Be Our Guest!

I love to host. Oh my goodness, do I love to host. Be it a party, a weekend guest, a foreign exchange student for a year – it doesn’t matter! I live for this stuff.

I recently had the honor of hosting two people who happen to mean the world to me…

Yet we had never met! Crazy, right?

Remember waaaaay back when, back when I used to write on the other Destination Unknown (on Blogger,) and had these Bloggy Besties that would always comment? Yep, two of those people actually made the trek from the suburbs of Chicago to little old South Georgia to spend a few days with me.

Guys – it was awesome! The best part? They are blogging about their trip over the next few weeks! I would love for you to read about it, it is a several part series, but start : HERE. Then, when you finish Leanne’s story, head on over to Peggy’s story HERE.

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Peggy on the left, me in the middle, Leanne on the right

To say we had a wonderful time would be an absolute understatement. Their visit was everything I had hoped it would be. Leanne is exactly the way Leanne writes: warm, thoughtful, funny, and just radiates love and light. Even when dealing with such tremendous loss. And then Peggy is exactly the way I imagined her: quiet, smart, kind, with a hint of snark which is exactly the way I like my friends to be! We had a really, really wonderful visit and I am so glad I got to show off Georgia’s Sumter County to two really awesome people.

I put them up for 2 nights at the Plains Historic Inn and 2 nights at the Bestwestern Windsor Hotel.

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On the 2nd floor of the Historic Windsor Hotel

We did just about everything you could imagine. We visited:

  • Jimmy Carter National Historic Site: Plains High School, Campaign Headquarters, & Boyhood Farm
  • Billy Carter Service Station
  • Our family cabin on the timber farm
  • Richland Rum
  • Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village & Discovery Center
  • Wolf Creek Plantation
  • Koinonia Farm
  • Americus Haunted History Tour
  • Had a latte art class at the Cafe Campesino Roastery
  • Had a glassblowing class at Mobile Glassblowing Studios
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Richland Rum Sampling Georgia Rum!
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Leanne cracked us up as she learned to blow glass. She went from making a cup to a bowl, because man she could blow hard!
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Peggy ended up being our pro in this arena!
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Latte art class with Barista Extrodinaire, Hannah Mercer!
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Leanne totally shined in this arena!

I took the ladies to a few fun places to eat locally:

  • Buffalo Cafe in Plains
  • 1800 Mexican Restaurant in Americus
  • Gladys’ in Americus
  • Koinonia Farm in Americus
  • Pat’s Place in Americus
  • Cafe Campesino in Americus/Sweet Georgia Baking Company
  • Rosemary & Thyme in the Windsor Hotel
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Tim & I at 1800 Mexican Restaurant

Not too soon after Leanne & Peggy returned home, we ended up having a grand time at the 3rd Annual Hot Glass Craft Beer Festival in Americus.

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Tim, his sister, and his oldest daughter & I at the Americus Hot Glass Craft Beer Festival.
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Tim & one of his close friends, Rob!
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Shawn, from the Americus Times Recorder serving up cocktails in the VIP Tent.

About a week or so later, I took off for the Golden Isles for the Regional Visitor Information Center Conference. If you can remember, I won that big award there last year! This year, I got the opportunity to present during one of the sessions.

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Me! Talking about how to create the visitor experience. Jekyll Island Club.

My administrative assistant, tourism assistant, our Main Street Director, and my hubby headed down on a Tuesday. I opted to rent an Airbnb to save a few dollars on our budget. Tim was simply going to chill on the beach and do whatever while the rest of us toiled away in a conference.

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I’m on a boat, bitch. WITH a disco ball. 😉

I look toiled don’t I?

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Tim repping with a little Wolf Creek Vino on the Dolphin Cruise

On the first night, Tim, Qaijuan, Carter and I met our other tourism friends at The Wharf on Jekyll Island for a Dolphin/Sunset Cruise.

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My tourism besties Steven & Becky! (From Macon & Statesboro.)
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Justin did a “calling of the dolphins.” it worked!
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I made friends with a shrimp boat captain!

Besides sitting in classes, drinking copious amounts of boat drinks, and networking all night – we got to choose FAM Tours. (Stands for familiarization tours.) I chose to go on an actual shrimp boat.

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Living my best life!

Yeah, baby! I held a shrimp!

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Lunch at the Jekyll Island Club Resort
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Dinner at The Wharf
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Lunch at the Marshside Grill.
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You simply have to know Nija and Justin to understand what is transpiring.

Folks – my life is good and full. I do have some really awesome friends – in Chicago, in Birmingham, in Statesboro, in Macon, in Atlanta, Bangkok, Milan, Iraq, Sao Paulo, and so many other places in between. It’s not like I don’t have a tribe. I do. They just live elsewhere.

This past weekend was super awesome. Again… I left town, but it was worth it. Tim’s best friend since the beginning of time is Tag. Tag decided to throw a Cinco de Mayo party on the fourth… so I guess it was a Quattro de Mayo party mixed in with a few Kentucky Derby hijinks.

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Tim & I in Columbus
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Needs no introduction

Three margaritas, 4 shots of tequila, and 6 hours later I can officially say that my laugh tank is full. It was so refreshing to be around people our age, people with our basic sense of humor, and people who are sort of… well.. been there done that.

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We all agree Maximum Security got robbed!

We watched the Kentucky Derby. You know, all 20 seconds of it and then sat through the controversy of whether a horse shoved another horse in the wrong direction.

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Tim, Tag, and Rob

We listened to good Classic Rock and 90s Grunge and I got to hum along as guys who actually know how to play guitars and can sing decided to belt a few familiar tunes out.

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Tag & Rob

And the laughter…. oh the laughter. All. Night. Long. It was refreshing and good. All of us have pretty much remarried and found happiness. We all were sharing war stories and next chapter stories. Every one had kids either out of high school or in and we were all rejoicing in how soon – FREEDOM is around the corner!

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My peeps at cocktail hour.

At the end of the day- 2019 is shaping up nicely. I’ve formed a new life and as I approach 3 years down here, I realize I probably would not change a single thing!

 

 

 

 

 

Promises We Make – Valentine’s Edition

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It may have taken 42 years to meet this guy, but man oh man… was the wait worth it.

Happy Valentine’s Day to the absolute love of my life – Tim Kirksey.

It’s funny to think it was only a little over 3 1/2 years ago that we even met. According to our wedding website, it went a little something like this:

How did you meet?

We met through eHarmony. Yes, it actually works.

When did you first communicate?

October 31st, 2014

When & Where was your first date? We met on Saturday, November 8, 2014 in Macon at The Rookery. He ordered a burger and beer. She ordered chicken tenders and beer. He asked the waitress if she could bring a coloring book & crayons for his date.

And that’s what sealed the deal.

When did you first say I Love You?

February 13th, 2015. He wrote a love letter to her and handed her his grandmother’s topaz & gold necklace. In the letter, he expressed his love. She was over the moon!

When did you move in together?

May 13th, 2016. Nicole got a job with the City of Americus as the Director of Tourism. Tim invited her to move in with him.

When did you get engaged?

Saturday, August 27th, 2016. He surprised her with a 5 hour North Georgia Winery tour. Later that night, they were taking photos in a vintage western photo shop. There dressed in a cowboy hat & spurs, he asked her to marry him. (She was wearing a feature boa & bustier.) How could you possibly go wrong?

And yes, we eventually got married.

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Here are the actual vows I recited to my husband on our wedding day:

 

Tim,
When I think of everything we have ahead of us – it makes standing here in front of our friends and family and making a promise easy. I know with you by my side that we’ve got this. For better or for worse, because we are not quitters.

We plan. We prepare. And we make promises that we mean to keep.

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With that being said..
Tim, I promise as your wife I will do the following:
At the end of the day, I will always have your back. I’m fiercely loyal and will never make a decision or enter any agreement that does not have our best interests at heart. And with each decision I make, I promise to work toward a compromise with you, if the need arises.

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I will be that safe haven for you when the day is hard. I promise to be strong, make wise choices, and speak up if we ever find ourselves in a situation where it would be necessary. You don’t always have to carry the burdens of our home. Just know, I’ve got your back. Through thick & thin.

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I will contribute and help us build our future together. You know I was never looking for someone to take care of me or someone to carry the load. I was looking for my equal. And though I know I am capable and strong enough to make it on my own, I am also aware that I need someone else to rely on.

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I recognize you as the head of our family, and want you to know that I respect you and will honor you as my husband. I choose you not necessarily because I need you, but because I want you. 

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I promise to take my role as the step mother of your children very seriously. I will take care of them as if they were my own, and I promise to love them, cherish them, and be a role model and confidante that they can count on. I want us to provide a stable and nurturing environment where they are exposed to a life of art, music, theatre, dance, international cultures, and have all the tools they need to be successful, independent women.

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We don’t know what God is going to allow to enter our lives. Whether it is sickness, financial loss, or some other tragedy – just know that we’ve got this. I promise to help you make home that is a sacred refuge for us, to put our little family unit first.

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I promise to always be the eternal optimist that you fell in love with. I’ll always, always help shine the light on the good. I’ll point out the beauty you may have missed. And more than anything else, my one goal, each day, is bring more joy into our lives. And know that a lot of that joy comes from finding ways to serve you as a steady partner.

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Just know:
I’d choose you:
In a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d choose you.

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In other words… You will never have to walk through this world alone.

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And in the words of Winnie the Pooh – If I live to be a hundred, I want to live to a hundred minus one day, So I never have to live without you.

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To the man that made our dream a reality and who continues to surprise me and love me in ways I never knew could happen – thank you and I love you.

Happy Valentine’s Day! May our first Valentine’s as Kirkseys be just the beginning of incredible adventures!

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What Is Your Word?

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What is your word? Do you have one?

Growing up, adults would often ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m fairly certain I responded with occupations like: Dancer, Actress, Journalist. Maybe not in that order.

Then as time moves on, we set out to become those things. I danced for many, many years and eventually had to give that up because of issues with my feet. I auditioned for many roles in community theater, took acting lessons, until right before college when I officially made up my mind that I wanted to do something more practical. So I went on to become a journalist.

In your 20s, people ask you, “What do you do?” I would always reply, “I’m a TV News Producer.” And please note: it was said with complete pride. I had set a goal and achieved the goal and wanted everyone to know about it.

By the time you get to your 30s, life takes a few twists and turns and your friends and strangers get a little more philosophical with their questions. We went from, “what do you want to be” to “what do you do to “what is your word?”

I would respond with- writer. Why? Because ultimately, that was what I had become. I had written the news, then I went on to work in media relations and wrote press releases and speeches, then onto other jobs which required tons of writing. Later, I even became a free-lance writer. As the years rambled on, I thought I was getting smarter about the question. I changed my response to- storyteller.

But that’s not my word. That’s not who I am, that is what I do.

I ask YOU this now – What is your word?

Just who are you?

As I have gotten a little older, I finally came up with my word – resilient.

re·sil·ient
rəˈzilyənt/
adjective
1. (of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.
“babies are generally far more resilient than new parents realize”
synonyms: strong, tough, hardy; More
2. (of a substance or object) able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.
“a shoe with resilient cushioning”
synonyms: flexible, pliable, supple; More

I am resilient. To test this theory, visit my old blog – Destination Unknown – Part 1 (you can find the link in the About Me section.) Man oh man, I have proven that I can fall down and dust myself right back up and come back stronger each time. (Takes that whole phoenix rising from the ashes cliche to a whole new level.)

However – NOW. Where am I now? What is my word now? How have I changed, or rather, how have I evolved?

I’m not sure.

I recently watched Eat, Love, Pray again. It was one of my all-time favorite books, then, of course, I loved the movie. That final scene, when Liz finds her word….

She discusses her Quest Theory. It struck me – my blog, Destination Unknown, epitomizes this theory, and honestly, her final word was so appropriate for my new marriage to Tim.

Maybe my word for now is… Attraversiamo.

And maybe it’s just a temporary word in this extremely transitional time in my life. And maybe… 2018 will bring a new word.

Maybe…

Now… how about you?

With a Thankful Heart

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It has not been an easy year. Not by a long shot.

But it was a good year, a productive year, and I have so much to be thankful for.

About this time each year, I begin to sift through my photos and prepare my super-long year-end video. It’s my homage to all of the good I experienced and is a celebration of my friends, family, job, and so much more. Though I have been super-stressed most of 2017, I was reminded by these photos just how incredibly blessed I am really am.

If my year was recapped in a highlight reel, it would look a little something like this:

January 2017

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I witnessed #LoveWin with two of my dearest friends getting married in a beautiful and touching wedding ceremony on New Year’s! Just 5 years ago and even sooner than that, this would not have been possible. This was incredibly significant and I felt so blessed to have been a witness to it.

February 2017:

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I got married to one of the most decent, hardworking, loving men I have ever met! This sweet, gentle, and strong man came into my life just when I was not sure how my story would end. He filled all of the empty spaces with a healing love and represents the glue that has held all of my cracks together. Love does win… and can do so even later in life.

March 2017:

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I finally got to Paris! Though I have traveled to some really exotic and exciting places, this one was always at the top of my list! Our honeymoon was magical!

April 2017:

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I think I finally crossed a good line in tourism at the RVIC Conference in Woodstock. FINALLY, I made some really good connections/friends. Those connections have carried over into many of  the areas in Tourism. I believe this was the turning point with statewide connections, almost a year after starting this job.

May 2017:

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Marketing College through the Southeastern Tourism Society was a pivotal moment for me. I spent one week at the University of North Georgia studying the latest & greatest in tourism. Yes, I have degrees, etc – but this was an opportunity to begin to specialize in my chosen field. In 2 more years, I will add a few fun credentials to my name! It is the first time in a long time that I felt like I was really learning something new. And if you consider how important my career is to me and how much importance I put on furthering one’s education – this was a great step for me.

June 2017:

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I rebranded my community!!! THIS was something that was soooooo desperately needed, and I was not sure how I was going to make this happen. Luckily, by cultivating relationships, I was able to obtain the funding and voila! Five communities now have one voice! HUGE year for my career.

July 2017:

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I began to mix my worlds! I made a few solid friendships in Americus and continued to nurture my friendships in Macon and brought them together a handful of times out at the farm. From cooking out, to swimming, to riding the trails – I began to mix my worlds and find some little shred of a social life!

August 2017:

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We broke ground for our new house! That’s right – we bought additional land (not on the farm,) and began construction on a house that Tim has designed. Every single decision about this home was made by the two of us – down to the color of the grout (which, btw, is light gray.)

September 2017:

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Normally, September is a terrible month for me. Lots of BAD things traditionally happen within this month… and sure… it had its challenges, but the one thing I remember the most is learning how to roll with the punches. This photo represents some hard-working girls who had a girl’s night out and celebrated 125 years of our grand old hotel in town! It was festival season, and this stuck out as my favorite event thus far!

October 2017:

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I was reminded how much I am loved back home. It is not easy adjusting to a new community, and not just a new community, but a bit of a different culture. My only experience has been with a medium-sized city to a very large city – never truly rural. I adjusted very quickly to a metropolitan area and it was more my cup of tea and a natural fit. Rural living has been a challenge.

But there is always home… with my oldest friends. I can always go home for some healing.

As for November & December – that highlight remains to be seen. I can say that it was a very good year – but a challenging year, both mentally & spiritually. So, so, so much good… but so much new! “Expect the unexpected and hold your head high” was my mantra.

With all of that, it appears we will be celebrating soon! Apparently, we will be moving into our home within 3 weeks or so.) I will be wrapping up a very successful fiscal year (I have increased hotel/motel tax by almost a quarter compared to last year.) And finally, even better news – my health is at an all time high! BP was 110/60, Heart Rate 82, Cholesterol 112, and Fasting Blood Sugar 91. Outside of dropping the weight – I am in excellent shape! New challenge: Weight loss, New Home, Bigger Goals, and Settling in for 2018!

I am entering the Thanksgiving Season with a thankful heart. My blessings are many and my life is very rich. From my family to yours – Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Birthdays & Old Ways

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Back in June, I surprised my husband, Tim, with a birthday trip to St. Augustine, Florida; the oldest city in the United States. He had never been, and I had visited half a dozen times over the years, so I figured it would be an easy trip, with little concern over directions, what to do, and where to go.

We took off on a Thursday night. Part of the deal was to give him a clue every few hours as to where we were going. Before we even pulled out of the driveway, I have him his first gift. I said, “It will either be insect repellent (for the mountains,) or sunscreen (for the sea.) He opened the sunscreen and knew immediately that we were heading South.

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We drove about two hours and stopped for a night in Valdosta, Georgia. Valdosta is right on the Georgia/Florida border. My guy loves steak, so we picked a steakhouse and indulged our carnivorous tongue. We pulled up to an Austin’s Cattle Company , located just one exit away from our hotel. The location was a bit odd to us – a nice steak house in this budget-looking motel, but the quality was super delicious! After dinner, we popped back over to our stay for the night, the Drury Inn.  Surprisingly, our hotel was really quite nice, with lots of little features to make our stay comfortable. The price was right, and the room was quiet – and off we went to sleep. Before we went to bed, I gave him our next clue – a peacock pen. Now, if you have ever been to St. Augustine and visited the Fountain of Youth, you know about the beautiful peacocks roaming free. However, he had no idea. Still puzzled… we went to sleep.

The next morning, we were pleased to find a fantastic breakfast bar in the hotel (and it was free!) So far everything was going swimmingly!

We headed south. His next clue would still stump him until much later – it was a stuffed lion. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Oh I know where we are going! Busch Gardens!) Well.. I started giggling and knew I had officially stumped him.

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Right before we got to Jacksonville, I gave him his next clue – a painting my mom did of the St. Augustine light house. Still.. not sure what beach we were heading too, but knew we were heading toward the coast. Finally, as we turned to head south down A1A, I gave him his final clue – a book about Hernando de Soto (the explorer that founded St. Augustine.) Finally – he got it and was incredibly excited.

As soon as we got to the town, we stopped at the Fountain of Youth. Since this was his actual birthday, I thought this would be appropriate – so have a sip of this magical elixir.

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While there, we walked around, admiring the sites and reenactors, and enjoyed the views!

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After the FOY, we drove over to St. George Street to explore the gorgeous city and grab lunch.

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Our pick was the Bull & Crown Publik House. Man oh man.. hands down one of the best pubs I have ever visited. The food was incredible!

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I cannot recommend this place enough. Seriously. Make sure to pop by there if you are visiting.

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It is hot as hell in Florida in June, but they had these fantastic fans blowing on us the entire time, so it was completely possible to eat outside without feeling like you would melt. It’s right on St. George Street and perfect for chilling out and people watching.

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After lunch, we walked around and visited a ton of the shops.

19390685_10155410827039929_3911272965060972149_o I bought Tim this super fancy hat from the Panama Hat Shop. Then we made our way over to the oldest Catholic Church in America.

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After saying a little prayer for my guy’s birthday, we decided to make our way over to our Air B&B.

Our place was located one block from the light house.

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We were in the second oldest house on St. Augustine Beach! We rented the top floor and had an adorable set up. So private and very shabby chic. Our host left us a bottle of bubbly!

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We rested up a bit, then headed back into the historic district for dinner. I made reservations at Columbia – a Spanish Restaurant on St. George Street.

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As soon as we got there, we ordered the homemade Sangria. They literally prepare it for you table side.

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Our dinner was amazing.. and the salad.. have mercy! The 1905 Salad was the hit of the night! It’s rare for a salad to upstage everything else. But man oh man!

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We next morning we got up to catch the sunrise. Another first for Tim! He had never watch the sun rise on the Atlantic, so we set our clocks and made our way over to the beach!

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After that, we went to this total dive –

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Little Margie’s Cafe! The food was really good and the service incredible. Talk about some delicious omlettes!

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After breakfast, we went home and took a nap. Only to pile back into the car and drive to another St. Augustine Beach favorite –

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The Conch House. We met my former foreign exchange student, Elena (from Moldova,) and her husband, (Mexico!)  We went from eating English to Spanish, to Cuban to Caribbean!

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We got to sit up in these cool little tree houses. The drinks, the view, and the breeze was awesome!

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We were having so much fun, we did not want the afternoon to end. So Elena and her husband took us to San Sebastian Winery – where we enjoyed a fantastic wine tasting! You guys know I can’t pass up a good wine tasting!

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After we indulged (again!) we drove to Palm Coast to meet her family. We enjoyed traditional Russian cuisine and village dances. Yes… they danced… in a circle.. holding hands.. to music. It. Was. Awesome.

Add Russian food to the weekend.

We finally headed back, got a good night sleep, and drove back to home.

It was probably one of the most random trips I have ever half way planned.

What was so refreshing was getting the opportunity to introduce my husband to things I liked, and seeing how he would respond. From the history, to the foreign cuisine, to the culture, to the beach – we were in heaven. Happy 47th, Tim!

 

August- You Saucy Minx, You.

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I feel kind of bad for the month of August. It’s sort of a throw away month for those of us not participating in an academic year. Kind of….. blah.

Basically, I have no expectation for the month of August at all.

Maybe I need to use the month to sort of kick off new habits or add some new and exciting hobby to my life….. sort of like we did back when we did go to school.

I used to love shopping for the new school year: New book bag, new pencils and pencil-case, a shiny new Trapper Keeper, and of course, new threads to show off. I especially loved making book covers and taking my favorite stickers and plastering them all over my notebooks. I also remember getting so excited about the first day, because then I would get to see all of my friends in class and hopefully get assigned to sit next to the cute guy I might have had a crush on. Ah… those were the days.

Well… here we are. Day One of August. Nothing special. Nothing to plan. Nothing to look forward to.

Or is there?

Food for thought.

Alright… as promised, I was going to catch you guys up on my Summer. In my last blog post, I wrote about our new home! (Or rather, the construction of our new home!) We are scheduled to close on the construction loan this week sometime. I’m even heading out to Plains this afternoon to meet the water meter guy. So many details, so little time.

We’ve spent a majority of our weekends at the cabin. We decided to take advantage of this last Summer by the lake.

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We had some friends over to go fishing one Saturday. My co-worker Qaijuan and his uncle came over and caught 20 brim! Not a bad way to spend a Saturday!

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Watermelon by the pool has been a delicious way to spend a hot South Georgia Summer afternoon.

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Meet Jolene – A stray kitty that somehow showed up deep in the woods at our cabin!

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A cooler, some floating apparatuses, and friends. Typical Saturday.

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And we grill out – A LOT!

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Great conversation with great people!

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We have even invited friends out on the boats!

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Conversations on our front porch are always a ton of fun!

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We even prepped the girls for a Greek Goddess inspired Mama Mia party! Tim took them to the Fabulous Fox Theatre to see Mama Mia and to prepare, we had faux wine, candles, and Greek attire!

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My niece came for a visit.

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My other niece came over for a slumber party!

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Oh… and dear, sweet, grand baby – Cotton. PS – Today is her 2nd birthday!

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And we spent some money on… well.. we bought MORE land!

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Sangria and Golf Cart trips around the farm!

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Overall – we have relaxed quite a bit. I’ve only taken two trips thus far (which I will blog about later.) Since the construction is taking a chunk out of our budget, we have to sort of Staycation more often than not.

As you can see, I took my goal very seriously! I am attempting to develop new friendships and I’m spending lots and lots of time with the people I love the most!

Happy August, my friends!

Epic Honeymoon: Paris Edition

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I remember back in 2007, I had a moment of distress. Here I was flying over Europe heading to Cairo, Egypt, realizing that I was heading somewhere else, somewhere other than Paris. As a child, my one little international dream was ALWAYS Paris. Granted, I have been extraordinarily fortunate to travel to places some people only dream of visiting. My life has been blessed and I am aware. But it took year #44 of my life to fulfill that one little place I wanted to visit more than any other.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize that it did not disappoint.

It was a true gift from God- My first trip to Paris was with the man of my dreams. My love, my husband, and not just for a trip, for THE trip – our honeymoon.

We flew out on Monday night, hopping an Air France flight non stop from Atlanta to Paris. We were armed with our 4 bags, our passports, and an amazing itinerary that my dear friend and travel agency owner, Telisa Asaro (with EurTravels) arranged. Let me preface all of this with saying: You NEED a travel agent. Yes, you can figure this out by yourself, trust me, I was almost there. But by God, it was a complete blessing to turn over my “homework” to a trusted professional. Saved me time, headaches, and absolute confusion. As I go through our little story, and it’s a long one – sorry, I am going to share what we learned, what we would have done differently, and what is 100% awesome and so worth it. For someone who has dreamed of traveling here, trust me when I say – this was WELL RESEARCHED.

Back to our essentials: Passport, itinerary, tickets (pre booked, and yes – that is KEY,) and a few travel books. We ended up booking our hotel & flight through Expedia. We got a package deal for two people, non stop flights. We booked the Melia Colbert in the Latin Quarter.

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Le Colbert is a stunning boutique hotel in the heart of the Latin Quarter. It was built in the 19th century.

Other items we pre booked:

We arrived in Paris around 7am. Now you think that might be too early, but trust me, it’s not. Remember, you have to make your way through border patrol & customs which is never a quick trip. Unfortunately, neither of us were able to fall asleep on the plane. We were cramped in economy with a 3rd person sitting on the outside seat. By the time we were in line to go through customs, I was just about to fall asleep standing up. That whole process took about an hour. Finally, we were free to pick up our bags, and luckily everything made it! We followed the directions to contact our shuttle (which was included in our booking price ($75 and TOTALLY worth it.) We used Super Shuttle. Our driver was from Madagascar and super kind and helpful. I even got to practice my French with him a little. However, he spoke English very well.

We got to our hotel by 10:30am. Yes, it took that long with rush hour traffic. It began to rain, and out came Antonio, the hands down best front desk person at any hotel I have ever met. He handled us so delicately, used English, and gave us the run down on how things work in Paris. The hotel was beautiful! He was super kind, and knew we were exhausted, and went ahead and checked us into our room (which he kindly upgraded since it was our honeymoon.) We were in room 245!

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Now it is important to know that the hotel rooms in Europe, for the most part, are very small. However, we were pleasantly surprised. As we went to head up to the 4th floor of the hotel, Antonio warned us that the lift (elevator) was very Parisian. We sort of looked at each other, entered it.. and realized.. oh.. we need to take this one at a time. Our room over looked the front courtyard and an old building that was one the anatomy school.

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I loved that there were crank windows and I could see the flowers and smell the air!

After we got settled in, we decided that as tired as we were, we needed to keep moving! Time to find lunch! We walked out of the hotel and looked and each other and said, “Which way should we go.” I was standing to the right of Tim, so I looked right and took in a breath. My God…

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We were across the street from the Notre Dame. That sort of answered our question. We crossed the little bridge and just stood there. I was in awe. THIS was everything. Even Tim got a huge smile and said, “Wow. This is amazing.” These photos do NOT do it justice. At this point, it is almost noon, so we decided not to get in the long line to enter. We started across the square, and no sooner than we did, the Gypsies approach and we had to shoo them off. Basically, they were running their survey scam. That’s just one of the million scams they are running. To learn more about that (and I HIGHLY recommend you read this.) Trust me – we were completely prepared when we got there.

After we kicked the Gypsy to the curb, we headed over to a fantastic cafe right across from the Bell Tower. We settled into our first cafe experience with very little problem. It’s customary to greet the shop owner as soon as you enter with a simple, “Bonjour!” And from there, things will go swimmingly.

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Our first meal was fairly standard – French Onion Soup, cappuccino, espresso, baguette, steak frites, salad, and a piece of bread with ham & cheese melted on top. It was delicious!

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And thus began our culinary journey:

After our delicious lunch, we wandered the streets and headed for Sainte-Chapelle. This church is probably one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen pictures of. We make our way over there, and boom – the guys says they open at 2pm. Boo – we had to leave and head down to the Eiffel Tower to make our reserved time.

We found the big red Hop On/Hop Off bus and pulled out our voucher for the driver. It was so incredibly simple. They handed us two receipts to hold onto and show every time we used the bus. We had to use the 2 day pass on the two consecutive days, but were told we could use the cruise any night! So off we went for a ride around Paris on a double-decker bus! And boy did we see everything! It was a wonderful way to orient ourselves with the layout of the city.. and let’s be honest, to get off of our feet. We made our way to Trocadéro, an area of Paris in the 16th arrondissement, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. We knew we had a little time to kill, and honestly, I wanted to eat some cheese! (I had been dreaming of cheese the entire time we were flying to Paris,) so we made our way over to Cafe Klebler.

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The best part? We had an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower! After the delicious stop, we walked over to the Eiffel Tower.

Now.. it is almost 3:30pm at this point. I have been up since 7:30am the previous day. I am BEAT. I’m starting to get a little whiny, and the walking.. oh the walking. Needless to say, we make it over there and proceed to go through 500 different security points to even get in the final line to take the elevator up the Tower.

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We finally made it to the tower… 32 hours of no sleep, and 44 years of waiting for this moment. My brain was very close to shutting down. Also, it is important to know- I AM TERRIFIED OF HEIGHTS. We get on the elevator and make it to the 3rd floor. Here is the view from there:

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We are still VERY high up. The big mistake is – you HAVE to get off to get on the next elevator to go to the summit.

I chickened out. I just could not do it. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep, the stress of travel, the exhaustion, the jet lag, the frazzled feeling I had from the whirlwind weekend – I flat out panicked. But it is what it is. I offered to let Tim go up without me, but he refused. He said we were to do it together or not at all. I felt soooo bad for him. But at this point.. I JUST WANTED TO SIT DOWN or sleep.

We grabbed the Big Red Bus back to the hotel and freshened up. It’s almost 7pm and again – we were up for almost 40 hours at this point, but we soldiered through and found a fantastic restaurant that served Basque regional food.

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After dinner, we wandered back to hotel and finally fell asleep at 9pm. I crashed. HARD.

The next morning, we felt refreshed and were excited to venture out and have a little breakfast. We stopped at this lovely cafe (which we would end up eating at twice!) right across the street from the Notre Dame. Maybe I was hungry, or maybe it was just that good – but I experienced the best omelet of my entire life.

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The biggest kick I got was that we ordered a ham & cheese omelet and a cappuccino, as well as a basket of croissants. It was not the fact that we ordered this that tickled me, it was the fact that they serve you bread…. with a side of bread. Every meal – you get baguette. We devoured our meal and decided to pop by the Notre Dame. Finally.\16602853_10155050881149929_6948707388655438746_n

There is no reason to even post the interior photos or video. It is something that you must see for yourself. What I can share is this photo of Tim checking out how the structure was engineered. You see, he is a structural designer, and this one place blew him away more than any other place.  We wandered throughout and even spent an additional $10 to go through the antiquities museum. It was well worth the money.

After our trip through the Notre Dame (which, btw, is free,) we hopped on the Metro to head to Montmartre.

I made that sound really, really easy. It was not. I don’t even know if I have the energy to tell you what a monster cluster-eff this was, but, rest assure, the Metro was NOT easy. No, no, no , no. And this was not my first rodeo.

After struggling with the purchasing of the tickets (a carnet of ten,) and swatting gypsies like South Georgia gnats, we finally got on our train. Which was… going the wrong way. We finally got on the right train to getting off to change trains.. and realizing I had to stop by the restroom at Gare du Nord. (PS – you have to pay to use the public restrooms.) Finally got on another train (going the wrong way,) to find the right one.. to have some drunk Gypsies threatening each other down this random underground hallway…

Needless to say.. I was soooooo over it by the time we got to Montmartre. DANGEROUS route. I am not lying.

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We get there, and BOOM.. the sky bursts into a torrential downpour. And we make our way to a cafe to drink MORE cappuccino and wait out the storm. Finally, we decide to use our Google Maps walking option (a life saver for certain!) and make our way to Sacre Coeur.

Now… Let me just preface this as I was SOOOOO disappointed in Montmartre. I have always been a huge lover of all things Paris and all things bohemian and the arts, and I don’t know if it was the jet lag, or the rain, or the stress from the train, or those God forsaken hills and steps… but I was soooooo ready to leave and just go back to Paris proper.

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We had to climb three of these. And these were placed on a hill. These stairs mocked me.

We FINALLY get to the top:

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Eh.

At this point, you’ve seen one great church, you feel like you have seen them all. But we made it. We did it. In the rain. In the cold. I stood there and said, “Okay… we need to regroup.” And luckily we were able to do so and do it heading down hill.

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I knew the only way to get in a better mood was to do a little shopping. THAT always helps. Then we headed to a Chocolate Museum. And chocolate always makes a girl feel better.

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After that, we made it back to the metro for yet another fiasco heading back.

Don’t ask. It was terrible, and took 45 minutes. (PS – I HATE the Paris Metro.)

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We made it back to St. Michel/Notre Dame Metro and decided to go take a nap. We needed to regroup and get our head straight. We were slowly turning on each other, with the ultimate feeling of frustration and confusion, and we both knew we needed a time out. We slept, took hot baths, and made our way down the river to Musee de l’Orangerie. I did not have any huge desire to head to this museum, but we picked it because Tim wanted to see Monet’s Water Lilies. This was one of the few requests he had, and I wanted to make sure we honored that. I have to admit, this was hands down the BEST surprise of the entire trip, We were excited to use our vouchers (Museum Pass,) and had hoped it would be just as simple as the Hop On Hop Off bus was. We get to the front of the building and what do we see?

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You got it! Rodin! My little heart began to skip a beat. We made it inside and I presented my voucher. The woman spoke no English, I spoke so little French, but she was having a hard time getting her wand to accept the voucher. Finally she just waved us in. We made our way into the big rotunda…

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Blown away. Two big rooms in all of Monet’s glory. If you went to college in the 90s like I did, you know every girl’s dorm room had this as a poster or Van Gogh’s cafe scene or starry night. I was dazzled by the colors. Tim walked out of the first room and headed to the second and he got the shivers. I asked him if he was feeling okay and he said, “Yes. This is just blowing my mind.”

That was worth everything.

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We finally made it down stairs and I am pretty sure the museum guards got a kick out me saying, “Oh Wow! Can you believe? Look at this?” It was a French Impressionism Mecca. Everything from Picasso to Soutine. We both were all smiles by the time it was over. What a save!

Later, we walked back over to the Latin Quarter for dinner. Unfortunately, the Big Bus stops operating tours at 5pm, so we walked the 45 minute walk back to our hotel. THIS was a huge learning experience. The museums are open into the evenings, but your easy transport is not. The Big Bus will stop at all of the major tourist destinations, BUT, the time limit is something you need to be aware of. Chalk that up to lesson #1.

We grabbed a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Tim had Duck Confit and I had boeuf bourguignon.

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We decided to go with the fixed menu. This is a wonderful way to save money on the trip. For 35 Euros a person, we had an entree, which is their starter (mine was French Onion Soup,) and for the main course was my beef dish above, a carafe of white wine, and for dessert, I enjoy a chocolate mousse.

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We did a little shopping after that and made our way back to the hotel to rest.

The next day was a BIG day for us! It was time to tackle the Louvre! We were told that the walk would be about 15 minutes from our hotel (which was really more of 25 minute walk.) As we passed over to the other side of the river, we ended up on the bridge with the love locks. You are to inscribe your initials and lock it onto the bridge and throw the key into the Seine.

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We finally made our way to the Louvre and were blown away by the sheer size of this building. We got through the various security checks and found our way to the Paris City Pass line. Get to the counter and BOOM – they tell us that we need the tickets from the Paris City pass, and that to get them you need to walk another mile or so into a neighborhood to the office to pick them up.

Uh.. no. Lesson learned. Go with the Paris Pass that would be mailed to you. It’s more expensive.. but damn it. We were beat and did not want to wait in another looooong line. Not sure what I mean?

We opted to pay. It was 30 Euros for the two of us. And we set off to find all of the very cool “must sees!”

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This place is amazing… and huge… and exhausting. After walking so far to get there, and standing in line… we saw what we needed to see and decided to trek it back.

Again.

But not without catching all of the good stuff along the way!

As we were making our way back, we decided to randomly stop at a great little cafe along the Seine. We were able to regroup and consume enough carbs to put us into a lovely coma for our afternoon nap.

Along the way, we decided to stop at the infamous, Shakespeare and Co!

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I bought a few books and reveled in being the very place so many famous authors hung out!

Another wonderful nap and off we went (metro and THIS time we got it right!) to where the Bateux Mouche would be!

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We took a night cruise of the River Seine. We got to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle (which happens at the top of each hour for 5 minutes!) It was fantastic!

After this, we made our way back and I got my Fondu!

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Tim went for the scallops! We had a great night at a wonderful little restaurant in the Latin Quarter.

That night, the hotel staff gave a wonderful gift for our honeymoon- Champagne!

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On Friday morning, we got up early, had breakfast and made our way to Versailles! Again, an amazing sight! Long lines, croweded as hell, but oh so worth it!

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The craziest thing – this is the off season. We kept remarking at how crowded this would have been if it were the Spring or Summer!

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While in Versailles, we picked up a little something special and then headed back to Paris!

Once in Paris, we decided to have lunch, rest up, and get ready for our trip back up to Montmartre.

We both agreed, a midnight ride on the metro from there was NOT going to do it for us, so we opted for Uber. Best decision yet!

We made our way to MY absolute favorite site – Moulin Rouge!

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THIS was the easiest experience of them all! Uber: Tapped the app – 2 minutes later we got a ride. $15 total and 20 minute ride. Got out – went straight to the ticket office, exchanged our voucher, made our way over and BOOM were seated.

OH… Moulin Rouge was EVERYTHING this former dancer ever dreamed of! Sparkly, red, dazzling – I can’t think of enough fantastic descriptive words! Not to mention, the incredible art work by Toulouse Lautrec on the walls!

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The show was marvelous and the champagne- DIVINE!

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Again – Uber tap, 1 minute 30 seconds later he was there. We made it home in 15 minutes for $15. Boom and done.

And thus ends our experience. We flew home in 11 hours and life is back to normal.

Except, this time I am his wife. And this time, I have seen those places I have always wanted to see. And this time… Paris is in my blood.

And just know:

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If you have any questions or need some help planning your trip, please contact EurTravels!

First Comes Love… Then Comes Marriage

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We did it! We finally tied the knot! Yes, allow me to REintroduce myself – I am now Mrs. Kirksey.

On Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 5:00pm – Tim & I gathered with our closest friends and family in Preston, Georgia (his hometown,) at Preston United Methodist Church.

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This was the church he grew up in, and where his parents married and where their parents and so on and so forth. It is the quintessential little country church, right in the center of town, diagonal from the Webster County Courthouse.

About 40 people gathered together to witness our quirky little union. There was nothing traditional about this service, and that was exactly how we wanted it. I ended up wearing a navy blue evening gown and glittery gold shoes. He wore a black Vera Wang tux with a navy vest and tie. I carried a brooch bouquet that my mother made (complete with a brooch that belonged to my great-grandmother.)

Our processional was a song that he and I fell in love with a very long time ago. We have both been down the aisle before, and we were both burned before. The song we chose had lyrics that we could relate to.

A Thousand Years

Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave
How can I love when I’m afraid to fall
But watching you stand alone
All of my doubt, suddenly goes away somehow

One step closer

I have died everyday, waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

Time stands still
Beauty in all she is
I will be brave
I will not let anything, take away
What’s standing in front of me
Every breath, every hour has come to this

One step closer

I have died everyday, waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed, I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

One step closer
One step closer

I have died everyday, waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more

And all along I believed, I would find you
Time has brought your heart to me, I have loved you for a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more.

We had a gentleman play the instrumental version on the piano. As the song started, my Tim’s sister, Paige, and his mother, Ann, walked down the aisle together and stood before a photo of Tim’s father, Jerry. Mr. Kirksey died a few years back from Lymphoma. We both wish he could have been there, and decided this would be a nice way to honor his memory.

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Jerry apparently was the life of the party! Always laughing, always smiling, and he was even the Mayor of Preston for several years. According to my friends, when Tim made it down the aisle, he paused for just a minute and looked at his father’s picture. *sob*

Next down the aisle were my parents, Mae & Jack Thurston, followed by my sister, Heather Busby.

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After my sister made it down the aisle, my niece, Autumn and Tim’s niece, Micah, walked side by side down the aisle.Autumn carried my Grandma Thurston’s bible with Tim’s ring on it, and Micah carried Tim’s father’s bible down the aisle with my ring on it.

Next was Tim’s daughter, Kaitlyn, her husband Miles, and their daughter (my now) grand daughter, Cotton.

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Then Tim’s daughters made it down the aisle with us following right behind them. He and I decided to walk down together – it was a statement that traditions were thrown out the door, and we were in this together. Two adults, in their mid 40s, making a promise.

My dearest friend for almost 2o years was our minister. Tonya and I had met back in 2000 at the Girl Scouts of Middle Georgia, where we both worked. Many years later, I would return to Macon and she and I would work at the Tubman Museum, and during that time, she got her Master’s in Divinity and got ordained. We were her first wedding. Not only was she my minister, she is truly one of my best friends.

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She started the ceremony off with a prayer and our intention. We loved how when she asked the congregation whether or not we should be joined  – Cotton made a noise and everyone started laughing. It was the perfect moment to break the ice!

We started off with a poem by ee cummings. My sister recited it.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
BY E. E. CUMMINGS
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Following the poem, Tim’s sister, Paige, read a verse from the book of Ruth.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. 
—Ruth 1:16-17

Following that, my dear little 10 year old niece recited a poem she had written for us. It was so sweet and beautiful! This was the one time I teared up a bit.

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After that, we had a wonderful “vowed” moment with Tim’s daughter, Kaitlyn. It was basically a promise that the only “step” in our lives would be a step toward more love, etc. You see, Tim’s daughter is actually his ex-step daughter. (legally speaking.) But in this family, Tim is Daddy. He will always be her Dad – and for that, we were recognizing how important she and her little family unit were to us. It was a very sweet moment.

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After that part, we made our promises to his two biological daughters – Karen-Ann & Alex. They are still young and live with us more than 1/2 of the time. Again, the promises we made to one another were very special.

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After this, we finally recited our vows to one another. We made the crowd laugh and cry! It was a very special moment. The girls brought up the rings, and we exchanged rings and were announced husband & wife!

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And of course, in fine Nicole fashion… I did THIS:

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We walked out to the instrumental version of Don’t Stop Believing by Journey.

Seriously…

We did.

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After the ceremony, we made our way to Plains, Georgia and to the little downtown area. Our colors were navy blue & gold – A Starry Night in Paris. We danced, we partied, and I even had a taco bar and the best DJ ever – DJ Deck. Life was grand!

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Yes – you see an Eiffel tower, with Wonder Woman being proposed to by Superman!

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My super cool bouquet

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We served petit fours!

When we arrived, over 100 people were already in the reception hall! Our minister jokingly said she was going to re enact the wedding… and suddenly the DJ cues up the “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince opening and everyone died laughing! It was a hit. Tim’s best friend Tag came up and gave a great light hearted toast, and my bestie, Telisa, came up and gave such a touching toast that she cried, and I cried (which I NEVER cry,) and so on and so forth. After that, my friend Qaijuan led us in the blessing!

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None of these pictures will ever do the party any justice. We had such a great time! So many good friends from all stages of both of our lives.

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But we did it!

If you have been following my stories – from my old blog to this one. You know this new blog is about a new life. I have closed the old volumes and I am writing a new story – a new book.

And so it begins!

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