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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. 🙂


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.


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

Our stockings were waiting for us…


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.


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!


Cheery people…


I wonder what’s in there?


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:



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


It works better with the flash.


Inside the “caterpillar”:


I’m. So. Cold. My. Lips. Are. Frozen.


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



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!


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!


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.


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


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


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.


He’s also my official hug-unwrapper!


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



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!


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):


My eggnog pancakes with a luscious eggnog filling:


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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. 🙂


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.


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


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.


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:


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.


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.



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.


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.


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


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!)


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

068ab(Too funny!)

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?

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.


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!


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



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


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!


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! 🙂


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…


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!


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!


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.


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).


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:


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!