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Monday, September 25, 2006

The Rest of Our Vegas Trip

Okay, so where did I leave off? My last post was mid-way our Las Vegas trip. So here’s the second part of that. Saturday in Vegas was spent exploring the Strip and visiting the opulent shops at the Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace. We had a late lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, which is hardly original given Las Vegas’ multitude of eateries. But we were tired and hungry – and The Cheesecake Factory offers something for everyone and so it worked for our group. After lunch, there was more shopping and lots of time spent trying to regroup and find each other. Aaah, the perils of traveling with a big group! Yes, it is fun, but it can be a bit challenging too. All I can say is “thank god for cell phones and free weekend service”.

My friends decided to watch Cirque du Soleil’s “O” in two batches (there was a 7:30 pm group and a 10:30 pm group). Jojo and I decided to pass since we had planned meeting up with my other group of friends (Ence, Rich, Muri and Carl). Carl had promised us a crab and oyster dinner that would be worth the 4 and ½ drive from LA. I know it sounds strange to drive to the desert for seafood – but we were up for it! Plans changed though when Muri called us at around 8. They were still at the outlets waiting for Ence’s family get their shopping done. It seemed dinner would be very, very late and it might be better to postpone to another night instead.

So, since Jojo and I were left to ourselves, we walked around some more, drove down the Strip, played some slot machines, lost some money, and finally headed back to our hotel to kill some time. At around 9:30, we met up with my friends who came from watching “O” and had appetizers and drinks at TGI Fridays – again, another unoriginal choice – but it was close by and we just wanted a place to hang out. We called it a night past midnight.

Back in our hotel room, I had decided to revise my opinion about The Orleans hotel. Originally, I had found it to be a good deal for a three-star property. Yes, it was off-the-strip but the spacious rooms and neat appearances made up for that. It was a plus too that the hotel was not that crowded and there were hardly any lines at the registration desk or for the elevators. But on our second night, we came back to a room that was partially cleaned, a sink that was clogged, an air conditioner that was blowing out lukewarm air, and problems logging onto the internet even after we had paid $12.00 for it. Plus the staff was a bit abrupt when we called to find out what was wrong.

Sunday morning, Jojo and I checked out of our room before meeting up with Les, Su, Mark, Pam, Jamie and Ginger. We the drove to the Wynn Hotel and met up with the rest of the group (Mei, Ben, Thomas, Ahna and Kenny). Luckily the second half of our group arrived much earlier and reserved us seats for the brunch buffet. The lines were really long!

I have to say the Wynn Casino is gorgeous – yes, so much so that it held its own over it’s other 5-star counterparts. Even the casino floor – normally hazy with smoke and garishly designed – was tastefully done with plush carpets and leather chairs. The restaurant where the buffet was served was really bright and impressive too. It was decorated in bright yellows and greens, there were lots of foliage inside, glass windows and mirrors reflected bright sunlight, heavy brocade drapery were hung on the walls, and there was good quality silverware and china. It was reminiscent of having high tea at someone’s garden estate. I loved the ambience of the place and the way the buffet was arranged. It was not the run-of-the-mill buffet where food is heaped onto huge chaffing dishes under hot lamps. This one had the food on narrow but elongated ceramic platters, enclosed behind stained glass panels. The food was arranged by cuisine: Asian, Italian, American. And there was a salad bar, an omelet station, a shellfish bar and of course a two-sided dessert station. And although the serving dishes were not huge, the food never seemed to run out. The service was impeccable from the omelet chef, to the carving station chef, all the way to the servers who kept our coffee cups and juice glasses constantly filled.

I wish I could say that the food was as impressive as the d├ęcor. But sadly, there were not that many choices and the food that was there was nothing remarkable. Actually most of the dishes were bordering on ordinary. For breakfast there was eggs benedict, bacon, sausages, and frittatas. The Asian section had stir-fried squid, shiu-mai, flat rice noodles. Italian cuisine was represented by an array of pizzas, pasta, ravioli, and a baked fish. The usual American fare of barbecued ribs, fried chicken , mashed potatoes, was also present. There was also a lot of cold selections like shrimp cocktail and smoked salmon. There was lots more, of course, but these were basically the highlights. The one thing I will say, though, is that the carving station’s prime rib was excellent and that Jojo was in dessert heaven since there was a wide array of no-sugar pastries that could pass for the real thing.

The true highlights of the meal were really the ambience and the company. It made every penny worth it! But, as with all good things, this one had to come to an end. Jojo and I had to bid everyone good-bye and drive back to LA since we both had to go to work the next day. It was a great weekend, though, and I hope we get to see everyone again real soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Old Friends, New Memories

I have not blogged in the last few days an as a result my dad has been worried that I would lose the interest of my loyal blog readers. I assured him that I have a loyal base of readers and in the worst case scenario I can probably call all 5 of them and let them know I have a new post today! :)

The last couple of weeks have been very busy. Mainly because of work. It’s still a bit tough adjusting – what’s worse is to have so many deadlines looming while that adjusting is going on. But enough about that. This post was not intended to focus on my gripes about work.

The other reason I’ve been so busy is cause we have had so many guests the last couple of days. It started last week (Wed.) with the arrival of my cousin, Jill, from Toronto. Despite our 9-year age gap, Jilly-bean and I are very close and she grew up almost like my little sister. It was great seeing her even if she was here only for a few days. We spent all our free time catching up and bonding. She left last Tuesday.

Next was the arrival of my best friend of nearly 20 years (my god that makes us sound ancient!), Leslie, who was here for my wedding back in 2004 and is here for a 3-week vacation. With Les is her co-worker and friend Jaime, who in a span of 1 afternoon has become one of us! They both arrived on Sunday. The following day, my very dear friend from high school (Su-an) and her husband of two days (Mark) arrived. They are on their honeymoon and since I missed their wedding, it’s kinda sweet that they are sharing their honeymoon with us :) To welcome them all, we had a backyard bbq of chicken, sausages, ribs and corn together with three other friends Ginger, Heidi and Libby.

On Wednesday night, we met another long-time friend of mine (Mei and her husband, Ben, and son, Thomas) for dinner at Samba in Redondo Beach. It was really nice seeing Mei (who I have not seen in 13 year!!!). The next night I had them all over for dinner at home where I prepared baked chicken wings, garlic focacia bread and spaghettini with meatballs.

On Friday, we all drove to Las Vegas to meet up with still more friends. While my high school pals spent the afternoon at the Primm outlets, Jojo and I met up with two of my really good friends from work (from my first job in Manila). Ence and her hubby Rich who are here visiting from Connecticut, and Muri and her boyfriend, Carl who are based in Las Vegas. We had dinner at a really nice place called Bahama Breeze. I was so excited when they mentioned the place since Rachael Ray had featured it on her Food Network show $40 Dollars a Day.

So there we were dining on fiery hot wings, jerk chicken pasta, barbecue chicken with smashed sweet potato and plantains topped with chicken, cheese and salsa. The food was good, the mojitos were just right, the ambience took you to a tropical hideaway, but the best part was catching up with old friends. It was great seeing Ence who I last saw back in 2001 and Muri who was over very briefly to attend my wedding. These two were such good friends of mine and we’ve been thru so much together too. Great meeting Carl who was very funny and Rich who had not changed at all. After dinner and drinks we headed to Tuscany villas to say hello to Ence’s family (mom, dad, brother, in-laws). It was just nice to see familiar faces. We stayed till about 1 just talking and catching up.

Right now, it’s bright and early (well, 9 am is bright and early in Vegas) and while everyone is still asleep, I thought I’d post an update. We are booked here at The Orleans hotel. It’s off the strip but really a very nice hotel. I’m quite impressed. I actually think it rates much higher than Circus-Circus, were we stayed two months ago when I came with my in-laws.

Today, is another exciting day since another dear high-school friend, Pam is flying in from Boston. Along with another friend, Ahna who is arriving from New York. It’s all very exciting and so awesome seeing everyone and having a weekend just dedicated to having fun and getting reunited. This is one time where “what happens in Vegas, hopefully does not stay in Vegas” :)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Weekend

My hubby and I have been known to spend three-day weekends out of town or at the very least exploring the town we live in. Since we live in Southern California, Labor Day weekend also means backyard barbecues with family and friends or trips to go shopping at the outlets. This weekend was a little bit different though.

The last three days were spent helping my brother, Jules, move to his new apartment in Pasadena. For the last 2 & 1/2 years, my brother has been my apartment/house-mate. He and I have both helped each other stave off feelings of homesickness as we both successfully recreated the happy home life we had in Manila. But since he got a job in Pasadena, his commute to and from Torrance has been pretty bad. He spends between 2 & ½ to 3 hours a day in traffic. And has really felt the pressure of getting up extra early and getting home late at night. So last month he decided to get a place closer to work.

While I’m happy for my brother, I have to admit I’m actually pretty sad about his being away from us as well. Jules and I grew up in a very close-knit family. So despite our three year age gap, we are pretty close and get along quite well. I first arrived here in the States in 2001 and when he followed three years later, it was understood that we would live together and help each other out. No questions asked and honestly, I do not think either one of us would have had it any other way. The last three years, we’ve stayed in an apartment and then moved to our home here in Torrance, Jules and I have been thru a lot. His quiet and steadfast nature has always complimented my more outgoing and spontaneous one. Believe it or not, we have lived here together for three years, as adults, but I can not recall a time we both got into a serious fight!

I know it may seem strange to think that my fully grown (but still my baby) brother is living alone for the first time. But as I said, my family is extremely close and we all choose to live together rather than live on our own. None of us has really ever wanted to move out (can’t even recall a time when any of us ran away from home even as kids!), and I know for a fact that if I were still in Manila, I would most likely have lived with my folks up till the day I got married :)

And even now that I am married, I am constantly urging my sisters and brothers to move to the States and come live with us (I've been urging my folks as well but that's another story!). Luckily I am blessed with a hubby that understands and actually feels the same way.

So, I guess it’s normal for me to be a little choked up now that Jules is gone. Tonight is his first night at his place, and even if I was there earlier, I’ve already called him just to ask if he’s had dinner already. And even if Jules has been on several out of town trips and has spent many nights away from here, his not being here tonight is such a marked difference that even my hubby has commented that the house is quieter and feels just a wee bit more empty. But despite that, I am proud and happy for my brother and his independence.

The funny thing is my brother is spending the night here this Thursday (since our cousin, Jill, is arriving from Toronto and staying for a few days). He has also said he will be spending most of his weekends here in Torrance. So I guess I’ll just have to be a bit sad for a few days :)