Posted July 22, 2014on:
There’s a lot of ballyhoo about Southern California theme parks being the best in the nation, but as an Los Angeles replant and frequent visitor to all the usual suspects (Disneyland, California Adventures, LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, Six Flags, etc.,) I believe Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, can hold its own against the park super powers.
Ride of My Life
On a recent trip back to my home state of Virginia our family of two adults and two six-year-olds planned a two-day visit to Busch Gardens in historic Williamsburg. My childhood memories of the place are still fresh. I recall riding the famed Loch Ness Monster when it opened in 1978, and the fear in my heart as a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace played softly over the stereo system as my brother and I waited in line. My parents refused to go on this crazy upside-down looping roller coaster over a pond of water. I thought my folks were being wimpy and lame, in the day.
So here I was some — choke — 36 years later, looking at the twisting interlocking loops and the 130-foot drop above the park’s Rhine River, I tried to beg my son — the only one of our party eager to brave this beast — out of going on this ride. He was steadfast. So I waited in line with him hoping for the ideal situation which thankfully presented itself. Another boy, a bit older and much taller, was also seeking a buddy to ride in the two-seater car with him. Away they went, eyes wide with trepidation. A few minutes later, the laughing boys arrived back at the station screaming, “We want to go again!”
Even on a mid-summer day, in July, we were able to ride again and again on our favorite rides. This was something that we had found impossible at SoCal parks, where even with a Fast-Pass, if you can figure out the system, you are lucky to ride any of the premium rides more than once in a day. Perhaps it was the horribly humid Virginia summer heat that kept tourists away, or the economy that is still not recovered enough for many families to spring for the admission price ($72 for 10 and up, $62 for 9 and under), but we found the crowd, even at peak times, to be manageable, and I dare say pleasanter than at left coast parks, possibly owing to the polite and genteel nature of folks south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Into the Woods
Besides quick-moving lines for rides, another recommender for Busch Gardens is the lush environs. Each time I visit Northern Virginia, right off the plane at Dulles Airport I am always immediately struck by the difference in vegetation. The thick woods of green trees and fields of green grass and farms along the roadside are a sight for dry eyes accustomed to the dusty expanses of cacti and other succulents and the non-native palm trees of LA. Busch Gardens has somehow preserved this dense greenery even at the center of the park. Roller coasters zoom through them, tug boats chug beside them and the train that circles the park lumbers around these shady forests of old-growth trees, which are an enchanting retreat from the sun on hot days.
While our family is always impressed with the impeccable upkeep at Disney parks, Busch Gardens truly earns its 23-years-running accolade as the nation’s most beautiful theme park, as voted by the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA). Adults can appreciate the quant reproduction of Europe as represented by nine villages in six countries, and kids will find the grandest assortment of thrill rides along with kiddie rides to satisfy every age and degree of daringness. We all do love the wonderful “experiences” at Disney, but for older kids who really want to have their cranium shaken, Busch Gardens has it all — the soaring Apollo’s Chariot hyper coaster, the snow monster floor-dropping Alpengiest, the insane 205-foot free-falling Griffon, and the Verbolten autobahn racetrack coaster for starters. Then there’s DaVinci’s Cradle, which I boarded thinking it was a mild-mannered giant swing to soon realize this massive raft-like ride was working its way up to a full circle rotation that left me wondering what sort of engineering feat enabled this contraption to stay standing while subjecting us and its foundation to such a magnitude of centrifugal force. We also loved the scare of Curse of DarKastle which was like Disney’s Haunted Mansion on 3D steroids.
Hot Enough for Ya?
On boiling hot days like when we visited, the park has misters to cool off visitors, and there are splash and soak rides, like Escape from Pompeii, Le Scoot and Roman Rapids that provide relief, but in the case of weather, the SoCal parks win, as even when it hits triple digits it never feels hot and sticky like an East Coast summer. Speaking of attractions where the West wins, Busch Gardens’ Europe in the Air simulator ride is a poor imitation of Soarin’ Over California, the latter which I could ride all day, and the former which literally made all of us nearly lose our lunch from motion sickness.
During our visit we got treated to Star Spangled Nights, a fireworks display after dark that added extra excitement to our evening experience. The park hosts several special events like this year round, including an extraordinary holiday light display during the park’s Christmastown winter season event.
History Repeats Itself
Of course, Busch Gardens’ Old Country pales in comparison to the surrounding city of Williamsburg, which includes Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown. Visitors who come for the theme park should book at least a couple of days to explore this amazing throwback to our country’s earliest days with exhibits that show what life was like as early as 1607 when the first Virginia settlement was founded.
There are many places to stay in Williamsburg, and because it is a terrific place for recurring vacationers many time share developments offer affordable extended stay accommodations. Just a few minutes away from the park, we discovered a spacious and comfortable townhouse at Kings Creek Plantation, where we had all the amenities of home in a two-bedroom, two-bath unit which included a living and dining area and a fully equipped kitchen.
Our stay was two days and one night, which was not nearly long enough to explore the tip of the Historic Triangle and all the offerings of Williamsburg, but it’s reasonable to say that this destination has been standing beautifully preserved for centuries, and it will be there for us for our next visit, which we will definitely make soon.
As I watch the preview screeners of Ray Donovan (don’t worry, no spoilers), I am fascinated by the concept of the “fixer.” This is the person that makes everyone’s messes go away and repairs anything that goes wrong. I find this ironic, as this is how my son regards me. I am the fixer around my household. Not only do piles of clothes and toys magically find their way back into their places (yes, of course I make him clean up his own messes, but let’s be realistic, sometimes you just don’t have time for the clean-up-for-one-minute -play -for-two pace of a child helping neaten up a room), but in the tragic case of a toy breaking, I am the Godly fixer.
It is I who welds the Kragle, of LEGOLAND the Movie, but in a good way. My best friend and hero-maker in my house is Krazy Glue. The feared tube of my youth, that Mom warned me could stick my fingers together forever, is now the tool that saves the day when my son’s beloved toys snap in half, lose a piece, or otherwise fall apart in this day of Made-in-China toys that inevitably my son loves more than the well-made and precisely engineered and more expensive toys that I buy him and would prefer for him to make his prized toys.
I have recently added new firepower to my arsenal of Krazy Glue WMD (Weapons of Mass Construction) the Ultra Thick Gel craft Krazy Glue that has the same hang-from-your-hardhat-on-a-steel-beam strength but in a no-run gel that bonds to ceramic, plastic, wood, porcelain metal, leather rubber, vinyl, etc., but also features a special formula designed to delay skin bonding. So see Mom, I won’t permanently be giving the Spock sign, if I act fast enough.
I relish my role as the fixer, earning my son’s eternal appreciation every time I return a once-broken toy to him mended and (almost) like new. I may not tote a baseball bat, but I am a thug when it comes to all things broken around my house, and I am proud to be able to bring out the Krazy to make it all better.
Most people think of meal replacement drinks as tasteless chalky swill that either geriatrics patients or very sick people imbibe, but the Komlete line of shakes from Kate Farms were made to be delicious enough that a picky kid would drink them. As the world’s first meal replacement shake, Komplete is organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy-free for optimal health benefits without many of the ingredients that can have side effects for the sensitive system.
The inspiration behind Komplete is a little girl, Kate Laver. Kate, the daughter of Richard (cousin of tennis legend Rod Laver) and Michelle Laver, was born with cerebral palsy. Her parents struggled through her childhood regimen of feeding tubes, hospital visits, and numerous pharmaceutical drugs. Years later, after being diagnosed as “failing to thrive,” the meal replacement formula prescribed to her by doctors was laden with sugar and dairy for added calories. Some negative side effects that Kate endured were digestive problems, sleep apnea, and bottle rot.
The Lavers, along with the help of a family friend, created their own meal replacement shake in their kitchen. Leaving out the sugar and dairy products, they replaced them with all-natural vegan ingredients.
Their efforts resulted in the Komplete Ultimate Shake, which contains 24 fruits & vegetables, a high-level of plant-based proteins and 21 superfoods, like acai, mangosteen, black currants, raspberries, green tea extract. Kate Farms believes that their “passion for healthy foods and belief in taking care of one another is the reason” they exist.
Komplete can be found locally throughout California in many Santa Barbara and Palm Springs retailers including but not limited to Lazy Acres, Tri-County Produce, Lasson’s, Clark’s, Pacific Health and Harvest Health among many others.
Drink Up, Snack On and Celebrate with a Bang This July Fourth With These Party Favorites
The upcoming Fourth of July three-day weekend is a great time to get together with friends and family for picnics and parties. Host the hottest Independence Day celebration on the block with these refreshing drinks, satisfying snacks and festive party favorites.
The Harry & David Red, White and Blueberry Cake will get you in the festive spirit with its three layers of vanilla cake separated by luscious strawberry and blueberry filling and topped with cream cheese icing and chocolate covered blueberries. It makes the perfect dessert for your Fourth of July celebration and adds a little elegance to your buffet table. Harry & David, $49.95.
July is hot, Diabolo is cool. Drink up this holiday with the refreshing, sparkling non-alcoholic lightly carbonated beverage made with all-natural ingredients and zingy fruit flavor combinations, like Dragon Fruit Plum, Blueberry Lemonade and their Energizing Acai Berry Guava. These beautifully packaged designer drinks, which are staples at cafes and bistros in France, will and add some jazz, and some cool, to your party. Available at Albertsons, BevMo and select markets.
Stock up for the celebration at your neighborhood grocery drink aisle or BevMo and grab some Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and get a rebate while you’re at it with the no-coupon-needed shopping app, Ibotta, which lets users play games and give their opinion on brief surveys to earn cash back, deposited into their PayPal or Venmo account. Shop as a team with friends in your social network to earn more rebates faster. Free on the App Store or Google Play.
Churn it Up
Crank up the ice cream maker and chill out with red (velvet), blue (berry) and vanilla flavors on the Fourth with recipes from Scoop Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States. The book includes 80 adapted recipes for home ice cream makers for unique and yummy treats like Red Velvet Ice Cream, Mayan Chocolate Ice Cream, Lavender Caramel Swirl Ice Cream, Banana Pudding Ice Cream and Sweet Basil Ice Cream. Page Street Publishing, $19.99.
Get fresh and fruity on the Fourth with delicious desserts made with the Yonanas, a fun kitchen gadget that emulsifies frozen fruit in seconds into a creamy treat that tastes like soft-serve ice cream. To top it off this miracle masher can make a variety of fruity concoctions including sweet potato pie, tiramisu, and tropical sorbet. Costco, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond. $40.
Grill meatless for your BBQ party with Gardein’s line of vegetarian foods that combine garden + protein for healthier everyday entrees and appetizers that are convenient and ready-to-cook from your freezer. Besides veggie burgers, the line includes fishless filets & chips and black bean burger sliders. Available at Whole Foods, Target and Safeway stores.
Water, Water Everywhere
While reveling in the hot summer sun, hydrate regularly. On the go, take along the ultimate water bottle from Eco Vessel, a line of stylish and durable beverage containers made of sustainable materials and triple insulated to maintain cold or hot temperatures for extended periods of time. Plus, Eco Vessel donates 1% of the purchase price of every product sold to Water For People, an association that strives to provide long-lasting solutions to the water, sanitation, and hygiene problems in the developing world.
Snack Crackle Pop
Celebrate the holiday with healthy snacks that satisfy your munchies without ruining your diet. SHRED Pop is a zero cholesterol, no MSG, gluten-free popcorn alternative developed by New York Times bestselling diet book author Dr. Ian Smith. At only 100 calories a bag and tasty flavors like Honey BBQ, Sea Salt, Kettle and White Cheddar, you can indulge without the guilt. $21.99 for 24 1 oz. bags, available at www.ShredLife.com.
With lots of kids over for the holiday, it’s hard to keep track of who has nut allergies, but with nut-free Skeeter Snacks you can let the kids enjoy delicious snacks without worry. These crunchy and flavorful goodies come in varieties that include Chocolate Chunk, Skeeterdoodle, Golden Oatmeal, Chocolate Cubed cookies and Cinnamon Grahams and Chocolate Chip Minis, which are all-natural, whole grain, free of trans-fats and contain NO high-fructose corn syrup. $3.49 10 oz box. Find stores that carry Skeeter Snacks at www.skeetersnacks.com.
Square (In-Between) Meals
If you are hitting the road for the Fourth, take along some satisfying snacks for the road that are good for you. Corazonas 100-calorie oatmeal bars and two-bite-size Mini Oatmeal Squares are heart-healthy snacks chock full of whole grains, fiber and protein and infused with plant sterols, which have been proven to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, in decadent flavors like Chocolate Coconut Macaroon, Banana Walnut, Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Macademai Nut. Try a sampler box of seven flavors for $9.99. Available at Costco, Safeway, Walgreens, Safeway stores or www.corazonas.com.
The 2014 PRIDE LA Music & Arts Festival held June 6-9 in West Hollywood Park delivered on the promise of its promoters, Christopher Street West, that the event would feature “something for everyone.” A centerpiece of the festival was Thunderground, an outdoor rollerskating rink complete with a light show and mirror balls and pulsating disco music.
Many skaters graced the rink wearing their best circa-1970s Lycra leggings and fro wigs. Sponsor American Apparel helped set the dress code by giving away muscle tank tops and pink and white stripped Richard-Simmons short-shorts, while Delta Airlines offered free spray tans in two cabanas in the outdoor VIP lounge.
Other attractions included a pop-up arcade of carnival games, such a shooting gallery with a ping pong ball gun where you could “put your balls in Putin’s mouth” by aiming at a cut-out target of the Russian leader’s open mouth, and a variation on the water-dunk booth but with players breaking water balloons over each other’s heads.
There were lots of great giveaways from companies ranging from Just for Skin face creams Dyle, a new tech device that streams live TV to your mobile phone. Booths by Walgreens, Whole Foods and Arrowhead Water were just some of the mainstream companies represented. Bedsides the occasional nearly naked buff man in a tiny sling of a bikini handing out palm cards to the local gay men’s night club, the tone of this year’s festival seemed less focused on sex-related promotion than in previous years.
As a banner over Robertson Boulevard greeted, “Welcome to Our Family,” PRIDE indeed felt more about fun and community this year. After all, what’s more wholesome than a giant roller-skating rink with kids and parents skating around together hand in hand? This year I can really say, PRIDE made me proud.
My Dad used to do everything. He was the family electrician, mechanic, gardener and general handyman. He was also an avid fisherman, poker player, computer tinkerer and golfer. But for the past several years, Dad has done none of the things he used to love, because he has Alzheimer’s.
While it is Father’s Day this Sunday, Dad doesn’t really know it. But Mom does. She’s saving the Father’s Day cards I sent to open Sunday and to celebrate with him. When I called her last night, she was giving him dinner. Today she will be taking him on errands with her, as she cannot leave him alone. A few days a week, she pays a helper to watch him, so she can go to work.
At age 76, Mom works part time at a real estate office. She works to get out of the house, to stay connected to the outside world and keep her sanity, because no matter how much she loves Dad and is dedicated to him, taking care of every aspect of personal care for a grown man is an incredibly physically and emotionally draining job.
I am 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, where I moved 15 years ago. I have told Mom to let me know when it gets too hard for her to handle Dad herself. I offered to move back to Virginia to help, but Mom says she is okay for now. I don’t really believe that’s true. I hear it in her voice. She’s tired. Sometimes she sounds depressed.
It’s not just that her caregiver duties are trying; Mom has lost her best friend, her husband, her partner in life, her confidant, her co-parent, her travel buddy, her Jeopardy- and Jay-Leno-watching pal, and her day-and-night companion who shared the last 56 years with her.
So far, mom is holding up, but I know — as all our family and her friends know, Mom has an extraordinary job taking care of Dad, and her life has been extraordinarily impacted by his illness. I am very glad my mother has resources and friends and family who help her, but for many others in her position, they do not have this network.
Across the country 42 million people, primarily women, between the ages 40 – 60 are faced with the challenge of providing care to their older loved ones each and every day. New research from AARP suggests that caregiving can take a tremendous toll on a caregiver’s personal health and general wellbeing. And yet, many caregivers do not self-identify as such and can be reluctant to ask for help. A new campaign, the Ad Council’s Caregiver Assistance campaign with AARP, aarp.org/caregiving, aims to connect caregivers to resources, tools and experts.
This Father’s Day, the sponsors are raising awareness about The Thanks Project, an online platform that enables caregivers to publically recognize the parents whom they care for. Each individual ‘thanks’ will be integrated into the interactive tapestry, representing the 42 million caregivers in the US. Caregivers everywhere deserve to be recognized for the important work that they do, and Father’s Day remind us why it’s worth it.
While Father’s Day is a day to honor Dad and remember all the things he’s done for me and all he has meant to me throughout my life, I am also thankful for Mom on this day, for all the love she shows to my father, through sickness and in health — and I know he would have done the same for her.