Category Archives: Travel

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!

Pic(s) of the Week: Zoo-tography

The famiglia took an overnight daycation to Santa Barbara over the holidays and hit the Santa Barbara Zoo; not-too-shabby iPhone shots if I do say so myself:

 

  

 

Guest Bloggers: EIEIO

 

A collage graphic of Troy and Xander out in the field picking bok choy and a shot of our washed veggie stash back at home.

The kiddies had such a good time on their first visit to Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark they requested a repeat visit over the Fourth of July weekend. So we packed a picnic lunch and made the 45-minute drive from West L.A. to basically play the role of Old MacDonald for a few hours. The following is their account of the outing.

Picking Fruits and Veggies, by Athena

As we walked into the enormous field of fruits and vegetables I was so excited and curious about what I was going to pick, taste and see. Although I’ve been to Underwood Family Farms once before, there would be different kinds of fruits and vegetables because it was a different time of year.

First we picked beets, then we kept walking and saw red lettuce, radishes, bok choy, and some more greens. We saw navel orange trees and avocado trees, but sadly they were not ready yet. The raspberries were in season so we picked a lot of them. I liked how when you are picking your fruits and veggies you can eat as many as you want at the same time. I ate so many raspberries because they were so delicious. Then we came upon the strawberries and ate even more.

After that we picked some peppers, a squash, potatoes, green tomatoes and carrots. I had a lot of fun getting the carrots because you pull them right out of the ground and they are so sweet and tasty. We also picked zucchini. I had so much fun and I loved picking the fresh fruits and vegetables like a farmer.

Farm to Table, by Xander

When we got home, I grabbed the fruits and vegetables that we bought, ran into the house and started washing them. We were planning to make a salad with all the vegetables we picked and added some teriyaki steak strips. We also made fried green tomatoes; I sliced all the vegetables such as carrots, American radishes and French radishes.

My mom and Athena cut the lettuce and grilled the steak while my dad and I made the fried green tomatoes in our little Fry Daddy. The fried green tomatoes were complicated because you had to coat them in egg, then a flour coating, and finally the bread crumbs. Then you put them into the fry cooker and wait 3-4 minutes. We all ate the delicious meal together as a family and we all loved Underwood Family Farms!

Pot belly pig at The Animal Show

Animals and a Show, by Troy

Besides fruit picking, there was a small area with animals you can feed and a show we saw with four different animals. My brother, sister and I fed several animals such as chickens, ponies and sheep by putting 25 cents into a machine that gave us food for that type of animal. We weren’t allowed to touch the animals, but we could take pictures of the ostriches, goats, bulls, pigs and more.

“The Animal Show” featured four different trained animals. They did tricks like jump over a pole, spin in a circle and give their trainers high-fives. There was an alpaca, a potbelly pig a baby goat and even the farm family’s dog. The two trainers explained some of their traits and history. We got to pet the dog at the end of the show but not any of the others.

A little humor posted on a restroom facility

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.

Pic of the Week: BurGR, BaBY!

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To celebrate Miss A’s performance at her gymnastics meet in Las Vegas last weekend, we hit Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR on the Vegas Strip (the “GR” in the name is chef’s initials that fit conveniently into the word, sans the “e” of course)! GReat BurGRs and even GReater all-around weekend! (See what I did there? Using the word “all-around”
saluting the gymnastic theme of the weekend!)

Roman Holiday, L.A. style

A mosaic-and-shell fountain on the east wall.

A mosaic-and-shell fountain on the east wall.

Stepping out onto the balcony, I surveyed the rectangular main gardens below and thought how awesome it was to be back in Rome. But wait, it was actually Malibu and my first visit to the Getty Villa (*EDITORS NOTE: this was a family outing with the kiddies and their cousins; the real Rome was pre-children!)

Tarragon is one of a variety of plantings in the herb garden.

Tarragon is one of a variety of plantings in the herb garden.

Adjacent to the Getty Museum, The Getty Villa is modeled after a first-century Roman country house in Herculaneum, Italy. The building was constructed in the early 1970s by architects who worked closely with J. Paul Getty to develop the interior and exterior details. Inside on two floors are antiquities collections and changing exhibitions as well as outdoor herb gardens and fountains. The cousins particularly enjoyed the Family Forum room for a little hands-on discovery: role-playing with foam swords, shields and headgear in front of a projection screen, and using dry erase markers to decorate replica urns and bowls.

Also worth noting is the indoor/outdoor Café that serves casual Mediterranean-inspired fare (beer & wine are also available). I was compelled to relay my compliments to the kitchen after lunch: my Villa Burger ($14.95) with crispy onions, Emmental Swiss, sherry gastrique, arugula, roasted garlic & pepper aioli on a Brioche Bun (with a side of shoestring garlic fries) was one of the best gourmet burgers I have ever had.

To reserve a time and arrange for your complimentary tickets, go to http://www.getty.edu/visit/cal/index.html  (parking is $15).

The cousins try out the amphitheater seating at the Villa entrance.

The cousins try out the amphitheater seating at the Villa entrance.

Guest Blogger: Miss A’s Wet ‘N Wild Daycation

By Athena Lippman

     I wanted to go to the Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park resort for as long as I can remember. On my birthday, my family and I finally went to the one in Garden Grove near Disneyland.  I loved how the hotel was made of wood and bricks and when you check in, the staff gave each person a free wolf ears headband. It was so cool that they made you feel like you were in an actual lodge.

     There were a few stores, such as a bakery, a souvenir shop, an arcade and a bathing suit shop that you actually had to enter to get into Bear Track Landing – the name of the water park. There was even a kid spa called Scoops.

        We immediately went to the water park area. There were many different waterslides. There were two big slides and many other smaller ones. There was also a racing waterslide where you used a flat foam mat and it would track your time. There weren’t only waterslides but also a lazy river with floating tubes, great for relaxing! We also went into the wave pool and tried a surfing simulator, played basketball in a pool, ran an obstacle course and enjoyed a water structure with some mini waterslides.

img_3285     At the top of the water structure, there was a huge bucket that gets filled with water and when the bell would ring every few minutes, that means the bucket was about to tip over and the water would fall on anybody on the ground underneath it. It was so much fun!

     But my favorite waterslide was Tornado. First you curved and then a big drop, followed by a flat part that zig-zagged you side to side. I was having the best time. I also loved all the other waterslides. One of the things I loved most about Great Wolf Lodge was that there were no lines; you would just walk up to the waterslide and there would be like 2-5 people in front of you, but mostly there were no lines at all because Great Wolf Lodge water park is for hotel guests only.

     I was having the best time with my family. I love water-related activities. The water is always so much fun. I definitely hope I can go to Great Wolf Lodge again!

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Guest Bloggers: Summer Fun Roundup

hotdog(EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is a report from budding family entertainment correspondents Athena (age 10) & Xander (8) highlighting a trio of summer vacation endeavors)

Yankees vs. Angels

By Xander Lippman

It was interesting because Angel Stadium of Anaheim was not like other ball parks (I’ve been to Dodger Stadium twice). There was a waterfall in center field, and there were empty seats in front of us so Troy and I sat there.

yankeesangelsBefore the game we saw the Yankees stretching along the first base line. After that, the game started with the Yankees batting first. It was really cool to see the players in person.

It was probably the 4th inning and we were all hungry so Troy and my dad went to get some hot dogs. We also bought snow cones and peanuts. We brought our own boxes of Cracker Jacks from home.

In the 8th inning people were leaving so I sat in a seat where a few foul balls were being hit, but I didn’t catch any. Even though the Yankees lost 2-0, it was cool to see them play. Overall it was a fantastic outing.

shamuSeaWorld San Diego

By Athena Lippman

While I was walking into the SeaWorld San Diego entrance, I got so excited about all the animals I would see and the rides we would ride.

There are all kinds of animals such as penguins, fish, mantas, sharks, turtles, dolphins, whales, flamingos, sea lions and more (and the pigs, cats and dogs that performed at the “Pets Rule” show were so cute!).

mantaThere are plenty of shows including the Blue Horizons Dolphin Show — one of my favorites of the day! The dolphins did flips, jumps and other tricks! There was also a Shamu show which was also really cool (we were lucky to see him because the giant killer whale is retiring this year). At the sea lions show one sea lion held a ball on its nose and then jumped in the water with the ball still on the nose.

There were also some rides: Manta is a rollercoaster where, after you exited the ride, you could touch baby mantas in a petting pool. Journey to Atlantis is a combination flume ride and rollercoaster that takes the boat up an elevator and goes on a wild ride! The Wild Arctic is a motion ride that takes you on a helicopter flight; afterwards, you can see beluga whales, a giant walrus, and polar bears in their natural habitat. It was amazing!

I also liked Shipwreck Rapids — a circular raft ride where you get super wet because you are heading down a path of flowing water.  The Sky Tower is a rotating elevator ride that goes up into the sky with 360-degree views of San Diego, and the Sky Ride is a cable car that brings you over the bay (it is a good ride to relax on!).

We also walked through some aquariums. I thought that SeaWorld was a very awesome and a really fun amusement park!

Six Flags Magic Mountain

By Athena and Xander

(Athena) My favorite rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain were Jet Stream and Goliath. Jetstream is a calm, relaxing boat ride at first but then there is a 6-story drop at the end and you get soaked. My dad’s Yankees baseball cap flew off while we were going down the drop.

(*EDITOR’S NOTE: After following “park procedure” by filling out a Lost & Found form online, my cap was never retrieved, even though we all spotted it on a concrete landing in a restricted area after exiting the ride. Thanks for losing my cap MM).

jetstreamGoliath is a whole different story. This rollercoaster reaches a top speed of 85 miles per hour. It was so fast that it blew back your cheeks and the wind was so strong that it literally held you down. Then there is a 260-foot drop, which was crazy! There were lots of twists and turns.  By the end of the ride my heart was beating so fast. Goliath was really fun. If you go to Magic Mountain I would definitely recommend this rollercoaster!

(Xander) I had 3 favorite rides: Twisted Colossus, Green Lantern and Full Throttle. Twisted Colossus was a really fast rollercoaster; first it was all bumpy with a huge drop. Then you go under another train. Then you attach to a different track and it’s the ride all over again.

Green Lantern was a very weird ride. First you go up. Then you go backwards. Then down, spinning around throughout. The whole ride is over in about 30 seconds.

Full Throttle was my favorite. A girl says, “3, 2, 1, go!” and you blast off super fast to start. Then you go upside down. Then you keep going super fast. Then an announcement says, “Enjoy the ride!” and you go backwards. You keep going fast and there is a huge drop. Then the ride is over.

Pic of the Week: Pretty Portugal

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Longtime family friend and former neighbor Sheba texted me this screensaver-worthy shot
from an annual hiking holiday with friends: while it may look and sound a bit like the
Palos Verdes Peninsula here in SoCal, it’s actually The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region known for its sunny Mediterranean climate, beaches and golf resorts.

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.