recommend.

MUSIC

Backstreet Boys’ Station – Pandora

I’m a real fangirl for the Backstreet Boys. I love their music, I follow three of them on Instagram, Husband and I went to their concert a couple years back (just them – none of this NKOTBSB nonsense). Whenever I’m in the mood for them, I turn on this Pandora station. It’s a good blend of their new/old, plus other favorites of the same vein — Nsync, Jesse McCartney, BBMAK, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera. I can’t wait for the new album, and it until that drops this does me just fine.

BOOK

Breakfast with Tiffany by Ed Wintle

I read this book a million years ago when it first came out in 2006. It was my first book written by an author I knew was gay, and I loved it. I still do and actually bought it at Goodwill a few months ago and reread it recently. The storyline is hard yet uplifting, and it’s amazing to watch the loving yet tumultous relationship between uncle and niece. Love love love, completely recommend.

CLOTHES

BLANQI for Target

I stumbled onto BLANQI’s website a few months ago and bookmarked it as a someday purchase and moved on. It’s a small company that makes maternity and nursing tanks for outrageous prices ($70). I realized recently that one of the bloggers I followed was actually a sister of the company’s co-founder, because she was excitedly promoting that the postpartum tanks were coming to Target for a reasonable $35. These tanks are amazing — they scoop under bras so there’s not as much maneuvering up top when nursing, they’re long and don’t ride up, and they have supports around the mid section to smooth post baby bodies and support backs. I snagged one for my sister as a birthday present and can’t wait for her to use it. I want one and I’m not even pregnant! My bloggers say their slimming powers are as good as any gurdle!

stepping off the scale (mfp)

I’ve done a lot of rearranging lately with this weight loss journey.

For one, I’ve scaled back on My Fitness Pal. I started a couple weeks ago and it’s going … okay. I’m trying to take what I learned about portion control and how many calories things are, and go forth on my own. I intended it to be a trial run while we went to Nashville, since I knew we’d be eating out a lot and counting calories would be difficult. But then I did pretty good in Nashville — I tried to eat a lot of salads and sandwiches, and eat only when I felt hungry. It was good, but we also drank, so I knew that wasn’t so good either.

Now I only check in with it when I need a reminder of how many calories I’ve eaten so far or how many calories an item is. I’ve done good enough so far, I’m staying in the 130’s, but there have been a couple days where I’ve overeaten. I know already while I’m doing it that it’s bad, and I feel physically sick afterwards because I overate and it upset my stomach. I’m doing it for two reasons. One, because I’m for whatever reason feeling bored in the evenings, and two, because I’m really hungry when I get home and start snacking before dinner. I resolved that I’m going to start planning my time after work and dinner better so I stop the snacking.

The two weeks before Nashville I spent a few days each week heading out after work and doing a sort of walk/jog exercise. But … last week I got lazy catching up on homework and laundry, and then yesterday/today I got out of work late and it was raining by the time I got home. I enjoyed the exercise, though, and it got me energized for better eating, so I want to start it up again.

Finally, I’ve been diligently working to stop weighing myself. I think this whole weight loss journey has been great, but I think it’s also completely messed with my mental health. I was rummaging through clean(er) clothes after Nashville, threw a shirt on, and left. A couple hours later I looked down and realized the shirt I was wearing so well was a shirt I hadn’t been able to wear in a couple years because my chest/stomach left it too short. I am skinnier, I am healthier. And I was feeling so good that I stepped on the scale the next morning and my good feeling plummeted. I am still fat. So I’m … leaving the scale alone until I can help myself understand that mid 130’s is FINE. GOOD. GREAT, EVEN.

spontaneously planned (nashville)

This past weekend Husband and I packed up and headed to Nashville, TN. It was not a long trip by any stretch (drive down Saturday, drive back up Tuesday). But it was something that we were both looking forward to, because we hadn’t been on a vacation in over a year. I especially knew that I was going to love this getaway after an overnight in Ohio back in March felt luxurious.

Since we’ve been head over heels for Montana, our trip to Nashville had come without much planning on our part. Husband had been there before, so he knew a few sights we might want to check out.

Before we get started, can I please once again expound on the virtues of booking with Priceline? We spent $65/night for a $200/night room with a KING sized bed. OMG, YES. We both slept for a knocked out, uninterrupted 9-10 hours every night.

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Saturday night we grabbed some amazing BBQ at Rippy’s, watched part of the Hawks game, wandered around downtown, and then finished off the night with drinks and UFC at a college bar. It was a great combo of seeing the downtown area, going somewhere a little touristy, yet also experiencing local flavor. And while I appreciate everyone trying to make it big, can I just say that it was quite uncomfortable to have someone shaking an empty beer bucket at you, trying to get tips, while you’re eating? I mean seriously. If you’re good, I will go up and tip you, please don’t beg.

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There’s something cheesy, and yet appropriate about all these lighted signs downtown. I could feel the touristy schtick, and yet it was okay, it was fun. We went to Broadway Saturday and Sunday night, and whoa. Completely different experiences. One night was crazy and lots of groups and bachelorette parties, and the other night Honky Tonk Central closed the top floor early because of the lacking crowd.

Sunday night we didn’t do dinner because of a late lunch, but we did get an appetizer and drinks at Bosco’s. Then we went over to HTC for more drinks and the Spurs/Heat game. I think we watched more sports and drank more this past weekend than we ever have as a couple. When in Rome, I suppose?2013-06-17_1371429568

About 45 minutes after this picture at Bosco’s, I was standing next to a gutter drain staring down at our car keys while Husband went back to the restaurant for help. Oh yes, there was panicking and trying to not panic and dialing 311 only to find they don’t rescue people on Sundays. Thanks to the restaurant manager and a passing jogger (who’d just moved from Schaumburg!), we retrieved the keys in under fifteen minutes. Oh, and Husband isn’t allowed to hold anything of importance ever again. Remember how he dropped the camera in the lake at Disney World? Yeah. NEVER AGAIN.

Our daytime activities were a bit scattered. We planned our Sunday activities during breakfast that morning. Oh, it’s supposed to rain on Monday? Oh, the horse back riding is actually a trail and you have to supply the horses? (I still haven’t learned that when Husband wants to do something, I need to verify that it’s actually the real deal.) The zoo and Belle Meade plantation in one day it is!

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This is our third time feeding lorakeets, mainly because it’s cheap and it never gets old having a bird alight on you to eat out of your hand. Even if he does starting nipping your fingers because all the nectar’s gone. The Nashville Zoo was nice, if sparse on animals and long on walking. We got to pet armadillos, see a birds of prey show, and their meerkat exhibit was top notch. I love meerkats, and I always appreciate when a zoo gives them exactly what they need (plenty of space and freedom to dig their homes).

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The Belle Meade plantation was beautiful. It’s worth the money to get the tour inside the house, otherwise you can only wander around the property and while there are ‘exhibits’, it’s not as much fun. I found the reviews of the place funny, because so many people complained that there was too much family history in the tour. Ummmm … that’s why you’re there! To hear the story of the family that lived on the plantation and the horses they bred! I really liked it.

Monday we woke up to a cloudy, humid day where we … had no plan of what to do. We didn’t want to go to the  Opry or Hall of Fame because they were both really expensive, and since it was supposed to storm we didn’t want to go to the Parthenon. So we stared at each other for a few minutes, and then I looked up the Tennessee website. I found an aquarium in Chattanooga two hours away. It was a really big drive, and I was afraid Husband was going to veto it because we had to drive home the next day. But happily, he agreed to it (mostly because we didn’t really have a lot of options).

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The scenery was beautiful on our THREE HOUR DRIVE. Yeah, apparently people in Tennessee freak out super bad at everything and drive with a lot of caution on the highway. We got stopped in traffic because there was an accident clear on the other side of the highway, and then about a half hour from Chattanooga everyone decided they needed to slow down to 20 mph at every turn. But finally, we got there!

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These are really blurry photos of a very awesome penguin exhibit. They had a variety of penguins, and they had the glass set up so you could go ‘eye to eye’ with the penguins as they swam around. TN Aquarium also had a multilevel tank with mucho SHARKS, a butterfly exhibit, and opportunities to pet sting rays and sturgeon. The aquarium is actually two buildings, so you go into one for all the ocean and exotic animals, and another for river animals. The river part sounded boring, but actually had a lot of giant, unique fish as well as an ability to see both sides of the tanks. I wish I had taken a picture of the set up because it was very cool.

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Even though I love the Shedd Aquarium (beluga whales FTW!), I really loved this aquarium as well. They had a great selection of animals, the layout was good and easy to follow, and they had a high number of interactive displays. My only negative takeaway was at the stingray tank; they were not educating people on how to best pet the stingrays. Stingrays, like all animals, can get nervous by sudden splashes of water and the random appearance of things in the water. Unlike the rays at the Brookfield Zoo, who love to be petted because they are used to it and people are taught are to do it right, I felt like the rays at TN Aquarium didn’t want to be petted because there were so many kids splashing and plunging their hands in the water. The worker overseeing the tank actually said The stingrays don’t really want you to pet them. Then WHY do you have this exhibit? So there was that, but overall I would definitely go back again.

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After the aquarium, we were kind of at a loss of what to do. The trip up so long that we didn’t want to go back after just a couple hours, and downtown Chattanooga has the aquarium and not much else. Luckily we found a bike share, and so we rented a couple bikes and pedaled around downtown, including their pedestrian bridge, and just took in the amazing scenery surrounding this town. I wish I had taken a picture on the bridge, but at the time I was like, ‘I’m in the moment! No pictures!’ so … yeah. Ha. But it was really great to get that exercise in, even HILLS! Oh, hills. I don’t think I’ve gone up a hill on a bike in so long.

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Our last night in the hotel, we talked about the ride home. It was going to be a rough ride home — almost seven and a half hours in the car is no picnic, especially after spending five hours in the car the day before. I knew I had seen a couple zoos on the way down on Saturday, and so I looked them both up to see their value. One was mostly about Australian animals and looked more like a tourist trap than a zoo. The other was Louisville Zoo. We agreed that since it’s on the border of Kentucky and Indiana, it was serve as a good ‘rest stop’ for our drive home. And so we went.

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It was probably one of the best zoos I have ever been to. They had amazing, large exhibits for the animals to roam through. Their bear exhibit rivals Great Bear Wilderness, but a lot of their other attractions (train, lorakeet and giraffe feeding) were either closed or only once a day, which was weird. They did have a super nice splash park in the zoo, though, that was free with admission. It was pretty fancy and had a lot of spouting sprinklers and such. We spent about three hours there and it was the perfect exercise break for long driving day.

Even though our trip was short, we had a really great time. I’m extremely lucky to have Husband, someone who will take an unexpected adventure, even if it means an extra drive or an unplanned detour. He is always willing (after a few questions are answered).

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exploring the city.

When we were dating, Husband and I used to do things off the seat of our pants — book a hotel night stay in Indianapolis, drive two hours to a cow farm, end up in a casino in Milwaukee. Since being married and having actual monetary responsibilities, these adventures have scaled down some what. But today, we had an awesome adventure.

Then the other day Husband and I were talking about doing something for the weekend that wasn’t the zoo. I remembered there was a map in the movie The Lake House of Chicago, and had always wondered if it was real. I brought up the scene for Husband. I thought he was just going to brush me off until he leaned in, pointed to a number on the map and said, ‘I know where that is.’

THEY WERE ACTUAL PLACES?!

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Friday night Husband diligently used his knowledge of the city, Google maps, and a lone screen shot to turn plot points into addresses. The movie only shows about seventeen of the twenty-one points on the map, but that was more than enough for us. Saturday morning, I packed a bag, we grabbed the list, and headed out.

Although I bombarded my Instagram followers with twenty pictures in one day, I’ll keep it down to my favorites here.

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City Hall was our first stop and completely beautiful, outside and inside. Well, what we saw of the inside before a security guard told us to GTFO.

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The Rookery building was beautiful and has been around since the 1800s. It’s so crazy to see this beautiful architecture, such ornate detailing in the stone, and now it houses a Potbelly. Seems kind of like a waste sometimes, to me.

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On our way to a building, we stumbled upon a movie set! There weren’t too many actor type people around, so I think they were still setting up scenes and getting filler shots. Husband talked to the gopher directing people away from the set, and he said they’re filming a movie called ‘Caper’. After some research online, I realized he said Catbird — one of the working titles for the Divergent movie!! EEP!

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We took the red line twice, the brown line twice, and the foster bus once. Husband was so excited to carry this map we grabbed from a Walgreen’s. He regularly checked it and was so proud to figure out what we’d take to get to the Harold Washington Library. I don’t think he ever let it out of his hands! When we stopped at Chick Fil A at the end of the day, he spread it out on the table and didn’t want to move it so we could eat!

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Nine stories of books? I’m in! Harold Washington Library is a beautiful building on the inside, and seeing all these rows of books caught my breath a little. Our unexpected adventure in the library was when we were on the seventh floor, hanging out near the escalator talking about whether we’d go up to the top, when Husband dropped the list of places and we watched it float serenely down somewhere to a lower level. After splitting up and racing up and down escalators, we finally found it on the landing at level three. Whew! Considering we were only halfway through the day, finding it was a lucky break.

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Pretty much how both of us looked all day, staring up in wonder at buildings in the city we love. I forget sometimes how lucky, lucky we are to live here. This is the Chicago Riverwalk, where we saw so many water taxis and boat tours pass by. Did you know that a Chicago Architectural Boat Tour is $40/person? The entire day for us cost $35. I think we got a better deal!

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Because it was June and a Saturday, I shouldn’t be surprised that we saw six bridal parties getting pictures throughout downtown, but I was! I loved every wedding dress I saw, but I loved watching photographers sprawled on the ground taking pictures even more.

 

So that was our Saturday. Right now I’m tired and juuusssttt starting to get my appetite back after my delicious meal from Chick Fil A. Husband is on a bike ride, celebrating the fact that he sold some bike parts and is only $150 away from new hearing aids!

recommend.

TV

Game of Thrones

Oh, hey. Yeah, I am super, super late to this party, but I actually found a (free) way to watch it online thanks to Husband’s  friend at work. I’m only half way through season two, but I really like it. Although I can only watch two or three episodes at a time, otherwise too much gore creeps me out and makes me nauseous.

BOOK

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek

This book was such a good writing study, and I loved it. The story was interesting and the characters good, but the writing was just the kind that you read and think, ‘I want to write like this. How can I do that?’ and commence rereading everything to figure out the secrets.

FOOD

Renee’s Special at The Cheesecake Factory

I never go to The Cheesecake Factory. The name alone makes me feel stuffed and like I’ve gained five pounds. But last Saturday we were having a mother/daughter day and we all went there. I found on the menu this delicious lunch special of a chicken salad sandwich, a cup of soup and small salad (I got Caesar). It was delicious, even though I only ended up eating the soup and a few bites of the sandwich and salad. But — leftovers!! (Which I left at my mom’s and she got to enjoy. Womp womp.)

big sky, big dreams – budget

I haven’t talked about Montana in awhile, and with good reason — it’s still two and a half years away. Now that may sound like forever away, but when booking a hotel seems to be a year in advance kind of deal, it makes you sit up and take notice now.

Husband and I have decided that we’ll be spending eight days on this vacation, with two of those days set aside for traveling there and back home. I was flipping back and forth between eight or nine days, but I recently decided I don’t really want to spend too many vacation days, and I also want to plan it so we come home on a Saturday. That will give us a buffer day to either relax and enjoy being home, or to use for more traveling if our plans take a different turn.

The other Saturday I was knocking around on the Internet, and I decided to start planning out our budget. The following is a result of that research. I used a nine day vacation in my calculations, since I was still undecided at that point. There were certain things that I tried to overbudget because I’d rather have more money at our disposal than less, obviously.

Hotel

As I mentioned in my last post, MT Tourism suggested that we plan on staying in two cities during our visit. I chose Bozeman and Billings because they were the cities with the closest attractions. However, I think we might end up booking a third place for our day trip to Yellowstone. But since I wasn’t sure, I just looked up hotels in Bozeman and Billings. I started off looking into staying at a ranch, or rent a cabin or something. However, it was quickly obvious that staying at a ranch really meant living, working, and spending the whole time there, and the cabins/condos for rent were far out of our price range. Luckily, there are a lot of nice hotels (Holiday, Fairfield, Best Western) in both locations.

Even though I used the hotel websites to price our hotel stay, I know we’ll end up using Priceline as we always do. Priceline cuts a hotel night stay by $40 for us on average. Anyway, the average night stay in Bozeman/Billings was $130. This was for a room with a king bed. Our total for the trip would be around $1,100. I’m hoping that Priceline will get us a room for $80/night, but we’ll have to wait and see! (I know, we are really cheap and try to cut these hotel prices down!)

Food

I knew how to estimate this, because I had to plan out our food money for Disney World. Back then I didn’t eat breakfast, and now I only eat a protein bar, so I knew that we didn’t need a lot for breakfast, but lunch and dinner might be pricey depending on where we were each day. A couple of the hotels I looked up also offered free continental breakfast. Husband is a hungry hungry hippo, so that was also on my mind. I decided that I was once again going to estimate so much for each meal, and then we could always roll money over. I budgeted $15 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, and $50 for dinner. I did this even for the days we were traveling. I came up with $770 for the whole trip.

Attractions

I don’t know if it’s because everything takes so long to get to or what, but I found all our attractions reasonably priced. I guess coming from a city where the aquarium is $30/person really makes you jaded! Anyway, the attractions we’re looking into:

Little BigHorn Memorial ($10 for both) — The pictures on the tourism website make this place look amazing, and I’d really like to get some history and education in our trip.

Yellowstone Park ($50/car) — I am excited and terrified for this visit. I think I’ve watched every video they offer about park safety and animal dangers, even though time constraints mean we’ll be in the car the whole time. Although there was that video about the moose that charged people in the parking lot … Our big things are seeing the bison (of course!!) and Husband REALLY wants to see Old Faithful. I keep waffling about buying ‘bear spray’, but sites tell me it’s a waste of money. I don’t know. EXCITED!! Terrified. And so on.

Museum of Rockies ($28 for both) — Dinosaur bones! Everywhere! Yay!

Lewis and Clark Caverns ($20 for both) — I haven’t been to any sort of a cave since I was a kid and my parents took us to Carlsbad Caverns. I’m excited to see what this is like, and the price is sweet. Although the price is so low I really hope it’s actually interesting, but again, that’s me being big city prices cynical.

ZooMontana ($14 for both) — The whole state is a zoo, and I can’t remember but I don’t think they have any animals that aren’t native to Montana. But it’s a ZOO so of course.

Moss Mansion ($10 for both) — We chose this because we went to a mansion in Toronto and it was actually very interesting and historically relevant! I’m sad to say that until that visit I didn’t know Canada actually got involved in WWII. (Hey, I haven’t taken a history class since my junior year of HIGH SCHOOL.)

Bitter Creek Rides ($120 for both) — This is a horse back ride through Montana near Billings. I put it on the list because Husband is constantly begging me to go horse back riding. But seriously people, horses are BIG. And an UNPREDICTABLE, WILD ANIMAL. I just get freaked thinking about trying to mount one. However, riding through Montana would probably be an amazing experience. So we’re going to test ride a horse ride in Nashville, and if it goes good with me, and then we’re going to do this.

Gas

This was probably the hardest to estimate because we don’t have the car we’ll be driving to Montana and God knows if we’ll be paying $4 or $14 a gallon in two years. So I used a couple gas calculators and averaged the prices out. I used the Ford Focus 2000 as the car. I plugged in home to Billings, and Bozeman to home, plus Billings to Bozeman and then estimated a generic travel price based on those results. In the end I came up with $600 for gas. I thought that number was low, but I’m going to work with it and I’m thinking any leftover hotel money can cover gas.

Souvenirs/Travel Necessities

First of all, the word souvenirs sucks and it took me a billion tries to figure out how it’s spelled. Ugh. Anyway, Husband hates buying souvenirs on trips because it means spending money and shopping, his two most hates activities. But I set aside a bunch of money for everyone (and myself, of course) and came up with $320. For travel necessities I really mean my panic box for the car. I am terrified that we’re going to get stranded somewhere and die. So I want to pack a box for the car with a flashlight, first aid kit, and blankets. (No, no food, because BEARS.) We’re also going to buy hiking boots and bug repellent. In total it’s $217 (boots are expensive, man).

The Grand Total

It all comes down to $3,100. Which is a shit ton of money. But you know what? I already know it’s going to be worth it. Because the other day we were in the car with the windows down and I was thinking about driving in Montana with the windows down and I almost started crying. Also it will be my first week long vacation from work in four years. Also these quotes:

 

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gif from tumblr and image from aklet10.