Time off in my happy place

“Find your happy place.”

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The fire pit in the back yard. One of the greatest places to be, in my opinion.

I have several “happy places,” but one of my favorites is my parent’s backyard. I’ve always loved coming home on weekends, pulling into the driveway and seeing my dad on the lawnmower cutting grass and mom walking around filling tweety bird feeders and tending to her flowers and vegetable garden. The sun is shining, the trees are full of bright green leaves, there’s music playing from a set of speakers strategically set up at a screen door, and the fire pit has a little fire burning in long preparation for a steak dinner. It’s instant relaxation.

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An oasis in the northwoods.

Pull in, grab a beer and sit in a chair by the fire and, well, do nothing but chit chat and chill out. Perfection. The only problem is I don’t get as much of this home time as I used to. Our weekends just aren’t long enough to make the trip up as often. But when we do… It’s pretty awesome.

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Mom's garden.

We had this week off of work, so Adam and I started by spending a couple days on our own, unwinding in Ashland, WI. We had no specific reason to visit Ashland other than it was a town we haven’t really spent much time in. It was our 14th wedding anniversary on June 9, so we drove up there on Monday morning and spent a couple of nights there. It took a day and a half to finally realize we were on vacation, and it was a great way to start the week. I ate ice cream at two ice cream shops within an hour. Yup. Vacation time.

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A nice run along the Lake Superior shoreline.

After our little Ashland getaway we head south to Phillips. We spent Wednesday evening with Adam’s mom visiting Rhinelander, had dinner, did a little shopping, saw a movie and ate ice cream. Again. There’s never too much ice cream.

The next day we slept in late and head out of town to my parent’s house for the rest of the week. We were hosting our annual canoe and kayak trip there over the weekend. In past years we’ve had up to 30 people out for the trip, but I slacked off on the invite-pushing this year, so we had a much smaller crew. While quite a few of our regulars were sorely missed, we still had one heck of a good time. We always manage to make the best of it.

It rained on Saturday the whole time we paddled the river, but the rapids were roaring and whenever we’d go through them, the water would splash up over the front of the kayak and fill the inside with a few inches, so in the end, the rain didn’t matter too much anyway.

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Rain jackets and kayaks. It's okay!

And there was only one tip-over. Mom and dad took an unintentional swim towards the end of the Stonewall rapids and I helped drag them to shore where they emptied their boat of water, got back in and continued on down the river. That’s whatchya’ do!

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Bailing out the boat.

Eventually the rain died down and we were able to enjoy a dry night around a campfire. Man, oh, man, did the food come out. Everyone brought good stuff and we basically just laid it all out and stuffed ourselves silly. We had a great fire with a “magic log” that my dad rigged up. It was a giant pine stump stuffed with copper so the fire gave off a rainbow of colors just after the sky turned dark. It was pretty much a perfect day and night.

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The magic log.

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The magic log later on in the dark. Pretty!

The next morning my dad made his famous egg breakfast on a giant cast-iron skillet over the fire (30 eggs!) and after finishing that off we lazed around until the sky cleared up and the sun finally came out. My cousin Annie and one of her friends showed up and joined us for a tubing trip down the Elk River. What a perfect last little trip to wrap up the weekend.

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Tubing! In sunshine! Finally sunshine!

But actually, it wasn’t over yet. We grilled more amazing food and ate way too much again. My grandma, Aunt Rita, Aunt Judy, Uncle Kenny and Aunt Beth all joined in for dinner, fire and good family visit time. We even played some cribbage before finally calling it a night.

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Got to see my grandma and some other family. Grandma was really excited about her t-shirt. She's so freakin' cute.

I relaxed this week. I ate too much, had a few (too many) beers, and generally abused my poor body in vacation mode. It’ll be happy to get back into its routine when we get rolling in the truck again.

I’m almost ready to go back to work. Just one more day. Or ten would be okay, too.

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I just don't want this to end.


Tonight I love my parent’s backyard… who needs a beach scene when you’ve got this kind of oasis? And company? It’s heaven.

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Steaks!

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Nom!

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This is quite typical of a fire during canoe weekend. This one's from a few years ago.

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Our little paddling crew of 10 this year.

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Our friend, Mr. Eagle.

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Fishing in the rain.

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Good-night, and see you next time.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Meet our new truck!

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The last four or five weeks have been rough, which you’ve most likely guessed if you follow me here or on any social media. Part of that stems from truck troubles. In the last three weeks alone, we’ve driven three different trucks.

Week 1: Timmy the Freight Shaker was our original truck that we started out team driving together – a 2013 Freightliner Cascadia with a 10-speed manual transmission. After getting a brand new radiator out on the road, he most recently needed a new part we couldn’t get in time for our run, so we temporarily moved into a loaner truck.

Week 2: Mental, as Adam called it, was our loaner – a 2015 Freightliner Cascadia with an automatic transmission. We were totally thrown in to this truck last-minute. It was like moving into a new apartment in a big rush, minus the pizza and beer.

Week 3: We knew we were in line for a new truck, but we were going to be waiting a while yet. Well, the folks back at the home office worked their butts off the week we were in the loaner so we wouldn’t have to move two more times, and they got our new truck ready for us this week! So we’re in our official new truck now! We’re sure hoping to be in this one for a while!

It’s a very brand-new 2016 Volvo 780 automatic. It had less than 1,000 miles on it when we started driving it on Tuesday, still had plastic coverings on the seats, floor and mattress, and she smelled like new car. How sweet is this!?

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Still in plastic!

We really like it so far. We like the way it looks, the bed is a little bigger (but there are no sheets that fit it because it’s width is somewhere between a twin and a full), and it’s got tons of cubbies and cabinets for storage and organization. We’re still moving things around to find their best place and we need to purchase a couple of storage bins, but as far as the interior goes, it’s a big win. Oh, the seats have like 6 different adjustments as well as a “back cycler,” which sort of massages you as you drive. It pushes air into the lower back, releases and continues the cycle. That’s just another little thing that makes it nice. Oh! And we have a sunroof!

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Sunroof! (And a handsome co-driver)

After a week of driving it, I already like how it drives way better than the Freightliner automatic. It holds speed much steadier and buttons and switches all just seem to be built smarter. I’m still getting used to it all, so I can’t review a whole lot about it yet in detail, but I can already tell I’m going to like it a lot. I might miss driving a manual every once in a while, but I don’t think I’ll miss shifting through turns and from a stop, in stop-and-go traffic and city driving. This truck just goes, and it’s pretty sweet!

We did have one disadvantage to getting this truck so soon. Early this week was a DOT blitz. This means a lot of scales are open and a lot of inspections occur. Having a new truck for this is awesome, because it’s new. So it shouldn’t have anything wrong with it and would pass an inspection with no problem if we were pulled in for one. The drawback is that we have a temporary registration, so our EZ-pass is inoperable. This is the gadget in our windshield that gives us a green light prepass signal at weigh stations so we don’t have to go in and weigh. This means for every scale (weigh station) that’s open, we have to pull in, weigh, and have a better chance at receiving an inspection. It’s time consuming pulling into the scales, too – especially when so many are open for the blitz. We had to pull through a lot of scales, but only two had us bring in our paperwork and only one did a level 3 inspection (driver only) on Adam. It was all good. We’ll take another clean inspection for our records, thank you very much.

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Our EZ Pass is there, but just for looks at the moment, I guess.

So on we go. In a beautiful new truck. It doesn’t smell like a previous owner, cigarettes, animal, nothing. Nothing but they gluey, plasticy, clean, new car smell. It’s awesome.

Oh, and for those of you that know about how horrible my Vibram Five Finger running shoes smell (seriously like rotting corn nuts), they’ve got their own little home hanging from the back of the cab, on the outside, from a carabiner. They need lots of air. And they need to not destroy the new car smell. We’re going to enjoy that as long as we can.

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This just cracks me up.

So meet Delores, our new Volvo. (Bonus points to anyone that can guess why we named her Delores.) :)

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Shiny, freshly painted engine compartment.

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The interior dash area.

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The gear selector consists of soft buttons on the dash.

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Chillin' in the bunk before the move.

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There she is! Meet Delores! She's pretty cool!


Tonight I love that we’re about 40 minutes away from our very much-needed vacation week!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)