Our Colorado Vacation

At the beginning of the month, Greg and I took a trip to Colorado to celebrate (a little early) our 13th anniversary. I’m still not sure if the timing of the trip was the greatest idea because we really needed to get away and didn’t want to wait until late July when it next worked out best. But it also left me frantic and more overwhelmed than ever to get back home having missed an extremely valuable week in keeping up with everything that needs to be done in the month of May. I don’t think I’d purposely go with that timing for a vacation again, but the trip itself was definitely worth it! We really had a great time exploring a state that neither of us had ever been to before.

Wednesday

We began our trip on Wednesday after bringing the boys to school. Even though we had a direct flight and no delays, it felt like one of the longest travel days ever. But we finally made it to Boulder in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, it rained that entire first evening we were there, but it was the only day we had bad weather, so I can’t complain.

Our first order of business was getting SOMETHING in our stomachs. We ran out of time to eat at the airport as planned, so we found a coffee shop first thing and I got a mocha and Greg had a smoothie. Then we went to the Boulder Farmers Market, which was our main reason for heading straight to Boulder from the airport. It was their first Wednesday market of the season and fairly small, but still worth checking out! Every booth had samples and at least half of them were various hot sauces and dips. We bought a sample pack of six sauces to bring back home with us that were delicious. Then we walked around Pearl Street, checking out some of the shops. We were basically the only people there! It was my favorite of all the shopping areas we went to. My favorite store was the Art Market Gift Shop, filled with cool things local artists made.

We also went to this amazing kitchen store called Peppercorn. They had the biggest selection of cookbooks I had ever seen. Absolute heaven!

We had dinner at a restaurant called Mountain Sun. The decor was very eclectic and unique. Greg had a chorizo burger and I had a blackened chicken sandwich. This was probably my least favorite meal, though Greg liked his. I also just wasn’t feeling the greatest that whole day and not super interested in eating anything. After dinner we headed to Target to buy some water and soda and then checked into our hotel – The Westin in Westminster.

Thursday

We started our day mid morning at a restaurant right by the hotel called Snooze an A.M. Eatery. This is a chain restaurant around Denver which is apparently VERY popular in the mornings. I have to say, it did not disappoint!! Greg loved his french toast and my sandwich was incredible! It was a soft but toasty everything seeded bun with green goddess cream cheese, an egg, bacon, and some sort of citrus vinaigrette arugula. So good.

I took a picture of this same view on Wednesday afternoon when it was completely gray with the windshield coated in rain. This day it was so much nicer!! We could actually see the mountains as we headed toward Estes Park.

We drove all the way up to the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and then decided against going in. There’s a $25 fee and at the beginning of May, very little of the park is actually open due to so much snow left on the roads. Instead we drove back to a little information building and walked around.

So I mostly wanted to go to Estes Park because my parents are having their vacation there next week and I didn’t want to find out they did something really cool that we had missed because we chose not to drive that far into the mountains. Unfortunately, we didn’t really find much to do there, other than walk around the little town and stop at a few mountain and lake scenic spots. It didn’t help that we were FREEZING and definitely not dressed for such high winds and cold temperatures and snow beneath our only pairs of shoes.

We drove really high up to Lily Lake, which had a simple trail around the edges. But I was way too cold to even attempt it, plus there was still snow and slush on everything. But it was pretty! We had enough after that and headed back east.

Our next stop was the Sawmill Ponds hiking area near Boulder. It was a 1.2 mile loop that took you past 18 different ponds! I think this might have been my favorite thing we did on the trip because it was absolutely gorgeous and there was hardly anybody else there.

I will admit that the trail was so deserted that for the first time in my adult life I had to pee “in the wild.” I was desperate!

So beautiful! Perfect weather, perfect everything. I loved it there.

We had dinner at another really unique place called The Sink. We got some happy hour martinis, jalapeno poppers, and a delicious bbq chicken pizza. It was all really tasty!

Before heading back to our hotel we stopped at another park to view the Flat Irons in Boulder. I think Greg would have liked to have walked a little further into the trail, but my legs were SO tired and that martini hit me harder probably than anything I’ve ever had before (I almost never drink).

But we sat on a big rock and just enjoyed the views. We really loved all the gorgeous nature areas we could just pull off of and revel in. Our best vacations together are the ones filled with beautiful outdoor sights.

I felt pretty bad about it, but we went back to the hotel at 5:30 because I was so tired. Strangely, this was the vacation that Greg wanted to go go go and I wanted a little more resting time. We’re usually very much the opposite! Though to be fair, I was still waking up at my normal time, meaning I was awake 4-5 hours before him every day!

Friday

I was a little on the cranky side Friday morning. Mostly frustrated with my body and how out of shape I’m in and how much my ankle has just wrecked me from ever feeling normal and good. We went to The Denver Biscuit Company for a late breakfast, which is a restaurant I absolutely wanted to check out. But the wait took forever and then we were seated at the bar and the food did not sit right with me. Greg had a chicken biscuit with local honey, stone ground mustard, and pickles. I had a Nashville hot chicken biscuit with ranch dressing and pickles. Somehow the combination of flavors on mine just did not taste great, but I wanted to go there so badly I tried my best to finish it off and then felt kind of crappy for the next half the day.

Our next stop was the original Tattered Cover Bookstore. We realized later they have locations all over, but I think we went to the biggest one. It was amazing! So big and unique. Our only sadness is that only a small portion of the store was actually used (and cheaper) books. But we spent quite a long time just looking around at everything. I bought two books and a notebook.

Our next stop was the Denver Botanic Gardens. Honestly, I was not that impressed. I think Olbrich Gardens in Madison is nicer. And it’s free! I was also just cranky and tired and not feeling great, so all the wild and loud school groups touring, plus all the very slow elderly people looking at every single plant, were just all getting on my nerves. It was hot too! That Colorado sun is blazing, even though the temps were only in the 60’s. I’m not sure how long we actually spent here, but it wasn’t probably more than an hour. There were certainly some pretty flowers, but nothing that blew me away. It all felt a bit artificial and contained compared to the amazing mountain views just twenty minutes outside the city.

Next we searched out Union Station. I love food markets and Denver apparently has like five or six of them. Once we realized how horrific the parking situation was, we just picked one. It was kind of a nightmare trying to find a place to park that wasn’t going to cost a fortune and then we had to walk so far to get there. I was surprised to see how few stores were actually in Union Station, which is, in fact, a working train station. But it was cool to see and Greg got some ice cream and I had a delicious blackberry honey latte. I love checking out new coffee shops hoping they have some sort of signature or seasonal drinks. This is the first place on the trip that actually did. After the station we walked a few blocks to Milk Market, another food market. That one had tons of options, but we were saving up to eat at a taco place. We finished our two hours we paid for of parking by checking out the Millennium Bridge.

We had dinner at a place we both found independently on our searches and really wanted to go to, Tacos Tequila Whiskey. They just had a menu filled with tacos and salsas and you filled out which ones you wanted. Greg had some sort of fried chicken and pork tacos. I had a saucy chicken and a vegetarian one with grilled cheese and poblano peppers and corn in a chipotle sauce. They were SO good. I ordered another vegetarian one and Greg ordered their special taco, which was pork belly and some sauces. Overall, a really delightful meal!

Our next hotel was in Colorado Springs and the traffic was pretty terrible for a Friday evening, so we took a short detour to Matthews-Winters Park to walk around and sit by a stream. It was SO beautiful there. Everything was beautiful really! But this particular spot was like in the center of a valley and we had mountains on every side. I loved it.

We managed to go to these new mountain ranges every night about the same time – they were amazing to see in person, but terrible for taking photos when the sun was hitting at exactly the wrong spot!

We finally made it to The Academy Hotel in Colorado Springs. We were here for three nights and I was really disappointed to see that our only window looked over the hotel lobby/pool/breakfast area/fire pit resting area. I can’t believe anyone would design a hotel next to the mountains and not let every room have an outdoor window!! I think the hotel tried really hard to still provide a great experience with an awesome breakfast and lots of amenities, but the lack of a view made our room just feel very dark and depressing.

We finished the night going to Ute Valley Park, a few miles from the hotel. Gorgeous! There are no bad views in Colorado if you’re outside!

Saturday

On Saturday we split up. The entire reason we picked Colorado in the first place was so Greg could visit one of his college friends before he moved out west. He was planning to take a trip no matter what, so we combined it into our anniversary vacation. We had breakfast at the hotel and then went to Poor Richard’s, which was a unique book/gift store. Then we wandered around Colorado Springs until Greg eventually got picked up and I did some more shopping on my own. I’m not sure if it was because it was so early and a Saturday, but Colorado Springs seemed SO much nicer than Denver, in terms of just walking around and checking out shops. And ease of parking! I had lunch at TByrd’s Tacos with a chicken and fried avocado taco. They were good, they were just unexpectedly both piled high with onions (descriptions both said peppers) which I had to take off, which then took off most of the sauce and cheese. But it was a good choice for eating on my own.

I really liked the store Terra Verde and some fancy chocolate shop where I bought these blonde pearls which were AMAZING. I really wish I had bought the bigger bag. I stopped at Pikes Peak Lemonade, at the recommendation of someone on facebook. I don’t like lemonade, but I tried a few samples and then bought a raspberry puree iced tea. My only complaint about Colorado restaurants is that they don’t seem to believe in using ice with their water, so it was nice to have a refreshing cold drink! I was pretty tired after that, so I went back to the hotel for a nap. Then I sought out this recommended Decadent coffee shop for a coffee, which I didn’t really like much.

I met Greg and his friend for dinner back in downtown Colorado Springs at Bingo Burger. I wasn’t super hungry, so I just got the loaded tater tots, which were sooooo good. I love that in Colorado they have green chile things added to so many menu items. I had some version of them on almost everything I ate the whole trip. Loved it.

Greg and his friend spent the day at Seven Falls, exploring the outskirts of Garden of the Gods, eating, and playing at an arcade. Greg and I went back to see the official Garden of the Gods park after dinner. Amazingly, very few people showed up in my photos, but there were a ton of prom kids everywhere posing for pictures. But the further we walked the less crowded it was. I’m really glad we went that night instead of saving it for morning as planned.

I kept looking for the “kissing camels” part of the rock and we didn’t find it until the very end. I realized last night going through my photos it was actually right at the entrance and I had already taken a photo of it without realizing!

We finished the night seeing the Balancing Rock. Couldn’t avoid getting extra people into those pictures.

Sunday

By Sunday we were kind of floundering on what to do. I didn’t plan the second part of the trip as well as the first because everything was really up in the air with Greg’s friend and I didn’t want to overschedule us. But, I should have found the time to make some solid lists of ideas because it would have avoided some stress of the day. But I think it worked out okay. We started at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, which I didn’t realize was something we had to pay for as it’s also a museum and large gift shop. The dwellings were a lot smaller than I was expecting, but it was still really interesting to see and imagine the Pueblo Indians actually making their lives in such cramped quarters.

The only time of the trip we had perfect selfie lighting! πŸ˜€

Where they baked their bread.

As we continued down the road toward Pikes Peak, we stopped next at the top of a mountain for Cave of the Winds. The shortest tour was an hour and a half and cost a lot, so we opted to just walk around the grounds. We were there for the mountains anyway, not the caves! Plus we didn’t have anything with us to get warmer underground, as that was the hottest day of the trip so far (only low 70’s, but that sun!).

I was legitimately terrified driving up this mountain, but the views at the top were stunning. We actually spent quite a bit of time here just walking around and taking it all in.

Caden really likes ropes courses, so we took a photo of this one to show him. Even though he’s scared of heights and it’s hanging off the side of a mountain, he said he definitely wants to do it and expects us to take him to Colorado ASAP just for this attraction. I couldn’t even go on the overhanging decks because I was so freaked out.

We stopped in Green Mountain Falls (thinking there would be falls, but if there were, we never found them) and walked out to this little island gazebo. There was a drawing next to the walkway of the town in winter with all the kids ice skating on the pond. It was so idyllic.

We drove as far as Woodland Park, trying to get some good photos of Pikes Peak, which never happened. We stopped at a place called Coffee Leo where I ended up getting a chocolate banana coffee shake and an everything bagel for a snack. The one frustrating thing traveling with Greg is that our eating (okay two things – also our sleep schedules) schedules are so polar opposite. I was STARVING by the time we ate this around noon, and he was still full from his small hotel breakfast. We didn’t have a plan for any specific restaurants that day, so I convinced him to get a bagel too (they were so good!). Afterward we stopped in Manitou Springs and Old Colorado City for me to walk around and check out the shops. I wasn’t prepared for how touristy they were going to be. But it was still nice to see what was there. I was pretty exhausted and we were getting pretty crabby with each other by that point (lack of a plan is never good for us), so we went back to the hotel so I could take a nap.

Because it was Cinco de Mayo and Mexican food is always best, we decided to join the masses and went to a Tex Mex place called Chuy’s for dinner. After a ridiculously long wait (about an hour), we engorged ourselves on all this food. I know Mexican food never photographs well, but it was SO good. My chimichanga was on a bed of Colorado green chile sauce with a side of green chile rice – perfection!

We stopped one last time at a “scenic overlook” right off the highway before turning in for the night.

Monday

Our last day kind of turned out to be a bust. Our flight was at 7pm and our original plan was to spend the day in Denver doing whatever we missed on Friday. But neither of us liked Denver that much and didn’t want to deal with the traffic and people again. So we were packing up and trying to decide what to do when we got a text from the airline that our flight had been cancelled! I’ve never had that happen before. Fortunately we were able to quickly book another flight four hours earlier. So we originally would have gotten home after midnight, and now this put us at 8:30. Which is a lot better! I’m not sure why I didn’t pick that flight originally, unless it were a lot more expensive. So it worked out, it just ended up being kind of a waste of a day. We went to Castle Rock and checked out a few shops, returned the rental car, and then spent a long time at the airport. This is the only photo I took the entire day. I had a super dry and totally generic $10 turkey sandwich with a peach tea and Greg had a giant bowl of Asian food. We made it back in time to surprise and say goodnight to Caden. Shepard was already sleep.

And that was our Colorado vacation! It was genuinely one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. I had so much fun seeing all the beautiful sights with Greg and we got to eat a lot of great food. What more can a girl ask for?!

Christmas as a Gift Giver, Life as a Gift Giver

Many people by now have heard of the five love languages – the five ways that everyone experiences and expresses love, developed and thoroughly researched by Gary Chapman over twenty years ago. These love languages include receiving gifts, physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Each person usually has one or two languages that they are dominate in and that is how they express their love and how they best experience love from other people, particularly their spouse and family.

When I first read this book as a young adult, it felt groundbreaking to me. I finally had validation for one of the biggest parts of my life. A part of my being that so few people seem to understand or appreciate. You see, my dominant language is receiving gifts. The language that I believe is the least understood and the one that people will probably look down upon. When I say that I need to get gifts from people to feel loved, I sound selfish and greedy and materialistic. When I give gifts to people, if I do it the extent I actually want to, I’m often made to feel ashamed and rebuked for “going overboard” or flat out anger at me because they don’t have anything to reciprocate (which is not why I give!!).

Unfortunately for us, Greg’s least dominant love language is receiving gifts. Though strangely enough, him giving me gifts is one of the things that made me fall in love with him. As 15 and 16 year olds, he would give little gifts every month on our anniversary of being together. He’d give me a sweet piece of jewelry or sentimental gift every January on our yearly anniversaries. He’d shower me with notes every day and write me full notebooks when he went on trips away from me and bring me flowers for no reason. He showed all signs of being a huge gift giver as a teenager, but it must have just been him blinded by young love because that is absolutely not his personality now.

I don’t mean for this to be an attack on Greg by any means. But it’s definitely something that has made our marriage more challenging over the years. He’ll buy me obligatory birthday and Christmas and Mother’s Day presents. But picking me up something on a random day just because he thought of me? Definitely not. In turn, the little things I get to show him that I care every week often go unnoticed or unappreciated. I honestly can’t do a day of errands without picking up at least one special little treat for each of my family members. I put so much thought and effort into every holiday gift, always giving little things on every possible occasion. The response is most often that I shouldn’t have. And no, not in a cute little way he didn’t really mean, but NO, you shouldn’t have, because it’s not important to me.

To be fair, Greg’s dominant love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. Want to know which two are at the absolute bottom for me? Right. So no matter what, we’re always missing the mark with each other in how we’re giving and what love language we’re receiving and internalizing AS love. I’d say the thing that’s holding us together is that acts of service are both pretty high for each of us. Acts of service can often been seen and felt as a gift, so I’m not feeling depleted entirely. Acts of service are quietly going about your days doing as much as possible to make the lives of the ones you love easier. Because we both do so well with this, our household responsibilities are split pretty evenly and for the most part, run smoothly.

Anyway, like most of the world, Christmastime is when I think most often about gift buying. It’s also when I spend way too much time thinking about my highest love language. I do it for birthdays too, but at Christmas, when every single person that means anything to me deserves a special gift in their hands, my brain kind of explodes. I want every gift I buy or make to have meaning and be valued. Most of our siblings and their significant others and parents have been making it significantly harder on me because they don’t create wish lists anymore and we don’t spend enough time with them to get the best ideas of what they might like most. And no, I’m not going to buy something just to buy something. It NEEDS TO BE thoughtful and well received. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, but it does need to fit who they are and what they will like. The pressure is real high, you guys. I love it. And it consumes me and maybe sometimes destroys the season for me.

Christmas as an inherent gift giver can be pretty overwhelming. I’d say I devote about a solid month of my time to all things Christmas gift related. The thinking, the research, the price shopping, the actual buying, the unpacking of all the online shopping boxes that arrive at once, the hiding in the house, the creating, the wrapping, the dividing for each location, the measuring out to make sure everyone is getting roughly the same amount of gifts with roughly the same value. Then there’s the actual in store shopping, where I often find my best gifts to give because I go on these treasure hunts and almost always happily stumble on something that’s perfect for someone and can’t possibly be passed up. But then I need to reassess again to make sure everyone is still getting about an equal amount of gifts. I also have to spend time making sure I have things for neighbors and teachers and postal workers (yes, because they work dang hard for me at this time of the year!!). And then there are the friends I want to get gifts for simply because they’re my friends, but I have to constantly be reigning it in because I don’t want them to feel like I expect something in return, because I don’t. There’s really quite a bit of reigning it in this time of year, which is starting to ruin the season for me. I want to give what I want to give. I don’t want to be criticized for giving too much or judged because I have a generous spirit and have a really hard time saying no when I come across a gift that will be perfect for someone. Unfortunately, all these adverse reactions to my gifts is truly starting to wear me down and take a lot of joy out of the one thing I seem to do really well.

Then there’s a part of the Christmas season that’s hard to talk about when your love language is RECEIVING gifts. The actual gifts you want for yourself. How can you talk about this without sounding like a selfish child? I don’t think you can. But yeah, I really look forward to opening my own gifts. I’m a pretty reserved person and it’s very unlikely I will outwardly gush over a gift given to me, which maybe makes it seem like I don’t care. But believe me, I really, really do. I get so excited about one of the only times of year I get gifts from Greg. I love that the boys still usually make some sort of art project at school that is meant to be a gift because the handmade and personal things are truly the most treasured. Really, any gift that shows a person knows ME is a gift I will treasure. Adversely, a gift that clearly has shown no thought at all is worse than no gift at all. Another thing that causes more trouble than good at this time of year. A gift with no thoughtful intent means nothing. I try to counteract these possibilities by trying to ensure my tank is going to be filled up, even if it means taking measures into my own hands. I spend a ton of time cultivating wish lists of things I would be truly joyful to receive. I make lists for the boys to try and ensure they will also get things they’ll truly use and enjoy. I’m in charge of filling my own stocking (and all the rest), so I use that as an excuse to pick up all kinds of little treats for myself. This year I even took things a step farther and bought myself two different advent calendars – a sticker advent from Pipsticks for the entire month, and a bookish 12 days of Christmas advent surprise box from Once Upon a book Club. In this time of the year when I’m focusing so much on gifts for others, I’m also giving myself two little surprise presents every day to keep ME happy. No, of course it doesn’t mean as much as someone else gifting me surprises. But self care and self love are important and this is what I do to fill my own tank at Christmastime.

There really is no point to this post, other than I needed to get it off my chest. I’d say in my whole circle of people close to me, there is only one , maybe two, other people whose stronger love language is gifts. Everyone else? It really doesn’t matter to them. Which is unfortunate to all of us! I am simply putting it out there to everyone that if you’re given a gift this Christmas season, or for no reason at all at any other point in the year, just be thankful for it! Don’t say you shouldn’t have, don’t comment on the expense, don’t flat out refuse to accept it. Don’t belittle the time and effort and thought that a person put into picking out that gift for you. They didn’t have to, but they chose to, because they love you. It matters to them. Maybe more than you’ll ever realize.

11 Year Anniversary Weekend Getaway

20170527_122427 on our way

On Sunday we celebrated our 11 year wedding anniversary! Every year we struggle with trying to come up with a unique vacation spot, usually just for a couple days and within easy driving distance from home. This year felt especially hard and I was leaning toward skipping a trip all together. Spring has been super busy, we had a big vacation in fall, we’re going to New Jersey in June, it just felt overwhelming to add one more thing to the calendar. But we were super lucky and there just happened to be a cancellation at A Secret Cottage posted on facebook at the exact time I checked when we were all in the car together – for our actual anniversary weekend! This is the one place Greg really wanted to go back to, so it seemed perfect. He doesn’t usually have much of an opinion on where we go or what we do, so it was really nice we could go somewhere that he loved this year.

A Secret Cottage is an adorable little cottage that we came across when trying to find a place for a fall getaway a few years ago. When we don’t have other bigger fall vacation plans, like the last two years, Greg and I have always tried to have a getaway around my birthday in October. We were fortunate enough to find this little place and spend my 30th birthday here. It’s only about an hour from home, but in the middle of a bunch of rolling hills and farmland. Basically in the middle of nowhere. The cottage is down a private drive and has its own private little lake. The building is clean and cute with a loft bedroom and large jacuzzi overlooking the lake, a full kitchen, a living room stocked with tons of dvds, a large shower room, two porches, a fire pit, a dock with paddle boat, and walking trails all around the property. It’s pretty great! It’s also very hard to get into if you’re not booking a year in advance. But if you’re looking for a secluded getaway sometime this is a great place to check!

20170527_123020 appetizer platter

On Saturday morning, Shepard and I took Annie to the vet for her first boarding experience. It was so sad! She put up a big fuss when they took the leash from me and tried to get out of her collar to get back to me. That’s the first I’ve ever seen her try that maneuver. It was only for two nights, but I felt really bad. We’ve only had her for two months and I really didn’t want her to think we abandoned her the way her original family must have. πŸ™ But we didn’t really have any other options. Dog owning is a lot more complicated than cat owning in this regard. You can never just pick up and leave for a night without a lot of planning.

Anyway, next we dropped off the boys at Greg’s parents house. They had lots of fun plans with the grandparents for the weekend. And finally, Greg and I headed off to the Dells for a big lunch. Since the cottage is so far removed from everything, we were planning to just eat out once each day so we could spend the majority of the time just relaxing and hanging out. I did restaurant research ahead of time – we never seem to have much luck just randomly picking places. So Saturday’s lunch was at Dells Distillery. We got the sampler appetizer platter with tots, chicken fingers, fried pickles, and cheesecurds. They were all pretty blah and bland.

20170527_123142 dells distillery

Greg had a burger and I had a chicken sandwich. Also fairly disappointing.

IMG_20170527_130053 smokehouse caramel

There was a fudge shop next door, so I stopped in to find a dessert after that disappointing lunch. I bought a $3 smokehouse caramel square. It was pretty good.

20170527_141903 bear

We never considered that being Memorial Weekend, it was also Dells kickoff weekend with all the outdoor waterparks. The city was jam packed. We didn’t have any interest in doing touristy things or walking through the crowds. But we still had some time to kill, so we went to one of my favorite places ever – the Craft Mall. In the antique section I was super excited to find some Steiff and old teddy bears. Those are my absolute favorite thing to collect because they are so hard to find. The hunt is always so rewarding when I finally come across an adorable little bear. Greg bought me this one as an anniversary gift. I love it!

20170527_150802 secret cottage

We made it to the cottage at 3:00 on the dot.

20170527_151126(0) turtle

Turtle and fish feeding is highly encouraged at the cottage and they have a tub of food for all the guests to use. This huge snapping turtle was right by the dock waiting for us. We fed him right away. No sign of him on Sunday, but fed a bunch of painted turtles. And then this guy came out to say goodbye on Monday. It’s such a little thing, but it really made the whole cottage experience so much more fun!

20170527_163059(0) boating

On a paddle boat ride. Boating makes me pretty nervous, even on tiny little pond lakes. Pond lakes filled with turtles and gigantic fish, mind you!! But it was fun to paddle around. It’s the only boat ride we took because it was super windy on Sunday.

20170527_163113 vacation amy

Do you think I can pull off a hat?! I keep seeing women online with big hats and I always think they look so cute! Since the sun is basically my arch nemesis in summer and I HATE being hot and blinded, I bought myself two hats to try this year. But I’m nervous about actually wearing them in public because I never see real people wear hats like this! Dilemma. πŸ™‚

20170527_174452 beaver

On our boat ride we also saw a beaver swimming around us. He hung around the whole evening.

20170527_175651 saturday afternoon

Next, we went for a walk around the trails. We saw some deer, but I didn’t get a picture.

20170527_190840 saturday dinner

Saturday’s dinner was frozen pizza and these frozen peach margarita type things I found at the store last week. They were pretty good!

The rest of Saturday was for relaxing and watching part of a movie. It was a really good first day!

20170528_085618 sunday breakfast

The cottage owners supply guests with a small container of biscuits and four eggs. So that was our breakfast on Sunday morning.

20170528_110643 11 years

Eleven years married! Seventeen and a half years together! A lifetime, basically. A lot has happened in the last eleven years. Two jobs for Greg, four jobs for me, four years in Minnesota, two kids, two apartments, one house swap, six months of living with the in-laws, two houses, two cats (actually they came before), one dog, six vehicles, a lot of ups and downs, and a whole lot of memories. I kind of hope the next eleven are a little less eventful. πŸ™‚

20170528_112910 observatory hill sign

We spent a long time on Sunday morning just chilling out. I was pretty tired and into a really good book, so I wanted to read. Finally around 10:30ish we decided to go out and explore. Our first destination was Observatory Hill in Montello. Well, really in the middle of nowhere. We never would have known about it except it was listed in a brochure at the cottage. There were zero signs on the way there. The hill was at the end of a road only marked “dead end.”

20170528_113012 the weak trailheads

There was no clearly marked trail, only a few little spots like this. We picked the right one.

20170528_113206 trail sign

A little history for you.

20170528_114456 made it to the top

We made it to the top! It was a bit more of a hike than I was expecting. Not a good sandal hike! But it was so pretty when we reached the top.

20170528_114600 observatory hill

So sunny! But it was only about 65 degrees and felt really good. I’m so glad we ended up with such amazing weather after weeks of rain and gloom.

I didn’t take any pictures, but our next stop was Lunch Creek Winery. Also only found because it was in a paper brochure. I was expecting it to be more of a full scale vineyard, but it was basically just someone’s barn that they open up on weekends. We had a free wine tasting, trying out all the sweeter wines. A lot of fruit wines. We ended up buying a bottle of their sweetest, a caramel apple wine. I think I’ll save it for fall.

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It was an hour back in the other direction, but we decided to go back to the Dells for a late lunch. I kept looking at the menu and really wanted to go here, to B-Lux. Greg got a buffalo chicken sandwich, parmesan dusted waffle fries, and an oreo hard shake that had Bailey’s and Kahlua in it. I love our vacation meal pictures. πŸ™‚

20170528_143905 blux amy

I had a southern fried chicken sandwich with cajun mayo, sweet potato fries with maple bacon salt, and a “long weekend” hard shake, made with Creme de Cacao, vodka, nutella, toasted marshmallows, and graham crackers. I thought the whole meal was delicious! I’m glad we made the drive back there.

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At this point we were both really exhausted, so we went back to the cottage for the rest of the night.

20170528_155354(0) fish

More fish feeding! Because it’s a private lake you can fish without a license. The cottage also has a variety of poles we could have used, but Greg didn’t want to deal with taking the fish off the hooks for me over and over again. I’m sure it would have been an awesome fishing experience because there were just so many around, but I don’t blame him. I’m a fish wimp.

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A pretty panorama of the cottage’s yard area. We didn’t really make use of the fire pit or porch seating. It was pretty buggy out already. And allergies…they’re the worst.

20170528_195129 watching sunset

Trying to watch the sunset, which wasn’t very magnificent that night. But a sunset nonetheless. I look pretty awful at this point. Allergies suck. I try to ignore them. The medications I started taking last year really helped with a lot of the sinusy stuff, but I haven’t yet found anything that really makes my eyes any better. It’s such a beautiful time of year to be outside, but also hard not to be halfway miserable anytime I’m out. πŸ™

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Panorama of the porch and lakeside of the cottage. So pretty!

20170528_195948 toasting

Toasting our eleven years with my favorite pink moscato. I loved the champagne flutes they had there!

20170528_195956 toasting together

To many, many more years! (And maybe a vacation past itsΒ grass allergy season next year!)

20170528_201007 farm field

Ended the night with one more walk around the trails.

20170529_091831 going home

Monday morning and time to leave. We didn’t really linger around after we were both up. I forgot a picture, but we had some fancy cinnamon roll frozen waffles for breakfast. None of our cottage meals were too thrilling, but I wanted a real vacation where I didn’t have to do any work. So simple it was!

20170529_104535(0) strong man

Next we picked up the boys. Sounded like they had a really good time! Popcorn store, zoo, movie nights, a day at Cedar Lake with the cousins, and lots of time in the sandbox. I’m glad they got to have a little vacation of their own.

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And six very long hours later, I was able to pick up Annie! She survived! According to her report card she missed us, but did pretty well. She didn’t eat very much, but she doesn’t eat very much at home either. And she enjoyed playing with the toys. She was definitely super excited to see us! She started whimpering as soon as we turned onto our street. Usually she only does that when she realizes we’re almost to the dog park. We were all very happy to be reunited! Well, except for maybe the cats who got the long weekend and house all to themselves!

So overall, a really sweet eleven year weekend getaway celebration. I wish it could have been at least another night longer, but we’ll take what we can get! The weekend was exactly what we needed to connect and feel closer after some pretty crazy months.

Happy anniversary, honey!

17 Years Together

1st Picture Together

On January 17, 2000, my best friend Dianne and I volunteered to work at the Japanese fundraiser booth at a school event called Share Fair. That single decision set the course for the rest of my life and I will be forever grateful to her for roping me into joining her. πŸ™‚

That evening we arrived at the booth early because we didn’t have anything better to do. That is where I met Greg. I knew who he was because Dianne was in Japanese class with him and she used to have a bit of a crush on him. We’d show up at these fundraisers together the year before to spy on him. Because that’s what 8th graders do. I also had piano lessons after his little sisters and was aware that he belonged to that family. So knowing that he was working the booth before us, we decided to go ahead and join him for the rest of his shift.

My memories of those first few hours together just make me laugh. First of all, I was a total giggly mess. And Greg was doing basically everything he could to brush me off. I remember a big argument because he insisted to me that his mom and sisters, who were across the cafeteria eating, were not actually his family. Even after they walked over to talk to him. I told him that I worked at Cousins and he went into a big thing about how Subway is the only sub place worth going to. We had nothing in common. He was a video game nerd who only wore Dragon Ball Z shirts and never had a girlfriend before. I was coming off a couple month span of being totally boy crazy, with different crushes every week. Oh, and I suppose I should mention that we were both 15. He was a sophomore and I was a freshman.

I also have some very sweet memories from that night. Mainly, Greg refused to leave when his shift was over and stuck around with us for ours. It had to mean something! He also spent a long time continuously retrieving a ball for a little boy who kept kicking it at us. I dubbed him Super Greg at that point, made a little cartoon character for him, and continued to call him SG for a very long time after that.

Somehow after that first night together I managed to get his email address or chat name. I started sending him messages online and also writing him notes when I found him in school. Looking back, I was basically stalking him and really quite bold! But my persistence wore him down and he eventually agreed to hang out with me again. The picture above is the first picture taken of us on February 4, 2000. We were going to hang out at a youth group type hangout place, but it ended up being closed. Instead we went with my family to my little brother’s elementary school dance, where we wandered the halls and laughed at the pictures on the walls. After the dance we went back to my house where I played piano and he sang along with the songs. It was sweet. πŸ™‚

1st Together

The next night, we went on our very first date to the Turnabout dance. It was quite the fiasco getting him to agree to go with me. But it happened!

1st Turnabout

And that was how our relationship began! We’ve always called January 17th the day we got together and continue to celebrate it every year. I don’t remember a whole lot of specifics from the early days, except that we spent as much time together as we could. I’m pretty sure we never so much as even had a lunch period together in high school, but we’d always be writing each other notes and talking in between classes. We spent a lot of time hanging out each others’ houses, went to every dance together, and sometimes spent time at parks, concerts, etc. On February 25th, we had our first kiss. On March 17th, I told him I loved him after watching him at his choir concert. We were basically inseparable from then on.

Around Year 1

I can’t find a picture of our first anniversary together, though I do vaguely remember celebrating it by walking around a mall together. This was still before I had a digital camera, so two years of photos are packed away in a box somewhere. If they even exist. This is as close as I could find, from Greg’s junior prom in May 2001.

2 Years

Our second anniversary in 2002. Greg was a senior and I was a junior.

3 Years

Our third anniversary in 2003. This was a harder year because Greg was in college and I was still in high school. I know we spent as much time as we could together on weekends, but he wanted to experience the college life and we both had separate jobs we needed to be at.

4 Years

Fourth anniversary in 2004. We were much happier here! πŸ™‚ Greg was at UW Madison and I was at Edgewood. It was a lot easier to be together when we were living in the same city. I loved this new stage in our relationship where we were both adults and could start forming new traditions together. My favorites were our Thursday nights. We’d always go out to dinner at Chipotle or Buffalo Wild Wings and then attend Primetime, a Campus Crusade meeting. We were both always busy with college things, but Thursdays were a priority.

5 Years 1

Our fifth and favorite anniversary, January 2005. Notice the ring? πŸ™‚

5 Years 2

At this point, we knew we wanted to be together forever, it was just a matter of feeling ready to move forward. We were 20, both still in school. I can’t remember what else we did on this anniversary date, but it ended with us sitting at our favorite spot, a fallen tree next to Lake Wingra. Greg got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was one of the best days of my life.

6 Years

Our sixth anniversary, 2006. This was another kind of tricky year as we figured out when and how to make a wedding happen. Greg was going to graduate and had a job lined up in Minnesota. I had a year left at Edgewood. We didn’t want to put off getting married more than a year and a half after the engagement and we didn’t want to spend five months living apart from each other while I finished. In the end, I decided to transfer to Minneapolis College of Art and Design to finish my Graphic Design degree. I stopped at Edgewood six months before the wedding so I could work full time while Greg finished his final semester. In the end, I wasn’t able to go to MCAD because financial aid fell through. I have a lot of regrets about the decisions we made this year and sometimes wonder about how differently things could have been if I had just finished my degree when I was supposed to. But we were young and in love and NEEDED to be married!

7 Years

Our 7th anniversary, 2007. We were married and living in Minnesota. Greg was working at Thomson West and I was working part time at Panera while finishing up a graphic design certificate at Sessions Online School of Design. Many people say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but I found it to be a whirlwind of fun and excitement. It was great for us to move away from everything we knew, so we could just focus on each other and our new lives together. We had so much fun exploring the Twin Cities. I think back on these early years of marriage as when we were most spontaneous and fun together. I kind of miss it!

8 Years Surprise

Eighth anniversary, 2008, came with a surprise! Actually it was planned, but still very exciting!

8 Years

This was another year of transition as we got ready to become parents. I was also finishing my bachelor’s degree online while working at a church as a Communications Specialist. 2008 was also the year we bought our first house. A lot of change and a lot of excitement!

9 Years

Ninth anniversary, 2009. The year of new parenthood. Life with a baby who never slept and wanted to nurse 24/7. It was an adjustment, but it also brought us closer. We learned how to tackle parenting responsibilities as a team and deepened our relationship with each other.

10 Years

Tenth anniversary in 2010. This is the year we became pregnant with Shepard and decided we wanted to move back to Wisconsin to be closer to family. It was the start of a very hard year of transition and adjustment as we dealt with a lot of issues trying to sell our house. But the struggle also brought us closer as we learned how to deal with things better together.

11 years

Our 11th anniversary, 2011. Just a month and a day before we welcomed Shepard into the world! Besides the chaos of living in a variety of places, dealing with a newborn who threw up five times a day in a house without a washing machine, I remember this as a pretty fun year. Shepard brought a lot of sunshine and happiness into our family. It’s also the year we eventually moved into our apartment after FINALLY selling our house. And the year Caden began his journey with speech therapy.

12 Years Valentines Day

Our 12th anniversary, 2012. Life with two rambunctious little boys!

13 Years

Our 13th anniversary, 2013. Another year filled with parenting and making the most of things.

14 Years

Our 14th anniversary, 2014. These years have not been very exciting to our overall life story. But we were together!

15 Years

Our 15th anniversary, 2015.

16 Years

Our 16th anniversary, 2016. This was our first monumental year in awhile. We also celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary this year. Our biggest event of the year was buying a new house. The crazy process of looking at houses daily, arguing and comparing all the pros and cons of each one, and finally falling in love with the same house for all the same reasons, was quite a journey. SO many ups and downs in like a three week span. But it brought us together and made us realize how align our priorities still are. Sometimes that’s easy to forget when we’re busy with kids and our own interests. When it comes to what really matters, however, we are still a team.

17 Years

And that brings me to today – our 17th year of being together. We’ve been through a lot together and I’m sure we’ll go through much more. But we’re in it for the long haul and I can’t wait to see where life will take us in the next 17 years!

Happy anniversary, Super Greg!

Milwaukee Wave Date Night

date-night

Last night we met my brother and sister-in-law in Milwaukee for a double date night. Timmy and Brittany moved back to Wisconsin this fall after a couple of years in California. We’re really excited to to get to spend more time with them, both in family gatherings and as “couple friends,” something we’re sorely lacking! All of our siblings were still in high school when Greg and I got married and moved to Minnesota. They were all in college when we became parents. We’ve had very little opportunity to really form adult friendships with our siblings outside of also being in mom and dad mode. It’s seriously awesome when we get a chance to just be US for a night and not worry about needy and emotionally demanding kids. It’s also really awesome that Timmy and Brittany are only a little over an hour away and getting together with them more than once or twice a year is actually our new reality!

pretzel

We met for dinner at Milwaukee Brat House because it was near the stadium. The restaurant was packed and loud, but the food was good! We shared this gigantic pretzel. We were getting pressed for time by the time the rest of the food came out, so I forgot to take a picture. My chicken wrap and cheese curds were delicious, though!

wave-game

This was mine and Greg’s first Wave game, so we didn’t know what to expect. We’re obviously not giant soccer fans, but we’re always up for a reason to go on a date night! And surprisingly, I actually really loved the game! It was fast paced and intense and honestly a lot of fun. I’d say the majority of the spectators were children, so the boys probably would have enjoyed it too. Next time!

Anyway, it was a great little date night. I wish we had more of them because it always does wonders for our relationship to get out of the house and interact as a couple instead of just a parental unit. We’re so fortunate to have grandparents around to watch the boys when we need a night out. Thanks, Timmy and Brittany for coming up with the idea and giving us an excuse to go out!

15 Years and Other Ramblings

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Last Saturday Greg and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary of being together. Do most people still celebrate the date they met and were sort of together forever after? Probably not, but January 17th was such a big date to us in the six years we were a couple before getting marriage that we didn’t want to let it go. In many ways this anniversary has always felt a little more special to me than our wedding anniversary because it marks such a major change in my life. Plus it’s always a lot more fun to celebrate in the middle of January when nothing else is going on rather than the end of May during Memorial weekend and the end days of school when we’re too busy to focus on our special date.

At any rate, we’ve officially been together for half of our lives. Crazy! I barely remember life before that. It’s always amazed me that the thing that most attracted me to Greg when we first met was how well he interacted with a child. We were working at a fundraiser together and while we were sitting there this little boy kept throwing a ball in our general direction. Every single time Greg would get up and throw it back to him, clearly enjoying himself. Who would have thought that hour in time would so clearly portray our future together. Greg is and has been an amazing dad from the second he became one. I feel so blessed that found each other that day and have been committed to each other ever since. I look forward to still celebrating this day fifty years from now. πŸ™‚

So. On to my “other ramblings.” I am SO fed up with my cpap machine and sleep in general. I used to love that moment every night when I was ready to put my kindle down and know that I’d fall asleep immediately and wake up at 5:00 feeling fully recharged. According to my doctor, at least, that great sleep I always thought I had at night was a lie. With the mild sleep apnea I was having over 40 “episodes” an hour of partially waking up, resulting in my extreme fatigue during the day. Since being on my machine I’ve been averaging about 1.4 per hour which is obviously a significant improvement. Then why does it now feel so hard to sleep?? Why do I wake up feeling so groggy and exhausted? While I’m used to this feeling the majority of the day, I never had it in the mornings.

I’m technically on a three month trial with the machine and am supposed to be putting my absolute best effort into using it so I’ll know beyond a doubt if it helped or not. In the past three weeks I feel like I’ve really tried but I’ve only totally slept through the night once in that time. I’ve been restless, had a hard time falling asleep, had a hard time staying asleep, and most nights I wake up around 2 or 3 and take it off because it feels like too much effort to try and fall back to sleep with it on. The last two nights have suddenly felt like the first few nights where it’s suffocating me and I’m going to die if I don’t take the mask off. The whole thing is just so frustrating!! But…on the other hand…while not actually feeling any better, I HAVE been a lot more active and productive during the day. I’ve been doing so much more, having more willpower, and pushing myself harder than I have in a long time. Is that the result of a better sleep quality, despite how awful it’s felt? I wish I knew. Clearly I’ll continue using it because I want to know if after three months I really do feel better or not. But I hate it. I dread bedtime so much knowing that my exhaustion will continue to fight me through the night with no relief in sight.

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Chicago Anniversary Vacation

Well, this really feels like old news now, but two weeks ago Greg and I went on a weekend getaway to Chicago to celebrate our seventh anniversary. I just now finished going through the photos from our trip. I’m so behind!!! The last week has been absolutely crazy getting ready for a garage sale, madly making 4th of July Annies, and getting ready for Father’s Day. So much to do! But I thought I’d take a quick break from all that to share the highlights from our trip!

In the van bright and early to bring the boys to Grandma’s house for the weekend. They were very excited about having two sleepovers in a row!

The weather forecast was pretty sure we were going to get rain the whole weekend. Of course, when so many of the things I planned on doing were outside! Instead of going straight to the city like we planned we made our first stop in Volo, Illinois at the Volo Auto Museum. It’s this really cool museum type of place where they store a bunch of vehicles that were used in movies. They also have tons of classic cars for sale and four huge antique malls. It was a nice place for both of us and our varied interests.

One of many Batman cars.

A replication of the first automobile (which no longer exists).

This was odd, but of course we had to get our picture taken with him.

Took this picture for my dad. I remember watching Blues Brothers with him many, many times.

Took this picture for my brother. Johnny Cash’s Git-Tar Car.

Ghostbusters car.


The truck Heath Ledger drove in Dark Knight. I took about a hundred other pictures of cars, but it’s kind of boring… So enough of this.
With storms still looming in the forecast, we went to the Garfield Park Conservatory next. This was my favorite part of the trip. We were both pleasantly surprised at how big and beautiful it was. When we were in college we spent a lot of time at Olbrich Park in Madison and this is very similar. But way better. At least on the inside.

If you’re ever near Chicago and looking for something free to do, I definitely recommend this. We were pretty much the only people in the whole place too. It was very nice.

That night we ate at a place near our hotel called Al’s Beef. Greg got the beef.

I had a chicken sandwich (surprise, surprise) and we shared fries smothered in a chipotle sauce. Normally I can take or leave fries; they’re really not my favorite thing. But I discovered they taste pretty amazing when covered in something this trip! All the food here was very good!

On Saturday we headed in to the city. All of our plans were a little more complicated because the outdoor concert we planned our trip around that night changed venues at the last minute and the rules for the new pavilion were a lot more strict. So instead of taking the train in as planned we drove to a lot where we could stay all day for only $5. It worked out really well.

Our first stop was Navy Pier, because that’s where people go in Chicago. Though I’m not really sure why. That was my second time there and thought it was kind of boring both times. This time was slightly more interesting because we saw a naked man get arrested by about ten police officers a few benches down from where we decided to rest…

I was kind of cranky because my feet hurt so early in the day. With another forecast of storms we were also carrying our coats and umbrellas all day. I wasn’t planning on that extra weight and it was annoying! At least it wasn’t too hot out. Lots of walking, though. I ended up getting 22,000 steps in that day!

We were really stumped on where to eat for lunch. So many choices, but we didn’t want to waste a meal on a bad restaurant. I researched a ton of great places ahead of time and then we got there and realized everything was just too far away. So we made a spontaneous decision to eat at a place called Bub City. I’m glad we did because everything was amazing! We had some stuffed jalapenos for an appetizer – yum. Greg got this super pork sandwich and waffle fries.


I had a turkey club sandwich and delicious tater tots. Everything was sooo good and we were completely stuffed. That was our only meal of the day.
Afterward we walked to the French Market. It was the one neat looking thing I really wanted to do, but it turned out to be kind of a let down. They had a lot of food for sale, but most of it would have needed to be cooked first! So I satisfied myself with a cannoli instead. 

Then back to Millennium Park to see The Bean.

There was a cute little park behind it where we relaxed for awhile. And then it finally started to rain. I was kind of a little relieved that we didn’t carry our gear around all day for nothing!

There was nothing else we were really wanting to do, so we found our way back to the van and rested for about an hour. It was pouring that entire time, so I’m glad we got to a good place for it. Finally we headed out to the Guster/Dispatch concert. The reason we were in Chicago in the first place. I don’t really have much to say about the concert. We were in a crazy long line forever. Umbrellas were prohibited items, so even though it was pouring, all those people had to toss their umbrellas if they wanted to get in. Once inside everyone was immediately drunk. We left after Guster played since that’s all we cared about. And that was Saturday!

On Sunday we (Greg) slept in and then headed home. We stopped at Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch and then waited for the boys to come home. They were both very happy to have some afternoon relaxation time with daddy! Anyway, it was a nice little getaway. Overall, Chicago doesn’t really appeal to me and I probably won’t want to go back for awhile, but it was still nice to spend some time with Greg and no distractions. It was a very good anniversary!

Celebrating 13 Years

Today Greg and I celebrated our thirteen year anniversary of being together. I know it’s not really normal to keep celebrating that anniversary after you get married, but to me this one almost feels more important than our real anniversary. Probably because we got married Memorial weekend so there’s always a ton of stuff going on that has nothing to do with our anniversary. It’s a lot easier to keep a sacred anniversary in the middle of January! Today is also the eighth anniversary of when Greg proposed, so it’s extra special. πŸ™‚

It didn’t really work out to have a date today, so we ended up celebrating three days in a row. No complaints there!

On Tuesday we had an at home date and I made a special dinner. I was really excited to try out a new pizza recipe because as much as I love making homemade pizza, I’ve been in a huge rut coming up with new flavors. This time around I made a fresh peppercorn crust and my first slow simmered sauce.

Taking a break from the stove for a self portrait. πŸ™‚

Pizza topped with mozzarella, bacon, broccoli, and fontina cheese.

It was really good! Greg wasn’t too happy about the broccoli when I was putting it together, but we both liked it overall.

Yesterday we had parent teacher conferences at the preschool in the morning, so we took the whole day off and go on a date afterward. I was hoping to walk around outside Madison, reminiscing of our proposal day, but it was WAY too cold and windy. We mostly just walked around the mall and then had lunch at a place called The Fountain and saw the movie “This is 40” in the theater. It was fun to just do something special in the middle of the day.

And today is our official anniversary. I tried to make another special dinner – our favorite kung pao chicken and a brown butter skillet cookie. Yum.

Caden decided to photo bomb our picture.

It’s amazing how much we’ve changed and grown in the last thirteen years. We were only fifteen when we met and it feels like we’ve already spent a lifetime together.

A very flattering photo. I had to bribe Shepard with a cookie to come over by us. He’s apparently very against the four person self portrait.

I love my family. We’ve built a good life together.

The boys have been blinded.

Caden is making such a Greg face in this picture. Too too funny.

As perfect as it’s going to get. πŸ™‚

Happy anniversary, Greg!