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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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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!

Hudson: Home of the Hot-Air Balloons

Happy Thursday! The forecast for Nov 17th is 65 degrees. You heard me, 65! This lady is taking a much-needed lunch break for some fresh air at work today. It’s been such a wonderfully mild Fall. There is a big cold front sweeping in tomorrow afternoon and the temps are supposed to go from the mid-60s down to the high 30s by dinner time. Yikes. That’ll certainly feel like a severe change!

I’ve been feeling bad about my lack of blog activity but sometimes you have to embrace the ebb and flow of life and settle into whatever the new normal is. It’s been a really stressful and challenging time and I haven’t had much interest in doing a lot of things. I come home mentally and physically exhausted and just want to curl up on the couch and read/watch TV. Then I mentally berate myself for neglecting my blog, among many other things. I’m actively working on figuring things out so hopefully this won’t be the norm forever, but bare with me friends.

We’ve been trying to get out of the house a little more lately just for a change of pace and scenery. I’ve needed more away time to not think about work and other stressors and little trips here and there have been a wonderful relief. When we were in MN, I mentioned about the little B&B we stayed at but didn’t finish our last day…

The restaurant attached to the B&B:

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While this place wasn’t as great as our Door County experience, I think we’d go back another time if just to explore the city during tourism season. I could see the fringe of activity on main street and I bet the hustle and bustle would be really fun during Summer. It just felt so relaxed and away from everything.

We had time to kill so we sat on chairs in our porch. Pretty view of the marina:

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We’re not used to big breakfasts but breakfast wasn’t served until 9am (why??) so by the time we could go and eat, we were hungry! It was a carb-bonanza with caramel rolls, biscuits with sausage gravy, cheesy eggs, and fresh fruit. For homemade rolls though, no one makes them as good as my mother does. 🙂

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Back to the room to pack up and head on out! More views from our room:

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After the later-than-planned start, we crossed back over the Mississippi river to work on another Ingress banner in Hudson, WI. We had been concerned about cell signal but I really wanted this banner (I love the colors and think it’s so pretty). We were really glad we decided to go for it – so much to see in the town! Hudson is known for being the premiere winter ballooning event and winter festival in the Midwest. Annually more than 40 balloons have flown since 1990.

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Ingress usually points you in the direction of historical locations, parks, and various places of interest. It’s an amazing way of learning some of the city’s treasures and this proved the case once more. We started out weaving through various churches and tiny parks before arriving at the local water tower – way up on a walking path with a captivating morning view:

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Plus it’s nice to get out a do a little walking here and there while driving around town! We found ourselves at another park with amazing trees and the best view of the entire city. It was completely void of people and I could have stayed there all day.

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So pretty!!!!!

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Silliness in the park. Because that’s how we roll!

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We lucked out with the best weather imaginable and had the windows rolled down and tunes blaring as we weaved through town. One section had us looping down by the Mississippi riverfront and I saw the cutest restaurant with people dining al fresco and 90s music playing. We decided right there to finish the banner and grab a late lunch / early dinner before settling into the drive home.

We got seated on a high table right next to the outdoor bar.

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Blackberry margarita for me!

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Ben selected the meatloaf sandwich and I had the half turkey sandwich

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Really tasty food! I wasn’t that hungry after breakfast and the 1/2 sandwich was the perfect size. The hostess offered to take our picture – can you see the river in the background? I bet it’s a gorgeous walk at night with all the street lights on.

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I told Ben I want to move to Hudson. He laughs at me but we both loved the town. It’s close to the Twin Cities and the craziness of big city life to reap those benefits but far enough away to be peaceful and slower-paced.

So that’s it for MN. We had a lot of other banners we wanted to do but they always seem to take longer than we plan (maybe because we stop too much to explore the areas). I’m trying to talk Ben into another trip during Christmas vacation – but we’ll need to wait and see how the weather is that week. I love to plan!

Six Miles along Victory Memorial Parkway

Oh boy – it’s a somber night in the household after watching the Packers fall short this week.

What’s better is looking at my trip pictures and reliving all the fun we had. I wrote about our trip through Eau Claire and Chippewa falls and although that was amazing, we had more shenanigans in store.

We woke up early Saturday morning and loaded up on the continental breakfast. I love it when you find hotels with a hot dish – it can be a challenge to eat healthy on the road – and this hit the spot with some delicious scrambled eggs, french toast, and sausage links.

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We said goodbye to Eau Claire and headed West across the Mississippi and into Minnesota.

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Our first stop was Victory Memorial Parkway – a part of the Grand Rounds Scenic By way in Minneapolis. Every tree has a memorial stone at the base in honor of the servicemen of Hennepin County. There’s two lanes on either side with a substantial boulevard in between where the memorial trees line either edge. Smack in the middle is a biking and walking path – and on a warm and slightly breeze October day, we were taking advantage of the weather and out on our feet!

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We tackled an 18 mission banner first and literally breezed through it. The locations were so close together that we completed the entire thing in less than an hour – when a usual banner of that size would be closer to 3 hours.

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It’s a pretty one – I love it!

Since we flew through that so quickly and the day was young, we got ambitious and decided to tackle the 66 mission banner – our largest EVER to date:

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This would take us all the way down Victory Memorial Drive and then across and all the way down AND back up Victory Memorial Parkway. It *looked* short on the map and easier to do on foot, so we parked the car and got walking.

Gorgeous, gorgeous day – lots of people out playing Pokemon Go, walking their dogs, and a few folks reading on blankets. Despite ample traffic, it felt quiet and removed from the chaos. I REALLY wish we had something like this in Green Bay!

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I was working up a decent sweat and I kept glancing at Ben who was wearing his new sweatshirt (I can’t convince the boy to take it off since he’s bought it).

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We were about 20 missions in when we realized it was a LOT more walking then we had planned on AND we didn’t bring a phone charger with us. We went into a big of crisis mode at that point, trying to keep our screens extra low and picking up the pace. We didn’t want to be miles away from the car with no working phones and have to walk all the way back – and then back AGAIN to finish the rest of the banner.

Another 10 minutes later and we began to notice it was getting really cloudy and overcast. Sure enough, we started seeing tiny drops on our phone screens. Oh no. Hustling, panting, and chugging along – we managed to get 56 of the 66 done before my cell went dead. I grabbed Ben’s phone and kept working on his while he walked the extra .4 miles back to the car (we made it most of the way!). The car grabbed me just as the rain really began to fall and with our phones plugged into chargers and our feet throbbing from all the exercise, we finished the rest of the mission in the car.

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It was much later than we anticipated when we finished (4pm) so we started the drive into town to find our hotel. The plan was to check in and get our luggage all sorted before it got dark and then try and find some place for dinner.

We were smart and packed a few snacks and lots of bottled water. I often don’t like to drink when we have road trips but I’m learning that’s not an option. You need to stay hydrated!!

The skyline:

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Downtown Minneapolis was chaotic and the roads leading into our hotel were blocked off for some event (apparently there was a zombie Halloween party going on). After our GPS pointed out which tall building was our hotel, we saw a parking ramp right next door. Long story short – the hotel was actually 6 blocks away (huh?!). By the time we found our hotel, checked in and walked back to move the car to a closer location, we’d already incurred a $30 parking fee. Exhausted and not thinking too clearly, we grabbed our suitcases and walked them through the throngs of zombies all the way back to the hotel.

We couldn’t roll the luggage because the ground was LITTERED in fake blood. Pretty messy and nasty. Some of the folks at the party staying in our hotel:

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By the time we got our luggage into our rooms and sat down on the bed, everything hurt. We hadn’t had anything substantial to eat since breakfast and my feet were killing me. We found this hotel via Living Social and as part of the offer we received a food credit in the attached dining area. We figured even if it was uber pricey, with the credit we probably would be comparable to some other place that would require more walking. (why do I never think about ordering pizza or something that delivers??)

The dining room / bar reminded me a LOT of LA. It felt urban and glitzy and was almost empty – surprising to us on a Saturday night (maybe that’s why they were doing a Living Social promotion??)

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We were the only ones not eating at the bar, so we spread out on the booth and laughed about the folly of the day. I was actually pretty impressed with our food too. We both ordered a pulled chicken sandwich with a semi-spicy sauce. I didn’t have much of an appetite and only ate half of mine. Ben was MORE than happy to gobble up the rest.

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From there we slowly staggered back up to our room…

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And after more than 16,500 steps on our pedometers, we literally fell into bed and instantly crashed to sleep.

(at the time we were SO tired and a bit defeated about the parking lot hassle but this is how the best memories are made, don’t you think?)