The Italian Tampon

As I’ve written about we we lucky to go to Italy this summer.  What can you say about Italy that hasn’t already been said?  The food is sublime, the language is beautiful.  Contribution to the art world is deep.  The lifestyle, the wine!  Bellissimo.

However on my trip there was one Italian thing I did struggle with.  This is my story

Prosaic adventures in Italy

More on that Europe thing. No, not the humanitarian crisis, just my little trip.. right before the pudding hit the fan.  There are the instagramable moments when you travel abroad, but there are more that are not.  So often travel is more about all the little bits inbetween the “Hey Facebook friends, look where we are” moments.

So, beside Milan expo we stayed in a villa ( we were lucky to be asked to be there) North of Milan in the Lombardy region.  The first 3 days we were very jet lagged and their was a wicked heat wave. jet lagged with kids So despite the fact that we were in Italy. We barely moved.  The kids and I in particular stayed low and I perfected my Cacio de pepe.  ( buttery spaghetti with parmesan and black pepper)italy with kids

 

I did spend a fair amount of time in Italian grocery stores.  Most excitedly I learned there Rex is a supermarket tycoon!  Rex supermarkets in Italy

The non fancy grocery stores have such nicer food than we have in US markets.  They don’t have has large a variety, but what they have is great.  Fresh pasta galore, great meats, Vitello tonnato at the ready.  Yum.  They do organize things differently.  We were all confused that toilet paper and paper towels where on opposite sides of the store.  To us, it’s all paper.  To them they probably think, oh, gross, why put your hand towels next to butt towels.

Because of heat and jet lag I wanted to lay low the first day, but had to rally. Mark and I and his business partner needed to go to a chef event associated with the expo.  My luggage had been lost (found a day later) so I borrowed my sister in laws shoes and dress.  My feet are smaller so combined with cobblestone sidewalk I went down.  Hard.  A kind woman came running up as I lay spread eagled on the ground and she asked in English “Are you okay?  Do you need some water?”

Are American’s known klutzses? Is that why she spoke English?

We naively drove and drove around the expo for about an hour looking in vain for a place to park.   Well laid out highways, big, new asphalt parking lots.  But, no room at the inn for us.  This is a “sustainable” event which made parking unattainable.  We were told by guards the only parking must be made by reservation online.   I thought, oh, but SURELY, like would happen in the States, there is some scrappy entrepeneur who will flag us down and sell us a space on his brother in laws lawn for $40  ( exactly what happened to me once when I tried to go to a Trojan game).  After an hour we would have paid anything.  We couldn’t figure it out.  We finally sort park/abandoned it in a corporate area, and grabbed a cab.  Luckily we weren’t towed. When we got to the Expo I blabbed to every English speaking Italian I could pigeon hole “what’s with making parking so hard?  Why is no one trying to turn a buck here?”

They shrugged, “It isn’t done.” (one of those I am so AMERICAN moments)

The next time we went we made a reservation, but the parking was more than a mile away with Rex’s little legs and my little crankiness it was not ideal

parking for expo milano

now this is a parking structure!

The third time was the charm  I searched and searched online and found a parking lot that promised a shuttle to the expo.  When we finally found the lot it looked like it was semi abandoned space ( good I thought, it’s these kind of areas that have reasonable priced parking.) Manned by two immigrants… I think East Asians (Yes, scrappy Immigrants, this is what I’m use to).  “Where is the shuttle?” Over there they kept gesturing.  Apparently,
“shuttle” must be Italian toward “walk that way”.  We used our divine trust in enterprising immigrants and walked.

Seriously, this is the way to the big international event?

Seriously, this is the way to the big international event?

It looked like we were headed toward a freeway.  But, lo and behold, once we rounded the top of the ramp.  There was the entrance to the expo! Eureka.

When the heat broke we did explore Lombardy.  Major highlights:  A cooking class with a real down home Italian chef.  A wonderful woman named Giovanna.  I highly recommend her class if you are ever in the area and in general it’s a great thing to do so that you feel connected to where you are.  cooking class in lombardyOur group of family was a diverse group of professional chef, Mark to Vivien, to a friend of my niece who can’t boil water.  We all enjoyed it and learned.  The great thing too about cooking is while there was a language barrier between our teacher and us, it didn’t matter.  We spoke a different language.

Watch out Food world.  Vivien was very good

Watch out Food world. Vivien was very good

Then we sat in her lovely garden and ate the food, drank wine.  Perfecto.

Our day in Lake Como was also a perk.  So many places in Italy are over run with tourists but not here.  We took a boat up and down the lake.lake como with kidsThe wind, the light rain starting as we looked out on the vista. It was exhilarating.  Everyone always looks better with a wind machine. mark and daphne in italy

But, you look even better as an action star! how to be an action star

Speaking of stars.Yes, I did see George Clooney’s house. But, I’m not saying where it is.  I’m a degree away from someone who once stayed there.

I said how I wished we’d find a good wine store.  Mark found an enoteca online.  Charming place that gave me MANY tastes. enoteca in lake como I wanted to take some wine back to the house where we were staying with many others, but I didn’t want to schlep back to the car.  Then they said one of the workers could bike it back to our car.  Oh, well, then I’ll buy a case.

Vivien guards  the wine

Vivien guards to the wine

When it comes to wine I’m an old world sipper.  The California wines that were big, bold, oaky, buttery 1990’s wines.. NO thanks.  I’ll take a dry, crisp, mineral vino.  I like Italian wines.. but I LOVE French wines.  Of course, lot’s of California wines have improved since the old buttery days.

Another moment when I felt my Americanist come over is when I was driving in Italy.  Stick of course, small, winding roads.  Our Tom-tom would say every few Seconds “make a right in 400 meters, go around the roundabout, make a left in 500 meters, make a right in 300 meters, go around the roundabout.”  I think round abouts a great idea, but I was muttering, Ah, my kindgdom to just be able to gun it down a long straight away!  The 101 heading into Ventura!  The other problem with the small, windy roads was some of us got car sick.  Then I’m trying to spot from the road what looks like the “Italian Target” so I can get a change of clothes for the sickie.

Yeah, I guess there are moments that are not instagramable.

 

Home from Epic trip

I didn’t think we would be able to take a trip like this. perfect italian villa But, certain forces conspired to help us have an Epic European trip.

Look ma I'm in front of the Duomo in Milan, oh yeah Ma, you are taking the picture

Look ma I’m in front of the Duomo in Milan, oh yeah Ma, you are taking the picture

I’m going to pick out one part today.

My darling husband spoke at the USA Pavilion about dining trends in the USA,front of usa pavilionedible garden at usa pavillion

My wife told me to wear this shirt, wait that's not what I was talking about!

My wife told me to wear this shirt, wait that’s not what I was talking about!

at the Milan Expo. In THE Milan, you know, the one in Italy.  By the way the Expo is an underated attraction. Sure there are some odd translations here and there, but it’s a coming together of countries across the globe to entertain, feed and educate the world… well, mostly Italians in this case, but I felt really lucky to get to be one of the people there. This is what the world’s fairs of old have morphed into. Remember “Meet me in St Louis”?  This was Meet me in Milan.  Every five years a country hosts and the host country picks the theme.  Last time it was China and the subject was “Clean Cities”.  Which I know if very important, but sounds as sexy as a flushing toilet.  The Italians hosted and they picked food, or rather feeding the world.   I had assumed in our jaded, TV, social media age the quaintness of the world coming together for education and recreation would be over.  But, oh no.  It felt like the United Nations meets Disneyland.  It runs through October and just in case you can get there I would advise you go.

spoiler alert: it will affect the food supply

poster for Expo

We visited different countries, ones that we know, France.. great food, natch.  Holland… which had a ferris wheel restaurant.

why didn't we think of this?

why didn’t we think of this?

The most charming, whimsical eating experience I’ve ever taken part in.  The kids and I got in, thinking it just and old ride and then the lady said, “no, would you like some wine or beer?”  Well, yeah, sure.  I sipped Rose as we went around, next round we got Rex a grilled cheese, then another round or two a sweet crepe.  It went very slowly. We loved it.  Another little food truck at the Holland area was offering “Silent Disco”, okay, what is that?  Dancing with myself! I love the irreverence.silent disco

funniest sign at expo

is that what the kids are calling it now?

Each country had a different take on the theme of feeding the world. USA took it seriously.  As we walk up there entrance of usa pavilionwas President Obama on a loop saying we have to figure out how will we feed 9 billion people by 2050?  I got choked up.  From seeing homefolk abroad and the enormity of that proposition. Then you walk at your pace to different  areas where there are video presentations from chefs, farmers, etc talk about how they are trying to create food that is sustainable.  It was educational, and important, yet I couldn’t help but be amused when I saw that USA had one of the odder translations at the Expo

We went to places we’ve never been, Turkey ( best tasting rice), Estonia ( one of our faves… when do we go), Poland, Russia ( impressive, but we were NOT going buy the Putin T shirts), Bolivia ( a mini pavilion in the are with countries who didn’t speak the mega bucks) and places we are unlikely to ever go, Iran, Zimbabwe.

Strangley there was a big pavilion for Sudan.  I didn’t get to it, but I was curious.. how are they feeding their people with civil war?  But, that’s what’s interesting about the Expo.  You get a lot for your travel dollar.  A sampler of countries and culture.  I said the the man I bought tea and spice from in Iran Pavilion, “I feel like I’m doing something illegal to be here.”  He said, the government is not the people, that Iranian people love Americans.  I didn’t want to belabor watching the hostage crisis as a child.  Let’s move on.

Russia had clearly spent some rubles on their pavilion.

Back in the (former) USSR

Back in the (former) USSR

 

russian pavilion

cool mirrored over hang at entrance to Russian Pavilion

By the way, USA was the only pavilion that was privately funded ( Source: USA pavilion).  Russia showed off it’s grains and grain based beverages if you know what I mean.  There was a line to sample some Russian delicacy they were handing out.  I thought of making a joke about Soviet era bread lines, but thought better of it.  Makes me seem older than I am the way  I know history.  Rex really wanted to go to the top of the pavilion which was hot, so we didn’t stay long.  The roof top was partly given over to a Sky bar like cocktail lounge where the vodka was available.top of russian pavilion

 

We were most moved by the former Soviet bloc countries.  There is an earnestness there.  As if they are saying , “We survived Nazi’s, Soviet Union and now we are HERE!”  They really celebrate their food, dance, customs.  The Polish were very smart.  They thought of EVERYTHING.  People will be tired, okay, big couches in front so people can relax.  While there a stage with music and stunts by off road cyclist, which is a big deal in Poland.. who knew?  Everyone will want to charge their phones.  Free charging stations.  Free cotton candy made to order.

forget the jokes, the Poles are smart

forget the jokes, the Poles are smart

That’s before we even walked in!  There was a beautiful upstairs garden surrounded by mirrors. Showcasing what grows in Poland.  Rex went twice, “mommy, this is enchanting.”  It was. IMG_3678 Mark noticed we were there just in time for a Chopin concert by an award winning Polish pianist.

go Poland

go Poland

We listened entranced.  Later the same spot was used to show wordless videos of different Polish chefs cooking.  It was probably the most beautiful food photography I’ve ever seen.  Rex and I didn’t want to leave and only did so because Viv and Mark were downstairs in the cafe waiting for us.

getting lots of ideas in case there is a season 3

getting lots of ideas in case there is a season 3

They had a 3-d movie of the history of Poland in about 8 minutes they covered over a thousand years.  Spoiler alert, lots of wars.  They showed what they produced, great water, grain, vodka.  They had beads for the kids to make bracelets.  They had a Chocolate Village!

I can smell it now

I can smell it now

It was good propaganda… We walked out impressed and ready to fly to Poland. Lord knows they have been through a LOT and keep trucking.

I know what you are thinking: How was the Estonia pavilion?  Swinging good time!

Swings that go in and outdoors

Swings that go in and outdoors

Did you know that swings are big there?  Well, they had swings on every level.  One way you were indoors, the next you were out.  Great little sandwiches at their cafe too.  Plus, they know sometimes you just need to crash.

relaxing..like an Estonian

relaxing..like an Estonian

 

From there we went to the Vatican pavilion. It was small, but was basically pictures and videos of the poor throughout the world.  While one can feed their face at the other places The Vatican asks us to consider those who do not have enough food.  Then you get a complimentary pope magnet when you leave. My kids curled their lip at it.  I had made them finish their cotton candy before they entered and all they got was this dudes blessing?   Um, did you see that kids don’t have food..?  Okay, let’s keep moving

In Zimbabwe I spoke to a nice man there about his country.  They had a yummy soda that was from some plant they have there.  They also had some hand cream.

“why is it all written in Italian?”

Him, “No one was going to buy the Zimbabwe cream, but our ingredients manufactured in Italy, people like that better.”  Makes sense. We show how we are ready to embrace the culture for a few minute and not get into the into any dictator talk kids love zimbabwe at milan expo

They were in the area with smaller pavilions.  Next door was Bolivia

talk about your instagramable moment!

talk about your instagramable moment!

 

I went for 3 days and didn’t scratch the surface.  The kids were with me for 2 of the days and they loved it.  While there were bigger message in some places, a lot of pavilions featured their local cuisine more than weighty issues.  Rice from Turkey, is a winner.  Best I’ve ever had

Hmm, Turkish rice

Hmm, Turkish rice

 

Turkey had a pretty outdoor pavilion,

Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight

though the first day I was there it was 100 degrees

it's so hot

it’s so hot

and I ran to..well, crawled to the French pavilion which had air con and the best beet soup I’ve ever had.

We all enjoyed the Iran pavilion.

Undercover in Iran..pavilion

Undercover in Iran..pavilion

Though their exhibit was wanting.. some herbs, a little music, yawn, but they had a great shop and we got cool spices, tea and cross cultural connection.  I said to the nice man working there, “I feel like I’m doing something wrong by being here,”  He seemed optimistic about US Iran relations improving if the Nuclear issue was soon to be resolved ( full disclosure.. I have next to no opinion on it).  “Iranians love Americans.”  I told him how I love the Iranians in LA.  Nice people, great tea, good sports in soccer ( I left out that I hate the remodeling some have done in Beverly Hills).  It was a people to people moment like Eisenhower had once envisioned. eisenhower people to people

Which is really kind of why the Milan Expo is so great.  Because I don’t have the time, money, energy, shots to go to all the countries represented here, but I get a little taste of them.  Well, actually since I think I ate my weight in food while I was there I also got to taste the diverse, delicious food of our world.  Hopefully, it will sustain us.

 

vacation

in case my posting remotely hasn’t worked here is a review of the high points of most vacations.

1) grinding anxiety before I leave.  I am a careful packer, not as much as my mom who can pack in a wallet for week.  But, I hate bringing to much and I usually end up wearing the same black skirt, black shirt, most of the trip. When in doubt, look like a mime.  I also have to pack for everyone else.  At the last minute Mark throws in enough tonnage to cause us to be charged for our bags.  Grrrr.  I pee 19 times before I get in the car.

2) LAX… either we got lucky and got in the quick line or not.  I find departures not too terrible.  But arrival back is brutal.  My kingdom for an airport with centralized rent a car, a dedicated lane for cabs, a light rail that goes to the airport.  Wait, that sounds like Europe.

3) Time to watch movies.  If Rex will settle ( Please, oh please) I will finally get to watch non animated movies. I also have a People Magazine, and 2 books. Nothing to heavy.  I can’t concentrate with 300 farting people around me.

4) We land.  A mix of excitement, humidity and exhaustion.  Then the adjustment to toilets looking differently.  I’m noticing a pattern in my thought.

5) Lot’s of fun sightseeing and food. Lots of posting of pictures so everything knows how great life is.

6) Annoyance with everyone I’m with.  It’s bound to happen. No posting of pictures.  I don’t want people to know how shitty life is.

7) Time to go.  My careful packing is down the tubes.  Everything is rumpled and dirty, but I no longer care.  Do I still have a hair brush?

 

I love travel.

He is not planning on making it here

My kids are good travelers.    Whether it’s a grassy median  or pincher bug they find the fun.  Everywhere we go, even if it’s only for a few days Rex says,  Are you moving here?

first trip, surveying his new "home" in Carlsbad

an early, surveying his new “home” in Carlsbad

He is ready to stay.  Portland, Mendocino, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Washington DC, Montana, Arizona.  EVERYWHERE… until now.  He doesn’t want to move to New York City.  Cue, the music.  “Dum, dum dum da… screech…”  Empire state of mind has not entered his little body.children in nyc subways

We just got back from a week there.  We had fun.  He had fun. A full, lively trip.  BUT, it was humid, crowded, dirty, lots of walking, lots of subways.. it was NYC.  So, while water views, Miss Liberty and my many sweet, wonderful friends pleased us all I think I was a little surprised when Rex said, “I’m home sick”.  He has never said that. Not imagining your loft apartment?  The subway’s were his biggest hurdle.

” Mommy, once when were on the subway I had a fat man sitting next to me and I was looking at a woman who looked like man, or man who looked like a woman, I don’t know.”  But, Rex , I said, “You go to school in Hollywood.  Haven’t you seen all sorts?

“I go to school in Hollywood?”  He got briefly excited thinking of the Hollywood of the dream world, not the reality of me having to scream at a homeless guy exposing himself near the gate of the school.  Or Yelling,  “Watch out Poo!” as we walk to the car.

As adults we filter out all of the senses that are coming our way.  Kids are still sorting.  The people I know who grew up in NYC are all super cool people, so obviously plenty of people benefit from growing up in such a dynamic atmosphere.  It was just kind of an “ah-ha” for me that I have country kids. Though if you do take kids to NYC run to the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  What a fantastic bit of urban development that is!  Fun, immaculate!  Views of Manhattan, interactive art installations.  It was a major highlight.best view of manhattanmirror maze brooklyn bridge parkbest place for kids in nyc

Now, we are all humidity wimps.  I fold.  3/4 of the rest of the country, I don’t know how you do it. So, that ‘s one factor.  But, when we went up to see a friend in Connetcut, the humidity came with us, but Rex said he could live there.  Open, grassy fields.  Not so much walking. Oh, and a pool.pools

When is the right age to visit NYC?  I was 9 when my dad took me.  I liked it, but it was part of a bigger trip where we were in Atlantic City ( before it looked like it does now) Jersey country side, Washington DC, Atlanta, so it was all exciting.  I do remember NYC seemed a bit overwhelming, but the excitement carried the day.  So much going on. But then again I didn’t come back till I was 18.  Is this one of those things where you remember something when you are older and think you were younger?  Where your old person brain is off sync with a young brain?  Like when I played “Caddy Shack” for my then 11 year old stepson and he reacted as if I was making him much a documentary about tooth extraction?

In the end the best moments for Rex and Vivien were, along with  the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Central Parkcentral park with kids and playing with my friends’ kids in their homes and apartments.  Parks and fun kids.  Those are available anywhere.  Though due to the massive population in NYC I do know a fair amount of people there, so you can do a lot of visiting.  If I go to most cities I’m lucky if there is one person I know there.

We got back home and I asked my kids what was their favorite part about New York?  They both said, “Connecticut”.  Do they have a song?

They have the cleanest streets

I now understand the moral isolation of the rich.  For part of Spring Break  got to spend a week on Balboa Island off of Newport Beach.  It’s so clean and delightful my sister asked if we were in “The Truman Show”.  I was lucky to the live auctioneer at our school fundraiser last year who no one could hear.  I also had done research on the items and knew they had low balled the value of this charming house which was up for auction for a week of Spring Break.  So as the bidding progressed Slowly, I jumped in with my bid, no one countered and it was Sold!  To me.kids on balboa island

Mark is working so hard he was not able to come down for a minute.  But, he is so dear as I came in from a break of paddle boarding I phoned him and said, Gosh I was so much a part of the development of Bombo, but now that it’s open you are working non stop and I’m wondering if tonight I should make a Gin and Tonic with lots of lime or a Manhattan with rye or bourbon?

He said, “No, don’t feel bad.  You are taking care of Vivien and Rex.”  So wonderful that my husband really understands a family partnership.  Now, where were those kids??mark peel's bombo

Oh, right, they were not missing the grit of their Hollywood environs, they were having the time of their lives.  Sometimes their cousins were there, sometimes some friends. action kids

The first few nights my mom was with us which was great.  Perfect multi generational vacay spot.  You can scamper, read multi generational travelor rent a boat!

Cruising cousins

Cruising cousins

One night it was just us so we went to the movie theater at Fashion Island nearby.  I was once told the average income around there is $750k a year.  My ticket was $22.  I almost fell out of my ballet flats.

“No way” I wailed.  “we are not going.”  But, Vivien begged and we were there, and it was vacation.  I relented.  “Okay, but we are never coming here again.”  My rant was abated when we walked into the lobby and it looked like a  Four Seasons, or at least 3.  A handsome young man stood behind a counter asking me if I wanted to purchase a glass of wine or beer on tap.  The price of my ticket faded from my mind when he said, “if you would like a second glass during the movie I can bring you that.” Wouldn’t you know it an hour later he did!  Later Rex asked how I liked “Home”.  I thought, gee, I don’t know, seemed more enjoyable than all those other animated movies I sit through with you guys, but I had two glass of nice California white, so my judgement is impaired.  “It was pretty.” I said.

Most of the week we barely drove.  I’m so sick of driving.  I am obssessed with my pediometer app. I was cracking 10 thousand steps no problem as we walked to the ferry, to the paddle boats, to a Balboa ice cream bar, to rent a motor boat.  Water, views, breezes everywhere.  Where were the homeless?  They must ship them up to LA.  I couldn’t figure it out.  In our sister school there was an encampment.. tents, flooring materials, stench, but here, there isn’t so much as a gum stain on the street. ( sidebar, I finally got to the right people in the city and the trees were trimmed and we got the encampment moved).

It’s easy to feel like the problems of the world are far away.  Or at least in Santa Ana.  I do prefer paddle boarding over driving, but hey, that’s what vacations are for, right? But, it seems like it’s always vacation down here in the OC.  Is it wrong to enjoy living like this?  I’ve always thought it was, but now not sure.  Daphne and children

More Summer trip…

Slow down summer!  My hair has been in a dirty ponytail for weeks and I don’t have to be anywhere before 9.  This is living.. So the trip I mentioned a few weeks ago continued up to Mendocino.  North of SF you see a lot more green and drivers let you change lanes on the freeway.  Definitely out of LA.  I like it aesthetically up there more, though when I have lived in No. Cal.  I did miss the dynamism of LA.

We stopped for lunch at a small, old town, Hopland.  So many towns up there you could scamper around and make a trip out of.

Hey, look there, another pretty spot

Hey, look there, another pretty spot

Eventually we got to our prize, Dr. Dean’s home.  Many acres of nature and fun.  The smell is always striking as is the quiet.  The constant noise we experience in cities makes us deaf and crazy, yet I don’t notice it till I’m far away.   There was a fawn born on their land days before our arrival.  Breathtaking to see such a deer and we hoped her mom would be able to protect her from other wildlife…not always the case.baby deer

This doesn't look like La Brea avenue

This doesn’t look like La Brea avenue

Last time we were there they were hollowing out a great old redwood stump for their grandkids to play in.  This trip it had been masionized.

What you doing under there?

What you doing under there?

The kids loved it and it was no surprise when I saw recorded on the Edell’s DVR “Extreme tree houses”.

Rex wants them to put in an elevator.  One morning he got up early to speak to the carpenter working on it.  He was trying out his favorite joke.

Rex: “why are you under there?

carpenter: “I’m working.”

Rex: “But, Why are you under there?”

It took a while but finally pay dirt.

Carpenter:  “Under Where?”

Rex “I got you to say underwear!”

Trying to be a good guest I made an error that is causing me discomfort still.  I decided to repair the wood borders of the path to their river spot.  I moved a bunch of sticks that had been the border of the path, but had moved during the winter.  I went near one shady spot at the base of a redwood to pull up a longer downed branch to make a border and then felt pain.  I looked down and there were yellow jackets all around me.  Mark had been stung on an off beaten trail the day before and Dean’s wife Sharon had told us the best thing to do is run.  I did just that.  Into the river.  I pulled out a stinger when I got there.  It was much worse than a bee sting.  My arms and ankle swelled and got flushed.  The cold of the river worked as an analgesic.

safely away from yellow jackets

safely away from yellow jackets

I sipped a beer and tried to calm myself.  It felt bad.   By dinner I was a bit better and Sharon gave me two Benadryls to help.  Before desert I was face down.

Dean: “You can’t handle that!  I knew you when!”  Sure, in my twenties my ability to process foreign substances was far greater.  I crawled to bed.   “Get up” Dean exhorted me.  “We got s’mores ready for the kids.”

Okay, I staggered to the gathering, but after shoving one melted marshmallow in my mouth I limped off to bed and sank.

A week later back home the swelling returned.  My hair follicles burst upward and the itching was intense.  A non drowsy antihistamine helped, but now back to acupuncture and Chinese herbs, which is the biggest help for my annoying skin.

Another way we try to be good guests is we cook.  Well, easy when you travel with Mark Peel sure, but I jump in as well. It’s easy with Sharon’s garden and she went to Fort Bragg and got a whole, fresh wild salmon that Chef Peel did his handiwork to.  You don’t get salmon like that everyday! Melt in your mouth.

great dinner.. before I passed out

great dinner.. before I passed out

There was a cauliflower dish I am refining I enjoyed and one morning made these scones. Some mornings you need something fresh baked!  They have yogurt in them so they are a little less decadent than a normal scone. I put orange zest in them, but I want to tweak some more and add more orange flavor and some whole wheat flour.yogurt scones

Better than a bottle of wine as a host present, Mark brought the fixins to make a tree swing.  I swooned when he put ours up.  Using a sling shot and some creative thinking he did the same for Dean and Sharon.  He spent days searching for the perfect tree.

Mark Peel, Tree Swing maker

Mark Peel, Tree Swing maker

On the trip I didn’t let my damaged skin get me down.  It’s always hard to leave their paradise, but a dose of reality in the country marked our departure.  They are off the grid so we took some trash to the dump for them when we left.  The chain smoking ladies in pajamas and their tatted up men folk dropping of their waste showed us we were not at Kennebunkport. (Note: file that character away for a sketch one day)

Caught lunch on the way

a place this cute has to be good

a place this cute has to be good

and then a big, good smelling whiff of nature when we rolled into Marin County to stay with our friends and my god daughter.  Next day headed to Santa Cruz, saw another friend and then took the kids to Santa Cruz beach Boardwalk.

skee ball queen

skee ball queen

Back when I was a little kid we use to “summer in Salinas”. ( Yeah, not the Cape)  We would spend a couple of weeks with my cousins after our Yosemite camping trips.  My folks barely slowed the car as they push us out and speed off to Monterey for a couple of nights of child free time.  At the time I thought, “Why do they need to leave us behind?”  Now, of course, I get it!

My cousins were hilarious and we loved going to the boardwalk.  It could never be built today.  Coastal commission, what have you , so it’s great to walk on it’s creaky boards and smell the frying of corn dogs.  When I was little — I was the youngest of all the cousins I tripped over a $5 bill.  The cousins and my sisters surrounded me.  “If you don’t buy us tickets with that money we all have to go home.”  Oh, sure, I don’t want to go home.

Cut to I’m playing skee ball with my kids and you have to spend about $800 in tokens to earn enough tickets to redeem for a fruit shaped eraser.  The kids were a few tickets short when I — NOTKIDDING-  FOUND A $5 BILL!!  I bought tokens and won a few more tickets for my kids.  Still not enough for a back scratcher though. One thing that is different so many years later… the rides where I have to go in loops make me VERY ill.  I can feel the plaque on my brain crumbling.  I’m sure I’ve sped up aging on a tilt a whirl. Mark and Rex are the daredevils in the family.

father son bonding

father son bonding

We stayed so late we couldn’t make it far down the 101.  So our one non coach surfing night was in a hotel in Salinas.  You know how I said you can find so many towns in Sonoma and Mendocino that you could explore and enjoy?  Salinas not so much.  35 years later and gentrification never stopped here.  I found a good little coffee place down town, but most of the patrons looked like they would have been friends with my uncle.  The only hipster in the place was the barista.  There were empty store fronts nearby.  I once asked my cousins, “what do you do in Salinas?”  They replied, “Go to Monterey.”

We stopped back at Vines on the Marycrest and I stocked up on more wine.  I had given out most of my host presents and now I needed a gift as I went back to the noise of the city.  For the smell maybe I should tape a piece of lavender to my upper lip.

couch surfing road trip

WHEN KIDS TAKE PICTURES   I go to a restaurant and I want to eat in peace and not be thrown out so I give my kid my phone.  Later I find many, many photos on my phone that I delete.  But sometimes there is a gem.  Perhaps I should an curate art show.  “Shots my kid took that were actually good.” I bet, you have found some good ones as well?  By the way… Who puts Venetian plaster on a ceiling? When you travel as we just did, you do go to restaurants more than at home.  So it’s good to have your batteries charged. The ones in your phone, for your human battieries, you get out of town.  But, when you are watching the dollars, HOW?  We did a couch surfing through California trip.  It helps if your friends live in cool places.  Our first stop is with the Abascals at their Vines of the Marycrest winery.  Victor family knew my family so when our kids play we are gazing upon  a third generation friendship.  They live in Paso Robles and we speed up the road so we could get to the town square in time for Paso’s first concert in the park of the summer. vines of the marycrestI love this picture, except I’m not sure why I have my hand like that.  Perhaps my hand wanted more wine since it’s pointing in the direction of Vic’s winery.  We are Culver City kids and he planted his first vines on our hill at the top which is called Marycrest Manor. Objectively, the wine is great and I’m a wine snob.  You can’t find it in stores unless you live in Paso, so order some!   We use to serve one of his reds, “Heart of Glass” at Campanile when it was, well, you know… open. The most recent vintage of Heart that I tasted has a great smokey taste to it. Now, in general I’m not a fan of California wines.  I tend to like the taste of old world wines more.  More restrained.  Victor has found the balance of restraint with the fruit flavor we get from our California reds.  Plus, his rose’ “Summertime” is so good I bought a case and passed them out like Johnny Appleseed as host presents to all those who put us up for the night.  Another reason my first stop is his place.  I’m a white wine nut, usually French whites, which, I use to be surprised by, are often cheaper than California whites.  I like the dry, crisp, mineral nature of them.  However, once again Culver City boy has made a white I love.  Appropriately titled, “At Last”.  You can see he likes music.  None of the overly fruit, buttery Cal syrup I can’t stand.  Goes great with fish, cheese, the leftovers I’m eating right now standing in front of my fridge.  Oh, we’ll skip that. I love the dry air up in Paso there and we walked the vineyards before hitting the road to San Fran which has cold damp air that I don’t love.  vines of the marycrest All 26 acres was covered in almond trees and Victor took them out himself.  So, you could buy some crap wine that has the muscle to get into  a supermarket, but why?  Often for the same price you can buy quality stuff from people who don’t have the marketing budget.  Please, don’t tell me there is good wine at Trader Joe’s.  There isn’t. vines of the marycrest moms who love wine   Back in the car the next day.. if I’m not driving I watch a movie with the kids.  “Nanny McPhee” is good.  Guess Rex had seen enough.colin firthroad trip with kids There is never enough time to see all the friends I want to in Nor. Cal.  I lived there for 12 years.   We had expensive dinner in SF.  It was good, largely seafood, but I was surprised at the cost.  No wonder I cook at home more often than not these days.  The problem is where to source good ingredients.  My local markets fish, eh at best.  I just got ground beef that was neither smart, but certainly final, the final time I buy meat from them.  I digress. We save on a hotel though.. a friend left the keys to her SF pad for us ( she was in Tahoe).  My kids were so charmed by the small balcony and little back yard. san fran with kids I think Rex started to go nihilistic urbannihilistic child I tried to explain that this was a good amount of space for the City, but they didn’t care.  They perched themselves on the tiny metal balcony and watched people go by. Time to head back to the country…. ( Next post)

early summer road trip

I usually save my big family road trips for the end of summer, but a few factors forced it to June, which was fine.  I’m just back with, a yet again, dirty car and a great appreciation for the Golden state and the power of junk food to quiet children at a nameless truck stop.

mendocino

It’s always nice to come home and realize you might have a pair of clean underwear in your future, but even in a quiet moment in my back yard there is the hum.  The constant running of something, many things in a city.  I got to taste the clarity of quiet and I’m still thirsty for it.

That’s why we endure the dirty cars and the truck stops.

why I am NOT a coolmom

I look like Chesty McChesty here

A cool mom could go to Europe without her kids and be fine.  A cool mom would have some cute little attractive hair cut as she occasionally skyped with her kids while she lost herself in her trip knowing the kids were taken care off. She’d have a cute outfit like Julie Christy in “Darling”, not the same flip flops and ratted up hair all week.

" Hello, are my children alright?"

I had moments, but overall Failed this coolmom test.

Mark and I were in Spain for 8 days.  Long story short.  I love Spain.  It makes America look like a dirty, decaying bag of trash.  I had great food and wine.  I met wonderful people.  I had moments when the pain of being away from kids felt physical.

As I landed at LAX I texted my mom .  “We’ve landed”

“I know”  She wrote.  She had been following me on flight tracker.  “Now, never do this again.”

I promise mom, I won’t.

More on my trip this week.