Monthly Archives: January 2011

Vivi, Las Vegas!

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Viva, Las Vegas! Vivian and I decided to celebrate our “sushi anniversary” by taking a break from our midwestern winter wonderland and enjoying a week in the city of neon lights. I’ve visited Las Vegas five times before, all for business while working at Land and Sky. This was the first time I’d gone to visit just for fun. Vivian had never been to Las Vegas at all, so I was able to show her all the sights and sounds of Sin City.

The weather was a balmy 70 degrees or so — warm enough for the hotels to keep the pools open. It was quite mind-boggling to see people swimming at the Bellagio in the middle of January as if we were in the middle of summer. We kicked off our weekend by stopping for lunch at the Inn-n-Out on Tropicana, which was within walking distance of our hotel. The first time I ever ate at the cult burger chain was during my very first trip to Las Vegas back in 2006, so it only seemed fitting to stop by there again.

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After spending some time exploring the strip, we met up with Vivian’s childhood friend Alan at the New York, New York’s Gonzalez Y Gonzalez restaurant for dinner. He grew up with Vivian in Petaluma and even spent a little time in Bellevue before eventually winding up in Las Vegas nine years ago, so it was nice for him and Vivian to have a chance to catch up. We spent some time afterward wandering up to the Bellagio to watch a couple of their famous fountain shows and then explore the conservatory inside, which was decked out for the Chinese New Year (the year of the rabbit, as it turns out).

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We made sure to take one trip downtown so we could see the canopy light show above Fremont Street. I’ve always enjoyed staying downtown when it Las Vegas — seems like a much quieter version of the strip with much less walking distance between casinos.

The next day, we kicked off our sightseeing with a big breakfast buffet at the Monte Carlo and then a trip to the top of the Stratosphere. It’s always fun to get a good bird’s-eye view of Las Vegas, and the Stratosphere’s the only place I know of where you can see downtown Las Vegas, the Strip, and the World Market Center all at the same time. Our stay was unfortunately cut short when some nut tried to jump off the observation deck. Fortunately, the management were quite professional in preventing the guy from becoming road pizza, but they ushered everybody out of the place and got plenty of emergency personnel on the ground just in case. (As a bonus, we got a refund for our trip to the top).

We had to spend some time finding our way to a bus stop to get back to the strip, where we did a little sightseeing visiting the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign and the M&M’s World. Our dinner that evening was the enormous seafood buffet at the Rio, where Vivian and I tried to get our money’s worth by stuffing ourselves with all the split lobsters tails, crab legs, sushi, and ceviche we could eat. This night was our “Sushi Anniversary,” of course, so we had to have sushi!

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We stuck around afterward to see the Penn & Teller, everyone’s favorite libertarian atheist magicians. Audience members were allowed to go on stage and inspect a large wooden box that Teller would eventually pop out of. Pianist Mike Jones and Penn Jillette himself performed music on stage as everyone eventually got seated. The tricks themselves were quite amazing, and the duo revealed how some of them were performed — mostly through slight of hand and misdirection.

The highlight, however, was actually getting to meet both Penn & Teller after the show. They stayed in the lobby signing autographs and having pictures taken with audience members, so Vivian and I had a turn with each of them. We even bumped into Teller in his street clothes after getting a few drinks at the bar when the show was done, so I was able to thank him personally for giving everyone at the show the chance to meet them both. He said, “Oh, it’s fun — it’s like having a party every night.”

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We couldn’t visit Las Vegas without being able to say we did a little gambling, so we decided to blow $20 the next day on roulette at Caesars Palace. It took us exactly two spins to see it evaporate (lesson learned). We decided to stick around and try to get our money’s worth by visiting the animatronic show at the end of the Forum Shops, where King Atlas yells at his kids among water fountains and bursts of flame. It was quite fun to watch — kind of like Chuck-e-Cheese on crack.

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We ran into a large number of fun street performers along the strip willing to pose in photos for tips. Vivian got to have her purse stolen by Captain Jack Sparrow, and we both stopped to pose with a stormtrooper. If you’re coming to Las Vegas, bring a bunch of one dollar bills in your pocket so you can tip as many as you like.

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Of course, we got to have our pictures taken with many, many more celebrities at Madame Tussauds in the Venetian. I’d heard of this wax museum plenty of times, but I had no idea that we could actually have our pictures taken with any number of life-like celebrity replicas, including Simon Cowell, Evel Knievel, Shaq, George Clooney, Sean Connery, Jerry Springer, Stevie Wonder, and many others. We spent a couple hours there wandering among the lifeless celebrities, and I even had fun pretending to be a wax dummy just to scare a few other visitors.

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That evening, Vivian and I decided to live it up down at the Paris together. We had dinner at the very posh Eiffel Tower restaurant, dining on monkfish, pheasant, chocolate mousse, and some pineapple meringue dessert with champagne sauce, all of which was quite breathtakingly good. Our waiter was even an authentic Frenchman named Pierre who put a very heavy touch of suave Frenchiness on top of our entire visit. Nothing could beat the view of the Bellagio’s fountains across the street from the giant wall-to-wall windows, 0f course — nothing that is, except the view from the observation. Vivian and I both traveled to the top of the half-sized Eiffel Tower and got a great view of the strip and a water show from the Bellagio some 460 feet in the air. I can attest it’s the best view of the neon lights I’ve ever seen.

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After dinner, we hurried across the street to see “O” at the Bellagio. I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show, Mystère, when I came to visit during the WMC summer show of 2006. It was quite an impressive mix of trippy acrobatic stunts and beautiful music, and I found “O” to be much the same, except on water. Vivian and I were close enough to the stage to feel the heat of the fire acts on stage, as well as the cool water spraying from the thunderstorm scene. I’ve heard from several people that “O” is the Cirque show on the strip worth seeing most, and we definitely enjoyed it. I even got a T-shirt from the gift shop and played with some of the “zebra” masks with Vivian afterward, hamming it up for the camera by mimicking some of the characters from the show.

Our unforgettable trip seemed to end all too quickly when we finally flew home on Friday. It was much more fun to visit Las Vegas when I wasn’t there on business, and I have to admit that the recession has made Sin City a much better deal for travelers like Vivian and me. I only wish we’d brought our swim suits and taken a dip in the pool. Maybe next time.

Cheesy Party, Snowy Sunday

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Last Saturday, Vivian and I hosted our second cheese party, this time in our home in Bellevue. We invited a few of our fellow cheesy friends over to enjoy some wine and cheese, along with cheesy trivia and cheesy games people could play and complete for cheesy prizes. Vivian also made some cheese for everyone to try, which was quite a fun treat.

We also told some cheesy jokes, which went over much better after a bottle or two of wine. The winner of the Best Cheese this year was Lisa, who had the honor of taking the cheese cap away from Venche with, surprisingly enough with some Stilton Blue she found at Aldi. We had a fairly fierce blizzard roll into the metro area, so some people had to cut out early, but a few stayed for a cheesy movie — Pumaman, courtesy of MST3K.

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The next day, we got to enjoy the remains of the blizzard by going sledding with Jenny and friends over at Standing Bear Lake. It have me the chance to try out my freezeproof, waterproof, and generally adventure-proof camera, recording some horrible shaky video was sliding downhill. Jenny and Jon also went out onto the lake to make snow angels and write messages in the snow (with footprints, all right?) We retreated indoors for pizza and games once the cold became a bit too much.

It seemed a fitting way to end the weekend before our big trip to Las Vegas. More on that next time.


Sledding at Standing Bear Lake

Goodbye, Bart

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Bart Wormington, 1952 – 2011

Vivian and I have been busy with several things over the last week or two that have kept me from updating my old blog, but I would be remiss not to comment on the passing of a mutual Jitterbug friend, Bart Wormington.

Bart had been a long-time member of the Omaha Jitterbugs, having joined with the same “class” as former president Ruth (who usually manages the front desk on Friday nights). Vivian and I had only bumped into him occasionally until he started dating Margaret Clancy a year or two ago. They both danced with us in Papillion parade last summer, and we attended their wedding in December. Strangely enough, Bart and I spent most of our time communicating via Facebook, often sparring over one political topic or another. He was still the kind of person who had a great deal of compassion for other people, even those he disagreed with. He gave Vivian and me loads of advice when her car suddenly needed a new transmission, and also let us know what dire consequences could come from a cracked heat exchanger in our furnace (which we fortunately didn’t have).

Bart’s passing, which we learned about just last Sunday, came as the biggest shock of our lives. He’d been commenting on Facebook just hours before a fatal heart attack, and Vivian and I only learned about it via a Facebook comment from Ruth. I’d never lost anyone so suddenly before, and I was simply in shock most of the day. His Facebook page and Margaret’s quickly filled up with sympathetic comments from mutual friends online, and I can only hope some of that gave some comfort to her and their grieving families.

You will be sorely missed, Bart. We hope you’re dancing on beautiful celestial floors now and forever.

Blessed are the cheesemakers

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Vivian and I have enjoyed a few quiet, snowy weekends back home in Bellevue since the holidays have wound down. We’re both preparing for a Cheese Party in the next week or two, so Vivian tried her hand at cheese-making one Saturday. She was able to produce some tasty soft white cheese, very much like ricotta, from a gallon of whole milk. It should be fun to top off another cheese-tasting event with something made right in our own kitchen!

We got to enjoy an unexpected three-day weekend when a fairly large snowstorm passed by and dumped a good portion of white stuff all over the Omaha metro area. I shoveled our driveway at least three times trying to keep it clear, which seemed like a futile effort at times, but it was nice to have the extra time off to do it. I was also a little amused at how the snow storm suddenly became national news only when it approached the east coast a few days later.

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Snow on the ground, of course, means spending more time in the Great Indoors, which often means cooking. Vivian made up some tasty stuffed peppers one Saturday just for fun, and she also went all-out with something of a seafood feast made entirely of items I’d found at Aldi. You’d never guess the little discount store down the street would have such things as lobster tails, bay scallops, and mussels available (not to mention wine). Yeah, we’re living up, albeit on the cheap.

We’ve still been having fun with our friends, of course, dropping by JNO for dancing and then tacos at Alvorado’s afterward (two weeks in a row). On Saturday, we joined Jenny and a few of our mutual friends at Mic’s in northwest Omaha for karaoke. The guys stepped up with I’m too sexy, which was hilarious, and the girls and I got to perform Love Shack once again. I’ve taken a pledge to boycott Omaha for the time being, so I didn’t get a dose of liquid courage before stepping on stage. From the sound of the inebriated members of the audience, it sounded like we did just fine.

New Year’s in Kansas City

Vivian and I spent another New Year’s Eve in Kansas City, a town we’re both growing increasingly fond of, and not just because it’s the home to our two comic friends Vort & Michelle (who actually live in Independence).

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We beat a nasty snow and ice storm and headed down a day early to stay at the Sheraton next to the decked out Country Club Plaza. We’d visited the Plaza a few times before, but we’d never seen it dressed up for Christmas. It was quite lovely to walk around in the not-quite-freezing weather and enjoy a piece of cheesecake down by the Cheesecake Factory before bedtime.

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We had a fun-filled time the next day seeing a few new sights around Kansas City, which mostly included food. After a greasy breakfast at the Waffle House, we dropped into the Better Cheddar, which is quickly becoming one of Vivian’s favorite haunts, to spend a small fortune on cheese, jellies, and various sauces. We also dropped by the World Market for more off-shore goodies before having some barbecue lunch up at Arthur Bryant’s, which was a favorite of my dad’s when we lived in Warrensburg. It was a fairly typical (albeit famous) KC barbecue joint, though Jack Stack is still going to be our favorite for some time.

Afterward, we had time to gawk at the ruins of the Wheatley Provident Hospital, which had apparently been the first black hospital built in Kansas City. We rounded out the day by visiting Union Station, KC’s old train station which has since been remodeled as a kind of large museum (not unlike the Durham). Most of the exhibits were closed, but we did drop into the Build a Dino workshop to create our very own Santa Saurus. The holidays will never be the same. ROAR!

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Our next stop was Vort and Michelle’s home down over in Independence. We had dinner and killed some time cracking up to Jeff Dunham talking to his puppets and playing Kirby’s Epic Yarn on the Wii. Once Fading Aura arrived from Colombia and then made a quick trip up to Walmart to buy ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies before midnight. We rang in the New Year with sparkling white wine and grape juice and then played a game called Outbreak as the first dark hours of 2011 unfolded before us.

P1020597On the first day of the new year, I went “geo-caching” with Fading Aura down around Watts Mill near the Indian Creek Bike Trail. Geo-caching is a bit like a treasure hunt, where you find hidden items using GPS and record it in a log book both at the site and online (mostly for bragging rights). It was sunny, windy, and unexpectedly frigid outside, but we managed to find our cache and check out the ruins of the old Watts Mill before retreating to the warmth of the car.

Among the other ruins we expected that day was the quite dead Bannister Mall up the road. It was built back in 1980 and the main structure had been torn down about two years ago. All that was left were rows and rows of vacant strip malls that looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic zombie film.

The mall wasn’t completely dead (though it is featured at deadmalls.com). There was a “GenX” clothing store still open, along with a Burlington Coat Factory that felt it was necessary to hang a banner and remind everyone “Yes, We are still open!!!” The rest of the facility was just a sad example of suburban blight, with bizarre details like boarded-up windows and bleached-white stop signs to remind us how long it had been since anyone cared about this property.

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Back at the house, Fading Aura made some of his delicious trademark waffles for a late breakfast, and then we introduced Vivian to Doctor Who by firing up the first episode of Season One (from 2005). It was much easier to follow than I expected, and we might wind up watching more.

Before we said goodbye, we headed down to the local Steak and Shake for lunch. They don’t have one of these in Omaha, and as a “burger snob” I was eager to give it a try. The chain has been around for some seventy years now and has the distinction of being both a fast-food drive-thru and a sit-down, wait-you-at-your-table restaurant. It was definitely a step above most other burger restaurants I’d visited. We spent the rest of our afternoon eating and drawing together before Vivian and I headed on back to Nebraska.