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Is Vegas Still Fun?

For Veterans Day weekend, my husband and I headed to Vegas. It was a combination of birthday/holiday/bachelorette weekend all rolled into one. We were looking forward to getting out of town and spending time together. But once we arrived on this fifth or sixth trip to sin city, we found ourselves wondering if we really still liked Vegas.

One of the things that was always fun to see in Vegas was the over the top themed hotels. But Las Vegas is changing and hotels like the Luxor, New York, New York, or Treasure Island are older. And over the top and opulent becomes tacky and grotesque over time instead of classy. Especially in a smoky, flashy casino. Vegas just doesn’t age well.

But it’s not all terrible. What do you do in the desert if you don’t gamble a ton and you want to avoid the flashy Vegas? You hike Red Rock National park.

Red rock was free on Saturday because of the holiday. But it was also crowded. It was a beautiful sunny day and not hot. We hiked at the third stop along the scenic loop which was short but moderate. You can get the map at the entrance and choose the hike that works for you.

Some other things we did included Indian food at the Royal Indian Bistro, free Veteran’s breakfast buffet at the Paris hotel and casino, and discounted tickets to the worst Vegas show I have ever seen, WOW. Our Indian food was good. But eating in hotel casinos are expensive and sometimes not worth it. But we enjoyed our dinner and the service. WOW was like a wannabe Cirque du Soleil show that was incredibly sexist and cheesy.

For the bachelorette shenanigans, we dressed up, dined sashes and went out for dinner, a show and dancing. We had a great meal at Wolfgang Puck’s Cucina. The bride to be enjoyed everyone congratulating wishing her well. And I went to bed at a very late 3:30 in the morning.

We had a good time celebrating the upcoming wedding. Vegas is still a good place for that.

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Weekends in Santa Cruz

I just got back from another weekend of visiting my college kid. Really I think I was just escorting my dog to visit my kid, because she seemed less interested in the family, and more interested in our dog, Teddy. I mean, he is the cutest dog ever but, what am I? The person who pays tuition?

But Santa Cruz is great. I love it there. I’d like to win the lottery and move to that area and enjoy the nearness to the ocean.

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I’ve been up to the north end of Monterey Bay numerous times and have formed some opinions of what is good on a typical visit. Smelling the redwood trees on the campus: good. Getting stuck in the highway 1 traffic at 4 pm: bad.  I also have some go to locations for food and lodging.

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One of my favorite places to eat is Assembly. This place is right in the heart of the city on the main street, Pacific Avenue. They have indoor and outside seating, a great menu, and even better a fun appetizer menu. I am all about small plates these days.

IMG_2920We also always pick up coffee to take home from the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. They are also n Pacific, so its an easy stop to get a pound before we go. And a latte. And a cookie.

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In terms of hotels, Santa Cruz has a lot of options and many of those are old style motels advertising that they are close to the boardwalk. But that isn’t where I typically stay. My favorite location in the Scotts Valley Hilton (disclosure: I am a Hilton rewards member, so I do stay at a lot of Hilton properties). It has a cabin in the woods feel, has a dinning room and it has a pool. It’s also dog friendly. The picture above is from the lobby with it’s giant chandelier. It feels cozy and quiet. It could be where you spend a lot of time, if you don’t feel like heading down to the city of Santa Cruz. If I can’t stay there, I don’t usually book the other Hilton property, the Hampton Inn. Because it smells. It smells every time. I tried it twice and that was enough. I liked the Holiday Inn Express across the street better. This last time we drove up, a lot of hotels were booked completely so we ended up staying north in Cupertino at the Juniper (another Hilton property-dog friendly). It was really nice and we had a great dinner onsite, but we had trouble getting good service for breakfast. Also, Cupertino isn’t as fun for hanging out as Santa Cruz, it’s basically a city of strip malls and business parks.

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When we visit, we love going to Natural bridges, walking along the beach and we don’t usually visit the Boardwalk. We have before, but our kids aren’t small anymore. So we do old people things, like walk along Pacific Ave early, shop at funky bookstores and kitchen gadget stores, or check out art. I can’t believe I still haven’t stopped by the Mission. I have been seriously considering a road trip to every California Mission in the summer.

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The National Steinbeck Center and other Literary Stops

When I travel around the US, I like to check out local sites and see what’s unique to the area. Especially if it involves writers. The first time I went to New Orleans, I couldn’t help thinking about Walt Whitman and the oak trees. When I went to a wedding in Connecticut, I was excited to learn that Mark Twain’s house was there (next to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house!). I did the museum visit and home tour (which was great). On the tour, you can learn about Twain’s early adoption of technology, about his exciting dinner parties, and about his life with his family. The tour guides are a wealth of knowledge.

On a trip to Philadelphia, my friend mentioned that one of Edgar Allan Poe’s homes is in the city, so naturally I said let’s go. The house is a National Historic site with a “park ranger” on site to share information. The house is small but you can watch a video, take a tour, learn more about Poe and the home (and basement!) that inspired the Black Cat. I criticized the quote outside next to a painted image of Poe (which wasn’t from one of his best stories). The park ranger said that building was not a part of the site and the painting was done by a private citizen.


Most recently, while driving home from Santa Cruz, I made a stop I had been meaning to make. I went to the National Steinbeck center. For $13, you can learn about Steinbeck’s life, his writing and the Salinas valley. I am a huge Grapes of Wrath fan I wanted to visit. If your in town, you can also visit his home and eat lunch there. I didn’t have time to go there this trip, but I think I will next time.

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Hey Teach

I started teaching English for real money this fall semester. Changing careers has been my plan for a while, and this was the big transitional moment. I quit nursing and started teaching. I was good in my field of nursing and at grown a lot professionally. I had a poster presentation at a national conference. I sat on an advisory board. I worked on committees, wrote policies, and published articles in newsletters. I had developed a strong understanding of health care systems and how these things work.

Changing careers is hard. Did I ever think about this? I did think going to school while working was hard. Sometimes my school work was hard. But honestly, I didn’t give enough though to how little I know about the systems in higher education. I went to a staff meeting where legislation, funding, enrollment, and learning outcomes were discussed. And I didn’t know about a ton of their acronyms. I don’t know so much. It’s been a while since I felt so clueless. I’m trying to learn about a new organization in a new field with all new people. Not to mention plan for two classes I am teaching for the first time. Wow. I’m beat after the first week.

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Weekend Getaway: Los Alamos, Ca

Since returning in May, my oldest has been using my car for work. Now that I am back to work but not on a metro route, we are having more trouble sharing cars. My youngest has been home from college, which means 3 cars and 4 people who need to get to work. Every week has included a review of who needs what when, and who can take public transportation. My husband recently came home because his coworker had a car for sale. I was excited because I thought I could finally have my car back full time, which means spontaneous plans could exist in my life again. But the deal fell through when his coworker decided to give the car to her mother in law. 

Spontaneous plans are some of the best plans. This past weekend I convinced my husband that we should drive out of town and enjoy a mini getaway. I know no one feels sorry for me after a month in Europe, but I can’t help it. I get antsy. I need to move. When he agreed, I searched HotelTonight for a last minute hotel reservation with in driving distance. We ended up with a plan to visit Santa Barbara Wine country and a small town called Los Alamos near Buellton and Los Olivos. 

It’s barely a town, with a population of 2000 people, but it was just enough town for me and a weekend getaway. We debated bringing our dog, but we weren’t sure about taking him. I wish we would have. The Alamo Motel is pet friendly and a fun place to stay. They have a horseshoe pit, playing cards to borrow, 90s movies on Saturday nights, and Muni wines pouring on site from Santa Barbara. 

While we were there, we checked out what Los Alamos is known for, food and drink. I guess a few people from LA moved that way to leave the entertainment business and bake bread or make wine instead. We walked the short Main Street. We played gin rummy (I won) and we checked out this little town that I had never heard of before. We had pizza at Full of Life Flatbread and breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread. We tried wine at Casa Dumetz wine. In the evening, we settled on lawn chairs with a fleece blanket and watched Groundhog Day. Next time I am bringing our dog, Teddy.


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Upcoming Travel Plans: Um….

I spent all my money. Europe in May 2017 was a great adventure and I really enjoyed it. So many great experiences. 

But now, I’m out of money. I basically had two months of no work. So back to work I go. And it’s definitely hard to go back to work after two months off. I’m sure school teachers feel similar. I know, I know. I am privileged enough to travel for a whole month and not work for two months. Do I even deserve to complain? Yes, I can hear myself. And I remember being poor, so I am very grateful. 

But I also knew I wanted a change. I have worked pretty hard to get my kids the life they have and make sure I didn’t live in poverty. And now, I want to do more of what I want. But it takes money. So back home and back to work I go. But now my work is only in education. My next time available for any serious vacay is when other people are going too, between semesters. Instead, I’ll be at home walking my new doggy. 

Next trip: move my kid back to college in Sept?

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Last Stop: Zurich

Our last stop in Europe was Zurich. The reason we went to Zurich was all about money. When I bought my ticket to Europe, I search trips leaving from different locations. The ticket I bought arriving in Munich and leaving from Zurich was a good price. I bought my husband’s ticket later, and to save money, I bought each way separately (LA to Prague and Zurich to LA). I wasn’t able to get him on my flight because it was too much money, but we left the same day and could go the airport together.

The problem with Zurich was all about money. We arrived in Zurich by train and the first thing I noticed was the German was harder to understand. Also, I noticed by this leg of the trip I was getting worn out. Being a constant world traveler is not the life for me. I missed a consistent bed to sleep in. The European weather was warming up and a/c in our Airbnbs was nonexistent. The one we had in Zurich was spacious, but hot and right in the middle of the red light district. That meant people were out all hours of the night and it was too hot to close the windows. I’ll admit, I was a little cranky and feeling broke in a the most expensive city in Europe. But I did look up some ways to save money.

We took the short ferry trip on Lake Zurich, which was 90 minutes, for about 12 Swiss francs (CF). We ate at a buffet at the top of a department store for 12.50 CF (about the same in USD) for all you can put on your plate. Meals typically cost 25 CF, so that adds up fast over 2 days. I found an article of places with cheaper food. We people watched around the edge of the lake and got ice cream. 

It’s a hard transition at the end of a month in Europe. Your tired (and broke) and you want to go home, but you also don’t want it to be over. But you also need to make some money (because you spent it all). And you have to start thinking about regular life again.

The day before we flew out, My husband’s flight was changed and he had to leave early in the morning, while my flight was still at 1pm.  Which meant I sat the airport four hours after he left. So I bought a book. And read the whole thing before my flight boarded.


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Back in Munich, on the last day of my German class, my teacher asked what I would do to continue practicing. I fully intended to work on my work book when I got home. But I only have twice. Real life comes back fast. But I really do want to get back to practicing my German some more. And I really did like so many things about European living. I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate them into my American living.

Next stop: a job?

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Do you have any grey poupon?

I’ve been going out of order here so let me recap. When my husband met up with me in Prague, we stayed there for four days, and then headed to Nürnberg, followed by Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, we only stayed one night in a hotel. We decided on breaking up the long trip from Nürnberg to Paris with a stop in Frankfurt am Main. We thought 6 or 7 hours on a train would not be fun. Frankfurt is a big city with skyscrapers and crowds of people. It’s the financial center of Germany. 


We spent our short time there along the river (am Main) and went to see art at the Städl museum. The next day, we headed to Paris on the train. We didn’t realize it was going to be a fußball day. The train was packed at 10 am with fußball fans drinking and singing and pounding on tables. Bottles and cans littered the aisles of the train. Luckily we had reserved seats. And we thought, maybe we should have just done it all in one day.


We made it to Paris eventually and after Paris, we went to Dijon. My friend asked me, “Dijon? Like the mustard?” Yes, like the moutarde (that’s how the French say it). They have mustard on tap at the famous Maille shop. The best flavor I tried was truffle, it was so good. Dijon is known for mustard, gingerbread, and the region is known for Burgandy wine. But the gingerbread isn’t like gingerbread we are familiar with, it has a different flavor. It’s called Pain d’Epices. You can even get Pain d’Epices moutarde .


We ate some of the best food on our whole trip in Dijon. Classic Burgandy food includes Coq au vin and Beuf Bourguignon. The weather was perfect, the city was lovely. Quieter and smaller than Paris, but it has a lot things to love. So many cafés to sit at, wine trips, good food, museums and history to see. It was warm and sunny. 

I am pretty sure every salad should have a poached egg. And I like the spritzer on ice everyone was having.   We did a wine tasting tour and learned that they only grow Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes in the region. One day we even did nothing.  Find nothing, I mean we followed the Owl Trail to a historic site, sat on a bench and picnicked. I played Music on my phone and I even made a daisy chain bracelet. I’m not sure why I came home. Oh, right. Money.

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In Search of Jägerschnitzel

The thing about the German language, is that they love their consonants. All of them. And they don’t mind words with 4 or 5 in a row, and they do want you to use all of them. Occasionally in my German class, I would come across a word with somany sounds that I could only say the word very slowly. Too fast and I got tongue tied. It’s like the opposite of the Hawaiian language, all vowels. Have you noticed that certain consonants don’t exist? That why you get a fish named Humuhumunukunukuapua`a. After a while, I guess you get the hang of saying words with the back to back hard sounds like tscht.

When Will I and I left Prague, we actually went back to Germany. We went to Nürnberg and Frankfurt am Main. One thing we were excited about was staying in a hotel. We used my points to stay at a Hampton Inn, and even though Airbnbs are good for certain reasons, sometimes it’s nice to sleep on big hotel beds and have the few breakfast is in the morning. 

My husband had been to Germany before. He was stationed there, in the army. One of his main goals was to find himself a plate of jägerschnitzel. Schnitzel is pork that is pounded flat, breaded and fried. Jägerschitzel is that pork with mushroom gravy on it. It turned out to be very hard to find in cities farther from where he was stationed. The only mushroom gravy we found was a rahm or cream based gravy. But we tried. And we ate all of the pork. So much that when we left Nürnberg I was like, only salads for the next two days please. Ugh.


We also saw a lot of “old” buildings. I put old in quotes because what I learned in these Bavarian German cities is that most of the old building were partially or mostly destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII. So they were rebuilt it. Churches, houses, and even parts of castles.

Ex. View from the tower window of Nürnberg castle.

Picture of that view after WWII bombing.

So next time you day dream about old picturesque Bavaria, you might be day dreaming about something built in the 20th century.

We had fun in Germany. As usual, my favorite parts are times when I did almost nothing. Like when we found this sloped cobblestone covered corner of Nürnberg where everyone sat with their beer and dinner and picnicked. I sat with my coke and we people watched as the sun started to sink in the sky. 

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Paris is Always a Good Idea

3 days in Paris not enough for me. When planning this trip, my husband questioned if we really needed to go to Paris again. But I convinced my husband (who loves taking a different street or eating at a different cafe each day) that even though we had been to Paris before, we had to go back. This time we stayed in another great neighborhood, the Butte aux Cailles. It’s full of cafes and street art and locals. We saw a lot English speaking tourists around town, but not on the streets near our Airbnb. 
But the two best things about stoping in Paris was splurging for the dinner cruise on the Seine for my birthday. I compared Viator, which always appears on search engines, and the actual companies, and I can’t see any reason to go with Viator. We booked a dinner at 2115, so we were cruising at sunset. We didn’t book a window seat but we ended up by the window anyways. It was a perfect way to celebrate over three courses, with the sunset, and with the beataux (boat) in from of the Eiffel Tower the light show began. The staff were super friendly and fun and played music and danced with guests.

The other thing I was so glad to do was to see our exchange student from, wow, five years ago. Thomas is 21 now and we got to spend a good chunk of time walking through the Jardin des plantes and hanging at a bar near the Seine. The bar , L’Avant  Comptoir, was one recommended to my husband by a coworker and it was fun. You order small French plates on menu tags hanging from the ceiling and friendly service. 

We really enjoyed Paris, including picnicking on the bank of the Seine. We also saw somethings we hadn’t seen last time, like the Panthéon and the Petit Palais (free!). The Panthéon was church at first, but religious portions were removed and it was dedicated to celebrate the French nation and her heroes. I don’t know if it’s the ridiculousness of politics in our country or listening to Hamilton a million times, but I was feeling a bit romantic about our partners in revolution and liked seeing the art in those places that reflected ideas of liberté, egalité, and fraternité. Thomas and I had a conversation about people in cities living with diversity versus people in rural areas fearing it. In no way am I romanticizing revolution or wishing for one, but I was nostalgic for an idea of freedom that we grew up with. A complicated nostalgia that may be just rosy glasses.

I tried to find Lafayette’s tomb in Paris, which I read is visited by the DAR and has an American flag over it. But the construction around it confused me, and later I read there is a specific door with a doorbell you have to ring to find it.