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Mount Vernon

This year, we had two Thanksgivings. One Thanksgiving with my mother in Mount Vernon, and a second the following day with Rich’s father, Ted Robertson, in Bullhead City, Arizona, just over the border from Laughlin, Nevada.

The Thanksgiving preparations began on Wednesday evening with my making stuffing for the turkey. It was late in the evening, and I was rushing. I’d purchased food for the Thanksgiving the weekend before and put it in the refrigerator in Mount Vernon. I brought the rest from Kirkland. Instead of bringing jars of spices and fresh picked herb from my herb barrel, I grabbed a container of Cajun seasoning.

I browned a large onion and several stalks of celery, and then added half a loaf of moistened cubed Greek olive bread, sliced mushrooms, and chopped parsley. I regrettably poured, instead of sprinkled in the Cajun seasoning. Even though I realized I’d added too much, I stared mixing.

The stuffing was way too salty!

Thanksgiving in Mount Vernon Washington

Thanksgiving in Mount Vernon

So I cubed up the rest of the olive bread… added in more chopping parsley, and started to search around for more stuff to add. Luckily, I’d bought a bell pepper last week for my mother, which her caregiver didn’t use. It got chopped and dumped in the stuffing. Next, I went outside and picked some kale, the only vegetables left in the garden. It too was added to muddle.

Even with the added ingredients, it was way too salty! With nothing left to add, I tossed the stuffing into the refrigerator, and hoped for the best the next day.

The morning began with my making a pumpkin pie. I’d purchased a pie pumpkin weeks earlier, which I cut in half, and tossed in the oven to bake while I made the crust. Pie pumpkins have great seeds, which I washed, and Rich later roasted with salt and pepper.

Next, I made the cranberry sauce, prepped the yam dish (oranges and maple syrup), boiled some deceased carrots, and mashed with butter, eggnog, and sea salt (no one was the wiser), and sliced white potatoes to boil for mashed potatoes. Finally, I prepped some brussels sprouts.

It was time to stuff the turkey…

Because only Rich, and I, and my mother were having Thanksgiving in Mount Vernon, Rich purchased a “hybrid” turkey, which when we opened was missing its legs, wings, and tummy. We examined it for a few minutes, and then concurred we could plop a couple of handfuls of stuffing under the breast plate, and then stretch the skin to cover it up. There was also another small cavity, at the back, for securing stuffing.

The remaining boat-load of stuffing, I put in a large casserole pan.

The result? The stuffing was perfectly seasoned. I knew the turkey would absorb most of the excess salt, but was surprised the stuffing in the casserole was okay.

After cleaning up, and freezing most of the dinner for my mother to eat in the coming weeks, we drove back to Kirkland, packed, and got the cats, birds, and house in order for our trip.

Bullhead City

Friday morning, the alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. After a quick shower, we pulled on our clothes, grabbed our bags, counted the cats — to make sure none were locked in a room — and headed to the airport. We had a smooth flight, landing in Las Vegas, getting a rental car, and heading to Bullhead City, Arizona by 10 a.m.

Before visiting Ted, we stopped at a park that borders the Colorado River on the Nevada side. We took a brisk walk because the wind was gusting. We then chatted with a Canadian couple who are traveling around the United States. They were delighted with Bullhead City, which truly is splendid during the winter months.

It occurred to me why so many Canadians find America intriguing. Canada doesn’t have the vast variety of landscapes from snow-capped mountains to warm sandy beaches, vast deserts, swamps, plains, and dramatic places-of-interest like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, Florida Keys, and Monumental Valley. And nothing matches the places to visit in American cities from Hollywood to Manhattan to Memphis, Houston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta City, Miami Beach, and points-in-between.

After visiting with Ted for several hours, we followed him across the street to his “special” friend Sue who had spent the day cooking a Thanksgiving meal. Sue takes care of Charlie who is turning 94. In spite of Charlie’s age, hearing loss, and near blindness, he enjoys interacting with people.

Bullhead City, AZ

Bullhead City and Laughlin

After stuffing our tummies, and discussing at length Rich’s beard – to shave or not to shave – we returned to Ted’s house to chat for a while before going to bed.

The next morning, Rich and I got up earlier and returned to the park along the Colorado River. We planned to take a longer walk to the Davis Dam, and dressed according to combat the wind. We had a pleasant, but windy walk, snapping pictures, and stopping to read the sign along the walkway.

Rich then decided we should take an alternate route back to our car. However, instead of taking the marked trail, we climbed to a viewpoint, and then trail blazed across a mesa. Happily, Rich decided to head back down at the precise time we lined up with a sandy trail that headed down the mesa.

We kinda’ took a step, and skid for a foot or until the sand stopped our descent, and then took another step. The only problem was we were both wearing Keen sandals, which quickly filled with sand and tiny sharp rocks. Ouch!

Later, when we viewed the mesa from a distance, we realized we took the ONLY sandy trail down the mesa. The alternative was brush- and rock-covered. Sometimes miracle happen.

We spent the rest of the day looking at picture albums and chatting with Ted until mid-afternoon when we went across to Laughlin, Nevada, and had lunch in one of the casinos at Bubba Gump. Afterwards, I immediately lost a $1 in one of the slot machines. Sue, on the other hand, put $2 into a machine, played 30 numbers at once, and instantly got multiple free plays. When the machine stopped chiming, she won $27!

Sue was nonchalant about winnings; whereas, Rich and I were jumping up-and-down with excitement!

Sunday morning, we had a late breakfast/early lunch at Denny’s with Ted, and then hit the road.

Last Stop: Las Vegas

We’ve been to Las Vegas many times, and were going to skip going during this trip, but I wanted to see the downtown area and the Fremont Street Experience. Months ago, I made reservations to stay at the Golden Nugget, which received high marks.

We we’re disappointed from the automated check-in to our spacious, elegantly appointed room, complete with robes. Plus, the room cost just $53!

I was pleased with the Golden Nugget as soon as we walked in the door. The holiday ornaments and decorations were fabulous with polar bears, white reindeer, elves, a white-bearded Santa, and beautiful ornaments, ribbons, and other flourishes.

In the center of the hotel’s two towers is a large pool deck with a 200,000 gallon aquarium in the center. In the aquarium are several varieties of sharks – sandtiger, brown, nurse, blacktip reef, and zebra – along with large fish like horse-eye and crevalie jack, redfish, blue runner, Queensland and black grouper, golden trevally, cobia, and stingrays.

The best part of the aquarium is the two-story water slide. It took no time for me to convince Rich that we needed to change into our bathing suit, jump into the

View Golden Nugget

Golden Nugget, las vegas

pool, and work up the nerve to go down the slide… even though it was breeze and cool outside.

My first decent down the slide was a little scary as I didn’t know what to expect. The next 5 or 6 were a blast! The slide takes several turns before thrusting you through the sharp tank, and then disposing you in a shallow pool.

My supply of adrenaline used us, we spent a few minutes in the hot tub, and then dashed back to your room for a quick shower and night-on-the-town.

Our first stop was the newly opened Downtown Container Park, which is amazing, fabulous, and fun! It’s made out of metal cubes, along with refurbished shipping containers that could have previously be used on cargo ships or placed on trucks for shipping good. The containers are stacked one-on-top of each other to form shops, stairways, sitting areas, restaurants, art galleries, and common areas.

The park is designed to be a business incubator, allowing entrepreneurs to start small in a 250 space foot space, the inside of a shipping container.

There is also a large stage with Astroturf in front, and a boxcar and caboose in the back, the later containing a barber shop called Bolt Barbers.

In the center of the park is a playground and interactive zone with a 30-foot-tall tree house, three different slides, and an electronic game, where children engage by raced around, hitting flashing lights.

It was dusk when we arrived at the park. At the entrance was performers engaging children and adults in a drum circle. Behind the performers was a 40-foot praying mantis sculpture mounted on a truck. As the last bit of sun faded, and the drumming grew louder, the mantis spewed fire from its antennae. It’s very dramatic, and something we hadn’t expected to see.

The park was developed by the Downtown Project, a community revitalization group funded by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. The site used to be home to a Motel 6. It’s now an amusing place to spend a few hours, wandering through 41 metal cubes and 30 repurposed shipping container. Learn more about the park and vision for the area.

Hungry, our next destination was to find a place to eat. We passed by the Heart Attack Grill, which touts “Taste… Worth Dying For.” The waitresses are dressed as nurses who take prescriptions and customers are considered patients. A tag is wrapped on patients’ wrists showing which foods they ordered, and a “doctor” examines the patients’ health with a stethoscope.

Their menu consists of insanely large hamburgers, including an Octuple Bypass Burger with 8 beef patties, 40 slices of bacon (5 per patty), American cheese, red onion, sliced tomato, and Heart Attack Grill’s unique special sauce. You can also ordered Flatliner fries (cooked in pure lard), and range of beverages, including Mexican-bottled Coca-Cola and “Butter-fat Shakes.”

If you manage to finish a Triple or Quadruple Bypass Burger, a nurse will wheel you out to your vehicle. Not sure where they wheel you if you eat at the Heart Attack Grill on Fremont Street since I didn’t see a parking lot nearby.

We opted for a slightly lower form of gluttony, a buffet at a casino!

I’ve never eaten at a buffet and NOT regretted it later. This trip was no exception. I take a few bites of each of my favorite foods, but put together is was WAY TOO MUCH to eat from blue cheese dressing poured over the yummies at the salad bar to French onion soup, macaroni and cheese, baked salmon, sushi, seafood salad, and cooked vegetables, which I dipped in melted cheese (intended for pouring over tortilla chips). And because we got to the buffet before the crowds, there was a huge selection of desserts, which Rich and I shared.

View Container Park and Las Vegas

Container Park and Las Vegas

Oh, you don’t want to know how many slices of different types of cakes and pastries (i.e. napoleon, cannoncini, etc.) we ate.

Our bellies stuffed to capacity, we hit the streets, walking through casinos, looking at signs and buildings from the 50’s, many of which have since fallen into disrepair. There were also signs of hope with the gentrification of several blocks, and developers breathing new life into the original casinos and hotels.

The longest continuously-running casino in Las Vegas, the El Cortez Hotel and Casino feels like a step-back in time with 40’s interior design of dark wood, leather-covered chairs, patterned wallpaper, and low ceilings with amber lights.

Opened in 1941, and purchased by Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in 1963, the El Cortez has expanded, but the original two-story, Spanish-style buildings remain. The Flame Steakhouse, at the El Cortez, serves food that’s reminiscent of the “Rat Pack,” such as jumbo shrimp cocktails, oysters Rockefeller, and oysters on the half shell for appetizers, french onion soup, iceberg wedge, and traditional Caesar as starters, and pork chop, filet mignon, surf & turf, steak diane, and prime rib of beef as main courses.

The Downtown Grand Casino and Hotel, which was formerly the Lady Luck, has a steampunk feel with exposed brick walls, spectacular chandeliers, and giant gears and other mechanics displayed as art. It’s steps from the Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, which is located in the former federal courthouse where in 1950 the Kefauver Hearings on Organized Crime were held to expose and control organized crime.

The museum is probably fascinating, but at $20 per ticket, we opted for continue walking through downtown Las Vegas. Plus, it was a beautiful night.

We then came across a large, dramatic office complex, which we later learned is the headquarters for Zappos, online shoe source extraordinaire. Formerly located in Henderson, Nevada, a short drive from Las Vegas, Zappos remodeled the Las Vegas City Hall site, and moved their relocated its 1,200 employees to the new complex in 2013.

The move is designed to boost the local economy and help revitalize the downtown area to the tune of $336.6 million, with the city collecting approximately $395,900 annually in additional property taxes. With up to 2,000 employees at Zappos, there’s an increased need for restaurants, retail stores, health care providers, apartments and condominiums, and other services, which is great news for downtown merchants, hanging on until the economy improves.

The next morning, we drove around and were astonished to see so many new high-rise buildings in the area, and positive signs that downtown Las Vegas will return to its previous appeal before the “strip” became the main attraction and magnet for development funds.

We caught only the tail-end of a Fremont Street Experience. What we saw wasn’t overly impressive, and didn’t overcome the despair on the street. There are many beggars, shysters, and low-life who take up residence on Fremont Street as the night wears on.

It’s a safe area because of the many police, but one won’t want to wander too far from the neon lights. Many of the shops are seedy, and casinos lure in customers with scanty- or bikini-clad female dealers and bartenders, who alternate between working the tables, serving drinks, and dancing on top of bars or raised platforms.

Lining Fremont Street are sidewalk bars, where you can get a tall plastic “vase,” filled with frozen concoctions, spinning in slushy machines. Choose from margaritas, daiquiris, mud slides, mojito, pina colada, and much more.

Around 10 o’clock, we tried of the hubbub, and returned to the Golden Nugget to watch the sharks swim, and sit by the fire pit in the pool area.

The next morning, we woke to loud noises at 6 a.m. Our room was over the conference center and they were replacing some ducts. Rich called the front desk to complain. To make up for the unexpected early-morning wake-up call, we got to go through their breakfast buffet for free. While Rich enjoyed the food, I was nauseated from the buffet gluttony the night before. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a few bites of a tasty omelet and some fruit.

We walked around for a while, then returned to our room so I could dial into a conference call for work. Afterwards, we found parking on the strip, grabbed the camera, and snapped pictures of our favorite building. I keep wanting to see Vegas not for the gambling, food or entertainment, but the buildings. I don’t think I could ever tire of seeing the variety of architecture and interior design.

During the day, you can see the detail on the Paris, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Monte Carlo, Venetian, and the many other ornate, themed casinos. And ARIA, Vdara, and the other magnificent buildings in the same area.

Dinner was at Jack-in-the-Box before an uneventful flight back to Seattle, and two Thanksgivings spent in three states: Washington, Arizona, and Nevada.