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The Road to Ayia Napa

July 3, 2011

It was finally the Friday of the weekend we had all been waiting for since we arrived in Cyprus .. It was Ayia Napa weekend! In case you are wondering, Ayia Napa is basically the party capitol of Cyprus, filled with European tourists and a nightlife that would put most to shame. But in true GLS fashion, we wouldn’t be going straight to this magical place we had heard about for weeks, instead we would be spending Friday traveling to different sites on the island. Which, luckily for you ;), produced a lot of good pictures and came with a lot of interesting history.

Our first destination of the day was Hala Sultan Tekke right outside Larnaca. Hala Sultan Tekke is a Muslim shrine dedicated to Umm Haram, who was the Islamic Prophet Muhammad’s wet nurse. It is believed that she actually died there and a tomb has been placed inside the building to commemorate her. The architecture of the building was simply breathtaking, and being placed on a salt lake only added to the beauty. The feeling of walking through a building that is revered by such a large population was indescribable. The group walked around in an awe-like state, taking in every detail. We had to remove our shoes seeing as it is a mosque, however it is no longer used for that purpose. It was so hard to believe that the building, which was built thousands of years ago, was still standing, let alone in the great condition that it was.

Hala Sultan Tekke, the Mosque of Umm Haram

The tomb of Umm Haram

After the visit to the mosque, we drove into Larnaca to see the Church of Saint Lazarus. I’ll go ahead and say that since I’ve been in Cyprus, I’ve noticed something about the people and their devotion to their religion. One has to realize that Christianity in Cyprus has been strong since before the United States even existed. The churches here are miraculous, and whether you are religious or not, one can’t help but be moved by the history and mere age behind these sacred monuments. The Church of Lazarus was no different in this sense. Not only was the building itself simply beautiful, but once inside you could feel the faithfulness of those there worshiping. The Church of Saint Lazarus is names for Lazarus of Bethany, who in the Bible was raised from the dead by Jesus. It is believed that at some point in his life, he was forced to flee Judea and wound up in Cyprus. While in Cyprus, he was appointed the first bishop of Kittim (now Larnaca) and he lived out the rest of his life there, where he was finally buried for the second and final time. While Lazarus’ remains were moved to Constantinople after being found in Cyprus in 898, the Church of Saint Lazarus was erected over the tomb where the remains were originally found. Today, the church hold a piece of Lazarus’ skull which people come to pray over daily.

The Church of Saint Lazarus on a clear, blue day

Lazarus' tomb underneath the church

Part of Lazarus' skull which is housed in the church

After a long day of tours, we were all ready to get to our hotel and hit the pool! While we were sorely disappointed with our hotel, we got over it quickly because it at LEAST had a pool and they played American music outside haha. I can only describe Ayia Napa as .. Spring Break on steroids. There were so many European tourists and music was blaring from every street. After spending a few hours at the pool and having a few cocktails, we got  ready for dinner at Valentino’s. Valentino’s was opened by Giorgios Mavrogiannopoulos, a Top Chef finalist, and the menu featured foods that were actually presented on the show! Needless to say, the food was delicious and everyone seemed very pleased in the end 🙂

The menu at Valentino's

Owned by a Top Chef finalist

I ordered Halloumi kabobs for an appetizer ..

.. And a Margherita Pizza for dinner!

I was too exhausted after dinner to join everyone else who went out, so I turned in early .. But I definitely had an exciting day full of new experiences and beautiful places! And the weekend held more than enough fun so one night in wasn’t so bad 🙂 So until next time .. Stay tuned!

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Kleftiko: The Stolen Meat

June 29, 2011

Thursday was another day dedicated to filming and this time it was my group’s turn to be behind the cameras. We would be filming at a butchery and learning the process behind making a traditional Cypriot meat dish called Kleftiko. Kleftiko (literally meaning stolen meat) earned its name during the 19th century when it was illegal for “commoners” to own animals of any kind, meaning they had no animals to eat during meals. The people would steal a lamb (hence the name) and in order to cook it, they had to use a makeshift oven dug into the side of a hill or the ground. They would heat the meat with wood and then cover the hole with a large rock, letting the meat cook for at least 8-12 hours. By cooking it this way, no smells or steam would escape .. giving the “thief” away.

Today Kleftiko is a seasonal staple in the Cypriot meze. While it is only cooked from roughly March to September, during those months it is almost an attraction to those looking to eat a meze. And in most cases, it is still cooked the traditional way (with a bit of a modern twist). But let’s start from the beginning ..

We arrived at the butchery early Thursday morning to the wonderful sounds of saws ripping through meat and bones (and if you know me, I HATE seeing bones in meat .. this was going to be a tough day for sure). We got a peek in the meat cooler where there were literally whole animals hanging. The butcher was sawing the lamb meat to prepare it for the Kleftiko and there was a special technique to it. While the meat had to be in a somewhat rectangular strip (with bones still in it), it also had to be rolled, so he literally used the saw to make perforations in the meat to roll it up. After that, each individual roll was bagged in a net to keep it together during the cooking since the meat ends up getting really tender.

Inside the meat cooler

The butcher using the saw to cut the meat for the Kleftiko

 

Netting the meat for Kleftiko

After they had netted all of the Kleftiko meat, we headed into the back room to start the process of preparing the Kleftiko for cooking. The first step was to rinse all of the meat and potatoes with water in huge bins. While the meat and potatoes soaked for a few moments, the butcher’s helper prepared the clay pots the meat would be cooked in. They use clay pots for two reasons. One being that the clay can withstand high temperatures for long periods of time, and two being the fact that is soaks up the flavors during cooking, making the meat more savory. The potatoes are simply cooked in metal tubs. The helper fills each clay pot (and the metal tubs) with several spices including cinnamon sticks, pepper, and garlic. Then she poured “pure spirits” (which I think was vodka) onto the spices. After that, the pots and tubs were ready for the meat and potatoes.

The potatoes waiting to be rinsed

Adding the spices to the pots

"Pure spirits" waiting to be added to the spices

The butcher started filling each pot with about 15 pieces of Kleftiko and each tub with as many potatoes as would fit. He explained to us that each net of meat constituted one serving of Kleftiko, and while the net helped maintain the shape of the meat, it also helped him to know exactly how much to giver each person when serving the finished product.

Full pots of Kleftiko ready for the next step

After the pots were filled with the meat, they needed to be covered so the meat wouldn’t burn. The butcher covered the met first with thick paper and a square of pig skin. The pig skin not only added to the flavor but because it is tough, it helps a lot in preventing the meat from burning. After each pot was covered with the skin, they proceeded to cover the pots with multiple layers of foil to further prevent burning and to hold in the flavor.

Pig skin waiting to go on top of the Kleftiko meat

 

Covering the pots with the paper and pig skins

With the pots all covered (and the tubs with potatoes covered in foil as well), it was time to transport everything across the street. Yes, I said across the street. That is where the butcher keeps his ovens. In order to cook the Kleftiko in a somewhat traditional way, he uses outdoor, large clay ovens to cook the meat in. The ovens were cracked from the extreme heat the endure, but he informed us that he fixes the cracks occasionally. While the meat does need to cook for at least 8 hours, we learned that as long as the ovens are air tight, the meat can actually stay inside for much much longer, ensuring its freshness.

Kleftiko meat waiting to be popped in the oven

The oven used to cook the Kleftiko

The butcher slid the meat and potatoes into the oven and we could see the fire rising in the top. It would be 8 hours before it was ready so we couldn’t exactly wait around, but I was excited to know I would get to try Kleftiko at our final meze!

Putting Kleftiko in the oven

An oven full of Kleftiko!

The fire inside

It is so interesting to me the lengths the older generation of Cyprus go to keep things as traditional as possible, while striving to meet modern expectations. It is sad to think that eventually these ways will die out because the younger generation is far from interested in keeping them around. Kleftiko is such a good example because it is a dish that came out of harder times. It was created due to a generation trying to survive under suppression. Respect is shown to the ancestors who created Kleftiko by this generation’s effort to use the traditional ways of cooking they were taught. We always want things bigger, better, faster, stronger .. but is that really always what we need? I’ll leave you with that thought, and until next time .. stay tuned!

Dias Publishing Group

June 28, 2011

Since Tuesday was a slow day spent in the Old City shopping for gifts, I decided not to subject you to the agonizing details of my excursion and move straight on to Wednesday 😉 There weren’t any pictures anyway haha .. So that brings us to Wednesday and our tour of Dias Publishing Group in Nicosia.

Dias Publishing Group was an interesting experience due to the fact that what they are doing is something you will never see in the States due to FCC rules and regulations. Dias is a media mogul here in Cyprus which owns television stations (Sigma Television and Sigma Sports 1&2), radio stations (Radio Proto, Super FM, Star FM, and Top FM), newspapers (Simerini and City Free Press), many types of magazines, and their own web portal. Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, they run them all under one roof.

What Dias Publishing Group is doing is outrageous (to us of course) and brilliant all at once. While touring the building with one of their marketing staff members, it was clear how much he loved his job and being able to offer his clients the “full package.” To anyone familiar with marketing, you might have put two and two together at this point and realized WHAT it is Dias can offer their client. While most businesses would have to hire an advertising agency to find outlets for their ads through TV, radio, magazines, web, and newspapers, Dias can act as their own advertising agency, offering ALL of these things to their client with one check and one signature.

Now for those who are unfamiliar with the FCC’s rules and regulations, you might be wondering WHY we can’t do this in the US. Well, the answer is actually pretty simple, despite the wordiness of the actual rules and regulations. It is simply because they do not want one company (such as Dias) running a sort of monopoly in the media, in turn only exposing the citizens to one point of view via multiple media outlets. This is actually better for us, because we see many points of view and are more clear (and I mean more clear, not completely clear by any means) of biases in our media. And living in such a media hungry country, this is definitely for the best. It is also the reason our group (being journalism students for the most part) found Dias Publishing Group to be somewhat outrageous.

But enough with the boring stuff, I will go ahead and give you all some pictures .. because you doesn’t like a little behind the scenes look at what the big guys are doing? The first thing I noticed walking into the Dias building was how beautiful their lobby was. Their was a double marble staircase and the walls were lined with interesting portraits. Compared to the television and radio stations I have visited back home, this place was fit for a king!

The staircase and grand piano in Dias

One of the paintings on the wall

I figured this over the top entry was just a sign of things to come and I was right. While some areas were outdated, others were incredibly modern. The building was a huge stair-filled maze with something new around every corner. We met our tour guides and they were much younger and a lot of fun! They made jokes and made the tour go by quite a bit faster so that was nice.

Our tour guides at Dias with Laura (GLS) in the background

We got started right away and headed to our first stop: the news room. While this room was like any other typical news room, what was interesting was the fact that the journalists (who happened to be in their morning briefing when we arrived) were gathering news for both TV and the newspaper. Considering that, it was a very small room for all of the business conducted inside. They explained to us that each journalist was assigned a specific job (crime, sports, business, etc.) but that they always have at least 2 journalists in the office to send out for breaking news. I guess on an island the size of New Hampshire with just over 800,000 residents, 2 breaking news journalists is sufficient!

The newsroom at Dias

The journalists in their morning briefing, receiving their assignments for the day

After the newsroom we were off to the web portal management center. Dias recently started a website that provides Cypriots with shows, videos, news, and much more via their web portal. We asked if their content was free, because we noticed they actually posted full length episodes of every show. We were surprised to find out it was completely free, and they were just as surprised to find out that in the US we do not get that sort of content for free. They explained that this was probably because of how far behind us they are in the media world. We tend to forget that Cyprus just aired their first private channels in the early 1990s.

Our tour guide modeling the Dias web portal for us

The radio station was next and we gathered in a small room while a live show was being broadcast a few rooms down. The radio station was .. aged, to say the least. I honestly could not find anything modern about it. It looked like something straight out of the 60s. There was even an old Beatles album cover taped to the dirty white walls! Other than the age, the radio station functioned just as those in the US do. We learned that Dias’ radio stations are top in the market. Unlike in the US where we have country stations, rock stations, top 20 stations, etc., Dias has only one music station which plays different music types throughout the day. They explained that due to their small population, offering so many different stations like we do in the US would simply be impractical.

The old radio station at Dias

After seeing the outdated radio station, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it was time to head to the television studios. We were going to the news set, morning show set and the talk show set. I was pleasantly surprised to see how nice all of the sets were! They were very modern and the news set even had a huge digital screen. Modern sets seem to be a trend here, while most television sets in the US still seem to be pretty traditional.

S for Sigma TV underneath the news table

The huge digital screen behind the news set

The talk show set at Dias

The morning show set at Dias

Dias produces most of their shows in house which is really unusual compared to the US. While Dias claims to have at least 85% of their shows produced in house (keep in mind, they are simply a local station), is is basically the opposite in the US at any local station. It is actually quite a feat for them to do this and it was very impressive! After seeing the sets and learning about the shows, our guides took us to what would be considered master control. This area also looked very up to date which made me think they might simply use radio as a backup, because it was so much older than everything else in the huge studio.

One part of master control

The other part of master control

 

The tour winded down and we all went to sit in the lobby while our guides gathered some magazines together to show us. At this point, I simply felt overloaded with all of the things they do at Dias. It was incredible! The guides came back with the magazines and the variety was quite interesting .. Beauty, sports, special interests .. a little bit of everything! And they even had some American reproduced magazines, suited to the Cypriot culture.

The guides showing off a few of Dias' magazines

Dias Publishing Group was definitely an interesting experience and something so different than what we are used to in the US. In a way, it made me thankful for the way our media works. I almost feel like Cypriots are somewhat cheated by their media, receiving so much news from ONE source and possibly not always getting the full story. It is an eye opener to see how things work in a strange, new country compared to what you have grown up knowing. But being emerged into a culture where YOU are the minority, you learn to realize that what is “weird” to you is normal to someone else .. Sensitivity is key and acceptance is essential. And to me, that is a pretty important lesson. So until next time, stay tuned!

A Family Affair

June 26, 2011

After having such an exciting day on Sunday, a case of the “Mondays” would TYPICALLY be the firs thing on my mind .. But this Monday was different, because we would be spending our morning at a confectionery 🙂 And who isn’t happy when sweets are involved?

When I heard we were going to film at a confectionery, I was so excited because one of my favorite hobbies at home is baking. But I was even more excited when I found out I was going to be the talent for this particular day of filming, having the opportunity to work with the bakers and see how they made baklava the traditional way. A way which is rarely seen in today’s fast-paced, demanding culture. So when they said we were leaving at 7:30 a.m. (meaning I would have to be up at 6), I wasn’t really THAT upset 🙂

The confectionery in the Old City where we would be filming


When we arrived at the confectionery, the two bakers (a father and his son) took no time taking us back to the kitchen to get started. While they had already been up for hours baking, our crew was barely waking up. But we quickly snapped out of it and got the equipment ready and were filming in a matter of minutes.

The crew filming the confectionery owner's son preparing some sweets

We learned that the confectionery was a family business and had been in their family since they first opened over 50 years ago. The father had opened the shop after working at another sweet shop for several years because he wanted something bigger, and something he could add his own personal touch to. The son had worked and played at the confectionery since he was a little boy, and never really imagined doing anything else. Both men seemed to thoroughly enjoy their jobs, however both voiced that they were more than sick of eating all the sweets they produced. We were sad to learn that while they shop had been in the family for over 50 years, both bakers believed after they were gone it would come to an end, seeing as the only grandchild has no interest in it. From what we have seen so far, this seems to be a trend in Cyprus, with the traditional ways slowly dying out with the new generation. No need to fret though, the father just turned 80 (and does not look anywhere near that age) and his son plans to live a very long life, with the confectionery being a huge part of it for a long time.

The confectionery owner telling us about his shop while he prepared sweets

Just a few of the sweets produced int he confectionery, none of which the bakers enjoy eating anymore 😉

After our brief history lesson on the confectionery, it was finally time to start making the traditional baklava. The son showed us what to do and then let me and Kim have a shot at it. It is a very tedious process of layering and buttering individual sheets of filo dough over and over, but we had fun doing so! While I layered, Kim buttered, and even though we weren’t QUITE as fast as the pros (OK, not nearly as fast), I think we did a pretty good job!

Me and Kim learning how to layer and butter the filo dough for baklava

Me talking to the son about the difference between his traditional ways and the mass produced versions

We finally finished layering and buttering and the confectioner’s son popped our baklava into the oven. He wanted us to try what our finished product would (hopefully) taste like and took us out into the front of the shop to serve us two hot pieces of baklava.

Me and Kim more than ready to try out the traditional baklava

Trying the absolutely delicious baklava

The baklava was delicious! And they were so generous, giving each us both (and our entire crew) large portions to try. Everyone seemed to enjoy it! While we were eating, the son sat down to talk to us about baklava and what goes into it. When we got up for a few seconds to film other portions of the piece, the father got upset and stopped me to ask why I didn’t finish my baklava. He was so worried I didn’t enjoy it and he needed to know why. But I assured him it was excellent and I would be back shortly to finish and he gave me the biggest smile. THAT made my day 🙂

Talking with the son about his traditional baklava

Filming one of the scenes for the documentary

As it was time to leave, we wrapped things up and said our goodbyes. After talking with the shop owners and learning about them, I started to realize the small impacts each person here has made on me. Family values mean so much to the Cypriot people, and it shines through in everything they say and do. The confectionery was no different. Father and son working side by side, doing something they love and teaching each other as they go. Everywhere we go, family photos are strewn about the restaurants, shops and homes. It is evident that before anything else, family is more important to the Cypriot people. That is just one of the many lessons I will be taking home from this remarkable country, and probably one of the most important. So until next time, stay tuned!

Cruising the Mediterranean

June 21, 2011

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever laid eyes on, and on Sunday I had the incredible opportunity to go on a day cruise and experience these waters first hand. We left early Sunday morning to head to Larnaca where we boarded our boat the Zenobia to head out into the sea for the day.

The view of Larnaca from the Zenobia

Our first stop was over the Zenobia shipwreck (and our boat’s namesake) where we were able to jump off the boat and swim. The water felt amazing! The captain told us we could jump off the top tier of the boat and we definitely took him up on that offer 🙂 It was such a rush and everyone was having a blast!

Everyone swimming in the sea .. definitely the saltiest water I've ever swam in!

Me jumping off the top of the boat

Our good time was cut short though because it was time for us to head to the fishing spot. We all climbed back on the boat and were on our way! When we arrived at our destination, the captain taught us how to use the pools and reach the bottom of the ocean and then he cut us loose to fish! They provided rods and bait for us and we all lined up to get started. It wasn’t long before people started pulling fish up and Danielle even caught an octopus! Unfortunately, I didn’t catch anything 😦 But I still had a great time!

A small group of us fishing off the back of the boat

Danielle and her prize catch!

It wasn’t too long after fishing that lunch was served and we were all MORE than ready to eat finally! It was so good! We had pasta, potatoes, vegetables, rice, the fish we had caught and even fried octopus tentacles! Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the octopus and we could definitely tell how fresh it was!

The food cooking and it smelled so so good

Eventually it was time to get off the Zenobia so we allowed ourselves some time to relax on the beach before our bus arrived to take us home. From what I hear, everyone had a great time .. I, however, fell asleep on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed the rest 🙂

The bus came to take us home and I’m pretty sure everyone slept the whole way home and did absolutely nothing the rest of the night. But Sunday was definitely an incredible day spent out on the Mediterranean and I’ll chalk it up to another once in a lifetime experience .. Seems to be happening a lot here lately, so until next time .. Stay tuned!

“What IS This Place???”

June 20, 2011

Since I spent the entire day Friday editing with my group, I decided not to bore you with the details of that day but I will tell you that we worked for 13 hours (with a few breaks in there), finished our editing and DIDN’T hate each other in the end 🙂 I consider that an accomplishment.

On Saturday, Dr. Legg took me, Kim and Chelsey on an adventure to IKEA. This was my first time going to an IKEA and let me tell you, I was in interior design heaven! Why have I not experienced this place sooner??? Hahaha we got lunch in the cafeteria and I had an insane chocolate cake AND a fountain drink! Only the second place I’ve found since we’ve been here that has fountain drinks so I was ecstatic .. I mean, come one .. We ALL know a fountain Coke is WAY better than a can or bottle!

Kim in front of the huge IKEA sign

KIm and I taking an illegal picture in IKEA

Getting gas for the first time with Dr. Legg and the station was full service!

IKEA was located inside a big mall, so Dr. Legg let us walk around a little bit to see what it was like. Let’s just say I like our malls better haha. It was OK I guess .. AND I got to take this really awesome picture by the lime green bathroom 🙂

The huge lady outside the lime green restrooms

After the mall we made a quick run to the Jumbo to get some things for dinner. We were all assigned a different part of dinner for the night (I had dessert while others had the main course, vegetables, salad, fruit, etc.) and we all met in mine and my roomates’ apartment to eat and view each other’s videos. It was so nice to all be together to RELAX for once, instead of working like usual. And dinner was great!

The boys working hard on the uhm .. vegetables?

The main dish which I absolutely cannot remember the name of, but it reminded me of baked beef stroganoff

The Baklava I brought for dessert (with Rachel) and the bread plate

After dinner a few of us decided to visit Emessa for come Narghile and to see our favorite Syrians and had a blast as usual. Plus Mohamad wore his pink tie just for me 😉 Hahaha, not really but everyone knows I love pink!

Mohammad and his pink tie! Hahaha

Saturday was such a good, relaxing day! I had such a good time with everyone and was so happy to explore Nicosia a little more 🙂 But Saturday was just the beginning to a great weekend .. so stay tuned!

“Do I Smell Like Cheese Now?”

June 16, 2011

I knew today was going to be a good day because when I woke up at 7, I didn’t get to Skype JUST Thomas, but Dana as well 🙂 And that just made me happy! Haha, plus today was my group’s first day to shoot (the last shoot we were talent and the other group shot) and we were going to a lady’s house to watch her make Halloumi.

Halloumi is a traditional Cypriot cheese that is used in almost everything here. It is SO good! And due to its high melting point, it is often fried (but it doesn’t melt) and put into sandwiches and wraps.

Cold Halloumi with different breads

When we arrived, there was a strong odor in the air and I knew we were in for a treat for this shoot. We set up our equipment and went into the garage-like setup they had to make their Halloumi and started filming. The lady was so nice! And while she didn’t speak any English, we had Constantia (from GLS) to translate and her daughter spoke some English as well.

Getting everything ready to start filming

Getting ready to start the shoot

Since I was filming and had someone else take pictures with my camera, I don’t have pictures from the whole process, but I did learn a lot! First they add the milk (goat milk mostly) to a large cauldron to be heated. They also add some sort of solidifying agent to create curds. They have to continuously stir the mixture to ensure the mixture does not burn on the bottom. Once the curds have formed, they are separated from that watery substance (which is actually recycled for soup I believe) and pressed into large squares. They manually press the water out of each flat of cheese and then let it set for several minutes. Once it has solidified, they cut it into individual, smaller squares. At this point, the cheese has no flavor because that is added later. The squares are individually put into bags and tied. Then they drop them into another cauldron of boiling water. This created a firm texture so that the cheese holds its shape. When they take the bags out, they unwrap the cheese and roll it in a salt and mint mixture to add flavor to the Halloumi. They let the cheese sit so it soaks in the flavors, cool it, and then voila! You have Halloumi! Here are some pictures from the process in the order the occur:

Getting ready to start stirring the mixture

Pouring the curds into the squares to be pressed

Pressing the liquid out of the mixture and draining it into the buckets to reuse

 

The cheese flats cooling after being pressed

Cutting the cheese flats into individual squares to be bagged

Bagging the squares of Halloumi to be boiled

The ALMOST finished product, just waiting to be refrigerated

Just like everywhere else, we felt right at home! They brought out drinks and snacks for us and even took us into their home. The grandchildren were running around and it was just so welcoming, My only complaint? The smell .. definitely could not live there haha.

On our way back to the apartments, we stopped at this amazing church Constantia wanted to take us into. The church was literally built into a cave in the side of the mountain. Well, correction .. the cave was already there and they simply put the church inside. It was used for monks as a monastery many years ago and after they died, was left abandoned. While the church does not actually own it (an archaeological organization does), they still use it and especially for a holiday in August they celebrate. The church was so beautiful and definitely different, but I am so glad we went because it was a once in a lifetime chance!

The church in the mountain, so cool!

The side of the mountain from the entry of the church

The door to the church

The incredible key to the door pictured above

The portrait people pray over during their holiday .. After they pray over it and kiss it, they walk under it to be blessed

I had such an educational day and learned about so many new things! I love all the little secrets that make this country what it is, and I love discovering them as I go even more! So if you are enjoying it as much as I am .. stay tuned 🙂