone well! Happy Friday Eve!


Leave a comment

Love List for February

Since Valentine’s Day is just right around the corner, I thought I would share what I am loving this month. I have never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. Randy and I don’t really celebrate it, but I am starting to like the Valentine’s festiveness! Especially all the clothes in cheery colors and hearts!

valentinesday2

 

1. This shirt is adorable! Hello Apparel has cute things for Valentine’s. I will definitely be wearing this shirt a lot this year! I just adore it! The heart pillow is something I am dying to have too!

2. Gold polka dot scarf from Target. I have been wearing this scarf almost daily since New Year’s. It just goes with everything and it adds just enough sparkle to my outfits! Unfortunately, it is a limited edition so it is no longer available! 🙁 (similar)

3. “Penny Talk” from Essie is a beautiful rose gold color. I love wearing this color with my gold scarf.

4. I plan on making one of these cards for Randy this year! It is perfect!

5. Burt’s Bees Pink Grapefruit chap stick is amazing! I love grapefruit smells for summer and Burt’s Bees is my favorite, so this is a win win! 😉

Maybe these things will add a little bit of extra fun to your Valentine’s Day! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend; will be writing about mine soon!