January 31, 2013

Trip Report: Vegas in January

Las Vegas in January is not at all the same experience as Vegas in July or August. If it was summertime, I'd have been tempted to buy one of those yard long plastic cups of frozen margaritas and stroll the strip in a bright & blingy halter top. Scorching temperatures on the Strip are much more conducive to making me want to par-tay.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying this trip was relatively tame, party-wise and drinking-wise.  Or maybe we're just too damn old. 

The traffic gods didn't smile upon us on our way out. It was rainy and traffic was heavy, adding at least another hour to our drive.  We didn't encounter much rain during our stay, but Saturday the skies were cloudy and gloomy. Sunday was sunny, but the wind was cold. No blingy halter tops for me this time!

Some highlights of what was still a great weekend away.

Our sweet suite at the Encore. Even sweeter was the fabulous rate we scored from an offer that arrived in the mail last fall. (It felt very fancy to have a foyer.)
 Fountain at the Monte Carlo, and Strip view from a pedestrian bridge:
We spent some time checking out the Cosmopolitan hotel.  Great vibe there, very trendy and young and swanky. I totally want to stay here next time. Check out this cascade of crystals: 
Garden inside the Bellagio. The themes are switched out seasonally, currently its celebrating Chinese New Year and the Year of the Snake:
 On Saturday night, we caught the Blue Man Group show. Fun, loud, thought-provoking. We both were thinking how much the kids would've loved it (it's a very kid-friendly show, for about ages 7 and up). Except that Blue Man is one of the most expensive shows in Vegas, so we won't be taking them anytime too soon.
Sunday morning...sunshine! View from our room on the 36th floor. That big green swath is the golf course at the Wynn, the sister property to the Encore.
Playing unabashed tourist around our hotel...More Chinese New Year decor:
The decor theme of the Encore (the casino/public areas, not the rooms) is lots of red, and lots of butterflies. Butterflies everywhere! It's like the Mariah Carey Hotel or something.  Here's some of the butterfly-themed carpet:
What's that quote?  "I Don't Know What it Is, But I Like It."  Yeah. That's what's going on here with these shiny metal....tulips?
(Note the glittery red butterflies on the ceiling):
Atrium in the Encore lobby. Everyone was vying to take photos here. It's very pretty, with the twinkle lights and flower orbs hanging from the trees. And it smells pretty nice, too. (That's another red dragon hanging there.)
These parasols slowly move up and down as they hang in this area, which is near two upscale restaurants and a bar downstairs:
All in all, it was a great trip, but whooosh. It all flew by so fast. Two nights weren't enough! We needed one more night, at least. 

In fact, I'm totally ready to do another encore and hit Vegas again.
Bah-dum-dum.  Sorry. That one was too easy. 

But seriously, now that I got my Vegas mojo back after a few years away, I'm ready to go back & do it again.

January 28, 2013

Hello, Monday {Vegas & Back}

I can't believe it's Monday already. And I really can't believe that by next Monday, it'll be February.  January has been a blur. A weird month, but I always think that about January -- it's the waiting-in-the-wings month.

There have been lots of birthdays this month: friends, my dear sister, and the husband and my maternal grandma share a birthday, which was this past Saturday.  My grandma turned 91.  The husband flipped the calendar all the way to a new decade. We celebrated with a weekend trip to Vegas.

Hello, Las Vegas:
Time was, in the years B.C.  (before children) the husband & I drove out to Vegas a few times every year. Back then, I felt I  had the Vegas scene & vibe down pat.  Fast forward to now:  it's been three years since my last visit, and a decade since our last trip there alone, sans kids. Vegas is still the same place, the same glitz and grubbiness rubbing elbows. I guess it's me that's done all the changing. That old story.

Hello, Me:
What with these recent trips to Palm Springs & Vegas, I've been scrambling to put together some outfits and pay a little more attention to the details of being me. This winter I've been a style slacker during the week, living in jeans and a t-shirt & hoodie and my Converse sneakers.  Hardly a slob, but hardly feeling cute and stylish, either.  Here I am dressed on Sunday, the day we left Vegas. It was windy and cold out, and I knew there'd be several hours sitting in the car on the ride home.  Eh. My hair is slowly starting to grow out. (At least compared to how it looked on Labor Day.) But it still has a long way to go...damn, I just want it to touch my shoulders!

Hello, Open Road
 I wrote last week about how much I love "vacation life," those days of stepping out of the drudgery of routine.  There's been a lot of vacation life happening around here the last few weeks.  Part of me doesn't want it to ever end, wants to keep the suitcase ready on the bedroom floor. We're headed for home here, out on the open road, with trucks and RVs and cars speeding by --  and there's always a part of me that wants to yell, "let's just keep driving!" 

Hello, Rear View Mirror
But it's time to say good-bye to vacation life for a while, and get back into the routine of home.  Here I sit, in my sneakers and hoodie and jeans.  Maybe that's a routine I can switch up a bit (easier to do in the spring and summer).  Time to dive into getting the housework on track, my writing on track, my as-yet-to-be-determined new routines on track.  I want to make some changes. I'm not kidding when I say I don't even know where to start.

Hello, Family Life
It was both sweet and bittersweet to be away from the kids for 2 weekends in a row. It felt exhilarating to be out & among adults and most off all, focused solely on each other. That can't last, not with the schedules and routines of the kids. Spring soccer will start up soon, and before that, I'll drive myself halfway to insanity, worrying over the Odyssey of the Mind team that I'm coaching for my daughter.

If nothing else, these past 2 weekends drive home the fact that we simply must acquire a new babysitter in the near future. It shouldn't be so hard to enjoy an interrupted conversation, to step away from family life and have dinner & a movie. I adore my husband.  I don't want to lose our close connection that's re-built when we get away, but daily life sure chips away at that bond. So time to make some calls and track down a babysitter!

Hello laundry, hello figuring out dinners, hello husband-with-a-head-cold.  Back to the grind with a vengeance, it seems. 

 Linking up with Lisa Leonard for Hello, Mondays.

January 23, 2013

Recent Winter Reads

For a blog with "Reading" in the title, and for a broad with an English degree, it's funny how much I dread writing book posts. I'm not a great reviewer. I either get all tongue-tied and blocked, or revert to my college days and construct a thesis and proper conclusion. On the other hand, reading and thinking about books remain a big part of my life, one that's supposed to be a big part of this space.

 So I'm keeping it brief and killing a lot of birds with one post by including a number of  two recent books I enjoyed.

First up is The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer.  I don't know if I'd have picked this up if it had been more obviously labeled a "Holocaust book," but the Holocaust looms as the tragedy at the novel's heart.  (I picked it up because I loved Orringer's first book, a short story collection.) This was good, long, juicy read. Set in Paris right before WWII and Hungary during the darkest days of the war, it's both a very romantic and involved May-December love story, and also a testament to family ties.
Although I knew it existed, it was interesting to read of the anti-semitism prevalent in France and other European nations during this period, not just in Germany/Austria.  Andras Levi, the protagonist, is a talented young man from rural Hungary thrust into the culture and sights of Paris when he arrives to study architecture on scholarship.  An errand to deliver a mysterious letter from a wealthy matriarch back in Hungary to an address in Paris leads Andras to Klara, a Parisian ballet instructor who is several years older -- and far more experienced. Their relationship and romantic struggles take up roughly the first half of the book, so it's enjoyable for their relationship alone.

Once Andras loses his student visa and is forced to return to Hungary, the war and the Nazis take on a much larger role in the story, and we see how events affect not only Andras, but his brothers, his fellow students, and of course, Klara, who returns to her native Hungary despite the secrets and violence that had led her to be exiled from her homeland. Sound complicated?  Well, at 600+ pages, there's plenty of time for all to be revealed.

Next, something completely different: Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman.  Moran is a journalist and pop-culture maven in her native Britain. I guess this book of feminist essays was published to wide acclaim/discussion in the UK a couple years ago, but is still a bit undiscovered on this side of the pond. Or maybe I've just been clueless.

Either way, I enjoyed Woman very much and laughed out loud frequently.  It's very British, very breezy, and not at all a "serious" look at the current state of feminism. On the other hand, I read that she was inspired to write the book because of her sister, the type who lives on British welfare, eats junk food, and has no ambitions beyond keeping close tabs on celebrity gossip.  God knows there are too many of those types of women everywhere in the world, and so as a rallying cry to young women to get the hell off the couch,  it's a good start.
I loved what she had to say about fashion:
"Women are judged on what they wear in a way men would find incomprehensible -- they have never felt that uncomfortable moment when someone assesses what you're wearing and then starts talking down to you, or perving you, or presumes you won't "understand" the conversation -- be it about work, parenting, or culture -- simply because of what you put on that day."
"And so, for a woman, every outfit is a hopeful spell, cast to influence the outcome of the day. An act of trying to predict your fate, like looking at your horoscope." "When a woman says "I have nothing to wear!" what she really means is, "There's nothing here for who I'm supposed to be today.
 The talk goes deeper than clothes -- there's also a brilliant (to be British) treatise against the whole modern phenomenon of assuming a Brazilian should be as standard and expected as clipping your toenails. (Sadly, for my husband, I happen to agree.)  The book is a memoir of sorts, organized chronologically by Moran's own experiences. Chapters are named, "I Start Bleeding!"  "I Become Furry!" or "I Encounter Some Sexism!" to "I Get Married!" The last two chapters, on her decision to have an abortion as a married mother with two children, and on aging and the way women spend money on altering their faces (while men don't) are brave, bold, and still funny.

My main takeaway is in the Epilogue, when Moran writes on how for millenium, women have concerned themselves with how to BE, and how to master their image (be sexy, be motherly, be good, be "one of the guys" be a goddess, be a muse) rather than on what we should all DO.  What we need now, is to get out there and DO STUFF.  Action over image.  Bloody brilliant.

I've read more over the last month or two, but look at how long just these took! Good lord.  I should do these re-caps much more often, at the rate I go through books. 

January 21, 2013

Hello, Monday {Palm Springs}

 This weekend, the husband and I escaped for an overnighter to Palm Springs -- our favorite romantic getaway.

Our escape was pretty spontaneous -- earlier in the week, we learned that the husband's good friend from childhood would be celebrating his birthday with a little get-together at a restaurant/bar in downtown P.S.

One call to my mom and 3 1/2 hours of extra driving in Friday traffic to deliver the kids to her door, and my husband and his old buddy saw each other for the first time in over a decade. So, thumbs up (this week at least) to the power of Facebook.

The buddy and my husband's birthdays are only a week apart, and they're both entering a whole new decade. My husband is older than me, and you know I'm over forty, so you do the math.
Yeah. Kinda scary, right?

Not to get all sappy, but there was something moving about watching these men, who were friends since about 3rd grade, embracing and reminiscing and sharing the husband's reading glasses.

I could bend your ear for a good while, complaining about aging, being called "ma'am" in every clothing store, finding new horrors in the mirror each month...

Still.  It's a damn sight better than the alternative. 
And not to get all obnoxious about living in Southern California, but oh my gah the weather has been gorgeous. Gawgeous.  This time last week, our morning low temps were below freezing.  Screw that business.
Hello blues skies and bougainvillea and grapefruits hanging in the trees.
 Hello, vacation life.  That's my term for stepping out of the calendar of routine and into those precious days of soaking up the good stuff.  I live for vacation life, it's true.
Hello again Palm Springs, where even the 7-Eleven is modern and groovy.  Remind us again why we don't just live here full time? 

Hello to throwing a stable routine out the window for yet another week: the kids are home today on the holiday, the husband is taking two days off this week, and on Friday, we're escaping again to celebrate his official birthday. Vegas, baby. 

Hello to my lucky and beautiful life.

 Linking up with Lisa Leonard for Hello, Mondays.

January 14, 2013

Hello, Mondays {New Routines}

So for something new this year, I'm going to try doing a "Hello Monday" post each week. I'm inspired by the Hello Monday posts over on Lisa Leonard's blog.  Lisa is so creative and loves bright colors and vintage stuff even more than I do, if that's possible.  She's another California girl like myself, but lives in an enviable locale up on the Central Coast. Also like me, she has great big curly hair, and since my own hair is still growing out (and is still wider than it is long), she inspires me to rock the big hair that nature gave me.  Her Monday posts always feel like a cheerful way to kick off a new week, so here goes mine....

Hello Disney
Santa Husband came through with annual passes for our family again this year. We took a break last year and missed it. Yes, I knew my kids were spoiled for whining that they missed Disneyland when it hadn't even been a year since their last visit.  But I whined, too.  We try not to geek out on it too much, but we do love Disney. They just do it right, and pay attention to every detail. I loved checking out Cars Land at California Adventure for the first time. (And no, those blue blue skies weren't photo-shopped.)

Hello Baby Jesus 
Actually, it's good-bye to the baby Jesus. I have 98% of our Christmas decorations put away, but I just haven't gotten around to the nativity scene at the top of our stairs.  And we aren't really religious, so I can't claim that we're celebrating epiphany.  This week it will get put away, along with a few random decor bits kicking around the house. My house feels and looks its best in the summer/hot fall, so I feel my decor is kinda stuck in the winter doldrums right now.

Hello Tahoe
I've been getting all OCD about our summer vacation, as usual, and doing research on Lake Tahoe.  I've made a recent hobby out of searching online vacation rental sites for the perfect sized cabin, in the right location, with a decent yard, for the right price. Oh, and with a sleeping loft for the kids, if possible. There are roughly a bazillion cabins for rent in Tahoe; I think I've viewed half.  (What is funny is that I probably won't even reserve for a couple more months.)

And, Hello New Routines
I posted for New Years that my 2 big resolutions were to start walking/be more active, and to work on my writing.  Last week the kids went back to school, and I did zilch, zero, nada, of either those things. It was a weird week: the kids went back on Tuesday, not Monday, the husband was out of town for 2 days, and I just felt out of sorts, trying to find my footing in the new year.  Trying to feel like, okay! Let's do this! 
So, Hello Monday. Hello January, now that you're almost 1/2 over. Hello 2013. Let's do this. Like, for reals this time.

Linking up with Lisa Leonard for Hello Mondays.

January 10, 2013

Native Pride Gallery Wall

My first William Morris post of the new year is a project completed just before Thanksgiving. I know that, because there's nothing like having a houseful of guests coming over to motivate me to tackle the projects that reside in my head for weeks or months. (Like say, deep cleaning the baseboards.)

I culled a few prints from around the house, plus two new ones, and put them all up in my previously near-empty stairway. Together, they form an art collection of images related to our native state.
It irks me whenever I hear the sweeping generalization that nobody is really "from here." (California, and specifically, Southern California.) I'm a native. My mother's family are natives. (My dad was born in Ohio, moved here as a teen.)  My husband is a native, and so are his parents, and at least one set of grandparents before that, if not both. Roots, memories, and deep connection to place are not reserved for people from other states, it turns out.

The staircase was very minimal and blank before, for the 8 years we've lived here.  All I had up for art were the 3 "apartment" prints, grouped near the first landing.  The prints of actual L.A.-area buildings are by artist Sean Finnochio. They're a nod to my teenage years growing up on the second floor of a small, '60s-era apartment complex in L.A. county, and are also a small nose-thumb to all the ladies I've encountered in this town of cookie-cutter tract homes who turn up their noses at the mention of "apartments." Oh, the horror. 
The Palm Springs print, by Jason Hill, used to be in the dining area, and the other Shag/Tiki print was in the family room. I've had them both for several years. (I've often mentioned our love for Palm Springs, and the husband also grew up in the area.)
I bought the "Golden" print from The Wheatfield sometime in late October, even though I wasn't sure where it would go.
And I was searching Ebay and Etsy for an old state map, and stumbled upon this one in person, at the Paper Source shop in Pasadena.  I think it cost all of $4, and I love the funky, '30s-era graphics. (Even if the locale placements aren't too accurate.)
 Detail shot: I live around the where the "cash" guy is, an hour northeast of San Diego.
I was a little scared of throwing so many prints and frame colors (white, brown, black) up on the wall, but went with it. And I'm glad, because I love it so much more than the stark area it was before. Also, the only new frame purchased was the brown one, for the big Palm Springs print. It had been in the big white one now holding the map, and looks so much better in the darker frame.

Thanks to my husband who put them all up,  and for giving advice on the general height and "steps" of the art. I didn't sweat it too much, just laid them all out on the living room floor and started playing with the arrangements.  I think there may be a little space to add to the wall here, and if not...well, there are still plenty of bare walls around the house.
Note: the black frames look a bit crooked/wonky here, but are ok in person.
Now, time to change out the white minimal sconces that we bought to replace the cheap brassy ones that came with the house. I liked my sconces at the time, but now think something more traditonal (but not builder-grade!) should be up on the wall.

Each Thursday I'm linking up with Jules as part of her ongoing William Morris project.  

January 3, 2013

Best Laid Plans

Plans & schemes: they aft gang agley, you know.  So it was this year, with our Christmas Eve & Christmas plans. I wrote on Christmas Eve about how I was changing up a lifetime of tradition to play it closer to home this year.  We had reservations for a fancy, four-course dinner at the restaurant of a local winery, and then would see my mom, sister and other family on Christmas day.

Here are my two, all sparkly and festive at the restaurant:

Literal minutes after these photos were taken, it all fell apart. Lily ate her dinner, then laid down in the booth, crying real tears over a stomachache. Tucker too suddenly started whining, then crying.  We had the waitress box up our fancy desserts, paid and hustled out -- and none too soon, as Tucker promptly leaned over into the bushes near our car and threw up. (Very neatly, I might add. He was a pro, like an Ivy League college boy after too many pulls on his silver flask. )

At 8 and almost-11, I'd nearly forgotten how young children can get sick so very suddenly.  So that was Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day was...sad. I cried a lot in the early morning hours  (still didn't get to bed until 2am) and again later in the day, when it became evident that although Tucker enjoyed long stretches of feeling pretty good, we clearly couldn't be driving miles across the freeways to visit my family. 

It was still a good Christmas. There were screams of excitement & joy, and we were all together, safe, in our cozy home. Still, for all my interior scolding of how good 2012 was overall, and how lucky and blessed we are, I couldn't quite shake my blues. The missing-my-small-family blues. The crap-this-isn't-what-I-planned blues. The I-really-don't-want-frozen pizza-on-Christmas blues. (Luckily the husband hustled to the store & bought some chicken thighs and we threw together a decent meal. It wasn't tamales at my mom's, but it was good.)

Ah well.  Life.

Cut to New Year's Day. All better, and out and about in Nature, at a small preserve in nearby Fallbrook:
You'll understand if I feel a little hesitant about stating my resolutions and big plans for the new year. Before Christmas, I forgot that's always a sure-fire way to make God laugh. (Oh, who am I kidding? -- I'm always paranoid about making and stating my plans.)

My #1 plan for 2013 is to write more -- not necessarily blog more, but instead, get back into my Real Writing.  Back in 2011, I was making good progress and filling up yellow legal pages in longhand, writing a memoir.  Then things on the page started to get hard, around the same time that I resolved to write more here on the blog, and suddenly all my energies shifted online.  To force myself into writing more and being accountable, I've enrolled in a memoir writing retreat in Washington this March.  It's far away, and I  feel guilty enough about the airfare and the retreat costs to whip myself into a writing routine.
My other plan for the year is to be more physically active. I was terribly slothful last year, parked here in front of my monitor.  I'm not talking about workouts and Zumba and weight loss, really.  Just getting my arse in gear and walking the neighborhood a few days a week.  I'm getting too old to indulge in pecan pie and chocolates and cookies these past weeks and think I can magically will those 5, 8, 10 extra pounds to disappear. 
So that's about it: writing and walking.  And more of the same, I hope: reading, travel, nesting around the house, and some shopping for vintage treasures.

Oh, and blogging too, of course. I'm not promising to blog more -- just keep on keepin' on, showing up here 2 or 3 times a week.  And look, here's a picture of a heart-shaped hole we found on our nature walk:
 If heart-shaped shots in nature don't prove I'm a Real Blogger, then damn, I really don't know what I'm doing. 

See you next week, when my monkeys finally go back to school.
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