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Las Vegas!

       In October of 2005 we finally had our first chance -- ever, really -- to take a real vacation. We haven't been anywhere without the kids since they were born, and we hadn't been on any real trips before the kids came along, either. We'd been to Texas a time or two, and of course we did the "meet the parents" tour in 1996. But all of those trips were visiting the folks, which is just as stressful in its way as regular life, even though we had a wonderful time on all of those trips. The only vacation we've ever been on, with neither kids nor parents, was our honey-asteroid to St. Louis. That was a little two-day excursion -- thus honey-asteroid rather than honeymoon -- on which we saw the zoo and the science museum, but that was it. So we felt we were due.

       So, in summer of '05 we started making plans with all of our friends and with Kim's parents, the culmination of which was a week-long fall trip to Texas, then Vegas, then Texas again. We flew to San Antonio for a day to drop off the kids with their grandparents, then the next day we flew out to Vegas, where we met up with Matt and Melanie and spent four days having the vacation we'd been needing for years. Then, we headed back to San Antonio for a two day visit with the folks and finally home again, much rested.




Treasure IslandWe stayed in Treasure Island, near the north end of the strip. We chose this because it houses the theater where Mystere was playing. It's also more affordable than the Bellagio.
Keno at LunchYay! Joel finally got to play Keno agian! Says he, "Growing up in Reno, I remember every time we'd go out to a nice place for dinner, Dad would play keno while we ate. He'd always let me fill out a card for him to play. To this day, my most vivid memories of dining in Reno is reading through the keno rules book and probability charts available at every table. You know those metal racks for sugar, ketchup, salt and pepper that a lot of restaurants have? In Reno, every table also provides a similar contraption full of keno rules, keno crayons, and keno cards. I still feel that a table setting isn't complete without it." We didn't really win anything, but we had a good time playing!
Sirens of TIOoh, Sirens! The TI spectacular -- which every casino must have if it's to stay competitive -- is an electronically and pyrotechnically enhanced pirate show! Burly pirates leaping into the water, a plethora of buxom sirens writhing and luring pirates to their doom, and lots of fire and fireworks. Not big on plot, but then, with all those free drinks circulating, who can focus on plot?
Northwestern FootballMatt and Melanie are big NU football fans, and they took this opportunity to place bets in a real Vegas sportsbook. It was an interesting experiment in probability mathematics for Kim and Joel, and a winning proposition for Mel. She actually managed the biggest single haul for the week on this deal.
TI PoolOK, here we are in late October. In Chi-town, every outdoor pool has been closed for at least a month. It is not that uncommon for the first snow of the year to fall before now. And yet, here we sit, poolside, sweating and baking. We all four agreed that one day would have to be set aside for the doing of nothing. Well, if you aren't gonna do anything, this is a good way to do it. We lounged by the pool for a few hours with a tropical drink or two (The frozen concoctions came weak with an extra shot of alcohol in a test-tube. Good thing, too, 'cause after we poured in half of one it was STRONG!)
TI SpaKim and Melanie spent an afternoon of luxury while the boys went out to play. After lounging by the pool for a few hours, we decided to have french fries for lunch (yep, just french fries - I love being on vacation!) and followed it up with a visit to the hotel spa, where Mel had a massage and Kim got a manicure and pedicure. Ahh - this is the life!
Las Vegas Mini Grand PrixWe all approached this vacation with the thought that we didn't want to be overburdened with stuff to do, so we left ourselves plenty of unstructured time. Matt and Joel took advantage of some of this time to head out to do some Go-Karting. What a blast! 2 things were discovered here: first, Matt likes go-karts, which information would come in handy here, and the Vegas away from the strip, where people actually live, is an interesting sociological study. (CSI, for all that it's a great show, doesn't really portray this part of Vegas well.) The cab ride back to TI, however, wasn't so great. The cabbie spent the entire ride telling an engaged man and a married father of two young children that a) he hates women, b) marriage is a joke, c) he hates kids, d) he regularly commits tax fraud, and e) he's more concerned about his illegal money than his daughter's college career.
MystereOoh! The spectacle of sperm! Mystere was a lot of fun. Taiko drummers in midair, lizard-people crawling up and down the walls, and giant acrobatic sperms. (A vague description, I know, but it's hard to do a weird show like this justice in print. If you take the vaguely unsettling feeling you get by combining those three images, then add a whole lot of "Wow!", you'll get a pretty good feeling for the show.)
Fashion Show MallWhat's a Vegas vacation without a bit of shopping? We spent an afternoon at the Fashion Show Mall. Despite the cool exterior, it was really just any other mall on the inside, but we had fun doing a little shopping anyway.
Volcano at the MirageSo the TI sirens aren't the only things exploding in Vegas. Next door is the Mirage, which features an erupting volcano... That pretty much says it all, really. We were unfortunately unable to work in time to see the tigers or the dolphins, but we can always go back, right?
Gaylord Indian RestaurantThe Kohlers had never really had Indian food before, while Matt and Mel have found it to be one of thier favorite cuisines. So we all went out to a fancy Indian place in the Rio for dinner before we saw Penn and Teller. We are very glad we did so.
Penn and TellerThe first thing Penn tells you when the show starts is that magic is really just an excercise in logic and math, and if you're good at those you'd have no trouble figuring out thier tricks. He continues, "However, we know none of you are any good at math, because you all came to Vegas." We managed to score front-row seats -- although there was some difficulty with misplaced reservations -- which paid off for Kim and Melanie. Kim got to hold the paper funnel of disappearing handkerchief, and Mel got the sealed envelope that the entire audience signed which turned out to hold the answer to a random joke from a random joke book that a random audience member randomly chose and read out loud.
TI $1 ChipWe're not big gamblers, really, but we all spent at least a little time at the tables. We had some fun, tried a couple of games, but we all seemed happiest at low-stakes blackjack. (Mostly, I suspect, because none of us really knew what we were doing.) Still, Kim and Joel came away about $60 up, and that's not too bad. Joel accidentally forgot to turn in a $1 chip, so now it's a keepsake.
Wheel of Fortune Slot       In Nevada, there are even slot machines in the airport! While we were waiting for our flight back to San Antonio, Kim decided to blow five bucks at the slots. She had about $2 left when she sat down at the Wheel of Fortune slots. It had a neat touch screen and a comfy stool, and when you got a certain combination you could win a chance to spin the wheel, which was on top of the machine, above the screen. Kim got 2 spins on the wheel, and solved a puzzle -- she can't recall what the puzzle was -- and came away $20 richer! She bought Joel lunch in the Dallas airport with her winnings.