The Further Adventures of mmm

Trip journal, musings, updates on my life

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My cat Truman has started a new holiday tradition. In addition to knocking down any angels, carolers, and other gratuitous Christmas figurines I may have set out around my house in keeping with the spirit of the season, he’s bound and determined to mess with my crèche scenes. I have a couple of them set up, and at first he was after the wooden one that my parents bought in the “Holy Land” when they visited there in the 80s. Thanks to Truman, sheep were toppled, the donkey was knocked over, and the wise men were scattered.


That was bad enough, but then he discovered the nativity scene in my bedroom. This one was created by my multi-talented sister-in-law Reni. Before Reni became a psychologist specializing in gerontology, she used to make the most exquisite Christmas figures, tiny wooden ornaments, display figurines, and manger scenes. Reni had made my mother a beautiful nativity scene, complete with Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, sheep, the three kings, and the baby Jesus. The details she has included are just amazing. The shepherd has fluffy white hair and a fluffy white beard, and he’s holding a staff. He’s wearing a round-top brown hat with a wide brim. He’s very German looking (my sister-in-law is German). The kings, Mary, and Joseph all have cloth headwear and clothes. The baby Jesus is sweet and smiley, and he lies in a manger made out of twigs and filled with straw. The sheep have pinecone bodies, painted wooden heads, and toothpick legs. Just great stuff.


Well, Truman turned his attention from the wooden Holy Land crèche and started hovering near the Reni-created manger scene. I’d find him sitting on my dresser, where the scene resides, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. If a cat could whistle, that’s what he would be doing to show that he wasn’t up to anything. Truman is a very cool character.


Then I started finding the various characters knocked over, usually the kings, but sometimes the lone shepherd, and occasionally poor Joseph or even Mary, the mother of Jesus.


That was bad enough, but then Truman started stealing the Baby Jesus, not just the Baby Jesus, but the Baby Jesus and the whole manger. Search as I might, I couldn’t find the Baby Jesus/manger near the rest of the crèche figures. He wouldn’t be on the dresser, just knocked aside, as the other figures were often found. Nope. He wouldn’t be on the floor right next to the dresser either. I could look left, right, and center, but no Baby Jesus.



Eventually, I would find the Baby Jesus, but he would be tucked away in the strangest places. I’d find him under my bed, or he might show up under the Christmas tree in the living room. He could show up tucked between sofa pillows or hanging out in the closet behind the laundry hamper. The Baby Jesus held up pretty well, but the manger was a little worse for the wear. The toothpicks that serve as its legs broke more than once. A little Elmer’s Glue and they were fine. Still, the Baby Jesus smiles. Now that’s what grace is all about.

I began to fear for Truman’s immortal soul. Stealing the Baby Jesus can’t be good, right? And why was it ONLY the Baby Jesus that he insisted on hiding. I began to talk to my friends and family about this strange behavior. Weird behavior isn’t something to be hidden; its something to be discussed with all who will listen. Most just found it funny. Some agreed with me that Truman is the Devil’s own child and is in danger of burning in hell for eternity. A church-savvy friend offered the alternate theory that Truman knows that Advent is about waiting for the Baby Jesus to arrive; Jesus shouldn’t be in the manger until Christmas day. While this could be the case, that would make Truman a very nitpicky cat with a deep understanding of liturgical matters. I didn’t adopt him until he was about three months old, so it’s possible he spent his early days in an Anglo-Catholic monastery, but nothing else has suggested that this is the case. He pays little attention to Lent and completely ignores Pentecost and the rest of the “green season.” (Who doesn’t?) St. Michael and All Angels registers not a blip on his radar.

And then my friend Bonnie offered perhaps the most plausible explanation for this strange behavior: She said, “Maybe he’s trying to save Jesus. Maybe he knows that things don’t turn out too well for Jesus and he’s hiding him from the people who want to harm him.” Bingo!? That’s got to be it. Truman isn’t being sacrilegious; he’s being devout!

Good for Truman. Still, I don’t think the Baby Jesus’s manger is going to survive such devotion for long. I’m trying to keep an eye on the nativity scenes around here. Luckily for them, they won’t be up much longer. Once they’re down, though, Truman’s going to have to find something else to focus on. My next holiday decorations are for Easter. Bunnies and duckies, beware!

Friday, November 18, 2011

It’s Not Just About the Giving

Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. I got the diagnosis and in less than three weeks, I had a total hysterectomy. I wasn’t able to have laparoscopic surgery, so the recovery was slow. Nonetheless, the cancer was completely contained and subsequently removed in one surgery, no follow-up treatment. That was it: bye-bye cancer, hello life!

I was so thankful to be cancer-free and grateful to be alive that I felt like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life—George towards the end of the movie, when he’s running around Bedford Falls yelping with delight at every little mundane detail of his narrow, small-town life. I lived in Boston at the time, so my life wasn’t small-town, but it certainly was full of mundane details, for which I was suddenly extremely grateful. Here’s my morning paper. Isn’t it wonderful? My cat just yawned. How great is that? You get the idea.

Thanksgiving arrived about five weeks after my surgery. I had invited a slew of my closest friends to come to my place to celebrate with me. People offered to bring things, but I turned them down. This was going to be my big Thank You to the people who had been there for me as I went through the diagnosis, the prognosis, the surgery, the good news, and the recovery.

On Thanksgiving Day, my house was filled with music and laughter. The turkey was in the oven, stuffed and basted. Pies were cooling on the rack. The tables had been covered and set. The makeshift bar was open, and the people had gathered and were mingling. It was all very festive.

Then, an hour before dinner was to be served, I sat down on a chair in the kitchen, exhausted and overwhelmed. I hadn’t been on my feet that long since I’d had my surgery. The music on the stereo was too loud, and people in the living room were laughing too much. Why had I invited all these people to my house anyway? What was I thinking? I wished they would all go home. I could just tell them I wasn’t well, and then they would disappear.

Maybe it was the way I was holding my head in my hands. Maybe it was the fact that the water for the potatoes was boiling away, with no potatoes in sight. Or maybe it was the fact that I was no longer responding to friendly inquiries of “Anything I can do?” with “No, I’ve got everything under control.”

Suddenly a band of about six people set to work in my kitchen. One person started prepping vegetables. Another volunteered to take over the gravy making. Two more of my guests set to peeling potatoes, cutting them up, and watching over them until they were ready to be mashed. Then one of them mashed the darned things!

Another guest volunteered to see that drinks were topped off and to clean up the remains of the hors d’oeuvres. Then miraculously the turkey was carved, the sides were assembled, rolls were warmed and placed in napkin-lined baskets, and everyone sat down for the feast, including me. That’s right. Instead of running around the kitchen doing last-minute things, I was sitting at the table along with my guests.

As I looked at the friends and family gathered at my table, I realized that thankfulness wasn’t something delivered, solo, in response to tasks already accomplished. As I raised my wine glass to propose the Thanksgiving toast, I knew that what I was grateful for were the give-and-take relationships that enriched my life, the love that allowed me to accept help when I needed it, and the loved ones who provided it willingly and affectionately.

As the years have gone by, I confess that I haven’t always been able to sustain that post-cancer joyous feeling of a life renewed, but one thing I don’t think I’ll ever lose sight of is my appreciation of the give and take of loving relationships. Thanks to all those dear friends and family who supported me then and those who continue to make my life wonderful, I’ve learned that thankfulness is also about the taking. When that hand reaches out to you, take it and say, “Thank you.”

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Day 1: August 4, 2011

Greetings from Columbus, Texas, y'all. My brother Roger and I are on a roadtrip across TX at probably the hottest, and definitely the driest, time of year we could pick. Actually, the time picked us. Roger has a conference in San Antonio, and I decided to join him so we could go on a family history search.

Our dad was born in Texas, something he wasn't proud of, for whatever reason. His Texas years weren't a happy memory for him. His mother Pearl died in Orange, Texas, during the 1918 influenza pandemic. She was only 24 years old. Judging by her letters, she was a fun, funny young woman who doted on her little boy.

Dad was born in Goliad, Texas, which is southeast of San Antonio. At some point, he and his parents moved to a town in western Louisiana, most likely so my grandfather could find work. He was a laborer, probably doing mostly carpentry work, and it doesn't sound as if there was a lot of work to be had in those days, at least in that area. In 1917, the family moved to Orange, Texas, where my grandfather went to work in the shipyard at Port Arthur.

Friday, December 31, 2010


Here it is, the week after Christmas, and I'm sitting in my cozy little condo in Sacramento. A fire is burning in the fireplace, the Christmas tree is decorated and lit up, stockings are hanging from the mantle, and the place is littered with Christmas tchotchkes collected over the years. I'm taking a break from an almost endless stream of Christmas music (I have more than 100 Christmas CDs that I need to fit in between Thanksgiving and January 6) and am about to play the DVD I just found of the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. I've always thought it was the best of all movie versions, but I have to confess that A Muppet Christmas Carol either ties for first place or is a close second. Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit? Too wonderful for words.

The last year has had some joys and some sorrows. I moved to Sacramento and immediately plugged into a life filled with family, adopted family, and old friends. I'm very happy to be back in Sacramento, a town I lived in in the 70s while I was going to school. I rented a really sweet condo that looks out on a duck pond and has a huge maple tree shading my patio. My neighbors are friendly, and I'm centrally located. Sacramento has an exciting restaurant scene these days, especially downtown. Downtown is also a great resource of live music, theater, and art, and I'm only minutes away from all of this. I'm a couple of hours away from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Napa/Sonoma, and the Monterey Peninsula. The Sacramento Airport can get me just about any place I need to fly, even if connections are sometimes involved. Despite its rising cosmopolitan cachet, Sacramento still has the casual friendliness of a small town.

One of the best things about being here is not having to drive five hours to attend the (almost) monthly Street family birthday parties. The Streets are what I call my "family of choice." Patty Street Smith has been my dear friend since 1977 or so, and we were roommates for a while when I was attending UC Davis. Her family adopted me, and I have spent many holidays over the years with this lively, loud, and lovable group.

Last year, the Streets lost Bob, Patty's oldest son, who was like a brother to me. Bob had survived a heart transplant a few years back but finally lost the battle to failed kidneys. Bob was wise and heroic and one of the funniest people I have ever known. His wit was wicked sharp, and no one was safe from it. Being teased by Bob was usually a sign that you'd moved into his inner circle, unless you were a complete asshole, in which case he just let it rip. About six months after Bob passed, Bob's brother Rick died of cancer. Bob was my age, and Rick was only a few years younger. Way too young for either of them to go.

A few weeks ago, Patty's husband, Lou, died, also of cancer, at 86. While Lou had had a long and interesting life, it's still hard to lose him, especially for Patty, who has already suffered such devastating losses recently.

Lou was a wonderful guy, a retired Air Force Colonel and an old-school gentleman. He treated Patty like a queen, and because I was a part of Patty's inner circle, I got the royal treatment too. Lou was the kind of person who, upon learning that you liked something, would always try to provide it for you. One time I remarked on how nice the Raymond Chardonnay was that he served me. From then on, whenever I visited, he would make sure he had Raymond Chardonnay. Same with my fondness for Lemon Grass, a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant in Sacramento—every time I came to town, he would make sure we worked in a trip to Lemon Grass. And he never, ever let me pay for a darn thing. Lou insisted on picking up the tab, and that was that.

Why all this talk about loss when we're all supposed to be jolly and joyously celebrating Christmas and the new year? Well, I need to remember the people I've lost, but I also want to celebrate the role they've played in my life. My mother died a year and a half ago, and I still miss her very much, but the grief at losing her has, over time, made room for a lot more happy memories of what she was like and how she influenced me.

Mom was Christmas personified. She loved this time of year! For her, every day of advent was about happy anticipation, as if the excitement of Christmas Eve was spread out across four weeks, knowing the payoff was going to be joyous beyond words.

Tonight I was wearing a necklace of Christmas bulbs that my mother used to wear. I'm not talking high-end jewelry here. Mom wore fun costume jewelry to celebrate the season, along with festive socks. When they first started requiring passengers to remove their shoes for airport security, Mom wasn't inconvenienced; she was pleased for the chance to show off her seasonal footwear whenever she flew over the holidays. The necklace is made of green string with little plastic colored bulbs on it. You can even see the knot where it's been tied. Nonetheless, the necklace is a precious heirloom that reminds me of what a kick in the pants my mom was, not the least bit afraid to be silly and have fun. That part of her character caused me much embarrassment when I was a kid, but as an adult I learned to value it as good parental behavior modeling.

Before this turns into the saddest seasonal greeting ever, let me say this: As I face the new year, I'm taking a page from my mother's book and trying to focus on the things in my life that make me smile, sustain me, make getting up in the morning (well, OK, the afternoon) easier and staying up for rest of the day well worth it, those things my mother would call blessings. Here are just a few.

I feel lucky to be an animal lover because having pets gives me such enormous pleasure. My cats, Shiloh, Mason, and Truman, make me laugh unexpectedly, keep me cozy as I sleep, and, despite their being cats, make me feel very loved and important. I have moved into an animal paradise, a condo development that is extremely pet friendly, so every time I walk out my door, there are cats and dogs to say hello to, which helps curb my desire to increase my own menagerie (that and the friends who are ready to do an intervention if I even think of getting another animal).

While I don't have children of my own (no regrets on that one), I have the best nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews imaginable. I don't get to see them very often, but when I do, they always make me feel special. Nothing can beat that feeling of having their eyes light up when they see me. I wish I could bottle it. They are all beautiful, talented, and smart, of course, but what I treasure the most is how each one has evolved and is evolving into such an interesting and enjoyable person. It's particularly delightful to see my nieces and nephews navigate the tricky waters of parenthood. They have wonderful partners/spouses, and they all work very hard at being such great parents. It's just beautiful to see.

I have fantastic friends. No doubt about it, despite my moving all over the place and being somewhat careless at times about staying in touch, I have accumulated some awesome and mighty friendships. These are the people who know and love me for who I am and accept my quirks, laugh at my craziness, and want to hear all about my latest adventures. It makes me feel like the "richest [woman] in town," just like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. These are the people I care about, whose every success makes me want to dance and whose every trouble makes me want to hold them until it's "all better." I value my most recent friendships because I know that some day they'll grow into the priceless relationships I have with the people I have known for twenty, thirty, and forty-plus years. I'm especially grateful to have reconnected recently with friends I had lost contact with over the years. God bless Google and Facebook!

I love my brothers. I have three of them, and they are all smart, funny, impossible, stubborn, and loving. Their lives are truly interesting because they've "made something of themselves." I don't mean they've accumulated riches. (Why not, guys? Would it have hurt to become just a bit wealthy, you know, the kind of wealth that makes you want to send your sister on an exotic all-expenses-paid trip to Bora Bora or something?) Instead, they've used their talents to make a difference in other people's lives, and I admire them for it. They have also married wonderful women who are like sisters to me and have raised amazing children (see above).

I get to write for a living. It's not always what I want to write, but I've wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, and now I am one. I would love to spend more time writing my own stuff, and maybe this is the year that I really do that instead of just talking about it. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the projects like the one I've been on this year, in which I get to use a fair amount of creativity and draw on years of working on educational materials. Plus I get to work in my slippers! Not bad.

Traveling is certainly one of my great loves, although I'm coming to loathe flying more and more. I'm not a fearful flyer, just a grouchy one. By the time I've schlepped my luggage into the terminal, past security, and down to the gate (why is it always the one farthest away?), I'm crabby. Once I'm airborne, and someone leans his seat back, making it almost impossible to use the tray table for eating or computing, I'm a full-blown grouch. Still, how awesome is it to be able to travel halfway around the world in half a day? My trip last spring to China was one of the most memorable travel experiences I've ever had. It made me hungry for more travel to places in the world that are still unknown to me.

Life is full of possibilities. I can't begin to explore them all, but I certainly plan on looking into as many as I can. In the meantime, here are my wishes for you all:

May you treasure the family and friends in your life, and may they treasure you. Spend time together. Listen to each other. If you're mad at them, forgive them, even if you're right. Tell them how wonderful they are. Life is short, and there's no substitute the people who know you best and still love you.

May you spend your time doing work you love, where you are valued for your talents, not criticized for your shortcomings. Remember, though, that your job does not define you. The people in your life are what make it worth living, so don't let your job suck the soul out of you. Unless you are literally saving lives on the job, the crises can usually wait. If you are literally saving lives on the job, God bless you, and I hope you figure out a way to have some balance in your life.

Happy holidays to one and all! If you are reading this, you are special to me, and I wish you a happy and healthy new year.

Love,
mmm

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Yes, it has been a while since I wrote something in my blog. I’m taking advantage of a quiet New Year’s Eve, sitting in a hotel in Medford, OR, watching Law and Order reruns. Do I know how to live, or what?

COUNTING MY BLESSINGS

MOM

I’m up here celebrating Christmas with my mother, who is in fine shape. We’ve listened to Christmas carols and taken turns reading “A Christmas Carol” aloud. Mom has always decked the halls in festive fashion. She’s downsized from a full-sized tree to a beautifully decorated table tree made by my sister-in-law Reni, but her apartment feels like a festive Victorian parlor at Christmastime. There are angels everywhere; wise men, shepherds, oxen, asses of the nonhuman variety, and sheep; candles, garlands, and holly leaves and berries; pillows with Christmas messages of peace and joy; and cards and photos from friends and family scattered all over the world. Oh, yes. Of course. Plenty of chocolates. It’s a great place to celebrate Christmas, and Mom is a great person with whom to celebrate such a happy season. She has always seen the blessings in her life, but her sense of being blessed is particularly strong at 92, and when she says, “I’m so blessed,” I have to stop and think of the ways in which I’m blessed too.



FLORIAN AND JULIAN

Wherever I’ve lived, and that has been many places, I have found wonderful friends. The educational publishing world is certainly a mother lode of smart, funny, strong, interesting, caring people, and I have collected more than my share of great friends in my years in the business. But that’s not the only place my friends have come from. Neighbors, church friends, friends of friends who have become my friends, and friends of family members who are like family to me. I had a holiday party this year, and it amazed me to see how many fantastic people I had come to know in the year and a half I’ve been in the Monterey area. We’re a bit spread out, but we still manage to get together enough to care about each other and stay up on each other’s lives. My niece Anja, her husband, Julian, and their little boy, Florian, came down for the party from Oakland. It has been fantastic living within driving distance of them. Florian is six and a half and such a delight. Since my family is so spread out, it's particularly nice to be able to watch as Florian grows up.


LIFE ON THE CENTRAL COAST

The Central Coast has been a beautiful place to live. There’s nothing like seeing the ocean every time I head to Target or Costco. I love Santa Cruz and try to get downtown to shop on a regular basis, just to see the college kids, nuts and granola crowd, street musicians, and the man in the pink tutu with the parasol. Surfers mix with aging hippies mix with tourists mix with people like me, whoever they are. There are good book stores, funky card stores, and used CD stores, something I can’t resist. The Wednesday afternoon Farmers Market is like a weekly festival, complete with face painters for the children and a voters registration booth for the adults.


WRITING PLANS

In addition to being a great place to live, however, the Central Coast is ridiculously expensive in terms of housing, and I’m still trying to sell my place so I can move someplace less expensive. I’d love to work 2/3 time on other people’s projects and 1/3 time on my own. I really want to write my own series of children’s books, focusing on subjects that are often avoided by mainstream publishers. Educational publishers are, and have been for years, scared of school boards, angry parents, and state restrictions, so over the years, they’ve learned to skirt anything that might mean “controversy.” These taboo topics include sex, drugs, divorce, smoking, abuse, prison, defying authority, biracial couples, gay people, gay couples, gay families, sweets, violence, politics, conflicts, slavery, escaping oppression, war, the Holocaust, religion, poverty, and injustice. While avoiding those topics, one has to make sure that everything doesn’t focus on a non-Hispanic Caucasian two-parent, middle-class family living in the suburbs. Yeah, it ain’t easy.

I want to write books about my cats. But I also want to write books about kids who are dealing with real struggles in real-world situations. I also want to write stories in which kids happen to have two dads or two moms or a father who is white and a mother who is black, or the other way around, where that’s not the point of the story.

So even if these stories don’t sell, don’t get published, don’t make money, it would be nice to write freely occasionally and not think about what someone in Texas who is certain the world is heading towards Sodom and Gomorrah territory thinks about it. There is another audience to write for, and they’re the ones I’d like to reach.

Not to dismiss the writing and editing that pay the bills. I am indeed blessed, or lucky, in the amount of work I’ve had in the past year since I’ve been freelancing. The best part of it, aside from being able to make a living doing this, is that I’m writing and editing, things that I love to do and had done very little of in the past few years. While managing is something I was drawn to as a naturally bossy person, the truth of the matter is that I love just sitting down with a blank page or a page of manuscript and doing what needs to be done with it.

So I’ve been writing and editing grammar activities, reading passages with comprehension questions, vocabulary activities, phonics instruction and practice, and literature study instruction. I love the variety of topics, approaches, and age levels. Of course, I also love being able to work my “vampire hours” of getting up late and working into the wee small hours of the morning when I need to.

As much as I love my work, though, I’ve been intent on making my personal life a little more prominent part of my existence. Friends and family members are important, and I’m learning to make them my first priority. I’d like to define myself by who I am a little more than what I do. When someone asks me how I am, I’m working on answering with something other than how work is going. Takes time to break old habits. It’s worth it, though, since the shift in focus is enriching my life greatly.

DEAR MR. CLYDE



CLYDIE
There have been tough times this year. In October, I lost my Clydie Boy, my sweet, wonderful gray and white cat, whom I had adopted when he was 6. He was such a lovely cat, friendly, affectionate, and the handsomest of fellows. He loved company and greeted everyone who came over with his impeccable manners and the air of a most gracious host. Once he had everyone totally charmed, he wasn’t above rolling over for a belly rub from his charmed audience.

Clyde got sick last year, just before Christmas. He recovered that time, but his health problems kept returning. After a year of being in and out of intensive care, getting treatments for diabetes, as well as kidney, intestinal, and other problems, Clyde just wasn’t getting better, so I had to put him to sleep. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I was so sad to see him go, but it was time. It was very tough letting go of him, but I’m now able to think of the happy times we had together and picture him running through a big field, chasing birds and butterflies, and rolling over for endless belly rubs. (There you have it: my view of the afterlife.)

The other cats—Shiloh, Mason, and Peanut—remain their sweet and fun and entertaining selves. They have adjusted to the loss of Clyde, with Mason dividing the time he used to spend in devotion to Clyde between devotion to Shiloh and devotion to me. Peanut remains Peanut, shy of human touch but eager for special moments in the day, such as breakfast and chasing the laser light at night. Shiloh, who has always been an alpha cat but who was held in check by Clyde, was happy to step into the role of head of the household. Kind of the Al Haig (I’m in charge) of cats. We do have to have the occasional discussion of “ruling with a velvet paw,” since subtlety is not her long suit, but she’s learning noblesse oblige.

So that’s the update for now. While I started this on New Year’s Eve, in true writer fashion, I wasn’t ready to post it until now. Always pushing those publishing deadlines.

Feel free to post replies, e-mail me, call, or send a letter. My New Year’s resolution for 2007: Try to stay in touch with people!

Love,
mmm

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's only a painted sky...

Vegas, Baby!


Why did I go to Las Vegas twice within 3 months?

The last time I had been to Las Vegas, it was the 70s, and I really disliked it. The aging Rat Pack lifestyle seemed sleazy, and Vegas was all about the Fat Elvis and Buddy Hackett. Ewwww! Periodically, I'd hear that Vegas had changed: There were new hotels. The place had become "family friendly." The shows were amazing. And some of them were even kind of hip. The Rolling Stones? In Vegas? Hmmm.

But it wasn't until my friend Bonnie Brook said, "I feel like going to Las Vegas or something" when we were talking about plans for this Memorial Day weekend that I decided to give it another chance. We booked our flights and hotel, and off we went.

Well, Vegas has changed, Baby. Definitely for the better. It's like a Disneyland for adults, although lots of kids there too. (As family friendly as Vegas is supposed to be now, I do wonder what the kids think of the show girls' behinds plastered on billboards and on signs on the backs of buses and taxi cabs.) Everything is huge, glitzy, and over the top. We stayed at New York New York the first trip, which seemed like a nice enough hotel, even if there was a rollercoaster out my window, until we saw the Venetian. The Venetian is amazing, with its marble and paintings on the celings and gondolas and canals. Oh, my!

We were supposed to see Celine Dion (Hey, it's Vegas, and when in Vegas, do as the Vegassians do. It was Celine or Wayne Newton. Whom would you have chosen?), but we arrived at the theater only to find that the tickets I got through Ticketmaster, curse their hides, were for August, and here it was May. Bummer. Perhaps I would have noticed the discrepancy in dates if I had read the confirmation e-mail a little more closely, but I didn't. So what did we do? We went back in August, and this time we stayed at the Venetian (such a deal we got for Las Vegas in August!). Even the standard rooms there are fabulous: huge, ornate, and extravagant. Nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. I felt like a Medici (one of the nice ones, of course)! Or at least Carmela Soprano.
That's a painted sky, folks.

Celine was OK. Yeah, just OK. She has an amazing voice, but the show was just a tad silly, with men in tights running around her and then staring at the backdrop with their backs to the audience. No real connection to the music she was singing, but it's Vega, Baby, and no one's doing reality checks, so what the hell.

The real performance to see was Ka, one of the Cirque de Soleil shows. Wow. What an incredible spectacular! Like nothing I've ever seen before, and I've been a circus goer all my life. Just amazing what acrobabtic feats the performers are capable of, and the way the staging and music all makes it come together is really something. Now I have to see all their other shows. But no problem. I'm going back to Vegas again, I'm sure. New Years Eve anyone?

Las Vegas recommendations:

The Venetian
http://www.venetian.com/
There are some great packages to be had, through their Web site, USAirways/America West, or expedia.com.

Bouchon
http://www.venetian.com/dining/menu_bouchondinner.cfm
French bistro restaurant created by Thomas Keller (he of the French Laundry in Napa). Really, really good food, and some of the freshest mussels I've ever had. Yummy. Like being in France, only with really solicitous waiters.

Okada
http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/index.jsp (annoying Web site that takes a while to load)
Some really great Japanese food here. Fresh, fresh ingredients, beautiful presentation, and knock-your-socks-off flavors.

Liberace Museum
http://www.liberace.com/
This is a hoot, just like the man himself. Costumes! Pianos! Custom cars! You have to go at least once.

So the Ticketmaster fiasco turned out to be a good thing, since it meant I went to Vegas again a lot sooner than I would have otherwise. And we did see Rita Rudner (wicked funny!) the first time and discovered Bouchon, which we went back to three times on the next trip (French toast to die for for breakfast).

And now I have a new destination that is all about fun and food and entertainment, not to mention all those lovely sparkles! I might just drive my RV there the next time I go, although I will leave Mr. Mason behind.

mmm

p.s. For those inquiring minds who want to know: I lost $20 the first trip and won $120 the second trip, all at the quarter slots. (Do you know what the minimum is at the blackjack tables these days??!!!) The win would have been more spectacular if I hadn't turn around and spent that money on a ridiculously expensive massage at the Canyon Ranch Spa at the Venetian. As they say, what you win in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Saturday, July 29, 2006






Mason Gets Voted Off the Island

Photos, clockwise from top left: 1) View of area around San Simeon State Park from window of the RV. 2) Clyde sleeping in the RV arm chair. 3) Shiloh sleeping off an active night on the top bunk. 3) Mason, alert but sitting still for a change on the RV armchair.

RV Adventure #2 was the end of July. I decided it was time to take advantage of some of the beautiful campgrounds in California, and San Simeon seemed a good choice. I hadn't been to that part of the coast (south of Big Sur/north of Santa Barbara) in years. The coast was the right choice, since temperatures have been hovering around 110 inland. Heading south seemed like a good idea, since the chance of sun seemed more likely there than north of San Francisco.

I'm trying to get the cats acclimated to travel, since they're part of my long-range roam-the-country plan. Cats are notoriously bad travelers, and mine have never given me any indication they'd be otherwise, but since three out of four of them made the trek across country last year and did fairly well with it, I could hope.

For starters, I couldn't catch Peanut to get her into the camper. Like the Cheshire Cat, she just made herself disappear somewhere in the house. After about an hour of searching for her, with the other cats waiting and wondering in the RV, I decided Peanut was going to be left behind. Thanks to Ronni West, On-Call Catsitter Extraordinaire, I knew Peanut would be OK, if a little lonely with us gone.

The ride south on Route 1 along the ocean was beautiful, and Sonny Boy handled the many curves easily once I got the hang of driving the RV on such a winding road, but the same can't be said for Mason. By the time we reached San Simeon, he had tipped over the litter box and peed in the cat bed I'd brought along. One of the cats had also thrown up, but that might have been Clyde. Shiloh spent the trip hiding in the slide-out area of the camper, and Clyde struck a long-suffering pose under the dining table. So much for happy travelers. I was having a great time, though, listening to lots of CDs on the 4-5 hour ride it turned out to be.

We camped at San Simeon State Park, which was simple but very nice. The cats were happy to be in a nonmoving vehicle, although Mason followed Clyde everywhere he went, to the point that Clyde was getting mightily annoyed, as he sometimes does when Mason acts too needy. Shiloh was just happy to be hanging out. Once the motor stops in the RV, she's back to her curious and comedic self.

We spent a couple of nights there, and during the day I checked out San Luis Obispo (neat town worth a longer visit) and various beautiful beaches. I had intended to go to Hearst Castle, but I ended up passing on that in order to spend more time watching the waves at one of the beaches. At night I kept the shade pulled up next to the bed so I could see the stars and the moon through the trees that surrounded our campsite. The temperature would drop to the low 50s, and the cats were happy to snuggle with me on the bed.

Two days later, we were heading up. For the trip back, I decided to go over at Paso Robles and get on Highway 101. Before we even got to the 101 Mason, who had been crying his little heart out for most of the trip so far, pooped in the middle of the RV floor. After I pulled over and cleaned up the mess, we took a family vote and decided that Mason would not be coming back on the next trip. Our little landlubber would stay home and keep Peanut company, happily entertained by the amazing Ronni, she of the magic laser light and catnip. As for Shiloh and Clyde, we'll see if they want to join me on the next adventure.

Stay tuned.