So, we’ve been just a little bit busy the past week. Let’s catch up.

Having arrived home from a trip to Oklahoma the Friday before, we spent the weekend cleaning the house and getting things organized for house guests. Last Tuesday night (well, actually early Wednesday morning) a family of five from St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean arrived at our house. They were staying with us for a week to and attend and celebrate their son’s graduation from Doane University in the town where we live.

Tross family photo

Mikey’s family came all the way from St. Kitts to be here for graduation. He’s in the middle with his two sisters and his parents, Calvin and Pearline.

We’ve known their son, Michael, for three years and had met the Tross family when we visited St. Kitts in 2016, so it was a real honor to welcome them to our home.

Steve and met Michael's parents for the first time when we visited St. Kitts in 2016.

Steve and I met Michael’s parents for the first time when we visited St. Kitts in 2016.

Wednesday was also my 49th birthday and can I just say thank you all for the hundreds of well wishes and Happy Birthday greetings you sent?

Birthday cake

The ice cream cake we got to celebrate Ann’s birthday.

I heard from so many old friends, new friends, family members, former colleagues, and high school classmates. It made for a wonderful day and I felt so loved. We had a busy evening as I presented scholarships at a high school awards banquet and then we cheered on our Crete High men’s soccer team at a pep rally before they left for the state soccer tournament.

We are so proud of our local Crete High School men's soccer team on their first trip to the state tournament.

We are so proud of our local Crete High School men’s soccer team on their first trip to the state tournament.

When we got home at 9:30 that night, Steve, Meghan and I had piece of ice cream cake and called it a night.

Birthday cake selfie

Let’s just say that it wasn’t easy to get a selfie while trying to hold a heavy ice cream cake with lit birthday candles.

We spent the next two days keeping the house clean, decorating, making meals, and preparing for Saturday’s graduation festivities. We made fajitas and guacamole for about 20 people one night, reminisced with friends, and entertained out of town guests.

Preparations for fajita night

Ann cut (and cut) fresh peppers and onions and made a huge batch of guacamole for our grilled fajita night.

As we’ve mentioned before, Steve and I, along with our friends Ben and Nikki, lead the college ministry at our church. Since many of the students and their families are not from around here, we offered to host a graduation party at our place after commencement for about 120 of their closest friends and families. In preparation, one of the graduates’ sister, Hannah, spent at least six hours at our kitchen table meticulously decorating more than 70 sugar cookies for the event. Aren’t they amazing?

Graduation cookies.

These hand-decorated graduation cookies tasted even better than they looked.

Then, it was the day of commencement! We got up early to prepare the house for the party before attending a mid-morning brunch for the international graduates. The commencement ceremonies were outside on the Doane University campus and we were so proud of those we’d served in college ministry as their names were read. It was such a joy to watch them walk across the lawn to receive their diplomas.

2018 commencement at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska.

2018 commencement at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska.

Sadly, the tables and chairs we’d so carefully set up outside and on the deck went mostly unused, because it was only about 52 degrees that afternoon, so we squeezed more than 100 people into our house for the party.

Graduation buffet

Our dining room table became a graduation party buffet.

It was an amazing celebration full of laughter and smiles. Our friends, Robby and Karrie helped with food preparation and were rock stars in the kitchen, so we actually had lots of opportunities to visit with guests and enjoy the day.

Some of the Doane University graduates who are involved in college ministry at our church.

Some of the Doane University graduates who are involved in college ministry at our church.

After entertaining 120 people, you’d think we would be done for a while. But we weren’t. Sunday was Mother’s Day and I was so happy to spend it with both my daughter and my mom. We went to church in the morning and as we do most Sundays, fed a large group of college students lunch at our place afterwards.

Ann with her mom, Carol, and our daughter, Meghan on Mother's Day.

Ann with her mom, Carol, and our daughter, Meghan on Mother’s Day.

Meghan and some of my college “kids” gave me a thoughtful gift (framed pictures of them all together) and we lounged for much of the afternoon.

Ann with kids

Ann with all her “kids.”

That night, Steve offered to grill Nebraska steaks for our out-of-towners and moms, so we prepared steak, baked potatoes, and salad for a group of 15 and enjoyed a relaxing dinner on our deck. Of course, the temps were back up into the 70s that day. *Smile

Mother's Day steak night

On Mother’s Day we grilled steaks and ate on the deck.

Monday morning we were up and around to clean (again) and prepare for one last celebration — a going away party for our daughter, Meghan, before she moved to Tulsa.

We had a going away party for Meghan and many of her friends, including Amy and Dulce stopped by.

We had a going away party for Meghan and many of her friends, including Amy and Dulce stopped by.

We had about 30 people over for another cookout on the deck and it was such a great opportunity for Meghan to visit with her friends and say goodbye before heading south to start the accelerated nursing program at Oklahoma University.

I won’t lie, we slept in Tuesday (’til about 7 a.m.) and over coffee that morning in the hot tub counted everything up and figured we’d served more than 250 meals out of our kitchen in a week. Time to get back to blogging or better yet, plan a vacation.

  • One of our favorite stops on our hosted food tour of @visitkansascityks was the @403club. Sure, they offer a great selection of locally crafted and larger production domestic beers. But they also have pinball machines. In fact, they even have a pinball league.⁣
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We spent about an hour in this fun spot, sipping, playing, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. It will definitely be on our list of places to go again, someday. Beer and pinball are a pretty good mix.
  • On our visit to Italy, we visited the Prosecco region. While we toured a number of wineries, we actually stayed at an inn run by the Roccat winery. ⁣
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Prosecco is a sparkling wine, and people often see it as intergangeable with champagne. This isn't the case at all. Champagne is made from the Chardonnay grape, while Prosecco comes from Glara. Because of this, the two wines are completely different.⁣
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We enjoyed a tasting at Roccat, where they served us glasses of crisp, clear, delicious wine alongside some crunchy breadsticks that were just the right thing to enjoy with the wine.⁣
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If you ever have the opportunity to go to Italy, make sure you include time to head to Valdobbiandene and try some Prosecco.
  • Located in @clearlakeiowa, the historic Surf Ballroom has hosted some of the biggest names in music. It was on this stage that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP "The Big Bopper" Richardson performed their final show on February 3, 1959. After the concert, they boarded a plane for their next town on their tour. That plane crashed shortly after takeoff, and the date has been remembered ever since as "the day the music died."⁣
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@traveliowa
  • Set in Millennium Park in Chicago is one of the city's most iconic art installations. It's a giant, shiny bean which reflects everything in sight. It's fun to walk around (and under) the bean and see how the shape distorts what it reflects.⁣
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Folks come from all over to see this art installation and take it in. Children love running around it and gazing into it, not realizing they are learning about convex and concave shapes. ⁣
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Standing here you'll hear a multitude of languages and see people from all walks of life there to enjoy the art. And that's why we love public art so much--it brings people together.
  • On our cruise from Italy to Greece, we made a stop in Mykonos. There, we had the chance to take part in a Greek cooking class in a woman's home learning from her.⁣
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We spent an afternoon with lessons about Greek cuisine, and how they waste nothing, not even excess juice from a cucumber. We also saw how to make incredible dishes like this spanakopita, or spinach pie. Sitting in her dining room, enjoying the light, flaky crust and delicious filling is an experience we won't soon forget. ⁣
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While traveling, we try to find opportunities to experience local culture. It's amazing how similar people in the world really are if you just take some time to see what life is like.
  • Do you remember that song from "The Music Man" about trouble? You know the one about the kids in the knickerbockers, shirt-tail young ones, peekin' in the pool hall window after school. ⁣
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Well, we got to peek in a replica of that pool hall on a recent visit to The Music Man Square on our hosted to Mason City, Iowa. It's the town where "The Music Man" creator Meredith Willson was born and raised and his legacy lives on. ⁣
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Before you go see @thehughjackman and @suttonlenore in this Broadway favorite, consider a visit to the real River City.⁣
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Click on the link in our bio to see our latest blog post about why fans of "The Music Man" need to visit Mason City, Iowa. ⁣
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@themusicmanbway
  • When we heard that there was a community garden in Clear Lake, Iowa, we figured we'd stop and check it out. We've seen small town community gardens before, and were expecting a few flower patches, some paving stones, and maybe a bench or two. After all, it was built and is maintained by volunteers in a small Iowa town. ⁣
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What we found, though, was simply astounding! First, the entire garden had been designed beautifully; a small stream even meandered through the gardens, pausing in small lily-filled pools before continuing on its path. But the flowers took the cake. So many varieties, each more beautiful than the last. And the entire space had been planned out to take advantage of the spring, summer, and autumn species. ⁣
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if you enjoy gardens, put the Central Gardens of North Iowa on your list of places to visit.
  • Calmar, Iowa, near Decorah, is home to Pivo Brewery and Blepta Studios. There you'll find high quality craft beers, in a relaxed, fun environment. Upstairs from the taproom are the studios, where you can try your hand at art while sipping your beer.

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