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June. Already?

There’s something about the nicest months of the year – time speeds up and weeks feel more like days. It’s a hilarious juxtaposition from my childhood when it felt like Summer lasted for pretty much half of the year. If only.

How was your Memorial Day? We did the usual fun and games starting with the parade Monday morning with my family and following it up with an early cook-out. Bratwurst, an assortment of deli salads, homemade guacamole, and fruit.

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There’s something wonderful about eating summery foods in the summertime. You could eat this same plate in January and it just wouldn’t be as good.

The day before all the festivities I had been sitting at the gas station waiting for Ben when I noticed this weird flaky stuff coming into the car. A few minutes later I smelled smoke and by the time Ben returned to the car we could see a large bloom of smoke coming down one of the main roads. Off to investigate.

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Turns out it was an apartment building that caught on fire. We arrived and there were a bunch of fire trucks but no one was doing anything, which I thought was odd. It was a good 15 minutes before they started spraying the water. You could see the smoke coming out through the entire length of the complex’s roof line.

The water coming out of the house really ripped apart the roof. It made the roof look like it was made of cardboard or some other flimsy material because of how easily it blew off.

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After a while some of the firefighters went inside to check things out. They returned with one of the tenants’ cats.

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I have a really hard time with house fires. I remember watching one as a kid and it made a lasting impact. People probably thought I lived here because I was crying and everyone else just looked mildly interested.

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I hope all the spectators have renter’s insurance!!

That’s as much as I could watch. It started feeling weird gawking at someone else’s misfortune. If it were me, I wouldn’t want all the people setting up their tripods and video recorders to capture it all for Facebook or whatever. We left.

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The news said they were still investigating the cause but that everyone had been out at the time it started and they rescued 4 animals. No injuries, thankfully.

Even though I’m not posting as much (and I need to work on that), life is pretty much the same as any other year. We’re working on transporting rabbits off our property (caught 3 but I spied another one last night, so time to re-bait the traps!!!).

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I’ve been out walking more and taking pictures of flowers I like. I lost a few of my new shrubs over the Winter and that was frustrating because of the lost time/money. So now I need to start again.

I definitely want some daffodils like these, but I think the bulbs need to be planted in the Fall… so I’ll have to hold out a bit.

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I also like these irises. They have smaller leaves that aren’t as thick and I think they look really pretty.

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I probably need to head to a nursery and have them help me. Ideally I’d like to pick things that flower at different times so I have something pretty to look at from early Spring to mid/late Fall.

My front yard garden bed is prepped and waiting! The little columbine I planted last year survived along with some flowers from my flower pot that re-seeded themselves.

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But, I REALLY need lily of the valley. I’m just not sure where to plant it where it would get ample shade and how I’d prevent the bunnies from snacking on it all day…

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One of me favorite smells!!

Well yesterday was pretty much perfect – the temp was in the mid 70s with a light breeze and low humidity. Sigh. Let’s repeat that for another 3 months, ok? Today it might hit 80 but I’m hoping the humidity is still low. Maybe I can get some more yardwork done. I’ve weeded my vegetable garden THREE times and can’t seem to get it to a spot where I can start planting, so I’m a bit behind there. Maybe I can get one of the beds done today so it can take advantage of the rain that’s supposed to come all weekend? We’ll see.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

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… .. .

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.

Chicago & Via Noir

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Good morning everyone! We were hit with our first winter storm of the year and went from green grass on Saturday to 3″+ of snow on Sunday. Ben and I got our grocery shopping done early before the worst of the storm hit and then settled in under heated blankets to watch football and fold laundry. Typical Sunday.

We got really lucky on the weather front though. The snow and super cold weather held out for us to partake in the quarterly “Anomaly” adventure for our GPS game. Since this is a global game, they don’t often have an event within driving distance so the whole family decided to take advantage and make it a weekend adventure!

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Ben and I arrived later than planned because it took over an hour of driving in circles trying to find the parking garage by our hotel. There were protestors by Trump tower and that hosed up traffic all around the area we had to be in. As a result, we missed being part of the group picture and had to do a lot of running and scrambling to find our ground team and get to our starting location. Thanks protestors!!

They had three types of teams for the event: ground teams (on foot that stayed in a general location the entire event), bike teams (a little more mobile) and then driving teams (most movement). Since none of us really wanted to try and play the game while navigating crazy streets, we selected a ground team. We got lucky and our whole family was placed on the same team. Where we weren’t so lucky – we ended up with the farthest walking location away. Matt was pretty tired and wiped out just handling the 45 min of walking we had to do right from the start!

Our ground location was in an adorable neighborhood. It was quiet and all the buildings were absolutely gorgeous brick. There was almost nothing in the way of lawns – so the only green space people had was in the walkway at the front of their houses. Those were always pretty elaborate and meticulously maintained. Then again, if I only had 10 feet to work with, it would look pretty impressive too I’m sure! 🙂

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One of the interesting moments was when a horse-drawn carriage clopped its way through the street. I spent too much time watching it in surprise so my picture is a bit delayed…

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I told Ben I’d be OK living in a big city if we had a cute brownstone like one of the ones on the street. He laughed and told me we’d need 2nd, 3rd, and 4th jobs just to afford one. He’s probably right too!

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It was a long and cold day and our side was completely outnumbered, but we hung in it and enjoyed playing with the other members of our team. It’s amazing how people travel from all over to be a part of these events. We had a father/son from Iowa, and then people from Chicago, St Louis, and Texas.

Lots of action on the map!

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One of the more interesting moments was about 4 hours into the event when I realized I really, really, really had to go to the bathroom. There are no bathrooms anywhere in large downtown areas. I think it’s just taboo to keep the homeless from using them or something. Ben went with me and we literally walked into every gas station and store asking to use a bathroom. Finally we found a Starbucks and was able to use their restroom. Yikes – nothing worse than being 45min away from your hotel on foot with no potty!

We were doing well overall until the sun started to drop. It got windy and cold awfully quick. By then we were stationed near the water and had some awesome views of the moon reflecting on the water.

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The event was wrapping up and our group was chilled through and tired, so we stopped at the first restaurant we saw for dinner. I ordered the chicken pot pie looking for some hot comfort food to warm me up – and ended up with a platter that could have fed an entire family (along with a HARD bread bowl rather than the typical doughy top).

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I ended up sharing a big portion with mom and still didn’t even tackle half of this. Since there was a bathroom handy, everyone was chugging water like crazy. I think people were scared to drink all day. Maybe next time they need to re-think the length of the event and where they position the walking groups? Our team:

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After eating we decided not to walk all the way back to the hotel in the dark and used the event coupon for a free Uber ride. I’m not sure if any of you have used it before, but it worked really well! We selected a bigger SUV so we could all ride together and the car was clean, the driver was friendly, and it was a really nice experience. I would definitely use Uber again.

A long day in Chicago with over 20,000 in steps walked! Phew! Good exercise I suppose. 😉 We skipped the after party with our local teammates and friends in favor of sleep. We stuck around the next say to complete the “Mission” day and earn another badge. I have more fun pictures to share but need to get to the office now.

Have an awesome Monday!

Three Days of Thanksgiving

It’s been raining cats and dogs around here and I’m excited for what is forecasted to be a much nicer day today – with temps back up into the 50s! WOW Wouldn’t that be a fun treat? Now that Thanksgiving has wrapped up, we can all say goodbye to the insane amount of pumpkin spice (I think every food item had a pumpkin spice version this year) and start thinking more about peppermint instead.

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While it wasn’t popular, we successfully navigated separate days for Thanksgiving. It was just insane to eat a big meal around 1/1:30 and then another at 5pm. We started the alternating days last year and it worked so well (for Ben and me) but I can tell it’s still a harder sell for some of the family.

This year we spent the actual holiday with my family. I made the usual sweet potato casserole and Ben tried a recipe he found for corn mixed with onions, garlic, bacon, and sour cream. We arrived a little before mealtime to help prep and then to play some board games. I love all the dishes at Thanksgiving and it feels like you can only take a little bite of everything – when you want heaping piles of food – because you know you won’t have room to eat it all. 🙂

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We had our “usual” spread – brined turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade stuffing, pumpkin knot rolls, sweet potato casserole, and broccoli for Alex.

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We made barely a dent in the overall food (leftovers!!!!) and then Ben and I left to try some black Friday on Thursday shopping. I know, it’s ridiculous. JCPenney opened at THREE on Thanksgiving. THREE. I remember when I thought 8pm was early. Anyway, the last couple of years I’ve gone when they open to snag one of the free $10 coupons. I bring Ben, we each get a coupon, we grab our two pre-planned items, and are out the door 15min later. It’s actually not too bad because we don’t meander around and can get in and out before the crazy lines.

Silly me – I was thinking most people would be home enjoying food with their families, so we got there just 30 minutes before they opened…

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It was cold for us standing out there in the wind and I felt sorry for all the underdressed little kids that had to wait. We veered off course a little and snagged some wood wick candles that I’ve wanted but am too cheap to pay full price for (they are really $$$) so it took a little more time but 18 minutes after entering we were headed back outside and all the coupons were gone. Whew!

Our plan was to hit ShopKo next – which didn’t open until 4pm. More waiting around so Ben took me for a loop around Lambeau Field where there are a zillion Ingress/Pokémon Go stops. We loaded up on inventory and then drove to ShopKo just 2 minutes before they were scheduled to open. There are three entrances to ShopKo and you can see the lines for two of them here (I didn’t even get the one entire line in the shot!).

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We parked the car just as the back of the line hit the front doors and coasted in with absolutely no wait. Oh yeah! The ad misrepresented one of the items we had planned to get, so instead we loaded up on Keurig K Cup deals and random impulse buys. The check-out line was INSANE but we lucked out and had a lady in the eye care department check us out.

The next stores we were interested in didn’t open until 6 and there was no way we were hanging around that long, so we drove back home for dessert and more family game time.

Mom made an apple pie and then a sweet potato pecan pie too. I’ve never had sweet potato pie before. Have any of you? It looks like pumpkin but has an incredible light and airy texture that’s not overly sweet. It was really, really good.

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We left the family around 8:30 and decided (Ok I decided and Ben came along for the ride) to try and brave some more shops thinking that since places opened at 6 and it was much later, most of the crazies were gone. We hit Walmart and that was pretty empty and then went back into the main heart of shopping land to check out BestBuy (picked up one item, saw the line, put the item back and left) and Dicks Sporting Goods (got a bunch of running stuff for Alex, stood in a LONG line, discovered every last thing I picked out WASN’T on sale!!!). What?? Don’t get me started on that one.

We hit a couple other places on Friday along with another trip to JCPenney to return the candle I bought the day before. It wasn’t packaged and when I placed it on the counter it completely shattered the glass. Mom served us up a bunch of leftovers so we didn’t have to do any cooking on Friday, which was awesome.

Saturday we spent over with Ben’s family. I made yeast rolls. I can’t remember the last time I ever made some and I used yeast from Trader Joes that I think had a much different taste to it. I wasn’t really happy with the end result. The taste was off and the texture was not what I wanted it to be. Try again next year! Then we sat and watched the family watch the Badger football game and got all caught up on the news.

We slept in a bit every day over the long weekend and they stayed up a little too late watching the Packer game last night. I’m tired! But I’m hoping I can steal a few minutes over lunch to get outside for a quick walk. If it really is 50 degrees today, I want to make the most of it!!

Have a splendid day!

Wishing You… a Wonderful Christmas

Merry Christmas!!!

I read one of those little things on Facebook about typical spelling mistakes people make about the holidays – and apparently capitalizing the “M” in merry is wrong. So you should write “merry Christmas”. Guilty – I always capitalize the letter M and I probably always will.

Christmas trivia:

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We’re sitting on history in Green Bay. It’s officially the first Christmas I’ve EVER had without snow on the ground. We had a tiny sprinkle of flurries several days ago and then a ton of rain and, most recently, crazy amounts of wind.

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There is something festive about a white Christmas but heck, it was over FIFTY yesterday. I’m not turning up my nose at that!

Every year at work the Christian employee network does a display by the front atrium and has several gorgeous Christmas cactus. The lady in charge bought them a few weeks in advance and they hung out right across from my cube so I got to see them bloom each day. Soooooo pretty!

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Christmas cactus is something I’ve never been able to make work. I always over-water or under-water or something but they drop their buds and months later huge chunks of the plant itself fall off. I still like to try so every now and then I’ll buy an itty bitty one and see if I can make it grow.

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Holiday delights…

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As I’ve mentioned a little, it’s been a weird couple of months. We’ve been juggling the list of Christmas to-dos so everything gets done in time. Mom made two batches of cookies last week so the family would have some cookies before Christmas and we took an impromptu picture to coax Ben into coming home early from work that day…

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Delicious!!

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Yesterday Ben and I went to an afternoon showing of Star Wars and tried out our cinema’s new “dream loungers”. They are these big leather recliners that give you all kinds of leg room. OMG I don’t think I can go back to regular seating. This was amazing!!!! We felt like high-rollers, ha ha. This picture is terrible but I didn’t want to use the flash and still wanted to show you how much space there is:

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We loved the film and loved the seating. It was wonderful. I wasn’t a fan of the last batch of Star Wars films but this felt like the old ones and had that epic grandeur I loved when watching the original 3 when I was a kid.

We volunteered to pick up a little extra on the baking front to help out so today has been jam-packed with flour, sugar, and butter galore. We’re all done now (finally!) and are enjoying a few quite moments relaxing before we meet up with family to drive around town admiring the Christmas lights.

Our presents are all separated out so we know which ones to pack for which side…

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And then there’s nothing left to do except make a little cocoa and enjoy a festive movie tonight.

I’m wishing you all a very merry Christmas. May peace and joy surround your homes and hearts and thank you for your friendship on my little blog.

~Ali

 

Multiple Thanksgiving Merriment

Whew – was it just me or was that the FASTEST week ever? Maybe it was because we were racing to catch back up after vacation combined with the short work week and the hectic weekend, I don’t know, but it felt like I barely had time to breathe the entire time!

Trip recap will pop up this week but I thought it would be more fun to discuss Thanksgiving food. Ever since Ben and I have been together we’ve done dual celebrating on Thanksgiving – with Ben’s side for “lunch” and mine for “dinner”. The result is a whole lot of delicious food and absolutely aching tummies afterwards. Besides, even if you only put a tiny scoop of your favs on your plate, we all know how all those tiny scoops add up!

This year my parents offered to do their dinner on Saturday giving us a nice spread. We went over to Ben’s folks for Thanksgiving on a cold and rainy day.

Food:

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We brought my maple sweet potatoes – as usual and then had chicken, un-stuffing, corn, and mashed potatoes. Ben’s mom makes her potatoes with cream cheese AND sour cream. They are as deadly as they are delicious. I was already more than full with this heaping plate so skipped the sugar-free jello along with the brown-and-serve dinner rolls.

All to save room for apple pie…

Ben scored a last minute free ticket to the Packer game so after leaving his parents we ventured down by the stadium and decided to hop into JCPenney to shop sales and kill time. I scored 2 $40 items for $5 each. Not shabby. We then navigated to a closed bank drive-up window so Ben could put on his rain gear and boots while staying out of the pouring rain. I dropped Ben off and then decided to brave the mall (what was I thinking?) It wasn’t too bad but I had no game plan and bought stuff that was on a good sale only to find those same things cheaper elsewhere. I now have a TON of bags by the front door that all need to go back. Ugh!

I got some shopping done and made it home in time for kickoff. What a game! I really thought the Pack was going to win on that last drive… I stayed up for the whole thing, shopping more online and finding things cheaper than in the store! Geez. Ben was soaking wet and hoarse when he got home but happy he went. It’s not every game they retire a Packer legend.

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We didn’t go to sleep until midnight and then I was up at 6am to meet the folks for Black Friday shopping. We don’t do a lot and normally don’t head out until 10 or 11am but Dad had to get some work in so we went earlier. Let me tell you – Walmart at 7am on Black Friday was EMPTY. I think everyone had shopped there earlier. What a breeze! It was so wonderful I texted Ben telling him no one was out … and would he mind stopping at Menards for a new deadbolt on sale??

I sort of, kind of, forgot Menards wasn’t open on Thanksgiving… and got a few text messages from Ben. Whoops. Here’s the back of the line wrapping all the way to the back of the store and coming back to the front…

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And once you made it that far, it looped around the long side of the building all the way across to the checkouts…

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You can’t even SEE the checkouts from the turn – the line was that long. Poor Ben!! But hey, he did pick up a few fun things he saw while he was in line so I think he forgave me. 🙂

Saturday I whipped up another batch of sweet potatoes and then we went over to my family’s house for Thanksgiving #2. All my favorite foods were there including my most favorite: mom’s homemade pumpkin knot rolls. To. Die. For.

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If they weren’t a ton of work I’d make her make them more often!! But these yeast rolls have spoiled me from anything not piping hot and freshly made.

My next favorite thing is stuffing and it’s a family favorite so Mom always has half stuffed in the bird and half in the oven that she mixes all together in the end. Oh how I love mom’s stuffing. Why does anything your mom make always taste so wonderful? It’s the same way for Ben. 🙂

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All ready to eat!!

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My delicious plate:

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And I saved room for mini pieces of both apple and pumpkin pie!

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I’m thankful Thanksgiving is only once a year – I don’t think my waistline could handle this!!! 🙂

To wrap up a wonderful weekend, we watched Alex run the Noodelini 15K Sunday morning. He set a new personal record and was first in his age group!

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It feels like a lot and my list of things to accomplish this coming week is extensive. I have a TON of things to return and want to finish up all my remaining small purchases so I can spend a weekend leisurely wrapping. This girl doesn’t like to wait until the last minute and we all know December seems to go by so quickly!!

How was your Thanksgiving? What’s the single BEST thing you ate??