Southern California Articles

Luxe Rodeo Drive: The Perfect Sleepover Staycation


Earlier this summer friends and I had an amazing dinner at the Luxe on Rodeo Drive. I’d mentioned that it’s the perfect place for a staycation so we pulled out our calendars and they gave me a pair of rooms Monday Night. The most difficult part of a staycation with The Luxe Rodeo was figuring out my kids’ schedules.

I love a good hotel and Jane and her friends love a hotel sleepover. There’s something totally irresistible about crisp white linens, sumptuous beds, blackout curtains and room service. I am also unabashedly high maintenance and when I see that a hotel has a four diamond rating from AAA I know that there’s a good chance I’ll be pleased with the service (and I was).

We checked in to the Luxe Monday afternoon and the girls needed to get themselves ready. They were going to have dinner at On Rodeo, which has the trifecta of fun, delicious and fabulous for people watching. I met a girlfriend for dinner around the corner because the girls wanted to have a sophisticated dinner and I was not invited (I was, however, allowed to pick up the tab – yay me?).

happy kids luxe beverly hills

While they got ready I wandered outside and hit up Fendi, Gucci and Prada. It’s not that I wanted to go shopping it’s that they were clearly in view from my window and it wouldn’t have been a good hotel write up if I didn’t visit the neighbors, right? Also, I’m searching for the perfect cross body bag for every day and I’m pretty sure I found it but somehow that feels like a bigger commitment than buying a house. I know, I’m weird.

After a little shopping my Mom and Stefanie showed up to the hotel. We were taking a look at the rooftop because I have a big birthday to celebrate with Mr. G this year and Jane has a Sweet Sixteen in the Fall. We all agreed that it’s a spectacular place for a party. The views are magnificent, it’s private and we already know that Luxe provides excellent service because we’ve spent a zillion hours nibbling with them.

I didn’t take a good picture of the view from the rooftop so I’ll have to go back and get one.

luxe rodeo rooftop

Stefanie and I walked around the corner to the South Beverly Grill where the drinks are good enough that you don’t notice the prices on the menu. We had a fabulous time chatting and catching up and planning our next adventures. She’s headed to Vietnam and we’re headed to Polynesia. As we wandered back to the hotel for some coffee and dessert we found the girls playing around on the steps over at One Rodeo.

If you stay at the Luxe you’re basically trapped in a zone that you’ve seen every inch of on TV and in the movies. It’s a playground for the rich and since there’s no entry fee you can sort of hang around the playground and watch and enjoy.  The girls ran back up to Sprinkles and had ice cream with cupcake tops.

There is a hotel on Rodeo Drive not more than one, just one. It’s a street that is known everywhere you go. Just say “Rodeo Drive” and folks know what you’re talking about.

If you’re looking for a central location this will suit you. It’s just a few minutes to the beaches or downtown, Westwood is nearby if you want to visit someone at UCLA or if you’re like me and you just don’t want to be home for a night it’s unbeatable. Right now I’m seeing rates around $360 with AAA, if you have dinner for four up the street at Crustacean you’ll be spending that before the tip.

If you’re looking for a resort the Luxe isn’t for you. The rooms are updated and clean but they don’t have spa bathrooms or a pool. There’s a fantastic outdoor area that’s more serene than scene. If you’re looking for a resort type hotel I would not recommend anything in Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills is urban and you’re there for the shopping and the touristy stuff. If you’re looking for a resort head to Santa Monica or hide out in Bel Air. You can always grab a salad and spend an hour or two at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s pool but it’s small and tired.

If you’re looking for the charm of a European Hotel without the cramped quarters and snootiness then the Luxe is the right place for you. There are less than 90 rooms, well appointed and they’re ready for international travelers. When I went under the desk to plug in my two phones, ipad and computer I saw this. It’s really quite handy when you don’t have a multitude of converters.

luxe beverly hills international travel

I’m excited to plan a party with Luxe. The kids’ school has had their galas at the Brentwood location and everyone was tickled with the space and the service there. The rooftop in Beverly Hills has an air of exclusivity and I like feeling like I’m on vacation 4 miles from my house.

Travel Tips:

  • It’s a boutique hotel on a street that goes to sleep by 10pm don’t worry about requesting a high floor, they’ll all be mostly quiet
  • Weekdays are low key, my room was next to an elevator and was completely quiet
  • The second floor has a patio between the buildings. If you’re a smoker or need a place for a toddler to run around without traffic this is a good floor for you
  • Try the bread pudding, it’s happiness on a plate
  • Enjoy breakfast at On Rodeo – people watch and relax


On Rodeo: You Know the Dinner is Good When it’s Four Hours Long


Last week I was invited to On Rodeo, the restaurant and lounge inside (and outside) the Luxe Hotel on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. They are adding baked goods to their offerings and have wisely begun with a chocolate soufflé.

I don’t typically attend events like this but I’ve had several lovely lunches at the Luxe Beverly Hills and my daughter is bugging me to have a sleepover (and possibly a Sweet 16) there so I figured I’d put on my best eating dress and head out for some soufflé before dinner at 5pm.

We had passed appetizers, champagne and the soufflé along with an explanation of the sourcing of the chocolate and a reminder that Beverly Hills and Cannes are sister cities. I sort of paid attention but mostly I was enjoying the dessert. I enjoy the occasional sweet but given the option of cake or a cheese plate I’m pretty religiously going to choose savory over sweet so I was delighted to find that the soufflé was full of chocolate flavor and missing that overly sugary finish that too many desserts seem to have.

Once you’ve had dessert you might as well stay for dinner. So I did. There were wine and tequila pairings and great company at the table so I instagrammed the meal because I wisely knew that I’d forget each and every thing.

We started with roasted tomato soup which tasted like warm tomatoes from the garden.

Next was Ahi Tuna with fresh citrus there was a white wine pairing that was delightful.

Beet salad with candied walnuts

Do not miss the shrimp (and I don’t love shrimp) paired with a sip of tequila

Pan seared salmon on a bed of cauliflower with a sauce you don’t see.

Our second dessert was bread pudding because everyone needs a second dessert when you’re on your fourth hour of dinner.

bread pudding

And their dessert cocktails are spectacular. My favorite is the Key Lime Pie Martini. It’s delicious.

on rodeo key lime pie martini

If you’re looking to sit outside, to see and be seen be sure to request table 81. You’ll be smack dab in the center of Rodeo Drive. We ate and drank and laughed until 9.30. Just in time for a midnight snack, right?

Falstaff at the LA Opera, My Mom, Real and Fake Food


You don’t have to love the Opera to love a trip backstage to learn about the LA Opera, but it sure does help. So when someone emailed me from the LA Opera asking if I’d like a tour of backstage and to learn about the food they use for Falstaff I was really excited and totally booked so I couldn’t attend.

But my Mom can. So I was really excited to send her and my Step Dad. They were armed with a camera and a profound love of the Opera. They took a lot of pictures.

Falstaff was Verdi’s last Opera. He wrote it in his 80’s and it premiered at La Scala in 1893. It’s interesting in that it’s based on The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, it’s stories we know, stories we love.

My mom loved that there was both real and fake food on stage and particularly loves that Falstaff eats a lot, both a turkey leg and a cake. During rehearsals they use Twinkies, if you follow me on instagram you’ll know that my mom was a Twinkie hoarder during the unfortunate bankruptcy of 2013.

There are four more Falstaff performances this season and you can order tickets online. Take a look at the food prep and some of the beautiful scenery.

falstaff bed la opera

Eating in bed

falstaff stage la opera

The table is set

food on stage la opera falstaff food art LA opera

Some more food art, which will have real food with it.

falstaff props la opera

A table for props.

Used in rehearsal instead of cake

My Mom’s favorite prop.

Dorothy Chandler Hall from stage

The view from the stage

Falstaff eating in bed orchestra pit

The orchestra pit… where magic happens.

real turkey

This turkey leg is precut so it can be easily grabbed.

backstage kitchen

Would you believe that all the food comes out of this tiny kitchen?


James Conlon Conductor

James Conlon Conductor


You can’t have an opera without a lute.

Ronnita Nicole Miller plays Mistress Quickly

Ronnita Nicole Miller plays Mistress Quickly

Italian singer and food blogger Carmen Giannattasio  plays Alice Ford

Italian singer and food blogger Carmen Giannattasio plays Alice Ford

lee Blakeley Director

Lee Blakeley Director

food art not real food la opera real apples fake food la opera falstaff set la opera falstaff bed la opera falstaff set la opera

Viceroy Hotel Palm Springs: A Really Great Weekend at a Really Not-Great Hotel


Whenever we go to the desert we stay at the northern end. La Quinta is a favorite, the JW Marriott is less wonderful but still good, the Westin is good as is the Miramonte. Every time we go (which isn’t as often as it used to be) we think we should stay in Palm Springs; preferably somewhere we can walk because Palm Springs is fun and we are fun (or at least we used to be).

My family needed a weekend together. 2013 has been a lot of work for Mr. G and I had two objectives for the Labor Day weekend:

  1.  Get Mr. G too far from the office for him to pop in to work
  2. Have time together as a family

Friday afternoon I packed the kids up (plus a kid) and we left for the desert just before the end of the work day. It was a minor miracle that we had Mr. G home before 8pm and I was positively giddy at the thought of three days of family time. It was in this spirit that a great weekend was had by all because staying at the Viceroy was not cheery in and of itself.

In the interest of simplicity I’ll go ahead and just give you a rundown of our experience there and you can decide what part of it would work for you.

Friday 8pm (give or take 15 minutes): We check into the hotel with three children and are told for the first time that though there are three pools only one of them allows children. This would have been important information to have when booking a room for five.

While checking in she explains to us that our two room villa has a pull out sofa and if we’d like it made up we should tell housekeeping. I ask her to please have housekeeping make the bed now. We all started our day at 6am.

Friday 9pm: We have dinner on site. I order an appetizer of diver scallops and a watermelon and feta salad. The scallops are excellent, the watermelon salad has strawberries added, they are sugared, I cannot recommend this dish. My daughter and her friend each have a salad which they enjoy, chicken caesar I believe and my husband orders steak, it is overcooked. My cocktail is delicious and being with my family has me too delighted to care about overcooked meat.

Friday 11pm: We return to the room and the sofa bed is not made. It does however have a urine stained mattress pad on it. My son sits on the corner (he is not yet 90 pounds) and the bed collapses. I call the night manager who is horrified at the state of the pull out bed and since housekeeping has left for the evening I put Alexander in bed with myself and my husband because I cannot keep my eyes open one more minute.

I am secretly delighted that my son is snuggling me, that is how much my family needs this time together.

Viceroy Palm Springs

Saturday 2am: I’ve been pushed off the bed one too many times. Snuggling is for suckers. I sleep on the sofa, not the sofa bed but the sofa. I am spending $850 a night before taxes and fees to sleep on a urine stained sofa. Even I can’t spin this into something quaint.

Also, it’s hot. Their air conditioners only go down to 74 degrees. That’s too warm for me to sleep soundly.

Saturday 9am: I go to the front desk and smile and try to be nice but really I want to nap and cry. They upgrade our room to a two bedroom villa with a den so Alexander doesn’t have to sleep in a living room. We are heading out for the day so we pack and they are going to move our belongings. We pack, we are optimistic. We leave our things piled at the door and when we return they will be in the new room, so they say. I have breakfast and order soft poached eggs, they are hard poached, I don’t complain because I really want to enjoy my family vacation.

Saturday 4pm: We go to our new room. Everything is there but the bed is still not made for my son. I think they hate my son. We hang out at the family pool. The waiters are doing their best but there are three pools and one of them isn’t packed with drinkers. Service is dismal, it’s 100 degrees and they keep running out of drinking water and towels.

Saturday 6pm: The sofa bed is made but in order to pull it out there’s a yellow chair that must first be removed from the room. I wonder how an interior designer selected the chair. I also wonder how the interior designer selected the same table and chairs for each and every breakfast nook; the chairs are too big to fit under the table. It’s not only not attractive but it’s uncomfortable.

The guest relations manager has sent us a fruit plate and some fizzy water. This delights everyone and he is very likable. He is also, I suspect, very busy.

Saturday late: I’ve left my personal pillow in the other room. Security and I go over there. It has been used, the bed has been very very enjoyed. I am down one pillow. Enjoy the Frette sheets; I know I did. This almost makes me cry.

Sunday breakfast: overcooked eggs.

Sunday afternoon: The kids order burgers poolside with nothing on them. They’d like them done medium rare with a side of truffle fries. We get well done burgers with everything in the world on them and regular fries. After almost an hour the server returns and brings us one burger (still well done) but plain with truffle fries, Alexander had left the pool some time ago so obviously he didn’t want a replacement burger. There was no talk of taking anything off the bill. I have a hard time faulting the server, he’s got an incredibly difficult job and though not particularly competent he is lovely. I like lovely people so I tip generously; it is over 110 degrees today.

We return from the pool and go to the room where every bed has been made except my son’s. This hotel hates my kid and now I’m starting to hate them. I let the front desk know.

Sunday night 10pm: We return from dinner and no one has made my son’s bed. I accept defeat.

Monday morning: I order my eggs poolside, they come quickly and they are soft poached but in a terrine of egg water. I sigh and dump the water on the tray knowing that this is as close to satisfaction as I will ever get at the Viceroy. The girls have dressed up a bit and taken themselves to breakfast at the lobby restaurant, this is a treat for them.

I check out and the bill is for $3,500. Let that sink in.

We call for bell service and they don’t have proper bell trolleys. The very abbreviated version is that because they use a handcart (maybe the interior decorator didn’t want a corporate feel?) a bag with a bottle of wine and my brand new Chloe shoes broke. I dove through the broken glass and was able to save the shoes but my one week old Nike Free Runs are garbage, my bag is garbage and our bellman was stuttering and stammering and offering to replace everything. Mr. G and I were consoling him and explaining that it wasn’t his fault; it’s the hotel not having proper equipment. We were telling him how we absolutely were going to accept nothing from him (he was trying to make it better personally – maybe it was my shrieking My $600 shoes save them!) maybe other guests had demanded odd things of him before. Now we’re consoling the bellman, shoving $10 bills at him (yes, I’m still tipping it’s over 100 degrees and he’s working) and loading the car.

I go to find the girls as it’s been 20 minutes or so and they have nothing. Not even a glass of water. According to the waiter there was a party of 8 there before them. According to my girls they’d been there 15 minutes or more before the party of 8 came in.

We left. We paid. We had an absolutely lovely three days together in spite of the best efforts of everyone at the Viceroy Palm Springs.

And no, we won’t be back. Even for an admittedly delicious vodka drink.


An Open Letter to the Management of The Regency Hyatt Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach


I’ve just returned home from two nights at The Regency Hyatt Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach. The kids and I used just about every part of the Resort in two and a half days.

hyatt huntington beach shore

Before showing up I booked a conference room with Courtney Braz for a series of focus groups. It was painless. Actually it was better than painless. The room was priced at the same rate as a nearby conference room we’d used in an office tower only it was about three times the size. The cost of parking is a little painful at $19 a vehicle but to be fair the nearby office towers are $12 each and not nearly as lovely. The catering was perfect, we had a light vegetarian fare and when I called to cancel my attached hotel reservation because my son was sick (don’t they always get sick before a holiday) Courtney urged me to wait another day before I canceled in case he got better. She didn’t want me to lose the superior king room she’d held for me. I must say, I love that Courtney.

When we checked in I wasn’t expecting much. I’m not sure that I’ve ever stayed at a Hyatt and I haven’t thought of them as resorts. The valet and reception were as good as any at the Kea Lani or the Four Seasons. In fact the lady at reception (forgive me management, I cannot remember her name) gave my kids a coupon for s’mores and was incredibly warm and welcoming. While I’m busy asking forgiveness please also forgive my children for throwing marshmallows at each other last night. I did wipe down the wall where one of them stuck but, let’s face it, kids and hotels…. so messy.

hyatt huntington beach guest room

The room was lovely. There is one problem and that’s the lack of a ventilation fan in the bathroom. Since Jane and I wear our hair curly it’s okay to be with all that steam but it’s sort of unpleasant by the third shower. This one complaint belongs with the architect and not the management so you are forgiven.

The kids had room service dessert the first night and then two mornings in a row we had room service for breakfast. The food was spectacular. That egg cup thing your chef does with the asparagus and spinach is amazing, getting it without the ham was pretty awesome too.

I love a well maintained pool and the kids do too. The beach chairs and towels at the end of the footbridge made our visit super easy and thank you for turning a blind eye when I rode my son’s skateboard through the courtyard. I know it’s against the rules but when you have a middle aged woman skating how much trouble can it really be?

The bar is cozy and lovely but I do have one complaint. My favorite hotel bar game is called “Spot the hooker”. There were no hookers. Failure Mr. or Ms. Manager… total failure.

Dinner at the California was splendid. I think it might be the thing that prompted this open letter. You see while I was running a focus group my two teenage kids (who do NOT have the appearance of being particularly generous tippers) took themselves to dinner. They ordered swordfish and scallops after having a shrimp cocktail appetizer. They drank only water. Tap water. I ended up popping in on them only at the very end of the meal and was delighted to find that your wait staff treated my kids like royalty. We should probably talk about the perfection of the scallops but since it was the daily special it might not be as relevant as the very-goodness of the swordfish.

Claudia is the evening concierge and might be the loveliest lady I’ve dealt with in years. My housekeeper was Rosaura R and she too was beyond lovely and (maybe more importantly) the room was returned to an immaculate state despite our best efforts to destroy it.

I can’t say that I’m going to rush out and try Hyatt hotels all over the country but something special is happening at the Hyatt in Huntington Beach. Every single person we encountered was lovely without being sickeningly sweet, everyone was good at their job, everyone seemed happy to be there and I was blown away by the level of service I received.

Also, two nights at the Hyatt after in room dining, valet parking, resort fees and about 93 smoothies was still less than one night at the other places we’ve stayed around there (and been less happy).

So thank you Mr. or Ms. General Manager. You gave us three Gottliebs three great days and I still have some change in my pocket.

hyatt huntington beach outside




The Gift of Presence


I boarded the Amtrak Surfliner just before 9am to arrive in San Diego just after noon. From the train I could have taken a taxi but to save $40 or so on cab fare I hopped onto a bus that took me most of the way to the camp where Jane had spent the prior two weeks. Rather than taking a second bus and then walking a mile I tried my luck with a taxi and found myself chatting with an African man who spoke like he was singing and told me that he too had a daughter. She would be four in two days. She lived in Africa and he was trying to bring her here.

He might have been lying to me but I tipped him too much anyhow and asked him to please come back to the camp at 3 so that he could drive us back to the Amtrak station. He gave me his phone number and I went to pick my daughter up.

I love kids at camp. There’s a swagger that’s been earned. Jane thrives with independence and giving her tasks that are difficult but ultimately achievable are the greatest gifts she can receive. She was glued to her friend Kate that she’d attended with and I met two more girls that were there for the two weeks.

The girls ran and changed into wetsuits and then I got to watch them surf but only for a few minutes. Jane’s popping up smoothly now and she’s having fun when she’s riding a wave. Last year she was fighting the ocean this year she’s harnessing it’s power. I was standing in the water enjoying watching my daughter when I noticed Kate’s mom had arrived. I went to say hello to her and she was fighting back tears while talking about how perfect her daughter is. I must have looked confused and then Kate’s Mom went on to tell me that she has a friend who is fighting for her life. I have a little experience with that. I hugged her. I didn’t have anything to say because sometimes there really is nothing to say. Some parts of our lives are painful and because we are gifted life and friendship and people to love we will hurt and nothing is capable of taking that hurt away.

Tom Petty was blaring while our girls were surfing. When the girls have struggles in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s maybe Jane and Kate will be on a beach with a summer song providing a score that is testament to their love, triumphs and struggles all at once. Hopefully in everyone’s struggles there will be moments of perfection that penetrate like sunlight fighting through the sides of a drawn curtain. Surely we all have struggles it’s the ability to recognize those sweet slivers of sunlight that gets us through.

At 2.30 I had to get Jane out of the water so we could get everything together and head back to the train station. I walked next to her and listened while she talked. We checked out of camp as she told me about all the other kids. She continued to chatter for half an hour while we careened up the 5 freeway toward the Amtrak. I felt sad for the cab driver who must have been missing his own daughter and I tipped him too much money. The train was 45 minutes late and while we waited to board Jane continued to provide detail. There were kids from Santa Monica, Peru, Panama, Chula Vista, San Diego and Imperial Beach. Some of them were sooooo spoiled and some of them were sooooo smart and the only children weren’t as socially adept in Jane’s eyes. There were kind words for everyone except the two girls who refused to help clean the cabin. She struggled there.

I heard about surfing, kayaking, friendships, volleyball, dancing, whispering, walking and crushes. I heard about food, sunscreen, little kids, counselors, games, school and sand. We spent the train ride back looking at pictures from camp. I just listened. Listening to my kids may be one of my favorite activities. I’m not sure I could recount all the stories but I have a good general sense of how the two weeks were for my daughter.

I could have bought her a train ticket home and the camp would have sent her back on her own. Jane would have liked that too. She loves to travel solo, but then I would have missed the chatter. The chatter is the best part.

Y’all Told Me You Wanted to Know About Shopping


Jane had a soccer tournament in Santa Barbara this weekend. Well, it’s actually in Goleta on the UCSB campus, but that’s splitting hairs. I’m not crazy about traveling to soccer tournaments. This is what happened to us in last year’s tournament season.

It wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t prepared to stay at a roadside motel in Santa Barbara so I called ahead to the Bacara Resort and got a couple of rooms for us and for our friends.

Jane played four games. I saw one. Here’s the thing… I’ve watched approximately 4,000 volleyball matches this year and a few soccer tournaments. The kid either wants to play soccer or not. She can’t really enjoy it more with me there. She’s 13, time for a little intrinsic motivation.

Oh, also there was tennis at Bacara. I ended up playing a round robin with a really nice group of men. Two of them had played together in high school and in honor of the French Open one had come to town to visit the other (who lived in Santa Barbara) and they had a weekend full of playing tennis on clay courts at Bacara and eating French Food.

These are my people.

On Friday night we had a fabulous dinner on State Street and then went for a stroll. Alexander and Mr. G ended up slot car racing in one of the hobby shops and Jane brought me to Free People where she moaned to me about how she couldn’t afford any of the clothes there. I suggested getting a job and was met with an eyeroll. She held up the world’s softest poncho and made me try it on.

Since it was a size small and it fit me nicely I bought it “to share”. Jane knows I’ll buy just about anything that fits me in a size small, no matter how overpriced or tacky it is.

I later found out “to share” is code for “Mom buys it and Jane wears it.” It’s expensive and poorly made with a portion of the proceeds undoubtedly going to Romney’s campaign fund, but I don’t care. It made my daughter very happy and I remember having a poncho just like it in 1977.

Oh, except my poncho didn’t have shredded sleeves and cost about $15.

free people poncho longer in backfree people poncho

Alexander picked up a pair of sunglasses at Old Navy. He loves them. They were $5 and will probably last him a year.

On the way back into town we stopped at the outlets to search for Mr. G’s shoes. No luck for him but I was able to grab three pair of crocs (NEVER to be worn out of the house) and a pair of grade B UGG Boots for $120. They’re tall chocolate. I’m wearing them in the horrible picture above. crocs are ugly

I feel like this weekend’s shopping reads like a cautionary tale and I should never be trusted with a credit card.

Adoption Stories and the Transformer Ride: Thrilling


Mr. G is traveling which means that I get to be Mom and Dad. Which means that the kids get a really great Mom and a horrible Dad. I’m just not good at baseball things and playing when I’m tired. When I’m tired I nap. When Mr. G is tired he plays with the kids anyhow. I’m not him.

Sunday morning I was up bright and early at the crack of 9am. Hello! It’s Sunday you’re supposed to lounge in bed. At 10am Alexander and I were at his baseball lesson. I’ve never watched his new coach and I had zero expectations for the morning but I couldn’t believe what I saw. When Alexander was hitting wrong he sort of stopped and said, “Hey, do you mind if I suggest something?” And my son of course said, “no.” Then he proceeded to get him to stand a little wider and bend his back knee more. More carrot, less stick.

I know this sound unremarkable, but it’s not. The level of respect was so high that my son never stopped smiling. He spent 30 minutes batting and grinning and getting better with every swing. There wasn’t more instruction with this coach than there has been with others there was just a manner that made it joyful. So basically baseball has been saved. Alexander has amazing team coaches, he’s umpiring (and earning a few dollars doing it) and the Sunday morning private coach is just pumping him up more.

We started the day nicely.

After baseball we headed home and grabbed Jane and then went to Universal Studios. There’s a Transformers ride that’s going to open next month and the folks at Universal gave me a couple of passes so we could try it out.

So. Much. Fun.


It reminded me a little of the Mummy ride because it’s sort of 3-d and rollercoaster all wrapped up into one. In order to be certain we ran over to ride the Mummy again and then we weren’t 100% sure how we felt about the rides so we hopped on the Transformers Ride again with one more dash to the Mummy. They’re close to each other and I love them both.

Yes, we rode Transformers and The Mummy twice each within about 25 minutes. I bore children as a cover to go to theme parks. After another hour of dashing to the Simpsons and something else we really needed to leave. We had an unremarkable lunch at the Hard Rock Café up at City Walk and then ran home to drop Jane off so I could bring Alexander to his tennis match.

This was singles match number two in his life. He played really well and the kid he played against was about the sweetest boy I’ve ever seen. There was a lot of “good shot” and “nice rally” along with hand shaking and long rallies. It was the second perfect sport of the day for my son and we were both grinning from ear to ear.

While I was watching the match I got to chatting with one of the dads. He said to me, “Which child is yours.” And I gave him my standard answer, “The cute one.” He laughed and said, “Mine’s the other cute one but it has nothing to do with me, I adopted him.”

I am obsessed with adoption stories. I love hearing them so much because adoptive parents come from a really special place. It’s one thing to decide to have a baby either with nature or with science but it’s a completely different story when one or more people decide to love a child that’s already here.

I told him I had a million questions and I explained to him that I’d grown up in a house where my father facilitated adoptions. He matched families with pregnant women and did all the legal work in exchange for a donation to the local free clinic in the child’s name. It was an entirely altruistic part of his life and work that I suspect he misses quite a bit. The babies are mostly in California and the youngest ones are probably adults but they all felt like part of our life story.

Have a Bar Mitzvah? Well let’s hope that’s a quick labor. Restaurant opening? Maybe he can take a taxi before dessert because her water hasn’t broken yet. Soccer game? Baby being born, no dice.

These interruptions weren’t disruptive at all, they just made us all smile. It wasn’t like he was missing he was just busy salvaging a horrible situation for one lady and making a family for another. We marked time with the babies.

So I asked the tennis Dad about his adoption and he began with a most remarkable story about turning a certain age and not caring if he was ever married but knowing that he had to be a parent. He adopted a seven year old from foster care right here in Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful story (as all adoption stories are) but it’s different because he didn’t adopt a newborn or even a toddler. He adopted a school aged boy, few people adopt school aged children. It’s too much work and too much uncertainty.

I was peppering him with questions because really I wanted to spend about three days following them around taking notes and trying to understand what it was like those first days, weeks and then months. What is the birthday tradition? How long before you say “I love you”? How long before the child believes it? Do they miss their parents, do they even remember them? Do you ever go back to that part of town? Would there be a reason to? Spirituality? Religion? I have so many questions but I only got to one of them.

What was the thing that surprised you most about having him show up at your house?

Tennis Dad talked about learning to listen to him. That when he described pains like a sore throat or a stomachache that there was something going on and you don’t have to be bleeding to be hurt (I’m so guilty of this).

While he was talking about learning to listen my son came to me and asked to go home. “I’m tired,” He said, “I’m not sure I want to go to baseball practice later.” And I asked him if he had another match to play. I congratulated him on a match well played and we left when all I wanted to do was ask Tennis Dad more about his unconventional entry into parenthood.

I’m learning to listen to my son too and he did not attend the baseball practice.

Loews Coronado Bay Review: San Diego Area Hotel


Us Gottliebs spent President’s Day weekend at the Loews Coronado Bay hotel. There are two things that are important to note. Presidents Day Weekend is a busy weekend with many area hotels sold out, and the hotel’s lobby was under construction. I had lowered my expectations. Apparently not quite enough.

lowes coronado bay resort aerial shot

I called the Loews just a few days before the holiday and explained to the reservations agent that I’m a high maintenance traveler. I like nice things and I make no apology for it. I also explained to him that I wanted either adjoining rooms or a one bedroom suite, the requirement is that there is a door between the two rooms. “It’s not a vacation if I’m sleeping in the same room as my children.” I said. It’s what I always say. He chortled, agreed and set us up with a Grand King Suite. He assured me I’d be delighted. I assured him that I wanted to be delighted.

Let me just say that a Grand King Suite at the Loews Coronado Bay is a wonderful thing. The ceilings are high, the views of the bay are stunning and the bathroom is everything you could hope for in a luxury spa hotel. Unfortunately there was nothing to separate the bedroom from the living room. It was exactly the hotel room I didn’t want for a family of four.

I called the front desk and explained the dilemma. They couldn’t have been nicer or more understanding. After a brief hold I was told that they had a one bedroom suite for us. It would be smaller and a few dollars less but it was vacant and he would send a bellman with keys.

So we waited. And we waited. Then we waited some more.

A very nice and incredibly apologetic bellman arrived with keys and showed us to the second room. It was still very nice, smaller and with a much smaller bathroom but it suited our needs as a family of four that wanted a little privacy throughout the weekend. The views of the bay were soothing and the location was actually better than the larger suite. When traveling with kids it’s nice to be near the teen room and the swimming pool.

We thanked the bellman and reminded him that we needed a rollaway bed as well as some extra blankets and pillows. This was at about 4pm.

At 6pm we called again and they sent the rollaway bed but no pillows or blankets. I asked about turndown service and for the sofa bed to be opened. They assured me that someone would be “right on it”.

At 8pm I called again.

At 8.45 the incredibly sweet operator once again assured me that the housekeeping supervisor would be right there. I ran out of nice and reminded her that I was in a hotel and asking for a bed at 9pm. Shortly thereafter a housekeeper arrived to unfold the sofa bed and gasped audibly to find it bare.

Sometime after 9 I left the room in utter disgust to take a walk with my son and left Mr. G and Jane to wait for housekeeping (who again failed to bring extra blankets and pillows). Mr. G asked if he should tip whomever arrived in the room. I didn’t have an answer, I’m still of two minds.

The hotel manager arrived. Mr. G reported that she was very young and very apologetic. I’m sure she was sweet, everyone was sweet there. Sadly they were mostly incompetent.

The television in the bedroom didn’t get reception on many of it’s channels but we weren’t concerned enough to complain about it. In addition to the shower being tiny, and folks when I say tiny I’m talking about a 3 foot by 3 foot space, the showerhead hardly dribbled. Shower caps were not provided. Again, I’d accepted defeat after the bed fiasco.

We spent a wonderful day by the pool. There are two ping pong tables and a giant connect four. There is plenty of seating, some sofas and a bar. Unfortunately the food is from room service (as opposed to a separate pool service area) so it’s VERY slow. Fortunately the coffee bar in the lobby (even under construction) has fabulous grab and go choices including fresh fruit, pasta salads, healthy sandwiches and little bits of handmade chocolate that you simply must experience.

Although the hotel is located on the bay, you should not confuse this with a beach. I wouldn’t have my kids swimming in the water as it’s mostly full of motorboats. It’s a beautiful view, but it’s better for boaters than for swimmers.

The pool area is really quite lovely and I cannot emphasize enough how much we enjoyed our day by the pool.

The Sunday brunch is similar to other hotel Sunday Brunches. There’s an omelet bar and a lunch area, there are lovely desserts, overcooked vats of scrambled eggs and piles of breakfast meats. Like other hotels it’s hideously overpriced, unlike other hotels it has a Mexican flare. I like Mexican flare, especially when I’m spitting distance from the border.

Our second night was better. We had no requests and it was impossible to disappoint us. We accepted the dribbling water from the teeny tiny shower and left town. In spite of it all we had a fabulous weekend together.

What would alarm me most about this hotel is that upon checking out I said to the woman at the desk, “I’d like to general manager to call me on Tuesday so that I can tell you about my experience here.” She nodded, wrote down my number on a slip of paper and shoved it into a pile. Naturally there was no phone call.

It’s an okay hotel in an okay location but the staff is not so okay.

I’d reserved a Grand King Suite at $450 a night (I know a steal) and then moved to the one bedroom suite at $350 a night. If you can lower your expectations and make your own bed you just might enjoy yourself.

Overabundance With Our Feet on the Ground


This weekend we snuck out of town for some family time. Since we’d unplugged Jane from her friends it seemed only fair to take the family funishment to the next level and make her spend quality time with us. We had a blast.

What was interesting about this trip is that we stayed in a hotel I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t one I’d recommend. It wasn’t budget friendly, and no matter how much I lowered my expectations they simply couldn’t be met by the hotel staff. They were a friendly staff, adorable even, but they weren’t particularly competent.

We told the kids we were heading to San Diego and my son packed for the beach. I don’t know how we didn’t double check his clothing choices, but we didn’t and he ended up with shorts and tee shirts and not enough socks. Although San Diego is, in fact, the beach, it was February in San Diego and it was quite cool at night. Jane’s hair wasn’t behaving as she thought it should (though I maintain that she has the most incredible hair I’ve ever seen).

With all this, with not very interesting food, cold and windy nights, waiting until 9pm for a bed to be made (and by “made” I mean it had no sheets) and Mr. G’s back hurting him it sounds like a horrible weekend away. Don’t worry, it’s only a sound.

Jane finished book seven in Pretty Little Liars and we had to beg the bookstore owner to please let us in, “we don’t need to browse.” I explained, my foot wedged into the closing door. We just want to grab a book and go. A toddler was in the back pooping in her diaper under a table, her father thought it was adorable. We got a book and Jane had a dose of birth control all at once.

During this weekend I was reading, obsessively reading, The Man Who Quit Money. It’s about Daniel Suelo who quit money in the beginning of the millennium. It’s a fabulous book and it touched me because it was written by a man with whom who I grew up. I still make his mother’s pancakes from the Co-Op nursery school cookbook. Obviously I wanted to like this book, but somewhere midway I realized it was me. He was writing about me (and so many of you) when he talked about the dilemma of reusing a Ziploc bag. Is it worth the water to rinse it? Am I adding to the plastic in the landfill? Why the fuck did I buy this bag in the first place? To hold apple slices? Next time I’m sending the kids to school with an apple and a knife (braces make it impossible to bite into one whole).

The book might have made me nicer over the weekend. There was only one moment where I lost my cool with the hotel manager (who was approximately 15 years old). I looked at things a little differently. It didn’t matter how I wanted to see the world. It didn’t matter what I expected a resort to look like, it mattered that I was with my family and I was gifted time and attention.

In fact Monday morning Alexander looked up at me and said that even though it’s a bay and not a beach and even though and even though… this was the best weekend of his entire life.

I’m not sure why our family is having such a nice time just being together. I’ll never really know how a crappy hotel and terrible food gave us all such pleasure, but it did.