Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blog Revamp!

So I am going to switch a few things around on the blog so get ready. They may not all occur at once but should all develop over the next few weeks.

 Due to a suggestion from Beth, I am going to do some "blog pooling". I currently have three blogs, and I am going to combine some of them. Additionally, I am going to try to create a structure that will keep my posting throughout the week. So here is a short explanation of how it is going to work.

1) I have three blogs they are:

  • Portugal Pondering-Family Blog for random posts and projects
  • Mighty Fortress Ministries-My ministry blog 
  • Just a Couple of Critics-Houston food blog
 I am going to combine 2 and integrate the third... here is how it is going to work

  • Monday: Might Fortress Ministry Post or "Mighty Fortress Monday"
I am not going to get rid of my ministry URL but I may not be updating it. Mondays I will be posting a new bible study post on the Portugal Ponderings blog. Basically I will be posting on Portugal Ponderings what I would have posted on "" 

  • Friday: Food Friday
This blog will not be removed. It has too much special formatting and design aspects that I like. I also like this blog being independent. However, I will like to that blog from Portugal Ponderings every Friday with a note on what type of restaurant is being reviewed.

I am hoping that this new format will not only increase my blog posts (keeping me accountable), but will also increase readership because ya'll will only have to go to one blog (you can be linked to the food blog from this blog).

2) Changing the Blog format

This blog definitely needs a facelift. It is a bit outdated so I am going to change it around. Additionally, Ivan will not be posting on the blog more than likely. He doesn't really post now, so I am just going to remove the complication of figuring out when he posts or I post.

Anyway, I hope you all will enjoy these changes.... some of them should take place this Monday!
Also, please be understanding as the formatting may be somewhat rough as I am trying out new things.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Laundry Room Makeover-Need your opinion!

So I need your opinion on a question at the end of this blog.. please help me out!!

So this last labor day weekend, Ivan and I embarked upon a large project. We expected to finish it last weekend, and as always, things didn't move as quickly as estimated. I am super bad of course at taking pictures in progress... so there are some substantial gaps in the pictures below.

Anyway, so maybe you will recall this "beginning" picture of our laundry room. We got that plastic shelving system as a temporary solution but it just wasn't holding enough.  Also, see that shelf above the washer and dryer, it was so high and far back that you practically needed a stool to reach it. (Therefore, we ended up just putting stuff on the washer and dryer).

So, task 1 in the project was to paint, but first we wanted to remove that dang shelf. Easier said than done. I started by digging the nails out one by one. That was taking forever, so Ivan tried a different approach: smash the shelf with a hammer until it pops off. Amazingly it worked, with minimal damage to the shelf too. One problem that we had was the brown rod. It was in two panels of wood on the side. It was almost impossible to get the wood or the rod off before the other (they would have to come off together). That would be extremely difficult, so we took a different approach. [ENTER BRANCH TRIMMERS]. Yes, we cut the rod off. It took less than 30 seconds to do it too! However, we noticed the first little hitch in our project.

Yes, that is a hole... all the way through the drywall. Happy day! Anyway, so this was the second of our probably 20 trips to Home Depot. We got two drywall patches, and patched it up. Additionally, the paint on the wall was so thick that I could peel it with my hand. Therefore, we had to spackle the unpainted part just to make it even with the painted section.  

Oh and I forgot to mention we have a TON of cleaning products etc? They have been out in the hallway for over a week. They have finally been put back in their proper places. 

Oh yes, and our walls are textures, so after we spackled, and sanded... we applied texture. See below:

 Luckily the texture dried within 30 minutes so we could start painting. Painting was a whole different story. We had to use 3 coats of the Lemon Souffle (painter+primer). We were NOT happy with that. That type of paint is supposed to cover in 1 coat... and it took 3!

We did paint behind the washer and dryer... we just did it at the end because we couldn't get out of the room when they were moved out.

and... there it is ... all painted!!! Now, for the shelves (and another trip to Home Depot).

Here is Ivan with his new birthday gift (a drill driver, and impact driver set).

 Putting the shelving in.... and this is where I failed to get any more pictures until the very end.

Here is the completed project. The shelf with nothing on it, is larger than all the others and is for folding clothes. Anyway, here is where I need your help/opinion....

I stenciled the shelf like below. I am unsure if it looks tacky or not. I want it too really look put together, so I need your opinion. If it does look tacky, I will just paint it back to white... easy!

Please help!!! Let me know what you think of my shelf.. by leaving a comment.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My New Casual Fall Centerpiece

So,  I wonder how many of you are familiar with Pinterest. If you are not, you definitely should familiarize yourself (or maybe not if you don't want to waste hours of your day looking through pictures of stuff you "want").. hah! Anyway, I got an account a little over a month ago and I love it. I have been storing awesome ideas for holiday decorations on there. Anyway, I had seen this centerpiece on Pinterest. I don't think I pinned it because my computer crashed and I forgot. I did remember it though. Here is the picture:

I figured this would be a really simple project for me to recreate. So, I went to Hobby Lobby :) and HEB (great stores start with an "H"... lol).  Anyway,  it seems I lost the receipt or threw it away... but the approximate cost of this project was the following:
        • Hobby Lobby three glass vases (I wanted three of the same size). Originally they were $7.99, but all glassware was 50% off. So before tax the total was $11.99
        • The candles were 50% off at Hobby Lobby too. They came in packs of 2 so I had to buy two. They were $4.99, but 50% off. So two packs costs me $4.99.
        • I got candy corn from HEB... each pack was like $1.50 approximately. I needed 4 packs. So it was about $6. 
        • The total for this project (before tax) was: $23
Therefore, this was a very cheap centerpiece and it looks amazing (in my opinion of course). Here are some "in progress" photos. First, I unwrapped the jars and removed the stickers with goo gone. Then, I washed them with dish soap and dried them thoroughly (do not skip this step or your jars will not look clean when you light the candles):

Then I put the candles in the jars and added candy. Make sure that your candles are centered because it be very difficult to move them once the candy is there. The candy secures the candles in place.

and.... Voila! Looks pretty similar right? I am totally in love with it. Additionally, the candies are very difficult to get out with your hand because the candle and the jar block the way. Therefore, you won't be tempted to eat them. :)

Have you made any fun holiday crafts/centerpieces lately? Share your ideas..!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My China Trip--- Long Overdue..

Well it has been over a month since I arrived home from China. I figured it may be time to blog about it.  Since there are so many pictures and so much information, I am going to break this into 3 different sections (even doing this will not begin to show you all the pictures I have!):
  1. Beijing- We were in Beijing the first few days of the trip for more tourist type activities
  2. Chongqing-This will include all the information about our trip to Chongqing, including our teaching, and our dinners with the students.
  3. Weird China Culture things- There were so many interesting signs in China, I will include a few here

Although, many of you who helped me with this trip (and you know how you helped), will love to hear details. I don’t want to share too much publicly. I will not be sharing the name of the school, or personal information. Additionally, as much as I would want to, I do not feel comfortable sharing photos of the students we met. If you wish to know more, I will be happy to share with you over email.

Section 1: Beijing

Day 1 in Beijing) Beijing Arrival
We began our journey to China at 4:45am at the Houston International airport on Friday, July 15th. Our flights went from Houston to LA, from LA to San Francisco, then from San Francisco to Beijing. Due to an alarm clock incident, one of our teammates, Serey, almost didn’t make it to Beijing. However, we were able to get him on an alternate flight to San Francisco.

We arrived in China on Saturday afternoon, July 16th. When we arrived at the airport in Beijing, we went through customs. The line was long and disorganized, but it only took about 30 minutes to walk through. They had these interesting sensors that you walked through that would determine if you were running a fever. We got our bags, and changed the money. Next up, transportation...

Getting cabs to take us to the hotel was a challenge. Philip had to haggle with them constantly until they finally reduced the price. Once the price was settled, we were on our way. The hotel was definitely “interesting”. People were smoking in the lobby, the elevators, and the rooms. The shower did not have floor, only a drain in the floor with a curtain. It was definitely a cultural experience.

Here are some pictures of the city from the hotel room. That night we took cabs to Wangfujing street and ate wonderful dumplings for dinner. We fed 7 people for the equivalent of $35.

Day 2 in Beijing) Great Wall
We started by waking up early and eating energy bars for breakfast. It was a rough first morning since the beds were very hard and we all were suffering from jet lag. There wasn’t much anyone could do on the computers since everything was blocked except gmail. One of our students called it the “Great Firewall of China”. I just had to laugh at that term.

We had “team time” in the room everyday. Sometimes we sang songs acapella or with iTunes tracks. During this time, each of us also got a chance to share our “personal stories”.  We always spent time  “lifting things up” before starting the day.

This day we were taking a tour to the Great Wall. The tour bus/van driver was great! He picked us up at the hotel.  We were the only ones on the tour.  Our first stop was this place where they make Cloisonne. Cloisonne is made in different stages; we were able to see it being made. They start the process by gluing bronze pieces to another piece of bronze to make a specific design. Then they fill the bronze with a color stone mixture.  They bake it & buff it out to a shiny finish. We even found a Cloisonne Texas ornament!  They also had a Cloisonne store. I purchased an ornament, a pair of chopsticks, and a small bracelet.

During the drive to the great wall, the tour guide filled us with Chinese history; it was really amazing. After shopping, we stopped to eat at this place at the base of the wall.  It was a family owned restaurant, and the food was excellent. Then we began our tour of the Great Wall.....

We took the cable car up to the top on the Great Wall. The view was incredible. It was so difficult to pick pictures for this blog. It seems as if you cannot take a bad picture of the Great Wall. It was just fabulous! It was quite the hike up and down the wall. There were so many stairs and slopes. It was also super hot! But it was so worth it.

We met these cute little kids that wanted to take a picture with us!  They said “Good Day, welcome to Beijing!”

On the walk to the cable cars, some vendor was selling these Obama bags...haha (our communist leader)!!!

These were the toboggans that we rode on the way down the mountain. Philip turned around and got a picture of us. 

 (Ok, please note that I have like a MILLION pictures of the Great Wall....but I didn't want to put too many pictures on this blog... probably too late for that though!)

After the Great Wall, we went to a teahouse for an official Chinese tea ceremony. It was amazing. This was one of my favorite tourism events. We tried four different types of tea. We also learned about “pee pee boy”. This ceramic doll pees when you pour hot water on his head.

That night, we ate at a peking duck restaurant for dinner. They cut up the duck right at the table. Then you make these fajita-type things. They were good. They also had the duck head & tongue. Some of the team tried the tongue and brain...!!

Day 3 in Beijing) Shopping and Flight
This day started out fairly similar to the previous day. We had our team time. Afterwards, we took cabs to the Forbidden city. They had really done a lot of restoration to the buildings for the Olympics. Most of the building trim was repainted. Surrounding the Forbidden city were government buildings. We saw a lot of soldiers marching around this area.

After the tour, we visited the silk & pearl market. The cabs actually took us to the wrong shopping area at first. Since we didn’t know Chinese, we figured we would never get to the correct location. Thankfully, we found an official Apple store and were able to look up the location on an iPad. When we finally got to the correct location, we only had an hour to shop.

The market was overwhelming. Venders were constantly shouting “lady lady” and there were hundreds of pearls. The bargaining was crazy. Caron even got a pearl necklace and earrings for $20!!! I bought a cherry blossom painting for about $20 as well. I would love to go back there some day. It was so much to take in.  From there, we picked up our luggage at the hotel and headed for the airport... off to Chongqing!

We arrived at the airport,  and our flight had been delayed 2 hours. We ate a KFC and Flavor Tang (Chinese fast food). We finally boarded the flight, and safely arrived in Chongqing.


Section 2: Chongqing
Day 1 in Chongqing)
Our first day in Chongqing was mostly spent touring around the city. The plan was to tour during the day, and then go to the school to teach. Our classes were to be from 6-9pm. I say “were” because nothing ever goes exactly to plan, as we soon found out.

Our hotel in Jie Fang Bei was fabulous. They had free breakfast every morning as well. Chinese breakfast is interesting. There was such a variety of things to eat; most of the foods you would also find in a lunch or dinner meal, such as fried noodles, rice, etc. Although the food was good, I found myself eating toast with butter the last couple of days, just to clean myself of all the “fried”. The one thing that was amazing was the apple juice. It was literally the juice of apples and nothing else. It was great!!

After eating, we took cabs over to a shopping area called Ciqikou. It was definitely fun!

See all those buildings? Those are NEW condo/apartment buildings. These buildings are so close together. Over a million people can live within a few blocks of each other.

Philip also found a great coffee shop! We had a great lunch (fish head and all). We all shopped a lot. I bought a lot of Chinese art.

Then, we returned to teach. Sadly, due to lost emails, the school did not know we were planning on teaching that night. The first night we could teach was Thursday. Therefore, we could only teach 3 of the 5 days planned. We met up with some friends we met last year. It was a great time to catch up.

Day 2 in Chongqing)
This day we spent in Shapingba (a district of Chongqing).  We spent some time with some like-minded friends. We went to lunch at this awesome place where they make la mein (basically hand pulled noodles). See the video below… it will blow your mind! This was the best meal of the trip!.

Days 3-5 in Chongqing)
The next couple days honestly blurred together. We ate at multiple places and hung out with so many students. Below are some photos of our activities. As mentioned above, I have not included any recognizable pictures of the students (for their safety). I am not going to write much about these days due to the public nature of a blog. However, feel free to email me and I will share.

Our last day, we went to lunch at this hot-pot place.  It was one of the most interesting places to eat. It is basically like fondue, but with meat strips and chopsticks. The weird part was that they brought out raw shrimp on skewers, and by raw, I mean still alive. You basically boiled them alive. A massacre of shrimp occurred here.

After eating, we went bowling with the students. It was super fun. It is amazing how bowling is an international sport. After bowling, we taught our lessons at the school and went out to dinner one last time. The next day we went to the airport super early, and flew back to the US.

Two of the students that we spoke with even came to the airport with “books”… they had enjoyed meeting us and wanted to be their right up until we had to go through security...We still keep in contact with many of the students we met. 

One thing that interested me: I hope to go again next year. J I was stunned at how much of a heart I have for China. Honestly, I never could see myself as living internationally to “teach” full time… however, after this trip I definitely could. I have even been to Paris, and I NEVER could see myself living there… but China… I could. Although I can see myself doing it, I don’t feel a calling to (mainly because of my health). However, I am no longer completely closed to the idea (which I am assume was part of the Father’s purpose in sending me).