God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Photo Hunt - Lights

A friend of mine at Whistle Stop Cafe is moderating the site Saturday Photo Hunt which I just learned about now--being slow at some things. I think I will try to keep up with this and post a theme picture each week (except for the next two when I will be cavorting in Egypt and Jordan.) It does sound like fun and it will be even more fun to enjoy the pictures others will post.

BTW, this Whistle Stop Cafe is THE Whistle Stop Cafe of fried green tomatoes movie fame. You might want to check it out some--particularly if you like all things southern in your food choices. 

Anyway, this week's theme is Light which immediately brought to mind a picture which I took last summer in Venice. You know how every once in a while the total amateur photographer does something just right? Well, this was it for me.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Time for the Surreal-

I guess that is the best way to describe my current mind set. We've traveled to many places--countries and continents. And yet this trip has me mystified.

Planning to see elephants and lions up close on the savannahs in Tanzania and Kenya invited great anticipation. In perusing pictures of Machu Picchu, it was hard to absorb the grandeur of this place in the skies of the Andes. Caves of Cappadocia, THE David, spitting iguanas and blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos, the great wall of China, the grand library of Ephesus, the Berlin Wall,--all have given moments of awe at the great diversity and places in this world.

But, nothing compares with the thought of seeing the pyramids which were millinia old when Cleopatra rolled up in a rug to greet Caesar  and then romanced Antonius. And today I wonder about that moment when the last of the ancient wonders of man come into view. It is inconceivable that it will be anything other than a "this can't be true" moment.

I've stolen (or borrowed) this picture from my friend Liz, taken when she and Richard were at the Mena House Hotel--where we, too, will be the first night in Egypt. Come with us!

But, the thing that makes this travel even more surreal is the time of year we are doing it--Christmas--a time when we decorate our house to resemble windows of department stores in days gone by, a time when family gathers around the tree at night to enjoy the lights and the season's serenity, the  moments of oohs and aahs Christmas morning as treasures unfold from colorful papers, a time of carols, trees, Santa and reindeer.


And most importantly, the time the Christian community joins together in praising the birth of the baby who was the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last January, when we first flew the idea of Egypt at Christmas, we sat with Casey and explained what it would mean, including just a couple presents (dear to a child's heart) as the gift for all of us would be the trip. He was totally enthusiastic--yes, he could give up presents and all that the season here has to offer--no problem. So, we began to make plans, signed on with a highly recommended Egyptologist in Cairo, used award points for plane tickets and for hotels, began researching to know more about places to see and things to do.  Then----the Arab Spring came to Egypt--what to do? In our daring, we decided to ignore it and to go ahead with the plans.

Now, the time is here and Casey is rethinking his willingness to forgo Christmas.  The Christmas tree lot beckons, thoughts of an Xbox 360 are enticing, movies with friends sound fun, Christmas Eve services bring memories--yes, leaving is hard. But, the time for indecision is past and so Christmas day will be spent in Luxor in an Islamic nation. Surely this will be an unusual year and create a one of a kind Christmas memory.

We are taking his stocking with a few little trinkets with which to fill it. We are taking 2 or 3 small gifts, so that Christmas morning will have a flavor of what it is here. We are taking our bible to read the Christmas story in Luke--not sure that there will be bibles in the night stands of Egypt. We are not taking a tree, an Xbox 360 or a ham--our traditional Christmas meal. And in writing that, I just realized that the hotel will probably not serve ham--wonder what will be on the menu, probably lamb and chicken and hummus, which I know Casey will not even touch.

Speaking of which, one of the great mysteries for me right now is just what Casey will eat there and in Jordan, where we go to visit Petra. For a child who has traveled the world, he has no curiosity or tolerance for diversity in food; in fact, he is a true, obnoxious pain when it comes to eating. So, he may starve. Ya think? Yes, there is fish--he doesn't like fish. Yes, there are veggies--what? eat something nutritional and good for you--particularly if it's green. Try something new that may be deliciously good--no way. Yes, it is one of his very annoying character traits.

Today he is with his church group decorating the homes of seniors in our church who need help. I asked if we qualified but we're not on the schedule. Just as well, per a couple paragraphs back.

So, in less than two weeks, we will be in the air--God willing and if all the connections work. I wonder if our first glimpse will be from the air. That would be spectacular maybe, but, maybe not. I'll let you know.

Happy holidays to everyone.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Where Else? Egypt, Of Course!

Isn't everyone's itinerary including Egypt these days? Well, maybe only for those who court the unexpected and like to believe they are undaunted by fear. Others, I know, see this as foolhardy and "out-of-your-mind" dumb.

Whatever. We are going as long as the State Department says we can and and right now they are giving the go-ahead...with the caveat to be careful and watchful. Of course, the first stage of elections in November may have significant impact and things could change in an instant. We shall see. In 1986 we were in Berlin shortly after Libya bombed the night club there. We were scheduled to fly to Italy September 12, 2001 and left on one of the first flights out on September 18. We seem to travel at strange times.

Gone are the days when we could just pull Casey out of school and provide basic instruction while we hit the world scene.

San Gimignano 2003--1st Grade
In the 8th grade, he has advanced geometry, Spanish, high level English and history courses--along with pe and science. At this point he has outstripped our ability to provide home schooling. Content and expectations have changed significantly since we were in school when geometry didn't happen until 10th grade. It is harder now--contrary to what the common perception may be.

So, because we are restricted in our travels by his schooling, last January we decided to go some place this Christmas season. We wanted a place significantly different from our previous travels, a place that would open new vistas, allowing us to experience cultures and places holding a fascination for all three of us. Pyramids, magnificent Pharaonic tombs in the Valley of Kings, the great Karnac complex, Ptolemaic temples along the Nile and rose colored Petra seemed perfect. Casey had been fascinated with all things Egyptian since studying ancient cultures in 6th grade and the area had been on Ken and my list for years. Yep, this would be perfect.

After a quick check with a friend whom I knew had a wonderful experience in Egypt arranged by a respected private tour planner in Cairo, contacting a few others who had used this man's services and a series of e-mails with him, on January 20 we sent an initial deposit. Days later, January 25, Cairo erupted with the beginning of the Egyptian revolution. At that point we had the option of rescinding our deposit; it was a bank transfer that could have been reversed. Rightly or wrongly, we decided against doing this. As we don't need to provide the rest of the money, which is the bulk of the cost, until right before going, we decided to risk losing the amount we had wired. Our flights are with miles so they can be redeposited (with a small fee, of course.) At this point, we are on our way.

We fly to Cairo where we will spend 3 nights, visiting the Pyramids which are not out in the sands and desert as we tend to believe but are easily viewed from hotel windows right in Cairo. We will recoup from the long air jaunt, visit the famous Khan el-Khalili souk, take a short excursion to the Step Pyramid which predates the big pyramids and of course visit THE pyramids.

The next two weeks we will go to and see:
Aswan and take a Felucca sail on the Nile
Board the Moon Goddess for the cruise up the Nile where we will see: 
At the end of the cruise, we will arrive in Luxor where we will spend two nights and where we will spend Christmas. It will be interesting to see if the hotel recognizes Christmas in any way. Since it is a Sheraton, it may.

From Luxor we will fly back to Cairo and from there fly to Amman, Jordan and drive to PetraFrom Petra we will return to Amman via the King's Highway, stopping at Mt. Nebo where Moses looked into the Promised Land, Kerak and Madaba.

And...that is it except for an excruciating trip home involving two long layovers--a down part of travel by award miles. I keep calling United to see about an improved routing--as I can clearly see on their site that there are many options with lots of seats open. But...the answer continues to be "nothing available." I am hoping that a few days before we leave, more seats will open up--7 hours in Frankfurt and 5 hours in Denver is ugly!

Perhaps I will post some pictures and write a little while we travel, but if not, there will be time to catch up once we are home. You can either travel with us in real time or in retrospect. Either way will be just fine.

And...this looks to be a Christmas vacation that Casey will remember--unless Egypt erupts and we stay home. I hope not.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Be Sure Your.....

sins will find you out---or, mom is not all that clueless.

Teenagers, I think all of them, sincerely believe that mom and dad are inherently clueless, permanently equipped with blinders and mentally impaired by old age--regardless if those parents are 30 or 70. The corollary to this is that these teenagers, with the wisdom of their advanced years, believe they are smarter, more clever and totally immune from discovery. Have we not all been there?

The inescapable lesson is that ultimately all things come to light--later if not sooner. Sometimes the truth emerges long after the event has been relegated to forgotten status. When it does burst into the light, either the time of consequence has run its course or delayed justice will triumph. Oh, yes, teeners have so many lessons to learn before becoming the men and women they will grow into (oh yes sorry Winston...the men and women into which they will grow.)

Such a moment hit home the other night when, for some reason unknown, I needed my iPhone which should have been nested in its own little pocket in my purse. But...it wasn't there. Now if you have an iPhone or iPad, you know there is this handy convenience Apple has created called "Find my iPhone." By going to your account on the computer and running this program, the location of your phone or iPad shows right up on a map--where ever it is. I was concerned that I had left it at Sammy's Woodfire Pizzza where we had gone for dinner--pretending it was Italian fare.

However--a big however--the map showed that the phone was right at my very own address--somewhere. And, brilliantly, along with the locating feature of Find My iPhone, comes the convenience of allowing a push of a button to activate a two minute beep, giving time to locate the wandering device. Two minutes was really much longer than needed as it clearly was coming from child's bedroom.

Imagine his shock since it was now 11 o'clock and he was asleep (maybe) when suddenly loud beeps begin emanating from under his covers. This then continued the series of events that now has him on total restriction for the month of October, except for church activities---yeah, no halloween.

By now I am in his room as he dramatically wakes up, wonders what that noise is (it is quite different from a phone ring) and then wonders  how in the world the phone was in his room.

He just doesn't know where it is.

Oh, wait--maybe it is in his pant's pocket in his closet. Sure that must be it as he climbs out of bed, strangely holding the side of his pj's as he limps to the closet.

Now, as I am the proverbial "wasn't born yesterday mother," I figure his strangely placed hand and limp mean something but I was certainly not going to strip search a 13 year old... so called for Ken. Then--in a terrible stroke of bad luck, by the time Father got there, the phone slipped its way out of the pj's onto my feet. Oh my, oh my! Goose is totally cooked--as if it hadn't been from the beginning. Sometimes it is hard to keep that straight face and not begin the giggles.

As we have been having a series of  "you do not take the nintendo, the MP3 player, the DVD player, the computer and certainly not my iPad to bed with you discussions, this was the final moment and the boom needed to fall harder. So--for the month of October, no devices, games are off the computer (yes, I did that to his computer), no friends over and no yesses to evites define his life. He keeps his karate lessons, his Italian lessons, his serve the community day and his church activities (even the fun ones). Plus I have let him know that this is the month where he learns what "hit the books" really means.

With this great life learning moment, I am confident, with total certainty, that he will never see his parents as clueless again--at least whenever he knows that Apple has my back.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pear Chutney Bruschetta

Once in a while, I post a recipe--if it is one that I truly think is good enough to share, is fairly easy to complete and has been a success with more than just me.  Last night I had a dinner party for 15 and so I was looking for something in the antipasti selection that would be a little different from most. I did have olives, cheeses, crackers and artichoke spreads but those are all so over used these days. So...hunt for something special to add.  This month's cooking light came to the rescue---love, love Cooking Light.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 1/2 cups finely chopped peeled Anjou, Bartlett or Bosc Pears (I used Bartlett)
1/2 cup pear nector
1/4 cup finely chopped dried apricots
2 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick
4 ounces French bread baguette, cut diagonally into 16 thin slices and toast
8 tsp chopped pecans, toasted
8 tsp crumbled plue cheese
1 Tbs chopped fresh chives
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  1. Heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, swirl to coat. Add shallots and saute for 2 minutes or until soft. Add pear and next 6 ingredients (through cinnamon); bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook 20 minutes or until pear is tender and mixture is thick (I had to cook longer.) Cool to room temperature. Discard cinnamon stick. 
  2. Spoon about 1 1/2 Tbs chutney over each baguette slice; top with 1/2 tsp pecans and 1/2 tsp cheese. Sprinkle with chives and thyme.
Notes: I made the chutney 3 days ahead of time and refrigerated it; then took it from the refrigerator a couple hours before using so it would not be too cold. It was perfect.  I did not pay attention to the amounts of stuff to put on each slice--just did what looked good. Also, just cut the bread as seems OK--rather than counting out 16 slices--waste of your time. I doubled this recipe which seemed perfect for 15 people along with the other appetizers.  I also mades a few with just the chutney in the event that not all guests would like the toppings.

These made a very attractive tray and the guests loved them!

I must say--this photo makes it look quite huge--they really aren't--just the right size to handle and eat.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections in Pictures--Finale

Reminiscing--what a gift the digital camera has been to the bitter-sweet joy of looking backward! Childhood memories, which are so soon lost, burst alive again in vivid, full screen pictures. It is as if the camera has been set to time exposure as children grow before our eyes.

Casey doesn't remember Ecuador until I bring out the picture books and suddenly he recalls minute details. God, in his unfathomable creativity, has given our minds filing cabinets where all is catalogued and stored to be reclaimed at some point in life's journey. Thank you, God.

So... the last three short slideshows of summer 2011. These pictures are our memories thus a little short on famous places and "must sees". They are family landmarks, so to speak which, if the internet lasts, Casey can show his children (and grandchildren) someday.  (Previous Three)

 (Heads up: There is music so you may want to turn down sound.)

Greve-in-Chianti--Our Italian Home Town

Cortona--Love it Here

Assisi--Last Stop 2011

Our memories of 2011--of course, each slide, for us, triggers so much more. Hope you can feel them, too.

Link to:  Reflections--Part 1

Music from Romantic Moments by André Rieu

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reflections in Pictures

...sitting here thinking about Italy this summer and pondering how vacation times fade into forgotten memories so quickly as the "now" takes over. Thank goodness for the magic of photography which captures memories for times of reflection and appreciation of what was.

So, forthwith here are some of this year's memories:

(these have music attached so you may want to turn down sound.)

Montepulciano--Good Friends--Bellissimo

Verona--Not Casey's Favorite Experience

Venice--A Place of Fantasy and Intrigue

Next up: Cortona, Greve and Assisi.  Stay tuned..

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Someone said.....

..if life gives you lemons, make lemonade (or something like that.) Traveling offers many life experiences and this year Casey has learned to make lemonade. Hopefully it is a lesson which will hold him in good stead throughout life.

If you have followed us for a few years, you know of the extraordinary relationship Casey has had with Camilla beginning when we lived at her family's farmhouse in 2006-2007. These two children were soulmates who bonded in a deep and meaningful way. They said they were more than friends, more than brother and sister, not "girlfriend/boyfriend." If you have read Casey's or my blogs over the years, you know.

It was with trepidation and curiousity that we returned to Italy this year after a two year absence. Now that they were older, what would the relationship be? Casey had become a teen-ager; Camilla not there yet but almost. How would their friendship reform itself?

The first day, after an initial awkwardness, it seemed as if all was well and, as usual, they had picked up where they had left off. But..somehow, by the second day, things were not good. Camilla pulled away and, inexplicatedly, rejected any interaction with Casey. Our boy was totally confused, devastated and profoundly hurt. We, he and her parents have no understanding of why or what. It was bizarrely strange. For several days, Casey would wake up with his usual optimism believing that things would be different. But, as days progressed, even he recognized that was not to be.

So, time for lemonade making...time to refocus and find new pleasures which were readily available. He just had to look and move on.

At Viticcio where we lived and were staying there was a family from Belgium who had been there several times when we were there. They had two girls whom Casey had now known for 5 years. So, it was easy to have fun with them, swimming, walking into the village, playing games, etc. Ken and I were happy to hear Casey laughing and happy. He still would wonder what had happened with his old friend but he was able to move out of his initial despondency.

Then we went to Cortona where he had a wonderful time with Matteo, the son of a friend of mine in that lovely, haunting hill town. He wrote all about it on his blog.Matteo and Me. Ken and I were so pleased to see some of the hurt dissipate as he had such a fun time with Matteo and his friends. He had no time to spare for thoughts of a little girl several villages away.

When we returned to Viticcio, it was time to have the birthday party we had planned to have when his very good friend Tomasso came home from camp. So, with Tomasso and the friends from Belgium who were still there we had quite a celebration. The absence of Camilla, who was in Cannes at a ballet school, was hardly felt.

The rest of the week Tommy and Casey were together constantly--either Tommy was with us and staying the night or Casey was at Tommy's. They went to the late showing of the Harry Potter movie (in Italian, of course), wandered around Greve connecting with other friends, just did what boys do together. No girls necessary.

We ended up leaving Viticcio a week early as Tommy was leaving and so there wasn't much reason to hang around being sad. We had already arranged to go to friend Rebecca's agriturismo Brigolante outside of Assisi for three nights and then were fortunate enough to be able to extend that for a whole week. So we waved goodbye to our friends Alessandro and Nicoletta and moved on.

At Brigolante, Casey had fun again with Rebecca's boys who are quite a bit younger than Casey but boys seem to be able to adjust to age--that plus the little house in the woods, the ATV, the open hills and the farm were enough for Casey to love the week there. Casey and Brigolante.

So, although we had expected a twist to the story of Casey and Camilla this year, we could never have anticipated the curve it took. I don't know if time will reverse this year--if it was just a blip in this fairy tale story of young children. It is very mysterious and strange.

Casey feels a loss of some magnitude. He is puzzled. I encourage him to feel the loss so that he doesn't react by hardening against hurt. Since ways of response can be formed so early in life, children need guidance as to how to handle disappointments. I tell him to remember the years of fun the two of them had as they can't be taken away. And we all hope that next time we return, the unique and special friendship will reestablish.

And this year the lemonade turned out pretty sweet after all.

Tommy and Casey

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Cortona--Fun Times

When we were beginning the arduous planning for our year in Italy, Cortona was one of the places we considered. We had visited the town twice on previous trips and liked it; plus, I had a friend from SlowTravel who not only lived there but had a son Casey's age which was important to us. Ale, my friend, even scouted out a of couple apartments for us. But...we ended up in Greve instead.

Now, five years later, we finally got our boys together and within minutes of meeting a true friendship formed. Ale and I ended up saying "they're like the same person in two bodies" because their interests and likes seem/are so much alike. Matteo is older than Casey by just two weeks. What a friendship they would have had if we had lived there. Now Cortona will be a prescribed stop on future pilgrimages to Italy.

Matteo for Casey...

and Ale for me.

Alessandra (Ale) is a warm, fun, energetic, engaging woman. Also ...opinionated, out-spoken and multi-faceted. In other words, my kind of person. I would have thoroughly enjoyed her friendship if we had chosen Cortona as our home that year. Maybe we should think of doing an encore.

Ale has just been included in a list of the 100 best cooking schools in Italy --sorry, but I forget which magazine. Considering that there are hundreds of cooking schools in Italy, this is quite an honor. She is good. I spoke with a couple who had taken one of her lessons and they totally raved about her. In their journal they have included The section "things we have learned from Alessandra." I suggested they start a blog and list these so others could benefit.

Alessandra also has a shop in Cortona, Girasole which features jewelry and artifacts fashioned after that in the Etruscan Museum in the palazzo across the street from her shop. Her jewelry is featured in the National Geographic catalogue--pretty impressive.

Her shop also has beautiful linens which are reproductions of that of the renaissance, terracotta articles and items reflective of Tuscsany. It's difficult to peruse her shop and leave empty handed--I can't. Several years ago I bought Etruscan jewelry. This time it was unique Tuscan motif jewelry..and, sale and pepe grinders with bronze tops which will make great conversation pieces at dinner and good menories for us.

All of Alessandra's wares are made in Italy and come from within 200 kms of Cortona. She personally knows and has selected each artisan and manufacturer featured in Girasole. Quality is the trademark.

We had two fun filled dinners and evenings with Ale, Marino and the kids, Matteo and Francesca, who is 9 and, I believe, developed a crush on teenager Casey.

The first night, after dinner, we joined the music and dancing in the piazza. Well, we just listened and watched as mostly college age kids did the dancing part. We were content with our gelato and friends.

YouTube Video

The next night we had a truly one-of-kind unique Tuscan/Italian experience--the American Saloon with an authentic western decor and an equally authentic, traditional Tuscan menu.

Franco, the owner, is enamored of all things cowboy and must surely have been one in a previous life. He also raises owls. Quite a character.

Dinner was fun with a mixture of English and Italian--well, mostly Italian. We were joined by Donatella and Roberto, friends of Ale and Marino.

A fun night.

One more thing to mention. The lovely B&B where we stayed..wonderfully situated on the main street in Cortona Casa Chilenne. Breakfast includes home made pastries, eggs as you like, waffles, meats...just about anything you would want Everything about the place is top quality from fluffy towels to decor to beds to all. It even has chair lifts to all 4 floors for people who would need that service. Amazing place and delightful owners. We will return next time unless we get an apartment for a week or so.

So, you have the highlights of our time in Cortona. There was more but this is long enough. Thank you Ale, friend, for having so much time for us. a presto!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ryan Air--An Experience

Last week my friend Rita and I went on a three day jaunt to Dublin. I had never been there or any other place in Ireland so among other things this was a new stamp in my passport. But....Dublin did not impress me all that much so hope to get to other parts some day. I talked with two women who had just completed a two week small tour in a 4-wheel drive which sounds very appealing--will check it out when home.

This post, however, is about the the riot of flying Ryan Air, a brand new experience and one which provided some serious amusements. I now believe that it is entirely possible that the rumor of charging to use the bathrooms may well blossom into reality.

Riding (much more appropriate than calling it flying) with Ryan Air is somewhat a cross between the carnival barker section of the county fair and crowding into the local ballpark with venders pushing all kinds of wares.

But first is the packing and preparations--one carry on of 10 kgs. At this point for those of us from the US, the internet comes in handy to find out just what that equates to in pounds--22--and, the one carry on is for real. No additional purse, computer, briefcase etc. All must fit into the one suitcase.

Leaving from Italy wasn't a problem as the Italian people weren't all that concerned (surprise). All kinds of second pieces were carried on. But...returning from Dublin was an altogether different matter. People were busy trying to cram in all kinds of things before being allowed down the stairs. Then, after packing away the no-no items, they carried down armfuls of displaced clothing which was OK and took up much more bin space. Go figure! My sin was a little cross body bag for my passport and a few euro.

Moving on..
All the bins are covered with advertisements, much like the subway walls.

Rita did see a pair of shoes she thought cute but they wern't sold on-board, which as I write more will surprise you.

The plane is a model of efficiency. There are no seat pockets in front of you which eliminates the need to clean between flights. Seats do not recline, which is something many people would applaud. This way more seats can be installed. The seat in front of you is used as a billboard telling what to do in the event of an emergency. I actually think this is a good idea...chalk one up for Mr. Ryan or whomever.

Within minutes of taking off, the show begins. With a second loudspeaker reminder that smoking is not allowed, whereby rebringing it to the attention of the nicotine club, there is an announcement that for those with a craving the flight attendants will be selling packages of smokeless cigarettes--which one attendent holds up and waves. Rita and I noticed that there must not be a thriving market for these as the attendent, after walking the length of the plane, returned with the same number of boxes in hand.

Next came the food cart with delectable goodies to tempt those with strong stomachs and parents of children who have the "I wants." The people across from us bought €42 worth of Chef Ryan goodies. I neglected to get a picture this time. Sorry.

Following the food cart, came the trash cart; again so that no clean up crew would be needed.

When all that cleared out, came the announcement for Ryanair scratch off lottery tickets--fanned and waved as the attendent sashyed down the aisle. Not sure how many of these were sold or if the pay-out would be immediate.

Somehow in the midst of all this, the ruddy faced, elderly Irish man next to me managed to sleep, after his can of stout. Rita, unsuccessfully, tried to sleep but the loudspeaker wasn't over--ever.

Now was time for another run through with the beverage and trash carts which almost collided with the irrestible merchandise cart. Not sure what all was on it but a lot. I suspect there was a list in the booklet passed out but, truthfully, I neglected to look as I was busy taking pictures.

I think there was another food trolley passby before the magazine pick up and final trash service.

Minutes before landing people are still in the aisle waiting for the toilet. Finally, the man next to me wakes up and I notice he is crossing his fingers as we begin descent. As he flies Ryan frequently, I found this a little alarming.

If Ryanair flight lands on time, there is one final, adorable, flourish. Bugles blare followed by the recording "another on-time flight with Ryan."

The efficiency of the efficiences were very noticeable on our return flight. As we walked down the stairs to board, the arriving passengers were disembarking. Them off--us on. No clean up crew needed. Amazing process!

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Venice--Not a One Night Stand

I love Venice--have since our first time there, which I think was 1999--or perhaps--a past life. So, it is hard when I hear people maligning it; they have missed the magic--the voices of whispered intrigue, the private but not-so-secret liasons of romance, the captains of sea trade and war, quiet whishes of gondola oars-on the way to an extravagant ball, the majesty and unfathomableness of a small republic built on wood pilings who for a while dominated Europe. What an amazing story this lady has to tell.

So, Venice can not be a day-trip or a one night stand. A traveler needs quiet times in La Serenissima. Minutes/hours spent in small campos and calles. It is the land of Vivaldi--music must be heard in the heart if not at the opera house. Time should be spent studying the magificent Tintorettos in the Scuola di San Rocco.

Visiting Venice is more completely a visit to eras and centuries gone by than any other place I know--unless visiting the dead places where life long ago abandoned them.

This time we were there with Casey, going on 13.

Last time we were there with Casey, going on 6.

We had a good time both times. I did miss the wide eyes and wonder of the little boy whose eyes were so fresh and to whom the world was so new, but, walking with a son who is taller than I and who puts an arm around my shoulder, telling me he loves me is a magic of its own.

This time we rented a very lovely apartment Ca Leonessa on a small side canal. The building was old but the apartment was 21st century--with Wii for Casey and wifi for me. Everything about it was top quality from the Le Creuset Cookware to wonderful beds--and, it was quiet at night. Out our window was the famous vegetable boat of Venice which probably has been photographed as many times as San Marco.

We were perfectly situated for getting almost every where.

We ate well, of course. The food of Venice is outstanding; although it is best to avoid the tourist hotspots or the places with pictures of food displayed on the walkway--usually a pretty reliable sign to move on. I was chagrined to overhear a woman on the train from Verona to Venice authoritatively telling a day-tripping family--"a word of warning, Venice is not known for its food." How I wanted to turn around and contradict.

For those foodies reading this, our very best meal and it was outstanding was at
Antiche Carampane. I had the little soft-shelled fried crabs which are a delicacy of Venice. Worth going there just for that meal.

There is much more to write about and maybe I'll do so domani or..maybe not. It may be that lazing at the pool, or driving to Panzano, or..or..or appeals more.

For the time being here are some pictures. These are for the most part random and quite incomplete. Loading from the iPad to flickr tonight was incredibly, super, aggrevatingly frustrating... this is the result.

Some, not many Venice pictures.

Ciao for now.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Verona and the Opera

Well, if you are on Facebook, you know now that Verona was a bust. Romeo and Juliet is a Shakesperean fantasy and Casey hated the opera! Why else go to Verona? Well, there was good food and Piazza Bra fascinated the twelve year old. Why would you name a piazza after women's underwear?

In a delusional state, I had thought that Aida, performed in the ancient Roman amphitheater, with all of its spectacular aspects--live animals, tomb deaths, armies, dancing, sphinx and other accouterments of Egypt (where we will be in December) would be enough to offset the arias but, it just didn't work out that way. Now I wonder why I thought it would.

To begin with, the opera did not begin until 9:15 when Casey was already ready for pillow time. Then, with intermissions, it was not to be over until 1:00 am.

Some time during Act 3, Casey informed me that "this is the most boring thing I have ever done." So, hearing the plantiff notes in his voice, when the lights next went up, Ken took Casey back to the hotel and I stayed on. So much for that cultural experience. Suggestions on what to try next?

R and J is a full-time business in Verona, though. Everyone crowds into the little viale where Juliet's "Romeo, Romeo...." balcony projects. For some reason beyond my understanding, people jostle their way forward to get a picture cupping a hand on the breast of Juliet's statue.

And....right there is the Romeo and Juliet shop where you can get red or white or pink or any combination thereof Juliet and Romeo embroidered pillows, towels, etc. with which to decorate your home, back home. (We bought several in contrasting color motifs.)

There was one momentous event to be shared about Verona...Casey finally became a true Italian male. Can you see in this picture why this is

We did enjoy wandering the streets and the fortress and had two very good meals there--at Osteria da Ugo and at Risotanti Greppia.

Coming up....Mystical, magical Venice

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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Kids of Sant' Antonio

Casey started coming to Sant' Antonio in 2003 Italy 2003 when he was not yet 5 years old. Sofia was not yet 4 and Filippo had just been born. He returned in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and now in 2011. As with Greve-in-Chianti, Sant' Antonio, outside of Montepulciano, resides in his soul. And Sofia and Filippo are and will always be friends of his childhood.

Today it was fun to watch them together in our apartment as they flipped through our pictures of Kenya. All three of them were on safari in Kenya within the last year and so it was fun for them to share memories and return through pictures--love the iPad!

YouTube Video

Of course, Caio needed to be a part of the action--more or less.

Today will be their last day together until next time but.....Nico is now hinting about bringing the famly to San Diego in January. That would be so cool! Scratch will love Caio.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Drive--A Lunch--A Garden--A Dinner

Well, the title pretty much sums up our day--lazy, lovely, delightful.

We have never driven over to Abbadia San Salvatore or the base of Mount Amiata--even though this is the first year of the second decade of our coming here to Sant'Antonio. So today seemed like a nice day to do just that--

It is an easy drive and the road up Mount Amiata is beautifully serene with tall trees and shrines hidden away in the shadows. There was a particularly lovely one I wish I had captured so I could share it here. But wishes don't bring much.

In A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany we had read of a promising restaurant, Ristoranti Anna, down the road from Abbadia San Salvatore in Piancastagnaio .. so we went in search of it. We did find it and were rewarded with an excellent lunch after working our way through the spoken menu. I had wonderful spinach/ricotta ravioli smoothered in arugala, little tomatoes and shaved cheese--yum!

On our way back, we went on Casey's favorite field trip--the gardens of La Foce. Most people who come here make this a must see on their first visit but it has taken us 11 years. We had been to La Foce but not the gardens which are only open on Wednesday afternoons. The history of this villa and its gardens goes back centuries but the most fascinating for us is the war years. In spite of what I said, this was not a favorite Casey experience. but, he did handle it with grace.

The day ended with the Sant' Antonio Wednesday night dinner which is a very fun evening. The food is good and it is a chance to spend time with the other guests from around the world. Tonight it was British Columbia, China, England, Australia and the United States.

While the big people drink wine and converse, the kids play outside on the grass. it's a good time for all.

Now it is bedtime. Buona notte!

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday--June 19, 2011--Sant'Antonio

On the way to dinner...

Nico, Filippo, Sofia and Casey.
Casey and the children have known each other since he first came here in 2003.

Last night was a fun, fun evening. Nico and his children, lovely Sofia and adorable Filippo, joined us for dinner at A Gambe di Gatto on the Corso. Elena, our friend--Nico's wife--the childrens' mama--is ill and so wasn't able to come. We missed her a lot.

I can say this is our new favorite restaurant in Montepulciano. It is small with only 7 tables. Manuale started us with tasting 10 different wines after which we selected the wine we wanted with dinner. Later he brought 7 oils to the table for us to choose one for our salad. At the end of the night, he presented the children with bags of gourmet cookies.

Filippo, Sofia, twin cousins from Rome, and Casey. It is such fun to watch Casey morph into an "Italian ragazzo." No one watching or listening would think that he is an American boy.

More Sant'Antonio...

The horse stable in days of yore...now the venue for famous Wednesday night banquets.

Sant'Antonio is magical...just ask anyone who has been here.

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