Vegas, Baby!

If you’re going to go on vacation, you’d better start training early. I’m not sure what Mina had planned for Vegas, but she looks ready for anything.

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She has also learned that vacation involves photos. Lots and lots of photos. So she got her camera up and running.

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One day the kids will probably tell this all to a therapist, but we didn’t get a Christmas tree this year. Instead, we took all of the wishes off the wish tree we used for their first birthdays and have been decorating it with lights and the little ornaments I put in their advent calendar. A friend at work keeps saying, “Do you have any pictures of the Christmas branch?” and then laughing. The kids don’t seem to mind.

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And this? Just a regular day at home, reading a bit before lunch.

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But then… Vegas, baby! I spent the weeks leading up to our trip training the kids to shout “Vegas, baby!” whenever someone asked where we were off to. As usual, they were terrific on the plane, entertaining themselves for a total of 8 hours across two different planes. I had stoppped at Party City and loaded up on stickers, yo-yos, Kinder eggs, etc., and between all that and some moves in the Kindle, they were happy the whole time.

But even happier still when we arrived and they got to see the view from our hotel.

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I love this photo. It’s Linus, up before the sunrise, watching it from our giant living room windowsill.

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We were still on East Coast time, of course, so we ate a bowl of Cheerios and fruit, and then headed over to the Venetian to wander around before anyone else was there.

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But of course Vegas never sleeps, so we found a bakery open already. Mina looks a little sheepish, but that didn’t stop her from eating a mocha creme filled croissant. This is the Cake Boss bakery, by the way – that guy from the Food Network? I must say it wasn’t any more delicious than our beloved La Cascia down the street at home. Just way more expensive.

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After breakfast, Mina found a store that she dearly wished was open.

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Last time we were in Vegas, we go to see all of the Lunar New Year decorations, and we knew the Christmas decorations would be really spectacular. We found this enormous LOVE as we wandered the hallways.

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Mina is a natural model, of course. She set up all kinds of shots of Yen. I regretted a bit that I’d already sent out the Christmas cards for this year.

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At last we decided that the unnatural lighting was going to create problems for our collective circadian rhythm, and we headed outside. Lovely sky, eh?

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Here’s Linus back at the hotel later, playing with his beloved Wikki Stix. Restaurants have been handing these out lately instead of crayons, so he’s got quite a collection.  Here he made a model of the High Roller Ferris wheel.

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That night we ventured out to find a playground. It turned out to be in a shopping center with lots of Christmas trees.

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And a unicorn.

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Two unicorns?! Mina is very, very into unicorns right now.

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The next day we headed over the Hoover Dam.

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You can see that the water levels really are very low. The tour guide described all of the various restrictions that go with each level of drought.

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This is the spillway, which catches extra water in the event of a flood. It’s only been used once, in 1983. What isn’t pictured here (because Yen didn’t notice), is if you look straight down from where Yen is standing to take this photo, the floor of the spillway is covered in hats – mostly cowboy hats. This is from people leaning over to take a look, and then the wind – oops!

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Here we are getting ready for the tour. We had to throw away all of our fruit and granola bars (because they don’t want to rodents attracted into the dam), and they actually ran the wand over both kids. Linus thought it was pretty great.

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We ended up having to wait quite a long time (Mina decided that she needed to pee after we’d gone through security, so we had to leave and come back through, then missed our tour), so Mina accessorized.

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Here we are inside the dam. It’s huge in there! One thing they described frequently on the tour is that it was built with the eventual plan for people to tour it – they knew people would want to go down into it. So it’s quite beautiful, including inlays on the floor.

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Heading back up – you can see an inlay near us.

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The next day we decided to try out the monorail. We could see the tracks from our room, so every five minutes someone would shout, “Monorail!” and we’d all rush to the window. I’ll be honest: we were awfully disappointed. It was incredibly difficult to get to a station, and the ride was bumpy. Save your money when you go (the damned thing should be free!).

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Linus, of course, was interested in it from an infrastructure perspective. He’s going to be Elon Musk without the crazy, I think.

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Our destination? The ferris wheel! It’s actually taller than the London Eye, if you can believe it. Notice in this photo how close we are…

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And now how far away it is! Like everything in Vegas, you can’t get there unless you go through a casino. So we had to wind all the way around and back again to reach it.

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Finally, inside!

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The entire ride is 30 minutes, and for the most part, the kids were really excited.

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With no fear of heights!

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The last five minutes proved to be too much. They were ready to get out and get to dinner.

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We decided to check out the conservatory at Bellagio before heading to the buffet. Again, through a casino. The first time, Linus asked, “What’s that awful smell?” I’m happy these kids are mostly sheltered from cigarette smoke in daily life.

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After dinner we went out to check out the fountain show.

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And then decided to walk back to the hotel instead of trying to find the darned monorail again.

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The next day we decided to leave the Strip for a bit. We headed over to a complex called Springs Preserve, which marks the original spring around with Vegas was built.

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They’ve got a nice little science museum, and we ended up spending several hours there instead of moving onto other musuems as we’d originally planned.

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Outside of the museum is a little section on desert animals. The kids enjoyed pretending to burrow.

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A fox! Mina’s favorite.

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We found a bi-sected gila monster. I tried to explain all the various bits inside.

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While a live specimen hid next to us.

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Back inside, we discovered that the mirror maze from the Boston museum of science was visiting this one! I must admit I enjoyed it more this time. It wasn’t completely crowded, and we event got to go through twice.

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Outside we found a little train that took us around the preserve. Linus cracked up the only other passenger by pointing out every single cactus he saw.

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We were really surprised and happy to find a very nice cafe on the site, so we stayed for lunch. The kids had a nice tray of tofu, veg, and fruit. Yen had bulgogi chicken, and I had a salmon sandwich.

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At last we headed over to what the kids had been asking for since we arrived.

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And then, there was still more: a botanical garden. They had a big section on xeriscaping that was really inspiring.

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Linus’s favorite part, of course.

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Back to the playground…

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We were invited over to Yen’s aunt’s house for dinner (Mina kept calling her “the eight lady” because in Vietnamese she’s called “Aunt Eight”). They were very taken with each other.

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Mina put on quite a show chattering away in Vietnamese. After dinner, the kids were presented with a beautiful cake made by “the eight lady.”

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She was so brave! She left the kids cut the cake. You can see my horror.

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After dinner, the kids got to play a piano for the first time. Mina particularly loved it. She played for nearly half an hour.

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Of course we did group photos. I managed to get everyone to smile at the same time by counting in Vietnamese. Suprise! I do know a few things!

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The next day we headed out to Valley of Fire for a little fresh air and downshifting. It’s so strange how you drive through desert for an hour, and suddenly come across a mini Sedona.

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What does one eat while hiking in the desert? Chocolate croissant, naturally.

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After we took the teeny hike near the visitor center, we got into the car and headed out for a walk that promised petroglyphs with minimal effort. It really delivered!

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The kids spent most of the hike complaining. “There’s sand in my shoes! I’m thirsty! This is so BORING!” We’ve got a week reserved for Sedona in February, and we’re seriously reconsidering now.

However, on the way back, something changed and they started having a better time.

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The trail is called Mouse’s Tank, after a man named Mouse (really) who used it as a hideout because he knew he could always find water in this little hole.

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On the way back, I named this Bison Rock.

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“I did it!”

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In the afternoon we checked out the Adventure Dome then came over to another relative’s house for dinner.  The following morning we headed over to Mandalay Bay to meet up with Co Ba Tram, who very nicely got us passes to the Shark Reef. I’m writing this with Mina watching over my shoulder, and she’s shouting, “Co Ba Tram! Co Ba Tram!” The kids really love her.

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This komodo dragon wasn’t terribly menacing.

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The kids had a great time spotting the sharks as we walked through the tunnels.

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Afterward, we headed over to the Polar exhibit that was also open there. The kids enjoyed this screen – you could touch an animal and it would tell you what it eats, how big it gets, etc.

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Then they practiced jumping across the water on ice floes.

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Here they are looking baffled in front of a giant photo of the Strip.

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And back at the hotel for some R&R (with no pants).

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The next day we headed over to the natural history museum.

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Mina’s favorite room, of course. She’s not remotely scared of dinosaurs. In fact, the more bloody and visceral the story, the more excited she seems to get. She also loves obscure dinos over the ones everyone knows. Her current favorites are Gorgosaurus, Scolosaurus, and Deinonychus.

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They’ve got a nice recreation of King Tut’s tomb (yes, paid for by Luxor).

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Of course we found a playground again. It was the coldest day so far, but Mina refused to wear her jacket.

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While Linus and I were completely bundled up.

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We headed back then and met up with Ba Hai for lunch. We went to Lotus of Siam, which came highly recommended by a colleague. He was right. Easily the best Thai food we’ve ever found.

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In the evening, we took a final walk along the Strip and found this installation at one of the shopping centers. I think it was commissioned by Linus.

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And then… Home on the plane! Can’t wait for the next trip.

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