… to Fredericksburg

The idea of turning 30 used to “scare” me but as the years went on, fear turned into excitement. Being in my 20s was SUCH a roller coaster and the idea of having a fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning… was appealing. I know that things do not magically change overnight, but for arguments sake, let us pretend that at midnight, I levitated into the air, spun around in a glitter tornado in a very Cinderella-esque manner, and landed as a brand new woman in a fabulous gown.

With that said, I had zero desire to throw a big “I’m 30” hoopla; partly because big groups (even of people that I love) are a lot for me and partly because I do not like rejection and did not want my friends to tell me they were not available. I am such an adult. *sarcasm* A few months ago, my siblings and I started doing a monthly sibling brunch where we catch up about our lives and discuss plans for the upcoming months (family events, etc.). In January, my sister brought up my birthday and apparently my suggestion of “maybe do a dinner some night” was trash because she immediately shut it down and instead suggested a weekend in Fredericksburg. I had never been as an adult and only recently fell madly in love with wine so while I had considered the idea to myself, I told her no one would go. She questioned if I had even asked anyone (I had not) and forced me to text some friends. I did… and within an hour, Kelsey had a trip changed so she could make it and Steven had a flight booked to Houston from New York. Jill’s 30th was officially on.

We had 2 months to prep and boy did we use it. Picking a house, meals, wineries, etc. was a part time job all on its own. Thank God for my family and friends because I could not have ever done it alone. Dad, Suzette, Jessica, and I got together one night at Dad’s house and over a nice steak dinner and 4 bottles of wine, we had a tentative game plan and a decently sized hangover. The game plan was shared with Steven and he whipped out one of his famous Google Docs. Invites were sent, a house was booked, wineries were picked, outfits were bought, and it all came together smoothly. This trip 100% would not have happened without the effort of that group; not just for helping plan and coordinate, but for keeping me sane and calming me down along the way.

The highly anticipated weekend finally arrived and I was beyond excited. I could not wait. I had so much to pack and coordinate with my co-hosts on their lists of things to bring but we were ready. I also had to bonus pack for a work trip to Corpus Christi that immediately followed the trip (plus for Elliott, of course). My car was full but I still had last minute errands to run so on Thursday, my boyfriend humored me and let me drag him to several different stores and helped me tackle my list. He treated me to a delicious Korean BBQ dinner afterward so I think we both won! Also, we survived our first time running errands together so that was cute. It was game time.

Friday, March 15

I went to my Dad’s house at 7am to help them pack and get ready but them being them, they were already ready to go when Elliott and I arrived. That little pup LOVES Dad and Suzette. It is so unbelievably cute to watch him scurry into their house and run around searching for them. The excitement when he sees them (and Kelsey, too) is insane. I am so grateful that he loves them but even more grateful that they love him just as much and that he always has a safe, loving place to go when I am out of town. Knowing that he is in good, trusting hands puts me at ease every time and I will never stop expressing my gratitude for them taking on my responsibility as frequently as they have (my new job has required more travel than I anticipated). Dad and Suzette were coming on the trip so Kelsey was the DDM for the weekend: Designated Dog Mom.

If you are a regular reader of this “blog” you know Steven and I have been friends for over a decade. It might shock you to learn that he had only met my parents once our Junior year of High School and my parents had never met his parents. I had to pick up Steven from his Mom’s house that morning and since his Mom lives literally less than 5 miles from my Dad, we all went together and Steven’s Mom and Stepdad met my Dad and Stepmom. Are they new best friends? Probably. We all visited for a little bit and then it was time to leave for the next stop: Kolaches.

Any residents of Cypress here? These Cypress people love Koala Kolache. My family has had it several times and while I have never understood what the big deal is, I do agree they are good. Do I prefer Kolache Factory? Yes. I bought everyone breakfast and we headed over to HEB to put gas in the cars and meet up with Katy and Paul so we could caravan together. Suzette was the only one who had met them before so everyone was shouting hello and introductions through open windows. We are fun.

Finally, we were on the road! Poor Alex got stuck riding with Steven and me and listening to Ariana Grande for 3.5 hours. No joke. Steven and I had planned our playlist weeks ago and there was no changing it. Sorry (not sorry), Alex! He was a trooper.

We all stopped in Giddings, TX for a break and to pick up Sunday’s breakfast from McDonald’s. Kelsey’s (not our DDM, but my BFF Kelsey) Stepmom had the brilliant idea for Kelsey’s bachelorette party years ago to bring McDonald’s breakfast for the last day so breakfast was fast and easy with a quick cleanup. Dad and Suzette had offered to provide all of the food for us for the weekend so Kelsey’s parents offered to donate McDonald’s breakfast to us from one of the stores they own. Thank you, Kevin and Carla!! Our families are so close and are always there for each other so I thought it was so sweet of them to do that for us.

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We drove for about 2 more hours and finally made it to Fredericksburg, TX! Steven and I were literally looking at the GPS thinking, “10 more minutes until we have wine, 9 more minutes until we have wine…” and so on. At least it was after 12pm so we did not seem like total crazies.

Our first stop was William Chris Wines. Steven had looked it up prior to the trip and it appeared to be reservation only but we gave it a try anyway. They were busy and we did not feel like waiting it out so we took a bathroom break and carried on. Plus, it was so cold and windy outside! *mentally restarted the countdown clock until we have wine*

Next up: Grape Greek Vineyards. Wow! This place was GORGEOUS! We signed up for a tasting and did not have to wait long. Alex had never really had wine before so he was getting into it. Dad and Suzette have never met a stranger so they were talking the host up while Steven and I just quietly sipped our glasses. It was nice to be out of the car and finally kicking off the highly-anticipated weekend. I am not usually a fan of white wines but they had a really decent one so I was already learning a lot and surprising myself. Must be those well-developed 30-year-old taste buds.

They had a great lunch menu so we decided to eat there. Katy and Paul grabbed an awesome table outside by some heaters (y’all know I am always cold) and we ordered a few bottles of wine. Steven and I split a pizza and it was delicious. Since Katy and Paul were in a separate car, I had not really gotten to talk to them yet so we caught up on the latest happenings. It was so crazy to be hanging out with my friends and family and watch everyone get along so well (note: this was not the only time I had this thought over the weekend). I loved it and it made me excited for everyone else to get there!

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The VRBO house was not available until 3pm so we decided to take a group trip to HEB. Dad and Suzette had packed most of the food for the weekend but we all needed some supplies and last minute things. By this point, we had done a tasting and as a group, finished 3 bottles of wine so we were feeling pretty good. Suzette joked about us walking into HEB and having a “Bad Moms” grocery store montage moment and honestly, the odds of that happening were pretty good. If you have not seen that scene, please stop reading immediately and go watch it. I could not stop laughing. The first thing I grabbed at HEB was a bag of potato chips from an aisle end cap… just be happy I did not rip it open and start snackin’. Steven bought a little bouquet of flowers because he is cute AF, we got all the items on our lists, and we were out of there.

I picked up the keys to the house and we made our way to it. The guy did not even check my ID! So trusting. The house had 5 “suites” (each suite had a bedroom, bathroom, and living room with a fold-out couch) so we scoped them all out and made a plan on who would unpack where. The house was cute as hell and had PLENTY of space for everyone. It was definitely a maze to navigate around but we figured it out like the smart adults we are and started getting to work unloading the cars. We unpacked, decorated, and then enjoyed some wine and relaxed while we waited for Jessica, Justin, and Kelsey to arrive. Jessica and Justin got there just before 5pm and Kelsey arrived shortly after. We unpacked their cars and finished setting up decorations and settling.

Just about EVERYONE I had mentioned this trip told me that we HAD to go to Hondo’s one night so when it came time for dinner, that was where we went. Would it had been easier to order food to the house or go somewhere that had a big enough table inside/out of the cold for us? Yes. Did the birthday girl want to go to Hondo’s? Yes.

This place was insane. A madhouse. You order inside in line and then they buzz you to a separate area to pick up the food. The inside was PACKED so the line was a mess of people. Suzette found a table outside and held it down while we all ran around like crazy people trying to coordinate menus and drinks. Steven won the Hondo’s award though because he came up with the brilliant idea to go to the separate bar line and buy 3 bottles of wine so we did not have to deal with a variety of orders and refills (and so we could start drinking and not have to wait). Well done, Steven!

The patio area was awesome. It was chilly out but with the fences around the courtyard blocking the wind, it was not too bad. The food was delicious! Kelsey and I split a burger and Dad tried sweet potato fries for the first time. Everyone was having such a fun time and I really loved being surrounded by the laughter and jokes. Steven tossed me curly fries from across the table and after I think 3 (maybe 4) attempts, I caught one! I was having fun. I think everyone was!

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I LOVE THIS PICTURE

Kelsey read my mind at some point and asked what was for dessert that night. We had nothing planned but had already decided to make a fire pit at the house so Kelsey and I suggested we make S’mores. I do not think anyone else cared as much about dessert or S’mores… but Kelsey and I were determined so while everyone went to the house, the two of us went to HEB for supplies. Apparently we were not the only people in town who had the idea because the marshmallow selection was limited and the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars were GONE. Gone. We grabbed a dark chocolate bar and some Reese’s peanut butter cups as replacements but we still wanted the classics. Kelsey won the HEB award (all my friends deserve awards, honestly) and suggested we go look by the checkout lanes for Hershey bars and BAM, there were more than enough. So freaking smart.

We drove back to the house and they already the fire going. Apparently Steven had wandered off to take photos, as Steven does, and started walking back yelling “I got sticks!” and it made everyone laugh. I love that guy. Justin and Alex built an awesome fire and we gathered around to enjoy the night. It was cold but with the fire, it was a perfect evening.

Y’all, we were a damn mess that night. Dad and Suzette had brought wine and we had all bought some at HEB and we went through ALLLLL of it the first night. ALL. OF. IT. We lost some wine glasses along the way (do not worry, we donated more than we broke behind when we left on Sunday) and it was such a wonderful night. Paul had his first S’more ever, we took photos, and we laughed and laughed and laughed. I love these people. We played a few daring rounds of “never have I ever” which was something else considering my FATHER was there. Facepalm. But, we all kept it mostly clean and it was fun to share stories with everyone. I can struggle with self worth and accepting that people care about me (especially after the last year) but it really filled my love tank up to be with everyone and have such a fun evening. I had no doubt my friends and family would all get along but it was nice to see everyone come together, too.

Over the next few hours, the rest of the party started to arrive. Mom and Robert showed up just in time to get a few drinks before we finished everything. Luke (my neighbor of 3ish years from my last apartment) was next, followed by Alex (my friend I met while volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House at Texas Children’s Hospital) and her boyfriend Bobby. Poor Alex and Bobby got there so late and went straight to sleep! Luckily, I had already set up all the fold-out beds for everyone so that no one had to worry about it after an evening of drinking. I am such a team-mom sometimes (I was also cleaning up bottles of wine and whatnot as we went, hehe). Everyone hung out until about midnight before turning in. It had been a long, fun day and we needed rest for Saturday! Day 1 was amazing.

Saturday, March 16

You would think after a night (ahem, day) of drinking, we would all sleep in but nope, apparently our internal clocks are all permanently set to “work mode” and most everyone was alive and functioning fairly early. Steven and I shared a room and were both up around 7:15am. The plan was to have breakfast at 9am and leave for our first winery at 10am so we took it easy. We enjoyed our pillow talk and laughed our asses off. Friend Alex (not Brother Alex), in the next room, texted me “omg y’all are so cute” because we were giggling so loud. We stretched and talked about the day before. Steven needs to move back home to Houston, stat. I miss him too much when he is gone!

Dad and Suzette started on breakfast and put Luke to work helping. They made eggs with sausage and biscuits and it was all delicious. We also had mimosas and bloody mary’s, of course. Most everyone was awake, ready to go, and fed by 9am! I had fun getting ready with my girls in the morning too! We were so ahead of schedule so we enjoyed the leisure time until it was time to head out. PS – I had been so worried about the weather but it was a slightly chilly and beautiful day! We got lucky!

Our first stop was Becker Vineyards for our 10:30am tasting. Todd and Rachel were meeting us there with his daughter and son-in-law but were running a little late coming in from Austin so we got started without them. I assumed each tasting would be about an hour since we had such a large group but it was over so fast! Too fast. I liked some of the wines and did not like some others, typical. I was kind of worried about making sure everyone was included and participating but I think it was an unnecessary worry, it was fine. I just did not want anyone to be left out!

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After the tasting, we purchased some wine and went outside to enjoy the property. Steven had picked this one because of how beautiful it was and he did a good job! The wine was average but the land was nice. I wish we had explored it a little more versus staying in one area but I wish that about all the wineries we went too. A large, drunk group can only do so much! My sister later told me that she thinks some of us (me included) forgot that the day is a marathon, not a sprint! Basically, we went too hard too fast. No shame in my game, boo. Todd and Rachel joined us and it was nice to see them! They had not met most of the people there either (at this point, not shocking since all of my friends are in different groups and no one knows each other) so we did introductions and hung out.

Our next tasting was not until 1pm so we decided to throw in an impromptu additional winery: Signor Vineyards. Y’all. Y’ALL. This place was SPECTACULAR. It was hands down my favorite winery of the weekend and it was the one place we had not planned to go. I love how that turned out! The property was breathtaking and the way they had it designed and decorated was so inviting. We did a tasting (Kelsey and I shared, thankfully) and the guys, Sammy and Aaron, were so casual and fun about it. The wine was great and I genuinely just loved this place. I wished we could have stayed there all day but with the next tasting looming, we only got about an hour and a half at Signor.

I had looked at the photos from Becker and hated that the sun was making everyone squint so I forced another round of photos. I love that they humor me!

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I cannot wait to go back to Signor and spend a much more significant amount of time there! Favorite. I wish I had bought one or two bottles of wine from them.

The next stop was Hilmy Cellars. Hilmy was… a mess. This is where we all started to fall apart and the drunkenness shined. I kept going behind the bar during the tasting, probably annoying the hell out of our host, Marshall. Todd and Rachel’s daughter, Monica, and her husband, Zaid, joined us. I had not met them yet but I have known Todd for several years and had heard so much about them both. They were awesome and while I was skeptical at first, I am so glad they came! It was great talking to them.

I mean, there is not a lot to say about Hilmy except that we were all over the place. I kept leaving the tasting to go outside and dance, then would go back inside and snack on the free popcorn and rejoin the tasting. Everyone was just sharing glasses. I had no idea which wine we were on and who was doing what. Marshall probably hated us! I somehow ended up with Katy’s hat? Yes, that question mark is intentional.

The owner (or someone of importance?) caught wind it was my birthday (/Dad chatted him up) and offered us a tour. No doubt he regretted that immediately because corralling all of us and explaining things to us was probably not easy. The tour was as short as our attention span. Luke had a family event to go to so we said goodbye to him. I was happy he could join us; I had missed hanging out with him since I moved in town a few months ago.

Shout out to Rachel for taking so many photos!

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By the time we left Hilmy, it was nearing mid-afternoon. We needed to eat. When I picked up the keys to the house on Friday, it came with 18 vouchers for a free breakfast or lunch at one of the 6 listed locations. Us being us, we OBVIOUSLY were going to utilize those so we picked a Mexican place and and all enjoyed a free lunch. Most of us used this is a time to take a break from drinking and hydrate but some just kept the party going and I love them for that! The food was decent (or we were just very hungry) but the waitress was the true star: she kicked ass.

After lunch, Kelsey and I took Friend Alex and Bobby back to the house. They needed a break. We met everyone at our last winery of the day, Pedernales Cellars, for our 5pm tasting. This was Dad and Suzette’s choice: it is their favorite. I loved the wine and the property’s views were so nice. It was a great winery to end the day at! I was definitely gone by this point but I remember sitting there with the group outside and watching all the different conversations going on and feeling happy. I know I have said it a lot but everyone clicked so well and it made me feel good to be surrounded by such a wonderful group of people: both in that moment but in life at home. The last year was something else for me and they were ALL there for me throughout the whole thing. They encouraged me, supported me, and got me through a pretty rough patch in my life and I could not be more thankful for them and our day together!

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After Pedernales, most of the group went back to the house to start on dinner. Monica and Zaid had to go back to Austin so we said goodbye to them. It was so great getting to know them! Kelsey (who 100% needs to be recognized for driving us all day!) took Katy, Paul, Steven, and I to HEB. We had depleted our water and wine supply Friday night. Kels dropped us off and we got 3 cases of water (unnecessary for ONE night left but ya know) and 7 bottles of wine (also unnecessary since we were having margaritas with dinner). Mess.

We got back to the house and I changed clothes into a dress because I felt like it. We took photos and snacked on chips and guacamole until dinner was ready. Dad and Suzette made the most outstanding enchiladas and street corn for everyone and we had more than enough food. I am so thankful that they provided food for everyone all weekend; I know it was a lot of work on their part and we all appreciated it so much! Justin makes an amazing margarita so he was on marg duty all night for everyone (I think… I honestly do not know how my glass kept being refilled). I attempted a speech to thank everyone but it was awkward as hell and I still refuse to watch the video of it. I showed my boyfriend and all he did was laugh that I started it by SAYING “ding ding ding” instead making the noise with a fork on my glass. Lord help me! I might not know what I said but I did know that I was going to cry and I was so determined NOT to. I have always cried at birthdays and was so sure I would at some point over the weekend but I had made it that far and held it together. Hooray for evolved emotional intelligence. Anyway, my heart was bursting and my love tank was overflowing and I was happy to have everyone there and enjoying a fun weekend away. It was wonderful.

It was too cold to be outside again all night so I elected to stay inside. Some people went back out and hung by the fire all night but I was more than content inside. For every birthday, Suzette asks each of us what we want for dessert. A few years ago, I said I wanted cookies. She one-upped my request and made a cookie skillet and it was BOMB. Think a BJs Pizookie but better. For this birthday, I had to have a cookie skillet and she one-upped me again and made two! The smell of the cookie must have lured everyone back inside so they sang and we devoured the dessert.

The rest of the night was chill. Everyone had gone hard all day and it was time to relax. I have no idea what the group outside was doing but inside, Dad, Suzette, Todd, Rachel, Kelsey and I talked around the kitchen table. Dad and Suzette totally clicked with them and I think they stole my friends from me… but I can share. I opened presents (even though I specifically requested no presents because their presence was a gift by itself). Steven and his mom got me 2 cute rompers and some fun goodies and Katy and Paul got me essential oils! Thank you!

When I finally made my way outside, it appeared everyone had already gone to bed! They were spent and I was too. I said goodbye to Todd and Rachel (they were staying nearby) and made my way to bed.

Sunday, March 17

Somehow, we were up and moving fairly early again. I hurt a little more than I did Saturday morning but hey, worth it. The morning was simple: eat, get ready, clean up, hit the road. The McDonald’s breakfast was perfect. Dad was heating up pancakes like a boss. I was not very hungry but I knew food would help me feel a little better so I ate them up. I think a lot of people were not feeling great because we had a LOT of breakfast left over!

There were no house rules on how to leave the house so we used our brains and left the place cleaner than when we arrived. Everyone gathered sheets and towels up into the laundry room and we took down decorations. The weekend went by WAY too fast and I was sad to have to pack everything up so soon. Teamwork for sure makes the dream work though because everything was finished and we were on the road by 10am, an hour before our 11am checkout time. I did not want to leave!

It was a long drive back. With the excitement over and our energy low, it was quiet. We chose Taylor Swift albums to entertain us on the way back but even then, it was just a draining drive. My car stopped at Sonic for a snack and again at Bucee’s for a break and gas. At Bucee’s, I ran into Friend Alex and got to sneak in some bonus hugs!

We made it back to Steven’s house around 2pm and we said our goodbyes. I am SO, SO happy he was able to come to town to celebrate my birthday and I cannot wait to go visit him in NYC for his big 3-0 in a few weeks! This trip would not have been the same without him.

I dropped Brother Alex off at Dad’s house and while I had originally planned to NOT go inside and see Elliott, I could not help myself. I had to snuggle that face of his. I double, triple, quadruple thanked Dad and Suzette for everything they did for all of us this weekend. They went above and beyond by offering to provide and prepare all of our meals and it meant a lot. I could not have executed everything as smoothly (and deliciously) on my own so I am very thankful for them. Everyone needs to give them a hug next time you see them.

I had about 2 hours before I needed to be at my office to leave for Corpus Christi for a work trip so I utilized my time wisely and visited my boyfriend. If you are wondering why he did not go… I would not subject a new relationship to meeting ALL of my family and the majority of my closest friends at the same time over the span of 3 days. I have a heart, people. I repacked my suitcase and reorganized my car and relaxed for what little time I could. I desperately needed a nap. The visit was short but I was happy to get in some QT.

From there, I drove to the office and then spent 3 hours in the car trying to be a good passenger and stay awake. Jessica had created a Dropbox folder for everyone’s photos and I guess I said 100 times that I wanted photos because everyone was incredibly prompt about sending me theirs! It was awesome and just another reason why I love them all so much.

So, I know I have said a ton of thank yous throughout this but I need these people to know how much I appreciate them for everything they did for this birthday trip:

  • Dad and Suzette – doing 100x more planning than I could ever do to pick out great recipes and grocery shop, pre-making meals for the weekend during your already-busy lives, cooking, cleaning, and generally taking care of us all weekend
  • Jessica – encouraging me to do something fun and enjoy myself and keeping me calm when I got stressed out, getting everything done and keeping us moving all weekend
  • Justin – I love your margaritas
  • Steven – Google doc-ing this whole thing, picking wineries, picking outfits, being my sounding board for every decision and moment for 2 months
  • Mom – contributing a generous amount to the cost of the house so that it was affordable for everyone and everyone had a nice, comfortable place to stay
  • Kelsey – volunteering to stay back and take care of Elliott all weekend (he loves you!)
  • My friends – you are awesome: Kelsey left Liam for the first time to come celebrate with me, none of y’all knew each other going into this and all clicked so well, for driving 4 hours to be a part of this with me after a long work week, and for always supporting and loving me even when I am a pain in your asses

It went by way too fast but I had the best weekend. Thank you to everyone for everything! My heart is full. I love y’all!

As for the rest of my birthday…

I spent Sunday night-Wednesday (Wednesday was my birthday) afternoon in Corpus. We had a ton of meetings and it was exhausting in a number of ways but it was a good trip. Ryan and Caleb took me to get a pizookie Tuesday night (they had also never had one before) and they reluctantly sang to me. It was awesome.

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When we got back to Houston, I noticed I had a flat tire on my car. That tire had been giving me trouble so it was only a matter of time something happened. At least it did not blow out while I was driving to and from Fredericksburg! It could have been worse. My awesome boyfriend met me and changed it for me. Swoon. I spent the next 2 hours at Discount Tire before spending another 1.5 hours in traffic to drive to Tomball to have dinner with my family.

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We had pizza, more wine (hehe), and cake (thirty, flirty, and thriving!). They spent all weekend celebrating me so it felt good that they tolerated me for one more bonus celebration with my nieces and grandparents. The girls even let Dad and I stand on their photo “stage”!

My nieces singing me happy birthday! This never gets old.

My boyfriend came over in the evening and brought me my favorite flowers in my favorite color and an awesome #flatearth shirt (inside joke).

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I am back in the office today and my boyfriend sent me Tiff’s Treats!

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Tonight, he is is taking me somewhere for dinner (he is keeping it a surprise). Update: we went to Taste of Texas and it was delicious! I felt special!

Tomorrow night, Lindsay and I are going to a nice dinner to celebrate each other (her 30th birthday is today and we have been friends for 15+ years!).

Turning 30 was wonderful. The BEST birthday so far.

Until next time,

Jillian

… to New York!

After a couple of rough and emotional weeks and during a much-needed phone call with my amazing friend Steven one late September night, I ended up booking tickets to go visit him in New York for early November. We had been socializing about his upcoming visit to Houston but decided it would do us both some good for me to take a trip there, too! When Steven first moved to NY after college, I went every other year to see him. It had been 4 years since my last visit though because, ya know, life gets in the way… so, a trip was long overdue (and emotionally necessary).

My first two trips to visit him had been in late November or early December and were always beyond freezing. Winter had already set in NY both times, trees were already bare, everything already frozen. Steven suggested we target a slightly earlier visit so we could go “leaf peeping” and enjoy the actual Fall season. It was the best idea he had and it was a relaxing weekend! And before you all come at me with comments: yes, Steven and I are the cutest couple of all time but we have one major thing in common… we both like men. So, enjoy our adorableness as we are! ūüôā

Friday, November 2

My flight was for around noon so I woke up, finished packing (Elliott’s disapproving eyes watching the entire time), and headed over to my Dad’s house to drop Elliott off for the weekend. The poor little pup HATES seeing my suitcase. After two 4+ week trips, can I really blame him?

We arrived at my Dad’s and were greeted by him and a puppy he had found. Oy. It was clearly a house dog but there was no tag with a phone number. That little dog was playful and energetic but sure knew the word “No” when I had to stand up for Elliott since Elliott does not know how to stand up for himself. Dad and I searched for the owners for a little bit then loaded up my car so he could drive me to the airport. We brought the new dog with us so he could stop at a Vet office on his way home and check for a microchip (flash forward, we found the owner on their NextDoor app and Dad dropped the lost puppy off at his rightful home that afternoon). There was some serious traffic that forced us to drive the opposite way down an access ramp of the highway but we made it to the airport with plenty of time. I thanked my Dad approximately 100 times for watching Elliott AGAIN (and for driving me… again) and headed inside.

The flight to NY always seems to go by quickly and I arrived in what seemed like no time at all. I caught an Uber to Steven’s new apartment. He and his roommate, Uyen (who also went to High School with us but graduated a year after us), had moved to a different area of Brooklyn and I was excited to see their new place. It was around 5:30pm so traffic was a little… trafficky… but the Uber ride was short. The Uber driver was a young student and was so friendly. I am so horrible at starting conversations with strangers after the friendly initial greetings but he was really good at keeping it going. I enjoyed talking to him!

I got to Steven’s apartment shortly after he got home from work – perfect timing. He, Uyen, and Topher (his cute mini Australian Shepherd) greeted me and gave me a tour of the new place. As expected, it was perfectly decorated and totally fitting to their style. The place seemed smaller than their old one but their kitchen and bathroom were HUGE upgrades compared to the old apartment. It was lovely!

Steven and I changed and freshened up and headed to the city to meet Meghan, Steven’s co-worker, for dinner and drinks. I had purchased the most awesome trench coat and was excited to wear it! We headed to the subway and I did not even realize we had crossed into the city until Steven mentioned it days later (I assumed we were in Brooklyn still) – goes to show how much I get turned around when I am there. I can navigate the world but get to NY and always feel upside down! Our first stop was The Immigrant, a wine bar. It was a low-key place and we had a round of drinks and got to know each other. I was a little anxious about there being another person there (and someone I did not know!) but it was great. Steven is always so good at making sure everyone is included in the conversation and comfortable. I appreciate that quality about him!

After drinks, we went to dinner at John’s at 12th Street, an Italian restaurant that Steven and Uyen had raved about. Expectations were high and were 100% met. Italian is not typically my favorite type of food but I got the Chicken Parmesan and it was everything. The restaurant had been on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network so you know it was good. The portion was HUGE so I gladly shared some with Steven. The vibe there was really cool and they had these candles that had burned forever which reminded me of an old cash-only bar in downtown Houston I had visited once. This restaurant happened to be cash-only too. Must be a thing!

Dinner was amazing and once we were stuffed, we headed to one more bar for a final round of drinks at Pierre Loti. It was another wine bar and it was completely packed so our time there was short.

Steven and I headed home and obviously had a photo shoot in the subway. Obviously.

We had a few more drinks at his fabulous kitchen table and I briefly video chatted with my friend Andrew who was in Mexico for Bikram Yoga Teacher Training. I know what it is like to be there so I always make sure to answer when he called – it takes some serious support from friends and family to survive that training and he was totally there for me when I was away so I wanted to reciprocate.

It was late so we called it an evening. It was quite possibly the first time I felt distracted and remotely happy in weeks and for a few moments, I felt like I could breathe again. I was grateful to be there and peacefully fell asleep with ease; my anxieties of life completely erased, even if temporary.

Saturday, November 3

Steven had a long day planned for us! Past visits had taken us into the city and being a part of the hustle and bustle but this time, he planned a trip upstate to an outdoor sculpture park and some wineries.

Uyen was joining us so we all got up and got ready for the day. I struggled getting out of bed in favor of snuggling with Topher just a little longer but eventually managed to get myself up. Steven and I walked to pick up the rental car from Enterprise; he had made the great decision to drive ourselves versus taking trains and cabs everywhere to get up there. It was going to be a nearly 2 hour drive so we wanted to be comfortable. The walk to Enterprise was a little longer than I anticipated and even though it was cold and incredibly windy out, I had started to warm up! Plus, I was feeling all sorts of dehydrated from the night before and was nursing a decently sized migraine. I stopped to buy water for the day to try and get ahead of any issues.

We drove back to the apartment, picked up Uyen, and started our drive. The park was in NY but we had to drive through New Jersey first and we passed some of the most amazing color trees I had ever seen. It truly was Fall.

Realizing none of us had eaten, we stopped for breakfast at Matthew’s Diner. Steven wanted a “real diner” experience and this was the best we could find along our route. It was in the town of Waldwich which we had all immediately decided was haunted. Something about it just gave a haunting feel! Brunch was decent. I think we all spent more time trying to get a good video of Steven pouring syrup onto his pumpkin pancakes than we did eating. His poor pancakes were drenched by the time we got something decent! So extra.

On our way to the diner, we had passed an amazingly vibrant red tree. As silly as it sounds, I had never seen a tree that color in my life. We circled back to find it so we could take a photo of it. I had a fabulous red leather jacket on and I wanted to get a photo with it! When we arrived back at the tree, the owner of the house was outside and giving us looks for even stopping to take a photo of it so we decided not to have a personal photo shoot. He clearly had no idea what a special tree he had!

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We arrived at Storm King Art Center shortly after 1pm. Storm King was SO cool. Uyen referred to it as a “an Instagram millennial thirst-trap” because of how gorgeous the property was and how large and beautiful the sculptures were. It was true though, there were a lot of opportunities for photo ops. If I was still on Instagram (I deleted it a few months ago), I would have been all over it.

Y’all, THE. WIND. It was so, so windy. We braved a little bit of rain on and off when we first arrived but it was mostly sunny. It was just so. unbelievably. miserably. windy. My Houston, Texas, hot-yoga-loving, self was not cut out for that. Steven had on a sweater and Uyen’s jacket did not look THAT much warmer than mine so why was I teeth-chattering cold? The property was large and we did a lot of walking so that helped warm me up as time went on, though. Whew. Had it not been so windy, I probably would not have felt like I was in a walk-in freezer so I tried to escape the wind when I could.

We walked around for a few hours, soaked up the art and fresh air, and had mini photo shoots where appropriate. It was nice to be out of the city and somewhere so peaceful. There were muddy areas that we had to battle but overall it was just a beautiful, carefree afternoon full of laughs and jokes. I would find myself getting “in my head” about little things here and there but did my best to snap back to the present moment and enjoy where I was.

Our last statue was one that everyone loved to pose under. I made a comment about doing a headstand underneath it and was encouraged to try… and try I did. I struggled to get into and fell a few times. People were watching and I was feeling nervous with their unintended pressure! Plus, it was cold. I never fully got myself into position but Steven managed to grab a snap where it LOOKED like I did, even if my pale stomach was on display and I looked a mess. People had encouraged me to keep trying but after a few attempts, I had to throw in the towel and move on.

We left Storm King after a couple of hours and headed toward Brotherhood Winery, America’s oldest winery. On our way, we passed a bridge with a gorgeous view. None of our phones could capture how breathtaking it really was. The picture on the right is CLEARLY edited to try to show its true beauty but even then, it was more magical in person.

The winery was nearby so it was a short drive to it. Uyen and I rinsed the mud off our boots in the bathroom and then we all went in to do a wine tasting. It was after 4pm so tours of the winery were no longer available but we really only wanted to be drinking wine so the doing just the wine tasting was plenty. The whole property was like a small town and very quaint. They were setting up for a wedding and I completely understood why someone would want to get married there. It was lovely (even though I have almost zero pictures of the place and only one of this one barn).

We went inside and unfortunately got stuck behind a large group of girls. I say girls because even though they were of age to be doing a wine tasting, they acted and seemed like children. They all looked and dressed the same, it was kind of funny. We hoped to avoid being in their group but did not get lucky and ended up at the same counter as them. We positioned ourselves as far from them as we could get, ha.

The guy running the wine tasting was great. He was knowledgeable and funny and we enjoyed his company. He clearly did not like the group of girls either – they talked while he talked and constantly asked him to repeat himself. Whether true or not, he told us he was pouring us and the rest of the group more than he was them. I appreciated the little token of gratitude. We asked questions and learned a lot about wines and the history of the winery. I remember nothing… ha. That is what happens when I do not take notes for my blog!

We had 15 wines to taste so each flight, we would each try to get one of the 3 options and then try each other’s. I have never been a fan of white wine and I do not think that has changed. I also tried Honey Meade for the first time – also not a fan. I did try a chocolate liquor though and that was absolutely amazing; significantly more delicious than I expected. I liked a lot of the reds they had to offer but I like a red, so that was expected! It was a fun time! The only ever wine tasting I had done was in Italy and I was not a wine drinker at that time so this experience was definitely different in that I was more open to trying everything.

We decided to go to another nearby winery, Palaia Winery. The vibe there was VERY different. We could hear a party going on as soon as we parked and opened the car doors. It was much more of a dive-bar-type and “cool” environment. We did their wine tasting and I am sorry to say that I really did not enjoy any of their wines. I loved the place, but the wines were all… not for me. Not my taste. I cannot speak for Steven or Uyen but I downed my glasses just to get rid of them, not because I enjoyed them. If we did not have such a long drive back to the city, we probably would have stayed there longer and joined the piano bar crowd on the patio but we decided to be responsible and start heading back to the city.

It was a looooooooooooong drive back to their apartment. We were all exhausted and traffic was a mess. We entertained ourselves though and made it back safely!

The plan was to go to dinner so Uyen made a reservation at a restaurant for around 9pm. Uyen and Steven left to go get a bottle of wine and during their short trip, I managed to fall asleep… oops. My head had been hurting all day so it was only a matter of time, really. When they got back, they suggested we order-in instead and I was 100% on board with that idea! We ordered some delicious Chinese food. They shared wine and I stuck to water – Steven and I were taking a Bikram Yoga class the next day and I knew I needed to start hydrating.

We ate and hung out for awhile. It had been a long day and we were all completely spent. We started to watch “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” on Netflix; Steven made it about 15 minutes in before he left to go to bed but Uyen and I finished the movie because if you have not seen the movie, it is fantastic and worth watching no matter how tired you are! Once it was over, we both headed to sleep. I was out instantly.

Sunday, December 4

It was a wonderfully slow morning. Steven had to get up to walk Topher and return the rental car but I slept in. My body was sore so in preparation for yoga that afternoon, I started stretching in bed… but I kept falling back asleep. Eventually, we all got going and decided to go to brunch. It was impossible to get to the place they originally picked because so many streets were blocked by the New York City Marathon! We changed plans but took a quick break outside (the weather was perfect!) to watch the runners at the mile 12 marker. So many flashbacks of my half marathon came rushing back… I watched them in awe, cheering them on at their almost halfway mark. It was unbelievable how many runners there were; they kept coming and coming and coming!

After awhile, it was time to eat. We went to Cherry Point for brunch since that was the place we were originally going to have dinner at the night before. I passed on the morning drinks, still preparing for yoga, but the food was amazing! My avocado toast… so bougie.

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We parted ways with Uyen and went to get Topher to take him to the dog park to enjoy the weather. Topher has SO much energy and definitely knew where we were going because he was very excited the entire walk. Once we arrived, he ran around like a mad-dog. Elliott is not a real dog because when I take him to dog parks, he sits next to me. Topher, however, was born for dog parks. The park was small and grass-less but it was full – there were plenty of dogs for Topher to play with and boy, did he try to play with them all. He would bring us gross tennis balls and just beg for us to throw them. I did not want to touch it so I kicked it like a soccer ball and he would take off, searching for it in the leaves. If it ever got mixed up with other tennis balls, he would look for the perfect one and bring it back. It was adorable. Topher is a real dog! I loved watching him play. We walked across the street to meet up with Steven’s friend who also had a dog so that they could meet and play. His dog was more like Elliott – reserved and unsure about the whole ‘dog park’ thing. Dog personalities are so fascinating.

After about an hour or so, Steven and I needed to go home to get ready for yoga. We dropped Topher off and packed our things and started the trek. My Bikram Bestie from teacher training, Lidia, teaches at a studio in Brooklyn but it was an hour from Steven’s apartment! The hour actually went by really quickly which was odd considering how excited and eager I was to see Lidia. I had not seen her since January when she visited me so I was ready to give her a hug and especially ready and excited to take her class for the first time!

Once we arrived in Bay Ridge, it felt like we were in a totally different area (besides the fact that we were, indeed, in a totally different area). It was still Brooklyn but felt like a different city! The vibe was just different in a way I cannot really explain. We walked a few blocks to Lidia’s studio and she greeted us excitedly at the door! We hugged and hugged and hugged some more. I introduced her to Steven (who, by the way, was taking his FIRST Bikram Yoga class!) and she showed us around the studio. He and I went to the basement to change and get ready for class then went back upstairs to set up our mats. She had told us where the ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ spots in the room were and Steven chose a cooler spot – I allowed it since it was his first class! Hehe. Lidia’s class was amazing. It was not what I expected at all from her but I loved it and she kicked our butts, just like Bikram taught us. She is such a good teacher and I could tell the students love her, how could they not? She was so compassionate, encouraging, and cute! I loved it. I loved getting to finally take her class and seeing her again!

Steven did great and survived, even enjoyed the class himself and that made me happy. I never know how someone will feel when I bring them to class and I always secretly hope they love it as much as I do so I was glad he had a good experience. We waited for the room to clear out after class and then of course, took a million photos.

Once everyone else left, Lidia joined in with us!

We cleaned up and then headed to dinner nearby.

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Lidia picked the place, Cebu Brooklyn, and it was delicious! The restaurant was massive and the vibe inside was really cool. Lidia said the place looks totally different during the day but at night with the lights dimmed, it was nice. We had a few rounds of drinks and did family-style dinner; ordered several things and split. It was great catching up with Lidia and talking yoga but unlike Steven, I am not very good at keeping everyone “in the loop” during conversations. I tried, though! I am sure he felt left out during our yoga moments but Steven is also good at actively participating so maybe it was not as bad for him as my head made it out to be. When yogis get together, it is tough to NOT discuss yoga!

Steven and I had a long commute so we said our goodbyes and started the journey back home. We were both exhausted but also sad that the weekend was coming to an end.

Monday, December 5

Monday was a travel day! Steven had to leave for work as I was getting up. I was out the door an hour later and headed back to the airport to go home. I was sad on my way to the airport because I missed Steven already! The weekend was packed full of fun but did not seem long enough; it never does, right?

I had time to waste at the airport so I got something to eat, chatted with my dad, and watched Netflix. Steven and I still texted all morning about how sad we both were and I sent him this photo: airport vibes.

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The flight home was uneventful. It is always bittersweet coming home. The Uber ride to my Dad’s house was long but I was happy to see Elliott and snuggle him!

I am so happy Steven suggested I take a visit up there. Not only was it long overdue, it was just good timing. Steven and I have been such good friends for years and as all friendships go, there are times of closeness and times of distance. We have never been distant but I have felt especially close with him in the weeks leading up to (and after, since I am writing this a month late). His support, friendship, understanding, and compassion during a difficult and trying time in my life has been more than I could ever want from a friend and I am truly grateful for him. I have plenty of friends and family that have shown similar support and love to me right now (and I am forever grateful) but Steven has a deep understanding in a way I do not think many others could completely relate, and I have relied heavily on him. I love that we have maintained such a beautiful friendship over the last 10 years and that we can travel and vacation together so well. I look forward to many, many more trips in our future!

The trip was needed and while I enjoyed it, there were random moments that were tough for me; little reminders here and there (the Wasco sign I saw walking to Enterprise on Saturday nearly took the wind out of me) that triggered the feelings of sadness, pain, and loneliness that I was trying to escape but I pushed on and tried to put those feelings behind me. I did not want Steven, Uyen, or Lidia to notice my little struggles. As I thought about writing this blog post back during the trip, it sounded so depressing even though I was having a good vacation. As I actually put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?) now, I remember those feelings but feel less hindered and paralyzed by them and with the clouds lifted, recall the trip in a much happier, positive way and for that, I am thankful. I only want to remember the good.

Until next time,

Jillian

 

… to Michigan

I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Michigan with Bobby and his family for their annual week-long vacation at their family lake house off of Lake Superior. When they lived in Illinois, it was a short drive over but they all live in Texas now so a few years ago, they rented an RV to travel there together in-style. We decided to do that again this year but at the last minute, the guy we were renting from had to cancel. With no time to find a new one, Bobby’s friend (who works at Enterprise) hooked us up with a large Expedition for the trip.

I had heard so many amazing things about Michigan and we had planned it for so long that I was really looking forward to going! It ended up being a wonderful week with many firsts (my “firsts” are highlighted in pink along the way).

PS – you can click on images to enlarge them.

 

Friday July 27, 2018 – Day 1

On Thursday night, Bobby and I made the 3-hour drive from Houston to his parents’ house. We knew we would have an early morning start on Friday and a long day in the car so I was glad we decided to get a jump-start the day before. On Friday morning, Bobby and his dad, Kevin, picked up our rental car while his mom, Cathy, and I got the house ready. When they got back, we packed up our extra large Ford Expedition with our bags, tents, dog supplies, and coolers/snacks. My suitcase was ridiculously large and incredibly embarrassing but being that I had never been to Michigan and had no idea what I was getting into (activities we were doing, hot and cold weather, etc.), I needed to be prepared for anything. I have gone on longer trips with smaller suitcases so I hated that I over-packed and hoped no one would judge me! Now that I have been, I will know better next time and be able to pack more appropriately (but as a side note, I wore most of the things I brought). Bobby had a cool Starbucks to-go cup that we thought we had lost weeks ago at his or my apartment but magically found Friday morning at his parents’ house… and then re-lost while loading the car. After we re-found the cup, we we started our cross-country drive. Start time: 9:37am.

The first leg of the drive was short: a quick 5 minute drive to the local Veterinarian’s office. We needed to pick up Brian and Spike’s, Bobby’s parents’ little papillon dogs who were making the drive with us, medicine in-case we needed to lightly sedate them. After all, it was going to be a 24+ hour drive. It was not ideal for the dogs or for us to drug them, but after only a few minutes we realized we had no choice. There was no way they were going to be able to handle a drive like that without a little “assistance.” It was already a tight enough space with us and our luggage, we did not need their excited and cute selves roaming around the car for 2 days.

We stopped for breakfast at Whataburger about an hour later and kept on with the drive. Bobby had never had a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit before! Game changer. The next 5 hours went by very fast. It was still technically a workday for Bobby so he worked to keep himself busy. I napped a little bit but we all mostly entertained ourselves and socialized the whole time. I somehow won/earned 6 hours of unlimited lives on Candy Crush so that helped. We made it to Bryant, Arkansas before we stopped for gas. Everyone got a bathroom break, including the dogs, and we made ourselves sandwiches for lunch. Brian and Spike had settled down quite a bit but still managed to shed so we made another stop at a nearby Target to get a handheld, cordless, pet vacuum to help clean up the fur. It made me thankful Elliott does not shed! We also looked for a handheld buzzer so we could play the Family Feud board game later in the week but we came up empty handed (we never actually played the game while we were there). Cathy treated us to some dark chocolate peanut butter cups and we were on the road again.

Kevin pointed out things along the drive that all helped the time go by. He pointed out various businesses and landmarks like a steel company, ammo company, Highlands Milk, the Arkansas River and gave us fun facts like how that particular stretch of road has the most trucks on it because it is the only way to get to Memphis and how Arkansas is a huge rice producer. It reminded me of something my mom would do! A little education along the way never hurt anyone.

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Arkansas River

We drove through Tennessee and stopped in Missouri at the Missouri Division of Tourism Hayti Welcome Center (e.g. a rest stop). The sun was starting to set a little so it was pretty nice outside. The dogs got another break but we were all starting to worry about little Spike. He is an older dog and we were worried the medicine might have been too much for him (spoiler alert: he was fine!). Cathy busted out the wine and she, Bobby, and I enjoyed a much-needed glass!

Bobby was finished working so we decided to watch a movie on his iPad: “Game Over, Man.” It was difficult to share headphones and be comfortable in the backseat the way we had it set up so that did not last very long. It did help pass a little bit of time though and it made us laugh… even if it was kind of a dumb movie.

We crossed the mighty Mississippi River shortly after and made it to Mt. Vernon, Illinois around 9:15pm for dinner. The weather had significantly cooled off so I was glad I did not pack my jacket up in the trunk with everything else and instead had it readily available. Little win. We went to the Steak and Shake in the area but when we walked in, the waitress told us that she had just sat 3 large parties and it would be awhile before we would get food, so we left. Part of me appreciated her giving us a warning but part of me was annoyed that she did that. She turned away business! That is not good company practice, IMO. It was late and there were not many options in the area and we did not want to wait until we hit the next town, so we settled for Hardee’s across the street. Womp womp. The service in there was odd and questionable and the food was mediocre at best. I had never had Hardee’s before and to be honest, I would not care if I never had it again. It was fine for the night’s goal but I think I can cross Hardee’s off my list of places to revisit.

Earlier in the drive, Bobby booked us hotel rooms in Effingham, Illinois via Hotwire. Effingham was an hour away from Mt. Vernon so we ate quickly and got on our way. I think we were all exhausted by that point. Kevin had driven the entire time so it was probably good for him to rest, too. We got to the Baymont motel only to be told that they booked us with 2 smoking, non-pet-friendly rooms (i.e. the exact opposite thing we needed). We left but wanted a refund so while Kevin re-fueled the car, Bobby got on the phone with Hotwire for a refund. That was a total nightmare. We were on hold for basically ever and when we finally got an agent… oh boy. That guy was something else but Bobby handled him and the situation so well, way better than I would have which is one of the many things I love about him. Long story short: he called the hotel and the receptionist there told him that there WERE rooms for us and because of that, Hotwire could not issue us a refund. We did not want to lose the money so we turned around and tried to check-in again. The whole ordeal from the time we arrived there the first time to the time we actually received hotel keys was just about an hour. That was the last thing we all needed after already being in the car for 13 hours! But, we got rooms and that was all we could ask for. While we were unloading the car, the receptionist ran back over to us and told there was someone in one of the rooms she gave us and swapped keys with us. Yikes! That could have been bad… walking into someone’s room in small-town Effingham? That is how Dateline stories start. I was glad to avoid that situation. I skipped the shower, regardless of how gross my skin and hair looked like by that point, and opted to go directly to sleep in the smallest double bed of all time. We were asleep probably just after midnight. Not the best hotel we have stayed in… but not the worst. Again, it got the job done.

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Total travel time: 14.5 hours

 

Saturday July 28, 2018 – Day 2

I felt like the second my eyes closed, my 5:45am alarm was already going off. We decided to leave at 6:30am so it was another early start for us. I took a much-needed shower (What is it about traveling that makes a person get so gross? How does sitting in the car, or on an airplane, or at a hospital doing nothing do that to a person?!) and re-packed. Bobby re-vacuumed up the pet hair and we all re-packed the car. We had to reorganize just a little bit because Bobby was our new driver which meant I got to be in the front seat. The front seat was not nearly as comfortable as the back seat but I think it ended up being easier with the dogs because both dogs wanted to be with Cathy and Kevin and with them sitting in the back, there was a lot less dog-roaming. It worked out! We stopped at Starbucks for breakfast and coffee and officially kicked off day 2.

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Bobby had everyone choose an album to listen to at some point and we all had to listen to it regardless of how anyone else felt about it. It was a risky game but I liked it. Cathy picked a pretty good one (I forget which one) and when it was my turn, I picked Jo Dee Messina’s “I’m Alright” album. I told them how that album was my first real-taste of country music (with the exception of my 5th grade teacher’s obsession with Clay Walker), how my aunt had bought it for me, and how when I was younger and had a CD player it was basically the only CD I would listen to when we went on family vacations. To this day, something about travelling makes me want to listen to this album! I was nervous about my pick but it was received well! Whew. Bobby picked his album and then we listened to Jim Gaffigan and a few other comedians. I had started to fall in and out of sleep at that point but it was tough to sleep in the front seat. Also, I had the big responsibility of holding up Illinois’ version of an EZ Tag in the window as we went through tolls.

We saw the Chicago skyline in the distance around 10am. When Bobby and I visited Chicago, he pointed me in the direction of the town he grew up in but I did not realize at the time just how close it was. We were now in Wadsworth, his hometown. Kevin made a comment about visiting their old house but quickly dismissed the idea. I was glad when Cathy suggested we go anyway because I wanted to see Bobby’s hometown. I had given him the grand tour of where I was raised (old house, my schools, places I went, etc.) and I had hoped one day to see his so I was happy when we exited the highway for the short detour. They told me all about the area, the wetlands, and The Shanty (a restaurant owned by a family they know that was on Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network). They pointed out different places they would go and I really enjoyed hearing about it all. Kevin kept saying, “we are just giving you stuff for your blog.” While that may be true, it made me feel included and welcomed, maybe even a little bit special, for them to give me a tour and take me there.

Cathy called their old neighbors to tell them we were in the area and see if they were home so we could visit. They were there so we made a pit-stop. The weather had warmed up so I changed from leggings into shorts and we all visited outside for a little bit. Their neighbors were very kind. It was very obvious to me that everyone was happy to see each other and how close their friendships were. Bobby’s old childhood home was literally next-door so they told me all about the house and things they added and whatnot. The neighborhood was so different from the neighborhood I grew up in: no fences and more spaced out. It was beautiful. Bobby told me about just being able to walk through the trees in the backyard and be at his best friend’s house and pointed out where he and his friends would adventure to. Cathy shared stories and memories about the two families growing up together. I loved it all. It seemed like a really nice place to grow up and I was grateful they shared it with me. I also kept thinking to myself how much my brother-in-law would love the area and raise a family there (but he is not allowed to move my sister and nieces that far away from me so… irrelevant).

In an effort to get to our final destination while it was still light out (so we could set up tents easily), we said our goodbyes and got on the road again. About 2 seconds later, we were in Wisconsin. I had no idea we were so close to the border! Kevin noted the Bristol Renaissance Faire which sounded pretty comparable to the Texas Renaissance Festival I had been to before. A quick Google comparison shows Wisconsin’s at 4.8 stars and Texas’ at 4.6 stars (with a difference of only 20 reviews between the 2) so Wisconsin might us beat in that market!

We stopped at Woodman’s, a local/popular/apparently cheap liquor store to stock up for the week. Our car was already at max capacity but when you find 2 cases of water for $5.75 (70 bottles total), you buy it and find room! We bought more than enough alcohol and kept on our way. Waze proved to be the real MVP of the trip because as we approached traffic, it re-routed us to side roads and we probably saved ourselves from sitting in 30-60 minutes of nearly stopped, bumper to bumper, traffic.

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At about that time, my sister had posted a picture of everyone setting up for my niece’s 5th birthday party. I had debated a LOT before leaving for Michigan about missing her party but made the tough decision to skip it this year, the first one I had missed. I was confident in my decision but seeing those pictures made me sad; could not help it. I decided to video chat them before the party started. Bailey asked me if I was coming and if I was going to see her on her real birthday instead and it literally ripped my heart right out of me! The connection was bad so it was a short conversation but she seemed SO excited and happy and that made me happy too, even if I cried behind my sunglasses after we hung up. Shh. Luckily, Cathy was on the phone with Bobby’s aunt, Nancy, discussing the traffic we had just bypassed and how to get around it (Nancy and her family were driving up in an RV and scheduled to arrive shortly after us). I was thankful everyone was distracted so I could gather my emotions and kept on with the day.

It was a little after 1pm as we approached Milwaukee so we voted to stop at the Portillo’s in Greenfield (just South of the city) for lunch. Bobby took me to the Portillo’s in Chicago during our trip and at the time, I got their popular Italian Beef sandwich. It was my first Italian Beef and it was delicious! He had told me they also had amazing hot dogs but suggested I wait until our baseball game that night to try one so I missed out on the Portillo’s version. Who knew I would get a chance to try one this time around? We all got Chicago-style hot dogs¬†and it did not disappoint at all. My hot dogs always either had ketchup/mustard or chili/cheese so one with “the works” was very different but very tasty. Their french fries were delicious and Cathy even ordered a piece of their famous chocolate cake for us to all share. Yum! (PS – we always did drive-thru on our stops or someone waited in the car, we never left the dogs alone in the car!)

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We continued on. It was a lot of driving but still seemed to be going by fairly quickly. We made it to Sheboygan, WI and passed the “World’s Tallest Symbol of Freedom” (a 400ft flagpole). Site note: I just read that article and it is only the 6th tallest flagpole in the world but is the tallest in America. We made it to Green Bay around 3:30pm and saw Lambeau Field from a distance. Bobby and his family are all Packers fans but I still like them anyway! I started to sleep on and off again but do not think I managed to get any productive rest out of it. Somewhere along the way, Bobby suggested we play the ABC game (of which we did not know the official rules so we made our own: find a word that begins with that letter of the alphabet). Cathy was making me laugh because she said we had an unfair disadvantage by being in the front seat! Not wrong, but she did beat us on a few letters. It was a scenic drive through some cute small times (shout out to Crystal Falls for being adorable). We made it all the way to the letter X before we gave up. We never found an X. However, it did kill a LOT of time and before I knew it, we were in L’Anse, Michigan at 6pm. We made a quick stop (and our last one before arriving at the lake house) at the grocery store. Joan, Bobby’s grandma/Cathy’s mom, wanted us to grab what she had been told was “the best frozen pizza”: Lozza Mozza. We picked up a few and kept on.

We were in the home stretch now and everyone was pointing out everything to me! They took me the scenic route and we saw the sun start to go down off of Keweenaw Bay off of Lake Superior. We passed the local bar they go to and that I had heard a lot about: The Finns. I was a little overwhelmed because they were all so familiar with everything and while I absolutely wanted to hear it all and see it all, it was difficult to keep up! They all have SO many fond memories and experiences in the area and it is clearly a place they understandably hold dearly in their hearts! (I loved the place too, I get it.) Finally, at 8pm local time (our time zone changed to be an hour ahead) we arrived in Skanee, Michigan in the UP (upper peninsula)! Bobby put the car in neutral and coasted down the road and into the driveway of the celebrated lake house on Huron Bay. My phone had officially lost signal somewhere between the grocery store and the lake house so I put it in airplane mode for 7 days and only used my phone as a camera; I was committed to true off-grid vacation!

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Joan and Hal (Bobby’s grandparents), were there anxiously ready to greet us. We said our hellos and let the dogs start to explore as we unloaded the car. They gave me a tour of the house and property and it was all so beautiful. The weather, the view of the water, everything. The amazing sunset definitely did not hurt my opinion! Kevin asked me if it was what I expected but honestly, I had no expectations. I had only heard so much about the memories there instead of descriptions of the property so I was going in blind. Bobby had told me about the stairs to the dock once before so that was the only part I was slightly familiar with but either way, I did not know what to expect. Bobby took me down to the dock and we soaked up the view for a little bit but we needed to get our tent setup before dark so we headed back up.

I forgot to grab the extra tarp (to put under the tent) out of his car when we initially loaded up the Expedition on Friday… and by “forgot” I mean, I did not know it was there to take… so we searched for a spare tarp on the pontoon and started on the tent. We (he) bought the tent on Amazon the week before: an “instant” one. It did not disappoint! We had that thing popped up in 10 seconds. It barely fit our queen-size air mattress but that was all the room we needed. We were not going to be spending hours in the tent so it only needed enough room for sleeping, which it had. Bobby picked a great spot for it: in between an area of trees, facing the lake.

Cathy had bought us all matching “happy camper” shirts from her last Colorado trip to wear when we initially were supposed to be in the RV so we changed into those and got a few pictures. Joan snapped a group photo for us. They were very comfy shirts and I love a good matching outfit! It was sweet of Cathy to think of us all and get those.

We poured a drink from the bar on the screened-in patio and then Bobby suggested to head to the park for the last bit of the sunset. He checked the bike tires in the garage to see if we could ride them but they were flat so we drove over instead. The park was really close so it was a short drive, I do not think either of us wanted to be in a car for a long time anymore! We sat on a bench right on the water watching the sun and enjoying a drink. It was so calm and peaceful. The water was still and looked like glass. That was definitely worth the 24+ hour drive.

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There was a raspberry bush we picked teenie tiny raspberries off of and ate. They were small but delicious. He also wanted me to see how cold the water was so I pumped the well and it. was. cold. Deceivingly cold!

When we got back, we all sat on the patio and drank more and ate dinner. Joan made Italian Beef and it was so good. I had been craving it since we talked about it at Portillo’s so I was happy. We snacked unnecessarily (a theme of the week), shared stories, and played games. Cathy was really good about keeping me caught up and included: she would explain something or tell me who someone was off to the side so I could follow along. Becky (Bobby’s friend) did the same thing for me when we visited Chicago. It must be a woman thing to recognize another woman is lost and want to help include them! Either way, I appreciated it. We tried playing Triominos, a game I had played a few times as a kid but never really understood. It was horrible and we hated it. Next. We switched to poker and that was when I learned all about “pokes.” Each person had a poke: a jar with money in it only to be used to play poker. They have all had their jars forever and have their names on them and silly things like “keep out” and “don’t touch” graffitied on them. Some people have a lot of money (mostly coins, some bills) and some have very little. We needed to get me a poke so I could play and funnily enough, there was a jar for one of Bobby’s ex-girlfriends. Mine now! I stole her money and wrote my name on the lid over her’s and after a few jokes about how the next girl will have a hard time covering my name yada yada yada, we played some Texas Hold ‘Em. I won a few rounds and managed to take quite a bit of money from Bobby, too! It was a fun first evening.

Bobby’s aunt, uncle, and cousins were scheduled to arrive that night but it was after 1am and we could not wait up any longer: we were exhausted. We got ready for bed and climbed into our cozy tent. It had cooled off a lot outside so the tent was actually very comfortable! I fell asleep quickly. The only downside of sleeping in a tent: when you have to take a late-night bathroom break, you have to layer up/put shoes on and run inside (unlike guys who can just step outside the tent and go for it – boys, ammiright?).

Day 2 Travel Time: 13 hours

Total Travel Time: 1 day, 10 hours, 30 minutes

 

Sunday July 29, 2018 – Day 3

Waking up in the tent was magical. Bobby got up around 9am but I hung back and slept another hour; I was so comfortable, I did not want to move yet. The air mattress had deflated a little bit which was not noticeable when we were both on it but once he got up and I sank to the ground, we knew we had a problem.

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When I finally got moving, I joined the crew inside. The rest of the group had made it to the lake house around 3am so they were all still sleeping. The lake house had 2 bathrooms but only 1 shower so in an effort to keep the bathrooms open, I showered “across the street” (i.e. 10 feet away) at the “neighbor’s house” (i.e. Bobby’s grandpa’s aunt’s house on the same piece of property). My conditioner had exploded somehow so I cleaned up that mess before finally washing off the long drive from the day before. I felt so much better! When I returned to the main house and opened the patio door, EVERYONE was sitting there and turned to look at me. I mean, everyone. It was so awkward and so intimidating. It was my first time meeting Bobby’s cousin Jake and his girlfriend Kellye so I said hello to everyone and awkwardly introduced myself to them and then made my way into the main part of the house to finish getting ready, something I now wished I had done at the neighboring house. Oy. I joined them when I was finished and we all hung out for a few hours while people took turns getting ready. The best line from the morning was from Cathy when she found out Bobby and I had a double sleeping bag: “y’all are gross” (said in a loving way, of course).

Sunday was also my niece’s actual 5th birthday so I called her to wish her a happy birthday. The lake house has a land line but you have to use a phone card which was kind of retro for it being 2018. My sister did not answer the first time, probably because it was a strange number, but I called again and got a hold of them. Bailey told me about her party and what her birthday plans were. I did not want to use too many minutes on the phone card so it was a short call but I am glad I got to make it. #auntlyfe

After everyone was ready, Nancy led their first ever family meeting. She wanted to go over general stuff: how you cannot have more than one kitchen appliance on at the same time or the power will go out, shower schedules, activities people want to do and how to accomplish them all, meals, etc. She wanted to get everyone on the same page so we could all make the most of our week. Hal took out hearing aids and eventually left, making us all laugh. Everyone was making jokes and having a good time with it (I jokingly suggested a talking stick and we ended up throwing around an old, circular, dust-filled pillow across the room to be able to speak, making us laugh more) but despite our jokes, I think everyone was glad she organized it because it was actually very helpful, especially for a new person to the group like myself. We also decided on our first group activity of the week: Slate River Falls.

Bobby, Cathy, Scott (Bobby’s uncle), Jake, Kellye, Emily (Bobby’s younger cousin), and I all left for Slate River Falls at 2pm (everyone else went to run errands and get groceries, which was greatly appreciated!). It was a short drive to the area and a small hike over to the falls: a slow incline, a hike along the ridge, and a very steep decline to the river/falls. It was a fairly easy hike/climb overall and we all made it in one piece. This was Bobby’s favorite place and somewhere he had frequently talked about before the trip. Also, one of my favorite pictures of him was taken at Slate River Falls so I was excited to see it. It did not disappoint! The whole area was so beautiful and peaceful. There were a few other people swimming in the area in front of the falls so we waited by the river in the rocks to take photos of the falls. Emily swam in the water which was brave because not only was it cold, but Cathy had mentioned leeches once! Yikes! Bobby taught me how to skip rocks and while I was not very good (I mean, I was horrible), I did have a few good skips. The other group eventually left and we all hung out there taking photos, relaxing in the area, and skipping rocks. It was a great time and I could see why Bobby loved it so much. We left around 4pm. That steep decline to get down to the falls was much more difficult to climb up than down but again, we all made it. Jake dropped some trash so he slid back down to get it, cutting his arm along the way, but he made it too.

Our next stop was The Finns (the local bar). We were going to meet the other half of the crew for the bar’s 50% off pizza night but they had all eaten somewhere else earlier in the day. We were starved, however, so we ordered a few appetizers to share and a couple rounds of drinks to satisfy us for a little longer. I had a vodka grapefruit that I enjoyed a lot but my 2nd drink was not my favorite, at all. I ordered the same thing but it was a different waitress and she used a different grapefruit juice and I did not care for it. Everyone else thought it was fine but I had to really woman-up to drink it. The original waiter (not sure but he may have been one of the owners or managers?) came to ask us how things were and everyone suggested I return the drink for a new one but I did not want to be rude or cause problems so I said it was fine. I guess he felt bad so he brought me a small token for a free drink. As he called it, “it can either be a free drink or a cool souvenir.” I so badly wanted to keep it as a souvenir… but a free drink would be nice too. I saved it for another time and after pre-ordering a few pizzas for 2 hours later, we headed home.

At the lake house, we played cards, drank more, and took a few rounds of schnapps. Jake is a bartender in NYC so he was making drinks for everyone as we enjoyed our game night, passing time until it was time to go back to the bar for our pizza. At 7:30pm, we crowded into the Expedition (I sat on the middle console in the front seat…) and went to The Finns only to be immediately told that their pizza oven had broken for the night. Sigh, back home we went. Luckily, we had those Lozza Mozza pizzas and leftover Italian Beef so there was enough food for everyone. The Lozza Mozza did not live up to the hype but the Italian Beef was just as delicious as the night before. We had established a rule during the family meeting that whoever cooks does not have to clean so Kellye and I took clean-up duty after dinner. We bonded over being the outsiders and took guesses at where dishes went in the cabinet.

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It was a casual night but I felt like I needed a little breather outside so I headed to the dock for a small mental break. Bobby joined me a little later which was sweet of him. It was already 9:30pm but still looked like 7pm outside. The mysteries of the UP! We moved to the fire pit to enjoy the beautiful sunset and had a few more drinks before the mosquitoes got to be too much and we headed back to the patio for another poker night. I had taken Bobby’s money the night before and had to lend him money to get started but not to worry, he won it all back and then some. Kellye, who had learned how to play earlier in the day, won the most. You have to watch out for those quite ones! Sneaky. It was really fun and we all had a lot of laughs before calling it a night around midnight. We tried to look at the stars but the moon was too bright apparently so no such luck. Bobby and I put more air in our mattress (instead of replacing it entirely with an extra one Kevin brought and offered to us) and went to sleep.

 

Monday July 30, 2018 – Day 4

I woke up a few times feeling a little sick, possibly from eating and/or drinking too much the night before. Oy. The tent was warmer than the first night but still incredibly comfortable. You cannot beat that Michigan air! The mattress had deflated a little again but we sort of just made it a habit to re-inflate it every night. I should probably toss that thing out. Anyway, Bobby and I got up around 8:30am because during the family meeting we had volunteered to make breakfast for everyone. I decided to take a quick shower while everyone was sleeping to get ahead of the rush later while Bobby started breakfast prep. Together, we made an amazing breakfast in the cramped kitchen using just one appliance at a time. We did somehow manage to short circuit something anyway and the oven went out but Kevin quickly fixed it and we were back in business. We made: hashbrowns, bacon, sausage, eggs with peppers/onions/sausage/cheese, and eggs with just cheese. I toasted up a few tortillas and we put out all the works like salsa, sour cream, and cheese. When Bobby and I first started dating and would work from home together, we got in the habit of making elaborate breakfasts. We eventually toned it down a few notches (i.e. eliminated the potatoes mostly) but I still think we are the King and Queen of breakfast. Also, I love breakfast food and will eat it at any point in the day. As we were wrapping up, people started waking up and helping themselves. Everyone loved it and thanked us and that made me feel good.

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It was another beautiful day and after everyone was fed, had their coffee, and cleaned up, we started organizing for the day’s adventure: a pontoon ride to Lake Superior and to the Mouth of the Huron. It was decided the night before that we would leave at 10am but that might have been a tad ambitious; the alcohol might have skewed our ability to come up with a realistic time. By the time lunch was packed in coolers, drinks were organized, and everyone was in their beach gear, it was 12:30pm. We loaded up the pontoon and headed out. The group consisted of: Bobby, Cathy, Kevin, Nancy, Scott, Jake, Kellye, Emily (and her deaf dog Kip), and me.

We made a quick pit-stop at Witz Marina to get more gas for the boat. Apparently it was going to be a long ride over to the beach (an hour or so) and we needed to be sure we had enough to get there AND back with some to spare. The last thing we needed was to get stuck in the giant Lake Superior and disappear into the abyss… but Scott and Hal were of course not going to let that happen. Us “kids” went into the marina store and looked around. Bobby and I planned to come back to get a few souvenirs later.

The weather was perfect for the occasion and we had a very gorgeous boat ride. We passed Lightfoot Bay, Point Abbaye (where the bay essentially turns into the lake), and saw some of the islands on the lake in the distance. We passed all types of other lake houses and campsites and the group shared stories about past trips. Scott shared fun facts along the way about the water and the lake, discussing how deep it can go and just how large it really is. I was also asking him a lot of questions… hopefully my curiosity did not annoy him. Cathy, who had gone to Michigan every year since she could remember, could not recellthe last time they took the pontoon over to the beach instead of driving. They really pulled out all the stops for us (Kellye and me, the newbies) and I appreciated it.

We arrived to “the mouth” just before 2pm. Jake and Bobby anchored the pontoon and Kip jumped off as fast as he could to play in the sand and water. We unloaded our belongings and got settled. On our way over, it was pointed out that no one brought a lighter or matches to start our fire to be able to make our hot dogs for lunch so, the first thing Nancy did was go greet a stranger and borrow a lighter! Bobby showed me around the beach and I got in the freezing cold water despite not wanting to be in the freezing cold water. I do not like being cold but I was not going to miss out on the opportunity to swim in Lake Superior for the first time and he was so excited to be there and swim that I did not want to let him down. Thankfully, the water there was crystal clear and you could see the bottom which helped me feel a little more comfortable. I was still freezing though so I only went about waist deep. Bobby, Jake, and Kellye all went under the water and hey, good for them! After a quick dip, Bobby and I collected sticks to help start the fire pit and people started eating lunch. I was not hungry so I soaked up the sun (even got a sunburn later despite putting on sunscreen) and enjoyed the scenic view of the beach and lake. It really was breathtaking. After lunch, Bobby and I walked back over to “the mouth” again (where the lake meets the river) with Cathy, Jake, and Kellye. Bobby swam to the other side of the river and as much as I did not want to swim over there because of the cold water, I finally stopped over-thinking and just went for it. I was freezing but Bobby was proud of me. The things we do for others! We all frolicked over on the other side of the beach for a little bit and then swam back over to our side where I did my first shotgun. Yep, you read that correctly. I had never shotgunned a beer before, mostly because I do not like beer, but I figured why not? If I could get in water I did not want to be in, I could do that too. I lost and only drank about 85% of it but hey, I tried. Better luck next time. (There is video of it but I need to track it down!) Around 4:30pm,¬†we packed up the pontoon and headed back toward home. I truly loved going to the beach and seeing where they had all spent so many summers. I do not have their memories so it was different for me than it was for them to be there but I still enjoyed it all the same and was glad to be able to visit a place I had heard so much about.

Once on the boat, Scott decided to take a detour home and go “swing by” the nearby islands for a minute. Bobby once made a comment about how the lake was so deep that if you ever sank, they would never find you…. so the idea of “crossing the lake” to see the islands seemed a little risky but by that point I had a nice buzz going so I was up for it. Plus, I really did want to see the islands. What we thought were just 2 islands in the distance ended up being 3 with a few little ones. We never got off the boat but we got pretty close to one of the islands and learned it was the Huron National Wildlife Refuge. It was beautiful (how many times have I used that word now?).

The coast was so off in the distance now that I could easily understand now how someone could get turned around out there and get lost. I trusted Scott and the regulars to get us all back safely. I could see Point Abbaye so it was a nice landmark for where we were headed. Scott brought us up close to see it, too. It was a long boat ride back with the detours and towards the end, I genuinely thought my bladder might explode. The guys took turns peeing off the back of the boat but us girls suffered. When we docked back at the house after 2 hours on the boat, I RAN upstairs. I went back down to help everyone unload our things then we all relaxed for a bit. We took more shots and watched Scott and cousin Rus (who had come to visit everyone) chop wood for the fire. Little Duke, their grown-man neighbor, had brought over some cherry liquor and mixed it with redbull for us to take shots of. I volunteered to pass them out, hoping there would not be enough for me, but when I ran out, Bobby poured me one. Almost got out of it! It was actually good, though.

Eventually a few of us made our way inside to play Mexican Train, a game my family enjoys and plays frequently that I introduced to his family at his parents’ house back in Texas. We taught Jake to play and made it through a few rounds before dinner was ready around 9pm. Kevin had fired up some steaks and Joan had made twice baked potatoes. There was also salad and of course bread. Everything was delicious and because I had skipped the lunch at the beach, I was starved. The twice baked potatoes were so amazing that it is worth mentioning them again.

Depending on the weather, the patio would sometimes be a little stuffy and it had started to get a little gross so we sat outside by the fire for fresh air and to watch the sunset. Once the mosquitoes came out and it cooled off outside, we returned to the patio to finish our game of Mexican Train from earlier. Cathy had us laughing HARD with an attempted Ronald Reagan impression. It was amazing. It was a fun, low-key night filled with a lot of laughs and good times. Bobby got weirded out when I called him Bob but when everyone else in the family was calling him that, it was difficult for me to not call him that, too! We played a few rounds of Phase 10, another favorite game of everyone’s, and called it a night a little after midnight. Even when you are not on vacation, getting ready for bed is the worst part of every night but when you ARE on vacation, it sucks 10x more. But, you do it nonetheless!

 

Tuesday July 31, 2018 – Day 5

I slept SO hard and good again but for the second night in a row, had a really bad dream. All of my dreams in Michigan had been incredibly detailed and vivid which was interesting on its own but it was unfortunate they had been bad ones. I woke up around 3:30am thinking it was real and that was not a good feeling! But, it was not real and everything was fine. After my bathroom break, I fell back asleep and went straight back into the dream where it had left off. That Michigan air, y’all. I shook the bad dream off again when I finally got up around 9am. We had biscuits and gravy for breakfast and lounged around as everyone slowly got ready for the day’s adventure: Big Eric’s Bridge. But first, Jake and Kellye took the kayak out and needed to go launch it into the water at the park so we took a ride over to the park in Hal’s truck then Bobby and I walked back to the house from there. It was warm out but not in a painfully hot way like Houston. It was a nice walk and way to start the day.

We still had some time before we were leaving for Big Eric’s so I went down to the dock and did a little yoga. My body needed it and it was peaceful down there. I made it to Triangle pose (I was doing Bikram Yoga, obviously) before Bobby came down to hang out and then the two of us sat in the water on the pontoon under the canopy for a little bit. It was so nice with the water rocking us. I was so comfortable with his arm around me in the shade that I kind of dozed off for a little bit! It was one of my favorite moments of the trip so far.

It sounded like people were getting ready to go so we headed back up. Cathy was setting up a game so I helped her and then we all began packing our lunch and drinks for Big Eric’s. I made sandwiches for everyone, wrapped them, and put their name on them despite them all consisting of the same ingredients. We grabbed other snacks and got on our way around 2pm. The group consisted of Bobby, Cathy, Jake, Kellye, Scott, Emily (and Kip), and me.

I LOVED Big Eric’s bridge. Loved. The area is a campground with a river running through it but where they usually go is right where the bridge is. The whole area is covered in rocks with the water nearby and it was amazing. I loved climbing on the rocks and walking through the shallow water. It was peaceful back there, too. We walked around and then took a break to enjoy our sandwiches. I tried to hop from one rock to another, mis-judged the distance, and one foot fell into the water. The fall hurt my hand a little bit and I was bummed to have one of my new Sperry’s soaked but I guess on the bright side, it was finally broken it. The first scuff on a new shoe is the worst but once made, you do not have to be so careful anymore. Plus, the point of Sperry’s is to be able to get wet so it was fine. Cathy suggested I dip the other shoe in water so the color dried evenly which was a good idea but then I would have two wet shoes… so I did not. Looking back, I should have because yep, my two shoes are slightly different colors now.

We hung out at Big Eric’s until around 3:30pm and then went to find our next adventure. Bobby had found a waterfall, Quartzite Falls, on Instagram that he wanted to go find in real life but some of the group wanted to head home so we dropped everyone off and the two of us went off to find it on our own. Bobby had a general knowledge of where-ish we were going and we found the road we thought would lead us there. The car path was blocked so we parked, hopped the chain, and went into the woods by foot. To be fair, the chain did not have any indication of private property or warnings to not enter so it seemed legal. Bobby found us walking sticks and we hiked through tall grass, weeds, thick forest, and somehow found our way to the river (Slate River). It was really fun but I was slightly worried about poison ivy, bears, and ticks. However, we were so deep into the woods that we would not be able to do anything if something happened anyway so I might as well not worry about it and enjoy the hike.

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The path down to the river was tall and steep so we hiked along it until we found something with a slightly lower gradient. We made our way down to the water and then hiked up and down the river as far as we safely could in both directions looking for the falls. The water and views were gorgeous despite it being a little humid down there. We never found Quartzite Falls but we found what we later learned was Kukuck’s Falls and it was just as great. We thought about hiking further down the river to Slate River Falls and then down to The Finns bar but then our car would be so much farther away so we decided against it. We had to travel through water, slippery rocks, and all sorts of interesting paths in my now very-worn-in Sperry’s but Bobby led the way and helped me along and it was a really fun time for just us. I loved making our own paths, climbing trees, and just having a good ol’ adventure. The mosquitoes were out in full force but miraculously, neither of us got bit. It was a beautiful river with plenty of scenic views and we took a lot pictures. Later, we did a bit more research on the river and the various waterfalls on it so that we could be more prepared next year.

We made our way back up the river bank, through the thick woods, and down the over-grown road back to the car. We never saw any wildlife (except for what looked like an animal footprint at one point) and with the exception of a few scrapes on our legs, made it out tick-free in one piece. It was a great hike and a fun afternoon exploring together. I love that we can be adventurous together and how he could encourage me despite my apprehensiveness. Teamwork.

Our next stop was back to Witz Marina to get souvenirs. Bobby got a long-sleeve shirt for the cooler weather coming in, I got a hat, and he bought his niece and nephew a little something each. I loved that he thought of them and wanted to get them something! So sweet.

Before the trip, Cathy had suggested that everyone pick a night to make dinner so that no one person or set of people were always responsible for it. That never¬†officially¬†panned out but I took it to heart and Bobby and I came prepared to make chicken enchiladas for everyone (like, I brought enchilada sauce from home with us on the drive). It was our night to cook so we headed home, rinsed off, got a drink, and started on dinner. Joan made 2 trays of wet burritos and we made 2 trays of chicken enchiladas and a gigantic bowl of guacamole. Nancy made a delicious Mexican salad and corn on the cob. We had PLENTY to eat! Everyone complimented the enchiladas which made me feel good. It was a little nerve-wracking to cook for my boyfriend’s whole family but it turned out well. Nancy had done the hard part though: she cooked and shredded the chicken for us while we were out for the afternoon which was VERY kind of her! It made our part pretty simple.¬†Kellye was vegetarian so I made her separate tofu enchiladas (I had never cooked with tofu before) and she said I did a good job. There were more than enough leftovers at the end of the night.

We all relaxed for a bit and then decided to take a booze cruise to visit the Sunken Docks around 8:45pm. Basically, there used to be a massive dock in the bay that sank many years ago and you can still see the thousands of pieces of wood pillars/slats/cribs under the water. Bobby had described it as “super creepy” so I did not know what to expect. I guess I was imagining a smaller dock but when we reached the area after a short boat ride, it was clear that I was so wrong. Those pieces of lumber were massive. The water was so clear and you could see deep into and the wood just kept going. They looked like sunken Lincoln Logs. It was farther off of the coast than I imagined, too. We had a lot of discussion about what the docks used to be for and how they sank but no one really had an answer. I did my best to Google search some history on it and thought it might be called Ore Docks. Bobby piggy-backed off my research and now we think it was more-likely called Bush-Been Sawmill¬†but we could not find more than just a picture. Neither article, however, explains how the entire dock just sunk to the bottom of the bay which is the one thing I am most curious about. Either way, it was very cool to see and yes, it was super creepy. We were gifted with the most beautiful sunset for our cruise, too!