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Jameson and I spent Monday in Orlando. We were both feeling crummy, so didn't do a lot, just errands and resting. I slept for most of the day. Didn't realize how exhausted I was.

On Tuesday we had one last wonderful breakfast at Keke's. Then we packed our things and said farewell to Florida. I wonder if I'll be coming back, or not.

We drove all day and arrived in Greenville around 9:30pm. The train made good time and was spotted when we arrived. Railfan Joe Dougherty was on hand for our arrival, and took lots of great pictures of Nikki and other members of train crew unloading the flatcars. The Greenville yard is one of few accessible, paved yards, and one where the flats are stored with the coaches (passenger cars).





Some of the cars are hand-painted.


On Wednesday morning Jameson had a job interview, which went very well. Afterward we went to Publix to stock up on groceries for the week. I bought several prepared meals, because it's going to be a busy week and I don't expect to have time to cook. Then it was back to the train. I spend most of the day applying for more jobs and resting, as I hadn't slept well.

We have a pretty weird schedule here in Greenville. There were 10am shows scheduled for both Thursday and Friday, so we all had to be up early and there was no time for a rehearsal. Plus our bandmaster Brett had to fly home for a family emergency, so we had a sub on trumpet and Tim will be conducting for the entire week.

I like Greenville, a lot. I've probably mentioned this before...it has a special place in my heart, being one of the first cities that I ever visited on tour as a trombonist. It is a beautiful city with a thriving economy, but it's HOW it got to be beautiful and successful that I find really wonderful. The town found itself struggling during the 70s, with WWII-era industries failing and commerce moving to the suburbs where shopping plazas and malls were being built. Both the private citizens and the city government officials decided that they would not sit by and watch their city decline. They formed an ambitious plan involving both private and public sectors, and began a total redesign of the entire town. From the structure of the buildings to the landscaping to the businesses and economic foundations, they laid the groundwork for their hopes, and worked hard to achieve it. And the result is a beautiful city growing at an incredible rate.

Every time I come here, I am amazed at the leaps and bounds being made. This time, the area near our train has gone from being a row of empty shop fronts to an active market area, with local grocers, art studios, bike shops, and more coming soon. On the drive to the arena, a once-empty stretch of land now houses a massive housing boom...new apartments under construction as far as the eye can see.

Anyway! Opening day was a little rough, because of the early start and Brett's absence and a union meeting scheduled for the afternoon. But it was made better by a visit from our sister unit, the Blue show, currently performing Out of this World in Charlotte NC. They were seated in the section closest to the band, which was really nice because we had a loud rowdy bunch cheering us on!



After the show they immediately came down onto the floor and started socializing and checking out all of our stuff. People were climbing all over the portal, playing with props, taking photos, laughing, talking. It was a lot of fun. I got to see some members of the Blue unit band, including Landon, the union steward on that show (we'd never met!). A large group photo was organized...I had already left by the time it was taken so I'm not in it, but I'm glad so many people stuck around for it. It'll be a nice memory for us to look back on, that day when Red and Blue circus families got together :)

(photo courtesy Steve B.)

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It's been a busy yet slow week. I didn't document it very well.

One day, I helped my mom to clean up the Christmas baking things.
Another day, we visited with her 89-year-old neighbor down the street.
Another day I had a rental car, so we ran errands and visited with some more of mom's friends.
A box arrived from my sister in California: some late Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers. My gift was some awesome treats, including a chocolate orange (I LOVE those! Like, unreasonably crazy for them!) and a beautiful box of traditional Japanese desserts from Minamoto Kitchoan in San Francisco! I've already eaten several of them: a green tea cookie, sweet white bean bun, and dark chocolate waffle. Decadent, refined, and delicious. Thank you Kayle!



I spent time with some high school friends: Lauren, Sarah, and Kristi. We had a tasty dinner at a local brewery and got all caught up on each others' lives. I was amazed that we decided to part ways before midnight...apparently we're old people now! :P It was great to see my friends and know that even after a year apart, we can get back together as though no time has passed.

On New Year's Eve Day, I went with my parents to run some errands. One of our stops was Buy n Large! Er, I mean, Sam's Club!

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Consumerism at its finest! Where everything is larger than life!
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Gallon o' Ranch!
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With my tiny train room, I normally have no reason to find myself in Sam's Club. A jar of mayo from there would be the same size as my fridge. But that's part of the novelty of it :)

That night we went to a New Year's Eve party at my parents' friends Sherrie and Arnold's house. We had a great time. Arnold's a great cook! Sherrie has a pet skunk. Isn't he adorable?


(photo courtesy Sherrie)

We left the party before midnight and got home in time to get ready for the New Year. 2017! Can't believe it's here already, and also can't believe how long this year seemed!

As easy as it is to complain about the events of 2016, I think that perhaps it's a good thing that we are concerned enough about what's happening in our world that we speak up, protest, vote, and participate. Maybe 2016 wasn't the best, but maybe from now on we will put more effort into making future years better. I hope!

Personally, and in the circus, it's been a pretty crazy year.


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I flew out of Chattanooga on Monday morning. Flights and layovers went just fine. At the airport I rented a car and drove a few hours to reach my hometown.

It was great to see my parents! I got to see them at Kayle's wedding, but weddings are such a whirlwind of activity and we didn't get much time together. Now I've got three weeks!

I also got to meet two new additions to our family! This is Immi (short for "immigrant"). One day my Dad was out mowing the lawn, and he noticed this small striped cat watching him. He turned off the mower, and she immediately ran over to him and gave him permission to own her :D She's a sweetheart.



This is Roux (meaning "red"). He was from a litter of feral cats born in my parents' neighborhood. He was caught and brought home just about a week before I got home.


His little tummy was pretty bloated so we figured he had worms. My parents took him to the vet and I tagged along. Turns out he had ringworm and also a respiratory infection, so he got some dewormer and an antibiotic. I was amazed at how well he behaved at the vet's! No crying or clawing or biting, and he took his medicine without complaint. Good little boy!


I've spend most of my time this week gearing up for Christmas. My Mom was baking lots of cookies to give as gifts to friends, so I helped with that. She can't see too well, so detailed decorating can be difficult. Still, I think the results are quite cute in a derpy way!


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On Monday Jameson and I began the drive to Chicago. We had already driven two hours the night before, so expected only a few more hours of driving. But partway through the drive we saw something ominous in the distance: a small dark cloud hovering on the horizon.

At first, we speculated that it was from a factory or someone's private burn pile. But the closer we got, the darker the smoke looked, and it soon became apparent that something was wrong. Jameson pointed out that he hadn't seen any cars traveling in the opposite direction for some time.



We rounded a corner and came upon a horrible scene. Something was burning on the highway median. Thick black smoke and fireballs curled into the sky. All we could do was sit and wait as emergency vehicles arrived.


Eventually it became clear that the fire was not going out any time soon. We were redirected back the way we came, where we found an alternative route. As we turned around I snapped a picture, hoping to see what had happened, but all I saw was a damaged truck and an indistinguishable black mass of metal.


It turns out that there had been a three-trailer accident. One of the trailers was a tanker, and it had burst into flame. The driver was killed. Not knowing this yet, we spent the rest of our drive quietly worrying for those involved, and selfishly grateful that we ourselves were OK.

We arrived in Chicago without incident, and enjoyed a nice evening with Jameson's parents.

The next day we got up a little early for a nice breakfast at Little Goat. We were lucky...owner Stephanie Izard was there to taste-test some proposed specials. Very cool to see the boss herself doing some hands-on sampling and giving instruction to her crew! This time I decided to try the "bullseye" french toast: home-baked chive brioche with soft-friend egg hidden in the middle, topped with crispy chicken, strawberry slices, and bbq maple syrup. As always, Little Goat hits the spot!



After breakfast it was time to hit the grocery. Mrs. Boyce needed lots of ingredients for Thanksgiving! She'd also preordered a turkey from Local Foods, a grocery specializing in local sustainable farming and foods. I saw lots of things in there that I'd like to eat! Back at the condo we relaxed, watched some Cubs recaps that Jameson had missed (we don't have tv on the train), and enjoyed an awesome curry lentil soup made by Mrs. Boyce. After dinner I was able to premiere a project that Landon (Blue Unit drummer) and I had been working on: social media sites for the Ringling bands! We now have a page on facebook and a twitter account. These are just to share the awesomeness that is the Ringling circus band...and yes, let's be honest, to remind people that there IS a Ringling circus band! Live music + circus = magic :)
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Monday was Jameson's birthday!!
Unfortunately we found ourselves in Youngstown!!

But still, we were able to have some fun! We found a very nice restaurant close to our hotel. Jameson enjoyed a savory steak topped with his favorite, blue cheese (eew!). While we were eating, music from our preshow began playing in the background. I was dismayed...Jameson danced!



After our meal we went bowling. I am horrible at bowling but enjoy it all the same. We played five frames. Jameson beat me every time!


There was an arcade in the alley as well, we played a few games and won enough tickets for some disguises. It was a fun night!

(photo courtesy Jameson)

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We drove to Auburn Hills. On the way we went through Detroit. Both of us were prepared for graffiti, damaged roadways, burnt out cars and condemned houses, because this is what we'd seen two years ago when driving through. Instead we were pleasantly surprised...things aren't perfect, but there is obvious change. Keep it up Detroit, it ain't over until the fat lady sings.

To kill time after reaching Auburn Hills we walked around a mall. Jameson found a new backpack for the laptop he'll be getting soon. And I unexpectedly found a new laptop when we visited the Microsoft store! I have this weird history of owning Dell Inspiron laptops. At this point I've had four of them, each of which has lasted a minimum of five years (and even then they're still fully functional, just outdated). My poor Inspiron N5110 had its battery fried last year, and ever since I upgraded it to Windows 10 it's been a little laggy, having not been designed for that OS. Long story short, it's six years old and the time has come to replace it. The new one is an Inspiron 15, a combo of software/hardware sold exclusively by Microsoft (one great thing about this is no bloatware). Got it at a great price and so far I'm enjoying it!

Tuesday was a dark day. Didn't really do much...Jameson went to a movie while I stayed at home to set up the new computer and do chores. That night everyone was watching democracy at work. I think I went to bed around 2am when it became clear Trump would win.

Wednesday also a dark day, I borrowed Jameson's car to return the nice backpack I'd bought last week in Pittsburgh, turns out it was too small for the new laptop. Go figure!

Thursday was opening day. Not much was said about the election results...this is the circus, probably 2/3rds of the employees here can't vote. I just looked around, looked at my coworkers of all different colors and religions and nationalities, and at the circus kids who can't even speak the same language playing together without a care, and I did take a moment to appreciate the unbounded diversity here. What matters here is not where you're from, or what color you are. It matters that you do your work well, and stay true to yourself, and take pride in both your work and yourself. To be honest I wish everyone could experience this. I'm not sure what it will mean to have Mr. Trump as president...all I can say is, I hope the fears circulating across the web right now are unfounded.

Anyway, opening day came and went. We had a long rehearsal to work in some new changes for next year. Our new ringmaster sang part of the rehearsal with us, she sounded great! Can't wait to hear her in the show :)

Friday we had the first split we've had in a while. I was super tired so went to the train for a nap during the break. While waiting for the bus to leave the arena I happened to catch the camels headed inside for a midday rehearsal (just an FYI, if they weren't rehearsing they'd need to be exercised anyway, this is not extra camel labor :P)



Both shows were good. We got to play the National Anthem for Veteran's Day.

Saturday, three shows. I brought a lot of things to the arena to sell, mostly clothing and books, just trying to clear up some space in my room. End-of-tour cleanup, so to speak. Others had the same idea, Victor (tiger crew) was able to sell quite a few things and Lindsey (clown) sold some her artworks. It feels like the end of the tour, like we should be having our final show countdown, like we should be preparing for Winter Quarters. Just looking at the Palace of Auburn Hills brings back memories of "see you down the road" hugs and dressing room toasts. But this year is different. We will continue into the new year with the same show. It's strange. But things change, and hopefully this is a positive change.


(photo courtesy Detroit Free Press)

Sunday was a two show day. I wish I had exciting, fun things to share with you this week, but it was just a slow week. The arena is isolated next to a highway, and we had a full week of shows, and there just wasn't much happening. Next week is going to be downright weird: we have a solid THREE dark days in a row, followed by a SIX PACK in Youngstown OH, followed by a two week break for Thanksgiving. My goodness!


Other stuff:

Medusa the snake getting some hang time on an aerial orb.


(photo courtesy Jon M.)

Horse and camel trainer Robert Štipka working with Colonel during preshow.


Checking out the slomo setting during the cannon shot (one of few times I'm not playing).
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Jameson met me in Albany, and we got a hotel near the airport. I was exhausted! The train wasn't due to arrive in Rochester until Tuesday afternoon, so we killed time on Monday at a mall, and on the drive of course, and on another hotel.

On Tuesday we hit the grocery and went back to the train. I spent the day unpacking, cleaning, doing laundry...all the chores. We also went to the gym.

Wednesday was a dark day. Spent time at the gym, and later on Jameson and I went to look for pumpkins to carve! This close to Halloween there weren't many options, but we found three that fit the bill! The little white one is a "backup" in case one of us messes up our carving!



While Jameson was watching the Cubs game, I prepped the pumpkins! No guts no glory!


All done and ready for carving!


And of course I kept the seeds for roasting in my compact NuWave oven!



Thursday was opening day. It felt good to be back! I was surprised when many folks stopped me in the hall to say "welcome back" or "we missed you". Thanks everyone, I feel loved!!

One of our favorite things about the Rochester arena is that there's a Dinosaur BBQ right next door! After rehearsal we all headed over there for some fantastic barbecue. I had the classic brisket sandwich, cucumber tomato salad, and cornbread! Yum.


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It was nice to have some days off without travel involved! Strangely homey :D

On Monday Jameson and I went to check out a Planet Fitness in Houston. Jameson has a medical condition that makes high-impact exercise difficult. Although he has tried to exercise on his own, our lifestyle of constant travel and living in small rooms has been something of a road block. The most obvious thing to do was to find a chain gym with locations in every city we'll visit, and open a membership. Planet Fitness fit the bill.


(photo courtesy PF Spring Branch)

We were given a tour of the facilities by a young lady with blue and purple hair (she had the most complex name so I'm not even going to try). As we walked around the gym and listened to her explaining the equipment, gym policies, etc., I was struck by the variety of people exercising. I saw men, women, teenagers, seniors, some who were full-figured and some who were athletic-looking. I've never in my life had a gym membership, mainly because the few times I've been to a gym (in college and while living in VA) there have been jerks in there hogging equipment or judging others or screwing around. Exercising in public is already anxiety-inducing enough without such people making it worse. But here, there seemed to be none of that. Just regular folks squeezing some exercise in between work and feeding the kids.

So we decided to sign up. Jameson made the account, and I'm his "guest", meaning that I've got to go with Jameson to have access to the gym. That's fine as he's got the car :P I can get my own membership later if I like...and in the meantime, we'll be saving some money and splitting the cost of one membership. Sweet!

Now that we had our membership it was time to make sure we had the proper equipment! We hit a nearby mall for some things...a gym bag, shoes and socks for Jameson, and sweatpants and sports bras for me. There was a Target attached to the mall so we got some groceries too. While walking around we couldn't help but notice how many, MANY people were there to play Pokemon GO. I couldn't help but smile when I saw a dad and his daughters playing, or a group of teens standing in a huddle and enjoying some gameplay. Texas was where I first started playing Ingress, a similar augmented reality game made by the same developers that is pretty much the predecessor to Pokemon GO. So I'm looking at these GO players and feeling those feels :D

Anyway, we got back to the train and spent the rest of the evening relaxing. At some point the band guys got together for some Topgolf. What a lovely day to play!


(photo courtesy Jameson B.)

The next day we decided to try out the gym!
I put on my new workout clothes (including a complementary PF shirt) and spent about 15 minutes stretching, then did two 20-minutes sessions on the treadmill. Once I got started, it actually wasn't that bad.

I am fortunate. I do not have significant weight to lose, or health problems to combat. So I will be exercising to gain flexibility and stamina, "because it's good for me", and to make progress with my sweetheart, whose health is paramount to me. Thank you for the motivation my love! Let's do our best!


(yeah, I know I look dubious. I'm sure eventually that will be a smile :))

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We had a looooong drive from Phoenix to San Antonio!

There were several mishaps along the way. Poor Applesauce (head of lighting) ended up with a cracked windshield :(


(photo courtesy Applesauce)

Mr. Štipka (camel trainer) had some trailer trouble, and although he was able to get assistance quickly, he was delayed. Kudos to him and all of animal crew for putting the animals' needs first and getting them safely to Texas!!

Even the train had problems: a collision with an 18-wheeler who thought he'd crossed the tracks but his back end was hanging over the rails. He was very, very lucky. This could have been much, much worse. Since the train had to make an emergency stop for several hours while the authorities arrived, Lindsey (clown) had time to get this photo of the back of the truck. Safety first y'all. Stop, Look, and Listen. Trains cannot stop for you.


(photo courtesy Lindsey)

Jameson and I were fortunate to have a problem-free overland. We actually arrived in San Antonio around the same time as the train. We knew this thanks to a neat app on the iPhone called Find My Friends. We've been using it to follow Rebecca (wardrobe) who often rides the train.


Of course it takes much longer for the train to be parked than our car ;) So we got a hotel for the evening and went to the train the next day.

The yard here is not very hospitable...there's a gas station near one entrance, but you have to cross a lot of live track to get to it. The arena is similarly solitary. When I first joined the circus, they were playing at the Alamodome which is right downtown, but since then we've switched to the AT&T arena a bit on the outskirts.


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It was a short drive to reach Hershey from Trenton, but the train was a bit late so we needed to kill time. We visited a 2nd & Charles at the Harrisburg Mall, got Jameson some new pillows, then went to Troegs Brewery for some really fantastic beer and eats! I'm not a beer fan but once in a while an IPA is all right...especially when it's Troeg's Perpetual IPA being brewed right there! For food I went with the beet-cured salmon with (house-made?) bagel chips, smoked cream cheese, shaved asparagus, and a pickled egg topped in black caviar. It was absolutely amazing both in taste and presentation!


After that rockin' meal we decided to go see the new Avengers movie. It was really good, but neither of us had seen The Winter Soldier or other related movies such as Ant Man, so I think we were slightly out of the loop on some things. Still, a fun way to kill time!

Literally as soon as the credits started rolling, Jerome (bass) sent us a message that the train was spotted. Perfect! We hit a grocery store, then got to the train yard.

This train yard is new for us...usually we're parked pretty far away on the other side of Harrisburg. This time we're only about 10-15 minutes from the park, which is awfully nice! There's also a shopping plaza with several groceries nearby, not the most easily walkable but still convenient. I borrowed Jameson's car and took some clothes to the dry cleaners, then spent the rest of the day preparing ticket requests, cooking, and doing laundry. Partway through the day I got word that my sister was hospitalized with abdominal pain and would require surgery. She's doing ok, but I'm still worried.

Our week got off to a rough start when we woke to an unexpected power failure. Two hours later it was clear that the power would not be coming back on, so I ate some cereal and gathered stuff to do my hair to bring to the arena. I saw many others doing the same. It happens sometimes and it's inconvenient for everyone, but that's life on a moving vehicle.

It turns out that train crew was already swamped with having some wheels replaced in addition to the unexpected outage.



Train crew currently consists of about ten people, who have to cover repairs, maintenance, and cleaning for all 200-some passengers on the mile-long train. That is a LOT of work for ten people. Yes, we were all annoyed that we couldn't brew coffee that morning and were all worried about our food in the fridge. But we are also very grateful when train crew works so hard to fix these problems when they come up. By the end of the night we had a rental generator. Train crew continued to work on the generator for most of the week so that we could have power, climate control and water. Thank you.

(photo of Tim and Susan, courtesy Cindy)

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On Monday night I got to enjoy a homecooked dinner with my Aunt Laura, Uncle Andy, cousins Ava and Calvin, and Aunt Kathy. This branch of my family lives just outside Baltimore, and I rarely get to see them. I got to introduce them to Jameson and get caught up on everyone's doings. Family time is the best :)

The next day we only had one show. I spent the morning doing chores.
The evening show went well.

On Wednesday the Red Unit held one of its last ever elephant walk/brunches in front of Lexington Market. The walk was short, probably about half a mile, and people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the elephants. In front of the market we met a huge crowd. Hundreds of people had come out to watch the elephants eat. I love hearing people exclaim over the elephants' size, how much they eat, how beautiful they are, etc. It was bittersweet and humbling, being a part of this event. Looking back on all the elephant PRs I've gotten to do, I'm so grateful to have been able to walk alongside these animals. I'm so proud to stand with the elephant handlers as they work with these amazing creatures. These are memories that I will always cherish. It saddens me to think that future generations will never have such an opportunity.


(photo courtesy Chris T.)







(photos courtesy Greg Mullinix)


After the walk I stuck around the building, took a nap, played online. The show that evening was dandy.

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It was a short drive from Richmond to Baltimore, but the train takes much longer to arrive. We ended up with two nights in hotels. Before leaving Richmond we ate lunch at Asado Wing and Taco Co. Jameson's burrito was HUGE.


We drove to the outskirts of Baltimore and after finding dinner, decided to go see 10 Cloverfield Lane. No I will NOT tell you what it's about :P If you never saw Cloverfield, that's ok, I hadn't seen it either and this movie still made sense to me. It was very engaging, scary, funny, dramatic...just really good. We had a great time!

The next day we wanted groceries, but the nearest Walmart was a disappointment with no produce and limited fridge offerings. Luckily there was a Wegmans nearby! I haven't been to Wegmans since I was little. It's a pretty awesome grocery! I found a few treats for the upcoming two weeks in Baltimore, and stocked up on the basics as well.

Opening day started with a long rehearsal as we prepare for a show without elephants. The modifications aren't that big a deal, but it's important to make sure everyone knows where they're going. The show featured a pretty great crowd.

Thursday was a split. After the poorly-attended morning show, Jameson and I walked over to Lexington Market. We'd heard that it had gone downhill since the last time we were through (2 years ago), but it looked the same to me...tons of great food, crowds and long lines, bustling storefronts, hecklers. We picked up the Best Cookies Ever, and headed over to Faidley's for some of their famous crab cakes, but the line was wrapped almost halfway around the food court. We settled instead on a small Italian stand selling the biggest hunks of lasagna I'd ever seen at that price. I'll be back for crab cakes next week ;)

After our meal we decided to stay at the arena, he to work on refinancing his mortgage, and I to play online, eat cookies and take a nap :)

Over the weekend we had a visit from one of the Disney on Ice shows. It was great to have a cheering section!! Several peeps from the Blue Unit also came by (they're on a break right now) to say hello and watch the show. Mike Brown, bassist with the Blue band, came backstage to spend some time with us. Great to see you, Mike :)

Sunday was a day full of surprises. Our ringmaster, David Shipman, came down with a nasty stomach bug, so his understudy Dean (clown) took his place for the first time! Dean's charisma and stage presence were a perfect fit for the role! He did an amazing job.





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We spent the night in Raleigh. The next morning before hitting the road, we decided on one more meal at The Cowfish. Although we didn't get lucky with freebies this time, we still got fantastic food and wonderful service. Jameson had a bento box with house fries, edamame, cucumber salad, a half-roll of a specialty sushi, and a mini specialty burger. He said the burger was cooked perfectly despite its small size!


I had The Nature Boy's WOOO-shi BuffalOOOO-shi roll: chipotle bison, friend green tomatoes, feta cheese, onions, and tempura flakes, topped with chopped veggies, and chipotle aioli. It was REALLY good.


After that, it was time to hit the road. We drove about five hours to Athens, where we found a cheap hotel. The next day we visited a third 2nd & Charles (we're on a roll) but didn't find anything, so got groceries and went to the train. This yard is paved, a welcome change from the muddy yard in Raleigh. I spent the rest of the evening cooking food for the week, as we'll have a lot of shows and I know I won't feel like cooking during my down time. I tried boiling half of my duck eggs. They turned out beautifully!


On opening day we learned that the tiger act would be back in. Taba looked ok...hopefully he's all right. The show went well.
Koji (BMX, pictured airborne) was performing with a broken foot and acting like it was no big deal :P


(photo courtesy Koji K.)

Like with any other job, at any given time there are always several people performing with injuries or illness in the circus. So remember to applaud :)

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My last week home was a good time. On Monday I took Raven back to New York, to her office at the startup company Alley NYC. She gave me a tour of the building; it's a coworking space for all kinds of companies...and that's about all I understand about it! But the workspace is awesome and I'm awfully proud of Raven for the work she does here.




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To be honest, this week was a blur.

Between visiting with friends, preparing for Christmas, and prepping for Kate's bridal shower, our whole family was busy every day. On Christmas Eve we decided to go to Mass at a local Catholic church (Kayle's fiancee is Catholic). It was a very nice service, although I didn't know all the cool traditional moves ;)



The next morning: Christmas! We woke up to a pile of presents!


Skylar (Kayle's fiancee) made us his family's southwest grits recipe, it was delicious! Then we dug into the gifts! I started with Jameson's which he kindly sent me so I'd have them for Christmas morning. He bought me some adult coloring books and all the gel pens in the world (literally! There are like 60 in the pack!!). I also received a POP vinyl Drogon figurine. My favorite gift, though, was this stunning ukiyo-e style art created by Jed Henry. I can't wait to have it framed.


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We had Monday off thankfully.
Jameson's parents took us to a place called Eataly. It's like an entirely Italian grocery, featuring handmade breads, pastas and desserts, imported candies and sauces, and deli sections selling rare cheeses and cured meats. It was pretty amazing!

On the second level was a restaurant section. We enjoyed a delicious Italian lunch. I had the squid ink pasta with mussels and it was fantastic.



After that we ran a few errands, then took the dogs to a nearby dog park. Mo had to go in the small dog section (he gets defensive with big dogs) and Addison in the main park was distracted by his whining and barking. Still, she seemed to enjoy herself :)

The next day we had two shows. Jameson's parents took us to Little Goat, one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, for brunch. I decided to be adventurous and try the This Little Piggy Went to China: a cheddar sesame biscuit with Szechuan sausage, two eggs, gooseberries, and a zesty chili sauce. It was delicious and the sauce made my tongue tingle!



The shows went well, although attendance was lighter.

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Toledo is only about two hours from Cleveland, so we stayed at the same La Quinta we'd been in upon arrival in Ohio. The next day after another fabulous lunch at The Rail, we decided to pay a visit to the A Christmas Story house!

(all photos of the house are courtesy Jameson)

Jameson is a big fan of the movie. I think I've seen it maybe once! But I still enjoyed seeing this amazing house, which has been restored and refitted to look EXACTLY like the movie set!



During the tour we were encouraged to try on the infamous pink bunny suit, and to hide under the sink. Jameson also recreated a bathroom scene and posed with the infamous Red Ryder BB gun (if you've seen the movie you'll know what I'm talking about, if not...go see the movie :P).


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I am so lucky!

Jameson booked us a very fancy hotel in the heart of San Francisco. He got a coupon from Priceline and wanted to use it to make our stay special. We booked a room at the Intercontinental. The young lady at the front desk noticed that we'd only be staying for one night, so she upgraded us to a room on the 30th floor. What a great view!!



After checking in we went looking for dinner. It was Labor Day and many restaurants were closed, so we ended up walking a bit farther than planned. We found probably the only open seafood restaurant and had a nice meal there. Again, a fantastic view.


We returned to our luxurious room and enjoyed the HDTV :)

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It was an eight hour drive from San Diego to Oakland. We drove about halfway and got a hotel, then drove the rest of the way the next day. We didn't do anything special, partly because I still wasn't feeling great and partly because we had a lot of ground to cover.

Meanwhile the train was taking one of the most scenic routes we encounter on our travels, right along the Pacific Ocean. Nikki (train crew) took this epic video so you can experience some of the perks of riding the circus train :)



Once in Oakland we got word that the train would be late, so we decided to run some errands while we waited. Got Jameson's car cleaned up, mailed a few things, and found dinner at a cool place called The Original Red Onion. Great food, everything was made fresh. I had an avocado melt: avocado, swiss cheese, tomato, and egg (I also added bacon) on grilled Texas toast. It was delicious!


Our server gave us an extra-special treat: dessert on the house! A rich chocolate truffle mini-cake. Yum!

We got some groceries at Target and around that time found out that the train was spotted. We found the yard, unpacked, and called it a day.

The next day was a dark day. I did absolutely nothing but rest and eat the other half of my Red Onion sandwich, trying to recover from my tummy issue. But! It was Slick's birthday! And we were in Oakland, Home of Chicken and Waffles!

Two years ago we went there with Slick. It was maybe his second week back from cancer treatment, and we were all thrilled to spend time with him (pictured all the way on the right).


(photo courtesy Melissa A.)

This would have been Slick's 49th birthday, and we celebrated the best way we knew how: martinis, the best chicken and waffles in Oakland, and a big pile of friends sharing memories and having a great time :)




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We finished up the week in Ontario with a night show on Monday and a split on Tuesday.
Monday was uneventful. I spent the day doing chores and chilling out. The show went well...an audience that enjoyed clapping haha. On Tuesday my friend Denis came to the show along with his family and some friends. Denis is a local trombone player, we met this past week after a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I took them on a brief backstage tour before the show. I think they had fun :) Both shows of the day went well.


(photo courtesy Denis)

After the last show Jameson and I drove to a hotel near Anaheim.
The next day we woke early to go to Disneyland!!!
We were celebrating our two year dating anniversary one day early :)

We decided to visit California Adventure first.
As soon as we were past the gates, we were serenaded by Five & Dime!



We went straight to Cars Land hoping to ride the new Radiator Springs Racers ride, but the wait was two hours! So we decided to hit a few others first and come back later. We enjoyed Ariel's Undersea Adventure, and had fun shooting at 3D targets at the Toy Story Midway Mania ride. For that one you wear 3D glasses and shoot an endless number of digital darts at moving Toy Story themed targets. At the end your score is tallied against the person next to you. Jameson won! But only by a little bit :P

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