Travel

A tourist in Dubai

I’ve been to Dubai two times. The first time was for a 10K race and the second time was to watch a rugby tournament. On both of those trips I never had time to play tourist because I was either sore from running or drinking all day. I knew that before I left the Middle East a Dubai tourist trip had to happen. I of course had to go in the tallest building in the world!

At first I was going to splurge and stay in a fancy hotel and live it up for a weekend. Then I checked prices and decided, no thank you and went with the Holiday Inn Express at Safa Park and it was amazing. The breakfast had good choices, it was close to the Burj Khalifa, and had a nice park near it.

Dubai is only an hour flight so getting there on a Thursday night is easy and it leaves all day Friday and the majority of Saturday for activities. My trusty travel partner suggested that we get the fast track pass for the Burj so we wouldn’t have to wait in any lines. The was pure genius. Not only did we not have to wait in lines to go up but also got right in the elevator to go down.

The Burj was high – we went to the 124th floor and it was a clear day so we were able to see out pretty far. It was a little windy on the observation deck but it was pretty cool to look down and see everything look like a lego set.

At the top – 124th floor

Looking down at the Dubai fountain

The Dubai mall is also know for the world’s largest aquarium. Now as a SCUBA diver I’m not a fan of aquariums, zoos or anything that holds animals in captivity…but I was there so of course I checked it out. You could walk through the aquarium so you had animals swimming above you and besides you. I got to watch a sting ray eat while being underneath it, that was pretty cool. There was also an underwater zoo which was as you guessed different fish and animals that lived under the water. Overall I wasn’t impressed as yes it was a big aquarium but way too many fish in it. There was also a Shark Week display, that made for a cool picture.

Shark Week

Penguins humping each other – haha 🙂

It was St. Patrick’s day while I was in Dubai so in honor we had some drinks while we watched the Dubai Fountain show. The water show was set to music, lights and shot up 140 meters high. If you have ever been to the Bellagio fountain show in Las Vegas, this didn’t even come close. It was a nice little entertainment stop while we had drinks.

St. Patrick’s Day drinks

Burj night selfie

On Saturday we went to go for a run in Safa Park which was near our hotel. It was about a twenty minute walk but once we got there the park was surrounded by a huge fence. When we finally found the entrance we also found out that there was an entrance fee. So even though we didn’t get our run in we got in a nice walk along the canal. Along the canal there was a wellness fair going on. There were vendors ranging from smoothies to yoga. The whole event was about taking care of your self, gaining confidence and being happy. It was really nice to stumble upon The Happiness Journey.

The Happiness Journey – my motto right now.

 

Later skaters

-B

Sri Lanka

I had a three day weekend in February so I looked at my options of going somewhere close, was a direct flight and would allow me to lay by the pool and possibly see a few sights if I desired to do so. The winner was Sri Lanka. I’ve never been before so it was a chance to see some new sights. My only requirement was that there was a patio and pool. I decided to stay at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. The weekend was spent laying by the pool, reading, taking naps, going to the spa twice and stopped at the elephant orphanage on the way to the airport. Although it was a short weekend the weather was perfect and it was a nice and relaxing weekend. I will absolutely go back to see more.

View from my balcony

Pool time

Bath time for the elephants

Turning poo into paper

Later skaters

-B

 

Christmas Break 2016

This year I headed home for 10 days and then decided to take a trip down to Florida to see my good friend L, her hometown and Universal Studios. Peg, my partner in crime decided to meet up with me in Florida for the festivities.

The 10 days that I was home was packed with daily activities – lunch with the Grinch, out to dinner with the family, hanging out with the little people, some light shopping in freezing cold weather, getting my hair cut and colored, school with Steph for the day, out with teacher friends downtown Chicago, multiple Christmas’s with the family, Christmas eve and Christmas morning with the girls and as much hang out time with them that I could fit in. Steph kept us busy each day and those girls are troopers that’s for sure – they are their mother’s children through and through. It was great to see friends and family even if it was for a short time.

The day after Christmas I headed to Florida to see L. She lives in Lake Panasoffkee which is about 45 minutes from Orlando. I taught with L last year in Bahrain and she would talk about where she grew up and how it was very redneck and I was like really in Florida? It was just as amazing as she described it. We did a bunch of “redneck” activities if you will and they were all amazing. I loved every second that I was there – the people, the activities, everything was amazing.

Here are a few of the activities we did:

Waffle House:

As a northerner, I love Waffle House probably because we don’t have them. They are the only place that I will eat a waffle and the atmosphere is awesome. The was my first stop when I got into town and then again before we left to go to Orlando so Peg could experience it.

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Airboat Ride –

We decided to do something very Florida like and take an airboat ride on Lake Panasoffkee. This was my first time on an airboat and it didn’t disappoint. In addition to the ride we also grabbed a bucket of beers to take with us. Since it was a company taking us on a tour it was pretty safe and at an appropriate speed. We saw two alligators while we were out. The first one we just saw his head pop out of the water and the second one was up on the shore hanging out in the sun. In addition to the alligators we saw an assortment of birds. After the airboat ride we got to hold a baby alligator. It’s mouth was taped so no big deal. It was surprisingly soft, much softer than what it looks like.

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We got a bucket of beers for the airboat ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This was our airboat driver and yes that’s his real hair.

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Shoot a shotgun:

I’ve shot a BB gun, a rifle and pistol a few times before but that’s about it. L has a friend who lives on a large property and are avid shooters so that’s where we went to practice. It was amazing and here are some things I learned:

  • The shotgun was super heavy
  • I’m a horrible shot – it took me probably twenty tries to hit the clay pigeon
  • Peg is a great shot – she hit it on the second shot (whatever)
  • It was a great time
  • I need a lot of practice

After we were done shooting and getting ready to leave L’s order of moonshine came in so of course we did a taste test. The moonshine came in mason jars, no labels just straight moonshine. The flavored one’s were the best. My favorite was black berry or wild berry something. My least favorite was blueberry. Then there was straight moonshine no flavor. It was clear looked like water until you opened it and smelled it. It smelled like gasoline and tasted probably exactly like what gasoline tastes like. I felt it go all the way through my body. I can now check that off the list of life experiences too.

Games, drinks, and a pig:

We stayed in had drinks and played the game Life. We drank Moscow mule’s until we ran out of limes, which wasn’t a horrible thing. Later on in the evening one of L’s friend came over and brought her pet pig, it wasn’t hers she was watching it for someone but it was a pet. It was the craziest thing ever. We didn’t know a pig was coming, we had been drinking so all of a sudden there is a pig in the backyard. To say that Peg and I lost our mind would be a bit of an understatement.

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Peg chillin’ with the pig in her pajama pants and slippers.

Universal Studios:

After hanging out in Lake Pan for two days we headed to Orlando to go to Universal Studios for three days. I haven’t been to Universal Studios since 2011 since then they have added a bunch of Harry Potter attractions as well as others. I love theme parks and I love Harry Potter so I was really excited. We stayed at the Cabana Bay hotel which had a 50’s theme and it was super cool. The first day at Universal, Jesse and Lisa met up with us. They were at Disney for the week and came over for the day. We got there an hour before the park opened because we stayed on sight. All of the lines were super long being that it is peak season in Florida so we definitely stood in line more than we were on rides. It was okay though the rides were amazing. Harry Potter was amazing just to walk through and look at all of the detail of the sets, shops and rides. We didn’t get home until almost 11:30 p.m., it was a long day. The second day we were a little slow starting due to our long day before. One of the new rides at Island of Adventure is The Reign of Kong. The line was consistently 150 minutes of wait time. We decided that we really wanted to ride it so took the plunge and got in line. Two and half hours is a long time to stand in line even though the ride was six minutes and ten seconds long, L looked it up. Turns out they were a little off on their timing it was three and half hours. Yes, you read that right we stood in line for three and half hours. Now the ride was amazing but still three and half hours. After that we checked the wait times at the restaurants, an hour and forty minutes was the minimum. We couldn’t wait in anymore lines so we hit up Panda Express and called it a night.

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Escape from Gringotts ride

The one time we stood in line for three and a half hours.

The one time we stood in line for three and a half hours.

Getting ready for Dr. Doom's Fear Fall

Getting ready for Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall

 

It was a great Christmas Break!

Later skaters

-B

Kazakhstan

When asked where I was going for the Eid break and I responded with Kazakhstan the reaction usually was, oh, do you know someone there? It definitely wasn’t a popular beach or resort destination but it was a chance to visit a new country and see Autum. Autum recently started at a new school in the small town of Atyrau, Kazakhstan and I was going to check it out. It was quite the trip as it took three flights to get there accompanied with long layovers. Now that I’ve made that trip once, next time I will do a much better job at booking my flights.

My first long lay over was in Dubai which I was not mad about as it’s a great airport. Once I arrived it was early morning and I had to switch terminals but thankfully it was a short shuttle bus ride. The hotel in the airport is really nice. You don’t have to walk to get to because it is literally in the middle up on the third floor. Most airport hotels you have to walk a ways to get to or are not as easy as you would think to get to. For this, I was thankful.

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High class 🙂

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The halls of the hotel were enclosed with these clear walls. They kept all of the noise out.

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Lots of pillows, comfortable bed and a massage chair.

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The view right outside my room.

I had a sixteen hour layover. Now I know what you are saying, “why didn’t you get a later flight” or “why didn’t you get out and explore the city?” It was much cheaper to have longer layovers and I knew that Dubai would be a great airport to have a layover at. As for getting out in the city I’m saving that for another trip when I can come back and play tourist. I just wanted to chill at the airport, which I did and it was amazing. After arriving to the correct gate area I found an awesome spot in a coffee shop, ordered an iced latte, and started my blog. I left Dubai at 7 p.m. and arrived in Astana at 1:30 a.m. Now for future reference long layovers are not a good idea at Astana airport, there is nothing to do, nothing. I had a seven hour layover so I basically slept on an airport bench on and off for a few hours then headed to Atyrau. I left Astana at 8:30 a.m. and was passed out the entire flight since you know I had to sleep on a bench. I finally arrived to Atyrau at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. Yes it was a long trip. The actual flight time was not even nine hours but it took me thirty-two hours to get there. Ahhh traveling.

Atyrau is a small town in Kazakhstan. Chevron oil is large company there so there are many expats employed there that are affiliated with Chevron. There is not much English in Kazakhstan so that makes for a lot of adventures. Luckily Autum has a taxi service that she uses and can request taxi’s via phone or e-mail so they always know where we want to go. Autum picked me up then we headed to her apartment. She lives on the 17th floor and has a pretty sweet view of the city. She faces the side to see the sunsets and they are totally worth the watch.

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Autum’s apartment building.

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Walk on the river.

Autum had school the week while I was there which was perfect in that I could get my to-do list done, relax and then do activities once she was done with school. I had a pretty extensive to-do list to complete over vacation with such things as go through my bookmarks on my computer. Seriously though who has time to do that? I also helped Autum unpack her shipment from Egypt because I think that is fun and she does not. On Monday I went to school with Autum in the morning and then before lunch we went apple picking with her class. We did a few activities during the week after school but it was mainly a pretty chill break which was just what I wanted.

Fun fact: Atyrau is located in both Europe and Asia. The river below separates the two continents and there are markers on both sides of the river.

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Europe marker for the Europe side.

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Ural River that separates the two continents.

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Asia marker for the Asia side.

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Doing tourist things.

We also visited the Russian Orthodox Church which was beautiful inside and walked past the Manjali Mosque.

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Happy Eid!

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We also went to a local gallery, met the artist and looked through a ton of his paintings. I found one that I liked but didn’t love it enough to buy it, maybe next time.

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Grocery shopping – this was interesting and a little frustrating too due to nothing being in English. Oh and also this the vodka aisle, just vodka. There were about four more aisles for wine and beer. It’s pretty much the opposite of Bahrain and stuff was pretty cheap.

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I got a lot of hang out time with Hanuel. Yes, I did miss him but you know what I didn’t miss – his hair being everywhere 😉 Look at that face!

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There is a restaurant called Chicago so of course I had to go. There was nothing remotely even close to Chicago food on the menu, it took forever and wasn’t that great but it was fun to be a Chicago themed restaurant in Kazakhstan.

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Autum works with a lot of really great people. Many of her co-workers have been teaching for a while and/or have been in the international teaching world for a while. It was nice to talk with other teachers and get their take on the schools in the world. I know I’ve said this before but it really is true – the more teachers you meet while internationally teaching the more you realize what a small world it is. There are some new teachers at my school that a few of the teachers in Kazakhstan worked with before – small world. Friday before I left I went out with a few of the spouses. We went to the Lenin statue not to be confused with John Lennon. Vladimir Lenin was in power in Russia/Soviet Union from 1917 – 1924. He used to have many statues in high traffic areas around the city but now this statue is tucked away off of some back streets, for obvious reasons. Our last stop was the Beer House, Bavarius. We had a few beers, chatted for a bit and then I was headed to the airport to start my journey home.

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Lenin statue – pretty big.

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Bavarius Brewery

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My journey home was not as long as on the way there but still long, about twenty four hours. On the way home I flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan which I was hoping to be better than Astana being that the website said they had a hotel that was only a three minute walk. Once I arrived I had an eight hour layover right in the middle of the night so getting some sleep was a necessity. The hotel was close, not connected to the airport but it was across the parking lot. My plan was to get a semi lux room for $30. They were out and the only one’s available where the very basic room that only had a sink in the room. The bathroom and shower were in the hallway. This room was only $15. Now for $15 you get exactly what you pay for. I didn’t even take pictures but it was a place for me to get some sleep so it served it’s purpose. My next flight was to Dubai then to Bahrain. There was a Subway near my gate in Dubai so I was happy and it only took me thirty minutes to get home from the airport, win-win.

Later skaters

-B

 

 

 

Summer Fun

It was a whirlwind summer and I had an amazing time…

Activities with the Little One’s. 

One of the biggest reason’s I come home, especially at Christmas, is to see my little people. We did lot’s of activities this summer and had a great time.

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Firefighter!

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Played with Lego’s on a light board.

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Indoor climbing fun zone.

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Played with blocks at the learning museum.

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Went on carnival rides.

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Played pie face.

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Went down the slide…about 5 times.

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Had a bad attitude because she didn’t want her birthday picture taken.

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Was all smiles after picking out her birthday present – Peppa Pig’s camper.

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Grumpy face…

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Happy face!

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Played at home…a lot!

St. Louis for a Bachelorette Party

My soon to be sister-in-law had her bachelorette party in St. Louis so my BFF and I headed down for a night out.

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Best decision ever….taking the train!

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With the soon to be bride

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Out in ballpark village – looking into Busch stadium from the balcony. This place is awesome!

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Reserved – that’s us!

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Bar area upstairs looking into Busch Stadium. Awesome – even if this is where the Cards play 😉

Hawaii

In a word – Amazing! I was lucky enough to travel with Autum again. Her parent’s are living there so we stayed with them and they did a great job of playing tour guide and taxi. We stayed for ten days and did so much in that short amount of time.

The diving was great. We did two dives, well actually I only did one. I got super sea sick, which I never have before so I sat the second one out. We made a lot of touristy stops such as The Dole Plantation, Pearl Harbor, Polynesian Culture Center but also went to local beaches and hangouts. Pearl Harbor was amazing and very somber at the same time. The entire place is set up very nicely and gives you so much background information. I walked away with a much better understanding of the events leading up to, the day of and what came from Pearl Harbor. The Polynesian Culture center was very cool. We watched a show that featured dancing, fire dancing and a story of local culture. We hung out at a few different beaches and saw the most beautiful landscapes. My favorite part of Hawaii, Oahu to be exact because that is the island we were on, is that one side has beautiful beaches, one side has huge, beautiful mountains and in certain places in the middle there are forests.

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Morning of our dives – what an awesome looking sky!

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My view for the second dive…Got sea sick, puked over the side of the boat and got fried by the sun.

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Arriving in Hawaii – Aloha!

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Coffee plantation

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Dole plantation

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Another great sunset on the way home

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What a view!

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At the Polynesian Culture Center – yes we are all matching 🙂

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The Arizona at Pearl Harbor

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Total tourist – sunburned, local Hawaiian wear, and headphones on for the tour!

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Wreck Dive – upside down barge. This view is coming out from under it.

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St. Joseph’s, Michigan with the kids

We took a short weekend trip with three adults and four kids. We played at the beach, swam in the hotel pool, ate at a pizza place that was in the train station, rode on the indoor ferris wheel and then headed home. It was a nice little weekend trip.

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Everyone all loaded in the mini van.

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On the indoor ferris wheel while we waited to go eat pizza in a train station.

Jesse & Lisa Brenwall

Jesse and Lisa got married July 23rd. I went down the week of the wedding to hang out and to help out with anything that I could. It was nice to hang out with Jesse and Lisa before the wedding. We went out to eat with friends, watched t.v. and planned honeymoon activities. The wedding was amazing, Lisa was beautiful and it was a great reception. Jesse and Lisa headed to St. Lucia for their honeymoon. And now I have a sister!

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The family at rehearsal dinner.

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Steph and her brother from another mother 🙂

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The happy couple 🙂

Cubs Game!

For a thank you gift, Jesse and Lisa got me Cubs tickets. Jesse was able to upgrade me thanks to his good friend Jackie who had better seats. These tickets were from her work so I figured they were good but did not realize how good they exactly were. The Cubs were playing the White Sox at Wrigley so it was a perfect game to take my BFF with (she’s a Sox fan). We found a sweet parking spot a block from the field that was easy in/easy out, had a bathroom and the guy was super nice. Once we got to our seats we realized how amazing they were. It was a great game, a little slow until about the 6th inning when the Cubs blew it open. There were a couple homers so I was up cheering and high fiving people. It was so awesome.

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Wrigley Field

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The new jumbo screen – not as bad as I thought it would be.

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Jim Harbaugh threw out the first pitch.

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Charles Tillman sang at the seventh inning stretch. Dwyne Wade was also there in a skybox.

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We were 6 rows up from the Cubs bullpen. It was crazy close.

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Cubs won 8-1

Brandy’s In Charge

In March my BFF asked me if I would watch the girls while they go to Boston for a few days for their honeymoon in August. Of course was my answer as I was silently freaking out at the fact that I would be by myself and in charge. I’m glad it was at the end of summer so if gave me time to get my feet wet with these kids on a full time basis. It actually wasn’t that bad, I can say that now that’s it’s over. I only completely freaked out once and wanted to loose my mind about three times. Steph’s response to that was “oh that’s not bad”.  The first day we stayed home, Raegan woke up with a swollen eye due to a mosquito bite. The second day we also stayed home but had some visitors. The third day was jam packed with going to gym time, lunch, and then ice cream after dinner. We took a bath every night because they are always sticky – always, all the time! In the end it was a good experience, next year will be better with the little one being older or it could be completely worse who knows that’s the fun with kids you never know when they will loose their shit!

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Having a tea party – yes I put those braids in her hair and yes I clearly need some practice.

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Sitting in a tub, I’m not even sure if she has pants on.

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We take naps where ever we fall

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Or where ever they will fall asleep

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Watching Monster’s University. We alternated between this and Monster’s Inc. on repeat for three days.

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Dairy Queen

Milwaukee

Every summer and winter when I come home I am fortunate enough to get a few days with friends that I taught with at the high school. They are all busy with their own lives but make time to hang out and we even keep in touch all year though messaging, thank goodness for technology. This year we decided to go to Milwaukee for two nights. We drank, went out, went to a Brewer’s game, went out some more, drank some more – it was awesome! Love you girls!

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Milwaukee we are here!

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Small guy with my bloody mary – amazing.

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Dinner

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Henry’s hard ginger ale is awesome taste like a Moscow Mule which I just found out was a thing!

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At a Brewer’s game – Mille Park was awesome!

 

The end of the summer came quick as it always does but I can honestly say that it was a great summer filled with great memories. Now it’s back to school.

Later skaters

-B