Saturday, December 31, 2011

Loving those latkes!

I'd never made everyone's favorite Chanukah food before, potato pancakes. The smell of fried food makes me queasy. Heck, I don't even like going inside a McDonald's.

But something inspired me to try this year and so I borrowed a friend's electric fry pan, bought 10 lbs of potatoes and went to town.

I have a new respect for people who make these. They are a ton of work. Dirty work. We don't have a food processor so Dave lovingly (okay, I bribed him) shredded all those potatoes. Then I found an old Gourmet recipe online and added salt, pepper, eggs, lemon juice, onion and flour.

The thing is: for every six I made, I ate one. So making tripling the recipe took 4 hours from start to finish. I set up the fry pan in the back yard and when all was said and done, I completed the task in the dark, with a flashlight. The thermometer read 36F. I am the Frozen Chosen.

Dang they were good.

We had some friends over for the last night of Chanukah and polished them off. With sour cream and applesauce of course.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

No one deserves this.

Never in my life did I expect to publish the contact information for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. But here it is: (800) 799-SAFE. If you need this, or think you need this, call. And call a friend, too. Call me.

You never know what goes on behind closed doors. We've all been shocked when a friend announces that their marriage is over. There are a lot of things people keep to themselves. A close friend went through years of fertility treatments and didn't discuss it beyond her immediate family until she had three kids. I wish I'd known.

My father and Thing 2 spent yesterday with the horses. And when he dropped her off he mentioned that a mutual friend had just fled her home because of domestic violence. I was quite upset by this. Not entirely surprised but disturbed nonetheless because she didn't deserve this. Domestic violence is not limited to those less fortunate or uneducated. This friend is part of the one percent.

Later in the day I read Penelope Trunk's blog and she was parked in a hotel room because her husband beat her again. I fretted over this, too.

Fast forward to 6am today when I see Paige's text that she read Penelope Trunk, too.

And so I blog.

Monday, December 26, 2011

S'mores for Sale

The Pinks are not Girl Scouts so they don't sell Girl Scout Cookies. They don't sell magazine subscriptions. Nor wrapping paper or frozen cookie dough to benefit the school. They don't set up lemonade stands when I'm on duty.

I'm uncomfortable with them selling things. I'm happy to buy from your child when he or she asks but I don't want my kids selling things to people who may feel obligated to buy.

That all being said, I did let them sell s'mores at Tahoe. We figured out how much the supplies cost and then deducted them from the amount they took in. We discussed pricing options and how they would affect their profits. One for $3? Two for $5? One for $5 on Christmas Eve after the Squaw Valley Torchlight Parade? Into a red-ribbon-tied cellophane bag went two marshmallows, one square of Ghirardelli chocolate and one graham cracker. Once someone bought a package they used our marshmallow skewers to make the gooey treat. One thing we did not consider: marshmallows freeze and become hard to attach to a skewer when it's very cold outside.

As we thought might be the case, The Pinks provided a valuable offering and were met with enthusiastic buyers. There are several fire pits at Squaw and we discussed why it would not be appropriate to sell s'mores near the ice cream shop, the crepe shop and the roasted corn truck. The Pinks seemed to understand that we want to support the local economy, not take from it.

I'm glad we did this. Thing 2 is tenacious. And I'll never see those buyers again, anyway.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ho Ho. There's no snow.

We're at Tahoe this week. It's tradition. We come as soon as school breaks for the holidays then stay until Christmas. The crowds descend on Tahoe the 26th and by then we're on our way home, watching the cars creep up Hwy 80.

This year is different. The air is still crisp. Our neighbors are here. The shops and Village buildings are done up in their seasonal best. But one thing is missing: snow.

It's been a nearly dry year. There are three chair lifts open thanks to aggressive snow-making efforts. The ski teams dominate them. It feels a little bit off, like when you accidentally put your shirt on backwards.

The new facilities at Squaw are beautiful. I spent one morning working in the Olympic House. There are new cushy pleather chairs, strong wifi and an expanded menu at Wildflower that now includes a hearty, mountain-style breakfast and lunch. Man cannot live on those cookies alone, as addicting as they are. There are big screen TVs and a children's play area. And big, clean windows looking out on the now-barren mountains. The KT-22 deck has private cabanas and three large fire pits with Adirondack chairs.

The Harvey clan just departed after two days with us. (I'm glad they skied with us; this proves we're not fair weather friends as the last time we met up with the whole entourage was in the record-breaking temps in Villa Bartolomea last summer.) My parents came up last night. My brother and his family arrive this afternoon.

We skied at Alpine Meadows yesterday and the conditions were better than I'd envisioned. There was a fair amount of open intermediate terrain and, although we shared it with the crazy snowboarders, we had a good day skiing as a family. Squaw and Alpine are now co-owned so our passes work at both resorts and there is a shuttle bus connecting the two until the chair is finished next summer.

Now if only it would snow.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's started.

One of my children, who shall remain nameless because she doesn't like me blogging about her, came home from middle school and handed me a school-generated form letter. It offered us the opportunity to allow her to read the required high school Health class text this fall then test out of the course, which she'd otherwise have to take a year from now, as a freshman.

This threw me.

Why is this an option? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing so? And where was the contact information on said form letter so I could ask these questions?

I tracked down the course syllabus and learned that the curriculum includes discussion of STDs, mental health, prescription and street drugs, eating disorders, alcohol's impact on the central nervous system and those movies that show how black your lungs become after using tobacco. Bring it on. I want her to sit through an extended explanation of this instead of glossing over it on her own.

It took me a while to track someone down at the school district to answer my other questions.

Apparently testing out of the course is an option because some parents don't want their teens exposed to all of the content. And by self-study, one can skip sections and still pass. Great. Freedom of choice and all that.

The very nice lady at the district office told me that there is no academic advantage to testing out of the class; the only other option a student has during that period is be a teaching assistant. The easy decision became that much easier.

The thing is, I didn't plan on thinking about high school course options until it was closer to high school. And to do this, one needs to know what it takes to get into college. My blood pressure started rising.

This brings me to the next task I didn't plan on doing so soon: going to some college web sites and seeing exactly what the requirements were. Ugh. I got through the UC System and NYU before I felt a panic attack coming on.

I went into my daughter's room late that night and watched her sleep. It's when she looks youngest, the most innocent. I'm hanging on to that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I'm sorry for your loss.

In the last month five of my friends have lost an immediate family member. I am pained by each of these deaths, and for the friends coping day-to-day.

Of them, two died of old age, two died from tumors and the third lost his life to the Big C. People always want to know how someone died. They also want to know why couples divorce. I tell you this so you won't wonder how to nicely ask me.

This is rather a sick thought but I've wondered how I would console my own children if something happened to Dave. I would be so distraught myself but still I would need to be there for the pinks.

Death sucks. It's devastating at any time of the year but more so during this time of year when the days and nights are filled with eat, drink and be merry.

I am fortunate that my parents and mother-in-law are still in good health and local. I try hard to appreciate them although we always think we can do better, see more of them, do more for them. Just hours ago I irritated my mother by telling her that we will not be celebrating Hanukah with them at their home on Dec 27 as we will have done so three nights the previous week up at Tahoe. Bad daughter.

Many years ago I read Tuesdays with Morrie. My takeaway was that death is the end of a life, not of a relationship. That has brought me comfort over the years.

I am also comforted knowing that there are more angels among us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

13.1

Over the weekend Dave, our friend Dave and I participated in the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon. (We signed up for the half.) It was a quick trip -- in and out in less than 24 hours.

This race was different than the other ones I've done: it began at dusk so you could enjoy the glory of downtown Las Vegas and the strip at night. The thing is, it's cool to start with and only gets cooler. It was a beautiful run down the strip, which was uplit for Christmas, and not so beautiful through the seedy areas of town. I now know where to find the bail bondsmen, drive through wedding chapels, tattoo parlors and lawyers that offer a 50% discount.

This is the biggest of the Rock & Roll events. In fact, 44,000 people ran. That's a lot of feet on the street and a lot of infrastructure to support all those feet, which included closing Las Vegas Blvd. for seven hours.

It was a treat to catch up with Dave, who my husband sees frequently but I do not. And it was fun to run with Dave, my husband, because we never work out together. He is in much better shape than I am and was quite gracious in modifying his pace to match mine.

I was happiest when we were back inside the hotel at the end of the evening. Rain was falling, the wind was blowing and the temps were in the high 30s by then. The race organizers did not anticipate the amount of people who would need aid at the end of the race and it was a lot of chaos. They also did not anticipate the number of bathrooms needed along the course, which was lacking in bushes or cars to dip behind.

One of the things I enjoy most about events such as these is the diversity of the crowd: people of all colors, shapes and sizes wearing tutus, Elvis costumes, inspirational t-shirts, crazy hats and wigs, patterned socks. While it wasn't Bay-to-Breakers style, it was quirky and silly. And a good time in that oh-I'm-going-to-be-in-pain-tomorrow sort of way.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Totem

We took The Pinks to see Totem, the most recent Cirque du Soleil show to visit San Francisco. We're Cirque junkies, having seen every one that has come through the Bay and quite a few of resident ones, too. Mystere, in the Las Vegas Mirage Hotel, is my favorite although O is more technically impressive.

Totem was very good, one of the better shows. My favorite act was the five unicyclists juggling metal bowls with their feet. I also liked the Russian Bars, which had 10 men dressed in South American-inspired clothing. They did acrobatics while being flung from bar to bar. The most interesting act, and one I thoroughly enjoyed, was a scientist juggling fluorescent-filled balls while he stood inside a funnel, using the funnel as a relay for the balls. And the kids and Dave? Oh yes, they liked it too.

Friends joined us for dinner at Public House, a Traci des Jardins restaurant near the big top. The gussied-up sports pub food was top notch (I expected little else from des Jardins, who won my affections many years ago with Jardiniere.) and it was good to catch up with two of the Week 1 Italy Families.

The above picture is of Thing 2 posing with one of the entertainers at intermission. Totem plays in San Francisco through December 18. Go!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday is over-rated.

I did not host Thanksgiving this year and that meant I did not stay up until midnight with Mr. Clean the Magic Eraser.

This enabled me, Eldest Daughter and Thing 1 to leave the house at 5:40a Friday to participate in a holiday tradition that somehow we'd thus far avoided: Black Friday Shopping.

Eh. Not worth doing again. Something is broken with retail shopping.

We headed to Hacienda Crossing, the location of our closest Old Navy, Ulta, and Bed, Bath and Beyond. The parking lot was about 10% full. This translated to very few shoppers even though there is a Best Buy there, too. It took us less than an hour to ransack those three shops and hit Starbucks.

It was too early to go home so we made one last stop: Toys R Us. It wasn't empty but it wasn't crowded, either. I offered The Pinks a trip to the big mall and they declined, citing sleepiness. By 8:45a we were home and I crawled back into bed.

Total damage: less than $300 and that included all new towels for Tahoe.

There is a beautiful, recently remodeled shopping center near our house: Blackhawk Plaza. Yet the retail turnover there is constant and has been for the 18 years I have lived in this town. I shop there only occasionally and that's because I like Anthropologie. A chain accessories shop just went in and I hope the management company sees that even the CEOs and cougars who live inside the gates like good value. Put in a Sephora or a Cheesecake Factory to draw in the masses. It's a great place for the under 7s to go with the playground and ducks. But that's it.

I'll be curious to see the retail numbers post-holidays this year. And there will be no dearth of news on it I'm sure.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mountain High - Thanksgiving Week Edition

We've just come back from a quick trip to Tahoe. We've not been up since summer and my body was begging for the scent of pine trees in the most unrelenting of ways. This trip was really just to get the house ready for winter. Provisioning. Cleaning. Organizing.

Squaw merged with Alpine Meadows this year and KSL, the owner of both properties, is halfway through a $30M renovation of Squaw. There have been lots of changes.

Here are some highlights:
  1. There is signage everywhere.
  2. The ticket kiosks and ski school office were demolished and a new skier service center was added to the Olympic House. The site of the former kiosks is wide open now and it's not an icy hike up to the Funitel.
  3. The filthy, dingy lower level of the Olympic House was gutted. All the restaurants and shops are gone, and all that remains of the original space is the fireplace and stairs. There is a gorgeous new locker room and a lot of dust as the construction continues. Fire pits are being installed on the KT deck along with private cabanas.
  4. The Blue Coyote is gone and the space is in the process of being converted to a new restaurant. That's number three in the spot if my memory serves correctly.
  5. The North Face has moved into The Village.
  6. The Rainbow Bridge (aka that weird spiritual shop) has closed, as has All Fired Up and the ice cream shop, which was much better during its first iteration as Ben & Jerry's.
  7. Chamois, the pizza place, appears to have lost its liquor license for two weeks. At least that's what the notice hanging in its window says.
  8. Starbucks has remodeled. The service is still mediocre.
Very little was open during our stay, just Starbucks, Mamasake and Mountain Nectar. Winter operations begin tomorrow. Thing 1 broke into tears when she saw Exhibition running Sunday morning, knowing we'd left all our ski gear down in the Bay. Fortunately or unfortunately it was for Squaw ski team members only to get a leg up on the other local race teams.

The drive up was tougher than usual. It was raining in the Bay and we saw four car accidents in the first 15 miles of our drive. It was snowing over the pass and Caltrans was hauling a few cars out of ditches in the Sierras, too. Not optimal but we arrived. And were rewarded with three days of falling snow and the area mostly to ourselves.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Next stop: Singapore!

My Badger friend Hillary moved from NYC to Singapore this year. Her husband is the chair of NYU's Tisch Asia School of the Arts.

Coincidentally, my mother-in-law is doing a four-month Crystal Cruise and will have two days in Shanghai this spring.

These two facts mean one clear thing: a road trip is in my future!

I've just done my airline ticket to visit Hil, Jean-Marc and Sophia then meet up with my MIL and Dave in Shanghai.

Am I the only one who gets a panic attack when they push the "purchase" button on an international airline transaction? This panic attack is accompanied by a buzz, too, the buzz of solidifying my next adventure. But it really and truly means I will spend 20+ hours in the air, 40+ hours over a week's time, and leave my kids on the other side of the world.

Singapore is a long way from here. It's even further from New York, where most of Hil's family and friends live. I'm very excited to see her for a few days. There is no easy way to do this triangle and Dave and I spent way too much time playing with the variables: low cost and milk run vs airline we've never heard of and direct route vs high cost and miserable departure and arrival times.

During the course of putting this trip together I discovered a fabulous travel site, Hipmunk. It's visual interface is easy on the eyes and it's really cute, too. It also satisfies my emerging monkey fetish. I'm a big fan of MailChimp, which I use for work.

If you've got any Singapore or Shanghai recs, I'm ready for them!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why do we read sad stories?

I just finished reading My Own Country, Abraham Verghese's first book. Verghese is best known for his recent New York Times bestseller Cutting for Stone.

It's another exceptional read. Dr. Verghese chronicles his early years practicing medicine in Johnson City, Tennessee. His specialty is infectious diseases and this is 1985, when AIDS was just reaching from big cities to small towns. Verghese, a newly married, Ethiopian-raised Indian doctor, struggles to fit in and the parallel is easily drawn to his patients, who find themselves shunned by other physicians and the community as a whole as they've come home to die. The great empathy he has for his patients, as well as his diagnostic skills and brilliance at putting words on the page, makes this a memoir I didn't want to end.

You'd think that the subject matter would make the book a downer. But, even though we know upfront that all these people will die, Verghese manages to weave a beautiful, poignant story of the people, the culture, the beauty of the region and his quest to save lives and ease pain.

Why do we read books such as these? A Thousand Splendid Sons and The Kite Runner were horrific. Tweak and Beautiful Boy were scary in the "Lord, please don't let my kid ever get near meth sort of way". Unbroken takes gruesome suffering to a new level. It's easily been two decades since I read The Prince of Tides yet one disturbing scene remains with me, still.

Is this akin to watching a train wreck?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bravo Belles!

My kid plays goalie. I hate it. It's dang stressful. But she loves it and Dave and I support her in things she's passionate about, especially when they're good for her.

Today all that stress paid off. Her team won its age and division championship. I'm hoarse from all that screaming on the sidelines. My hands are raw from clapping.

One week until the indoor soccer season begins. Oy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back away, people.

Let me preface this post by saying that I'm having a great day. I've done some good work. I went to a professional group meeting over lunch. The speaker was engaging and relevant. Caryl is going to join my gym, which means we can spend more time together. Vanity Fair came in the mail. It's a perfect fall day in Northern California. I have lots to be happy about.

However, sometimes we need to put our big girl panties on and deal.

One of our neighbors drives very fast, much faster than one should drive in a neighborhood where children ride their bikes and walk to the bus stop. This morning she nearly ran over one of our kids and didn't even slow down; I think she didn't notice. Tonight I must confront her.

The youngest Pinks had an assembly yesterday. And something happened during the first five minutes of it which led the principal to cancel it. My children came home and told me that the principal yelled at them so that leads me to believe it was a behavior issue. Where is the communication to parents on this, showing the administration's side of the story? If there is no such message then I will just have to take my children's version of the story as the gospel. I sent off a note to her today, too. Surprise!

No, I do not have PMS.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SOS - Save our Schools!

Yesterday was Mike Cannon's last day as vice principal at our middle school. Monday he starts his new job as principal at a much larger middle school two towns north of here. I am happy for him professionally and personally, and I am also saddened at our school district's loss of this talented administrator.

From the outside, it does not seem like being a middle school vice principal would be fun. All those hormones. Discipline. Logistics. Clearly I work in the private sector and don't get the thrill of it all. I'm glad someone does.

I met Mike about a year ago when he helped me with logistics for the Rachel Simmons Curse of the Good Girl lecture. As it turns out, he lives in the same neighborhood as my brother and they're friendly. I've gotten to know his family and they're just good stock, the kind of people you want around.

We have a new principal at our elementary school this year and she appears to be doing as little as possible to get by. I've spoken with our PTA president, other parents and the school district about this and am hopeful the district will address those in time for her to make an impact. She's got a tough job -- her two predecessors were both strong, opinionated women who didn't back away from a challenge. Fortunately the youngest Pinks have good teachers this year and that will affect them far more than the principal.

We intentionally live in a community with stellar schools. Yet I'm disappointed in these two recent turn of events. We could private school our children but we don't want to. Dave and I are products of public schooling, all the way through college, and are advocates of it. Even if we did want to go the private school route, the only ones within 15 miles of here are parochial. This is what keeps me awake at night.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sore.

I ache all over. Painting is not very hard work. However, when you are on the top of a four-story condo building painting gutters while clinging to scaffolding for dear life, it's harder. Factor in the wind and the marine layer, which never burned off in Daly City, and four layers of clothing. It's the contortionism required to avoid sudden death that causes the ache.

Today I'm happy and sore. Happy to have spent yesterday doing Habitat for Humanity with Dave and Jen. Happy that hair spray takes latex paint out of my jeans and jacket. Happy to contribute to a good cause.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Inspired

Caryl, Jill, Senora Frahm and I went to one of Ron Morgan's floral design classes this morning in Lafayette. He threw together five or six arrangements in an hour and we all left with big smiles on our faces, brains weary from his zippy one liners and bug eyes from looking at all the pretties.

Every Monday morning should start this way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happily Ever After

Dave and I spent last weekend with friends, both old and new.

We drove down to Monterey Friday night and spent the night with Dennis and Margo. They live in Pasadera, on the golf course, and their life revolves around golf. Dennis fired up the grill and we had steaks and salad, and a lot of wine was consumed.

Turn back the clock 16 years. My alarm clock went off at 4:30am on a Saturday morning. Margo and her ex-husband pulled up in our driveway at 5:00am and off we went for an overnight ski trip to Kirkwood. Margo and Mark drove from San Carlos so they were easily up at 3:30a. We got to the mountain as the lifts opened, skied all day, and apres-ski Dave, Mark and I collapsed on couches in the rental condo. Margo then made an amazing dinner of Chicken Piccata and salad. Sixteen years later I still remember the meal. I still remember that she made it after little sleep, driving 4 hours, and skiing all day. That's Margo.

The Margo I saw Friday night is still working her way back to normal after two miserable years of illness. Although I've seen her several times during the last few years it still threw me.

Saturday morning we hopped on the 101 south to Solvang for Andy and Angela's wedding nearby. The day could not have been more perfect for a wedding: it was 80F and sunny with a slight breeze. The wedding was at the Gainey Vineyard Ranch in Santa Ynez and it was one of those rustic ranch style weddings Martha Stewart popularized.

The place cards were tiny clusters of flowers in salt shaker vases. The favors were lavender potpourri and Jordan almonds that the Andy's mom brought back from France. Many of the floral arrangements were in mason jars (my favorite!). There bathrooms were labeled Cowgirl and Cowboy. And best of all, dinner was Santa Maria BBQ! Dessert was It's Its. Divine!

Andy is a friend of Dave's, someone I've met just a few times. What struck me most about the event was how fabulous Andy's friends are. They were nearly all from his prep school, college and finance-industry days. Each one was smarter, nicer and more inclusive than the next.

Solvang, the Danish enclave in central California established in the early 1900s, is as kitschy as I remember it from childhood. We were there less than 24 hours and tried three bakeries.

And then we made the long drive home, back to reality and The Three Pinks.


Monday, October 10, 2011

And in the mail arrived a mini vacation.

Thom's Italy pictures came in the mail last week. There were 900. I edited them down to the 120 I want to keep.

I was rather lazy about shooting pictures in Italy; history has shown that I end up using most of Thom's anyway. There are easily a dozen fabulous ones of his immediate family and I can't wait to see which one makes the holiday card.

Here are a few of my favorites, ones I can't stand not to share with you.

Thom, Dave and Dave, above. Thom and my husband Dave met on move in day in the dorms freshman year at SDSU.

They've been joined at the hip pretty much ever since. The other Dave is a few years younger than my husband and Thom, and the trio are fraternity brothers. Betas in case you were wondering. There's a very similar picture to this taken in Provence. Among the lavender which makes me sneeze just recalling it.

Looking at these pictures makes me remember, again, how lucky we are that they married well. Jackie and Sara are just neat women, smart and fun. They jump right in and do what needs to be done, parenting whoever happens to be around, good traits when you're vacationing together. Jackie was kind enough to bring her sister on this trip, too. Those of you with sisters -- appreciate them! Call them right now and tell them how much you love them! I had to wait until I married to get one of my own.

Dave and Jackie's kids are so dang photogenic. This post has a great picture of them plus one that includes Maggie, Jackie's chic sister. (She is single, has a good job, a good haircut, divine taste in shoes and wants kids. Any takers?) It also has my favorite picture of Thom and Sara.

Thom easily shot a dozen gorgeous pictures of Dave and Jackie's kids solo. I hope they have a wall dedicated to these at home. Here's a great one of their family taken at Cafe Florian in Venice, where we let the kids order the most expensive and watered-down soft drinks ever. They did come with ice. Who else but a foreigner would pay that amount?! I realize I'm out on a limb complaining about a travel experience that 99% of the people on the planet will never have. I'm grateful, really I am.

Here's Thom and Sara's youngest, who we affectionately call the Human Tornado, eating gelato outside The Arena in Verona with our twins. I have a variants of this photo taken in Spain, France and Tuscany. There does exist a picture of all five of our daughters eating gelato. However, Eldest Daughter abhors when I post pictures of her so I am respecting her wishes. This time.

Thom shot this picture in Verona in Giulietta's courtyard. He did a good job capturing the graffiti and the ambiance-destroying element of it. It was rather disgusting. Look but don't touch, kids.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Suite! My Fairytale!

I'm just back from a business trip to LA. Disneyland to be specific. Even more specifically: a technobabble convention at the Disneyland Hotel. I didn't have time to get into the parks, which was fine since it was pouring rain.

The whole Disney experience is odd when you have kids but they're not with you. Apparently we've stayed on property so many times that we're VIPs. I learned this when I checked in and was upgraded to the Fairytale Suite. If going to Disney without the kids didn't make me feel bad enough, the over-the-top suite did.

Here are the highlights:
  • Animatronic art on the walls: dancing prince and princess, The Beast, etc.
  • When You Wish Upon a Star playing in the foyer whenever the door to the hallway is opened or shut
  • Decor in soothing taupe, cream and light blue
  • A sumptuous four poster bed with tasseled silk draperies
  • Silk carpets
  • A silk chaise lounge
  • An 11th floor corner room with a straight-on view of Downtown Disney and both theme parks
  • Mosaics on the floors and walls that rival those of The Vatican
  • Live orchids
  • New fluffy white towels, tags still attached (not optimal to have to rip tags off myself and they also shed)
  • A TV located behind the large bathroom mirror so the image comes through the mirror. I watched the Today Show while putting on my makeup.
  • A remote controlled TV that emerges from the dresser in front of the bed. There are nine cartoon channels but no Food TV, OWN, E! or Bravo.
  • A Keurig single-cup coffee / tea machine with a dozen flavor options. This was useful as I got up five times during the night to watch the Disney magic still going on in Downtown Disney and the lights on the rides during the wee hours of the morning.
  • Remote controlled draperies and lights throughout the suite. Eh. I like the drapes open when I travel. It reminds me that I'm not in Kansas any more.
  • Under counter flashing (um flickering?) lights in the bathroom vanity, activated by remote. I had to look under the counters to see how they pulled this off. It's less sophisticated than you'd think.
  • Remote controlled ceiling stars.
Truly it was a kick but I would have enjoyed it more with Dave and The Pinks.

The business trip itself was worthwhile. I talked to industry pundits and customers about our particular breed of technology, bonded with my co workers and contributed to California's economy. I even got to experience two new things: driving a minivan (quick errand to Target with my colleague's car) and flying in and out of the Long Beach Airport.

Success!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dancing with myself. A fail.

My gym offers Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance class. Two of The Pinks dance well so it follows that I'd have a bit of innate talent in that area. Nope.

Over the weekend I tried Zumba (again) and it was a fail. The biggest benefit of the class (okay, of the 20 minutes I lasted in the class) was being reminded of the dancing Dave and I did in Carpi, Italy this summer.

Carpi is a teeny tiny speck on the map just south of Villa Bartolomea. Jill and Wally stumbled upon Antica Trattoria Bellinazzo while biking and this Slow Food restaurant became the most visited restaurant of our summer vacation after the pizzeria down the street from the villa.

We had an adults-only meal one evening and devoured Daniele's house-made salami called Stortina Veronese and Parmesan and cinnamon risotto made by his grandmother. Some in our group ate donkey that night but not surprisingly, I passed.

After dinner we strolled down the block and discovered that the whole town was out celebrating something or other. In the center of the street was a huge dance floor with people line dancing. Dave and I joined right in. I swear that I could hear our friends laughing over the Italian musicians. Fortunately the dance was simple enough that I could follow.

Much better than Zumba.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mountain View

I drive here two days a week to work. It's a long commute. Long as in more than an hour each way.

The good news, great news really, is that I like Mountain View. It's home to 75,000 people including Seth and Lori, who I hope to see more of. My office is on Castro Street, the main drag, and out the door is the performing arts center. A Posh Bagel is on the ground floor of our high rise, a bonus for me as I am in the office at 7am. There are restaurants and independent book stores and coffee shops. There are Chinese Herbalists and two music stores. There's a fish store, which is different than a fish market.

Mountain View has an ethnic diversity that my suburb does not. People smile as they walk down the street. They push strollers. They are young and they are old. They carry library books.

CALTRAIN stops near my office and I see people get off the train with their bikes then ride over the 101 to the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. I'd like to commute that way.

It's the things you never expect.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Interviewing and The Bachelorette

As you know, I just landed my next gig. It didn't turn out to be a gig after all; it's a full-time, in-house job. During the 12 years I spent consulting, I was always subtly selling myself. It's a natural part of networking and lining up your next project.

So, when I interviewed for this job I didn't view the process as a one-sided Q&A session. It was simply conversations, a bit about me, a bit about the company, much more about the industry, market opportunity and the challenges the company is trying to solve. It's a lot like going to coffee with a friend except that I prep and doll up.

While I had this new mentality, I realized how much the traditional job hunt has in common with the TV show no one admits they are addicted to: The Bachelorette. The Bachelorette's goal is to find the perfect husband. The Employer's goal is to find the perfect hire.

The initial selection.
  • The Bachelorette chooses from 25 pre-selected men.
  • The Employer weeds through many resumes.
Narrowing down the playing field.
  • The Bachelorette talks to all the men and eliminates suitors who dis their previous amours via a dramatic rose ceremony.
  • The Employer screens the candidates by phone and eliminates the ones who say rude things about their previous employers.
The challenge.
  • The Bachelorette puts the men through exercises such as boxing, zip lining, and a mock wedding to test their mettle.
  • The Employer drills the candidates on how they would handle situations such as witnessing an employee using the color laser printer to create the Star of the Week poster for their kindergartener.
The suck up.
  • The Bachelorette tries to sell the bachelors on why she is the best thing since the advent of the Internet.
  • The Employer tries to sell the prospective employee on their company culture (we have Segway races at lunch and bagels on Friday mornings!), their promote from within philosophy (nearly always BS), and their benefits package (yes, domestic partner healthcare coverage).
The confirmation.
  • The Bachelorette expects and looks for signs that the men are all about her, even though she is dating more than one of them. Failure to profess that the Bachelorette is the be all, end all results in the Bachelorette depriving the man of a rose.
  • The Employer expects and looks for signs that the candidate is only interested in them. Failure sell the Employer on their devotion to the potential employer results in questioning the candidate's interest in the position.
The offer.
  • The Bachelorette selects the man she wants to marry and hopes he proposes.
  • The Employer extends a job offer and hopes the candidate accepts it.
And they all live happily ever after. Maybe.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Baseball, Brad & Benefit

Eldest Daughter and I were lucky enough to attend the Moneyball Premiere in Oakland Monday night.

In case you've been hiding under a rock, Moneyball is Brad Pitt's new film about the Oakland A's 2002 season. Pitt plays Billy Beane, the A's general manager, who is forced by budget constraints to take a controversial, statistics-based approach to field his team. The movie is based on the book by Michael Lewis, who also wrote The Blindside.

The event, held at the Paramount Theatre, benefited Children's Hospital Oakland. Once we got inside, we positioned ourselves adjacent to the front door and greeted Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who I've loved since The Talented Mr. Ripley, and many of the current players, including David DeJesus. Hometown hero Sully was there as were some suburban mommies. The theatre lobby was packed, not surprisingly, and admission bought as many designer cocktails as one could consume during the hour before the movie.

I was wearing a skirt, heels and a lot more eye makeup than I usually wear, courtesy of Eldest Daughter's heavy hand.

Eldest Daughter wore heels and white jeans. The A's Wives were channeling The Housewives of New Jersey. The majority of men wore jacket and tie, and were accompanied by women in black cocktail dresses with Louboutins or Tabitha Simmons.

It had been many years since I'd been to the Paramount Theatre. In fact, Eldest Daughter and I were last there to see The Wiggles. The 1930s building remains a stunning piece of Art Deco architecture and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Even Eldest Daughter commented on the grandeur of the bathrooms.

Fortunately, Dave and Eldest Daughter did not end up on the cutting room floor. The scene they shot as extras made the big screen version. This is Dave's second movie and Eldest Daughter's first.

The premiere boiled down to this: the director introduced and thanked the contributors, some of whom he brought up on stage. Enter Brad Pitt to deafening (and well deserved) applause. Then they rolled the film. We watched it and then we left.

It's a good movie. I like baseball and I like the A's. And I feel a smidge romantic about baseball after seeing this film, the same way you do after your team wins the series.

Thanks Brad!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Olympic Seoul Chicken

Thing 1 had this for dinner at her friend Emma's house and raved about it. It is very good and easy to make, too. Enjoy!

Adapted from Arthur Schwartz, author of Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food and Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking.

¼ cup (60ml) rice vinegar (unseasoned)
3 tablespoons (45ml) soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30ml) honey
1-inch (3cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
8 chicken thighs, skinned
10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1½ teaspoon chili powder (I used cochutgaru, but any will do)
a handful of chopped green onions, including the dark green part

1. Mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and ginger.

2. Heat enough oil in a large skillet until it just covers the bottom. When it’s hot and shimmering, sauté the chicken thighs until well-browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn.

4. Pour in the vinegar mixture, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until done. While the thighs are cooking, turn them a couple of times in the marinade.

5. Once they’re done, remove the cover, add the green onions, and cook for another minute or so, until the sauce is slightly thickened.

Serve with rice, kimchi, toasted nori, or any other accompaniments. Also good with a pile of steamed green beans drizzled with sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I like to build.

There's exciting news beyond the seven pair of shoes I bought this summer. (There. It's out for the whole blogosphere to see. I demonstrated exceptional self-restraint in Italy. You may leave your heartfelt kudos in the comments section.)

And now the scoop: I've gone back in house. This is also known as taking a full-time job or becoming a company employee. It certainly wasn't my plan but this company looked like so much fun and I have a big opportunity to make a difference (in that technodweeby sort of way).

The company is called SOASTA. It rhymes with toaster, if you're from Boston. A former colleague referred me.

Two interesting opportunities presented themselves. Although they were night and day in the marketing world, they were both at the intersection of good money and things I enjoy. In the end my brother said something that made sense: You like start ups. I do like start ups. I did three successful ones before The Pinks were born. I like to build. To create. To sit at the table. (Thank you Sheryl Sandberg.)

Today I begin my new journey.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'm glad Hillary lives in Singapore now.

Sort of.

Hillary is one of my college friends and she, her husband and her daughter moved to Singapore in July. They previously lived in Manhattan, where Hil has lived since college.

9/11 took a huge emotional toll on her. It took a toll on all of us but especially on those who lived and worked in New York City. She lived it. I watched it on TV.

I have been running on my treadmill, often while watching TV. On Friday I did not think I could finish my training program; I was tired and hot. But then, on the Today Show, came the disturbing footage of the Twin Towers collapsing and of the ensuing chaos. I completed my workout, running like I was there, running from the horrifying scene. I ran until I could no longer breathe.

So while I wish Hillary were still just a six-hour flight from me, I'm glad she will be spared the experience of rehashing the horror in Manhattan.

We shall never forget.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Smells of Summer

Summer is nearly over on the calendar. The kids are back in school so the season is over in their minds. I will miss the smells.

Peaches. On the counter one day before spoiling.

Sun baked babies. Sun-warmed children covered in sunscreen, slightly sweaty.

Freshly cut grass. Followed by the a sound: sneezing.

Moisture, slightly sweet. In the air before the morning fog burns off.

Basil. Walking through the Farmer's Market.

Cleats. Soccer practice has begun.

Roasting tomatoes. Tomatoes arrived on the late side this season and we are buried with them now.

Air conditioned air. The slightly sweet odor in your car.

Are there any smells that you associate with Summer?


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer Reading

It was a good summer for reading!

Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand managed to best Seabiscuit. When is the movie forthcoming? I was a bit put off by all the details in the first 50 pages and almost gave it up. But I kept reading because everyone raved about this book and once I got further into the story, I realized why the author devoted so many pages to Olympic and World War II statistics. Wow. She is a master researcher. The true story of Louis Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent cum Olympic runner cum POW cum Army hero, is fascinating and unlikely. I kept asking myself, "Why did he choose to live during these circumstances instead of doing the easier thing and dying?" If you can get through 600 pages, it's a great read.

The Imperfectionists. I kept looking for a plot in Tom Rachman's debut novel about an English language newspaper in Rome. It didn't exist. But the writing is good and the characters were quirky enough to keep my attention. I read it in Villa Bartolomea, which added to the experience.

Dreams of Joy. This is Lisa See's follow on to Shanghai Girls, which I loved. I did not love the first part of this book but, like Unbroken, 50 pages in I was hooked to the point of putting off non essential things to get through it. It's about a mother and a daughter, Communist China during the late 1950s and dreams. It's an exceptional read provided you read and enjoyed Shanghai Girls.

Little Bee. Chris Cleave's story is of a Nigerian woman who flees the horrors of her own country and becomes a refugee in England. It's dramatic, sad and gory in places. And it made me think long after I finished it. It makes you consider the world and your place in it. Highly recommended.

The House in France. Gully Wells name drops too much in her memoir and, not being a part of London's liberated circle of intellectuals in the 1960s, I was unimpressed. However, her writing is solid and pithy. (I love the word pithy. I want my own writing to be pithy.) It's a good look into her life in the south of France, London and New York in the 1960s and 70s, complete with all the details of adultery, philosophical discussions, discos, drugs and food. An interesting but not especially deep read. My recommendation: skim the British politics and focus on the characters, which are straight out of central casting.

Get Out of my Life. But first can you drive me and Cheryl to the mall? A parenting book recommended by a friend whose oldest is in college and whose youngest just started kindergarten. Two takeaways here: they will eventually outgrow this selfish, unreasonable stage and don't bother getting into extended debates with them. Eldest Daughter was concerned when she saw this on my nightstand. She does not like when I study up on parenting.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Friend Paris!

There were three My Friend Paris book events this summer!

Thing 1 read Paris Goes to Los Angeles at READ in Danville. More than 60 people came to the event, including her 3rd grade teacher and some former classmates. Most impressive was our college-aged neighbor toting the trio of very young children she is nannying this summer and another very young neighbor. After the event friends and family joined us for lunch at the playground adjacent to the book store.

Jenna, Paris' first cousin who wrote Paris Goes to Los Angeles, had her launch party at King's Fish House in Calabasas. Bruce, Kris, Kendall, Kylie, Kim, Kourtney and Khloe had other plans that day. A good crowd came to support Jenna, including our friends from Manhattan Beach who'd just joined us in Italy. This took place the day after the girls returned from two weeks at sleep-away camp.

And finally, Thing 1 read Paris Goes to San Francisco at the Boudin Bakery flagship store in San Francisco. The bakers made extra teddy bear sourdough loaves for the occasion - Thing 1's favorite.

Boudin did a great job promoting the event. The book has its own display in the store and every now and then friends text us pictures they've shot when discovering it.

It's been a big summer of publicity for the My Friend Paris series. If you still need copies you can buy them on Amazon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

And then there's the golf ...

A long time ago someone advised Dave that to remain involved in his children's lives he should make their interests his own interests.

He's done a good job of that. He's been to dance performances and recitals, children's theater performances, soccer, softball and basketball games, ice skating, roller skating, animated movies, amusement parks, and on and on.

We took the kids to an Oakland A's game this summer and I was blown away by how closely they watched the game; apparently it interests them now that they know softball. This is a good example of how, finally, their interests are merging with ours.

This was The Summer of Golf. Golf is a great sport in general.
You can play your whole life. Golf courses are located in beautiful settings, often vacation destinations. It's both physical and mental. This sport holds huge promise for our family. Hopefully the kids can play at the club with him someday and we can golf together on vacation. To prepare for The Summer of Golf Dave bought three sets of she-colored clubs, balls and bags. I recently tagged along with them to Golfsmith to weigh in on golf clothes. Boy was I in for a surprise. Who knew there was so much gear involved? And that so much of it was girly?

First, the floral hat clips and divot tools. Exactly what needs clipping to your hat? There are two-way pink plastic cleaning brushes. Both ways looked the same to me. And pink club grips. Is your club without a grip when you buy it? Or do you throw out the primary colored one in favor of pink post purchase? Apparently there's an issue with pants falling down during golf. I saw a big display of belts and buckles. Also, golf tees come in all the colors of the rainbow. As do Sharpies, which apparently are necessary to mark one's ball.

All this time I thought it was a relatively simple game: hit the tiny ball into the tiny hole hundreds of yards down the fairway. Apparently not.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Better Butter

Nichole, an American photographer and copywriter, recently blogged about French butter. She did another post about it, too, with a beautiful photograph of its packaging. I am a sucker for good packaging.

David Lebovitz, my favorite former Chez Panisse pastry chef living in Paris, has blogged about French butter.

I like good butter. When we're traveling overseas I seek out high-end butter. I cook with good butter. When in Neeracha's refrigerator I discovered that she has a thing for good butter, too. Even though Jill and I haven't discussed it, I bet she belongs to this club.

Eating good butter on fresh bread gives me the chills. It lightly coats your tongue and does not sit, like lead, in your stomach.

To the store I go.

Sidebar: Nichole sells her beautiful Parisian photography on etsy. Search "little brown pen". I have several of her photos and have given many others as gifts. She organizes them by colorways, which make them easy to group in any room.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Sounds of Summer

Crickets. I'm sad when they go wherever they go for the winter.

Fountains. We have two in our yard and they co-mingle with the crickets at night.

Sprinklers. They go on at 5am. I hear them depending on how deep I'm sleeping.

Piano. The next door neighbors' kids play beautifully and I love listening to it.

The three-year-old screaming. The other next door neighbors have an adorable blond son who is doing age-appropriate vocalization.

Porsche. The neighbor's ride is distinct.

Splashing and laughter. Happy children at the pool.

Eldest Daughter. She wants her sisters to be quiet longer in the morning so she can sleep.

The fan. A necessity with the treadmill during warm months.

Funky ice cream truck horn. At the pool.

What sounds do you associate with summer?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Aida!

It's no secret that my sports-loving husband is also a huge opera fan. For him, visiting Verona meant going to the opera. It's one of life's check offs.

I, however, am not an opera fan. We've been to the San Francisco Opera several times and frankly, it's a lot of work: reading those subtitles, watching the performance, listening to the singing in another language, and hours and hours long. Then add the trip into the city and the dinner. Still, we were in Verona and Dave got tickets in advance of our trip. And so we went. At the 2,000 year old Roman amphitheatre called the Forum.

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular opera, here's the short version: Aida is an Ethiopian princess. She's captured and brought into slavery in Egypt. A military commander falls in love with her and must choose between her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. And we all know how operas end.

Aida is four long acts. Apparently Verdi had a lot to say in this particular opera. The triumphal march in the second act was well done, with four obedient horses. There were no subtitles. There was no need for vocal or instrumental amplification. At one point there were more than 350 performers on stage. It was a warm but not an oppressively warm night. The moon was out. The sun set behind the Forum. It was another perfect moment. And the woman seated in front of me gave us a laugh.

We left the kids at the villa and the ten of us had adults-only dinner at a chic restaurant Neeracha picked out, Trattoria al Pompieri. The risotto in local red wine was too rich to take seriously but the salumi platter was amazing. I honestly don't remember what I ate but I do remember being embarrassed that I did not offer to share it with anyone. Black and white photographs of famous Italians covered the walls; Jill and I didn't know who they were so we amused ourselves by making up stories about them.

Verona charmed us and we took The Pinks back another day for further exploration. It's an adorable town with a cathedral that's less grand on the outside than others in cities of its stature yet filled with beautiful art inside. We poked our heads in during Saturday mass and enjoyed a bit of the service. The people in Verona are friendly, the stores and restaurants abundant and the streets easy to navigate. There are bridges to see. And gelato to eat.

We quickly visited Casa de Giulietta, the dumbest tourist attraction ever. This is the recreation of Juliet's balcony, which isn't real to begin with as Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet is a work of fiction. There's also an iron statue of Juliet in the courtyard, which people get their jollies on by rubbing her right breast. Heck, if this adventure enables the kids to better connect with the works of Shakespeare, it was worthwhile.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Camping in the Louvre

Dan nailed it: staying in an old Italian villa is like camping in the Louvre.

Villa Mila deserves more than just a single post. The house really is exquisite. Our living space was about 10,000 sf. There's a second stairway leading to another wing, closed off by velvet cord. Several rooms had two sets of double doorways and were locked. Three of us did manage to unlock the internal door leading to the attached chapel, which was hot, musty and used for storage of misc. religious objects and IKEA housewares still in their original packaging.

The bathrooms had working bidets. (Try explaining those to your kids.) The hardwood floors creaked, especially in our room. Four of our friends mentioned ghosts as there seemed to be no reasonable explanation for doors opening and closing randomly at odd hours.

The villa is hidden from the street by 8' tall stone walls. It's reached by prying open two green, weathered barn doors then driving under a covered archway past the 400-year-old stables. A large field is to the left with the pool and gardens behind it. All of the rooms are dark, with ornate, heavy window treatments. At first we attributed the darkness to the house being kept shuttered up during the heat of the day. But during Week 2, when the heat wave passed, we realized that the walls themselves were painted in dark colors or were paneled. The hand painting was beautiful with many religious details or elaborate scenery. The grand foyer had swords and rifles hung above oil paintings of dour family members and a large marble shelf atop the lattice-covered radiator. There was also a low entry hall table, which we kept buried under sunscreen, insect repellent, guide books, maps, keys and shared receipts.

The room we spent the most time in was the smallest room, the library, which had reliable wifi, the lightest colored walls and the most amount of natural life. It held only one sofa and two small chairs so it was a real accomplishment to be seated comfortably!

The formal living room, which we alternatively drank limoncello in and let the kids use for crafting, had an enormous Phantom-of-the-Opera-style chandelier. It was covered in cobwebs, too. The floor was parquet tiles covered with throw rugs.

This is the fourth European villa we've rented and our first experience with the house manager living on site. She was well-intentioned and quite helpful, down to finding our fish-like friend an Olympic-sized pool to keep her conditioning intact for the Trans Tahoe Relay. She arranged for two different chefs to come in and cook for us, which was one of the highlights each week. However, The Pinks could not understand why she, or any of the other Italians we encountered, smoked. None of us could understand why she became unglued when the kids hauled the mattresses from the third floor to the first in order to have a mass sleepover in the music room, which was easily 20 degrees cooler than the third floor.

There's the de rigour pool on the property, where the kids spent a fair amount of time. Each house we've rented in Europe has the same cheap white plastic lawn chairs -- the stuff you see at Safeway -- and this was no exception. Why is this? Perhaps Americans hang out more in their yards than do Europeans?

In hindsight, the best part of the villa was its prime location for integration into (or observation of!) village life. It was at the end of the one-horse-town's main drag and adjacent to the murky Adige river. I loved being able to hand the kids a 20 Euro bill and asking them to return with pizza. I met a friend for coffee at La Boulange here in the burbs this week and noticed how noisy it was. At Cafe Teatro, Villa Bartolomea's equivalent, it would have been much quieter with people sitting together but not necessarily speaking animatedly, drinking their coffee slowly, not necessarily powering through breakfast.

As is typical in Europe, commercial hours are approximate and not set to optimize revenue. Shops are closed either Sundays or Monday mornings, sometimes both. In Modena, shops are closed Thursday afternoons. We wanted to buy a bottle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and the shopkeeper in one of Modena's best-known food shops, although physically in her shop and speaking to us, would not open the door for us to purchase a hundred dollar bottle of vinegar.

I could write a book on the foods of Northern Italy. In fact, many books have been written on the subject. Instead, here, I'll tell you about three grocery stores near the villa. To get a grocery cart, you insert a Euro coin in a slot and the cart becomes untethered from the others. When you
return your cart the coin comes back to you. This is quaint. In Italian grocery stores you must bag your own groceries and pay for the bags. This is not quaint although it does encourage reuse.

Familia was 2 km east of the house. It was adequate, much like a large Trader Joe's. This is where we did our initial provisioning because of its proximity to the house. It's biggest drawback was its limited produce selection.

Galassia was 7 km north. It was like a large Safeway with the addition of basic housewares, that cheap patio furniture and appliances. I bought additional fans here during the Week 1 Heat Wave. We shopped here whenever we were going to get my favorite pesche gelato at L'Arte del Gelato.

We didn't discover Interspar, also 7 km north and near L'arte del Gelato, until the end of our trip, sadly. It's Costco without the membership. We should have provisioned there! Dry pasta was literally two aisles. I could never have imagined so many shapes and sizes of pasta. Truly. Beverages took up an entire aisle -- sodas, bottled water, juices. Cheese was one side of a refrigerated aisle, pork products being the other side of course.

And of course none of these places are open on Sundays.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Glutton for Punishment

Time is suspended when you travel by air. So odd, so uncomfortable is the experience that after returning from a long international trip I vow never to do it again.

But less than three months after we return I start planning the next adventure, shuffling the deck of exotic locales I must visit. I write this post on paper, somewhere over Indiana, during the 18th hour of a 26-hour trip with three connections. I am miserable. So are my children. Fortunately my husband has his sense of humor intact and we share a love of travel. Soon this will be forgotten, gone to the same place memories of childbirth go.

Travel is an addiction.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Penny Ice Creamery

Summer means ice cream. Or gelato. Or Popsicles.

The two youngest Pinks and I spent today in Santa Cruz with Rebel. We checked out her new puppy, her not-so-new renovations, her horses and an ice cream shop I'd read about, The Penny Ice Creamery.

I remain unimpressed. However, quite a crowd was there on Cedar St. in downtown Santa Cruz so I am clearly in the minority. This spot has been open just about a year and makes its own artisan ice cream. I had Strawberry Pink Peppercorn, Thing 2 and Rebel had Blackberry Sweet Corn and Thing 1 was repulsed.

Another summer checkoff complete.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lake Garda

Have you heard of this place? I had but knew very little about it. Lake Como, yup, know it. Been there and also George Clooney lives there. But Lake Garda? This turned out to be one of the hidden gems of our trip. In case you're wondering, Lake Garda is northwest of Verona, bordering the Dolomites. It's about 90 minutes east of Milan.

While staying in Villa Bartolomea we day tripped to Sirmione, at the very tip of the peninsula. It's an adorable lakeside town whose highlights are a 13th century moated castle and the remains of Grotte de Catullo. The town itself is filled with restaurants and boutiques, and at lunch I ate the local trout baked in a sea salt crust. The tableside serving grossed out the kids but the fish itself was tasty. What do they do with the salt once the fish is baked, anyway?

One shop had a darling girl's dress in its window displayed alongside a matching purse. Thing 1 and I fell in love with it and then discovered that the purse was actually the packaging for the women's bikini. Dave offered the bikini to Eldest Daughter and thus it was a win for both Pinks. The bikini is, um, very European in cut, and looks fabulous on her. I'm not sure we would have bought it, though, had she tried it on first. I'm fairly sure Dave has not seen it on her yet.

The day we visited Sirmione was easily in the low 90s. Given that the highest point in the Dolomites is over 10,000 feet, I expected Lake-Tahoe-temperature water but no, it was much warmer. I wish we'd brought our bathing suits so we could do more than just dip our toes in the water. Leeann and her kids rented a paddle boat with a slide off the back. How fun would that have been?! And she did a long open-water swim in the lake because that's what she does.

We went back to the lake after the villa rental was over, this time staying at a German chain hotel in Lazise near the Gardaland amusement park. The hotel was new and modern and filled with beautiful young blond families. It looked as though we stepped into a gathering of German models. Our bodies nearly went into shock for the lack of mosquitoes! They were rather fierce at the villa.

We spent one day at Gardaland, Italy's sorry attempt at the Disney magic. The kids had fun although Dave and I thought it closer to Children's Fairyland than Disneyland. In the kids' opinion, the best part was the lack of concern for safety. Thing 2, the most petite of our children, was able to ride on some seriously scary roller coasters. We asked one Italian how they could run such rides. His response? "In America you sue when there is an accident. In Italy we say, 'How tragic.'" That about sums it up. Please no judging my parenting; Dave rode them with her.

The town of Lazise is nearly as adorable as Sirmione. A Scaligeri castle sits on the southern end and its 11th century stone walls surround the town. There is an enclosed fishing harbor and stone church. We had dinner overlooking the lake, the kids ate the requisite gelato and I managed to buy two more pair of shoes. We also explored Bardolino, which has large olive trees bordering its lakeside promenade. This area is known for its olive oil. There's also a town further north called Limone sul Garda, known for its lemons, but it was too long of a drive for me to torture the family with given our two days at the lake before returning to the states.

Will you remember Lake Garda now?

First two photos: credit to Neeracha

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Venice. Not the beach.

Venice is confusing to navigate, over-crowded with tourists and miserably hot. Smelly too.

Boy was I surprised when we had a perfect day there with The Pinks and the Singer and the Donell families. The Singers spent a week there previously and Sara was brilliant with the map. This particular visit showed me, at least, a charming view of the city especially through the observations of our children.

One of the smartest things I did was to pre-arrange a Context Travel tour. Monica Chojnacka was ours alone and she customized our three-hour walk to our family's interests: the Jewish Ghetto and family life in Venice.

Monica, a Stanford-educated, American art historian married to a Venetian man, has daughters the same age as our own. She writes books and has taught at universities in both the US and overseas. During our walk we visited the five synagogues in Venice, only two of which remain in use today. From 1516 to 1866 Venice's Jewish population was confined to an islet of the Cannaregio district, locked in at night and guarded. The world's first ghetto was here and the word ghetto comes from the Italian get or foundry, which previously occupied the location.

The tallest buildings in Venice were once in the ghetto; as the
Jewish population grew there was no place expand but vertically. While the neighborhood is no longer solely Jewish, there are reminders of those days: a few street signs in Hebrew, indentations in the stone house facades where a mezuzah would fit, two Kosher restaurants, some Judaica shops (Eldest Daughter bought a piece of art on her parashah). There are fewer than 400 Jews living in Venice today; in the mid 1700s there were about 5,000.

Monica's daughters study both Greek and Latin in school, and their school days and year are about the same as ours. One of the upsides to having a personal tour guide is that she answered our very pressing questions: the proper direction to stand when using a seatless commode and housing prices (comparable to NYC and SF, in case you were wondering). As a bonus, she knew where all the bathrooms were and even took our kids. Let's not underestimate the importance of this during a summer walking tour. She even showed us one of the places that the gondolas cross the Grand Canal, and that you can take them for less than a Euro instead of walking to the nearest bridge, which is often not so near. Eldest Daughter was thrilled when our tour ended at Lush, the UK-based hand-made soap and cosmetics store. Clearly Monica knows her stuff! I highly recommend Context Travel.

From there we made our way to Piazza San Marco and met up with our friends for a drink at Caffe Florian. Everyone who is anyone has had a drink here; it's been open since 1720! We had Bellinis while the kids had $14 Cokes. Oy! In addition to the couvert, there was a $8 fee for dining while the orchestra played outside.

And then the kids chased the pigeons. Do you think they'll remember the overpriced Cokes or the pigeons?!

Our next stop was the Bridge of Signs, which passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connected the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge name comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells. A local legend says that lovers will be granted everlasting love and bliss if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge. The bridge and the walls of the palazzo facing towards the bridge are under construction and it was a disappointment.

We had a late dinner in Venice, magical in the dark of course, and got back to the villa well after midnight. I especially liked seeing Venice after dark: you can peek into the houses.

The pictures here are of Thom and Sara, and Thing 1 at Caffe Florian, our whole entourage in Piazza San Marco, the extremely photogenic Donell children, and the view of the Grand Canal as seen when we got off the vaporetto. Photo credits: Thom Singer