When your favorite store decides to go Bankrupt…

When my sister just had to share the post on my Facebook wall that Vanity, my favorite clothing store of all time, was going bankrupt and closing all their stores, it crushed me. Not only because at that moment I noticed every piece of my outfit that day was from that store but because I have been shopping there since I entered middle school. Literally over half of my lifetime!! Majority of my closet contains clothing from Vanity, how will I survive?!?! It really is the end of an era.

Besides planning out when I need to get to my nearest store and buy all the layering tunic tanks, leggings and other essentials I could get my hands on, I remembered the early days of when I started shopping there….
When I had entered middle school in 6th grade, I was this very awkward, nerdy, insecure, chubby, girl who had no idea how to fit in or how to even be myself. What clothes I did wear were hand me downs or things I had to have my mom buy me from discount places or sales racks. I wore what I was told or what I thought would look good, not what I actually liked. I know all middle school kids are just basically that: kids. Kids aren’t supposed to have good fashion tastes but really I was so clueless with no sense what how to dress myself what so ever.

It was 7th grade that I tried to start basic in developing my wardrobe: luckily casual and layering t-shirts were a thing so one of the brands of shirts I paired with my jeans from Vanity was Sugar. Trendy at that time. While I struggled with my chunkiness overall body image, I was happy that one article of clothing was comfortable and i felt I looked good in:

  Those awkward middle school years….

I remember getting a $10.00 off card in the mall for my birthday every year and I would always use them to buy a pair of Silver Jeans, since my Mom said would not spend $50.00 on a pair of jeans for me. Going over the Vanity Store in Southbridge Mall in Mason City, IA, nothing could get me more excited.

8th grade is when I really started to get my own sense of fashion and what would look good on me. At that time, black pleather pants were so in as well as rock style shirts and tanks. I had so many shirts, jeans, and THOSE pants in my closets. I also had my first part time job washing dishes so I was able to buy more of my own clothes and I didn’t have a spending limit on my jeans! Going through my old pictures made me a little sad I grew up in the time before smart phones and selfies and had to rely on disposable cameras and film developing for pictures. So many fun clothes I had but no photographic evidence. The ones I do have, who can remember this look (I didn’t only wear red! Black shirts were my jam since they were thinning):

 I was big into the whole rock start girl look.

 I bought my own flared Silver Jeans and remember when Doc Boots were worn with every outfit?!?!?

 I’m sad this is the only picture I have of my favorite middle school shirt: a red tanks that tied up on the sides!!! The word ‘ROCK’ was on the from with studs. That was soo cool to me then. Not a good quality but like I said the days of disposable cameras….

High school I had started to thin out and loved wearing the comfy lounge look that was in:

 Did you notice my shirt says ‘Ex Cheerleader’?

 Love this matching flame long sleeve under a short sleeve combo

The older I got the less awkward and more comfortable I became with who I was, what I liked and how I dressed. Confidence must come with age. Looking back on all the pictures after high school, it’s so amazing seeing how clothes from my favorite store were apart of so many memories:

-My 21st birthday
-After going through a much needed breakup before my senior year of college and buying a ‘I’m going out and looking hot because I’m now single’
-My senior year of college when my green plaid zip up hoodie was EVERYTHING
-Going to a concert with friends
-Going to Vegas
-Going to Europe
-When Tyler proposed to me
-Getting a new job- all the basic layering tees and tanks became my wardrobe staple.

For me, clothes are more than just fabric you place on your back. They are art like and more of an expression or exclamation of THIS IS ME!! LOOK AT ME!! I LOVE HOW I LOOK!! I’m FUCKING FABULOUS!!!! It’s amazing how as I grown woman of 30 I still shopped in the same store that I did at age 12 and not feel like ‘I’m too old for this’.

Vanity was there as I was growing up and started to discover who I am when that concept was impossible for me to grasp. I’m so sad that it will be gone soon but on March 5th, 2017, I drove to Southbridge Mall to shop at Vanity one last time. I did it right and didn’t care about how much things were: I loaded up, tried them on and checked out. After $215.00 worth of clothes, I left satisfied but nostalgic for the past and wishing I had more of these trips to make.

I know Vanity is just a store and nothing is made to last but I’m fortunate to have had this store and how it helped growing up for me become a little more enjoyable.

RIP Vanity.

 

 

My how my Fridays nights have changed….

One month ago, (the month of January), I had the freedom to get off work do whatever I wanted: come home, cook, maybe go to the Y and work out, maybe head out for a couple of drinks at any given night of the week, clean while blasting “I’ll Be Your Shelter” by Taylor Dayne on Youtube (it’s how I listen to random music at home). I was preparing to dance in our community Dancing With The Stars fundraiser (here’s a photo op for you curious ones)

and getting ready to go back down to Cancun with my husband the morning immediately after I performed in said fundraiser. (Same resort we stayed last year, Excellence Playa Mujeres!)
 
(I had a moment and upgraded us to First Class at last minute, something neither of us had ever experienced. Why not? YOLO bitches! So worth $198.00 per person! Building up those Delta SkyMiles…)

Lots of free time, ability to sleep in every weekend, basically I could leave my house after work and not come back until I felt like it.

Fast forward to last Friday night, February 17th: I am am home as I have been for the past four weekends. I have been taken hostage by a furry creature with razor sharp teeth:

I can’t leave this thing alone and she has thrown up three times in one hour!
Tyler and I have become fur parents! Meet Nikki, our beagle mix puppy! She came home on Saturday January 28th, the day after we came back from Mexico, and our lives have not been the same since then.

Last month in January, Tyler and I were in the beginning stages of considering adopting a dog, something we’d been talking about since we started living together over 4 years ago. Both of us had grown up with dogs and missed having one around and figured we didn’t have a reason why not. I had started looking up shelters around the area online and started the basic steps in the adoption process figuring it was a longer process and could take some time.

Friday January 13th exactly one week before Dancing With The Stars and leaving for our Cancun trip, I stumbled across Petfinder.com and did a search within 100 miles. I saw Nikki’s post and it seemed like everything kind of just happened from there: I called the number listed and talked to the lady who ran Pet Projects in Minnesota (where Nikki came from), I showed the picture to Tyler and asked what he thought, I set up a meeting time to see Nikki the next day in Fairbault, MN, we drove up the next day to meet her and wrote a check for the adoption fees, we drove up to Northfield, MN two weeks later and officially adopted/ brought her home. We didn’t expect to become fur parents this soon but even so we are super happy we finally are!

Like I said both of us had dogs in the past and knew what to expect with: feeding, taking her out when she has to go, cleaning up accidents on the floor, chewing, puppy biting, jumping up, etc but the reality of it is something entirely different and Nikki isn’t supposed to or going to be like any of our dogs we had growing up. It has been life changing for both of us.

I never realized how lucky I was to sleep in or get up and not worry about our house being destroyed while getting ready for work.

Don’t let this innocent face fool you, she has sharp teeth and can rip up anything! Things I didn’t think she’d do or be into, she is. Nikki was only a little over three months old when we brought her home so Tyler and I being on separate work shifts has been good for her as she adjusts to her forever home and growing out of the puppy stage. Good for Nikki but tough for Tyler and I as it’s hard to go to the bathroom without her glued to our sides wanting to come with. Her bathroom schedule now takes priority over our own bathroom or sleeping schedules. (It will get better the older she gets). It would be nice to eat and not have her put her paws on the table looking to see what we are eating. Just let me eat in peace!!! Each of us feels like a single parent when the other is at work.
How did this happen?!? I sometimes wonder… one month ago I was going out on Fridays nights, now I’m stuck at home cleaning up dog puke. Three different piles of dog puke!

I get by knowing Nikki is slowly but surely growing up and the more time we work with her, the better dog she will be. She has been lucky to have two people around constantly around her throughout the day, something not all dogs are lucky to have. I get excited when we go another week without her having an accident (Almost three weeks!!) and being able to be outside by herself without freaking out that we aren’t there but knowing we are inside.

The thing I have struggled with most was leaving her alone at home in her crate during the first week and beyond. I knew she would be fine in the crate for one or two hours if I had to run to the Y or to a meeting but I hated (still do) putting her in there and hearing her while/cry/bark. Even when I knew this was natural for dogs and Nikki would have to get used to it, the fact didn’t stop I would still hear Sarah McLaughlin singing in my head!!!

Even during it’s hardships, being a fur Mama is great! I have a companion to go with me on my walks, we have a source of entertainment when at home and I have her to snuggle with me while I watch the entire series of Gilmore Girls:

Seriously, my heart melts every time this happens!

I have learned to have patience, so has Tyler, but him and I also realize that neither of us have much of it at all. Even though dogs and children are not the same and you can’t really compare the two, we know that by adopting Nikki both of us are set on the decision that we don’t want children. We have given up a little bit of our freedom but are unwilling to lose it completely and that’s OK. At least we know what we want and agree on it. Unlike a kid, we can still travel whenever we want. Sure it will cost us money to have her boarded but we still have the option to take vacations when we want to.
I have learned how to time manage and prioritize more than I ever have. I have learned how to work with her even after she makes me so angry by not listening after saying “NO!” or “GET DOWN!” 50 times in a row.

Honestly, how can you stay mad at that face?!?!

I am seriously excited for the rest of the year as Nikki turns from a puppy into a full grown dog even though her mind might still be puppy for years afterward. I can’t wait to build a fence in our backyard so she can run around it. I can’t wait to take her on more walks. I can’t wait to bring her along in the car for the trips that we can. I can’t wait until we can leave her at home without putting her in the crate, or at least in one room without being completely contained. Nikki just gets better every day. I am so crazy stupid happy but at times I wonder if just my sleep deprivation kicking in…

End Note: During this whole process I can’t say enough how happy I am that we adopted instead of shopped. It warms my heart knowing we gave her a good home.

2016 to 2017

Intro

I didn’t want to be away too long, but when I haven’t been traveling lately and instead preoccupied up until November with: my regular full time job, a part time job and an online grad class, writing for fun has been pushed aside unintentionally. What ambition was left I began work on a post about women, for women on how awesome we are and all the double standards we face in our daily lives. Then… the election happened. That is all I have to say about that (ala Forrest Gump). During a time where tensions are still high and sides taken, I decided to wait but continue working on the post gradually. It should be for ALL women no matter what their stance; even when it will still be very challenging to not have it cross political lines but such is life.

When the election was all said and over with I decided that even when I may be unhappy with things going on in our country and the world, most of which is far out of my control, I wasn’t going to let things in my life that I CAN control bring me down or make me miserably unhappy. I was also at that time two weeks away from turning 30 and wanted to start this new decade of my life happy, thankful, in control and how wanted it to be.

Luckily where the election fell, I had just completed one grad class and waiting for another to begin. I looked at the things I had going on outside of my 40 hour a week job besides the course: a part time job and the upcoming Rotary Club Dancing With the Stars fundraiser I was in as one of the couples competing. Right away I decided to withdraw from the upcoming online term; instead of starting the class in November I’d wait to take it in February when it would fall within the range of spring semester of campus.

After what seemed like a long time over the previous months while debating the pros or cons over and over again: I knew it was time I quit my part time job. This has helped relieve so much by: allowing me to keep a sleep schedule, less stress by not worrying about hours or how others (mostly men) perceive me (will be touched on more in the article about women for women) or dealing with negativity from others. As I stated before there is enough negativity and toxic people in the world, no longer was my life going to be full of those things. I can’t believe how much more happier I am!

Even though I now had less money coming in, I feel I’m still doing ok in that area. There is so much to be involved in here in our small town of Forest City that keeping you busy can also help you save money. Since I no longer have had to work on Thursday nights: I could now return to being involved in a community organization I had started to the year before:

Forest City Young Professionals

I became involved with Forest City Young Professionals in early 2015 by attending monthly meetings and social functions until I took my part time job and was involved in community theater in early 2016. It has felt good to finally be involved with the group again. The organization is made up of people ranging from ages 22 to mid 30s who regular meet to network, socialize, volunteer and find ways to get involved in our community. We hold a monthly meeting, usually relaxed and informal but still making note of items discussed. These meetings have ranged from basics discussions about to group to having topics and speakers for the nights. Some of the topics have included:

Dinner for Dummies
City Hall and City Council Meetings
Departments of the City with the then Mayor of Forest City
Starting your Own Business
How to Invest
Loans
Credit, Finances and Buying a Home

These are just a few. At our most recent meeting we had a speaker from the Toastmasters of Mason City who gave a nice presentation on public speaking and other tips for organizations like ourselves. Young Professionals also do volunteer work: the Forest Theater, AFS Fun Night, Puckerbrush, etc.

Once a month we try and plan a social function that opens up to others in the community outside our organization: trivia night, pub crawls, concerts, hockey games and for this last month of December we had an Ugly Sweater Party at Ay Jalisco Mexican Restaurant: (Why I am wearing a Star Wars Christmas sweater above in my featured image)
  

  

If you notice our lovely green mugs in the photo: we had those on sale for $1.00 and with those you got $2.00 draw beers or $5.00 cocktails. Their bar menu for introduced that night for us: (I highly recommend their Blue Margarita!!!)

Brickstreet Theater

I was cast a small part in the Brickstreet Theater performance of Rumors last spring and wanted to continue on as an actor or work behind the scenes. I hadn’t planned on being involved with their December production of A Christmas Story because of everything else I had going on when the show was first organized and put together in September. I got a call the end of November from my friend, also the assistant director, asking if I wanted to help with the lights for the show. I wanted to say yes but was worried about this taking on too big of time commitment. We worked it out that I would share tech week with another light person and then we would take turns running lights for the shows running during the two weeks. After we worked the board, and I got comfortable and had so much fun! I most definitely could run the board by myself for tech week and all performances in the future! (Any Brickstreet people who may read this, please don’t not cast me because you are afraid you wont find a light person! haha I do like operating the light but I love acting and being on stage more! I’m first and foremost an actor! 🙂 I say this with love)

The show’s cast was made up of mostly kids and they did a marvelous job! The set was one of the best I’ve ever seen on that stage. I didn’t realize you could fit all those pieces on to it! I just hope more community will keep attending these shows and how enjoyable they are even if you don’t know anyone in the show! We have a lot of talent in this town and all the kids looked so stinkin cute!!!

Christmas and New Year

Besides Christmas, December was a good month and I mostly spend it in Forest City. Besides me not wanting to travel far with snow and sub zero wind chills there is so much to do and get involved with. We have some good local restaurants and drinking establishments that are unique and unlike anything we’ve had before. Despite critical remarks they are what this town has wanted and needs if we want business to remain local. I love eating the awesome food and margaritas as Ay Jalisco also having a place like Paddler’s Tap in town has been awesome. The change of pace of having a tap house with craft beer separate from your typical lounge or sports bar adds so much variety especially on main street which we have been trying to revive for years! Not saying there is nothing wrong with your neighborhood lounge or sports bars, those are great too but having variety and choices to pick from makes everyone want to stay here majority of the time and not feel like they have to leave town to have fun every weekend.

So now I am excited that 2017 has come and I can start fresh from the messy end of 2016. I’m not really much on New Year Resolutions but I feel the changes and schedule I started to make I can now try and implement on a clean slate that begins with the new year. I hope to continue on with writing and find a routine/schedule that works out the best. Also if I can attend and conferences or workshop that will help improve my writing or my format so I can just keep getting better at doing this. I have been working out regularly but hope to make more of the time I do and add more strength training. I still have stubborn weight that I haven’t been able to lose. I WILL pay off my student loans this year! I want to put more money in my savings. I want to book two more trips besides going to Cancun this month; one state side and one international. I want to hopefully obtain another position at my current place of employment. I want to be involved in more community theater productions but as an actor with a role that has more than two lines. I want to help out with causes and help spread awareness on issues that mean a lot to me: climate change, human rights, equality for women and all minorities, women’s issues, education, etc. Instead of just complaining about it I hope to actually help do something about it.

It’s a new year and a new decade for me, I’m ready for whatever this year and the rest of my 30s are going to bring.

End of Month Quickie

I like staying busy but I really need to learn when I need to say ‘no’. My intentions of taking on an extra job was good to start saving money for our future new house and a new car all while being less than of year of having my student loans paid off BUT I know I’m possibly burning the candle at both ends. Especially this week: I finally got a working sewing machine to finish my costume for the Renaissance festival but I only have two more nights to put it together. Not having a part time job would give me extra time to work on it or just relax and enjoy other things that have taken a backseat: attending FC Young Professionals meetings, reading, this blog etc but no instead I made myself live this entire week like I’m on crunch time for Project Runway.

Why not just quit or ask to scale back your hours you may ask? Well I know I’m needed in both my jobs and don’t want to cause any mess so I just suck it up and keep plugging away until both goals are met: student loans paid off and I get to my target amount I wanted in my savings. I’m 30% of the way there! I’ve even thought of asking to go every other Friday instead of Friday even though the money is good when you do every Friday night. I may have become something I try to avoid, being a sucker for money instead of my sanity.

One thing I miss sooo very much that I just don’t have time for: SHOPPING!!! I feel like I have to make a day out of it but that can be discouraging because the couple things you may look for and need aren’t available or might not fit you right. Especially right now when I’m in between sizes and trying to loose weight. Plus I live in North Iowa were your stores are either Junior of Misses: Misses sizes are very boxy and don’t fit right and Junior sizes make me look like I’m definitely too old to wear them or like a little girl playing dress up if I tried buying my work clothes from there.

Next week after pictures and post about our possible trip to the Ren Fest, I will also be starting another one of my graduate courses. I hope I can use this also as “please I need to cut back to every other week”. Thank you for letting me vent and write another one of my quickies especially those that haven’t stopped reading. This lady is almost 30, I just want to get my money saved, upgrade a house with my husband, own an adult car that’s reliable, go on a shopping spree, learn new things, socialize with people, get paid to write, and drop 25 pounds. I don’t think that is asking for much! 😉

 

Been Away Too Long..

Why does it always feel I have way too much time or no time at all? Or when you work to make money to live and enjoy yourself but you end up working so much that you don’t have time to live, have fun or enjoy yourself? That or you have the time to have fun and you are broke af.

Besides my primary 40 hours a week job I do between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM Monday-Thursday, 10 AM-3 PM on Friday, I have:

A part time bartending job Thursday and Friday nights which originally just started with Thursdays but I have acquired another night due to loss of staffing and me just want to save more money at a faster rate even though it pushes my overall work week from 40 hours up to 53 hours at times. (I have goals, seriously, I’m not crazy in trying to fill all my free time.)

I’ve started taking classes toward my Master’s degree (only one course at a time thankfully)

I’ve been involved in a theater production earlier this year but who know if that will continue with the extra job and graduate classes next season. Perhaps this will have to wait until I’m done working a second job.

This blog I have been trying to update weekly or bi weekly, what was started in February I failed epically July and now August.

There’s a Young Professionals group I used to be able to go to once a month but with extra job I’ve had to step back from that unless they switch up a meeting to a Wednesday night instead of a Thursday night.

I have a Y membership through work I try and use as much as I can during the week.

I’ve started reading a good book

I’m barely started on a costume I would like to wear to the Renaissance Festival.

Even when I’m at home where I should be relaxing I have multiple work roles: I’m a housekeeper, a cook, a groundskeeper, a plumber (Tyler and I both have long hair so yeah I deal with that that creates), I can only imagine how much more I’d have to do if we had kids or even pets. So it could be worse but I have quite a few roles already personally and professionally.

With Tyler working on second shift, 3-11 PM M-F, we don’t get much time together throughout the week. This has us cramming a week of spousing into Saturdays and Sundays. However sometimes I may want to do things with friends on a Saturday or Sunday and other times he may want to do things away from me with his friends on the weekends. I know sometimes this happens but since our weeks are apart I feel a little guilty when I do things not with him. I know it isn’t a big deal and sometimes schedules don’t always go according to plan. It’s something I’ve had to learn to deal with work with until he can move to 1st shift, whenever that may be. We might be waiting 10 years.

Those weekends we get to spend entirely together may have small setback. Two months ago I wrote about the annual summer Marble Run we do on the Harley and how I would post all these stops we would be doing at all the awesome hole in the wall places we ride to. Well this year we’ve had rotten luck; all geared up and ready to roll and this is the radar:
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Right in our path! Grr! What worse is Tyler didn’t get to go on his Sturgis vacation so this year all around has been sad for riding. Hopefully he can get a good day and take off from work to get some riding done before the weather turns cold.

Writing this has helped and you’d think while I’ve been busy and stressed I would do it more. I got into the habit of thinking of it like a job or chore instead of something I enjoy doing. With lack of time I don’t have enough of it to give it the quality I want to see. So until I get back in the groove of things I give you this hot mess of a post or my first ‘quickie’. This wasn’t so bad now, was it?

Gulf Shores, Alabama

One of the perks of my job is getting to travel once or twice a year down to our sister school in Alabama. Being a business trip, the majority of my time is spent working on sight in Orange Beach during the day but the evenings are available to enjoy the sights, food, culture and one must not forget the beaches of Gulf Shores. This was my third trip down and entirely different from my previous two visits. Before I had come down in January and April where you’d only come across locals and a few snowbirds but this time was peak tourist season and MUCH busier than I have gotten used to. Being a resident of Iowa my entire life, Alabama, or the south in general, feels like an entirely different country other than it taking us an entire work day to get down there.

Our journey to Alabama from Iowa consists of being on three different planes and in four different airports starting with the Air Choice One charter flight from Mason City to Chicago. You may remember me sharing my previous experience during our honeymoon from a year ago and that it wasn’t the greatest, but this time that wasn’t the case; it was fantastic! The main reason: we didn’t check any bags! Yes unlike last time (besides the rough air getting into Chicago, that still terrifies me!) we only had to go through security once in Mason City and that made everything so much less stressful. I didn’t realize we had this option even with just carry ons! Also last time I was totally unaware we could walk from terminal to terminal. Air Choice One only operates in Concourse L in Terminal 3, but before I thought Concourse L was all there was in Terminal 3. Nope. It is much bigger and it’s quite a walk from Terminal 3 to 2 but still very much easier accessible without the hassle of reentering through security. Air Choice One is amazing if you don’t have to check luggage, if you must check something then maybe that would be the time to venture up to Minneapolis or down to Des Moines. This trip has inspired a future post: If Tyler and I visit his aunt in Germany, we would fly Air Choice One to Chicago then to Germany BUT only each having 1 carry on and each also having 1 backpack as our personal items.. Stay TUNED!! lol

(Early morning flight pictures)
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In order to make it to Chicago at a decent time to catch our first connecting flight, it usually involves us having to book their earliest flight: this time it was 6:00 AM with check in at 5 AM. I was nervous with the low clouds that we would be stuck in them causing a bumpy flight but we flew higher and it was smooth sailing until we arrived around 8 AM. With low clouds and fog over Chicago it was hard for me to get a shot of the skyline which is the coolest part of the flight…
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After landing and strolling right along to our next gate in Chicago, the next stop was in Atlanta. There are no direct flights from O’Hare to Pensacola so we usually do a connecting in Atlanta or Charlotte. Usually we just stick to Atlanta because it’s only a short 45 minute flight from there to Pensacola. With only having 12 gates, the airport in Pensacola is one of my favorites because of its accessibility and the security line ALWAYS being pretty close to non existent. We are lucky flying down here or back home by starting in small airports and not getting held up in lines waiting for TSA.

Landing in Pensacola around 3:30 PM, we picked up our rental car and we were on the way to Alabama. Usually a 45 minute drive from the airport to where we stay, it look a little over an hour this time; it’s the middle of July and a busy time. The route takes us through a very spread out Pensacola and eventually turns into a scenic drive along the coast:
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Finally after our hour long drive from the airport we reached the condo we were thankful to be put up in. Being our work party was made up of three gals and a guy, us three girls would room together and Tony would be next door in a clone of the one we had. We took the elevator up to the 14th floor and walked down to our door. The view outside our door wasn’t bad:
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It wasn’t until we walked inside and immediately the view before we stepped out to the balcony was amazing! But when we walked out…
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I could hang out here throughout our entire stay even when you wanted to die from the humidity by stepping outside! The condo itself had two bedrooms each with their own full bath, a half bath in the hallway, laundry closet, a full kitchen and living room. We appreciated being able to stay here very much!

With all our things unloaded in the condo it was time to find some grub. We had two first timers on this trip so we had to take them to Island Wing Co. It was away from the beach so less busy then the spots down by the water. Everything made here, including their wings, is baked and not fried to keep things fresh and a little more healthy. I love their blackened mahi mahi sandwich!! Sorry there are no pictures from this portion, my phone was low and had to conserve my battery life.
After dinner we cruised through some local places starting with the Hangout (tourist trap!) for one of my coworkers. They had a band playing outside with lots of little shops and bars. The main building was the giant restaurant serving food you can get anywhere that is overpriced. Next door to the Hangout is one of my personal favorites: The Pink Pony! They have karaoke nightly and a great atmosphere that is just fun. This establishment has been in business for 60 years as of 2016.

The next morning we started out the day with food from one of my favorites things from down south that us up here in the north don’t have:

PUBLIX!!!
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Yes I get excited about this grocery store. We got our breakfast for the week at the condo here and as I cruised through I couldn’t help but notice their produce just looked more green and fresh. Of course given the location their seafood section was the same size as our meat sections up here in our grocery stores. It had a good size section just for SUSHI! If I lived down here I would stop by after work every day for an after work snack!
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The wonderful staff that we work with down in Orange Beach made a southern comfort food style lunch: fried chicken, corn bread, green beans, deviled eggs, biscuits, sweet tea and so much more delicious sides. I look forward to more working lunches like this in the future, such a good idea and a refreshing lunch to have in the middle of our first day of the work week.

After our first day of work it was time to find food for the night. I will skip how we stumbled across where we landed for the night but I’m glad we ended up where we did. I have found my favorite watering hole on my trips. When I’m home in Iowa, I have my VIP Lounge but when I’m down in Alabama I have: The Flying Harpoon!
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This place is tucked behind the huge Oyster House restaurant so unless you know it’s there you don’t get a lot of foot traffic from the tourists. We got a table that fit the four of us and that’s where we stayed for the remainder of the night. The walls are decorated with artwork on paper placements done with crayon by guests from all over.
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I even did my own little artwork:
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They have a small menu of appetizers, salads, seafood, sandwiches but their specialties are PO BOYS!! My coworker opted for the Crab and Crawfish Po boy. I had a salad but added six garlic jumbo shrimp put on top. I also recommend the crab and crawfish cakes as an appetizer! YUM!!!
The wrap around porch and view outside are pretty swell too:
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We had two awesome bartenders take care of us all night: Tom and BR (real name Bryant but he goes by BR and is actually a native of Iowa!) I can’t wait to come back to this place when I am in the area again: $3.50 for well drinks!

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Wednesday: After another jammed packed work day our next choice of eating establishment was The Beach House. A favorite of locals and after my second time eating here I know why. This place is also tucked back with the entrance not facing the road or beach so many tourists don’t know it’s here. Very close to our condo as well so that was nice!
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Outside eating, it wasn’t too bad even though it was very humid. We caught a little breeze. (Hair in my face! grr!)
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Being down in the south I wanted to take advantage of all the fresh seafood I could. Pictured above are my grilled grouper tacos. I have dreams about these bad boys when I’m back home! I have given up trying to eat fish tacos up here in Iowa as they don’t compare to the freshness or flavor down there. Sally ordered the crawfish mac n cheese which looked delicious! Maybe next time when it’s not like an oven outside.

Since this would be our last night staying at the condo, we decided to head back after dinner and walk across the road to the beach! The sun was setting and the waves were rolling in, perfect for some photo ops.
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After we did our frolicking in the water and sand, we decided to head back to the condo for the rest of the night. Us three girls sat out on our balcony relaxing and watching the sun set. I thought that as night set in it would cool down, but the complete opposite happened: we got a breeze for a while but as soon as 10:00 rolled around it got very hot and sticky all of a sudden. Alabama, you are weird.
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It was now Thursday and our last full work day down here. I decided to make use of a lunch hour and eat at one stop introduced to me by my southern ‘counterpart’: Another Broken Egg Café, located in Orange Beach on Canal Road across the toll bridge from the main campus.
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I failed to get a picture of the front but it doesn’t look like much being in a strip mall. This place is open for breakfast and lunch with fresh food that is a health freaks delight. It also has a full bar. Being so hot temperature wise on this visit I tried to eat lighter or healthier so I wouldn’t feel miserable with food that sat at the bottom of my stomach. They have an amazing Kale and Salmon salad:
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Kale, salmon, chopped almonds and homemade honey jalapeno vinaigrette dressing. The mix of textures and flavors.. YUM! I hope to eat breakfast here on another visit.

Back to the office and wrapping up our afternoon with work tying up the necessary ends before we would leave town for the night. The awesome IDT staff in Orange Beach invited us out to dinner at Bill’s By the Beach (not actually located on the beach but across the road with a view of the beach! 🙂 )
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They started us with some appetizers of crab cheese cake spread, grilled pineapple, blackened shrimp, etc..
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Now it was time for the main course and since I seemed to think I didn’t get enough shrimp in the first round of the meal, I wanted more shrimp. They have a shrimp platter where you can order it grilled or fried with fries and coleslaw or a shrimp and grits plate. I decided when in Rome and ordered the shrimp and grits which apparently won an award of some kind:
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Blackened shrimp on top of grits with ‘gravy’ and onions, peppers and tomatoes. When I heard gravy I expected gravy like we have up here but this was of the oil kind and I didn’t care for it but the grits and shrimp were super tasty!! I can now say that I have tried grits!

After good conversations and wonderful meal it was time to say goodbye and be on our way back to Pensacola for the night before our Friday morning flight. But first: hugs for our AL team and group photos!
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We quickly made it back to the condo to get our bags and clean up before departing on the hour drive back to Pensacola. Look a rainbow as we left the Sanibel parking lot!
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It took us longer to get back and seemed like we’d never get there. The joys of peak tourist season pushed our arrival time back a little after 9:00 PM. We usually stay at the Hyatt Place located within walking distance of the terminal. Very nice rooms and a good breakfast buffet in the lobby. The front desk also has a connecting bar that you can also order munchies with your drinks at, which is perfect for kicking back during your last night and going up to your room when you’re ready to sleep.
However with it being the middle of July, rates for the Hyatt were sky high at over 200 a night. Nope, not this time. I had found a cute little hotel a little less than 10 minutes from the airport: At Home Inn and Suites. Their lobby in the main building where their newly added deluxe rooms are housed was gorgeous. We stayed in one of the back two story buildings where all doors are on the outside of the building. Rooms were very reasonable and mostly redone with new beds etc. A perfect alternative for our last night when the Hyatt isn’t an option. Rooms in the back buildings are 70-80 a night but I think we could ‘upgrade’ to the deluxe rooms in the main building for 80-90 a night.

The next morning it was time to return the car and begin the journey back home opposite the way we got down here: Pensacola to Atlanta to Chicago and finally Mason City. Like I mentioned before, we were through security in less than five minutes. I do love this airport!
After a small breakfast of fruit at the hotel, I thought maybe I’d grab one more thing in the airport for breakfast. I tried to stay on the healthy side for this trip but this last breakfast would be another ‘when in Rome’ meal: breakfast sandwich from Chick-fill-A. It really is satisfying having a chicken patty with an egg and cheese on a biscuit. Mmmm Our first flight left at 11:45 AM and after another connecting it was time to leave Chicago back to Mason City on the 8:30 PM flight. Here we are enjoying the last two hour home stretch as well as Chicago as the sun sets.
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As a native Iowan and never residing anywhere else, Alabama is like a whole other country to me. While I love my life, the culture and people here up north, I do enjoy the visits I’m able to take down south when I can. There is such a thing as southern hospitality and despite two different cultures, I felt that from everyone I encountered in Gulf Shores. The beaches are gorgeous, the seafood is fresh and amazing, winters are never there but I can’t leave you my, Iowa even when I don’t want anything to do with you January through half of March. Sorry Alabama no hard feelings, I really do enjoy you when I’m in town for a visit but my home is up here in the North. Until I see you (y’all) again, keep that warm weather waiting for us!

 

 

Iowa: You won’t understand until you experience it!

This post was inspired by a question asked during my last trip outside of Iowa. My friend/trip companion Rachael and I cruised up to the bar at the Flamingo Go Pool and engaged in friendly small talk to our bartender while he was making our margaritas. After being asked where we were from and responding with, “Iowa” we got: “What is all there?”. I’ve gotten a variety of responses like this as I have traveled near and far but this one stuck with me. I tried my best to explain what Rachael and I do for a living and the town we reside in and how much there is to do in the summer. I think it worked? There’s a good chance this person was born and raised in the west coast and eventually made their way to Vegas and has never been anywhere else.
This one interaction inspired me to bring it to my writing and blog. I needed to emphasize The Vanessa Monologues highlights my life in Iowa when I’m not traveling the country and world. it goes back to my dream to be the female Anthony Bourdain; a world traveler but staying grounded in Iowa giving a glimpse of real North Iowa life to those who have never been here. It really is true to the rest of the world: you won’t understand Iowa unless you experience it and I hope to bring the experience to all of those I meet across throughout the states and globe.

It is summertime in Iowa and with the warmer weather brings more adventures and things to do. For this post I wanted to highlight this activity that my husband and I spend majority of the summer doing. I have been riding on the back of Tyler’s Harley ever since we started dating and it’s an activity we’ve always enjoyed doing together. Actually something we do with all of Tyler’s family. Sometimes we just get on the bike and go somewhere on a limb, majority of the summer though our destination(s) are determined by this book:

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(Stops/locations are on the first page. The map located at the top of this post shows where all the stops are!)

Every summer we participate in the Find Your Marbles Run: Purchase your book for $10. from Ernie Williams or Okoboji Harley Davidson (proceeds from book sales go to charity, MDA) and stop at as many of these stops listed in the book as you can. When you go to each stop, you draw from a bag of six different colored marbles. The color of the marble you draw is recorded in the book along with a stamp of the establishment or a signature of an employee who witnessed you draw that color. No one knows how much each color of marble is worth until the end when all books are turned in and they draw each marble randomly to see which is worth more points. When the colors are given point values, each book is tallied by how many of each color they drew. Top 10 Winners receive cash and gift certificates to Harley and other participating establishment on the run. Even if you don’t place in the top 10, if you show up for the awards dinner in late September you could still walk away with a gift certificate and a free meal too! So if you don’t win anything, you still got a meal out of it. Above all this run is set up to give the money it raises for charity. It’s fun and for a good cause.

We’ve found so many cool little hole in the wall places to eat and drink at that we didn’t know about until we did the ride. Several of these stops as a matter of fact will have their own posts from me in the future. Sometimes just the ride from each place to another is the best part. This past weekend, Tyler and I rode to Clear Lake, IA to pick up some marbles then decided to get another one farther away: in Marble Rock, IA. It only took us about 45 minutes to ride from PM Park in Clear Lake to Whitetails in Marble Rock. We both had the steak sandwich! Other than this place, I can’t think of any other reason why we would have traveled to Marble Rock, IA. A nice little stop with a mini golf course next door!
The Dodens at Whitetails in Marble Rock
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This post was the background information needed and also a preview of what is to come throughout the summer. Iowa seen on the back of Harley Davidson Night Train is fun and enjoyable even though my ass goes numb if I have to ride a long stretch. There is much good eats and beverages to share each stop along the way so if you want a random adventure to a town in Iowa you haven’t been, stay tuned!

One coat of sunscreen is never enough. Always reapply!!
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Vegas…it truly never gets old!

I really mean it when I say, ‘I could go to Vegas every year’. Honest. Just coming back from my third trip out and already can’t wait to go again. I think I have convinced one of my fellow travelers that this needs to be a yearly thing. There are so many things to do: shows to see, pools to lounge and drink by, gambling, shopping, did i mention drinking?!?! Even though drinking is more on the expensive side, I don’t know anywhere else you can walk around in public with a drink in your hand. Everyone experiences or enjoys Sin City in a different way, here’s how I enjoy it…

Booking/ getting there:
For my first and recent trip we got a non stop flight both ways and I can’t say how much I love that! Flying to Vegas, I just want to get there and when I’m ready to leave I just want to get home. My second trip out I had a connecting flight in Denver from Des Moines but the flight out of Des Moines was delayed so I had to rebook on another flight out of Denver putting me in Vegas three hours after then I originally planned. If I fly domestically I try to avoid doing a connecting flight at all possible costs; it’s nice just have one time and one destination to worry about. Also it makes for a LOOOONG journey home when you are tired of people, drained from having too much alcohol, I mean FUN, and being in airports. Save doing connecting flights for international travel when it saves you money and don’t have a nonstop option. When we land I always get a cheap shuttle to the strip hotels and on the day we leave, I find it much easier and faster (and cheaper if you get three people in) to take a taxi back to the airport.

Hotels/where to stay:
Before we booked this trip I’ve decided each time it could be fun to try a different hotel every time.
My first time out in March of 2011 for my cousin’s wedding, everyone who came out except me and Tyler stayed at Tropicana. Since one of the nights we needed to stay there was sold out because of an event, Tyler and I stayed across the strip at Excalibur. Tropicana is one place I definitely can’t wait to stay when I get around to it: VERY nice and claims to have been voted Best Pool In Vegas. Excalibur is a great stay too mostly because it’s more affordable but our stay was comfortable. If price is something you need to make work in order to get out to Vegas, Excalibur is always a nice stay for the cost; always affordable. Their pool is nice too! Sure it is on the south end of the strip and may seem far away from everything but there’s action everywhere: north, south or middle. Plus I have found I get more drinks when I gamble there than I do at any other casino.
My second time out in Vegas, I only need a room for the last night; I stayed with a friend and her husband on the air force base two nights and another night I had driven out to LA and stayed with another friend from college. Even though I wanted to try a different hotel I stayed at Excalibur again because I had tickets to see “Thunder From Down Under”, which was where it was showing so I didn’t have to leave the hotel. Also in Excalibur is the awesome bar/restaurant: Dick’s Last Resort. This is one of the few chain restaurants I love because of the fun atmosphere of the staff purposely being assholes to you. Your wait staff will make offensive hats for you to wear:
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For this last trip out with two friends we stayed in the middle of the strip at Flamingo. This was a fun hotel, affordable too with access to everywhere since it was in the middle. We just got a basic room since we were only in it to shower, change and sleep. This hotel made me realize when in Vegas stay somewhere with an awesome pool because when you are in the hot climate you don’t really need to do anything else during the day. A good pool= more relaxation. Flamingo had two, technically three pools. A smaller children’s pool, the Beach Club Pool for all ages and the Go Pool for ages 21 and over. There is a live DJ everyday at the Go Pool so the crowd there averages in the early 20s which can be annoying when you can’t stand the guido type crowd. Rachael and I found that we started our day at the Beach Club pool then later in the afternoon transition over to the Go Pool when it starts clearing out and you can actually find a place to sit.
Next time I hope to get a room at Monte Carlo since I heard it will be remodeled and made into a bigger resort. I see nothing wrong with it currently as it has an awesome looking pool and rooms. I guess better try to book a room there while you still can….

Gambling
I really don’t have much to say in this area, I only play penny slots to get free drinks. I know I’m kind of lame in that aspect. I will put a five or ten in and milk it as long as I can get free drinks (which by the way just keep tipping your wait staff and they will keep coming back!). While passing through the Mirage, I saw and Game of Thrones penny slot machine and just had to play it! I put in a 10 and cashed out at 30, winning my money back plus 20 bucks. I did feel lame going to the cashier and here’s a lady ahead of me walking away with a couple hundred dollar bills and there I am walking away with 30 bucks. (I look like an excited little kid playing it! :D)
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Get tickets for a show!
This trip the one thing I didn’t do was see a show because I figured we’d all just want to relax and decide what to do on the fly. Always book a show because going to Vegas just isn’t the same without one; you HAVE to see one when you are there. The only ‘show’ I have seen is Thunder From Down Under which I don’t think I need to say anymore about that! 😀 I still haven’t seen LOVE at Mirage or any Cirque show for that matter, Tournament of Kings would be awesome too. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Britney! Something I never thought I’d say, I’ve never liked her early stuff when I was a kid and still don’t but I appreciate her more being an adult making adult music and still dancing like she does! Sure she probably lip syncs her entire show but she looks amazing after having two kids!
The Luxor has two exhibits that you must see: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit and Bodies. My last trip I saw Titanic and was VERY impressed by that exhibit as it has a lot of artifacts. I enjoyed it WAY more than the tour in Belfast. Bodies I have not seen but it’s another on my list; real bodies on display. I’m pretty sure it’s neat even though it sounds super creepy and gross. The High Roller Ferris wheel is another new attraction which you must do at night to see all the lights!
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It’s located right behind the new Linq hotel which was built after the shit hole hotel Imperial Palace was torn down. Little shops and restaurants were build between the Flamingo and the Linq so that’s a nice new area and the bars there are technically off strip places and prices are a little lower than the major hotels on the strip.

Where I have to eat when I’m in Vegas:
Since eating here after my cousin’s wedding on my first trip out, both times following I HAVE HAD to eat at Battista’s Hole in the Wall. Excellent Italian food, served with unlimited table wine, salad or soup, breadstick and a dessert cappuccino. Did I mention UNLIMITED table wine? The menus are located on the wall and each entree’s price has all that I listed above included. Seriously some of the best food I’ve ever had and they have their own accordion player on staff that comes to each table and plays. He’s a tiny little old man and so VERY adorable! Even when it’s super hot outside and Italian food is the last thing anyone wants I still have to eat here! Seriously check out this website! Here It’s located right behind the Flamingo so we didn’t have far to walk this time!

Fremont Street:
I always stay in hotels on the strip but one of your days must be designated to visiting and drinking on Fremont Street. Original old school Vegas two miles north of the strip where it’s cheaper to eat and drink. It’s less busy during daylight so you can get on the zip line faster but it’s more fun at night and you can see the light show they have going on above. Every hour on the hour they highlight and artist or music: I saw them do a Doors show and another one for DJ Tiesto. They have nice restaurants to eat at during evening meals but we found that during the day you may only find buffets to eat at. We found one for 10 bucks a person and as Chad said: “Paradise Buffet: you get what you pay for!” SO true for this one but we had fun cracking jokes like “if any of you are backed up there’s prunes up at the salad bar!” Speaking of buffets, our brunch buffet at the Flamingo was pretty good! Brunch goes until 2 PM daily. During the week it’s 19 bucks M-F, Saturdays and Sundays are 22 and they include bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys! Any food that cures your hangover I swear will be on this buffet!
Getting to Fremont/around:
Take the Deuce bus which runs 24 hours to Fremont and back down to the south end of the strip. I find it funny that going Northbound on the Deuce up to Fremont sucks and takes forever but going back down Southbound to the strip takes less time and is more tolerable. I don’t know why but at least when I’m ready to head back to my hotel on the strip it’s a better ride. Only 8 bucks for a 24 hour pass or 20 bucks for a three day pass; pretty awesome and comes in handy when you get tired of walking within the 6 mile stretch of the strip. However the Deuce is the ONE place in Vegas you can’t drink. It’s a no fun bus.

When to go and how long for?
In my opinion I love going in May or June or July during the warmer months. Sure the last two times I’ve had the luck of going right in the middle of a heat advisory and temps being in the 110s. Honestly though you are in the middle of the desert right in the middle of summer so that is expected. However the pools are open longer during these times and that’s pretty much where I spent most of the daytime hours. One of these years I go maybe I’ll get a time when it stays in the 80s or 90s. It’s always cheaper to book in winter months but if you do it ahead of time May or June can be just as cheap. The only downside I have found to being in Vegas during the summer is if you are in the middle of a Heat Advisory it is almost impossible to even get a buzz because what alcohol you do consume, you just sweat it out being it’s hot and because of all the walking.
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I have found 3 nights is the perfect duration to stay out there. I would only do four nights if you had to in order so see one/another show. Also: three years ago I did drive out to LA, which is four hours from Vegas so I would recommend that as a another reason to stay an extra day. The drive alone is pretty epic and something everyone should experience. After your third day or night staying on the strip, you are tired of paying 8 bucks for a small pool beer or 17 bucks for a margarita. It’s always cheap to get out there and stay but it’s the having fun while you are there that can add up if you want to live it up. I think I’ve figured out a good handle on how to spend money out there. Thank you penny slots….

IRELAND!- One year later…

How do I even start this blog without sounding snooty? My husband and I were blessed to spend our honeymoon in Ireland. This truly was a dream. There are so many pictures and memories to share, how do I choose or condense it down to one post? I promise to not ramble and keep the reading enjoyable and easy to follow without seeming endless.
Before I begin I just have to say that my in-laws are amazing. They have a time share through Marriott Vacation Club and it turned into a point system to use on hotels or airfare so they gave us points to use for our flight; their wedding present to us. Tyler and I are lucky!
Also I have to recommend the website: wanderable.com which we used for one of our wedding registries. We didn’t really need a lot of things for the home from Kohls so we registered on this Honeymoon website and guests were able to gift us with: A night stay in a castle, tickets to tours, etc. (If you are interested to see what it looks like http://www.wanderable.com/Jones_Doden )

Sunday May 17th, 2015
The big travel day with 10 hours spent in the air inside a steel tube! We started flying out of Mason City, IA to Chicago, IL on a very small charter plane with Air Choice One. For those who live around me who are curious about flying on one of these cessnas: they are small and fly lower than a commercial jet so they are more easily affected by weather. I only recommend flying if you have to book at last minute and know the weather is going to be clear which will give you a smooth flight. It rained the day we left and even though our flight was on time, a person who worries easily like me was panicking on what would happen if it had. If the flight to Chicago from Mason was cancelled, that’s a 7 hour drive to make to try and get to O Hare to make our flight. Yes our flight made it on time but it was a VERY bumpy flight and I was terrified the whole two hours as Tyler slept. If anyone can handle the possibility of lots of turbulence, it’s only $50.-$60. each way, so yeah it’s cheap.
After making it to safety on the runway of Chicago O Hare, we transferred from the small Terminal 3 to the bigger International Terminal 5. The other downside of flying Air Choice One to make a connecting flight in Chicago is that even though you checked your bags in Mason, since you are in the small terminal with the smaller air lines, you have to re check your bags and go through security again. We had a good dinner and boarded the plane leaving at 8 PM: we were off for a ‘wonderful’ 7-8 hour fight that we didn’t sleep through.

Monday May 18, 2015
We arrived in Dublin around 9:30 AM Ireland time or 3:30 AM Iowa time. We were both very tired and the line at Customs seemed to not move. We finally got through, got our luggage and made our way to pick up the rental car. It was weird for Tyler to drive stick on the other side of the car on the other side of the road. Since it was too early to check into our hotel we drove into the city centre to kill some time and recharge. We stopped at the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street:
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This was the original site of Jameson but it’s not the distillery anymore due to it outgrowing the sight and a fire so it’s just mostly a tourist trap now.
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We ordered some Irish coffees and it was the pick me up we needed!
After we finished we were fortunate to catch a short tour of the ‘distillery’ with a history lesson and how whiskey is made. We got to do some sampling and at the end, a free drink in the ‘bar’. Like I said, VERY touristy but it’s nice if you are looking for something to do.
It was now finally nearing the time to check into our hotel. We stayed in the ‘suburb’ Tallaght at The Plaza Hotel which was close to the Motorway, perfect for when we would leave the next day. This was supposed to be a two night stay but days earlier we found filming locations for Game of Thrones and did some last minutes changes to plans to try and fit more of these in so our first four days consisted of staying in four different hotels; try NOT to do this. It’s very exhausting to check in and check out staying one night at at time. We checked in and crashed for a nap but made ourselves get back up to eat dinner and get on Ireland time. Dinner at the hotel bar restaurant and of course this was the start of having Guinness with every meal. A pint with every meal is like two meals at the same time!

Tuesday May 19, 2015
This was a jammed packed day! Traveling from Tallaght to our next night stay at Holiday Inn Express in Antrim, Northern Ireland. So much green everywhere! SO BEAUTIFUL!
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It rained all day but only in spurts as it does often. We left early to cross into Northern Ireland to see as many filming locations as we could.
Castleward, a national park made up of an old castle and estate was filming sight of Winterfell:
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Just on the other side of Castleward was Audley’s Castle the sight of Rob Stark’s camp:
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On our way up the hill to this sight we pretty much walked through a field of sheep. They were hanging out in the distance looking at us like no big deal.
Tyler doesn’t like to admit that he had so much fun driving a Toyota Yaris around the country side with their twisty, winding roads and hills. He also loved how all fence lines were made from stone and “everyone has their own little driveway”.
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Next stop: Inch Abbey or the remains of it. Still an amazing sight hundreds of years old and we were the only ones there! This is not a busy tourist spot so it’s a nice little scenic stop to frolic in the grass and trail to the sight. There was a cute little dog that made friends with us while on a walk with his owner:
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Moving along into Belfast to stop in the Titanic Quarter for lunch and a tour. This is where the famous ship was built and it’s now the home to Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is one of the shows filmed there. Since we were now in Northern Ireland, we had to switch to using Pounds instead of Euros. Everything is more expensive. The tour of the Titanic Experience was OK but was too touristy and lame for our taste. Honestly the Titanic Exhibition in Vegas is FAR more impressive as there are more artifacts. I just wasn’t impressed by it at all. If you are in this part of Belfast, tour the Titanic Dock and Pump House, which was the original pump house from when it was built and launched. This is more historical and more interesting. Plus you are next to the dock so you can see how big it actually was. We sadly didn’t have time to see this. So yeah skip the Titanic tour and just see the Dock and Pump House.
We finally made it to our hotel in Antrim to check in and drop our bags off. You think we would be resting now but nope. Yes we were tired but wanted to get in two more sights in before the end of the day:
The Dark Hedges (The Kingsroad in GoT) A road of 18 century beach trees; the most photographed road in the world!
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Our last sight of the day was Downhill Beach along the northern coast. This is one of the most amazing places I have ever been!!! The sun was setting when we arrived and it was foggy so it looked eerie but beautiful as you stared out into the abyss. This was the farthest north either of us had been in the world. It was just so beautiful; and the cliff with the temple on the hill just seemed so surreal. Very windy and chilly but just being there made us forget that.
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Back to the Holiday Inn Express in Antrim: complete with a bar in the lobby and a kitchen in the back so you could order pizza, sandwiches and other things. They do a good breakfast in the morning as well. Booking and staying in Northern Ireland we the feel of Dollars converted to Pounds. Booking the room with Expedia look reasonable only $69.00 for the night. At this time last year dollars to pounds wasn’t even and the room went for 105 pounds that night, which I’m sure there were taxes in the cost as well. Last year the exchange rate was 1 British pound was equal to over a dollar and a half, this year in 2016 1 pound equals to $1.40 American. Something to remember when you want to visit Great Britain, bring more money than you think you will need.

Wednesday May 20th, 2015
We left Northern Ireland and made a 5 hour drive to our next stay in Clifden along the west coast. The drive really wasn’t bad saw a lot of gorgeous country side and since the roads curved and every which way up and down hills it was never short of interesting. How I wish we had roads like that here or roundabouts because they keep things going. We really did roads the wrong way over here in the States… Their signs seem confusing but really not at the same time…
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The other nice thing about driving days is you can stop anywhere you want, we stopped by this bridge and walked down to the little river below it:
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The things you don’t know you will drive pass after you stop at a small pub in a town smaller than yours, look Kylemore Abbey:
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Driving to Clifden you pass the west coast, a gorgeous drive on Sky Road. We stayed at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel. Although not an actually castle, it was still originally built to look like a castle but was a home for girls.
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This little town had so many little restaurants and pubs to choose from. Anywhere you go in Ireland no matter how small the eating or drinking establishment EVERYONE had a brand new nitro tap for pouring Guinness. No way you could not not find it. We had fish for dinner then returned back to the hotel bar inside the castle. We had live music to listen to as well and we met some other Americans from Wisconsin and Texas. Very fun night, well too much fun.

Thursday May 21, 2015
Up and ready to get back on the road again. I made it up for breakfast in the castle dining room while Tyler slept in. Another cloudy rainy day but that was alright as this would be a day to recover from the night before.
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(West coast as we left in the morning)
We drove from Clifden to Galway and arrived around lunch time. We didn’t really have anything planned or tried to see anything so we made it into the City Centre to park and find lunch and relax. I was happy to find a restaurant that served Doner Kebaps! A favorite for anytime I travel abroad and I finally got to introduce this fine piece of drunk/hungover food to my husband. This brought me back to both of my times spent in Germany. Like I said a very rainy day so walking around or sight seeing was out of the question. While leaving the city we got a distant view of the coast which was pretty.
We made it to our next overnight in Limerick. I had booked us at a Travelodge in town but the GPS took us to the wrong one; there were two. When we found the one we were staying at (Travelodge Limerick Castletroy), I noticed it was a newer one just built but on the outer edge of Limerick where there was nothing around it within walking distance. The reviews said it was clean and cheap, only cheap because it was pretty bare in the room. This was more of a business hotel where the traveling business person on the go only needed a shower, bed, and maybe a tv and desk. I originally thought when planning this trip we would do some sightseeing around town and would only be in the hotel when we would return to it that night to sleep and shower the next morning but since the previous night was rough this small, simple hotel worked to take a nap and recharge.
Later on that night we tried to see if there was anyway we could get food around our hotel. There was a gas station down the road that was attached to Ireland’s knockoff version of McDonalds: SuperMacs!!! It wasn’t terrible food but it was a terribly corny place. There is only a couple of pictures from this whole entire day, like I said the previous night was rough and today we had to pay for it. I wish we could say more about Galway and Limerick but we only made it to the Doner place, a very basic cheap Travelodge hotel and a SuperMacs. When finding a place to stay always make sure there are places around you can walk to.

Friday May 22, 2015
Our honeymoon adventure was officially back on track! We left Limerick and on our way to our two night stay in Cork. Yes, we FINALLY had a two night stay and next time there will be more of these. Our first stop of the day was to see the Blarney Castle! We got there right away in the morning and I recommend getting there early or at least before lunch before the crowds show up and there are lines all the way up the castle. The path on the way in….
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I don’t want to bore you with details, you will just have to travel there to really experience it.
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Of course when you go up, to get back down you have to kiss the Blarney Stone and no they don’t clean if off after everyone has touched it. Gross. Tyler was able to hold on and fake kissed it. When it was my turn, I leaned back and saw the stone but I’m afraid of heights and even thought people were holding me I didn’t feel like leaning back all the way to ‘kiss’ it.
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After you tour the castle itself, you must tour the grounds, the estate house and the Poison Garden. Yes a Poison Garden where when you bend down to read the sign of what it was there was a disclaimer saying “this scent might be considered toxic’… 😀
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After we explored all the nooks and crannies of the grounds, towers, dungeons, woods, graveyard for horses it was time to move on. Even though I’ve heard recommendations from travel websites to try and avoiding eating around tourists destinations due to inflated costs, the little town of Blarney had a lot of little pubs and restaurants that catered to people like us who were coming and going.
After a quick lunch we were back on track to drive into Cork and check into our hotel, The Kingsley. This hotel was a GEM to find, VERY NICE and affordable. Located right outside of the city centre of Cork but next to the transit stop which allowed us access to anywhere. There was a full wellness center, a pool and a full service spa located inside. I had booked us a Couples’ massage at the spa, this was much needed and enjoyed after four days of non stop moving. Very relaxing and the staff was very nice. After our massage we got to hang out in robes in the recovery area on couch like chairs and enjoy rejuvenating fruit drinks. We had the option to explore the other areas of the spa. Do yourself a favor and check out this website! http://www.thekingsley.ie/ We would go back and stay in a heartbeat!
After resting in our hotel room catching up on Game of Thrones, oh one more thing about the rooms, VERY spacious bathrooms: You could ballroom dance in there! :D, we needed to find food.
We walked down the street to try and find anything that was close by. The restaurant we found was an example of don’t just a book by it’s cover! We had made it to the bus stop and saw a Subway restaurant and a small Chinese place next to it. This is a place I wish I would have took a picture of: the Chinese place looked like nothing special almost sketchy but we both thought Chinese sounded good so we took a chance. Oh my inside was gorgeous and very romantic with dim lights and candles on the tables. This place was open late so it was perfect for people like us who’s eating and sleeping schedules were not quite on with where we are. Delicious food too! I hope to find more off the beaten path places like this when we travel in the future.
Back to finish our night at the hotel bar located across from the conference and meeting center. There was a family function with live traditional music playing!! 🙂 We were two of only a couple others sitting at the bar so that was nice and it gave us a change to visit with the bartenders before going back to the room to bed.

Saturday May 23rd, 2015
With the advice of the hotel bartender from the night before, our adventures today would be made solely by public transportation. Our big plan for the day was heading over to Midleton to tour the Jameson Distillery. This is where the whiskey is actually distilled and then distributed all over the world. Like I mentioned before the bus stop was just down the street less than a block away. We hopped on and got off in the city centre by the big farmers market down by the Lee River (River Lee). We crossed over and hoofed it a quarter of a mile to the train station. Trains run from Cork to Midleton frequently throughout the day and are only 23 minutes each way.
Another benefit of taking the train is you are automatically in the city centre when you arrive. Since we were hungry we began the lookout for a place to have lunch. We found a little diner close by the train station. I ordered Roast Beef with potatoes and Tyler ordered the Shepard’s Pie, something he was looking forward to trying when we arrived in Ireland. We noticed when they offered us coffee or tea after the meal, they never skimp you on the cream served with it. I really wish they did tea/coffee in the afternoon in the States like they do in Ireland or Britain. The two ladies running it were very nice and didn’t didn’t skimp on the friendly goodbyes when we left, “Thank you! Goodbye! Bye now!, Thank you. Good luck to you! :)” They were adorable!
A ten minute walk down the street and we made it JUST in time for the afternoon tour of Jameson. The tour of this location lasted longer and was in more detail, more so because it’s the actual location now. Even though it wasn’t the Jameson distillery until the 1900s, most of the buildings date back to 1759! A lot of history here of how whiskey was made back then. The tour lead through the older buildings that aren’t being used for production. That was a disappointment that we couldn’t see inside the buildings of the modern plant. When you looked at the new buildings it felt like Willy Wonka: no body ever goes in, nobody ever comes out! We concluded our tour like at the other location with a free drink at the bar.
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After the tour it was time to head back to the train station to take us back to Cork. After a 15 minutes walk, 20 minute wait and 23 minute train ride we made it back to Cork station. We then made the reverse route to take us back to the city centre to catch a bus back to The Kingsley. By then it was after 6:00 and we started getting hungry. Tyler asked if we could have Chinese again at the same place as the night before, so we did. The staff found this amusing. Back to the hotel for the night…

Sunday May 24th, 2015
It was time to leave the comforts of The Kingsley and move on to our next stop; our next overnight would be in Kilkenny with some stops before got there. After leaving Cork, we needed to stop to find an ATM and breakfast. We pulled off the Motorway into small town that I can’t remember the name. Even their small towns have very active main streets.
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We found an ATM and a diner that served breakfast. Tyler and I finally got to order and experience a true Full Irish Breakfast: two eggs, two sausage links, two slices of bacon (though i might add their bacon is not like ours more meat and more like ham, not gristly like in the States), toast, white pudding, black pudding, baked beans and a fried tomato. I really wish I had took a picture of this.
Back on the road to the next stop: The Rock of Cashel. We made it up the hill to the site and entered and waited 10 minutes before there was a tour around the grounds. IMG_0734
The site originated around 400 AD when the Kings of Munster lived there before turning it over to the church years later. The site was going through some reconstruction work due to the limestone but was still very accessible to visitors who were touring.
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Down the hill was Hore Abbey, the remains of a monastery connected to the site. We hiked down the hill and took a peak at that sight as well:
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After our hike back up the hill and down again, it was back in the Yaris and on the road again. Our stay tonight was at Aspect Hotel Kilkenny, a new hotel located just outside of town. Yes it was outside of town but it was easy walk to get into town and very accessible. There was a small bar in the lobby so after we checked into our room we went back and relaxed with a couple of drinks.
The hunt for a place to have dinner was upon us and we started our walk into town. The street across from our hotel took us up a newer residential route before going up to a main road that seemed to branch off into two or three other main streets. There was so much to choose from and neither of us could decide where to eat. We again experienced a fine restaurant by not judging a book by it’s cover. I suggested maybe something of the Italian flavor and Tyler looked over and saw a place called Italian Connection. The front was very basic and plain, but inside VERY intimate. Even though we had a table for two, one side of the table was a bench so you could feel apart of the same seating with another couple sitting next to you. Another great meal by lucky coincidence.
After the meal, we headed back south toward the hotel but decided to make a couple of stops along the way. We turned down another street and into a pub that had a downstairs outside patio/deck. It was a Sunday night but there was live music. The Irish put our Sunday Fundays in Iowa to shame, they really party it up before 11 PM when the pubs close down. We stayed for a couple at our first stop. The next stop further back down on our reverse route back another bar with live music, we noticed this one like the first even though you head their own Irish songs, they play a lot of American music. We hit one more stop before all the bars closed down at 11, then it was back to our hotel for the night. Writing this day’s entry gets me to thinking I may need to write down the names of drinking establishments we stop at to make them more significant in my posts.

Monday May 25, 2015
The Aspect Hotel Kilkenny had a very good breakfast. We took the advice of the front desk lady the night before to eat after 9:00 AM after a big tour group would have gone through about 7:30. We ate a Full Irish Breakfast buffet style. We checked out and drove back into Kilkenny to tour a couple more stops before we spent the rest of the day driving to Dublin. We should have left our car at the hotel instead of trying to find a parking spot in the center but it was close by when we were ready to leave.
Kilkenny Castle was our first stop, and we didn’t know whether to tour the grounds or the castle itself first. Since all the furniture and decorations inside dated back to the 1500-1700s we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. This tour is really worth seeing my favorite was the enormous Portrait Room. The grounds outside we actually got to take some photos…
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Our next tour was of the Smithwick’s Brewery. If you have not heard or have drank a Smithwicks (pronounced Smi-thicks, the w is silent) you are missing on a very delicious red ale, also served on nitro tap. Being brewed in Kilkenny this is a tour I believe people overlook. Tyler and I toured with another couple older than us. A red haired Irish kid asked where each of us were from, after I replied with ‘Iowa’ our tour guide said, “Oh Iowa? I love me my Slipknot!” I busted out laughing, something I did not expect from this happy cheery Irish ginger, oh that made my day. After walking through the tour that taught us the history of Smithwick’s dating back to the time of the monks narrated by a hologram and talking pictures. Really wish I could remember our guide’s name he was so friendly and hilarious.
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After we enjoyed the Smithwick’s experience it was time to hit the road once again but this would be our last long drive of the trip. We didn’t have luck finding a place to eat lunch since it was later in the afternoon and everywhere had just closed after tea time. We found a place that served Doners and other fried things. Food wasn’t bad but the restaurant itself wasn’t the cleanest.
After an hour and a half drive we were in the middle of Dublin trying to find our hotel which was in the Christchurch district of the city centre. Our last place where we would stay two nights was an immediate regret mostly because there was only self parking which I was mislead by online sites thinking there was a parking garage next to it. We found a lot down the street but it looked questionable. Our last check in was at Staycity Serviced Apartments Christchurch. The rooms were updated and clean, the bathrooms though also clean were VERY outdated. Besides a bedroom and bathroom, it had a living room, kitchenette and dining area; all nice and comfortable. I would only recommend staying here if you don’t have a rental car and plan to get around on public transit. The place does have the benefit of being in the middle and close to everything. There was a convenience store and a grocery store down the street so we walked down there to get munchie type of food since we were tired and not very hungry after a big day and afternoon just trying to find this hotel and a place to park.

Tuesday May 26th, 2015
Our last full day in Ireland! How did a week and two days pass by so quickly? Our day started with walking 10 minutes from our hotel to the Guinness Storehouse. Even though a lot of tourists pass through here, this is still a GREAT place to visit, totally worth going to. The first level starts in the center, you look down and see the lease that Arthur Guinness himself signed for 9000 years! Before we started the official tour we grabbed coffee and a grab n go breakfast up on the food floor. The tour is very spacious and spread out among big room and floors so it flows very well and don’t feel you are in an endless line with other tourists. You don’t get to go in the actual brewhouse but you got to see a good view of it from a window and there were videos that showed what they do on the inside. They don’t leave you out like Jameson.
The highlight of tour besides your free pint is doing so at the top of Storehouse that overlooks Dublin. A spectacular view with descriptions on the windows explain what you can see.
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After a couple hours on the tour and a pint at the sky bar it was lunch time. The Storehouse has four different restaurants, we ate at Gilroy’s which featured some Guinness recipes. I had the Shepard’s Pie and we both had what else but Guinness with our meal, I downsized to a half pint.
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Tyler took more beer/drink pictures than me and might I add every single one was complete with my boobs in the background. I had all the scenic shots of everything; Tyler had beer and my boobs. Of course we had to hit up the gift shop before we left to get some souvenirs for family who had purchased these tour tickets for us a wedding present. I don’t think we would be bored of this tour if we went on it again.
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We ran back the hotel quick to drop off our purchases from Guinness before we spent the rest of the day walking around Dublin. We laughed because when we checked in the night before our oven didn’t have a door but now it had a working door attached to it. Another close spot across the road from our hotel was The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub as it says on their sign:
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This was a nice little spot that had inside and outside seating all under one roof. I loved the ambiance of this place. After we got a flavor of the place we decided to keep on moving. Crossing the River Liffey to get some pictures and selfies..
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Not sure of where to go next we kept walking and made it to the Temple Bar district. We may have stopped at a number of pubs but this time of day everything was running together. We found a hole in the wall Tai restaurant which neither of us had ever had it before. It was a hit for Tyler’s spicy loving palate. Being in the area we decided to go inside the Temple Bar to see what it was all about. Nice live music but VERY busy tourist spot. After a drink we asked our bartender where he recommend we try and he lead us down the road to an area where locals hang out. Again I really wish I had the name of the first bar we landed at, we had good conversations with some locals. There were two more we wanted to try out; the first one had live traditional music. The one across the street, Wheeler’s I thought sounded familiar. It wasn’t until I got inside that I noticed this was the bar that was in the film “PS I Love You” where Holly heard the Galway Girl song! It was getting late and we were a ways away from our hotel. We made the trek back to try and find somewhere closer to finish out the night. I was pooped and just wanted to go to bed before we had to be up early to drive to the airport.

Wednesday May 27th, 2015
The honeymoon was officially over and it was time to go back home to the states. Our flight left at 11:30 AM so we checked out of the hotel at 8:00 AM to drive our rental car back to the airport. Remember me saying we had to park our car in a lot? Well those two nights of parking cost us about 40 Euro. Yikes, never doing that again. Another reason not to stay in the city centre if you have a rental is that it takes forever trying to get across and out of it and on to the motorways. Always stay in hotels close to main roads and motorways for easier exit and these places most likely will have great access to public transit if you need it.
After the car was filled back up and returned, we were shuttled over to the main terminal. The Dublin Airport is newer and US Border and Customs is part of your security screen before you board the plane. This is nice because that’s one less line we had to wait through in Chicago. Our flight over and now back again was on Aer Lingus. Another 8 hour flight across the ocean and we made it back around 1:30 PM Chicago time. Even though we had already done security and customs in Dublin, we still had to go through security AGAIN when we switched terminals to fly with Air Choice One. We wouldn’t have made their 3 PM flight so we had to wait for the 8 PM flight back to Mason City. TOO long of a wait when you are severely jet lagged and tired. Though when you do land in Mason, it’s nice because parking there is free and home is only 40 minutes away as opposed to 2 hours from Minneapolis or Des Moines. After a layover that seemed to last for days, we boarded at 8 PM and made it back to Mason City around 10:30 PM. I drove like a beast back to Forest City so jet lagged to the point where I was still able to stay wide awake to drive.
I think next time we fly international we will start in Des Moines before the connecting flight in Chicago or somewhere else. Yes it is two hours away but parking in the furthest lot from the terminal (which you can take a shuttle to) is only 5 bucks a day. Cheap! Plus we have more control of what flight we take so our layovers won’t be as long. Did I mention we would only have to check in through security once each way?!?! WORTH IT!!!

There you have it: A 10 day Ireland honeymoon in ONE EPIC BLOG POST!! One year later and these memories are still very vivid. I hope we get to go back someday, we talk about it all the time. I could go on and on with stories and tidbits but I will wait and save them for a future post about a returning journey to the Emerald Isle.

That time I did a cameo role for community theater…

How I am so thankful for the people in our small town who came together last year and brought community theater to life. While I enjoyed my time being on a roller derby team, I am thankful for the hiatus I took from it because now I feel I’m back in my natural habitat.
I did a small cameo (I only call it cameo because my part had only two lines) in our production of Rumors. Cast members arrive as guests made up of four couples at a party with missing hosts and I am one of two cops that show up at the end:
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Special Police… HAHA!

As a newbie to Brickstreet, I expected a smaller role which would be good to get my feet wet again. However, I’m glad I wasn’t alone in thinking my part could have used more lines, split them more up evenly with my partner. When you look at the play’s author and how Rumors was written after he had been divorced three times, you see a trend among the women roles: one is a drunk, one is an idiot, one is weird, one is a bitch and my police woman role was pretty much non existent. Yeah: women issues that Neil Simon had….

When I wasn’t hanging out backstage in full costume throughout 97% of the play contemplating driving down to the bar still in full police uniform for a beer before I had to drive back, I learned how to set lights. I had to get over my fear of heights!:

This show ran for two weeks in a different town each week: three nights in Forest City one week and three nights in Garner the second. With only a week off following Rumors, auditions took place for the summer musical. With my luck, illness struck me on our week off leaving me congested, stuffed, tired and having a husky voice. My husband suggested I audition for a male role, haha. I tried to nurse myself back to health and I auditioned the last night even though I wasn’t back to full out performing. At least I had a voice to audition with. As I write this, I’m still not back to normal and there is still much nastiness in my throat. It will be a moment of truth if what I had to work with got me a role on Saturday…..