We closed the office for a week before our wedding, so we didn't want to close it another couple of weeks afterward for a honeymoon.  Instead, we planned a trip for this Fall and decided to take some "mini-moons" during the summer months.  One of those mini-moons included a train trip to Chicago.  Sounds great, right?

Add in four other men, only 24 hours in the city, and three hours of sleep the night before and it isn't so romantic anymore.

That's right, we took our first mini-moon with four other men.  How does one get herself in that situation?  Well, I got all wrapped up in the idea of riding the train, walking through Chi-Town, and cheering on the Cubs at Wrigley Field.  I didn't take into account the following:

Pete--Pete is one of our dearest friends.  However, he's 68 years old, lives in a garage, has been married four times, has 60 coon hounds, just throws away his clothes instead of doing laundry, once lost one lens of his eyeglasses in the urinal at the bar, and claims his family lost the Civil War for the South.  BUT...he's one of the funniest guys you'll ever meet, wouldn't harm a fly, and would bend over backward to help you in any way possible.  Plus, we have the same political views, which is a bonus.  As you can guess, Pete was extremely laid back on the trip, but had trouble walking much more than a block at a time.

George--George is Cliff's younger brother.  He's 26 years old, has traveled the world but never packed a single item, believes the IRS will call him when they want him to pay taxes, keeps a random array of items stashed four feet deep in his car, and loves wearing Hawaiian leisure shirts.  BUT...he's another one of the funniest guys you'll ever meet, can be super sweet, loves to read and listens to good music.  Plus, we have the same political views, which is a bonus.  As you can guess, George is an extremely laid back travel partner also.  What I didn't expect, is that the night before we left George picked me up and dumped me in a swimming pool with all of my clothes on and my cell phone in my pocket.  So, there was a little tension between us for the trip.

Dennis--Dennis is Pete's brother.  We hadn't spent as much time with him in the past.  But when we had, he brought watermelon, danced a lot, was funny, and seemed sweet as pie.  What we didn't know is that he is a travel dictator.  

Jerry--We had never met Jerry.  We were expecting Dennis's friend Russel (who we love) to come along, but when we arrived at the train station, Dennis had Jerry with him.  Jerry couldn't hear and was embarrassingly rude to everyone we met.

So, once we got to Chicago, Cliff and I parted ways with the rest of the group and did our own thing.  We went to Millennium Park, saw Cloud Gate, toured Shedd Aquarium, had lunch at the original Gino's, and then met up with everyone else at Wrigley Field for the game.  We cheered the Cubs on and cheered even more when they beat the Cardinals.  

Then, our plan to stay in the bars all night instead of getting a hotel fell through.  Almost all of the bars in Chicago closed at 2am.  Cliff and I thought we had a good plan to camp out at Union Station.  I'd had to sleep in airports before, so why not a train station?  Well, because Union Station closes from 1:30am - 5:30am.  So, at 1:30 in the morning, we were punted to the streets of Chicago.  

For the first thirty minutes, we sat on the front steps of Union Station and tried to sleep.  All I could think about was keeping an eye on our money, our backpack, and our bodies.  Then I would relax in knowing Cliff would take care of us.  Then I couldn't sleep, well, because we were sitting on the streets of Chicago in the middle of the night in front of Union Station!

I finally convinced Cliff to move up to a platform where we could lie down together.  I'm embarrassed to say, I actually got comfortable there and had thoughts of knowing I could survive if I had to be homeless.  Still, I was never happier when Dennis called us and said he had gotten a hotel room.  We crawled into that bed as fast as possible and luckily I was out before four grown men started snoring!

Later, on the train ride home, I told Cliff how glad I was that he was thinking of our safety while we were sleeping on the street.  Cliff's response: Money?  Backpack?  Our bodies?  Oh, I hadn't thought of any of that!  I was just wishing I had a pillow.

Two weeks (or a fortnight, as Cliff would prefer I say) ago, we made a trip to the local "farm and home" store and bought a pretty turquoise lead rope, a cute black, white, and purple blanket, and a black halter.  I don't think Cliff had ever gone to the "farm and home" store to pick out coordinating supplies before, but this time the supplies were for me, so everything had to match.  And be cute colors.

One of the things I have wanted since I moved back here last summer is a horse.  I had two when I was young, but hadn't really ridden since then (minus one attempt with my high school boyfriend which ended with both of us being bucked off in a creek full of snow and ice.)  So, Cliff has been looking for just the right horse for the past year.  

Turns out, we had one the whole time.  When Cliff was younger, he had a "blues" barn of horses:  Buddy, Coco, and Stevie named after Buddy Guy, Coco Taylor, and Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Buddy is still alive and well, but had been moved to our friend Adam's house for the past few years.  Adam decided he didn't want to feed Buddy through the winter, so it was perfect timing for him to make the move to a new home in our pasture!

Buddy is at least 20 years old and must be the most gentle horse ever.  He has such a sweet personality and soft demeanor.  I'm already in love with him.

The first night, we got him saddled up, I got up there and freaked out a little.  Buddy is all legs, so I was up much higher than I expected.  Because of his long legs, he also walks fast.  So, everything was moving much faster than I expected, too.  Cliff never let go of the lead rope that evening.  He just led us around in the pasture.

The second night, I was more comfortable.  Cliff still led us most of the time, but I did try to ride a little on my own.  However, Buddy knew I didn't know what I was doing, and although he was sweet and gentle, he didn't want to go where I wanted to go, so my independent riding didn't last long.

By the end of the week, I was riding on my own and Buddy and I are great friends.  (The sweet grain and apples I feed him after we ride probably contributed to most of that.)

Poor Cliff has gotten the short end of the stick though.  He's probably walked 15 miles with us, carried buckets of water for the first few days, and drove posts and put up fence to make a special pen for Buddy.  However, since Buddy loves to run, Cliff has gotten to ride him a bit too, since he's not afraid at all.

One of my first posts about the difference in my new rural life and my old city life introduced the concept of trivia night.  After many, many second place standings, we finally came in first last February.  I was smiling from ear to ear today when I opened an email from my Aunt Lisa announcing it is the official opening of Trivia Night Season.  For further motivation, she included a copy our fifteen minutes of fame in The Brunswicker newspaper.

I actually have a long list of blog posts just waiting to be written, but I have never felt busier than I have this summer.  However, I feel like I've completely neglected you at this point, so for fun, I'm re-posting another old submission from my previous blog.  This is one of my favorite memories, which I was reminded of earlier this week while renewing Cliff's car tags online.  A great thing about moving back to my small town: I know all of the mechanics at the inspection sites, so... well, I won't say exactly how easy it is to get an inspection, at the risk of some of them losing their licenses for the fourth or fifth time, but just trust me, it's a lot different that when I got my Jeep inspected in Kansas City which included making an actual appointment, requiring me to actually bring my vehicle to the mechanic's shop, having to test some things like the lights and horn, and thinking he had me down for the wrong type of appointment when he took my wheel off and looked at my brakes.  

I absolutely loved the first car I ever bought myself.  My black, four door, Oldsmobile Alero was my dream car.  It had everything.  So many things that you should not have on your first car because you will either have to borrow from your 401K to be able to upgrade with your next car, or you'll have to give in and take a cut in features. 

The Alero was the car I had my eye set on from day one of car shopping.  I looked and test drove and researched others, but I never strayed from my goal of getting that car.  And I wanted black with tan interior.  And I wanted a sun roof.  And I wanted a spoiler.  And I wanted the top of the line GLS model with the Sun & Sound Package, but thought I would settle for the mid-line GL version.  When I ended up being able to get the GLS with Sun & Sound, I thought I would never stop driving.

So, being so in love with my car, I took great care of it.  I cleaned, vacuumed and washed it at least once a week for the entire time I owned it.  I got the oil changed every 3,000 miles.  I did all the suggested maintenance at all the suggested times.  And, as with all my vehicles, I kept the tags current.

One year, when it came time for my tag renewal,  I went home to have the inspection completed.  Now, you know I'm from a small town, but you may not know exactly how all the small town stuff works.  Car inspections are a good example of the way things are in a town with less than 2,000 people.  Anything passes inspection.  You can tow your headlight-less, brake-less, horn-less automobile into the inspection station and they will probably pass it.  Or, you can do like my dad did for years and just call them (never even bringing your car to the actual inspection site) and they will pass it.  But, I followed the rules, and actually took my Alero into the shop for the inspection.

The inspection game was new to me, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.  My brother went with me to help out.  We went into the shop and the mechanic followed us back out to the car to actually run a few tests.  I turned on my blinkers, stepped on the brakes, honked my horn, and that was the extent of it.

The three of us went back inside to complete the paperwork so Jake and I could be on our way.  As I was giving the mechanic my paperwork, he started telling us how he had actually been struck by lightning, and survived. 

Not once, but twice.

He went on to tell us how he seemed to be just fine physically, but since the second strike, he really had trouble with mixing up letters and numbers.  Now, if I had been struck by lightning twice with a side effect of mixing up numbers and letters, I would not try to talk and tell stories while I was copying down important information like names, addresses, and vehicle identification numbers.

Luckily, when I got to the DMV in Kansasy City, the lady actually believed my story about the lightning strikes and went ahead and gave me my new tags...even though my VIN on the mechanic's paperwork was mixed up and did not match the actual VIN of my car. 

And I'm probably the only person to ever say to a DMV employee, "I know you're probably not going to believe this, but the guy that did my inspection has been struck by lightning.  Twice..."