Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Recap - Part II

And now for the 2nd half of the Thanksgiving recap!  On Friday, we all gathered in the evening in my condo for another family dinner.  I had to work that day, so I decided to serve lasagnas to keep it as simple as possible!  This was my first time hosting a meal for my family and doing it 100% on my own, so I wanted to set myself up for success!

We started out the evening with appetizers - an antipasti platter, which my SIL provided and fresh veggies!

After filling up on appetizers and wine, a group of us walked into city center for the Holidazzle Parade.  I have lived in Minneapolis for 9 holiday seasons now, and this was my first time taking in the parade!  The weather was gorgeous - much warmer than I ever thought it would be!

L-R:  Andrew, Matthew, Me, Kolin, and James.  Matthew and Kolin are sitting on my knees and I am barely holding my balance, hence the reason I am so close to the ground in this photo!

The boys got light sabers and I think they might have been more excited about them than the actual parade!

After the parade, we walked home! 

Excuse the blurriness of this iPhone photo!  Here is the salad!

Another horribly blurry iPhone photo of one of the pans of lasagna - this one was the vegetarian one and I was really happy with how it turned out!

Here we all, all sitting around my table.

This post wouldn't be complete without a photo of a baby.  Here is Anna in her tutu and holiday shirt, stretching out!
 All in all, it was a wonderful night.  I have watched my mom entertain for large groups year after year and she makes it looks pretty darn effortless...  Well, it's not quite effortless for me, yet.  I was a bit stressed at various points, but it all came together and everyone went home full and happy! 

Are you a cool, calm, and collected host/hostess?  I really, really tried to be and I kept telling myself not to get stressed because it's my family and they don't expect perfection.  Looking back, I probably should have drank a little more wine.  ;) 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Recap - Part I

As I said yesterday, I had an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving.  It was wonderful to see family, host my parents, and spend time with my nephews and niece.

I will let the pictures do the talking!

Holding my niece Anna for the first time! I wasn't able to hold her at the baptism as I was sick that day, but holding her was worth the wait!

I totally monopolized her for the first couple of hours.  I love her little "milk dream" smile in this photo

Mom & my brother Kevin, the host, working on the Thanksgiving Feast!

My sister-in-law Julie working on the gravy, with Matthew supervising at her side.  ;)

Turkey & gravy!  Yum!

One of my contributions to the meal was brussel sprouts.  My aunt provided the recipe, which was called "Brussel Sprouts Parisienne"!  Gotta incorporate a little bit of France in the meal!

It's not Thanksgiving without Lefse.  I can't have it as it has gluten in it, but I think my nephew Kolin ate enough for the both of us.  This is a Norweigian potato-based pastry.  It's very, very popular in North Dakota, but I am guessing some of you have never heard of it!

Kolin & Matthew enjoying the meal!

James & Andrew are all about the 'silly' poses!

After dinner, Anna and Charlie "played together".  I really caught Charlie by surprise in this photo!

The boys played so hard, they had to take their shirts off to cool down! 

 So there you have it!  A selection of photos from a wonderful day!  We capped off the day with a game of Apples to Apples and Trivial Pursuit, which is the perfect way to end a holiday celebration in my book!

What is your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal?  Mine is the mashed potatoes & turkey!  And chocolate pie - my mom made me my own little gluten free version, which was divine.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent: Week 1: Hope

Happy Monday, everyone!  I hope that my American readers all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Mine really could not have been better.  It was filled with family, good food, great conversations, and board games.  I'll be recapping it later this week!

Today I am kicking off a 4-week post series about the season of Advent.  Advent began yesterday and for those unfamiliar with this season, it is a 4 week preparation for Christmas that is recognized by most Western Christian churches.  I did a similar post series the first year I started this blog so I decided to bring it back this year. 

Advent is one of my favorite times of the year, mostly because of the fond memories I have of it from my childhood.  Each night, we would try to gather as a family to light a candle on the Advent wreath.  We'd pray together as a family, and then we'd all gather around the piano and my mom would play Christmas Carols and we'd all sing along.  It was a really nice way to end the day together as a family.

It seems like the Christmas Season is so rushed these days.  While I love the hustle and bustle, the shopping and holiday parties, I also miss the quieter times of Advents of my youth.  So this post series is my attempt to recapture some of the peace and quiet of the Advent season.  Each week I'll post some of my reflections about the theme of the week.  Regardless of your position on faith and Christianity, hopefully you'll find these posts worth reading. 

The theme for week 1 of Advent is Hope.  In the words of Emily Dickinson: 

"Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sing the tune without the words and never stops... at all."
I am not going to even try to pretend that I have always remained hopeful.  Through the trials and tribulations of life, my sense of hope has faded and soared in regards to my career, my general direction in life, and my dating life.  No matter what I am going through, though, my mom is always quick to remind me to remain hopeful. 

Sometimes, though, it almost seems easier to choose despair.  At least that is the case for me.  Having hope for things in life kind of scares me sometimes because I feel like you may potentially be setting yourself up for disappointment.  I used to think:  What if I remain hopeful that my future will involve a husband and children - and then that never happens?  Does hope create more disappointment in the end? 

These days, I remain hopeful, but in a different way.  I don't hope for specific things, like a husband.  Instead, I remain hopeful that my life will turn out just as it is supposed to - whatever that means.  I will close with my favorite verse of scripture that I focus on when I find myself being tempted to choose despair over hope:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 10

Today I am thankful for my wonderful family!

It seems only fitting that I conclude this post series by focusing on the most important people in my life - my family.  The older I get, the more they matter to me!  Our family has really grown through the years - there are now 17 people in my immediate family!  That sort of boggled my mind a bit!!

Sometimes I get questions like, 'wait you have an older sister?' or 'your brother lives in Minneapolis?' so I thought I'd do a little who's who blog post.

  • Mom & Dad - My parents still live in my home town in North Dakota, about 4 hours away.  They are in the midst of building a lake home which they will retire to eventually. I look forward to this because they have worked SO HARD and really deserve some R&R.
  • Chad, Emily, Kolin, and Anna - My eldest brother lives south of Chicago.  I've had the chance to go visit them on my own and those are my favorite trips because I get them all to myself!!  Kolin will be 5 in January, and Anna was born this September.  Kolin is a boy, through and through.  He loves anything with wheels!  Anna has pudgy cheeks and is a happy baby.  I can't wait to hold her this weekend!!
  • Kevin, Julie, Andrew, and Matthew - My 2nd oldest brother lives in a western suburb of Minneapolis.  I lived with Kevin and Julie at one point, so am especially close to them as a result of that.  They made countless meals for me and have done so much through me through the years!  Andrew turned 6 in June.  He has the softest heart and used to refer to me as "my Lisa".  Matthew turned 3 last April and is the comedian of the family.  He has the most expressive facial expression and is just hilarious.
  • Emily, Jason, James, and Charlie - My older sister lives about 30 minutes from my parents.  I get to see them quite a bit at the lake each summer.  My sister and I did not get along when we were younger, but have become closer as we've gotten older, especially this past year.  James is my Godson and he turned 7 in July.  He has fallen in love with reading and is now reading chapter books, which makes me SO EXCITED.  I am the book-giving aunt who tries to instill a love of reading, so it makes me so happy that he has fallen in love with reading already!  Charlie was born in May and is the sweetest, smiliest baby.  He is going to be a mover and a shaker as he has been rolling over since he was just a couple of weeks old!
  • Abby and Ryan - My youngest sister and her husband live in Tucson, AZ.  I got to spend some one-on-one time with them this past January when I flew down for a visit.  Abby and I have a REALLY tumultuous relationship when we were younger, but have since grown very close, especially since she got married.  I was the over-bearing, over-sharer-of-advice for many years, but now I have backed off and that has really helped our relationship!  I miss having them close, but also appreciate the fact that they live in an area that is great to visit during our bitterly cold winters!  
 So that's everyone!  2 parents, 4 siblings, 4 in-law, 5 nephews, and 1 niece!  15 of the 17 of us will be together (Abby & Ryan are not able to make it home for Thanksgiving).  I am so excited to see each and everyone!  My brother will be hosting Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow and I will host dinner on Friday night, so we have lots of time together to look forward to - AND EATING! 

For my American friends, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!  I'll be back with a recap at some point next week.  I am REALLY going to try to be better about taking photos this year!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 9

First off, today I am participating in Emily's "A Day in the Life" post series.  If you wonder what a day of business travel is like, click over and read about my trip to Chicago in October!

Today I am thankful for my condo.

As you know, I moved into my new home in July.  While I took time and thought long and hard about renting out the condo I own and moving downtown, the decision on what condo to rent downtown was made extremely quickly.  I mean, this is the ONLY  place I looked at.  I was in CFA study mode and I really did not have the time to look around.  I saw this place, it had everything I wanted, the price was right, and it just 'felt right'.
The view from my patio!

While the decision was made in haste, it has ended up being one of the best decisions I have made in my life.  Yes - in my life.  It was unconventional to go from living in a condo I own, to renting it out and renting downtown.  I know for some that is a 'moving backwards' but I think anyone who knows me, knows that this whole decision to move downtown has been far from 'backwards'.  I have had many people comment on how much happier I am.  There is a spring in my step and a smile on my face as I walk or bike to work.  I still have days where I think - "someone pinch me because this couldn't possibly be my life!"

I love my condo's open floor plan.  I finally have room for a big dining room table - which has 2 leaves!

So today, I am reflecting on how great this move has been for me.  I've traded in a crappy, life-sucking commute for a 10 minute bike ride or 15 minute walk.  I grocery shop on foot.  There are miles upon miles of running paths (along a beautiful river) right outside my front doorstep.  I have a beautiful view, room to host family and friends, and room for a huge dining room table!

The kitchen has great storage (there is a pantry in the back) and a good amount of counter space.  Since it's an open floor plan, it's great for hosting as I can be in the kitchen but not feel like I am missing out on the fun!

This week, my family will gather in Minneapolis for Thanksgiving.  My brother & SIL are hosting on Thursday and I am hosting dinner on Friday.  I am so excited to show my apartment and neighborhood to my siblings.  I am especially excited that I have a dining room table big enough to accommodate 13 people!!  There will be 15 of us in total, but 2 are infants.  I never thought I would have room to host a meal for my family so I am feeling especially thankful this year that I can finally play the part of the host!

Monday, November 21, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 8

Today I am thankful that I am an independent person.

I am really proud of the fact that I will go pretty much anywhere or do pretty much anything by myself.  Go to Paris for a week?  Sure, why not.  Take in a play or concert alone?  Sure.  Go to the movie theater?  Of course.

I wasn't always this way.  Like most people, I was not very comfortable being alone in my early 20s.  Then I studied abroad in Australia - without knowing a single person doing the same program - and things really started to change.  I experienced some major culture shock (and truth be told depression) when coming back from studying abroad, so at first it wasn't apparent that I had gained more of a sense of independence.  Slowly, but surely it started to show through.

These days, I relish time that I get to spend alone. I enjoy quiet nights of knitting, reading, playing piano and watching movies.  If I don't get some alone time, I start to feel off.  My body almost craves the calm and quiet of solitude.  

Of course, I do hope that my future does include a fabulous relationship, but I take comfort in the fact that I am enjoying my time alone while it last.  With the holidays upon us, it is actually nice to be single.  Sure, I miss out on the couples gift exchanged and the romance of the season, like ice skating or looking at Christmas lights with a boyfriend.  But then I listen to friends talk about the difficulties of splitting holidays, and I am actually happy that I am not forced to choose. I get to spend every holiday with my family and don't have to compromise.

Hopefully some day I will have a special guy in my life - and when and if that day comes, I will still make time to do things on my own. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 7

Today I am thankful that I live driving distance from family.

While I do not live super close to where my parents live, I feel fortunate that I live a drivable distance from them.  They live about 4 hours away and when they retire to their lake home that is being built, they will be about 3 hours away.  I see my parents quite a bit in the summer as I go to the lake as much as possible, and I really treasure those weekends with my parents and siblings.

In addition to my parents living close by, I also have a brother that lives in a suburb of Minneapolis.  They have done so much for me since I moved here 8 years ago and I so thankful that I have an immediate family member close by.

Also, I have my aunt and uncle that live south of St. Paul.  I often refer to them as my "Minneapolis Mom and Dad".  They are actually "St. Paul people", but I like the alliteration of "Minneapolis Mom and Dad".  I have shared many meals with them, and they have been an incredible support system, especially over the last few years as I've faced struggles in both my careers and my dating life.

Sometime I regret not speading my wings and moving further away.  But I don't regret any of the years I have spent in Minneapolis. By staying closer to home, I have had the opportunity to really get to know my nephews and niece, and I have grown closer to my siblings. At this point I figure I travel enough to make up for the fact that I did not move far away.

This weekend I will take advantage of the fact that I live driving distance from home and I will be going home for a friend's wedding.   I am looking forward to sleeping in the basement of my parents home (I always sleep awesome there), a home-cooked lunch with my parents and grandma, and spending time with my friends at the wedding!

I don't know what the future holds - time will tell if I will always call Minneapolis home, but for now, I am enjoying it to the fullest!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

Today I am thankful that I have found a challenging, rewarding career that I can honestly say I love - and that I have an AMAZING boss.

I never really thought I would find a career I truly loved.  My 20s were all about figuring out what I was good at and what I enjoyed.  In the beginning stages of my career, I thought I would be "successful" and "happy" when I was managing people.  Then I took a management job in 2005 and HATED it.  And truth be told, I wasn't very good at it.  I learned that I did not have to manage people to be successful.

Then in 2006 I had an opportunity to work in corporate finance.  I loved my finance classes in college so thought I would love this career path.  I tried and tried to fall in love with this field, but I was a square peg in a round hole.  I went into corporate finance because it was safer than the investment side of finance.  I gave a try for 4+ years, and changed companies at one point, thinking that would make all the difference.  It didn't.  I learned corporate finance was not for me.

In the spring of 2010, I went back to the drawing board.  I returned to my current employer, accepting a job I knew was not a long-term solution, but gave me time to regain some confidence while trying to sort through all I had learned in the past 7 years of working.

Luckily, in January of this year, it all came together.  I had contacted my current boss in the fall to set up time to discuss careers in the bond market industry.  He has worked in this industry for nearly 20 years and  knows me well as we got to know each other when I worked in corporate finance.  He happened to have a position that was opening and I landed the job!

I was really scared when I started my new position.  But there was no reason to be afraid because the job has been a perfect fit.  It incorporates all of my skills and abilities and I work in an industry that I am passionate about.  I never thought I'd find a job that allowed me to use my analytical skills, talk to customers, and write.  But this job does.

On top of that, I have an amazing boss.  He treats me like a partner and refers to me as his partner, instead of his employee.  He challenges me and gives me projects with no constraints, which allows me to figure it out on my own.  And when I was out sick earlier this month, he missed me so much that when I came back, he brought me a pumpkin spice latte - 2 days in a row!  He respects me, encourages me, and also provides critical feedback (which can be tough to listen to, but important for career development).

I am very lucky to be where I am today.  For much of my 20s, I felt so lost and unsure of what direction I should take.  I felt like my jobs were all so random and unrelated - I mean, what do mortgage underwriting and corporate finance have in common?  But during my first month in my job, my boss said he thinks I am going to look back on my past positions and see that all along, they were building to this position and make total sense.  And strangely enough, they do.

I am really excited to see where my career will go.  I've started traveling and doing client visits and tomorrow, I will deliver my first presentation on investment strategy to a room of 60+ people.  *GULP*  I am very nervous, but also excited.  I know I need to dive in and start somewhere!  Here's hoping I come across as a passionate, knowledgeable, and polished presenter!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 5

Today I am thankful for my clear complexion.

Oh my, the journey to a clear complexion has been a long and painful journey.  I don't think anyone can understand how awful it is to deal with acne unless they have experienced it themselves.  I know it sounds vain to obsess over a physical imperfection, but the fact of the matter is that we all want to look nice and no one wants to attract negative attention.

My skin struggles started in my mid-20's and the problem has sort of ebbed and flowed, becoming especially bad starting last fall.  Appearance aside, it was extremely painful to deal with adult-onset acne.  The blemishes I dealt with were very painful.  Just touching or washing my face was unpleasant, and the pain would almost radiate out of the deep, cystic blemishes.

I tried a lot of different things.  Proactiv.  Mineral-based make-up.  Various antibiotics and other prescriptions from the dermatologist.  Regular facials.  The Clarisonic.

Nothing.  Worked. 

Then in April, I decided to try something new.  I eliminated dairy from my diet.  I was extremely strict that first month.  And the results were amazing.  So much so that my brother commented on my complexion - and anyone with a brother knows they don't notice/comment on things like that.

Now, I will say, this apparent cure is medically unfounded.  No medical profession will agree that removing dairy had anything to do with my skin clearing up in the span of a month. 

But I guess for me, the proof is in the pictures.  I hate to post pictures of my skin, and the pictures probably don't do it justice, but it gives a good before and after means of comparison...

My skin was really starting to flare up on my marathon trip with Amber.

Fall of 2010 - my skin was getting to it's worst at this point.

Here I am on April 23, 23 days into my dairy-free experiment...  with no blemishes.

Months later, my skin is still blemish free

I don't really know how else the difference can be explained.  And I guess I don't really care about the fact that the impact of going dairy-free is medically unfounded.  It worked for me. 

These days, I am not as strict about being dairy free.  I usually allow myself one day to cheat each week.  The strange thing is that I really do not miss dairy at all...  And that is surprising given the fact that I am a cheese lover.  Skin benefits aside, I actually feel better overall after removing dairy.  I have less tummy troubles and on those days when I do cheat and eat something with alot of dairy in it?  Ouch.  My stomach rebels.

I am careful about my calcium consumption, though.  I take a supplement and am diligent about incorporating non-dairy sources of calcium into my diet.

I know it might not be a cure for everyone, but it sure has appeared to be a cure for me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 4

Today I am thankful for my Erin Condren Planner.

I am a planner.  Through and through.  Lists, schedules, and calendars make me happy.  I was a bit skeptical of Erin Condren Planners, when I first heard about them.  Then Amber ordered one and I brought it to her when we ran the marathon together last fall (it was crazy expensive to ship it to Canada, so she had it shipped to me!) - and I was sold on it.  From the pretty packaging to the layout of the planner - I loved it.

Now, these planners do come with a bit of a hefty price tag...  They tend to be $50, so about $60 with shipping.  Last year I used a $10 off coupon and so paid $50 between the planner + shipping - and it was worth every cent.  Yes, $50 may seem like a lot to pay for a planner...  but I use it.  Every day.  I am going to geek out and turn all financy on you - considering the fact that I use it daily, the cost/use is about $.14.  Yep.  Less than a quarter/day.  Or think of it as a latte/month.  They are about $4-5 these days, so instead of having a latte a month, you could have something tangible - a beautiful planner.

This year I did luck out and I scored a $25 for $50 of Erin Condren products groupon through Plum District.  So I paid about $35 for my planner - again, well worth the money spent.

Here are some pictures to give those who are unfamiliar with the product an idea of what it looks like!

My prettily wrapped planner!

This is the front - you have many options to choose from.  I requested a different color combination for mine.  And now those of you who don't know my last name do now... 

Example #1 of a typical week of my life (doesn't include my work meetings because I use my outlook calendar for that).  I like how each day is broken out into morning, afternoon, and evening.  I have never ran out of room writing down what I have going on!

Example #2 of a week in my life. 

And here is my 2012 planner!  I went with a French-inspired Fleur de Lis design since I love all things French! The 2012 edition features tabs for each month (which I love).  However, they are not laminated, so I plan on getting little tab laminators upon the recommendation of a couple of other bloggers.

I am not at all compensated for doing this post.  I've never received any free products from Erin Condren.  I just happen to be very passionate about my love of her planners!  If you want to check them out, here is her website!

Monday, November 14, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 3

Today I am thankful for my ability to create beautiful things.  

Anyone who knows me really well, knows that I don't have much of an artistic bone in my body.  I can be the queen of self-deprecation, and this is a popular topic when employing that humor device.  My childhood craft projects were not fridge-worthy (trust me!!  Just ask my mom!).  I actually HATED art.  Give me numbers or language arts any day.  Scissors, glue, and glitter?  No thank you.

That said, I really should stop proclaiming myself as the most untalented artist ever.  I am actually really good what some may consider an art form - knitting.  I sort of shrug it off as something that isn't an art form because I have to follow a pattern (oh how this math major loves anything involving a pattern!).  But at the end of the day, I create something beautiful.  Knitting was actually an inspiration for my blog title.  Originally I wanted my blog title to be "Knitting Yarns" and I would share my knitting projects and stories of my life - you know, kind of a spin off of "spinning yarns" - except the stories I shared would be honest, of course!  But since Knitting Yarns was taken, I decided on Lisa's Yarns.

I have shared far more personal stories than projects, so now is the time to show you some of the gifts I have made for others - and a project I kept for myself. I love to knit for others - I think one of the best gifts you can give is something that is handmade!  Here are some of my finished projects!

I knit this hat for my niece Anna shortly after she was born (and also a cream hat!)

I made the same hat for Charlie, but in a more boyish green.  And ahem, isn't he ADORABLE?  Quite the perfect little hat model!

A couple of Christmases ago, I made these ornaments - each family member got one!

Here are a couple other miniature ornaments I knit!  These are my favorite - but the most difficult/time consuming so I only made a couple!

Last fall I knit this blanket for my friend Brooke's baby boy, Owen.  Oh my goodness, this one took a long time to complete - I actually didn't finish it until Owen was a couple of weeks old.  For the knittings out there, this was knit on a size 6 needle!!  But it turned out beautifully!

I crocheted this blanket for my friend Heidi's baby girl, Elle.  This also took quite a bit of time to make!  And it was actually my first and last crochet project!  The finished product was beautiful, but the process was difficult for me as I really struggled with crocheting techniques and pattern reading.
Excuse the tiny camera picture...  Here I am wearing a hat I knit for myself (finally, a project I kept!).  I also made this hat for my friend Heidi's 30th birthday (along with a ruffled scarf) in a bright, fun pink!

Lastly, I also made a scarf for my mom, each sister, and each sisters-in-law (for a total of 5 scarves!) a couple of Christmases ago.  I would like to do this again someday and make them mittens or hats, I just need to find the time to do this (and start in like March!  Ha!).  You can see the pictures of their scarves in this post.

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 2

Today I am giving thanks for the nice ride bikes that I utilized all summer!

I wrote about a post about our commuter bike program earlier this year when I first purchased my annual membership.  I loved it from the get go and got so much use out of it.  I totally fell head-over-heels in love with biking.  I biked to work.  I biked to the grocery store.  I biked to church.  I biked to meet friends out at a bar downtown.  I bike home from happy hour.  I biked home from a night out on the town (that was probably my most interesting ride home...). 

Sadly, they put the bikes away this past weekend in preparation for our winter.  I was sad to see them go as it was a quick and easy way to cover distance.  It most certainly contributed to how little I drove this summer in fall.  In fact - I went from September 16th until October 30th without getting gas!!!  Isn't that incredible?  During that time, I was traveling quite a bit, so that is part of the reason why I wasn't driving much, but on top of that, I biked everywhere. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I drove to get groceries.  I am really proud of myself for embracing the European way of life and relying on a bike and my feet to get me everywhere!

Without further ado, here are my stats from late July - November 6th!

 I am really happy with my stats!  Plus, I still have 4 months left on my membership - so those numbers will only continue to climb. 

I look forward to the day in April when the bikes return.  I will greatly miss biking to work.  I always felt so chic and sort of French when I would to work in dresses or skirts or when I biked to work in skinny jeans + boots with my striped messenger bag that was made in France!  Oh la la, how I loved biking everywhere!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ten Days of Thanksgiving: Day 1

Today I kick off my 10 Days of Thanksgiving posts!  It's hard to believe it is my 4th year of doing this!  Last year Becky & Erin played along - so if you would like to play along, too, that would be awesome! 

I look forward to this post each year as it is great to be forced to sit down and think of all the many blessings in my life - and to capture my reflections on those blessings!

Today I am thankful for all the many travel opportunities I have had this year!!

I have been blessed this year to have traveled to many cities and to have seen so many friends and family members.  For most of these trips, I stayed in the home of a friend or family member - it was so generous for so many to host me!

I will (mostly) let the stories do the telling!

In January I flew to Tucson to visit my sister Abby and her husband Ryan.

Hiking at Mount Lemmon

Abby & I at a fabulous sushi restaurant - eating outside in JANUARY!!
 During this trip we drove up to the Phoenix area so I could see my friend Heidi and meet her new baby girl, Elle!
Heidi, Elle, and I, standing in front of her beautiful lemon tree!

Later in the month of January, I flew down to St. Louis to visit Nora!  It was so great to stay in her home and meet her parents.  I lovingly refer to her dad as Michael Corleone as he is a true Italian father!

Nora & I at a fabulous Mexican restaurant where we had my early Birthday dinner!

In February I traveled to Paris to celebrate my 30th birthday!  The trip was tres magnifique!!

Running along the beautiful Seine was one of the highlights of my trip!

In April I flew to Washington, D.C. to visit Becky!  We had read each others' blogs for years but this was our first time meeting in person.  She was a fabulous host!!

Becky and I got to see D.C. during Cherry Blossom season - it was a gorgeous time to visit this city!
 The whole reason I took this trip to D.C. was to meet up with Charbelle so we could run the Cherry Blossoms 10 mile race together!  It was not our best race, but we both finished (and were so glad when it was over!).

Charbelle & I before the race. 
 After that trip, I took a much needed long break from travel.  In September, I flew to Charlotte for work and spent the weekend with Charbelle, but unfortunately we did not take a SINGLE picture (blogger fail).

Later in September, I took a trip to Austin and Dallas for work, but once again, I took no pictures - mostly because this trip was pretty much all work and not much fun (and I was really sick)...

In October, I flew to Seattle.  Lauren picked me up at the airport and we spent the night at her friend's house. 

Standing by Green Lake in Seattle

The next day, we met up with Amber and Leigh and took the ferry to Victoria.  We had been planning this trip since the spring and all of us were so excited to both check out a new city and complete another race (a half marathon for Amber, Leigh, and I, and a full marathon for Lauren).

Us 4 girls, standing by the Victoria Harbor!
Later in the month of October, I flew to Chicago for my niece Anna's baptism!
Anna, sleeping in her car seat, wearing her baptismal gown
After the baptism, I took a train into the city where I was able to meet up with an old friend.  We took a walk through Millennium Park!

Standing in front of the bean on a beautiful fall day in Chicago!

Later that day, I was able to spend some time with Nilsa, but unfortunately, once again I did not take any photos (blogger fail... again...).


Ufda, that was a lot to recap.  I went a lot of places in 2011!  I *think* I am done traveling for the year, but there is a chance I will have another trip to Chicago possibly.  We'll see what the next 8 weeks bring. 

What a whirlwind year it has been.  Judging from the number of places I have been, I guess I should not be surprised that this year has been a blur! 

** Also, I find it funny that I am wearing stripes in quite a few of these photos.  ;) 

What are you thankful for today?