Category Archives: Travel

San Francisco Revisited – Day Two

Day Two in the Bay area was all about the gorgeous scenery.  First thing in the morning, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and discovered this breathtaking view of the city:

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Which, of course, could only be further enhanced by adding our own faces into the mix:

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And why waste a perfect opportunity for more perspective shots?  I thought I was pointing at the top of the bridge, but the photographer decided to go for a different target.  

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These next two are open for interpretation.  Holding up the bridge?

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High-fiving the bridge?

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Our destination for the day was Point Reyes National Seashore, a little over an hour drive north of San Francisco.  We decided to take the scenic route along the way, making several stops for more fantastic views, including this one.

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Getting to the viewpoint required a little concentration as there were a number of stairs leading down to it.  So I brought out the Thinker pose to help me out.

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To quote Patrick:  “It makes no sense…”

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Sue got in some Thinker pose action as well.

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At the bottom, Patrick was there to offer his mother a warm greeting with a firm handshake.

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Before reaching Point Reyes, we reached “point famished” and decided to stop at Breakers Cafe in this little town called Stinson Beach tucked into the mountains along the way.

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The food exceeded our expectations.  I had this chicken tortilla soup that was amazing.

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When we finally reached Point Reyes, we stopped at the information building where Sue and I did some modeling with this seal.

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Meanwhile, Patrick and Bill got down to business asking questions about the park.  Little did they know, a whale was flying over their heads.

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Driving through the park, we saw a ton of animals – mostly farm animals, but we also spotted this family of deer just hanging out at the top of the hill.

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We also did our own hanging out at the top of the hill.

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The main attraction of Point Reyes is this historic lighthouse that was first lit in 1870 and retired in 1975.

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For some reason, I’ve had this inexplicable fascination with lighthouses lately, so I was quite blown away by this place – both literally and figuratively.  We had to walk over three hundred steps to get down there and battled some extremely fierce winds that nearly knocked us over.

According to their websitePoint Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent.

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You can’t really tell how windy it was by looking at the photos, but you can kind of get a sense by looking at how lopsided this tree has grown:

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But despite all that, we all made it down in one piece.

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The inside of the lighthouse was bright and colorful and we learned more about the history of this place, particularly the lives of the lighthouse keepers, which was not so bright and colorful, as this sign indicates.

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DSC_0140Sue’s paparazzi shot:

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Before long, it was time to head back up the 308 stairs.

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Once we made it back to the top, the sun was just beginning to set.

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We quickly made our way to the beach to catch the sunset in all its golden glory.

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And then we got creative with more perspective shots.  For instance, Bill has the whole sun in his hand…

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Sue appears to be giving the sun a squeeze.. or maybe she’s just getting ready to throw a fireball.

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Here’s me trying to stomp the light out.

DSC_0186We did manage to get some normal poses in as well 🙂

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And before too long, the sun was replaced by this glowing full moon.

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For dinner, we made a stop at Fish. in Sausalito, a fantastic restaurant known for their sustainable seafood.

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There were plenty of good-looking choices on the menu to choose from.  We of course tried their clam chowder.

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I ordered the seafood stew, which was a daily special.

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Patrick, Bill & Sue ordered the crab roll (aka the best crab roll everrr..)  This thing was pure, delicious crab meat.

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Back in San Francisco, we stopped at Ghirardelli square for a little nightcap.

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DSC_0262Inside the shop, this machine made me feel like we were at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

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We have Ghirardelli’s in Chicago (and of course their chocolate can be found in nearly every supermarket), but here in San Francisco is where the company originated – back in the 1850’s when Ghirardelli moved from South America after news of the gold strike – so it was fun to experience the real deal.

According to Wikipedia:  Ghirardelli is one of the few chocolate companies in the United States to control every aspect of its chocolate manufacturing process, rejecting up to 40% of the cocoa seeds shipped in order to select what the company calls the “highest quality” seeds. The company then roasts the cocoa seeds in-house by removing the outer shell on the seed and roasting the inside of the seed, or the nibs. The chocolate is then ground and refined until the flakes are 19 micrometers in size.

I ordered the salted caramel hot chocolate, which I can attest was definitely the real deal.

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The next day I had to catch a flight back home, but the fun lived on in my absence, as evidenced by these photos that were later texted to me.

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And thus concludes another memorable trip to the Bay area 🙂

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San Francisco Revisited – Day One

After venturing to Northern California twice last summer, I made my fall appearance last weekend – this time with the in-laws, Bill and Sue.  And Patrick, too, of course.

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As a huge fan of all things bread, particularly in the sourdough realm, I could not turn down another opportunity to go to Boudin Bakery for breakfast.

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I did, however, miss my second opportunity to buy that turtle bread.  And this time there was a Teddy Bear with a bowtie to go along with it.  Ah, next time…

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After breakfast, we took a quick stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf.  We passed a kite store with this particular kite disseminating deep philosophical truths.

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Next, we headed to Pier 39 to see some sea lions, which Patrick and I somehow missed on our last trip here.

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The place was crawling with sea lions.  They were piled on top of each other like sandbags, basking in the sun.

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These two below were engaged in a heated fight, trying to knock the other off the platform.  Not sure why one had a number on its back, but it kind of made him more intimidating.  Like he’s been around the corner and back.

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I had fun testing out the limits of our new zoom lens, getting up close and personal with these guys unbeknownst to them.

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On our way back, Patrick zoned in on these mini donuts.

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So, naturally:

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Next we popped into the Musee Mechanique, which was one of our favorite stops last time.

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Along with funding all of the execution machines (this time including the Tower of London version), we also “played” this Opium Den machine, which is not racist or offensive in the slightest.  Also, Patrick informed me that the Chinese symbols aren’t real.. just a bunch of scratches made to look like Chinese characters, haha.

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When you put the coin in, the box opens, the dragon pops out, and the skeleton swings from the door.

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In addition, we played several old-school music boxes, which sounded more or less like music.

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And Patrick and Sue engaged in a fierce bicycle spinning battle.  I don’t recall who won, so I’m just going to say it was Sue 🙂

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After spending all of the quarters we had between us (and then some), we took a driving tour of the city and ended up in Golden Gate Park.

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Sue had the genius idea of doing some perspective shots.  I made Patrick pose for this one which, admittedly, is not very impressive.  But the fun continues later on…

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We stopped for a quick lunch at Beach Chalet, which had delicious clam chowder and a lovely view of the beach.

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Then it was time for our nighttime tour of Alcatraz.  I made this photo black and white to make it look older and historic and to put you in the mood.

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While in line, we tested out some more perspective shots.

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Once on the island, I invented my “Thinker pose” – because, despite the fact that it makes no sense, just standing there for a photo can be kind of boring sometimes.

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We took the same audio tour, but this time we were greeted with beautiful nighttime views of San Francisco, starting with dusk.

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Let’s be honest, we all look kind of awkward in this photo… (it was extremely windy).

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Here is a view of the beautiful sunset over the Golden Gate bridge obscured behind the gated walls of the prison (kind of symbolic if you think about it…)

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And, almost instantaneously, dusk gave way to darkness.

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Inside, it was a bit more eerie now that it was nighttime.

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At the solitary confinement rooms, I pulled out my Thinker pose again.

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But then decided it required a more solemn representation.

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Patrick also got in on some Thinker pose action.

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All in all, a good time.

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After riding the ferry back to the mainland, we headed to Little Italy for dinner.  While waiting for a table, we stopped at a cute Italian cafe for a drink.  Patrick and Bill both ordered this beer called La Rossa.

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After a very patient (and starving) 2 hour wait, we finally made our return to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana aka the Best Pizza in the entire world (literally, considering the chef is an 11x world champion!)

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I say it was worth the wait.  Their menu features different styles of pizza from all over the US and Italy.  Last time Patrick and I tried Jersey’s Original Tomato Pie, which was outstanding.  This time we ordered the New Yorker, which was cooked in a 1000 degree coal oven and was a gold medal winner in Las Vegas this year.  Also outstanding in its own right.

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Can’t wait to return to this place and try their other unique, award winning pizzas!

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Stay tuned for Day Two…

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Fall in a Nutshell

It’s time to play a little game called “Long Overdue MEGA POST.”  Who’s ready?

Here are the top ten highlights of the fall thus far (in somewhat order of occurrence):

10. Katie and Bryan’s Wedding

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Towards the end of September, Patrick and I flew to Yorktown, PA to see Katie, aka my college roomie x3 (Lewis Hall, London Flat 25, & Breen-Phillips Hall), get married.  The wedding was stunning and so was the bride.

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Katie and MonicaPhoto courtesy of Kristy

The best part of the weekend?  Getting to see so many of my Notre Dame friends – the likes of which I had not seen all under one roof since my wedding in ’09.

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The second best part?  The candy buffet.

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9.  Notre Dame Football

One big advantage of living in Chicago is that South Bend is only a mere 2 hour drive away, allowing easy access to Notre Dame football games 🙂  This year I was able to cheer on the Irish in person on two separate occasions, first at the ND vs Oklahoma game with Patrick, Bill, and Sue.

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We hit up all the essential spots on campus, like the Basilica where Patrick and I got married.

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Inside the stadium, Patrick and I had a perfect view of Touchdown Jesus (whose spirit was decidedly absent towards the end of the game).

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And just last weekend I made a second return to campus for the ND vs Navy game, this time accompanied by Susan, Katie and Joung visiting from KC and DC, respectively (photos courtesy of Susan’s blog):

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We had spectacular seats, and unlike the ND vs Oklahoma game, this one resulted in a victory (though a little too close for comfort).

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For more details on the game, I recommend checking out Susan’s latest blog post.

8.  Meeting Molly Moo

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During the first weekend of October, we made a quick weekend trip to Kansas City to meet our adorable new niece, Molly, for the first time and attend her Baptism.

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This may spark memories of when a certain big sister/goddaughter, Claire Bear, was baptized just a couple years ago.

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Much like her big sister, Molly handled it like a pro, pretty much sleeping throughout the whole ordeal.  She must get her sleeping skills from her Aunt Monica 🙂

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You can read more about Molly’s special day on Susan’s post and Aunt Jenn’s post.

7.  Apple Picking

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I went apple picking for the first time this fall and apparently enjoyed it as I decided to go two weekends in a row 🙂

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First I headed to All Seasons Orchard in Woodstock, IL with Kelli, where highlights included apple cider doughnuts, the petting zoo, the corn maze, and plenty of apple and pear picking.

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For my second apple picking expedition, I went with Patrick and some of our KWESTie Besties – Ann, Aaron, Scotty and Lindsay- to County Line Orchard in Hobart, IN where they have a huge Blackhawks shaped corn maze that we dominated (err, they dominated it and I pretty much just followed along as they lead the way).

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This place was gigantic and we may have made several trips for hot apple cider and pumpkin donuts.

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With such an overwhelming number of apples taking up counter space in my kitchen, I was able to clear some space by making an apple crostata and this apple butter recipe, both of which are super simple yet delicious.  And somehow I still have apples left sitting around my house…

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6. Goodbye Garden

It’s the circle of life.  After spending an amazing summer witnessing the miracle of life…

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… it was time to accept the inevitable:

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It took two visits, but we finally cleared everything out of our garden and left it looking much like how we found it – empty and bare.

Our community garden this summer was definitely a rewarding (though time-consuming) experience.  I think next time I will wait until I have my own yard to tackle another garden.  I did attempt to grow herbs in my apartment from some of our cuttings…

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…but sadly with the cold air and total lack of sun, I think these babies are doomed.  Back to buying herbs at the grocery store.  It was fun while it lasted!

5. Monday Late Date Night

This fall Patrick managed to return home for four weekends in order to attend a Monday night class in the city.  We decided to take advantage of this situation and knock some restaurants in the city off our bucket list, establishing a new Monday Late Date Night tradition.

Around 9pm I drove into the city to pick him up from class and from there we headed to a late dinner.  Though sleepy on my part and often jet-lagged on his, it was a convenient time to go since a lot of popular restaurants that would normally require a reservation during the weekends had no wait at all.

The restaurants we hit up were:

GT Fish & Oyster
Little Goat Diner
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Longman & Eagle (double date with our friends Shindo & Haruka)

All of these places were amazing, but I’m still dreaming about the kimchi po’ boy sliders from GT Fish & Oyster…

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Next year when Patrick returns for good, we plan to reinstate some version of this tradition (maybe a little earlier in the night, however).

4. Josh Groban

A few weeks ago, I dragged accompanied Patrick to our second Josh Groban concert.  It’s been a little over a year since we last saw him at Disney Concert Hall for my 28th birthday.

Though I liked the set list at the last concert a little more, he sounded just as amazing this time around and our seats were a lot better than I expected:

Can’t wait for his next concert 🙂  Still waiting to hear him sing Per Te live (pretty sure this is never going to happen..)

3. Art Institute of Chicago

You know how I love hometown tourism.. Yesterday, thanks to Kelli, I finally visited the Art Institute of Chicago.  Our visit was short, but sweet since we also had some shopping on our agenda.

My favorite exhibit by far was the Thorne Miniature collection, which are elaborate miniatures modeled after European (and American) interior designs from the 13th century to the 1930s.  Hard to believe these aren’t full scale.

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In addition, I loved seeing some pop culture favorites, like the American Gothic painting:

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The subjects are so convincing in this portrait that I am always amused by the fact that the models were the painter’s sister and his dentist.

We also spent some time in the Modern Art Wing, the newest section of the museum.  Modern Art is fascinating to me because it really challenges what we define as “art.”  One display was just an empty room with scrap metal and wool pads strewn across the floor.

What I love about Modern Art is discovering the complex, often unsettling stories that emerge behind what we view as such simple, everyday things.  On the surface, this is literally just a pile of candy in a corner, which visitors were invited to take a piece from:

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Totally bizarre and random until you realize the artist’s interpretation:

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Makes one think…

2. NaNoWriMo

Last month I surprised myself and signed up for NaNoWriMo – a national writing project that occurs every November in which various people take on the challenge of writing a novel (50,000 words) in one month.  Lately it seems to be somewhat of a flailing, vain attempt on my part, but so far I’ve managed to keep my head just barely above the water with my word count goals and I still have every intention of seeing it through to the other side of November.  We’ll see what happens 🙂

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1. Insanity

Not sure if this even warrants mentioning, BUT… next January I am planning to join the Insanity and try out Shaun T.’s Insanity Workout Program.  I know there is a big debate over this program vs. P90X, but I’ve chosen this one simply so I don’t have to invest in all the equipment required of P90X.

That said, I’ve been trying to up my workout regiment so I don’t force myself to go from working out a mere 6 times a month to 6 times a week (that could be an interesting transition).

So far it’s been hit or miss depending on how busy I am, but I’ve reverted to my inner 3rd grade self and started rewarding myself with stickers every time I complete a workout 30 minutes or longer.  I’ve been alternating between Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred and Boost Metabolism, with a few random XFinity workouts thrown in (more challenging than one would think).

If you are like me and still harbor a childlike affection for applying stickers to things, then I recommend using this method to keep track of your workouts.  Ultimately, when all is said and done, it’s also nice getting a birds-eye view of my progress:

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This month is certainly challenging with NaNoWriMo taking up most of my time, but come January I’m hoping for the page to be filled with smileys.  Also, perhaps next year I should choose a different calendar for recording my progress.  Mmm, pork tots…

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