Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A "Jumper" Good Time!

Two Saturdays ago, I got together with two of my dear friends from Boston who live in the area- Jacosa and Laurel. Jacosa is the one in the red with the gorgeous curls and Laurel is the adorable pregnant one- I just hope that I look that cute when I'm pregnant. Laurel and I both live in Mountain View, though strangely not in the same ward (I thought that only happened in Utah) and so Jacosa was a saint enough to drive all the way down from Sacramento to meet us in Fremont for lunch at . . . THE CLAIM JUMPER. I really love this restaurant for several reasons: 1 . They have THE BEST garlic cheese bread. I really think that next time I am going to order a platter of it as a meal , 2. The DESSERTS. They have these GIANT desserts that you have to share- even for one with a sweet tooth like me. The one that we got this time was the Heath Bar Ice Cream Pie with Caramel Sauce. It was SOO GOOD! , 3. I also like that they take online reservations so that I can ensure a table (even if there wasn't a wait when we came), and finally 4. they have ROOT BEER barrels as their "mints". But, even better was spending time with these wonderful ladies. We had a great time catching up on the happenings of each of us with Laurel naming the baby "Jacob Douglas Hatch" (you have to do it Laurel since I wrote about it in the blog) and Jacosa , the amazing woman that she is, managing to juggle 3 jobs , school, AND a singing career. Dude, she has THE MOST AMAZING jazz voice- you should definitely listen to some of her stuff on her myspace page.
We DEFINITELY need to do this again- and next time it will be up in Sacramento so that Jacosa can show me around her turf! And maybe I can also here her sing!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dissertation Update

All right- I thought that I would spend a little bit of blog space talking about the main project occupying my life now- MY DISSERTATION. I work on it 5 days a week, usually for an average of 8 hours a day so it literally is a full time job. But, you would think that I didn't have this "job" due to the lack of posts about it, since most of the posts are about the various activities and travels in my life. I learned the hard way in college that I actually function more efficiently when I have other activities besides just SCHOOL.

I was out of control at BYU. I have honestly NEVER studied so much in my life- it was pathetic. I was on-campus all day, from 8 am to 10 pm and studying in-between my classes. I greatly limited my social time because I felt that my focus needed to be on my studies. I actually regret this a lot because I had such AMAZING friends who supported me and that I would hang-out with in my limited free time. It was so pathetic because they would come and find me on the 2nd floor of the HBLL (Harold B. Lee Library) in my study area because I had my own locker there so that I wouldn't have to break my back lugging my books everywhere. My GPA from BYU was good (good enough to get me into grad school which was all that I cared about), but not the best. Why? I think it is because I literally drove myself crazy by studying TOO much and reading into the multiple choice questions. I rocked the essays and things that I had to "show my work", but I did horrible at multiple choice tests because I would always be thinking of the exception and would misconstrue what the professor was looking for.

I decided that I needed to have some BALANCE in my life- that I need to devote equal time to work/school, social, spiritual, and cultural adventure time. I work really hard and then I play really hard as well. And, I find that all other areas- particularly school/work- are more successful AND I am much happier all around. This is a very long, roundabout way of explaining why the focus of my posts has been more on my cultural and social happenings. Its definitely a lot more exciting to post photos of these events, rather than of some of the newspaper and medical journal articles I am coding :-)

People always ask me how my dissertation is "going" and my reply is that its "coming" along. The next question is when am I going to be done with it. According to my latest evaluation with my adviser, I will have a rough draft done by January (I left the date fairly vague to have some flexibility). I'm no math major, but I do know that leaves me with about 9 months to finish it. To some, this may seem like a lot of time, but when you have to assemble something that is book length and of good enough quality to impress a committee of top scholars in your field, its not that much. BUT, I am happy to report that I feel this goal is possible. I will have to continue to work VERY HARD, but it seems likely.

I have just finished coding nearly 600 newspaper articles from the New York Times for all of their archives for my three topics: hormone replacement therapy, silicone breast implants, and antidepressant suicidality risk in youths. I wish that I am completely done with the newspaper coding, but I still have 4 other papers to go. The nice thing is that I can now do a purposive sample with all the articles for a 3 year period and then just random sample the rest. Thus, I will still have a fair amount of articles but less than before. I've written a fair amount on the background of each topic and I need to start formulating it into chapter form.

I am just so grateful for WILLIAM that he has a great job so that I can just have this dissertation "job" and not have to have another one!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Traditions

In the previous post, I mentioned one of my favorite Easter traditions from growing up, but here are some more of them and a few other random memories that .
  • Every year, the Easter Bunny would hide our Easter baskets full of delicious treats like chocolate bunnies, peeps, and sometimes little knick-nacks like a doll, bubbles, or a sticker book. We had to go run around and find our basket and we weren't allowed to touch another persons. We couldn't move our basket until everyone was awake and mom had the video camera on. Last year, I made William a special Easter basket when we were engaged full of all of his favorite treats. Unfortunately, that we didn't do the Easter basket thing this year- mostly because we don't have a real basket. But we will probably continue this tradition in years to come
  • Most years, we would get an Easter dress that we could only wear for the first time on Easter. I am still amazed to this day that my mom was able to find MATCHING dresses for all 3 of us (even with a 5 year age gap) up until I was about 12. Then, individuality overruled, Lets compare these 2 different Kiddie Kandids photo of us in our Easter dresses taken every year. Here we are with all matching dresses and curled hair
    Here's us a few years older, when I was 12- notice that we have similar "themed" dresses going on- all white in nature, but each is different- Sarah has one with blue stripes on it. Individuality takes over. And has every year since then. I had a partial new outfit that I wore today- a new skirt and some black high heels that I just LOVE. The color scheme for the outfit is somewhat non-traditional, breaking away from the pastels to black and gray. I figured that I was still maintaining the tradition since I was wearing something new
  • We always had ham for Easter at my grandmother's house along with her funeral potatoes and her homemade cinnamon/raisin/nut rolls. I'm happy to thank Dyan for continuing that tradition by making the ham and I'm glad that my cinnamon rolls turned out.
  • Oh- and I only dyed eggs a few times when I was younger, but I really hate eggs (plain- I can handle them mixed in stuff) and so after my parents had to throw away tons of hard boiled eggs, they stuck to the plastic ones with candy that I enjoy MUCH more.
  • And, since I love egg hunts so much, I'm going to share a few of my favorite memories. One of them was when I was about 8 and it was sunny on Saturday and then it SNOWED overnight. So all of our Easter eggs were hidden under snow. My dad was so cute and saying "I think you should look over here, or in here- that seems like a good place for the Easter bunny to hide them". Years later, I actually helped my dad fill the plastic eggs- I never have been allowed to hide them for our egg hunts when I am at home. I loved filling eggs with him because I got to stay up later than my sisters and watch a movie or tv show with my dad. I have helped orchestrate 2 egg hunts during my time in Boston- the first was at my friend Janae's house where it was totally dark outside at night and we had to look in their overgrown, hilly yard. The other was last year when William and I filled the eggs and hid them in 2 rooms of my apartment where we all hid them. This was an "every person" for themselves competition and William and I both participated since I could do the room that he had done and he could do mine. The sad thing is that we never found a few of them . . . we still don't know where they ended up. I loved the eggs with the little flowers on them- unfortunately, I abandoned them in Boston due to space limitations so they are probably still in the basement if anyone wants them. Here's the basket of eggs that we hid, as well as some of the hiding locations in our front room. Such GREAT memories surround Easter!

The Easter Egg Hunt

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not only does it celebrate Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and the renewal of life, but we have some fun traditions associated with it. Every year since I can remember, my family has had an easter egg hunt. The "Easter Bunny" would come and scatter plastic eggs filled with candy all across our yard and we would excitedly race out there with our pink baskets that my mom had made and raced around the yard to find the eggs. We have this home movie where I was honestly trying to help little 2 year old Sarah to find some eggs, pointing them out to her and helping them get put into her basket. I really was trying to help but my parents thought it would be best if Sarah learned on her own to get the eggs so then I went into the self-interest cycle to get the most. I did, for awhile, have to leave the super obvious and accessible ones for her though, but eventually we all grew up and the competitive nature kicked in. Even as adults, we still every year have the egg hunt. My sister Sarah is the only one close to home right now and she had her own egg hunt with my parents last Saturday. I have done this as well with my friends wherever I have been.

And this year was no exception. We even had TWO egg hunts. We had a very small one for our Sunday School class where at the end of the lesson, we sent them outside while we hid some eggs around the room. William thought that some might have run off, but all of them stayed and very quickly found an egg (Hey, its a small room). It was fun to see them search around and then trade for the different types of candy that they wanted.

We were going to do an egg hunt all by ourselves (pretty pathetic) but FORTUNATELY, our friends Dyan and Lars saved us by inviting us and several other couples over for dinner. We got quite excited for this egg hunt and filled 133 plastic eggs with a wide assortment of treats- Starburst jelly beans, M&Ms, 3 different kinds of Reese's Peanut Butter candies, Reese's Pieces (can you tell that we like peanut butter and chocolate :-), Snickers, Twix, Sweettart candies. Yeah, all the good stuff.

We had a DELICIOUS dinner before the hunt to give us energy. Dyan and Lars made a ham with this fabulous glaze (and I'm glad that I remembered something from watching my extended family carve up the ham:-), asparagus, strawberry/candied almonds spinach salad, AND homemade strawberry ice cream. Maren and Ryan brought a very flavorful quiche (you can tell it was delicious in that it was all gone), Rachel and Scott brought some fresh fruit, and William and I brought cinnamon rolls.

This is the first time that I have made cinnamon rolls before so I was quite nervous about how they would turn out. I researched online and in the cookbooks that I have for the best recipe and found two good options. One looked amazing but it was all from scratch and had to go through THREE rise cycles. This was NOT going to work when we get out of church at 1 and have dinner at 2:30. So, I went with the "semi-homemade" version where I got a quick rise rolls mix (with yeast) that said it could be either normal rolls or cinnamon rolls and then did this DELICIOUS filling and frosting from the Food Network's site. I am always nervous when I try a recipe for the first time, especially when I am making it for other people to eat, just because I hate to mess it up and embarrass myself for my ineptitude for cooking. I was quite worried because the box said that it only needed to rise for 30 mins and that the rolls would "double in size". I turned on our oven and placed the rolls on top so they would have a warm place but after the 30 minutes, they weren't doubled and worse, they weren't even close to one another. I was freaking out because cinnamon rolls are supposed to touch each other- that's what makes them taste so good. BUT, to my utter relief, they perfectly raised while baking. And here is the final product.
They were SO GOOD! Even better than I had expected. I feel kind of bad because after we left, William was laughing at me for "tooting my own horn" so much and for raving out loud just how good they were. I didn't mean to do that- I was just SO EXCITED that they turned out! And we even had one and a half left to take home (which we have already eaten). I highly recommend these rolls, especially for being in a hurry.

Dyan is so cute- she is such a little Rachael Ray/Martha Stewart in that she created all of these different dishes, dressed the table so nicely, and even had little gift boxes for us to take home.
Here are Ryan, Maren, and Leah all enjoying the food.
Leah is going to be America's Next Top Model. At 1 years old, she already LOVES the camera and has her poses down already. There's her "Maverick" face.

And this is my favorite little guy, Tyler. I totally think that with this shot, he could be on the cover of GQ Baby.
And I just realized that I didn't get a photo of our other adorable baby Nora :-( She's just as cute, she was taking a nap for the photo shoot though.

Then, it was the time everyone had waited for- the EGG HUNT. William and I went outside and hid them in this triangle patch of grass, trees, shrubbery in front of the apartment complexes. There were a limited number of "difficult" spots so then we had to place them in very obvious, visible places. Since William and I hid them, we thought it was fun to follow the others and see if they found the difficult ones or not.

Here's Maren off to a racing start with our ever-so glamorous "baskets"
And Rachel with the William high reach.
A few of my favorite moments of the egg hunt: Rachel was so into the egg hunt and for her Scott winning that she let Tyler nearly crawl into the parking lot (Don't worry- I always look out for my little guy), Lars shaking one of the bushes of the giant shrub and announcing "No more eggs here" when one was actually right in front of him, and, my personal favorite- the last egg- literally just lying here in the middle of the field. I guess everyone was looking for the ones in other difficult places.

Tyler was such a great helper putting the eggs into the basket
And Leah was just so happy with an empty egg- no candy inside necessary for her
And somehow, in true spirit of Easter, a miracle similar to the loaves and the fishes happened . . . we ended up with more eggs than we started with! 135 . . . maybe the in-our-head addition was off, but I thought that it was in the true spirit of the holiday.

The moment everyone has been waiting for- the winners of the challenge among the couples- LARS AND DYAN! And how could such a cute couple not have one (I think that they also had the advantage of Nora being asleep :-)

Thanks for being such great friends and for helping us maintain my favorite Easter tradition!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Ward Variety Show: VARIETY is the Key Word

So, I thought that the Single's Ward had some variety in their ward talent shows (such as re-enacting the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland), but our family ward takes the cake for having such a wide variety of acts.

We had a couple who played the nose flutes, even harmonizing to "I've Got You Babe" (I was pretty impressed by that, and even more so that the husband convinced the wife to do it- there's real love right there!).

The missionaries from our ward had a short skit about humor from the scriptures, such as "What do Alma The Younger and John The Baptist have in common? The same middle name", and the scripture about "flying rolls", and a few others I can't remember. I actually need to get their set list from them because I was telling my mom about it and she thought it would be fun to do in her ward for sharing time.

A man brought out this Chinese metal pot from the Ming dynasty that when filled with water, you can make sounds by vigorously rubbing the handles which also causes the water to boil. It actually was pretty neat- the kids especially crowded around it forever making it harder for the adults to see- but I never would have expected to see that.

We had 2 different rock bands, and one of the kids from our Sunday School class was in both of them. One was made up of his junior high friends, the other was with some of the dads from the ward. The junior high band completely captured my heart by playing a great rendition of "Back in Black". This was our high school theme song- they played it at every football game, basketball game, pep rally, assembly- ahh the memories. I told my student about that and he said that he wants to go to our high school :-) Too bad his parents live here in Los Altos. The thing that I was most impressed with was that they even had a FOG machine! This is a serious ward variety show to have gotten a fog machine.

There were two videos made by the Young Men and Young Women. The Young Women lip-synced to "Bye, Bye, Bye" and did an excellent job at another classic of ours from high school. The guys had a "Lord of the Rings" spoof with their CTR ring, along with a super long fight scene. And a Dodge Ball spoof as well.

There was even a "high brow" hoedown where individuals had on these fake eyebrows to be "high brow" and then did the limbo- we were impressed by how many people volunteered to do this on the spot not knowing what they were going to go.

And then there were the more traditional acts that I have generally seen at a variety show. Several piano solos, a ballet pointe solo, and few small dance numbers, and some singing. These two little girls did an amazing job singing "Loathing" from Wicked. They both were like 10 and under and just seemed fearless up there.

With so much variety and talent, how could William and I compete with that? And talent as well? Instead, we did my favorite talent which is to appreciate art :-)

Don't Hate Me . . . .

But I wasn't a fan of Twilight by Stephanie Meyers. I know that this will definitely upset many of my dear friends- who will forever be my dear friends- but I just had to say that I didn't like this book. I'm actually quite disappointed- I really WANTED to like the book. The premise of vampires has a great intrigue to it, but it didn't hook me. I read the whole book and then the first few chapters of New Moon and that showed me that I probably still wouldn't like the other books. What I didn't like about them is actually the love story. I am a SAPPY, HOPELESS romantic, yet, their story just didn't relate to me as actual love. It reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, a story that I never liked because I felt that the characters did not exhibit my definition of what LOVE is. So, that's why I didn't relate to this story. I felt that Bella didn't really understand what love is- she kept asking Edward to make her into a vampire so that she could be with him forever (and that was annoying me how often she asked about it) yet she failed to look at the whole picture and acknowledge what he wanted for her. I think that this is probably because she is 17 and is her first time being in love, but I feel that even Edward didn't really love her since he was going to commit suicide if she died. To me, and I know that there are MANY different types of love and definitions of love, real romantic love is a selfless desire to make the other person happy. I felt that Bella was being selfish in that she was trying to get what she wanted, rather than really thinking what would make him happy. And, while life would have been difficult if Bella had died, Edward should have gone on living because that is what she would have wanted him to do- to continue to be happy. I feel the same is true with Romeo and Juliet- if they just would have gone on living, they both would have been alive in the end. So, there is my "in-depth" analysis of why I didn't care for the book. That, and I feel that the romantic dialog was SUPER cheesy- just too over the top for me. I felt that I related better to the characters in the Harry Potter series, but that's just my opinion :-)

Please don't hate me for this- I can understand why so many people like this series, but I just didn't relate to it. Just difference of opinion. And I do appreciate the recommendations (I received SO MANY about this book) and keep 'em coming!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy Evacuation Day!!

Besides St. Patrick's Day, there is another holiday that is celebrated today. Evacuation Day. I had no idea about this holiday until I moved to Boston where it is a HUGE deal. The government offices in the city shut down for the day in honor of this event. But what is "Evacuation Day"? It marks the day that the British left Boston to head down to New York, thereby "evacuating" the city. The fact that the holiday "conveniently" falls on St. Patrick's Day I don't think it is due to chance. There is such a large Irish contingency in Boston and the city of a whole just makes a HUGE deal of it with a big parade and lots of pubs that I think that the city was happy to have a historical reason to justify having the day off. So Happy Evacuation Day! And St. Patrick's Day!!!

Our New Favorite Website

So, besides the obvious, we have a new favorite website that we wanted to share with everyone. It's called HULU and it is AWESOME. You can watch many episodes of several of your favorite TV shows FOR FREE and with VERY MINIMAL commercials. And, even better, they have full length MOVIES that you can watch FOR FREE as well!! They aren't new releases, but hey, they are FREE and without commercials. We've watched Titan AE and Three Amigos, but they have many more to choose from. We love this site since we don't have cable, nor even basic channels, and we can watch the shows whenever we want, commercial free. William thinks that it is neat that we are the "early adopters" of this technology and we want to share it with all of our wonderful friends as well to enjoy.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Little More Action: Vegas Day 2

We actually did several things today that I had never done in Vegas. We stood in line at the half-price ticket booth to get half-price passes to the Star Trek Experience. We are glad that we did because it was worth the $20, but not the $40. We also rode on the Monorail because the Star Trek Experience is clear out on the far end of the Strip at the Hilton hotel so we decided to save time and take the monorail. The commentary on the monorail was super cheesy, but they did mention a few interesting facts. Like 80% of people gamble when they come to Vegas. I guess we are part of the 20% that don't. Yeah, we didn't spend a cent on gambling while we are there. I know that it sounds somewhat absurd but I mainly come to Vegas for the art exhibits and shows like Cirque du Soleil and other artists like Celine Dion.

I was happy that William had shown me the iconic Star Trek movie- "The Wrath of Khan"- because I have always been more of a Next Generation fan so at least I was more familiar with the old school kind. But, neither of us are really Trekkies- one of William's professors at Carnegie Mellon had done some of the virtual reality aspects for their shows and that William needed to check them out. So that was our main rationale in going.

They had these HUGE timeline that spanned all of the series- from the original Star Trek, Next Generation, and Deep Space 9 and it was crazy just how much detailed information they had. We just glanced at it and walked on to see the shows. Their decor was pretty neat- a replica ship and the giant insignia.
I was actually completely IMPRESSED by the shows. There were two of them- Klingon Encounter and The Borg Invasion. Each of the shows had live action to it. With the Borg Invasion, we walked through a replica ship and saw some of the crew be attacked as well as the floor moving. Then, we saw one of the best 3D movies I have ever seen. The images were so clear- it was so impressive. And of course they added some 4D elements like moving seats, blasts of air, etc. The Klingon Encounter was also so amazing- they had a complete replica of the bridge and then they had little mini ships that we entered. If anyone has been on Star Tours at Disneyland, this is a suped up version. They said not to set anything on the empty seats next to us and we later found out why because it would have gone FLYING across the room. I was thrown back and forth in my seat like a rollercoaster (but not painfully like yesterday). The coolest part was that they had screens on the ceiling as well as in the front so you truly felt like you were in one of the battles. It was quite fun. We were on the back row and I think that is the best for the ride because you can see everything on all of the screens.

We actually found the gift shop to be kind of disturbing because there was just WAY too much Star Wars paraphernalia and it was all super expensive, but I'm sure it would be HEA-VEN to a true Trekkie. We're just not one of them.

We then headed out to the Stratosphere where we at at their revolving restaurant. Neither of us have ever eaten in a revolving restaurant and it was such a GREAT time. We actually almost made it around the entire loop before we left. I loved that they had dessert carts strategically stationed as you went around.

Here's William enjoying the view.
The Strip was the most interesting part to look at because of just the sheer volume of things.
Here's the view from one of the other directions.
The food itself was really good. I got french toast with fresh fruit, chocolate, whipped cream, and syrup. But William got the BEST BURGER that I have ever had. It was huge and so he was kind enough to share some with me. Now I understand why it was $20 because it was so good and worth every penny.

After eating, we got to walk around the observation decks where we learned some interesting information about the Las Vegas area. Did you know that the Mormons were the first people to settle Las Vegas?? We had no idea about that but we kind of wonder what happened for it to now have the name "Sin City".

We also spent a lot of time watching people ride the rides on the top of the Stratosphere. Years ago, I rode on the Big Shot, this needle that shoots you 20 stories up into the air on the already oober tall Stratosphere. It was the scariest experience of my life. You are so high up and then to just be shot up in the air is terrifying- and I was lifted off of my seat and my shoulders hit the safety restraint.
Since I did it that once, I will never do it again. I said that William could go on the rides if he wanted to, but he was so sweet and said that he would just watch with me. And it was entertaining to see people's faces. They have gotten 2 new rides since I was last here- this one called "Insanity" that spins you around over the edge.
And then this little cart that repeatedly drops you over the side of the Stratosphere and bounces you up and down, dropping you a little farther each time. This was the best one to get people's reactions, especially from the inside observation deck. When the people drop down to the lowest point, you are right next to them inside and so you can see the looks of terror on their face. It makes for some good laughs.
Then, it was back on the Monorail to the Venetian where we went to the exhibit at the Guggenheim Hermitage called "Modern Masters" where I was able to see a Van Gogh, Picasso, Braque, Monet, Miro, and others. It was a good exhibit- again, not the best I've seen there, but good. The most disappointing part though was that their gift shop was closed! They have one of the best art gift shops I've been to so it was sad to not even be able to take a look. Hopefully, the new one they are building will be even better.

We liked the murals in the lobby of the Venetian
And the gondoliers at the Grand Canal Shoppes. We didn't go on a ride, just watched them.
And then we headed to the brand new Shops at Palazzo which some are still under construction. They have this beautiful waterfall in the middle of them.
And this is the Palazzo lobby- the sculpture in the middle is pretty fabulous.
Both William and I cannot believe how many shopping centers there are in such a small area- the Mandalay Bay shops, Bellagio Shops, Mile Shops, Forum Shops, Grand Canal Shops, Palazzo Shops, and Fashion Show Mall. With so many so close together, we are amazed that they are able to stay in business. And we walked through them all, except for the Fashion Show Mall.

We were only able to see 1 water show today because of the "wind". We were going to spend the remainder of our time there at the shows, but since they closed, we decided to just go to the airport early because we had our fill of Vegas. There's only so much of the city that I can handle. I usually max out at like 2 and 1/2 days. It was a good thing that we got to the airport early because our later flight was delayed and so we were able to go standby for FREE on the flight before us so that we got back to Oakland before midnight. Otherwise, it could have been a REALLY long night.

All in all, it was a GREAT trip and I am amazed by how much we were able to fit in. It will be awhile before we are in Vegas again- I need to wait until they get some different exhibits there . . .

Viva Las Vegas! Day 1

When I found out that William had NEVER been to Las Vegas, I knew that was the PERFECT place to take him to celebrate his 30th birthday. We made it a short 2 full day trip so that we would only have to pay for 1 night hotel and William wouldn't have to miss work. We got up SUPER early- 4:45 am so that we could make it to the airport for our 7 am flight. We knew it was going to be a great trip when we had this beautiful sunrise for our send off from the Oakland airport.
I have to say that I'm still not really a fan of the Southwest airlines way of "loading" passengers. True, it has gotten better now that the have the letter and corresponding number system to wait in line, but it is just difficult to find seats together for two people. But, we lucked out and got two together on the very last row of the plane. Good thing it is only a one and a half hour flight or it could have been more painful.

Kind of like our suitcase. The poor little wheeler- yeah, the other handle is broken and so we just use the one. We felt bad because we gave our suitcase to the porter at our hotel and when we went to pick it up, he thought that he had broken it. We laughed and said that we did it ourselves. I think it looks so funny, yet it is the only little wheeler suitcase we have and it still basically works so I think we will struggle with it for a little longer :-)
We stayed at the Paris hotel because it was one of the nice, but relatively cheaper hotels on the strip. This was my first time staying there and I thought that we got a great deal for the price and location in the center of the strip next to the Bellagio. And, we got to the hotel at about 10 am in the morning and we could already check into our room! We actually totally loved our stay and would recommend it to others.
They have an awesome swimming pool right under the Effiel Tower- too bad it was only 60 degrees and windy and a not super warm water.

We like the fact that the decor inside the casino here gives an atmosphere of being lighter rather than dark and dank like some of the others. Since we stayed at the hotel, we got a 2 for 1 pass to go up the Eiffel Tower. We took advantage of it since there was no way that we were going to pay that much again.
I loved the walkway lined with light posts that they had to the elevators to take us up to the top.

Having been to the top of the actual Eiffel Tower in Paris several times, this is definitely not as impressive- but it was fun to get a different view of the strip.
Here's what the actual Paris hotel part looks like

Here I am with my favorite hotel- the Bellagio. Its still a dream of mine to stay there and have a lake-room view so that we could watch the water shows all night from the comfort of our room. However, the price is twice that of the Paris so that dream will definitely have to wait a little longer . . . . .
Yeah, this is the only photo of us together in Vegas- yeah, good thing we didn't pay any money for this shot
Next it was off to the Mile shops next door- they used to be called the Aladdin Desert Palace shops but that's dead now. They still do have the Agrabah, desert feel to them in the interior.

And no trip to this mall would be complete without a stop at the GELATO store. This is the BEST gelato I've ever had. My family LOVES it so much, especially my dad, that they come at least once, usually twice, so I had to introduce William to them as well. The cookies and cream kind is my favorite
They added these AWESOME crystal sculptures to certain areas of the mall
Little mini disco balls all to make one giant disco ball

The translucent snake

Interestingly enough, besides the gelato, we didn't buy anything at the shops. Oh- each hotel/shopping area has some kind of gimmick to get you to come there. For example, the Paris hotel has the Eiffel Tower, the Bellagio has the fountains, etc. The one at the Mile Shops was this "Indoor Rain Storm" and let me tell you it was LAME. Don't waste you time. Basically, they turn on the sprinklers and water falls into a pond at varying speeds. It is more impressive at Rainforest Cafe.

One of our favorite parts of the strip was M&M World store. It is SUPER fun!! They have all of these different characters around as well as any kind of M&M merchandise you can think of. And TONS of different colored M&Ms. Our favorite that we purchased is the CHERRY flavored- they were yummy.

I have to admit that I like this store better than the one in Times Square NYC, because they have this cool 3D movie that you can see FOR FREE! Its called- "I lost my M in Vegas" and is super cute. The only problem is that the glasses were kind of borked, but since it was free, beggars can't be choosers and they were good enough to see at least.
They even had the M&Ms dressed up for Easter- I love the cute cotton tail on the red one.
William and I definitely had a fun time here
The next stop on the strip was the MGM Grand where we saw their gimmick of real lions. Aw- so cute.
I think we woke her up with our flash
Next, it was off to walk through GHETTO-alibur, I mean EX-CALIBUR. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of this hotel- it was cool when it first opened but they haven't changed anything since then so its pretty ghetto in comparison with everything else. But William makes it look all the more appealing
The, a walk through the Luxor. This used to be my favorite hotel when I first came to Vegas but then they RUINED it by putting all of this crazy stuff inside the middle so you can't appreciate the true beauty of the pyramid. But, William did a pretty good job here. We tried to go up the elevator to get a better view from that aspect but they have the key cards for the elevators to avoid that.
Next, we hit Mandalay Bay where we ate at their Buffet. I am a select fan of Buffets. There are some that are super good (Bellagio, Mirage, MGM Grand, Rio) but there are others that are NASTY and gross. And price really does come into play here. If the price is too cheap, then its bad food. Like at the Sahara- they had their buffet advertised for $10 and to me that means that it isn't good quality food to have it that cheap. You leave feeling worse and sicker than when you went in. William just had to trust me on this one because I know from bad experiences at Circus Circus, Excalibur, and a few other places. I hadn't heard anything about the Mandalay Bay one but William was starving and it wasn't too cheap so I thought we should try it. AND IT WAS GREAT! They had a ton of seafood, but enough other stuff for William since he doesn't like it. But the best part was our table. Check our the view! It is SUPER beautiful with the wooden shutters looking out onto the pool area. So perfect- it seemed like you were in a tropical island rather than Las Vegas.

Next, it was off to New York, New York so that we could ride the roller coaster. I have ridden it several times and this will be the last time that I do. We sat in the very last row and it was so jarring that I felt like I was just bouncing and being thrown side to side. Even William thought it was pretty bad. So never again for me on that ride.
Then, it was off to the Bellagio where we caught one of the 4 watershows that we saw during our trip. The watershows are my FAVORITE part about Las Vegas. I seriously could just watch them all night and be happy. Unfortunately, my sisters aren't fans of watching multiple ones in a row but this is yet another sign of just how PERFECT William is for me because he LOVED them too!!! We have multiple videos of them, but I will save them for our own viewing pleasure (or place them in their own post probably). But, here is a still shot with our hotel, yet again, in the background.

In between the day time ones (a half-hour), we went to the Conservatory where they were celebrating Chinese New Year with all of their flower decorations.

That's probably the biggest rat I've ever seen- I'm just happy that it won't come running after me

We did think that this crystal obelisk seemed somewhat out of place with the rest of the Conservatory items, but it is fairly beautiful.

Next, we hit the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art where they have their exhibit on American Modernism. It was an ok exhibit- definitely not one of the best that I have seen there- but they did have several Georgia O'Keefe's that I loved and a few others that I also liked. The saddest thing was that their gift shop has totally gone down hill. I normally spend quite a lot of time in there, looking at all of their cool books, prints, etc. but it was surprisingly lacking. So, we instead went and took a few photos of the Bellagio pool area. Doesn't it just look so magical? I definitely need to stay here when it is warmer so that I can go swimming.
I think that Vegas looks a lot more magical at night with all of the lights. Aw- look how romantic the Paris Eiffel Tower is (Are you sick of it yet- its like in Chevy Chase's European Vacation- "Hey Kids, Big Ben! Parliament!)
We went back to our room to change for our 2 Cirque du Soleil shows and I found out that I had gotten the time wrong for our first show, Mystere. I thought it was at 7:30 and it was actually at 7!!! Fortunately, we had enough time but we were literally running down the strip to Treasure Island. You don't realize just how big the strip is until you are in a hurry. The buildings are so big that they seem so close together, yet, they aren't. I was panicking because we still had to pick up our tickets from the box office. BUT, we made it, and with 10 minutes until curtain.

I have been planning this trip for several months now and so I got us FRONT ROW CENTER seats for the show since William and I love it so much. We were sitting there, watching the clowns "help" people to their seats, actually creating more chaos and misleading. He lead this one couple all the way across the theater, back over the stage and then through the first row of people only to kick us out of our seats!!! The clown had us get up and made us walk to the back of the theater with the spot light on us. And then he gave the people in our seats a free tub of popcorn! Don't worry- we got our seats back before the show started (the whole time this was happening the clown told us to just play along and not to worry). Now, this could have been a frightening experience for me, if you have read my earlier fear about clowns, but this one didn't have any face make-up on- his hair was just out of control- and he was an elderly gentleman who had a British accent. I don't know what it is about British accents but I find them strangely comforting. Anyways, it was fun to be part of a show in a non-extreme way.

The lady a few seats down from us wasn't so lucky. She was squirted with water and had to go up on stage and dress like a baby. William was at the aisle seat and so the whole show he was worried that they might ask him to do that, but fortunately, they only stared and talked to him. Another guy had to be locked up in a cage while another man went and had champagne with his wife. Everybody was good sports about it, but I could see how some people might have gotten upset by it.

I've seen this show before but it was a totally different experience being on the front row. I was able to see just how AMAZING the performers are- the strength in their muscles, the way that they swung direct over our heads. It was quite amazing with the pole climbers, strength guys, those that catapult each other, the swinging acrobats. But I really enjoyed the live music- so beautiful and it is performed live.

And what would Vegas be without a LOVE show. William loves to tell people that I took him to a LOVE show for his 30th birthday in Vegas. I then make him clarify to say that it is the BEATLES LOVE.

So in a city that has so many Cirque du Soleil shows, we couldn't just stop at one. I've seen Mystere (2), O, and Ka but I hadn't seen the new Beatle's LOVE and so we went to that. We sat further back which actually worked out fine for this show. It is at the Mirage and you can kind of make out the LOVE in the golden part
But, just in case you can't, this marquee shows it in greater detail.
We had a little time before the show so we checked out the "gimmick"s at the Mirage. I've stayed here several times so I'm fairly familiar with it so we got a photo of their indoor waterfall/jungle. Unfortunately, I loved going and seeing the white tigers from Sigfried and Roy and you used to be able to see them for free, but now you have to pay $15 and we decided to pass on that one.
But we were able to entertain ourselves in the lobby of the Beatles theater. They actually have some of the coolest decor I've ever seen. On the ceiling

And even the walls.

We actually waited in the LONGEST concession line EV-ER and we still don't know why. At least we had enough time to make it to our seats but we were glad we were early.

The show itself was good, but if you are expecting to see true Cirque du Soleil amazing, unbelievable acts, you should go to a different show. It was VERY different from Mystere that we had just seen. The only really "circusy" things that they did was skateboarding (and even not that extreme), spin the in air on ropes (again, fairly normal), and jump around on trampolines. So it was all very well choreographed to the music, yet, it just was very believable. The show had AMAZING artistic special effects with lights, staging, and music and the dancing was SO GOOD. And how can you beat the music- the whole show had kind of an acid trip like feel to it, in a glamorized way like the lobby. We enjoyed the show, but were slightly disappointed because it wasn't the traditional Cirque brand of entertainment.

And then we watched a few more watershows at the Bellagio to round out our day 1 in Las Vegas. Another reason why William is so perfect for me is that he loves to pack his traveling days full just like I do :-) Viva Las Vegas!