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Living a Royal Life

On Being A Surrogate Mom

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Amanda and Xavier

Surrogate mom Amanda and Xavier- Olivia’s dad

Amanda

I’ve known this bubbly, fun and vivacious woman for a few years through one of my networking organizations I attend.  When she attended one of my recent comedy shows I was amazed, when, in passing conversation she mentioned “when I was a surrogate…….”  A surrogate mom? Yep, a surrogate mom!

I will admit, I was intrigued.  All we tend to hear about surrogate moms, and the surrogate situation typically are the “horror stories” that make the news. A mom goes to court to retrieve her child, months or years after a family has lovingly raised the child as their own.  The story of a couple who refuses a baby they have had a surrogate carry, because it wasn’t “perfect.”  Any number of tragic stories have made headlines over the years, and we have all seen them played out, often with a tragic ending for a number of the people involved.

I always wondered who would choose to be a surrogate.  And why.

So, when Amanda mentioned she had been a surrogate I was intrigued!  I asked if she would consider an interview for my blog. And…… of course, she readily agreed!

Tell Me Your Story…

I asked. She answered. And now I know just about every damned thing there is to know about being a surrogate. (Or at least more than a darned lot of people know!)  Or maybe not, because I’m really not smart enough to have thought of all the questions I should have asked.  That being said……… I’m happy to tell you what I WAS smart enough to ask, and if you think up 2,569 other questions, pose them to me, and I’ll bet, sure as shit, Amanda will be happy to answer them for all of us! ‘Cause that’s just the kind of person she is!

The first burning question I had for Amanda was, “What in the world made you decided to become a surrogate?”  She explained that she had done quite a bit of volunteer and charity work throughout her life, and while a lot of it was great, the impact that was made felt very temporary.  You feed someone a meal, and in a few hours they are hungry again.  You give a homeless person a blanket, they are a bit warmer, but their homelessness isn’t necessarily solved.

But, she explained, “I wanted to change someone’s life, and nothing changes your life more than having and raising a child.” How flippin’ profound is that? (Don’t let anyone say that Amanda is just another pretty face!  Hell no, she is PROFOUND!)

Since I knew that Amanda has a husband and 3 children of her own- I of course wondered how the decision to become a surrogate affected her family. She said that her husband felt that the decision was totally hers, and he was very supportive of it. Her twin boys were almost 3 at the time- and really didn’t even seem to notice.  Her daughter, Kylie, however was 5 and felt that most the people they came in contact with should know, loud and clear, that her mommy was having a baby, but it wasn’t theirs!  THAT got a lot of different reactions, as you can well imagine!

Surrogate mom Amanda with Olivia

Surrogate mom Amanda with Olivia

Traditional Surrogacy vs. Gestational Surrogacy

Talking about the details of how being a surrogate works would make your head spin! Details you would have NO IDEA about, would take a novel to spell out.  The first decision is whether to be a “traditional” surrogate, meaning your own eggs are used, or being a “gestational” surrogate.  In this case, an egg “donor” supplies the egg, and you carry the baby to term.  Gestational surrogacy is the type that Amanda chose, because, as she said, she “just couldn’t imagine her own child walking around out there, without any involvement or communication.” She described herself as kind of “being the oven” until things were finished out!

Typically, surrogates go through an agency, and the agency makes sure that all the legalities are being followed and everyone is doing what needs to be done in the proper manner. There are a number of “rules” you must follow to become a surrogate.  One that REALLY surprised me is that you must have already given birth. I had no idea that was a rule! I pictured a perfect surrogate being a young, single woman! But nope!  And, if you are married, the husband must be willing to support you being a surrogate. That one makes sense to me! It’s hard to show up at the company Christmas party with a VERY expectant wife, and tell everyone from the office the child isn’t yours— if you aren’t FULLY on board with the whole concept!

So, once you get past all of the complicated laws, rules, procedures and paperwork, it’s time to move forward and start the process.

Andrew, Amanda and Xavier. You can see the bond between them in this picture!

Andrew, Amanda and Xavier. You can see the bond between them in this picture!

Who Makes the Choice?

Amanda told me that as a surrogate, you can be as specific as you want as to what parents you choose to work with.  You could decide to only accept a “traditional” married couple. Or a single mom. A single dad.  A specific race. If you only wanted to work with a family that had certain religious beliefs, you could choose specifically by that criteria. As the surrogate mother, you can completely decide what criteria is important to YOU.  Whatever YOUR criteria is, that is the only IP (Intended Parents) the agency would match you up with. And the same goes to the Intended Parents and their choice of a surrogate.

Amanda said she didn’t care about most of the criteria I mentioned above.  Her biggest concern was that the adopting parent or parents be someone who was open to maintaining communication throughout the pregnancy and after the birth. She wanted the Intended Parents to be involved.  One of the first people the agency suggested to her was a single IP in Hong Kong.  Amanda knew that it would be realistically impossible for him to be at any regular Dr. appointments, possibly miss the birth of the baby and the time difference would make communication difficult overall, so she turned down the match.  When the agency contacted her and let her know they had a gay couple in Manhattan who wanted to be involved with the surrogate throughout the pregnancy, and were open to keeping in contact after the birth, Amanda knew she had found the perfect match.

The proud dads-to-be with Amanda during her pregnancy.

The proud dads-to-be with Amanda during her pregnancy.

A “Match Made in Heaven!”

Amanda said that the intended parents, Xavier and Andrew flew all the way out from New York for their “in person Match Meeting” and everyone immediately felt like they had know each other forever.  They all hit it off immediately, and became instant friends.

Her “matching” family had already chosen an egg donor.  Amanda explained to me that getting two women and their “cycles” matched up is really complicated. There are drugs involved for the both the surrogate and the donor which really mess with your hormones, and can give you symptoms of PMS to the EXTREME! Something I didn’t know was the IVF drugs don’t stop once the egg is implanted.  You must continue using them through the first trimester of the pregnancy. Needless to say, ladies, if you had extreme PMS type symptoms for months on end, your husband would have to be a SAINT to be supportive of the decision!

Once the two women involved (in a gestational surrogacy) have their cycles lined up, they must rendezvous in the same location, so that the egg can be implanted into the surrogate. Amanda explained to me that the implanting of the egg isn’t exactly the most delightful procedure.

In Amanda’s case, there were 16 eggs extracted from the egg donor and fertilized, 5 of which progressed into healthy embryos. When it was time for transfer, 2 of the embryos were implanted and the remaining 3 were frozen for future possibilities.

Baby on Board!

Although Xavier and Andrew were not in California for the transfer, they all kept in constant contact throughout the pregnancy. They flew out for both the “confirmation of pregnancy” (an ultrasound to verify implantation and growth) and the 20 week anatomy ultrasound, where they confirmed the baby’s gender with 3d images! At 37 weeks and 6 days, Amanda went into labor and Xavier and Andrew hopped on a plane! Because labor was a bit of an early surprise, Xavier and Andrew missed the birth, but got to party on the plane with Amanda and Neil’s delivery room updates, and they arrived at the hospital just a few hours later!

The lovely little girl that Amanda helped to bring into this world is named Olivia and she is nearly 5 years old. Amanda, Olivia and her parents are all amazingly close.  Amanda’s whole family went to New York to celebrate Olivia’s first birthday.  Most of the family were there for her 3rd birthday, and last year Amanda and one of her twin boys went for her 4th birthday.

From front row to back: Maximus, Amanda, Kylie, 2nd; Michael, Olivia and Andrew, Back: Xavier

From front row to back: Maximus, Amanda, Kylie,
2nd; Michael, Olivia and Andrew, Back: Xavier

Not Your Typical “Surrogacy”

Amanda explained to me that she has a VERY atypical relationship with the family she was a surrogate for.  Olivia actually calls her “surro-mom.”  Amanda’s kids are referred to as “surro-siblings.” The titles along with this close of a relationship is not the norm for a surrogate and Intended Parents, but it works for all involved in this particular situation.  The interesting thing is that Amanda showed me a picture taken in June of her son and Olivia.  Although they share no actual DNA, you would SWEAR that those two children are siblings! They have the same heart shaped faces, and even the same shape to their feet!  Crazy, when you consider that Amanda didn’t donate her eggs!

When Olivia was 2, her parents asked Amanda to be a surrogate for a sibling for Olivia. The whole family flew here to California to be present for Amanda’s 3rd ultrasound, and it was there they all found out that baby Ava had stopped growing and no longer had a heartbeat. Needless to say, everyone involved was devastated at the news.

There are risks in every pregnancy, and obviously surrogacy pregnancies are no different. Amanda told me of one friend who had had her own child, then was a surrogate.  Something happened, which resulted in her needing a hysterectomy after the surrogacy.  She had wanted more children of her own, but that plan was changed.

Amanda, Olivia and Maximus

Amanda, Olivia and Maximus

Another friend of hers has 4 children of her own, and has been a surrogate 4 times, resulting in 5 children!  She loves it, and it is fulfilling to her. (Honestly, I can’t in my wildest dreams imagine being pregnant that many times!  Ouch!)

The question outsiders always discuss, wonder about and have questions about is the financial aspect of being a surrogate.  Amanda mentioned to me that often, people’s first response is, “You make BANK on being a surrogate, right?”  Ummmmmmmmmmmm…. no, not really.  Amanda shared with me that each independent agreement and each agency varies in their packages, but typically an amount is agreed upon for carrying the baby.  In addition, there are amounts laid out for the “transfer fee” (relating to implanting the fertilized egg), travel expenses, medical bills, a “missed work fee” and other things. Other agencies offer an “all-inclusive” type of contract that should cover all of the fore-mentioned occurrences.  And while it may sound like a lot to some, as Amanda said to me, “If you’re looking to be a surrogate for the money, you are in the wrong business.”

Personally, I can’t imagine WHAT amount of money would make it worthwhile to me! I know what pregnancy did to my body in the past, and believe me, it wasn’t pretty! Then there is the weight gain, the discomfort of pregnancy, tiredness, nausea………. on, and on, and on, and on. OK- I’m not gonna lie here. Give me 5 million dollars and I’ll be your surrogate.  See, we all have our price!  For that amount I can disappear for a while, have the baby, get my body rebuilt, and reappear, looking trimmer and better than ever!

While surrogacy is not something I could ever imagine doing, (not to mention, I’m about 5,000 years too old to consider it at this point) I’m glad that people who can’t have children can have the option. And women who consider it a true gift to others can decide to become a surrogate.

Hopefully, this article helps you to understand surrogacy a bit more, from the standpoint of a woman who has been through it, and that you can see the positive that can come from it! My eyes were sure opened as to the details of making surrogacy work!  I’m sure that Xavier and Andrew are happy to have Amanda as a part of their family’s story!

Dads Xavier and Andrew with Olivia

Dads Xavier and Andrew with Olivia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mysteries at Maxwell Mansion

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Two  “Old Treasures” in Lake Geneva

Don and I discovered The Maxwell Mansion, in beautiful Lake Geneva, Wisconsin two years ago.  Before our annual trip to the mid-west to see my family, we decided we’d like to spend a few nights up in Lake Geneva, for some well deserved “alone time.”  A little research on the internet, and we decided between one of two beautiful places in Lake Geneva.  It would either be The Baker House, or it’s sister property, The Maxwell Mansion.  A few phone calls were made and we found out that there was literally “no room at the inn” for The Baker House, so we made reservations at Maxwell Mansion.

The bar at The Baker House is really fun!

The bar at The Baker House is really fun!

The Maxwell Mansion is right up my alley!  Built in 1856 as the summer home for a prominent Chicago surgeon, it was the first mansion built in Lake Geneva- long before the enormous lake front mansions you see there today.  The property is two blocks from the water, but at that time, he owned the property all the way down to the beach!  Now a small boutique hotel, it is made up of three buildings, the original mansion, the stables and the carriage house.  Being the “lover of all things old” there was no question in my mind that we would stay in the main house.

Next to the "Stable rooms" at The Maxwell Mansion

Next to the “Stable rooms” at The Maxwell Mansion

The rooms inside the main house are more “period” style, while the stable rooms are a bit more modern and elegant.  All the rooms I have seen are nicely done and very well appointed!

 Ulysses Grant Slept Here….

For our stay we booked The General Grant Suite, and were happy we did!  The suite is named after Ulysses Grant, who was said to have visited there in the 1800’s.  The suite is generously large, with both north and south facing windows overlooking the beautiful gardens, a lovely sitting area in front of the fireplace and a HUGE bathroom with a period claw-foot tub. I couldn’t have been happier with the hotel or the room!

This was our bathroom at The Maxwell Mansion. I couldn't wait to get in this tub! It was so beautiful!

This was our bathroom at The Maxwell Mansion. I couldn’t wait to get in this tub! It was so beautiful!

The property is made up of many pretty areas: gardens, fountains, verandas, a pool and a Bocce’ ball court.  Inside has a lot of little treasures too: a small “media room” with a cozy red velvet booth that can sit about 6-8 to watch a movie, their Apothecary Bar (which was named to honor Dr. Maxwell’s profession), their beautiful “ballroom,” perfect for a small wedding or intimate party, a living room, and other lovely public areas.

Drinks at The Apothecary Bar two years ago when we stayed at The Maxwell Mansion

Drinks at The Apothecary Bar two years ago when we stayed at The Maxwell Mansion

What we didn’t know when we decided to stay at Maxwell Mansion is that some say it is haunted.  (Not that that would have changed my decision to stay.  I’m always open to meeting new friends!)  The first afternoon,  after going out on one of the lake boat tours, and a lovely lunch, Don and I decided to take a little nap.  We laid down, and dozed off.  A short time later I kept hearing someone  walking around upstairs.  I was really frustrated, because it was so loud that I couldn’t sleep!  Later on, when Don woke up I complained to him how loud the footsteps were. He hadn’t heard them, because he sleeps like a log. When we left later to go to dinner I looked back at the windows of our suite and realized that there are no floors above our room!  Back to the hotel I asked the desk clerk if there was an attic, and if so would someone have been up there working that day. She assured me that there was no attic above our room…….

The next day, my niece Kelly was going to bring my daughter Alyse, who had just gotten in from San Diego up to Lake Geneva.  My niece and I have a long standing tradition that every time I’m in town (and the weather allows) we go up to Lake Geneva and hike part of the perimeter of the lake. The mansions surrounding the lake are unbelievably beautiful, as is the view of the lake, and we never tire of it.  The girls showed up for our walk and the first thing my daughter said is “Mom, did you know this hotel is supposed to be haunted? I read all about it!”  I can’t say for certain if it was the ghost I was hearing walking around the day before, but it seems like perhaps it was!

This week,  on our annual mid-west trip, and decided to take our usual trek up to Lake Geneva.  One of the reasons is that we are looking to put on a special party in the future, and have talked about doing it up at The Maxwell Mansion.  (Ah………. the mysteries surrounding the mansion just seem to build!)  We decided to stop in and look at the hotel with the party in mind.  It proved to be just as beautiful as I remembered it!

On our walk this year. This mansion is one of the classic mansions I've admired since I was a child. Rumor has it that it is now broken into condos, which still would be pretty nice! There is a pool on the roof!

On our walk this year. This mansion is one of the classic mansions I’ve admired since I was a child. Rumor has it that it is now broken into condos, which still would be pretty nice! There is a pool on the roof!

This Diamond Is Not Too Rough!

The four of us took our walk, then decided we wanted to get a little something to eat and drink.  We visited a newer local restaurant, called Flatiron Tap and sat outside.  We have found in the past, as with many “tourist areas” some of the restaurants leave a bit to be desired.  Flatiron didn’t disappoint! The food was great, the service pleasant, and they didn’t seem to mind us taking up real estate for an extended period of time! We were lucky enough to have one of those perfect summer days!   We were  enjoying the afternoon, visiting, eating and playing cards when a local couple sat down next to us. We began to banter back and forth, and they suggested we go with them later to The Maxwell Mansion to see a mystic named Joe Diamond.  I was surprised to find out that the mansion also had a Speakeasy, and it would be open that evening!

Kelly and John during one of the card tricks Joe Diamond did with us.

Kelly and John during one of the card tricks Joe Diamond did with us.

I totally suffer from FOMO-(Fear of Missing Out), so I was thrilled with the idea!  At the appointed hour, armed with the password of the day for the Speakeasy, thanks to our friends, we went up to the mansion! WHAT FUN!   We went in to the Apothecary Bar, got some of their fabulous drinks, whipped up by their mixologist, and we were settled just in time for Joe Diamond, to come up to the table we were sharing with our new friends, Melanie and Chris.

Melanie, Patti & Kelly

Melanie, Patti & Kelly

We were absolutely blown away by Joe’s talent!  He regaled us with card tricks for a few minutes, then blew us away by doing a bit of mind-reading!  I still can’t figure out how in the world he came up with the name of a friend I had in mind for one of his tricks!  It was CRAZY! Joe entertained us for well over half an hour, then we went on down to the Speakeasy.  What fun, having to come up with the password to be allowed in, then entering the secret little bar!  There was a pretty good crowd in the bar, but we found a few empty couches in the back and made ourselves at home.  In the center of that room is a pole that obviously is structural to the building.  I’m not even going to mention the pole dance that one of the males in our group put on for us with that pole.  It just might embarrass John to be pointed out in such a manner! (I should make him pay some blackmail money to keep me from publishing them!)

Melanie, Patti and Kelly wearing the crazy hats available in The Maxwell Mansion

Melanie, Patti and Kelly wearing the crazy hats available in The Maxwell Mansion

The evening ended with all of us going out back to the lovely veranda, enjoying the fireplace and conversation with some new friends. Part of our group had a rousing late night game of Bocce’ Ball, which I was told they won.

When we made our first visit to The Maxwell Mansion we weren’t disappointed.  Our visit this time around didn’t disappoint either!  I think next year we will have to try another few days there, or at The Baker House!

 

 

Moonlight’s Matilda

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The Moonlight

Wednesday evening we went to the opening night performance of Matilda at the Vista Moonlight Amphitheater.  We have been season ticket-holders for about 3 years now, and before that I attended a good number of plays there over the years.  If you aren’t aware of this theater, you are missing out on a true GEM in the North County area. (I’m constantly amazed at how many of my friends have never heard of this theater. Where have you been, people?) Every play that we have seen here has been superb. The last play, The Producers had people who had been involved in the BROADWAY production of the play.  It doesn’t get any better than this folks!

One thing I love about The Moonlight is that it is an outdoor theater.  There aren’t too many of them around the San Diego area.  You have a choice of 3 types of seats- regular theater seating (chairs), general lawn, which is at the top of the hill and first-come type of seating on the grass, or the reserved lawn tiers,  which are between the theater seating rows.  I LOVE the reserved lawn tier seats!  It is fake turf, so no grass or dirt stains….. but you get an area about 6 ft deep and as wide as a “seat” so that you can picnic at your place before the play! They give you low folding chairs to sit on, so you can enjoy your picnic and the performance, without blocking the regular theater seats behind you. We purchase 4 seats each season, so that at each play we can bring another couple that we’d like to get to know a little better and enjoy a picnic dinner before the play.  The tickets at Moonlight are some of the least expensive play tickets you will find in San Diego county, so even purchasing 4 tickets per play is STILL a raving deal! Their highest priced tickets are under $60.00,the reserved lawn tiers under $30.00 each, and the general lawn tickets come in under $20.00.  I think when you buy season tickets it comes to less than that price!  Where in San Diego can you purchase play tickets for that price?  Again, if you haven’t been to The Moonlight, check it out. There are still 2 plays this season!

Matilda

Now, on to Matilda.  I’m going to admit, I knew NOTHING about the play, and wondered if this was just going to be a play for children.  NOT AT ALL!  The minute the first actors come on the stage you are enthralled!  It takes place in England, so everyone in the cast has an English accent. The talented Vanessa Dinning was the dialect coach, and as always she did a fabulous job working with the cast that is made up predominantly of children. (Vanessa happens to be a family friend, but she does the dialect coaching for most San Diego area plays when there is an English accent involved, and does a superb job of it!)

More about the cast later, but it’s the STORY LINE of Matilda that I SO SO SO love! The character of Matilda comes from an abusive household, with parents who have not a bit of kindness or love toward her. There is also a tyrannical headmistress who is awful to Matilda. But this story shows that no matter what your circumstances are, you can succeed. Matilda is a brilliant little girl, with some special powers, and books are her refuge.  Matilda sings a songs that says “Nobody but me is gonna change my story, so sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit naughty.”  This is the childhood version of “Living a Royal Life” that I talk about all the time.  In SPITE of terrible circumstances, Matilda has the courage to do what is right, and makes the best, for herself, and those around her.  She refuses to be a victim. She stands up for herself- in spite of what the outcome may be.  She realizes that no one is going to do it for her, she has to make the best of her life. I wish that more of our society would do this for themselves!  (I get REALLY tired of the victim mentality lately……….. )

The Cast

I loved every minute of this play.  The darling young actress who plays Matilda (Charity Rose @CharityRose) does a brilliant job in the role! She couldn’t be better! The whole cast, singing, dancing and performing the whole she-bang with English accents are beyond compare.  One of my favorite area actors, Randall Hickman, plays Miss Trunchbull.  He has made a name for himself playing the evil female parts in a few plays locally, including Ursulla in Moonlight’s “The Little Mermaid” a few years ago.  I LOVE his acting!

The director is Jamie Tocellini and everything I’ve seen him involved with has been amazing!

Everything You Need to Know About The Moonlight…

The play would be great for kids (probably about 8 and up) who you would like to introduce to live theater, but don’t feel that you need any children with you to fit in and enjoy this play.  The large majority of the audience was adults when we were there, and everyone around was exclaiming how fabulous they thought it was.

Matilda is running through August 3rd.  Do yourself a favor and get some tickets to go see it.  https://www.moonlightstage.com/  You will be glad you did!

Then, check out tickets for the other two plays this season, West Side Story August 14-31 and Victor Victoria September 11-28.

I am SO excited about next year’s season, which is going to have 5 different  performances, and includes An American In Paris, Something Rotten, Cinderella, Ragtime and Kinky Boots!  4 of the 5 plays are totally new to me, so I am thrilled for the 2020 season!

 

 

The Comedy Queen is Performing Soon!

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The Comedy Queen has a show in the works, and you will want to be a part of it!  Get your reservation in while there is space available! This event is being held in a new venue, the lovely Koi Zen Cellars in the Poway area!  Go to their website to make your reservation, or contact Patti personally!  And remember, a reservation PAID, is a reservation MADE………… until then, it’s just wishful thinking on your part!

Go to KoiZen’s website to make your reservation!

A Castle, Fit for a Queen!

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Hearst Castle

We are so blessed to live in Southern California!  There are more places to explore, and more adventures to create than you could ever have time for.  One of our great California treasures, and one which took me FAR too long to go and see is Hearst Castle. I have lived in California almost 40 years and had never been there.

The views from Hearst Castle go on forever. He used to own all of the land from the castle down to the beach. Over 250,000 acres at one time!

The views from Hearst Castle go on forever. He used to own all of the land from the castle down to the beach. Over 250,000 acres at one time!

A few months ago, Don and I took one of our little adventures, flew up to San Jose, and spent a few days driving back home down the coast.  Our main stop was Hearst Castle, which we took 2 full days to explore. I loved every minute of it!  My only disappointment was that I can’t make it my own “personal” castle!  After all, every Queen needs a castle, right? (Perhaps if we all petitioned the state they might consider it????)

I truly believe in “Living a Royal Life!”  Well, it seems that Mr. Hearst had it down to a science!  The decadence and opulence of Hearst Castle is unrivaled, especially here in the United States!

The drive from San Diego to Hearst Castle is a beautiful one. We always make every little trip like this an adventure, exploring along the way. We stop on a whim when something catches our eye.  Fewer plans and more spontaneity make life far more interesting, in my opinion!

When you approach San Simeon, the ocean is on one side of the highway and far, far up the hill you will see the castle.  The day we arrived, in the field next to the highway were some of the zebras, decedents left from the Hearst menagerie that he kept many years ago.

I loved hearing some of the stories about the guests who frequented San Simeon, and some of the strange “quirks” that were passed on about William Randolph Hearst! I just eat it up!  I love it when you have a docent who has taken the time to find out every nugget they can, and shares it with passion! It makes a place like this come to life!

In front of Hearst Castle. I can only imagine how exciting it would have been to be a guest there back in the day!

In front of Hearst Castle. I can only imagine how exciting it would have been to be a guest there back in the day!

If you are a history buff, the history behind Hearst Castle, also known as San Simeon is fascinating! Check it out here! 

Planning Your Trip

We had to buy the cheesy tourist photo, right???

We had to buy the cheesy tourist photo, right???

There are hotels located on the beach, across the street from Hearst Castle. If you plan to have a full day, or even a few days of touring the castle, this is a convenient way to go.  The Castle is located in about the middle of nowhere, so driving back and forth to other hotels can be time consuming. Cambria and Morro Bay are about a half hours’ drive away – and you will find some more charming places to stay there, if you are willing to drive. We spent a few days in Cambria after our tour of San Simeon.

My man in the library! Such a masculine room! I just loved the feel of it!

My man in the library! Such a masculine room! I just loved the feel of it!

We took two full days to see the castle, enjoying two different tours each day.  As it turned out, it would have cost us almost exactly the same had we decided to do a private tour.  We then could have probably seen the whole castle in one day.  I would definitely recommend that you see as much of it as possible, because ALL of it is so interesting and fabulous! It is well worth the time and money spent. You can’t go wrong with one, or two, or four or more of these tours! 

Hearst Castle Sculpture

One of the many beautiful sculptures on the grounds of San Simeon

There are occasional evening tours, where the docents dress in 1930’s period clothing.  I plan to go back for one of those tours in the future. (Of course, you know me- I would be sure that Don and I were also in period clothing! ANYTHING for a costume!)

The artwork and collections that are on the grounds and throughout the castle are just unbelievable!  SO worth the trip!  I would suggest that if you can travel there when it isn’t peak tourist season (summer months) you will have the best experience, since it won’t be as crowded. The castle isn’t air conditioned, so it can be warm during the hot months.

You dont realize how large Hearst Castle really is, until you see the proportion of us next to the front door!

You don’t realize how large Hearst Castle really is, until you see the proportion of us next to the front door!

If you live in California, and haven’t taken the time to go and see it for yourself, you really need to do it.  It is an amazingly interesting and beautiful attraction! Personally, I can’t wait to go back and see it again!

Look at the detail in this room and in the ceiling! It is just amazing what was put into this castle!

Look at the detail in this room and in the ceiling! It is just amazing what was put into this castle!

Life is Worth Cheering About!

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When I Die, I Want To Be a Pink Firework!

I didn’t even know it was possible.  Until last night.  I didn’t know that after you die you can have your ashes made into FIREWORKS!  Seriously!  You can’t make this stuff up!  (Well, you COULD make it up, actually I guess, but I’m NOT making it up!)  Where did I find out this profound and amazing way to get rid of yourself after you’ve gotten rid of yourself?  The movie POM. That’s where!  More about that in a minute, because actually, going to the movie is what this article is about.  But I digress, once again, to becoming a firework.  Since it IS a real thing, I’m just laying it out there for everyone who is left behind after I’m gone.  If they don’t take my whole body for science, and there is anything left behind, please make me into a firework.  Or two.  Pink would be my preference, unless they can do one that explodes into a crown shape. Then I’d prefer to be a crown shape.  Maybe gold.  Or a pink one and a gold crown. Whatever you can do to make the biggest possible SPLASH as I am remembered for the last time on earth.  I want to go out with a BANG!

OK, now that THAT is settled……… on to what the article is REALLY about.

POM Movie Madness!

Girls night out a few nights ago was to see the new Diane Keaton movie POM.  This is a movie about a bunch of women in a retirement community who decide to form a cheerleading group. We had a group of 12 women, ranging from 50’s to the just-past-mid 80’s.  And, you know me.  We can’t just go to a movie, walk in and sit down.  Heck no!  We needed to add a little SPICE to the event…….. so about half of us went dressed as……. what else?  CHEERLEADERS!

You may think that would be the silliest or stupidest thing in the world.  Go right ahead and think that.  I know better.  Maybe YOU wouldn’t do it, but that’s probably because you aren’t nearly as much fun as I am.  And my friend Stella is. And some of my other friends are!

Gerri, Patti, Stella as a blonde!) and Barbara enjoying Happy Hour!

Gerri, Patti, Stella as a blonde!) and Barbara enjoying Happy Hour! BTW- This is Gerri’s actual cheerleading outfit from high school. And it fits her perfectly!  I can still fit into my things from high school too.  I fit into my earrings.  That’s what I fit into.  It just isn’t right when people do this to you!

Here is the thing folks.  I’m WAY past the stage where I worry about what people think of me. No matter WHO you are, there are gonna be haters out there.  Even if I was the most perfect, smartest, most together person in the world (I’m none of those things and never going to be…. but IF, it’s an IF I put out there) there would still be haters with something negative to say.  So, I don’t worry, I don’t care. I just go ahead and be outrageously FUN, and enjoy every darned minute that I can in life.  After all, like I often say- YOU DON’T KNOW WHEN THEY ARE GOING TO CALL IN YOUR CHIP!  It could be tomorrow. Or next week.  Or when you are sleeping tonight.  (That’s a kind of creepy thought, huh?)

“We are all so worried about what everyone else is thinking, but  of course,  the only thing that really matters is what we think of ourselves.” Diane Keaton in POMS

So, instead of worrying about other people’s impression of me, I just constantly think of something new, something fun, something entertaining that I can partake in, and invite those around me to join in.  Sometimes it’s a bit much for others’ taste, and they don’t come along for the ride.  Sometimes they come along for the ride, but they aren’t sitting in the front of the roller-coaster (that seat is reserved for Stella and me anyway!)  They may take a seat further back, where they can be a part of the fun, but not quite so far “out there.”  That’s all fine and good too!

Stella and Patti. We both have no problem dressing up in any costume, any time, for any event! Any excuse for a costume is fine with us!

Stella and Patti. We both have no problem dressing up in any costume, any time, for any event! Any excuse for a costume is fine with us!

Years ago I volunteered for hospice. I sat next to the bed of a number of people as they took their last breaths.  Never once did I hear a person say, “Gee, I wish I didn’t dress in that silly costume that time” or “Gee, I wish I hadn’t had as much fun in life as I did.”  NOPE.  The regrets that I heard about in life were that they had worked too hard, or worried to much about unnecessary things, or they hadn’t taken time to be with their friends or family enough, perhaps they wish they had traveled more.  My only regret will be – no matter HOW old I am when I die, is that I didn’t have more time.  I will know though, that I spent my last years having as much fun as I possibly could, and that I filled every moment I could doing things I love.

One of our late arrivals, Bella was pretty impressive with the splits! I never could do them, and no chance at all now!

One of our late arrivals, Bella was pretty impressive with the splits! I never could do them, and no chance at all now!

That’s what  I am referring to when I talk about Living a Royal Life.  Many call it Living Your Best Life.

Living a Royal Life

There are so many quotes that I love about what others think of you, but this is one of my favorites:

“At 20 we worry about what others think of us.  At 40 we don’t care what they think of us.  At 60 we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”  Ann Landers.

STOP WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK OF YOU!  It doesn’t matter and THEY don’t matter.  Be outrageous.  Be silly.  Look like a nut!  It’s worth it, believe me!

Are you MAKING memories in your day to day life?  Are you experiencing fun times, and enjoying adventures, big and small in your life?

If you aren’t- what will it take to make your life a life you love?

Maybe you need a “cheerleader” in your life, to help you be on the winning team!  There are a bunch of great cheerleaders in this group- give one of us a call and we’ll be over, Pom-poms in hand to help you to Live a Royal Life!

This was most of the "whole crew" from last night! Just ready to walk over to the movie!

This was most of the “whole crew” from last night! Just ready to walk over to the movie! Our ages ranged from 58-86! Now THAT is a bunch of winning cheerleaders!

BTW-  The POM movie is great. Get out and see it while it is in theaters if you can! (Check out POMS trailer here!) We all enjoyed it and the sweet  life lessons that were taught in it! (Not to mention finding out you can be made into a firework after you die!)  We also had a great time at Happy Hour at 333 Pacific in Oceanside, (Their happy hour includes $8.00 vodka specials, and the BEST brussel sprouts and calamari!  YUM!) Then we walked the few blocks over to the Regal Theater. I’m sure there are people who are still wondering WHAT the heck they were seeing as we paraded by with our pom-poms! We had a few other patrons ask to take our picture and the manager of the theater asked if they could put us on the Regal website……….

So there you go.  Silly fun, yes!  A fabulous memory of time with the girls too! It’s what Living a Royal Life is all about!

Faster Than A Jet On Takeoff……

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Photo credit, Matt Ben Stone Photography

Denise Mueller-Korenek                                                                                                     Photo credit, Matt Ben Stone Photography

Faster Than a Jet on Takeoff!

I recently joined my local Soroptimist Club. Before joining, I knew a handful of the women in the club, and they were all women I admired and thought highly of.  When I attended my first meeting, was I impressed to learn that one of the members had set a world record for speed on a bicycle.

Just the weekend before I met Denise Mueller-Korenek, Don and I had rented electric bikes and took a ride around Mission Bay in San Diego for a few hours.  I had managed to take a spill on the bike, when I was stopping to talk to Don, and had basically scraped the crap out of my body.  After my fall, going about  12 miles per hour on the bikes had me scared spitless! All I could think of was the damage that could be done to my body if I fell while going “full speed!”  It had me as nervous as a mouse in a cathouse!

So….. imagine what I thought when I heard that Denise had broken “land speed records” on a bike!  I figured she had gone maybe as fast as 40 miles and hour or something!  No. She hadn’t gone 40 miles an hour.  Not even 50 miles an hour.  She had gone 183.9 miles per hour.  On a bike. WHAT??????

In my wildest imagination, I can’t even begin to think what it would be like to go that speed on a bicycle!  183 MPH is faster than the takeoff speed of a JET!  And all she had to protect her beautiful limbs and head during the process were a leather riding suit and a helmet!

An Awe-Inspiring Woman!

The first thing I thought when I met Denise is that I need to get to know this woman better, and I have to do an interview with her for my blog!  Talk about “Leading a Royal Life!”  This is a woman who isn’t sitting back waiting for life to give her an adventure!  She has taken adventure by the balls, and given them a big SQUEEZE!

Denise agreed to sit down with me and explain HOW it is that a woman goes God-danged near the speed of light, on a bicycle!

When Denise broke the world speed record for a bike on September 16, 2018 it was far from the first impressive goal she had set for herself, or- for that matter, the first world record she had broken! Not by any means!  Denise started competing and earning titles in racing bikes when she was 14 years old.  The minute she tried downhill mountain bike racing she was hooked and went on to earn the Silver medal in the Junior World Championships in 1991. When she hit 19 she stopped competing, and basically didn’t even get on a bike again throughout the years that she married and raised her 3 boys.

The Sign at Bonnevile Flats Photo credit Matt Ben Stone Photography

The Sign at Bonnevile Salt Flats                                                                                                                  Photo credit Matt Ben Stone Photography

The Competitive Bug Bites Again

When Denise was raising her boys, she realized the only way she could consistently get a workout in was when she went to a 5 AM class.  It was at that class that she met 3 women who were training to compete in the San Diego Rock & Roll marathon.  Denise and some others decided to go and support their friends, and that’s when the ” competitive bug” hit Denise once again. She decided that she would compete in the 2010 marathon with her middle son.

I guess the saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” has more truth to it than you might imagine, because her son Michael Boever decided he wanted to run 19 1/2 marathons that year at the age of 16. Setting, and achieving goals obviously runs in the blood with this family!

That followed up with Denise running 1/2 marathons with all 3 of her sons within 3 years.

In 2012 Denise ran into her old cycling coach, John Howard, and he told her he’d love to see her participate in a charity event.  Denise hadn’t been on a bike in nearly 20 years, but agreed to do it.

The athlete on her bike. Photo credit Jinna Albright Photography

The athlete on her bike.                                                                                                                                   Photo credit: Jinna Albright Photography

That’s when the “bug” hit her again. Denise planned to break a record in 2016 when she was being towed behind a Range Rover at the Bonneville flats. Unfortunately, after training intensively for 2 years, the last day she was to compete it rained.  At this point, although she had already achieved a  1st ever Women’s record at 147.7 mph, she knew she could do even better! Instinctively, she immediately announced, “We are coming back next year to do this.” (Just as this 2018 record , a distinction needs to be made between being towed to start pedaling vs being towed the whole way.  Some people think she was towed the whole way, which is not true.  She needs to be towed only to be able to turn the large gear over herself,  then she continues increasing speed unattached, but “surfing” the draft of air.)

That wasn’t to be, however, because her sponsor let her know that they couldn’t provide the Range Rover again in 2017, so she had to come up with “Plan B.”  Plan B was to beat the world speed record set by Fred Rompelberg in 1995, which had stood for 23 years.  His speed had been 166.9 MPH. And she would do it behind the same vehicle that Fred had used.  The vehicle required extensive rehabilitation, having not been used for a long time. Denise and her team worked to get her, and the vehicle “up to speed” (no pun intended) so she could compete at Bonneville in September 2018.  With her specially equipped bike, her coach John Howard and race car driver Shea Holbrook they were ready to go for the record breaking ride of a lifetime.

Shea Holbrook, who drove the race car, poses with Denise. Photo credit, Jinna Albright Photography

Shea Holbrook, who drove the race car, poses with Denise.                                                                  Photo credit, Jinna Albright Photography

Denise explained the way it worked. She had to be pulled behind the special vehicle until they got up to a speed of 110 MPH, then she unhooked from the car and rode in the airstream, pedaling until she hit the 183.9 average speed.  Denise’s son was driving the vehicle that followed to pick her up after the ride. Her husband, Chris followed in another sponsor vehicle from Optec to pick up the race car at the end.

Mueller-Korenek told me what it was like when her son came up beside her, doing a facebook live and told her that they had determined her speed at over 183 MPH. All they planned to do was 170 MPH to beat the record previously set by Rompelberg.  Denise said she screamed “WHAT?” when she was told the speed she had hit.

The breaking of a world speed record... Photo credit, Matt Ben Stone Photography

The breaking of a world speed record…                                                                                                   Photo credit: Matt Ben Stone Photography

As she explained it to me, she was going the  average of 1 football field per second, behind the “cup” of the vehicle in front of her.  All she was concentrating on was staying upright and pedaling her fastest. There was no way she could take even a moment to look at her speedometer.

Think about that speed. Think for a moment what would happen if you lost your balance, while going over sand at that momentum.  Personally, although I am pretty much of a daredevil, I can’t even begin to think of the consequences of one slight misjudgment in timing.

There is no “practice” for this type of endeavor.  It’s a one shot event.  Denise prepped physically. She prepped mentally.  But she didn’t get to go to the Bonneville Salt Flats and give it a test run.  Unimaginable!

When I asked Denise what her family thought about her doing this, she said she had their support, because the whole family was used to setting goals and meeting them. She had done it numerous times, her sons had done it with their marathons and other goals, and it just didn’t occur to any of them she wouldn’t achieve the goal.

Denise at the Bonneville flats! She believed she could do it, and she did!

Denise at the Bonneville Salt Flats! She believed she could do it, and she did!                                Photo Credit: Matt Ben Stone Photography

What an inspiring story!  A 45 year old woman breaking a world speed record!  This isn’t a 20 something athlete, this is a mom of people in their 20’s!

What’s Next?

What happens now?  I’d think that if you accomplished what Denise has accomplished that would be enough. But I was  wrong in that assumption. After taking a few months off, Denise is now training to break a record on a special type of bike.  A “Faring Pod.”  This is a recumbent bike, completely encased within a “pod.” The one that Denise will compete in doesn’t even have a window.  You look at a video screen to see where you are going.  The current women’s record is set at 75.6.  Somehow, I don’t think that record will stand on the books for very long!  There is only one place where they run this race in the country.  On a special “road” in Nevada.  Denise plans to go there to break the record this September.  I don’t doubt for a minute that it will happen, do you?

When we give excuses about why we can’t accomplish one of our goals, we need to look at what this awe inspiring woman has accomplished.  She has overcome many of the excuses we constantly tell ourselves.  I’m too old.  It can’t be done.  I’m not as good a another person.  I don’t have the time.  I don’t have the resources. We all use these excuses day in and day out.  Yet Denise didn’t listen to those excuses.  She just decided she would, she could and she did.

What unachievable goal can you set for yourself?

Photo credit: David Kamatoy

An amazing goal is achieved!                                                                                                                                            Photo credit: David Kamatoy

Spring in Holland….

Adventures With Attitude!, Every Day is an Adventure, Living a Royal Life, Out and About, Travel and Adventure

Spring in Holland

From the time we are small children, most of us associate tulips and wooden shoes with Holland. For the tulips alone Holland is worth visiting.  But there is SO much more to make a trip to Holland worthwhile!

Amazing Amsterdam

Amsterdam is such a beautiful city. Different than almost any city you will ever see, with few buildings taller than 4 stories. The buildings are lined up along the canals, and the architecture is so quaint and stunning in its simplicity.

We tied a 5 night stay in Amsterdam into another trip we had planned to West Africa.  Two VERY different places, two very different experiences, believe me!  But, we decided that on the way to our West African cruise we would take some time to “stop and smell the flowers.” So, that is exactly what we did!

There is a reason that First Class cost so much! Your own little "pod", Champagne or Mimosa in a real glass) before take off, a real pillow and a chair that turns into a bed.....Yep. A reason for First Class!

There is a reason that First Class cost so much! Your own little “pod”, Champagne or Mimosa in a real glass) before take off, a real pillow and a chair that turns into a bed…..Yep. A reason for First Class!

We had a flight that would get us into Amsterdam in the early morning hours.  Our hotel was The Grand Amsterdam Hotel. When we arrived they accommodated us checking into our  room by mid-morning, so that we could get settled before starting our sight-seeing. What a fabulous, and history rich hotel!  It was a convent in the 15th century, then housed royalty for a period of time before becoming City Hall for nearly a century.

The hotel we stayed in was beautiful, and they had amazing flower arrangements everywhere. I look a bit like a homeless woman, because it was quite a bit colder than I was expecting while we were there, and we were going on to 16 days in Africa, where the weather was really hot, so my combinations werent going to win any fashion awards!

The hotel we stayed in was beautiful, and they had amazing flower arrangements everywhere. I look a bit like a homeless woman, because it was quite a bit colder than I was expecting while we were there, and we were going on to 16 days in Africa, where the weather was really hot, so my combinations weren’t going to win any fashion awards!

From the minute you pull through the entry gate you feel the elegance and attention to detail.  The hotel is built around a courtyard, and in the middle of the courtyard is an antique cart, which was laden with tulips. Throughout the hotel were beautiful flower arrangements, cozy little sitting areas, terraces and gardens to enjoy, a lovely restaurant to enjoy breakfast or lunch and so much more.

Part of the lovely display in the courtyard entry to The Grand Amsterdam Hotel where we stayed.

Part of the lovely display in the courtyard entry to The Grand Amsterdam Hotel where we stayed.

This replica of The Grand Amsterdam Hotel was ceramic and part of the display out in the entry courtyard.

This replica of The Grand Amsterdam Hotel was made from ceramic and tile, and part of the display out in the entry courtyard. It was just gorgeous!

Since there was so much rich history in our hotel alone, we took a tour of the hotel one morning with one of the hotel employees. We got to see so much more of the hotel than we would have been able to without the tour! It was well worth our time! We got to see a small “chapel” with some of the most beautiful stained glass windows you have ever seen! Everything in the room was designed to continue the stories from the bible which were symbolized in the windows.

Our hotel had quite a bit of interesting history. It had been a convent for many years, then was the City Hall. These windows were part of an original chapel and all represent biblical stories. It was really stunningly beautiful!

Our hotel had quite a bit of interesting history. It had been a convent for many years, then was the City Hall. These windows were part of an original chapel and all represent biblical stories. It was really stunningly beautiful!

The whole hotel recently went through a freshening up, and I would recommend it to anyone traveling to Amsterdam. There wasn’t a detail overlooked in the whole hotel.   The Grand Amsterdam is only blocks from The Red Light District. Don’t let this little fact concern you however!  In America we would assume The Red Light District to be seedy and dangerous.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Soon after our return from Amsterdam I wrote an article on their Red Light District.  I invite you to check it out here if you missed it!  

Live and Let Live!

The whole city of Amsterdam has the basic attitude that what you do is your business, what I do is my business.  There is very little crime, (beyond bicycle thefts- they are rampant!) and I felt very safe the whole time we were there. We were actually told that Holland has closed down a number of their prisons, because crime is so low there.

Pots of flowers are throughout the city, in plant boxes across canals and in large containers along the streets. It is just beautiful!

It’s funny, isn’t it that the first thing EVERYONE seems to ask about the beautiful city of Amsterdam is if you went to the Red Light District……..  That says a little something about Americans! To answer the question, Yes, of course we checked out the Red Light District, our first day there.  It is very interesting, to say the least.  My favorite part of the area was a dress shop I saw the first evening, which carried beautiful “vintage style” clothing, most specifically, the 50’s type of swing dresses that I love to dance in.  Let’s just say, after we visited there the next day, another suitcase had to be implemented for the rest of the trip!

Patti in front of some of the windows in the Red Light District. You may not take pictures of any of the women if they are in the windows. The police will get involved and you will lost your camera!

Patti in front of some of the windows in the Red Light District. You may not take pictures of any of the women if they are in the windows. The police will get involved and you will lost your camera! The “closed curtain” means that the lady is currently “occupied” and unavailable at that time.

Playing Tourist in Amsterdam

You will find Amsterdam has a little something for everyone! There are numerous fascinating museums, including the famous Anne Frank house, the Van Gogh Museum , Rijksmuseum, and many more.  We were unable to get into the Anne Frank house.  It is very small, and tickets were sold out nearly 4 months before our trip for the time we were there! I was really disappointed! So my big tip for you, if you plan to go to Amsterdam, get your ticket FAR in advance!

There are a number of companies that do boat tours through the canals.  It is well worthwhile to take one of them.  You get to see the lovely architecture that Amsterdam is so famous for, you go right by the Anne Frank house and many of the other attractions you wouldn’t want to miss, and can’t cover by foot. The one we took stopped a few times and let you get off and take photos.

This photo is a perfect synopsis of Amsterdam. The beautiful 3 and 4 story architecture, the canal and bikes pretty much sum up most of what Amsterdam is made up of..... the only thing really missing are the beautiful flowers, the Red Light District and the "Coffee Houses!

This photo is a perfect synopsis of Amsterdam. The beautiful 3 and 4 story architecture, the canal and bikes pretty much sum up most of what Amsterdam is made up of….. the only thing really missing are the beautiful flowers, the Red Light District and the “Coffee Houses!

Dam Square is another famous site in Amsterdam and it  houses the Royal Palace, still in use today.  Free Walking Tours are available, but you need to try to book early, or you may not be accommodated. There is quite a lot to see around the square, so it is well worthwhile!

What many people aren’t aware of in Amsterdam is how many BIKES there are everywhere!  There are actually many more bikes than there are people in Amsterdam, and there are multilevel parking structures throughout the city where only bikes are parked! It’s quite a site to see so many bikes in one place!

When we think of Holland, one of the first things most everyone thinks of is Tulips! As I said, there are flowers throughout the city, but if you REALLY want to see masses of tulips and spring bulb  flowers, you’ll need to take a little trip outside the city.

This picture is a great example of how much the shape and size of tulips can vary!

This picture is a great example of how much the shape and size of tulips can vary!

Keukenhof Gardens

Two fabulous places are the Flower Auctions or the Keukenhof Gardens. Don’t even THINK of visiting without going to Keukenhof if it is in season!  It is EVERYTHING you would expect, and then some! I could literally post hundreds of photos of the different flowers we got to experience while we were there!

Explaining Keukenhof is nearly impossible. Every year they plant more than 7 MILLION bulbs, and the flower beds are laid out differently each and every year.  There are over 800 different types of tulips alone in the gardens. Who could imagine that tulips could come in so man different shapes, sizes, colors and textures? There are, in addition to the flowerbeds, buildings that house new species of tulips, and specialty flowers,–such as Orchids.  Keukenhof is truly spectacular, to say the least.

There was a whole building, just for Orchids. They had displays in there that were probably 25 feet high!

There was a whole building, just for Orchids. They had displays in there that were probably 25 feet high!

We took a seat for a moment in one of the buildings where the new species of tulips are displayed. You can't begin to cover the Keukenhof in one day!

We took a seat for a moment in one of the buildings where the new species of tulips are displayed. You can’t begin to cover the Keukenhof in one day!

This woman was supposed to represent a character from a well known Dutch child's book. Her costume was just beautiful!

This woman was supposed to represent a character from a well known Dutch child’s book. Her costume was just beautiful!

 

The darker purple flowers looked just like our Iris', but they were only about 5 or 6" tall. Their name plates, however, said they were a type of TULIP! They looked exactly like short Iris' to my untrained eye!

The darker purple flowers looked just like our Iris’, but they were only about 5 or 6″ tall. Their name plates, however, said they were a type of TULIP! They looked exactly like short Iris’ to my untrained eye!

“Old Holland”

Another lovely day trip, which I would highly recommend to anyone is to go to “Old Holland.”  The small villages of Marken and Volendam are quaint and charming, and give you a real taste of what it might have been like many years ago, with the windmills, cheese factories and wooden shoes still being made by hand.  My only complaint with the tour we took is there just wasn’t enough time to take in all of the villages, and what they had to offer! I truly wished I could have set our own pace to see the different lifestyle that is still a part of Old Holland.

We got to see firsthand how wooden shoes were, and still are, hand made. In Old Holland we actually saw a few of the villagers still wearing them.

We got to see firsthand how wooden shoes were, and still are, hand made. In Old Holland we actually saw a few of the villagers still wearing them.

We got to tour a few of the old windmills, some which are still being used today.

We got to tour a few of the old windmills, some which are still being used today.

This was in front of one of the charming homes in Volendam.

This was in front of one of the charming homes in Volendam.

Though we had 5 days in Amsterdam, we didn’t begin to see and do all that the area offered.  It would be easy to  stay for a month and feel as though it wasn’t long enough. I hardly touch the tip of the iceberg in this little article about Amsterdam. I could post enough photos, and give you so much more information that you would be reading for days!

I didn’t even discuss some of the fabulous food we had while we were there!  One evening we were just out strolling and stumbled upon a lovely restaurant in an alleyway.  It turned out to be a “locals favorite” and was both delicious and charming! There is just too much that is fabulous about this city!

If you plan to take a trip to Amsterdam, check out  this article about 50 things to see while you are there. They are all well worthwhile!

Bodacious Blooms & Bountiful Butterflies

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Spring Has SPRUNG in Southern California!

The California Poppies at Lake Elsinore stretched as far as the eye could see!

The California Poppies at Lake Elsinore stretched as far as the eye could see!

When you live in Southern California, you become spoiled by the weather.  I’m not kidding when I tell you, if the temperature gets below 70 degrees, or above 79 degrees, most of us will be complaining, one way or the other!  It’s been a much needed rainy winter.  We need the rain, but still….many of us complain.  You know the old saying, April showers bring May flowers?  Kind of true, with a little “tweaking.”  Spring comes a bit earlier here in Southern California than it does in other parts of the country. By the time May gets here, spring will be finished and we will be experiencing “May Gray.”

This shows that the mix of flowers, which from a distance look like a solid mass of orange poppies, are actually a mix of poppies, mustard, popcorn flowers, California bluebells and lupines! What a beautiful bouquet they make!

This shows that the mix of flowers, which from a distance look like a solid mass of orange poppies, are actually a mix of poppies, mustard, popcorn flowers, California bluebells and lupines! What a beautiful bouquet they make!

This spring has been like no other I have seen in Southern California in my 40+ years of living here!  The super-blooms are everywhere and the migration of the butterflies has been amazing! People attribute it to our rainy winter, but I’m telling you folks, I’ve lived here through some rainy Southern California winters.  I’ve lived here through our “El Ninos.”  I’ve never seen either of these phenomenons like I’ve seen them this year.

Sitting among the flowers! (No flowers were trampled in taking this photo! I am on a pathway, although you can't see it!)

Sitting among the flowers! (No flowers were trampled in taking this photo! I am on a pathway, although you can’t see it!)

We who live in San Diego county are probably the luckiest people on earth!  Within 90 minutes driving time,  I can currently see the poppy super-bloom in Lake Elsinore, go skiing in Big Bear, enjoy the fragrance of the Lilacs in Julian,  savor the desert flowers in the Anza-Borrego Desert or relax with a book at our lovely sandy beaches, before the tourist fill them up for the summer.  It is incredible how many visual delights we are able to experience within such a short distance!

The Poppy Apocalypse!

The hillsides in Southern California are a kaleidoscope of colors right now!

The hillsides in Southern California are a kaleidoscope of colors right now!

This past Wednesday, Don and I had one of our “Date-Daytions” where we take the day off and go play.  (If you don’t know what a Date-Daytion is, I suggest you check out my previous article, What the Heck is a Date-Daytion? which explains them!)

Don and Me, taking time to "smell the flowers" on one of our Date-Daytions!

Don and Me, taking time to “smell the flowers” on one of our Date-Daytions!

We decided to head toward Lake Elsinore to see the “super-bloom of the California Poppies, because we had heard so many people oohing and aahing over it! They weren’t exaggerating!  The brilliance of the poppies on the hillsides are unbelievable!  From a distance, all you see are bright orange hillsides, but when you get in close proximity, you realize that they aren’t just made up of the brilliant California Poppies, but there are also Lupines, California Bluebells, Popcorn Flowers and Wild Mustard.

Although the picture didn't really pick it up, the reason I took this picture is that when you looked at this hillside there were patches of lime green, mint green, seafoam, thaos blue and other blues! The colors in nature were unbelievable!

Although the picture didn’t really pick it up, the reason I took this picture is that when you looked at this hillside there were patches of lime green, mint green, sea-foam, thaos blue and other blues! The colors in nature were unbelievable! The pictures of this super-bloom just doesn’t do it justice!  When you see it in person it is absolutely breath taking!

I was glad we went on Wednesday, because the traffic around the area was a bit crazy mid-week.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like on the weekend!  There were actually articles referring to this weekend’s viewing as The Poppy Apocalypse!  

Weeding through the traffic and hoards of people proved to be well worth it, however!  When we got near Walker Canyon, we were left almost breathless from the endless beauty!  We were also pleasantly surprised to see bridal couples having photos done, engagement and family photos being taken, and artists set up catching the beauty with their paintbrushes!  I does my heart good to see so many people taking the time to enjoy the natural assets Southern California has to offer! Our society has become so busy, and our noses are often so planted in our cellphones!  It’s wonderful to know people are taking the time to “smell the flowers!”

The poppies are so delicate looking when you see them up close!

The poppies are so delicate looking when you see them up close!

This couple was having photos taken on one of the hillsides. Don't ask me how she got up there in that dress, but what beautiful photos she will end up with! I couldn't help but wonder if the wedding had already taken place, or was set for a future date, as I doubt it was actually their wedding day on a Wednesday afternoon!

This couple was having photos taken on one of the hillsides. Don’t ask me how she got up there in that dress, but what beautiful photos she will end up with! I couldn’t help but wonder if the wedding had already taken place, or was set for a future date, as I doubt it was actually their wedding day on a Wednesday afternoon!

Butterflies “On a Mission!”

One of the other phenomenons that we have experienced this past week was a migration of Painted Lady butterflies.  (When I told my daughter they were called Painted Ladies, she said it sounded like the name of a strip club!  Kinda’ does, right? “Hey honey, the guys and I are off to The Painted Lady for  few drinks”……. )

Painted Ladies, for those of you who aren’t familiar with them, look like tiny Monarch Butterflies. The coloring is very similar.  This week they were migrating up from Mexico, and our skies were filled with them.  Don’t picture a sky full of meandering butterflies landing on your flowers, floating about your yard.  This isn’t what it was like at all!   Picture instead, “butterflies on a mission!” Each and every butterfly you saw was flying north at top speed!  Zip, zip, zip- they were moving like they were in the race of a lifetime! It was just crazy! I guess that when you only live a few weeks, you have to move fast to accomplish your migration!  No stopping to smell the roses for these ladies! They would come, en mass across my street, up my driveway and right over my house at the speed of lightning it seemed! Every intersection and freeway had them darting across by the hundreds, right in the middle of traffic! So many of my friends were posting how sad they were that they felt they had killed dozens of butterflies when they were driving!  It was the craziest thing you have ever seen!  Unfortunately, getting a good picture of them, where you could really get a feel for the number of butterflies was difficult.  They just didn’t really show up well. The attached article explains about the Painted Ladies, and also has a lovely video of the Poppy superbloom! It’s worth checking out!

The Desert is in Bloom!

The Borrego desert is in bloom! It is amazing the many different flowers you can see there!

The Borrego desert is in bloom! It is amazing the many different flowers you can see there!

We haven’t gotten out to the Borrego Desert yet this season, but last year we made a day trip of it and enjoyed the beauty of the desert flowers.  My friend, Adam Snider went out there just a few days ago, and shared some of his pictures with me. He is an avid hiker, and said that due to this year’s rainfall there are plants blooming that haven’t bloomed in many years! Every time you go, you are sure to see something different!

My friend Adam shared a few of his photos from his trip to Borrego this weekend. There are plants blooming this year that haven't bloomed in years!

My friend Adam shared a few of his photos from his trip to Borrego this weekend. There are plants blooming this year that haven’t bloomed in years!

If you haven’t ever taken the time to do so, it’s well worth it. When we went,  I was amazed how you could see one type of flower in one area, go 1 or 2 miles up the road and experience a whole different type of cactus’, flora and fauna!  This is not something you can enjoy from the car.  You MUST get out to see the many types of tiny little flowers you can’t even see with the naked eye while you are driving by!

Close up of a desert Lily

Close up of a desert Lily

Julian’s Lovely Lilacs

Nearby Julian has its own beauty to enjoy! People often think of going to Julian in the fall when the apples are ripe.  It’s too darn crowded there then for me.  I prefer spring in Julian!  Being a “mid-west” girl, one of the things I love, and miss dearly are spring Lilacs, daffodils and crocus’. Julian is just the place to get your “lilac” fix.  You can usually see the lilacs starting about the 3rd week in March, through the first week or so of April. Unfortunately, the past few years I have seen a lot less lilacs in Julian, because there has become such a demand for people to sell their lilacs to the flower stands in the San Diego area.  (If you try really hard you can imagine my sad little face about this detail!)  I remember that I used to drive up to Julian and you could find large bushes of lilacs, full of blooms just outside of town.  No longer!  Now if you want to bring some lilacs home, you are most likely going to be buying them. Lilacs are expensive, and only last 2 or 3 days once they are cut!  Even so, it’s a great day, driving to Julian, seeing (and smelling) the lilacs, enjoying a bit of their apple pie, seeing the coastal live oaks and driving home. Another “bonus” is that Julian is close enough to the Borrego desert that you can go and see both in the same day if you choose to make a day of it!

Yes, we spend a lot to live here, but I don’t know too many places in the country where they can find the diversity of beauty that we have at our finger tips!  If you live in Southern California, take some time to enjoy the beauty that is ours for the taking- just minutes away!

Are You “Dying” to Throw a Party? Having Fun is No Mystery!

Adventures With Attitude!, Cocktail Time, Entertaining, Entertaining Made Easy, Every Day is an Adventure, Fabulous After 50, Living a Royal Life, Martini Magic, Sensational after 70!
Don's character was Donald J. Brooks, and Stella, stunning as always, was Miranda T. Shetes, a beautiful and talented actress!

For our Watersdown Affair Murder Mystery last year, Don’s character was Donald J. Brooks, and Stella, stunning as always, was Miranda T. Shetes, a beautiful and talented actress!

Are You “Dying” to Entertain More?

I love to entertain, and I love anything that involves a costume.  That being said, you will find that many of our parties have some sort of “theme” so that costumes can be involved!  I think getting into costume brings out many people’s hidden “fun zone!” They are far less inhibited than they might normally be, once they don a costume!

Entertaining comes so naturally to me that I am always amazed by the number of people who don’t know where or how to begin when it comes to throwing a party.  I love putting on any type of party, which is why I host a monthly Bunko,  a monthly Book Club, gamenights, clothing swaps, wedding showers, networking and women’s events and numerous other seasonal parties, such as Holiday and Summer parties.

How to Host a Murder…

Our guests, in costume, for The Watersdown Affair Murder Mystery. What a fun evening we had! This was a great one!

Our guests, in costume, for The Watersdown Affair Murder Mystery. It was set in Yorkshire, England in 1936.  If you are wondering why the shorts on one guest?  His costume suggestion on the invitation was that of a Mountain Climber! He came, hiking “ax” and all!  What a fun evening we had! This was really a fun one!

One of our FAVORITE types of parties are Murder Mystery Parties. We do a few a year.  We think they are really enjoyable, they involve “costumes” and they are a small group of 8, which fits around our round dining room table just perfectly!

Friends have asked me how in the world they work, so I thought I’d share a little about them here. Putting them on is pretty darned easy- believe me- it’s no “mystery” how they work! With the “brand” of murder mysteries I put on, everything is pretty well spelled out for you, as I explain below.

The table, set for The Watersdown Affair, which was to take place in Yorkshire, England at The Watersdown Mansion in 1936.

The table, set for The Watersdown Affair, which was to take place in Yorkshire, England at The Watersdown Mansion in 1936.

My love for the Murder Mystery parties started about 30 years ago, when I was married to my kids’ dad. We put a number of them on then, and loved it.  When Don and I got together, we decided to revisit the idea, so I did a little research on the internet to come up with some new games.  The company that put out the games I had used years ago is called “How to Host a Murder.”  Back in the day, those games seemed kind of pricey, but worth the money (about $35 or $40 in the 80’s.)  The game came with everything you needed to put the mystery together- invitations, a tape you played at the start of the party with the “scene” set out, the list of characters, and even suggestions on what they might want to wear.  In the hosts’ booklet they often gave menu suggestions, making these parties a breeze to put on!

When your "Murder" takes place in England, the decor just calls out for some crowns, don't you think? and wouldn't you know, I just HAPPEN to have some crowns laying around? Not to mention, my events HAVE to have a signature martini to round out the fun!

When your “Murder” takes place in England, the decor just calls out for some crowns, don’t you think? and wouldn’t you know, I just HAPPEN to have some crowns laying around? Not to mention, my events HAVE to have a signature martini to round out the fun!

When I started looking for a newer version of the games, I found that the newer “digital” versions of the game are MUCH more pricey, often about $160.00.  This just seemed ridiculous to me, so I went on Ebay and Amazon and found the older versions, from the company I had used previously,  which were up for sale.  Most of them are still brand new, and in their original seal. And I paid between about $8 and $16 for them!   I have an old cassette player laying around, so that wasn’t a problem for me!  (For those of you who aren’t dinosaurs, or aren’t “savers” give me a call, you can borrow mine if you need one!)

It is Actually Very Simple….

So in detail, this is how it works:

Each game has a specific theme, and time period.

They have 8 players, 4 female and 4 male characters.

As I said above, each character is listed with a bit about them, and a suggestion of what their attire might be.

When you decide to do one of these parties, you need to know that you have friends who are pretty reliable, and will be there once they commit. Without ALL 8 of the players/characters present, you really wouldn’t be able to play the game. So, in thinking up your guest list, think about people who would be reliable, enjoy dressing in costume, and who wouldn’t mind if a bit of the conversation has some “racey” innuendo. Trust me, when people start getting into their characters, the fun REALLY begins!

Mike, as Dr. Malcolm "Mal" Praktiss and Olha, as Dame Allison Bigh. Funny thing is, Mike came practically screaming and kicking when he found out it was a Murder Mystery and he had to come in costume, but I think he had the most fun of all!

Mike, as Dr. Malcolm “Mal” Praktiss and Olha, as Dame Allison Bigh, when we did The Watersdown Affair. Funny thing is, Mike came practically screaming and kicking when he found out it was a Murder Mystery and he had to come in costume, but I think he had the most fun of all!

Once you get a date and have your 8 people, the way I find to be easiest is to scan one of the invitations, and send it to your guest list, letting them know which character they will be.

Props we placed outside our front door for our Western murder mystery, The Good, The Bad and The Guilty! . The bale of hay SEEMED like a good idea, until I found out what a HUGE mess the hay made- just sitting there! In my house, in my yard, Dons SUV from getting it there……… NEVER AGAIN with the hay bale!

The way the playing takes place is that upon arrival, every guest is given a book made specifically for their character.  Instruct them not to look at it until you tell them to. When everyone is present, you play the tape that explains the situation (murder) that has happened, and gives you some details regarding the event.  Guests may take notes in their playbooks.  Most of the murders are divided into 4 “scenes” or chapters.  In each scene, your guests will each be given specific clues which they must bring out, and others that they “may” divulge, only if asked by another character.

Marc was Elias Truist-Heath, an "up and coming" heart-throb gunfighter. Kim, as the lengendary Butch Chastity, the first lady of outlaws. I was Elvira-Lynn Fekshin, the "consummate soiled dove" of the town dont miss out on the pronunciation of her name!) And Don, as Chief Breaking Wind, the distinguished leader of the Cowpai Tribe! We all had fun with our costumes for this one!

4 of us at our Western Murder Mystery we did last spring.  This was was titled, The Good, The Bad and The Guilty, set in The Wyoming Territory 1881!  Marc was Elias Truist-Heath, an “up and coming” heart-throb gunfighter. Kim, as the lengendary Butch Chastity, the first lady of outlaws. I was Elvira-Lynn Fekshin, the “consummate soiled dove” of the town (don’t miss out on the pronunciation of her name!) And Don, as Chief Breaking Wind, the distinguished leader of the Cowpai Tribe! We all had fun with our costumes for this one!

Often, there will be some pretty funny, and sometimes “racy” facts that have to be brought out, such as one character being an illegitimate child of one of the other players, or someone who is having an affair, etc. That’s why, if your crowd is too “straight laced” it may not work out too well!

Johnny as P Elvis Swagarin - a lonely gunslinger, and Geralyn as Helena Handcart, mother of the 13 "Handcart Boys"

Johnny as P Elvis Swagarin – a lonely gunslinger, and Geralyn as Helena Handcart, mother of the 13 “Handcart Boys.” Poor  Helena lost all 13 of her boys after a gunfight at the Parkkay Coral!

Believe me when I tell you, if you have some fun friends, it’s very easy to get into character, and the whole evening becomes ridiculously fun!

K.I.S.S

Keep it Simple Silly!

As far as the menu and the food go- this is my recommendation.  Figure out a way that as the hostess, you don’t have to disappear into the kitchen for long periods, or you will miss too much of the fun- and perhaps a clue or two!

I have done these parties a few different ways.  How you will do it will depend on your budget.  I either make sure my menu can be pretty well prepared beforehand, and will just need to be taken out of the oven at the last minute, or I get someone to help in the kitchen, and they will bring the food out and serve it, so I can stay with my guests having fun at the table. I don’t want to miss out on any more of the silliness and the banter than absolutely necessary!

If you didn’t want to worry about dealing with the food, call in for pizza!  People don’t really care- they just enjoy working through the mystery and playing their parts!

The most important part of entertaining is HAVING FUN!  Don’t make it stressful on yourself- make it easy- whatever “easy” is to you, so you can enjoy it!

Typically, I start the evening at 6 PM and some have lasted as late as 11, depending on the story and the story line, so we have appetizers and drinks as people arrive, go through the introduction of the scene and our characters, and then move into the dining room for scenes 1-4.

No one gets into character more than my beautiful friend Stella! She turned out to be quite the "black widow" in this murder mystery, having buried 3 husbands due to mysterious deaths!

No one gets into character more than my beautiful friend Stella! Her character in this one was called Dee Adela Muerte, and she turned out to be quite the “black widow” in this murder mystery, having buried 3 husbands due to mysterious deaths!

Our table setting for our Western Murder Mystery. This one was really easy- a few yards of “patchwork” fabric sewn together and some bandanas ordered from Oriental Trading Company, tied with twine for napkin rings! Drinks were served in Mason Jar Mugs! The menu for this event was simple easy- I dida simple salad,  BBQ ribs, roasted potatoes, etc. and for dessert root beer floats!

By the end of the evening, you will find that most of your friends LOVE playing the part of someone who is nothing like them, and you will have some great laughs and memories.  And…… you may just find out you are a murderer!  No one, not even the host, knows “who done it” until the end of the night!

Is there anyone who couldn't come up with these fun and simple costumes from their closet?

Is there anyone who couldn’t come up with these fun and simple costumes from their closet? The Western theme lends itself to simplicity!

 

Stella played the part of Dee Adela Muerte, the thrice-widowed Mexican beauty..... And Al was Wyatt Hertz, the most famous lawman in the west!

Stella played the part of Dee Adela Muerte, the thrice-widowed Mexican beauty….. And Al was Wyatt Hertz, the most famous lawman in the west!

The memories you make with these parties last for years!  I still fondly remember the ones we did back in the 80’s and 90’s and the friends who attended still mention them when we get together!  It’s not just another boring evening at home!

Our most recent "Murder" was last weekend, with Murder at the Mardi Gras. While we had a great time with our guests, I have to be honest and say that this wasn't the most well written of the murder mysteries I've ever given. It was really lacking in detail!

Our most recent “Murder” was last weekend, with Murder at the Mardi Gras. While we had a great time with our guests, I have to be honest and say that this wasn’t the most well written of the murder mysteries I’ve ever given. It was really lacking in detail!

This was the whole gang from our Mardi Gras event! The evening was a lot of fun, even if the mystery itself wasn't too well written!

This was the whole gang from our Mardi Gras event! The evening was a lot of fun, even if the mystery itself wasn’t too well written! From L-R  Skip was J. Stephen Peek, family attorney, Stella was Connika Gothika, famous author, Don was Cayenne Pepper, the family chef, Patti as Alexis DuPre, reigning “Magnolia Queen”, Terry, (in front on knees) was “Gator” Crovitz, alligator fisherman,  Gerri was Melissa DuPre, the trampy gold-digging wife, Adam was Bourbon DuPre, jazz musician from the French Quarter and Bella was Elise St. Gresch, the family live-in maid.