Tuesday, September 30, 2014

All Around the World: Iceland and Norway (and a little bit of London)

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.
Remember how I said while I was on vacation my roof leaked and blah, blah, blah? I want to focus on that vacation, my friends, a vacation in Iceland and Norway AKA "The Most Ooo-ey and Aah-ey Trip Ever."

We decided to take a cruise so we could hit up all of the spots we wanted to see in an easy way. We'd heard the two countries were vast and could require a lot of driving, so we found a 12 day Royal Caribbean cruise leaving out of Southampton, England. This was perfect because it gave us some time to spend in one of my favorite cities- London. One thing I always recommend is to fly in an extra day early before your cruise ship is supposed to leave in the event that you run into an airline/airplane issue. You don't want to get left behind in the airport terminal on the day your cruise is leaving due to a broken plane.

London. There is nothing I don't like about London. I won't go into too much about things to do/see in London, but I will say that because we didn't have a lot of time there, we took advantage of the original Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour, which was well worth our time. Loved every minute and I would do it again in a heartbeat. That evening, we dined at a gluten free Italian restaurant, Cotto, that offered entirely gluten free options to everything on their menu. The owner came and sat with us for a while and we had a lovely talk with him about his life and how he came to make gluten free food (he suffers from Celiac). We shared a pasta with sausage and an incredible seafood risotto, which I highly recommend.

It's pretty easy to get to Southampton from London. All you need to do is hop a train for about 90 minutes (from the Waterloo station), and you're there. The cruise port is very close to the train station, however, I recommend taking a cab instead of walking only because the roads are uneven and it's not the easiest walking conditions with suitcases. The cab ride is worth the five pounds, trust me. My suitcase recommends this as well.

You have to be at sea for two days to get to Iceland, which meant plenty of boat time. Since that's a topic really all of it's own, and since the differences between two particular lines and how they do gluten free dining is different, that will be part two of this next week. For now, let's focus on the awesomeness that is known as Iceland.

Our first stop for the first two days was Reykjavik (pronounced ray-kuh-vick). On the first day we went to the world famous Blue Lagoon. After all of the stresses of moving, a dip in the hot blue waters was exactly what we needed. The rain broke long enough for us to enjoy the beauty, warmth, and magic that is the Blue Lagoon. The water is truly beautiful and it is worth your while to visit. It's quite a distance away, so you would either need to rent a car or book a local tour to get you there.

We had several hours to kill and I had a personal mission of finding a church I had dreamed of seeing in person, Hallgrimskirkja (pronounced - your guess is as good as mine. I never could get it right). We bought tickets for an elevator ride to the top which provided us with amazing city views from all directions. We attempted to stop for dinner, but ran out of time to actually stay and eat. While I don't normally recommend gluten free places without having dined there, I must say just based on the smells, amazing service, and cool atmosphere of the place, KOL Kitchen and Bar is a place to try. Many of their items are gluten free.

The next day we went on an eco tour, Ring of Fire, that circled around Hengill, an active volcano. We saw a geothermal plant powered by the volcano that produces energy and hot water for something like 90% of people there, a town called Hveragerdi and it's bubbling hot springs (where they bake their cakes, muffins, and bread right from the steam vents), and Thingveller, a UNESCO neovolcanic rift zone where you literally cross over from one continent to another.
A view from Thingvellir

While I very much enjoyed seeing the mighty power of Iceland on this tour, I must admit that it would have been better to rent a car and go out and about on a drive on my own. I say this because there were many places I would have liked to stop at along the way or stop at longer (like Thingvellar - that deserves a nice, long visit). Keep that in mind if you're there. The roads are well paved, small, and easy to navigate, so renting a car is perfect. One adorable thing I learned was about the animals of the land. Lambs and ewe's travel in packs of 3, usually with one ewe watching over the two lambs. Everywhere we went, three little sheep. Another interesting fact…they have earthquakes every single day in Iceland. And a lot of them! I believe they said it's normal to experience 30 a day. They must be small, because I don't recall feeling one, but nonetheless, wow!

The next day was spent in Akureyri (pronounced just like it looks, ack-you're-eh-ree), probably my favorite stop of all. We went on a tour called Jewels of the North and yes, these beautiful things we saw were true treasures. We looked at pseudo-craters at Skutustadir, the geothermal field at Dimmuborgir, the Godafoss "Waterfall of the Gods," Lake Myvatn, and some very smelly (albeit beautiful) sulphur pots. If there's anything I wish I had done differently, it would have been renting a car this day and driving this on my own. I could have stopped a million times at every beautiful thing we passed. The hotel/restaurant with views over Lake Myvatn made me the most delicious gluten free cheese sandwich I've ever had, and I don't even like cheese. But really, they were so accommodating and the bread was amazing. The great thing about the cruise port here is that the town is right by. There were some very cute little stores to shop at with some very large fake trolls, as this part of the world is full of legends of trolls, giants, and mystical magic.

After Iceland we were headed to the picture postcard perfectness of Norway- turquoise waters, green mountains, complete and utter breathtaking beauty. Our first stop was in Trondheim. We didn't have nearly enough time in Trondheim and because of that, plus just how beautiful Norway is, we'll be going back to Norway for a full blown Everything Norway trip one day. Norway reminds me of Switzerland in the sense that everything is so ridiculously beautiful it's hard to believe you haven't just stepped into a painting. Norway is gorgeous!

Trondheim reminded me of Venice, with this one giant canal and all the colorful buildings lining it. We did a quick Trondheim Sightseeing tour and visited the very beautiful Nidaros Cathedral before walking back to the ship. If you go straight past the church you can find a very popular bridge that leads you to a walking path through the city. It was gorgeous and it had a gluten free cafe, Annas Kafe, along the way with gluten free options of everything and amazing customer service.
The bridge to the walking path.

After our too short day in Trondheim, we went to Alesund (pronounced Ole-eh-son) and had a walking tour through town before venturing out on our own. Little towns that are close to the cruise ports allow you to do whatever you want and those are my personal favorite. There's nothing quite like having your own unplanned adventure.

One thing we ended up doing was getting on a Hop-On Hop-Off city tour to take us specifically to Mount Aksla for views of the city. Normally, you can walk a 400+ step path up to the mountain, but it was closed down for construction. The bus tour was great and had I known about it, I probably would have opted to do that instead of the walking tour. That being said, our tour guide was fantastic and oh-so kind. Not to mention, she showed us things we wouldn't have found on our own and took us right past a store with my new all time favorite thing ever, Christmas Gnomes. This was me all day, but with, well, gnomes.

"Ohhh, it's a gnome! A gnome, a gnome! Give me the gnome, give me the gnome, givemethegnome!"

Seriously, I have a slight-verging-on-very-serious addiction to what is actually referred to as Christmas Santa's or Tomten's. But for real, you guys, look how cute they are! I mean it, look! They're so stinking adorable! My heart is so happy right now.

So, uh, anyway…back to, uh, Norway, and stuff…
After Alesund we were headed to Olden, my all time favorite day of the trip. Olden is this tiny town in-between big, beautiful, glorious fjords. There were a lot of wonderful touring options that day but I must say I think ours was the best. Not only did we get to cruise on lake Loen, but once we got to Kjenndalen we got to eat waffles (they made me fresh gluten free waffles with the traditional strawberry jelly and sour cream, which is so good I am drooling right this second) and got see the very blue and very famous Briksdalen Glacier. I loved this day.

I would do this day over one hundred times. It was a rainy, cloudy, coldish day, but it was so beautiful I didn't feel it. Lake Loen has the most blue, calm, serene water I've ever seen. The mist and the mountains just make it that much more jaw dropping. The little waffle house in the middle of nowhere, gah! Too cute. And even though we saw the glacier from a distance, it's beauty did not escape me. Nor did all the stories of trolls and giants, as I walked the little path through the mountains to the glacier. I could feel the history, the legends, alive and well in those mountains.

Our last stop was in Stavanger (pronounced stah-vaughn-yah) where we had ample time to take a famous Lysefjord boat ride, walk the pebbled Old Town path, and explore the lively city. The boat trip was very nice, but I have to admit, Olden kind of ruined it for me. While the Lysefjord was quite impressive and beautiful, Olden was far more so. That being said, we did see goats, seals sun bathing, and drank water right from a waterfall, so that was quite fun.

Goats on the mountain

The Pulpit Rock
Seals sun bathing

The Old Town (only a few steps from the cruise port) was lovely, as was the little cafe situated within it's walking paths that had homemade raspberry ice cream that was so good I would punch someone for it right now. We did some good touristy shopping (I got more gnomes), but we were really surprised by how American the stores in the city were. We had all of them back home so it wasn't all that exciting. However, we walked to the edge of the boardwalk, took a right, and found an incredibly colorful, hippie like section of town that was awesome.
This was a trip that did not disappoint. If you ever have the chance to go to these two amazing places, go. Keep in mind the different seasons and the different things you get with them. For example, I would love to go back to Iceland in winter so I can go on a reindeer sled ride and experience the all encompassing white beauty of winter. Regardless of when you go, just go. The people are great, the food is good, the nature and history and beauty of the land is breathtaking.

Part Two coming next week: A cruise line comparison with gluten free food reviews.

You can find all of these pictures and more on my Society6 page!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Mantra: You Get To Choose

mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation".

Every Monday I will post a new thought, idea, or focus for the week. When you need a breather from life, when you need a little inspiration, or when you're about to jump over the conference table and strangle your co-worker, remember the mantra.

Monday Mantra: Choose wisely how you see things

  • Where is the good in this situation?
  • How could I react differently to this?
  • Am I being mindFULL or am I being mindful? 

These are the questions I've been asking myself lately, because lately I've had (what is best described from Lemony Snicket) a series of unfortunate events. Even after I tried putting things into a new perspective for myself, more and more and more things went wrong and ultimately broke the good vibe I had created. I've been cranky and angry and have even burst into a fit of tears in the middle of my flooded bathroom while squeaking out profanities and threats about burning my new house down.

Needless to say, I have been filling my mind with quite unlovely thoughts. 

There is a multitude of information on the differences between mindFULLness and mindfulness, so I won't go into a lot of detail about that. Simply stated: MindFULL is a waste of brain space. It's filling your head with absolutely every thought possible, whether or not they actually apply to you, the situation, or your life and taking each of them as FACT. Mindful is watching your thoughts ride by you on a conveyor belt and choosing only the ones that are TRUE and RIGHT for your life. The rest are discarded.

To ensure I would start acting like the grownup that I am once and for all, I made myself repeat this one word internally and slowly every time something went wrong (which, in my defense, has been every single day since living in the new house): Mindful. 

I would draw out the syllables and picture myself in a quiet space, giving myself 5 slow seconds to breathe and focus on reviewing the situation once more and choosing what came next rather than just reacting. I believe it's working since I didn't buy matches or gasoline when I came home from vacation to find a roof leak that messed up the family room. The Universe is testing me, y'all, I'm telling you..it's testing me.

Life. A series of events, both good and bad, all that require a second glance and a chance to change your thoughts. Is it a mistake or a lesson? A disaster or an opportunity for you to rise triumphantly? The worst thing to ever happen to you or a blip of almost nothing in the long span of life? 

The beauty of life is this: You get to choose. 

I will continue working on choosing lovely thoughts. Even if I have to burn up the ugly ones first.

P.S. / Updates: Eventually I'll get to Secret #3 in The Book of Secrets series…once I figure out which box the book is in. Also, I'm going to make some edits to the site over the next few weeks, so if you get on here and it looks a little whacky, I, uh , probably broke it. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Monday (Er, Tuesday…nope, nope. Didn't make that either...Wednesday) Mantra: Perspective

mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation".

Every Monday I will post a new thought, idea, or focus for the week. When you need a breather from life, when you need a little inspiration, or when you're about to jump over the conference table and strangle your co-worker, remember the mantra.

Monday Mantra: Keeps things in perspective

I've learned a lot about myself these last  72 96 hours.

For example, I can survive off of 3 hours of sleep a night. Not well, and I don't make any sense or do things correctly, but hey, I'm alive, so that's the good news. I learned that I appreciate really weird things, like notifications from my electric company on my crazy usage thanks to moving and having to leave the doors wide open all day long in summer- in the desert! And how much I like the better and far more stylish shopping cart returns at the Lowe's by my house, which I now frequent hourly. Or - the best one - (Folks, you might want to sit down for this) how I managed to find the the only house in Arizona that doesn't have wiring for Internet hookup, resulting in a two week unwanted No Internet ban because a special permit has to be attained through the city just for my house.

Oh, the joys of moving. Which is why this is happening on Tuesday Wednesday instead of Monday.

Thanks to the Universe trying to kill me and ruin my life (movers broke my furniture, painter didn't have a chance to finish because carpets weren't dry from cleaning because prior owners failed to mention/demonstrate how filthy/smelly their carpets were by masking it with what must have been a gigantic bottle of Febreeze and fancy interior furnishings) I have become somewhat cranky and ungrateful.

But the Universe put everything right back into perspective for me, too.

The other night I found out that my dear, dear friend was going to have emergency surgery. A big, scary surgery.


Just like that, all my stupid and angry and irritating things didn't matter at all. I can replace almost everything, but I can't replace her.

It's so easy to get caught up in the little things that feel big. They feel huge and monstrous and awful. Until something that actually is huge and monstrous and awful comes along. Then your perspective changes.

For me, and maybe this would work for you too, next time something feels disastrous, I'm going to really pause a moment and weigh the situation out. Is it really that bad? Or does it just feel like it in the moment? I'm sure this will save us all a lot of grief and unnecessary stress.

Of course I need to throw in a Public Service Announcement, which is: Spend time with the ones you love. EVERYTHING else can wait.

With that, my friends, I'm taking a few weeks off from the blog. I'll miss you, but there are some things I need to attend to. Take care of yourselves and the ones you love. Everything else can wait.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Monday Mantra: Unconditional Positivity

mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation".

Every Monday I will post a new thought, idea, or focus for the week. When you need a breather from life, when you need a little inspiration, or when you're about to jump over the conference table and strangle your co-worker, remember the mantra.

Monday Mantra: Never apologize for who you are
Society 6

adjective: self-deprecating
  1. modest about or critical of oneself, especially humorously so.
    "self-deprecating jokes"

I want you to understand unconditional positivity.

Sometimes it's fine to make fun of yourself. Sometimes it's even healthy and hilarious and humbling. In ways, it connects us to each other through the dumb things we've done, bad decisions we've made, and horrible fates we've faced.

But sometimes it's too much.

Sometimes we unnecessarily beat ourselves up just to fit in with others. Sometimes it's due to our own lack of belief in ourselves. We lessen ourselves for others when we shouldn't.

I want to show you how important it is to build yourself up instead of break yourself down.

There's a writer who I just love, but who always - without fail - puts herself down. On one hand, this allows me to relate to her scenarios and that gives me comfort to know I'm not alone. It even makes me wonder if I should write that way more often because I want you to feel good about who you are and be able to relate too. But more than that, more than anything, I want you to feel empowered. 

Empowered to be who you are without having to apologize for it.

That's why I try not to write, too often, in a way where I beat myself up. We see that enough in the world. We feel it from those who are fighting this battle themselves. We hear it in the ghosts of negativity that haunt our minds whispering "You aren't and never will be good enough, and everyone knows that."

 I want you to feel unconditional positivity.

I want you to know you are a valuable, important, irreplaceable person on this earth.

Arrogance isn't where I'm going with this. Arrogance is the extreme opposite of what we're talking about. Balance is our goal. The ability to find confidence in yourself that doesn't hinge on what others believe about you. The ability to neither have to say how awesome you are or how terrible you are at something, rather to simply be who you are and know for yourself. 

I have a friend who has never, not once, shown insecurity in herself. I think it is the most beautiful thing I've witnessed and quite possibly the hardest thing I've had to understand. Because at first, when we hang out, I feel so measly in my own self confidence near someone who totally and completely embraces who she is. But then something changes. Then I find a way to do that myself. I find a way to embrace and let go, all at the same time.

That is what I want for you. 

To embrace who you are and to let go of thinking that's not enough. To embrace your faults and let go of apologizing for them. To embrace your good and bad decisions and to let go of feeling that you have to break yourself down just to measure up to everyone else.

I want you to experience unconditional positivity.

I want you to give that to yourself.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Perfectly Seasoned Steak

I'm a big fan of BBQ's and grilling, but sometimes I want a simpler way to cook my steak without having to heat the grill, go outside in the blazing Arizona sun, and then clean the grill later. For me, that's broiling. I find that it gives me richer flavor and only takes a fraction of the time. First, you need a good piece of meat. I prefer grass fed steak and get mine from a local farmer, but the grass fed variety in grocery stores these days is pretty good too. If you can, however, I recommend supporting your local farmer friends and purchasing directly from them. There's my PSA for the day. Thank you, thank you very much.

Once you've allowed your steak to defrost fully, evenly sprinkle across it:

  • Sea salt
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Paprika (careful with the amount on this one)
Depending on your personal preference add more or less of each of the items. Remember, less is more in many cases, but with most of these you can go heavier. Let the seasoned steaks sit in your fridge and soak in the seasonings for at least an hour, but longer if you can. 

When you're ready to get cooking, put your oven on broil and give it a few minutes to heat up. It's important to have your oven rack right about in the middle of the oven, but this, of course, varies by oven type. Be sure, however, to place your steaks on a broiler pan as this allows them to cook more evenly. There's a lot of debate around leaving the oven jar open for broiling, but I have personally found it to be better if I close my oven door.

Then, depending on the size and thickness of your steaks, set a timer for anywhere from 6 -12 minutes. Again, this varies on the steak sizes, so if you're unsure go with a smaller time frame at first. Remember: You can always cook them longer, but you can never cook them less. After the timer goes off, check your steak by cutting into the thickest section of it. Normally, I like to flip mine over for roughly 4 more minutes of cooking to get it just where I like it, which is medium-rare.

Once it's at the point you like, pull it out and let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

All Around The World: Isle of Capri (Naples, Italy)

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.
ImagineNations Bouquet Wall Map
First and foremost, per the instructions given to me by my tour guide, I am to tell you that you absolutely, positively cannot call this island kuh-pree, like the pants. No, no, no. This is cap-ree, the isle of heaven on earth. (Clearly, I should do this pronunciation of words business full time. F-uh-ll tie-mmm) Anyway, feast your eyes on this beauty.
We were only here for a portion of a day, but this is hands down one of my favorite places in the entire world. I would come back in a heartbeat. The scenery, the little roads that wind through the town with the numerous stores to shop in, the overwhelming beauty -  beyond believable. If and when you go, you must see the handmade jewelry boxes (the specialty of this island) the giant lemons, and Italian shoes made right in front of your eyes.
Jewelry boxes found in this little shopping section.

The Boyfriend's giant bear hands next to the even bigger lemons.
The best part of Capri? The views. But first, to get to the amazing, breathtaking, life changing views, you must take a chair lift to the top…a chair lift that goes over people's houses and farm land.

Oh, hello down there, sir. Planning a BBQ, I see. Oh, and ma'am, sorry to disturb you on laundry day. Carry on!

The view on the way up. Lovely, serene, peaceful.

And this. THIS. I mean really, whoa!
The Mountain Society 6
Once your chair lift ride ends, you find a sidewalk and some stairs that lead to, what seems like, the edge of the earth bordering on what can only be described as heaven.

Up Society 6
These next couple of pictures are what caused us to, uh, get left behind from the rest of the tour group and almost get left on the island entirely. Worth it. I can think of worse things to happen.

What you're seeing is the view from the top all the way down to the ocean full of boats below. 
The View from Heaven Society 6
Capri Society 6

Once back down the mountain and after we realized we were left behind, we grabbed a bus, found our group, and ended up in the main part of town. I would have happily and aimlessly wandered through all of the little streets for days. This little sitting area was great for relaxing and provided more glorious views of the island.

The Isle of Capri is not to be missed. If you're in Naples and have a day to kill, find a tour that takes you from Naples to the isle for one of the best and most memorable days of your life.