In my November, 2022 blog I talked about our unsuccessful challenge to get from the Mandalay Resort and Casino to the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. We had a reservation at the popular restaurant, Mott 32. My son had discovered that they serve Peking duck in an extraordinary way, and we were all excited for the experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t arrive promptly at our reservation time, and they cancelled it. We were out of luck, and out of duck.
My son and husband flew back to Las Vegas in January for a business conference and stayed at the Mirage which happens to be directly across the street from the Venetian. I reserved a table for them and confirmed that they would be dining on the Peking duck. Since they were just across the street, they arrived for their table at the prescribed time. I wondered with all the hype; would the actual experience be disappointing. We have a family text group and we all waited for their assessment in anticipation. You may be curious as to what makes this entrée so enticing. Here is the description from their website:
We begin with hand-selected special breed ducks that are 42 days old and 2kilograms in size. They are prepared over 48 hours in our custom refrigeration system with our special marinading technique and then finished in a brick oven smoked with Applewood. The duck is hand-sliced table-side, using age old techniques with a special Mott 32 signature cut which locks in all the juices. It is combined with the duck’s crispy Applewood smoked skin brushed with brown palm sugar; and topped with the succulent duck breast meat. It is served with Hoisin, peanut and sesame sauces, freshly sliced cucumber and scallions, and the thinnest steamed pancakes.
Note that the word ‘pancakes’ above translates into ‘rice paper’ to us Westerners. I’ve used rice paper and pancakes interchangeably in this blog. It is very thin, and sticky in the shape of a circle. Similar to what contains spring rolls.
Here is the description of the experience from my husband and son’s perspective: The chef at our table was obviously very schooled at his craft. The duck was presented in its totality as cooked. He ceremoniously showed us so that we could take a picture if desired. Then he carefully filleted it starting with the duck skin. He had a very sharp knife that was shaped wide so he could also use it to carry the meat. He artfully prepared the fried duck skin into bite sizes pieces on a plate and surrounded one edge of the plate with brown palm sugar. This would be our first course. Then he perfectly spaced out all the ingredients he would be using. He began to prepare the rest of the duck by delicately cutting the best part of the meat and removing the scraps. The slices were created in such a way to include the duck meat, skin, and the fat layer in between for optimum succulence. The slices were placed on a plate by the chef. The waiter brought a bowl of Hoisin sauce and placed a dollop of peanut sauce in the middle of the Hoisin, when she spun the bowl it turned into a spiral galaxy of flavor.
With the remains, the chef prepared duck fried rice. We were given a bamboo steamer to share that contained the rice paper pancakes, each divided by pieces of actual paper. We used a tong to remove a rice paper pancake topped with a piece of paper and placed it on our plates. It takes practice because the rice paper is sticky and you need to slowly peel the paper off while keeping the pancake flat. Once it’s on the plate, you add sauce, duck, cucumber and/or scallions on top. You can either fold two sides in, and roll it like a burrito, or just roll it without folding the sides since the rice paper is sticky enough to tether the ingredients. The chopsticks are used to lift the roll to your mouth, taking bites. When you’re finished with one, the process starts over again. The entire experience lasts about two hours.
Many nearby diners watched the fanfare as well. My husband and son used chopsticks even though one of them is challenged with such utensils. The entire meal was prepared in a way that made chopsticks easy to use. The taste of everything was excellent. The duck didn’t taste like anything either had had before. It melted in their mouths because of the special technique used to hold the subcutaneous fat, and they ate slowly to savor every moment. Even the duck fried rice was pleasantly unique and has become the standard for all future fried rice dishes. To borrow from a scene in a recent movie, they did not eat, they tasted. A friend commented that for the price, they could have gone to a buffet several times. But the retort was that a buffet isn’t an experience. This was.
In summary, worth it!
If you go, make reservations as far out as possible and be sure to call and confirm that you want the Peking duck. They only prepare a few for each evening and can’t adjust the quantity because of the 42 day life of the duck and the 48 hour preparation period….and don’t be late!
When my sister-in-law invited us to Nantucket, Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday, we happily agreed. Nantucket wasn’t on our radar at all, but she had been there before and loved it. We flew into Boston, spent the night there then drove to Hyannis to catch a ferry to Nantucket. We were arriving in December to experience the Nantucket Christmas Stroll. Sounds somewhat interesting, but we have something similar in Kingsburg called the Julgranfest and assumed it would be like that. Very wrong. We were shocked at the thousands of people who were there. Many were dressed in fun Christmas attire such as a group of lobsters and a large family of Who’s from Whoville . People even dressed up their dogs. It started decades ago when the merchants of Nantucket didn’t want their residents travelling to Cape Cod to shop for Christmas presents. The festivities begin the first full weekend in December and last from Friday through Sunday with the highlight event being Santa arriving by boat and announced by the Town Crier. As Santa boards the historic fire engine and makes his way through town, those lined up to greet him follow along. There are so many people, it’s hard to do anything but follow in the crowd.
We stayed at a Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) house that is located in the downtown area. The cost this time of year for the rental is about $300 per night. For the Stroll weekend the cost soars to $1100 per night. And this is for a small home. It is in walking distance from the ferry and downtown. Everything we wanted to see was in the downtown area so we left our rented Lincoln Navigator at the ferry parking lot in Hyannis. We were glad we did as there was a great amount of traffic and very little parking.
I usually go for runs when traveling but couldn’t do so in Nantucket. The downtown streets are created with cobble stone making a good run impossible. The regularly paved streets just outside of downtown are too narrow to be safe. Because the island is heavily populated with tourists and owners of summer vacation homes the island pretty much closes for the winter months. The Stroll weekend is the exception. We participated in the walking Tour of Cliff Mansions where we saw multimillion dollar homes owned by the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and former Secretary of State John Kerry. The group wondered how the Kerry security detail were able to protect him when there wasn’t much room to park. And I will say for $50 million dollar homes, I expected them to be bigger and more grandiose. The guide said that for most of the owners, these would be their fourth, fifth or sixth home and that most of them are vacant except for the summer months. Nearly all the houses had lookouts on the roof. I imagine that it would be so amazing to sit up there in the summertime and stare out at the ocean.
We had dinner Saturday night at The Charlie Noble and ordered whole boiled lobsters. Lobster dishes are on just about any menu in the region. And while they were more flavorful than the ones we eat on the West Coast, I’m just too lazy to wrestle with an entire shell of a lobster. I asked the waiter if the chef could undress it for me and the response was a resounding ‘no.’ They were probably in the kitchen snickering at me. In my defense, I didn’t think they brought me the correct tools for such an endeavor.
Sunday we visited the Whaling Museum. Nantucket was considered the whaling capital of the world in the 1700’s and 1800’s. That night we took the evening walking tour, Nantucket Ghosts and Haunted Places. It’s about 80 minutes and we saw five of the most haunted places on the island. We had the perfect tour guide. His inflections, paired with a cold dark night heightened the experience greatly. At the most haunted house on the island, I asked the guide what the owners of the homes think when there are frequent walking tours in front of their homes. He said they don’t mind, and in fact, a couple who had been on the tour years earlier, actually purchased the most haunted one recently. Their son sleeps in the third story room where unseeable entities apply pressure on their human victims leaving them paralyzed for hours. Yeah, I don’t think so, chief. At the last place on the tour, the Unitarian Universalists Church, the guide was talking about the pastor who was seen giving sermons well after he had died. A woman across the street started yelling at us saying ‘What’s the point?’ and other things while pointing at a small window. We figured out that there was an LGBTQ flag, hardly visible, in one of the windows. The theory is she assumed we were talking about that. We explained that we were on a ghost tour to which she retorted that she was a physic. She continued to yell at us as we disbanded. It seems her perception was that she had broken up a group of haters. Maybe she had too much Stroll?
On Monday we left on the ferry back to Hyannis, got our Navigator and drove to Woods Hole to catch a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Now this is where the title of this blog comes into play. My husband Robert drove that monstrosity from Boston through Cape Cod on to four ferries, around numerous roundabouts and through many narrow streets. He never complained, got agitated or angry. He was a great sport and didn’t mind getting lost and delayed. And we now know what the word ‘Masshole’ means.
So, Martha’s Vineyard. I thought it would be more posh. Our VRBO was nicer than the Nantucket one and far less expensive. There was a little path on the side of the house that circuitously took me to the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, a place to run. I was able to run all around the pier with beautiful homes and beach as my view. I even got to see the famous bridge in the movie Jaws where the shark comes out of the water. The houses predominantly have cedar siding that turns grey as it weathers. We downloaded the ‘www.getyourguide.com’ to look around the island since there weren’t any actual tours going on in what they call the ‘shoulder season.’ The app uses GPS to tell you what you’re looking at as you drive along. When there isn’t anything noteworthy it will tell you an interesting story about the island. We visited the Gay Head Lighthouse and Mytoi Gardens on our excursion. We took a small ferry to Chappaquiddick, nicknamed ‘Chappy’ by the locals, to see where Ted Kennedy crashed his car off a bridge, killing his passenger. On the other side of the bridge is the ‘Cape Poge Little Neck Bomb Target Site’ where the military practiced bombing during World War II. The sign warns to not go off the paths and to keep pets on leashes because even in 2009 they were still finding practice bombs buried in the dunes.
On Wednesday we took the ferry back to Woods Hole and headed to our next VRBO in Falmouth. The nicest and biggest house yet, also, the least expensive of all of them. Yelp showed an axe throwing bar, which we just HAD to do. Ok, maybe just me and the others indulged me. It’s all in the wrist.
Now we are in Cape Cod, or the Cape. We drove up to Provincetown which was the first place the Pilgrims stopped before reaching Plymouth and today is known as a heavily populated LGBTQ community. In fact, I estimate that every third house had a Pride flag. Unfortunately, the famous Pilgrim Monument was closed for the season. Heading back down the Cape we stopped at the Sandwich Glass Museum and Salt Pond Visitor Center. That evening we stopped in Chatham for their
On the way back to Boston, we made a quick stop at Plymouth. We saw the underwhelming rock that the Pilgrims reportedly stepped on while departing the Mayflower and the Mayflower II which is a replica of the tiny ship that was home to 102 people for 66 days. They don’t provide tours in the off-shoulder season months. On the way back to our hotel near the Logan International Airport we drove by the Boston Commons which was dressed for the season in large Christmas trees, bright lights and a large ice rink.
The weather was good for Massachusetts in the winter. I got to finally wear a coat that I bought for Alaska but didn’t need. There were far less people because of the season and that was nice. But, because we were in tourist places with few tourists, there weren’t very many places open. We learned to call a place before heading that way, despite what Yelp said. The beginning of Spring or the end of Autumn might be better, but then you miss all of the Christmas decorations, which were spectacular. There are signs everywhere warning to watch out for Great White Sharks. Advice included not swimming at dawn or dusk, staying close to the shore, and avoiding seals. It’s funny that they have a sign in this region for densely populated areas which says, ‘Thickly Settled.’ The first thing that struck me when we were in the region was the thick New England accent. According to Google, “Common traits of New England accents are non-rhotic or “r-dropping” pronunciation and a nasal-a sound. The “r-dropping” such as father /fa tha/ may come from the influence of English colonists.” My first encounter was a waitress asking me a question which I didn’t understand even after she repeated it. Finally, Robert figured out she was saying ‘beverage.’ When I responded, she had difficulty understanding that I wanted water. I should have asked for ‘whada.’
We had the opportunity to attend a Las Vegas Raiders game with seats in the 6th row on the 40 yard line of the visiting team. We’re fans of Fresno State alumni and quarterback Derek Carr and jumped at the chance to watch him play professionally in person.
We flew in on Friday night aboard Southwest Airlines. This was the first time we used this carrier, and everything was fine except the assigned seating nuance. Your pick your seat as you board. Here was the coaching I received from my Sister-in-law (who also was the one kind enough to offer us the Raiders tickets):
“Boarding group and number order is assigned at check-in and check in opens exactly 24 hrs before the flight. The trick: set your calendar to alarm 23 hrs 55 minutes prior to his flight time. Put the app for southwest on your phone. Be sure to have a frequent flyer number to get better priority. The app has a spot on the bottom labeled ‘check in.’ Log in a few minutes ahead and at exactly 24 hrs before the flight push "check in.” This gives you a group and number assignment- in A, B. C groups and then your number within the group you’re assigned. At the airport line up according to your group and number. People are pretty fastidious about this lining up thing. If you log in as soon as you can=24 hrs before flight- you will get an early boarding spot in the A or B group. With any A or B group you can always grab a window or aisle and sit wherever you feel like. You can pay extra to get "Early Bird automatic check in" which checks in for you and you always get in the A group. The other catch is that if you pay for the pricey Business Select ticket you are guaranteed a spot in the A group 1-15. So the rest of the early bird folks will then have a number after any Business Select ticket- the general public can get A spots if not a lot of folks pay that extra. If you forget to check in until the last minute you will board in the late group and get stuck with only middle seats. So, it pays to jump on it as soon as check- in opens.”
I know, right? How crazy is this? And the tickets were not any less cost than other airlines. It also affected what we were doing at the critical 24 hours mark to make sure we had cell service and were in a place where it was appropriate to use your phone to check-in.
We stayed at the Mandalay Bay Hotel because they have a direct path to the stadium. In fact, the view from our room was of the new Allegiant Stadium.
Anyhow, we got in late, and we were all hungry. It was after 10 pm and most of the restaurants had already closed. I am surprised that a city like Las Vegas would not offer many eating options past 10 pm.
Saturday, we had an amazing brunch at the Border Grill Restaurant at the resort. It’s a fixed price menu where you can select unlimited small plates of Mexican fusion entrees. The weather today included 24 mile and hour winds which somewhat limited what we could do outside, so we decided to check out the Shark Reef Aquarium with over 2,000 animals, including sharks, giant rays, endangered green sea turtles, piranha and a Komodo dragon.
That evening, we went to the Michael Jackson ONE by cirque du Soleil show. The music, of course, was great, especially Thriller. I was expecting more acrobatics from the performers. Overall, I give it a solid B. One surprise was when you enter into the theater there are performers pretending to be paparazzi. They are snapping photos with cameras that have the bright flashes. When we got to our seats, we noticed that they had pulled some of the pictures and photoshopped them into newspaper tabloids that filled two of the three giant screens. My photo was one of the few that was used – it’s startling to see yourself blown up to that extent. I would have had a better smile if I would have known!
After the show, our son Michael had found a restaurant in the Venetian called Mott 32, known for their Peking Duck dinners. They are so popular that you must preorder 48 hours in advance because of the quantity limit and time it takes to prepare them. I made reservations for 9:45 pm, allowing plenty of time to get from the Mandalay to the Venetian. I found a blogger who wrote about taking the monorail which would only take a few minutes and cost less than a taxi. I thought a monorail ride would be a fun addition to our itinerary. Wrong. It turns out there are two. One is city-ran the other is privately funded. You must walk from one casino to another with NO WAYFINDING SIGNAGE in order to switch rails. It reminded me of the 40 years the Jews wandered in the desert. And this was in the middle of having to do our 24-hour check-in for our flight tomorrow. By the time we figured it out and arrived at the Venetian, they had cancelled our reservation and had closed for the evening. It was after 10 pm and all the restaurants had closed. We ended up having dinner at an Outback, of all places. We decided to return on the monorail since we now knew the way. Only to find out that the privately funded rail had closed for the night. I really can’t understand how a city that brags about being open all night, has so many things closed so early, especially on the Strip. We ended up walking from the Excalibur back to the Mandalay.
The next morning, even though it was still a bit windy, we went to the resort’s Lazy River, wave pool and hot tub to soak before the game. At the stadium, you can’t bring in any big purses or back packs. You can bring in a see-through carrier or a plastic bag for your things so I had to determine what I would leave in my suitcase, which was now checked at the bell desk in the resort, as we planned on heading to the airport from the resort after the game. Walking from the resort to the stadium felt like I was in a parade. Thousands of people, many dressed in typical Raiders garb, were enjoying the ability to cover an entire six lanes of the overpass leading to the stadium. Chants of “Raidddd erssss” reverberating throughout the crowd. We had been to an Oakland Raiders game years ago. The fans there made us feel like we were in a prison yard. The Las Vegas fans were just as enthusiastic, but more cleaned up, if you will.
Our seats were epic. The stadium was beautiful with all the bells and whistles. Watching an NFL game that close has a vibe all its own. And they won! Making it all the more fun. We joked that Derek just needed some hometown support to win. Maybe he’ll invite us back as a lucky charm 😊
Let me start by saying that all experiences, good and bad, bring dynamics to our lives. It would be boring otherwise. I wouldn’t change a thing. We decided to go on an Alaska cruise aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) Bliss, which is a fairly new ship. Robert, my husband, was reluctant. He wasn’t really interested and was curious why I wanted to go. I explained that everyone I know that’s gone has had an extraordinary experience and often go back again. We invited my mother and cousin to come along and booked the trip 18 months before travelling – the industry had just started to open again after the COVID lockdown.
There were two excursions that I wanted to do. The first was a Dogsledding coupled with a Glacier Flightseeing Helicopter excursion. What I learned: the excursion isn’t available late in the season. We went in October and therefore couldn’t do the thing I wanted to do most. The second excursion was a tour of the Yukon via bus. I booked this one and for some reason, they later cancelled it. So, I booked a Yukon tour on the White Pass Scenic Railway. Just before we sailed, that one was cancelled too. Seems Skagway, where the excursion begins, had major rockslides in the port and we were forced to stop at Icy Point Straight instead. There were plenty of other excursions, but nothing else seemed interesting to us. We’ve experienced ziplining, whale watching, canoeing all before. We were looking for something unique.
We insisted on having balcony cabins, next door to each other. Robert and I in one and my mother and cousin in the other. I will say that the extra expense for balconies is totally worth it. The best part of our trip was being able to enjoy the beautiful Alaskan scenery from our cabin’s balcony. The downside of having your cabins next to each other is that as the sail date draws nearer, if the ship isn’t full, they will offer upgrades for significantly lower prices. However, they will not place you next to cabins of the people you’re travelling with. I found this to be unnecessarily obstinate. They know full well if there are two upgraded cabins next to each other.
I was very impressed at how masterfully they managed passengers getting on and off the ship. When you check in online in advance, you’re given options as to what time you want to board. By stacking the boarding times, there was hardly any wait time. When we arrived at ports, they used photo recognition to let you off or on the ship. Therefore, you only had to slow down enough to let the reader scan your face and you were done.
The ship was just over half full. It felt somewhat crowded, so I’m glad it wasn’t at capacity. Our package included all you can eat, all you can drink, two dinner upgrades and excursion credits. Regarding the meals, there are several restaurants on the ship. There are the ones that are included in your package and then upgraded restaurants that you pay extra for. For our two free ‘upgraded’ restaurants we chose Ocean Blue and Teppanyaki. I would say that neither exceeded the quality of food in the regular restaurants. However, the Teppanyaki’s chefs were highly entertaining, using their utensils to create fun music.
We stopped at three ports, Juneau, Icy Strait Point and Ketchikan. All three ports had different scenery, however the primary focus was shopping with most of the trinkets similar at each port. Because we were at the end of the season, we were told that the prices were slashed to reduce inventory. I have no way of knowing if that is true or not, but many shoppers seem to respond to the spiel. It’s interesting to note that most of the merchants were from the ‘Lower 48’ as they call it. They go home at the end of the season and come back at the beginning of the next.
The star of the cruise is Glacier Bay. Only two ships are allowed to enter the bay each day. Because of the limited access, it increases the cost of your cruise when it’s included. We had heard a lot of hype and were excited to see this natural phenomenon, especially sitting from our balconies. And it was cool (pun intended) to watch large chunks of ice fall from them. Was it worth the extra cost of the cruise? Kind of. My mother was on a previous cruise that included the Mendenhall, Tracy Arm and South Sawyer Glaciers. She thought they were more spectacular.
The staff were nearly all from different countries. I don’t remember interacting with any that were American, which is interesting. There was about one staff person for every two people on the ship. I was entirely impressed with how attentive and downright joyful every single one of them was. To have that many crew members all spot-on with their customer service abilities is remarkable. We were required to tip the staff weeks prior to our embarkment. I didn’t particularly like paying gratuity for services not yet rendered, however, they earned the tips that were prepaid. A bonus was that I then didn’t feel guilty not giving them anymore at the end of the cruise.
The days at sea were probably the most fun. We spent hours on our balcony watching pods of whales go by. There is so much to do on the ship, it’s unlikely that you would be able to experience everything. While on vacation, my husband and I tend to stay out at night until everything’s closed. This included music, comedy, performances, games, dance classes and a sing-along piano bar. Our favorite performance was by a band called The Beatles Experience. They were on stage four nights, each session taking songs from a specific Beatles era. They did a really good job and surprised everyone when they stopped singing and explained they were from Argentina in their thick Argentinian accents. While at sea, we had intended on getting massages. We were disappointed to learn that a simple Swedish Massage started at $299 for 50 minutes. The prices were too outlandish for any of us, we can get them back home for 1/3 of the cost.
We flew in from Fresno to Seattle the night before. When we did online check-in days earlier, we had to pick the time we wanted to embark. We chose 9 am, the first group, so that we would have more time on the ship. What we didn’t know is by embarking that early, we wouldn’t be able to take the NCL shuttle from the hotel to the ship because it didn’t pick up the hotel guests until 10 am. We had to find our own way there.
When we got to the Seattle hotel, our driver dropped us off at the wrong hotel. Because NCL had booked the hotel, I didn’t have a confirmation number or anything. It took a few minutes to figure out the mistake. We walked, with all of our luggage, the six blocks to the correct hotel. Make sure you check the address the cruise line gave you matches the hotel that you’re being dropped off at.
My mother fell on the fourth day. She hurt her knee, hip, and shoulder. It was interesting to watch the staff go into anti-lawsuit mode, and I don’t blame them of course. We found that there is a floor dedicated to medical needs. She was able to get x-rays and see a doctor. Fortunately, she didn’t break anything, but she was very sore and had difficulty walking. They do not bill insurance. You must pay for use of the medical facility before disembarking. For her, it was $616.
A 7-day cruise is really only 6 days. The first day you don’t leave port until late afternoon. The final day, you arrive at port very early in the morning. The stop at Victoria was from 8 pm to 11 pm the night before the cruise ended, making your excursion choices minimal. We ended up staying in Sequim after the cruise and taking a ferry from Port Angels to Victoria to tour the town, Victoria Butterfly Gardens and Butchart Gardens, which is absolutely beautiful, but was problematic for my mother because it’s not ADA friendly in most areas. We enjoyed High Tea at the Butchart’s family home, then got her a wheelchair and parked her in a nice shady area. Sorry, Mom!
We had great weather. The cruise the week before ours had terrible weather and didn’t get to port at Juneau as a result. We were in t-shirts, shorts and bare feet which was unexpected. The weather is unpredictable in Alaska. We brought layers and it sure helped. I didn’t wear many of my warmer clothes.
While the Bliss is family friendly, I didn’t see many children. There are plenty of activities for the kids and they tend to keep the kid activities positioned away from the adult activities.
So yes, it was a mixed bag. Super happy I went and fascinating seeing glaciers. Would I go again? No, I don’t think I would. The one potential tip of the scale would be for the dog sled experience. A friend mentioned staying at a hotel instead of on a cruise. I think that would be the way I would go back, if ever.
Floyd Steven Little was born, along with his fraternal twin Lloyd Sterling Little, on March 7, 1937 in Clovis, New Mexico. The twins were a surprise to their parents and three much older siblings. When they were 12, they learned how to drive a car. When they were 14 they sent away for their driver’s licenses – they didn’t need to take a test for a license back then.
By the time they were 15, all their siblings had migrated to California. Floyd and Lloyd wanted to move there as well. Their mother didn’t want to go so the twins announced that they were moving with or without them. Consequently, their parents helped pack up the car and the twins took turns driving cross-country, settling in Clovis, California. On the way, they were delayed by the 1952 Kern County 7.3 magnitude earthquake. They were ascending the Grapevine on Highway 99 when it occurred. Due to the debris and subsequent mayhem, the family was stranded on the highway for 8 hours, significantly worrying their siblings.
They attended Clovis High School where Floyd joined the track team as a sprinter, a trait he would later pass down to his daughter. They weren’t allowed to graduate until they passed the school’s driver’s training course. Their argument that they had already been driving for years fell on deaf ears and they reluctantly took the class. Floyd graduated from Fresno State College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. While attending college, he worked for Santa Fe Railroad’s engineering department, and for a construction company at the Tioga Pass expansion in Yosemite National Park. After graduation, he landed a job with the City of Sanger where he eventually became Director of Public Works and Planning.
He decided to make a career change and became a realtor for his nephew-in-law’s subdivision. When the subdivision was sold-out, he began working at the California Department of Transportation as a permit engineer issuing permits for encroachments within the state, including special events. This enviable position required that he be on location for events that were on the state right-of-way. He was able to meet famous people such as Daryl Hannah, Rosie Perez, Andy Garcia and even famous artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude when they created the temporary work of art entitled The Umbrellas along Interstate 5 through the California Grapevine.
Upon retirement, he extensively traveled including places like Egypt and Ireland. Throughout his life he was a great lover of dogs. He was never without one, or two, or five of them at his side. The wreath on his door where he lived said ‘Dogs welcome, people tolerated.’ Those who knew him will smile knowingly at this phrase.
He died of a combination of lung cancer, stroke and dementia. He is survived by his daughter and son-in-law Jolene & Robert Polyack, his grandsons RJ and Michael Polyack, his son Jerad Little, and his brother and sister-in-law Lloyd and Nancy Little. He is laid to rest close to his siblings and parents, Oras and Effie Little, at the Clovis Cemetery in Clovis, California. Many of the Little family are also buried at the Clovis Cemetery in Clovis, New Mexico.
When I remember Pogo, I go back to the day all four of his family members took him for a walk around the ponding basin. He had a spring in his step that made his cute little ears flop up and down. His gait looked like a prance, as if he was so proud to be with his peeps.
He left this world on June 30, 2022 peacefully going to sleep in his bed on the floor next to us. He never woke up. Here is his story:
He joined our family when another family decided to take him to the SPCA. Before he was driven there, my dad asked if he could take him instead, which they agreed to. My dad posted a picture of him on Facebook and I called to inquire about the dog. I asked if he could come for a sleepover and my dad agreed. Once he got to our home, that was it. He was an immediate member of our family. He went with us everywhere.
Michael was his Best Friend, RJ was his Bro Bro.
We created a Facebook page for him called ‘Pogo Polyack,’ it’s still up if you would like to visit.
When any of us left and came back, he would first see who was coming in, then he would go to his pile of toys, we all would ask, ‘What you gettin’?’ as he carefully chose one and prance it toward the returning family member while wagging his entire hind quarters and walking around with said toy. Once we saw what he had chosen we would say ‘Oh, (fill in the toy name).’ We always used the same name for the same toy. His selection included big reindeer, little reindeer, puppy, stocking, bear, dog, tiger, and beaver. Regarding tiger, Pogo found him on the road during a walk. He picked him up and carried him all the way back to the house.
He hated to be alone. If we were all gone, he would howl loudly. If we were walking, we could hear his howling from half a block away.
The vet said that he had a rare tail because of the double twirl. When he was relaxed, the tail would unwind. It would re-wind quickly at anything that made him more aware.
We had several nicknames for him including Rare-tailed-Pug, Pugalicious, and Pogohontis.
He loved going for walks. If the word was ever used, he would jump up and begin barking. As he got older, the walks got shorter until he couldn’t walk except for around the house and yard.
He also especially liked the word ‘meat.’ Every night at 5 pm he expected a few pieces of ham. He knew when it was time, but occasionally tried to trick us into thinking it was time when it wasn’t.
Because of his big neck and little face, he had to really work at eating. Consequently, he would get food all over his neck. I had to take a wet paper towel to clean it off after every meal. He got used to this procedure. When I would say, ‘Ladies like a clean bib,’ He would lift his head up and back so that I could wipe him down.
One day when my husband was taking Pogo for a walk a French Bulldog named Cupcake attacked him and bit his eye. By the next morning, the eye had turned blue. We had to go to the emergency pet hospital 30 miles away and wait for several hours to be seen. The vet said that he would have lost the eye if we had waited another day. After several weeks of medication, where I would say, ‘Look up at the sky. See the birds?’ he would lift his head up so that I could put the drops in his eye. He never was able to see out of it again, but he got to at least keep it in the socket. It took some time before he learned his way around without bumping into walls and furniture. We can mark this as the beginning of his slide into old age.
Toward the end, he would stand in front of a wall and stare at it for long periods of time. He would get overheated, so we had to keep the air conditioning on. He had a doggie door and would go outside in the heat and forget how to get back in the house.
When he left, it was interesting to realize how integrated he was in our lives. I could now open the front door in the mornings for fresh air without worrying that he would escape, I could unload groceries without him dashing over to the neighbor’s yard to leave a present, I didn’t have to feed him twice a day, there was more room in the office and master bedroom without his beds. So many memory triggers for each of us.
When he first came to live with us we had a Catahoula Leopard Dog named Catahoula, or Cat. Pogo loved her dearly, as did we all. When Cat passed, all of us were sad and Pogo became even more focused on us. We imagine that he is with her now in heaven, chasing butterflies and waiting for the rest of his family to reunite with him.
There never has, and never will be, a pug that is loved more than Pogo Polyack.
We’ve spent a lifetime enjoying fireworks shows on holidays, at games, and at a variety of events. But what is involved in preparing a fireworks show? Jennifer Waite, local show producer for PyroSpectaculars, jokes that there’s a lot of work in fireworks.
Waite explained the process using the annual Kingsburg Independence Day celebration as an example. The Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce sponsors the event yearly on July 3 at the Kingsburg High School football stadium. Each year, the show is customized taking into account variables such as where the audience is located, what the weather will be like that day, structures that are close by, where the fireworks racks will be located, how long the show will last, what time the show will begin and what the budget will be. No two shows are alike.
Costs range from $15,000-$40,000 depending on the show. Once a deposit is received, the fireworks are ordered from overseas, often China. They’re ordered months, if not years, in advance and are placed in a warehouse. Interestingly, China only has one port that allows for the shipment of fireworks which lengthens how long it takes to arrive. When asked about supply chain issues, Waite said that hers were ordered pre-pandemic, so there haven’t been problems. Her bigger challenge is obtaining rental trucks. She is competing with companies like Amazon and UPS to obtain rental trucks on the dates that she needs them.
As the show date draws nearer arrangements are made to transport the fireworks to the location. A variety of permits and paperwork are required, even a surface road route needs to be submitted for approval. On the day of the event racks are built, strategically placed and cleated in an area that is fenced in so no non-crew member can get too close. By now, all the crew have been qualified and confirmed to be over the age of 18. The fire authorities can inspect at any time. They look for fire extinguishers, the quality of the canisters, the placement of the canisters, the ages of crew members, and the operator’s current license.
The State Fire Marshall issues the operator licenses. Each year, the operator is given a sticker similar to the car registration stickers on license plates. The thickness of those stickers is a matter of pride. It indicates how long the operator has been doing shows.
An operator and his/her crew are assigned to each show. In Kingsburg’s case the same family has produced the shows for decades. When the operator, Ron Fernandez, passed away no other family member wanted to become an operator so Waite’s daughter, Jamie Wright, stepped in to operate with the Fernandez family crew. Wright, and the Fernandez family crew also have full time jobs elsewhere.
According to Waite, “The operator is considered an artist and the show is artistry. They determine the altitude of the fireworks, color combinations, frequency and type of fireworks. The show will include higher fireworks, combined with shorter ones. There will be pauses for the sky to become completely black, because the dark sky is considered the fabric that is being used to paint the sky. Sometimes you want to slow down in anticipation of the buildup. Towards the end there’s usually a 1 to 1 ½ minute finale. It’s all hands-on deck, everyone shoots and gives that final effect that the audience is expecting.
When it’s time to begin the show, everyone is in their assigned place and knows which mortars to set off when. Like a symphony, the operator is the conductor and the crew have the instruments to create the art from a combined effort. Even the music has been choreographed into the production.
After, the crew waits for the racks to cool, then everything is loaded up and transported to the next show. Locally, Waite manages 90 shows per year.
As mentioned earlier, the operator for Kingsburg’s July 3 event is Jamie Wright. At a young age, she worked in a fireworks stand with her parents. They would bring home fireworks and she would create a show in their front yard. Her interest in fireworks continued to blossom. Just days after her 18th birthday she began working on a crew. Just after her 21st birthday she applied and was granted an operator’s license. When the Fernandez family needed a new operator, she was able to slip right into the role and has continued the tradition.
I had the opportunity of observing the show from behind the scenes at this year’s event. It takes about 12 hours to set up, be inspected by the local fire officials, load the canisters with fireworks, launch the show, wait for the fireworks to cool, and load them onto the truck. You are not allowed in the area unless you wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, closed-toe shoes, a hardhat and goggles.
The material for the canisters is delivered separately from the actual fireworks. The canisters get there first and the crew begins lining them up. Once the fireworks are delivered, security becomes tightened. No one under the age of 18 is allowed in the area and there must be someone always guarding them.
The most interesting part of the experience was watching the crew light the fireworks. One member crouches down with a punk and lights the fuse. There is a person behind him/her watching for burning ambers once it’s ignited. The operator is further off telling them how fast or slow to go depending on the choreography of the show. Because of the demanding physicality for the person lighting the fireworks, the lighter is exchanged several times.
The finale canisters are set away from the regular show’s canisters. In our show there were 660 fireworks in total. Of those, 125 were earmarked for the finale. Only one fuse is lit and then the entire set is structured to go off in the order of all the connected fuses.
The perspective from the backstage vantage point is completely different than from the audience’s perspective. But, it’s fireworks so whether you’re in the front or the back of the show, you’ll definitely get a bang for the buck.
Someone asked if I could meet anyone from any time, who would it be? I’ve narrowed it down to five. Here they are:
Jesus – Only one question, “What do I need to know?”
Judas- Also only one question, but with the ability to ask follow-up questions, “After all that you witnessed, what on earth were you thinking?”
Adolf Hitler-I wouldn’t have a specific strategy, it would be more organic depending on how I initially assessed him. Ultimately, the goal would be to figure out his thought process and the ‘why’ for everything he did.
Benjamin Franklin-I would want to shadow him for a day or so, asking questions along the way. Such a diversified and influential person, the goal would be to learn a thing or two from his intellect.
The World Leader of the year 2122-“What should we have done differently? What did we get right? Who are considered the best people of 2022? What should I invest in now? How would you describe the world in your time?”
Who would you want to meet and what would you say?
It seems like there is a cultural push to curtail bullying. At first glance it seems like the right thing to do however, the more I’ve thought about it the more I’m not so sure.
When I was very young a neighbor girl named Tina pulled a fist full of hair from my scalp. I told my parents and they said it was OK for me to do it back if there was a next time. I thought, ‘why wait?’ As soon as I saw her, I walked right up and pulled a fist full of her hair out. She ran home crying and told her mom, who consequently came over to talk to my parents. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time I was bullied and I’m happy to report, the last time either girl had their hair pulled out. Although I can still remember the strange and painful feeling and the sound that it created.
When I was a few years older, I was at the local skating ring where Girl Scouts troops were having a special day. There was a girl from another troop who I didn’t like. I don’t remember why. I badgered her for most of the event until towards the end, she started crying. I was happily satisfied at first, but then felt terrible a bit later. I didn’t get in trouble at all for some reason.
In Junior High a girl by the name of Grace, of all names, decided she wanted to scare me. For weeks she kept threatening me. A casual friend noticed this and said that all I had to do was threaten her back. She also gave me pointers on fighting, just in case the plan didn’t work. The next time Grace threatened me, I threatened her back and offered to fight her after school. Before the end of the school day, I was called into the principal’s office. Grace had turned ME in! To this day I smile at how insightful my friend had been. And no, I didn’t get in trouble that time either. The principal had been aware of the entire situation.
I have many other examples where I was bullied. I am glad that I only bullied someone once and then felt bad. I’m also proud that after Grace, I haven’t backed down when someone’s trying to make me the victim.
The point of this rendition of my childhood is to show that a person can be the bully or the victim at various stages of their lives. I think experiencing both is part of maturing. When we try to buffer our children from bad experiences then they are ill prepared for adulthood where the stakes are much higher. I also suspect that safe rooms and ‘everyone gets a trophy’ are results of our cultural attempt to protect our children. I would argue that it’s better they learn these lessons as children than as adults.
Last year, I heard a sermon by Pastor Wally Mees that has resonated with me. He's been kind enough to allow me to post it here for your reading pleasure. If it's too long for you, skip to the last five paragraphs. I love his insight!
Good morning, friends. Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and from our Lord and blessed Savior, Jesus the Christ.
I'm Pastor Wally Mees, again joining you on this Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost. Our Gospel lesson is the story of one of Jesus' miracles: the restoration of sight to a man named Bartimaeus. Being blind, Bartimaeus had no way to support himself but to sit on the side of the Jericho Road and beg for alms.
As we dig into this story of the restoration of his sight, we'll look at three characteristics of Bartimaeus that can teach us a thing or two. They are faith, gratitude and loyalty, and cultivating them all will serve every Christian well in our relationship with our Lord Jesus. Let's review the story from Mark 10:46-52:
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
The first thing we must notice about Bartimaeus is his Faith, which can be seen in his persistence, in his recognition of Jesus as "Son of David," and in his trust that Jesus would heal him. As soon as Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was the reason for the crowd he could hear coming toward him, he began making a fuss and calling out in order to get Jesus' attention. When people tried to shush him, perhaps because he was keeping them from hearing what Jesus was teaching, he shouted all the louder, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
He was not going to be shushed; instead, he continued to seek Jesus' attention. Whatever he had heard about Jesus, it had led him to two convictions: he believed Jesus was the Son of David, and he believed Jesus could give him back his sight.
And you know what? He was healed! What's that saying? The squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well in Bartimaeus' case, it certainly did. Soon, Jesus stopped his forward progress and said to someone near him in the crowd, "Call him." Someone did just that, relaying the message, saying, "Take heart, get up; he is calling you." Bartimaeus was so excited that he threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Before we go on, let's look again at that cloak. What is the significance of a blind man's cloak? Some commentators write that the cloak was the all-purpose garment of the poor in Jesus' time. It was shelter from sun or rain in a climate much like here in Central California. It was also both bed and covering each night for one who may have had, as Jesus described himself, nowhere to lay his head. It would be something to hang onto, especially for someone who was blind. How would he ever find it again if he tossed it away? Yet Bartimaeus is described as throwing off this necessary and all-purpose garment in his rush to respond to Jesus' invitation to come to him.
Another writer suggests that the fact that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak rather than keeping it with him shows just how confident he was that Jesus would heal him. He could let go of the cloak, because once his sight was restored, he'd be able to look for and find it again. This shows his optimistic trust in Jesus; another sign of his faith in Jesus. But there's more.
Jesus, of course, does heal Bartimaeus, quite easily with just a word, and apparently quite instantly. Then Jesus says, "Go your way. Your faith has made you well." But look what happens next: Bartimaeus does not go away. The Gospels are quite clear that Jesus healed hundreds of people during his ministry, and about 40 of those healings are described in detail. According to another author, of the 40 miracles so described, only Bartimaeus "...followed him on the way."
Well, not to take anything away from Bartimaeus, but let's not forget Mary Magdalene, who certainly followed Jesus and supported his ministry after he delivered her from demon possession. It is true that her deliverance is not described in detail but only mentioned, but in any case, Bartimaeus is so grateful that he becomes a follower of Jesus.
Moved by gratitude, Bartimaeus does not go his way, but follows Jesus and, for all we know, becomes one of the additional followers who make up the five hundred who saw Jesus after his Resurrection, as Paul recounts in I Corinthians 15:6. Another reason for thinking that Bartimaeus became a loyal follower of Jesus is that he is named. Among the few others who are named are Jairus' daughter and Mary and Martha's brother Lazarus. Can you think of anyone else?
What can we learn from this story? Well, we've identified a number of characteristics of Bartimaeus that we might want to cultivate in our own lives. He began with an amazing faith. Whatever he had heard about Jesus had led him to faith that this man, this rabbi, this Jesus could restore his sight. He knew he needed Jesus to help him, and he believed Jesus could do so if only they could meet.
Jesus said to him, "your faith has made you well," and many people miss an unstated truth in what Jesus says. Faith, or faith in faith, as so many people seem to believe, is not what made Bartimaeus well. What made him well was his faith in Jesus. Who made him well was Jesus himself. We must remember to place our faith in the only One who has the power to help us: Jesus our Lord.
In addition to faith, many people claim to believe in prayer. I do not believe in prayer. I believe in the One - Jesus - to whom I pray. Faith in Jesus, prayer to Jesus; trust in Jesus - those are the marks of Christians, among whom we may count Bartimaeus. But he responded to Jesus' healing him with a wonderful response: Gratitude. Much as he believed Jesus could heal him, he clearly did not believe he was entitled to a miracle. We know that because of his gratitude.
Bartimaeus' gratitude is a wonderful example for us to follow. Most people want to be happy, and I bet you are no different, nor am I. And the surest key to happiness is gratitude. For some reason, people ask me if I am proud to be an American. Have you ever been asked that? When I have been asked, I quietly answer no. I did nothing to become an American. I was simply born here.
When asked if I am proud, I reply that rather than proud, I am grateful. I am grateful to be an American. I am grateful for my parents. I am grateful for my wife of 47 plus years, our wonderful son and daughter-in-law and the many great friends and family members with whom I am blessed. I am grateful for so very many blessings, particularly for the blessing of having Jesus as my Savior and Lord, but I don't think I'm entitled to them nor am I proud of them.
Gratitude seems to be in short supply these days, and along with the drop in gratitude is the growth of entitlement. People seem to believe they are entitled to an ever-growing list of rights. "I have a right to this; I have a right to that." And when entitlement replaces gratitude, joy and happiness are the casualties.
This ever-increasing list of rights - you can even find a long United Nations-sponsored list of "human rights" - is in sharp contrast to the three rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Those three - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - are conspicuous in not including equality or this strange new use of the word equity. What did our founders know that we do not and why have so many of our contemporaries forgotten what the founders knew?
At any rate, may we in the days and weeks to come make Bartimaeus our example, renewing our own resolve to follow Jesus just like he did. Bartimaeus had faith in Jesus. He was truly grateful, and rather than go about his life as if nothing had happened, he celebrated his blessing of restored sight by loyally following Jesus on the way. May we do the same. Amen
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.