Friday, November 23, 2007

Vacation at Home You'll Discover Why You Live There! Gifts from the School District?

I love when the school vacation calendar is published each year. I find all the days the kids have off and treat them like little gifts - days to go away, travel, explore! Sometimes I plan a year in advance what we'll do with those gifts, and some years I wait until the last minute. Rarely do I let these presents sit unwrapped and unused. There are of course exceptions... and this Thanksgiving week was one of them.

We get an entire week off at Thanksgiving. The first time the school district tried this calendar, I whisked my family away on frequent flier miles to Maui and Oahu (for two weeks - much to the school's chagrin). We've gone to New England to visit family, and the Plimouth Plantation. We've gone skiing in Colorado many years. We've gone hiking in Zion National Park. Occassionally we've stayed home. Never, before, though have we spent the entire week at home!

Day One and Two: My husband couldn't let an unbooked weekend go unused at our Palm Desert vacation condo so he spent the first weekend of our 9 day break golfing and making repairs at Palm Valley Country Club. The kids and I spent the first weekend "hanging out with friends" (that means the mall to the younger one) and having a Survivor China marathon and eating our meals on the couch. We had about 5 episodes on TiVo. I turned off my laptop, let the phones go to voicemail, and just enjoyed being with my girls. Why Survivor? Because we can watch all the silly antics, see a bit of an exotic location, fast forward through the gross things, and talk all the way through without missing anything important. We hung out together reading and relaxing. My husband had to work until Thanksgiving, so we also began to plot our "vacation at home" strategy; one that he wouldn't feel too left out on.

Day Three: we drove up to Los Angeles to the Museum of Tolerance. This museum is not a happy place, so it should not be the last thing you do on a southern California vacation. The museum is already under renovation, though it seems so new. The spiral staircase in the middle is reminiscent of the great Guggenheim Museum in NYC. There is no photography allowed in the museum in keeping with the solemn environs. We spent quite a bit of time in the exhibits regarding the current time and examining our own attitudes. The Millenium Machine was especially educational. Then we moved through the structured Holocaust Exhibit and ended in the gas chambers with tears. Caution, not for young children - be sure your group is emotionally able to handle this. Interestingly enough, my family was moved, but not shocked by any of this. They've been well educated in the issues of tolerance I think.

We ran out of time to finish our plans which were to go to the LA Fashion District for cheap shopping. I've been before to celebrate a 14th birthday and it is a teenage girl's heaven. LA is so much more than Hollywood! We instead took a random drive to our dinner destination, taking in some sites including lots of CA bungalows and the edges of USC's campus. On the way home, we passed the new Disney Concert Hall and the court house and decided our next time to LA will be a guided architectural tour. We parked at Pershing Square where they already had trees lit for Christmas, and were operating a winter ice skating rink - yes ice skating in downtown LA! We took in dinner at The Water Grill where we were celebrating a birthday and met up with more family. This restaurant is noted for its fresh fish, and was recently awarded a Michelin star. The service was excellent (they did the oddest thing and switched our white napkins out for black napkins as we were dressed in black). All of the food was excellent, and the fish very fresh. The bill was large of course. Expect $15 for a cocktail, and $40 for an entree. Our family vegetarian ate a salad and bread, not much else on the menu for her. The downtown LA location makes for a great night out, and the architecture of the Pacific Building is worth seeing.

Day Four: Recovery...and Business. One of the negatives of vacationing at home is there is always business to conduct. Doctor's appointments, phone calls, groceries to buy for the holiday. That said, when spent with a pleasant teenager (yes they exist some days), it can still be vacation. We managed to make fun out of work and had lunch in San Juan Capistrano near the Mission at Ruby's Diner at the train depot, and at least got a fantastic glimpse at the famous Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Day Five: World Famous San Diego Zoo. How may people are lucky enough to live within an hour's drive of the Museum of Tolerance, Mission San Juan Capistrano, AND the San Diego Zoo? A lot...I know I sat in the traffic on the way home. Regardless, I bet most everyone can easily find new things to explore within an hour of home. We have to remind ourselves often that people come here to vacation and that we have almost everything within an hour or two of home. I've been to the zoo dozens of times as have my kids, but every time is new. Every time I see something differently, or an animal doing something different, or a new exhibit. This time there were some new exhibits with water, and I saw a snake neck turtle which although kind of disgusting, was certainly memorable. I've never seen a gazelle run like crazy, but we watched one go round and round and watched her herd respond. Even a young gazelle tried to imitate, but just didn't have the jumping or running skills of the mature gazelle. Absolutely the best time to see the animals is the last hour before sunset - so many of them wake up and get fed. The cats and the koalas were a treat at this time of day.

Between the Museum of Tolerance and the San Diego Zoo, I certainly went home thinking about bigger issues of how we consume, what we consume, and what I can do to make a difference. I'm doing my best to stay out of the consumer frenzy, today, "Black Friday."

Day Six: Thanksgiving. Traditions. Food. Feast. Football. Family. Our menu: free range turkey free of hormones and junk, herb stuffing with mushrooms and onions, classic green bean casserole, whole cranberry sauce (easy 1 bag cranberries, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water - simmered 10 min), mashed potatoes, gravy, home made dinner rolls, maple walnut sweet potatoes, 5 pies, California wines (Woodbridge and Wilson Creek), sparkling cider. Naps. AMC showing of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds".

Day Seven: Recovery. Kids with friends. Swimming in the pool which was accidentally heated to spa temperature. Blogging. Web Surfing. hmm...those last two are definitely not vacationing - I remember why going away on vacation is very different from vacationing at home.
Day Eight and Day Nine - Everyone be me seems to be coming down with a cold. My husband pushes through it because his one request is to go see Beowolf at the IMAX theater at the Irvine Spectrum. This is in 3D too which always makes things seem more like a holiday. Our discount coupons expired a few weeks ago and we fork out $30 for two of us. The girls opted not to see this film. The previews were a bit graphic for the younger daughter, and the older one has read the story Beowolf and said that if the story was that disgusting and graphic, a film in IMAX 3D would be unbearable. The truth is she was right! I nearly lost my lunch twice and spent a lot of time with my eyes closed. The story is one I enjoyed; IMAX clarity is amazing; the 3D was extremely well done, but do people really want to see Grindel chew his human food? Not me.

Our final day of vacation at home in Southern California is typical. We scatter to our corners of the home, and start to focus our minds and energies back to work, school, and home needs.

All in all a wonderful vacation, and far less expensive, though not cheap, than it would cost to "go somewhere." We're staying home for Christmas, New Years, and my birthday, so I think next time we'll go to priceline and get a hotel for a few nights and improve upon this theme a little. I love where I live, and need to live it a little more like someone on holiday!

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