Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Colorado Camp and School Days

Okay I REALLY AM going to post about our last few days in Italy, even though traditionally I have never managed to publish the last post in a travel series because real life just sweeps you up into its raging torrent of things and calls and urgent to do lists, but I do have to pause because life really is coming at us fast and there are some things to note that are not happening in the land of ancient things and gelato.
Unfortunately when we got back from vacation I immediately got sick. Just like I did with Iceland- I woke up on our last day in Italy with a scratchy throat and thought, huh, I must have slept with my mouth open, that's weird. I felt absolutely fine, ate gelato, traveled home, woke up on morning 1 back in Texas feeling like hell. A hell in which I stayed for the next THIRTEEN DAYS.
It's like my entire being rejects returning to reality. Which is weird, because I'm honestly pretty fond of my reality. This time it was particularly painful because (1) I'd made a lot of promises about things I'd do as soon as I was back in the country so that I could enjoy my vacation with very little working; (2) my inbox that I had cleared down to 0 before leaving was now in the 4-digits; and (3) my darling children were all flying to Colorado for a WEEK and James and I had many plans of fun things to do in and out of the house with them gone.

Instead we did none of them and I coughed and sneezed and snorted my way through 10 days on the couch, sleeping between urgent emails and finally rousing myself enough to do some light photobooking by the end.
Obviously it was everything James hoped it would be.

(We did manage to get out for dinner and a movie the very last night before the kids came home. We saw Barbie and loved it and ate sushi and loved that too.)
But back to the kids and how they're living their very best lives. They flew all by themselves to Denver and my parents picked them up outside baggage claim.
They handled the travel with aplomb, though perhaps they are a little too comfortable in their belief that airplanes won't take off without them.
They spent 3 nights in Boulder at my sister's house and 3 nights up in the mountains at my parents' Winter Park house and they had an amazing time in amazing weather and I was so happy for them and not at all jealous.
(I was very jealous.)

They had to buy SWEATSHIRTS because they were COLD. It was 118 degrees in Dallas, but in the mountains it was CRISP and CHILLY.
Also, look at this fabulous picture of my mom (and everyone else) while white water rafting. I love it with my whole heart.
There was mini golfing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, arcade gaming, hiking, water parking, and eating all the lunchables they otherwise never get to have. My niece Skyla got to join them this year and I just love that they got to make all those memories together and with Papa and Gigi.
When the kids got back it was a full speed into the start of school. I took all 3 kids to Costco on Friday at 5:30, which is really the worst possible thing you can do at the end of the work week, but we hadn't been in months and we needed to prepare for breakfast and lunch meal school meal prep. We found many things.
Like a couple hundred granola bars that will last maybe 10 days.
When I unpack the car from a Costco trip I like sing "bulk bulk bulk bulk bulk" to the tune of Rihanna's "Work."
It's been surreal to compare this year to where we were one year ago this week. So much uncertainty and anxiety. We were still in our rental house, all our things were in storage, we hadn’t found our forever home, we didn’t know anyone at any of the THREE new schools we were about to start. Back when one kid’s anxiety reached a crisis point, another would barely speak to me because of the move, a third didn’t have a single correct class for two weeks of school, and we didn’t understand school drop off and everyone was late on day 1… that was tough chapter.

But. The kids survived and then thrived. We found the home of our dreams. We made friends and connections and a community grew to support our kids. This year we have Landon out painting senior parking spots and downing individual large pizzas with a buddy on Saturday night.
We hosted a swim brunch for the 8th grade girls and their mamas who made Claire feel so welcome last year.
We walked into Cora’s Meet the Teacher night with excitement and confidence and no tears. We knew people in the hallways and classrooms and were catching up on summer adventures and making plans for carpooling in the year ahead.
James, who has been cooking 100% vegan dinners for most of the summer, went crazy and made the most amazing meaty bolognese sauce for us to return to after our Costco run. It was amazing. And the wine we purchased in Tuscany was delivered that day so we opened the chianti and it was all marvelous. My taste buds were back online at the exact right time.
James and I went out on Saturday night and on Sunday we drove to San Antonio and back (9 hours on the road round-trip; James is my hero because I drove for 0 of them) to check in on the great-grandparents, but I'll catch up on that in my next post. (Or next next? I've got to finish Italy.) The first day of school was Monday and the energy and enthuasism levels were relatively high.
Good luck, possibly skeptical, handshakes for everyone.
10th grade, 8th grade, and 4th grade. Our last year with three kids in three different schools. Claire got to meet up with a gaggle of friends to head over to their first day together. Landon drove with a friend. Cora knew people as she walked in. No one cried, including the parents, and I didn't worry about them a bit as the day went on. Maggie was ready to render emotional support and just got some pats instead.
What a difference a year makes.
Happy new school year to everyone who celebrates!

Monday, August 7, 2023

ITALY! Days 7-9: Roma!

Day 7, continued

When we left off we had met the manager of our new rental apartment and were getting a tour and recommendations on where to eat. Our new home was charming, if warm, and the location was amazing. Literally around the corner from the Pantheon and walkable to everything else we wanted to do.
I changed into my third outfit of the day, after sweating through the others. I don't think I've written about it yet, but I bought this hat for $20 at the Bloomingdales Outlet in Dallas on a whim a few weeks before our trip and it became the first hat I've ever actually worn on vacation. And I wore it every single day. Turns out, hats are really great for shielding you from the sun. Like a tiny umbrella around your head. Who knew.
Once changed into fresh clothes, we headed out into the city! We started with the Pantheon, since it was literally around the corner. The Pantheon is one of my favorite buildings and I loved that we walked by it multiple times a day every day. You now have to get a ticket to go inside, which we did, and of course James spent more time than the rest of us needed combined.
Isn't that dome amazing though? Built nearly 2,000 years ago and it is STILL the largest, completed, unreinfurced concrete dome in the world. Originally a temple to the pagan Gods, it was repurposed as a Catholic church in about 600 AD.

From there we moved on to the Trevi Fountain!
18 years ago I stood there with a good friend and thew a coin in to return, and now I was back! Throwing coins in with my kids.
We sandwiched a simple dinner between gelato stops, including one at a gelatteria with 150 flavors! After a little break back at the apartment, James and I headed out for an evening walking date to the Spanish Steps while the kids hung out at home, relieved to be left out of any potentially historical activity.
The city is beautiful at night- so vibrant and so drenched in history at the same time. We caught several street musical performances, including a beautiful opera singer using the acoustics underneath the front of the Pantheon.
We went to bed, ready for Ancient Rome in the morning, excited and/or bracing ourselves for all the times James was going to tell us to “just imagine was these walls/pillars/stones have seen”.

Day 8

After a surprisingly good sleep in our warm apartment, it's possible we had to forcibly drag our kids out of bed for Ancient Rome day, but once they heard we had a car and driver for our tour, and our guide would be riding with us to talk between stops, they got on board.
Our first stop was a breakfast place our guide told us served eggs, which the men in my life had been craving, and we ended up eating at Ginger every morning until we left. Thirty minutes later, full of eggs and pancakes, we headed out to Ancient Rome! Which is basically all over Rome. Rome is so very old, with so many layers and so much history, it was fabulous to have our very own archeology-trained guide to tell us ALL the things and answer James’s 65 million questions.
Specifically we started at the Coliseum and walked out onto the floor like gladiators, something that wasn’t possible when I visited nearly 20 years ago.
We toured the underground catacombs outside the city which were fascinating and eerie. We talked about the Pantheon and walked in the Forum and on the Appian Way (road to Rome) with its original giant cobblestones from over 2,000 years ago. There's a sign at one spot in the Forum that notes this is where Julius Caesar was killed. Just one of many little factoids to absorb as you walk along this ancient place.
Lunch was delicious sandwiches in an old salumeria with meats and cheeses hanging from the ceiling and covering every wall. It was 1 euro extra to add a plastic cup of house wine to your meal, so why not.
We had our best meal yet after our guide made us a reservation at her favorite place in Rome (Emma! Highly highly recommend). I changed (again!) because I don't like sweaty clothes and then I made everyone else change so we could look like a proper family going to a nice local Italian dinner. I was very grateful I'd made sure all our rentals included washers. Also, I love this dress I got at Target this summer. Super cute, inexpensive, and didn't need a bra which meant one less thing to sweat through.
Who could tell we'd nearly sweated into little puddles of ourselves a few hours earlier at the Coliseum?
Emma was amazing. We ordered everything and then we ordered more.
Landon had two marinara pizzas, we ate so many suppli, and I had the best cacio e pepe that has ever existed in the world. Everything was incredible and I'm so glad our wonderful tour guide got us in!
We strolled back to our apartment, full and happy, and of course stopped for gelato. I remember thinking that I had maybe never enjoyed a vacation so very much. I love traveling with James- it's just so easy and fun and he loves everything old so very much. The kids enjoyed the constant gelato and tolerated all the history and have even quoted back many things our various guides told us during our time there, so I know they were listening more than it sometimes appeared. It was such a great trip.
Two more full days left! Enough time for the Vatican and learning how to make pasta!

Thursday, August 3, 2023

ITALY! Days 6-7: Nocelle & Pompeii

Day 6

On Day 6 we woke up very early to hike the Path of the Gods before the ground started boiling from the sun. Unfortunately Claire wasn’t feeling well (we're learning she's very sensitive to spending too much time in the sun) so she stayed behind to rest while we met our guide in front of our villa at 7:30 am to begin. The view from our front terrace never failed to take my breath away.
Per our handy travel app from Kaleigh:
The Path of the Gods is one of the most famous paths in Italy, moving from Bomerano to Nocelle. Walking between heaven and earth, it is possible to admire one of the most breathtaking panoramas in Italy: a stunning view of the coast which ranges from the archipelago of Li Galli and the isle of Capri. The Path of the Gods, despite its name, is also an extraordinary example of the work of human beings who managed throughout the centuries to colonize even the most impracticable locations of the region. Walking in this spectacular scenery, you might meet local sheperds and farmers. They still work and live in this little corner of heaven, facing daily difficulties of their job with passion and devotion, a trademark of the people here in Southern Italy. Through old vineyards, terraces, farmhouses, and monasteries, spended at 2100 feet above sea level, you will have the feeling of walking in a painting with an ever-changing landscape.
This was a perfect description of our journey.
We hiked 5 miles up, down, and along the spectacular coast.
Per my watch we took just under 12,000 steps and climbed the equivalent of 116 flights of stairs.
The views are absolutely incredible, I can't believe the path started just beyond our door.
Our guide Fulvio was wonderful- telling stories, pointing out plants and herbs, and introducing us to his friends who live on the path along the way.
We passed empty, crumbling farmhouses, abandoned when tourism came to Positano about 70 years ago and farmers could build a life in town.
We stopped at the home of an artist who makes amazing lemon granita and installed a row boat off the edge of his cliff.
We stopped for longer at a goat sheperd's home to be treated to fresh bread and tomatoes and the best (homemade!) goat cheese I’ve ever had.
Sitting at his table, with his mule named Limoncello grazing on grass in front of me and his collie at my feet (being petted by Cora of course), looking out of the sparkling Sea was simply incredible.
What a hard life, but what a view to see while you live it.
Claire had been texting me regularly on our hike with updates on how she was feeling and then suddenly the updates stopped. I was absolutely certain she was just taking a nap, but we raced back anyway to be sure. Our guide said it was the fastest time he’s ever made with a group on the hike, and we found her fast asleep in bed, resting comfortably and feeling better.
We walked to get sandwiches at a tiny shop on the cliff near our villa and enjoyed a very lazy afternoon. I don’t know what everyone else did, but I slept for 3 hours and it was glorious.
Dinner that night was very special. At the recommendation of our house manager, I booked us 5 seats at the single table of Mamma Luisa's.
We walked to the bus stop to meet Mariangela who walked us to her mothers house (the Mamma Luisa!) for the most *incredible* homemade meal on their rooftop terrace with a small group of others at one table.
Mariangela brought out at least 7 appetizers, all with organic ingredients farmed from their own gardens, their own homemade wine that might be the best we’ve had on the trip, a chicken dish with a citrus sauce that was so delicious, and endless amounts of homemade bread.
As the night progressed the moon made a beautiful moonbeam on the water.
They seat one table a night, 4 nights a week, and I feel so lucky to have experienced it. It was a magical way to spend our last night in Nocelle.
Day 7: Pompeii & Roma!

On Day 7 we packed up and said goodbye to our beautiful villa in the clouds. We hauled our luggage up, down, and around all the stairs to the little Nocelle parking lot to be picked up one final time.
This time we were heading to the train station in Naples, with a stop at Pompeii along the way. Our driver dropped us off and stayed with the car and our luggage while our private guide met us at the entrance to whisk us into the ancient and tragically well-preserved city.
It's amazing to walk through an entire city frozen at 79 A.D. It was brutally hot, but James was enthralled and Cora was delighted to see what she learned about in school. Claire was concerned about all the people who died, and Landon mostly wanted to play hide-and-go-seek in the ruins (no) and/or train where the gladiators trained (also no). Our guide was wonderful and told lots of stories and pointed out lots of details I hadn't learned on my first visit nearly 20 years ago.
Next, our driver took us to the Naples train station which is huge and crazy with great food.
We boarded our high speed train to Rome like the pros we were, sped along the countryside to disembark in Rome, hailed a Taxi, and met the owner of our VRBO at his top floor apartment one block from the Pantheon.
Next installment: Rome!