Monday, December 27, 2010

Just pictures for now

Guess what Daniel and Christopher got?

Katie and Kelly being silly with birch trees

Christopher sporting his bathtub mohawk

Childproofing...keeping the kids away from the tree and the stairs!

Sadie staying cozy and safe

Christopher just chillin'
Merry Christmas!  I'm putting pictures for now just as a change of scenery on the blog.  We have a full house and the stomach flu is working it's way systematically through everyone so as I don't really have the energy to write much I thought I'd post some pictures.  There is sure to be a long blog post when things settle down around here.  Think of all the topics I have to write about, grandkids, kids, the flu, Christmas, so much to say, so little energy to write. Suffice it to say the Christmas cards and letters have experienced yet another set back! 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Perfect Timing

What is the best thing that could happen if you were planning to host a party for 60 people and have a house full of company for a week, during the Christmas holidays? could win the lottery to buy all those gifts and have unlimited access to a full housekeeping staff along with a chef and find a source of boundless energy!  OR you could get the killer cold your husband brought home for the holidays.  Yes, you guessed it, no wait staff at our house, only a coughing, sniffling, sneezing hostess.  Don't worry though, Kelly is home from school and will be my sous chef and what she isn't making I am ordering, so the yummy food will not be contaminated! Since I am an optomist, I am going to think that it is a good thing that I caught his cold on Tuesday night before our big Saturday soiree instead of catching it on Friday, I should be able to perform my hostessing duties by Saturday.  In other good news, I will be back up to speed next week when Rachel and Matt and the grandsons arrive for Christmas.  See?  I am an optomist, achoo!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Drinking and Shopping

TJ and I went out to a lovely French restaurant tonight.  We had a fantastic dinner with a bottle of wine.  We went out early because we are nerds.  Really, we were just hungry and had been busy all day and....we are nerds.  After our delicious dinner and our bottle of wine, we headed out of the parking lot when I suddenly remembered I was out of tea! 

My morning motivation

Being out of tea in the morning for me is like not being able to breathe, I went into an immediate panic.  We have got to go to the grocery store NOW.  Forget the lovely dinner and the bottle of wine we just had and go directly to the grocery store.  Isn't that the perfect end to a night out? I went straight from dinner to breakfast, maybe that explains the weight issue. Back to the emergency at hand though.... we have nothing for breakfast!  TJ suggested we could just eat the leftover cranberry sauce with toast in the morning, it is kind of like jelly!  There is always the option of leftover chicken and pasta with pesto, another yummy choice.  No!  I guess we have to do it, we have to go to the grocery store for the grand finale to our romantic night out. 

We both laughed all the way to the store, probably because of that bottle of wine we just drank.  We laughed at how ridiculous we would look in our nice "going out for a romantic dinner" clothes in the grocery store.  We laughed all the way through the first aisle of the store until a lady wearing an evening gown walked in and we were toast (with cranberry sauce jelly)!  You can only imagine the items that ended up in our drunken cart.  They tell you not to shop when you are hungry, there is no warning about shopping after drinking.  If we had to survive on what was in our cart we might just starve, but we would have tea! 

Yes, I think a great laugh is the best way to end a romantic night out with your husband. Tea anyone?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

To Write or Not To Write That Is The Question

Has the time of writing the annual Christmas letter passed?  With Facebook, Twitter and the blog sphere, doesn't everyone already know that your kids are fantastic, intelligent, overachievers?  Doesn't everyone know what you've done and where you've been?  Don't we all know way too much about each other's lives with the Internet?  This year I must decide whether to write or not.  Maybe I can just put my blog address on my cards this year and then anyone who is interested can just choose a post that they would like to read. 

I used to start thinking about my Christmas letter sometime in late November.  I would wait for a moment when I had the right amount of inspiration, time and wine to be creative and factual enough to write a mildly entertaining, informative and not too boastful letter to insert into my Christmas cards.  Sometimes it would seem like that moment never came and then...boom!  Inspiration! Or was it chardonnay?  An idea would hit and I could go with it and come up with a letter I liked.  Those letters were a good exercise for me, I did not write very often and the opportunity to exercise my mind and blend creativity with reality was always a challenge and a pleasure.  At least for me!

Now that I am writing at least once a week here on my blog a Christmas letter seems redundant.  Don't you already know what happened in our family this year?  Maybe there are a few people on my Christmas card list who don't read this weekly effort and they might enjoy hearing about our year, and maybe not!  I have thought of just writing something completely unique for my Christmas letter..... something inspired!  Although that would require inspiration.  I find myself just waiting for that right blend of inspiration, time and wine for an idea!  I will keep everyone in suspense as to whether I am or am not writing a letter this year. 
Pray for inspiration!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Really Am A Gemini

I never really gave a lot of credit to astrology BUT....lately I am beginning to think the fact that I am a Gemini is no accident.  Let me explain.

I saw an episode of Property Virgins and it was in Toronto, more specifically, in Oakville, Mississagua and Burlington.  It was winter and there was a lot of snow on the ground.  As I watched the show I recognized places and landmarks.  I could feel the cold and sighed with nostalgia because I really did like winter up there.  I know, I'm crazy, but so be it!  I still remember what it was like at this time of year up there and many people hate this time of year...I didn't.  My daughter called today and shared that even our grandson, Daniel, is suffering from the lack of sunlight at this time of year.  I feel for him.  The lack of daylight hours is probably the most depressing thing about December in the north.  They have snow and cold though and those are the things that I find myself missing lately.  There is something special about Christmas lights and snow on the ground that defines the season to me.  It is like a storybook come to life for me.  I never grew up with snow at Christmas so the fact that it existed somewhere and that I got to live there for 3 winters is still a wonder to me.

On the flip side...because the point of this post is that I am a Gemini and we see both sides.  I drove into my neighborhood tonight and the light show was spectacular! People here decorate...and they decorate with passion.  The outdoor light shows are over the top!  I love it!   Winter in Houston is like riding a roller coaster.  I was just reminded of this on the weather as they reported that the temperatures on Tuesday would be 48 degrees different than those on Saturday.  Seriously?  Yes, seriously.  Winter one day and summer the next.  We have had a lovely couple of months and the sun has been shining most of the time.  I like the sun.  I appreciate the fact that all I need to do to go somewhere is grab my purse and walk out the door.  I don't have to get a coat and a scarf.  But I like coats and scarves.  What's a girl to do?  I like the sun and the temperate air but I like the cold and the snow. 

I can't complain about life down here in the south but at the same time I find myself missing life in Canada.  I loved the cozy, cold, snowy winters in Canada.  On the other hand, I just sent out invitations to more people than I ever even counted as acquaintences in Canada to our Christmas party. I would like a little of each in my life, can you tell me where that place exists?  Can I live in a city and the country?  Can I have frigid, snowy, long hours of daylight, occasionally moderate, winters, with lots of friends and family nearby?  Can I have my cake and eat it too?    It is not that I can't make up my mind, it is that both options are attractive to me and I want them both.  Except for summer in Houston, and we all know how I feel about that. 

So, it occurs to me that in ways beyond snow and warmth that I like both sides of the coin.  Is it because I am a Gemini or is it because I just can't make up my mind?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Through Different Eyes...and Ears

What are you thankful for?  Are you thankful that you made it through the holiday without a major meltdown or major family blowup?  Thankful that it is over?  Thankful for all the many blessings you have in your life?  Thankful that you remembered to take the giblets out of the turkey before you cooked it this year?  Thankful for the days off?  Thankful, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?   I am thankful that you are reading this!

Just imagine spending Chinese New Year in China with a Chinese family who spoke no English. This Thanksgiving we had the opportunity to see our holiday through a different pair of eyes and ears.  Our daughter ,Kelly, volunteered to host an international student for Thanksgiving.  She figured we would be fine with the idea and she even wondered if anyone would be assigned to her since part of the deal was that the student would have to find their own way to Houston from St. Louis.  Never fear....the chance to spend a holiday in a new city with a typical(?) American family and avoid being left behind on a deserted campus for 4 days can be very motivating!  We hosted a very nice Chinese student named Han for Thanksgiving.
He is young....17, and a freshman in college.  His English was infinitely better than our non-existent Chinese!  He was very quiet and shy for the most part but we had a major breakthrough on his last night when he opened up at dinner!  His whole face lit up when he told us about his high school and his likes and dislikes after spending all of 3 months in the U.S. and he told us about his extended family and their family get togethers.  I admire his courage to come to a new country and attend university in a foreign language....and make very good grades from what he shared with us!  Wow!

Han with Kelly and Katie at the Museum of Natural History

We had a busy time and much of my energy, when I wasn't cooking or cleaning, was spent trying to figure out what a 17 year old Chinese boy would find interesting in Houston.  It is not like I have Niagara Falls to drive him to and show him!  He did like the shopping at the Galleria, go figure, and he enjoyed the  3D IMAX show about the Hubble telescope.  We all enjoyed it and I have concluded that there is no way, ever, in a million trillion light years that I would ever want to go into space.  EVER! 

I don't think we scarred him too much and I even think he enjoyed his time with us.  He shared meals with a minimum of 5 of us every night and a few times there were 12 at the table.  That can be a bit intimidating.  He did luck out though, he was surrounded by beautiful girls at all meals, between Katie and Kelly and my sister's 3 daughters, Han has some good stories to share with his Chinese friends.  I'll bet none of them got to got to Brennans for dinner and be waited on by a swarm of waiters and tour the kitchen!  Now that is an education!

   our waiters making creme brulee and
bananas foster at our table

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Pile-On Sisters

I have three sisters and a brother.  When we all get together it can be a lot of fun!  We get going and one thing leads to another and we sometimes end up like this....

the sisters doing the "formation"
I am not one of the ones in the middle...but I still like them.  Lately, every time we are all together we end up doing yoga poses and not in a zen, meditative way.  It is more like a "can you do this?" or "watch this!" way.  We don't plan to end up on the floor contorting ourselves but it seems that's where we end up.  What?  Your family doesn't do that?  You should try it, especially after a few glasses of wine.

We were together celebrating our Dad's 80th birthday this weekend.  We had  brunch on Sunday and had all 5 siblings together at the table along with some of our spouses and some of our kids.  No, we did not do yoga poses on the floor.  It was so good to be together and so good to be able to celebrate with Dad.  He looks pretty good for 80 and as he pointed out, he can see, hear and think even though he does move around a bit slow.  I'll take slow thank you very much!

Mom and Dad on Dad's 80th birthday

While we were waiting for our meal to arrive, one of my sisters commented to my husband that he is very loud when he wakes up in the morning.  That one comment started another family activity we refer to as....time to pile on TJ!  He was fair game and none of us held back, except for my brother who felt brotherly compassion for TJ but was enjoying the show so much that he mostly sat in disbelief and laughed and was probably glad he ducked the "pile on" bullet.  The conversation sounded something like this...."TJ, you chew very loudly.  TJ, you type louder that anyone on the planet.  TJ, what possessed you to walk back and forth over the wood floors wearing your dress shoes on at 6 in the morning?"  My sisters just kept piling on!  Most of it revolved around the fact that he wakes up before anyone in the house and is unaware of how noisy he is, or maybe he just wants us all to wake up when he does and join in the door slamming and loud chewing.  His noises are all amplified in a silent snoozing house.  The doors and drawers opening and closing, those heels making noise on the floor and the newspaper flipping all gets done with such enthusiasm by TJ in the morning.....because he is a  morning person.....and it bothers me because....I am not.

I am glad I married a loud, early riser who can take the abuse from my sisters.  He said he was happy to provide the entertainment at the table while we waited for our food, otherwise we might have had to start doing yoga poses in our dress clothes at a restaurant.  Think how proud our Dad would have been at that sight on his 80th birthday.   Way to save us from ourselves TJ!   

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving Enchiladas

I have been looking forward to today for over a week.  I felt like a kid anticipating the school Thanksgiving feast.   A couple of weeks ago the group in my Learn English class asked if we could have a party for our last class before the Thanksgiving break.  That is a question you never have to ask me twice!  I love a party, especially one that I don't have to do anything for except show up!  My partner assured me that they were all excellent cooks and they love to have parties so...bring it on!  I dreamed of enchiladas, salsa and other mexican delights....for the next week.  It was with great anticipation that I went to class today. 

Flautas with home made salsa and shredded cabbage

I was not disappointed!  The ladies all brought home made specialties.  They brought flautas with shredded cabbage, home made salsa, shredded cheese and Mexican sour cream,  enchiladas, flan, some mexican soup which had noodles, red sauce and cheese in it and was delicious!  My personal favorites were the flautas and the salsa, the salsa was absolutely amazing, I must get the recipe. 

the ladies in class setting up for our feast!
I think this was their way to thank us and to show us their culture.  This is an area they can excel in and feel comfortable.  I can't wait for the Christmas party!
The class has been great and only makes me appreciate learning another language as an adult.  I still think I need to take a French class one of these days.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Trash Talk

We have become good little recyclers!  Our Canadian training has paid off and the reason I know this is that our recycling bin is always overflowing!  In Toronto we had trash and recycling pick up once a week.  The recycling was always full, the trash....depended on who had been home that week and how busy we had been.  At the shore we have trash pick up every other week and recycling every other week.  Talk about some full bins and bags not to mention the smell!  I learned to love to recycle, it does not stink like other trash and the less trash I have at the shore the less stuff I have to drag down the long lane. 

Here we have trash pick up twice a week.  Decadent! Recycling pick up once a week.  I must say there are some weeks when we don't even have a full bag of trash to put out on Tuesdays so we usually just skip Tuesday pick up all together.  On Friday we always have mountains of paper, plastic, aluminum and cardboard in the recycling bin.  Note, I did not mention glass.  They don't pick up glass here!!??  Are you kidding????  Being trained in the Canadian recycling school we dutifully pile all our glass, I'll be bottles,  in another area of the garage and tote it to the local recycle station when it starts to take over the corner of the garage.  Unfortunately, the visual all those wine bottles presents is daunting.  Multiply times $10 or $15 a bottle and that's a lot of allowance. 

One more little the "green" category.  In Toronto everyone uses their own grocery bags or else they get charged 5 cents a bag for those plastic bags.  When I bring my grocery bags to the grocery store here the baggers have no clue how to pack them.  They are so used to putting 2 or 3 things in those plastic bags that they pack the bags I bring the same way.  What a waste!  It totally defeats the purpose of bringing my own bags if you are going to put 2 or 3 things in them and then start using plastic bags.

I think instead of that extra trash pick up every week our area should spend that money on TREES!  Instead of cutting them all down they should try planting more!  There is an idea!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Needs Technology?

The technology woes continue.  It seems our alarm system has a mind of it's own.  It all started when I was in Madison visiting Rachel.  There I was sleeping soundly, enjoying some down time at 3:00 a.m. like the rest of the world and I was awoken?....awakened?....shocked into semi-consciousness!...  by the ringing of my cell phone.  Who is calling me at 3a.m.?  I decided to let it go to voice mail.  They had the nerve to call again!  So much for sleeping so  I answered the phone.  It was my alarm service.  Try answering all the security questions after being woken out of a deep sleep.  What is my security word?  I have no idea!  It's 3 a.m.!  I barely know MY name!  Where am I anyway and who is this again?  They assured me that there was no break in and the alarm was not sounding off waking all the neighbors, it was just a keypad error.  Really?  REALLY? REALLY?  You called me at 3 a.m. and made me wake up enough to think of my security word and answer all sorts of other obscure security questions for that?  Click. ZZZZZZZzzzzzz

Since I have been home, every night at 8 or 9 the alarm starts clicking and then beeping spontaneously.  It also decided to beep randomly throughout the day.  Nice!  I scheduled the company to come out and figure out what was wrong with the system.  They came out yesterday, a whole day earlier than they said they would come out.  Take that cable company who kept me waiting for days! The first question he asked was if I had any trouble with my phones lately.  Well...yes as a matter of fact I have.  He proceeded to figure out what is wrong with the system and asked if my phone is working now and I regretfully had to tell him that they were not!  Yes, the phone, Internet and cable were out AGAIN!  It seems that after the carnage in the green space "they" were planting the new trees and cut a main line which resulted in everyone being without service for the day.  Oh joy!  You got it, alarm guy could not do anything to fix the alarm without a working phone.  "Isn't it ironic...don't you think?"  to quote Alanis Morrisette.  I am back at square one with a spontaneously beeping alarm system and occasionally working phone, internet and cable.  I just love technology.

It's November and time to talk about the weather!  Because if you aren't traveling to Europe or visiting grandkids then the next best thing to talk about is the weather.  This year there will be no last year.  This part of today's post is written especially with my Canadian friends in mind!  Last year, I remember November began with rain, grey skies and cold temperatures, like it usually does.  It is a depressing month in Toronto.  I cursed November.  Most people who live up there curse November, it is dark and dreary.  After my post last year I had to eat my words because it ended up being an absolutely lovely month... very unusual!  My friends thanked me for cursing November and having to eat my words so....I hope November can make a liar out of me again this year for all your sakes!

As for me and mine down here in Sugar Land....November is perfect!  God has indeed turned down the heat and sucked out the humidity for a while and I am a happy camper.  College football is in full swing, check out the LSU Tigers this past weekend!  Thanksgiving is in a few weeks and life is good (except for those technology glitches).  Rather than dreading November this year,  I am happy it has finally arrived.  This is patio season southern style.  This is the month we get to go outside and enjoy the sunny skies and not break into an immediate sweat.  People are outside working in their yards, riding their bikes, taking their dogs for walks and just enjoying life and the fact that the great outdoors is a pleasant place to be....finally.  We even get to wear a sweater or a jacket if conditions are perfect, according to me.  We have more hours of daylight at this time of year than they do up north.  So, if you want to know what month to come and visit us down here, try November, especially if you live in Toronto and you are not experiencing a repeat of November 2009.

Now watch it rain for the next 23 days....I'll never write about the weather in November again!  Until next year!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Munchkins in Madison

Daniel and his dog....Indiana

Christopher, playing in the sun room

 Take one Gigi, one Grampy (for a day and a half), a mom, a dad and two active, smart/clever, fast, and absolutely darling boys, throw in a little Halloween and what do you get?  One very happy but tired Gigi.  Not to mention the traveling, which is a story unto itself.  Keep reading, it gets interesting, maybe.

I finally got my fall fix!  Halloween in Madison, Wisconsin!  I think this should be an annual trip.  It was so much fun to enjoy trick or treating with Daniel and Christopher. 

Halloween has never been one of my favorite holidays, maybe because as a mother of 4, there was always so much pressure to think of clever, cute, and doable costumes....times 4.  That kind of creativity has never been my strong suit, but the kids did have a few memorable costumes through the years.  Then there is the actual day of trick or treating... try to get 4 kids dressed, feed them a somewhat nutritious dinner which will be ruined later on with pounds of  candy.  Then comes the week after when all they want to do is eat candy and they become these irrational, sugar crazed people with no self control.  Yeah....those were the good old days.  Maybe things have changed.

Daniel the Duck

Christopher the Sock Monkey

Big door, little duck....sooo cute!

This is our little duck trick or treating, he loved to stop in every flower bed and pick up treats like pine cones, rocks and sticks.  Not so interested in candy!

I think 2 year olds are easier to have Halloween with!  Daniel ate a delicious and nutritious dinner and happily put his duck costume on and was ready to go!  He was such a good trick or treater, he said "thank you" to everyone!  He was definitely more interested in the sticks and rocks in the flower beds than the candy.  He had the usual over indulgence of candy that night and became a sugar coated irrational duck at one point, but for the most part, he was a champ!  Christopher made it to 2 houses, mostly just to show off his adorable, hand knit by Aunt Katie, sock monkey costume.  The best part was that being 2, Daniel pretty much forgot about all that candy the next day and had moved on to bigger and better things, like playing.  This video is just one of many, Daniel and I are featured in one on Rachel's blog.

For the next few days, we did a lot of chasing, feeding, diaper changing, playing, laughing, crying (well Daniel and Christopher cried) and finally sleeping!  Instead of sharing all the details of the visit....I'll just show you more pictures of my very cute grandkids!

Daniel and his giant Elmo puzzle that we had to do at least twice a day!

Christopher and me at swimming lessons, another fish in the family.

Snack time....the only time he sits still

This was a hilarious night time activity.  Daniel methodically took every toy and book and "placed" them individually in the corner over by Christopher.  He is practicing not throwing things... which everyone knows is instinctive in boys or is at least in my experience.  It was at least a half hour of playing without any crying or bodily harm, a small victory and totally enjoyable for the adults in the room who were trying to be invisible.

Great job Daniel! 
Guess what we did after they went to bed?

The trip home was interesting too.  I took the Badger Bus from Madison to the Milwaukee airport dark and early Wednesday morning.  It was a quiet ride in the dark for the most part and I slept on and off for the 2+ hour ride.  There were two particularly interesting characters on the bus.  One older bag lady with a babushka on her head, wearing an old coat and several layers of clothing carrying a paper bag with other  clothing inside.  She sat in the first seat right behind the driver, I was in about the 5th row.   Two hours later at the bus terminal in Milwaukee where all but 4 of us got off the bus the bag lady got off the bus and asked the driver after everyone had gone, if the bus had a video camera on board recording the ride because.......wait for it.........she had been "assaulted and nearly murdered".  She also asked if the convenience store where we picked her up had video cameras because right before she got on the bus she had been, "assaulted and nearly murdered"!   I must have been sleeping way harder than I thought because I didn't hear a thing!  The driver handled the situation with as much coolness as he could and she went into the terminal....risking being assaulted and nearly murdered to see if they had video cameras.

The other interesting person was a large black man carrying a clear plastic bag with his clothing in it. At the bus depot after the driver got back on the bus this fellow came up to the driver to ask how long it would take to get to the airport as he had to catch a 8:41 a.m. flight.  It was 8:25 when he asked this question!  I could not wait to see how the driver handled this one.  He told him it would be between 5 and 10 minutes and that he should have taken the 3:30a.m. bus.  There is a 3:30 bus?  Darn!  He fretted and fretted and asked if flights were ever late.  He was convinced that if he got to the airport at 8:40 that he would by some miracle make his 8:41 flight!  At the airport he took his plastic bag of clothing and another larger bag of clothing and headed to the desk.  Guess he does not travel much.  I have got to give our driver a shout out though because he handled these people with such ease and patience without them getting angry or causing a much larger disturbance than they did. 

So I'm back home and now I am thinking of all the childproofing I need to do to the house before Christmas!  Will Christopher be able to scale small buildings in a single bound by then?  Will I be rested enough to keep up with all of them by then?  I am going out to buy baby gates and cabinet locks!

Welcome to the ever growing flock of followers!  You rock!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sky Is Falling

The calendar says it is fall and although the temperatures outside have not indicated such, there are a few other things that let us know fall is here.

We live in  an area loaded with mature pecan trees.  When October hits, the pecans start to drop from the trees.  Don't look up, you might just get hit in the head with a pecan, especially on a windy day!  This must be a particularly good year for pecans because they are everywhere and they are huge!  Every green space is full of squirrels and scavengers hunting for pecans.  People are busy hauling off sacks full of pecans everywhere you look.  A couple of nights ago TJ and I took, Sadie aka Superdog, for a walk.  It had been a very windy day!  As we went down the path in the green space near our house we noticed that there were pecans everywhere.....!  We pulled out the plastic bag, that was meant for another purpose, and just picked up the pecans on and next to the path.  We never even had to get off the path and this was our haul!  Can you say pecan pie?

The other thing that tells us it is fall is the way people dress.  We are slaves to fashion!  Even thought it is still stiflingly hot we feel obligated to dress like it is much cooler. Why esle would anyone wear a wool jacket and long pants when it is 90 degrees outside?  Do you work in an igloo? My particular favorite has been the girls wearing their Uggs with jeans all for the sake of fashion.  The stores have coats, boots, sweaters, jackets, scarves, and  hats on the racks.  I can't even begin to think about buying this stuff right now even though I love winter clothes.  Maybe we are all just so sick of our shorts, tank tops and flip flops that we will suffer through and wear our jeans and boots regardless of what the thermometer says!  The calendar says it is Fall... break out the jacket... and sweat!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have postponed blogging about the last part of our trip to Italy because.....
-I hate Italy and never want to think about it again
-we didn't do anything interesting
-the food and wine were horrible and not even worth mentioning
-if I blog about it then I don't get to think about it any more and then it will be over.

You probably guessed it...I just don't want it to be over. That lingering Italian "gioia di vita" will be gone once I put this chapter into the blog sphere. I won't stop every day at five and think about an outdoor cafe, a glass of Italian wine and a little snack of olives or chips and have to rest my weary feet until it is time to walk around and find someplace to eat dinner. I will have to swallow the harsh reality that I'm not in Italy and there is no outdoor cafe and my feet are only tired if it was my running day and the only dinner I will be eating is the one I cook. Reality is a harsh pill to swallow when you come home from a wonderful trip.

So here it is...the final chapter of Italy.

For the most part our entire trip was absolutely perfect except for that one day.....
Have you ever had one of those days when you had an idea of how it would all go and you set off in hot pursuit of that day and hit road block after road block? We had a day similar to that. I know...hard to believe but it happened, much to Rick's dismay.

Plan- drive around Lake Garda from the west side, heading north and then as we head south on the east side of the lake we will taste some fantastic valpolicella wines and then we only have a short distance to drive back to our hotel after tasting delicious wines. It all looked good on paper, do all the driving before we do all the drinking, right? After all, we are responsible adults.

We started driving, after the night of much wine, grappa and limoncello and I had the pleasure of riding in the backseat. I am prone to car sickness on winding hilly roads in the best of conditions, and believe me, these were not the best of conditions. Off we go! The scenery was lovely in spite of the dreary skies.

We drove and drove and drove. The road curved and twisted and climbed. TJ did a great job keeping us between the lines with his white knuckle steering. There were many tunnels and scenic vistas to enjoy. TJ saw very few of them. This is what he saw....

After many near misses with oncoming trucks in one lane tunnels we made it to the northern tip of Lake Garda, safely. Ahhhh, lunch time!!! And not a moment too soon if you ask me!

After lunch it was time for a little wine tasting. First thing, look for the tourist information center and get a map of the wineries in the area. Great idea! We found the information center.... it closed at 1pm, we arrived at 2:30! Oops! We decided to go it on our own, there are signs posted, just follow the signs. Easier said than done. We tried to use the GPS to find wineries but either we can't follow directions or the GPS does not know wineries. We found wineries that were open but did not offer tastings, we found wineries that were closed, but we found no wineries that were both open and offered tastings. We were very tired and getting thirsty and it was getting close to 5 and it was time to find an outdoor cafe and have a glass of wine, so we headed back to our hotel, unfulfilled.

The next day we had it all figured out...we found this

The day proved to be much more successful! We found wineries that were both open and offered tastings. A good time was had by all!

We found ancient olive trees.

We found a wine museum.

It was harvest time!

Patty and I scoped out the town on our bikes that afternoon and found a perfect place for our final dinner together.

I loved biking in Europe....

Seafood platter, Italian style!

We had to have one final gelato to seal the evening. Hey, we rode our bikes....I am sure we burned off those calories!

TJ and I spent our final day in Italy with each Milan....and a few other people.

The duomo in Milan and thousands of people.

After our relatively peaceful and crowd free, Italian vacation, we were met with millions of people in Milan. This was not the high point of our trip. It only hit me me midway through the day that it was Saturday and must be the day EVERYONE goes to Milan. We did manage to navigate our way to the hotel and the rental car return at the train station with the expert direction from the GPS! We ditched the car and hopped on the metro and saw the city. Not an easy task. Did I mention that everyone else in Italy went to Milan that day too? We managed to see The Last Supper , the duomo and the shopping streets. I have no idea who buys the stuff in those stores...I saw many exclusive shops with no customers in them, only sales people with pursed lips staring blankly out at the common folk, however there were many people walking around conspicuously carrying bags bearing the names of some of those shops. I did a lot of window shopping, along with a few other people.

Louis Vuitton and Prada....and

directly across the walkway.....McDonald's! Finally, something I can afford.

We managed a lovely dinner with the expert direction of the concierge at a nice hotel. Milan was huge and crowded but after reading some of the travel books upon my return home(I guess it might have helped to read those books before the trip!), I find that my initial impressions are commonly felt. Don't waste too much of your time here....move on!

And as they say....the rest is history. We wiped the dust of Milan off our feet as we boarded the plane, but the rest of Italy will remain in our memories until we meet again....Ciao!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Classroom Stereotypes

Who were you in school? Were you the class clown? The diligent student? The brain? The one who struggled? The incessant question asker? Or just a combination of all of these?

I have taught/instructed in several different venues and several different groups. I started instructing, when people wore leg warmers and headbands, teaching aerobics, when aerobics was in the 80's! I moved into substitute teaching at our high school, a place neither student or teacher wanted to be at the time. I lead Weight Watcher meetings for 8 years or more. Most recently, I have started teaching English to non-English speaking adults. It is something I have been considering doing for a while and now wonder what took me so long!

The point today is that in every group I have instructed the same stereotypes exist. There is always the person or people who just "get it". There are the ones who have trouble "getting it". There is the person who always has to talk and ask questions, sometimes dominating the class. There are the ones who sit and never say anything. There are the entertainers, the meticulous ones who follow everything to the letter and the ones who just don't really give a flip but show up anyway. Whether it be in aerobics classes, Weight Watchers meetings, school or learn English classes, they are all present. I guess there is no getting away from our real personalities!

As far as the English class is an absolute pleasure. They are so great! I love listening to them speak and watching them figure things out. The group seems so eager to learn and unlike many high school students (sorry high school students, but I was the "substitute", I always got a bum wrap), they all want to be there and learn. I guess if I can't learn a foreign language this fall I'll just have to teach one to someone else.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Budapest and Italy, Part 2.
This turned out to be very long, I recommend getting a great glass of Italian wine before you read this!

After 4 days in Budapest it was time for us to have a little vacation. Budapest was great, but for TJ, it was work. A nice venue for work but still work. Time for a little recreational wine tasting and sightseeing with friends.

We got out of Budapest a day before the sludge arrived. We were heading to Desenzano del Garda, Italy. There is no easy way to get there from Budapest. First, take a plane to Frankfurt, our 2nd time at the Frankfurt airport on this trip, then take a plane to Venice where we rent a car and drive for 2 hours to Desenzano. Just picture TJ and I driving along the autostrad with no Euro and wondering how we will be able to pay the toll at the end of the road. We decide to risk it and carry on.....FYI, they take credit cards! We thought they might, but you can't be too sure.

Italy! Sunshine! Finally! We even had a view of the water.....see? It's there, keep looking! Ok, it's not the Danube and Buda Castle but the sun is shining!

Lake Garda was beautiful. The water was beautiful blue with the mountains in the background. The small towns all along the lake were quaint and picturesque without being too touristy. I can only imagine how it would be in the summer though, full of tourists! Glad we were there for the off season.

Lake Garda as seen from Sirmione.


Then the fun began! The fun is in Verona....think Romeo and Juliet meet the soup Nazi meets the Amazing Race.

This is not Juliet's balcony, just a lovely building in Verona.

First, Romeo and Juliet. We did the typical Verona tourist thing and went to Juliet's balcony, but no one rubbed the statue of Juliet, we also made a stop by Romeo's door.

Juliet in all her bronze glory.

On to the soup Nazi....dinner was one of a kind. A true, authentic, no English spoken or written, Italian restaurant, Il Ropeton. Our waiter, Ropeton himself, recited the entire menu in rapid fire Italian and then looked at us with that "what would you like?" look. We deferred to the Italian speakers at our table and managed to order an amazing meal, plenty of wine,a little grappa for everyone and limoncello for the perfect end. By the end of the night we had befriended Ropeton and had him posing for pictures with our table! That's him at the end of the table!

Time for the Amazing Race! We had responsibly taken the train to Verona and planned to catch the 11:45 train back to Desenzano. We had to make tracks! The four of us walked the 2 miles to the train station as fast as we could. We got close to the station and TJ told Rick, who is ahead of all of us, to go ahead inside and buy the tickets. As Patty and I caught up to Rick who was trying to buy tickets at the machine, we see the next train to Desenzano leaves at 5a.m.!!!! at which point Patty bursts out laughing! We all burst out laughing in the deserted train station, it must have been the grappa, or the limoncello, or the wine, pick one. Turns out the last train left at 10:45, oops. We all walked out of the train station, laughing and carrying on, and looking for a way to Desenzano. Turns out the only way to get home at midnight was taxi....90 EU worth of taxi. We laughed the entire way home, all 30 minutes of it, poor taxi driver! We just could not believe our expert planning backfired. That's what we get for being so responsible!

The rest of Italy will have to wait for another post, it was just too much fun for one post. I will leave you with a few more pictures of Verona and Sirmione.

Soccer practice carpool

View across the river in Verona

Winery near Sirmione, beautiful place!

More of Sirmione
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