Monday, December 13, 2010

Wally Has A HOME!!!!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that Wally has been adopted. Ruth and I are especially excited to know that Wally is on the next leg of his adventure.

Go Wally!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Greetings From California: The December 2010 Edition

Dear Friends,

Holiday Greetings from the California chaos. I am caught in the whirl of Christmas prep, construction and real time drama, as in the school play.

Christmas cards seem like they have gone the way of the dinosaurs. It's the 11th. I haven't sent any and I've received only a handful. Of course, my mystery friends sent their card. It arrived on December 1st. Gorgeous card. Cute kids. I still have no idea who these people are.

Our construction projects are nearing the end. They've been nearing the end for quite some time now. In January, they still could be nearing the end. Maybe our construction crew is facing separation anxiety? We've ordered some furniture and light fixtures. Just add all of that stuff to the good old VISA bill. January is going to be hella fun.

The school play puts on its final performance today. Pride of the Pickle Factory will hit the stage this afternoon. The kids have been working so hard and they had a terrific performance last night. There are some parents that have been slaving away for months, along with our talented and dedicated drama teacher. The children that have the opportunity to work in this program are truly blessed.

Next week we are on for Martini Friday. Just a small group of moms and some holiday sweaters. I'm hoping for some good pics. Recipes should be sprouting up here next week for some truly festive cocktails.

I hope this finds you well in this holiday PREP season. More to come later.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Being A 3rd Grade Girl Is A Lot Like Baseball

On a rare Friday, I had the pleasure of walking to the grocery store with Birk. It was one on one time, on a cool, damp and dark night. She just turned 9, and I was getting the scoop on 3rd grade social dynamics...

MOM: What did you do on recess today at school?
BIRK: I played with Ava (her best friend). Mom, I don't know what I'd do without her. I'd probably sit in the corner all by myself doing nothing.
MOM: Why do you think that? You could always ask someone else to play.
BIRK: It's not like that mom.
MOM: What do you mean?
BIRK: Well, it's a lot like teams. Some people pick other people. Ava picks me. No one else would pick me.
MOM: Who decides who picks who?
BIRK: The people in charge.
MOM: The people in charge? Why couldn't you be a person in charge and pick who you want to play with?
BIRK: That's a lot of responsibility.
MOM: Why is that?
BIRK: Well, then you tend to get bossy when you're in charge. I don't like being bossy.

The more things change the more things stay the same. Being a girl isn't always easy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Friday Dilemma: Adopting Ugly Dogs

We have a wonderful 11 year old collie-lab cross named Kiki, but maybe, just maybe, she needs a friend. This new dog discussion is floating around our household. Ruth especially is excited about the idea of a new member in our family.

Some stupid parent (ok, it's me), might have, just might have, mentioned that if Ruth did well in her studies this year at school that we might get a dog in the summer. My husband is not a fan of this idea. In fact, he called me out on my bad parenting in bold face.

Now, Ruth is glued to the Humane Society website. She tracks every adoption and calls it a "missed opportunity" when a dog she likes gets a new home. She knows that it's the best thing for the dog, but she is longing for a canine companion.

I understand her feelings. I love animals. I grew up on a farm. We had animals running around everywhere. There was space and food and love. Anyone remember the story of Ariel the Christmas Cat? Yup. Strays were welcome, there is always room for one more.

I stupidly took my daughters to our local Humane Society. We found a cute pup, fell instantly in love and called dad--he threw a fit. He called me out on "Bad Parenting Mistake" number 2. If you are going to make a deal, do not change the terms of the bribery, er, deal. So, that trip, no dog.

However, there was this dog for adoption named Wally. Wally is 3 and he looks like his head was cut off of one dog and sewn onto another dog's little body. He is not cute. My daughters didn't give Wally the time of day. He was just sad and lonely in his little cell, er cage.

Wally has been on my mind. I don't want to say that he's ugly, but as in life, if you're pretty or cute, sometimes doors open up for you. No doors have opened for Wally in over a month.

I am going with a friend to the Humane Society today to help her pick up a "cute" dog that she is adopting. This means I will have to walk past Wally. Lord help me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Demanding and Unusually Stubborn Guests

We were listening to Christmas carols at breakfast. Bing Crosby was crooning, "I wish you a Merry Christmas.

I was flipping french toast when Ruth said in a mock aristocratic tone, "My, now those are some unusually stubborn and demanding guests, aren't they?"

I looked up, lost in my world of french toast.

"You know, demanding figgy pudding and refusing to leave."

This kids just cracks me up.

Merry holiday preparations to you all, and may no one have guests that demand you whip up some figgy pudding and bring it right there.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Great Wine for $20 or Under?

During the holidays, I am on a wine mission. When we go to parties, we take along a bottle of wine. We give wine as gifts. We serve wine at our own parties. We have wine with dinner. All good excuses to be trying wine all of the time. Afterall, this is northern California.

I've learned the hard way, and I keep learning this over and over unfortunately, that just because a wine costs $50, doesn't make it good. When I take a bottle of wine to a party, or to someone's house, I don't want to leave it up to fate or chance--I want a decent bottle of wine!

Over at my other little blog, I keep a running journal of cocktails, mocktails and wines I'd like to try. In December's Marin Magazine, they had a great article on local sommeliers and wine, so I jotted down the info to keep handy during my holiday shopping.

Wine can be an expensive hobby, so I like to choose with care. I've included the link above to Headed To Margaritaville, if you'd like to check out my quick distilled version. If you'd like to read the full Marin Magazine version, click here.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thank You, Friends!

Our family, and two others, just got back from our annual vacation to Napa. Each year we head to Calistoga, which is wine country's quieter, gentler town. It is still small and hasn't been dominated by fancy cars, over-priced restaurants and irrational, upscale boutiques. You know this is true if you can take 7 kids to dinner and receive minimal stares.

While there, we celebrated Birk's 9th birthday. (She is thankful that the Mariachi band wasn't at the Mexican restaurant for her birthday dinner!) What better way to celebrate your birthday, as a kid or grown up, than by floating around a huge, mineral pool that has got to be the world's biggest hot tub.

For the fourth time, all 13 of us, travelled to Indian Springs. While there, we always gel into one big, relaxed family. The kids hang, the grown ups hang, and we all eat and eat and eat. Oh, and the grown ups are surrounded by vines, so you know what that means. Happy kids. Happy parents. Happy life.

As a family, we are very thankful that we can spend this time with our friends. It's true, when you are so far away from your real families on Thanksgiving, it is amazing to have friends who love you like family.

This is not true of just our friends that travelled with us on this trip, but of all of our friends near and far. You support us each and every day and you mean the world to us. Life can be a big, messy, unmanageable place--our friends make it smaller, cozier and manageable.

Thank you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Margarita Friday: Chambord Margarita Royale

It Friday, and Friday around here isn't just Friday, it's Margarita Friday. This Friday's margarita is the Chambord Margarita Royale.

Chambord is a black raspberry liqueur. It's sweet and tasty on its own, but when mixed in a margarita, it's especially delicious.

Chambord Royale Margarita
  • 1 1/2 oz Silver Tequila (Chambord recommends Herradura Silver Tequila)
  • 3/4 oz Chambord
  • 3/4 oz Pomegranate Juice
  • 1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into margarita or martini glass. Finish with raspberries.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pre Holiday Doldrums or My Life Is A Beer Commercial

I am sitting here, contemplating my holiday strategy. It's almost a little depressing to have this mountain of holiday happiness in front of me. The decorations blare at me in vivid reds and greens at every shop and all I can think is STOP!

There is so much merriment to be had--but I've had so much merriment lately, that I think another party season is going to kill me. There's the planning, the prepping, the shopping, the pre cleaning, the post cleaning, the cooking, the driving, the checking the list twicing, the gingerbread house icing....whew!

Oh, and according to my magazines, I'm supposed to look fabulous while doing all of this. A new holiday wardrobe, haircut and makeup is on the horizon? If I keep reading same said magazines, there is also a diet and a way to go to parties and only eat celery so that you still fit in you old clothes in January. This is a lot of work.

My husband and I were sitting on the padded bench at California Pizza Kitchen on a Sunday night, waiting for a table. The world was moving around us at top speed and there was that din you can only hear at 7 PM at night in CPK. It was a mixture of kids that were up much too late past their bedtime, hungry kids who needed to be fed fast, and parents trying to control the circus.

Our kids were racing around outside. We were comatose. It had been a full weekend of excellent social fun. If Ebeneezer Scrooge was looking into windows on Friday and Saturday night, he would have thought we were the Fezziwigs. It was all laughter, smiles, fun, great food, dancing and delicious drinks. Sunday, though, Sunday is always Sunday.

I turned to my husband and said, "I feel like I live in a beer commercial sometimes." He found this comment quite interesting. If Ebeneezer looked into the window of CPK, he would had seen a perfect mock up for Degas's L'Absinthe.

And that is where I am this Tuesday morning.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sorry, If You Know Me, Sometimes You End Up On My Blog

I apologize to all those I've offended in the past. Most people that I talk about on my blog either:

  1. Don't even know I have a blog.
  2. Know I have a blog, yet never read it.
  3. Or, know I have a blog and couldn't care less about this little waste of time hobby that I have.

It cracks me up when I'm sitting having coffee with someone, and I'm trying to figure out if they've really read my blog (like they say they do), or if I should tell them the story anyway. Sometimes, I'm just repeating things that someone has already read, or is pretending that they haven't read.

The blogosphere is such a weird corner of the universe. I am mistress here, at my blog. I am queen of my little worldly queendom. I can say what I want, within reason after my anonymity disappeared.

Actually, I have another little space where I say quite a lot that is completely anonymous, but that is for really bad days. If I'm writing about you there, you don't want to know about it. But, oh, friendly reader, if I'm talking about you here, you have nothing to worry about.

I know you might be here. I know you might be reading. I have a little inner censor working on my brain within the constraints of this public blog. Fear not, if you appear here.

P.S. This does not apply to any of the crazy clad Halloween friends who do not read my blog and have no idea their crazy picture showed up here right after Halloween!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Help

This summer I read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

This book had me thinking about the "help" in my life.

It's funny, when I'm off on summer adventures, whenever I mention the teeniest bit that I have some "help," I am immediately awkward. I feel like I'm complaining about spam to someone on a starvation diet.

Here, in my "normal" life, help is a staple of small talk. Either the "help" is outstanding, or not doing it's job. There is always something to be said about the "help." Maybe you need more help or maybe you need to cut back on the help. Maybe the "help" is no longer helping you the way that they should.

There are the women in my circle that are wonderful at managing the "help." There are women, like me, that are almost ashamed to admit that they need "help."

No matter what, we all wish for more help. We are not always sure what kind of help we need, but I sure could use some magical help that shows up and magically knows how to help me.

All I know for sure, is the some of the help makes more than I did as a teacher. What does that say right there?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Catcher in the Rye? It's Always Good To Have A Friend Looking Out For You

"You know that song 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye'? I'd like — "

"It's 'If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."

"I know it's a poem by Robert Burns."

She was right, though. It is "If a body meet a body coming through the rye." I didn't know it then, though.

"I thought it was 'If a body catch a body,'" I said. "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."

On Halloween, my 8 year old daughter was trick or treating with her best friend. These two have been constant companions since they were three years old. They even have the same birthday. For two little girls, there has never been a fight or cross word. It is a pretty special, unbelievable relationship.

Unfortunately, little Laura slipped and broke her arm at the beginning of the night. Her candy bag was empty and she was in immense, screeching pain. Birk was so upset. After the rest of the kids returned, they put a bag of candy together for Laura. Birk noted that she gave Laura all of her favorites.

Birk made her a card, and even included some money for her UNICEF trick or treating.

A couple of days later, we were driving in the car:

Me: What are you thinking about back there, you're pretty quiet?
Birk: Mom, I wish I could rewind time and do Halloween over again.
Me: Why?
Birk: Then I would rewind the time and catch Laura before she could fall...

That little conversation reminded me of this quote from J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. I hadn't thought about that book in a while. I love the idea of the Holden Caulfields of the world catching us if we are about to fall. May we all be so lucky.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween...The New Christmas???

I love Halloween. Everyone who knows me, or drives past my house in the month of October, knows that there is some kind of strange relationship going on with me and October 31st. I realize that is not grammatically correct, but I'm going with it.

I'm also lucky enough to have my birthday right after Halloween. Which is why I might like this event so much--all of my life, Halloween has signaled the beginning of a birthday. In the olden days, it signified homemade Angel food cakes and ice cream. Nowadays, it signifies a day free of guilt from cooking and cleaning.

I've connected with a few other people in my adult world who also like to celebrate the Black and Orange holiday. We dress as pirates, witches, or zombies in short skirts and creepy make-up. If the costumes are elaborate, you should be on the wild ride of costume production. October is filled with anticipation, decoration, preparation and tiny snickers bars.

We have as much fun as 12 year old kids. There are no wish lists, religious obligations or mandatory parties. There is only fun. And now we are tired. Very tired.

Good thing we have photos like this one to remind us how much fun we had and why we are so tired now!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Is That New?" Asks My Husband

I was frantically rushing around the kitchen trying to put dinner on the table.

(Yes, it's true, I sometimes do actually cook, not that anyone usually gets that excited about my cooking. My kids prefer frozen pizza and Annie's Pasta to my concoctions.)

I was still in my sweaty work out clothes from this morning. There was no good excuse or reason for this. My hair was in a messy ponytail, food was flying around the kitchen, and... in walked my husband.

"Is that new?" He asked, and I knew exactly what he was referring to: my blue cycling jacket that I got on the clearance rack at REI about a month ago.

I've been asked this question several times, and I never quite know what to say. I never know if it is leading to a tongue lashing about spending or a compliment. Sometimes, it is both in disguise.

On a Monday night at 7:05, potholders on my hands like mittens and my flyaway hairs sticking out of my ponytail like a halo of chaos, I'm pretty sure no compliments were coming my way.

Luckily, we were distracted by something or other--it could be that dinner was burning.

My answer? "Why, this old thing? I've had it for a month..."

My answer felt like an I Love Lucy episode, and I felt a little like Lucy myself and thought about taking her tricks and hiding shopping bags in my closet.

Men can wear the same pair of pants every day for a week, but women have different ideas. Besides, my husband would rather scrub toilets than shop, so I know when he is in fact wearing something new--that's because I bought it.

Why are there age old arguments like mother in laws and shopping that seem to be a gold mine for stand up comedians? I guess because they are classics, and classics never go out of style. "Is that new?" Nope, it's a classic. That is what I'm going to say next time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Your Mom's On Facebook? Well, That's Nothing, My Entire Family Is On Facebook

A few weeks ago, my son posted on his facebook page the Saturday Night Live Skit, Mom's on Facebook. We watched it together, had a good laugh, reviewed some safe facebooking guidelines, and off we went on with our lives.

As a family, we talk about computer safety often. Facebook and teens is a hot topic. There are privacy issues, which should read, when you are online, there is NO privacy, so what is the issue? As my husband says over and over, "Don't post anything on facebook that you wouldn't want your grandmother to read."

Last week, I started getting some strange phone calls. People that never call me, called me out of the blue. They were weird, awkward conversations, that had a lot of questions around me being "ok." My response? "Me? Oh, yeah, I'm fine, no problem, I'm at a store buying potatoes, what are you up to?"

Then, I got the call from my mom, and then, it all came together like a good, slow motion movie ending. One of my in-law family members posted something on facebook, my husband responded, and she responded to him in a way that had friends and family buzzing around in a flurry.

Yes, the conclusion was that I was having marital problems. Actually, I think the conclusion was that I was heading straight for a divorce! Everyone knew this, except me. Imagine that.

I had read the post. I knew the context. I wasn't worried. Then, with the flurry of phone calls and long, detailed conversations about why I wasn't getting divorced and, in fact, everything was fine, I feel completely exhausted.

It's not just kids that cause problems on facebook. Adults can be cyber-bullied without the "cyber bully" ever even meaning to bully you. It all smacks just the same. It's a wild frontier out there, be mindful of what you disclose. Even if no one is saying anything, EVERYBODY apparently is reading.

This little experience has made me contemplate long and hard about getting out of the facebook ring of fire. Unfortunately, you remain in the ring whether you write something on some one's wall or not. You can be discussed, tagged in photos, and ultimately, hacked.

I just hope this can serve as an adult lesson. Be careful. Make sure that private conversations are actually private. If you leak details without context, it can feel like slander to your friends and family. Unfortunately, I am the poster child for this incident. If so many people called, imagine how many didn't!

Friday, October 22, 2010

10/22/10: Weekly Update, Fridays, Margaritas & Rain

It's been one of those weeks. The biggest problem that I'm having is that every week is turning into one of those weeks. You, know, the kind of week that feels like Tuesday should in fact be Friday. Here is my week in snapshots of conversation...

Me: Birk, what would you like to get your friend for her birthday?
Birk: Something with lions.
Me: Do you mean like a book or a T shirt?
Birk: Mom, when you were little, did you want books or clothing for your birthday???

Me: How do these kids facebook, text, watch hulu, listen to music and do their homework all at the same time? Am I missing a technical gene?
Mom 1: My kid doesn't have facebook.
Mom 2: Mine, either.
Mom 3: My daughter doesn't even have a cell phone.
Mom 4: I make my kids do homework at the kitchen table while I cook. No electronics.
Mom 2: Well, we certainly don't allow the computer in the bedroom!
Mom 3: Of course not, that would be a foolish thing to do.

Ruth: Mom, you are not allowed to take out the head on a platter and the hanging woman's head until 3 days before Halloween, then you must keep them all in the bathroom with the door closed. Once Halloween is over, they must be put back in the box immediately.
Me: Can I bring them out for a grown up party?
Ruth: Only if you keep them in the bathroom...

Me: Look at this fantastic light up skull. It's super creepy.
Friend: If you get that, Ruth will never sleep again.
Me: I'm putting it back, I'm putting it back!

Now, I'm off to mix Raspberry Margaritas for Margarita Friday. It's raining and creepy here, perfect night for a fire, some candlelight and lots of Halloween decorations!

Friday, October 15, 2010

No Place for the Pictures: My Freshman Boy All Grown Up?

Years ago, I bought one of those cute frames from Pottery Barn Kids. I'm sure you've seen them, they are divided into 9 separate squares--one for each year of school, kindergarten through 8th grade.

I'm feeling this sudden sense of sadness. My freshman's class photos arrived today, and I have no more squares left in his frame. His little smiling face changes from toddler, to boy to, gasp, man-like in these little squares. Now I am left holding his little 3x5 photo for the first time with no place for it to go.

For a split second, I think about buying a second frame. Then my thoughts jumped to just where my not so little boy might be 9 years from now. Of course, thinking I will have 3x5s of my child until he is well out of college is a little crazy, but who decides that I only get to capture his school picture until he's an 8th grader?

CLEAN Cleanse: Day One

Today was my first official day. Quickly, this is how the program works: you have a shake and vitamin supplements for breakfast and dinner. For lunch, you can eat a normal meal, following elimination guidelines.

There are certain foods that are on the NO side of the list, and others on the YES side. Of course, the NOs include alcohol, caffeine, dairy, all meat except fish and poultry, sugar and surprisingly enough, strawberries and bananas.

You can snack throughout the day from the YES side of the list.

I haven't felt weak, or anything unusual, other than wishing I could have some of the NO items. The shakes are not tasty. I tried the first one with the recommended mix of water and had to choke that mixture back.

I went to the grocery store and bought myself an arsenal of yummy foods from the YES side of the list. I blended my second shake with coconut milk and blueberries. I was not savoring the flavor, but it was drinkable.

We'll see what happens on the weekend! Lots of temptation ahead...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Committing to a Cleanse--The Allergy Battle

My allergies have been a plague, for oh, the last 20 years. As a kid, no problem! As soon as I turned 21 and started living away from my childhood home, I was hit with a vengeance. Red monster puffy eyes, constant heavy, painful sinuses, sniffles, runny nose--name an allergy symptom, and I'll bet you I have it in one way or another.

Every time a new over the counter drug is put on the shelf, I am first in line. I've tried them all. I've seen the allergist and had numerous tests. My sinuses have been x-rayed and scoped and everyone just wants me to take more drugs and shots.

Last year I tried acupuncture. The needles freaked me out, and I couldn't say if allergy season just finally ended, or the needle poking just finally worked. Either way, I was starting to have anxiety about going to the acupuncturist, and in my own little world, I'll take the allergies.

This allergy season, I was having coffee with a friend. She was telling me that her allergy symptoms had disappeared. She was doing a cleanse, and within two days, she was better than she had been in years. Always willing to try something new, I immediately got the details.

I am on the brink of starting this cleanse program. I am writing it here to shame myself into actually starting and attempting to stick to it. I'm actually telling everyone I know, so that there is no backing out.

My kit arrives tomorrow. I will write the details as they trickle in, wish me luck. I wish you luck, as my next post will be de-caffeinated, de-wined and most probably, full of whining.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

No, You Can't Crash At Our House

I am a "yes" girl. Most of my life, until just recently, I've had a hard time saying no. Need 6 dozen brownies for the Harvest Fair? No problem. Not enough drivers for the field trip, I'll be right there. No one to head up that committee? I'm on it. Want to visit for three weeks this summer? Let me get out that red carpet.

I am getting a little wiser with old age, if you ask a favor and you screw me, I'm done. I won't do it to myself repeatedly like a dime store pony, the next time I will say no. Oh, and you should not look so shocked when I say it.

Over the years, little situations where I've been blatantly taken advantage of have begin to creep into a long list of disturbing occurrences. Frankly, folks, I'm tired. The one thing I did learn from my 6 months of acupuncture was that we all need to find our boundaries and stick to them.

It took a while for me to get my backbone straight, but I really apologize to all of the people who must pay for years of abuse caused by my own ignorance. If you don't ever say no, even if you have the best intentions, you eventually burn out. Big time. So if other people are taking advantage of you and you are taking advantage of you, then you are just doing it to yourself.

Turning over a new leaf slowly, has had its tough realities.

Yesterday, an old work colleague/friend/I'm not really sure what the relationship is/was, texted my husband and asked him to stay at our house. We were not home at the time, we were on a couples getaway. They were set to arrive at the airport at the same time as we landed.

My husband says: Honey, don't you remember so and so.
Me: No, the name sounds familiar, but that was over 12-17 years ago.
Husband: I know you've met.
Me: Did we ever go to their house?
Husband: No.
Me: Did they ever come to our house?
Husband: No.
Me: So, I probably met him at some big party or work function?
Husband: That might be right.
Me: And they are texting today to stay at our house tonight and tomorrow night. We haven't been home all week, I don't think we have any food and you leave tomorrow afternoon to go out of town.
Husband: Uhhhhhhh...
Me: Uhhhhhh, NO!

My house might be a mess, there was no breakfast, it was 10 PM and I could not see how I was going to be a proper hostess.

I said "no."

I apologize to that very nice man and his son. I would have liked to say yes. If my life was just a little bit more normal, I would have said yes. I feel bad about not saying yes.

But, I said "no."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Not the BEST BUY 2

Well, Best Buy has done a number on me. In this world of customer service and internet ease, I ordered a tv online. I researched and reviewed and finally found the perfect television. My biggest requirement, it had to fit into our built-in entertainment unit.

I measured my space to the "T" and cross referenced with the Best Buy online specs. I had one quarter inch to spare on each side of our cabinet. I pushed purchase on the website, and my TV was on it's delivery.

It took a week for my TV to arrive. The gentlemen were nice, arrived early, and took one look at the cabinet and told me there was "No way" that the television was going to fit in "there."

"But, but, but, the specs..."

"Lady, never go by the specs online."

As the delivery men put my tv back onto a white, unmarked truck, I had a sinking feeling. Not only was I bummed that I had no new TV, my TV was disappearing without a trace. Duh, Deb.

The delivery men assured me it would be no problem. I called Elena at the Distribution Center. She assured me it was no problem. I spoke with Shirley at Best Buy Costumer Service. She also cheerfully said "no problem, I would be totally refunded."

Wanting a new TV, I went into our local Best Buy store and met Max. He helped me to pick out a new TV that would actually fit in my space. I told him I had to wait for my refund to purchase the next TV. He said no problem, it was Tuesday and the TV was on sale until Saturday.

Days later, no refund, I spoke with Best Best Costumer Service again. This time Liz seemed surprised that I had heard nothing and she had no record of the TV being returned. She transferred me to Michelle on Friday afternoon.

I called my friend Elena at the Distribution Center again, she didn't remember even talking to me. After jogging her memory, she went into her records and made some notes and assured me that everything was going to be fine.

Then I got an email saying that my return was cancelled. No, EVERYTHING WAS NOT GOING TO BE FINE!!!!! I kept my cool, called the 1-800 number again and was on hold for 15 minutes AGAIN and spoke with Angelica. She got me a reference number and made some notes and told me not to worry.

On Monday, I get a phone call notifying me of the truck arriving between 12 and 2 to pick up the TV. What? What? I called and was introduced to Ashley at Distribution and she said something about an old system and a new system and not to worry.

As I was writing this on Tuesday, a white truck pulled up to my house, "We are here to pick up your TV."

I immediately called Ashley. She gave me a new number to call. It was out of service. I dialed my generic usual number and then spoke with Zack, who listened to my long story with aplumb and couldn't help me either.

Customer appreciation? Customer support? Trying to keep a costumer? Ahhhh, don't worry Big Kahunas at Best Buy. The economy is fabulous and there must be a lot of other people out there to buy your big, expensive TVs. Why would you want to make one little costumer's life a little easier and happy?

Get your act together! That's all I have to say. For all I know those delivery guys took the TV home and are watching it right now.

My next calls to customer service involved being told that my transaction was under investigation. I almost asked the random, faceless, useless customer service rep if they were aware of the Best Buy hate sites on the web. Apparently, I am not the only one that has had their problems with this company.

Just where was this TV? No one seemed to know what was happening or had happened. I kept getting the run around like I was with snakeoil salesmen. Now you see the TV, now you don't. Was it under this box? At the delivery facility? On a truck? At Ron's house so his friends could watch football this weekend?

My business savvy husband said, "They are just holding your money for the legal 30 days, earning interest on it, then they will refund it to you."

Could it be that Best Buy has an elaborate ladder of slight of hand to hold onto my money? By the end of 29 days, I felt like my part time job was calling Best Buy Customer service. My VISA card customer service wouldn't get involved until after 30 days.

All the while, the folks at Best Buy, pretended not to be able to help me? If they don't know where a 4 figure TV is, and they are talking to me for at least 20 hours on the phone, what is going on with their business?

30 days to the posted transaction date on my VISA statement, Best Buy refunded my money. I am glad that they did, but they put me through such a grinder that I feel little joy.

I feel like the little guy. They are the playground bully. They insulted me and lost a customer.

I have to tell you I went to Costco, bought myself a new TV, got the Costco complimentary extended 2 year warranty and am happily watching TV again. The next time I'll be shopping at Best Buy is, uh, like, never.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Doggy Twilight

This is not the kind of twilight that requires vampires, unless you count the medical professionals that we've recently dealt with. Read on...

My family has a dog named Kiki, but her master is really only my husband. She lives waiting for him to come home. She follows him around the house. If he goes out on the lake kayaking without her (normally she is on board), she waits on the end of the dock until his safe return.

The love is wholly mutual.

This spring, my husband took Kiki to the vet for her check up. The vet noted the age on the chart, and sat my husband down for a speech about Kiki's Twilight Years.

It basically began with, "Now that Kiki's life will be ending soon..." It continued along the lines that now that she was officially a senior dog, she needed special care. Special food. Special vitamins. Special tests. Special insurance.

My husband came home sad, depressed and sure that she was going to drop dead at any minute. He was certain that she needed all kinds of things to the tune of $2000.

You may want to stop me now, but, let me say, I grew up on a farm. This dog does not look like she is going to keel over any time soon. I can say this because Kiki still can run for 2 hours with my husband--uphill, with a doggie smile on her face.

I understand the need for special care for elderly animals, but it seemed like the vet was going for shock value, and the dollar sign value.

Pets are members of the family, and I think issues about their health and impeding doom need to be handled carefully. Do not scare me into submission. Work with me like a grown up. Do you really think that if there is something this dog really needs that we will not move Heaven and Earth to give it to her?

Capitalism and pet care, what an ugly mix.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

They Say It's Diamonds, But It May Just Be Shoes

Much too long ago, on a girl's weekend away, we came to breakfast sporting these three different pairs of shoes.

Right now I'm packing for a trip and trying to pare down my shoe selection, but I realize, if I don't have the right shoes, I am not a happy camper.

This used to mean, that I needed stylish, cute shoes. Now my requirements lean toward finding the most stylish AND comfortable shoes.

Some boots were made for walkin' and some were made for other things. I guess, I'm just getting old.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ungrateful Gratuity: If The Tip's Included, Is It A Tip???

My husband and I are enjoying a getaway to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. We just had luxurious massages at their well-appointed Willow Stream Spa.

The interesting part of this story, is that we had to pay up front, before our spa experience even began. We checked in at the counter and were asked to sign a bill that included gratuity...very nice, generous gratuity.

I was a waitress for years, and I worked my butt off for every penny in tips that I earned. You learned quickly that if you did not hustle and smile, you did not make any money. My waitress counterparts and I knew that our service directly impacted our gratuity. To this day, I am a generous tipper.

Flash forward to the swanky Willow Stream Spa. The massages are expensive, compared even to San Francisco spa prices, and I feel like I was paying it forward in gratuity--yes, paying it forward unvoluntarily big time in hope that I would have a good massage.

Is it gratuity if it is mandatory? Am I ensuring that I will get good service from my therapist if they are hoping to score a big tip? What if my experience is substandard?

I think that if you add 20 percent gratuity to any service, you should just make that part of the price. I mean, it's a guarantee, right? The therapists get my money whether I want to part with or not. It has nothing to do with my appreciation.

I'm not begrudging the tipping process, I'm just saying, call a spade a spade. It's not a tip if it's mandatory, it's the cost of the service.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why My Old Blog Gets More Traffic

It's about margaritas. No wonder.

Margaritas are much more interesting than my real life. That old blog is all about how, when, and where to drink them. There are regular margaritas, grapefruit margaritas, even pumpkin margaritas, just to name a few.

The thing is, after a year, you might get pretty tired of tasting, mixing and drinking margaritas. I did.

Funny though, that blog still gets way more response and traffic, even though I myself rarely visit or write there.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Hammock: Smart Husband, Stupid Wife

My husband is a fan of the hammock. He will sneak off and climb in and disappear from the regular world. When he disappears, we disappear from his world, too. I spend a lot of my life ordering him OUT of the hammock.

In my aforementioned diatribe about the moldy swimsuits, towels, sheets, comforters, blankets and mattress, I mentioned that my husband believes I only work hard because I haven't trained my kids well-enough.

When I was re-reading my journal about our summer on the lake, I realized who exactly he had trained--and I didn't like the discovery.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tragicomendy of Errors

Sometime in July 2010:

It was not tragic. It was not comedic. It was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel's lower back and it was so gosh darn sad it was funny.

All month I've been chastising my daughters for throwing (or draping) dripping wet towels and bathing suits all around the Cot-Taj. Worst of all, I've been nagging about wet towels on the bed.

That nagging voice of mine was starting to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, "Blah blah blah, screeeechhhh!" My husband's continuous comments were about my mothering abilities and teaching my children to do more work so that I could do less work. Thanks, honey, hope you're enjoying your hammock.

Today, as I was getting a room ready for our next round of 8 guests, I discovered layer upon layer of disgusting, moldy sheets, towels and clothing in Birk's bed. Some of the clothing was still folded from the clean laundry pile! It was like princess and the pea, layers that went down to a damp, stinky mattress. Not impressed.

That is another problem with the Taj. If you are tired of a wet bed, don't tell you mom, just go sleep in another bed. Pull the covers up and sneak off.

To the naked eye, the bed was perfectly made with a fluffy comforter. My eyes were gratefully naked for at least a week. I was blissfully thinking at least one room was clean.

When I discovered the layer cake effect evidence that Birk was not in fact "cleaning" her room and "hanging" up her wet suit and towel, I howled like a injured coyote. Birk wasn't even putting her clean clothes away in her drawers. In fact, she was conducting a black mold experiment.

Take a grouchy mommy, hip pain, the impending arrival of 8 guests and you've got a formula that almost made me break down in tears of frustration. Almost, I say, almost.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How It Happened: 365 Days to a New Cottage

If you scroll down, you will see the before and after pics of our Canadian cottage. I have been teasing my husband that it's new name should be the COT-TAJ. This place is massive in comparison to my regular house.

My husband has been pondering a renovation for years. He loves this place on the lake and refers to it as his "Palace of Solitude." He grew up on this lake and it is for all intents and purposes his "home."

He started visiting construction sites and flipping through magazines. He asked me if I would like to go along and join him on his site-seeing trips, I politely declined. I am in entertainment mode every minute I spend on the lake. My husband comes here for vacation. I come here for work.

A couple of days before we closed up for the season last summer, he had a meeting with a draftsman and a contractor. The next thing I knew, sitting at home in the good old USA, they were pouring basements and finding all kinds of problems with the existing structure.

I'll never forget the minute that he turned to me and said that they had burned the rest of the building down. The structure was not viable. Yes, our renovation had turned into a rebuild.

About a year later, I was stunned at this massive structure that loomed before me as we turned down the driveway. Gone was our little ramshackle place. Before me stood what looked like a Tahoe ski house.

I was and still am in a little bit of shock. I am a "farm girl." A landlubber. An adult with ADHD. I don't know where my socks are on a normal day, let alone how to navigate a massive dwelling. I should be excited. I should be jumping up and down.

All I can think is now I'm broke and have a lot more house to clean. Not very glass full, am I?

I've been muttering all summer that my husband absolutely married the wrong woman. Most woman would be jumping up and down for joy. I keep thinking we've got more space to have more guests come to visit--and it's completely winterized, so not only more guests, but more guests more often.

I love guests, and would go crazy in such a remote place without them. However, if my idea of a vacation was cooking 3 square meals a day for 20, making beds, stripping beds, washing sheets and cleaning the bathroom I would apply to be a chambermaid at the Holiday Inn.

I catapult from this existence back home to regular life, and people say, how was you summer? Did you have a great time on the lake? Mostly, I nod. It's too long of a story. You either get it or you don't.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Scenes from the Cot-Taj: Transformation Before and After

This was suggested by a friend of mine. She wondered what the two looked like side by side. Paula, this one's for you...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cell Phones and Kids, Keeping Us All Connected?

My daughter is 11, almost 12, and she has a cell phone. This was no nefarious scheme by her to be connected to the cellular network, it was all my planning.

My reasons for giving my daughter a cell phone:

1. I can call her from the car and let her know to gather up her siblings and bring them to the entrance of the school. This saves me time and legwork.

2. I can check in with her when she is at camp.

3. When she babysits, I have a MUST answer policy. Then the phone does not ring and ring and I wonder if they are all in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

4. When she is out with friends I can find her. I can let her know if I'm going to be late picking her up.

Unfortunately, if your kid is not that connected to the cell phone, it is hard to get them to literally connect the cell phone to the charger. The times I really NEED her to have it are usually the times when it has zero battery.

Today, for instance, we are in search of the charging cord. We have two. We can find none.

All of a sudden this "free" phone is going to cost me $20 for a replacement charging cord. Is it all part of the marvelous cell phone company's "drain you of your money plan?"

I am so annoyed that I am bound to get a new charger and tape it to the wall.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Last Days in Canada

As we packed up for 5 days and readied our cottage for a new hardwood floor, I took a good long look at myself in the mirror....yikes!

Normally, no matter how much company we have in a summer, I look pretty rested when I am getting ready to face September. This time, I just look ragged.

The kids had such a happy summer. I lugged, sorted, boxed, taped, stacked, hefted and hauled stuff up and down stairs. My summer wasn't exactly unhappy, but it wasn't relaxing, that's for sure.

Many times I was washing dishes and looking out the window. There I spied my husband in a boat.

Many times I was folding laundry. Then I spied my husband frolicking in the water with the kids.

Many times I was preparing dinner. I would catch a glimpse of my husband sleeping in the hammock.

Hmmmmmmmm. Every year I have to say it: this vacation is not my vacation. It's nice and it's fun, but man, I'm tired.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wild, Crazy Kids!

After 4 weeks of bare feet, uncombed hair and lenient bedtimes I have crazy wild bush children!

They are loud and the kind of kids that get the stares and the eye rolls.

As my son was chasing an errant chipmunk with a butter knife at a resteraunt, I exploded with exasperation.

My son's defence? "Mom, you've left us on a long chain for too long."

Getting the short, civilized leash back on is going to be a project.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Good Manners

A lot of life only moves along smoothly because we follow the rules. At the store, you get in line to pay. At the deli you take a number. At a four way stop, well you get the idea, right?

Next weekend, we will host the 12th annual birthday bash for our two oldest kids. It is going to be a challenge due to the technical difficulties associated with a half built cot-Taj. We wouldn't miss seeing our friends for the world, so we are going full steam ahead with our slated plans.

Flash to an exciting email--we were invited as personal VIP guests to the Blue Rodeo concert in Ottawa. Yahoo! Wait, drat!

Technically, our guests usually disappear by early evening. Technically, we could make the concert. However, hurrying our guests along and pushing them out the door seems to go against gracious host rules.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pie Grannies

Sitting at the church turkey supper in the local community center, I was amazed at the choice of home baked pies. Cherry, raspberry, peach, apple, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, lemon merangue, chocolate cream, raisin, maple, coconut cream and I'm sure many more flavors I've missed.

My mother in law's friend asked me what kind of pie I liked to bake. What? I didn't bake pie? My poor husband!

Meanwhile, I was over indulging in not one, but two pieces of pie. I had coconut cream and chocolate cream going at the same time. In order to maximize room in my stomch, I was skipping the crust. Obviously, this was not a calorie issue.

Two older ladies next to me were remarking to each other that I was missing the very best part.

The thing is, I've had more pie this summer in north eastern Ontario than I've had in my life. Every meal, comes with pie. Every guest that arrives, brings us pie.

I hate to say it, but I'm kind of over pie. Well, maybe not the filling, but certainly the crust.

In our hometown, the only time pie shows up is Thanksgiving. Most people don't even eat dessert. My biggest worry is that this pie habit is going to be hard to break....

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blogging With One Finger At A Starbucks

Need I say more? I'm surviving the Canadian wilderness, but have had the least computer access evah! I've spent my last weeks with more kids under 6 than I have since teaching pre school. Wow, have I ever become lazy. My kids are so self-sufficient and so completely potty trained. I am thankful that I can sit on the dock with a peacefulness you only know exists when your kids can swim, operate the microwave, read to themselves and go to the bathroom on their own.

My husband and I now realize how far we are away from diapers, pull ups and breastfeeding. We are so old in the way only three kids and surviving early childhood can make you old. We are weathered, beaten down and completely aged from parenthood.

I love the kids and I love the chaos. However, I love that I am not wholly responsible for all of these youngsters.

Now, we shall go drink our cappuccinos in wonder, and quietude.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Boxes Everywhere!

Well, we are finally settling in--as much as you can surrounded by plywood, insulation and boxes and boxes of junk! It wouldn't be so bad, but we have to re-pack and move everything again at the end of summer so that the hardwood floors can be put in.

I'm refusing to unpack too much and I'm having a hard time finding the crucial things we need for the kitchen. It is one big organizational mess and those that know me, know my organizational skills are severely lacking.

In a kitchen that's used by 5 plus people daily, organizing and unpacking is like swimming against a constant riptide. It's a wonder how happy and calm I feel when I venture out for milk or to buy a toilet scrubber. Or when I simply go outside, turn my back on the Cot-Taj and drink wine.

We did in fact find the wine glasses. First things first of course. Sad, but true.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Packing It Up and Packing It In

I am a ten year veteran of packing for our month long Canadian visit. Our children look forward to this trip all year. It is only second to Christmas in counting "sleeps" before the event.

Each summer I live in a house that I've never had a key for. I forage through Rubbermaid bins to find my clothes. I do this because I gave up on drawers long ago, as the mice are the only ones using said drawers properly.

Friends refer to our Canadian address as a Pioneer Camp. There are often power outages and then the outhouse suddenly becomes very attractive and the most popular "room" in the house.

Each year we unpack all of the sheets and towels and plates out of other well-used Rubbermaid bins. We set up "camp" for our four week stay.

Going from Marin County to the woods of Canada is always a little culture shocking. Not for anyone but me, I have to admit. Gone is take out, the grocery store around the corner, the computer, tv, our weekly housekeeper, camp, babysitters, laundry, movie theaters and anything that resembles a housewife support system.

I usually pack all kinds of crazy stuff to take along. The towel with a little stain. Sheets that are getting worn. 20 kinds of herbal tea that we never have time to sit and sip. My mass collection of books that have gathered dust for a year add at least 20 pounds to the duffel. Last, but not least, stray pages torn out of magazines of recipes that I've been meaning to try.

There are no real electronics. The night is quiet. The days are commute and carpool free. You need a real grocery list, because if you forget an ingredient, you might as well forget it.

If you're patient with my posts, because from now on out, it's posting when I can, I'll introduce you to a little bit of our Pioneer Camp Canada.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Humane Society Camp

My girls just finished a week of Humane Society Camp. As my friend put it, "The only camp that comes with a puppy."

Every day they met different pets. Every day I needed self control of steel to fend off the cute fuzzy faces of homeless animals. On Bunny Day, cute, little, sweet bunny Zipper needed a home. Couldn't we please find space for such a small critter?

Day Two, Misha the Rat with a very soft tail needed a home. Couldn't we please find space for Misha? She was even smaller than Zipper and only needed a very small cage.

Day Three, Cookie's kitten sister, Klondike, had been adopted, leaving Cookie alone in the cage. My girls were heartbroken that these sisters had to part. Couldn't we please take Cookie home so that she could live with our cats so that she wouldn't be so lonely?

On day Four, Mia, a pug-beagle mix with an extra long tongue needed saving. She was having trouble finding a family to accept her special tongue attribute, even though she was a loving, active puppy. Couldn't we please bring Mia home to meet our dog? Couldn't we save her from a world where having an extra long tongue only works in rock and roll?

And all along there was Figgy. The cutest little puppy I had ever seen. She is a chihaua, which is not a breed I genrally am drawn to, but she had the most expressive eyes and a little face that said, "You need me."

By the time we hit Friday, I was a nervous wreck. I am an animal lover, and would love to give all of the animals a good home...but already having two cats and a dog, I know the reality of how much care pets require. My husband is not such a big fan of the pets--he loves our dog more than me, but that is a particular, separate case.

We said our good byes to all of the fantastic pets we had met over the week. I was confident in the fact that our particular Humane Society will keep a pet until it finds a home, no matter what. Some cats have been there for years.

I am sad that we don't have a bigger house, more money, more time and a better lifestyle for more pets. My girls are still hopeful that we will go back and rescue long-tongued Mia.

Please, if you are considering a dog, check your local shelter. Why pay hundreds of dollars for a bred pet, when you can free a pet from bars and give them happiness? Maybe an extra long tongue means extra long kisses?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Root of the Problem

It all began four years ago with a phone call. My husband and I were vacationing in London. The cell phone rang. There are so many moments that are defined by a single ring of the phone. There is always life defined before the phone call, and a new definition that unravels after the phone call.

When we saw our best friend's number pop up on caller ID, we were happy to see it. When my husband asked me who our dentist was and then passed me the phone, all I could hear was screaming in the background. Was that screaming in the background? What was all that screaming in the background?

There was no time for story, there was only action. In that surreal way that these moments happen, we were oddly separate from the moment. Separated by ocean. Separated by time. Separated and oddly cushioned from the blow.

During a baseball game, our son was playing third base. A quick throw came from home plate. The ball bounced off the tip of his mitt and hit him in the mouth. His front tooth popped out and hit the ground.

As far as bad things go, this was not epic proportion bad. It has however, been an epic proportion pain in the butt. It's meant many hours of time in the dentist's chair dealing with the unknown. Every procedure we "hoped" was going to help our long term prognosis.

Today, we have a date with the oral surgeon. The tooth has to come out. After four years and thousand of dollars, that good old tooth is finally going to be free, as fate intended.

It sounds simple. It's not. There are a lot more hours to log in the dentist's chair and care. There are still so many unknowns. My boy is in fairly good spirits. The mom is a little more tattered and weary.

I missed that brutal moment years ago, but I've been by his side ever since.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You Can't Take It ALL With You

I have gone the full circle on this. I used to pack light. Then I packed lighter. Then I had kids...and if you have kids you know what that means. Then I packed light for the first time in forever and:

"Sorry, Ma'am, your bag cannot be carried on. It's too heavy."

"What?" I had crammed two weeks worth of interchangeable clothing so that I could carry on and not be bothered with the baggage checking, collecting and payment process."

"It's over 11 kilos."

O-k, I didn't pay the best attention during the metric chapter in grammar school. Heck, I lived in Canada for 6 years and I am still foggy on the conversion. 2.2, blah blah blah. I couldn't believe my ears.


I could have princess packed and taken all of my shoes--and that's shoes strictly for orthopedic reasons I'm sorry to say. I could have left the mini bottle of laundry detergent at home and just brought more t shirts and underwear. Ugh.

This is just to say, read those guidelines. Yes, those ever changing rules that I swear they are changing when I'm on my way to check in at the airport.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stephen King Suite: Venetian Culture Shock

Venice began with something a little special: the Hotel Saturnia. We looked forward to this hotel more than any other place to hang our hat on the whole trip. It was our splurge! We decided to pull out the stops and have a beautiful hotel to end our trip.

We booked two rooms, so we went to my friend's room first. It was bathed in sunlight with light wood furnishings. It was bright and cheerful and clean. I was excited, and couldn't wait to see my room.

As soon as the door to my room opened, I knew I had entered another dimension. My son and I looked at the digs and shuddered. It was dark and scary and straight out of a Stephen King novel!

I love antiques. I am a fan of dark wood. I love the color red. However, when all three were combined in this particular setting, it created a whole new twilight zone vibe. If we were going to see a ghost anywhere on this whole trip, this was the place. I may think about this the most, as I have to get up to use the bathroom in the dark every night.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the carving and detail on the antique furniture, but I'm also an avid antiquer who antiques with karma in mind. This is weird, but I can feel when a particular item has an aura. This room, though beautiful, had a creepy aura oozing from every corner.

My friend, who recommended the hotel, said she figured I was suffering from "Ugly American Tourist Syndrome." Hey! I smiled at every person smoking at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am respectful of culture. Maybe this was just a little venetian culture shock mixed with superstition?

We survived our two nights without ghostly or ghastly incident. The beds were clean and comfy. Although the room smelled of antique wood, it was not unpleasant--kind of like being at your great grandmother's house overnight--way up in the attic.

For the record, I will tell you, the two boys would not stay in this room alone at night. To be fair, the hotel was immaculate. The service was impeccable.

Sometimes you just have to get over your own hang ups, and maybe being the Halloween girl that I am, I just had to create a little dark side drama for myself.

Happy Merchants of Venice

Venice began with the Hotel Saturnia. It had been recommended to us because it had location location location. What I didn't realize at the time, was its location to what. Innocently, I assumed it was the fact that it was located near St. Mark's Square, but I learned that location for one doth not mean location for all.

The hotel was tucked off a street of uber shopping: Gucci, Bulgari, Chanel, Dolce, Prada, Burberry, you name it, it was there lining the street like a mini shopping mecca for people with lots of money.

Jewels glinted from shop window and the streets were spotless so that the well heeled could maneuver in their spikes without care. It was a shopping wonderland.

However, there is always a however somewhere for me, I was so over the whole shopping thing by this point in our trip I could barely stand the all out, blatant shopping mall theme.

As I retreated to my anti shopping place, my partner in crime had finally realized her best part of the trip. She had been pining for great shopping ever since London. Her eyes were like saucers at the finery offered up for sale.

We spent an entire day in and out of every kind of shop you can imagine. I was bored. The boys were bored. The heat blasted us and drove us into the cool air of the shops. My friend had the gleam of gold in her eyes--oh, or was it Venetian glass?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Roman Holiday with Antonella and Clifford the Big Red Guide Dog

Rome was wonderful--mostly because we did the best thing ever: we hired a guide! Her name was Antonella and she was like taking your high school History teacher on vacation with you. Actually, it was even better, because she knew where she was going without a map and she knew Roman history like the back of her hand and no cheat sheets needed.

Our friends had suggested hiring a guide before we left. It was expensive, but considering how much we had already invested in this trip and our fear of mugging, we went out into the streets and subways of Rome with Antonella. She was as cool as a cucumber, and she showed us how to navigate Rome like a local.

However, as soon as Antonella left us at the turn off for the Trevi Fountain, all of our city savvy walked off with her. Yes, map in hand, I learned that if I tell you to go in one direction, you most certainly should go in the other. Paula and I spent 2 hours trying to find either the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps. We didn't care which, we would have taken any landmark that we could locate.

The boys dragged along behind us, hot and dirty, looking like they were wandering the desert. Exasperated, my son, took the map and looked at it for 30 seconds. He then led us exactly where we wanted to go with exactly 10-15 minutes in travel time between each landmark.

At that moment, we knew we had found our own personal, free tour guide: Clifford the Big Red Guide Dog. I've often referred to him as my overgrown puppy. He is 5 foot 8 in height but all 7 year old boy in his actions. It's like a huge, giant tail wagging and knocking over a shelf of crystal figurines.

I'd been calling him Cliff for most of the trip, now he was Cliff with skills. For the remainder of our journey, we'd just show him the map, and off we went with confidence.

Directionally challenged parents take note: the simplest answer might be standing right beside you!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


After a wonderful time with the friendly, helpful people of London, our merry band of travelers headed to Rome--clutching our handbags and backpacks with fear.

You see, every guidebook, friend, stranger, salesperson and flight attendant marveled at our bravery for taking two young teenage boys to Rome...alone.

We couldn't trudge ten feet in our summer sandals without tales of theft. Pick pockets, purse snatchers, con artist cab drvers and swindling tour guides (just to name a few). They were all rubbing their quick fingers together and sharpening their purse strap slashing knives in excitement preparing for our arrival.

One article even told of moms with their babies being cornered by rascals and being forced to surrender their wedding rings.

You can imagine, gentle reader, how scared we were to clear customs and just leave the airport.

This is after an elaborate story from the British Airways flight attendant about her boyfriend's pocket being slashed open with a knife. Wow.

I am happy to report, so far so good. I will report back later!