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Blah, Blah, Blogs (or You Decide the Topic)

When you commit to writing a weekly blog it’s easy to think, “hmmm, what if I skip a week?” or – more often – “What the heck am I gonna write about this week?” 

 I am quite proud that the topics I write about are either from the heart or from personal experience. That means I have to come up with a topic even on weeks when Greg and I don’t go anywhere. Honestly, that’s more often than not. 

I’d love to travel more. If you read this blog, chances are you feel the same. Short of winning the lottery or having this blog discovered by a wealthy benefactor who’s looking to sponsor my travels, you are going to be reading a little less about places I’ve been and a little more about HOW to travel. I am happy to share lessons learned, travel tips, hints, and similar topics with you. I’d also like to know what you want to read.

What do you want to know? What topics interest you? 

Send me your questions! Send me your thoughts! If I get enough, I’ll do a fun question and answer blog. I may be writing this every week, but you’re reading it. Shouldn’t you have a little say in what’s discussed? 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … let’s start exploring how much fun we can have together with this blog.

Uncategorized

The Topanga Vintage Market

Ever watch those flea market makeover shows on HGTV and wonder, “Where are these flea markets with all this cool stuff?” I think I found one!

We are spending a few days in the San Fernando Valley northwest of Los Angeles. As we drive past Pierce College, I see a sign for the Topanga Vintage Market. YAY! Finally, we’re here on the fourth Sunday of the month! I turned to Greg and said, “Guess what we’re doing?”

Bargain shoppers head to the Topanga Vintage Market.

The market officially opens at 8am with more than 100 vendors. It’s a reasonable $4 per person to get in (free for Veterans and their families) and it’s well worth the price. 

If you’re in the market for vintage clothing – this is the place. Several of the vendors are even sporting their wares.

Tsotchkes? This place has tsotchkes galore. I love the collection of vintage ash trays. I spot a selection of mirrors in amazing condition. Looking for a dial telephone? There are many options throughout the market.

Furniture is a little limited, but what is here is a really fun combination of like-new condition and ready-to-be-refurbished, mostly mid-century stuff. A smattering of vendors offer what I think of as flea market items – comic books, used-but-not-classic kids items, lamps and whatnot that you’d find in a resale store – you get the point.

Coffee to the stars?

While you stroll the aisles under the gorgeous, Southern California sunshine, you can also grab a coffee or snack from one of the several food trucks on site. Parking is plentiful  and even interspersed with classic cars — it is LA after all. 

Giant tiki statues sit among planters and glassware.

We grab a business card from a guy selling big tiki statues for a future purchase. He says he’s at this market most of the time and if he’s not there, we can call him. Hey … you never know when you might need a giant tiki statue, right?

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … take a break from landmarks and check out a local open-air market wherever you travel.

The World A to Z, travel, Uncategorized

How Do You Travel?

From Washington’s Birthday until the end of May, there are no federal holidays. This season should be embraced by travelers. The need for vacation days, breaks from work and school, are well-studied and documented. A whole quarter of the year without a break built-in is just awful!

The good news is, every school schedule includes spring break. Students and teachers from 5 to 95 have a week off somewhere during this dearth of holidays. If you’re looking for an adults-only type of vacation, you should consider where the spring break crowds may be. After all, HOW you travel is as important as WHERE you travel.

Here’s what I mean: When you plan a trip there are dozens of questions to consider before making any reservations. “Where are we going?” leads to “What do we want to do?” “Do we want to avoid the crowds or head to a popular, albeit crowded destination?” You have to ask about interests – Will I be bored in a museum? Do I want to sit in a beach chair and escape into a good book? What will the kids do while I’m relaxing? Maybe a cruise or an amusement park. Maybe we should send the kids to summer camp and take a romantic vacation for two without them. 

It seems like every question you ask brings up another question … and that’s just the “where” aspect of vacation planning. “When” is also important: “Do we go over spring break?” “Do we take a longer, summer vacation?” If you don’t have a school schedule to worry about, do you take into consideration when you will encounter students or when you can avoid them?

And then there’s the question of “how” you travel. This is the most important question for me – Cruise? Train? Road trip? Flight to a far-off destination? Greg and I are not fans of cruising. We prefer land-based travel because the opportunity for surprise diversions comes up at nearly every turn. We prefer smaller crowds, so we tend to travel during off seasons. That means we give up a few things, though. Sometimes stores and museums are closed at our destination, for instance. 

But there are many times we have opted to head right into a crowd. We took our grandson on a road trip in August. The crowds at the Grand Canyon were immense – busloads of tourists crowded the overlooks and restaurants. He was on summer break with every other school student in the US. We were locked in to his school schedule.

I could go on and on, but by now you get the point. Planning a vacation can be a monumental challenge. You can tackle it alone, with your family or get help. Travel professionals can offer ideas you may not have considered. Researching a potential destination might even lead to a new item on your travel bucket list. Have fun with it! 

Remember, while there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, you have a whole lifetime to see it.

Musings, travel, Uncategorized

Rewrite Your Stars … or How Dreaming Makes You Successful

Within the last few months, I’ve seen at least two movies that include a storyline about a character rewriting the stars; that seemingly predestined journey through life that fate deems inevitable. In these movies, as in real life, those who are able to find a more satisfying, even fascinating path are called dreamers.  

I have always been a dreamer! When I was young, that label was used to chastise: “Get your head out of the clouds.” “Pay attention and stop daydreaming.” “You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t stop wasting your time dreaming.”

Those phrases held me back. I’d dream of rewriting my stars and  hear one of those voices in my head reminding me how futile dreaming is.

Somewhere in my 40s the voices stopped. I started dreaming again. At first it was cautious, but eventually I dreamt with an almost childlike enthusiasm. I acted on those dreams.

There are those who work all day. Those who dream all day. And those who spend an hour dreaming before setting to work to fulfill those dreams. Go into the third category because there’s virtually no competition.

Steve Ross, Former CEO, Time-Warner

I noticed a sparkle return to my eyes. Smiles came easier. I found myself spending less time worrying and regretting and more time dreaming and looking ahead. I walked away from people in my life whose voices echoed those taunting, anti-dreamer thoughts.

Somehow, looking back, I knew I’d always be a dreamer. I’d always found a way to make a dream come true. I always found enough money for another trip (a consistently repeating dream involves travel). I never gave up looking for professional satisfaction — at least not until I realized my life outside of the office was shining brighter that life in the office. 

When I started to dream more, I found myself surrounded by other dreamers. Oh sure, there were still naysayers in my life and their “poo-pooing” was ever present. I started seeing them as sad and unfulfilled.

My new life is filled with joy. Smiles are a constant. I travel more and am achieving my dream of doing it in style. Sending happiness out into the world has brought it back to me time and time again.

I say “thank you” all the time. To my fellow-dreamer, fellow-nomadic, enthusiastic, happy husband … to God … to the universe … to any and everyone who gives me another reason to smile. 

I relax more and enjoy more. Little annoyances are dismissed with ease, pushed out to make more room for joy. 

Ten years ago it seemed the stars were pointing me to a future of settling for things, of growing old without much excitement. Then I started dreaming again — and I rewrote my own stars!

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … start with a dream.

Musings, travel, Uncategorized

Black and White — or Shades of Brown?

When my son was about two-and-a-half, we found ourselves at JFK Airport waiting for a flight. He has always been a good traveler and we managed to keep ourselves busy for a little while people-watching. After about ten minutes of a never-ending stream of passers by, he turned to me and gave me one of those looks that only a two-year-old can muster — so very serious, but overwhelmingly curious. 

“Mom,” he asked, “why do we say people are black and white?” 

WOW! How do you answer a question like that? I didn’t want to influence his thought, so I answered his question with a question: “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he pondered, “there are lots of people here and I’ve been looking at them, but I haven’t seen anyone who is black or anyone who is white.”

I responded with another question, “What color are all these people?”

His response was quick and perfunctory, “Brown.” Nothing more, nothing less. His innocent observation of probably a few hundred people was that everyone was brown.

I was proud. JFK Airport is an endless variety of people. International travelers from every corner of the world passed by our seats. We’d seen people with every shade of brown you could imagine. I asked him to explain what he meant by brown.

He said, “well, some people are really light brown – like you, and some people are darker brown – like dad (his father is part-Hispanic), and some people are really dark brown – like the chocolate you like. 

OK, that gave me a little chuckle, people described as the colors of food was a great two-year-old observation.

We spent a couple of minutes wondering why anyone would say black or white to describe a person and never really came up with an answer. I explained that people from different places have different color skin and they also have different cultures and music and food and wear different clothes. He asked if the kids play with different toys. “Yes, they do,” I answered. He asked if he could play with other kinds of toys and I noticed the topic had returned to more typical kid conversation.

That conversation has stuck with me his whole life. He is almost 30 and still has the same wild curiosity about life and people. I am still proud.

I wish everyone could see the world through his two-year-old eyes. I wish everyone could see differences as fascinating instead of scary. I wish people could see the world in a never-ending number of shades of brown and not black and white. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … it’s thrilling and different and brilliantly colorful … go see it!

Food, The World A to Z, travel

Boston’s “Politically Incorrect North End Food Tour”

A quick google search of food quotes and travel quotes shows how closely these two things are connected. That’s one of the reasons I try to take a food tour or cooking class everywhere I go. Boston was no exception.

The bread bakery stop was a tour highlight.

There are a myriad of food tours in nearly every major city in the world. Boston’s includes many in the Italian food mecca known as the North End. Here in the shadow of the famous “Old North Church” where lanterns illuminated Paul Revere’s warning of the British invasion from the steeple, you can sample everything from pizza to pastries. I decided to go for food and humor and booked the “Politically Incorrect North End Food Tour.” 

Anthony was born and raised in the North End and explains he is one of only two TRUE natives operating a food tour here. Others, he scoffs, came here 10 or 12 years ago, but didn’t grow up here and don’t know the neighborhood stories. 

The menu at Umberto’s

The tour didn’t disappoint! Interspersed with tales of families who have been in business for generations, he walks us to Umberto’s for a slice of pizza to kick off the tour.

Inside Polcari’s Coffee

From there it’s off to Polcari’s Coffee — a very European-feeling general store where we were surrounded by the smell of coffee and spices while we sampled a classic piece of Italian candy.

Sandwich at Monica’s Mercato

A few blocks up the street we came to Monica’s Mercato Pizza. It wasn’t pizza we sampled, though, it was a hearty slice of a classic Italian sub. The flavors lingered deliciously on my tongue as we made our way to the Old North Church listening to Anthony’s stories of the neighborhood and how he got his nickname, Flash. 

One of the bakery cases at Modern Pastry

Next stop – the bakery! The tour description promised a cannoli, but Anthony had warned us that our cannoli would not be the typical bakery version. His Pops had made fresh ricotta cream filling the day before, so we would be getting the homemade version of the classic Italian treat. Never fear, the bakery case at Modern Pastry included dozens of cookies and pastry options. Our sample was something Anthony called an Italian macaroon. It was a shiny doughy ball filled with almond paste … WOW!

Key ingredients to making Italian bread.

A couple of doors down we turned up a little alley and came to a small flight of stairs into the heavenly aroma of baking bread. The list on the wall  of Bricco Panetteria shows what goes into true Italian bread – culminating with passion. Clearly, from the flavor of the slice of authentic Roman pizza I enjoyed, this bakery includes a generous portion of that essential ingredient.

Back on the neighborhood streets we passed restaurants, bakeries and a florist that may very well have been owned by some distant relative. As we stopped again, I noticed a familiar name on the sign at our next stop: Monica. Monica’s three sons each own a food shop of some sort in the neighborhood. At the pasta shop featuring her name, we tried a completely different kind of sub.

The Abruzzo section in the wine shop.

A number of my fellow foodie tourists and I pontificated about how simply changing the bread and condiments on a sandwich could so utterly change the flavors. Anthony warned us not to fall too much in love with this homemade mayonnaise-based dressing. This son was keeping the spread off the market. Our guide said he often tried to buy a jar to no avail.

A quick stop at a wine shop before our final destination left me dazzled with choices. This shop has an entire ROOM of Italian wines, sorted by region. It turns out the tour did not include beverages, but we were encouraged to pick out something we would like to sip with lunch. I left with a nice bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo to sip with my bolognese. 

Mama’s homemade pasta bolognese.

Finally we arrived at Mama’s house. Passing through the kitchen, we settled around the dining room table while Anthony asked Alexa to play some Italian classics while he opened our wine bottles. The rigatoni was brilliantly al dente. The bolognese light and flavorful and the company fun and lively.

Homemade cannoli caps off the tour.

As we finished our pasta, Anthony steps into the dining room holding a silver tray bearing the promised homemade cannolis. The tour couldn’t have ended on a sweeter note (pun intended). Pops’ homemade ricotta filling was not as sicky sweet as the bakery version. The shell crunched with perfection. 

We toasted Anthony and newfound friends before parting ways with very full bellies and bright, shining smiles on our faces. 

 Food, travel and laughs are easily three of my favorite things to combine. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … taste the flavors wherever your travels take you and don’t forget to laugh a lot.

Food, travel

A Tale of Cannolis

When I found out Greg and I would be spending a week in Boston, I started asking friends what should I see, do and eat there. I got a good variety of suggestions, but nearly every single person talked about either the North End’s Italian food scene or lobster and chowder.

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Boxed cannoli from Modern Pastry

For those of you who may not know, Italian food is my favorite. In fact, there is not even a close second. “OK,” I responded to the food suggestions, “what EXACTLY should I try in the North End?” The overwhelming response was, “Get a cannoli!” Then each person offered up a different bakery as the best option. A google search for “best cannoli in Boston” offered up a trio of bakeries, too. Faced with this dilemma, my choice seemed simple: Get a traditional cannoli from each of the top three bakeries and have our own taste test. 

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Bakery boxes are tied with string

Luckily, the day I snagged the cannolis I walked in, walked straight up to the counter at all three places and had cannolis in hand in short order. With my boxed and tied packages, I made my way back to the Convention Center where Greg was attending a conference. 

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Modern Pastry

As fortune continued smiling on me, I arrived during a rare break in his schedule. He was informally meeting with a pair of coworkers in the hotel lobby lounge. I walked up, got hugs from all three gentlemen and, grinning broadly, announced that all three were conscripted into taste-testing service immediately.

Hearing no complaints, I opened all three packages and we passed the cannolis around, taking big, flavor-packed bites of pastry and ricotta cream-filled deliciousness.

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Mike’s Pastry

The results: all three men chose the cannoli from Mike’s Pastry. This is, perhaps, the most famous of the cannoli bakeries and it’s fairly clear why based on the results of my unscientific study. I preferred the cannoli from Modern Pastry. I felt the shell was lighter and crispier. Mike’s, we all agreed, seemed sturdier and thicker. The cannoli from Bova’s Bakery was soggy. I had been warned to always get a freshly filled cannoli for that very reason. I didn’t specifically ask for one, so apparently got a cannoli that had time to lose it’s tasty crunch.

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“Mama’s” homemade cannolis

The following day, I had signed up for a food tour: “Boston’s Politically Incorrect North End Food Tour.” This tour ends at the home of our North-End-native tour guide’s mother’s house. Mama serves up true homemade pasta bolognese. Anthony, aka Flash, announced that “Pops” had whipped up some homemade cannoli filling the day before so we would also be presented with Mama’s cannoli. 

It was no contest. Mama’s was head and shoulders above the bakery versions! 

I believe one of the best ways to truly experience a place is through local food. Boston is no exception. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … taste the flavors as you go.