Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 In Review

It's that time of year again, to look back and reflect. To prepare yourself to look forward. To end one year and begin the next. 2012 was a pretty decent year. I say decent because, well, we had some hard times, but we also had some amazing, wonderful times too. Here's my attempt to sum it all up:

At the beginning of 2012, we found ourselves in a rough spot. Chris's contract job with the visual effects company had come to an end and he was now unemployed. He had gone through all the necessary steps to receive benefits and we were hopeful that this wouldn't last long.

In January, we headed to Vegas for my sister's wedding. She was beautiful and we all had a great time. I loved spending that week with my family and getting to see Las Vegas for the first time. A few weeks later, I gathered my courage and started riding my bike to work each day. I've been doing it ever since and really enjoy it most of the time. You've read about my embarrassing fall and recent quote in the paper about double parked cars. Other than that, it is a huge improvement to riding the bus or driving everywhere.

February was a good month to get my do-it-yourself bum in gear. I focused a little more on healthy cooking and homemade goods. There was also the 1st Annual Oscar Party which I had a blast getting ready for and participating in. I'm already getting ready for the next one! (Hope you all can make it.)

I started getting a little crazy with my coupon shopping in March. I don't know how much I've saved so far, but I can tell you my stockpile of razors, shampoo, and toothbrushes should last through 2013. I've had fun doing it, but realize that since my living space is a little limited, I may have to slow down a little. By March, Chris had been getting really tired of looking, applying, and not hearing anything from anybody in his job search and realized it was time for a change. He took up writing as has long been a desire of his. He woke up when I did and began his 8-hour-a-day writing career.

In April, I joined a gym. It started as a one-month pass which has continued now for nearly nine. It's not as thrilling as it once was and I don't go nearly often enough anymore. But it does still offer me a space (and motivation) to do my physical therapy and a bit of cardio two to three times a week. Biking as become my other daily workout.

We took a little road trip to Sonoma in May and toured Jack London's home as well as had a picnic at Cline's winery.

In June, I gave myself a 30-day sugar free challenge. Looking back it was definitely a good move, something I probably need to do again. Although it didn't take away the pain of inflammation I was hoping it would, it did help my overall feeling more healthy.

July was a big month. We celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary by seeing Les Miserables and going on a camping trip in the Redwood National Park. We had such a great time together. I also hit my 200th blog post in July and did my first giveaway! A very exciting event for this little blogger. I also took a bigger plunge into my passion for photography and had my first real "session" (okay it was a practice session -- but it was with real people!). My friends let me take their maternity photos which was a blast, and I think they turned out pretty good, if I may say so.

In August, I turned 29. Chris gave me a tripod and camera remote for my birthday . . . guess I am more invested in this photography stuff now! (love it!) Chris finished the first draft of his novel in August and sent it off to a few trusted friends for a first review. He also was hired to do editing for a sports equipment company working with their online videos. This had a bit of a commute, but we were thankful for it anyway! The unemployment had ended!

September was the month we were all waiting for . . . it was finally time for Chris and I to go to Europe. We had been saving up for months . . . maybe even a year or more, it's hard to say. All I know is that every month when we did our budget we were so grateful (and in awe) that we could tuck away a few hundred dollars into our savings account. You can read more about our trip here. It was an amazing adventure, something I will cherish for a long time!

I started to cut gluten out of my diet in October. It was a 45-day diet prescribed by my acupuncturist. I wasn't excited at all, but it turned out to be a good thing. I do believe my inflammation is triggered by gluten, at least to some extent. The acupuncture has also been helping tremendously. I will be continuing these two things in 2013 for sure!

In November, Chris's parents came to visit. We had a great weekend in Napa and then mom stayed with us a few extra days. It was wonderful to have them visit and see our apartment in the city for the first time. We celebrated Thanksgiving with our extended family up north near Mount Lassen, and although it was a little chilly, it was beautiful and very relaxing.

In December, Chris made a decision to quit his editing job that had been morphing into less-editing, more-mundane tasks and accepted another job that was in the city. Although perhaps not a move in the film-career direction we were hoping for, it saves us a lot on gas money and his life is better not spending hours commuting back and forth each week . . . do I need to mention the traffic and the bridge tolls? We celebrated Christmas with my sister and her husband in Las Vegas. It was a wonderful time together. We cooked and baked, watched movies, and played games. We're making plans to visit them again next year when their little baby enters the world! Congratulations Sister and Brother-in-Law!

This is another year we can look back on and see just how amazing God's provision is. We will continue to trust Him with this next year (and beyond) for all the good things He has in store.

May 2013 be filled with joy, peace and faith -- and exciting adventures!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I was quoted in the SF Chronicle

Sometime during the week before Christmas a reporter stopped me while I was on my bike and wanted to ask me a few questions. I never thought she would actually quote me, but sure enough, this morning, my name and my words were in the San Francisco Chronicle.

See for yourself!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All the Christmas Cards

Last year, we received so many beautiful Christmas cards and I had no idea what to do with them; a few fit on our fridge, others on our bulletin board, and the rest sat on our coffee table and I'd look through them every so often. I'd seen a few people do different things to display them and came across an idea on Pinterest that I thought would be perfect for us!  I was so excited to get our first card! Take a look at how it turned out:

I think my kitchen looks a lot more festive now and that makes it really fun! I've tried a few Pinterest-inspired ideas this fall/winter and this is one my favorites! I hope I'll remember to do it again next year! Hope you are inspired to keep sending out those adorable Christmas cards—I love to get them!

You'll have to take a closer look at this photo above . . .  it's from my sister and her husband . . . and their baby!!! Ah! I'm going to be an Aunt again! My sister is going to have a baby!! I'm really excited for them and glad I live somewhat close—hope to make a few trips to Vegas next year (with my camera of course.)

Lefse Lesson

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother made Lefse for Christmas every year. It's a thin Norwegian potato bread that you cover with butter and sugar and roll up to eat. It was one of my favorites as a child (and as an adult). My grandmother passed away several years ago, and with her so did the frequency of lefse. Just one of the many things I missed about her.

A few years ago, my grandmother's sister and her daughter taught my sister how to make it. Since I was going to be spending Christmas with sister Molly and my grandmother's sister this year, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to learn myself.

Molly did most of the preparation work and did the first few pieces to show me the ropes and then she let me go at it! We rolled the dough as thin as we could, but often it just wouldn't hold together as we moved it from the board to the griddle. As Molly said the other day, "We had a lot of casualties." 

It might not have looked as presentable as grandma's always did, but the taste and feeling of comfort from the past were too good to pass up.

I can picture my grandma working over the hot griddle for hours as she prepared batch after batch for her large family Christmas gathering. (Could she ever make too much?) I wonder if she had casualties like we did and how much practice she had in order to make them so perfect each time.

I wonder if she learned along with her sisters from her mother and what those lefse making sessions looked like with five girls gathered in the kitchen. I think all of them continued the tradition with their own families.

I wonder what tricks she learned as she went and what tips she would offer if she were the one giving us the lesson? I think if I could, I'd ask her to invite me over next time she was going to make them, just so I could learn by watching a pro. That would have been special.

It was somehow special for me to make them with my sister this year too. Something she "passed down" to me from grandma's generation. Somehow feeling that with her and I knowing (my other relatives also know now too), this tradition won't have to fade away.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Just wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas! 
I hope you are able to enjoy time celebrating the Lord's birth with loved ones!

Chris and I are spending the holiday with my sister and her husband in Las Vegas (they live there). So far we've walked the Fremont strip and went to Ethel M Chocolates where they had a lit-up cactus park. We've spent some time in the kitchen (more on that to come) and playing games. It's been a great weekend away -- and I love getting to spend time with my sister!

I will share more later, but really just wanted to wish you all a very special Christmas day! 
Blessings to you and yours where ever you are!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hopes, Dreams and Answered Prayers

This year, my community has spent much time in prayer for very specific things. We've expected and anticipated God would work things out according to His perfect will and—as we wait and learn what that means—He has taught us about persistence and trust. Today, I wanted to share with you a few stories of answered prayers.

There are three men* in our church who, in their late twenties/early thirties have decided to take risks in their careers and pursue something they've been dreaming of. To their wives and those around them, these dreams may have seemed a little scary but nonetheless important and worth the risk.

The first man lived on the East Coast and—after years of being unemployed—was offered a job in San Francisco. I can't go into much detail about his situation, but there were issues back east that required him to move back. We gathered around him in prayer for months and hoped the situation would change—allowing him to keep his amazing job and stay in our community. But, that didn't seem to be happening. So, as he made the plans to move, we prayed that his company would offer him a transfer to an East Coast office. The process seemed to take forever and (with leadership changing) looked like it might not happen. About a week after our friend moved back to the East Coast, he got word that the transfer would go through! We praised God with thanksgiving for this job and for His faithfulness in providing for our friend. It didn't happen like we had wanted, but it worked out according to God's will, and that was good.

The second man has been trying to change careers for over a year. The application process for this particular field of work is long and strenuous. After waiting a full year and trying other avenues to get his foot in the door, he decided to take an act of faith and great courage. He applied for a six-month training program that would make him more qualified for the position. (Originally, this training would have been paid for by the company if they had hired him.) We surrounded him in prayer during this application process and prayed there would be a spot for him (as space is limited). He recently found out that he was accepted! We praised God for opening this door so he could move forward in going after his dream. Now he is taking steps of faith to see that: a) God will provide for his family while they pay for this program and live off of one income instead of two and b) he gets a job in the field after he finishes the program.

The third man moved to San Francisco with a deep passion and heart for the lost and found work in a place where Jesus is needed badly. He had hopes of starting his own business so he could more effectively share the Gospel with this demographic and has since quit his job and started working on his business plan and getting things started. We've been surrounding him in prayer for a couple of years now and as he takes these steps of faith we've seen God show up in ways that were unexpected and good. Just last week, he signed a lease for a space and is planning be open for business in the Spring of 2013. God is Good.

It has been so encouraging to see these men take steps of faith. Faith in God to provide for the dreams He has given them. Faith in God for the courage it takes to walk away from the "security" this world tries to offer and cling to the only security that really matters.

It has also been a privilege to pray for these men and watch the author of our lives grant our requests. There are still many prayers being said for these men, they each have a long road ahead but their dreams are coming true and that just leaves me with a sense of gratitude and hope. Thank you Lord!

*There is a fourth man's story I want to share with you, but we haven't yet seen our prayers answered. Please join us in praying for the Lord's provision! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Donald Miller is one of the more candid authors that I enjoy reading. Sometimes it feels like his thoughts just kind of threw up on the page; they are honest and real, and often thought-provoking. His words are deep, but in a simple way. They are easy to read yet make a deep impact. This was true when I read Blue Like Jazz years ago and it was true again when I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

The book starts out as a retelling of him meeting two guys who wanted to make a movie about Don's life. As he works with them to create the screenplay, he thinks about story. What makes a good story? How do you write a good story . . . and more importantly how do you live a good story?

He shares quite a few of other people's stories. And tells how he is trying to improve his own story (his life). He starts taking risks, and going on trips, and working on projects. He starts noticing how others are impacting his life and how he is impacting other lives.

There are so many times that as I read this book, I wanted to write down what I was reading . . . but at the same time I didn't want to put the book down. So, although I can't share actual quotes with you I will share with you a few thoughts of my own.

A while back, I had blogged about story. And every time I read about story, it strikes a chord. I want my story to matter. I want my story to be a good one. I think that might be why I enjoyed Donald Miller's book so much, he feels the same way I do. We want our lives to matter.

It's hard not to let the daily-routine of life become your story. I wake up, I go to work, I come home and have dinner, watch some TV and I go to bed. It's easy to let time slip by without going after what you really want. It takes courage, energy and even creativity to live a good story.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of living busy stories. There is so much going on and so many different things to do that we miss the point of the story -- it might not be boring, but it's not the story we feel designed to live either.

Donald Miller's book was entertaining and encouraging. I hope you'll read it too -- and tell me what you think!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Weekend in Wine Country


Last month Chris and I joined his parents in Napa for a weekend of wine tasting. (I'm sorry I'm just posting this now, I didn't get a chance to upload my photos until last night! Oops!) We had done this with them last time they came to visit too . . . before we even had our apartment in San Francisco!

We had a great time together driving through wine country and stopping at quite a few wineries. We even got to drive over to Sonoma and take them to one of our favorites.

They treated us to a fantastic meal at Redd  -- we don't always get to eat this well. The restaurant was really nice and the food was absolutely divine. I had scallops in a creamy cauliflower sauce which, although not a big plate, was completely satisfying and delicious. Thanks Mom and Dad for taking us out!

Wineries always have such beautiful property. These next couple of photos are from Artesa. We climbed up a flight of outdoor stairs and when we got to the top this is what we saw. Absolutely stunning.

After a weekend of wine tasting and game playing we headed back to the city. Mom and Dad joined us in San Francisco for a few nights, too. I'm so glad they got to see our home and experience a little taste of our city.

Mom actually stayed for an extra couple of days and Chris got to take her biking all over the city! Way to go Mom! We loved having you both and are so glad you came to visit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The 2nd Annual Dicken's Christmas Fair

Last weekend Chris and I, along with a few friends attended the Dicken's Christmas Fair. You may remember my post about it last year. And once again, it did not disappoint. Walking into the arena, one was seemingly transported to another country, and era. The "streets of London" were covered in white powdery flakes and the smells of cinnamon and spice hung in the air as women dressed in lovely Victorian dresses and men in long coats and top hats strolled by. We had talked about dressing up too but didn't have the time or the funds to pull something together.

There were pubs on every corner where one could order a hot toddy or mulled wine (or apple cider for those not inclined to drink). Unfortunately they ran out of bangers and mash by the time we were ready for our dinner.

We saw a few different acts this year, some we weren't too impressed with (the saloon-type of entertainment). We sat through a reading of the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and witnessed a portion of Oliver Twist being reenacted. I really enjoyed the very end when everyone gathered together and sang the "Hallelujah Chorus" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Chris's favorite once again was the Brass Farthing singers.

I loved looking in all the little shops. In one shop you could even watch them dip and create these beautiful candles. I could have stood there all day.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gluten is Back . . . For Now

After 47 days of not eating gluten, the time has come to give it another try. My acupuncturist (who prescribed the diet in October) has given me the go-ahead to try eating gluten for a week. This trial week will tell me if this diet is "working" in reducing the inflammation I have in my neck, back, arms and feet. How will I know? Well, I'll be in a lot of pain. Or at least a more than I have been during this glorious, minimal-pain month and a half.

To be honest, I'm a little scared.  I don't want to feel bad again. I don't want my body to experience pain during this trial week. I really don't want to have to say "No" to whole grains and flours, and cookies and sandwiches and a lot of food at restaurants for years . . .

It really hasn't been that terrible. But I have already enjoyed getting back to my "normal" foods. I have had pancakes, sandwiches, homemade pizza, crackers and even some cookies! I love my gluten!

Also on this week's menu: Turkey Pot Pie, Red Velvet Cake, Hamburgers (with the bun!), and maybe a burrito! Not to mention whole-grain cereal like Cheerios and regular toast for breakfast!

I'll let you know the verdict after my gluten-filled week is over.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

On Saturday, during a break in the rain, Chris and I drove to Lowe's and picked up a Christmas tree. In the process we ran into a couple of friends (always love that small town feel) doing the same! Getting it home is pretty easy since we have a pick-up and only one flight of stairs. My tough husband practically handled the whole thing himself (I just came a long for the memory-making).

We spent the next afternoon listening to Christmas music and decorating the tree. I try to decorate a few other areas of our apartment too. It's not a lot. But it's enough. Enough to change my mood, my thoughts, my spirit.

I love when things begin to look like Christmas. I am overwhelmed by the reminder of God becoming man, entering our world as an infant and taking on our sins and our enemy. I am overwhelmed by the spirit of the season and find a cheerfulness, joy and happiness that had somehow escaped me between last year and now. I have a renewed peace that all will be okay -- our Savior has come!

The trees, lights, presents, and red and green decorations remind me that this season is about others, too. To show love and care for my family, friends, and even those I don't know who might be in need.

The calendar fills up fast with parties, cookie making and get togethers. It seems a little hectic when I look at my calendar already filling up, but I remind myself that this is a short season, and worth every bit of the work it takes to partake in all the festivities. I love this time of year!

Blessings to all of you this Christmas season!

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Reminder of Home

Chris's cousin invited us to tag along for his family's Thanksgiving in Northern California last weekend. Of course we went! We don't really need an excuse to spend time with family, get a way from the city and see more the state (like mountains and lakes). It was a long drive but worth every minute.

Their home was beautiful and the weather, although chilly and definitely winter, was clear and sunny. Looking out their back door we could see the snow-capped Mt. Lassen and Lake Almanor. On Saturday we bundled up and drove to Lassen National Forest to find them a Christmas tree!

I had never gone with anyone to cut down a tree for Christmas before. Last year was my first year even having a real tree, and that one we picked out of a lot at Lowe's . . . which we will do again this year. Anyway, on our drive we came to a road that was covered in snow! This is the first time I'd seen snow in California! And it totally reminded me of home. I loved it. We got out and walked in it and Chris and I threw snow balls at each other!

And then, an even greater reminder of home happened just minutes later (after we got back in the truck) . . . we got stuck! Yep, we hit a dead end in the road and had to turn around. In the process of turning around, we got stuck in the deeper, less traveled snow. All the guys piled out and started shoveling and trying everything they could think of to get out. The women stayed nice and warm in the truck commenting on the hard work our men were doing.

After about 20-30 minutes we got out and our daylight was sneaking away. I couldn't help but reflect on the number of times I had been in that situation before. Growing up in Minnesota and then moving to Colorado both provided many opportunities to get stuck and have to dig your way out. (You would think I would know how to a) drive in the snow better and b) get unstuck faster, but I don't.)

A little later, the second car with us also got a little stuck. Thankfully, it wasn't bad and they could be pushed out easily. That time I just had to get out and take some photos.

I couldn't help but respect the action the men took to get us out, and the determination and strategic thinking you could see in their faces as they dug, pushed, and tried to find ways to get out. I was reminded of the need men have for adventure. To be brave, protectors, and even take on nature. They may not have thought this was "fun" but I bet they felt successful and proud when it was all over!

They found their tree and as the sun set over the mountain we drove safely home.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gluten Free Mexican Dinner Ideas

Technically, most Mexican food can be gluten free. Use a corn tortilla and leave off the sour cream and you're good to go! These casserole dishes are almost just as easy and very tasty. These two recipes are very similar to each other but they are both really delicious!

*Please note that these are not original recipes, I took them from members of

"My Favorite Mexican Chicken Casserole"  Makes 8 servings
You need:  
1.5 cups crushed lite Tostitos 
1 lb shredded cooked chicken meat (breast) 
1 can (15.5 oz) garbanzo beans, drained 
1 can (15.5 oz) kidney beans, drained 
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 cup prepared salsa (make sure it's gluten free) 
1 cup chopped red onion 
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves 
1 tbsp minced garlic 
salt and pepper, to taste 
6 oz reduced fat shredded 4-cheese mexican cheese
6 oz fat-free shredded cheddar cheese

Prehet oven to 350 degrees (F). Grease a 13x9 inch baking dish, then scatter the crushed tortilla chips evenly on the bottom.
Combine chicken, beans, tomato sauce, salsa, onion, cilantro, garlic, salt & pepper in a bowl. Place half the mixture evenly in a baking dish. Combine the cheeses, then sprinkle half over the mixture.
Cover with the remaining half of the chicken mixture and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Can garnish with: diced ripe tomatoes, gluten free sour cream and fresh cilantro.


Mexican Brown Rice Casserole Makes 8 Servings
You need:
1 cup uncooked brown rice 
1 cup uncooked lentils 
1 28 oz can Enchilada sauce (gluten free) 
4.5 cups water 
Open crisper & see what veggies you have. I [SparkRecipe Member] used carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers, ortega chilis and spinach.  
1 TBS olive oil 
4 oz soft goat cheese
Olives to garnish

In a sauce pan put rice, lentils, can of enchilada sauce and water.
Bring to boil and then simmer until cooked. About 45-60 minutes.
While the rice/lentil mix is cooking, cut up veggies & saute until soft.
In the casserole dish layer rice, veggies and chunks of cheese. Then top with olive garnish.

Bake 60 minutes @ 350.
Let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jane Eyre

It took me a while to get through Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront. I started it months ago and just couldn't get into it. The language and time period were harder for me to enter into at first. I liked the story but wasn't glued to it. At least not for Part One. I also noticed that I rarely had time to sit and read so that might have been part of it. 

Part Two on the other hand was totally different. The relationships were more interesting (what can I say, romance always captures my attention), and the main character expressed more feelings. By the time I got to the last one hundred pages or so, I couldn't put it down.

Part One introduces you to the orphan girl, Jane Eyre, during an unhappy time of her life. She isn't loved or even wanted. She seems like a smart girl and a normal child and you find yourself hoping she can make a life for herself even without the often-necessary support of family.

Jane Eyre is a young, talented woman making her own life in the second half of the book. Although there is obviously a class difference between her and her employer, you can't help but hope the "crush" turns into something more. And when it does, you aren't ready for the twists and turns it takes. It's exciting and heart braking at the same time. You are sad but at the same time proud of Jane for sticking to her gut. 

I was basically an emotional wreck whenever I had to put the book down because all I wanted to do was find out what happened next. And when it was over, I was oddly satisfied. 

"Jane Erye" is one of those classics that many people read in school. I never did. A friend of mine was clearing out her bookshelf and offered it to me so of course I took it (I can't turn down a free book). I really enjoyed the book once I got into it. Everyone who saw me reading the book told me I wold like it  . . . and they were right. (They know me so well).



Happy Thanksgiving! 

Last year, I had joined a blog link-up sharing what we were thankful for each day of November. I didn't do that this year, for many reasons, mostly just lack of time.  But lack of time does not infer a lack of thankfulness. Not at all. I wanted to take a moment this weekend and share my thankful heart with you.

* I am so thankful for the (distant) relatives we have in California who we get to spend holidays with throughout the year. It makes living so far away from my family at least bearable during the holidays. I sit in the warmth of their fireplace as I write this!

* I'm thankful for my job, which has been one of the more stable thing in my life for the past two and half years. It may not be the most exciting position or something I am strongly passionate about, but for this season of life, stability and having the regular income has been the biggest blessing.

* I am so thankful for my husband. He is my very best friend and although it has been a challenging year for him, I have seen him grow, take chances and live dreams. I'm so thankful he takes risks (because I don't) and goes after what he wants.

* As you know, we went to Europe for two weeks in September. I am so thankful for the family and friends who made that possible. I'm thankful to God for providing all we needed financially to make that trip happen and for his provision and protection on the trip - we seriously had the best time.

* I seriously love my apartment and I am thankful everyday that I get to live where I do. It's just a one bedroom but it is my home, my retreat, where my soul finds rest (most of the time). It's not beautifully decorated by any means but it is comfortable.

* My church and community group have been a blessing this year as well. Our community group got so big this year that we no longer fit in our apartment so we multiplied into two groups. The transition may have been hard to get used to but I am still so thankful for the group of people we have met and been supported by.

* I'm so thankful for my family - my parents, sisters and brother. I haven't gotten to see any of them since January, but through Facebook, email and phone calls, I think we've been able to stay close. I love them dearly.

* For my husband's family who are now spread across the world, I am so thankful for their friendship and love.  Mom and Dad B. came to visit just a few weeks ago and we had such a great time together! I'm thankful for the opportunities that allow us to know each other better!

* I'm thankful for the hobbies that keep me busy - quilting, card making, cooking, and photography. I feel like I've learned (or at least tried) a lot of different things this year which has been a lot of fun.

*I'm thankful for my blog readers! I really love writing this blog and without you, it would be pointless. Keeping up with the blog has been a good way for me to process, share and keep myself accountable for the things I spend my time on. It also gives me another outlet to be creative. Sometimes, I wish it were a more popular blog, with more comments, followers, and everything else, but I have to remind myself, I don't write for those reasons. I write because I need to and I hope those that want to keep up with me would read it. The rest doesn't really matter.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope you continue to count your blessings during this wonderful holiday season!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pre-Black Friday Deals

As if the excitement of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving weren't enough, many stores have started offering "Pre-Black Friday" sales all week. I probably wouldn't have paid much attention because I had planned to go crazy with the rest of the nation on Friday, but we just made last-minute plans that would take us out of town for the whole weekend. I was excited to get away, but also a little sad that I wouldn't be able to experience the rush of Black Friday as a couponer. (I may have a problem.)

I had heard that Walgreens and CVS offered amazing deals (often free merchandise after the register rewards/extra care bucks) on Black Friday and was already making my list. So to have to tear it up made me a little sad.

But then, the CVS circular came out on Sunday and I was happily surprised to see several things were offered for free after extra care bucks (ECB)! I couldn't resist. Seriously.

I did a three separate transactions, here's what they looked like:
1) - 3M Command hook sample pack
       buy 1 for $.99 and receive $.99 ECB
       I could have used a $1 off coupon for this, but I left it at home.
    - Kleenex slim pack facial tissue
       buy 1 for $1 and receive $1 ECB
Paid: $1.26 + $1 ECB from a previous purchase

2) - Starbucks Refresher drink
       buy 1 for $1.50 and receive $1.50 ECB
       used $1 off coupon
    - Carmex lip balm
       buy 1 for $1 and receive $1 ECB
       used $.30 off coupon
Paid: $.47 plus used the $1 ECB received in transaction #1

3) - Advil 10ct. vial
      buy 1 at $2.99 and receive $2.99 ECB
 Paid $.75 plus used $1.50 and $.99 ECB from transaction #2 

Total out of pocket expense: $2.48 (and I still have $3.99 ECB for next time)

If you can get to CVS or Walgreens on Thursday or Friday this week, do it! They'll have even better deals going on then! You can check out the upcoming sale at

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Last Stop: London

London was the perfect place to spend our last day in Europe. We didn't have to worry about the language and the culture is fairly similar to ours. We enjoyed seeing all the historic/famous places but were a little disappointed that most of them charged expensive entrance fees so we didn't go in any of them.

London seemed to be a place filled with so much history; most of the cities we visited were.  But this history was more deeply connected to our own culture.  Chris was excited to walk into pubs that favorite authors once sat in and be in the place where literature really seemed to take off.

It was overcast and rainy most of the day (seems like a theme of our vacation, doesn't it!) and my cold was getting a lot worse. I'd like to say I had a great attitude and none of this bothered me, but that would be a lie. I let it get to me ended up having quite a few "crabby-moments." Chris was very sweet and gave me a time-out at a cafe where we could warm up and get out of the rain. I hated taking breaks from our sight seeing because we only had one day to see it all. But in the end, I was glad we did. I needed it; the break and hot chocolate helped my mood and kept me from getting soaked.

At the very end of the day when we ended up at the Tower Bridge, the sun peaked out and the rest of the evening was fairly nice.

view more photos here

How long we were there: 2 nights, 1 full day

What we did: We walked. . . and walked! We saw the outside of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the City of London (original city boundaries) which included famous places like where the dictionary was first written and the pub where Charles Dickens wrote. We walked over the London Bridge which left something to be desired and over to the more picturesque Tower Bridge. We made a quick stop in Hyde park before it got dark.

What we ate: For lunch we found a pub offering a pretty decent special: a burger and beer for 5 pounds. It was delicious. Dinner was more of a struggle. We planned on having bangers and mash or fish and chips, but when we walked by this great looking restaurant around 4:30, neither of us were hungry. So we kept walking. Around 7 p.m. when we wanted to eat, we couldn't find anything English! We took the tube back to our host-apartment thinking we'd find something there but we had to walk for nearly 30 minutes before we found a grocery store! We settled for pasta salad, soup and fruit. We took it back to the apartment and joined our hosts for a glass of wine.

Where we stayed: The AirBnB we booked was great. Our hosts were a newly married couple (the wife was American) who had kept their three bedroom apartment after their roommates moved out. It was comfortable and cozy and they were very nice people. It was a little far from everything, but the tube is quite fast and easy to use. It was closer to the airport which made leaving the next morning pretty smooth.

How we got around: The Tube got us everywhere we didn't walk.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gluten Free Breakfast

Since I was sharing my new diet with you all, I thought I should share a few of my favorite recipes with you. I'll share a few breakfast dishes here and maybe later I'll post my favorite dinner options. Both of these recipes were taken from members of

Cinnamon Quinoa with Walnuts  
You need:
1 Cup Whole Grain Quinoa
2 Cups Water

2 oz. Chopped Walnuts

1 Tbsp. Ground Cinnamon

1 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1 tsp. Ground Ginger
Sugar, start with 1 tbsp, add more if desired.
(or course you can adjust the spices to your liking)

Rinse the quinoa well in cold water.
Add the quinoa, water and spices to pan and bring to a boil, then simmer on very low for 25 more minutes.
When water is absorbed, mix in the walnuts.
Enjoy hot or cold. Makes four 1/2 cup servings

Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa
You need:
1 Cup of quinoa (washed)

2 cups unsweetened apple juice*
2 cups light vanilla soy milk

2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1.5 cups (one package) of crasins

2 tsp vanilla extract

Rinse quinoa
Bring quinoa and apple juice to a boil in a 12 quart pan
Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until most of the apple juice is absorbed.
Add soy milk, cinnamon and crasins. Simmer, covered for another 15 mins, stirring occasionally
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
Serve this hot or cold. It's a nice breakfast or snack. Makes 6 cups (1 cup = serving)

* I didn't have apple juice so I just used water and then added a chopped apples to the quinoa once was simmering.

Three Weeks Gluten Free

No more donuts, bagels, toast, or normal sandwiches for this girl. No more chocolate cake, breaded chicken, or Cheerios. At least for the time being.

Last month, my acupuncturist recommended I take gluten out of my diet to see if it would reduce the inflammation in my arms. I have had a lot of issues with both nerve and muscle pain in my wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck and back in the past year and I was ready to try anything.

I am half way through my 45 day test of gluten-free living and so far so good. I haven't had any unusual flair ups and my pain level has been consistently lower than it was prior to incorporating this new diet into my life. I thought it would be a lot harder than it has been; I was used to eating whole-wheat everything. And sometimes splurging on the non-whole-grain treats as well.

Surprisingly, I've made do. I've substituted my normal cereal with cooked quinoa with cinnamon and walnuts and my sandwiches with a gluten-free pasta dish or anther quinoa meal. I've made a few special purchases like gluten free pasta, bread, pancake mix, and cereal. Other than that, I've tried to eat more veggies and fruits and keep my dinners simple by serving meat and a side of vegetables or a potato. I've also consumed at least two whole bags of corn tortilla chips, because well, I still need to snack on something!

I've had to say "No" to Krispy Kreme Donuts (in honor of the Giants winning the World Series a few weeks back), to pumpkin cookies and bars as well as a few other desserts. But it hasn't been too bad.

Thanksgiving will be a challenge, but I'll be okay. The last few weeks have been a good reminder to me that I am strong enough to say "No" to food. That I do have will-power and can be in control of my diet . . .and maybe my life more than I give myself credit for. Scripture says that self-control and discipline are important; so often I feel that I don't practice those very well. Eating gluten-free (taking care of my body) is one more opportunity to practice - and maybe that will spill over into my spiritual life!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Running with a Chocolate Croissant

As promised here is our story of getting from Paris to London. It promises to be entertaining to say the least.

As with all of our transportation between countries, we had purchased tickets ahead of time. At most train stations it seemed fairly common for the train to arrive just minutes before it was time to board and then leave within minutes of boarding. It was usually very quick and there was no need to arrive early, check in or wait at all. It was a lovely way to travel. On this particular trip we had planned to take the Chunnel from Paris to London on the EuroStar. We figured it would be the same as every other train we had taken in the last 12 days so we planned accordingly.

We arrived at the train station with 30 minutes to spare. Chris checked the boards and didn't see our platform listed which was pretty normal for being 30 minutes before departure. We strolled through the station and stopped to buy a chocolate croissant (because, it was my last chance to have one in Paris). We saw a sign that said EuroStar departures were upstairs. That seemed a little odd, but we decided to mosey our way up there and take a look.

We saw a crowd of people filling out customs forms and so I told Chris we should probably do the same. At that moment, a woman wearing a EuroStar uniform rushed up to our counter and asked, "Is anyone here taking the 7:13 train?" Chris said we were and she told us to stop what we were doing and hurry through customs. We had 5 minutes before they closed the doors. WHAT? Are you serious? We are so early!?!? Is what I was thinking, but we did as we were told. Confused as ever.

Once we got in line for customs another employee found us and said we needed to hurry, we now only had 2 minutes and still had to go through security! (We had not had to go through customs or security in any other country!) Another traveler informed us that EuroStar was pretty strict and usually didn't give refunds if you missed your train. Not the most encouraging news as we tried to understand how this had happened.

The customs worker was a very soft spoken man with a thick English accent speaking to me through a thick plate of glass. I could not understand a word he said and he wasn't making it any easier each time I said "WHAT?" like an ignorant American. Chris intervened and answered his questions. "What airport did we fly into in Rome?" -- like I even knew what that was when we got to Rome . . . and remembered it two weeks later.

Once we got through the mess of customs and our passports stamped we literally ran across the hall to security, slammed our bags, jackets, passports, tickets and even our spare change onto the conveyer belt to go through the metal detector. Then we had to scramble to pick up all of our stuff that had slipped through the cracks of the conveyer belt and make sure we had everything when another employee found us and said, "You need to run, the train is departing!"

I wanted to cry. There was no way I could run with this 20 pound backpack (which I had just slung over my shoulder without aligning it properly). But my husband raced down ahead of me on the descending moving walkway and I tried to follow behind making sure I didn't drop our tickets or our passports! I thought for sure I would sprain my ankle trying to run down this crazy contraption. (Picture it: You know those conveyer belt/moving walkways in airports that are usually fairly flat and parallel to the ground -- this was like that, but with the angle of an escalator. I'm sure if you were a kid, it would have been great fun to run down, but not for adult with back problems.)

We ran into the first train car we could and made our way to our seats (six or seven cars down) noticing all the businessmen and travelers looking at us as if they could tell we were first time travelers. As soon as our bags were stowed and we sat down, the train started moving. And all I could do was laugh. And try to catch my breath. We had made it.

I couldn't believe it.

As we traveled underground, I just sat back and marveled how God blessed us. Three different employees had helped us get on our train. They were watching over us. We were blessed.

We realized our mistake once we had gotten on the train. Our ticket clearly stated that we need to be board the train 30 minutes prior to departure to ensure enough time for security and customs. We missed that tiny detail when we printed off our tickets. 

It made me sick to think of what would have happened if we missed our train. Not only would we most likely had lost a lot of money, but we would have had to find somewhere to sleep! Things we were not prepared to do that evening.

Instead, God got us on our train -- and I had my chocolate croissant.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Paris in the Rain

Cloudy skies met us when we arrived in Paris, but the rain was holding off for the time being. We decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower as soon as we had settled into our apartment. As we got closer, I could see the tip of the tower peaking out from buildings and trees, I kept stopping to take photos thinking every step brought me into better view. I could hardly contain my joy when we finally arrived in front of the Eiffel Tower and could see the whole thing! To be honest, at first I wasn't that impressed. It's a steel tower. But the longer we stood there, the more romantic it felt.

Then the rain hit.

We got out our umbrellas and walked to the bottom of the tower to get some shelter. After much debate, we decided to try and find our dinner and come back after dark to see the Tower lit up. We walked in the pouring (literally pouring) rain for about 10 minutes when all of a sudden, it stopped. The sun started to shine and the sky had changed from a gloomy dark gray to bright blue. 

I think the Lord could see my mood getting worse by the minute and decided to bless me anyway. Seriously, I felt so loved. I could not stop giving thanks and praise to my Father.

We walked back to the Eiffel Tower to take a few more photographs with the blue sky as it's backdrop. It was glorious. This is when it truly felt impressive and awesome, and beautiful. This is when the city really felt romantic. This was the highlight of day one in Paris.

It started raining again.

We walked to a restaurant to have dinner where we tried to stay warm and dry (outdoor seating with an enclosed awning and heater). After our dinner, we headed back to the Eiffel Tower a romantic view of the Tower lit up. The night was cool and wet but we decided to take the elevator to the top nonetheless.

Once at the top, we tried to take in the beauty of the city and point out the sights we wold try to see the following day.  The view had been spectacular; at 1050 feet tall we could see everything! I got cold pretty quickly so really didn't stay up long.

As we were walking back to the metro station, we turned to look at the Tower one more time. At that same time, the clock struck 10 p.m. and it started twinkling with blue lights! It was so pretty! I just had to stay in that spot until the lights stopped 10 minutes later.

It had been a long day and a late night. We saw the Eiffel tower in the midst of thick gray clouds, bright blue skies, and the night sky. It was magical (even though my shoes were soaking wet).

 View more photos of Paris here

How long we were there: 1 1/2 days

What we did: Saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, walked by the Lourve museum, walked the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.

What we ate: For dinner that first night, Chris ordered roasted duck and I had a tube pasta with cream truffle sauce. We enjoyed glasses of wine with our meal and then ordered chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. After our quick breakfast of yogurt and orange juice the next morning, we stopped by a neighborhood bakery for coffee and chocolate croissants. (YUM!) For lunch we stopped by a Mediterranean shop and had shawarmas. They were quick and cheap and oh, so delicious! We had a few hours to spare before our train to London so we stopped by a restaurant and ordered wine with a meat and cheese tray. To be honest, I didn't care for the cheeses very much, but the rest was great.

Where we stayed: We stayed in a small one bedroom apartment where the renters had given up their bedroom for the AirBnB guests and used a pull out sofa in their living room for themselves. It was fairly comfortable and they were very friendly. We even stayed up enjoying drinks with them before going to bed! 

How we got around: We took a train from Rotterdam, Holland to Paris. Once we were in the city we used the Metro to get around. (I'm so glad my husband understands public transportation better than I . . . it was confusing). Getting to London was a bit crazy, stay tuned for that story!

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!

I hope that title didn't scare you! It's just the name of the book I finished. It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! by Superna Damany and Jack Bellis is about something called Repetitive Stress Injury or RSI and the therapy options for those who have fallen victim to it's pain.

RSI is a fairly common injury or pain for people who have a tasks that require repetitive movements. The book is fairly focused on computer programmers or computer-related fields but it can include other professions as well.

Damany is a physical therapist specializing in this type of injury and has seen many people learn to manage their pain. Bellis is a victim of RSI and improved greatly with Damany's help. Together, they write a book that is meant to teach and help those who also struggle with this type of pain. I am one of those people.

The first half of the book was very informative; they go into detail of how the injury develops, what the symptoms look like and what common treatment practices look like. They are also very adamant that this injury can look different for everyone and many physicians don't know how to diagnose or treat it properly.

The second half of the book gives diagrams and how-tos for stretching, strengthening and relieving the stress and tension in your body. I found it all very helpful. I even started to notice a difference in a week after following just a few of their recommendations.

If you work at a computer for the majority of your work day, I would recommend checking this book out (I found it at the library). Even if you don't have any pain in your arms or fingers yet, it will help you in preventing that from ever happening -- which in hindsight is totally worth it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Friends in Holland

One of the biggest motivators for us to go to Europe when we did was because good friends of Chris's had moved there. What better time to go than when you have someone to visit! They had lived near Amsterdam for their first year but a few weeks before we arrived they actually moved to Da Haag. So, that's where we went! 

The cities we saw in Holland were all surrounded by water. Canals run through the cities meaning there are bridges, boats, and beautiful scenery everywhere! The walkways were usually cobblestone and the buildings were each unique. We walked a lot and every turn seemed to hold another beautiful view. 

It was a bit cold in Holland and it did rain off-and-on each of the three days we were there. We were fairly used to that, but now we were blessed to have a place to stay indoors during the day! It was such a treat to be able to stay with our friends where we could relax and just catch up instead of rushing off to see the sights.

I loved seeing them live life in this foreign place with their daughter. It's exciting to see your friends say "yes" to what they felt called by the Lord to do. Some days are hard, there are definitely adjustments to make on a daily basis and a lot to learn. But it is a great adventure! I enjoyed hearing about the lessons they've learned and the experiences they had in the last year and also what their  hopes were for the future.

Our time in The Netherlands felt like a vacation from our vacation. We were able to slow down, rest, and enjoy the company of great friends. We didn't "do" much, which was a nice change of pace and exactly what we needed.

Proof that we really did "backpack" through Europe!

One of the canals in Amsterdam

A little antique store had these wood shoes on display

How long we were there: 3 days

What we did:  Walked around Amsterdam, Den Haag, and Delft. We stayed with friends who had been living in Holland for a little over a a year. We slept in and rested, did our laundry, and stayed mostly dry during the rainy days. Mostly, we enjoyed seeing and catching up with our friends!

What we ate: Shortly after arriving in Amsterdam we warmed up with some warm drinks at a local coffee shop, I had a hot chocolate, Chris had coffee. Then we went to a cafe and had lunch on a patio off of the canal; I had a salmon sandwich. We walked around the canals, past Anne Frank's house and then decided to try to warm up and stopped at another cafe for more warm drinks and an apple tart. Then we found our way to the train to Den Haag. For dinner we had Chinese take-out (not the original plan, but many places close early in the evenings).

Our friends cooked for us and shared their dutch treats with us: Nutella and chocolate sprinkles on bread and stroopwafels. The following day in Delft we had lunch at a cute cafe off of a canal; I had a chicken quiche and Chris had a traditional savory pancake.  That evening we went out with a couple other friends we met in Colorado; they took us to a restaurant where we enjoyed beer and warm comfort Dutch food--roasted lamb and duck with potatoes.

Where we stayed: in Den Haag with our friends Matt, Jamie and their daughter.

How we got around: We took the train in between cities and the tram to get around within the city. We also noticed that of all of the places we had been so far, bikes seemed to be the most common way to get around in Holland. Bikes were everywhere! We even saw a two-story bike rack at a train station that held hundreds of bikes!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Visiting Florence: Experiencing The Renaissance

What makes Florence such an impeccable city is not its magnificent art, its quaint and ambulatory cobblestone thoroughfares, or its world-class gelato, although we earnestly enjoyed all those things. What I experienced there can only be described in the word "rebirth." The Renaissance (which, you probably know, means "rebirth") began in Florence, but I think that its spirit or ideology or essence remains, and it whispered subtly to me the entire time we were there.

The most quantifiable experience I can use to convey what I am describing was seeing Michelangelo's "David". There are few experiences in our lives where something is so transcendentally beautiful and we are so overwhelmed that we feel like we've somehow stepped out of ourselves and caught a glimpse of the eternal, or like our body has faded away and we are in sublime communion with—no, we simply ARE—a soul. I think C.S. Lewis' description of Milton's "enormous bliss" in describing "the biscuit tin garden" is close to what I am describing, if you are familiar with it.

Unlike Lewis' description, though, I have sometimes (rarely) felt graced with these experiences for extended periods of time. I remember be required to see three performances by the University Symphony in college. During one such performance, the conductor said, "If this is your first time hearing this piece, I envy you." It was a piece by Ravel. The minutes of that choreographic symphony were indescribable, and is immortalized in my mind.

So, too, I sat before the incredible statue of David and was so overwhelmed that I dared not move. I scarcely breathed. The moment of the beautiful transcendence extended to a minute, then to several minutes. When it did finally pass, I was not eager to hang on to it. I was simply happy to have experienced it in the first place.

This grandeur, this Renaissance, was not constrained to the David, although it was most noticeable there. Everything in the city seemed more beautiful, more real, more hopeful. It was like casting aside a ridiculous and hopeless dogma that had enslaved me to my selfishness for something truly powerful, freeing and new.

Its history was of great artists and entrepreneurs who cast aside conventions so that something better, something purer, or something that simply worked could exist. They embraced who they were, their ideas, and what they could do and sought to be great and affect destiny rather than seeing destiny as an ominous, mysterious, unalterable force. People had eternal value; humanism was significant.

Everything about Florence communicated hope—that God made you great, that you are significant, that you can do great things that alter the course of the world, and you have no reason not to try. Embrace yourself, embrace destiny, and create out of your greatness.

2012 Walk for Life

We did it again! We beat my original fundraising goal by over $100! Thank you so much blog readers, Facebook stockers, friends and family -- you are making a huge impact in the work of Alpha Pregnancy Center.

The walk was on Saturday and I have to tell you, it went so much better than I had anticipated. I had signed up to be a team leader, meaning I would try to recruit people to participate in the walk and raise support, lead them on our route to deliver gifts and get them to the park for the celebratory picnic. I rarely step up to lead something like this, so it was a step out of my comfort area and since I had only done the walk one other time, I was feeling a little inexperienced.

Well, six of my friends and one dog agreed to do the walk with me. I am so thankful for their encouragement and willingness to join the cause. An additional six people were assigned to my team right before the walk (a wonderful family with four little boys). So, me and my twelve teammates walked 3.5 miles to deliver gifts and supplies to two families.

 When we arrived at the first home, we rang the bell and waited for what seemed like a long time. Then a woman with a little girl came to the door; I asked if she was "M" and she smiled and said she was who we were looking for. We explained why we had come and what we brought for her and her family. Her smiled filled her face and she started to tear up a little. The little girl had no idea what was going on but continued to stare at the twelve people standing outside her door.

We prayed with her and she gave hugs all around. Her daughter even gave me a sweet little hug. She thanked us as we walked away. I was so touched by her response to our coming. All we did was walk. Alpha had done all the real leg work in preparing her gifts and planning the event. Alpha does the real work of providing whatever this mom needs as she raises her daughter. She was so grateful. I pray she comes to know our Father, the true provider!

As we walked to the second home, about a mile away, I got to know the family that had joined our team a little better. I don't know if I'll ever see them again, but they are such a sweet family with hearts broken for the unborn. I really enjoyed hearing part of their story.

I had been warned that the second family we were to visit only spoke Spanish, and I was thankful one of my teammates knows a little of the language. I asked her to take the lead in introducing us and giving the family the gifts. Once she started talking to them, she found out that they do actually speak English too! This made our visit much easier! There were actually multiple families living in the home so we prayed with everyone.

The picnic in the park was really fun too as we ate and fellowshipped with people from the other teams.   There was face painting and even an inflatable obstacle course for the kids, so they were having a blast!
The director of the center shared a testimony with us and encouraged us to continue praying for them as they raise funds to being offering ultrasounds to their clients. Then she gave our prizes for the oldest and youngest walkers, the people who raised the most support and the person who recruited the most people. I won that last award -- two tickets to the Aquarium!

Thanks again to everyone who encouraged, prayed and sponsored Chris and I on the Walk for Life this year. Stay tuned for the next one!

Oktobefest in Munich

We couldn't pass up the opportunity to experience Oktoberfest since we were passing through Germany at just the right time. The way it worked out, we were actually in Munich the day the two week celebration began!

It felt a lot like going to the Minnesota State Fair (which is the only State Fair I've ever been to actually). There were carnival games to ride or play, fun foods to try, and everyone was in a great mood. The big difference is everyone came to enjoy a beer (or more) and a lot of people were dressed up in the traditional Bavarian costumes!

It rained for most of the morning and early afternoon but that didn't deter us from trying to get into one of the giant beer tents. We stood in a line with our umbrellas hoping we'd be let in; the people in line soon started pushing and shoving hoping to get closer so it looked more like a huge crowd of umbrellas rather than an actual line! It was pretty miserable actually--being wet, cold and huddled in a crowd of strangers. After two hours, we decided to give up and check out the rest of the grounds.  After walking around for a bit we decided to seek refuge in a coffee shop. It didn't take us too long to find one that had vacant chairs and soon enough we started warm up. We ended up meeting three other Americans in the cafe and had a great time.

After the rain had subsided we decided to give it another go. Rather than try to get into the beer tents, we ended up going into one of the beer gardens. We ended up sitting at a table near a Canadian group and a fellow Californian as well as a few local German men who taught us a few phrases that must be chimed loudly at Oktoberfest!

Everyone was very friendly and enjoying themselves. The rain seemed to hinder no one from enjoying the celebration. But after a while, I was getting tired and could feel a cold coming on (being outside in the rain was probably a big contributor).

After dark, we decided to head to the train station and await our next train headed to Amsterdam. We had booked an overnight train with beds! We had our own room (cabin?) with bunk beds complete with sink, towels, and breakfast in the morning. The bathroom down the hall even had a shower! It was a really great experience--if you ever get a chance to take an overnight train (with your own cabin) I would highly recommend it! This was one of our favorite traveling experiences of our trip.

See more photos here!

How long we were there: 1 1/2 days

What we did: Wandered around the city center and spent the day at Oktoberfest

What we ate: We had some great food in Munich. Dinner our first night there was amazing. We found our way to Haxnbauer thanks to the Lonely Planet guide book which highly recommended it. When we arrived there were people leaving after hearing the wait would be 30 minutes, but when we got to the front, they seated us right away! Everyone around us had large liter mugs of bear and plates filled with great looking food--sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut,etc. The large room was really warm and cozy, which was wonderful because it was getting a little colder outside. We ordered a sampler plate of sorts with thick bacon, sausage, roasted pork and potatoes. We also ordered a bottle of water which was more than the price of beer. (We didn't get a beer because we were both feeling a bit sick). The food was so delicious, it was another opportunity to over-eat and we did not disappoint!

The next day we stopped at a grocery store for breakfast - bread, yogurt, a banana and orange juice, which had been our staples ever since Rome (our other hosts didn't provide breakfast). Our lunch and dinner was a hodge-podge of things offered at Oktoberfest. We had brats, a soft pretzel, a baked potato, fry-bread pizza (of sorts) and a huge donut. We also had one large liter of beer.

Where we stayed: Here comes another story. We waited to go to the apartment we had booked until after we had dinner (yes, we wandered around the city with our huge packs on our backs). To get there, we took the metro and walked for about 20 minutes before we found someone we could ask for directions (just to verify that we were getting close). After getting more clear directions from them, we headed to the building they directed us to. It was a tall apartment complex surrounded by other apartment buildings. Someone else was headed into the same building so we followed them right in, without buzzing our host. Our host had given us the floor number, but not her apartment number, which we didn't realize until we got to the 8th floor.  After failing to make out which apartment could be hers, we decided to try knocking on one. But there was no answer so we knocked on another one. Again, no answer. We actually knocked on every single door on that floor before the last one finally opened their door (poor girl in her PJs) and told us we were in the wrong building!

We then scurried over to the building next door where we found our host's name/apartment number and buzzer. She swiftly let us in and we took a breathe of relief. (I had been growing anxious that we weren't going to find it and have to find somewhere to stay at the last minute.) Our host was an elderly lady who spoke little to no English. Her place was set up very cute, she even had chocolates on our pillows and bottled water set out for us. She couldn't remember my name so she called me "the lady." We slept really well thanks to the German brand of NyQuil we had found at a pharmacy! (Shopping for drugs in other languages is harder than I thought it would be, thankfully, the pharmacist spoke perfect English!)

How we got around: We had taken a train from Venice (via Verona) to Munich which was really lovely. Northern Italy seemed very green and flat until we went through the alps which were absolutely beautiful. In Munich we took the Metro.