Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Road Home

Like our journey to California, our road home started late. We're used to that. It meant, however, that we grabbed "danishes" from the hotel's convenience store for breakfast. Stale pastries and Fizzies: breakfast of champions!

My childhood friend Anita Hatch (nee Sharp) had suggested that as we enter Utah, we veer off the I-15 and take the old highway 91. It  so much reminded me of something my dad might have done on one of our family vacations growing up.

It was almost a forest of joshua trees as far as the eye could see.
There was something really beautiful about the landscape that captivated me. Little did I know that shortly it was going to become even more amazing as we passed Snow Canyon.
We took this alternate route so we could grab lunch with Anita in St. George. It had been 30 years since we'd seen one another, but it was like no time had passed at all. Oh, sure, we were older, but the friendship we had shared since we were 2-3 continued unabated. It was so great to catch up with her.

She'd also brought along some pages from her scrapbook, which included grade school class photos. She wanted to see if the boys could find their dad in some of them: without hesitation, they pointed to me guffawing at photo after photo. And quizzing me why my hair was nearly blonde in the earlier photos - it didn't turn chestnut brown (as my mother-in-law used to call it when correcting Kelly's assement that it's black) until I was a teenager.

I noticed something about myself in those photos as well: my mom, an accomplished seamstress, who always made most of my school clothes,  had me donning slacks and jackets in rather bold colors. In one, I'm the styling kid sporting a burgundy corduroy suit. Pretty much, I was the only kid to wear a jacket in those school photos...except for the other 2 Greek kids, John Something and Chris Lambos. They always had jackets too.

Oh, if you were hoping to see one of these photos...not on your life!

After getting to meet Anita's daughter - and a chance for the boys to make a cameo in the movie she was making for a class project - we said good bye and headed back on to the road.

A couple of hours out of St. George, we stopped to get gas and stretch our legs. That's when Kelly channeled my dad. All of a sudden we were driving down a little road a couple of miles out of our way to go tour Cove Fort, an 1860s Mormon fort.
Not to toot my own home, but I impressed our docent by knowing that Ira Hinckley had to be an ancestor of, "that guy who was the head of the LDS church." (Gordon B. Hinckley was his grandson.) Then I floored her by identifying a photo of Brigham Young. For my school-boy performance, I was promised a Book of Mormon AND something called The Doctrine of the Covenants...neither of which were presented to me.

But the star of our family's tour was Gus. The kid's knowledge of pioneer life was down-right savant-like! He even knew that the smaller-sized rifle hanging up in the boys' room was used by younger guys to learn to shoot. The docent was visibly impressed with what Gus knew and asked where he attends school. I'm pretty sure there was a little pride when he said, "Saint Sophia, it's a Greek Orthodox school."

At the end of the tour, she gave the boys a yo-yo like toy.
These Books of Mormon are in a variety of different languages, including Greek
After asking me if Greek Orthodox believe in Jesus (um, we're the original Christians, all other denominations stem from our 2,000-year old beliefs), she showed us how the toy only worked when the dial was in the center. She told the boys to think of the dial as Jesus and the string as their lives, that life only works when Jesus is in the center of it.

A nice message, sure. Then she said, "And in our religion we believe when you die, you go to heaven and spend eternity with your family."

I gave her a long, hard look and said, "We've been on vacation together for a week, trapped together 24/7. So not interested in spending eternity together!"

She laughed. Somehow I think she believed I was kidding!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Boys in Sin City

On our way out of LA, we stopped near downtown to pick up a case of wine for Kelly's boss at the San Antonio Winery, an historic winery dating from the 1830s. I got a bottle for myself as well. It's OK but I far, far prefer another Southern California winery: Casa Moneta (John and Sabine's!).
The stop off proved to be very amusing, as we kept getting lost amongst the omnipresent construction that is Southern California.

Nevertheless, we finally made it to Vegas, and our new hotel: Circus Circus.
Some of you may remember that after our last visit to Circus Circus Kelly and I swore never to step foot near the joint again. Apparently, we forgot...

Like L.A., Vegas offered us a chance to catch up with some old friends. David Thomas and I met on the Frances Farley campaign back in 1984. It's been an easy 15 years since we'd seen one another, and this time he had something special with him: his beautiful wife, (the Honorable) Judge Nancy Alf Thomas. It was great catching up with Dave, and finally getting to meet Nancy.


From the moment we told the boys that we were planning on going to Vegas, Niko pleaded with us to visit  Gold and Silver Pawn, home of  the History Channel's show, Pawn Stars.
He was in full groupie mode when we walked through the doors, mouth wide opened, talking about everything he saw at 100-mph.  Kelly was too cheap to fork over $80,000 so I could own Willie Mays' signed 1961 San Francisco Giants uniform.


The next day, we hit the Adventuredome amusement park inside the hotel. The boys had a fantastic time.

Yes, the boys are in there!

After a full day of being tossed this way and that, we ventured over the the MGM Grand for dinner at the jungle-themed restaurant, The Rainforest Cafe.

The boys really seemed to enjoy it - they both swore it was the best mac-n-cheese they have ever eaten. Personally, Kelly and I were a bit less impressed.


We finished off the night with a stroll along the strip, stopping off at M&M's World, the 4-story retail extravaganza dedicated to - what else? - M&Ms. Surreal doesn't even begin to describe it.

With a final stop off at the Bellagio to see the dancing waters, our Las Vegas adventure came to an end.

Well, actually, the boys and Kelly decided to go back to Adventuredome for one last ride...which turned into four.
But enough fun had been had by all. It was time for a good night's rest for a journey home in the morning. Of course, Niko had a bad dream, and Gus had a bloody nose, so it wasn't a good night's rest for dad!

Next time: The Road Home

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Utah Boys in the City of Angeles

For some, California is the land of milk and honey. For others, fruits and nuts. For us it means friends and fun. Oh, and traffic!
This trip was memorable for our hotel, the beach, the science museum, and time with our friends.


Staying in a hotel was a gift from the estate of our dear friend, the late Carol Harmon. She had always wanted us to be able to visit again and stay someplace the boys could enjoy a pool.  Amusingly enough, when I registered, the desk clerk said, "You're all taken care of. You have an angel!" Man do I ever miss my chain-smokin', f-bomb droppin' angel.

Three aspects of hotel living really struck the boys' fancy:
  • Using the key cards
  • The whipped eggs offered at the complimentary breakfast (they were freakishly good)
  • Of course, the pool.
 The pool also proved to be rather memorable for me as well: twice I was forced to speak French. Didn't know Je parle le français? Neither did I! However, due to the strength of the Euro,  and it being August, we ran into tons of French and Italian tourists.  On two different occasions, when we were leaving the pool and the boys' dive toys needed to be recovered from French swimmers, I figured it out. Thanks to my Grandmother Abbie, I remembered that the capital of Louisiana - Baton Rouge - meant red stick. And that was all I needed:

Monsieur, baton s'il vous plaît. Merci!


No matter how much fun the boys had in the pool, it simply cannot compare to the beach. As we walked down to the water, I looked out on the Pacific and said, "Look! Dolphins!" A pod of dolphins were feasting a few yards from the beach, jumping out of the water as they chased their prey.

The boys are natural water lovers and very at home in the water.

And of course, what's a trip to the beach without fun in the sand?
But Gus will always remember this trip as the time he learned to boogie board!

Even the fun of the beach can't compare to the fun we had with our friends!

As final tribute to Carol, we joined John, Sabine and Giancarlo in Carol's backyard for one last time before the new owners moved in. We enjoyed pizza from our favorite Brazilian place, (plus a "to-die-for" banana desert pizza), toasting Carol, and lots of great memories.

After dinner we went to our old neighborhood, where we were the guests of honor at the home of our friends and former neighbors Chris and Debra. Their oldest son, Isaac, was Gus's best friend when we lived there. Their younger son, Jude, barely had any recollection of us. But that didn't stop the four dudes from instantaneously renewing their friendship. In fact, Chris and Deb even ended up hosting our guys for a sleep over that night!
To top off a great night, the couple that lived - patiently and accommodatingly - between Chris/Deb and us, Paul and Grace were also there, making it a perfect night.


In South Los Angeles near USC, there's a campus of museums: the Natural History Museum, the African American Museum, and the California Science Center, which is now home to the space shuttle Endeavor.

Amazing doesn't do justice. 

There's also a beautiful rose garden and fountain. While I looked at the roses the boys were up to something else.
Our trip to LA was fantastic.

There was an amazing breakfast at Lisa's (during which Terry was glad to hear Niko makes good use of the ridiculously large Quatchi luggage bag she bought me during the 2010 Vancouver Games, and Giancarlo and I downed a bottle of champagne in mimosas.) 

There were dinners and drinks in John and Sabine's backyard with Oma and Opa (and once Tante Nori!)

But most of all, there were wonderful times with the people we love.
Next installment: The boys go to sin city!

Friday, August 23, 2013

On the Road

The prospect of being trapped in a car with your family for 10-12 hours is always a daunting proposition. But I have to admit, compared to the my childhood of "speeding" at 60 miles an hour with nothing to entertain us but license plate bingo from McDonalds, my kids have it easy.

Thoroughly entertained with iPads, movie players and whatnot, the boys barely even noticed the journey to LA as we sped down the I-15 at an easy 80 mph. 

Kelly drove.

And I watched the stunning beauty that is Utah go by.

And played license plate bingo in my head.

We stopped for lunch in a town with a sense of humor: Beaver.
Yes, I giggled like a 13-year old boy when I saw this sign.

Soon enough we had dipped into Arizona and the boys were told to turn off all electronics and just look at the beauty in the Virgin River Gorge.

The canyon gave way to the desert.
And like some garish mirage, the desert belched up Vegas.

We kept driving. Stopping in Barstow at Chipotle for dinner. I awkwardly stood in the very small men's room waiting patiently for Niko to do his business, while other patrons gave me the fish eye. Ah, the joys of parenthood.

As night approached, we rolled into Santa Monica and our home for the weekend. None of us worse for the wear. We were ready for a good's night sleep and for vacation adventure to begin!

Next installment: Utah boys in the City of Angeles.