Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Life is NOT an Emergency

Each morning I have been trying to read through my new devotional book, One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces by Ann Voskamp.  Most of you know of my love for Ann's powerful writing!  She has been given an incredible gift of writing and uses it for God's glory!  Searching through my daily life, looking to find all of the "gifts" the Lord has given me truly has made me a much  more thankful, introspective person.

Here are a few excerpts from the devotional to give you a taste of the deeper thoughts she provokes:

- How do I fully live when life is full of hurt?

- ... but to choose to live as one filling with His grace?  Choosing to fill with all that He freely gives and fully live - with glory and grace and God?  I know it but I don't want to: it is a CHOICE!

- A lack of doxology leads to depravity! (WOW!)

- If all the dismembering wickedness in the world begins with an act of forgetting - the the act of literally counting blessings literally re-members us to God!

- Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo - the table of thanksgiving.  Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?  So then as long as thanks is possible, then joy is ALWAYS possible.

In the most recent entry I have read, she speaks of recognizing grace.  Ann speaks "Calm, Haste makes waste.  Life is not an emergency.  Life is brief and fleeting, but it is not an emergency.  Emergencies are sudden, unexpected events - but is anything under the sun unexpected to God?  Stay CALM, enter the moment, give thanks!  I can always give thanks because an all-powerful God has all these things - all things - always under control... Time is not running out.  This day is not a sieve, losing time.  With each passing minute, each passing year, there's this deepening awareness that I am filling, gaining time.  We stand on the brink of eternity."

I thought this passage was INCREDIBLE!  So often in life we run through it, going to the next activity, next minute, the next hour, next day all the while, we forget to enjoy life in the moment.  With little kids, it is especially easy to consider life an emergency.  I am always running late to get Sophia to school, to get to MOPS, to get to a class at the Y, always another dirty diaper to change, 100 chores to fit into a few hours of naptime.  The daily life becomes "urgent" when in fact, it really isn't.  I need not think of life as a sieve, rather life as getting fuller minute by minute I am given grace to go about our life.   Ann said, " Father you are giving me more time to recognize the significance of the Story you are writing on these days.  Cause me to see more of the beautiful moments you place in my life.  I want to slow down and taste your goodness."

Wow, what an incredible prayer!  After reading this day, I was truly convicted that I need not treat life as an emergency, rather, treat it as days FULL of ways to see God's goodness and grace!

If you are looking for a devotional that is inspiring and easy to fit into your daily life, I strongly recommend Ann's.  The link is in the top paragraph!

Do you see life as an emergency?   How can you join me in recognizing God's goodness and grace?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How To Enjoy Key West Frugally!

Sunset at Ft Zachary Taylor State Park

Nate and I recently arrived home from 5 days, 4 nights in Key West.  We had such an incredible time, it was  actually quite comparable, if not better value for the money, to our honeymoon that was over 6 years ago!  Thanks to social media, it was very easy to get recommendations of places to go, things to see, and activities to do!  We also spent a few hours at the downtown Indianapolis library reading through travel books.  We took lots of notes, researched websites, read menus, plotted locations on maps, and planned as much as we could!  However, upon arrival, we felt like we didn't know how to enjoy the island "Nate and Allyson" style, so we thought we would compose a RECAP on the blog of how to be "somewhat" frugal in a very expensive area as well as fully interact with all our surroundings in the most enjoyable, economical way!  I have divided the blog post in a few sections for the sake of organization!

BEST PLACE TO STAY:  We stayed at The Southernmost House on the Beach (Mansion).  It is located at the southern end of Duval Street.  We were glad to learn the southern end of Duval is the "quiet, peaceful end" as they even have a sound ordinance that begins at 9pm!  The northern end of Duval is known to be quite loud and crazy!  The great thing is that Duval street is only about a mile long, so it is easy to walk from the hotel to the busy part of Duval, then head home and get a full, quiet night's sleep!  This inn is a historic house that has been converted to a Bed and Breakfast.  It has incredible rooms and great staff!  The inn keeper is quite delightful to talk to!   The breakfast was very fresh and inviting each morning!  They had fresh  seasonal fruit, yogurt, fresh baked French pastries, bagels, oatmeal, toast, cheese platter, and cereal!  During the afternoon, they had out fresh water loaded with orange and mint leaves.  They also always had a fresh fruit bowl available for snacks!  The grounds of the inn are pristine and it is a gated area!  It gives you a sense of privacy and security!   We can't say enough about this inn!  We would LOVE to go back to stay!

The view from the ocean, looking at the back of the Inn

Our amazing pool!

Our view each morning at breakfast

DINING:  Before leaving for Key West, we set a goal to spend NO MORE THAN $50/day on food!  You probably look at that and think, that is a piece of cake!  Well, in Key West, you have to put forth a great effort not to spend that amount and that includes having a free breakfast provided by the inn.  Each meal in Key West, regardless of restaurant you choose starts at around $10-12/person and that is without taxes, drinks, or tip.  We found that each lunch meal averaged about $27-30 for the two of us.  Dinner menu prices are much higher.  What is a couple to do with such a lofty goal?  You have to improvise!  We had our big meals at restaurants during the lunch hour (when the food is the same, but prices are lower) and the we found a local market/grocery store and purchased Greek yogurts, organic lunch meat, and cheese to store in our fridge back at the room.  Since our hotel had fresh bananas and apples available we were able to get those to compliment our dinner!  I took a piece of bread from breakfast and saved it for my dinner!  We figured if you ate out bfast, lunch, and dinner, it would be easy to spend over $100/day on food alone!

So, where did we eat?  As we mentioned, we researched restaurants and picked 4 of them we wanted to go to down in Key West, so we planned, and looked ahead at the menus.

The Cafe:  OUR FAVORITE by a mile!!  We love an eclectic restaurant that offers unique and healthy menu options that we can not find at home!  This is our biggest feat each time we go on vacation!  We saw The Cafe listed in a few travel books and believe me, THIS DID NOT DISAPPOINT!  It was incredible!  Check out the menu HERE.  It serves mostly vegan or vegetarian options.  While meat is lacking, it certainly isn't lacking in flavor or appeal!   We enjoyed it so much ate 2 out of our 4 lunches here!

I had the Cafe 'Veggie' Veggie Burger, made with legumes, carrots, broccoli, mushroom, scallions, and sunflower seeds.  It was topped with fresh greens, sprouts, tomato, and feta.  It was served on toasted Ciabatta bread!  I ordered the garden salad on the side with their homemade orange-mango vinaigrette dressing!  The garden salad was full of fresh, raw veggies, and greens!

Nate had the Classic Sprouthead sandwich, made with avocado, cucumber, Swiss  lettuce, tomato, hummus, and sprouts!  He enjoyed the side of marinated bean salad!

We can't say enough GREAT things about this restaurant.  It is a MUST stop for anyone traveling to the area!  Don't let the "vegan" label scare you off ... it is incredible food, and actually healthy for you!

Blue Heaven: Most recommended restaurant via social media! They have an incredible outside dining courtyard full of roosters running around, giant umbrella's to protect you from the sun, and live entertainment!  The outside dining was worth the wait!  Nate and I both had omelettes (yes, you can order bfast foods till 2pm), and they were tasty!  Check out the interesting history HERE.   It was a fun lunch, however, true to Key West, pricey.  If you want to go to Blue Heaven, I suggest the bfast/lunch hour as the dinner prices are some of the highest in the area!

Sloppy Joes: Recommended by a few people via social media, so we tried it, but it was a huge disappointment.  The menu was classic "bar food," nothing fantastic, especially for the price tag.  The live musical entertainment was quite raunchy.  I am not sure if it was their house band or what, but the two guitar players had TERRIBLE songs with disrespectful lyrics.  We couldn't get out of there soon enough!  I think we ordered, ate our food, and paid our bill within 30 minutes!

Key Lime Pie Company: We had our first piece of Key Lime pie within 2 hours of arriving on the island!  We even found a GLUTEN FREE slice of Key Lime pie!  It was incredible, but it was almost $5 for a SMALL slice of pie!!  So tasty, worth the money b/c the slices at the restaurants aren't much bigger and double the price!  If you want Key Lime Pie, they sell it by the slice here!  You can taste test almost everything in the store too which is awesome!

Fausto's Food Palace: This is the nice market 1 block off Duval street where we purchased our "dinner" meals!

Dessert Cafe:  We also read about an amazing dessert cafe in Key West in the travel books!  They are only open from 6p-12a.  Thanks to our frugal dinner option, we were able to save $ and go to the dessert cafe!

I had an awesome Carmel Creme Brulee with homemade orange shortbread!

Nate had a flourless chocoatel truffle with a scoop of raspberry sorbet!  

It was so dark in the cafe!  Candles were the only source of light!  When you opened up your menus, they were like iPads!  They were so bright!  Check out the glare on Nate's face!  Such a romantic atmosphere! 
ATTRACTIONS/STUFF TO DO:  Once again, you could drop some serious cash to go to all of the incredible attractions on the island, including the Ernest Hemingway House, Little White House, Key West Butterfly Conservatory, and all the various excursion tours.  We tried to find fun, free (or economical) attractions that would allow us to experience the island without dropping big bucks!

See The Southermost Point and take a picture by the giant buoy!     

The classic shot for all who vacation to Key West!  This is 1 block from the hotel!
Rent Bikes:  If you have the option to fly into Key West International Airport, DO IT!  We took a cab from the airport to the hotel.  Key West reminds me of Chicago, you have to pay to park EVERYWHERE, including your hotel!  It is so much cheaper and easier to join the locals and BIKE/WALK everywhere!  Seriously, we rented bikes for 3 FULL DAYS (72 hours) and paid $50.  We were able to fully enjoy and embrace the island!  You can rent bikes 1 block from the hotel!  The island is extremely biker friendly, and you will find places to lock up your bike in front of most restaurants/shops.  There is even a path where you can ride your bike around the whole island!  We did that on the first day we had bikes and really enjoyed it! It ended up being about a 10 mile ride or so!

It was hard to get used to a "beach cruiser" bike compared to the awesome
 road bikes we have at home!  Nevertheless, they served their
 purpose and allowed us to fully enjoy ourselves!
Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park and Truman Annex: Since we had bikes, we were able to bike to the Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park.  It is only a mile ride from the hotel.  It cost us $5 total to get in ($2.50/person).  We toured the historic fort, walked along the beach, and then returned for sunset!  As with our state parks, you pay the entrance fee once per day, so you can come and go throughout the day as much as you would like!  We would HIGHLY recommend this attraction!  The beach view is beautiful, however, pack flip-flops b/c it is pretty "rocky" and there isn't tons of shell-free sand!  The locals say this is the best "ocean swimming" on the island if you would like to swim!  Plus, you can see coral reefs/tropical fish so bring or rent a snorkel!  (Bummed we didn't have one!)

Awesome picture Nate took of all the cannons!

Beautiful view!

Inside the Fort
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center:  What a fun, FREE gem we found next to Ft. Zachary Taylor!  This center is run by NOAA.  Here is a little blurp from their website:

Enter the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and take a journey into the world of the native plants and animals of the Keys, both on land and underwater. Leave with an increased awareness and appreciation of the need to protect and conserve the ecosystem of South Florida.
The Center features over 6,000 square feet of interactive and dynamic exhibits including a mock-up ofAquarius, the world's only underwater ocean laboratory.
Colorful marine artwork depicting the deep sea, coral reef, and mangrove shoreline decorates the outside wall of the Center, guiding you toward the main entrance.
Once inside, you can explore exhibits interpreting the ecology of Keys' habitats, from the upland pinelands through the hardwood hammock and beach dune. From there, you’ll travel down to the mangrove shoreline, where you can enter the sea to learn about the seagrass flats, hardbottom, coral reef, and deep-shelf communities. Stop in to the Center’s theater to catch “Reflections of the Florida Keys,” a short film on the diverse ecosystem of the Florida Keys by renowned filmmaker Bob Talbot.
Be sure to check out the Mote Marine Laboratory Living Reef exhibit, which includes a 2,500-gallon reef tank with living corals and tropical fish, a live Reef Cam, and other displays that highlight the coral reef environment.
A walk through the Aquarius exhibit offers glimpses of the beautiful marine life at the reef and shows how scientists live beneath the sea during research expeditions.

Nice bike parking!!  Play "Where is Allyson" in the picture too!
They also show a 20 min FREE movie that takes you under the sea into the marine life!  It was directed by the same person who directed FREE WILLY!  (Remember that movie? HA!)

Garden Club: Another FREE gem on the island!  We had no idea this was here until we passed it on our morning bike ride!  We were warmly greeted by a "corporate refuge" from Wisconsin!  We learned all the exotic plants can survive in this location b/c it NEVER has gotten below 42 degrees!!  It is a popular spot for weddings!  Here is a little blurp from their website:

"This secluded eden is one of Key West's most tranquil spots. The grounds feature a rare collection of native and exotic trees and plants, including blooming orchids and bromeliads. Labelling is an ongoing process. The fort structure is highlighted by vaulted ceilings, gun mounts and a conservatory. Gazebos catch the soft sea breezes and are a popular romantic backdrop for weddings. The water lily pond and waterfall offer a soothing respite from the tropical sun."

Duval Street -- AKA The Duval Crawl.  Duval Street is chocked full of boutiques, restaurants  gift shops, and bars.  The atmosphere is fairly family friendly during the day, the night ... well, not so much!  Most of the boutiques are WAY overpriced, however, make for great window shopping!  It is fun to bike down Duval Street after Sunset to see all the lights, but it is nice to end at the quiet part!

Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square: Another FREE gem on the island!!  "Sunset Celebration is a nightly arts festival at Mallory Square Dock in Key West, Florida. The participants of this Key West attraction consist of arts and crafts exhibitorsstreet performersfood carts, and of course the thousands of tourists from around the world who visit this Key West art show. Each night around two hours before sunset masses of people, both locals and tourists alike, flock to the water's edge to experience a multicultural happening and to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico."

Our favorite act was The Red Trouser Show.  The show was clean, family friendly, and HILARIOUS!  These guys have tons of talent!  It was the first show we saw and it really raised the bar for all the other street performers!   Click HERE for a great (short) video displaying their talents!

Overall, we had an incredible time in Key West! (A special THANK YOU to my parents who watched the kids for the full 5 days!) We really enjoyed ourselves and felt like we were on our 2nd honeymoon!  It was a fun place to visit without kids!  I don't know that I would recommend this destination for a family vacation, but it is an awesome couple destination!  

Have fun while saving $!

Thankfully, when we approached Indy ... this was the view from the plane!!  Welcome back to reality and life as a parent!!  The fun was awesome while it lasted!!

Have you ever been to Key West?  Any frugal tips for other blog readers?