Friday, December 11, 2015

I'm going to attend an awards gala!


Last week I wrote about my hopes to win a lottery contest to get tickets to sit in the bleachers along the red carpet for next February's Oscar telecast. Well, the winner notification email time frame has come and passed and I did not win the lottery. However, a better opportunity presented itself instead. I'm going to attend the 27th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) awards gala and after party on January 2nd. Have you ever made such a spontaneous decision and planning within a 72 hour window that could possibly change your life and leave your head spinning? Well that's what I experienced with the last, last, last minute decision to attend this event (Jan 1-4).

I'm going primarily to support my favorite actor, Michael Fassbender, who is being honored with the International Star award by PSIFF and this is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity to be at a public Hollywood and entertainment industry event where he will be there accepting a much deserved honor. I'm excited about attending the event with friends, and dressing up really nice to attend an event where I can network and help lay down some bricks for my future move to LA in late 2016.

This year's roster of honored talent is ever growing and I look forward to meeting, if just for a moment, all of this year's honorees:


PSIFF has announced that Carol actress, Rooney Mara will receive its Spotlight award; Black Mass lead actor Johnny Depp will receive its Desert Palm Achievement Award (Actor); Carol and Truth lead actress Cate Blanchett will receive its Desert Palm Achievement Award (Actress); The Danish Girl and Ex Machina supporting actress Alicia Vikander will receive its Rising Star Award; Room lead actress Brie Larson will receive its Breakthrough Performance Award; Steve Jobs lead actor Michael Fassbender will receive its International Star Award (male); Brooklyn lead actress Saoirse Ronan will receive its International Star Award (female); and Spotlight co-writer/director Tom McCarthy will receive its Sonny Bono Visionary Award. - The Hollywood Reporter

Image from last year's event

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fingers crossed for Oscar bleacher seats

I promise to look more enthusiastic and happy to be sitting there!

I have been a fan of the Academy awards since the mid-80s, that's when I really started to pay attention to them when I was in my teens. In 1992, when my favorite film of the year, The Silence of the Lambs won five well deserved Oscars, predicting the Oscars and watching the show has been in my blood ever since. In all this time, because I'm such a cinephile, I have been very, very disappointed with decisions that the American Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has made over the years. Politics/Religion/Sexism/Racism/Intolerance should have no place in truly honoring the best in cinema... but it does, and that's what happens when you have a voter base that is not reflective of the diverse society and world we live in. In response to winners that I was disgusted with, I boycotted watching for a few years. Sure, I kept tabs on predictions, nominations, and the end results, but at an arms length.

Due to my favorite actor, Michael Fassbender, possibly getting his second (should be his third) Oscar nomination for his excellent work in Steve Jobs, I have entered into two lottery contests for the chance to win a pair of tickets to sit in the fan bleacher section along the red carpet at the next Academy Awards, February 28th. One contest via AMPAS just gives you the tickets to attend (after passing a background check), and the other is through People magazine where they will not only give you two tickets, but pay for hotel and airfare. I would prefer the People contest, but if I won the AMPAS lottery, I have already created my AirBnB and Uber accounts to help me enjoy my quick LA visit.

If I won either contest, I'm so there and I'm very excited to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity. In years past, for people to get into the bleacher seats, they camped out for days. But it was always the same strange fanatics who would camp out, save spots for friends, and sit in the bleachers for years and years and years. But AMPAS put a stop to that in 2011-ish and in an effort to be more fair and give other people from around the country and world a chance to sit in the bleachers, they have this annual lottery contest. I think this is fair and if I win the lottery, what a dream come true for a lover of cinema and the art of fine films and performers!!!

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Viva la Paris

It's been a week since the terrorist attacks in Paris (by an evil terrorist group whose name shall never be typed by me), and I just want to take this time to send my love and thoughts to the citizens of Paris. As I have written in the past year, I am in the planning stages of a big European summer trip with my mom and niece next June. We'll be spending 4 days in London and 4 days in Paris. My niece is particularly interested in Paris and this once in a lifetime trip for all of us is going full speed ahead.

I lived in New York City when 9/11 occurred. My apartment was a mere 6 miles away from ground zero. Although it took a few weeks for us New Yorkers to wake up from the shock of the horrific terrorist attack, we did eventually moved on and became stronger and more united. That is what is going to happen in Paris, and any other unfortunate city that meets the same attack by these barbaric subhuman scum in the future. I know good prevails over evil, but there will be times when evil hurts us, but we always get back up, reassess things, and defeat them. This will happen. But meanwhile, I refuse to change my vacation plans. We're going to Paris and we're going to have an excellent visit.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Ancestry.com Results!


To my great surprise, it only took two weeks for Ancestry.com to send me my DNA results, saving me up to an additional four weeks of waiting. I'm excited to share the findings and for the most part, I'm not too surprised, but it was fun seeing the results of what I suspected. To summarize, my African roots are primarily from West Africa, and the map from Ancestry.com representing my DNA ancestry reminds me of just how large and diverse the continent of Africa is. The largest portion of my African ancestry is from Cameroon/Congo (25%), and the remaining 46% is from other parts, including 14% from "Trace regions". According to Ancestry.com, trace regions are: These are regions where you seem to have just a trace amount of genetic ethnicity — there is only a small amount of evidence supporting the regions as part of your genetic ethnicity. Because both the estimated amount and the range of the estimate are small, it is possible that these regions appear by chance and are not actually part of your genetic ethnicity.

And Europe is 26% of my DNA Ancestry with 13% of that from Great Britain, and 13% from trace regions in Europe. In the European DNA ancestry break down, the second largest region at 7% is from Spain/Portugal. I had no idea that I have Iberian Peninsula ancestry, so that was the really cool find.

Overall, I find my DNA results to be enlightening and fun. There are so many other DNA tests out there and they are continuously developing these tests to have even better estimations. Perhaps I'll do another test in 10 years to see if the science of the testing can confirm these trace regions or merge my DNA definitively into the currently dominate ancestry regions.

Here is the complete breakdown of my DNA ancestry results:

25%    Cameroon/Congo
23%    Benin/Togo
9%      Mali
14%   Trace African regions (tiny percentages from five other African countries)
13%   Great Britain
7%     Spain/Portugal
3%     Scandinavia
2%      Ireland
1%      Europe East
3%      Native American/Asian
100% = ME

Friday, November 13, 2015

Love & Vodka is a Fish Out of Water

I got my book signed y'all!
This past Wednesday evening (Nov. 11th) reminded me of why I love living in Ann Arbor so much. My long time dear friends, Laurie and Jon Wilson, invited me to the book launch and reading of R. J. Fox's new book, Love & Vodka - My Surreal Adventures in the Ukraine, which is the first book published under their new publishing company, Fish Out of Water (www.fowbooks.com). The reading was appropriately held at the downtown Ann Arbor bookstore, Literati. A brilliant corner bookstore that reminds me of my days in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City circa 2000. Nothing beats buying a book and then shoving a fancy $5 cupcake into your mouth as you walk home to read your new find.

RJ reading from 'Love & Vodka'
R.J.'s new book is about his ambitious endeavor to travel from the States to the Ukraine to ask a girl he just met on the street, to marry him. It's a funny story about how a young American experiences life so bizarre and completely different from his Michigan and California life, all in the pursuit of happiness. R.J. read for a bit and answered about a dozen questions. I knew going into the reading that this was a book I wanted to buy, and after R.J. shared some key bits from the book, I was sold, this is going to be a great, funny, and educational read.


Jon and R. J. toasting the book launch with a shot of honey vodka.
Jon and Laurie worked with R.J. for seven years to make that evening come to fruition. And if there ever was an example of synchronicity, Nov 11th was the night because it was that very evening, seven years earlier, when the Wilsons and R.J. friended each other on Facebook and began sharing dreams about book writing and creating a publishing company. Yup, the universe works in mysterious ways, but you have to put the action into motion to get what you want.

Please check out Jon and Laurie's Fish Out of Water publishing website (read about the book or short story submission guidelines), and order RJ's book! Cheers to Jon, Laurie, and R.J!

This was a deliciously smooth vodka.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Peace of Mind

My zen is coming into balance.

If you were to talk to the Simone of August 30th of this year, and then talk to the Simone of today, October 30th, you'd think you were speaking to two different people. That's just how remarkable the turn of events in my life has been in this span of 60 days. The stress of devoting 8.5 hours a day at a place that was gnawing at my soul was taking it's toll. But through a miracle from the universe, I got out of that place, and I'm in a more professional environment that has had a better impact on my body, mind, and spirit. Now I'm still running around the place and I have new work related stress and pressures, but it's manageable, and, part of the job, as long as I manage it well, which I will do. The most important change is that the work environment is not toxic, the people are nice and professional, and, it's quiet and non-political. All of these changes have made me sleep better, feel better about myself, I can meditate better, and wake up anticipating the day. What's in the past is in the past and what didn't kill me, just made me stronger and believing that there's always something out there that's better for me. I found a great zen balance for my life right now.

Who am I really?

I did a cool thing last week. I ordered one of those DNA kits from Ancestry.com. You provide a saliva sample and it takes about six weeks for you to get the results back about your ancestry DNA. To be honest, I have been curious about my ancestry since I was a kid. Looking at family photos of people I never knew or met, but I always wondered who were they, where did they came from, and who was their family, and where did they come from?  Of course, I identify as black, or someone whose predominate ancestral DNA is from somewhere in Africa. However, based on my appearance, I have European ancestry too, and most likely some Native American. And through this DNA test from Ancestry.com, I will once and for all know the answer to, Who Am I? In this political correct society we live in, and the neat little proper racial categories Americans just love to put each of us into, I want to ultimately know who I am, down to the very DNA fiber that makes me, ME. I know my physical appearance says I am more than what others feel more comfortable in referring me to. I have always felt that if just one of my non-African ancestors didn't exist, or did not meet up with the person(s) who helped build up what my current DNA is, I would NOT be alive as I am today. So each DNA donor from whatever continent is 100% important and necessary in making what I am 100% of today. And that's just the damn bold truth that a lot of people don't care to embrace because it's too inconvenient and it messes up political demographic power games.

I'll get the results by mid-December so please come back here to find out who is Simone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Room With a View


It's been a couple of weeks since I started my new job and I'm really liking it. Here is an image of the view from my office. Yes, an office, all by myself. Previously, I was in a cubicle at a very busy corner, sitting next to an immature, unprofessional idiot who spied on me. And I was HER boss! But that's in the past. All good things come to those who wait, and I waited a very long time for this view and to work in an environment that appreciates me and provides opportunities for growth.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I'm Moving Onto Something New

Sometimes you just gotta say, 'Fuck it', and just do it.

Whew! I waited for this day for a very, very long time. It has been officially announced at work today that October 2nd is my last day and I could not be more relieved. I can't share any details yet, but those who know me, know that I have suffered in silence for far too long, and it has affected my body, health, and mind. The Universe paid off for me in spades and my future is very, very bright indeed and I'm on the mend.

When you dedicate 8 hours of your daily life to a job, you should like it and the people. Sadly, that was not my case. But I had a job to do, and bills to pay. Sadly, I reckon that's what it is for a lot of people. The timing to leave was set for me a month ago, and with the grace of God, I met that goal. I was damned determined to meet this goal for once and for all. I have accomplished so much in the past several months leading up to this day, and I'm very grateful to whatever mysterious force that kept me positive and determined. I know now that I can battle any shit that comes my way. I will fall down, but I will always pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep walking towards my goal. I had a goal by time my birthday came (Sept 30th), and dammit, I made that goal! My birthday gift to me.

At some point in the near future, I'll share more details, but for now, as I close one door and barricade it shut and forget about it, another door opens and the path ahead of it is full of sunshine!

Never, never, never give up!

Monday, September 14, 2015

TIFF 40: Days 1-5

I have a much needed break between screenings here at the 40th Toronto Int'l Film Festival. It's always so exciting to be in Toronto, and the film festival makes it all the more fun and exciting. So far, I have seen some very cool films, and several that I did not like at all.

Each year I assess the festival and it's getting grander and grander each year, with more people attending each year. And like in years past, changes are made at the festival for regular movie fans and industry folk. Some changes are good, some not so good. The primary not so good one is that screening tickets were much harder to come by this year because they sold out almost instantly. And the film schedule was very, very tight this year. As you can imagine, 399 films spread out over 10 days is a lot! It's almost too much and causing screening conflicts. So not only was I shut out of The Martian, Demolition, and Black Mass, several other films were in direct scheduling conflict with other films I wanted to see, leaving me in the position of not being able to see a certain film during this festival.

But of the films I have seen, here is a quick run down of what I have seen so far. I'm not going to go info a full review, just a brief description and the grade:

Son of Saul - a horrifying holocaust film from one man's perspective as he desperately tries to give a dead child a proper Jewish burial... at the sake of his and other's escape plans. A-

Our Brand is Crisis - American political campaign consultants hired to help Bolivian presidential candidates win an election. I hated this with the passion of a thousand suns. It was not funny and I tire of the Americans save the day theme crap. D+

Michael Moore
Where to Invade Next - Michael Moore explores social, financial, educational, health, etc., programs in select European countries that the USA should adopt to improve our country. Standard Moore comparison documentary of how America sucks in so many things and fail its citizens. If anything, this document, as well intended as it was, made me embarrassed to be an American because of the significant flaws in our society and government. B+

Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen with producers
I Saw the Light - Tom Hiddleston plays Hank Williams and shows how this beloved country singer's alcohol abuse and physical problems, as well as his philandering ways, made him a spiritually broken man by the young age of 29. Tom sang all the songs and he was fantastic, as was Elizabeth Olsen as Hank's first wife. You don't need to be a country music lover to appreciate this modest film. B

Eddie, Amber Heard, Alicia Vikander
The Danish Girl - Yet again, Eddie Redmayne gives another Oscar performance as a man who discovers that deep within himself, he's female. With the love and support of his wife played by Alicia Vikander, he becomes Lillie and takes a great gamble to finally be happy in life by being who she really is. A very nice film, but it will be controversial with some people. B+

Kill Your Friends - An A/R record company executive will do anything to anyone in order to reach the top of the record company. Set in London in the 90s, the soundtrack to the film is awesome. B

Legend - Tom Hardy plays both of the deadly Kray boys, Reggie and Ronnie, as they set out to make names for themselves in the 1960s in London. One is clinically insane, the other is more diplomatic but with anger management issues. A very entertaining film which showcases what an incredible actor Hardy is. A-

Equals - Set in the future after over 70% of humanity has died from wars, this dystopian society has outlawed emotions, which has been proven to be the cause of the devastation of the world. However, some people awaken from the reprogramming of their DNA and start to express emotions which they desperately try to 'hide' from others out of fear of being encourage to commit suicide, or be permanently cured. Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult are both very good in this sci-fi drama. B+

High Rise - I had high hopes for this film, but it appears to be an attempt to be Snowpiercer but in a high rise condo in 70s London. Totally incoherent, nonsensical, and disorienting. I hated this, and walked out just before it ended. F

Director and cast of Room
Room - This last minute surprise donor screening turned out to be a real gem. Brie Larson is a young woman trapped in a room with her son, Jacob Tremblay, for many years and together, they help each other to survive by creating their own new world. Love and will power does prevail in the end. A fantastic film! A

Jonas Cuaron and Gael Garcia Bernal
Desierto - A self-appointed American vigilante takes it upon himself to be on the lookout for Mexican migrants crossing the border. He murders them with his long-range rifle, and a cat and mouse game of hunting down the remaining few becomes a very chilling and tense drama. Directed by Jonas Cuaron and starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. B+

I have two more days of the festival and three more films to screen. In the next update, I'll write more about my experiences here in Toronto and the festival.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

TIFF 2015



I'll be heading up to Toronto next week for my 12th TIFF in a row, and again, I'm ever indebted to my wonderful friend and TIFF host Glenn for making this all possible! While I was dismayed that Michael Fassbender's Steve Jobs was skipping TIFF, I have found many other films that will bid my time in Toronto well. My TIFFr schedule of the13 films I'll be seeing can be viewed at http://2015.tiffr.com/schedules/simonec!

This year I will drive my new car to Toronto, right after work, next Wednesday, 9 September. I want to avoid that crazy early day driving into Toronto that I would have encountered had I drove up there early Thursday morning. Also, it would make for a long day after driving 5 hours. Driving up the night before, I'll be in Toronto before 11pm, and I could go straight to bed and start my TIFF off fresh.

As per my film schedule, I'm looking forward to seeing Tom Hardy, Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Nicholas Hoult at their film premieres. Although I decided not to watch Beasts of No Nation, I'll try to check out the red carpet arrivals so I can see Idris Elba and Cary Fukunaga in the flesh!

TIFF is getting more popular each year and we were shut out of several films this year, which is not cool at all, especially since my host is a patron member. Some of my TIFF friends are also experiencing difficulties in getting tickets to screenings they really want. But because we love the festival so much, we go through this each year and just deal with it. I'll being using my iPad for the first time at TIFF so I'll be able to update Instagram and Twitter more steadily this year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Upcoming Septoplasty Surgery

For many years, I have suffered from seasonal allergies that turned into year long allergies. I consider myself lucky in that I don't have to have an allergy shot, instead, I use over the counter decongestants and Flonase nasal spray regularly. But over time, I developed a deviated septum due to the constant nasal congestion I experienced. And lately, this problem has now caused me some ear problems in my right ear.

Earlier this year, I started to experience dizziness and vertigo. I couldn't even maintain basic balance poses in my Bikram yoga class. I thought it was because my legs were tired or that I wasn't concentrating enough. But in subsequent classes, I still experienced difficulty maintaining my balance. Then one evening, my vertigo was so bad, I became nauseous and the room was spinning, and I couldn't sleep. I thought for a moment that I was in the early stages of some mystery illness that was going to kill me. Seriously. So I went to my doctor and based on what I was explaining to her, she said that I needed to see either an Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) doctor or an allergist. She suggested that I see the ENT first so that other issues could be ruled out, and then be referred to an allergist.

I took to heart her physician referral, but I was starting to feel better and I was in the middle of planning my European vacation. Long story short, I did experience some funkiness with my right ear, but because I wasn't in  Michigan, I didn't have any allergy reactions while in Ireland (another reason to move there) or in England (other than pollution allergies). But the flying messed up my ear a bit. So upon my return, I made an appointment with the ENT and it was six weeks out! I wish I could have made that appointment sooner. By late June, there was a constant clicking noise in my ear that was driving me crazy. I went to urgent care, they cleaned out my ear and told me that there was fluid behind my ear drum. If I took decongestants for a week (which I already did), it would clear up. So I doubled up on the decongestants, and that seemed to work. But it dried me up really bad - I constantly needed to drink water.

Last week I saw the ENT and after examining me, he was able to determine that I needed Septoplasty surgery. He looked up into my nasal passage and he said, 'Oh Wow!' Now you know it's bad when your doctor says that. Basically, the nasal passage in my right nostril is totally inflamed and putting pressure on my septum, making it crooked, which in turn, causes the popping and clicking noise in my right ear.  And because the nasal turbinates are so inflamed, he'll need to cauterize the turbinates to decrease their size and open up my nasal passages. I didn't realize my nose was so jacked up, but I'm grateful that this surgery has been quickly scheduled for Aug 12th.

About eight months ago, actress Kaley Cuoco had this surgery and she posted pictures herself and wrote about how she has been needing this surgery for years. I remember reading that and wondered if that was something I should consider.

Here is a medical illustration of what my nose currently looks like on the left, and what it will look like afterwards on the right.


Needless to say, I can't wait to breath normally again, and not speak with a nasal sound.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My New Car!


It has been long overdue for me, but when it comes to buying a new car, the timing has to be right, and this weekend was the right time. I am now the proud owner of a 2015 Toyota Corolla Eco. This class of the Corolla is a bit more fuel efficient than the regular L/LE/S versions of Corolla. It's not a hybrid, but it gets a tad bit better miles per gallon. I have been thinking about getting a Toyota for almost a year now, and I knew I wanted to get the Blizzard Pearl color. It's a shimmering eggshell white that actually costs $395 extra to have that color. After driving two blue cars (Ford 2002-2012 and Mitsubishi 2012-2015) for fourteen straight years, I wanted a brighter color - silver or white.


I went a little bit over my budget because I decided to get the Toyota Extra Care Platinum service agreement, which will cover any and all maintenance for my car for 8 years or 100,000 miles. Especially moving to a new state, I need the peace of mind that my vehicle will be protected.


My Corolla Eco was the only one in stock and they had it on the showroom floor next to my salesperson. These are the before and after photos when they moved my car off the sales floor. One of the sales managers even came out to shake my hand to tell me that it's really special when a customer buys a car straight off the showroom floor.

This is the fifth time in my adult life I bought a new car (3 financed/2 leased) - the previous four were Ford cars. I was extremely impressed with how well the Toyota sales and finance team treated me on Saturday. I went there to simply test drive, but I knew in the back of my mind that I should be prepared to buy because the car that I researched and had a preference for, the Eco, it was the ONLY one at the Victory Toyota Canton dealership. It was the color I wanted, the class style, and the interior was much more impressive than the Internet pictures. There was a cafe in the dealership where they make you fresh and delicious sandwiches, coffee/tea/bottled water, cookies and fruit - free to the customer while they waited for car service. My experience in the past at Ford dealerships was not at this level at all! Once you've been treated this well at a Toyota dealership, it's hard to justify going to a different car manufacturer dealership.


I test drove a Yaris, a Prius, and a pimped out Corolla with a moon roof. I loved all these vehicles, but my decision to buy the Eco sedan came down to budget, size, style, and long term love for the vehicle. I love a moon roof, but not for $2500 more. And I loved the Yaris, but it was a tad too small and very basic. I plan to drive to California from Michigan, and the Corolla will certainly fit my needs.

Earlier this month I received an alert from Credit Karma that some funky crap was on my credit report. I disputed it on the two bureaus that had it on my report (it was removed), and by time I purchased my car, my credit was in stronger condition to qualify for a great financing plan. So now that I have a nice new car, I know all kinds of opportunities will come my way because I have a newer car to get me to them.

Thanks to Victory Toyota Canton for helping me buy the exact car that I dreamed about and treating me wonderfully throughout the entire process!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My European Holiday: Ireland and England May 2015

A walkway to Killarney National Park.

[This is a long read, grab a cup of coffee or tea
So many months of planning and budgeting went into my fantastic trip to Ireland and England (May 22-May 31) and it’s all over now. I was emotionally exhausted and drained leading up to my vacation, and as I had hoped, the trip across the pond had more potent restorative powers than I had hoped. In the past, I sometimes came back home pre-depressed about having to go back to the same old same old, but alas, this trip was different and it forced me to accept the fact that things are going to change in my life, and for the better! Some of you follow me on twitter and my Instagram  accounts, and you were able to see my daily activities. But for the rest of you, I’ll give you the cliff notes of my trip. You can go to my Flickr photo album to see 200 photos I posted there. In this blog article, I’m sharing images here that I didn’t add on Flickr.

Firstly, I must say that there was a medium sized hiccup on my trip, but it was fixed quickly. To start, my plane that left Detroit on Thursday evening of May 21st was running late. This was met by audible groans from passengers and some running up to the check in counter to find out how this delay would affect their connections. Immediately they informed us that the 25 min delay would still make the plane arrive only 2 minutes late – this is why airlines buffer in 30 minutes in case delays like this happen. The plane arrives and all was well. However, this is the part where I explain the benefits of me paying almost $300 for my new carry-on bag. It was designed to hold a lot of stuff, but I am able to slide it under the seat. The flight was heavily booked, as usual, and US Airways staff was telling us that the overhead bins would be too full to accommodate everyone. And sure enough, some people couldn’t put their crap in the bins and had to check it. Not me, I sat in my window seat and wasn’t bothered by others.

My luggage at the airport bus stop to Limerick/Killarney.

Landing in Philadelphia on schedule was fine, but I still had to walk half a mile to the gate where my connection to Shannon was located. Sure enough, I get there just in time to sit down when they started to announce boarding. That was too close for comfort! But, I made it. I had a window seat in a three person row, and it was a comfortable overnight flight. I think I dozed off for a little while. In just over six hours, we landed in Shannon at 8am sharp. Typical misty Irish weather greeted me. I was glad we made it, but my trip wasn’t over yet. Once I landed, going through customs to enter Ireland is a breeze – almost like driving through the tunnel to Canada. Let’s face it, the people who travel to Ireland either live there or are there on vacation to hike or play golf. Once I collected my one piece of checked in luggage, I went outside to wait for the bus to take me to Limerick, where I would then transfer to the Killarney bus. Perfect timing struck again when the bus came just 5 minutes later. The next bus would be over an hour wait! The ride to Limerick was about 25 minutes. Once there, I waited just over an hour for the Killarney bus. It was chilly outside, but I was happy to be in Ireland. I got on Bus 51 to Killarney for a two-hour ride. My hotel reservation was at Killarney Court Hotel, which is on the road where the bus from Limerick stops at. So I was able to get off the bus in front of the hotel. Again, perfect timing – I arrived at the hotel at 12:50pm. I paid cash, got my key, and you know what, I got the same room as I had in 2012! No complaints, I just thought it was funny. However, I’m wondering if the fact that in my reservations, I told them that I stayed at that hotel before and loved my accommodations very much, that maybe they pulled up my guest information from then and just assigned me to Room 241 again. Very cool in any event, it’s a great room. I don’t have much of a view, but that’s ok. I unpacked, changed clothes, and I was off to grab lunch and start walking around town!


It was as if I never left, I just walked the same route on Tralee Road to get to the center of town – only 10 minutes, and just felt so happy and lucky to be in Killarney again. This small Irish town of 13,000 swells up on the weekends to 40,000! That’s how popular this town is! My first meal of my vacation was fish and chips and mushy peas, and a coke. I devoured the food and then made my way to confirm my Dingle Peninsula day trip for Saturday. I booked it online, but I had to pay in cash at the tour office. I went into the building and I told her I’m here to pay for my Dingle tour tomorrow, and she said, ‘You must be Simone’. See, this is how friendly and personable the Irish are. So I paid for my tour, and I went on with my walk to Killarney Nat’l Park – the main lure for visitors who are up for long walks in this grand park. I stopped by the tea room to get a cup of peppermint tea – because my throat was raw and scratchy. Just sitting there drinking tea and being amazed that just 24 hours ago, I was at home thinking about being in Ireland. Afterwards I was on my way to walk to Ross Castle. It’s just 1.5 miles up on the walk path, and for my first day, I didn’t want over do it since I had just arrived. I knew this day was half gone by the traveling to get there, and the other half would be to enjoy being in Killarney and immerse myself into it at a slow and steady pace. Ross Castle was built in the 1400s and is a pretty cool place to check out, especially at a time when the Game of Thrones is so popular (BTW, GoT is filmed in Ireland). To kill a little time, I joined the 4:15pm tour of the former fortress. It’s really a marvel how they renovated it to look like it did hundreds of years ago.

After the tour, I walked back through the park and on my way back to the hotel; I stopped by O’Connor’s pub to book my Gap of Dunloe tour for Monday. I stopped by a few gift shops and made note of some cool things to buy, and then I stopped by Penny’s (which is Primark in Ireland), and bought a pillow that I just had to HAVE. I left enough free space in my suitcase to accommodate gifts. So I made it back to my hotel close to 6pm and relaxed for the evening with a cup of soup.
Ray, the tour driver and other passengers fogged in.
Saturday was Dingle Peninsula day and I walked down Main Street to where the bus would pick us up. I purchased a priority seat so that I could sit up front. For those of you who saw that video I posted, you can see the benefits of priority seating. This tour was fantastic, and it was made better by having such a fun driver, Ray of Deros Tours. It was wonderful to see parts of County Kerry that is ideally seen by a professional tour driver. Seeing the Atlantic Ocean at Inch Beach from the European side and at this higher latitude was excellent. As we drove further up the peninsula, the foggy misty weather prevented us from seeing the true beauty of the view of the Atlantic Ocean. In the group image above, normally, blue sea and skies would be the scenery, not fog.  We were told that we could see miles and miles out into the ocean, but the fog was straight up right in our faces – couldn’t see nothin’. But, it was all good. I’ll catch the view next time, and there will be a next time.


A view from Killarney Lake Hotel public grounds.
My Sunday in Killarney was more walking around and enjoying the sights of the park. I saw a lot of people out and about and there were more people renting bikes to get around the park. This time I wanted to walk because I was taking a lot of pictures. Next time I’ll rent a bike. As I walked back to Killarney, I stopped by the bus station to confirm the departure of the morning bus to take me to Shannon on Tuesday morning. Thank God I did that because I totally screwed up my pre-planning. For Tuesday’s flight on Aer Lingus to London, the plane was scheduled to leave at 1:15pm. I made the mistake in THINKING that the bus from Killarney was leaving at 9am (like in 2012), giving me enough time to get to Shannon. Nope, the schedule changed! I asked the guys at the bus station what time the first bus leaves in the morning. They said at 10am. When I told them that I had to be at the airport by 12:30, they said that I would not make it. Shit, shit, shit! So I go back to the hotel, review my boarding pass to double confirm the flight time and it was at 13:15. Shit, shit, shit! What do I do? I can’t miss my flight; I don’t have 350 Euros to pay for a flight change. I even called a taxi service in Limerick to make arrangements for them to be at the bus station to pick me up at 12 sharp. The man said it would be terribly tight, but they will be there. This didn’t sit well with me. 

So a brilliant thought popped into my mind: I have to check out of the Killarney hotel a day earlier and book a hotel room in Shannon for Monday night. That way I would be closer to the airport and not stress out about it. I went online to booking.com to find a hotel in Shannon on the cheap. That’s when I found Shannon Court Hotel for 59 Euros. So I went down to the front desk and explained my situation. The manager approved my request to check out earlier but they would keep 20% of my one night refund. Better yet, the Shannon hotel was their sister hotel so they called and held the room for me. I got 80 Euros back from the Killarney hotel, and I was able to use that for the Shannon hotel and saved money! Whew! I was very lucky to realize this at the perfect time. When I got back to my room, the Shannon hotel called me to obtain my reservation information and I was all set for one night there. I would check out of the Killarney hotel in the morning, they would hold my luggage for me while I went on my Monday day tour, and as long as I made it back to the hotel for the 6pm bus to Shannon, I was all set. Needless to say, I slept like a baby that night.

A sunny day at the Gap of Dunloe hiking trail.
Monday was Gap of Dunloe day. Just prior to the start of the trip, I let the tour operator know that I needed to be back at my hotel by 5:15pm the latest, and he told me the tour will be done by 3:30. That was even better because I could catch the 4pm bus out of town instead of the 6pm. This tour was the highlight of my visit, I did this 7.5 mile walk on my first trip and it is the one excursion that I day dream about often.  It’s a very meditative walk, but there are times when the heart gets to pumping and the thighs and butt muscles start to ache. This walk is just over two hours and it’s not for the faint hearted. Again, there was more foot traffic this time, which is making me believe that Ireland is becoming more and more popular to travelers as I heard a lot of German and American speakers. After the walk, there is an hour long boat ride on the Lakes of Killarney. It was cold but the scenery is gorgeous. I was paying attention to the time and it was just after 3pm as we were approaching Ross Castle on the lake. The bus/boat driver, Frank, was a sweetheart. He offered me a ride in his personal car to get to the hotel in time to catch the 4pm bus. I was at the hotel at 3:45; I collected my stuff, and stood at the bus stop by 3:52. The bus came at 4:06. Perfect!

Last minute hotel booking close to airport.
I’m so glad I had my wits about me to leave Killarney the night before. It was a smooth and easy two-hour ride to Limerick, and I just waited 15 minutes for the Shannon/airport bus. When I got on the bus, I told the driver that I need to get to the Shannon Court Hotel, and he told me that there’s a bus stop right in front of the hotel where I can get off. This is the bus I would take directly to the airport, so it was a 20 minute ride from Limerick to the hotel. The airport is only 10 minutes away from this point. I checked into the hotel, asked the front desk clerk to book a taxi to pick me up at 11, and I took it easy for the rest of the evening.

Tuesday morning, I took my time getting ready for the airport, preparing for Phase II of my vacation: London. The taxi picked me up at 11 and I was at the airport by 11:15. Based on the check in process, this confirmed to me that had I stayed the course with my original plans, I would have missed my flight and would have been in a horrible predicament. I was at the airport well ahead of time, but the check in process and waiting for people ahead of me was a 15 minute process and if you’re rushing, you’re literally SOL. But this wait wasn’t bad considering I was at the airport so early. As boarding time approached, I got on board and enjoyed my quick one hour and five minute flight to London. Arriving into London from Ireland is a breeze. I didn’t have to go through customs again! I just walked through the Red section for ‘NON-EU/Nothing to Declare’.

My hotel near Paddington station - I always stay in this area.
Because London is my most favorite city, this was my 12th visit so I will quickly summarize this visit: My regular hotels were booked, so I checked into a very, very small hotel near Paddington, it was comfortable, but very small. To save money, I walked around a lot more than usual and didn’t take the tube much. To my surprise, because I walked towards Hyde Park, I realized that all the places I regularly visit were literally within an hour walk from my hotel. So, walk I did. On Wednesday, this was shopping day at Selfridges and dinner with my dearest Lucinda. Thursday was shopping day at Harrods and the evening play for The Elephant Man starring Bradley Cooper. I was in the second row and the performance was brilliant and I really enjoyed myself. Friday was a rainy day but I walked to Covent Garden for my 1:30 massage and facial at Caudalie. It was absolutely fabulous and I look forward to going there again. That evening, I saw Mad Max: Fury Road at the Odeon near Marble Arch. On Saturday, before I left to go back to Ireland, I walked up to Notting Hill to check out the Portobello Market. It was a very nice day to see so many visitors out and about. By 1pm, I took Heathrow Express to the airport for my 3pm flight.



The United States and Irish flag at Park Inn hotel.
For the last night of my vacation, I checked into my fourth hotel which was conveniently located right at the airport. Literally, if both my legs and one arm were broken, I could crawl to the hotel unaided. This was a nice and spacious hotel room. There were no other restaurants nearby so I had to eat at the pub located in the hotel. I just ordered a cheese pizza. I slept really well that evening and reflected over all the fun things I accomplished in the past 8 days. And like 90% of the other people who checked out that Sunday morning, I walked over to the airport.

Apparently Sunday is a busy day at Shannon airport because there had to be at least a 1,000 people queued up to check in for the select flights leaving w/in 2-3 hours. The stressed out looking agent I spoke to told me that she hated Sundays. She laughed, but I knew she was serious. And she said Monday mornings are terrible too. Due to the time difference of being 5 hours ahead, Sunday is the best day to fly out because I was on target to be home by 7pm to get a good night’s rest and go to work Monday. The last time I flew out of the country was to Amsterdam in December 2013, so I was surprised to see the heightened security for USA bound flights with US Customs based right there at Shannon. What a brilliant idea. Prevent undesirables from entering the country, BEFORE they enter the country. I wonder if that panty boy bomber from Amsterdam had anything to do with tweaking this security check point. So I went through two security checks, at Shannon, before being allowed to the gate section for the US bound flights. Basically, when I arrived home, I just collected my luggage and left the airport. No customs crap.

My flights back home were fine and uneventful. I’m lucky that on all the flights I had, I sat next to normal, fit, sane, clean, and quiet people. On two flights, I had the seat next to me empty! In all, I had a great relaxing trip, and even though I had a hiccup, my recovery was fantastic and I came home with 40 Euros left over!  As usual, I’ll be visiting London again next year, and I will definitely go back to Ireland in a few years. But before that, I need to visit Japan and/or Australia; I’m really itching to go to these two countries within the next few years.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cannes 2015 & My Eurotrip!

Lupita Nyongo
It's Cannes Film Festival time and I'm still not rich and cool enough to go there yet! One day soon I shall. I have several blogger peer friends who are in attendance and I'm equally happy for them to be there, and equally envious. Cannes Film Festival is really more for the stars, their PR team, Studio honchos, and the media. Unlike TIFF, where they overcompensate in being fan friendly - at Cannes, fans are like, lint. I'll leave it at that. Here are just a couple images of two gorgeous ladies who are dressed so divinely.


Naomi Watts

My Eurotrip to Ireland and England is next week, and I just booked a Summer Prep Package spa session at Caudalie Boutique Spa in Covent Garden. This Parisian inspired facial and massage treatment is the closest I'll get to anything French this year, so, why not do it in London? I'm all set to have dinner with my friend Lucinda, see Bradley Cooper in the Elephant Man, and while in Ireland, I'm set to beat my previous hiking mileage of 76 miles walked. This trip could not have come at a better time as I'll use this vacation to mentally recalibrate and to make significant changes in my life upon my return.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My $29 Food Challenge

Simone's groceries - just $27!
Inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow's goop.com $29 Food Stamp Challenge, I wanted to take this challenge as well to see just how much food I could buy with 29 bucks and live off of it for a week. As a single female, I don't have a husband/SO or 2-3+ kids to feed, so it is practically the norm for me to survive perfectly fine on a grocery budget of $30 or less per week. The key is to buy staple products that can be used in various meals to stretch the product over a few days. I purchased foods from all four food groups: meat, fruit/vegetables, diary, and grains.

I usually just eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Make protein smoothies for lunch, and a side of salad, I'll eat a protein bar mid-day, and for dinner I can make penne pasta with Alfredo sauce and some veggies, or add some grilled chicken. I went to Kroger to buy my groceries because I had some coupons which saved me $2.15, bringing my total food bill down to $27.64! Not seen in the photo but included in my grocery shopping is a 3-quart jug of Ice Mountain water for only $1. I think I did a great job with my shopping. One thing that I want to stress is that I chose to buy some products from the Simple Truth organic line because I like to eat as healthy as possible and I try to buy foods that are non-GMO. So if someone else were to buy the exact same items, they could literally save even more money. For instance, the can of corn, I wanted to pay 29 cents more for the can of Simple Truth organic corn at $1.29  - whereas someone else would decide to buy the Del Monte can of corn for only $1. Same thing with the organic chicken. There is a notable price difference between cage free, no-antibiotics/no hormones, organically raised chicken that Simple Truth sells, in comparison to a Tyson's chicken breast package.

Goop.com's Californian groceries.
When you look at goop's grocery items (approximate cost - $24), it's very, very green and organic, much like her reputed daily diet. I think it's safe to say that it is admirable the awareness that Gwyneth has raised by taking on this food stamp challenge, but the reality is that the very people who survive off of food stamps which only permit them to buy $29 worth of groceries, do not buy the type of food that Gwyneth does, or, even what I buy. Like, who needs 7 limes? Really?

At the end of the day, I think what is more newsworthy from this challenge is the focus of having access to good quality healthy foods. Not everyone has access, the ability, or the motivation to buy the foods shown in this article. Hopefully some people's food buying habits will change from the publicity of this project that goop.com took on.

Monday, April 6, 2015

It's Really Springtime!


Since my last post, I'm happy to report (aka, brag) that I am in possession of the OG Bag from Lo & Sons, and I have my new iPad! And in these few weeks, it is now Springtime and I cannot emphasize enough how my spirits have been lifted by the calendar shift of seasons. It's still a little nippy outside some mornings, but today, it is sunny and it will be in the low 60s. Trust me, this is good weather for Michigan in early April!

The month of March was a bit hectic as I worked hard for a fundraiser in my fan community. Although we were just a tad short of our goal, we still did a great job and I'm at peace with how I managed the fundraiser. It's good experience to help me with future jobs by demonstrating my initiative in selecting a fundraiser, and the marketing and strategizing I did to get the funds I was able to secure. I know now who are the true fans and those who are just looky loos. Nuff said.

I'm just 44 days out from my vacation and I am so excited to visit Ireland and England again. I have drawn up a savings budget for the next six weeks and so far I'm on target to have my vacation paid for without the use of one credit card. And speaking of credit, I'm hunkering down on tidying up my credit report. I'm subscribed to Credit Karma and it's a good tool to check up on regularly to make sure my report is accurate. One of my goals has been to not use my credit cards - if I can't pay cash for it, I don't need it. I want zero debt. Credit cards will be for emergencies only. For example, last Friday, I went to the Salvation Army store to see if I could snag a couple pair of pants and some shirts. Upon visiting the store, it's easy to be overwhelmed with all the stuff they have. But I was specifically looking for some khakis, some dress slacks, a polo shirt, and a long sleeve grey top. And I found all items, and the total was less than $7! These four items will expand my wardrobe significantly. I could have gone to the mall and spent almost $100 or more for the items I got, but instead, they were gently used high quality clothes from a second hand store. It helps that this is a college town with money to burn. So there is a lot of nice stuff to be found at the salvation army here in Ann Arbor! BTW, I'm wearing the khakis and the grey top right now!

My next purchase will be some very good walking shoes for my trip. During my 2012 visit to Ireland, in anticipation of the long hikes I would be doing, I purchased some Keen hiking boots. For some reason, after all the walking I did, my big toe on my right foot developed black toenail and it hurt like hell for weeks after! But I'm prepared to deal with this torture next time if I over exert my feet. But still, I want some newer shoes that are fashionable, and not as clunky as my boots.