A look back at 2011

I feel like it should only be September, but no, here we are days away from another new year.

Another new beginning.  I want to look back on 2011 and remember all that has happened.  This is the time of year we tend to reflect on things we did right and things we want to change, things we want to remember and even those things we want to do different next year.

2011 was:

2011 was a year of The Blog, love, change, new friends, learning and traveling.  Back in January, I decided I missed writing and that I needed a change; thus this blog was born.  So much happened for me this year because of this blog.

In May, I attended Bloggers in Sin City, even though I had only started blogging a couple of weeks before.  I met 50+ wonderful people, so many of whom have inspired and touched my life in more ways than I ever dreamed possible. When I signed up, I had no idea just how much of an impact that one weekend would have on me. It wasn’t just a weekend getaway, it was a weekend that literally changed how the rest of the year would play out.  Had I not gone to BiSC in May, I would not have attended the 20SB Summit in August; I would not have had a friend come stay with me for the weekend; I would not have seen these girls over Labor Day weekend; I would not have gone to Philly & Richmond to visit Tara and Terra, and lastly, I would not have BiSC to look forward to each year. On a personal level, BiSC taught me that blogging is more than a hobby and that bloggers are some of the most down to earth, genuine people around. One person in particular has really left a footprint on my heart. She reminded me that friends are supposed to make you laugh, feel good about yourself, happy and feel alive. Without BiSC I would not have met Terra, who is practically my twin, one of my best friends, and now my bridesmaid! That’s a lot of impact on a year all because of one weekend.  Every decision we make has a domino effect on what is to come and opens new doors.  I thank goodness everyday that BiSC is one door that I opened.

More of what 2011 was (in no particular order):

  • While Mr. Fiancé and I moved in together in November ’10, it wasn’t until January ’11 that we had our own place together. I can’t believe it has already been over a year.
  • Mr. Fiancé and I got engaged! We have made signifcant progress in the wedding planning process and I can’t wait to marry my best friend in 2012!
  • Mr. Fiancé’s brother graduated college in May.  The first time I ever met him, he was graduating high school and now he is a college graduate. Its been great to watch him grow up. Gosh, time sure has flown by.
  • I joined Twitter and Pinterest in the early months of 2011. I was a Twitter doubter at first but I actually use it more than Facebook now. And Pinterest- I LOVE that site! I get great ideas for ideas for the wedding, house decorations, recipes and DIY ideas that I wish I could take credit for.
  • Mr. Fiancé and I gave up meat for a whole month.
  • My sorority daughter lived with us for almost 2 months.
  • Mr. Fiancé and I went on a cruise with his family.
  • My dad turned 60 and my mom had hip surgery.
  • After four solid years as a media buyer, I took the jump from TV & Radio to digital search media at my new job, in September.
  • My sister met AND got engaged to her future husband.
  • Mr Fiancé and I took each other on very unique dates: a pairing food & wine class, a  shootin’ & drinkin date where we shot pistols & AK47’s, and he took me on a surprise weekend getaway.
  • We traveled to: Florida, Houston (twice), Lake Geneva, Indiana, Caribbean/Mexican Cruise, Memphis, Nashville, Philadelphia, D.C., (Richmond) Virginia and Vegas.

Most popular posts (of 2011):

Some of My Favorite Posts of 2011:

2011 in the news:
  • Steve Jobs – founder of Apple passed away.
  • Apple released the iPhone 4s with Siri- a voice activated artificial intelligent personal assistant.
  • The Royal Wedding- Prince William married Kate Middleton on April 29.
  • Amanda Knox was found not guilty after being held in an Italian jail for 4 years accused of murdering her study abroad roommate.
  • The trail of Casey Anthony gripped the nation and people were outraged to find she was acquitted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee.
  • After dosing Michael Jackson with Propfol, his doctor Conrad Murray, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
  • Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell President Obama’s vacant Senate seat. He was found guilty of 17 charges of corruption (including wire fraud, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to solicit bribes), and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
  • Cake pops and cupcakes are the hottest craze.
  • Popular games are Angry Birds & Words with Friends on iPads and mobile phones.
  • 2011 marked the 10 year anniversary of 9/11.
  • Occupy Wall Street protesters fill the streets of cities “we are the 99%.” People used to look up to others who worked hard, now people are envious of what others have.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger secretly fathered a son, 14 years old, with his longtime housekeeper and divorced.
  • More than 15,800 people died and entire communities were washed away in Japan when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami destroyed coastal towns on March 11. Survivors were told to evacuate due to the nuclear power plant cooling systems that had failed.
  • President Obama pulled the soldiers out of Iraq and declared the 1o year war over.
  • New York legalized same-sex marriage.
  • Longtime daytime soaps like All my Children and One Life To Live were cancelled from TV.
  • After 25 years in Chicago, Oprah picked up and moved California and to start the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) on cable and shut the doors on her famed and loved daytime talk show.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 2 was released completing 10 years of movies – earning $381,390,219 according to People Magazine.
  • According to iTunes the most popular songs: Rolling in the Deep(Adele), Grenade (Bruno Mars), Firework (Katy Perry), Forget You (Cee Lo Green), Moves like Jagger (Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera).
What else happened in the news that I am forgetting? When you look back on 2011 years from now, what do you want news event do you want to remember? Please share!

This year has flown by, and I cannot believe 2012 is creeping around the corner. 2011 has had its ups and downs, celebrations and struggles.  I have come to find more about who I am, who I want to surround myself with and who I want to be. Each day, I have fallen more in love with my best friend.  I have an exciting year ahead and I cannot wait to marry my best friend. Technology continues to advance and everyone is completely dependent on it.  People’s patience continues to decline as everything is expected to be instantaneous and immediate.

To my readers: Thank you. I have more readers than I ever dreamed (which even ONE  is more than I ever expected, honestly) who subscribe to this blog and am constantly amazed that people continue to read and support me. Thank you for your loyalty and for sticking around to watch this blog and myself grow.

May 2012 bring you all much health and happiness and be just as you want it to be.  Here is to another year!

So much love,
Caryn

Shootin’ & Drinkin’ and making dreams come true

This date post just doesn’t seem as cool anymore, not after the surprise weekend getaway but I have been so busy between the new job, holiday season stuff and wedding planning, I haven’t had a chance to post it yet. Better late than never, right? I am trying to keep up, I promise! Just because I haven’t been posting as frequently, doesn’t mean I don’t love you, readers! I DO! Without further ado, here is the post that keeps getting delayed…

I didn’t grow up in the heart of the south where people had shotguns on their front porch, or in a dangerous neighborhood. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and am very lucky to have the upbringing that I did.  I am also lucky that my only exposure to guns was on TV, in the movies or video games and at summer over night camp.  You are probably thinking, guns at summer camp? what camp did your parents send you to?!  It’s nothing like that, I promise. Camp offered a riflery class where you got to shoot real rifles at targets. My parents and I have a long-standing joke that even though I claimed to get a bullseye, that I made it up because I always managed to forget to put the targets in my letters I sent home. Anyways, that has been the extent of my gun exposure. Since dating Mr. Fiancé, I have learned to play the killing video games, which I admit are a lot of fun. He frequently talked about how cool it would be to shoot an AK47.  He grew up in Texas where guns were more prominent, but he still never shot anything more than a BB gun.

So when I saw Living Social Adventures had an offer called Shootin’ & Drinkin’ where you got to actually shoot an AK47 & a pistol followed by lunch and drinks, I was very intrigued and jumped on it immediately. And yes the drinking came after the shooting. If I didn’t act on this, I would regret it forever. I wanted to make his dream come true but I also knew it had to be a surprise.

Back in early November, on our pairing food and wine date, I told Mr. Fiancé that he had to keep Sunday the 19th open for another date that I had planned. Keeping this secret from him, was nothing short of nearly impossible. On top of being extremely excited, I also have a very hard time lying to him, so when he’d ask questions, it took everything in me not to spill. But I did it! Until the day before that is.  I needed him to sign a waiver, which he claimed he wouldn’t sign unless he knew what he was signing away his life for. I can’t say I blame him. Guessing it is different than being told so I played the hot or cold game with him until he got it right.  He was so excited, I thought he was going to fly away.

We had bets going about who was going to be on the tour.  Mr. Fiancé thought I was going to be one of the only women but I thought most would be couples where the girl had bought it for her man.  I won. When we arrived, they split us into two groups – one to shoot first and the other to eat.  We had delicious pork sandwiches and met a lovely couple who only proved my theory more.

We were given bullets, goggles and ear protectors. Thank goodness for the ear muffs. The noise was shockingly loud, even with them on.  There were bullet shell casings scattered everywhere, which lead me to think, how do people fire off rounds in public without getting caught? The shells have to leave a trail everywhere!

He shot first with the pistol and got 3 in the center. I didn’t do as well as I did when I was at camp and I blame it on the fact that my arms started shaking after a while. That, and even though I was aiming in the middle, I consistently shot towards the bottom right. Holding your arms straight up with a heavy object is not easy and neither is loading the damn gun! The guy had to help me load my rounds because it was a hell of a lot harder than it looked.  Shooting the AK47 was not at all like I expected. I know they say you are supposed to put it in the crook of your shoulder, look through the hole and aim, but if I did that, it would recoil into my face. Umm no thank you. So I just shot towards the target. Mr Fiancé’s recoiled so hard that his ear muffs blew off.

Me shooting a pistol

 

Me holding the AK47

We had a blast (see what I did there?) and it was definitely something we will remember forever. While it was kind of a rush, addicting to try to see if I could hit the bullseye and definitely a stress reliever, it was also very terrifying.  Here we are, at the shooting range, relatively safe and having a good time.  But to think that the very object that I had in my hands is used as a weapon to kill people, well that kind of freaked me out. What if someone crazy was on our trip learning and planning?

Does it get any more stereotypically American than this?

After the range, the bus tour went to a winery for the drinkin’ portion of the adventure.  It was my first Michigan winery but if they are all like that, it will be my last. They brewed beer & wine and I was not impressed with anything they had to sell.  Pick one to specialize in, not both!

They did have a sign on the wall that made me feel really old. Kids born in 1990 are turning 21! WTF!? Um, what? Wow I feel old now!

When did 1990 become the legal drinking age? I feel so old!

Even though it was terrifying to think about the power of the gun in my hand, I still felt like such a rock star that day, like I deserved the girlfriend of the year award.  In all fairness, the partner of the year award winner is now up for debate as I don’t know which is better: a gun shooting date vs. surprise weekend trip.

I love that I defy the typical suburban Chicagoan stereotype. I love that people are surprised when I tell them I wanted to do this with him not only to make his day but because I thought it would be fun too. I love that I can do fun awesome non-girlie stuff like this with my best friend.

Part of being in a relationship is being there to support your partner and that includes doing what you can to make them happy and help make their dreams come true.  It means the world to me that I was able make that happen for him.

Happy Channukah, Merry Xmas & Happy Holidays. Warning: the adorable videos may make you smile

‘Tis the season! The holiday season is upon us, and tonight marks the first night of Channukah (which means my birthday is quickly approaching)!  On a personal note, it is also a memorable night for Mr. Fiancé and I, as tonight marked the first time we have lit the candles on our own menorah that we bought together and the last time we will celebrate Channukah as a dating couple.   A big Happy Channukah goes out to all my fellow heebs.

“Oh Channukah Oh Channukah, Come light the menorah, let’s have a party, we’ll all dance the hora. Gather round the table, we’ll give you a treat…”

To help spread the holiday cheer, I thought I would share with you some awesome holiday goodies that I came across today.

Lastly, I want to share these three videos that come to us from Jessica. They are just way too cute not to spread around the smiles and cheer. Thanks for sharing Jessica! She has a few more holiday videos, so be sure to check them out!  These are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and bring out the holiday spirit.  Enjoy!

Puppies’ first Christmas, it really doesn’t get any more precious than this. I love the one that gets stuck in the Santa hat. I just want to wrap them up and take them all home! But can you imagine training them all?

Great parody/mashup of the Channukah story with songs like Stayin’ alive, Born to Be Wild, Can’t touch this, and Move Like Jagger and more.

These sailors look like they are fun people who sure know how to get in the holiday spirit. I want to be friends with them!

People always say Merry Christmas this time of year, but for those of us who don’t celebrate it, it can get kind of old. Since you don’t always know the person’s religion, I prefer saying Happy Holidays, across the board to everyone. Happy Channukah, Happy Kwanza, Merry Christmas & of course Happy Holidays to all!

Happy Holidays to all!

The mystery date that turned out to be a surprise weekend getaway

I’m a firm believer that it is important to keep the romance going by continuing to date your partner, no matter how long you’ve been together.  So about the time that I took  Mr. Fiancé on our wine date – he told me that he too, had a date planned for me on Dec 12 but refused to tell me anything more.  Weeks went by and he refused to give me any clues. Finally, he gave me my first clue.

Clue #1: I needed to take Monday off of work.   I asked if he could change it to Friday instead of a Monday, (Mondays are busy at work) and he said he would look into it.  Turns out, he had no intention of changing the days.

Clue #2: I pushed for more clues and asked, “Is it in Illinois?”  He gave a smirky guilty smile which meant it likely was not in Illinois. He didn’t ask me to take Friday off, so I gathered it was either an adventurous day activity (Living Social deal perhaps?) that could only be booked on that specific day OR it was an overnight stay somewhere. Otherwise why did we have to go on a monday?  I share my car with my sister, so I reminded him that if we needed the car, he had to let me sister know.

Clue # 3: On the Thursday before we were to leave, my sister asked me if I needed the car that Saturday. I thought, Aha! We don’t need the car! As innocent as she was, she had no idea that she just gave me another clue.  Had he told her we were taking the car, she would have already known and not asked. I told him about my newest discovery and found out my next clue.

Clue #4: We need to leave at 5am Saturday morning. My deductive reasoning skills told me that leaving early + no car needed + taking Monday off, meant we were flying somewhere. But where!?

The night before we were to leave, I insisted on more clues so I knew what to pack. Pack for warm weather? A cruise? Arizona?  Florida? Cool weather? Colorado? Yellowstone National Park? Michigan? You can’t expect a girl to go away for a weekend and not need to know what to pack. If you do, be prepared for the whole closet to be packed.

Clue #5: The weather is in the 40’s-50’s. Okay, so a cruise and warm weather places are out.

Clue #6: We were flying somewhere and then renting a car to get to our final destination.  He wanted to wait until we were at the airport or on the plane, if possible, to tell me where we were going, but me being the ruiner that I am, destroyed that. I started guessing. My first guess was Yellowstone – you have to fly and then drive to get there. Wrong. But I did get it on my second try! I don’t know how I got it because I honestly had zero idea what he was up to.

Mystery Weekend Getaway Location:  Nashville & Memphis!!   

WOOHOO! I was so excited! Can you believe it? Seriously? Who does that? Who plans a surprise weekend getaway? BEST.DATE.EVER.  What an amazing surprise!

I took an American History: Cold War & Elvis course in college where I rediscovered Elvis and have talked about going to Graceland ever since. Having taken music classes and being a country music fan, I also wanted to visit the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

Our Weekend Getaway:

Last time we took a cab in the wee hours of the morning, we had a near death experience, so I decided the night before to ask @Chicagocabbie if he would pick us up. People of Chicago – follow him on Twitter. He is reliable, clean, friendly and prompt. I highly recommend reaching out to him for your airport or local cabbie needs.

Anyways, Southwest had a deal so cheap it felt like we were stealing.  They don’t fly into Memphis so we had to fly into Nashville and drive. Have you ever been to the Nashville airport?  It goes down in my book as one of the nicest airports I have ever been to. Super comfortable welcome waiting area and very clean. Not to mention, it is smart and practical for airports to have bathroom stalls big enough to fit your luggage inside with you.  Just saying.

As this was a surprise trip, I wasn’t able to do any pre-vacation research like I usually do, therefore it was a very spontaneous trip.  While he got our rental car squared away, I went to the information booth to get Nashville tourist pamphlets.

First stop: We drove about an hour and a half out to Lynchburg, Tennessee to tour the Jack Daniel’s Distillery.   Mr. Fiancé really wanted to stop here and since he planned this weekend, how could I say no? Plus I like whiskey. I thought we’d get to taste some like you do at wineries so I was a bit nervous, but you turns out you don’t get any samples. Did you know that Jack is made in this one location only and distributed worldwide?  Did you know that it is the wettest-dry city possible? The city is dry but the distillery is still allowed to produce whiskey.  Did you know that for $10K you can buy your own barrel that fills about 200 bottles of the rarest single barrel whiskey they make and get a plaque on the wall? Crazy, right? Maybe someday… It was an interesting tour, definitely a lot more land than I expected.  You get quite a different vibe when you go to a whiskey distillery compared to a winery.

A bronze statue of Jack Daniels stand on this rock out of view of the photo. Get it? Jack on the Rocks.
Xmas Tree made of Whiskey barrels. Epic.

I wanted to see Nashville, but since we had to return for our flight on Monday anyways, I figured it would be easiest if we came back early Monday to tour it then.  We drove four hours to Memphis from the distillery. And in the process we saw the back roads of nowhereland, more cows than I could dream of, probably what used to be plantations, and countless confederate flags.  We were so far into nowhereland at one point, if my phone’s GPS was a real person, she would have thrown her arms up and said “F it, even I don’t know where you are.” She had us going in circles for a bit.

Ever since I found out we were going to Memphis, I couldn’t get Marc Cohn’s song, “Walking in Memphis” out of my head. Walking in Memphis -I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale… I saw the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue – Followed him up to the gates of Graceland -Then I watched him walk right through…”

If you visit Memphis – you must stay at The Westin Hotel. When I say the location was perfect, it still doesn’t seem to do it justice. It was two blocks from Beale Street, across from The Gibson Guitar Museum, across from the FedEx Forum (where Bob Seger was performing), across the street from the free Graceland shuttle pickup spot and just minutes away from Sun Studio. Can you ask for a better location? I think not.

Our first stop was BBQ for dinner. We went to Rendezvous and I must say, I was disappointed. I’m not a huge dry rub ribs fan, but even with BBQ sauce, it just wasn’t very good. You shouldn’t have to hide the meat behind layers of seasoning. After dinner we walked down Beale Street and stopped in B.B.Kings Blues Club for some live music.  We were exhausted but stayed as long as we could because listening to some quality blues with a drink in hand, is simply the best. We saw horse-drawn carriages with dogs riding along. I was so sad my pictures didn’t turn out of that. Even if you aren’t a dog lover like me, you would still think it was the cutest!

On Sunday, we took the first shuttle to Graceland and I could hardly contain myself.  My family had gone when I was about 8 years old, but I couldn’t wait to go back as an adult after my Elvis class.  The house was pretty much as I remembered, especially the Jungle Room. He had really horrible tacky taste but man did he have a lot of property. I would hate to be the little house on the lot next door.  We got to go inside his personal airplane & jet and see all the cars he collected, including the famous pink Cadillac.  We took a tour of the famous Sun Studio which is argued to be the birthplace of Rock & Roll.  We took pictures in the same spot that blues legends stood years before us.  The Million Dollar Quartet of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded their impromptu jam session here.

Rockin' Out at Graceland
Standing on the X with the mic that Elvis used to record his first single.
Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and more all recorded in this room.

Mr. Fiancé still wanted to get his fix of good southern BBQ since the first one was under par. After all he is from Texas, so he has specific BBQ expectations.  We debated between either Corky’s or Central BBQ but eventually settled on Central BBQ. Apparently we chose the right one because we ate lunch at the table next to Holly Madison.  (I wonder how many of you are still reading. If so, thanks & I bet that caught your attention!!) I had seen a billboard that said she was performing that weekend but didn’t think anything of it.  She just played on her phone while she ate and barely talked to friends at the table. Maybe reading email? news? hungover? But Holly was very friendly when she was asked to pose for a picture with the restaurant staff.  She looks EXACTLY like how she looks on TV, maybe a little shorter but it was hard to tell with her ginormous heals on. I made  Mr. Fiancé slyly take this photo because he had better angle. I was impressed that everyone (but the restaurant) left her alone while she ate.

Holly Madison at Central BBQ

Driving trips with  Mr. Fiancé never seem to feel as long as the amount of hours that passed. We got to Nashville and went straight to the Gaylord Opry Hotel.  This place is ridiculous. Driving up, we felt like we had arrived at Disney Land or Six Flags. The hotel was massive. There was a river boat tour and performance stage INSIDE the hotel.   The sheer size and high ceilings made me feel like I was on a cruise except for the part about the luscious green trees, flowers and waterfalls everywhere.  We tried to tour the Grand Ole Opry but the stupid Rockettes were performing and there are no tours until February.  We only got to see the gift shop and outside.

I still can’t believe that  Mr. Fiancé took me on a surprise vacation.  He really is the best and I’m the luckiest.  I tease him that this wasn’t a date because it was a weekend, but I only kid. I just say that because I can’t top it. EVER. I do like being spontaneous but I am a planner at heart who always likes to have an idea of what we will do and how we can do it in the most logical way to save time. However, this trip was out of my control (until we got there) and we had an amazing time. Sometimes you have to sit back, enjoy the moment and go with the flow. And remember to love the ones who treat you well; they are a rare breed, and I’m so lucky to call Mr. Fiancé mine.