What A Trip (And a Tease)!

I took my first real vacation in a couple of years this last week. The hubby and I flew out to Arizona to visit my in-laws, but not until after I finished the first draft on my first full sized book. (YAY!)

As a military brat I’ve been on many flights– some fun (me on a plane with an entire college football team just after I’d become legal–and they were flirting), some boring (standard flight with no excitement or turbulence), some a tad bit crazy (the guy who stunk of pot and B.O. and told me he spoke a rare language from a country most people didn’t know which turned out to be Danish/Denmark, then proceeded to tell me that the Philippines would rule the world someday when he found out I spoke Tagalog)….but nothing like the flight my heroine took when she moved to Nashville. (I’ll share what I mean in a moment.)

Our flight to Arizona would’ve been fairly uneventful except that on the layover flight from Atlanta to Tucson, I wound up sitting beside a man with a horrible case of silent but violent gas. Hubby was stuck behind him. It was bad.

The flight home couldn’t have been worse, right? Wrong. From Tucson to Atlanta I was trapped between a French dude who was polite, but didn’t speak much English, and a Russian lady who was still breastfeeding her adorable toddler and didn’t have much by way of courtesy. When I tried to get to my seat, instead of getting up with her child so I didn’t have to worry about smacking someone in the face with my backpack, she just slid her legs to the side–mind you, she had an aisle seat. Fortunately, the Frenchman was kind enough to offer to take my bag so I wouldn’t hit anyone and I squeezed my way in.

Throughout the flight, the child was a trooper, but her mom didn’t pay attention or try to preserve my personal space as the little girl stretched and kicked. The whole shoving her little one under her shirt every few minutes didn’t really phase me because I figured it was her way to try to keep the child soothed and occupied so she wouldn’t get cranky.

Once we reached Atlanta we stopped at Bobby Flay’s cheeseburger place where I promptly had my glass full of Coke Zero shatter, dousing me completely (pants and top) in soda. Ugh. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to walk through an airport all wet and stained? It couldn’t get worse, right?

Wrong. The final leg of the flight had hubby and I sitting together, but the guy in front of us smelled like sour sweat and also had a huge gas problem. I really was kind of hoping by that point that the oxygen masks might fall down and save us from the odors. And the landing? Major turbulence that had some of the people around us freaking out. An old flyer like me? Felt like she’d just gotten a fun roller coaster ride.

I really was wishing my flight had been more like the one my heroine, Kalina Santos, experienced in my upcoming release, A Way With Words. Here’s an unedited excerpt:

“What are we doing here, sweetheart?” The desire darkened his eyes to a golden brown, but concern was there, too. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to do this with you, but I don’t want you to regret it. Tell me now if you’re not into this. There’s nothing wrong with getting caught in the moment. It’s a judgment free zone, right here.”
She pulled back; looked away from the temptation of those cat eyes (well, what else do you call eyes that are sometimes green, sometimes yellow, and seem to see into your soul?) and considered his words. His thoughtful generosity touched her as much as the thick erection under the soft cotton of his jeans aroused her. The irony wasn’t lost on her that he showed more concern for her and her feelings than the evil ex she’d been with for years and refused to allow to taint this moment with any more space in her brain.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to join the mile-high club.” She leaned in and caught his earlobe between her teeth. “Somehow I think this bucket list item works better with a partner. What do you think?”

So what about you? What was your most memorable plane ride? Ever join the mile high club? Tell me all about it!

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Enjoying Epicurian Diversity Chicago Style

My Sweet Home, Chicago!

My Sweet Home, Chicago!

 

There isn’t much that rejuvenates and inspires quite like a trip back to a place where you feel roots and strong ties; to land, community, and the general life. Going back home to Chicago is always a special treat for me because I get the opportunity to explore so many different ethnic foods (that I miss when I’m away). I also get the chance to spend time with people I love, who love me back and know the me I used to be and appreciate the person I’ve become. The above view is the Chicago skyline taken from the balcony of my sister’s condo where I was staying.

Mmmm.... Sushi!

Mmmm…. Sushi!

I got to do all of the above on this trip…and also had the chance to enjoy the musical mecca that Chicago becomes in the summertime. I knew this trip was going to be foodie fantastic when my sister picked me up from the airport and we started our weekend with sushi. Neither her hubby nor mine are big fans, and neither were with us, so we indulged at this fantastic place called Kamehachi. Our server was wonderful, the food was beautifully prepared, and we were able to enjoy outside seating in mid-70 weather.

My sister was also a big fan of their hibiscus tea. Me? I believe you don’t fruit the salad and you don’t flower the tea…LOL! But it worked for her, and it was refreshing. Did I mention we also did not have a wait to be seated? Heck, in Chi-town, the Open Table app is all the rage to prevent wait times, but it never became a concern. We still used it several times, though. Better safe than sorry.

Tapas and Café Iberico

Tapas and Café Iberico

Dinner that night was later, so we decided on some fun, not too heavy fare. One of the beautiful things about Chicago means being able to WALK to many of the places we visit. This beautiful evening was no exception. After my brother-in-law got off work we headed to Café Iberico for some tasty tapas!

For those of you who don’t know the history of tapas, it’s kind of interesting. This was Castillian Spain’s version of bar food. In fact, even the word tapas is a reference to lids….often used to cover the food to keep fruit flies away. 🙂 Want to know more about the stuff? Click HERE for your Spanish history lesson!

Lemon Pancakes and Asparagus, mushroom, and bacon omelet

Lemon Pancakes and Asparagus, mushroom, and bacon omelet

The following morning my sister introduced me to the joys of brunch at Kingsbury Street Café. Nestled next to the VIP Lounge (Yes, Phil, it’s a strip club), it served the most luscious lemon pancakes. Because my sister’s sweet, and I’m a bit savory, we decided to order stuff we could share. Their multigrain toast baguettes were fresh, with a sweetness that did not require any jams (at least in my opinion). The omelet? To die for…AND they didn’t overcook the asparagus. Did I mention they had fabulous coffee as well?

What was really awesome was that one of my childhood best friends had left her kids with her hubby and come into the city to spend the weekend with us…just like we did when we were kids. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved to hang out with her munchkins, but this was some much needed grown up unwinding time, complete with booze.

Drinks and Indian Food

Drinks and Indian Food

Breakfast at Hotel Sister

Breakfast at Hotel Sister

Yup! Once she got to town we decided it was the perfect time to pop her cherry. It turned out, she’d never had Indian food, so we took her to Jaipur Indian Restaurant and introduced her to the joys of things like naan, samosas, chicken tikka masala, dal, and the ever so tasty gulab jamun!

And when we’re eating all sorts of flavor exploding dishes, it only made sense to enjoy some lemon-tinis. 🙂

Of course, the morning of the concert I had the pleasure of enjoying familial hospitality at my sister’s place. She made the most amazing baked French toast with a caramel praline topping. She even had home made/tapped syrup that a close friend of theirs harvests on his own. How cool is that?

She also pampered me with awesome cappuccinos and lattes that she made, herself. The only thing missing was the fancy froth designs, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t really miss it. I mean, who am I kidding? It’s not like the folks at Starbucks bother decorating my froth before they put lids on my drinks, either…and hers were even tastier (and FREE!)

Me and a childhood bestie

Me and a childhood bestie

After such phenomenal home service we decided to chillax a bit, catch up, and enjoy the day. We took my sister’s dog for a walk, visited their local animal shelter, the Anti-Cruelty society. It was pet adoption day and I thanked my lucky stars that I live far away, because it helped prevent me from coming home with every puppy they had up for adoption. How cool is it, though, that they had Darth Vader and some Storm Troopers to help get all those adorable furry friends into new, loving homes? Yeah….there were a lot of folks doing just what my friend did. Selfies with the Star Wars villains. 🙂 Me? I stuck to the huggable, loveable Dalmatian. My sister’s pup got plenty of love and attention from everyone. In fact, their official professional photographer insisted on taking a pic of her dog with the white storm troopers. (While I’m thinking on it, please hold a good thought for him. He’s been having some eye issues that are going to need to be resolved with doggie surgery. We’re hoping they won’t have to take his eye.)

A couple of friends stopped to by to surprise me!

A couple of friends stopped to by to surprise me!

Fish and Chips with Cider

Fish and Chips with Cider

That afternoon, after our dog walking adventure we got ready for an early supper, then the Blake Shelton concert. We decided to head to Duke of Perth for the best fish and chips in town, and some cider to wash it down. What was really awesome was that because I’d checked in on my phone app, a couple of childhood friends stopped in to say hello and give hugs! Don’t you just love surprises like that? It made my day to know that they went out of their way just to stop and say hi.

Although Duke of Perth is quite well known for their whiskey, we wanted to be sober enough to enjoy seeing Dan + Shay, The Band Perry, Neal McCoy, and, of course, Blake….at the legendary Wrigley Field! Now, I’ve always enjoyed Neal McCoy’s music, but after catching his sense of fun and humor, I’ve decided I’d be perfectly okay with being in the center of a Neal and Blake sandwich. 😉 Next to Blake, he was my favorite part of the night.

When the time came to say goodbye to my sister and my favorite town, it was with a heavy heart. There’s something about my home town that uplifts me. I love that no matter how often I come back I discover some new gem either while still being filled with nostalgia. What do you love most about going back home? Or, if you never left, what places would you recommend to someone visiting your home town?

I’ll leave ya’ll with this awesome song… Tell me how many famous guitar players you can name. 😉

Friendships, Trips and #Thankstweetings

As this years draws closer to the end, I get reflective. Looking back, I guess I always have. Maybe because we’re also closing in on Thanksgiving, or simply in my nature, but I find myself looking for things to be thankful for. First and foremost, I’m grateful that this year is almost over because it means next year can begin.

This year has been tough on my husband and I. He’s had three surgeries between February and May…and broke his hand. Just as things finally start to stabilize, I lost my job. Although we joke about the whole “for better or worse” portion of our vows, it’s strengthened our relationship…and our relationship was already pretty solid.

But as rough as we’ve had it…we realize it could always be worse. Above is a picture I took in the Bahamas two years ago. That year we stayed at the Wyndham Nassau Resort.We went back again this year, but we stayed in the Atlantis on Paradise Island. It was amazing! In these last two years we’ve made several friends because we book through Maximum Sports for their annual Da ‘Boys In Da Bahamas trip. We’ve also gotten the opportunity to get to know some of the players on a level we’d never have the opportunity to enjoy in the regular world.

The point of all this? We got to be good friends with a couple while we were out there the first year and we look forward to meeting up every year. Unfortunately, this year, my gal pal was diagnosed with cancer…and did her treatments. Her hubby fell prior to our trip (off a ladder, I think?) and wound up with stitches prior to the Bahama trip…which meant no water excursions for them. Last year we all went snorkelling. This year we did a shallow water dolphin thing…and they didn’t get to join.

Then, after the Bahamas, my gal pal had another incident with cancer. This was followed by her hubby getting into a motorcycle accident that left him badly injured and hospitalized for a bit. Between the medical bills and the time off required to care for him, not to mention his time loss due to his medical condition, they have neither the finances nor the time needed to allow them to take this trip next year.

I was seriously disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see her next year as we’re all in different areas. She lives in the DC/Virginia area and the rest of us live in Florida/Texas/Illinois. Pretty spread out. When she told me that she’d be unable to make the trip, I mentioned getting together for a girls weekend! All the ladies agreed… It would be a ton of fun! This is where you guys come in. We need ideas for places to go. It can’t be too close to her home…as you ladies know…when you have a husband and a son, there is a tendency to call you for every little thing if you’re close enough to feel accessible to them. On the other hand, it needs to be close enough that it’s not too costly to get there for her. Our initial thoughts were Nashville…maybe Myrtle Beach. Where would you guys recommend and why?

And thinking all these trips had me thinking…if money were no option, where would you love to visit and why? I’d love to go on a trip around the Mediterranean…Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain, the south of France. My hubby is half Italian and dying to see that side of his culture. Me, I love the richness of food, passion and history in those areas! I’d also love to eventually own a vacation home in the Philippines. The four years I spent there growing up were amazing! So much love, food and sense of family there. I have always felt welcome in that country.

So…this is what I’m most thankful for this year…the friendships I’ve made…the challenges we’ve overcome…the dreams I’ve been able to pursue. What are you thankful for? And speaking of thanks…check out Good Geek Ranting’s blog on #Thankstweeting. I think he’s got a great idea and I plan on participating! People don’t hear Thank You nearly as often as they should… And who knows? You may just brighten someone’s day!

Back To Reality

After spending a long weekend with my hubby in Big D for our annual Cowboys vacation, we’re sitting in the lobby, waiting for a friend to meet us for a late lunch, then we head home. Although my team suffered a devastating loss, my wonderful friend, Ronni Sokol and her travel company Maximum Sports did a wonderful job of hosting the event and making it a wonderfully unique experience.

There were more than 700 people with the travel group on this trip, and many of them from the middle to northern east coast. They were directly impacted by hurricane Sandy, causing their flights to be cancelled and their stays to be extended. My wonderful friend and her team did some quick leg work to help those stranded to get placed in hotels at discounted rates and also found a way for them to be included in the filming of “Inside The Huddle”, a weekly show recorded in Dallas at The House Of Blues. She and her team really
went the extra mile to ensure that they were well taken care of during their time of need.

This is just one more reason why I will always be a loyal supporter of Maximum Sports and Ronni in particular.

Getting the Flock Outa Here!

Today is a mad rush of final cleanings and packing as I prepare to head to Dallas to feed my love affair with the Dallas Cowboys. As a few of you may remember, my passion for the Cowboys started when I moved back into the country from the Philippines after living abroad most of my young life.  So at 10 years old, the first thing about football I remember was watching Tony Dorsett break for that 99 yard run…and I was in love!

A few years ago, my boyfriend (hubby, now) booked us a trip through Maximum Sports to see our Cowboys play.  (Thank Goodness he’s a Cowboys fan, too…or there may have been problems). On that trip we got the opportunity to see the Cowboys play the Houston Texans (we won!) as well as meet Jason Witten, Tony Romo (2 weeks before he became the starter) and Chris Canty (his rookie year…before he became one of the hated Giants). After we booked our trip, the only thing we had to worry about was the occassional lunch and sometimes, drinks.  This cemented us as permanent customers of Maximum Sports. The icing on the cake is that the owner of the company, Ronni Sokol, is a fantastic person and a huge advocate for breast cancer awareness…she’s also a survivor.  I’m lucky enough to call this wonderful woman my personal friend.

Since meeting her, I’ve gotten the opportunity to shake Emmitt Smith’s hand at the luncheon following his induction into the Hall Of Fame, not to mention watch him get the honor he so richly deserved. We’ve also gotten to hang out with some of our favorite Cowboys in the Bahamas!  How many people can say they get a chance to do that?

In fact, this is a picture of my favorite nose tackle, Jay Ratliff, wearing a children’s play helmet at the dinner in the Bahamas the night before we left.  He’s one of my all time favorite people…and players!

And here’s a picture of me with Bill Bates, holding one of his 3 Superbowl rings! Pretty cool, right? And he’s a really nice guy.

But my all time favorite guy is probably Everson Walls. For those of you who don’t know who he is…this wonderfully generous man actually donated a kidney for his former teammate when diabetes took it’s toll and began to slowly kill him.  Later he co-wrote a book about his experience called A Gift For Ron. Since I heard he will be at the tailgate party, I’ll be buying the book and plan on getting him to autograph it.  I’m telling you, he and his wife are such wonderful human beings…I was glad to get the opportunity to get to know them in such a different venue.  Here’s a picture of me & hubby with both Everson and Bill, along with Kenny “The Shark” Gant.

Can you guys tell I’m excited?  Outside of writing…what are you passionate about? What kinds of celebrities would you like to meet or spend time with? Which celebrities have moved you? Have you met any?  If so, who? I love to hear about this stuff…

As you can tell, hubby and I are well matched.  And if none of those apply…or even if they do…what travelling songs do you enjoy?  Here’s what I’m leaving you with…Ha!  You had to KNOW I’d be leaving some music.

When in Dallas…. 😉

Oh yeah… (Michael Clark Duncan will be missed)