Tag Archives: Amy Hofmann

The First Big Trip — Part Two

Can it even be called “Part Two” when “Part One” was two months ago?  I don’t want to think about it.

Let’s instead focus on the wedding of the year.  This wedding was spectacular for a myriad of reasons: it was the marriage of one of my best, closest friends I’ve known since I was 13, it took place at an extraordinary farm on the same road as the farm my parents lived on during their first year of marriage (I mean, seriously!), and it was on July 26 — the twins’ first birthday!  All of this just further reinforces our life-long friendship connection.

Plus it was gorgeous.  But when this lady is the star of the show, isn’t that obvious?

_DHP2210

The ceremony was a Catholic mass, which was beautiful and solemn and celebratory all at once.  The bride’s brother sang, her sister served as maid of honor, and her parents radiated joy the entire day (that’s her happy mom Anne to the left in the photo).

Plus this was the jaw-dropping cathedral.

_DH20461

Amy married Brian, who you may remember from Italy, and he is one of the funniest and most generous people I know.  Now, he’s also one of the luckiest.

_DHP2526

Side note: that dress.  I cannot even.  It is exquisite.

During the ceremony my family took care of the babies, one of whom fell fast asleep.  Hint: it wasn’t the one in the tiny tan suit, it was the one in the tiny Parisian dress.

491A9449

491A9528

Their bridal party was top-notch — entirely supportive, hugely fun, and, if I may say, uncommonly attractive — check us out just working it during the photo sesh:

_DHP2625

_DH20441

They couldn’t have been more welcoming to this lone bridesmaid from the west, to the point that I’m keeping in touch with a few of them…this bride has great taste in friends.

Plus we really excelled at kicking back.

_DH20557

The reception site was a completely updated and renovated farm.  It had a gorgeous hundreds-year-old farmhouse where the ladies got ready, a refurbished barn for the dinner and dancing, and picture-perfect grounds with lush weeping willows and a peaceful pond.

491A9999

491A9798

I mean, look at that magazine-worthy barn.

_DH20741

Amy is probably the most thoughtful bride I’ve ever encountered.  She told her photographer in advance to take family photos of us because it was the twins’ birthday.  We couldn’t believe it and we’re so thrilled with these priceless memories we’ll always treasure.

A little back story: last year, the babies were scheduled for induction on July 25, and I was so wrapped up in that it didn’t even occur to me that the following day was the one-year-prior-to-the-wedding day.  Once the babies were born on that day instead, I think it took a full day afterward, in my drug-addled state, to turn to my mom and say, “Wait, what day is Amy’s wedding?  Is it today next year?  Were the babies born on her wedding day?”  And as I said it I knew.  And I felt a mix of new-mom joy and anxiety, with an exclamation-ridden thought train that looked like this:

“Oh my gosh Amy and Brian and the twins are going to share this day forever!!”

“Amy will be with the twins on their birthday!”

“I’m a bridesmaid so I will be busy the whole day…away from my babies on their first birthday…I had these children hours ago and I’m already feeling like the worst mom ever for missing their birthday!”

“It doesn’t matter, this is her WEDDING day!  FAR more important than a million birthdays!”

“We can just have their birthday party the week before!  This isn’t a big deal at all!”

“I can’t be away from them on their first birthday!  I am just going to pretend this isn’t happening until it is.”

“I hope this doesn’t occur to Amy so she doesn’t worry about it!  It’s NOT her problem, she’s the BRIDE!”

You can see I didn’t over-think it at all.

Well, I shouldn’t have given it any thought.  Amy humbled me to my knees with a mini-birthday party right in the middle of the reception.

491A9981

Her parents announced that it was Henry and Arden’s birthday and out came custom cupcakes and the entire room of guests sang happy birthday.  I was so moved, so totally overwhelmed, I did a lot of the thrilled-while-half-crying face.  A lot.

491A9982

_DH20771

Who’s the luckiest boy in the room?  Usually the groom.  In this moment, Henry.

_DH20763

In a moment I’ll always remember, Mike lifted Arden high in his arms and she did what she always does when he does that — she kicked her legs in unison and we yelled “swim swim swim!” while she went crazy with happiness.  To our surprise, everyone started yelling “swim swim swim!” and she just kicked her little heart out.

_DH20766

_DH20767

_DH20769

My heart was so full.  Standing next to the new Mrs. Fuga, surrounded by her wonderful family and mine, amazed that we’ve been friends since she was 12 and I was 13 — and here she was yielding the spotlight on her biggest day to celebrate my precious babies.  It was just overwhelming and so undeserved.

_DH20772

After dinner…the dancing, which was phenomenal.  It may be worth your time to inquire about this DJ.  He killed it.

_DH20626

_DH20599

(Bridal party entrances are key.)

_DH20939

Weddings with family are everything.

What a spectacular wedding filled with an enormous amount of love.

_DH21092

And I have this girl to thank.  Seventeen years and counting, my friend!  Cheers to you on marrying the love of your life.  Thank you for allowing us to share in your joy.

_DHP2262

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)

The First Big Trip — Part One

The motivation to get us on our first plane ride with the twins was a wedding; a glorious wedding, as it turned out, one that happened to fall on the twins’ birthday.  And this wedding was a non-negotiable because it was the nuptials of one of my greatest friends of all time, and I was in it.  It’s always good to show up when you’re a bridesmaid.

I did my fair share of fingernail chewing about having two infants on a plane, but it wasn’t nearly the endeavor it could have been because my entire family was traveling with us.  They adore Amy and Brian too, so they were every bit as committed to getting there as we were.

Off we flew to Philadelphia (direct, of course.  There IS no other way to fly with babies.)

wpid-20140722_080624.jpg

wpid-20140722_094045.jpg

Fun Twin Flying Fact: one cannot have two lap-babies in a row.  Not just on one side, but all six seats across.  So at any given moment, all seven of us had to ensure that we passed the babies forward and backward so as not to break this rule.  Believe me, the stewardesses caught us more than once when we weren’t paying attention and the babies were adjusted accordingly.

Shocking no one more than me and Mike, the twins were virtually silent on the plane.  Perfectly content, happy with the novelty of the new sights (and snacks).  They didn’t cry once.  It was some sort of air travel nirvana.

Once we arrived, we had the joy of introducing the babies to their extended family, some of whom they’d already met (thank you aunties and uncle for visiting!).  The most important introduction was to my grandpa, the husband of Arden Charlotte’s namesake.  I had been anticipating their meeting since the day they were born.  I’m very close with my grandpa, so him meeting them was enormously emotional for me — it was like introducing the babies to a piece of my heart.

wpid-20140724_110331.jpg

They also got to meet little Avery, the newest addition to the family, daughter of my cousins Amy and Joel.  She’s so precious, and her hair makes my children green with envy — I mean, Arden won’t even acknowledge her.

wpid-20140723_143744.jpg

We had so much fun with them all together.  We plunged them into the pool in little floaties, because well, how could we resist this?

unnamed (1)

This was the twins’ first real swimming experience, and they were timid but grew to love it.  Arden’s swim trick (Mike always holds her in the air and says “Swim swim swim!” and she does a perfect breaststroke that you wouldn’t believe) translated beautifully to actual swimming.

IMG_4613

Feel free to stop me if you feel your heart giving out.

Since the babies cleared their first bite of cake at their birthday party the previous week, we felt it was only fair that they try the local specialty: a Dunkin Donut.  Dunkin Donuts are sacred terrority in my family, with multiple runs to DD’s being made for breakfast in each visit east.  They didn’t get a whole donut, just a bite or two each, but it was all that they dreamed, I’m sure of it.

Their favorite place in the house was the kitchen, rustling up Great Grandpa’s pots and pans.  They never get to be in the kitchen at home, so this was like a theme park.

IMG_4576

IMG_4578

IMG_4596

Mostly we just soaked up time with loved ones we don’t see often enough.  It’s so amazing to be thirty years old and realize your heart is still feeling new emotions — this trip afforded me the joy of sharing my children with the family I’ve treasured my entire life.  My cousin Allie, pictured below, being silly with Arden, is a perfect example.

IMG_4602

It’s a joy coupled with pain, I soon realized, because Henry and Arden don’t get to see their wonderful great-grandpa and great aunts and uncles nearly enough.  I would love so much for them to grow up seeing each other every week.

I mean, look at the joy in these faces.

IMG_4620

My generous aunt Beth threw a birthday party for the babies, and it was so adorable — the accessories were everything.

IMG_4623

Henry!  Your eyes.  I could faint.  Arden, your cheeks!  It’s too much.

*Side note: Henry’s hat had to be cut at the side to fit over his head.  Further proof it’s larger than the average one year old.  Don’t worry, it’s just holding your huge brain, Hank!

IMG_4627

I know.  I can’t talk about my hair here either.  All I can say is: humidity + growing out bangs = lethal.

If you’re just dazzled by their enthusiasm, it’s because it was about 8PM and their bedtime is 7PM.  They were, shall we say, less than agreeable.

But we partied on!

IMG_4639

You’d think we’d just told them their cupcakes were made of quinoa and stuffed with spinach.  Or maybe they misunderstood what birthdays are and they think people arrive with packages to take your toys away?

We had some deja vu with the cake rejection here too.

IMG_4648

Henry: “Don’t you people learn?”

Arden: “No means no.”

IMG_4652

After several relaxing days spent with the family, we headed off to Lancaster for the wedding of the year.  Wait until you see this gorgeous couple and their wedding locale.  Oh, and Henry in a suit and Arden in a Parisian dress.  I can hear your toe tapping so I’ll get right on that.

Part Two coming soon!

2 Comments

Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

Two Cakes, Two Candles, Two Babies, One Birthday

On July 26, Henry and Arden turned one.

DSC_0606

We had the party on with a brunch on July 19 because we were going to be on the east coast at the wedding of the year on their actual birthday (details on that grand affair to follow).  A huge thank you to my gracious parents for offering their beautiful home as our location!

The theme, as you may be able to ascertain, was Anchors Aweigh!  I chose this for several reasons, the first of which was its gender-neutrality.  Next it said “Adventure!” and lent itself to overtly preppy clothes, of which I’m extremely fond.  Yes, Arden’s shirt has anchors.  Yes, her pink shorts are sailor shorts, not that you can tell in that photo.  And yes, Henry’s romper has embroidered sailboats.  This was half the fun.

This post is going to consist mostly of pictures, rather than weighty insights about them turning one, because I’ve covered that territory.  Besides, who could complain about twinsy pictures?

Sam and I made that Pinterest-inspired and -worthy lifering behind them, which reads “H & A REPH 07 – 26 – 2013.”

Before the earth spins off its axis, I should just say it: yes, I crafted!  I made things!  I shopped!  I loathe all of these things, but as their birthday approached I heard that creepy whisper (lie?) that all mothers hear that says: “If you don’t make things for their birthday with your own hands, what kind of a mother are you?”  I have a strong suspicion that I’ll be deaf to this whisper within three years, but for their first birthday, I went for it.

Further evidence:

DSC_0570

The giant “1” behind my beautiful friend and her son is made up of the 43 weekly pictures I took of the twins to chart their growth through the year.  It’s so fun to look at up close, and I wish I had a better picture of it.  There are only 43 because I started doing it when they were seven weeks old, and I couldn’t include the last two weeks due to their birthday party date.

I also strung up all eleven of their monthly photos, but sadly, I forgot to take a picture of that.  But it’s a craft!

My extremely craft-gifted sister, Sam, made this adorable sign:

DSC_0546

Yes, that’s a mimosa and bloody mary bar.  You didn’t know this major rule of hosting a one-year-old birthday?  You do now.  You’re welcome (your guests will thank me).

I could go on about the enormous printed pictures and handmade themed tablecloths (thanks Mom!), but I think you get the idea.  Let’s move on to the real meaning of the day: the people.

DSC_0594

The twins and their Grandpa and Papa!

DSC_0564

Best friends/family with the birthday boy, who is judging/desiring that Mary.

DSC_0637

We had this gorgeous new mom and our youngest guest, her eight-day-old Gardner!

Also special friends…

DSC_0631

This is a recreation of a ten-year-old photo.  We do unattractive well.

That’s better.

DSC_0630

And another set of twins!

DSC_0682

I could share so many more photos of the dozens of treasured family and friends in attendance, but then this might begin to feel like a roll call.

So let’s cut the cake!

Erin and I made their little three-tier cakes, with alternating chocolate and vanilla cake.  Erin made the whipped cream from scratch to serve as frosting, because this was the babies’ first taste of sugar and I thought heavy, processed icing might make them sick.  Or maybe I thought they’d devour it and then be sick.  Either way.

DSC_0661

We helped them blow out their candles after singing to each of them, and then we let them at it.

DSC_0673

DSC_0677

Their reaction can best be described as a mix of nonchalance and confusion.  We expected them to dive headfirst, and instead they were as Arden is above.  “Here, Nonni, if you say it’s so great, you go ahead.”

So the aunties jumped in to give them some backup.

DSC_0686

I have to admit I felt the strangest combination of disappointment and pride.  I really wanted them to go hog wild, but when they didn’t I felt a little like, yesssss, my Seattle hippie mom moves are paying off!  They don’t care about sugar!  Time has proven this not to be true at all (ice cream, I’m looking at you), but I enjoyed the fantasy for that day.

DSC_0705

Non-love for cake aside, we had a wonderful day celebrating a wonderful year.  Mike made a lovely slideshow that made me cry, and we got to stop for a moment and acknowledge the richness that’s been added to our lives in the form of our two most precious people.

We also got to high-five the accomplishment of surviving the first year.  Not insignificant, I must say!

Happy Nana.

DSC_0556

Happy Nonni.

DSC_0752

Happy birthday, Henry and Arden!

DSC_0612

Leave a comment

Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)

Rubies, Emeralds, Aquamarines

The region along Italy’s west coast is so spectacular, so stunningly beautiful and exceptional that when asked what it’s like, it’s hard not to sound like your IQ is dangerously nearing single digits.

“So it’s a beach town,” the skeptic says.

“Right, except it’s built into a hillside!” you exclaim.  “There are century-old buildings and houses on cliffs!”

“So it’s crowded?” they continue.

“There’s no cars!  You can’t access it except by train or boat!  And you can walk between the five towns!”

“So it’s a beach you can’t get to, it’s overcrowded, and I have to walk everywhere?” they say, turning away.

“…….(sigh in defeat),” say you.

This was a little of our dynamic the day we took the train to Cinque Terre from Lucca — it was Kelly, Amy and Brian’s first time, and the rest of us were trying to describe the majesty of the place, but failing miserably.  Finally we decided to let it speak for itself and we settled back in our seats to read on our Kindles, or in Brian’s case, rescue the princess on his Gameboy Color.

IMG_2421

The train ride there is largely uninteresting, with slightly shabby towns pockmarked across stretches of fields.  There is no evidence that soon one will be on the Mediterranean, much less in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We switched trains in La Spezia and rumbled through tunnels, the last of which ended with a split-second view of the water making everyone gasp and dive toward the window.  We knew we were close and became giddy at the thought of the day ahead.

After getting off the train and purchasing our return tickets, we walked down the stairs from the station into the first town — Monterosso.  The sight stopped us in our tracks.

IMG_2436

It was even more spectacular than I remembered — rich colors filling every inch of the landscape, enormous emerald hillsides reaching out of cobalt waters like cathedral ramparts, tanned Europeans lounging under brightly striped umbrellas, relaxed tourists sipping wine and licking gelato before noon.  It was paradise.

IMG_2445

We were so overwhelmed we didn’t know what to do first.  Erin and I walked around to re-familiarize ourselves with the place, while Brian lead Amy, Mike, and Kelly  to the nearest tropical drink shack to celebrate our arrival.  Soon we all had handmade smoothies, some with booze, some without.  I made a quick pronouncement.

“Let’s make every effort to eat and drink in every town.  Yes?”

I got signed contracts from everyone in the form of happy grins.

Erin, Mike and I had extremely fond memories of a particular bruschetta restaurant in Monterosso, and we were determined to return.  After exploring the town a bit more, we headed off in search of the perfectly toasted bread, tomatoes drenched in olive oil and basil, and the perfectly proportioned dusting of sea salt.

When we found it, right where we’d left it three years earlier, we shouted a little for joy.  When it was even better than we remembered, we felt appropriately validated.

IMG_2450

Kelly, who avoids gluten, was beside herself at being able to savor this treat with abandon.  It turns out that Italians don’t modify their wheat the same way we do stateside, so even those who can’t eat gluten can eat it in Italy.  As if Italy weren’t perfect enough?

IMG_2452

Next we hopped on the train for village number two, also known as Mike’s favorite: Vernazza.

IMG_2467

As we walked through the quaint town of small shops, we saw a large poster commemorating the disastrous mudslide that rocked the town a year ago.  It was hard to believe that 18 feet of mud covered where we now stood.

IMG_2454

When we reached the center of town lining the beach, it was like stepping onto a movie set.  It was so colorfully radiant, so decadent in leisure, and so unaffected by tourism; if this place were almost anywhere else, there’d be cheap carts set up everywhere with key chains and towels and hats with I’VE BEEN TO CINQUE TERRE printed garishly across the front.  Instead, it seemed perfectly untouched, as if we were the first to discover this European heaven.

IMG_2458

IMG_2461

We wandered off to take pictures, enjoy the view, and walk along the rocks in the water.  Before I knew it, Amy came up behind me and made a little announcement.

“Brian went swimming,”  she said.

“Wha — he didn’t bring a suit!” I replied.

“Apparently that’s not a problem for our Bri Bri,” she said.

And it wasn’t.  Up walked Brian, dripping wet in the 90 degree weather, wearing the expression of a child with a free unlimited tickets to Disneyland.

It took about two seconds for Mike to light up like a rocket, a bigger explosion of excitement than if he’d seen a dozen puppies.

“I’m going in, too!  YES!  THIS IS AWESOME!” he hollered.  At first I was aghast at the idea of my husband running around in public in his underwear, but then I remembered I was in the Italian riviera, and people were changing in and out of swimsuits in broad daylight.

Amy wasn’t far behind, having made the wise decision that morning to select undergarments that were both black and very swimsuit-like.  Kelly, Erin and I were not as lucky, so we agreed to hold clothes and take photos.

The joy radiating from their faces in the water was contagious.  It was a moment that made us stop and recognize what was happening: we were all together in Italy, swimming in the Mediterranean, living a day most people can only dream of.  We were so, so grateful.

IMG_2489

The good people of Vernazza kindly provided a hose to rinse off the salt, and the swimmers rinsed while we found a table for a glass of wine and refreshing Pellegrino.

IMG_2504

We stopped at the next train station, for Corniglia, but when we were told it was a 400 stair climb to the town, we immediately got back in line for the next train.  It was blazing hot, we had two towns to go, and hiking up a hillside sounded laughably unappealing.

When we arrived in the fourth town, Manarola, we split up to explore and take photos.  The girls combed the town, pointing out buttercream yellow buildings and hundreds-year-old churches.  We posed for pictures by terraced vineyards so steep we marveled that the grapes were able to be harvested.

IMG_2514

IMG_2520

We eventually found the boys exactly where we’d expected: having a cold lager on an outdoor deck.

We walked to the water’s edge and saw dozens of people swimming among the rocks, some climbing dangerously high to free-fall into the aquamarine waters below.  We couldn’t believe how high the cliffs were, and it made my palms sweat to watch them stand at the edge and dither about whether to jump.

IMG_2565

It wasn’t two minutes before Brian was again casting off clothing and descending the stairs into the water.  We all watched nervously as he disappeared behind the black rock, with Amy calling for him not to kill himself.

When he finally appeared at the top we held our breath, laughing nervously as he hollered words in English that were thankfully lost in translation, like “Here goes the salt water enema!”

IMG_2570

He flew through the air and we cheered when his head bobbed back up to the surface.  His earlier prediction hadn’t been far off, for the landing ripped his shorts in half.  Luckily he still had his clothes to throw on, so all was well.

Our last destination was Riomaggiore, or as we nicknamed it, Rigamortis.  The path along the hillside to walk there is called Via dell’Amore, or The Way of Love.  It’s a famous place for lovers to walk the kilometer-long road and take in the spectacular view and dedicate their love by putting a lock into the fence (Sam and Aaron did this on their walk with Dave and Nancy).  Mike and I took a photo there in 2009 and decided to recreate the moment in 2012.

2009:

Europe 2009 717

2012:

IMG_2576

We semi-forced Amy and Brian into the same thing, which they only found mildly cheesy.

IMG_2577

In our final quest for food we were hoping for a real meal, but truly came up short in ways we couldn’t have thought possible.  We found the most stunning location, a restaurant high on the hill built into the rock, overlooking the ocean so forcefully it was hard to look away.

IMG_2598

But the food.  My word, the food.

To say it was appallingly bad would be like saying Honey Boo Boo is a little tacky.  It was inedible.  We quickly discovered how bad it was going to be when we saw little asterisks on items of the menu that signified “frozen meal.”

We ordered as best we could, and made up for it with glasses of white wine, but there was little that could be redeemed.  It was completely obvious that there was no kitchen in the establishment, just a bar down a steep flight of stairs that presumably held a freezer full of frozen entrees and a good stock of booze.  The entirety of the restaurant’s appeal was its location.

But honestly, there would be no true complaining from any of us.  We knew we were sitting on top of the world on one of the best days any of us would have as long as we lived, and a thawed panini wasn’t going to shave an inch off our ecstasy.

IMG_2597

I could tell you that our day in paradise ended with missing a train connection in La Spezia and having to spend 100 euro on taxis to get us all home.  I could, but I won’t.  With a day like that, even with an ending that makes a tightwad like me want to light my hair on fire, I will never regret a second.  Doing so creates a person who wins the lottery only to whine about the taxes.

Le Cinque Terre, a place so magical you’ll be filled with envy on behalf of every other place in the world that calls itself beautiful.

IMG_2600

6 Comments

Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)

The Griswolds Drive Through Tuscany

On our second full day in Italy, we decided that we’d like to visit some ancient hilltop towns, the kind that idyllically appear in the distance over rolling hills of vineyards.  We pictured the cliché images of a Tuscan-themed Barnes and Nobel calendar coming to life before our eyes.  We imagined driving dreamily through the countryside as Bocelli sang in the background.

And then we actually started driving.

Our first mistake was to caravan.  There were twelve of us, split among three toy cars.  When not one of you knows where you’re going, it doesn’t help to caravan.  It also doesn’t help when an error is made and all three cars have to U-turn in the middle of a freeway.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We decided to visit two famous hilltop towns, San Gimignano and Volterra.  Allow me to illustrate.

You can see that there is not a major expressway one can use to glide thoughtlessly to either town.  That may be why our route ended up looking like the way taken by little boy Billy from the Family Circus.

We headed south from the villa around 10AM, with Dave and Nancy taking the lead.  They, along with my father, had done some brief map work earlier that morning and felt fairly confident.  After forty minutes of winding through single-lane roads that were being used as double-lane roads, we pulled over.  I ejected myself out of our car from nausea.

After a brief powwow, we got back on the road with cheerful outlooks that all would be well.  And then we reached the freeway.

“Freeway” is an interesting term here, because one doesn’t realize one has entered until it’s too late.  One minute we were driving country roads, then a whip-fast roundabout and a wrong turn later and suddenly we’re supposed to be going 120 KPH.

The funny thing about Italian roads is you need to make four decisions in a span of ten seconds, any of which could be horribly incorrect.  You leave the roundabout, hoping you took the right exit, only to be immediately presented with a fork in the road with twelve signs accompanying it.  After that harrowing close call, the road splits again, with both signs pointing to the same town.   Pretty soon your nerves are shot and you’ve lost your caravan.  Oh, and they hate you.

This is more or less what happened all the way to San Gimignano.  We were very lost, so our fearless leader, Dave, pulled to the side of the road in the middle of a highway.  Italians must expect this of us, because they have built little pull-over areas along the major freeways.  The problem with this is not the exit from the road, it’s the reentry.  There is absolutely no, and I mean not a smidgen, of on-ramp.  You must watch a thousand cars race past you at 130 KPH and try to jump into their flow from a stopped position.  And bonus!  You must do this with a stick-shift toy car.

The real talent comes in blocking out the terrified screams of your passengers, at which I must say, Mike excelled.

At this point in our journey, at least seven of us had vowed never to travel by caravan again.  The rest simply vowed never to travel again.

Only once did we completely lose each other, and it happened so fast none of us actually knew what happened.  We exited a roundabout as a group, then Dave got on one freeway and suddenly realized it was wrong.  Like I explained earlier, immediately after getting on the freeway there was another fork in the road ahead of him, and he had no idea which one to take (none of us did), so he pulled up to the fork and stopped.  In the middle of the freeway.

Several expletives escaped the mouths of those riding in my car, and Mike quickly realized there wasn’t enough room to pull over behind Dave so with one glance he pulled a U-turn across a freeway that shaved fifteen years off the lives of his passengers, not to mention his mother-in-law in the car behind him.

Despite the danger of this activity, my father quickly followed suit, and we met up in a safer area back by the roundabout.  After several phone calls, we realized Dave had continued on the main road, so we got back on the freeway (after three attempts) and found him.

When we at last arrived at San Gimignano, no one even wanted to be there.  We were so frazzled and fried from the journey that the destination only held our contempt for drawing us there in the first place.  Plus, there was no parking.

We exploded out of our cars, airing our grievances and shouting at the sky “I’m not mad AT anyone IN PARTICULAR, I’m JUST MAD!”  Things of that nature.

Finally my mom made the call: let’s skip this and go straight to Volterra.  Even though the idea of getting back in the car was suicide for most of us, we agreed that the sooner we got somewhere less insane, the better.

On we went, and things were fine — right up until a semi truck rolled up behind us.  Our caravan was moving along, minding the speed limit like good little Americans, and then the truck driver reminded us, by forceful use of his horn, that this is not how things are done in Italia.

“This truck is ON MY ASS!” Mike hollered, while the rest of us turned in horror to see a truck, literally inches from our bumper, that was so big we couldn’t see the driver.  The monstrosity of this truck made our car look like one of the car game pieces in The Game of Life.

He blared his horn and revved up behind us as we screamed.  Mike yelled for me to get on the phone to the lead car, and tell my dad to GO FASTER.  LIVES ARE AT STAKE.

My mom answered.  “We can’t go any faster.  We read somewhere that there are cameras on Italian roads that capture you breaking the speed limit, and then fine you,” she explained.

I told her if that were true, why were all the other cars speeding?  She said she didn’t know, but she did know “your father will not go any faster.”

I politely told her which songs to play at the funerals of Brian, Amy, Mike and Abby, and hung up.

Shortly after the truck turned off of our road, we were still venting our frustrations and railing against the difficulty of getting around a foreign country, when Brian said, “Guys.  Are you seeing this?”

We looked out our windows and gasped.  That cheesy Tuscan Barnes and Noble calendar?  It was live in front of us.  Bocelli?  He started to sing.   Our eyes took in miles and miles of vineyards, olive groves, undulating hills made golden by the sun.  And some astounding hilltop villas, just to send us over the top.

And we got it.

“Ugh,” we said sheepishly.  “We’re the worst, aren’t we?  I mean perspective, yes?”

“This is blowing my mind, honestly, LOOK AT THIS,” he added.

“Take a picture!  Where’s my camera?!” Amy chimed in.

“Mike – not you!  You keep your eyes on the road,” I instructed.

The same reaction must have been happening in the other two cars, because soon my dad was pulling over, and this time it wasn’t the side of the freeway, it was a winery.  Hallelujah.

We were the only people there (wine tasting at noon might have something to do with it) and we tasted their homemade olive oil and wine, purchasing several bottles to enjoy later that evening.  We were revived by the wine and by forgiving each other’s driving, we were climbing our way back to sanity, and soon enough, we arrived in Volterra.

We had a fabulous time exploring the medieval city, and the journey home was absolutely painless.  Later, over the bottles of wine we bought, we agreed that perhaps the morning was our crash course, and now we were weathered masters of the Italian roads.

It’s also possible that victorious sentiment was inspired less by actuality, and more by our second glass of hard-earned wine.

6 Comments

Filed under AwkWORD (Humor)

To Pisa, One Way or Another

As our plane touched down at JFK a few weeks ago on our way to Italy, I was excited that our first leg of the journey was over, and I was about to see Amy and Brian.  We had coordinated our flights brilliantly, with them joining us at JFK from Philly to take the flight to Pisa.

I turned on my phone to text her that we had landed, and instead saw a text that read, “We’re not coming to JFK.  Our flight was cancelled.”

I showed Mike the text and rolled my eyes.  “She should know me enough to know I hate these types of jokes.  They’re not funny.  I’m not laid-back enough to think these jokes are funny.”

Another message popped through, this time from Brian, showing a picture of Amy apparently crying.

“Sheesh,” I said, “they really like to take these practical jokes all the way, don’t they?”

To put an end to this comedy hour, I called Amy.

“Ha,” I said when she picked up. “Ha. Ha.”

“I’m not joking,” she said with a meekness that could only come from crushing disappointment.  “Our flight is canceled so we’re not flying with you.  We are now booked on a flight to Paris, getting into Pisa about the same time you are.”

I looked at Mike with my hand over my mouth.  I was so shocked and sad I didn’t know what to say.  We discussed how we were both completely deflated from the burst bubble of flying to Europe together, and slightly anxious about having to find each other on the other side.

I consoled her and told her this was the most infuriating cancellation, but we both agreed there wasn’t anything to do but maybe drown our sorrows in a few brewskies.

The rest of the gang was getting ready to deplane so I did the awkward cross-aisle-mouth-words-and-half-speak to let them know Amy and Brian would not be on our flight.  They all sagged in disappointment as well, but said, hey, it’s not like they’re not coming on the trip at all — get a grip!

So we did — we had some lunch and drank a couple of beers to pass the five-hour layover.  Kelly and I led Erin and Sam in a brief barre workout along a terminal wall that had handrails.  We boarded our flight, took melatonin/Ambien/red wine to help us sleep, and eight hours later we landed in Pisa.

While the rest of the group went to retrieve our tiny toy rental cars, Kelly and I waited for our diverted travelers to arrive.  About 45 minutes later I got a text from Brian that only said, “We need address.  No bags.”

“Unbelievable,” I said to Kelly, while also noting in my head that responding to his text would cost me fifty cents.  Rather than replying we tried to find the baggage service area, and instead found a jail.

“Oh my gosh, that’s Bri!” I yelled when we saw him.  He couldn’t hear us; he was inside the little prison.  We saw his head through a window that looked like a teller window, with double-pane glass and a tiny open slot for paper and exchanging words.  The door to the room was a cylinder, which couldn’t be rotated from the outside.  Amy looked over at me with a mix of helplessness and rage as she tried to communicate with the baggage lady.

I slipped a piece of paper with the villa address on it under the window to Brian who handed it to the woman.  She asked a series of nonsensical questions like “Is this a real address?” and “What is the cell phone number of the owner?”  Amy gritted her teeth and said, “You don’t need the cell phone number of the owner of the house.  You need MY cell phone number and I’ve already given it to you.”  Kelly and I astutely observed that this was not going well.

When they were finally released from San Quentin, they came barreling out of the room with a level of frustration only known by those who have had a canceled flight and lost luggage in a foreign country.

It occurred to me then how laughable my original vision was of Kelly meeting Amy and Brian — everyone at JFK cheerfully meeting for a fabulous flight to Italy!  Instead, Amy and Brian were yanked around, luggage-less, and anything but excited.  Kelly would later admit to Brian and Amy that she was slightly afraid, given the thundercloud of anger hanging over their heads, but of course, who could blame them?

This is also why no one minded in the least when, an hour later, we were all standing outside of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Brian, Amy and Mike looked for ten minutes and then said, “People, we need to eat.  Peace.”  We all said please, do whatever you want, you deserve an award, please have a drink on me, etc.

However, my mom, Erin, Sam, Aaron and Kelly were not quite ready to leave.  We walked up to the Duomo and decided to go inside (the shade from the 95 degree heat was motivation enough).  It was stunningly beautiful, and we spent about fifteen minutes exploring the interior.

The building across from it was the Baptistry of St John, and we entered and were instantly somewhat underwhelmed.  It was still large and beautiful, and deeply impressive for a building completed in 1363, but it was very plain, with little adornment of any kind.

There were signs for silence throughout the circular room, and Erin nudged us that the ticket-taker was walking into the room, presumably to shush us.  He entered and gave a “shhhhh” that was practically deafening, and then he mounted the baptismal font to stand in front of everyone.  We had no idea what he was doing, and then without warning his voice rang out in a clear, deep tenor.

“Ooooooooooooooooooooooooh, ooooooooooooh, oooooooooooooooooooooooooh,” he sang, going deeper with each note.  He held each note about three seconds, then would change to a different key.  The most incredible thing happened: his voice never stopped.  He was showcasing the baptistry’s acoustics in an astonishing way — as he sang, each note lasted far longer than he held it, building on one another until it sounded as though a hundred men were singing around us.  It was spellbinding.

Kelly looked at me with eyes as wide as the font, and mouthed “I have goosebumps.”  I did too, so I gripped her arm as we listened together.  I closed my eyes to amplify the sound, which so filled the room it was as if we could see the music.

Just as simply as he entered the room, the man exited it.  Everyone stood there in stunned silence, unable to move.  Finally we burst outside and exchanged exclamations about what we’d just heard.

When we reunited with Mike, Amy and Brian back at the car, they were as refreshed as we were — the lunch and beer had treated them well.  We felt like we had been traveling for days, and we had — two plane rides and a tourist stop and we were feeling the wear and tear.  We all agreed we couldn’t picture anything better than getting to the villa for a swim, so we piled in the car and headed on our way.

3 Comments

Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)

New York State of Mind

Sometimes in life one feels compelled to do things that are so extravagant they are absurd.

In November, with only six weeks to plan, Mike and I decided to surprise some of our best friends in New York City at Christmastime.  It was Sarah’s 29th birthday, and we thought it would be brilliant to go over-the-top on the birthday before her 30th, because she wouldn’t be expecting anything.  We wanted to surprise Amy for no reason other than to show her we love her with a Christmas surprise she would never forget.  See above: extravagant.

Obviously we couldn’t have planned this without the integral help of their significant others.  I use “significant” very purposefully here.  We literally could not have done this without Casey and Brian, nor would we have wanted to.  Their company was as crucial as their planning.

We schemed over email for weeks, finally choosing where each surprise would take place.  Due to logistics and complications, we didn’t nail down each location until the day of each surprise.

Mike and I flew into NYC on Thursday, Dec 8, checked into our hotel and walked straight to the Empire State Building.  On our way we were furiously texting instructions to Casey, who was driving Siri into the city from D.C.

We had all purchased tickets in advance, so there was no line to get to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor.  Mike and I scoped the scene, knowing we needed good lighting to catch the moment on video.  Once we found the perfect spot, we texted Casey and told him how to get there.

Mike and I hid behind a pillar until we saw them exit the correct door, and then sprinted after them.  I tapped Sarah on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, miss, you dropped something,” so that she would turn around.

Her reaction was priceless:  http://youtu.be/qE4gb-cuceY.

As was the view.


And the company.

After the great surprise, we went to dinner at an upscale Irish restaurant named Brendan’s.  Afterward, we were so overwhelmed with bar options that we naturally chose…karaoke.

Mike and Casey sang “Don’t Stop Believin'” and Sarah and I sang “Man in the Mirror.”  The former kind of made sense for our trip.  The latter made no sense at all.

Shall we discuss the Charlie Chaplin statue?  Let’s not.

A huge part of the reason for us coming to NYC in the first place was that I hadn’t been since I was 12, and Mike hadn’t been since he was 22.  We’d always wanted to visit for the magic of Christmas in New York, so it was a major bucket list item.

We were not disappointed.

From the minute we arrived, we began a long parade of “I can’t believe this” that didn’t really end until we left four days later.  Stepping out of Grand Central Terminal after taking the train from Newark through Penn Station, we both gasped at the immediacy of our awe.  I stared at the Chrysler Building like I had flown in from another planet, rather than from across the country.

To my delight, I was mistaken for a local almost immediately.  A woman walked up to me and asked where Penn Station was.  I couldn’t believe my luck that the one person who asked me for directions was looking for the one place in the city I could actually point her to.

On second thought, the luggage I was dragging down the street may have been her reason for approaching me.  But I digress.

The next day was a smorgasbord of tourist activity that fulfilled my inner need to traverse an entire city in hours.  We brunched, we went to Central Park, we went to the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, the Shake Shack, the Guggenheim, the Belvedere Castle…until we couldn’t take anymore.

Then we went to dinner at a French bistro called Rue 57, which is the kind of place that makes you glad to be alive just so you can eat there.

I mean, we’re seated in a wine cellar decorated for Christmas in New York City.  Please slap me across the face.

The rest of the evening is burned into my brain as one of the highlights of my year: we windowshopped on 5th Avenue at Christmastime.  There are no words.

I didn’t even notice when Mike took this picture, but it is exactly my expression for six blocks of eye candy.  I don’t think I held a conversation with any of my three companions.  Why would I, when my new friends Tiffany, Bergdorf, Bloomingdale and Van Cleef were waiting to greet me?

It was spectacular.

We went to The Plaza and Rockefeller to see the tree, and made a drive-by at Serendipity and Dylan’s Candy, but really, after the day we’d had, it was all beginning to feel like saying yes to your fourth dessert.

The next morning we were refreshed by the excitement of surprise number two — the Amy reveal!  We went to SoHo to shop until Brian and Amy arrived into the city from Philadelphia.  We agreed to meet at Katz’s Delicatessen, of “When Harry Met Sally” fame.  It was providential because the previous day Amy had mentioned how excited she was that Katz’s was going to start shipping their meat to Philly.  We couldn’t believe our luck.

Of course, the line outside of Katz’s was half a block, so our timing was way off on this surprise.  Brian was texting us that they were practically done eating so we needed to get inside pronto.  We rushed to order and then walked back to their table for the reveal: http://youtu.be/liZMRcRzA54.

Her reaction is classic Amy — no visible shock, just a huge smile and a question: “How did you get here?”  We filled her in on all the details and then watched her relieved face as she realized that yes, we had an agenda for the weekend.  Brian’s face was equally relieved, since he had been sweating bullets for 45 minutes.

First we walked to Greenwich via Washington Square Park.

I wasn’t at all embarrassed to insist on a “Sex and the City” walk-by.

After catching up over a couple of pints at a 150 year-old pub…

…we went to 50 Commerce for a grown-up New York drink.  It had the kindest bartender and the lighting of dreams.

We did a quick change for dinner at 10 Downing (yes, apparently all NY restaurants decline choosing a name and instead just name their address) which was perfect for a 29th birthday feast.

Amy blew our minds by having a friend in the city celebrating her birthday at a fabulous underground club, so we bypassed the velvet rope and walked right in.  I have to admit it felt impossibly cooler than entering any bar in the greater Seattle area.

We decided to check out 230 Fifth, a rooftop bar that I’d read good things about.  On our way there, we saw this fantastic sight.

It never gets old.

After a brief wait we made it to the top and took in the fabulous views and astronomical drink prices to match.

We found a seat, but it was brief because we were informed that in order to sit anywhere, we had to buy a bottle.  This does not happen in Seattle, and I was equally indignant and mortified.  Since the cheapest bottle was $225, we chose to leave.

In the words of Carrie Bradshaw: I couldn’t help but wonder…how often does one have three redheads in one’s establishment?  Why wouldn’t one welcome such a rare occurrence?

Oh well.

We finished the evening at a much lower-key bar, happy to have a place to sit and drinks that didn’t need to be mortgaged.

Our final day together was spent at the Central Park ice rink, Times Square, Magnolia Bakery, and the Village.  It was perfect.

After our friends left Sunday evening, Mike and I had a final date night at the World Trade Center Memorial.

It was a sobering end to the weekend, and it made us more emotional than we expected.  We didn’t realize that going at night would be so impactful; the glow from the fountain surrounded by the lights of the city was overwhelming.  Couple that with the roar of the water drowning out all other sound, and the effect was intense.  The memorial reminded us of the horror of that day, but also made us appreciate the freedom we enjoy to visit the stellar city in which it’s housed.

To recover, we had a quiet dinner at Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, where we talked about the weekend and relished a date night like no other.

As I flew back to Seattle, the phrase Amy and Sarah said all weekend wouldn’t leave my thoughts, “Is this really happening?”

Yes, ladies, it happened.  And I couldn’t be happier.

6 Comments

Filed under One WORD (Current Events)