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.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Views of Venice

The weather was perfect when we arrived. We found our way to the water-bus on the Grand Canal and found a place to stand near the side so we could take in the view. As the boat took us from one end of the city to the other, we saw buildings that had once been regal, now known as historic palaces. The colors now faded and the distress of age and decay now in sight, the beauty was in the history. Sharing the canal with us were many gondolas, water-taxis, and personal boats. The city where cars were of no use because there were no roads (only water ways) was stunningly beautiful.

We got off of the boat at St. Mark's Square and took in the sights there -- the cathedral, the tower, the first digital clock (on the tower), the sighing bridge, the water's edge, and the crowds. The crowds were probably the thickest in Venice of all the places we had been (with a very close second being in the Vatican Museum). 

We strolled the streets, taking in the colors, the architecture, the alley ways and doorways, the canals, the boats, the gondolas, the bridges, the shops. All of it seemed to interest me. 

We decided to stay there until dark so we could see the lights of the square and hear the musicians perform for the cafes that faced the square. I'm so glad we did. It was wonderful. Two different quartets took turns performing for their guests and the crowds standing near. The crowd was much less intense at night! It really was a very romantic place to be.

You can see more of my photographs from Venice here.

How long we were there: 1 day (technically in Venice for 6 hours, Mestre the rest of the time).

What we did: We spent the day wandering the streets of Venice! We did take a water-bus through the whole Grand Canal and listed to two audio tours by Rick Steves about the Canal and St. Mark's Basilica/Square. I told Chris on our way there that all I really wanted to do was take pictures. (And I got plenty!)

What we ate: We had lunch in Mestre, the city across the river from Venice. I ordered gnocchi with a creamy walnut sauce and chicken cordon blue (as if I needed to order both!) and Chris had an interesting pizza with tuna on it. For dinner, we decided to go on the cheap side and have hot deli sandwiches and wine. I have to confess that we had gelato twice in one day (and I'm not even sorry)! Everything we ate was really delicious.

Where we stayed: We stayed in Mestre because Venice was just too expensive. We were on the 10th floor of an apartment building with a pretty great view. The host was an interesting guy, who didn't really clean his place for us at all (Actually, I think is previous guest had left just moments before we arrived). He also had two large dogs (one of which was up barking at 5 a.m.). We slept on a lofted bed, which I had not done since camp in 5th grade (I don't like heights). Chris didn't sleep well that night at all. I can thank my pain medicine for knocking me out well enough. Not our favorite place; actually, it was probably the worst of our whole trip, but really if that's the worst, I can be very thankful.

How we got around: We arrived by train and took a bus around Mestre and across the bridge to Venice, then in Venice we took a water-bus through the Grand Canal.

Another opportunity to practice my dream

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to take maternity photographs of another friend of mine with her husband. I was really excited because not only are they such a beautiful and seemingly carefree couple and I love them dearly, but they just moved into a part of town I don't get to see very much. And it is a neighborhood perfect for photos! Red brick, abandoned buildings, boarded up windows . . . basically a photographer's dream. There was just so much texture and character to use! The weather was perfect in their neighborhood (it was cloudy in mine); it really was just the perfect day. There were so many fun places to go and they were so cute and fun to work with that I just couldn't stop! I took way too many photos of this couple, but what can I say, I need the practice!

Here are a few of my favorites:


Thanks for letting me take your photographs friends! I cannot wait to meet your little one soon!

Full shopping basket at Walgreens

It feels like it's been a while since I've shopped at Walgreens; it's been a while since I've done any couponing really. After our vacation I took an afternoon and cleaned up my coupon binder and got rid of almost half of the coupons because they had expired. Now it's clean, organized, up to date and ready to use!

Walgreens came out with a new reward program called Balance; it's a point system where you earn points for purchasing specific items each week ranging from 500 to 5,000. Once you've earned 5,000 points you can redeem them for $5 off your purchase. So far, I'm not really a fan, but I am expecting it to take time for me to get used to.

Anyway, back to my shopping trip to Walgreens.
All of the things I purchased today I did so because they were on sale, I didn't need any of the items right now. I will use all of them (trust me)!

Here's what my purchase looked like:

Kleenex Tissue: Regular price is $1.59 each, on sale for $4/4 and 500 Balance points. Paid: $4 for four boxes

Tic Tac (1 oz box): Regular price is $1.59; I had a store coupon listing the price as $.99 plus a manufacture coupon for $.50 off when I buy two. Paid $1.48 for two.

Schick Quatro razors (4 pack): Regular price is $10.99; they were on a buy one get one half off sale and I had a coupon for buy one get one FREE (max discount $10.50). Paid $6.00 for 8 razors.

Werther's Original carmels: Regular price is $2.29 but they were on sale for 2/$3 and I had a $1 off coupon when I bought two. Paid: $2 for two bags.

Total: $10.86 (including tax) and I earned 500 points (or $.50) toward a future order.
My receipt says I saved 21.08 by using coupons and shopping for sale items! I saved 69% on my purchase today!

Friday, October 12, 2012

One Week to Go!

We have one week to go until the 2012 Alpha Pregnancy Center Walk for Life event. I am so close to my goal of raising $500 for the center. Just $100 left to go! Thanks to everyone who has already given and been praying for this year's fundraiser.

This year, I volunteered to be a team leader, meaning I would try to recruit people to walk with me. So far, I have 6 people (and maybe a dog) walking with me! I'm really excited for the walk this year and just hoping and praying it all makes a difference to the families who need Alpha's services.

If you are interested in giving, here's an idea of how Alpha would use your gift:
  • $5- Purchases one package of diapers given to a client
  • $25 - Covers the cost of a pregnancy test and a session of pregnancy options counseling
  • $75- Pays for one person to complete our Post Abortion Recovery Group (or another one of our 8 classes)
  • $175 -- Allows one client to come on a monthly basis for a year to receive supplies and follow up care
  • $500 -- Provides one year of in depth case management for a family; making sure they have housing, health care, employment, and child care
  • $1200-- Saves an unborn child.  
Please pray for the walk: for the participants, the families visited, and the funds raised. This city needs this ministry and they need God's blessing and our help.

(if you are interested in giving, you can do so online here

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tumbler Quilt for Baby G

I had quite a bit of fabric left over from the first quilt I had made last spring so I decided to try to get another quilt done with the same fabric. I chose a different pattern (because no two babies should have the same quilt) that was a little less time intense but still looked really cute.  The pattern is called a Tumbler quilt, I found my inspiration here on Pinterest. I didn't buy the pattern, rather I watched a few online tutorials and then did it my own way!

I tried a few different methods but the one I ended up using to cut my material was really basic and simple to do. The first step was cutting out 5x5 squares. Then, using the grid on my self-healing mat, I cut of an angled 1" from each side to make the isosceles trapezoid (yeah, I had to look that up). See the image below:

Then I laid them all out trying to find the most appealing pattern. I should have kept that picture next to me the whole time I sewed it together; since each row is shaped differently it was important to keep it the same so it lined up in the end. (I know this now!)

Step three was stitching the pieces together to form rows, then sewing the rows together which went pretty fast.

And then came creating the back. I didn't have enough fabric of any one color so I pieced together 5" rows. I love how it turned out too. Almost as fun as the front!

I decided to "stitch in the ditch" for quilting the pieces together, meaning I sewed over the seems. Next time, I think  I might dare to do some sort of free-hand, it'll be a lot harder, but I think the end result would be really neat.

I forgot to write down the finished size, it's quite small, probably 20x30. Just big enough to play on until the baby starts really moving, the perhaps it'll be a lap quilt for story time!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Beauty of Florence

Florence was in a word, inspiring. To see the city where so many famous artists lived and worked was amazing. Michelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and many many others all spent time in Florence and have work displayed there. I'm hoping Chris will be a guest writer on my blog and share more about the Renaissance and how it impacted him while we were there.

For now, I'll share an experience:

As we were leaving our apartment on the morning after we arrived, I noticed it began to sprinkle. I asked Chris while was locking the door if we should grab our umbrellas. After a long pause, he relented and ran in to get them. We grabbed our bikes and were on our way. Navigating bike lanes without technology in a foreign city was a bit difficult, but Chris did fantastic with the map we had grabbed at the tourist information office the day before. After 20 minutes, we arrived at our destination. The Accademia, the home of Michelangelo's David!

We were prepared to stand in line for a while, but were blessed by the rain as there were only 15-20 standing in line in front of us! The line took no longer than 10 minutes and before we knew it we were there, standing in front of the 17-foot tall masterpiece. It took me by surprise; there at the end of a hallway, in pure white marble stood the David. The statue stood underneath a dome and perfect lighting made especially for it. It was breath-taking. 

We sat down for a while, listening to our audio guide tell us about the history and work of Michelangelo and after that, we just sat there in awed-silence. This truly was a masterpiece. And like all great things in life . . . photography was not allowed.  I had seen pictures of the statue many times before, and it looks like a statue. But in person, it is extraordinary. And when you compare it to the unfinished works of Michelangelo (known as "The Prisoners") just a few yards away, it looks even more impressive. This perfectly smooth statue was chiseled out of a block of marble. (I've never tried to chisel or carve anything other than a pumpkin and that never turned out well, so you can imagine how impressed I was by this.)

We truly enjoyed this morning, and it is one of our favorite experiences and memories of our trip. 

The Baptistry in front of the Duomo

The doors to the Baptistry, each panel depicting a bible story

A view of Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi museum. 
It was overcast and raining, but it's still beautiful

How long we were there: 1 3/4 days

What we did/saw: Our first day there (after we got checked in and Chris got the bikes fixed, more on that another day) we rode to the city center and took a Rick Steve's audio guided walking tour of the city. We saw the outside of the Duomo, a Gothic cathedral with a very colorful facade; the baptistery with it's mosaic ceiling and famous bronze doors, and walked the pedestrian-only street to Ponte Vecchio (bridge) on the Arno River. We admired the statues outside the Uffizi museum, and the Palazzo Vecchio and got a feel for the city where the Renaissance movement started.

On day two we started out (in the rain) on our bikes to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David, which was a highlight of the whole day. (Amazingly, we arrived 5 minutes after they opened and we waited in line for less than 10 minutes!) From there we walked our bikes while holding umbrellas in the rain to the Uffizi where we stood in line for 2 hours waiting to get in. Once we got in, we walked through each room taking in works of Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Donatello, Botticelli, and Michelangelo. I started to get tired after and hour and half so we didn't stay much longer than that. But it was raining outside so it was really the best place to be!

What we ate: We had both our worst meal and our best meal in Florence. The first meal we had in Florence was at a little shop down the street from our apartment. They had patio seating and looked kind of cute/local. After we ordered, we realized they were microwaving frozen meals! (AH!) Thankfully, it was cheap. Dinner was difficult to find since the restaurants seemed to close before 8 p.m., thankfully we found a place and enjoyed pastas and wine. (I had a spinach gnocchi, Chris had a mushroom sauce with a wide noodle which I forgot the name of.) We also split a tiramisu for dessert.

Our lunch the next day was amazing. We waited to eat until we finished the Uffizi, meaning most places were actually closed until dinner. We did stumble upon a Russian-Italian place that looked great. We took our time eating and enjoyed every bite of our food. I ordered a pasta with eggplant red sauce and Chris ordered a pasta with a creamy meat sauce. Then we split an entree of rabbit with a vinaigrette sauce. It was so amazing (and we stuffed ourselves silly). This was one of the best meals we had.

Where we stayed: We had our own room and shared bathroom and kitchen at a bed and breakfast. There were multiple rooms and guests staying there so it was a lot different from our previous stop. It was a very causal environment and pretty comfortable. They had bikes available for rent as well which we took full advantage of. Our host was nice enough, we did have to wait 2 hours to get our room as another couple was checking out and when we went to look at the bikes we saw that they needed tune-ups before we could use them. Thankfully, I married a handy-man!

How we got around: We had taken a train from Rome to Florence and then took a bus from the station to our bed and breakfast and then back again when it was time to go. We biked everywhere else!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Money Making Rebates

A few weeks back, my husband was shopping for oil for the car and truck. He has been changing the oil himself since we got married. After a few minutes in the store, he came back out to the truck asking me to come in to the auto parts store with him. (Odd, I know.) 

He had found a rebate offer on the oil he wanted to buy but there was limit of one per person. I haven't had much experience with rebates but this one was a pretty high value. The oil was marked as $30 and the rebate was for $20 back in the form of a store credit (which is fine since we will be back in three months or so). When we brought the oil up to the register, it actually rang up on sale at $17.99.


He bought one and I bought one. Yesterday we got our first rebate card in the mail. Not only did we get our money back, but we made a couple dollars on it!

My husband found that deal all on his own, without my help or my normal couponing resources. I should have him do the shopping more often!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

When in Rome . . .

Ancient Rome is exactly that, ancient. It was almost unbelievable to wander through the Roman Forum and visit the Colosseum where people have lived, ruled, and died well over a thousand years before the United States was even discovered. We just don't have that kind of history here. But in Rome, everything has a history, a very long history!

We walked through the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum, admiring columns that have been standing for thousands of years, marveling at the architecture that must have been spectacular in its day. I felt a little ashamed that I knew so little about the sights I was seeing. I felt like I needed to read a history book to fully grasp what had once been a great empire.

We wandered through the overwhelming museum in the Vatican to find our way to the Sistine Chapel where we marveled at the work done long ago by Michelangelo. And I couldn't even take pictures to show you! My neck hurt from staring up at the ceiling for almost an hour as we tried to take it all in (which is impossible). I couldn't believe my very own eyes were staring up at this famous work of art!

We sat out in the square enjoying the fountains, the sunshine, and the perfect architecture of St. Peter's Basilica. We climbed the narrow, winding stairs of the tower only to discover it was too crowded with other visitors to even take a decent picture. 

After we had seen the sites on our list and we still had an hour or two before heading to our apartment we decided to head to Trastevere, a cute area just south of Vatican City that has maintained a lot of its medieval appearance and character from the past. We wandered the cobblestone streets and then found a place to enjoy a drink. We had dinner on a bridge enjoying the view of the sunset over the river. After two full days of sightseeing and walking around, a quiet, restful evening was a nice treat.

How long we were there: 2 1/4 days

What we did/saw: On our first full day, we toured the Colosseum, the Roman Forums, and the Pantheon. Then we walked up the Spanish steps. The second day we went to Vatican City and toured the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. After a brief nap in a park by St. Angelo's Castle, we wandered around Trastevere.

What we ate: For dinner the first night, we had pizza and the most delicious house red wine at a restaurant near our apartment. For lunch the next day I had spinach and mozerella ravioli and Chris had a pasta that I had never seen before.  The noodles were long like spaghetti but thicker with a hole in the middle like a piece of licorice for lunch; he loved them! The cafe had tables set up outside on the cobblestone road with large patio umbrellas. It were off the beaten path so it wasn't very crowed. And for dessert, we had gelato!

The following day we had lunch near the Vatican at another cafe with a cobblestone patio; I had cannelloni and Chris had carbonara. Dinner was eaten in parts. First, we sat down at a cafe where I had a glass of white wine and Chris had a beer. Then we ordered a margarita pizza to go (or as they say "for take away") and ate it on a bridge near Tiber Island. We had eaten lunch around 3 p.m. so we weren't very hungry when dinner time came around.

Where we stayed: Our Air BnB apartment was perfect! We could not have asked for a better place to start our vacation. G* was the perfect hostess and had decorated her spare bedroom and bathroom to be a refreshing and quiet haven for her traveling visitors. She and her husband were about our age and had lived in Rome for several years. She made us breakfast each morning consisting of toast, homemade jams, cookies, juice and coffee. Italian breakfasts tend to be on the sweeter side (not the bacon and eggs type of culture). After our first day in the city, we came back exhausted and she even offered to make us dinner! She made a tomato/mozzarella salad, cooked up a vegetable we weren't able to translate into English, bread and slices of salami.  She gave us a lot of advice about what to see and you can just tell she loved her city and her culture. She also loved getting to know about our culture.

How we got around: We took a train from the airport to the apartment we stayed at. We took the metro most of the time to get around but did take a bus once. We walked a lot too.

* Not giving her real name.

You can view more photos from Rome here!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Our Backpacking Adventure

enjoying the sunset in Florence from the Ponte Vecchio

My husband and I returned from our European backpacking adventure on Saturday.  Chris was just starting to recover from his cold while mine was just kicking into full swing. The flight home was pretty miserable for that reason alone. But I really don't want to complain about our vacation. This was a "once in a lifetime" trip (until we go back, that is) and I want to look at it through my rose-tinted glasses forever!

It really was an amazing trip. We visited 10 different cities in 5 countries in 14 days. It was one of those "whirl-wind" vacations that thankfully didn't fly by! At first, I was afraid that each day would go too fast and before you knew it I'd be back at home where life is normal (and sometimes, boring). Thankfully, each day was so busy with things to see that it actually felt like we were away for much longer than two weeks.  And by the time we needed to come home, we were both ready for our own beds and a little normal.

I want to take my time sharing our adventures with you; so I'm planning to write about each stop separately. In each post, I hope to share a story and a few details like where we stayed, what we ate, how we got around, and what we liked most or didn't like at all. I will be posting a few photos along with each post, but a majority of them will be uploaded to Facebook (as my blog can't handle that many photos!).

Today, I want to share a few things that made our trip really enjoyable. They don't pertain to any one day or location so I think it's okay that I share them here.

- We may have "backpacked" through Europe, but only in terms of how we carried our luggage. We had invested in two internal-frame hiking packs a while ago in hopes that this trip would actually happen. Traveling with a backpack was very convenient. We could easily get up/down stairs without an elevator and the cobblestone roads didn't hinder us in the least. I couldn't imagine trying to wheel a suitcase on those! The only times I regretted having a pack was when I was forced to run to catch my train (more on that later)!

 - My husband is one of the most well-organized travelers I have ever met. He arranged our itinerary to include where we were staying, how we were getting there (which train and which bus) and the cost of each main attraction.  He had done a ton of research before we left (while I did absolutely nothing) which made traveling really easy and almost stress-free.

- We used a website called Air BnB  (like Air Bread and Breakfast) to book places to stay. Most of them were actually people's spare bedrooms in their apartments with the exception of one which was a more like a hostel where several people stayed. This was almost the same price as staying in hostels but we had our own room and in a few cases, our own bathroom. It was definitely cheaper than hotels and gave us a chance to meet and get to know a local! I will share more interesting stories about this later.

- We downloaded an audio tour guide from Rick Steves, he had walking tours for each city we visited as well as many tours of main attractions like the Roman Forums, the David, and many others. This was a great way to learn about the sites we were seeing without paying for a guide! We learned so much this way.

- One thing I did contribute to our trip: protein bars. For months it looked like we might not actually afford this trip so I started collecting protein bars when I found great sales and had coupons. This usually meant I bought them one at a time, but made them almost free. I didn't keep track of all my totals, but I bought about 15 bars for under $10 while they usually retail for at least $1 if not $2 each. Thankfully, we were able to afford to eat on our trip (thanks friends and family for the generous gifts!) but the protein bars still came in super handy. Several times we caught ourselves in the middle of sight seeing at lunch time and wouldn't finish that sight until 3 p.m. So, we'd grab a bar and keep on going until we could get to an affordable (far from tourists) restaurant.

We had a really wonderful time. No huge mishaps, no huge arguments and no injuries! I don't think it could have gone better. Please come back and read my more detailed posts about our trip in the days and weeks to come (and please be patient while you wait)!