Category Archives: Travel

Cat Skiing Rossland, BC

While Ali and her dad were off skiing Whistler, my friend Patrick and I packed up and headed North as well. We were aiming for Rossland, BC a town just across the Canadian border. We chose Rossland for its proximity to Washington as well as its access to several resorts and (more importantly) several Cat Skiing operations.

What is Cat Skiing you ask? Well, imagine a giant snowmobile with a box on the back that can fit you, two guides, and 10 of your closest friends (or strangers, in our case). These cats can access great skiing far from anyone else, and we had our fingers crossed that conditions would be good.

This is the cat - a magic box that takes you into great terrain.

This is the cat – a magic box that takes you into great terrain.

We arrived in Rossland on a Saturday and things did not look great. It was warm, raining, and the locals were wandering around the quaint little ski town rather than up at the mountain skiing. Still, we woke up Sunday morning and headed up to Red Mountain Resort for some skiing. Unfortunately conditions were not great. Lets just say Patrick and I usually avoid groomed ski runs, and on Sunday we were seeking them out. Still, there was snow in the forecast so we again went to bed with visions of powder skiing in our heads.

Monday morning Patrick and I woke up and headed up to another resort nearby, called Whitewater. We didn’t know much about Whitewater other than the tree skiing was good, but rumor had it that they got some good snow Sunday night. This turned out to be more than true. When we arrived at around 11 AM, we were greeting with no lift lines, lots of new snow, and the best tree skiing I’ve ever experienced. The runs were mostly open glades, with the spaces between the trees filled with nice light powder snow.

Patrick in the trees, wondering where everyone else is.

Patrick in the trees, wondering where everyone else is.

With tired legs and faces sore from smiling, we prepped for our first day of Cat Skiing at Valhalla Powder Cats.

 

The Valhalla office, complete with transportation.

The Valhalla office, complete with ski bum transportation.

Having never been Cat Skiing before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was prepared for a hard day of skiing as I knew it had snowed a lot more overnight and that Valhalla had a reputation for excellent terrain – it seems to be the choice of pro skiers. I was a little intimidated, but luckily we were set for another excellent day of skiing.

Our guide, showing us the ropes before we drop in.

Our guide, showing us the ropes before we drop in.

Our day started with an avalanche briefing and a long bus ride up to Valhalla Pass. Once there, we did some rescue drills and loaded up into the cat for our first run. After a few turns all concerns about being over my head were replaced with the feeling one gets when they are over their head in powder. Turns were deep, terrain was great, and our guide kept us moving and safe all day. Needless to say, it was excellent.

The face of a man who just skied untouched powder and is about to do it again.

The face of a man who just skied untouched powder and is about to do it again.

It snowed hard all day, and everyone in our group was having a blast. We ended up being paired with a group of German tourists who came to BC specifically for powder skiing. I think they timed it quite well. We slowly developed into a rhythm – ski one at a time up top with a buddy keeping an eye on you. Once out of the steep terrain, we would dip into trees together (again, keeping an eye on each other) and find our way down to a road where the cat would be waiting to pick us up and do it all over again. The guides were constantly re-assessing conditions and safety and making changes to the plan along the way. From top to bottom we skiing untouched powder in great steep terrain.

Loading up for another run.

Loading up for another run.

At the end of the day we had developed a great group and tired legs. Luckily, we had another day of Cat Skiing ahead of us the very next day. Even more luckily, we realized that even though we were going with a different company we would actually spend the day skiing with the German group as well as our guide from Valhalla.

Day two - tired legs but big smiles.

Day two – tired legs but big smiles (and the sun even came out).

Day two found us at Big Red Cats, a different cat operation with the same group and same guide. The day progressed mostly the same – meet at the office, load up into a bus, load up a cat, safety briefing, and then of course powder skiing.

Resting the legs after skiing powder for 3 days straight.

Resting the legs after skiing powder for 3 days straight.

We once again found excellent conditions, great terrain, and a really fun day. The sun even came out for a bit, allowing us to get a sense of what we were skiing and the vastness of the terrain. Its hard to complain when you have a large section of a mountain range to yourself and the snow is soft, but by the end we were definitely feeling our tired legs.

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Looking up at our tracks coming out of the forest.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. As this was the last Cat Skiing day, I took the next day off to rest up my legs so they could be fresh for Friday’s attempt to ski Red Mountain in better conditions.

Our group on day two. Tired and happy.

Our group on day two. Tired and happy.

While there wasn’t much new snow Friday, the sun did come out allowing us to ski Red Mountain in Spring-like conditions. It also gave us a chance to glance at their abundant (and steep!) terrain. We scoped out a few named in-bound runs that would put Jackson Hole to shame. Needless to say, I will be back.

Enjoying the view at Red Mountain.

Enjoying the view at Red Mountain.

After a hard week of skiing, the only thing left to do was head to our favorite ski town bar and drink a few beers to celebrate. We packed up the car Saturday morning and hit the road just as the rain came back. Somehow we managed to time this trip just right. Given the terrain, the snow, and the fun we had I can’t help but think we will need to make this trip something of a tradition.

Whistler Ski Trip

While Alex is off in eastern British Columbia on a ski trip with our friend Patrick, my dad flew out for a long weekend with me in Whistler, on the west side of BC. Alex and I had been to Whistler several times before, but it was my dad’s first trip to the magnificent mountain. He says he’ll be back for sure!

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Whistler is just north of Vancouver, British Columbia and is about a 4.5 hour drive from Seattle. It is also the largest ski resort in North America, offering more than 8,000 acres of skiable terrain {Vail “only” boasts 5,000 and until this year, was the largest resort in the US} across the two mountains {Whistler and Blackcomb}. It is so expansive and I am certain a person could spend an entire season skiing there and not ski the same run twice.

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It’s a toss up between here and Jackson Hole which one is my favorite destination, but Whistler is a very special place for Alex and me {and now my dad understands it!}.

{Best mountain hot chocolate is at Whistler!}

{Best mountain hot chocolate is at Whistler!}

Our trip was great, albeit a bit short {and sadly the snow kept flying as we left and we missed a couple consecutive powder days}, but we had a really nice time skiing together. The conditions were much better than I had expected, given the recent warming trend in the west. We were blessed with fresh snow on our first day, as well as untouched snow on the upper mountain the second day.

We spent our first day skiing exclusively on Blackcomb Mountain. Since my last trip to Whistler there was a new chairlift that had been added and it opened up a completely new section of the mountain that I had never skied before. The wind was howling that day, so we didn’t get to ski the upper mountain at all, but that wasn’t a problem.

{I've got to believe this guy is approaching 50 days on skis this year...}

{I’ve got to believe this guy is approaching 50 days on skis this year…}

Our second and final day was spent on Whistler Mountain. We took the Peak 2 Peak gondola from Blackcomb to Whistler that morning and spent most of the day either in the Symphony Amphitheatre area or on the Peak chair. The snow conditions were great for the most part, albeit low visibility in some places, and we had an excellent time exploring the mountain.

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In addition to skiing, we spent some time in the village and relaxed back at the condo we rented. We also brought Jackson with us and he and I took some nice walks on the snowy trails where he was able to run around and play ball in the snow. It took him a while to settle into the new space, but once he got tuckered out enough he seemed pretty comfortable there. I think he was just as sad as we were when it came time to head home and leave the snow behind.

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My dad’s trip came to an end with a really nice dinner in my neighborhood, joined by my two cousins, Chris and Jon. And then he was off… I have a feeling our next ski trip together will include a little one, so things will certainly be a bit different in the future, and until then, we’ve got the memory of our Whistler trip.

Deer Valley Ski Trip

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Last week Alex and I took off and met his parents in Utah for a long ski weekend at Deer Valley.

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We stayed at the Red Stag Lodge which is right at the base of Deer Valley. One of the best parts of a ski vacation where you stay right at the mountain is waking up in the morning, having a leisurely breakfast and then getting ready to go inside {instead of the car!} and slowly meandering to the mountain. We loved taking advantage of that!

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Donna and Stan took a ski lesson on the first ski day. It is always nice to take advantage of the great lesson programs to get their confidence and basics boosted. We saw tremendous improvements with Stan’s skiing this trip, which was really fun to witness.

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It was at Stan’s request that we returned to Deer Valley after our first ski trip together back in 2009. Deer Valley is known for its groomers and we enjoyed skiing them all! In addition to its groomers, Deer Valley is known as a luxury ski resort and caters to a fairly fancy clientele. One of the benefits of that is the on-mountain food selection is superb {and superbly expensive!} and the area is spectacularly gorgeous. One of the downsides, though, is dealing with entitled people who lack self awareness.

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While we were at Deer Valley, the resort was hosting the World Cup moguls and aerials competitions. We didn’t realize the events were taking place through the weekend, otherwise we would have made an effort to go out and watch them. It was exciting and eye opening to see aerials jumps {they launch you literally straight up in the air – terrifying!} and so fun to see the moguls course – all we wanted to do was ski one run down it!

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Donna and Stan conquered Pearl, a ski run that we had discovered back in 2009.

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We skied a lot of runs with Donna and Stan but broke off each day to explore different parts of the mountain together. It sure is different skiing at 9,000 feet elevation while being pregnant! I got really tired skiing the bump runs and on our last day I wasn’t feeling the icy conditions so I played it safe and parked it outside in the sun and ate a cheeseburger.

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One of my favorite parts of Utah and Deer Valley is the Aspen trees mixed in with the evergreens. We were lucky enough to see the evergreens covered in snow. The sun was out each day and the views from the mountain were unbelievably expansive. It felt like you could see forever!

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In addition to the skiing, we had a lot of great food!

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Our first meal was at the St. Regis Bar. After dinner we walked around the hotel and stumbled upon a s’mores bar! We helped ourselves and made some dessert 🙂

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One of our most enjoyable dinners was at Fireside Dining. It’s a ski lodge turned restaurant that features four fireplaces that serve different courses – raclette, stew, leg of lamb and dessert! The food and service were spot on, making this a really memorable meal.

20160207_041235206_iOSWe also went into Park City one night for dinner at High West, which is a bourbon distillery and saloon. Our meal was fantastic there, as well. The food was wonderful!

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We returned to the St. Regis Bar for apres ski on sunny Saturday afternoon and sadly did not have the five star experience we had expected. The weather and the view was about the only nice part of our time there.

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Before our dinner at Fireside Dining we took a little sleigh ride around the property.

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It’s nearly impossible for me to take a good photo of the town of Park City. It’s one of the cutest, quaintest ski towns I’ve been to and I’ve never managed to capture a photo to do it any sort of justice. In any case, we spent a couple hours on our last day touring the town before heading back to the airport. We had a great lunch at the Park City Delicatessen and I bought a new mid-warmth jacket from Marmot that will carry me nicely through the rest of the winter, I think, as my belly grows…

20160207_142356580_iOSAll in all, it was a wonderful time in Utah with Alex’s parents. We are very fortunate that they are willing to travel and meet us somewhere in the middle of the country and partake in a winter sport they know we love. Until next time, Utah…

Our Mexican Thanksgiving

This year for Thanksgiving we did something a little different… We went to Mexico! Thanksgiving is a holiday we typically spend with Alex’s family because his sister and her husband are usually in Italy for Christmas {her husband is from Italy}. This year we picked Mexico because Alex’s parents wanted to take a trip with us to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, which was in October. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico turned out to be the perfect spot!

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Alex and I headed south a few days before everyone else so we could get a mini vacation just the two of us down there since last time we were in PV we didn’t have any time to ourselves. It turned out that the flying gods were not on our sides, though, because we ended up getting stuck in San Diego, where we had a layover.

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There are far worse places to be than San Diego, so we made the most of it and did a little exploring around the city. We had a fantastic dinner at Queenstown Public House. It was SO good. We loved walking through the Little Italy neighborhood and seeing all of the holiday decorations.

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24 hours after we were supposed to land in Puerto Vallarta, we finally made it! The weather was gorgeous that day and we made it through the immigration line in literally 1 minute, which was a stark contrast to the last time I went through immigration there!

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Both of us enjoyed our evening together, though we were exhausted from our second travel day, and then we patiently awaited the arrival of Alex’s parents the next day.

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It was so nice to be back in Puerto Vallarta again – it had only been about 9 months since we were there, but Alex didn’t spend more than 24 hours in PV so he had fun exploring and checking things out.

{One of the first nights we took a cab into Old Town and walked along the beach and had a fantastic dinner right on the sand at La Palapa. It was a top favorite for us all!}

{One of the first nights we took a cab into Old Town and walked along the beach and had a fantastic dinner right on the sand at La Palapa. It was a top favorite for us all!}

{Gorgeous view out to sea.}

{Gorgeous view out to sea.}

{View up the coast from Old Town.}

{View up the coast from Old Town.}

{Most of our days were spent by the pool or walking the beach. We all had great rooms at the Casa Magna Marriott, which I would HIGHLY recommend, and I loved watching the sun rise from my bed!}

{Most of our days were spent by the pool or walking the beach. We all had great rooms at the Casa Magna Marriott, which I would HIGHLY recommend, and I loved watching the sunrise from my bed!}

{The weather was great for most of the trip, though we did have two very rainy days and a couple other overcast days. It surely didn't ruin the fun, though! We made the best of the weather and found other things to entertain us.}

{The weather was great for most of the trip, though we did have two very rainy days and a couple other overcast days. It surely didn’t ruin the fun, though! We made the best of the weather and found other things to entertain us.}

{Alina and I planned a special celebration on Wednesday night for Donna and Stan to commemorate their anniversary. We started out with a photo shoot!}

{Alina and I planned a special celebration on Wednesday night for Donna and Stan to commemorate their anniversary. We started out with a photo shoot!}

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{The photos led us down to the beach...}

{The photos led us down to the beach…}

{I didn't get a good photo, but we had a special table on the beach and had a delicious 3-course dinner. It was so intimate and personal and I had fun listening to Donna and Stan telling stories of memories of their 35 years of marriage.}

{I didn’t get a good photo, but we had a special table on the beach and had a delicious 3-course dinner. It was so intimate and personal and I had fun listening to Donna and Stan telling stories of memories of their 35 years of marriage.}

{The weather turned on us on Thanksgiving day, but we were grateful that the hotel was preparing special Thanksgiving dinners for the Americans! Donna and Stan's balcony was enormous and had a table big enough for all of us, so we pulled the table under the overhang and had our turkey dinner outside in the rain.}

{The weather turned on us on Thanksgiving day, but we were grateful that the hotel was preparing special Thanksgiving dinners for the Americans! Donna and Stan’s balcony was enormous and had a table big enough for all of us, so we pulled the table under the overhang and had our turkey dinner outside in the rain.}

{The hotel prepared a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, veggies, cranberry and rolls for us. We were quite surprised how great it tasted!}

{The hotel prepared a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, veggies, cranberry and rolls for us. We were quite surprised how great it tasted!}

{The turkey was so tender and juicy we were able to carve it with a butter knife!}

{The turkey was so tender and juicy we were able to carve it with a butter knife!}

{We had one more rainy day on our trip, which we spent in Old Town and the Romantic Zone.}

{We had one more rainy day on our trip, which we spent in Old Town and the Romantic Zone.}

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{My personal favorite restaurant of the whole trip was Casa Tradicional. I absolutely LOVED the carnitas - the presentation was incredible but the flavor was out of this world!}

{My personal favorite restaurant of the whole trip was Casa Tradicional. I absolutely LOVED the carnitas – the presentation was incredible but the flavor was out of this world!}

{The margarita glasses were so pretty!}

{The margarita glasses were so pretty!}

{Holidays in PV!}

{Holidays in PV!}

{On our last night in PV we had a final celebratory dinner at Cafe de Artistes. The ambiance of the restaurant was so neat - we were outside in a jungle-like setting. The menu was a Mexican-French fusion. We had a really great last night!}

{On our last night in PV we had a final celebratory dinner at Cafe de Artistes. The ambiance of the restaurant was so neat – we were outside in a jungle-like setting. The menu was a Mexican-French fusion. We had a really great last night!}

{The guys enjoyed smoking cigars out on the little point in front of the hotel.}

{The guys enjoyed smoking cigars out on the little point in front of the hotel.}

{Eventually the weather cleared and the sun came back out!}

{Eventually the weather cleared and the sun came back out!}

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{Alex and I had such a wonderful trip! It was so nice to get to spend so many days with Alex's family. We are so very fortunate that we're able to take trips and meet somewhere so we can have that uninterrupted time together!}

{Alex and I had such a wonderful trip! It was so nice to get to spend so many days with Alex’s family. We are so very fortunate that we’re able to take trips and meet somewhere so we can have that uninterrupted time together!}

Illinois Trip + Julie & Ryan’s Wedding

Alex and I flew back to Illinois one last time this past weekend to celebrate the nuptials of my wonderful college friend and roommate, Julie, and her now husband, Ryan. Conveniently, Julie grew up in Geneva, Illinois, which is the town right next to Batavia, where Alex’s parents currently live. It works out quite well when I can squeeze in a visit with Julie when I am staying in Batavia with Alex’s parents, and for this trip, it was extra nice since the wedding was so close!

{me with Julie on her wedding day!}

{me with Julie on her wedding day!}

We arrived really, really late on Thursday night/Friday morning. To kick off the wedding events I met Julie, the other bridesmaids and the MOB {mother of the bride!} for coffee in St. Charles, one block away from where the wedding was to be held. I was exhausted to say the least. I’m sure I didn’t make the best company, but it was really nice to see the bride and her entourage while enjoying a delicious cup of coffee.

{the lovely bridesmaids with the bride}

{the lovely bridesmaids with the bride}

The weather while we were in Illinois was so nice! It was crisp and cool and I don’t think I saw a cloud the whole time. I was fortunate enough to get two long walks along the Fox River while I was there, one happened to be on Friday afternoon while Alex and Stan were off on their own adventure.

As a member of the bridal party I had rehearsal duty to tend to. The rehearsal and dinner went off without a hitch!

{my handsome date for the rehearsal}

{my handsome date for the rehearsal}

{the bridesmaids coincidentally all dressed alike for the rehearsal}

{the bridesmaids coincidentally all dressed alike for the rehearsal}

{Julie with her brother, Joe}

{Julie with her brother, Joe}

After the rehearsal we made a pit-stop over at the Bailey’s home. The Baileys are family friends of Alex’s parents and recently moved into a new home just seven minutes from Alex’s parents and are almost done with a major renovation. We got to see the house over the summer when it was amidst construction, so it was fun to see all of the progress, particularly Nora’s dream kitchen. Just like my in-laws, I simply adore the Bailey family and always enjoy seeing them when we’re back in Batavia.

{hanging out in the Bailey's kitchen... the island is big enough to fit a couple of beds on it and the entire wall on the right side of the photo is a refrigerator... absolutely amazing!}

{hanging out in the Bailey’s kitchen… the island is big enough to fit a couple of beds on it and the entire wall on the right side of the photo is a refrigerator… absolutely amazing!}

Saturday came bright and early and I ventured off to be a bridesmaid for the day while Alex spent some time with his family. His nana, sister and brother in-law all came over to his parents house, so they got to catch up all afternoon while I was gone doing wedding stuff.

{Julie's stylist nailed her braid and twisty bun!}

{Julie’s stylist nailed her braid and twisty bun!}

{gettin' our hair did...}

{gettin’ our hair did…}

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{all she needs is her white dress now!}

{all she needs is her white dress now!}

{sharing a sweet moment with her dad to help ease the pre-wedding jitters}

{sharing a sweet moment with her dad to help ease the pre-wedding jitters}

{on our way to the church we stopped at a favorite spot of Julie's so she could snap a few pictures}

{on our way to the church we stopped at a favorite spot of Julie’s so she could snap a few pictures}

{the new Mr. & Mrs. Johnson!}

{the new Mr. & Mrs. Johnson!}

{the weather and setting couldn't have been more perfect for Julie and Ryan's photos! the bridal party walked around the grounds of the reception venue for a while, posing in front of barns, on and next to fences and in front of the gorgeous trees lining the property. I can't wait to see how the professional photos turn out!}

{the weather and setting couldn’t have been more perfect for Julie and Ryan’s photos! the bridal party walked around the grounds of the reception venue for a while, posing in front of barns, on and next to fences and in front of the gorgeous trees lining the property. I can’t wait to see how the professional photos turn out!}

{their creative guestbook... canoe paddles!}

{as an ode to their passion for the outdoors, they used canoe paddles as their creative interpretation of a guestbook}

{sadly I don't have any photos of the ceremony since I was standing up with Julie and Ryan}

 

{the reception was at the Dunham Riding Club in St. Charles, Illinois}

{the reception was at the Dunham Riding Club in St. Charles, Illinois}

{cupcakes!}

{cupcakes!}

Julie and Ryan’s wedding was really nice and I so enjoyed being a part of their celebration!

The final full day of our trip was a big and busy one, too! Donna invited her whole family to come watch the Bears game at their house so we could have the opportunity to see people. Thankfully we had a “small” group of only 18 family members who could make it. It was a really nice size group because we were able to spend time with everyone and not feel overwhelmed. Alex has a truly wonderful and loving family and it is such a blessing to be a part of it.

{catching up with Nana while sneaking tastes of the great food that Donna prepared for the big game}

{catching up with Nana while sneaking tastes of the great food that Donna prepared for the big game}

{so great to catch up with these guys!}

{so great to catch up with these guys!}

{go bears!}

{go bears!}

Our last hurrah in Batavia was enjoying Pizza Villa pizza and beer nuggets for dinner while watching Mrs. Doubtfire on Sunday night. Pizza Villa is a restaurant in Alex’s hometown of Dekalb and he has fond memories of eating beer nuggets {basically little pieces of pizza dough that have been fried with Italian spices and you dip them in marinara} and wanted a bit of nostalgia.

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And just like that, our last planned trip to the Midwest of 2015 is behind us! Thanks to our friends and family for being so accommodating and we hope to see you soon 🙂

Fourth Annual Leavenworth Octoberfest Weekend

We’ve got another Leavenworth Octoberfest weekend in the books! This marks our fourth consecutive year making the pilgrimage to Leavenworth, Washington with three other couples to enjoy a relaxing getaway in the mountains.

{the drive through the Cascade mountains at this time of year is spectacular!}

{the drive through the Cascade mountains at this time of year is spectacular!}

We all arrived late afternoon/early evening on Friday and spent the evening playing games, chatting and eating! Our trip this year was with the same group as last year. This was also our third year in a row staying at the same vacation rental home – it’s a great setup for us with four bedrooms and a great fenced in backyard for the dogs.

{the girls... Mary, Ali, Carrie and Trish! all 3 other girls are pregnant right now, so our group is majorly growing!}

{the girls… Mary, Ali, Carrie and Trish! all 3 other girls are pregnant right now, so our group is majorly growing!}

Friday was my day to prepare a meal – in keeping in line with the German/Octoberfest theme, I made beer and brown sugar brats with sauerkraut, German potato salad, a regular salad a beer cheese spread. Our group is full of excellent cooks, so it goes without saying that we ate very well all weekend!

{enjoying some time together at our rental house}

{enjoying some time together at our rental house}

Saturday was our full day together and it also happened to be Ryan’s 35th birthday! We had a really nice time celebrating his birthday in Leavenworth and then at the house as well. The weather was great, too, so we were able to be outside the whole afternoon.

{the birthday boy with his bride}

{the birthday boy with his bride}

One of my favorite parts of our weekend is when we actually go into the town of Leavenworth. Leavenworth is a small town in the Cascade mountains that was built with Bavarian style architecture. Each October they host a huge month-long Octoberfest. We learned the first year not to go to the organized event, but instead to simply come into the town and hang out. We typically post up in one of the outdoor beer/sausage gardens and the boys order a stein of beer and we all get sausages for lunch. Typically we split up and the boys keep drinking beer while the girls shop, do wine tasting or visit the art fair. We’ve gotten to know the town quite well and have a good system down.

{Cheers!}

{Cheers!}

{we did some fun photo shoots - the scenery was too gorgeous not to!}

{we did some fun photo shoots – the scenery was too gorgeous not to!}

{dave with trish who is rocking her baby bump! :) }

{dave with trish who is rocking her baby bump! 🙂 }

{photo op in Leavenworth!}

{photo op in Leavenworth!}

Upon arriving back at our vacation home we realized there had been a power outage! We were less than prepared to deal with that. With our fingers crossed for a quick fix, we dug around and found some candles and then realized that the house’s well was powered by an electric pump, so not only were we without electricity, we were without water, too. That ended up being a much bigger bummer than the electricity. There had been a big windstorm up in the mountains and power and cell service to AT&T was knocked out through the entire valley.

The quick fix to the power that we had hoped for did not happen – that it made it really tricky to cook the sauerbraten for dinner. This is a finicky meal that Mary and Ryan began preparing three or four days earlier. It needed to cook on Saturday night for four hours, but we were sans oven. Eventually we fired up the grill and stuck the dutch oven in there and it did the trick! The power stayed out for the entire night and didn’t come back on until the next morning, so it was a little interesting, but we survived just fine.

{thank goodness for the built-in flashlight feature in the iPhone! this came in SO handy}

{thank goodness for the built-in flashlight feature in the iPhone! this came in SO handy}

It was actually kind of fun to not have power. We huddled around the “candle” table in the living room and Mary kicked off a game of “Table Topics” where she went around in a circle and asked each person a different question from a deck of prescribed cards. While we all know each other really well, it absolutely made us learn more about everyone – like that Patrick had a rat tail when he was a kid! We made some great memories during this trip!

When we woke up on Sunday morning it was an absolutely spectacular day. Since the power came back on we were able to do dishes and clean up from dinner the night before. We all congregated in the kitchen and hung out before breakfast. While some folks watched the Seahawks game, Alex and I took the opportunity to enjoy the hot tub and gorgeous view of the mountains.

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And just like that, our fourth annual Leavenworth Octoberfest trip is over. I have to say I’m already looking forward to seeing how dramatically different next year’s will be with a bunch of babies!

San Juan Islands & Alex’s Parents’ Visit

Our late summer saga continues with this weekend’s visit of my mom, but let me back up and tell you about the last two weeks where Alex’s parents came to visit… Now that Stan is retired and Donna is semi-retired they have a little more time to dedicate to traveling, so they came out to the Pacific Northwest for a 10-day excursion.

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Our first day was spent walking around Capitol Hill doing an unintentional bar crawl. We hopped from one bar to the next to dodge the rain.

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Donna and Stan hadn’t spent much time in the vibrant neighborhood of Capitol Hill, so we started our mini tour at Melrose Market where we had a glass of wine, then we hopped over to Quinn’s and finished up at Barrio. This was all before we commenced at Bottlehouse for dinner and drinks.

On Sunday we enjoyed an always delicious breakfast at our neighborhood spot called the Hi Spot, then we continued with the theme of drinking wine and headed out to Woodinville to enjoy the tasting rooms. We stopped at Brian Carter, Airfield, and of course, Trust, where we’re club members at. We had a late lunch at The Commons, then headed home for a night in where we watched the awesome movie the Imitation Game.

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As a way to see more of the beautiful Pacific Northwest and to break up the trip a bit, Donna and Stan headed down to Portland from Monday through Wednesday. They planned a big wine tasting excursion in the Willamette Valley, rode the cable car in Portland and enjoyed seeing what makes Portland so weird.

 

 

 

20150904_190501756_iOSAfter Donna and Stan returned from their trip to Portland we set sail on the ferry and headed to San Juan Island for the long weekend.

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The weather was drastically better than we expected! The ferry ride was chilly, as expected, but the skies were blue and it felt like wonderful fall weather while we were there.

Our trip to San Juan Island was really quite uneventful. It was relaxing and we spent a lot of time chatting, playing ball with Jackson, drinking wine {I know you’re shocked}, reading and watching the birds. It’s official. We’re getting old…

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One highlight; however, was renting mopeds and/or “scoot coupes” to toot around the island on! I had never been on a moped before, so it was a fun new experience. Other than the woman at the shop giving me the staggering statistics about the accident rate for women and then sneaking in an “oh by the way, there’s no hospital on the island, so it’s an $18,000 helicopter ride if you get hurt.” Thanks for that.

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Thankfully we all came away accident-free!

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The little house we rented was right on the water {Puget Sound}, which provided endless entertainment for us all. We were shocked at how much the water level changed with the tides! One morning we woke up and half of the bay was dry!

{low tide - all of this is mud}

{low tide – all of this is mud}

{not a great comparison, but you can see the bay filled with water}

{not a great comparison, but you can see the bay filled with water}

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We did take a few outings – Saturday we spent the afternoon in Friday Harbor and visited the farmers market and a few shops before having a very late lunch.

{Friday Harbor and the ferry terminal}

{Friday Harbor and the ferry terminal}

{Friday Harbor}

{Friday Harbor}

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On our last day we spent some time in Roche Harbor, a darling little resort town just north of where we were staying.

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It’s not hard to believe these two are going to be celebrating their 35th anniversary next month! We had such a nice time visiting with Alex’s parents and always love when they come to see us. The ten days flew by and it’s hard to believe they’re back home already!

 

 

Willamette Valley Wine Trip

The Willamette Valley wine region in Oregon has been on our list of places to visit for quite some time now. From Seattle, it’s only a 3 1/2 hour drive down to the famous pinot noir wine region in Oregon, so we finally booked a trip and made it happen.

{Alex and me with Mike and Sarah at one of the wineries we went to on our trip to Oregon!}

{Alex and me with Mike and Sarah at one of the wineries we went to on our trip to Oregon!}

My friend from Minnesota, Sarah, and her husband, Mike, flew out to Portland and we spent the weekend together in McMinnville, Oregon, right in the heart of the Willamette Valley. We rented an adorable house for the weekend – this house is one of my favorite vacation rentals to date. It was really roomy, had a ton of charm and a fantastic backyard for us to lounge in and for Jackson to run around. The location was just a block off the main drag, or shall I say “the gut” of the town. During our stay in McMinnville, the locals had an event called “Cruise the Gut” where they drove their vintage, sporty, loud or just regular cars down the “gut” of the town.

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The town was really cute and had several restaurants, wine tasting rooms and a few little shops. We spent our Friday evening checking out the tasting rooms before settling in at La Rambla, a Spanish restaurant, for dinner.

{Our first tasting of the weekend at Willamette Vineyards tasting room in McMinnville!}

{Our first tasting of the weekend at Willamette Vineyards tasting room in McMinnville!}

As a way to break up the wine drinking, we headed to Cannon Beach on Saturday for a full-day excursion. Cannon Beach is on the Oregon Coast and was about a 2 hour drive away from where we were staying. We weren’t aware of this initially, but similar to the fires in Washington, Oregon was experiencing several wildfires during our stay. The skies were extremely hazy on Saturday and Sunday.

{The famous Haystack Rock that juts out of the beach.}

{The famous Haystack Rock that juts out of the beach.}

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{Jackson was having the time of his life!}

{Jackson was having the time of his life!}

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{I can't even describe how frigid the water was!}

{I can’t even describe how frigid the water was!}

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{Looking back on the beach from the water - cute little Cape Cod-style houses line the shores in a very underwhelming manor - it's not crazy overpopulated, which was really refreshing.}

{Looking back on the beach from the water – cute little Cape Cod-style houses line the shores in a very underwhelming manor – it’s not crazy overpopulated, which was really refreshing.}

{You can rent these little bikes that people were riding all around the beach}

{You can rent these little bikes that people were riding all around the beach}

{Family photo!}

{Family photo!}

Cannon Beach was different than I expected. Haystack Rock, the infamous rock jutting out from the beach, was at least three times as large as I imagined. The beach itself was super sandy and the sand was so soft! Most/all of the beaches on the Washington coast are completely covered in rocks. While I knew the beach was enormous, the town was a bit bigger than I realized it would be. There were tons of shops, restaurants, cafes and beach houses. It was really Cape Cod-esque but with a little Pacific Northwest flare.

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Our next big adventure was Sunday’s excursion to Dundee Hills, one of the AVAs {American Viticulture Area} in the Willamette Valley. The Willamette Valley looks a lot different than the Washington wine country areas we’ve been to previously {Yakima and Walla Walla areas}. It’s much less deserty-feeling in Oregon, there are more trees, both coniferous and deciduous, and more rolling hills. The haze from the wildfires really prohibited our view – a few of the wineries boast views out to Mount Hood, which we didn’t get to enjoy on our trip.

{First stop... Purple Hands - this was the only winery that was familiar to Alex and me before we took this trip}

{First stop… Purple Hands – this was the only winery that was familiar to Alex and me before we took this trip}

{This guy is secretly a winery dog...}

{This guy is secretly a winery dog…}

{Enjoying our picnic at Stoller!}

{Enjoying our picnic at Stoller!}

{Stoller had a really cool LEED building for their tasting room. They also had an extraordinary property.}

{Stoller had a really cool LEED building for their tasting room. They also had an extraordinary property.}

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Each of the four wineries we stopped at on Sunday offered a different experience. We all shared similar sentiments and seemed to favor Purple Hands for wine and service, Stoller for view, Sokol Blosser for space and ambiance and White Rose for overall wine quality.

{Hazy view from White Rose winery}

{Hazy view from White Rose winery}

{Jackson ended up getting stung by a bee at White Rose, so we relocated to an area with fewer bees and fewer small children...}

{Jackson ended up getting stung by a bee at White Rose, so we relocated to an area with fewer bees and fewer small children…}

Another thing I was surprised about with our Willamette Valley wine tour was just how much pinot noir we would drink. I guess I had it in my mind that our experience would be very similar to our previous experiences in Washington, where there is quite a variety of wine varietals, but honestly, the only red wine we drank was pinot noir! I like pinots, but they’re not a wine I tend to favor when presented a choice. And similarly, the white grape varietal of choice was a chardonnay, which tends to be my least favorite. We did have a couple chardonnays that I enjoyed; however.

{Mike and Sarah have been together for almost five years if my memory serves me well. That being said, Alex and I have spent a lot of time with him, but we all found out just how much in common these two gents have with each other! That was a really fun highlight of the trip was just seeing how similar they are and how many shared interests they have. Both guys are really easy-going and easy to talk to, so it's not surprising.}

{Mike and Sarah have been together for almost five years if my memory serves me well. That being said, Alex and I have spent a lot of time with him, but we all found out just how much in common these two gents have with each other! That was a really fun highlight of the trip was just seeing how similar they are and how many shared interests they have. Both guys are really easy-going and easy to talk to, so it’s not surprising.}

{Cheers! We loved hanging out on the patio at Sokol Blosser}

{Cheers! We loved hanging out on the patio at Sokol Blosser}

{This guy was an all-star winery dog! He got so many compliments and random head scratches from strangers. He loves hanging out with us and going on outings!}

{This guy was an all-star winery dog! He got so many compliments and random head scratches from strangers. He loves hanging out with us and going on outings!}

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We had one more winery on our list for Monday, our last day in Oregon. This was a winery I was particularly excited about because it was a more private, intimate tasting, and I had read reviews on Trip Advisor that people agreed it was the best wine tasting experience they had ever had. We pulled up to Soter Vineyards just before our reservation time and were already blown away by how beautiful the tasting room and the grounds were. That was even before we were greeted by our host with a glass of amazing rose – our group favorite of the trip.

{Walking into Soter Vineyards was gorgeous - it was so open and natural. They host a wine tasting only as well as a wine and food tasting where they serve food straight from the farm they have on their property}

{Walking into Soter Vineyards was gorgeous – it was so open and natural. They host a wine tasting only as well as a wine and food tasting where they serve food straight from the farm they have on their property}

{This quaint cabin, also known as the home of the winemakers, was where we did our private tasting}

{This quaint cabin, also known as the home of the winemakers, was where we did our private tasting}

{The view from the porch of the cabin at Soter Vineyards}

{The view from the porch of the cabin at Soter Vineyards}

{Our tasting set-up}

{Our tasting set-up}

{Here is what we got to drink!}

{Here is what we got to drink!}

{The gang!}

{The gang! After this experience, we all changed our “favorite everything” to Soter. It was a fantastic, personalized experience, the wine was unparalleled and the service and knowledge that our host provided was top notch.}

Being a big wine lover, I really enjoyed our wine tour and getting to explore this new region we had never been to before. That said, though, one of my favorite parts of our trip was the time we spent in the backyard of the home we stayed at. The backyard was fantastic and the temperatures were so mild that we stayed warm late into the evening. We used that time to catch up and just chat about life. It was really nice to have several days to spend with Sarah and Mike. I think those are the best get-togethers – the ones where you take a vacation and get to spend that much quality time together.

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Sarah and I, who have been best friends since high school and served the role of each others’ maid of honor, typically talk several times each day, whether by text, email or phone, and we always know what’s going on with each other even though we only see each other a couple times a year. Technology has been so instrumental in our long-distance friendship. With those visits to Minnesota, I typically only get a few hours with her, so I really enjoyed the duration of time we got to have together. Hopefully we can take another trip soon 🙂

{Miss you Sali!}

{Miss you Sali!}

Lake Wenatchee Camping Trip

For this summer’s annual camping trip we headed east to Lake Wenatchee State Park. Our trip commenced on Friday evening when we met our friends Mary and Ryan, as well as Ali, Tyler and their two kids Vivian and Conner for a weekend of sun, dust and lake time.

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The Millers and Furtwanglers met each other at our holiday party last December and we’ve had a few other social outings where the two couples connected so it was fun to have them both join Alex and me for a weekend trip. It was extra fun to have the kids there too! 🙂

{The Millers}

{The Millers}

{the Furtwanglers}

{the Furtwanglers}

The weather was HOT to say the least. We were extremely grateful we had two canopies to provide a bit of shade over our sunny campsite. The lake provided some reprieve from the heat too.

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This campground was great for families, as it had a beach and a great playground, along with running water and showers, but with all of those amenities came a lot of people and not a lot of privacy. It turned out there was a major lake access point at the campground and Lake Wenatchee is a big fishing lake, so at about 4:30 a.m. the fishing boats started to arrive…

{Lake Wenatchee}

{Lake Wenatchee}

Because of the heat we weren’t too motivated to do much of anything, let alone go for a hike. Our full day on Saturday was spent primarily down by the lake. We rented a paddleboard and traded off taking spins around the lake. Little Vivian and her mom, Ali, went out together, and then Jackson hopped on for a short time with Alex, too.

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We have had such a dry, hot summer in Washington, and because of that, the wildfire danger is extremely high. There are burn bans all over the state, which means no campfires. Thankfully they allow propane fires, so we brought our new propane fire ring so we could still have a campfire at our site. It really made such a difference to be able to have a campfire, even though it was controlled by a propane tank.

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Each of the couples brought their dog, so we had three canines running around the place. It’s always fun to see the progression Jackson makes year-to-year with activities that we do annually, and he did make a lot of progress in maturation from last year’s camping trip, but he had a lot of trouble settling into this campground. Jackson and Berkeley were on high alert Saturday morning, which made for a very early morning start for the Millers and us. It ultimately took five trips down to the water to go swimming before Jackson was tired enough to conk out.

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We had a really nice weekend away with our friends. Our camping trips and little jaunts around Washington always make Alex and me grateful for the beautiful state we live in. The exploration is endless and our list of places to visit seems to grow faster than we can keep up with! Thanks Millers and Furts for a great weekend trip!

Midwest Summer Trip

Alex and I just returned from a ten day jaunt around the Midwest. We bounced around from place to place in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota and ultimately ended up staying in six cities across the three states. The primary purpose of our trip was to attend a wedding in Illinois one weekend and a wedding in Minnesota the following. We decided to turn it into a ten day trip to squeeze in some time with some family and friends during the week between the weddings.

{picturesque view in Minnesota}

{picturesque view in Minnesota}

The trip began in Illinois where we were attending Alex’s high school friend “AK” {Adam}’s wedding very close to the town where Alex’s parents live. We had a fun day with Alex’s parents before heading north to Alex’s hometown of DeKalb where the rehearsal dinner was taking place on Friday evening. It was really nice to get a chance to re-connect with several of Alex’s friends from high school.

{Alex and AK in front of AK's sporty car}

{Alex and AK in front of AK’s sporty car}

The wedding took place on Saturday at Fisherman’s Inn in Elburn, Illinois. It was a beautiful venue and a gorgeous day for a wedding, albeit a bit muggy! The wedding was quite large, I think there were more than 300 people there to celebrate Adam and Katherine, but the venue did a great job accommodating all of the guests. Alex got a chance to spend some quality time with a bunch of friends from high school. I had met his friends before but this trip reminded me just how nice they all are. He really has a great group of friends back in Illinois.

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{the grounds at Fisherman's Inn}

{the grounds at Fisherman’s Inn}

{the wedding goers! Alex sure made a handsome groomsman if I do say so myself! :)}

{the wedding goers! Alex sure made a handsome groomsman if I do say so myself! :)}

 

After stopping at AK and Katherine’s post-wedding brunch and visiting Nana {Alex’s grandma} for tea on Sunday morning we headed up to “the lake” for a few days. Alex’s parents have a lake home in southern Wisconsin and it had our name on it!

{Lake Delavan, Wisconsin}

{Lake Delavan, Wisconsin}

{loving the time out on the boat - we took several boat rides and got to test out the new waverunner!}

{loving the time out on the boat – we took several boat rides and got to test out the new waverunner!}

{me and my beautiful mother in-law!}

{me and my beautiful mother in-law!}

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{we saved our water ski day for the last morning and all four of us took turns water skiing.}

{we saved our water ski day for the last morning and all four of us took turns water skiing.}

Our time in Illinois came to a close quite quickly. We spent our last night in Chicago with Alina and Alberto and got to stay in their new apartment! It was the most relaxing part of our trip because of the time at the lake, and it was also really, really enjoyable to spend such meaningful time with Alex’s high school friends. They are such genuine, considerate people and they’re great friends, too!

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We landed in Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon and headed to the cabinet showroom. Yep. That was our first stop. My brother is remodeling our bathroom this fall and he wanted us to check out some cabinet options so we checked that off the list right away. The rest of the day was spent with my dad.

{we had a really nice walk around Lake Harriett in Minneapolis}

{we had a really nice walk around Lake Harriett in Minneapolis}

{after our walk we headed over to Loring Park where Alex and I got to meet my dad's partner, Fred (yes, they have the same name), and enjoy a really nice dinner at Loring Street Kitchen}

{after our walk we headed over to Loring Park where Alex and I got to meet my dad’s partner and enjoy a really nice dinner at Loring Kitchen & Bar}

Thursday was my mom’s day. It got a bit ridiculous when I started scheduling everything out to make sure I fit in time with my parents, so my mom got one whole day and my dad got two half days. That’s the way it has to be sometimes!

{We headed to Taylor's Falls, about 30-45 minutes outside the Twin Cities, which is on the St Croix River, for a hike}

{We headed to Taylor’s Falls, about 30-45 minutes outside the Twin Cities, which is on the St Croix River, for a hike}

{we were going to kayak down part of the river but one of us got a little too sunburned on the boat in Wisconsin...}

{we were going to kayak down part of the river but one of us got a little too sunburned on the boat in Wisconsin…}

{After our hike we came back to my mom's house for some time in the pool! It was just what we needed - a nice cooldown and relaxation time. My friend Kelsey and her boyfriend Franc joined us later on for dinner.}

{After our hike we came back to my mom’s house for some time in the pool! It was just what we needed – a nice cooldown and relaxation time. My friend Kelsey and her boyfriend Franc joined us later on for dinner.}

{I also got to enjoy my brother's company that night, too!}

{I also got to enjoy my brother’s company that night, too!}

For the second part of my dad’s day we went out to breakfast, stopped by my friend Cammy’s new fixer-upper {I cannot wait to see the finished product!!} and then took a stroll through the White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market. It was a nice leisurely day before we had to head out to Lake Minnetonka for the rehearsal dinner for Sammy and Amy’s wedding.

{the rehearsal dinner took place on a boat called Lady of the Lake, which was chartered for a 3-hour cruise around Lake Minnetonka. Alex had never been on the lake before, and I hadn't been since I was a kid. It was super nostalgic for me, and it was fun to see how much Alex enjoyed it too!}

{the rehearsal dinner took place on a boat called Lady of the Lake, which was chartered for a 3-hour cruise around Lake Minnetonka. Alex had never been on the lake before, and I hadn’t been since I was a kid. It was super nostalgic for me, and it was fun to see how much Alex enjoyed it too!}

{Sammy, whose real name is John, and Alex were nextdoor neighbors our sophomore year of college. Sammy's roommate was a high school classmate of mine. It goes without saying that because of their similar senses of humor, the three guys became great friends very quickly! We are so happy for Sammy and Amy and it was a pleasure to go back and attend their wedding.}

{Sammy, whose name is actually John, and Alex were nextdoor neighbors our sophomore year of college. Sammy’s roommate, Phil, was a high school classmate of mine. It goes without saying that because of their similar senses of humor, the three guys became great friends very quickly! We are so happy for Sammy and Amy and it was a pleasure to go back and attend their wedding.}

Saturday was hands-down the most crazy day of our trip. It was a really fun day filled with seeing old friends, but we bounced around from the northwest corner of the Twin Cities to the northeast corner and then back down to the southwest corner for the wedding before heading to the airport at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. Ay caramba!

{Steph and Molly came over to Sarah's house for brunch with their kids on Saturday morning. Sarah and Mike live near where we were on Lake Minnetonka the night before, so they graciously drove us to and from the rehearsal and we spent the night at their beautiful home. I hadn't met Steph's seven month-old son yet, so this was a perfect chance to do so!}

{Steph and Molly came over to Sarah’s house for brunch with their kids on Saturday morning. Sarah and Mike live near where we were on Lake Minnetonka the night before, so they graciously drove us to and from the rehearsal and we spent the night at their beautiful home. I hadn’t met Steph’s seven month-old son yet, so this was a perfect chance to do so!}

{After brunch we trekked across town back to Mahtomedi, where I grew up, for my friend Kailey's son's first birthday party. I am really glad we squeezed this in. It was a perfect lake setting and I loved catching up with my girlfriends!}

{After brunch we trekked across town back to Mahtomedi, where I grew up, for my friend Kailey’s son’s first birthday party. I am really glad we squeezed this in. It was a perfect lake setting and I loved catching up with my girlfriends!}

{this was the most relaxing first birthday party I've ever been to!}

{this was the most relaxing first birthday party I’ve ever been to!}

{we ended our evening at Sammy and Amy's wedding in Chaska. We got to catch up with Phil and Anja, two of my high school classmates, and Phil was Sammy's roommate when they lived next door to Alex. It was really great to get a chance to spend time with them.  Yes, we had a little fun in the photo booth!}

{we ended our evening at Sammy and Amy’s wedding in Chaska. We got to catch up with Phil and Anja, two of my high school classmates, and Phil was Sammy’s roommate when they lived next door to Alex. It was really great to get a chance to spend time with them. Yes, we had a little fun in the photo booth!}

The trip overall was fantastic and crazy. It’s never very relaxing when we go back to the Midwest, but I feel like we did manage to squeeze in a few days where we didn’t have a ton going on. I am so unbelievably grateful for the friends we got to see while we were back. It’s truly incredible and makes my eyes water a bit just thinking about how many wonderful life-long friends we both have and how easy it is for us to go a year {or several!} without seeing each other and pick things up like we saw them yesterday. I especially enjoyed spending time with Alex’s high school friends – it’s really rare and I so, so, so enjoyed them. I only wish we could have seen all of our friends and family members, but it’s next to impossible to make it work when we’re back for such a short time.

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Thanks to our friends and family for a wonderful time! We hope to see you all soon {come visit us!} 🙂

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