Fine Dining at a Vegas Buffet

For Mother’s Day, I choose the time-honored tradition of leaving my children at home with Grandma and hitting Las Vegas, which, of course, includes a trip to the omnipresent buffets.

This year’s choice, Bacchanal at Caesar’s Palace. Where for $45 one is given the opportunity to gorge on 500 small plate choices, a carving station, dim sum, sushi, breakfast classics, and of course – prime rib and crab legs.

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But this year, we’re doing it differently.  We’ve challenged each other to make the non-buffet, buffet. The dear husband and I will be taking turns creating a 21 course masterpiece, or beautifully plated and served breakfast (and not so breakfast delicacies).  The challenge, each of us is given a brief description and takes turns plating and bringing back to our den of gluttony (aka table) a lovely serving of the topic assigned.

Our Mother’s Day 21 course tasting menu:

  1. Fresh juices, fruit, honey & cheeses
  2. Antipasto/Charcuterie
  3. Amuse bouche – Black velvet pancakes & bacon
  4. Amuse bouche – Soufflé and breakfast meats
  5. Sushi, Pho, & Miso soup
  6. Salad & Fresh Vegetables
  7. Shellfish & Ceviche
  8. Soup and Breads
  9. Street Tacos & Mexican tastes
  10. Pasta
  11. Intermezzo (Gelato)
  12. Omelet & breakfast staples
  13. Assorted salads of Watermelon, mozzarella, tomato, and roasted beets
  14. The beef course with corn, carrots,  mashed potatoes & gravy
  15. Dim sum
  16. Fried & American Junk food: sliders, fries, tater tots, & mac & cheese
  17. Tapas
  18. Cookies & Cheese
  19. Cakes & Pies
  20. Ice cream, petit four & fresh juices
  21. Candy

I’d say we’re classing it up, except one can’t really call a three-hour champagne and calorie binge classy

The Ten Types of Travel Everyone Should Experience

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.” 

– Hans Christian Andersen

As we move through our lives, if we’re lucky, we’ll experience a variety of different adventures that take us away from home.  Some of them will break your heart to leave, and some will bring that moment where, in the words of Erma Bombeck, “You know it’s time to go home when you start to look like your passport photo.”

I recently read a Buzzfeed article on the 18 different types of travelers, and it got me thinking of all the different types of travel one can (and should) experience in their life – and how fortunate I have been to experience a glimpse of them all.

My list of the ten types of travel everyone should experience:

1. The Trek – Anyone who knows me would know that I am a “great indoorsman”.  I love a great meal, a lovely lobby, a lush bed, and a nicely curated museum.  But, growing up in the Western US, one is also expected to get out every now and again to experience America’s treasures, our National Parks.

About five years ago, after much cajoling, my dear husband got me to acquiesce to a two-day, 16-mile backpacking trek down the Virgin River, through Zion National Park.  This is not a simple stroll and an overnight camp.  This is a journey that requires almost constant maneuvering through rushing river waters, shimmying down slippery red rock embankments, and a number of passages where you take off your pack and carry it over your head as frigid emerald waters creep up past your armpits and loose river boulders threaten to turn your ankle with every step. It also opened eyes to the complete serenity of being alone. Miles went by where we didn’t see another person, and the sounds of rushing water made conversation impossible during some passages.

I gained a Zen in that trek that I have never experienced before, a oneness with nature that my husband had known and enjoyed for years, but I had never quite understood. When the journey was concluding and we lumbered past the day trippers who’d hiked two miles up river for the “easy” experience, I also basked in the exhaustion of accomplishment, and felt like quite the badass.

2. The Business Trip – This one gets old, fast, but those who’ve never done it seem to have the feeling that travelling for work would be glamorous and “fun”.  The first day is a little exciting, airports, expense accounts, checking in to a new (and hopefully nicer than you’d splurge for) hotel, ordering up room service, pulling out your laptop for a late night cram session.  Then day two, and three, and loneliness set in and you realize it’s still just work … and room service never tastes as good as the food you’d make at home.

3. The Five Star Experience – Early in his career my husband worked for a big, posh company that sent key employees away on quarterly “retreats”.  The work-relevant component to the trip was lost on me, but the pre-paid five start hotel, generous airfare (read first class) allowance, and $500 per day per diem were not.  I enjoyed massages, shopping, and general lazing about while the Mr. attended meetings and training sessions, then we met for a luxurious dinner and didn’t even flip our eyes toward the cost of what we ordered.  He now works in public service, and the travel perks have evaporated, but it was an absolutely delightful thing to have once walked into the Fairmont Empress, Victoria, Canada with three days and $1,500 to spend on anything we wanted to do.

4. The Honeymoon – When we first married we were poor students with no time or budget for a proper honeymoon. We ended up on what we now joke was the “worst honeymoon ever”, a weekend at the Wart Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming during the off-season – which is why we got a deal on the room which enabled us to afford the trip.  Unfortunately, in the November off-season, Jackson Hole shuts down.  The weather is too cold for outdoor adventure, but too warm for snow. The shops (except for the Gap and the ubiquitous T-shirt stores) close, the restaurants are undergoing refurbishment, and the famous Cowboy Bar is empty.  So, we spent three days at the movie theater and ate Thanksgiving Dinner at the Evanston, Wyoming JB’s buffet and truck stop.

Fortunately, years later we were able to take a beautiful week-long vacation to the Whitehouse Sandals in southern Jamaica.  We cashed in our frequent flier miles for first class tickets, planted our butts on posh lounging chairs, read on the beach, had leisurely mimosa breakfasts, and lazed away the days reconnecting with each other.  There really is something to the lazy romantic getaway that can recharge a relationship even more than a grand voyage through the most romantic streets of Venice.

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5. Living Cheap in the Third World – A year ago I fulfilled a life long bucket list item and traveled to Indonesia to volunteer at a small children’s charity in the hills above Bali. The children were delightful, the sleeping accommodations sent me home wondering if I had bed bugs, and the experience opened my eyes and changed my perspective more than any trip I’d ever taken.  I saw Australian spring-breakers behaving like disgusting animals, 80-year-old Balinese women hauling wheelbarrows full of heavy bricks, third world prostitution, a beautiful cremation ceremony in Ubud, and spent my thirty-fifth birthday surrounded by citizens of the world.  And, heading through customs on the way home the agent looked at my passport and then at me and asked, “What happened to you?” … apparently my passport photo looked BETTER than the real thing, definitely time to go home.

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6. It All Goes Wrong, and That’s Okay – A recent business trip when my luggage didn’t show up, strep throat in Orlando, Florida, a week in the Intensive Care Unit requiring a complete rerouting of a trip to Italy.  I’ve experienced a bit of it all, and it all turned out okay, because I held to the mantra, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

7. The Short Term Move – The summer between my sophomore and junior year of college I moved to Burlington, Vermont.  Which, for a girl who grew up in the suburban west, was quite an eye-opening experience.  Hippies … real hippies … with dread locks, bare feet, and thick blunts hanging from their lips.  I was in mouth-agape heaven.  I bought a sarong, stopped blow drying my hair, and took to listening to Phish with the best of them (though I never quite understood the point).  At the end of the summer I was smarter, less sheltered, and ready for the familiar – most especially my familiar self. I’d also gained five pounds of Ben and Jerry’s and vegan lasagna, and learned that the theory that Patchouli replaces deodorant is incorrect, my mother sent me to the shower immediately upon entering the house.

8. The History and Culture Tour – In college I spent two weeks wandering through Europe and saw a little bit of not much, but I ate well and wandered the beautiful streets of Brugges, Saint-Michel, Stockholm, and Amsterdam. I didn’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, wander the Rijksmuseum, or open my eyes to anything more than the deliciousness of the street waffle.

Then, in 2009 I took a two-week journey through Italy with my dear husband and his family. We visited Florence, Bologna, Cinque Terre, Rome, Sienna, and Venice.  We saw cathedrals, canals, museums, famous statues, and licked gelato in every beautiful piazza we passed. We learned, we laughed, and we loved… and of course, it being Italy, we ate.  And, I can’t wait to repeat the trip with an adventure along the Danube next year.

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9. The Metropolitan Weekend – New York, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Vancouver, San Francisco are all perfect locations for a weekend getaway of food, museums, theater, and that relaxed feeling that comes with having nowhere to go and everything to do. It’s tempting to always plan the “big” trip, but my husband continues to remind me that a few small trips to great locations can be just as relaxing, and gives us more overall travel each year.

10. The Staycation – Sometimes, it’s just about reconnecting with your own life, taking a few days off to clean out the closets, visit local attractions, sleep in, and watch terrible day time television can be an incredibly re-energizing.

Cynical Naïvete

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Photo courtesy of Jerome Loving, http://www.marktwainquotes.com

I am terminally naïve, in a cynical sort of way.

I believe that if someone is nice to my face, they will be so behind my back.  I believe that if I am kind and genuine to others, that they will return the favor. And, I trust in the abundance of the universe to protect me from the rest.

I recognize that this makes me seem incredibly naïve.

I can also spot inconsistencies in someone’s story in a second and a half. I’ve been all over the world and met with people of every culture and learned that in everyone is a liar and saint – and rather than tear myself up over which is which, I strike at the average and look to the intentions behind the information shared.

In the telling of any story,  there are some people who like to embellish the truth, adjust the retelling of facts to suit the reputation they’re trying to build, or who play loosely with the details in pursuit of a cadence.

This leaves me in a strange limbo.  I discount everything anyone says a little, taking into account hubris, humility, posturing, and self-defense and don’t hold the gap against them … I recognize that my generosity could be wrong, and in honesty I don’t much care, so long as I find their stories entertaining and their presence in my life useful.

But, when someone’s “truth” is turned malicious and directed to intentionally harm, my generosity ends.

Mark Twain said, An injurious truth has no merit over an injurious lie. Neither should ever be uttered.”  

I agree with that principle.  So, while I could share injurious truths about those who are gossiping about me, to attempt to discredit their lies, those damaging truths will only lessen me.  Instead, I’ll take it on the chin. Keep my head down, and follow the words of Mark Zuckerberg: stay focused and keep shipping.

And, I’ll trust in the abundance of the universe to handle the rest.

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She Who Gossips

I hate the phrase catty. I find it insulting, genderist, and diminishing to all women. But, sometimes a bitch and a cat have to get into a little scrape – and rare is the cat who comes out the winner in that battle.

Growing up, my mother always said, “He who gossips with you will gossip of you.” And, this week I was reminded again how true that is – when malicious gossip was aimed my way.

I’ve known this new career position I took would make me a target. It’s high profile with some very sexy perks. But, I didn’t realize how much of a target I’d become, or how closely I’d be watched.

I expected the standards for me would be higher. I expected the workload would be more demanding, and the stress level palpable at times. I knew I would be expected to keep an international schedule: twenty-four seven, three sixty five (with 15 days of PTO tucked in).

What I forgot, in moving from a field where I worked with all men to a universe where I am surrounded by almost all women, was that I needed to relearn the tricks of navigating the high school bullshit that comes from working in a leadership role while surrounded by “girls” just beginning their careers.

I wasn’t particularly good at navigating feminine nuance when I was seventeen. I dealt with the drama by deciding to pretend to be impervious to gossip.

I squared my shoulders, put on my sluttiest three inch “leave-on boots” and did whatever the hell I wanted – while staying firmly on the honor role.

Professionally, that isn’t quite so easy. I am required to “make nice” and I now have to repair the branding damage that some loose-lipped water cooler talk has generated.

Gossip is the behavior of the weak.

My newest career challenge: Playing an adult game with childish “girls” who haven’t learned that real power comes not from whispering in dark corners, but in keeping one’s counsel, and biting one’s tongue.

Powerful people say what they have to say boldly, directly, and openly – and the rest can lick my stiletto as I climb over them on my way up the ladder.

Dining Alone

At a slim 5’3″ with long blonde hair I don’t exactly look like someone who “needs” to dine alone on a Saturday night. But, one can only eat so many bland Hilton lobby bar dinners – so eventually during every work trip I venture out for local cuisine.

Anyone who’s travelled alone extensively will tell you, making conversation with yourself over Fava beans and a nice Chianti (forgive the literary reference, one too many glasses of said Chianti) is about as boring as a Hilton Bolognese.

So, I cheat with these tips:

1. Eat at the bar – while others are waiting for their table you can nosh some cauliflower gratin and you might also get chatty with your barstool neighbor. If not, at least you’re surrounded by people to eavesdrop on.

2. Try out the hot spots – when it’s just a table for one most restaurants can accomodate you for the super early or super late shift (they know you won’t camp out for hours). Plus, when it’s just one person dining that chic spot becomes a lot more affordable.

3. Dress to Impress: Nobody can make you feel like a loner unless you let them. Dress up, just like you would for a date, make it clear that your decision to dine alone is your choice.

4. Bring a Magazine – when all else fails, read and ignore the world.

Packing Tips from a Professional Packer

I’ve traveled around the world a handful of times, and had all sorts of travel surprises. But, one thing I have learned is that (assuming your luggage arrives with you) a well-packed suitcase is the key to a smooth journey. And, another plus, a well-packed suitcase doesn’t need checking.

I have a few key philosophies to packing that I learned as a flight attendant years ago, and then adjusted as my work demands in a new career became more complicated.

1. The airport is a war zone.  Don’t dress for style, dress for function – with nice pieces that you can use if you have a bag-tastrophe.

2. Only pack what you, yourself, can carry – up and down stairs, through security, and all through the town … you never know when something unexpected will happen.

3. Pack a wardrobe, not outfits, but make sure the wardrobe will make up a few outfits that work for lounging, business, and going out on the town. As long as those three activities  covered, you can make your options work many different ways and your gear won’t limit your adventure.

4. When you get home, edit and evaluate.  Pull out the list of things you packed and cross off anything you didn’t need.  Next time you’re packing evaluate if you still want the item just in case or if you’ll be just fine without it.

That said, click on the first picture below for a few more tips and travel hacks I’ve figured out.

Medallion Status & A Passport Stamp

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Next voyage, Chicago, where I once lived and haven’t visited in over a decade, not since September 11, 2001, when my life (and the world) changed forever.

Stamps overlapping on a watermarked page, adventures represented by Visas to exotic locations.
A Medallion Status tag dangling from a well-worn carryon bag, highlights the accomplishment, education, and adventure of voyage.
These stamps, segments flown, and frequent flier miles earned are proof that one belongs to a special community.
To be a traveler is to be unafraid of the unknown, and a citizen of the world.
Places seen cannot be unseen, cultures experienced make one’s own culture more and less distinct.
Stories shared in beachside stands of Cartagena, Columbia, maps read and misread in Beijing, China, and friends made in Ubud, Bali forever become a piece of the fabric of “Me”.

Shoe Sachets

Shoe Fresh Sachets

Shoe Sachets keep your shoes, bags, and luggage smelling fresh and clean. When I’m not travelling I store them in my handbags in my closet (and they make my closet smell divine).  They take only a few minutes and have a bjillion uses.

Instructions

1. Collect all your old panty hose with runs in them.

2. Pour one heaping tablespoon of Downy Unstopables inside the foot of the panty hose, tie off, and cut.

3. Make a knot in the bottom of the panty hose and repeat. A knee sock will make 3-4 sachets, a full pair of panty hose (legs only) will use up an entire container of the Unstopables.

I like to choose Unstopables with a coordinating dryer sheet scent which I’ll tuck throughout my luggage. It creates great scent layers and you can put them in the hotel drawers which can be dusty and unpleasant smelling.  When I pack, I put a sachet inside each shoe (shown in the image below) it makes my shoes fresh and clean smelling enough that I can use them for storage of socks and lingerie.

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Tip: Do you have candle warmers?  The unstoppable pellets are also a perfect filler for the candle warmer to make your whole house smell good.

Candle Warmers

 

 

The Buffer Day

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One o’clock on a Friday afternoon is a perfectly reasonable time to depart from Salt Lake City International Airport en route to the lush green countryside of England. The airport is busy and fully staffed but not yet crowded with weekend warriors and the commuting execs have already cleared out of the Priority security lanes, eager to return after a week away from home and hearth.

My trusty Kelly green roller bag and I whizzed through security, swift and practiced in the head, shoulders, knees, and toes of airport security and onto the Delta lounge for a glass of white wine and a spoonful of Nutella, before I arrived at gate C9, just in time to line up for priority boarding.

Then they called my name. An error with my boarding pass “The Assistant” had once again booked a ticket with my awkward last name typed incorrectly. Some gate agents let it slide, other over-diligent types require that I show my passport and reprint my boarding pass. That flight was staffed by the diligent type.

“The flight is completely full today, Miss would you mind gate checking your bag?”

Now, I believe in flight karma, and I love it when they call me Miss, so I agreed.

“Be the traveler you want to travel with.”

Because I believe in flight karma, when asked to switch seats for families, change flights without affecting arrival times, or check my bag, I try to acquiesce. So I agreed, bid my bag a brief adieu and onto the plane I went, where my sacrifice was rewarded with a bulkhead seat followed by an international flight with no passenger in the seat beside me.

Flight karma is good … until I arrived in Manchester, wearing my less-then-clean ankle length white travel skirt, eighteen hours of grime, black cowboy boots, and my trusty Kelly green suitcase did not.

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My hotel was located a traffic-free one hour ride from the airport, and I was ensured that my bag would be delivered at 6:00 when the next flight arrived from Ansterdam.

But, the gate agent forgot to tell me that the lost luggage desk closes at 6:00 PM.

A call to the lost luggage line confirmed that my baggage would be delivered in the morning, at 9:00 am, when the luggage desk opened.

But, on Sundays, the lost luggage desk does not open until 11:00 am.

Time to make the most of a bad situation.

Handy in-room sewing kit in hand I took my plaid pashmina and fashioned a makeshift knee length kilt for a better finished effect than the rumpled white skirt I had been wearing for two days of planes, trains, and automobiles. With my black travel cardigan, a low braid, and my black boots I almost looked casual and sporting. Unfortunately, the event I was hosting beginning at 12:30 was neither casual nor sporting.

Google, Siri, and a couple of calls later I’d identified a few shopping options within a 30 minute drive and decided it was time to call an audible, “My luggage isn’t going to make it in time for my work function, can you get me a taxi into the nearest city center?”

Hard target search: straightening iron and cosmetics at Boots, then a head-to-toe polyester masterpiece for 50£ at Primark, and I almost looked like the professional I pretend to be (so long as nobody looked too closely or smoked in my immediate vicinity.)

Not a hair out of place, a raised voice, or a lost second of sleep. I have proved again that in travel, as in life, It ain’t a problem if you can solve it with a taxi ride and an American Express.

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