Author Archives: DonniT

Our Respite

Every Labor Day weekend we travel to Madeline Island, Wisconsin.  You travel to Bayfield, and catch the ferry.  When you drive onto that boat, you leave a lot of the day to day worries behind.

We have done this for years, meeting up with friends who introduced us to the island’s charms.  You can do a lot , or nothing. Golf, lay by the pool, paddle board, boat, nap.  Hike.  Go to fine dining restaurants (but don’t bother dressing up), shop for artistic creations, hear tons of live music.

Over the years our trips evolved.  At first the moms were exhausted, supervising 8 crazy kids who ran between lake and pool all day.  Then the kids were old enough to wander the town unsupervised, then they could rent mopeds and then they started graduating high school and moving away.  This would be our first weekend without kids.

Our dogs loved the island.  Monte and Penny were married on the shuffleboard court, and spent hours chasing fetching sticks in the lake.  This weekend, we released some of Penny’s ashes in her favorite place on earth.  Our first Madeline trip without a dog.

I was nervous that the weekend would be sad.  So I made sure we did some things we had never done before.  We ate at a restaurant I’d always wanted to try.  We went kayaking.  I explored parts of the island I’d never gotten around to before — heck, I even golfed! Yes, there were definitely sad moments, but we also managed a lot f laughter and smiles.  As always, the island gave me many reasons to pull out my camera.  I hope you enjoy these glimpses of Madeline as much as we enjoy being there.  Maybe, next year’s pics will have a new dog in them!

 

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Dear Parents:

A letter to the parents at my kids’ alma mater, Minnetonka High School:
Today is the first day in 17 years I haven’t had the first day of school dash. I (sort of) envy you all! If it’s your first day of high school, know that there are so many moments ahead — great and awful. Sorry, but it’s true. Always remember it’s the bad stuff that gives us the perspective to know what is truly awesome. It’s those eye-rolling “you don’t understand” heated discussions that make you cherish those times when you find them watching a Pixar movie they adored as a kiddo, and ask you to sit down and watch too.
 
BTW: the school is not that big once you get to know it (do friendly presence and see for yourself), they really don’t need lockers or coats to survive, and every kid’s path is the right one. Don’t let anyone tell you differently: I refused to allow my daughter to take more than two honors classes her freshman year, and some gasped. The teachers and counselors thought I was brilliant. She graduated honors roll every quarter, with tons of AP and IB. My other one? Barely graduated, in part because “they” told me he had to do honors classes and it screwed his path up. He’s good now, but his academic career would’ve been better if I had listened to my gut. Listen to yours. But know you will make mistakes. It’s cool.
 
If you are sending your last one off on their senior year: yes, you will say “last time” a lot this year. Don’t dwell: enjoy. If you see a lot of your kid, that’s great. If you have to ask for proof of life snapchats because they are so busy soaking in all the lasts, that’s fantastic, even if it doesn’t feel that way.  It means they are ready. And when they are finally gone, it makes the emptiness seem normal!
Encourage them to do EVERYTHING.
Take risks — pick the college that you have never heard of, rather than the one everyone is attending, if it is the right one.  If it ends up not being the right one, change schools.
Make mistakes: better to learn how to recover from them at home than without the family safety net. Tell them it’s ok if they don’t know what they want to do: 95% of the kids who say they do, don’t. Or will change their mind. That’s fine. If they want to learn a trade, let them. They will be financially well off and always employed (seriously: I have people from three different blue collar trades coming to my house this week. They will be handsomely paid and I will fawn over them when they fix what I could not. Think about it).
Tell them to go to the dance/the party/the concert/the play/the game.  Ask that guy/girl out.  If it sucks, it was one night they’ll never remember.  If it is awesome, it just might be that one night they will never forget.
 
And you?
 
Hang out with friends. Take a class. Talk with your spouse. No spouse? Do something you’ve always wanted to do but a significant other might’ve gotten in the way. Do not wait until the kids are gone to start filling those empty spaces. We are so busy every weekend that we rarely miss the kids. I mean, I would kill to hear my daughter sing, but that’ll come (she’ll gig over winter break at Excelsior Brewing Company — watch for my pathetically excited posts). I’ll visit her for parents’ weekend in Nashville in a couple weeks. She’s coming home for Homecoming. My son will return for a visit in October from Seattle, and we’re taking him and his buddy to Vegas in November for the first time.
Sure, I miss them.  But as much as I love them, I don’t need them. And they don’t need me the same way anymore. And it’s okay.
 
So enjoy the frenzy. Take the pictures. Hope that they tell you more than “it was fine” when you ask about their day later — whether face to face or via text (both are ok). You do you. They will do they. And you will all have a great year!
Go Tonka!

And she’s gone

It’s the morning we move Singer Girl into her dorm, and into her new life.  She’s in the bathroom getting ready, when suddenly — just like she always has — she starts singing.

Everything stops.

No idea when I’ll get that spontaneous joy again. At home she always asked me to not listen. I lied and said I couldn’t hear her.  I think she knew I lied. As long as we kept up the charade all was cool.

Now I couldn’t pretend anymore.  It would be true — I would still be listening, but I wouldn’t hear her.

The night before, as we were wandering her effingly beautiful campus, she offhandedly remarked that this will be her only “first day of school” picture without Santa Bear. I doubled over like someone had punched me. UGH.

The months preceding this moment have been like walking on a Minnesota pond in early December: the ice might hold, it might not, so every step you hold your breath, listening for the subtle cracking, desperate to avoid the violence of a cold water bath.  I learned that we only talked about things in tiny morsels, and if/when she freaked, I shut up.  I dunno if it was the right way to handle things.  But that’s true of every step of parenting: you gotta rely on instinct most of the time.  You MacGyver through things, hoping that a paper clip, playing card and some chewing gum will get you through successfully.

As we got closer to the actual departure date, I grew a bit more frantic, knowing that there were things that needed to be done — didn’t every Facebook parent group keep telling me what I had to do? I had the checklists, and we discussed them.  I said she didn’t need a steamer, she ordered one anyway, then decided to return it.  Was I wrong to not get the famous Ikea blue bags? (Nah — we didn’t need them).  Should I send her with her original Social Security Card or a copy? (settled for copy).

The night before she left, we hosted one last sleepover.  HWSNBN thought I was nuts.  I knew it would be an added layer of stress, but it would be worth it.  I think it was also for me.  As I looked at the pile of shoes strewn by the door, I knew it would be a long time until I saw that mess again.  Her leaving was the end of something more than just no kids in the house — it was the end of my day to day job for the past 21 years.  I had been laid off.  But that’s another post…

The kids had a ball — scarfing crap, drumming and singing and being very loud all night long.  I told everyone they had to be gone by 8am, as we were leaving for the airport at 9am.  It was a slow, slow morning.  I tried to give them all space, but as the clock ticked I finally had to rip off the bandaid.  They all trudged upstairs, and convened in the driveway.

The girls clustered around her, laughing and crying and saying they couldn’t believe it.  The boys stood awkwardly to the side, trying not to get emotional, discussing cars.  I overheard the band’s bass player, a giant of a guy, semi-joking that this he might actually cry for the first time in years. I stood in the garage, out of sight, watching, crying, grateful that she had this group and praying that this wouldn’t be too hard.

After most of the friends left, Drummer Boy stuck around.  My stomach was in knots. They went back downstairs to get the rest of her things.  They looked shattered.  At 8:45 I finally stood outside her door and said “honey, it’s time.”

She yelled through the door “NO!”

But she came out.  He carried her suitcase for her.  They clung to each other, and he left.  My heart ached for them.

It was finally time to go.  We loaded 6 suitcases and 5 carry ons into the uber, and we were off.  At the airport, there was another mom and daughter wearing t shirts from her college.  I wanted to say hi.  Singer Girl looked at me like she would cut a bitch.  To keep the peace, I bit my tongue.  I posted on the college’s parent page instead, and gave the gal a virtual hello.  No idea if she heard me…

On the flight, I couldn’t stop staring at my baby, touching her.  Remember that first time you are alone with your newborn in the hospital, and all you do is gaze at them?  Yeah.  It was like that.  I couldn’t keep my hands off of her either — which would’ve been fine except her arm was sore from one of the last minute vaccinations I made her get, and I kept forgetting.  Nothing like pressing on a bruise to make someone remember you (now that I think of it, it’s all like pressing a bruise, isn’t it? Little, constant, painful reminders of the passage of time.  Blech.  Very maudlin.).

To her credit, she actually seemed to find my frantic devotion cute.  She humored me all weekend long when I had spontaneous attacks of leaky eyes (yes, I packed waterproof mascara).

My biggest fear about her leaving was that she wouldn’t enjoy it.  She was soooo unexcited, whereas I remember being so pumped I don’t remember anything about moving in.  I mean, I know my parents were there, but my strongest memories of the first day of college was meeting my roommate and choosing wear to hang my Van Halen poster (sorry Mom).

Move in was fun and busy and exciting and exhausting.  I thrive with a project and organizing is like oxygen to me.  It’s the one thing I KNOW she got from me.  I also recognized the process, and her need to make this her space.  I asked her opinion and permission on everything, even though I of course knew how it should be done.  HWSNBN stood floundering in a sea of boxes and packaging.  I pulled him aside and said “just do what she says and no one will get hurt.” That evening he looked at me, stunned, and revealed he had no idea move in would be so exhausting.  I reminded him that the last time he handled a college move he removed the screen from his second floor apartment window and threw his belongings into the back of a pickup.

We had planned to stick around until Sunday (moved her in on a Friday) as we were so far away and knew she would need to run errands.  After move in, we went to dinner then shopped a little — she finally agreed that naked cinder block walls were not attractive.  We found a big wall hanging, and we agreed to pick her up in the morning and do some more shopping.  By the end of the weekend, we had done Office Max, Kroger’s,  Home Depot, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target (twice).

On campus the school had arranged barbecues and concerts and speeches.  I cried at everything.  She patted my arm and grinned.  Every now and then I saw a spark of excitement — although she would never admit it when I asked her about it.  She would reveal things slowly.  She and her roomate had wandered around the first night meeting people.  On the second night she did the same with other people.  After a week there, she was “out with friends.”

Good news bad news: we never hear from her.  I am trying to be respectful and not bug her.  With every online post I see about kids begging to come home, I breathe a little sigh knowing that if she isn’t calling me, it can’t be that bad.  She has asked to come home for her high school’s homecoming, and that’s fine.

Me? I realized when I got home that she had done an excellent job of training me for this moment.  I never saw her when she was living here, so it doesn’t feel that different.  I cried so much more when we were with her than I do now.  In fact, I cried more writing this than I have in all the time she’s been gone.

But moments get me.  This week we did the state fair for the very first time without kids (could’ve used her help eating some of the food).  This weekend we go up to Madeline Island, Wisconsin, like we have for umpteen years — first time without a kid, or a dog, for that matter (double ouch).

Can’t believe she won’t be laughing at her parents’ weird friends at our annual Halloween party.

This is the first fall in seven years that I haven’t volunteered at the high school’s freshman orientation.

But:

it’s time.

She will be okay.

Eventually she will text me without being prompted — or without needing something.

It’s hard, but it’s supposed to be.  I look forward to seeing what happens next for her.

But in the meantime — you know those Facebook “on this date” memories? They are awesomely cruel bits of nostalgia.  Thanks, Zuckerberg, for both treating me with glimpses of days gone by, and reminding me of all the everyday shit I am missing. Can’t decide if I want to strangle you with your damn black T shirt or buy you a new one.

Hmm… wonder if Singer Girl needs a new t shirt?

 

 

 

Gluttons for Funishment

We came, we saw, we ate.

I gained 3 pounds.

It was totally worth it.

Every year we look forward to the Minnesota State Fair.  The Great Minnesota Get Together, as it is affectionately known, ranks consistently in the top state fairs of the country.  Attendance is second only to the Texas State Fair — which runs twice as long in a state with almost five times as many people. The rides, the music, the animals, the exhibits: they all rock.  Where else can you see piglets born, see no fewer than five Donald Trump versions in the scarecrow competition, haggle with smiling toothless carnies, listen to the Beach Boys and En Vogue on the same afternoon, watch dogs being spayed, or buy a hot tub?

And did I mention the food?

We kind of go there to eat.

It has become big business for the fair, and every year, months in advance, the fair starts touting the new food options.  This year there were no less than 44 new foods.  We did NOT try them all.  But we would’ve if we could’ve!

I did my research, consulting various different news sources for their recommendations (big thank you’s to Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune and Stephanie March of MSPMag for always being the first reviews I read!) .  Quite honestly, I weigh all the recommendations against one another, take in my personal preferences, and then compile my top 10 must try options (full disclosure: I won’t eat seafood of any kind, and I hate sweet beers and any kind of ciders, so those things will ever be on my list). IMG_2568

Then I get my handy dandy Minnesota State Fair app (if you do not have this, you need it.  You can place stars on the interactive map of food/entertainment/merchandise you want to see.  As you wander the fair, you see what is close to you.  Game changer. Also: buy your tickets in advance at Cub — and pick up the Blue Ribbon coupon book and any ride ticket sheets.  The fair can be pricey.  These things help!)

So after my research, my list looked like this: IMG_2576

We go every year with another family, the Meldahls.  Their kids are besties with ours, and their dog Monte was married to our late great Penny.  They like the food as much as we do.  Mike shares my love of all things spicy, Erika is a scoville scale wimp like HWSNBN (but both are up for almost anything).  This year only two of their kids, Joey and Lucy, were able to come.  We had no kids for the first time since we moved to Minnesota 21 years ago,  It was tough.  We missed tem — and having a few extra mouths with which to share the grub!

That’s how we do this: we buy one of something, and everyone gets a bite,  It helps lessen the caloric load — somewhat. By the edn of the night all restraints is thrwn t othe wind, and we all start furtively darting glances around, as our personal cravings start whispering to our inner food addicts.  We may end the night going rogue, but we always start off united, with a plan.

I start the day on the bus (we don’t drive.  Take a shuttle.  You’ll thank me), discussing my plan.  Then I ask what they really want to eat, and add it to the app map. Since they revamped the west end, we always start at the Blue Barn — geographically it is the first place you reach getting off the bus.  It also never disappoints.

First up: bacon and Cheese Stuffed Tots, and the Swedish Meatball Smorgas (with beers). Both were amazing, for different reasons.  I have never met a potato I didn’t like.  I still remember discovering the glory of potato skins at my friend’s dorm back at UC Davis in 1986.  Sometimes I think she feared I hung out with her just to be close to their starchy goodness.  These are like that, but fried.  And the tangy smoky goodness of the bacon fat infused sour cream? Gurrl.  The Smorgas were also great.  Think Swedish meatballs with white gravy, sweet lingonberry sauce and tart pickle bits.  I chose not to eat the bread, quite honestly.  I was told it was like a Hawaiian bread.  We were split on which we liked better.  I went the more pedestrian route, but others moaned over the Smorgas.  I recommend both!

Also eaten in the West End:

On the left you have the All-Day Breakfast Waffle from Nordic Waffles.  On the right are the always good chicken tenders from Lulu’s Public House (not new, but a must have for some in the party).  I only tasted the corner of the waffle, as I don’t do eggs.  But it was sweet and savory at the same time, with the perfect soft and crunchy ratio.  Those who ate the whole thing said it was exactly right.  This is one of those things I can totally see someone trying at home.  Great on-the-go meal with eggs, bacon and cheddar in a waffle sandwich! By the way: look for the goat on the roof.  No idea its significance, but any goat wearing headphones is ok in my book!

The path then takes us by two oldies but goodies, on opposite sides of the spectrum: Preferred Pickle and Cream Puffs.

Hard to mess with a big ass dill pickle on a stick.  I mean, it can be done, but this is a family show.  And the cream puffs? Well, not my thing, but they are a fave of my better half.

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We also picked up deep fried cajun pickle slices.  They were amazing, but don’t go because you like spice.  We had to add hot sauce to the mix to get the kick we needed.

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None of these items are new, but you don’t have to be new to be a favorite.  We hit up Preferred Pickle again late at night for another round of fried pickles. But since it was during the time of night when we devolved and scattered according to our own base needs, I have no photo.

We headed towards the area of the fair where there are no new foods usually on my list: the animal barns.  But along the way we couldn’t resist a stop at our favorite fry place: Fresh French Fries.  We shared a small cup, with sides of both ketchup and malt vinegar (my favorite).  This place is the bomb dot com.  There are lots of places to get french c=fries (in fact 46 fair vendors sell them), but this place will always have a warm spot in my tummy. In fact, we ate there twice.  Later in the night we got the giant bucket with a handle, and we ate them down like Charles Dickens street urchins.  Mind you, this was after about 6 hours of conspicuous consumption.  I think we ate so furtively fast in half-assed-shame (who am I kidding? At this point we were all full moons.  Nothing half about it).  Or maybe we thought that if we scarfed fast enough it would count as an aerobic activity?

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(this pic is from our baby helping)

A couple more side steps along the way to the next new foods: A corn dog (NEVER a Pronto pup).  an ooey gooey caramel roll with a side of frosting madness, and poutine.

We split up at this point, some heading to the Miracle of Birth Center, others heading to get some Ghost Pepper concoction. I am a sucker for the animal babies, so I was torn.  But my heat- loving cohorts saved me a bite. IMG_2658

We did not allow our spouses to try.  They would have suffered.  These were awesome.  I only had one — and it was enough.  Not for the weak of palate.  One slightly injured party requested a trip to the all you can drink milk booth — a place we stop every year.  This time we had three glasses before moving on, both chocolate and regular.

We made it up to the next new food on my list. IMG_E2661

These are the General’s Tso’s Chicken Tacos at Midtown Global Market’s Taco Cat.  I’ll be honest: this one wasn’t rated unanimously by all the critics, and I get it.  It was yummy Chinese food in a flour tortilla.  I could’ve done without the tortilla.  Put it in a crisp lettuce wrap and it would’ve been better!

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This.  This apple.  Oh my.

Go to Minnesota Apples in the Ag building.  Buy this.  Eat it.  Swoon over the combo of sweet and tart.  Start stalking your local produce aisle.  This one will be BIG.

Ok: back to the unhealthy.

Sausage Sister and Me in the Food Building never disappoints.  I mean NEVER.  If they have a new food, we are there.  We will also pick up an old favorite.  The new? The Up North Puff Pastry, seen here on the left.  It is a flaky concoction of pastry dough (which I would eat solo — the stretch factor is to die for) stuffed with porketta, cheese curds, dill pickle pieces and just the right amount of coarse mustard.  This would be an AWESOME cold weather thing.  On the right is the classic fave: the Twisted Sister on a Stick.   Every year baby!

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This was the only beverage on my list to try: a strawberry-basil lemonade. Granted, I wanted to add vodka, but it was a good mix of flavors.  Too tart for some in the group, but I thought it was as good palate cleanser!

Onward to Thanksgiving:

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This is a terrible picture of the Turducken Sausage at Giggles Campfire Grill.  It tastes like a turkey had carnal relations with a bratwurst.  That is a good thing, by the way.  Impressive pop on the skin! Leaner than you expect from a sausage, but that’s ok.  I was still glowing with greasy goodness from Sausage Sister and Me!

Detour for some old faves:

Mini Donuts.  Big Fat Bacon. Foot Long Hotdog.  All traditional.  All must be consumed at some point.

 

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One old, one new, from a perennial new food place: Tejas Grill.  On the left you have the Beergarita, which I love.  On the right, the elote, which I now covet.  And which I vowed to try to replicate this weekend on the Island (blog to come).  The elote is grilled corn on the cob slathered in a mixture of chile powder-spiced mayo, lime juice, cotija cheese and cilantro.  Your brain tells your stomach it’s a vegetable.  Your heart tells you it’s actually crack.  And you will eat it until it is gone, then look like an addict, gnawing the ends of the cob and sucking on your fingers.  Danger, Will Robinson.

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Lots of “healthy” items on the list this year.  Sort of.  This one was consistently at the top of every foodies list this year.  It’s the grilled peaches from the produce exchange (even if you don’t buy this, just buy one of their baby-head sized peaches.  Glorious).  Drizzled with honey and topped with goat cheese and mint, I turned into Gollum and called it my precious.  But not everyone shared my enthusiasm, especially those who don’t like got cheese.  That’s ok.  HWSNBN and I decided we can totally try this at home.  And we will.

We next had a very sad moment.  On the top of the I wanna try it list for Mike was the Bananas Foster French Toast at the Hamline Church Dining Hall.  Alas, it was only served at breakfast, and we are not morning people.  I am sure it was delicious…

Mike helped me search for the next food item, which was a wild card.  In the meantime, others hit Juanita’s Fajitas:

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So. The one item on the list that I was most uncertain about was the Rainbow Cloud Roll from Rainbow Ice Cream, located upstairs in the Grand Stand.  I’d never even been up there before, which added to the dubiousness of this dish.  First they take cotton candy, and roll it out.  Then you add three scoops of Superman Ice cream, and a sprinkling of Fruity Pebbles, then roll it up like a unicorn’s burrito.  Then it’s rolled in more Fruity Pebbles.  I was sure I would hate it I was sure it would be a sugar bomb.  It was THE BOMB.

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They gave me a spork, at which I scoffed.  I picked that bad boy up in my hands and bit down.  Holy mother of Tooth Decay.  I am not sure how, but I managed to polish that sucker off with really only the help of one other person (thanks Lucy!).  The others tried it, warily, and liked it, but not enough to go all in like we did.  Seriously worth the weirdness.

It was now the time of night to hit the midway for rides and games of chance (I came home with an aqua dinosaur, thank you very much.  We all wanted a llama though. I was gonna name mine Dolly.  Think about it).

We soon hit that time I told you about: we were at capacity, but we were feral now, and baser instincts took over.  There were more fries and pickles.  More beer (I really didn’t count that stuff, btw.  We did try the watermelon frose — frozen rose– at one point which was ok — if you liked watermelon and rose.  Which I do not). A few bottles of water.

Erika craved chocolate.  I wanted savory.  We also needed cheese curds (no picture — but we got the jalapeno ones.  It has taken me 20 years but I can finally enjoy one) to go for one who could not make the fair (hi Paige!).  Erika and I found what we needed at French Meadow Bakery:

She had the chocolate mini sconuts (scones and donut holes married together) and I had the gluten-free risotto poppers with cheese and black beans.  They were out of sauces for both, but we didn’t care.  They were the perfect end of the fair bites.

We staggered to the buses, checking our fitbits and praying that all the steps mitigated the calories a tad.  We were done, and frankly (I know, hard to believe) just feeling full.  As we neared the gate, a gentleman was walking by with a bucket of the world-famous Sweet Martha’s Cookies.  I don’t crave them — they are way too sweet for me. We had chatted about them on the bus ride in, and mentioned that all we needed was one bit of them to satisfy the need.

The food Gods were listening.

As we walked by the cookie man, Mike jokingly offered to take the bucket from him.  We all chuckled, and we walked past him.  The man called out: “Hey, want one?”

So Mike and I stepped out of the fair with one shared cookie.  One last melty chocolate bite.  We agreed: too sweet.  But we all  agreed we’d do it again — next year!

Food Glorious Food

So: here’s some of what we ate — and drank — on our two weeks in Croatia and Greece! Enjoy!

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cheers to Croatia!

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Thank you to the amazing chefs! And thank you to all the steps we took — somehow I only gained three pounds (now stay tuned: in a few days, I will post my annual Minnesota State Fair food journey!

The Ruins of a Great Vacation

Today was the day we had planned the whole trip around.

It may seem crazy, but all the other amazing stuff we had done to this point was just filler.  When Singer Girl chose this trip, it was all because of Athens. She had fallen in love as a preschooler with the Disney movie Hercules.  It’s still her all time favorite.  So the chance to visit the famed ruins of the Acropolis was a bucket list item (we’re saving Mount Olympus for the return trip!).

I booked a tour guide for this, as I knew we could never do it alone.  Our wonderful guide with Athens Walking Tour (https://www.athenswalkingtours.gr/). I wanted to see not only the Acropolis, but the Agora as well.  An argora is an ancient marketplace, and the ruins of this one in Athens are quite spectacular — and not on everyone’s list.  But they should be.

I won’t bore you with too many details — but the pictures!!!

 

 

These shots below are of an amphitheater still being used; Sting performed here a few weeks prior. If you ever see a show advertised as “Live at the Acropolis,” this is where it happens:

 

It’s pretty cool to me how much marble is everywhere.  Can you imagine the cost today to make all the streets and sidewalks marble?

IMG_0247Of course, thousands of years of feet trampling the ground makes for some slippery spots, so the boot was on high alert.  But we made it!

 

 

 

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Our group split up, and now our smaller (smarter) band of travellers headed to the Agora.  On our way, we went back through the marketplace we were in the day before, stopping for a little snack…

 

and to visit with some locals…

 

The Agora includes a very small, but very charming and jam packed little museum of some  of the treasures unearthed during excavation there (including the actual remains of an infant in hits burial urn!).  The site offers beautiful views of the Acropolis from below, and another glimpse into ancient Greek life.

 

 

 

We went back home to relax, and changed for our last night in Europe.  We found a beautiful, charming restaurant with incredible food — but we were done.  We were so tired, and we just couldn’t eat another bite.  It was symbolic of the trip. We had tasted all we could of Croatia and Greece, and we were full.  We will give the restaurant another try in the future — and would love a second helping of these beautiful countries some day!

 

From Santorini to the Sky

Our last day on Santorini left us with many hours before our flight. So I stayed back to pack, while my traveling companions decided to try the famed trail to Oia (not a boot-friendly experience).  They knew they didn’t have time for the whole thing, but it was good for them to get out for a bit.

 

 

 

Afterwards, it was time for a last Santorini stroll — and a little souvenir shopping.    Built on a hillside, the town is a warren of tiny, twisty, stair-ridden streets. Both of my travel companions were looking for some clothing — especially the flowy white cotton garments seen everywhere.  While we meandered, we plotted — at least, the girl and I did.  We plied HWSNBN with another donkey beer (the only way we would support the donkey trade here.  Was not about to make one of those poor creatures carry me up the hillside).  Then, through much pleading, teasing and cajoling, we got him where we never thought he’d go: to a fish pedicure.

I have always wanted to try one, and Singer Girl was all in.  You may remember us discussing it in Dubrovnik, where HWSNBN declared the whole thing was a figment of our imagination.  Nope!  He cringed and giggled through the whole thing, but he did it. In the picture below, you will notice all the fishies on the left side of my left foot: that’s where the break was.  It was like they KNEW!

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We had a last lunch at Argo, our fave restaurant in town (http://www.argo-restaurant-santorini.com/menu), then it was time to jet.  I had previously remarked how seamless the trip had been so far.  Everything I had arranged had not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them.  Stupid woman.  Should’ve known that I would curse things by saying that.

A shuttle van was supposed to pick us up — and it was late.  We were a little panicky, and when we got to the airport the lines were forever long, and we couldn’t figure out where to go.  After consulting with many different people, we finally were told to get our butts to the front of the line (as at this point we were pushing it timewise).  We rushed frantically — only to realize: no planes were leaving.  Don’t know why.  But no  planes were going anywhere.  We stood in the increasingly crowded, unairconditioned airport.  It was awful: I actually started worrying about some of the elderly people as the breathing room lessened.

 

 

Suddenly they announced our flight — so joined a long line, up and down a staircase, to get there.  Then it was another line to get onto the little shuttle buses, all the while not sure if we were on the right one going to the correct plane.  Finally boarded for the short, 40 minute flight to Athens.  All this delay was worrying me especially, as we had surprise dinner reservations late that evening for which we could not be late!

Safely in Athens, we found our prearranged taxi and headed to our cool but crazy rental. This was our first stop in a true city, so the high rises, graffiti and traffic were not a pleasant shock. I think when you travel to large cities you instinctively are a bit more wary than when in smaller towns.  There is a faster pace, and more issues with getting places and concerns of rough neighborhoods.  The first time I visited Europe, it was to Rome. It took awhile getting used to the trash and graffiti, but I have since realized that neither are necessarily an indication of a crime-ridden ghetto; it’s just different than what I am used to.

So while in the back of my mind I was nervous pulling into our rather industrial looking neighborhood, I was keeping an open mind. I am relentless in my research, and the reviews for our apartment were beyond reproach, but you never really know until you turn that doorknob.  We were not disappointed.  I had informed Singer Girl of the special highlight of our place, but not HWSNBN, so he was a bit amazed when we entered.

The apartment had a retractable roof.

No, really.

There were trees in the living room, and so much room we could’ve slept a dozen or more people in the two bedroom, 2 bath place.  But it was just us three, and we had places to go.  Check out the listing at https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16935208

Our dinner was walking distance away. We were staying in a newly hip neighborhood known as Ghazi, were an old gas works had been turned into an entertainment complex.  Dinner was there — above it.  165 feet above it.

We were dining at Dinner in the Sky, Athens. We had time for a pre-dinner ouzo, a first for me and Singer Girl.

IMG_2063Both agreed we liked it very much! Then it was a mandatory potty break before getting strapped into our seats.

Yes, strapped in — like going on a roller coaster.  Then a crane hoisted us up up up — the view of Athens and the Acropolis and the biggest moon ever was amazing.  We had a prearranged dinner menu, and the many courses were prepared in the middle of our “table.” We had two servers supplying us with cocktails the whole time, with rock music blaring and so many different languages laughing around us.

 

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Learn more at https://dinnerinthesky.gr/en/.  I will totally be looking for more locations on future travels!

The next morning we were getting ready to go explore when the travel curse reared its ugly head again.  Singer Girl realized she had lost her passport.  While my travel companions searched frantically, I called our taxi.  No dice.  Then I called the airport.  Somehow, amazingly, I reached the right person, and he told me they had found it in the airplane seat pocket (always check that before deplaning, folks). So we all ventured to the train station (which was conveniently just a couple of blocks away). But there we split up. They went to the airport while I went and did something I alone wanted to do: watch the changing of the guard at the Presidential mansion.

Unfortunately, I got there too late for the official big ceremony, but just getting to see them in their traditional garb, stylistically marching back and forth in a manner reminiscent of giant horses, was cool enough.

 

I wandered around a bit more while waiting for them to return.

 

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We reconnected and headed to our original detaination, the Monastiraki flea market.  Yes, there were plenty of touristy trinkets, but if we had lived there I would have bought so much.  So many quirky, funky things, from cannons to charm bracelets.

 

HWSNBN wanted to cook dinner in the apartment, so we looked for food stores. Unfortunately, food markets are not open on Sundays, so we really struggled to find what we wanted.  But a little pasta, some cheese, olive and wine, and we were just fine.  We chilled on the couch watching a World Cup match before heading out for the main event(in our eyes): Croatia v Denmark. Next it was off to the apartment to shower and change for our last World Cup game.  I had found a sports bar (aptly named the Athens Sports Bar, http://www.athenssportsbar.com/) and we headed towards the train in our Croatia garb!

 

I love these bars where there are so many different cultures and languages.  The Denmark fans sat on one side, we sat on the other, and a gaggle of Canadians (it was Canada day sat in the middle.  Singer Girl is fascinated with the idea of Canada, so she loved chatting with them.  We had a great conversation with a couple Englishmen who now live in Athens about soccer in Europe vs the US.  And, of course: Croatia won! One last nightcap, and we headed back home to get rest up for a day of sight seeing — and our last full day in Europe.

 

Staying Awhile on a Greek Isle

On our second full day in Santorini, we had a boat to catch.

I’d booked a day cruise through Sunset Oia (https://sailing-santorini.com/), and they picked up us and all the other passengers then dropped us off at the harbor.  The group in the boat came from all over — the US, Germany, China, Australia and France. One of my favorite things about Europe is how many different voices you hear!

The winds were better than the day before, but they were still bad enough that they needed to come up with an alternate itinerary: no anchoring at the famed red and white beaches.  Disappointed for sure, but we withheld judgement.  Hard to complain on a catamaran, wine in hand, sailing around the Greek Isles.

Our first stop was the volcanic mud baths.  I was thrilled to be able to get into  the water! Jumped off the boat and did a three limbed swim (actually my broken foot tried to help.  But it really flailed more than floated).  When we reached the shallow area, I bobbed about on a pool noodle, while HWSNBN slathered my foot in the volcanic mud.  Like the salt lake in Croatia, they were said to have healing properties.  I was not turning down that opportunity!

Our little swim time was short lived: it was time to head to another destination. Once we dropped anchor, it was time to swim, or sun, or drink.  Meanwhile, the crew grilled us up a beautiful lunch, which we enjoyed almost as much as the scenery.

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Our last stop of the day was a chance for those who were brave — and not broken — to go cliff diving.  HWSNBN and Singer Girl were all in.  I was jealous! All I could do was take pictures.

After the van dropped us back at our hotel, we napped for a few then it was time for our last night in Santorini.  Singer Girl needed some phone time with Drummer Boy, so HWSNBN and I went to dinner, just the two of us. We had a wonderful time watching the sunset while gorging at Metropolis (http://metropolisstr.restaurant/)

Singer Girl joined us near the end of the meal (just in time for dessert!), and then we looked for some of that famed Santorini nightlife.  I had heard of a bar that was supposed to be fun and had a great drink menu, but I swear we wandered around and around and couldn’t find it.  GPS kept telling is we were RIGHT THERE (the next day, in broad daylight we realized it was above us, on the second story.  So we felt stupid.).  But we managed to find a really loud place that Singer Girl liked but HWSNBN hated it.  One cocktail ad we moved on to a cute, quiet place that was showing the world cup highlights from past years, so we were happy. We also saw this dog:

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The next day it would be goodbye to Santorini, and hello to Athens.  A day filled with hungry fish and dinner 165 feet in the air…

Santorini: a postcard or reality?

We’ve all seen the pictures and posters and instagram shots: white buildings, skies, seas and roofs of bright blue.  Touches of red and pink from doors and Bougainvillea.  Santorini.

I’ve wanted to visit since my high school best friend Kelly went there during a summer abroad in college.  Now, I may have been more enthralled at the time with tales of a sexy night life, but no matter.  When Singer Girl said she wanted to go to Athens, I knew this detour would be on the agenda.

Visually this place does not disappoint.

This was the only time on our European Adventure that we stayed in a hotel.  There simply were no VRBOs/AirbnBs that met my criteria: namely, a view and I had to feel like I was living in one of those postcards, walking distance to nightlife (even if this married 50-year-old with her 18-year-old daughter in tow didn’t harbor the same ambitions as her 20-year-old single, non role model self).

We stayed at the Aigialos hotel (http://www.aigialos.gr/). Again: transportation was arranged, and again we were grateful.  Santorini was even harder for to navigate than anywhere we had been before.  Wacky little streets that led to nowhere and everywhere at the same time, none of which went in straight lines, are charming when strolling in a sundress with a white wine afterglow — but suck when travel tired, dragging suitcases in a boot.

The staff was charming  and gracious.  They made sure we were settled, then had us pre-order our breakfast, which we chose to eat pool side (I was eager to try the traditional Greek yogurt with honey: yum!). Our room was a charming suite: one long room with a bedroom for HWSNBN and myself, 2 bathrooms, and two couches for Singer Girl to pick from.  White washed, blue accents, heavy dark wood touches.  Love! Great combo of old charm and new comforts.  I highly recommend this place!

We woke up to a VERY windy day, which, when you are on the side of a massive hill overlooking the sea, is impressive.  But it couldn’t compete with the view!

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We had a few hours to explore before a winery tour in the afternoon, so off we went!

My only disappointment with Santorini was the crowds and the obvious catering to tourists (yes, I knew we were part of that crowd).  I also know that there are other islands to try, but we will do that on a later trip. I love a city built for wandering — like Venice, Paris, Dubrovnik, Rome. Places where you can’t always see what’s coming up, so you are often delightfully startled by the unexpected.  Throw in amazing architecture, wandering dogs, and brilliant color and I am all in!

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We found an amazing gallery, where artist Eduart Gjopalaj’s turned natural woods into “paintings,” baskets, shapes and fantasies (he had carved wood that looked like volcanic rock hanging from the ceiling.  Brilliant!).  He was so friendly and helpful.  He told us he stumbled into the field, that he had been working construction and slowly started realizing that he could create beautiful things from the wood.  I would not be opposed to finding something from him under my Christmas tree (HWSNBN? Are you listening?).

You can see more about Eduart at this link: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g658914-d8116501-Reviews-Eduart_Gjopalaj-Kamari_Santorini_Cyclades_South_Aegean.html

After an amazing lunch, we went home to get ready for wine! I had insisted we have a solid meal in our bellies, as my experience with wine tastings is that food is not optional if you want to make it through.  However: this wine tasting tour was unlike anything I had ever been on before.

Our wine tour was with Iliana of Santorini Wine Trails (www.santoriniwinetrails.gr). She picked us up and we headed out with a honeymooning young couple who, originally from Chicago, had relocated to Arkansas.  A dry county in Arkansas, unbeknownst to them.  They were especially excited about the tour!

There were many reasons I wanted to do a wine tour.  Yes, I love wine.  But HWSNBN and I know little about wines outside the US, so we like to be educated.  And I wanted Singer Girl to learn about wine from us, not from some crappy cheap bottle of fortified fruity crap snuck into a dorm room.  Plus: wine.  In Greece.  ‘Nuff said (but you know me: I gotta say more).

Our first stop was an actual vineyard. Santorini does it differently than most places in the world,  Since the ground is arid and volcanic, and irrigation so expensive the vines aren’t staked up like I am used to seeing. Instead, they have this intricate method called “kouloura” (learn more about it here:  http://www.newwinesofgreece.com/the_santorini_akoulouraa/en_the_santorini_akoulouraa.html).  The vines are shaped into baskets, year after year, and vines can grow that way for a hundred years or more.  We tried to take pictures, but they weren’t great:

The field looks like this:

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Someone attempting to sneak a grape might look like this:

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Then we were off to our first of three wineries, Gaia (http://www.gaiawines.gr/visits-santorini-eng/) . The first winery was my favorite in terms of setting. I mean, hard to not love a winery set basically on the beach.

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I am used to bread, and maybe a little cheese, when wine tasting. This put that to shame.  We were served a phenomenal platter of olives, cheese, meat, bread and more.  In fact, all three wineries fed us so much I almost wish we had skipped lunch!

Next up was a much more modern place, Estate Argyros (http://estateargyros.com/home.html).  The winery was lovely — it has been around for more than 100 years but they have recently renovated the tasting rooms.  It’s stunning –   all steel and glass and polished concrete — but not my personal taste.  I prefer something that feels old.  But the wine (and food!) were great!

Iliana piled us all into her van, and we headed back north towards Ios.  We would be at this winery close to sunset, which is always my favorite time of day.  Here, at Domaine Sigalas (https://www.sigalaswinetasting.com/), we were given course after course of food, glorious food! We sat under a grape arbor, in the glowing late afternoon sun, laughing with the vintner, Iliana and our newlywed friends.  Delicious wine, knowledgable hosts, fun companions. What more could a girl want?

Iliana dropped us back off and we climbed the whitewashed hills to our hotel room.  Singer Girl and HWSNBN decided to catch up on emails and stuff, and I went outside to grab a few photos as the day’s last light left us.

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When I got back, it was time for a little reality check: while HWSNBN snored, Singer Girl and I spent the a few hours setting up her college schedule.  It was a stark reminder that we needed to cherish these moments together, because every day she was closer to leaving us. We went to bed exhausted, determined to make the next day — and all the rest — count even more.

 

Last Dance with Dubrovnik

Fantasy Island was in our rear view: now it was time for futbol.

We limp-hustled to the apartment, switched out some last minute laundry (can I tell you how much fun it was to use that old school clothes line, watching our modern day duds flap in the breeze above that ancient wall?), and head to our recommended venue: an Irish Pub.  I knew we were late, as usual.  HWSNBN thought I was exagerating, as usual.  We arrived to a SRO venue, and I resigned myself to stand for the next few hours.  But the atmosphere was great: on the patio they were going to show the Argentina game, inside the main event (Croatia v Iceland).  Drinks were flowing, and food looked fanatastic. But HWSNBN did not want to stand, so left and found ANOTHER Irish pub around the corner. We managed to squeeze into a table when some non-soccer fans scurried out.  That was the good news.  Bad news? No food would be served any longer, and the bar would only sell beer.  Singer Girl was displeased.  During halftime they had to wander off in search of sustenance!

We were cozy with another table — a couple from Norway.  They were rooting for Iceland, but we liked them anyway.

Croatia won! It was fun, but not the same frenzied joy as when we were in the park in Split — but still awesome to be there.

The night was young, even if two-thirds of us weren’t.  We wandered around the electric city, finding areas we hadn’t yet explored.

 

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We found an odd little corner, nestled up against the southwestern edge of the wall. It was mostly residential, with so many cats it felt like a trap.  Like the cats were in charge, as they lured my companions into a small square…

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I stayed behind, just in case I needed to fetch help. but my surroundings were just as creepy:

Yes.  That is a guillotine.

We decided to wander elsewhere, and hopefully find a little liquid courage.

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We closed the place down, and headed back for our final Croatian sleep.  In the morning, we had to be out of the apartment by 11, but we were allowed to leave our luggage there.  Our wonderful hosts texted me in the morning and said that becasue it was raining, we could stay until we departed for the airport, which was more than generous.  The rain wasn’t enough to keep us inside — we had shopping to do.  So with the treachery of slippery steps in mind, we ventured forth.

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We finally got a good, uncrowded shot of the infamous “Steps of Shame” from GOT fame.  Did you know that was the single most expensive television scene ever shot, as they producers not only had to shut down several streets, they had to pay all the retailers on those streets.  Worth it, though.  The steps themselves? Go to the Jesuit high school one of our tour gides attended!

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Every time we went up this staircase, HWSNBN suggested I reenact it (you know, nekkid).  I politely declined, but if I had, I would’ve availed myself of the nearby bar’s tribute cocktails: IMG_9940

Another thing Dubrovnik is famous for is having the oldest working pharmacy in Europe.  Originally part of a Fransciscan monastery, it was founded in 1317.  They didn’t allow photos inside, but these are some shots of the surrounding grounds (with some more doors to feed my obsession):

I tried to google translate the Italian above the door, and it has something to do with beating an infernal enemy.  Dante’s Inferno was published a few years after this place opened shop, so maybe it was kind of the in thing. You know, hell and purgatory and all that.  Good times.

So. Shopping.

We were looking for a few different things.  I was smitten with the traditional Dubrovnik jewelry — fillagree metal balls were in stores all over the city, and we searched street by street until I found the one shop I had seen the day before that looked more traditional than all the rest.

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I wanted one for a Christmas ornament, but one of that size would’ve cost me a thousand dollars.  So I hemmed and hawed and pondered and finally settled on one as a pendant.  Singer Girl also found some fantastic keepsake jewelry.  If you are in the area, go see the father-daughter team at Beni, od puca 25 (that’s the address).  Singer Girl couldn’t decide what she wanted, so they created something on teh spot — took one bracelet, cut it down to her size, and made earrings out of the removed pieces.  Very cool, very special.

Our last stop was to get a necktie for Drummer Boy.  Why? Evidently the cravat was invented in Croatia.  Who knew?

Purchases in hand, it was time to retrieve our luggage and head to the airport. It was not easy saying goodbye to Croatia. What had started as an afterthought, the second fiddle to our trip to Greece, ended up being so much more. But now we turned our eyes southward, to the land of gods.  First stop: Santorini.  I’ll save the details for the next entry, but I’ll tease you with these snaps of our hotel upon arrival:

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