July coffee chat

Agra Culture coffeeBefore having kids, coffee chats were a weekly part of my life. I worked for myself in a business that was heavily based on networking so I really challenged myself to set-up time with people on a regular basis. Groups make me anxious, but one-on-one over a cup of coffee I blossom.

Even though I often had to talk myself into getting into the car and going, I loved it once it was done. And now that I work full-time and have two little kids I really miss these coffee chats. So I will just make do with my virtual coffee chat. I’ll sip my cold press (yes, it is the middle of the afternoon and I’m still caffeinating) and chat away to all of you about what has been on my mind, what new things I’ve tried that I’m excited for you to try too, and what is keeping me going for the future.

Me time

As a mom, really as a woman, we all seem to be pretty bad at taking time for ourselves and fulfilling our own needs while constantly worrying about those around us. Getting back to this blog is one way I’ve taken time for myself, but July was also a time to regroup about what I need from life. So trying new restaurants, spending time with friends, and working out have found their way onto my calendar in permanent ink.

Fried Chicken Revival St Paul

When a friend and I got together after months of both being super busy we caught up over fried chicken, mac ‘n cheese, and beers. Classy, I know! But this was one classy and amazing meal at Revival in St. Paul. It is a bright space that feels like a group of friends got together on someone’s porch down South for some good home cooking and chatter.

Thankfully, I’ve also been able to squeeze in more consistent workouts along with the extra restaurant trips. Back up to five mile runs!!!! That only took a year and a half, but really who is keeping track?

Exploring

I love being home and we have been slowing making updates to make our space our own little cocoon away from the world, but I have that need because I also love exploring. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this blog is a way for me to keep exploring – through food, new places and experiences, and meeting new people.

July was a month full of cabin visits that included some excursions to places that even after ten years of visiting the region I hadn’t been to. Over the 4th of July we went to Madeline Island for a gorgeous picnic lunch. Then a few weeks later we headed to Hayward for the World Lumberjack Championships. I didn’t even know this was a thing still, but after seeing these men and women compete I was in awe. I mean, how do you even get into these sports?! And what would possess you to climb a 90 foot pole and then pretty much free fall to see who can get down faster? Or stand on a piece of wood and swing an axe between your feet until you cut all the way through? It is impressive and crazy what these competitors from all over the world did and you can tell that they have worked their butts off getting there.

Our taste buds also did a little exploring in July when we tried two new Minnesota made products. First, Maddy & Maize popcorn. We had been seeing it on Instagram and were so excited when we saw that it was coming to our local Hyvee. The first day it was in stock we grabbed a bag of the Bourbon Barbecue popcorn and oh my god it is amazing. It surprised me with a spicy kick, but it is so good. I think Apple Pie a la Mode is the next on the list.

Thumbs Cookies

To go with our something a little spicy, we tried out Thumbs Cookies when Robyn (the owner and baker) offered a limited edition S’more flavor. I had the pleasure of picking them up in person and meeting Robyn at Agra Culture which I love because it was an opportunity to be face-to-face with someone doing what they are passionate about. The hardest part was I picked the cookies up in the morning and wanted to try them as a family so I had the box on my desk at work all day. Talk about will power! The cookies were a hit at our house and we are looking forward to trying the Peanut Butter Sea Salt ones next.

Even though July was a busy month and it wasn’t all good change, I am choosing to keep the blessings and adventures in mind as I move forward to the end of summer, my baby’s first birthday, and our oldest’s journey to kindergarten in September. Cheers to August and a lot more coffee.

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National Ice Cream Day: 5 at home and 5 for the road

There is no denying it is officially summer in Minnesota. The time of year when everyone becomes an avid runner or biker, patio furniture makes its much-lauded return, and my love for ice cream is on full display.

The rest of my family could (and does) eat ice cream even when the snow is flying and the temperatures dip well below zero, but for me to really enjoy the icy cold treat it has to be sunshine and shorts type of weather. That is when the ice cream maker makes its triumphant return from the bowels of the pantry and ice cream cones earn a spot on the weekly grocery list.

Here are five easy homemade ice cream recipes to help you enjoy the summer season:

  • Coffee Ice Cream from Baked by an Introvert : A few chopped chocolate covered espresso beans and whipped topping make this a real treat.
  • Chocolate Ice Cream from Ashlee Marie: This is our go-to ice cream recipe and it never disappoints!
  • Peanut Butter Swirl Ice Cream – Joy Filled Eats: This is great for when you’re on dairy overload, but still want a little ice cream treat.
  • Strawberry Ice Cream by A Latte Food: Strawberry is secretly my favorite flavor of ice cream and this one reminds me of the homemade ice cream we made with my grandparents as kids.
  • Rocky Road Ice Cream by Barefeet in the Kitchen: Rocky Road is probably my second favorite flavor because it reminds me of my other favorite summer treat – S’mores!

Of course, if you buy all the ingredients, tell your kids there will be ice cream post dinner, but forgot to put the ice cream maker insert back in the freezer (really who would do that! J) there are always these great sweet shops to hit up for a dip or two.

  • Sebastian Joe’s  This ice cream brand has sort of found its way all over the Twin Cities. It can be found in restaurants and shops on both sides of the river, but heading to one of the two scoop shops is still the best way to enjoy the unique flavors the team has to offer.

Flavor recommendations: Pavoratti, Salty Caramel, Raspberry Chocolate Chip, Nicollet Avenue      Pothole, and Joe’s Brrr Bars

Edina Creamery: Smore’s and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

  • Edina Creamery  We love this little shop with red topped tables and there is plenty of window shopping in the area if you want to take your treat to go.

Flavor recommendations: S’mores, strawberry, chocolate milkshake, and peanut butter     chocolate

  • Izzy’s You can find pints of Izzy’s in some stores around the Twin Cities, but we still love going to one of the shops to get that cute little Izzy scoop up on top.

Flavor recommendations: Peppermint Bon Bon, Vanilla Bean, Church Elderberry, and Peace    Coffee

  • Peterson’s This popcorn and ice cream shop has been around since 1977, but only recently moved it’s location to just down the street from us. Not only is it an after dinner walk away, but their homemade ice cream is fantastic.

Flavor recommendations: Black Hills Gold, Mocha Chip, Butterscotch Sundae, and Blueberry cheesecake

  • Grand Ole Creamery Grand Avenue is a great place to spend the afternoon wandering and this is the perfect spot to grab a quick treat. If you are going to make a meal occasion out of it head over to Punch pizza before satisfying your sweet tooth at this cute little shop.

Flavor recommendations: North country crunch, Coconut chip, Maple nut, and Marshmallow Man

Now the only question is cone or cup?

Got another scoop we should try? Please let us know 🙂

 

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View of Bayfield from the ferry

Madeline Island and the glorious staycation 2017

I love to travel to far off lands and experience things outside my norm, but this past week I was reminded of the fun and beauty that exists right outside our front door.
For the long 4th of July weekend we hadn’t planned on taking more than the two extra days off, but things have been a little crazy lately. What is a few more days off? So for the first time in years we went to the Northwoods for a whole week.
Sometimes a staycation isn’t the only thing you can do, it is the best thing to do.
Cabin fun 2017
Between lots of fresh air on the lake, s’mores by the campfire, and runs on country roads, we squeezed in an excursion to possibly one of my new favorite places – Madeline Island.
View of Bayfield from the ferry

View of Bayfield, WI from the Madeline Island ferry

Located just off the shore from Bayfield, WI, Madeline is the southern most island of the Apostle Islands. Getting there is a fun experience all its own. During the summer you can take the Madeline Island Ferry across and witness floatplanes landing in the water near the dock. We haven’t been in the winter yet, but we hear that crossing can be even more interesting as you cross on an ice road when the lake is frozen over and on the Windsled Taxi – part sled, part boat – when the lake isn’t completely frozen solid. But until then we enjoyed the warm breeze and sunshine of our summertime visit.
Although there are several dining options we planned ahead for a picnic lunch and carried over some supplies with us. After disembarking along with the dozens of other visitors we headed down the street to Joni’s beach. This quiet little area is right on the water front with a play area for the kids, shaded picnic tables, and bathrooms. The perfect spot for a little waterview al fresco lunch.
Besides great views and outdoor activities, the island is known for the many artisans that have set up shop there. The main street is dotted with galleries and local stores. Lots of pottery, weaving, woodwork, and small batch foods could have made their way home with us. Thankfully, we showed restraint and only indulged with a new handmade coffee cup and ceramic soap dish from Deena’s Pottery Studio and a beautiful hand made candle from Madeline Island Candles.
All that walking, shopping, and sunshine really worked up an appetite. So off to Grampa Tony’s for some pre-ferry ice cream we went – next time we will be trying the pizza. We gathered with a group of other visitors in the grassy spot next to the building; lounging in Adirondacks and at picnic tables in the shade of old trees. It was the perfect peaceful end to our day.
ice cream at Grampa Tony's

Strawberry cheesecake ice cream from Grampa Tony’s

We never even made it to the historic sites or the Madeline Island School of the Arts . . . there is always next time 🙂

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How we did Disney with a baby and preschooler

Living in Minnesota for ten years I’ve learned that a winter getaway is sorta mandatory. We have loooooong winters that even Frosty the Snowman would find brutal and unbearable at times. While we revel in the warmth of the gorgeous Minnesota summer it might be hard to even consider that snow will again fall, but now is the perfect time to plan that winter getaway.

With people thinking about warm destinations for future family trips I’ve been getting a lot of questions about our 2017 winter escape. We braved taking a 6 month and nearly 5-year-old to Disney World. This was my third trip there and our daughter’s second trip. Right away I would say if you anticipate Disney World being a once in their childhood experience wait until they are older – at least 10 – so they can fully enjoy all the park attractions. If however, you are taking them at a young age and headed back once they are older there are a few tips I’d like to share to make your trip that much more enjoyable.

Stay on-site

We have stayed off site (pre-children) and on-site and after staying at a Disney property we won’t go back to off premises. Save yourself the hassle and stress of getting everyone organized in the morning, driving to Disney, finding parking, shuttling to the entrance, and finally making it into the park after waiting in line. Instead, stay on site and get access to the parks early and late as scheduled, take a quick boat ride or shuttle to the park of your choice, and get your day started.

Fort Wilderness might be the least known of the Disney World resorts, but it should be top of the list for families. This fun property is a throw back to the Disney of old and a world away from the chaos of the parks. The cabin option is perfect for families – kitchen to eat breakfast and have a slightly slower morning, separate room to watch TV in while the kids sleep in bunk beds in the back room, a deck to enjoy a little calm outdoor time. There are also swimming pools and other activities for the afternoon when the kids (and parents) need a break from the crowds. The other great part is the evening entertainment. Enjoy a campfire with sing along and s’mores with Chip and Dale.

Chip and Dale sing along at Fort Wilderness, Disney World

Plan ahead for little one’s meal times

If you have a really little one who is just switching to solids, like our little man was, make sure you pack a few appropriate spoons. Throughout the parks and at the resort shops we were able to find baby food, plastic bowls, even baby tylenol and diaper cream, but no soft plastic spoons.

If you are breastfeeding the parks do have great mother’s rooms/nursing stations. They have comfier chairs usually, more privacy, a TV to keep older kids appeased, and changing tables.

As for older kids, have an idea of where you want to be at lunch time (or a few options) so Mickey pretzels don’t become the entree of choice. We did the dining plan and used our quick service options for lunch most days so we could get back to the rides ASAP. We used our sit down meals mostly in the evenings when we were all ready to crash anyways. You can easily make reservations and look at menus on the park site and even on the app, which I highly recommend downloading.

Do: Download the Disney app, scope out menus before leaving home, make reservations when possible. 

Characters, characters, characters

One of the best of parts of a trip to Disney is getting to see your kids’ faces when they meet Mickey, Minnie, or any of the dozens of characters that are found throughout the park. Not gonna lie, I still get a little gidy when meeting them. The app now lets you pinpoint times and locations of characters so you can plan ahead and be sure not to miss a favorite.

Character dining Disney World

We found the best way to see characters was through the character dining options. Book in advance! These were great because rather than standing in a long line waiting to see one character you can keep the kids busy eating or with an activity at the table while they wait for the characters to make the rounds. We also found you tend to get a little more time with characters during the dining experiences versus at the parks.

Our favs were Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast at Cape May Cafe in Epcot and the Tusker House Restaurant character dinner in Animal Kingdom.

Do: Book character dining in advance, bring activities to keep the kids busy while they wait for characters. 

One final tip

We have been lucky enough to travel with other family members who can watch the kids for a few hours. If possible, travel with other adults so can sneak away to enjoy a some of the fun just the two of you. You are never too old to enjoy Disney World!

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Reclaiming this space and the journey

Photo cred: Alex Krivec

Maybe it is being in my thirties or having two kids instead of one or the postpartum anxiety, but I’ve reached this feeling of having stalled out. That feeling where you’ve accomplished all of the really cool things in your life. That new experiences are a thing of the past. That you are to old to try something different, challenge yourself, and face down insecurities.

It is way to early in life for that!

So I am embarking on a journey to fully embrace what I started this blog for, hopefully gain a little of my swagger back (who am I kidding I never had swagger, I’d twist my ankle), and find not only peace but growth in this new season of life.

When I started the blog I was transitioning into motherhood and out of what I thought was going to be a long term career in travel. I started this blog as a way to stay accountable to my goal of keeping my eyes open to the world and  embracing exploration. We spend so much time online and shuffling from place to place we miss the adventure that lives in each day. I started this blog to eat, travel, and meet amazing people and build my own adventure.

I want to continue to grow, learn, and challenge myself. I want to finish life saying I really lived it and provide lots of amazing memories for my children. I want to try new things – things that scare me, that make me anxious, that force me to face down insecurities and unrealistic fears of failure.

I want to meet new people – yes me, a hardcore introvert with anxiety (legit I take meds for that) want to meet people. I want to connect with people following their passions and writing their own story of life. I want to be inspired by their creativity, joy, and ability to face down their own fears.

And of course I want to eat and travel to experience new flavors, see new places, and meet new people.

So, I’m reclaiming that challenge and I’m sharing the journey as a way to stay accountable, provide a journal for my kids to look back on, and, hopefully, inspire some of you to do take on a new challenge, explore a new place, or meet some new people.

Here we go!

 

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5 Midwest food and drink fests worth the calories

Spring and summer in the Midwest means it’s festival season. With almost every weekend providing an option for food, drink, and fun which should you make room for in your schedule and diet?

Here are five of our favorite options for a day in the sun, eating and drinking our way through local favs.

Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championshipgrilled cheese

Date: April 23, 2016

Location: 600 Bennett Road, Dodgeville, WI

Cost: Free general admission or $25/ticket Grilled Cheese VIP

The childhood favorite is taken to the griddle by talented home and professional chefs for some tasty results. With four different sandwich categories, food trucks, and vendors, you are sure to find something that hits the spot.

http://www.grilledcheesewisconsin.com/

Taste of Chicago

Date: July 6-10, 2016

Location: Grant Park, Chicago, IL

Cost: Free admission; food items are 1 – 5 tickets each; 12 tickets for $8.50

Since 1980 Grant Park has hosted one of the top outdoor food festivals in the nation. Over five days enjoy hundreds of food items, live music, cooking demonstrations, and plenty of family friendly activities.

http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/taste_of_chicago.html

Great Taste of the Midwest

Date:  August 13, 2016

Location: Olin Park, Madison, WI

Cost: Tickets $60 go on sale May 1st; tickets often sell out

Headed into its 30th year this brew fest is the second oldest in the U.S. and for good reason. Featuring over 150 brewers and 1000 beers you are sure to find something that quenches your thirst. You can also enjoy educational and entertaining presentations on topics such as beer and chocolate pairings, beer cocktails, and live music. And of course there are plenty of food options to pair with your brew of choice.

http://greattaste.org

Mackinac Island Fudge Festival 

Street view photo – “Mackinac Island” by Marada is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Street view photo – “Mackinac Island” by Marada is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Date: August 19-21

Location: Mackinac Island, MI

Cost: Free admission; cost of food items varies

I love the Cedar Crest ice cream named after this delicious treat and this event takes it to a whole new level.

A fudge inspired dinner, beer and fudge tastings, and even loompahs delivering Golden Tickets to the fudge shops.

http://www.mackinacisland.org/event/mackinac-island-fudge-festival/ 

Taste of Madison

Dates: September 3 – 4

Location: Capitol Square, Madison, WI

Cost: Free admission; food items priced $1 to $4

This festival has been on my radar since we moved to Minnesota almost 10 years ago and I still haven’t made the time to get there. More than 80 restaurants serving bites, 3 performance stages, and 26 beverage stands make for two days of fun and feasting. Best part – all the proceeds go to local non-profits.

http://www.tasteofmadison.com/

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March Round-up: Travel, recipes, and forks

This past month flew by (this seems to be a theme for my year)!  So let’s jump right into a few things we’ve been enjoying, coveting, and anticipating over the last month. sunset

Travel 

After anticipating vacation for so long it is hard to believe it is already over. The beginning of the month included a quick road trip for Olivia and me to visit my precious new niece in Illinois. An eight-hour drive with a toddler while being almost four months pregnant seemed like a good idea until we pulled out of the drive way. I was concerned when less than an hour into the eight-hour drive she was asking, “we are close?”. All turned out all ok and ended with some sweet memories of Olivia holding her new niece and gave a little glimpse of what life might be like when the new baby arrives.

beach

After two years of grad school we took our first real vacation – no homework, no required reading, and no online check-ins. Just beach, sun, naps, and lots of great food with good company. Stay tuned for more next month on our trip to Fort Myers Beach.

Recipes

Between trips, planning for trips, and trying to get ahead at work I didn’t have much time for experimentation in the kitchen. I did, however, make plenty of time to try out a few recipes I had stowed away on Pinterest.

Recipes

Lemon and Chia Seed Yogurt Cakes – These delicious muffins made for a sweet start to Easter morning. I didn’t take the time to make the syrup and candied lemon slices, but they were still amazing with a bowl of fresh fruit.

Homemade Crescent Rolls – I have always wanted to make homemade crescent rolls, but had never taken the time because it is just so easy to open the can of the refrigerated kind. I finally did it! And they were delicious . . . not always the prettiest, but just as tasty.

Mushroom and Cheese Quinoa Cups – I love quinoa and am always looking for different ways to incorporate it at every meal. These mini cups were a great addition to the menu with a cheesy crust on the outside and even squeezed in some veggies for the little one.

Forks

Consider the forkOne of the joys of being done with school has definitely been my self challenge of reading a book a month. This month, the book of choice was Consider the Fork by food writer Bee Wilson. I am slightly obsessed with culinary history and this book was just the thing I needed to unwind from business books. Bee Wilson has a conversational voice so you feel like you are talking to a witty friend who shares your passion for all things food, cooking, and history. The book covers a wide range of topics and can sometimes feel a little disjointed when it comes to the idea of culinary evolution, but it is full of fascinating tidbits and things to fill your antique shopping list with.

Looking ahead

April is already jammed with activities and things to look forward to. Our daughter is turning four on the 20th so we will be doing a lot of birthday planning. And trying not to be the crazy parent that creates unrealistic expectations for celebrations.

After our March travels I had to start planning our next adventure. The next getaway will include a weekend away for our anniversary in Duluth. Close to home, but something I feel is totally untapped by us.

And the big project for April? Let the home remodel and construction begin!

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A visit to Pine Brook Farm

As we drove the winding roads of backwoods Wisconsin I was slightly concerned about the dining option for the evening. Really, what sort of restaurant would survive out in the middle of nowhere? Pulling into the packed driveway all my worries disappeared. In fact, I felt right at home (or at least like I was at my grandparent’s house) as we parked on the grass and approached the farmhouse.

farm houseAs we soon learned, the gorgeous farm was originally owned by Dr. Arthur Gillette whom the Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul is named after. He had used the location as a retreat for himself, his family, and his colleagues. In 1921, Dr. Gillette passed away and left the farm to his great nephew. Throughout the years, several generations of the Gillette family worked the land and called the farm home. The land stayed in the family until it was sold in 2012 to Michele Law and Jason Martell.

Continue reading

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An apple a day on the cider trail

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away and while I’m sure this only applies to the fresh fruit I will salute the adage with a toast of crisp apple cider. Summer is quickly fading and fall will soon be upon us and one of the few things that lifts my spirits when thinking of saying good-bye to the warm weather is the thought of all those fresh picked apples and the tasty creations they become.

One of the best places to enjoy the more mature of the many apple based beverages is in a region known more for its wine and cheeses than anything else. The Pays d’Auge area of Normandy, France is home to the “Route du Cidre” or Cider Road and a great epicurean extension from Paris. Only a few hours’ drive from Paris the region boasts fertile farmland and delicious cuisine using seafood, duck, and the famous Camembert cheese. For a leisurely fall getaway rent a car or hire a driver and follow the clearly marked route through the countryside.
CalvadosDriving from Paris you will enjoy small villages and traditional houses as you peruse this hilly region.  Make base at the heart of the Pays d’Auge in the village of Cambremer where you can enjoy historical buildings, a traditional market, and life in a French town. From here you can enjoy the Cider Route as one circuit or take several days to visit villages on the route and short detours to orchards not officially on the marked path. Following the signposts you will find several farms or distilleries advertising cider and calvados, a strong apple brandy.  Most distilleries are open Monday through Saturday, 10AM to late afternoon and offer tours of the orchards and/or production facilities. Many of these tours are led by members of the families that have been working the land and producing the cider for hundreds of years. You will discover how cider goes from tree branch to bottle and, of course, partake in a few tastings along the way.

Photo: Narisa Spaulding

Photo: Narisa Spaulding

 

This region has been granted appellation controlee status from the government for its ciders and calvados, meaning it has been certified as the specific region the product will be manufactured in and producers must hold to a set of defined standards. What is means for the consumer is consistently high quality and a wonderful drink to toast the beginning of fall.

 

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5 sanity saving tips for road trippin’ with a toddler

When we decided to take two road trips in the month of June, I must admit I questioned our sanity. We had been potty training our three year old for several months and she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it. I’ll admit I had nightmares of constant clothes changes and a urine smell permeating the air. Roadtrippin with the fam

We survived our expedition odor free and with the majority of the clothes we departed with. Here are 5 sanity saving tips for your own potty training road trips . . . if you are that travel crazy too!

  1. This is not the military. Some “men” will be left behind.

Over the years we have left onesies in San Diego and pants in Mexico. When potty training expect that not every piece of clothing you left with will make it back. Unless of course you plan on making several pit stops at laundry mats or enjoy carrying soiled clothes with you.

  1. Potty training is like poker.

Toddlers are deceptively intelligent – they seem like they don’t understand what you want them to do, but as soon as they figure something out they will play you to get what they want. They are tired of being in their seat and they instantly have to potty. The thing is, like any novice gambler they have their tell. You have to be patient and figure it out, but once you do let the real games begin.

  1. Double time and keep your trainer on board.

Badlands beginA trip is supposed to take 2 hours, double it. Until you learn their tell you will be stopping what seems like every 15 minutes. You just have to prepare yourself for this and realize that the request will come at the most inopportune time. This would be why we kept our training potty a constant fixture in our vehicle.

The middle of nowhere South Dakota . . . no problem, we can go potty.

  1. This too shall pass

As a traveler you have most likely experienced the bodily changes that occur with a change in routine. It is no different for a toddler, especially one that is already in the midst of a change in routine from diapers to underwear. Expect constipation or increased need to urinate (wow, it sounds like the disclaimers for a new medication) and just go with the flow knowing that it will normalize.

  1. Keep calm and road trip on.

mickey carWhen it is all said and done you won’t remember the seemingly endless bathroom stops. You will remember the first time they saw their buffalo and going to the zoo with great grandma. And the ones that you do remember – such as “I peed on Mickey” – will make for great graduation and wedding stories.

The sun is out, the windows are down, there are places to explore – it is road trip season!

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