Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The End is in Sight

With only a day and a half left, the end of our trip is clearly in sight yet we have one last adventure ahead of us. We'll talk about that later. Right now I want to bask in the absolute silence provided by this very quiet corner of the unopened pool. Here I sit with a coffee and cigar and NO ONE. The little kids think they are so smart (and they are), but sometimes us old timers are one step ahead. They are stopped by "Pool opens at 10:00" signs. I am not.

Monday - February 26, 2007

Adam redeemed himself by somehow negotiating rooms in the MGM Signature tower for the same price as a room in the hotel. This is a high rise of upscale vacation condominiums that the owners rent when they are not using them. Had the owners anticipated that the 8 of us would be sharing these two rooms my guess is they would have preferred them vacant. They are top shelf accommodations with all the amenities you would expect in a luxury hotel. We even ordered the pastry breakfast with a wonderful assortment of fruit tarts and baked goods for each room.

There were only a couple of things left to do and see on our list, and none of them involved rocks, so the kids were happy. They were hungry, we were hungry and we had reservations for a special breakfast very high up in the sky.

We drove up to the Stratosphere, valet parked, and made our way through the casino to the elevator for the top. Since we were having brunch ($17) at the restaurant, you don't pay the usual $10 charge for the ride to the top. (So using a blonde kind of logic this great brunch was only $7 ... sorry Alicia).

Brunch was great, and the kids marveled that we were rotating and being presented with ever changing views. Of course they had to go to the bathrooms (located in the non-rotating center), and were so concerned that they wouldn't be able to find us when they got out (like we were going vertically as well as horizontally?).

Pauline Watt was our waitress. She is excellent, and friendly and has a good memory. I asked her to be in some of our pictures and told her I would send her one when we got back. I had told her the same thing last time we were here with Ed & Alicia, and she acknowledged that she remembered that and was still waiting. Unfortunately, she is still waiting but I'm going to do it soon.

Every now and then we would feel a little rumble, and looking at the top of the huge windows could just get a glimpse of some sort of rocket sled loaded with screaming people project itself over the edge of the building. Abruptly it would retract and calm would ensue. Until the next rumble. Whatever it was the kids wanted a piece of that action.

Following a delicious eggs benedict breakfast, we headed one floor up to the observation tower. You can't help but giggle nervously while watching grown people strap themselves into a large toboggan shaped conveyance and ride a rail out over the side of the platform, bounce a few times, and then repeat the process another two times. You have got to be kidding me. I would rather eat a large, live, brown spider than do that. The kids quickly changed their minds about participating in this insanity.

The second "amusement" ride was something that was probably named "Death Wish 4", which is an inverted claw with seats. This thing starts off benignly enough with 10 people strapped into their seats, then a portion of the protective railing drops and the claw pivots over the side of the deck. Then the thing begins to rotate and centrifugal force takes over and the petals of this upside down flower begin to bloom. At one point in the cycle, the Jim Jones followers are rotating horizontally in free space. The kids (and some adults) were alternately laughing and crying and I'm talking about the spectators not the riders. (Just a thought: I note that there are 8 seats on one and 10 on the other ride. My guess is that some insurance guru set that as the "acceptable risk" liability limit.)

As we walked to the Sahara we looked back up at the top of the Stratosphere and thanked whichever god is responsible that we are back at sea level and only have to fear the slot machines. Cheap money in comparison.

We like the Sahara. The little kids and Kristin like the Sahara. There is a NASCAR theme. There are loose slots. It's still a dump to Adam. We met Garrett (Kristin's brother and a genuinely nice guy) there and felt a small twinge when the kids promptly lost interest in grandparents and latched onto Uncle Garrett. This twinge lasted about three quarters of a second as we quickly realized there was only upside to this new situation. He was kid fresh, and had energy, and actually welcomed 16 octopus arms and legs tentacles inexorably squeezing the life blood out of him. Five adults and four kids now and the tide may be turning. If we can get three more adults to join us, the odds will be even.

Sitting back here in Studley, the remainder of the day remains a kind of blur, and it's difficult to remember some of the details. I know we went to the big casinos, and FAO Schwartz, and saw the fountain shows at Caesars. I know we ate in Paris and watched the gondolas navigate the canals in Venice. I know the kids went to the airport the next day and flew away, and a couple of days later we went to the airport and flew away in a different direction. I know these things because I have the pictures for proof.

What I remember is the pure joy of connecting with family and being part of a really great trip.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Meteors - Walnuts - Sunsets

What do meteors, walnuts, and sunsets have in common? These four seemingly disparate items all play a part in the end of the Arizona drama (and if you haven't spent any time with four young kids lately, you won't get the drama allusion) that was our southwestern trip.

Saturday - February 24, 2007

Another spectacular blue sky day in this other worldly area of the United States. The only thing left of our brief snowstorm are small puddles that evaporate into this parchment dry air minutes after the sun hits the pavement. Everyone is in good moods, their bellies are full and we are on our way to more parks. That junior rangers gig was so successful we are going to try it again.

We loaded ourselves into the Suburban and headed to, what we think, is one of the great wonders of the world. I first spotted Meteor Crater from the air when flying cross country about 20 years ago. I wondered how I had achieved the age of 40 and never heard (nor seen pictures) of it. It's still privately owned in the middle of cattle grazing land, flat for as far as the eye can see.

We missed the tour by minutes but walked the rim and tried to convey to the kids what this was, and how it happened. I think they got most of it, and while there was no badge at the end, it did hold their interest. Even the museum part (thank goodness for all those interactive displays), with all the newspaper stories about people who were casually having dinner when a meteor had the nerve to crash through their roofs.

We stumbled upon Walnut Canyon on a previous trip, and it has all the ingredients a young child needs to ensure terrified parents and grandparents (bringing great joy to some percentage of the participants). Walking trails without rails where a misstep means a plummet of several hundred feet to immediate death, the chance to encounter wild animals, and views that look so much better if the child is leaning over a precipice all the while proclaiming their emerging adulthood in phrases such as: "I'm old enough to run here, Vovo", and "I'm not a baby, I won't fall." Add to this the excitement of ice on the path and you have the makings of a Griswold vacation.

The added benefit, of course is the burning desire to do whatever it takes to complete the junior ranger booklet and earn the coveted plastic badge.

This is such an interesting and startling walk, first down long winding staircases from the ranger station to the valley where you can then circumnavigate what looks like a mountain peak stuck right in the middle of the chasm. On the way there are overhanging cave like dwellings to linger in, some with the soot of fires still blackening the stones. We imagined the original dwellers setting up house, and figuring out who got which bedrooms in these overhangs. Lots of opportunities for imaginations to run wild.

With the kids duly sworn, and tired from their trek, we told them we were going to look at more rocks. Dismay. Another 15 cent plastic badge. Breathless anticipation. I'm telling you they have really hit on something here.

Sunset crater is so unlike anything they had previously seen we were glad that we had saved it for last. With the lava flows, petrified skeleton like trees and weird colors you could imagine being on another planet. The kids were tired, we were tired, and the beds were beckoning. I think we wore them out, and the Pleasant Family storytime was shorter than usual.

Sunday - February 25, 2007

It is a long ride back to Las Vegas. To make it more interesting (we thought) we would head back through Sedona where there are MORE ROCKS. I've never understood the fascination with this town, and don't understand why it is on the "must see" map of the southwest. But there was one interesting side note:

Adam has a MIO navigation device that is quite remarkable, but sometime common sense should prevail. A case in point as we approached a clearly closed RT 89 (we could tell by the big barrier across the road that said closed) between Flagstaff and Sedona. Adam argued that MIO told him to take this road so he was going to. Kristin very astutely noted in regard to MIO: “IT doesn’t know the road is closed!” We went down the road, turned around 9 miles later and took the alternate route. The funny part was Adam seemed determined to let MIO plot our return north over the same closed road. This went on for about 10 minutes and two turn arounds til he finally looked at the map and yielded to what his lying eyes were telling him … too funny.

The highlight of the trip was a stop at a roadside junk stand (gift shop - sorry, my bias is showing), followed by lunch at a Jack in the Box where some young lady was having her baby shower. No kidding. We sidetracked through Jerome, the hilltop ghost town, that I imagine is more interesting if you actually stop and get out of the car.

Speaking of the car, we have a pretty comfortable 9 passenger Suburban, and even if you have NO imagination the potential for child interaction given the hours we spent in the car should be obvious. Plus even though I am not claustrophobic, sitting in the 3rd seat with a young child pressing against you on either side (because of the car seats they have to be on the outsides) gave me the heebie jeebies.

As we head into the sunset, on the horizon I see the the glimmer, the shimmer, and more adventure heading at us at 75 miles an hour. Las Vegas, sweet Las Vegas.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Dam - Grand Canyon

Parents usually don't think it is sweet when the first thing they see upon opening their eyes in the morning are four little eyeballs looking at them with enthusiasm and expectation. Grandparents do. I remember reading once that the reason grandkids and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy.

Thursday - February 22, 2007 - Leaving sin city in our rearview mirror, we Burger Kinged our way to Hoover dam. The 3 bench seats in the 9 passenger Suburban were seeded with at least one adult per bench reducing the internecine warfare opportunities dramatically. Since the kids had driven from San Diego to Death valley and across the desert already, the scenery did not appear to interest them as much as it did us. I guess at 70 miles per hour, if you've seen one desert you've seen them all. Having said that, A&K took a beautiful picture in Death Valley proving the previous statement false.

Upon cresting the rim of the canyon and seeing the dam for the first time, the little ones were suitably impressed. When we told them that we were going to drive over it, their eyes lit up. This could be exciting. The tour to the bottom and walking through the cave like tunnels to the turbines was interesting. Adam has a real interest and knowledge in electricity production, so it was nice having him there to explain things to us.

It was a clear sunny, very cool day, with a pretty strong wind gusting down the canyon. Adam took Jonathan to get the car and the rest of us decided to walk across the dam to up the thrill factor and be able to say that we walked from Nevada to Arizona. (When the kids saw that there was a full sized road across the dam the idea of riding across it seemed to lose some of it's luster. They obviously expected something more terrifying.)

Kat and I often accompany Jami (sometimes four adult hands and arms are required to maintain stability) but Kat was in the gift shop so it was just the two of us walking across. I had my first heart quickening moment of the trip when walking across the turnout on the Arizona side a fierce gust came along, and blew Jami off her feet. She started rolling toward the short wall and safety rails that form the top edge of the dam. She got to her feet and with a small smile waited until I came to her. In a couple of minutes Kathy joined us and our little "Jame" held our hands the rest of the way.

Adam picked us all up in Arizona, and we began our drive to our next stop, the Grand Hotel in Tuscayan, Arizona. We chatted about the time change and explained that they were going to give back an hour they had borrowed on the plane trip out. They had to think about that for a bit. Located about 1/2 hour from the entrance to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the rustic atmosphere and indoor swimming pool at the Grand Hotel seemed the ideal place to overnight before our canyon experience. We were rewarded with an average dinner accompanied by a moving performance of young native Americans dancing to the sounds and rhythms of ancient tribal music. It really was special, and we were enthralled.

After dinner we relaxed in the lodge type atmosphere of the hotel, playing board games with the kids and just enjoying being there and being together.

Friday - February 23, 2007 started off with a snow squall. Looking out from our toasty warm rooms, we thought that this could be a problem. Is the middle of February really the best time to be here? Why are we just about the only people in this hotel?

Somehow, miraculously, during breakfast the sun brought forth the most perfectly clear, moisture-free air, morning one could hope for. It was cool and breezy, but the views were spectacular.

I'll let the pictures do the talking:

One of the (many) things I was totally ignorant of was a program called "Junior Rangers" run by the National Park Service. I was astonished to find something our federal government does with my tax dollars that I am in agreement with. Upon entering a national park the little kids request from the park ranger a booklet that guides them through a scavenger type hunt. At the completion of their visit they turn in the completed booklet and are quizzed by the ranger. If they pass (they all did), and after taking a hand raised, sworn oath to protect, preserve and defend the habitat, they are awarded a plastic badge embossed with the name of the park. Pretty, pretty good.

After a full day at the Canyon, we motored on over to Flagstaff for an excellent Mexican meal and a much deserved night of rest, the little cherubs carefully tucked into their beds (following their "Pleasant Family" story), and the adults questioning their own sanity.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Las Vegas - 2007 Kristin & Adam & Kids

For the record: After a two and 1/2 years of this, we have determined that retirement is more pleasing than we had imagined. We thought that doing only what we wanted, when we wanted would get old. We can report that any such fear has not been realized. It only get's better. Kat’s dad passed away 7 months ago and we spend a fair amount of time with her Mom, glad that we made the decision to locate in Virginia.

Tuesday, February 20 2007

Tis a beautiful day here in Richmond, the first warm day (53 deg.) in a while. We await our flight to Las Vegas where we should meet up with my son Adam, his wife Kristin, and their four kids this evening. We eagerly anticipate the moment when we first set our eyes on the little kids. It has been about a year since we last saw them in New England.

A couple of months ago A&K found some really cheap round trip flights to LAX and asked if we would join them. They planned to spend a couple of weeks driving around the southwest. Since neither Kathy nor I are too fond of the left coast, we suggested we rendezvous with them in Las Vegas at some point.

They have been gone a week already and (according to some emails) spent some time in San Diego with my brother Richard and his wife Lucy. As usual any visit with my brother is a trip unto itself. He and his wife are such gracious hosts that you really don't want to leave.They stayed in the cottage behind Rich and Lu’s home, and we can tell you from experience that it is perfect for the two of us. I'm sure the six of them presented the type of logistical challenge that my brother craves. We think they also connected with Kristin’s brother who is living and working just outside Los Angeles.

The only arrangements we made were a couple of free nights at the Sahara, ("Dad, you've got be kidding, that place is a dump", per Adam) and a particular hotel at the Grand Canyon, where there is a native Indian dance during dinner.This will be the second time in 4 months that we have been to the area. The last was in November with our niece, Jemma, who had spent four months living with us.

We left Richmond on time then delayed for 2 hours at DFW due to bad weather elsewhere. Walking outside for a puff, we ended up chatting with an 82 year old spitfire named Rose (quick bio: Jewish, NY, lots of bling, particularly the Z ring she was wearing). According to her she drinks vodka and smokes every day, and never misses her lunch with friends at the Green Valley Casino, to which according to her, we simply must go. The three of us swapped stories, laughed, and the two hours flew by.

Looking at the bits of notes I scribbled (some in crayon) in the journal most of this is from recall. So unlike other blog trips (would those be "blips"?) there will be more pictures than words. And if this is being read by one of those aforementioned 4 kids I'm sure you are pleased by that news. And since you are also looking for your own name, here it is: Jami, Megan and Alyssa, Jonathan.

OK, and your picture as well:

Upon our late arrival at the airport we were greeted by Adam and two of the kids, right at the baggage claim. They looked "marvelous" clearly excited being in the greatest city in the world for sparkle.

Oh, did I mention BTW that we caved and stayed at the MGM Grand, and oh, did I mention also that we just happened to have an adjoining room, and oh yeah, each night 2 of the kids would sleep in our room and 2 with their parents? And, oh yes, how about that pool, and the kids do love to swim while their grandparents watch?

There are still remnants of the "family friendly" Las Vegas that was so heavily promoted a few years ago. For children there is a constant bombardment of the senses that make it a thrilling place to be. Instead of the lure of drink, naughtiness, and gambling, there is the ever present assault of primary colors, sweet treats, and thrill rides. Everything from the M&M store with it's rainbow selection and sidewalk hawkers to New York, New York's inside-outside roller coaster, the temptations just keep coming at you. Oh, isn't there something incongruous about that palm tree in front of the Chrysler building?

With chocolate running through their veins the little kids were ready to keep on trucking through the evening, so the adults figured some old fashioned walking and sightseeing was in order. We had four activities (none of which included sugar) planned for the tots; the volcano at the Mirage, the fountains of Bellagio, the pirate show at Treasure Island, and finally the light show down on Fremont Street. It was fantastic and the kids burned off most of their energy.

The adults (being in charge) hadn't eaten so we voted on Chinese food back at the hotel, where we would be minutes away from our room, and not subjected to any more strobe lights, water, or thunder. After ordering and while enjoying our first real meal of the day, the kids (all four of them) took this opportunity to fall into an insulin induced stupor, and fell asleep at the table. We had outlasted them. There seemed to be some sort of Pyrrhic victory in that. Sleep restores energy, but we figured we could worry about that tomorrow.

Just a thought: I would have written more but those 4 adorable kids sure do suck every bit of energy and life out of you. Kristin looks so good, we just marvel at her. We are dessicated shells. The week absolutly flew by and any “down” time that we may have used for reading or writing was consumed in a good way, by shared experiences with the kids and grandkids.