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Our Trip to Dinosaur World

30 December 2012

Entrance
Mr. Collier and I went on our first date at Mammoth Cave in Cave City, Kentucky. To commemorate our four years together and as part of Mr. Collier's 25 Days of Christmas gift we spent a Saturday driving from Nashville up I-65 to the roadside attraction know as Dinosaur World. Now, if you haven't had the opportunity to make it up that way I'd highly recommend it. Not only do you have the opportunity to interact with these prehistoric creatures they also have a wide collection of fossils and it is a fabulous place to walk around for an hour to stretch your legs.  

"Hey Guys"
Fortunately, Mr. Collier and I had a Living Social Coupon so it was $24 total (normally $20 each) for us to be emerged in the prehistoric wonder that is Dinosaur World. My favorite part, by far had to be the first few "exhibits" on the Dino Trail walk which included three specimens which had a placard that read,"This is not a dinosaur." After several of these I thought, "What is this? 'NOT A DINOSAUR WORLD?'" Overall we spent an hour walking around and taking photos with all of the interesting interpretations of dinosaurs and not-so dinosaur creatures. 

You might be wondering who in their right minds would be spending an afternoon or let alone money walking in the cold/rain to look at fiberglass dinosaurs. Well, the Colliers. We've had a love for kitschy roadside attractions since the very beginning of our relationship and so it was only fitting for us to cross Dinosaur World off of the list! 

  

There's No Place Like Home....

23 December 2012

I think that Dorothy Gale had it right in "The Wizard of Oz" to say that there is not place like home. I know Mr. Collier and I are grown and have our own home but there is something to be said about being in my parents' house.

The smells of turkey for dinner, the familiar noises when my mom gets up in the morning to make her coffee and the feel of the furniture against my back. Home will never change for me. I once heard a quote that home is where your mom is. And I'd have to agree with that. Although I'd never live here again in the same way as I did growing up, it will always be home to me.

So here we are. Just two days from Christmas and there is no place that I'd rather be than home. I hope that you find yourself this holiday season at home surrounded by the ones you love.


Christmas Traditions and Pierogi

21 December 2012


Why is it that when we are children we never realize or appreciate the family holiday traditions which have been set before us, but once it clicks as adults, we draw near and hold dear to the things that make our holidays seem real? The maternal side of my family is strong with traditions being half Sicilian and half Lithuanian. Interesting combination, no? As it is told my great grandparents felt the same way about the joining of the families in the 40's. Our Christmas Eve dinner was filled with seafood and pierogi. I've never gone a Christmas Eve without pierogi. The little dough crescents filled with cheese were carefully handcrafted by my grandma weeks before Christmas and frozen for the big night. While sharing some of my family history with a friend, I quickly realized by the puzzled look on his face that not everyone has experienced pierogi. In the spirit of Christmas and his family significance in our lives, I decided to make my very first batch of pierogi. 

My grandma was a wonderful cook. Her hands were wrinkled from all of the kneading and stirring over her lifetime. I never considered this until recently but coming from a strong Italian family I wonder what it was like for her to learn to cook all of my grandpa's Lithuanian dishes. I know his mother lived with them for many years and that would have provided an opportune time for my grandma to cook with her. I'll have to find this out when I return home for the holidays. 

There are dishes that I will forever long for since her passing away four years ago. After her death, I found her pierogi recipe written on piece of paper. I am not sure why she wrote it, who it was intended for or perhaps it was just a reminder to herself. Because it is so precious I keep it in a very safe place in my home until I decided to follow in her footsteps and make my first batch of pierogi unassisted. I had watch her make them dozens of times but never had a chance to participate without the training wheels.  


The recipe in itself is quite easy being a simple dough and filling. As I started to mix and roll out the dough I prayed that it would come together just as hers did. Little by little the crescents were dropped into the boiling water and there were no catastrophes. No sudden outpouring of filling. They simply floated to the surface when they were done. I became overjoyed at my accomplishment and ever more connected to my grandma's memory. 

I will share that to prevent the boiled pierogi from sticking together the secret is bacon and lots of it. Frying up 1 lb of center cut bacon renders plenty of oils to address any concern of sticking. Also, it creates the most wonderful flavor when the pierogi are reheated. 


In my family, you can't have a Christmas Eve celebration without pierogi. They are one in the same. I can't wait to see down the road how our Collier family will begin to integrate former traditions with our own new traditions. But I will promise you, pierogi will be there.

"The Office" Christmas Marathon!!

20 December 2012

The pink Advent candle was lit on Sunday at church and you know what that means! Christmas is just around the corner. Some people, including ourselves spend time watching Christmas movies to get themselves into the holiday spirit before the traveling and the family drama. And we at the Collier house are starting off our last week before Christmas the right way, by reliving all of "The Office" Christmas episodes. Here is the list so that you can watch them too or just mentally appreciate it from afar. 

Full swing into the Pam/Jim romance Jim gets Pam as Secret Santa while Michael goes above and beyond the gift limit. 



Benihana Christmas Season 3
Michael: I'd like to get everybody's attention please. Christmas is cancelled. Stanley: You can't cancel a holiday. Michael: Keep it up Stanley and you will lose New Years. Stanley: What does that mean? Michael: Jim, take New Years away from Stanley. 

3
Moroccan Christmas Season 5
 Andy: When I was in college I used to get wicked hammered! My nickname was PUKE. I used to chug a 5th of SoCo sneak into a frat party polish off a few peoples' empties, some brewskies, some jelloshots, do some body shots off myself. Pass out. Wake up the next morning. BOOT! Rally. More SoCo. Head to class. Probably would have gotten expelled if I had let it affect my grades but I aced all my courses, they called me Ace. It was totally awesome. I Got straight B's; called me Buzz." -Andy Bernard

Classy Christmas Season 7
Dwight: In the end the greatest snowball isn't a snowball at all. It's Fear. 


Dwight Christmas Season 8
Pam: Dwight, you have to follow the one rule. There are no rules Dwight: You have never been cooler! 

DIY Bourbon-Vanilla Extract

18 December 2012

Our bourbon vanilla extract
Mr. Collier and started searching in the Fall for a Christmas gift project for our co-workers that was sweet, from the heart but inexpensive. As scientists, we were most intrigued by the the process of making vanilla. The recipe seemed straightforward and involved a lot of sitting and waiting for the flavors to become extracted from the vanilla beans. Efficient, inexpensive and heartfelt. Check cubed! 

From the get-go, it appeared that there are two basic camps of vanilla extract making. Both use booze but differ in the type that is preferred. Vodka is an easy choice being a clear spirit and the vanilla making process is observable because of the color change. Also, the vanilla has very little flavor to compete with when using vodka. We opted for the second, if you didn't guess from the title of this post and used bourbon as our base. After purchasing a 750 ml bottle of Buffalo Trace (~$20), we ordered the Madagascar vanilla beans for approximately $11 and Boston brown bottles for $12 from Amazon

We poured off a bit of bourbon from the bottle and inserted about 8-10 vanilla beans sliced open both lengthwise and on each end. That's about it. For two months the bottle sat in our dark kitchen cabinet and we would occasionally invert it to add some variety to the process. And we did take a few free sniffs during the extraction process. I wish I could make my home smell that delicious! 

What we ended up with were 8 mostly-full bottles of bourbon-vanilla extract. I found a super cute Christmas tag printable on Pinterest and wrote a little note on the back of each indicating what we had made. The suggested use was for baking but this would equally work to flavor coffee.  

Easy, Sticky Monkey Bread Recipe

17 December 2012

I had two events to prepare a snack/dessert for and I need it to happen fast with minimal cleanup! Fortunately, monkey bread qualifies for both! After some searching I realized that I didn't have to make the dough, although you can make it from scratch, I didn't. Remember, I was in a hurry. I bought three canisters of biscuit dough for each monkey bread from the store for around $1.50 a piece.


I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F while I cut the biscuit into quarters and eighths. Next, I combined 1 cup of white granulated sugar and some cinnamon in a gallon sized Ziploc bag until I achieved the "sand" color. Although sticking together, I threw the dough into the cinnamon sugar mixture, sealed and shook. This would be an ideal job for kids! Prepare your pan of choice either a loaf or Bundt cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Grease that sucker up good!


After shakin' it up, I placed the sugar-cinnamon dough lovelies into the greased loaf pan. I also melted two sticks of real butter (unsalted) in the microwave and added 3/4 to a cup of packed brown sugar. Mix well and pour all over the dough in the pan. It seriously looks like a hot mess but trust me, it is divine.


Out of concern for spillage, I placed a cookie sheet (with a rim) down first in the oven under the loaf pan shown above. Apparently, I am psychic because overflowing actually occurred. Cook for 35 minutes until the top takes on a brown crusty appearance. I wish I had taken more "after" pictures. Allow the monkey bread to cool for 15 minutes until just warm. Select your presentation dish and in one swift motion flip the monkey bread onto the plate. I recommend to place the dish of interest on top of your loaf pan then invert as a unit. A few taps should knock the bread loose. Just try to cook this for someone else and not feel an ounce of jealousy!

One of the monkey breads got rave reviews and the other I actually had an opportunity to sample after wrestling some away from our youth Sunday school class at church. In aggreement with the youth, it would oh-so good! 

365 Days to a Better Me: Week 11

14 December 2012

Here we are, eleven weeks into this diet/overall healthy eat behavior project. I probably haven't been as strict as I should be but I have lost an additional two pounds since I posted on this topic last. And that was living through Thanksgiving! On top of it I have not been working out at all. Sure some stretches here and there but nothing like I used to. Reflecting back that means that I am just five pounds of my wedding weight which was about a year ago. Five pounds don't seem so hard, right?  

My game plan to stick to for the holidays is eat only what I am hungry for and eat in small amounts because you can always go back for more. I plan to fill up first on vegetables and drink a lot of water. I find drinking a lot of water hard to do. Do you? I guess from working in the lab with drinks not readily accessible at all times combined with being busy for 8-10 hours of the day (minus lunch) hydration gets neglected. 

I've asked for a few fitness DVD's from Santa and I have been hoping this will motivate me to workout at home. It would be nice to get up each morning and get my fitness on in the comfort of my own home which is warm and not have to pack a bag and do the hassle of the gym. Oh what evidence of how sedentary our lives have become!    

Four years ago I went on my first date with Mr. Collier

13 December 2012


Our First Date

Mr. Collier once made me a journal of our first dating year together. In honor of our four years together I thought it would be most appropriate to share an excerpt from our story. In his words.

The Day I Met Sally 
(Chapter 1)

     It was a blustery December day, and I was on my way to Park City, Kentucky.  For those of you who don't know anything about Park City, it is the cite of the world's largest cave system, Mammoth Caves.  I had been planning my trip to the caves for several weeks now, and it was on this fateful day that all of my planning was about to unfold.  I was meeting a friend at the caves and we were planning on touring the "New Entrance." I was excited to go caving.

   I consider myself to be an outdoorsy and adventurous guy, so descending 200 plus feet into a cave was something right up my alley.  To add to my excitement my friend was ... more than a friend, or at least I wanted her to be.  The caving trip that I had planned was to be our first date.
     
    An hour and half after leaving Nashville I finally arrived at the caves, 45 minutes early.  Needless to say I was really excited.  I had planned to arrive around 15 minutes early to get the general lay of the land, but arriving so early allowed me to explore much of the surrounding area.  The first thing I had to do upon arriving was to rush to the ticket office and pick up our tour tickets for the tour that afternoon.  I wanted to be sure that when she arrived that everything I had planned was going to work out.  You know it's really important to make a good impression on a first date.  Upon receiving the tickets I double checked the time and noted where we were supposed to meet to go on the tour.  With everything in place all I had to do now was to contain my excitement and await her arrival.  

     I had met my friend once, about 10 months, before and we had recently reconnected around Thanksgiving.  To this day I don't know how or why we reconnected, but we did.  I didn't know what to expect.  It was then, as I was patiently waiting, that i realized that I had no cell phone service.  So i couldn't call to see if she was still coming or to see if she was lost.  I just had to wait it out and see if she showed.  It was then that i also realized that i had no idea what vehicle this girl drove. So my eyes were glued to every car that pulled into the parking lot, not that there were many, anxiously awaiting her arrival.     After ten or so minutes of waiting I decided to venture back to my vehicle and see if i got better, if any, cell phone service.  On the way to my truck i hear a voice calling my name. She had arrived.  I could barely contain my excitement as I went over to greet her I could feel a huge smile creep up my face.  As I approached her car i could see her hair blowing in the breeze and her pink scarf wrapped tightly around her neck. She was adorable and I was smitten.

    The overall plan for the day was split into two parts.  The first part was the cave tour.  This was my contribution to the date.  I spent weeks planning out every last little detail of our first adventure.  The second part of the date was her contribution to the adventure.  She had packed a picnic lunch full of goodies. As I got closer to her car I began to think about where we were going to have our picnic.  Being at a state park meant there were lots of picnic table available, but being in the middle of December meant there were a lot of empty picnic tables around.  Once i got to her car, we exchanged greetings and within a matter of minutes she had already formulated a plan of where we could eat lunch.  She suggested that we picnic in her car. Now she had a lovely car.  To be specific it was a 2004 Honda Accord.  It was very spacious inside and actually doubles as a great picnic table.  As we ate lunch in her car, I was informed that her car was very special.  Other than having a great owner who loved her, she was blessed with having a name.  Her name was Sally.  

     Lunch was wonderful.  I couldn't have imagined it going any better.  Once we got done eating we sat in her car and talked awhile, before we went and explored the welcome center.  The time for our tour was vast approaching and I was getting excited.  The announcement for our tour was made over the intercom and we headed our toward the buses to meet our cave guides and the rest of our tour group. Through out the tour I had been snapping photos left and right.  Trying to capture the memories of our first date.  I tried taking several pictures of us throughout the cave but i always managed to cut one of our heads out.  It wasn't until we reached the revolving door at the end of the cave, yes there was a revolving metal door with frosted glass panels at the end of the cave, that we decided to have someone else take our picture.  Of course we posed in front of the metal door. This was the best date that I had ever had in my short 22 years of life.  Then again maybe it was just the girl.  

    Little did I know but this was just the start of something huge, something that the world had never seen.  Little did I know that the day that I met Sally would change my life forever because it was day that I started falling for Sarah.

Let the Collier Christmas Begin!

11 December 2012





We've been busy over here at the Collier household, mostly because the holiday season is approaching fast! Last weekend, Mr. Collier pulled down our Christmas tree, Reynold and all of his accessories from the attic and while carols were playing we set up both the mantle and tree area. I have always loved the unwrapping of the packed ornaments that have been hiding away all year. I find myself constantly saying,"Ooh! Remember this one!," or ,"Where did this one come from?" 

It has also been exciting around these parts because Scott has started receiving his Christmas presents. Yes, presents! Since this is our one and only first year of marriage I decided to give him the 25 days of Christmas. Starting December 1st, he gets a small gift each day the first of which was the Marshall University stocking shown above hanging on our mantle.

Gifts in the first two weeks have included gloves, gift cards to Starbucks and Taziki's, Dr. Who Coffee mug, jump drive, socks, ear plugs, shotgun shell carrier and there is still more to come!  

Shredding Chicken and Chicken Enchiladas

08 December 2012

I brought some boneless chicken breasts down from the freezer and had them thawing in the fridge when I realized that I had no idea what to make with it. I was tired of cooking the same ol' BBQ baked chicken which entails just spreading a bottle of store-brand BBQ sauce over the breasts and cooking. So I went recipe hunting. I found a great recipe for Chicken Enchiladas from SkinnyTaste. There are actually hundreds of great recipes to try out on her blog. Below is my adapted version that turned out excellent but it all started with shredded chicken. 

Did you know that you could shred chicken with a KitchenAid Blender? Yup! That's right. I was skeptical myself. After cooking, while the chicken is still hot, you place it in the blender. I actually placed all three breasts in at the same time. Using the flat beater attachment you shred those suckers in under a minute! I found this on Pinterest and I couldn't believe that it worked! Pinbusted!!!


Chicken Enchilada Recipe (makes about 8-10 enchiladas)
Enchiladas are soft shell tortillas covered in a red sauce and baked.

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless chicken breasts cooked and shredded 
  • 1 large can of tomato sauce or 2 cups
  • 1 can of fat free chicken broth or 1 cup
  • shredded cheese
  • spices*: chili powder (1 tbsp), oregano (1 tbsp), cumin (1 tbsp), cilantro (1/2 tbsp)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8-10 tortillas
  • 1 baking dish
  1. Prepare the sauce by adding tomato sauce and chicken broth to a saucepan with 1/2 tbsp of chili powder, cumin, cilantro. Simmer.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. In a warm saute skillet add the vegetable oil and saute the onions. Add the shredded chicken and cook for several minutes to warm it up. Add the oregano, remaining chili powder and cumin. Add 1/2 a cup of the sauce mixture into the skillet and mix. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. 
  4. Fill each tortilla with the filling and roll so that the seam is on the bottom of the baking dish. 
  5. Cover the tortillas with the remaining sauce and sprinkle cheese over the top. 
  6. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes and enjoy! 


*garlic can also be added but I have a garlic intolerance so I omit it from my cooking. 

Our Fourth Neighborly Christmas

07 December 2012


Living in Nashville Mr. Collier and I have been exposed to many different types of artists but one band takes the cake in our world. Meet Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. They are by far our favorite band. You see, our relationship with the Neighbors started in 2009 when they opened for Dave Barnes at Exit/In in Nashville. Mr. Collier and I had only started dating when I bought this tickets. I'd been following Dave Barnes for several years and never missed an opportunity to see a show. Hence, for his birthday I bought the tickets and we were first introduced to Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. It was on this night that they also filmed the music video for their song Fire & Dynamite, which happens to be "our song" and the one we danced to at our wedding. 



The unique thing about Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors is that their sound is soulful and folksie with a hint of romance and whimsy. Drew's wife Ellie brings vocals like you would not believe. And the band, as I learned last night are all Belmont University graduates and are basically amazing. Aside from the music and performance the song writing is beautiful and hits you at the heart. And that can be said about all of their albums. You think it couldn't get better but it does because Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors also are part of the Mocha Club which raise money for projects in Africa such as building wells and providing people with alternative means of living to support their families. They are all around blessed and good people. 

 But each year Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors play a Neighborly Christmas Show and Mr. Collier and I attended last night. It has sort of become our annual Christmas tradition. Wednesday night they were joined by several friends and lit up Belmont's Massey Performing Arts Center. A truly awesome holiday show! 

Our First Neighborly Christmas

Bucket List Update!!

06 December 2012



  • Explore the inside of a human body Spring 2004 Anatomy Field trip to a gross anatomy lab
  • Participate as a witness to a court wedding for a stranger.
  • Be an extra in a music video  "Heartbreak Yellow" by Andy Davis shot at Burger Up in Nashville
  • Travel with a band for a summer on tour
  • Be an extra for a full feature film
  • Be an extra for a T.V. show  ABC's "Nashville" Episode 110 San Diego Concert Scene
  • Feed a giraffe Indianapolis Zoo 2008
  • Ride an elephant
  • Visit all 50 states
  • Attend a baseball game at all major league parks
  • Have an authentic Nashville Taylor Swift "encounter"
  • Sell a piece of art that I made
  • Ride a train across the U.S.
  • Sift a piece of gold out of a river
  • Author a book
  • Be interviewed in a magazine
  • Start a fashion trend
  • Purchase a Hampton Inn Mattress for my home
  • Get recognized in public by a stranger @Corsair Distillery recognized for being a Yelp Elite 2012 
  • Sing karaoke in front of a crowded bar 
  • Win an award for running in a race
  • Find buried treasure
  • Swim with dolphins
  • Learn to sew
  • Watch the sun set and rise in the same day
  • Dance in flash mob
  • Learn the "Single Ladies" video choreography
  • Eat authentic pizza in Italy
  • Harry Potter Movie Marathon
  • Christmas in New York
  • Work as a character at Walt Disney World (preferably Mary Poppins)
  • Learn to tap dancing as an adult
  • Defend my dissertation and get a PhD
  • Yelp Elite 2013

    01 December 2012


    I've been working on re-applying to be a Nashville Yelp Elite for 2013 and compiled this awesome word cloud based upon the 100+ reviews that I have written this yearI have introduced 36 “firsts”, 226 reviews 100 of which I have accomplished in 2012, I have added 65 photos, have personally expanded my duchess territory to 7 locations in Nashville, compiled 54 lists collating reviews from around the country, was actually recognized by a stranger for my reviews on yelp  and was voted 174% useful, 100% cool and 67% funny (out of my 226 reviews).