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.
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!)
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!)
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!
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!)
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!)
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!).
There 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).
Goliath 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.
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.
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 to 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.
Indeed, 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.
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.
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 my 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.
Our 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.
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!
East Coast-based colleague and fellow travel fan MJ DUNPHY graces
the Life x 5 space with a post about a truly unique destination
Over the last decade, beginning with the birthday that heralded my 70 years on the planet, (November 2004 to be exact) some of my large and growing family initiated a five-year tradition of a vacation blast off to honor the occasion. That first emigration was relatively small, about seven of us. We valiantly made our way to Vieques, Puerto Rico, an island and municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean, part of an island grouping sometimes known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. A former US Navy base marked by protests and controversy, the government facility closed in 2003. We arrived just a year later.
This approximately 21-by-4-mile-wide island, now a national wildlife refuge, is utterly gorgeous with its pristine white sand beaches and turquoise water that are among the top rated in the Caribbean. To add to the charm, Vieques was an undiscovered tropical paradise. Virtually unknown as a tourist hot spot in 2004, it has since become a serious choice for visitors to Puerto Rico who want an island experience.
Not only was the destination a bit off the beaten track, but our accommodations were equally intriguing. We stayed at The Hix Island House, a Zen-like structure designed by Canadian architect, John Hix. Imagine vacation lofts; no glass windows, just wooden shutters, showers open to the sun and breezes, and other eco-friendly attributes, that in 2004 were exotic by today’s “green” standards.
Getting around? A jeep, of course! Wandering the dirt roads and lanes in 2004, we encountered all manner of four-leggeds including goats, horses, even cows — pretty much in keeping with the quiet, laid-back lifestyle of the island.
As for adventures, the highlight was a trip to one of only five Bioluminescent Bays in the world. It was, and still is, one of Puerto Rico’s key tourist destinations, but I understand that swimming in the water is no longer permitted. Bioluminessence exists all over the world, but a biobay is a rare and fragile ecosystem. The bioluminessence is triggered by the production and emission of light by a living organism. Slipping gently out of the boat into the dark water among what felt and looked like little stars, was truly an amazing experience — one that still triggers wonderful memories.
Two recent road trips – one a hop, skip and a jump from home and the other to San Jose for a friend’s wedding – proved yet again that we have three little Magellans on our hands. How into our mini vacation adventures are T, A & X? Is Gru fond of his minions?
Since Irene and I would be celebrating our 17th anniversary with dinner and a hotel night at a local boutique property on the first Saturday of this month, we thought we’d start the weekend off by booking a room at the Ayres Hotel in Hawthorne the night before (and simultaneously capping off their Spring Break week ). Once checked in, it was right to the pool for a pre-dinner swim while Irene and I researched our dinner spot – a short drive to the Redondo Beach Pier.
Our little jetsetters (well, in this case, daytrippers) really know how to maximize their itinerary, fitting in a stroll on the pier and a visit to its old-timey arcade before a seafood dinner at Captain Kidd’s Fish Market & Restaurant, followed by a Yogurtland dessert and Jacuzzi nightcap back at the very European-like Ayres.
Overall, this short respite felt like we were many miles away in Orange County when we were actually just minutes from our own backyard.
Next stop the following weekend was Northern California for Chris and Rebecca’s wedding (the daughter of our former condo neighbor/close friend Sheba). The Odyssey loaded up with the necessary essentials, we popped Kung Fu Panda into the DVD player and set out for the land of Apple, where the ultra-hip Aloft Cupertino awaited our 3 p.m. check-in. This particular location is literally adjacent to the Apple campus, thus the tech-savvy amenities (the loft-inspired guest rooms all feature Apple TV). Then there’s the “Re:” themed spaces: Re:charge gym (where Irene worked out Saturday morning), Re:fuel, a 24/7 gourmet snack station, and Re:mix Lounge, where the boys quickly took to the pool table while Irene and I grabbed a Happy Hour cocktail (redubbed as “Sassy Hour”).
Miss A loved her complimentary “Camp Aloft” Disney Princess-themed air mattress/bedding that was set up in our sizeable room on the night of the wedding (Congratulations Rebecca and Chris – as first-time wedding guests, the formal-clad kiddies enjoyed an event they will never forget!).
Dining P.S.: on Friday night, we had dinner at a place called Aqui, a fast casual healthy Cal-Mex place where you order, choose a table and pick up your order when it’s ready. We chose the patio and dug into our respective meals, including Cuban pork enchiladas (me) and a grilled salmon salad on grilled whole wheat tortilla chips (Irene). Oh, and l should mention the excellent “Industrial Swirls.” How can you not try one when the menu suggests a limit of two per person; my Sangria Swirl (blended “industrial strength margarita” swirled with sangria) definitely “hit” the spot…