Desert Wedding: A True Arizona Chronicle

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Mat O’Donnell and Carolyn Langlois

Life is ultimately about the stories we make.  Currently I’m on a plane heading back to Omaha from the wedding reception of a good friend.  Originally I thought that I would not be writing this one up, but last night I realized it that it is the real life stories we make that are most worth sharing.

My friend, Mat O’Donnell, has been mentioned in this blog before under the guise of Arizona Mat for my faux adventure series, The Arizona Chronicles, but let me tell you a bit about the real Mat.

I’ve known Mat for nearly 18 years when a mutual friend introduced us a few weeks after I graduated from college.  Mat and I struck up an instant rapport as we had a number of similar interests.  He also shares my somewhat off kilter sense of humor.  Over the past two decades, Mat has become one of my closest friends.  We’ve shared a lot of happy times, a lot of fun times, and some heavy times as well.  He’s my most frequent traveling companion as we have gone all over the globe from Las Vegas to Tokyo.   One would be lucky to have a friend even half as loyal as Mat.

About 5 years ago, a promotion took Mat to Phoenix, AZ.  That one choice brought a plethora of good things for Mat including a wonderful woman named Carolyn Langlois.

I still remember the night that Mat told me about Carolyn.  I was in Abilene, KS reviewing Abilene’s Victorian Inn when I decided to FB chat Mat since I hadn’t spoken to him in a little spell.  We were talking about a mystery/puzzle game we both were playing and then he said he hadn’t been able to finish it as he’d been a little busy lately and then he posted a picture of himself and Carolyn.

I was beyond excited for Mat as he had long deserved some happiness of this type.  Giddily, I asked him about the whole story.  Who was she?  How did you meet?  Etc.  Etc.  I could hear the glee in his voice as he shared his tale of how the two of them met.

About six months later, I finally got to meet Carolyn and I knew that Mat had found his soulmate.  In less than ten minutes I realized that Mat had found someone that completed him in every way, shape, and form.  Over the next year, their deep love grew only deeper and suddenly a wedding was upon us.

Now Mat and Carolyn actually married on October 26 which was the anniversary of their first date.  But the reception was held on November 5 at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

On November 3, I found myself heading to Eppley Airfield for a non-stop flight to Phoenix.  Now I’ve enjoyed an unusually long streak of successful or even more than successful flights so I was long overdue for a bit of difficulty.  Just before I reached the airport, I felt my phone vibrate and found that my flight was delayed for nearly an hour and a half.

Not too terrible and I had a novel with which to occupy myself.  Then just before boarding would begin for the delayed flight, a Southwest employee changed the 8 to a 9.  Another hour delay.  Then they announced that the delays were due to runways at Sky Harbor International being shut down due to construction and a ripping thunderstorm over Phoenix which was preventing any and all flights from landing.

Finally at 9pm, we finally boarded the plane.  I was grateful for the gain of 2 hours as it was only about 10pm local time when I arrived in Phoenix.

I called the Crowne Plaza which would be my temporary home and they said they get a shuttle to me in just a few minutes.  Their word was good as gold as a shuttle pulled up to the pickup curb within ten minutes and whisked me a mile down the road.

While I prefer B & Bs, I do admit that I had long wanted to stay at a Crowne Plaza.  This particular hotel had recently undergone a multimillion dollar renovation and looked brand new.  As I checked in I was ecstatic that my standby for an upper level floor had been approved.

This hotel took its security very seriously as you couldn’t even use the elevator without a room key.  I zipped up to the 8th floor and found myself with a comfortable king sized bed, a spectacular view of downtown Phoenix, and a nice office area.  I also found myself with a door that didn’t latch too well unless you slammed it.  After beating my door in a wrestling match, I closed the thick drapes and crawled into bed for the evening.

I awoke the next morning and headed down to the gym for a workout.  The gym was not too bad with free weights, balance balls, treadmills, and elliptical.  I exercised for 40 minutes then returned to my room for a hot bath with a less than cooperative drain before spending the morning thumbing through my novel or finding something interesting on TV.

Around noon, Mat and Carolyn came to pick me up for lunch and we caught up on the goings-on of our lives since we last met.  We ate at Four Peaks Brewing Company where I enjoyed an Oatmeal Stout and a Mexican chicken wrap.  Carolyn had chicken rolls and Mat noshed on chicken wings.

During lunch, Carolyn suddenly got an “I’ve got a great idea!” look on her face.  It turns out that an old friend of her mother wanted to throw a dinner party for Mat and Carolyn.  One of the guests was going to be unable to attend so Carolyn suggested that I take that person’s place.  Mat and I both thought that was a great idea so we drove back to the Crowne Plaza where I grabbed my dress clothes and we returned to Mat’s house.

I spent the afternoon helping Carolyn tie jellybean bags for the reception and catching up on things with Barry, Mat’s father, and John Velasquez, an old friend of the O’Donnell family.

Around 5pm, we piled in Carolyn’s vehicle and drove deep into Scottsdale to the home of the Haggertys where the dinner would be held.  I met Carolyn’s father, Joe, who was a hoot and his girlfriend, Fran, who was a delightful conversationalist.  I also met the Haggertys and a number of other of Carolyn’s relatives who were truly wonderful people.

The home was gorgeous with a beautiful fire pit, an impressive infinity pool, fine works of art, and quartz rocks peppering the abode.  The event began with conversation, cocktails, and light hors d’oeuvres of prawns, cheese, and crackers.  We enjoyed a fantastic sunset as the sun dropped below the horizon backlighting the Black Mountain.  As the stars and planets became visible, we headed inside for the dinner.

Dinner began with a terrific salad which was followed by roasted carrots, chilled pea salad, and a main entrée of chicken and mushrooms.  For dessert there was an absolutely delectable mint chocolate ice cream cake.  After that, there was more conversation before we broke up for the evening.  Joe and Fran were gracious enough to give me a lift back to my hotel where we chatted and listened to opera music on the long drive.

The next morning I decided to give the hotel restaurant, The Post, a try.  The prices were about what I expected for a hotel and the food wasn’t too bad.  I had orange juice with Eggs Benedict which I spiced up with the hotel’s homemade salsa (which was excellent) and a splash of Tabasco.

Around noon, I was joined by David Sundberg, another long time friend of both Mat and myself.  Dave was planning on turning the reception into a week’s vacation so he had rented a Mustang for himself.  And this puppy had some serious horsepower and Dave REALLY likes horsepower.

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Dave and his Mustang

Dave was starving so we found a nearby In N Out Burger where we munched on cheeseburgers done animal style and with animal fries.  Afterwards, we drove around a bit and found a flea market which brought Dave a lot of joy as he likes looking for hidden treasures.  And I’ll be dipped if he didn’t find some Viking horn glasses which he turned into a wedding present for Mat and Carolyn.

From there we drove to Dave’s hotel to pick up his dress shirt and killed a few hours at Castles N Coasters.  I won a large amount of redemption tickets, bested Dave in Mario Kart, and made a stupid mistake which permitted Dave to top me in Connect Four.  Dave and I donated the remnants of our game cards to a group of kids, then drove to my hotel to change into our nicer duds before we went to the Desert Botanical Gardens for the reception.

I’d like to visit the Gardens again when there’s more time as it was absolutely stunning and a very popular place for receptions as 4 were being held there that evening.

It was a truly magical night.  Carolyn looked resplendent in her wedding dress and Mat was quite dapper in his tuxedo.  The bride and groom shared some touching words about why they were spending the rest of their lives together.  Then toasts from the audience were opened up and I even offered one of my own, the bulk of which you actually read in my opening paragraphs.  After that it was a dinner of salad with a chipotle dressing, mixed vegetables, spinach stuffed chicken breast, risotto cakes, and a beef cutlet.  Then came conversation, dancing, and a little Mat and Carolyn trivia game.

All too soon it was time to call it a night as Dave’s internal clock was still two hours ahead and I had an early morning flight the next day.  I said my good-byes and was driven back to Crowne Plaza by Dave.  I shook his hand and wished him a fun vacation.

I’ll carry the memories of this trip for a long time and look forward to the next visit with Mat and Carolyn.

Until the next time. . .

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Wayfarer to a Wedding–Day 4: Take the Long Way Home

Under the peaceful crackling of the electric fireplace and the soft glow of the Christmas lights, I slept the sleep of the peaceful and exhausted.  I awoke the next morning to a winter wonderland.  Belmond got a bit of the severe weather plaguing the southeastern part of Iowa.  It was only a few inches, but it certainly put me in the Christmas mood.

I spent the early morning hours organizing some photos on Facebook and then it was time for a hot, filling breakfast on this fine and frosty morning.  Along with my OJ and milk, Connie started my meal with a lemon roll.  I perused the morning paper as I savored each tasty mouthful.  A small dish of banana followed shortly thereafter and culminated in a plate of French Toast with a side of sausage links.  As usual, the breakfast was too much for my appetite, so I wrapped up some of the toast and returned to my room where I wrote yesterday’s article.

Soon it was time to head to church so I brushed the powdery snow off of my car, loaded my things, settled my bill, and headed over to St Francis Xavier Catholic Church.  I really enjoyed this church.  I was warmly welcomed inside and it had an older quality to it that reminded me of my old parish of Holy Rosary when I lived in Fort Dodge, IA.

After the service, it was time to make the journey home.  Since the weather wasn’t bad on my way home, I took an alternate route through Storm Lake, IA.  My grandparents lived in the little town of Storm Lake from before I was born until about 2000 when they moved to Papillion, NE.  Both have passed away and are buried in Storm Lake and I wanted to stop and pay my respects and wander around the place.

It was bitingly cold outside, but I walked around my grandparents’ old neighborhood and took some photos of their old parish of St Mary’s and their old home.  I meandered past a couple of old playgrounds that I often played at in my childhood.  The equipment had changed, but I still remembered the days when one of the playgrounds had a great jungle gym and pole where I often pretended to be Bruce Wayne getting the call from Commissioner Gordon about the latest villain infesting Gotham City.  To the Batpole!!  I would slide down the pole to my waiting Batcycle (OK, my grandfather’s old bicycle) and zoom off into the streets as Batman, the Caped Crusader!!

When I felt good and frozen, I hurried back to my car and drove up the city’s namesake, Storm Lake.  I wandered out onto the jetty and looked at solid sheet of ice that was the lake.  I walked down the halls of memory once more as I remembered all of the times I had been kicked off that jetty by my family members in my childhood.  I come from a family of fishermen on my mom’s side and I was a very energetic child who lacked the patience for fishing.  I often amused myself by tossing rocks into the lake, marveling at the splish and splash they made.  That’s when I’d get the boot because I was scaring the fish.  I always thought it was unfair because Grandpa always sneezed with the subtlety of a nuclear explosion and undoubtedly scared off every fish within a 10 mile radius.

After returning from my mental perambulations, I continued my drive home.  It was nearly 2pm and I was tired and hungry so I hoped to stop in Early, IA and have a late lunch at the Crossroads Restaurant.  I was in for a mild disappointment as the restaurant had closed at 1:30 that day to begin the Christmas holiday.  I drove for another hour and stopped in Denison, IA at Cronk’s Restaurant where a patty melt and a side of fries restored enough strength for me to finish my long drive home.

I’d like to take my moment to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas.  I’ll be starting a new series of articles in a little over two weeks when I journey to the wilds of Arizona.

Wayfarer to a Wedding–Day 3: Bells Will be Ringing

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After a good night’s sleep in Klemme House (pictured above), I was ready for a rousing breakfast to fortify me for the day ahead.  Connie started my morning repast off with a snickerdoodle muffin and a small dish of bananas and grapes along with glasses of milk and orange juice.  I contentedly munched away while reading the morning newspaper.

Shortly afterwards, Connie brought out the main entrée:  egg puff.  It was a kind of egg soufflé stuffed with cheese and ham.  Very delicious and needed protein for the long day looming ahead of me.  After serving me, Connie and Al sat down and chatted with me while enjoying their own breakfasts.  I found them a most congenial couple.

After my meal, I finally had the chance to explore Klemme House in a little bit more detail.  Pictured below is the Hoyt room which served as my quarters for the stay.

The Hoyt Room

The Hoyt Room

 

 

 

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And a bit of the house proper.

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From there, I drove over to Josh’s home to keep him company until we headed over to the wedding.  He was watching The Lone Ranger when I came in and I sat down to join him.  Now I had heard terrible things about this film and it was a box office bust over the summer.  With my bar set below the zero level, I found that I didn’t hate the film.  I can’t say I particularly liked it either.  I think the decision to go comedic was a bad choice, but I will say that I found the last 45 minutes quite enjoyable with the revelations and the action packed train sequence.

About 1:30, the groom’s party had all arrived and we got into our tuxedos and headed over to the Oakridge country club in Goldfield, IA for the ceremony.

It was a lovely ceremony and was capped off by Reed, Josh’s groomsman, and I pulling out lightsabers that Josh had bought for us (the wedding had a Star Wars subtheme) from our suit coats and making an arch for Josh and his new bride, Malissa, to walk under.

We had a delightful time at the reception and then closed the evening with some apple pie shots at the B & S in Eagle Grove.  I then returned to Klemme House, weary, but happy, where I collapsed into bed.

Wayfarer to a Wedding–Day 2: Driving, Driving, Driving

What a busy, busy day yesterday.  I awoke from the best sleep I had in many a moon to a cold and frosty day.  I found that my car had a thin sheet of ice on it from the freezing rain which was making its way along the southeastern part of Iowa.  I knew it was going to be slow driving and a very long day so I needed to start things off with a bracing breakfast.

After cleaning up, I went downstairs to the dining room where I found goblets of water and orange juice waiting for me.  Joan started off my morning repast with a small plate of fruit (bananas, grapes, cantaloupe, and strawberries).  Joan and I chatted a bit about the weather threatening the state and my journeys as I nibbled away. 

The second course was an almond, blueberry, cinnamon muffin about the size of my fist.  I took a few bites and then put the rest away for another time as I am a very lightweight eater and I still had the entrée to go.

Fortunately, the entrée was a small serving of blueberry French toast with a glaze of vanilla and a side of nice, crispy bacon.  Fortified from this meal, I was ready to chip my car loose from its icy prison, pay my bill, and hit the road.

The roads were fairly empty and I took it nice and slow as I journeyed to Fort Dodge to pick up my tuxedo.  I briefly wandered around the old homestead and marveled at the many changes that had taken place in just over a year.  Several businesses had shut down, others had been remodeled, and new ones seemed to be springing up all over the place.  Yes, it certainly seemed like the old burg was experiencing a bit of a renaissance.

I picked up my tux which was a perfect fit (thanks for the measurements, Omaha Playhouse).  The owner said she wished all guys could fit in a tuxedo as easily as I did.  Josh arrived at the shop about 20 minutes later, looking fit after dropping about 50 pounds since July.  We caught up on old times and I headed over to his place in Eagle Grove.

As we dropped off our clothes, we immediately hopped into his Trailblazer and headed over to the Oakridge country club in Oakfield, IA to begin decorating for today’s wedding.  The place looks truly grand.  Pictures to come in tomorrow’s tale.

And I digress a bit.  I learned something valuable with this blog today.  I thought I could keep space open in my media library if I deleted photos after posting them.  But I found that deleting them in the library also deletes them in the posts.  So what have I learned, if nothing else?  DON’T DELETE THE LIBRARY!

About 3pm, Josh ran me back to his place, so I could hop in the car and make my way over to Belmond, IA for my home away from home for the next few days:  Klemme House Bed and Breakfast.  This fine little home is owned and operated by Al and Connie Mattison.  It only boasts 3 guest rooms, so I was grateful that I had nabbed the last one when I originally made my reservation.

As it turns out, my famed luck was with me once again as I was the only guest on Friday since the other 2 reservations canceled due to the inclement weather plaguing Iowa.  As a result, I was once more upgraded to the finest room in the house (the Hoyt Room).  I had little time to explore the place because I had to get back to the country club to finish decorations and get Josh to his bachelor’s party.

About 6pm, Josh and I were joined by our mutual friend, Reed, Josh’s future stepson, Jordan, and a friend of Josh’s named Jeff and we headed over to Thor, IA to experience Unkie’s Entertainer Lounge & Restaurant.  This is a little dive bar, but it’s reputed to have some of the best food in the state and I found that reputation to be well deserved.  Reed ordered a sampler platter of appetizers for us (onion rings, cheese balls, mushrooms, and green pepper rings) which were all breaded and tasty.

For our dinners, Reed, Jordan, and Jeff opted for the Unkie’s specialty sandwich (ribeye steak, ham, and some other toppings) while the groom enjoyed a prime rib and I enjoyed a ribeye steak.  It was an excellent cut of meat that I probably would have paid twice as much as I did in a fine dining establishment.  If you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, try a meal here, but they only take cash.  Fortunately, there is an ATM on the premises.

From there, we headed to the B & S where we enjoyed some conversation and drinks to close out the night.  The highlight of the evening was watching Josh down his first shot of Jagermeister.  I truly wish I had filmed it as he appeared to be Dr. Jekyll changing into Mr. Hyde after downing the liquid.

From there I returned to Klemme House where I fired up the electric fireplace and settled in for a long winter’s nap.

Until the next time. . .

Wayfarer to a Wedding–Day 1: Can You Tell Me How to Get to Adams Street?

It was a gray December day with a prediction of freezing rain and snow.  Twas not a day one would consider for a road trip, but this was no ordinary road trip.  For today, I was heading to the wedding of my best friend, Josh.

Josh and I have been best friends since we were 4 years old.  We’ve seen it all, done it all, and one couldn’t ask for a more loyal pal.  I moved out of our hometown of Fort Dodge, IA in 1993 when I was 15 and I am now 36, so that should give you an idea of the solidity of our friendship.

Tomorrow I am going to be putting in a lot of driving as I will be bouncing through multiple towns for various reasons so I decided to split my trip up into a couple of days to make things a little easier on myself.

I think I prefer road trips to flying because there’s something peaceful about driving, especially when one takes the back roads and travels through a lot of small towns.  There’s just a purity about watching the scenery and the character of small towns always seems to bring a lightness to my soul.

It doesn’t hurt that small towns usually possess my lodging of choice:  the bed and breakfast.  I fell in love with bed and breakfasts about a decade ago when I attended a mystery weekend at the Victorian Villa in Union City, MI and since then, I try to stay at them whenever I can and am embarking on visiting as many as I can for my own enjoyment and for this blog.

Why do I like them so much?  I suppose it’s because, unlike a chain hotel, each establishment has its own character and history.  They’re also small (4 or 5 guest rooms is the norm) which guarantees peace and quiet and also allows me the chance to meet all sorts of interesting and fascinating people.  They’re also private homes, so it’s always quaint and cozy.  And the breakfasts. . .delicious and always a surprise.

“Aren’t they expensive?” you may be thinking.  Yes, some can get kind of pricey.  But experience has shown me that the going rate is usually on par with a decent hotel, so for a similar price, I’ll always take a bed and breakfast.

I’ve stopped at Carroll, IA for the night and am currently ensconced in the Adams Street Bed and Breakfast.  This fine establishment is owned and operated by Joan Reiling, who warmly welcomed me into her inn.  I was ready to take a load off as it was a gloomy, bitterly cold day.  I had arranged to stay in the Vintage Retreat room, but, to my surprise and delight, Joan said she had upgraded me to the Magnolia Suite, free of charge.

Regrettably, there’s a bit of freezing rain going on so I didn’t do much except look at some Christmas light displays in the neighborhood.  Right now, I’m sitting by a roaring fire and am getting ready to enjoy a long, hot soak in the whirlpool tub.  So I wish you a good night and ask that you come back tomorrow for another tale.