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. Tori 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.

Paris 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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Over the weekend Dave, our friend Dave Harap 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. And it was fun to run with the 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


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 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 Tori posing with one of the entertainers at intermission.

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, Paris and Liberty 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.

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.
  5. The North Face has moved into The Village.
  6. The Rainbow Bridge (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. Liberty 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. We were rewarded with three days of falling snow and the area mostly to ourselves.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bravo Belles!

Tori 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.

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 Lyons 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.

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 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 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. This is what keeps me awake at night.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


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 Pockell-Wilson. Happy that hair spray takes latex paint out of my jeans and jacket. Happy to contribute to a good cause.

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 Donahue. 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 Mark Bercaw 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 DeSomma'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. 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.

Monday, October 10, 2011

And in the mail arrived a mini vacation.

Thom Singer'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 Donell 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. 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.

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, Kate, who we affectionately call the Human Tornado, eating gelato outside The Arena in Verona with Liberty and Victoria. 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, Paris 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.

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
  • 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.

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 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 22, 2011

Baseball, Brad & Benefit

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

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 Paris' heavy hand. She 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, Paris 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 Paris commented on the grandeur of the bathrooms.

Fortunately, Dave and Paris 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 her 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.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Olympic Seoul Chicken

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

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.

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.

Today I begin my new journey.

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 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.

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 sport 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.

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.

Paris. 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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


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 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; 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 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. 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 light. 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 untethers from the others. When you
return your cart the coin comes back to you. 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.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lake Garda

Lake Garda 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. Liberty 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 Paris 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. Liberty, 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. 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.

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. Paris 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. 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. Paris was thrilled when our tour ended at Lush, the UK-based hand-made soap and cosmetics store. Clearly Monica knows her stuff!

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 Liberty 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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Letter From The Pinks

Dear Mom,

Thanks for dragging us to Italy again this summer. We do have pasta and pizza in the US, you know! Did we really need to travel 7,000 miles each way to eat it? taking us on a wonderful trip to the Veneto region of Italy this summer.

Three weeks without American TV was torture with a capital T a nice break from all that educational programming reality drivel we've been watching and probably good for our eyes, too.

We will be forever grateful for being forced to eat weird gelato flavors such as Puffo (What is Puffo anyway?!) the opportunity to eat gelato every day, and sometimes twice.

Seeing the insides of all those small-town duomos was so inspirational that we can't wait to study Renaissance art at college. In fact, one of us has already started researching schools that offer a minor in it. NOT. Enough is enough, Mom. Are you and Dad magnets for these places?

We will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to do this again in two years. can't wait to go back to Europe with you and Dad. In fact, we're counting the minutes.


Your exhausted, overstimulated Darling Daughters

Monday, July 25, 2011

Check Off #2: Pop Up General Store

The Pop Up General Store is where professional chefs, mostly Chez Panisse-trained, sell the food they make and love to eat. It's in Oakland on Wednesday nights every three to four weeks.

This has been on my list for a while, too. Frankly, it was not worth a trip all the way into Oakland. We had Pizza Politana for dinner there and browsed the stalls, maybe 15 in total. I bought a loaf of expensive bread that the kids ate in the car on the way home. We ran into a family friend and left.

To salvage our trip into Oakland we stopped at Scream Sorbet on Telegraph Ave. Liberty enjoyed the Strawberry Lemon sorbet while we were in the city a few weeks ago and on this evening she had the Seascape Strawberry, Paris had the Tangelo and I had the Apricot. The sorbets get very close to the real fruit taste. You don't have to go into Oakland to get Scream; they do quite a few local farmer's markets, including my parents'.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Laundry & Packing

We're at the villa today doing laundry, packing and getting ready for an early departure tomorrow. The chef is coming in tonight; we'll be up late again I'm sure.

Yesterday was one of the best days of the trip: Venice. We didn't get home until well after midnight. Summary: perfect weather, a great tour guide and lots of laughs. This was the first time we've been to Venice with the kids and we really enjoyed the magic of their discovery of this special city.

I can't believe our two weeks here are coming to an end. We'll be at Lake Garda and in the Dolomites a few days before returning to the states.

This week's friends were Dave's fraternity brothers and their families from Austin and LA. I will miss the quirkiness of this house but not the haunted rooms. I will miss the smell of line dried clothes but not the effort involved in doing it. I will miss living in a village but not the mosquitos that come with the riverfront location. I will miss our friends and The Pinks having constant playmates. I will miss the daily gelato but not scrutinizing the Monopoly money coins in order to pay for it. Everything less than a Euro looks the same to me! I will miss exploring new places but not reading a map every time we leave the house.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Every day, sometimes twice

There are so many things to love about Italy!

Here are some of our current favorites, in no particular order.

The people watching. The well-coiffed and heeled and not-well-coiffed. In big cities the women wear short shorts and high heels. In small towns they wear mumus and Birkenstock knockoffs. I am still working up the nerve to pop pictures.

The gelato. Cafe Teatro, a block from our villa, is pretty good, though. Paris, Liberty and I have been eating limone and fragola (strawberry). Tori favors stracciatela (chocolate chip). Our friend Kate Singer has pledged to try a new flavor each time. Thus far she has had Puffo (Smurf blue and anise tasting) and Nutella.
The pizza. 3,5 euros buys a pizza big enough to feed two children or one hungry adult.
The shoes. I added pair of purple Tod's loafers to my collection. Need I say more?
The pace. I fear that Italy's economy is not far behind that of Greece.

The architecture.
The duomo in Verona, completed in 1187, was just average looking on the outside. The inside was breathtaking, jawdropping. The medieval paintings, frescoes and marble font made this a worthwhile haul across town. Oh yes, and 4pm mass was going on, too. Thom and Sara, Kate's parents, got the checkoff. The Arena is worth another post alone.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Small Town Life

Villa Bartolomea. A one horse town. There are two pizzarias, one full-service restaurant, two bar / bakeries (who came up with that combo?!), a post office, a dumpy shoe store, a pharmacy, an elementary school with a large World War II memorial in front, a huge church, a community center which seems to only be open from 9p - midnight, and Cafe Teatro, the gelato / watering hole.

The villagers find us a curiosity. They are polite yet talk about us as we walk by. Last night, walking home from pizza pickup, I was treated to a parade. There were easily 300 villagers singing Ave Maria and escorting a float of an uplit, gilded Mary.

The residents mostly rely on their bikes for transportation, even during last week's heat wave. I saw a couple riding side-by-side holding hands - adorable! Jill and Wally and Dan Harvey, some of our friends who were here last week, are avid bikers and they rented serious bikes, exercise bikes.

The villa sits on the far end of the main drag, next to the Aidge River. This sounds more scenic than it is; the river is as wide as the Mississippi and from all indications, it is a dumping ground for the products of our bathrooms. I did ride a bike alongside it this morning and as long as I focused on the farms to the sides, it was a pretty ride.

The villa is huge and antiques filled. Most of it has incredible, hand-painted murals. You could stare at the ceilings forever. The oddities make the house fun: the kids play pool for hours on end, the kitchen is three rooms, the wifi only works in the library, formal dining room and billiards room, the front door is locked by a forged iron lever. The outlets are either two- or three-pronged. This is only a challenge when we are moving fans around at night but it is funny. We take standardization for granted. The house manager explained the workings of the villa to me in an hour-long briefing, which was 40 minutes longer than my attention span.

The original villa is 400 years old; the residence we are staying in is about 130 years old. The photos here were taken by Jill and Neeracha. There is a chapel adjoining the house and also stables on the property, which appear to be now used for storage.
Cafe Teatro is a fun spot. Monday night we enjoyed the local cover band. Their version of Hotel California had us in hysterics; they had about 70% of the words right. We sang along and it was another perfect moment. Again, the whole town seemed to be out: teens in packs, hunched-over elderly couples, young families, women with red hair, the shade that does not occur in nature.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Check Off #1: Roli Roti

I'm working my way through my list. I don't generally goal set; I bumble through life trying to cover the basics of staying happily married, actively participating in a family that raises thoughtful children who will leave the world a better place and remaining gainfully employed. So this is the summer I'm working my way through a list.

First on my list was getting me one of those dang rotisserie chickens.

There is a rotisserie chicken truck at the Pleasanton Farmer's Market. But we don't go to that market. It's 15 miles from the house and we have a perfectly fine market in our town. Yet on many Saturdays I have driven past it on the way to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, looked longingly at it, and been unable to pick one up. The way I get this dreamy look in my eyes then drool when we get within two blocks of it drives my daughter nuts.

This time I did the unthinkable: I drove there just to get a chicken. Seriously, the bird was good. The potatoes, which roasted in the drippings and then were salted, were amazing. But even better than the food itself was the smell of the roasting chickens. It took me back to the markets in France. The line was long. The day was hot. The bird was worth it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Taking One for the Team

Independence Day began with me rousing the troops and urging them to get their sleepy bodies out of bed so I could do the sheets and we could flee the mountains. We'd been up late the night before watching the fireworks at Squaw. Fortunately we had a great view from our deck and tried unsuccessfully to muster up some empathy for the many who had to navigate out of the parking lot and the valley that night. We're so spoiled. Ski in, ski out.

We got home in time for me to make two apple pies from scratch and to head to the Greenan's extended family 4th of July party. Jim and Pam Greenan had eight children together; my friend Paige Wycoff is one of them. Over time I've become friendly with her sisters, too. This occasion brings all the siblings and their families together plus the families of a few who married in. There were maybe 60 of us today?

Jim and some of his adult children skied at Alpine Meadows Saturday. We skied with Jim a few times this season; he even sledded with us at Granlibakken dressed in a suit, having come from church one Sunday. Sadly, he did not join us on this occasion as he had a little too much fun Saturday and ended up taking the air express route home from the mountains. This I can empathize with; my father has taken this form of transportation as well.

The high point of the Greenan party was the softball game, both kids and adults. The low point was my nine-year-old fielding a ball that got me out. Observations: most adult men hit, catch and throw very well, my husband included. Under fours do not get called out. When left to their own devices, little girls will make daisy chains. After participating in this family event I get why people have big families.

It was Africa hot outside and the pool got a lot of use. We ate dinner before the game and dessert afterwards. There were lots of babies around and I got a good does of baby bellies and virgin feet. Yum.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hello from Milan

We're here. And oh what an adventure it's been. Does anyone have an easy time flying overseas these day?

We ended up driving ourselves to the airport. The car service called to say they were running an hour late as their driver got a speeding ticket leaving his home.

We were delayed 90 minutes in Philadelphia while a mechanical error was being taken care of.

At the Milan airport the ATM ate our card and would not give it back. Patelco forgot to note that we were taking it to Italy and the only way to get a new card is for them to mail it to our home address in 8-10 working days. How inconvenient do you think it is to have no access to cash while on vacation? Especially when you owe the owner of your rental house $2,000 tomorrow?

The good news is that Milan is as enchanting as ever. Paris slept 16 hours last night after sleeping just 30 minutes in the previous 31 hours. I slept 13. Our hotel, Boscola Excedra, is hip, clean and modern in a museum-quality way. We're all adjusted to the time change now and looking forward to meeting up with our friends in Villabartolomea tomorrow.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Endless Winter

Because we're completely nuts, we headed to Squaw for to ski this weekend.

Summer skiing? Silly idea. Ski season is over. But this was fun, if just for the accomplishment of the checkoff. We've never been up to Tahoe over the 4th of July weekend. In general, we avoid holiday weekends up here. Still, this was one we had to do.

We went to a BBQ in Truckee on Saturday afternoon. Aaron Sturm is a friend of my brothers. Until yesterday I thought they met in college. Apparently not; they met in San Francisco their first year out of college. Aaron and Jessica's backyard is a playground: swings and hammocks for both adults and kids, a fire pit, a BMX-style race track, horse shoe pits for adults and kids, a sandbox, and various other activities. A bunch of these people knew my brother and we were glad to pop by and meet some locals. I don't expect I'll ever see them again, though, as they regularly ski parts of Squaw I never even knew existed.

From there we went to the Martis Valley. Wow! Martis Camp is a resort community with its own back door chair lift into Northstar, golf course, recreation centers ++. The Aus family invited us to join them for Family Night at The Big Red Barn. A cover band had the adults and kids on their feet for hours and inside the Barn was a family-friendly restaurant, a billiards room, an art studio, a movie theater and a bowling alley with a multi-pool area adjacent. The main clubhouse contains an adult pool plus a nice restaurant, spa, fitness center and meeting space. It looks like the Grand Californian.

The place is gorgeous. The few homes that have been built already are mountain-modern style on mostly acre parcels. Our friends' daughter became engaged this weekend and the wedding will likely be at Martis Camp. Who could blame them?!

Sunday we got up early enough to ski. There better coverage than I'd envisioned and it felt like late Spring skiing. What does summer skiing feel like anyway? Whenever I've been injured, though, it's been on that heavy, slushy stuff so I didn't ski all that long. The crowd was not unlike that of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: rock and roll t-shirts, teeny weeny bikinis, beer bellies and lots of tattoos. We ditched our gloves soon after the above picture was taken; it was too warm to even have our hands covered.

The highlight of the afternoon was watching the Lake Cushing Crossing. This annual event brings together 50 costumed skiers go down a steep run and glide across the putrid pond at the base of KT. Fewer than 10 make it across and the rest plunge into the slimy pond. Prizes are awarded for best costume and best form on both snowboards and skis. Two gorillas crossed today; a naked snowboarder did not. It was hilarious to watch, truly hilarious.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I get attached.

My father has always wanted to do something more adventurous than just backpacking. He had long joked that the year he turned 40 would be the year our family would leave our suburban life and sail around the world. In reality, his 40th year was the year we moved to Alaska. I was 15.

It was an IBM assignment and we knew it would only be for 3-5 years. My parents advised me not to tell people in Anchorage that we were short-timers. That would prevent them from getting to know us and reduce our chances of developing meaningful friendships. And so I kept my mouth shut.

Little did I know that the friendships my parents made during that time would grow to be among the most enduring of their adult lives.

Now I'm an adult and this has new meaning. I get attached to people. My friend Denise Nagle moved to Phoenix. How easy do you think it is to make friends in the hospital when you are both antepartum patients on full bedrest and hopped up on muscle relaxants to the point that you can barely speak? And the last time I was in Arizona she had the audacity to be busy laboring with her second child! Another friend of mine, a Chevron wife, moved to Houston. I liked her, too.

Last Spring another friend told me they were being transferred. I should have seen this coming as they'd never lived any place longer than four years. But I got really attached to her; she and her husband are smart, interesting, fun people. Every now and then you meet someone very special, someone you really connect with. For me at least, those people are few and far between. She is one of those people. I tried hard not to pull away from her while the corporate assignment deck was being shuffled. And honestly, I don't think I did: I was as busy as any of us are.

After what seemed like forever, she phoned and told me that, as it turns out, and after many anxious days and nights, they are staying put until their visas expire. Were I not on site at my client, I would have screamed many decibels louder than I did. I am happy for them. And I am happy for me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My vacation is beginning without me. Again.

Lynn Kolb just emailed me, asking why it's been a week since I blogged. No good reason really. I'm just busy juggling the kids, the husband and work.

We're heading out of town soon. But some of our vacation peeps have already left. This happened two years ago, too! The first family left the Bay today. Two more leave Saturday. The fourth leaves Tuesday and then we finally leave.

Neeracha did a post about all the electronics they are taking. I then challenged my Facebook friends to guess how many Internet-enabled devices five families will have in total. Even though neither Dave nor I are taking computers, it's going to be a healthy number as a few of our friends have jobs that don't lend themselves to unplugging or are doing business trips before or after this vacation. That's one of the reasons we always rent a house with reliable wifi. Paris may bring her netbook, which will be good for looking up random phone numbers, mapping, modifying travel plans, banking.

Here are some of the things I need to do before we depart:

1. Mani/pedi
2. Laundry, pack
3. Arrange transport to and from SFO
4. Buy children's Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl
5. Buy snacks for plane
6. Pack carryons for 9-year-olds
7. Take 9-year-olds to dollar store to let them buy $5 in in-flight entertainment
8. Narrow down books to bring, both travel and general reading
9. Load up iPhones, iTouch and Nano with movies, music and books on tape
10. Call credit card companies and make sure they know we are leaving the country
11. Eat everything perishable in the fridge
12. Finish editing childhood friend's book and mail the manuscript back to him

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Skiing and Swimming

We went swimming at a local country club with some friends. There we ran into our Tahoe neighbor, John Dafoe. Our twins are friends with their twins; we know the parents quite well.

I was wearing a sundress and a big floppy hat with sunglasses. John looked at me blankly for a few seconds after I greeted him. Finally he figured out who I was. I look very different decked out for downhill or apres ski in long johns than I do in the summer. It was context.

The kids happily picked up where they left off last winter while I caught up with John.

This got me thinking about the similarities between skiing and swimming.

1. It's a great physical outlet. In the water the kids race, play games, get wild with acrobatics. They do the same on the mountain.
2. There's a good dose of freedom involved. At the pool the kids run around without close adult supervision, just like they do in our development at Tahoe. Their age provides us all with this luxury.
3. They eat. A lot. At the country club they belly on up to the snack bar. At Tahoe they raid one of our fridges.

There is the same parenting high that comes from hearing your children laugh, taking in every last drop of the pleasures of childhood.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A very Special Olympics

Not much sleep was to be had last weekend between the riding, the graduation parties (two, not our kids) and The Olympic Club Ski Team Awards Dinner.

Late Saturday we decided to volunteer at the Northern California Special Olympics Bike the Bridges ride on Sunday morning. Handing out t shirts and checking in registrants was no big deal; getting to the ride, 30 minutes from our house, at 7am, was. This involved getting up at 5:45a and doing a Peet's run then meeting up with the friends we recruited to volunteer with us en route to the ride. It was so worth it.

Apparently this was a police department sponsored event. There riders were mainly police officers of many different types: UC Berkeley, BART, El Cerrito, Oakland, Hercules, Martinez. There were also a few fire fighters there including my dad's (horse) riding friend, Peter, who I barely recognized in his biking gear. Usually I see Peter in leather and more leather.

I've spent the last three years working with technologies used for public safety. So when the emergency response vehicles showed up I was very excited.

After our gig was up we had breakfast at a local greasy spoon, Victoria's Cafe. It was exactly what we expected and just what I needed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sam & Leslie & Prince & Dad

I did something last weekend that I don't do often enough: ride with my dad.

He took me on a six-mile loop on the most glorious of early summer days. The ground squirrels came out of their tunnels and stood tall on their hind legs checking us out. Dozens of them. Peering at us with their beady little eyes.

Sam and Prince carried us to the top of a nearby ridge and the 360 degree view was spectacular. The weather was perfect for riding, too, upper 60s and sunny. This meant we could ride without jackets and it wasn't misery for the horses.

Sam is very good to me. Yes, Sam the horse. He knows I'm an occasional rider and he lets me think I'm in charge even though we both know he is. I give him conflicting riding commands and he does nothing, just waiting for me to get it right so he knows what I mean. You can see what a novice I am from the picture: I'm wearing a helmet.

My dad has been an active camper, hiker and backpacker since we moved to California in 1969. He enjoys the horses because they take him places not easily reached by foot. After the peacefulness of the ride I see his point. I still do not understand, however, why I was so sore the next day when Sam did all the work.