Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Happy 7th Birthday, Anna!

James' little sister Anna hit another milAlestone today — her 7th birthday! Happy Birthday Anna!

Anna, shown here skating for the first time last January. (01/22/06)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Pool Season Officially Open

We kicked off pool season over the holiday weekend. Saturday and Sunday were pretty much spent working on the bathroom remodel and such. But we made the decision to relax on Monday and simply enjoy the pool and sun. Jon & Amy and Everett & Manny were there too to help us launch the season.

Amy, Jon and Tim after a relaxing swim. (05/29/06)

It was the perfect day for it too. Bright sun. The only drawback is that I did get somewhat of a sunburn on my shoulders (and I never get sunburned). Guess I better put on some sunblock next time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Madonna Live

Sunday night we went to see the legendary Madonna on the opening night of her world tour. I don't have time to post the whole description, as it's way past my bedtime as it is. But check back in the next day or two for the story and more pics (none of which were taken by me, incidentally, since the few pics I took with my camera phone were pretty worthless).

Madonna rocked the house at the Forum. (05/21/06)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Wine Tasting Adventure

Our friend Dana planned a wine-tasting trip this weekend along with her husband Eric, mother-in-law-Jean, sister-in-law Christine and Christine's partner Cass. Their friend Aric and Tim and I joined them along for the fun.

Our limo arrives. (5/20/06)

Our hub for the day/night was the Pala Indian Casino, just a short drive away from Temecula, Southern California's wine region. To make the event fun (and safe) we booked a limo for the day. Although the limo itself was a little ghetto, it turned out to be a great idea since we could all partake in the wine tasting experience without worrying about designated drivers.

James, Aric, Jean, Tim and Cass ride in style. (5/20/06)

We hit up about five wineries in the region, including a quick stop at Thornton's champagne winery. The line for tastings was too long, so we just went into the store and bought two bottles for the road. Both the champagnes I tried there were fantastic.

Eric & Dana. (5/20/06)

We tried all sorts of wines. Merlots. Meritages. Syrahs. Rieslings. Pino Grigiots. Even a couple of ports. One thing that's fun about being with a group is that if you get say five tastings at a winery, and they have a dozen to choose from, you can simply taste each other's until you've tried them all.

Christine apparently didn't care for this wine. (5/20/06)

These are the folks with whom we went on the Alaska cruise in 2004 (with the exception of Aric), and it was great seeing them again. We definitely need to see them more often.

We're a little lit by this point. (5/20/06)

By the time we got to the final winery, let's just say we were having a good time, especially Eric who may have had one too many. And the whole time Eric's sister was there to laugh her ass off at him, causing the rest of us to start cracking up too. Poor Eric. But in the end we all had a very good time.

Eric was really lit by this point. (5/20/06)

That night we got a two-room suite with an adjoining room where all eight of us crashed. I managed to get a few hours of gambling in the process, which was fun, but not very profitable (I lost $40). Oh well.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Goodbye El Toro

Today we say goodbye to another Orange County Landmark: The El Toro Air Base, which served the U.S. Marine Corps for more than 50 years. Approximately 2,000 people gathered there at the official last salute before the demolition crews start ripping out the four 8,000-10,000 runways that have handled every type of aircraft the Marines have flown since World War II, including propeller-driven planes, fighter jets and helicopters. We would have been there too were it not for the fact that we had already committed to other plans.

El Toro Marine Base from 15,000 feet.

Some people might wonder why I have such an interest in the El Toro airbase. Mostly it's because I'm such a history buff. For example, the base was instrumental in everything from World War II to Desert Storm. It was also the home of the El Toro Air Show, which took place annually from the 1950s until 1997. The airport was even the final stop for President Richard Nixon, both when he landed upon resigning the White House in 1973, and at his funeral in 1994. All presidents in the post-WWII era landed in Air Force One at this airport.

Before El Toro, there were 20,000 acres of lima beans and black beans.

When the base was decommissioned in 1999, El Toro became the focus of an Orange County battleground over post-military use. One side wanted to use the existing runways to build an international airport that would supplant the county's fairly small John Wayne airport in Costa Mesa. The other side was adamantly against building an airport due to traffic congestion, noise, and a host of other concerns. In the end the anti-airport crowd prevailed.

In the 1940s, the U.S. Marine Corps bought a 4,000-acre parcel for $100,000.

Even though we weren't able to take part in the closing ceremonies, we did get to see the grounds when we were there for a GM car show early last year. In fact that was where we first test-drove the Saab that inspired us to buy the one we have now. That was pretty cool, especially since we got to park right on the runway.

The rubble from a section of the runway.

But as we say goodbye to one Orange County landmark, we say hello to another. Replacing El Toro will be the Orange County Great Park, a 1,347-acre public park that will be larger than New York City's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and San Diego's Balboa Park. It's still years away from completion, but that will be very cool.

Friday, May 12, 2006

James the Wayniac

Tonight I went to see the legendary Wayne Newton at the House of Blues in Anaheim (along with Amy's mom and sister Ashley). It wasn't my first time seeing Mr. Las Vegas live and in person, but it was nonetheless an incredible experience.

My ticket for the great Wayne Newton. (05/12/06)

A lot of people often wonder why I like all these old-time stage fixtures, what with Wayne Newton, Liza Minnelli, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, Charo, Don Ho, etc., etc. I'll tell you why I enjoy them. It's because seeing one of their shows (and yes, Tom, I know I over-use this analogy) is like watching a master class in live stage performance.

These old pros, and others of their ilk, are superb at the fine craft of entertaining a live audience. It really is artwork. They know how to work an audience. Every note they sing, and every joke they tell, is so well orchestrated, so well timed. They really make it look like the easiest thing in the world, when in fact it takes decades to build a skill with that level of professionalism.

The man. The legend. The entertainer.

I also find it so interesting how these old timers continually have new faces. Wayne Newton is a prime example of that. The magic marker-black hair and eyebrows. Perfect, white-as-snow teeth. And then there's the trademark complexion: deeply tanned and still as taut as ever. Yet despite the artificiality of his appearance, there was no mistaking the realism of his talent.

He sang. He joked. He played piano, guitar, banjo and the fiddle. And everyone in the audience may as well have been sitting in the palm of his hand.

He opened with Viva Las Vegas. Then went right into Mack the Knife, then right into Billy Vera's At This Moment. Other songs on the set list included: Can't Help Falling in Love With You, The Shadow of Your Smile, Waiting for the Robert E. Lee, The Way You Look Tonight. He closed the show with Danke Schoen followed by an inspiring version of America the Beautiful, which he dedicated to the men and women who have served or are serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Wayne played House of Blues, Anaheim.

It was a slightly different set list than the last time I saw him, at the Stardust in Las Vegas, back in March of 2000. At the House of Blues show, he skipped MacArthur Park, which I was looking forward to hearing again. And in Vegas, I remember he and one of his backup singers singing the most sensitive version of Endless Love I've ever heard performed.

Another reason why I love Wayne Newton shows has less to do with Wayne than his audience of Wayniacs, who are endlessly entertaining. Needless to say it was a slightly older crowd than is usually seen at House of Blues. And these fans are devoted. There was even a big scuffle in the audience between two factions of women positioning themselves at the front of the stage. And no joke, I was literally pushed aside by a white-haired, 4' 11" octogenarian bee-lining her way to get closer to Wayne. (Amy's sister can attest to this).

I didn't really mind too much though. My eyesight is better than hers.

In the end, I think a description that best sums up the Wayne Newton experience was written by one Fiona Scott-Norman, who in advance of Wayne's Australian gig last month, wrote:

"There are two types of people in the world: those who are dead-set excited that Wayne Newton is coming to town on Sunday, and those who couldn't give a rat's.

The latter group, blinded by Newton's kitsch quotient and unable to see past the piles of cheese that accompany anyone who sings lounge standards and is referred to, non-ironically, as 'Mr Las Vegas', simply don't get it. That's OK. Your loss. But I will say this: you're missing out.

Stuff in Our Yard

We were spending some time in the back yard and thought we'd share some of the stuff we found. The first thing we were pleasantly surprised by was that the fact that our pineapple plants are growing not one, but two pineapples! The first one is by the front patio, and this is the second time that plant has produced fruit.

Pineapple #1, near the patio. (5/12/06)

The second one is in the back by the pool. That one also is producing fruit for the second time. We can't wait until they ripen, since we always use them to garnish our pineapple juice with Malibu drinks.

Pineapple #2, near the pool. (5/12/06)

The coffee plant has a lot more coffee beans this year as well. Unlike the pineapple plants, there's not much you can do with a handful of coffee beans, other than have bragging rights to say that you've grown your own coffee.

Coffee beans a-ripening. (5/12/06)

And finally we threw in a picture of Simon just because he's cute! :)

Simon. (5/12/06)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Updated Maps

Wow, people actually read our blog! :) We recently posted maps of the 50 states we've visited, and since then we've been reminded of states that we forgot to color in.

Tim's state map. Click photo for larger view. (As of 5/10/06) Create your own visited states map.

According to Tim's dad, Tim has indeed been in Montana (albeit only for a short drive). And I was reminded that I have in fact been to the Garden State for a trade show I attended in lovely Atlantic City several years back. And Tim reminded me that during one of our flights to Buffalo, NY that we had a stopover in Detroit, MI.

James' state map. Click photo for larger view. (As of 5/10/06) Create your own visited states map.

We changed the colors around this time just so you didn't think you were seeing the same map twice. Again, the darker color represents states where we spent a good amount of time, whereas the lighter color represents states that we've only technically visited (like when you transfer planes and never actually leave the airport).

And thanks to Laura G for pointing out the website where you can create a map of countries you've visited.

Tim's country map. Click photo for larger view. (As of 5/10/06) Create your own visited countries map

It's funny. I've been to 10 countries and Tim has been to 8, which doesn't seem too bad. But as soon as you look at it on a map, you realize how few that really is.

James' country map. Click photo for larger view. (As of 5/10/06) Create your own visited countries map.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Milestone Anniversary: 10 Years

Tim and I want to offer our sincerest congratulations to Jon and Amy on their 10-year wedding anniversary! It was exactly 10 years ago today that Amy Kathleen and Jon Thomas stood on the beach in Negril, Jamaica and tied the knot.

Amy plants a big kiss on Jon's cheek in this photo from Amy's birthday last October. (10/22/05)

I wasn't there to witness the event myself, although I did have the good fortune of helping them celebrate at their official beach-themed reception, held a few months later in Southern California (to this day Amy still talks about the moment when I spanked her on the dance floor as we shook what our mama gave us to Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back).


Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Brush With Greatness: Liza Minnelli

Today Tom and I went to a DVD signing by the incomparable Liza Minnelli — the event originally scheduled two weeks earlier that Liza postponed until today. She was signing the newly-released Liza With a Z, a made-for-TV concert she filmed in 1972 that hadn't been seen publicly for more than 30 years.

The one and only Liza Minnelli arrives at Barnes & Noble for a DVD signing. (05/06/2006)
The one and only Liza Minnelli arrives at Barnes & Noble for a DVD signing. (05/06/2006)

Tim didn't come with me this time. He was only willing to sacrifice one Saturday for Liza. Fortunately Tom wasn't doing anything else that day, since Christine was with her Stitch 'n Bitch knitting group.

Showing off one of the prized wristbands and written instruction sheets. (05/06/2006)
Showing off one of the prized wristbands and written instruction sheets. (05/06/2006)

The day started at 9am when they began distributing wristbands for the 3pm event. Only 300 were going to be given out, and there were probably 30-40 people ahead of us. Once we got our wristbands, we went off to get some breakfast and then headed back to Tom and Christine's place for a while until we had to head back to the bookstore in the afternoon.

Sitting in line with Tom and our recent Liza fan friend, Michelle. (05/06/2006)
Sitting in line with Tom and our recent Liza fan friend, Michelle. (05/06/2006)

Barnes & Noble didn't allow people to line up before noon. We didn't get back there until 1pm. Luckily our recent friend Michelle held a spot in line for us.

The first thing we noticed while in line was how weird Liza Minnelli fans are. Although they're very devoted, we soon discovered that for the most part, they have no sense of humor when it comes to Liza. I mean, you make one little joke about Liza, and the next thing you know they're looking at you as if you were Pol Pot.

There were many crazy Liza fans there, like one who had a remarkable likeness to Ms. Minnelli. (05/06/2006)
There were many crazy Liza fans there, like one who had a remarkable likeness to Ms. Minnelli. (05/06/2006)

A good example of that is the Liza impersonater that showed up. Of course Tom and I instantly had to get our picture taken with him. And yet all the psycho Liza fans were telling us not to encourage him. Good grief, lighten up people! :)

But the one thing everybody in the room shared was the electricity as the clock ticked closer to 3pm. Because we were in line, we couldn't see the main entrance. But we knew when she arrived due to all the cheering and applause in the distance. About 10 minutes later — after Liza spent a few minutes primping — she entered the book signing area and everyone went wild!

Liza looked much better than I had expected, especially since I heard she had broken one of her toes a few days before. I was almost expecting a wheelchair. But Liza, who's looking pretty dang good for being 60 years old, walked in looking happy, healthy and energetic.

Here's Tom singing a duet with the real Liza Minnelli. (05/06/2006)
Here's Tom singing a duet with the real Liza Minnelli. (05/06/2006)

Michelle was the first one of us that went up, followed by Tom. Earlier in the day we had been listening to his Liza mix on his iPod, and I dared him to sing to Liza.

I said, "If you sing to Liza, I'll buy your DVD." And sure enough he did! And Liza was delighted!! "Keep going! Keep going!" she replied, even joining him for a few bars. Who would have thought that Tom, of all people, would end up singing a duet with Liza?

Liza signs James' DVD as Craig Zadan & Neil Meron look on. (05/06/2006)
Liza signs James' DVD as Craig Zadan & Neil Meron look on. (05/06/2006)

Liza had just put on some hand sanitizer when I got there and reached out to shake her hand. "My hands are still wet," she said, shaking my hand anyway. I told her how much of an inspiration she's been to me. "Thank you, Darling! Thank you so much," she replied. Then she got distracted for a minute talking to Candy Brown, one of the dancers from the "Liza With a Z" concert who surprised Liza by showing up. As she chatted it up with Candy, I was able to pose for several pictures that Tom was taking.

Producer Neil Marron (who produced the film Chicago, as well as the Liza With a Z DVD) didn't let Liza get distracted too long. To get her attention back, he saw that I had a post-it note attached to my DVD booklet with "James" written on it.

"Are you James?" he asked, clearly with the intention of getting Liza's attention. It worked. "Oh yeah," Liza said, finishing her signature. "James," she said, looking up at me. "Thank you, James."

The autograph. (05/06/2006)
The autograph. (05/06/2006)

By the time we got out of there it was 4pm. It was a long day but so worth it.