Italy: Venice, Part 1

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since our big trip to Italy! Also hard to believe it’s taken me this long to finish recapping the experience. Today we’re going to go back to Venice. But before that, we stopped at San Marco in Florence. San Marco is famous in part for the paintings by Fra Angelico in the rooms of the old rooms of the Dominicans.




My favorite part though was the old manuscripts, because this was the first place I had seen that allowed photography. I am knowledgeable enough to know that you should never use flash when dealing with old, decaying paper or works of art, but even still, most places do not let you take any photographs.



It was definitely worth the final stop before our train to Venice, and we were also happy that the skies were clearing up from the rain and clouds the days prior. Our first impression of Venice was two fold: confusing, but also amazing. Here we were, no intimidating traffic!

I had been really nervous about Venice, and had researched where we needed to go outside the train station and which boat to board (Vaparetto), so of all the cities, I was the most prepared for this one. Even still, it took a little while to find our hotel San Salvador whose entrance was hidden down a little alleyway.


We chose the hotel because it was close to the heart of the city without being too expensive, but that also meant traveling a bit further with our luggage in hand.And because of that, we were also dealing with crowds and bridges. Bonus: we got to share a bed. ha!

But we made it, and we did find ourselves really acclimating to this city more so than the others within a day of being there. We were much more relaxed about getting lost once we didn’t have our luggage dragging behind us!


After unloading and getting information about places to eat, we headed out to the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco. It’s the only “plaza” in Venice, with all other areas called Campos or “squares”.

We had tickets for the inside of Basilica di San Marco in a couple days, but we viewed the outside and around the plaza, and decided to go ahead and line up for the Campanile. There’s no stairs for this tower, just a cramped elevator. The skies were cloudy and it was cold, so we figured this would be the shortest line we’d see during our stay (and we were right!).


The views are nice, but while we were up there, the bells began to ring. It was loud. And startling.





That evening, we started what became a nightly routine of meandering around the city at night, though this first night, we were just searching for a place to eat dinner! We had decided to try Pizzareia Casa Mia, and we didn’t realize how popular this restaurant is.


We got lucky and arrived early enough to snag a table and split a bottle of wine. I ate a sea food dinner and my shrimps had eyes. After dinner we returned to the Piazza to look at it at night.





This is the infamous Bridge of Sighs, which I explained to mom that we’d be learning more about in the coming days.

The next morning, we woke early to watch the start of the Vogalonga! I didn’t know about this event until after we booked our vacation, but we were excited to be able to watch a local event like this. There are two boat races in Venice, the more famous one later in the year.

This one started with a protest of the motor boats that have overtaken Venice. While I appreciated being able to travel as needed to and from the city, within it’s bounds, mom and I didn’t need the motor boats and walked everywhere. So, I could understand why they wanted those quieter waters back, especially this day when all the motor transportation are shut down for the race.


The best places to watch the Vogalonga are the beginning at the Piazza, and several hours later at Cannaregio, a section of Venice to the north where the boats funnel through a narrower canal on their way to the finish.



The waters were very still. We wandered the city for the most part. Because it was Sunday, a lot of churches were closed for visitation, so there were only a few things on our to do list for the day. The forced slowness of the day was a little annoying for me, but it didn’t bother mom. It did help set the tone of our more relaxed visit to Venice than the other cities during our travels.

We had breakfast at a place that doesn’t much deserve the name and moved on from there quickly. We definitely missed the breakfast buffets at the previous hotels.





We walked to a south east end of the city to Santa Maria della Salute, which we were able to go inside. It was cool to walk to the very tip of the city outside the church here, standing at the edge of Venice and looking back at the Piazza.




We walked from south to north, the entire stretch of the city, to watch some more of the race later that day. This was more fun than the early morning launch because of the cheering, excitement, and the bells that Venetians rang from their windows.






We had a few other stops after the race, including the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.


Also, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.



The ceiling of the church of San Stefano was too amazing to not photograph, though we were not supposed to. I avoided flash and didn’t photograph any of the alcoves or other sacred spaces in the church, but I simply had capture this amazing intricate ceiling.


We even managed to find the spiral staircase all on our own. It was definitely off the beaten path and difficult to find around the narrow alleyways and vague directions we had.


All in all, it was a day of exploration of the city of Venice. We started to feel comfortable wandering around without being entirely certain where it would lead. We started to enjoy it when we were actually away from the crowds of people in the more distant parts of the city.

For dinner, we chanced upon Bacaro Osteria Barababao, and we loved it so much that we returned there for dinner again the very next night. We spent the evening wandering Venice, feeling very comfortable in this city lacking cars. Of course, I’m certain there is crime, but the lack of a big nightlife scene and the fact that many visitors only come for the day meant the nights seemed much quieter and felt very safe.




If you haven’t guessed yet, Venice was my favorite city to visit, and a wonderful way to conclude our trip. I have one more full day in Venice to share with you before we boarded our flight for home.

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Happy 2016

It’s February, I know. Happy 2016 anyway!


We celebrated with our usual family friends, and spent the night there again this year. It was a blast! We’ve been over a couple times since, and Coraline keeps asking about sleeping over. It was a huge success to have her sleeping in a sleeping bag, albeit on a cot.

Instead of Christmas gifts, we exchanged books this year. Coraline was in love with her Daniel Tiger Nutcracker book, and it was perfect because she has started ballet at school, now that she is in a preschool room.





Jameson is still in to paper airplanes and tried showing Jonathan how to fold them.


Meanwhile, Coraline literally ate almost the entire evening.


We tried to get photos of the kids in front of the tree, but you can guess how this ended:





Lisa got a selfie stick so we did take some photos including us adults, and the boys tried it out too.






The kids rang in the New Year with noiseless party favors, and watched a countdown with the Care Bears. We don’t have the kids stay up til midnight with us yet. Someday soon I’m sure they’ll catch on.


The boys all slept in Jonathan’s room, while Coraline slept with Brian and I. I think she was a bit jealous because she insisted on coming back out of her room just to hear the bedtime story. She didn’t really understand why she couldn’t sleep in there but she was amiable enough since she was so tired, I’m sure. Meanwhile, the adults rang in the new year with a game of Cards Against Humanity. It was a good night!


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Christmas Times Three

Christmas day afternoon, Grandma, Poppa, Aunt Melissa, and the future Uncle Robert and family friend Shawn joined us for our third and final family Christmas celebration!


Yes, Aunt Melissa got engaged!! The future Uncle Robert and Melissa are planning to get married spring of 2017, and were engaged before Christmas.




All of us ladies got some beautiful new jewelry, candles and clothes. It was actually warm enough outside that Brian used the grill for Christmas dinner!

On Sunday, we visited Great Grandma, but this year we were disappointed that Great Grandma was sleeping through the day.



Jameson told sleepy great-grandma that he was five now, and the kids had fun eating (a LOT of) cookies and playing with Zac and Caden, their cousins. We celebrated dinner with everyone on Becky’s side of the family, and Robert got to meet everyone for the first time.



Sunday was my last day of “Christmas break”. I used up all my vacation days the week prior, so I worked all week except New Years Day. Brian had off with the kiddos, and they also spent a night at Aunt Melissa’s for the rest of their vacation. The daycare is closed the week between Christmas and New Years, so it was nice that Brian was able to be off the whole time as well. It was a great Christmas, but not just that: to be able to spend over a week with family was, as they say, priceless!

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Santa Visited


Santa came!


Jameson got his wish for a Bumblebee and Optimus Transformer. These 3-step transformers are good for his age, Santa made a good choice. Santa also brought a Star Wars shirt and socks, and a book of Frog and Toad stories, which will be perfect as Jameson starts learning to read. Jameson requested additional items later, such as a Hulk costume and Ipad, but some of those wishes mom and dad made come true.

Coraline, after much back and forth, did request a doll for Christmas to Santa and tried to change her mind later. She did end up getting a special doll that has eyes that close along with hair to brush, a beautiful 16″ doll she seems to have named Dolly (also, Alligator and a line from a Christmas song, and anything that came to mind first after being asked what the doll’s name was). She got a doll high chair too, a bonus gift that went outside Santa’s usual “one toy” rule but since they went together, he had some flexibility. She also got a Frozen shirt and socks (we promptly lost one of the socks), and a book of Berenstain Bears stories.





Before opening stockings, Coraline said she needed to take a nap and went upstairs. She came downstairs not long afterwards half dressed with one sock on. She fed her new dolly and did open her stocking after some prompting. Jameson meanwhile was exuberant and excited and really into everything he got. He initially tried to line up all the gifts for everyone in a row to give out, but we told him to start opening by type of wrapping paper: the black ones with the white ribbon were his, and the green ones, etc.

Brian got me a new iPad, so Jameson inadvertently got his wish, since he now gets to use my old one. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to use it whenever he wants, haha.

I think that Jameson’s favorite gift, based on how much he’s used it, is his bow and arrow set. We also got him a keyboard to be able to practice piano at home. Coraline got a set of piggies and Calico Critter house which were my favorite, but Coraline I think really does like her doll best, which now sleeps with her.





Brian got a DIY mustard kit (I always get him a food related DIY thing, though I’m starting to run out of ideas), along with some other items he asked for. I also got us a new floor lounger (“Husband” pillow), which was hard to find. They really don’t make these for normal sized people anymore, most of what I found was really small! We really outdid ourselves this Christmas, and as always I was both happy to see the kids’ excitement and sad that the magic of the season was over.

Coraline still points out Christmas lights everywhere she sees them, since a few places have kept some up. She sometimes talks about Santa still, too. Christmas really made an impression on her this year. I said that this year was going to be the best yet, but I don’t know: this coming year may still top it!

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December Birthdays and Christmas Celebrations

Every year, we try to visit my side of the family before Christmas so we can celebrate both Christmas and December birthdays! Jameson, Aunt Holly, and Meemaw all have birthdays during December. Jameson had some gifts to open from his birthday when we arrived!



This giant box is a giant frisbee, he was very excited! It will be a fun spring.


One very cool gift we got from Aunt Holly and Uncle Tyler was the Disney Playmation. The Playmation game bridges the gap between super hero and real world experiences. You can put on Iron Man’s arm, and fight a host of good and bad guys through various missions. Jameson played it a lot while we visited, but hasn’t pulled it out much since: we have a lot of new toys to play with! But one thing great about this toy is that I think it will grow with him!


Another tradition is doing puzzles with Meemaw! Jameson loves to work on puzzles. We had a really challenging puzzle this year because I bought a custom one for Meemaw from a photo I took during our visit to Venice. The 1000 piece puzzle took us several days to complete. Meanwhile, the kids worked on bear and dog puzzles. Coraline was only so-so at “helping”, haha.


Uncle Tyler also visited this year, driving up with his pup Athena. We were able to all watch Holly graduate from college! Brian dropped me off at OSU on his way with the kids, and Meemaw, Uncle Tyler and I watched her get her diploma.


One warmer day that wasn’t rainy we were able to go to the playground. Jameson, Meemaw and Grampa played fetch with the dogs (and got super muddy), while Coraline and I played on the playground. She found a new little boy friend that made her laugh while we were there, and was a real trooper walking almost the entire way there and home. No strollers for us!



Then we celebrated Meemaw’s birthday (she opened her puzzle from us early so we could get started on it), and that evening, we also went to our local lights show, another annual tradition.





We celebrated Christmas officially the next day after all the birthday celebrations were complete! Kids opened gifts, and were delighted at all things. Ralphie the Elf even came down to join us at Meemaw and Grampa’s house before he had to fly home to the North Pole. Coraline got a huge set of Frozen figurines, and Jameson got a set of Star Wars ships. I love the photo of his lips making the “vroom” noises a starship makes.




We did go see the Star Wars movie with Jameson while we visited! Brian stayed home with Coraline while the rest of us went to see the movie. We had to encourage everyone to come, because we had a gift for dad that that would only make sense after seeing it. We got him the BB8 robot!

The remainder of the day, Jameson was excited to spend with Grampa playing with airplanes! Grampa made him one of light wood that they shot into the air with a rubber band. Airplanes with Grampa is one of the things Jameson really looks forward to!




Christmas Eve morning, I took the kids to a breakfast potluck at my old friend Tracy’s house. A group of friends and her family were all gathered there, and it was fun seeing everyone and their kiddos and dogs.

Brunch with old friends and new friends

We left for home and arrived home with the light of the full moon.


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Thanksgiving and Pie

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving with Brian’s family, and got to see his cousin Gabrielle and her son Griffin again, which thrilled Jameson. Despite the age difference, Griffin is wonderful playing with Jameson and they had a great time!


Coraline was a little shy with them but warmed up pretty quick after some time with grandma and Aunt Melissa.



It’s been unseasonably warm so far this time of year, so the kids even got to play outside (sans coats!). Coraline cleaned up pine cones and Jameson played ball with Griffin before Thanksgiving dinner which consisted of turkey, grandma’s homemade cranberry relish, sweet potatoes with pecans this year, and fried cauliflower, among other wonderful tasty dishes.


Yes, this is Brian with a stick poking at Jameson with a sneaky smile on his face.



After dinner, we whipped out the pie we made for the occasion. We’ve really gotten into making our pumpkin pie from scratch, and this year we had a special pumpkin from the farmers market, which is supposed to be like a sugar pumpkin but lighter and fluffier. It did make an exceptional pie! The kids of course just wanted to eat the whipped cream!



For the rest of Thanksgiving weekend, we drove to visit Meemaw and Grandpa.


We had another pumpkin pie for this visit too, plus two more that Holly and my mom made, so we had three different ones to try. The verdict is that homemade pumpkin is better than canned. And the pecan topping we both made for our versions was amazing.

3 Pumpkin Pies

A quick trip, but one filled with shopping for Meemaw and I. It was fun, but short. But don’t worry Meemaw and Grandpa, we’re seeing you again soon!

Bye bye Meemaw and Grampa!

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Italy: Chianti Country

It’s been a while since I last recapped some of our Italy trip! We visited Rome, Pompeii and Florence. Then we took a day trip from Florence to Chianti country in Tuscany. Chianti is the only wine my mom would drink, and it was happenstance that that was within driving distance to Florence!

The morning of our day trip was downright rainy, and we finally caved and bought a cheap umbrella, which broke after a couple days use, but served it’s purpose. We cross the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge to get to our meeting point on the other side of the river.


Our first stop was Corzano e Paterno, a winery but also a farm, cheese maker and olive oil maker. We started in their cellar and were introduced to their extra large traditional wine barrels, so large that someone can fit inside to prepare it for the next batch of wine!



The rain was a mixed blessing. We were happy that it was raining on a day where we had plenty of indoor activities, but we missed out on walking among the vines. However, the tour made up for it by letting us see how their cheese is made! After we finished up in the cellar, we took a detour to see:






It was truly fascinating! The tour we took was called Super Chianti Wine Tours, and we loved our guide and driver. He spoke to us a lot during our visit, though we heard from the winemakers directly as well. At Corzano e Paterno, we also got to have a little tasting that including cheese and olive oil.



Our guide (above) spoke to us about the region and the rules around Chianti and other varieties of wine. Mom learned how to observe the color of wine and took a lot of photos of her wine’s reflection.



What we truly loved about this tour was that we learned how Italians appreciate their wine and how it goes with the meal. It’s an attitude toward meal time and relaxation and company with friends that mom hadn’t really learned to associate with wine, and the tour ended up being a favorite experience of our entire trip.




Our lunch stop was at Antica Macelleria Cecchini, and we experienced a phenomenal meal (with more wine) in a family style manner. The butcher is located across the street, and the whole experience is in a charming hilly town in Panzano. The cobblestone steep streets and the city on the hill felt quintessentially Italian.


We had one other winery to experience after lunch, and we went to Poggio al Sole. The winemaker and owner here had a fascinating life, uprooting and moving to Italy from Switzerland for the land to become a winery.




Overall, we left with a true appreciate for Italian wine and really enjoyed our day trip away from looking at maps and trying to figure out the next tourist site! I think the tourist sites were important experiences, but it was wonderful the way we progressed with our trip feeling more and more relaxed as it continued on.

Our tour dropped us off at Piazzale Michelangelo at our request, known for picturesque views of Florence. It was a bit far for us to walk there and back to see, so we were happy to end there and just walk back to our hotel from there. And the views were as promised:






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Mammoth Cave

Brian and I also got to have our own getaway in late August to Mammoth Cave. We dropped the kids off at my parents house “on the way”, and enjoyed a very large and beautiful cabin all to ourselves in Kentucky.

Our first stop was, of course, Mammoth Cave. We didn’t get to do an spelunking or cool tours like that since they were offered at limited times and already full, so we joined a large herd of tourists like us for a traditional tour. I almost regretted not bringing my regular camera, but just like it was wonderful to freely take photos in Hocking Hills, it was similarly but differently wonderful to not feel like I had to take any photos at all.





Brian and I also did ziplining for the first time. I thought I might be scared, but our guide was an expert and all I felt was excitement. I was first off the platform, no problem.





We planned one night out and one night in, cooking in our awesome cabin. On our night in, Brian cooked on the grill and it started raining lightly, but I hung out on the wrap around porch and it was still perfect facing out of the cabin to what looks like limitless forest. Also, creepy once it’s fully dark. But wonderful at sunset no matter the weather when you are warm, with wine, on a wrap around porch in the country while your husband is cooking next to you.

Though I don’t have any photos, I think one of my other favorite parts was just the driving around, especially on the way to dinner out to the tune of Johnny Cash. The countryside was amazing, full of farms and fields and forests.


The next day we did kayaking. This was an endeavor that I was worried about, because for the first time I was getting my own kayak and Brian his. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to keep up or get tired. I was tired, but I made it just fine! There’s even a little shallow cave that when the water isn’t too high or too low you can go in with the kayak, which we did.


In the center of the river there are a few “islands”. We stopped at a couple, and Brian found a giant live mussel (which we put back as requested by the livery operators but sadly was found and removed by two girls after us).




We finished our tour at the ferry (we used the ferry in our car daily which was fascinating), and we drove back to Mammoth Cave to explore the grounds around it. There are several caves and underwater deep cave features.








This photo right here is the moment when I wished I had my regular camera. In my opinion, aside from hanging out with Brian, this was the highlight of the trip. The baby deer was steps from us, unafraid, and walking across the path to it’s mother. We came upon it at the perfect time.


We had a nice trip away, and it felt so good to get out in the fresh air. I was really happy with how good I felt since I had been running a lot. I really felt like I was keeping up and felt strong and alive hiking up through the woods for hours. I told Brian that a couple years ago I wouldn’t have performed nearly as well. I think he disagreed, but I know that I’ve been feeling very well since I’ve been running in earnest through this summer and fall.

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Autumn in Hocking Hills

My friend Emma and I planned a little getaway at a nice midway point for the two of us in Hocking Hills. We decided on it a little late for the October (fall leaf) rush, so I spent hours pouring over sites looking for a cabin we could stay in.

I finally found this little gem, which seemed like the ONLY (and I mean that literally) cabin available in Hocking Hills that weekend. The place is in Fiddlestix Village, a little village of 5 or so cottages in Hocking Hills. It’s literally within minutes drive of Ash Cave and the price was super reasonable.


We stayed in the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, which had the shakers lined up in the windows. It was adorable! It got very cold during our stay but there were heaters, thankfully. There was a little kitchen sans stove but it did have a microwave and mini fridge, plus a charming updated bathroom, and the bedroom had two beds so we didn’t have to squish together like our college sleepovers. Cause we’re adults now, right?

Okay the only bad part was the wifi was in and out. Apparently wifi at ALL was impressive, because there’s nothing throughout most of Hocking Hills. I should’ve printed some maps, but we managed with Emma’s proper GPS unit. We met on Friday night though at Ravenswood Castle for dinner though and that was a trek through some nothingness. I arrived about 40 minutes before Emma, and started to get seriously worried when she arrived!

Well I got this urge to go out and try to get a sunrise picture the next day. We were too late for that, even as early as we were up, but we did get to Ash Cave before anyone else arrived. We had about a half hour or more all to ourselves. I wish these pictures could fully convey how big it is!





The whole idea of our stay was to take photos, and it was so refreshing to be able to stop and shoot whenever the moment struck and not feel obligated to keep moving or get to the next thing. We stopped on this little side road for this shot.


After Ash Cave, we went to Old Man’s Cave. By this point, everyone else was awake and visiting as well, so it was a little crowded but still worth the visit. We gave the flexible tripod I have and the remote shutter a good workout. I was impressed it worked this far away!









From Old Man’s Cave, there’s some hiking trails that you can take to Cedar Falls (and further if you want). We didn’t quite realize what we were in for when we started. Lots of boulders, and a lot longer of a trail than we expected. We passed a mom with a stroller though and decided that if she could do it, we certainly could. I’m sure she didn’t realize what she was in for either though. She didn’t look super pleased.


The way back from Cedar Falls was more pleasant since we selected the other hiking route and as it happens it was much easier! We passed Rose Lake, which was beautiful. I think our visit was just a week or two shy of peak color, but since there was frost while we were there, lots of leaves were falling. I think we really came at a perfect time.


We ate Saturday night at the Inn at Cedar Falls, which was great, though the drink we had left us sleepy. It was ice cold outside, but I insisted on staying out to try to capture a night sky. I did, albeit it slightly out of focus (you can’t tell with this small size). Maybe next time I’m in the middle of nowhere it will be less cold, it was hard to manage the controls!


Sunday we had a nice breakfast and went to Cantwell Cliffs before heading home. Cantwell was beautiful in a different way again than either Ash Cave or Old Man’s Cave. It felt more out-of-the-way, which was nice.




I tried to capture the falling leaves, but it was almost impossible. I should’ve switched to manual focus but I’m not sure I would’ve been much better. I did get this one leaf mid-flight.





It was a great trip, a nice and fairly inexpensive photographic escape. I felt bad leaving the family in the middle of fall fun but it was worth the trip!

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Happy Halloween


We carved some pumpkins today, just hours before Trick or Treat. Coraline was more into it this year than last, but still just a bit concerned over getting it on her fingers. This year we had a kit and little shovels for the kids which helped Coraline participate more.




Jameson was very focused on the task!



At the very end, Jameson requested to play with the pumpkin guts and seeds… and I was feeling daring I guess so I let them have it. The result is that we have a nice clean kitchen floor now.


Happy Halloween!

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