Number 22: Travel to Italy (Part 1)

If you have been around my blog before, you know that this has been a pretty eventful year for me. In May, I celebrated a milestone birthday.  In preparation for my half-century anniversary of life, I made a list of 50 Things to Do Before my 50th Birthday.  Number 22 on that list was Travel to Italy.   I didn’t get to finish everything on my list, but in April of this year I managed to complete Number 22.  I tried to keep a record of my trip as I traveled,  but time was short so I never finished writing about my trip,  until now.  Thanks to NaBloPoMo, I have the motivation to get it done. Here’s the first leg of my trip:


We arrived in Rome in spite of ourselves.  After making our travel preparations, which, by the way did not include actually planning our sight-seeing itinerary, we nearly missed our flight.  We arrived at the airport early and found a seat near the gate.  We began to wonder why it was taking so long to board our flight.   I was on the phone with Diego, who had called us for the 5th time since we left home, when all of sudden, just minutes before our flight departed, I heard the announcement, “Last Call for Mejia.” I then realized the airline changed the gate number.  I abruptly ended the phone call and raced to catch our flight!

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Once we boarded the plane, we settled in for the long flight to Toronto and then onto Rome. I managed to sleep a bit while Juan stayed wide awake almost the entire 15 hour flight. When we arrived in Rome we found our rental car and tried to get our bearings.  Juan, my techie husband, did all kinds of research in how to use our smart phones for international travel.  He figured that he would use our unlocked iPhones and buy a SIM card for data usage.  This would allow us to use our phones as GPS devices.  It sounded too techie for me to be concerned about, but had I known how much we would need our smart phones as a GPS from the moment we drove out the airport, I might have given it more thought.

The ride from the airport to our hotel was enough to make me start drinking and made Juan start biting his fingernails again.  We were completely turned around, and had no idea where we were going.  We were tired,  hungry and we had to use the bathroom.  Juan drove and we kept circling the same roundabout looking for our hotel.  We finally gave up and decided we needed to eat lunch.  That was the best move we made.  We found a wonderful trattoria with delicious food, and oddly enough, no women in the restaurant. We ordered wine with our meal and began to relax and get into vacation mode.  Hey, who needed a GPS? We were on an adventure. In Italy!

Our first meal in Italy.

Our first meal in Italy.

By the time we finished our wine and our meal we were so relaxed all we could think of was getting to our hotel so we could nap.  We left the trattoria and got turned around walking to our car.  Without a GPS we were in trouble. Still, we tried to stay positive and paused long enough to take in our first views of Italy.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

Back in the car we tried again to find our hotel.  Another three times around the same roundabout and we wanted to cry, or get a divorce. Juan wanted to stop at a phone store and buy the SIM cards so we could use a GPS, but we could not find a phone store that took credit cards. We drove around looking for an ATM.   At last, we found cash, bought the SIM card and were able to use our phones as a GPS.  Several hours after we landed in Rome, we made it to our hotel.  Our hotel was located about 25 minutes by train outside of Rome,  in Frascati.

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati


Frascati, Italy

Frascati, Italy

We checked into our hotel,  fell into bed and slept.  We woke up two hours later. By the time we were ready to start exploring it was already 9:30 at night. Even with a GPS, after all we had been through navigating from the airport,  we knew we did not want to drive into Rome at night for a meal. Besides, we were hungry and when I am hungry, I am cranky.  Frascati is a quaint town with many restaurants that close early.  We walked and walked looking for an open restaurant.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Thankfully,  we found a local pizzeria and enjoyed our first pizza of the trip. I think the pizza was really good, but I was so cranky hungry by that time, I can’t say for sure.  At least the service was wonderful.  Our waiter Alessandro was charming and friendly.  Fed, and nearly rested, we returned to our hotel where I watched The Walking Dead and Juan slept.  The next day Juan and I would start our tour of the Eternal City.

The first of many pizzas on our trip to Italy.

The first of many pizzas on our trip.




Dreaming of Italy

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since I created my list of 50 Things to do Before my 50th Birthday. With my 50th birthday less than two months away, and a lot of my list unfinished, I have been thinking that my list is more of a Wish List than a To Do list. But, to be fair, even though I have not yet completed many of the projects on that list, I am proud of those things I have been able to attempt, some which I began to think I could never do.

Number 22 on my list–Travel to Italy– was something I began to feel certain was more of a dream than a possibility. Traveling to Italy is something I have wanted to do for the last 28 years. When I was 22 I saved my waitress tips and wages until I had earned enough to travel through Europe for six weeks. I was young and adventurous so sleeping on trains made possible for me to criss-cross the continent and wake up in a new country every couple of days. I traveled on $30 per day, making meals out of bread and cheese, and I economized, squeezing in as much as I could see on my limited budget. My first visit to Italy was brief but memorable and it left me waiting for a day when I could to return. Like most tourists, I dropped my coins in the Trevi Fountain and vowed to come back one day to soak up the wonderful culture, and dine on something beyond bread and cheese.

If I had I really considered what my trip to Italy without kids would cost my husband Juan and I in time, money and effort, I might never have made such a public proclomation to return to Italy. I guess I’d forgotten how expensive and all-consuming it is to raise three teens and an 8 year-old. Suddenly, it’s two months before my 50th birthday and Olivia is about to graduate from high school and embark on her dream to attend college. Nico and Erica are freshman in high school and are busier than ever. Diego’s schedule is packed full with baseball, choir and the school play. Yikes. What was I thinking? With college tuition on the horizon and the usual onslaught of end of school year events, Italy was looking more like a pipe dream. Juan and I discussed it and decided that travel to Italy would have to wait until, well who knew when?

Then, after a particularly stressful month involving all sorts of teen drama, coupled with a large dose of adolescent entitlement, I received an email blast from one of my favorite travel websites. Travelzoo was offering a reasonably priced package to Rome, Tuscany and Venice, complete with airfare, hotel and rental car. The trip itself was only 8 days but really that was about all I could spend away from work and home. It sounded wonderful, but not probable. I sent the email to Juan anyway. That night we looked at our budget, our calendars and decided we had to do it. The trip started out as my dream, but the more Juan and I talked about it the more it the more my dream became his wish too. We would be celebrating 10 years of marriage in June. Married life can be wonderful and challenging, and marriage in a blended family has more than its share of struggles. We really felt like we owed it to ourselves and ultimately to our family.

We went on-line and booked the package, along with the trip insurance that would refund the cost in the event of a medical emergency or death. It’s probably a good thing the insurance didn’t cover cancellation in case of unforeseen teenage angst, or 8 year-old son separation anxiety, because I might have needed to use it.

So, here I am on the plane to Rome. Juan and I have spent the last two days frantically trying to get ready for this trip. We want the trip to be unstructured to allow us some time to explore on our own, and most of all, slow down and soak up the Italian culture. It’s a good thing too, because we have had very little time to really plan where we are going and what we will see. We have a wish list but it’s just that, a wish list. I know we won’t do or see half of it, and that’s okay. I am mostly looking forward to reconnecting with my husband, celebrating nearly 50 years of my life and 10 years of marriage, and of course, eating some really good food, and drinking Italian wines.

I had to keep all my hopes for this trip in mind this last week as I coordinated with the other parents who will take care of Nico and Olivia and Erica, and as I did countless loads of laundry, shopped for groceries to keep Diego and our nanny fed while we are gone, created schedules, arranged childcare, carpools, wrote medical authorizations, jotted down endless lists, and even reviewed our Wills. At one point I was so stressed I joked that maybe we should fake a medical emergency so we could cancel our trip!

Last night Diego spent the night with his grandmother because we had to catch an early morning flight. He used his iTouch to call and FaceTime with us four times. He was trying to be brave but I could tell from the way he combed his hands through his hair and blinked his eyes, that he was already homesick and sad. He called us again early this morning, right before we boarded the first leg of our flight. He tried to hold back tears. I cut the call short for fear I would begin to regret this trip altogether, but before I hung up the phone I told him that I left a present for him at home. He seemed to brighten up at the idea of a surprise waiting for him.

I bought him a Dreamcatcher, and I wrote him a note. The Dreamcatcher is something he’s wanted since he saw his older brother’s hanging over his bed. In the note I wrote to Diego I explained that while his dad and I are gone, the Dreamcatcher would help him keep away bad dreams and we could see each other in his good dreams. We said good-bye and as I hung up the phone,  I was cheered by Diego’s smile and the thought of how happy he would be by the Dreamcatcher. Then, it suddenly occurred to me that giving him a Dreamcatcher as I travel to Italy is the perfect going away gift for me too.

A dream about to be realized.

A dream about to be realized.

Do you have any travel dreams you would like to see come true?




From My Couch to My First 5K

When I began my list of 50 Things To Do Before My 50th Birthday I (impulsively) added, number 33 “Run Participate in a Half-Marathon.” You’ll notice I said participate, not run.I’m a lawyer and a blogger, so I know I should choose my words carefully. I committed to participate because I didn’t know if I could ever be that kind of person who actually runs. I have never liked running, and I never understood those people who gushed when they talk about running and the runner’s high they get after breezing through an easy 2 or 3 mile jog. For me, running has always been a slog, something I had to do when my P.E. teacher punished us with laps around the track. So, you can imagine that it was a real leap for me to even think about participating in a half-marathon. But, my list of 50 Things to Do Before My 50th Birthday is about challenging myself to do things outside my comfort zone. Besides, if not now when I am nearing 50, then when will I ever run in a half-marathon?

I told my friend Julie about my public proclamation to participate in a half-marathon and because she knows me so well, she laughed out loud and said, “What do you mean participate? Are you going to pass out water in those little cups?” She was right. Merely participating is too wimpy, too non-committal. If I was going to do it, I really needed to do it, and soon. My 50th birthday was approaching. Just after the New Year, Juan and I were sitting on our couch, sipping coffee on a lazy weekend morning and I was browsing through my Instagram feed when I spied a photo posted by Catalina, a local blogger I follow. She had posted this:

The photo that inspired me. Thanks Catalina!

The photo that inspired me. Thanks Catalina!

It seemed Catalina was working her way to a 5K on a treadmill with an app, and she was posting her progress on line. That was my “Come to Jesus” moment. I knew I could not put this running thing off any longer. I asked Juan if he wanted to run with me and he agreed. We decided that we work our way up to a half-marathon and begin by running in the LA Big 5K, on the LA Marathon Weekend. We downloaded the Couch to 5K app on our smartphones and the next morning we began Week 1 of the 8 Week training program. We started out with four intervals of 2 minute jogs and 2 minute walks. That first morning I felt like I was going to pass out!

We kept at it and ran three times a week with this program, increasing our jogging time while decreasing our walking time and intervals. I gradually built up my endurance and soon we began running around the Rose Bowl with dozens of other joggers and fitness enthusiasts. I actually began to feel athletic. By week 8 I was running for 30 minutes straight and no longer felt like I was going to stroke out. Nevertheless, I still didn’t love running, and during the first 10 minutes of my runs, all I could think of was, “This hurts. I want to stop. Why can’t I breathe?” But after about 10 minutes my body would finally take over. Running became easier and almost meditative, even if I didn’t experience a runner’s high.

Finally, the day I trained for arrived. Last Sunday Juan and I woke up early and joined 3000 participants at Dodger Stadium for the LA Big 5K. We all gathered at the starting line and soon we were off! At least some of the runners in front were off. Those of us in the back moved en masse, walking more than running as we wound our way through the parking lot of Dodger Stadium. As I picked up my pace along the course I realized that this was not the easy, flat terrain I had trained on. There were some down slopes but my legs felt like most of the course was uphill. Juan hit his stride and broke away from me. I was in a pack of runner/walkers until the first big hill and then, even with my slow jog trudging uphill, I managed to break away. I finally found my groove and set my pace alongside another runner who looked like she was a bit older than me but had a consistent stride. I was tired and my thighs ached as I ran up one hill after another. I kept thinking about how far I had come training over the last 8 weeks and the thought of my success motivated me to keep running. When I finished the race I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment and maybe even a little bit of a runner’s high. Whatever. I felt great!

Feeling fine after my first 5K.

Feeling fine after my first 5K.

I don’t plan to stop at a 5K. After all, I did say I wanted to do a half-marathon. At the rate I am going I know I won’t be in shape to run 13.1 miles by my 50th birthday but I will get there, one slow slog at a time. Then, I can check number 33 from my list and finally say that I particpated ran a half-marathon.

Here is a short video Juan put together of our first 5k:


The Gift to Myself the Day After Christmas

 Now that we’ve made the last stop on our Christmas Tour 2012 (details to come), I get to do what I have been looking forward to for a long time. I get to see Les Miserables, the movie!  It opened yesterday. As you may already know from my list of 50 Things to Do Before my 50th Birthday, I absolutely love this show. I was happy to learn they were making it into a movie but didn’t hold out much hope that it would be actually good since I didn’t know that any of the lead roles would be played by actors who could sing. Javert played by Russell Crowe? Ann Hathaway as Fantine? Jan Valjean played by Wolverine? I mean Hugh Jackman.

Then I saw an interview on 60 Minutes with Hugh Jackman and I started to read all the press and even saw a couple of trailers, and I began to think this could be good. It seems I am not the only one who thinks it may be good. A lot of the reviews are really favorable too. So, I am now looking forward to seeing it really soon. Maybe even tonight, if I can get my teen girls to stay home long enough to babysit their little brother. My husband, who does not enjoy musicals, is less enthusiastic, but has agreed to come along. I know he’s looking forward to it too, because this was his Facebook status this morning:

Juan's Facebook Status

On second thought, maybe he’ll stay home with Diego, and I’ll take my teen girls with me instead.

What about you, do you like musicals? Will you be seeing Les Miserables?


Making Lemonade From Lemons

Like many of you, I spend most of my weekends doing errands, catching up on household chores and chauffeuring kids to sporting and social activities. These days it seems even busier, since my kids have gotten older and I have to spend a lot of time taking them places to accommodate their busy lives. This past weekend was no different. Olivia had to attend a 6 hour college preparation workshop in Santa Monica, a beach city that is an hour drive from my hot, dry foothill community. I dreaded the thought of the freeway traffic–an hour there, an hour back—and two hours later, another hour there and another hour back. One long, wasted day. Lemons.

Juan suggested I take the time I would have spent sitting in traffic and stay in Santa Monica. He told me to use the time to write, or do whatever I needed. Brilliant! So, instead of sitting in my car all morning I packed my laptop, dropped Olivia at her workshop and then went for breakfast at a nice café and did some writing. Lemonade.

After awhile I realized that my laptop battery began to die, so I packed up my things and walked back to my car, which I had parked in front of a small public library. I went inside, found a nice table to continue writing and took out my computer charger. That’s when I realized I had brought the wrong charger. With 3 hours to go until I could pick up Olivia, 20 minutes left on my battery life, and a whole lot of writing still to do, I had no computer. Lemons.

I left the library and went out to my van. Good thing no one ever cleans their stuff out of the van, because I found this:

Old school writing device.

I walked two short blocks to the beach, found an empty chair with an umbrella and finished writing. Lemonade.


After I finished writing I still had over an hour left before I could pick up Olivia. I looked around and saw that there was a bike rental place behind me. I realized that number 17 on my list, of 50 Things to do Before my 50th Birthday, “Ride bikes along the beach”, was still unfinished. Unfortunately, the bike rental shop accepted cash only. I looked in my wallet and found a whopping $2.00. Lemons.

Then it occurred to me that I had bought a Groupon a while back for Venice Beach bike rentals. I looked on my Groupon App on my phone and found that the Venice Beach bike rental shop was less than 2 miles away.

I also noticed the Groupon had expired. More lemons.

Ah well, I decided to go there anyway to see if I could still use it. I left Santa Monica and drove to eclectic Venice beach. I quickly found parking and the bike rental shop. When I got to the bike rental shop the quirky man with the eye patch and Aussie accent told me I could still use the expired Groupon. Lemonade.

A spontaneous bike ride on the beach.

How do you make lemonade from lemons?