Grief and ramblings

I’ve sat down many a day and mulled over what to write. I feel a sense of writer’s block and nothing seems to flow as it usually does. I’ve been out of sorts the past few weeks. Death will do that to you. It brings on a flurry of emotions, and I’ll be honest in saying that I usually prefer to keep the physical part of grief to myself. That being said, sometimes when you don’t know what to write, you just have to start someplace, be honest, and see where the old brain takes you.

I realized the other day how grief when you’re a parent is a different ballgame. At least for me it is. I have so many responsibilities that there simply isn’t time for me to have a meltdown, or a big deep cry. I’ve also become fairly distrusting of people’s motivations over the past few years and prefer not to let people see me sad. I don’t need to give people fodder for gossip. I think it’s important for my kids to see my grieve, but sometimes when I am in the thick of it, I know that my tears will bring questions, and sometimes I’m not always ready for those questions. Sometimes I need to just process my own feelings before I am ready to handle my feelings with everyone else’s feelings layered on top, if that makes sense.

The day my grandfather died was a weird mix of emotions. The usual grief of losing someone was there. The grief of losing my last grandparent, and knowing that it was sort of an end to an era. The knowledge that with his death would eventually mean the sale of his house, which made me sad too, since I had a lifetime of memories within those walls. I felt sadness for my dad too. He lost my mom and now both of his parents. There was some relief on his behalf, as I know he wouldn’t have appreciated how that last month went for him. Death often feels rather undignified, and my grandfather was a very dignified person. It was a veritable onion of emotions, and I wasn’t quite ready to start peeling the layers. I knew I wanted to go to the funeral, so I allowed myself an hour or so to try to get composed and set off to work, since I didn’t have much vacation time left. I arrived, started to cry, caught myself, and headed home. I stayed pretty stoic and held it together quite well through telling the kids, and navigating arrangements.

Each time I started to get upset, I’d rein it in. I had a job to do, kids to look after, a husband. I had friends going through their own troubles. And through all of it, I held it together. Life is just to busy and I have too many people to be responsible for than to fall apart.

I started to crack when the hearse pulled up outside my grandfather’s house. I pulled it together quickly. I decided I would try to grab a few moments with his casket after the church service. I made it through the service quite well. I held it together even when I learned I wouldn’t get the chance to have a few moments alone with my grandfather to say goodbye due to a lack of communication on my behalf with the FD. I held it together at the gathering after. I allowed myself a quick few minutes to cry when I stepped out of his house for the very last time.

There really hasn’t been any proper grief that I’ve allowed myself.

I remember that when my mom died, I went into a type of shock and into survival mode. I was a new mom, with a new husband, a new home, and I went back to work. My world crashed down and I had to stay strong to keep everyone else ok, and keep myself above water. I allowed myself just a few minutes to privately grieve here and there. I managed. That being said, I felt like the grieving process dragged out for ages, where perhaps if I had allowed myself to really feel it in it’s entirety up front, I’d have processed it better.

I need to have a good, old fashioned, soul cleansing, ugly, red faced, boo hoo sobbing cry.

Sometimes a good old cry can work wonders.

On the brighter side, my trip had some really lovely moments. I spent time with family. I learned that certain people in my family will always show for me, and I felt really loved. I stayed with my cousin and the two of us had loads of laughs. I got to hold baby puppies and pet older dogs. (If you’re having a bad day, go look at some baby German Shepherds and listen to them grunt, it’s adorable and will brighten you right up.) I got to see and bring home my great grandparents’ marriage license, as well as numerous other pictures and documents. I brought home a suitcase from WW2 that belonged to a little Jewish boy my great grandparents took in during the war. I learned to cook some new dishes. I walked outside in the freshest of country air. I had people come up to tell me they went to school with my mom, and how amazing they always thought she was. I had folks come up to tell me what a fantastic person my dad is. I worked on our family tree. I got to call my husband and kids and hear that they were doing ok, but that I was missed a lot. I got to meet family at the pubs for pints of well poured Guinness and old stories. I got to go to my mom’s grave, and catch out of the corner of my eye a beautiful sunflower growing out of the top of a building, making me feel comforted and happy. I had late night chats and hot cups of perfectly brewed tea to combat the chill.

In other words, I felt at home, surrounded by family who have known me my whole life and love me, plus I found a lot of happy, joy filled moments during a sad time.

Having family on two continents means that my heart is always split between the two. I always feel like something is slightly missing, but also feel that regardless of which place I land in, I am at home. I feel at home walking the streets of my town here in the US, but also feel perfectly at home walking the fields of a village 3000+ miles away.

In summation, my grandfather, who had admittedly and vocally grown rather tired of this life, has passed. Perhaps he is back with my grandmother, perhaps death is all there is. Regardless, he is not suffering, and for that I am thankful. A trip caused by a sad loss was also filled with joy and laughter, because life is always a balance of the two. If we do not experience sadness, how do we truly appreciate joy? And lastly, I need a good cry once in a while. Grieve the loss, but celebrate the life.

Drag me to filth. Please?

This past weekend (and the past few years) I attended DragCon in New York City. Every year, I make the trek out there via train, and the experience is always a fabulous one. This year was no exception.

Part of the reason I love traveling so much is to get out of my comfort zone a bit, but also to see new things. I’ve never much understood people who don’t want to expand their horizons and viewpoints. Drag to me is fun, exciting, and an art form. I love the illusion of it. I love watching the skill of the makeup techniques and clothing designs. There is so much care, thought and artistry, especially with seasoned drag queens, that it is pure energy. The queens are bold, bright, and glittery. They wear their art. I have always perked up when seeing a drag queen, but was always interested by RuPaul as he/she broke into the mainstream, which was quite groundbreaking. Everyone seems to know who RuPaul is! Well, when Drag Race, Rupaul’s competition show came out, I was front row and center by the TV watching. I’ve watched (and loved) every season. (If you’re one of those people who still gets offended in this day and age, I’m clearly not one of your people. You don’t know what you are missing, and I can tell you as a straight woman, the LGBTQ community is amazing and just wants the same rights as you. They know you’re not gay, they don’t want to convert you. They just want to be treated like everyone else. Hate has no home here.)

When I saw there was not only a drag convention, but that it was in the northeast, I was incredibly excited. I’m close enough to NY that I could go. I came, I saw, I LOVED it, and I’ve been going ever since. Sadly I can usually only go for one day, normally a Sunday, but I manage to pack in quite a lot during the time I am there.

This year, as in some years past, I went with one of my sister in laws. Her and I both have a love of all things drag, and we were both excited to go. Unfortunately, I initially missed the train I was supposed to meet her on, so I had to drive about 20 minutes to “outrun” the train and catch it at a further station. I JUST made it, and we sat chatting and planning what we wanted to do and see. My first goal? CAFFEINE. I had been out late the night before seeing the movie IT with a big group of family and friends, and I didn’t get to bed until 3AM. As soon as we arrived, I popped into Starbucks for a drink I had seen people raving about called a pumpkin cream cold brew.

Y’all…..

It’s DELISH. Not too sweet, perfectly smooth, and it lived up to the hype. I also love the new cups Starbucks has for them which is basically an adult sippy cup. No straw needed and it’s perfect. Once we got our coffee, we cabbed it to the Javits center.

When you arrive at DragCon, there is an electric energy that pulses around the room. The convention was held at the Javits center which is MASSIVE. As you enter the convention area, you can see an enormous pink carpet down the middle. Sequins, sparkles, bright colors abound. What you also sense upon walking in is a sense of freedom to be unequivocally oneself. In a world where so many live in the prison of worrying about what other’s think or spending time keeping up with the Jones’, this environment feels electrifying.

Drag queens from the show RupPaul’s Drag Race are located in booths throughout the venue. The queens most recently on the show, or recent winners typically had the busiest booths. Some who I believe would have been busier had shorter lines due to a high minimum amount to take a picture with the queen and meet them. That seemed to be a theme. The queens with lower minimums (buy something for $5 and still get a meet and picture) had quick, massive lines while others had shorter, expensive minimum lines. People were making money, but I can’t help but wonder which style of handling the merch and meet came up ahead. Vanjie had a long line with a $40 minimum to meet her. Scarlett Envy had a shorter line, but still a $30 or so minimum. Both were recent members of the show. Willam, a queen has had quite some controversy, was a queen we were surprised but excited to see. Willam’s booth had a decent sized line that moved quickly and efficiently. The helper’s kept things moving, and gave instructions. Willam took really well done selfies with each person, with Willam holding the phone. Honestly, the pics were great. Some queens I wanted to meet, I didn’t because I do get rather shy and awkward. I never really know what to say. Some had booths that kept them hidden behind curtains, so your only chance to see them was to pay up. This always makes me a bit sad, but I get it. Drag is not only an art form, but a business as well. It’s a fine line to keep your fans feeling appreciated while still bringing in the money. Every queen we encountered was lovely.

While the convention focuses on queens from the show, my favorite part is to look for local, non show queens, as this is often where the magic is. Local queens roam the floor and are often very eager to take pictures with attendees. One year I met Kari Kerning, who made me giggle with her amazing bee keeper outfit. Last year I met Selma Nilla, who donned a pig nose and smile. This year I had two favorites, but I didn’t catch their names. I loved their creativity and execution. Part Halloweeny, part art, Both caught my eye and I just HAD to take a picture.

I roamed the booths and ended up near the stage where they held a pole dancing competition in which both men and women competed. The MC was fantastic and made me laugh. One of the dancers, a male, was so impressive I had to take a video to show my sister in law, who had gone to another section. The strength, grace, and skill he had was unmatched. I don’t know how he didn’t win because I was mesmerized watching him maneuver seemingly effortlessly. It’s not everyone that can hold a pole and position themselves parallel to the floor at the top of the pole and wave like a flag using only their hands to hold on. It was UNREAL.

Did I buy anything? Yes, I did. I stepped out of my comfort zone and bought a wig. It’s long with big curls and it’s sassy. I love it. It’s the first lace front wig I have ever owned and while I need to practice at putting it on, I love it. I also bought some gorgeous fake lashes. I came home with loads of complimentary free hair care and skin care samples, pots of glitter, and other goodies.

There was so much to see and do that we worked up quite an appetite. After bidding some lovely friends of my SIL goodbye, she and I grabbed a cab to surprise my daughter and my niece who were on a special trip to NY with my daughter’s aunt and uncle. We walked into the restaurant to big smiles and hurried chatter of their day’s events. After hugs and kisses, they headed off to the train while we headed to Tea and Sympathy, my favorite British tea shop. Located on Greenwich Ave, there is a small shop that sells British sweets and items. To the left is A Salt and Battery, an authentic British fish and chip shop. It’s one of my favorite places in NY. It’s not fancy, but I can confirm that it feels and tastes just like a local fish and chip shop in England. It takes me right back to childhood when we would arrive in England and run to the “chippy” for fish and chips wrapped in paper. To the right of the shop is Tea and Sympathy, a litte tea shop that makes all sorts of British food, my most favorite being the Rhubarb crumble drowned in hot custard. It’s an expats dream. The bread there is divine, and everything tastes great. The rhubarb crumble has now become a post drag con staple. We settled in to choose our meals while discussing the days’ events. We also commented how we had seen a drag legend, Lady Bunny, on instagram frequenting T&S and mentioned how great it would be if the famous Bunny might stop by. We knew she lived locally, but wondered if we might even recognize Bunny out of drag. It’s very rare to see or hear of LB out of drag. This night, my SIL were ravenous because neither of us had eaten all day. We each got the “Sunday Roast” which had hot roast beef, fresh peas, broccoli, roasted potatoes and yorkshire pudding. It was filling and divine. While surprisingly a bit pricy compared to what I’m used to, it hit the spot and was really delicious.

When we left, I think we then had one of my favorite moments of the day. While wandering down a street, my SIL paused to get her bearings. As she paused to look at the signs, something shiny caught my eye. It was a sequined dress. I glanced up and saw that the person had the BIGGEST blond wig I had ever seen. It looked just like….could it be? LADY BUNNY. “Bunny! Lady Bunny! Bunny!” I tried to say quickly to my SIL. She spun around to see what I was looking at. I swear we thought we had seen a unicorn. We rushed over by the door she had slipped through and through the window we saw the tail end of a shiny sequined dress step through another doorway. Just like that, the person was gone. Now I can’t say for sure it was LB, but the odds are quite good considering the size of that wig. To honor Bunny’s privacy, I won’t say where exactly we saw her, but for us it was quite a magical moment. After all, hadn’t we just been saying how amazing it would be to see Lady Bunny out and about, in or out of drag? For us it was like seeing a favorite actor or actress out in public. It always makes you wonder “was that really them?”. So one of the highlights of my day? A wild spotting of a Bunny.

We took a long stroll back towards the train station but hopped the subway to get there faster. We just caught the earlier train home, and settled in for the long ride back.

Art, style, glitter, crystals, rhinestones, chaps, wigs, gowns, bodysuits, makeup, lashes, support, pride, comfort, self, drag, selfies, poledancing, jokes, laughs, smiles, coffee, thrills, walks, giggles, food, possibly bunny sightings, subway, lights, action, people watching….New York had it all.

Until next year, NY.

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!

The Godsmack Redemption, Old Friends, New Friends, Travel and Sleep

This past weekend seemed far longer than it really was, all in a great way though. The first thing on my list of things to do was to hit up a bucket list item after almost 20 years of trying. I’m perfectly aware it’s a silly thing, sort of ridiculous, but I wanted to do it all the same….I wanted to attend a Godsmack concert. Now, there’s a story behind this. Almost 20 years ago, before I met my husband, I had a boyfriend I’ll call E. E and I got along great, but it just fizzled, and we both realized the other wasn’t “our person” for the long haul, so we split up. It was an easy, congenial split, but it just so happened to come about the day we had purchased tickets to a Godsmack concert. At the time I really liked Godsmack, and I was excited to go. That being said, since I sort of initialized the split, I offered the tickets to him to go. It seemed like the kind, good faith kind of thing to do at the time. He took them and thanked me. I won’t lie, it stung to hand them over, because while he was looking forward to going, I think I definitely wanted to go more. Still, I told him to have a great time, and to tell me all about it.

AND HE NEVER ATTENDED THE CONCERT.

I was so pissed at myself once I found that out. I’ve spent much of my life doing things for others at my own expense, and for the most part it never bothers me, but this one did. Man, it stung, because I had so looked forward to going and the tickets had now gone to waste. The years rolled by, and I never did make it to a Godsmack show. I did attend a concert to raise money for Veterans and Godsmack played a song or two. They sounded great, just like they did on the album, if not better, and I loved the nostalgia of hearing a couple of the songs I knew and loved. It was only a couple of songs, but I remembered the lost tickets and jokingly told my friends about being #TeamBitter. Fast forward to a week ago, when some friends were talking about going to their concert since the band was on tour and tickets were still available. My husband, knowing the story of my unused tickets so many years ago, treated me to a ticket. The show was Friday, and it was fantastic! A big group of us went and we had a blast.

Saturday I woke up tired from the night before, realized it was Saturday, and rolled over to joyously sleep in. That’s before I remembered I had to pick up my daughter from a sleepover within a half hour. I picked her up, headed home, and mowed the lawn…in the powerful sun on an extremely hot day. In no time I was red faced, sweating, lightheaded, and had to get into a cold shower right away and lie down. I was a mess. I’ve never been good in the sun. The next adventure on the list was a birthday party, so the kids and I headed off. After a lovely time there, I headed out to meet up with friends from high school I hadn’t seen in decades. I had a fantastic time. The hostess lived in possibly one of the most beautiful houses I have ever entered. Absolutely stunning. The last time I had seen her she had gone through a divorce and was trying to get reestablished. She met an amazing man, fell madly in love, combined their blended families and married. I was thrilled to see her get the fairy tale. Another friend was entering into a divorce. That’s the thing about my age. For a while everyone was getting married, then having kids, but now I’m at the age where many people I know are getting divorced and their lives are going through big changes. It reminds me how lucky I am to have my husband and that we are happy, as I see many people who are in marriages where they don’t have the same level of happiness. It is nice though that all of us can reconnect after so many years and we all just fall into conversation like it was yesterday. I even met some new people there and each one seemed awesome and funny. We spent the night talking, laughing and just chilling out. It was refreshing and easy. I left feeling thoroughly relaxed.

I came home and collapsed into bed, exhausted but having enjoyed myself immensely.

Sunday we headed off to Newport RI for a day’s adventure with family. It’s an annual trip we do now and it’s probably one of my favorite days of the year. Sometimes it’s hard to get chunks of time off and the funds for a multi day trip, so a day trip is ideal. Newport for us is that trip. If you haven’t been to Newport, it’s a beautiful, quaint seaside town in Rhode Island. There are loads of shops, places to eat, bars, and always plenty to do. If you’re tired of the shopping and eating, there are the Newport Mansions, which are stunningly beautiful and amazing to tour. I haven’t done the mansions in years, but I think perhaps next year we may do a weekend away there and will go see them again. The ONLY issue with that is that Newport hotels lean towards being insanely expensive. I suppose that’s to be expected with the area.

Now there are two things we try to do each trip. The first is a boat cruise. When you go to Newport there are lots of stands where you can book a boat cruise around the harbor and out near the bridge. They aren’t too expensive and there are different types of offerings. We’ve done the Rum Runner tour twice, once for a tour down by the mansions and Jackie O’s former digs during the day, and another sunset complimentary drink cruise. (The punch has pretty much no alcohol so I’d recommend the beer). During the day cruise, our captain rattled off all sorts of interesting facts about the houses and areas we passed, where the night cruise was done without a running commentary except to point out one amazing photo op. The other cruise we did was on Amazing Grace, which has more of a ferry feel but is fairly small. We sat at the back on the lower level, but most folks prefer upstairs. We stuck closer to the on board bar. A gin and tonic, waves and a beautiful view had me happy as a clam. The OTHER favorite stop that we make annually is dinner at the Red Parrot. This restaurant, a staple in Newport, has a massive menu where just about everything is delicious. Hubby and I started off with Shrimp and flatbreads, and then dove into a delicious filet mignon topped with lobster scampi, served with sauteed spinach and fluffy mashed potatoes. We capped off the meal by sharing a key lime pie. Every one of us left feeling full and having thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

There are plenty of other great restaurants there too although I didn’t get to go this trip aside from the Pearl. Brick Alley used to serve an amazing caprese salad, however I’m not quite sure if they still do. Buskers is a favorite for an Irish breakfast (tastes like home) and a pint of Guiness. Black Pearl is known for their chowder. ( I enjoyed it but wish it had more “chunks” of clams). All in all, Newport is great for seafood and you’re bound to find something you like in one of their many restaurants.

After a trek to pick up the kids and head home, we all collapsed into bed, sleepy from a long, fun filled weekend. Morning came before I was quite ready, but I am already looking forward to the next adventure. This year has been quite filled with travel, shows and adventures, and the more I go to places and do new things, the more I crave. I’m in a mood to declutter and put my pennies away for another trip somewhere, even if it’s a day trip or a quick weekend jaunt.

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.