Mexican pat down

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My final story about our vacation takes place on our last day there.

It starts when I go to the lobby and try to print our boarding passes at the front desk. After managing my way through Spanish Google, I get to my email and click on the link. Get the passes printed, and realize everyone has a pass but me!

Instead I have a cute little note that says, “sorry, we couldn’t print your pass, please have them printed at the terminal”… something like that.

Got to the airport, went to the desk. The guy was super nice, and actually changed our seats so we were all together and really close to first class. Reprinted passes for everyone, even me this time.

I watched, idly, as he stacked the passes together, then carefully circled the “SSSS” marked on one of the passes. Still means nothing to me, you know they always write weird things on those papers as you get through security etc… anyway.

Through security, then the wait, then last minute bathroom trip, then finally we get to board the plane. Well, almost…..

As I hand over our passes to the agent, about to step into the plane, she asks me-only me-to step aside.

I’m ushered to a table where I’m asked to empty my purse, and hold my arms out to enjoy being frisked by another agent as my belongings are scrutinized. Passengers are still boarding, my husband is off to the side just smiling… and I’m doing my best to look all “hey, I’m cool….” because I’m so embarrassed that people can SEE this happening to me! After I have to sit down and take off my shoes to have them inspected, I’m allowed to get on the plane. Still trying to act completely nonchalant about the whole thing.

I glare at my middle eastern husband….this is the second time I’ve been pulled aside and patted down/searched while traveling with him. Is it random?? Or do they think he’s planting explosives on me??

It’s probably random……

My advice? Beware the quadruple S!!!

 

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5th Avenue, Mexico style

What do you think of when someone talks about shopping on 5th avenue?

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Exactly.  Skyscrapers, concrete, and hustle of a big city.
But guess what?
Before I left for Mexico, I ran into a lady who knew where I was staying, and urged me to check out 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen.
It’s a teensy bit different.

So, palm trees instead of skyscrapers….. handmade clothing and rugs instead of high couture….. but BOTH have Sephora, as well as Starbucks. I don’t know how big Senor Frogs is in New York, but here it’s kind of a big deal…..

I’ll be honest… I didn’t drink the water here. Well, not from the water fountain. I bought a bottled water from Starbucks and the guy offered me Mexican brand or Fiji brand. I asked him if it was ok to drink the Mexican brand, labeling myself as an uncouth American tourist no doubt…. but I did buy it and drank it and as previously posted, we are still alive 🙂

What else is it like on 5th avenue in Mexico?

Think Mardi Gras, the watered down version. Think street festival. Music is playing, there are like 30-40 blocks-so I was told-of shops and restaurants, little motels, and services like hair braiding, henna tattoos, and street vendors.  We were there for about 3 hours, and didn’t get all the way down one side of the street. They did have a mall with plenty of boutique shops for those who want to make sure they are spending enough money.

Not only is this “the place” to go for shopping and souvenirs, but as we walked down the street, every side street off to the left ran right into the ocean. Plenty of people come and stay in this area and never have to leave, all their needs are met.

See the water? It’s RIGHT THERE!!

Now, since we have the little ones, we didn’t stay late. But we did stay long enough to see some fun things, spend a little money, and take pictures like this:

I would wager that after dark, that place is probably a very fun spot for the single crowd. The food looked and smelled amazing, Tequila seems to flow like water, and no doubt the place stays lit up well into the night.

In any event, definitely a place worth checking out next time you find yourself in Mexico with some time on your hands.

We drank the water

my empty chair……….

Ahhhhhh, I’m back from Mexico.

Kind of dazed today…. not sure what to wear in 40-something degree weather, not sure how to feed myself anymore….. I think we were a little spoiled.

It was amazing. Such a good idea to try it instead of the usual trip to Vegas. I still love Vegas, but this is something totally different.

The three year old taught herself how to swim, like a fish, underwater. Even the 6 year old finally broke down and put his face in the water. That was major progress.

There are so many things I want to talk about, things we saw and did, things I learned about vacationing there that I will use for future trips. (Because yes, I am definitely going back).

But right now, I would like to tell you that we drank the water, and lived. EVERYONE told me not to drink the water. Not to brush my teeth with the tap water, to use bottled water instead. Also I was told not to leave the resort because I might be killed, or sold into slavery. I am probably too old for the slavery bit, but I did feel safe the whole time, and we left the resort, TWICE, and still made it back alive.

We ate all the things I was warned about, fresh fruit and salad, meats, ice cubes, water poured from pitcher that may or may not have come from a tap instead of a bottle…. and guess what? No one got sick.

We stayed at a large resort, Iberostar Paraiso Maya, and ate there as well as their surrounding properties.

This week, I am going to focus on my trip, and post about all the awesomeness we saw and did in Mexico. Right now however, I’m exhausted from taking care of myself and the kids today. I had to make lunch just now, and go grocery shopping before that!! I’ve got 3 suitcases of laundry to finish washing, and I’ve got to find the time to daydream about our trip and wish we were still there while all these things are going on. I need a nap.

 

 

 

Vegas is broken

We booked this trip months ago, way before we realized the cold weather we were fleeing from in Ohio was actually going to be on vacation itself… in Vegas… the same week as us.

So, ok…as I tracked the weather I made sure to pack winter hats, coats, gloves, blankets. Just in case….

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This while friends at home were enjoying the 70’s in December…..

But that’s ok. Because we can still enjoy this.

And then, funny, how did I not pick up on the fact that we booked at the same hotel, the same hotel we always stay in….as the republican presidential debate??

Instead of the regular huge Christmas tree, there was a CNN stage and tent structure set up outside that I would half heartedly tell my husband to go out and stand by so we could watch him on TV from inside the room. He didn’t do it.

And so on the night of the debate, a wintery, blustery, freezing night in Vegas….. we sat inside our room as the lobby beneath us swarmed with security, police, and the press. Then we watched most of the debate on CNN, as it went on below us.

We finally left in time to catch the Volcano show at the Mirage. The kids loved that last year, we were there in December then as well…. funny how much warmer it was. And funny that just a year ago the volcano show ran about every 30 minutes well into the night (we had the view from our hotel window), and now it only shows a couple times a night, three times on weekends.

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freezing…and waiting

We stood there, freezing….waiting….. with the crowd of other hopeful volcano watchers around us. We continued to freeze, and wait, until finally a red flashing light started at the top of the volcano, instead of the smoke and lava it was supposed to spew. It was broken.

Next night, it wasn’t quite so windy… we wanted to catch the Bellagio fountains at night, Jenna especially wanted to see it. So we trudged down the street, kids bundled and warm, us not quite so warm. Wow, it looked like the fountain was going off over and over, how often was it running?

Finally got there, no music, just the fountain blasting constantly. Seemed like they were testing it, maybe cleaning it, something. Kind of cool to see, but lacking the magic, the choreography, the emotion…. snapped some photos but left disappointed.

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Jenna commented that Vegas was broken.

It DID seem kind of broken!

Even trying to get a picture of all of us together, so accidentally easy last year…. didn’t come together quite so well this time.

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I guess sometimes you can’t escape the little trying moments that make life so….interesting at times.

I told my husband this is going to be one of those vacations that will be so much better after we get home… you know that kind?

Despite the weather, despite Vegas being broken…. things did still pull together by the end. We got dessert every night, celebrating Jenna’s 3rd birthday all week long as we counted down to the main event….

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It was adorable how the waiter wasn’t sure of how to spell Jenna… so he covered it really heavily in sprinkles 🙂

After two times of being disappointed in the broken Volcano, it finally got it’s act together….

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And on our last day in Vegas…. the wind stopped 🙂

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It’s ok Vegas…. we still love you.

 

Paris or bust

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I don’t like to ask for things for myself. Not for Christmas, not for birthdays. It always makes me feel guilty or presumptuous to tell someone I want something and expect them to get it for me.

You will realize then, what a strange and unusual thing it was for me to ask for something for my birthday this year. It wasn’t much really, just……Paris. I’ve expressed my love for the place before.  I miss the sights, the smells, the moon in the sky over the Champs de Elysee. It’s been sooooo long since we’ve been there, my memories have taken on a dreamlike quality, I need to know if it’s as magical as I believe it was. My birthday fell during our first trip to France years ago, early in our relationship. To me, celebrating again with him and our kids would be a beautiful way to show how far our relationship has progressed.

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A birthday to remember

A birthday to remember

I started my campaign early…. sometime last year. I wasn’t subtle about it, instead painting a picture of celebrating my 40th in front of the Eiffel tower with him and the kids. For me, the timeline to getting back to France was all about potty training…and I was gambling that Jenna would be done by now. Husband had different criteria, like the kids being older with more endurance for days of walking all over the city. He wants to be able to do all the things we did before they came along…..do I have the heart to tell him that it will NEVER be like that again? No….he can find it out on his own….

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Well, it didn’t happen. I didn’t win the argument, and he seems to think that celebrating 41, or even 42 would be just as special over there as my 40th. I would have liked to do a comparative study and test that theory but alas, it is not to be. C’est la vie…..

So, tonight we went to dinner with some family and friends. They have been making a huge effort to get us out expressly to celebrate my birthday and it has taken this long for it to work out. The longer time goes on, the more uncomfortable I get, feeling guilty that people feel the need to make this effort to celebrate for me at all.

Dinner was nice, the food and company both satisfying and smile-inducing.

Then came the cake….

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I could not believe anyone paid that much attention to my babblings about how much I liked Paris. It was really touching that someone went out of their way to give me a version of something they knew I wanted.

So in a way….I got what I was asking for. My family with me to celebrate my birthday near the Eiffel tower….

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And even better? They all thought I was just turning 39. 🙂

Why do people take Kids to Vegas???

because Vegas is fun for kids too!!!

…and also maybe because you have no one to watch your children….ever……

We just got back from Vegas. Our third time with little ones. This time we took the 4 and 1 year olds. The older kids wanted nothing to do with this trip. I don’t understand how two teenagers would not JUMP at the chance to hang out for 5 days with two adults and two little ones… all. day. long.

Usually when I tell people I’m going to Vegas, they assume it’s just me and the hubby. When I tell them we are bringing the kids I am met with silence until that person realizes there is no punch line. “What??”… “WHY would you do that, WHAT can you DO with kids in Vegas???”

Well, once you get past the things you can’t do, like gambling, clubbing, seeing shows, or various naked opportunities….. there is plenty! Seriously, they don’t joke about gambling in Vegas. My husband and I don’t gamble to begin with, but the first time I took Sammy he was a year old. He wanted to see the lights in the casino so I walked up to a slot machine with him just to look at the lights and colors. It was morning, we were passing through the casino for breakfast. As I stood there, apparently off the specially marked trail, a security guard swooped down and yelled at me to step away from the game!! And then proceeded to tell me I could be fined thousands of dollars for letting my baby gamble. This is how I learned to stay off carpet in the casino area. Scary!!

Vegas itself is like a wonderland for the senses, the place is always ON, much like a toddler. We’ve been there during all seasons, and love it the most during Thanksgiving. The place is celebrating Christmas already and hotels all have their special themes, characters dressed up, music playing inside and outside, games, free shows. We went over Memorial day weekend this time, which unfortunately coincides with massive amounts of college kids looking to drink and party there as well. Other than one day that felt like our hotel was really a frat house, we still had a great time.

There are tons of things to do with your kids, and there are more and more families there every time we go.

What do we like the most??

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Bellagio. The fountains outside never get old. And they play frequently during the day and night. Even my 1 year old was mesmerized by the dancing water, especially at night with the lights making it look more magical. We stopped there every day.

Bellagio also has an amazing area off the main lobby to walk through, their botanical garden. They change the theme with seasons and we always enjoy seeing what the next look will be. Probably the baby does not care at all about this, but the adults and even the 4 year old enjoyed it. The hotel is HUGE. We can explore all the main halls, containing conference rooms and ballrooms, the outside public patio, and end up having ice cream or tea and pastry in this hallway that we end up looking for and finding each year. There is also a huge chocolate fountain, behind glass, that takes up part of the ceiling and a wall in the Jean Philippe Patisserie. This is located just past the botanical garden area. VERY expensive, but fun and delicious. They have all sorts of candy and ice cream.

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Besides Bellagio, there are plenty of other places to take the kids for free entertainment. Ours loved the aquarium located in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. There is also a show in this area about the fall of Atlantis, using animatronic figures to depict the King of Atlantis and his two bratty kids. Daughter who rules the water, and son who rules fire. Skip to the end, they can’t agree on who should rule the kingdom, so all perish in a fiery/watery death as a big bird, maybe a dragon??, attempts to drag the King away. There is no real violence, it’s just suggested, the figures really just lower back down into the ground. It’s really not scary by my kids standards, but there were a couple kids crying in front of us. Mine liked the lights, and flashes of fire and bursts of water as the son and daughter bickered about who should rule the kingdom.

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Other shows are outside, like the Volcano show at the Mirage. It’s basically fire bursting set to drum beats that build in tempo until a big finale. This is one we kept trying to take the kids to, but they were always asleep in the stroller by the time we got there. I have watched it close up, as well as from across the street. I actually liked across the street better because it’s easier to walk away when it’s over, less crowded. Also, the end of the show features a huge burst of fire from the main volcano, it is HOT. It’s even hot from across the street.

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There are a ton of people dressed up as cartoon characters. Not to mention Victorias Secret “Angels”, bikers wearing pleather with buttless pants, and even girls topless with just their chests painted with Vegas slogans. Thankfully, we got no questions from the 4 year old. The baby was oblivious until someone dressed up as a very tall Yoda decided to come up to her and say Hi. She screamed like I’ve never heard before, I actually wish I had it on tape. Poor kid, scared the hell out of her. Then, the guy felt bad so he keep the mask on, and proceeded to try talking to her and waving from a  few feet away. We had to leave the area to get her fingers pried off of my neck.

The shopping malls attached to the hotels in Vegas are nothing like the malls at home. The Venetian features a Gondola ride inside as well as outside the hotel. We rode twice, and were serenaded by our, uh, boat person? with two songs for each ride. They sing very well, and the acoustics inside the mall really add to the sound. In addition to every store you’d want to see, the mall itself is decorated like you are actually outside in Italy. the ceiling is made to look like blue sky with clouds, there are cobblestone “streets”, and cute storefronts made to look like old time buildings. The mall at Paris and Caesars are similar. There are areas inside all of these places with some form of entertainment or another. Portrait painting, people dressed in costume, tons of restaurants and gelato stands, as well as the unique offerings of each place make them all worth visiting. The kids were not bored, finding too many things to look at and do. There are fountains EVERYWHERE, so we probably threw away part of my retirement in pennies and nickels for the kids.

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Of course, there is swimming. I’m not a big swimmer, hate to wear a bathing suit. I did it for the kids, and they loved the water. The Venetian has several pools, no bells and whistles for the kiddies, but there is one pool that ranges from 1 foot to 14 inches deep only. We stayed there, and both kids were in their glory. Sammy pretended he was swimming by just floating on his belly and walking with his hands on the bottom of the pool. Jenna tried to drink the entire thing, tried to back float, and screamed like a banshee whenever I tried to remove her.

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Visiting other hotels is worth it, they each have a theme and usually some attraction that draws people to check it out at least once. EVERYTHING is done over the top. We also rode the “high roller”, the worlds tallest Ferris Wheel. For the 4 of us, it would have been about $100 to go at night, and it cost about $70 to go during the day. You have to either buy tickets ahead of time and reserve a time, which scared me with trying to plan what the kids would feel like…. or you can go and wing it, buying tickets before you board. It’s always busier at night because Vegas looks amazing all lit up. It takes 30 minutes to get up and back down.

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Everywhere you go, people are pointing cameras and snapping photos. I do the same thing, no matter how often I go.

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We made it through our trip, snapping photos like the savvy tourists we are….. the only thing I felt bad about was the lack of pictures featuring ALL of us together. I’ve got plenty of myself or my husband standing in front of this or that, holding one or 2 struggling children who refuse to look at the camera, at least not at the same time. Then, we had a MOMENT. Just accidentally playing with the iPhone and snapped a beauty, we were all facing the same way, and no one was crying!

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So….go. Take your kids. I may see you there!

 

 

A taste of my life

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I love food.

I think about it a lot, and recently realized that so many of my important memories and “great moments” have been cemented in my head partly because of their association with my digestive system.

Not just those stolen moments with a bag of little chocolate donuts… of which there are many…..

but really significant and special moments.

Like being 4 years old. Kneeling on a chair in the kitchen as Grandma rolls out the dough to make noodles for her chicken soup. I can smell the flour, feel it spread over the cheesecloth she had covering the table; cool, smooth, whispery between my fingers, the dough soft and eggy. Grandma in her housedress, one of thousands it seemed. I can hear her voice talking to me, I can close my eyes and I am THERE. God, I miss her. And her soup.

My first trip to France, what else to do but literally eat my way through Paris?? We found the best gelato. Amazing. And it became necessary to stop and get more at that same gelato stand each day until we went home. I still pine for it, both the chocolate and the mango. It was too good for me to even try another flavor. Refreshing, yet somehow complex, like all things should be in Paris. We walked everywhere there, ate crepe’s from a street vendor (of course!), took a very long walk to the Sacre Coeur, and found a delightful candy shop along the way. Finished our walk eating from a bag of bulk candy and ended with an amazing view and black licorice breath.

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Oh, there are the bad associations of course. Who could ever forget the flavor of mom’s steak teriyaki after tasting it at dinner…..and then repeatedly during the night as the entire family shared a delightful gastroenteritis. I won’t. I won’t ever forget that taste. And I will never eat it again. We always remember what that last meal was before our GI tract shifts into a hard reverse….

No photo necessary.

I think it must be true that when we really experience a moment using all of our senses, including taste,  that moment stays with us. Forever I hope… at least the good moments.