Monthly Archives: May 2010

May days

For my whole life, I’ve shared my birthday week with a family member. And not just any family member. My dad’s was May 31 and he loved his birthday. Every year it meant a full day of family and friends, beer and volleyball on the lawn. Sun, shorts, Styxx blasting through open windows, icy coolers packed with Rainier and my grandpa’s six-pack of “Oly” tucked safely in the fridge.

The party started just before noon. I remember the crunch of gravel every time a new car arrived. Ben and I would race out to see who it was, opening the doors for our guests like extremely small, extremely friendly valets. Family members, neighbors, co-workers, everyone bringing a pasta salad, a case of beer, maybe a present and already laughing and joking as they walked in the door.

Volleyball became a big party thing for us in the 80s. I’m not sure what inspired it but these games were legendary. Young and athletic, my parents, cousins and friends batted a beach ball over, under and through that net all day long. Time outs for drinks, a quick burger and of course cake, were expected. Sometimes, depending on how serious the competition was and how strong each team was playing, the kids got to join in too. But this wasn’t a casual thing. You had to pull your weight and if you missed too many balls or flung them off into the field or something, you’d easily be subbed out. No matter. The sidelines were full of action too. Cheering, booing, trash talking were just as important as the plays.

When it came time to cut the cake and sing the song, it was usually a joint dedication for us both, “happy birthday dear CharityandPat, happy birthday to you”. I’d get to sit with my dad and together blow out the candles.

I miss those parties and I miss my dad. But at least I have someone to share the birthday season with again. Phoebe’s birthday is May 31.

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Birthday ballooning in Tuscany

For my birthday, Paul arranged for an amazing balloon ride in Tuscany. Here’s how it went (hint: picture-perfect, windless, and so smooth you couldn’t believe you were flying)…

Up at dawn to start the day (which is normal to us, thanks to Phoebe)!

Some people had to help.

A lot.


Some people did not.

Ditto.

The first step is to fill the balloon with cold air, using a fan. Then you heat it up.

When the air in the balloon is hotter than the air outside, it rises.

And we’re off!

A good view.

Gorgeous Tuscany.

Self portrait.

Why Tuscany is so famous. Really, what could be prettier?

Checking in on Phoebe (with the Bells) when we landed.

Deflating and rolling up for next time. An art in itself.

Toasting to the perfect morning. Also an art in itself.

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Raphael’s party

Now Raphael is one and we celebrated last weekend!

This means Phoebe is next.

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New necklace

Post-Mother’s Day, pre-birthday and just what I wanted! Thanks Paul.

This picture doesn’t do the necklace justice but take it from me, it’s sparkly and special.

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Going Greek

Just for fun, to usher in spring and to celebrate a friend’s baby on the way, we had a dinner party last week. The menu was Greek–anything goes except Italian for this kind of thing–and mostly supplied via¬† my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. I know, it’s no surprise, but honestly her stuff is delicious every time. And if you’re having a party, that’s really all you want. And maybe wine.

We started with Easy Tzatziki with Toasted Pita Crisps, which were indeed pretty easy. But delicious! Loaded with cucumber, yogurt, lemon and dill, it’s not even bad for you. A rarity in the chip and dip department.

I won’t say that Phoebe helped prep exactly but she was there for sure.

The main course was a yogurt marinated chicken breast with tabbouleh. Fresh scallions, tomatoes, mint and parsley make this salad especially refreshing. And it’s made with bulgar! Again, healthy yet tasty. I think we’re on to something here

The dessert was actually English, a rhubarb fool with fresh whipped cream. I’ve never made one before, but I’m tickled that the name comes from the fact that it’s so easy, any fool can…

Oh, those Brits.

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Trail blazing, sort of


We hiked.

Twice.

Both hikes turned out to be much harder than we expected.

It also turns out that we are not in good shape.

But it was beautiful.

And we’ll go again.

But maybe do some lunges first.

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Hiking in the Sibillinis

One long weekend, two long hikes, two long lunches. Not bad!

At this time last week we were headed for the Sibillini National Park, which is about three hours outside of Rome in the region called Le Marche. When I mentioned our trip to Amy she immediately asked how it was and whispered into a cuffed palm, “some people say it’s the new Tuscany!” Whether or not it’s the new hot spot for villas and vineyards I think it was gorgeous. Rolling hills plus a seaside coast are hard to beat.

View from our place

On the way we stopped in Norcia, a small town known for truffles, lentils and pork (two of which we’re very familiar with now). As the rain drizzled down, we strolled in and out of shops on main street, stopping for postcards. We’re trying to mail a postcard to Phoebe from every place she visits. An idea we got from Melissa. In the end–when she’s old enough to read–she’ll have quite a collection! There were also maps of the park and even some English books for kids. Score! Then we had lunch but not just any lunch. Since we’d be eating in at the villa that night, we splurged on a 5-course tasting menu with a glass of wine each. But we did show some restraint by splitting it “uno per due” (one for two) which was lucky because we barely managed to finish the last delicious bites between us. Phoebe was a delight, a trooper and a great sport. Since it was early, no one else was in the restaurant yet and she alternated between eating her own little meal, cruising from chair to chair and cooing at the waitress.

Then we were off.

Our villa, separate from the other units and really cute

When we arrived at the villa, we were greeted by the housekeeper who spoke only Italian and immediately picked up Phoebe to carry her around the grounds. I’m always surprised that Phoebe goes to people in these situations. I find myself, arms stretched out tentatively with a worried look on my face saying, “Oh, I don’t think she’ll…” But it’s for nothing. Phoebe just sits contentedly in their arms, being shuffled around and coo-chi-cooed to in Italian. Amy said it’s the confidence of these seasoned mamas, nonnas and zias plus Italians love babies so there’s just something comforting about it.

And the other side

She told us in Italian that the owners of the villa would arrive either that night or the next morning. We could chat, pay and whatnot at that point. When I woke up the next morning and saw a cherry red sports car in the driveway, I said to Paul, “I think there’s a Ferrari in the driveway, so I’m guessing they’re here?” But I was only half right. The owners, him a lawyer and her a plastic surgeon, had arrived. But it was a Corvette. In the land of Ferraris, a Corvette might even be cooler.

They live in Bologna where they both practice. This villa is a “labor of love”, they explained. In 2006 they bought the place as a dilapidated wreck and proceeded to restore it, beam by beam, tile by tile…adding flat screen TVs and jacuzzi tubs here and there. It’s a lovely set up with 8 apartments in three different buildings, surrounding a courtyard, pool and enormous outdoor fire pit. If you’ve ever thought of a compound in the country, you should do this. And then invite us.

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