Costa Rica 2017

Costa Rica 2017

Last winter, my family hosted Priscilla, a student from Costa Rica. This summer, her family invited my sister and I to come and visit them, so in July, we traveled to Costa Rica on our first ever international trip! Priscilla and her family were so hospitable and loved sharing their country and culture with us. Although I struggled with culture shock and language barriers from time to time, I think staying with a family made the experience much more authentic than if we had stayed in a resort.

The night we arrived, our host family took us to Denny’s for a late dinner since we didn’t get through immigration and customs until around 10 or 11pm and there wasn’t much else open. I ordered some “panqueques esponjosos” which was funny because I translated too literally and thought that meant “spongy pancakes.” After seeing an English menu I realized it meant “fluffy pancakes.” After ordering, despite the familiarity of Denny’s, I started feeling anxious about food and water safety and being in a different country. This quickly worsened, turning into panic, and I actually started hyperventilating. Priscilla and her family ended up sitting with me outside on the sidewalk for 30 minutes as I breathed into a paper bag. I think they felt really bad, but they tried to help any way they could, and I was thankful for their patience and kindness as I tried to adjust to being in a new place.

So things got off to a rough start, but when we woke up on day two I was feeling ready to get some food in my belly and explore the area! Breakfast was rice and beans, plantains, and a very lean bacon. After trying everything, I decided I could do without the plantains, but the rice and beans, and especially the bacon, were all pretty tasty. After breakfast, Priscilla gave us a walking tour of her town, Santa Clara.

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This picture is taken from the “hallway” of the local high school. Many of the homes and buildings there were totally open to the outdoors, without glass or screens on the windows. Look out for mosquitoes!

On Friday (day 3), we visited Priscilla’s grandma in the morning, and went to a hot springs resort in the afternoon. I was promised a piña colada in a pineapple, but they ran out of pineapples. Nonetheless, the hot springs were as close to paradise as I have ever been.

 

On Saturday we went to Ciudad Quesada where we briefly attended a festival, tried some delicious homemade coconut candy, and drove through the mountains.

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On Sunday, we went to a Spanish Catholic mass with Priscilla and then attended her church youth group after. The day we went was special because each of the students had to dress up in costume and present on a saint that they had learned about. One of the boys in the group was very sweet and tried to explain the information about his saint to us in English before the formal presentations began.

Towards the end of the presentations, I started to have chest pain and feel lightheaded so I drank some water, realizing how dehydrated I must have been, but the lightheadedness quickly escalated and I whispered to my sister that I thought I was going to pass out. She asked me if I wanted to step outside. I started to tell her I didn’t think I could make it outside, and the next thing I know I am lying on the cold floor and there are people circled all around me trying to get me to come to. There were a few moments where everything was fuzzy except for the strong scent of alcohol (someone was holding it under my nose to wake me up) which seemed to be the only thing holding me in the realm of consciousness. Slowly I began becoming more aware of my surroundings and realized that my hands, arms, and legs were completely numb and stiff (most likely due to more hyperventilation and panic), which sent me into even more of a panic. The semi-bilingual boy from earlier was right by my side the whole time, trying his best to calm me down and help me relax and stay warm. (He actually took off his saint costume and wrapped it around me.) Despite his efforts, I remained numb, stiff, and panicky, and they ended up calling 911 (or whatever the Costa Rican equivalent is) and I went to the hospital. They did a bunch of tests and thankfully found nothing wrong aside from the dehydration and my softball-sized mosquito bites and sent me home with some itch cream. I ended up skipping out on the evening’s activities (orchestra concert and dinner) to make sure I didn’t overdo it though.

On Monday, I was still feeling a little under-the-weather, but Priscilla’s family had some exciting activities planned so I decided to stick it out. We visited Catarata de La Paz (La Paz Waterfall) first, and then headed to La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park to see the Animal Sanctuary.

This is us at La Paz Waterfall.

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This is what we saw when we first walked into the Animal Sanctuary.

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Our first stop was the aviary and I am normally not a huge bird person, but I have to say, the toucans were pretty neat.

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We actually got to hold them too!

 

But my favorite part was the big cats.

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Don’t you just want to cuddle up with him?

On Tuesday, our short trip came to end and we flew back to the States. The trip was a bit stressful at times with my health concerns and minor anxiety, but I have no regrets (except probably the whole not-staying-hydrated thing) and I was glad to have had the opportunity to travel internationally and experience new foods, and traditions, and culture.

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Versatile Blogger Award

Versatile Blogger Award

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I was recently nominated for the WordPress Versatile Blogger Award. Thank you so much to Rachel Alexandra at Roots for nominating me!

The rules for the Versatile Blogger Award are as follows:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you as well as link his or her blog.
  2. State the rules for the award as well as use the award logo in the post.
  3. List seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate up to 15 other bloggers. Leave a comment on each nominee’s blog to let them know with a link to more information.

Seven Facts

  1. I have played piano since I was 3 years old.
  2. I am allergic to buckwheat.
  3. I say I am allergic to seafood so I don’t have to eat it. (Who knows? Maybe I am…)
  4. I love travelling and have been coast to coast in the US. (I will be leaving the country for the first time on Wednesday!)
  5. I love running and group fitness classes like yoga and Zumba.
  6. I have kept a journal since elementary school and filled over 20 notebooks.
  7. I love breakfast food, Latin dance music, frozen yogurt, swimming pools, avocados, slipper socks, fruity cocktails, cute workout clothes, and quality gel pens.

Nominees

  1. Chris’ Pilgrimages
  2. Darly – Lifestyle Blog
  3. Wandering Outside the Box
  4. mozayiksummer
  5. My Blessing By Grace
  6. Wish to Dish
  7. Suzie Speaks
  8. boy with a hat
  9. Bundle of Books
  10. Trail Baboon
  11. Food to Glow
  12. What an Amazing World!
  13. Drizzle and Hurricane Books
  14. Say Cheese, Tal
  15. Barry Comer

Thanks again to Rachel for the nomination and I’ll be stopping by all nominees’ blogs to let them know!

Xbox Games to Play with Your Girlfriend that She Will Actually Enjoy

Xbox Games to Play with Your Girlfriend that She Will Actually Enjoy

My boyfriend loves playing Xbox. When he’s not at school or work or hanging out with me, there’s a good chance you’ll find him in front of the TV, controller in hand. He even jokes that it’s his second girlfriend!

If he had it his way, Xbox would be the perfect pastime for when we’re together. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up playing any video games. My parents did finally buy us a Wii when I was in high school, but we really only had games like Wii Sports and Just Dance, so I didn’t find myself playing too many of the first-person shooter games that he seems to enjoy.

Point is, I am terrible at video games, and if it weren’t for Scott, I would also have virtually no interest in them either. However, supporting the interests of your significant other is important and can also be a lot of fun! So over the last few months, we’ve finally found a few that aren’t too challenging for me to get the hang of, but that he enjoys playing too.

Here’s our list:

1. Rayman Legends

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This was one of the first co-op games we started playing together, and one of the first games that I really got into. It is a platform/adventure game and the object is for Rayman (or whatever character you choose to play as) to rescue the all Teensies who are trapped in cages (as pictured above). To do so, you must slide down waterfalls, swing on vines, wall-jump up cliff sides, and even solve puzzles and mazes, taking out monsters as you go. There are also some fun music-based levels where you get to run, jump, and attack monsters to the beat, and a mini-game called “Kung Foot.”

2. Rocket League

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The goal is simple. Get the ball into the goal. Think it sounds easy? Here’s the catch: the ball is huge, heavy, and bouncy, and you have to drive a car to push it around! It took a little getting used to since the steering isn’t like the familiar driving in Mario Kart Wii, but eventually I caught on. Even though the ball pretty much never goes where I want it to, it’s still fun to cruise around and occasionally I score a goal! This game is great because you have the option to work together and be on the same team, or you can show off your competitive side and play on opposing teams. I prefer teamwork, but you do you.

3. Worms Battlegrounds

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I may prefer to work together, but sometimes a little friendly competition can be fun. In this game, you play as a small army of worms trying to take out the other team of worms by using weapons anywhere from grenades to bazookas to the dreaded concrete donkey. I don’t think I have ever actually won, but something about this game still has me trying.

4. Super Mega Baseball

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Well this one is pretty self-explanatory; it is basically just regular baseball! Although you have way more control options than in the Wii Sports version I was used to. You have more control over your pitches, and you can direct where players run or throw to on the field. Scott always has the upper hand when we play this too, but one of these days I’m gonna beat him! Also, I promise I didn’t lose this game 9-0, he just had a really good first inning.

5. Peggle

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I actually used to play the PC version of this game when I was younger, but we recently discovered the Xbox version. It’s super easy to learn and even after all these years, it’s still pretty fun. They have a multiplayer mode, but we found we liked single player Adventure mode better. We just pass the controller back and forth, taking turns completing levels. I would recommend this if you’re looking for something a little easier and more relaxing.

5. Tumblestones

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Tumblestones is a puzzle game, and requires a little more thought than Peggle, but is still a fairly relaxed game. The goal is to clear the board by taking out groups of three matching-colored blocks at a time. It is tricky because you need to be careful not to take out a block at wrong time because you might need it later!

6. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2

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This is definitely not a relaxed game, and is more of the first-person shooter situation. I’ve only played three times, but I’ve done okay in a supporting role. My recommendation: choose to play on the plants side and let your lady be the sunflower so she can heal you as you lead the offensive attack on the zombies.

7. Overcooked

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This is the latest addition to our list, as it is fairly new for Xbox, and it is also my new favorite! In the story mode, you work together to fill orders and feed as many customers as fast as you can before the time runs out. If you get enough stars on the level, you will get to move on to the next. In higher levels, watch out for fun complications such as conveyor belts, shifting counter-tops, and even slippery icebergs and hot lava!


I will be adding to this list as we discover new games that the two of us enjoy, so check back soon for more ideas!

Mission Spokane 2016

Mission Spokane 2016

Well, 2016 is almost over. Last January, I started this blog as a sort of New Year’s resolution. Like most New Year’s resolutions, I didn’t keep up that well (even including this post, I averaged less than one post a month). But there is one thing from 2016 that I have been meaning to write about for months. So without further ado, here is a post about one of my favorite parts about 2016:

This past summer, I traveled to Spokane, Washington with a group of six high school students (including my sister) and three adult leaders (including myself), on a mission trip with my church. While there, we helped with a week-long Vacation Bible School (VBS) in Spokane, as well as a food drive in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Throughout the trip we stayed with host families who generously provided us with lodging, breakfast, and cars to use each day for transportation.

At VBS, I served as a “Crew Leader,” so I was responsible for leading a small group of children around to each station. Each day when the kids arrived, we asked them about their “God Sightings” (where they had seen God acting in their lives that day). Their answers included things like “I saw the sun come up today,” or “I ate breakfast this morning,” or “I made a new friend at VBS this week.” Although their answers may seem simple, it helped the children see where God is at work in their daily lives, and helped make me more aware of God’s work in my own life.

One morning, one of the children arrived early and I asked him if he was enjoying VBS so far. He told me that it was the best part of his day. He said that his mom was working that day but they were able to find someone else to give him a ride to the church and he was so happy because he didn’t want to miss any of it.

When we weren’t helping out at the church, we took advantage of our free time to explore and sight-see in Washington and Idaho. On Sunday, we saw the Grand Coulee Dam which is about two hours west of Spokane.

On Monday, we hiked on Mount Spokane.

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Rachel and I at the top of Mount Spokane

On Tuesday, we went to one of the host families’ homes to swim, ride horses, and ride four-wheelers.

On Wednesday, we went boating on Lake Coeur D’Alene.

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Lake Coeur D’Alene at Dusk

And on Thursday we visited the Spokane Falls.

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Spokane Falls

I think this trip has really been a turning point in my life for the way I feel about sharing my faith. Before the trip, I usually felt uncomfortable talking about my faith, even with those who I knew already believed the same thing as me! But throughout the week, I saw the high school students share their faith and insights from our Bible readings shamelessly and confidently and it was so amazing to me. They are at an age where it is especially easy to feel embarrassed or judged; they want to feel accepted. But instead of hiding their faith, I watched them share it and discuss it with each other, and share it with the children at VBS. This isn’t to say that now I am 100% comfortable sharing my faith with every person I meet, but the teens set a great example for me, and it is a stepping stone towards developing that confidence for myself.

This trip also changed how I feel about prayer. I have always believed God has a plan and a purpose and that things happen for a reason, but this week I saw that in action more than ever. I saw numerous prayers answered throughout the week, and I am still seeing Him continue to answer my prayers to help me continue to “live it” as He empowers me to share my faith and my experiences from our trip. The teens were also an incredible example here. They have been brought up in the faith well, and I was impressed by how they prayed and what they prayed for.

The most extreme example I saw of answered prayers happened on Tuesday when we were riding the four-wheelers. Throughout the week, all the teens and leaders started and ended their day with personal devotion and prayer. On Monday night, I wrote out a prayer and I ended it by saying, “give us another good and safe day tomorrow,” without really thinking much about it. On Tuesday, God answered this prayer by protecting us from a near-death experience on the four-wheelers. Without going into too much detail, several of us ended up in situations where we actually could have died or been severely injured, but instead we all walked away without a scratch.

I can’t speak for my fellow passengers, but I know personally that had a huge impact on the way I view my life (especially my faith life). It was kind of a wake up call and in some ways a reaffirmation of my faith. However, if it weren’t for our daily devotions and talking with the children at VBS about their God Sightings, I probably would have told people that we were “lucky” to be alive. But we had all been thinking daily about where God was working in our lives and where He surprised us as we reflected back on each day. So after having one of the biggest God Sightings of my life, I spent hours reflecting on it and the way God was present there. It wasn’t just a lucky break, God has a plan and a purpose for all of us and that moment in the four-wheeler showed me that. God has put me here for a reason and He has a purpose for my life.

As intense as that Tuesday afternoon was, the week as a whole was probably one of the best weeks of my life. And I am still trying to figure out exactly why that is, but one thing I can point to is definitely the people: our welcoming host families, the generous congregation members, the adorable children at VBS, the hardworking and enthusiastic high school students, WELS Kingdom Workers, and of course our awesome team of leaders. 🙂 And I can tell you that given the opportunity, I would definitely do it all over again.

5 Simple and Delicious Meals Perfect for College Students

5 Simple and Delicious Meals Perfect for College Students

School has been keeping me really busy, so I apologize that you haven’t heard from me in a while! Good news is, I have finally made it through finals season and am home-free on Winter Break for the next few weeks! However, since I understand what it’s like to be stressed to the point where you don’t even think you have time to eat, I am going to share a few of the simple meals I like to prepare when I find myself crunched for time.

If you’re a culinary expert, you are probably going to want to ignore this post. However, if you’re like me when it comes to cooking, you like to keep things simple and easy. Creating fancy and intricate dishes can be fun, but when you’re busy and need a meal in a pinch, turn to this list.

1. Bean and Cheese Quesadillas

What you need: Tortillas (I like the spinach ones from Trader Joes as pictured in my Tortilla Pie post), refried beans, shredded cheese

How to make them: Spread your refried beans onto one of the tortillas, place onto hot pan, sprinkle on shredded cheese and top with a second tortilla. When the bottom side is golden-brown, flip and brown the other side. Top with salsa and/or sour cream if desired.

Looking for a side? Try Knorr Rice Sides Spanish Rice topped with shredded cheese.

2. English Muffin Pizzas

What you need: English muffins (plain bagels work great too), pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, any additional preferred toppings (I like black olives and pepperoni)

How to make them: Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the English Muffins and/or bagels in half, spread on some pizza sauce and top with cheese and any additional toppings. Bake for about 12 minutes. (I haven’t tried this, but if you live in a dorm and don’t have an oven, I am guessing these would work in the microwave as well. They would just be softer and less crispy. You could try toasting the English muffins or bagels before adding the toppings for a crispier pizza.)

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Looking for a side? Salads are a good option!

3. Spinach, Cucumber, and Hummus Pitas

What you need: Pita bread/pita pockets, hummus (I like Sabra Roasted Red Pepper or Roasted Garlic Hummus), sliced cucumber, spinach, sliced deli turkey

How to make them: Cut pita pockets in half, spread hummus on the inside, and fill with cucumbers and spinach. Add turkey if you are looking for some extra protein.

Looking for a side? Try baby carrots (or broccoli and cauliflower) and dill dip.

4. Grilled Cheese and Apple Sandwich

What you need: Your favorite bread (try Trader Joe’s Tuscan Pane), your favorite cheese, your favorite lunch meat (ham and turkey work the best), sliced apples

How to make them: Make a sandwich out of all the ingredients and fry it up on the stove. Alternatively, if you like the idea of an apple sandwich, but don’t have the other ingredients or the time to grill a sandwich, you can make a peanut butter and apple wrap if you have tortillas. (I would leave the meat and cheese out of that one.)

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Looking for a side? Try blueberry Greek yogurt (Dannon Oikos is my personal favorite) with some granola.

5. Turkey, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast (or anytime) Burritos

What you need: Tortillas, 2 eggs, shredded cheese, sliced deli turkey (I’m a turkey girl, but ham and beef work great too!)

How to make them: First you’ll want to cook your eggs. While they will look prettier if you cook them on the stove top, you can speed up the process by cooking them in the microwave, about 45 seconds per egg. Remember, it won’t matter how pretty they look once they are wrapped up in your tortilla!

The rest is easy; place all the ingredients inside your tortilla(s) and wrap into a burrito! (Sorry I don’t have any good tips for burrito wrapping…)

Looking for a side? Try some fresh fruit!


The best thing about this list is the overlap of ingredients. You will notice that tortillas, turkey, and cheese are staples in several of these recipes. Shopping for one can be hard. You don’t want food to go to waste but you don’t want to eat the same thing over and over either. I have found that having multiple uses for the same ingredients makes grocery shopping easier. Your food will get eaten up before its expiration date, while still making sure you have plenty of variety!

Clean Eating

Clean Eating

Recently, I have been trying to live a healthier lifestyle (ie: being more active, eating healthier, etc). My sister Rachel is a total health nut when it comes to her diet so I figured I better take some notes. I took some time to chat with her and find out how she does it. Here’s what she had to say:

Tell me about some of your main eating habits/rules.

I don’t eat hydrogenated oils, palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, deep fried foods, foods with more than 10-15 ingredients, soda, artificial colors and flavors (if possible), aspartame, MSG, preservatives, refined grains, and if there is anything that I don’t know what it is, I won’t eat that either.

Things I do eat are fruits and vegetables, skim milk, plain Greek yogurt, whole grains, hummus, dark chocolate, peanut butter if it follows my other rules, unprocessed meats, fish, cheese, pure maple syrup and honey, and I believe that any homemade goodies are always acceptable.

You didn’t always eat this healthy, what motivated you to change?

It started towards the end of my sophomore year and going into that summer, so I would have been 16. At some point it just hit me that I didn’t necessarily know what I was eating, and I wanted to be more conscious of what was in my food. I started out without very strict rules about it; I would just do it as much as a could, but I was lenient about the rules. Like, if we were eating frozen pizza for dinner, I would eat it because that’s just what we were having. But when it was up to me, say for breakfast or lunch, I would make something healthier. Going into my junior year, I started making my own food for school lunches and taking more ownership of what I ate. In January 2016, I started volunteering at Healthy Community Kitchen, where we make food that follows my rules, and is even more strict. I started getting into cooking more and taking more ownership of what I was eating, instead of just going along with what my family was eating. The next summer, I really hammered out my official rules and started cooking more. That basically leads me to where I am today. It was kind of a process, it didn’t just spring up over night that one day I was going to change my whole life. I am at the point now where I am okay passing up an unhealthy dinner that my family is eating and having a salad instead or another healthy alternative.

One of the main things that contributed to this though is the fact that I have always had to be more conscious of what I eat because of my food allergies; I’ve always had to read ingredients. If I never had food allergies, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because I never would have had to worry about what was in my food.

What do you eat for breakfast?

Plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, a banana with natural peanut butter, homemade whole grain muffins, whole wheat pancakes with pure maple syrup, or (not instant) oatmeal with flax seed, berries, cinnamon, and a hint of brown sugar.

What about lunch and dinner?

My lunches are really on the go: hummus with veggies (like carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, or peppers), or a whole wheat pita pocket filled with the hummus and veggies, with some fruit on the side. I also like No-Bake Energy Bites and salads. The ideal salad consists of either romaine lettuce or a mix of greens, any fresh or seasonal veggies (like cucumbers, peppers, or cherry tomatoes), fresh fruit (berries, apples, or pears), a protein like tuna, grilled chicken, or garbanzo beans, some fresh basil if it’s available, and feta cheese (with Mediterranean herbs for extra pizzazz!). Feta seals the deal. I need feta. For a dressing: olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I like to mix it up with different flavors of oil and vinegar. Garlic olive oil is my favorite. Sometimes I’ll sprinkle on a little fresh lemon juice for some extra flavor. I like these salads because they incorporate all the food groups.

For dinner, I’ll make things like chicken stir fry with brown rice, homemade pizza with fresh mozzarella and whole wheat homemade crust, baked chicken with roasted veggies, zucchini pasta (made by spiralizing zucchini or other vegetables), or bruschetta on homemade French bread with tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella.

Snacks?

I eat snacks. Any fruit or vegetable under the sun is acceptable anytime. Also, plain salted popcorn, No-Bake Energy Bites, homemade whole wheat muffins, and natural beef jerky without added MSG.

Do you eat desserts?

YES. In order to eat clean, you don’t necessarily need to give up all the things you love. As long as its made from scratch, I usually deem it acceptable. However, I always replace canola oil with applesauce in any recipe. I generally use whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour. When it comes to chocolate chips, I use a simple brand like Trader Joe’s. If you are looking for ice cream, I would suggest Breyer’s natural vanilla or chocolate. Both are very simple and natural. If you don’t want to bake, another option is dark, dark chocolate. Like 85% cacao. It’s really good for you.

Are there other “less healthy” exceptions that you never want or plan to give up?

Yes. Occasionally eating out, I will break the rules. Also s’mores, although I will use natural marshmallows and dark chocolate. I will eat homemade pie, regardless of hydrogenated oils from the shortening. I will always eat brats; they are not even that unhealthy besides the fat content, but being a proud Wisconsinite, I will always eat brats. And cheese. Cheese is always okay. Unless it is Kraft. Or American cheese. Or Cheese Whiz. It has to be natural cheese. I won’t eat deep fried cheese curds. I have a weakness for frosting and taco dip and I am not ashamed of that.

Any other comments or advice?

Eating clean, whole foods isn’t something you have to do overnight. It has taken over a year for me to really get into it and I am always looking for ways to improve. The best places to get clean, healthy foods are Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and local farmers’ markets! I prefer Trader Joe’s because it is more affordable.

And just because foods at any store might be marked as natural or organic or found in an organic aisle doesn’t mean they are clean. The most important thing to remember is to read the ingredients and just be conscious and aware of what you’re eating.


Looking for more information about clean eating and healthy alternatives? Check out Rachel’s blog, Roots!

DIY Personalized Anniversary Gift Ideas

DIY Personalized Anniversary Gift Ideas

My boyfriend and I recently celebrated our two-year anniversary together. As a surprise, I coordinated an epic campus-wide scavenger hunt for him, with me being the thing at the end that the clues were leading to. The hunt started at his apartment when he got home from work. He was expecting me to be there, but instead his roommate was waiting there with a note from me and a clue leading to the first stop. Along the way, he was presented with even more surprises. At each stop, one of our friends was waiting with the next clue, and could then join in the fun after they were found. This was a way to keep it more social and less of him just wandering around town alone. (Plus, it was a safety net for me, knowing that none of the clues would blow away or get stolen.) One of the clues led to a nearby bakery where he got to pick out a dozen donuts for him and our friends to enjoy during the hunt. At another spot, my friend was there holding a present from me (a personalized photo calendar that I designed and ordered online with photos of us from throughout the last year.) At the end, he found me waiting outside my apartment building where I told him I had a reservation for us at an Italian restaurant a few blocks away.

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These are some of the clues I wrote!

My parents also just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and my sister and I put together a second photo calendar for them. However, instead of pulling together old photos of them, we collected several photos from our childhood and recreated them using most of the same (or similar) props, outfits, and locations. It was a blast to make and was a hit with our parents too!

Here are a couple of my favorites 🙂

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