Monday, May 31, 2010

From Sea to Shining Sea

There is nothing like living in a foreign country to make you appreciate the blessing and privilege of being able to call America “home”. Today we honor the men and women who willingly gave their lives in the service of our great country. Of course, it’s also a good opportunity to show our gratitude to those currently serving in the military and their families.

As Ryan and I were reflecting on this a couple days ago, we came up with a way to combine one of our favorite activities with a way to gain a greater appreciation for our country. We love to travel, and have several different countries in mind for our next big vacation. But over the next several years, we would like to take mini-vacations (weekend trips) to different cities across the US.

In accumulating our list, we did not include cities that we have already visited (such as Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Orlando, Washington DC, and New York City). Most of those are places we will definitely visit again, but would require a longer vacation than just a weekend. So far, the list contains the following cities:
New Orleans
Santa Fe
Salt Lake City
St. Louis

Santa Fe


Salt Lake City



We hope to continue expanding our list, so let me know if you have any recommendations for us!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Birthday

Yesterday was my first birthday in the Caribbean, and I decided it’s not a bad place to celebrate! Ryan arranged for us to have dinner at a beautiful little restaurant on the beach with about 10 friends. They had the loveliest private beach where we took some pictures of the incredible sunset.

The restaurant was decorated with exotic plants around the dining area.

Our server was one of the best we’ve had anywhere on the island. (Customer service is not the strong point down here.) But he made an effort to learn our names and was very attentive. Ryan and I both had the Porterhouse Steak topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. After dinner, our server brought out a dessert for me with a candle on top! And it was the exact dessert I was planning to order – Grand Etang Mud Pie: coffee, vanilla, and chocolate ice cream on a chocolate crumb crust topped with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. Amazing! And such a thoughtful gesture.

Following our delicious dinner and dessert, we went back to our friends’ house to play games and watch the Boston-Orlando game. A special thank you to the Celtics for my birthday gift of heading to another NBA Championship! I know they won just for me. We ended up staying out well past midnight playing Monopoly.

During the evening, a few of the girls disappeared next door for a while and came back with a Funfetti birthday cake complete with 25 candles! We have the sweetest friends down here, and they helped to make the day so special.

I told Ryan I didn’t need any gifts this year (especially since he had already bought me the countertop oven). But at the end of the evening, he surprised me with a gorgeous bracelet made here in Grenada.

Thank you to all my wonderful friends and family for the kind birthday wishes and cards I received. You made my day!

Monday, May 24, 2010

How Sweet It Is

For the last couple weeks, Ryan and I have been enjoying the results of my new favorite hobby - baking! Yes, I've been baking most of my life, but for the past 3 months, we didn't have an oven. After many meals cooked on a two-burner stove, I promised myself I would never take an oven for granted again. (I feel the same way about dishwashers, too.) So as an early birthday gift, Ryan bought me a toaster oven! A student was selling it before she left Grenada, and we got a great deal on it. She kept in really good condition, and we'll probably be able to resell it for the same amount when we leave. The best part is, it fits a 13x9" baking dish and a 12" pizza pan, so I can cook just about anything. It has an oven, broiler, and toaster function, heats up in just seconds, and cooks quickly and evenly. I may never go back to a real oven again!

I think I've used the oven at least once a day since I got it. The first night I made apple cinnamon muffins. I brought a few to my friend and her husband who were flying home the next day. But Ryan and I ate the rest in about two days. I loved having a warm muffin with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

The next day I baked a yellow cake with chocolate frosting (Ryan's request) and that lasted almost a week! I should be doing two work-outs a day after all this baking. But I don't. Instead, I use my free time to bake something else! I also tried making gnocchi for the first time. I have only had potato gnocchi, but the grocery store had fresh pumpkin for less than a dollar a pound last week. I bought 2 pounds and looked up a recipe for pumpkin gnocchi. The result: Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi with a Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter. Scrumptious!! I roasted the pumpkin in the oven for about 45 minutes. It was hard to mash it completely smooth, and the dough never stiffened up enough for me to roll it out and shape it into little pillows like traditional gnocchi. Instead I just dropped spoonfulls of the mixture into boiling water when I was ready to cook it. It actually made the process a lot faster, and tasted just the same, although maybe not as pretty to look at. We also had a few steaks in the freezer that I marinated in a dressing of dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, lemon juice, and pepper. I put them under the broiler for a few minutes, and they came out perfectly cooked. We finished off the meal with soy beans and a big slice of cake!

As I'm writing this, a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies is baking in the oven, and our house smells so good! Other baked items this week included roasted potatoes seasoned with crushed red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and basil for Sunday dinner. And my favorite treat: broiled grapefruit with brown sugar. I grew up eating a lot of grapefruit, and for special occasions (Christmas breakfast or a Snow Day breakfast) my parents would make broiled grapefruit for us. I love being able to eat it again!

We also bought a blender (for about $10) and have enjoyed some delicious smoothies. I bought the ingredients to make orange julius and can't wait to try that as well.

In other news, Ryan started classes last Monday for his third and final semester of his MPH. He thinks this will be an easier term as he doesn't have as many classes. He does have a big paper to write, so he's been spending a lot of time in the library recently. Next month he'll fly to Detroit for a friend's wedding, and then a month after that we'll both be flying home! There's still a lot to do before then. The MPH program is having a potluck next Friday, and I'm baking 7 dozen cupcakes for dessert.

Time to get the cookies out, and find something to make for dinner that requires the use of an oven!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just a Scratch

After dinner on Tuesday night, Ryan went down to the basketball courts to play soccer with some friends. A couple hours later he came home, sweaty as usual and casually stood in front of me. It took me a minute before I saw the gash above his left eye. Apparently, during the soccer game, he got a little too close to the fence surrounding the court. The cut was bleeding, but not excessively. It could have been a lot worse, and we’re thankful for the Lord’s protection.

He showered, and we debated about whether or not he might need stitches to prevent infection and leave less of a scar. We finally decided to go down the hill to the clinic on campus for a consult. The nurse on duty looked at his eye and said he would need just 2 stitches. Of course, he wanted me to bring the camera to document this historic event.

The anesthetic injection was the worst part, so he tells me. But after a few minutes, we were good to go. This morning the cut appears to be healing well, but the area around his eye is a little bruised. He’ll get the stitches out early next week.

I told him that the next time he wants to make it into the blog, he doesn’t have to do something so painful!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saying Goodbye

This past week marked the end of medical school here in Grenada for our good friends, Ben and Karen. To celebrate, we went out for dinner Thursday night to the University Club. Ben and Karen both won awards where the prize was a free dinner for 2 at the Club, so we enjoyed some of the most delicious food on the island - lobster tails, beef tenderloin, creme brulee, and chocolate mousse (along with various appetizers). I'm definitely sad to see them leave, but thankful for the time we had with them - all the grocery runs, dinners together, and help they provided as we moved here.

On the other hand, we are also extremely thankful for all the stuff they couldn't take with them when they left! We felt like little kids on Christmas morning as we went through bags of food, spices, household items, and books. Ryan now has 2 boxes of books for medical school, which will save him hundreds of dollars. I inherited various kitchen items, such as a cheese grater, a colander, a large skillet, mixing bowls, and my favorite, a French press coffee maker and coffee bean grinder! I also have new books to read, magazines to peruse, Christmas lights to hang, and a new blanket that matches perfectly with our duvet. We also inherited some kitchen/bath caulk from them, and I immediately caulked all the many cracks and gaps in our kitchen. It looks a million times better already! The next project is the bathroom, and then the many holes in our walls left by previous tenants. Ben and Karen also were so kind to give us extra contact solution, shampoo, soap, sun screen, and Tylenol. We won't be shopping for those things for quite a while! Another bonus was that with all these new items in my tiny little apartment, I had to do some major reorganization to make it all fit.

We truly feel so blessed to have such generous friends who provided us with so many things that, yes, we could have lived without, but will make my life here that much easier.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vacation in Punta Cana

Last week Ryan and I spent a few days in Punta Cana to celebrate our second anniversary. Once we got there, we enjoyed every minute of our vacation. The trip to the Dominican Republic was another story. Tuesday morning we woke up at 3:50am in order to catch our 6:55am flight to Punta Cana with a layover in Puerto Rico. A couple of our friends were so kind and volunteered to drive us to the airport at 5:00am! I thought our airport in Greenville was small, but it's nothing compared to the one here in Grenada!

As we unloaded the car, a man met us outside and told us our flight was delayed. Apparently the air conditioning wasn't working in the plane and they were trying to get another aircraft sent over from San Juan. We sat in the waiting area by the check-in counter for about an hour. Eventually someone made the announcement that the plane was okay for travel, and they were just waiting on the pilot to give the final go-ahead. We all lined up to begin checking-in. After standing in line for quite awhile, someone else came out and said the pilot decided not to fly the plane, so we would have to wait again for another plane to arrive. The flight from San Juan is about 2 hours, so we went upstairs for breakfast while we waited. We had a delicious omelette, toast, and coffee.

Finally, we heard that they had diverted a plane from Trinidad that would come and pick us up. We headed back down to the check-in line and were happy to see the line actually moving this time. However, shortly before we made it to the front, they announced that the plane was full, since it had passengers on it from Trinidad. Furthermore, they had no other flights leaving Grenada the rest of the day (not just to San Juan, but anywhere). The best they could offer us was a seat on the flight the next day and vouchers for meals, taxi, and a hotel. By this point it was about 9:30, and we were completely exhausted, not to mention a little upset about losing the money for our resort in Punta Cana that night. But we took a taxi to the hotel and discussed our options.

We had booked our hotel with a travel agent, so I called him and explained the situation. He volunteered to call the hotel and not only let them know we would be arriving a day later, but also ask them if we could extend our vacation an extra day at no charge. Since I needed to call the airline and have them make the change as well, we decided to go back to campus where we had left our computers in our room. Back at school, I called the airline, explained the situation, and they agreed to allow us to change our flight to return home on Saturday, instead of Friday, at no charge. Our travel agent called us back and said the hotel had agreed to do the same. So thankfully, we didn't lose any money on the situation. We actually had an extra day of vacation at a free hotel with free meals. A few minutes later we took a bus back to our hotel, ate a delicious lunch on the beach, and took a nap. That evening we enjoyed a wonderful meal at the hotel's restaurant. The view from our room was breath-taking.

Wednesday morning we again woke up before 4:00am and had a quick breakfast of coffee, banana bread, and fresh fruit before our taxi brought us to the airport. This time our flight left on time, with us on it. We arrived in San Juan with plenty of time to eat lunch and catch our next flight to Punta Cana. Here is the airport in Punta Cana. The thatched roof, open-air buildings, and local musicians welcomed us to another tropical island.

It took about 5 minutes to get through customs, pick up our checked baggage, and exchange our US dollars for pesos. The travel agency we used provides free transportation to and from the airport. Our resort was about an hour from the airport, but we enjoyed our views of the Dominican countryside. We found it to be poorer than Grenada, but extremely green and lush. We passed numerous farms with hundreds of grazing cattle and row after row of banana trees.

When we arrived at our hotel, we were greeted with an ice cold drink and a cool, scented washcloth. We took a few minutes and walked around the main lobby, looking at the menus of various restaurants and deciding where we wanted to eat that night. Our room was just around the corner from the lobby, and we had time to unpack and shower before dinner.

The best part of an all-inclusive resort is the food. We had a small refrigerator in our room that was continually stocked with soda, bottled water, and fruit juice, as well as various cookies and nuts for snacking. The resort had 8 restaurants, and we tried as many of them as time allowed. Wednesday evening we visited The Grill for dinner. Since all the food is included in the price of the hotel, we enjoyed numerous appetizers and side dishes with our entree. Ryan had beef tenderloin and shrimp, while I tried the filet mignon.

After a lovely dessert of cheesecake and key lime pie, we took a walk around the resort and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

When we arrived back in our room, we were greeted with a luxurious turn down service which included soft music playing on the TV, bottles of water and glasses next to the bed, chocolates, a small card with tomorrow's weather report, and the resort's itinerary for the next day. We felt so pampered!

Thursday morning we ordered a delicious breakfast of eggs, hashbrowns, toast, sausage, bacon, pancakes, coffee, freshly-squeezed juice, and tropical fruit in our room. (Obviously I will be working out twice a day from now on after eating all this good food!) Following breakfast, we met with our travel agency representative in the lobby to confirm the time for our transportation back to the airport on Saturday. Next we made reservations with the concierge for horseback riding on the beach later in the day. For the next few hours, we relaxed by the pool, sipped on iced cappuccinos, and read our books.

We tried one of the Italian restaurants for a late lunch and loved the huge buffet complete with salad, breads, make-your-own-pasta bar, pizza, fruit, and dessert. From there we met with our group for the horseback riding. We walked along the beach for a few minutes and came to a shaded area with about 15 horses in a corral. Our guides brought each of us a horse, helped us up, and away we went. For the next 30-40 minutes we rode slowly along the water. My horse didn't like getting wet and was constantly trying to avoid the waves as they came in. This was Ryan's first experience riding a horse, and he did great! It was such a fun experience, and I can't wait to do it again someday.

After a quick shower, we decided to visit the Asian restaurant for dinner. Again, we took full advantage of eating as much free food as possible. We had sushi, miso soup, and an Asian salad for appetizers. Ryan had the Japanese tempura shrimp and vegetables, while I tried the Pad Thai. Both were amazing! The best part of the meal, though, was our dessert. We had the most delicious profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with a warm chocolate sauce, served with cappuccinos.

Friday morning we were finally able to sleep in, and again ordered a wonderful breakfast in our room. We spent most of the afternoon on the beach, relaxing on lounge chairs under a tiki hut. Waiters came by and served cold drinks and snacks throughout the day.

Around 4:00 we went back to our room and had a late of lunch of soup and sandwiches. Ryan went to the gym and worked out for little while and I relaxed in the room. That evening, we had dinner in the French restaurant. I had a scrumptious French onion soup, goat cheese and roasted pear salad, and quiche as appetizers. The entree was rib eye steak with garlic mashed potatoes. Ryan had a wonderful yellow-fin tuna appetizer and a glazed salmon entree. For dessert we enjoyed creme brulee and cappuccinos.

Saturday morning our bus left for the airport around 10:00am. It rained most of the morning, so we were glad it was a travel day for us. Our flight to San Juan was uneventful. We had about a 6-hour layover in San Juan, so we again had plenty of time to eat a relaxing lunch and spent most of the time reading. We arrived in Grenada about 10:30pm and took a taxi back to campus.

I'm so grateful that we were able to get away for a few days and spend some extra time together. Although we were sad to leave the luxury of the resort and the amazing food, we realized that coming home isn't so bad when "home" is also a Caribbean island!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Upcoming Events

I thought our two-week vacation was going to be relatively quiet, but it's actually turning out to be pretty busy! Yesterday we had the best time with our friends at the beach. We went to my new favorite restaurant, The Owl, for lunch. I had my first hamburger since coming to Grenada, and it was delicious! They also have a really good nutmeg cheesecake that I split with Ryan. After lunch we spent a couple hours just relaxing on the beach and talking with friends. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Today at church, Ryan and I sang our first duet. It went pretty well, and we were excited to have a couple friends from school join us for the service.

Tomorrow we will be busy packing for our vacation to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic! We looked at flying home over the break, but the cost of airline tickets was too expensive. So we had planned on staying here for the next couple weeks. But on Friday I was bored and started researching hotels in the Caribbean. I found an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana that was offering a 30% discount plus free transportation to and from the airport. This particular resort is affiliated with the one in Cancun where we stayed on our honeymoon. We loved the variety of restaurants and activities available there and decided to try the same resort in Punta Cana. I can't wait to have a few quiet days where I can catch up on some reading, explore a new island, eat delicious meals without grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning up, and spend uninterrupted, quality time with Ryan. I'm sure I'll have lots of pictures and stories to share when we get home!

The following Tuesday, Ryan and the rest of the PHSA officers decided to have another bake sale! Most of the medical students and undergraduate students will have finals that week, but the MPH program doesn't start its third semester until the following week. So it looks like I'll be spending the Monday after we get home baking! Fortunately, some friends have volunteered to do all the grocery shopping for me this week while I'm gone. I think this time I'll make less variety, but more of each item. If I'm lucky, maybe there will be leftovers to take home!

So it looks like we'll be staying busy the next couple weeks. I like it that way, though, because I'm already counting down the days until we go home in July. And the busier I am, the faster the days go by!
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