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!