California Dreamin’

Went to southern California last week for a conference. It was the furthest I’ve ever been from home (yes, turns out it was even a little further than when I’d gone to Mexico). Overall, the convention was great, I had fun (despite poor crowd control) and loved meeting people. I was also pretty proud of the capsule wardrobe I packed and being able to fit everything into one carry-on bag.



Something I learned about the Los Angeles area: when they give the weather forecast on TV, they actually have to give five different forecasts for all the different climates: beach, downtown, mountains, valley, and desert. We were about an hour east of LA and I was not expecting it to be as mountainous there as it was. Besides the landscape and use of Spanish style architecture, it was pretty much like home, though – lots of traffic and strip malls, lol!

Charleston 2016!

Remember when GG and I went to Charleston, SC? We had such a great time, we’ve basically been talking about it for the last 4 years. It was really a perfect vacation. So with our 10th wedding anniversary (!!!) coming up, we decided to go back! We booked our time well in advance, because we knew it would be a tough week for GG to get off work. Hotel rates seemed much higher than when we were there before, probably because it was more in the midst of the Spoleto Festival. I ended up booking us an Airbnb a couple months in advance, and then one morning I woke up to a message saying the reservation had been cancelled by the owner! Turns out, hotels in Charleston are suing Airbnb, so until everything was worked out, property owners were advised to cancel any pending reservations. GG and I started looking for other options, and found that in the meantime the rate at the Elliott House, where we stayed in 2012, was back down to where it had been before, so we booked it! And thus concluded our pre-vacation drama.

Wednesday, June 1: The week before we left, a tropical storm hit the area hard enough to cause flooding that closed down areas of I-95 for a while. Luckily, everything had cleared up just in time for us to leave. We didn’t stop anywhere on the way to South Carolina this time (except a creepy gas station in Virginia where I made the mistake of using the ladies’ room!). We left early in the morning and GG drove until we were past DC, then I took over for a long stretch (only listened to “Hamilton” once!), and then we switched back shortly before our destination. We had planned to take one day while we were there and drive over to Savannah, GA, but as we pulled into town, I was so sick of driving that I said to GG, “I know this sounds crazy [because we already have a detailed written agenda], but I would be ok with scrapping Savannah and doing something else around here that day instead.” So we did! (Read on to see what that was!)

We hadn’t really planned anything for our first evening in town, but GG had ideas for us. As soon as we checked into the hotel, we headed two doors down to Poogan’s Porch, where we sat at the bar and shared an order of the smoked gouda mac & cheese that just about put him in a coma four years earlier. We learned about two things there: a local beer called Pluff Mud (which GG enjoyed throughout the trip), and the existence of Poogan’s Smokehouse, which we immediately added to our agenda for later in the week. After that stop, we went next door to Husk, where we got a table in the carriage house bar and enjoyed a cheese platter and crazy burger with bacon in the burger meat. (Bacon is the main theme of Charleston.) Now here’s the sad part: after dinner, we went for an evening walk around town. I was wearing sandals that are usually extremely comfortable, but for some reason they gave me huge blisters that night! So for the rest of our trip, I had to wear the one pair of more sneaker-like enclosed shoes that I’d brought (which probably was better for my feet, but still!).



Poogan’s Porch mac & cheese

Cheese plate at the Husk bar

Not glamorous, but glad to be out of the car!

One other funny story about the hotel: the majority of the guest rooms are all along one side, which faces the alley next to Husk. Last time, our room was right above Husk’s dumpster, where they were constantly clanking glass bottles and trash. (It was the hottest dumpster in Charleston, though!) This time, as we checked in, GG said to me, “I hope our room isn’t on the first floor.” It was on the first floor (which was fine, we didn’t have to go up any steps and there was no problem). I jokingly said, maybe we’d be right by Husk’s kitchen entrance. Well, we walked into the room, opened the blinds, and the kitchen door was literally right outside the window! LOL! It really wasn’t any problem at all though. It wasn’t that noisy, there were wooden blinds that pretty much prevented anyone from seeing in, and we had a full blackout curtain for nighttime. Just thought it was funny :o)

Thursday, June 2: I know I said I was sick of driving, but, today was the day we planned to do a couple things just outside of downtown, so it was back in the car for a short ride. Our first stop was the Angel Oak Tree. The Angel Oak is often said to be the oldest tree in the country, and it really isn’t, though it is very old and very large. It’s impressive and beautiful, and you are free to just wander around it and admire up close or from afar. You can take pictures, although there are signs all around it that you can’t move. But don’t worry, because there is a gift shop!! We met an artist named Frank deLoach who was working on a really interesting painting of the tree. He said for years he did realistic tree paintings and couldn’t give them away. Then he started doing this technique and people are trying to buy them before he’s even finished, and he sells them for thousands of dollars. He mixes sand with paint to create the sketchy outline, then fills in the voids with color. Also, if you light the painting from just the right angle, the outlines cast shadows that give the piece a whole new look! Angel Oak pro tip: arrive early; we were there first thing in the morning and it was already getting crowded by the time we left.



Before we left, my mom warned me to stay on paved surfaces and not go under trees. Whoops.

This is the painting on an angle – here it is straight on

Our next stop was Magnolia Plantation. There are several plantations you can visit along the Ashley River and I was a little disappointed with the one we saw before because it turned out it was “preserved” (i.e. kept in the same dilapidated state it was when the last owner died), not restored. Magnolia is the one everyone talks about, because it’s a huge property you can explore, and in addition to the house there is a garden, zoo, swamp tour, etc. I really just wanted to see the house, so we bought admission to the garden (which you need to be able to do anything else) and a scheduled house tour. We had time before the tour to explore the garden, and then wandered down to the river, which was the site of a British attack that preceded the battle of Yorktown (“Hamilton” has really improved my knowledge of the American revolution!). It was very beautiful but also very hot, so I was glad to get inside and check out their little indoor museum as well. They had some connection to the Grimk√© family, which was fictionalized in The Invention of Wings. (We’ll refer to this book again later, too! I read it because of its Charleston and Philadelphia connections!) The house tour was good; the property has had a long history, and actually is currently owned by the same family – the gardens were created by an early owner to make his wife happy, since he took her away from her city home, and were later opened to the public to make some money by charging admission.



The front of the house actually faces the river, since that’s how guests would arrive; this is the back that faces toward the gardens

We went back to town and had lunch at Eli’s Table, which was one of GG’s picks, and happened to be right around the corner from our hotel. After we mentioned to the waiter that we were from Philly, he brought over a waitress who was originally from Pennsylvania. Would you believe she went to the same high school as me?! Small world! Anyway, the meal was amazing. Afterward, we went on a little quest to visit some of the new distilleries in town. We first headed to Charleston Distilling Company, producer of a sorghum whisky that GG picked up. They have a tasting room, but due to SC’s weird regulations, you can’t just visit that area. You have to pay for a full tour, and then at the end you get the tasting. GG just bought a bottle of what he wanted, and then they let him in and basically gave him a little tour anyway.



We were going to try to walk to another distillery after that, but realized how far away it was, and it was super hot out and we were getting cranky, so we got ice cream instead :o) They have Jeni’s ice cream in Charleston! In what became our usual schedule for the remainder of the trip, we went back to the hotel, took sponge baths, changed, and then went out to dinner. Our reservation was for SNOB (Slightly North Of Broad), a restaurant we missed on our last trip. It was very good, but I think we only went there because it’s one of those “must try” restaurants everyone talks about. Now we’ve tried it. After dinner, we went for a walk around Waterfront Park and caught our first glimpse of the pineapple fountain this trip.

Friday, June 3: On the schedule today was a trip to the South Carolina Aquarium, which we had skipped last time because it seemed like a lot of kid stuff, and we’ve been to aquariums before. However, this year I learned that the aquarium is home to a Sea Turtle Hospital, and you can schedule a tour of this facility in addition to your aquarium admission! The aquarium was nice, though we realized after we’d gone through everything that we’d kind of done it backwards – you’re supposed to start upstairs with the “mountain” environment, and then work your way though all of SC’s ecosystems until you get to the “coast.” We did it the other way around, and I guess that’s why sometimes it seemed like doors didn’t have signs on them, it was because we were going through from the wrong side, haha! At our scheduled time, we met up with our turtle hospital tour group (including a Charleston transplant who was originally from our area in PA, you see this is becoming a theme), and we headed outside to the hospital entrance. The “tour” isn’t so much a guided experience as it is learning about the hospital, and then they just let everyone inside to wander and ask questions of the staffers. I was worried it was going to be sad but it really wasn’t – most of the turtles there were greatly improved from when they came in, and were swimming happily around their tanks and getting ready to go home! Turtle hospital pro tip: Book your tour in advance, they will fill up! (Actually, the hospital is going to be moving to a more prominent spot later this fall, so I don’t know how it’s going to work going forward.)



This non-native species is taking over the Atlantic Ocean, hope you find them delicious!

This huge tank was pretty cool (human included for scale) – we also saw a dive show they did in here

Turtle Hospital was basically 15-20 tanks like this, filled with recovering sea turtles

After the aquarium we thought we’d hit up a couple of the historic homes, but we weren’t really in the right location to visit both, so we just did the Joseph Manigault House, which is right across from the Charleston Museum (we visited last time) where we bought the tickets. The house is beautiful, but the “tour” again was just a speech in the foyer, then we were split into two groups and half explored upstairs on their own while half explored downstairs, then we switched. We did hang behind after the tour and speak to the docents about stuff like how bad everyone must have smelled in the olden days :o) The most impressive thing about this house was that it had been used for many different things, including a period where it was a boarding house for lots of families with kids running all over, and temporary housing for war veterans, yet the beautiful wooden railing and chandelier in the center spiral staircase remained intact!



We stopped by Bull Street Gourmet for a little drink and snack on the way back to our hotel, then got cleaned up and changed and headed to one of the dinners I was most excited about, Minero! This is Sean Brock’s Mexican restaurant… and I love me some Mexican food ;) We started out with guacamole and a trio of salsas, served with fresh chips they kept warm inside an oven mitt. For our main course, I had two little tacos. GG ordered a burrito which, for the price, was ridiculously oversized! He was literally almost in tears by the end of the meal because he was just physically incapable of finishing the whole thing. (Another fun thing about Minero: napkins and silverware are in a little drawer under your table!) After dinner we walked around and did our usual, checking out houses by the Battery and along Rainbow Row.



Saturday, June 4: This was the day we had originally planned to go to Savannah, but as you’ll recall, we scrapped that plan as soon as we arrived in Charleston. Instead, we decided to go to the Charleston Tea Plantation. This was an excellent decision – the tea plantation was one of the most interesting places we visited on this trip! Now – we both love tea. But it was really fascinating! The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only tea plantation in the US – all other tea comes from overseas, much of it from Asia, Africa, and South America. This plantation was set up as kind of an experiment, since the soil and climate in Charleston are ideal for growing tea. You enter through a huge gift shop, selling every type of tea and tea accessory. There is also a sampling station of hot and iced teas, which you are encouraged to bring with you on the tour! We first did a little walking tour of the factory, which is free and runs every 15 minutes or so. You basically just walk along while looking at the factory equipment through a window, and videos play to explain what each piece does in the process. Then we went on a trolley tour of the plantation. Our tour guide was super knowledgeable and we got to learn how they grow and harvest all the tea there. Most tea around the world is harvested by hand, which takes hundreds of people. At the Charleston plantation, they have developed a piece of equipment that cuts down the bushes and separates out the leaves, allowing them to do the same work with just a handful of employees. The bushes are planted in rows designed for the harvester to fit between them. It takes about 27 weeks for the plants to re-grow to the height they need to harvest them, so they divided the plantation into 27 sections – by the time they reach the last one, it’s time to harvest the first one again! They also have a greenhouse for starting new tea plants that is naturally climate controlled and all automated.



The tea harvesting machine


This is Waddy the frog, named for Wadmalaw Island

When we got back to town, we went to Poogan’s Smokehouse for lunch, as had been recommended to us by the Poogan’s Porch bartender on our first night. It was a very cool and kind of industrial place, and the food was fabulous of course. We split their version of mac & cheese, just to try it, and then I had a burger. GG got a platter of three different types of BBQ meats and a couple sides. He was again just about in tears by the end of the meal because he couldn’t finish the roll that came with it! (They have six types of BBQ meats and the largest platter includes five – our waitress told us she had a customer who got the five meat platter and then ordered the sixth type as his appetizer, just so he could try them all!) Poogan’s Smokehouse pro tip: the bathrooms here are really nice!

After lunch we went to the other historic home we wanted to see, the Heyward-Washington house. While waiting for the next tour to start, they told us to go check out the outbuildings and garden. The cookhouse had some information about the families who’d lived there, and mentioned Judge Grimk√©. This was the house where The Invention of Wings took place?! So then I was extra excited about the tour. This was probably the best historic home tour we went on – it was informative and the group was just us and two other people. Like most of the other historic homes, this one had gone through some transformations (for example, at one point the downstairs was lowered and converted into a bakery storefront). There were a lot of paintings in the home that our guide kept pointing out because they were mostly done by the same artist, and he was really bad, but he was the only portrait painter in town at one point, so he got all the business! He gave everyone one of two face styles, he couldn’t do hands so they were usually covered up, and actually he was bad at painting skin, so that was usually covered too.



After the tour, we were walking back toward the hotel and saw this church with its courtyard gate open, inviting people in to their garden. Turns out it was a huge cemetery, and GG got some great creepy shots. I walked around for a little bit, but then hung out on a bench where I was eaten alive by bugs.



We went to Bull Street Gourmet for a full meal, finally, and had dinner there. Of course we had to get one of their beautiful cheese boards. Then I had a gorgeous salad, while GG ate some gazpacho. After dinner we went for a walk around Colonial Lake. I’d heard on the local news that they had recently completed a beautification project there, and yes, it was much nicer looking than the last time we’d visited, with nice new landscaping. It felt like it was about to rain any moment, but still not yet a drop the whole week, despite the daily forecast calling for scattered thunderstorms.



Sunday, June 5: We started off the day back at Eli’s Table for brunch so we could try the breakfast side of their menu (the hotel did provide breakfast every day, which is a great time and money saver, but we’d decided we did want to eat out at least once). Our Philly friend was our waitress, so we got to see her again! The highlight of the day was my special surprise gift to GG (and myself) – massages! I’d figured by this point in our trip we’d be pretty achy from all the walking around and whatnot, and we’d had a couples massage on our anniversary a couple years ago, so I knew GG would enjoy it. However, what I learned at our previous massage was that he does. not. shut. up. Making it very hard to relax. So the Massage For Two at Earthling Day Spa is perfect, because you actually get separate massages in separate rooms. Mine was excellent, exactly what I needed. I felt so much better and just more relaxed for the rest of the day!

We didn’t really have too much planned until dinner, so GG tried looking up some other homes in the city we might tour, and found the Calhoun Mansion. This Victorian mansion was inherited by a descendant of John C. Calhoun, hence the name, but is currently occupied by jet-setting lawyer with extremely eccentric taste. The home is filled with various art and artifacts that he’s collected since his college years, as well as several dogs and cats who are locked in the kitchen during tours so we didn’t get to meet them. They’ve used the mansion in several films and TV series, including “The Notebook.” It was weird and ornate and there was lots of historical “stuff,” but it wasn’t really a historical re-creation since it’s actually someone’s home. (Also, no photography inside, but you can see pictures on their web site or buy postcards in the gift shop.)



Our dinner was a GG pick, Lowcountry Bistro. He’d added it to the list because they serve cioppino, which is a type of fish stew they have in California. However, once we got there, he saw they also had jambalaya and paella on the menu! He ended up getting the paella. I had an appetizer for dinner, fried chicken on sweet potato waffles. And we split an order of brussels sprouts with pancetta. GG made friends with our waiter (of course), who recommended Carmella’s Dessert Bar for dessert. We actually first tried to book a ghost tour, but we were like 10 minutes too late, they’d already cancelled that night’s tour due to lack of attendance. So we went over to Carmella’s and had some gelato, then hurried back to the hotel because it seemed like it was actually about to rain at this point.

Monday, June 6: Hey, remember how it was supposed to rain every day during our trip, but it never happened? Well, it finally rained … and it rained all day! Another hurricane was blowing in, bookending our trip. It wasn’t raining when we arrived at Waterfront Park for our Porgy and Bess walking tour, but as everyone gathered, umbrellas started popping open. This was the one Spoleto Festival activity we were doing, and I’d really been looking forward to it. I’d seen Porgy and Bess maybe once, but I am familiar with the story and music. The story was written and takes place in Charleston, and the tour was held in conjunction with performances of the opera during the festival. Our guide was super knowledgeable (I missed his intro in the beginning, but I think he’d written a book about Porgy and Bess?!), and we learned so much about the opera, its creators, and its Charleston connections. Of course, it was pouring rain the entire time, and it was kind of hard to hear or pay full attention when you are dodging puddles and being pelted with rain, trying to peek between everyone’s umbrellas. We stopped under roofs and shelter when we could, but it was kind of miserable.



This is the Heyward-Washington house again – DuBose Heyward was a relative and lived down the street from here for a period

GG found a flag to match his shirt (outside a liquor store run, ironically, by a pro-Brexit British expat

I’d worn shorts, and by the time the tour was finished, my legs were totally splashed with mud, plus my shoes were waterlogged and just wrecked. (Luckily, they were cheapies from Payless – the same pair was on sale online, so I tossed the ruined ones which had served me so well all week, and ordered replacements that arrived home shortly after we did.) We got cleaned up at the hotel and then went back to Poogan’s Porch for lunch (and to split another order of smoked gouda mac & cheese) – seemed fitting that they would be our first and (almost) last meal of the trip.

We went out to pick up some souvenirs while the rain had lightened up a little bit, then got cleaned up and changed, and went for our super fancy 10 year anniversary dinner at McCrady’s. (Well, first we had to get our traditional anniversary photo where we’re holding up fingers for the number of years we’ve been married.)



McCrady’s is super old, super historical, and super expensive. They serve very fancy, almost molecular gastronomy level dishes. For example, the man at the table next to us ordered a dessert that was basically blueberry foam overflowing out of a fish bowl :o) It was very very good though, and now we can say we’ve eaten at all of Sean Brock’s restaurants (well, at least the ones in Charleston). We tried going for a walk after dinner, but it was raining so much, and we had to get up early in the morning, so we just went to bed.

Tuesday, June 7: Watching the news the night before, we saw the effects of the next tropical storm blowing in, and GG suggested we pack up and drive home overnight. Actually, it’s a good thing we didn’t, because everything passed through during the night, and though there was some flooding in some areas of the city, by the time we left early in the morning, the rain had stopped and skies were clear. We had no issues getting home and the kitties were happy to see us :o) Although it was hot and humid (i.e. normal weather) compared to the last time we visited, I would still rank Charleston in my top five favorite places. We had a great trip, plus I can’t believe we’ve been married ten years!

Check out all my Charleston pics here.

New Hope Afternoon

We just had such a beautiful weekend, and since the weather was so nice and it was our last free weekend for a long time, I suggested to GG that we go up to New Hope on Saturday. We haven’t taken an overnight trip there in a few years, but we do still like to go up a couple times a year for a day here and there. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea! There was almost nowhere to park in town, and the sidewalks were so crowded, people had to squeeze past, single file. But it wasn’t really unbearable, and it was such a lovely day, we had a great time!

We both had some things to take care of at home first, so we didn’t get on the road until about 11 AM. There’s a new highway bypass (well, I call it new, it’s been open for several years now), which shaves a bit of time off the trip and makes it quite a pleasant drive. We first stopped by Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, because GG wanted to go to Hewn Spirits and see if their Reclamation whisky was in stock (it was not). There also happened to be a spring fair going on, so there was this whole other area with vendors and tents set up nearby and throughout the village. One of the booths we stopped by was Offbeat Gourmet – let’s just say, he had the whole “handmade hipster” thing down so well, when he gave me change for my purchase, it was a $2 bill from a homemade cash box.

We continued over to New Hope. Unable to find a parking spot in our usual favorite lots, we ended up parking near the canal lock at the north end of town. We had thought maybe we’d get an early dinner before leaving. Last time we were there, someone recommended the Blue Moose Cafe, but they might have been closed or all booked for the day. We stopped by there first but they were serving brunch, and then would be closed until dinner at 5PM. So GG went in and made us a dinner reservation for 5.

Next order of business was to get a little snack to hold us over until then! We went to Nina’s Waffles for a little Belgian waffle and ice cream action. Then we just took a few hours walking through town, seeing what’s new and checking out our old favorites. We don’t usually walk east on Bridge St., but happened to go up that way and found The Creeper Gallery, which we’ve somehow missed for the couple years it’s been open! If you like weird taxidermied animals, Victorian baby photos, and general creepy artwork, check this place out! And of course no visit to New Hope would be complete without stopping in at Farley’s Bookshop to see Butter the cat (and, um, look at books)… We usually have to look for Butter, but this time he was sitting out right in the middle of the children’s department. On a nearby chair, there was a notebook titled, “Dear Butter,” which featured a couple pages of cat FAQs, followed by blank pages for people to leave notes. GG wrote a very nice message from us. I gave him lots of scratches and he purred a lot.



The Creeper Gallery


Signing the “Dear Butter” book

We were pretty beat after a while, so we sat down on a shady bench for some people watching/possibly a nap, but there were a lot of bees around! So we ended up going to Nektar for some drinks. It was across the street from where we were having dinner and we’ll definitely have to have a meal at this place soon! We went there several years ago when it was Wildflowers, but this is a totally new restaurant with new owners, and it looks pretty awesome!

Finally it was time to go over to the Blue Moose. I hadn’t been in there before, but the decor was pretty cute! Their door handle (and logo) is a whisk with moose antlers; pendant lights were made of box graters; there was a window box of flowers made from forks, knives, and spoons… It’s a BYOB restaurant and you can choose a two or three course prix fixe menu (some dishes do have an additional charge of a couple bucks), which is a neat way to do things. The third course is dessert, so we skipped that. For our first courses, GG and I shared the cheese plate and Sweet Potato Nachos (which were awesome and I will definitely try recreating at home!). Then for our entrees, he had the Seafood Jambalaya (the scallops were so perfectly golden, I thought they were breaded!); and I had the Oricchette with roasted brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and a lemon cream sauce. After that, we made our way back to the car (quick stop at the candy store!), drove home, and pretty much went straight to bed!

Sunday was a pretty productive day, and then GG’s brother invited us over for dinner because he was grilling some chicken, ribs, and veggies (not sure what he would have done if we hadn’t come over!). It was so nice out, I even voluntarily ate outside! We ended up watching/making fun of Terminator Genisys before heading home to bed.



Easter Miracles

I don’t want to jinx anything, but… I just had some really lucky days, after a string of terrible ones!

Our sewer line clogged last week, I had someone snake it, and they found tree roots in the line. After lots of phone calls and plumber visits over the next few days, I wasn’t sure exactly what to do – most plumbers wouldn’t do the job, and the one estimate I got was way higher than I expected. But then I learned I live in one of the few municipalities in which the township is responsible for the sewer line past the curb. They re-checked with a camera, and found all the roots were under the street! So the township is coming this week to give us a whole new sewer line, at no cost to us (I mean, we pay taxes, so…)

Earlier this month, a customer paid for a huge purchase with a check. I usually don’t accept checks, but something had happened to her credit card so she was waiting on a new one, she had shopped with me before online, and our mutual friend vouched for her. I deposited it as soon as I got home. Well, last weekend the check came back to me in the mail, returned due to insufficient funds. I tried contacting her via e-mail, phone, and text, plus our mutual friend tried to get in touch with her. She did reply at one point, but then stopped responding again. When our mutual friend sent me a photo she’d shared on Snapchat with one of her new items that she hadn’t paid for, that was the last straw. Friday was her payday, I knew the money was in her account, and first thing Saturday I took the check back to the bank and had it cashed again – this time for real!!

GG and I have been planning our summer vacation, and because rates at the hotel we wanted to stay at had gotten so high, we ended up finding a 2 bedroom condo on Airbnb for the about same price as the original hotel rate. Saturday morning I woke to a message on my phone saying the reservation had been cancelled by the host. I sent him a message asking if this was a mistake, and he said one of the hotels in their town was suing all the Airbnb hosts, and the site recommended that they cancel all their pending reservations until it was resolved. So GG and I started looking for another place to stay, and ended up finding a much better rate on the hotel we originally wanted, so we were able to book it after all!

I went to a Norwex party my friend hosted on Saturday. I love these demos because they do crazy stuff like rubbing butter all over windows, slathering raw chicken on countertops, and breaking raw eggs everywhere – then they clean it all up! This consultant actually was really good, she had a special pen that would change color in the presence of protein, so she could prove that all the chicken juice had been removed ;o) She did a game where everyone could choose a plastic Easter egg from a basket, knowing that there was a possibility your “prize” would be to commit to hosting your own party; other prizes were free shipping, or a little giveaway item. I won the big prize – a free EnviroWand! (I’m so excited because I really need to dust better! I also ordered the Dusting Mitt, which is supposed to be great for blinds..!)

In addition, GG and I had a nice weekend together – Friday night I saw him play with the (awesome!) band he formed with some of his friends and coworkers; Saturday we went out for a nice dinner at Seasons 52 to celebrate all the lucky things that happened (even the dinner was lucky: it was mostly paid for with a gift card I got for free with my expiring Marriott points); and Easter was nice on Sunday, we saw both of our families and ate some amazing food :o)



Typical rockstar pose…

October

It’s been such a busy month, and I don’t even know what I did! I traveled to DC for a training event for my 3rd side biz. GG, and I, and the cats all had various doctor’s appointments. He got his boot off and can now begin rehab for his fractured ankle! We spent a weekend in Maryland for a wedding – wedding was beautiful, family drama was awkward. We went out to MU for Homecoming and had a lovely day, including a visit with my very first roommate who I hadn’t seen probably since we all graduated! Plus there was a special reunion for all alumni from my fraternity, which was pretty neat. And GG had a big, exciting, life-changing thing happen, yay!!

Tonight for Halloween, we once again handed out full-size candy bars for the kids. We didn’t scare anyone this time, but did also offer hot apple cider (topped with whipped cream!) for the adults :o)

Hoopla 2015!

When I joined my second side business last year, I decided, no matter when or where it was, there was no way I would miss this company’s very first conference. Well, it was last weekend and it was amazing! Compared to being with 15,000 women last year, being with just 500 was very different. But it was such a great experience. The speakers and training and product demos could have been anywhere. But the best part was that many of us had been with the company since Day 1, and we knew each other online, and it was so awesome to finally meet these women in person! That was really the main highlight for me, because honestly, by the time conference rolled around, I was questioning whether I wanted to go or to stick with this at all, but having met those women, I am going to make the effort to keep with this as long as I can :o)

I was supposed to fly to Dallas on Thursday with another Designer from my area, but she ended up cancelling at the last minute due to some family issues. So I traveled by myself, and then it turned out my Director arrived at the airport about the same time I did, so I got to meet her for the first time (she’s amazing, more on her later) and we shared an Uber to the hotel. Oh, and Uber! The hotel was really not walking distance to anything, so this is the way we got around town all weekend, and it worked out great! Thursday we mostly hung around the hotel and greeted people as they arrived. A bunch of us went out to this Mexican place for dinner, and I’m sure it would have been really fabulous, but by that point, between traveling and a slight time difference and just the long day I’d had, I really wasn’t feeling well, so I barely touched my food. I just crashed in bed.

Friday was the day most people were arriving, so again we kind of claimed a spot in the hotel and greeted people as they arrived. The co-founder and “Customer Advocate” of Tiny Torch happened to be in town for another conference, and I was able to get him to come by and do a little meet and greet with some of our Designers! Ok, it was mostly with me, but it was great to meet him in person, he’s a super guy, and I think it at least piqued others’ interest in the service – there’s been a lot of interest and questions since I’ve been home, so I will be putting together a little guide to show people how I use TT to organize my businesses and schedule. Check-in opened, and we all got our swag bags full of new product! Plus, we were able to meet home office staff who, again, we’d been interacting with for the past year. Leadership training was during the day Friday, so the rest of us had free time until our first general session that afternoon. That night was our “team party,” which my director hosted in her suite (I got to help set up cupcakes!). Really cool to meet the whole team and celebrate accomplishments within our group.

Saturday started early with lots of training and special announcements. It was a long day of sessions, and then I went out with some other girls from my team for dinner at this cool diner. (Anytime in this story that I’m not mentioning where we ate, it’s probably because I had a meal from one of the food trucks that lined the sidewalk outside the hotel. Again, it was kind of removed from everything, so the trucks were really the only option if you didn’t want expensive hotel food, and didn’t have time to go out somewhere.) After dinner, it was time to get ready for our dance party! This was a really nice event, we had a whole big ballroom in the hotel with DJ and dance floor, photo booth, little sweets and cakes, cash bars featuring a special cocktail just for us, and lots of ladies just going nuts meeting each other and getting pictures. I got to meet a Designer who joined in the very beginning with me, and we actually spoke on the phone when we first were starting because she had never done anything like this before and was nervous. Guess what – she’s now one of the top Designers in the company! I hadn’t had a chance to meet her before because, as a leader, she had been kind of segregated from us, so it was so awesome to meet and congratulate her in person! Also hung out with my roommate (not on my team) and some other local Designers from PA, and we are going to try to hook up back home!



Our last day, Sunday, got off to kind of a slow start – I think some people were partying a little too hard at the dance party! Our “Chief Happiness Officer” serenaded us on his saxophone, then gave a really inspirational speech (which I think had the unintended effect of inspiring me to do something else, but .. at least it was inspirational). Everyone slowly started checking out and making their way home. This time I had a travel companion (my roommie), and our flight wasn’t until later, so we checked out and then hung out in “our” spot in the hotel, saying goodbye to people. (Cool thing that happened: I was there in the lobby and saw a home office person I recognized and hadn’t met yet. Hoopla was officially over, but I just went over and said I wanted to introduce myself and thank her for all she did for us. “I said, “You don’t know me, but my name is [first name],” and she said, “Oh, [first name last name]?” That just made my day – she knew me too!) We got an alert that our flight was delayed, but still headed to the airport at the scheduled time anyway, sharing a shuttle with another girl from my team who we just met there in the lobby! We grabbed dinner at the airport and killed some time before heading to the gate. Somehow, despite being delayed, we made up time in the air, and actually arrived home a little ahead of schedule! GG not only picked me up at the airport, he actually came inside to meet me, which was really sweet :o)

And since there wasn’t a good place in the narrative to include this, I will just add that my director is an amazing woman. The more time I spent with her, the more I learned about her. She’s had such an unbelievable life, and is really an inspiration. She lives every day with a condition that basically feels like she has a permanent migraine, and will probably someday need brain surgery, but still takes care of her family and has had such amazing success in her business. She has experienced heartbreaking losses. Her three children are fabulous, and she has been a surrogate, carrying pregnancies for other families, multiple times! But the main thing I love about her is that she is not like most of the other leaders in this company, all “rah-rah” and sometimes aloof. She’s just a normal person who does not like being in the spotlight, who has achieved great success and knows that we all can, too.

March

This has been a really tough month, understandably, but it’s had ups and downs. Some of the ups:

  • Had a nice off-season trip to OCMD with GG and his family to attend a hotel and restaurant convention (aka: excuse to eat and drink all the samples). We found a nice new (to me) restaurant down there, Hooked. And it was nice to just get away for a few days.
  • Went to a middle school play… The play itself was cute, but the real highlight for me was my band friend C yelling at the rude middle school boys next to us during the intermission, then ending with a threat, “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are, and I’ll see you when you get to high school!”
  • Had another great event for my second side business! I’d been working with this hostess for months, and she just did not have any confidence in herself – so it made me so happy to see what a great turnout and event she had, and how that made her feel better about herself, too!
  • And of course … the new guy. I’ll have to write more about him later.

Conference 2015!

This year’s Conference was so much nicer than last year’s. I liked the way things were organized better, I was with a better group of people, and we were in a better city. I’m not even going to talk about the conference itself, because, whatever. The highlights of the trip for me took place outside of the events!

  • We drove from Philly to Columbus, OH with only one bathroom stop (and we only stopped because it was the last rest stop for like 60 miles, and I guess we figured better safe than sorry – I think a lot of other ladies on their way to Conference had the same idea).
  • I got to meet up with my friend K from elementary school – she is with the company too! I had dinner with her and her family (who were traveling with her to visit relatives) and some of my other friends at a neat spot near our hotel.
  • Major highlight!! I met my blog friend D for the first time ever, after 10+ years of online friendship! She was shorter than I expected, lol! It was awesome to see her, though, and of course we were just talking like old friends (which we are, so..).
  • The North Market in Columbus is awesome. It’s like a more manageable Reading Terminal Market. We had multiple meals there over the course of the week, since it’s across the street from the conference center.


  • My friend/roommate E and I had had a long day one day and never really got dinner. So we walked over to Dirty Frank’s, which was near our hotel. On the way there, we passed another woman from our conference (we could tell, because she had her badge still on). She said, “I shouldn’t be walking here by myself this late, could I just walk with you over to Dirty Frank’s?” and we were like, “We’re going to Dirty Frank’s, come eat with us!” So we ended up having a great time! Then the next morning, we were lining up early to get in to the next conference session, and guess who was in line next to us? Same lady, with her group of friends! We’re totally going to keep in touch, she was really lovely.
  • The last night we were in town, the OSU marching band was performing in a park near our hotel! It was a ticketed event, but I walked over and stood outside the gate with some fellow band nerds who were in town for Conference :o)
  • The entire city of Columbus really did “roll out the pink carpet,” everyone was happy to see us everywhere and it was just a really great experience!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, but those were the main highlights. We’re already planning our return trip next year! I hope next year I’m able to see more of some of the different areas of the town and try some other restaurants and stuff (it’s hard when you’re traveling with one very picky eater and one person who can’t eat much or walk far due to a medical condition).



June/July

This has been an extremely busy summer, due to some things that were going on personally, and some things going on at home. I actually apologized to the owner of my gym the last time I saw her – all my free time has been spent on these other projects, so I’ve been lucky to get there just once a week for yoga!

At work, I’m on this committee meant to plan team meetings, and provide engagement opportunities for the people in our department. (I call it the Party Planning Committee, but it’s actually more involved than that.) We had a quarterly all-site videoconference at the end of June, and someone had the idea that I should make a viral video to illustrate these virtual meeting best practices we’d come up with. Also, we wanted to do a potluck lunch on-site the same day, and guess who was in charge of organizing that? Well, both tasks went great! I wrote up a general script but had an amazing team of actors who really put their own spin on things and made the video hilarious! I took a couple days to edit it, and everyone loved it! Our potluck was also a really nice time, and everyone said it was one of the better “networking” activities we’ve done. And, with my friend JK about to go out on maternity leave, we threw a little baby shower for her, which was also a hit!

For the first time in a long time, I was free on the 4th of July, so J and R came out with their boys and checked out the little carnival my town had set up this year. We didn’t stay for the fireworks, but the weather was beautiful and I really just wanted some funnel cake. Plus it was nice to hang out with friends, and baby J is so cute! (A woman passing by as I held him said, “Oh he is such a little bubble!”)

GG and I had the opportunity to go to New York City for the day – then the opportunity didn’t work out, but we decided to go up anyway! I get free admission to a bunch of museums and stuff thanks to my employer, so we took the subway, walked through Central Park, spent a few hours at the Met Museum, and then got dinner at a place I found online, Cafe D’Alsace (surprisingly generous cheese portions!), before going back through the park, getting the subway back to the bus, the bus back to the car, and driving home. It was a little warm, but overall a really nice day.

Not content with one cheese board in a week, we took the train in to Philly a couple days later to use up the rest of the Tria gift card GG gave me for Christmas. This time we went to their Wash West location, and I think I like it more than the Rittenhouse one! It’s just as easy to get to from the train (maybe easier) and slightly larger and less cramped. Also they have a waiter who looks like Dave Navarro (?).

In the next couple weeks, a lot of the craziness should be over… until new craziness begins, I’m sure. But hopefully we’ll at least get to enjoy the end of our summer!

Anniversary AC Trip

I planned a surprise trip for our wedding anniversary. GG knew he was driving and had a general idea, but until we left he didn’t know 100% for sure to head to Atlantic City, and he didn’t know until we got there which hotel to head to. We were staying at our favorite casino, Revel. We’d been there before, but never to the hotel. It is awesome, very fancy-pants. (Which, for the price, it should be!)

Since I didn’t know for sure when we’d be getting there on Thursday night, I didn’t have anything planned for us. I later found out Rich Vos was performing that night, and actually after we checked in to the hotel and were heading to our room, we saw him walking toward us! We ended up riding the elevator with him, which was a really cool surprise. And that was all we got to see of him that night, because Revel does not sell off their unused tickets before the show. Oh well, their loss. Instead, we walked through the whole place, and got dinner at the Distrito taco cart. (Still need to go to the real Distrito in Philly – those tacos were amazing!) We also went to the Village Whiskey bar, where we got a drink and enjoyed the live band that was playing.

Friday was our anniversary, and the day I did actually have plans for us: we were getting a couples massage at Exhale Spa in Revel! I am a relative spa newbie, and GG has never been to a spa or had a massage before, but I’m afraid now we’re spoiled! They really took care of everything as far as payment right when you checked in, so I didn’t even have to worry about it later, after I was relaxed. They suggested we arrive 20-30 minutes early, but I now realize we could have gotten there much earlier and enjoyed some of the amenities before our massages. We split up to be taken to our respective locker rooms. Each of us received a tour, and it sounds like they mentioned different amenities to each of us, when we compared notes later. The place is huge and a bit maze-like, but even with my horrible sense of direction I was able to find my way around. We met up again in the co-ed lounge, where we chilled out with tea and snacks until our masseuses came to retrieve us and bring us back to the room. After discussing the massage, aromatherapy options, and any trouble areas with each of us individually, they left for us to take off our plush robes and get into the heated beds. The beds were kind of awesome, as different areas adjusted for different parts of the massage.

After this point, the room was dark and my eyes were closed, so I don’t know if we each got the exact same treatment, but I can confirm that my masseuse was awesome, and GG’s also seemed to do a great job. I could tell because he periodically stopped chattering and just relaxed :o) There are intentionally no clocks around, so I don’t know exactly how long the treatment was, but it was long enough, and when I did get to a clock later, I was surprised to see it was later than I’d expected. The treatment started with a face and scalp massage, followed by a heated face mask; went on to neck, shoulders, and arms; then legs; then I rolled over and she massaged and stretched my legs and feet before wrapping my feet in heated towels; and then of course my back.

They gave us a few minutes to get ourselves together before walking us back to the lounge and making sure we got a drink of water. Then we showered off in the well-stocked locker rooms, before meeting up at the co-ed mineral pool area. We tried the salt room, which might have been relaxing to sit in if we had a book or something to read. Then we hopped into the pool and hot tub, which was nice because again, there was really nobody else around, and the room is beautiful. You actually have access to the facilities to come and go as much as you like all day, but we ended up not being able to make it back in the evening. Overall, it was a fabulous experience. GG went from being vehemently anti-massage, to saying that if I ever wanted another couples massage, he wouldn’t say no :o)

After getting cleaned up back in our room, we went for a light lunch at Yuboka, the dim sum place. We were told that they had some kind of award-winning wings, so that’s what GG got, and I had the dumplings. We walked around outside and checked out all the pools, and even – gasp – left the casino and walked down the boardwalk a bit to a very creepy souvenir shop that sold things like food and computer equipment from the 1990s… This was all just killing time before our 6PM dinner reservation (6:00 on 6/6, get it?!) at Amada, our favorite restaurant!

We had an awesome waiter taking care of us (and another one who stepped in to give GG a spoon to fish the fruit bits out of the bottom of his sangria glass!) Of course we had the cheese plate, and the bacon-wrapped dates. I got the green salad and the asparagus. GG had some prawns and something else. We had some sort of marinated beans. And then they brought out a little piece of olive oil cake for us, with a candle and “Happy Anniversary!” written on the plate! We hung out a little more after dinner, but after such a long day and all that relaxing, I just wanted to go to bed!

We were able to sleep in a little on Saturday, before packing up, grabbing some breakfast, and heading home. It was nice to still have the whole weekend ahead of us when we got back!