Montreal 2014 – Modulation!

So before I jump into perhaps the most EPIC trip of all time, let me first clearly define for you all the meaning of “Modulation”.  This intriguing word hand crafted and delivered to my vocabulary repertoire was gifted from my friend Rio (a real G).  Now that I have given my props, let me explain.

Modulation – the act of moving from place to place with immense, almost intoxicating swag, in which you literally have life by the balls.  

Months ago, I was contacted by my college buddy Mike Berglund about taking about booking a trip to Montreal over the upcoming 4th of July holiday. Mike and I had reconnected over the last year when I had transitioned to the same employer, Target. We had swapped travel stories over the last several months and both thought it would be cool to travel together and do some exploring. His proposal couldn’t have come at a better time. I had very recently been blindsided with a tough reality check and was really in need of an escape. I quickly acted on my gut and asked that he book our flights and within the hour it was finalized.

Over the next several months Mike and I had exchanged several ideas about the sights and experiences that we wanted to actualize during our 5 day trip. It was to be a fair mixture of Old Montreal including the best of Old Port and also the downtown area including Saint Lauraunt and the party district. The trip was fast approaching and we had one last happy hour at the Roasted Pair in BP to nail down our logistics and travel arrangements. In the back of our minds, I am sure we both were wondering what it was going to be like traveling together, but knowing Mike’s personality and style, I knew we would have a very memorable trip. I had no idea what I had really signed up for. The trip that ensued was to be epic!

Let the modulation begin…

Day 1

After a long evening of preparation for the trip, I had successfully packed everything needed. Just before we left the house to go pick up Mike, he text me stating that he couldn’t fit his suit. I told him to man up as we would need to be looking our best and he was so glad that he did, lol.

Kindly my wife drove us early to the airport and with plenty of time, stress was removed from our travel equation. We sat and had a bloodymary and some lunch before our flight. We were officially on vacation and after one last work email, I was officially OOO! We boarded our flight and only a couple hour flight we were in Canada! Getting through customs was a pretty smooth transaction, at least after being grilled with questions by the official.

Let’s modulate! Our next step was to go checkout our suite for the weekend at Le Place d’Armes in Old Montreal. By this time the looks were just rolling in everywhere from all the French-Canadian women, lol and we were only trying to catch a cab. Mike was like, let the games begin.

Upon arrival, we scoped out our pad and both were really pleasantly surprised with how huge the terrace was! Additionally, we were on the top floor and the view was awesome! The bathroom was sweet and came with a vintage style tub moderinized with jets and a separate glassed-in shower, super nice! Quickly we moved in and hung up our suits and were out the door in search of dinner in Old Port. Conveniently the hotel was located only a few blocks from everything, so it was easy for us to enjoy some sight seeing before agree to catch dinner at Pizzadelic.

Taking in some of the new sites that would be our temporary home. Love the cobble stone streets in Old Port, the city truly has a rich history and a significant french influence.  Simply beautiful!

Taking in some of the new sites that would be our temporary home. Love the cobble stone streets in Old Port, the city truly has a rich history and a significant french influence. Simply beautiful!

After sitting at the bar and getting hit on by a middle aged “dance mom”, we were eventually sat on the outside patio. This place seriously served the best tasting pizza and tap beer of my life. It was my first opportunity to see the cobble stone streets and the rich culture of the area. It is something that can only come with age, and Montreal was saturated with history and the beauty was baked into Old Port in a very organic way.

Every night we planned on stepping out, yes even on a Wednesday! So we headed to the suite and got our swag on and modulated to a couple Irish bars that we read about. After they fell short of our expectations we bailed and tried elsewhere. In the beginning we struggled to find a really hoppin spot to get turned-up, but when in doubt you just have to follow the music. Finally after a few taxi rides and some street modulation, we landed a gem, Apartment 200!

The music was on point which made dancing awesome! Mikey B has moves, who woulda thought, hahaha what a pimp! The time flew by and we tore through drink after drink blowing cash on vacation makes you feel like your dealing in Monopoly money, the drained us but we didn’t care it was so worth it. This place was packed with Montreal’s college student population and everyone was super cool, girls and guys… We got so much attention it was stupid! So as the bar closed, my buzz finally kicked in and we somehow got back to the room… To be continued tomorrow!

Day 2

I woke a little groggy but not hungover, surprisingly. Through some street clothes on and dipped out to catch my morning fix. So glad I spotted a Starbucks only a couple short blocks away, sweet! When I returned my boy was ‘Gliding’ a whole new social media inspired video messaging platform. Lol, it became a funny way to document little glimpses of our trip; through it, we may have made his friends a bit jelly of our adventures!

After we got ready, it was time to hit the streets. Super glad that he was open minded about hoofing it. So by the order of proximity we started with the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal which is less than a block from our hotel.  When fetching my cup of joe, I saw that square in front of it was already packed with visitors (not even 10am), so we had to check it out.  At only $5 entrance fee, this was a steal and the sights were amazing. Here are just a few of the amazing photos that we took.

This was so worth our time and the reasonable entrance fee... just don't try to bring in your Starbucks, lol. The detailed architecture and stained glass was incredible. This deserved a moment of silence as we stood there in awe.

This was so worth our time and the reasonable entrance fee… just don’t try to bring in your Starbucks, lol. The detailed architecture and stained glass was incredible. This deserved a moment of silence as we stood there in awe.

Here is a bigger shot at the main attractions in Notre-Dame.  I cannot believe the time and energy that must have been spent bringing these backdrops to life.

Here is a bigger shot at the main attractions in Notre-Dame. I cannot believe the time and energy that must have been spent bringing these backdrops to life.

Now that we were both feeling like better humans, it was time to roll through Old Port and make our way to the river’s edge to start our real adventure. Upon arrival we could see the Biosphere in the distance and both of us agreed to somehow get there on foot, that would be no small feet as this required serious modulation.  I was really impressed that my travel buddy was up for the challenge.  I am so glad that we decided walk it out as it gave us a chance to talk and catch up on life and share thoughts of the city.  Along the way we did stumble across a cool site, Habitat 67. A unique and modern way of living that offered some great views. Just imagine living in this complex. Check out these pics!

We saw this gem from across the river and finally got a closer look.  The unique design is quite peculiar.  Sustainable living never looked so cool!

We saw this gem from across the river and finally got a closer look. The unique design is quite peculiar. Sustainable living never looked so cool!

Reflecting on our chosen route, we both felt that we had taken the long way around and in total we must have walked seven or eight miles before getting there. I knew that Mike would be feeling it the next day for sure, but he hung in there strong.  Eventually we stood at the food of the Biosphere and were able to capture some really great pictures and checkout the surrounding gardens.  It was just a really cool site to see, enjoy!

After a quick selfie with my boy Mike, we made the acquaintance of a sand mermaid as we 'Modulated to the Biosphere!

After a quick selfie with my boy Mike, we made the acquaintance of a sand mermaid as we ‘Modulated to the Biosphere!

Here is the Biosphere in all its glory.  I think it is cool to have a few unique structures in a city to define its real character. Beautiful gardens surrounding worth a walkthrough.  Mission accomplished, we made it to the cool thing in the distance!

Here is the Biosphere in all its glory. I think it is cool to have a few unique structures in a city to define its real character. Beautiful gardens surrounding worth a walkthrough. Mission accomplished, we made it to the cool thing in the distance!

With our mission accomplished we decided to taxi it back to our digs,  and chill out momentarily.  After all that modulation we were starving and more than interested in trying one of the local dishes.  So we made our way back to old port and found a nice balcony to have dinner on.  We were familiar with this spot and we could see that they had a nice view from the street so we went in and decided to have a go with their local rendition of ‘putine’.  Essentially this dish is a pile of fries with cheese curds on top with gravy poured overtop; it was heaven.  Meanwhile, we met some local tourists also visiting from out of town that were open to stepping out with us later that night.  Things were just happening so fluidly that we were both shocked.  Ha, it made me feel like BMOC (big man on campus) for sure!

Finally I was smart enough to find a liquor store and a local convenience store for mixers, not an easy task when you don’t speak or read much French. But, politely I asked and was pointed in the right direction and familiarized myself with Depanneur.  Glad I did because Montreal had laid claims to most of my cash already and Mike and I joked that each drink in the suite was saving us $10 cash, lol. So we hosted some of our friends for some innocent cocktails on our terrace before stepping out to a cool dance club, Tokyo Bar. I felt like we danced for hours without getting tired. The place was packed and the music and vibe was on point.  Rooftop was too packed and by the end of the night we were feeling the effects of all the partying, somehow we made it back safely, awesome night!

Day 3

Happy Birthday USA! July 4th and though the average Canadian doesn’t recognize it, we decided to gear up and rep our nation hard! Mikey B with his USA hat had me cracking up, gotta love that style! Today was going to be a good day!  After my regular morning pitstop at Starbucks and relaxing on a park bench, I made it back to the suite to get another fantastic day started!

Happy 4th of July! It was a beautiful day and perfect for some much needed celebration, especially sweet when you are away from home on a worry-free vacation!  Check out this beautiful flower garden and the intricate designs we found outside a local government building, pretty sweet!

Happy B-Day USA! We enjoyed great weather as we had a morning walk and started our day… Check out this beautiful flower garden and the intricate designs we found outside a local government building, pretty sweet!

Today we took a different approach and instead of running around, we chose to find our relax and swap stories over several well spent hours of drinking. It had been quite a while since we had been able to catch up beyond the normal pleasantries that might be shared at the occasional happy hour.  Instead we dove a bit deeper and shared more about our family dynamics and some of our unique life experiences since our college days. It was really nice bonding with another guy that is as motivated and hungry for life.

Happy 4th of July... Reppin USA on the terrace and having an "Absolute"ly good time!

Happy 4th of July… Reppin USA on the terrace and having an “Absolute”ly good time!

After we got good and tight and snapped a few pics of celebrating we decided to get cleaned up and make our way to the rooftop patio for some more adventure.  This time however, we were getting fully suited and looking sharp.  Dressed to impress, even the fashion forward Montreal natives were impressed and quite open to getting to know more about Mike and myself.  Men and women alike were quite reachable with even the average conversation. This is quite different if your used to standoffish Minnesotan locals.

Suited up, we are looking good.  With a slight buzz we were off to enjoy more libations at the rooftop bar! #thegoodlife

Suited up, we are looking good. With a slight buzz we were off to enjoy more libations at the rooftop bar! #thegoodlife

Having not been up there long we were quickly meeting new friendly locals more than willing to share in ‘witty banter’ and libations.  Especially a group of girls that had traveled all the way from Scotland.  Meeting them ended up being a real treat and they were great fun in chatting and swapping stories. Like musical chairs professionals, we made our rounds at the bar and managed to rack up quite the tab, go figure.

The terrace party lasted for several hours and after fully breaking in the bar, and having the tab to prove it, we pushed off with a few locals that promised to show us a great time at a sheik local club. They promised and delivered, next stop was Joverse aka the “Rooster Bar”. After bypassing a long line, thanks to our newly made friendships, we were walked right in and were immediately surrounded by great music and drinks. Fortunately for us, the club was right next to our suite, so I was able to modulate (stumble) home with one eye open, good times!

Party, Party, Party... lasted all night long. We met some of the coolest locals imaginable. The night was great and Mikey and I both had a blast tearing it up with some new friends.  Jean-Mark and his friends showed us how to party in the classiest way possible, a big thanks to them!

Party, Party, Party… lasted all night long. We met some of the coolest locals imaginable. The night was great and Mikey and I both had a blast tearing it up with some new friends. Jean-Mark and his friends showed us how to party in the classiest way possible, a big thanks to them!

Day 4

This morning found us to be a bit on the rough side and as our last full day in Montreal we still had a lot we wanted to do. After a quick Starbucks recovery, Mike and I were ready to get out and adventure the rest of the city.  We had decided to try and trek to the top of Mont Royal and so we started out on foot. Soon thereafter, we walked several blocks from our hotel and found ourself walking into the annual Montreal Jazz Festival. We enjoyed a few live songs and took a moment to enjoy ourselves.

As we ventured on, Mike and I passed a few cathedrals and took our time at paying our respects and enjoying the maculate architecture and design features.  It really is impressing the amount of detail and time that was put into each of these incredible buildings; what better way to feel the presence of  the Lord that being in a place like this.

Some of the majestic sites that we discovered as we continued on our journey towards Mont Royal. Nothing like taking a moment for prayer.

Some of the majestic sites that we discovered as we continued on our journey towards Mont Royal. Nothing like taking a moment for prayer.

Only a few blocks further we came to a bank of bike rentals and having huffed it for over an hour now we felt that this would be a fun way to get to the top of Mont Royal. For a small fee we were happily now modulating on 2-wheels.  Quickly we ran into the “Harvard” of Canada, McGill University and toured the campus. I was happily taking some bike-selfies and a few short videos while riding the bike, so much FUN!

Eventually we climbed all the way to the top of Mont Royal, which took us about another hour of aggressive biking. With Mikey’s legs burning we arrived at the top, dismounted and took a breather.  Feeling a bit fatigued we took our time at the overpass and drank in the city’s breathtaking skyline. Here is an awesome panorama!

What a beautiful city skyline, no wonder why it was so crowded, who wouldn't want to come see this!

What a beautiful city skyline, no wonder why it was so crowded, who wouldn’t want to come see this!

Mikey B. and I getting our photo snapped at the overpass.  Looking down on the city provided a much needed moment to rest. Biking to the top was a beast!

Mikey B. and I getting our photo snapped at the overpass. Taking some time to look down on the city provided a much needed moment to rest. Biking to the top was a beast!

Once our appetite for the sites had been quenched we hopped back on our pedal bikes and made our way down the hill in search for Saint Joseph’s Oratory, one of the most iconic buildings in Montreal. It also had the view to match.  As soon as you walk in, you become overwhelmed at the massively tall ceilings and beautiful archways. It was extremely impressive!

Very unique experience it was to walk into this massive structure.  Sitting atop a hill, getting to the top meant overcoming many steps, but it was well worth it!

Very unique experience it was to walk into this massive structure. Sitting atop a hill, getting to the top meant overcoming many steps, but it was well worth it!

The inside of the Oratory was amazing and gave me a surreal feeling.  It had one of the most beautiful organs I have ever heard or seen!

The inside of the Oratory was amazing and gave me a surreal feeling. It had one of the most beautiful organs I have ever heard or seen! This is a very cool place and a must see tourist site!

After a long day of exhausting biking we grabbed some grub at Planet Poutine and relaxed before heading back. We racked our bikes and picked up some more spirits to enjoy that night before getting to our hotel. It was go-time to smash our last night in Montreal.  It was about to be another epic, gangbusters type of night. Looking quite dapper we strapped on our suit coats and kept things classy. The rooftop was our first destination and the world was our oyster!

Looking good and feeling great! We are going hard on our last night in the new Las Vegas of North America!

Looking good and feeling great! We are going hard on our last night in the new Las Vegas of North America!

Merik, a super cool bartender was making me a signature drink (whisky, smooth and smokey infused with orange peel), meanwhile Mikey B. had worked his charm on a few gals and soon we were at a different table. Knowing my boundaries, I avoided any primal tendencies and was a gentleman to everyone, while respecting what really mattered to me, my wife Nellie.

Day 5

Sadly, in the morning, I woke for the last time to once again rise and hit the streets for my Starbucks fix and to drink in the beautiful surroundings that Old Port had to offer.  I was going to miss the cobble stone streets, the incredible food, open and friendly conversations with strangers, the french influence and of course just living carefree.

As I packed my bags and counted my blessings, I knew that this was what life was really all about, happy memories!  I thought to myself, this is exactly why I travel.  MarathonJake and Mikey B. had one of the most epic trips of our lives and together, we hope to have many more!

I didn't want to say goodbye and hugged the wall of our suite one last time! Take care and God bless Montreal!

I didn’t want to say goodbye and hugged the wall of our suite one last time! Take care and God bless Montreal!

Finally after a long trip home, I was just happy to see my Nell.

God is Great! Amen!

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DiFfErEnT DiSh – Cafe Bar Lurcat

On this months edition of DiFfErEnT DiSh, it was my turn to surprise and treat Nellie to a special date night. After all, we were celebrating our first year of marriage (5/25/2013). I wanted something classy and fun, yet I wanted it to be unique. So I dug around a little bit and found a new Twin Cities hotspot that I felt would be the perfect place. So I put my plan in motion by calling in a reservation for 5:30PM that night.

Nestled in a vibrant nook Downtown Minneapolis is where this trendy gem is located, Cafe & Bar Lurcat. Conveniently our anniversary landed on a Sunday this year and it seemed too perfect that this restaurant offered a special date night that aligned. So weekly on Sundays they offer a really great deal for couples; a three coarse meal for both and their selection of a red, white or bubbly. All of this for only $50!

When I placed the reservation, I also made a note to inquire as to the dress attire which they readily offered up as clean and casual. So the queen and I both cleaned up but dressed in our street attire. As we often do, we were running a good 10 minutes late, so I called in to ensure that we would not lose our place and the hostess was very charming and sweet. It was no problem and soon there after we were arriving.  Parking was a snap and though they don’t have a ton of free parking slots, there were plenty of pay meters available and that really doesn’t bother me much.

Super excited for dinner and sharing company with one another. I love this girl... and the Lurcat was pretty great too!

Super excited for dinner and sharing company with one another. I love this girl… and the Lurcat was pretty great too!

After getting the entrance doors mixed up we eventually found our way in and were warmly greeted.  We were then escorted through the restaurant from one side to the other and sat at a cute table for two.  It was impressive how large the interior was and how the space was used.  There almost appeared to be three main dining spaces and an outside patio. I recall Nellie and I discussing how great it would be to reserve one of their rooms for a large party or celebration.  It was a beautiful interior that gave a welcoming and modern yet rustic feel to it.

A service staff member ensured that our waters were filled and that our server would be right with us. Good service so far! Our table was right next to a large window which seemed to be a theme for the wall facing the street. This feature gave great natural lighting and also a sweet view of Loring Park and the surrounding area. Across the room was an open kitchen where you were able to see many different artisan chefs busily working and preparing their work stations. Seeing all that they were doing, made you feel like the food was going to be really great.

Soon our server for the evening greeted us and made sure that we knew a little about the place. Quickly we decided upon the date night special and he proceeded to walk us through the menu recommending a few dishes in particular. See the picture collage a little further below to see the options that we selected.  We decided against a bottle of wine and instead Nell wanted a Red Sangria, yummy!  He took $15 off our tab and just charged us for the drinks separately, not bad. Shortly after taking off to fulfill our order in their POS system, his assistant delivered to us a basket of hot fresh-baked baguette style bread. It really was some of the best I have had.

My wife Nellie enjoying her Sangria. Super tasty warm bread brought by the wait staff assistant, awesome! Date Night menu totally rocks!

My wife Nellie enjoying her Sangria. Super tasty warm bread brought by the wait staff assistant, awesome! Date Night menu totally rocks!

We found it rather unique that servers at the Lurcat also had their own assistance to help keep service at a premium. It was much welcomed and together they made a great team at delivering our food, keeping our glasses full and table clean. Each course had an incredible amount of flavor and pleasant textures, some would say that it really was cooked to perfection! As we chatted and shared each of our dishes with each other Nellie and I were able to reminisce on our first year of being married. With our successes and shortcomings, we together realize that it is things like ‘Date Night’ that keep relationships going.

Our three coarse meals were awesome. The serving sizes were petite but by the end we were full.  We recommend sharing the plates so you can enjoy a bit of each dish! Very tasty!

Our three coarse meals were awesome. The serving sizes were petite but by the end we were full. We recommend sharing the plates so you can enjoy a bit of each dish! Very tasty!

By the time we were wrapping up our dinner at around 7:15PM, the place had quickly filled out with couples, some coming as double-dates. Everyone seemed to be in a really good mood, perhaps it was the good deal, maybe the wine or if not that then hopefully cause they were all spending a little time with their significant other. The Sunday special for couples is the way to go. For a first-timer to the Lurcat, it provides an affordable way to experience a top-notch gourmet restaurant and for those that frequent it allows a great way to unwind without breaking the bank.

Soon it was desert time and we both ordered what we wanted and enjoyed the sweet and chocolatey end to our date. This gentleman paid the tab and thanked our wait staff.

Cafe Bar Lurcat – Recap:

  • Food – 5/5 stars
  • Decor – 4/5 stars
  • Music – 3/5 stars (**note this score reflects my wife’s opinion, neither of us recall it being significantly note worthy, chill background music that allows conversation between couples flow**)
  • Service – 5/5 stars
  • Price – $$$

Till next time, this was DiFfErEnT DiSh – May 2014!

Good Night!

Good Night!

Honeymoon @ Sunscape – Ixtapa Mexico

Months before exchanging wedding vows with my now wife Nellie Carroll, we decided that delaying our honeymoon until our one year anniversary would best allow the dust to settle and us to budget accordingly. The first few months seemed to fly and I thought it was cute when we would call out our ‘monthly anniversary’. We had been batting ideas around about exactly when and where but we needed to get our financial ducks in a row and make a decision.

Months prior to the wedding, while stopping at my local StateFarm agent’s office, I was recommended to contact Ketti Menne (see her site here), an experienced travel agent that had assisted. She had assisted my agent and got a good review so I gave it a shot. After an initial consult we began narrowing our travel scope and available budget. Eventually we booked a trip to Sunscape Dorado Pacifico in Ixtapa, Mexico.

This was to be an all-inclusive getaway that offered a beautiful getaway on the pacific side of Mexico. The price was very reasonable and our package included flights and ground transportation which can greatly reduce stress when in a foreign destination. With the arrangements made, the excitement began to build and soon we were counting down the days in till our trip.

We booked for a full 7 days and were both looking forward to that extended getaway. It was going to be a trip focused on celebration. Nellie had just converted to a FTE in her career at Prime Therapeutics, and I had just completed all my course work for graduate school and studied for and passed my CISSP (a gold standard exam for those in the IT Security profession). Let’s not forget that this was also about reconnecting with one another and sharing time discussing our first year of marriage.  No marriage is perfect and we are not invincible from the harmful realities of demanding jobs, financial bumps, and daily temptations. But, we weathered the storm and deserved a celebration and it was now upon us. After a long weekend Saturday of shopping, thank you Macy’s, we had fresh new clothes for our getaway. We were ready; it was go time.

Once we had surpassed the Herculean task of packing, we departed early the morning of May 17th. Together and as a team we traveled from Minneapolis to Phoenix and eventually to Zihuatanejo/ Ixtapa, MX. Once we had finally arrived, we were escorted down a ramp of stairs from the plane onto the Tarmac and quickly into customs. At that moment we finally were able to get our first taste of the hot and humid weather that was to be our new paradise for the next week. Love it!

Couldn't be more excited for our honeymoon! Officially on our way to Ixtapa, MX.

Couldn’t be more excited for our honeymoon! Officially on our way to Ixtapa, MX.

Once through customs, Nellie and I were quickly identified by an Apple Vacations representative that squared away our travel to Sunscape. As we began our travels through Zihuatanejo to the tourist sister city Ixtapa, it was obvious we were in a third world country. Things were visually much less developed; the city itself was nestled in a large valley and most houses were built into the steep sloping countryside. While the living conditions are at a much reduced convenience for most, our taxi driver assured us that the city offers electricity and large water-tank trucks would deliver water for a reasonable fee. Overall, it was a change of pace, but to the inhabitants this was home and they were very happy to share it with tourists like us.

Finally we arrived at our stacation destination, Sunscape Dorado Pacifico and were greeted with smiles from the concierge. We quickly checked in and were then requested to attend an informational meeting regarding all the available experiences available to us. There were several other Americans that had just arrived, initially we exchanged common salutations but didn’t realize we would end up experiencing much of our vacation with them as new friends. That was really great!

Note – Travelers beware, Emilio at the front desk will try to convince you into attending a two-hour meeting for $50-100 worth of pesos; however, he downplays that it is a really a pitch to sell time shares and pressure travelers.  This definitely took away a bit of the ‘warm welcome’ that we received, but we didn’t fall for it.

While attending, our fantastic consultant, Roberto, explained what excursions were available for booking and what times throughout our stay that they would be available, which was very helpful. Once we had that foundation, Nell and I began tossing around comments on which we would both like to attend. By the end we were well-informed and able to knowingly have a minimal sight-seeing agenda that still allowed for enough poolside relaxing! Loving it even more! When we made it to our room we were welcomed with a ‘Honeymoon’ banner and a desert made specially for us. It was okay, but it was really the view that captured us, WOW!

After a warm welcome, we made it to our room and got to look out as our new view from the 10th floor, not bad!

After a warm welcome, we made it to our room and got to look out as our new view from the 10th floor, not bad!

The temperature outside was a steamy 93 degrees and sunny; we could not ask for better weather. Having barely survived a hellacious Minnesota winter, the tropical weather was more than welcomed. That said, while on this trip we were in swim attire the vast majority of the time. Prior to the trip, the wifey decided to take a chance and try out braids which were super cute and very functional. I loved them and she was instantly received as a model amongst the guests staying at the resort. We made our way downstairs and got a little time in at the poolside enjoying a drink and scoping out the resort. On our first night we kept things pretty casual and decided to do dinner at the Bluewater Grill which was quite good!

Night 1: So much fun taking in all that the resort has to offer. Great evening with such a beautiful woman!

Night 1: So much fun taking in all that the resort has to offer. Great evening with such a beautiful woman!

The next day we slept in and eventually made our way down to breakfast and enjoyed the buffet, Nellie especially liked their sugar doughnuts and decided to spoiled herself. We found everyone from the resort staff to the other vacationers to be extremely pleasant and more than willing to teach you spanish. Buenos Diaz! There was little to no language barrier at this destination which made things very convenient, and you could tell that the locals appreciated your attempts. It seemed that everyone enjoyed getting to know us and had curious questions to ask, like where we were from and whether we like Ixtapa very pleasant atmosphere!

After getting our fill, the whole day was dedicated to relaxing and spending time poolside lounging and swimming in the ocean.  Often Nellie would be resting from shore as I would battle the strong waves along the ocean’s shore. They may have only been 6-8 feet waves but they were quite powerful. I am thankful that swimming is one of my strengths because the ocean current can be very formidable. Beyond being a total vegetable, there were several volleyball games hosted by the resorts entertainment crew (which were fantastic) that I was able to participate in. Actually during one of the games is when I ran back into one of the Americans we had met the day before, Jason, which was cool. I really started to absorb a lot of the Mexican sun and added a few shades to my complexion.  Luckily, Nellie was great about keeping me covered in active sunscreen.

To cool off, we waded through the pool to the swim-up bar and ordered another round of drinks. I think we enjoyed a piña colada and a Bahama Momma as we chatted. Before we knew it the entertainment crew had sprung back into action, but this time it was an adults only drinking game. Essentially, they showed us some of their favorite Mexican shots and how to make them, of course they had to cap it off with a tequila shot at the end, yikes!  The libations were all fantastic and it really opened up the group of us Americans into conversation and getting to know one another.  From there we had many laughs and decided to all coordinate dinner.

Nothing better than having shots and changing complete strangers into new vacation friends! Can you say "Tequila"?

Nothing better than having shots and changing complete strangers into new vacation friends! Can you say “Tequila”?

For this night we were going to be checking out Da Mario, an Italian influenced restaurant. We got dressed up and were looking the part of a couple relaxed honeymooners and headed down.  As always we are usually operating about twenty minutes behind schedule but oh well, its vacation and we didn’t take things too seriously. Afterwards we made our way outside where they had music playing and people were dancing and drinking well into the late hours! It was cool that each night offered a different music theme.  Once we had our nightcap we went back to our air-conditioned room for some much-needed rest!

Great dinner with new friends and of course, my best friend! Looking cute in our vaca threads we just had to snap a few!

Great dinner with new friends and of course, my best friend! Looking cute in our vaca threads we just had to snap a few!

The next morning we woke up and headed down for a breakfast.  I had finally gained my barring now as to the different accommodations and found that Coco Cafe made a really good Americano so I grabbed one on my way into Windows for a bite. We found our group and immediately were sat and served some tasty mimosas to get the day started. To that I say cheers!

Breakfast mimosas and yummy food, must be rough living like this everyday, lol! Loving our all inclusive getaway!

Breakfast mimosas and yummy food, must be rough living like this everyday, lol! Loving our all-inclusive getaway so far!

Soon there after we were back into our swim attire and out enjoying the day. We had no difficulty finding different activities to get involved with. After having a couple of drinks we were feeling comfortable and really enjoying the weather I got intrigued by all of the vendors on the beach offering parasailing.  I knew that it was something that I wanted to do and for only $20, I had to give it a chance!

Awesome rush all the way up parasailing.  I had the best view of all Ixtapa; what a cool experience!

Awesome rush all the way up parasailing. I had the best view of all Ixtapa! What a cool experience!

When I returned, I found my wife being entertained by Gabriel who was leading a group of about fifteen people in water aerobics. It was so silly some of the things that they did, I was laughing so hard when I saw Nellie try to carry Gayle through the water in a buddy exercise.

Note – probably the most memorable experiences were only attainable with the fun and energy that the Entertainment Team brought to the table.  You had 1) Carlos – a really great guy that was eager to play a game of volleyball, 2) Gabriel – this guy is probably the best dancer at the entire resort and knew how to make people smile, and 3) Blanca – a very outgoing woman who knew how to charm the crowd with her coconut bowling expertise and smile. They were so polite and gracious, I consider all of them to be my friends!

Earlier that day, I had checked the schedule and Carlos was scheduled to lead those interested on bike ride around the surrounding neighborhood.  So we suited up and went for a nice hour-long bike ride and history lesson of the surrounding area. Lol, I recall the bikes being quite uncomfortable and squeaky, but we managed and I snapped a couple of bike selfies as we rode along.

Fun bike ride around Ixtapa had us sightseeing and sweating... HOT! Such a fun time, Carlos was a great guide!

Fun bike ride around Ixtapa had us sightseeing and sweating… HOT! Such a fun time! Carlos was a great guide!

It was a cool experience but by the time we got back we were a bit worn out and in need of more beverages. We got back grabbed some refreshments and made sure to meet up with Roberto so that we could finally book the excursions that interested us the most.  Nellie wanted to do horseback riding and I wanted to go snorkeling and zipplining through the rain forest.  She was much more open to adventure than I thought, which was really awesome! We booked them all and found that the rates were fairly reasonable. Overall we only had to spend about $300 on everything that we wanted to do including a day trip to Zihuatanejo to do some additional shopping on our last full day.

That night we once again got dressed up for another fantastic dinner with the group and even were able to enjoy some dancing afterwards. This was the first night that we really got it in and cut a rug until 2AM! It was a lot of fun dancing with Nellie and just letting go.  There is no judgement when no one will remember you tomorrow or tell the stories back home, lol!

Night number 2 done right... Dinner and dancing couldn't have been more fun. Pretty sure I easily burned dinner off!

Night number 2 done right… Dinner and dancing couldn’t have been more fun. Pretty sure I easily burned dinner off!

The next morning we had to wake up a bit earlier as we had scheduled a fun morning of horseback riding.  So we enjoyed breakfast and rehydrated after a long night of drinking and partying. Thank you Coco Cafe for the caffeine; I quickly grabbed something to perk me up as we exited and hoped into a suburban that drove us to the horse ranch about 20 minutes away from the resort.

When we arrived we saw the horses and were quickly designated a suitable stallion. We mounted up and were escorted by a guide down a long road before heading onto the horse path that led out to the ocean. My horse liked to linger towards the rear of the posse which was okay with me as it allowed me to take some good pictures of Nellie and of the surrounding area. It was exciting to have the both of us experience something like this for the first time. It was great.

Probably my favorite moment here is when my horse decided to gallop on the beach. It was truly remarkable how strong they were and they made it seem effortless. We eventually turned off and made a loop through the rainforest before heading back. It was well worth it and we would love to do it again.

Horseback riding on the beach was a total blast! One of the most memorable experiences while on my honeymoon!

Horseback riding on the beach was a total blast! One of the most memorable experiences while on my honeymoon!

With our adventure over by no later than noon (to avoid the hottest part of the day), we were back in our swim wear and enjoying more of the resort. The rest of the day we enjoyed a wine tasting event put on by our favorite entertainment team and relaxed poolside. That night there were to be more dinner stories and dancing. This was a long and fun day and I couldn’t have had a better time swinging my girl around on the dance floor.

Another amazing evening with Nellie and our travel friends Jason, Tara, Kia and Gayle

Another amazing evening with Nellie and our travel friends Jason, Tara, Kia, Gayle, Victoria and Mike. It was a wild night of dancing and drinks!

The next day we had planned an exciting day trip to Ixtapa Island where we would be able to enjoy their three main beaches. I was especially eager to go snorkeling as they have some of the better coral reef in the area to swim over and investigate.  My wife Nellie was onboard for this adventure but also quite terrified as she cannot swim. I have to commend her on her bravery, because with only minor hesitation did she willingly strap on a life jacket and flippers and make our way to the ocean’s edge. Thankfully, my mom had provided us her set of snorkeling masks.  The ‘tube’ or breathing apparatus with her set did a really great job at blocking water from accidentally going too far under and made expelling extra water really easy.

Nell got a bit more comfortable, she was able to participate and really enjoy herself and see all the beautiful fish and coral. Keep in mind that when she would panic she would grab my vest push down to get her head fully out of the water.  This means that she essentially almost drown me like three or four times, but I was very understanding. It was also extremely cool of my brother Justin to borrow me his waterproof camera for this trip, which I wanted specifically for these pictures, enjoy!

What a perfect day to go snorkeling and to swim with the fishies! Way to go to my sweetie Nellie for being so adventurous and brave!

What a perfect day to go snorkeling and to swim with the fishies! Way to go to my sweetie Nellie for being so adventurous and brave!

After about 30 minutes of snorkeling we felt like it would be best to wade back into shore and enjoy some refreshments and partake in our group lunch.  So funny, the folks that ordered the spicy fish didn’t know what they got themselves into… it was insanely spicy even for Nellie! We transitioned to the beach and enjoyed some fresh coconut water and caught some rays. While nellie was prancing around and hanging with the girls I was able to capture a few pics of her looking cute; she is a 10!

Pretty sure that this is the definition of vacation.  Sunshine, coconut water and relaxation!

Pretty sure that this is the definition of vacation. Sunshine, coconut water and relaxation!

Before I had left on vacation I had also promised my little Peanut Butter (Madison) that I would bring her some sea shells back. Once again I grabbed my scuba gear and accomplished my mission and pocketed several nice ones and gave a few others to some of our travel companions. With our time nearing an end on the beach, I was able to successfully negotiate us a wave runner jet ski for about a half hour, costing us only $25. Having never been on one before, Nellie was overly cautious but I had a little fun opening her up on the straight aways.  For some ominous reason I was always worried of falling off and having a shark take a nibble, yikes.  Safely back we caught a couple of pics and said goodbye to the fantastic Ixtapa Island. I would not hesitate to recommend this place to travelers.

A first for the both of us, wave running out there on open ocean was a real treat! I am sure that I terrified Nellie a few times, sorry honey!

A first for the both of us, wave running out there on open ocean was a real treat! I am sure that I terrified Nellie a few times, sorry honey!

Later that night we got back and decided to catch dinner together at Gohan. This was a real treat as it was the first night that it was open since arriving and they served sushi. If you know my taste buds then you know that I am a sucker for sushi. I think it is just because you can eat as much as you want and never feel too full. So we smashed and then wandered over for a nightcap and dancing once again. Super fun!

Another nice dinner with friends! We each had someone to share a special moment with and collectively we felt connected and in good company.  Great dancing followed a wonderful meal!

Another nice dinner with friends! We each had someone to share a special moment with and collectively we felt connected and in good company. Great dancing followed a wonderful meal!

The next day we woke up and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast, Nellie and her sugar doughnut and me with my Americano. Are you beginning to see a pattern happening here, lol? We had to get our energy up as we were about to embark on our last major excursion, zipplining through the Ixtapa jungle. Not really knowing what to expect, we kept an open mind and dressed comfortably. Soon our driver arrived and took us to a remote residential area on a hillside outside of the tourist city. Having been a little early we were able to jump right into our harnesses and get through a minor ropes course before we got onto the big stuff.

We made it through our low ropes course portion and surprisingly Nellie never lost a flipflop! Oh and Polly was able to say 'hola', hahaha!

We made it through our low ropes course portion and surprisingly Nellie never lost a flipflop! Oh and Polly was able to say ‘hola’, super adorable, but dang with a beak-like that I wasn’t about to get too close!

 

The guide took his time teaching us how to attach and detach to each safety wire and how to ensure that we always had a safety latch attached just incase.  Now the equipment and wood planks and wiring at times looked a little suspect, we still continued on and enjoyed pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Nellie really took on this challenge and beat her fear of heights one step at a time. What transpired over the next hour was an amazing adventure of self exploration and daredevil adrenaline packed thrills weaving through the jungle trees. Here are some of my favorite pictures!

Swinging by a teathered wire and catching a thrill doing it. Spending time in the trees definitely qualifies this as an adventurous honeymoon!

Swinging by a tethered wire and catching a thrill doing it. Spending time in the trees definitely qualifies this as an adventurous honeymoon!

Generously we tipped our driver as we arrived back at the resort and bid our farewells. It was now time to relax by the pool, drink perhaps a bit too much rum and fall deeply asleep for a few hours, well at least I did. Nellie also found her R&R and after she woke me it was time for another dinner and dancing session. So we took a few pictures and made the most of the night. Gosh I love me some linen pants, so comfy!

She looked so good, I just had to sweep my queen off her feet. I love this woman! You have to love the diva pose too, lol!

She looked so good, I just had to sweep my queen off her feet. I love this woman! You have to love the diva pose too, lol!

With our trip nearing its completion, we had only one full day left to do some serious shopping.  The next morning we embarked on a day trip to the main shoppes of Zihuatanejo  During our shuttle ride we were given great insights by our driver as to what stores were the best places to buy goods. When we arrive we saw different types of textiles and wares for sale that were all so colorful. Quickly you realize that everything has a negotiable price, but the people were very friendly and wanted to do business. Together Nellie and I set out to buy a few dresses for Madison, some shot glasses for my neighbor Marcus, a decent picture frame for our home to remind us of this trip and of course a refrigerator magnet.

Our shopping didn’t stop until they drug us out at the last moment before our shuttle was about to leave to head back to our resort. All of the items we had desired to get were readily acquired at a fair price and I was also able to purchase a legit silver chain. With our bags in hand we boarded and left happily with lighter wallets; after all, we had little desire to bring any pesos back to the States with us!

The remainder of our stay was really about rest, relaxation and some one on one time with Mrs. Carroll.  Though we decided to do a group dinner on our last evening, it really was all about us enjoying ourselves and watching our last Mexican sunset (at least for a while anyway). Happily our dinner host took some photos of us just prior to being seated. The night was perfect and allowed for some really great pics, take a look!

 

A beautiful evening with my gorgeous wife Nellie. As our honeymoon comes to its final dusk, we absorb as much as we possibly can. Feeling blessed!

A beautiful evening with my gorgeous wife Nellie. As our honeymoon comes to its final dusk, we absorb as much as we possibly can. Feeling blessed!

The next morning we finally have to wake up and pack our bags for our final departure.  Thankfully our flight is not until later in the afternoon so there was no need to rush. We had one last resort breakfast and in the meantime I made sure to cash my last $50 into pesos and thankfully walked around and said my sincerest thankyous to the kind staff for their service and hospitality.  A special thanks goes out to all those that were on the Entertainment Team (Carlos, Gabriel and Blanca), to our personal room attendant (Gloria), all the bar and restaurant staff, and the hotel concierge staff.  It never felt better to give a little extra when nothing was expected, super thankful!

I took one last stroll on the beachfront and enjoyed my toes in the sand before having to return to the resort for our final departure. I was glad that all of our new comrades were leaving at the same time, it gave us a great opportunity to say our final farewells and to grab a couple of group selfies.

A farewell salut to all of our new found friends! It was a total blast and we were so thankful to be able to come and visit your paradise.  It really has been a slice of heaven! Adios!

A farewell salute to all of our new-found friends! It was a total blast and we were so thankful to be able to come and visit your paradise. It really has been a slice of heaven! Adios!

This concludes our most amazing and adventurous trip together ever.  What a great way to mark our 1 year anniversary and honeymoon! May there be many more of years of happiness and trips such as this one! Thanks for joining us as I did my best to recapture this profound and exciting trip, god bless!

7@7 – 2014

Hindsight is 20/20 right? Well had anyone told me 5 years ago that I would be running races and leading a healthy lifestyle I would think nothing of it. It really is who I am to my core, “MarathonJake”. However, if you told me that I would be crossing the finish line with my brother Justin, I would have called Shananagins!

Alas, I was wrong and for that I am thankful. This story is in my Autoblography is a testament to how people can change and for the better.

Over the last couple of years my brother has found a new calling, physical Wellbeing and fitness. It began when my brother first gave up smoking after roughly 10 years. He traded in his lighter for a fresh pair of running shoes and gave the pavement hell. If you know him well then you know he doesn’t do things half-assed; often quite the opposite and tends to be extreme.

When my brother Justin found his running legs for the first time... I was proud to see him complete his first solo race, awesomeness!

When my brother Justin found his running legs for the first time… I was proud to see him complete his first solo race, awesomeness!

This got the better of him and a sore set of legs turned into an injury. So he dialed it back and one day asked if he could borrow my road bike. I had only used it for preparing for and competing in triathlons. I thought for two seconds and quickly offered her up (thinking that the race season was over and he could put her to better use for the time being). He did just that and soon my almost brand new Specialized Allez was broken on and a new love was formed. I digress.

After rehabbing his leg his adoption for fit living continued to take over his life. He learned more about health and nutrition and began doing even more independent research into running shoes and form. He quickly began his love for barefoot style footwear, not that I ever followed suit, but hey, it works for him.

Perhaps the culmination of my brother’s transformation should be credited to his sense of civic duty. To shine additional light on this I must mention my brother had also begun another passion for becoming a First Responder. A very challenging and noble way to give back to you community. Soon these aspirations grew and all of a sudden he was in EMT school and learning how to save lives. Good on him!

As you can tell by all of Justin’s changes and investments towards self-improvement, this was his new normal. We had briefly discussed doing a run race sometime in the future, but you know how that can easily be put on the back-burner, especially with our busy lives.

However, and much to my surprise, Justin gave me the best gift ever this last Christmas in the form of two entry fees paid for the 7@7 trail race near Mankato, MN. I think I was probably just as excited for the race as I was about the opportunity to spend more time hanging out with him. Our friendship had come along way and this gesture showed me just how far.

So for the next several months we stayed in touch and logged our miles in perpetration for race day. As time drew closer, the logistics were decided upon and with a week remaining my anticipation was mounting. Our better halves decided that they wanted to join us and that was awesome. Nothing makes you feel more like a man when your lady is there to see you accomplish a great feet and cheer you on as you cross the finish line!

So the Friday before the race, Nellie and I took a road trip down to Winona, MN to spend the evening with them before we raced (the next morning). Graciously they offered to prepare dinner for us and when we got there we were able to pitch in. We ate and chatted for a while before calling it an early night. Out like a light until game time tomorrow!

Better friends and much closer than we have ever been.  Love my big brother Justin!  Super thankful for him and liz hosting us for the night!

Better friends and much closer than we have ever been. Love my big brother Justin! Super thankful for him and liz hosting us for the night!

We woke up before the early bird had a chance to catch the worm. A quick granola bar and cup of hot coffee and we were on our way to the event. The drive went quick and gave us both some good one on one time chatting with our ladies. Upon arrival we were able to check-in and get our race bibs like usual. Nell helped pin my bib on and to take a few pre-race snapshots.

Leading up to this moment, I had been giving Justin some guff about being able to keep up. Truth be told, he was probably better prepared on the cardio front to handle 1) the distance and 2) the amount of drastic elevation change that were strewn throughout the race course. He had been good about averaging a 10K distance during his training while I am more apt to training at a 5K distance so I can have adequate cardio but also keep my suit of armor.

Anyway, my smack talk was quickly put to rest as it was now race time. This was a less populated race with approximately 120 participants; but to put it in perspective, this group of athletes are not your run of the mill “Color Run” or “Rave Run” type of runners, instead this was a solid group of athletes ready for an intense trail run. My brother and I lined up towards the front of the pack. It was decided that we would listen to music throughout the race and I proactively readied an up tempo song. Together we made a pact to run this race with one another and that we did.

A quick jog to get a light sweat before the race... Nice and limber after our stretching.  All our training is about to be put to the test!

A quick jog to get a light sweat before the race… Nice and limber after our stretching. All our training is about to be put to the test!

With a stern and confident look we fist bumped and hit our play buttons as the starting flag was dropped. Off we went down a nice and easy straight away for about half a mile. Nice and easy but with a brisk pace, soon thereafter we took a turn into the trails and instantly we were hit with some steep elevation changes. This was to be Justin’s strong suit as his training and lighter too half allowed him to make quick work of the hills. Without our pact to stick together, he probably would have dusted me here, but for my sake he dialed it back a bit. The miles seemed to fly by quickly and I was usually pretty good about staying on my brother’s heels.

I recall there being only a few leveled-off sections to offer relief from the barrage of peaks and valleys. I took advantage of these and regained my steam to continue powering through the course. I do recall running through a creek (too large to jump across), so after a quick glance we splashed through and enjoyed coming out the other side.

By this time I felt that the worst must be in the rear view, but I was wrong again. Soon we would encounter the mother of steep hills. Justin’s pride and determination had him continue to run up it at a much reduced pace. Experience from my many other crazy races like CampTITAN, Warrior Dash, Rugged Maniac, ect… has taught me that the value add from running up the hill as opposed to briskly walking up is not significant. Often I notice that by the time you hit the apex that you’re so winded that working back into your run takes a lot longer. So while he may have beat me to the top, I soon caught up and felt solid. Then I capitalized on my ability to effectively open up and run downhill, which can be tough to do in a controlled fashion.

After surviving the colossal hills we knew that the end must be fairly close, maybe a mile left. Around this time Justin started getting a stitch in his side, which can really slow you down and be painful. Often you can get them from drinking too much before the race start or by not being hydrated enough. He was able to power through it without much impact on his pace.

With the finish line and crowd of supporters insight my bro looks over and says something to the effect of “let’s give it hell” and in a flash we were spending our last in a full-out sprint. On our tip toes and blazing we crossed the finish line victorious! We were sooner welcomed by Nellie and Liz. They were surprised by how quickly we had finished the race. I wanted a completion time of sub 1 hour and we successfully achieved that mark.

After a really exciting, yet mentally challenging race we crossed the finish line side by side... each of us took a beating but finished strong... GREAT RACE! #loverunning

After a really exciting, yet mentally challenging race we crossed the finish line side by side… each of us took a beating but finished strong… GREAT RACE! #loverunning

Soon after we had got our wind back and grabbed some fresh fruit to start the recovery process and getting our energy stores back. Next we went and swapped out our clothes for the road trip home. We went back for the awards ceremony shortly thereafter. According to the overall finisher, Justin and I respectively tied for 15th overall. It just so happened that I got 2nd place for my age bracket (which only had about 7 competitors) and received a metal. Justin unfortunately did not medal as he had a bracket with many more racers, I felt bad because he deserved it more than me an if anything, I probably slowed him down a bit overall. But, with a good attitude he vowed to return to take the bluffs on yet again at the 7@7 race!

Super proud of our overall results, especially given the challenging elevation changes!

Super proud of our overall results, especially given the challenging elevation changes!

The trip ended with a few more pictures to capture our victory and log this one in the record books. With hugs and mutual respect we parted ways. Till next time my brother and friend! “Hats off to you”, I say to the positive changes he had made in his life!

Post race, brothers unite victorious over the 7@7 with a pretty darn decent time too might I add!

Post race, brothers unite victorious over the 7@7 with a pretty darn decent time too might I add!

I.O.W.A.

The thing I love about blogging is that it allows me to share some pretty cool experiences with my friends and family and record it for looking back and reflecting.  That said, in this page of my autoblography, I take us all on a family road trip to visit my dad, or “Papa” as Madison says.

Many of you know that orchestrating a family trip can be like herding cats! It may be a real challenge, but I knew that it had to be done.  My dad has been living in Iowa most of his life, and yes, my early upbringing was in the land of the Hawkeyes.  I do not shun or smear my home state too bad, but if you know anything about the transition from Minneapolis, MN to Cedar Rapids, IA then you know it is like hopping in your DeLorean and going back a decade or two. I digress…

As grown kids, my brother Justin and my sister Janeen and I knew that we needed to repay my father for the countless times that he has commuted to the cities for holidays and family gatherings.  A many thanks are due.  Therefore, we finally got our priorities straight and put a plan in action.  It was to be a covert in and out operation, 24-36 hours tops!

Our trip promptly began at the end of the work week. This is typically when I leave out of the office about an hour early and chase out to Wisconsin to pickup my little peanut butter Madison. Once I got her and delivered the news about a weekend road trip with her cousins to Iowa, she flipped (in a good way). So excited she literally was shaking in her seat. It made me feel great to have the means and desire to bring our family together. I had already taken the liberty of packing her things for the weekend, so next stop was to swing by and snatch up my sister and her girls Chloe and Scarlet.

Thankfully everyone had there things ready to go and once we got the girls from daycare we began southbound to our brother’s place in Winona. He graciously offered to put us up for the night and to feed us. On our way down we played the radio rotation game where we all took turns sharing and singing along to our favorite tunes. From my sister’s sizzling hunk Bruno Mars to my nieces Disney theme songs we stayed entertained the whole time. When we pulled into town and made it to my brother’s we were eagerly greeted and yes, I parked my car in the wrong spot again! Justin and Liz were busy preparing dinner for us and had arrived just in time to put the finishing touches on a couple of hand made pizzas.

Sidebar – It has been nice seeing them work together and be a team. Especially now that they are planning their wedding!

Great din din thanks to Liz and my bro; Super glad to see my nieces; Probably the most awesome blanket fort on the planet (one night only, hehehe)!

Great din din thanks to Liz and my bro; Super glad to see my nieces; Probably the most awesome blanket fort on the planet (one night only, hehehe)!

Once we ate it was already close to 9PM and the girls hopped into their jammies and crawled into their fort made from blankets and sheets. This was complements of my sister, she goes the extra mile to make memories for these girls that will last forever. Soon it was lights out for them and time for the adults to enjoy a few glasses of wine and a game of Yahtzee and Clue. Admittedly I am terrible at both, however, Justin apparently had colluded with both Janeen and Liz. I was oblivious to all of this and it made for some good laughs at the end. Who was it again, Mrs. White in the Kitchen with the Revolver? Yes, I lost and to that I say goodnight!

The next morning we woke early and enjoyed breakfast prepared by Justin and Liz. I had also brought down a fresh half loaf of banana bread, compliments of my Grandma Barb (rest her soul in eternal peace). Everyone had a slice and much to the chagrin of my sister, they loved it. We have a little rivalry going at the moment. Sorry sis, you can’t top perfection, lol muahhaha!

With the cars loaded up and some good-eats in our bellies we hit the road; we were Iowa bound! It was decided that we would take two cars, so I rolled with Justin in his Vibe while Janeen and the girls tailed us in my Sportage, doing it this way just gave us all a little more sanity and allowed for us to be legit, car seats and all (later this decision will have proven us wise). As we rode down, my brother and I were able to catch up on some things and jam to some good tunes, what up AWOL!

Traveling through IOWA will almost certainly make you think of slitting your wrists from sheer boredom. Every time I visit, I prepare myself to shave a decade of technology and progress off of society, but I do not care to go overly negative on my home state, but it was obviously enough to have Justin calling our mom and leaving her a VM thanking her for bring us to the burbs of Minneapolis.

Upon arriving at an interesting trailer park in Cedar Rapids, early reminding me of my first memories as a child, we were greeted by our Dad. I have come to understand that my father is just the most comfortable in places like these as he likes life moving at a slower pace, hey sometimes I can’t blame him for that. Quickly he invited us in and his ‘lady-friend’ Mary offered us up some sandwiches for lunch. Adamant not to eat the nutrition-lacking sustenance provided, Justin politely refused and a weekend long joke had unofficially started.

As planned, we all soon went bowling at a local alley and got a chance to comfortably catch up. Pops had easily put on thirty or more pounds and was looking happy. His demeanor is always pleasant and he loved helping the girls get their bowling balls and shoes. We decided to play a couple of rounds and we all fared rather well. I still laugh about Dad’s thumb getting stuck in the bowling ball; that’s been happening since we were kids, lol. Must be his painting fingers or something.

Good times at our Dad's local bowling alley.  Apparently he still cannot beat me, lol!

Good times at our Dad’s local bowling alley. Apparently he still cannot beat me, lol!

I was bowling with a spin as usual and catching several selfie-style pictures with the family. Everyone was a good sport, well except for Justin. The whole time he was distracted with his phone and overall had the appearance of being inconvenienced. I knew that my grumpy brother wanted to hurry up and make our way to the hotel so that we could drop our bags and go for a jog. So we made haste and hit the road for the Double Tree in DT Cedar Rapids.

Once we arrive and unloaded, we checked in and saw our new digs for the evening. It was going to be comfy living which is what I wanted! So as planned, BT (Janeen’s nickname) took the girls and adventured around the hotel to find the pool, meanwhile eating warm cookies from the check-in desk. Now it was our chance to go do a run before anyone could stop us.

Justin and I got our running attire on and made tracks. I was determined to run the moodiness out of him! He starts out of the gate pretty hot, but no sweat we quickly found our unison pace and really had a fun time. His run and preferred shoe is much different from my style. He sports more of a natural barefoot sole type of shoe and practices a shorter (and more skimpy) stride. I think his style is best suited for the trails and not the concrete jungles that I prefer. On the other hand, I have nice cushion-soled shoes and have a longer stride. Neither seemed to be the better and the just both worked.

We actually were having fun and were able to crush just over 7 miles in less than an hour. I recall the weather being perfect and there being enough sun shining on us to feel the warmth through my shirt. Probably my favorite part of the run was destroying a sizable parking ramp structure on the outskirts and heading back into the downtown space. The fresh air did us good and when we returned we saw a cute note from BT on the flat screen, “took the girls to the pool”. Quick as a flash we hoped into our trunks and headed down to meet them.

Swimming with the girls was a blast.  They have really begun to open up and trust me a lot, #loveit!  They were also very happy that Papa jumped in and swam around with them!

Swimming with the girls was a blast. They have really begun to open up and trust me a lot, #loveit!
They were also very happy that Papa jumped in and swam around with them!

My sis was watching as the girls were splashing about. Madison the only true swimmer out of the bunch was sure to look out for both Chloe and Scarlet whom had reserved the right to cling to the pools edge. That was no longer the case after I jumped in. It was slightly colder than I expected, but decided to get warmed up by wrestling with the girls and getting splashed. Finally, my Dad and Mary made it back and joined us. Given the opportunity to swim with his grand kids, he couldn’t refuse, and thankfully Justin was there to capture some of these family treasures.

Waterlogged, we headed back upstairs to get cleaned up. It was about seven by now and everyone was getting hungry. I figured that we would be stepping out for a bite as a family but to my surprise Mary had prepared more than was expected, so we decided to combo ordering some pizzas and eating in. Apparently Justin isn’t a fan of the Dominos (my preference) so we got a Hawaiian and a pepperoni from Pizza Hut. Once delivered we are as a big family! We had a full spread of wings, salad, and Pizza!

*Travel Tip*
If you are in a hotel room and need a table, leverage the rooms ironing board is a good alternative!

With the remaining energy the girls had, we played ‘Go-Fish’ and chatted! Meanwhile, the adult kids cleaned up while Pops and Mary once again ran home to let their dog out again and to bring back popcorn for the girls. By the time they got back the girls were knocked out and Janeen and I were already into playing a few hands of Gin Rummy.

We decided to clear out of their room so they could get settled and hit the hay. Once next door it was the three of us adult kids and a deck of cards. Justin totally whooped Janeen and myself in cards, but in true Justin fashion, he quit early and tried to sleep. Not an easy task for him with sissy and I making a bunch of noise. We went around the table swapping old stories and childhood memories. It was the best reconnection moment that I have had with my sister since my undergrad days! Cracking up hysterically at some of our adolescent shortcomings we were at peace just chatting and rekindling our close bond. This went on until about 2:30AM and finally we both agreed to get some sleep. Awkwardly we bunked up back to back. Justin was happily asleep by this time so we decided to tuck into bed with him, his beloved ham and white bread sandwich, hahaha!

Frustratingly we were awoken only a few short hours later to our father and Mary packing up. Apparently Mary had to go to work that morning early and also had to let the dog out as well. At this point I am just super agitated but before I had much time to digest and react, they were gone. Nicely, Justin offered to go and sleep in the room for the rest of the night as to not further wake the girls. When we woke a couple of hours later our Dad requested that we meet at his place for breakfast. Previously we had agreed to eat at Perkins so all the grand kids could order whatever and we enjoy a stress free conversation. Guess that plan was ruined, oh well; much to our reluctance we decided to pack up and rendezvous at his place for our meals and to say our goodbyes.

By the time we made it to the opposite side of Cedar Rapids we were less than pleased to see that Mary had gone to great lengths to cook an elaborate breakfast for us all. In and of itself, it was a sweet gesture but not what we had wanted or expected. We sat and ate that which appealed to each of us. Which for me wasn’t much, but I ate it anyways. Dad reassured me that this is one of Mary’s love languages, however, our eating and cooking habits are different but I digress. We all finished up and said our farewells.

We said our goodbyes and made tracks.  Love my Carroll family!

We said our goodbyes and made tracks. Love my Carroll family!

One last pic was snapped and were headed north on the fastest route possible. I doubled up with BT and the girls and made tracks home. I wish this were the end of my tale bit it is not. After a short while of driving and chatting with little sis, apparently my foot got heavy and I was nailed for speeding 82 or so in a 60 (I think) anyway the officer gave me a warning after double checking all of my information. Janeen and the girls get the credit for getting me outta this one! How could anyone give a ticket with all these cuties in one car! 🙂

Look at these cuties... and Madison's hand creature???  No wonder I got off with a warning!

Look at these cuties… and Madison’s hand creature???
No wonder I got off with a warning!

DiFfErEnT DiSh – Brasa

Trying out a new restaurant each has been a lot of fun, especially when your basically locked inside during these cold months here in Minneapolis. The DiFfErEnT DiSh concept has been one of the few little joys that Nellie and I have been able to look forward to and our March 2014 experience was a great one! It was Nell’s turn to select a spot and she hit trending hipster food heaven when she selected Brasa!

A newer spot in the North East part of the cities that seems to be trending with many new foodie options.  Brasa, a restaurant where the cook staff have apparently mastered the wizardry of rotisserie. Having had it mentioned to her several times from friends, she felt that it would be a good place for us to visit and I am glad we did.  The restaurant itself is a break from the norm.  There is a unique atmosphere when you enter; It’s almost like entering an old automotive car shop with double glass garage doors just waiting for warmer weather to be sprung open.

We arrived at approximately 8:15PM for a late dinner. I was surprised to see how tiny the seating area was when we walked through the door.  However, we were kindly greeted by a host / server and told that there was a short wait (approximately 10 minutes, so we did). Luckily, it gave us a chance to look around and catch a starter beverage at their combo bar and to-go.  Apparently there are many customers that order ahead and get some gourmet food and take it home.

Enjoyed a few drinks as we relaxed and waiting for our food to arrive.  Nell was looking cute as always!

Enjoyed a few drinks as we relaxed and waiting for our food to arrive. Nell was looking cute as always!

Nellie sipped her Red Sangria and I enjoyed an Ace Apple Cider while a few tables were being cleared.  Soon we were sat and reviewing a very simplistic menu.  I was surprised that the menu was reasonably priced.  The menu design has the customer to start by picking a protein, then there are a slew of sides you choose from.  The menu is very much a-la-cart which makes it easy to make a few selections and share.  We shared the rotisserie chicken and pulled pork and for sides we had sweet yams, yuca, greens, and plantains.  Everything was quite delicious and sharing the meal made the experience unique and a lot of fun.

Our server was quite polite and paid us just the right amount of attention. There really was not any noticeable music playing that I noticed, which would have been nice, but we were busy chatting and sharing conversation.  With so much going on at the moment for the both of us, we never have a shortage of things to discuss.  I am not sure if they have dessert, but I didn’t see it when reviewing the menu and was not asked if we wanted any, sad face.

A look at our fantastic food, cooked fresh and to perfection! The atmosphere was full of close corridor chatter and tasty food aromas! Yummy!

A look at our fantastic food, cooked fresh and to perfection! The atmosphere was full of close corridor chatter and tasty food aromas! Yummy!

When we had our fill, our tab was delivered and we were left smiling.  With everything going on in the next coming months, including weddings, baby showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties, it was nice not spending a lot on a really good dinner.  The price point was much better than some of the other places we have been. It was a great spot and we will definitely recommend it to our friends looking for a quaint little dinner.

Brasa Recap:

  • Food – 4/5 stars
  • Decor – 3/5 stars
  • Music – NA/5 stars
  • Service – 4/5 stars
  • Price – $$

Till next time, this was DiFfErEnT DiSh – March 2014!

Couples Cooking – Betta Bruschetta!

On our premier episode of couples cooking Nellie and I enjoyed whipping up some quinoa inspired dishes.  We had fun preparing some new delicious recipes and I was really looking forward to see what Nellie would come up with next.

Being the sweet husband that I am, I agreed to bend the Couples Cooking rules and I stopped and picked up the groceries on Nell’s behalf.  She has been crazy busy these days at work, so I felt it was the least I could do. The cost was comparable to our last cooking date night. The fresh ingredients had me curious about what we were soon to be making. I think in my mind I was putting different food combinations together, but couldn’t really figure out the main course.

When we got down to brass tax at the house, there were sleeves rolled up and wine poured; soon we were working on a bruschetta appetizer dish.  We started off with several fresh ingredients including: Roma tomatoes, garlic cloves, basil, sun-dried tomatoes and Balsamic vinaigrette.  With a dash of olive oil and some elbow grease, Nellie whipped it up.  While she was doing that I was taking a bread knife to a bakery fresh baguette and warming the oven.  Spoon by spoon we topped the slices with the tomato infused mixture and sprinkled on the mozzarella. Into the oven they went, they baked for about 5 minutes and were taken out. They came out perfectly, I loved the crunch of the bread, super tasty!

Fresh out of the oven, our bruschetta was fantastic! Fresh tasting and healthy, we really liked this as a starter. Note - if you leave onion out, you can avoid the bad breath, just saying! ;-)

Fresh out of the oven, our bruschetta was fantastic! Fresh tasting and healthy, we really liked this as a starter. Note – if you leave onion out, you can avoid the bad breath, just saying! 😉

Our entrée was quite unique, a spinach stuffed chicken dish wrapped with a slice of bacon, recipe here.  The prep work was simple enough.  Seasoned chicken breasts ‘butterflied’ and stuffed with a creamy spinach mix. The ingredients included feta cheese, chopped spinach, mayo and garlic.  We carefully spooned the filling into the breasts and wrapped it with a couple of pieces of bacon.  We provided extra assistance in holding it all together by adding a few toothpicks, probably because we got greedy with the stuffing process.  Covered with aluminum foil and placed neatly into the oven we were T-30 until our main course was ready to be served up.  As a side we made a box of regular mac and cheese, lol, not much skill required, but it paired really well.

As we waited for our dinner to cook we chatted about our busy day. We assembled a simple ‘out of the box’ dessert, a cookie/brownie mixture.  It was a quick swap and out came the chicken and in went our dessert. Finally, when we had cleaned up and we were ready to sit down and eat, we devoured our meals. I think she beat me on this one, I am going to have to step up my game, she is good!

This dish was much easier to make than I thought. After broiling for about 35 minutes, it came out perfectly!  The bacon really added to the flavor and with the toothpicks, the stuffing stayed right where it was supposed to! Guess what time it is... NOM NOM NOM!

This dish was much easier to make than I thought. After broiling for about 35 minutes, it came out perfectly! The bacon really added to the flavor and with the toothpicks, the stuffing stayed right where it was supposed to! Guess what time it is… NOM NOM NOM!

Couple Cooking was again a ton of fun, until next time, stay classy!

DiFfErEnT DiSh – Borough

As you can recall, Nellie set the bar pretty high in our debut edition of DiFfErEnT DiSh – MARIN! So the pressure was on for me to find some really good dining options to rival our amazing start. I dug deep, and I mean deep, and I found my inner foodie-self and came up with a fantastic short list of fine dining options!

Conveniently on the way home, I stopped and picked up a bottle of wine and was able to unwind before our evening was to commence. So I sipped some sweet white wine and listened to country music while I ironed out my attire for the evening.  Nell had not yet arrived home yet, which was fine by me, I was finally able to take a moment for myself. My weeks have recently been held hostage by a very demanding grad school course load; so this was really nice.

Soon my Mrs. arrived and we were able to finish getting ready together. We snapped a few selfies and were quickly out the door. She definitely knows how to get glamorous and tonight was not an exception, she was spot on.  After her asking a few times where we dining, I finally caved and told her.  We would be trying one of the Twin Cities new hot spots, The Borough!

Checking out the Borough on this episode of DiFfErEnT DiSh! It's a new and trending restaurant which provides great atmosphere and excellent service!

Checking out the Borough on this episode of DiFfErEnT DiSh! It’s a new and trending restaurant which provides great atmosphere and excellent service!

I felt that this place had a cool rustic feel mixed with a few tasteful accents that would deliver the upscale dining atmosphere. It definitely delivered. When we arrived the hostess politely greeted us and we quickly took us to a quiet table by the windows. I felt a few complements being sent our way from the glances we received from those casually dining and chit chatting. We started catching up with normal work and school conversation, it seems like we get little time together these days because we are both very busy.  I am proud of her though, she has really taken her career to new levels lately, and she knows it! The conversation kept coming and we let it flow, the bottle of wine that we shared only helped to grease the wheels of more gossip.

We had a great server, he was rather animated and made us feel excited about the items on the menu.  Our hunger had grown and we were eager to try new dishes.  The Borough has more of an american style cuisine but offers some unique flavors, so we didn’t hold back.  For our 1st and 2nd courses we decided to split the plates and order our own main entries and share. The *Hamachi was absolutely delightful and the Octopus was very very excellent.  They were recommended on several reviews that I read and now I know that they weren’t lying, absolutely delicious. We continued sipping on some wine as we ate some bread as our main course was prepared. I went with the Short Rib and Nell went with the Chicken entrée, both were very well prepared but were again smaller portions.

A picture collage of our evening, cause nothing spells out a good evening with your wife than a bunch of selfies! We had a really fun time tasting some new dishes!

A picture collage of our evening, cause nothing spells out a good evening with your wife better than a bunch of selfies! We had a really fun time tasting some new dishes at this classy upscale restaurant!

Overall this place has great service and a nice staff to ensure that your having a quality experience, but this does come with a price tag.  Another wards, if you don’t plan on spending a lot, then you might have to borrow money just to pay your Borough tab; I know bad pun, lol. We didn’t sweat it, with a quick swipe we settled up and started the car from across the street. We said our goodbyes and like a gentleman, I retrieved the car and picked up my queen.  This was another fun dining experience and the night was well spent in the best company!

Borough Recap:

  • Food – 4/5 stars
  • Decor – 3.5/5 stars
  • Music – 3/5 stars
  • Service – 5/5 stars
  • Price – $$$

Stick with us as we see what Nellie surprises me with next month, stay tuned for our next DiFfErEnT DiSh!

DiFfErEnT DiSh – MARIN

As a fun spin on making resolutions and setting new goals for 2014, a creative idea came to me.  It would be recorded as a unique relationship building goal called DiFfErEnT DiSh.  The concept is very simple and should prove to keep my courtship with the beautiful Mrs. Nellie happy and healthy for another year.  Which shouldn’t be hard, I mean we are still pretty much newly weds!

How it works: Essentially my spouse and I have agreed to setting up a date night each month this year where we will visit a new eatery or trendy restaurant that we have never been to before. And for an added measure of spiciness, I decided that we would alternate months and keep secret our selections until the moment of arrival.

1.9.2014 – MARIN

The MARIN Restaurant and Bar.

The MARIN Restaurant and Bar was host to a friendly vibe, warm decor and good music. My sweetie surprised me with her choice and all I can say is “well-played”, she has set the bar! #DiFfErEnTDiSh

Our special dinner date was to start promptly at 7:30 P.M. on a casual Thursday evening. After getting spiffed up we left the house and Nellie navigated us downtown. I thought to my self that this was going to be interesting. After having worked in the vicinity for several years, I had a preconceived notion that I had pretty much tried all the restaurants downtown, but I guess I was wrong.

When we arrived at the MARIN, we were happy to find a close public parking option that was both affordable and somewhat heated (bonus – especially in January). I snapped a couple of pictures of the entrance as we made our way inside.  Nellie and I were both promptly greeted and were soon sat at a cozy table in the middle of the establishment.  The staff was very gracious and everyone seemed to be in a warm mood.  Once we were sat we finally had the chance to let the amenities and decor sink in. It had a nice atmosphere one that was best described by Nellie as “modern, sheek and classy”, for a second there I had thought she had started on a tangent about herself, lol.

I couldn’t have agreed with her more, the place was charming and the accompanying music was really good.  I thought about asking what satellite radio channel they were playing.  It was a consortium of classic rock and smooth mellow rifts that blended well. Thankfully it was not too loud and we were able to finally do what we had primarily set out to do, spend time together talking and sharing about our work week.

We discussed in detail about things that were keeping us on our toes at the office and of course the latest gossip from our friendship circles. As we were discussing things we perused the MARIN’s dinner selections. Their seemingly Paleo influenced style menu was perfect for us as we both swore off carbs this month in an effort to combat the effects of too many holiday treats. Though the options were limited, they did offer a blend of different protein based dishes that were accompanied by a couple nicely prepared sides. I would consider the fair to be a bit on the spendy side for american, but once you calculate in the attentive service and atmosphere, you find yourself agreeing with the overall cost for the experience.

DiFfErEnT DiSh @ MARIN! Great food, enjoyed with the best company!

DiFfErEnT DiSh @ MARIN! Great food, enjoyed with the best company!

A couple of glasses of wine kept us company as we waited for our entrées which were served up shortly after. We both found them to be very well prepared; hats off to their head and sous-chefs.  I can tell that they are all about quality and not quantity, which I appreciated, yummy! Nellie had their roasted chicken while I had the pork tenderloin, we finished and being too full for dessert, paid our tab and made our way home.  It was a fun date and we really like this spot, we will be back again.

MARIN Recap:

  • Food – 4/5 stars
  • Decor – 4/5 stars
  • Music – 4/5 stars
  • Service – 4/5 stars
  • Price – $$$

BirdDay in ATL

Having not been to Atlanta since 2011, it was nice to be planning a fun holiday visiting with our extended family on Nellie’s side. This was our first official trip out there as ‘The Carrolls’.  It was exactly 6 months ago that Nellie and I made a life long commitment to each other through the exchanging of vows.

It’s sometimes scary to think how quickly time passes, it seems like only yesterday when I had first asked Nellie’s father permission to marry her, and popped the question on the flight out to visit with her Dad’s family. Thankfully we got through the turbulent period of dating and found real value in one another.  Now we were traveling as a pod; Nellie, Jake and Madison!

It felt great bringing Madison with us on this trip.  She had grown to be quite close to Nellie’s younger sisters over the course of the long-awaited wedding week that we had this past May.  With her anticipation maxed out, she couldn’t wait to rekindle her friendships, especially with Destina and Tiana.  They had been face-timing and texting / calling each other for months now and for us to be going out there allowed her to grow as a person and to experience a different family setting and she relished the time with them.  The running joke was that Destina who is only about a week older than Madison is her auntie, too funny.

With all the details figured out in advance, Madison helped me get all packed up the morning of the trip. Nellie completed a half day and was sure to print a voucher for the airports Park ‘N Fly, which ended up being extremely convenient, I would totally recommend it. We arrived early enough to ensure we would make it through security checkpoints and get to our gate in plenty of time to depart. Luckily my wife has clued in that I am much easier to travel with when we have the time to relax and not rush.  With time to spare, I got a cup of Caribou Coffee as the girls caught a which Subway sandwich for lunch. We chose to fly with AirTran because they are a lower-cost provider and we have had a pretty good experience with them in the past. #LoveVacation – As a family, we were on our way to A-Town!

Take off and landing smoothly behind us, the three of us made our way to pickup our rental car. After getting checked out at the Hertz rental desk we began making our way to Woodstock, GA where we would be staying the next few days at the Francis household.  When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed by an extremely excited Destina! She was impatiently awaiting our arrival and bugging her mom every half-hour or so until we finally got there. I carried the bags in and was greeted by the rest of the family.  I feel very fortunate to have them as extended family and have come to highly respect their family. I can also tell that my wife now has a greater understanding for her step mother Auntie Lilly as she is now in a similar parent and role-model position to Madison; it has come full circle for her which is a real blessing.

We arrived the night before Thanksgiving which was nice and allowed us to find our welcome and comfortability before the big celebration.  Surrounded by freshly prepared rice bread we spent the evening snacking and sharing conversation. Destina was busy showing Madison her room and her American Girl doll collection along with the family puppy, Gypsy.  Meanwhile Nellie and her two sisters Dennisah and Tiana were busy catching up and discussing their different worlds with each other.  I took this time to enjoy conversing with Nellie’s father Destin and getting re-acquainted. We sipped on some really dry red wine and talked family, work and life as a married man.  After socializing into the late/early hours, we cashed in our chips for the night.

It was officially Thanksgiving day and after sleeping in and getting cleaned up for the day we made our way downstairs to visit with the family.  The Francis home is very beautiful and they did a great job as hosts and made sure we had all that we needed.  A bit later, Destin needed a hand in deep-frying a turkey and quickly I was slated with the task of cooking the bird as he ran some other errands.  I was happy to help out with the cooking, but this was my first attempt at frying a bird.  After a good hour of frying at 300 degrees, the bird was done and I was able to pull it out and get it wrapped up.

Frying up the Thankgiving day turkey, yummy! Looking forward to smashing on all this food!

Frying up the Thankgiving day turkey, yummy! Looking forward to smashing on all this food!

Family and friends started pouring through the door and quickly the basement of their house was full of boisterous laughter.  Kids were running around and folks were impatiently waiting one more family member to bring the rest of the sides so that we could begin the feast.

Some pictures in front of the Francis household! Nellie and her sisters sharing smiles and striking a pose for the camera man, me!

Some pictures in front of the Francis household! Nellie and her sisters sharing smiles and striking a pose for the camera man, me!

At long last, missing family arrived and with a very nice blessing of the food by Auntie Lilly, we were let loose and gorged.  I must have eaten 5lbs of the best African food and traditional American dishes.  My favorites included spinach, greens, baked mac n’ cheese, turkey, and of course many different cakes and pies, YUM! After a couple of hours of being in a fairly vegetative state, I was strongly encouraged to get up and show the kids how it’s done on the trampoline.  After a minor bit of showing off, I gladly relinquished the thrown to the kids.  I did enjoy the warmer than normal weather that Atlanta had to offer, and spending a little time outside without a coat did feel like a luxury to this midwest boy. The remainder of the night was dedicated to watching a little football and when that wound down out came my favorite part of being married to an African queen, the music and dancing! We had some more wine and danced to PSquare and Timaya until the night wore down. I just really felt happy and relaxed, it was such a blessing to have no agenda and nowhere else to be and I had my wife and my daughter with me. #lovinglife

Family fun throughout our Thanksgiving celebration! What a blessing to be around family and friends!

Family fun throughout our Thanksgiving celebration! What a blessing to be around family and friends!

The next day we decided to venture out of the house and take the girls to the mall, after all it was Black Friday and we wanted to get the girls a few gifts.  We made it to Lenox Mall and did some minor damage, lol.  The girls got some cool clothes while I was able to get my caffeine fix at Starbucks. I officially became carrier of the shopping bags, but I didn’t mind.  I was happy to watch the girls enjoying themselves so I had no complaints.  Once all the excitement from our day of commerce wore down, we realized that we had worked up a serious appetite. Once we left the mall we stopped to have dinner at an Olive Garden, it was salad, pasta, pizza and bread sticks for everyone!

With full stomaches we left and headed to the Hilton DoubleTree in Roswell. Subsequent to this vacation, we met with my Mom and her life partner Matt to celebrate me turning 29 and at dinner they offered up a two night hotel stay in Atlanta that they won at a silent auction.  Funny how their gracious gift worked out perfectly.  The hotel was less to be desired and we were rather cramped with two double beds and way too many girls, so guess who ended up sleeping on the floor? Yup, that would be me. Before we called it a night, the girls played with their tablets and listened to music.  My little sister-in-law Tiana decided to play Hunter Hayes on repeat as we went to bed, lol. It was cute for the first hour and after that it became misery to my ears.

After an uncomfortable night’s sleep for me, we got up early and headed back to the Francis household because Dennisah and Tiana had track practice that morning. Glad to see them being involved in a positive activity like this; they are both quite athletic. While they were away, Nellie and I had made a game plan to go to World of Coke with the girls after they got back.

Tickets in hand, we entered the World of Coke! Super excited to find out top-secret ingredient to the Coca Cola formula!

Tickets in hand, we entered the World of Coke! Super excited to find out top-secret ingredient to the Coca Cola formula!

Time for 4-D baby! This was seriously the best part of the World of Coke tour if you ask me!

Time for 4-D baby! This was seriously the best part of the World of Coke tour if you ask me! The shades just make us look so awesome, hahahaha!

Once they returned, we made our way downtown with the girls.  My father-in-law gave us his badge so that we could get discounted tickets. Destin has worked at Coke for several years now as a financial auditor, and we were able to get a sweet deal with his help. After getting our tickets and taking a handful of selfie pictures, we got a cool introduction into the history of the company.  Next we entered the main hall where they had all the various exhibits sectioned off. Our favorites were the 4-D video of Coke’s secret formula vault, which was a very cool experience.  Lastly we took advantage of the ‘tasting room’ where we were able to sample over 70 different types of Coke products from around the world which was really cool. As we exited we picked up a few souvenirs and snapped a couple of family photos.

Snaping a few family pictures to remember our great 2013 trip to Atlanta! I love my sisters-in-law!

Snapping a few family pictures to remember our great 2013 trip to Atlanta! I love my sisters-in-law!

By the time we got back to their house, we had decided to drop them off and run to the hotel and checkout early and to stay our last night with the family. Nellie and I gathered our remaining items at the hotel and grabbed a warmed cookie as we exited. This also gave Madison one more night with Destina and Tiana as they had grown even closer throughout the trip.  As the night wound down, we prepared for an early departure.

We had a fantastic vacation in Atlanta and couldn’t have been taken care of better by Nellie’s family. At a very early hour, we were woken up and got all that we needed loaded up and said our goodbyes. In true African fashion we took several tupperware of Thanksgiving leftovers to-go.  The rest of our return trip to the Twin Cities went quite smoothly and when we finally got home we were very pleased with the time we had spent with family on this special holiday trip!