Friday Favorites #15

Good morning! I know it’s not Friday, but our internet was being very finicky yesterday, picking and choosing which websites it would load, and this was not one of them! (It was really fun going all day with four frustrated and anxious people who couldn’t get their wifi to work.) I really wanted to get my Friday Favorites out this week, though, so here they are!

Food and Drinks

Thai Mango Curry
This is a recipe I sought out many years ago after ordering mango curry from a restaurant and falling in love with the flavors. That restaurant is only in Madison, but I’ve never managed to go back to it. Instead I make myself this every September as a sort of celebration lunch for getting my life back. Unfortunately, this fall my life is not back. But I needed to make the curry as my unofficial ushering in of the fall season. Greg’s allergic to mango and I like to make it REALLY spicy – that’s why I normally make it as a special lunch just for me. My kids love spicy food, but I did take it back a notch this time to be safe. Greg risked the allergy attack and ate it too. I follow the recipe pretty closely, but always like to add potatoes to mine because that’s how it was served in the restaurant. I also usually add extra mango chunks, but I was trying to tone it down a bit for Greg’s sake. I like to serve it with rice, naan, and a lot of peanuts and cilantro. Delicious!


Pork Tacos
Tacos are so obviously my favorite food. We eat them more than anything else, but I do really try to switch up what kinds of meats, shells, and toppings we use. While I enjoy carnitas tacos, it’s always kind of a pain to work with such a large cut of meat with so much fat that needs to be trimmed off. When I found this recipe about a year ago I was really intrigued. Pork tenderloin tends to go on sale pretty often, but I’ve never particularly liked the way it tastes. But I gave this recipe a shot and I love it! Honestly, you can barely even tell it’s pork. With all the seasonings it’s just a delightfully flavored chunk of meat. I didn’t make the avocado cream sauce this time, but I do think pork and avocado are the perfect pairing, so I’d recommend giving it a shot. Or at least cutting up some avocado and flaky salt for topping!

Death Wish Pumpkin Coffee
Full disclosure, I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin spice lattes or any kind of fall coffee drinks. But I am fully embracing all the little perks of fall this year since I won’t be able to enjoy most of the bigger things I normally get so excited about at this time of the year. I wanted to find some good pumpkin coffee (I already had some pumpkin spice tea – also good!). A facebook group I follow highly recommended Death Wish because they roast their beans with real pumpkin for a very intense flavor. I immediately ordered some and then spent two weeks trying to find a pumpkin spice creamer to pair with it. They’re either not out yet, or everyone is thinking the same thing and it’s sold out everywhere. I finally found the Starbucks brand and it’s a great pairing. The coffee has a really good pumpkin flavor without any artificial tastes. It’s funny how quickly my coffee palette in the last two years (when I first started drinking coffee!) changed from only drinking flavored k-cups, to liking artificially flavored pre-ground coffees, to only liking the highest quality of small roasted beans that I can grind myself. I was apprehensive about buying a flavored coffee after graduating out of that coffee league awhile ago, but this really impressed me. 

Life Management

Bloom Daily Planner
I go back and forth on how I feel about planners. On one hand, I LOVE to be organized with a very visual representation of what I need to get done every day. On the other hand, sometimes those neverending lists start to stress me out and I feel like I can never take a break because there are always more things to do. I haven’t used one at all in the last six months, but then September rolled around and the calendar started really filling up. We have so many random appointments and school dates to remember that I wanted to be a little more organized. It’s also about time I just accept that this is my life now and I need to figure out how to make it work for me. So I ordered one of these Bloom planners, which I’ve used in the past, because they’re inexpensive, undated (so I can take days off if I start to feel overwhelmed by my lists), and just really useful! I always do best when I can prioritize only three things a day, but also doing a brain dump on everything else that needs to get done so I can stop thinking about it all. And it’s helpful for me to fill in what I ate, or what I plan on eating. I like recording my exercise too. Anyway, if you’re just looking for a decent organizing tool to get you through your day, this is a good one.

Beauty

Orly Turn it Up Nail Polish
My nail polish obsession continues! I started following a couple of instagram accounts of people that just model new nail polish. It’s really fun to see so many different colors on an actual hand. My favorite accounts always seem to be modeling glitter polishes. I never thought I’d like glitter polish, but it has the potential to look SO PRETTY with multiple coats and careful spreading of the glitter. When I was on my vacation earlier this week I stopped at a few stores that sold beauty products and picked up a few glitter polishes to try. This is my favorite because it’s just so FUN. A literal party on my nails. I’m wearing it now for Caden’s birthday party tonight. I used one of the Olive and June nail polishes that I didn’t like very much on its own as a base coat. It really shows off all the colors in the glitter mix. Fun!

Get Out of the House!

Airbnbs

I know I am really late to the game here, but airbnbs are AMAZING. I think the idea always turned me off because it felt so weird to go stay in someone’s space. I don’t even particularly like staying with people I know, so why would I want to subject myself to the awkwardness of living with a stranger? I think when airbnb first became a thing, most people were just renting out their actual houses and apartments (or maybe I’m making this up, but it was my perception) or a room in their house. It felt way too uncomfortable and weird. But now that the pandemic happened and we started getting desperate for a change of scenery but were very apprehensive about the higher risk factors of staying in a hotel, airbnb became the perfect solution. I’ve stayed at two in the last month and have another one booked in three weeks. I love that most of them are about the same price as a hotel room, but you have so much more space to live in. Plus you don’t have to worry about contaminated shared public spaces. The best part is that there are just SO many options. If your dates are flexible, you’re open to visiting anywhere within a few hours of your house – you can find almost anything, even at the last minute! I’m sure there must be plenty of bad airbnb experiences, but I’ve been really happy with the two I’ve stayed at so far. And there are just so many different spaces available right now, it’s easy to weed out the winners just by reading the reviews. Now that I’ve started down this airbnb road, I may never leave it. Hotels? What’s that?! Especially when we travel as a family, I see this as a much more viable option for the foreseeable future. It’s probably also going to be the thing that keeps me sane every few months when I desperately need a break from the responsibilities of life.

Harrington Beach State Park

If pandemic life is really getting you down, let me strongly, strongly recommend getting out into nature. Sometimes it’s hard to justify making a trip – especially if you have kids like mine who whine like crazy every time we suggest leaving the house. But I’m realizing it’s worth it. And for me personally, going outdoors by myself is about the most life giving thing I can do. It’s pretty amazing how many parks, trails, bodies of water, etc. are probably within an hour or two of your house and you’ve never made the time to explore them before. NOW IS THE TIME. When I was in Port Washington earlier this week I went to as many different parks and nature preserves as I could. My favorite, though, was Harrington Beach State Park. I went twice I loved it so much. It borders Lake Michigan, so you can have some beach time if that’s your thing. But the best part is that it contains an old quarry that has filled with water. The picture above really does not do it justice. It was absolutely gorgeous there. So serene and majestic. There is a 1.5 mile trail that goes around the entire perimeter of the lake with plenty of benches and picnic tables to stop and rest at. But the trail itself is flat and easy to walk. I just loved it. It maybe helped that I went on weekdays in September, but I practically had the place to myself. I also checked out a third area of the park, Puckett’s Pond and drove through all the campsite areas just to see how they looked. I’ve never even heard of this state park before and it’s only an hour and a half away. I definitely plan on going back again. And exploring as many other parks as I can before it gets too cold!

Weekend Reflections 08.30.2020

We made it through the last week of summer! It was even a much more exciting week than usual because we went ON VACATION. I had a lot of complicated feelings this week, as I always do with the end of summer break. More so this year because our fall isn’t going to be anything like it usually is and I’m mourning that loss more than anything else that has changed in the last six months. But now that we’re two days away from school starting I’m a little more optimistic that we WILL survive this, no matter how hard it turns out to be.

To celebrate the end of summer and really just give everyone a much needed change of scenery, we rented an airbnb near Richland Center. It’s in the driftless area of Wisconsin which shockingly, I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to before and it’s only about an hour and a half away. Maybe I went as a kid, but I don’t remember it. There aren’t many bigger cities in that direction, but the landscape is absolutely gorgeous. I loved our drive there on the curvy backroads. Taking car trips further than Madison or Beaver Dam feels like such a rare treat these days!

The first night we arrived after our normal dinnertime, so it was a bit chaotic trying to get everything unloaded and organized while I threw together a meal. I took a video in our first walk through of the house, but didn’t get a chance to take any photos before our stuff took over the place. It was SO beautiful, though. This was our first airbnb experience and it probably spoiled us for all others! Most of the house was on the main floor, but there was a loft area with a bunch of beds the boys could pick from. We thought Annie would sleep up there too, but she was scared of the slotted staircase. She seemed to move around a lot in the night, but spent most of them on the floor by our bed. She can’t usually go in our bedrooms at night, so it was a treat for her too.

After dinner we explored the 40 acres of land the airbnb was on. We didn’t actually end up walking around it as much as we anticipated because most of it was a huge valley. My ankle doesn’t do well on uneven ground and it was also crazy hot this week (at least MUCH hotter than all the other days this month). But Shepard went down to the trees at the bottom and then walked back up to the top on the side of the hay fields. There were a couple of small barns and sheds up on the property as well. It would have been an amazing place for Annie to run around (the reason dogs are encouraged to stay at this airbnb!), but we still don’t trust her off a leash. It was a little annoying to constantly be hanging on to her leash, but I’m really glad she was able to come with us.

Watching the sunrise has been one of my favorite things this summer, so I was really looking forward to watching it over the hills. Unfortunately, it rained the first night and was very cloudy the second night, so neither of the first two sunrises were that beautiful or exciting (the third morning was much prettier). BUT it was really awesome being able to just be outside and walk around in my pajamas – and silence – not worrying about anybody seeing me. That’s one thing I really, really wish we had at our house. Some sort of outdoor space with actual privacy.

You guys don’t even want to know how many photos of the sunrise I took for the two hours I was outside each morning watching it (lol). Shepard was with me for most of the time too trying to catch his own sunrise photos.

My main regret about this trip was that it turned out to be so hot. Which was obviously out of my control. But after such a beautiful August it was really disappointing to deal with the overwhelming heat when we wanted to be out exploring the area every day. It would have been nice to have lazy mornings and go out later in the day, but we needed to get out of the house as early as possible if we wanted to do anything. On Tuesday morning we found a really neat hiking trail at a county party and then we stopped at a bunch of parks with bridges in Richland Center. We attempted to walk a more scenic trail too, but it was a pretty bizarre place and we couldn’t figure out where to actually walk. It was also in the thick of the woods going up pretty steep hills. We gave up on that one. The boys were great for a few hours, but got pretty crabby by lunch time. We picked up some food from a takeout restaurant, ate in the car in a parking lot, and then went back to the house to relax the rest of the afternoon.

There were a lot of fun places to lounge around in the house! Both of these chairs were in the “porch.”

On the second night I made tacos for dinner. The owners stopped by to tell us some more about the property and they gave the boys a ride in their new vehicle across the fields. They also dropped off a big plastic sheet to use as a slip n slide by the barn. After they left we ran back into town to the same place we had lunch to get some ice cream. Then we made a fire, though it was so hot nobody except Greg lasted very long. The house also had a huge bathtub, so I enjoyed a bath that night.

The second morning’s sunrise was pretty uneventful until the sun actually came up and it was such a cool neon pink color. Of course that didn’t translate in my photo, but it was really pretty to see in person. Shepard was fascinated by it.

I didn’t take many photos because it was just so hot, but we went to the Kickapoo Valley Nature Reserve on Wednesday morning to hike a few trails. We kept trying to walk toward a river and dam, but we never ended up finding it. Shepard and I gave up on one of the trails because the uneven and wet grass pathways were really getting to my ankle and Shepard just couldn’t handle being in the heat any longer. We were closer to Viroqua by then so we stopped at a grocery store that sells a lot of local foods and I went in to quickly explore and pick up some local cheese, meat, cookies, crackers, and coffee. Then we found another county park to have a picnic lunch at before heading back to the house.

After a quiet afternoon we set up the slip n slide and the boys tried it out for a few minutes. It wasn’t really that long, but it was nice to see them having fun with something outside. Then we ordered Chinese takeout and went to eat it at another park. It was so good!

On our last night we watched a movie together and then went out for some dusk yard games (for the boys) and photo shooting (for me).

I finally got a really pretty pre-sunrise on Thursday morning. The sky was so pink! Annie and I both sat down to watch it for a really long time.

Our last morning was more relaxed since we weren’t rushing to head to another park. I walked around a lot more outside taking pictures and then got everything gathered and tidied up.

It definitely wasn’t a perfect vacation – those don’t really exist when you have kids. But overall, it went better than I had expected. The super high temperatures really sucked. The internet wasn’t that great and caused a lot of extra tension with the boys and their devices. But it was still awesome just to get away from home and realize we really can have exciting moments and stay safe in the midst of this never ending pandemic lifestyle. I’m glad we took the boys with us on this trip, but being in even closer quarters made me really, really wish I could go on a trip by myself. Maybe even back here! I loved it so much there and would definitely go back again.

We took a little side trip on the way home to ride the Merrimac Ferry. It’s just a couple minutes across the water, but a fun experience! Annie was a little concerned about what was going on, but Shepard enjoyed standing with half his body out of the sun roof watching as we crossed. It was a nice ending to the trip!

Friday was back to reality. I still couldn’t get back to biking because it was storming, then I had to get groceries, and then we had to pick up virtual learning supplies from school. I was pretty stressed out because we’d been bombarded with new school information all week and I finally had a chance to sit down and go through it all. I’m definitely worried about how it’s all going to work out – especially since it seems like Shepard might be working more independently and Caden will be livestreaming his teachers in the classroom all day. Their learning styles would probably benefit better with the opposite teaching methods. They also might end up having very mismatched schedules and workloads, which is going to cause a lot of problems between the two of them (and therefore all of us). I hope it turns out pretty evenly, but it’s definitely too early to guess.

The highlight of my Friday, though, was sitting down by myself (Greg even took the boys out of the house for awhile) with popcorn, tea, and a candle to watch a live Pen Pals podcast show. There was a different podcast show I was looking forward to watching earlier in the week too, but it didn’t work out with the poor internet connection at the airbnb. So I was extra excited about this one and it turned out to be SO enjoyable. It was great to have that special thing to look forward to, even though I didn’t have to leave the house for it. It was a fitting treat at the end of a pretty rough emotional day.

I spent about three hours on Saturday morning cleaning Shepard’s room. I’ve been harping on the boys all month about getting their rooms cleaned so they can work better in a tidy environment. Of course nobody actually listened to me. I knew I’d finally have to give in this weekend and just do it myself. Greg and Shepard did help after awhile and we got it cleaned up. Now to keep it that way! Greg and Caden worked on his room this morning, but it wasn’t as bad. I intended on helping, but I’m just so tired of cleaning up messes that aren’t mine that I bowed out. To write this. 🙂

It wasn’t a terribly exciting week for food. I was going for the easiest meals I could think of on vacation just to make my life easier. But at home before and after I made four mini pizzas to use up random ingredients, jalapeno popper grilled chicken, Caribbean jerk grilled chicken, four different types of grilled meats and potatoes, my favorite migas tacos, a tiny brie from the shopping trip, gluten free banana muffins, and guacamole.

The garden really exploded this week. I picked a bunch of tomatoes and peppers on Sunday and made a couple batches of salsa before we left. Then I picked a lot more when we got home to make pickled jalapenos, guacamole, and I strung up some Thai peppers in my sewing room to try and dry them out to make chili paste in a few weeks. Hopefully that plan works because my little Thai chili plant has been by far the most prolific plant in my garden (besides the grape tomatoes – NOT my favorite) and I’m not really sure what to do with them other than add them to curries and stir fries. This morning I found my first mini pumpkin and accidentally picked it. Shepard and I planted SO many pumpkin plants. Only three or four of them actually grew, but I hope we’ll still have lots of mini ones pumpkins decorations in a few weeks!

No biking pictures this week! Greg took my bike to the shop last Saturday and then went to pick up my mom’s to borrow until it was done. I biked on it Sunday and Monday and then we packed it up to bring on the trip, but I never ended up using it. We really didn’t understand just how hilly and twisty the roads were going to be! I didn’t feel physically fit enough or safe enough to try it out. Plus it was just too hot. I was anxious to ride again by Friday, but then it was storming! And then my bike was done in the shop, six days earlier than they expected. So I really enjoyed getting back on it this weekend and look forward to many more beautiful morning bike rides before winter comes.

Because I was attempting to force myself to be on a true vacation this week, I haven’t done any sewing! But I did finally get out my embroidery supplies after years of not using them and made myself this rainbow. I finished a second one on Friday night. I have one more I’d like to complete before I get back to my dolls. I’m kind of antsy to get back to work, but I know as soon as I have them started I’m not going to be as openly ready to deal with any school related problems that might arise this week. So I’m trying to put it off a few more days. I’m not so sure I’ll make it!

I think that’s about it for this past week! I’m nervous about the week ahead, but I think I’m ready to tackle the challenge. At least more ready than I was a few days ago. I’m also really excited to get my fall decorations out and start enjoying my favorite season! I’ve been mentally pushing it off because fall means winter is close behind, but after how hot it was this week I am MORE than ready for the cool and crisp days ahead!

Early August Festivities

Well, I told you guys all about Book Bonanza and my trip to Dallas the other day, so now it’s time to catch you up on everything that happened before that trip. It’s been such a busy month!

Greg and I spent the first few days at the Secret Cottage – a beautiful little place we discovered a few years ago.

This was our third visit there – we first went for my 30th birthday, then again for our 11th anniversary. We’re talking about going again in January for our 20th anniversary of being together – mostly so we can officially say we’ve stayed there for every season! It’s gorgeous at any time of the year, but I bet it would be especially cozy in the dead of winter with the fireplace and snow covered trees surrounding it.

We were only there for two nights, but it was such a wonderful break from reality. I think it’s the first vacation we’ve ever taken where we seriously just chilled out and did basically nothing. We only went out once to get lunch because I hadn’t packed enough food. It was such a nice trip!

Right after that, Timmy, Brittany, and Hudson came to visit! They spent the first day hanging out at our house. I think this was the first time ever that Hudson didn’t take a really long time to feel comfortable with us. Maybe he finally knows who we are from visit to visit?! He was having so much fun exploring everything and trying to pet the cats.

We went to the pool for awhile. The water was pretty chilly, so Hudson just hung out on the edges. It was quite a challenge getting the three of them in a photo together – impossible to get them all smiling!

We had a pizza and snack party afterward. Hudson is just the cutest!

Midpost PSA to tell you if you’re looking to make your own cold brew at home, this is a fabulous combination. (I should write a post on coffee soon!) I really prefer to buy cold coffee drinks at coffee shops and wanted to up my game at home this summer, making my own instead of buying the premade jugs of cold brew. I’ve been trying out a lot of different brands, especially the fancy brands that make a specific blend for cold brewing. This Sunny Spot by Grounds & Hounds has been my favorite by a mile. It’s so good. It’s even better with this new Nitro Creamer. If you’re local, I found it at Woodman’s. Unfortunately when I went there a few days ago to buy another bottle, they were all expired. Hopefully they’ll stock some fresh ones!

We spent that Sunday at my parents’ house to celebrate Timmy’s birthday a few weeks early. It was a beautiful day with lots of time outside.

Annie was feeling very jealous of all the attention Hudson was getting. She definitely likes to be the baby of the family!

Greg saying goodbye to Hudson. 🙁

On Monday morning all of us, except Greg, went to the State Fair! The boys and I got there a few hours earlier than everyone else and walked around the mostly deserted park checking out some of the animals.

We normally start our annual fair visit with a bag of apple cider donuts. But Shepard was feeling especially hangry and couldn’t wait until 9:00 when that side of the WI products building opened. So they settled for kringle slices instead.

Then Shepard and I got grilled cheeses. I’ve reached the point where I can’t eat anything remotely sweet in the morning or I have a massive headache all day long, so grilled cheese was perfect!

We found Hudson! And he had already found a donut.

Caden wanted to get a baked potato. That reminded me that he LOVES baked potatoes, but I never, ever make them. Poor deprived child!

We split up for a little bit because they wanted to watch the pig races and we didn’t want to sit in the sun for that long. Shepard was already being pretty difficult about everything at that point. The whole day was really very up and down. Caden was FANTASTIC. Shepard was really testing my last nerve. There was a lot of either miscommunications or simple ignoring of when I thought we were going to be meeting back up with everyone after brief splits, which was extremely frustrating to me. A lot of wasted time on our part, thinking they were coming to us, when they were instead just doing something else without letting us know and we had to go hunt them down. It’s hard going to events like that as a large group. It’s hard for me to accept that not everyone is like me in the way that they think and go about life. But…yeah. Let’s just say I had a really good time with Caden. I think maybe next year Shepard can stay home and have a Daddy day!

I think the cream puffs were Hudson’s favorite treat!

The boys and I finished our day (at like 1pm lol) at the super crowded building that sells our favorite beef sticks. I also finally found a coffee option that sounded good to me. The boys had a great time looking at all the hot tubs for sale – until Shepard became infuriated that I wouldn’t buy one. Because we totally have the set up to just buy an enormous room sized hot tub and stick it in our house. 😛

We said our goodbyes to Hudson who was off to find a place to take a nap. We won’t see him again until possibly late October.

Finished up our fair visit with Shepard getting some cotton candy – what he wanted from the minute we arrived. I was disappointed to realize that once again I filled up on all our regular foods that I didn’t have any desire to spend the money on something unique. NEXT YEAR.

After fair day, I was just super busy getting packed up for Dallas and trying to make sure Greg and the boys had enough food at home for easy meals to last them while I was gone. It was a very chaotic two days!

Back at home this week, I’ve just been trying to get settled back in. I still haven’t been feeling the greatest, plus just SO TIRED. I thought I’d come home from my solo vacation feeling relaxed and rested, when the opposite was definitely true. I’ve tried to lay low this whole week. We did go grocery shopping asap on Wednesday morning, followed by some school haircuts. I’m not particularly thrilled with either of them, but at least I know Shepard’s will grow out looking really cute! Caden fought tooth and nail to have a haircut at all and you can barely notice a difference. But…that’s what he wanted. And I said I’d be respectful of their personal body choices.

Otherwise I’ve just been working! I finished up six new dolls this morning and took two custom orders that I’ll start working on tonight. I’m happy to be back at it, but also really feeling the pressure to make as many as possible as fast as possible. There are basically just two weeks left of summer and my goal was to keep prioritizing my family and making the most of the days we have. But honestly…I want September. I want school. I want regular schedules. I want quiet days. I want to only make lunch for myself. I want to take naps where I don’t have to be in the next room with one ear open to any shenanigans that might occur. Summer is EXHAUSTING. But it’s almost over and I think I can survive. Hopefully. 🙂

Book Bonanza

We’re already halfway through August and I have so much to catch you guys up on! But I’ll start with my most recent excitement – a trip to Book Bonanza in Grapevine, Texas!

Book Bonanza is an event that started last year, created by my favorite author Colleen Hoover, her sisters, and her team at The Bookworm Box – a bookstore and subscription service that Colleen also founded and uses as a tool to donate thousands upon thousands of dollars to charity. I wasn’t aware of Book Bonanza until it was actually happening last year and I was SO jealous. I definitely jumped at the chance to go this year – buying my ticket last September and preparing for it in the following eleven months! If you read my monthly book recaps you’ll notice I’ve been VERY heavy on Book Bonanza authors the last few months, trying to make sure I fit in as many of the most highly recommended books that I could before I had a chance to meet those authors in person.

The event this year (and all future years) was held at the huge Gaylord Texan Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas. There were around 150 attending authors and close to 2000 attendees. It was a massive event, but SO well organized and thoroughly planned out. There were multiple facebook groups (attendees and those planning to go solo) with plenty of opportunity to meet people ahead of time, talk books, and really get hyped up about everything. This was my first time in Texas, so I decided to really take advantage of the trip and added on a few days in Dallas afterward to do some exploring. After eleven months of planning and paying attention to everyone’s insane game plans for getting author signatures and all the other prepwork that went into this event, I was actually feeling pretty apprehensive about the trip by the time I left. But all in all, I think it turned out pretty great!

I was able to take an uber to the hotel from the airport with a fellow solo attendee to cut back on costs (one time lol) and was really excited to able to check into my hotel a few hours early. After a little bit of exploration I decided to eat at their Riverwalk Cantina. It was a Mexican restaurant that was entirely enclosed, but also had a river running through it, giving you the appearance and feel of sitting outdoors at an adorable little cafe. Their chips were so tasty! The brisket tacos were good.

Book Bonanza didn’t officially begin until Friday morning, but we were able to check in and pick up our swag bags on Thursday afternoon. They also had a smaller version of their bookstore completely set up, where basically everyone immediately ran to after checking in! That began my weekend of standing in lines. SO MANY LINES. The cool thing is that everyone was just so happy and excited to be there, that the atmosphere was fun and friendly. I didn’t really make any new friends – I also didn’t even try – but it was great to have that camaraderie and be surrounded by so many book loving kindred spirits.

I realized pretty quickly I really should have brought more snacks! There were technically nine different dining options inside the hotel, but I only ever walked by three of them – two very expensive sit down restaurants and more of a convenience store type place. I wasn’t hungry enough for a full meal, but also didn’t want to skip eating all together, so I picked up a turkey sandwich (that was gross) and an enormous peanut butter Texas sized cookie. My original intention for the night was to head out into Grapevine and explore a little. But I knew I was too tired for that, so I thought I’d just read in my room and rest up for Friday. But there was just so much excitement going on in the halls, that I kept going back out to just walk around and soak it all up. And check out the bookstore a few more times!

Friday morning kicked off with a welcome panel of authors that have had their books made into movies or tv shows – Colleen Hoover (Confess), Caroline Kepnes (You), Anna Todd (After), and E. L. James (50 Shades). After that everyone split up and chose between six different options of author panels each hour for the next three hours. The first one I went to was called “ROMCOM,” which was pretty funny. The only author I had read from that group was Avery Flynn. Next I went to “Giving Us the Giggles,” which was hysterical. I hadn’t read any of those authors – but I plan to! I finished with “Redeeming the Bad Guy,” which turned out to be a much more serious discussion than I was expecting. I really enjoyed the panels – and doing something other than looking for author signatures. My only regret was that I should have chosen to go to panels with authors I already knew, rather than choosing by topic alone. I might have had more fun with it. Though I did really enjoy seeing how many of the authors seem to be genuine real life friends with each other. I guess it never even crossed my mind that writers seek out other writers and form some great friendships!

After the panels was a two hour block for lunch – which most people took to stand in line for the first signing block at 2:00. I got in line for lunch, which turned out to be a sandwich that looked a whole lot like the one I bought the night before. So I took it to my room to eat later (which I never did) and chose instead to go back to the Cantina for their lunch buffet. Allllll the chips I could eat. Actually, very few people were in the restaurant and I felt like the waiters were all staring at me, so it was kind of a very uncomfortable meal. But it was delicious!

The line was already so ridiculously long by lunch time (many people also skipped the panels to get an earlier place in line), that I gave myself a little break and didn’t join the line until 2:45 – when I expected everyone would be in the room by then. Nope! The line snaked through the entire convention center and the entire indoor river area. It was insane. I was least interested in getting author signatures – when I went to my first book signing last summer (Colleen Hoover’s), I felt so awkward and stupid, it was an experience I never really wanted to repeat. And then I came to Book Bonanza, where this was like the whole point. I honestly would have probably skipped it entirely, but I had a few books preordered from authors and the only way to get them would be to face the crowds! The more popular authors went by a wristband system, so you got a numbered wristband and then waited for your number to be up – ensuring only about 15 people would be standing in a line at a time. Of course the two authors I whittled my list down to – because of the preorders – had long waits. I ended up walking back and forth to my room multiple times during the block.

I was about ready to give up, when in the final ten minutes the volunteer for Penny Reid let me stand in her line, even though my number wasn’t anywhere close to being called. I love Penny’s Winston Brothers series, and two of her newest books in the Dear Professor series. I was really excited to get to meet her in person – and get my photo with Cletus, one of my all time favorite book characters!

Penny told me that she loved my braids and my earrings, which is why she wrote about watching me creepily. Anyway, most of the attendees were there just to get those author signatures. Everyone had carts full of books. I only ended up bringing three books from home – and then didn’t even attempt to get them signed. I can understand the excitement of seeing authors you adore, but it was hard to muster up enthusiasm (for me) to talk to people I haven’t read before. While I was waiting I did get a few authors to sign a Book Beau I had bought (it’s a padded book case), but every single one of them asked me what my favorite of their books was and I had to hem and haw and finally admit I hadn’t read them. AWKWARD. I was more than happy to skip the signing blocks on Saturday. It’s just not my thing.

Right after the signing, there was an event called Rocking at Book Bonanza, which was basically another signing with only 26 of the authors in a different location. We were all given a free autograph book for that one, so I stood in line for the book and promptly went back to my room! The evening ended with a Q&A session between Colleen, Anna Todd and actor Hero Fiennes Tiffin and a showing of their movie After. It was a late night! But I was excited to see the movie since it only lasted about a week in the theater here. Everything that made me so incredibly angry about that book did not come through in the movie, so I’m definitely interested in continuing the series to figure out why it’s such a phenomenon!

So, I kind of played hooky from Book Bonanza for most of Saturday. The only thing on the schedule was a four hour signing block, another bagged lunch which I assume would be the same turkey sandwich, and then another four hour signing block. I had no interest in any more signing attempts, so I had a somewhat lazy morning and then took the first available shuttle bus into downtown Grapevine to do a little shopping. It was already SO HOT by then. I’m trying not to be annoying about this because obviously it was Texas and it’s August and it’s just going to be hot. I knew that. Clearly. But it didn’t take away from how hot it actually did feel. I’ve never felt so disgusting and sweaty and suffocatingly hot in my life, every day that I ventured outside. It was awful.

I walked through Grapevine’s indoor farmers market and their small outdoor one. It was fun to see all the stuff, but also depressing because I would have loved to have bought some salsas and hot sauces, but I just didn’t trust the airline’s ability to not break a glass container in my suitcase. I went into a couple of stores and bought a few spices at a spice market. I finally had a very late breakfast of this amazingly delicious sugar donut – fresh from the fryer – and a mocha at a coffee shop (that was not good). I only lasted two hours before I was more than ready to hop back on the shuttle and go back to the hotel.

I took a little break back in my room and then spent some time walking back and forth to get boxes from BB’s shipping station, pack up all my books and swag, and go back to ship it all out. I forgot to take a photo of all my stuff before I packed it up, and I don’t have it yet at home, so I’ll have to add that on later! I ended up with quite a stack of new books – most of which were free. I even ended up leaving eight free books behind because I was pretty sure I’d never read them, so why pay to send them home? I still had a lot of time before the evening festivities, so I took an uber to a Mexican restaurant I had researched. It was good. I picked that one because it was across the street from an enormous mall – making the price of my uber ride a little more worth it. I walked the whole mall, but nothing was unique or special about it. Kind of a waste of an afternoon, honestly. At least I got some good food out of it.

At 6:00 there was a cocktail party put on by Passionflix. I stopped by to see what it was and got a small plate of cheese and crackers. I wasn’t really in the mood to try and mingle with strangers – most of which had buddied and grouped up after standing in so many lines together. I went to my room again and finished the night at the closing ceremonies and karaoke night. This was a charity event, and in the end it raised $80K which was split between multiple causes. Once the ceremony was over, the authors did karaoke and eventually anyone could participate. I stayed about another hour until I figured that was enough!

Anyway, I really had a great time on Friday, but for obvious reasons felt pretty disconnected on Saturday. I’m definitely glad I got to experience it and be at such a fun event, but I’m also not sure it’s something I’d do again. Next year they’re changing the scheduling up a bit and having it over three days, which does sound intriguing. But two years in a row would be a lot. This was an expensive trip! The hotel alone – yikes! (But worth EVERY PENNY to have a room to myself to relax in!) Book Bonanza has opened my eyes to the possibility of seeking out OTHER book conferences and events, though. My original uber friend was telling me about a few that she’s been to where it’s almost all panels and speaking. I think that might be more my thing! I’ll have to look into those possibilities in the coming years. 🙂

On Sunday morning I packed up and ubered to my next hotel in downtown Dallas. I planned to store my bag and go exploring, but I was actually able to check in already at 10:30! My first stop was a walk to the Dallas Farmers Market. They have a permanent indoor building which is all smaller restaurants – one of my all time favorite things to seek out in larger cities. And because it was the weekend they also had an outdoor market set up, also with many actual meal food booths. Very little produce! And a crazy number of stands that just sold infused waters and juices and teas. Texans at least know the importance of staying hydrated in that heat!

I got a mango juice outside that was divine and after three walks around the building landed on jerk chicken sliders from a Caribbean restaurant inside. That was by far the best meal I ate on the trip. It was so spicy and SO delicious. I picked up some macaroons to eat later, though I’ve realized for the second them they really just don’t appeal to me.

I went back to my hotel afterward and picked up a fresh watermelon infused iced tea from the attached coffee shop. It was really tasty! Then I finally took a nap – the only nap I took the entire trip! I somehow thought this vacation was going to get me so rested up. No such luck! I honestly felt so icky and crappy the entire trip. I know I’m showing you a lot of good food pics, but most of my meals I only ate about half of. I’m not sure if it was simply the heat or I was actually sick, but physically it was a really rough trip.

In the evening I went for a walk about six blocks around my hotel and saw the JKF Memorial and some other downtown sites.

I was stuck again with not feeling great, not being particularly hungry, but not wanting to just skip another meal since I was already only eating like one meal a day, so I stopped at this wing place I had researched ahead of time. I only ate a few bites – really should have just skipped it.

Monday was my last full day and I was bound and determined to try and suck up my heat wimpiness and make the most of it. For breakfast I had a cold brew at the hotel.

I took a walk to the famous cattle drive sculptures. That was cool to see!

Next I took an uber to the Bishop Arts District of Dallas. I was under the impression this was going to be a long street filled with unique shopping opportunities, but in actuality it was just a single block with a handful of stores that weren’t set to open for another one to two hours later than when I got there. There was no way I was going to just sit outside that whole time, and I didn’t want to wander too far, so I stopped at the first restaurant I happened upon. I thought I was going into just a coffee shop, not a sit down place, but figured I might as well stay once I was there. I had banana bread french toast with fruit.

The shops ended up being a disappointment. There was one local artist place that I waited an extra hour for it to open and bought a couple of 4×6 prints. The main reason I wanted to go to that side of town in the first place – for a unique bookstore and a grilled cheese restaurant – were rendered pointless since I had just eaten something else (and was feeling really sick) and the bookstore didn’t open another two hours. So I picked another random place online and ubered to an antique store, also assuming there would be other places nearby to check out. Nope! That one was on the side of a highway! I was totally over exploring in the 112 degree heat at that point and went back to the hotel.

One of the first restaurants I had researched was called Wild Salsa. I was so excited when I realized it was only a block from my hotel. I realllly wasn’t feeling up to it, but it was my last chance to eat there, so I headed over on Monday night for dinner. I have to say I’ve had way better Mexican food in Madison for a whole lot less money. I just went back to the hotel for the rest of the night. Though I should point out that my Dallas hotel had a giant bathtub and I had brought a bunch of pampering things, so I was plenty happy to have the time to just chill out and relax. It’s just hard to shake the feeling of not doing enough, when I’m on a vacation to see a place I’d never been to before.

I had zero ambitions about doing anything else on Tuesday morning, so I went to the airport three hours early and just walked and walked and walked. I picked up this honey butter chicken on a jalapeno biscuit from Whataburger and it was the second best thing I had to eat on the trip – shocking!

The rest of my day was very long, but mostly uneventful. It was one of the worst plane rides I’ve ever been on – I honestly was on the brink of a panic attack because it was so flippin hot and I felt like I was suffocating. The airplane couldn’t counteract the heat from however long it was sitting in Dallas. That combined with the turbulence made for a pretty miserable flight. But I rewarded myself with a stop at Home Goods and Marshall’s before coming home to my family! They were all very excited to see me. I missed them too.

And that was my trip! I’m really glad I went and I did genuinely have a good time. But I really have no desire to ever go to Texas again, especially not in summer. It also reminded me how much more joy I find in vacations with outdoor spaces to breathe and appreciate beauty. Big cities are SO not for me. It was a great break from reality, though, and is really going to help launch me through these final weeks of summer. Solo vacations are the best!

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! 😀

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?!

My DC Vacation and Trying to Catch Up!

Good morning! It’s been awhile! I’m continuing to be in a pretty weird headspace this month and haven’t had a lot of time or drive to write any blog posts. But now I’m starting to feel very behind on what’s been happening and I need to get back to my recaps! I’m going to break these last two weeks up, to make for more manageable reading content. 🙂

Last Thursday I was finally able to take my trip to DC. I’ve visited my best friend Dianne there multiple times in the last few years, but always in September or October. This year was going to be different and we had an extensive trip planned out for April, centering around seeing the famous cherry blossoms. And then I broke my ankle. Stupidly (seriously), the PA at the doctor’s office told me I’d definitely still be able to take that April trip, I’d just be slower. Well, at the beginning of April I still couldn’t put any weight on my ankle, I could barely move around on my scooter, and there was NO WAY I would have survived solo travel across the country where I’d have to depend on public transportation to get me around for five days. Craziness. Anyway, we rescheduled for October and I think it was the perfect timing for me physically and weather-wise. I’m really glad it all worked out!

I left on Thursday afternoon and stopped at the huge Marshall’s on the way to the airport. (I’m obsessed.) Then I had just enough time to get through security, enjoy a salad at the airport Chili’s, and read a few minutes before boarding. I was nervous about my metal ankle plate setting off the metal detectors, but it either didn’t register, or the security people could see what it was on the x-ray machine thingy. I’ve yet to go through a regular metal detector, so I’m curious to see if I’ll set off alarms on those. Anyway, travel to DC was fast and easy. It’s amazing how far you can travel on just an hour and fifteen minute smooth flight! Dianne met me at the airport and we took the metro back to her apartment. It was getting late by that point so we just went to bed.

I wasn’t feeling the greatest on Friday, mostly from a couple nights of not great sleep and just travel in general. Dianne went to work, so I had the day to take at my own pace. I read for awhile in the morning and then just ventured out to the next metro stop to shop at Marshall’s (ha!) and Target. I wasn’t feeling very adventurous. But then I had lunch at Cava, my all time favorite DC quick food option. I guess it doesn’t look particularly appealing in the photo, but it is sooooo good. The apple cinnamon vanilla iced tea was amazing too. After lunch I went back to the apartment to take a nap and felt a lot better after that.

After my nap I took a little stroll through the neighborhood shops. There was a bookstore and a few little gift places. I had coffee at this tiny little shop, sitting on the porch while I watched a ton of squirrels playing together. Then I took the metro to Chinatown and mostly just wandered around. There is shopping in that area, but I didn’t do any research ahead of time and ended up just wandering down quieter streets and looking for benches to rest for awhile. It was supposed to be my resting day to gear up for more walking over the weekend, but I still ended up with over 15,000 steps all three days.

I met up with Dianne at a place called Dirty Habit for cocktails Friday evening. It was kind of like a hotel’s rooftop/courtyard bar area and also the place where her husband Jack proposed to her. It was a really cool place! We had some sort of orange and champagne cocktails.

Next we went to a couple of shops (I bought a super cute pair of earrings) and then had dinner at a place called Oyamel. We had reservations so we were able to get in right away, but we were seated next to the bar which was SO LOUD. But the food was good! I ordered chicken verde enchiladas and mango agua fresca, which was so tasty. Dianne had tacos, but everything was served small plate style, so we were still hungry and ended up ordering a second round of crispy brussel sprouts and mole french fries, which weren’t as yummy. But it was a cool restaurant!

On the way back we stopped at a cider place near her apartment to get another drink.

I only had the tasting size, but whew! That was enough! We asked the bartender for the sweetest one, but I guess that in turn meant it had the highest alcohol content. I drank it, but don’t think cider is really my drink! We played a few rounds of bananagrams while we were there, which was really fun!

On Saturday morning, Dianne rented a zipcar and we drove to the National Arboretum. I only knew this even existed through a post Anne Bogel wrote earlier this year about her visit there, so I was excited to check it out too! There were a lot of different gardens and walking trails and these columns from the original (I think…) White House. The woodsy trails just looked a lot like Wisconsin woodsy trails, but it was really fun, peaceful, and pretty to walk through everything.

The best part, though, was seeing all the bonsai trees! I took a picture of basically every tree. I don’t think it made this collage, but it was really cool to see the oldest bonsai in the US, which started growing in the 1600’s!! My favorites were the ones that looked like itty bitty forests. I also liked the ones that were more unique plant varieties. It was so awesome just seeing all of them in one area like that.

Next on our agenda was DC’s Union Market, which was a big building filled with unique little restaurant booths. It wasn’t too crowded yet, so we had time to walk through and check everything out. We both decided on Korean chicken tacos from Takorean, a place Dianne has eaten at before and always sounded delicious to me. They were great!

We took a walk around the outside of the building to check out all the instagrammable spots.

And then back inside because I wanted to get one of these amazing looking donuts for dessert. It was so light and fluffy. Really good meal!

On the way back to the apartment we stopped at the farmer’s market right across the street. I didn’t get anything, but it’s always fun to check out the markets in different areas of the country. Back inside I took a little reading break while Dianne went for a run and then we headed back out to do some shopping. I got an amazing iced mocha from Pret and at Loft I picked out a great black and gray polka dot scarf. Then we went to the theater to watch The Hate U Give. I’ve been anxious to see it after reading the book and it didn’t disappoint! It was heavy, though! As expected.

For dinner we went to a place called Timber. Dianne had given me a gift certificate to go there as a birthday present and I intended to go Friday for lunch, but it wasn’t open – which was fine because I got some awesome Cava instead. Timber was pretty packed, so we ended up getting it to go and eating back at the apartment. Then we settled in for the night with our food and a movie. I was definitely ready to relax by then!

On Sunday morning, Dianne reserved a car to rent so we could drive to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, a cute little city she’d been to a couple of times and thought I’d enjoy seeing. We had a few hiccups with our car rental and ended up with a huge van. It was fun driving there because I got to be in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all in about a three minute span. My first time in WV! We were able to grab the last parking spot in the town’s very limited lot and had a fast breakfast at a little cafe. This blueberry scone was SO good. The plain coffee, not so much. But it was hot and that was all that really mattered. It was SO COLD on Sunday.

Next we walked a bit of the Appalachian Trail! The picture makes it look like it was rainy, but really it was just gloomy and freezing cold and super windy. But the trail and the town itself were beautiful!

We walked up a big hill to see a rock that Jefferson once stood on. The city was built on a hill, so I did a more stair climbing and hill walking than I have in basically forever (31 flights according to my fitbit!). It was rough on my ankle, but I survived!! When the sun came out Harpers Ferry looked so quaint and lovely.

There weren’t a ton of things to see, but we did go into all the little shops. I liked the bookstore and a candy shop that sold “candy” that people would have eaten from biblical times through today. It was really interesting to see the progression. Overall, I loved getting out of DC and seeing something unique and special! It was so awesome how Dianne had the whole trip planned out so well.

Before leaving we got lunch at a small cafe. It was simple, but really hit the spot after all the walking and climbing.

Next on our agenda was a stop in the city of Frederick, Maryland. They have a big downtown filled with unique shops. I bought Greg and the boys some fun candy and I got myself some tea and spices. Then we headed back to the apartment and finished the night at their local taqueria. This might have been the tastiest meal of the trip. If I had a taqueria in my neighborhood with those prices I’d be there every day!! The fried chicken taco with the habanero salsa was so good. I also had some Mexican creamy rice that didn’t make the photo, but was really good. It was a great end the day!

On Monday morning we just got ready and headed out. Everything was timed pretty well so I had plenty of time for every mode of transportation, but was never just sitting around and bored for long stretches. The day still seemed to last forever, but it was good to be home. Vacations are great, but it’s always nice to settle back in at home. But yes – overall, a great little getaway that took my mind off of a lot of stressful things for a few days. I really needed it and had a lot of fun!

Weekend Reflections 09.09.2018: The First Week of School and My Chicago Mini Vacation

Hello!

I am writing this on about four hours of sleep after driving/walking/shopping for most of the last two days, so bear with me if I’m not making any sense! I thought about writing this post tomorrow instead, but I have enough stuff to do tomorrow!

Anyway, it’s definitely been a typical first week of school transitional period where everyone is in awful moods and ready to burst into emotional meltdown at the tiniest infraction. As much as I love this time of the year, it’s definitely exhausting. I was so antsy to get back into my own routines too, but I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to instantly be back in the thick of things. But we made it and live to tell about it, and hopefully the next few weeks will be easier!

Sunday and Monday were fairly uneventful. The boys were soaking up every available minute with their friends. Greg and I were trying to take it pretty easy, resting from our ailments. By Monday my pinched nerve was barely noticeable, thank goodness! I was hoping to have some sort of last day of summer celebration, but decided just hanging out with their friends was good enough. That’s all they wanted to do anyway.

Tuesday was the first day of school. Caden was actually really excited about it! Shepard was wavering, but I think he was looking forward to seeing his friends every day again.

Our annual photo session was done at superspeed because swarms of mosquitoes were out to kill! It was seriously miserable. We all had bug spray on too and it didn’t make a bit of difference.

Ran into Willow as we were walking. When they found out they were in the same class a few weeks ago they were crazy excited. I’m very happy for them. 🙂

The boys spent half the walk screaming because of the mosquito attacks. And half the walk ten steps ahead of me so they could discuss Minecraft. This past year I’ve often wondered what the point of me walking with them even is!

We went to the middle school first and met up with the neighborhood gang. The older kids seemed pretty chill about the first day. I think Shepard was a little sad that we had to leave them all behind when we walked over to the elementary school for him.

But once he saw his friends he was fine! I had to chase him down to say goodbye and he refused to give me a hug. Too cool for mom!

I spent my first day home alone deep cleaning the house. Those kinds of chores feel so pointless in summer when kids are constantly running through and destroying all of my efforts ten seconds after I do them. It felt really good to get everything fresh and ready for the week.

I picked them up after and it sounds like everything went well! The biggest news is that Shepard PEED! At school! During the day! On the first day! You cannot even begin to understand how much of a struggle the last two years have been. He has never, not even once, gone to the bathroom during the school day. He wasn’t even potty trained in preschool or 4K like he was supposed to be. And in kindergarten and first grade he just expertly held it in. The only time he had an accident was at the very end of the last school year and I think it was only because he wasn’t feeling well. Anyway, it’s a BIG DEAL that he went during school every single day this week and I think our struggles are over!!!

Caden is the more emotional one, so I didn’t get a lot of information out of him about how things are going, but he seems pretty happy. He likes his teacher. He gets to see some of his best friends at lunch and recess. I think he feels pretty cool being a big kid in the middle school now. Growing up!

Wednesday was picture day. They were both so mad at me that I made them wear these new shirts. I’m switching it up from the Chaps plaid button shirts I’ve made them wear every picture day to date. I can’t wait to see how they turned out!

I had a major errand day on Wednesday, though that wasn’t my original plan. But, things are breaking in our house left and right right now, and I had to go buy a new faucet for our bathroom sink. And if I already have to leave town for one errand, you better believe I’m going to make the most of the drive, fitting in as much as I can! I also went to Target, Woodman’s, the UPS Store, and ate some Wendy’s chicken on the way home. Then I took a nap! And worked the rest of the day.

Thursday was a HUGE work day. I finally forced myself to sit down and just get it done. I finished up all these dolls and got them listed by dinnertime. Then my friend Deja came over for a craft night. I wasn’t in the mood to start back in on new dolls, so I organized my huge stamp collection – a messy job that I’ve been putting off for about two months. It wasn’t particularly fun, but it felt great to get it done. And it was so nice to have a friend night! One of the best parts of the new school year is that everyone suddenly seems interested in rekindling friendships. I think we’re all just trying to survive in the summer and can’t handle that one more thing. But in fall our minds get freed up a bit and we’re more willing to go the extra mile to make friend things happen.

I don’t really remember what I did Friday. I was supposed to be working! But I didn’t, at all. Oh yeah, I made cinnamon rolls, I made salsa, I went to the ATM and got gas, I went to one grocery store on purpose, and then I went to another grocery store when I realized I didn’t have cream cheese for my cinnamon roll frosting. I walked Annie. I did some cleaning and laundry and packed for my weekend. We celebrated surviving the week with the cinnamon rolls.

The very sad news Friday is that my mom’s dog Juno passed away. 🙁 She was about 14 years old and going downhill fast, but it still took everyone by surprise how fast it happened in the end. She was a wonderful dog that was loved beyond measure by my mom. She had a very long and happy life with the best dog mom in the world. She will forever be missed.

Saturday was start to my big Chicago adventure weekend. On Friday when I was researching out my route I realized this awesome store in Beloit was on the way. I went to their facebook page to check out their hours and saw that there just happened to be a huge vintage market happening in Rockford on Saturday – also on my route. I was SO excited to find something unique to do that I’d absolutely love. And it didn’t disappoint!! I think it was even better than Cranberry Fest, which is one of my all time favorite days of the year. Though Cranberry Fest is also special because I go with my parents and we have a lot of fun together. But next year, we’re going to this too. FOR SURE. There were about 175 vendors and every single booth was filled with all the vintage type stuff that I adore. It was packed, but everything was fairly spread out so you never got that suffocated feeling like you do in the aisles at Cranberry Fest. And all the shoppers were just in the best of moods too! It was a very relaxed and happy atmosphere and I LOVED IT. I didn’t buy much, mostly because I wasn’t interested in carrying it back to my car (through a huge long grassed muddy and bumpy field – basically the worst possible walking conditions for my ankle). I picked out these two signs for my sewing room. And later I finally found a large wall sign with a great saying I couldn’t say no to.

The only downside is that the lines to pay and the lines for food and drinks were so long. I wish I had gotten lunch at like ten when I noticed nobody in lines. Instead I probably spent at least twenty minutes waiting in line at this marshmallow trailer to get a frozen hot chocolate, s’mores style. She also sold all kinds of gourmet s’mores, fresh and hot. I decided to skip that even though they looked amazing, assuming they’d be too messy. Butttt this was just as messy. If not more. My hands were immediately coated in marshmallow which I transferred to my phone when I took this picture. I kept trying to get my hands cleaned off, but my only option was my shorts or dry grass! The whole market was in the country with only outhouses and not a sink in sight. But, I think it was worth it. 🙂 The homemade marshmallow fluff was my favorite part. So tasty!

I stayed at the market for three hours, looking at everything two or three times. Then I headed further south to Schaumburg, where my hotel was. At that point I was starving, and desperate for something more substantial to eat. I just stopped at Portillo’s, as the first unique restaurant I came upon. I decided to go a little out of my restaurant comfort zone (i.e. chicken) and ordered an Italian beef with spicy peppers and cheese fries. I’m not sure I’d get it again, but it wasn’t bad! I was so hungry that I think anything would have fit the bill! Madison is getting a Portillo’s soon, so I’m curious to see if the restaurant is built in the same manner as the Chicago branches.

After my late lunch I had just enough time to stop in at a TJMaxx (of course) before checking into my hotel. I did a little reading and then spent way too much time trying to decide which of my outfits to wear for the big night and attempting to get my hair to curl and failing. My built in relaxing break of the day was not very relaxing!

While I definitely wasn’t super hungry at that point, I was still hoping to at the very least pick up a coffee or something at a gas station on my way to The Popcast show. But I underestimated how bad highway traffic was going to be at that time of day, or in that area, and didn’t have time. But I did get a great spot in line! My sister-in-law Melissa joined me before the doors opened. Though kind of defeating the purpose of the line, once we were inside we still couldn’t actually go in the theater for another half hour. But we got some great seats once we did!

Because I pre-ordered Knox’s book, I was actually able to get a signed ARC at the show! Lest you forget, I’m on the launch team for this book, which is crazy exciting to me. So you’re going to be hearing about it a lot in the next two months before it’s released. Or, you will be if you follow me on instagram or facebook! It’s genuinely a great book, though. So funny. So poignant. So relatable.

I splurged for VIP tickets, allowing us into the show early and able to watch the pre-show Q&A. That part wasn’t terribly exciting, but I loved the main show!! Melissa had never even listened to them, but I think she enjoyed it too. It was just so fun seeing the people I listen to 3-4 times a week right in front of me! I might be a tiny bit obsessed. But they also provide me a whole lot of joy in the most mundane parts of my day and I am devoted for life. If you haven’t already, LISTEN TO THE POPCAST. It’s so good. And then support them on Patreon because those episodes are even better. And then listen to them on The Bible Binge, their secondary podcast.

Overall, the whole day was awesome! My only regret was not going with Melissa to a unique taco restaurant after the show. I was starving, but I was also tired and didn’t want to deal with moving my car and finding another parking spot, late at night in unfamiliar territory. Instead I drove the half hour back to my hotel exit and then got a McDonald’s chicken sandwich that was stone cold by the time I got to my hotel room. 🙁 I was exhausted, but also super hyped up, so I took a long shower and then watched the movie Sierra Burgess is a Loser. It was a great night!

Today has not been as exciting. My original plan was to just chillax in the hotel all morning, but I was antsy to get moving and find something to do. So I went to an upscale grocery store in search of something for breakfast. Then hit up a Trader Joe’s and a Marshall’s. I walked quickly through Ikea because I was regretting not going when I was in Minnesota last month. And then I went to the gigantic Woodfield Mall. I didn’t have any great interest in being there, it just felt like something I should do. I didn’t stay long. Then I headed up to Beloit to hit up that store (Vintage Bliss) and finished my trip at Qdoba for a late lunch of knockout tacos in Madison. I got home around 3:30, totally exhausted. But I’ve been steadily cleaning and organizing and trying to get ready for the week.

Sunday Intentions

It’s kind of a weird week ahead. There’s not much on the calendar I NEED to do. But there are so many things I COULD do. The smart and driven part of my brain says I should forget all the extras and just work all week. I could use the sales! But the adventurous part of my brain wants to take advantage of all these cool things that happen in fall. I want to drop a few things off at my mom’s and do some grocery shopping in the morning. There’s a friend coffee date I’m planning to go to on Tuesday. One of my favorite stores is having a special fall shopping event on Wednesday. I might possibly have a friend thing Wednesday night. Thursday night there’s a Madison Night Market that looked really intriguing. I’ve been trying to keep the whole week open in case we’re doing any sort of early birthday celebration for Caden with Greg’s parents, but no word on that yet. And on Friday and Saturday I need to clean and shop and prep for Caden’s family birthday party on Sunday morning.

So…I’m not really sure how the week will go! I’m also feeling bad because I had all these plans to take Annie to so many dog parks in the Madison area, and I just can’t seem to fit it into my schedule because it’d basically take an entire day away from anything else. There are just so many things going on in September! So many birthday things for Caden too. Balance is what I’m striving for, I guess. I just don’t want to burn myself out and not be able to enjoy the fun times.

Anyway, I think it’s time for me to go to bed! It’s been quite a week!

Late Summer Vacations in Minnesota and La Crosse

This has been a whirlwind of a week, finishing our three mini vacations of the summer – all right in a row. We had our Fox Lake cottage vacation last weekend with Greg’s parents. Monday was the one normal day of packing and laundry and getting everything organized. And then first thing Tuesday I was off on a solo trip to Minnesota. On Thursday I drove down to La Crosse and met up with Greg and the boys for two nights of family vacation. Overall, I had a lot of fun, did a lot of shopping, looked at a lot of books, and ate a ton of delicious food. But there were also a ton of internet related frustrations in Minnesota and bug related stress in La Crosse. A trip can never just be perfect, right?

I started my journey with a stop at Great Harvest Bread Co. in the Dells. I’ve never been there before and was hoping to find some kind of bread to have on hand for the rest of the week in case the hotel breakfasts were disappointing (and they were). They didn’t really have much bread, but the entire store was filled with bags of these mocha chocolate chip biscotti, so I picked one up. They were delicious!

I planned on eating lunch in Eau Claire, but got to town too early. I drove around, expecting there’d be a shopping area off the main highway I could just hang out at for a little while, but I didn’t have any luck. I eventually found my way to a Festival grocery store so I could go to the bathroom. I made it to Milwaukee Burger Co. right when it opened. Their menu looked fantastic and I chose just a simple fried chicken, pickle, and special sauce sandwich with a side of their enormous cheese curds. Very tasty, but very filling.

My next stop was at Bibelot in St. Paul. It’s a really fun gift type store that I always enjoyed going to when I lived there. I also grabbed a cold brew from Starbucks because I was already dragging and my day had hardly begun!

My main reason for picking Minnesota as a vacation destination was to see my favorite author, Colleen Hoover, at a book signing in Edina. I’ve never been to a book signing and when I realized there was one within driving distance it seemed like the perfect reason to plan a solo vacation. Anyway, it became really annoying when I realized to actually get a seat at the signing and guarantee of her actually signing my book, I had to purchase a book AT their location. They had 100 wristbands that they gave out between when the latest book came out (July 17) and the signing (August 7). 100 isn’t very many for a very popular author in a huge metropolitan area! So I ordered a book to be picked up that day, and then called to ask about the wristband. He told me that because I asked, and he still had 5 or 6 left, he’d put a wristband in my book. And then he realized they only have a 5 day hold and I ordered the book 6 days early. So I had to order a second book (technically a third because I already owned one from amazon to read on release day) the next day and just hoped I’d have a wristband when I got there. I noticed on the book signing schedule that all the other cities simply had you purchase tickets for the signing online. That would have been SO much easier for me!! And much less stressful.

Anyway! I drove over to the Barnes and Noble as soon as I could get there to see if I had a wristband waiting for me. I got lucky because the wristband was still there in the first book I ordered, despite it being expired. They made a big to do about it and decided I could still have the wristband, even though it wasn’t with the book that was still in the system… It wouldn’t have been the end of the world not to have the wristband. I still could have stood in the back and I probably still could have had my book signed. But after revolving a whole vacation around this thing, I really wanted to be able to sit down and enjoy it!

I went back to check into my hotel next and spent awhile just reading and relaxing. I put on a nice outfit, did my hair, and headed back to Barnes and Noble about an hour and a half before the signing started. Apparently this is one of five new concept stores in the country, and the setup was a lot more unique than any other BN I’ve been to. I was really excited to spend some time browsing the shelves. But everyone was already there and sitting! I forgot to bring my kindle with me, I wasn’t particularly interested in re-reading this newest book (it was great – just not her typical tingly delicious romance type book), and my internet wasn’t working at all on my phone. Eventually I decided to risk it and left my stuff on a chair so I could walk around a bit. 🙂 You can’t stick me in an awesome bookstore and not let me browse!

I guess because most people were just getting this book that day, Colleen didn’t do any readings or want to answer questions about it. But she did spend about an hour taking any other questions that people had. So many of the questions had to do with her writing process and where she gets ideas. It was so interesting! I really enjoyed the entire thing. And at the end, we went row by row to get our books signed. I watched everyone before me gushing to her about how great her books are and when I got to the front of the line I had no idea what to say! I was probably her fastest sign because I felt so tongue tied and dumb! Oh well. It was a really great experience and I hope to go to more book signings in my future!

It was pretty late, but I was getting hungry after not eating since 11 in Eau Claire. My plan was to go to Cheesecake Factory and just pick up a slice for the hotel, but then I decided I’d rather get real food instead. So I walked into this Rojo Mexican Grill and had my food about five minutes after I sat down! A huge basket of chips and salsa and three chicken tacos. I’m not normally a huge rice fan, but whatever they did to this rice was also amazing. Since I was parked right in front of it (thanks, handicap parking pass), I still got a slice of chocolate cherry cheesecake to bring back to the hotel and eat over the next few days.

I finished my night back at the hotel with a bit of a pampering spa hour. I had brought a bunch of bath bombs and oils and sheet masks. I was really too exhausted to fully enjoy it, but it was still worth doing. Overall, my first day of vacation was awesome!

Wednesday is much less exciting to write about. I checked out the hotel breakfast that just consisted in individually boxed cereals and plain bagels and went back to my room to read for awhile. I had a fully researched plan in place to start at Ikea and Mall of America and then work my way through all my favorite stores in the other cities. But on my way back to the hotel Tuesday night I saw there was a Container Store in the opposite direction. I’ve never been to one and always wanted to, so I switched up my whole itinerary. Of course in doing so, I really needed to do a bit more research, and the wifi in the hotel didn’t work at all, and my phone was roaming the entire time so almost nothing was working. I wasted a ridiculous amount of time in those 48 hours just trying to get something to load. Things that should have taken ten seconds took half an hour. Yes, I could have just used the time to unplug and made the day a true adventure. But I didn’t want to miss anything! And I wanted to make sure I had the best restaurant plan for the day. It was infuriating how hard it was to find answers or options EVERY SINGLE TIME I tried to search something out. My gps even stopped working half the time. I was trying to just go with the flow and not let it bother me. But…it bothered me. A lot.

Anyway, Wednesday was my shopping day. I went to Trader Joe’s, World Market, Marshall’s, The Container Store, and Whole Foods in Edina. I love unique grocery stores. And I love discount stores. And I love containers. My biggest mistake on this trip was not bringing along a cooler and some ice packs. So many things I wanted to buy at the first few stores I went to were meltable, so I had to pass. 🙁

I had lunch at Naf Naf Grill in Eagan. There were so many great choices all right in a row! I contemplated Punch Pizza because that was our all time favorite MN pizza chain (though there wasn’t one in Eagan when we lived there!). There was also a taco place called RTacos that looked tasty. But I was trying to get myself a wide variety of foods, so I went Mediterranean. My pita was good, but SO spicy. Too spicy. And I LOVE spicy food.

Next I went to Marshall’s and Home Goods and then temporarily got lost. Eagan has changed a lot in the 10 years since we lived there! And my gps stopped working. But I eventually found my way back to the part of town I recognized and drove past the Panera where I worked for the first year we lived there. Then I went into that Barnes and Noble to browse books some more. And of course got a frappuccino. To try and wake up, but also to try and combat the fire still raging in my mouth.

I finished up my shopping at my favorite TJMaxx in Burnsville, where I used to shop all the time (before apparently every city in MN got their own discount stores!). I also stopped in at Abdallah Candies, but I just wasn’t in the mood to buy anything else sweet after my coffees and cheesecake. After that I was totally exhausted and needed a break so I went back to the hotel to read and take a nap.

The rest of my night was kind of crappy. I kept thinking about still going to Ikea and MoA, but my ankle was killing me and I knew there weren’t really any stores I was dying to go to in the mall. I like Ikea as an experience, but it has so many steps and I still suck at going down stairs because my ankle won’t bend enough. Originally there was a restaurant that looked really good at the mall, but since I had fancy tacos the night before it really wasn’t such a priority to get that kind of meal again. I was trying to think really hard about what kind of things I’d find most memorable and of course the answer was BOOKS. On other trips the answer probably would have been to find some cool outdoor things to visit. But between the extremely hot temperatures and my stupid ankle, I just wasn’t up for that kind of adventuring on that leg of the trip.

Anyway, I ended up going to a really cool used bookstore called The Paperback Exchange. I wish I had come across it in my research ahead of time, because if you brought in any paperback to exchange, you would only have to pay 25% of the cover price on any book in the store. Without an exchange, it was 50%. Which was still a pretty great deal because they had SO MANY books, and thousands of them were in almost perfect condition. I had a lot of fun browsing the floor to ceiling shelving and came out with four new books that I actually knew about before and really wanted to read.

After that the night was pretty awful. I couldn’t make up my mind on where to eat. My problem on vacations is that I want every meal to be this perfect experience filled with types of food I could never find at home. I want every meal to be memorable and delight my senses. And sometimes that’s just a lot of pressure to put on food. I couldn’t decide on a restaurant, so instead I headed to another bookstore. But there was so much construction, closed roads, heavy traffic, and NO places to park. I just wasn’t up for walking blocks and blocks to get anywhere, so I gave up on the bookstore and headed to another restaurant choice. Came across more roadblocks and lack of parking. Finally went back to the hotel to regroup and see if there was something I could order in. Decided on something, only to see you needed to download an app in order to place an order and gave up. It was getting so late, but I didn’t want to skip eating entirely. But the internet wasn’t working, I didn’t know what to do, and I was getting so stressed out.

I finally made a choice on a place that was supposedly just 1.2 miles away from the hotel. Except when I got in my car the gps then said 3.6 miles. Which was a good fifteen minute drive. When I finally got there, through more construction and closed roads, I couldn’t get to the restaurant because it was in the middle of a construction site and all the doors were barricaded, even though the open sign was on. It was so confusing and frustrating that I left and just got Popeye’s on my drive back to the hotel. Except even that was a fail because all the food was cold and limp and I didn’t even eat it. SUCH a waste of a night. I should have just walked to the Walmart next to the hotel and gotten some cheese and bread or something. I was so mad at myself for wasting sooooo many hours of that super rare solo vacation on things that didn’t even work out. Oh, and then the final straw – I figured I would end the night finding something to watch on tv while eating popcorn that I had brought. BUT you needed a code to get the tv to work, which was not provided. Stupid! I just went to bed after that.

Needless to say, I was not in the mood to linger on Thursday morning. I didn’t even look at the hotel breakfast. Just packed up and stopped at a bakery I had driven by the morning before. They had so many tasty options! I got a French donut and a cherry fritter, and two bags of salty crunchy cheese breadsticks and a loaf of cinnamon bread to share with the family.

On my way out of the area, I drove by our old house in Farmington. It looked pretty much the same, except they changed the shutters to white. I liked the black ones I painted myself so much better. I was also really happy to see that the flowers, lilac bushes, and tree I planted on my first Mother’s Day were all still alive and well. I can’t believe how much that tree has grown in nine years!

As I headed south, I came to the conclusion that memory lane vacations are not much fun. I really enjoyed our four years living in Minnesota and have a lot of great memories there. But I’ve never regretted our decision to move back to Wisconsin. Driving around on this trip, though, kind of made me feel wistful and sad for the path we did not choose. Maybe because that blog post I wrote on Monday was still fresh on my mind – regret over not staying the college course. I definitely enjoyed seeing Colleen Hoover and I always like being by myself and shopping at all my favorite stores. But I also just felt really kind of sad the entire time. I also felt ANGRY at all the traffic and lack of parking options and poor internet, so yeah. I was ready to get out of there.

I’ll spare you all the other frustrating driving related problems I had that morning and just tell you that I finally got to La Crosse around noon and stopped at the coffee shop I had picked out ahead of time. I wanted some meal food since I didn’t know our plan for the rest of the day, but also didn’t want a ton of food, so I got a mini BLT. And even though I wasn’t really in the mood for it, the whole reason I picked Cabin Coffee Co. was for their huge frappe menu, so I couldn’t leave without getting one. This was the Mississippi Mud frappe. It was good, just a ton bigger than I expected it to be.

After that, I met up with my family! It was still too early to check into the hotel, so they decided to go to the Holmen Aquatic Center, a little north of Onalaska. It was really hot again, so we all had a good time swimming. But then some kid pooped in the pool and we were all kicked out. The boys were really antsy to just get to the hotel. We checked in about as early as we could and immediately went swimming there since we all still had our suits on.

For dinner we went to Buzzard Billy’s. It was the one restaurant I researched that I didn’t want to miss. Unfortunately, we had an extremely long wait on the food and Shepard was SO cranky about it, kind of ruining the experience. But it was delicious once it came!

We ended the night at Grandad Bluff. So pretty!

We were so color coordinated, without even trying!

I spent most of the time watching these people that kept walking around, laying and relaying blankets down, standing backwards, and cuddling right at the edge of the cliff.

Anyway, it was a good evening. We went back to the hotel and got the boys to bed and then we watched an episode of Better Call Saul on Greg’s laptop, with one earbud in each. The joys of hotel life with such different sleep schedules!

Friday morning is when things got tough. Long story short, while I was with the boys getting breakfast, Greg woke up to a bug biting him. It was a bedbug. He took photos and immediately went to the front desk and talked to the manager. They handled the entire thing like it was a national emergency. They wanted us to leave so they could inspect every inch of the room. While we were gone they must have found more because they moved us to a different room, gave us the hotel stay for free, AND insisted that we go on a shopping spree to replace all of the clothes and luggage we had with us, in case it was contaminated. They also told Greg if we ever want to come again to let them know we’d get another night free. They handled everything in about the best possible way, which is why I’m not going to out them to the world as a bedbug hotel. These things happen, and everything else about our stay both this time and a few years ago was fantastic. The bad thing, though…we were still exposed to bedbugs. And spent every single minute of the rest of the vacation worrying about that. And still worrying about it now.

Anyway, when we first left the hotel that morning, we didn’t have much of a plan other than to check out some river viewing spots before it got too hot. We went over into Minnesota and walked around, drove to a higher viewing point, and stopped to watch the lock and dam. The guys were mostly looking for new Pokemon.

We ate lunch at a place called Burger Fusion where you can design your own burgers from a huge list of possibilities. I don’t eat hamburgers, but chicken sandwiches were also an option.

After lunch we went to The Pearl ice cream shop where the boys split a cookie dough ice cream and I got a toasted marshmallow latte.

We went back to the hotel after that and went through the process of going through all of our items and then moving them to the new room. Greg and the boys went swimming while I figured out what the heck to do with all of our clothes. I had all of my best clothes with me. Almost all of which had to be ordered online because I can never find anything in stores that fit properly. I had three of my brand new Third Love bras with me and those are not cheap!! I also had my only three pairs of shorts, six brand new and awesome shirts, my favorite dress, and my only swimming suit and cover up. I couldn’t just ditch them all on the very tiny possibility they were contaminated. Yes, the bedbugs did exist in our room. But Greg is the only one who got bit. They couldn’t have been horrible. And all of our clothes were clear on the other side of the room from where our bed was. It just seemed so unlikely that after all the proper precautions, including extremely careful inspection and heat treatment, my clothes still needed to just get thrown away. Trust me, it has caused MANY arguments in the last three days, but I kept my things. All of Greg and the boys’ clothes they had with them – gone. My suitcase and their duffel bag too. And all the tote bags we had our food and electronics in. It sucked.

After swimming we headed over to Kohls with a long list of everything that needed replacing. Full blown shopping for every article of clothing for three people, plus a few extra things, is exhausting. Greg didn’t even know what size he wore in anything, but because all of his clothes are from Kohls anyway, we were able to find a lot of exact replacements. The boys were a lot harder because most of their summer clothes were either no longer in stock or hidden among clearance racks. Shepard definitely had opinions on what we picked out for him, but Caden started crying every time we asked him which color or style he liked better. Shopping to him is like the ULTIMATE worst thing in the entire world. I got new pajamas, the only thing I agreed to leave behind, even though they were my favorite. 🙁 And I also got to pick out a new carry on bag, which I guess is the silver lining because my other one was pretty old. We managed to get all of that done in about an hour. I felt bad it was over $500, but that was even without replacing my things! The hotel reimbursed us without a bit of hesitation, though.

We headed to the farmer’s market next, which is the one thing in La Crosse I really wanted to do. It was still so hot, though, and crowded, and the rest of my family had no interest in being there. I bought a kohlrabi, the boys each had a glass of fresh pressed apple cider, and I had a glass of delicious sweet mint iced tea. I was so sore at that point, and stressed out. We needed to think of something else to do, but I was just done. Cranky and tired and overwhelmed by everything. I wasn’t super hungry, but we still needed to eat, so we finally decided to just go where everyone wanted to go – even if it’s the same food we could buy at home. Shepard picked Culver’s. Chicken tenders for literally the eighth meal in a row.

Caden wanted a “sub” (turkey and mustard) and chips. Greg and I ended at Burracho’s because it was across the street from the hotel and I didn’t want to drive back into La Crosse for something more unique.

We ended Friday night with more swimming. I enjoyed more hot tub time. It was a long day! Honestly, the boys were great. The whole bedbug ordeal, though. Not fun.

On Saturday morning I took the boys down to the pool while Greg packed everything up. They love the pool and hot tub there so much!

Their favorite part is the indoor/outdoor aspect of the pool. They were just having the greatest time in the world swimming between the barrier and alternating between the pool and the hot tub. It made me realize if we just have very low expectations and actually listen to what THEY want to do, family vacations can be really fun. It’s been so long since we’ve been on one just the four of us. Probably about three years! They were always so disastrous in the past that we switched to just Greg and I going on mini trips, or me going by myself because I’m the one who loves traveling the most. But this was fun! And it was good for us.

We parted ways around ten on Saturday. Greg and the boys went back home to do some Pokemon hunting and pick up Annie. I had to check out the La Crosse TJMaxx (after my two day detox), a gift shop I always like seeing in town, and the craft mall in the Dells. I got back home mid afternoon and snuggled with my pup!

And that was our trip! Overall, a success. If the bedbug incident hadn’t happened, it would have been great. Alas, Greg is still mad at me for keeping my clothes and annoyed that I refused to let them sit in bags in the sun for two weeks (because I had a WET swimsuit in one of the bags, plus ALL OF MY SHORTS AND BRAS). It was pretty dang hot when they sat out yesterday, plus I washed and dried them on heavy duty loads on the hottest settings today. I think they’re fine. And if they turn out not to be, I will take full responsibility on de-infesting our house. 😛

So, no Sunday Intention post this week. I’m still so tired. Trying to get caught up after being gone a week. Trying to prepare for babysitting Hudson for three days when no part of our house is baby proofed and he is very much on the move! Trying to figure out when the in the world I can get back to work in the next few weeks. And feeling both sad that summer is coming to an end and our calendar is filled with so many things, yet still not enough of the fun things I had wanted to do. And feeling excited that FALL IS COMING and my life will finally get back to normal. It’s a confusing time, the middle of August. 🙂 But we power on!

Weekend Reflections and Intentions 08.05.2018

As you can see, I’m already completely failing at my daily writing goal. I promised that on August 1st and haven’t written since. Though in my defense, I have barely been home the last four days, and when I have been home, the internet wasn’t working! When I’m home and the internet IS working, I’ve been being plagued by pretty frequent headaches that leave me not wanting to do a single dang thing. But I’m powering through and WILL write today because a lot happened in this past week that is worth recording!

On Sunday, Dianne and I managed to fit in a little time together before I dropped her off at the airport. We talk every day, but it sure is nice when we can see each other in person! I was supposed to visit her last April, but had to postpone because of my broken ankle. But bearing any other accidents, I am booked to go again in October!

We ate at Bel Air Cantina in Madison. Greg and I went there last year, I think around my birthday. The food was great, but it was so crowded with college students we couldn’t hear each other talk. But a Sunday in the middle of a summer afternoon was perfect timing! They have some delicious taco combinations. I picked a salsa verde chicken taco, Korean beef, and Ninja pig, which was like pork with hoisin sauce and slaw. So tasty.

After I dropped Dianne at the airport I did my grocery shopping while I was in the area and without kids! I spent the rest of the night working, desperately trying to make major progress.

Monday another headache hit me. They seem to be happening so often lately. Dehydration? Not enough sleep? I’m actually getting more sleep than I get during the school year, but I’m also rarely getting my daily nap. Whatever the reasoning behind it, it sucks. And I take enough ibuprofen for ankle related pain that I try really hard not to take any extras for things like headaches. Sometimes, like today, I just need to give in.

On Monday night, I had another dinner date with some of my craft night ladies. We tried out a restaurant in Lake Mills called El Mariachi. I was shocked at how busy it was for a tiny town later on a Monday night, but I guess that’s a testament to how good it is!

I had taquitos on a bed of salsa verde topped with regular taco toppings. Maybe not much to look at, but it was really delicious! And fun to have a night out with friends. They’re SO hard to organize that I’ve mostly given up in the last year. But it’s worth it when it does work out.

In the meantime, Greg and the boys were at my parents’ house having dinner with them and my brothers and Hudson. I would have gone, but it was planned after my friend dinner and I didn’t want to back out.

On Tuesday I was bound and determined to get my dolls done. But I also wanted to make sure I had some quality time with the boys. We went on a longer walk along the cemetery in the morning. After lunch we walked to Sharrow’s, a coffee/ice cream/gift shop just a few blocks away that I always forget to go to. The boys had ice cream and I had coffee. It was a fun break in the day. I even found a delightful bonfire scented candle to carry me through August before I can start burning apple and cinnamon scents in September!

On Wednesday morning we went school supply shopping. Wisconsin had five days of tax free school supplies, clothes, etc. This is normally when we’d go anyway, so it seemed like good timing. Everything gets so picked over into August anyway. It was crazy as usual, but we got everything we needed.

I had big plans to FINALLY research vacation things in the afternoon, BUT the internet was down! No reason why, just hours without it working. It magically came back on later in the day, so I spent the whole night planning out my Minnesota trip in a few days. It was so much fun puzzling together everywhere I wanted to go and eat for the perfect itinerary.

It was kind of a spur of the moment decision, but on Thursday I ended up taking the boys to the State Fair. We fully intended on going on Monday with my parents, but I kept looking at the weather and Thursday’s forecast looked SO much better. If it ended up being too hot or stormy on Monday we wouldn’t have gone anyway, so it made more sense just to head over on Thursday. Plus Timmy, Brittany, and Hudson were going to be there that day, so we got to have a few hours with them which the boys were super pumped about.

We spent the first hour just sitting in this spot waiting for them, which in hindsight was a pretty bad idea. I didn’t want to get too far ahead of them in looking at stuff, but the idleness was pushing Shepard into a pretty cranky mood that lasted the entire day. I should have learned from last year when the fair was also off to a bad start because we spent way too much time trying to meet up with everyone. Though that was hard because everyone kept moving! Which is why we decided to stay put this year. At any rate, it was fine once we found each other!

We went to the WI Products building for our yearly bag of apple cider donuts. As usual Hudson has no idea who I am or why I’m taking a picture with him!

Shepard and I had grilled cheeses for our late morning breakfast. That’s all he ended up eating for the day. He was so cranky because he wanted me to buy him a Pikachu stuffed animal at one of their crappy toy booths and I refused because he doesn’t play with ANY toys, least of all stuffed animals! Plus Annie would have taken it and destroyed it in five seconds. Later he was throwing a fit because he wanted to go on the trampolines. And the last few hours he wouldn’t stop whining and crying because he wanted an expandable ball. He didn’t think he could live without any of those things.

Checking out the hot tubs! Hudson likes this one.

Normally the building with all the little booths is one of my favorite parts, but I knew it would just make Shepard want sooooo many more things. So we cut down the middle, which just happened to be the perfect spot because we got to try dip samples at like five different booths! Then we ended at the beef sticks. These were my favorite thing to get growing up and they’re Caden’s favorite now. I’ve never seen this Vienna beef stick in a store, though I did just figure out where to buy them online! Might be a birthday present this year. I’ll buy it the week between Caden’s and my birthday. 🙂

I let them do the trampolines. They did outdoor jumping last year, so I guess this needs to be an annual thing.

We stopped in a little park area for awhile so Hudson could move around. He loved it!

One of the new fair foods Caden really wanted to try was flamin’ hot corn on the cob. I thought I did a very good job describing it to him ahead of time so he knew what he was getting into, but he didn’t even want to touch it when I put it in front of him. He eventually took a tiny bite, spit it all over the table, and cried for awhile. I spent $5 on it, so I took a bite – gross. Timmy reluctantly finished it off.

Trying to get Hudson to settle down for a nap because he was up early.

The new food I wanted to try were WI Hot Chicken Bombs. It was a combination of mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and corn rolled into a ball and deep fried. Then it was injected with gravy and coated with Nashville hot sauce. Unfortunately, I was not really a fan. I mostly ate one and gave the other to Timmy (he took over my dad’s job of eating everyone’s leftover food this year). I’m kind of bummed that this is the second or third year in a row of not finding any super delicious things to eat. I had other things on my list, but by the time I got this I was just tired of spending so much money on junky food and just plain wasn’t in the mood to hunt anything else out. Next year…

Normally we do animal buildings first, but it was our last stop this year. We all loved this super sweet and gentle goat that LOVED getting his face and neck scratched!

Around noon I hit 10,000 steps and my ankle was DONE. Four straight hours of walking was quite the accomplishment. Despite the cool weather forecast, it was also pretty hot in the blasting sun and crowds. I think it was a successful trip overall, though. Shepard was difficult, but he could have been worse. Caden was FANTASTIC. How often can I say that?! And it was fun to spend the morning with Hudson.

Fortunately, I was able to fit in an afternoon nap because I had more plans Thursday night. I went to see the Rachel Hollis documentary Made for More. It was playing as a special event movie in theaters all around the country. It was really great! Very motivational and empowering for women to watch. They added an additional showing on August 13th, and I highly recommend seeing it! Or at the very least, reading her book!!

I planned to spend Friday morning packing for the weekend, baking a bunch of things, and doing more research for our LaCrosse vacation. BUT the internet was down again. Greg was still home so he called Charter and it took the entire morning to fix. And because our modem and router are in the kitchen, I couldn’t do my internet stuff OR my kitchen stuff. It was obviously nobody’s fault, but it was a very stressful and frustrating half a day of not doing anything I planned on doing. I hate when that happens.

On Friday evening, we headed to Hayes Resort in Fox Lake, where Greg’s parents rented a cottage for the weekend.

The boys were a little anxious and not fans of the concept of RELAXATION, but it was a pretty perfect night of sitting out by the lake. Not too hot, very few bugs, and a nice peaceful breeze.

The property definitely could have used some upgrades. For example, this was “the beach.” Kind of hilarious. But it didn’t stop the kids from loving a big pile of sand either!

I had some problems walking around because the entire resort is on a steep hill. My ankle does not like hills! I was pretty sore Friday night, but I wore my brace on Saturday and it was a lot better. I just kept having visions of myself falling and re-hurting myself all over again, so I had to walk at a snail’s pace.

We had tacos for dinner and ate at a picnic table next to the cottage. Then Steve and Shepard built a fire next to the water and we had s’mores for dessert. It was really nice!

Despite how gross the water looked, they realllly wanted to go in. It’s always so funny when they wade into water and hold their shorts up.

I stayed until about 7:45 and then went home to be with Annie. I was hoping to just chillax having the house to myself – which NEVER EVER happens at night. But I ended up cleaning the bathroom, doing a bunch of dishes, sweeping all the floors, make peanut butter fudge, and then finally settled in to have a snack, read, do a sheet mask, and go to sleep about 10:45.

I was hoping to sleep in a bit, but that never happens. I did, however, lounge in bed and read for an hour which was great! Then I was running around trying to make scones and get everything prepped to head back to the cottage.

I dropped Annie off at my mom’s for the day so she could have some fun and then joined everyone. Greg’s aunt and uncle and cousin and her family were there too. Sometime overnight they managed to find a boat they could use. The boys loved it, but it was a lot of work for Greg!

It was a pretty hot day, but also very windy which balanced everything out – a bit. All the kids had a blast running around and playing. The adults had a little more chance to relax! We had a big lunch of brats and hot dogs, which the guys expertly cooked over the fire, corn on the cob, fruit and veggies, chips, and a variety of desserts.

Shepard and Trevor were kind of off in their own worlds, but Caden and Melody were having so much fun playing together! Caden is always so good with younger kids and babies.

Sitting on the docks while Shepard “fished,” Caden swam, and Melody kept running back and forth between them. It was making me too nervous so I didn’t stay long. 🙂

No qualms about the green water after he got in the first time. Ick.

It was a really nice day! I’m wildly impressed with how organized Steve and Cindy were with so many full meals all prepped and ready, plus all the towels and toys and chairs and accessories. I’m sure it was super exhausting, but they never let it show! We all had a really good time. Greg and I went back home for the night, but the boys stayed with them last night too.

That’s it for the week! It was packed! But really fun too. The way summer is supposed to be, right?!

Sunday Intentions

This week I just intend to have more fun! Tomorrow is our only normal day of the week with Greg at work and me madly trying to make sure everything is ready to go. Because early Tuesday morning I’m heading out on my solo Minnesota vacation! I revolved the trip around going to a Colleen Hoover signing/presentation. But I’m planning on checking in at all my favorite stores, eating a lot of delicious food, driving by our old house and apartment, possibly stopping in at Panera to see if anyone I know still works there 10 years later, and basically just enjoying 2.5 days of being entirely by myself! It will be AMAZING.

On Thursday I’m driving back and meeting up with Greg and the boys in LaCrosse for two more nights of family vacation. I have yet to plan that one out, other than noting a few restaurants that looked good. So that’s on the agenda for this afternoon. There’s A LOT on today’s agenda and I still have this terrible headache. We’ll see how much gets done!

Have a good week!

Flying Solo in Door County

IMG_20170914_100019_696 my favorite rocks

Last night I got back from my three day solo trip to Door County. There was no purpose to this trip, other than that I really wanted a break from real life. It was the ultimate form of self care and something I desperately needed. I’m SO thankful I was able to go and enjoy myself for three full days without any responsibility to anyone other than myself. It was amazing.

IMG_20170913_111751_308 bluefront cafe

I left around 6am on Wednesday morning. Late enough that I could say a quick goodbye to everyone, but early enough that I didn’t have to pack lunches or make breakfasts. I got to see an amazing sunrise on the drive up. I tried to take a picture, but phone photos (while driving!) do NOT do gigantic red sun photos justice. I made my first stop in Sturgeon Bay. It was a bit too early for the stores I wanted to go to, so I wandered around Target to pass the time. Then I walked through the downtown area and checked out their shops. I had lunch at The Bluefront Cafe. It was a turkey, brie, arugula, and cherry jam grilled sandwich – delish!

IMG_20170913_150230_029 hotel room

I worked my way up the peninsula, stopping at all the stores that looked interesting. Mostly the farm markets because finding unique locally made food goodies is my absolute favorite thing on any trip I take. Plus all the samples are always just the best. I stopped at Lautenbach Orchards and had a wine tasting. Picked up two bottles of their Summer Breeze wine – it was so tasty!

While I enjoyed stopping in at so many stores, I also had a terrible headache and was really looking forward to getting to the hotel. I checked in at Church Hill Inn right at 3:00 and was put in The Lighthouse Room. It was such a nice room! I rested for about an hour and then decided I’d rather go back out and check out a few more shops before they all shut down at 5:00. Before I left, I had some of the hotel’s afternoon appetizers – cheese, sausage, crackers, and spinach artichoke dip.

IMG_20170913_173753_480 grasses grill

I had dinner at Grasse’s Grill in Sister Bay. The entire reason I wanted to go there was for their sweet potato fries with curry dip. Except the lady apparently didn’t hear me say the “sweet potato” part when I requested the fry side. I always feel awkward enough eating at sit down restaurants by myself, so I decided not to make a deal out of it. The cherry chicken salad wrap I ordered was delicious, though! The best chicken salad I’ve ever had. I also ordered cherry soda, just to stay with the cherry theme. It wasn’t that great (no surprise).

IMG_20170913_211047_081 book pile

After dinner, I settled back in at the hotel for a full night of reading. I brought a lot of books along, but really just read fiction that night. Flipped through some of my new cookbooks. It was relaxing and wonderful.

IMG_20170914_082816_042 hotel breakfast

Despite being there alone, I still woke up at 4am. I guess that’s just my normal wake up time. I did stay in bed for quite awhile reading. The hotel’s breakfast starts at 8am, so I was down there right when it opened, along with every single other person in the hotel. Breakfast was my one complaint about Church Hill Inn. They’re known for their great breakfasts. And the food was definitely good. But it’s very awkward how they insist on seating you, serving you drinks, and requesting a tip, for a buffet style meal. Both mornings they did not seem very pleased to sit a single person at a table when couples and groups were waiting behind me. Anyway, Thursday’s breakfast was potato pancakes with applesauce, scones with whipped cream, English sausages, and fruit. It was all really good! Despite the raisins, it was the best scone I’ve ever had.

20170914_090604 maple crueller

Since it was still too early for most shops, I decided to start the day driving to Cave Point County Party. I stopped at Door County Bakery on the way, at my mom’s recommendation, to get their Corsica bread. I also had to get a French Cruller because they’re my favorite kind of donut. Plus it was only $1. The chocolate croissants also looked amazing, but those were $6.

IMG_20170914_095002_094 good selfie

I’m SO glad I went here first thing. I was one of the only people there (with many groups of people filing in when I was leaving), it wasn’t very hot yet (the weather got so unusually hot all three days), and it was simply way more fun than shopping. And I love shopping.

20170914_094552 trees

20170914_095146 bird rocks

It must have taken people a lot of effort to make all these rock stacks, but they looked so cool! Totally worth the effort. I wasn’t expecting to see them, either, so it was a really awesome surprise. I liked these particular stacks because the top rocks look like birds.

IMG_20170914_095504_269 pretty rocks

20170914_095321 cave point park

20170914_095231 lone rock piles

20170914_102550 contemplation walk

The rocky shores were starting to get crowded, but I didn’t want to leave yet, so I walked the contemplation trail. I figured it would be a loop, but it instead just ran into trails made by the state park nearby. It was very confusing.

20170914_102727 fall colors

There weren’t many fall colors yet, but every once in awhile I’d spot a tree in full glorious shades of red. It’d be fun to come again a few weeks later another year when it’s all in full color display.

IMG_20170914_144221_018 corsica sticks

After the park, I drove around until I found some more stores to check in at. I also ate one of my Corsica sticks from the bakery. They were SO good. It’s like French breadsticks infused with a massive amount of olive oil.

IMG_20170914_112538_807 cherry juice

I was all about the cherry culture while I was there. 🙂 Cherry jam in my sandwich, cherries in my chicken salad, cherry fudge at two different farm markets, cherry juice, cherry soda, cherry infused wine. Yum yum.

IMG_20170914_123747_370 chunky monkey

I wasn’t super hungry for lunch, but wanted a little something else, so stopped at Not Licked Yet to get my favorite chunky monkey sundae. I didn’t like it as much as I have in the past, but still a nice treat.

Around this point I got really tired and went back to the hotel for a nap and reading time. I enjoyed the appetizers again – homemade chips, veggies, and dip.

IMG_20170914_165810_580 scenic lookout

My original plan for the night was to just stay in with my piles of books. But I had so much fun at the park in the morning that I decided to check out a few more of the county parks. If I go back again someday I’ll buy a pass to go to the state parks, but this time I was all about the free parks. Despite all the times I’ve gone there as a kid, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been to any of the county parks. This one was Ellison Bluff scenic lookout.

20170914_173139 rocky shores

I ended at Door Bluff County Park, thinking I’d stick around for sunset. I was not expecting to get there and see there weren’t even any trails to walk on. I had to climb down a huge hill of rocks and tree roots. I was sure I’d either fall to my death, get injured and have nobody around to save me, or be attacked by the one group of men I saw while I was walking through the woods. Fortunately, none of that happened. It was quite a workout, though!

20170914_172946 rock towers

IMG_20170914_172909_850 beach nearing sunset

It was another really pretty shoreline, but there was no way I was sticking around until sunset. I could barely find my way back up the mountain in the light. I never would have made it in the dark!

IMG_20170914_184030_748 pizza

My original plan was to get a pizza to take back to the hotel, but then I figured it was easier to just eat in. I went to Wild Tomato and ordered a small pepperoni pizza. It was HUGE. There’s no way any one person can eat that whole pizza. They only had room to seat me at this barstool area where all the waiters filled their drink orders. I felt super awkward and the pizza was really messy. As much as I like doing things alone, eating at restaurants is not one of them. I was very uncomfortable. But the pizza was fantastic!

IMG_20170914_184548_262 sister bay marina

One more quick stroll along the marina before going back to the hotel. It definitely wasn’t as productive as the night before. I spent a whole lot of time playing Toy Blaster on my phone. Then tried to watch a movie that needed to buffer every five minutes. I finally gave up and went to bed way later than I usually do.

IMG_20170915_081507 lame breakfast

Friday’s breakfast was not very impressive! Well, it was a lot of eggy things. Like an egg frittata with a side of scrambled eggs. Why?? They also had cinnamon buttermilk pancakes. Except when I got to them there were only two left and one person in line behind me, with nobody around to immediately refill them. So it seemed rude to take the last two, even though I didn’t want anything else. I don’t normally like pancakes, but it was pretty good. The waitress was not very happy that she had to sit me at a table for four again. I ate as quickly as I could and booked it out of there.

IMG_20170915_090046_031 lake selfie

I didn’t want to stick around until shops opened at 10, so I headed out with a final stop at Cana Island Lighthouse.

20170915_090610 the island lighthouse

I’m not really sure why, but the road to the island should have looked like this, but it was totally flooded with water. So a trip to the lighthouse was not going to happen! But I enjoyed walking around the beaches for awhile.

20170915_085813 solitude beach

20170915_090156 beach

20170915_085839 beach

This was my final stop in the peninsula. Then I said goodbye to Door County and drove down to Green Bay. I went to a couple of stores that my mom recommended.

IMG_20170915_124705_926 chipotle

Had lunch at Chipotle because I wanted to try their new queso. I wasn’t very impressed. I love their hot salsa SO much, so the queso would have had to be pretty amazing for me to give up having salsa when I go there!

I didn’t want to get home too early, giving up part of this day to myself. But I was also really tired and headachy again. I made a halfhearted attempt to go through a bunch more regular type stores in Appleton and Oshkosh. For dinner I had a Starbucks frappucino.

IMG_20170915_175205_489 sweet annie

I got home around 5:30. Annie acted like she hadn’t seen me in months! It was pretty sweet. Shepard was also jumping around and excited to see me. It was a nice welcome home.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip! I hope I can make it an annual thing. Despite the fact I still came back tired and achy, it was rejuvenating for my soul. Exactly what I needed.