Category Archives: Misc.

Guest Bloggers: X-man and Miss A’s Cruise Review

The Food, by Xander

My Dad’s prime rib with horseradish, onion rings and a baked potato side.

The food on our 4-day Carnival Cruise to Ensenada was fantastic. There were two dining options: you could eat at a food court or a fancy sit-down restaurant (the food was included in the price of the cruise). First the food court: it included a deli, pizza place, celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s gourmet burgers with toppings bar (I liked the smoky bacon bits and sautéed mushrooms), a taco/burrito stand, an ice cream machine, and a lot more. Also, each of these food places changed over for breakfast.

Baked Alaska (meringue ice cream cake with a flame in the middle!) for the final formal dessert.

The sit-down restaurants for breakfast and dinners were my favorite because the food was delicious and our servers were extremely nice. The menu changed every night with delicious fancy foods. My two favorite appetizers were alligator fritters and escargot bourguignon. Yum.

The Activities, by Athena

About to hit the water slides on Embarkation Day

We went on our first cruise in 2014 so this time we had the chance to check out some of the things we didn’t do the first time. We chose to visit many new activities and spots such as the spa. At the back of this area was the gym; after my mom and I worked out a bit, we went into the sauna and the steam room.

Following dinner the second night, we enjoyed the “Divas” show in the main Dynasty Theater (a sing and dance show). In the show, the performers sang and danced to Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Rihanna and more. It was very entertaining. On Thursday night, the first day we got on the cruise ship, we watched the Hasbro game show with volunteers from the audience playing games such as “Operation” onstage. It was fun with the British host/cruise director “Matey.”

Xander getting sprayed by La Bufadora!

When our ship (named the “Imagination”) docked at the port of Ensenada on Saturday morning, we took a shore excursion to “La Bufadora” (The Blowhole). Our tour guide Gilberto led our group on the short walk to the natural geyser; we passed many small Mexican shops offering souvenirs and food and “Gil” gave us each a free drink sticker to the Habana Banana! We watched the geyser, which sprays sea water up from a small cave, shopped a bit and had a delicious lunch at the Habana Banana, where we all shared a platter of soft tacos , shrimp and clams. Shortly after lunch, we made our way back up the line of shops and got back on our tour bus to return to the ship.

On Saturday night, we went to a rock ‘n roll show (held in the same cruise theater as the “Divas” show and featured the same performers) except the songs were rock and we watched from the upper balcony seating. My parents also got to have some alone time in the Serenity adult area in the very back area of the ship with two hot tubs and comfy lounge chairs while me, Xander and Troy were one deck above sliding down the waterslides in the mini-waterpark.

Amazing Indian head sculpture carved in 15 minutes!

My dad and brothers also saw an ice carving show on the Lido deck where a champion ice-carver transformed a block of ice into an Indian-head ice sculpture in just 15 minutes. We also learned how to make towel animals with Matey (a dog and an elephant). The new activities we got to do were so much fun and I thought it was nice to experience some of the things we missed on our first Carnival cruise.

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Conquering Mountain High

There are few things more satisfying than watching not one but all three of your kids pick up on a sport or activity collectively – especially after you’ve traumatized one of them and she bounces back from it a couple hours later.

The setting was during a Spring Break overnight trip to Mountain High Ski Resort in Victorville. The kiddoes would be taking just their second lesson ever (the first was an introductory group lesson at the smaller Mount Baldy in 2015); but first, to kill some time before the instructors arrived, I thought I’d relay some pre-lesson tips from my many years of snow skiing and head over to the bunny slope for a couple of test runs.

Instead of using the people mover (think “tow-rope” from back in the day!), my brilliant plan was to introduce them one at a time to the easier of a pair of chairlifts. I would take Athena up first, ski back down the short distance to get the boys and we’d all ski down like one happy foursome.

Except it didn’t quite happen that way.

Yep, I accidentally chose the more challenging “beginner” chair and it was all downhill (pun intended) from there. Long story short,  I ended up behind an accelerating Miss A yelling “Lay down, lay down!” before catching up to her and eventually side-stepping down together — about 45 minutes later — to the waiting and not-so-happy Troy and Xander. “Where WERE you?!” they screamed at me.

“Uh, trying to get Athena back down in one piece; sorry boys, we took the wrong chairlift!”

But as I already alluded to at the top of the story, this tale has a happy landing! Because when their actual lesson with an actual certified instructor was over, T, A & X were a sight to behold (especially Miss A what with having to overcome the horror of her maiden run!)  Now they really were ready to take multiple chairlifts up to that very run. And Troy and Xander even summoned the courage to explore a more advanced trail by day’s end.

With my poles in one hand and my iPhone in the other, I followed behind them to capture a video of their shared triumphs:

Scenes from NYC

Irene recently returned from New York City, where all the Valverde siblings
helped their sister Janet celebrate her 50th b-day. Here are some very cool shots
taken on Irene’s iPhone 7:

Looking down on the Oculus, the $4 billion train station at the Freedom Tower

The Freedom Tower

Night view from the birthday girl’s building.

The iconic Brooklyn Bridge

The Guggenheim Museum

In stark contrast to surrounding Tribeca-area buildings, a 60-story tower rises like a Jenga game.

Perfect day for shopping

View across the Hudson — Long Live Joisey!

Happy Ah-Choo Year!

I almost choked on one of those oversized cold & flu capsules yesterday; the first one went down okay but the second horse pill got stuck in my throat and I had to dry-heave it out. I was standing over the sink so everyone thought I was retching from being under the weather the past few days. Now my throat is sore on top of an extremely irritating cough.

And in case anyone was wondering, the second pill was spotted on the dining room floor – SEVERAL feet from the sink where I was trying to expel it after apparently having bounced off a rubber Tupperware lid!

Yah, so that was fun, and for some unknown reason I’ve decided to share, perhaps the result of an idle mind lolling around the house with a cold on New Year’s Day. It’s one thing to be sick, but pair that with a day where practically everything is shut down and you get this post. While many people try to kick off their new years with lofty resolutions, my first one is to strongly consider going back to liquid cold remedies only. Maybe. We’ll see.

Then, after popping a cough drop, I randomly wondered if it will be possible to blog EVERY day in 2018, because I mean, here it is Jan. 1 and I’ve already cranked out the first one! I guess I could make it a resolution, but then there are definitely more pressing matters at hand – like getting rid of this annoying hack!

Happy New Year to all!

Rock Climbing for X-man’s 10th B-Day

Firsthand Fire Pics

Bro-in-law Mario V. was driving southbound on the 405 through the
Sepulveda Pass this morning at 5:30 a.m. and snapped these photos on his iPad.

 

Pic(s) of the Week: All Rise

Xander takes some warm-up swings before a recent “Fall Stars” baseball game; the way I cropped the photo with the tall palms in the background gives off an interesting vertical style panoramic presentation. The second photo is a shot of our TV screen after the Yanks took all three of their ALCS home games vs. the Astros this week. The palm trees also lended a larger-than-life quality to Mr. X and his aspirations of one day rising to the heights of
the 6-foot-7 Yankee rookie slugger Aaron Judge.

‘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!

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?