While I never followed the Grateful Dead in an herb infused Vanagon I do respect the lore and style of this iconic group. Kids from nice families hippy-ed out for a summer and followed the band. To summarize one of their catchier tunes Scarlet Begonias: “She had rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes. And I knew without asking she was into the blues. She wore scarlet begonias, tucked into her curls. I knew right away she was not like other girls, other girls.” Who wouldn’t want to be that girl?
Archives for June 2016
Plan a birthday party like a pro with the right accessories. Candy, paper goods and decorations have never been sweeter, they may even overshadow the cake. Browse the best party pieces that’s cause for celebration.
1. Pennant bunting 2. Puffy Poles candy 3. Striped paper straws 4. Sparklettes Brittes 5. Chevron favor bags 6. Grande Fairytale Cones 7. Sea Confetti 8. Rugby stripe goody bags 9. Mylar striped balloons 10. Paper fans 11. Tissue paper pom poms 12. Paper food tray 13. Paper tablecloth 14.Confetti mini milk bottle 15. Pail favors 16. Ice cream cups 17. Paper party hats 18. Scallop plate 19. Chevron paper plates 20. Cupcake liners 21. Baker’s twine 22. Flower garland kit 23. Candy apothecary jar 24. Tiny balloons 25. Spotty popcorn boxes 26. Ice cream cone chocolate cake pop 27. Paper straws 28. Cupcake toppers 29. Shimmer gumballs 30. Pastels Dazzle napkins 31. Party blowers 32. Pedestal cake stand 33. Truly Pretty paper dessert plates 34. Paper umbrellas 35. Stripey straw mason tumblers 36. Star confetti
There is a storybook quality to Venice, the ideal place to see through a six-year old. It’s a city on the water where gondoliers share the same qualities as a performer in a mouse suit. In San Marco Square I stopped myself from thinking about health repercussions and gave in to beggars who lured pigeons onto Luc’s head. By spending time in the city, wandering its streets, shops and restaurants, you step out of your regimented self to learn there is something more to this city than boat rides in narrow canals.
The streets are ancient and a bit gritty. You will wander along peeling walls, stray cats and cleaners who sweep with the kind of brooms I thought were only used for a witch’s costume. Another Italian street look is clothes drying from lines that perplex me from the logistics of how a Venetian resident approaches the tenant across their window for access to hook their line. Shopping runs the gamut from luxury retailers like Prada and Frette to quaint souvenir shops peddling tourists needing to deplete their Euros on wooden Pinocchio dolls and carnival masks. The carnival is a very big deal here, perpetually present with storefronts displaying costumes and posters advertising next year’s event held during Lent. It’s a tradition where streets bustle with masked celebrators and a series of events with scenery that rival the Cirque de Soleil.
It’s Venice’s mix of culture, art, architecture, food, history and theatrics that keep visitors on hyper speed. We only amble about our tiny hotel loaded with antiques for clothing changes. We were fortunate to be there during a full moon. San Marco square flooded, which evoked something biblical. Young couples fall into the romance of it all while Luc slid into the water fully clothed. I couldn’t be too upset despite an early morning flight and traveling with wet clothes is not something Americans do but we adapt to the frivolity of this intriguing city.
Italians are known to design a car or an espresso machine as an art form. Part of the world’s fashion elite, with such houses as Fendi and Prada fermenting their street cred, town life is the most authentic way to view everyday style in its natural habitat.
There is a gutsy mix of classic, punk and avant garde. From the children to their grandparents they follow their own rules, which is the Italian way.
The “five towns” of Cinque Terre along the Italian Rivera is not easy to get to but most good things in life are just that, a quest to find something epic. We began another morning awaking to the crow of the neighborhood rooster, the sting from my eyes yet to soften. To minimize travel confusion from Lucca to Cinque Terre my father hired a driver who would attach us to a tour bus. I will omit any information on this driver considering that we were a party of seven, with three children under 12, and would have missed the connection unless he did not pull a Nicole Richie, reversing down the highway to make the exit that secured our on time departure. The Italians are passionate about their work.
The bus driver announced that he would unload us at a train as ferries were canceled due to choppy water, which I am grateful for as choppy water and the smell of diesel fuel with lack of sleep never ends well. Cars are not permitted on the island.
Cinque Terre is five towns, translated to “five lands,” which have been around for millenia. The dwellings are colorfully painted so the fishermen could find their homes. Combined with a complicated system of roads and paths are the makings of a great tourist destination.
Luc and I broke from our group so we could take in a few of the towns without the pressure of a requisite photo opp to make travel deadlines. Instead we bought sandwiches made of focaccia, ham, cheese and tomato with lemon soda and took selfies in the main square. Luc linked with what I presume were local boys in a game of soccer. Hand gestures and the understanding of a universal sport knocked down language barriers.
When we arrive to the town of Monterosso rain poured from the cool air. We ran to an outdoor pizzeria with views of the beach and shielded by an awning strong enough to stand up to the coastal elements. The pizza maker was out sick so I had a simple cod, served with the fish in tact, and Luc had pasta, fresh berries and an interesting apple sorbet that tasted what I imagine ice creamed green apples slurped through a straw would be. We were too preoccupied with our meals to have an opportunity to sample what the rest of the table ordered but I recall a seafood risotto and some thinly sliced beef.
Luc created an imaginary game with his cousins on the beach, playing in the rain and chasing the ripples of the sea that resulted in me fishing for his shoe.
Forget guidebooks, travel is about assimilating into the culture. This was the routine in Lucca as we came to love the small Tuscan village for its mix of antiquity architecture, culture and food. It came to no surprise to follow my parents into a realtor’s office during a trip into town as they lust over real estate listings the way I do fat figs. (They have been known to leave a vacation with more than a souvenir in the new home variety).
The villa La Palma has become a valued member of the family. If we forgot lemons at the market she provides from the lemon tree. She saves us from traveling with candles with her scent of jasmine that circulates through the house. The home is set so we can come together or have a private place to retreat. She gives us views that are painted in the art they sell at galleries within Lucca’s walled piazza. There are enough bathrooms to thwart senseless arguments about toothpaste staining the sinks. We watch Seinfeld in Italian when sifting through channels for an English speaking show becomes too exhausting. There are wine tastings with heated debates. La Palma has become the great mediator, a more luxurious, quieter form of bringing a family together over pressured holidays.
In town you only need a few words to get by: grazzi, Si prega di and prego. Thank you, please and you’re welcome—the language I placed most importance on to Luc before he even started speaking. For more involved discussions there’s always Google translate. When I went for a haircut the stylist accommodated my pantomiming and masterfully executed the desired style. I slipped into the energy of the salon, watching the generational gaps of a young girl fiddling on her phone while she and her grandmother shared a day of primping. How a deliveryman was left to wait as the stylist attended to his client first. If we were in New York there would have been an episode.
I hurried home to attend to lunch–pasta, fresh bread, salad and sliced melon. Whether dining at home or out, meals play an important role here. Our first night the caretakers of La Palma cooked for us, a dinner that lapsed for four hours with more courses than a wedding. Even Luc has learned the artistry of arranging a poolside breakfast plate. Perhaps what’s most rewarding is Italy’s influence on a 6-year old. Luc soaking in the habits of La Dolce Vita before he returns to his hardwired East Coast life.
I see why Italians drive compact cars as I am being instructed not to hit a wall on one end but have a gate an inch to the other side as we exit the grounds of our hotel. We drive through windy roads you share with rogue cyclists. The directions to our villa include “between the pink and yellow house and then an iron crucifix.” As the majority of the homes are either pink or yellow the iron crucifix cuts about 10 minutes off of our search.
What we will call home for a week sits atop the hill, a Tuscan version of Tara, the yellow home plotted within grounds that contain palm, jasmine, fig, pear and olive trees. Though these are the only ones I can identify so sorry if I left anyone out. As the owners are from the U.S. you see American touches from the clipped lawns and infinity pool while most Italians prefer their land a bit rugged, just like their interiors. This is an old country where preservation reigns; even a butter dish is meant to be saved and passed down.
The interiors are true to the region with a mix of Italian antiques, dark wooden sturdy pieces that may have come with the original home. The walls are painted in Tuscan colors, such as burnt sienna and yellow. Two of the bedrooms with single beds, claimed by Luc and his cousin, are blue and green. My niece and suitemate share the backside of the house that have the same slatted ceiling striped with wooden beams. Our armoires have keys, in fact keys are prevalent here, the old skeletal kind used centuries ago that are also on the doors so it’s wise to keep them intact for the possibility of being locked out.
Jet lag and cousins who live on separate coasts keep us up way too late but the main morning agenda is what to have for breakfast. We eat a lot here. Even the bread and coffee taste better.
You fall into an abyss of slumber only to be awoken by a high energy rooster. It feels a bit early. My phone confirms that it is 4:30 in the morning. Even the roosters want to start the day early. The week continues through the direction of the children. They pick wildflowers and I have to be careful not to knock over their scented potions stored in the fridge. There is the building of forts. Understanding the game of Bocce ball. Learning the Tuscan way.
After two flights and extreme sleep deprivation, which makes me fully understand why this is a form of torture, we arrive to Pisa. It begins in the car rental station with thwarted efforts reading maps (get the GPS) to discover that we have a standard shift, which I haven’t driven since before Luc was born. Navigating the Tuscan roundabouts, which you share with Vespas and cyclists, raises the degree of difficulty since these are actual humans and not the blocky people on son’s favorite app.
While Pisa layers on the quaintness with their colored buildings and street vendors who want to charm you into paying them for a public parking space. When in Pisa!
Our first day in Lucca we are booked in one of those charming B&B’s edging an antiquated street of like-minded brownstones. Typically I am weary of B&B’s for having to be artificially chipper to your innkeeper and fellow guests after a long journey when the sole agenda is shower and bed. However Francesco, who checks us in, is designed for this sort of thing. Those Italian men have that I-am-in-no-mood-to-chat radar and still manage to make you feel welcome and less exhausted. And for those who will be traveling on a trip abroad soon, remember your soap as I cannot distinguish the difference between body gel and shampoo. Adapters for outlets is also an essential, as I am currently on low power mode for all electronics. Also, watch your head in the corridors. Though I am not particularly tall, I bumped my head a few times on the genuine wooden beams.
And what is the first thing we eat in Lucca? Gelato of course, it is Friday.
The best birthdays are when you get up at five because you cannot wait to open your presents and you get to wear a paper crown while distributing popsicles to the class. Luc turned six yesterday and it’s been an annual tradition to host a classic party. Tumble Jumble rented spaces with hand sanitizers at every station have been avoided since these are “winter” activity places. At least that’s how mom pitches it.
This year Luc was vague about how he wanted to celebrate so I suggested postponing till after our trip to Italy (more to come on that). He liked the idea of an excursion event with a selection of friends. Chaperoning boys to a zoo may be an excuse to relive epic outings of yesteryear, I cannot go a birthday without planning a party regardless of end of the school year madness and an international trip to prepare for. The theme would be a surprise, literally, as I created a surprise party with three days till his birthday.
Limited time to plan a party is not as challenging when you have party boxes labeled with certain themes and then supplement with your favorite vendors. Meri Meri for their paper pieces is always a dependable choice. We also try to have a homemade birthday cake that we never made before. This year it was a Milky Way cake, which I lowered the degree of difficulty by using basic cake mix and adding melted Milk Ways into the batter and topping the frosting with colored candy and cut, bite-sized bars.
The decoration of choice is buntings for bringing in color and festiveness. I essentially added them in every bare space inside and out.
While traditional holidays have their expected menu with Luc’s birthday falling on June 1, just after Memorial Day, there is always seasonal watermelon and corn.
There is also a handmade dish and something decadent from the bakery that I could never create in my kitchen.
The result? Luc was surprised and welcomed his 6th year with family and neighborhood friends.