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.

  • Strawberry fields forever...⁣
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While traveling, we adore stopping in farmers markets and checking out the fresh produce available for sale. When we saw these strawberries in Tallinn, Estonia, we just had to take a picture.⁣
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The vibrant color of the berries tells us they were ripened naturally on the vine. You just don't get that color trucked in to a supermarket. And that natural ripening means, of course, that these are some of the sweetest strawberries you'll ever taste. Yum! #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #celebritycruises #cruising #seastheday #cruise #sea #beyondborders #humansatsea #cruiseaddict #cruisecritic #tallinn #lifeisbeautiful #cruiseship #cruiselife #estonia #strawberries #farmersmarket #lifeisshort #visitestonia #adventuregirls #tallinngram #berries
  • On our Baltic Sea cruise, we stopped in Stockholm, Sweden. To get there, we had to sail through the Stockholm Archipelago. ⁣
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For days leading up to our arrival in Stockholm, the captain of the ship kept telling us that we should plan to be up early so we could take in the scenery as we passed through the archipelago. After enough repetitions, we resolved to get up early to see what he was so excited about.⁣
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We are so glad we set the alarm. That morning, we sat on our balcony and had breakfast watching some of the most beautiful scenery we'd ever seen pass by our cabins. We had an up-close view of land that we've rarely had from a cruise ship unless it was docked. ⁣
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Sure, we travel to see specific things. Who doesn't? But we really love it when we find something like this that we didn't know existed, but it is so amazing it enriches our lives and makes us want to go back again and again.
  • In the @visitmasoncityiowa airport, is a new restaurant called CAVU American Kitchen & Cocktail Lounge. Offering chef-crafted foods and incredible cocktails, this restaurant has the best airport food we've ever eaten. In fact, we'll call this airport a destination.⁣
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Pictured here is Chef Cassie's fried potato salad. This was her elimination dish from the show, "Master Chef." Apparently, Wolfgang Puck didn't think much of it. After trying it, we don't think much of Wolfgang Puck's taste.⁣
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This dish, which is served warm, is composed of crispy fried potato chunks covered in delicious potato salad dressing. The combination of flavors and textures had us going back for more. #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #midwestliving #midwestlivingmag  #midwestmoment #igersmidwest #midwestisbest #masoncity #clearlake @masoncity
  • In Rochester, Minnesota, in the shadow of the famed Mayo Clinic, is a beautiful pedestrian area called the Peace Plaza. Because of its location, it's often the last area a person walks through as they go to the clinic hoping for help. And, it's the first place people pass as they leave the clinic sometimes with good news, other times to confront their own mortality.⁣
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The designers of the plaza seemed to understand the huge role the space would play in the lives of the people coming through. They designed it as a calming, meditative space filled with tranquility. It's a place you can refocus a little, and take some time to transition from the clinic to the world. And, it's just one more example of the ways that @minnesotas_rochester demonstrates humanity to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come each year to the clinic.
  • Are these salt and pepper shakers not the cutest?? Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is a magical place at Christmastime. We stopped by the @pwmercantile this morning and snapped a few new pics. Getting excited for the Holiday Lights Parade tonight!
  • We have four holiday gift guides up on the blog for the traveler, home cook, cruise lover, and road tripper on your shopping list! Just click on the link in our bio to check out our blog. ⁣
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One of our all-time favorite items (it made two of our lists) are these @EagleCreek packing items. This starter set goes with us on every single trip. Last year, Steve packed 16 size XXL shirts in on of them. They are super lightweight, safe space in your suitcase, and help you stay organized as your travel. ⁣
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What are your favorite gift ideas for travelers this year? ⁣
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#postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #giftideas #giftsfortravelers #traveler #travelgifts #giftguide #roadtrippin #packingtips #packingbags #howtopack #packlight #eaglecreek #celebritycruises #travelblogger #packing #packinghack #giftsph #holidayshopping #giftidea #travelgram #packing101
  • Who's ready for some pumpkin pie??⁣
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The thought of digging in to a piece of pumpkin pie (served with a cup of coffee with pumpkin spice creamer) takes us back to a small town festival we love. ⁣
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A few years ago, our town of Crete, Nebraska, began holding the Great Pumpkin Festival during the first weekend of October.⁣
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From spring to fall, local volunteers tend gardens filled with pumpkin vines so that folks who come to the festival can take home a reasonably priced, locally-grown pumpkin. ⁣
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The festival is full of games, food, performances and fun. It's a wholesome day where the town turns out to celebrate another year together in a relaxed, calm atmosphere.⁣
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Does your town have a festival? Tell us about it in the comments below.
  • ***NEW BLOG POST *** Today is exactly 8 months since we started our weight loss journey using the @noom app. See how we’ve lost 126.3 pounds while traveling. Just click on the link to our blog that’s in our bio to read our answers to your most asked questions about weight loss. And click to the second photo here to see our “before” pic.

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