Windy City Weekend!

Way back when I started working for my current company and found out they have a big office in Wisconsin, I had hoped to parlay a visit to that office with a side trip to see Anastasia. For being so close, and such a major city, it’s really expensive to fly to Chicago, and I haven’t been there much since she moved.

So, earlier this year when we began planning our work trip to Madison, I asked if I could fly home from Chicago and my company said yes! Woo hoo! I had been excited about this past weekend for months!

Last Friday afternoon, following a half day of work training and general team bonding, two of my coworkers and I drove our rental car to Chicago! The trip was a little bit of a never ending journey with traffic, rest stops, drink stops (my coworkers really like a good drink- I drove, so no drinks for me) and terrible construction around O’Hare. After almost 4 hours we finally made it to the Windy City.

From the airport, I hopped on the Blue Line, and Anastasia picked me up and drove me to her adorable apartment in Old Town. I wish I had taken more pictures, but the weather wasn’t really cooperating. The stop where I got off the “L” was Damen which was like a little Brooklyn. Seriously, while waiting for Anastasia, I was next to two hip, artisanal donut shops. Two! Anastasia and Justin’s apartment is adorable too. It’s a cute little brownstone with ivy growing all up the front steps and railings.

I was so excited to see my friend, and we spent the night eating pasta takeout, drinking wine and catching up. The best part of the night was when Anastasia asked me to be her matron of honor!! Of course I would!! She’s been my best friend since we met during our freshman year, and she made my wedding so special. I can’t wait to do the same for her.

Saturday morning, we were up on the early side and immediately headed to Starbucks for a little caffeine. From there, we ventured to the farmer’s market for some breakfast. I wish we could have hung out a bit, but it was raining pretty hard so we grabbed our food (savory crepes and croissants) and headed home to eat. We needed to fuel up for a big day of wedding dress shopping!!

After breakfast, we took the bus to Michigan Avenue where Anastasia had an appointment with J Crew bridal.the appointment was a little frustrating because many of the dresses Anastasia had requested to try on wee out of stock, which we didn’t find out until after she tried them. She tried on 4 or 5 really pretty dresses, and we both totally fell in love with one.

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I’m not gonna go and and show the dress!

She really liked some dresses she’d seen online from BHLDN, but wasn’t able to get an appointment at their store while I was in town. We had some extra time and decided to walk in and see if they would take us. We lucked out big time because even though they were busy, they were able to squeeze us in between appointments. She tried on two dresses, but it was hard to get a great feel for them since the floor samples were in really rough shape. all their dresses are so interesting and beautiful, but I think she was leaning more towards J Crew after we left.

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This whole day was so fun for me. I had never been to a bridal salon before my own wedding, and I gotta say, watching someone else try on dresses is definitely more fun!

After all that shopping, we were hungry again, so we headed back to Old Town, grabbed Justin and ventured to a local bar for some nachos and beer! They were so delicious. We shared a huge plate between the three of us and watched Rutgers get whomped by Ohio State. Ouch.

After our mini lunch we walked back to the apartment for some down time. Justin napped while Anastasia and I chatted and caught up some more. There’s nothing more relaxing than talking with old friends. We covered everything!

After some debate, we opted for Greek food for dinner and ventured over to The Athenian Room for steaks and drinks. It was really excellent.

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After dinner, we walked home again. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed city life. Walking everywhere, a million food options and tons of people everywhere. It was so fun to be in the heart of things again.

The next day we grabbed some bagels and coffee and just hung out before I had to head back to the airport. It was bittersweet coming home. I missed Chris and the pets a lot. I had been gone since Wednesday and was eager to get home, but I was sad to leave my friend. We had such a nice weekend exploring the city and wedding planning. I can’t wait to see both Anastasia and Justin soon!

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Honeymoon (Part 4)

Still with me? This is the end. I swear.

So if it seems like the first half of our honeymoon was a little tour heavy, that’s correct. I really wanted to see all of Rome, and I love a good tour, but I didn’t want to feel like we were obliged to do something every day of our vacation. So, I front-loaded our honeymoon with all the must-dos so we could get a feel for the city and learn where things were then take the rest of the trip to just wander.

The Colosseum was our last scheduled tour, so for the rest of the week, we just roamed (haha). It was perfect. We replaced my stolen sunglasses with some new aviators and stopped at every café that looked interesting for a drink or a coffee.

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We visited the Pantheon and learned how all it’s bronze statutes were melted down by the church to build the giant altar in St. Peter’s.

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We stumbled upon the Circus Maximus on our way to San Clemente.

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Oh San Clemente. I mentioned that this tour was our pick to replace the Vatican catacombs tour we skipped. I’m so glad we decided to visit. The Basilica of San Clemente is a 12th century church that was built on top of a 4th century basilica built on top of a 1st century Roman home! Our Colosseum tour guide put it best when he said, “Rome is like a lasagna.” So many layers.

There was no photography allowed in the church or the lower layers, but it was such a unique experience. For 5 euros a person, you can walk through all the layers and read about the history of the site and the excavations that uncovered all this history. Chris commented that that was his favorite stop of the trip. It was very cool.

We also ate. A lot. We loved the aperitivo so much the first time we did it again.

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I had the freshest melon I’ve ever had.

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And we tried these neon orange spritzers that seemed very popular. Neither of us loved ours.

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On our last day, we found a giant, beautiful park and rented bikes to tour around and take in the views.

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We ate our last Italian meal at the Sicilian place we loved so much. We found the pasta bolognese we had been searching for the whole trip. I had several more gelatos. We reminisced about the wedding. We had a long talk about our future. We spent so much time being totally with each other. With no cell phones and unable to even eavesdrop on fellow diners, we really just focused on each other and caught up on everything we’d missed in the last wedding-frenzied month. We called each other husband and wife a lot and gawked at our rings. We kissed and held hands and took a bunch of pictures. Basically, it was the dream honeymoon I’d hoped for.

We ended the trip sad to leave but ready to head home and resume our lives. We missed our pets and were excited to catch up with our friends and family.

We gave ourselves a buffer day before heading back to work and spent the day at my in-laws pool with our dog. It was hard going back, but all good things must come to an end, and this was a very good thing.

Honeymoon (Part 3)

Our last scheduled tour of the trip was the Colosseum. We met up with our group and once again breezed past the long lines. It was totally worth the expense not to have to wait in the sun. Our guide was a Roman native who was passionate about his city and its history which made for an excellent and informative tour.

The Colosseum was fantastic and better than I’d expected.

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From the Colosseum we visited the Forum and Palantine hill which were also very cool. Being in the Forum, you almost couldn’t hear the city, and it was easy to feel like you’d stepped back in time.

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It was such a fun day! Afterwards, we had a little lunch snafu and ended up with the worst pizza I’ve seen in my life. It was totally raw in the middle. Yuck. From them, we decided to stick with what we knew and returned to the first pizza place we visited and were not disappointed. After our second pizzas, we had more coffee. Having learned I’m not a fan of espresso, I switched to cappuccino and was not disappointed.

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That’s Nutella on top.

That night, we decided to try a Roman aperitivo which is basically wine, beer or cocktails and apps eaten early in the evening since dinners are eaten pretty plan. Upon another Yelp recommendation, we headed over to Trastavere which was kind of a hike from our hotel but ended up being such a neat place. It was definitely the cool part of the city with much fewer tourists and tons of young people. The restaurants and bars all looked great and fun, so we just picked one, and it was great. We had wine and a ton of apps while people watching on the cute street.

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The original plan was to eat dinner later but we were kind of full and kind of drunk, so we decided to just start back towards our hotel and see what we saw. This ended up being probably the most fun night of the trip. We stopped into a little bakery (still open after 9pm!) and bought a couple mini pizzas and two giant chocolate croissants. I got to practice my meager Italian as we were out of the main areas of the city where mostly everyone speaks English. It was kind of fun to be semi-understood! We bought a giant beer from a corner store and plopped down on some steps to enjoy our bounty!

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We walked on and found an outdoor movie screening! We couldn’t understand a word, but we sat and watched a while.

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Before we finally got to our hotel (after stopping for more gelato obviously) we found some ruins closed to the public and totally full of cats! It was kind of the best thing ever.

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So yeah, that was probably the best Italian day we had. Everything was just fun and perfect. It was a great miss of touristy excitement and unplanned fun. I just loved it. The rest of the trip was pretty great too…

Honeymoon (Part 2)

On our third day in Italy, we visited Vatican City. This is the part of the trip I had been most excited for, and I think I may have overhyped it in my mind because it ended up being a bit of a disappointing morning. First, we underestimated how far VC was from our hotel. We decided to walk since it was still early and not too hot, but it took us almost an hour, and we ended up on the complete opposite side of the city from where our tour started. That meant a straight up run to the tour starting point. We got there in time for the tour, but the heat had started to come in full force at that point. Between the heat, the running and being dressed for the Vatican (long skirt, long sleeves), I was super hot by the time the tour started, and I never really cooled off. I never realized how cranky being hot makes me. I hate the cold too, so I guess I’m just a pain about temperature.

Booking a tour was absolutely the right call as the lines were already 3 hours long by 10 am. With our group, we breezed right in and toured the extensive grounds and museum.

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It really was beautiful, but it was also incredibly crowded. We sorta felt like cattle being pushed through a chute. The problem is that visitors have to pass through the museum to get to the Sistine Chapel which is, understandably, the big draw. As a result, the museum tour feels like a mad dash. An un-air conditioned mad dash. Anyway, enough complaining!

We did make it to the Sistine Chapel, and it was beautiful and not at all what I expected. I got dizzy from staring at that famous ceiling so long. It was fantastic. From there, we moved on to St. Peter’s Basilica. I didn’t expect to be quite so moved by that experience, but it ended up being my favorite moment of the tour. It was wonderful. So beautiful and full of history. Besides, being in a room with the remains of several Popes is pretty crazy.

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After the tour ended, we headed outside to figure out what to do for lunch as we had a tour of the catacombs later that afternoon. I sat down on some steps to get something out of my purse, and the Swiss Guards came running over yelling in Italian. I couldn’t tell what they were yelling at me for, but eventually I figured out I was not supposed to be sitting on those steps. I got up quickly and started walking through the square. I felt something on my back where my cross-body purse was slung and quickly whipped it around. Only then did I notice that in my haste to follow the rules, I had forgotten to zip my bag, and in under a minute a pick-pocketer had snatched my sunglasses. It ended up being a blessing since my sunglasses were covering my much harder to replace wallet and phone.

Still, that kind of put me over the edge. I had expected this austere, reverent mood at the Vatican, and it had turned out to be mostly hot and loud and sort of like Disney World. Then, I got robbed right outside of the world’s biggest church. So, I did something I am not super proud of and just started crying. I just felt so naive at that point. Of course it was a tourist trap! It’s a major attraction for so many people. I just felt like a dummy. Chris was sweet and very angry about our little thief, so he suggested we get out of there for lunch. I happily obliged.

Lucky for us, Chris’ brother had visited Rome before our wedding and had given us a list of recommendations, so we headed over to one. It was blessedly air conditioned, so I ordered a pizza and a huge beer and felt immediately better.

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Hot cheese cures all ills.

We hung around a bit before it was time to head back to the Vatican. I wasn’t super eager to return, but we had booked the tour. We found the Swiss Guard station where we were to check in, and they told us we couldn’t come in because Chris wasn’t wearing pants. Long shorts were acceptable for the Sistine Chapel, so we just assumed they’d be fine for the catacombs as well. We were wrong. They told us we could go buy him pants at one of the local souvenir shops, but after popping into a few and finding only vestments for the ordained, we decided it wasn’t worth the stress. We decided to just go reset at the hotel for a bit. We were both a little disappointed, but the day had been sort of frustrating, and we didn’t want to muscle through just because. It is a vacation after all.

The walk back to the hotel felt extra long and grueling, but we made it, and I indulged in a long, cool bath (I was still SO HOT!) which made the whole day so much better. We looked up tours similar to the Catacombs an decided to visit San Clemente before leaving to get a similar experience.

The rest of the night was wonderful. We walked back to the city for dinner and found a Sicilian restaurant so good that we ended up going back before the trip was over. I had a tuna pasta dish that was stellar. Their tuna is so flavorful! We walked over to the Spanish steps and hung out by some high schoolers getting legally drink outdoors. It was a bit of a culture shock. We also watched some German high schoolers chant a million soccer cheers much to the chagrin of the Italians.

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Obviously, we ended the night with more gelato. We had to fuel up for another big tour the next day.

The Honeymoon! (Part 1)

Finally something I have some pictures of! Originally, we weren’t going to take a honeymoon right away, but the more involved in planning we got, the more we felt the need to get away from everything. My big internal debate was whether I wanted a super adventurous or a super relaxing getaway. Then, we started tossing around the idea of Italy, and I couldn’t say no. This was the trip of a lifetime, and I still can’t believe it was real.

Leaving for a honeymoon right after the wedding was a good call. We departed Monday evening, which left just enough time to get over our hangovers and get our house and creatures set up but not so much time that we got restless. I felt those notorious post wedding blues starting to creep up on Sunday despite a year of swearing I’d never miss wedding planning. I totally get it now. It’s near impossible to come down after the best party of your life! The honeymoon was the perfect way to cap off the wedding and usher us into the next phase.

Our flight was scheduled for 6, but due to severe storms all over the east coast, we sat on the runway for four hours before finally taking off at 10. That was before we embarked on an 8 hour flight, so yeah, that was a long day. It actually worked out well because we arrived at the hotel in Rome to find our room ready and waiting.

I thought I’d be feeling the jet lag hard, but I think being in the number one country on my travel bucket list helped my excitement override my exhaustion and after a quick shower, I was ready to explore!

Our first stop was obviously food, and the only thing on my mind was pizza! Turns out there was a great pizza place right by our hotel. We actually ended up going back during our stay it was so good. We capped the meal with espresso which was a little less appealing to me. Still, if you like espresso, this is the good stuff. There aren’t even any Starbucks in Rome. The Italian coffee is just too good.

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We walked into the city center and explored a little on our own before meeting up with our first tour of the trip, a twilight walking tour of the city. To our surprise, we were the only ones registered, so we had the wonderful tour guide all to ourselves! She was so incredibly knowledgable about Roman history, and we walked and learned all the fun details for three hours!

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By the end of the tour I was starving and exhausted. It was nearly 3am in NJ! We grabbed a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant. The homemade pasta and house wine were the perfect end to our first Italian day.

The next day we set out to explore the city on our own and visited the Castel Sant Angelo which has amazing views of the city and the Vatican. Chris was pretty adamant about visiting this spot, and I wasn’t sure why until we got to the top. He stood in this one spot and asked me if it looked familiar. It kind of did, but I couldn’t place it. It turns out that’s where he took his Match.com picture when he visited Rome in 2009! It was so cute of him to find that same spot, so we had to recreate the shot.

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The views really were incredible, and the audio tour was pretty informative too. We learned about the castle original start as a mausoleum and the several popes who lived in there while Rome was under siege.

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Following our adventures, we had a fun “tour” planned for the evening. I wanted to do something a little different in addition to all the big attraction walking tours, so I booked us a wine tasting! We met our guide who led us to the wine cellar of a local restaurant sommelier. It was a small space, and we were only joined by two other couples, so it was a nice, intimate event. The som was super friendly and funny, and he knew so much about food and wine. He paired each wine with food and talked about why the pairings were significant and what regions the food and wine came from. I was totally fascinated!

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We started the meal with samples of local burrata and mozzarella. They were, hands down, the best cheese I’ve ever had in my life. We learned that the mozzarella has to be served within 3 minutes of being cut or it starts to lose it’s flavor. This was not your local pizza place’s cheese. Unless your pizza place is amazing.

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We had pesto as a palate cleanser and a ton of different cured hams. The salami we tried comes from an 84 year old man who the som says is the only one he trusts to treat the pigs humanely and cure the pork correctly. I typically don’t eat pork, but this was a once in a lifetime experience, and I really got the vibe that these pigs had a pretty good life. When in Rome… Harhar. We said that a lot.

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We also had parmesan from Parma and the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted in my life. The wine wasn’t bad either 🙂 it was obviously also wonderful like everything we tried. I had never heard of any of the grape varieties we tried, and the som told us that Italy produces over 1000 types of grapes. I had no idea! He also talked about how it takes generations for a wine region to mature as the grapes change the soil and the soil changes the grapes and how today’s consumer culture is negatively effecting that symbiosis by causing producers to plant whatever grape happens to be most popular at the moment. I’m definitely guilty of this as he cited my favorite wine (Malbec) as a major culprit. Oops!

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The tasting definitely made me feel more informed (and totally full and a little drunk) and inspired me to branch out and try some more established grapes and regions. I’m still finishing off some $3 chuck first.

We were pretty exhausted from a long day of walking, so we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and ended up too tired to walk back to the city for dinner. The hills were no joke.

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We found a yelp recommended restaurant about a block from our hotel and decided to try it out. It ended up being the fanciest meal of the trip and one of our favorites. We each had homemade pasta. Mine was a pesto with shrimp and Chris’ was pancetta and asparagus with fresh tomatoes.

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And since we were wine experts at that point, we actually picked a variety from our tasting off the wine list!

We topped the night off with gelato before collapsing into bed.

More updates than time

Obviously it’s been fun times in my little corner of the world lately, but I just haven’t had the time to record any of it yet. I hate to be one of those OMGSOBUSY people, but I’ve spent more of the past 72 hrs at work than at home. Yuck.

Otherwise, things are great! Layla is a wonderful fit for our family. She’s mostly a total couch potato, which makes me feel less guilty about not being able to take her on long walks on these cold spring days.

She’s actually not a big fan of being outside at all. She usually does her business and runs quickly back in the house. We are working to get her a little more comfortable outside (because I suspect her reluctance is actually fear from a bad experience), but she’s definitely on the mellow end of the spectrum and is happy just to chill out with us.

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Excuse the crazy eyes.

The cats are mostly adjusted. Miles actually likes her when he’s interested at all. Moshi isn’t so sure, but they do like the things that come with her presence. Like the new bed …

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Spring is here. I guess. It doesn’t feel much better than winter, but the sun is out a little bit later which makes the nights after work seem a little longer. I’ll take it.

We finalized our invitations which for some reason was the most stressful wedding task I’ve had so far. The company we went with was absolutely fabulous, but I was a nervous wreck. I was just so afraid of accidentally putting the wrong date or time or something (as if all those details haven’t been permanently etched in my brain). I’m glad we finally gave the go ahead to print, and I can’t wait to send them out! 113 days to go!

We also picked our wedding bands last week. We both tried on probably 12 rings. We were there for a couple hours. We finally picked a perfect pair. It was great. Then I woke up yesterday morning and immediately knew I made a mistake. I was between two rings, and I picked the wrong one.

Luckily, I haven’t really exhibited too much bridal crazy yet, so Chris and his mom (who works at the jewelry store… I know!) we’re happy to cancel the first order and place the new one. I felt so silly, but this was really the first time a decision hasn’t felt right, so I figured I should go with my gut. Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of a descent into wedding madness.

I would just like to note that it was so cool to see Chris in a wedding band. It’s beginning to feel so real!

I went to the witch doctor finally and got some good news on my stomach. Well, good news in that they figured out what they think is wrong (yeast overgrowth) and can get to work fixing it. I want to write some more about it because it’s so fascinating (maybe only to me), but in short in involves 6 pills (three different herbal supplements) a day and a low yeast diet. So far, I feel pretty much the same, but I’m optimistic for the first time in a very long time.

Conversely, I still have no answers on my hamstring. My primary care physician wants me to do 6-8 weeks of PT, and I’m sure he’s right because PT helped my IT band soooo much, but I just don’t have the time right now. I’m going to try and go at least once a week and hopefully supplement with stretching at home. I’m really starting to miss running pain free. I may have also impulsively signed up for a 10k in May, so I’d really like to run that.

We visited my grandparents in Florida. It was an incredibly quick trip. We flew in on Friday evening after work and home on Sunday night. I’ve been hoarding my vacation time for the wedding, and it was a little rough getting back into things on Monday morning, but I survived. The trip was the perfect relaxing break. The weather was warm and wonderful, and Chris and I even ran 3 pain-free miles on Saturday. Totally worth it.

I booked the trip before we adopted Layla, and I felt horrible leaving her, but she and the pet sitter got along great, and I think it helped her warm up a bit more to new people.

We narrowly avoided another snowstorm today, and I really hope even the threat of snow is behind us, but I know April in NJ better than that. Fingers crossed!

And boy are his arms tired

Chris flies home tonight! He’s been in London all week for work. Tough life, I know. In all seriousness, he’s been working like a dog, so he’s looking forward to a return to normalcy, and we’re just looking forward to his return! He comes home today! Hooray! Of course that means this will be the longest work Friday in recorded history, but at least I’ve got something wonderful to look forward to!

We’ve been getting through, but it’s just not the same without Chris around!

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They look happy, but those are their distraught faces. Trust me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been living like a frat boy. I looked in the fridge Wednesday and literally all I had in there was beer and condiments. I was appalled, so I bought some wine, and things felt much more balanced.

I’m just so used to our little routine, I forgot how to be a functioning adult by myself. I’m sorry for setting women’s lib back a generation with that statement. It’s actually been a busy week on the work front, so that has kept my mind off it, but also messed with my schedule. Last night, I had a work happy hour to welcome a colleague in town for the week from… LONDON! The irony. I had some wine. Then I went home and Judy picked me up for some fro yo. Then I heated up leftovers. Typically those are supposed to be in a different order, no?

I had a sushi date with Debbie! Then I had more sushi by myself. I’m unstoppable. I’ve been fighting a cold so mostly I’ve just been blowing my nose and sleeping. Too bad Chris missed out on that hotness.

Chris and I had the most ridiculous difficulty figuring out the time difference. He’s been calling me at 3:30 my time shocked I’m still at work, and I woke him up at midnight his time because I forgot it wasn’t early evening there. I’m happy we’ll be on the same clock soon.

We’ve got a low key weekend thankfully. We do have our engagement pictures on Sunday. I had plans to wear a cute lace dress, but considering I saw frost on the ground this morning, I should probably revise unless I want to be my own “something blue.”

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That’s my Friday! Here’s hoping it goes more quickly than I think!