April 29, 2011

Wearin' Crankypants

I must forewarn you, I'm cranky today. I wish someone would make me take a nap. Children don't understand how sweet napping actually is. Hell, I'd take a time out about now, but I digress.

Did you know Las Vegas has had the windiest April on record? Well, it's true. And I'm over it. I desperately want the winds to go away. I'd like to breathe again. Our daily temperatures have been all over, too. Ten degree swings each day seem to be the new norm. I keep telling myself "It's better than snow."

The reality of Amy and Nicky leaving soon is starting to settle in. This is our last weekend together, here, at home. Next weekend, we're off to California. We're seeing the White Sox in Anaheim, and we're taking Nicky to Disneyland. He has no idea what to expect. The rest of us have been to Disney World so we have some idea, but we're not really sure how the two parks differ. Soon, we'll know.

At any rate, I'm ready for this week day to be over. I'd like to get the weekend started. 5 hours to go. I can do it. I can do it.

Lastly, I leave you with some thoughts on our dinner Tuesday night Vegas Values: Mundo.

It's over, at last!

The wedding happened, can we move on now? Surely there's been real news in recent weeks besides this wedding (Oh! and Obama's birth certificate malarkey). Although, I wouldn't know it. All I've seen is coverage of the Royal Wedding (and Trump's snarkiness). The dress. The flowers. The hats. None of interests me. I might just be the only girl in the world that didn't get sucked into the hoopla. At 3am this morning I was fast asleep. I was certainly not watching Kate and Will. Although, I do hope the couple can enjoy some time together in peace before they are hounded over the next phase... conception of the future heir.

Now, how do we make Trump go away?

April 28, 2011

Camera Bags

Last month I told you about my new camera gear and how I was torn between a Kelly Moore purse and Crumpler bag. I ordered from Kelly Moore first. I thought I'd prefer a style that I could use as an everyday purse. It shipped timely, about a week after ordering I received it on my birthday.

It was narrow like I had wanted, but the purse was far too bulky for my liking. It's size on my frame was terribly awkward. Frank immediately hated it. He said it made me instantly gain 50 lbs. That settled it. It was going back. I returned it and got my money back.

I then purchased the 5MDH Crumpler Bag. It's not as stylish, but it is practical, waterproof and guaranteed for life. It was also far more comfortable to carry. It was significantly smaller, but I can fit even more into it that I was able to do with the Kelly Moore bag.

I carried my Crumpler bag with me all over New York. I stashed both my cameras, my 50-200mm lens, umbrella, phone, wallet, hand sanitizer and chapstick inside. It all fit with ease. The only trouble was it was heavy and after long days of riding the subway and walking all over the city it made my shoulder sore and tired. I'd switch from left to right and tried to plan what I'd need each day to lighten the load. It helped tremendously. I put it to the test and I'm happy with the 5MDH purchase. It'll be a staple in my travels.

April 27, 2011

Back to Being Us

Last night, Frank and I got back into the swing of things. We got out to see what we can discover. We kicked off the night with dinner at Mundo, details to follow on Friday.

Then, we went over to the new arcade bar, Insert Coin(s). It's a neat place. It reminds me of the Pinball Hall of Fame only with a bar and no pinball. You can get bottle service and reserve a coach to play PS3/X360, there is a dj and dance floor and a bunch of old school arcade games. Frank had fun running around playing old favorites. This place is a gamers' paradise. Well, at least, for those gamers that leave the house.

Next, we walked over to the Western. Frank's been inside before, but it was my first visit. It's always had this reputation of the sleazy place with questionable clientele. It's either been spruced up or it was never that bad in the first place. It's a little dank, sure. It actually reminded me of classrooms I had when I was in grade school... wood paneling, florescent lights... all that was missing was the linoleum. Seriously, though, it had the same vibe Plaza had about 8 years ago. It's rough around the edges but friendly and accomodating. They had dollar craps and $2 blackjack. Frank played both and lost. We also found quarter full pay double bonus. Lost at that, too. I guess some things will never change. All was not lost, however. Frank had a lucky streak on Little Green Men - gosh, I miss those old 9 line 45 coin max bet games - and won $80. No sense in pressing our luck so we left.

We spotted a taco truck across from the Western. We ordered two tacos for curiousity's sake. The were decent and pretty cheap, just $1.50 each.

I cannot tell you how great it was just to get out and explore our city. I missed it.

April 26, 2011

Gah! Wind.

I'm over these fierce winds. I haven't been able to breath in a week and I've had a sore throat for weeks now. The sore throat started in NYC, but it's never gotten better. My allergies are running amuck. My head is pounding and my sinuses are swollen. I'm more symtomatic than I've been in ages and it's my own fault. I got lazy about remembering my allergy shots and now I'm paying the price. Note to self: Don't ever do this to yourself again, dumbshit.

I need the winds to stop so we can toss the solar cover on the pool. The high winds cause our trees and flowers make a mess of things. So, we have to wait intil the winds die down before we can attempt to heat the pool. Amy and Nicky's time here is running out so Mother Nature's cooperation would be much appreciated.

April 25, 2011

Hippity Hoppity

What a great weekend! We ran some errands, but also left plenty of time for fun. I bought Nicky a baseball bat and mit on Friday. There was a lot of baseball played this weekend. It turns out he's a pretty good hitter and he already has an arm. Hey, White Sox! This kid can play. Ok, so he's a long way off from the majors, but I can see him really enjoying t-ball or little league.

While playing baseball, Saturday afternoon, I happened to catch the Easter bunny on my street out of the corner of my eye. I pointed her out to Nicky and he bolted down the street to meet her. I didn't know why she was there so I didn't want to keep her, but I didn't see the harm in letting Nicky say hi. She waved us over. They exhanged hugs, she threw him a pitch and he hit it. It was such a great moment. Absolutely priceless. They chatted each other up and then I told him the Easter bunny was very busy, there were eggs to be hidden and baskets to be given to good girls and boys so we had to go. The bunny agreed, they had one last good bye and then we ran back to my house to tell Amy what had happened. She had only went inside for a few minutes, but she totally missed out. No clue why the bunny was there, but I'm so happy I noticed. I'm sure it'll be a lasting memory.

We enjoyed dying eggs and had an Easter egg hunt at mom's house on Sunday. It was hysterical getting Nicky to find the eggs. He was obivious to our blatant hints. He did eventually find all 30 (with some major assistance) which contained a mixture of dollars, coins and candy. He made out well. We had a yummy meal and lots of laughs. Holidays are so much more fun with kids.

April 22, 2011

It's Good That it's Friday

It has been a whirlwind since we've come back from New York. I could've used a vacation from our vacation so you can imagine how tired I am. I'm doing my best to ignore the exhaustion while Amy and Nicky are here. My time with them is limited. I can catch up on sleep and rest later.

Nicky and I have played a lot of cops and zombies. Amy and I have taken him to the parks at Town Square and Mountain's Edge. We swam in the hot tub bunches. I'm hoping we'll get to use the pool before they go. Nicky is ready for it. He is holding his breath underwater up to 12 seconds and he's diving to the bottom of the hot tub collecting leaves and small sticks. We want to throw the solar cover on the pool to get it heated, but the winds have been too bad. High winds + solar cover = green pool. I'm hopeful the winds will be scarce this week so we can swim next weekend.

Sunday we went for a hike at Red Rock and our friends joined us. We did the Lost Creek discovery trail. It was a great time for all! Nicky especially enjoyed having a buddy.

The trail was a topic in this week's LLV article, Vegas Values: Red Rock Canyon.

Last week, I wrote about Farmers' Markets and the week before I shared about our stay at the Platinum Vegas Values: Another Day in Paradise.

Frank and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary last Sunday. It's wild how time flies! It feels like only yesterday I was nervously laughing hysterically while standing before our friends and family exhanging our vows at Mandalay Bay.

We have taken a rain check on our celebratory dinner, but we did get out for beers and dinner at Yard House. We hadn't been since last year so it really hit the spot.

All the cutting back was worthwhile, not only was the weight loss challenge personal success, but Frank's team also won first place. They lost more collectively than any other team that competed. They will be awarded prizes at a rally today. I'm very proud of them for all their hardwork.

I'm certain there's other tidbits I'm forgetting so I'll just have to share another day.

Happy Easter!

April 20, 2011

NYC Final Thoughts

Prior to our trip, when I told people where we were taking vacation the most common response was “Why are you going there?” NYC has a reputation of being dirty with stinky subways and rude people, and many folks believe it’s true without ever stepped foot there.

Manhattan was dirty, it was covered in years of dirt and soot. I thought everything could use a good power washing. Lack of alleys meant no dumpsters so trash from the businesses piles up on the sidewalks until the garbage trucks come by late at night. Those bags can get smelly, but it was the upscale neighborhoods on the Upper East side that were most offensive. People with dogs failed to clean up after their pooch, there was stray poop and when passing trees, signs and meters they reeked of pee. This smelled far worse than the subway ever did.

In fact, the subway was my best experience with the public on public transit in any city I’ve visited. People aren't rude, even the beggars are really polite. New Yorkers are no nonsense, they give it to you straight and don't have time for chit-chat. Most trains were filled with tourists and commuters, we were rarely bothered by the homeless, and they were never smelly and always kind.

I loved the subway at first. It was my first time seeing subway tiles outside of a kitchen. I admired the different stations when we’d pass through. It was tough to get our bearings underground and we had no help of google maps since there were no cell signals in underground. After, three or four days were we comfortable and became familiar with the different platforms. It was about then, I was tired of the labyrinth of tunnels and stairways that led you to the trains. Aside from time spent sleeping, we spent half of our trip underground. I do not know how people do it day in, day out. I need fresh air and sunshine.

The people of Manhattan are thin and in shape. I fully understand why. It’s all those stairs and all that walking. It amazed me how many folks commuted in style. It was the most stylish collection of people I’ve seen in any city. Men or women, it made no difference. I will say that I bet the woman of Manhattan have the greatest legs in the country, if not the world. And they’ve earned them by gallivanting around city blocks and subway platforms. I would suspect gym memberships would be low, but all those we seen were packed.

New York City tap water is fantastic! Who knew?

I had this notion that delis and pizza shops littered the streets of NYC. This was not the case. They exist, sure, but they’re few and far between, and more expensive that I thought. As a whole, we were really disappointed by the food. Our expectations were way too high. We spent a small fortune on entertainment and accomodations. We only planned on one splurge meal and eating on the cheap the rest of the time to stay within budget. Cheap is relative. Coming from Las Vegas, home of the highest restaurant tabs, we are usually pleased with food prices during our travels. NYC must be neck in neck with us, most things were pricey. Our cheaper meals we’re $40 for two. When we ate on the run, it was usually $10 per person.

I had never realized how many NYC restaurants are also in Las Vegas. We refused to dine any place we could have at home. This narrowed our options greatly. We also avoided pricey restaurants. Again, our pool of options shrunk. Then, we eliminated chains. And finally, we caught on to the ratings from the Health Department. All those poor grades left us with even fewer contenders. We ate numerous times a day to taste as much as we can, just like we do in other cities. NYC, however, gave us our greatest collection of disappointments. I had recommendations from New Yorkers, friends and family. I used other resources like Yelp, Zagat and The Best Thing I Ever Ate when making my lists. Usually, it works out. This time, however, I was let down.

That’s not to say all was bad. We did enjoy wd50 and I’d recommend Bleeker Street Pizza, Patzeria Perfect Pizza, L & B Spumoni Gardens, Katz’s Deli and Levain Bakery.

I can’t possibly love every place I visit, but I’m always happy for the experience.

Here's a last bunch of photos that never fit elsewhere.

No place like home

Tuesday, we had been in New York a week and we were ready to go home. Our flight out wasn’t until 5pm so we had time to spare. We gathered our stuff and took one last look around before checking out and storing our bags.

We planned for one last meal at Katz’s Deli, when we reached the subway we quickly learned that our Metrocards had expired. We had to load up more funds. The ride to Katz cost us $5 each. This made the unlimited pass seem like a deal of a lifetime. We definitely got our monies worth out of that. On the way to Katz’s Deli we stopped at Ray’s Original for one last slice.

The crust was really good, it was crisp and chewy, it held the toppings, but it was the sauce that was the weak link. It had that cheap acidic tomato taste that I do not like one bit.

At Katz’s we ordered the three meat platter. Now, this was the way to go! We had corned beef, pastrami and salami. We made our own sandwiches. It was really good.

When we left Katz’s it began to pour, time to dig out the umbrella... We rode back to the UWS and went to the Natural History Museum. The entrance from the subway seemed convenient until we got stuck in a hellish line for tickets (this was the last admission included in our City Pass). The door man here was an even bigger dick than the one at Rockefeller Center. We waited eons but finally got our tickets for admission. We were told the Planetarium show would begin at 1:00. We weren’t too sure if we wanted to waste time with it, but we were urged to check it out “it’s really neat.” We went, I lasted about 3 minutes before falling asleep.

We wandered the museum a bit, but we were turned away at every interesting exhibit. Each one had an extra entrance fee. It was nutty. We walked through a couple areas we could view and it was plastic animals we’ve seen at San Diego zoo, replicas of ruins and other things we’ve experienced in Mexico. We were over it. Fortunately, the rain let up and we left to head over to Levain Bakery.

Levain Bakery is a small little place that could be easily missed if not specifically seeking it out. It has been featured on dozens of TV shows and it’s the most copycatted recipe I’ve seen on food blogs. I had to try the original myself. We got the classic chocolate chip walnut cookie and the dark chocolate peanut butter, and a big ole cup of milk to wash them down.

The fuss over these cookies is warranted. At $4 each they are pricey, but they are very good. The classic was my favorite. The dark chocolate was rich and chewy more like a brownie than a cookie, an outrageously delicious brownie.

Our time was up and fortunately we ended our trip on a good note. We walked back to the hotel to collect our bags and we hailed a cab to LaGuardia. It was worth every cent of the $40 fare. While sitting at the gate, we learned that our flight would be delayed. We had a short window to catch our connection in Baltimore so I was concerned that we wouldn’t make it. We began to search options… there were no more flights to LAS from BWI. If we missed our connection we would be stuck in Baltimore for the night. SW won’t put you up in a hotel so I called a friend to see if she’d mind having us. She was game even with the moment’s notice. That was awesome! I told her we’d check other options and I’d keep her posted with our plans. We frantically checked flights all over, searching for any that would get us home. We found one thru Chicago, it provided us with the best chance of making it home to sleep in our beds. Worst case, if we missed that connection, too, we had family nearby. Frank exchanged our tickets. I called Amy to say thanks, but no thanks. Then, we sat and waited another two hours for our flight to Chicago to depart. We made the right call; we would not have made it to Baltimore in time. We would’ve arrived 45 minutes after our flight left to LAS.

We boarded the plane to MDW. It was on time, thankfully. But then, we were stuck on the tarmac for nearly an hour. I’ve never experienced such a thing. I’ve since learned that it’s a common occurrence at LGA. I thought it was JFK that had those issues. Now, I know Newark provides your best chance for on-time arrivals/departures and with the train it is likely get you to your destination faster.

Our layover in Chicago was short and sweet. The flight had few passengers so we knew it’d be a roomy ride home. We didn’t except to score the first seats on the plane, but we did. Frank had so much leg room it could have been first class. Our plane touched down just before midnight. Our hearts were beating and our stomachs were a flutter just like our first trips out to Las Vegas. We were home. We cabbed it back to MGM. We enjoyed the warm air while we waited for our car at valet. Our car. Oh, how I missed thee. It was wonderful to travel above ground and ride without strangers. I’m no city girl, nor am I a country girl. I belong in the suburbs. No doubt about it. We were happy to experience New York City, but it never did grow on us.

Nearing the end

We were happy to welcome Monday, it meant express trains and getting around a little easier. Plus, our trip was winding down; home was on the horizon. We were burnt out, but we kept on since we had sights left to see, and eats to seek out.

We took one last recommendation from a New Yorker and tried Vezzo pizza in Midtown. We ordered cheesy garlic bread to start. It was thick and much different than I expected.

Our Margherita pizza followed, it was exceptionally thin. The crust was crisp, but almost non-existent. Ingredients were fresh. It should have been a winner, but it reminded me of pizzas I make at home with Flat Out flatbread. This was flat bread, not pizza. This was only the second place we were served fountain soda (the first was at Spumoni Gardens) it came as a surprise that we were charged for a refill. We should’ve stuck with the delicious free NYC tap water, but whatever…

Moving on, our next stop was the Top of the Rock, which is the observation deck at Rockefeller Center. The halls to get there from the subway made me nauseous. It reeked of greasy fast food and Subway bread. We couldn’t get to the ticket outlet fast enough. Admission was included in our City Pass. Getting our tickets was quick and painless. However, it was never mentioned that we had to wait until 1:30 to enter. We had 45-minutes to kill. Waiting around is not something either of us wanted to do, but we sucked it up and waited. Outside. I couldn’t stand the food court smells in those halls.

I enjoyed the fresh air, but it didn’t take long for my feet to grow weary. I took a seat on the planter, careful not to disturb the freshly planted flowers. Relief lasted about 5 minutes, and then the doorman scolded me. As we waited, he scolded another dozen people who also grew tired waiting to enter. Finally, time passed and we entered the doors only to be scolded by the doorman again. He insisted it wasn’t time, yet. We pointed to the clock. He had no choice but to waive us on.

We were herded like cattle to wait for the elevators to take us near the top. Then, we were forced to watch a short film about the building before being herded again to be taken up to the observation floors. The first two floors are obnoxious with the big glass panels obstructing the views. The top deck is where it’s at. It is open. Had I realized, I wouldn’t have wasted time on the first two trying to snap photos between each glass panel. Visibility wasn’t great, it was incredibly hazy, but we hung around about an hour taking photos and trying to make out the different buildings.

Leaving was no easy task. Once again, we hurried just wait while we were herded into elevators. I’ve been up on many observation decks and none were as much of a clusterfuck as this one.

Afterwards, we went back to Katz’s Deli. This time we had corned beef and pastrami.

The pastrami is so good. It was the best thing I ate in NYC. We left a little room for dessert so we sought out Sugar Sweet Sunshine bakery, which came highly recommended for cupcakes. We ordered two: Sexy red velvet and pistachio. Both had ” the moose” aka satin buttercream, which seemed to be their signature icing.

They weren’t the most attractive cupcakes, but I don’t mind as long as they taste yummy. We each dug in and gave each other the same look. “Ick.” These were among the worst cupcakes we ever tried; I can only recall those we had in Vancouver being worse. The cake was dry. The icing was bland only leaving a strange artificial taste. It was very odd, I’ve never considered myself a great baker, but I can make a better cupcake. I swear this place is highly rated because it’s fairly cheap, only $1.75 per cupcake.

Next we went to the Metropolitan Museum; again, admission was part of our City Pass. We walked around admiring the artifacts, but I grew tired of it early on. Still, we pressed on absorbing all that could. But in all honesty, I liked the building itself better than the items that make up the museum.

The arched-windows, the columns, the arcs of the ceiling and wood floors were really lovely. I appreciated the experience for a much different reason than most, I suspect.

Wall Street was our next destination. We enjoyed seeing this area of the financial district. It’s the heart of America, if not the world.

We went to Fraunces Tavern, which claims to be Manhattan’s oldest standing building built in 1719. George Washington bid farewell to his officers of the Continental Army there after the revolution. We had a sampler of beers: Strubbe Pils, Victory Prima Pils and Erdinger. The Strubbe was a favorite. It was a great bar; we soaked up its history and wished the walls could talk. I’m really happy we made this stop. It was a highlight.

We walked over to the Staten Island ferry, it was already boarding so we had perfect timing. The views were nice as we pulled away from Manhattan and it was nice to catch another look at the Statue of Liberty.

We hopped on the train when we docked and rode it to the end of the line. From there we walked and took a bus to see the Atlantic Ocean. We saw it, but that’s about it, it was a residential neighborhood and the gardens that butted up to the ocean were closed under lock and key. We rode back to Manhattan admiring the city lights at night.

We made it to all five boroughs; we can honestly say we experienced NYC. Brooklyn was our favorite, if you were curious.

Our last adventure was to find that ultimate pizza slice. I had two more popular pizza places on my list; both were in the West Village. It was one neighborhood we had not yet visited. It was young and happening. It was bustling, I liked the feel. Our first stop was Bleecker St Pizza. We tried a few slices.

Their Nonna Maria, like Margherita, was my favorite. Excellent! It was my favorite slice I had in NYC. It was crisp and topped with flavorful sauce and gooey cheese. The white pie was really good, too. Even the Sicilian was a winner. Ahh! Bleecker Street why did I not find you sooner? It was priced right, too. Slices were $3. Second, we were off to find Joe’s Pizza. They only had cheese and Sicilian slices when we arrived, we tried one of each.

This was bad pizza. It was flavorless and dry. We didn’t even finish either slice. It was that bad.

We were in desperate need to recharge our batteries so we headed back to the UWS. Frank stopped at New Pizza Town and ordered a calzone to go. I wasn’t the least bit hungry so I didn’t order a thing. Back at the hotel Frank ate his Calzone which was very good, while I packed our stuff. Then, I fell into bed and promptly crashed.