Christmas in North Dakota

In the year and a half since I’ve been back to North Dakota, so much has changed! My parents built a new house, My sister moved to a farm on a lake, and my brother had another baby! Our week there this Christmas flew by, filled with lots of people, food, gifts, and sub-zero temperatures!

My new nephew, Jackson, was only a week and a half old when we arrived. He was continuously being held by someone at every family gathering. He even played baby Jesus in the Christmas Eve program at church! His big sister, Everly, was the life of the party. She loves to scream, run, and be spun in the air by Kyle until she’s dizzy. My other nephew, Rhett, is three and a half years old with boundless energy. My dad currently has Rhett believing that he can start the gas fireplace by blowing on it really hard 😉

This was Sean’s first North Dakota winter, and North Dakota delivered! The temps ranged between -30 and 0 degrees for most of the week. One morning we did cold weather science experiments, such as tossing boiling water into the air to watch it turn into a cloud and blowing bubbles to watch them crystallize in midair. On Christmas Day, there were incredible sun dogs in the sky (something that happens on very cold winter days), and Sean got some great pictures (see the last picture on this post).

We spent one day in Fargo visiting friends. I spent the morning with my college friend Sarah and her kids (and Sandy’s Donuts!) and the afternoon with Mary and her dog Frankie. She gave me chippers from Whitman’s, which I devoured within 24 hours.

I got to see Kari’s new farm on the lake, which is in a beautiful area. We were originally planning to go ice fishing there, but it was too cold to enjoy even that, especially with several of us having caught a cold that week. So we ate tacos, I played with Rhett and the others played Phase 10. Poor Jeremiah had to work outdoors everyday with the cattle, with his beard crusted over in ice!

I was so happy to eat good lefse again, along with other Norwegian treats like kransekake, krumkake, flatbrød and rosettes. We also had prime rib, baked ham, mashed potatoes and stuffing 😀

I got lots of new art supplies that I can’t wait to use. Sean got lots of documentaries on various wars, so I suppose we have a sobering year of entertainment ahead. I think I was most surprised by how well our travel went. Flights were on time, and no winter storms got in the way of our drives to Fargo and back. I already can’t wait for my next trip to North Dakota, whenever that may be!


Holiday lights, making gifts, and hiking in December

This December has been a fun and eventful one! My brother and his wife welcomed their second child, Jackson, into the family, just in time for me to get to meet him at Christmas! I will share my photos from our week in North Dakota in a following post.

Now that my Christmas gifts have all been delivered, I can share what I made! Each of the women in our families received a set of four hand-painted thank-you note cards and one hand-painted wine glass with constellations and stars. The note cards were done with watercolors for the backgrounds and a Micron ink pen for the lettering. Those were quite fun to make once I got into the groove of it. The wine glasses were a bit more difficult, as painting intricate details on curved clear glass is hard on the eyes! I used an acrylic enamel paint for glass that you bake in the oven to set, and used pictures of real constellations for guidance.


We have been pleasantly surprised that the climate here in the PNW allows for hiking all the way through December. I am hoping that holds true for the next few months as well! Though the trees have lost their leaves, there is still plenty of greenery left on our forest walks, in ferns, moss, firs and cedar trees.

We got to enjoy a couple of Christmas events here in Oregon. The first was a tree lighting ceremony in downtown Hillsboro. The other was the Festival of Lights at The Grotto, where they had the outdoor gardens decorated with Christmas lights and choir concerts in a chapel. Following the Festival of Lights, we had a nice dinner at a seafood place called Salty’s on the Columbia. It had beautiful views of the river and I had a delicious lobster tail. Apparently on certain days in December, there is a boat parade on the river with Christmas light displays, which we missed this year. We’ll have to make sure to catch that next year!


Thanksgiving in Seattle

My aunt and uncle Dawn and Brian invited us to their house for Thanksgiving this year. They live in Redmond, WA, just outside of Seattle. I had never actually been to their house or to Seattle before, so I was definitely excited to go! It’s a 4 hour drive from where we live, so we left Wednesday afternoon and stayed through Saturday. My cousins Adonica and Alexa were there, as well as their new calico kitten, Phoenix, who kept us continuously entertained!

We had such good food the whole weekend! From the traditional turkey dinner and pumpkin pie, to Ivar’s fish & chips, Garlic Jim’s Pizza, wine, cheese, beer, and lots of popcorn while watching movies & Netflix.  Brian gave us the tour of Seattle on Black Friday, starting with the new spheres that Amazon is building (nicknamed Bezos’ Balls). They’re supposed to have unique meeting spaces in them, and from what I could see, many elevated walkways and plants!

We headed to Pike Place Market next, which was so crowded I didn’t know how anyone stopped to actually buy anything, though Brian says he’s seen it worse! There was so much there that I wanted to buy or eat, but we resisted and only got ourselves a souvenir magnet. We saw the original Starbucks, which is very nondescript, but did not get a coffee there because the line was out the door and down the sidewalk.

After the market, we went to Ivar’s for lunch on the waterfront and had excellent fish and chips. We walked around to look at the ferris wheel and the people fishing for squid off the pier before driving to the Ballard Locks. It wasn’t the right time of year to see any salmon going up the fish ladder, but we did get to see boats going through the locks between the Puget Sound and the canal, which I enjoyed. On the drive back to Redmond, Brian drove us through the sprawling and huge Microsoft headquarters campus.

Seattle is a very cool city and I can’t wait to explore more of it–hopefully sooner rather than later!



Our life in Portland so far

Since moving to the Portland area this summer, we’ve started exploring our neighborhood and the coast, attending local events, and figuring out what our new normal is. I’ve only scratched the surface of everything I want to try and do here, but these are some of the things I’ve been up to:

Forest hikes in nearby nature parks have become a regular thing for us now. Even if it’s raining, I don’t mind, because it’s still beautiful and there’s even more chance of spotting wildlife.

I’ve been reading fiction books voraciously lately, utilizing the Hillsboro Public Library as much as possible. They have such a great selection of ebooks, audiobooks and print, as well as a large and comfortable space to read and work in. Sometimes we go there just to hang out for a couple of hours.

I think my favorite new restaurant is a local French chain here called La Provence. Everything I’ve tried is simply amazing. The french toast, croissants, and grilled sandwiches are to die for! We mostly cook at home, though. My latest favorite recipe is Indian Butter Chicken.

We’ve been to farmers markets and similar community events that have vendors and music. Those seem to be very popular here. We attended Hillboro Hops baseball games in the summer as well as the Hillsboro International Air Show. We went to a couple of board game Meetup group events, where I learned I’m not that into D&D. We started subscribing to Moviepass, so we’ve been going to slightly more movies lately and seeing ones that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have spent my money on. Kingsman: Golden Circle and Happy Death Day were surprisingly good.

Sean’s family gave us tickets for a coffee tour of Portland for his birthday, and that was really fun. We got to visit 5 different coffee shops that roast and brew gourmet coffee and espresso, sampling various drinks and learning all about the process. Delicious and educational!

The fall colors on the trees here are incredibly brilliant right now, and I wonder/hope that they will be like this in future years! We drove to Astoria for Sean’s birthday and got incredible views of the Columbia River. We had chocolate porters at Rogue Ale on the pier, and spent quite a bit of time in the Maritime Museum, which surprised us in how good and extensive it was.

I’ve been delving into my creative side more and continuing to paint. I’ve been watching a lot of skillshare classes on photography, photo editing, watercolor painting, hand lettering, and digitizing artwork. I recently bought a DSLR camera and am still learning how to use it well. I decided to do some homemade Christmas gifts this year, which has been occupying a lot of my time recently and is giving me the opportunity to use some of the new skills I’ve learned. I’ll post pictures of what I’m working on after Christmas!




Visiting friends in Cleveland!

When my friend Loren asked me if I wanted to come to Cleveland to see The Book of Mormon with her, it wasn’t long before I was booking plane tickets! She and her husband Adam had moved back to her home state of Ohio with their toddler Maggie half a year before we moved to Oregon, so I was excited to see all of them again.

I flew up for the weekend, and we planned a bunch of fun things to do. First was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland. The best parts were the exhibits of famous performers’ stage costumes. They had Michael Jackson, David Bowie, The Supremes, Elvis, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and so many more. After lunch, we headed down to Cleveland’s Playhouse Square for our show at the State Theater. I had seen The Book of Mormon once before when it came to Denver, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this performance was far better! The acting, dancing, and singing seemed to be dialed up a notch and it made such a difference! We were both thoroughly impressed.

Ever since I saw the episode of the Travel Channel’s show, Bert the Conqueror, where he goes to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, I have wanted to go there. Having never been to a large amusement park or even ridden on a proper roller coaster before, I figured it was about time I change that! Loren, Adam and I spent most of Sunday at Cedar Point, and it was so much fun! It was a bit of baptism by fire for me though, in that the first thing we did was go on Raptor, a very fast and twisty coaster that turns you upside down 6 times! It was way rougher than it looks! I had to wait a couple hours before I was ready for more motion. Adam was the brave one who went on every crazy ride that he could, which was easy to do because there were almost no lines! I liked the tall rides that gave us views of the whole park with Lake Erie in the background. I think I would like to come back and try more of the daring coasters that I chickened out of this first time.


Back to Norway for Ina & Harald’s wedding!

What a whirlwind week this was! I didn’t think I would get to return to Norway so soon after our last trip, but when we got the invite to Harald & Ina’s wedding, along with the offer to be able to stay with their family again, we decided we needed to make this happen! We went for just a short week and stayed in one place, Bergen, rather than going everywhere like we did last time. Even though I would not recommend traveling to a location with a 9-hour time difference for so short of time (I never got over the jet lag!), it was worth it.

The day after we arrived, we helped them set up the reception venue, which was the lobby of Ina’s father’s workplace. it had a beautiful view of the harbor that I couldn’t pull my eyes away from. The four of us friends from the U.S. (Me, Sean, Mary and Alan), along with Ina’s maid of honor Henriette, set the tables and folded plenty of napkins and programs. We were there for six hours with a pizza break in between. It was actually a really fun day.

The wedding was at Slettebakken church the next day, which we had been to the last time we visited. The ceremony was in Norwegian and the recessional was the Star Wars theme on organ and trumpet 🙂  We had some free time until the evening reception, so Mary, Alan, Sean and I went downtown and took the funicular to the top of Mt. Floyen, and then had a great dinner at Zupperia. At the reception, there were several long speeches, most of them in Norwegian, 20 or 30 different cakes, dancing, and even some singing from Harald’s musically-talented family members. I don’t think we got home until 2:00 a.m!

Since Ina and Harald have lived or studied in both Denver and London, there were a few of us friends from each location who were there for the wedding, and they planned a fun day for us in which we got to have lunch on top of Ulriken, do an escape room, and have dinner at Ina’s parents house. It was my first time doing an escape room and I loved it! Our group of six made it out in time with 15 minutes to spare, while the other six were just a second too late (they were given a much tougher room where only 10% make it out within the hour). Another highlight was getting to see parasailers jump off of Ulriken while we were in a cable car at the same height!

Our last full day in Norway was more relaxed. Sean and I spent the first half of the day downtown. We toured the Hanseatic Museum and the Aquarium. I bought Christmas ornaments and a Norwegian-knit winter cap. We met back at Harald’s mother’s house, where we were staying this trip, for dinner and leftover wedding cake. Harald and Ina cut the traditional kransekake blindfolded to see how many children they were going to have (7) because they didn’t get around to it at the wedding.

We were sad to have to leave Norway so soon, especially since there is so much more we want to see! Everyone we met were great people that I wish I had more time to get to know. Harald’s mother, Hildegun, was a wonderful host to us again, despite her self-deprecating jokes to the contrary 😉  I’m already looking forward to seeing these people again, whenever or wherever that may be!


Viewing the total solar eclipse

Since the path of totality for the solar eclipse started only an hour’s drive south of where we now live, we decided we had to go see it. Weeks before the event, predictions about the amount of people coming into Oregon were scary: the roads would be overwhelmed, cell service might go down, as well as credit card systems and city sewer systems. I almost didn’t want to bother making the trip, and I wondered if seeing a total solar eclipse was really that much better than a partial eclipse. I am glad that Sean was determined to see the total eclipse, however, because it was much more amazing than I expected.

We left home at 4:30 am, and though the traffic on I-5 to Salem was heavy, it wasn’t slowed down very much. It probably took us a little over an hour to get to downtown, where we found parking and walked to the Riverfront Park. The city of Salem had allowed people to camp overnight in the city’s parks that weekend, so there were plenty of tents around. We picked a spot to set up our lawn chairs and settled in for the 4+ hour wait. The time went by surprisingly fast, and the park continued to fill up with people.

As it got closer to totality, the temperature got colder and the light got dimmer, but not in the same way that it does when the sun sets. Somewhere, music speakers were playing “The Final Countdown” (I still only picture Gob Bluth whenever I hear it) and then “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” We watched through our sun-viewing glasses as the sun became a thin sliver and then disappeared. Only then were we able to take off the glasses and gaze directly at the sun. I won’t be able to describe it well enough, and my iPhone camera couldn’t possibly capture it, but it was a brilliant white halo with a starkly black center that was so beautiful to look at. It was dark as night where we stood. I pressed record on my iPhone before it happened so I could remember the general feel and excitement of the moment. I didn’t look at the phone while recording, for obvious reasons, so the video is pretty shaky. But if you want to see darkness fall and crowds cheering (and hear Sean and I ooh-ing and ahh-ing), watch the video below:

We knew traffic was going to be bad when the eclipse was over, so we thought we’d try wait it out and hang out in Salem a while longer. That was not the best decision. The traffic never abated that day and it ended up taking us 4 hours to get back home. I found out the next day that my cousin’s family left Madras, OR after the eclipse to go to Crater Lake, and didn’t get to their hotel until 3:00 in the morning! So I won’t complain. It was totally worth it.



Return to Manzanita

This past week, we’ve been having a major heat wave in Portland with temperatures over 100 degrees. So we have been hiding indoors, mainly either at home or at the library. So on Saturday, with the coast only reaching the low 60s, we headed out of town. We went back to the area we vacationed at in 2013 for Sean’s 30th birthday: Manzanita. That was our first ever visit to Oregon, and it was then that we realized we wanted to live here.

We started out at Oswald West State Park, just North of Manzanita. From parking lots on Highway 101, you can take a 15-minute hike through a dense and beautiful forest down to a beach called Smuggler Cove. It’s a fairly large beach surrounded by rock walls and forest that jut out into the ocean, with consistent waves that make it popular for surfers. On one end of the beach is a small waterfall and tide pools that are accessible when the tide is low. So far, this is the most scenic beach I’ve been to, and will probably be a place I return to over and over again.

After spending several hours at Smuggler Cove, we drove into the town of Manzanita to have lunch at a seafood cafe. Afterwards, we grabbed our new beach gear–2 chairs and a 7-foot umbrella–and relaxed on the gigantic beach of Manzanita. The sun had come out by then, making everything really bright and surprisingly warm. We were very proud of ourselves for having our little beach umbrella, but we both still managed to get sunburned. When I’m at the beach, I can’t resist wading in the water and walking long distances. By late afternoon when we needed to leave, I still wasn’t ready to go. I think I need to spend a week there. How is it possible that the ocean breezes can feel and smell so good?


Discovering local parks

One of the reasons we love Oregon so much is all the abundant greenery that is here. In Denver, we usually had to travel outside the city to smell fresh mountain air and feel a part of nature, but in Portland, there are forested parks scattered throughout the city that we can quickly get away to. In our own neighborhood, we like Noble Woods Park and Orchard Park, and a bit further away is Portland’s sprawling Forest Park, of which we have only scratched the surface, the one day we hiked there. I especially enjoyed the small area of old-growth Douglas Firs in the bird sanctuary. I love the Douglas Firs in Oregon, and some of them can reach ancient ages (though those are rare now, due to logging). Those towering trees were the most striking thing about Oregon to me the first time we visited here.

The tricky part is to remind yourself to step out the door and actually go enjoy these places. I want to make visiting these parks a daily or at least weekly habit. It feels so good for the soul 🙂


Sunny beach day

This past weekend, the weather for the Portland metro area was in the 90s, and we decided it would be a good time to go to the coast. We chose Cannon Beach because I’d always heard great things about it but had never been. I’m glad we arrived in the morning, because by the time we left the beach in early afternoon, it had gotten quite crowded, both on the beach and in the town, and parking was hard to come by.

The beach was beautiful, though, and I could see why it is such a popular place. Fine sand, huge rocks, colorful tide pools. The Pacific Ocean is cold here, so I saw only a few people venture out beyond ankle-deep, aside from the surfers in wet suits. Walking in the water was wonderful, and I probably walked 2 miles along the shore, up to Haystack Rock and back. Many people had tents or big beach umbrellas and chairs, which I think we will want to bring next time. I’m hoping that we can make an overnight trip sometime soon and get to explore Cannon Beach further. But with it being only an hour and twenty minute drive, day trips work just as well!


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