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?

 

 

 

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.

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?

 

 

We Decide- As a family and as a Nation.

This summer Olivia travelled to Medellin, Colombia with her aunt and cousins. Olivia had the chance to visit the town where her grandmother grew up, and she met many family members for the first time. It was Olivia’s first time to Colombia and she loved it. Juan and I wanted her to go for many reasons, one of which was to learn about the country where her grandparents were born, and lived. It was a chance to connect with her history, her roots. It was also a chance for her to be exposed to a different way of life. She had a fantastic experience.

After four weeks in Colombia, Olivia came home and immediately left again. Two hours after her flight landed, she boarded another flight to our state capitol, Sacramento. Olivia was selected to participate in a week long conference called the Chicano Youth Leadership Project. There she had another kind of experience putting her in touch with her culture as a Latina in the U.S. Olivia is interested in politics, policy and social justice, and will be going to college next year to study international relations. Her week in Sacramento exposed her to some of the political and social issues that Latinos face today, and have overcome in the past. Through this dynamic program, and perhaps her month in Colombia Olivia has gained a deeper appreciation about what it means to be an American of Colombian ancestry–and what it means to be a Latina. She came home after 5 weeks away on fire!

Olivia was inspired and motivated to begin working in politics and social justice issues. She wasted no time. A few days after she returned from her travels, she began interning at a US congresswoman’s office, a Latino organization and a grass-roots organizing group. I am so proud of her and excited for her future. She is interested in poitics and as the election draws closer, we discuss the issues more frequently. As a Latino family we have been discussing those issues which are personal to us–immigration, education, voter disenfranchisement, and of course, the economy and health care.

That’s why I was so excited to read about the launch of a new program on nuvoTV. We Decideis Latino town hall program moderated by Natalie Morales, and premiering on Sunday, August 19 at 8 pm. The program will feature a panel of high-panel experts who will engage with a live audience and other virtual particpants engaging through social media platforms. The program will cover how the presidential candidates are addressing issues specific to America’s Latino population. Not only will Latino celebrities and political figures be appearing on the show and tuning in, but our family will be tuning in too. As a social network savvy teen, I hope Olivia will be able to contribute to the discussion by accessing the Facebook site. Even though Olivia is still to young to vote, she’s not too young to follow the discussion and stay informed on the issues we face as Latinos, and as Americans.

Click here for a preview of We Decide on nuvoTV.

 

This is a compensated post in collaboration with Latina Bloggers Connect and nuvoTv.

50/50 Friday – Week 46

Last night I got home from a busy day at work and collapsed onto my unmade bed. I had a headache, and I felt like changing into my pajamas even though it was only 6:00pm and no one had eaten dinner. I did not feel like cooking but the thought of letting my family eat another night of frozen food made me feel like Slacker Mom. As I lay on my bed and thought about the contents of my refrigerator all that came to mind was a lonely leftover cooked chicken breast and some asparagus. Even McGyver can’t make a meal for five people out of that! As I moaned with dramatic flair and complained to Juan of my exhaustion and the pounding in my head, I asked him to please pick up some take-out dinner after he took Molly to the dog park, and on his way home from picking up Nico from baseball practice. I put on my pitiful face and told him that I just wanted to lay in bed. Whew!

Did I mention he had already worked traffic duty at our kids’ school this morning, gone to court, worked in the office this afternoon, taken Erica to the doctor and drove Olivia home from school? Yeesh. I started to feel really bad about asking him to do one more errand tonight. I began to feel a growing pang in my stomach. At first I thought it was guilt, but then I realized I must be getting hungry. As I considered what I was hungry for and nothing came to mind. I remembered that Friday was approaching and admitted to myself that I hadn’t cooked in a while for my 50/50 challenge. So, I rallied and hauled myself out of bed and became McGyver. As I looked through some recipes on line I suddenly had an appetite for, wait for it…crepes! I know, I know, crepes? Who gets an apetite for crepes? I think it had something to do with the lone chicken breast and asparagus, and the recipe that said EASY. That is how it came to pass that I made not just one new recipe this week but two!! Savory Crepes with Asparagus and Chicken and Sweet Crepes with Strawberries, Whipped Cream and Nutella. Surprisingly, it was easy. They came out really good considering I have never made crepes before. I even got Nico to try them, although he ate the sweet ones without the strawberries. After I finished cooking them, I announced to the family in my best fake French accent that, “Ze kitchen is closed and ze chef is going to her room to rest.”

Earlier in the week, before I was too exhausted to do anything else on my list, I managed to check off number 38, See the Desert in Bloom. This is something I have always wanted to do, but despite living in Southern California all my life, I have never done it. On Wednesday this week I had to drive another courthouse about 80 miles from downtown Los Angeles, in the high desert area of Antelope Valley. This area is known for its wild California poppies and other desert flowers. I remembered to grab my camera on the way out the door that morning. After I was done with court I took a slight detour and visited the poppy reserve.

A lone bunch of poppies in the middle of the desert landscape. Too bad there wasn't much rain this year.

It was a picture perfect day, one which makes you wonder why anyone would live anywhere but Southern California. The only thing missing was an abundance of desert flowers, and a charged camera battery. After 5 photos my camera died and I had to make due with my phone camera. Our dry winter did not produce the desert flowers I hoped to see, but still I found a few along the road. Driving through the country side with my windows down, the cool breeze blowing, and the Dixie Chicks playing on my car stereo, I felt like I was a million miles from home. Too bad I had to go home and fix dinner.

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Feeling like a Vegas High Roller Without Breaking the Bank

I am home from my weekend in Sin City with Juan. We decided to take some much needed time away from our hectic home life and celebrate Juan’s birthday and Valentine weekend by indulging ourselves in an Adults Only trip to Las Vegas.  As we planned our get away weekend, we knew we wanted to do something fun and relaxing. I immediately thought of staying in a quaint bed and breakfast  in a sleepy coastal town where we could stroll on the shore and curl up with a good book. Yawn! I searched the Internet for deals, but when I proposed the beach getaway to Juan, he didn’t seem too enthused about the idea.  That’s when when I learned he really wanted to go to Vegas. Vegas is about 180 degrees from a sleepy coastal town, but I’m Gemini like that, so I immediately switched internet search terms and began looking for deals.  That was easy too, because, February isn’t exactly high season in Vegas, and I get spam email from about a gazillion sites offering me travel bargains, hotel deals and discounts.

I looked at a lot of options from TravelZoo, Expedia, TripAdvisor and SpreeBird, and ended up choosing the air/hotel package deal on Southwest Vacations.  It was not the cheapest of options, but we decided we wanted to splurge a little on the accommodations and chose the elegant Wynn Hotel. We are not gamblers but the casino at the Wynn makes me wish I knew how to throw dice or play cards. I did find a fun slot machine with a Wizard of Oz theme,  and before I knew it I had doubled my $20. Then, faster than you could say, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,”  my winnings were back down and I walked away with .30 in my pocket. Good thing I quit before it was a total loss.

Yes, it was a good thing too, because even though Juan and I splurged on the accommodations and travel, we wanted to save all our pennies on other activities. That’s where one of my favorite pastimes comes in handy–bargain hunting. I love a deal, and with the Internet, deals are easy to find. As I mentioned, I get a lot of emails from bargain hunting sites, so I took full advantage of them on this trip. The first thing I did to make sure that I didn’t miss a deal was to subscribe to daily Groupon Las Vegas email alerts. I did this a couple of weeks before our trip so I was on the lookout for any offers which I might be able to use. I love Groupon and have used it several times for all kinds of things, from plants to restaurants.

I caught several Las Vegas deals right away. One was a $25 Groupon for $50 worth of food or alcohol, at the Public House restaurant in the Venetian Hotel. The restaurant had a modern atmosphere and an interesting food and drink menu. We had wonderful service and a delicous lunch. After our Groupon, our bill came to $25 for 2 entrees and 4 drinks.

But Groupon wasn’t the only discount provider with good deals. One deal which was too good to pass up was an offer from Travel Zoo. The deal was $89 for a 50 minute massage, 25 minute facial or pedicure, and a glass of champagne at the Reliquary Spa in the Hard Rock Hotel. I purchased this deal for Juan and I, and we loved it. We arrived early enough to use the spa facilities, including the Roman style spa, then we lounged in our comfy terry robes, while we sipped on champagne and waited for our massage therapists to escort us to our individual services. Feeling relaxed and indulged we got ready for an evening out on the town.

Earlier in the day I received another email alert from Groupon for $15 tickets at the V Theater in Planet Hollywood for a comedy burlesque show called Sin City. Juan really enjoys live stand-up and keeping with our adult themed weekend I thought a burlesque show would be fun. While we were in line waiting to get into the theater we chatted with another couple from Phoenix who were also on an Adults only weekend. I asked how they heard of the show and they said Groupon! We started comparing deals and exchanging bargain hunting tips. The couple in line behind us heard us talking and complained to her husband that they had paid the full price of $50 for the same tickets!

The next day we spent around the hotel, relaxing and people watching.  We planned to spend the evening at a nice restaurant for a special dinner, and I found another bargain at Restaurant.com.  I did a lot of research on TripAdvisor, looking for a steak house that offered  discounti meal coupons. I found that Restaurant.com offered a $100 off coupon for $45 at Envy at the Renaissance Hotel. When I used a promo code I found on the internet I saved another $10 on the coupon. We had a fantastic 5 course dinner, drinks, coffee and desert, with outstanding service, and with the coupon our total bill was $102.

Finally, on our last day we wanted to see a big Vegas show. We went to a popular discount ticket vendor, Tix4Tonite to see what show tickets they were selling.  They were offering Blue Man Group at the Venetian for $91 in the middle section.  I checked out TravelZoo and they had the same seats for $60. Needless to say, we bought the tickets through Travelzoo. But before we went to the show, we had to eat, so again we used a Groupon I purchased earlier. The Groupon I purchased was for the Queen Victoria Pub and was $10 for $35 dollars worth of food. When our bill came for our lunch of a steak sandwich, fish and chips and two beers, the amount was only $8!

Even though we splurged by staying at the 5 star Wynn Hotel, we saved some money with Groupon, TravelZoo and Restaurant.com. Our indulgent Adults Only weekend made me feel like a high roller, without breaking the bank.