Growing through life creatively…

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Christmas in Cologne (Köln), Germany

Continuing up the Rhine, we get to Cologne, Germany or Köln as it is known locally. This was the largest city we visited on our cruise and a fantastic day long adventure. The centerpiece of Cologne is the Kölner Dom or the Cologne Cathedral which is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. If you play your cards right, you can see the spectacular Dom in at least 3 different lights (morning sun, sunset and after dark). I highly recommend planning to spend a long day on Cologne. There is much to see and do. Another interesting note is that it is filled with Roman influence and artifacts.

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Loved the simple, but elegant decorations on this building near the Dom.

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It was always so funny to see the markets boarded up and quiet before they opened in the morning. Definitely, the calm before the storm.

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Something you would be unlikely to see available for sale in the US 🙂

The Christmas Markets are truly a treat for all of your senses. So many amazing things to see, hear, touch, taste and smell!

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As seen outside an Irish pub. Leave it to the Irish to be over it all…

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With so many markets in Cologne, we really enjoyed the different themes. This gnome market was cute.

I highly recommend taking the little tourist train around if you are trying to cover a lot of ground. Cologne is definitely the biggest city we visited and the sights are spread out.

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What happens when Santa has spent too much time at the biergarten.

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Speaking of biergartens, we had a fantastic German lunch at Früh and enjoyed some Kölsch which is the specialty beer of Cologne. Similar to  champagne, it can only be called Kölsch if brewed in Cologne. We have been lucky to find some Kölsch-style microbrews since returning home.

The Lindt Chocolate Museum was really cool. This lovely angel is made out of white chocolate and very large. In contrast to these cute & too cool Santas.

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I love nutcrackers! This guy was awesome!

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The theme of the Christmas Market near the chocolate museum was nautical. Fun and different!

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More fun things to see back at the market near the Dom.

And in case we are hungry….


It is always good to know that your hot dogs are #blessed.

As the sun sets, it casts a lovely golden glow over the cathedral.

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The lights begin to come on.

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And more magic is sprinkled over a lovely day.

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Christmas Market Cruise with Viking River Cruises

Had to share a few of my favorite shots from my recent Viking River Cruise along the Rhine River to see the Christmas Markets. What an amazing trip! Highly recommended. I will write more later, but wanted to drop a few favorites from the cruise itself.

On German Night, you get your food via a buffet that winds its way through the galley. So cool to see where they prepare all the amazing food we eat during the trip!


The crew is really a highlight of the cruise. One night most of them came out to Christmas carol with us.


What can I say about the food, but it is fabulous. We ate all of our breakfasts on the Aquavit Terrace pictured below instead of the dining room. It was a nice, relaxing way to start the day and our server, Bozena, was the best!


You can barely feel the ship moving and cannot always tell when you have started cruising. We went up to the top deck soon after leaving Basel where my kids quickly found the cool rocking chairs. It is around this spot where the borders of Switzerland, Germany & France all meet.

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Sometimes they “raft” more than one of the Viking ships together at the same dock. See the red lines? This is how close they get to each other. Guests from the outside ship have to walk through the other ship to get onto land. Since all the ships are pretty identical, there are plenty of stories of people not being back in the right ship and trying to go into the wrong rooms!

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Another shot of how close the ships raft to each other. This also shows how all the furniture and structures on the top deck (including the captain’s wheelhouse) can drop down for when they go under low bridges.

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It is so easy to get around the ship. Everything is a small staircase or 2 away. We were on the lower level and this is what your view outside looks like. You are just above water level and it gives you a really cool perspective.

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We really lucked out with our weather during the 1st week of Christmas Market season. It was clear and sometimes even sunny. That being said, it was COLD. If you choose to go up top when the ship is moving, the added wind makes it really cold. HAND WARMERS and lots of layers are your best friend. If you have a scarf to put over your face, that is even better.

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I really can’t say enough good things about our experience with Viking.

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Christmas in Strasbourg, France

Continuing up the Rhine on our amazing Viking River Cruise along to visit the Christmas Markets. Here are my photos from the day we visited Strasbourg, France. Some were taken during the included walking tour. We stayed in town for lunch and until the last shuttle went back to the ship. Probably my favorite city that we visited.

I just loved how there were decorations over many shop & restaurant doors. Sometimes the whole front of the building was covered in decoration!Christmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

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The storks are a huge deal in the Alsace (area of France that has gone back and forth between France and Germany and retains characteristics of both beautifully blended into their own culture).

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Christmas Market Cruise

Not Christmassy, but who doesn’t need one of these? My kids would say that I don’t.Christmas Market Cruise

Another attempt to annoy my kids…. I think I might need one of these dresses.

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Who can pass up a beautiful display of macaroons. Not I!Christmas Market Cruise

There are a number of Christmas Markets in Strasbourg (7 if I remember correctly). One of the markets hosts a guest country each year. This year it is Portugal. There are all sorts of cool Portuguese treats and crafts. I picked up some port wine jelly. Hmmmm…

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Christmas Market Cruise

The cathedral in Strasbourg is stunning! This was our first glimpse of it. The red sandstone is really something.Christmas Market Cruise

A cute little side of one of the booths in front of the cathedral.Christmas Market Cruise

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Christmas Market CruiseSaw different versions of these funny little guys at a few of the markets.Christmas Market Cruise

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This was the little bistro where we had am amazing lunch. Straight down one of the side streets on the opposite side of the square in front of the cathedral.Christmas Market Cruise

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Strasbourg is the French Capital of Christmas and I can see how it got that name & reputation. So fun!Christmas Market Cruise

These charming little trains were at many of the markets selling warm nuts, etc.Christmas Market Cruise

We didn’t bother to go into many/any chain stores we have at home, but we did enjoy some of the window displays. We thought it was funny to see a few signs advertising “Black Friday” sales.Christmas Market Cruise

One of the other theme markets in Strasbourg each year is the charity market. Different booths selling different items to benefit a variety of worthy organizations. This big tree is the centerpiece of that market.Christmas Market Cruise

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Inside the cathedral was magical. They had the most extensive nativity display I had seen covering events from the Annunciation all the way to the Presentation. I also like that they had en elephant visiting with the Three Magi.Christmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

These tapestries are only on display during Advent. They are massive and beautiful and I felt so lucky to see them.Christmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

I saw a number of places that had really nice selections of Advent wreaths like this. SO much harder to find in the States.Christmas Market Cruise

Hope you enjoyed my tour of Strasbourg at Christmas. It was my favorite stop along the Rhine.

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Christmas in Basel, Switzerland

Just got back from an amazing Viking River Cruise along the Rhine River to visit the Christmas Markets. Our cruise took off from Basel, Switzerland. We had just a quick afternoon trip into Basel, but it was well worth it.

A quick helpful note about money in Basel. We were not sure if we would have any time to go into Basel and Switzerland does not use the Euro. I pondered getting some Swizz Francs, but didn’t want to be stuck with them if we didn’t have any time to explore. People online recommended that they had some cash machines in the area that exchanged Euros. As it ends up, you can pay at most of the markets in Euros. They will ony give you change in Swiss Francs, so you need to be strategic, but at least you can shop :-).

After doing a year’s research preparing for this trip, seeing one of these giant pyramids was high on my “Christmas Market Bucket List”. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little excited when this in was my very first glimpse of a Christmas Market.

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They had adorable boot shaped mugs for the gluhwein & hot chocolate which we enjoyed!Christmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

These guys were animated and singing. I felt like I was back at Disneyland back when they had the Country Bear Jamboree.Christmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

This was a decoration on top of one of the booths. They also had these in mini sizes you could buy. The prices were far better than anywhere else we saw later in the tip. This is a little odd because Switzerland is known for being super expensive.Christmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

The Christmas Markets in Basel wound up, down and around the streets with a main one in front of the church.Christmas Market Cruise

I really enjoyed some of the different spice booths at the various Christmas Markets. Christmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

I never made it to an official Kathe Wohlfahrt shop, but this mini one in the main Christmas Market was handy. I also saw one like this in Strasbourg.

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The pretzel we got here was larger than our heads! Super yumChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market CruiseChristmas Market Cruise

I was intrigued at how often they decorated with stuffed animals. Not sure how well these would withstand the weather, but we were early in the season so they all looked good.Christmas Market Cruise

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Keeping at our “100 Pins in a Week” Challenge

Continuing on (with delayed writing of the blog posts by a few months)…This has definitely been a fun and inspiring adventure for us.

Day 3 – Monday (7/20)

We started out the morning with a little card making time.

Occasionally, we have to put the challenge aside to pursue other mother/daughter fun we had planned. Today it was a trip into my friend’s salon for make up lessons. I wear make up most days, but it is pretty much the same every single day. I’ve never really “played” around and experimented with different looks. Although I am very clear with my daughter that beauty comes from the inside, I want her to know more than I know and I thought it would be helpful to get some professional advice. Bonus points that the person giving the lesson was not selling any particular line. This was of course followed by a trip to Ulta – every tweens dream. We *should* be going onto Pinterest to get some ideas to try. But since my only board about makeup or hair is called “Cosmetically Challenged”, that shows you my interest/skill level on these things.

Late afternoon was a little more card making. Between the 2 of us, we made cards with ideas inspired by 8 different Pins. Here is a quick photo of a few of the cards we made:


It is kind of hard to tell, but the one on the bottom in the middle is a donut. The flat side is where it would stand up. WAY too cute!

At dinner, we decided to spend some quality time in the kitchen making Skinny Orange Chicken, the Benihana salad dressing and Disneyland-inspired Dole Whips. YUM!


Not quite as brightly colored as the Benihana dressing, but tasty nonetheless.


Skinny Orange Chicken was really good. Definitely a keeper to share with the family later!


Tasty, frozen goodness.

Project Pin Count – 11

Total Pin Count – 26

Remember, you can keep up with us on Pinterest by looking at my following 2 boards:

100 Pinterest in a Week Ideas

100 Pinterest in a Week DONE

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Mystery Invite to the Pinterest HQ

So I got an e-mail in May (yes, I’m a little late with this post) titled, “You are invited to a special event at Pinterest headquarters”. My first thought was that it was a scam of some sort, but I was so intrigued, that I replied. I got another message telling me to come on Tuesday, June 2nd. Doors open at 10am. That was about all the info I had. Seeing as this was my kids’ last full day of school before summer break (and therefore my last day of “vacation” for a few months), I hoped on BART and headed to San Francisco.

I arrived and was routed to the correct table (press, partners & pinners) to get my name tag.

They were expecting me…AWESOME. I walked in to check things out.You could tell that this was just one of those SUPER COOL places to work. I’ve been out of the “corporate” workforce for 10 years and there have been some great changes.


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I still had no idea why I was here. Ohhhhh – bacon.



They had a great breakfast spread with many things I’d seen on Pinterest. And champagne….Seriously, I’m about to have several months of serious SAHM time, so I’ll enjoy this while I can.


I did feel a bit like a fish out of water. I mean, I’ve never exactly been “cool” or “hip”, so being 10-20 years older than everyone else was pretty entertaining. I think I was the token Mom from the suburbs. Lots of cool hipsters, artists, bloggers, journalists. Since I’m not shy, I walked up to anyone I could identify as another “Pinner”. My favorite conversation was with 2 young ladies that were fashion bloggers and avid Pinners. I mentioned that I had one board called “Cosmetically Challenged” and that was about it for anything fashion related. I don’t think she understood that was actually my ONLY board about fashion…

There was the opportunity to do a little leather craft project. Had to give that a go. Might need more practice. It was about this time I met a sweet girl who was a senior at Santa Clara University. I went there for my first 2 years of college, so we had fun chatting. She was kind enough to take my photo as I attempted to stamp a little pouch. We also took turns taking photos of each other later.

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I picked up a little swag.


At some point everyone gathered around to hear Pinterest CEO, Ben Silbermann, announce the new “Buyable Pins”. This was the Media event to release that new concept. Kind of interesting. Making pins a little more connected so you can purchase the items you see. I think since I am more on the DIY side of Pinterest this may not come in as handy for me as someone on the fashion or home design side of it.


We had gathered in the open space in the middle of the office building. There was a huge wall of “Potential Pins” that made for a colorful centerpiece.

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Things started winding down and I headed out, but not before grabbing a few more photos. This is actually printed on the wall right as you walk in. Totally NOT me, but I know people struggle with being creative, so I get where they are coming from by having this here.


This was such a fun day. I am so happy I was invited (although I still have NO idea how that happened). If you are listening, Pinterest, I’d be happy to visit again any time…

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Checking in on our “100 Pins in a Week” Challenge

We are having a blast! It is so fun actually taking the time to try some of the great ideas we’ve seen on Pinterest.

Day 1 – Saturday (7/18)

1st order of business was to get a care package out to the boys at camp. The past few year, the camp has had a theme and we have decorated the box (a poster mailing tube just to be different) to go with that, but now that he has advanced to Boy Scouts there is no specific theme. Cruising Pinterest for some creative ideas yielded the idea of wrapping the contents of the box into a giant cling wrap ball. How irritating – and PERFECT.


The Contents (mostly for the Scout with a few for Daddy).


Take one item at a time, roll and add another.


Here is what it looked like in the box.

And we couldn’t just let the outside of the box go plain, so it got embellished with a number of Boy Scout comics we found on Pinterest.

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Project Pin Count – 7

Total Pin Count – 7

No weekend would be complete without a number of parties to attend. Today it was time to head off to the water park for a tween’s birthday party. Any endeavor cannot be all about taking, there has to be some giving too, so here is a new idea I am pinning to Pinterest. I wrapped the gift and used my Cricut to cut out the birthday girl’s name. How fun is that?


Use your Cricut and vinyl to personalize a gift.

Project Pin Count – 1

Total Pin Count – 8

When we got home from the party is was time for a little less than glamorous business. Hop over to Pinterest for a stain removing remedy. Tried rubbing baking soda into a grease stain that already went through the washer & dryer. Jury is still out on how it went as I still need to run it through the wash again.

Project Pin Count – 1

Total Pin Count – 9

After a busy day, the girls were not hungry for a big dinner, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try some Baked Mozzarella Sticks. YUM!


Project Pin Count – 1

Total Pin Count – 10

10 Pins for the 1st day. Not a bad start!

Day 2 – Sunday (7/19)

Time devoted to our challenge was a not much today as we went to an outdoor art show and a bridal shower. We were able to squeeze in a little card making time. I am very much someone who is “inspired” by the ideas on Pinterest and don’t feel the need to copy them exactly. I’ve been to a card-making workshop were everyone meticulously cuts scraps of paper to the exact size of the sample and creates an identical copy. I am more of a “monkey see, monkey do” kind of girl. But we had a blast and crafted a number of adorable cards, including one for the bride-to-be.



Project Pin Count – 5

Total Pin Count – 15

We are going to need to move our tails to get to 100 this week! Remember, you can keep up with us on Pinterest by looking at my following 2 boards:

100 Pinterest in a Week Ideas

100 Pinterest in a Week DONE

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100 Pins in a Week – An Epic Mother Daughter Adventure!

The boys left for Boy Scout camp this morning for the next week. Usually, Miss MJ and I have a bunch of cool, “girly”, mother/daughter things lined up. We do have a few, but I just felt like we needed something awesome. Right before the boys left, it hit me – we should try to do 100 things off of Pinterest in a week! Crazy, right?!?!?!!?

I’m sure I lost at least half of the my readers that kind of silly talk…

For those of you still with us, bear with me. If you are someone who loves Pinterest and is inspired instead of overwhelmed by all the cool possibilities presented there, wouldn’t you like to actually get some of them done? My daughter and I love to do creative things together, so there is no better time than the present to give some of these projects a go.

To start, we’ve created a new Pinterest board and are putting ideas of things we might like to do there. Click on the link below to check it out!

100 Pinterest in a Week Ideas

Pinterest Week

I have another board for the pins that we have used on our projects. Click here to see the pins we have already used. We will try to put some of the details of our adventures in further blog posts this week. Wish us luck!