Tuscany, Florence and Pisa

The trip to Italy was about to leave Rome, and we were headed to Tuscany where the landscape changed. Even while just looking out of the window of the van as the country side zipped by you could see the beauty of Tuscany. Marco pointed out the olive vineyards and grape vineyards–both of them were beautiful. Another thing that we noticed was that cars were getting larger. In Rome it seemed like everyone drove something similar to a Smart Car and/or a scooter. On the way to Tuscany, the cars became larger, and scooters were not seen very much.

I’ve been to beautiful wineries in Texas, Napa and Mendocino, but Tuscany was always on my radar–it lived up to my expectations. From the moment we entered the gates to Tenuta Torciano I was in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. The only thing missing was Diane Ladd.

After being greeted and given the history of the beautiful property, we were off to our wine tasting. The setting let us know that this would not be your run of the mill tasting. First of all it was set outside under a huge tent. The tables were beautifully set with each setting having a plate that had food that you were instructed to match with each wine. I have always been under the impression that if you like it, then you drink it.

The tasting was a lot of fun with everyone picking out their favorite wine. Then we had the honor of eating even more when they bought out what the host called “his mama’s lasagna”. With this dish he served a wine that he called the “Big Boy”.

The wine, food, olive oil and balsamic vinegar were all good, but the host made the experience even better. We even had fun with another group that was from Canada. Good food, excellent wine and great conversation made for an amazing experience.

Our next stop was to the the quaint looking town of San Gimignano. It seemed that each store had some likeness of Pinocchio in their windows or showcase. It was here that I finally purchased items that were needed (my luggage was still somewhere else).

After a leisurely walk through the town, we were on our way Impruneta which is a few miles outside of Florence. We would stay at the Bellavista Hotel in Impruneta which was situated in a neighborhood that was easy to walk around and see the sights. The Hotel Bellavista had a great rooftop where you could enjoy a glass of wine and look out over the town.

Florence was crowded with people, but not all of them were tourist. As soon as we stepped out of the van, we ran into a protest–it was very organized and seemed more like a parade. Florence is filled with great sculptures many of which are located in Piazza della Signoria. Most people would probably say that the replica of David was their favorite, but I think that my favorite was the one of Neptune. It’s just how he is looking at David–you have to see it to understand it.

Now many people go to Florence to shop for leather and jewelry, and there was no shortage there. ln fact so many people in our group purchased items that they shipped them home. There was so much that it all seemed to go together. The crowds seemed to grow larger because there was construction and preservation work everywhere. One of the highlights to Florence was an amazingly simple salad that we had. It featured watermelon, avocado, red onion, feta cheese and a little something drizzled over it. It doesn’t sound like it should go together, but it did. I’ve even made it since I have been home. We did have a Russell Crowe sighting–I only saw him walking away.

After two nights in the Hotel Bellavista we would be on our way to visit the city of Pisa. Before we were to leave Imprueneta there would be a Farmer’s Market in this huge parking lot in front of the hotel. My cousin and I took a quick look at the Farmer’s Market as they were setting up. There was the most beautiful fruits and vegetables that we had ever seen. The stems were still on the plants. There were food trucks starting to cook their foods. You could purchase clothing, cosmetics, plants and so much more. Our one regret is that we had to leave before they finished setting up.

Our visit to the town of Pisa was just that–a visit. A choo choo train took us to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Cattedrale di Pisa, Piazza dei Miracoli and more. One thing that we discovered was that after we saw the sites, we could just walk through the lovely area around it which had horse drawn carriages, restaurants, shops and more.

We had experienced wine, more wine, food, shopping til we dropped, history and more. It was time to move on to our next stop.

There is a disclaimer that I forgot to mention. All pictures of me are makeup free–it was in my lost luggage. So remember “thisisyourbestyear” you can get a natural glow without cosmetics.

**A special thank you to Ms. Fallon Alford for allowing us to use some of her photos. Fallon is a full time educator in Atlanta, Georgia who freelances as a photographer.

Girls Trip To The Land Of Enchantment–Santa Fe, New Mexico

Going on a girls trip can be one of the best experiences, or it can be one of the worst ones that you can have. I have been very lucky, each time I have had a great time. Maybe it’s the girls I go with–they pick out amazing places, great hotels, fun activities, wonderful food and much more. Santa Fe, New Mexico did not disappoint even with the chilly rain on the first night there. My youngest daughter planned a great getaway.

We stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe, Hacienda & Spa which we both loved from the moment we arrived. It had that beautiful southwestern look. that I absolutely love. It is not a large hotel which made it a friendly place, from the front desk, to the bartender, hostess and beyond. Our room was comfortable with windows we wanted to be able to open (next time).

We sat in the lounge with its hugh wonderful fireplace which made it easy to talk with others as we all enjoyed the feel and smell of it. Nobody wanted to leave.

Our only full day started early with me going to have coffee and learn about the history of Sante Fe, New Mexico. The talk was given by Tours U Design with Nat Shipman leading the discussion. I am a history buff so this was right up my alley. They offered a tour, but I had other plans to see the city with my daughter.

The hotel runs shuttles on request that take you to the downtown area of Santa Fe where they dropped us at the Niman Gallery and the True West Gallery. There are so many great galleries in Santa Fe that it kind of makes it hard to pay and go into a museum. There were great paintings, sculptures, jewelry and more. Photos were allowed in some, but not others. Almost every weekend there is some sort of show in the downtown area, and this weekend it was the lowriders which my daughter loved. I even got into it. You can purchase native american jewelry from the locals while listening to local bands in the park. Santa Fe can be a walking place.

The choice of restaraunts is outstanding, you name it they have it except seafood. We couldn’t find a recommendation on one. There was a concensus that we try authentic New Mexico Food at Tomasito’s on Friday night. It was amazing, and we got there just in time. As we were leaving the line was out of the door in the rain. Lunch the next day was at this cute place called La Casa Sena that on my only other visit to Santa Fe my husband and I had visited. Since I love to sit outside it was perfect. The salads were yummy. Even with all of the walking we did during the day, our dinner was lite at a quaint Italian place called Andiamo. Everything looked great, but we settled for appetizers and even then we walked back to the hotel trying to walk off calories.

We did not have the opportunity to go to Ten Thousand Waves Spa (I hear they have a restaraunt now). This place is amazing, it is beautiful and the staff in fantastic. I had the opportunity to visit it a couple of years ago. You can even get your own personal hot tub. It has me spoiled, I can’t do the Asian spas anymore–I’ve had the best. Once you have gone to Ten Thousand Waves you can never go back to the chain spas.

On the way to Albuquerque to catch our flight, they even sent us off with a hot air balloon show.

In less than 36 hours Santa Fe, New Mexico proved to be enchanting. It made for a great girls weekend. As women of a certain age, we keep flying high and reaching for the sky because we know “thisisy(our)bestyear”.

What I Gave Up For Lent

Yep, I’m fasting–not eating meat from Monday through Friday, and only a small amount on Saturday and Sunday. You know for Lent you are asked to give up something, and most people give up some form of food. Does it bother me, not really, but kind. You know what I mean when you give up something then you tend to want it even more. I even went to the world famous Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with their huge sandwiches, and ate a green salad. Who knew they put French fries on their salad and name it a Pittsburgh salad–there is justice in the world.

Our visit to the world famous Primanti Bros
in the Strip District.

I not only gave up some form of food I decided to give up something else. Something that I have been talking about for years. I decided to give up self-doubt and second guessing myself. Even as a woman of a certain age I still have self-doubt and continue to second guess myself.

Not eating meat has led to some changes in my diet and in my overall health. Has the cutting back on the consumption of meat (in this case it does include fish and poultry) caused me to have weight loss–no, but I haven’t gained any either. I’m still maintaining.

But the elimination of self-doubt and second guessing has made a major difference in my life and attitude. It’s a freeing feeling, one that is hard to explain. It’s a good feeling.

Some people have given up shopping, eating sweets, eating fried foods, eating carbs–food, food, food. This guy told me he was going to give up exercising. The problem being he doesn’t exercise. Years ago a minister said maybe we should give up something other than food–something like maybe gossip so I tried giving up self-doubt.

Will I ever have self-doubt again? I’m sure I will, but it will quickly disappear because I’ve learned to control it. Will I ever eat meat again on Monday through Friday–you betcha. But I really don’t miss it.

As women of a certain age, we need to be in control of our lives to make them better. What are you giving up to make your life better? By the way in addition to giving something up, you are to pray/meditate more. Maybe that’s the reason I can conquer self-doubt and second guessing myself.

Remember “thisisyourbestyear”. Instead of saying what’s the worst that could happen, ask yourself what’s the best that could happen–then make it happen.

Fashion, Food, New And Old Friends

What do you do when you are on your way to one of the most amazing runway shows this side of New York or maybe Paris? You make a stop that has been on your to do list.  First of all you take back the rental car and exchange it for a pickup.  We like to sit up high (thanks Enterprise Rental), and then we hit the road to Austin, Texas to cover Austin Fashion Week–Fashion X Austin and their Celebrating Texas runway show.

On the way we decide to stop at Magnolia Farms and see what Chip and Joanna have done to the place.  After window shopping for a while we were a little thirsty so we decided to go get some original Dr. Pepper at the soda shop next to the Dr. Pepper Museum.  Yes, it does taste different than the regular ones.  Then we were off to Austin, Texas.

This was our second time covering a show at Fashion X Austin, and this was being presented at the Austin American Statesman building.  At first glance you think that it can’t be a lot of difference between Austin and Dallas, but there is.  There were vendors in the gallery, free food and drinks and even photos to be taken.

All of the vendors, food and drinks were staged along the walls of the room which made it seem easier to walk.  The runway was set in the middle of the room with raised seating on each side which made it easier to see and even to take pictures and record the show.

Now most shows don’t want you to talk, but not Austin, they want you to be loud, show your love for the designers and all of their hard work.  The people who came to celebrate the designers of Texas did just that.  It kind of reminded you of the excitement of Friday Night Lights–no band, but still great music.

From the beginning it was not your typical runway show.  The first models to come down the runway were not professional models, and Texas designers did not dress them. They were modeling for the ARC of Texas and Nordstrom’s Department Store provided the outfits.  Austin was electrified.  Showering the models with love and respect.  It was great.  Even those who were so shy as they started their walk down the runway gained so much confidence as they continued their way.  We love Austin for this part of the show.

The excitement continued as each designer sent their models down the runway.  There was no polite applause, there was stadium sized enthusiasm which made it a great experience.  Austin does fashion different than most, but it is a good difference. 

After the show there was a party given at a local hotel with the models, and designers among the many guest.  They did it Texas style.

Since we were in Austin, we wanted to eat like the locals, but semi healthy.  Friends told us to go to Jack Allen’s a farm to table place.  It was funny, but we knew we couldn’t go wrong when our server informed us he was from Fort Worth. Great food and great service. While eating we were still discussing our favorite designers from the night before.

After lunch we decided to see the sights of Austin, but not the usual sights, we decided to walk the trails of Mount Bonnell which overlooks the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River.  They say it is a popular tourist attraction, but neither of us had ever been. 

We met up with old friends.  Some we were able to see and sit and talk with for a while.

On Sunday we were going to sleep late, and then catch breakfast and head back home, but we were invited to attend church at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and we accepted. It was a spirit filled service lead by Rev. Gaylon Clark. A big church with a small church feel.  Meeting the minster and the members was a blessing that we enjoyed.  Then off to lunch with a friend for more great conversation.  Finally off we went–home. 

We saw great fashion at Austin Fashion Week, ate great food at Jack Allen, fun exercise at Mount Bonnell, wonderful church at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist, and did we forget to say wonderful bed pillows at the JW Marriott. I could go on and on about the pillows since I have not slept on one for over 10 years until Friday.  The best pillows ever.

Remember “thisisyourbesyear”.  You can put a lot of enjoyment into one weekend. Work can be fun!

I Went To A Garden Party

I keep singing the lyrics “I went to a garden party”.  It was set in the beautiful Garden of Eve at the home of Stephonia W. Roberts. I can honestly say I know why she named her backyard paradise the Garden of Eve–it was breathtaking.

The sign informed all guests to enter through the gate, and it seemed that you left the outside world outside when you entered.  Nature had decorated with so many plants and trees that not only shaded but served a health purpose.

Stephonia is the ower of Mrs Jacks Body Food, she is also an author and extraordinary spoken word poetess.  Her expertise in all things natural was on full display as she walked through her garden.

The atmosphere was that of ease and coolness in the hot Texas sun which had somehow given way to a cooling breeze, but Stephonia had natural cooling towels in case anyone needed them.  The seating areas were placed throughout the garden, but most of the attendees started off by walking the garden paths and discussing the many beautiful plants.

When the hors-d’oeuvres were passed, we were informed about the natural ingredients that were prepared so deliciously.  There were mocktails that were refreshing, and also cocktails that were light to the taste.  It seemed that God had cooled off the garden just for that moment.

The Garden of Eve was a wonderful way to end the day with great conversation, wonderful food, drink, and information.  But more than anything it was great to end the day in beauty and tranquility.

Remember “thisisyourbestyear”.  Create your Garden of Eve to focus on you.

 

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