Better Late Than Never!

At long last I’m finally blogging about my trip to Las Vegas for Inspiration Unlimited 2012. A warning, this will be long and full of lots of pictures!!

I was genuinely concerned at the outset of this trip as my fankle hadn’t recovered overly well before I left.  I was still in physio and I  still couldn’t walk a heck of a lot. And If you know anything about Vegas, it’s that there is a TON of walking to be done!! This girl had lots of plans that I’d been making since last year when I realized how much I didn’t get done on my first trip: the Grand Canyon, Fremont Street, the iconic sign at the south end of the strip, watching the Bellagio fountain show, and riding the mechanical bull at PBR Rockbar.  I’m happy to say this time I accomplished all, bad fankle and all, except the mechanical bull. I feared getting hurt again/still/worse from getting tossed from the bull and I wasn’t sure how I could explain that to the physio after all the work he’d done on me all summer.

I got in on Saturday night, which also happened to be fight night at MGM Grand (that of course was not scheduled when I booked my plane tickets), which means Vegas was a zoo. I wanted to stay at Planet Hollywood for the duration of my time on the strip, but for that Saturday night PH was crazy expensive, and they had a mandatory Friday checkin for that night. I opted to stay at the cheap and cheerful Hampton Inn Tropicana for the one night. It was one of the only hotels that still had availability and not jacked rates. Minus the free airport shuttle that was a total disaster (that I waited almost 2 hours for a pickup), and trying to get a taxi to come pickup when it was time to leave, the Hampton was fantastic. The service was good, the location was great, and the room was clean. By the time I finally got there, my foot was swollen and sore from the flight, and I was tired so I didn’t venture out to the strip at all.

Sunday morning I was up early for Vegas time. I got to enjoy breakfast in bed from the buffet downstairs and watch the tail end of Sunday NFL Countdown, and the start of the first football games. Then it was time to checkout and move on (finally!) to Planet Hollywood. I was so happy to see this sign again!
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I love staying here. I love the atmosphere. I love the location. I love the amenities. I loved going up to the Heart Bar after finding my room to see how Sunday football really should be watched!
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Oh, and that room? I splurged a little and got a strip view. I couldn’t justify going to fountain view, and the advantage of where my room was is I had a great view of the Cosmo pool where Enrique Iglesias was playing that night! Free show! Here were my daytime views – first the Cosmo pool and Bellagio “lake”, and below directly below me to the PH pool, bar and outdoor gambling tables.
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That evening, still full of energy, after watching some of Enrique (who was fashionably late, natch!), I went over to finally watch a Bellagio fountain show. In my super quick stint on the strip last year I didn’t have time to stop and watch the show, this year, I made sure I had time!
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A beautiful end to a fantastic day.

Monday – I picked Monday to be a mostly relaxing and touring the strip day with plans of Grand Canyon for Tuesday, more relaxing and strip on Wednesday, before migrating to Green Valley Ranch and Inspiration Unlimited for Thursday. So I started off sunning by the pool with my Starbucks in hand.
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I tried to use my MyVegas rewards to get a Zarkana ticket but it wasn’t working, so I opted to go over to the box office at Aria and see what I could find. I did check with Tix4Tonight first, and while they said they could get me a great price, they had no idea where the seat was until I got to the box office at Aria, so it only made sense for me to do my own legwork. On the way into Crystals, someone in character was handing out discount coupons for Zarkana. I managed to snag an AMAZING seat at a FANTASTIC price. I celebrated my find with delicious pints and oysters at Todd English P.U.B.
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And a mandatory after-show touristy photo:
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Zarkana was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I saw O last year and it was definitely the better of the 2, but I wanted to see something new. Next up it was time to go across the street to the Cosmopolitan to the second feature at their “Dive-In Movies” shown on the huge screen by the pool. It was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Another movie I’d been dying to watch but had never seen in it’s entirety. Well, my busy day and excitement caught the better of me. I got onto my comfy poolside lounge bed, got a great view, saw the first few minutes and the next thing I know I’m hearing Moon River and watching the credits scroll by. Yes, I slept through the whole thing. 😦 Sad girl.
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Tuesday – I was up bright and early, renting a car and I was on my way to the Grand Canyon, with detours to the Hoover Dam and old Route 66 with stops in Kingman and Seligman AZ. In the Pixar movie Cars, the town of Radiator Springs was loosely based on the town of Seligman. I have a ton of pictures from this road trip but there are some significant ones missing. Normally, when I travel I use at least 3 cameras to take pictures – my SLR, my point and shoot, and my phone, and sometimes even my Instax mini. When I got to the Hoover Dam I got camera cocky and only used my SLR. When I stopped in Kingman to review my pictures I discovered I had none! It seems I brilliantly left my CF card out while shooting. I’m just thankful I noticed it early on in Kingman, and quickly shed my cockyness and went back to snapping with 4 cameras..

FINALLY, after several trips to Phoenix and now my second trip to Las Vegas, finally I made it to the Grand Canyon, and it was every bit as spectacular as I’d hoped.
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I can’t get over how big it is. I know that sounds silly when it has the name “Grand” but seriously, so wide and so deep and so long. I took their shuttle bus system all over the park and found the views no matter where to be quite similar, and yet I couldn’t see a lot of the places I’d already been from one lookout point to the next.
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It’s definitely an excursion that should be on everyone’s bucket list to do at least once. And don’t waste your time with the tourist trap fabricated West Rim, go all the way to the South Rim.
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On the way back I made sure to stop at the iconic sign.
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With rental car I went up to my last stop, Fremont Street. In being fully honest, I really didn’t like it and it was the most unsafe I’ve felt on any Vegas trip. The canopy kept the smoke in, so that wasn’t overly pleasant at all. The laser show was a bit neat. The casinos were dingy and sketchy. The crowds were different than those on the strip. Most of them were quite fall down drunk and had ZERO respect for personal space. I downed a very overpriced drink and made my way back to Planet Hollywood where I settled in for a well earned sleep.

Wednesday was a relatively low-key day. I started off poolside with my Starbucks again, and Skyped home so he could see what he was missing (me, sun, palm trees). I went up to the Venetian because on my last trip I stopped at the Forum Shops at Caesars and didn’t make it any further north.
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I found my favourite slot machine in their casino and stopped when I was up $5.
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I fell in love with the Canal Shoppes.
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Some of the gelatos there looked positively heavenly. I’m not sure how I managed to resist but I did. That being said, I had a spectacular lunch there at Morels. I paid for the cheese fondue for 2 with a caesar salad and 2 for 1 vodka tonics on the patio that overlooked the strip and the outdoor canals. It was incredible and I was truly living the dolce vita that afternoon.

I went back to Planet Hollywood to get cleaned up for dinner as I had plans to go to Paris to try Mon Ami Gabi and go up the Eiffel Tower, yes another thing I hadn’t done yet. There was a red carpet event going on at Planet Hollywood I thought I may try to take in before dinner, but by the time I got back there, the area surrounding the carpet was already packed, and I’m short, and the celebs were late (natch!).
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Yes, I opted to give up on trying to fight for a glimpse of JT and Ben Affleck, and as I later found out Holly Madison too. Bummer!

I did make it up the tower for some spectacular views of the Vegas strip and the Bellagio fountains.
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I then went down and my patio strip side table was ready at Gabi.  I had a great spot to people watch, watch the fountain show over and through the palms, and my dinner was so incredible.
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After dinner I went back to the Heart Bar at Planet Hollywood for a nightcap or two of my new favourite cocktails, cherry bombs! So so so delicious! And I couldn’t help but take a picture of the super neat light up cocktail menu at the Heart Bar.
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And with that my time on the strip was over and it was time to relax and scrapbook to my heart’s content at Inspiration Unlimited at Green Valley Ranch.

Thursday – I took a taxi from PH down to the airport to catch the GVR shuttle. I took a cab last year and it cost over $40. For less than $20 to get to the airport it was well worth the leisurely trek as I wasn’t in any rush to get there before check-in time. What can I say about GVR?! I love the room and the property. I love the chill and laid back vibe. I love the view my room had:
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Inspiration Unlimited is bar none the BEST scrapbooking event I’ve been to. Teresa Collins is just incredible and I feel so lucky to get to take 2 amazing workshops with her. Ginger runs a super tight ship like a well oiled machine. The roster of instructors is always top notch. I fully plan on going to every one as long as they continue to exist. I’ve already paid my deposit to return next year. And one of the things I love about Inspiration Unlimited is the friends I see there year after year. I love our yearly reunions!

Here’s the worst picture ever of me with Teresa:
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In my defence, it was day 2 and I was tired from my week of adventures and full day of crafting the day before.

I got to make some neat projects:
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I resisted sampling some of these delectable treats from the pastry case at the cafe:
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I had so much fun reconnecting with these ladies:
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Missing Patty who was being our awesome camerawoman..
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I totally need to get more pictures with friends next year because I’m missing so many..

And then the ugly…

On Saturday night one of my girlfriends and I got violently ill from the buffet at GVR. I was so sick and it put an incredible damper on my final days there that I had hoped to spend with friends, and by the pool, and relaxing.. essentially anything but spending it in bed and getting very acquainted with the beautiful bathroom. I’m beyond disappointed to say that when I brought it up to the front desk when I was feeling well enough to emerge from my room in the hunt for some Gatorade, they showed no concern whatsoever, and suggested I should call the buffet manager in the morning. I had far too much to do on Monday morning that I couldn’t call the manager and it was time to go. I will return to GVR because that’s where Inspiration Unlimited is, but I will definitely consider alternate dining options while there.

Monday I had my traditional lunch leaving McCarran, cheese quesadillas at Sammy Hagar’s. I opted to skip out on the Can’t Drive 55 drink because my tummy was still queasy and recovering from the food poisoning.
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Southwest got me, and all my luggage home safe and sound.
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What an incredible trip. I had so much fun and I can’t wait until next September!

A lot of my projects are still in progress but will be shared when completed in a separate post (this one is long enough already!)

In 100% full disclosure I have not been compensated for my reviews in any way shape or form. 

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The Last Escape

I’m barely home from what is reported to be the sixth and final Creative Escape and I still have a hard time believing it’s all over.  The end of an era, if you will.  I’ve attended the last 3 Creative Escapes hosted by the amazing Heidi Swapp and Bazzill Basics Paper company, and the last 3 were held at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort in Chandler Arizona.  Every year that I’ve been fortunate to attend it’s been the last week of August, and always deliciously HOT!!!  It is a dry heat, as they say, but honestly you have no idea what it is like until you experience it.  The event has been termed the “ultimate scrapbook indulgence”, and in my experience so far it is definitely true.  I have attended 3 CKU’s prior and they don’t even begin to shine a candle to Creative Escape.  Heidi and Bazzill really do all the important things right.  What I also find I can’t appropriately describe is how inspired I feel when I’m there, and when I get home, and how emotional the event can be for me.  Sometimes in all those projects, learnings and fun, a glimmer of perspective and real life shines through.  It’s amazing how something like that really does put life, and what is truly important into focus when you least expect it.  This year was no exception and did not disappoint.  This post is mostly just going to be an event and travel recap. I will do a project recap once they are all finished, and for the first time ever they are all either complete or close to it (or as close as they’ll ever get).

So first of all, the lovely state of Arizona. Wow, what a special place. I keep trying to get to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, but I never seem to schedule enough time to make it happen.  This year was no exception.  Next time, honestly next time.  The scenery in the Phoenix area is completely beautiful.  Buildings and homes tend to be lower rise and in hues of brown because of the heat.  Premium parking isn’t necessarily closest to the door, but in the shade, and some places do have shade constructed in the parking lots.  I used to think I’d love to live in that area and that the heat would help my seasonal affective disorder, which I’m sure it would, but I learned on this trip that I need to live in a bigger city.  That said, and this is totally shameful to admit, I do blend in Scottsdale, and could easily live within that lifestyle.  Just to show how everything in Arizona is different, I snapped this pic of the McDonald’s closest to the Wild Horse Pass.  

Incidentally, for a cactus to grow arms like this one has, it needs to be at least 50 years old. That is one mighty old cactus!

The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass.  I have such mixed feelings about this resort.  It is a beautiful and serene property.  It’s very secluded and isolated, which just adds to the nice vibe.  Service, however, is so hit and miss, and there are so many irritating annoyances.  The first year they kindly placed me in a room overlooking the very scenic parking lot, and extremely far away from the conference centre where Creative Escape was being held.  The second year, after several battles, I was still an inconvenient country mile from the event, but at least had a nice view.  This time, while view was of the river the water shuttle uses, it was super convenient to the event.

The kicker for me though is as a rewards member I’m supposed to be given a complimentary room class upgrade, which I’ve never received, but have watched others in line ahead of me get no questions asked.  I think it’s ridiculous most higher end hotels make you pay for internet, when the lower ends give it for free.  But, what makes it worse here is that it is for pay, and wired, and the wire never reaches overly far to where it would be comfortable to be, just a firm chair and desk though the bed and comfy chair are in view. So close, and yet so far.  I also find the resort highly buggy and get several insect bites if I try to sit in the lobby or lounge and use the free wifi, and 2 out of 3 years I’ve managed to get some pretty nasty spider bites there too… as if I’m not terrified of spiders enough…  That said, here’s one of the amazing views I love at the Wild Horse Pass – sunset from the lobby, looking down onto the lounge and out to the pool, golf course and beyond. Stunning.

On to the fun stuff!

I stopped at Nothing Bundt Cakes on my first day in and picked up one of my fav flavor bundt cakes; white chocolate raspberry!  Yes, they sell nothing but bunt cakes, and I’ve tried most of them, and they are completely amazing!!  And the staff at this location on Ray Rd. are super super nice.  Don’t even question it, just know, you NEED to go.

I reunited with friends Gretchen, whom I first met at CKU Nashville in August 2007, and Dee, a friend of Gretchen who attended CKU Provo in August 2008. We of course had to dine at Arriba because it’s tradition, and the food is amazing, and so are the drinks, and it’s unbelievably inexpensive.

Wednesday began with shopping at the amazing LSS run and owned by the fine Bazzill folk, Scrapbooks, Etc.  The store is massive, but here is a glimpse at one small part. And of course, they have the latest and greatest, as well as a huge fabric section. Clearly having some klout pays…

And if that wasn’t enough, it was followed by shopping at the Bazzill warehouse where I got my yearly fill on Bazzill goodies.

Speaking of Bazzill goodies, one of the things I love most about shopping at Scrapbooks Etc. is their lollipop wall! 🙂 So so yummy! 🙂

Wednesday evening led to dinner at the amazing Rawhide Steakhouse.  18 of us ladies from the Yahoo group traveled over for dinner together and had a fabulous evening.  We definitely could have had more join us, but Rawhide capped our table at 18.

Last year I actually tried rattlesnake there, and it really did taste like a salty popcorn chicken.  This year there was apparently a shortage on rattlesnake! Who knew?!  I settled for ribs, overcooked steak, shrimp and a delicious prickly pear margarita.

In case I didn’t have enough fun while out and about, I made sure my room was set up for fun times at all times as well!

Friday I got to watch a dust storm threaten to roll in from the distance, but it never really seemed to amount to anything.

Friday evening led to some fun times with friends, and some casino losses at the nearby casino.

After 2 days of classes and the bazaar on Thursday, Creative Escape was coming to a close. I loved listening to Heidi Swapp speak as the closing keynote speaker.  I loved getting to spend some last few moments with friends from years gone by, and getting to know others even better this year. I shopped for Jody at CKU Nashville 2007 as her secret sister and we’ve met up every single summer since. She’s an awesome lady and a lot of fun to be with, and I have tremendous admiration for her strength.

Add in the Michigan and UK connection and the good times just amplified. Sarah from the UK reminded me so much of my good friend Suz back home it was almost like having her there with me.. except I wished she was actually there with me.

2 quotes I loved from Heidi’s keynote, that had me in tears I’ll have you know (the speech, not the quotes).

Some of the aftermath of projects and shoppings…

Sunday I partook of some much needed relaxing at the amazing Aji Spa. It’s probably my 3rd favourite spa behind Le Blanc Spa and Aventura Spa.  I treated myself to a treatment called “Bahn” because you can have a massage or facial at any old spa and I like to try things that are unique to that spa.

bAhN (Blue Coyote Wrap) Symbolic of Coyote’s coat turning the beautiful color of Bluebird, our proprietary Azulene mud is applied to the body. Unlike prideful Coyote, as the blue is removed, your skin will feel more radiant, soft and beautiful. The entire experience is completed with a hydrating cedar and sage oil full body massage. Your therapist will give you a copy of the Bluebird and the Coyote Legend for you to take home and share with your friends and family.

Now that I’ve had it, it was nice, but I can’t say the mud was outstandingly amazing for my skin, but love the steam capsule, and it did help my nasty spider bite.  If I should make it back to Aji, I will likely just stick with the less expensive massage, but I’m glad I tried the Bahn all the same.  After that I had an amazing lunch and cocktail and spent the rest of the day enjoying the spa pool and the rest of the facilities. It was hard to leave because it’s really up in the air if/when I will be able to return.

As the sun sets on the final Creative Escape I am filled with nothing but gratitude I was able to go for so many years. Gratitude for finally making it to the beautiful Arizona. Gratitude for meeting so many fantastic amazing women. Gratitude for learning from so many great talents in the industry. Inspired to go home and create more. Thank you to all for so many amazing memories. Until we meet again, I treasure all the moments that are absolutely Worth Remembering.

A Suitcase of Memories

Life at home is resuming to mostly normal. I’ve sifted through my luggage and have decided what needs to be washed and what can be just put back away. One of these days I will adhere to the mantra of – “Look at what you want to pack, and then take only half”. I’m pretty sure that’s almost what happened to me, except I took everything, and only wore half. That said, Murphy’s Law would dictate that the one thing I left behind would be the one thing that I needed. Alas, I’m a girl, I pack a lot of things and I’m unapologetic about it.

I promise I won’t spend excessive time raving about how awesome Le Blanc is. And in many ways, no amount of raving would ever give that resort proper justice. It’s truly something that needs to be experienced to be understood. The beach is beautiful, the property is so serene and peaceful, the spa is spectacular (easily my favorite), the food is amazing and so fresh and they are extremely cautious about food safety… You get the idea.. But the biggest thing that sets Le Blanc apart from anywhere I’ve ever been is the stellar service on every single level. You are treated like royalty and family all in one. No request is too great, and if you hint you like something they will go above and beyond and deliver. I’ve now taken 4 trips there and I’d be perfectly happy to only vacation there. I’m definitely not as happy anywhere else, and I can’t help but compare everywhere else to here. It’s truly set the bar.

I’m fortunate to have traveled enough that I’ve already done pretty much every excursion resorts offer, so I don’t tend to venture off the resort much anymore. It was not a trip of wild adventures. It was a trip to relax, recharge, refuel. Mission mostly accomplished. I don’t bring home tacky souvenirs anymore. Many trips ago I would bring home the obligatory sand and cheap bottles of tequila, blankets and maracas (ok, maybe not maracas). I did pick up something equally insane this trip and it still makes me laugh that I did in the first place. I was shopping in the spa and ventured over to the obligatory cellulite cream section and discovered they had weightloss cream and breast firming oil. Now, I quickly dismissed the weightloss cream as not possibly working because really, they’d put the entire diet industry out of business if it were only so easy to just slather up in lotion and watch the pounds melt away. But breast firming oil?! Now we’re really talking! Who needs expensive plastic surgery when you have a $23 bottle of oil?!? You guessed it, I bought it. Low cost risk for potential high reward. Lets be totally fair here people, I needed the weightloss cream more. After buying it, I was standing in the pool with my husband enjoying a peaceful quiet moment when I announced, “I just bought snake oil didn’t I?”. His instant reaction, without hesitation was, “Ya think?!?!?!”. Evidently he’s a non believer. Fool!

My suitcases, now empty of clothes and breast firming oil, are full of so many wonderful memories. Priceless memories. Until the next time we meet again Le Blanc, thanks for the memories.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Here I am, reporting live from my ocean view bed at Le Blanc Spa resort in Cancun Mexico. For some reason vacations have me early to bed and early to rise. At home I’m more than content to stay up to the wee hours and sleep til at least 10. Here seems to be the opposite. I’d like to think it’s because I enjoy being out and in the sun that much.

Today marks day 2 of rain. Yesterday I went shopping to escape the rain. I had high hopes of buying a Louis bag but the prices here are so inflated it’s crazy. Ditto to a white strapped watch with crystals around the face. I tried to buy new Havaiana flip flops and they were out of my size. Needless to say it was a fruitless trip but a good way to pass the time.

I’m happy to report my wet feet have not slipped on the marble floors, and I have not given any additional money to Palace Resorts. In fact, I’ve never left a member update meeting so angry in my life. I may just be a medic and not overly business savvy but there are a few things I know and have learned about negotiations along the way….

1) It’s generally helpful if the vendor knows your contract as well as you do so they aren’t trying to resell you the same things over again.
2) It’s also helpful that if I tell you I have something in my contract, when it’s clear I know it better than you, don’t tell me no I don’t.
3) Pressure sales tactics don’t work on someone who has already bought in to your company.
4) If you promise to make something right, make sure you follow through with your promise whether I invest more or not.
5) Mr. Salesman… EVERYTHING is negotiable if you want the sale bad enough and you enter into the negotiations with a clear intent to make a deal; realizing both parties will need to compromise to complete the transaction.
6) Removing currently enjoyed benefits and replacing them with worthless ones will not get a deal done, unless you’re dealing with a sucker.
7) Knowing your client and understanding their why will get you very very far. At this point the art of the sale is not about you, but about tapping in to your clients needs and satisfying said need. Chances are, if I need a coffee maker but you’d rather sell me an oven, a deal will never be reached.

The storms here have been crazy. I’ve never seen the ocean so rough. We had a huge water leak through the night in our room. I hesitated to tell our butler in fear we’d be moved to a crappier room but there really is a huge puddle in the living area. Someone drowned in the rough waters on Saturday night at the resort next door. To be fair, red flags were flying everywhere along the beach, so it was an unfortunate result of his misadventures. Cue the media uproar.

I’m going to spend my afternoon in the spa and hope for sunny days ahead!