Christmas 2012

After our awesome trip to Hawaii we only had a few days before Angela’s mom and grandma (and Thor) came for the Christmas holiday and we had another big week of busy craziness. Although we only had company for five days, we did a ton of stuff.

First, we went and picked up Angela’s certificate from her medical program. She finished at the end of November and did a really awesome job. I’m so proud of her!

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After that, we waited around the rest of the day for luggage to arrive which was a huge pain in the butt. I can’t imagine that United could have provided a worse experience in terms of delivery. The guy who delivered the bag parked in the middle of the parking lot and didn’t even come over and hand it to us. I had to go into his van and pull it out. It was ridiculous.

The next day we went to the Neon Museum here in Las Vegas. In summary, the neon museum is a collection of old signage and displays from various hotels, casinos and businesses from Las Vegas and the surrounding area. This was something that Angela was really looking forward to.

Unfortunately, the museum was really disappointing. Basically it was just a bunch of junk laying around a big open area. Our tour guide reminded us of Andre from The League (which was awfully lame). He even scolded me for walking a bit away to take a picture even though he had previously said that as long as stayed in eyesight we could go wherever we wanted. I was not a fan. Here’s some pictures of the stuff at the museum, though.

The day after the museum, Angela and her peeps headed to Jubilee (at Bally’s), the last remaining true showgirl show on the Las Vegas strip. It was really awesome and way better than Angela expected. Apparently, Bally’s cocktail waitresses are not trained appropriately, though, and act like huge bitches. Angela’s mom asked for water while they were gambling and the waitress blew them off completely. Angela then just stole the water off the tray. Later on, someone came up to Angela and congratulated her on doing so because the waitress wouldn’t give her water either. Angela was less angry after she got carded while gambling.

The next day was Christmas Eve and Angela made an amazing meatless dinner, a Polish family tradition. Here’s what we had:

  • Cheddar Bay Biscuits (homemade)
  • Mushroom Risotto
  • Garlic Shrimp
  • New England Beer Battered Fried Shrimp
  • Hot Crab Dip Appetizer

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I ate so much food that night and it was all so delicious. We then opened presents and everyone got something they really liked. I got a train to go around our tree, which is something I’d definitely been looking for the last few years. Angela got an awesome Bears hoodie and pajama pants that she practically lives in now. Together we got some spices and some other stuff. We got Thor an awesome little ball that he couldn’t wait to tear into. Angela’s mom and grandma got their Christmas present, which was VIP tickets to Zarkana at Aria for Christmas Day. Everyone was super happy!

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Thor 2

On Christmas, Angela made us an amazing turkey and a bunch of delicious sides. I got to eating too fast to take many pictures, but here is one of the turkey itself. It was so good!

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Like I mentioned, the next day we went and saw Zarkana at Aria. We upgraded to the VIP seats so we could sit on couches instead of theater chairs and, in my opinion, it was well worth it. The story is that of a circus master and the acts that made up his abandoned circus. There was a crazy juggler, some dude who balanced a chick on his shoulders while claiming a ladder and a bunch of other crazy stuff. It was really awesome and well worth the visit. Here’s a pic from that night:

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After that, we pretty much just relaxed. Angela went out gambling with her mom and grandma at The M the next day (which was really nice) and the SouthPointe (which was super trashy, apparently). All in all, it was a super awesome Christmas season and I loved every minute of it.

Hawaii

Angela and I recently visited Hawaii (the big island) for our two year anniversary. In whole, it was an awesome vacation – it certainly didn’t start that way though. We were scheduled to leave Las Vegas at 12:40 AM (in the wee morning hours) but due to a series of maintenance delays, we didn’t end up taking off until a little past 3. The plane was small and cramped (it was a 767, I believe) and there wasn’t room for our carry on bag so we had to gate check it. Neither one of us could really sleep on the way over the ocean, so when we got to Honolulu to switch to our interisland flight we were already really tired. After going to get our bag from the checked luggage area (because the flight attendant who “helped” us didn’t even ask if we were making a transfer when he took our gate checked bag) we ventured over to the interisland terminal and made our way to the big island via the shortest plane ride I’ve ever been on. From there, the next seven days were awesome.

Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation

After securing our rental car (a silver Ford Mustang convertible), we set off to the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation. Angela had scheduled us a VIP tour that included a tour of the plantation, an overview of the roasting operation and a chance for us to roast our own Kona coffee beans. The experience was amazing.

We met our guide shortly after arriving at the coffee plantation. He was a young-ish native Hawaiian who knew a ton about the local flora and fauna in addition to the goings on of the coffee plantation itself. The plantation itself was very unassuming.

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The first thing we did was walk right past a goose who had just given birth to a bunch of goslings. That was probably the most aggressive animal I’ve ever encountered in my life. Any time we got within a dozen feet of the newborn goslings cage, the goose would start stamping its feet and hissing at us.

After that, we were introduced to the plantation’s resident pig. It was a half-feral, half-domesticated hybrid and was a lot friendlier than the goose.

As we walked down towards the coffee trees, we encountered some interesting landscape features that are unique to volcanic regions. The coolest one, in my opinion, was definitely the lava tube that run under a part of the plantation. Our guide was kind enough to take our picture while we stood on top of it.

Lava Tube

Finally, we got to the coffee trees. Because Mountain Thunder is primarily an organic grower, they don’t use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer on their main coffee plantation. To make up for the absence of those things, they have donkeys and geese roam the area, eating the unwanted vegetation and promoting the growth of the plants through their droppings. As part of our tour, we got to feed these animals. The donkeys were miniature and super duper cute. The geese were really aggressive, going so far as to step on Angela’s foot (which was an especially interesting experience for her since she was wearing open sandals).

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After the feed ran out, we learned a bit about how the coffee is harvested at Mountain Thunder. All of their coffee cherries are hand picked from the trees at the peak of their ripeness and collected into big bags of 100 pounds each. It is fairly labor-intensive and this process accounts for a lot of the extra cost of Mountain Thunder’s coffee.

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The coffee tree is part of the gardenia family and has tiny little flowers all over it, which Angela found particularly fascinating.

We next ventured up to the coffee cherry processing facilities. The process has a bunch of steps, but Angela got good pictures of all of them. Basically what happens is as follows:

  1. The coffee cherry is checked for quality by seeing if it floats in a tank of water
  2. The cherry is stripped of its rind and fruit, leaving just the bean
  3. The bean is placed into a fermentation tank to remove it of its sugary coating
  4. The bean is removed from the fermentation tank and laid out to air dry in the sun
  5. If drying isn’t happening fast enough, the bean is placed with its batch in a large propane powered drier
  6. The beans are sorted and filtered based on quality and grade
  7. The coffee is roasted

The coolest part of the process (in my mind) was the sorting and filtering based on bean size and grade. The owner of the plantation had custom-built a ton of equipment to aid in this process and it was totally awesome. Here are some pics of the process (in order):

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After the main part of the tour was over we ate some lunch that the coffee people procured for us from some local restaurant. It was fairly good, but I only mention it in particular because Angela got an awesome picture of a rooster next to Sriracha (rooster) sauce.

Rooster and Rooster Sauce

Finally, it was time for us to roast our own coffee. The owner of the plantation came over and walked us through the process on a small personal-sized roaster. We got the whole education about their roasting profile, why it is what it is and got to make it happen. It was a ton of fun. After we roasted the coffee, we got to bag it (which Angela was about a million times better at than I was) and take some home with us.

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Overall, the Mountain Thunder VIP tour was well worth the cost. Angela and I both had a blast!

Hawaii Fairmont Orchid

After finishing up the coffee plantation tour, Angela and I finally made our way to the hotel. For this trip, we decided to stay at the Hawaii Fairmont Orchid. It was on the higher end of resorts on the island but wasn’t so expensive that it made our stay untenable. I am so glad that we decided to stay there as it was beautiful.

Hotel Lobby

Hotel Bay 4

Coconut Christmas Tree

Hotel Waterfall

Room view 2

Room view 1

We were so tired that first night that we just ordered room service. It was definitely underwhelming and something we did not partake of the rest of the time there. That was probably the only bad thing about the hotel, though.

Drive Around the Island

After a day of relaxing, we set our alarms and woke up early for a tour of the island. We hopped in our car and headed to our first destination, the Punalu’u Black Sand beach. Before we had even gone five miles, we found this tribute to Angela written in rocks.

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Followed by this exceedingly creepy warning sign.

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Anyways, back to the black sand beach. Angela found this little gem while browsing around for “off the beaten path” spots that tourists weren’t likely to see. It was, by far, the coolest little beach that I’ve ever been on. The sand grains were like little black beads. Walking across the beach just felt different than on any other beach I’d ever visited.

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One interesting thing that happened there was some hippy tried to give me a CD of cello music. I declined but he handed me some pamphlet prompting me to accept Jesus. Nice guy.

The next step on our journey was Volcanoes National Park. As we drove there, we discovered one of the neatest things about this drive, which kind of goes along with the fact that the island is a volcano, is that the landscape outside of our windows changed completely about every half hour. It was crazy.

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We arrived at the park the same time as a cold and windy storm, which was unfortunate. Crater Rim Drive (the road that circles the Kilauea Caldera) was closed for the most part, so we didn’t really get to see a ton. We did stop at the caldera look out point and saw a bunch of steam rising from the opening to the red-hot earth. That was pretty darn neat.

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We left the park and continued our trip around the island. Our next stop was Akaka Falls north of Hilo. It was still cold and rainy and I was kind of being a whiny little baby about it, so we waited in the car for a few minutes for the worst of the rain to pass so I wouldn’t be cold. Angela was smart enough to purchase a hooded sweatshirt at our previous stop but I had been stubborn so was just wearing a white t-shirt.

I am glad we waited, though, because the scenery at the falls was absolutely beautiful.

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Here’s a cool picture of me in our rental car at the falls.

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After the falls we were pretty darn tired so decided to head back to the hotel across the island. On the way there, we stopped at this little coffee shop called Hilo Shark where Angela and I had the best chocolate we have ever eaten (and I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate). If you like your chocolate super dark and delicious, I can definitely recommend ordering some.

We drove towards the north part of the island and ended up going through the town of Waimea and up into some mountains where we saw an awesome double rainbow.

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Finally, we made it back to the hotel. Rather than eating at the hotel, we ventured out to the local Tommy Bahama’s restaurant. It was surprisingly delicious. I had steak and Angela had ahi tuna. We ended up going back there several times.

Tommy Bahama Steak

Tommy Bahama Ahi Tuna

Macadamia Nut Factory and End of the World

The next day it was a little rainy and wet. Instead of sitting by the pool and dealing with that, we decided to go visit the local Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company. They have a little glass walled production environment where you can watch everything happen and they have a ton of samples that you can try. There were a lot of different flavors, including one that Angela and I wanted no part of: Spam.

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Nuts

Spam nuts

After we left the factory, we decided to take a short little drive to see some different parts of the island. What started out as a short little drive turned into a several hour long venture down a “highway” that consisted of about ten one-lane bridges, crazy twisty turns around cliffs and speed limits of 15 MPH. All of a sudden, there is a sign that says “highway ends” and the road just terminates in a parking lot that looks over one of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the parking lot was full and we didn’t get a chance to stop (and I had to do the tightest three point turn I’ve ever done) but here is a photo taken by someone else. This place seriously looked like something out of time.

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After turning around, we went back to Waimea and had some Kona coffee mochas before heading back to the hotel. That night we ate at one of the Fairmont Orchid’s on site restaurants, Brown’s Beach House. It was definitely overrated as the food was absurdly expensive and, quite frankly, just mediocre. We still don’t understand why Yelp was all up in arms about how great the place was.

Relaxing

The last few days at the resort we just relaxed. One of the things we did while we were relaxing was drive four miles over to the sister resort near the Fairmont Orchid, the Mauna Lani, and hung out there for a little bit. It was nice and there were sea turtles there, so Angela really liked it. We also found that Mountain Thunder had an affiliated coffee shop at the resort.

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Also, we went to a Luau at the hotel called “The Gathering of Kings”. It was the story of the migration of people through the Polynesian islands (including Hawaii, Samoa and New Zealand). There was fire twirling and tons of native foods from each of the islands profiled. Angela and I tried a bunch of new foods including a Hawaiian favorite Poi. I would not recommend it as it tasted like eating Play-Doh.

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Finally, this was the first time I had gone on vacation without doing any kind of work in about four years, so it was really awesome to be able to just lay by the pool, read and drink milkshakes.

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The Journey Back

Our flight back was a lot better than our flight to Hawaii as we flew on an Airbus A330 with tons of room. There was no gate-checking involved and our flight left on time. After we got back, I took some more time off to hang out with Angela and just celebrate our anniversary. We both loved our trip to Hawaii and are already looking forward to our next trip to somewhere tropical.

Brocation in Phoenix, AZ

My brother and I recently met up for a 5-day long vacation together in Phoenix, AZ. About 4 months ago, I decided it was time for us to see a major college football game. I’d never seen one (having only played at the Division III level) and my brother had only been to one before (and that was an IU-Purdue game, which isn’t usually a very fun one to watch). We talked about it a bit and then I decided to buy some tickets to the Fiesta Bowl because it had been of consistently high quality the last few years.

We ended up lucking out because the game featured the two squads we both wanted to see the most: Kansas State and Oregon. I was cheering for Kansas State because of Colin Klein, but mostly I was excited about seeing a good football game and hanging out with my brother.

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We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Glendale, AZ. It was really nice for the price and was within walking distance of several shopping centers and the stadium. We had a good time just hanging out together, but the highlight of the visit was definitely the game. If you’ve never been to a big college football game before and you genuinely like the sport, you almost owe it to yourself to attend one. The atmosphere and pageantry were amazing. Every time one of the schools’ cheer squads stood up and rang out a cheer, the entire population supporting that team would ring back in reply. We got lucky, too, in that the view from our seats was amazing for watching the game. You could see all the action!

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We had a great time, and I think this is something I want to make a tradition. We’re still trying to decide whether to rotate bowl games or go to the same one every year, but whatever we decide, I know it will be a blast.

Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris

Angela and I decided to try something different this year for Thanksgiving. Because we were in San Francisco until the day before the holiday, neither one of us really wanted to spend time preparing a home-cooked meal. As such, we ventured out to the Las Vegas strip (which was a nightmare to drive on) and stopped at Paris to try out Gordon Ramsay Steak.

In short, the food was pretty great but not better than any other restaurant we’ve been to on the strip. It was more expensive than other high end restaurants we’ve been to down there and the atmosphere wasn’t our style. The music was way too loud and it just seemed like the place was trying too hard to be hip and/or cool. We don’t think we’d go back or recommend it to others.

Like I said, though, the food was good and we were happy with the way things tasted overall. Here’s a rundown of what we enjoyed. First, we had some small breads. We were served three different kinds, but only one of them was any good.

After that, we ordered some soup and salad. Angela had British ale onion soup while I chose to have a Caesar salad. Both tasted good.

For our entree, we decided to split the porterhouse (because that’s pretty much what we do at steakhouses now). The steak was cooked correctly and was seasoned really well. The seasoning was kept simple and allowed the steak to really shine through. Here’s some before and after pictures:

After the steak, we partook in some dessert. Angela ordered the carrot cake with cream cheese ice cream and pineapple relish. I ordered a chocolate dish that had passion fruit in it along with some ice cream. We enjoyed coffee with our dessert and it came in a French press. The coffee came with three liquor infused chocolate spoons that Angela really enjoyed. They were Amaretto, Bailey’s and Chambord.

It was definitely a nice experience to have a Thanksgiving meal where we didn’t have to clean up afterwards but, again, we wouldn’t go back or recommend this restaurant to others.

Javier’s Mexican Restaurant at Aria

The other day, Angela and I were on the strip looking for somewhere to eat lunch. We had originally planed on stopping at Todd English’s Olives at the Bellagio but we accidentally walked the wrong direction and ended up not making it there by the time it closed for lunch.

As such, we made our way over towards the Aria and, as we were walking into the resort, we saw a sign for a place called Javier’s and decided to try it out.

Short version – it was delicious.

We started out (as is customary for a Mexican restaurant) with some delicious salsa and chips. They were actually quite good. You could definitely taste how fresh they were.

After taking a look at the menu, Angela settled on the lobster enchiladas. She said they were good.

I took the boring route and ordered steak fajitas. Surprisingly, they were really great. They had an interesting flavor to them and had a great little sauce.

Anyways, we would recommend Javier’s for a quick meal. It was relatively inexpensive (for the strip at least) and tasted really good. The atmosphere was definitely pleasant.

Mon Ami Gabi in Las Vegas

Last Saturday night Angela and I went to Mon Ami Gabi and enjoyed a nice dinner. I wasn’t really expecting much after learning it was a chain (and after our experience with another notable premium chain restaurant earlier this month in Ruth’s Chris) but dinner was very tasty. Special shout out to Theresa for the gift card that prompted us to visit the restaurant.

We each decided to enjoy a full three courses. Before that, however, the waitress brought out a beet slaw and some French bread. Both were quite enjoyable.

Per my usual boring self, I started off with a Caesar salad. Angela opted for the French onion soup because:

  1. She’s a sucker for French onion soup
  2. Mon Ami Gabi is a French restaurant

My Caesar had dressing that was a tad bit watery for my taste. Angela said her soup was delicious, though.

I decided to order the special, bacon wrapped filet medallions, for my entree and Angela decided on scallops. Both dishes were delicious. My steak was cooked properly to order and Angela’s scallops were done appropriately.

My steak came with a few potato wedges which were tasty, but not exceptional.

Angela’s scallops came with pureed cauliflower which must have tasted good because I didn’t get to have any.

To seal off the meal, we both ordered Americanos and shared profiteroles with ice cream. It was a nice way to cap the evening.

I can’t say I would go back (there are just too many good restaurants in town) but it was a nice place to enjoy an evening and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone staying at Paris who didn’t want to walk the strip for something else.

Renaissance Festival Disappointment

Wow, the renaissance festival that we went to was awful. I think I had expectations that were totally out of line with what a renaissance fair actually is. In my mind, it was going to be a somewhat interesting and educational experience that would show off the garb and customs of cultures during the renaissance period.

What a disappointment! It seemed like a renaissance fair is just an excuse for big fat people to drink beer and wear less clothes than normal. Also, I think my friend Ben Smith said it best:

Ren fairs tend to be a horrible catch-all for people who are waaaaaaay too into their subculture.

That seems totally accurate judging from the number of furries, goths and more that I witnessed walking around.

The Hardest Legs Workout I’ve Ever Done

Yesterday, Angela told me she came up with a new legs workout and asked if I wanted to do it with her. I said sure, and we got started.

We headed to the gym and things started out easy enough. We jumped on the elliptical machines to get our heartrates up and get the blood flowing to our limbs. After 30 minutes of that, it was time to start resistance training. Here’s what we did (weights are mine, Angela obviously did different weights):

  • 1 set of 30 leg press with one 45 pound plate on either side as a warmup (90 pounds)
  • 4 sets of 20 unilateral (one leg at a time) leg press with a 45 pound and a 25 pound plate on either side (140 pounds)
  • 4 sets of 20 deep squats with one 45 pound plate on either side (135 pounds including the bar)
  • 4 sets of 20 RDL with two 25 pound plates on either side (145 pounds including the bar – use 25s so you can stretch the glutes and hamstrings more)
  • 4 sets of 20 walking lunges (unweighted – 10 each leg)
  • 3 sets of 20 step ups on a 30″ platform (unweighted – 10 each leg)

We cooled down on the recumbent bike for five minutes so we didn’t go from crazy exercise to nothing immediately. The rest periods were “as long as it takes the other person to do their set” so, on average, probably 40 – 60 seconds.

I’m sitting here at my desk right now, and my legs are sore to the touch. I walked to get coffee a few minutes ago and it was like I was slogging through waist deep snow or something.

I have to give a shout out to Angela for coming up with probably the hardest workout I’ve ever done. By the end of it, we both looked like we had jumped into the pool – my athletic shorts were soaked, which is something I don’t think I’ve seen since I was playing football, running around in 100 degrees in shorts and helmets.

Fun Stuff Around Las Vegas

Yesterday was my first full day off in a while where I didn’t do any work all day. Angela and I decided to take advantage of it and go do some of the things we’ve meaning to try around Las Vegas.

The Polish Deli on Charleston in Las Vegas

The first thing we did was check out a Polish Deli we had heard about. This place was so legit, it didn’t even need a name other than “Polish Deli” so we knew it was going to be good. They had all kinds of delicious stuff there, but we decided to just get two different types of ham, Polish and Black Forest. We tried the Polish ham as soon as we left and it was delicious. Unfortunately, the heat inside our car from the rest of our running around spoiled the rest of the meat before we could try it so we have to go back later this year and get some more.

After the Polish Deli we took our knives down to a local sharpening business to get them all sharpened. They have been dull for a while now and I promised Angela we’d get that taken care of so I found a place on Yelp that had good reviews and we took them in. This place was super interesting because it is actually located in the same store front as a dog groomer so when we dropped the knives off we got to see some cute dogs. Angela is picking up the knives today, so hopefully it is easier to cut things.

This is us being super cute together at the Baja Fresh.

At this point we were both starting to get a little hungry so we checked out the local Baja Fresh and had some delicious (and relatively cheap and healthy) Mexican food. Angela had the shrimp fajitas and said they were really good. I got the Burrito Ultimo with chicken (sub sour cream with guacamole) and it was delicious as it always is. If we’re going to eat fast food, Baja Fresh is pretty much the only place we do it at because their ingredients are fresh and delicious and they don’t seem to use a ton of grease or oil in their cooking.

Post fill-up, we decided we wanted to go the farmer’s market located just a few miles from where we ate. Unfortunately, the farmer’s market didn’t begin until 4 PM and it was only 1:15 PM so we had some time to kill. We decided to go bowling at the Suncoast Hotel & Casino. I started off wonderfully with 4 gutter balls in a row (I’m a terrible bowler) and easily lost two of the three games we played. Fortunately, both Angela and I got better as we went along and ended up breaking 100 in the last game. In the spirit of honesty, I have to admit that breaking 100 meant 108 for me and 143 for Angela – she absolutely smoked me.

Bowling didn’t actually take too long so we still had some time to kill. We hit up the bank to grab some cash for the farmer’s market and then chilled at a Starbucks close to it – I had an iced passion tea and Angela had a passion tea lemonade. Those are pretty much our go to drinks at this point any time we’re at Starbucks (the last few times I’ve got coffee there it just hasn’t been great so I tend to stay away from it now).

Delicious strawberries and my beautiful wife from the Las Vegas farmer's market.

When we finally made it to the farmer’s market, I was surprised by how few vendors there were. I was expecting 30 to 40, but I think there were closer to 15 (including a shaved ice truck parked in the parking lot). I wasn’t really interested in much at the market, but Angela ended up getting some fresh fruit which she said was pretty delicious. The thing I noticed the most was the fresh strawberries we bought were amazingly fragrant. You could literally smell the freshness (and the one I ate was pretty darn delicious, too).

To wrap the day off we decided to check out one of Las Vegas’s crazy little attractions, the Zombie Apocalypse Store. It was pretty neat, with a wide variety of knicky-knack paraphernalia and actual survival gear. There wasn’t a ton of stuff of immediate interest to us, but Angela did get a coffee mug and, because I checked in on Facebook while in store, we got a free postcard. The inside of the store also hosted a lawn service company or something like that. Definitely an interesting combination in my mind. If and when we start to shoot at a range, we may go pick up some zombie silhouette targets from the shop.

The Zombie Apocalypse Store in Las Vegas

It was a fun day, and it was cool to knock so many things off our 101 list in one day. I had a blast and look forward to many more off days just like this one.