August 2009


One of the things I savor above all else is traveling (for fun) to a far away place.  When we commit to a “big” vacation, we typically plan it about 9 months out.  During that time I become totally immersed in the thought of it.

I learn the language (or at least I attempt to).   Balcony (15)_2Tom checks out hotels.  I look for gardens in the surrounding areas.  Tom finds unique restaurants.  I search for monasteries with chanting monks.  Tom prices rental cars and plots best routes.  I google live music.  Tom books flights.  I hope to discover uncommon shopping experiences.  Tom calculates exchange rates.  I plan my wardrobe.

And all the while, my excitement grows.  Almost to the point that when it arrives, I fear that it will pass like a flash and evaporate before my eyes.  And sometimes it does.

I’ve always felt that part of the fun of travel was the anticipation of the trip.  But it only sunk in recently when I was challenged to think of what motivates me most.  When I feel the most driven.  The most full of excitement.  I realized it was when I was preparing to travel to a foreign place.

View (21)_2We’ve decided to go to Europe next fall.  Portugal.  Or France.  Or Spain… or Italy.  One of my new requirements is to stay in one place for a full week, in a beautiful setting in a home like environment.  Such as the apartment in a Tuscan Villa that we rented on our last trip.

It appeals to me to have a home-like surrounding.  To not rely on maids, restaurants and valets.  Funny, those are things that many people value on vacation.  But the ability to get a sneak peak into real life in a foreign country is priceless.   To find the farmer’s market.  To discover the local wine.  To try our hand at cooking the local specialties.  To eat breakfast in my caftan.  To host an impromptu dinner party.

Already I am looking forward to the upcoming year and all the anticipation ahead.

My husband has a fondness for dishes.  He collects them the way some people collect sports memorabilia or cars.   Hmmm.  Thinking about it that way puts things in a whole P8221578new perspective.  It could definitely be worse.

Actually, I like dishes too.  I remember buying a set on our first trip to Spain.  We were really loaded down on the flight home and we were trying to make our carry-on filled with dishes look light weight and inconspicuous.  Awkward, but we got them home in one piece.  To this day, they add a special touch to a bowl of mussels and a Cesar salad.

We have dishes for almost every occasion or size of dinner party.  From a formal service for 24, to a cute little breakfast set for 2.  From Italy, Spain, Mexico, China, Portugal, Thailand.  A vibrant color, an interesting shape, a pleasing pattern.  The variety is amazing.

Of course the obvious appeal to dishes – beyond the aesthetics – is the whole experience of using them.  Good food.  Relaxing evenings with friends.  So many things to love about them.

I’ve decided a photo study of our dishes is in order.  If for nothing else than to take an inventory of sorts.  But in truth, there are some beautiful designs that are a work of art unto themselves.

I’ve been practicing and enjoying yoga for quite some time now.  But, I must confess, I cheat.   I’m just not good at clearing my mind.  Of course, it’s only me that knows it.  It’s only me that I delude.

Sometimes, while practicing yoga, my mind is busy solving the world’s problems.  Actually, it’s not that noble at all.  I’m actually busy thinking through work issues.  Or tackling investment quandaries.  Or trying to organize my life (which, by the way, is probably already too organized). DSCF0248 I actually believe that I am getting two things done at once — solving problems and rejuvenating physically.  In reality, I am doing neither well.  I am only fooling myself.

So, I am trying to learn meditation.  I’m an overly disciplined person, so you think this would be easy for me to command myself to clear my mind.  We’ll see.  Shakti Mhi says that you don’t have to stop thinking entirely, you just have to become an observer.  To distance your thoughts and separate yourself from them.

Something to aspire too:  Mind over mind…

How adorable is a basset hound puppy?   Enough to win two never-been-dog-owners like us over.

It all started with Tilly.  Tilly was a basset hound owned by the Simonsons who lived up the street from me when I was a kid.  She was as close to having a dog that my family ever got.  DSCF0034Every Sunday (when the dog catcher was off duty) Tilly walked around the neighborhood visiting her friends.  We even kept dog biscuits on hand just for such a visit.  Tilly would walk up the steps to our back door and give her characteristic “woof”. My Dad and I would play with her outside until it was time for her to move on to her next friend treat.

So, when Tom and I decided to bring a dog into our life, a basset hound was the natural choice.  We called her Siena because she was predominately the orange brown color of Siena.  She had a black square on her back with a symmetric white circle in the middle.  A tri-color beauty.

Acquiring Siena just happened to coincide with our move to Mexico City.  If we were going to make a life change, we were going to do it in a big way.  We were two of 250,000 Americans in Mexico City in 1994.  Siena may have been the only basset.

I loved her long ears.  I didn’t even mind cleaning them regularly.  Those sad but loving eyes could always get me going.  But I never really responded well to the Tasmanian devil routine.  I wanted the dog that would curl up in my lap while I read.  The one that walked obediently at my side down the street.  The one that would sleep late on weekends.  That just wasn’t Siena’s style.

Siena eventually was adopted by the bright eyed 8 year old daughter of the American Ambassador to Mexico.  It was love at first sight for the two of them.

I’ll always have a fond spot in my heart for bassets, as the first dog I ever loved.  But I know now that pairing up two dog novices with one of the most dim-witted species in the animal kingdom is just begging for trouble.

I hope there is another dog in our future, but I will be certain to invest in training this time around – for me…

Just the thought of summer can bring a smile.  From as far back as I can remember, summer was something I looked forward to.  And something that never lasted long enough.100_2261

Why is it that summer flies by and winter just drags on?  It’s one of the great mysteries of life.

This year, we developed a campaign we called “Love Summer”.  One of our inspired copywriters put the essence of the campaign into words:

 

 

 

Love Summer, Love Saturdays

It’s time for baseball and beach balls.

Corn on the cob and burgers on the grill.

Short shorts and long weekends.

Popsicles that turn your tongue red and sunscreen that keeps your nose from doing the same.

It’s time for all the simple pleasures that make us love those precious  few months.

And it’s time for us to own that feeling, especially on Saturdays.

You know the feeling when you hear the ice cream truck? Let’s create that same anticipation leading into every Saturday.

Remember the joy of coming across that single perfect seashell on the beach? Let’s give her that same joyful surprise – be it a new item, or a special offer – week after week after week.

 

P7121532As an adult, summer isn’t everything to me that it was as a child.  My adult summer might mean a slightly slower pace at work.  It means outdoor concerts.  Picnics.  Lots of them.  Country drives in the Miata.  The instant refreshment of dipping into the pool on a hot day.  Farmers markets.  Fresh cut hay.  Longer days.  Fireflies.  Rocking ChairsCicadas.  Gazpacho.  Steaks on the grill.  Vinho Verde.  Fluffy clouds.  Growing my own tomatoes.  Dining outside with friends.  Brazilian music.  Peonies.  Fireworks.  A good book in the rocking chair looking out onto the vineyard.

Summer.  A little slice of heaven.

It’s hard for me to admit, but Charlie was right.  Charlie was my boss-who-lived-in-another -country while I was living in Mexico City.  He had done the whole expat thing (in Florence, no less), and had recommended that I keep a journal while we lived in Mexico City.

But I didn’t take his advice.  We were too busy having a thoroughly amazing, educating and enjoyable experience.  Now I wish I had.  Mexico City Zocalo at Christmas

We moved to Mexico City in 1994, just after NAFTA was signed.  There was quite a rush of Americans, Canadians, Australians and others into the county to take advantage of this great opportunity.  We were 2 of 250,000 Americans living in Mexico City.

By some statistics, Mexico City is the largest city in the world.   The cultural differences were intriguing.  Nothing was easy.  We learned things every day and we made a lot of good friends in the process.

Over time, I will use this space to write about some of our adventures in Mexico.  And to make that long overdue journal that Charlie suggested…

What is with me and picnics?   In my book, they are the ultimate form of relaxation.

Let me put some context around what I mean by a picnic.  Picture a lush green rolling hillside.  A down comforter and comfy pillows.  Favorite tunes playing through portable ipod  speakers.  Stacks of magazines.  My camera at hand.  Tom sprawling at my side.  Oh… and the meal:  brie, goat cheese, ciabatta bread, Italian salami, fresh tomatoes, hearts of palm and a little vino.

Of course picnics aren’t new to me.  Graham Family July 4th, '59We had picnics growing up.  Cotton candy optional.

And we’ve had picnics in almost every country we’ve visited…

By the side of the road in Italy.  Fresh tomatoes.  Italian music streaming from a tape player in the car.  Italians passing us and smiling.

Fajitias cooked on the car manifold in route to Guanajauto, Mexico.

And, can you count the many roasted chickens we’ve eaten in hotel rooms?  Pollo arrostito.  Pollo asado.  Poulet roti.  Frango assado.  Delectable in any language.   Perhaps the most memorable is on our balcony of the Eden hotel in Portofino.

But during the stressful summer of 2008, Cows and landscapethey took on a special importance to me.  They became the ultimate form of relaxation.  My way to clear my head and breath deeply.  Every weekend should have one.

And occasionally, an unusually stressful weekday should have one too.

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