Watch Me.

Today I was hard on myself. A project I was doing at work had some technical glitches and didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped (although I got it done. My daughter was a bit upset by an interaction with a teacher in the car line when I picked her up. I had to race out to the orthodontist and stores after work. Dinner was late and I ended up having my son help me with it. I had a bunch of jobs to do like ordering school pictures, trying to gather items for the Closet project. I’m tired. Tired physically and tired of garbage humans who are just shitty people. I looked around at the chaos in my house and felt overwhelmed. I started getting frustrated with myself that I couldn’t get it all done and do more around the house.

Then I took a deep breath. And another. I sat back and watched a mental replay of what I had done all day.

I began to realize that I was too busy giving myself a hard time and wasn’t acknowledging the successes I had today. Some were small, but they were wins as far as I was concerned.

That project? Well, I got it done, and learned a whole new software in the process. I got another big project on my dreaded to do list accomplished as well.

I worked a full day and got a lot done.

I coordinated kids getting home.

I turned my car around in the car line and went to speak to the teacher who had upset my daughter. It was a misunderstanding, and I ended up really liking her and sorting it all out where everyone was happy.

My daughter, who has shed many a tear at the orthodontists, looked at me when I told her “you’re a big girl now and you can communicate what you feel needs correcting and you can rock this” and did just that. She handled it like a boss and walked out proud without a single tear being shed.

I got the items I needed from the store.

I ordered school pictures.

I was able to coordinate getting the shelving units I need for the Closet Project with the help of a friend, for free, donated by her neighbor. This is HUGE because currently everything is in random bags, boxes and bins making it near impossible to find what you need. I also found clothing racks for cheap and purchased a couple. I’m excited to now get it set up.

I coordinated a few more donations of clothing and toiletries.

I took a moment to ponder how grateful I am for the internet and the volume of things I can accomplish by using it.

I scrubbed the tub and toilet quick.

I delegated some jobs to my son, who was a rock star and cooked dinner.

I got a load of laundry done.

I did a load of dishes.

I fed all the pets.

I saw a woman say something vile and called her out as the asshole she was.

I saw a lurker lurking, sighed, and wrote this post anyway.

I did some good deeds.

I made calls I had to make and sent emails I needed to send.

I gave out some compliments. I laid out some truths.

I took out my esthetician’s equipment and helped my son with a breakout.

I gave goodnight hugs and kisses. I sent two happy kids to bed.

In other words, I did a LOT. I did some small things, and I did some big things. I did lots of things and I handled my business. So my house is messy. I work full time, run a major project to help kids, raise two kids, and manage a household often on my own since my husband works different hours. I kicked some ass today! I’m proud of myself and my kids told me they are proud of me too. I often find myself being so hard on me, never taking the time to just stop, breath, and recognize all the things I DID accomplish during the day. Sometimes I need to step outside of myself and watch all the things I have accomplished, and all the things I did get done.

Are you watching me? Because I’m watching me, and I kicked some ass today!

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Take me to the Ranch!

I’ve been (mostly) MIA the past couple of weeks as summer has wound down. Summer, which normally feels lazy and laid back, became crazy busy. Between work, camp for the kids, and my nights spent working on the Closet project, I stayed busy. I was burning the candle at both ends and by last week I was in dire need of time to rest and recharge. We had booked two vacations at the end of the month, one for our annual family reunion at the lake, and the other at a Ranch in upstate New York. The Ranch trip was first.

Now let me preface the rest of this post by saying I’m probably a little high maintenance, but at the same time, I have a soft spot for the country and would love to live in the country at some point. Despite coming from a family who is very into horses (several of my cousins own, breed and show horses. One is a professional rider), I am….not. I grew up far away from them, and never had much opportunity to ride. I spent my childhood on boats and the water, but despite a love of horses, I’ve always been a bit nervous around them.

We booked the trip with some family members that we have vacationed with in the past. They have been going to the ranch since childhood, and they asked us to join. We decided to jump at the opportunity as we know we vacation really well with them. We share a similar vacation mindset. That’s very important when travelling with others. If you don’t kind of have the same vibe when it comes to how you vacation, you may feel either you didn’t fully get the experience, or you may feel like you need a vacation from the vacation. This collective group just worked like a charm, and I knew fun was to be had.

We arrived at Rydin-Hy Ranch on a Saturday. I had had a stressful few weeks leading up to the trip, and unfortunately got a call with some bad news about a family member on the drive there. I arrived stressed, but looking forward to having some down time, as was my husband. My kids were wanting to do all the things. As we pulled in, I saw log cabins, and a gorgeous lake ahead of us. Our cabin looked out towards the lodge in front of us, and the lake to our right. It was simply stunning. We checked in, dropped off our stuff, and headed out to explore. My daughter, who LOVES horses, was eager to ride, so we signed up for a trail ride. The boys headed off to check things out. We wandered over to the barn where there were loads of beautiful horses. The cowboys that work the barn (that’s actually what they are called on the ranch) chose horses they thought would be a good fit for everyone. They helped each of us get on the horse, and we got in a line to go for a slow leisurely trail ride. I was nervous and a bit anxious the first ride. Ok, I was the same on pretty much every ride, but I couldn’t help but have fun.

After the ride, we headed off to the lodge for dinner, which was delicious. The easiest way to explain it is that the food is simple, yet done well. Each family has their own table for the length of their stay, so you simply wander in during meal times and sit at your table. The staff there were extremely accommodating. After a delicious meal, we headed off to the bar for drinks and laughs. We had a fabulous night out at the bar, and a good time was had by all.

Each day in the lodge, they put up a chalk board with the times and locations of all the activities. This is the moment when you start to realize that your kids have likes and know how to do things that you had no idea about. To my surprise my son signed up for a ping pong tournament. I didn’t know he enjoyed ping pong, as he’d never mentioned it, but he said he played at camp all the time. Turns out he’s really good at it! My kids were very eager to try archery. My daughter wanted to do the banana boat, which is a long inflateable yellow banana looking boat that you sit on while a speedboat tows it at a pretty high speed in the water. I went on, as well as her aunt, and the three of us were laughing hysterically as it pulled us through the water. I sat amazed at how fearless my kids are, and how much joy they got from trying new things.

My sister in laws’ cousins were there the first day and were extremely kind enough to leave us their kids’ bikes to borrow while we were there. This gave our kids another layer of freedom. There is an incredibly strong feeling of “home” at the ranch, in the sense your room door is unlocked throughout the day (you get a safe for valuables) and kids are considerably more free range than you see at many vacation destinations. Of course parents have an eye on their kids but you feel safe allowing them to roam a bit if they are older. My son, a teenager now, loved having the freedom to come and go as he pleased, riding the bike throughout the ranch from place to place. He went to the gym to work out, played basketball, and attended activities on the board that piqued his interest. My daughter loved spending time riding around on the bike while the adults were relaxing outside. One of the things I loved was that kids were a bit more free range there, and it all felt super safe and easygoing.

While I was there, I got a call with some more bad news and needed a bit of time to process it. Travelling with the Aunts, Uncles and bonus grandparents made it easy for me to ask for some alone time, as they were happy to oblige and take the kids to different activities. The ranch sits on a beautiful lake, and they have plenty of paddleboards, kayaks, rowboats and paddleboats for the guests to use at any time. I hopped on a kayak and took off across the lake to have some quiet time to process things. It was exactly what I needed, and I found myself feeling really calm and collected when I arrived back to the beach. I ended up kayaking multiple times per day and each time enjoying myself more and more.

The resulting sunburn? Not so much.

OOF. One night my skin felt like it was on fire.

The bed? Well, the bed was way firm. Perhaps it wasn’t super firm, it’s just that my bed at home is so soft it’s just ridiculous. I have a double pillow top with a massive feather bed on top, and a down comforter. It’s like sleeping on a cloud. Heaven. The bed at the ranch was the polar opposite. Not uncomfortable, but firm. I told myself it was the cowboy life for me that week and to suck it up, buttercup. I was so tired from all the activity each day, I slept like a log. The first night, I had multiple dreams I was laying on the floor, so my brain was certainly processing I wasn’t at home and was on a firmer setup than usual.

Each day we found ourselves excited to see what was planned on the board in the lodge. Activities differed from day to day. This was an interesting lesson in learning new things about my kids. I was surprised to find out my son really enjoyed ping pong after playing it at camp, and was also very good at it. He’d never mentioned ping pong to me before, but he was looking forward to entering the Ranch’s ping pond table. I was surprised my daughter was eager to do the banana boat ride after seeing it tip over at a fairly high speed, dumping all the riders into the lake to be picked up by the pontoon boat. She was all in. I was surprised when my son said the horseback ride he took was his favorite part of the day, as while my daughter takes lessons, he’d never shown much interest before. Even my husband really enjoyed riding. The boys went hiking to check out what was around. The girls did some water sports. I tried paddleboarding for the first time (harder than it looks but I enjoyed it). We attended our first rodeo, and my daughter was thrilled to see a girl close to her age doing the barrels. We all tried archery. The adults spend the evenings around the bar laughing and talking. The bartender took a shine to my daughter and let her sit with us, handing her a rootbeer in a bottle. She joined in for late snacks and sat happy to be a part of the group. My son, more of an introvert, rode his bike at night around the loop and did manage to squeak in a few texts to his friends. Considering the wifi in the room was minimal (it was good in the lodge) and there wasn’t a TV in the room, my teenager acclimated well to a minimally electronic vacation. My daughter, the early riser of the four of us found great joy in being able to run up to her Aunt and Uncle’s room to hang out in the mornings, while my son relished in being the last one of out bed. Even my husband and I, neither of us early risers, found ourselves getting up early to see what the day held. By the end of the week, I think we all tried something new, and everyone left the Ranch relaxed and smiling if not a bit bruised. Personally, I felt like weights had been lifted off my shoulders.

I arrived home with bruises on my legs, sore arms, but happy and content. After a busy and chaotic few weeks, to come home feeling peaceful and relaxed was perfect. My mood was great, my body was battered but felt strong, and my family were all smiling.

We enjoyed the ranch so much we booked another trip for next year.

Ridin’ Out of Summer

And I’m back!

It’s been a super busy few weeks, but it feels like summer is officially over now (even though technically it’s not.) Between work, projects, summery events, travel, and some other things, the summer blew past me. I felt like I spent my summer either running around like a mad woman, or melting in the heat. Sometimes it was a combination of both.

So where have I been? What have I been doing? Inquiring minds want to know. I’ll give you a bit of an overview and then will post again with more specifics soon.

The Closet project has been steaming ahead and almost got a bit away from me this summer. I was super fortunate and was able to pick up a lot of clothing donations. The bad news was, we lost our space at the school. For last year, we were able to the old dental room. Originally, the health department had a special room at the school in the nurse’s suite where they would come and do free cleanings etc. Once they privatized it, the new company never bothered to come in. That is, they never bothered to come in until we used the space to create the Closet space. Well, at the VERRRRYY end of the year, the company showed up, rather displeased we had taken over the space they failed to use. Maybe it was a snub of “well, if you’re not going to use it, we will” but they have arranged to start coming back to the school, which is GREAT for our students. The bad news is, we had to move everything, and unfortunately the school is packed. Luckily the principal is amazing and find me a small space. It.s not ideal, but it shows she stands behind the project and I was inherently grateful for it. I was getting calls throughout the summer from parents in need, and at times was out late at night doing dropoffs of items. You know, this project really highlights the best in people. My goal every time I step out to help someone is to refrain from any judgement. It’s the only way the project will work. When I tell people about it, people often say “how could parents not have XYZ for their child?” but it’s important to simply go with purpose and not judge. Hard times can fall on anyone, and in a town where you have a mix of rich and poor, people often forget just how tough times can really be for some of us, or how good people don’t always get a fair shake. Judging others does us no good. A big reminder of this was a late night drop off I did the other night. I asked the dad what his daughter’s name was. As soon as he went to tell me, his whole body language changed. He stood tall, and clearly, happily and lovingly told me his child’s first, middle and last names. You could see the pride. You could see the love. To be honest, that simple moment was everything, and it was the best moment of my day. I loved seeing the pure love for his child on his face. Hard times can never diminish that.

I also made the decision of a mad woman to do our family vacations the last week of summer. Meaning, I left on a Saturday, came home on Wednesday (the day before school started), sent my babies off to school Thursday and Friday, before we headed back out for a family reunion from Saturday to Monday. PHEW! Are you tired yet? I sure am!

Trip one was a trip with some family members to a Ranch in Upstate New York. We had such a good time that the trip deserves it’s own post. For now I will say that each family member found something they loved to do, we ate constantly, we all tried new things, and I came mentally relaxed and physically bruised. Better than the opposite, if you ask me. I had bruises on my legs from horseback riding and riding a bananaboat, and I couldn’t lift my arms up over my head from the soreness of all the kayaking I did.

It was heavenly.

We enjoyed ourselves so much we booked it for next year as well. Again, I’ll write more on that trip later.

The only tough part of the trip was getting a call from my dad on the drive up there that my grandfather wasn’t doing well. It was touch and go for a few days as far as whether my dad would be able to attend the reunion or not. In the end, he called and said he was flying out to go look after my grandfather. I think he felt bad about not seeing us, especially since we haven’t seen my dad hardly all year, but to be honest, I felt glad he was going to look after my grandfather. I told my dad not to worry, and I would see him soon. We still headed up to the lake house to visit the family, and it was a wonderful time. It’s laid back, easy going, and always great to watch the kids all fall right into step with each other. They all come from different states but as soon as they land in the same house they all run off like old friends. I really missed having my dad there but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We spent a day at the lake, a day at a country fair, and a lazy morning before packing up to head home.

Once I got back home, I decided to treat myself to a guilt free nap.

It’s funny because I feel guilty when I nap. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s that I always feel like I should be doing something, or running somewhere, or looking after people. So for me to say…”I’m gonna take an hour and have a nap” was a big deal for me. It was awesome. I slept for an hour and woke up feeling lazy and useless, but it was perfect.

And so begins fall. Fall schedules, which are a bit more hardlined. Sports begin again. New projects begin. Existing projects get streamlined. Pro football starts. Food gets more comforting. Pumpkin everything. Coffee. Just, coffee.

My house stays messy…because while I’m an eternal optimist, I’m also a realist.

Sadly, I think that has wound up most of our travel for this year, outside a day trip here or there. Of course, I never rule out more. The past 12 months have been outstanding in so many ways, but most of the best moments were because of travel. I’m excited to plan for next year!

Birthday girl

Tomorrow, the little one turns 9. I’m not prepared at ALL. Sure, we had a fun filled family party, and her gifts are almost ready for tomorrow, but what I don’t have ready is this mama’s heart.

You know, when I had my son, everyone told me the old “enjoy him while he’s little” advice, as well as the “time is going to fly by” jobber. And I laughed sometimes, because sometimes, the days seemed interminable. There was always so much to DO. So many errands, so many diapers, so many meals, so many floors to sweep. Half the time I didn’t get it all done. Ok, MOST of the time I didn’t get it all done. I was a tired mama. My husband worked until late at night so I was on my own a lot. I was domestically challenged. It was a recipe for disaster. Only I didn’t follow the recipe.

I picked my battles. Housework lost far more often than I am willing to admit. Sometimes, long chats in the car (my kids often become the chattiest in the car) far outweighed in importance than dishes in the sink. We got through the milestones one at a time. In a blink of an eye, he was 5, then 10, and now 13. He is almost as tall as me, 13 in all its angsty glory, and if he doesn’t remember deodorant, he stinks a bit. He’s a smart, kind, and gentle soul with quick wit and a sarcastic dry sense of humor. He’s exactly the child I needed for my first child. The advice was right all along though, folks. Today he is begging me for rides to his friend’s houses. in 3-4 years, he’ll be driving. In 5 years he heads to college and becomes and adult. My mama heart isn’t ready for that. Not one bit.

The little one, well, she started out in the world as a challenge and she kept going. We never quite knew if she’d make it during pregnancy, as I spotted for months and months. I ended up hospitalized after my gall bladder went bad while I was pregnant. We made it through. My daughter was diagnosed with strabismus and alternating amblyopia before she was 1, and went in for corrective surgery. It worked for a few weeks, before her eye dropped back in. She had tonsils out, oral surgery to fix teeth that were coming in in the wrong place, and she has braces. She managed to get through each surgery or problem with a smile. She is my cuddly, huggy lovebug but she also my tough little warrior girl. I watched her see an elderly woman walking towards a restaurant with a cane, and my daughter, unprompted, ran to open and hold the door for her. I was so stinkin’ proud, but I also got a bit emotional because I see how grown up she is getting. I’m trying to embrace the little in her while encouraging her to grow. Every weekend she crawls onto my bed in the mornings to cuddle and giggle with me, and I try to soak in every moment because I know one day it will be her last to climb up, and I shall miss it every weekend thereafter.

I’m not ready for them to grow up.

I feel like these kids are growing up so amazingly, but I’m not ready for them to spread their wings and fly. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. Life will be pulling on me, kicking and screaming to that point. I know it’s coming, I just want to push it off. I want to enjoy the little moments. The giggles, the belly laughs, the cuddles, the jokes, and even the awkward moments as we navigate growing up and all entails. I want to take pictures and videos and savor it all. I want to hold on to the memories, while making more and more of them. In the words of Aerosmith “And I don’t want to miss a thing”.

That advice is true. It goes so fast. It goes so fast and you don’t even realize it.

So tomorrow, I’ll be trying to savor it all, and to take it all in. I’ll be that mama watching her girl get a little older, a little wiser, and a little more independent, while still trying to eek out the moments of her being little.

Lazy Days of Summer

I’m not cut out for summer. As a super pale British lass, who is probably the only person in the entire family who doesn’t tan, I’ve never been one for sun and sand. Only if I wanted burn and aloe, that is. As a kid, I tanned. Long days at the beach with my mom or at camp turned me blond and golden skinned, but as I grew, something switched and I am now pale, freckled, and I burn far too easily for my own comfort. I remember my parents taking me to the Caribbean as a child, more than once. Despite slathering on sunblock and wearing a hat most of the time, I got sunstroke and got violently ill. They, excited to take me to new places, also took me to Mexico. I woke up suddenly unable to see. I thought I had gone blind, started screaming, only to determine my pale skin had forsaken me, leaving my eyelids burned shut. Heck, despite a week in Vegas, slathered in sunscreen, I burned promptly once I returned to the Northeast and dared go outside for an hour. The sun is not my friend.

I’m also, to my husband’s frustration, reincarnated Goldilocks. I hate being too cold, or too hot, but mostly too hot. I can always throw on a sweater or jacket if it’s cold, but it’s not as easy to cool down. It’s certainly not cheap either, as my electric company tells me daily via emails that I am spending too much money to run my window unit AC’s just at night so that I don’t melt into my bed. The heat leaves me tired and drained, and if I’m honest, my neighbors probably have disdain for me this year, as yard work in 90 degrees isn’t happening, folks. Nope. Not mowing my grass when stepping outside makes my skin crispy. It’s starting to look like Children of the Corn out there, and while I feel inherently guilty and sigh sadly about it, I don’t get upset enough to drag my pale, overheated ass outside. Well, I haven’t, but today that may be a reality.

Today we planned to take the new kayaks out as a family. I figured since we live 5 minutes from the water, that would be an easy task. My husband, however, is determined that sharks are everywhere and that we would be best served heading to a lake. I was A-OK with the plan, until I woke up this :morning to a news story that at 7:30 AM all the State Parks were nearing or at capacity. WHAT? Folks packed up for a full day of July 4th partying and outside time at friggen 7:30 in the MORNING? The showered, got themselves ready, got kids ready, packed food, drinks, beer, and all the accoutrements needed for a full day out, packed the car, drove and arrived at a park by 8 am? Savages, I tell you. My goodness, folks, it’s like people don’t know how to celebrate the glory of a lie in on a day off. My ass slept in and I am still, at mid day, enjoying a lazy cup of coffee.

I’m a lazy asshole sometimes, is the point of this post.

For all my posts about my chaos, which is usually self imposed and keeps me busy, yet usually very gratified, my heart is lazy. My family, my pets (which are family), my projects, my work, it all keeps me insanely busy. And then a day rolls around where the joy is in the lazy. At least for a little while. Then antsyness will arrive in all it’s glory, and I will feel guilty about the laziness, and will need to MOVE, to have a PLAN, and to feel at least a teensy bit productive.

For now, I need to go hunt down oodles of sunblock and a hat, as well as another coffee to get me through this beautiful day. Happy fourth y’all!

It was Vegas, Baby!

So I’m back! Back from what felt like a whirlwind girls’ weekend to Las Vegas, otherwise known as Sin City. Never fear, not too many sins were cast during our time there. I must say however, I had a grand old time, saw the sights, heard the sounds, saw a show, and had a wild and crazy time after climbing into a white, unmarked van (much of that I will get into in more detail in a later post, as that warrants it’s own post). Some of this may venture into the rated R level, so please be forewarned.

For those not caught up, my bestie is going in for surgery this week. For some reason, despite having many surgeries and hospital experiences throughout her life, this one in particular is bothering her a bit. She’s anxious about it in a way I haven’t seen her anxious before. To alleviate her anxiety, she decided to plan a vacation in Las Vegas, and I was her desired travel partner. We’ve been friends since high school, were housemates once upon a time, and have been through the best and worst of times. We laugh together, we’ve cried together, and most importantly, we’ve been there for each other. When she had a prior surgery, I cooked meals and dropped them off for her and her non-cooking husband. When my ex treated me badly, she scrubbed the toilet with his toothbrush. You get the drill. She’s one of my ride or die friends, the ones that are hard to come by in a world full of selfish people. Anything the other one needs, we’re there for each other. I trust her implicitly and I know she feels the same. I’m so very lucky to have her. We had talked about going on a girls weekend to Vegas since we were in our teens, but marriages, kids, and a world of responsibilities later, we never made it. She asked me to go. I said I couldn’t, because while my kids are cute as hell, they are EXPENSIVE and I just didn’t have the cash to swing it.

She told me to pack my bags, she was taking me on her dime. All I needed was some spending money. My husband said we’d make it work, he’d work short days, and my kids bonus grandma said she’d watch them when my husband was at work. How amazing is that? So with tickets booked, hotel room reserved, and bags packed, we headed to the airport on Saturday night. We flew out Mint on jetblue after 9 pm, arriving at around 11:30 PM Vegas time. Mint is extraordinary, with all the perks and seats that go into full on beds. I slept and awoke just before landing feeling refreshed. Off to the hotel we went.

Arriving at the Bellagio, I walked in feeling a bit underdressed, but excited. I had been to the Bellagio for a wedding years ago, but didn’t know all to much about it. I had stayed next door at the Vdara (which was awesome by the way….it’s a none gambling hotel and it is quiet and smells non smokey, which is a plus. The rooms are modern, calming, and quiet…plus they are well air conditioned, but I digress). Our room was up on the 26th floor, in the building on the left side of the main building as you’re looking up. We checked in, grabbed our bags, and started the LONG walk up to the room. Everything in Vegas is a long walk from everything else. The sheer amount of steps and miles I walked last week was unreal. Anywho, we arrive at the room, and step in. The room is clean, pretty, and has an AMAZING view of the Las Vegas strip, but not only that, we can view the Bellagio fountains going off throughout the day/nights! We had a prime view of Paris, as well as some other hotels. I immediately stepped to the thermostat to turn the AC on, after all, it was Vegas and it was warm in there. I tried lowering the temp, but it wouldn’t go down past 65. Also, the AC cut off. I went all the way back down to the desk, only to find out that the AC is on a motion sensor. This meant that the AC would cut off at night and when we left the room. “Do you understand this is the Bellagio? In 105 degree heat? Why does the AC turn off?” I asked. I know, not my proudest moment, but I HATE being hot at night. The person at the desk shrugged, apologized, and sent a fan to the room. I slept every night with a fan blasting me in the face.

Now, you can tell when long term friends, especially those who lived together, go on vacation together. Concessions are made, and adjustments to keep everyone happy. I am always hot, she is always cold. She said I should sleep near the AC vent, with the fan, and she got an extra blanket. This happened for the whole trip, each of us finding ways to “make it work” which resulted in everyone having a great time.

After checking in, and getting our fan, we wandered down to gamble a bit, and played for a few hours before turning in to sleep. We awoke early Sunday and headed off to see the casinos. She wanted to make sure I saw as many as possible, as well as some free shows or things that made each casino unique. We also found eating a big breakfast and then eating dinner worked best for both of us. We went to Caesar’s Palace, MGM, Mandalay, Mirage and some others. We each had points from playing the free “My Vegas Slots” game, which scored us free passes into the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef. I am a huge water person, always happiest near the water, so this was totally my happy place. They had some other animals and fish there, including a piranha who had had it’s lip bitten off, leaving it with a permanent toothy grin. The woman who worked there informed me he was one of the best eaters of the group despite the deformity. The shark tanks and tunnel were awesome, and I got a pretty great shot of a shark swimming right over my head. Beautiful creatures, but I must say seeing them up close confirmed my nervousness about open water caused by the movie Jaws many years ago. Speaking of Jaws, I am fairly confident that may be a movie that impacted multiple generations of people.While you don’t necessarily think “Jaws” when someone asks which movie has had a huge impact on you, if you spend much time near the water and think about it, I’d be willing to guess you have thought about that movie more than once when on the beach. If you are going to Vegas, play the free slot game…they give you free play money, you earn rewards, and you can earn points towards free food, experiences, and discounted or even free hotel rooms! Another side note, your ticket to the Shark Reef also gives you a free pass to Mandalay Bay’s beach and pool. Score!

Over the next few days, we did some more exploring of the various casinos, checked out people on the strip (Vegas is simply AMAZING for people watching) and hit up Fremont st. Now, speaking of people watching, Fremont street was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s a bit of a trek to get down there, so we caught an Uber. I had only Ubered once before this trip, so I had to get the hang of it, but I was very impressed. The Uber rides became a challenge for us. For those not familiar, Uber is an app you put on your phone. You select where you want to go, the app figures out where you are, and it offers you a few selections of cars, as well as how much each one will cost. Most of the time it was 8-10 bucks for where we needed to go, but the price can fluctuate a bit depending on time and how busy it is by the looks of it. That being said, all our drivers were prompt, had good AC (a total blessing in 105-110 degree heat) and chatty. My friend initially started chatting with them, and in no time, we had a game going…”which is your weirdest Uber driver experience?” This is a great game to play if you use Uber a few times, especially in a place like Las Vegas. Some of the stores were mundane, such as drunk vomiters who got charged a very hefty fine, but the winner winner chicken dinner of the vacation belongs to a driver in a Nissan minivan. He had a couple in his car, and they were headed to a bar. The boyfriend poked the girlfriend in the side, teasing her, but poked her hard enough that it hurt, making her angry. He told her not to be mad, and said “ok, you can bite my thumb if that makes you feel better”. She grabbed that thumb and bit part of it off. LET ME REPEAT, SHE BIT OFF A SECTION OF HIS THUMB. The Uber driver, mortified, said he didn’t know what to do, so he simply asked if he should divert to the local hospital to have the thumb piece reattached. The couple declined and said they still wanted to head to the bar.

I have so many questions.

Well, it is Las Vegas, so while he was the winner of our contest, I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised by severed body parts in an Uber minivan in Vegas.

Now, back to Fremont st. Some folks call it Freakmont st, and 5 minutes in, I could see why. When you arrive at Fremont, it is a flurry of activity. Normally, that’s not really my bag. I like things a bit more quite and low key in my old(er)(ish) age, but this was Vegas, so I was up for it. Fremont street is an assault on your senses, but it also tugs at your sense of humor and your heart as well. It’s a very interesting place, to say the least, and probably not a great place for kids. Although I notice some people are a bit more lackadaisical about what they expose their littles to than I am. At Fremont, you walk and there is almost a canopy overhead, with a lightshow. It’s bright and blingy. Also above you is Slotzilla, a giant zipline that goes very high up. You can zipline seated and Superman style, depending on your choice. Now, I didn’t do the zipline, and unfortunately its my one big regret on this trip. I wish I had done it, because it looked a blast. Now there is the main walkway, but along the sides there are these black circles. I was curious about these, so I looked them up online. Apparently street performers can sign up online to reserve a circle, which they get for 2 hours. They can then do basically whatever they want in the circle. The night we were there, I saw an “older” woman standing holding a sign that simply said “finish on my face”. I’ll leave that one there. There were two women in skimpy outfits offering to whip people. There was a guy in only a thong with KISS makeup, and he stood next to a “Little Person” who looked like Mr. T. One guy had a guy with a sign and a clown nose that advertised you could kick his friend in the nuts. (There were actually two guys who did that schtick. I’m not sure how they did it, but I have video.) Two guys did a “human gumby” routine where you could pose them any way you’d like and they would stay in that pose. Another circle was occupied by a small group who did dance routines, only all were contortionists and did moves that made me cringe. It’s not required to tip the performers, but most people would if they participated. It’s not the same vibe you get in NYC with some guy in a shitty Elmo costumes that curses you out for not tipping if someone takes a picture. It’s all about fun and crazy and freakishness. It’s Vegas on a street level, with fun and fabulous. There were a few vets hoping for tips. One guy used his time to complain about Hilary….which was about the saddest waste of time I could think of. Dude, you’re in VEGAS and she’s not president or impacting you…move on, or have some fun! There were free concerts with great bands, and the whole vibe was bright, flashy and most of all, a fun party atmosphere. The street performers were my very favorite, and most seemed to be enjoying their time. If I wasn’t so tired from the heat and walking from the day, I likely would have stayed well into the night, but I’m a British girl who wasn’t built for heat and sun. Freemont is free to go to, so definitely plan some time to spend there in the evenings. As long as you’re not prudish, you’ll likely have a blast. We topped off the evening with Hash House A Go-Go, where I got a little burger. Their portions are HUGE….like crazy huge, the food is reasonable, yummy, and the server and hostess were sweet. I got home full bellied, tired, and slept well.

Tuesday we had a lazy day at the hotel, starting off with a big Bellagio buffet lunch and a dip in the pool. I was coated in 100 SPF and tried laying out for a few but 106 degrees is a beast. The pool was lovely, albeit small, and there were plenty of chairs, to my surprise. We then went up to get ready to head to a show. My friend scored tickets to the Cirque show KA on her credit card points. We arrived at the theater, grabbed snacks and wandered to our seats. I believe we were about 7th row, not bad at all!! We were unable to take any photography once we walked in. Unaware of this, I took a picture of the side set, and was quickly asked not to take any more. The best way I could attempt to describe the side set is that it looked a bit like the Ewok village. There were people swinging from the set over the audience. The show hadn’t even started and i was already having fun! I’ll be very honest that I am not entirely sure what the plot was, and I left very confused but in awe. The cast was simply amazing, and some of the stunts I witnessed, as a mom, made me cringe with nervousness. These cast members were nothing short of athletes. Climbing, spinning, jumping, and doing feats that seemed impossible. I left the show saying “I have questions” when it came to the plot, but having thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you get the chance, go see it. You won’t regret it.

I’m not exactly sure whether it was Monday or Tuesday, but that was the day my mystery friend left. I was sad to see them go, to be honest. It started out with a hallway table and a simple pad of paper. As I made the long trek to my room each day, I noticed someone had written something on a pad in the hotel hallway. The next day, I wrote something silly back. As I headed back to my room, I laughed when I saw they had responded, so I in turn responded to them. Back and forth it went, until the pad stayed blank. I suppose they must have checked out. I was honestly sad to see them go, and wish I had met my mystery pen pal to see who they were. Such simple things, yet it made me smile.

Wednesday was the day I was most looking forward to. It earned every ounce of anticipation, and to be honest, was so awesome, it deserves its own post. We were able, through my friend’s Chase rewards points, to book an excursion to ride dune buggies in the desert. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted in. I’m more of a speed freak than a heights person, and this seemed perfect. I will post separately about the excursion because it was an experience to remember in all the right ways, and I was able to capture not only stunning views, but also met some awesome people who run it. If you are headed out to Vegas or anywhere near, check out OUI Experiences. You won’t regret it. We had a private, full day experience riding UTV’s across the Arizona Mohave desert, topped off with a massive jump into Lake Mohave for a swim in it’s crystal blue, perfect temperature waters. I saw wild donkeys, cattle, and plenty of cacti. The couple that run the tour have exclusive access to certain areas, and you feel like you stepped onto the set of Breaking Bad when they are driving the RV into the desert, except there’s nobody but you and the guides, and an occasional passerby once every few hours. It was without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip. That being said, it was 116 degrees out. Now, I know folks always follow that up with “but it’s a dry heat”. No joke, 116 degrees feels like 116 degrees, especially wearing a full helmet, bandana, and riding a cart that also got a bit hot in spots. Ice water became hot water in no time, so we were constantly chugging cold water to stay hydrated. I think I drank more than a bottle per hour, and topped the whole thing off with an ice cold beer at the very end. It was fanfriggentastic.

We arrived back at the hotel with just enough time to wash the dust of the Mohave desert off of us, pretty ourselves up, and Uber out to the Stratosphere at the end of the trip. We we tired from the heat and hungry as hell. My friend treated me to dinner at the “Top of the World” at the top of the Strat, as they are trying to rebrand the hotel. Now, The Strat as the call it, is at the far end of the strip, and the area has a much different vibe than everywhere else. It starts to look a bit dicey, and there are some drunks roaming. The casino part is alright, but the access to the elevators was through a doorway into a hallway. It left me uneasy, but I can’t really explain why. It’s not a place I’d walk to late by myself comfortably, nor did I feel comfortable in the darkish hallways. Once on the elevator, at the top where the restaurant is, it’s a totally different vibe. The restaurant is busy and the views are unparalleled in Vegas. The floor of the restaurant slowly rotates, which allows you to see everything around it, doing about a 360 degree turn in an hour. This means that during an average dinner, you can see everything surrounding the hotel. 107 floors up. Not for those who are afraid of heights, but I sucked it up and dealt. The meals aren’t cheap, and you can easily run dinner over $300 for 2 people with just a single alcoholic drink or two per person. That being said, the food was delicious and the ambiance was awesome. My bestie treated me. (Sadly, she’ll be treated to my less than stellar cooking for the next week while she recovers from surgery…it hardly seems fair). After dinner, we wandered up a floor or two to the bar. Not only is there a bar up there, but also RIDES. Yes. You heard me, and everything is there with the intent to see if you are a crazy person. I forgot to mention that during dinner, one of the sites we got to see was someone doing a controlled drop off the roof. God knows how they did it without having a heart attack, because I was freaking out just watching them!! They also had multiple rides which dangle you off the side of the building, 108 or more floors up. I got anxious just watching them and had to step inside.

We headed back to our hotel room via Monorail (I definitely recommend getting a pass before you go to Vegas, as there are some great multi day pass deals out there. Mine was loaded to my iphone and popped up on my watch whenever I got close to the monorail, making hopping on and off a breeze). After a quick stop in front of the hotel to video the Bellagio fountain show for my daughter, we headed back to the room to pack and stumble into bed. It was midnight and man, were we wiped. I was sad the trip had come to a close, to be honest. It had been so much fun having time with just my friend, seeing and experiencing so much. Had I had more time, I would have done one of the ziplines. Ah well, another time. 3 hours later,after a nap, we were on our way to the airport. I was so tired I felt it in my bones. We both crashed out on the plane. The Jet Blue flight attendants scored MAJOR brownie points when they made me an Americano when I commented how sad I was to have missed coffee (and how much I needed one!) They handed me one not long before landing, making me promise to keep the lid on for safety. Thank you, Jet Blue!!!!

It took us ages to get back to our area due to rush hour traffic. My kids were with their aunties and uncles at a local sandwich place, grabbing a bite to eat. I saw their location on the tracking app they have on their phones, and showed up to surprise them. My daughter came running to hug me, a smile but also some tears of happiness on her face. My son, the too cool 13 year old, gave me a smile and looked surprised but pleased to have me back. My husband looked so happy to have me back when I got home that I could have cried. Nothing like a girls trip to make you realize how amazing the world is, especially the little world you’ve created in your own home.

And as for me, I shall go somewhere…

If you have access to news, you’ll probably see there has been a rash of deaths of Americans in the Dominican Republic. Folks looking for a beautiful vacation at seemingly safe resorts ending up mysteriously dead, one woman dragged off the path and beaten within an inch of her life, and people mysteriously getting sick. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were targeting American’t specifically. I’ve never been to that region, so I’m not really sure what it’s really like. Folks I know who have been there say “as long as you stay at the resort and don’t go anywhere, you’re fine.”

Sounds friggen’ horrible.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t much care to travel to a resort where I can’t leave, can’t experience the locals and the true place I am visiting. I might as well be visiting Epcot and experiencing the world that way. What good is it to travel and not fully experience the place? If I’m only allowed to stay at the hotel, and have to be frightened of being beaten or killed if I step outside their gates, then I’m thinking maybe that’s just not the place for me to go. It reminds me when I had an apartment I chose not fully knowing the area. Late at night, I sometimes heard gunshots. I remember singing, like Ariel “I want to be…where the gunshots aren’t. I moved to a place I felt safer.

The thing that concerned me, outside of the actual events of these people getting injured or killed, was how some people reacted. “I’ll never leave the US!” many said. “I have everything I need right here in the US!” Some of those commenting had likely never even left their own STATE I saw posted more than once on social media. It occurred to me how boxed in many people make themselves. To have this big, beautiful world, with so many cultures, foods, and places to see, and then to ignore it all, and not even TRY to get out there seems like such an inherent waste to me.

Look, I am far from a world traveler but I HAVE traveled quite a bit in my lifetime. There are many, many places I want to somehow visit in my lifetime. This world has so many beautiful opportunities and places that call to me. There is something different about people who travel to various places. They seem more worldly, often more tolerant of differences, and more open to new ideas. They seem less complacent.

A few of my cousins have set off on some major traveling excursions. I saw pictures of her at the airport, bright, wide eyed and looking excited. Over the next few weeks, I saw pictures of her show up on social media, meeting an elephant, sitting with an African tribe, and beaming with joy in some of the most beautiful photos I have ever seen. Pictures of African sunsets and the people that live there…each picture more stunning than the rest, yet she had LIVED it for a short time. I have no doubt she came back with an expanded mind from all she saw.

My other cousin went to India to work. I’d never much thought about travelling to India, but her experience opened my mind. I began to see how beautful some areas were and wondered why it had never really crossed my mind to go there.

Another cousin just MOVED to Australia. I was shocked. Sure, I packed up and moved 300 miles away from my parents. She moved half way across the WORLD. Each picture, each mention calls to my soul to go there. It looks amazing. I actually think I would suck it up and do the monsterous journey just for the experience.

I know, I know, for most, travel to foreign lands seems so out of reach. I often wondered how I could afford to get all four of us to England last year. I scrimped and saved, carefully watched prices on flights, and gave up a few little things. I stopped eating lunch at work. At $5-10 a day, that EASILY added up to a big monthly payment to put towards the trip. I made my own coffee at home, saving several dollars a week. I put the funds in a special account, not easily accessible, so I wouldn’t be able to pull them out and spend them on a whim. Such small changes made a huge difference.

Are there places in the US I would like to visit? Of COURSE! I have a friend who I believe will always be a part of my girl tribe, but I’ve never met her in person. I’m dying to fly down south to meet her sometime. I have friends around the US that I want to visit, and places I want to see. I want my kids to see new places, and experience new experiences they can’t easily do so here.

When I took my kids to England, they LOVED it. As in, they loved it so much they begged to go back. One child proclaimed they were seriously thinking about moving to England when they get older. They felt a light in their heart there. It is a slower, easier paced life, and they LOVED it. They loved having all their other cousins around, seeing things they don’t see here at home, and trying new experiences. It was eye opening to them. They came home with a fire, and I loved it. Hopefully we can get back sooner rather than later. Time to save those pennies!!

If you travel, find a place you feel safe and you can see more than just a resort. See the locals, the customs, the traditions. Taste the local food. Learn the local language (at least a few words) and make as many wonderful memories as you can. Right now, the Dominican Republic may not be the best place. Hopefully one day things will be better and it will be safer than it feels to many right now.

My point being, please don’t lock yourself into a mental box and think you shouldn’t travel. You SHOULD. It will make you a better person more often than not. It will open your eyes to so many things, and give you experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. Eat cheaply, save pennies, have a tag sale, whatever you can do to save a few bucks. Instead of buying that new outfit or new item you’ll be donating in two years, invest in yourself and invest in TRAVEL.