MUST DO activity in Vegas

I wrote a post the other day about my fun filled trip to Vegas but I also wanted to do a post just on our last excursion. Honestly, it was the best part of the trip for me, and I came away from it exhilarated, worn out, but all smiles. Before I tell you about it, know that the owners have no idea I am writing this, and I get no benefit for doing so other than sharing what made my trip to Vegas unique and amazing in my eyes. When we were initially planning our girls’ trip to Las Vegas, my friend handed me a list of excursions/shows etc we could do, for free, on her Chase points. I perused the list full of Cirque de Soleil shows (I recommend Ka, while I got a bit lost in the storyline the show itself was magnificent), some other options that weren’t really my thing, and then I saw it: UTV riding in the desert. I looked up excitedly and said “dune buggy things in the desert?” My friend’s head whipped around. “Would you DO that?” she asked, “because nobody else will do it with me and I want to!”. We booked it immediately. The company who runs it is OUI Experience https://www.ouiexperience.com/.

Fast forward to our trip to Vegas, and she got a text from Jake, who runs the operation. He explained that he would show to pick us up from the Uber lot at the hotel in a white unmarked van. He also warned us it might be a bit dusty (after all, we found out he and his wife live in the desert, so a little dust is normal). He gave us some flexibility as to when we wanted to be picked up, in case we wanted to bypass the sun’s strength a bit by going out earlier. He let us know the excursions were private, so it would be just us and him, no other people. We decided on 9 am as a meet time. My friend and I joked about the fact we were getting into a dusty unmarked white van with a stranger in a cowboy hat, and I mentioned it was a good thing my husband could locate my phone in an emergency to “find the body” (you all should know I have a dark, dry humor by now, but if not, you do after reading that).

9 am rolls around and we head to the Uber lot at the hotel. As promised, there is a large white van parked and a tan, smiling man in a cowboy hat chatting with someone. We walked up and he immediately introduced himself as Jake, and escorted us to the van. We hopped in and he turned the AC on which was certainly a welcome treat after the Vegas temps we’d had for the past few days. We headed out to the highway, with Jake filling us in on what we would be doing, how his company had special permits and permissions to go where other places couldn’t, and various other tidbits. Before long, I saw a sign indicating we were crossing into Arizona. The drive took about an hour or so, but it flew by with good conversation. You could tell immediately that Jake loves what he does, and his excitement became our excitement. I was staring out the window in awe at the landscape. I’ve been to Las Vegas once before but had never left the strip until that day. The views were beautiful but very different than anything I had ever seen. Next thing I knew, we turned off the paved road and onto a dirt road. I was laughing to myself how it reminded me of Breaking Bad when they are in the RV headed down dirt roads. I had always wondered how people found their way in the vast desert and here I was rambling down those very types of dirt roads.

Jake filled us in on how he met his wife, Ani, and his whole face lit up when he talked about her. As we pulled into their land, where they keep the vehicles, he beeped the horn, mentioning it was his way of always letting her know he was home, as well as a symbol of good luck. Ani comes out of the building where she does the paperwork and has the supplies and has a huge grin on her face. She helps us get equipped with helmets, does a quick introduction to the vehicle, and explains my friend and I will be riding together on this tour, which was fine with us. She handed us a GoPro to take videos with, and gave us a tutorial on that. Like a mother hen, she reminds us of the heat (honestly, no reminder was necessary…..116 degrees is not something you easily forget, trust me!) and tells us we must drink tons of water. We get bandanas to cover our noses and keep the dust out. Jake has a bag packed by Ani filled with ice cold water and anything we might need. She lets us know to be careful of rocks with the tires, as occasionally a rock, if caught the wrong way, can slash the sidewall. She also takes a moment to quickly quip about Jake, before assuring us we will be in good hands.

We set off. Jake leads the way and we follow. Slowly at first, as I learned to navigate the vehicle and the terrain. Before long we were going 50 mph down the dirt roads. Occasionally we would ride on little cliffs, and I had to go easier, being mindful of dips in the road so as not to launch us out. We hit a bumpy patch and my friend and I burst into hysterical laughter as boobs bounced mercilessly. Periodically Jake would stop and give us thumbs up to see if we were ok. We were feeling great.

It wasn’t lost upon me that this was an amazing adventure that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. I shouted to my friend over the roar of the engine how grateful I was. She decided she didn’t want to drive and said she was quite happy to let me drive while she filmed videos on the GoPro and took pictures. When we passed wild donkeys with a baby in tow, her whole face lit up. Aside from the wild donkeys, we saw free range cattle, including babies, as well as jackrabbits, bunnies, and even a roadrunner (meep meep!).

We first headed off to an abandoned gold and quartz mine. It was partially boarded up, but other areas simply had a few pieces of metal wire around it. I suppose not too many folks would be out that way anyways. Jake told us you might get some unsavory wildlife in there, so I was quite content looking around at some of the beautful rocks around the mine. We jumped back in the UTV’s and headed out down to Lake Mohave. As we started our way down there, the water looked a bright, crystal blue. In the dry desert heat, it looked a picture of heaven.

As we got down towards the water, it only got more beautiful. Suddenly we were surprised to see a few Apache helicopters (I think that’s what they were) zooming effortlessly above the water, looking to be mere feet above the waves. It was such an unexpected site I had to pause to watch. We headed all the way to the lakefront where surprisingly there was a building housing a toilet. Jake told us we could go in and change into our swimsuits if we like (they had told us to bring them so we could swim). My friend looked panicked. She had left them back at the startpoint by mistake. We decided, due to the heat, we’d just go in our clothes. After all, Jake said we’d probably dry off within no time. I was in awe at a tree growing quite far in the water. Just one, lone tree amongst the beautiful crystal clear blue waters. Jake informed us the lake often recedes during drier months and the tree must have taken root. We headed a bit further down to another spot and jumped off a small rock into the water, clothes, sneakers and all. I will tell you that the water felt like all my hopes and dreams after being out in that heat all day!

After a long, leisurely swim, we hopped back in for our final stop, which was at a peak of one of the mountains. We hopped out to appreciate the view, which was stunningly beautiful. I had to pause for a moment to take it all in. As a farmgirl from the emerald green fields of England, to the green, tree lines streets of New England, USA, to the dry, dusty, yet picturesque desert in Arizona. This area was nothing like anything I had ever seen in real life before. I wondered at the cacti that were spotted around, looked for wildlife, and honestly wondered how people navigated the area. The mountains had a reddish, earthy tone, and while it was hot and dusty, the dryness of the land against the crystal waters of Lake Mohave below was just something you had to take a moment to absorb.

We headed back to where we had started, all in all doing about 100 miles or so that day in the UTV. Ani came out to greet us yet again, asking excitedly how we had liked our day. I couldn’t really put into words how much I had enjoyed myself. After handing over the helmets and bandanas, we were handed another ice cold drink before the ride back to Vegas. This time, Ani joined us for the trip. I found ourselves asking lots of questions, which she was eager to answer, filling us in on her version of how she and Jake met, how they live in the desert, and what their days are like. She told us she also works as an English teacher. They live full time in the desert on about 8-10 acres of land, in a large RV that has sides that expand. I sat fascinated as she described life in the desert, the beautiful amazing parts, and the challenges too. Her and Jake mentioned how many nights, they take their jeep down to the lake and go jetskiing or swimming to cool off and relax.

Now it may sound silly, but when they dropped us off, they gave us a huge farewell, and I was honestly sad to see them go. Not only had I had an amazing, fun filled, memorable day, but it felt like I had spent it with old friends. And, if I’m really honest, in a world where marriages often struggle to survive, it was a joy to see a couple who seemed to really love not only each other, but the life they have created together. I turned to my friend and said “I really wish I could follow along with their story, they were just so fun to be around”. I will be rooting for them.

We arrived back to the hotel, hungry, dusty, and surprisingly not too sunburned! (Thanks for the sunblock Ani!!!).

After showering, getting prettied up, and feeling relaxed and sleepy, we headed out for a good meal.

It’s not all too often I write reviews, and it’s even less often I’d ever blog about a company, but here’s my 2 cents…..if you head out to the Vegas area, look up https://www.ouiexperience.com/ Spend the cash, and go. It’s not super cheap but I guarantee it’s a lifetime memory and experience. The excursion is a full day. We left at 9 and got back at 5, but you can make it shorter etc if need be. You’ll be back early enough to do dinner and nighttime excitement in Vegas. Not only that, but you’ll put your money in the pockets of two really great people who will be a joy to hang out with. This is a MUST DO experience, and you won’t regret it.

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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.

I’m Totally Not Ready

You know, there are moments in your life that seem to take forever to arrive, and then suddenly they are upon you and you think…”I’m totally not ready! How am I not ready? I had all the time to be ready!”. Yep, That’s pretty much where I am at on this cold, overcast day.

Last week I wrote about choosing joy, and doing things you WANT to do. As soon as I wrote it, I missed out on a party I wanted to go to because my back went out. The irony of it was that I had just told a friend how grateful I was that I’ve had very little back pain in a long time. It took me bending SLIGHTLY to get shampoo whilst in the shower, and next thing I know is searing pain up and down my back and hip. It hasn’t been quite right since. Now, I’d like to say that the reason that all the things has crept up on me this week is because I’ve been a little gimpy, but the fact is, I’ve been overtired, sore, but also pretty busy. Now my total procrastination is catching up to me.

Today was the last day of school. I picked up my little one from school only to have her jump in the car and burst into tears. I thought someone had hurt her, and I was ready to pounce. The truth was, she was sad to leave her teachers, school, and friends behind for the summer. This, coming from a child who in years past complained about how she disliked school. She always loved her teachers, but she never much enjoyed school. I think mostly because she found it a bit hard and challenging. This year, she moved forward quite a lot, and seemed to really enjoy herself. So much so that she was sad to leave. This made me happy. I’ve always felt education is key to more opportunities, and I had always hoped she would find her niche in school. Despite some hard changes this year, she did really well and I’m proud. The town recognized her efforts in helping me with the Closet project, which I thought was really awesome. I think it added to the positive feeling she felt about the year. We started the year with most of her old friends getting pulled out of school. She made some wonderful new friends. She also got bullied a couple of times. Surprisingly, she turned the situation around (despite hauling off and kicking one of the bullies) and even making good friends with them. I’m so proud of her, but I’m not ready for her to go up a grade. It feels like it’s going too fast.

Which leads to me to something off topic, but so be it. During the redistricting, I got into a debate with a gentleman who had an opposing view. We had a bit of a heated conversation. He wanted the redistricting, and I didn’t. So be it. He approached me at the end of year party to thank me for all I have done at the school. I told him that even though things didn’t swing as I had hoped, I wanted to make the very best of it for all of the kids. I also told him how impressed I had been by his and his wife’s frequent presence at the school. They had stepped up and stood by their word, and I admired it. We ended the year with a hug and a joined goal to continue to make the school the very best it could be. I wasn’t prepared for the sunshine and happiness moment, but I am sure am glad it happened. It ended the year on a really nice note. He’s even agreed to join in and help me next year, so that’s pretty awesome!

Aside from kids growing up (which I doubt I shall ever be quite prepared for), I’m also trying very hard to get used to continue my “free range” parenting idea. I am trying to loosen the reigns on the kids more and more. The boy child goes off with his friends more often than not, and he seems much happier. He has been great with checking in, being where he is supposed to be, and letting me know when he is going from place to place. I have a tracking app on his phone so I do periodically check it to make sure where he says he is. The better he does, the more freedom he gets. Even the little one is doing well. Both kids are enjoying added responsibility and freedom. They also know it can be taken away if they don’t follow the rules. It’s a work in progress. Compared to me hovering over them all the time, it’s been a positive experience to let them spread their wings. I notice they are much more street smart now as well. It’s not easy letting go and allowing them to go off on their own but as I remember from childhood, it’s SO important. I still remember when the little one went to her friend’s house and I thought I lost her. It was terrifying. Yet I remember the cops’ words to me “You are doing the right thing…you HAVE to let them roam and do things so they learn to be independent”, so that’s what I am trying to do. I’ve heard comments about it, sure, but I’m doing what’s best for us. As a child, I flew across the Atlantic by myself, navigated numerous airports, and never blinked an eye. I’m not at that point yet with the kids, but I remember the confidence and happiness that independence brought me as a kid. I felt so comfortable in my own skin knowing I could travel half way across the world and navigate the process by myself. I want that for my kids too.

Another thing I am not ready for, yet mentally so ready for? Vegas.

I have packed nothing. I have to do all the jobs around the house, prep father’s day gifts, mow the grass, and pack. Nothing has been done. I’m a slacker. I was going to come home from the year end beach party and do some jobs before heading out to another party, yet here I am, writing. I feel like I want to sleep for a week, yet I am gearing up for a week of very, very little sleep. I’m not ready for anything.

The nicest thing about the Vegas trip? Well, there’s a few things. The first is the daily countdown email I get from my friend each day. I haven’t told her, but it makes me laugh every day because I can FEEL her excitement about this trip, and I am just as excited. I will miss my husband and kids terribly. That being said, there is something so cool about being responsible for just myself for a few days. As a parent, I am constantly responsible for the health and well being of multiple people and animals in our household. To be able to just be responsible for myself temporarily is just a strange sort of luxury. I am excited for our planned events. These include, but are not limited to, a Cirque show, Riding dune buggies in the desert, ziplining, swimming through a shark tank, and one truly amazing fancy dinner. Doesn’t all of that sound amazing? I swear, I am so incredibly lucky to have such awesome friends. That being said, we are cramming tons of things into just a few days, and I’m struggling with the fact that I want to do ALL the things, but I am getting old and I love sleep. Look, 10pm you will usually find me laying in bed. I love bed. I love sleep. They are my favorites. You can’t go to Vegas and sleep it away though! I gotta be ready to hang. I did take the day after come back off work though. Wasn’t planning to, but I have the time and frankly, I am gonna need a recovery day.

I’ll fill y’all in on how things go, what I loved, what I liked a little less, and much more when I come back.

I think when I come back there will be some life changes going on. I’ve got that antsy feeling. Sometimes when that feeling hits, I make a small change or two, and sometimes it’s a huge change. Then again, I could spend a week away and come back feeling right as rain. I got the itch to shake things up.

I may get suddenly inspired to write before I go, but if not, see you all on the flip side.

Wide Eyed, Like, REALLY Wide

Did I ever tell y’all about my bestie’s wedding? I may have. After a while the days start to slide into weeks, and posts come and go. (Yes, I am still working on the big post I keep mentioning. You have no idea how much time and effort it takes to get all the info aligned and put together). In the meantime though, it’s often fun to look back and laugh at all the chaos that life throws at you. Today someone posted a video on FB from Cian Twomey. If you haven’t seen this guy, he’s usually hilarious. He usually performs as a character named Emily. You kind of have to see it to understand, because I’ll never do him justice describing it.

Anywho, the video appears, and Cian is doing his Emily persona, and is doing a makeup tutorial. Cian is in full beard, doing a purposefully terrible job doing the makeup, but talking himself through it. Now I know that made that sound horribly boring and uninteresting, but I promise you might get a chuckle if you go look him up. Anywho, I digress. Cian gets to a point where he attempts to apply false lashes, and it’s just a hot mess. There is glue where it shouldn’t be, the lashes aren’t where they should be, and the whole thing is utter chaos. I laughed way harder than I should have, because it’s a perfect representation of how things went at my friend’s wedding, only he did a better job than I did.

The wedding was a destination wedding, and we couldn’t afford for both my husband and I to go, so I went while he stayed with the kids. I flew down to Florida for Valentine’s weekend. I arrived at the rehearsal dinner immediately after checking into my room and racing to the location. After racing in, I plopped down and my friend came over to sit next to me. “I need a favor….I need you to iron my dress” she said. “You can’t iron a wedding dress!” I laughed. “I have faith in you” she said. She wasn’t joking. Now, I had gave her all the info…how to take the dress on the plane, how to contact the hotel concierge to get it looked after/steamed if necessary, and all the other travelling bride tips I had learned. She did not of it. Instead, she put her wedding dress in a suitcase.

Let me repeat that. She put her wedding dress….IN.A.SUITCASE.

The next day, I headed to the bridal suite. My friend, her sister, and her old best friend from when she was in elementary school were the bridal party. I asked where the dress was. It was an utter disaster. I was armed with a steamer I had purchased from Walgreens. The dress was hanging in a closet. I sat down on the floor and started steaming. I steamed, I steamed, and I steamed some more. The brides sister announced she didn’t want to do a speech. I saw my friend looked panicked. “I’ll do it if you want” I said, and kept working on the dress. My face was bright red, my hair frizzed, and I was sweating heavily, but by the time that dress was done, it was exquisite. Not a wrinkle in sight.

The 3 women were getting hair done and getting prepped. I headed back to my hotel room to get ready. I now had to get glammed up, plus write a speech. That’s when the cramps started, and I ran in the bathroom. Something set my stomach off, and there I was, having to write a speech while on the toilet. Classy lady, I tell ya.

I get myself together, and now feel a lot better, so I hop in the shower to start the process of turning my swamp creature self into something passable enough for a wedding. My makeup looked cute, my dress looked cute, and I had a few extra minutes.

That’s when I got cocky.

I should have known better.

I decided to put on false lashes. Now let me preface this by saying that I rarely wear lashes, and I don’t know how to put them on easily. Every time is difficult, and while I love the look of them, I hate how inept they make me feel. I was about to be a big ol’ hater, because the lashes and I went to war.

I trimmed them, added my glue, and went to apply gently. Something went wrong, and next thing I knew, my eyelash was stuck to my lower lashes, meaning I had effectively glued my eye shut. The glue went into the corner of my eye and then spread across my eyeball. The pain. OMG, the pain. Now I am left trying to pry my eye apart, but it keeps sticking back to itself. I decided to break from that side and try the other. I gently go to apply the last, and I wish I could explain what I did wrong, but all I can say is that the last somehow stuck to my lashes, and then stuck up by my eyebrow.

I now have one eye WIDE open, with the last connected almost to my brow, and one eye almost glued shut, with glue in it. I look like an old, creepy, broken doll. I pry my eyes apart, and somehow manage to get the lashes in the right place, however I still ave glue in my eye so it’s extremely red.

I throw on my dress, my sky high heels, and teeter downstairs. I say teeter because as I said, I am but a jeans and t shirt swamp girl on the daily, and not the high heel wearing goddess I was hoping to be for just one night. I finally get the hang of the heels and I head to the wedding. Or, at least I tried.

The car never came to get me. The hotel called some guy who showed up in a very dirty minivan. I wasn’t sure if he was a serial killer, but I had a wedding to go to so I hoisted myself right in and off we went. The guy drove like a bat out of hell, which I appreciated. I arrived, flustered, red eyed, eyes sticky, but happy, and set out to find the wedding. That’s when I realized the wedding was on the far side of the hotel, and the hotel was HUGE. I slipped off my shoes and started running, not wanting to be late.

I arrive, winded. My chubby, mediocre bodied self huffing and puffing. I am starting to surmise I am not looking as cute as I had attempted to look.

I see a familiar face, and am promptly asked “oh my god, are you ok? why are your eyes so red?”. So there’s that.

The rest of the night? Pretty awesome. Lots of drinking, dancing, celebrating. There was a Cirque de Soleil performer. There was laughter. There was, however, the incident. You know, the one where we are all stumbly drunk and being silly. I am pushing my friend’s aunt in her walker that has a seat on it. She is laughing and yelling, and I am doing a fast walk, until I hit the lip of carpet, and we both toppled over, crashing to the ground. She gets a head wound, I almost broke my foot. The next morning, I awake still drunk, my foot black and blue, and one of my favorite shoes is cracked in half. I pack, sober up, and race off to the airport to fly home. Not my best choice of travel plans, but I digress.

Now, did I mention the part where I am a terrified flier? Ridiculous, I know, especially as I practically grew up on planes. Yet suddenly, I became a scaredy-pants and get very anxious on planes. I am sitting at the gate where I see a handicapped boy in a wheelchair being pushed to the gate. I noticed that periodically he makes a shriek. I suddenly realize that he will likely be sitting near me, which doesn’t bother me at all except I know if he shrieks and it catches me off guard, with me being so tense, I might shriek too, and then I’ll look like an asshole. I get on the plane, and frankly I may still be a little buzzed from the night before. The boy is a couple of rows up. I settle into my seat. I am trying to get my nerves fine before we take off. I look casually to my left and see an Asian woman with a mask on…the kind doctors wear. I glance around and suddenly notice I am surrounded by people with those masks on. I start to wonder why everyone has a mask on. I fall asleep and start to laugh that perhaps my friend is pranking me. I wake up as we are in mid air, and I awake to a shriek by the boy a few seats up. It was also at the exact moment we hit turbulence and the plane dropped a bit. I SCREAMED. Like, fear in all it’s glory scream. All I felt was my seat drop out below me and heard someone scream, so I screamed. Then I realized what happened. I peered around sheepishly and saw an endless sea of masked faces looking at me. Some looked concerned, some looked angry. I realize I now look like I was mocking a handicapped person. I slink down in my seat, cursing my stupid fear.

I arrived home, hobbled with bruises all over my foot and leg, still unable to apply lashes like a grown up, but having had a hell of a time.

Happy Is As Happy Does

It’s funny, after weeks of not writing, I’m back with an awful lot to say, but don’t want to word vomit too many posts. I have a few posts in process (one is long, complicated and detailed) but while I’m working on the heavier posts, a little lightheartedness is in order. They say the key to happiness is someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. I suppose that explains my mood lately…I’m giddy. I’ve currently got all three.

I came into 2019 with an itch for change. A change in look, a change in the daily, and a change in scenery. So far, all three have been in process. I cut off over a foot of my hair, there have been super positive changes at work, the school project, and now I have some things lined up in the future I am looking forward to.

So, the Vegas trip? I. CANNOT. WAIT. I am unable to hide the excitement of a new experience for a few days with my bestie. We have a few thrill seeking activities in the works, and maybe a show or two. Honestly, I am looking forward to hitting the pool and wandering the strip. I was in need of a new swimsuit, and happened to find a new one (with tags) on Poshmark that I fell in love with, except it wasn’t my size and the style is discontinued. After a long, arduous search, I found the same one on Ebay, new with tags, in my size, cheap! Thrilled to pieces I bought it. It’s the little things sometimes that bring a huge smile. Hopefully I don’t look like a sausage when it arrives, but even if it looks bad, I have time to resell it and call it a day. I am realizing more and more how much I really do want to travel. I saw a meme on facebook the other day that talks about how people spend 10 bucks a day on lunch, not realizing that it works out to close to 900 bucks in 3 months. Those little extras add up, and if we cut out a few things, travel is in our reach! My goal is to take the family on a vacation somewhere every year, or maybe even two trips. There’s nothing like a fresh location to put things in perspective.

Also on the list to look forward to is a big family vacation. This one is super important because I think we could all use some downtime before the hectic season begins. This year we decided to team up with some other family members and go for a week of relaxation a little closer to home than our England jaunt. I won’t lie, I definitely want to get us all back to England (my kids haven’t stopped raving about that trip, even saying they preferred it over Disney) but I think a change in scenery is in order. Maybe next year we’ll head back. This year we’re headed for a week on a ranch near a lake. A little bit of land activity, a little bit of water sports, and something for every one of us. I’m looking forward to having downtime with the husband. He busts his ass daily and I know some relaxation would do him good. He often doesn’t get the credit he deserves for all he does, and he works insanely long hours. Time off does him good.

I managed to book a late fall trip to see a favorite drag performer of mine, and splurged a little to get a meet and greet. I always said if this particular person comes around, I’d want to do the M&G, so I stuck true to that. I’m going with one of my favorite people, and I know it will be a great time. I love a good comedy show, and I love drag queens. This is the perfect combination of both.

The combinations of trips and a show has me excited for this year. I’m excited about how well the school project has come together. I’ve got a great tribe of easygoing, no bullshit people in my life. My husband and kids bring me joy. What more could a girl ask for? Of course, life isn’t perfect, but I choose to be happy, and I always keep something on the horizon to look forward to on those tougher days.

Viva Las Vegas!

The other day, I was chatting with my bestie of probably 30 years. We met in school and have been firm friends ever since, even buying a house together when we were younger and before we each got married. We’ve done many an adventure together over the years. She was the one that came down to make the drive with me once I moved up north. We got each other through bad dates, bad boys, good time, the best of times, and the worst of times. Through it all, we’ve rarely had falling outs, and the friendship is an easy one. While we’re both married, I have kids, and she doesn’t, but she loves my kids and understands that my first priority is being their mom. That sometimes makes getting time to go adulting a bit difficult.

She was asking about what I’m up to, which basically revolves around marriage, kids, the project with the Kindness Closet, and all the usual mom things. She was telling me she’s itching to go on a trip to Vegas (she loves gambling, and if I’m honest, I do too, I just don’t have the extra funds these days), and asked me if I want to go. After all, we’ve talked about going to Vegas together for probably 25 years now, but we’ve never managed to go. I told her that of course I would love to go, but I can’t swing it now. After all, we have a family trip coming up that I am saving for, as well as a ton of expenses for camp etc that were all hitting at once. There was just no way I could swing it. “Do you WANT to go?” she asked? “Of course!” I replied. “Is it just finances?” “Well, yes, and coordinating with the kids.” “Ok, you coordinate the kids, I’ll pick up the flights, hotels and excursions” she said.

I blinked. “WHAT?”

She explained that since she goes out there quite a bit, she has a ton of points that she can use for free items. Miles, points, and other offers that she can take advantage of. She then went on to explain how my parents had always helped her out when we were younger, that I was always there to help her out, make meals when she had surgery, color her hair for her, and other stuff, plus I always help people. She said this was a way to turn the tables and help me. I’m stunned, floored, and honored.

And so, a girls’ trip has been planned, just the two of us. She handed me a list of things to do and said to pick a couple. When I squealed and said “They have DUNE BUGGIES?” she squealed “you’d do that? I’ve always wanted to and nobody would go with me!” Needless to say, we’re dune buggying it up! For her, this is a way for her to showcase a city she loves, and for me, it’s a chance to decompress and relax, while having some bestie time and seeing new things. I am GIDDY.

The other day, I was in the orthodontist office with the little and while trying to make an appointment, I started having chest pains. I won’t lie, it frightened me. A LOT. I made jokes about it, and the staff looked clearly panicked. I asked for some Tums, assuming it was just severe heartburn. Turns out that’s likely what it was because it eventually disappeared. When I recounted this to my husband he pointed out that I need to find ways to relax because I am always stressed and with a million things on my plate. I told him he was silly, and he just looked at me and started doing something he knows I do when I get very stressed. Ok, point taken.

I told my friend that while she goes gambling, there is a good chance I may wander around and people watch, or even better, park out by the pool for a while. I think the downtime is going to be amazing, but am excited to see all I can and do a few crazy things. Honestly, I have the best friends a girl could ask for. I simply cannot wait!

If you’ve been to Vegas, let me know your favorite things to do and see!