The Best Klout Perk: Being VIP at an NFL game

You know how you have those weekends that blur into a foggy memory and you look back and wonder what in the world you did? This past weekend was not one of those occasions. It is one that I will remember and smile about for the rest of my life.

***

I’m one of those girls who can be a girlie-girl and get my nails done or hang with the guys and watch NFL on Sundays. I like sports. A lot. This year I started a March Madness league and NFL Fantasy Ladies ONLY league.  I like watching them on TV and going to games live. I have my teams from all sports (Go Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears) that I root for. Seeing games live is exhilarating and fun and the energy is fantastic (when the team is doing well, at least) but I’ll admit, I usually prefer NFL games on TV. Growing up in Chicago, I was not about to sit outside in the frigid cold and get frostbite when I could sit comfortably on my couch in my cozy house. I admit I prefer the replays and commentary from TV commentators but given the opportunity to go to a game, I just can’t refuse.

***

Klout perks have been sucking lately. If you are unfamiliar with Klout, it is  the Standard for Influence. If Klout thinks you are influential, it assigns you a score and rewards you with perks based on said score. The perks I’ve gotten lately have all been useless. For example, the last 5 I got were all for McDonalds and one for Norton Antivirus. Being that I eat mostly healthy and as unprocessed as possible, that didn’t work so much for me. However, on Thursday I got a perk thanks to Women of Washington (Washington Redskins Women’s Club) that invited me and a friend to go to a preseason Redskins vs Buffalo Bills game as free VIP. That alone was awesome but what ensued was more than I could have dreamed.

Being last minute, I asked around and not only were people already busy but apparently there aren’t many Skins fans in DC Proper (too many transient people, I guess). I ran to Target to get a shirt; they had the most pathetic selection so I tried a local sports store. I couldn’t go to this event without sporting team support! There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make this happen, even if I had to go alone.

It wasn’t until Thursday that I got the invite and then on Friday, the day before the game, that I found out I was going to get to go ON the field for player introductions! Because it was a WOW event, my date who came with me had to wait for me back in the seats. I felt bad for a hot second but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t going to miss it. I talk to everyone so I had made a friend while we waited. They brought us down onto the field and we stood alongside the cheerleaders to form the tunnel for the player introductions. It was absolutely wild and epic and totally thrilling to be on the field. Words can’t describe how exciting the whole thing was. Afterwards, we were quickly rushed off the field and ushered to our seats after the introductions were complete

I thought our seats were inside in the standing room only nose-bleed section. Turns out, not only did we have Exclusive Club Level access, we were seated 3rd row in the Dream Seats – the seats before the stands begin along the 20 yard line on the visitor side. Sitting so close to the game is the only way to go. I’m officially spoiled now. It was a beautiful hot day, the Redskins won and all of this was free. I am still in shock and overly excited that I got to experience this.

Everything exceeded any expectations I had when I claimed this perk from Klout.  This was my first Redskins NFL game and pretty sure that no other game will compare from here on out. Surely no perk will top this and I joked with my date that he’s screwed. How do you top this for a second date idea? I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking:

Women of Washington Redskins on the field

Thanks to Klout and Women of Washington for an experience of a lifetime. It was so much fun and absolutely something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

welcome field run from Caryn Levy on Vimeo.

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Lessons Learned: The Magic that is #BiSC in Vegas (2.0)

I had been blogging for just over a month when I signed up for Bloggers in Sin City last year. What possessed me to think that I, an unknown virgin blogger, should fly to Vegas for a weekend to meet 50+ strangers from the Internet is still beyond me. But I did and it was literally life changing. So when it came to registering for BiSC ’12, there was absolutely no question in my mind that I would return.

I learned a lot last year about myself and life. I really thought the second year was going to be different – if I already gained so much previously, what more could I possibly learn this time? I already knew what to expect, what to pack, (fast flats and more casual dresses), I actually knew people this time, so I didn’t have to worry about being an outcast, and I was acutely aware of how my life had drastically changed already. I expected to treat this more as a reunion with old friends and an opportunity to meet new. I really thought there would be less personal growth this time. But was I wrong.

When you try to explain to friends that you’re heading to Vegas for a bloggers event, they just smile and silently assume you are an Internet dweeb going for the Hangover experience. But BiSC is so much more than that. Being as this is the un-conference with no lectures or panels, and just 59(!) Internet rock stars being awesome together in the city of sins, you wouldn’t think that there would be any actual eye-opening life-changing epiphanies that realign your entire view of the world. This concept of meeting long-lost friends that you never knew you were missing, having more fun than you thought was possible, and reconnecting and confirming who you are at your core, all in four days – mind you, seems impossible to the common person. But something happens from when you enter the registration suite Thursday to when you say goodbye at brunch on Sunday that just transforms you. Your perspective on who you are, your purpose, your job, your friendships, your outlook on life and what you want to do with it, shifts. No, I am not being dramatic. It is true.

BiSC is magical.

It is more than just four days in Vegas with blogger friends. It is the weekend I look forward to most out of the entire year because not only do I get to spend a few days having the time of my life with some of my favorite people on the planet, who happen to be the most hilarious, genuine, lovely, caring, quirky, inspiring, supportive, magnetic people in all of the Internets, but I also wind up walking away learning a lot, too.

28 things I learned this year (not all life changing):

1. Last year was not a fluke: BiSC really is amazeballs. Upon returning, I quickly pre-registered to go again next year because the thought of not going is just unbearable. I admit, last January, I was worried that the group dynamic would change and that it would not be as fun this year with different people. Well, you all rock my world. Nicole knows how to plan an epic weekend (thank you!) and everyone better sign up again. What up, BiSC 2013!

2. There are two cities: Vegas and BiSC’s Vegas. Vegas is not my favorite city. There I said it. I can’t spend more than 2-3 days at a time without itching to leave. While the shows are great, Vegas makes me feel dirty, the crowds shove, sadness and smoke fills the air, girls flash everything that can be flashed, there are sketchy creepos at every turn, you have to wait in line for everything and you come home broke. But when you are in BiSC’s Vegas you are surrounded by 60 instant-best friends in this magical land of VIP status, eternal happiness, epic experiences and shenanigans, tackle hugs, and an endless supply of smiles, love and support. All you need to flash is your BiSC badge and just like that you skip all the lines and have access to private parties because you are actually VIP. You have eye-opening revelations that confirm who you are and that you should follow your dreams. 4 days in BiSC’s Vegas is simply not enough. And with that, Vegas becomes the best and happiest place on earth. I enjoy Vegas every few years, but I can’t get back to BiSC’s Vegas fast enough. 

Our Twitter love handles

3. It resets intentions: It is easy to get wrapped up in the stress of day-to-day life, the work, the drama, your partner’s needs, etc. and forget what makes you happy and well, YOU. But BiSC manages to strip all that away and reminds you who you are at your heart’s center. It resets your intentions and puts you on an optimistic path of possibilities. It serves as an annual refresh button that gets you to refocus on your purpose, priorities and goals. BiSC somehow manages to serve as a reminder that you should pursue whatever it is that makes your heart sing. This year, I realized that I have some big changes ahead of me, but despite not knowing exactly what the future holds for me, I do know that I have a support system to help guide me in the right direction.

4. It boosts your confidence: Usually, dancing makes me self-conscious so when I was complimented on my skills, I nearly melted. While I doubt he even knows how much his words meant to me, it’s the little words of encouragement that boost your confidence. It’s the supportive words or the random comments, thoughtful texts or tweets that remind you that there are people who actually care about you. I left Vegas with a renewed sense of self-confidence and hope, and not just about the dancing, but in general. I felt on top of the world, as if I could do or be anything, talk to anyone, and as though I was meant for something bigger.

5. The Internet is one attractive bunch. The Internet is really ridiculously good-looking. Even by the pool with no makeup and wet hair, we are a good-looking bunch. But man, BiSCuits clean up well. Our theme party this year was Mad Men and I was really impressed with everyone’s creativity and style. We looked so good that even oblivious tourists on the strip noticed us and knew the theme of this hot group of well dressed Joans, Peggys and Dons. When strangers can tell your group theme, you’re doing something right.

6. Apparently Miss America contestants eat at buffets. They all looked really fake with their caked on makeup and perfect posture while eating at the Planet Hollywood dinner buffet. But to be fair, their plates were filled mostly with salad, shocking, I know.

7. Hey I just met you, and this is crazy. Here’s my life story, so call me maybe. If I’m being completely honest here, until BiSC last year, I never felt like I belonged. I wondered if I was ever going to have friends who I felt truly comfortable confiding it, who wanted to actually include me, and who would appreciate me for who I am. But BiSC changed that. I feel like I finally found my people. There is this magical instant connection that immediately makes BiSCuits feel like family. Within minutes of meeting, you feel this spark and bam! you find yourself comfortable enough to share personal secrets and stories. You don’t feel like you have to impress anyone because it feels like they already see the real you. You are so comfortable around each other that you don’t care if you are seen without makeup, if your hair is so frizzy it looks like you got stuck in an electric fence, or if you have to ask people you haven’t known for very long to wait for you to make a pit stop at CVS for deodorant before you go dancing because you don’t feel fresh enough. No? Just me, okay, moving on. Point is, we are more than just blogger friends, we are a family who loves each other as is, weird quirks and all. BiSC has brought so many amazing, tackle-huggable people into my life and has completely opened my eyes to true friendship. It is the most wonderful community of friends that I am proud to call my people.

8. BiSCuits bring out the most authentic version of me: In my everyday life, I am usually that serious friend you go to for advice, not the funny, wacky friend you go to for laughs. I can be the quiet, filtered, reserved, and introverted type who hides her quirky self from the world. But something happens when I enter that registration room and find myself surrounded by BiSCuits. This time, I instantly felt giddy. I felt a release of all the stress that had eaten me up over the past year and just let it all go. I was told that I was being “overly goofy and energetic and had let out all the crazy”; that it was a side of me that hadn’t been exposed before. While this temporarily lowered my spirits, I didn’t let it stop me from being me. Another person told me “sober Caryn is fun but drunk Caryn is fantastic.” I’ll let you in on a little secret- I never got wasted. Sure, I drank a lot. But was never drunkdrunk. It was just me being me, releasing my inhibitions, saying to-hell-with-the-bullshit, letting my authentic self shine through and enjoying the weekend for all that I could. Maybe it was all in my head and this was a false sense of security or maybe it was all the excitement of the weekend, but whatever it was, I wasn’t afraid of what people thought. I felt liberated and embraced my quirky self. I felt free to be the truest, most authentic version of myself.

9. BiSCuits give the best hugs: Saying goodbye on Sunday is the worst but that’s where you will find the best hugs. They are real, sincere hugs, the ones that have entire conversations without any words. The ones that say I care about you. You are special to me and I wish you would always be close by. This isn’t good-bye; this is until we meet again.

10. Friends should make you feel alive and happy.  They should inspire you to be the best version of yourself and make your day brighter. Friends should make you feel loved and wanted. I learned this last year, but being with people again who make you feel this way, really reminds you just how important it is. You know when you are driving in your car with the windows down, sun shining in, singing at the top of your lungs to the song on the radio and you feel as though you couldn’t possibly feel more alive than at this very moment and are completely as ease with yourself? You feel ALL THE HAPPINESS as people watch you rock out but you don’t care because you are totally content. BiSC is kind of like that, except you have a whole slew of people singing along with you.

11. The weekend is what you make it: If you want to have life changing epiphanies you have to be willing to let your guard down. If you want to make sure you meet everyone, make that effort to insert yourself into conversations. If you don’t want to partake in an activity because it isn’t for you that is OKAY, you don’t have to do everything just because it is on the itinerary. If you expected to hang out with someone 24/7 but that winds up not happening, don’t let it ruin your weekend. There are 58 other people all just as awesome who want to be with you, too. It is up to you to make the most of the weekend. You will get out of it what you put into it.

12. What happens in Vegas, DOES NOT stay in Vegas: After all, we are bloggers. We tweet, we blog, we instagram, we post on Facebook – if you don’t want your grandma or followers to know what you did in Vegas, don’t do it around this group.

13. IRL vs. Internet (where IRL wins): We often say IRL as if we feel a need to defend or justify this distinction between our online and offline lives. Somewhere that line has blurred for me, and the Internet has become my real life, my home, where my friends most accept me for who I am.

In order to put yourself in a situation like BiSC, you have to be some kind of awesome to begin with, so perhaps that is why we are such a special group. Yet, it still amazes me that of all the bloggers on the Internet, the select 60 that show up are the most cohesive, rad (and attractive!) bunch IRL. Nicole’s web of awesome really pulls in awesome people. We are all various ages and come from different walks of life, but when put together, none of that matters and it’s as if we had always been friends. I feel blessed that BiSC is happening at a time when I can actually be a part of it all. IRL FTW.

14. IRL vs. Internet (where Internet wins) I realized I have some friends who feel more comfortable opening up and sharing personal bits about their life when hiding behind a screen. While I wouldn’t trade those friendships for anything, it can be disheartening to learn that sometimes the relationship isn’t the same in both realities and that it is stronger online than it is IRL. On the contrary, some friendships need the Internet in order to develop those tight bonds. Regardless of if you met online first or met in person and then continued to build your friendship online –it is because of the Internet that these friendships have blossomed and that we even have BiSC at all.  Internet FTW.

15. I love pool time: The Flamingo has a beautiful pool and spending the day hanging out gives the group a chance to bond. Whether we are relaxing on day beds (yes, we are VIP), playing Never Have I Ever to win vibrators, cheering on Mikael in the booty-shaking contest, getting squirted in the eye the mouth with rum from a midget holding a super-soaker or just sitting and drinking on the pool’s edge soaking in the sun and the company, it is always one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

16. My new favorite drink is the Blueberry Bombshell: I asked our poolside waitress for a recommendation and she said she had the perfect drink for me. Since I don’t know the official name, I have renamed it the Blueberry Bombshell. It is Blueberry Stoli, 7 up, soda water and lime. It is a perfect summer drink that is deliciously refreshing. I’m a loser but I loved that I actually started a trend! Try it. You’ll thank me, too.

17. Dancing is actually fun even though I suck. If you know me even a little bit, then you know I DO NOT dance. Or sing. Ever. If you ask me to, I’ll probably say something like I need to drink a lot more before I can do that or just politely decline. But not in BiSC’s Vegas. Amber and I made up a fantastically fun dance where we looked like frogs on crack. We’re Frogger Bloggers! Even on Friday when I was ready to call it a night, Brad invited me to join the dance party at Diablos, and I couldn’t turn the dancing down. Me? Couldn’t turn down a dance party?  That’s a first! I danced in the middle of groups, I danced with people, I danced alone, and I even danced on the tabletops at Chateau. I didn’t care if you thought I looked stupid. I owned that I can’t dance and had blast looking like a fool.

18. Zumanity is hotter than any strip club. I actually did both this trip and I cannot even begin to explain the hotness that is Zumanity. Despite taking a limo to the strip club, and sneaking in for free, ($33? No, thanks!) I was left totally unimpressed by this one and managed to fall asleep on Kelly’s chest. Vegas clubs, being the Mecca of all strip clubs, should be all sorts of hot, girls should be climbing poles up to the ceiling, and the guys should be getting lap dances. Instead, this one was the actual worst and I walked out highly disappointed, carrying a half-full bottle of vodka in my blazer and I was ready for bed. But Zumanity? Not only was it a funny, sexually charged, erotic cirque show, (except for bendy contortionist man. I had to look away) it was everything that the strip club wished it was. I walked out wishing I had a man that night. Ooh, is it getting hot in here? Excuse me…

Stripper Vodka

On that note, I also learned that if you let the actors at Zumanity take your phone, be ready for them to take photos of their junk and lick your phone before returning it.

19. BiSCuits really like to talk about bird sex, like annually. Last year a group of us were curious about this and Googled it to discover the bird’s cloacae. This year it came up again but this time we got a demonstration at In-N-Out with the hats. I don’t think I’ll look at those hats the same way again.

20. Don’t expect the same experience each year. Last year, being the new kid on the block, I pushed myself to meet everyone and felt free to be my real self because I was starting on a clean slate. Everything was shiny and new and I had no expectations. I think my first time was all-the-exclamation-points-amazing because of this. However, this year I had expectations. It felt more like a reunion and having these friendships already, changed the dynamic of my experience. Since I didn’t have a clean slate this time, I found myself worrying that those who knew me before May 16, might not like me anymore once we arrived. I questioned if the friendships I made were viewed as strong on the other end, as it was on mine. I realized it is okay that this year wasn’t quite on the same level of ecstatic excitement as last, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t any less fun.

21. Asian snacks are delicious: Suki brought enough Asian snacks to feed an army and most of it wound up in my stomach. I don’t feel guilty a ton of seaweed.

22. BiSCuits are the some of the most supportive people I know: Between the encouraging “you can do it!” or caringI saw your tweet and was worried” – they are some of the most thoughtful, loving and supportive people I know. When we’re all in the same room, you can feel the love and warmth exploding from everyone. When I went through hell and back earlier this year, I could not have gotten through those dark days without the outpouring of love and support from my fellow BiSCuits.

23. We breathe ‘special air’: I mentioned the first day that there is ‘special air’ in the casinos that keeps you awake, but it goes beyond the casinos. When we are together, everything seems grandiose. The special air gives you such a high that everything all weekend is filled with ALL THE SMILES AND LAUGHS AND ALL THE AMAZING and none of the sads. You might swear you even saw unicorns covered in glitter with sunshine and rainbows. While I did continue the friendships throughout the last year, I thought the instant connections were so special because we met at BiSC in Vegas. I thought maybe it was the energy or adrenaline of the weekend. But the crazy thing, I realized this special air is not limited to just Vegas. Prior to BiSC, I went to DC and had the great fortune of meeting Brad and Berto beforehand. From the very millisecond we met, we greeted with bear hugs and they instantly felt like family. The magical BiSCuit instant connection isn’t because of the special air in Vegas. It is the love and energy that radiates from everyone who attends no matter where in the country they are.

24. At 27, I apparently can be 21 again, but only in BiSC’s Vegas. I pretty much drank all day and night and for four nights I stayed up chatting and dancing till about 330am and woke up really early every morning, hangover free and wide awake ready to take on the day. Yet, when I returned home, I went to bed at a reasonable hour and woke up around 8am wanting to DIE. Additionally, it wasn’t until I returned home that I began to sound like I ate a dog’s squeaky toy. I blame the special air.

25. Returning to real life blows. It is challenging and brings on all the sads. Saying goodbye on Sunday brings all the emotions. You’re still on a high from the amazingness of the weekend, but you know the inevitable goodbye is just around the corner. I wish there was a pause button on life to freeze frame this moment instead of watching my best friends head to the airport. I’ll admit, I had a really hard time writing this post because I kept going back and forth between the YAY! I LOVED IT; IT WAS AMAZING! Tackle hugs for everyone!! To the – I’m SAD AND LONELY and wondering what if all the close friendships, the lack of judging, the comfort I felt was just in my head? I just got done writing about all the ways BiSC is life changing and how the people are one of a kind, which is all true, but now that we’re home and back to reality, my mind has begun to wonder what if it was all just my imagination? Being so removed from everyone and everything. I sometimes feel out-of-sight-out-of-mind but then I’ll get a texts or tweet from BiSCuits and my day is made. I feel helpless that I am so far away and can’t be there to every time a friend is hurting. It is really hard to go back to your everyday routine and feel so unmotivated. I miss waking up and checking twitter to see what everyone is doing (and being able to join them). I know this is crazy talk but to go from the constant stimulus and being with so many people all the time, to being alone in your apartment, it just brings on all the questions and sad feelings. Please come visit! The special BiSC air makes you forget all your stress and troubles. It isn’t until you say goodbye and return home that you are reminded that reality really sucks.

26. You will not be BFF with all 60 people. Even though BiSC attracts amazing people, you are not going to be besties and bond with ALL OF THEM. Accept that.

27. Adding a day before and after is the only way to go. Not only are the flights cheaper, those extra nights make the trip seem that much more complete. Even though I desperately was ready to go home Sunday after brunch, I was finally able to relax and unwind by the pool both Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. A group of us got to enjoy the Bellagio Fountain show together and get in more bonding time. It is hard to spend time with everyone, so I was really happy that I finally got to spend quality one-on-one time with Almie as we waiting for our flights Monday afternoon.

28. Lastly, I learned that it is really hard to be brief and summarize everything I’ve learned. No matter how much you try, you can never really explain BiSC to someone who hasn’t lived it for themselves.

I am going to write a recap on the events of the weekend, but hopefully that won’t be as lengthy or take me as long to post. If you made it through and are still reading thank you.

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.

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.

East Coast Adventure: Part 2

If you recall from Part 1, Mr. Fiancé and I spent a long weekend visiting friends in Philadelphia, Virginia & DC all for about a day and a half each.  Here is the last segment – Part 2: Visiting Terra in Virginia & being a tourist in DC.

After Terra met us at the train station Saturday night, we picked up her husband from a work event and decided to grab drinks at a local bar that has 40+ beers on tap. I repeat, 40+ bars on tap. How awesome is that?  We ordered and devoured two behemoth Bavarian pretzels. Sadly, it ruined all future pretzels for me. I will never have a soft pretzel that will be able to compare. We even wanted to take one to-go, they were that good but didn’t. I should have taken a photo for you. Mmmm, I’m salivating just thinking about it. But I digress.  So, in the morning we went to breakfast and our lovely hosts gave us a scenic driving tour of their city, followed by a beautiful hike on an island that used to house a confederate prison.

 

Ever go to someone’s house and feel instantly at home and as if you had been going there for years? I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, that is the story of our friendship.  Terra’s house is a zoo; an adorable, I want to snuggle and take them home with me, zoo. I am not a huge fan of big dogs, but hers were super sweet and won me over.  I was very entertained by the cats, as I have never had one of my own. That night, we went to dinner at a delicious family-style Italian dinner where Stacey and Mr. Fiancé’s cousin met up with us. I wish we all lived closer so that we could have game night and see each other more often!

On Monday, Terra and her husband drove to Washington D.C with us. (Thanks again for driving!) We visited the Holocaust Museum, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial before they had to head back in time for class. If you haven’t been to the Holocaust Museum, I highly suggest it. I personally think it is very well done, more emotional and informational than Yad Vashem, the one in Israel.  Oh! and we had lunch with a friendly squirrel. Usually they run away but this one came right up to us and Terra hand-fed it a fry. In the picture, he is eating chips from a stash he found in the grass. After we all said our goodbyes, Mr. Fiancé and I continued being tourists and walked to The White House and then over to Ford’s Theatre.  I remember going to all these places as a kid, but it had been years. I clearly remember standing on Pennsylvania Ave looking through the gates as a kid but the surrounding area wasn’t what I remembered. I also have a vivid memory of the balcony at Ford’s Theatre and the bed Lincoln died in, but not the theatre itself. Memories are a funny thing – and you have to stop and wonder, how much of memories are true memories or figments of our imagination?

It wasn’t until I experienced D.C.’s Metro that I realized how lucky Chicagoans have it with the CTA.  The Metro is so darn confusing with different rates for different destinations. Not to mention that you have to use your card twice, once when you enter and once when you leave the turnstiles.  What if you change your destination on the train and subsequently don’t have enough money on your transit card? The CTA has one set price and it is very easy to navigate. Have you ever been on Earthquake The Ride, at Universal Studios?  My first instinct was that water was going to come crashing out of nowhere and the subway was going to be on fire because the tunnel eerily reminded me of the ride.  I couldn’t get over the fact that the trains, which were more like trams, had carpet. CARPET! What happens when people barf on the train? I know you don’t want to think about it, but crazy stuff like that happens on the CTA and it is a good thing it is tile floor! I just couldn’t get over that.

My mom mentioned in passing that her friend enjoyed the Newseum and that we should check it out on Tuesday. I didn’t know what to expect, but take my word for it- next time you are in D.C. GO THERE!  It was one of the best museums I have ever been to. It is educational without feeling lecture-y.   The museum shows a timeline of historic events through newspaper articles and interactive exhibits. As it is said, “news is the first draft of history” and the News Gallery does a fantastic job showing history through the centuries as told through actual newspaper covers.  From the very first newspaper printed in 1455, to The Declaration of Independence, to the Titanic and to announcing Hitler declared war, to JFK’s Assassination and to Obama’s becoming President, it is all there and more. While this was just a gallery, there really was enough there for it to be its own museum!  They even had a Gutenberg Press replica (or real?) that showed how newspapers used to be made. I cannot imagine making one newspaper at a time, having to put the letters on backwards and print it manually. So freaking cool. There was a fabulous 9/11 exhibit with an emotional film, an entire wall of the front page magazine coverage worldwide, and wreckage from the broadcast tower off of the World Trade Center.  One of the exhibits I didn’t want to miss was the Pulitzer Prize room, and it didn’t disappoint. It had every photo that has ever won since it originated in the ’60’s.  Some, I am surprised were winners, while others made my eyes water.  There was even a watchtower and a section of the original Berlin Wall.  Supposedly they had the Unibombers cabin, but we didn’t make it to that exhibit.  We didn’t have time to visit all the exhibits we wanted to see because we had a flight to catch, but we could have easily stayed another day (which is why your ticket comes with a two day pass).  I was a journalism major and Mr. Fiancé loves history, so this was the ultimate museum that combined our interests.  I strongly suggest this museum to anyone and everyone. I didn’t have high expectations and it surprised me how much I enjoyed it.

We had a great exhausting long weekend. It was so much fun to catch up with friends and be a tourist in cities we had never been to or hadn’t been to in a long time.  I can’t believe it is over already though. Time to look at photos and catch up on sleep…