Friday, August 11, 2017

In My Mind I'm Going to (North) Carolina

I kicked off the summer on June 2, 2017 with a road trip! Destination C on my Google Maps App was to the #stokedtobeastoney wedding in Hendersonville, NC. Destination A was Savannah, GA and Destination B was Tybee Island, GA. My fellow mom friend and co-worker, M-Squared (that's her rapper name), joined me for this 4-day venture!

This is M-Squared, Crista and myself. Crista's daughter was the beautiful woman getting married. #stokedtobeastoney
Friday - We set out early on National Donut Day 2017 and headed up I-75N to I-95N towards Savannah, GA. Our first stop was at a Florida Citrus Center in Ocala. We had to see what all the hype (giant billboards) was about. I'm here to expose the truth about this souvenir shop on steroids! There is a giant 13-foot alligator but it is not breathing, it's stuffed! They never say LIVE gator so I'll let you decide if you want to patron a place that boasts of giant beasts... that are actually dead! It wasn't a completely worthless stop, especially if you were wanting to purchase the crucifix in a coconut shell, bags of shelled pecans, magnets, turtles and cheap mugs!


I am a TripAdvisor reviewer and categorized this next spontaneous roadside spot as a hidden gem. Tom's Cypress has been in Waldo, FL for 40 years. UF alum, Woodhawk, carves unique cypress sculptures (mostly fish and animals). I bought an angel fish in honor of my grandpa who cared for them in his fishtanks. I won't tell you about our first horrific and haunting Airbnb experience, but I will say this, "live and learn" came to mind. Ask me about it if you are a newbie Airbnber.


Walked around Forsyth Park in Savannah and ate at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. I place this in the "MUST DO" category. Table seats 9 strangers and the food is excellent, family-style, down home Southern cooking'. The value and deliciousness is a combination that is hard to find, anywhere! It was well worth the toasty wait outside to experience what we were about to devour on the inside.


Dessert not pictured above, but was included.
Checked in at the Historic Holiday Inn, explored the City Market (I recommend a quaint little shop named Twinkle), saw a lot of historic monuments (M-Squared was a little obsessed with them), walked the Riverwalk (fireworks at 9:30 pm) and topped off the night at Corleone's Trattoria, a fantastic little Italian ristorante!




Saturday - This is the day that I first learned that there are combined Animal/People Vet Clinics. It's true! Think you have pink eye? Tybee Island in GA can help you, whether you have 2 or 4 legs. However, I suggest that you do as M-Squared did and go to a human only clinic. We did the tour of the Tybee Lighthouse and Museum. We walked the pier where a scene from The Last Song movie was filmed and learned of 4 other epic movies filmed at TI: The Spongebob Movie, The Conspirator, Dirty Grandpa and Baywatch.



After we felt we had adequately explored the island and M-Squared had tried boiled peanuts we journeyed toward Hendersonville, NC where we checked into our Airbnb. This time we were pleasantly satisfied with our home away from home and got ready to go to see our friends at the after (rehearsal) party at Habitat Brewing Tavern and Commons. From there we went to Mellow Mushroom in Asheville. Saw the filming of a new show from the makers of Bumble Bee, the Police Car and the DeLorean. It was neat (and really loud) to see the Transformers vehicles parked in front of the outdoor eating area where we sat.


Sunday - Stopped for some caffeine at Appalachian Coffee Company and enjoyed the local feel to the little coffee shop. We drove to Dupont State Forest and hiked Hooker and Triple Falls what a beautiful way to praise God for his amazing creation on a Sunday morning!



Found a place to eat lunch called HenDough Chicken & Donuts in Hendersonville. Good eats! Explored the downtown area, saw many painted bear statues and discovered Mast General Store (because of rain) for the first time. 5 stars for Mast! Got ready for the wedding and drove to Jeter Mountain Farm in Hendersonville. The venue was so stunningly magnificent I cannot begin to do it justice with words. Such a superb evening spent with the finest of people. #stokedtobeastoney


Jeter Mountain Farm in Hendersonville, NC.

Monday - Ordered a sweet and savory bagel at Joeys New York Bagels and loved every bite. Began our descent home with a quick stop in Spartanburg, SC at Glendale Shoals, a remote and scenic bridge and damn. M-Squared comparison-tasted Zaxby's vs. Chick-fil-a. We stopped at an Ingles Market and saw lots of cotton ball products for sale in SC. Nothing more to document about the long ride home, except that we arrived alive (through the rainstorms) and had an exciting time celebrating the marriage of two wonderful people who love the Lord and each other!

Glendale Shoals Damn in Spartanburg, SC.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Traveling a Triangle: 3 States in 3 Days

Traveling a Triangle: 3 States in 3 Days 
April, 2017

One of my bucket list goals is to visit all of the 50 United States by the time I am 50-years-old. When a woman’s biological travel clock is ticking, she must plan and go. I recently planned a quick four-day jaunt to Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota with my 16-year-old daughter.  This journey marked the beginning of my travel goals. Being Florida natives we had no idea what to expect on this adventure except for what I researched via the inter web. We jet-set from Florida to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Round trip Allegiant flights were cheap and flight days worked out perfectly for Thursday and Sunday.

Obama once visited Lost Nation, Iowa.

Maquoketa Caves

Our first adventure destination was the Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa. Driving through a Lost Nation on the way to Maquoketa (pronounced Ma-Coke-A-Da) is exactly as boring as it sounds. Don’t count on using a map app. Print directions or ask a rental car agency for a map before traversing the barren land of no cell towers. However, there was an almost mystical American beauty about the back winding country roads. We drove past endless dormant corn fields and both newly constructed and dilapidated red barns, many of which were garnished by the high flying, grand old flag. As for the caves, it’s a definite go to and must see, nothing boring about it. It's free and the natural beauty affords a peaceful calm that is priceless and majestic. Pictures can’t possibly do it justice. You need to see and feel the damp ground as you walk in semi-darkness to get to the end of the cave that is flooded with light through a large opening in the mouth of the cave.

Iowa = corn fields and barns.

Our next adventure stop was The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin. At first, no words for this place. And then, lots of words for this place came to mind. Alex Jordan built it in 1945 and kept expanding to build what is now an enormous resort, inn, golf course and tourist attraction. There is a fee to walk the separate phases of the home. We paid for all three levels and got our monies worth. I confess that when we got to the last level we practically ran through it because we were so ready to get out of crazy town. If you're looking to laugh a lot, take some obscure pictures and make some memories, I suggest spending two or three hours here. I can't even begin to describe in words how ornately eccentric this place was but here are a few examples: Mr. Jordan designed musical instruments that automatically self-play. Not just a little banjo that picks itself but huge displays as large as a mammoth pipe organ type structure. We then walked onto an infinity (and beyond) walkway that extends out beyond the supporting rock underneath it. It gives the illusion that it goes on forever. If you're not careful it will give you a Buzz. Ha! There are collections of everything you can imagine; from guns to creepy clowns to colored glass bottles. The two largest and coolest attractions are the world's largest carousel valued at almost 5M dollars and a giant life-size indoor whale. It's remarkable, surreal and overwhelming. Go experience it and get freaked out!


To Infinity and Beyond!


Very cool life size whale built indoors.

Only one horse on the entire carousel.

The House on the Rock Weirdness

On the drive from crazy town to Madison, Wisconsin we discovered Arena Cheese Store in Arena, WI. Turns out the owner of this shop was also the inventor of Colby-Jack Longhorn cheese! We nibbled on some squeaky fresh cheese curds and kept driving until we happened upon The Shoe Box in Black Earth, WI. This was worth an hour of our time. The store was full of friendly staff, a vast selection and good deals. 
One the side of the road find.
Wisconsin's finest cheese.
That night we stayed across from the Alliant Energy Center in Madison and spontaneously decided to see what all the commotion was about in the parking lot. Turns out it was an I Love the 90's concert tour, so we decided to buy a couple of tickets and were in our seats within 10 minutes. I haven't had that much fun reliving the old days, with my teenage daughter at my side, as I did that night. She said it was weird at first and then it gave her a new appreciation for 90's music. The next morning we headed to the Madison Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square. Lots of food trucks, crafts and farmer's produce for sale. The festivities brought an early morning energy and the market truly extended all around the entire Capitol. It was a bit crowded but a typical downtown area. 


Salt N Pepa, Tone Loc, Young MC, Color Me Badd, Coolio, Rob Base, All 4 One

Capitol Building in Wisconsin

The final phase of the trip was destination Minneapolis, Minnesota - Mall of America! Our hotel was about a 10 minute drive away. We ate in the mall at Cadillac Ranch and traversed three floors of mall for three hours. Neither of us are big shoppers and we weren't inclined to ride the roller coasters but we did want to see it all. Once we found out there is no tax on clothes we were spurred on to spend. We really had a blast people watching and were mesmerized by the enormity of it all. 



Mall of America Shopping Extravaganza

Before driving back to Cedar Rapids airport the next morning we attended Eagle Brook Church in Woodbury, MI. We enjoyed our time worshipping at this large church on Easter and found the message to be on point. The route back to the airport in Iowa was less than desirable. We were left without cell service several times and at one point our map app led us down a dirt road? Stress! I should have researched the drive from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids better but we made it in plenty of time and didn't run into any snafus. 

Overall, traveling the triangle was more fun than we could of imagined. #IowatoWisconsintoMinnesota #50by50

Friday, June 9, 2017

50 by 50!

My goal is to visit all of the 50 United States by the time I am 50-years-old. This means I have a little over 5 years left to tackle this bucket list item. I’ve traveled to Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Dominican Republic, Honduras, the Bahamas, Canada, Africa, and 28 of the states in America, including Hawaii. 

22 states to conquer as of June, 2017.

I call “The Sunshine City,” of St. Petersburg, Florida, (Tampa Bay area) home. For the past eight years I've lived in this vibrant city with my sweet family. This 44-year-old mom has worked in an office for schools, businesses, and newspapers, writing copy and creating graphic designs. I’ve written one book (and currently working on a second) that has been for sale on Amazon for over four years. I have my B.A. degree in Communications (print journalism)  from Wichita State University.  I grew up in Dunedin, Florida and have lived in the mid-west (Missouri and Kansas) and Florida all of my life. 

Traveling, adventure-seeking, writing and being a foodie (clean eating and dirty eating) are all literally in my DNA.  My great grandmother to the sixth power journaled and traveled the wild west in the 1800s. After exploring many foreign lands, I have learned how to plan many quality vacations and staycations for our family of four on the cheap.

I am an administrative assistant trapped in a travel writers body. I will be an empty nester in a year so I feel the need to begin my  part-time freelance travel writing career now. I aspire to be a travel writer. If you have any tips, advice or connections regarding the travel industry I'd love to hear from you.