5:12 PM

My Blogging Tool Box

Blogging is a lot of work. Fun work, but work non-the-less. {It's no wonder people can make a full time job out of it.} Every blogg...

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Blogging Tool Box

My Blogging Tool Box - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Blogging is a lot of work. Fun work, but work non-the-less. {It's no wonder people can make a full time job out of it.} Every blogger has their own approach, their own set of tools to get the job done and it's fascinating to find out what others put into their blogs because everyone attacks the Job-That-Is-Blogging just a little differently.

So I thought it would be fun to share my own little blogging tool box. Just in case you've ever wondered. {Because it helps me to think people actually care what it takes for me to keep plugging out awesome content...and by 'awesome' I mean kind of okay...and by 'kind of okay' I mean please pat me on the back because I have three kids, a home to keep up, a job, and an enormous love of sleep ON TOP OF ALL THIS WRITING I DO #ShamelessPlugForLove}

My Blogging Tool Box - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

ESSENTIAL TOOL #1. Caffeine {the nectar of the blogger} Tweet: Caffeine: the nectar of the blogger {and other essential #blogging tools} via @alannarusnak http://ctt.ec/1b23B+

I always have either a cup of coffee or a cup of tea while I blog.  {In a mug, please and thank you - china tea cups are way too precious for this girl!} There's something about that warm comfort that pushes my creativity and inspiration to the surface.

I go through phases - back and forth between coffee or tea - and lately it's been a season of Orange Pekoe.  Today, however, was a hands-down coffee kind of day.  I had a sick child home from school and it was 11:00 am before I realized that I'd been snuggled up with him on the couch watching the Disney Channel for HOURS.

Put a little JOY in your day! Get a happy mug like mine by clicking one of the photos below! {They're on clearance right now for only $4.99 and every bit as adorable as they appear in the photos!}

{these photos contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on them




My MacBook Pro and I? BFF's if there ever were any. Separation seems to cause phantom limb syndrome and so she comes with me everywhere. The convenience is a beautiful thing simply because I can take her anywhere depending on my mood. I can sit outside at the picnic table beneath the arbor covered in grapevines. I can lock myself away at my bedroom desk if the house is too rowdy. I can curl up in bed or spread across the dining room table or {my absolute favorite} take over a booth at the local coffee shop and indulge in my favorite treat: a Chai Tea Latte {see Essential #1}



Seriously. What did we do before WiFi? The idea of being stuck at a stationary computer is soul-sucking.


ESSENTIAL TOOL #4. Inspiration 


Nothing can happen without an idea and inspiration comes from everywhere. I am not good about planning out posts but I am good about grabbing something when it happens and turning it into something {hopefully} worth sharing - that's why I'm always sure to keep my #5 tool handy.

My Blogging Tool Box - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak


ESSENTIAL TOOL #5. Notebook & Pen 


I keep a notebook and pen handy in my purse at all times just in case I get a brilliant idea. Sometimes I make bullet point lists of what I want to cover. Sometimes it's nothing more than a title or concept but I like to jot it down before it gets lost.


ESSENTIAL TOOL #6. iPhone/Camera


Most of the photos I use on my blog lately have been taken with my iPhone.  It's always with me, so when inspiration strikes I can capture the image rather than running around the house trying to remember where I left the camera and whether or not it's battery is charged. {Though for this post I actually used my 'real' camera which is a dinosaur of a point and shoot digital that I really kind of hate.} I am constantly impressed with the quality of images I can coax out of a little cell phone - it's genius!


ESSENTIAL TOOL #7. Lightroom & Photoshop


I love the process of editing photos. I have zero training but I have managed to navigate my way pretty well through these programs - at least to the point that my end product is something I'm {mostly} happy with. It takes a lot of time - sometimes longer than the actual writing - but in this age of Pinterest it's imperative that you accompany a post with a great 'pinnable' image that will catch people's eye. {I'm working on another post that shows my photo process. Stay tuned!}


ESSENTIAL TOOL #8. A Plethora of Font Choices


My Blogging Tool Box {my favorite fonts} - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna RusnakI am addicted to fonts like I'm addicted to caffeine. I am constantly downloading new ones to use on my title photos.  {That shape that frames my title on this post? That's a 'L' from the KG Flavor and Frames font. That leaf? It's an 'n' from the Type Embellishments font.}


ESSENTIAL TOOL #9. Time & Space


There is nothing fast about the blogging process. I've read a lot of advice that recommends writing and then walking away for hours - or even a whole day - before going back to edit. I do not work like that. I don't have time to work like that. I do read and re-read and re-re-read but I do it all in the same sitting {when possible} because I like to finish what I start and walk away satisfied at a job complete. 

I am blessed to have every Monday off and I do my best to dedicate that day to writing {blogging or otherwise}. By 8:00 am the house is empty and it's just me and my caffeine infused thoughts and I try to ignore the laundry long enough to write something.



ESSENTIAL TOOL #10. Networking Outlets

Social media allows me to get every post 'out there' - it's a way to plug-in to an audience that wouldn't find me organically. Upon completion, I share every single post across various networks. This in itself is monotonous and can be time consuming but the payback in readers is well worth the effort.

I also carry a stack of business cards with me just in case I meet somebody out in the real live 3D world who is interested in what I've got to say. It was awkward at first but the more I hand out, the easier it gets.  Having a pretty business card definitely helps - I had mine printed through Vista Print and I was very happy with their quality and service.

My Blogging Tool Box - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
Blogging is a job. It is also a love. And while my tools will probably change over the years I don't see my passion for this outlet lessening any time soon.

Thank you for reading faithfully. Knowing you're out there gives me the fuel to keep on keeping on!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Have You Thought About Living Today?

Have you thought about living today? SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
We were having dinner when it happened. We were doodling with crayons on the brown paper table covering and I was complaining that my fish was overcooked and just down the road somebody was dying while I reduced the importance of my own living to the crunchy crust on my restaurant fillet.

I was being ungrateful while a life was ending in a rolled car.

It was two days before I even knew.  Two days before I heard why we'd been rerouted along back roads when we'd tried to go home. Two days before I realized the seriously injured driver was a man I knew - a boy I grew up with - that it was his wounds that had him airlifted away and it was his love who spilled her life across the highway I travel almost every day.

And it tears at my heart.

Because though he's really just somebody that I used to know I still knew him and that somehow makes it more real and raw.

I burst into tears on the way to work today. I was half listening to the radio and enjoying the fall colours when I realized I was at the scene of the crash. People had placed flowers and there was this beautiful peach coloured cross and I couldn't hold it back - the ugly sob that was wrenched from my throat - and my eyes blurred and I nearly had to pull over.

I took a few minutes in the parking lot to compose myself and I was late walking into staff meeting.  "How are you?" And I couldn't hold it back and I couldn't form enough words to say what my heart felt and there I was, a salty puddle crying at the conference table.

Life is precious. Why do we forget that so easily? Why should it take a tragedy to remind us that we need to cherish each moment we have?

That man? He is the same age as me - it happened right down the road from where I was - that could have been me, trapped upside down and begging begging begging for my love to respond and dying dying dying inside when there was nothing...

How can we remember?

How can we make each day count?

How can we treasure up each precious moment so we have enough to sustain us when the time comes?

Have you thought about living today? Have you let the wind carry a prayer - a thank you for breath and life and reminders? Have you said 'I love you' or hugged your dearest?

{This is my most favorite song for moments of sorrow when all I need is a little 
permission to be sad and a little hope to cling to. Listen on YouTube}

May you hold tight to what matters and never take a moment for granted!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Conversation Every Couple Needs To Have

The Conversation Every Couple Needs To Have - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
"What's your passion?" he asked me. "You aren't allowed to say family or your work.  What are five other things you're passionate about." 

We were driving somewhere, that yellow lined highway dashing by and my head spinning circles with the question out of nowhere.  Because really it's a question of Who Am I? Stripped down to the core. What makes me tick? What stirs my blood into a fury of passionate pursuit?

He'd listened to an interview on CBC, a man who posed this question and it had stirred something in him.  "It's hard, isn't it?" And it was because society dictates and expects your response to be family and career - that's what every good Canadian would say.  So he modified the rules to make it a little easier.  "Okay...how about three things? Just name three things."

I sat with it for a moment, looking internally for that piece of me that held tight to my self-formed fervency. And then I had it - because really, once you look, it was obvious all along.  "Writing, music, and my home."

He nodded like he already knew.

"And you?" I turned it back on him but he'd already had time to think about it.

"Music, pool, and poker."

And that right there - that simple conversation - that changed everything.

I've heard it said that a girl marries a man like her own father but it didn't take very long from the moment we said "I do" until I realized that he was nothing like my daddy. I had this image of what a husband looked like and it was rather calm and dorky and always around. I was unprepared for anything different.

I married an extrovert. He had loads of love for me but he also had a life beyond me that I had no interest in and so the early days of our marriage were very lonely.  I was so young.  And while he was out with his friends or his band or his pool team I'd be back in our tiny apartment, hugging my guitar and writing songs about bleeding flowers.

I thought my whole purpose was to be a wife and I was thrilled to be one but I was also lost. Loneliness is a kind of virus that eats you from the inside out and you can only cry so many times before you become jaded and hard.

I've grown tremendously since that time. {I was a teenager, for goodness sake!} It took a lot of patience, a lot of grace, a lot of give and take, and acceptance that he was not my father - would never be my father - and that I wouldn't want him to be like my father. 

And not just on my part. We've both had to change and sacrifice over time. But it's been years and if we'd had the passion conversation earlier it might have saved some grief.

See, what I didn't understand is that all along he was pursuing PASSIONS. It wasn't just hobbies or time with the boys. They were PASSIONS

And his passions hurt me because I misfiled them. I thought Wednesday Night Pool League Night meant 'my friends are way more fun than you and I am choosing to go be with them rather than spending time here with you.

There are times when it's a blessing to be wrong.

I don't want to be misunderstood - there are still times as he kisses me goodbye, that I wish-wish-wish he'd stay home and just be with me BUT my perspective has changed, my resentment has receded {though it still sometimes rears it's ugly head} and, from the very core of me, I find myself hoping for his success - that he would master that great shot or play that song flawlessly.  And isn't that the selfless truth of love? And won't our life and our marriage be better because of it?

The freedom that comes from a conversation that lays bare the truth of your soul is as refreshing as it is frightening. Coming face to face with the reality of what you've been ignoring can be scary. For me, it was the years wasted in not pursuing what I believe I was made to do. And I don't mean lazy pursuit I mean a balls-to-the-wall pursuit. {Meaning the laundry doesn't get done on time and the grass doesn't get cut and maybe you eat chicken fingers or frozen pizza twice in one week BECAUSE NONE OF THAT MATTERS IF YOU'RE DOING WHAT YOU LOVE!}

What would life be but a punching of the clock if we pursued nothing beyond a lazy get up, go to work, feed the kids, go to bed...? We are all gifted with something we are passionate about, at least one pursuit we aim for that gives us purpose beyond our daily rhythm, one goal that keeps us reaching and growing and striving.  Passion builds our humanity.  

Nelson Mandela said, "there is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." To that I say, AMEN!

The challenge? Have this conversation with your partner.  Ask them what their passions are beyond work and family and see how that knowledge changes your relationship and pushes you towards your own goals!
Featured on BlogHer.com
Let's live, shall we?! Let's support our partners in their pursuits and let's lace up our sneakers and chase our own dreams!  Because without passion what are we but a drone?  Be alive! Be free from mediocrity. Do not settle. Be extraordinary! Run the race set out for you!

Friday, September 19, 2014

My IKEA {Writing Room} Wishlist

My IKEA Writing Room Wishlist - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Two things happened last week.

1. I got the new IKEA 2015 Catalogue.

2. I discovered a whole community of camper glampers that blew my mind. {Camper Glamper n. one who turns a tired old camping trailer into a gorgeous, useable, inspiring space.}

The combination of these two has resulted in a vicious tug on my 'create space' strings and I have tricked myself into thinking that I need to make a designated writing space that is not the dining room table and is not in the basement.  Of course, this is a complete lie but after a lengthy internal discussion between my practical mind and my creative heart it's looking a little like heart is blindfolding mind and mind is too distracted waiting for The Walking Dead to start to put much gumption into the argument so... {Wow! That was a terrible sentence.  Never would have happened if I had a gorgeous writing space to write in...}

Idea #1: Get an old trailer, plunk it under the walnut tree, renovate it into a Bohemian nest of inspiration and escape.

Idea #2: Claim the shed, empty it out, renovate it into a Moroccan burrow of revelation and quiet.

Idea #3: Take over the guest room that still isn't a guest room, renovate it into a calm, encouraging, productive retreat.

Because I need to be practical {and near the kettle and the bathroom and the internet and the children} the non-guest room is my most practical option. And, because an IKEA catalogue pretend shopping spree is much more fun with a goal in mind, I've compiled a list of the 10 things from IKEA I need to start making my writing room a reality.

My IKEA Writing Room Wishlist - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
1.  Nordis High Pile Rug, $99
2.  Skovel Wall Clock, $49.99
3.  Foto Pendant Lamp, $14.99
4.  Ofelia Throw, $29.99
5.  Snabbvinge Cushion Cover, $5.99
6.  Stradmon Wing Chair, $299
7.  Hemnes Cabinet, $329
8.  Henriksdal Chair, $99
9.  Forsa Work Lamp, $29.99
10. Linnmon Finnvard Table, $99.99

Can you picture it? That amazing upholstered chair pulled up to the desk? Oh, the things I could write from that seat...or curled up in the wing chair, wrapped in that thick, warm throw, jotting notes into a beautiful notebook...


If only I had money to burn.

But here's the real fun - with this as inspiration, I can now look for similar things at junk shops, thrift stores, the side of the road...

This is not to say I won't still go to IKEA and test out each and every one of these things - that is way up there on my list of super fun things to do on a Saturday - but I'm super excited about finding alternatives and sharing right here about the great space I come up with!

Stay tuned!

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Forgot I Had A Dishwasher!

Through three different homes and three different babies I did not have a dishwasher.

But I dreamed of one.

Because who has time for a sink full of messes when there's things like bubble baths or the latest episode of whatever show is cool right now? {I miss Breaking Bad so much!}

Our first apartment had pretty, white, glass paned upper cabinets and barn board walls and the sink stared straight at the wall and there was only two of us and I remember thinking, "if only I had a dishwasher..."

Our second home, the one by the graveyard, it had this huge window over the sink and a view of the overgrown evergreens and there were apple trees stenciled on the wall and they were every kind of terrible and there were only three of us and I remember thinking, "if only I had a dishwasher..."

Our last home was the size of my fingernail and when we tore down the kitchen wall we could see where there had once been a fire and the sink - not only did it attack-spray anyone who didn't know to ease it up gently, but it faced a faux brick wall right over the spot where the river rats chewed through - and there were FIVE of us by that point and I remember thinking, "if only I had a dishwasher..."

There were so many reasons I was excited to move into our current home but near the top, embarrassingly, was the dishwasher.  It wasn't fancy or high-end but it worked and for a while I enjoyed it's help. Kind of like having my own little robot servant and I remember thinking, "finally, I have a dishwasher!"

I was at a friend's house, unloading her dishwasher {kind of like I was her own little robot servant} and as I handed her some mason jars to put away {mason jars are her drinking glasses - how adorable it that!!??} she asked, "Do you have a dishwasher?"

"I do," I told her, "but I do the dishes by hand once a week so I won't get spoiled."

She kind of laughed and raised her eyebrow a bit and I knew she was thinking, "girl, you're crazy!" But I didn't care because I meant it.  Fourteen years of washing up by hand.  That meant I knew how good I had it and that I wasn't about to let myself forget that blessing.  And finally, I also had a sink in front of a window with a view that wasn't a wall or a creepy dark forest.  It was actually a little pleasant, those times I resisted my own spoiling.

But as they say, all good things come to an end.

Case in point:

I forgot I had a dishwasher - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak {John Travolta lover}
{image source}
{Not that John Travolta has reached his end but he's no longer that young beauty that my wasted heart has crushed on since that moment in tenth grade when the history teacher let us watch Grease during lunch hour while she heckled from the back of the classroom. And not that I would ever cease loving him - no matter the facial hair choices or the creepy religious choices or the weird professional choices - because when I love I love 100% for better or for worse! And he and I? We'll always have Grease and Welcome Back Kotter and The Boy In The Plastic Bubble. }

But I digress...

As the great Paul & Art tell us, to everything, there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. For my dishwasher, the death bell tolled on a grey Monday afternoon as I sat at the table writing.  I smelled the burning before I looked up from my computer to see black smoke billowing out the top.

And that was it.  That was the end.  I did the evening dishes by hand and I didn't look back.

It's been months now.

I forgot I had a dishwasher - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

And today, having abandoned last night's dishes for Sunday Night Movie Night with the kids, staring at that leaning tower of mess, I let my eyes drift to the left and HOLY COW, I USED TO HAVE A DISHWASHER!

How is that something you even forget?

How, after years of wishing for it, is it something I don't even miss???

And I realized something.

I don't mind doing the dishes.  I like the soapy water and the view out the window and how everyone mysteriously disappears after the plates are cleared and I'm left in this silence that is peaceful after the chaotic talk-over-each-other that sometimes seems the reality of dinner conversation.  

I don't mind it at all.

I'm not saying that I don't want to repair or replace the dishwasher at some point. I'm not completely crazy. But I am saying that it's not so bad, to go back to my old ways, to use that time for introspective thought or singing {songs from Grease obviously} or to practice standing on one foot.  I have it down to such an art that I know at what point to put the kettle on so that I have a cup of tea ready as soon as the last dish is scrubbed of it's spaghetti sauce and that, in itself, is a beautiful thing.

You want to know what's better than a dishwasher?  A pantry full of ingredients, cupboards full of dishes to get dirty, a family to cook for, and ten fingers that do a way better cleaning job than any old machine!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thrift Blitz Episode One

Thrift Blitz Episode One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna RusnakI love to thrift.

I love to brag about what I find.

I'm basically the Christopher Columbus of thrifting. Only instead of finding the New World, I sail my braggart ship into the flea market and unearth raw awesomeness.

I have built for myself this digital stage upon which to lay my discoveries and so I present to you, dear reader, a new series. A series in which I brag about my latest treasures and in which you say to yourself, 'Gee whiz, I wish I found that first!' {To which I answer, "You snooze, you lose!" in the sweetest possible manner...}

Welcome to Thrift Blitz - what will hopefully be a monthly installment here at SelfBinding Retrospect. {And it's not all about me - you will be invited to participate through social media with the potential of being featured in the next Thrift Blitz post! Exciting? I thought so!}

Let's get started!

Thrift Blitz Episode One - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

1. Vintage Hovis Biscuit Tin {Value Village, $1.99}

Thrift Blitz Episode One: Vintage Hovis Tin - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna RusnakI have no explanation other than I loved the artwork on this piece. I loved it's rusty bits and the dent in the side and the way it smelled like an attic. I do not have a plan for it other than to look at it and marvel at it's vintage loveliness.

Thrift Blitz Episode One: Cardigan - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
2. Red Striped 'Keep Me Cozy' Cardigan {Value Village, $3.99}

My two most favorite sections to go digging while perusing the aisles of any thrift store are the dresses and the cardigans.  I do so love a great cardigan.  It's like a hug made out of cozy moments by a fire. I found this in the women's section but a male friend and co-worker has claimed it should I ever decide I've had enough of it. Over my dead body - that's how I feel about that. I suppose I'll have to write him into my will.

Thrift Blitz Episode One: Wooden Bracelet - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
3. 'Fit For A Hippie' Wooden Bracelet {Value Village, $0.99}

Because wearing a bit of the forest keeps us in touch with nature and let's face it, that's something we all need a little more of...

Not that wearing this gets me off the hook for taking the kids for a hike in the woods but it does make me feel a little closer to the lightning bug fairies that appear in the field on a clear night.

Thrift Blitz Episode One: Travel Bag - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak 
4. The 'You Could Fit A Kitchen Sink In Here' Bag {Value Village, $9.99}

I have a real hate for paying this much for something used BUT I bought this bag because I needed a carry-on for our recent traveling adventure and it was big enough to hold my computer, two novels, all my makeup and jewelry, our camera, and one complete outfit. It's huge. It's like Mary Poppins' bag. I could pull a lamp out of it!

5. 'Orange Is The New Black' Occasional Chair {Hanover Flea Market, $5.00}

Thrift Blitz Episode One: Chair - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Five dollars.  FIVE DOLLARS!  I didn't complain {very much} when hubby bought a set of golf clubs at the Keady Market earlier this summer, so he could hardly protest when we saw this beauty with a piece of scotch tape across the seat that said $5.  I'm not entirely happy with where I've placed it - actually, I'm considering taking it to work with me because it would look amazing in my office...or I'll save it for whenever I get that pipe dream of a guest room done...

Now it's your turn. What great finds have you made recently?  Share them in the comments, link up your post using the inlinkz tool below, or tweet it with the hashtag #ThriftBlitz {be sure to add @alannarusnak to your tweet to make sure I see it, or just use the button below}.

Happy thrifting!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Truth About My Garden

The Truth About My Garden - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
So there's this girl and she's so pretty that if you look at her straight on you'll get dizzy and she's looking at me like I'm precious.  "You have a garden?" she practically squeals, "That's the cutest thing!"

And I remember that she's born and bred city and that yes, it is positively darling that I would sweat into soil and reap fresh rewards come harvest, isn't it?!

Except that I'm TERRIBLE at it.

And my terribleness is cause for great embarrassment.

Because my mother is AWESOME at it. And this was her land long before it was mine. And I have lazied it up by being too busy with other things.

I want to be a gardener. I really do. And I love the dirt of it and the excitement when that seed breaks ground and the taste of the first cherry tomato and how it bursts in your mouth like tiny fireworks of summer flavour...

But I'm TERRIBLE at it.

And the weeds. Oh, the weeds. I am so ashamed and I don't know how to be redeemed without a weed-whacker and a dump truck.

I have good intentions too. I map it all out before the last snow is gone and I know where the carrots are going and that I'll build a twig teepee this time for the peas to climb and it's all good until it's finally planted and then...

I'm just too busy with other obligations and I just can't find the time AND I AM NEVER GOING TO BE AS MUCH OF A SUPER HERO AS MY MOTHER!

So, now that I've had two full seasons of failure to meet the lowest standards of gardening standards, I have to face the truth and make a new plan.

The Truth About My Garden - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak


As of this moment, my darling garden is scheduled for major reconstruction surgery.  Because it doesn't make sense to try again because I know myself too well.

I'm going to liposuction those dirt saddlebags, reduce that bulbous nose into a sweet little slope, tummy-tuck the excess out of that potato plot...I'm going to leave myself room for tomatoes and herbs and peas and to the rest: SAYONARA!

I feel better already!

Sorry mom.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

I made no secret of my anxiety surrounding a trip to Vegas with a pile of my husband's friends who - though perfectly lovely people - have very different values and vices than myself.  I would have never chosen Vegas as a desirable destination but, now that I've been, I can confidently say that I enjoyed it, that there are things worth seeing, and that it can be an agreeable experience without a blurry haze of alcohol blocking your vision.

To be fair, I only spent seven days in the city but that's 168 hours of compiled wisdom I'm now ready to share.  {And, by the way, seven days is abnormal. The usual reaction we received from people who learned we were staying so long was: oh really, are you okay?

My first word of advice to any sober girl taking on this city is to acclimatize yourself slowly.  I found myself quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of partying.  Prepare yourself emotionally. It was a bit of a culture shock - drunks and smoking EVERYWHERE and babies crying in strollers at 3 am while mommy has one more spin at the slot machine. 

We arrived in the city at 10:00 pm Vegas time and by the time we were settled, things around us had escalated to a fever pitch of shouting and toasts and 'VEGAS BABY!!!' If I had full control I would ensure a morning flight that lands while the crazies sleep it off so I could work my tolerance up to what was needed to maintain my sanity at night.

Where To Stay - The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

I can only speak from my own experience. We did not do our own booking or choose our own hotel - this was a free sponsored trip for hubby's pool team - but we ended up in Circus Circus which, at first glance, appears to be the epitome of cheese-ball-corniness {if you're older than eleven} BUT the rooms were modern, the hallways were quiet, the linens were clean, and the staff was mostly helpful.

{In a happy accident, we arrived at the hotel to find they had no record of a room booked for us. This immediately added to my bad first impression of the city until we realized it meant we didn't have to share a room with another member of the pool team which had been one of my biggest worries all along.  Yay for computer glitches!}

Because I was curious, I actually checked into the cost of a room.  I could have booked us four nights next week for $24 a night!  What???

I am not a hotel snob. If it's clean I'll be happy. I'd definitely stay there again if opportunity ever knocked a second time. 

I also checked the prices of The Venetian - which is beyond gorgeous - and the idea of pretending to be somewhere in Italy is certainly appealing.  Rooms start around $250.  Right.  Circus Circus it is!

The abundance of hotel possibilities is astounding and there is obviously something for every price range.  I would not recommend staying anywhere farther down than we did...like that fancy Holiday Motel in the title photo at the top of this post...it's in the curfew zone - the Stay Off The Street Between 9 pm and 5 am zone.  Yikes!

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas : What To Do In Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Take a walking tour. Take many! There's so much to see and you can see everything for free. Every casino allows you to walk through and gawk without spending a penny and each casino is so unique that it's a brand new experience with each set of doors you walk through. My absolute favorite was the Venetian because it was so beautiful and because I've dreamed of Italy since I was thirteen. 

You will feel like you've never walked so much and so far in your life so pack good, supportive shoes. I wish I'd taken a step counter just because it would be interesting to know how far we actually walked while we were there.

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas : What To Do In Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna RusnakShoot a Gun. There are gun ranges all over and this was one thing we'd talked about doing before we came. I'm not going to lie - I was totally scared! Feeling the power in that pistol was overwhelming and intimidating and I'm not sure I can really say I liked it.  I had more of a vision of tin cans in the desert than a tight little sound proof box with targets. It freaked me out a little. I'm still glad we did it and the pictures make me look pretty tough even though I was shaking in my boots!  {Funny story: I posted the second photo from the left on facebook and the custodian at work made it his iPhone screensaver. Ha! It'd be creepy if he wasn't over 70.}

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas : What To Do In Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

See a show. Oh my goodness, I can't recommend this enough!  There are so many to choose from and I heard good things about most of them. We went and saw Zombie Burlesque and Vegas! The Show and both exceeded our expectations, were wildly fun and professionally executed. Tickets are pricey {around $80} so don't pay full price! Many hotels offer deals with your stay or you could take our route and sit through a pushy time-share presentation to get them for $15!

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas : What To Do In Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Rent a car. When we went to the car rental counter and all they had available was a 2014 Convertible Camaro, it only took us a moment to say, 'yes, please!' We had figured on a $34/day Ford Focus but this was amazing and absolutely worth the extra cost! I am not a car girl but something weird and sexy happens when you're driving with the top down along a street lined in palm trees. Sigh.

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas : What To Do In Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Fremont Street. This was a little crazy for my liking but it was still amazing to see. {We hadn't been in Vegas 24 hours yet before going so I think I would have enjoyed it more if we'd left it until later in our week.}  It's a pedestrian street full of all the things you think of when you think Vegas: girls in feathers, drag queens, costumed weirdos, posing chip and dales, dancing...even a restaurant where you can eat for free if you're over 350 lbs {they even had a scale outside}. There is an arched ceiling over the street, covered in millions of light bulbs over which they play a trippy light show through the night.  There was live music and a piano playing cowboy. It was wacky and weird and certainly an experience.

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas : What To Do In Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

Ride a Bull. I did not do this {can you imagine?!?} but I had a lot of fun watching the people who did. Normally I don't have fun hanging out in a bar but Gilley's is a good old country saloon with great energy and great music.  {Bachelor contestant, the much despised Tierra Licausi, was there while we were and I had a ball spying on her - yes, I watch The Bachelor and no, I'm not ashamed!}

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas : What To Do In Vegas - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak

The Vegas Sign. Because you have to right?! A word of advice: either go during the day or make sure you take a good camera with you. Most of our trip photos were taken with our iPhones because we didn't want to lug around the big camera everywhere we went but they do not take good photos at night - they either only captured the sign or only captured us - we couldn't get a really good one.  There is free parking right there {parking is actually free everywhere!} but it was a mob of people and I'm sure it is no matter what time you go.

Shark Reef.  On our last day we went to the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay and it was incredible! It costs $18 a person which felt steep but it was amazing if you appreciate wildlife and we'd just gone a week without any.  {Did you know there are no birds in Vegas?? We saw one during our whole time there. The only other sign of life was the one cockroach we watched scurry across the pavement behind our hotel.}

Get Out Of The City!  Red Rock Canyon is only about forty minutes away and the Hoover Dam is about the same distance in the other direction.  We went to both on the day we rented the car and I enjoyed these far more than anything we saw in the city. The scenery is so beautiful and the break from the noise and bustle of the city was so welcome. The canyon offers a 13 miles one-way loop that takes you to all the best viewing points and at any point you can leave your car and make friends with a cactus. And the Dam? Wow! It's incredible to see what man can accomplish!

Sleep in. Because you're on vacation. {Look how cute he is!} Our room had amazing black-out blinds and we could sleep late and heavy whenever we wanted - plus you can get breakfast at any time of day so it didn't really matter when you got up or when you went to bed!

The Sober Girl's Guide To Las Vegas: Where To Eat - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
*photos from Battista's website
We were there for A LOT of meals and that means we tried A LOT of different places.  I can remember hearing people talk about all the cheap food in Vegas - the $3 buffets and endless lobster - but if this is still true it's in some secret back room that we didn't have the password for BUT still, we probably spent less on food than we would have eating out at home.  

My top three favorites are as follows:

Battista's Hole In The Wall. If you want to surround yourself in old Vegas memorabilia, dim lighting, pleasant staff and the best pasta you've ever tasted you have to go here. It's not cheap - at least not by my standards but your $30{ish} meal includes free wine for the table {for your non-sober friends} minestrone soup or house salad, as much garlic bread as you can eat, and huge portions of your delicious main course.  And every meal ends with a complimentary cappuccino with an {un}healthy swirl of whipped cream. If budget allowed I would have gone again and again. It's worth going just for the atmosphere and don't worry - all those buckets and baskets hanging from the ceiling? - they've been there for years, they're not going to fall. 

Peppermill. With weird purple lighting, indoor trees, and rainbow sugar, the Peppermill is a great place to get a great steak - not too expensive and portions were so massive that we could share one meal and still come away uncomfortably full. We had varying experiences with the staff, ranging from very pleasant to very inefficient BUT the food and the price still put this in my top three.

Circus Circus Pizzeria. This was right inside our hotel and offered fresh fire-grilled pizza that was reasonably priced and worlds beyond the slices we bought at the Riviera food court.

And a bonus number 4 just because: Slots A Fun Hotdogs. Because not every meal can be a huge thing and these are probably the best hotdogs you'll ever taste. I'm sure I rolled my eyes when Scott tried to tell me that but then I tried them and yeah, yum!

One final word about food...Thou Shalt Not Eat At Denny's! Seriously. Let's take a moment and define disgusting, shall we?
disgusting |disˈgəsti ng |
1. arousing revulsion or strong indignation
2. the Denny's restaurant on Las Vegas Boulevard
3. any place that tries to pass off white, tasteless paste as gravy

We basically explored every option: walking, limo, party bus, taxi, monorail, the express bus, and car rental. There's something to be said for every option and I'd recommend them all - except the party bus because it smelled like pee - but things like the limo and party bus are only cost effective if you're traveling in a big group like we were. 

By far, walking allows you to see the most. I would suggest buying a monorail pass and using to get to a destination and then walk back - that way you're saving your feet one direction but not missing out on all you can see and explore on the way back.

My final advice? Accept nothing from people on the street - there's always a catch. Avoid costumed characters like the plague - they might be fun to look at but they'll rob you blind if you want to take a picture with them. Keep your cash safe {and your pocket is not safe} - Scott lost nearly $300 from his pocket. Hopefully it was found by someone who really needed it.

All in all, I was pleasantly pleased to discover that Vegas is as welcome an experience to a sober girl as it is to someone who just wants to party and - should opportunity present itself again with a sponsored trip - I would happily go.  Because even after seven days there are things I still didn't get to see.

What about you? Have you traveled to Las Vegas before? Do you have any advice to add?

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