Sunday, February 22, 2009


Last year, it was an Academy Awards Party at the home of the Diva of all Oscar Soirees. This year, I got a pre-oscar backstage tour, Number 86 on my Bucket List. Just for fun, I will tell my experience by using the titles of the nominated films. Play along and see if you can spot them. (Answers at the bottom)

It was a dark night with skies that threatened tropic thunder, but that was not going to make me bolt from my adventure. I forged ahead and met up with my happy-go-lucky sister-in-law who has worked the Oscars for the past 15 years. She invited me to be the visitor and get a glimpse of the inner workings behind the Oscars. Believe me, it is a world unto itself. The televised portion of the show is only half the story. Once an actor has won, they're escorted to a room where there's wall to wall-e paparazzi. Humongous gold statuettes adorn a stage, and the winner just stands there to be photographed. Nothing is said, no questions are asked, no comments made. All talk is reserved for the press room, so the shutterbugs are as quiet as a frozen river. One can understand how stars become narcissistic; there are bleachers full of photographers from all over the world, and they are there JUST to snap YOU! How could one not gain conceit?

Let's say the winner is scraggly Mickey Rourke. (Have you ever thought of using an iron, man?) He looks like a cross between Benjamin Button and a slumdog millionaire. Anyway, on the way to the press room Mickey Rourke could, say, swing by and pick up a cocktail or even some milk before he's asked to explain why he forgot to thank Vicky, Cristina, Frost or Nixon in his acceptance speech.

When Viola Davis wins supporting actress (my prediction), her press interview will be carefully written down without a doubt by a team of court reporters. It will then be put on the internet within a five-minute span. That's where my sister-in-law comes in. She's in charge of that whole crew. Incredible!

There's catered food backstage, and the champagne is bubbling more than when I saw my friend Rachel getting married.

The Oscars is a huge production with extreme safety measures that include a rooftop sniper. Security is tighter than Hugh Jackman's abs.

So last year, I was watching the Oscars in front of a TV; this year I was backstage. It's been a revolutionary road I've traveled. I feel like such a changeling! But I guess that's better than being the wrestler, but not quite as good as being the duchess. Next time, Australia??!!

(Bolt, Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Visitor, WALL-E, Frozen River, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Vicky Cristine Barcelona, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Doubt, Rachel Getting Married, Revolutionary road, The Wrestler, The Duchess, Australia, Changeling)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Vatican

Without looking at the title of this post, what structure was built 68 years BEFORE the crucifixion of Jesus Christ?

You looked, didn't you?
No worries.

The Vatican is the answer, and it is Number 85 on my Bucket List. It started out as a monument built around the grave of St. Peter, who was buried in a pagan cemetery. What was that all about? Anyway, over that monument, a small chapel was built to house and protect his grave, then a bigger chapel was built over that. Then a wing was added, then another, and another and so on, and so on until it covered 44 acres and became its own Sovereign State with its own police department and ruling hierarchy! (The Pope)

It includes several museums and galleries famous for their tapestries, ceramics, sculptures and paintings. My husband Sarge really thought he was doing something when he created a mosaic of a palm tree in our back yard, but the Vatican takes mosaic-ism to a whole other level. (If that wasn't a word, it is now.) Their mosaics look more like paintings than tiny inlaid pieces of colored tile. Ahh, the magnificence of mosaic-osity. (See parenthetical above)

Of course, the Pople makes his home at the Vatican, but he was not in residence the day we stood in line an hour and a half to get inside. And don't forget about St. Peter's Basilica. Oh! and the Sistine Chapel is exceptionally sublime. (Click here for my post on the Sixteen Chapels, as Sarge likes to call it.)

A Vatican Mosaic

Sarge's Mosaic

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Nottoway Plantation is located on the Mississippi River just between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Family lore has it that my great-grandmother was born into slavery and worked a plantation somewhere in Louisiana. Maybe, just maybe it was a plantation just like this one.

So I thought it would be a great learning experience for my children if we stayed on an authentic sugar cane plantation, Number 81 on my Bucket List.

There still remains on Nottoway uninhabitable slave quarters. My husband Sarge said, "They'd better not put us in the slave quarters," when I told him what kind of vacation I was planning, but we stayed in what was once the Overseer's Cottage. It was two bedrooms with a balcony that overlooked the quarters, or should I say quarter, as it is only one shack remaining purely for effect, I'm sure. The shack had one opening for a window -- glass was a luxury reserved only for the Big House -- and one opening for a door.

We could have stayed in the mansion, but guests there are required to vacate the rooms for several hours a day, as tours of the historic home go on daily. We were the only African-American guests, but the elderly bell captain told us that several of his co-workers were direct descendants of slaves who had also worked at Nottoway. Somehow, there were two bottles of welcome champagne left in our room.

The Big House is decorated just like it was in the 19th century. It has three stately floors, 64 rooms, 29 closets, 365 doors and windows -- one for each day of the year -- all spread out over 69,000 square feet. It was built with a working toilet on each floor. Quite a luxury for 1849. There is a newly constructed restaurant on the premises today.

The original owners were the Randolph's. Mr. Randolph was a businessman first and a slave owner second -- all of this according to the black docent who gave us a private tour. He treated his slaves like the valuable chattel they were. He sent one of them to be trained as a nurse to care for the sick ones, including his family. This nurse had her own horse and buggy with permission to use it to fetch a doctor when necessary. Randolph had what today would be called a daycare center for his slaves' children, which doubled as a church on Sundays. All of this is documented in files at Louisiana State University.

I enjoyed the experience probably more than the rest of my family, but I like to think they got something out of it, too. With kids, you never know until years later whether something has made an impression, but they got a good idea of how slaves lived and how hard they worked in the sun, all for no pay, and no prospect of any future pay. Maybe they'll think about that on their next unpaid internship.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lunch on the Seine

While the City of Paris has its own number on my Bucket List, certain things-to-do while-there deserve their own number, and that is the case with Lunch Cruise on the Seine, Number 68 on my Bucket List.

I have dragged Sarge to tons of romantic movies where we've seen a couple on board a boat dining while cruising down the Seine River in Paris, the most visited city in the world. That's what I wanted to do; Sarge humored me, and the Diva and the Doc came along with us. After all, they are our favorite couple to date. Not "to date" as in thus far, but "to date" as in go out with on a . . . well, you get the picture (see below).

On our very first trip to Paris -- the Diva and the Doc had been there before without us -- the four of us took the bus to the Eiffel Tower base and walked down to the pier. From there, we boarded the Bateaux Parisiens where the five-course meal was a memorable as the sights. We cruised past Notre Dame (the cathedral where the Hunchback lived), Pont de Invalides ( a suspension bridge MUCH smaller than our Golden Gate), Orsay Museum, Palais Bourbon (sadly, there was no bourbon there), Ile de la Cite ( an island smack dab in the middle of the city, an island that I will someday go back to), The Louvre Museum (where Sarge and I went on our second trip to Paris.)

I love, love, love Paris, and I shall return again and again. I wonder what Christmas is like in Paris. Hope Sarge wonders, too.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When in CANCUN

Bright blue seas reflecting the azure sky divided only by a strip of fine white sand on a shore dotted with plush resorts . . . sounds like the perfect backdrop for a flawless family vacation; right? Maybe, maybe not.

It all started with a somewhat stilted beginning. Halfway to Cancun -- Number 70 on my Bucket List -- Mexicana Airlines ran out of food halfway down the aisle. Perhaps that was a portent of things to come? You be the judge.

Once we arrived at our resort -- which shall remain nameless as a preemptive strike against litigation -- our valet led us to our two-story, two-bedroom villa. The surrounding grounds were lush, green and rich, accentuated by a deep blue lagoon. The bedroom designated for Sarge and I overlooked a fish pond with a waterfall. Lovely; right?

We walked across the hall to check out our kids' room, and found our son (18) glued to the window which overlooks the pool, and our daughter (12) curled up in a fetal position on her twin bed. Sarge and I made a beeline to the window to see what my son was looking at, and what we saw shocked and amazed us. And when I say "us" I mean me, because Sarge and his son were not shocked, but pleasantly surprised (like when one hits the Lotto) because the pool was surrounded by a bevy of bare-breasted women.

I marched right down to complain to management about advertising Kids Klub at a topless resort. It was all to no avail. The hotel manager said it was common knowledge that toplessness was not frowned upon in Cancun, and that I should have known about it. He suggested "When in Rome, do as the Romans." I immediately pictured orgies, togas, and his head on a platter.

With no other choice, we regrouped and adjusted. We peeled our daughter from her position of anguish and confusion -- I guess they don't teach about toplessness at Valley Christian School -- and we roamed the rest of the grounds. We stumbled upon a pool just for kids where nudity was shunned. Thank God!

Overall, I'd have to say it made for an interesting trip. For the rest of the week, each time we left the resort, we avoided walking past the "crazy naked party pool" and found things to do off site.

No need for a rental car in Cancun as there is only one main street with a bus that runs the length of it day and night. My children went parasailing while Sarge and I watched. We took a day-cruise over to Isla de Mujeres where we went snorkeling. Sarge got attacked by some coral reef, which gave us something to laugh about for days. A seven-foot eel swam right past me! Another day, we rented speed boats -- I drove one! -- and went on a jungle tour skimming over the waves of the lagoon. The kids went on a scuba diving excursion by themselves, but brought back a videotape of it.

I guess you could say we took our lemons and made lemonade. Mine's was spiked with tequila, of course. All in all, we had a, shall we say, memorable vacation, one for the books AND the blog.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Garlic Noodles, Anyone?

Not all of my Bucket List adventures are about getting out of the house; some of it is about getting in the kitchen, baking a souffle (that doesn't fall flat), or making creme fraiche flambe (without setting the house on fire), or re-creating the most precious dish from my most beloved restaurant in the whole wide world, Crustacean's Garlic Noodles -- yes, it deserves capital letters -- Number 67 on my Bucket List.

After several stabs at various self-authenticated internet recipes, I think I've finally found the right combination of ingredients. If you've never been to Crustacean, it's a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The Beverly Hills restaurant has a river-like koi pond underneath a fiberglass floor that wafts through the restaurant along with Hollywood's elite. Mama An, the chef and proprietor, has a "Secret Kitchen" from which she creates her specialty of roasted crab that is to live for, and her Garlic Noodles make you want to beg for more. For those of you who love them, too, try your hand at the following recipe:

Egg noodles (no substitutions). Boil, then drain and set aside to cool.

Saute 3 cloves of crushed garlic in 4 Tbsp of olive oil, fuse, then add 4 Tbsp of butter. Add in 2 1/2 tsp of chicken bouillon powder (not granules), 2 Tbsp of garlic powder, 2 Tbsp of oyster sauce (available in the Asian section of any market), blend well over heat, then set aside to let cool.

Once the mixture and the noodles are both at room temperature, pour sauce over the noodles, then -- and this is the surprise kicker -- toss well with grated parmesan cheese to taste, then eat to your heart's delight, because the heart loves garlic.

After first tasting them, Sarge said, "This tastes just like Crustacean's, but where's the roasted crab?"

"Hey, hey," I said with a mouth full, "You'll have to take me to Crustacean for that."
To which he silently returned to his plate of Garlic Noodles with a renewed appreciation.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Costa del Sol

Talk about lifestyles of the rich and famous, well, we went to the jet set's playground where Antonio Banderas has a home, and Picasso was born. Yes, you guessed it, Malaga, a beach city on Spain's Costa del Sol, number 94 on my Bucket List.

Sarge and I -- along with our favorite couple, the Diva and the Doc -- first stopped in Marbella, a high-end beach town on the sun coast where the sidewalks are made of marble. Seriously. All of them. Real estate there, we were told, is the highest in all of Europe. I bought a new swimsuit there because we were going over to Puerto Banus, a beach where the wealthy park their yachts.

As we strolled along yachts-ville, we stumbled upon a street akin to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, only more expensive. They say if you're driving a Mercedes here, you're poor. Well, we were on the bus, so what did that make us?

Rumor has it that King Faud of Saudi Arabia would bring his entire family here for a month each year and spend millions of dollars. Of course, he had 69 children -- no rumor, just fact -- so that may have been a bargain price for him.

This is a marble gazebo in one of the parks.

We were fakin' and shakin' like this was our yacht!

Diva even found a place for hair extensions.

While Sarge and I don't have a yacht, we have a boat load of good friends.
We don't have millions of dollars, either, but we've had thousands of good times.
We may not be wealthy, but we are pretty healthy, and even if we weren't, we'd make the best of that, too. We thank God for all of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


And I'm not talking about the movie starring Colin Farrell, but the Bucket List adventure starring me and Sarge. Lucky number 77 on the to-do list was Belgium, a country in northwestern Europe that is surrounded by France, the Netherlands, and Germany. It spans at least 11,000 square miles, but we ended up in a quaint little town called Brugges (which I've seen spelled a million and one different ways).

I had seen Brugges described on the Travel Channel as a place where cars are not allowed on most of the streets, so I said to Sarge, "That's where I want to live!" He did the obligatory eye-roll and shooed me out of his man-cave, but we did get to visit Brugges, and indeed, bicycling is a major mode of transportation. The other option is walking, which is why I didn't see one overweight person in the whole town. Los Angeles, take note.

There's also a lot of climbing. Their bell tower has 366 stairs, and one 86-year old man climbs them every single day to play the bells. That's his job!

It's a picturesque village that dates back to the 1200's. Here's Sarge and I in front of a cathedral that's 500 years old.

Here's another pic of someone's home/turned restaurant.

The town is full of canals, another mode of transportation.

If you make it to Brugges, be sure to partake of the chocolate; it's one of their specialties. If not, rent the movie and see Colin at his cutest (but shhh...don't tell Sarge I said that.)


"Bravo, Bravo, Encore, Encore," is what I was yelling on New Year's Eve in Las Vegas, Number 44 on my Bucket List.

The Encore is the new wing of the Wynn Collection, which is so nice, they did it twice, only better the second time around. Too chic for a Sheik, this resort hotel has all the amenities a girl could ask for, and an ambiance of luxury befitting a Sultan. All the rooms are suites, but of course -- just like men -- some are larger than others.

There are several upscale restaurants, but I'll give an overview of only a select few. Switch is a French steakhouse; Wazuzu, as you might guess, is pan-Asian, and then there is Sinatra. No rats pack this restaurant! It is classic Italian cuisine, and the black & white photos of Sammy Davis, Jr, and Ol' Blue Eyes peppering the walls give it a real nostalgic flavor. Whatever you do, though, you must eat at Botero. It is, as the hip-hop generation would say, on and crackin'. The tables weave in and out of the restaurant and the most fabulous pool area on the strip.

Another must see is the spa (pictured), and that's just the lounge area. I don't know what massage institute the Wynn Collection draws their masseuses from, but I've never had a bad massage there. They are impeccably well-trained, knowledgeable, friendly, and discreet. They will not tell your husband how much you've spent.

Also on my Bucket List is New Year's Eve in Times Square. Sarge says there's too much crime there, but let me work on that. Maybe he'll be the one yelling, "encore."