Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cruise: The Final Days

Our second-to-last stop on the cruise was supposed to be Monte Carlo.  Blake and I were really excited because we'd planned to get up early and take a taxi into France to Eze. 

We woke up at 7:00 a.m. to a beautiful view....

And then to an announcement from the cruise director saying that due to the choppy conditions, the port authority in Monte Carlo had closed the port.  We would not be able to dock that day. 

Darn it! I was wondering why the view (although beautiful) was so far in the distance.

To make matters worse, there were no ports in the surrounding area that were allowing cruise ships to dock.  So, we had another "fun day at sea."  And a fun day at sea is great...except when you're sea sick and getting off the boat is a priority beyond simply seeing the sights.

So we enjoyed the ship.  We played mini golf.  We swam.  We watched the kids go down the water slides.  We gorged ourselves on chocolate cakes and cookies.  And we enjoyed the magical and balloon-twisting stylings of Mark --one of the ship's entertainers.

I was reminded of the reason that I try to wear at least some sort of make-up on a daily basis: when I don't, I look about 15.  Case in point:

(Ahem. I can't believe I'm posting these pictures, but they're sort of entertaining, so there you have it.)
Yes, that's me with a balloon hat.  And not just any balloon hat.  A penguin balloon hat.  I was the envy of all the other kids. 

Mark thought I was also one of Blake's nieces.  And because he'd just learned that we were Mormon, I didn't want to give him any "Mormon child bride" fodder, so I just kept my mouth shut and let him twist me a penguin.  

Later that day, for some reason that shall remain unsaid (cough, Blake's Dad told them where our room was, cough cough), all 6 kiddos showed up in our room to jump on our bed.  It turned into a bit of a mess, but I think that it helps us maintain our title of "the super cool aunt and uncle."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friendly Neighborhood Farmers Market

Little Red is about a block away from a farmers market that runs weekly from April through November.  I try to take advantage of it every Saturday morning and I make sure to save up my cash so that I can buy more than just a quarter pound of asparagus (yes, I actually did  ask them to weight that out once...I only had change from my change jar...whoops). 

I like supporting local farmers and it doesn't hurt that it's chemical-free...or that it's about half the price of what I'd otherwise pay for organic fare at Whole Paycheck Foods.

What this picture doesn't show: homemade breads, pies and pastured-cow cheese.  Piles of gorgeous asparagus.  Heaps of bright-colored zucchini.  The annual kids bike race currently making its way towards me on the path.

What this picture does show:  I don't shower on Saturdays.  I have very flat feet.  Even though I live in Maryland, Virginia is still for lovers.  Picking out jam requires intense concentration (and a double chin?).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Speaking of Pisa...

...check out the Tuscan oil paintings we scored from an artist we met at a flea market there.

It took about 40 minutes of  haggling for Blake to agree to a fair price.  I might add that I spent that 40 minutes periodically wondering off so that the desperation and art-lust would not show on my face.  I am a haggling pansy.  Blake never pays full price for anything.  I will generally haggle for a couple of minutes and then decide that I'm done and that "painting (or insert other milieu here) is their livelihood...I should just pay what we've currently arrived at and be on my's only fair..."  See.  I'm a pansy. 

The solution to my pansy-hood is that I leave when Blake haggles.  And we always end up paying significantly less than if I had been in charge.  So it's a good solution if you ask me.

Fantastical Fanatical

I saw this while making the cyber rounds this morning.  I kind of want to have it printed a framed for my house.  Or, have a wallet sized copy that I can pull out and show Blake any time I'm starting to feel grumpy.  He knows as well as anyone that sometimes ice cream is the only fix.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pisa: Day 10

After a late-start morning, we decided to take a quick train ride over to Pisa from Livorno (the port where we docked).  We had planned to do Pisa and Lucca all in one day, but ended up staying in Pisa for most of the day.

Pisa is one of the cities I was most surprised by.  Every tour guide book says that Pisa is un-charming, but I found it to be the opposite.  We had great weather.  The city was clean.  There were great farmers' markets to walk through, and the tower itself was really fun to see.  It's amazing to me that the thing is still standing, actually.  The photos below don't quite capture the extreme angle of the tower. 

We took it easy all afternoon and played on the grass with all of the kiddos.  I had a great time trying to show them how to take photos where it looked like we were holding up the tower.  I don't think they quite understood the perspective lesson I was trying to teach them.  This is quite obvious from the photo below.  Yep, not quite right, but fun nonetheless.

I did end up taking some pretty hilarious pictures of the kids hugging, kissing, hitting, and leaning against the tower.

I think this one of Ella (4) is particularly entertaining.  Doesn't she look like she's been photoshopped in?

This one of Morgan (10) is also pretty fun:

And here I am looking concerned (that's got to be the reason for my double chin, right?) as I reviewed the day's photos:  

The moral of the story here is: go to Pisa, folks.  Disregard what the tour books say and go anyway.  It's a great place to relax and do some no-hassle sight-seeing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dumpster diving.

I am a deal seeker.

Stick it to Corporate America.  Get a good deal.  That's my motto.

But as good as sales are (and as morally superior as they make me feel), I've found something even better:

Dumpster Diving.

Now, don't get disgusted with me quite yet.  I'm not talking about hoisting myself up and over the grimy edges of the metal dumpster behind the Walmart.  I have (so far) too much dignity for that.

I mean dumpster diving in the sense of going through other peoples' trash.

I feel no remorse or self-disgust for that.  And my home is profiting from it.

It all started when we lived in Arlington.  There was always a pile of other peoples' junk outside of one of the blocks of apartments in our neighborhood.  And usually it was just junk.  But once in a while it was really good junk.  And one time in particular it was really great junk.  So we took action.

We saw an old turn-of-the-century steamer trunk that looked dilapidated but fixable.  So I stood guard while Blake ran home to get the car.  We then packed it into the trunk as much as it would fit and drove slowly home.  We got some looks, but we didn't care.  We knew we had a treasure. 

So we bought a 3 dollar package of sand paper, got out an exacto knife, and got to work.  The burlap we pulled off released puffs of black grime (kinda of gross to do inside our tiny apartment...oh and learn) and we spent the day sneezing.  But, after an hour or so of work, we had a beauty on our hands.  I did some research and it looks like our trunk was from 1910 and could be worth quite a bit of money. Score!

Fast forward 9 months.  (Gestational period for an exceptional dumpster find?)

My neighbors were getting rid of a funky mid-century office chair.  You know, the kind that is covered in bright vinyl and looks like it belongs in Mad Men?  I was in love.  And so I did what any other scavenger would do.  I waited until the cover of darkness, put on my quietest shoes, crept over and wheeled the sucker home.  Note: Our handicapped accessible entry way comes in especially handy in situations like these.

That chair is now at my sewing desk, which is temprorarily my brother's desk in his make-shift room in the basement.

Our next find was about 9 months later.  Blake and I snagged this console table from our neighbors down the street and lugged it home between the two of us.  Then last week I found a bunch of stackable plastic storage shelves that I'm now using for our basement storage. It's been a very fruitful summer.

At this point Blake is pretty used to my asking to "pull over!" at any given time...and trying not to be too embarassed as I look through our neighbors' trash in the glare of the headlights.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rome: Day 9

By the time we got to Rome I was finally starting to feel like I was back in the land of the living. 

It was perfect timing because we did Rome at a break-neck pace and saw everything.  Feeling better made everything seem even fresher and more beautiful.

Rome was, for me, the most surprising city that we toured.  For some reason I've never been interested in seeing Rome.  When my friends and I did Italy for our spring break back in '06, we skipped Rome entirely.  And I didn't feel jilted, either.

Well, all I can say is that I now understand why people think of Rome as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Granted, nothing can compare to Paris in my opinion, but shockingly Rome comes pretty darn close.

After the dirty and graffiti-covered cities of the south, Rome was sparkling clean.  I was shocked (you'll probably hear that a lot while I talk about Rome, so I'll tell you now just to get used to that word) at how clean the city was.  There wasn't a massive amount of garbage on the streets.  The buildings all looked like they had just been scrubbed clean. Graffiti was fairly minimal.  And maybe I was just caught up in the spirit of things, but I didn't even seem to notice the piles of cigarette buts that adorn most European gutters.
We hired a couple of drivers (who had been referred to us by our drivers in Naples) and they took us on a fabulous whirl-wind tour of the city.  They knew exactly where to go.  Exactly when to go to miss the lines.  And exactly how to get there.  It was a magical day.

Here we are at our first stop in the center of the high-rent district.

Our drivers, Mario and Pino, knew exactly where to take us for the best photo-ops.  Here's the whole gang in front of the Colosseum (all 16 of us!) to prove it. 

And here's our little family of two in front of the Colosseum.  Wow, my legs are shockingly (see! I told you!) white. 

I was prepared to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain.  But as I walked up to the edge to throw in one centime, I found a 50 centime coin on the ground.  I picked it up and decided that it was fortuitous and that it meant that I should spend my centimes on gelato and not on the questionable wishing power of the fountain.

Oh, and don't be fooled by our seemingly peaceful photos by the fountain.  We were able to catch probably the only angle that didn't show exactly how crowded this place was.  It was one seething mass of humanity.  We were taking our lives into our own hands going close to the fountain (not only dodging the crowds, but also the constant rain of small coins from all sides).

We went to the "best gelato place in all of Rome" just outside the Vatican. 

It was amazing.

I maintained my gelato status quo and went back for seconds.  Don't judge.

After our rejuvenating gelato, we got dropped at the front of the line to see the Vatican.  I then shared my first experience with the Sistine Chapel with about a thousand other sweaty tourists.  Magical (and stinky).

Blake snuck a picture of the ceiling, but I'm worried that if I post it we'll get in trouble.  Kidding.  But it was a little blurry with all the jostling.  So, do a little googling and get yourself a first class photo online. 
I don't love the photo of me below, but it's great of Blake, so there you have it.  Saint Peters was incredible.  I loved the guilded ceilings and seeing the Pieta in person. 

I find it so interesting to compare the religious architecture in France with that in Italy.  The French concentrate much more on the windows and the use of stained glass.  The Italians seem to concentrate much more on the artwork and the gold inlay and less on the windows.  It's such a fascinating contrast.

Before we left Rome for the ship, we stopped and looked over the city at one of Rome's seven famous hills. 
The view was unbelievable and it was a great way to bid arrivederci to the eternal city.

Maybe I should have tossed that coin into the fountain after all.  I'm already wishing I could go back. 

A Social June

I had every intention of wrapping up the travelogue in May, but (a word that is a procrastinator's best friend) June has been a busy month so far. 

Last week found me attending or planning:

Two farewell parties.
Two baby showers.
A baptism.
A family dinner.
A bridal shower.

I'm glad for a little break this week.  Maybe I'll be able to finish my cruise review and even catch up on my housework.  Those dust bunnies and hair tumbleweeds certainly aren't vacuuming themselves...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Napoli and Pompeii: Day 8

The day we went to Pompeii was probably the day I felt the worst, which is perfect because Pompeii requires a ton of walking. 

But, you know what they say, when life gives you lemons the size of cantaloupes (such as the ones below that we saw in Naples), make lemonade....or sally forth into the tourist-filled depths of an ancient city.

Naples itself was interesting, but very VERY dirty.  The city government had recently changed and the garbage men were staging an increasingly stinky strike.  There were huge piles of fermenting, fly-ridden garbage lining every street.  Needless to say, other than a much-needed stop for Bacio gelato, we didn't spend much time there and opted instead to spend the day in Pompeii.

One of the things I loved most about Pompeii was the plethora of red and orange poppies coming up from every nook and cranny.  There was just something about the juxtaposition of the ancient grey rubble and the bright, cheerful flowers that I found really beautiful.  Plus, if you've ever seen my kitchen, you know that I love red poppies. 

Blake humored me and took pictures of the poppies everywhere we went. I'm dying to have some of his poppy photos framed for our basement.

We wandered through the town all day and ended up at the large amphitheater or colosseum.  In places like this, I am always in awe of what was accomplished architecturally without the help of modern power tools.  I guess slaves/prisoners of war/neighboring tribes/low castes were the ancient equivalent of modern power tools.

Here we are in the town center in front of an ancient Starbucks....what?, no, I actually can't remember what we were standing in front of at the time, but I got your attention there didn't I?

Of all of the plaster casts of people who died in Pompeii, I found this one the most heart-wrenching.  This man crouched down and tried to cover his nose and mouth so he could breath.  How terrifying that eruption must have been!

Again, it's amazing what was achieved by man-power alone.  Look at the size and detail of these columns. 

 I was joking above about Starbucks, but here is the ancient equivalent of a fast food joint.