Friday, December 29, 2006

My Holidays

I was going to blah, blah, blah about all the PC sayings of the season but decided it was not worth getting up in arms about. Instead, here's how my holidays, alright -- Christmas, went.

My celebration started Friday, December 18 when I flew out to California to visit Mickey's first home and spend time with my bestest friend and her family. I like going to Disneyland about once a month just to mosey around, catch some of the attractions and maybe a ride of two. I just like the atmosphere there. So this trip was great timing as I had Disneyland withdrawals, not Disney withdrawals as I attended a cruise late October. The last time I was at Disneyland was August.

I got to Calif Friday mid morning, ran some errands and headed to Disney California Adventure late afternoon. I wanted to be around to catch the Electric Parade that was resurrected by Sylvania sponsorship. Very beautiful parade and most definitely ideal for the Ho!Ho!Ho! season. I wanted to rush out of that park in time to head to Disneyland and catch their fireworks. Plan got foiled by not be on the right side of DCA to get out. I wound up watching the DLR fireworks without audio outside of the gates. The firework was beautiful. Oh well, I should be able to catch it the next day.

Got up bright and early Saturday and headed to Disneyland. I went here and there and everywhere while waiting for call from my friend Carolann that they were in park vicinity. Cell phone rings and they are here. Isiah, Carolann's grandson, makes the decision on the park -- head to DCA to meeting up with Carolann, David the hubby and Isiah. It was so great to see them.

I met Carolann via the internet about four years ago. She and David had just moved to the LA area from Sacramento area because of David's job. Carolann answered a query I posted about needing a playmate for my Disneyland visit. We've been going to the park and other places whenever I get out to Calif. David jokes that Carolann's first friend in the area happens to live permanently on the other coast *LOL*.

Even though I spent the previous night at DCA, going there again did not bother me as it was spending time with my friends. The day started overcast. It rained on and off while we were at the park. I guess it should not have surprised me, but Carolann and I happen to wear the same rain gear. We ate, talk as we went from one attraction to another and did some rides, even in the pouring rain. We had to part late afternoon as they had a dinner they needed to go, too. It was so great seeing them.

After parting, I headed back to DLR to hang around until night time fireworks. I wanted to see them with audio this time. I caught my favorite show -- Billie Hill and the Hillbillies. I spent time in the stores when the skies decided to open up. I don't know why I did but I did. I waited as it rain for their afternoon parade. The characters actually performed in the rain. The rain and wind did not let up so the fireworks was cancelled. Bummed was I, but c'est la vie.

I slept late Sunday and spent the rest of the afternoon at DLR before catching my red-eye flight back to east coast. Very good weekend even if it did rain on one of those days.

During the week, I had to get the foodies for the main meals I was preparing for the family get together on Sunday, December 24. Standing Rib Roast, check. Goose -- not the optimum size -- check. Herbs and whatnots -- check. I've been making goose for the holidays since the recipe was published in Martha Stewart Living, December 1997/January 1998. Wow, I did not know I've been doing it this long.

It's Thursday and I picked up gift for two of my nephews. My gifts still need to be wrapped and I've not run a check to see if I've finished Christmas shopping. Mom calls and says she not coming on Sundary *arghhhh* She is being hornery -- none of us can change her mind. Now, it's Sunday. Yep, I spent Saturday reading -- bah hum bug. Procrastinator is moi. Bright and early Sunday, I ran around the house hunting down the gifts to be wrapped. By 11, got some gifts wrapped and all presents to be given are accounted for. I had to stop wrapping and start prepping food. Two hours later, goose is in the oven and rib roast is in the Convention Oven/Microwave. Thank goodness for that appliance or I would have to drive the rib roast to my sister's oven. Thermometers have been stabbed into the goose and rib roast. Here's the before and after of the goose -- courtesy of my baby sister.

Back to wrapping and even putting music on two MP3 players. I actually finished wrapping -- not as good as I did 5 years ago when I was really in the spirit -- but they are wrapped. Just finished in time as food was ready to come out. After it's resting period, I cut up the goose and my baby sister made the sauce with coaching from me -- she don't like to cook. We loaded up the vehicle with pressies and food and drove to my younger sister's who was nice to have the festivities at her place again. Everyone is there. We are the last to arrive. My baby sister takes care of the pressies. The goose gets a nice place on the dining table and the rib roast goes to the kitchen to be cut up. My BIL is manning the oven and stove with all the other trappings for dinner. Everything gets put on the table -- goose, rib roast, spare ribs, meatballs in mushroom sauce with pasta, baked potatoes, chicken fingers, corn/pea mix -- and rally the crew to the table -- 14 around the table. Now that I think about it, it was a squeeze. We would have needed to breakout another table if the missing 5 adults showed up. The meal was great and enjoyed by all. After clearning the table, it was time to open pressies. It's great to watch the kids exclaim over their pressies. The adults decided to take their loot home and open up on Christmas Day. While the kids played, the adults returned back to the dining table to enjoy tea, cake and cookies. Yes, the kids came in if they wanted desert but wanted to play more than eat. Go figure! I needed to chauffeur one of the families home before I could call it a night. Once my baby sister and I got home, it was time to load the dishwasher, unwind some more and off the bed.

I get up early again as we need to head down to my mother's. It was so surprising to see my eldest sister there already. We headed out a bit later to take our mom out to lunch. Mom gets another surprise as my older brother shows up. After lunch the ladies head uptown to catch a movie. I have to give kudoos to the people who work on this holiday so some of us can have entertainment and eats. We decided to give my Mom and eldest sister a treat -- penguins (Happy Feet) ala IMAX. It was a fun and entertaining movie. Though I was kind of disappointed as it was not full IMAX. It was Happy Feet in letterbox on an IMAX screen. My baby sis and I finally opened our pressies when we got home.

That's the holidays in a nutshell. I had two days to unwind before rolling down the stairs to get harnessed back to work. Today is the last work day for 2006. Then HELLO 2007. I wonder if it will go faster than 2006.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I would have finished this sooner, but the end of the weekend was the start of a cold that I think is almost gone. By the end of the work day, I was just too pooped to continue. Okay, now to finish the weekend off.

After a good night's sleep, it was time to head out again . No Trolley this time. We headed for the monorail which would get us close to our starting point. The monorail runs the length of the east side of the Strip (from the Sahara to MGM Grand). The monorail was one block south from our hotel at the back of the Sahara Hotel & Casino. Nope, we did not stop to look around the Sahara -- just a walkthru the casino to the station entrance. We got off at Bally's which left us off where we wanted to start.

A walkthru Bally's led us into Paris Las Vegas shops and restaurants. The shopping area was designed to look like old Paris, I think, as it did not look like anything I saw in Paris four years ago. When we reached the casino part, you could actually see some of the Eiffel Tower feet that is built atop of the casino. When we exited Paris Las Vegas, we saw the Bellagio across the boulevard. The Fountains of the Bellagio were actually dancing to Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye), sung by Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman. So we watched from across the boulevard while it was playing.

We crossed Las Vegas Boulevard. As we walked up the long walkway to Bellagio's main entrance, they had music coming out of the speakers built in each pillar. When you enter the Bellagio labby and looked overhead, we discovered a "ceiling adorned in a breathtaking display of 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers - the Fiori di Como, created by world-renowned artist, Dale Chihuly".

We came to the Bellagio to checked out it's conservatory. The Bellagio Gardens and Conservatory was adorned in Christmas cheer. The right side of the entrance had four reindeers made of pecans; center part had giant glass ornaments; and the left side were a family of polar bears made of some kind of white flowers. Papa Bear stands tall, mama bear on all four peers out and baby bear is rolling on his back. The center court has a ground cover of poinsettas around a silver encased Christmas tree. At the four corners of the court are double balls of roses. Silver stars are hanging down around the tree. Along the walls of the conservatory were giant pine cones under snow kissed pines.

Whoever designed and decorated the Bellagio left nothing out. When checking the place out, you need to look left, right, bottom and top and out the windows. There's a wonderful painted ceiling by the left exit of the conservatory.

We walked back out the way we came in. On the weekend, the Fountains of Bellagio plays every half hour. We walked to the center of the fountain and waited for the next show. We were entertained by the various water gushers to the accompaniment of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Gotta came back another time and catch a night time water dance.

Working our way north, the next hotel/casino was Caesars Palace. Entering the lobby, you are met by a huge statues of the Three Fates. At least I think it was the Three Fates as it was three females. Behind the registration desk is a large mosiac of Apollo (?) driving a chariott. The Racetrack and Sports area had a beautiful backdrop of stone seahorses, huge circular aquarium, and large mosiac of a mermaid (looked like Ariel). We stopped at the food area for a late lunch. My sis had pizza and I had fish 'n' chips -- very large and good fish. Next were the shops of the forum. The mall is decorated with a blue sky, roman columns and fountains with huge statues. These were shops you would most likely find on Rodeo Drive -- mucho money. I was not interested in shopping. I headed for the area where Bacchus and his fellow gods were going to perform. So I sat waiting for the next show while my sister wondered around the shops. Plus, my ulterior motive was to rest my feet and people watch. My sis returned in time for the show. These are animatronic statues that are over 7 feet tall. Bacchus sits in the middle with Apollo, Aphrodite and forgot the other male god standing around him. These guys perform every hour on the hour. After the show, we headed out. Wow, was I surprised. I did not know that they expanded the shops beyond. It seems they added three more floors of shops at the other end. The escalators are round and not straight. They carry the Roman decor into this area too.

Next up was the Mirage. As soon we entered the hotel, we were by the White Tiger Habitat. Totally enjoyed watching the white tiger that was in residence. He (I hope) loved licking the rocks that is in the habitat.

Of course we walked around the casino floor on the hunt for the Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. We got there and changed our mind on entering and decided to check the rest of the hotel out. Enroute to the main lobby, we walked through the Tropical Rainforest. It's a beautiful recreation. Behind the registration desk is a humongous salt water aquarium. It was interesting to see the variety and colorful fish they had in the tanks.

Our feet blessed the Mirage and Treasure Island for installing a tram between the two hotels. It left us where I could pick up the "will call" tickets we had for the show tonight. We did not spend time here as we were coming back later. So the search was on for the walkway to the Fashion Show Mall. My sister wanted to do some shopping. Me, I found a place to sit and wait for her after I found a Borders to pick up Marjorie Liu's latest Eye of Heaven. Of course, Borders was totally at the other end of the mall -- more walking. It's a very big mall anchored by Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Dillards, Nordstroms and Saks Fifth Avenue. My sister was able to cross one person off her list and she answered the call of Dooney & Burke.

Now we're back at Treasure Island. I was sad to see that Sirens of TI was grounded. Guess they were removing the barnacles from the ships. I did see a bike that was designed with a Siren in mind. I regret that I did not take my camera out to add to the memory collection. At Pho, we had Vietnamese noodle soup for dinner. It was very good. Finished just in time for our show -- Cirque du Soleil's Mystere. Another great show. Not as good as KA, but still great. I just love Cirque du Soleil. After the show, we headed to a long line for taxis. It was good to learn that it would have cost the same as taking the monorail back but less walking .

We really could not stay out late as we had to get up in the wee hours of the morning to catch our 4am shuttle back to the airport. Thank goodness Starbucks was opened at the airport so I could get a Caramel Macchiato fix -- a venti one. As I got napkins to go, my sis discovered another David Phelps creature -- the Desert Tortoise.

It was a fabulous getaway. All the hotels, except for the Bellagio, require you to walk through the casino to get to any of the attractions. Plus, the signs are deceiving because it would not give you the direct route to the attraction Did you notice -- nary a mention of exchange of money between us and the casino. Yes, we did stop and watch some of the action on the roulette, black jack and craps tables. But, we could not be parted from our money The trip was to see the Cirque du Soleil shows and sight see. They got enough money from us for the shows.

As I was writing this and found links in case you wanted more information, I discovered that I needed to do this same type of research prior to our trip as there are some stuff I wanted to see and found more tips and tricks. Oh well, I will be returning back and hopefully it will not take another 10 years. Yeah, like I'm really going to find time to do research before a trip -- procrastinator am I.

Click here to see larger and more pictures of the Las Vegas trip.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Las Vegas Weekend - The Start

We went to Las Vegas because my sis wanted to see this place. I saw Las Vegas over 10 years ago. I decided on the trip because I needed one more round trip to maintain my airline frequent flyer status. It happened to work out because Delta lowered their fares and all airlines followed suit. YIPPEEE!!! Plus we heard alot about the Cirque du Soleil shows that reside in Las Vegas.

My sis and I hopped onto a plane early Friday morning -- destination Las Vegas, Nevada. When we got downstairs at McCarran International Airport to catch the tram between the D Gates and the Terminal 1, we were greeted by these guys

Of course, when we saw the Scorpion, we both thought it was some turds until we got closer. The other one is the Horny Toad. I somehow lost the picture I took of the Mojave Rattlesnake. Darn camera was acting up. These sculptures are the creation of David Phelps. They are made of cast concrete and were installed in D Gates in 1999. Mr. Phelps had five on display. Alas, we never found the Blacktailed Jackrabbit.

We took an airport shuttle to our hotel for the weekend -- Stratosphere. The Stratosphere is located on the north end of the strip. The Stratosphere is known for it's Tower which has a revolving restaurant and three thrill rides. If we had stay longer, we may have tried some of the restaurants here, but it was just a place for us to rest our heads after a long day. The only thing I used at the hotel was Starbucks. Though I did not get the chance to try the Starbucks located in the highest point, in the Tower.

Until the landscape changes again, you can say the Las Vegas Strip starts at Mandalay Bay (south) and ends at the Stratosphere (north). And, it will change as I saw at least three more construction projects going on. The Strip is 4 miles.

After checking into our room -- yes, the hotel had a room ready for us at 11am -- my sis caught up on some shut eyes and I skimmed all the materials about the Strip. As our first show was at the other end of the strip, I thought it would be a great idea to start our tour at the southern part of the strip -- Manadalay Bay. I chose the Trolley as our form of transportation -- $6.50 and you can hop on and off as often as you like for the day. In concept, the Trolley sounded like a great way to see Las Vegas. The problem was that the traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard is horrendus. By the time we got off at New York-New York, it was an hour later. It would most likely have taken another half hour to get to Mandalay Bay.

Since we were at New York-New York, we decided to have a late lunch. We roamed around the Village Eateries (food court) to see what tempted us. We finally decided on Jody Maroni's -- hotdogs. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the footbridge between New York-New York and MGM Grand.

M&M World is located close to the MGM Grand. Do you know it is four floors? Yes, it does. One wonders what can take up four floors. First, the allocated floor space is not really that big. We went through all four floors. We even sat and watched "I Lost My M", a free short 3-D movie after going through a small display on the making of M&M's.

As our show was at the MGM Grand and we still had time to kill, time to roam through MGM Grand. We spent some time watching the two lioness in the Lion Habitat.

One of them as actually sitting on top of the human tunnel that runs through the habitat. There were some people who were actually interested in watching the underside of a lioness who was chewing on rawhide. We tried to follow the signs to the shops in the hotel. This was a first lesson on signage. It will not give you the direct route to your desired destination. It will weave you through the casino so you can feel the vibes -- "Come play me. You know you want to." As for the shops, nothing that really interests us except for the Starbucks -- two Caramel Macchiatos. There are actaully three of them on the ground floor.

It's time for the show. The MGM Grand is home to Cirque du Soleil's KA. This production is totally different from the ususal Cirque du Soleil shows. It actually tells a story that you can understand. The stage happens to be a "gantry", a 25x50 rectangle suspended on a boom. The boom allows the stage to be raised, lowered, tilted and rotated. Rarely is the show done on 180 degree stage. The show is outstanding and I highly recommend you catch this show when you're in Las Vegas. You can go here to see tidbits about the show -- KA videos. Cirque du Soleil's website also provides information about the show. I went through the site last night

After the show, we checked out some of the other hotels/casinos. The Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay are connected by a free monorail. We headed to the Excalibur to catch the monorail to Mandalay Bay. We walked through there to the Shark Reef. By the time we got there, we were no longer interested. So we walked back. We thought we were heading back to the monorail to catch it for the Luxor, but wound up walking there. Luxor is a very interesting hotel as it is a pyramid. From the Luxor, we happen across moving walking ways to get us back to the Excalibur. There was nothing special in these hotels. I think it has to do with it being a long day. We headed back across to New York-New York as we knew where the Trolley stop was. It took the Trolley an hour and 40 minutes to get us back to our hotel and it did not even make all it's stops. Did we have dinner? No, we were just too tired to eat. Bed looked very inviting. The feet agreed.

Stay tune for the end of the weekend.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Love Thy Library

I lived in my town for 9 years. About two years ago, I decided to finally take advantage of a free service. I am so lucky that I live in a town that has a great library and belongs to a great library network. Why?

It's is open seven days a week during the school year. That's September to June. In the summer, it's open 6 days a week.

It is open late, till 9 pm, on three of those days.

It has a good number of computer stations so you can access the internet if only for an hour. This is great for people who do not have their own computer at home. There's even a separate room with computers for kids who have to do school work. They also have a print capability but you have to pay for it.

It has wireless network access if you bring in your laptop. This was great when I needed a change of venue because I got sick of my home office and needed people around me.

It has a great selection of books. They order multiple copies of the NY Times Best Sellers books. You can be put on a waiting list if a book is out but you have to pay for that service.

It has a great audio selection of books -- CDs and cassette tapes -- and DVDs. Yes, it even has music CDs.

The library also has a small selection of books for rental. Why you may wonder? I actually took advantage of this recently. I really wanted to read J.D. Robbs' Born in Death and did not want to wait for a return because I would be at the bottom of a long list of people. I rented it for a day and it cost me only 25 cents. Yes, I finished it the same day I took it out.

My neighborhood library is part of the New Jersey Library system which has recently started to lend out electronic audio books. You are notified when your book is ready and you download it to your computer and/or MP3 player to listen to it. The NJ network also has lots for databases that I can access. I need to get familiar with it.

The library system that I really like is the New York City Library system. That's the library system I grew up with. So it kind of spoils you for others. Since I no longer live there nor work there, I don't have access anymore unless I want to pay for a library card. Gotta love your family. My siblings work in NYC and, therefore, have free access to NYC library network. I take advantage of my siblings access to borrow NYC wide selection of ebooks and audiobooks. It also gives you access to the a wide variety of databases. It saves a trip into the city to do research.

If you've haven't visited your local library recently, you might want to check it out. You never know what you may find there. See your tax dollars at work.