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Freezing for Fun

Brr, it’s been a mega-chilly week around these parts. I don’t think it’s just the cold (although there’s been a few days when we were lucky to get into the single digits) but the WIND has been ridiculous. It just rips right through you and you’re chattering and shaking in seconds. Even the short walk across the parking lot into work each day is brutal. I’m wondering why I never purchased remote start for my car.

Ben and I took an abbreviated trip to Kenosha/Racine over the weekend. It was supposed to be two nights with some time baked in for sight-seeing, but I got a last minute call from a dear friend (who was in town from NY) so we cut it short a day. It worked out well though, because we failed to plan ahead and all the local tours and attractions we thought about viewing were full. Everyone must have had the same idea!

We finished up one of our Ingress game banners and then worked on another one down on the Kenosha waterfront. Let me tell you, it looked beautiful but it was absolutely freezing…

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(looks like spring doesn’t it? No snow in sight!)

So much of the snow seems to have melted away and it appears like any old Spring day – with grass and all – but we took turns bundling up, grabbing both phones, and dashing out to hit the locations we needed while the other kept the car running and the heated seats on high. The very last place we had to go was way out to a lighthouse on the pier.

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After checking my phone battery (84%) I doubly secured my coat hood so it wouldn’t blow off and we scuffled as quickly as we could along the pier. There was absolutely no wind block, poor lighting, and patches of the pier were icy and slick so we stepped carefully. The worst thing was having to pull off our chunky mittens so we could work the phone screens, but we were done quickly and then I suggested to Ben a quick picture while we were at the edge of the pier. I clicked the button and POOF – the screen went black. My battery died from the cold. Ugh!

Scampering back into the cold and shaking with our hands placed over the car heaters, we laughed, plugged my phone in, and decided we needed some food. We checked into our hotel and at the suggestion of the hotel rep, made our way across the street to a local pasta place. Evidently all their pastas are made from scratch and it’s “beyond excellent”.

What was “beyond excellent” for me wasn’t the food at all – but the insane Christmas décor. I have never seen a restaurant so decked out for Christmas. It was amazing.

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They had trees decorated with twinkle lights, bulbs, bows and tiny ornaments, strings of lighted garland, a HUGE Santa, and even reindeer flying in the air…

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We were seated next to the fireplace, where they had a string of red twinkle lights

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We ordered salads and then waited for our main courses to arrive. The salad was pretty basic but there were a few pieces of spinach. The blue cheese dressing was more like just sour cream – not a fan.

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Ben is a sucker for any kind of alfredo so it wasn’t a surprise when he selected their chicken & broccoli alfredo pasta.

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It was amazing but so rich. I don’t think I could have eaten an entire plate of it. But you could definitely taste the parmesan and cream.

My entrée was a trio of two ravioli, a “small” piece of lasagna, and then half a plate of gnocchi. It looked bare without a sprinkling of cheese on top. Don’t they know this is Wisconsin?? 😉

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I have ordered gnocchi several times because I keep thinking that I “should” like it. You know what? I just don’t. I’ve never had it were it wasn’t slightly gummy or rubbery and that’s just not my thing. I ate three and left the rest on my plate.

As we were walking back to our hotel, we spotted a lot of people walking around down by the waterfront again (what? in the cold?). We hopped back into the car to explore only to learn it was a breeding ground for rare Pokémon. There must have been 50 people shaking in their shoes and wandering around catching Pokémon. And then Ben and I did it too because we’re crazy. LOL

On our way back we saw this amazing building next to the civil war museum. I’m not sure why the purple but it was soooo cool!

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Our hotel room was amazing. We were at the very back of the building facing the water AND had access to two Ingress portals / Pokémon stops. That meant every 5 minutes we were hacking and getting additional gear. I almost didn’t want to stop to go to sleep. Hee Hee.

The view from our room. There’s a long sidewalk wrapping around the water and then behind it you can see the rows of townhouses. Can’t you imagine living each day with such a view?

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Christmas Vacation

What a week it’s been! I’ve been enjoying the time off from work and taking that mental pause on anything that hasn’t involved family and relaxation.

Our Christmas was not as hustling and bustling as year’s past – hurray! Usually we bounce back and forth between our families all day long but this time we were able to convince families to alter traditions (both of our families are Christmas morning celebrators). Ben and I got up on Christmas morning and didn’t have to race out the door. Instead, we had a moment to relax, enjoy our Christmas tree, and then actually head out for Christmas breakfast! Unreal and so wonderful.

Our Christmas tree! Everything gets packed up and put into the car to be transported to our loved ones. I LOVE getting gifts for people and get really excited anticipating them opening them up. It’s one of my favorite things about Christmas. 🙂

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After breakfast we went to spend the morning with Ben’s side of the family. We opened presents and enjoyed Christmas music, plenty of cheer, and a delicious meal.

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In the early afternoon we said goodbye and went to see my side for another round of festivities.

Our stockings were waiting for us…

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And then we had a good laugh about my parent’s tree. They have used this super-old fake tree the last couple of years to keep the dog out of the ornaments, but I think she’s plenty old enough now to stay away (and the tree is a little “Charlie Brown Christmas”). I think maybe we’ll get them a new one as an early present next year.

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Last year we had less than two dozen gifts under the tree (for 6 people) and I guess everyone did the same thing I did. Instead of one large gift (or a shared gift), I ended up doing a lot more little things instead. Way more wrapping involved but a LOT more fun to open on Christmas Day. Mom joked that we should keep the small tree because the trunk it is on makes it look like there’s even more presents. Maybe she’s right… Ha!

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Cheery people…

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I wonder what’s in there?

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It was a really nice Christmas.

We finally found a good day this week and went to the botanical gardens for the horse-drawn wagon ride through the gardens. There wasn’t a snowstorm this time BUT there was insane winds that froze all of our faces off! That’s part of the experience though. We were all squeezed tightly on the wagon and I brought along my car fleece blanket which I wrapped over our laps. Then we just held our mittens over our faces to block out a lot of the wind. We’re Wisconsin winter professionals.

Views from the bumpy wagon:

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After our ride we quickly ran around for a few photos:

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It works better with the flash.

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Inside the “caterpillar”:

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I’m. So. Cold. My. Lips. Are. Frozen.

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I took zero pictures of food this year. Odd, I know, but this year was a little scurried in the prep and a little lazy / relaxed on the holiday. Besides, Christmas isn’t about the food, is it?

It’s about 90 minutes from New Years as I’m writing this. Ben’s downstairs flipping back and forth between the various holiday TV programs and I’m trying to decide if I am going to stay awake or go to sleep right after I hit the “Publish” button on this post. Right now, I think sleep is winning. 🙂

Happy New Y… Zzz… zz… z… .. .

Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas & good tidings to all!

We’re getting ready to load up our presents and head over to celebrate the day with our families. But first – I wanted to share a quote I saw recently that I just love.

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”

Andy Rooney (1919-), American writer, producer

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Enjoy!!!

Baking Bonanza & Tying up Loose Ends

Merry Christmas Eve!

I hope all your presents are wrapped, your baking is done, and you’re now able to relax, enjoy, and CELEBRATE the holiday with your family (or enjoy the weekend if you aren’t a Christmas celebrator).

Unlike years past where I have every fancy bow tied and tucked under the tree at least a week ahead of time, I spent the first half of the Packer game wrestling ribbons, bows, and paper in a frantic chaos to get everything done. Whew.

As we did last year, Ben and I celebrated our final working day of the year by having an extremely early breakfast and the little coffee shop by our house. I start my day in the office at 6:30, so we were outside as soon as they opened at 6am. Early, early start!

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But that meant we could enjoy a quiet breakfast and good company. It makes me feel spoiled when we have a special breakfast like this together.

And it doesn’t hurt when we can catch special Pokemon while we eat!

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My boss never does anything special for our department during the year. There’s no activity or free pizza or anything like that, which really stinks. But I planned a food day so at least we could get together as a team right before the holidays. We had lots of really creative and delicious food: homemade chili, chicken curry salad with grapes and cantaloupe (so good!), taco dip, a Christmas veggie tree, homemade spicy pecan cheeseball, cranberry cream cheese tortilla pinwheels, jam bars, and cucumber flower sandwiches.

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Sometimes it can be a pain to have to bring a big dish of stuff to work but it’s always a lot of fun sampling everyone’s favorite dishes.

Yesterday was our official start of “Christmas Vacation” and we did a quick trip to the store for baking items and then hunkered in with Christmas tunes blaring as we baked up a storm (while the actual storm passed through outside).

2pm – about 2 hours into the storm. hard to see on camera but note the accumulation on the branches

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4pm – again, note the branches on the trees:

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We had originally planned to go to the local botanical gardens to see their Christmas display but the roads looked terrible so we opted to just snuggle in at home.

We tried a new eggnog cookie this year: eggnog snickerdoodles. The recipe made a HUGE batch, which means plenty for sharing! Ben has been a nutmeg snob ever since grating his own fresh nutmeg on our eggnogs last Christmas. This was no exception – Ben grated all the nutmeg for every recipe.

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He’s also my official hug-unwrapper!

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Ben also made the caramel puffcorn – which is now becoming the tradition of what we’re expected to bring for Christmas every year.

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I worked on the toffee and just like last year, managed to get a tiny speck on my finger. Ouch! I’ve got quite the red welt now and even a day later, it really hurts. Just before Thanksgiving our grocery store had a mega sale on organic pasture butter (84% butterfat – supposedly amazing for baking). Usually it runs about $4 for the equivalent of two sticks of butter – so it’s something I VERY rarely purchase. But with the sale and in-store coupons, I snagged every single package they had for just $1.50 each. Boom!

I made the toffee with this butter expecting it to be this wickedly luscious and rich tasting melt-in-your-mouth treat, but it never fully incorporated into the sugar. Instead, I had this thin layer of grease (butterfat?) on the top. Luckily when it cooled it absorbed right in and was indeed delicious and buttery, but there was definitely some panic wondering if it was going to work out!

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Another tradition of ours is to have breakfast on Christmas Eve morning and either A: leave the waitress a ridiculously large tip or B: secretly buy someone’s breakfast for them. we ended up leaving the big tip this year and enjoyed massively large specialty pancakes along with eggs, sausage, and hash browns.

Ben with his dark chocolate peppermint pancakes (so outrageous):

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My eggnog pancakes with a luscious eggnog filling:

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We didn’t finish our cakes. They needed to have been half that size. 🙂

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So now that I’m done baking and wrapping, I’m enjoying a little lull before all the hustle and bustle begins. My family is due over in a bit and then we’re off to drive around looking at Christmas lights. Tomorrow morning we’re heading to Ben’s family in the morning and then my family in the afternoon.

Whatever you’re doing, enjoy it!

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Bailey – and I’m not talking about Irish cream

Hello! Did everyone in the Midwest survive the latest winter storm? The snow started falling here on Friday morning and I was getting antsy because I had a Groupon massage scheduled on the other side of town with plenty of slick & icy city driving to get there. Luckily the snow fall was consistent but light most of the day and I made it there and back with only one tiny little slick moment. For a girl who lives in Wisconsin, one of these days I need to get over my fear of winter driving!!

Friday night we did a quick pass of shoveling and hunkered in to wait out the worst of the storm… only to wake up Saturday morning and find that there were only flurries and maybe an inch or two more snow overnight rather than the 6-8″ of snow forecasted. Well – ha! I jumped into overdrive to wrap presents for our out-of-town friends and got the packages ready for the post office. Then we hopped into the car and decided to see how long the wait would be to mail a box on the last Saturday before Christmas Eve (answer: super short line! I think people were afraid of the snow).

After the post office and a trip to ShopKo for more gift wrap tape, we began spotting all these special Santa Pikachu in Pokemon Go and spent another hour driving around town hopping on gyms and collecting new Pokemon. We had our winter boots on and it was a good thing too, because a few times we had to traverse around piles of snow to get to gym locations.

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It was a bit ridiculous since we were trying to beat the rest of the storm but it turned into a hilarious trip with Christmas songs blaring on the radio, my flannel blanket over my lap, and game playing interspersed with a special trip for egg nog brickle ice cream at the local custard store. Yummm!

The snowfall began to pick up so we went home and spent the rest of the day doing a gift-wrapping and Hallmark channel Christmas movie marathon. Those Hallmark movies are definitely Christmas-y but they feel very redundant (as in I thought I was watching the same exact movie over and over).

LOTS of snow came down on Saturday and this morning we woke up to the final damage of 9.5″. The sun was out today which will help clear the roads a bit before work tomorrow BUT the high temp today was -1. That’s right, not even a high in the positive degrees. Ben bravely bundled up to snow blow and pick up groceries but then we spent another day inside the house.

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I’m excited that I have all my family Christmas presents wrapped. I got started on Ben’s gifts when he was out but I’ll have to finish another time. My Christmas cards are also done and ready to pop into the mail tomorrow. I’m finally feeling on top of the Christmas list. Hurray – better late than never!

Ben made a really fancy dinner for us tonight – chicken carbonara. I’ve never tried it before and was a little nervous about the eggs in my pasta sauce (sounds weird) but it tasted really good.

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I like it when we get a bit more adventurous in our cooking. Ben’s really blossomed in his cooking acumen and is no longer nervous about trying new recipes. He loves it!

Time to get ready for bed but I wanted to show you our fun purchase when we were out shopping yesterday. My grandma made a ceramic Christmas tree and my parents have it in their house. I’ve always LOVED it. It’s one of my favorite Christmas decorations. Anyway, ShopKo had this miniature mock-up (not quite the same color) so we picked it up for our house. It makes me so happy. 🙂

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Here’s to a GREAT week before Christmas!!!

The Snow is Here

Happy White Monday!

The forecasters were predicting 5-8″ of snow on Sunday so Ben and I had a very productive Saturday racing around getting all of our errands done (turns out everyone else had the same idea – the crowds were insane).

Aside from playing Ingress, Ben and I lightly play Pokemon Go as well – so we made a strategic trip in the hopes of hitting some out-of-the-way gym locations before the snow would make them less desirable for take down.

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Pretty day but SO windy. My fingers were aching trying to fidget with the game app. Sometimes I wonder why we do these things. 😉

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Won’t be long before all of that water is covered in a thick sheet of ice! In fact, one smaller river we passed on the way home was already icy and there were a few folks ice fishing! But due to the lack of sufficient thickness, they were in hip waiters fishing into their circles of ice. Wouldn’t you think that would be pretty cold?I’m not sure I’d last very long even if I had multiple layers on.

Speaking of layers… Ben’s family had tickets for the Packer game on Sunday so Ben bundled up in his thermals, sweater, jacket, and jersey and ventured to the city bus stop to be shuttled into the game.

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We weren’t loving the idea of driving at all in the storm, so it’s great that one of the city shuttles stops by a bar that’s just a few miles down the road. I’m more than a little paranoid about snow driving so I kept checking on Ben to make sure that he was making progress and that the bus (and his car) were making it to where they needed to be.

Handy App:

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We’re working on getting caught up with Christmas festivities. I feel a bit behind considering we’re less than TWO WEEKS (what!?) before Christmas. The tree is up and we have lights but no decorations. Ben threw a few things in the room but it’s mostly just boxes up against the wall. Hopefully this week we can get moving on that – then it’s Christmas cards and gift wrapping.

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I seem to have bought more less expensive presents this year – so there’s a LOT to wrap. I think everyone has at LEAST three things to open. Why did I do that to myself? Ha Ha! My back hasn’t been doing so well so I’ve been back to the chiropractor and massage therapist to help. Leaning over the table wrapping gifts isn’t great so I’m thinking lots of short bursts to get it all done.

I’m also compiling a list of cookies I want to make. I had a list of 8 different things but now am laughing at myself because I think maybe 4 is more realistic. How do people get all this done? I was marveling at people on Facebook with their pictures of cookie mountains and intricately decorated rooms (and these people have children!). I’m amazed!

The forecast said “bitter cold” tomorrow through Thursday so it looks like we won’t be back into the double digits until the weekend. Yikes! It sure came on fast – I was hoping to be eased into the cold weather a little more. Single digit temps are more common here in Jan/Feb. Maybe that means it’ll be over faster? 😉

Time to check on dinner in the oven. Have a great evening!

 

Mission Day

We stuck around in Chicago an extra day to work on another banner and to participate in “Mission Day”. Mission days are other coordinated events where you have a pre-determined amount of time to collect between 6 and 18 mission badges. If completed and verified on time, you get another badge. We don’t have any mission day badges yet and figured since we were already down there – we should stay an extra day and play.

Since we had a lot more walking to do and wanted to be able to get on the road before it was too late, we were up early for a family breakfast. A friend of mine recommended Wildberry Bakery which was just a short walk from our hotel. There’s not many restaurants in the area for breakfast (unless you feel like dropping $32 A PERSON on the hotel buffets!!) and despite arriving early – there was a big line. Let me tell you, after walking 20K steps the previous day with a lot of standing, waiting in line was hard work. 🙂

Turns out we arrived in the knick of time and only had to wait about 25 minutes. When they called our table, the lines outside were so big the wait was almost 2 hours. Yes, people were OK waiting that long. Wow! Different city I guess…

The wait was worth it for us though. We were starving and still a little dehydrated so we loaded up on delicious coffee and their specialty breakfast options. Dad and Ben went with the caramel apple pecan French toast.

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While the rest of us selected the Signature Berry Bliss pancakes. I want another plate of this right now. It was absolutely incredible! They labeled it as “vanilla anglaise, blackberry coulis, berry mascarpone, and fresh berries”. Oh yeah. I’m a sucker for anything breakfast with berries.

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This just might be my favorite breakfast ever. If only I could get this back home. 🙂

After finishing our meal we bundled back up and joined all the players walking around the area collecting our missions. Everyone hits the same locations but it’s friendly because we don’t have to hold locations for our team. It was a much more casual and laid-back atmosphere.

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We ran into cell signal issues a couples of times. Skyscrapers are fun to look at but terrible for playing games on your cell phone!

Here’s a funny story – I really liked the Lincoln statue and wanted a picture without dozens of people milling all around. So I made everyone sit and wait… and wait… and wait until I realized you need the people in order to get the correct height perspective. Ha

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A lot of walkers everywhere! Plus the crazy noise. Every driver in Chicago utilizes their horn more than their breaks. I’m convinced of this. There weren’t many long, loud horn blasts BUT there was a non-stop tap-tap-tap-tap of all the horns being tapped. No one has any patience, people just randomly stop in the middle of the road (there’s not much parking). There also were homeless people on every curb yelling over and over at people for money, cigarettes, and food. It was bustling and noisy and a LOT of stimulation. Maybe a bit too much for this small-town gal. (Heaven help me if I ever visit NY!)

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We had a location stop just outside of the art institute. I guess everyone is still celebrating the Cubs’ World Series win:

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We finished what we could over the morning and then it was time to scurry back and check out of our hotels, make a bathroom break, and check the parents’ car out of valet parking. Parking in big cities is CRAZY – it was $65/day for my parents to park. Remember yesterday I mentioned how Ben and I went around and around for an hour looking for a parking garage? That was so we’d “only” have to pay $32/day. Holy macaroni.

You pay for the pretty nighttime views I guess?

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The skywalk in our hotel. If we’d had more time it would have been fun to just sit there and sip some coffee while watching the people/cars.

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We left our car in the cheap (lol) lot and used Mom & Dad’s for letting Matt take breaks from the walking. We were all pretty wiped out but had more trekking to do. I think this was the river they dye green for St Patrick’s Day every year. Would be fun to take a river cruise sometime!

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And, as always, Ingress takes us to every random and unique sculpture the city has to offer. I love that.

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We only hit 17,000 steps to finish the mission and we logged our names into the system and got out of town before rush hour. I really wanted to sleep on the way home but figured it wouldn’t be fair to Ben to drive the whole way back without any company. I did doze off for about 30 minutes – whoops!

Overall a fun trip with lots of memories. It never fails whenever we play Ingress we run into something unexpected but I love having things to do and making friends from across the country.