Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer Vacation Part 2

The next day we awakened with the sun in our eyes and a song in our heart (and in the case of Jackie, a burn on our back...).  We hit Zion's fast and hard-- we signed the girls up for Junior Rangers, went and learned about aquatic water bugs, answered all the questions in their Ranger packets, hiked to Emerald Pool (with about 6 breakdowns from Ellis along the way), grabbed some caffeine and we were out.
Off now to St. George.
We checked into our hotel (the pool was closed for cleaning which made the girls sad) and off we went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 (really fun).  Back to the hotel for sleep.
The next day was swimming in the pool (great job Jackie-- I watched Bob's Burgers on the side) and a little outlet shopping-- followed by disappointment in the one place we wanted to eat in St. George was closed for 2 weeks (we're very sad about that still Poke Bowl).  But we ate at a great Italian place before we were off to Tuachan for The Little Mermaid.
It seems that this show is a little cursed for Jackie and I-- when we first went to see the Pre-Broadway try out in 2007 (to celebrate my Masters Degree), Jackie was sick as a dog and made the bathroom at The Denver Center a place where we cannot return.  This time, it was weather-  but it made it really fun.  Right as the storm began on stage, a literal storm crashed down on all of our heads-- but the performers kept going and nothing was cancelled.  Ellis was sad about a wet head, but the show was great (and it was really fun seeing one of my former RHS students as one of Ursala's electric eels!  See you on Broadway next year Michael Milkanin!)
The next day, a quick drive to Vegas and we checked in to The Palazzo Hotel-- quite a different between this property and The Abbey Inn in St. George...
The girls pronounced it a palace (and our suite was spectacular-- overlooking the Mirage volcano) and Jackie promptly fell asleep (after eating lobster fries and a lobster roll...).  The took the girls swimming at a couple of the 12 pools at the property-- but then it was off to Grimaldi's Pizza-- we've never been in Brooklyn, but there was no wait for the version at the Palazzo- and it was awesome (but we ordered too much salad).
We then took off to Treasure Island for the girls first Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere.  I love the show-- Ellis hid her face for most of it (not a fan of gymnasts...), but loved the baby clown (who was great).
We followed up the show with another New York institution, Serendipity 3 at Caeser's Palace for a Frozen Hot Chocolate.  At first the girls were sad that they had to share... but they ended up not being able to finish the one they had.
After watching the volcano erupt, it was bedtime followed by checking out-- but we couldn't leave Las Vegas without a buffet.. this time Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan.
It was amazing.  Millie went to the bathroom 4 times but we didn't care because they had 15 flavors of house made gelato- and the cool part was most of the food was served in small containers and small plates.  It was awesome and we rolled out of there and then rolled back in to Riverton-- just in time for the 4th of July the next day--- and the beginning of Hale Center Theatre Camp (which deserves its own post).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Summer Vacation Part 1

So we did more than go to NYC this summer-- it's not summer without a road trip-- so that's what we did.  First, we hit the road to Cedar City, Utah where we stayed in a strange hotel room at Abbey Inn.  It was strange because of the layout-- I think the room used to belong to the owners because it had a full kitchen and was very long (and it was also right behind the front desk).  The girls loved the indoor pool (you are going to notice a theme with this...) and loved having their own TV to watch Disney Channel.  The room for Jackie and me was all the way down a hall- and felt far away from the kids-- which was fine with me.
Saturday morning, we woke up, and went over to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the campus of SUU.  The girls loved the gift shop- but the best part was a special, private backstage tour given by Michael Bahr (education director at the festival).  He customized it for our girls and made it all revolve around Into the Woods (which we were seeing).  It was such a great tour- and Michael is such a great guy (and is always running from one place to the next).
After grabbing a quick lunch at the Pastry Pub, it was off to see Into the Woods.  It was a great show-- Little Red and Cinderella's Prince stole the show.  It was still a preview (the Narrator forgot a couple of lyrics-- which ended up being funny because the ensemble ended up singing responses to questions that were never asked..) and- more importantly, our girls loved it and were into it the entire time.
After the show, it was time for dinner (and we went to 2 places-- somewhere simple for the girls, and awesome BBQ for Jackie and myself)-- and at the BBQ place, we run into my former student (and all around great guy and designer), Daniel Whiting (down there designing for the Neil Simon Festival).
We also made sure to eat a tart and candy for the Greenshow (Ireland edition- kind of like Once without the working pub)-- Ellis proclaimed she didn't like Greenshows-- but I secretly caught her listening...
On Sunday, it was off to Zion's.  I decided that we should try something a little outside of our comfort zone-- so I signed us up to tube the Virgin River right outside Zion's.  Everyone had to be able to handle their own tubes (and our guide told us that the trip is very interactive) and off we went with water shoes on and a song in our hearts.
That was for the first 10 minutes.  Ellis and Millie shot down the river at first while Jackie and I kept getting our butts stuck on rocks.  For a little while, it was so rocky it was easier for me to stand up, hold the inner tube and walk down the river--- or more like chase after Millie (who was gliding along singing at the top of her lungs).  Ellis kept getting stuck and after a bit, she declared she was done, hopped onto the back of the river and started walking along the edge.  Periodically, Ellis would also be swept into huge branches on the side of the banks and begin screaming.  Jackie ended up staying with Ellis (after having a nice pee party at some point in the river) while I raced after Millie (and slipped and fell twice-- once really hard on my back (right on a rock) and once when a rock gouged all the skin off my ankle.  It was certainly an adventure.  I could make a lot of analogies about this trek (we can do hard things- sometimes you just have to pee in the water- don't give up- reward comes after frustrations- I HATE THIS DAMN RIVER-etc... but in the end (2 and a half hours later), we were at the end, Jackie with a sun burnt back and so happy to be on dry land.
After an awesome lunch, Jackie passed out at the hotel while I went swimming in 108 degree heat at our hotel (which had a great, cool, outdoor pool) with the girls.  It was a celebration of the day-- because we were alive.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

NYC 2014 Day #7

We had to get everyone up and ready to check out of the hotel.  20 rooms had to shove their luggage into OUR room so they could all be checked out (this made Jackie hurry quickly in the shower-- no one likes a high school kid barging in on your toilet time...)We still had places to go to though-- it was a beautiful day so we started off at TOP OF THE ROC (my personal favorite sky scraper in Manhattan)-- we were one of the first groups up there so it was pretty empty (and already really hot).
After we enjoyed the view, we were on a mission.
Jackie is not a fan of Chinatown-- she's gotten us kicked out of a few places because of her bargaining skills (learned on her mission in Madagascar- unless the wilds of Troutdale Oregon prepared her to knock prices down on purses...), but, with our friend Kelly Riding in tow, we were off to get Jackie a "designer" purse/bag.
We poked around a few places to get an idea on prices when a man walked up to us and said to follow him for purses.  Off we went (with Jackie leaving bread crumbs to find our way back to the subway-- which wouldn't matter if we were being sold into white slavery) when we were handed off to a girl that gave us a paper with pictures of purses on it.  That was not good enough for Jackie-- so the man came back and escorted us into a smoke filled room-- with a secret back door (with a magnet on it).  There was no turning back now.  Either Jackie bought a purse or we were all going to die.  Until a nice family came in and joined us looking at the ceiling to floor display of purses.  The best part was when Kelly was looking at a bag and asked if it was a Michael Kors (it had a different symbol on it) and the guy said, "You want a Michael Kors?" and popped the label off and replaced it with a Michael Kors label right in front of us. Fine, quality craftsmanship.
Jackie finally decided on a great, wine colored bag that all repeatedly told her was not too fancy for her.  We paid what I thought was a fair price and we went off to find Kelly DeHaan a fedora.  Which we did.
It was back to the hotel where we loaded up on our 2 buses (sorry 2nd bus that it took you so long to get to JFK) and off we went.
While waiting for our JetBlue flight, we entertained everyone around us while Kelly DeHaan led us in a clapping game that made Jackie mad when she would lose.  Then, our flight was delayed by 3 hours coming home so we all got home at 2:00am instead of 11:00pm-- but, everyone made it (barely... we had a parent go through security at JFK that forgot he had an ammunition clip from Cabela's in his luggage-- it made it through SLC just fine-- however, they were not amused at JFK and he (and his son) were detained for quite a long time in a back room somewhere by security...but even they made it onto the plane)-- and we were home!  Good to see you NYC 2014!  We'll see you with another huge group in 2016!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NYC 2014 Day #6

Sunday.  Normally a day of rest.  Not here!
We were all up bright and early to take the subway down to Ground Zero for the 9/11 Tribute Center (for people wanting to attend in 2016, we will be going to the brand new 9/11 Museum which is supposed to be beautiful and touching).  Since New York Public Transit always changes subway lines on Sundays, we knew we were in for a treat.  We all had to pay attention where to get off (and there was one hilarious moment where people got off the subway at the wrong spot and we enlisted strangers to help us yell at the students on the platform to get back on)-- and, despite one group getting off early, we all made it there safely.
After looking at the tributes and artifacts in the space (put together by survivors families), people got to wander the grounds of 9/11 and have some free time before our 3:00pm show.
Jackie and I went back to the hotel for Facetime with the girls (thanks for taking care of Millie who woke you up by vomiting on your bed mom!) and then we were off for brunch.
We went up to a nice quiet restaurant on the Upper West Side and delicious things.  I can't remember exactly what I ate, but I was stuffed and they had really good bread.
Then, it was off to Rocky.  No one in our group new what to expect-  Rocky?  Singing? Dancing?  Well, my expectations were totally exceeded (and this was not just by me...) Most of our group put it as one of the top shows of the trip.  Here's why it was a fun show to end our trip with:
1-  The chemistry between Andy Karl and Margo Seibert was amazing.  They were so good in their roles (great voices-- and REALLY likable).
2-  That set.  I cannot begin to describe how huge and impressive that set was.  The Winter Garden Theatre has only had 3 musical in it the past 30 years-- Cats, Mamma Mia! and Rocky.  I had never been in there before so I was amazed at the size of those sets.
3-  The last 20 minutes put our group on such a high, that everyone was in a fantastic mood at the end of the show.  The show is closing so unless you're going in the next week, I'm not spoiling anything by saying that first first 20 rows get to go up on the stage and sit on bleachers.  Then the stage slides out and sits on the first 20 rows of seats, making a full on boxing ring.  The people on the side seats stand up so they can see the fight-  making it feel like you are at a real boxing match.
The fight choreography (in tandem with makeup artists acting as coaches applying bruises and blood to the actors faces) in amazing and a huge jumbo tron drops down from the ceiling over the ring.  To top it off, Rocky throws his sweaty towel into the audience and someone in our group caught it.
In short, in may not have the most amazing music (though Eye of the Tiger is in it),  we had a great time.
After that, it was off to Max Brenners for chocolate overload (where we were seated by 2 children's group- a tween girls Bday party and a tween boy's soccer team.  It was deafening.  And that was just Kelly DeHaan singing to be heard above then.
After that, our group wandered around Union Square Park, went up to Lincoln Center and relaxed by the fountains, frolicked on the grassy knoll at Lincoln Center and then ended the night with Jackie's treasured garlic knots.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NYC 2014 Day #5

Saturday morning was great.  No scheduled activities until the show that night.  We saw people off to get their rush or lottery tickets- we also had people go off to see a Yankees game and to visit the Intrepid.  Jackie and I however headed off  (with Kelly D and Kelly R.'s money) to see if we could get Rush ticket for the musical Violet.  (Although, first, while Jackie was getting ready, Kelly DeHaan and myself did a quick croissant run to our favorite croissant place, Petrossin).  We scored great at the box office with Rush ticket for Violet- $30 got us into the matinee at 2pm- and there was no line (except some crazy lady that was talking about the matinee being for student only).
After that, Jackie and I did some shopping for the girls (hello Aladdin and The Lion King beach towels) and met up with Kelly Riding for some delicious 5 Napkin Burger.
Violet is a fantastic little musical that opened Off-Broadway a few years ago.  I've always been intrigued by the story, but what brought it to Broadway was the fact that it was starring Sutton Foster (it also helped that it was produced by the creators of Gilmore Girls and Bunheads- also starring Sutton Foster which Jackie and I loved- and was cancelled).  This musical featured a band on stage and fantastic performances from everyone- especially Josh Henry (who sang a fantastic solo called Let it Sing) and Sutton.  She plays a young girls who was scarred on her face with an axe from her father when she was a little girl.  She travels by bus in 1950's Tennessee to be healed by a faith healer she's seen on tv.  Sutton wears no makeup and it's your imagination where the scar is on her face.  It was lovely- the ending was a little tearful and the singing and band were gospelly and powerful.  All in all, a fantastic show that I'm so happy I got to catch on Broadway.
After Violet we met up with the Coxes at Peanut Butter and Company (always tasty) and then it was time fro ice cream at the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck which is now a store-- and is home to the most delicious soft-serve ice cream concoctions you have ever had.  The Salty Pimp (their best seller) was amazing.  In fact, every ice cream combination was amazing. The next time you are in NYC and are craving ice cream, get yourself to the Big Gay Ice Cream store.  You will not regret it.
Now that we were full of ice cream and peanut butter, it was time for our evening show, Bullets Over Broadway.  Bullets is probably my favorite Woody Allen film-- there are so many great lines and characters in the film (but the film is NOT a musical).  Susan Stroman teamed up with Woody Allen to musicalize the film using relatively unknown songs from the 1920's (as Allen likes to do with a lot of his films).  So, the new musical is really an old-fashioned jukebox musical (but unlike Jersey Boys or Mamma Mia!, you probably don't know these songs).
Despite having seats up near the actual gates of heaven (the balcony is 5 flights of stairs- they keep going and going), I had a great time at the show.  I thought the sets and costumes were big and brassy (that train was awesome) and the characters were having a lot of fun.  The Hot Dog song made everyone laugh and there was an amazing male gangster tap dance number that stopped the show.  The best part was having a talk back with the cast afterward and all of the leads came out!  That has not happened at a show since we saw Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2006.  Zach Braff (from tv's Scrubs) was super charming and likable (and similar to Daniel Radcliffe, totally posed with students in their selfies at the stage door).  We even had a dresser who was originally from Salt Lake City come out specifically to talk to our students.  It was a great talk back.
After Bullets, it was time for Empanada Mama- a small restaurant on 9th by our hotel that serves over 20 kinds of empanadas 24 hours a day.  It took forever to get our to go orders (it's a popular Saturday night hangout) but was totally worth it and delicious.

Friday, July 18, 2014

NYC 2014 Day #4

The goal this Friday?  A foot rub.  Preferably by a strong-handed Asian woman who would make me weep from pain and gratitude.  But first?  More walking.
Jackie and I love Big Onion tours.  I've done a couple in NYC but Jackie has done a lot.  We arranged 4 guides through Big Onion to do a guided tour of Central Park.
It was a beautiful summer day- and a perfect day for a walk in the park.  We got history, architecture, statues, and a nice hike through the ramble- and I saw places i never would have found on my own.  It was awesome (and definitely will be a repeat on our trip).
We ended at the Met Museum (where I paid a $.50 donation so I could go use the restroom)- but I was happy that students will milling about and running around trying to find works of art.  I love the Met- but instead it was off to try Serendipity again-- with still a 2 hour wait (but I got  salted caramel frozen hot chocolate mix for my parents-- thanks Mom and Dad for watching the girls!  Sorry Millie vomited on your new carpet...)
We were all starving so off we went to the Upper West Side for our annual stop at Levain cookies.  I also made a quick pit stop at Beard Papa's for their amazing cream puffs- and was sad to see that my favorite gelato place (Grom) had moved.  But there was no time for tears- it was down to the Lower East Side for more eating.
on the subway, Kelly DeHaan repeatedly told us that if he did not eat something soon he was going to die.  He proceeded to tell us this every 3 minutes.  I promised him we were going to a street with lots of good places but his faith was waning.
We finally reached St. Marks St. and Crif Dogs.  Voted best hot dogs in NYC, they really are delicious.  Kelly did not make it there though-- he pulled off into Dumpling Man and got 6 dumplings for 2 dollars.
after our dogs, it was foot rub time.  The rest of our group went off to Pomme Frites for fries- and Jackie and I went and got hour long foot rubs.  Mine was awesome.  Jackie's guy was watching a Chinese soap opera on his Ipod the entire time- and contorted Jackie's body so he could more easily watch his movie.  By the end of her massage, Jackie (who had really not been in foot pain) now had a pain in her knee.  Classic Jackie.
Earlier that day, Kelly Riding had demonstrated in our room a "burpee" fitness move that she was working on for a race she was running later in June.  To inspire her, Kelly DeHaan ran back to our hotel room after fries and composed an entire song (with backing tracks) for Kelly to listen to on her race.  If you ever run into Kelly DeHaan, ask him to sing you the Burpee song.  It will inspire you.
That night, the group went and saw Pippin (which Jackie and I had seen in 2013) while Jackie and I went to see Idina Menzel in If/Then.  We were such fans of Next to Normal by the same composing team- and our travel operator had gotten us amazing seats.  Idina was awesome.  In fact, the whole cast was really strong.  The design was great and when Idina sang her 11 O'Clock number, I got chills.  I appreciate that the creators of the musical were trying to do something original and new- but parts of the story didn't really work (we did follow the alternating stories just fine) and I could see where some people would not be sympathetic with her character.  I found the catchiest song to be What the F*** which just kind of played in my head on repeat the rest of the trip.
Sidenote-- two night earlier after Gentleman's Guide we were walking to Shake Shack when Kelly Riding grabbed my hand and said "look behind you at who's been following us the past 2 blocks."  I looked behind and saw a woman with short blonde hair that I didn't recognize.  Kelly then says, "not her-- next to her" and lo and behold there was Miss Adele Nazeem herself asking questions about The Book of Mormon musical. We didn't know what to do so we just kept walking (and pulled Jackie out of line for Shake Shack- which made her mad).  We couldn't figure out how to take a picture subtly, so we just pulled over, said "We like you" and she went on her way.
The rest of the group had widely varying responses on Pippin (which is good), but they were sad that all 4 leads were out on the same night.  Kelly DeHaan also said he had more talented guys that could sing the part of Pippin at his high school than the understudy that night... but all that really mattered is that my feet felt fantastic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

NYC 2014 Day #3

Thursday.  The day that nearly killed us all.  We intentionally decided not to take the group out to Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty this year because A:  You have to wake up REALLY early to not stand in a very long line and B: because every elementary school in NYC and New Jersey takes their field trips the same day as us.  I did however want to give our group something about the immigrant experience.
We decided to do the Lower East Side Tenement Museum eating tour and the Chinatown/Little Italy Gangster Tour.  I wanted to do a Chinatown tour because mainly we dump the group off, grab dim sum and get out of there.
The problem arose when our group swelled up to 90 people-- the LEST Museum wanted 3 groups of 30.  The Gangster Tour wanted 4 groups of 22-24.  When I was given the times to accomodate, this became a logistical nightmare.  Our groups left at different times (and kudos to the Kelly's, the Coxes, Miriam and Erin), everyone got where they were going just fine.
My group began with the Gangster Tour.  We saw some fascinating stuff in Chinatown (Muck Duck, the Bloody Angle, etc.) and in Little Italy- but after 90 minutes of walking a standing and hearing so many names that all blended together, we all began zoning (or looking longingly at all the foot massage places in Chinatown).  Overall, it was a fine tour, but it should only be a 1 hour (and not a 90 minute).  It did however let me see both areas in a new way (and I think it let students be a bit more bold in those neighborhoods).
With not a lot of time to spare, we raced off to the Eating Tour.  The LEST Museum has an amazing gift shop that's worth looking at.  We ate some yummy food- some students had their very first potsticker/dumpling ever- and to give our group credit, when it was done, a lot of people went back and ate at some of the places we visited.  However, we never got a proper lunch, and the other groups (still finishing up their Gangster Walking Tours) were dying of hunger and sore feet.  Never again will we take the group on two walking tours in the same day.
We had a late lunch in Little Italy (where Kelly DeHaan graciously stood gaurd at the bathroom door because I was having my own Pakinstani emergency) and went back up to the hotel because our show started at 7:00pm.
I really, really liked everything about The Cripple of Inishmann.  Daniel Radcliffe was impressive as Cripple Billy- in fact, the entire cast was spectacular (especially the drunken Grandma and the 2 aunties- one of whom talks to stones).  The best part was the fascinating talk back we got with the actors afterward (no Daniel Radcliffe- but everyone else came out!) and they were kind, gracious and informative.
The students (and adults) biggest thrill was after the show-- Daniel Radcliffe was super nice to everyone- signed all of their programs and even posed for selfies with a lot of the students!  All in all, a really great show and night.
After that, we made a quick jump up to Serendipity 3- but the wait was too long- but that was ok because we went to Carnegie Deli for amazing cheesecake and onion rings (and new and sour pickles).  Another  awesome night in the city.