Sunday, August 19, 2012

- My New Things

That's kind of a misleading blog title, because most of these things are things I don't actually have, but are new things I've been doing.

If you've seen a Minnesota license plate, then you know we have 10,000 lakes up in here.  After I got back from a whirlwind 2 weeks of travel in July, a few of my friends and I decided it was about time to start exploring them. And not by walking around them...we'd been there and done that.  This time, we went by kayak.
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And it was glorious.  This became the perfect way to spend a half day Friday.
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This made it even more perfect.

That was at Lake Calhoun.  As much as I enjoyed kayaking, I actually always went to the rental booth hoping to get a paddleboard.  I did it once last summer and it so neat and fun...but there are never enough paddleboards to meet demand.  And I never want to wait however long it takes for people to come back in, especially when there are plenty of kayaks.  But a few weeks ago we decided to try out Lake Harriet.  In my opinion, it's a better lake - but most people go to Calhoun because it's THE lake.  Even though it shouldn't be.  At Harriet it's easier to park.  Easier to eat.  Easier to walk around on the paths.  And, there is usually no line for rentals, or at the most, a short one...so I finally got to paddleboard today.
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The view.
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The view + me.  

One of the cool things about paddleboards is you can easily go from standing up to laying down.  Those things are seriously stable.  It becomes this super secure way to lounge on the water and soak up the sun (with SPF 80+, of course) and beautiful weather.  It was actually quite windy, so the paddle back in was something that my shoulders will remember tomorrow.

Speaking of the beautiful weather we've been having, I feel that it bears mentioning that the temperatures have already dropped up here.  The warmest it's been in the last few weeks is like 82.  I'm already in such a fall mindset because the lows at night are like 55-60 degrees.  I've been leaving my windows open all day.  I feel like it's time to decorate for Halloween and fall, even though I know that it is unacceptably early to do so.  I keep trying to convince myself that what I actually want is for the weather to stay warmer for about another month because it took too long for the warmth to show up this year and the sooner it leaves, the sooner I will want it to come back again.  BUT there is one good thing that comes with this kind of weather that it is not too early in the season to be socially unacceptable to enjoy...bonfires.
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They're even better with smores.

I just love the way they smell.  Apparently somewhere in my neighborhood there are neighbors that agree.  Because generally every night while my windows are open and I'm listening to the sweet sounds of the traffic from highway 100, I can also smell the sweet aroma of dry wood crackling in a fire pit or fireplace somewhere.  

Finally, I think it bears mentioning that the Olympics are over.  I know it happened only a week ago, but it already feels like it was even longer than that.  Every day it becomes easier to forget the magic that London held for me this year.  It was the most patriotic I'd felt in years.  Our gymnasts.  Our runners.  Our swimmers.  Our divers.  Our wrestlers.  Our basketball players.  Our soccer players.  Our beach volleyball players.  Our water polo team!   

Our WOMEN.  

And while the USA was outstanding, they weren't the only ones.  Bolt was again the fastest man in the world.  The hungarian gymnast that won gold on the high bar after completing three releases in a row was other-worldly.  The south african amputee runner highlighted the triumph of the human spirit.  I don't need to know their names to be moved by what we watched them do.

For two weeks and two days there was so much magic in watching athletes from around the world compete.  Now that I've fully geeked out over the Olympics, you can start to understand what it will mean to me to see Rugby 7's played there - on the world's greatest stage.  And while I anxiously await that, and the Winter Olympics that will take place in Russia a short 18 months from now, I need something to bring some magic into my everyday life.

Enter, A Game of Thrones.  

I added the first season of the HBO series to my Netflix queue and I was completely hooked after watching the first disc.  So hooked that I wanted to know more about the books the series was based on.  The more I read about A Song of Fire of Ice - the fantasy series created by George Martin, the more I knew that I had to go out and buy the first book and dig right in. 
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Consider me dug in.

If it was as good to me as they said it would be I knew that I'd get through the 673 pages in a week.  It was actually only 5 days.  I could not put that book down.  Today I ordered the next two from Amazon.com.  I still have one more disc of the first season coming this week on Netflix.  One of the things that I love most about the book - is how true the TV series stays to it.  I know that sounds a bit backward, but I can't tell you how many times I've chosen to read something because I loved the movie or TV show and consequently ended up disappointed.  Because once you read the book, it is phenomenally better than the movie, and then you realize that while the movie was good, it could have been even better if had done the book more justice.  But with A Game of Thrones, that's not the story.  I'm even more into the TV show now because I know how well they are done.  I don't say this lightly...but seriously y'all - second to the Lord of the Rings in most true adaptation.  

It's times like these when I realize just how deep my nerdiness runs.

Friday, August 10, 2012

- Crayola Crayons

Today I went to print something out at work and someone had left a picture and a box of old crayons for us to color while we wait.
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I think that's Thor.

The first crayon I saw in the box was spring green and just like that, a wave of nostalgia washed over me.

When I was young I had a babysitter named Nina.  She lived down the street and started watching me and Aaron shortly before Trevor was born.  Nina and her husband Poppa, or Piggy as she called him, quickly became like a third set of grandparents.  Every day after school I would get off the bus at her house and we would hang out there until Mom or Dad got off work.  One time, after I got off the bus, I decided to run to the house, but it had rained earlier and I slipped in the grass and busted it (or "floundered" as we call it in my family) in front of all the kids that were still on the bus.  I still remember the sting of embarrassment I felt that afternoon.

Nina was a big fan of coloring.  She had an old round tin filled with Crayola crayons and I remember how every time you opened it the smell of crayons would flood your senses.  It's funny to realize how smells are connected to your memories.  Nina had more coloring books than I can remember.  I'm pretty sure my coloring preferences at the time revolved around Barbie, but I distinctly remember a 'Twas the Night Before Christmas one that we did some of our best coloring in.

I always had a natural talent for coloring in the lines.  I think it was the second grade when I won a Halloween coloring contest...so yeah, I was pretty good.  But Nina took my coloring to a higher level.  She colored clouds white.  She meticulously outlined her shapes before coloring them in.  She always sharpened her crayons so she could get the details colored in while staying in the lines.  Grass wasn't just green - it was Green or Forest Green over the black lines in the grass with Spring Green filled in.

Looking into that box and seeing my old favorites: Lavender, Cornflower, Cadet Blue, and old Spring Green brought me right back to that kitchen table all over again.

And not just their kitchen table in the house down the street, but the one in their house that they moved to out in the "country" - or Castle Hayne.  It reminded me of how Poppa used to love to listen to Aaron sing and would call him "Bubba" and they would sing "Bubba Bubba, I've been thinking, what's gonna keep our feet from stinkin'?  And how we would spend time in their garden watching things grow.  Nina used to make pasta salad with tri-colored rotini, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden and italian dressing.  For lunch I ate a lot of Tic Tac Toes and pimento cheese sandwiches.  One time I got a stomach virus and threw up my entire lunch in the bathroom sink and Nina cleaned it up with her bare hands.  Then there was the time I choked on a Lifesaver and Poppa picked me up by my ankles and shook me upside down.  I used to watch All My Children with Nina.  When she would drive us back into "town" to our house we would listen to the radio and all sing together.

Trevor grew up at their house.  I remember driving out to pick him up after school and catching up with Nina and Poppa.  Now my family lives in the "country" too - a mere mile and a half from their house.  I used to walk down their street to Prince George Creek and skip rocks and watch the crabs run.  Now, that's where we put in the canoe or kayak to go for a paddle.

Our family dog when we were young was Misty - a fluffy white mutt who had a particular talent for jumping fences.  She was always my Dad's dog more than anyone else's and when she died, he took it the hardest.  For a long time after that he said that he didn't want another dog because he wasn't ready.  Then one day there was a beautiful black lab in the back of someone's truck and when my Dad commented on her, the owner said her name was Nina and that she was free to a good home.  It was shortly after our Nina had passed, and my dad felt like if ever he would be ready for another dog, one named Nina would do the trick.
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Sometimes you just can't ignore how full circle life is, and if you try to - the smell of crayons will never let you forget.

Monday, August 6, 2012

- Out and About in VEGAS!

My last VEGAS! installment is about all of the other random things I saw while in Sin City...because, man do you see some things there.  That city is meant to overwhelm the senses, and yeah - it delivers.

ATTRACTIONS

1. Caesar's Palace to The Mirage: The first day I really got out sightseeing was Sunday.  Kelsey and I did brunch at Serendipity 3 at Caesar's Palace, which is the home of the Guinness world record holder for most expensive desert: the Golden Opulence $1000 sundae.  It's such a deal it's probably hard for you to believe that we didn't order one.  We also didn't order a frozen hot chocolate, because I found out they were famous for them a few days too late.  Anyways, while we were waiting for a table we sat under a mist tent, which because of the whole desert thing...they have lots of out in Vegas.
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Then we stumbled upon a shrine.
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Which reminds me, we actually spent Saturday night at Caesar's Palace, since that's where Pure is.  While walking there we saw these guys, which was totally appropriate:
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If you haven't seen the Hangover you don't get it.  

Which really just proves how there is always something to see in Vegas.  Anyways, fast-forward back to Sunday when we ate brunch then took a picture in front of this craziness.
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That's what is going on behind us.

I'm a fan of the whole greek god thing that was going on around the Palace.
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What up Poseidon?
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One time I just looked up and saw this.

I was headed to the Mirage because I heard they had some dolphins and I like those.  Once I reached the walkway in and saw this I figured I was on the right track.
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Seems promising.

Oh yeah, they also have a rainforest.
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The dolphins cost $20 to see, but I thought it was worth it.  I don't know if I just got lucky but the trainers worked with all of them while I was there so I saw a lot of fun stuff. 
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He's saving that fish for later.

They also have an underwater viewing area, which is where I met this guy:
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It's kind of a weird exhibit, because after the dolphins there is a big cat exhibit.  But that's Siegfried & Roy for you.  What is a bit crazy is that there are signs everywhere warning you that the male cats can spray up to 20 feet through the fences.  So if you see a tail raising you best run quick.  Lucky for me, most were catnapping.  Ha. ha. ha.
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After that I had to head back and get ready for Chippendales, which let's face it, you're never really ready for.

The Mirage also has a volcano that erupts every night on the hour from 8-12.  On my last night we left Divas just in time to see it erupt.
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Great balls of fire.

2. The MGM Grand to Mandalay Bay: While in Vegas someone told me that they thought everything was so "walkable".  That person be cray cray.  These hotel/casinos are GIGANTIC compounds built like mazes and by the time you walk from one to another, you have LITERALLY walked a mile.  On this adventure, I'm sure Liz and I walked 4-5 miles exploring this end of the strip on the way to the Aquarium @ Mandalay Bay.  If you can't tell, I kind of have a thing for wildlife.

On the way we passed by the New York, New York Hotel.  It's pretty authentic.
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As a general rule, if you can see it, it's still a mile away.
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But, when we finally made it, this awkwardly cute komodo dragon was the first thing to greet us.  
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I think Emma gives me this same look.
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This fish is blurry, but pretty.
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This is an invasive species in Minnesota.
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Surrounded by fishies.
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This reminds me of Love, but when I took it I hadn't seen the show yet.
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I touched him!  And it totally freaked me out.

On the way back we had some extra time so we walked through the Luxor, which looks a lot cooler on the outside than it actually was on the inside.
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Sphinx.  She didn't ask me a riddle.

3. Fremont Street: This is old Vegas.  Where everything started.  But then the Strip happened and pretty much took all the business to that part of town, so in an effort to try to restore Fremont Street, they built a gigantic light canopy over several blocks of the street.  Kelsey and I scoped it during the day and found this:
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She was closed.  Otherwise I would have totally gotten a reading.

At night, every hour on the hour, there's a light and music show.  We caught the Bon Jovi edition which wouldn't have been my first choice, but I had to rush off to Divas so this is what I got: 
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It was definitely worth seeing, and it's also pretty cool because even the casinos turn off their lights for the show.  There's also a zipline that goes under the canopy and that would be pretty fun to try sometime.  Unfortunately Fremont Street is where my stomach started to draw the line.
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This is the first documented evidence of the beginning of the end for me.  

4. The Bellagio: This was (almost) the last thing I got to see before heading out of town.  Kelsey and I didn't get to explore much when we saw "O" because we were short on time, but we did get to catch the fountains after the show: 
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They were MUCH bigger than I thought they would be.  And the water shot up so high in the sky that it rains down on you, even though the observation area is pretty far away.  But, the Bellagio has a lot more going on, so I decided to walk Megan back after Divas since she was staying there, so I could check out her digs.

The lobby boasts one of the coolest sculptures in Vegas by world renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.  It is stunning to just walk around and see all of the different ways that light filters through it.
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2000 hand blown glass flower blossoms.

Then there's the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.  It's pretty insane that all of these creatures are made out of flowers.
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And even looking up is pretty fantastical.
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As if that wasn't enough, then the Bellagio goes and has a ridiculous chocolate fountain.
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After all that I trekked back to my hotel room.  I had a 7AM flight out and we had been warned that we should get to the airport 2 hours in advance because it's always crazy so I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of sleep.  But, I was really happy to get home to Emma and I was glad that for once, I wouldn't be hungover on the flight back.  

And I wasn't.  I was something much much worse.

5. The Spring Valley ER - Listen, if I'm being honest I'm pretty sure that my stomach was showing signs of rebellion against Vegas as early as Wednesday.  Of course on Thursday, when we were on Fremont Street I decided I wanted to eat my first big meal, as my last in Vegas.  I immediately regretted it because my shorts were already tight enough.  All through Divas I knew things weren't going digestively well but with my stomach that's kind of par for the course.  After checking out the Bellagio I headed home where I drank a bunch of water and went to bed.  At 3AM I woke with a start and instantly knew that things were going to go real bad real fast.  I was nauseated to the max and despite having eaten nearly 8 hours ago, my stomach was HUGE.  It was just a waiting game from there on out, and luckily I only had to wait until about 3:30 before I threw up and was full on in the throes of food poisoning/stomach virus hell.  

Having thrown up 3 times I decided it was a great move to try to get myself to the airport.  I was praying that things would turn around and that I would just get on the plane and get the hell out of Vegas.  I have never put as much concentration into not throwing up as I did in the cab on the way to the airport.  And I made it!  Then I promptly grabbed my bags, ran into the nearest bathroom and lost what little bit of bile I had left.  Did I feel better?  No.  Did I decide to get in the security line anyways?

You betcha.

And it was the longest security line I've ever seen in my entire life in any airport at any time of day.  So I walked and walked and walked and by the time I got near the front of the line, I knew I couldn't do it.  It was taking every bit of mental acuity I have to not pass out, or throw up in the nearest trash can, or just on the floor.  The thought of a 3 hour flight where I could be stuck in a middle seat or 100's of rows from the bathroom, or both, was more than I could handle.  I flagged a TSA agent down and asked for medical assistance.  I gave up.

I left the security line behind to collapse into a wheel chair.  I barely got comfortable before feeling the need to run for the bathroom.  Except there was nothing left, and believe me if there was, that gross bathroom would have done me in.  If I was healthy it could have done me in.  When I came back out I noticed two firemen looking guys walking around.  I was so out of it that it took about 5 minutes to realize that they were my medical assistance.  I let them know that I was the sick one and they started asking questions and taking my vitals...which all looked pretty normal because I mean, I wasn't dying.  I just felt like I was.  It was pretty obvious that they thought I was just some hungover idiot.  They were explaining that they could wheel me to security but I would still have to walk myself through when I had to excuse myself because that nausea was no joke.  By the time I came back from the bathroom the decision had been made for me.

"You're not going to fly today.  You're going to the ER."

Before I really knew what was happening the paramedics were there and I was being strapped onto a stretcher.  Luckily an airport employee took my boarding pass and ID and made a note that I left the airport in an ambulance so I wouldn't have to pay any re-booking fees.  

And then I was in an ambulance.  

And then I was at the ER.
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Overall it was pretty dismal except for when I was getting anti-nausea meds through the IV.  Normally I'm not really into pharmaceuticals, but these were pretty magical and I was happy to have them.  I spent 6 hours there and was ready for release around noon.  I didn't want to take any chances so I went directly to the pharmacy to cash in the prescription for Zofran, washed a dose down with some orange soda (the only thing that sounded mildly appealing) and then ended up back at the airport.  

Due to some problems with the computer system it took forever (i.e. ~ 45 minutes) to get me rebooked so I ended up sitting on the scale and waiting.  I didn't feel sick anymore, but I was just so weak and out of it that thinking and standing were too much to handle.  Especially at the same time.  Once I got a flight, I asked for wheelchair assistance and it was the best damn decision I made all day.  Aside from making sure to take the meds, which kept me knocked out the entire plane ride home.  

And so ends my tale of VEGAS! - It wasn't graceful by any means, but I made it out alive.  I know it sounds farfetched, but I also attended a conference while there (I promise!)...and if you can believe it, I learned a lot in the midst of all of this other stuff.  But that subject matter is quite serious, and for another day.