Solo in the City

My cousin, Katie, is funny as hell. She lives in Midtown Manhattan, and smells of adventure—that, and the faintest hint of cigarette smoke (she’s forever quitting). I was ecstatic to stay with her last summer.

Until I wasn’t. Right before my visit, sad circumstances pulled Katie to the West Coast.

The thought of spending three days in New York City was daunting, but I was locked in.

My interior design friend, Laura, suggested the swank Crosby Street Hotel.

So chic! But rooms costs a kajillion dollars.
So chic! But the rooms cost a kajillion dollars.

Luckily, I scored a killer last-minute deal at the Soho Grand on Hoteltonight (great app!).

After indulging in way too much orange soda at my Grandmom Rosie’s 100 year-old rest home rager in Philly, I hopped an Amtrak for NYC. I got off at Penn Station, hopped the A train to Canal Street, and arrived at my hotel too early to check in. I dumped my bags, and wondered: What now?

My growling stomach led me to Momofuku Noodle Bar. On the way I got lost half a dozen times. Finally I arrived, sweaty and disoriented.

 Perched on a stool at the counter, the Friday lunch rush swirling around me, I realized I’d forgotten to bring reading material. So I just sat there awkwardly wondering where to look. Should I glance at my waiter drying glasses behind the counter? The guy to my right with his face buried in the Times? Or out on the packed floor, where it appeared everyone but me was seated with a gaggle of ramen-slurping buddies?

Just then a woman to my left turned in my direction, her diamond nose stud twinkling in the light. I perked up. She was going to engage!

“Pass the hot sauce?” she grunted.

“Sure,” I replied.

As I waited for my lunch, I remembered our fun family visit a few years back when we cheered Jimmy on in the NYC marathon, and scored the trip’s best eats—steamed Chinese buns slathered with hoisin and filled with crispy pork belly—right here at Momofuku.

But this time, my taste buds were unimpressed. It could have been my subway pass nestled between that pillowy wrapping. I knew the problem wasn’t the chef; it was me. I’d lost my appetite. The daunting prospect of spending three days—and countless meals—alone in the City had sunk in.

After lunch I rode the subway to the High Line, an elevated subway track converted into a gorgeous mile-long popular park. The path was packed with families and tourists lounging on the grass, snapping Selfies and marveling at the sights. Yet I had no one to ooh and ahh with over the lime green hydrangea, or the “Stop praying. God’s too busy to find you a parking spot” billboard, or the metallic, block-of-ice high-rise that would have made the perfect lair for a James Bond villain.

Hours later I finally checked into my hotel. Plopping onto the bed, I wanted so badly to grab a Corona and peanut M’n’Ms from the minibar and turn on Bravo tv, but it was dinnertime. A friend had recommended La Esquina which I yelped from my bed.  Apparently it was a hip NYC haunt, patronized by the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson.

The minibar was looking better and better.

Then came my inner-pep talk:  It’s Friday night. You’re in NYC. Would Carrie Bradshaw cower in her room binging on M’n’Ms? Hell no! She would strap on her Manolo’s and make it happen. 

So I pried myself from the sheets, donned my cutest outfit and headed down to the lobby to ask the concierge for directions.

 The concierge was a ruffled, Mark Ruffalo look-a-like. He pointed me toward Spring Street, and offered to call ahead and put me on the wait list for the bar.

A wait list? For the restaurant bar? Dorothy, we weren’t in Los Gatos anymore.

“Um,” I balked. “I guess so.”

My heart pounded inside my jean jacket the entire five blocks. Then I turned a corner and saw La Esquina’s glowing red neon sign. From the outside, the former dumpy deli didn’t look intimidating at all—so far, so good.

La Esquina 2

As I stepped through the entrance, a burly bouncer body blocked me at the door.

“Name?” he said.

“Um,” I stammered. “Kim. Kim Ratcliff.”

He eyed me as if I’d come in with a Nikon camera the size of a microwave strapped around my neck…

fanny packers…then called for backup.

“Name?” a second bouncer demanded.

I repeated my name. He stared me down. “Okay, go ahead,” he said. At the bottom of the stairs, a trio of bitchy hostesses awaited.

“Hi,” I chirped. “I’m headed for the ba—”

“That way,” Bitch #1 said, jerking a red lacquered talon toward a door.

Um, are you sure? I thought. Because that looks like the kitchen. I walked through a steam-shrouded kitchen, deeper into the labyrinth. After a few more twists and turns, I entered the subterranean dining room. Candlelit chandeliers illuminated the dim, cavernous space and its Day of the Dead decor.

I sunk into a comfy communal sofa and waited for the cocktail waitress. But guess what? La Esquina doesn’t offer cocktail service, so I took a deep breath, and elbowed my way to the bar.

Fifteen dollar marg in hand, I beelined back to the sofa. After my eyes adjusted, here’s what I did not see: George, Kate or Julia. Still, once I pounded my marg, I fled the boisterous bar for the safety of my hotel room where I climbed into bed with Andy Cohen and my chorizo-yucca tacos.

Compared to La Esquina, brunch the next morning at chic French brassiere Balthazar was a piece of cake—or should I say piece of brioche. Thanks to Mark Ruffalo, who’d secured a ressie the night before, I got right in.

The clink of silverware and soft classical music was mediative. Wall St. Journal in hand, I devoured my eggs benedict, and thought, maybe I can handle this traveling solo thing. Then, after brunch I passed a woman in the West Village walking her golden retriever. I felt a pang of loneliness. Back home I was never alone. I had Jimmy, the boys, a golden retriever glued to my side. Someone was always demanding a ride, or sex, or chewing on my Jimmy Choos. Someone always wanted a piece of me. And I was a bit of a lost soul without my pack, my wonderful, pain-in-the-ass pack.

I dragged my sad sack self back to the hotel, freshened up and rode the subway to 42nd Street. Swallowed by a sea of tourists out in Times Square, I felt ever more alone. At the theatre I waited silently in the long line for Kinky Boots. Inside, I took my seat and greeted the woman sitting next to me. We chatted about my kids and her Arizona garden boutique. Then, the lights dimmed, and for the next two hours, we whooped and cheered in tandem.

If I’d been with Jimmy and the boys, they would have been horrified, shushing me as usual, but I felt so free. After the show I walked to the Flatiron district. Entering the madhouse that is Mario Batali’s Eataly on a Saturday night, I snagged a seat at the Il Pesce counter.

Although I had both reading material and a bird’s (fish’s?) eye view of the chefs in the tiny, open kitchen, a woman from Ann Arbor who was traveling with her 14-year-old, introduced herself.

Sipping our Chardonnay, we shared city stories. After I spied Ann Arbor sprinkle sea salt in her virgin olive oil, I did the same. We dunked our fresh, rustic bread into the concoction, and I swore nothing could taste more delicious.

After dinner I walked back to Soho. Stopping every few seconds to marvel at the Empire State Building glowing purple in the dusky sky, I realized I’d found a rhythm and had finally begun to relax. Yes, I missed my family, but they would be waiting when I got back with hugs and gluten-free dinner demands, so why not milk my time alone for all it was worth?

Of course I wasn’t really alone. The streets teemed with energy. Lovers ringed the fountain in Washington Square Park; a piano man serenaded the crowd on a baby grand.  As usual I got lost multiple times. Two young Frenchmen righted me as I made a wrong turn out of the park, creating the sexiest human compass in the City.

In the end, it took a village—Greenwich Village—to get me back to my hotel.

On my last morning, I woke up early and rode the train uptown. I got off at Columbus Circle, where there waiting on the sidewalk was cousin, Katie, chomping furiously on a piece of Nicorette.

We rented bikes and explored Manhattan, top to bottom. We rode past Central Park, through Columbia University, down the West Highway, laughing, talking, breathing in the City in all its sewage-y, Sunday morning glory.

By the time our adventure ended, I was so famished I was eyeing Katie’s Nicorette as if it were eggs benny at Balthazar. “I’m sorry plans didn’t work out, you staying with me,” she apologized.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Everything worked out perfectly.” And I meant it. During my travels I’d rediscovered the feeling of independence and embraced it. Comfort zones are just that, comfortable, but not always exciting. And we all need some excitement in our lives.

Love you, KT, even if you kicked my ass!
If you ever go to NYC, you gotta look up my cool, cosmopolitan cousin, Katie.

Katie and I hugged goodbye, and I made my way to Ma Peche, Momofuku’s sister restaurant. Sunday Times in hand, I sat down, and ordered.

The pork buns arrived, and the crunch of pickled cucumbers, tang of hoisin, and crispy pork tasted exactly as I remembered—delicious.

I sat and devoured them, at home with myself at last.

Trottin’ with the Baby Daddy

Guest Blogger: Jimmy

Every Thanksgiving we run the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 5K which benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank. Not only is the race a good way to get a little exercise before you indulge, but also it’s great way to help those in need.

The night before the race, I carefully pinned our numbers to our bright purple jerseys and laid them all out for easy access during the following morning scramble. “Don’t forget, we have to get a picture of us wearing our race shirts after the race!” chirped Kimmy.

As always the race was epic. Cruising through the deserted streets of downtown San Jose, serenaded by Taiko drummers, cheered on by bystanders, running alongside chicks dressed like hot pilgrims. What’s not to like?

 After we finished, we met in front of SAP Center and headed back to the car, cutting through St. James Park on the way.  There it was Thanksgiving, yet sprinkled though out the park were folks bundled in blankets drinking Coke and eating PB& J’s. Some were obviously homeless. It was heartbreaking. I knew I would go home and enjoy a great meal in a warm house with family and friends, but these people were obviously not as fortunate.

Halfway through the park, we saw a guy chilling on a bench smoking a cigarette. “Hey!” he called. “Where’d you get that shirt, man?”

“We did the Trot, dude!” I called.

“Huh?” He didn’t seem to know what the Trot was.

“You know, running?”

“Oh! Did you have to pay for that?”

“Yeah, man. We had to sign up and pay.”

We were halfway to the car when Kimmy said, “We should give that guy one of our shirts!”

“No way, Kim. Let’s go,” we all balked.

“Come on!” she pleaded. “Mine’s an extra small—it won’t fit him. Sax, quick give me yours.”

Saxon grudgingly took his shirt off. I gave him my sweatshirt. We waited at the car while Mother Teresa ran back through the park.

A few minutes later she arrived at the car out of breath with a huge smile on her face. “He loved it!” she said. Her smile faded, however, when Tanner said,  “Nice job, Mom, now we can’t get a photo of us wearing our shirts.”

“Shoot!” she said. “We’ll just have to go and ask if we can borrow it back for a second.”

We all shot Kim down. “NO WAY, Forget it!”

But she insisted. So back we drove. We got out of the car and headed toward the dude.  His name was Marvin. Marvin introduced us to his lady friend, Esperanza, who was drinking a super-sized blackberry ice tea from the can. “Are these your boys?” she asked.

“Yes,” Kim replied. “These are my sons, Tanner and Saxon.”

Esperanza pointed at me. “That the dad?”

“Yep, that’s my baby daddy.” We all cracked up, Marvin and Esperanza included.

Marvin told us had two daughters, 6 & 7, and boy, were they were a handful. Esperanza said her son was a wrestler at Independence High School.  We stood there for a few minutes, laughing and chatting about the agony and ecstasy of raising children. Then we asked if Marvin would join us for a photo. “Sure,” he said.

Meet Marvin, the newest Rattypack member.

Esperanza snapped the photo, eyeing our shirts admiringly. We told Marvin we hoped to see him next year at the Trot and suggested he start training and ease up the smokes immediately. Right before we walked away, I took off my shirt and handed it to Esperanza. Her eyes lit up in gratitude. (Or maybe she was just checking out my studly naked upper torso.)

Truthfully, it was me who was grateful. They may have gotten the shirts off our backs but in that moment, our family interacted with people we’d normally never engage with in our daily lives. That cool moment turned out to be the highlight of my Thanksgiving.

As we walked away,  Esperanza called out, “You better keep an eye on your baby daddy!”

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Broadway, Balthazar and Camel Balls

Guest blogger: Tanner

It all started with my manic mom. She saw Kinky Boots on Broadway in August, and called us hyperventilating after the show.

“OHMIGOD, OHMIGOD, that show was amazing,” she said. “JIMMY! You have to bring Tanner when you come here for your podiatry conference next month. He needs to see there is more to life than MINECRAFT!”

So, that’s how I found myself spending a whirlwind weekend with my dad in NYC.
We arrived at JFK exhausted after catching the red-eye, and my dad promptly forgot his iPhone in the taxi. Luckily, the guy who got into the taxi after us was a bro. He arranged to meet us at Rockefeller Center so he could give Jimmy’s prized iPhone back!

We dropped our bags at The Days Inn on the Upper West Side, and headed for Cafe 82, which my dad called a “glorified Dennys.” Since I have Celiac Disease, my mom researched gluten-free friendly restaurants before we came. We were pleased to discover Cafe 82 even offered a separate GF menu.

After I finished my delicious GF chocolate chip pancakes, we hopped aboard the subway  headed for the NYU campus for our tour. The campus was absolutely beautiful. Unlike most colleges that have a closed off campus, there is no gate at NYU. It was open to the whole city. We got to see the gigantic library that houses over four million books and the living quarters. The student-guides also showed us a sun-filled, modern classroom, which looked so sophisticated equipped with comfy desks and chairs.

After our tour ended, we walked to a completely GF restaurant famed for its delicious breadsticks, Risotteria. The food was tasty and our waiter was a cool dude who was Tahoe bound!

Later we checked in only to discover my mom had booked us a total 1-star ghetto hotel. We had one bed to share between the both of us. Our room smelled like strong, poisonous house cleaner and was probably infested by bedbugs. I shot off a text: Thanks, Mom, for the shit-shack of a room!!

Room with a view...not!
Room with a view…not!

We had maybe an hour to chill before we had to get back on the streets to go see Kinky Boots. My dad was bitter when he discovered there was no wine opener in our room even though he was paying three bills a night to stay. While I checked my Facebook, he went down and gave the front desk a piece of his mind.

No glassware for Jimbo's vino so a Dixie cup had to do.
No glassware for Jimbo’s vino so a Dixie cup had to do.

The show was phenomenal. Stark Sands and Billy Porter both did an amazing job at their parts. After seeing the show, we were pooped and headed back to our room to relax before the next adventure packed day! Saturday I navigated the City alone while my dad dug into some yummy cadaver feet at his lab in the Bronx—who doesn’t love the smell of formaldehyde in the morning? First, I hit up Cafe 82 again. I was becoming a regular. This time I gorged on fluffy, homemade mashed potatoes and GF pasta with marinara.

Afterward it was time for It’Sugar. Even though I’m almost 17, I still love candy. The place was filled with huge-sized Laffy Taffy, SweetTarts, and Nerds. I got myself some treats, and even brought back a box of extra sour bubblegum “Camel Balls” for Saxon.

Nothing like a big bro who buffs you out with camel testies!
Nothing like a big bro who buffs you out with camel testies!

Then it was time to see Book of Mormon. I had to take the red one line to Times Square-42nd Street. I proceeded to walk the seven blocks to 49th and 8th Street where the theater was located. My seat was so swank, about eight or so rows back, but snack-dab in the middle of the row, perfect view of the stage. Couldn’t ask for better (thanks Katie for the tix!) The show was amazing. It was written by the same people who did South Park, so it was hilarious in a crude humor way. The acting was superb as well, consisting of college-aged men belting catchy tunes that I couldn’t stop singing the next day.

After the show, my Dad, our cousin Katie, and myself went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, Balthazar. I gobbled up plenty of their delicious oysters while Jimmy and Katie proceeded to down several bottles of beer and wine (Partiers!!).

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The restaurant’s bathroom even had their own employee that would offer you towels after you had finished washing your hands. They also had a small plate of mints, matches, and other miscellaneous crippity-crap in an attempt to achieve a tip.

I am very big into acting  as I have been performing in musicals since the 5th grade. Seeing these shows on Broadway was eye-opening for me to see what it would be like for me if I continue on with my acting through college. I was so impressed by the skills demonstrated by the actors in the musicals.

On our final day, my Dad and I went on a beautiful walk up on the Highline trail. Although the path was packed with deodorant shunning, slow-walking Euros, I enjoyed the unique perspective of the City. We even were able to watch a guy make us snow-cones by scraping ice off a huge block of ice.

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Overall, this trip was one of the most important experiences I’ll ever have. I am so fortunate I was able to go to NYC and see the fantastic city. I’m happy to claim this experience has opened my eyes to many opportunities that I have access to in my life.

At Eataly's Beer Garden. Later NYC! I'll be back. And hopefully I'll be old enough to try the GF brews.
At Eataly’s Beer Garden. Later NYC! I’ll be back. And hopefully I’ll be old enough to try the GF brews.

Go The F**k to Sleep: The Teenage Years

If you read our Curse of the Cussing Skier post, you know I’m not the potty mouth of the family. But over the summer, Tanner hosted his annual Los Gatos Youth Theatre co-ed slumber party.

Some teenage boys might think doing theatre is uncool, but my guys are no dummies. For every one guy at the soiree, there were five funny, creative, head-on-straight girls. As a mom to dudes, I’m a sucker for having these exotic creatures in our home.

Everyone showed up around 5 p.m. Jimmy & I waited on the kids, offering poolside service on a par with the Four Seasons—young, unlined faces were spritzed with Evian, snacks and soda were delivered to the jacuzzi, and the whole backyard twinkled with colorful lights.

The gang finished swimming well after dark, and crammed into our long, narrow family room (aka “the bowling alley”) where they began perusing movies On Demand. Around 11, Jimmy and I retired to our bedroom. Right before my head hit the pillow, I whispered sweetly, “That wasn’t so bad!”

An hour later I was still wide awake. Our home is small. I could hear everything.  All I could think of was “Go the F**k to Sleep.” If you aren’t familiar, the NY Times best selling bedtime story for parents was written by an exhausted and exasperated dad, Adam Mansbach. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the story captures the frustrations of sealing the bedtime deal with procrastinating kids.

As I lay seething in bed that night too pissed off to count sheep, I wrote my own version of Go the F**k to Sleep…

Mom, can I have my theatre friends over, you begged. I’ll clean the house, even sweep.

We’ll swim, hang out and by a decent hour, fall fast asleep!

Okay, I agreed, but after midnight, I don’t want to hear a peep.

Mama’s almost 50, lookin’ a little haggard. Needs her Botox and f**kin’ beauty sleep.

It’s almost 1 a.m. now and through thin walls laughter continues to seep.

Don’t make me come out there in my mouthguard and lecture you. Please go the f**k to sleep.

All right, I’ll slice up more nectarines from Whole Foods, this organic sh*t ain’t cheap.

If you swear you’ll finish watching “Hairspray,”and get the f**k to sleep!

Hungry again? We just served DiGiorgno and popcorn when the microwave went “beep!”

Your bellies are full, now wrap up the massage train, and get to freakin’ SLEEP!

I get it, girls: “Pitch Perfect” best movie ever. Nick Jonas is hot. Harry Styles, a creep.

See? We’re on the same page? Now get the f**k to sleep.

The LEMON sign has dimmed, the jacuzzi jets silenced, so still is the pool sweep.

Hell no, you can’t go night swimming. You know where you can go? The f**k to sleep!

I come out & see Kevin* face planted on the sofa, probably counting sheep.

Can’t the rest of you follow his lead? Now lie the f**k down,  and sleep!

It’s late now, well past two, my Hushers are crammed so deep.

Stop twerking in my kitchen, and for the love of Miley f**kin’ Cyrus: sleep!

Seriously? Sourpatch popsicles at 3 a.m.? Your blood sugar’s gonna take a soaring leap

Sure, fine, whatever. How about some Red Bull, too. Who the f**k cares? You’re not gonna sleep.

Bleary eyed and dazed, I awaken at 5, the price of being a cool mom is way steep.

What on earth made me ever think you kids would go the f**k to sleep?

It’s morning now, bodies and sleeping bags tangled in a heap, I’ve tiptoed through the house long enough.

It’s 10 a.m., you little sh*ts! Now you’re gonna sleep?

Yogurt and fresh fruit—who told you breakfast came with the deal? A little birdie—”cheep cheep?”

The second your parents pick you up, I’m going the f**k back to sleep!

Around the piano you harmonize to Coldplay, voices so angelic it almost makes me weep.

Come back soon, my darling thespians. Who cares what time you go the f**k to sleep!

Love,

Mrs. Ratcliff

PS: If Samuel L. Jackson is busy, maybe we can get Zac Efron to narrate “GTFTS: The Teenage Years.”

*name changed to protect the sleep deprived.

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Kinky Kimmy & the Kandy Kakes

Thanks to some seriously amazing Hungarian genes, my grandmom Rose Wiggins was about to turn 100, so last Wednesday I bid adieu to the rest of the Rattypack.

 “I’m gonna miss you so much,” I said to the boys before I left for the airport.

“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” they replied, barely glancing up from their keyboards.

Five hours later my plane touched down in Philadelphia. I was thrilled when my cousin, Tracy, picked me up at the airport. When we were little, Tracy and I sported matching pixie haircuts, and played school for hours on end in her basement.

That's us circa '68. Tracy's on the right.
Circa ’68. Tracy’s on the right.

We hadn’t seen each other for 15 years, so we had a lot of catching up. Plus I was dying for a cheesesteak. We beelined for Jim’s on South Street.

Tracy warned me that Jim’s counter jockeys were Cheesesteak Nazi’s, like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, so I better get my act together before I reached the head of the queue.  But there were so many add-ons, my head was spinning.

“I’ll take the provolone with sautéed green bell peppers, uh no, never mind,” I stammered when it was my turn. “How about ‘shrooms and onions? Oh shoot, wait a sec.” The guys couldn’t have been nicer. They even agreed to this photo op on the condition I send them In & Out burgers, animal-style, when I got back home.

I'm working on it, guys!
Working on it, guys!
Somehow my cousin Tracy hookwinked me into the Cheez Wiz. Never again! From now on, I'm a provolone purist.
Tracy hookwinked me into the Cheez Wiz. Never again! From now on, I’m a provolone purist.
My other cousin, Kristen, put ketchup on her cheesesteak. What is up with that?
My other cousin, Kristen, doused her cheesesteak with ketchup. What’s up with that?

By the time we finished our meal, the line was wrapped around the block. It was obvious why—the tender, thinly sliced ribeye was heaven in a roll!

Not so heavenly? The smell in my room back at the Holiday Inn. My hair and clothes reeked of grilled meat and onions as though I’d just finished an eight-hour shift at Jim’s, but I didn’t care. I was already fiending for my next carnivorous fix.

I could have devoured one, two, five of those babies for breakfast, but my Uncle Chuck had other ideas. He took us on a tour of the Italian Market. We passed by old school butcher shops filled with all kinds of delicacies…

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One live poultry market was bursting at the seams with furry animals and birds crammed into cages— imagine Death Row for bunnies.

To cleanse our eyeballs from that sad site, we toured historic Society Hill, where I fell in love with the charming 18th- and early 19th-century architecture and brick rowhouses.

Great curbside appeal~American flags, and urns spilling over with flowers.
Great curbside appeal~American flags, and urns spilling over with flowers.

I could have meandered down those cobblestone streets for hours, but it was time to PARTAY! First we had to pick up Grandmom Rosie’s birthday cake from Giants supermarket. Luckily there was a blue light special on TastyKake Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes which I loved as a kid. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups meets moist cakey goodness, these treats are melt-in-your-mouth delish.

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Tastykakes are only sold on the East Coast, so I bought like 50 boxes. Kristen stocked up on butterscotch.
Tastykakes are only sold on the East Coast, so I bought like, 50 boxes of PB. Kristen stocked up on butterscotch.

Soon it was time to blow the roof off the Broomhall Presbyterian Nursing Home! Orange soda was flowing, a hoagie tray was brimming, and Uncle Dave was crankin’ out religious hymns on his keyboard.

Nestled in a crochet blanket, the birthday girl wore a slouchy beanie, and beamed at her many well wishers including my sweet cuz, Matt who flew in from Florida for the day.

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Hey Grandmom. Kayne called. He wants his gold cross pendant back.
Hey Grandmom. Kayne called. He wants his gold cross pendant back.
The gang's all here.
The gang’s all here.
Put the Orange Crush down, Dad! (aka Grandpa XXL Undies) You'll spoil your appetite!
Put the Orange Crush down, Dad! (aka Grandpa XXL Undies) You’ll spoil your appetite!

Grandmom Rosie’s long term memory is great. She regaled us with childhood stories. Apparently her grandmother (who helped raise Rosie) spiked her tea with whiskey every morning before school because the weather was so frigid.

Her short term memory, though, is shot.

“Hi Grandmom,” I chirped when I first approached her. “It’s your granddaughter, Kim, from California! Happy Birthday, you look beautiful! I’m glad I could be here to help you celebrate.”

“Kimmy? Kimmy!” she cooed. “I can’t believe you’re here. Oh Kimmy, I love you so much…”

Ten minutes later, I checked back in. “Grandmom, you enjoying your party?”

“Who is that speaking? I’m sorry I can’t see so well, I have macular degeneration. Who are you?”

“It’s Kim, visiting from California, Grandmom.”

“Kimmy! I can’t believe you’re here. Oh sweetie, Kimmy, I love you so much.” And on our conversation looped for the rest of the sweet celebration.

Grandmom Rosie starred in all of the Hungarian musicals in her hometown of Bethlehem, Pa. When she was about 17 or 18, the young starlet aspired to move to NYC with her best friend, cousin Mary, to give Broadway a shot. Fearful of the wild city life, however, her grandmother thwarted those plans. Hmm…whiskey before grade school, yes. Broadway, no. Not sure about that logic, but regardless Rosie’s love for the dramatic arts—from attending musicals to her beloved Liberace—never waned.  So it was in her honor I hopped a train to NYC the following day and saw Kinky Boots on Broadway.

Winner of the ’13 Tony Award for Best Musical, Kinky Boots is based on a 2005 British film about a British shoe factory on the brink of ruin that reinvents itself as a maker of eight inch stiletto “kinky boots” for drag queen performers. It’s a big ol’ love story about sons, the families we make and red patent leather. (Disclosure: Cribbed that last line from the NY Times.)

Yes, these are all dudes. Except Cindy Lauper.
Yes, these are all dudes. Except Cindy Lauper.

With music and lyrics by Cindi Lauper, Boots was more delicious than cheesesteaks and Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. The male actors who appeared in drag were insanely gorgeous. When I wasn’t contemplating turning to the excessive cougher behind me and shoving a lozenge down his throat, I cheered for 2 hours straight. And wondered how in the heck those dudes tucked everything—and I mean EVERYTHING—out of sight.

After the show, I stood on the sidewalk with strangers, our hearts still pounding, as we raved about the show. I couldn’t help but think Rosie would have adored Kinky Boots. She was there in spirit for sure.

Happy 100th Birthday to the greatest DIVA of all, Grandmom Rose.

Love,

Kimmy from California.

PS: I said, KIMMY FROM CALIFORNIA!

Tony-award winning actor Billy Porter, the second greatest diva of all time!
Tony-award winning actor Billy Porter, the second greatest diva of all time!

San Diego Heaven!

My friend, Dasha & I met during our San Diego college days when we worked as counselors at a YMCA surf camp on Kauai one summer.

dash & kim

Dash was the super on it, responsible counselor who once plucked a gaggle of Japanese campers from a riptide at Lumahai Beach. I was the derelict counselor who read Jaws to the kids by the campfire and looked away when they bought wine coolers at the ABC market. I don’t know why Dasha wanted to be friends with me, but thankfully she did, and after that summer we were attached at the velcro JimmyZ skirts we rocked back in the ’80s.

Every summer Dash and her family graciously allows the Rattypack to descend upon their Del Mar pad. Last year we punked Saxon royally.  We reinjected his Twinkies with Ranch dressing (see Tale of the Tainted Twinkie). I was really hoping to torture him again this year. And, although we alluded to lacing his Hersey’s Cookies & Cream mini-cereal box with laxitive—”How’s your tummy feeling, Sax?”—we sadly ran out of time.

Ever since our Kauai days, Dash and I have been soul sisters of the sea, so we literally spent every second of our visit in the water. We stand up paddle boarded in La Jolla, as grey bellied seals, leopard sharks and brilliant orange garabaldi flitted through the aqua water beneath us. We boogie boarded mondo  surf in Del Mar, careening down waves at eyeball level in a rush of sound and foam. And then, we pruned ourselves to the max sipping apres beach martinis in her jacuzzi.

But even mermaids need to eat, so we headed to Herringbone in La Jolla. If you visit San Diego, this restaurant is a must! Located in a former warehouse, the decor is fabulous…

olive tree:bar

100-year olive trees grow between the tables.

Loved this wall of dried pufferfish!
Loved this wall of dried pufferfish!

There were fireplaces blazing, an array of coral and barnacles, and inside the belly of an amazing light fixture hanging over the bar, this cool whale skeleton…

whale bones

The food was massively delicious! If you go, be sure to order the whole fish ceviche…

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…the crab pasta in brown tarragon butter, and for desert, the Herringbone Sundae—chocolate ice cream, sea salt blondies, marshmallow cream, caramelized nibs drizzled espresso caramel.

Dasha and I were also busy trying to get our teenagers to interact. As you can see, the kids have hung out since they were little…

so little…but for some reason this trip they acted as if they’d never met. Luckily, Dash and I tapped into our inner camp counselors and made them play a raucous game of TABOO together on the beach. Here’s a snippet of the game:

Dash: Okay!!! This is something that happens on the 4th of July or Christmas WHERE A LOT OF PEOPLE WALK DOWN THE STREET!!!!”

Lauren: Mom! You’re being really loud. Is it fireworks?

Dash: NO!!!! THEY WILL OFTEN WEAR COSTUMES!!!

Makena: Mom, please the whole beach is staring. Will you lower your voice? Is it Halloween?

Dash: NOOOOO, it’s NOT HALLOWEEN!!!! SOMETIMES THERE WILL BE MARCHING BANDS!!!!!

Makena: Shhhhhh!!! Oh I know, it’s a parade!

Kim: GOOD JOB, MAKENA!!!!!

Tanner & Sax: Pipe it, Mom. You’re such a grenade!

Needless to say, the teens FINALLY bonded over their loud, dorky moms.

Glad we could help, kids!
Glad we could help, kids!

Dash and I also love to shop. She was busy preparing for an upcoming camping trip, so  I headed up the PCH to Laguna Beach where I discovered Tuvalu, a darling beach chic home furnishings boutique where I could have done serious damage…

Drooling over this double oyster shell chandelier~only $4,500!
Drooling over this double oyster shell chandelier~only $4,500!

 Oh, and this bottle rack chandelier was killer, too. Price upon request so you know it was BANK!

billion dollar bottle rack chandy

Really loved this aqua anchor tricked out with lights, too.
Really loved this aqua anchor tricked out with lights, too.

bottle with sea glass beads

Lucky for Jimmy, my only purchase was this vintage bottle bedecked with a strands of seaglass. I love the colors. They remind me of the hues of the ocean in beautiful San Diego.

While the sparkly boutique finds were gorgeous, our trip reminded me that long lasting, friendships where you can grab your boogie board and pick up right where you left off, are life’s best treasures.

four of us at Herrybone

Can’t wait to come back & visit next year!010

Cheeks ‘n’ Chodes

sax with bunz

After rafting the gridlocked Truckee River and battling the masses for shady piece of real estate at Angora Lake on a recent trip to Tahoe, the Ratty Pack was craving some solitude. I had read about Secret Cove Beach located a few miles up Highway 28 from Sand Harbor not far from Incline Village. You have to park along the highway and hike down a 1/4-mile trail. When we arrived at 11 a.m., there were only a dozen or so cars which was a good sign. Halfway down the path, pine needles crunching under our feet, we caught a glimpse of gorgeous aquamarine water. Another good sign!

view from trail

The closer we got to the beautiful beach, the more excited I became.
The closer we got to the beautiful beach, the more excited I became.

At the end of the trail, we rounded a corner and easily found a spot on the beach. The good news was the crescent of white sand fringed by water in all hues of peacock feather blue! Dotting the beach were only 40 people or so. The bad news? 36 of those beach goers were naked. Yes, we had stumbled upon a clothing optional beach.

Let’s be honest, the RP aren’t exactly the most modest peeps. I got voted “Most Local” in high school (code for “Chick Most Likely to Cut Class & Sunbathe Topless at Cowells). And, one would be hard pressed to find a photo on Facebook of Jimmy actually wearing a shirt.

But we are parents of two teenagers now. We have standards to uphold. Oh, who am I kidding? I would’ve sold my soul for a dip in that pristine aqua water.

No sooner had we unfurled our towels than Tanner whipped out his phone and updated his Facebook status. “The moment when you think you’re headed to a chill beach, and it turns out to be a nudist beach with no inhabitants under the age of 60. Scarred for life.”

He wasn’t the only one who was scarred. We saw a guy floating spread eagled on a raft, baking his buns of cottage cheese to golden perfection. And a pot bellied octogenarian with Brillo pad pubes cruising the beach for geriatric talent.

And a woman with a droopy rack who was a dead ringer for Magda…

You remember her, don't you? The leathery old lady from "There's Something About Mary."
You remember her, don’t you? The leathery old lady from “There’s Something About Mary.”

Let’s just say no one looked like Channing Tatum

…or Kate Upton.

kate-upton-sports-illustrated-cover-2012

It was a peaceful scene though as people waded through the cove’s clear aqua water and sunned themselves on big boulders, and truthfully, as more people came, the crowd was half clothed, half not.

The boys pissed and moaned for a while—”Ah, gross,” said Sax. “It’s a parade of cheeks and chodes.” But after a while they chilled out and stopped complaining. Tanner memorized his lines for the Los Gatos Youth Theatre’s summer musical, 13, which—gratuitous plug!—everyone should come see!

The nude dude in the background has no idea Tanner is going to be famous someday.
The nude dude in the background has no idea Tanner is going to be famous someday.

Sax, Jimmy and I hiked around the corner to a deserted spot where giant grey boulders rose from the lake like sleeping elephants. We leapt off the rocks and luxuriated in that clear aqua water. It was heaven.

After we swam back in, we discovered that we had a new nudie neighbor to our left. His privates were mercifully hidden by a granite rock, although we did catch occasional glimpses of his tatted up tush. “If you want to use the floaty, it’s for everybody,” he graciously offered, pointing to a plastic raft tucked into a granite niche. I smiled and politely thanked him. “Boys, any takers?” I said.

“No thanks, we’ll Pasadena on the communal air mattress,” they said.

After an hour or so, we packed up. We had a good giggle on the hike back to the car, but all agreed we would take the serenity of Secret Cove over kooked-out Lake Angora any day. And as a parent, I was proud of my boys for being fairly tolerant. Why is our society so freaked out by nudity? As long as people aren’t lurkers (and I didn’t get a creepy vibe from anyone at Secret Cove whatsoever), Jimmy and I wanted our boys to know it’s cool by us. Live and let live.

Even if I wished it had been Channing Tatum down there sunning his buns.