The Amazing Race Los Angeles Style

One of my favorite television shows is The Amazing Race. Even though I normally don’t like reality television, this is one show I will watch faithfully every Sunday night it’s on. I love watching the teams travel to all corners of the world, performing all kinds of physical and mental challenges in order to receive their next clue telling them of their next destination. A couple of years ago, I decided it was time to get off the couch and try out for the show myself. The only problem was finding a team mate.

In case you have not seen the show, the teams consist of two people with a unique relationship or a relationship dynamic interesting enough to make good television. Past seasons included teams of parents and kids, engaged couples, siblings and life long friends. I asked Juan if he would audition for the show with me and he flatly refused. There is nothing that stresses him out more than traveling, except maybe getting lost, two things that are  sure to happen on The Amazing Race. I begged him but he wouldn’t do it, so I had to find another partner. I needed someone who had a spirit of adventure, was more athletically inclined than I was, and provided an interesting partner relationship. Then, it came to me, the perfect partner–Juan’s ex-wife! Why not? We were friendly. She loved to travel, and she liked to run, bike and had a sense of adventure. When I proposed the idea to her she accepted right away, without even ever having seen the show. Since the application period for the next season was closing, we worked quickly to complete our application, audition tape, and come up with a photo of our team. We also came up with a great team name–Juan’s Wives.

Juan's Wives Team Audition Photo for TAR

I felt we had a great idea, even if our last minute production of an audition tape didn’t exactly capture our personalities, surely The Amazing Race producers would want us? I was wrong, we didn’t even get a call back!  My hopes for traveling the world, completing the challenges and winning the $1,000,000 prize money were dashed. I think Juan was relieved because he was afraid that we would get lost or even worse, we would kill each other on the show.

Even though I did not get a call back, my desire to do the race has not waned. This weekend I had a chance to run a different kind of race, one inspired by The Amazing Race, but one which did not require an audition. All I had to do was find a partner and pay the entrance fee. I found my race partner at work. Donna, is one of my collegues, and a fan of The Amazing Race. She also auditioned for the show, but like me, was never cast. When we learned we had this in common, we decided we would sign up for a local version of the race that is played like t.v. show, without all the stunts and exotic locations. Donna and I joined forces and became The Double D’s. We even bought matching team t-shirts.

The Double D's and team Lez Win off to a running start!

The Amazing Los Angeles Race consists of teams of 2 – 4 players, and is part scavenger hunt, part puzzle challenge. The race began at a park near the Hollywood Bowl. At the start of the race, the teams opened envelopes we had been given. The envelopes contained a map and directions to help us locate our clue, which would provide us with our next location. Donna and I ran all over looking for the clue envelope. After huffing and puffing our way up and down the park, we finally found the clue envelope, solved the puzzle and proceeded to our first location. From there we were presented with another puzzle we had to solve and then we received the clue to the next location. It went on and on like that for 6 more rounds.

Grand Central Market. One of the destinations on our race route.

Getting clues, solving puzzles, racing to our next location. It was tough, running around all over town, making our way through the crowds and trying to stay ahead of the other racers.  At one point Donna and I were racing through the throngs of Hollywood tourists and we knocked a balloon out of a kid’s hands. We apologized but didn’t stop to pick up the balloon. The puzzles we had to solve were not easy and the locations were far apart, requiring us to run from destination to destination, and in some cases take the Metro from Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles. At the end of the race, we checked in with a perfect game. Not once did we call the help line to get a hint for the puzzle.

Donna on the Metro with another puzzle solved and a clue to our next destination.

I wish I could say that our perfect game gave us the lead, but it didn’t. We finished about 15th in a field of 20 teams. Ah well. It was still a ton of fun! In the end, I realize how difficult it would be to do game like the real Amazing Race. I guess I was hoping the local version would satisfy my desire to do the show, but it didn’t. It just made me realize how much training I will need if I ever am lucky enough to do the real thing.







50/50 Friday – Week One

Last week, on my birthday, I posted 50 things I wanted to do before my 50th birthday, which is still a couple of years off, thank goodness.  I am happy to report that one week into my project and I am making some progress.

The funny thing about list-making, is that the act of writing it down, somehow makes it more likely that the task will get done. The really funny, like strange, thing that has happened, is that now that I have sent out a message to the Universe about what I would like to accomplish,  the Universe is sending messages back to me. For instance, I listed that I want to contact some former teachers and thank them. Well, the other day, I received a Facebook message from some of my high school friends about an informal reunion. This led me to find one of my favorite former teachers. We are now friends on Facebook! Number 32 on my list states, “Take a sunset horseback ride.”  Last week I received an email offer to take a sunset horseback ride in nearby wine country!  Needless to say, I bought the offer and  during the coming months I will be able to check that off my list too. In the meantime, here’s my progress, so far:

I spent my birthday at the beach.  We went to Paradise Cove in Malibu. This stretch of Southern California coastline is a local landmark that I have never visited before. So, I just completed the first month of  Number 21 on my list. Paradise Cove was perfect location for relaxing on my birthday,  and I can now understand why it is a Southern California favorite. There was a small pier,   lounge chairs and cabanas, it had a nice restaurant. I don’t know why it’s taken me 47 48 years to visit.

The restaurant makes a great place for meal or people watching.

Diego on a stretch of Paradise Cove.

I have also been replacing my coffee with green tea, number 28 on my list.  I really only drink coffee in the morning, when I need it most. I miss the taste of coffee in the morning and I guess my body is missing the caffeine kick too, since I seem to take longer to get going now that I am drinking green tea instead of coffee.

I noticed that I was a little slower on the uptake the other morning, as I was practicing speaking Spanish, number 50,  on my list. Juan, is fluent spanish speaker. He is helping me out by speaking more and more Spanish around the house. I am not a fluent Spanish speaker, but I notice a dramatic improvement after a margarita . Anyway, I felt like the extra practice was helping until Juan tried speaking Spanish to me in the morning, after I had cut out the coffee. No caffeine or margarita at 6:30 a.m., and I couldn’t understand a word he said, nor could I form a cohesive sentence. Note to self: Do not attempt to speak spanish without having caffeine or margaritas.

The last thing I did to make some progress on my list was to buy a new food and use it in a new recipe, numbers 19 and 37 on my list.  I went to a farmer’s market and bought Black Kale.   Then,  I went home and made Tilapia and Escarole, a recipe I found here. The recipe called for esarole but I substituted kale. When Erica and Juan saw I was cooking with kale they were not sure they’d like it. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would like it either. But the recipe was healthy, easy and  it got great reviews, so I thought I would try it. It turned out great.

The Farmer's Market vendor told me that this was Black Kale even though it looks green to me.

It may not look good but it tasted good.

So, that’s my update on my 50 Before 50 list.  I’ll be posting more here as soon as I have checked more off my list.

Blogging from the Big Apple

I have been on vacation in New York. That is, if you call flying across the country with three kids, and two septuagenarians to attend a college graduation and family wedding, a vacation.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I love to travel, but vacationing with a large family, to attend assorted family events makes it more family than vacation.

In the interest of economizing I booked our flight on a red-eye from LA to JFK.  I tried to prepare us all for red-eye flight by packing neck pillows and blankets.

Waiting to board the red-eye to NYC

We were scheduled to arrive in the city that never sleeps at the sleepy hour of 5:30 a.m. I thought  this was a good idea since it could  save us a few hundred dollars by not having to pay for the extra night in a hotel.  I figured that if we could check into our hotel early we could  rest and freshen up later.   I am also the kind of person who can sleep anywhere, including an airplane, and who needs sleep anyway?  Well, maybe my 70+ year-old parents and my kids could have used some.

Asleep at breakfast.

So much for my planning.  But,  eventually we did manage to get into our room shortly before noon, and everyone promptly went down for a long nap. Finally, about mid afternoon,  we headed out to explore the city. We stopped at Rockefeller Center.

In front of 30 Rock

And Diego and Nico stopped at the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center.

We strolled down 5th Avenue where my parents visited the Waldorf Astoria…

My parents, being the good Catholics that they are, wanted to visit the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Juan, being the Apple Fanboy that he is, wanted to visit his cathedral…

We ended up at Central Park for a carriage ride.

The family in a carriage at Central Park

Diego in Central Park

Then took the subway to Times Square, where we took more pictures  and saw ourselves on the Jumbo-tron.

There was much more on our list that we wanted to do, but time,  money, and energy prevented it. So, we ended our first day in the city with a meal at Juniors and their famous cheesecake.

On Day Two in NYC we had planned on heading out to Ground Zero, and having an early lunch in Little Italy and then take the 1:00pm tour of the Statute of Liberty. I had the foresight to book the Statue of Liberty tour online months ago, but wasn’t able to book the tour to the inside of the torch since it was sold out until August!  What I didn’t’ have the foresight to do was account for the inevitable delay that occurs when you are traveling with such a large and diverse age group like mine. Let’s just say that traveling with my family is  a lot like herding cats. I also did not plan on it taking nearly an hour to get from the upper East side to financial district in our rental van. By the time we arrived at our $45 (!) parking lot we had to sprint to make it to the ferry that would take us to Liberty Island.  We finally managed to board the ferry, and had a great memorable  time touring this landmark in the rain, wearing our trash bags rain gear.

The kids made all kinds of inappropriate jokes as their brother posed under Lady Liberty's nostril.

It was a foggy, rainy day at Liberty Island.

Running low on energy and time, we had to skip the Ellis Island tour and headed back to Ground Zero where we took in the very moving exhibit at the World Center Tribute Center.  By the end of the tour we were all feeling pretty drained so we thought some authentic NY style pizza was in order. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything that looked like an authentic NY pizzeria so we ended up at a little hole in the wall that had only two bar stools and a standing eating counter. After two days of walking the NY sidewalks, our feet were tired, and even though next door there was a Papa Johns Pizza  with plenty of seating, we were unwilling to compromise comfort for “authentic” NY pizza by the slice. This “experience” finished us off and we limped back to our van so we could make the 2 hour drive north to the Hudson River Valley to attend the graduation of my cousin from West Point the next morning.

The graduation ceremony was very inspiring, and was a nice educational tie-in to the previous days sites we had visited.  At the conclusion of the ceremony the graduating cadets throw their hats in the air and the kids attending are allowed to enter the field  retrieve one. Erica, Nico and Diego each got a hat. Inside the hat, the cadet had written their name and included a message of inspiration and/or money. Erica and Diego both got nice notes in their hat and Erica got $50!  I promptly told her she could use the money to buy her own NY souvenirs, since NYC has to be the most expensive place for a family vacation!

The rest of the weekend was spent with family, attending the ceremonial pinning of lieutenant bars on my cousin overlooking the Hudson River at Trophy Point, and a celebratory brunch at the historic Thayer Hotel.

Sunny skies at West Point’s Trophy Point.

My cousin gets her Lieutenant bars overlooking the Hudson River.

On one of our last days we were supposed to attend my cousin’s wedding at 2:00pm at the West Point Catholic Chapel.  However, someone forgot to inform the bride and groom that NY state law requires the marrying couple wait 24 hours after getting the marriage license before getting married. Since my cousin got her marriage license on her wedding morning, the priest refused to marry her. Oops! With some last-minute scrambling and frantic phone calling, an unofficial wedding was rescheduled for the guests at 2:45 at a protestant chapel.  The official Catholic wedding would take place the following day,  after the requisite waiting period, and after we left for our trip home.

Once the happy couple’s ceremony was concluded, we proceeded to the official reception with an official open bar.  My kids cleaned up real nice and everyone had a great time.

The other wedding guests seated at our table remarked how well-behaved our kids were, and asked how we did it?  I revealed our secret. I told them that we pinch them under the table any time they start to misbehave. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised that after over four days of traveling and sight-seeing my kids were still getting along pretty well and they remembered their table manners. And I was even more surprised,  shocked actually, at how grown up they suddenly seemed…hanging out at the bar ordering Rob Roys and Shirley Temples and dancing all night.

Whose son is this?

Diego worked it all night long!

All in all it turned out to be a good trip. But, after all the coordinating of travel plans, schedule snafus and family obligations, I am ready for a REAL vacation. One that involves me, and a beach,  and a drink that isn’t named after a 1940’s child movie star.

Fun Friday: Santa Barbara Overnight

Today is Juan’s birthday and we are in Santa Barbara for an adults only overnight.It’s one of those times where the planets aligned and all the kids are either with the other parents or with Grandma. The gods were especially smiling since I managed to secure a discounted price at a beachside hotel and a nice restaurant.

We are enjoying each other and some of our favorite things.

Happy birthday to the one who keeps my heart awhirl!