Things The Media Is Getting Wrong: the McKinney Pool Party & the Duggar Drama

Sometimes, the prevailing media message is just OFF from reality, and as a professional media creator myself, I know that unless challenged, it will only happen more often.

1. THE MCKINNEY POOL PARTY: I’ve worked with police departments enough to get an opinion on this one. I believe that sometimes during police response, use of force is unjustified and/or inappropriate. This was not one of those times, and it had nothing to do with race. I watched the entire original video. The kids who disobeyed what the cops told them to do were brought under control. Those who did not resist were not handled forcibly. Those who did resist had various and corresponding levels of force used upon them. He told that specific girl in the orange bikini 3 or 4 times to leave the area before responding to her repeated yelling by attempting – without force – to handcuff her so he could question her or make an arrest once the situation was under control (you can see the two boys sitting most of the video were detained and obeyed, and additional force was not needed or used to keep them there). She tried to twist out of his grip multiple times, and he used increasing levels of corresponding and completely warranted force to bring her under control.

While attempting to subdue a person struggling against him and attempting to escape, two large boys approached him from behind when he already had 7 or 8 people in front of him. Based on their actions and body language, it is obvious they were attempting to come to the girl’s “aid” by disrupting the officer’s actions. I do not doubt for a second that the officer felt surrounded and threatened as they were approaching and yelling, and I think unholstering his gun and turning his attention to those two aggressive boys was completely warranted. The fact that the children in question are black is the least applicable aspect of the incident. As my mother, a middle school school teacher of 45 years, aptly noted, “There’s a lot of stupid and ill-mannered in the world, and it comes in all colors.”

If my kids were acting the way those kids were acting in the presence of police officers giving reasonable orders (like, “Go stand across the street” or “get the hell out of here”), I’d HOPE those officers would treat my kids exactly the same way, because they would deserve it. This is how law enforcement works. Break the law, taunt or resist a police officer, and you will experience the predetermined and legal corresponding consequences. This police response is in no way, shape or form unjustified, and I can’t believe the department didn’t stand behind that officer, and I’m shocked that media outlets are not choosing to report the incident response in its correct context. At some point, making a profit has to yield to responsible reporting of facts.

2. THE DUGGAR DRAMA: My life has never been touched by sexual abuse, so I can’t speak from personal experience to what this family has gone through. I was, however, raised in a Christian church and consider myself a person of faith, and this is related to the part of the Duggar story I think the most prominent and popular media creators don’t understand – how his victims were able to move past their abuse and even flourish as whole, happy, emotionally-healthy young adults uninterested in prosecuting and endlessly persecuting their apparently-penitent abuser.

Yes, terrible things happen in life, some of which is fair in the sense that it is an intended or unintended consequence of someone’s action(s). Some of it is also unfair and unpredictable. We all have varying degrees of tragedy in our lives, and I believe it is possible to come out on the other side of it redeemed and whole. This is what the prevailing media narrative is not taking into consideration. Yes, Josh Duggar’s actions as a 14-year-old were reprehensible. Yes, the daughters and babysitter experienced something children should never have to. And yes, if they still suffered emotional damage, it would be completely understandable. But not everyone who experiences something unfair and awful and tragic doesn’t recover. Sometimes, through wise counsel, healthy emotional and grief processing, forgiveness, boundaries, prayer, and other coping mechanisms, “victims” transition back into just regular people who experienced something awful, yet go on to live happy, productive, relatively-drama-free lives.

I believe this is what happened to the Duggar daughters, at least those who have spoken out about it. But I haven’t seen a single media source that didn’t treat the situation as though these girls aren’t pretending to be okay or avoiding the reality of what happened to them or keeping with some sort of dishonest, greedy family coverup script. I understand why, though – those who have never experienced true forgiveness in the face of wrongdoing can’t understand how freeing and restorative and possible it is. They can only process that if something bad happens, it can never be made right.

There is so much better stuff in life to experience and explore when we can, in a healthy manner, move past the circumstances, transgressions and transgressors foist upon us. Because Jill and Jessa moved on with their lives after introspection, counseling and forgiveness doesn’t make them unintelligent, obtuse, misguided, brainwashed, or dishonest with themselves. It just means they’ve found a healthy way to move past it and get on with the business of life – AND THAT’S A GOOD THING.


Innocence in the Unlikeliest of Places

The TV show “The Middle” hasn’t been on my radar for long, but I’ve had it on in the background from time to time when working from home. Being recently pregnant and then miscarrying has also meant a lot of couch and bed time, and I’ve seen the last few new episodes in a row. Overall, the show doesn’t blow me away, but the last two episodes featured a fascinating marriage proposal for the 17-year old, overachieving, nerdy, sweet daughter, Sue. I very much identify with Sue in general, as I was an over-achieving, bookish teenager (right down to the long, brown, middle-parted hair), and I just loved the fact that this sweet, innocent relationship storyline is portrayed on mainstream TV in 2015.

Sue’s boyfriend sends her on a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt all over town, which ends at the tiny house he just bought. He gives her a tiny tour and then proposes to her. She is shell-shocked and says, “Sure.” She goes home, still stunned, and tells her parents at the family dinner table that she loves him but doesn’t want to get married, and was too afraid to tell him so. The whole episode is her trying to tell him this but being faced with potential in-laws, wedding dresses, and honeymoon plans – and all she can do is go with the flow, run away, or crawl into bed to sleep between her parents.

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I know to a lot of people, Sue’s might seem like a disingenuous, unreal reaction, but I know it’s really not. My first kiss was at age 12 or so at the local roller skating rink. The guy was a friend of a friend, very tall, and he liked me. The details are a little fuzzy, but I remember standing in our roller skates near the lockers when he kissed me – nothing crazy, just a quick peck. Afterward, I went to the bathroom and hid until my father picked me up, what felt like hours later. He sent one of my friends in to talk to me, saying he wouldn’t try to kiss me again – he just wanted me to come out and talk to him. I refused! I was afraid because it was new and scary and grown-up, I wasn’t ready for it, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. I let him keep calling, but I’m not sure I ever even saw him again. I didn’t know how to deal with the situation, so I acquiesced in person and then just didn’t. A few years later, an older guy, 19 I think, liked me, and I really liked him back. We spent hours on the phone, but the reality of dating was scary, and I wasn’t ready for it, so I met his repeated attempts to take me out on a date with excuses; I told him my parents wouldn’t let me go because he was so much older. He said he’d love to meet and talk to them in person or that we could go out with a group of people first – but I kept insisting they said no, even though I never mentioned a word about it to them. My diaries from those years talk about little else BUT boys, but when it came to the reality of dating and being physical with them, as many of my friends did, I just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I started dating my first real boyfriend, and that fun, innocent, functional relationship lasted a year until he went off to college.

I wasn’t unaware that other girls my age made different decisions. In fact, my zip code was featured at some point during those years on Oprah because we had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. I just operated with a different mindset, one that wasn’t brainwashed or scared or culturally bred into me – it was simply my truth, falling, I suppose, somewhere in between the Duggars and Kardashians (who, strangely, fascinate me equally). This is why I love that, in an age of shows like Teen Mom and even Modern Family, where kids lose their innocence at a very young age, and 19 Kids & Counting, where teenage girls are only trained to be submissive wives and mothers, The Middle successfully and honestly portrayed an intelligent teenage girl at an uncomfortable crossroad knowing herself well enough to make the conscious decision to put off growing up before she was ready. Several of my high school friends got married very young, and most of those ended up being great decisions. I made the right decisions for my teenage self by staying in the slow lane, although I wish I’d had Sue’s example back then to articulate for me why I hid in that bowling alley bathroom (because at the time, I just felt intimidated and scared). So kudos to ABC for explaining it so well for today’s young girls.

The Honeymoon: Venice

Our one full day in Venice was my 35th birthday, and it was AWESOME – my best birthday yet! Getting there, not so awesome. Although I adore Paris and just about everything in it, our experience at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport was horrendous. The check-in process was so slow that the workers behind the counter had to come out periodically and scream for people on a flight that had already been postponed and was still about to leave and then parade them past all those in line in front of them  – and that was BEFORE ridiculously-slow security. We barely made our flight and got into Venice’s Marco Polo airport around sunset.



We took a vaporetto water taxi from Marco Polo to our hotel, which took about 45 minutes – super-slow but pretty! I came in from the train station in college, so it was neat to enter town from the water and see the lanes they have roped off like dotted lines on a road. We followed a map and walked down several narrow, stone roads lined with shops and restaurants, and somehow Barry led us to our hotel. Our room was beautiful, yet like Paris, quirky: in a city of famed glassmakers, the chandelier was amazingly ornate, yet the shower door was…we’ll go with diminutive.



We stopped into a nearby restaurant and had yummy, simple homemade pastas, red wine, and a fresh strawberry dessert. Aside from seafood, most food has to be imported to Venice, so eating in this city was really interesting to contemplate. One issue we ran into immediately (at Vino Vino, a pasta restaurant on a narrow cobblestone street near our hotel) was lack of ice and fresh tap water. Every restaurant only offered bottled water, not refillable tap water in glasses, and no one had ice, so Barry couldn’t get a cocktail anywhere! The housemade lasagna and fusilli (and more red wine) made up for the extremely slow service.


I know pretty much every hotel window in Venice has the same view, but when we woke up on my birthday, I opened the shutters and was rewarded with this gondola passing by as if on cue:


We went first thing in the morning to Piazza San Marco, and we stopped into a little shop for a quick breakfast and one of my favorite culinary treats of the entire trip: a Nutella cappuccino. I had recently stopped drinking caffeine, but I made an exception for this thing of beauty.

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In the square, we went to the top of the Campanile tower to get an overview of the city. From one side, you can see the mouth of the Grand Canal opening up into the lagoon, the barrier island of Lido, and beyond that, the Adriatic Sea. From the other side, you look over the tiny islands and can see how they all fit together. I thought “the bells of St. Mark’s” rang from here, and there are huge bells, but I don’t think they ring, as they would deafen the people inside! We saw what I think are the real bells nearby, atop the Clock Tower. The clock is amazing –  it reads in “army time,” the hours correspond with the 12 astrological symbols, and it’s been there since the 1400’s. The red clay tile roofs stretched for miles, and it was so neat to see all the gondolas lined up along the water.

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Then we went into St. Mark’s Basilica. The striking thing about this cathedral is that the walls, ceiling, and columns (and floor, for that matter) are covered in tiny mosaic tiles. From far away and in darkness, you can’t tell, but they turned the ceiling lights on while we were there, and suddenly, it was like a different place, glowing gold. It illuminated intricate mosaic Bible scenes all over the domed ceilings and arched walls. I also loved the infinity symbols beneath our feet; we saw many old places on our trip, but knowing we were in a building that has been around since the 11th century took some of the pressure off of my here-and-now concerns.

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We got our first gelato of the day (pistachiooooooooooo) and set off on a wandering adventure through one of the most unique cities on Earth. We happened upon the Museo Della Musica di Venezia inside an ancient church, where we found dozens of violins, flutes, mandolins, and instruments I’ve never heard of before that were hundreds of years old, played by Vivaldi and his contemporaries. As lifelong musicians, we really appreciated seeing these instruments in front of our own eyes in a city where so much music history actually took place. There was a plaque on the building across from our hotel stating that it was where Mozart stayed and played during Carneval in 1771, and it talks about the “pure poetry of the musical genius and grace.”

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We stopped for a bite to eat when we found a pizza place serving slices on the most brilliant, triangle-shaped, walk-and-eat paper pizza holders ever invented. We ate on the steps of a canal and enjoyed the lapping water, greedy pigeons, open square and multitude of languages swirling around us. We also found the Rialto bridge, the oldest (and decidedly prettiest) in Venice. We attempted to gamble at Casino di Venezia, the oldest casino in Italy (Wagner died in a wing of the building!), but it cost 5 Euros, and they wouldn’t have let Barry in wearing shorts, anyway. We settled for spending those 5 Euros in what appeared to be the tiniest casino in Italy, which felt like a closet – not as fun, but I do love decoding slot machines in foreign languages and currencies.

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We explored the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which houses a huge collection of pre-19th-century Venetian art. That included a really fascinating exhibit of Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings on paper, which starred The Vitruvian Man! I recognized it instantly but didn’t know it was Da Vinci’s way of practicing drawing human bodies in correct proportion. Because paper was so expensive, he always used both sides, so most of the drawings were displayed in double-paned glass.


Our splurge for the day was a gondola ride, and I’m so glad we decided to do it. No matter how much of Venice you walk, it’s completely different from the water. We had heard stories about gondoliers taking advantage of tourists, but the first one we talked to quoted us exactly what we’d read it should cost. He didn’t speak much English, so we couldn’t communicate much, but he was fun to watch because he was very deft. The side canals are very narrow and fill up fast, so at certain spots, multiple gondolas line up end-to-end, just like rush hour on the highway – this guy kept us from hitting them, walls, steps, and bridges by what seemed like millimeters with just one oar. He answered his cell phone a couple of times (using a headset), which was an odd juxtaposition. We passed under bridges, and he had to duck. We toured some side canals with their low bridges and then came out onto the Grand Canal, where we floated down to and underneath the Rialto and back. At this speed, it’s easy to see the changes in building materials that show the passing of time, like rock layers as you move down into the Grand Canyon. We saw bricked-up, former arched doorways and windows, garage openings at water level for boats to dock, iron braces all over the walls at different heights to keep the buildings from crumbling as they shift, and several feet of algae and discoloration where the water covers the buildings during high tide. It was a really wonderful way to see the city, and I recommend springing for it if you take all the trouble to travel to Venice!


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Dinner that night at Birreria Falnciani was one of my favorites of the trip. We read that the restaurants in St Mark’s square are overpriced, but we found one with a patio just to the side of the church within view of the square that looked fine – Barraria Falciani. Part of the expense of eating in Venice (Italy in general, for that matter) is that they separate protein and pasta into two courses, but hey, we were only there for one night, so we just had fun. They gave us a basket of free pizza bread, which was carb-redundant but yummy. Again, they had no cocktails for Barry, but he had an excellent meat lasagna, and I had seafood spaghetti with mussels, zucchini and shrimp in a butter sauce. In the spirit of adventure in a lagoon city famous for its seafood, he got a whole lobster, and I got cuttlefish sauteed in its own ink, served with polenta squares. I’m a bit skittish when it comes to seafood, but I’m glad I ate as the Venetians do, because it was all really fresh – buttery, smooth and tasty. We split a huge piece of tirimisu with cinnamon and whipped creme and listened to the drifting sound of a Vivaldi concert in the building next door. Sitting in the shadow of a 1,000-year-old church on a cool, Fall evening with my new husband over an excellent, hand-crafted meal to the soundtrack of live Vivaldi was a very special experience.



As we wandered back home, we found an American-style bar, Caffe Brasilia, that had ICE, which meant COCKTAILS. I had a pink bellini with Prosecco (I didn’t realize the bellini was originally Venetian!) and Barry had Cuban rum, illegal in the U.S. The crowd inside danced to American classic rock on the jukebox, and we sat on the patio and enjoyed the fresh air. Although it was late and we needed to be up early to catch a train for Rome, I just didn’t want to go back to the hotel because the day would be over. I made Barry stand on the bridge outside our hotel and soak in the VENICE for about 20 minutes before I conceded and went inside. Aside from being with the rest of my family, it was the best way to spend a birthday I can think of, and I’m so grateful for it.

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The Honeymoon: Paris

I lived in Paris for a semester at SMU, and I adored it. I learned to turn the French words I knew into language, I gained an appreciation for French New Wave cinema, ate beguiling new foods, spent more time walking and exploring than I did in class, and I even went to the Cannes Film Festival. I also visited briefly on a quick trip with my sister after her high school graduation. So, Paris was an imperative for our honeymoon.

We took the Chunnel to Paris, took the RER and Metro to Pont d’Alma, and walked only a half-dozen blocks to our hotel, Melia Royale Alma. It was the smallest of our rooms, but it was lovely, with a shared patio overlooking my favorite city in the world. This room was a little quirky: you had to use your room key to operate both the safe and the lights, which meant if you wanted to get into the safe after dark, you were out of luck! The bathroom, while covered in marble, was so small you had to swing the glass open and climb into the shower sideways while taking care not to fall. It was cramped, but the location was central and made getting everywhere on our itinerary easy. I enjoyed the patio view for a few minutes and painted my nails. Then, we dressed up and set out immediately for the Eiffel Tower, which was within walking distance.








The line was super long, and because it snakes through the interior and a series of elevators, we kept missing the sparkling lights that go off for 5 minutes, every hour on the hour. It started at the turn of the millennium, just a few days before I arrived back in 2000. Being at the top of the Eiffel Tower while it’s sparkling is one of my favorite experiences of life so far – it’s why this blog is called “Inside the Sparkling.” We ended up staying at the top for 2 hours just to experience it, and my freezing cold husband patiently played along because he knew it was important to me.








We needed warming up after that, so we stopped by the Eiffel Tower cafe on the way home. I got French onion soup, and it was awesome – I don’t remember ever having it while I lived there.


We started the next morning with some tea and muffins (I got to practice ordering in my rusty French! It worked!) and a trip to the Louvre. Now, I visited this museum many times during my stay, including trips with my art history class. I thought I’d seen it all, but I was wrong. I’d never been there with Barry, also known as the Museum Whisperer. People told us to arrange a tour, but it was expensive, so we did it on our own, and that turned out to be completely sufficient. Barry took a map, came up with a plan, and we spent the next 5 hours seeing EVERY SINGLE THING IN THE LOUVRE. ALL OF IT. ALL THE THINGS. Since most of the descriptions are in French, we bought a little guide book inside so we knew what we were looking at. I didn’t realize how large the Egyptian Antiquities area was – rows and rows and rooms and rooms full of sarcophagi, burial items, food found inside bodies. We even saw a mummified cat. There was also a series of Napoleon apartments, where I saw an awesome three-person chair and a seriously-impressive dinner table, where I conceived of throwing a dinner party with all the most interesting people I know. We fought our way through the Asian tour groups to see Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. We also happened upon Charlemagne’s sword and the Code of Hammurabi. Winged Victory and Liberty Leading the People were on loan somewhere else – boo. For sustenance on the Museum Death March, we ate a tasty baguette sandwich on the first floor under the glass pyramid and did some people-watching.









Our game plan was to make our way down the Historical Axis from the Louvre, through the Tuileries Gardens, past the Luxor Obelisk at Place de Concorde, and down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. We kicked up our heels in the Tuileries for a few minutes and digested the entire museum’s contents. I got a yummy, yummy crepe on the way, and then we passed the U.S. Embassy and the spot where the French Revolution guillotines were set up. Since sunset was fast approaching, took the Metro a couple of stops to climb the Arc. I hike and go to the gym regularly, but the few months after the wedding were dedicated to recovery, and I could feel it – it was a lot harder climb than it was when I was 21! I had to rest for a minute! It’s not the highest vantage point in the city, but it’s unique – at the center of Hausmann’s Place de l’Etoile, it’s the meeting point for 12 broad avenues radiating out from its base into the city. We made it just before sunset, and it’s a stellar place to be as the City of Lights illuminates itself. We were taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower when it started to sparkle, and there was an audible gasp from the crowd. My paternal grandfather, an Army sergeant, arrived in Paris with his platoon the day after the liberation in August 1944, and I imagined the enthusiastic joy in the streets he must have experienced from this spot.








A side note on the Paris Metro: it smells exactly the same as it did in 2001 (quite distinctive and not something you forget after spending as much time as I did there), but the technology has progressed at warp speed! Some of the cars have digital screens telling you which stops you’ve passed and which are coming up. Some stations have entire walls up to prevent people and items from falling onto the tracks, with sliding doors that open when the train arrives, plus digital signs with the displayed time of arriving trains. I’d say they’ve had a technological revolution, but you have to be careful with that word in France. 😉




Dinner that night at Chalet Gregoire in Saint Germaine des Pres (you really can’t go wrong eating in this area of town) was my favorite of our entire trip (and that’s really saying a lot, because I was in charge of food, and we ate really well). One word: FONDUE. I heard about this place, located on a walk street, from a former co-worker who ate here on a vacation, and we couldn’t pass it up. The restaurant is located on both sides of this small, pedestrian-only street, and the waiters walk back and forth. Our table was across the street from the main entrance and kitchen, and we were seated at the edge of the restaurant between two folding doors (the last picture here is where we sat, but with the doors closed – we stayed until closing time – I could have stayed there forever). We were so excited about the fondue that we confused our waiter with our order – he truly did not understand why we would order cheese fondue, entrees, and dessert fondue. He was visibly annoyed but took our order anyway (we think he thought we didn’t understand how much food we were ordering and would not want to pay for it all and be upset with him, when it was really just a special occasion, and we wanted to try lots of things while we had the chance!). It was fun watching the waiters walk back and forth and bar patrons from next door wander around with their drinks. The cheese fondue was Savoyarde, a mix of Comté, Beaufort and Reblochon. Barry got scallop rissoto and frog legs. I tried a frog leg in the spirit of experimentation (it was what my other grandfather would always order at Arturo’s in Mexico).  Verdict: eh. Not really worth the creepy factor. My entree was more duck – shocker. I got a split bottle of red Cotes du Rhone, which in Paris is just around the corner! The bathroom here, up an open spiral staircase across the street, was the first place I saw a foot-petal-operated sink; I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure out how to wash my hands. The food was a true experience, the environment was super charming, and I would go back in a heartbeat.








The next morning we woke up PAINFULLY early to take the train out to Versailles. I’d been there twice before, but the fountains were off, and Barry had checked and made sure they would be on. The Metro took us to a bus, which took us to a train, and then we still had to walk a mile to the palace as the sun was rising. I ducked into a pastry shop on the walk and got a couple of pains au chocolate for breakfast – zero protein but a yummy way to start the day. It was raining, and the ticket office opened late, so while we arrived in time to beat the Asian tour group crowds, the wait to get our tickets let a few hundred people in front of us, so we ended up waiting in the rain for quite a while. I don’t know if it was because it was a weekend or what, but it was twice as crowded as I’ve seen it, and it was physically difficult to get through the rooms and doorways (if you’re planning a trip – get there as early as possible, and buy your tickets beforehand. Also, make sure to get the audio tour sets – very helpful). Once we got outside, though, it was pleasant, and the rain had stopped. The fountains were flowing and so pretty! There was also classical music playing, which really added to the experience. We walked downhill all the way past the gates to the Grand Canal, and we made our way back up the grounds to the palace through the high-walled maze of bushes and hidden fountains. We felt a little like we were competing for the Triwizard Cup in Harry Potter!












On the way to the train station, we walked through the Ville de Versailles (clean, sweet, and adorable) and happened up on a farmer’s market, where I bought a couple of small bags of homemade spice mixes and a small bottle of champagne to bring home. We took a train and the Metro back into town, and Barry fell asleep on the way. We were so tired. We made our way on foot to Notre Dame, which was celebrating its 850th anniversary! They’ve set up a temporary grandstand just outside the entrance, with people telling the crowd via microphone about its history. We leisurely wandered through the beautiful cathedral, so much so that our necks hurt after a while from looking up. It was so nice to be back among the stained glass windows, flying buttresses, intricate gates, and seriously awesome acoustics – not to mention being in the same building that witnessed Mary Queen of Scot’s wedding, Napoleon’s coronation, the French Revolution, Charles de Gaulle’s funeral, and so many other historical events throughout the centuries (the relic believe to be THE Crown of Thorns is in the treasury, which we didn’t pay to see). I actually took communion at Notre Dame back in the day – shhh, don’t tell them I’m not Catholic! Outside, we saw one of the several Paris bridges covered in “love locks” left by couples as a symbol of their permanent union. I also got an incredible Nutella crepe from a stand just outside the church (if you go, please let me point you there – it’s worth seeking out), which my sister and I had when we were there. Still awesome.










That evening, we took a boat cruise of the Seine, a wedding gift from one of Barry’s groomsmen. It was a rainy day, and we had to scoop water out of our seats on the top level of the Bateaux Mouches. It was windy, too, and I sat on my scarf to keep dry and wrapped it around my legs for warmth, as I was wearing a dress. It was worth it, though, as we cruised down the waterway at sunset from the Eiffel Tower to Ile de la Cite and back again. It was a beautiful way to see Paris on our last night, despite the Asian tour group around us flashing pictures every second. The voice on the loudspeaker told us what we were passing, and it was neat to see from the river the places we’d been on foot. As we were passing by the base of the Eiffel Tower just before docking, it started to sparkle; really nice “honeymoon” moment.



Most meat, I can take or leave, but I’m a big fan of duck. In fact, I first tried duck in Paris when my host mother cooked it for me while the rest of the family and students were eating a big, nasty fish with the head still on. I did some research, and for our last meal in Paris, I found a restaurant that serves duck raised lovingly on their family farm in the French Alps. We arrived that night at Le Petit Canard in Pigalle about an hour before closing and were sat at one of the 7 or 8 tables. The only man working turned out to be the waiter, cashier, bartender, and owner – and his wife was the only person we saw in the kitchen. This place is a treasure. I’ve had a lot of duck, both in restaurants and made at home, and this was VERY different. The meat had a different, deeper taste and texture, and the menu was inventive. I got a duck charcuterie plate, which included smoked magret, duck rillettes (a pâté of shredded meat), two kinds of duck terrines (one with port and green peppercorns, one with chesnuts), and slices of duck saucisson, a dry-cured sausage that’s classically made with just pork meat. My duck a l’orange was excellent – not a thick sauce, just a hint of citrus – and Barry loved his garlic creme duck. The pureed potatoes with sauteed mushrooms on top were seriously awesome – we’ve daydreamed about them several times since. Just to add to the culinary excess that was this trip, we got a cheese plate (ah, French cheese, I’ve missed you so) and baked chocolate lava cake for dessert. The bathroom was down a tiny flight of stairs, and I found awesome graffiti on the stall door.







We had a wonderful stay in Paris. We saw very little I hadn’t seen before, but seeing it with my new husband made it feel new! I loved getting to speak French, eat French food, hear French-speaking people passing me on the sidewalks, showing him things I love, and just reveling in the best city on Earth!

The Honeymoon: London

After Edinburgh, we took a train to London. Although eating as locals eat is one of my main travel objectives, we broke down and ate at McDonald’s at the Edinburgh train station. Even though it was American fast food, they had local specialties on the menu, and Barry had a bacon roll, which we had earlier during our trip at a local diner (not as good as the real thing).


The train ride was Barry’s first, and the scenery was beautiful. We rode down the east side of the island, passing through Newcastle and York (what seemed like MILLIONS of bicycles covered the platforms at York), and following the coast line for the first hour. We enjoyed the lighthouses, beach houses, farms, and rolling green hills dotted with sheep while listening to podcasts we’d loaded on our phones. I listened to Rick Steves talk about places we’d been and were going, and he listened to NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”




We arrived at London King’s Cross Station (no Platform 9 3/4 that we could find) and set out on a bus to our hotel. We walked a few blocks and found it on the bank of the Thames. The room was huge and beautiful, with a gorgeous view of the river just outside. Barry had included the fact that this was our honeymoon on the reservation, and we found the bed covered in silk rose petals and, just inside the front door, a note congratulating us on our marriage with a plate of cookies and sweets. Very sweet and romantic. Also, the bathroom was huge and glorious.





We only had a little time before we needed to leave for the evening, so we walked a few blocks to a Lebanese restaurant, where I had a tasty lamb gyro. We walked back, changed into nice clothes, and rushed to the bus, which took us to the historic Old Vic theater. Near the Waterloo train station, the Old Vic is a famous playhouse built in 1818 with a long, rich history of Shakespeare. Laurence Olivier was a major company player here, and Kevin Spacey is currently the artistic director. The black-and-white photos lining its walls were incredible, reminding me of the history we were right in the middle of – Richard Burton, Judi Dench, Zeffirelli, Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Anthony Hopkins, Maggie Smith, Ben Kingsley and others. I’m not a big Shakespeare fan at all, but Barry is, and we were both amazed by the history of this place. As if that weren’t enough, the show we were there to see was “Much Ado About Nothing,” starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave! It was SO awesome to hear that booming voice coming not through a television or radio, but from just a hundred feet in front of us, reverberating up off the ornate paneling lining the theater. But as much as I love James, Vanessa Redgrave stole the show. I had no idea what was going on most of the time due to the outdated language, but she helped me understand through her inflection and body language, something no one else in the show really pulled off.





The view from our hotel is even better at night, and we walked down by the water for a while. The Thames fascinated me the first time I visited London during my college semester abroad – I just imagined the immense change its banks have seen over the centuries and wonder if the city’s first inhabitants would even recognize the waterway now.




Day #2 was mostly spent walking through the city in the rain. We started off with a trip around the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel on the river near Big Ben (now called Elizabeth Tower). The pods are huge and fit about 15 people at a time, and there are iPads around the perimeter that help you figure out what buildings you’re looking down on. It moves almost imperceptibly, and it took a long time to reach the top. It was a great way to get an overview of the city before delving into it. I’ve been to London before, but it’s very different as an adult with a bigger worldview; plus, one other big difference – MONEY. I was on my parents’ dime the first time, and I felt terrible spending much. I saw a lot then and had amazing experiences that I am immensely thankful for, but this trip was very different – and wonderful!







We crossed the Westminster bridge to get to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Parliament. Crossing the river, I learned how windy the city is when my umbrella blew inside out! You can only tour Big Ben tower and Parliament building if you’re British, so we just admired it from below in the rain. We wandered through the Jubilee Gardens and made our way to Trafalgar Square.







We ate lunch at a SoHo pop-up restaurant I found on Trip Advisor called “The Full English.” It’s inside a nightclub called Zebrano, so during the day, you can eat there, but after dark, they whisk all the restaurant stuff out of the way and turn it back into a nightclub. It was traditional English food; I had a breakfast corned beef hash, and Barry got the Full English breakfast (he detests the idea of hot tea but ordered it just to warm up, and he didn’t hate it). The hash, which I make versions of all the time, was made with surprising ingredients – pickles and coarse-grain mustard. I would never in a million years think to add either of those things to a hash, and the fact that both of them worked together surprised me! SoHo is an adorable, fun area of town, and it was fun to walk through it.




We rode a red double-decker bus to Westminster Abbey. Again, I’ve seen it before, but we really took our time and used the audio guides (narrated by Jeremy Irons). The amount of intricate stained glass was mind-boggling, and seeing the memorials to poets, playwrights and writers in the Poet’s Corner was really neat. Barry lit a candle and filled out a prayer card for my brother, and we said a prayer. We also saw the oldest door in Britain from the year 1000! Mary Queen of Scots’ tomb was there, and that was neat to see after coming from Scotland and hearing her story.






We walked to Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen’s Guard, the Victoria Memorial, and the elaborate gates (too late in the day for a tour). Then we walked nearby to St. James Park and Green Park, both of which are beautiful, calm, and green, despite the number of people milling around. We sat in St. James for a while and just enjoyed the view. And the squirrels. The squirrels were entertaining.




We wandered for a while after that – or at least I thought we were wandering. Barry the Master Planner had found the original site of the Republic of Texas Embassy, and he led me around a corner and down a short hallway, and there it was! So neat! Fun surprise for this sixth-generation Texan.


The evening was full of foodie fun that I just can’t skip over, despite my father’s imperative before we left to stop taking pictures of everything we eat and take pictures of cultural significance (I believe local food when traveling IS of cultural significance, but that’s another post). Dinner was at Union Jacks, a Jamie Oliver restaurant! Barry got a pizza with crust so fresh, you could taste the water, flour, yeast and salt. We shared house-breaded fried haddock (with wasabi tart sauce!), which we knew we needed to try while in the UK; it was light and crispy and flavorful. I got a Warm Roast Pumpkin and Squash salad (it was October and in season) with ricotta, apple balsamic and honey-roast chestnuts. I watch Jamie on TV and have read his magazines, and I immensely respect the ideas behind his Food Revolution. I know he’s usually not there, and it’s run mostly by other people, but it was a real treat to eat at one of his restaurants.


The adventure began after dinner, when Barry wanted dessert. We walked in the direction of Chinatown looking for a candy place we found online (score for free wifi!). The Candy Cafe was really hard to find, just an unmarked doorway with sign near an interior stairwell. We went upstairs wondering what the heck we were getting ourselves into. It opened into a tiny room with about 8 small tables, an open kitchen, two windows, and a wall-mounted TV playing Chinese music videos. Barry got a banana nutella crepe, and I had an amazing mango-y…extravaganza. It had diced mangoes, tapioca balls, mango ice cream, shaved ice, and mango syrup. People would just appear at the top of the steps, and the Chinese staff would seat them if there was room. It was the most amazingly-bizarrely-awesome food adventure.



Day #3 was all about Wimbledon! We had a traditional English breakfast at Jax on the Junction (a little disappointing after The Full English, although I kind of dig the baked beans with breakfast) before taking a bus about 30 minutes to the sleepy little town. We walked about 10 minutes through residences and a golf course, and then all of a sudden, there it was – The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club! We were both tennis players in high school, and Barry was a certified tennis coach for a while, so this was really fun to see in person. We took a tour of the club, which apparently you can’t pay to be a member of – you have to be chosen for your love of tennis and willingness to take part in putting on the tournament every year. The easiest way for a regular person to become a member of Wimbledon is to WIN Wimbledon. The tour took us past all the major courts (with paper falcon kites waving in the wind to deter birds), Henman Hill, the giant scoreboards, the interior broadcast studios, and the court where Isner and Mahut played for 11 hours, the longest match in tennis history. We got to sit in the stands of Court 1, where you have to win a lottery to get a seat for the finals. There’s a Wimbledon museum, too, and they’ve got every piece of tennis history you can imagine.






When we got back into London, we spent a couple of hours in the British museum. It’s huge, and all we had time for was the highlights tour at warp speed. We saw Cleopatra’s mummy, the Easter Island statue, the Rosetta Stone, some incredible Asian vases, and a huge collection of ruins from the Parthenon. It did feel a little weird looking at so much British Empire plunder that should really belong to their respective countries, though.




After sitting on a bus in gridlocked traffic, we got off and RAN the rest of the way to the Tower of London to make it before it closed. We made it with about 3 minutes to spare, and we followed the map straight to the Crown Jewels. They were breathtaking – the sheer volume of gold was staggering, and displays showed the glittering items in use over the years, which was really neat. We also saw instruments of torture, climbed narrow stone spiral staircases, wandered through a huge store of historic armor (as in, Henry VIII and William the Conqueror historic), and watched the sun set over the castle walls while we had a snack of fish and chips from a street vendor (although we had skipped lunch, walked/ran several miles, were starving, and anything probably would have tasted great, they were excellent!).







Dinner was at Masala Zone, an Indian chain (this Covent Garden location had Indian dolls hanging from the ceiling…not sure why, but it was festive). My unimaginative husband got grilled meat, and I got a thali platter so he could try bites of several different things (I will never stop introducing him to healthy new foods, some of which he will like), and we had gulab jamun with pistachio ice cream for dessert. There may have been more red wine. Covent Garden was beautiful, with a lot of night life (including another Union Jacks location). We walked across London Bridge, which had a view of the Tower Bridge – beautiful at night, with boats and seagulls above and below us. We came across the Monument, a 202-foot-tall obelisk built in the 1670’s in a tiny square to memorialize the Great Fire of London.






We couldn’t leave London without a trip to the Globe Theater, so we dragged our 4 suitcases at least a mile over cracked and uneven sidewalks, up and down stairs, and on more than one bus. After that exhausting trip, we hid them in some curtains and took a tour of the Globe. It’s not on the site of the original, but it’s very close and modeled after it (we saw the Rose Theater down the street). We sat in the ground and top-floor seats, saw the thatched roofing, and got close enough to the stage to see the trap doors and mural-like painting designed to look like marble from the audience.

London was a really fun part of our trip. The subway system is world-class and much cleaner and more pleasant than any other we used on our trip. I was also struck by how everything is designed in a compact yet decorative way, from the street signs to gates to park benches. I’m so glad I got to return and really do it right, and being there with someone who loved every minute made a big difference.




The Honeymoon: Scotland

We spent the months after our wedding getting the condo unpacked and in order and preparing for our two-week European honeymoon in October. My husband the planner had never been to Europe, but I lived there in college and have been back since on a trip with my sister, so I let him choose the cities he wanted to see, and I picked all the restaurants. Our itinerary: Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; Paris, France; Venice and Rome, Italy.

We started the trip with Edinburgh, the only city and country I hadn’t seen yet. As soon as we arrived, we took a cab ride to our hotel and enjoyed the scenery – lots of greenery and stone, as opposed to Texas’ brittle brown scrub and cement. We checked into the Oakhill Apartments, and the woman from the front desk actually took us up to our room and walked us through it, pointing out all the features – that was a first for me! We were exhausted from the long plane ride and stayed in the room for a while, unpacking and settling in. Then we went in search of dinner and ended up at Persevere’s pub, where Barry got his first Scotch of the trip. A lesson in cultural differences – we asked for a chicken Caesar salad to split along with our entrees, and we got a plate of mostly chicken, cheese and croutons with a few green leaves under it. Not really what we were going for. The weather was in the 40’s and 50’s the whole three days we were there, with occasional light rain. We’d both bought new walking shoes before we left, and we were SO glad we did – they made all the difference, because we were on our feet a LOT.




We walked around the neighborhood for a while. We walked down by the water and enjoyed the city condo and apartment architecture with old stone churches every couple of blocks. The cemeteries were ancient-looking. We went into a Scottish casino and gambled 1 pound – fun to see the different machines. We also found an old-fashioned candy store, and we sampled and bought some traditional Scottish candies – yummy! We also walked through a Tesco’s supermarket – fun to see the different brands and kinds of food! There was a whole case of savory pies, and I vowed to perfect my pie dough recipe so I could try some out.


We went home and slept off the jet lag for a LONG time, about 14 hours, off and on. The windows didn’t open like ours – instead of moving up and down, they move inward on a hinge, and the heat was a little stifling, so we left them cracked a bit overnight for fresh air. We had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a living room with cable TV and a kitchen and dining table. We devoted one bedroom to our luggage. There was even a pint of milk in the fridge, an electric kettle, and a supply of coffee, tea, and sugar. They even had decaf, which was perfect since I gave up most caffeine recently. It was probably my favorite of all the hotel rooms we stayed in, and I really didn’t want to leave it.



The next morning, we rented a car and drove about an hour and a half north to Perthshire’s Edradour Distillery, the oldest and smallest traditional scotch distillery in Scotland. They’ve been making single-malt whiskey there since 1825, and we took a tour of the grounds. I’m not a scotch/whiskey drinker at all, but this was great fun for Barry, and it was neat to see (and smell) the old stills and equipment, including huge rooms full of whiskey barrels. They sat us down and did a tasting of two varieties they produce, we chatted with the tour guide a bit, and Barry picked up a variety they don’t export to the U.S. Before we left, Marius, the owner of the Dallas Irish pub we love called Trinity Hall (where Barry had first tasted Edradour whiskey), gave us a Trinity Hall CD of Irish folk music to give to the people at Edradour, and we passed that on to them. He also gave us 2 TH t-shirts to take a picture in front of the distillery for him, and we obliged.






The countryside was absolutely gorgeous, and it made the stress of driving on the opposite side of the road with few street signs worth it. Almost. It was pretty stressful. We had lunch in the picturesque town of Pitlochry on the way back to Edinburgh – burgers made with famous Aberdeen Angus beef. It was an enchanting day until we drove back in – the dearth of street signs combined with the darkness made for a stressful time, but we returned our rental car at the train station and made our way home safely. I don’t understand why the city doesn’t put up street signs – the only markers were small street names sometimes etched into the sides of buildings (sometimes not), and some of them were even lit (but mostly not). Thank goodness I’d enabled my phone to receive calls from home, which let us see where we were on the map. We couldn’t actually map our way anywhere, but just being able to see street names in relation to our location was a lifesaver. We will absolutely get GPS next time we drive in a country like this. A note on the buses: they were clean, affordable, with wifi and helpful bus drivers, and we enjoyed using them to get around.




I should mention that my brother went into the hospital with pneumonia the day we left on our trip, and his condition quickly and shockingly deteriorated into multiple organ failure. We hadn’t planned on using our phones for anything except wifi for e-mail, but I added a basic phone plan so I could be reached in the case of an emergency. It was really difficult to know my family was going through such a horrible time and be so far away, but I did my best not to worry, trust everything would be alright, and compartmentalize it in order to enjoy the honeymoon we saved and planned so long for. I feel bad to have missed his most critical days (he would end up being in the hospital for 2 full months before going home to recover, which is still going on), but it was what it was.

Dinner that night was at the Doric, the oldest gastropub in Edinburgh, continuously operating since the 1700’s. Despite how disgusting it is, I knew I needed to try haggis – when in Rome. This place had fried haggis bon-bons, much like a State Fair food, so I knew this would be my best chance. The haggis balls were rolled in pinhead oatmeal and fried, and the texture wasn’t squishy, like I imagined – more grainy than anything, akin to what I imagine fried pate would be. It was a rainy, cold night, and it was so nice to warm up in a place with such a long, Scottish culinary tradition. Barry had shepherd’s pie, and I had a camembert salad (yes, cheese salad) and a bowl of traditional cullen skink, a creamy haddock stew. And there was lots of red wine.




The next morning, Barry’s plan was for us to walk the Royal Mile, which is a famous street stretching from Holyrood Palace, former home of Mary Queen of Scots, all the way up to Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city high on a hill. We started at the base, where the Scottish Parliament building sits at the base of a beautiful, green mountain. It’s a very modern design, and we toured the inside, including the debating chamber. The Royal Mile was full of ancient buildings, passageways, stairways and wells. We spent some time in the Prince Street Gardens, which was beautiful. We were constantly watching for updates on my brother’s condition, and as it happened, the Royal Mile is full of Starbucks with free wifi; so strange, the juxtaposition of the old and new. We were able to simultaneously view several-hundred-year-old buildings and check e-mail on my phone to keep up with my family thousands of miles away. At lunch at Stac Polly, I had my first colcannon, as well as my first dish using whole juniper berries as flavoring, and Barry got Scottish salmon. Dinner was at Amber, a scotch-themed restaurant. He got a flight of scotches and savored each of them.






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During our walk, we crossed an historic bridge defaced by the best graffiti ever:


The castle was definitely the main event of our stay in Scotland. We saw the Crown Jewels/Honors (verdict: the exhibits leading up to it are just as interesting as the jewels, so take your time and read their story). We also went inside the oldest building in Edinburgh, a small chapel near the hill’s apex – we had to duck in because the doorways and windows were so low. There are a lot of canons and dungeons and other items that remind you of Scotland’s very bloody history. The view from the castle is expansive; you can see the entire city, nearby islands, and the Firth of Forth, which leads to the North Sea. Our stay in Scotland was such a learning experience, and we’d both love to get back to see more of it!











The morning after the wedding, we flew to Las Vegas for a few days of decompression. We had a European honeymoon planned for October, but we needed a few days to rest and unwind after all the (wonderful) stress of the wedding. A good friend had graciously offered us their timeshare, which was in a nice Hilton property attached to the Flamingo. All we had to do to get to the Strip from our room was take the elevator to the lobby, walk outside past the Flamingo pool, through the Flamingo, and out onto the crazy streets. The room was really warm, even after we asked to switch rooms because of the heat, but it was a large space with a kitchen and living room with a great view of the pool shenanigans going on below us.




Food was the main event in Vegas, as we’d both been on diets leading up to the wedding. I’d been exercising a LOT, too, so three days of eating, sleeping, and gambling with my new husband was just what the doctor ordered. Since I planned most of the wedding, Barry took on planning the Vegasmoon, and he made everything a surprise. Between all the stress and makeup, I woke the morning after the wedding to puffy, allergic eyes, which you can see in every dang picture. Despite that, I kept up the dresses and jewelry, and Barry brought nice outfits, and we had fun wearing clothes out of our ordinary.

Our first meal was the Wynn buffet. My grandmother, a Vegas expert, introduced me to it. She and my Uncle Boyd and I ate there years ago when I joined them there after a shoot I had in Vegas. It was my first Vegas buffet, and the Kobe meatballs and gold-leaf desserts won me over. Barry had said while we were starving ourselves that the first thing he was going to eat in Vegas was an entire plate of cocktail shrimp, and at Wynn, he made that happen. I have to say, the buffet there has gone downhill a bit since my first trip, and although the mountain of cheese and olives was still awesome, the rest was just adequate. Still really interesting, though – Kobe meatloaf, tequila and mint watermelon cubes, excellent Asian-stir-fry green beans, and braised short ribs. I hadn’t eaten that much in at least 6 months, and I was full until the next afternoon.



That afternoon, we went to see “The Hangover 3,” complete with movie popcorn, my first in 6 months. You might think we’d want to see a romantic movie on our Vegasmoon, but due to “The Hangover” being the movie we watched the night we first kissed, all the Hangover movies kind of have a special place in our hearts (despite them all being ridiculous) – and hey, they do take place in Vegas. It was a nice brain break after all the wedding intensity. I was full, but the popcorn was awesome!


Day #2 brought one of my Vegas favorites for breakfast, La Creperie at Paris. I had a walnut pear crepe, and Barry had one with about 20 cheeses. Before the evening’s entertainment, we stopped at a Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill while walking though the MGM casino. It wasn’t planned, but I’m so glad we found it. It was a beautiful little open restaurant where Barry had an excellent lasagna, and I had the first burger I’d had in half a year.




Barry’s surprise for the evening was a magic show, which I’ve never seen in all my trips to Vegas. The trip out to the Riviera’s Starlite Theater was quite a hike, though, at least in a dress after the most exhausting event of my life. It was worth it, though, to see a really talented magician in such a small space – German Jan Rouven’s “Illusions.” The older theater was small, and the seats were arranged like a comedy club, with a small bar in a back room. What gave him credibility in my eyes was that one of his illusions is based on the classic Siegfried & Roy prop where the woman enters the box, which is then run through with swords. It was a gift from the magic duo after their retirement from show business. He is young, energetic, and witty, which made the show really fun. Barry had a girly drink, and I had a beer, which made me giggle.





There were two grand meals in Vegas that are a tie for best of the trip. One of them was dinner at Todd English’s Olives at Bellagio. Barry made us a reservation, and thank goodness he did, because it was an Olympic event to get into this place without one. We weren’t very hungry when dinner rolled around because our stomachs weren’t used to such decadence and abundance – if there’s one thing I viscerally remember about our Vegasmoon, it was feeling FULL the whole time. We decided to gamble in the most beautiful casino of them all for about an hour and then get to dinner, so we had to wait about 30 minutes once we got there. Watching people walk up expecting to be seated and being told no was very entertaining. One beautiful woman wasn’t having it, and she pestered the hostesses the whole time we waited, and we ended up being seated next to her party out on the patio. We were seated up against the outer wall, overlooking the beautiful Bellagio fountains. I’ve been to Vegas several time but had never seen the fountain show due to high winds or just being there at the wrong time. Our amazing dinner took at least two hours, and we got to hear and see the fountains dance over and over and over. It’s not just one program – it’s different music and choreography every 20 minutes. I remember the Pink Panther song, Michael Jackson, and Celine Dion, among others. Barry had a sidecar, and I had champagne while we watched the show, and it was such a wonderful evening. We were so close to the water that we could feel the spray of the cascading jets as they crashed down in synch with the music. Bellagio is across the street from Paris, so we sat and drank in the sparkling Eiffel Tower and hot air balloon, the pedestrians passing under the olive and cypress trees lining the street across the fountain from us, and the beautiful skyline.



The pre-meal bread at Olives comes with a trio of olives and tapenade, and they were excellent.  I had a big steak  on a bed of roasted potatoes, topped with sauteed portabellos, a balsamic glaze, and a watercress salad. Barry’s entree was epic: a steak on a bed of mashed potatoes and tempura asparagus, served with a crab cake and frisee salad. We also got a lobster mac and cheese!! What? I lost 14 pounds and was hungry! I was completely stuffed and tried to talk Barry out of dessert, but if you’ve met him, you know that’s a losing proposition, especially when you’re on your honeymoon at a famous chef’s restaurant. I’m glad he ordered it, though, because it was unique: s’mores panna cotta with housemade marshmallows and chocolate-dipped ginger cookies. YUM.



The next “morning” (time really is different in Vegas…), we decided to give the Flamingo pool a try. Apparently, so did everyone else in town. It was so crowded that we couldn’t find a single lounge chair on which to leave our things, so I asked a random guy if he wouldn’t mind us leaving our towels under the edge of his. The pool had waterfalls and caves, and we spent about an hour in it soaking up a little sun. The drinks were ridiculously expensive, and the sun was hot, so we headed back to the room after just a little while. It looked more fun from our hotel room window that it really was.



The other grand meal was the Bacchanal buffet at Caesar’s. Oh. My. Goodness. Please eat here if you find yourself in Vegas – you will be so happy you did. This buffet is huge, with an entire room for Asian food. We spent several hours here, eating in slow courses, in order to do it justice. When you pay, they give you grippy, rubber finger protectors so you can comfortably pick up the dishes. Being a huge buffet, the portions are small to promote experimentation and less waste, and many come in their own adorable ramekins, small bowls, and shot glasses. There was so much amazing food here, but the highlights included the best brisket I’ve ever had (and this Texan has sampled a LOT of brisket) and an amazing Asian baked fish (and I don’t really like fish). Barry found cake pops, but my dessert was a trip to the chips and salsa bar.









We were blessed with an incredible number of wedding presents, some of which was cash, and we took some of that cash with us to Vegas. We really didn’t end up losing very much, considering we were there for three days, and the greatest fun would be when we’d start the day and Barry would hand me a $100 bill. When we go to the Native American casinos in Oklahoma, $40 is big money for me, so starting the day with $100 was grand, extravagant fun. We did a LOT of walking in between giant, extravagant meals, and we gambled at dozens of casinos: Paris, MGM, Planet Hollywood, Caesar’s, Treasure Island, Bellagio, the Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, and many others we passed through on our way to somewhere else. We wandered the indoor malls and enjoyed the sights. We stuck to the strip and didn’t make it downtown on this trip. Mainly, we played slot machines (well, I did, and Barry followed me around and played the Superman and Ghostbuster machines when he found them), but Barry entered a poker tournament at MGM and played for a couple of hours while I wandered around the machines. I think my favorite night was at the Mirage, my grandmother’s favorite casino, where he played for hours on Ghostbusters on the same $20, and I won a bit on a few different machines. Mimi gave us good luck there!


Our last dinner was at Carnevino, the Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich meat and wine restaurant at the Venetian/Palazzo. If you can get over the fact that it is going to be wildly unhealthy, you will enjoy an extremely memorable meal. Every waiter is pretty much a sommelier, and ours talked to us about the different wines and drinks for each of the meaty selections. We ate relatively early in order to get to a show, so the tables were full of business people there for conventions. I had prosecco, and we got a spago with lamb ragu pasta course, which was excellent. The steak knives at Carnevino don’t have ridged blades – they are smooth, sharp enough to hold their own. I got buffalo, and Barry got steak – both were top-notch. The waiter’s assistant brought Barry’s mascarpone and guanciale mashed potatoes to the table with a poached on top, which he broke in front of us and stirred in. The dessert was a sampler, with pistachio gelato, cannoli, raspberry cheesecake, bread pudding, and a chocolate and peanut butter torte. It was such an amazing meal, and I think if we had ‘t been so FULL toward the end of the trip, it would have been even better. I’ve been wanting to eat at Carnevino since my first trip to Vegas, and my awesome new husband made it happen!





After dinner, we went to see “Mystere,” the original Cirque du Soleil show at TI, formerly Treasure Island. We made it in the nick of time, rushing in the doors as the ushers closed them behind us. Before the show, an entertainer ends up spilling popcorn on someone in the audience during a joke, which ended up being Barry and the guy next to us. It happened as I was rushing in from the bathroom, so I came in to find Barry with big eyes, brushing popcorn off of his suit jacket! The show was incredible – very impressive music and acrobatic feats in a huge, beautiful theater. The casino was fun, too, and it treated us well.



We thoroughly enjoyed our little Vegasmoon and didn’t want to come home and go back to work, but alas, it had to end sometime. Coming home to my new home with my new husband helped, though…plus, we had a European trip to plan!