How Not to Grow Potatoes

My bright idea this past season was to grow potatoes in potato towers that I would fill with straw as the plants grew taller until ultimately the tower would be filled to the top with straw and visions of beautiful potato tubers developing throughout the straw.
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This method was great for keeping the chickens out of the plants, well, except for the chicks from my Easter hatch. Those little buggers jumped on top of the full towers and demolished 2 of the planters. Silly birds, don’t they know potato plants are not good for them? Yeah, not my flock of city chickens.
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On top of that destruction, some pest thoroughly enjoyed the greens on the other 2 planters. Of the 4 planters, 1 really thrived, the tower was topped with a large mound of blooming potato plant. So I had great hope for the pounds and pounds of potatoes coming out at harvest. Of the first 2 planters that were destroyed, the Klondike Rose, I managed to harvest a couple handfuls of potatoes total, not the sustaining kind of harvest I was hoping for, but they were still organically grown and in our garden. A handful of potatoes is better than nothing, and they were delicious.
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The other 2 towers were planted with Yukon Gold potatoes, the first of these 2 towers yielded about 6 pounds.
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Now we were talking. This wasn’t even the most vigorous tower and this was good harvest! When it finally came time to harvest the final, fullest tower, I was chomping at the bit to see the masses of golden potatoes that were no doubt coming out of this tower. What I discovered when I pulled up the plants was the largest family of slugs!!! Right smack in the middle of the potato roots and tubers was a softball sized mound pile of the largest, fattest slugs I have seen in So. Cal. It was just gross and disappointing since the reason they were so fat and happy was the all you can eat buffet of fresh, organic potatoes, my potatoes!!
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So here is what I have learned. The towers are a great idea, I am not giving up on growing my taters in towers. Here is what I did – When starting the planters I laid straw in the base and up the sides a bit, like a nest. Then I filled in about 6 inches deep with organic garden soil and planted the seed potatoes. As the potatoes grew I filled in with just straw, leaving the top 4 inches of plant exposed. I did this until the towers were completely filled to the top. The straw was not very decomposed which I think caused the problem, aside from the chick demolition crew, the fresh straw was too lofty, it allowed the movement of the slugs and did not retain even moisture throughout the tower. I found the potatoes growing in or just above, the soil in the bottom.
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How I am going about this next round. I am going to try for a fall harvest of spuds, this time I am going to use the straw as the “walls” of the towers to hold in the soil that I will use to fill in around the plant as it grows. I will use a single plant in the center instead of 4 or 5 plants per tower. My thinking is that the moisture will have a better balance throughout the soil giving the plants more nutrient rich area to hopefully fill with more potatoes. I’ll keep you posted on round 2, well 3 really since my fist attempt was a late fall planting that was destroyed by a week of hard frost last November.

Flour Tortillas

I have been making corn and flour tortillas for my family for years. The recipes are both really straight forward, in fact, the corn tortilla recipe I use comes straight off the corn flour package. But, in the early years I always struggled with getting the tortillas to be soft and flexible. They were delicious but would always crack and fall apart when we’d try to wrap them around whatever tasty filling we were trying to crane into our mouths. I think the secret to success is really more in what you do with the tortillas still hot off the griddle.
Tortillas
Flour Tortillas

Ingredients:
6 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup shortening (or lard)
1 3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons warm water

Directions:
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Using your hands, a couple forks or a pastry knife, cut shortening into the flour mixture until crumbly. Mix in the water until a dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
2. Decide how large you want your tortillas, I usually make several larger ones for burrito wrapping and a bunch of smaller ones for tacos and quick quesadillas. For the larger ones you need to make dough balls about the size of a racquet ball. For the smaller ones use about aim somewhere between a ping-pong ball and a golf ball sized dough ball. I portion the dough all out, return the balls to the bowl and cover to prevent drying.
3. Heat a large griddle, cast iron skillet or comal over medium-high heat. Do not add grease. Working quickly, roll out a dough ball as thin as you can get it, It can be tricky to get the elastic dough to retain its shape. I have found rolling them out on a NON-floured, smooth surface works wonders. The tortillas stick just enough to prevent the elastic snap back but peel off easily to transfer to the pan.
4. Cooking one tortillas at a time, place on hot pan. Leave in place until bubbles start to form, turn and cook the other side. Cooking each side for maybe a minute. Make sure you keep an eye on them, they cook quickly and can burn easily.
5. This last step is the secret. Immediately transfer your hot tortillas to an awaiting pot or bowl with good fitting lid. Cover and continue cooking until you have all your tortillas cooked. It is just that simple. The tortillas need to steam a bit after cooking to make them soft and pliable.

**WARNING**
Once you try these homemade tortillas you will be forever ruined for those grocery store buys

Summer Bounty

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Until now, spring and fall had been my favorite seasons of the year. How could I have overlooked summer? The days are longer which means I have more daylight to get out and enjoy the bounty that the warmer days brings with them. The hens are in full production mode, gifting us with their delightful eggs each day. The sunflowers are in full bloom, and the garden is ramping up production.

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The pumpkin vines

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A beautiful tangle of textures.

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With hidden gems tucked away among the leaves.

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More zucchini

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Bell Peppers

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Black (I think) Bell Pepper

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Lilac Bell Pepper

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The promise of what’s to come.

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With a little taste each day.

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The first of 2 Yukon Gold potato harvests (6.5 pounds) Photo Credit: Amanda G.

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The haul of one day. The potatoes, a few bells, zucchini, tomatoes, a couple small red cabbage, the last of the broccoli and kale and of course the wonderful fresh eggs.

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Can you guess what this flower is?

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Autumn Beauty Sunflower Photo Credit: The Handsome Hubs

My Hats

We all wear many hats when it comes to the things we do/juggle in our lives. A few of the hats I wear are mom, wife, DogVacay host, Grandma-sitter, gardener, blogger, chicken-wrangler…. ok, maybe more than a few. From time to time I get to put on a few more hats, event-planner, cake-baker and caterer. This month, in the same weekend, I had two fantastic projects to add to my mini portfolio. I had such fun with both events that I really want to share the story with you and introduce you to the me who wears the caterer/cake-baker/party-planner hat.

The first was a dinner that consisted of a first course with a salad of tender greens, orange supremes, toasted walnuts, red onion and gorgonzola cheese, dressed in a fresh orange juice vinaigrette and served with fresh-baked baguette. Dinner was grilled rack of lamb, roasted red potatoes and grilled zucchini (my homegrown) and yellow squash. Dessert was a simple dessert the hostess remembers from her childhood with fresh whipped cream and chocolate wafers, I added some fresh berries for a pop of color and bright flavor. This dinner was for 14 people at the studio, really a nice home in the local foothills, of the hostess. The living and dining rooms are one large area with a high ceiling that has hardly a free space on any of the walls. It is just filled to the max with the beautiful paintings and sculptures of the evening’s hostess. It was a last-minute booking for me, and smack in the midst of party preparations for a surprise party for my friend of 25 years.

I wasn’t able to snap even a single image of the first dinner as it was just myself running the kitchen, slicing, plating, serving, clearing and cleaning. That was Saturday night. It was a fast paced few hours that will go down as one of my favorite catering memories. Later in the week when I ran back for the one item I inevitably forget every time I cater an event, I received the best gift, the hostess had not been expecting the lamb to be seasoned and prepared like it was. See, she’s not the best listener, though she is one of the best clients. She is fun to work with, a little quirky but we manage to work rather well together. Any who, she asked for lamb, I immediately went to my favorite marinade and the best cut. Rack of lamb with a marinade of lemon, garlic, rosemary and mustard. She thought, roasted leg of lamb, even after we agreed to my version, I still found mint jelly waiting to be served alongside the lamb. I assured the hostess we would not be needing mint jelly (I really am not a fan). So when we met up later in the week and were chatting about how well received the dinner was and how she was still getting compliments on the food, she told me that the lamb I served was now her FAVORITE way to eat lamb!!!! That is a compliment that will stick with a girl.

No time to rest, I still had a surprise 40th birthday party to put the finishing touches on. My mantra “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. There is just too much life to be lived. Many a late night was had the week prior to this party. It was so much fun putting all the details together and really a dream gig. The Bestie’s mom wanted to throw a big bash for her daughter so she funded the shindig and green-lighted every idea I offered for the event. So to say I got carried away would be an understatement. But I really couldn’t help myself. This friend is SO worth every last bit of hard work and late night. The party was a Bastille Day themed bash. Pretty easy to put together since the French flag is blue, white and red. Here is a little peek into the event
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(Click on the picture to enlarge)
I will post more pictures on my catering Facebook page Your Family Affair Cakes & Catering
I cooked up Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, green beans, mashed Yukon gold potatoes and baked more baguettes. There was a dessert table with assorted chocolates, candies, gourmet popcorn and French macarons. I am obsessed with the macarons now. I made raspberry with dark chocolate ganache filling and lemon with vanilla butter cream filling. The lemon ones were divine, like a lemon meringue pie in two bites.

The cake? Oh just a simple 5 layer chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling and chocolate butter cream icing.

Midge and I made tissue paper blooms that we strung from the open beams on the patio cover. We also made coffee filter flowers by dying individual coffee filters in yellow food color and then dipped the centers in green after the yellow dried. I glued those onto twine to make a garland. The colors of the day were red, white and blue with pops of yellow to brighten it all up. If only the day hadn’t been the hottest day of our summer thus far, the day would have been absolutely perfect. The smartest thing I did was bring in 2 staff to run the kitchen, set up food and clear dishes. The guys have worked with me on several other events in the past and are my go to helpers. Having them in the kitchen freed me up to be a properly involved hostess and unchained me from the kitchen duties, absolute genius I tell you.

I couldn’t have pulled this all off without the help of Midge and my Handsome Hubs. Midge is my right hand, when I have an over-flowing plate I know I can depend on this kid to pick up the extra workload and handle whatever I put on her to-do list. The Hubs too, he put in his full-time work hours, picked up an electrical emergency side job and still managed to get his party to-do list accomplished on time. I am a lucky girl to have a family that allows me to continually bite off more than I can chew and help me get everything accomplished all while smiling. (at least to my face).

How many hats do you wear?

I can CAN

I’ve been a bit silent lately. Hopefully you noticed since I am such a HUGE part of your lives now, Ha, riiiight. Let me tell you though, even on a little city lot I have plenty to keep me busy this summer. The garden is growing like mad. I have been picking enough cucumbers each week to put up a handful of cans of pickles each week for the past few weeks. It is fun having such a bounty that I can pick a new recipe each week to try out and since upgrading my 1970’s home canning cookbook to this beauty
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I have been busy putting veggie to canning jar pretty much every weekend. We have Kosher Dills, Refrigerator Dills,
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Dilly Beans and Dill Pickle Slices.
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Midge has been asking for sweet pickle relish and I have been picking at least 2 good-sized zucchini nearly every day so I can now add sweet pickle relish, that is DELICIOUS and I even canned up a couple pints of zucchini pickles!
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The relish is fun, it is made with all our homegrown veggies, I didn’t have any red bells so I substituted our pretty lilac bells
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This new canning cookbook has gotten me so excited to can. I may have dog-eared a page or two of recipes I cannot wait to try.
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Up next is trying a few more canning recipes for all my zucchini and then restock my mason jar collection in time to hopefully put up gobs of tomato products next month.

Do you can? What is your favorite canning recipe or favorite thing to can? Please share.

Pampered Post

What a week I have had! I apologize for missing all of my regular blog posts, that I hope you have become accustomed to seeing each week, but I was slammed with catering and party prep. Between a cake pop order, a catered dinner for 12 on Saturday and a Surprise Bastille Day themed 40th birthday bash for a dear friend I hardly had time to sleep, let alone find inspiration for blog posts. Oh add in the regular summer chores of the garden and trying to keep up with the volunteering at the local “for the community” garden we have recently been working with, harvests, canning, blanching a freezing of produce that waits for no one. To say I am tired, I think that could have remained unspoken. Please note, I am not complaining. I love this kind of tired, a tired from hard work with a successful finished product that I put forth is the best kind of tired.

When you are swamped with projects it is easy to push time for yourself to the back burner. Now that I have made it to the completed side of all these projects it is time to put myself and my care back to the forefront. Take a little me time to recuperate and recharge. What better way than with a little pampering. So, thanks to some AW-mazing homesteading bloggers I give you the “Pampered Post”. Links to posts for everything you need to nourish your body from the outside in, from start to finish.

Bath Time:

These Stress Away Bath Melts from The Toups Address look divine, lavender has long been known for it’s calming effects. Can you imagine soaking in a hot tub with one of these mixed in.
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Face Time:

I have heard many a woman talk about this Oil Cleansing Method. It’s a pretty interesting idea that I have yet to dabble in due to the sensitive nature of my skin, that combined with the lovely psoriasis that plagues mainly my face just makes it difficult for me to find things that will work for me. This might be worth trying. Do you use the OCM for your facial cleansing?
Check out The Toups Address take on the Oil Cleansing Method
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You can find more from The Toups Address on Facebook
and on their blog

With all the dirty work that comes with spring, catering and party prepping (I am a serious party prepper) sometimes a good scrub is what my skin cries out for. This Orange-Honey Facial Mask and Scrub from Five Little Homesteaders looks delish! Maybe make a 2 batches, one for your face and one for a snack. Relax, I’m joking (I think)
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You can find more great DIY’s from Five Little Homesteaders on Facebook and of course at their Blog

Hair:

Do you do the No-Shampoo thing? I tried it for a week and have mixed thoughts on the subject. Using baking soda and vinegar (separately and diluted) worked wonders on the scalp full of psoriasis but left my hair feeling less that soft and manageable. Learning and Yearning has this cool Shampoo Bar that, though more involved in making, may be a good alternative to the “No-Poo” (I really dislike that little term) conundrum.
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While over at Learning and Yearning check out the post on Natural Skin Care, they cover homemade, natural deodorant, face creams, lotion bas, foot scrubs, and talk more about the OCM. A great recourse.
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Want more from Learning and Yearning? Facebook and Blog

Lip Service

I LOVE lip balm. I have countless varieties floating about my house, car, purse. I have purchased all natural ones and I have found I love these the best, they tend to keep my lips moisturized far longer (like half the day) without out being overly greasy, heavy, or wrought with the stench, and taste, of chemicals. Seems I am not the only lover of lip balm. Such an assortment. I may have to make a batch each to add to my plethora of lip balm.

Green Eggs and Goats gives us 2 recipes to try with their DIY Lip Balm
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Green Eggs and Goats
on Facebook and their Blog (Be sure to sign up for Beulah the Cows Mooooooosletter while you’re there.

The Toups Address has a recipe for Homemade Lip Balm that uses a bit more shea butter for increased softness
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And Lastly, a nice girly one with the addition of a bit of natural color in this Homemade Tinted Lip Balm from Five Little Homesteaders. I just love what she came up with for the color.
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Well there you have it! Thanks to the wonderful ladies at these Homesteads for their creativity and willingness to share.

Five Little Homesteaders
Green Eggs And Goats
Learning and Yearning
The Toups Address

July 1999

I uploaded over 40 images to build this post today, I think that is a couple, ok maybe a few, too many for one post. I could easily make you sick of the subject that in 15 years I have yet to tire of. Of all the things in my life, this is by far, BY FAR, the greatest. I can confidently say this subject is one that will NEVER, yep I said NEVER, tire of. I am pretty sure those near me have grown a bit bored with the broken record that I have become. If you were as tied to this as I am you too would understand the reason for my obsession.

What could possibly keep me so enthralled for so many years you ask?
My daughter!
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Today is her 15th birthday and I am about to, I think it has already started, go all proud momma on you here. Scroll for images or sit tight for the emotional torrent from this boastful mom.
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How could you not love such a face? This kid is incredible. Even at a young age she has shown more empathy for those around her than pretty much any adult I have met. While most are quick to jump to an angry conclusion, this girl, young lady, automatically gives the benefit of the doubt. Quick to forgive, slow to judge. Cool, calm and collected in an emergency. Thoughtful, sensitive, compassionate and genuine. From the start, this kiddo has been wise beyond her years, tender, giving and kind.
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Quick with a smile, hug, compliment and encouragement.
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Lover of all things furry and feathered. Midge is the happiest when she is among the animals. Rough housing with the dogs, caring for the cats, snuggling a bunny.
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Chillin’ with the chicks.
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She has said, she feels most at home when she is at the local stables, where she used to take riding lessons and still volunteers at summer camps
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There is no question, animals are her passion. With the strength of character, self awareness and confidence that this young lady carries herself with there is no doubt that her goals of becoming a veterinarian and one day opening her own rescue center will be realized. She has her head in the books, in the clouds and on her shoulders.
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Hard working, oh my for “city girl” she has a work ethic that can put folks to shame. From running just as hard as I do on a catering or event, seriously, my right hand. She springs into action without hesitation or complaint. She works side beside me on any big job, ready and willing to tackle each new task asked of her and all without complaint. From scrubbing houses to pulling weeds for hours this kid just digs in and works until the job is done. As her grandma said in disbelief “What teenager does that?”, having raised a few of her own.
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As if all that weren’t enough, Midge has had her top 3 colleges chosen for more than a year and makes the choices that keep her headed toward her goals.

I cannot recommend enough the need for everyone to have a Midge of their own. Bad days dissipate when she hugs me. Tears dry up when I hear the tenderness in her voice and feel the love in her heart.

Midge is:
Baker

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Though not always successful
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Girls Scout
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Clown
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Sassy Teen
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My Carpool Buddy
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My HEART
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My EVERYTHING
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Told you, solid obsession. Insane levels of pride. This kid is INCREDIBLE! You all should be so lucky as to have someone so magical, memorable, and magnificent in your lives. I am SO blessed.

Today will forever be the Greatest Day of my life, the day I met the coolest person on this planet (trust me, she is). I am a better person for having My Midge in my life.
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Happy Birthday to the best thing to ever happen to me!
(and your dad).

Kosher Dill Pickles

Finally!
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A successful crop of cucumbers which in my house automatically translates into Dill Pickles!!! The recipe I use is adapted from a cookbook with a publish date older than I am. I cannot remember how this book found itself in my possession but I am certainly happy it did.
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I add a little extra spice and garlic to my version since that’s the way we like our pickles around here. I weighed my cucumbers and had about 7 pounds but I only got 6 quarts out of them. The original recipe calls for 2 1/2 pounds and says it makes about 5 quarts, that has yet to prove true in my experience. So I just grab a handful of all the ingredients, mix up the liquid following the measurements and have a go at it, I figure I can heat more liquid if need be and will fill as many jars as my cucumbers will fit.

Kosher Dill Pickles

Ingredients:
2 1/2 pounds 4-inch cucumbers (about 25)
Fresh dill
Garlic Cloves
Hot peppers
(I used fresh cayenne long and super chile from the garden and chiles de arbol – the little dry, red ones from the Hispanic foods section at the market)
Pickling Salt (or in my case Kosher salt)
4 cups Cider vinegar
3 quarts water – filtered before tap please

Directions:

Get your water bather canner filled and heating on the stove before you start your pickles. Follow manufacturer directions for your canner.

1. Prepare your jars and lids according to manufacturer directions.

2. Thoroughly wash cucumbers. Quarter them lengthwise.

3. Combine the vinegar and water in a large saucepan, bring to a boil.

4. Rinse the dill, peel the garlic and wash peppers (if using fresh)
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5. Pack cucumbers, dill (like 6-8 little stems. Don’t count, just grab a small bundle), peppers (I like 2, you might try 1 to start) and garlic (again I like 2 big cloves or 3-4 smaller, cause garlic = heaven in my home) into hot jars. Pack them in as tight as you can get them

6. Measure 1 Tablespoon salt into each jar.

7. Once your vinegar mixture is boiling, using a canning funnel, carefully lade the hot mixture into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Run a table knife down the insides of the jars to release any trapped air bubbles.

8. Wipe off the rim of the jar with a towel. Place lids and rings on and screw down firmly.

9. By now, the water bath canner should be hot, Place your filled jars on the rack in canner, making sure the jars don’t touch. Once all jars are in the canner, check water level. If necessary add more boiling water so that the water is at least 1-inch over the tops of the jars.

10. Once the water begins to boil, start your timer. Process in boiling water for 20 minutes*.

11. When your pickles are finished processing, turn off heat under canner and, using can lifter, carefully transfer your jars to a rack or towel in a draft-free area. Leave space between jars to allow air to circulate. Now wait for the chorus of pings to begin. Such a sweet sound to be heard at the end of processing.
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*Note: The processing time is for sea level, for every 1000 feet above sea level add 1 minute to the processing time.

I like to can my pickles for a shelf stable pickle that I can pull one can at a time to refrigerate. If I had an entire fridge I could dedicate to just pickles, I would likely just make refrigerator pickles. Here is a link to a Refrigerator Pickle recipe from the folks over at Wood Streets Gardens that looks a lot like my canned one. Though they add a spice that I hadn’t ever thought to try. Think I’ll add it to my next batch.

Now the hardest part, waiting to break into a jar of these delicious pickles! We can hardly stand it. Like a young child in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with each day drawing us just that much closer to the date marked on the calendar, it just gets harder and harder to not sneak a peek (or taste) of what’s inside.

Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite pickle recipe? What vegetable do you most like pickled? Please share.

In Bloom

I little photo update on the “Growings-On” in our garden. Photo credits are all mine this time. Hope you enjoy.

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Love the pretty purple silks of the corn.

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White pumpkin

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Jack-o-lantern pumpkin

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Pumpkin blossom

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The very beginnings of what is promising to be a bountiful cucumber season

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Cucumber blossom

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Early Girl tomatoes

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The corn has to be a good 10 feet tall now! I think we may be harvesting some for the 4th!!

June 1994

Twenty years ago this week two unlikely paths came together. We were just kids when we met. He was 20 years old and I, well, I was (am) younger.
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Not like creepy younger, I was 17, which just means I’m not 40 yet.

I didn’t know then that this guy and I would be where we are today. That the love and friendship would continue to grow. That with everything life has thrown at us we would both continue to make the choice to stand together to face whatever may be. Travis and I have held tight to one another as we have navigated the sometimes Tsunami sized waves that life has pounded us with. It has only been with a mutual love, support and respect that he and I have always managed to reach the surface, together, still strong.
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Of all the bad decisions we have made in our lives, there have been a few doozies, we have also managed to make some of the best, like choosing to support when at times it would have been easier and more expected for us to fight and push apart. You know, that choice to become parents, could quite possibly be the greatest decision we have made or will ever make in our lives. We do have the most incredible daughter.
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Today, Travis and I celebrate our 14th Wedding Anniversary. I am not really sure where all these years have gone. All I do know is there were few who ever thought that 20 years ago, those two kids would have ever been standing together with the love and commitment we have today. As a teen I thought I knew what love was, who I was or where I was headed. When in reality I had zero concept of the gift that stood next to me. I was unprepared for many things. Most of which was how much MORE I love my husband today. How much strength, courage, support, love and friendship he would have to offer me over the years and how the love, respect and bond I have for him would continue to grow with time. Now that I can see what 20 years brings I say BRING ON 80 MORE!
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Happy Anniversary to my best friend, my rock, my heart. The best person a girl could have next her on this wild and crazy ride called life. I thank the Heavens for you daily.
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All these years and I still swoon for this man. I am one incredibly blessed girl.