March 30, 2011

Cake Date

I have been majorly craving cake balls for the past few weeks, but alas have had no reason to make them. When I mentioned my craving to Whit the other day, he immediately agreed that we needed to get some cake balls in our mouths soon. I suggested that we do it for date night this week, and he was in! We had a fun time baking together. If you have never made them before, they take a LONG time to make. So long that we didn't get to do every step of the process together, but at least he was there to help me with the hard part - frosting them. I told Whit he should be glad I'm not a perfectionist, otherwise I would critique his dipping process. Then ironically he started making them and realized his own perfectionism. Oh well, we had fun and the best part is we have about 100 cake balls to enjoy and share! :) This flavor is chocolate cake + chocolate frosting. Classic.

We mixed it up and tried a new flavor: Strawberry cake (my absolute favorite cake) + Strawberry icing. Very sweet.

When Whit started using chocolate coating instead of chocolate mint, they finally turned out smooth and pretty (instead of prickly like gumballs).

I just think these pink ones are so cute!

If you have the time and reason to make these, you absolutely should! (Especially if you're making them for an event I'll be at...) If you need a recipe, here's one I've edited with lots of helpful tips:


1 package cake mix

1 16oz container frosting

2 bags Wilton Candy Melts, sold at Michael's (or any other melting chocolate. do not go cheap here - you want chocolate that will melt when you re-heat it)

*Wilton Candy Melts come in all different colors of vanilla, and have lots of other flavors to choose from like regular chocolate, dark chocolate, dark chocolate mint, and peanut butter.

(See below for possible flavor combos)


1. Prepare the cake mix according to directions on box. Let cool for 30-60 min, then crumble into a large bowl (large, but can fit in your fridge and can be covered) using a large spoon.

Using a large spoon, stir in the frosting until well blended (you could also use a mixer). Mixture will be soft and homogenous.

Place mixture, covered, in fridge to cool for 3+ hours (or overnight).

2. Using your hands (or a spoon or melon baller), roll the balls bite size (about 1 inch thick) onto layered wax paper in a Tupperware container.

Place container with balls in freezer for 1 hour (or chill in the fridge for a few hours).

3. Melt a small amount of the chocolate coating in a small bowl in the microwave, or in a double boiler, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Dip the balls in chocolate with a toothpick, fork, or spoon. Use another toothpick or a knife to slide the ball off onto wax paper to set (or if you're using a spoon just drop it gently). Play around and if you perfect the method, let me know! This is the hardest part! ;) (Note: if your ball slides off the toothpick, it is not frozen enough)

Use any extra chocolate coating to drizzle over the tops (use a spoon).

Place on waxed paper in fridge to set.

Makes 45-50 quarter sized balls

Sample Flavor Combinations:

Chocolate cake (or devil's food or dark chocolate) with chocolate frosting topped with vanilla coating

Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting topped with dark chocolate coating

Strawberry cake with strawberry frosting topped with vanilla coating

Funfetti cake with funfetti frosting topped with vanilla coating

White cake with vanilla frosting topped with dark chocolate coating

Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting topped with peanut butter coating

March 26, 2011

Good Gifts

"Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" - Matthew 7:9-11

Yesterday in discipleship with my seniors we talked about finances after graduation. Of course that included a discussion about giving. I quoted the verse from above, and talked about how I love the concept of giving because God is so clearly faithful whenever you give. In my own experience and in many stories I've heard from other people, God blesses those who give cheerfully.

We had talked about this a little in staff training last week, and I realized how resistant I am to giving my own personal money. If I think of giving beyond our usual tithe, I will want to take it out of savings or some other category besides my personal spending money. I was convicted of that, so I decided to give a small amount out of my personal money to challenge my greed.

Last night Whit and I went to Best Buy, and I ran in Old Navy to see if they had the sports bra I wanted (to match my running shorts) on sale. On the way I found an adorable crocheted tank for only $ my favorite color! I was excited because I always see people wearing them but have yet to find a good one that I wanted to buy. Then I checked out the sports section and they had tons of sportsbras on sale - but not the color I was looking for. Bummer.

I moved to the clearance section out of habit, not expecting to find anything. The first thing I saw was this sweater - that I had wanted a month ago! When Old Navy put their spring stuff out this year I looked at some things but then waited until the end of the month to see how much money I could spend. I had really wanted this white sweater that you can throw on over anything (those are my new article of clothing). It was $30 but after a couple of weeks of thinking about it I still wanted it so I had decided to buy it. When I went to get it, sadly, it was no longer there. So last night you can imagine my excitement when I found the sweater in the right color, in my size - for only $10!!

Then I glanced at the clearance shirt rack, wondering if they would ever put sports bras up there. I wasn't going to look, but I went over and parted one section, and found the exact one I was looking for - in my size!! What the heck! And, it was cheaper than if it had been in the regular section, because it was on clearance. Yes!

It may seem like a meaningless story, but to me it shows God's gracious love, His overflowing blessings when we decide to trust Him and give back to Him. If you give joyfully, He will bless you in more ways than you could expect or imagine! Finding those items last night were in my mind put there for me by my God, who loves me and wants to bless me and show me that if I trust Him, He will provide for me - even in ways I would never expect. :)

March 20, 2011

Whit's Birthday Weekend!

Why do I have a picture of my wonderful, extremely attractive man on the blog? Because today is Whit's birthday!
A few months ago as I was planning his birthday I randomly looked up the civic center just to see if they had anything going on, and I found out that Brian Regan was doing a show the night before his birthday! Fortunately I checked the website just in time, because they went on sale the next day! I had been thinking I would take him skiing, so I let him choose between the two. It was a tough choice but he picked Brian Regan and I'm so glad he did! (Especially because it was 60-70 degrees yesterday!)

The tickets were pretty expensive, but we had a little extra date money for the month, so we got to eat out. Whit picked B-Dubs, his favorite restaurant (well it's between that and O'Charley's). I was glad to go there with him. We used to go every Tuesday night for cheap wings in college, but this year we've only been one other time, so it was fun to go and bring back good memories of when we were dating.
Brian Regan was hilarious! We were wondering if he would have any new material since we've seen all of his DVDs. Last time we went, 3 years ago, we knew some jokes but a lot were new. This time, the ENTIRE show was new material!! It was fun to get to hear all new stuff (we did hear 2 old jokes in the encore). It was very interesting because he was trying a lot of it out, so some of it wasn't that funny, wasn't completely refined yet, or he messed up. I could tell he was a little nervous because last time he seemed a lot more confident in the transitions. I think one time he forgot the joke he was going to tell so he just made something else...which he does very naturally. That was great because even if he messed up a joke, he would completely redeem it by talking about the fact that he just messed up. It was fun to watch him analyze himself and then critique what he was doing. For example, one of the funniest parts of the night was when he sang this song. He sang about 4 lines, and at the end of it said something like "Whoa, that was way too long. I don't know what I was doing there. The back of my mind kept being like whoa Brian this has been going on for far too long, but my mouth just kept singing! That's the last time you ever hear that version of the song. You'll see this bit on TV and think, "Wow that's short! When I saw him that joke was like 12 minutes long! I went to get a beer and came back and he was STILL singing!""

I really liked that we got to hear his analysis because it was personal and real - and we're the only audience that got to hear that version of the joke! He told another joke and no one really laughed, so he goes "Well that was the first time telling that joke, thanks for your feedback. You've gotta try it out sometime. You know what I'm gonna be doing tonight, I'll go home and scratch that one off the list." When he would make those ad lib comments was when I was cracking up the most. Another unique thing for us that there was a WWE smackdown in the other civic center auditorium. So at one point he says "When I was walking in here I saw all these oddly-shaped people and I was thinking, this is not my usual crowd - this is gonna be a weird night!"
Our favorite part of the night was this joke about Bagpipes. One thing that was awesome about it was he incorporated the joke he bombed (about neanderthals making up the word "the" to sound more sophisticated). He started telling this bagpipes joke and in the middle of it says "or maybe it's "the" bagpipes." He talked to himself trying to figure it out and then asked us "is it bagpipes or the bagpipes?" After awhile no one knew and he was like "I guess you don't have bagpipes here. ...Maybe I'll go ask the wrestlers in the other room what it is." And then he started singing the song that he joked about earlier, which was just hilarious. Anyways I hope you get to hear the bagpipes joke at some point because I was absolutely dying laughing during it - to the point that I couldn't breathe/laugh and I thought I was going to pee my pants. I haven't laughed that hard in years! So look for his new material on Comedy Central or CD/DVD soon!

Back to Whit's birthday - I am so glad I got to celebrate his birthday with him this year as his WIFE! I felt so special that he wanted to spend the day with me. Even though we had a great date last night, and he's hanging out with the guys tonight, he wanted to hang out with me all this afternoon. I'm so privileged to be his favorite person! :) We were going to go hiking, but since it was cold and we were sleepy in church, we took a nap...that ended up being 2 1/2 hours long! Then we watched a nature video together to be even more chill. I love Whit so much and was so happy to get to be the person to celebrate 24 years of life with him today! Happy Birthday, babe! Love you! :)

March 17, 2011

Digital Dilemma

I love pictures. I got my first camera before I went to the Dominican Republic after 9th grade on a mission trip with my church, and I astounded myself with how many pictures I took - 2- or 300 in 10 days. For such a trip now, that number would be on the low end. On our honeymoon I took 400, and we were only there 6 days. (I would have taken more but didn't want to neglect my new hubby!) My favorite part of facebook is that you can look through albums and albums of pictures. I love it when people go on fun trips in the summer that I can look at. I could also design a new album on Shutterfly every week if I had the money, time, and reason.

One thing that has bothered me for the past few years in taking pictures is that you look and see a beautiful scene, but you just can NOT capture that with a little point and shoot camera! It's frustrating because I think I have a good eye for photography, but can't get the results I want. To solve this problem, I have wanted a DSLR ever since that Nikon D40 commercial where Nikon gave cameras out to everyone in "Picturetown" to show that anyone can take awesome pictures with a DSLR camera. I put that thought on hold for awhile because the cameras are really expensive, but it has been my dream item on my Christmas list for awhile now.

I thought about getting a nice camera last year because I knew I would be going to some cool places, but it wasn't the right time (don't want to take a new $500 purchase to a third world country). I love islands and I'm trying to sell Whit on the idea of going to St. John for our 5-year anniversary (or possibly sooner ;)). Assuming that we go, I figured I would get a DSLR before the trip so I could really capture it (I also wanted to get an underwater camera, which I did get before Jamaica, and unfortunately did not get to use underwater at all). A bunch of people I know got DSLRs for Christmas this year, and I started thinking about reasons I should get a camera now too. So, after thinking about it a lot, I decided now is the time to buy! I think I should get one now because Whit and I will be in Colorado for 6 weeks this summer for New Staff Training for Campus Crusade for Christ. How disappointing would it be to see that magnificent beauty and not be able to capture it!! Another reason is that if I'm going to get one eventually, I might as well get it now because I would use it a lot, and it would be a great hobby (I've been pretty bored this winter).

Now that you know my life story about wanting a camera, I'll introduce you to the two I'm looking at buying!

The Canon Rebel XS

The Sony NEX-3

The intro to this post is super long, but my purpose in writing this was to write about the pros and cons of each, so I will do that anyway, so if you're still interested, keep reading!
I will start with the NEX because it's way more unique than the Rebel.
The NEX is actually not a DSLR. It is, however, an interchangeable lens camera that functions like a DSLR. You don't have to know exactly what that means, but just know that it was made for point-and-shoot users who want to upgrade but aren't willing to haul around a big DSLR. There are some competitors on the market, but it's definitely in a unique category. The selling point? It's half the size and half the weight of a typical DSLR. If you've ever held one, you know how big of a deal that is. The camera, excluding the lens, is not too much bigger than a regular point-and-shoot. The big difference and possibly downside is that there are very few buttons on the camera. Sony specializes in electronics (unlike Canon and Nikon) and strayed from the typical DSLR by putting manual controls and settings in the menu instead of in separate buttons on the outside of the camera.

(Sidenote: I am buying one of these cameras so that I can learn to shoot manually on it. What I have learned from reading my wedding photographer's blog is that if you're going to be a professional photographer, you need to shoot 100% manually so that you can be in complete control of your image, and thus people are buying your work, not the camera's. If you recall from my Travel Guide post, I would love to be a professional travel photographer one day and if I'm going to work toward that at all I need to shoot manually. Also, I think it will be fun to learn! Besides, if you're going to pay upwards of $500 for a camera, why use the auto setting?)
Okay, pros and cons!
New technology (possibly a groundbreaking improvement?)
I would actually carry it around (can throw it in my purse!)
Easy to use & easy to switch from the point-and-shoot world
Friendly interface
Easy to figure out what to do - gives tips & suggestions for settings
Digital display of image before you take a picture
I think it would be fairly easy to shoot manually (esp since I haven't had a DSLR before)
HD video! (this feature would be AWESOME for Phish shows this summer!!)
There are only 3 lenses available for it now without buying an adapter (although 7 are projected to come out within the next 2 years)
The zoom lens offered is really expensive, even on Ebay since it's pretty new
That zooms lens isn't even a great lens (you would get it to replace the lens that comes with it so you don't have to carry around 2, but it is so big that it kind of defeats the point of having such a small camera)
I would potentially sell it in the next few years when I am ready for a real DSLR
A replacement is rumored to come out in April...but I want to buy a camera now!

Okay, the Rebel. This is a price-comparable DSLR in a good brand that has been recommended.
I could learn how to shoot a real DSLR manually (it has the typical buttons and interface)
It's very similar to the beginner camera recommended by my fave photographer, Katelyn James ;)
Easy to get lenses
I wouldn't have to upgrade it (unless I used it for my job - not gonna happen for like 20 years if it ever did)
Good package deal
Not anything out of the ordinary
I don't like having to look through the viewfinder to take a picture (though I learned today that you can set up "live view" on the Rebel as well!)
Intimidating interface
No tips - have to know how to do everything
Would maybe be too afraid to learn it or too annoyed to lug it around & actually use it
No video
Basically, I really want the NEX because it's new and cool, and after trying both cameras in the store, I like the NEX way more (it's really similar to a point and shoot). Whit thinks that if I am planning on selling it in a couple of years, it's not a good investment. The more I look at it though, I think I could keep it for awhile - especially if they do release the lenses they are planning on. Another problem is that the more I read about each one, the more pros and cons I find! I'll be pretty set on one camera and then find out something about it or the other one that completely throws me off. Good grief.
Out of my current pros and cons list, what it comes down to are these questions:
How much do I really want other lenses?
How much do I want HD video?
Is another model of the NEX coming out soon?
Would I want to sell the NEX if I got it? How much would it sell for?
Ugh - such a tough decision! I'm actually excited about making it though because 1) it will force me to deny myself of something I want instead of just buying both (definitely can't justify buying two $500 cameras) and 2) I know will really love whichever one I end up with! So, until I decide, I will keep reading my photography book about exposure (how to use the camera...that I don't have yet) and researching! :)

March 16, 2011

Running Shoes

In the market for a new pair of running shoes? Here are some tips I just learned:

Your feet naturally roll when you run. This is called pronation. Depending on your arch, they roll inward (towards your other foot) - overpronation, or outward - underpronation. Or maybe your feet are great and they naturally roll the correct way (neither outward nor inward).

Your arch is what determines the roll/your gait. A person with a high arch (most rare) tends to underpronate, whereas a person with a flat foot tends to overpronate.

You should shoe-shop based on what kind of arch and gait you have. If you have a flat foot, look for a shoe with good arch support, also known as maximum support. If you have a high arch, look for a shoe with cushioning. If your foot is more normal, you will want structured cushioning to keep your foot moving the way it should.

The confusion is in what I just said - if you have a high arch, wouldn't you want good arch support? No - the reason being that a foot with a high arch naturally rolls outward. If you add extra padding under your already-high arch, your foot will lean even more towards the outside, causing you to underpronate and occasionally slip and stumble on the outside of your foot. In return, you will want arch support with a flat foot (even though you have no arch) so that your foot will not overpronate and tilt too much inward. Think about it this way - the arch directs where your foot will go. You want it to go straight/forward, so if you add support to a foot that is leaning inward (flat) you can correct that by pushing it outward. Does that make sense?

I am so glad I googled this because I always knew you had to choose running shoes wisely but I never knew what to make the decision based off. I have a high arch and when I stumble my foot always "falls" outward. I never knew why that was! I always looked for good arch support but it was really causing my foot to keep doing the bad thing it was already doing. Now I am so glad I know how to correct it!

March 14, 2011

The Bachelor and Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

This is not a domestic, recipe-posting blog (mainly because I'm not very domestic and don't cook that much), but I had to show you these delicious goodies!
Introducing Cookies & Cream cupcakes! I saw them on a friend's blog and thought about making them for Valentine's Day, but when we went out instead I kept waiting for a good occasion to make them. I decided I would make them for the Bachelor finale.
Aren't Brad & Emily just the cutest?? I knew he would pick her...he just had to! He was so obviously in love with could easily tell by the way he looked at her, got nervous around her, gave her romantic dates, and did special things like breaking the rules for her. I hope they end up getting married...they are soooo cute!! Okay, here's the recipe for the cupcakes!

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes
(Makes 12 - don't worry, they are pretty intense, so 12 is plenty!)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk
10 oreos, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cream butter, sugar, and eggs together until fluffy. Add vanilla.
3. Combine flour and baking powder in another bowl. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, mixing just until combined. Add milk. Once mixed, add remaining dry ingredients. Add the crushed oreos to the batter.
4. Pour into cupcake tins and bake for 20-25 min at 350. Let cool, then frost.

Cookies & Cream Frosting
(Original recipe is doubled)

1 stick butter, softened
3/4 - 1 lb powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3-4+ tablespoons milk
5 oreos, crushed

1. Mix butter and powdered sugar together, adding sugar gradually to the mix.
2. Add vanilla.
3. Mix in milk 1 teaspoon at a time, adding more if needed. Continue to add milk and sugar until desired consistency is reached. (Recipe calls for 1/2 - 1 teaspoon. I used about 4 and it was still pretty thick.)
4. Add crushed oreos and fold them into the frosting. Maybe you can get a better consistency frosting than I did, but it wasn't very sticky, so I actually ended up smooshing the frosting onto the cupcakes with my hands, which worked pretty well. Enjoy!

March 13, 2011

Travel Guide Series: Aruba (Part II)

Are you ready to explore Aruba?? Now that you know a little about the country overall, let's check out what activities you can get into if you can't sit still on those lovely beaches.

This aerial shot depicts the landscape. Look a little different from the last post? The land is dry and arid, as is the north coast. We'll start in Eagle Beach (the low-rise beach on the southern side of the west coast). Beach-to-Beach Hike
Because all of the beaches in Aruba are public, and because Eagle Beach and Palm Beach are close by, you can hike from one to the other. I originally saw the lighthouse at the far end of Palm Beach, so my goal was to walk all the way there, but you would need a full day, not just a morning or afternoon. I'm not great with distances, but this view represents about 1/4 or so of the walk. It's not too far. I started after breakfast at about 9:30am and got to Palm Beach in about an hour and a half in time to cool off in the sweet water before chowing down on my packed lunch. You could easily do the hike in about 1/3 of the time, as I spent a lot of time stopping in awe of the view, taking tons of pictures, and wading in the water whenever I could. As you can tell, the coast is not very welcoming. There are lots of jagged rocks (actually that's probably made up of some kind of coastal material, not rock, but I don't know what it is exactly). You will definitely want to wear tennis shoes or hiking boots, not flip-flops. Tevas would be ideal, so you could dip your feet in the water when you get hot!One of the cute little bays you'll cross. They might lure you to just quit and rest in them, but resist the temptation! Getting all the way to Palm Beach will be worth it for sure.
Traversing the North Coast
"Wait, why is there a picture of a desert? Aren't we in tropical Aruba?" Yes, this desert is a major part of Aruba. Cacti and desert sand are the stars of the north coast. In order to really understand an island, you need to experience all of its parts - the good and the bad. Although the north coast is extremely hot and dry, I loved it! The best way to trek the north coast is with a rental car. You can pay 100 bucks for a tour, but it will only be a few hours long and you won't be able to stop at the cool sites you see or linger and explore the places you do stop. It's an easy drive, as the road just loops around the island. It would be pretty sad if you got lost trying to find your way, and there are plenty of people around in case you got a flat. (If you need a car rental company, the cheapest one is Amigo, which is actually pretty reliable.) There are tons of these shorelines along the coast that you will awe at from your car and want to pull over for. Definitely stop to see one or two of them, but don't let them distract you from the other sites if you're on a time constraint (or just constrained by daylight).Again, don't forget your tennis shoes! You don't want to cut your feet on this stuff.An awesome wave!When you look west when you're starting out your journey, Bushiribana Ruins will surely catch your eye. Check it out! It used to be a gold smelter, and it lies right on the water. You can walk up about 3 stories, wander around the old rooms, and catch a nice ocean breeze while you're at it.After heading east, make a stop at the Natural Bridge. What a beautiful display of God's artwork. There's a gift shop and a restroom, so this could be a great lunch stop, or snack break. Other than walking across and taking some pictures, there's not much else to do, so don't plan to spend all your time here, though it's definitely worth a look.Not pictured here are the caves. Just using the standard road map that you can grab at the airport or from your hotel, you can navigate yourself to some caves. There are at least 3 different ones that you can check out. We went in one that had a tour guide waiting to show us around. It was a short cave, so you had to bend down a little bit, but there were some cool ancient paintings on the walls. It was kind of interesting, but not a must-see. It definitely wasn't spelunking. This picture here is of a bay nearby the caves. It was the perfect oasis after a long day of walking around and driving in the hot sun. Swimming wasn't allowed due to the strong current, but if you stand on those rocks the waves will splash and soak you. It's also nice to throw off your shoes and sink your feet in the soft sand. Another important site to note is the Natural Pool. To get there from the caves, it's about a 20 minutes drive (lots of speed bumps). This was number one on my list of sites to see, but since we had to be back at our hotel by 4 or 5, we didn't have enough time, as it is about an hour hike to get there, so plan accordingly. If you're not burnt out, you could schedule a sunset sail in Palm Beach to enjoy some rum & punch and relax on the open seas. Or you could book a snorkel trip for a different day with Jolly Pirates. You'll snorkel in 3 different spots with about 40 other people. Enjoy free drinks while you sail, and at one spot you can try to do a back flip off the rope on the side of the boat. (Also, if you collect coconut heads from foreign countries like I do, you can buy a sweet pirate coconut head for your collection.) One thing not to be missed is windsurfing. Aruba is famous for its wind. I know, that sounds weird, but the wind in Aruba is absolutely perfect for sailing. It's constant and light, which makes it ideal for beginners to learn to sail, windsurf, or kitesurf. I took a lesson with Vela Windsurfing one day, and it was the best decision of the trip. I finally felt like I was getting all I could out of Aruba. I felt so in tune with God by making use of the wind - something I've never done before! Vela is an excellent company. I thought I was being on top of my game and signed up for a lesson at 10am. Turns out windsurfers are lazy and most don't get out on the water until about 4pm (hmm, that would have worked better for me). My reward for waking up early was a private lesson! I thought that windsurfing in Aruba was perfect, and when I tried it in Curacao I realized how perfect it really was. If you think you would EVER want to windsurf, and you have the opportunity to in Aruba, DO IT! At Vela, you have great instruction (the teachers are extremely knowledgeable, experienced, and clear), the water only comes up to your chest (makes falling off easier), the sand is super soft (nice when you're standing there learning), and the water and sky are absolutely gorgeous to sail across. And again, Aruba is famous for having the best wind, so take advantage of it. Have I sold you yet?Now that you know all about Aruba, I'm sure you've figured out there's something for everyone. If you're still running out of ideas to fill up your time, you can always check out the lighthouse, go shopping, or try out different restaurants. But don't forget to relax!

Travel Guide Series: Aruba (Part I)

As you can tell, I'm introducing a Travel Guide series. One day I would love to be a photojournalist for a travel magazine (my favorites to read are Islands and Caribbean), and I've been wanting to write a travel synopsis of my trip to Aruba since I got to know the island pretty well, so I'm going to write a few travel guides for fun. Maybe they'll come in handy one day or you could share them with a friend traveling soon. I'm including lots of pictures because in my opinion that's the best way to get to know a place besides going there firsthand.
Where are we going first? The idyllic Caribbean island: Aruba!Where is Aruba? About 20 miles north of Venezuela, in the lower Caribbean. The islands closest to it are Curacao and Bonaire, together known as the ABC islands. These islands are part of the Dutch Caribbean - the Netherlands Antilles. They speak English, Dutch, and their own language - Papiamento.Orientation: The island is only about 16x6miles - definitely small enough to explore in a week, or even if you're only there a few days. You will fly into Oranjestad, the capital, where you can find great shopping - including designer stores like Cartier. Climate: Aruba has the quinessential Caribbean beaches - warm, clear water year-round that flows onto the softest white sand your feet will ever step on. If you spent all your time on the north coast or inland, however, you would never know this perfect beach existed. The climate is dry and arid, and instead of sitting under the shade of swaying palm trees, the land is filled with prickly cacti. Where a soft white sand beach doesn't compliment the beautiful waters, the menacing coast wards off visitors with craggy rock too sharp to traverse in just a pair of flip-flops. (This picture shows the contrast between comforting beaches and a less-welcoming inland.)Where to Stay? The two most popular beaches to crash at are Palm Beach and Eagle Beach. Palm Beach is where all the action is at. High-rise hotels, all-inclusives, and tons of activities. Eagle Beach is its quieter, less populated companion with the same entracing beaches but with less of a fight for a lounge chair in the morning. Both of these beaches are situated on the western coast, so you will get to experience beautiful sunsets at night. If you care more about shopping than beaches, stay in Oranjestad. You can stay on the water but with a lesser quantity and quality of beaches. Eagle Beach: I stayed at the Aruban on Eagle Beach. This was the view walking from the pool across the street to the beach.Eagle Beach in the morning around 8am. The ocean at Eagle Beach. Stop searching for the perfect beach - Aruba has what you've been looking for. Take off your shoes ASAP so your feet can sink into white sand as soft as flour. If you can pull your feet away from the blanket of sand, jump into the refreshing, warm water which is clear underwater as the outside reflects light in the most perfect array of turquoises and teals. When I was there, the full moon illuminated the shore so you could relax under the stars. It was so bright you could even stand in the water up to your knees and still see your feet!Looking back on the most northern side of Eagle Beach. Looking towards the northern side of Eagle Beach from around the bend (see map). From the beginning of Eagle Beach, you can walk all the way around the bend to find more lounge areas, hotels, and restaurants.Palm Beach: A view of the beginning of Palm Beach from the southern side. Big hotels and lots to do!Palm Beach is where the nightlife is at. Behind the Marriott and a few other big-name resorts, there is a street with restaurants and shopping. There are chain American restaurants as well as other nice restaurants. Off the street, there is a really nice mall area with a cluster of shops and restaurants. If you have kids, you can let them jump in the pool & fountain to take a break from shopping if they have their swimsuits on. Stick around at night to watch the fountain light show play to Disney tunes.Getting Around: Even if you're staying in an all-inclusive, you will want to rent a car so you can get around and see everything. All the beaches are public, so get in your car and explore! If you're staying in a hotel, make a run to the grocery store on the first day to stock your fridge with fresh fruit and lunch meat to make breakfasts and lunches. Don't forget to buy brats or steak to grill out by the pool. Details: Out of all its interesting facets, Aruba is often identified by just one thing: the Divi Divi tree. This icon is a short tree with a twisty, swirly trunk. It rests by the edge of the water for fantastic photographs.Where a soft sandy beach isn't there for the waves to crash on, you will find sharp moon-like craters. If you want to explore the island, make sure you pack tennis shoes to switch out for thin flip-flops when the ground gets tough. Once you're equipped with tougher shoes and walking around, beware of blow holes! The surface appears to be a flat surface but underneath the waves break through in certain areas, spraying you if you're not watching out.On the mystical side, there are hundreds and hundreds of stacked rock towers. Some say dwarfs come out at night and build them as magical homes, and if you knock one down you kill the magic. Another more plausible theory is that tourists build them with a wish in mind, and when you knock one down their wish comes true. Which story you believe will lead you to decide to knock one down or leave it standing up.One last cultural detail I'll leave is a hidden secret beach with a wealth of treasure. On my trek from Eagle Beach to Palm Beach, I stumbled upon a shore FILLED with conch shells. You know, the rare shell that everyone tries to find - and if you find one it absolutely makes your day. Well this beach had thousands of them! Some broken but lots still in tact. So if you're a collector, make sure you explore the badlands in between the two main beaches so you can take home a conch shell...or ten.Now that you know the basics of Aruba, look for the second installment, coming soon, to learn about activities and adventures to experience on your trip!