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Europe

Hola, Tenerife!

After Saya testing negative the day before a 7am departure, we hurriedly packed our bags for Tenerife. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, and hosts tourists year around on the southern tip of the island. While the kids draped themselves across me for the flight, I meditated on the fact that an all-inclusive resort was less than five hours away.

Upon arrival, Corey and I fell into our routine in Spanish speaking countries. He confidently chats to the bus driver and wait staff while I listen cautiously and supply Corey with vocabulary terms when he’s tripped up in his conversations. Saya learnt that her parents could get through context specific conversations not speaking in English, and started to make her own words up telling us she was speaking in ‘a new language’.

We attempted the central pool though the cloud cover made it a bit too chilly, so the staff offered a randomly small pool on the roof. About the length of a mini-van we were in a large, warm bathtub for our afternoon swim, but because Saya could stand in the pool and we could look out over the ocean, there were no complaints from us.

For some, ‘all inclusive’ means all-day drinking, or all-day tanning, but my definition is ‘all day without cooking’ and everyone can eat what they want. However, the buffet opened just before bedtime so for the first night we went out to get burgers, of all things, and then the kids hit the pillows hard. The evening entertainment was a mini-disco for kids who have a later bedtime, and a couple of drinks in the lobby bar for Corey and me.

The next morning proved to be too chilly for swimming again so we donned our hoodies and went to watch the surfers along the promenade. Sweatshirts and sand take me back to Northern California beaches. I appreciate digging into soft sand, listening to waves, and not being slathered in sunscreen in the hot sun. We visited a black sand beach with surfing waves, as well as little inlet with calmer waters. We went back to these throughout the day, and didn’t look back at the pool.

We found playgrounds, and little places to stop on the volcanic rocks during our family walks. It felt good to have little to do except be together, play together, and nap together. The Saturday and Sunday evening performances were a step up from the previous night’s mini-disco. A Bruno Mars/Megan Trainor act and trio of gentleman singing everything from Funiculi/Funicula to Sweet Caroline become more entertaining as we refilled our glasses, and the stars came out.

The flight home features Sachi and me because Saya and Corey had a really good nap together. And, the girls were troopers the whole way home. Taking a bus, flight, air-train, and finally a taxi would be exhausting for any adult, however, even in these tiresome moments, I think being together kept everyone together, and gave us all a shoulder to rest on.

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L'Etang la Ville, France

The Madamas Meet Sachi

Chez Madama. It’s been two years too long!

I didn’t remember how to take the Eurostar. I couldn’t remember if I had to take out the liquids in my bag, or take my shoes off, or when I was supposed to have my passport to hand, but it I know it didn’t matter. It felt wonderfully familiar to be heading back to France for Sachi to meet our family.

The Madamas take care of Corey and me like they are our parents, but drink with us like peers. And seeing my girls immediately make themselves at home felt too good.

The first day was rainy and cold but the anecdote to that was making cookies with Doreen. We watched Daniel Tiger, sang together, and attempted to walk to a local park but none of the play structures were covered enough to make it fun. Saya and Sachi were smitten with Dee, their dog, and I got to meet David for the first time.

Corey booked his train for the wrong day so he arrived later than planned, but making more cookies solved that immediately. We explored the backyard, met neighbors, and ate a filling midday meal with lamb, green beans, and potatoes.

Saturday, we walked to the local market where Jean-Medard and his neighbors were selling the local beer they’d brewed. Naturally, we taste tested and all three options were take-home winners. The family meal was chicken, sausage, potato salad, and manioc that David brought from Gabon. Everyone had a nap in the afternoon just like Thanksgiving Thursday. The girls did well sleeping in the same room, the inspiration being Sachi waking in the night for just a moment and Saya half-asleep calling out ‘Sachi, I’m here!’ and them both falling comfortably back to sleep.

Riding back into Paris on Sunday, Corey and I were already sorting when we could do the next long day weekend, and I even floated a light-weight plan for Gabon in February 2023 for Doreen and my birthdays! I also can’t wait for the next reunion to welcome back Danae and Mama Margaret, too. The more the merrier at Chez Madama!

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Uncategorized

Castel Campo

Trying to keep track of the moments that take your breath away at Castel Campo is hopeless. Tasting the first spoonful of homemade risotto, hearing Saya exclaim ‘cock-a-doodles’ when she’d collect fresh farmhouse eggs, or simply turning potatoes over in a vegetable patch made my heart swoon. The sheer beauty of the week could be found in Fiavé’s green fields and in the generosity of our friends. No doubt this was the best place to be on our first vacation as a family of four.

Saturday started with a 3am wake up call to make a very early flight. Corey’s efforts to get everyone to take a nap at each leg of the journey were foiled by the sheer excitement of the many types of transport we’d take today: taxi, air-train, airplane, and rental car. While a couple naps were finally had on the drive from Verona’s airport to Fiavé, no one could get over how every turn in the road revealed an even more pristine rock formation, brilliant valley or clear stream. The cyclists were getting the best of the valley by riding the hills and curves and resting at local wineries dotting the road. We arrived mid-afternoon to a farmhouse with a cool tiled floor, and devoured a late lunch of piadinas (I hope it’s ok to refer to these as Italian quesadillas). Adventures began straight away with a visit to the ‘cock-a-doodles’ in the henhouse, and then a stroll to the dairy farm, and donkey pad. Our friends toured us around their barn, cottage and the surrounding fields. Seb made us dinner so we didn’t lift a finger in the evening before calling it an early night.

Sunday’s early morning sunshine warmed our faces as we collected eggs from the henhouse. We followed the route again for the dairy farm where Corey was getting braver by the minute reaching out to pet the ‘wildlife’.

We had lunch off of a winding road between two tunnels so if you didn’t know the restaurant was there, you’d completely miss it. Those who find it are treated to a menu where every single dish is delicious. Every. Single. Thing. For me, it felt like magic with the scenery, the food, the wine and the company all in cahoots with one another. The lunch tasted like vacation.

And then we had our first dinner at Castel Campo! The drive through the wooded forest keeps the castle hidden, and when we arrived at the stony walkway, we still were in disbelief that we were at a literal castle. The castle is a sight to behold and unlike anything I’ve experienced, but those two Adirondack chairs in the center of the green brought tears to my eyes because those felt like home. The first thing I did was nurse both Sachi and a glass of wine in those chairs. I needed this moment of gratitude: for the family camp tradition that raised me in those chairs, for the current memories I was making with my own kids, and the future adventures we’d build together. All of these thoughts flooded into my tear ducts while I took that moment for me.

I composed myself, made sure Saya and Sachi put on another fleece for the evening’s al fresco gathering and hovered around the makings of a Florentine steak dinner. Nonna Mina’s friends brought a feast for the grill, and the kitchen was serving up the best summer had to offer: zucchini and salad and a cheese plate for the masses! Can’t believe this is still only 24 hours into our trip.

On Monday, I felt confident to take Saya out in the early morning for the ‘chickens routine’ on my own. We made eggs together, and then while Sachi and Corey slept in, we met Lia for some swinging at the barn. Our girls playing between meals and naps and glasses of wine…I got a jog in today and found myself perfectly content with intermittent wifi. After Neri’s risotto lunch at the castle, I made a promise myself to cook more Italian food when I returned to London. Then, an evening of garden soup at the barn and a fireside hangout under the stars– how do I say “this is the life” in Italian?!

Tuesday was the lake trip. I’ll say two things: one, I understand the definition of aquamarine now, and two, I thought a unicorn would come out from behind the brush as we walked down the pebbly path. What a postcard! The water was cold yet refreshing, and swimming out to the small island on my own felt freeing. We snacked on the banks and helped the kids dip their toes into the shallow waters. In the evening, Neri made polenta in copper pots that he then wrapped in a towel to serve. It was coarse and perfect with a melty beef stew. I added a shakshuka (made during the kids’ three hour naps!), and Nonna Mina added kale chips from the garden for another wonderful al fresco dinner.

We finally got the official Castel Campo tour today. It’s easy to grow comfortable being in the courtyard, kitchen and garden that we realised on Wednesday we hadn’t had a proper tour. Nonna Mina first shared how the castle’s architecture has changed over time due to renovations, erosion, and keeping it up to date for large numbers of guests. There is family artwork all over. Sculptures made by Sof’s great grandmother, wall-sized portraits painted of members on both sides of the family tree, and Nonna Mina’s own creations which she won’t point out unless you ask. There is also a lot that isn’t theirs but it’s all remained even as the castle has changed hands over decades. The biggest surprise was the self-playing piano with Fats Waller sheet music that we all danced to in a large sitting room. Nonna Mina keeps the grounds herself and shared the hardest time is getting through freezing winter in a drafty castle as a party of one.

How could it be Thursday and our last full day together? We tilled potatoes, cut cavelo nero kale and plucked a few tomatoes from the garden. I went on another jog in the morning, and we had a dumpling soup for lunch. From what I remember, the dumplings are a country dish using old bread and leftovers like cured ham to flavor them. The broth was divine and filled our tummies before another lazy afternoon filled with naps. We ate apericena tonight- a remix of aperitivo that flows easily into ‘cena’ or dinner. That’s one compound word I won’t forget for future Italy visits. We ended the evening with gelato made from the milk of sixteen local cows down the road. I found I didn’t even know what flavor to order Saya since we don’t take her to eat ice cream or gelato. I let her pick her ‘color’ and she selected elderflower. She devoured it all.

Friday was the last day of vacation. We’d pretty much mastered the morning egg collection except this time when Saya went to reach for an egg, a chicken was still in the coop and scared the crap out of her! I would have run too. Sof suggested local lunch at a cute sandwich shop right next to a playground. Sachi had her first swing, and I took a few rides on the zipline. I savored the last three hour nap from our girls before we shared our final castle dinner of risotto with Neri and Nonna Mina. The girls basically tucked themselves in while Corey and I packed up, both of us reflecting on how easy it felt to make this our home for the week. Yeah, it’s a castle.

Gratitude really pulls me through on Saturday morning when we wake up at 3am to do the drive back to Verona airport only to be met with a delayed EasyJet flight. I’m also not mentally prepared for the arrival into London. The masses on the train are out for boozy brunches and I have to bat away the hands that want to pinch the cheeks of my beautiful girls. We’re still in a pandemic, people! But the drive, delayed plane, air-train, and taxi are all over and we’re napping as a family, just happily exhausted once we get home. We started the trip abuzz about visiting a castle. We admit we returned home spilling stories about the castle. Yet, I also returned home knowing it’s not actually all about the castle. It’s the change of pace in the outdoors. It’s rejuvenating to be on zero schedule. Campo, like Toulumne and Samuel P, holds space to recharge and to find joy in family tradition. For that experience, I was simply grateful to be in a new location that brought me back to my roots.

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Corfu, Greece

A Corfu Escape Amidst Covid19

Corey was the motivating force in planning a trip beyond England. Though he booked everything last minute, he was researching family travel abroad on various websites, and through numerous colleagues and friends who’d also been on a recent trip abroad. I needed reassurance, and a clear concept of what the steps would be for each leg of the journey. I purchased water nappies, snacks, and ‘items that stick’ for Saya’s airplane activity kit. Then we posted our out of office messages, and left at 5am for Heathrow on Thursday morning. Saya was an excellent traveler on this leg of the journey. She babbled in the cab, and ate to her heart’s content on the flight. We got her for a short nap as well so she’d be ready for the Greek sunshine when we arrived.

It was clear many British families had the same plans as we did! The majority of the resort guests were from the UK- like 99.9% I’d estimate. We checked into our room, explored the grounds, and found a perfect sized playground for Saya, right outside the main food hall. It was 30 degrees and we couldn’t wait for the sunny adventures ahead.

Each day started with an early breakfast buffet that was followed up by a morning swim at the pool. We’d break for a snack (usually dried fruit or a banana that I’d lifted into my purse from the breakfast buffet), and then hit the playground for swings and slides. We’d be the first family lined up at the dining hall for lunch. This was so Corey could score an al fresco table with a highchair, while I loaded up plates for lunch that always included a Greek salad. We discussed the important point of whether or not a Greek salad was actually called a ‘Greek salad’ now that we were in Corfu. Corey mentioned that the staff all seemed responsive when we pointed and named the salad amongst others at the salad bar, so we concluded we didn’t need any further digging into the topic. We’d have a family nap in our room after lunch before our afternoon swim in the sea. Corey and I decided that we liked the sea compared to the pool, though Saya’s stamina was much shorter than we expected for both. After 20 minutes, she’d want to explore the shore, the rocks, and the little wave pools along the sand. Corey reported that his main highlight of this trip was taking Saya into the sea for the first time as the water was clear enough to see small fish, and warmer than the resort pool.

We would return after a couple hours to shower off all the sunscreen, and be first in line for the dinner buffet. By the way, my highlight of the trip was not cooking any meals, and having watermelon served during every buffet. After dinner, Saya would attempt to visit the playground again, and we were do anything to distract her so we could get back to our room for her bedtime routine. By the third night, we discovered that handing her the room key was the best way to get to her go directly back to the room. Being charged with this important task was the motivation she needed to bypass the slide. It’s safe to say that the highlight for Saya’s trip was likely the playground…and probably having the attention of both parents nonstop.

After she’d fall asleep, we’d turn on the baby monitor and sit outside in the warm evening under the sky speckled with stars. I’d usually turn in earlier than Corey, and he’d wander the resort playing the music trivia games, or checking the resort mini-disco.

A fun coincidence on this trip was a colleague arriving in Corfu a couple days after us and only staying a 17 minute drive away. They picked us up in their rental car, and whisked us through olive orchards, and small fruit stands to their private accommodation! We enjoyed the local taverna overlooking the sea with a serious order of surf and turf for our first lunch together. Saya enjoyed her first taste of octopus and calamari and we couldn’t get enough of the souvlaki.

I supported Corey decision to book later return flights so we could have a full last day. My colleague, and her daughter who is exactly two months younger than Saya, kept us busy with a morning swim at theirs. The pool was inhabited by a small frog which kept us all busy as we swam around one another. We finally got a colander and placed the frog in the bushes so we could have less of a wary swim! We couldn’t say no to another taverna lunch and Saya caught a quick nap before we loaded our gear into a taxi for the airport.

Our journey home started with Saya being carsick all over me, but Corey and I worked together to check in, pass through security, and find our gate, with her being as comfortable as possible. The family bathroom was a gem in the middle of the Corfu airport to say the least. The flight activity bag that I’d assembled was put to good use and helped pass the time between snacks, and a couple of attempts for a second nap (which definitely didn’t happen).

By Heathrow Express, we were all tuckered out. Saya wasn’t inspired by the plane, train, and automobile trifecta we planned for this leg of the journey. She let us know this at various points. But we agreed that a full last day was worth it, and she slept as soon as her head hit the crib when we arrived home.

It took us a week to unpack and finish laundry. The warm memories of Corfu sustained us through a rainy week in London. Corey’s mom said ‘we still have to live life’ when we reported we would be traveling out of the country, and that felt very true on this four day adventure. Corey’s motivation to always live this life to the fullest is what I didn’t know I needed at this time, yet I’m clear it was the exact thing for our family this August.

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