Top of the World

May 31, 2011
This weekend our friends, Bill and Laura, and their son James came up from Oceanside, CA. I've known Bill since the 6th grade, he and Frank have been friends since they were freshman. Once Frank and I became an item, junior year, we all hung out regularly. We have the same core group of friends, we went to prom together, camped and partied throughout our teens, Bill and I even worked together. They were good times. After 9/11, Bill joined the Marines, he's been in nearly a decade and he finds it hard to think about doing anything else.

Seven years ago, he came to Vegas with a bunch of buddies while he was training at 29 Palms. We were drinking and hanging out at Harrah's one night and that's when he met Laura. As they say, the rest is history, they've been together ever since. They've made it through a lot, including a few tours overseas, moves cross-country and it was their son, James, that brought them even closer together. Late last year, they moved from North Carolina to California. We were thrilled that they would be close enough to see a few times a year.

We visited them in February, it was the first we had seen them in seven years. We had a great time visiting and playing with James. This weekend, they came up to see us for more fun.

We even got together with another old high school friend that was in town for the holiday weekend, all of us had dinner at Amore. It was fun enjoying Chicago-style pizza with old friends, here, in Vegas, my home.

I watched James on Saturday while they all hit the strip and tried their luck gambling. Frank ended up being the lucky one placing in the money in a poker tournament.

Monday, Laura and I got out for some girl time. We acted like kids again and rode the rides up on the Stratosphere. I've done them many times, but it's always fun taking someone that's never been. Laura's first rides did not disappoint. They all got her one way or another. I also enjoy getting up to the observation deck every so often just to see the changes. Something is always different. This time it was mainly the construction downtown. It's really amazing how much that has changed over the years. Then, of course there's the F'nbleau when you look south. The biggest eyesore west of the Mississippi at 735 feet.









A Second Wind

May 27, 2011
New life has been brought back to Lake Las Vegas. Ravella has replaced Ritz Carlton and last night Casino Montelago re-opened. We went to the opening celebration last night. There was a good turn out. The parking garage filled up quickly and folks were parking in a nearby overflow lot. We walked through the village was surprised to see so many eateries and shops survived the temporary ghost-town. We sat lakeside waiting for the fireworks that were scheduled. Little did we know they were actually launched over the hotel. It took us a minute to gain a view, and when we did the show only lasted a couple more minutes. It had to be the shortest firework display ever.

When the clock struck nine, the crowds flooded the small casino. There was not an open machine when we got inside. Overall, the casino is brighter than it was before, they upgraded games and the pit is know strictly electronic. It was the roulette table that caught my attention. It was the first I seen this type. The sports bar overlooks the casino and a sportsbook will be coming soon. Supposedly, there may be a poker room in its future, as well.







I hope the casino does well and I'd like to see Lake Las Vegas flourish with its second wind.

Give Thanks

May 26, 2011
Take a moment this Memorial Day to say thanks to our Armed Forces. I realize not everyone sees eye to eye, but I think we can all agree they do amazing things for our country.

Las Vegas ushers in summer with fun parties and show of appreciation is given to our military with special discounts on shows, food and pampering. Check out Vegas Values: Thanking Our Troops 'N More for a comprehensive list.

Looking for a small way to show gratitude? Send a card to a real American hero.

Hook, Line and Sinker

May 25, 2011
You might remember that weight loss challenge Frank took part in earlier this year. Not only did he do well, but his team as a whole excelled. They lost the most weight collectively. In addition to healthier thinner selves they were also rewarded with points, good for a multitude of prizes.

One of Frank's choices was Playstation 3. We like the versatility of it. Game console, computer/internet, and blu-ray player all in one. Yet, it wasn't something we wanted badly enough to fork over our hard earned cash. Given that this would allow us to get it without spending a dime, we were sold.

The package arrived while we were in California. It sat on our front porch for a couple days. Fortunately, it was there when we got home. Yet, another reason to love our neighborhood. Anyhow, we didn't get to play with it right away because PS3 was down from that major hack.

Once it was up and running, we tried out Red Box. It'd be more convenient if it had more blu-ray titles, but it worked out well. The quality of the movie was top-notch. It'll be nice to have a reasonably priced alternative to PPV.

Frank was sweet and bought a game we'd both enjoy, he picked up "You Don't Know Jack." He prefers the pc for his gaming, anyway, so the PS3 is mainly a source of amusement. It'd be great if we could get our hands on some sort of Jeopardy game.

We signed up for Netflix. We've used the service before but cancelled it years ago because we tired of scratched dvds. Now that Netflix streams video all of our complaints have been resolved. We scanned thru tv shows and Sons of Anarchy caught my attention. We never watched it, the whole biker gang aspect was never appealing, but since it was an FX show and it's earned awards (and a huge audience) I told Frank we should check it out. The pilot hooked us. We've spent the last week watching 26 episodes. We finished Season 2 last night, I'm officially a fan! Season 3 has already aired but it has not been released on dvd. We are left to wait to see what happens next to SAMCRO. I hope FX shows re-runs sooner than later, I suspect at the very least it'll re-run before Season 4 begins this fall.

Now, we need to find another show to occupy our time until Breaking Bad returns. I wonder what else is out there that we've missed?

Solution #1

May 24, 2011
I mentioned the other day that we needed to figure out what to do with the back corners of our yard. Well, Sunday, we got the corner by the hot tub squared away. Silly me, didn't think to take a before photo.

This old one of Nicky & me (gosh, he's so little) kinda gives the idea of the mess it was before. Weathered bamboo borders were around each of the palm trees.



We bought cheapo bricks from Lowes, 34-cents each. And 5 bags of soil, we were actually one bag shy, but I was able to get the task at hand complete. I built two retaining walls, Frank added dirt and rearranged the drip system and I planted three varieties of new flowers. Once the flowers grow a bit, they should fill in the area nicely. They should hide the peeling stucco too. We recently trimmed the oleander, soon it'll grow out and it should make that back corner appear a bit more lush.



Next, we'll do something similar in the opposite corner to finish off the pond. I'll have to remember to take true before and after pictures of that project.

SOAD

May 23, 2011
After busting ass all weekend, yes, I got much of my to do list completed... we headed over to the Palms to see System of a Down at the Pearl. It's a great venue. I'm not sure I can pick a favorite, The Joint or the Pearl. Both are winners in my book. We had balcony seats in Section 304. We could see the stage and the pits, it's a really great set up.

Start to finish, SOAD gave a high energy performance. They had the audience on their feet with the first chord and we sang along to every song. I've always been a big fan of Serj, he's outrageously talented and watching him juggle vocals with the guitar and keyboard was pretty spectacular. Daron was really impressive, too, it was nice to see a guitarist with front man presence.

They played all of their hits including personal favorites like B.Y.O.B., Lonely Day, Lost in Hollywood, Psycho, Cigaro, Aerials, Toxicity, Chop Suey and they closed out the show on the perfect note with Sugar.

System played their hearts out. They only broke to thank Las Vegas, the rest of the time they were rocking. It was a damn good show. Better performance and WAY better venue than when I saw them last at Ozzfest in Alpine Valley many moons ago.

I Waited All Week For You

May 20, 2011
I waited all week, and finally, it's Friday. Boy! Am I ever ready for the weekend. I wish I could say it'll be restful, but I have a long to do list. There were dozens of things that were put off because we weren't sure if we'd be moving. Then, when we knew we were staying put Amy and Nicky arrived and that those things needing attention were put on the back burner.

The carpet needs cleaning, the showers need scrubbing, and the windows need washing. The yard has needed tending, too, but we got a headstart on that last weekend. There is only a bit more to be done. Like finding a solution for the corners of our backyard. The one corner has the pond. It needs flowers or something to spruce it up a bit, just to make it look finished. The opposite corner has oleander, and two palm trees. We recently tore out weathered bamboo borders. That area needs attention. We bought replacement border but it won't work. My current idea is to add dirt and plant ground cover flowers and/or plants. It's also time to replace the patio string lights, the sun and winds have beat the decorative lights to shreds. I picked up a string of globes at Big Lots. I'd like to switch those out, if the winds will cooperate.

With any luck, I'll save some energy for Sunday night's concert.

I leave you with the two LLV articles. Vegas Values: Grateful for Graeters and Vegas Values: Let Me See That Sushi Roll.

Poor Promoting

May 19, 2011
Now, fast forward or rewind to Monday night... depending which way you look at it. We had free tickets to see Tomorrow's Bad Seeds at Crown Theater inside Rio. I'm sure your asking the same question I did, "there's a music venue at Rio?" Yep, it's a live music and night club venue. It's operated by the same folks as the Viper Room in Los Angeles. I guess its been open a year, but I only recently learned of it when I received an invite to see Afroman a couple months back. I was gonna see the show, but I got high. Ok, not really. Truth told, I'm an old lady masquerading as a women in her 30's. I was too tired to stay up late, knowing I'd have to be up early the next morning.

I prepared myself for the Tomorrow's Bad Seeds concert. After work, I napped so I'd be energized for late show. Go ahead, you can say it. I know I am so rockstar. We got to Crown just after 10:00. Bud Light draft were sold for $2, but even at the low price, it was tough to swallow so our next beers were Corona ($7). Ouch, but I guess they gotta make money somehow. It certainly wasn't by ticket sales, not only were free tickets available, but it was a very small turnout.

A local band RNR or Rhyme and Rhythm opened the show. They're a bit hip-hop, funk, soul, and raggae. It was an interesting mix. It was a shame the sound wasn't up to par. I'm not sure if it's the venue, in general, or just the set up for this night's show, maybe the lack of attendence threw it off? No clue, but the fuzzy music continued into HaleAmano and TBS's performances. We saw HaleAmano last year at the Dirty Head show. It was good to see them again. It was after midnight by the time Tomorrow's Bad Seeds took the stage. They played well over an hour, playing hits like Love Street, Only For You and Bad Seeds, plus a bunch of other lessor known songs - at least by me.

I'm shocked how few people were there. You'd think they'd make more with no show at all. I know promotion for this show and others has been really poor. Heck, the venue was open nearly a year before I ever even heard of it. That's not good, I'm usually pretty on top of things.

We have tickets to Seven Mary Three next Monday. We were planning to go, but I scored last minute tickets to see System of a Down on Sunday. I might not have enough rockstar left in me to hang for two shows, but we'll see. I'm interested to see if that show has a better turnout.

Behind the Scenes at Plaza

May 18, 2011
You'd think time might have slowed a bit now that Amy and Nicky are back in Chicago, but that's not the case. I'm not quite sure how I've gotten to today, but here I am. I know I am tired, allergies have been kicking my ass. It's all because of these endless winds. Enough already, Mother Nature. I get it, you like to blow A LOT. But can you do it elsewhere? Las Vegas has had about all that it can take, but I digress. Besides feeling crummy and worn down, I miss Nicky's laughter and sharing that joy with my sister. Frank and I keeping busy working old routines back into daily life and we've been getting out a good bit.

Saturday night, Amy & Nicky were headed back home to Chicago, my mom returned to Pahrump and that left Frank and I all alone. It was time to get back to being us. We went downtown to check out StrEATS. It's monthly food and musical festival put on by El Cortez and the area food trucks. We were out of town for its debut in April so we were happy we could check out its second run.

Downtown was happening on Saturday, because it was also Helldorado. I was aware, and planned to catch the fireworks, but I completely forgot about it's parade and carnival. This made parking a nightmare. Traffic was no better, since many streets were closed for the parade. After winding a ways from the El Cortez, we found our way over to the Plaza. I knew they'd have parking because it's been a ghost town since the hotel has closed for renovations. Plus, most people shy away from the $5 fee.

We parked in the garage and we secured a front spot on the first level. It was funny to see after seeing the EL Cortez overflow garage at capacity. We took the third floor access door rather than the elevator to the casino. It's a route Frank and I learned to use back when we lived at the Plaza when we first settled in Las Vegas. At first it looked no different than it used to, then, we turned the corner and the convention halls are now being used for storage. There were hundreds of old mattresses piled high up to ceiling. We were careful not to get too close, since we heard those tales of bed bugs. We pressed on, Bingo was dim, the Jerky store had been long closed, we approached the halls leading to the North Tower elevators and a cool breeze struck us. As we neared the rooms we got a look at them, all bare, completely stripped and windows open. A few had construction material piled inside. Several rooms had "Do Not Disturb" signs hanging from the doorknobs, the one fixture that had not yet been removed. I appreciated the humor of it. We made our way to the elevators and I wondered if they were even in service. Frank pressed the down button and moments later, "Ding!" I guess they do work. We rode down, odd noises creaked the whole way down. I began to wonder once again, if they were actually in order. They must have been since we arrived safely to casino level.

Here, construction was well in progress. Plastic hung from floor to ceiling to trap dust. It seemed there was no way out. That when we spotted security. There is one guard that keeps tabs on the areas being renovated probably to assist those "lost" like us. He was surprised to see us, and was curious how we had gotten there. We played dumb and let him lead us through the back of the house, through the kitchens and out in the main casino. I wish I could've snapped photos along the way to share, but I didn't want cause any trouble. I didn't see any renovated hotel rooms, only the lobby was pretty well complete. The area from check in all the way to the back corners where the arcade and food court were retiled, upholstered and painted. It looked beautiful. We asked when the hotel would be re-opening we were told August 17. I look forward to it and I certainly hope Firefly returns.

The marquee at the parking garage entrance reads "New hotel rooms, finally. Thank you, Fountainbleu". At least something good can come of that defunct project. The Plaza certainly needed sprucing. I'm anxious to see her sparkle.

)( B

May 13, 2011
Tuesday we packed up and checked out. We headed to Huntington Beach, first grabbing a bite at La Choza. They had lunch specials and handmade tortillas, but the dishes were not authentic. I guess you have to head down to San Diego for the good stuff.

We came down Main Street to go to the Beach and we completely missed that residential area and shops last October when I came with Amy, Nicky and my mom. The houses around the beach are super cute. It's so charming with well manicured lawns and white picket fences.

We parked in a lot that had validation at Ruby's. We figured we stop in for milkshakes. We each ordered one, my double dark chocolate chip was the best. A guy making balloon animals came over, he made Nicky a dolphin that could be worn as a hat. He had interest in it for all of 5 seconds. I don't know what it is but the kid combined with balloons equal a nightmare. The dolphin was entirely popped before we made it half way down the pier. Frank stopped to buy a kite. Nicky wasn't impressed. He was more interested in the "bikini girls" playing volleyball.







We walked down to the beach and got set up.

























Amy enjoyed her nap on the beach. Meanwhile, Nicky and I played in the sand and collected seashells while Frank flew his kite. Then, I took photos, while Frank and Nicky built sand castles, jumped in waves, wrote and made footprints in the sand. It was a good day. The weather was nice, too. It was sunny for third day in a row, shocking especially since it's May Gray. I still needed a jacket on the beach but it was the first time I didn't freeze and the sand actually felt warm.

It was late afternoon and we had to head back to Anaheim for second White Sox game in the three game series. We grabbed a bite and beers at JT Schmidt's before the game. Their burgers are still really good.

We walked back to Angels Stadium we waited a bit before buying tickets in hopes that we could score free tickets again. We managed to get one, but ended up having to pay for three. The cheapest tickets sold out because there was a Guinness Book of World Records record attempt happening. Angels wrestling masks were given to everyone in attendance. We had to wear them in the 5th inning for 10 minutes.







We did it! We made it into the book of World Records.

The Angels got a homer, the White Sox stunk it up. They could get anything going...





Nicky had fun playing with the beach balls.





We still had a good time even though we lost. And Nicky remains an Angels fan, he has a foam finger to prove it.



That wrapped up our vacation. We hit the road for home and made great time back, only three hours. I was in bed by 1:30, an hour earlier than I expected. Still, 6:30 Wednesday morning came too soon, it was back to the grind.

Fun was had. Memories were made.

After a whirlwind of getaways the last three months it feels odd to have no other vacations marked on the calendar. We must remedy that.

Tinseltown

Monday, we got up and headed to LA. Amy and Nicky have never been and Frank and I wanted to try one of their delis. After a quick search it seemed Langer's Deli was most popular so that's where we went.

Amy had the club sandwich with turkey and ham, Nicky had the hot dog, Frank had the grilled pastrami rueben and I had the grilled corned beef rueben (Frank and I shared) and we all split an order of potato pancakes. It was time to see which city does it better LA or NYC. We prefer LA.











As good as the pastrami was at Katz's Deli, we agreed that we liked this sandwich better. I'd give Katz's the nod for corned beef, but Langer's beat them by a land slide with those potato pancakes. Yum! Lunch was pricey about $20/pp just like Katz's but it was worth it. I'd definitely return next time I'm in LA.

Next stop was Hollywood. It's the touristy thing to do, and boy did we look like tourists. We were all decked out in White Sox wear in preparation for the game later that night. It was like we were flashing a neon sign that says "Chicago". We took photos of the stars, the funniest was Charlie Sheen's. Nicky stood there and yelled "duh, winning" he cracked up everyone within an earshot.



Then, we stopped by the Grauman Chinese and Kodak Theaters. Nicky posed with a few characters. He was so excited to see the Joker.







Frank suggested we take a Hollywood Tour. So, we stopped to chat with one that called us over. Tickets were $80 for adults and $40 for kids. Absolutely not. Frank talked him down to $15/ea and he threw in a puzzle for Nicky. We were set to board at 2:30 we had a little time to kill so we made a Starbucks run. Soon, we were on our way. Amy was SO excited that she was going to see the Playboy Mansion. It was cute.



Church from Sister Act.





Tower of Terror at California Adventure was based on this hotel.



The best sign in LA







The fire escape from Pretty Woman. Richard Gere was afraid of heights so they seeked out the lowest one to the ground they could find.







Ringo Star's gate



Peope write messages on this gate in front of Elvis' former home



Julia Roberts former home on the same street





Keanu Reeves home taken by Nicky



Ozzy's former residence, now owned by Christina Aguilera





Michael Jackson's gate



The Playboy Mansion, Amy was bummed this is all you could see.





The Spelling residence, with 123 rooms or something nutty, the most expensive in the area.







Rodeo Dr





Simon Cowell's house currently under construction



We were told the tour took 1.5 hours, but it ran about 2 hours and 15 minutes. We got back to Anaheim later than we would've liked.

We walked over to Angels Stadium and managed to score 4 free tickets while Frank was waiting in line to buy them. The stadium was pretty dead, but it was a great game! White Sox won 8-0. It was Nicky's first baseball game he had fun and quickly became an Angels' fan. He thought it was the best to root against Amy who was cheering on the White Sox. We ate peanuts and hot dogs. Nicky even got cotton candy which was a riot watching him scarf it down.











After the win, we went to JT Schmidt's to celebrate. Frank had their hefe and I had their light brew. Nicky stuck with root beer. Amy was our DD even though we were walking. We also shared sweet potato fries and chicken wings.

We crashed back at the hotel, there was another day planned.

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