Firenze for the First Time


Our arrival in Roma was quick and smooth, other than our initial encounter with a rude shuttle operator who fought with our first taxi driver, led us back to the airport’s shuttle counter and seemed to want to force us to take a shuttle.  We found another taxi.  Since my husband ended up getting sick and having to stop the car during the taxi, that was an excellent decision on our part, and we negotiated down to 50 euro for the ride.

One arrived we lugged our luggage up two flights of stairs to the hidden doorway of the B&B Best Pantheon where our children had spent the night.  It is quite a find (from Tripadvisor.com) — very well located, well-priced, and, according to our kids, with amazing croissants for breakfast, along with a plateful of fruits and other goodies.

With a 10 a.m. checkout time we had no time for R&R, so it was on to the taxi stand near Largo Argentina — the only ancient Roman site I had time to visit before heading to the Termini station for our trip to Firenze.

Purchasing our tickets to Florence using the machines was easier than I feared.  Finding our train’s track was slightly confusing because Florence was only a stop, and Milano showed up on the boards.  But through the kindness of strangers and a more thorough examination of our ticket to find the train number we found it and were soon on our way.  Our seating companion, an Italian businessman, helped me hook up to the wi-fi on the train (you need an Italian phone number to get the passcode, but the wi-fi is free), so I checked emails during the trip, and the ride was smooth and painless.

It was a 10-minute taxi from the Firenze train station to our B&B, Le Stanze di Santa Croce.  The B&B is on a tiny road well-located for sightseeing.  Our kids shared the beautiful bedroom pictured here.

Our bedroom had a small balcony, though we never used it.  And although it was in the middle of the City, just off the Piazza di Santa Croce in one of the most happening parts of the centro storico, it was quiet at night.

We walked to Ponte Vecchio, where jewelry stores line the bridge with an enclosed hallway on the very top designed so the d’medici family didn’t have to mingle with the general masses, or risk assassination.  It is so beautiful that it was the only one of the bridges not bombed by the Germans … rumor has it that someone high up in the German army loved to watercolor, and didn’t want such a perfect watercolor of a bridge destroyed.

On the way to Ponte Vecchio we admired a boat race on the Arno River,

then stopped at the Galileo Museum for a quick tour (which wasn’t very interesting, probably because I had no guidebook to lead me through or explain what I was seeing).

After a long walk on the bridge, and a long day given that we hadn’t slept since our night in Atlanta, many hours before, my feet in pain, we headed for dinner at Baldovino, just a few steps from our B&B.  It was excellent — great pizza, good house wine, and a nice atmosphere.

Then to bed to get ready for tomorrow’s adventures!

A Missed Flight = Atlanta, Not Rome


The backpack with my passport stood forlornly on the asphalt driveway of my North Poway home as we, oblivious to its cries, sped to the airport for our flight to Rome.  So while my kids went through security to wait at the gate, my husband rushed home to rescue the forgotten passport and I waited anxiously at the gate, fingers crossed.  Our late start left us enough time to make it through had we remembered everything, but cut it dangerously close given that we had not.

My backpack ... the one holding my passport, wallet, money... just a few things I might need in Italy

Along with my passport, computer, ipad and kindle, my wallet, money and iphone also were in the forgotten bag, and I had no watch, could find no clock, and had no means of communicating with either my kids at the gate, my husband rushing home, or the airlines or travel agents.  I’m not good at waiting, and I worry, a lot.  It was not a great 45 minutes but, showing more maturity than I knew was in me, I did quite well.  I stayed calm, and kept my eyes on the escalator that, hopefully soon, would bring my husband up from the car, backpack in hand.

At some point the check-in agent paged me to let me know my stepdaughter and son were boarding the plane.  A few minutes later, she paged to inform me that the flight was boarding.  I didn’t realize at the time that meant — “We have given away your seats, and you are now without hope.”  Nope, I still held out hope that we could make it.  A few minutes later my husband appeared, clutching the bag to his chest, running, anxiously, to me and the check-in counter.  And that’s when the agent said our  flight had left.  But we knew it hadn’t left, because our daughter, on the flight, was on the cell phone with my husband and telling us they hadn’t yet taken off.  That pissed off my husband because he felt they were lying to us — they were saying it had left when he knew it was still on the ground.  But eventually we learned it didn’t matter, since they had given away our seats.  But that wasn’t the worst news.  No, that came when they told us that the LAX-Rome flight they had mentioned earlier, that would put us in town only two hours later, was not available because we were flying on frequent flier miles, so we could only get on it by paying $7,000.

My husband had AMEX on the line, I was pleading with the agents, trying to tell him what I thought he should tell AMEX, shouting out every option that came to mind — other airlines, other flights to Atlanta to meet our connecting flight.  It was only 7:45 in the morning, surely there were other flights that day leaving for Rome?  Ultimately, it was all to no avail.  Had we taken the next flight to Atlanta — the one that gave us only 15 minutes to get across the Atlanta airport and to our flight — we might have made it given that it turned out they sat on that flight from Atlanta to Rome for 3 hours on the tarmac due to weather.  But it’s likely we would not have made it, anyway, as they boarded on time, and so our seats, again, would have been gone before we could have made it on.

It’s times like this that you wish you were Someone Important.  Someone they might hold a plane for, even though they insisted We Do Not Hold Planes For Anyone.  You know they do.  Just not for us.  And since it was our fault, we had only ourselves, ultimately, to blame.  Why did I not check that all the bags were in the car?  Why had we not left home  20 minutes earlier, so we’d have had time to go back home and get back and still make the flight?  Why, with all the flights on all the airlines crisscrossing the planet, was there not one that could get us from San Diego to Rome at any point that day?

Ultimately there was nothing to do except book the same flight, the next day, and more miles out of our account.  So my stepson drove us back home — after having woken up before dawn for the first airport trip, then rushed back home and back to the airport with the missing backpack, now driving us back to Poway again… and he didn’t even complain.

We’d been awake since at least 4 a.m. in our last-minute rush to make it for our 7:30 a.m. flight, and now, tired, depressed, and anxious about our kids unexpectedly ending up in Rome by themselves for a day.  Since we had assumed we’d be with them we hadn’t set up their ATMs for international withdrawals, given them spending money, or shared our maps or plans for Rome.  And the vouchers for our Underground Colosseum were in the binder with me, though given our new flight they would be the only ones who could take it.  And it was non-refundable, non-changeable.

Ultimately after we’d been home only an hour we realized we were better off flying to Atlanta later that day even though we couldn’t make it all the way to Rome– at least that way we wouldn’t have another early wake-up call.  So my poor stepson had to make yet another trip from Poway to the airport, to drop us off for what was now a 1:30 p.m. flight to Atlanta.  The good news was my daughter was at the airport by now, as my ex-husband had dropped her off there for her 2:00 flight to London with her school group.  I thought at least maybe I could see her while we both waited on our flights.  But she was at the end of a long security line and didn’t make it through in time before my Atlanta flight boarded.

We made the best of the situation, telling ourselves it would be a good bonding experience for the kids and a good break in the long flights for ourselves.  The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast, caught up on some work, and flew out, finally, on our long-delayed flight to Roma.  Italy, here we come!

Taking A Bite Out of the Middle Fork of the American River


We labored this Labor Day Weekend by white-water rafting down the Middle Fork of the American River, and had a blast.  We were a mixed-bag family of rafters — the 26-year-old, Dominic, had rafted Class IVs once before; 50-year-old Mom (that’s me!) had rafted down the Class IIIs of the South Fork on two, two-day trips before and had gotten bored by the relatively mellow Class IIIs and was ready to try something more adventurous.  Our older daughter had a bad experience inner-tubing down a rocky waterway when she was younger that had stuck with her, making her anxious about the trip, and the two younger children had never rafted before.   We’d considered a “luxury,” three-day rafting trip own the Snake River in Idaho, that allows for fly-fishing, massages in the evening, and gourmet meals, but finally decided it was too expensive for this summer.  So we elected to stay in California and try out a one-day adventure.  With all of our needs in mind, I selected an advanced beginner/intermediate, one-day trip down the Middle Fork of the American River.  There are a host of outfitters offering such trips, and it’s hard to distinguish one from another.  After some research on TripAdvisor and other sites we selected All-Outdoors, and it was a great choice.  They’ve been in business since the early 1960s, are conservative in their approach to the rapids, are well-organized and have a great group of experienced and fun guides.  Look them up at http://www.aorafting.com.

As their website explains, historic remnants of the California Gold Rush are visible in portions of the Middle Fork canyon (mostly rusted metal, and some caves made when the miners tunneled into the rock and carved out the gold), but no houses.  You’re rafting in a remote wilderness area where thick oaks and pines carpet the steep canyons on either side, with willow and wild grapevines weaving their way down the riverbanks. No clouds interrupted the blue expanse of sky, and the contrast between the intense green treetops carving into the deep blue of the sky, with the clear water beneath us, was so beautiful it made you want to grab some watercolors and paint it.  A few plump blackberries were still visible on the vine on our early Sept. trip, and loons enjoyed the water while turtles sun bathed on the banks.

The Middle Fork is about 140 miles east of San Francisco and 50 miles east of Sacramento. Interstate 80 is 17 miles from the All-Outdoors Middle Fork meeting place.  We spent the night in Auburn, about a 25-minute drive from the meeting place, at the Best Western Golden Spoon.  It was a Best Western, so nothing fancy, but it was certainly adequate for our purposes, and make-your-own waffles were quite good and included in the price of the room, along with pastries, yogurt, bagels, etc. and of course coffee and juice and tea.

Once we made it down the 45-minute bus ride to the launching spot (I recommend taking Dramamine if you tend to get car-sick, because the winding mountain road has views of beautiful canyons but can also be stomach-churning), we had a short intro-to-rafting which can induce fear (what to do should fall out of the boat and end up riding the 6-foot-drop through boulders and churning water curled in a ball and holding your breath), you tighten your life vest and helmet and head out into the crystal-clear and ice-cold water.  Jerry guided us through, from our first step into the liquid ice that is the American River (it was freezing cold!), to riding Tunnel Chute backwards (more on that to come) to the water fight at the end, we came through our 9-hour adventure a little sore, saved from sunburn only by multiple applications of 100 SPF, and looking forward to trying the intermediate runs next summer.

You sit on the inflated sides of the oblong raft and one would think that the rubber would make for a comfortable seat … but your bottom does get sore after a few hours.  Never fear, though, as the rapid you’ll be approaching quickly takes your mind off any sore parts and has you instead thinking in terms of survival!  The ride starts off quickly with a class III to get the day started off with a little excitement.  Then after some time to practice your paddling (each of us paddles, and sometimes to have to dig it in and use those core muscles to keep the raft in the right position as we churn through a rapid), we get out to walk up the rocky path and peer down at Tunnel Chute.  S—, was my initial reaction.  Are we seriously going down that?  Part of me wanted to back out — I did not want to ride that rapid curled in a ball and hoping for the best as my body tumbled down the six-foot drop past sheer rock walls — but I also didn’t want to chicken out and miss a fun ride.  So, we all opted in and went for it.

Unfortunately, our paddling skills were not the best, and despite our guide’s best efforts we ended up riding the rapid backwards.  It was OK for us, because the guests end up getting off the boat’s sides and sitting down in the raft for the ride down, but it was pretty harrowing for our guide.  Later we found out that the one time the raft catapulted him into the water and forced him to ride down raft-less, and his raft guide-less, in part because they had entered the chute backwards.  But this time he held on, and we all made it down wet but safe, and exhilarated.

Packing Christmas


My daughter begs me to only hand 5 ornaments on the tree … at 16, she doesn’t want to take the time to hang them and dreads having to take them down a few weeks later. But I insist that we hang every one, because, other than the “filler” balls, each ornament comes with its own memory that decorating the tree lets me remember each December.

There are baby blue ornaments to celebrate my son’s birth– several times more than the pink ones for my daughter’s birth three years later, which she doesn’t hesitate to point out time — and Barbie doll ornaments from when she was a little girl.

Unwrapping the tissue from Darth Vadar and Winnie the Pooh, Nolan Ryan (my son’s namesake) and Mohammad Ali (my husband’s favorite) reminds me of watching the Star Wars movies with my kids and reading marathons of the Adventures of Christopher Robin.

Henry VIII reminds us of our crazy 5-day trip to London when British Airways offered $99 flights direct from San Diego. I couldn’t pass up those fares, so I took my 6 and 8-year old kids out of school for a few days in the dead of winter and we had a blast making our way through the maze at Hampton Court, hearing tales of days long ago at the Tower of London, and spending hours on end at the Natural History and other Museums.

There is a cotton football player dressed in maroon and white in honor of Texas A&M,and ballet slippers to remember the year my daughter took dance.

I hope when I pass these ornaments along to my children for their own trees, memories of our trips and memories of past Christmases will flood back to them when they unwrap the ornaments from their childhood.

Now they are put away, for next year’s tree, and I look forward to many adventures in 2011 which I can memorialize with an ornament to add to next year’s tree.

Ifly … skydiving for those of us who are scared of heights!


Ifly away...

After a day at Universal Studios we decided to try our hand at Ifly at CityWalk … essentially a jet engine or some other generator of wind blows from the bottom of a large glass funnel, strong enough to hold you off the ground.  It was about $228 for 4 people to take 2 trips each, plus DVD of the experience, and required a 30-minute wait and 4 minutes of instruction, then getting dressed in skydiving jumpsuit, goggles, earplugs and helmet.  It was a blast — my kids thought it was the favorite part of the entire day.  I would never, ever skydive — way too afraid of heights — so this was a nice compromise.  The first “trip” you experiment with the right body position — lay horizontally, with your arms like a goalpost at eye level and legs slightly bent, chin up, so you are slightly bowed.  The second trip, assuming you’ve learned generally how to do it, the instructor (who is with you the entire time inside the tunnel) grabs hold of you by part of your jumpsuit and they up the air power and up you go!  I’d say you go 15 feet high or so, and then turn in circles and sometimes dip down to the ground and then back up — that is a blast.  Then because that second trip with the instructor taking you up is so much fun, the kids and Jack decided to pay an extra $20 each for a third time in the wind tunnel.  That time is more like the first — they didn’t get to go as high, and the instructor didn’t grab them, but it was still fun.  The guy operating the wind machine is taking pictures during the flight, and you can buy those at $4 each afterwards.

Here is the link to their website  for all the scoop — Indoor Skydiving / Vertical Wind Tunnel – iFLY SF Bay

Not sure why the helmets, doesn’t seem the least bit dangerous to me.  And it was fun … kind of comes under the category of what will they think of next, as I would never have thought I’d be suspended by gusts of air in a glass funnel while crowds of people stood and watched.

We celebrated our successful flights with dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant at CityWalk, and the pizza and wine were both excellent.  Then, headed to Santa Monica for a night at Casa del Mar hotel on the beach, next to Shutters.  It’s a gorgeous hotel and we thoroughly enjoyed our very short trip there.  The next morning after breakfast we rented beach cruisers and cruised down the boardwalk, spending some time watching an amazing little kid — couldn’t have been more than 5 — catch air at the skateboard park.  Then, back home to sunny San Diego!

Memoir Quandary


Quandary — n pl -ries: a situation or circumstance that presents problems difficult to solve; predicament; dilemma [of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Latin quandō when]  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/quandary

Do I write a memoir, a book about my great grandmother’s “Life On The Prairie” in 1890s Oklahoma interspersed with tales of her great-great-great grandmother’s march across three states in January during the Revolutionary War, after the Tories burned down her house?  Or try my hand at a novel?  I’m torn and keep going back and forth between all three.  And, if a memoir, then one about my childhood, my hometown, my 20s in the living large 1980s, my Big Law firm experience as a new mom, post-divorce dating experiences, something else?  I want to pick one and start going … need some sort of start on a manuscript by November, b/c I’ve optimistically already signed up for a “critique and read” at that time, to motivate myself to Just Get It Done.  If I had one overwhelmingly horrific or exciting or exotic experience in my life it seems the choice would be easier — of course I would write about that.  But my life seems very ordinary so I have to make the ordinary universal, and interesting.

Weekend activities


Friday night we enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love (which I always want to call Eat Love Pray … just seems to flow better).  We both enjoyed it, especially my husband, because it reminds him of the journey he’s been on this year.  His has been an inner journey of exploration of traditional Christian prayer, Buddhist chanting, and mediation.  He’s also spent significant time in Indonesia, including a year teaching English to some Indonesian medical students, and this past year we made two trips to Rome.

While my husband hosted a working group for TedX San Diego at our house Sat., I used the free time to gather all my childhood/teen diaries, along with several “how to write memoirs” books and spent the morning in my comfy cushioned chair on our master deck, under the oak tree, using a boulder for my ottoman.  I had wanted to write for 6 hours straight, but having to make a lunch run to feed myself and the Gardener, and drive my son to his Dad’s house, interrupted that plan.  I did enjoy the 3 hours I was able to spend on it, though, although it’s always hard to choose between reading the “how to” books and spending the time writing.  Sat. night we had a wonderful dinner with some new friends who are experimenting with a system for growing fish in special tanks that enable you to recycle the used fish water to use in the garden, and the fish to go through their growth cycle and then serve as fresh food for the dinner table.  It’s an exciting concept and the veggies they are growing are beautiful and healthy and taste wonderful. 

Sunday was not near as enjoyable … had hours of timesheets for August to complete, and the whole month of emails to go through (archiving, acting upon, deleting, etc.).  So after a nice Sunday breakfast at The Original Pancake House (they’ve expanded their menu and the Mediterranean omelette was delicious!) I settled in at the computer from 10 ’til 5 while my husband and his daughter enjoyed listening to Blues music at a Jolla cove.  Envious, I jumped into my swimsuit, grabbed the book I’m reading (Passages) and relaxed for an hour, which was great.  All in all, a productive and enjoyable weekend was had by all!

Balancing


Work today started with an ex parte to argue over a proposed judgment at 8:15 this morning.  Short and sweet it had me back in the office by 9, so that I could finally try out my  new Echo Livescribe electronic pen  — unfortunately before I could use the brand new pen I had to update the software (shouldn’t a new pen come with the most up-to-date software?)  But, once that glitch was fixed I was able to test out the pen at my afternoon meeting and it worked like a charm.  I simply press the “record” circle on the special paper, start writing, then press stop when I’m done.  Dock my pen and the notes are uploaded into my computer, along with audio from the discussion that took place at the meeting.  I’m hoping this will be my solution to organizing all my notes.  Too much to hope for?  I”ll let you know in a few months.

After a few hours editing a document, another 3 hours meeting to determine the best approach to drafting of an initiative for the 2012 ballot, and miscellaneous phone calls I rushed home for a quick dinner and now am heading out for my How To Write A Novel class.

PS … my daughter called to announce she passed her driving test with flying colors, missing only one item (left on her blinker while backing out of a space).  I knew she could do it!

Getting Your Drivers’ License


It is a day to remember — my 16-year-old daughter is taking her driving test even as I write this.  She is a better driver than I was at that age, careful to obey the speed limits, turn on her blinker before every turn or lane change, adjusts the mirrors and seat before starting the car … wonder how long all of that will last?  She’s petrified that she won’t pass — one of her friends is already on her third try — so she’s consumed with stress.  I have to keep reminding her to breathe.  If she doesn’t pass it will be solely caused by her stress and fear of failing.  It is a scary thing for a parent to let their teen climb into the drivers’ seat and pilot that big hunk of metal that so many teens die in each year.  I wish there was a big flashing sign we could install on the rooftop for at least the first year, warning everyone else on the road that we have a Beginning Driver, Watch Out!  Or that I could build huge rubber bumpers all around the car and/or my child that could protect them in case of an accident.  My daughter wouldn’t let me help her practice driving for the first 6 months after obtaining her learner’s permit, because she’d seen how panicked I was with my now 19-year-old son during this days of learning.  At least once on those trips I was sure to be found gripping the seatbelt with white knuckles while practically hyperventilating because I was certain we were going to wind up dead.  Like everything else, it gets easier with the second child, so now that I’ve finally been allowed in the car I am able to stay calm and have more confidence that she’ll come through alright.  Her test is in an hour … wish her luck!

Life


Inspired by others’ blogs, I’ve decided to spend some time each day writing about Our Life — that is, the daily life of myself, my second husband, J., my just-turned-19-year-old son, A, 16-year-old daughter, C., 24-year-old stepdaughter, B., and 26-year-old stepson, D.  And our two dogs — Fee, our female German Shepherd, and Mongo, our Yorkshire Terrier, along with Casper, the cat.  Enjoy the ride!

After a tough Friday the 13th — the Superior Court ruled against my client in a CEQA case (California Environmental Quality Act), then later that day the Court of Appeal denied a writ in another client’s case … although writs are only granted about 5% of the time, I felt we had a better-than-typical chance of prevailing, so getting the denial was a big disappointment.   I was very down by the end of the day, and bone- tired.  But my husband had wanted to take a weekend mini-vacation and had already arranged for someone to keep the dogs, so I hurried home and, with no time for a glass of wine I so wanted to enjoy, threw some clothes in a carry-on and headed with my 16 & 19-year old kids and my husband for a weekend in LA.  We spent Friday night at the Hilton across from Universal Studios then drove literally across the street the next morning for our VIP Experience at Universal Studios (the VIP experience includes valet parking).  I hadn’t been to Universal Studios since the early 1990s when I first moved to CA, and I’d heard how crowded it was, so we decided to splurge since we hadn’t really taken a vacation this summer and buy the VIP Experience.  It was well worth it if you can afford it.  The “experience” starts at 9:30 and ends around 4:15.  Our tour guide covered the Upper Lot with our group of 15 in the morning, going to the front of the Line with no wait for The Simpsons, Shrek 3D, and the Waterworld and Animal Actors shows, then the Jurassic Park ride (complete with poncho to keep us semi-dry) and the Mummy (the Guide held our oversized backpacks).  Next it was a great buffet lunch with at least 15 options, all of them tasty, and then an afternoon Studio  Tour.  Our small group could stop and walk the sets, including the set of Parenthood and Wisteria Lane, as well as the plane crash from War of the Worlds.  We toured the Prop Shop with literally thousands of every-day and out-of-the-ordinary items that set designers can shop in for ensuring their set is period-perfect.  One aisle consisted only of every type of telephone you can imagine, while others held weaponry from medieval times through machine guns that would be at home in Iraq.

Afterwards we headed to Citywalk for a Family IFly experience, which my kids thought was the highlight of the day.  More on that tomorrow!

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