Boxed Mac & Cheese Hack, pt. 1

A while ago my mom shared a genius easy weeknight dinner with me.

It’s so ridiculously easy that I’m almost embarrassed by how short this post will be.

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Yup, that’s right. It’s a boxed mac & cheese hack.

You might be thinking, “OK, so you add some vegetables to cooked mac & cheese. That’s hardly a hack.” The truth is it’s even simpler than that, & all you have to dirty is one pot plus the colander.

As the macaroni noodles are boiling, you add FROZEN vegetables right to the pot. Strain like usual, & add the ingredients for cheese sauce as you normally would.

THAT’S IT!

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It’s super versatile. Use any kind of frozen vegetable mix you like!

Delicious, fast, EASY weeknight dinner.

Frozen Veggie Boxed Mac

  • 1 box mac & cheese + ingredients needed for cheese sauce
  • 1 bag frozen vegetable mix
  1. Boil macaroni noodles according to package instructions. Add frozen vegetables. Strain.
  2. Put noodles & vegetables back in the pot & make cheese sauce according to package directions. Serve & enjoy!
 

 

Sweet & Cheesy Bacon Tots

Today is International Bacon Day!

Or at least, one of them, anyway.

To celebrate both bacon day & the start of college football this weekend, I’m making these delicious sweet & cheesy bacon tots.

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I first made these for New Year’s Eve last year & they were such a hit!

Just a little prep & 25 minutes later you’ll be in sweet, crunchy heaven! There’s just something about the combination of brown sugar & bacon that’s hard not to love. Then this recipe adds 2 of my other favorite things – cheese & potatoes.

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YUM.

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I better not make these until our friends come over, otherwise there will be none left for them!

Sweet & Cheesy Bacon Tots

Adapted from Damn Delicious 
  • 2 cups frozen tater tots, room temperature
  • 1 oz sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch squares
  • 4 slices bacon, cut in 4
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set aside.
  2. Lay one tater tot on its side & top with a cheese square. Wrap in a piece of bacon.Repeat with all tater tots. Roll each tater tot in the brown sugar, pressing to coat.
  3. Place tater tots seam side down onto the parchment paper. Sprinkle more brown sugar if necessary. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Want more bacon-containing recipes to celebrate today?

Bacon Waffle Sandwich

Shrimp & Cheese Grits with Bacon

Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It’s A…

GIRL!

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We prayed for 1.5 years for you. Our wished-for child.

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Our little cupcake❤

Response To “So you’re thinking of voting for a pro-choice candidate…”

This election is ridiculous. I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I know I have only voted in 2 elections so far, but this one seems like one of those that the history books are going to be highlighting.

When I was in middle school, my classmates took a poll on who the students would vote for if they could. I was one of like 5 kids that said George W. Bush. Florida might geographically be in the South, but it’s a purple state at best & I definitely live in a blue county. Of course, back then my ‘politics’ was shaped by my parents. In high school when we could finally register to vote our senior year, I registered as a Republican. When I finally could vote, I voted Republican. As I grew older & went on to attend the University of Florida, a liberal university, my stance as a conservative solidified & my pro-life advocacy started.

Being a Republican is not a part of my identity. Being a Christian is, & being pro-life is. I’m also a wife & mother – my baby is almost 16 weeks gestation. Now that you have a little bit of a background on me, I’ll go on.

I am not sure who I will be voting for in November this year. What I do know, is that it will NOT be Hillary Clinton.

This post by Rachel Held Evan is well written & thoughtful. I read a portion of it last night when a friend quoted the section on Evangelicals on Facebook. That part resonates with me 100%, and that list is among the many reasons I cannot endorse Trump as the candidate. I suggest that, like me, you read that section first. It’s at the very end. My favorite line is, “how you can oppose sexual immorality while shrugging off the transgressions of a strip club owner who brags about his sexual exploits and extramarital affairs and who publicly sexualized both of his daughters?” In my opinion, porn culture, rape culture, & abortion culture go hand-in-hand.

There are some things in Rachel’s post I do agree with, but my conclusion is vastly different from hers. Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. “So even though I think abortion is morally wrong in most cases, and support more legal restrictions around it, I often vote for pro-choice candidates when I think their policies will do the most to address the health and economic concerns that drive women to get abortions in the first place. For me, it’s not just about being pro-birth; it’s about being pro-life. Every child deserves to live in a home and in a culture that welcomes them and can meet their basic needs. Every mother deserves the chance to thrive. Forcing millions of women to have children they can’t support, or driving them to Gosnell-style black market clinics, will not do.”

Abortion is wrong in ALL cases. Abortion is the willful termination of a human being’s life. Whether the fetus is disabled, will die shortly after birth, the result of rape, or simply ‘inconvenient’ does not matter. Just like all children & adults all deserve to be treated equally regardless of education, income, race, ability, & gender, all human fetuses should have the right to live. People conceived in rape do not deserve to die, just ask Rebecca Kiessling & her friends at Save The 1%.

I don’t think Rachel agrees with me & other pro-lifers about making abortion unthinkable. It is not enough to make it illegal. Saying that every child deserves”culture that welcomes them and can meet their basic needs” sounds nice, but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. Children conceived in poverty are no less disposable than poor adults. Some very influential people lived in poverty & overcame it. We need to change from a ‘culture of death’ with its abortion on demand, capital punishment, & doctor assisted suicide to a ‘culture of life’. In a culture of life, women wouldn’t feel “forced” to have babies – they would welcome their unexpected miracles & have support.

Rachel says, “voting pro-choice is not the same as voting for abortion.” The words are true, but the action is not. Democrats For Life thinks the Democrat platform for this election is too abortion focused. They are fighting for room for pro-life people & ideas in the ‘big tent’. They are fighting for a culture of life.

Hillary Clinton will not get us in that direction. She’s not even touting ‘safe, legal, and rare’ anymore. She wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which has received bipartisan support since enacted in 1976. Repealing the Hyde amendment would mean tax-payer funded abortions for women on Medicaid. My mom was on Medicaid when she had me. She needed medical care for her & for me – not an abortion (she has always been pro-life, but why should abortion even be an option under Medicaid?) I am currently a board member of #HelloHyde, a campaign celebrating the 40th anniversary of Hyde this year whose aim is to put faces to the statistics that Hyde opponents like to throw around.

Medicaid does bring me to a point that I agree with Rachel on:

2.”Pro-life advocates should support, rather than oppose, efforts to help low-income families care for their children.”

This is something I can get behind 100%. We should absolutely fight for paid family leave, better childcare options, programs such as Medicaid & WIC, better foster care systems, etc. But, in the mean time, babies still don’t deserve to die. Rachel gives an example of a poor mother of 2 who is struggling to make ends meet & finds herself pregnant for the 3rd time. Rachel seems to suggest that OF COURSE this woman should get an abortion! That doesn’t sound very Christian or pro-life to me. I don’t know Rachel personally, & am not jumping to conclusions from one blog post. I am just pointing out how ‘culture of death’ that sounds.

Rachel points out that Hillary has addressed a lot of these programs & even made them “a centerpiece of her campaign.” That’s great; I’m not saying Hillary is the devil & incapable of doing any good. But Hillary only wants these things after a person has passed the magical line between uterus & outside world. I feel like I have to say it again. Babies don’t have to die for us to have these programs. It’s not one or the other. Shame on Republican officials who turn their noses up at these programs under the guise of being concerned about ‘government handouts’. Jesus said in Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep & the goats, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Well, the least of these absolutely includes unborn babies.

3.”if we want to dramatically reduce the abortion rate in this country, we must support efforts to make contraception more accessible and affordable.”

This is one topic that definitely divides pro-lifers. I need to play devil’s advocate for a second: some hormonal forms of birth control can have abortifacient effects. Hormonal birth control is not the same as Plan B, which is not the same as the abortion pill. But what hormonal birth control & Plan B can do, is prevent a zygote from implanting. If like me (and like science), you belief human life starts at conception, then some of these products are unacceptable. Not to mention that hormonal birth control can also have some crazy side effects. I don’t judge anyone for using it, but I am pointing out to Rachel some of the reasons why this is just not a valid option in a lot of pro-lifer’s eyes.

That being said, barrier methods of birth control should be accessible to all, and people should know how to use them correctly. Regardless of whatever personal views people might have about sex, there should be some education on it. However, I certainly don’t trust Planned Parenthood to be the educators. Especially when they are constantly covering up statutory rape cases, refusing to report when girls as young as 13 are brought in for abortions, and telling 15 year olds it’s ok to let your partner beat you for pleasure. Well, guess who 100% supports Planned Parenthood & continually fights to keep them government funded? Hillary. Planned Parenthood calls her “Our Nation’s Best Presidential Candidate for Reproductive Rights, Hands Down.” So before conflicted pro-lifers such as myself head to the polls in November, they should know that the organization that kills over 200,000 babies a year thinks Hillary is amazing.

Rachel is right in saying that neither Trump nor Hillary are our pro-life saviors. I’m not looking for a savior, I have a savior. I disagree with her position that Hillary will be better for us to keep the abortion rate down. I don’t think that fact is being helped by Washington, DC, where the supreme court just said it’s OK for abortion clinics not to follow the same standards as other surgical centers. Are we going to drop the ‘safe’ part of ‘safe, legal, & rare’, too? What about the justices that next year’s president will appoint?

Rachel basically argues that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. I disagree in this instance. Like I said, I don’t know Rachel Held Evan at all. Also like I said I don’t yet know who I will vote for in November. Maybe I will vote for Gary Johnson. Yes, he’s pro-choice, but he is for repealing Roe vs Wade, for late term abortion restrictions, and for state’s rights on the issue. Maybe I’ll write in some other candidate. Or maybe I will break down & vote for Donald Trump (probably not). But one thing is for sure, my pro-life conviction will absolutely not allow me to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Anthony’s Famous 1,000 Island Salad

I’m 15 weeks along with my little baby & finally feeling more energetic! Blogging will probably be more sporadic going forward – I don’t foresee myself blogging a ton with a newborn next year! But writing & sharing recipes is really important to me.


 My husband introduced me to a wonderful salad combination. So wonderful that whenever one of us says, “Do you want salad for dinner?”, this is the one we are talking about.

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As far as salads go, this one isn’t very fancy. But all the flavors work together beautifully. Tangy olives, crispy bacon, sharp red onion, & buttery croutons! Throw in some shredded cheese & top it off with 1,000 island dressing – that’ it. That’s the recipe. Well, with lettuce, of course.

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We used pre-bagged salad mixes, usually ones with carrots for extra vegetables. We always make our own croutons – toast some sliced bread with butter, Italian seasoning, & garlic pepper. Much better than store bought. They come out toasty but still a little soft.

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I didn’t say it was the healthiest salad around, but bacon has protein, cheese has calcium, & the olives & onion have vitamins. It’s a full meal.

The best part about this salad is how easy it is to construct. From assembly to eating in minutes. This one is definitely staying in the rotation for busy nights with the baby coming soon!

Anthony’s Famouse 1,000 Island Salad

  • 1 pre-bagged salad mix
  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/2 cup manzanilla olives
  • 3 slices of bread for homemade croutons, or a handful of pre-made croutons
  • butter & seasoning for homemade croutons
  • 1,000 island dressing
  1. Cook bacon. Crumble & set aside.
  2. If making your own croutons, toast bread with butter, garlic pepper, & Italian seasoning. Cut into cubes.
  3. Chop the red onion & cut the olives in half. Pour into a large bowl with salad mix.
  4. Add bacon, cheese, croutons, & dressing. Toss & enjoy!

Burnt Chicken (honey Italian chicken tenders)

In college my friend, Frank, & I used to make dinner together all the time. He made these delicious chicken tenders one night & I have been hooked ever since. The recipe is incredibly simple – just a few ingredients that marinate into the chicken & then caramelize beautifully. Frank got the recipe from this website, but according to that poster the recipe is older than that. It’s supposed to be a copycat of a Cracker Barrel recipe, which I’ve never tried, but if they’re anything like this recipe I totally recommend them.

The first time I made these for my husband he loved it. It’s his favorite thing I make us for dinner. He’s the one who dubbed this recipe ‘burnt chicken’.

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I promise you it’s not actually burnt! The marinade caramelizes in the pan into these delicious little bits.

The recipe is sooo easy – you just mix together the Italian dressing (zesty is the best for the most flavor), lime juice, & honey, let the chicken marinate for at least an hour, & put all of it in a pan. That’s it! Seriously.

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When you first put it in the pan it will look like this ^. Then you just leave it alone. Leave it, don’t touch it until the liquid has reduced significantly & is darkening (20+ minutes).

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When the chicken looks like this ^, flip over & cook for 5-10 more minutes so the other side of the chicken gets some of the good stuff on it. Don’t worry about your pan, the oil in the Italian dressing will pretty much guarantee that nothing sticks to the pan.

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Voila! The end result is delicious, sticky, slightly tangy, slightly sweet chicken tenders. Depending on your oven, pan, & temperature the caramelizing might take a little while – up to 40 minutes. Just be patient, the end result is well worth it.

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Burnt Chicken

AKA honey Italian chicken tenders
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips/chunks
  • 1/2 cup Zesty Italian Dressing
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • juice from 1 lime
  1. Place all 4 ingredients in a gallon ziplock bag. Marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Pour out the bag into a large skillet & cook over medium heat until liquid reduced & becomes thick & sticky, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. Turn each piece of chicken once & cook for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Pregnancy Announcements

It has been FAR too long since I posted something, but I have a very good reason:

I’m pregnant!

(you may have guessed this from the title)

I’m about 10 weeks along, & while I made the announcement on social media a few weeks ago, I just have not had the energy to come blog about it.

First trimester fatigue is REAL, y’all. I recently saw it described as having not slept in 5 days, having the flu, and being hungover at the same time. Too true.

Anyway, I finally mustered up the energy to share the happy news🙂

Below are some cute pregnancy announcements!


Cake

My mom’s birthday was a week after we found out, so we waited to tell my parents with cake!

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Pink & blue baby decorations, pink & blue cake, with blackberry filling!

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Best birthday cake a grandma could ask for!

T-shirts

That same night, we went over to my in law’s to tell them the good news. This time with shirts!

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It took my father-in law a little while to notice, but my mother & sister in law got it right away!

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Perfect for Mrs. Dessert Monster🙂

We also used this picture to announce on social media.

Doggy!

I really have been away from this blog for too long – we got a dog! We adopted her from a rescue in Alabama while we were up there for Memorial Day weekend visiting my mother-in-law’s side of the family.

Her name is Dove, after the chocolates!

I had seen other pictures like this online & decided to make one of my own🙂

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She’s going to be a great guard dog & companion to the baby!

Kitchen Fun

Finally, I could not resist putting together this cute little announcement!

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I love my Lodge cast iron pans. Look how cute the tiny one is!


We are so excited about this amazing blessing!

According to my Ovia pregnancy app, here’s how big the baby is right now:

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Hopefully in a couple more weeks I’ll have my energy back & will start posting on a regular basis – I have over a dozen recipes saved in my drafts!

Prosciutto Ricotta Pizza

Last week I shared a delicious whole wheat pizza crust recipe. Now I’m finally getting around to sharing what I put on it!

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 Tada!

My husband & I first had this delicious combination in Italy. You have not had ricotta cheese until you’ve had it fresh in Italy. It’s been 2 years and I still think about it. Ever since, this has become our favorite pizza combo. Naturally, it was our first choice of toppings for my first homemade pizza crust.

It’s nothing too complicated. You start with the standard pizza sauce & shredded mozzarella & then add prosciutto slices & spoonfuls of ricotta. To make it even more delicious I added black pepper, oregano, and crushed garlic. Pro tip: you don’t have to peel garlic if you’re going to use a garlic press!

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I don’t have a pizza stone, so I just baked it on an old cookie sheet in the oven at 500 degrees (that’s as hot as my oven gets) for 12-15 minutes.

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I didn’t try this, but for a crispier bake it for less time on the cookie sheet & then put it directly on the rack for the last few minutes.

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I will definitely try that tip next time.

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Now we don’t have to go out to a fancy Italian place to get this awesome pizza!

Prosciutto Ricotta Pizza

 

  • pizza dough, rolled out
  • olive oil
  • pizza sauce
  • shredded mozzarella cheese
  • prosciutto slices
  • ricotta cheese
  • crushed garlic
  • black pepper
  • oregano
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Brush the edge of the pizza crust with olive oil
  2. Spread pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese on the crust. Place pieces of prosciutto spoonfuls of ricotta cheese all over the pizza.Sprinkle crushed garlic, black pepper, and oregano all over.
  3. Bake for 12-15 minutes using cookie sheet or pizza stone.
  4. Cut, serve & enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

I experienced some firsts with this recipe: first time using the dough hook on my KitchenAid mixer, first time ever using yeast, & first time using my new pizza & pastry roller!

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My friend Beth has pizza every Friday. I love her life! She almost always makes it from scratch, & after enjoying some of her awesome pizzas myself, I asked for the recipe.

She shared that it’s from one of her favorite cookbooks: Brown Eggs and Jam Jars.

This dough was really easy to make, even for a yeast novice like me. I halved the original – if I messed this up I didn’t want to waste like 5 cups of flour! – & used ‘regular’ flours instead of bread flour. The results were wonderful. The dough calls for honey, but it is not an overly sweet crust, so don’t omit it.

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I had to Google how yeast is supposed to look when ‘foamy’ to make sure I was doing it right. I think I nailed it!

After the yeast is foamy, I added all other ingredients & kneaded for about 5 minutes. I had to add a splash of water at the end because not all of the flour had combined, so use your judgement until you get a nice ball of pizza dough.

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 Before rising…

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After!

I let the dough rise for 45 minutes, per the original recipe. You want your dough ball to double in size. Then comes the most fun step – you punch down the dough!

The original recipe makes four 16″ pizzas, but I halved it so I split my dough ball in half & froze what I wasn’t using that day.

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I don’t have a pizza stone, so I just baked my pizza on an old cookie sheet.

The pizza came out AWESOME!

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Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll tell ya what I put on it!

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Adapted from Brown Eggs & Jam Jars

Makes two 16″ pizzas

  • 1/4 cup warm water (110-120 degrees F)
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cool water
  • 1/8 cup olive oil + more for oiling a large bowl
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. In a stand mixer bowl, combine yeast & warm water until the yeast dissolves. Let sit for about 5 minutes, until foamy.
  2. Add all other ingredients. Using dough hook, knead for 5 minutes, until dough is fully combines & smooth. Add more cool water 1 tsp at a time if necessary.
  3. Place dough in a large oiled bowl & cover with a towel. Allow dough to rise for 45 minutes, until dough doubles in size.
  4. Punch down the dough & divide in half. Roll out the portion(s) you want to use.
  5. Freeze an unused dough ball for up to 3 months. Let frozen dough thaw for 8-12 hours & let rise before rolling out & using.

We Love The Beach

I have had this post in my draft box for over a year, but today’s prompt from The Daily Post finally made me finish it & hit publish!


We love the beach.

We don’t go as often as people from South Florida should, but nonetheless we love it.

We’ve had many special memories at the beach.

Going to Orange Beach, AL for Memorial Day has become a family tradition on my mother-in-law’s side & we look forward to it every year.

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Going with our friends is always a fun time – even more so now with their baby!

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The beach has a special meaning to us because we’ve had a lot of relationship milestones there:

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First date October 2012.

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2013

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1 year dating anniversary beach weekend, October 2013.

It’s where we got engaged May 8, 2014.

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(photo taken some time after engagement)

It’s where we ended our 1 year wedding anniversary date.

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Isla Morada, December 2015.

The beach allows us to be silly together…

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2015

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…and it teaches us important life lessons (like sunscreen EXPIRES).

The beach is a place we feel comfortable. The smells, sights, & sounds are all very soothing. God really knows what he’s doing.

At our wedding we did a sand ceremony. Half of the sand we used was from Ft. Lauderdale beach, taken from right where we got engaged.

Sand Ceremony Christmas Red Wedding

Maybe the beach holds a special place in our hearts because one of our first photos together was taken at the beach, at night, 8 or so years before we ever looked at each other as more than friends.

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High School Homecoming, 2004.

I’m glad we live less than 30 minutes away from the beach.

Here’s to many, many more beach days & nights with my wonderful husband!