Cheers to One Year!

On September 5th Matt and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary! I can hardly believe it’s already been a year and simultaneously I can hardly believe it’s only been a year. The time zooms by but we’ve squeezed so much into the past 365 days that it feels like it’s been much longer.

Matt and I already knew how we wanted to spend our first anniversary before we were even married. There’s an incredible restaurant in Virginia called The Inn at Little Washington and although it’s very expensive, we have always wanted to try it. So we spent the last year tucking bits of each paycheck into our travel account and made reservations for three nights at a bed and breakfast in Sperryville, VA.

I’ll let the pictures tell the story from our weekend but needless to say it was one of the most relaxing and memorable trips we’ve ever had.

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Our trip started with a hike up one of our favorite trails, Little Devils Stairs in Shenandoah National Park. We were blessed with gorgeous weather the entire weekend and we made great time on this trek.

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We saw a RATTLESNAKE on the trail! It was my first time ever seeing a timber rattler in the wild and it definitely made my heart race. We both heard it before we saw it and since Matt was in front and wearing his GoPro, we captured the entire experience on camera. It was scary but also very cool 🙂

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After our hike we stopped at our favorite lunch spot in Washington, VA then headed to Gadino Cellars for a wine tasting. It was quiet when we arrived and we managed to get the bocce ball courts all to ourselves! bocce-ball

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We have no idea how to play but it was still a lot of fun.

To kill a bit more time before check-in we decided to check out the local antique store in Sperryville. I found this fur coat that apparently once belonged to Dolly Parton…that’s what the tag said!

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We checked into our B&B

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And spent the rest of our night like this:

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(Our B&B was also a brewery!)

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(this former church has been converted into a yoga studio…how cool?!)

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We had an appointment for a couples massage the next day at 11:00 so we woke up for breakfast at our B&B then headed out for a quick walk around town before heading to the spa.

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After our massages we were so relaxed and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out on the porch before getting ready for our big dinner that night.

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We got dolled up for our dinner date and headed out!

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Dinner was incredible. Other than this quick photo that Matt snapped of our table we were 100% present trying to soak in every detail of the night.

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We came home stuffed and exhausted but oh-so-happy!

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We were moving a bit slower the next morning but decided that a hard and long hike was exactly what we needed so we set off into the woods.

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One of our favorite vineyards was having a labor day party so we checked that out for a bit before heading back to the B&B to relax and grab dinner at a local pub.

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We woke up Monday morning with a case of the vacation blues and decided to relish our last day of vacation (and our official anniversary date!) by heading out for one final hike and checking out a new vineyard.

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According to tradition, a couple is supposed to keep the top layer of their wedding cake in the freezer for a year and then eat it on their anniversary. I can’t imagine that year-old frozen cake would taste very good so Matt and I bucked that trend and ate the rest of our cake the day after our wedding! For our anniversary we stopped at a local bakery in Sperryville and picked up a slice of chocolate cake with buttercream espresso icing. I packed our cake topper (hand carved and painted by my father) and we enjoyed it at the vineyard.

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We also chose to not shove cake in each others faces during our reception so we made up for it a year later…

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As we drove back toward the hustle and bustle of DC we reflected on the weekend, which was filled with mostly these three things…

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…and of course we reflected on our first year of marriage. Which was also mostly filled with the top three things, just on a larger scale.

Cheers to many more years!

What are you afraid of?

A couple of weekends ago I travelled to Ocean City, MD for a bachelorette party. Fourteen women, one beach house, middle of the summer in OC – yes, it was as crazy as you think. Thankfully it was all tasteful fun and I came home to Matt in one piece.

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There were many interesting parts of the trip, as I’m sure you can imagine, however the most interesting part that happened to me was my first solo journey across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

The Bay Bridge connects the Eastern Shore of Maryland with the Western Shore. The bridge is almost five miles long and carries 5 lanes of traffic. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get from the Washington, D.C. area to the Delaware beaches and to Ocean City, MD. At the time the bridge was built (1952) it was the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure. It’s been listed in many travel books and websites as one of the scariest bridges in the world due to it’s lack of shoulder and low guardrails.

I’ve had two panic attacks in my life. My first was on a date with Matt, early in our relationship. He took me rock climbing – aware of my fear of heights but not quite understanding how intense the fear was – and I managed to climb about 20 feet into the air before my body shut down and I glued myself to the rock wall. I stayed there for so long, frozen in fear, that other climbers simply decided I was a new fixture on the route and they climbed around me!

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The second was on my way to the aforementioned bachelorette party in Ocean City. I completely forgot that I had to drive across the Bay Bridge and when I started seeing the signs I thought, “Hm. This could be interesting.” I honestly wasn’t that worried, though. I had been across the bridge a few times, albeit in the passenger seat, and although it was scary I never had a panic attack and was able to stay relatively calm. I spent the next hour pumping myself up and remembering all the tricks and tips I had read online about conquering your fears. I got this!

I so did NOT have this.

I managed to stay fairly calm for the first 5 minutes. I focused on the car in front of me, sat up straight, kept my hands at a steady ten-and-two placement and spoke encouraging mantras aloud to myself. “You’re doing great! It’s really not that high. Thousands of people do this every day! You’re doing SO well. I’m so proud of you! Just focus on the car in front of you. You’re almost there!”

Apparently I need to get better at lying to myself. I came over the first section of the bridge and all of a sudden the reassuring tall steel beams that were towering on either side disappeared and I was now driving at the highest point of the bridge with seemingly no railings or support aaand…I lost it. I mean, completely lost it.

I quickly lost all feeling in my legs. My encouraging mantras disappeared and practical reminders took their place such as, “Keep your foot on the gas. Do not move your foot. You have to keep driving”. My peripheral vision turned to white and I spent the next 10 minutes hysterically shaking, contemplating how I could get my mom on the bridge as quickly as possible (she lives 500 miles away, by the way) to talk me down. Since that obviously wasn’t an option I wondered how angry the other drivers would be if I just stopped and called 911 and had a rescue crew come get me. I decided they would get very angry so I dismissed that option. My only feasible and clear option was to keep going! Duh.

I’ve always been afraid of heights but the fear seems to be more pronounced the older I get. Since coming to this realization I have tried to be proactive about conquering my fear by not shying away from activities that I know would scare me.

I have been zip lining:

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I have crawled to the edge of the world in Ireland…and even dared to look over:

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And since that first fateful day of rock climbing, I have gotten back on the horse and conquered my fear in the rock climbing gym:

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It took every fiber of my being to get across that bridge. By the time I landed on the other side my shirt was completely sweated through, I had beads of sweat dripping down my chin and my ponytail was plastered to the back of my neck. I pulled off as soon as I could and, once the shaking stopped, I grabbed all the napkins from the glove compartment to dry off, called my husband to recount the terrifying tale and made a beeline to the closest Dairy Queen for a chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles.

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Have you noticed any of your fears becoming more pronounced as you’ve gotten older or have you outgrown yours? Maybe you don’t even have any fears?! I would love to hear about ways you combat the panic once it starts to rise up.

The bachelorette party was a huge success and we all had a wonderful time together. When I told the ladies about my experience on the bridge they were all incredibly supportive and offered up their own tricks and advice. On my way home I cranked up one of my favorite songs, assumed a casual and laid back posture and effortlessly glided across the bridge. Or at least that’s how I like to remember it  🙂

Hiking Mt. Rogers

I have gone camping every Memorial Day weekend for as long as I can remember. For Matt and I, it has turned into our annual inaugural camping trip tradition and a great way to kick off the warm weather season of flip flops and bug spray.

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This year we decided to make the trek down to Southwestern Virginia and backpack up and around the Mt. Rogers area. Mt. Rogers is the highest peak in Virginia so I was pretty excited to summit and spend the weekend exploring!

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Our adventure began on Thursday morning with the 6-hour drive to Grayson Highlands State Park. We stopped for lunch in Harrisonburg, VA where James Madison University is located.

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After fueling up on burgers, beer and donuts (don’t judge us) we hopped back in the car and continued toward our campsite. We decided to stay at a campground the first night just to get settled in and organized for the next two days. On Friday morning we would tear down camp, drive a couple miles to the backpacker lot and spend the next two days in the backcountry wilderness. I was glad to have the luxury of a car, running water and real toilets the first night because after that we were on our own!

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We grilled out on Thursday night and savored the last ‘real’ meal we would have before a weekend chocked full of dehydrated and packaged foods. After chatting around the campfire and enjoying a couple beers we hit the hay in preparation for an early rise.

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We broke camp, headed to the backpackers lot and excitedly set out on the trail! The feeling of anticipation is one of my favorite parts about backpacking and I had been eagerly awaiting this trip for a number of weeks. Matt and I feel most in our element when we are able to escape the city and hit the trails; losing ourselves in nature, campfire stories and the wonderful feeling of pure physical exhaustion at the end of a long and hard trek in the mountains.

This trip did not disappoint.

The weather was warm but not hot and since we knew there would be storms moving through in the early afternoon we wanted to cover some ground before the rain hit.

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We were about an hour or two into the hike when ominous clouds started to roll in. We stopped for a quick mid-morning snack and bathroom break before it started raining.

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It began to sprinkle but looked as if it would pass quickly so we opted not to pull out all our rain gear just yet. The trail did manage to get fairly slippery and we found our pace slowing a bit as we navigated the rocky trail.

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One of my favorite parts of the weekend was seeing all the wild ponies! This is something Grayson Highlands is known for and we saw them periodically throughout the weekend. You’re not supposed to feed or touch them but you can tell people ignore that rule because the ponies will come right up to you expecting to be fed! We were good rule-followers and did not share our granola bars with them 🙂

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The storm eventually got the best of us and we were forced to take cover under the pine trees while we donned our rain jackets and pack covers. The rain was coming down pretty heavy at this point and the trail quickly turned to a river. We pushed onward until we reached the Thomas Knob shelter on the Appalachian Trail where we were greeted with a dry place to wait out the storm and plenty of AT thru-hikers to keep us company! This was another one of my favorite parts of the weekend as we had the wonderful opportunity to hear some incredible stories and get to know our fellow hikers.

The rain eventually let up so we bid farewell and good luck to the thru-hikers and carried on Southbound to the summit of Mt. Rogers.

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One would think that highest peak in Virginia would have an incredible view of the mountains, rolling valleys and lush forests but it’s actually very anticlimactic! The peak is surrounded by a thick canopy of Fraser fir pines and nestled at the top of the forest. The only way you know it’s the summit is by a small plaque tucked into the side of a boulder.

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And of course by the hikers doing their best wonder women poses!

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After we reached the top we decided to hike back down and start looking for a trail to set up camp for the night. We knew we had about 3-4 miles of additional hiking to go before we could set up camp but I swear it felt like we hiked 12 miles before we finally found somewhere to set up. My feet were on fire and the first day of backpacking always kicks my butt! When we first set out on the trail, Matt and I were laughing because we hadn’t even gone a mile and our hips were already screaming at us from the weight of the packs. Nothing makes you feel more out of shape than when you need to stop for a breather and you can still see the parking lot!

Throughout the day we kept running into two hikers from North Carolina out for the weekend, similar to us. We saw them at the summit of Mt. Rogers and they mentioned the route they were planning on going – opposite of us – which is why we were surprised to see them when we came off the mountain and hiked a mile out to a clearing in the forest. They were poring over their map and seemed equally as surprised to see us! When they realized they were turned around, Matt helped them figure out their route while I rested my back and played with the two pups that were accompanying them on their trek. After everyone got their bearings we said our farewells and trekked onward.

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We managed to find a beautiful clearing in the woods, perfectly secluded from the trail and only 1/4 mile from a stream. We immediately got to work setting up camp and cooking dinner – we were starving!

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We use a JetBoil as our backpacking stove and it works great. Dinner our first night consisted of mac & cheese with chicken – something we would usually never eat but definitely hit the spot on the trail! After cleaning up from dinner I boiled some water and we treated ourselves to bourbon spiked chai tea and a couple brownies I had packed in.

We headed to the stream to refill our bottles and I picked up some rocks from the river to ice my foot with. I had originally packed an emergency ice pack but ended up giving it to a young girl on the trail who had sprained her ankle. Cold river rocks work really well, if you’re in a pinch!

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This is the part where I tell you how hard we slept that night because we were so exhausted and drained from the wet and sloppy day we had hiking in the mountains. But then I would be lying! The next 8-9 hours were spent rolling around trying to get comfortable, staring at the tent ceiling and listening to the deer crunching around outside. I think I slept a total of 2 hours and Matt wasn’t much better off! Amazingly enough, we woke up full of energy and only slightly sore. The body is truly an amazing machine.

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We fueled up on coffee (imperative) and oatmeal then hit the dirt for our second day! We knew the weather was supposed to be amazing and we were hoping to log some miles before the trails got too busy.

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Although it was much hotter than Friday we were blessed with amazing weather and some breathtaking views along the way.

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We decided to follow a horse trail around the side of the mountain because the elevation gain was slightly less steep than the hiking trail. What we didn’t factor in was how much the horses had destroyed the trail because of all the rain from Friday. We were making great time until we reached this stretch and ended up slowing down considerably in order to poke our way through the muddy mess.

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We finally came out of the forest and crested the mountain where we were met with dry land and a shady spot to have lunch.

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Saturday Hike

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We intentionally planned to hike less on Saturday so that we could set up camp early and have some time to relax and read, nap, journal, play cards, etc. We also knew it would be busy on Saturday (it was Memorial Day weekend) so we wanted to make sure we got a good spot!

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We planned to hike within a couple miles of the car and set up camp for the night so that we would have a quick and short walk to the parking lot on Sunday morning. Apparently we were not the only ones with that idea and although we originally had an empty campsite it was soon teeming with other hikers looking to set up camp for the evening. We didn’t mind at all and actually welcomed the familiar noises and company. One couple who set up near us was hammock camping – has anyone ever tried that? I’ve read about it in Backpacker’s Magazine and have seen it online but hadn’t actually seen it in action yet. It was interesting! It took the couple quite some time to set up their hammocks so that they were correctly positioned under the tarp (which was wise, since it rained that night) but once they got set up it looked comfortable and fun! Would you ever try hammock camping in lieu of a tent?

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We were in a section of forest that allowed open air fires after 4:00 PM so we took full advantage and relaxed around the campfire. For dinner our second night I packed a ziplock bag with rice, curry seasonings, roasted cashews and chicken that we cooked on the JetBoil for about 20 minutes – it was such a treat! I will definitely be making that recipe again for our next backpacking trip.

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I had secretly put a candle in my pack because Matt’s birthday was in a couple of days! The remaining brownies and bourbon spiked chai provided a laid back celebration and Matt was so surprised when I turned around singing ‘Happy Birthday’ with a lit candle! It was the perfect way to cap off our refreshing weekend.

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Nature showed off one last time as the sun set on our final day.

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We watched the beautiful colors change from pink to orange with streaks of blue and purple stretched across the sky before eventually turning in for the night. It began to rain around 11:00 PM but we had our rain fly up and stayed warm and dry in the tent. We slept soundly and woke up with the dawn around 5:30 AM. We quickly packed up our wet belongings, said goodbye to the fellow hikers who were also awake and headed out toward the car.

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As we neared the parking lot I was filled with conflicting emotions. I was so excited for a shower and hot meal but was also sad to leave behind the adventure. I reminisced about the weekend and felt grateful for the limits my body pushed beyond, my seasoned trail veteran and supportive husband, and for the beautiful earth God has blessed us with. With the inaugural camping trip behind us we headed out to find bacon and showers. Happy trails!

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Pura Vida – Part II

get caught up on Part I…

Our second full day in Costa Rica started in the same lazy way as the others while we relaxed around the front porch listening to the birds and sipping on coffee. We had a great time getting to know the two iguanas that guarded our front gate. Matt affectionately named them Iggy and Iguina (pronounced Ig-wee-naa) and according to the guest book at our house they have been the gatekeepers for many years!

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Eventually we made our way down the street to a local yoga retreat called Vida Asana. It was about a mile and a half from our house so we just walked there and enjoyed the sunshine. I managed to burn random spots on my right arm the day prior so I kept it covered up with my jacket.

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I definitely married up.

The yoga retreat was incredible. This morning was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip. We weren’t sure what to expect (which was part of the fun) but instantly felt at home when they told us the class would be starting soon and we could hang out in the hammocks while we waited.

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There were about 10 other people in the class and by the end of the two hours I was so zenned out I felt like I could float home. We practiced in an open air structure surrounded by a canopy of trees, chirping birds and monkeys.

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We trekked home and tried to hold onto that peaceful feeling while we sweated buckets under the relentless Costa Rican sun. We hadn’t realized the class would be two hours long so we were pretty hungry by the time we got home. We packed our bags for the beach and headed into town for a quick bite to eat. We found a quaint cafe near Jaco beach called Side Street Bistro and filled up on smoothies and fresh sandwiches before we hit up Playa Hermosa for some relaxation.

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We only stayed for an hour because we just couldn’t handle the direct sunlight for much longer. Neither of us had a base tan when we came since it was April in D.C. so we had to be very careful traveling so close to the equator – the sun is just so much hotter!

That evening we drove to the Hotel Villa Caletas to take advantage of their rooftop bar. We heard that this was a ‘must-see’ attraction and it did not disappoint. The drive to the hotel is straight up the side of the mountain and the bar sits on the edge of an open air amphitheater that overlooks the ocean from 1,150 feet above sea level. We ordered a couple drinks and settled in for the show!

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Unfortunately clouds were moving in so it obscured the final sun setting a bit but it couldn’t put a damper on our moods!

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We headed back down the mountain and snagged a quick bite to eat before heading home for the night.

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We woke up early on our last full day excited to check out Manuel Antonio National Park which was about an hour drive from our house. We grabbed breakfast at a bakery in Quepos then headed up the mountain to find the park. After parking we wandered around for a bit before we finally found the entrance. National parks in Costa Rica are not the same as they are in the U.S. There are no designated parking lots, there is no huge sign stating where the trail to the entrance is and there will be many people posing as park rangers trying to sell you tickets or tours. Or who knows, maybe this was just our experience! After following a sketchy cardboard sign stating “ENTRANCE = 300 METERS” we found the ticket booth and the park entrance. We were immediately greeted with all sorts of wildlife and flourishing jungle.

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One of the first animals we saw, besides the random deer, was a SLOTH! We could hardly contain our excitement. They are also the slowest animals I have ever seen. To put it in perspective, we were in the park for three hours and the sloth was still climbing this jungle vine when we left.

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We headed toward one of the many beaches inside the park and were greeted with all sorts of monkeys and animals along the way.

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When we broke out of the trees onto the beach it was like we had been transported to a different planet. Manuel Antonio beach is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen!

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The monkeys are very bold and will steal anything they can get their hands on so we made sure that one of stayed with our bags at all times. Others were not so lucky! We watched a raccoon unzip a backpack and steal an entire bag of plantains out of it! It unzipped the backpack! We saw a few monkeys try and steal bags but the owners were quick to retrieve them.

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We hung out on the beach for a couple hours before bidding farewell to the park and heading out to forage for food.

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On our way back to the car we stopped and bought a fresh coconut. The man chopped the top of it off with a machete, stuck a straw in it and we sucked down the deliciously sweet liquid faster than you could snap your fingers. I will never be able to drink coconut water from a can again – this was so fresh!

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As we drove home to pack and prepare for our flight back the next morning, we were reminded of the peaceful state of being that had swept over us the last few days. We truly had tapped into the ‘pura vida’ mindset and prayed that we could maintain it once we landed back in the States.

Now, when I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-395 or the metro is delayed again, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and imagine I’m lying on the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen, sucking down some fresh coconut water and holding onto my bag so the monkeys don’t steal my sandals. Ahh – paradise…

Pura Vida – Part I

suitcaseMatt and I only had a short amount of vacation time available to us this Spring and we knew we wanted to spend it somewhere warm. As we were checking prices for airline tickets we continuously found inexpensive round-trip tickets to Costa Rica. Neither of us had been and we heard it was pure paradise. Click, click, click – booked! A month or two later we found the perfect bungalow-style house to rent on the Pacific side of the country, near the town of Jaco. This was our second time booking a house through HomeAway and we were impressed once again.

We set out early on a Tuesday morning and picked up our car outside the airport at the rental car agency.

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When Matt and I travel internationally we typically buy a SIM card at the airport with a cheap data plan and use my phone as a GPS. That was our plan in Costa Rica but they were out of SIM cards at the airport. We weren’t about to pay $15 a day for a GPS in our rental car so we pulled out the old school map and found our way out of downtown San Jose! It was actually surprisingly easy to get around and after only one wrong turn we were on the highway and headed toward the coast.

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We had originally planned on picking up a quick bite to eat at the airport but there were no shops or restaurants in the airport where customs was located so we figured we would simply grab something after we picked up the rental car. Unfortunately it took close to two hours to go through customs and another hour to negotiate with the rental car agency so we were pretty famished by the time we got on the road. We quickly found a restaurant and were going to go in and grab food but alas, the car wouldn’t lock! We had all our bags inside so Matt decided he would simply run in and grab something and we could eat on the road. This was a perfect plan except the restaurant was sit down only. Such luck! I am famously known for always carrying snacks so thankfully we had some Kind bars and nuts to snack on but it was nearing 3:00PM and we hadn’t eaten since 8:30AM. We traveled onward toward our house since we were meeting the caretaker at 4:30PM. Food would have to wait.

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Despite how hungry we were we couldn’t miss stopping at the famous Rio Tarcoles crocodile bridge. You simply pull over on the side of the road and walk on the tiny ledge to the middle of the bridge, look down, and be amazed!

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Look at the size of those crocs!

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We made our way to the house, met with the caretaker and then immediately hopped back in the car in search for food. We headed to the town of Jaco, which was about a ten minute drive from us but is a fairly large town so we knew they would have plenty of choices. We found ourselves at a tourist trap taco bar but they had cold beer, swings for seats and we could have cared less about the quality of food at that point!

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We wandered around a bit before hopping back in the car and finding a grocery store to stock up on some essentials. We had originally planned on cooking dinner one or two nights but unfortunately that didn’t happen. The grocery ended up being more like a Wal-Mart with very few food options so we just picked up some fruit and headed home. Later in the week we found some smaller grocery stores in town (along with hundreds of roadside stands) that offered many different food choices so next time we go back we’ll be better prepared. I always pack instant oatmeal packets with me when I travel for emergency breakfast situations. They saved us in Italy where finding a place open for breakfast was nigh impossible and we were a solid 20 minute drive from the closest city center. They also came in handy in Costa Rica, although everyone rises early there and finding a breakfast nook was very easy. Jaco alone had multiple restaurants that catered to the breakfast crowd and most sodas served breakfast early in the mornings as well. It may not be your typical ‘American’ breakfast but it will get you through until lunch!

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After picking up a to-go  casado at a local restaurant for second dinner, we headed home to rest our tired bodies and prepare for our first full day!

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Our first morning was spent lounging around on our front porch, drinking coffee and listening to all the different birds.

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The sun rises very early in Costa Rica and our bodies were still operating on East Coast time so we were up around 5:00AM! It was nice to get outside and enjoy the fresh air before the sun got too hot. Our house sat off a dirt road and had a beautiful front yard filled with all sorts of plants and trees including a coconut tree and a banana tree.

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Our first stop of the day was Playa Esterillos where a famous mermaid statue is erected in the ocean. At high tide the statue looks as though it’s in the middle of the ocean but since we visited at low tide it was easier to see how they managed to get it out there.

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The weather was cloudy our first day but we didn’t mind since Matt and I were both ghostly pale and appreciated the added protection from direct sunlight! We spent about two hours exploring Playa Esterillos before heading into town for lunch.

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We had the rare opportunity to witness an entire flock of scarlet macaws in this tree on the beach. They are beautiful birds and resemble large, colorful parrots!

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Jaco has a million restaurants and the city center is always bustling with locals, tourists and surfers. We found a small restaurant tucked back in an alley that looked pretty sketchy – just our type of place! Sure enough, the food was incredible. They only served tacos so I snagged the tacos al pastor while Matt went with the fish tacos.

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We topped off lunch with some coconut ice cream at the local ice cream shop and then wandered down to Playa Jaco, which is one of the more crowded and popular beaches near us. Since it was a Wednesday there weren’t many people out but there were many hotels and resorts that butted up to the beach so I could see where the weekends would get busy.

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When we arrived in Costa Rica we didn’t have much planned out and only had a few items of interest that we really wanted to see and do. We purposely wanted to relax and go with the flow – see where the days led us! However, we were not expecting for it to take us a day and a half to actually feel relaxed and begin truly letting go. The day we arrived was quite hectic and stressful and we weren’t mentally prepared for how taxing the day turned out to be. Neither of us spoke Spanish very well – Matt can speak some whereas I resort to accidentally answering in French, Italian or some other random language –  and we didn’t feel truly comfortable and relaxed until halfway through the trip. Once we let go of our worries and truly embraced the pura vida state of mind we really did feel the stress begin to melt away! I clearly remember when I started to feel the release and vowed to hold onto that feeling when we returned to the hustle and bustle of our lives in D.C.

dinner 2It was pouring down rain when we headed out to dinner that night but we found a cozy table at The Green Room and settled in for some live music and incredible seafood dishes.

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While there was zero wine drinking done in Costa Rica, we did have our fair share of the local brews and were pleasantly surprised at the emerging beer scene in Jaco! After dinner we were already feeling more relaxed (beer helps!) and ready to catch some zzz’s in preparation for another exciting day…

Birthday Extravaganza

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A few weeks ago I celebrated my birthday. I haven’t had a chance to post about it because life has been hectic lately. Matt has been very busy at work for the past five or six months and we’re hoping that things will start to level out for him soon. I have been very busy with the job search. We don’t talk about work much on the site because this is our space away from the workplace however, it would be ignorant of us to pretend like it doesn’t affect our lives! We are both so fortunate to have secure jobs that we enjoy and that financially allow us to travel and drink wine – not to mention pay the rent! However, my job expires after a certain amount of time and that time is approaching in the next year so it’s time to start looking. As stressful as it’s been, (I’ll go more into how I’m handling that in another post) it’s a wonderful time to take stock of where I’m at, career-wise, and where I feel my skills would be most useful. I’ve been blessed to land a few interviews, casual informative meet-ups and job fairs. Forgive me for rambling but I promise this connects to my birthday…

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On the Friday of my birthday weekend Matt took me out to one of my favorite restaurants, Rasika. They have the best Indian food and it’s always such a treat when we go. The service is impeccable and the food is so well prepared and flavorful. We had early reservations so after a wonderful dinner we wandered up toward the White House and grabbed a drink at the swankiest and most over-the-top bar we could think of, the P.O.V lounge on the rooftop of the W Hotel. We’ve been here twice before and always have such a great time. The people-watching is top notch and even though the cocktails will cost you half a paycheck, they are delicious.

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Saturday was my actual birthday so we did what we do best and headed out on our bikes for an adventure! We were blessed with beautiful spring weather and the height of the cherry blossoms here in DC.

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The crowds were so insane! I love all the tourists that come out and see the beautiful trees during the Cherry Blossom Festival – it makes me proud to live here. Thankfully, we knew of some quieter spots so we headed down to Hains Point for a delicious picnic that Matt prepared.

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That night, Matt cooked an incredible meal – rack of lamb with roasted tomatoes and a pea puree, sautéed string beans and a homemade chocolate cherry mousse for dessert. HELLO. YUM.

After dinner we sat out on the patio and had a bonfire. It was the perfect way to end my birthday and a wonderful weekend with Matt. While we were relaxing Matt mentioned that this year was going to be ‘my year’ – as in, I would be blessed beyond measure, my job situation would work out as it should and God would provide for me, as He always has. Whenever Matt says something like this I always listen. Not just because he’s my husband and the spiritual leader of our family but also because he has a gift for speaking truth into existence. Wouldn’t you know it, two days later I was connected with a friend at a different organization that happened to be hiring, I had my interview two days after that and a week later I had a job offer sitting in front of me. Not only that but I had multiple other interests and interviews lined up as well! It was as if the skies opened up and blessings were raining down.

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Sunday we celebrated Easter which was the perfect capstone to our amazing weekend and a great way to start the new week. Seeing as how exhausted we look in our Easter photo I think it’s safe to say this birthday weekend was a success! Cheers.

Let’s Talk About Cheap Wine

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When I first starting drinking wine I was a poor college student. It was my fourth year of college and although I had dabbled in wine drinking I stuck mostly to beer since it was always the cheapest at the bar. “PBR – cheapest at the bar!” was a common slogan in our group of friends. However, as I grew older I decided that it was actually more fiscally responsible for me to buy a bottle of wine for $6.00 than it was to pay $3.00 per pint at the bar. Thank you, college economics class!

We did not have many purchasing options for decent and inexpensive wine in rural Ohio. I was also one of the only people in my cadre of friends who was interested in making the switch from beer to wine so I didn’t have much knowledge of where to start.

Oh the mistakes I made! The dollars wasted on terrible, terrible wine! I spent the better part of my senior year trying all sorts of bottom shelf wines from the grocery store until I settled on one that didn’t make me gag. When I moved to Washington, DC  I was working as an unpaid intern and relied heavily on my mother to stock me up with bottles when she visited. This worked well! I was not only spared from hauling bottles of wine home in my grocery bag during the mile walk from the store but I was also treated with yummy medium-priced wine that I wouldn’t have bought myself.

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Fast forward three months and I landed a job (that paid!) and I could no longer rely on mother dearest to supplement my wine tendencies. I had such a terrible experience with cheap wine in college that I was positive good wine had to cost $$$. When I went to the store I would skip all wines that cost under a certain amount. I played it safe and stuck to the wines that cost between $10-12. When I was feeling fancy I would pay upwards of $17-20 a bottle. Keep in mind that this was at my local Harris Teeter, not at a wine store. You’ll never guess what happened next: Some of the $12 wines were just as awful as the $6 wines I drank in college! I was floored. Obviously the price of the bottle was not a direct indication of the quality.

Let’s just marinate on that for a minute: The price of the bottle is not always a direct indication of the quality. Cheap doesn’t always equal terrible and expensive doesn’t always equal incredible. We know this to be true about many things in life, don’t we? Sometimes we’re paying for the label and not for the quality. Sometimes, when faced with two price points, we lean towards the one that cost a bit more because surely it’s better, right? Otherwise, why would it cost more?

Lately, Matt and I have been testing out different wines from two of our favorite bargain wine suppliers: Trader Joe’s and Costco. I have purchased many medium-priced wines from Trader Joe’s but was fairly new to the Costco wine scene. On Valentine’s Day, Matt picked up a bottle of Kirkland Signature (Costco brand) Champagne. When pitted against some of the best champagne I’ve had the pleasure to drink – Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Tsarine, etc. – it did not disappoint! Thus began our foray into testing bargain wine.

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Our search has taken us far and wide but I have currently settled on two bargain red wines to recommend: Trader Joe’s Cherry Blossom Pinot Noir and Kirkland Signature Meritage. The former is a lighter bodied red and will not exhibit the complexity of most Pinot Noirs but for $3.99 a bottle it is a true bargain. It’s fruit forward, crisp and light enough to enjoy on the patio during summertime. I recommend chilling it just a bit and letting it decant before drinking. The longer it opens up the better it is – this is true of all wines but especially cheap and/or young wines. The latter is a wonderful food wine. Again, not as complex as your more expensive Meritages but it’s a wonderful wine to keep around the house. A peppery nose that settles down into a smooth cherry taste with hints of cedar and chocolate that finishes smooth. Again, this wine only tastes better as it opens up.  You can find it for $10.99 a bottle. As for the Champagne I mentioned earlier, here is a wonderful review of it that details where it’s from and how it’s made. You can find this beauty at Costco for $19.99 a bottle.

If you’re not already into the bargain wine scene, are you tempted to test it out now? I encourage you to give it a shot! Invite some friends over and do a blind tasting or pull out all the stops and have a cheese + bargain wine pairing night. Let me know what you find – we’re always on the lookout for new wines to try.