National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

Summer kind of got away from us this year. The kids were involved in baseball/softball until mid July and then I was trying to squeeze in a “laid back summer” for the rest of the weeks. I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, but a forced laid back summer didn’t feel so laid back and so it was that Zach recommended we take a family camping trip before school started.

During the school year I can sometimes fool myself into believing we have our stuff together because the kids are gone at school for most of the day and then activities at night. But summer? Oh summer comes at ya with all the problems and issues that have been pushed down or run over from the crazy of the school year.

I think particularly with our babes who have suffered trauma-the unscheduled-ness of summer can sometimes be really scary for them. Scary for them often means intense parenting for the mamas and the papas.

All this to say, our camping trip came just at the right time. Our plan was to head to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but a few days before we were to leave we noticed it was supposed to be 60 degrees with 90% chance of rain so I we made the executive decision to try the National Bridge State Park in Kentucky instead.

It had been a few years since we last went camping and, since then, have adopted a plant based lifestyle so I was a little nervous about what exactly we would eat for our 4 day vacation in nature. More on that later…

 

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The kids are now of ages where they can put up the tent by themselves while I organize/read my book. It is bliss.

We arrived much later than I was hoping so part of dinner was prepared by flashlight. Fajitas (sautéed on my new pan. I physically danced when this little lady and her dutch oven sister were delivered to my door.)

Vegan Fajitas

Onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, squash. Buy the refrigerated tortillas at Costco, they are so good and have only 5 ingredients! We added guac and salsa for obvious reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day called for oats with almond milk and honey. Cooked to perfection and overwhelming praise by all. So easy, so delicious.

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Our first hike was up to the National Bridge. I had forgotten my nice camera but remembered my selfie stick so not all hope was lost.

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Even though we live at a camp in the middle of beautiful wilderness, it’s so easy to take for granted just how beautiful nature is. When you’re on a hike with no distractions other than your 5 children playing an adorable game of follow the leader and your husband’s calves flexing in the sexiest way possible-it’s easy to be reminded just how big and beautiful this world is.

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Dailah was often behind the other kids just chatting with Z and me. At one point she turned to me and remarked, “I think I’ve been talking the whole time we’ve been walking mom!” And then carried on before I could give her confirmation to the fact. She may look like her daddy but I suppose there’s a piece of me in there somewhere. 😉

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The lead up to the natural bridge was a teeny tiny staircase. Hiking with Binyam is no different than hiking with other children until we get to cliffs and tiny spaces. He stumbles often in his walking, so every stumble is a little bigger of a risk and my anxiety tends to get a little out of hand. I don’t think he knows I feel this way as I usually overcompensate the fear with effusive love, praise and picture taking.

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The top of the bridge is just gorgeous, both the views and the actual physical bridge.

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I posted this picture on Facebook and the commentors had a great time trying to find Binyam. He’s there, but he blends in perfectly with the foliage.

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Zach taught the kids how to safely get to the side of a cliff to look down and I sat down in the center and shit my pants prayed.

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Tariku was pouting about something or other, I was a safe distance away from the side and Dailah had found a rock to climb. But I loved this shot of Z and 3 of his boys.

I love all things yoga and meditation and when I’m in nature, it always inspires me to move my body in a way that reflects that. Natarajasana (Dancer pose) is one of my favorites because of all of the angles it creates, plus it just feels awesome.

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It could be said that sarcasm is our family’s love language and so when that’s the case, it comes as no surprise to find one son meditating on a rock during the hike and another imitating my love of yoga. I love all the things- their budding senses of humor in particular.

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From the natural bridge we could see another cliff (over Zach’s shoulder in the shot of the two of us) that the kids wanted to check out as well so off we went.

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We didn’t get a whole lot of sleep the night before so we headed back for some lunch/naps.

Lunch was veggie burgers and some grillin’ beans. Zach bought himself 6 cans of these things and I think we ate every one. It is legit the only time we eat baked beans but there is certainly something about the taste the open fire gives them. (Make sure you get the vegetarian/vegan kind. Most have some sort of pork in them so check the label!)

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Zach and Dailah chatting in the hammock during chill time.

Have I mentioned how much more relaxing camping is when your kids can also start fires? This is particularly enjoyable when I have a book that I can’t put down. (Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a must read, truly.)

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The next morning I did a tofu scramble for breakfast with a little tofu, garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric, nutritional yeast, spinach and tomatoes. Mmmmm might need to make that tonight…

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That morning we hiked a trail close to our campsite. It was a decently strenuous hike that was much longer and higher than the previous day’s but one that I preferred. Took us over an hour to be able to see the sun through the trees so everything was lush and gorgeous.

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I’m not actually leaning against the tree behind me, this was kind of a tricky pose on the fallen tree. I jumped down and Dailah asked, “Isn’t it so fun to be a kid again?” It is. It really, really is.

We had to descend pretty quickly as we had a kayak/canoe trip down the Red River around lunch. When we got to the campsite I couldn’t help but smile, what a lovely thing it is to be with the ones I love-all of our needs met so simply.

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We were warned by an older couple who took a liking to our kids that the water level was low in the gorge so we might be in for some pulling of our various boats but we Zach decided to soldier on. Dailah wanted in with me and I enthusiastically agreed, forgetting momentarily that when Dailah decides she’s over something there is not a human alive who can talk her into engaging. The first few minutes were pure bliss though.

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We arrived at the water hole with a cliff just perfect for jumping. I’ve had many opportunities to go cliff jumping in my day and I’ve declined each and every invitation for I imagine the same reasons Dailah stopped rowing 5 minutes into our excursion-it just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve never loved heights, nor has anyone accused me of being a risk taker in the traditional sense. I typically like my 2 feet planted firmly on land, thankyouverymuch. But I try really hard to be an ever evolving person, letting go of the things that no longer serve me, and fear of cliff jumping seemed like one of those things I could let go of.

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On the way back, it was decided I would be canoeing home with Binyam (the three bigs all had their own kayak)-which makes the most sense since together we have virtually 0 experience canoeing. Ahem.

You know where this is going…we hit some rapids and when I told Binyam to duck to avoid a tree branch he took that to mean grab on to that branch like your little one precious life depends on it. Next thing I knew, I was ducking to avoid my child and grabbing him down from the tree at the same time while our canoe tipped over. Binyam freaks in the face of most things and so when I stood up the first thing I saw was his big, beautiful eyes peaking out from the water with a look of sheer panic. It took what felt like 42 minutes to convince him to stand up as the water was shallow enough for him to touch. Bless.

It ended up being a really fun 4 hours. We were basically the only people on the water so we could take our time admiring the beauty of the gorge.

Probably one of my favorite parts of camping is sleeping all in one tent. When Zach initially wanted to get into family camping my one condition was that we all sleep together. Oh and air mattress, I wanted to be sleeping on one of those.

Going to sleep and waking up next to the kids is so fun, in particular because our bedroom at home is a child free space. The only time you’ll see a child in our room is if they are 1) sick or 2) sick. And even then, there better be puke somewhere or you can just figure it out on your own. Kidding, kind of. Maybe it’s because I created that sanctuary when my kids were so little that I can now appreciate the moments when we’re all together. Sure I don’t sleep as well because Tomas yells in his sleep and a few others are loud breathers/snorers but I can’t beat waking up to this sight.

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On the way home our van officially hit 80,000 miles. It is 3 years old. You do the math here, there is a lot of love and miles lived in our minivan. I love adventures and if there is one thing I hope my kids take from me it’s that-travel, travel, travel. And pay off your cars as soon as you can so that you never believe there’s risk in getting that mile ticker to go higher.

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Spring Break 2015

One of the reasons we decided to move to Michigan is because Zach’s current job opened up so many more possibilities in terms of travel and adventure. I’ve been making a running list of places people tell me I “must go” in Michigan since we moved here a year ago but we had yet to take advantage of living in a brand new state we know nothing about.

The kids started spring break on April 2nd and on March 25th we started talking about how maybe we should go somewhere. 🙂 We originally wanted to camp but most of Michigan was still either under a layer of snow or might as well have been with the 20 degree temps. We looked at Louisville for awhile because I have family there I’ve been wanting to visit and it looked to be at least a little warmer.

On March 31st we still didn’t know what we were going to do for sure. Zach and I are similar in a lot of ways but there are enough differences to really keep things interesting-namely, he is totally cool spontaneously throwing one outfit in a bag and taking off for parts unknown and I like more than a day’s notice for reasons like packing for 5 kids and myself. But mostly because I need to know where, what and when I’ll be able to eat at all times.

In the end we decided on renting a cabin near Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes for the first part of spring break. Zach still threw one outfit in a bag and I packed 4 bags of groceries and that is how you manage 13 years of marriage. You’re welcome. 🙂

The cabin was big enough for all of us but not big enough for any of us to retreat into a corner and hide. We brought board games and played them every night. It was magical in a really laid back, fun way. And it was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

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The first day we headed out to Sleeping Bear Dunes for a hike. It was a beautiful day, a little chilly on the parts of the trail that was thick with trees but actually quite warm when we got to the exposed part.

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After a few miles we got to some pretty gorgeous views of Lake Michigan.

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“Launching” is a Klipsch tradition that was started by Zach and his siblings and continues with my kids. There’s a whole lot of talk on who has the best launch, points scored, how to get higher/faster/longer. I’m not sure about the details of it all, I just know that it’s really fun to watch. (Binyam’s club feet don’t allow him to jump so launching isn’t really an option. Never to be left behind, he did enjoy falling and rolling down the dunes anyway. 😉 )

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Dailah and I did some yoga

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Zach and the boys did more running and climbing of the dunes.

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Zach and I were preparing to continue the hike when we turned to yell for the kids to follow. This is what can happen in a few minutes when there’s 5 of them. Love it.

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Still a little crazy that my kids are old enough to go on some paths by themselves and catch up with us somewhere down the line. It’s so fun watching them find their independence.

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On our way back, with about a mile left, Binyam’s feet had hit their limit. Ever the amazing brother, Tariku offered to give him a piggy back ride for the rest of the way.

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The next day the wind had picked up but we wanted to see more of the dunes so we just threw on another layer and away we went. While Zach and I had another cup of coffee got ready the kids took off around our cabin to find quality walking sticks.

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Most of the trail was wide open and the newly picked up wind created a legit wind tunnel that brought the temps down to freeze-your-facial-expression proportions. I was so, so thankful none of the kids complained. It felt like an Easter miracle but maybe it’s just the kids getting older.

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While the bigs climbed (and then launched from) a big dune, Dailah found the rest of us a little bunker to hide from the wind. It was then that Binyam, with his frozen facial expression, whispered about all of the things that hurt on his body. He wasn’t complaining, just stating facts.

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It was still really, really beautiful despite the wind.

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It was a little too chilly to head out again in the afternoon so we went to Traverse City to walk around their really great town. First stop was a coffee shop where Zach and I sat at the coffee bar while the kids enjoyed cinnamon rolls and looked at a map to decide where they wanted to go. Z and I talked for a good 5 minutes about how lucky we were that they get along so well (most of the time) and that we get these moments every day to reconnect just the 2 of us. It’s a lovely thing.

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It ended up being a mixed blessing it was too cold to hike-Traverse City was wonderful! We got back to the cabin and Zach built a nice little campfire outside our cabin. It was just a perfect day.

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We are amping up for a full schedule of baseball/softball/soccer and cheer this spring so it really was our last weekend totally free. One night in the cabin after the kids had gone to bed Zach did the math on how many more of these free weekends we probably have before Trysten is off to college and then I cried myself to sleep and it’s just not enough. I am so grateful for every weekend I get with these beautiful babes of mine, grateful we get these chances to get away and hunker down as a family. They really are my favorite people.

Weekending

Since we’ve moved to Michigan at the end of April we haven’t had a weekend without visitors. Have I mentioned how lucky we are to have so many family and friends willing and able to make the trip up to see us? Last weekend the Klipsch contingency arrived with my two brothers-in-law, their wives and children. This weekend marked the arrival of my parents and our good Bajun friend, Marlo. I would say the theme for each weekend is “eat too much, drink too much and stay up way past my bedtime.” But I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

The weather here has been so beautiful. Hasn’t gotten so hot that we can’t be outside yet (does it get that way in MI?) so we are taking advantage of every moment!

My kids are finally at an age where they love “competitive tubing”. No more of that drive slow and stay straight boring stuff. 😉 My entire childhood was spent challenging siblings and friends to tube battles so it feels like the best kind of deja vu to now have my kiddos doing the same.

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Though the older kids were mostly unseen because of all the excitement at being together again, we did get some QT in with the littler cousins. I kind of can’t help but gush about my nephews and nieces. It’s just that they are so incredible.

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I also can’t get enough of watching Zach and his brothers together. I hope beyond hope my boys are able to have as much fun as Z and his brothers do as they get older.

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I recovered from their visit on Thursday, which is exactly when our friend Marlo showed up. 🙂 Saturday we went right out on the lake. Though Zach is a great boat driver it’s just really hard to beat my dad-the man with 30 years of experience! And I must tell you my world got a little more perfect when I sat in a boat with my dad as the driver. So many memories of my childhood involved my dad driving the boat while we tubed and skied/wake boarded so imagine my delight at recreating that magic! I even brushed off the wake boarding skills and went for a few runs.

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Dailah HATES tubing. Thankfully she’s got a mom who will not be raising a daughter to just sit around and sun bathe while all the dudes are out enjoying life. 😉 We negotiated and I allowed her the request to have her daddy ride with her. Daddies have a way of making us feel safe and loved don’t they?

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Then Dailah hopped off (not true, my dad actually dumped her and Z) and it was back to competitive tubing for Marlo and Z.

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I also force encourage all of my kids to wakeboard/ski when it’s time. Yesterday was the first day that all of them got up (except Trysten who gave it a good D effort. 😉 )

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Last night ended with some card games, cigars and drinks on our covered porch while the rain came down. It was absolute perfection. (You know you are a yogi when you tell your son to get down in the front and he does this. Oh Trysten.)

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Hope your summer weekends have been just as full of love and laughter!

The Weekend

The Weekend

I think weekends in Michigan are even more exciting than weekends in Iowa for us. Zach learning the ropes and every detail of his new job combined with the kids and their various activities/new friends + my new job means during the week I feel like we are all moving in various directions. Weekends allow us to come back together and reconnect. Holiday weekends even more so. And this weekend was absolutely beautiful.

Friday night Trysten and Dailah had sleepovers to go to so we got to spend some quality time with our other 3. This never happens. I loved getting to spend so much time with them, especially Tariku. We chatted about all the things and then we read funny cat and dog memes on Pinterest for about an hour. We also tried to take a selfie but since I don’t really know how it only kind of worked.

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This weekend was Family Camp at Camp Eberhart. It was so cool to see over 100 people hanging out at camp. Some families had multiple generations included in the fun so watching grandparents dote on their grandchildren was particularly special. I genuinely believe camp is the perfect place to reconnect. Instead of TVs and video games there are various forms of team building activities and relaxing beach time. I can’t recommend family camp enough-find one in your area and do it!! Saturday morning we shot some bows and arrows, made some tie dyed t-shirts and hung out by the beach. Zach’s dad ended up coming into town (yay!) for the weekend so we basically just kept the kids busy until he got there lest they ask every minute where he was. 🙂

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I had scheduled a little yoga retreat in Chicago months ago. Mostly it was a chance to hang with my bestie Chrissy but it was also a chance to learn new and exciting moves for my yoga practice. Rachel Brathen (yoga_girl if you’re on Instagram. Follow her! Not only are her yoga pictures beautiful but she always writes beautiful insights as well) led the workshop and was just as wonderful as I imagined. Her fiancé also came and watching the two of them together made me so happy. Witnessing new love is one of my favorite things in life.

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I think one of my favorite parts about my short 24 hours in Chicago was realizing how far I’ve come on my journey into mindfulness and self acceptance. As with any fitness/yoga workshop there were all kinds of men and women there. I think in past years I would’ve been so consumed with where I stacked compared to everyone else. I think I would’ve been too preoccupied  jealous, intimidated by those who were further along in their journey to really appreciate and accept where I am on my own. But there I was. Sweating and cussing and laughing. Handstanding and falling. Appreciating the feedback of Rachel and ending the workshop holding Chrissy’s hand and saying a little prayer of gratitude that my body can do all that is does and that my heart is open to new experiences and new people in the way that it is.

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Upon my return to Michigan I was greeted by excited children, a jazzed Zach (meeting new people and talking Camp makes for an excitable-and supremely attractive-Zach) and a tired Papa Frank (5 kids all wanting your undivided attention is exhausting-trust). But what a great Papa, right?

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And yesterday was more of the same. This time shooting rifles. Please, somebody, find something this kid isn’t immediately great at.

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And boating!!!! I love boating!! We all took our turns on the banana boat and I laughed so hard my abs are sore today. It’s my favorite kind of soreness.

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The afternoon was relaxed and wonderful. Zach took Hagrid stand up paddle boarding (full disclosure: Hagrid and I do this every day and we are just as adorable as you are picturing in your head right now). Trysten chose kayaking. Because Zach is the best when I looked out after about 30 minutes I found the two of them just laying down on their various water toys and talking.

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Fishing. Not my favorite past time but the kids will try anything and I happen to love that about them.

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I hope you guys had a wonderful weekend! Today you can smile because it’s already Tuesday!!! 🙂

The Weekend

The Weekend

This past weekend was my first weekend heading back to the Iowa-ay for a long ago planned celebration of my mom’s soon-to-be 60th birthday. Originally the plan was to bring my whole crew but Trysten had a 5th grade lock in he was really excited about Friday night so we decided it would make more sense to send me solo and have Zach stay in MI with the kiddos rather than make the long drive down on Saturday and back up on Sunday.

8+ hours in the car by myself all weekend? With Comedy Bang Bang, WTF and This American Life podcasts the whole way? It was really kind of nice! (Do you guys love any other podcasts? I dislike most mainstream music and thus rely heavily on podcasts and NPR to keep me awake during drives.)

I got to watch my niece Adley Sue play bam bam baseball Saturday morning. When we were discussing the game she told me I could call her “Suza” (which I do anyway) and to please make sure I yell really, really loudly so everyone knew it was her turn to bat. Twist my arm. I love that smart, funny little lady. I also love my new top for Mother’s Day. It’s super comfy and has the added bonus of promoting my brother’s Chiropractic business. Love!

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Saturday afternoon my mom had rented a limo for us to hit our favorite hot spots. The thing about my family is-I freaking love each one so much. I think they are hilarious and sweet and loving and fun to be around. My sister and brother married people I love equally as much. Am I wrong to believe it’s rare that families get along as well as ours and love spending time with each other as much as we do? I don’t know, either way, my prayer is my kids have the same relationship with each other as I do with my sibs/parents as they get older.

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At 6am the next day Adley Sue was waking me up asking to snuggle. Even though I was exhausted and wanted to roll over and sleep for 3 more hours, she is just too cute. And I am an absolute sucker for my nieces/nephews and requests for snuggles.

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I told Zach as much fun as I had back in Des Moines and as much as I missed seeing my family since we moved to Michigan I must say it felt really great to be home. Not just because I missed my hubs and kiddos so, so much but because I’m starting to get used to being a Michigander. Oh, also because Zach had found a paddle board and I got to cross off something on my bucket list-paddle board yoga! 😉

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Hope you had an equally amazing weekend!

And seriously-podcast recommendations, please!