2012 Quite Possibly the Best Year Yet

I cannot believe that the holidays have come and gone and that 2012 left with them. In the inevitable nostalgia of a new year, I’m paying one last homage to one of the greatest years of my life thus far: 2012.

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We’re almost to our first wedding anniversary! A year ago yesterday it was in the upper 40s low 50s and Mike and I were attending a friend’s wedding. It was a beautifully sunny day that didn’t require a winter coat, I remember keeping my fingers crossed that we’d be graced with equally fantastic weather. Consequently, we had our only major snow storm the night before the wedding, bathing the landscape in a sea of winter white. It ended up being a blessing in disguise (despite the flight cancellations that had to be worked through and the horrific roads trying to get from our house to the rehearsal dinner) as our photos looked stunning with all of the snow. And even though the temperatures were in the low 30s, while everyone else insisted that it was cold, I was nice and warm in my massive wedding dress – at times, a little too warm! The best day of January though was January 22nd. You might be thinking wait, I thought you got married on the 21st… Yes, I did – however the 22nd was the best day because the wedding was over (I loved every minute of the wedding day, don’t get me wrong) and I could sit and visit with all of my family and friends who had come into town for the wedding. I had breakfast with all of the guests who stayed over at the hotel (Mike slept in and joined more around brunchtime) and then we went over to my parent’s house to celebrate my brother’s 17th birthday with our extended family. It was perfect.

FEBRUARY: We wasted no time going from wedding mode into full on house searching mode. By February we were actively house hunting (although we didn’t expect to find something as quick as we did – which left us in a nail biting standoff with our landlord when we did finally find a house a few weeks later). Mike had to work the Austin Mahone concert on Valentine’s Day and made sure to bring me red roses that Austin left in his dressing room (who says romance is dead). We still have the red vase that they came in displayed in our living room! I thought it made for a great Valentine’s Day flower story.

MARCH: I don’t remember much about March other than trying to play it cool while we waited to hear if the mortgage was officially approved or not.

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I feel like I spent most of April on the phone. Mike was working the run of  a show, so there were lots of phone calls between me and Mortgage Lady Pam, me and Mike, me and the lawyer’s office, me and Flooring Man Ben. After two months of the house-buying process, we finally closed on April 16th! By the next day we already had Ben in the house taking care of the wood floors, followed by Paintapalooza that weekend. We were all moved in and out of the rented house on Wilson by the end of the month. I had a brief moment of nostalgia when we left the keys at the Wilson house – but it was really brief, because we really had moved on to bigger and better things.

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In May I set out to create my vegetable garden and tame the existing gardens around the house. Although a few vegetables were actually sorta produced, the summer that followed was brutal and most of the garden wilted away. As for the several weekends that I spent trying to clean up the existing gardens, they were long and tedious and pretty much for naught since most of the weeds rapidly grew back and I never actually got to 75% of the garden space. But in May, I was full of hope and a strong resolve to beautify our yard.

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JUNE: By June I was ready to expand my company, Studio255, to the online marketplace Etsy. It was slow-going at first, I remember the first few dejected weeks of no sales.

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JULY/AUGUST: All that really sticks out about July and August was the unrelenting extreme heat. Mike and I consider ourselves fairly hearty individuals. Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, we can ride the temperature roller coaster weather with ease. Our initial plan upon moving into the house was only to turn the A/C on when the temps rose above the low 80s…well that turned out to be pretty much the whole summer. The awesome part of this hot summer was staying inside to watch the Olympics (I’m a huge Olympic nut). Since Mike and I don’t have live TV, I spent pretty much two solid weeks at my parent’s house, hanging out with my dad, watching the games. Mike popped over on occasion, though by week two his Olympic spirit was waining.

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Mike in the finishing stretch of the Tough Mudder, running through a muddy field of hay bales with live electrical wires hanging down. He assures me that this is fun….

During those months of extreme heat, Mike and some of his friends had been training for the Tough Mudder in September. Thankfully the weather wasn’t oppressive anymore, in fact, it was even a little chilly the day of the event. I tagged along on the trip (it was in Wisconsin) to take photos. Everyone had a great time and the team had a solid performance. Mike has since been making plans for his 2013 obstacle races – he’s hoping to include another one or two Tough Mudders and it sounds like he might be recruited to join some fellow theater folk in doing a Spartan Dash.

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The highlight hands down of October was our honeymoon to South Dakota. We cannot speak highly enough of that trip. It was an 8 day road trip that included about 25 miles of hiking, 2600+ miles of driving, visiting the Badlands, Custer State Park, Palisades State Park, Mount Rushmore, Crazyhorse, the Effigy Mounds and many local hole-in-the-wall restaurants along the way. We’re hoping to plan more road trips in our future in hopes of seeing more of the United States.

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I didn’t see Mike most of the month of November. He was brought on to the A1 spot for the musical Annie at the Paramount and put in long hours getting ready for that show. The production was fantastic – even the press agreed, rating it better than the production currently on Broadway (in NY I believe). I went to see opening night a few hours after returning home from a Thanksgiving-week trip to Florida with my sister for one of my best friend’s weddings. Tory and I had a blast celebrating at Disney and then getting to spend Thanksgiving with our extended family from Florida. I did miss Mike on Thanksgiving though, it was his one day off from tech rehearsals and it would have been nice to celebrate our first married Thanksgiving together.

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My ‘free time’ in pretty much all of November and December became about running to catch up with my exploding Etsy store. I knew there would be a little holiday bump, I wasn’t expecting (and was very pleasantly surprised with) the incredible amount of orders that came through (189 to be exact!). In addition to all of the sales, my Etsy also found its way onto some blogs, which drove even more traffic to my shop. After a brief reprieve in sales volume in the days surrounding Christmas, the shop is back to selling the same volume it had been during the holiday bump (I guess that doesn’t make it a bump anymore?). Thankfully, I’ve come up with new solutions to help keep the orders moving through my shop smoothly and with less headaches. The one downside to all of the Etsy work though was that I feel like I missed getting involved in Christmas. It didn’t help that I actually got sick a few days prior to Christmas – which ended up landing me at home in bed in a little number I like to call, Quarantined for Christmas. Thankfully, and inexplicably, Mike never caught either of my bugs (strep AND a viral post nasal drip). Mark that holiday number 3 of 2012 that we didn’t get to spend together (we did spend some time together Christmas day, but I definitely missed Christmas Eve) and then count New Years Eve as holiday number 4.

Looking ahead to 2013, I have a few thoughts (I’m not calling them resolutions):

I’ve been noticing that my weekends have become extensions of my work-week. They pretty much consist of long days in front of the computer freelancing (it’s the start of wedding season for vendors…). This means I really haven’t had time to do some of the things that I find important and enjoyable: correspondence, crafting, seeing people… so I’ve decided to [try] committing one weekend a month to only two hours of Etsy work and no wedding stationery work. Let’s see how long that lasts.

I really hope that Mike and I can celebrate more of the holidays together this year. I know he’ll be working on Valentine’s Day and we already have plans to celebrate our anniversary together (thankfully he has off work that evening so we can go out to dinner).

There are definitely some home-related projects that I’d like to find time to tackle. Year two of the yard, staining some furniture and organizing the basement to name a few things.

And lastly, I’d like to get myself back into regular blog writing – but I say that often, so we’ll see how that goes 😉

Thanks for reading in 2012 and hopefully I’ll have plenty of interesting stories to regale my readers with in 2013!

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4 Great Men in a Rock

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A couple days ago, Mike and I ventured over to the town of Keystone to see Mount Rushmore. We were quite impressed on a number of levels:

1) The craftsmanship that went into such a masterpiece. Sculptures produced by chipping stone away never cease to amaze me.

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photo of a photo - shows the scale compared to a human

2) The scale. See the above photo. Enough said.

3) The fact that it is probably the least touristy tourist spot that I’ve ever been to. There are no outside vendors hawking cheap souvenirs. When you reach the summit of the hike, there is no one offering to take your photo and then sell it back to you. No sponsor logos plastered on anything. The entrance fee was a modest $11 total for the car and good through the end of the year. There is a discreet bookstore inside the museum and a souvenir shop by the entrance, that’s it.

4) The museum is just enough information to be informative and answer any questions that you may have, but not overwhelming.

5) The fact that the design for Mount Rushmore changed majorly twice after production had already begun!

I 100% recommend a visit at some point. The sight and accompanying information really provide you with more of an appreciation for this National Monument.

A Morning Jaunt in Palisades State Park

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Right across the border from Minnesota into South Dakota is a charming state park called Palisades. Definitely worth a visit on your way to the western portion of the state.
Mike and I really enjoyed our morning hike traversing most of the park. The trails are of moderate difficulty, with some hopping from rock to rock, small hills, interesting landscapes and beautiful views. Oh, and a pack of wild turkeys (the mystery birds from the other night revealed themselves to us while we were hiking).

50 Billboards to Wall Drug

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The approximately 5 hours it took to drive through three quarters of the state of South Dakota was dotted much of the way with billboards beckoning travelers to various attractions: the Corn Palace, 1880s Town, Bear Town USA, Reptile Gardens and quite possibly the most famous of them all, Wall Drug, made famous by its 5 cent coffee. While we won’t be stopping at the Corn Palace or 1880s Town, the historic Wall Drug is on our to-do list for Tuesday.

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Each billboard for this exhibit has an old fire truck below each one.

Roughing It

I think I speak for both Mike and myself when I state that we have a new appreciation for our memory foam mattress pad on our bed at home.
As a child I loved sleeping on the floor, in fact I loved it so much that I would go for months on end sleeping in my sleeping bag on the floor in my bedroom. When I got to college, I spent the better part of a year sleeping on a loveseat under my lofted bed due to an allergy to my dorm room ceiling. I prided myself for having the ability to sleep anywhere on anything. Pride myself no more, at a few days shy of 26 my back is in pain after 1 night on a rock hard cabin mattress followed by 2 nights in a tent. We even had pads to go under the sleeping bags, but those made little difference.
The sleeping bags themselves were a whole other issue. We passed up normal sleeping bags that my in-laws lent us for my dad and brother’s heavy duty -20 degree mummy sleeping bags. Neither of us had ever slept in a mummy bag before, and what we learned was that we both sprawl out when we’re sleeping, a lot. Mummies do not sprawl out, and apparently neither do dad and Ian.
The last camping-related issue we encountered was the lack of daylight and the fire ban. Without a campfire the only thing we could do after dark was look at the photos on my digital camera (which we did each night) and go to bed at 7:30…for the next 12 hours til the sun came up the next morning. This usually resulted in being fully awake for me around 3:30-4am. As well as waking up around 11pm. Last night the wind was so intense and loud that I found myself laying awake for hours wondering if my shoes outside the tent had blown away.
But camping was worth it. Dad and Ian generously outfitted us with great supplies and shelter (not convinced that we set up the tent correctly though). We stayed at a primitive campsite for free. It was 25+ miles from civilization, the visitors center and the campsite with running water. The awesome part of that was that in order to get to our campsite we had to drive through parts of the park that most people seem to miss. And man oh man do they miss out: great views, varying landscape and close encounters with wild animals (more on that later). Also, due to our darkness-imposed early bedtime followed by early rising, we got to have nice full days and watch the sunrise.

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Saturday sunrise at our campsite

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Sunday sunrise at our campsite

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Sunday golden hour at our campsite

On the Road Again

Yesterday at 6:15 in the morning Mike and I were wheels up and headed west. For the first time in a couple years we are finally taking a vacation together, just the two of us. We are loosely labeling this a honeymoon, however, as I write this we are in a tiny cabin, each in small separate beds wrapped in individual mummy sleeping bags haha.
I’m getting ahead of myself, back to the open road…
Our journey began in Dubuque, so we had to get there first.

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on our way to the Great River Road

I was tasked with planning the route (a bold move on Mike’s part), and in order to follow the scenic Great River Road up to La Crosse, we needed to go off the GPS and just follow my instructions. After a happy accident of 133 being a different road than I thought it was, it turned out to be the right road. So that was lucky. Once on 35 we were rewarded with beautiful mountains (Mike called them hills until he realized that he trained for Tough Mudder one town over, then they were more than just hills haha) on one side and the Mississippi river on the other. A view that I came to miss once we were on highway 90.

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the Great River Road

After a leisurely lunch at Del’s Cafe in St. Charles, MN (the only stop that we made all day), we were back on 90 headed through the entire state of Minnesota.

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our favorite ad on the menu, sorry I can't rotate it - I'm writing via my phone.

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a photo taken for a birthday text to the lovely Meg Hoppe

I was amazed with how fast we made it through Minnesota. It took as long as expected, but the time flew. In fact all 10 hours of driving flew past! It was mixed with flowing conversation and comfortable silences, and only one 30 minute nap on my part.

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wind farms everywhere!

Very shortly after entering South Dakota, we were exiting 90 and almost to our first destination, the Palisades State Park. There was no one at the entrance of the park to break our $20 bill, so we headed into the town of Garretson to get change, grab some food for breakfast the next morning and have an early dinner. At the grocery store (I use that term loosely), we inquired as to our dining options. The cashier said there was only one place to eat, the bar at the end of the street. As we were headed back outside, we were confused, there was a steak place right across the street. Operative word being WAS. So the bar it was for dinner.

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We were greeted with good food and $1 bottles of beer.

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After dinner, we headed back to the park to pay our entrance fee and find our cabin. There was no one else there, and by there we mean anywhere. Except for the cabin that had a light on but no car near it, so probably a killer. A killer that I deemed the Campsite Killer. We’re both still alive as of right now, so that was probably a gross generalization of the lone occupant of the other cabin.

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Heat and electricity, perfect for spending the night.

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view from our cabin porch

After bringing our bags in, we decided to hike around a bit. We saw massive birds that we first deemed a turkey, then it flew so it was decided that hit was a hawk. Then we saw a bunch of them and they became vultures. Lastly we decided on pheasants. We hiked until it got dark. Since we still had some time before bed we played cards: war and no name.  While we played, we talked about my how my grandparents played no name every night and their strategies. And Mike finally beat me at no name! (Mimi, watch out – when you come to visit, Mike has gotten better!)
I was getting tired, so we called it a night at 9:30, and now here I am, awake at 4.

I forgot to mention, we have 2 house sitters, so bad guys who somehow know where we live, our house is not empty 🙂