Open up your heart…

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And God said…

“Take a chance on me, so that I can set you free” ~M

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Day 11 of our 21 day adventure

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I’m still laying here in bed contemplating the day. I am thoroughly exhausted after hiking all day yesterday and part of me just wants to stay here and lounge around for the remainder of the day. Brian looks like he could use a break as well. I know that I can’t waste my time here though. After all… we only have ten more days away from our simple life back home and I really want to relish every day that we have before the adventure ends. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of adventure back home, it’s just a different kind of adventure… one that involves two huge dogs, one small rat, two girls that tell me every day how happy they are that I’m their mom, a husband that works crazy hours for the Army and my job as: mother, teacher, and wife… and everything else that falls under these three categories.

IMG_1049I slowly drag myself out of bed and as soon as I finish getting ready, Brian starts to get ready too. After several attempts to leave the hotel, we are finally on our way. We’ve decided to go to Shark Reef today and then see a show at the Excalibur Casino called: Tournament of the Kings. After stopping for mochas to help us wake up, we take a wrong turn down Las Vegas Boulevard and find ourselves temporarily lost. Mandalay Bay is our first destination and I hope to win big; just like I did several years ago. Unfortunately, today is not my lucky day, and we head to the Luxor to see if our luck is better there. Still no luck… it appears that this trip is just not panning out for us and I feel foolish for wasting our money.

IMG_1045Back to Mandalay Bay we go after losing what should have been saved for future bills back home. Finding Shark Reef is next to impossible, since the crowds are still lurking about leftover from the 4th of July. We finally spot the ticket booth and make a beeline for the mile long line. As we scurry over, a young couple approaches us and asks us if we are planning to buy tickets for Shark Reef. Of course we tell them that we are, and they explain that they have two free tickets that they would like to give away and they ask us if we would like to have them. I look at Brian and he looks at me. I think we are both sharing the same thoughts about this. I wonder if this is for real or a joke. After all… who just comes up and gives someone free tickets that would otherwise cost $40? We end up graciously accepting the tickets and head for the entrance to Shark Reef.

IMG_1061As we stand here in line, I think both of us are wondering if the tickets are actually real. As we get closer to the entrance, I feel weird for not having to pay. When we finally reach the entrance, the tickets are well received and to my surprise, they actually work to get us in. I am still in disbelief by the whole encounter and I am feeling grateful that we were delayed and took that wrong turn earlier this morning.  I know that if we hadn’t taken that wrong turn, we would never have been in the pathway of the lovely couple that gave us these free tickets. This kind of thing seems to happen to us all the time, and I am always amazed at how God provides for us even when I make stupid decisions like foolishly gambling away money that I should have saved.

IMG_1038Shark Reef turns out to be kind of a letdown and I am relieved that it didn’t cost us $40 to get in. Isn’t that the way it always is though? The first time you visit a place it always seems more amazing and exciting than the second time you go. Why is that? Has the initial wow factor worn off? Or do things really just change that much? I can never really tell… It’s like eating sugary treats nowadays versus when I was a kid. For some reason, nothing seems to taste as good as it did when I was a little girl. Has the product changed or have I? I wonder if I will ever know…

IMG_1040It’s later in the day now and off to Tournament of the Kings we go! This is a dinner show and sounds like it will be a lot of fun. As we enter the arena, we are seated at a long banquet table near the front. Before long, the entire place is full and everyone is being served dinner. The fun part is… utensils are not allowed. Because of the medieval theme, we are required to eat everything with our hands, just like ladies and knights did back in medieval times. Not long after we receive our dinner, the games begin! Jousting is the chosen sport and we watch as the men are knocked off of their horses. The crowd is asked to take part in motivating the kings by yelling encouragements to spur them on. The show is exciting and ends all too soon.

IMG_1046Heading back to the car, we decide to try our luck one more time at the Luxor. Brian and I sit down at a Dungeons and Dragon game, which happens to sit two people at once. We agree that this is the final slot machine that we will play for the day, and we agree to gamble $5. The next thing we know, the machine awards us a winning ticket for $30! We’re so excited that we have finally won something!

IMG_1042With the night still young, we head back to the resort and check out the pool area which is on the fourth floor of the resort. We haven’t had a chance to see what the pool is like yet, and want to see the observation deck as well. Unfortunately, when they built the resort, they put the observation deck facing away from the strip and towards the airport instead. What a waste of a good view…

IMG_1070After enjoying the cooler night air for a little while, we head back to our room and watch a little bit of television. I am surprised to see that the only show that I really care to watch is actually on at the moment. So I plop myself down to watch the remainder of the Bachelorette. It’s Katelyn’s season and I am hoping that she picks Nick. It’s a nice way to unwind after a long day and the first normal thing I’ve done in the last eleven days.

Day 10 of our 21 day adventure

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It’s 6:00 a.m. and stifling in our room! After checking the thermostat, I realize why it feels so hot in here; it’s 80°! I quickly call maintenance and a man shows up within a few minutes to check everything out. It turns out that our room needs a new condenser unit and until then, we are without AC. Lovely… I think to myself. The good thing is, we aren’t going to be in our room very long today and the maintenance guy promises that by the time we get back, everything will be fixed.

IMG_0950We hurriedly get ready so that maintenance can come and do their thing. We escape to the bagel shop to pick up a few sandwiches to take with us for lunch. After ensuring that we have plenty of water and supplies for the day ahead, we make a beeline for Red Rock Canyon where we will be hiking for the majority of the day.

IMG_0946I am surprised to see that the temperature has dropped about 20 degrees and I notice storms on the horizon that seem to evaporate as quickly as they appear. After driving for about 30 minutes, we are finally at our destination. The rock formations are filled with color and radiant in their beauty. As soon as we find the first look-out site, we stop and begin to explore. The first area is steep and there isn’t much of a trail. The valley below us is full of large boulders and there are quite a few people climbing down into the deep gorge. Brian and I begin to climb down the rocky path over-looking a large ravine. We’ve only been here 10 minutes, and already the rain has begun. We find a shallow cave to crouch under and wait for the rain to quit. It isn’t long before it’s bright and sunny again.

IMG_0896I am excited to see what’s next and we travel further up the road. After finding a quiet picnic area and finding a place to park, we take a look around. We spot some potential trails, but nothing that looks like they are very well traveled. After closer inspection, I spot what looks like a trail leading back through some brush and rocky bluffs. The trail is hard to follow and at one point the trail seems to come to an abrupt end. I scoot myself up over a large boulder to get a better look and notice a small trail continues just beyond the thick brush and boulders that are blocking our way. Up over the boulder we go; tree branches dangle down all around us and it’s a tight squeeze through the low lying limbs. Eventually we manage to find the narrow trail and follow it until we reach a narrow enclave that now really does end abruptly.

IMG_0974I notice how beautiful the walls of the rocks are here and looking up I can barely see the sky because of the narrow rock walls that surround us. I notice some pegs that are hammered deep into the stone and realize that we are standing in the middle of what must be a very well-known climbing spot. There are climbing pegs everywhere. I wonder how anyone can scale these walls. The way the walls curve inward, would make it hard for anyone to get a foothold. The stone is cut so smooth, that without the pegs, I am sure nobody would be able to climb these walls. After spending a few minutes soaking up the scenery, we decide to head back to the picnic area to eat our lunch. It’s starting to sprinkle again and the rain feels refreshing.

IMG_0981After eating, we find our way back to the car and stop several more times to get out and take pictures. Eventually we spot a place that looks like a great hiking spot and opt for the 2.5 mile hike. The trail is narrow and very steep; weaving its way up and down through the valley. Before long, we realize that we have been hiking for quite a while. The trail has been forking off into different directions and we are convinced that we have lost our way. The only thing we can do is to find another trail to take us back. Unfortunately every way we turn, just seems to take us deeper into the valley and away from our car. With no other ideas and unsure of which trail we originally took to get us this far, we decide to go off the trail and walk back in the same direction in which we came. It’s slow going because the sand is soft and heavy. With every step we take, we sink further into the ground. Fortunately, we can see the road from where we’re at and so we are able to find our way back using the road as our guide. At last we return to the car, beaten down from the sun and tired from walking through the heavy sand.

IMG_1004I surprise even myself when I suggest that we stop at one more look-out. We stop at a place that overlooks the entire valley of Red Rock Canyon. The area is very open and treeless, with just a few small bushes scattered about. I decide to climb down from the look-out area to see what else can be found. All of a sudden, I notice several rocks stacked up in various places. I realize quickly that we are in what appears to be a memorial area. There are several rocks with names carved into them, with smaller rocks stacked on top. I decide to participate and gather up some stones to create my own rock sculpture. I feel sad for the people whose memories cover this place. I even wonder to myself if there are actually people buried here. The way the rocks are set up everywhere, it looks like there very well could be people buried beneath them. It’s an eerie thought. After contemplating such things, we are now heading back to the resort.

IMG_0988Back in our room, I notice that the temperature is now even higher than it was before we left. The maintenance guy assured me that everything would be taken care of, but obviously something is still wrong. I inquire at the front desk and learn that the problem was never reported by maintenance and so nobody had done anything to remedy the situation. The maintenance guys are great and fix the problem right away. Now everything is working again and we are happy to have a break from the warm Nevada air. The staff is very kind to us and surprises us with two boxes of chocolates for being such good sports about the whole thing.

IMG_0991We are finishing up the night with a quick trip to Red Rock Casino. It’s a short distance from where were at and the place seems less crowded than Las Vegas Boulevard. Still… we’ve been here an hour now and our luck isn’t panning out. It’s time to head back to the resort and call it a night. It was a great day, but an exhausting one too and I am thankful to God for air-conditioning right now!

Day 9 of our 21 day adventure

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It’s finally here, my favorite day of the year, the 4th of July! I’m not sure about you, but the 4th has always been a big day for me. Here are some of the memories I have of this special day; cookouts, visiting the old Stow house, eating homemade ice cream, going on rides, (pony, hay, train, boat, & Model-T) taking long walks on the beach, drawing messages in the dark with sparklers, watching fireworks, reminiscing about the good old days, and most importantly, sharing the entire wonderful day with family and friends.

IMG_0845Every year is different, but every year is amazing in its own way; and this year is no exception! From the moment I got up this morning, I have been anxious and eager. Celebrating our freedom, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is such a thrill to me! Brian and I decided to grab breakfast at Einstein Bagels, which is located at our resort. I am so glad that we decided to eat here. The food is really good, inexpensive, and the staff have been very friendly. With our stomachs full and a helpful tip from one of the staff members, we decide to head to the LINQ to park for the day. The LINQ, is a gigantic high roller observation wheel that offers panoramic views of Las Vegas. Unfortunately it’s $30 a ticket to take a ride, so we decide to pass and instead visit a few casinos.

IMG_0829There is so much to see and do here, and the streets and casinos are so crowded today. It’s hard to get around and the heat is unbearable. I am determined to buy souvenirs today, but it seems like every shop has basically the exact same thing. The only thing that ever changes is the prices. So I am spending most of my time just looking at the costs and trying to find good deals. In a city like this though, good deals are hard to find, and Brian and I don’t have much luck finding anything worth buying.

IMG_0824Back out on the streets, which are getting more crowded by the hour, we pass by a woman who is very intoxicated and not wearing anything but a string to cover up her lady parts. With the image now burned into my mind, I try to erase my last few minutes of memory, but unfortunately the delete button isn’t working. I finally just realized, that we aren’t in Kansas anymore! Oh wait… we never were! Oh well… back to what I was saying… out on the streets there are lots of interesting people today. Most are trying to make a few bucks selling their homemade cd’s, and some are even selling sculptures that they have cleverly designed. I feel bad that I can’t buy everything.

IMG_0866We finally pass a couple that isn’t trying to sell anything, all they are asking for is food. The sign reads “No money, food only please.” So I decide to stop and offer them a package of apple raisin crisps and some water that I have stashed away in my backpack. The couple is very appreciative and eats the crackers right away. Janet and Steve are their names and they return the favor by offering us handmade roses for our daughters. I feel blessed by their generosity and Steve won’t let us leave until he has finished making all four roses. While Steve is making the beautiful roses out of palm fronds, Janet shares their story with us, about how they ended up here and how they still feel blessed despite their situation of being homeless. Janet’s mother is very sick and she doesn’t want to tell her mother that she is homeless. She fears that her mother will become more ill by the news. Their story is all too familiar and I feel sad that they have to live this way. After carefully putting the flowers away in my backpack, we head out once more.

IMG_0863Heading down the street further, we spy a Mexican restaurant and take a peek inside, to see if there are any tables available. We are surprised by how vacant the place looks and we are seated right away. After ordering, our food comes fast and everything tastes really good. After eating, we walk around and visit a few more casinos. The day is going by fast, and before we realize it, it is already 9:15 p.m. and the fireworks are scheduled to start in 15 minutes. We hurry outside and notice that the whole strip is covered from one end to the next in a mob of people. We aren’t sure where the best viewing spot is, so we just stay where we’re at and hope for the best.

IMG_0855Soon the fireworks begin and we realize that we have hardly any view at all. Unfortunately with the crowds being as thick as they are, we have to remain where we are, catching glimpses of the fireworks through the buildings that are blocking our view. The fireworks don’t last long and afterward we decide to get frosties at Wendy’s and chicken tenders at Chick Filet for a late night dinner/snack. Once done eating, we decide to walk back to the car. The crowds aren’t quite as bad as they had been, but it still takes us about an hour of walking before we reach our car.

IMG_0869Once back at the resort I flop on the bed in relief that I can finally lay down. I can see the LINQ through the window. It’s all lit up in red, white, and blue. It’s been a good day, but in a way I’m happy it’s over. I have never seen so many people in one place before and it’s good to finally be free from the crowds once again. Goodnight!

Day 8 of our 21 day adventure

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We’re up early today and already making our way through a dozen different casinos. It’s only about 10:00 a.m. and I’m already exhausted from all of the walking that we’ve done. The slot machines seem to be all tuckered out from the brood of people that have flocked here for the Fourth of July weekend. I haven’t been very lucky today and feel like I may as well just be throwing my money at the wind.

IMG_0739As the day stretches on, we finally make our way to Caesars Palace, which is one of my favorite places in Vegas. The Forum Shops call to me, I have been waiting in eager anticipation to come back to this place. Our favorite deli is here; and  amidst the commotion, I look fervently to find it. My mouth waters as we search for the place that can offer up the best corned beef sandwich that I have ever laid eyes upon. My stomach is making strange noises now, longing for the six inch high sandwich that it hasn’t seen for the last decade. Unfortunately, after searching through the shops one by one, Brian and I soon discover that the deli is gone for good. Our favorite place to eat is now just a mere memory.

IMG_0740We decide to continue on, hopeful that we will find another place that is just as good, but unfortunately we end up having to settle for a quick snack and then off we go again to observe the free shows, erupting every few hours as we continue to walk along. The ceiling changes throughout the day and I am charmed by its effects. This place has such a magical feel to it and leaves me wanting more. The downside is, that the shops remind me of Beverly Hills, and so I don’t even want to walk into most of them. I fear the clerks may ask me if they can help me; in which I know that my reply would most likely be, “Yes, as a matter of fact you can! You can help me right out this store, because I am poor and just spent most of my money at your pilfering casino!” So instead, I continue on…

IMG_0746We finally make our way outside, and I immediately spot a couple of beaten down war veterans. One looks completely stoned out of his mind and the other keeps telling people that he just wants a shower and a nice warm bed like everyone else. The two of them make quite the pair and I wonder how they ended up here. Curiosity and pity for the two of them gets the better of me and I decide to walk back and strike up a conversation. I put a $5 bill in their can, which hardly seems like enough. Here’s somebody that obviously fought for our country and now nobody is fighting for them. With tears welling up, I begin to ask the coherent one, some questions. I can feel Brian’s eyes from off in the distance, probably wondering if I have gone out of my mind. The man that I begin speaking to, is friendly and tells me about his past. I can tell he is just as hungry for conversation, as he is for food.  After we briefly talk and I turn to go, he grabs my hand, kisses it, and says, “May God bless you.” A part of me wants to run and wash my hand in a gallon of bleach and the other half of me wants to reach down and hug this man to pieces! Instead, a tear slips down my face and I turn to go, knowing that most people around me will probably never even give this man a second thought. It breaks my heart, but what more can I do. I say a silent prayer for the two men and move on.

IMG_0747Brian is waiting for me over by the curb, giving me a confused look. I don’t say anything to him about what just happened and we continue walking down the strip. We have another show to see tonight; Le Reve, which is over at the Wynn and we slowly make our way over there, one casino at a time. I am quite tired after all of the walking that we have done today and when we finally reach the Wynn, I am hopeful that we will be able to sit down and wait for the show to start. Unfortunately there are no seats to sit upon and instead, we end up standing in line until finally the ushers show us to our seats.

IMG_0750The ambiance of the room immediately fills me with excitement. The room is dimly lit and there is a vivid display of colorful fabric hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the circular stage. The billowy fabric draws me in and leaves me in an almost trance like state. It doesn’t take long before the show begins and in an instant, the long clusters of fabric are yanked up into a mysterious black hole. After they disappear, dozens of acrobats make their way down from the same black hole. The acrobats land on the stage, which is now completely covered in water. They deliver quite a show as they dive and traverse the colorful waters. It is a spectacular scene and the costumes and settings remind me of the movie Avatar. It’s a shame when the show has to end and I am thoroughly worn out from the excitement of everything. Day 8 was surely a day that I won’t soon forget and I am really looking forward to tomorrow.