Category Archives: Misc.

‘Cell’ Block, Literally…

When Troy returned from a recent visit to Dave & Buster’s arcade and asked me to assemble this little plastic cell phone jail (complete with lock & key), I saw an opportunity to commandeer his gag prize choice. Yep, this would become my personal toy whenever I deemed their mobile devices needed a little alone time.

Only Troy has a phone number on his iPhone, but I gave my previous cell to Xander so he can text and utilize other features and apps with the home wi-fi.

X watching too many sports highlights on the ESPN app or YouTube? Troy playing too many successive games of MLB17 or Crossy Road? With the handy-dandy cell-phone lock-up, say hello to technology-free activity time!

Available at your nearest Dave & Busters or wherever plastic cell phone jails are sold!

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Vid(s) of the Week: Slow Motion Splashes

And making the slo-mo highlight reel from the 60th Anniversary festivities…..

Successful Surprise

A frame from the tribute video

March 29, 2017

“Happy 84th” I say to my Dad on a morning call. “I haven’t been able to find the time to send you a gift for your b-day so just wanted to give you a heads up to expect a little something next week.”

Little did he know that the little something would be me and the famiglia in the flesh at his and Sheila’s surprise 60th wedding anniversary party in Florida nine days later.

April 7 (the actual day of their anniversary)

Me, Irene, Troy, Athena, Xander, my bro Gary, Alex, sis Lisa and nieces Jessica and Chelsea are huddled in the upstairs library of the 5-bedroom AirBnB in Boca Raton that would serve as the accommodations for our 4-day fiesta. The anniversary couple thought they were stopping by a listing that Chelsea wanted to show them (Chels recently got her real estate license) before my sister would take them out for breakfast. We decided not to shout “Surprise!” as the doors were flung open, instead letting video and photos capture the moment. Minutes later, the silence was broken by waterworks from the happy couple and greetings from around the room.

Realizing that Grandma and Grandpa Florida (as the kiddies call them) didn’t yet have a grasp of the full surprise, I told them that we would all be staying in this house together and Lisa would be shuttling them back to their condo to pack a small bag for the next few days. Surprise #2 and more waterworks! A buffet lunch kicked off the party and continued well after our home-grilled steak dinner.

April 8

Who needs a resort when you have a house that features a pool area with a Jacuzzi, a hammock, a retractable awning for shade and sun worshippers alike, a grill that you could cook a side of beef on, (not to mention a yacht parked alongside the pool for that added ritzy atmosphere) and AN ELEVATOR! The boys even picked up the lone fishing pole that was provided and cast a few lines into the intra-coastal waterway (no fish were caught but Troy did reel in a piece of seaweed with a small green crab clinging to it!)

A gift from Gary made with etched glass

Earlier that day, Grandpa Florida joined us on a field trip to a local park to watch the boys take some batting practice!

Then it was back to the house for Surprise #3 when some local relatives and friends trickled in for the “official” anniversary celebration at 6 p.m. – a cocktail/dining reception that was enjoyed by all and highlighted by a cake and video tribute (put together by Alex) complete with pictures of the anniversary couple over the years (“Got a booth, babe?” read the best caption alluding to dad’s classic request for his favorite restaurant seating!)

April 9

Inside our crib, an assortment of board and table games lent an extra element of camaraderie throughout the weekend: we paired up for a variety of Jenga and chess matches and turned a dining room table into a ping pong court with a portable set that was also provided by the house. Since we had to rise at 4:30 the next morning for our return flight to L.A., we turned in a tad earlier than the previous couple of nights but not before raising a final toast to the magnitude of two people acheiving a six-decades-old bond!

Xander contemplating whether or not to make the jump from the Jacuzzi to the much cooler waters of the swimming pool.

Still Hungry Like the Wolf

More than 35 years since their 80’s heyday, Duran Duran is sounding (not to mention aging) better than ever. When they announced their two-night St. Patrick’s weekend shows at the Agua Caliente Casino in the Coachella Valley back in December, I picked up a pair of tickets for Irene’s b-day gift.

What made it even sweeter were the amazing seats we scored in this intimate venue: second row in the loge — just above the floor seating with completely unobstructed views of our boy Simon Le Bon, who was in fine voice as always! Simon takes his vocals very seriously and this night was no different than any of the previous couple of shows Irene and I have seen together; his range was impeccable, from holding a falsetto note on songs like the new uptempo “Last Night in the City” to classic ballads like “Ordinary World.” He has definitely distinguished himself as one of the most engaging all-around lead singers in the game!

Our boy LeBon

On being able to remain relevant after all these years, bassist John Taylor told the Dallas Observer in a recent feature: “You can’t fake it. You’ve just got to have the burn and not get hung up on the past. So many of my peers that don’t do music for a living don’t have anything positive to say about contemporary music. You got to be really open and be prepared to really go digging because I think it’s important that you have a sense of what’s happening right now and it’s important that what’s happening right now feeds into the music that we’re making.”

Equally relevant at this show was the band’s stage theatrics:  the confetti cannons (during “Pressure Off”), the giant beach balls (“Rio”) and Simon’s request for the audience to pull their iPhones out of their pockets and turn on the flashlight (during “Save a Prayer”) was all reminiscent of any recent Coldplay show. And the big screens on either side of the stage (one right above our excellent seats that afforded us even closer close-ups of the action) provided great animated backdrops for each song as well.

The set list

With 14 albums (plus four greatest hits packages) under their belt, D-squared definitely had their work cut out for them deciding which songs to play live but their choices were satisfying for this show; highlights from the 90-minute, 16-song set list (including two encores) for me were “View to a Kill,” “Is There Something I Should Know” and “Notorious” while Irene could be heard belting out “Wild Boys” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” at an enthusiastic volume!

Driving Mr. X

The little quips started in 2012 at five-years-old and ran through 2014; then the classic “Xanderism” made its triumphant return in 2015. Now that he’s 8, I’m inclined to give Mr. X’s humorous wordplay a more age-appropriate title:  X-Claims? Yep, that works for me.

So we’re heading to summer camp one recent morning when he begins contemplating the rules of the carpool lane.

What if there’s only one person in the car?

You can get a ticket and pay a fine.

Introducing the “X-Claims”:  Do dogs count?

Becoming Your Dad

Every dad has traits – good and not-so-good that define him. And then there are those little idiosyncrasies that you inherit from the guy that fathered you. Just recently, two such quirks that would definitely be considered “learned behavior” made me stop and question: am I turning into my dad?!

IMG_1476These two are pretty straightforward: My dad used to walk through the house turning off the multitude of light switches that were on when nobody seemed to be occupying or using said space as he announced to anyone who was within earshot that we were wasting electricity. I’ve come to realize that I just recently started doing the same thing (just this morning I shut off a half dozen lights before leaving for work), but I merely mutter things like “Electricity doesn’t grow on trees you know!” under my breath. So not completely like Grandpa Florida and certainly less effective!

The second example is much more sentimental. To this day, my dad puts family photos and other heartfelt notes on the visor of his car. Just last week, Athena gave me a little piece of artwork she made with “#1 Dad” written on it. Hmmmm, where should I proudly display this as a constant reminder of what great little kiddies I have? ON THE VISOR OF MY CAR, OF COURSE!

Thanks for those two traits that remind me of you, dad, and Happy Father’s Day to both you and dad-in-law Mr. V.!

Star Wars: The Family Awakens

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There isn’t much that can get me out of bed at 6:15 in the morning, but there I was driving the family to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on its opening weekend.

The special 7 a.m. screening was actually the setting for a birthday party for a friend of Xander’s; when the parents opened it up to the families of the invited guests, the force was with me to get up to experience the hype of this blockbuster (and the movie did not disappoint – harkening back to the elements that made the first three Star Wars movies so good, the film also mixes in solid new characters).

Xander sat with his pajama-clad friends as I kicked back with the unlikely combination of popcorn and coffee (I recommend it!) When the movie ended, everyone moved into a private room across from the theater for, what else?, a Star Wars birthday cake.

Later that afternoon I starred in my own sequel: Star Wars: The Force Naps!

Livin’ Large at Mini Reinvented

Immediately after checking in via tablet at the entrance to MINIUSA’s downtown L.A. HQs and grabbing a smokey whiskey cocktail from Greenbar Craft Distillery (made from hand-pressed organic produce), I knew we were in for a unique gathering introducing the new Clubman series Mini2to an invitation-only crowd.

Inside, it was a salute to local craftsmanship; with a jazz ensemble providing a soundtrack at the far end of the space, guests visited a mix of L.A.-based artisans’ exhibits, including Graf + Lantz and Chocovivo. Irene did a chocolate tasting at the latter and had monogrammed leather luggage tags made at the former that she picked up at the end of the event. Meanwhile, I sampled beers from Eagle Rock Brewery and browsed some furniture made from repurposed/reclaimed materials by Fort Goods.

“This is an event about sharing not just what we make but why we make it, about being inspired and passing it on. A Mini isn’t just made, it’s crafted,” said an event promo.

Mini1Indeed, the “Mini Reinvented” event was a story about craftsmanship, “not a story told by a brand to its consumers but one told by a community to its members,” as the promo went on to say. “It’s about turning a day of work into a work of art.”

After about an hour of mingling and sampling a variety of circulated hors d’oeuvres, we moved to the showroom, where the Clubman was unveiled. Irene posed a few options-related queries to one of the Mini reps and a few moments later I spotted her looking a little too comfortable behind the wheel of a sporty Mini Cooper convertible.

Scenes From Behind the Third Wall

Kimmel1Since my birthday was on a Tuesday this year, I decided to spice up the weekday that has the reputation of having the least personality with something a little different: get tickets to see Jimmy Kimmel Live. Before moving to L.A., I had gone to a handful of Late Night with David Letterman tapings when he was with NBC, back when you had to WRITE IN to request tickets. Of course in 2015 that whole process is handled online – in JKL’s case by an entity called 1iota that makes sure everyone is officially screened before receiving confirmation to attend a show on your chosen date.

After being waitlisted for 11/17, I got an email a few weeks later telling me we were in! Babysitter secured for the appointed day, Irene and I hopped on the priority ticketholders line at about 2:30 p.m., where for the next 90 minutes we had our IDs checked, filled out non-disclosure forms and went through a security check before heading inside to be seated.

A segment was planned where the audience asks questions and try to guess who People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive would be this year (David Beckham live on a Skype feed). In the queue outside, each audience member was given a card to fill out with their name and respective question, so about a dozen people who got picked were assigned aisle seats and asked their question during the segment.

I happened to be sitting in the third seat next to two such people and received quite a bit of airtime (on the left side of the screen). Watching it back that night, I suppose we appeared presentable enough, so as they say in talk show land, we have a clip (see the 1:58, 3:18 and 3:57 marks and Irene and I together at 4:21):

The guest list wasn’t that exciting – actor Josh Hutcherson from the Hunger Games movies, some ongoing science teacher dude who presented an array of experiments and band Walk the Moon, which you don’t actually get to see because they perform on an outdoor stage behind the studio for another whole different audience.

Back inside, the energy was high with the house comedian doing his thing between segments, including tossing out t-shirts to the audience, not one of which was thrown my way despite the fact that it was my birthday! Oh well. When the show let out at about 5:30, we headed over to the nearby Pink’s Hot Dogs to close out my Tuesday-tailored birthday festivities!

Guest Blogger: Benchmark B-Day #3

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By M.J. Dunphy

One would think that after two amazing experiences for previous decade birthdays, one would be jaded and a tad ho-hum about one’s 80th celebration.

Guess again. Even with the help of the Internet and some basic research on Manuel Antonio, we were little prepared for the beauty and diversity of our destination. Manuel Antonio is a small oceanside village located off Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. The region is a treasure for biodiversity, with 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds, some of which are extinct in other parts of the world. It’s also “monkey” heaven, with friendly and assertive white-headed capuchin monkeys who think nothing of joining the humans for dinner or at least helping themselves to the bananas sitting on the dining room table.

But I am getting ahead of myself! We departed Philly in typical late November autumn weather to find ourselves a few hours later setting down at the San Jose International Airport in sunny, warm Costa Rica. Staying overnight in San Jose allowed us to travel inland to Manuel Antonio in full daylight on Saturday and not miss any of the scenery, including a short stop to hang out with alligators, locals and other turistas along the way!

Appearing as if poised for our arrival, we reached Manuel Antonio and our villa, Casa Las Brisas, sitting at the edge of the rainforest. This distinctive vacation rental is managed by Escape Villas.com and was our home for the next magical week. Pictures don’t do it justice; let’s just say it was like dropping into a movie set with jungle greenery, a pool on each level and privacy for our family and friends to hang out and relax. The staff, including a private chef, quickly became family. The meals were divine for the 23 of us, ages 2 to 80. We chose local foods that were cooked to perfection!

My goal was to zip line for my 80th birthday and Safari Adventures certainly delivered on the adrenaline rush we sought via a canopy zip line that was utterly awesome and topped off with a typical and yummy Costa Rican lunch and a splash in the crystalline waters at the end of the line.

All in all, the week sped by, but not before leaving a million memories and impressions of friendly, hospitable people all along the way; of moments with my loved ones that will last forever; my birthday dinner with everyone around the huge table dressed in tee shirts (made on-site for the occasion) that announced “Granny’s 80th birthday adventure”; sunrises and sunsets worth filming; a walk on the beach hand-in-hand with my son, John; a yellow hibiscus in my hair in honor of my mom. Our Thanksgiving meal overflowing with gratitude for all that was, all that is and all that will be! Amen.

I leave you with Costa Rica’s national greeting: Pura Vida. Simply, “life is good here.” It is and it shows in the broad smiles and generous hearts of this gentle country’s people.

Guest Blogger: Benchmark B-Day #2

By M.J. Dunphy

So one would think that a surprise trip to Vieques, Puerto Rico for a 70th birthday celebration would be enough adventure for one lifetime. Not so in my creative and over-the-top loving family.

It all began in November 2008 with an intimate dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Philly for 10399590_309585635625_3691039_nmy 74th birthday. At dessert I was handed a small red box. Inside was a tiny scroll informing me that I had a whole year to anticipate a week in Tuscany for my 75th. Just imagine what the imagination can do in a year!

In what seemed like the blink of an eye we were landing in Milan. We boarded the train to Arezzo, one of the most important Etruscan cities from Roman times, and gave ourselves over to the magic that is Italy!

As our taxi wound up the long driveway and reached the tall black iron gates, we got our first glimpse of Villa Rossi-Mattei that was to be our home for the next week. Dating back to 1800, this gem originally belonged to an ancient noble family and is situated on the archaeological hill of Castelsecco, surrounded by a beautiful green park, not quite a mile from the center of Arezzo. I felt like I had just dropped into a centuries old romance novel.

10399590_309252945625_1020813_nOur charming and knowledgeable brother-sister hosts, Liliana and Dante Masieri own this amazing property with its medieval and modern touches, its shimmering olive trees and 360-degree view of the legendary Tuscan countryside. These “youngsters” are the current generation of family who have lovingly cared for this jewel of an estate since 1860.

Arezzo is a walking town and walk we did. I can still taste the samples from the salumeria in the piazza. I even had a photo op on an antique fainting couch at the outside flea market — just like a birthday contessa!

Highlights? Too many to enumerate in detail for a blog, but of particular note: wandering down a tiny street and finding a cameo maker, stopping for an afternoon espresso, replaying “Room with a View” in my head and buying miniature Pinocchio drawings from the actual artist near the Ponte Vecchio.

10399590_309586345625_3439684_nAnd of course, remembering Siena, home to the famous Palio horse race, the historic clock tower and enormous square where we relaxed over chilled prosecco and enjoyed watching the passersby.

But I have saved the best for last: my birthday dinner. The chefs, my grand-son-in-law and his best friend, along with all the family and friends who were there (and it was a crowd, believe me), cooked and served and set a magnificent long table that rivaled royal meals in any castle. I was truly surrounded by love and warmth and good cheer spilling over everywhere. What a blessing to be in this glorious environment with the most important people in my world, enjoying and appreciating all of God’s gifts. Well worth adding another five years to my already brimming-over life! Abbondanza!

Battleship Museum a ‘Blast’

Iowa6We’ve taken the kiddies to many museums in L.A. – The Getty, LACMA, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the Natural History Museum to name a few – but our recent visit to The Battleship Iowa Museum in San Pedro may have just topped them all on the child-friendly fun barometer.

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I just probably should have given a little forethought to how I would describe our visit to this recently retired battleship-turned-floating museum because they wanted to know how long we’d be sailing on the high seas that day. (We had been on our first Carnival cruise the year prior so naturally to them ALL boats head out on the water!)

I did do a little last minute research that morning so they knew to look for Victory the dog mascot as we ambled up the gangway to board the ship, where they were each immediately handed a scavenger hunt map and Iowa5eventual gift at the end of the tour (dog tags, plastic green army men and stickers).

Beyond the scavenger hunt, the kiddies enthusiastically explored the exhibits found along the marked  path throughout the ship: the massive guns, multiple decks, gunpowder system and crew accommodations. Inside the officers’ quarters, they were especially enamored with the tub that was fitted in the private bathroom for FDR to accommodate his polio.

Taking turns trying out the captain’s chairs on either side of the ship sparked the kiddies’ best being-captain-of-a-WWII-vessel-is-serious-business impressions. Stacked three high, they also got a kick out of testing the crew bunks.

Battleship fanatic or not, this is a museum that deserves a 21-gun salute.

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