Amsterdam: the comings and goings

In short, what a great trip.  From being blessed with perfect weather to being surrounded by family, ones we knew and new ones to us.

The transitions of travel are always the worst.

Most difficult: leaving Rex.  My beloved sister Cecily showed up at 10am.  We were going to go to the airport at 11am.  I wanted him to feel he was leaving us, not the other way around. We had gotten him ready with lots of “how fun for you, you are going on a sleep over.”  Vivien was very good at helping with this.  As I put him in Cecily’s car he said, “I’m lucky.”  Little crack in my heart.  I started to choke up and Mark said to hold together till he left.  They pulled away and I sobbed a bit as I walked back into the house, but I stopped myself because I felt if I followed that path I would never stop.   Cecily had wisely planned to drive him straight to a fun play space.  Before we got on the plane she sent me this picture of him hamming it up in a ball pit.  Relief.

He was having more fun than we were.  So we sent them this picture.

Sitting around, sitting around.

Later when we were crammed in the plane to begin a ten-hour journey I had my first of many “better Rex is NOT here”. Anytime we were waiting around or in a crowd I thought the same as he would bolt.  I thought KLM would be a tad better than it was. It was fine and the attendants are much friendlier than US ones, but my big beef was their stupid entertainment system and the arm rests that don’t go up beyond a couple of inches.  We were three to a row, so Vivien should have been able to stretch out across her parents laps and get some shut-eye, but no. The arm rests don’t go up, they can’t there is no room for them to tuck into between the seats.  I am taking this to the Hague. Back to the gripes with the in flight entertainment.

1) the control looked like a an old game boy and if you accidentally hit it with your hip (which I did over and over again) you have to start the movie again and then fast forward to your place.  I was watching “The Vow”  a Channing Tatum romantic weeper.  Because of the bump breaks I became fixated on finishing the movie.  Mark would start to talk to me.  “I can’t talk, I have 22 minutes left of this damm film, and by God, I’m going to finish it.”  I also am now a tad obsessed with Channing Tatum.

2) non glare screen.  What a lousy screen.  I love flying Virgin to NYC as I catch up on movie watching.  But, on that flight I can see the movie.  On the flight home I gave up as the  dude behind me would not put his shade down.  I think the international sign of pointing to his window and gesturing downward didn’t work. He smiled, but didn’t do anything.  Maybe he thought I was telling him I was saying goodbye to Holland.

3) Have there been no good movies out in the last few months or does KLM have a lousy list? Going to Europe for my second film I watched, “21 Jump Street”  further cementing my Channing Tatum fixation.  I held the control in front of me for over 90 minutes so I wouldn’t hit the button and end the film.  My right arm muscles got a work out.  Actually, “21 Jump Street” was much more amusing than I had anticipated, but I thought there might be one of the Oscar nominees on the flight.

However the food was fine.  We easily moved to a cab in the Amsterdam airport.  All five of us.  Mark’s oldest son Ben, my Mother in Law, who had been stretched out in Business Class, Mark, Viv and I. We got a large cab and every single cab we had it Holland  I could live in.  They were immaculate.  The drivers were gentleman, often in blazers who spoke perfect English.  NOTHING like cab drivers in NYC or LA that’s for sure.

When we got back to the States at the end of our trip we were wrung out.  Viv and I couldn’t sleep a wink on the plane.  The bags took forever and when we went through customs I was sweating like I was in “Midnight Express”  I had some Gouda buried in my bag and I thought I might end up in the hoosegow.    Maybe I could have shoved it between my butt cheeks like a drug smuggler, but it was a big hunk of cheese.  I have had enough butt problems.   Fortunately once we said we had no tulip bulbs ( we did not) we were fine.  Fine until Mark got us on the wrong shuttle to our long term parking and we were driven to a neighboring city– not kidding.  We got back on while three rather uneducated young people screamed profanities at each other over Vivien’s head.  “hey watch your mouth”  I said, risking being stabbed.

We finally got to the car. The only thing keeping me going was seeing Rex.  I had called the baby sitter when we landed.  She said this was the first day he was getting anxious.   “Where is my mommy?”  We pulled up and he was outside.  Viv and I ran to him.  I swear he had changed in a week.  His hair was blonder, his features more defined.

” I talked to you mommy on Dolly’s phone.”  We had the day before.  “Yes, baby.”  He was happy.  Twice he said, “mommy, I didn’t cry.”

I buried my head in his soft, sweet skin.  Later around 5pm I told the kids eat now or forget it because I’m about to pass out.  Mark had gone into work.

As Viv slept and I tried to Rex was jumping on me like Hulk Hogan.  I called Mark, “Please come home.”  Later when Mark brought a sleeping Rex into our bed.  I held Rex’s foot.

I held his foot all night.

More posts on our great trip to Amsterdam will be forthcoming.

pre travel jitters

I think I become OCD before I go on a big trip.

I have pulled our passports out 4 times already and will do so 10 more times before we leave.

I always have the soap opera look, “Did I leave the stove on?” expression as I check, recheck and check again. I’m not a nervous flyer.  But, I do worry about leaving things that are essential.  Passport, credit card, children.

Of course this trip I am purposefully leaving a child behind. This has it’s tension.  I was up late wrapping little presents for his aunt and baby sitter to give him while we are gone.  Then I started thinking will he be wondering “where is mommy?” more when he gets a present from her?  How am I harming my child this time.   Finally went to bed hugging him next to me. His skin never seemed silkier, his breath never sweeter, his little hand holding mine.  The magic of holding his hand.

I warned Vivien, “When he leaves with Aunt Cecily today don’t cry.  He will follow our lead. We have to be strong for him.”  I was really telling myself.  I’m having my sister come before we go to the airport as I want him to feel he is leaving us, not the other way around.

The leave takings are always the hardest, and once a trip has started you lose yourself to the trip.  But, this is new ground for me.  One I purposely set out on, filled with misgivings.  Like going to grad school.

I pray Rex has a great, fun week playing with his cousins and friends, knowing his aunts and uncles  are there for him.

My mantra as I board the plane “it’s only a week.  It’s only a week.”  7 sleeps is what I said to Rex. 7 sleeps away from the soft skin, the sweet breath, the little hand.

June Gloom

IT has arrived IT is the haze that moves in on Southern California every June ( sometimes May, but we were spared this year).  People who live in colder climates will know doubt say, “cry me a river”.  For us who are use to days on end of perfect days the unceasing haze can drive us to re up long dormant prescriptions for happy pills, or try out new cocktails.

The trip I had postponed so I could be home for Oliver’s prom. With five offspring there is never a good time to get away. By going away this weekend we missed Viv’s best friend’s birthday party and spending time with my stepdaughter who is visiting ( we will see her this week however), but I would lose the money I had put down on the cabin so we went.

Just getting my husband away from striking distance from his restaurant has value.  He is trapped, he has to stay with us.  We drove north and stopped at this cute little place in Summerland.  I really wanted a non corporate cup of coffee and this place, Cafe Luna, reminded me of college days in Santa Cruz.  The kids loved their smoothies.Just when we were going to get back on the road to our “glamping” site Mark spied an outdoor oven in the back.  Ends up they have a chef and make a few things in this outdoor oven for dinner.  Oh, let’s stay I said.  I chatted up the owner ala John Carl Brogdonand ordered the roast chicken- fantastic and the meat loaf, good, but would use a tad less sauce and peppers.  The smashed potatoes had rosemary and truffle oil. Yum.  We brought in our bottle of Sancerre we had.  The kids could scamper on the patio.

a little self portrait

Great places for a family.  We hit the road the next morning awoke to a gloomy day north of Santa Barbara.  Sigh.  There goes the beach swim thing.

Fortunately, a Llama farm hike saved the day.  We hiked up a hill to visit with Llama and goats and sheep with a view of the water. Usually I only see this view from the window of a speeding car.  It was nice to be in it instead of looking at it. We didn’t need clear sun to make this a sweet outing.


For dinner we made tri tip over an open fire.  Great for the kids to scamper outside.  Dodge poison oak instead of cars, avoid skunks instead of creepy people who park their cars a little long on a street.  But, dang it, there is NO way to look pretty when you camp.  It can get to me. 

I told Mark that if we could cover our computers, TV and phones at home we could stay in our home comfy home with our full bar and save a lot of money.  He would have to vow to stay with us for 36 hours.  Even on the hike I caught him checking his phone sometimes, “put that down” I yelled.

That night the place we stayed had an awesome band, “The Rawhides”.  Country by way of rocka billy.  They were tight.  I loved hearing music, outdoors and being able to dance with my kids.  The normal schlep of concerts.  Babysitters, late at night, sitting down or standing up in a stinky bar does not appeal to me, but I miss out on the magic of live music.  Here we got it.  I danced some, but the sweetest thing was to see Viv and her dad dance.  They never sat down.

The next morning more haze.  I needed some reframing, ” let’s see the beautiful overcast beach” in my head I thought, “I’ll pretend it’s the Oregon Coast”.  My sensitivity to cloudy weather is a big reason I fled back home after many years in Northern California.  But, this morning I adjusted, we all did.  

I love this picture.

Of course when we got back to the big city the haze had burned off.   I did three loads of laundry. And more gloom with my dinner. It laid an egg.  Oliver didn’t eat it because I had served him a late lunch, Vivien said, “Is that all there is?”  Pork and Salad. What more do you want?

“all pork is dry”

” Where are you picking up these crazy ideas.  It’s pork shoulder not a chop.  I brined it.”

She was use to Sunday dinner with dad when their are more things on the table.  I found some leftover arancini balls and she ate those.  Rex was wound up. Literally.  He was lying in my suitcase, nearby as I had unloaded it’s contents into the washing machine.  ( Later I tricked him into eating while he watched Mickey Mouse on youtube)

I fell asleep holding Rex and smelling the campfire in his hair.  I’ll deal with that tomorrow.


Family getaway to the Central Coast: Wine and shine.

A perfect family jaunt. Breathing fresh air.  Beautiful scenery.  Good food and wine. Happy kids.  These are the ingredients to a good trip. We went to unsplashy Pismo Beach. An overlooked little hamlet between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.  Did you see “Sideway’s”?  Near, there, but on the water.
One the way up we ate a bbq tri tip sandwich that was unreal.  Stop at Los Olivios if you have a chance.  A tiny town with a Western feel. The perfectly cooked meat melt in my mouth.  We split one sandwich and then need to split one more.  Rex also got hip to the tasty bbq and was all in.
dolphin bay
For a happy family vacay  the drive should take no more than two DVD’s to get to your destination.  An opportunity came up for us to go to Dolphin Bay Hotel in Pismo Beach ( think it’s technically Shell Beach, but right next door).  Mark is taking part in World of Pinot Noir in March so they hosted us to come up get the lay of the land.  From the moment the offer was floated till I “closed” the deal I was like a dog with a bone.
Did someone say seaside vacay?

This area is very pretty and underdeveloped by California standards.  When I was a kid it was kind of sleepy.  It is still sleepy, in a good I don’t have to hear loud noises way.  But, it’s gotten a little Sonomaized due to it’s great, small wineries which have been breeding like rabbits.
dolphin bay
It never gets freezing, it never gets super hot.  So, you can’t expect to run around in a bikini here ( not that I would until I’ve had a body transplant). You can take nice walks with a sweatshirt along the sand and then jump in a hot tub after you’ve gotten some triple creme cheese from the local store .

dolphin bayRre
Since you can have food in your “room” it leaves more time for play.

dolphin bay
Not the tropical heat of Hawaii, but like Hawaii the breezy weather keeps the air fresh.
When I was a kid the only places to stay on the central coast were more of the motel variety.

Dolphin Bay is the first 4 star hotel on the scene. The rooms are…wait, can’t even call them rooms, they are more like condos.  They all have full kitchen’s ( I will forgive the electric stove tops) which is the best way to travel with kids for pocket book and sanity. Our room condo was right on the bluff overlooking the ocean.  We could see brave surfers in their wet suits waiting to catch a wave.  We walked down to the beach and looked at the tide pools.  The kids loved exploring.  I loved getting the fresh sea air in my nose.
When I’m at the beach I always think of the lyric from Quadrophenia
the beach is a place where a man can feel
he is the only soul in the world that’s real.

It was brain Draino.

When we walked into our condo/room Vivien yelled, “this is the best day of my life.”  Mark and I talked about how silly people are to buy a second home along the beach ( as if we could) when one could just come up here a few days a year.  It did feel like a home.  We showed our affection for our temporary domecile by making it as dirty as if we were at home.
dolphin bay

We had a tasty dinner at the Dolphin Bay hotel dining room.  Executive Chef Brian Collins is raising the bar for what you would expect to find in Pismo.  The dining room aesthetic however was stuck in the ’90’s.  I wouldn’t mind if had the same prosperity,  Clinton was still President, my dad was still alive , but in this decade, the room needs more color, warmth, and it’s gets pretty loud.  If you eat before the sunset, however, you won’t notice the room because it looks out over the ocean.
dolphin bay

The kids liked the saline pool, but I was glad when I could persuade them to join me in the not too hot hot tub.  With my mug of tea and robe we sat in there often looking over the ocean.  I met a couple of nice moms poolside as well.
dolphin 2
dolphin 2

One day we got a sitter ( after I got my massage) and MP and I were taken on some private wine tastings.  Mike Sinor of Sinor LaVallee,and Ancient Peaks,hosted while we sipped mong the barrels at Center of Effort. central wine I was making no effort enjoying the beautiful day and being plied with great wines.
Mike is also President of San Luis Obispo Vintners’s Association. It was very educational, but after a few wines, I cease to learn and hear caliope music. Mark bought some Sinor LaVallee for Campanile.  We moved on to Tolosa winery which also had a cheese tastings.
central wine
I was licking the plate of the cheese because I had not eaten much before we left. MISTAKE.  After a few tastings on near empty stomach I just wanted to talk about sex.  Fortunately, one of the people taking us around was a nice PR gal.  “Mark, go look at the grapes, I’ll be over here talking about ex boyfriends” ( no, I wasn’t driving). At Tolusa before I tasted there great wines I bought a box of the most delicious crackers I’ve ever had.  I think I ate 25.
After the cheese we donned the safety vests to see how this stuff gets made. Very little of which I remember, Mark does, so that’s fine.
central wine

I was impressed that so many Central Coast wines are tasting more “old world”, my preferred type of wine.  Most people still like the big, sock you in the mouth California Reds– and I do before or after food– but not with food.  And I cannot abide buttery, Oaky California Chardonnay.  Although, in the ’90’s I loved them.
The following day we did more hot tub and tide pool walks.

dolphin 2
Mark was the professor and I was the photog–per usual.
Then we hit the butterfly grove.  Monarchs come in bunches to Pismo between October and February.  I have never seen so many butterflies.  We saw them fluttering around in the grove of large trees.
Then we looked up and saw what looked like bunches of leaves to the naked eye, but with the telescopes provided we could see that they were Monarchs.
A short walk from there was the beach, but it looked different than the Oregon coast type of our hotel area.  This one reminded me of Martha’s Vineyard.  One more walk, before we fired up the DVD player and headed home. Rex shoes and socks got wet on that promenade.
We ate dinner in Santa Barbara at the Hungry Cat.  Mark carried Rex in and I ran toward State Street just as stores were closing. As luck would have it, I ran into a toy store and got them both activity pages to color and some warm socks.
We are going to return to Pismo in March for the wine event.  I am really looking forward to it.

dolphin 2

Caption this picture!

We are just back from a lovely weekend in Pismo Beach.  I’m going to write a longer post about it, but time for this now.

So, give me a caption for this photo:

Why would a family be rolling 3/4 of a pound of butter in their stroller?
Kinky or frugal..  Frugal is the answer.  We had a kitchen where we stayed and the local market only had this large size of butter. Chef Peel said it was cool enough that we could bring it home and it was the last thing grabbed as we left our accomadations.  But, maybe there is a better story?

How about, my husband the chef wants to be ready to cook wherever he is.  He also has a frying pan in his pants…or is he just glad to see me?

As long as I Don’t Stay in Vegas…

A quick trip to Las Vegas for CES related activites.  Not one nickel went into a slot machine or any form of gambling.  Not one penny.  I lose enough, thanks. The drink I had was not very good, food expensive.  Which is why my first stop from the airport is the Whole Foods so I can have healthy snacks on hand without walking 4 miles through a lobby to try and find them and only end up with a hot dog by Nathan’s. CES is a too large convention for geeks.

But, the full night sleep in a hotel room?  OMG beyond fantastic.  I woke up at 6:30am per usual and was semi giddy when I realized I could go back to sleep and I did for for two more hours.  Mark was suppose to go with me so we could combo a little boogie time, but the LA courts had another idea.  Mark was called to jury duty.

I did meet some great people.  Lisa Stone from Blogher.  Ends up we have mutual friends and I’ve known her sister for nearly 20 years.  Small world.  I did a show live for pulse network.  It is a MAJOR ordeal to penetrate CES.  I don’t reccomend it.  No wonder I hadn’t been there in 12 years when I was there representing CNET and hosting a panel.  The fun part was doing the show live and whoever showed up to be my guest I winged it.  Like I like it.  Some of those I intereviewed were momfinds and zinio.  While talking to that gal I was so wowed by her cool mags online on her iPad I started to think for the first time, I NEED one of those.  (covet, covet)

Fun, but way too noisy dinner with my partners at Deca and various guests.  Like the guys who started  New cool social media. Good luck boys! Also Catherine McCord of  She and I knew each other as hosts about 10 years ago.  She hasn’t aged at all.128_4263.JPG

I finished one book and then bought another. The Checklist manifesto.  Thought it was right up my alley when I saw the author on The Colbert Report as I do love a To Do list (see vlog).  But, it’s like a good magazine article that got turned into a book.  So often the case with Non Fiction.

24 hours is plenty.  I didn’t love that scene before I was a mom and now that I can come to this I really want to make it a short trip. 128_4264.JPG

I took the kids to brunch with friends the day after I came back and Vivien and doll are wearing an outfit set I gave her for her birthday.

I hit the jackpot.

Montana time

This summer never really got off the ground for me.  It started off okay, taking Vivien to summer school and such.  It was an odd summer weather wise as it was pretty cool most of the time. Coolest one I can remember here. Then the summer took a sharp turn for me when my father suddenly fell ill and died within 5 days of his diagnosis. Put away the sunscreen, everyone out of the pool. My summer was mostly about grief and packing up his things and planning a memorial and starting to come to terms with a lifetime of longing.

There was one good day at the beach for my sister’s birthday which cheered us temporarily.  There was the freakish hot week in LA that terrified me for our children’s future.  But,the grace note of this summer will be what happened right after the Summer ended.  We went to Montana.ride em!

Mark had been invited to Paws Up to participate in their Montana Masters Chef weekend.  Paws up is a high end resort about 45 minutes from Missoula. It’s all inclusive and not cheap, but everyone was down to earth and all dressed casually.  Not the kind of place we would go due to money and logistics, but if you had the bucks, so worth it.  They have glamping and houses.  No rooms.  Once I saw their site I knew it would be worth it to haul the kids through a connecting flight in Salt Lake.  Though the 4 hour delay was kind of brutal, at least they had a play area.plane delayed playground

I’m keen on my kids reality not being just the urban sprawl they live in. I want them to have some connection to nature and this was a great place for it. we don't have you in LA Mark made “Eggs for Daphne” for a demo one day and then spent considerable time preparing his fabulous meal for the last nights meal.  But, there was still nice family down time and included in the Paws Up experience are massages at their Spa Town. “>spa town Never seen anything like it.  The massage is done in canvas tents looking out onto a meadow while soft music emits from a speaker outside.  Very relaxing.

There were a ton of activities available, horseback riding, ATV’s, but with little ones we didn’t do any of those.  For my kids it was exciting enough to get to smash some pine cones smashing pineconesor to say “I want to go outside” and I opened the door and they ran and ran and I didn’t need to monitor them or tell them to watch for cars. Heaven!

Vivien’s usual refrain when we are somewhere pretty far from home, “I want to live here.”  me too.  Especially if the food is as good in the country as it is at Paws Up.  Mind you, we are food snobs and even the breakfast buffet was good, and I never like breakfast buffets.  Ambrosia and hard, cold eggs that feel like rubber, not my thing.  But, they had crepes with thin slices of tenderloin. Another guest chef Brian from Braeburn Restaurant in NYC made a stuffed trout and sauteed cabbage for lunch I’m still dreaming about.

One morning we went mushroom foraging with their expert.  The guy was a font of knowledge about the natural world and the kids got so excited finding all the different mushrooms available.  Also along the trek was Violet Grgrich of Grgrich Hills winery.  mark and violet grgrichShe and her husband had brought their 5 year old boy which was fab for the kids and fab for us when we left them with a sitter so we could concentrate on Mark’s dinner which was paired with Violet’s tremendous wines.

Mark’s main course was Elk Bourguignon.  He wisely brought a bit of showmanship to the meal and cooked it in dutch ovens in the large hearth in the Paws Up dining room. cooking the elk I suggested we raffle off one of his cookbooks which we did before a desert of Last Chance Peach Upside Down Cobbler (sigh).  I had two helpings of that elk.  I couldn’t help it!
proud wife
The next morning we did one of the few activities that was good for the whole family.  They have a GPS which has the coordinates for a treasure box. asking for directions When we found it after a half mile hike Vivien pulled out a coupon good for a toy that we redeemed back at the wilderness outpost.

The floating sadness that hovers around me floats higher away like a cloud some days.  These were such days. My children save my bacon again and again. Vacations are worth the time and money as these memories need to be made. The clouds are off in the distance when I see the memories we are making for Vivien and her dad.  You never forget the strong arms of your daddy.exploring with dad

Mommy Vacation

Does this look like a vacation?  For a mom away from home, it can be (it’s me in Austin for Hillary last spring).

Clinton 2008


My husband has to go out of town for work all next week. So it got me thinking that before I get any LARGER and certainly before our crown prince is born, I need to take some trips. I cannot leave Viv for more than 2 and half days. I just don’t feel good about that, and I can only leave her at all if Mark or my sisters can be with her. So my thought is that when he comes back, I should take a trip. Especially since after February, I’m going to be one grounded momma for a while.

Here are my ideas; what do you think?

1) Go to a spa/fat farm up in Ojai or something like that. It’s nice to be out of the city. I did this when I was about 4 months pregnant with Vivien and it was great to take walks, talk with other ladies, and eat bran muffins and poached fish.

2) Don’t be idle and get a tan. In ’04, I went to Miami and campaigned for Kerry. I have a condo there (aka, the money pit, as I am one of those people whose mortgage is now more than the appraised value of my property). I have friends in Miami, and Florida is a crucial swing state. So I could go to Miami, knock on some doors for Obama, and get to take a few dips in the Atlantic. Campaigning is tiring, but fun. Just wonder if I can hack it in my present state. But when I think of a possible President Palin, I wet myself.

3) I haven’t come up with three: do you have any ideas?

No One Sees Anyone Anymore

Here is another topic I consider a main theme of contemporary life: we are all alone. Even when I was single in San Francisco, I remember talking to a married friend (who lived 8 blocks away!) about why we didn’t see each other. She thought I was out every night with a hot date or going to hear live music. I thought she was curled up with her new husband, in loving bliss. We both realized that much of the time, we were sitting on our couches, watching TV, wishing we were talking to a friend.

I think we get stuck, especially in LA, where fear of traffic keeps everyone out of their cars after 2:30 p.m. I think if you don’t institutionalize meetings (book club, bowling night) you never see anyone! It’s the reason I have my dinner club. It’s also one of the reasons, I think, that I had a big wedding, because at least I saw some friends that year.

Time Out Quiz

Of all moms’ modern day nomenclature, one that is stated between parents as a given means of discipline is the “time out.” But, is it? The article I just linked here states that it is “very effective.” I am not so sure about “time outs.” I do use it when frustrated since society has pretty much agreed that flinging your kid across the room is a bad idea. But, I do find giving Vivien a countdown shapes her behavior up, even better. So what I do is something like this, “I am going to count to five and I expect you to be in your car seat…,1-2″ She stops climbing through the car and gets in her seat knowing the if she doesn’t get in her car seat, that “mean voice” is coming.

So, here is my first ever mom quiz/survey.  Weigh in on this one.  And watch out, “Play-dates, the time for your reckoning,” is coming soon.