Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Crazy Middle-Class Caucasians

According to a footnote in the laws of life, brought to my attention by my twelve-year old daughter, I am not allowed to grow old.  It doesn’t matter that I was forty when I had her, I am obligated to look as young as the thirty-something mothers of her friends.  This means coloring my gray hair is strictly enforced, as is not showing up at school looking like I’ve spent the day painting, because thirty-something moms would never do that, even if they had spent the day painting. Duh!

As it turns out, my children are experts on the laws of life, particularly any provisos, footnotes, and addendums that have to do with their mother.  Here is just a sampling:

1. Due to an unhealthy fixation which led to me once being mistaken for a gondolier, I am no longer allowed to wear striped shirts. The staff at Marshall’s has been notified and are on high alert.

2. Regardless of the number of trips I make to Costco, Sam’s Club, Publix, Winn Dixie, Food Guy, Snack Guru, and Freakin’ Donut, I can never be told that there’s food in the kitchen.  The refrain from all McKendrick children must be, There’s nothing to eat! including on, but not limited to, major holidays.

3. Because of having shown a tendency to take as long to explain a book as it might take for someone to read it, I am not allowed to tell my daughter, Victoria, about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.  This obscure footnote was discovered by Victoria after she fled a slowly moving vehicle while I digressed from an explanation of the political landscape of Middle Earth to mention the importance of birthdays to  Hobbits.

4. While I have earned a reluctant chuckle from my oldest son from time to time, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a law against me telling jokes, particularly to his peers.  Witty repartee is tolerated, as are insightful one-liners, but anything that begins something like, Two priests and a rabbi walked in to bar, anything with a big set up, that is verboten.  This was first brought to my attention when while telling a joke to my son’s friends, he gave me a dry look and slid a finger across his neck.  Subtle, and yet it got the point across.

5.  I am not allowed sole ownership of a pack of gum.

6.  I am to be roundly mocked for not wanting my children to get sunburned, even though getting a severe burn before the age of 15, increases your chances of getting a melanoma by five times the normal rate.

7. I am not to be left in charge of turtles or hermit crabs. The backyard is littered with graves because of my negligence.

8. In accordance with the rules set forth at an international summit on aggravation, I am to anticipate that I will, on the average, need to ask a child five times to do something before they get around to doing it.

9. According to Samuel, my oldest, there is a rule that I am to occasionally thank my children profusely (tears, kisses, the whole nine yards), and consider it an accomplishment equal to winning the Nobel prize, that they have never needed to do a stint in rehab.

10. And last, even if I’m addressing the UN, I need to pick up the phone when they call, because despite my many shortcomings, my kid needs to talk to their mother when they feel like it.  That's the law!

Image may contain: Sam McKendrick, tree and outdoor

Image may contain: 11 people, including Sam McKendrick, Stephen Nelson, Caroline McKendrick Nelson, Richard McKendrick, Lisa Hatch McKendrick, Paul Lloyd and Julia Lloyd, people smiling, people standing, tree, wedding, outdoor and nature

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Kindness And Thievery Of Strangers

How do you say thank you to someone who steals sixty bucks from you? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Richard McKendrick lives his life adhering to a strict moral code.  He abstains from alcohol and tobacco, steers clear of R-rated movies, but when it comes to where he puts his wallet, the guy is fast and loose.  The question, “Honey, have you seen my wallet?” has sent my heart racing more than once.  Usually, the answer is that it’s hidden in his car, and I breathe a sigh of relief.  But recently, Rich asked me that stress-inducing question and, after hunting in the usual places, his wallet remained lost.

After searching for the hundredth time, I threw my hands in the air.  “How much cash were you carrying?” I asked.

Rich bit his lip.  “Sixty bucks.”

I sighed, relieved it wasn’t more.  But still, it was sixty bucks, and I started to think of all the things that money would have bought, not that I was particularly needing anything.  But still, instead of losing it, we could have gone out to dinner, or bought a pair of shoes.  We could have subscribed to Architectural Digest or laundered Rich's shirts.  There were lots of things we could have done, but we weren’t going to do them, at least not with that sixty bucks.  It was gone, and so Rich canceled his cards and bought a wallet.

Later that week, a crumpled envelope with no return address arrived in the mail.

My first thought, of course, was someone has sent my husband Anthrax. 

Rich is in the business of ticking people off. When the other side is hacked that often means he’s doing his job.  More than once he’s made the opposing side so mad I’ve wanted to purchase him a bullet-proof vest.  But Anthrax takes skill to acquire and whoever sent the envelope spelled Richard without a D…so...chances were good the envelope wasn’t toxic.

Skipping the HAZMAT suit, I held my breath and ripped open the envelope.  I was prepared to jump back at the first sight of a chalky substance, but there was no need.  Inside the envelope was Rich’s wallet.

And it was there!  The wallet I’d given him for his fiftieth birthday, his swipey thingy that lets him get into the courthouse, his credit cards, his license.  All of it was there!  Well, except the money. 

The sixty bucks that would have touched up my roots, that was gone.

Yep, gone.

During family night, I told the kids a parable about a man and his wallet, and asked them at the end the question, “Was the person honest who returned the wallet?” 

“Yes,” said Charlotte, as she scrolled through Instagram.

“That’s honest,” said Scarlett, playing with slime.

“There's this kid at school I want to punch in the face,” said Peter.

“Why would you say that?” I asked.

“Because it's honest,” he said.

"Kids!" I cried.  A person found your dad’s wallet, sent it in the mail (with insufficient postage) but kept the money inside.  Do you think that was the right thing to do?"

Their eyes narrowed as comprehension dawned.  “He stole from us!" they cried.

"But he returned the wallet," I said.

"I don't know what I think," said Scarlett.

"I know what I think," said Peter, "let's go get ice cream!"

And so we went and got ice cream.  Not sixty buck's worth, of course, but we got ice cream.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Don't Cry For Me Even Though I Paid Money To See Picasso's Pottery.

My high school English teacher was the first woman in our district to wear pants to work.  This happened long before she taught us, but it was an impressive feat and we were dazzled by the tale of her corduroy hip huggers, until she slept with the bus driver while chaperoning students in Europe. 

The bus driver, according to the kids on the trip, excelled both at hairpin turns and back hair. 

Great tufty black bunches of hair jutted from his t-shirt at the neck and sleeves, as if he were stowing beneath its thin cotton a litter of ebony poodles.  

What happens in Europe with Sasquatch’s third cousin does NOT say in Europe, and as word spread, the collective EW!!! at our school grew exponentially.

My point? Simply this: The same people who inspire you can also disappoint you. 

Take myself, for instance.  I gave you good advice for visiting Rome and Florence, but when it came to Venice and Barcelona, I’ve been radio silent.   Why?  As I told Peter when he asked me where babies come from, The answer would leave you crying in a corner.  

Actually, it wouldn’t.  The summer just got away from me.  

And now it’s too late. 

I can’t even remember the name of our hotel in Venice, but I will say this: You should go.  

Venice and Barcelona are worth visiting, even if the former smells occasionally of open sewage, and the latter is politically charged. 

Seeing women in their bras marching down Las Ramblas to promote women’s rights, including the right to wear or not wear a shirt?

Check that off my bucket list. 

Elbowing past a line of striking union workers to get into the Picasso museum?  Check that off too, along with seeing Picasso’s pottery and realizing it kind of sucks. 

Somebody back then needed to tell him the truth.  Something like,

Pardon me, Picasso, but why not find a lovely little Greek wedding and smash some of that pottery of yours?  Just to celebrate . . . and prevent future generations who visit your museum from having to look at it. 

Yes, something like that.


Parc Guell is Coo-ell

Parc Guell seems inspired by Dr. Suess

Me realizing I actually have a healthy fear of heights
Tibidabo, a cathedral set on a hill that is surrounded by an amusement park.  To get there you take a funicular.  Sort of felt like we were in a Wes Anderson film.
Burano.  A small island near Venice known for its lace work and colorful buildings.
They should have worked harder to keep me out of this museum.
Street performer we saw as we walked to Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia is dope.
Rich showing Hatch pride inside Sagrada Familia.

School children at play in Barcelona

San Marco square, Venice

The Bridge of Sighs.  From it, prisoners caught their last glimpse of Venice before walking into prison.

Doing a little freestyle rapping with the locals

Me, taking the water taxi down the grand canal in Venice, considering asking the lady to my left to look up some funny cat videos.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Florence--Italy's Gem

Samuel Johnson said, if you’re tired of London, you’re tired life.  And I say, if you’re tired of Florence, Italy, you’re lying.  The only problem with our time in Florence was that we didn't have a few more days to spend there.  Just a two-hour train ride from Rome, after dropping our luggage at the Vasari Palace Hotel (an excellent 3-star property in the heart of Florence) we sped off to grab lunch at the famous paninni shop, All’antico Vinaio.  So, we had no idea about this place except for the fact that we sat across from two fellow Americans on the train who told us all about it and, since they ended up staying in the same hotel, we ended up going there together.  Business is so good for the sandwich guys at All’antico that they have two shops, one across the street from the other, and both had lines out the door.  The guys behind the counter were funny and quick to take your order.  Each paninni is huge, and looks amazing, but here’s the thing.  Thanks to a salt tax in the middle ages that incensed the Florentine bigwigs, Florence does not, to this day, use salt in its bread.  I suppose it’s a lovely little tradition, but it means this: Florentine bread sucks, and that meant the sandwich wasn’t my favorite.  I liked it, but the bread, though massive, had little taste.  My sandwich had an interesting taste that got less interesting and more repulsive the more I ate. I didn't eat the whole thing.

Also, the local merchants, to encourage you to not sit on the curb and eat, came out and poured water on the curb in front of their shops.  Just a subtle Florentine way of saying, beat it.  And we did beat it.  After lunch, we headed off to a free tour of the city called, Another Florence.  The tour was great.  Our tour guide, a Russian lady who spoke flawless English without ever visiting an English-speaking country, showed us the less touristy parts of the city as she explained the history of Florence. Because of her, we discovered the city has acqua frizzante (fizzy water) on tap, right next to the tap for regular water.  Both spouts are on the wall of Palazzo Vecchio that faces the piazza.  The water is cold and free, and the piazza is a good place to rest before heading out to do more sight-seeing.

That evening, after asking out hotel clerk for a recommendation, we ended up at Trattoria Enzo e Piero, and the food was excellent.  Florence’s specialty is meat, not pasta.  I ordered Tagliata Di Manzo Alla Massimo, and the meat was so tender and gustoso that I probably looked like I was filming a commercial for the trattoria, nodding with each bite, pointing at my food with my knife and exclaiming, Delicioso!  Another nice thing about the trattoria is it isn’t pricey.

After dinner we headed down to Ponte Vecchio, stopping to listen to Florence’s street performers along the way.  Apparently, no musical slouches are permitted to perform in the streets of Florence, because everyone we heard was so talented they could have been performing in a concert hall.  One lady playing the violin was dressed in an evening dress like she was in a concert hall.  She, clearly, had paid attention during her violin lessons.  It was a pleasure to listen to her.  A cover band was playing on Ponte Vecchio with a big crowd surrounding them.  A lady standing next to me erupted into a paroxysm of delight when the band started playing, Hey, Jude.  It was interesting to see an older, smartly dressed Italian lady go nuts.  Beatlemania is alive and well.   Ponte Vecchio means old bridge.  The bridge has walls on each side that you can actually sit on and enjoy the show and the view of the river about 40 feet down.  At night, of course, you really can't see the river since it is dark.  Lisa and I were sitting on the wall enjoying the music when I mentioned to her that it was amazing how high up we were.  At which point, she looked down and realized how close she was to the edge and immediately got off the wall and started hyperventilating.  Good times.  I placed a link below so that you can see the bridge.  In the middle you can see where Lisa was sitting and then contemplated falling.  

Sunday was our one full day in Florence, and we started it out by heading to Sesto Fiorentino for church.  The first Sunday of every month is fast and testimony meeting, which means the members fast for two meals and donate the money they would have spent on food to the church to help those in need.  And instead of prepared talks, members of the congregation are free to stand at the podium and share their testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s supposed to be a short and to-the-point declaration, so when the first member of the ward got up and started talking about the evils of playing sports, you could say he was off topic.   He may have been off topic, but what I loved was that I could understand what he was saying, or at least most of it.  It's nice to know the church is the same everywhere.

As it turned out, going to church was a smart move since a good chunk of the city that morning was blocked off due to a marathon.  So, by the time we got back to our hotel, the hubbub was cleared up and we were able to move about the city without a problem.  We got busy knocking sights off our list: the baptistry, Duomo, Duomo museum, and the Campanile.  All of it is worth seeing, along with L’Accademia (where Michelangelo’s David resides) and Santa Croce (where Michelangelo’s bones reside) which we saw our first day in Florence.  Be sure, when you’re in Florence, to see it all.  But I have to say that one of my favorite things is that first glance of the Duomo as you’re walking along one of Florence’s narrow streets.  Its massiveness is so unexpected and breathtaking.  But, if we’re talking interiors, for me, Santa Croce beats Duomo hands down.   I liked Il Duomo, but not as much as Lisa.  

Dave, an American living in Italy that we met at church, told us not to miss the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo, and I’m glad he did.  That sunset was so beautiful it was surreal, but not only that, it was fun to walk there, winding our way up and up and up through a part of Florence that sits on the other side of the Orno river.  Just before the piazzale there’s a rose garden that you can walk through if you’re not too late (It closes at dusk.) I was beautiful and fun to see.  It is a walk , it is uphill and it is crowded.  But hey, I was able to get some good pictures so it is worth it.

Piazzale Michelangelo is no secret, and the crowds were thick, but it was just part of the fun, and Rich had no problem wedging his way in to the crowd to get the perfect shot.  I say it has something to do with growing up in L.A.  He’s got crowd awareness—the ability to avoid crowds while driving, and when on foot, to navigate quickly through them.  Anyone born in or who has lived in LA knows what she's talking about.  This means we got tons of great pictures, but one of the best things that happened while watching the sunset was bumping into Danny and Danielle again, a nice couple we’d met earlier in the day.  We walked back down into Florence together and grabbed dinner at a trattoria along the way.  Great food and great conversation.  It was a perfect end to a perfect day.
The view from Piazzale Michelangelo

Michelangelo's David, without pants. To see the version with pants, please visit your local Amish amusement park.

The beagle brigade of Florence

Inside the Baptistry.  

The Duomo, and me wearing the Utah shirt that sparked a friendship

Taken from atop the Campanile

The rose garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo

This guy was trying to avoid  being in our picture. Rich demanded otherwise.

Me thinking about gelato

Thursday, May 24, 2018

When In Rome, Do As The McKendricks! Part Two

Rich and Lisa not only took Rome, we slayed it.  We stabbed that city in the heart, chopped it into bits, and dumped it into the river.  And yes, I’ve been binge-watching NCIS.  But seriously, we have more to share about our trip to Rome! So, let’s get going.  Once again I’m writing in the normal font, and Rich’s comments are in Italics.


Turns out I booked our arrival to Rome to coincide with a particularly heated soccer match involving Rome and Liverpool.  I don’t understand soccer.  Rome won, but not by enough, so Liverpool won.  It was a puzzler, unlike the posters all over Rome that said Oido (I Hate) Liverpool!  Yep, there was some bad blood between these two teams, and lots of fans were converging on Rome for a piece of the action.  That meant the customs line was slow and people were trying to skip us, but not with Rich aka Gandalf-You-Shall-Not-Pass! on the job.  That’s right, we don’t care about you, your toddler twins, and emotional support Chihuahua.  Back of the line!  For the record, there was no lady with twins and a Chihuaha.  It was a man.  I’m joking.  Rich here.  For the real record, some lady was trying to get her whole travel group of 18 people past us and I had had enough.  I think my words were “that’s enough.”
I was a bit stressed about how we were going to get from the airport to the hotel, but as it turns out, Rome’s got it all figured out.  There is a train, The Leonardo Express (13 euros), that runs from the airport to Termini station, which is Rome’s bus/metro/train station.  Once you’re there, you’re essentially downtown.  Our hotel was a five-minute walk from the station, which, as I stated in my last post, thanks to our yard sale luggage, Rich thoroughly enjoyed.  I made due.   The original McGyver series was based on a man named McKendrick.  Need I say more.  (I may have made up the McGyver/McKendrick thing.)


I don’t know why, but my natural pessimism tends to take a hike when it comes to the weather.  Did I consult a forecast while preparing for our time in Rome? No, I just assumed it would probably be sunny.  Why thirty plus years away from Rome had me convinced that we were in for sunny, hot weather, I can’t say, but I will say this, it would have been smart for us to have packed RAIN PONCHOS.  Turns out early May in Rome can be a bit of a dog’s nose—wet and cold.  Who knew?  Probably someone, just not me.  In all candor, Rome was full of people approaching us every five minutes asking us if we wanted to buy an umbrella.  It wasn’t until our 2nd day of rain, at 10:00 at night that we finally paid five euros (about six bucks) for one.  Because it was going to be sunny soon!


So, not only would rain ponchos have kept us dry, they would have minimized our twilight zone experience.  Let me explain.  So, a long time ago there was this dirt bag named Schippio Borghese, and he happened to be the nephew of the Pope, which meant he had plenty of money and power, but zero principles.  So, Schippio’s one big passion in life was art, and he collected it any way he could, which included throwing people in jail and stealing it.  You name it, he did it.  But, the good news is all his art is still in his mansion which sits just on the edge of Rome.  The bad news is, getting to his mansion can be confusing.  Rich and I had plenty of time to get to the Borghese before our tour time, so we strolled around town, took in the sights, and eventually stopped to eat.  There is so much to learn when you’re in a city like Rome, and the day of our Borghese tour we learned that Rich is lactose intolerant, and that my pizza covered in buffalo mozzarella had his body wanting to a wonderful impersonation of Trevi Fountain.  We were in Italy so Trevi Fountain is a wondeful comparison, but yet, somewhat lacking.  Think more Mt. Vesuvius with lots of tremors before the mighty eruption.

 So yeah, that slowed us down a bit.  But, no worries, we still had loads of time.  Trouble was, when we finally got to the Borghese we discovered it’s not just one spot, it’s an entire park.  Sort of like Central Park, except, unlike Central Park, sparsely populated.  There was a man selling balloons, another playing an organ grinder, a wind-up monkey banging cymbals just sitting in the road (possibly a figment of my imagination), and a guy walking by in a trench coat, not to mention, loads and loads of winding paths.  As soon as we got there, the rain began.  What had all day been just mist turned into plunking drops.  But no worries, we were at the Borghese!  Except wrong turn after wrong turn meant that instead of finding the gallery we just kept finding ourselves back at the organ grinder.  So, let me fast forward the picture for you:  Rich limping along in pain, the rain becoming a mini hurricane, me running around trying to figure out where the gallery was, the monkey banging his cymbals, and the organ grinder playing on.   It was as close to the twilight zone as I have yet to experience.  But with just minutes to spare, we made it to the Borghese and were able to look at some of the most beautiful statues ever created.  Bernini was a genius, and Schippio Borghese’s greed means that there are plenty in the Borghese.   They only give you two hours to see everything in the Borghese Gallery, then they kick you out.   I saw marble statues, wonderful paintings, but saw too much of their porcelain thrones.

Yes We VatiCAN
The big draw at the Vatican is The Sistine Chapel.  It’s where Michelangelo painted his masterpieces, and it’s where the cardinals meet to vote for the next pope.  The Sistine Chapel is a must, and I thought it was interesting that the loin cloths covering the hinterlands of everyone at the final judgement were not part of the original design, but apparently, they were added by Michelangelo’s friend at the request of the Catholic church after Michelangelo’s death due to pressure from the Protestants to cover up.  Seen with that bit of info, the loin cloths looked out of place to me, but added a bit of interesting history.  After seeing the Sistine Chapel, we hustled over to St. Peter’s Basilica.  It’s huge, and it’s a good thing, because there was a crowd a mile long waiting to get in.  Thankfully, we skipped that line because of our tour, and walked right in. I’ve got nothing here.  It was a lot to see in a short amount of time. 

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia And Lisa's Mind
David about the slay Goliath
What our hallway looked like before the renovation
Vatican Square 

Friday, May 18, 2018

When In Rome, Do As The McKendricks!

My life coach is a chain-smoking drunk who, when it comes to saying what she thinks, doesn’t have a filter.  I didn’t pick her.  Like the wand choosing the wizard, she picked me, and, conveniently, lives inside my head.  It’s convenient because I don’t have to pay her, but, on the downside, she has an opinion about pretty much everything.  So, recently, when my book, Brush With Love, was selected as a Whitney finalist, and I was trying to decide whether to postpone my anniversary trip to Europe so I could attend the gala, she didn’t hold back.

Just as I was imaging the master of ceremonies saying, and the winner is…Lisa McKendrick! she laughed/coughed up phlegm, and said, “Sweetheart, don’t kid yourself.”  As usual, she was wearing a muumuu and swirling her martini with her index finger.  “You’re a doll, Lisa,” she said, “really you are.  You’ve spent the better part of two decades breeding, you recycle, and you feel compelled to write romances that are about as steamy as the user’s manual for my 1983 Motorola mobile phone, and when you finally get the chance to go back to Italy, you’re considering cancelling because you might win a writing award.  Let me tell you something.  You’re no Hemingway.  I should know.  My sister once dated his second cousin.  I hate to break it to you.  Actually, I have no problem breaking it to you.  You’re not going to win.  So, go to Italy and Spain.  That will give you something to blog about when you get back.  No one wants to read about you not winning an award.  Losers and silver linings are both incredibly boring.  Now be a doll and empty my ash tray.”

Turns out my life coach was right--I didn’t take home the Whitney (cue heavy sigh), but because I took her advice and didn’t cancel our anniversary trip to Europe, I have lots to blog about!  Actually, Rich and I have a lot to blog about (his comments will appear in italics) and to get the ball rolling we’re going to start with our advice when visiting Rome.

1.      Pack light, Wheely Light! 

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re going to Europe and you want to look fantastic, and, for you, looking fantastic means bringing multiple shoes to coordinate with multiple outfits.  That’s fine when you’re staying at the Marriott in Detroit, but when you’re traveling to Europe less is more.  Bring half what you were planning to bring and be sure to put it all in a suitcase with excellent wheels.  You’re going to be rolling that sucker over ancient cobblestones and you don’t want them to give out!  Get your rolling luggage from some place other than a yard sale, because it’s far nicer when the handle pulls all the way out.  Mine (purchased for a buck) only pulled out all the way on occasion. So, that meant while rolling my suitcase to our Rome hotel, I was hunched over to one side like Quasimodo, which would have been fine, but we weren't visiting Paris.  Still, that didn’t stop me from randomly shouting out, Sanctuary!

2.      When Flying Internationally, It’s Light’s Out!

This advice comes courtesy of Connie Ricks, a seasoned traveler, and it’s simply this: take two Advil PM when you’re on the long flight over seas.  Yes, in the event of an emergency you’re screwed.  But, hey, you’re probably screwed anyway if there’s an emergency whether you’re alert or not.  So, keeping in mind how extremely safe air travel is, follow Connie’s advice and when you get to Rome you’ll be in fairly good shape!  On the other hand, nine hours of flight allows you to see three movies and read the rest of a book while your beloved drools on her complimentary pillow.

3.     Take It All In, Even The Exhaust And Second-Hand Smoke.

One thing that Rich and I did that I enjoyed was after checking into our hotel we grabbed our map and just started walking around.  Rome is a very walkable city, and, to my surprise, it felt both safe and clean.  And there are so many iconic spots to see!  That first night we turned a corner and bam!  There was the Colosseum, and then bam, the Vittorio Emanuel monument.  Just walk around and see what you can find.  It’s so exciting to wander around and think, Wow, we’re here!  Have shoes that are ready for a walk.  I didn’t mind walking literally half a marathon a day, but my feet did. 
Plus, if you’re planning on wearing khaki on khaki like me, it might be wise to bring hiking boots to complete your safari outfit.  Please see pics.

4.     Make Reservations For The Big Stuff

If you think you’re going to mosey up to the Colosseum entrance around noon and grab a ticket for the day, you’re mistaken.  For the super big draws like the Colosseum, The Borghese Gallery, and The Sistine Chapel, you gotta plan ahead.  There are cheaper ways of going about it, but the way we handled these very popular spots was by booking tours with The Roman Guy, and I think The Roman Guy did a good job.  Each tour allowed us to bypass the mega lines and walk right in, and because we were given an earbud and our tour guide had a mic, we never had trouble hearing what they had to say.  Our Colosseum tour included access to the highest levels of the Colosseum, which is not included in most tours.  And if in Rome, you’ve got to see the Colosseum!    On the flip side, check out the free walking tours in every major city.  Look them up on line when you get there and book one for every city.  You pay, when it is over, the amount you want to tip, and it’s a great way to get to get acquainted with a city.

5.     Make A Reservation To Eat At Roscioli’s

I’m not going to lie, the food in Rome had me missing Carrabba’s.  So much of it was just okay, nothing spectacular.  I had heard that Rome’s signature pasta dish was Caccio e Pepe, and so I tried it twice, and both times it was meh.  But there was this place in Campo di Fiori that was bumpin’.  Everyone seemed to want to eat there!  It was called Roscioli’s, and I wish we had eaten there.  I think Roscioli’s would have been just a lot more money for sub-par pasta.  My highlight of eating in Rome was our first day when we ate al fresco at a restaurant and I called my dad in California by using a nearby McDonald’s WIFI.

Trevi Fountain And Spanish Steps At Night!

The story goes that if you toss a coin in the Trevi fountain you will return to Rome, and day and night the fountain is packed with tourists trying to guarantee their return trip to the eternal city.  So, you’re not going to miss the crowds by going at night, but at night the fountain seems more magical, and, for some reason, the barricades—at least the day we visited—we’re gone, allowing everyone to get right up to the fountain, allowing for the perfect photo op!  Just around the corner from the fountain is a gelateria that shouldn’t be missed.  It’s called Gioletti’s, and the word is out that they make fantastic gelato because the line can sometimes be outside the door.  But do not fear, they keep it moving at a brisk pace.  Word to the wise, you pay the cashier first and then stand in line for your gelato.  So, don’t look like a chump.  Pay first before you stand in line!

Another beautiful spot to visit at night is the Spanish Steps.  Again, this is not going to be a quiet, cozy, just-the-two-of-you place.  There are going to be hordes of people, but the steps at night are beautiful, even if you have to share them with a zillion people.  During Spring, flowers adorn the steps, making them even more gorgeous, and at the top of the steps, not only do you have a beautiful view of the city, but yet another cathedral to discover.  As I recall, it is a French cathedral, and when we went in it two people were singing.  The girl sounded lovely.  My life coach would have told the guy to not quit his day job.  Trevi Fountain is nice, but The Spanish steps were a lot more fun.  The higher up you go on the steps, the better the view of the city.  There’s also a cathedral at the top is beautiful.  But then again, every cathedral in Rome is beautiful.

The National Museum For Naps!

At some point jet lag is going to hit you, and when it does, grab a ticket to the National Museum, see what you can before your eye lids get too heavy and then head down to their coin collection and take a nap while your spouse, who for some reason has an interest in coins, looks around.  The benches are wide and long, and no one is there.  It was the perfect place to recharge your battery before taking on the city again.  The National Museum is sort of like the Smithsonian, but not as big.  It is several different buildings near each other which would take more than a day to see.  Buy the ticket to see it all and see it all, even if you wife has to fall asleep while you are looking at gold coins stamped with pictures of Alexander the Great, because they’re so old they're from the time when Alexander was still Great.

 Speak With The Locals!

Romans are friendly, so enjoy getting to know them.  And if you know some Italian, speak it!  The best way to learn, or, in my case, relearn a language is to dive in and speak it.  Don’t worry about errors, just get busy and parlare!  It’s a lot of fun, even if it makes your brain ache from time to time.  I’m a big fan of Benny Lewis who has written a book called, Fluent In Three Months.  Benny’s approach is speak first, figure out the grammar later.  He says you have to be willing to make mistakes and sound like Tarzan so that you can rapidly learn.  And I gotta say, speaking Italian again, I made a ton of mistakes.  Still, people were able to understand me, and it was fun to talk to people.  But they all insist on speaking to you in English.  As much as we wanted to speak Italian, just about everyone answered in English.    There was one place we ate lunch and the Italian version of Roseanne was behind the counter.  She didn’t seem too enamored with us until Lisa started in with the Italian.  I have to say that it was annoying how prevalent English was in Central and Northern Italy.  It gave me a new respect for my mission in Southern Italy.  The Italians there forced me to learn Italian because they didn’t speak English, and I love that I hardly ever saw an American tourist.  I was thrown into the deep end of the language ocean and I truly benefited because of it.

Do Your Laundry In Your Hotel Sink

Rick Steves knows how to do Europe, so be sure to pick up his guide books before you set off on your next European adventure.  One of his bits of advice is don’t waste time heading to a laundromat.  Time there is time you could be spending touring around.  Instead, do whatever laundry you need done in your sink.  This worked great for us.  It allowed us to bring less yet still have clean clothes.  Do your laundry at night when you’re done for the day and hang it up wherever you can without damaging the hotel furniture. I liked to hang it up in the closet and then place a towel beneath to protect the floor from drips.

That’s it for now.  Next post we’ll cover a for more of our tips for when you’re visiting Rome, and then dive into our suggestions for how to make the most out of your trip to Florence.  Arrivederci! 

Trevi Fountain during the day.
Rich's apparel compliments of Mutual of Omaha.
Spanish Steps Pandemonium

The beautiful Spanish Steps

Up in the nosebleed section of the Colloseum

Taking in Rome
Ruins everywhere you look
Giving Churchill's V for Victory in front of the balcony where Hitler and Mussolini greeted a cheering crowd.  Sucks to suck, baby. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Brush With Inspiration

Inspiration is like lightning—it’s difficult to predict where it will strike. 

A few years ago, while attending the funeral of Wilbur Waters--a man I’d known only as an acquaintance--inspiration hit. 

When I first met Wilbur several years ago, it didn’t occur to me to consider the life he had lived or what he'd once looked like.  He was, in my mind, exactly what I saw before me—a friendly, elderly man no longer strong enough to walk. 

There is a certain hierarchy at funerals when it comes to seating.  Those closest to the deceased sit at the front of the chapel, good friends come next, friends and neighbors after that, and those who sort of knew the person edge in at the back, which is where I sat.

Grabbing a program off a table in the lobby, I slipped in half way through the opening hymn, keeping my head low.  Wilbur had been a big guy (easily 6’5”) and had been blessed with a big family who loved him.  As the tributes began, I looked at the program and, for the first time, saw a photograph of Wilbur as a young man.  My mouth fell open.  I hadn’t expected him to look so . young.

It’s easy to not consider the entirety of a life, and, unwittingly, I'd done this with Wilbur.  I saw him in his electric wheelchair, never thinking that as a young man he could effortlessly load watermelons into the back of a truck, tossing them like they were as light as soccer balls.  It hadn’t occurred to me to consider who he had been.

Old age is something we, at least in America, often mock.  Just yesterday, Peter (8), wearing Groucho Marx glasses and a fedora, hobbled toward me, and said in a craggy voice, “Good evening, I’m fifty-two.”  When I said, “Hey, I’m fifty two!,” he tried again.  “Good evening, I’m fifty-three.”  Clearly, Peter sees age as a slippery, steep slope.  And maybe it is.  I'll let you know if at fifty-three I'm hobbling around and sporting a fedora.

Anyway, when I attended Wilbur’s funeral I was at the start of writing another book and was trying to flesh out a character named Walt.  At writing conferences, I had heard authors talk about the work they put into rounding out their characters.  One author explained how she found pics on Pinterest of people who fit the look she was going for, then stuck the pics up in her office so that as she wrote she could refer to them.

I looked at the photo of Wilbur as a young man and knew I’d found my Walt.  Before seeing Wilbur’s photo, I had known certain things about Walt.  I'd known he was an Idaho farmer, and that he was tall and strong and had a tendency to fly off the handle.  I knew he was protective of those he cared about, and stubborn.  That he had light hair and broad shoulders, but it wasn’t until I looked at Wilbur’s photo that I could see Walt.  When I got home I folded the funeral program in half and taped it in front of my desk, and when I wrote about Walt, I’d glance at it.  I glanced at his photo as I wrote Lana’s thoughts as she met Walt for the first time.

It wasn’t just that he was good looking, though he was certainly that, there was something familiar in his intense brown eyes, something strangely reminiscent about the slope of his slender nose and the curve of his lips, the rightness of the top of my head reaching just to his shoulders…. 

At some point during the revision process, the photo of Wilbur was no longer needed, Walt was alive in my head, and I took it down and soon forgot it had ever been there.  Recently, while attending a wedding, I was exchanging small talk with one of Wilbur’s sons.  He asked me about my latest book.  The conversation went sort of like this:

Glen:  Hey, what’s going on? I need to pick up your new book!
Me:  Yeah, it’s out there doing its thing.
Glen:  Almost bought it while I was in Utah.
Me:  Well, you can’t buy everything where would you put it.
Glen: Anything interesting to tell me?
Me:  Um…nope.

And that was it.  It didn’t cross my mind to tell him, Hey!  I had your dad’s funeral program stuck on my wall for a year while I wrote that book you almost picked up!  Wilbur had become Walt, and I had forgotten the source of inspiration for his physical characteristics!

Not only is this proof I suck at small talk (that would have been fun to share!) but also that at some point characters live and breathe, and become their own people, and it’s easy to forget the process you went through to bring them to life.

Many thanks to the Water's family for including a photo of their father as a young man in his funeral program and for being such an amazing family.  The story about Lana and Walt, Brush With Love, is now a Whitney Award finalist, which is very exciting for me. 

Right now, I’m writing another story, and trying to figure out what the male character looks like.  It will be interesting to see where inspiration strikes this time.