Austin, TX: February 12th – February 16th

How does one land a job driving a giant peanut? It’s a question I’m asked countless times every single day, second only to “What y’all got for free?” My own story is pretty boring. I knew the Wienermobile was holding a hiring information session on campus, but, being the busy little college student that I was, I couldn’t attend. I sent in a resume anyway – expecting to never hear from them again – and actually received a call from the NUTmobile the next week. And the rest is history! While my case is a little different, the majority of our program gets hired through on-campus information sessions (like the one I missed), and that’s what we were doing at the University of Texas at Austin for the week.

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how could you not want to work with these good looking people?!

I’ve mentioned several times in past blogs how much I love being on college campuses, so I was expecting recruiting at UT to be a blast. The reality was more bittersweet than anything. It’s kind of cruel and unusual to be tasked with finding your own replacement for a job that you love, and it was also a harsh reminder that my time with the nut was nearly over. On top of that, many students were flat-out uninterested, which made me want to shake them while yelling, “ARE YOU DENSE?! THIS IS THE BEST JOB EVER!!” I was able to refrain from doing so, and the downers made me enjoy the students who talked to me for a long time and peppered me with seemingly endless questions that much more. After one class presentation, the five of us (we were recruiting with two wiener women) were reflecting on how “selling” our job to others gave us a new kind of excitement and appreciation for what we do – which ended up being the sweetest part about the week.

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Also on my list of cool animals I’ve held on the job: an iguana, a snake and an alligator.

Despite the drawbacks of recruiting, I still loved spending a week on campus. We parked the NUTmobile and Wienermobile right in UT’s main circle, so we were constantly surrounded by the hustle and bustle of college life. One day there was even a pop-up petting zoo right in their center quad, and we were asked to help carry the animals. I got to hold a kangaroo wearing a diaper, and Jackie got to carry a full-grown alpaca as we trekked them across campus and back to their van. It just goes to show that college campuses are a place like nowhere else, and I love the feeling that there’s always something new going on.

Outside of being at UT, I didn’t get to spend much time seeing the rest of Austin, which was definitely a bummer. Of all of the cities in the central third of the U.S, Austin was the one I was initially most excited to visit because my friend Maggie lived there over the summer and Conner, who is a proud UT grad, had a monstrous list of restaurants and bars for us to check out. While there was no chance we’d make it to all of them, we did get to try a good amount of bomb Austin food, and had a great night out on the legendary Dirty Sixth Street.

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my trusty ex-partner Elise brought Shell-don to Gurnee, IL to meet my mom, aunt, uncle and grandma for Valentine’s Day dinner!

My favorite meal of all though was our Galentine’s (+ Conner) dinner at 24 Hour Diner. The food was pretty average (except for my amazing pb & chocolate milkshake) but the company was amazing. This year has brought a lot of changes, and one big one is that I am no longer in a relationship, which means this was my first solo Valentine’s Day in over 5 years. Admittedly, I was slightly worried about how the day would make me feel, especially because it sometimes freaks me out when I think too hard on how much my life has changed in a short amount of time. However, as I sat at dinner surrounded by just four of the countless incredible people I’ve met in only eight short months, I found myself feeling grateful for how much I’ve gained this year instead of nostalgic for what used to be.

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the five best friends anyone could have and a bunch of potential young nuts and dogs

I feel like I write a lot about change, but it makes sense because change has been the only constant for me since last June, and recruiting was a big reminder that the changes aren’t stopping anytime soon. This job is quickly coming to a close, which means I have to find a new job to replace it as well as a new home. My natural inclination is to let that terrify me, but if there’s anything I’ve learned this year it’s that change is good, and there’s no point in being anything other than welcoming to it. As our week at UT-Austin progressed, I found myself being more excited for the students we met rather than resentful because they were potentially beginning the job of a lifetime. As much as things have changed and will continue to do so, I’ve always stayed connected with what’s important to me, which is how I know that I’ll always be connected with this program and with future Peans and Wiens. That thought gives me at least a little bit of comfort about the uncertainty of the future.

Catch you on the nutty side!

 

Dallas, TX: February 5th – February 12th

You know what they say, “everything’s bigger in Texas, even the peanuts,” and after two weeks as a CenTrill Nut,  it was finally time for me to head to the biggest state of them all. With over one fourth of my coworkers being from Texas, including two of my partners for the year, I had heard a ton about the food, the people, the variety of cities and landscapes and more about this foreign land, and I was excited to take on my first stop: Dallas!

When crossing over from Arkansas into Texas, where else would one stop other than the great city of Texarkana?! Especially if it happens to be the hometown of your travel buddy, Peconner. Our team stopped for an interview with the Texarkana Gazette, which mainly revolved around Conner, as he was born and raised there. I’ve done a lot of media this year, but there seems to be something more fulfilling about riding the NUTmobile up and down the same streets you were born and raised on and, after 22 years, landing on the front page of your hometown paper. I’m now eagerly and hopefully anticipating my own return to Kenosha, although I hope to avoid mistaking my own past and telling the reporter I graduated high school in 2008 (*cough* Conner *cough*).  After our interview we grabbed a quick lunch and finally got to meet Conner’s parents before finishing our trip to Dallas.

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My cousin Shane happened to be in Dallas for a Lacrosse game, and I got to surprise him with the NUTmobile. He was shell-shocked. 

On our day off, Conner showed me around the places he worked during the semesters he lived in Dallas. I toured his old office at the Dallas Theatre Center, got to stand on stage of the Wyly Theatre, and even received an invite to the company’s annual ‘Pie Day’ which happened to fall on the day we were there. When I say pie day, I’m talking 50+ pies that were sweet, savory and everything in between all waiting to be eaten by us (needless to say, my goal of eating healthier this half has been a struggle at best). After touring the theatre, Conner also scored us all free tickets to their production of Frankenstein the next night. It pays to have connections, and I’m already counting on this privilege continuing when Conner becomes a big-time Broadway director.

I spent my second day off biking and sightseeing. I’ve always thought biking was a great way to see a city because its cheap, convenient and keeps you active. I sadly hadn’t biked on the road since way back in South Dakota, but luckily, Dallas has an amazing bike-share system – all you do is find a bike and scan it with their app, pay $1/hour and when you’re done you just leave it wherever you are and it automatically locks its own wheels. The ease of the bike system plus the famous Katy Bike Trail made it a no-brainer for me to spend the day biking the trail and the streets of Dallas. I stopped at the Katy Trail Ice House for lunch, rode the streets passed the Cowboys stadium and Dealey Plaza (where JFK was assassinated), completed the trail and topped it off with a cherry limeade popsicle as a reward for my efforts.

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My rented bike at the Katy Trail Ice House. 

There also happened to be two Hotdoggers, Maddie and Mayra, from last year living together in Dallas, and they treated us to dinner and drinks one night. They gave us a bunch of recommendations for the area, including some awesome bars in the Deep Ellum area, which Ner and I checked out the next night (I got to go to my very first speakeasy!). Mayra even took us out with her and her friends for a night that started in a luxury, high-rise apartment and ended at the bars in Uptown, dancing all night and screaming “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers at the top of our lungs – nothing new there. The best part of meeting Maddie and Mayra (besides the fact that they’re both awesome and fun) was that they’re both only one year out of the job and have only recently moved to Dallas, yet they clearly both had great jobs, a nice apartment, a community of friends and an overall appealing life in their new home. I told them over and over again that seeing them calmed a lot of my nerves about the future, and I really meant it. It was definitely reassuring.

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street mural at the Dallas Art Museum because I’m #classy and #refined

I’m sad to admit that the last thing that really sticks out in my mind when I think of Dallas is fast food. No, not the local barbeque or Tex Mex, but the everyday, everywhere fast food chains. This is because we have long been in a heated debate with each other and with other Peanutters about which fast food restaurant is the best: In-N-Out, Shake Shack or Whataburger. Dallas happens to be one of the only cities to have all three regional chains, so we decided to finally put the debate to an end through a structured analysis of their burgers. When all was said and done, In-N-Out came out on top, although this was mainly because price was included on our rubrics and In-N-Out is much cheaper than the other two. Shake Shack won in ‘overall dankness’ and, in my opinion, is still the best taste-wise. Whatabuger truly can’t compete when it comes to burgers, but I also got to try their Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, which is in a whole league of its own (note: I am not trying to start another debate and thus have to sample a ton of fast food chicken sandwiches because of this comment).

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fast food burgers in all their glory

As I said above, Elise and Conner are both from Texas, and they often were in a heated disagreement about whether they liked Dallas or not. My own takeaway was that Dallas was the type of place I loved to visit, but probably wouldn’t want to live – although this may be tainted by the fact that the highways in/out of the city are extremely confusing and we spent much of our time lost, late or both. All in all though, the first week in my 16th state was one for the books, and I have high hopes for the many more weeks (and tacos and bowls of queso) in Texas to come!

Keep it cashewal!

 

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Here’s the rubric we used for our burger challenge. If any of you are feeling like you want to take on this great feat for yourself, let me know what your results are!

 

Little Rock, AR: January 29th – February 5th

Because of all the people we already knew that we got to see in Missouri (my mom, Tanaja’s boyfriend and Brian), our week in St. Louis didn’t involve a ton of time spent as a team. Little Rock, Arkansas was our first official week with just us Central Nuts in a place none of us were familiar with, and already I could see the growth in each one of us as well as as a team.

For Tanaja, I could see it through her willingness to try things out of her comfort zone (Teri Goudie would be so proud). When we were at Winter Staff one of Tanaja’s old partners warned me, “Tanaja will never do anything outdoorsy with you.” Well, lo and behold, it was only our second week and Conner and I successfully convinced her to hike Pinnacle Mountain, which is an uphill, strenuous trek that is more like rock climbing than a hike at certain points. Although she did have some complaints and it took her awhile longer than Conner and I (we hiked a lot during our 7 months out west), she completed the whole thing and we were both extremely proud of her. I think she was happy with her experience too, although she claims that hike will be a one time thing (we’ll see).

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The river and back porch of the cabin

For Conner, it wasn’t so much personal growth as it was a growth of my understanding of who he is and where he comes from. During our days off in Little Rock, we traveled to Conner’s family cabin in the middle-of-nowhere Arkansas for a night. We got tragically lost in a maze of dirt back-roads on our way in, but when we finally made it we were greeted by Conner’s extremely sweet and Southern Grandma. We spent the night four-wheeling, cooking a huge spaghetti dinner, making s’mores and playing Monopoly, of course! Conner’s grandma also shared tons of stories about Conner, and learning more about his past and what he was like growing up was so interesting because I feel like I know everything there is to know about present-day Conner. The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of honey biscuits and real scrambled eggs (as opposed to fake hotel eggs) prepared by Conner’s grandma before heading back to civilization.

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driving an ATV is even more fun than driving a NUTmobile

My own personal growth happened mainly through the things I did on my own. After work one day my teammates were tired, but I was eager to explore. I first headed to Little Rock Central High School, the School that the Little Rock Nine attended. I spent time walking the grounds and the commemorative garden, and afterward checked out the museum. It was cool to be at a such an important, historic site that I’ve grown up learning about and I can be a huge nerd about history and museums, so I loved being able to take my time and look through/read the exhibits. Afterward, I headed to the Little Rock River Market where I hung out at a coffee shop for awhile. I intended to work on my blogs, but really ended up staying for much longer than anticipated eavesdropping on a very intense conversation going on next to me (gotta love coffee shops).

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People often say one of their best experiences from this job is doing things independently. I’ve always been happy being on my own, but my old team was usually on the same page, so if one of us made plans, the other two would end up tagging along. My new team does a lot together too, but we all have our own preferences, and though that’s not bad at all, it is different. Being in an unfamiliar place and making a plan for your day definitely teaches you really quickly what you enjoy, and even though I love being with my team, I’m hoping to have more solo adventures this half as well!

As I’ve written about before, I am a huge fan of traditions, which naturally means I’m a huge fan of the most American holiday of all, Super Bowl Sunday. Although I couldn’t care less about the football itself, I love the Super Bowl for the hype, the commercials, the half-time show and the food – which for me usually means a heaping plate of loaded nachos. Tanaja and Conner thankfully honored my food request, and we spent the game at a bar with a huge viewing screen and endless rounds of nachos, wings, chips and drinks. As marketing professionals (sort of lol) we all especially enjoyed the commercials and even found ourselves getting sucked into the game – we love a good underdog and ended up passionately rooting for the Eagles.

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This Walmart greeter is known widely in Little Rock as “Walmart Willy.” He spends his shifts yelling hi to every customer and giving them fist bumps before saying “BOOM!” He collects money during his shifts for homeless/orphaned children. He had us smiling and laughing during our whole event and is easily my favorite Walmart worker of all time.

For the millionth time since June, Little Rock had me hyper-aware of how extraordinary this job is. Not only am I learning a ton about who I am and what I like to do, but I get to learn more and more everyday about my “coworkers,” and do all of that while visiting somewhere I’d otherwise never go, like a river-side cabin in Arkansas. I can’t even fully comprehend at this point how much I’ve already grown and changed because of this job, but seeing that same growth in the people around me has been an incredible experience.

Cashew soon with a-nutt-a one!

 

St. Louis & Cape Girardeau, MO: January 19th – January 29th

St. Louis, MO January 19th – January 26th

As we left Madison for our first stop, St. Louis, MO, I was the lucky first team member to drive the chase car for our drive day. I spent the six-hour drive listening to my favorite tunes and podcasts at alarming volume levels and talking to several friends and family members with the chase car’s bluetooth calling. Although my new NUTmobile (who I fondly call Grandma Ro-Shell) is less than exciting, having the chase car is a luxury and a worthy trade in my opinion.  For the first time I feel like I have true freedom to do what I want since getting from point a to point b no longer requires the hassle of finding a parking spot big enough for a nut or paying for an uber.

We used chase a lot our first week in St. Louis, especially to get around town on our days off. Conner and I first stopped at Piccione Pastry, a bakery in STL that sells gooey butter cake (a STL classic that reminds me of a lemon bar without the lemon). We later found out that Piccione happens to be owned by one of the Peanutters from last year’s family and that she worked there over the summer – it’s a crazy small world. Upon learning this, we headed back the next day to show them the NUTmobile and were given cannolis in return! I swear it was the best cannoli of my life, although that could be because it was fo freeeeeee.

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pretty sure lego architecture is my calling

Our other off day activities included seeing the St. Louis Arch, eating amazing Italian food at The Hill and visiting the City Museum. I didn’t really know what to expect with City Museum because a lot of people had recommended it but couldn’t exactly explain what it was. Essentially, it’s a giant, industrial playground for kids and adults alike, and Conner and I spent hours climbing on and exploring the endless tunnels and landscapes. There were a lot of other creative, hands-on exhibits, and my favorite was the giant lego station.

We also met up with the famous Brian, a past-Hotdogger who pioneered the NUTmobile program and was the first NUTmobile coordinator (my boss’ position). We had heard that Brian loved to show teams visiting STL a good time, so we shouldn’t have been surprised when he pulled up to our hotel and immediately iced us in his car. Afterward, he treated us to a giant seafood dinner, a beer tower (I didn’t even know that was a thing) and seemingly endless other drinks.  At some point in the night we discovered that Tanaja, Conner and I all loved the game Monopoly, and before he dropped us off at our hotel for the night, Brian stopped at his apartment to grab his own Monopoly game for us to borrow. Looking back, I’d say the first two things we bonded over as a team were our crazy night out and playing intense games of Monopoly, both of which we owe to Brian!

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Brian treated us to dessert at Bailey’s Chocolate Bar – an entire dessert restaurant complete with fresh-baked cookies instead of bread rolls to start. 

Cape Girardeau, MO January 26th – January 29th

After staying in St. Louis for a week, we switched hotels to Cape Girardeau because all of our events were in tiny, far away towns. Cape G was not a big, exciting town like STL, but it reminded me a lot of where my mom’s relatives live in Southern Illinois, and I immediately loved it for its small-town charm. On top of that, people in big cities often aren’t phased by the NUTmobile because they’re so used to a lot going on all the time, but people in small towns get absolutely hyped about it. By the end of our time in Missouri, us Centrill nuts had been on local tv, social media and newspapers and we felt like celebrities with a cult following.

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The team, mom and Grandma Ro-Shell

Other than my week and a half of fame, the very best thing about Cape Girardeau was that my mom came to visit! We walked around Cape G’s cool downtown area which includes a riverwalk on the Mississippi River, got drinks at The Bar, ate dinner at a brewery, ate dessert at a whole different restaurant and ended the night watching a movie together at the hotel. The next morning my mom finally got to ride in the NUTmobile, and although it was fun, she freaked out most of the time and told me she now has a whole new worry about me driving it around the country (moms, amirite???). My mom traveled 14 hours round-trip to see me for less than one day, and even though it was short, it meant a lot to me to get to share what I’m doing with someone who helped me get here and who I love so much.  

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The Bar in downtown Cape G, which is the actual bar Ben Affleck’s character owns in Gone Girl. If you know me, you know I love anything Ben Affleck related. 

For our very last night in Missouri, Conner and I spent the evening walking around downtown Cape G and seeing all it had to offer including: driving the bridge from Missouri to Illinois, trespassing at a famous old Victorian Home and hiking a giant hill to the courthouse grounds. Afterward, we met Tanaja and her boyfriend at a billiards bar where we played several games of pool. After warning the three of them that I am embarrassingly awful at pool, I actually didn’t suck that much and even made the winning shot in one game. I now have a new-found determination to become amazing at pool and I plan to work on my skills across the country.

All in all, my first eleven days as a Central Nut were pretty awesome and the transition to a new region, team and NUTmobile was even more seamless than I was expecting. All three of us are pros at living life on the road by now, and if we can have that much fun somewhere like Missouri, our next few weeks in Arkansas and Texas should be a blast.

 

I Shell Blog Again Soon!

 

Winter Staff & Team/Region Switch: January 15th – January 19th

Anytime you get a group of 21 recent college grads together, it’s probably going to be a good time, and that’s even more true because of the fun, outgoing personalities of the 21 Peanutters and Hotdoggers. Plus, the other Peans and Wiens are the only people who truly understand what our job entails, so getting together always means tons of catching up and stories with people that oddly feel like family.

Although we stayed in Madison for the whole week this time, our bosses had a lot of fun things planned for us. We played a huge, intense game of White Elephant (I ended up with the legendary Connor Gray pillow – the best present in my opinion), hit the downtown Madison bars for a night out and had a sweater decorating contest and fashion show. On top of all of that there were multiple corporate-funded lunches and dinners and business items like creating a recruiting video for next year’s class. We also finally found out who the winners of the big Peanutter Challenge Week were (see post from Palm Springs) and the Westies came out on top!

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Don’t worry, we won’t quit our peanut job to become fashion designers.

While Winter staff was extremely fun as always, it was also kind of a weird time because it was a transition from first to second half, so while we were wrapping up and saying goodbye to our old partners and regions, we were also gearing up to hit the road with our new partners. In the spirit of this, I’d like to do the same thing with this blog post and summarize my first half and let you know what’s in store for me in the last few months of this job.

Westie Besties Wrap-Up

In short, my time out West with Elise and Conner was the time of my life. Probably more than any other team in our program, the three of us spent nearly all of our time together, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. After not only all of the cool experiences we shared together, but also all of the long, monotonous work days, I’ve learned just about everything there is to know about these two and could endlessly spout off random facts (for example: Elise’s tonsils spontaneously grow back and Conner doesn’t know actual song lyrics 99% of the time but makes them up as he goes). While It’s not uncommon to make friends with your coworkers, it is uncommon for your coworkers to become your family, but after 7 months of E&C being my listeners, advice-givers, workout buddies, fellow partiers and endlessly more, that’s exactly what happened.

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Our very first pic with our girl Shelly, when we were all so fresh and pure.

Aside from getting to know the two of them as individuals, we also made an amazing team. We all went into the job with the same mindset: we were super grateful to have this opportunity and we wanted to make the most of every single day. And that’s exactly what we did.

Here are some of my favorite things from this half:

  • Biking the entire city of Pierre, SD
  • Getting front row seats in a random lady’s house for the 4th of July Fireworks
  • The money given to us to help others by a reporter in Rawlins, WY
  • Meeting Madi Grover and Gregory Plaza in Phoenix, AZ and having a SHELL of a time every time we came to the area
  • Our epic 15-hour day in Disneyland fo FREEEEEE
  • Working golf opens in Portland and Boise
  • Making multiple rap music videos and discovering Damien (Ner’s alter ego)
  • Hiking in nearly every city we visited
  • Staying in a B&B and convincing ourselves the house owner was evil
  • Buying Lawrence the Uber driver a McChicken
  • Eating endless bruschetta and fondue w/ pretzel bites at Postino & Culinary Dropout
  • Wine tasting in Napa Valley
  • Challenge Week & Mr. P’s legendary dance competition victory
  • Meeting Tenor, the only cat I’ll ever not hate
  • BRUNO MARS CONCERT
  • Ice skating with Mr. P
  • Seeing the Redwoods for the first time and taking an unintentional 6-mile hike
  • James Corden & Conan live taping
  • Private Ginuwine concert in Vegas
  • Making friends with the ladies who twerked on our NUTmobile
  • & probably a million more things I can’t think of at the moment
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…..and our last pic with our girl Shelly and our boy Pablo, we’ve been through some $h!t together now.

At the end of every work day, we leave our boss an “audix” which is a voicemail telling her about the day. On our very last audix as a team, after we sang a parody of “California Gurls” by Katy Perry, I wanted to thank my boss for how awesome this job has been so far. I told her I could never repay her for introducing me to two of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. I also told her I couldn’t have asked for more positive partners who laughed with me when times were both good and bad and who made me a more confident, well-rounded individual and taught me new things about life and myself each and every day. It may have been extremely cheesy and cliche, but it was nonetheless entirely true.

CenTrill Team

Out with the old and in with the new, right? I have yet to mention that ya girl is coming home for second half to the Central Region.  I’ll definitely miss the west, but if there’s one thing that was missing from my experience, it was getting to meet up with a lot of people I know and being closer to home. I also will be traveling in a new nut: Grandma Ro-Shell. Ro-Shell is the original NUTmobile, which means she is not quite as decked out on the inside as Shelly was. Therefore, we also get to travel with a chase car, which means double the driving, but also always having a mode of transportation that is not a nut. You win some, you lose some.

A new region and new nut also means new partners! I’ll be staying with Conner for the rest of the year, and like me, I feel confident you all are well-acquainted with him by now. My new girl partner, Tanaja (or you can call her Tasty T, Tanut or Trail Mix Tanaja) is a Chicago native, Mizzou grad, and spent the first seven months of her tour on the East team. Tanaja can be what some would call “boujee” meaning she likes the finer things in life, and she is definitely the best person to pick out a place to get food/drinks and has a great sense of style. I have high hopes that her stylish ways may miraculously rub off on me, as well as her ability to save money on the job since she did a much better job of this than me and my previous team. All in all, Tanaja is an extremely strong, kind and interesting person, and it’s already been nice having someone new to get to know!

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Introducing the new CenTrill team, a name I thought much too long and hard about.

 

 

Some of my goals for the new half are:

  • Continue to rock it at media and win the March Media Challenge
  • Take more of a front seat vs. back seat role in interactions at events (this was hard sometimes because Elise and Conner are the friendliest people on the planet)
  • Save more money $$$$
  • Even though I’m less excited about the Central Region than West, I want to continue seeing everything I can and finding the cool things about every city
  • Work out more consistently and eat healthier (although eating is part of traveling to me soooo we’ll see about that one. Texas queso will be my downfall.)
  • Stay more up to date with my blog
  • Book a Euro-trip for June & start looking for jobs and apartments in Chi City
  • Keeping having a BOMB time so that second half is the time of my life just like first half

Because this post was already extremely lengthy and all over the place, I’ll spare you any sort of conclusion to tie it all together. What I will say is I’m excited to keep sharing my adventures with you, and huge thanks to all of you who have continued to read this far!

Cashew on the Trail (Mix)!

 

San Diego, CA & Phoenix, AZ: January 3rd – January 15th

San Diego, CA: January 4th – January 10th

When I found out I was on the West Team, I immediately started thinking of all the cool cities I would get to see, and San Diego was always at the top of my list. But as the months ticked by and my time out west began to run short, almost all of my desired cities had been checked off while SD remained. Finally I caved and took matters into my own hands; I sent a desperate email to my boss essentially begging her to get us to San Diego. Either she likes me or she just wanted me to stop bugging her, but finally it showed up right at the end of our tour.

After the struggle of getting it on our schedule and my two weeks in the Midwest Tundra, I had an immense appreciation for the temperate weather and constant sunshine of Southern California. I spent nearly every moment possible outside either laying in grocery store parking lots to get sun during work breaks or taking long walks and runs both mornings and nights. Even though it wasn’t anything crazy or exciting, these walks were one of my favorite parts about San Diego. Maybe I was just feeling the time with my Westies coming to an end, but I truly enjoyed just walking around and talking with both Elise and Conner and discovering new things around us (the best thing we found was an abandoned mission-style building way up on a hill overlooking Old Town).

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One of the beautiful restaurants we ate at in Old Town

It was also during one of these walks that I realized we happened to be staying right across the street from Old Town SD, which is a cool area with old-time buildings and tons of restaurants.  We ate at several of these restaurants during our stay, enjoying the authentic Mexican food and homemade tortillas that you could watch being made. One of my favorite food places was Roberto’s Taco Shop, which was little more than a run-down shack, but served the best California-style burritos (Cali style means with fries inside – an unhealthy, but ingenious invention). We also got margaritas one night at a huge, outdoor Mexican restaurant that had a live band and was so beautifully decorated that Conner said it reminded him of the movie Coco.

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San Diego’s famous Gaslamp Quarter

One thing the three of us all wanted to do was visit Coronado Beach. The day we had set aside to do so turned out to be awful weather, but we didn’t let that stop us. Instead of bikinis and flip flops, we packed rain jackets and headed off to Coronado, which we arrived at, of course, right as the storm set in. We fully embraced the rain and danced and ran through the waves as it came down harder and harder, not caring how soaked we got until we left the beach and had to walk toward shelter while miserably cold and wet.

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post-storm chasing in Coronado

It’s hard to do San Diego justice through writing, but it really was my favorite city. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been because it was not only covered in palm trees, but also lush with other types of greenery lining the ocean and mountains. San Diego also has such a unique culture from Old Town to the Gaslamp Quarter, and everyone in the area seemed to have a friendly, easy-going vibe about them. It was definitely the type of place I could see myself living, and bugging my boss to get the NUTmobile there turned out to be 100% worth it.

Phoenix, AZ: January 10th – January 15th

For our very last city on the road, I couldn’t think of a better place than Phoenix, AZ. More than anywhere else, Phoenix feels like home to our team. We have friends there, favorite restaurants and things we don’t mind doing again and again. We even stayed at our traditional hotel, The Red Lion, which is honestly pretty sketchy but worth it because it’s right across the street from Bikini Bean and only a mile down the road from ASU.

Most of the people we know in the PHX area weren’t around for our last trip to the city, but that worked well because we had a ton to do to prepare for Winter Staff (we had to re-pack and ship all of our stuff to Madison) and we wanted to spend time together as a team for our last week. We of course did all of our favorite things: a night out at Devil’s Advocate and eating at Postino Annex and Culinary Dropout. We also woke up at the crack of dawn one morning to make a last attempt at completing the treacherous Camelback Mountain hike, but we were instantly turned away as the mountain was too busy and there was no parking for the NUTmobile. It was a huge let-down, but also a good reason for the three of us to take a reunion trip back to Phoenix one day to finally finish what we started.

 

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an eerily fitting quote found on the wall at Culinary Dropout during our last dinner as a team

On our last night in town the three of us went out for our last dinner as a team. At Christmas, my Aunt Melinda had generously given me a check that was to be used on our last dinner and drinks, and we decided the best place to use it would be one of our very favorites, Culinary Dropout. Even though I knew my friendships with these two weren’t coming to a close, our time as the west team definitely was, and we all got a bit teary-eyed as we talked about all of the experiences we’ve shared as well as our goals moving into the next half of our journey.

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Spotted: Three west nuts smiling through the tears, legendary pretzel bites with fondue, and our exceptionally attractive waiter approaching the table.

The next morning we woke up, packed all of our stuff into Shelly for the last time and headed off to Penske where we’d be leaving her for good. As our only form of transportation for seven months, Shelly was our closest thing to home out west and she was always present, if not integral, to our favorite experiences and stories. She may be an in-nut-imate object, but she was the real MVP of our team, and we all had an extremely emotional and heartfelt goodbye with her before we had to leave Penske without her. Our next, and final, stop out west was the PHX Sky Harbor Airport where we’d soon be taking off for Wisconsin and our reunion with the other Peanutters and Hotdoggers.

Cashew Later, West Coast!

 

Winter Break: December 19th – January 3rd

If you haven’t gathered by now, being a Peanutter is not a typical full-time job, and one way it differs from most is our generous time off for the holidays. Despite going from the comfortable 70-degree shorts weather of L.A. to the negative temperatures of Wisconsin, Christmas season just doesn’t feel right amidst the palm trees and sunshine. I was more than ready for my white Christmas and two weeks of catching up with family and friends in the arctic tundra.

One of my first days of break, my friend Maggie and I met up with Elise and Dogger at Walker Brothers Pancake House in Illinois. This is one of my favorite restaurants of all time and when they asked how I knew about it, I told them it was my “cousin place” because we always used to meet my cousins there. Well, lo and behold, as we were paying our bills up front, I hear, “Maggie?!” and turn around to see my cousin Sam, who had also just finished eating. The craziest part was that Sam was just telling his friend about me because they saw Dogger’s Wienermobile parked outside. We all headed out to the Wien where Mags, Sam and his friend all got a ride and, of course, a Wiener Whistle. I rode in the way back thinking about how crazy it was that my best friend from college, my cousin and my two coworkers were all riding around in one giant hot dog. Ladies and gents, it’s a small, nutty world.

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Magadamia, Smoky Sam and WEENR

One of my favorite days over break was the one I spent with my mom in Chicago. We of course did the touristy stuff: visited Navy Pier, saw the huge Millenium Park Christmas Tree, walked through Christkindl Market and finished the day with popcorn of the Gods: Garrett’s. As I’ve said time and again, Chicago is my very favorite city, so any day spent there is a good one. But the best part of the day was being with my mom. It had been far too long since we had a day just the two of us, and even though we mostly just walked around and chatted – while stopping for frequent indoor breaks to warm up – it was a day I’ll never forget with my favorite person in my favorite city.

 

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a rare occasion where my mom agreed to partake in a selfie 

My Christmas Eve and Christmas were very similar to pretty much every other year of my life: we went to my dad’s side on Christmas Eve, drove around to look at Christmas lights after and then went to my mom’s side on Christmas Day. By saying it was similar though, I don’t mean to imply that it was boring. I’m a huge fan of traditions, probably because I like to think that no matter how much my life changes year to year, some things will always stay the same. The holidays are definitely good for that sense of comfort and familiarity, and I was especially grateful this year to enjoy my Christmas twice-baked potato while sitting in my grandma’s living room, just like I’ve done for as long as I can remember.

I, of course, spent a lot of time with friends too because many of them were home or off work for the holidays. The best night was when a bunch of my friends went to Chicago for New Years Eve. I’ve always wanted to spend New Years in the big city, and now that none of us are broke college students anymore, we got hotel rooms and tickets to a bar and did it big – my friend Hannah even flew in from Minne for the occasion. As per usual, we spent most of the night tearing up the dance floor and did not let the negative Chicago temperatures stop us from having a great time. There’s nothing like ringing in the New Year with a bunch of your very best friends, and the night ended with me smushed between two of them in bed laughing about the night we just had. Safe to say, 2018 is going to be a good one.

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new year, same homies 

I did so much more over my short time at home (like meeting up with my old coworkers and attempting to watch all the Star Wars movies with my brother Tony) that I cannot possibly write about all of it. But what I can say is that my winter break got me really excited for the future. A lot of times I get sucked into the vortex of being a Peanutter, and it’s no secret that what I’m doing this year has been amazing. At times I’ve wondered “Have I peaked?”, “Will anything else ever compare?”, or “Can I ever be happy staying in just one place again?” After spending time with my friends over break and seeing what their lives are like – with their jobs, new friends they’ve made and all the time they get to spend together and with their families- I got excited to see what my own life will be like when it’s more stable again. I’m not sure if another job will ever quite match up to being a Peanutter, but I now know for sure that there are still good things to come!

 

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Please enjoy this pic of my brother in his new nightgown #snugasapug

Wishing you a nutty new year!

 

Los Angeles (The Final Stretch): December 4th – December 19th

During my last stretch of time in L.A. I started to feel a sense of finality about my time out west. winter break was rapidly approaching, I would soon be finding out my second half assignment and I was painfully aware that after break I would have less than two weeks before turning around and heading right back to Wisconsin to switch teams. I often have a “seize the day” mentality on this job, but knowing my westward adventure was coming to a close really had me thinking “What do I have to do here before I leave?”

The first thing that came to mind was visit more beaches. Growing up, I’ve always heard about famed Cali beaches like Newport or Santa Monica, and I was disappointed in myself that after all my time in SoCal I had only made it to one. So I ended up visiting Santa Monica and Laguna Beach, both of which were amazing in their own way. Santa Monica has a famous pier that gives you a great view of the whole shore and Laguna Beach, my personal favorite, is absolutely stunning with great waves, endless palm trees and giant rocks to climb. I’ve always been the type of person that can happily spend endless days amidst the sand and calming beach waves, and I was happy to check a few more Pacific beaches off my list.

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We got to go in the ocean in December, how nuts is that?!

Another thing I had yet to do was truly experience Hollywood. In order to achieve this, Conner and I signed up for a tour of Warner Brothers Studio. The tour taught us a lot about how shows and movies are filmed and we got to see tons of artifacts – costumes, props and Batmobiles – as well as the sets of Friends, Shameless, and buildings used in countless shows and movies. The craziest part of the tour was that at the end of it, they asked if anyone wanted to be part of Conan’s live audience. Conner and I of course jumped at the chance. Even though I’d already seen James Corden’s taping, I liked Conan’s a lot better because he interacted with the audience and made us feel like a part of the show.

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Ner and I made a special guest appearance on Conan #shellebritystatus

Another thing that was missing from my west coast journey, even though it was mostly out of my control, was having the NUTmobile participate in a parade. We went six months utterly parade-less and then Bam! Two parades in one weekend. No other event quite matches up to a parade because all you have to do is drive the NUTmobile through the route and watch the crowd lose their minds over Mr. Peanut dabbing away while standing out of the sun roof. Not that I would know, because Mr. Peanut is himself, but I would imagine that few feelings compare to gallantly riding through the streets via NUTmobile while 1000’s scream, wave and dance for your attention.

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who knew Christmas parades were even a thing? they’re definitely not in Wisco. 

While the parades were awesome, the best event of the week was one we got to find and schedule ourselves: Orange County Autism’s Breakfast with Santa. Throughout our westward journey, we have had the pleasure of meeting several autistic children and adults, and I was surprised to learn that many people with autism love mascots and characters. This definitely proved true at our breakfast with Santa as we paraded Mr. Peanut around to take hundreds of pictures (including with Santa!) and to play games with the kids and their families.

We were having a shell of a time, but the event got even better when we met Julie, the Founder of OC Autism.  All three of us were shocked to learn that Julie operates and funds the organization completely by herself and that all of its amazing benefits come to families of children with autism totally free. Julie told us she had planned to shut down the organization because it was so hard to sustain, but that people in the community begged her not to because of how much it had helped them. Despite being in charge of a huge, packed event with many moving details, Julie seemed to be having a blast and I could tell how much she meant to the people in attendance. She was definitely one of the people out west that I’ll never forget.

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Julie & Mr. P. If you want to check out Julie’s organization here’s the webpage: http://www.ocautism.org/

Near the end of our last stay together, we planned a big Christmas dinner with our Hotdogger pals, Jackie and Alex. When you’re living in a hotel, “big Christmas dinner” can really mean mac n’ cheese grilled cheese, but if you know anything about me you know that I had zero complaints about this cheesy meal. Jacandra had agreed to host, and when I arrived in their room they had set up a little Christmas tree with presents for each of us. As we snuggled up in our brand new blankets, ate our weight in cheese and watched funny Youtube videos, I knew that it didn’t matter how much time I had out west, I would always want more with the four unique people that I’m lucky to call my travel buddies.

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cute xmas presents right down to the corgi wrapping paper

And just like that, my fourth and final week in L.A. was up and I was headed back to Wisconsin for the holidays. Cashew at my next blog to find out if I was nutty or nice this year. (Spoiler: I was mostly nutty.)

 

Las Vegas, NV: November 30th – December 4th

Upon returning back to the West after Thanksgiving break, I had to pick up Shelly and drive her back to our hotel because I was the first one back. I had driven Shelly on my own before, but only for short distances and definitely not through the craziness that is L.A. traffic. I thought everything was going pretty well when suddenly Shelly’s door decided to pop open in the middle of the freeway. I didn’t know what to do other than to completely stop, park, and go close it before all of my luggage flew out the door, never to be seen again. I managed to pull this off pretty seamlessly, and couldn’t help but laughing the rest of the way home at how it must’ve looked to others and how bad the whole situation could’ve been.

Odd as that start was, the week seemed to follow a similar suit of embracing less than ideal circumstances. For starters, the next morning as we prepared to drive to Las Vegas, our nut door decided not to work and we had to delay Vegas for a trip to Penske instead. When we finally did hit the road though, the drive was almost better because we got to drive into Vegas at night and see the strip lit up in all its glory. This was my first time in Vegas, and I couldn’t help but think of the classic movie “The Hangover” and even requested the song they play as they ride into the city, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” by Kanye West, to complete the moment.

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Sin City 

Our Vegas hotel was pretty far from where all the action was, but luckily for us, Clay Grover (Elise’s dad) was visiting us for the week and staying at the Wynn Hotel, right on the strip. As you can imagine, we spent as much time as possible at his hotel rather than ours and ate several meals right in the Wynn. Our first night in town was mainly spent walking up and down the strip, looking at all of the lights and musically-synchronized fountains, and partaking in some very interesting people watching. We also stopped at the Bellagio and I had Conner explain the rules of Blackjack to me while we observed several rounds at a table. When I finally tried it out (it was my first time gambling) I sat down and immediately lost about $60, which is not surprising as I have been known to have pretty much the worst luck in the world.

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The Wynn lobby itself is a spectacle and there’s enough within the hotel that you basically never have to leave.

While we were in Vegas we were hoping to see Cirque du Soleil, but couldn’t find last minute tickets to a show. I was initially pretty bummed because I’ve always wanted to see one, but then Elise’s Dad found us tickets to an aqua acrobatics show, La Reve, that was right in the Wynn. The show was in a round theatre and the cast moved seamlessly in and out of the water as they danced, sang and performed stunts including trapeze and high dives. It truly was a dream – which is what La Reve means in English.

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The finale of La Reve!

After La Reve, Conner and I felt that the only thing missing from our Vegas experience was a night out at a club. However, going to one turned out to be easier said than done. We had had several recommended to us, but almost all of them had an extremely high cover, especially for guys. Feeling slightly defeated, Conner and I bought a huge pineapple dole whip Daquiri to split and continued to walk the strip (you can drink virtually anywhere in Vegas). Just as we were about to throw the towel in and head for home, a guy came up to us and offered us free tickets to Chateau Nightclub, which is on top of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. Not only did we proceed to get in for free, but we also happened to end up at a virtually private, rooftop Ginuwine concert. By virtually private, I mean that he performed more in the center of the crowd than on a stage and stayed to party with everyone afterward. I’m telling you guys, life is nuts.

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Ginuwine feat. a glimpse of the Vegas Eiffel Tower 


All in all, I felt like I got the full Vegas experience in my time there: I lost some money, partied with a celebrity and got to experience the over-the-top hotels, meals and shows. A lot of these experiences that made the week so great wouldn’t have happened if we simply gave up after our first plan failed. I think one of the things I like most about my team is that both of them are pretty easygoing and adaptable when things don’t go our way, and we all manage to stay positive in even the worst of situations. Maintaining that attitude has made our west coast road trip that much better, and Las Vegas was just another unforgettable stop with my Westie Besties.

 

Hasta Legume-o!

 

 

 

Los Angeles, CA & Thanksgiving Break: November 13th – November 30th

I’m combining my second week in L.A. with my trip home for Thanksgiving into one post because 1) I am trying super hard to get this blog up to date and 2) because I was so consumed with excitement about going home for Thanksgiving that my week in L.A. was pretty uneventful.

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You’re not allowed to use your phone at all during tapings, but I managed to get a pic of the Corden set before we left

However, a few cool things did happen. We managed to score free tickets to be part of the live audience for The Late Late Show with James Corden. I’d like to point out that we also were approved for free tickets to Jimmy Kimmel and special guest Ben Affleck (who is my #1 favorite celebrity) but Conner failed to redeem them in time and they got taken, which I am still a tad salty about. Anyway, James Corden had Emmy Rossum – better known as Fiona from Shameless-, January Jones and BTS on his show that night. Most of the experience was laughing/clapping at the appropriate time, but it was cool to see how shows are taped and what they look like in person.

If I didn’t get the job with the NUTmobile, one of my plans was to move to L.A. and join City Year, which I heard about from my friend Val who did just that. While the whole City Year thing obviously didn’t pan out, I did still get to come to L.A. and see Val with the NUTmobile. Her, Conner and I enjoyed a great meal at a new hot, local place, Bubba Gump Shrimp and we also got to show her Shelly. I didn’t think I would get to see too many people that I know out west, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how many friends/family the NUTmobile has made it possible for me to meet up with that I would otherwise rarely see.

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Val!

Other than that, the rest of L.A. consisted of working, running seemingly endless loops around our hotel as a workout, playing Spicy Uno with Jackie and Alex (an intense version of Uno) and preparing to finally head home. Once that day came, we said farewell to Shelly and headed to LAX where the three of us enjoyed a mimosa together before boarding our separate planes home. Even though I spend virtually 24/7 with Conner and Elise and we would only be apart for about 10 days, I felt really sad as we said goodbye and I knew I was going to miss their constant presence.

Still, as soon as I walked through the door and received an enthusiastic greeting from my dogs, I was relieved to be home. I didn’t realize the little things about home I had missed until I got back: a fridge stocked with fresh fruits and veggies, a room covered with my own pictures and memories and my very own bed complete with my dogs snuggled up inside. It was good to be back.

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I did miss my L.A. breakfast view when I was home

I think it goes without saying that the best part of being home was being back with my family and friends. My first day back in town I got to pick up my little brother from school and then jetted off to do a paint night at a local bar with my mom (I learned where my lack of artistic ability must come from during this). I was reunited with even more family on Thanksgiving as well as with Elise, who dropped in for the feast. Although, like every year, I was basically comatose after the meal, we spent the day hanging out with my cousins (and being iced more than once now that my youngest cousins are freshmen in college) and playing games. I always love the holidays because I was fortunate enough to grow up in a tight-knit family that I love being around, but I was especially thankful this year to kick back and relax in the company of people who have always been constants in my life.

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Always good to be back with these weirdos

I also wanted to see a lot of friends over break, which took me all over the state of Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to catch my friend Marie, who moved to the Philippines right after high school and has been there since, right before she headed back across the globe for a night out in good ol’ K-Town with our friend Nicole and other people who I haven’t seen since high school.  I got to introduce Elise to a bunch of my college friends when we met up in downtown Milwaukee. Even though we weren’t in Madison, it brought me right back to a typical night out in college where we would tear up the dance floor and end the night with a pow wow and a huge thing of fries (although this time it was McDonalds, not Disco Fries). I also caught up with a bunch of friends when I spent a night in Madison, and I especially enjoyed running and walking the streets of downtown and feeling like part of my favorite campus again.

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Only some of the best friends you could ever have 

A lot of times out west I feel totally isolated from the people back home, but all throughout my break I had friends and family telling me how much they’ve enjoyed following what I’m doing both from this blog and from Snapchat and other social media. It felt good to know that I’m not totally disconnected from home, and also gave me a renewed sense of determination to keep up with my blog – I promise I’m going to try my best! Thanksgiving is always about reflecting on what you’re thankful for, (that and eating much food as you can humanly manage) but, after being away for awhile, my whirlwind of a trip home made me feel especially lucky this year for how much I have to be grateful for.

My NUTmost Thanks For Reading!