Travel

5 Things I Miss About England (An Incomplete List)

We lived in England for only four months and I miss it just about every day. Today I wanted a nice cup of strong black tea but didn't have any in the house. Plenty of Earl Grey and Jasmine green and chamomile and etc etc. But not any bog-standard* black tea. I had to order some from Amazon. Made me think of what else I've been missing! Here's a short list:

I miss the green! This was in the park behind out house and we walked there often. Soothing to the soul.

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I miss Waitrose! This was my last visit to our local Waitrose and I was so sad. Not sure why I loved it so much. A bit nicer than your standard Sainsbury's or Tesco, but not crazy fancy by any means. But they had this brand of prepared foods that we fell in love with. So YUM.

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I miss the tea. Good strong black tea. The Tea aisle in any grocery store in the UK is much more fascinating than our "coffee and tea" aisles in the states.

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I miss the pubs - Especially ones with excellent food and lovely gardens. Like this one - The Holly Bush. (Even better - it's in Potter's Crouch!) Pubs are family friendly, dog friendly, friendly friendly. It's a different type of place that we don't have an equal to here in the US.

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I miss school uniforms. I never went to a school that required uniforms, so this was a total novelty for me. They are so sweet! I know, I know, anyone who went to school in England is rolling their eyes at me. I loved shopping for these. 

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Gawd I can't wait to go back. Until then I have to get my fill with The Crown, British Baking Show and Doctor Who.

 

 *Bog standard is a phrase I learned there and love. I use it still, and always will. 

 

Note: Affiliate links included in this post.

 

 

 


So That Happened

Oh Hello.

We are back from our trip to England. It went differently than planned on a couple of big levels, and it also went 1000x better than planned. 

I recapped my March Goals here just before we left. I had lost 15 pounds on my way to losing 40. Good for me. Then we moved and life got nuts. New house, new neighborhood, new driving habits, new office, new colleagues, new food. My blog post was not very forthcoming on my attitude about the move and the job at that time. I mentioned tenacity as my keyword. That was true to a point for the job and the move. 

Then it wasn't relevant anymore and my job ended and I was free. For two months I worked and Harper went to school and Kurt worked at the house and it rained. Then the job ended (for a variety of reason none of which are necessary to write about here - not yet anyway) and it stopped raining and there was this dry, hot, no-one-has-air-con-in-England summer. There was travel and adventure and family time and personal reckoning. There was also much eating and drinking and simply enjoying the hell out of life with new friends and then visitors from the US. 

I learned a lot about myself and what I want and need. But that didn't really clarify completely until two weeks after returning home. Just this last week has seen some amazing changes for me. For us. Good changes. Happy changes. Exciting changes.

It's all a bit vague, I know, but I'll do a slow retelling in the next months as I revamp this blog and my social media life and creative world in general. 

I feel so good. 

JuliaAndBirdOfPrey

 

 

 


Trip to Yugoslavia

DotAndFriends60sor70sKurt's mom Dot died three years ago this month. She was about to turn 97. (That's her, the blonde on the far right in the fabulous teal ensemble, enjoying drinks with the girls*. Please click for best big-hair viewing.)

After she died, there was the usual, exhausting grief-filled process of emptying her apartment and deciding where everything should go. Much of it went to charity, some we sold, the well-loved pictures and knick-knacks went to Kurt's brother and niece and to us. And her dear cat Dynamo came to live with us, may he also now rest in peace. The remaining boxes filled a small storage unit nearby until we could figure out where to put it all. 

Time has a funny way of flying and now, three years later, we are finally unloading that storage space to sort through those remaining boxes and make some final final decisions. To do that we had to also clear out a ton of stuff from our own garage storage area and man, that was satisfying. We hadn't cleared out old bills, papers, household stuff since before Harper was born. I ended up taking 170 pounds of documents to my favorite shredding place

Kurt has done a heroic job of reorganizing our garage storage. He's been unloading his mom's stuff in stages and the first part was mostly old files of her own. We kept the tax stuff and shredded the rest, keeping only a small box of things that relate to Kurt and his brother - grades, certificates, clippings, older family stuff. There were boxes of vinyl records and CDs, all classical or jazz. We have a turntable so we may keep some of it, but most of that will go to charity or maybe we sell to Amoeba records. 

The hardest part of it all is the photos. There are photo albums galore, many of them are Dot's, some are her sister's (all three are long dead now as Dot was the youngest) some are her parent's. There are also boxes of loose photos. But what to do with them all? 

Dot took a trip to Yugoslavia in 1979 when she was 61. There is a whole photo album for it. It's heartbreaking to look at because it means nothing to us, not even Kurt as he doesn't know anything about who is in the photos and wasn't part of the trip. What is the point of keeping it? It's kind of historic, but really, who would ever look at it again?

Yugoslavia doesn't exist. 

It's so sad to think that the entirety of your life gets distilled down to a few dusty boxes of pictures no one cares about. Okay, maybe that's a bit dark, but it's not far off.

Of course your life can also be continued in your children and their children, and that is wonderful. There are stories to relay and some of the photos to look at. But Harper won't remember Gamma Dot. Later it might be fun for her to look at pictures of Kurt and his brother as kids, but that's maybe one or two photo albums out of twenty. Do we simply throw the other photos away? It seems brutal to do that. We have become the recipients of all this history as we are the youngest children of the youngest children in the Frey family. Many of Kurt's cousins have died and there aren't a lot of kids in any of those families. 

It's strange to be the caretaker of a family history that nobody is around to appreciate. It's a trip to a place that doesn't exist. 

We'll probably keep most of it for a few more years, then move on. 

 

 

*Who the girls are, what year this is and what the event was, we will never know


2018 Already?

Seems like it was just November. December went by in a flash. Finished a job, then Thanksgiving, then Harper birthday then family visits then a trip to Seattle, home for Christmas and New Year and WHEW.

2017 was a good good year. I'll be honest and say the first half was much better than the 2nd! Because of course it was ITALY 2017 in the spring. My long planned birthday gift to myself. It turned out better and more wonderful than I even imagined it would. Here is an image from one of our last days in Lucca. Was was so sad to be saying goodbye to such a lovely town and an amazing experience.

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We got home to LA and LA had not changed at all and stood out as dull and full of concrete in contrast. I know I know, not fair to compare Tuscany to LA. But it really made me sit down and consider what the next 5, 10, 20, ?? years might look like. What do I want them to look like? I made a 5 year plan that will be a huge help for the long term goals. But for our distant plans, we are still working on them. Questions like: are we going to live in LA until we die? Are we going to live in this house until we die? All very valid and very REAL questions. Intense questions. Questions we can't answer just at the moment and that's fine. Just as long as they are out there and we are considering. 

As for 2018 - there are goals. Weekly goals, monthly goals, yearly goals. But all of that is predictable and unsurprising so I won't go into that until February as I want to walk my talk and then I'll report back. One goal I will share is to do 5 push ups a day for the month of January. I know, I know, sounds lame and easy. But for me, 5 push ups are hard. And PS I have to do them on my knees because my upper body strength is not great. Also - it's nice to make a goal that is reasonable and totally doable. No extra expense, time or equipment needed. I'll keep you posted.

I hope your 2018 is full of peace and hope and prosperity and joy and good health. 

 

 


Let's Go Back To Italy For A Minute - Tips and Links

One of Harper's preschool buddies (and his parents) are going to Italy and asked about our trip. I wrote them the following email and thought it was wildly appropriate to post it all here.

LUCCA

Lucca is fantastic! Walled city with the tops of the walls as the city’s park. 2,5 miles around and everyone is up there riding bikes, running, walking, walking dogs, etc. Beautiful place to stroll. There are bike rental companies everywhere. We made friends with Laurie who owns this place with her husband. She’s American, he’s Italian. She’ll talk your ear off, but if you get there early to rent bikes, tell them we sent you! https://www.latoscananelcuore.it/

Our favorite coffee/breakfast/snack/lunch place was here:

https://www.facebook.com/panikolucca/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187898-d9715778-Reviews-Paniko-Lucca_Province_of_Lucca_Tuscany.html

(they don’t have a website) Frederika was the young woman there every morning. {We knew we had become regulars/locals when she greeted us with a brusque "'Giorno!"

 

Right around the corner is an AWESOME place called Burro & Alici (Butter and Anchovies) They are a tapas place and opened literally 2 days before we first ate there:

https://www.facebook.com/BurroAlici-187942481705200/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187898-d12321166-Reviews-Burro_Alici-Lucca_Province_of_Lucca_Tuscany.html

We made friends with the owners: Alessandro and Laura. We went there 3 times with a huge party of people. We LOVE them. If you go, please say Julia and Kurt sent you! (We are friends on Facebook now.)

 

Tons of good Gelato around, but our fave was La Bottega Del Gelato:

https://www.facebook.com/LaBottegaDelGelatoLucca/

 

Things for kids full of energy! The Guinigi Tower with the trees on top: IMG_6356

https://www.comune.lucca.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/131

The Bell tower:

https://www.comune.lucca.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/132

Harper and I climbed both twice! There are a couple of playgrounds for the kids as well (Harper was a regular at the biggest one near the Tourist Info office). If you walk around the walls, you’ll see both as they are next to the walls. 

 

Lucca also has great shopping (if you are into that) and the Anfiteatro which is a good place to stop and eat:

https://www.italyguides.it/en/tuscany/lucca/piazza-dell-anfiteatro

 

OH! And Lucca has a HUGE summer music festival every year with BIG names not sure what your dates are, but maybe you can catch something good:

https://www.summer-festival.com/

The Stones are playing in September…!!

 

Outskirts of Lucca - great family restaurant with fantastic pizza and it’s quite local Bimbotto (about 10-15 minute drive from the walls):

https://bimbotto.it/

Yummy food and super friendly kind people. One of the waitresses hugged me goodbye the first night we were there! 

 

Also nearby (15 minute drive from the walls) is this amazing Villa which you can spend an afternoon in:

https://www.parcovillareale.it/

You can bring in a picnic, your dog, whatever! It costs money to go in and the insides of the buildings are not open (under renovation) but the grounds are just great. If you are looking for a lazy afternoon of just chilling and having the kids run around. So many little gardens and fountains to look at. We were so pleasantly surprised. (I wrote about it in my blog.)

{I did a whole blog post about it here.} 

 

Other things not Lucca related. These are in towns between Lucca and Florence: 

Pinnochio Park:

https://www.pinocchio.it/

It’s wackadoodle, but super fun (wrote about it in my blog)

 

Zoo- nice small zoo with two playground areas inside (Very important for Harper because she does’t care that much about zoos!) They have updated a few of the larger enclosures (Lions and tigers and Lynx and Elephant) so it’s more modern but a few other enclosures are very old and sad, but they clearly have plans. But you can have a giraffe lick you, so that’s fun. 

https://www.zoodipistoia.it/en/

 

We heard about caves you can tour but didn’t go - seemed like a kid friendly, hot day activity! Book ahead.

https://welcometuscany.it/tuscany/lucca/garfagnana/wind_cave.htm

 

IMG_7790Montecatini Terme is a famous resort town with hot springs. We only went there to take the Funiculare up the mountain to Montecatini Alto - the Funiculare ride is SUPER cool, but I’m sure it will be crowded as all get out in Summer. And they have just an old window ticket booth and paper tickets, so I don’t think you can buy ahead!

https://www.montecatini.it/english/montecatini_funicular.html

 

San Gimignano (Smaller walled town full of towers) is a lovely day trip:

https://www.comune.sangimignano.si.it/en/tourism-culture

(Harper and I climbed the big tower there too)

 

 

 

FLORENCE AND ROME AND PISA (OH MY)

Some ProTips for Florence and Rome that we learned on this trip (and in these modern times):

If you want to see the David and if you want to climb the Duomo, you have to book timed tickets ahead of time. Otherwise it will be sold out or minimum you have to wait in line for hours! Same for stuff in Rome too - Colosseum, The Forum, The Baths of Caracalla, St. Peter’s Dome, Sistine Chapel, etc etc. https://www.coopculture.it/

As for where to stay in Rome - City Center. Here where we’ve stayed:

https://www.hotelnavona.com/

Not fancy, but clean and close to everything you want. If you aim your hotel or apartment finder to the areas around Piazza Navona or The Pantheon Or Piazza Di Popolo or the Vatican, you’ll be fine for a couple days in Rome. There are subways, but not a lot, plus it’s kinda fun to walk through all that stuff! Pantheon is my favorite building. 

And Gelato. Just Gelato all day long. It will be hot, so having it 2 or 3 times in a day would not be unreasonable. 

Oh, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa is 1/2 hour drive from Lucca (1.5 from Florence). Once you park at the tower area, it can literally be 1 hour in and out (not sure if you can buy tickets to climb it ahead of time or not). Kids under 8 cannot climb… :-(

The train from Florence to Lucca is 1:20 minutes, by car about 50 minutes. 

So many amazing things to do and see!!

 


Reading Little House To Harper

On our road trip to Santa Cruz a few weeks ago, I prepared with audio books. Last year we drove to Sequoia and listened to music (Hamilton was big then) as well as short stories from a kid's story podcast. We also had that awesome Star Wars recording from the 70's: The Story of Star Wars. Harper loves that, but it's only an hour long. As she is older and as it was going to be a longer trip, I thought why not Little House? 

I downloaded Little House In The Big Woods and Little House On the Prairie. We listened to the first one all the way up and Harper seemed to like it. I asked her what her favorite parts were and she said, "When they were telling the stories" which means when Pa is telling stories about his own childhood and adventures. We started listening to LHOTP on the way home, but only got a few chapters in as we chose music and other stuff on that drive. So, I started reading the rest of the book to Harper at bedtime, two chapters a night.  Little-house-on-the-prairie-book-cover

Last night we got to the end and I was a MESS. 

First I have to remind you that I am a HUGE fan of these books. Been reading them as long as I can remember. In fact, these two books (LH in the Big Woods and LH on the Prairie) are the first books I remember owning and going to the bookstore with my mom to get the next book was SO EXCITING. (Only rivaled by a more recent me opening my front door to receive the latest Harry Potter via Amazon on release day.) I read the LH books to this day, just for fun. I have bought many other books about these books. I love these books. I know useless details, not unlike this woman here, who is my LH twin.

BUT.

When you read them out loud, to your five year old -- It gets different. I knew there would be issues with the way the Indians are portrayed and the way they are talked about in LHOTP but DAMN. So after a few pages of "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" chit chat, I stopped to tell Harper about how people were wrong about a lot of things a long time ago. And that this book was written a long time ago and how they talk about Native Americans is wrong. And that people know better today. (Well, I didn't tell her the whole truth about racism still existing, as she'll learn that soon enough.) I brought it up again in later chapters about the "Indian War Cry" and she nodded as I reminded her about how wrong they were about the whole notion of who the Osage were. 

As the book ends, the family has to leave as they had accidentally strayed into "Indian Territory" by 3 miles and soldiers would come and move them out. Pa just packs the wagon and they are off. They had built a house and a stable and bought and planted seeds for a corn field, potatoes and other veggies. And they just left it all. Then they say goodbye to their neighbors, one of them being Mr. Edwards, and they roll on west. 

Me being the emotional sort and also enjoying the roller coaster of emotions that is menopause, I was crying as I read the end. Harper seemed unfazed by my crying - clearly she's used to me. It's not the first time I've cried while reading her bedtime stories. There is one written by a jewish woman telling the story about a quilt made and handed down through her family. And the one about the guy who walked the tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The book ends with "the towers are gone now..." 

Loudly-crying-face

Anyway, I'm a cryer.

Last night as I put the book away and tucked Harper in, I thought ahead to the next books, excited to read them aloud. Farmer Boy is next and I like that one for a change of pace. Then Plum Creek. All good. Then I thought about Silver Lake and almost started crying right then. Silver Lake starts with (spoiler alert) Mary going blind and Jack the trusted dog DYING! I remember SOBBING when I very first read it as a kid. Man, that was brutal. It still makes me cry.

This is all a dream come true, tears or no tears. And I'm not going to force it. I hope hope hope that we keep reading these, that Harper reads them on her own as well and that she'll say "YES!" when I ask if she wants to go to Pepin Wisconsin or DeSmet South Dakota. For now, I'll keep the kleenex handy.

 


Mystery Spot!

Harper got to go to the Mystery Spot! It's a fabulous place in Santa Cruz, California, truly one of those wacky Americana places that are on every "Must See!" list for family roadtrips. Right up there with Largest Ball of Twine and The Corn Palace

We went to Santa Cruz to visit family and friends last weekend and had a lovely time. (More on that in a later post.)

Yesterday, Harper brought home this drawing from preschool and I said, "Tell me about this drawing." And she said, "It's the Mystery Spot!" 

OMG. It totally is.

HarperMysterySpotJune2017


One Of Our Favorite Spots - Villa Reale di Marlia

We got lost one day, looking for our 2nd rental. (Ever the producer, I thought it best to scout the new location before actually moving there. So glad we did!) It was out in the country where all roads seem to be named Via delle Villa and therefore tough to nail down with google maps. We pulled into what looked to be a tiny parking lot/ticket office for a huge villa. I popped in to ask for directions (being the most fearless of our group with my .05% Italian language skills.) The two women there were almost able to help me but more importantly, I learned we were at the Villa Reale di Marlia. I promised we would come back for a tour and I'm so glad we did. 

Upon our return, I went back into the tiny ticket office and the two same women were there. One turned to the other and said excitedly, in Italian, "This is the woman who was lost!" I laughed and bought tickets. At first it was disappointing to learn that all the buildings were closed. They are being restored and will be closed for probably years. (They only started restoring in 2015.) We went in anyway to view the gardens and man oh man did my disappointment disappear quickly. The tour map smartly takes you away from the buildings down to the lake first. Then you get this stunning view back up to the main house. 

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Then you walk back up to the main buildings via all the amazing side gardens.

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The wisteria was stunning and smelled soooo good.

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There is a pool and pool house tucked away on the side. I can't wait to go back and see this fully restored. 

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There is a Grotto, of course. All the best villas had them...

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Inside the Grotto it was about 10 degrees cooler and looked like it used to spray water from all the fountains into the center. I suspect on hot summer days this would be the place to relax and cool off as you walked from the lake back to the house. ("house")

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There were many other gardens and pathways - the Spanish Garden, the Green Theater, etc. But my favorite is the Lemon Garden. Kurt estimated it is a bit smaller than a football field. Half is lemon trees in pots (so you can move them indoors during winter!) and the other half is a big pond with a fountain. 

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A view from behind the fountain looking back at the Lemons:

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Turns out, my favorite painter, John Singer Sargent, came here to paint. And he painted a few watercolors from this very Lemon Garden. 

John_Singer_Sargent_-_Villa_di_Marlia _Lucca-_A_Fountain_-_Google_Art_Project

When you arrived in a carriage to the main house, this is what you saw when you exited the carriage - a huge fountain with multiple levels of water coming down. This photo does not do it justice except to show how large it is! 

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Here's a close up of the center. Also surprising, you could walk along that upper level next to the statues and giant urns. There were lovely little secret pathways through the trees and bushes back there. Excellent fun for this old romantic. 

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The huge water fountain (they call it the Water Theater) is behind this main building. We stopped halfway to empty rocks from our shoes. 

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The whole time we were there, walking the grounds, we saw one other family. Total. In the whole giant place. 

When we left, I thanked the women again and they said they were having an event on Easter Monday - a Botanical Treasure Hunt for the kids! Um, yes, sign us up. So we came back! This time with a picnic and blankets (because you are always welcome to come in and picnic any time you want) and Harper really enjoyed the treasure hunt and of course the gift at the end. (Amazingly she wore the exact same outfit!)

Here she finds Boxwood and Lemons.

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She hugged and kissed many of the trees and plants we found.

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SWAG

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I love this place and I can't wait to go back often to see how things have come along. I want to picnic there all the time.

The true joy of spending a long time in one place is visiting wonderful things you find more than once. I highly recommend it.  

Please visit the link of the villa - their photos are stunning and give you some better views. Villa Reale di Marlia