Never look a pandemic gift horse in the mouth

It’s day 969,459,399,218 of lockdown, or a year in to these “unprecedented times” and I’m trying to find the silver lining of 12 months of upended plans, constant worry, and So. Many. Dishes. I came up with my gratitude list and some new recipes that came out of the pandemic.

Absolutely, what I’m most grateful for is that my family has not gotten sick….at all. Like, not even a sniffle between the six of us and my elderly mother! We had a couple of close contact scares, but, thankfully, no one in the house tested positive. My mom has had both doses of the vaccine and we are anxiously awaiting our turns.

While I may lament that the lockdowns took away so many coming of age rituals —21st birthday celebrations, junior and senior proms, homecoming, freshman and sophomore year on campus, senior collegiate field hockey season, and our traditional “big” trip for high school graduation, we did have a once-in-a-lifetime (I hope!) opportunity to reconnect and hang out. My girls, who turned 24, 21, 19, and 17 during 2020, had time to get to “know” each other as adults, and still binge-watch Netflix together and form a very competitive volleyball league of 4.

We supported our favorite restaurants with Friday night take-out, but that left 20 other meals a week to figure out. My cooking evolved from “let’s celebrate every night, for tomorrow we may die” to “oh shit, maybe we’re not going to die and Imma need to fit back in my jeans one day”. As 2021 dawned, I started to focus on whole foods, like using best-quality proteins and vegetables. Oh, and I got inspired by TikTok, too!

My family’s favorite twilight-of-the-pandemic meal is Mediterranean grain bowl. I chop cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and kalamata olives, put out bowls of feta cheese crumbles, hummus, and tzatziki (bought or homemade), and make rice. Sometimes I make grilled chicken breast and other times I make grass-fed ground beef or bison. I skip the rice, but everyone else starts with rice and adds the protein and their favorite toppings. We don’t use salad dressing, but you totally could add your favorite!

After a year of a LOT of chicken, I’ve branched out into ground pork. My favorite way to use it is in a egg roll inspired bowl. I brown the pork, drain any fat, and put aside in a bowl. To the same skillet, I add a tablespoon or two of avocado oil if the skillet is dry and then a bag of coleslaw mix (I can buy it already shredded with no dressing) and a cup or so of shredded carrots. As the veggie mixture begins to soften, I season it with a two tablespoons or so of Tamari (or use soy sauce) and a splash of fish sauce. When the veggies are tender, I add the ground pork back to the skillet and mix to combine. After tasting, I may or may not add a splash more Tamari and some ground pepper or hot chile flakes, depending on my mood. I love to add just a drizzle of sesame oil to my bowl, but my kids and husband do not and they eat theirs over rice.

I also did my homage to the feta cheese block and cherry tomato bake that went viral on TikTok*. I’m eschewing pasta right now (refer to previous mention of maybe someday wearing jeans again) so I serve the mixture over zucchini or summer squash. I also don’t blend the baked cheese and tomatoes because I prefer a more rustic texture. I’m straight up lying. I just don’t want to clean out the blender.

Another TikToker posted a video about substituting Boursin cheese for the Feta with cherry tomatoes—tried that too, (again, I didn’t bother blending it) and it was amazing over sliced chicken breast and zucchini. I had leftover Boursin cheese, so I made a quick sauce by adding a few tablespoons of the Boursin to a skillet on low, and as it melted, I thinned the cheese by adding a couple of splashes of milk and stirred like crazy. I serve the easy-peasy cheese sauce over sautéed chicken and broccoli.

The days are starting to get longer and hope for a return to normalcy is growing, and I can’t wait! I still want to be with my kids and husband, but I really want to be with them SOMEWHERE ELSE! So, here’s to road trips and travel and never forgetting how lucky we are to have almost made it through to the other side.

*My version of TikTok cheese and tomato bake:

  • A block of Feta or Boursin (I often use only a third or half in a small casserole dish)
  • A handful or two cherry tomatoes (I’ve used campari cut in half, place in dish cut side down)
  • A drizzle of olive oil over cheese and tomatoes
  • any spices you choose—I usually skip, but I’ve put in a couple of unpeeled cloves of garlic (make sure they are oiled) and then squeezed the soft, roasted garlic over my chicken —Amazing!
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes
  • Use as topping for pasta, vegetables, meat

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Wine lovers’ gift guide, updated for 2020!

As someone who is often accused of being impossible to buy for, I give you my definitive list of gift ideas for people who like to drink wine. So pour yourself a glass, and pop open a browser for some socially distanced last minute gifts for those on your nice list. At the time of writing everything was in stock! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases and, at no additional cost to you, I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Happy shopping!

Kleenite glass cleaner because sometimes there’s more wine than clean-up at the end of the night. It works wonderfully on glasses and decanters This stuff lasts a long time!

A drying rack for stemmed glasses and say goodbye to condensation inside the glass. IMG_4807

I couldn’t find one like my folding wooden one, but this one looks great and it folds flat, too!

Drying cloth—mine is from Riedel. It really is the only way to get wine glasses sparkling. Well, I guess you could always turn the lights way down low. IMG_4806

Alternatively, cross off number two and three and buy stemless glasses that can go in the dishwasher. Much to the horror of the friendly salesperson at Williams-Sonoma, I put my Riedel stemless glasses in the top rack of my dishwasher and knock on wood, they don’t seem worse for wear.

A decanter is a must-have to really appreciate the complexity Cabs and Bordeaux without aging them for decades. We have some high-end Riedel decanters and tend to use the Riedel decanters from Target. As much as I love our spiral Riedel decanter that I bought for my husband on our 25th wedding anniversary, cleaning it and making sure the twists in the glass are not harboring and leftover water makes using it a pain. This one from Riedel is beautifully simple.

A drying spindle for decanters is a must-have. Before I started using ours religiously, I decanted a Caldwell cab before I realized there was a tiny puddle of water in the bottom of the vessel. My tears mixed with the cab and the leftover rinse water. We still drank it, though.

A Coravin wine bottle opener and preserver is a handy-dandy device that allows you sample your wine without opening the entire bottle. We use this when we want to compare a few vintages or wines and it’s just the two of us. The combination of needle-like extraction and argon gas prevents the wine from oxidizing and weeks later, the wine left in the bottle tastes as good as the first glass!

Speaking of saving things, on a trip to the Paul Dethune Champagne house (post here Radicalized by champagne, and I liked it!.) We were given champagne preservers and I cannot believe how well they work! On Thanksgiving we had a small glass on Champagne with the appetizers and then enjoy bubbly leftovers for mimosas a couple of days later! This looks like the branded one we got in France.

Chalk markers because no one remembers what their charm looks like after the second glass of wine. Write their name on the base and you’ll always know who took the extra pour and didn’t finish it. Put that name on the naughty list.

Or just get everyone a wine glass that sums up this year!

And, not to jingle my own sleigh bells, but I published a collection of recipes and ideas! For wine drinkers, home makers, college students and the millennial who is staring at their seventh order of Seamless- Vineyard Vibes is part fun wine aunt, part your mom’s kitchen. An entertaining guide for the rest of us; it’s dedicated to upping the ante on the every day and drinking really good wine while doing it.

Order it on Amazon, here

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08P58H6V8

Or UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LYw77

or https://payhip.com/b/x4DQ

May your days be merry and bright, and may your glass be filled with red or white! Cheers, y’all!

+ ideas for holiday at home

A very pandemic holiday

On day 589,259,758,798,592 of quarantine, it is time to break out a little holiday cheer with my vote for best Christmas movie of all time—“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (of course the 1966 version!) and let’s celebrate with Grinch’corn, a festive snack of popcorn with covered in melted candy and some M & M’s, and Grinch punch and Grinchtinis, themed drinks for kids and kids at heart who like vodka (and are over 21.)

Grinch’corn is fun to make and the best snack for the best holiday movie, ever! While I may be a die-hard purist when it comes to the movie version—“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”–, the add-ins for Grinch’corn are up for interpretation.

Start with popped corn (if you are using microwave popcorn, buy a “natural” flavor without added butter) and pour into your largest bowl. We buy the red and green holiday M & M’s and separate the green and red. Melt white candy wafers (like Wilton’s or my grocery store carried Ghiradelli!) in a microwave according to directions or melt in a double boiler, then add 3-4 drops of green food coloring until the candy is your desired shade of green. While still liquid, gradually pour over popcorn, stirring the popcorn gently. Working quickly, toss in all the green M & M’s and then we add just a few red ones to remind us of how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day. Spread candy-popcorn mix onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet to harden.

Grinch’corn!

Optional add ins: marshmallow, pretzel sticks, peanuts, Teddy Grahams, whatever the Who in you wants!

Grinch punch is a yearly tradition during the holidays. I make it when we trim the tree and again when we watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Rim clear glasses with green sanding sugar; my best hint is to pour some of the soda into a shallow bowl that is wider than the glass rim and then dip the rim of the glass into the soda, shake off the excess, and then dip the rim into another shallow bowl of green sugar. Let the sugar dry, if possible. Add one scoop of green sherbet and then top with 7-UP, ginger ale, or Sprite. Add a maraschino cherry, you know, to remind us of the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes that day.

Grinch’tini for the grownups is easy-peasy. Combine 1 part whipped cream flavored vodka, 1 part Midori melon liqueur and 1/2 part Tuaca vanilla liqueur in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry for HIS HEART GROWING THREE SIZES THAT DAY!

A Grinchtini will make everyone love the holidays!

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“What’s for dinner?” *Sisyphus Edition, part I

 

 

Even without lockdown orders, I cook a lot at home—and, ok, it is because it kills me to pay for the triple or quadruple restaurant markup for wine, but I really thought that I was in a consistent routine for meals and meal planning. And then I had to feed six of us every day, three times a day for weeks on end. Add to that a husband who is used to a hot meal midday because he eats out for lunch, kids who are used to the parade of options on their college meal plans, and the grocery store will be sold out of the most random things when I’m trying to do a big haul. I failed to appreciate that while we eat a lot of dinners as a family at home, we’ve rarely all been at home all the time. Even when all the kids lived at home full-time, they ate lunch at school every day, grabbed dinner with friends, or had dinner with their teams, and we traveled every weekend for practices and tournaments, so we ate on the road. Here are some ideas and recipes that I’ve turned to in order to answer the question on everyone’s mind, “What’s for dinner?”

 

But why do they call it turkey barbecue? Crockpot turkey sandwiches

 

The best part of this recipe is that you can make it with whatever turkey parts are available at the grocery store (ok, maybe not whatever parts, I can’t vouch for offal). Sometimes all I can find is turkey breast and sometimes my grocer only sells turkey legs—doesn’t matter! I prefer breast and one turkey breast can feed six adults, but if I can only find legs, four of them is comparable.

 

Put your skin-on turkey in the crockpot and add a 1-2 cups of chicken stock (turkey stock if you have it on hand), depending on the size of your crockpot. You need enough liquid to keep the turkey from burning on the bottom, so about a quarter inch or so on the bottom. Season turkey with salt and pepper. Cook on high 5 hours (you should be able to shred the turkey with two forks when done.) Before you go to town shredding, remove (very carefully!) the turkey to a large plate or platter, cut away the skin and discard. Using a fork and knife, I cut away the turkey meat from the bone in large chunks and discard the bone. For shredding the turkey, I use two forks and then return the shredded meat to the crockpot.

 

Traditionally, I pile the turkey on a bun and add horseradish cream, but my grocery store was sold out of any kind of horseradish, and discovered that country Dijon mustard works great, too.

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I used red cabbage because that is what I had on hand, but I think it made the prettiest slaw ever (in quarantine, at least)

 

I’d call it marinated coleslaw, but I didn’t have any carrots and I don’t know if coleslaw can be red

 

Quarantine Slaw-ish

 

Shred a red cabbage. I used one of the disks for my food processor (after I spent some time trying to remember how to put it together) and it was super quick and uniform. If you don’t have a food processor, halve the cabbage and slice the halves as thinly as you can with a knife. Depending on your mood and how thinly you can slice, give the cabbage slices a few crosswise chops. Do the same with a cucumber—I used an English cucumber and kept the peel on. Drizzle with olive oil, about a tablespoon, and splash with red wine vinegar, start in the neighborhood of around 3 tablespoons and adjust to taste. The slaw shouldn’t be submerged in vinegar, but there should be enough vinegar to cover the bottom of the bowl. Season with salt to taste. After tossing a few times, the Quarantine Slaw is ready to go, but does get better the longer it sits.*Awesome leftover alert

 

 

If you have them, potato chips are an awesome side.

 

 

Just another Meatless Monday, or whatever day it is

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Spicy and sweet—not a dating profile protein bowl

 

This rice bowl has roasted sweet potatoes and chick peas dusted with Garam Masala and topped with garlicky cucumbers in yogurt. Um, that’s it IS the recipe, but here are a few tips and assembly instructions. Make white or brown rice. I use a rice cooker, but you can make it on the stove, just follow package directions. The only trick for this bowl is to have the sweet potatoes and chick peas roast in the same amount of time. The easiest way that I’ve found to dice sweet potatoes is to slice the pointy ends off of the potatoes, then stand them upright on their new flat end and cut the sweet potatoes vertically into ¼-1/2 inch slices. Lay the slices on the cutting board and cut them longways every ¼ inch and then crosswise every ¼ inch. You now have sweet potato cubes about the size of a chick pea. Add the sweet potato cubes and drained and rinsed chick peas to a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Turn with a spatula to distribute the oil and then dust the pan with kosher salt and Garam Masala (or any spice blend, really. Chile, cumin, garlic, onion, and oregano could make the dish Latin-inspired.) Place sheet pan in a preheated 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. The sweet potato should be fork tender. While the veggies roast, peel and chop 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, and mash to paste with the side of your knife and salt. Add to yogurt, about 2 cups, and stir. Dice a cucumber and add. Check for seasoning, adding more salt or garlic as needed.

 

To assemble bowls, place rice in the bottom, add the sweet potato and chick peas, and top with a dollop of yogurt and cucumbers.

 

Kimchee bowl

Did you make too much rice? Do you have kimchee (or leftover Quarantine Slaw) in the fridge? Make a kimchee bowl the next day! I reheat the rice with about a tablespoon of water, drain, add kimchee, top with a fried egg and drizzle with gochugang (Korean hot sauce) or some Sriracha.

 

 

 

Do you drink red or white with motherhood?

This is a re-post from a couple of years ago, but living with my four adult and almost-adult children for the last two months in lockdown, I had a couple of thoughts to add.

Before Covid-19, I always thought the goal of raising kids was to help them learn to live on their own. I realized it is just as important that at the end of the child-rearing journey that I can live with my grown children. And, sometimes, that means just letting shit go.

Growing up, our family had a written schedule for whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher. For whatever reason that is the one chore I (still) loathe and as soon as anyone could reach a cabinet, they were added to the rotation. Not surprisingly, all my kids hate that chore now, too. And here the six of us are eating every meal together, seven days a week, and on my second chance, I’m unloading dishwasher twice a day, every day without comment, because I want to set a different example than the one they had growing up. I’m doing what needs to be done, without worrying about if it is my “job” and it gets done the way that I like it to be done.

I’m assuming quarantine is going to end eventually, so my plan is for this temporary crisis and would not be sustainable forever, but it gives us peace right now. My point isn’t that one person should do all the chores, but sometimes I would get so caught up in the weeds of raising kids who were responsible, hard-working, disciplined, thoughtful, etc that I overlooked the fact that they were good people. Yes, I wish they would not collect water glasses, coffee cups, and wine glasses wherever they sit their butts down and I wish I wasn’t the only resident who knew how to run the dishwasher, but they have taken the quarantine order with good grace and humor. They are doing work, school work, and socializing virtually and bravely charting this unknown world.

None of us knows what our post-pandemic future will hold, but each night at dinner, I can see that we have somehow raised a family that can live, study, and work together 24/7 and still look forward to gathering at the dinner table every night. And sometimes they will unload the dishwasher without being asked.

And here are the more practical things I’ve learned—mostly the hard way–on this journey.

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When you are making the baby’s crib, layer it with a waterproof mattress pad, a crib sheet, another waterproof mattress pad and a crib sheet. If the diaper leaks (and it will and it will be in the middle of the night), all you need to do is rip off the top crib sheet and waterproof mattress cover and, voila! A fresh sheet for baby and you didn’t even need to turn on the lights.

 

Until they are school-age, keep a set of clothes along with a diaper or underwear in the car. Not only for potty accidents, but for tumbles into creeks, mud puddles, and those “splash” areas that keep popping up and soaking kids in every new town center. And don’t forget a towel. Of course a towel can be used for drying off wet kids, but if someone pukes in the car, a towel can help clean it up or be used as a dry layer between the vomit-soaked seat and the vomiter.

 

Always keep an extra poster board or two in the house. It’s amazingly difficult to find poster board at 10pm for the project due tomorrow. I kept our extra taped to the back of a bookcase to keep the paper from curling.

 

Daughters wearing similar sizes? Never buy them the same character underwear! To avoid spending forever checking the size tags, make sure one gets Disney princess and the other gets Hello Kitty.

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Keep a pack of pre-sharpened #2 pencils hidden. That way when someone needs one on their way to an 8 am AP exam, no one has to desperately search for a school supply aisle at the gas station convenience store at 7:45 am.

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Sending someone to camp or college? Make sure they take a photo of the insurance cards with their phone—we know they will always have their phones handy!

 

Before your kids go off to college, make them a medicine cabinet in a box. Include bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl (oral and topical), pain reliever, anti-diarrheal, Pepto-Bismol, cold and flu remedies, and a digital thermometer.

 

Back to what wine pairs well with motherhood? Whatever the hell you want to open, because one of your kids just told you she promised her French teacher she could bring in crème brulee for 30 tomorrow morning (True story.)

 

 

Quarantine cooking : Ham and bean soup

img_9937Being cooped up with family for a month, and I’ve learned two things. First, I now know why the women are always scowling in every photo from any time that predates families not having to eat EVERY SINGLE meal at home—–the never-ending parade of dirty dishes and a kitchen that never closes can really turn you into a grouch. They probably knew that whilst their photo was being taken, someone, probably “Not Me”, was sneaking an armload of dirty glasses into a momentarily spotlessly clean sink. Hence the the dour face and angry brows.  Also, I just learned that everyone in our family eats ham. In a family of six, with one ultra-particular eater, and four who have bizarre and conflicting food no-go zones, this was a miracle. (And, maybe not totally surprising that it took almost 17 years to figure out since pork, unless it is cured into bacon or prosciutto, is my least favorite protein,)

With only a few slices of ham leftover from Easter dinner and the ham bone, I decided to make ham and bean soup for the first time. And not just prepare for the first time, but I’d never actually eaten it before. To go along with the firsts,  I also used my Instant Pot to cook dried beans and make stock from the ham bone.

I pulled out the Instant Pot for the beans because I had forgotten to soak the beans overnight a couple of times, and decided to try to pressure cook them. Game changer! Including warm up time, cooking time, and venting time, it is less than an hour! I put a one pound bag of beans, half of a peeled onion (save the other half for the ham stock), a couple of peeled cloves of garlic, a couple of bay leaves and water to fill the pot up to the 8 cup mark and cooked for on high pressure for 30 minutes. I wasn’t ready to make the soup yet, so I transferred the cooked beans and some of their liquid into a big canning jar.

To make the ham stock, I first cut off any good bits of ham, and then added the bone to a big pot. I put in the other half of the peeled onion, a couple of stalks of washed celery, a peeled carrot, 2 bay leaves, and a sprinkling of pepper—-you definitely will not need to add any salt! I covered the ham bone with water and brought just to a boil, reduced heat to low, and skimmed the foam. I didn’t cover the stock and kept it between simmer and low for a couple of hours. A quick taste will not only tell you if the stock is flavorful, but also give you an idea of the saltiness. When it’s ready, drain the solids–I used a fine mesh colander in a very large bowl. If you refrigerate at this point, you will be able to skim off any fat that forms on the surface. I went straight to making my soup.

 

I cut four carrots and two stalks of celery lengthwise and then into half moons and a diced a white (or yellow) onion. I put a couple of splashes of olive oil in the bottom of my soup pot on medium heat and then when hot, added the vegetables and sprinkled with pepper. When the onion was translucent, I started to add the rest of the ingredients..  I carefully diced and removed all the fat I could from our leftover ham and ended up with a very generous cup to toss in. Next I added my pound of cooked beans, drained of the cooking liquid. I was leery of the saltiness of the stock and started with only half of the ham stock (I wanted the option of adding water to help dilute it.) in my soup pot. I added about a cup of water to the soup, and tasted it again after coming back to a simmer. It tasted a little thin and I came up on the idea of using peeled potatoes for more veggie power and to suck some of the saltiness out of the soup since my idea of using a water and ham stock mixture didn’t seem like it would work. I added four small russet potatoes, peeled and diced, to the soup and used most of the ham stock to cover the meat and veggies and beans by an inch (or two if you like thinner soup.) About an hour later, I tasted the soup and was pleased with the seasoning—-it was salty, but the addition of the potatoes kept it from being too salty–, but felt the soup broth lacked some depth. Luckily, I had some parmigiana reggiano rinds in the fridge and tossed a couple of rind pieces into the soup. The soup ended up simmering for two and half hours, but it was ready to go at two hours.

We had some homemade bread*, a cheese spread I purchased at the grocery store and baked, and a fantastic J Vineyards Pinot Noir (around $35 bottle) to round out the meal. I topped with a snipping of the micro greens I grew on the kitchen counter.

 

*While looking for the Easter baskets, we stumbled across our old bread maker! I followed the recipe for basic french bread and used the dough setting, i split the dough into two balls and placed into lightly oiled bowls and covered to let rise again for a couple of hours and then formed into two dome-shaped loafs and baked at 400 degrees for 25 minutes

 

 

Ham Bone soup recipe

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Namaste #athome

The view of Lake Travis from the deck of the Miraval Resort with a grab-and-go lunch. A selection of wraps and salads were always available in the cooler and the smoothie bar was open all day.

Right before the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent some time at the Miraval Resort (https://www.miravalresorts.com) in Austin, Texas and was blown away by the facilities, classes—everything from yoga to meditation to line dancing to Texas two-step– and the mindfulness philosophy that imbued everything from the food selections, rooms, and device rules.

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My favorite breakfast entree—sweet potatoes with pork belly. I skipped the egg that also comes with it.

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Options from the breakfast bar always included fresh fruit and oatmeal with all the toppings!

I arrived home ready to revamp my life with a commitment to attending daily yoga classes, trying to find affordable massage, and moving way, way outside my comfort zone to sign up for dance classes. Also, I planned to keep my phone on do not disturb for most of the day. Like everyone else, my plans were upended. Studios shut down, everyday life ground to a halt, suffocating anxiety replaced my calm,  and I ended up glued to my phone for every terrifying update.

 

Not ready to give up on the life-changing experience, I am working on bringing “Miraval Mode” home, and while it is more challenging to get up and meditate when I know the dishwasher has to be unloaded and I can hear my kids home from college setting up their Zoom lectures, I am trying to do at least two activities every day and I always feels a little more grounded after I am done.

 

So here is my best-of-Miraval quick start guide…everything (except the wonderful buffet of fresh, healthy food and chef-created entrees) that I loved and that I’m re-creating at home.

 

 

Find a morning meditation online, many are as short as 10 minutes. Get comfortable, light a candle, and give yourself up to the NOW. Something that I learned is that you do not have to be uncomfortable to meditate—Miraval offered nifty seats that had a back or cushions, I’ve macguyver’d my own seat with a cushion against the sofa for my back support.

 

Follow along to a Youtube yoga practice. I love that I can search for a specific level or area of concern and find a video. If for some reason, you don’t gel with your first selection, try another. There are many talented yoga instructors, and it’s worth finding one who speaks to you. Many studios are uploading videos to Facebook or making classes available on Zoom, too. Find a studio or teacher that you like? Consider buying an online gift card or, if available, making an online donation.

Update: If you follow aspirational wellness sites like Goop or Poosh, you can get emails that alert you to free virtual wellness classes they are sponsoring. I found Love yoga, based in Venice, CA (https://www.loveyogaspace.com) and followed the studio; their virtual class passes are extremely reasonable at $6 a class and I get emails directly from the studio about free classes they are offering. Following studios or practitioners on Instagram will not only give you daily inspiration, but often free Instagram Live classes!

Create a labyrinth, inside or out. The purpose of a labyrinth is for mindful wandering. Start with an intention (or mantra) and keep your mind focused on that as you walk the path. Searching “labyrinths near me” may give you access to formal labyrinths, but it’s really the mindfulness that makes the exercise purposeful, so try these suggestions for in-home models.

If you have access to an uncrowded path through a forest, you can apply the same intention and enjoy Shinrin Yoku (or forest bathing). For an indoor labyrinth, you can use throw pillows or couch cushions (or stuffed animals for the wee ones). Outside you can use rocks or sticks lying around the yard or outdoor cushions. Indoors or out, the path should create a spiral with a center. Whether it’s a lack of room, bad weather, or you don’t want the neighbors watching you, when it’s not possible to create a physical labyrinth, you can trace a world-famous labyrinth with your finger.( https://zdi1.zd-cms.com/cms/res/files/382/ClassicalLabyrinth.pdf) Walk (or trace) the path and observe how your mind turns over the thoughts about your intention or mantra

 

Try a sound bath! There are many varieties available on Youtube, and you can choose from crystal bowls, Tibetan singing bowls, and some include the human voice.  Lie down comfortably, a bolster or pillow under your knees can relieve some lower back pain, and listen. Our bodies are mostly water and we know that sound waves can move water, so lie back and observe its affect on you. Maybe you’re profoundly moved, or you think it’s a bunch of nonsense, but it’s a very relaxing way to spend some time.

 

Remember Eat, Pray, Love ? I began to read the book when it first came out in 2006, and can still remember putting it away in disgust (or jealousy) because I wanted to be a centered, joyful being, but with 4 kids aged three to ten, disappearing for a year was not in my grasp or even what I wanted. I wished I had stuck with it, or maybe it’s that those kids are mostly grown now and I can have a moment to myself to think, but re-reading (and finishing it) resonated with me on my trip to Miraval. I rewatched the movie, too, so if you only have an afternoon, enjoy it, but the book delves into the spiritual side more deeply and, I think, a little more gracefully. Come to think of it, re-reading the Pray section from her time in India would be a great way to snag some drive-by spirituality.

 

Massages are amazing, but in the #stayathome lifestyle, probably not professionally available. The internet to the rescue, of course, because you can Google articles and Youtube videos for massage tutorials (both for yourself and for others.) I wouldn’t get hung up on deep tissue massage techniques. The most amazing Ayurvedic treatment I’ve enjoyed was a heated oil massage that employed nothing more technical than firm strokes. I’d leave trigger point releases to the professionals.

 

Baths are an old standby for self-care and relaxation. If you are out of bath bombs, don’t fret. Epsom salt baths are known for their relaxation and relief of muscle soreness, and, best of all, available at the grocery store or pharmacy (and I don’t think they have been on the hoarders’ panic-buying list!) I’m not a fan of adding oil to the bath because I think it makes the bathtub hard to clean, but as long as I don’t have to clean your tub, add a few drops if you’d like. To dial in the retreat experience, make sure you have a big, fluffy towel within easy reach, lay out the lotion or body oil, dim or turn off the overhead lights, light some candles, pour a glass of wine (or non-alcoholic tonic—try cooled mint tea, lemon water, or sparkling water with a splash of juice), and cue some “spa music” or “relaxing music” on your Spotify search or maybe play a sound bath video on Youtube.

 

Floating in the water with the flickering candlelight and the relaxing sounds in the background so wholly absorbs the senses that it easy to slip into mindfulness and enjoy the present without worry about what is going on outside the bathroom door for a few minutes. Then my new favorite thing to do after a warm bath is to jump into a cool shower for just a minute or two before I dry off and apply lotion.

 

Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleeping, is a great way to wind down, but it’s not really sleeping. It’s a very relaxing guided meditation and I find it a great way to close the cabinet drawers of my mind before bed—for the paperless generation, it’s a way to close all the tabs that are open and get that music to shut off. Again, there are many Youtube practices that will guide you, in addition to Apps for yoga or meditation that will have a Nidra component. You simply lie on the floor (a bolster or pillow under your knees is great to release your lower back) and follow the guided meditation and work on your breath—And can I tell you how much I love closing my eyes and breathing with the virtuous halo of, “I’m not vegging out, I’m practicing yoga!”

Let’s stay sane, let’s stay kind to ourselves and others, and let’s stay home!

 

 

 

Sorry, Kermit. It is easy being green.

I’ve been battling plastic in our house for a few years now. It started with the number of half-empty water bottles four kids could leave strewn about the house (and rolling around my SUV). The other thing that killed me was the wasted flavored waters like Propel that were opened and never finished—so much money just being poured down the drain.

I initially tried to make the rule that at home, everyone had to get a glass and fill it with filtered water from the fridge and the bottled water was solely for transport. Alas, the siren song of those plastic water bottles in the garage proved too strong and I was the only one following it. So I bought everyone a distinctive, reusable 16 ounce water bottle from S’well for Christmas a few years ago and simply stopped buying any bottle water. It was astoundingly easy to make the switch. I found that I could buy Propel flavor packets to add to the water bottles and as someone who hates the non-taste of water, I was saved. The only drawbacks were an occasional line at the fridge to fill the bottles before school and some family members who started collections of drinking glasses on their bedside tables. My kids have upgraded to huge 32 ounce Hydroflasks, but I still rely on my bottle that fits in the car cupholder.

I love sparkling mineral water with dinner (and wine!) and as I transitioned away from plastic, I made sure to only buy mineral water in glass bottles. Then, my recycling company stopped accepting glass and designated all glass as garbage. They cited the lack of market for recycled glass—apparently it is easier and cheaper to make new glass than recycle. I debated whether to invest in a SodaStream Sparkling Water maker. I was unsure if I really loved the carbonation or the taste of the minerals in my San Pellegrino. The models I looked at were in the $120 range and I sat on the fence forever, and then I scored during a housewares reset of my local Wegman’s grocery store when I found a basic SodaStream set on clearance for an amazing $14.92!!! I like it (not love, but i feel the virtue out of not tossing bottles in the trash outweighs the meh flavor,) although, I haven’t had to replace the CO2 bottle yet.

After the hubbub about sea turtles and straws, I immediately switched to stainless steel straws. And, after a stomach-churning realization that the dishwasher doesn’t always get the straws clean, I also invested in straw cleaning brushes. It takes two seconds to give the straws a quick swipe with the brush and then put in dishwasher.

I’ve had reusable grocery bags for years. Beyond their environmental impact, I loved that they held more items and that meant fewer trips from the car to the kitchen. I didn’t love that I remembered them only after I was standing in the checkout line. They were either in my car or hanging in the garage. Then I made the commitment that if I forgot the bags, I would buy reusable bags in the grocery line. Since that promise to myself, I probably spent $10 on bags and I bring my bags so often that we’ve run out of the plastic grocery bags that seem breed in the pantry. I also will tuck a muslin tote in my purse for small purchases elsewhere—perfect for bookstores and drug stores!

To cut down on plastic in the pantry, I switched to paper sandwich bags for sandwiches, stainless steel Lunch Bots for crushable snacks, re-usable silicone bags for other items, and Bee’s Wrap re-usable wrap for well, wrapping food. I love everything, except the silicone bags. The bottom of the bags have a fold that retains water so it’s kind of a pain to dry one way and then turn the bag inside out to dry again. I’ve found that mason jars work as well for storing food and are super easy to clean (and dry!) in the dishwasher. I confess that I still use plastic bags and wrap if I’m storing raw meat, but it is so much less than before!

My other mission was to break our addition to paper products. We went through so many paper towels, mostly because it was easy—-I bought them in bulk and there was always a fresh roll waiting. I found reusable paper towels on Amazon and fell in love with them. The first set I bought for cleaning up were so thick and felt so nice with cheerful stitching, that I gave them duty as our new kitchen napkins. The next sets I purchased were single-ply material and perform better than a paper towel. Again, raw meat makes me pull out the paper towels and Clorox wipes, but I’ve been able to reset my Amazon subscription for paper towels from monthly to every 3 months, and I often skip a delivery! As someone who often feels overwhelmed with how much I have to do, using cloth napkins and towels hasn’t increased my laundry burden–the load of dishtowels I was already washing is a little bigger. I found the same thing with ditching the paper plates—in my head I thought using paper plates for sandwiches or when the kids have pizza with friends was a huge time-saver, but really it literally takes two seconds to put plates in the dishwasher!

 

Lessening our reliance on plastics in the bathroom is our ongoing project. My kids switched to bamboo toothbrushes and I use an electric toothbrush with a replaceable head. The girls have wholeheartedly switched to shampoo bars and soap bars in stead of liquid formulations in plastic bottles. I haven’t found a bar that I’ve been willing to trust my colored, high-lighted, low-lighted and smudged hair to–who knew it was so much work to have brown hair!  I do suck it up and buy the 1000ml Oribe Gold Lust shampoo and conditioner so at least I’m using fewer plastic bottles. For shaving, I use a razor with a replaceable head and a bag refill of L’Occitane shower oil. For me, getting greener in the shower is still a work in progress.

 

As we are feeling the first taste of winter, my most unpopular green initiative will be the topic of family discussion until spring. I keep our thermostats set to 68 degrees. My barefoot, t-shirted children will complain that it is FREEZING in our house. I tell them to put on a sweatshirt and slippers and quit hating the Earth. Do you have any tips for a greener house?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making a list and checking it twice: getting ready for a European family vacation

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I love this view!

Summer for many means packing for summer vacations, and for those with larger families or longer itineraries, finding the balance between having enough, occasion-appropriate outfits and not traveling like an episode of the Real Housewives takes planning and for me, lists! We recently returned from a tour of Italy with our four daughters, ages 16-23. Our on-the-ground (and on-the-water since we were in Venice!) transportation and tours were arranged by our travel company, Classic Journeys and we were able to move around Italy together in vans and sometimes, mini-busses. But despite having vans, we still had to be mindful of the amount of luggage we could bring and restricted the girls to one backpack and one suitcase, each. My husband brought a carryon suitcase where we packed a full outfit for every member in case our luggage didn’t make it, especially with our connection in Germany.

My kids have aged out of the mom-packs-my-suticase phase (chorus of Hallelujah, please!), but still needed some guidance. Our itinerary was a mixture of city walking tours, museum visits, biking tours, church visits with the attendant modesty requirements, and dinners at lovely restaurants. I decided to make two lists: a distilled version of itinerary with clothing requirements for that day and an overall packing list that included toiletries, etc. I had to come up with clothing descriptions to describe the kind of clothes that were appropriate for the day’s events. I decided on the categories of sport–athletic clothes, nice sport--shorts, rompers, skirts, day dresses that could be worn with sneakers, and dress–dresses, rompers, skirts, and skirts that could be worn with sandals.

Our itinerary changed slightly when we were on the ground in Italy (the Uffizi Gallery is actually closed on Mondays and there was a train strike), but it worked well enough. At the end of the post, I’ve included links to some of my must-haves that made this trip easier!

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Venice canals by gondola

Italy 2019—-La dolce vita

Venice, Tuscany, Florence, the Italian Riviera, Genoa

 

Tuesday

Leave for airport by noon

Wednesday—Hotel Papadopoli

Arrive in Venice

Walking tour with church visit (nice sport–needs to be more modest outfit-shoulders covered, no short shorts)—1:30pm

Welcome dinner with guide—dress

 

Thursday

Tour Murano, Burano, and Torcello—islands of Venice

Boat ride and walking tour—nice sport, but maybe not a dress since you will be climbing in and out of boat

Family dinner —dress

 

Friday—Villa Le Barone

Train to Florence, then onto Chianti—nice sport

Walking tour of villa estate with hosts

Afternoon by pool

Dinner with hosts—dress

 

Saturday

Bike ride through Tuscan countryside to Monteriggioni—sport

Return to hotel and then walking tour of San Gimignano

Dinner with guide—nice sport or dress

 

Sunday

Walking tour of Siena—nice sport

Wine tasting

Family dinner (probably at villa)

 

Monday—Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni

Walking tour of Florence and visit Uffizi gallery  and Leonardo di Vinci exhibit—-nice sport

Cooking class for dinner

 

Tuesday—-Grand Hotel Miramare

Morning in Florenceto see David—sport, but maybe modest

Bike tour of Lucia

Drive to Italian Riviera

Dinner with guide—dress or nice sport

 

Wednesday

Train and then hiking tour of Cinque Terre—sport and looks like our most strenuous day

Opportunity to swim (?)—pack swimsuits in day bag, get more info on the ground

Family (birthday) dinner—dress

 

Thursday

Walking tour of  Portofino– nice sport

Boat ride on coast

Dinner with guide—dress

 

Friday

Relax in Portofino in morning

Private ½ day boat ride (2-6pm)—swimsuit and coverup

*finalize plans with concierge to get to boat tour

Family dinner—dress

 

Saturday—Hotel Bristol Palace

Travel to Genoa—nice sport

Day on our own

 

Sunday, July 28

Depart for airport

 

Our itemized packing lists:

Italy packing

Carry-on (everyone except my husband used backpacks as carryons in case we had to hold them in our laps if the transportation vans did not have enough cargo room for our luggage)

 

2 pairs of panties

1 extra bra so that on your person and in bag you have 1 sports bra and 1 regular bra

1 pair of socks (and make sure you wear socks to the airport)

1 top that matches bottoms you wear on plane

Birks or sneakers (wear one and bring the other)

Swimsuit and coverup

Glasses

Contacts

Sunglasses

Advil

Stick deodorant

Chargers

Pillow for plane

Toiletry bag from mom – I will prepare and give to everyone

  • Face wipe—a makeup remover wipe and a face wipe, I love these for travel
  • Body wipe
  • Anti-bac wipe (for hands)
  • Clorox wipes (for wiping down airplane seat and tray)
  • Vitamin c gummies (for an immunity boost)
  • moisturizer

I knew we would get an amenity bag from the airline with toothbrushes and toothpaste, but I would have added that to the toiletry bag if we had not.

Make-up bag as needed

 

What I added to mine:

two large scarves-  used as extra blankets or rolled as an extra pillow on plane and then as a shawl to cover up shoulders or wrapped around waists to cover up thighs in churches. I kept the scarves in my backpack all trip. Sometimes, you stumble upon a church or the church was not explicitly in the itinerary and the scarves were extremely helpful to meet the modesty standards.

mini mom-pharm–Pepto Bismol, Dramamine, pads, tampons, Tums, Advil, Band-aids

Shout wipes – nothing makes me feel more out-of-sorts than a dribble of something on my shirt or pants, and I keep these wipes with me at all times!

 

Family carry on—give to me (this was my husband’s)

1 outfit – top, bottom, socks

 

In addition to items in carryon,

Pack in your suitcase

Make-up as needed

2 plastic bags for dirty or wet clothes

Pads and tampons—even if you are not due! (Lessons learned from traveling with 5 women)

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Hair products

Sunscreen

Rain poncho or jacket

4 pairs of panties

1 regular bra

2 sports bras

4 pairs of socks

1 pair of sandals

Long sleeve sunshirt—-for sun and bring for modesty in churches, etc

Sun hat or baseball hat

You should have:

3 sporty outfits for strenuous activity like hiking and biking

Tops and bottoms—they need to be comfortable and wicking

3 nicer sport outfits for walking tours

Can be shorts and tops, or skorts, t-shirt dresses, denim or twill shorts, but need to wear sneakers with the outfit

3 dress outfits

Dresses, rompers, jumpsuits, can be worn with sandals

With this packing list, you will have:

The outfit you wear on plane

The outfit you pack in family carryon

3 sporty

3 nice sport

3 dress

= 11 outfits which is plenty

 

Additional items, but has to fit in suitcase and weigh under restriction

 

We will try to do laundry in Chianti on7/20 and 7/25—-not everything, but a few things. note: we were unable to do laundry in Chianti, but I was able to hand wash items so that we made it to Santa Margherita. Performance fabrics are perfect because they dry so quickly! 

I followed the same packing list, but added

the mom pharmacy: Benadryl, Benadryl topical stick, Neosporin, Sudafed, DayQuil and NyQuil, Pepto-Bismol, Immodium AD, Dramamine, more Band-aids

Razors for all

extra toothbrushes and toothpaste in case someone left theirs behind in a hotel change

Bug spray

After-sun lotion

more sunscreen

travel adaptors

laundry detergent (I always bring, because you never know!)

 

With these lists and planning, the only thing we had to buy in Italy was more motion-sickness medicine. I underestimated the twisting hills of Tuscany and its effect on my kids during the van rides. Two of them are prone to motion sickness, but the other two became nauseous during the long rides and they used up my stock. But it was close, we only needed two doses for the airplane ride home. It was definitely worth the time to plan, list, and organize our packing so we were able to spend our time sightseeing and not trying to find more socks. What travel tips do you swear by?

 

 

The following links are for the products that I loved having on this trip. I was not compensated in any way — I just want to share what worked for us!

Face wipes— I love these wipes from Lauren Napier because they are individually wrapped, so they don’t dry out out between trips. I bring them on plane trips and to field hockey tournaments. https://www.laurennapier.com/shop/91o5j7nfjyd6c74mvdttcq2x6vev1a

Body wipes–My favorite are from Yuni, available at Target, and are individually wrapped, so I was able to give everyone their own.

https://www.target.com/p/yuni-shower-sheets-body-wipes-12ct/-/A-75575376

Vitamin C gummies– My husband swears by the Emergen-C packets that you add to water, but the kids and I prefer the gummies!

Shout wipes–I carry these when I travel, in my purse, and in my car. The wipes do an amazing job of cleaning up dribbles and they have never left a ring around the spot I cleaned!

https://www.walgreens.com/store/c/shout-wipe–go-instant-stain-remover-wipes/ID=prod4274-product?ext=gooKBM_PLA_-_All_Products&pla&adtype=pla&kpid=sku304274&sst=_k_EAIaIQobChMIxtyRoOXh4wIVhZyzCh1qQA3OEAQYAiABEgLY1vD_BwE_k_&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIxtyRoOXh4wIVhZyzCh1qQA3OEAQYAiABEgLY1vD_BwE

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Go ahead, rose´ all day!

Updated for 2019!

Head to head Italian Rosé is light, crisp, and very drinkable. It is lovely on its own, and will complement food wonderfully. I was introduced to Head to Head at a rosé tasting and it was served with a corn fritter—the wine held up to the savoriness of the fried batter and balanced the sweetness of the corn.

Chåteau de Bergun Bordeaux Rosé is a fuller bodied wine than a Provencal Rosé and it went great with pasta! If you are looking for a rosé with less astringency, this is a great choice!

Martin Estate Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon is a tad sweeter than other rosé s(but certainly nothing that would cause flashbacks to white zinfandel ) and is fantastic with salty snacks. My favorite poolside charcuterie platter is prosciutto, aged gruyere, and kettle-cooked potato chips with a glass of Martin Rosé.

Can a can wine be tasty?

Emphatically, yes!

Better Wine Company’s dry rosé cider is only 90 calories for a 250ml can, and is refreshing, but definitely falls in the cider camp. If you love a true rosé, this might not be your can of wine.

Mancan rosé, available in a 375 ml can, may become my go-to for pool wine. I don’t have to worry about a bottle breaking poolside, the aluminum is recyclable, and I love the size!

 

I’ll be tasting all summer!

 

 

My favorite rose´is Caldwell’s Joy, a heavenly rose´of Syrah with an astronomical price tag–around $70 a bottle–so there’s no all-day party at that price point for me! Fortunately, it’s not hard to find a delicious supermarket rose´ that delivers the flavor of summer with a price as tiny as a Kardashian bikini.

My faves under $15

French Blue rose´ of Bordeaux is my go-to bottle because it has enough structure to stand up to summer fare like grilled chicken and salads, but can also segue into heartier wines when used as an aperitif.

Marval rose´is perfect for  beach or poolside parties because 1. it has a spout for serving and a handy spot for hanging and 2. you get 1.5 liters for about $15!

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve rose´is very light and fruity, but not too sweet!

Pool Boy Cotes de Provence rose´ could be the ultimate poolside accessory with its plastic bottle and handy screw top. #safetywine

Summer Water rose´is fruity, light, and crisp, and my favorite wine with sushi and a tuna poke bowl!

Charles and Charles rose´is the steal of the summer at 10 bucks! Crisp and tangy it is the perfect glass for lounging in the sun. I love it with aged cheese and something salty!

 

 

No Pinot for you!

We’ve just returned from our fourth trip to Napa and our first time venturing deep into Sonoma County. So much wine and food, and it seems like the more you go, the more places you discover to visit on your next trip!

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Thursday

On our last trip to Napa, snarled Friday night traffic dashed our dreams of hitting the retail store at Shafer Vineyards before its 4pm closing time, but this time, we got our two-limit bottles of Hillside Select cab. My husband was a teensy bit disappointed that Shafer hadn’t released the 2015s yet, but I’ll never give the side eye to a bottle of Hillside Select.

Our suite at Silverado Resort wasn’t ready when we checked in at 3:30, so we headed to the bar. Hess Vineyards was having a tasting of the Liontamer Cab and that was nice. We ordered some appetizers and looked over the wine list, and nothing struck our fancy…and that bottle of Hillside Select was burning a hole in its (very bougie, btw) wine bag. For a $25 corkage fee we popped one of our bottles and enjoyed the appetizers.

Ciccio

One of our traditions has become the first night dinner at Ciccio’s in Yountville. Ciccio’s doesn’t accept reservations, and even with a 5:15 arrival, the only table for two was at the small community table. Basically a table for four with a divider like a study carrel in the middle, we ended up chatting with our tablemates throughout dinner and what a dinner! My husband and I went with the three-course prix fixe. We started with the snap pea Caesar salad, followed by pea tendrils al forno, and the most amazing cacio é pepe I’ve ever had stateside. With dinner we each had a glass of Cab from Ciccio’s own Altamura vineyards.

Friday

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Ready to start Napacalypse IV in earnest, we met out our friends who were coming in from the Bay Area for lunch at Long Meadow Ranch. A bottle of farmstead Long Meadow Ranch Sonoma County Brut was waiting for us at the table. We enjoyed the charcuterie for a starter. I ordered steak tartare with an additional side of macaroni and cheese. The odd thing was it came with potato chips and not any kind of toasted bread as a vehicle for the meat. Upon request they were happy to give me some sliced baguette, but I prefer something buttery and crunchy with steak tartare. My husband liked his beef brisket special. The food is really tasty and fresh, and the setting is lovely. I’ll definitely keep going back.

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Our first winery visit was at Monticello—Corley Family Vineyards for a Library tasting of the Corley Proprietary Red blend. We sampled the 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, and then our host pulled some other bottles for comparison. He regaled us with entertaining stories about wine and rock and roll, and we left wishing we could have experienced more of the seventies beyond staying up to watch “Happy Days.” And we had a recommendation for after-dinner cocktails in Napa.

 

Dinner Friday was dinner at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. Our first bottle was the 2013 Rindo Napa Valley Red Wine and for starters we had the frites, tomato soup, and French onion soup. For main courses I had the special– lamb rib chop with haricot verts and a potato gratin with blue cheese and my husband had the rabbit over egg noodles. Overall, it was solid (like I’m sure our arteries were after dinner) French food, but it’s wasn’t exceptional. Our second bottle of wine was the 2015 Odette Estate Cab (Stags Leap District), which I liked and we all agreed that next Napacalypse we would visit Odette.

archerbarview

For a night cap, we headed into Napa for drinks on the rooftop bar at the Archer hotel. I had an old-fashioned and my friends had the Martinez(Martinezes?!?). When we arrived, we found a table and then were able to people-watch as the Bottlerock attendees trickled in. As the bar became more and more crowded and our East Coast body clocks demanded some sleep, we headed to the lobby to catch an Uber back to Silverado. Alas, all the Bottlerock people who were not coming to Archer were also calling Ubers and we had more than a 15-minute wait for a car. Certainly not terrible, and that was the longest we had to wait for a ride from Uber or Lyft all weekend.

 

Saturday

After a scramble to meet our driver in Napa at the Avis rental car location in order to add her to the insurance in-person(according to our driver, most other companies allow the driver to do it with a rental agreement number), we headed to Vineyard 29. It’s a beautiful, state-of-the-art vineyard that has a charming history and the most tech-forward viticulture. After touring the facility, we had a rooftop tasting with bites by Chef Daniel Sanchez. The pairings were perfect! We sampled the 2015 Aida estate zinfandel with pork belly, the 2015 Estate Cabernet Franc with duxelle en croute, the 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon paired with 38-month Piscalini Cheddar cheese, and the 2015 Aida Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with braised short rib. The Zin went so well with the pork belly, I ordered some bottles to try with Korean barbecue. Our friends are huge Cab Franc fans and they loved the Vineyard 29 bottles, but I still haven’t been won over by a straight Cab Franc. The Cabs were good, so we ordered some of those and one bottle of their ridiculously expensive, and unavailable to taste, Sauvignon Blanc. I’ll let you know if it’s worth it!

 

For lunch, we checked out Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga. The town is very charming and piqued our interest for a return trip, and Sam’s Social Club was fine. Everything was good, nothing was extraordinary, and the patio was a lovely place to eat with the spa ladies still wearing their robes.

Heritage school-julie

Staying in Calistoga, we headed up winding, twisting roads to Heritage School Vineyard (Formerly Harris Vineyards) for Cab tastings. On the grounds of a defunct boys’ school, the tasting was in the lovely gravel courtyard of the owner’s house and was supervised by the friendly winery dog Sunny. Heritage School can boast of winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and really good cabs, especially if you are partial to dark fruit. We had the 2014 Julie’s Creekside Vineyard, the 2014 Casey’s Lakeview Vineyard, and the 2014 Missiaen’s Hillside Vineyard. Our friends are club members and we got to enjoy some library pours. Pretty sure we ordered some of everything. These are wines I definitely want to revisit at home, and with food.

 

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Next our driver negotiated the hills that become Howell Mountain to get to the next winery–I think Viader is only a few hundred feet below the coveted AVA. At Heritage School, I thought there could not be a prettier setting, and then as I strolled onto the deck at the Viader tasting room, I realized I lacked imagination. Overlooking vineyards sloping down to a pristine reservoir, the view is almost Alp-like. Our host Ian brought out a cheese plate for the tasting of Viader, the “Black Label”, and Homenaje. And here’s the thing I’ve learned about myself—sometimes a wine that I’m not too keen about at a tasting will be a pleasant surprise when I taste it again at home. Our Viader shipment almost beat us back to the East Coast, and the “Black Label” that I was barely lukewarm about on that spectacular tasting deck, is a really enjoyable Wednesday night bottle here at home watching the NHL playoffs.

 

We headed back to Silverado to grab some warmer clothes for the Neil Young concert at BottleRock in Napa. After a comedy of errors and NOT getting into BottleRock, we happened upon the restaurant Basalt which sits on the Napa riverfront. Despite not having reservations, we scored a table on the patio. The best bite of the evening was the tuna tartar starter and the Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon was a great choice, and especially price-conscious. It is hard to beat dinner on the riverfront patio while the music from BottleRock drifts through the town.

 

Sunday

 

Sunday was our marathon day and more errors that made for a topsy-turvy day, but great memories.

The drive out to Sonoma County is beautiful with rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. We crossed the Russian River to arrive for our tasting at Williams Selyem. We were greeted with a glass of Chardonnay and the story of the garage origins of the first vintage of Williams Selyem. What is it with California masterminds and their garages?!? We moved onto a 2017 Gruner  Veltliner, which our friends really liked and this red-drinker didn’t think was bad. And then onto the reason for the trip—the Pinot Noirs. The 2017 Drake Estate Vineyard, the 2017 Westide Road Neighbors, and the 2017 Luella’s Garden were great and all got some checks on the order form. Our host pulled some library tastes, and while delicious, they were unavailable for purchase. He shared with us great restaurants to try and bars for an early cocktail and did a great job selling us on a Sonoma-based trip.

 

While we tasted and toured Williams Selyem, our driver picked up lunch from Oakville Market—all of our sandwiches were great, but if we didn’t have a driver, it would have been better logistically to grab the sandwiches on the way to Williams Selyem. We headed to Rochioli, home of my husband’s favorite Pinot Noirs. He was disappointed to learn that our estate tasting included only one Pinot Noir and to our lament that we only came for the Pinot, our host rejoined that when the wine becomes unavailable, they may only pour Chardonnay. Before visiting, call ahead to make sure they have wines available to taste. The tasting included 2 whites, a rosé, and a Pinot Noir. It was easily the most unwelcoming tasting any of us had ever attended. I can get more information about the tasting notes and geography from a tasting table in the middle of Wegman’s than we got at Rochioli. We heard some of the other hosts describing the wine to other clients, but we were told only the varietal. We arrived during a downpour and had begun our tasting inside, but as the sun came out, we stepped outside to patio, and despite telling our hostess that we would be back (we still had to pay for the bottle of rosé we ordered for our picnic lunch) and I had left my phone and sunglasses on the table next to my wineglass, the host took away our not-empty glasses. While charming, the patio is quite small and we were absent only long enough to snap some photos. Rochioli was still the best Pinot Noir we tasted, but my husband decided he’d rather go to Total Wine and pay retail than deal with our unfriendly host.

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Enjoy the view—when I returned to the tasting room after taking this photo of my husband’s glass, I discovered all my tasting glasses had been whisked away!

We had reserved a tasting at  Kosta Brown in Sebastopol before the damaging floods, and friends had warned us that a lot of places, and Kosta Brown in particular, had not fully recovered from the devastation. The husbands were convinced that Kosta Brown would surely have called to cancel our reservation if they were still closed. Never assume, but we did get delicious ice cream in Sebastopol.

 

With the Kosta Brown time slot now open and still more than a few hours until our dinner at Single Thread, we rolled the dice and headed to J Vineyards. We showed up with no reservations, but J accommodated us. We were served by a very friendly wine host who worked with several groups at the bar, but still managed to give us information about each glass and even pulled a little something from behind the bar. We had two sparkling wines, including the prettiest pink bubbly. And, of course, the pinot! We ordered bottles that we had never seen available at retail. The price point was higher than typical retail, and once they get shipped, I’ll update about how I think they compare. I love this kind of homework!

 

 

Based on the recommendation of Williams Selyem, we said goodbye to our driver and had drinks and snacks at Duke’s bar in Healdsburg. I had an old fashioned, and because sometimes tasting menus start light on meat and carbs and heavy on the wine, we ordered the fried chicken sliders for a base.

 

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Wagyu — Perfectly medium rare with an inexplicably crispy, delicious crust. Best thing I’ve ever eaten.

Thanks to our friends who sat poised at different laptops to log into the online reservation system the moment it opened (I was at an Accepted Students Day with one of my kids), we had dinner at Singlethread. With three Michelin stars, we went in with high expectations and were not disappointed.

 

As expected, the wine list is what dreams are made of—assuming, of course, money is what you are made of. Our dinner and wine bills were the same, and we got to try some amazing wines that this was probably the only opportunity to see a bottle.

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The start of the meal is fish-centric, but we began with a Pinot Noir.

 

The food is exquisite and the service is luxuriously unobtrusive. Just a head’s up, the 20 percent charge on the prepaid food bill is not a gratuity for your servers—it was explained to us that it is to cover the health benefits for the entire staff of the restaurant. A separate service gratuity is left for those who worked the night of your dinner. Despite the hour+ drive back to Napa, we waited only a few minutes for a Lyft driver to take us back to Silverado.

 

Monday

 

We bid farewell to our friends as they headed back home to the Bay area and my husband and I played golf at Silverado’s North Course. His highlight for the round was shooting a 76 with rented clubs, mine was the Bulleit and diet I got at the turn. Thanks to some Instagram posts, I had made dinner reservations at The Girl and the Fig on the town square in Sonoma. The place is super cute and we ordered way too much food and did a red varietal wine tasting. The Girl and the Fig definitely had the best charcuterie board of the trip and the cookies we took home for the kids were scrumptious—rich, crunchy, but not brittle. The soup of the day was a delicious pea and pancetta and the radish salad was tender and crunchy. Whether it was coincidence or not, Lyft was again the quickest service to get a ride back to Silverado from Sonoma.

 

 

Tuesday

Flying out of SFO we were able to visit the Amex Centurion Lounge for the first time—it seems we are never in the right terminal. The lunch options surprised me with their taste and quality. I had a salad with asparagus and cherries. My husband had the basmati rice and chicken. We partook of one last wine tasting. The bar hands out a ticket worth 5 tastings from the self-serve wine dispenser. I had 75 Wine’s “The Sum” Cab and the Cab from Buehller. The price point was certainly right! And I’d order the Buehller again.

 

 

Our plane on the way home was one of the older models without the reclining seats and nice tvs, but still they had a decent Bordeaux with dinner. Then I came home to the contents of my daughter’s dorm room strewn from the mudroom hall to the kitchen, an overloaded dishwasher, and an overflowing mailbox, but the kids and the dog were all alive and well-fed. And I can’t wait for Napacalypse V!

San Diego

They say when your eyes are opened to the truth, you can never not see it. That’s how I’ve felt about air travel ever since my family somehow ended up in the business class cabin on a flight to Barcelona while the aches and pains from being wedged into economy class from Paris were still aching and paining. My new mission on all trips is to get upgraded seats, whether by booking way in advance, trading in points on our credit card reward programs, or postulating about my grave concerns about the health of cattle car travel. I argued that if we flew first class, we could extend our spring break trip and spend Easter day in California, figuring that if we had more room and reclining seats, the kids could sleep on a red eye and not miss school on Easter Monday. So we splurged on United First Class. Of course, the evil eye of vague travel headaches followed me, and after extolling the virtues of how much more relaxed and refreshed we’d feel in the premier cabin—-no blankets, no pillows, and I’m guessing it was our flight attendant’s first time running first class. After lunch, she never came back down the aisle to see if anyone wanted drink refills or coffee. Passengers tracked her down in the galley to get more soda or water, and when she passed out the little sweet treat before landing, no coffee or tea was offered .I know I’ve seen flight attendants more on a two-hour flight in coach to Orlando than I saw ours during our cross-country flight.

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The San Diego airport is stunning to fly into, as it sits on the bay with the city as its backdrop. The taxi stand is right out side the door from baggage claim and no wait at all to get two taxis (5 people and we brought a lot of luggage—note to self, just because you CAN bring two bags for free, doesn’t mean you need to…) and headed to our hotel.

The Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888, is under renovation. Our suite had a beautiful view of the ocean and the new sea-to-table restaurant under construction.

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The view below the balcony of our ocean-front suite

Rooms are also being refurbished and the construction starts EARLY. But then, so did the hallway noise. Every day we were there, people in the hall were raising a ruckus between 6 and 6:30 am. It was the noise level I usually hear at a Hampton Inn on a tournament weekend when I have the misfortune of being on the same floor as the travel team with the 8am game. We may have heard them so well because our bed was practically in the hall. Processed with VSCO with av4 preset  The renovation is desperately needed. Our bed had lumps and valleys, and the bath with its pedestal sink and shower/tub combo was a shock from the typical walk-in shower of the spa-inspired bathrooms of newer luxury  hotels,. They added a curved shower rod which did a great job of making the shower feel less claustrophobic, but the bathroom really needed some kind of vanity for getting ready.. My choices for my blowdryer were the bathroom, where the only place to put down the dryer was the sink, or in the sitting room in front of the distressed mirror, but I still didn’t have a place to rest the dryer. The magnifying vanity mirror was kept in the closet because I guess they couldn’t find anywhere to put anything in the bathroom either..

We made it down to the beach bar overlooking the ocean where we had the best guacamole and drinks(rocking Cosmopolitan). They came around a lit the fireplaces and it was a quintessential West Coast spring evening on the beach. We ordered pizzas to go from Eno and a bottle of wine. The Caesar salad with whole leafs of Romaine and very tasty dressing was a great starter.

Tuesday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel with our HiltonHonors vouchers and decided to add the hot breakfast option for an additional $20 each. The quinoa and mixed vegetables were quite good, and the rest of the hot items like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, were typical breakfast buffet fare. We also tried the custom orders of eggs benedict, and tasted the traditional and a southwest version. They were tasty, but it  took quite a bit of time for them to come out to the table and we didn’t order them again.

Today was our San Diego coastal tour with Another Side of San Diego (https://anothersideofsandiegotours.com/private-san-diego-tours/. ) We were picked up by our driver/tour guide at the hotel by a Mercedes Sprinter van which had plenty of room, cold water, and snacks!

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great view from the van, or is it just everywhere in San Diego has a great view

We had a drive around Coronado, past the Navy SEALs obstacle course, drove up to Mt Soledad National Veterans Memorial, and on to Torrey Pines and stopped on our way back–desperately searching for clean restrooms. My husband was also curious if there was any chance of getting on the South Course, so we stopped by the Torrey Pines lodge in search of the Pro shop (and found clean restrooms!) And my husband learned that since the South Course is under renovation with two holes closed, it would be easy for a single to jump on.

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View from Mt. Soledad

My favorite stop of the day was at La Jolla beach. Dozens of sea lions swim in the water and sun themselves on the rocks. They are pretty smelly, but I could watch them play and swim all day.

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I would move to La Jolla just to walk down to the beach and hang with the sea lions every day

Despite the smell, we were hungry and our tour guide helped us find some tacos and the biggest cheese quesadilla we’ve ever seen at a little chain taco shop called Rigoberto’s. I was a little taken aback that my fish tacos were breaded and fried with tartar sauce on the tortilla, but extra points that my daughter’s cheese quesadilla was just cheese and tortilla, which, believe it or not, is much harder to get than it sounds. We headed onward to Mission Beach and Pacific Beach and stopped by Crystal Pier and debated the merits of staying over the ocean.

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Crystal Pier extends over the Pacific and adorable cabins are available to rent right on the pier!

We drove through the Gaslamp district and saw the Padres’ home field, but it didn’t make our “must return-to list” because it seemed like mostly chain restaurants and bars. The tour was a great way to get introduced to a city. We had only been to San Diego for a couple of nights before a field hockey tournament in Palm Springs several years ago, and hadn’t seen anything other than the Del and the San Diego Zoo. Our tour guide/driver was knowledgeable about the geography and history and amenable to impromptu stops (like Torrey Pines golf lodge and the taco shop!)

 

Back in Coronado, we decided to make the trek to Park Place Liquor and Deli. It carried beer, wine, liquor, and snacks. While prices were way better than the hotel, they wines were marked up about $5-$10 bottle more than typical metro DC retail prices. Based on a couple of recommendations, we ate dinner at Brigantine at the Orange Avenue location. By far the best thing about the restaurant was that another table on the patio had three dogs with them.

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The dogs of San Diego are a real treat!

We ordered the haddock special and the T-bone special and neither were very special. I ordered my steak medium rare and it came out with barely any pink. My husband finally flagged down a waiter to ask for some hot sauce to try to punch up the flavor of his dish. We couldn’t find a bottle of wine that piqued our interest, but our waiter recommended their highlighted winery Michael David. I went with the 6th Sense Syrah and my husband had the Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon.

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The Michael David wine was the standout from our meal! I’ll def try to run some down on the east coast.

They were both great, but, alas, we never got a chance to order a second glass. My kids didn’t fare much better with $15 sandwiches from the little deli shop in the Del.

 

Wednesday my husband got to return to Torrey Pines for his round of golf and my girls and I hung around Coronado. We walked down Orange Avenue to the Juice Crafters and picked up a green juice, berry-based juices, and a Flu Off shot for my daughter who was feeling under the weather. The juices were great, but the Flu Off shot tasted so awful my daughter spit out the first sip and we never got to see if it worked. Orange Avenue in Coronado is filled with souvenir shops, women’s and children’s clothing stores, and lots of restaurants. Seaside Papery (http://www.seasidepapery.com) was our favorite little store—lots of paper products, obviously, but also books, trinkets, and some home decor. We ended up with pencils, sealing waxes and stamps. After a challenging 16 holes at Torrey Pines, my husband rejoined us and we headed to The Tavern for dinner.

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View from street level, but the restaurant is down a short flight of stairs.

Processed with VSCO with av4 presetWe started with the mac and cheese starter and it was awesome! My kids split the ribs and said they weren’t very flavorful, which was my husband’s assessment of his fish tacos. He also ordered the roasted brussel sprouts which had a flavor profile through the roof and just delicious . I had the burger and it was really tasty. The wine list was pretty limited, but we ordered the Justin Cab and were able to cork it and take it back to our hotel to finish on the balcony.

 

Thursday

Even though it didn’t have any sea lions, Thursday was my favorite day. We had rented a beach cabana and headed to beach right after breakfast. It was sunny, but cooler and the water was about 60 degrees, so it was more of beach-as-a-backdrop than a splash-in-the-surf day. With an attentive waiter and endless sunshine, we spent the day reading, playing paddle ball, and waiting for my oldest daughter to arrive from New York. One of the best dishes we had in San Diego was the surf and turf tacos from the Beach and Taco Shack on the property—carne asada and shrimp never tasted so good.Processed with VSCO with av4 preset My oldest arrived in time to enjoy a couple of hours of afternoon sun and a bottle of rosé.  For dinner, we called ahead to get reservations at Chez Loma, a french restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel. Solid French food in an intimate setting, and we were the last in the restaurant and never felt pressured to turn over the table or felt hurried out the door.

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This was a great place for a family dinner—you know the kind where everyone is so busy talking, laughing, and eating that you don’t take any pictures…Sort of like 1992.

 

Friday

Friday we headed over to Balboa Park to visit the museums. We walked through the botanical gardens which made me anxious to go home and buy every plant ever. Then we toured the Timken Museum of Art, and were wowed by its collection of old masters and Russian Icons–as an added plus, admission is free! The San Diego Museum of Art was our next stop. The admission is $15 and we like seeing Georgia O’Keefe and the exhibit “The Art of Devotion.” We hiked some trails and then Ubered back to Coronado for lunch. One of our cheapest meals in San Diego was a couple of pizzas the the Village Pizzeria on Orange Avenue. Five thumbs up for the crispy pepperoni that we got on our pizza.

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Pizza and chianti—-was there ever a better pair?

Our adventure for the evening was a sailing tour of San Diego Bay (https://sandiegosailingtours.com), snacks, soft drinks, beer, and white wine (red wine stains the boat!) are provided and so is a turn to steer the boat!  I love being on the water and we got to see some more sea lions on the buoys, docks, and swimming in the bay, but you don’t venture to anywhere more picturesque because the sunset sail is only about two hours. I really enjoyed it, but my husband would have preferred getting out of what felt like a commercial sea lane. Maybe next time we would book a half-day or full-day cruise to get along the coast.

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Saturday

Saturday was our chance to return to the places that piqued our interest on Tuesday’s coastal tour. We hiked for a couple of hours at Torrey Pines and were stunned by the breathtaking views and the crowds.

After a 10-15 minute wait, we then caught an Uber to Del Mar to hit a restaurant recommended to us by a friend that used to live in San Diego. Pacifica Del Mar, despite being knocked by our Uber driver who arrogantly advised us to talk to people other than our hotel concierge for restaurant recommendations, was a great place for lunch. We started with the baked oysters—oysters topped with cheese–and I had a delicious, juicy grass-fed burger.

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We had wine by the glass because the three of us drinking couldn’t agree on one, and it was great. We caught another Uber to La Jolla to revisit my sea lions and explore the main drag a little bit. There was one gelato joint right by the beach which had a line down the block, but we crossed the street and had what I thought was pretty darn tasty gelato with only a wait of a few minutes.

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Salted caramel and a view

Another Uber back to the Del and we were ready for our movie night on the beach. I’ll admit I was reluctant to book the event, but my two younger kids(but still high=school-aged) were sold on “Scooby Doo” on the beach. I chose the Family Movie Package which comes with a daybed (like we had for our beach day), two sand chairs, a private fire pit, and s’mores for four and a $300 price tag.

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The view from the sand chair by the fire pit toward the inflatable screen

We were allowed to bring drinks from the beach bar, which was doing last call, and paid highway robbery prices for the soft drinks ($6) and most outrageously, the little bags of chips you put in your kid’s lunch were $6 too! But, our attendant did a great job tending our fire pit and checking on us throughout the movie. Anyway, that evening ended up being tons of fun and sitting at a fire pit on the beach watching a movie will be one of our fondest memories.

Sunday

Easter Sunday. In the past, our kids have demanded that we come home from spring break early enough to spend Easter at home, but we decided to spend Easter at The Del and fly home on the red eye. Live and learn. At 7am we were awoken by protesters from the service sector of the hotel marching on the beach side of the hotel, demanding fair treatment from the Del. In truth it made me uncomfortable to realize I was staying at a hotel with unhappy employees.

I reserved a table at the famous Easter brunch at the Del, a little sticker shocked from the cost — for 5 people, including tax and gratuity, it was $890!!! For brunch! I kept thinking that would be a lot of waffles and mimosas, but the the buffet promised to be legendary. It was a little bit of a madhouse checking in, but 5 or 10 minutes after our scheduled seating the five of us were shown to our table—-a tabletop for four with another place setting crammed in.Processed with VSCO with av4 preset Our server had to take away our coffee cups and saucers so we could sort of fit our plates. Then we ordered a bottle of wine a la cart and we had nowhere to put the bottle and our glasses. My husband asked to move an empty table next to us so we could have enough table space for our plates and glasses.

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Finally enough room!

The buffet had carving stations, seafood towers, a poké bowl and ramen noodle stations, hot and cold side dishes, a lot of dessert stations, including cotton candy. Like most buffets that try to make that much food for so many people, the scale was dramatic, but taste was average. The poké bowls were a standout, however, probably because the bowl doesn’t need to be prepared beforehand.

 

I had rented a pool cabana for somewhere to relax after brunch until it was time to head to the airport. It was quite chilly, so we elected not to swim and hung out in the cabana with the  outdoor sofa. For $250 we had use of the cabana, a fridge stocked with soft drinks, some goldfish and pop chips for snacks, and a fruit plate.

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Seats at the San Diego airport have drink holders and outlets! #goals

 

The cabin crew for our flight home was amazing—attentive, yet unobtrusive during the overnight hours, but the seats didn’t recline again and the kids bargained for a day off from school. My first class manifesto was dinged by the inattention on the Dulles-San Diego leg and the seats that didn’t fully recline on either leg, but it was nice to have leg room.

This is the first family trip where we didn’t rent a car. We took taxis from the airport, and used Uber throughout the trip and it worked out great! The longest wait for an Uber to show up was at Torrey Pines State Reserve and we waited about 15 minutes. The scenery driving around San Diego is spectacular and with Uber, my husband (the usual driver) was able to enjoy the sights, too. Not to mention, our drivers were almost always helpful with things to see and do.