San Sebastian – Where there are no bad views!



Early in the morning our group met in the hotel that we were staying at for the bus bringing us to the seaside town in Basque country called San Sebastian.  It was a lovely road trip through mountainous terrain.  Quaint farms dotted the hillsides with occasional sheep out to pasture.  Our guide was from the town of San Sebastian and graciously shared little tid-bits of life in this particular area of Spain.

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Located in the Bay of Biscay, it is hard to miss the incredible beauty of La Concha beach and the surrounding buildings.  The skies cleared up for the day that we were there and the views were incredible!

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Our tour began at the San Sebastian Cathedral.  Built in the late 1900’s in the gothic revival style, this detailed church is hard to miss as you walk through the old town.


As we meandered through the streets we went through a lovely area called the Constitutional Square.  This used to be the location of bull fights, and the numbers on the upper balconies were boxes used to view the fights.  Today it is filled with quaint shops and outdoor cafes.


Txokolate – also known as chocolate.


I thoroughly enjoyed watching the people of San Sebastian.  They were incredibly friendly, smiling back if you smiled at them.  Several locals stopped to say hello to our guide, and all were helpful to the English speaking Americans.

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We went to an outdoor market of flowers, vegetables and fruits.  The displays were marvelous to see and made even me, a self proclaimed vegetable hater want to bring a few veggies home!


The indoor market focused mainly on fish and other creatures of the sea.  Again, the displays were incredible, and I loved watching the people cutting the fish for their customers.


 We spent the afternoon wandering the narrow streets, picking up nick-knack souvenirs, and trying new restaurants.

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The weather was amazing and it felt good to simply sit and stare at the sea.  Why not?  All part of the San Sebastian experience!

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This is probably my favorite photograph! I could sit and watch the boats bob around in the water for hours!


Our little group! The lovely lady in the center holding her bag is not actually a part of our group, we met her in the hotel lobby and she joined on in when we prepared for a photograph. Why not?


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We arrived in Florence nearing the evening and due to the small streets and the bus being unable to travel to our hotel we got out a few blocks away and walked the cobblestone streets to Hotel Torre Guelfa.

If one is not paying attention one might miss the understated entrance from the narrow street.  This hotel is a castle built within the 13th centuty by a highly influencial and wealthy decendant of the Acciaioli family named Niccolo.  The tower, erected in 1280, was one of the first things that we explored within the walls of the castle and made it to the top to hear the melodic bells ringing throughout the town.

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The first night without hesitation we sought out the local gelato spots for a taste.   There were several around with varying flavors to try.  There weren’t very many gelato spots that we passed without stopping…  lucky us!

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The next morning we met up with our walking tour guide on the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge crossing the Arno river.  The Ponte Vecchio was built across the narrowest part of the river and was once home to local merchants who sold their wares on tables.  If a merchant was unable to pay their debts, their tables were literally broken, the term “bancorotto” meaning broken table, is said to be where the “bankruptsy” concept originated.

Above the Ponte Vecchio and running the length from Pitti Palace over the bridge to the offices where the Grand Duke resided is the Vasari Corridor.  This covered walkway  is a kilometer long was built so that the Grand Duke to go from his home to his offices without having to mingle with the masses.  It was said that due to the horrific stench of the butchers on the bridge offending the delicate nose of the Grand Duke, they were moved off of it and the spots were quickly filled by gold merchants, which we found were the prominent business’ in this location.

It’s hard not to notice the many locks found on the bridge.  The legend suggests that if two loved ones place a lock on the bridge and throw the key into the river Arno below that their love will last forever.  Today, there is a big old fine if you contribute to the romance of a lock on the bridge so it is advisable to skip that tradition.

We came across Il Porcellino in the market area.  This tourist favorite’s snout has been rubbed shiny, by those hoping to ensure a trip back to Florence.  Another tradition is to put a coin in his mouth for luck.


The statues found along our walk through old town Florence were never ending.  The statue of Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli, located at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio is amazing in detail (upper left above).  A copy and exact replica of Michelangelo’s David (lower right hand corner above) stands amid dozens of tourists stopping to take photographs.  The original statue of David was moved indoors to the Accademia Gallery not far away to protect it from the elements.  We weren’t allowed to take photographs of the original indoors, however it was just as incredible as the one out in the Plaza.  Another amazing statue in that same area is that of the Fountain of Neptune, commissioned in 1655.  Each time that you look at it you notice another interesting detail within the bronze river gods and sea horses.



The main church in Florence is called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.  It was completed in 1434 and is considered to be Florence’s most important landmark.  Coincidently it is also the fourth largest church in the world.  The exterior walls are covered in pink, green and white marble creating a striking appearance as you take it all in.  Visitors were allowed to take the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo for the breathtaking view.  I personally sat out that little tour, choosing to soak up a bit of warmth in a dry coffee shop over a hot chocolate as three of my friends made the climb.  You can see my shot of them on the center right handed side of the collage above, they are the three in dark jackets on the right.  The Cathedral itself is amazing, there is a museum and wall to wall art in every direction from the floors to the ceilings.


In the back of the cathedral there is a little leather shop selling a variety of belts, wallets and bags.  We decided to purchase fantastic little leather bracelets and monogramming was available by a leather craftsman.  It was amazing to see the tools that they used as they gently heated and pressed each initial into our bands.


Florence was incredible to visit.  Although it was rainy and cold, our enthusiasm was not dampened as we trod down street after street in search of art, good flavorful food, and history.  I took a moment to rub the snout of the piglet… because I definitely hope to return.



San Gimignano – Lovely Medieval Tuscan Village

Arbitrary Swoon Gimignano

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If you could just imagine the perfect little medieval village in the Tuscan countryside, surely San Gimignano would fit that bill.

Arbitrary Swoon Gimignano

photograph via pinterest

See what I mean?  The warm colors of the earth, buildings and sky seep the essence of Italy that is the quintessential vision appearing when the Tuscan countryside is mentioned.  I could see it all in my head, however what we saw on this particular trip was a tad bit different due to the season that we visited.

As we drove the long and windy road through the snow up to this walled city on a hill it became quite obvious that this stop would be like none other on this trip.  We parked part way up the hill and then proceeded to climb the small hill on foot to the entrance of this incredible stone city.  We stopped for a quick photograph on a walled bridge where you could barely make out the incredible views through the falling snow.

Arbitrary Swoon San Gimignano

The photograph that we stopped to take is during the dead of winter, the photograph on the left is a stock photo of the exact same bridge where we posed to give a comparison of the extremely different views at different seasons. The hot chocolate (aka Momma Wright’s Chocolate Gravy) was the only thing that I could find to warm me up… I lightened it up a bit with milk and it was fabulous!

Within the walls of the city, it is only foot traffic and the stoned walkways are flanked by small pottery stores, gift shops, as well as gelato and pastry cafes.  The architecture is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles and there are 14 towers preserved within San Gimignano of varying heights.

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The Piazza della Cisterna is the main square in town and in the center of it is a well which was the city’s main source of water.  The square itself dates from 1346.  It was unfortunate that it was raining or snowing most of the time that we were there, as we didn’t get to spend enough attention to the details of the town and basically ducked into and out of storefronts for the majority of the visit.

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As we headed off the hill to our next stop I got a kick out of a sign showing the city of Volterra a short distance away…  I’m a Twilight fan and this city is an important location within the series of books.

Our next stop was Tenuta Torciano Winery for a private wine tasting.  I myself am not a wine connoisseur by any means but ‘while in Rome’ or San Gimignano in this case, I was sure to try it all!  They had a lovely spread laid out for us of appetizers and sweets and proceeded to pair up each wine with a complimentary food.  It was all rather interesting how the flavors played off of one another.  I still am not a fan of red wines but the whites turned out to be quite yummy!  I will say that my all time favorite two products out of this particular winery were not wine at all.  I fell in love with their truffle oil & aged balsamic vinegar, they were my absolute favorite and I had a few bottles sent home for future sharing.

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Although the day was long, blustery and quite frankly freezing it was one that I am so glad to have participated in!  Exposure to new and historic locations as well as unusual flavors certainly enriches ones own understanding of different cultures, and that is a huge reason why I love to travel!

NCIS LA Set Visit


The Arbitrary Swoon VeniceEach year, the high school that my husband and I graduated from holds a sports fundraiser called the Mel McLaughlin Wolverine Classic.  Mr. McLaughlin…  or Mel as he asked all of us to call him, was one of our high school teachers.  He is currently basking in retirement but certainly has not become any less of a participant in all of the local’s daily lives.  The man announces the high school football games each week, the gymnasium is named after him, he is the member of numerous charitable organizations and lucky me, I have the honor of singing with him each week on stage at the church.  Of course he was also the first. and only teacher to kick me out of class for talking.  Who me?  Yep.

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A few pics from the Mel McLaughlin Wolverine Classic. Top left is the hubby’s team, below that is me & my friend Becky, humble volunteers for the event, and the handsome man on the right is THE Mel McLaughlin…

At the end of a lengthy round of golf, everyone joined together for a wonderful meal, and then a fun auction was held.  I had my eye on the NCIS LA set visit but we really hadn’t planned on bidding on it.  When it finally came up for bids my husband decided to buy it for me, such a sweetie.  Conveniently the only other serious bidder was one of my friends, so of course I asked her to join me on the trip!

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Did you know that there are actual canals in Venice Beach that are similar to those in Venice, Italy? Here is one on the left above! I also loved this mural on the right… very cool!

I’ve been to Disneyland many times, but I had never actually toured around the city, so it was the perfect opportunity to see it all!  The four of us girls jumped on a tour bus and hit all of the hot spots!

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Venice Beach, CA

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Look at those darling baby huarches!!!

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Had to take a few pics on Hollywood Boulevard… anyone local see the wolverine?

Hollywood sign!  Check out that view!

Hollywood sign! Check out that view!

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We saw a wanna-be Jesus on our drive. The red carpet was being set up for the Billboard Mexican Music Awards… the poor thing was SOAKED the next day in a rain storm!

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Rodeo Drive didn’t really impress me much, and Beverly Hills did have nice signs!

Overall, glad that we did the bus tour, but probably won’t do it again!  After roaming the countryside for hours, it was finally time to head over to Paramount for our NCIS LA set tour.    We checked in at the gate, found a parking spot and followed our tiny map to the lot that we were to meet our guide.  It was kind of cool seeing the Glee cheerleaders roaming the alleyways in their cute little red outfits!  My first impression of the lot was that it just looked like a lot of large storage buildings with miscellaneous golf carts roaming, lift equipment tucked into wide doorways and an occasional random alleyway branching off to nowhere.  We met our guide at the NCIS LA office trailer where she informed us that the cast was still in a reading and that she was going to take us on a golf cart around to see the various outdoor sets.  So, the five of us climbed onto a tiny golf cart that only held four comfortably (sorry that you girls had to be squished in the back!) and zipped on down the alleyway.  So, how things are set up I’m sure is completely organized but to me it was a bit chaotic.  We saw several back lot streets that could host a wide variety of exterior scenes.  Each one runs into the other and I’m sure that I’ve seen each of them in more than one Paramount Studios filmed movie or tv show, as they all seem familiar and I got that deja vu feeling that I’d been there before…

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 The Arbitrary Swoon Paramount Tour

As we drove around we passed a very familiar Glee cast member that I wish I had grabbed me camera to take a photo of, but we were whipping around the corner to the next spot so I missed him.  I’m not sure if my friends knew who he was, as he looked like your average high school kid walking down the street with his earbuds in, ignoring us.  Here’s a pic that I found on pinterest…  some of you might recognize him…

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Yep.  Glee eye candy.  Makes me feel really old when I read that he was born the same year that I graduated high school!  Well geez.

Finally we made it back to the trailer…  we all went a bit goo goo because LL Cool J was just leaning back on the building with his earbuds on, talking on the phone.  Our guide brought us over to him where he graciously signed a headshot, and posed for a photograph (talking on the phone the entire time) with us.  Very friendly man, and might I add… that guy is built like a rock… a very large, muscular rock.  Oh, and his smile was adorable too!  From there we entered the building and headed to the Spanish mission style set where the team works.

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For as much light is filtered into this set during filming, it was actually rather dark when we walked in.  We were shown Hetty’s desk and wandered a bit.  We had another star struck moment when Eric Christian who plays the character Deeks was amusing us pretending to jump over the table & chairs set up for the reading.  The man’s smile is enough to make you lose your thought process, and it was really pretty incredible to realize that he is a gregarious, friendly man who really loves his job.

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After perusing the lower level of the set we headed upstairs to the ops center ‘techy’ room where the details of each case are shared with the team.  There are large screens, phones, computers and looks exactly like it does on tv.  I simply had to sit in a chair and talk on the phone a bit to get the feel of things…  you know, because I could.  I thought that it was a prop, but it had a dial tone… I totally should have called home!

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After roaming for a bit we headed out to where all of the action was happening… well pretty low key action for this tv show which has car chases, explosions and gun fights on a somewhat regular basis.  We walked over to the boat house… yes, THE boat house where many of a bad guy is interrogated until they confess their sins.  It looks exactly like it does on the show… except it’s in the same large building as the mission style offices.  One of the set designers answered our questions… and yes there is water under the trap door.  We were quickly ushered out as they were beginning to film again.  We went to the next room that is usually used as the exercise room.  There are climbing walls, a basketball hoop and various exercise equipment laying around.  We were given tall directors chairs to sit directly behind the producers of the show to watch each shot, along with earphones so that we could hear what was being said.  We must have watched that same scene over, and over for at least two hours!  They took close up shots of each person saying their lines, and then at different angles.  It was truly fascinating to watch all that was involved to get one simple scene filmed.  The coolest part was that each of the cast members came in and were hanging out with us chatting inbetween shots.  They were so friendly and joked around.  They wanted to know where we were from, and of course they had heard of Chico State.  It was comical as they each at different times asked us if we had hit the ice cream truck parked outside.  Apparently it was a big deal that they were there for the day!  We were introduced to the soft spoken, friendly Daniela Ruah who plays Kenzi.  She didn’t have much of a baby bump yet and was truly glowing!  Chris O’Donnell was probably the quietest of the cast but was kind enough to answer a few questions of mine about the recent show he was on called ‘Who do you think you are?’ that traces a star’s genealogy.  Totally right down my alley!  Each of them signed our photograph and posed for a picture with us.

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I think that we were all very surprised at how down to earth the entire cast and production team was with us.  You can see how well they get along, joking and it’s obvious that they are really friends!  If they aren’t then they are darn good actors.   Which they are, so I could be totally wrong (but I don’t think so LOL).  I was sad that we didn’t get to meet all of the cast, but who knows, maybe if we are lucky enough to win another set tour we can meet the rest of them!  It was a wonderful day and as we walked out to the parking lot a cute black Range Rover pulled up to us, rolled down the window and a cheerful Daniela Ruah stopped to tell us that she was glad to meet us and wished us well.  How cool is that?  Oh, and I totally want a Range Rover now… much to my hubbies dismay!   It was a wonderful trip, with wonderful friends that I will never forget.

NCIS LA Head Shots

Getting our gnocchi on in Florence

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It would be no surprise to me that attending a cooking school in Florence, Italy is at the top of many bucket lists around the world.  Italian gastronomy is abundant in flavor, and colors.  It is to be experienced using all of the senses.   I will let you in on a little secret that I have…  as much as I loved to experience the entire package of fine dining Italian style… I have no interest what-so-ever in cooking it.  Gasp if you must, but that is not my gift.  In fact I’d rather wash clothes than cook, and I don’t like to do the laundry.   So when I was told that we were going to a cooking school, I had a tad bit of hesitancy getting excited about it.  Almost immediately I had a backup plan…  food photography.

My friend Pam & I surrounded by yummy ingredients.

My friend Pam & I surrounded by yummy ingredients.


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Following an eventful taxi ride (aren’t those the best kind?) from the hotel we were warmly greeted at the Giglio Cooking School by chef Marcella Ansaldo and her staff.  She graciously outlined the meal that we would be preparing, and the steps involved.  Lucky for us we seemed to have several very knowledgeable people in our group with years of extensive meal preparation experience so we were smooth sailing.  We would be making handmade gnocchi with a mushroom sauce, chicken breast rolls with spinach and Tiramisu for dessert.  Everyone broke off to the area where they wished to begin and went to town!

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The Arbitrary Swoon Gnocchi Cutting

I did my best to stay out of everyone’s way…  I did help a few times, but frankly not much at all.  It was a fun process watching everyone working together and it was a pleasure attempting to capture natural expressions as the dinner progressed.

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Of course I sent a pic to my Instagram account that evening of our fun cooking experience later in the evening.  Note my hands are not actually doing anything!  Heaven forbid I get a bit of potato on my camera lens!

The Arbitrary Swoon Tiramisu

The Arbitrary Swoon Tiramisu

That night, I felt we did experience the full essence of Italian cooking.  It was a lovely affair.  After some bit of time we all finally sat down at our tables, cheerfully toasted our dinner with wine and then proceeded in some fabulous fellowship amongst each other.  It was a night that we will never forget and I am so glad that I was allowed to participate… even if only through the eye of my lens.

The Arbitrary Swoon Cooking Tiramisu

Well Hello Neptune – Bologna, Italy

The Arbitrary Swoon - Bologna Art

As reluctant as we were to leave the lovely city of Venice, we boarded our private coach and headed toward the ancient city of Bologna, whose earliest settlements date back to 1000BC.  I will admit that I knew nothing about this quaint little city upon arrival but quickly grew to love it’s warm terra cotta structures, narrow streets and fascinating marketplace.  The day was a bit gloomy and sprinkled with rain which made the short winding walk to the Piazza Nettuno  quite an adventure.  Bologna is well known for it’s culinary traditions and we were on a mission to find a restaurant recommended by the locals that was sure to share the full ‘Bologna’ mealtime experience.

Well... hello Neptune!

Sweet Neptune!

Perhaps the first thing that you notice in the Square is the incredible, giant fountain of Neptune, the roman god of freshwater & the sea.  Neptune seeps of self confidence and masculinity,  and is surrounded by various creatures, most notably the lactating nereids (which apparently were quite commonplace on statues in that time period).  The piece was completed in 1567.  Unfortunately, due to the freezing cold weather the fountain was not running, but you definitely got the idea of the style of fountain it was by  simply walking around it and looking at all the details.

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The silhouette of Neptune is truly powerful… makes you wonder who posed for it?

We gave Neptune our full attention for quite awhile and then proceeded onward towards sustenance.  Alas we were waylaid again but this time by something a bit closer to home… McDonalds.  NO, of course we didn’t eat there, but we had learned quickly that a clean available restroom was never to be passed by.

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Ristorante Diana

Fortunately, the restaurant that we were looking for was just up the street so we entered into Ristorante Diana.  We were greeted by a friendly balding man with thick dark glasses, and even thicker accent.  We immediately got the impression that this was a ‘quality’ restaurant so we attempted to remain grownups (oh what a struggle!) for each plate.  There were 6 of us and we all tried to order something different and shared a bit with each other.  The best way to do it if you ask me!  I will admit, Italy was a tad bit disappointing in the bread area (see the bottom left photo above)… no crusty Italian loaves were to be found in Italy that we Americans are used to thinking are part of classic Italian cuisines.  In fact the best bread that we had during the entire trip was in an English Pub.  But I digress, the meal was incredible, each bite better than the next.  It was one of those meals to be experienced from the delivery of each dish, the watching of the staff to make sure that we liked it, to savoring a bit of dessert followed by the washing of our hands with warm lemon water at the end of the meal.  Oh, and silly me had to try bologna in Bologna…  I mean I was raised on fried bologna sandwiches so it’s pretty much a rule that if you go to Bologna you have to try the meat!  It was very tasty, not exactly your standard Oscar Meyer blend if you know what I mean?  I Instagramed a quick collage while I was there showing this delish bologna served with cheeses.

The Arbitrary Swoon - Bologna Instagram Pic Rest assured we ate, until we could eat no more and then took off back to the square to walk a bit of it off.  The streets were busy with bundled up shoppers attempting to stay warm.  The square is incredible and surrounded by tall autumn colored buildings.  One museum was covered by large tarps printed to look like the actual building from afar.  We also saw this interesting covering in Venice on building that was under refurbishment.  Through a lovely tunnel under one of the buildings, we could see the marketplace calling us to visit their wares.

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Entrance to marketplace.

  The pathway through the marketplace was a menagerie of sights, smells and delights.  From fresh fruits and vegetables to butcher shops everything that you could imagine lined the walls.  The rain water dripping off of awnings didn’t deter us from slowly stopping at each quaint little establishment.

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The marketplace.

The architecture was overwhelming in Bologna.  Towers, churches, and museums galore!

The Arbitrary Swoon - Bologna Buildings

The Arbitrary Swoon - Bologna Streets

We only spent a long afternoon in Bologna but it was an unbelievable experience.  The simplistic beauty of the tall buildings and stoned walkways will have you just wandering to see what wonders might be around the next corner.

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A bit of bright in a dreary day!

So my family has a silly tradition of taking ridiculous photographs while we travel…  I admit our children have stoically posed their large heads next to the presidents on Mt. Rushmore…  pretended to pick the nose of other well known sculptures (I have boys, this is what get’s them excited about a vacation!)… you name it and we’ve probably posed for it.  Well when the occasion arose to cut Mr. Neptune down to size, I couldn’t resist.  Farewell Bologna…  until we meet again!

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Sorry Neptune, it had to be done! I wonder who that is photobombing my pic? LOL!

Wandering Through Venice – Part 2

A quick snap of a local bringing home the shopping...

Well I admit it…  I have a horrible time finishing projects…  In my mind things appear so much clearer and organized, but when it gets right down to it, I simply don’t have the time to do things as perfectly as in my imagination.  In saying that… I bring you the remainder of my Venice photographs, in their scrambled, rambling glory…  I promise to do better with my other Italian cities…  Enjoy!!


Venice Market -

Venice market - In the Venice market we found a vendor selling horse meat.  Also note the cool green door... many of the door knobs are centered on the doors rather than placed to the left or right side as we do here in America.

In the Venice market we found a vendor selling horse meat. Also note the cool green door… many of the door knobs are centered on the doors rather than placed to the left or right side as we do here in America. - Venice, Italy

I did not see these shoes until I got home and looked at my pics… no doubt I was adoring the lovely yellow walls, shutters and flower boxes so it was a nice surprise! - Venice, Italy - Fabulous display of meats.

Fabulous display of meats. - Venice, Italy - Blossoms at the flower market...

Blossoms at the flower market… - Venice Italy Market - Lovely cauliflower like veggies, not sure what they are called but I loved the shapes!

Lovely cauliflower like veggies, not sure what they are called but I loved the shapes! - Venice Italy Market - More sealife for sale...

More sealife for sale… - Venice Italy Market

Skinned sea life… - Venice Italy

Lovely blue accents on a local Venice building… - Venice Italy

Tourism abound… - Venice Italy - Remnants from the Carnival held the week before we arrived...  saw the same confetti in most of the towns that we visited!

Remnants from the Carnival held the week before we arrived… saw the same confetti in most of the towns that we visited! - Venice Italy - A quick snap of a local bringing home the shopping...

A quick snap of a local bringing home the shopping… - Venice Italy

I loved the woman in the lime green costume… - Venice Italy - Another peaceful canal of calm waters and warm soothing colors...

Another peaceful canal of calm waters and warm soothing colors… - Venice Italy

I’m a sucker for more laundry out on the line! - Venice Italy

Signs… everywhere if you look for them! - Venice Italy

Incredible details on a simple wall… - Venice Italy - Periodically throughout Venice there are steps leading down into the water to aid getting in and out of the boats...

Periodically throughout Venice there are steps leading down into the water to aid getting in and out of the boats… - Venice Italy - Gondolas being repaired...

Gondolas being repaired… - Venice Italy - Hats hanging on a wall at the gondola repair shop.

Hats hanging on a wall at the gondola repair shop. - Venice Italy - These metal door blockades were used to prevent water from seeping into the buildings when the waterline raises periodically.

These metal door blockades were used to prevent water from seeping into the buildings when the waterline raises periodically. - Venice Italy - Sailboat out on the sea in Venice

Sailboat out on the sea in Venice - Venice Italy - More incredible wall art...

More incredible wall art… Venice Italy Basilica of St Mary of Health

Basilica of St. Mary of Health – This is a tapestry on display - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

Basilica of St. Mary of Health - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health Floors

I couldn’t help but to wonder who had walked before me on these floors at Basilica of St. Mary of Health … incredible. - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health More floors...

More floors at Basilica of St. Mary of Health… incredible detail work. - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

I’m just hanging out here… in this building that they started building in 1631… completely amazing place… Basilica of St. Mary of Health - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

On of the several LARGE pieces of art at Basilica of St. Mary of Health - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

More artwork… SWOON! Basilica of St. Mary of Health - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

Basilica of St. Mary of Health - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

Basilica of St. Mary of Health - Venice Italy

Yet another lovely canal… no streets, only canals… just lovely! - Venice Italy

Sweet mustard… - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

Exterior shot of Basilica of St. Mary of Health - Venice Italy - Basilica of St. Mary of Health

Evangelist John statue (up there next to Matthew, Mark & Luke) on the exterior of the Basilica of St. Mary of Health. Venice Italy

Loft living at it’s finest… Venice Italy

I love the little second story garden that they slipped in up there… Venice Italy

Another dreamy path to the unknown… Venice Italy

The view out of our hotel room away from the canal… Venice Italy

Our luggage transportation… Venice Italy

The little bridge outside our hotel room…  Venice Italy - Osteria alla bifora

Our little group at Osteria alla bifora, a small little restaurant/bar… I remember eating roast beef on rocket lettuce (arugula) with strawberries & pomegranates… very yummy! Oh, and check out the table! Old carpenters table, I so wish that baby would have fit into my suitcase!!

Table decorations at Osteria alla bifora. Eclectic little place… there was a dog laying on the floor waiting for his master to finish eating… Murano, Italy

Fell in love with this old building in Murano, Italy Murano Italy

More colorful buildings in Murano Burano Italy

This was the cutest little island in the Venetian lagoon called Burano. The buildings were colorful and it was simply perfect. Burano Italy

Took this pic for the hubby… I found a Boise State cottage! Burano, Italy

More of whimsical Burano…

Friends Josh & Kathryn pose on one of the bridges in Burano… Burano Italy

Can’t resist a teapot of flowers on a window sill… Burano Italy

Outer edge of Burano Burano Italy

More laundry out to dry… this time in Burano… Burano Italy

Burano transportation… Burano Italy

Another cute window sill… Venice Italy - Lovely blue striped mooring poles...

Lovely blue striped mooring poles…


Off to Italy… First Stop Venice, the City of the Canals – Part 1

Venice The Arbitrary Swoon

This past year I was invited by a friend to join a group traveling to the most historic, incredible country in all of Europe, Italy.  OK, okay, so there are many fabulous countries over in that neck of the woods but there’s something about Italy that conjures up images of crumbling ruins, romantic love stories, the warm Tuscan countryside, inspirational art, and delicious food.  It was an easy decision… of course I would love to go!


Beautiful SFO…

 Our trek began Saturday, the 16th of Feburary at the San Francisco Airport where almost 30 of us gathered for a long plane ride over to Zurich Switzerland, where we would catch a smaller plane to Venice.  It was a night flight which I usually love, but let me tell you 11+ hours on a cramped plane is not fun!  A liberal dosage of Tylenol PM did nothing for my achy knees or ability to sleep.  I was seated next to my friends, who didn’t seem to have a problem sleeping, and had a lovely conversation with the woman in the seat to my right about her destination plans consisting of a 20 day African Safari.  I was thrilled when we finally landed in Switzerland where we were all shuffled through security again and then off on the short jaunt to Venice.  We flew Swiss Air and I just have to say, their sweet treat of Swiss Chocolate is to die for…

 The flight was short, and I barely got started on my season finale episode of Downton Abbey when I had to shut off my electronics for the landing.  It was evening in Venice, and with the beauty of time changes, we lost our entire Sunday.  Our travel guide met us at the airport, and after all of our luggage was accounted for {can I get an AMEN?}, we headed down the dark path to the awaiting water taxi’s.  Our group split in two and there were 14 of us in our lovely wood clad boat.  We only had our carry-on’s and slowly filed down into the sheltered area of the boat.  My roomie and I  somehow ended up in the very front area and all I could think was that there were no exits up here, and I’d have to crawl out over a lot of bodies if this baby flips!  I just kept the faith that the Venezian captain knew what he was doing!  It was an interesting ride, this first glimpse of Venice.  We passed several triangular wood piers coming up out of the water, some lighted and some dark.  It was hard to see through the wet window glass of in the dark boat but the lovely glow of the buildings as we neared our hotel seemed so picturesque and exactly what I expected.

Tucked into the boat cover... looking weary after traveling for 24 hours...

Tucked into the boat cover… looking weary after traveling for {what felt like} 24 hours…



My instagram pic of the exterior of our hotel.

 We pulled up to our lovely little home for the next few days, the Hotel American Dinesen, a 17th century palace located in the historic center of Venice.  You’ve heard the term ‘Location-Location-Location’, well this hotel is simply the perfect location, within walking distance to everything that you want to see in Venice, or to the boat that will take you there!  It was close quarters for a while at the front desk as we were each given our keys to the room.  Each key was next to a small screwdriver like tool, and they were attached to a very large heavy brass key ring with the room number on it.  I quickly learned that the room key situation is a bit different in Italy, each day as you go off to your daily exploring, you leave the room key at the front desk and then pick it up again when you arrive back at the hotel.  The staff quickly learn who belongs to what room and many times have it available as you enter the building, no asking!  Impressive to me… as I can barely remember who is in our group!

The maze to find our room was part of the adventure, up a staircase, across a landing into another building, up another staircase, round a corner and finally to our room!  I have to admit, we got turned around and lost several times… but it was part of the eclectic charm of the hotel.  Remember that funny little screwdriver tool attached to the room key?  As you enter the room, to your left is a small lit port where you plug your tool into so that the lights will turn on!  Why?  I have NO idea, but that is how things worked!  Our room was decorated in a venecian style…  a rose mauve velvet damask wall paper, that same mauve in heavy curtains and bed spreads.  The lighting consisted of venecian glass wall sconces around the room.  The windows were large, and opened outward with no screens.  You could see the close buildings next door, the small alley below as well as the canal in front of the hotel.  The bathroom was tiny!  The shower was so narrow that I don’t think that I could have shaved my legs in that puppy!  That’s okay, there’s a bidet, perfect for shaving the legs!  {Groan}  I was happy to see a hair dryer attached to the wall and the towel warmer was a great addition to the room!  Something that we all noticed though out our trip to several different hotels, the Italians seem to have an aversion to fluffy soft pillows and comfortable cushy beds!  Boy they must love traveling in America!

Rosey mauve everywhere!  Except my messy suitcase!

Rosy mauve everywhere! Except my messy suitcase!

 After a quick drop off of our handbags several of us decided to head out to grab a bite to eat and were directed to a nearby eatery called Taverna San Trovaso.  The atmosphere was delightful, the food smelled devine and service was fast with busy workers shuffling up and down the stairs to the kitchen.  It was nice getting to know some of the other ladies on the trip and I thoroughly enjoyed our dinner conversation!  Hard packaged breadsticks were on the table, followed by some fresh breads.  I have to say, I totally expected delicious bread but sadly the majority of bread that we received in Italy was hard, dense and flavorless.  We were asked if we wanted natural or fizzy water {say what?}… and then proceeded to order an antipasta appetizer and then dinner.  Both were wonderful.  My penne pasta with bacon and tomato sauce was quite tastey… but really, when is a bacon dish ever bad?

Yummy appetizers...

Yummy appetizers…


Penne pasta @ Taverna San Trovaso

Penne pasta @ Taverna San Trovaso

Our first morning began downstairs in the breakfast room where we were impressed by the spread available for us!  Sliced meats and cheeses, hard boiled eggs, danishes, croissants, granola, yogurts and the list goes on…  delicious fruit juices and specialty coffee was made to order.  A funny thing that I noticed for the duration of the trip was that Nutella was always available, right next to the butter.  I haven’t seen that much Nutella since I went to Hawaii!  A perfect filling breakfast for our first day of touring!

 By 9:30 in the morning we were off on our 3 hour walking tour, which actually ended up being much longer thanks to our wonderful venetian guide Gabriella Panozzo.  We meandered for miles through historic buildings, ancient churches, over famous bridges and walkways.  I actually lost track of everything we saw, it was both overwhelming and awe inspiring.  Our tour ended at St. Mark’s Basilica where we were left to roam to our hearts content!   I have a habit while traveling to be ‘in charge’ and to schedule every little detail of each trip, but I purposely did no research about the locations that we were visiting because I wanted to just ‘go with the flow’ and experience whatever came my way… which for a control freak like me is kind of hard to do!  I chose to absorb each part of schedule as it came along… no worries… no particular plan…  In hindsight, some things that I would have done differently in Venice would be to take advantage of the webcam set up at the hotel, so that I could have taken a moment to wave at my family online from the street out front of the entrance, and I might have taken better notes of all of the places that we went…  but that would have  been a pain in the neck for me, so I’ll just have to do my research after the fact!



Two gondoliers taking a walk…


I just loved the colors and shapes in this pic…


Bridge of Sighs – Named by Lord Byron, this limestone bridge was the last view that convicts had before their imprisonment. On a lighter note, it is a local legend that if lovers kiss under this bridge they will be granted eternal love and bliss… who wouldn’t want that?


Another shot of the Bridge of Sighs…


Another lovely building along the canals… I so want to see what room is behind those center terrace windows!


Our guide Gabriella told us about this sweet treat called Gianduiotti on our tour earlier in the day so we decided to stop by Gelati Nico to try it out! The chocolate gelato was yummy but the whipped creme was not sweetened {not so good}… Char reminded me of the name, thanks so much for keeping such good notes! Apparently it takes a village to write a blog! LOL! So much more fun this way!


We took a boat to the Venice market and I loved the rich colors of these artichokes!


Lovely flowers at the market…


Spices in a store window… I’m a sucker for a good display!


St. Mark’s Square


St. Mark’s Basilica – the most famous of the many churches in Venice.


Another shot of the gorgeous roofline of St. Marks Basilica. I just noticed the black pipe coming out of the pouring pot… I wonder if that is the rain gutter?


Street shot… no cars on the islands but plenty of everyday people.


There’s something that I love about seeing laundry on the line… {as long as I don’t have the hang it!}


A gondola slips past on the canal…


Closer shot of the details of a gondola.


Our guide is the woman in the yellow hat and was a wealth of information. I could feel myself adding adding the accent ‘aah’ to all of my words after our long morning with her…


Fascinating light fixture that I found on the corner of a building. Amazing.


Taking a quick break from walking for a pic! My hair looks lovely doesn’t it? Just kidding!


A Venice Fire Station…


Canal-side vegetable & fruit stand


Squero di San Trovaso – Boat Yard – This tiny boatyard was established in the 17th century as a place to build and repair the many gondolas on the canals in Venice. It’s hard to see, but I loved the hats lining the wood walls of past gondoliers. I’ve heard that at one time there were over 10,000 gondolas on the canals, but now there are only around 300.


Wall art… nothing is understated in Italy. Go big or go home.


A quick pic of our group during the walking tour…


A pic of little ol’ me in front of the Basilica of St. Mary of Health – also known as Salute – Impressive in size and shape, it is filled with incredible art pieces.


Boy with a frog – designed by American artist Charles Ray and displayed in 2009. I resisted photographing him in his full nude glory, but I do wish that I was a tiny bit lower so that the entire frog was framed by the blue sky. One shot was good enough I guess… that guard didn’t let any of us very close to him!


I am actually not sure what the building is in the background but I loved the view with those funny triangular wood piers that I saw on my ride in from the airport.


A bird on a window flower box…


As much as I loved all of the ancient art available to see in Venice… I rather adored this contemporary piece found in a store window… Let me know of any of you see the name of it online somewhere I would love a print!


Lovely canal view…


A peek through the tunnel…


Wall plaque… incredible details on the smallest of plaques.


From Where I Stand – Bologna




In our family, we have a history of taking obnoxious photos at lovely prominant locations, so I couldn’t resist cutting Neptune down to size… he he he…  It truly is an incredible fountain in Bologna, Italy.

Roadtrip!!!! circa 2008

bison close

Friday, June 20, 2008

On the Road Again…


Last summer we decided to take a road trip to a family reunion in Mount Ida Arkansas, my father’s birthplace. We were excited about getting out on the road, hitting all of the normal highway hot spots. I had planned it all out… we would stop at the Grand Canyon, 4 corners, Cadillac ranch, then hang out at with some friends who had just moved to Texas, and eventually we’d make it to the little cabin in which we were to stay nestled in the Ouachita Mountains. It was a wonderful trip, although I didn’t enjoy sitting in the truck for 10 hours at a time on a few occasions. We managed to touch 12 states in less than two weeks. I took hundreds of photos {none of which have actually been printed out yet}, and relished in the fact that my children were experiencing a once in a lifetime adventure that few children get to participate.
Now fast forward one year… it’s the spring of 2008 and we hear that our brother-n-law Bryan is going to participate in another Iron Man competition in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. Mike & I think, “Fabulous! Another Road Trip!”. I proceed to get on the internet and check out everything from here to there, research all of the places to visit. I order brochures, travel dvd’s and get on mailing lists hoping to hear about the latest and greatest places to stop. I finally narrow things down… we will leave early, stop in Quincy Washington to visit relatives, hit Coeur d’Alene for a few days, and then… since we are in the area we might as well head over to Yellowstone to see all of the natural wonders in that part of the world, and then… you know, since we are already in the area a short jaunt over to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore was not really out of the question… so of course I booked it!
Now… last summer we traveled light… just the truck and the family. This summer… things would be different… we had bought a HUGE 31 foot camp trailer so instead of reserving at a cushy hotel that left us chocolates on our pillows we were looking at RV Resorts {as they are called now – apparently no one calls them RV parks anymore… la dee dah!}. I have come to find out RV Resorts are no small business… not only do they all have pools, internet & cable tv, but some of them even have huge waterslides to attract families {we plan on frequenting one of them in South Dakota in a few days… it was my obligation as a good mother to let my children try one out}. Anyway, things were also going to be different this year because of an addition to the family, our keeshond puppy Shasta was going to be coming along.
In my mind I had everything worked out, how fun it would all be… an opportunity for the entire family to see all of the incredible sights of the north western states… I had however forgotten one little detail that seemed quite small at the time but turned out to be quite large as our vacation plans proceeded… it turns out that my children don’t like road trips. It apparently ruins their summer vacation. {gasp} At this point in their lives they have no interest driving for hours at a time to stop for 5 minutes at a roadside attraction and then drive on… What in the world was wrong with them? Why… those… little ungrateful turkeys! Didn’t they have any idea how lucky they were that their parents wanted to travel with them and that we could afford gazillion dollars per gallon fuel prices. I apparently had failed as a parent creating two boys that could care less that Old Faithful was going to blow every 90 minutes! I quickly got over my anguish of a doomed trip and decided they were going and they would like it! They would surely appreciate all of our attempts at exposing them to new and interesting sights in the future… much later in the future, like perhaps when they have their own children, but nevertheless that day will eventually come. And then… I will bask in the glory of the unwanted road trip that we forced them to go on.
Now fast forward a bit more to this very morning… I sit here in a lovely RV resort, on the banks of the Coeur d’Alene lake (I didn’t think to research what it’s name was!), typing on our laptop, internet signal strong, listening to the sounds of camp around me. The boys & Mike are asleep… the dog finally is back to sleep… but not me. The sun apparently comes up at around 4:30 in the morning this far north and my little internal clock says that it’s time to wake when the world gets light. So for… oh… about 4 days in a row, I’ve waken up early to take the dog out (his internal clock gets up with the sun too), and haven’t been able to get back to sleep. I WILL enjoy this trip though… sleep deprived and a bit grumpy… my back hurts from the crummy trailer bed, and my feet hurt from living in flip flops for the past week. I will go on… because heaven forbid I go over to the dark side with my children and join the ‘ANTI-ROAD TRIP’ club. Send me “happy” thoughts & prayers.
Another note… I have always prided in my ability to take great photos… I don’t think about it I just see it and take it. Apparently my gift is fading because I have not taken a single great photo in the few days that we have been on the road! I have had more beautifully scenery around me within these few days than I have … well since our last road trip! Surely it’s the camera getting old. I’ll post a few pics though… and promise to make an concentrated effort to resume to my normal fabulous photography today. HA HA HA! The photo at the top of the page is our rig… lucky my husband is a truck driver and can drive it like a breeze…

Vista point in Washington that points out the various mountain peaks
Hayden cares not about lovely mountains… and opts to skate near the street.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ironman Coeur d’Alene

Well yesterday was the Ironman… an incredible race that requires the participant (around 2200 men & women at this particular event) to swim 2.4 miles (this massive start of the swim is also called the ‘washing machine’, and as you might imagine Bryan was a bit overwhelmed as he started in the second row). He finished the swim in 1:13:04. The photos show the participants in pink & blue caps ready to begin… and then as they progress into the water. Needless to say, we could not find his blue cap in midst of the masses.

After the swim in 59 degree water, the participants run out of the water, change and then grab their bikes and proceed to bike… oh about 112 miles. AHHHHHH.  {Are they crazy?  LOL}

Bryan managed to bike the course in 5:41:02 averagine 19.07 mph. At the end of the bike ride, he was ranked 373 overall (non-professionals), and his division position was 95 (he is in the largest age division) so he did great! After the bike the participants finished the bike ride, they came in, changed and begin the marathon run of 26.2 miles.

Finishing the running portion 4:20:43 he finished the entire race in a total of 11:25:48 ranking 373 and finishing 95 in his division… not bad for a Chico boy. Good job Bryan.

After the race, all the participates go the the recovery station… some need more medical attention than others. This is Mike holding Casey, with Jenny & Bryan (Casey’s parents).

Overall a great day. Here’s a quick family pic…. more photos to come.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Yellowstone… FABULOUS!

Yea! We finally made it to West Yellowstone, Montana! The drive wasn’t so very bad because the scenery in Montana is incredible! So our plan was to spend two days here but we decided to do the entire park in one day… all day today. Thanks to Shasta waking us up early once again, we got an early start, bought our yearly pass to the National Park system and were off like a herd of turtles (as my sister-n-law Lauren likes to say). There were animals everywhere and after awhile I actually stopped taking photos of the bison or buffalo as I would call them because they are around every corner! Here’s a photo of one in particular that decided to pass by our little walkway which completely freaked me out & I was screaming (quietly of course for the fear of the big guy deciding to charge at us just like the park brochure claims they do) at Mike to turn the boys around and he completely ignores my little panic attack and patiently waits for the buffalo to pass and then we proceed like it was some poodle crossing the road. NUTS!

We also saw several wild goats, elk, a couple of black bears, a fox and an eagle in her nest. It was rather incredible! The scenery was so different from one corner of the park to the other! There are miles of lovely grassy pastures, rocky mountains and sadly miles of park that were previously ravaged by a fire… the forest shows new growth but haunting upright trees remain, bleached and dead. The massive cliffs, valleys and rivers varied throughout the entire drive and fun little mineral pools were bubbling up everywhere shooting steam into the sky. The only way things could have been better were if we were in a convertible little car. Check these photos out…


Hayden checks out the topography of a burned out section of the park.

Above are the boys of course posing for the camera with yet another picture perfect view behind them.

We slipped into the Old Faithful parking lot… walked over to where everyone was standing around and not 5 minutes later she blew! Hows that for timing? Here’s a quick pic!

This was Shasta’s favorite spot… typically a cold weather breed (Keeshond), we pulled over to play in the snow while going over the pass & Shasta went nuts! He dug his nose into the snow, and crunched on it like it was the Gridley Burgie crushed ice (locals understand completely). Poor thing, I hate to tell him he’s stuck with summers in the 100’s and winters just cold and wet. In this photo he’s got his eyes on a snowball that Koltin threw up for him to catch.

So I took about 200 photos and feel like we saw as much of the park as one can in one day. We were supposed to stay tomorrow but have gotten the itch to move on and are leaving for Cody, Wyoming in the morning, just for fun. More photos to come!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Home at last! Home at last!

Yea! We made it home! I lost my computer cord somewhere around Cody, WY, thus the lack of posts. We are so glad that our vacation is over! How sad is that? You hear about folks needing a vacation to recoop from their vacation and that’s where I am right now. It’s taken me all week to get caught up with the business items, i.e. billing, payroll, taxes, bills etc. etc. and my house is getting in order (thanks only to Lorna who helps me clean it). Notice I didn’t mention that our trailer is anywhere near being in order… if the kids can’t find something I just say “Check the trailer” due to the fact that it sits in our drive way in pretty much the same state as it was when we got home on the 3rd… Clothes everywhere, food still in the cabinets, camp equipment lodged in, everything sits waiting for me to have a few moments to unpack. I did however, remove Shasta’s crate and put it in it’s proper place in the laundry room in hopes that once in his old domain the barking and other annoying habits of practice during our trip would eventually fade away. I am happy to say that I was able to sleep in to almost 9 this morning without a peep from him. Thank you Lord!

On the subject of dear Shasta… he did however give me a couple of black eyes and possibly broke my nose this week! Gotta love this dog! Things just keep getting better & better with him! I came home Tuesday night from a meeting at church and immediately set my things down, excitingly asking Shasta if he wanted to go outside… needless to say that he was a bit pumped up at my enthusiastic arrival, he began jumping… and as I leaned over to pick up his leash his head came up under the tip of my nose jamming it into my brain. I’m pretty sure it hit my brain because the pain caused a complete loss of usage, and my only intelligent thought process after hearing a click was to scream “Oh my Gosh” about 6 times (such drama) as I felt my nose swell on both sides. So now I sit, my nose a lovely cast of yellow, swollen, and two dainty little purple smudges under my eyes… Not pretty… And it hurts to laugh or show any facial emotion… It better heal fast because VBS starts next Monday & I will appear a bit spooky onstage singing & dancing looking like I got beat up in a fight. So… I’m almost over it.

Okay so I have a few more photos from our trip… I didn’t mention that my cousin Becky had joined us in Custer, SD… that poor girl witnessed my family in it’s full crankiness and frankly I’m amazed that she didn’t run off in the middle of the night screaming (her bunk was over our barking Shasta… I’m sure only adding to the experience)… I might have if I had a car. Mike kept freaking out over the phone service, Koltin entertained about 200 people at Mt. Rushmore with a fit that lasted the entire hike around the faces… I did enjoy her selfishly… it was wonderful to have another female to talk & shop with! She handled us well. My kids were also impressed with the fact that she jumped right in when it came to taking funny nose picking photos & sliding down the waterslide.

No disrespect to Crazy Horse, but it was fun! The indian photo below was taken in Cody, WY at the Erma Hotel, and of course Hayden spotted a skate park in Custer, SD and had to do ‘his thang’…

I have several more photos but I’m saving them for the Christmas card… ha ha ha!