Monthly Archives: February 2015

Mardi Gras BarkBox


Sophie & Shamrock Saturday

Sophie and Sham received their BarkBox last weekend. 


And it’s only fitting that they received one with a Mardi Gras theme!


Because we are in New Orleans this weekend! Okay, so Mardi Gras is over, but we’d rather be there when it isn’t happening anyway…

While Sophie always likes to sniff and get right into the box…


Shamrock just sits in Prairie Dog pose and begs.

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Here’s what Sophie & Sham found in this month’s BarkBox.


Sham always goes straight for the toys.

He began masquerading even before I could get the tag off.


But it didn’t last long. He soon became distracted by the other toy in the box, which we have named {confession here} Jester.


But these days, Sophie’s just all about the treats:


These were opened promptly:


I love that these treats are made in the USA.


Although, I am a little weirded out by whatever this is:


Another fun and successful BarkBox in the books for the pooches. If you want to join BarkBox, click this link. You just might get a free box added to your plan if you sign up for a multiple month subscription!

It’s Saturday. Laissez les bons temps rouler!



Australia – A Trip to the Rainforest


While on our Great Ocean Road tour earlier in our trip, we had a nice little walk in a temperate rainforest. Before then, I didn’t know those existed. And there are even a few in the U.S.

But in Queensland, Australia we had the opportunity to visit a Tropical Rainforest, which is what most people think about when they think of a rainforest. We took a day tour with Billy Tea Safraris to visit the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world!

It is estimated to be over one hundred and thirty-five million years old.

After a lovely drive along the coast via shuttle from our accommodation in Cairns to Port Douglas, we hopped into this rugged 4WD vehicle that seats 16 people:


I got myself a little refreshing beverage that morning.


Our first stop was the Daintree River. We had a little coffee and tea and then boarded a covered boat for a nice little ride down the Daintree.

IMG_0125Our guide instructed us to keep our hands in the boat. She didn’t want any limbs dangling overboard!


We spotted many egrets, like the one above and the congregation in the trees in the shot below.


Our guide was really good at navigating to get us a closer look at the flora and fauna. There were mangrove trees with incredible root structures!

But what many of us were really interested in was spotting crocodiles!


Sure, Rob and I got to see some crocs up close and personal at the Ballarat Wildlife Park; but they were not in their natural habitat. Here we could see them in the wild!


We saw two different crocs in separate areas that day, one male and one female. But of course, I was totally entranced, so I took a gazillion photos!


This is why it was important to keep all of our limbs inside the boat. 🙂 Our guide also spotted a python in a tree and tried to point it out. However, only about half of us could find it. Talk about camouflage. I would have never seen it!


There were some pretty narrow passageways. It was a lovely day to be floating on the river. But the ride was also our transportation to the other side. On the way back, we’d be needing to take a cable ferry.


After our tour of the river, we made some lovely stops along the way, with beautiful views of the wet tropics and the sea!

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We enjoyed a beautiful walk through the rainforest. Our guide was not only knowledgeable, but passionate. You could tell he loved doing the tours to educate people on how important the rainforest is to all of us. Until then, I guess I didn’t know very much.


Our guide offered more information than I could ever store in my brain. I took pictures of flora that he pointed out and explained throughout our stroll.


But let the takeaway from this tour be that rainforests are very important to our survival.


The Daintree is home to more around 3000 species of plants. It also has more animal species that are rare or endangered than anywhere in the world.


Some plants will host off other plants and trees.

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You’ll also find some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. Check out these roots!


Can you see some sort of blue fruit we spotted on the rainforest floor?


Why are rainforests important to our survival?

  • Climate Regulation
    • The millions of trees and plant life in the rainforest absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide, which help balance and regulate global warming, as long as we don’t destroy the forest, that is.
  • Oxygen Production
    • The high density of flora also produces the oxygen you and I rely on to breathe every day. Rainforests are often referred to as the “lungs of the earth.”
  • Contribution to the Water Cycle
    • The large amounts of rainfall produced by the rainforest contribute to our water supply.
  • Pharmaceutical Properties
    • Many of the world’s treatments and cures come from plants from our earth’s rainforests!

No matter where you live, rainforests are vital to your existence.They are important to the survival of life on our planet!

After that wondrous walk through the rainforest {it did not rain while we were there, if you were wondering!}, we stopped to have some steaks on the barbie! After lunch, we were able to feed some ‘roos at the wildlife refuge.

Yes, we had a magnificent experience doing this already at the Ballarat Wildlife Park. But it never gets old! There were some big ‘roos this time!


There were even some wallabies!

Our guide pointed out that the wallabies will eat with one “hand,” while the kangaroos will eat with two.


I got a snap of one with a Joey. So sweet.


Here is a wallaby next to one of the big ‘roos.


Take a look at how strong that tail looks. Yikes!


One of the little girls wanted to feed him, but kept backing up because she was a bit afraid. He was bigger than she was!

 Then the guide gave this guy the whole bucket.


He really got his head in there!


In the afternoon, we went deeper into the rainforest. If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, you probably won’t get this far. When we stopped at a creek, we watched some trucks go right through the water to cross! A few others struggled.


We made a stop at Emmegem Creek where some small fish were swimming around in the fresh water.




We had the option, so some people decided to take a dip.


We had some afternoon Billy Tea as our guides set up a tropical fruit tasting!


I can’t tell you what they all are, but of course there are bananas and papayas. There was one that was nicknamed “Chocolate Pudding.”  I loved them all, but I think one of my favorites was the soursop!


After our afternoon tea, we made our way to Cape Tribulation Beach, which is absolutely breathtaking.

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During our rainforest walks, our guide kept saying:

“I can feel it! We are going to see a cassowary today!”

At this point in my life, I had never heard of a cassowary. The cassowary is a flightless bird, like the emu or ostrich. Tthis animal is one of the many things that could kill you in Australia, due to a vicious claw on one foot. But it’s highly unlikely. As long as you leave them alone, they keep to themselves.

The cassowary is also the most endangered bird in the world.

There are only about 1000 estimated to remain. We never did see a cassowary on your walk.

But… on our drive back to Port Douglas, one was spotted! We pulled up as close as possible, but all stayed in the vehicles so as not to disturb it.



We also stopped for some ice cream on our way back…


Four scoops of Aussie delight – soursop, blackberry, passion fruit and wattleseed ice cream

What an absolutely wonderful day! The tour was fantastic. I learned so much and saw so much beauty that our earth has to offer. I am grateful for the rainforests. We need them!

Ecotourism is huge in Australia. The purpose is to educate about the environment and to support conservation efforts, but to do it in a responsible way with minimal impact to the environment.

Do you support any conservation efforts?

How do you help preserve the environment?

Other posts about our trip to Australia:



Cairns – Sleep, Eat, Shop


At this point, I couldn’t believe that we had only 3 days left in our 17-day trip to Australia. Our flight to Cairns {pronounced CANS} from Uluru via Qantas was smooth sailing and even included dinner! I’m so glad we didn’t miss the flight!

Upon arrival, we stepped out of the airport and were instantly hit by the humidity! The dessert heat was such a contrast from that of the coast. We got in line for a cab ride and each got our first bite by an Australian mozzie! That would be mosquito. Aussies even know how to make a pest sound cutesy.

Looking back on my trip planning, I wished I’d do a few things differently for this part of it.

  1. I wish I would have incorporated more time to visit and spend time with Mum & Dad in Queensland.
  2. I wish I would have known which tours we planned to take before I booked accommodation.

Cairns is a home base for many Great Barrier Reef tours, which is why I chose it. But how to choose a tour?! The number is overwhelming. With much help from Aussie friends, we decided on Silversonic. However, the specific recommended tour departed from Port Douglas – about an hour away.

Mum and Dad also recommended the Daintree Rainforest Tour by Billy Tea Safaris.Visit a rainforest? Hell yeah!! When would I ever get to do that again?! Again, this tour departed from Port Douglas.

So maybe it would have made more sense to stay in Port Douglas? Both tours did offer a shuttle from our accommodations to and from the departure sites for an extra fee. It was very convenient and maybe even cheaper than if we had to get transportation ourselves to Port Douglas and stay there. And it twas a lovely drive each way. The first day, we spotted a whole field of wallabies! It looked like there were over 100 of them. The next day, we made sure to keep our eye out for the same field and we got to see them again. Is this real life?

So what did we do, then, in Cairns?

Due to the tours, we were only there in the evenings.



So… We slept. We shopped. We ate.



This was my first experience utilizing airbnb. We booked an apartment at Il Palazzo on the Esplanade. The location was perfect. Our only complaint was that it was a bit stuffy upon arrival. {Not like when you go to a hotel and they have the air conditioning already running for you.} Also, Rob really wanted to watch some footy now that Tony‘s team was playing and he had taught him more about it! The TV channels didn’t come in all that great. But our host responded to all of our questions promptly. And the front desk was helpful, too.

You can get a $25 airbnb credit by clicking here.



The Esplanade is a bustling place! Since Cairns is a hub for Great Barrier Reef tours, you’ll find people from all over the world. It’s a wonderful place to sit and people watch. Rob and I even saw some Flying Foxes in the trees! But the Flying Fox is not a fox at all. {Go figure.} It is actually the world’s largest bat. We saw a whole colony in trees like this:

flying fox

Now to the shopping… There are lots of cheesy souvenir shops, which I can sometimes appreciate. A package of clip-on koalas made for great gifts for my niece and nephews, as well as fun prizes for poker night!

Then there are the Night Markets, where you can find a food court and stalls and stalls of crafts and inexpensive trinkets and goods.

Speaking of that, I knew that we had to provide our own towels for the Great Barrier Reef snorkeling tour. There was no way I was going to carry a bulky one all over Australia just for that one day. Instead, we bought a couple at the Night Markets which worked perfectly and we brought home as souvenirs.

Now I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite things to do when traveling to a foreign country is to  step into a grocery store. In fact, I like to do it even when traveling in the U.S. There are so many regional food differences! It was at the grocery store in Yulara that I picked up some local foodstuffs.

Normally, I like to peruse the local produce. But this time, I was all about the packaging. There were a few interesting things that caught our eyes!

Throughout the trip, we picked up a few bars here and there to have as breakfasts or snacks.


In Cairns, I found these:

IMG_0104Of course, they had me at the name! And I particularly liked that no wallabies were harmed in the making of this product! 😉



But there were some other items that we found funny.

Like Danish salami


And coffee and milk tubes that are “perfect for camping!”IMG_0089

Then we get to the drinks and juices. Pine-lime anyone? I wonder how that tastes. It makes me think of floor cleaner.


They seem to like the pine… I’m now aware that by pine, they mean pineapple!


I find Candy Teeth ironic… So we brought some home for the kids. Yes, these are the kind of souvenirs we buy for people!


And did you know you could get Red AND Green frogs? Ha ha.


But I think they are doing it wrong on the next one..

I don’t think Chocolate Babies would fly in the U.S.!


But this flavor of ice cream intrigued me… So we bought it. I ate two bowls while we were in Cairns and left the rest in the freezer for the next occupants.




There isn’t a shortage of places to dine in Cairns. It’s a bustling touristy city. But finding a place with good food we found quite challenging. We had some really, really, horribly bad pizza the first night. It was expensive. We had to wait forever. What’s worse is that they give you the impression that it’s good stuff because you can watch the guy rolling out the dough as you walk by…

Another night, though, I decided to try some local seafood. I usually don’t eat seafood in foreign countries because I get grossed out by legs and eyes and because I never know how to eat it. But I broke this rule in Cairns.


I asked our server how hard they were to eat. He said that they were easy and that he’d show me. Bugs are a shellfish similar to lobster. The meat is found in the tail. Mine were prepared with a sweet chili sauce.

Just two more posts on Australia. Two of the best days – the rainforest and the reef!

Is there something you normally won’t eat when traveling that you eat at home?

Other posts about our trip to Australia:



Thirsty Thursday: Aussie Cider


The one thing we didn’t expect to find, nor even think to look for while we were in Australia was hard cider. I just love a good, refreshing hard cider on a beautiful spring or summer day. So we were pleasantly surprised when we found some!

Our first cider encounter was at The Norfolk in Sydney {New South Wales}. They had one on tap from New Zealand. True, it’s not an Aussie Cider, but I had never had one from NZ either. It was such a clear color! Seriously, this glass is full!


It went nicely with the Peri-Peri Chicken I had for lunch! Peri-Peri {also piri-piri} Chicken is a Portuguese-style dish that I can’t say that I’ve seen in the U.S. But I hadn’t known about it[ so I hadn’t been looking for it either. I think I was first introduced by Tiffany at Cute Dogs and Hugs. Then I noticed it all over Australia. {I also noticed a lot of chicken burgers and chicken schnitzel. HA!} Peri-peri sauce has such a nice heat!

Peri Peri Chicken

Peri Peri Chicken

The cider complemented it nicely, too. I may have to try to make Peri-Peri chicken or sauce at home. Biz, are you up for the challenge?!

But Rob also noticed on their list that they carried an Aussie cider by the bottle. We gave it a try.

Another excellent specimen! This one is from the Snowy Mountains {New South Wales}.

I was so oblivious to Australian geography before we visited the country. So, I’d like to offer you a quick lesson right now. It’ll give you an idea of where each of these ciders comes from.

Remember that Australia is roughly the size of the United States.


But there are only a total of eight states and territories!

{ACT = Australian Capital Territory, where you will find Canberra, the capital city}


Now consider that this country is in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are flopped from those of us in the North. {It was spring when we arrived in September! Everyone is on summer vacation over Christmas!} And, the further you go north {towards the equator}, the warmer it gets. The further south you go, the temps are cooler, creating better conditions for apple growing.

Our next cider experience was with Chloe at Young & Jackson’s in Melbourne {Victoria}.IMG_9383

We took a lovely drive with Mum & Dad from our home base in Melbourne out to the Mornington Peninsula {Victoria}. It was a beautiful day to lunch outside. I found a nice little local cider on the menu:


It comes from Wallington {Victoria}, which is just across the water from the town where we lunched. The whole arrangement made me happy – a beautiful day, lunch outside, one of the best salads I’ve ever had, and wonderful company, all while sipping a bottle of crisp local cider.

Can you tell that we were just a tad bit happy?!

Can you tell that we were just a tad bit happy?!

One thing we learned from Mum and Dad was something else that was unbeknownst to me: Did you know where the Granny Smith apple originated?


Me neither! You can read the story about Granny Smith (an actual person!) here. After learning all of this, when we saw a bottle of the cider pictured below at an establishment in St. Kilda, there was no way we could order anything else.


To be honest, I’m not even sure if this Cider House belongs to the same Smith family, nor if it is made from Granny Smith apples. But it sold us. It didn’t matter. Sipping on another Tasmanian cider that we knew we couldn’t have had at home was a treat anyway.


It was a delicious farmhouse-style cider. We love that Willie Smith & Sons is big on not adding anything artificial and that the apples are organically grown, too.


Speaking of Farmhouse-style ciders…

Rob loves Scrumpy Ciders! He used to think that the term scrumpy meant that the cider was higher in alcohol. That’s probably because many are. But now we know that the term is used more to describe locally produced ciders not made in mass quantities.  My absolute favorite Scrumpy is J.K.’s Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic Hard Cider out of Michigan. It tastes just like the unfiltered apple cider you pick up directly at an orchard!

Rob and I are highly interested in visiting Tasmania when we next visit Australia someday. It sounds like a beautiful countryside full of lots interesting history!

Rob did enjoy a Scrumpy Cider at Milk the Cow, a wine and cheese bar in the St. Kilda area of Melbourne.


This one did pack a punch at 8% ABV anyway!


Then there’s this:


What a great name! I love the crocheted label look. But there is the disclaimer that the cider inside wasn’t necessarily made with granny smiths.


The next cider, I believe, was one Rob enjoyed the night the girls shared a little bubbly with dinner.  It’s another Tassie {pronounced Tazzie!} cider:


The last cider I quaffed on our Australian trip was on a hot day while we were visiting Uluru. I’m sure we paid an arm and a leg for it at the resort restaurant. And just like in Ireland (and now more common in the U.S., too) servers always try to offer me a glass full of ice to water my cider down. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s just my personal preference: If the cider is already chilled, I don’t want your stinking ice!


I don’t mind “cloudy” or unfiltered ciders. In fact, that’s what I love in a good Farmhouse-style cider. But the Seeds cider was probably my least favorite cider of the trip. I still didn’t let it go to waste!

Then I saw that it is a product of Tooheys:


Tooheys is a mass-producer of beers and ciders in Australia. That might explain why it was my least favorite.

But overall, the ciders in Australia were delicious. Yes, it’s always a good idea to drink wine in wine countries; but if apples are a product of the region, don’t look those over either!

What’s your favorite style of cider? Dry? Sweet? Filtered? Unfiltered? Have you had a scrumpy?


Other posts about our trip to Australia:











Wally’s Roast Beef


After returning from all the festivities of my brother’s wedding in Green Bay, I began my 10-Day Reset to get myself feeling a little better before our next little getaway.

I can’t believe that our next little trip is coming up when I haven’t even covered all of our Australian Vacation of a Lifetime yet! Although, that was the biggest trip we’ve been on together, so there’s a lot to cover.

But yesterday, my boss told me to take my husband out to lunch. How could I say “no”? I do what I’m told when the boss says so! That’s when Rob decided to finally introduce me to Wally’s Roast Beef – a joint that he’s been raving about ever since a co-worker took him there.

The trouble is, they are only open for lunch 11am to 3pm – Monday through Saturday. Sure, we could go on a Saturday, but there is usually something else going on when we think of it. Yesterday was an unusual circumstance. Normally, I never have the occasion to meet anyone for lunch.

So this was the perfect opportunity.

You’ll find Wally’s in a little Office Park in Bloomington. Rob says that 11am, there is a line out the door!


Rob told me to trust him; he was going to order for me. So we walked up to the counter to do so.


But here’s the thing:

Rob ordered something not on the menu: The Smokey Beef. I asked Rob if that was the same as the Big Smokey, which is on the menu.


He said with a smile, “No. This one you just have to know about.” I still don’t know what the Big Smokey is. Now that I look at the menu again, I wouldn’t even know what I’d find on a Green Plate nor a Red Plate!

So in my hurried state, the only shot I got of this beloved sammie shows virtually no roast beef. Doh!


Instead, picture the roast beef sandwich below topped with melted cheese {perhaps smoked?} and bacon. Then you’ll have a Smokey Beef.



I know what you are thinking… Bacon, Carrie, BACON? I took it off my sandwich and ate it on the side. And that was Just. Fine. But I couldn’t get a Roast Beef Sandwich without horseradish! Rob was sure to order me some of that, too, along with a side of fries:


“It’s the best horseradish sauce, “ said our cashier as she promptly gave us those two little containers. And it was damn good – spicy and intense, just like I like it. I only used one!

Wally’s is a diner-type joint with lots of bottled sodas {including Buddy’s out of New Ulm} and a jukebox in the corner.


You’ll find the tiled walls decorated with a few old signs and miscellaneous extracurricular activity articles from Bloomington Lincoln High School.

People from all walks of life were lunching there on a Tuesday – a mom with four kids, retirees and businessmen in suits.

So, I took a break from my 10-day reset, which defeats the whole purpose of said reset. But sometimes you just need to live life and take an opportunity when it comes. No guilt. No regrets. And I didn’t tell myself I’d “start again tomorrow.” Instead, I returned to my reset with the very next meal.

When did you last seize an opportunity or do something completely spontaneous?


I Wasn’t Going to Do This…


I wasn’t going to post this…

Because it was such a personal family event…

But it was so much stinkin’ fun!


After 8+ years with his girlfriend, on Friday the 13th, my brother {and only sibling} finally got hitched.


And he couldn’t be happier…

That is a classic JR smile. And he is actually about a foot taller than his bride. Danielle is standing on a chair in that shot!

I swear I was the only bridesmaid without a tattoo! 😉


At least my hair turned out smashing…


Shout out to 9th Street Salon!

There were so many perfect little details about this event…

Like the fact that my nephew {their only son together} was the one walk Danielle down the aisle. What a special way to finally tie their family together. In fact, her three kids from a previous marriage were also in the wedding. They’ve all lived together for a number of years. So at this point, the marriage was just a formality… And a reason for a big party!

We only got one shot outdoors because it was so freaking cold! The guys were kind enough to lend us their jackets and, boy, that made a huge difference!


Since the wedding was at noon and the reception not until six, we all got on a fancy bus and made a few stops.

I was highly impressed with White Dog, Black Cat Cafe, where we stopped for lunch.


It’s one of JR and Danielle’s favorite places, where they’ve taken us in the past. But how on earth the crew took care of this many people so efficiently impressed me. The food was prompt and tasty and after a bottle of wine, all was right with the world.


I hadn’t been to the Riverside Ballroom in years and almost forgot how big it is…


With 270 in attendance, it kind of had to be!


It was a traditional Northeast Wisconsin Chicken and Tips Family-Style dinner. And although there were a few desserts on the table, there was cake, too!

Including a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cake…


JR was a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when he was a kid. Since the Heroes in a Half Shell have become popular again, JR passed that love down to his son. Here they are in the photo booth!

We’ll come back to that photo booth in just a bit…

But there was dancing:


Mother-Son Dance

Now you can see the height difference between the bride and groom:


The band was phenomenal – the music teacher at Danielle’s daughter’s school!

She even joined them to sing a song…

IMG_1491There was a lot of catching up with cousins…

{I have 30+ first cousins! And they have 40+ kids between them.}


And some selfies may have been taken…


Now back to the photo booth…

JR and Danielle were so lucky to have their friend Rob take professional photos for the wedding. He and his wife also manned {and womanned?} the GB Photo Box photo booth. I’ve been to weddings that have had photo booths before, but this one was the best by far! The quality of photos was so much better.


The last time these three cousins had a photo together was at another wedding 13 years prior!

The backdrop was classy. There were props to make it fun. There was room to fit more than half a dozen people in each shot! And the fact that the photos are printed with “JR & Danielle ~ February 13, 2015” on the bottom make them the best wedding favors ever. Memories captured!


More shots with cousins!

Each strip of photos printed out two copies – one for you and one for the bride and groom. I saw the photobook that was put together the next day and, by far, this one was my favorite!


My only regret that night? Not getting more photos! I wish I had more photos taken with all of my cousins, my grandma, my aunts and uncles, my niece and nephews, my parents and most importantly – the bride and groom! Can we have a do over? I’d like to go to a party like that again.

Congratulations, JR and Danielle.

Wishing you many great years to come!