hooray for the little things

Tuesday, February 25

 there has been so much going on in my little brain lately. i'm not sure if that's a product of going back to school (yeah brain cells!), or if i'm just more keenly noticing the small daily delights from the Lord:) 

either way, i'm filled with so much joy when I tally up all that I have to be thankful for. 
Did you know I am thankful for you, dear reader? Your community brightens my day. 

Olympics: as you know, my dad and I are olympics fanatics. For Christmas, I gave my dad the gift of me flying up to northern california to watch the olympics with him! It was a glorious week with my family, where we cozied by the fire and got really into all the olympics stories and sports:) Yesterday I got an email from him that  read "Hi Kate – well now we wait for 4 more years. Let’s plan on doing it again! Thank you for coming up to spend time with us and to make a special time of watching the Olympics together. What a great Christmas present. I love you Katie -Dad" I love that my dad and I have this special bond! 
#crazyolympicpeople #waywaytoointoit

My Amish Devotional: Did you know there is such a thing as an Amish devotional? haha, me neither! But last November Kev and I ran to the bookstore and I saw this daily devotional called "Amish Peace". I mentioned it to Kevin, and then forgot about it! But lo and behold, it showed up in my Christmas stocking from him (what a guy!). Friends, this book is amazing. Every day I learn about the simplistic and beautiful ways to approach life. It has been a soothing balm to my soul, and I love it. #iwanttobeamishbutnotbecauseiloveelectricitytoomuch

Bike rides to the park: We've hardly experienced a winter here thus far, and Kevin and I have taken advantage of the beautiful days by riding our cruiser bikes to the park. I love the wind whipping through my hair, and just being side by side with my love. Getting out in nature does a mind/body/soul good:) #summerallyearisfinebyme

Downton Abbey: I watch practically zero tv, but Downton Abbey has my heart. This season took a little while to warm up, but the last few episodes have been truly inspiring and beautiful. I love the way there is such courtesy in the way people treat each other (even if they don't like each other), and the costumes! *sigh* so gorgeous:)  Not to mention, can I please put Lady Violet in my pocket? Her comments make me giggle to no end! 

My new Blentech Blender: As someone who has cut out gluten, dairy and a few other things, I must say i've found the solution to all my snacking needs…My Blentech Blender!! I saw a demonstration for this baby at Costco, and Kev couldn't tear me away from the table! I literally sat gaping with my mouth hanging open when she showed me how to make ice cream in 45 seconds, and how to make hot soup in 60 seconds. I'm sorry, WHAT? that's right, I can make my own dairy free ice cream in 45 seconds. I know. It's essentially comparable to the Vitamix, but I read better reviews for the Blentech! #freshjuicealldaylong #yesimdrinkingspinach

Kevin: I know I write all the time about how much I love this man, but I just can't help it. Marriage has been the most beautiful earthly blessing I have ever known. This man just loves me deep and wide and I don't deserve it. He stayed up for hours quizzing me last week for a test, left me a good luck note in the morning, lets me cuddle him at night to warm myself up, and always serves me in such a humble way. For a school project I had to identify the things that really bother me about my husband, and honestly, the only thing I could really come up with was that I hated his farts. haha! 

Blog friends: This past week two sweet blogger friends, both from Oregon happened to be down in California and we were able to connect. What a sweet community we have, right? Another one of my great blogger friends from Canada is coming to visit around my birthday, and i'm over the moon to meet her in person:) If any of you will be California, please don't hesitate to come and say hello:) 
#comevisitme #ilovenewfriends

Grad school:  I honestly cannot be more thankful that the Lord has led me into this profession. So far, I love all that i'm learning, and feel so humbled to feel like i'm living out my calling:) 

Basketball: I used to play basketball in high school, despite the fact that i'm so puny now, haha! But, my dad started a women's city league in our hometown as a way to bring community and share the love. Last week when I was home, my two sisters and I played on my dad's team. It was the first time all 3 of us sisters played together, and oh.my.gee. it was fantastic! Pulled out a few moves from my high school days, hehe:) 

below..my sisters are 22 & 12, I'm 24, and my sweet dad in the stripped sweater:) 

And lastly, the winner of the Esther & Dorothy give-away is 
Chantel from A Harvest of Blessing. Congrats girl!! 

Happy Tuesday friends, 
xoxo Katie

Esther & Dorothy Give-Away

Friday, February 21

I am so excited to introduce you ladies to an incredibly creative vintage jewelry company

E&D is a Polish-based vintage jewelry company run by the lovely Esther. 
What makes E&D so unique is that Esther finds old vintage pieces from markets all over Europe,
and crafts them into a new piece. 

{how romantic and whimsical is that? } 

Esther writes, 
"Those extra special pieces are found in soil, abandoned houses or attics. They come to me dirty, broken or in pieces. Each element is then cleaned, cared for, but keeping the original look, it is assembled as a jewelry piece. It is a truly magical process, when you work directly with elements taken directly from the past. That's why vintage jewelry is so special to make, and to wear."

Esther sent me a gorgeous handcrafted necklace,
which features a gold feather, with cascading pink beads. 
it is perfect…I even wore it on valentines day:) 

 Today, I wanted to give away a gorgeous pair of 1920's inspired earrings to one lucky reader. 
…see below for how to enter the give-away….

 Are these earrings not absolutely stunning! 
They remind me of something Lady Mary might wear on Downton Abbey:) 
{and as a side-note, my birthday is next month, 
and my party is Downton Abbey themed! 
E&D jewelry would be perfect for a themed party!!} 

Here's what you need to do to win
1) "Like" the Esther and Dorothy FB page {here}
2) Leave a comment with your favorite E&D piece from their website {here}
Put your email address in the comment as well
3) Follow Hope Engaged on Bloglovin & FB  & on my blog

That's it! Easy as pie!! The contest closes on Monday! 

Happy Weekend friends:) 
love Katie 

How to Pay for Travel, Part 5: Accommodations

Tuesday, February 18

Beyond the investment of a plane ticket, accommodations can be overwhelming in terms of finances! Prices of hotels, guesthouses, B&B's (etc.) certainly vary in cost worldwide, however regardless of where you are going, the cost can significantly add up!

Today I wanted to share with you a few tips Kevin and I have utilized to pinch our pennies and maximize our trips when it comes to affording lodging! Here we go…

1. Stay with friends/family members!!
Some of our best memories (and cheapest trips!) have come when we have stayed with friends and family abroad. Not only will your hosts be the absolute best guides around the city (as they are locals!), but you will also see, taste and experience things from an insider perspective (instead of just a tourist!). Most likely they will take you off the beaten path to experience the "real" culture. But the absolute best thing about staying with friends/family is their genuine hospitality and friendship. I can remember last winter when my sister and I visited our cousins who live in Germany. Each night when we got back from site seeing, they would brew a pot of tea, and we would sit in the living room all cozied up, with the music playing, just talking and laughing and playing cards.

Many of my dad's relatives live in Sweden, and so we've been back multiple times! I'm always amazed at the experiences we've been able to gain staying with our family. From milking cows on their dairy farm, participating in a real "crawfish dinner", seeing glass blowers at work, and exploring castles first hand, they are far and away the best tour guides!

Now, you may be thinking "I have ZERO friends and family abroad". I get that.
But...it's never too late to make new friends!!When I taught English in Thailand, I met my Belgian friend Peter on a ferry out to an island. We hit it off as fast friends and have stayed in touch over the years! When Kevin and I were in Antwerp, we stayed with Peter and he showed us the most incredible local restaurants and history of the city!

Blogging is a great environment to connect with new friends all across the globe! Say hi to some new friends in far away places, and begin the start of a new relationship!!

If you are part of a church, check to see if there are missionaries living anywhere around where you are going. Back in the day, when my parents lugged us 4 kids to Italy, we met up and stayed with some fantastic Italian missionaries! It was mutually encouraging to share stories and have fellowship with on another!!

2. Agoda.com 
Far and away our favorite booking site for lodging is called agoda.com. On entering their site, you write your destination into their search bar. Then, in seconds, they will generate a comprehensive list of choices. What we love about Agoda is that every piece of information you need shows up, and you can easily compare hotels to one another. You will see the price, the reviews (which come in super handy!), and where it's located in the city. If you want to be in a specific part of a city, you can choose districts on the left hand side! We used Agoda to book our ENTIRE South East Asia trip, and every place we stayed in was absolutely fantastic!! Plus, sometimes you even get better deals on Agoda than if you were to book from the Hotel's actual website!

3. Air BnB
If you are traveling with an entourage (or just your family!), this is the place to look. Air BnB showcases open apartments/houses that you can rent. Often times these are people's actual homes, and they open them up to visitors when they are gone on vacation. For instance, this last summer, my mom found a steal of a deal in the quaint town of Delft, in the Netherlands. We are a party of 7 (my mom, dad, 2 sisters, brother and Kev and I!), so finding hotel accommodations for 7 of us for 6 nights could have skyrocketed our bills out the roof! Instead, my mom contacted this sweet Dutch family who had put their apartment up for rent, while they vacationed in Portugal. So, for 6 nights, our entire family stayed in downtown Deflt in the most adorable 400 year old 4-story home. It was INCREDIBLE. There was a huge kitchen and long wooden table we congregated around every day! And to top it off, it was only $100 a night (for all 7 of us!!! what?!?!?). Overall, this site is awesome.

4. Rick Steves
Have you met Rick yet? If not, let me introduce you! Rick Steves is the ultimate travel tour guide! If you happen to be going to Europe, he's your man!! Buy his book to the country you are traveling to and you will thank me:) What I think sets Rick apart from all other travel books is his ability to sift through what you MUST see verses what you could see. Basically, he builds the best itineraries around, telling you to go to places that are worth your time and money. And for our purposes today, Rick locates some pretty fantastic gems in the area of accommodations. This past year when my family was in France, my mom used Rick's suggestions to book accommodations at a 300 year old farm house along the D-day beaches. What made this stay so unique was that you couldn't book it through a website. Rick had personally gone and visited this farmhouse, and then had put the phone number for the house in his book. My mom literally had to call France to book this place!!! But not only was our stay incredibly historical and outright idyllic, it saved my family bunches of cash compared to staying in the more well known venues in the city. (And not to nerd-out on you, but before we travel, Kevin and I always you-tube Rick Steve's videos about the destination where we are going! Get's us in the spirit!!)

5. Hostels
If you are a student, or someone on an incredibly tight budget, hostels are for you. Hostels are essentially like dormitories where the prices stay generally low. Some hostels are really nice where you could even find yourself with your own bathroom, but for the most part you are packed in on bunk beds, and share a corporate bathroom. My sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Italy. After my term was over, a few friends flew over and together we traveled through 7 different countries in Europe. I think 90% of the places we stayed were hostels! And it was loads of fun! You get to meet people from other countries, and just saturate yourself in such an international vibe! Often times you can get a student discount, or sign up for a hostel card on sites like hosteling international (to become a member, see here).

6. Couch Surfing
While there is such a hype around couch surfing, I must admit i've never tried it!! Have you? You can check out the Couch Surfing website, make a profile, and then start looking to crash the couch/guest bed of someone in your destination country. My friend Peter from Belgium, who I mentioned above, is an avid couch surfing host, opening his home almost weekly to people coming to Antwerp. He told us he has met so many amazing people this way. He actually met his significant other through couch surfing!! While aspects of couch surfing seem a bit sketch to me, I've had friends swear by it, meeting great chums in the process! You can be the judge of this…but the bottom line is that it's a free place to stay! And it can't get any cheaper than that, folks!

7. Google
Okay, okay, this may seem like a cop-out, but it's not, I swear! If you are looking for somewhere off the beaten track, then google it! This past year my brother, who is into brewing beer, found a Trappist monastery called Orval Monastery, in the middle-of-no-where in Belgium. So he contacted the monastery, asking if they had accommodations, and it turns out they had a little chalet they rented out for spiritual retreats. And so, our entire family stayed in a chalet that was attached to Orval Monastery. Friends, it was unreal. Monk lived there…real monks! robes, chanting, bee keeping…the whole nine yards! It was like stepping back into the medieval era, and observing a very simple, quiet and humble lifestyle. It turned out to be a few beautiful days for us as a family, as we attended chapel, did our devotions on the lawn, and walked through the orchards at night after dinner. It was a sliver of heaven, smashed into a family vacation:) And, an added bonus was that it was dirt cheap. And if you know anything about Europe, you know that Europe and dirt-cheap don't belong in the same sentence!!

A few thoughts on accommodations: 
1) If you want cheap cheap cheap accommodations, go to SE Asia. I'm not kidding when I say that 5
    nights worth of lodging in Thailand costs the same as 1 night in Paris. You can book the most
    gorgeous resorts, be pampered and spoiled, and it will still cost less than a basic room in France!
    Don't let this stop you from going to Europe (goodness knows there's a reason it's expensive!), but
     just keep your expectations real!

2) If you don't plan on staying in your room much (which you shouldn't!!), then choose the basic room
    over the one with more amenities. However, if you are traveling to a freezing cold place and plan to
    spend ample time in your room, just make sure it has a heater!! (That's my motto!!)

3) Location, location, location! Sometimes it's worth a few extra bucks to stay in a more central
     location. For instance, this past summer in Paris, Kev and I could have saved $10-15 if we stayed
     further out of the city. However, then we would be paying to buy a metro ticket into town, and it
     would probably be a wash, plus the hassle of the time in traveling around. Sometimes, staying
     centrally saves you money because you can walk everywhere! Other times, you'll save a TON of
     money by staying on the outskirts of town! This is a good option if you have a rental car, and
     transportation is not an issue. For instance, when my family went to visit the island of Mt. St. Michel
     in Northern France, my mom booked the most impersonal and creepy hotel (it was called HotelF1
     for crying out loud! how French is that?!?!?!…and actually became a lovely family joke that my
     mother will never live down!) but in her defense, it saved us from staying in the overpriced town of
     Mt. St. Michel, and it was no big deal to take our rental car 5-10 minutes into town each day!

4) Sleep in your rental car! No joke…my thrifty parents parked our Italian rental van in a soccer
    field one night in Pisa, and told us to fall asleep there. I was quite mortified at the time (like legit
    angry!), but now I see it was an excellent plan to save them hundreds of dollars! I literally woke up
    with one of my legs out the window…classy americans, right there!

5) Don't wait till the last minute to book. You may want to seem more "spontaneous" and
   "adventurous" but if you'd rather be labeled "bargain backpacker" then book in advance! Especially
    during peak travel season when most of the great deals get snatched up fast! It's also a good idea to
    book ahead if you are traveling to an area where a major sporting event is taking place…world cup,
    Super Bowl, art festivals, Oktoberfest, etc!! One summer in Munich, my friends and I didn't realize
    the European Cup was going on, and we were reduced to sleeping in a tent. Not cool! So think about
    these things when booking!!

6) Accommodations don't always mean "on land"! Cruises are amazing options, and sometimes can
    score you the best deals! Sign up for the Travelzoo deals of the week! We just returned from a 3 day
    cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam {here}. It was beyond fantastic!!

7) Choose lodging that supports a good cause! Just recently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we stayed at
    The White Linen Guest House, which employs women rescued out of sex-trafficking. To see more
    of our experience staying at a socially conscious hotel, see here.

8) If you stay in someone's home (friend, family, or apartment from Air BnB) it's always lovely to bring
    a gift. The best gifts are local products made from your home town! My dad is a rice farmer, so many
    times we bring his local rice products, or even local honey, almonds, or other produce from our
    hometown to give as a thank-you!! And of course, pack thank-you notes in your suitcase, just in
    case:) Be a good ambassador to your country:)

Welp, I think that's all I can muster for tonight! If I missed anything…let me know!!

Happy Tuesday friends:)
love Katie

ps- To read the first 4 installments of my travel series: 
Part 1- Prioritize your spending
Part 2- Travel Credit Cards
Part 3- Food
Part 4- Teach Abroad

love in the light

Friday, February 14

last week, Kevin and I were house sitting for some dear friends. 
The minute I saw their window seat drenched heavily in the rays of sun,
I was mesmerized by the light. 

Light poured into this space all day, so inviting and pure. 
All I wanted to do was curl up, read a  book, and just soak myself in the light. 
So enraptured was I, that I even finagled my sweet husband to do a little shoot with me…lucky him (haha!) 

In the aftermath, as I sat looking at the pictures 
a phrase so powerful kept running through my mind…
that love in the light, is the best kind of love. 

love needs light. 
light that uncovers our darkest secrets so that they are out in the open and free to be dealt with. 
light that exposes our sin, and brings it to the forefront to be redeemed.
light that calls out our unhealthy thought patterns and forces them to be renewed. 

no relationship can thrive in the dark. 

when Kevin and I first started dating, we faced some serious storms at sea, 
where the darkness of our past had to be unearthed in order for our ship to keep sailing. 

we had to admit our failures. 
we had to own up to our past. 

and there were a lot of tears involved. a lot of hurt feelings. a suitcase full of disappointment. 

and yet, when we turned over the baggage of our darkness,
and let it sit in the light, all awkward, and bare and vulnerable, 
it soon became a thing of beauty as Kevin and I resolved to go forward together,
in a radiant step to live and love in the open. 

to be transparent, 
to be authentic,
to be real and honest and vulnerable. 
to be the secret keepers,
the lovers and pray-ers and guardians of one another.  

and where there is light, there can be no darkness at all. 
yes, i'm convinced love in the light is where the joy is at. 

Thank you Jesus, that you are the light of the world. 
and in you there is always enough light to cover us. 

Happy Valentines Day friends,
love Katie (& Kevin too!) 

{aaannnndddd, let's face it…most the time we look like this below…}

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Monday, February 10

 In case you missed my professed love affair with Vietnam, 
you can see our pictures from Hoi An {here} and {here}
(as a side-note, last week's Bachelor episode with Juan Pablo was filmed in Hoi An!) 

Halong Bay was an absolute mystery and an absolute delight. 
It is one of the natural wonders of the world, and it's not hard to see why. 

Kevin and I booked at 3 day, 2 night cruise on a junk boat in Halong Bay. 
It was breathtaking, almost unbelievable that anywhere could be so utterly beautiful. 

The first day we arrived, we cruised out into the bay and went kayaking. 
It was so much fun to meet the other guests on the boat, as it is such an international mix! 
We made friends from Australia, France, South Africa, Ireland, Israel, England, Korea and Portugal. 
The food was fabulous, and they even catered to me being gluten/dairy free! I was impressed:) 
Everything is so fresh and delicious. 

The second day was one for the record books, as it was probably one of the best days of my life. 
A second boat came and picked up a few of us (the 3 day people!)
and headed another 2 hours into the bay where there were literally no boats in sight! 
The boat anchored, and we had hours to swim, kayak, lay out on the deck, 
read and eat more delicious and fresh food! 
Friends, it was heaven. 
We swam in the clear waters, kayaked to private beaches,
 and literally laughed and pinched ourselves at what we were experiencing. 
We did not take it for granted! 
We also had the most glorious sun, which can be a rare treat in Halong Bay. 

Do not go to Vietnam without going to Halong Bay! 

A few tips if you are going: 
- book your boat in Hanoi, as the prices are cheaper! 
- We'd completely recommend doing a 3-day cruise if you can! The 2nd (all day) part was our favorite! 
- We chose the Halong Dragon Cruise (which was a bit on the middle/lower end, at $175pp). If you are looking for a really great one, our friends recommended the Margueritte Junk Boat, which was a little pricier at around $240pp or so! 
- Bring a waterproof bag to put your camera in when you go kayaking, and for general weather on the boat! 
- Definitely bring your swimsuit!!! 

Enjoy the pictures…sorry there are so many, hehe!! 

Happy Monday,
love Katie 

 {our dear friends we met….from France, and Australia!} 
 {the floating village in Halong Bay}

 {the pearl farm below…fascinating!}