40 Days of Social Distancing

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We have been practicing social distancing for 40 days now. Today we are also celebrating our wedding anniversary quietly at home. It is a very different world we live in, and it might last longer than we had all hoped … Continue reading

Movies/Shows I’m Watching – October ’18

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I am a seasonal movie watcher. I will only watch scary movies during the month of October. A couple months ago, I tried to watch Winchester, starring the amazing Helen Mirren, but only made it 30 minutes in before I just got too scared. I have decided to try that movie again now that it is October, along with a few others. I also have a couple of series I will be binging on Hulu and Netflix as well.

Series

  • Castle Rock – based off of Stephen King novels on Hulu
  • The Haunting of Hill House – based off of the Shirley Jackson book and premieres on Netflix this month

Movies

  • Winchester (2018)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • A Quiet Place (2018)
  • Mother! (2017)
  • Alien (1979)
  • Aliens (1986)
  • Scream (1995)
  • Jaws (1976)

Do you like scary movies? Are you a seasonal scary movie fan like me or do you watch them at any time of the year? What are you favorites?

20 Years of Travel #15: USA Road Trip

In Memory of my Aunt JoAnn – thank you for housing me at the beginning of this trek around the US and for being a great travel buddy and friend!

The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a road trip in the USA with two of my college girlfriends. During freshman year of undergraduate school in Wisconsin, I became good friends with two girls, one of which was leaving Wisconsin to spend summer break at home in California. My other friend and I had an idea to come and join her in California, and then we would take turns driving back to Wisconsin for the fall term. That idea led to one month of exploring the USA (all places I had never seen before) in the summer of 2000. Here is our crazy and adventurous itinerary (with some old scanned pictures from my film camera):

Arizona

My Wisconsin friend and I flew from Midway in Chicago (sketchiest airport area – don’t get lost) to Phoenix, Arizona to spend time with family members that we had there. I got to spend a week with my Aunt JoAnn. It was the first time I really got to hang out with her just the two of us, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Even though she was working at the time, she did take me around Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. We also took a day trip to Sedona and Jerome. It was in the 100s, but we didn’t mind walking around a bit. There is something to be said about dry heat.

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After a week’s time, I met back up with my girlfriend and her dad offered to drive us to our friend’s house in California – with a few stops along the way. Our first night, we went camping at the Grand Canyon. I was 18 and had never been camping before. It was dark when we got our campsite set up – I was no help as I had no idea what I was doing. My friend’s dad decided that we should go on a little walk (in the middle of the night) to find the canyon. It was so dark and foggy, that I couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of me. Eventually I realized that there was no ground a few feet ahead and that we were actually at the canyon’s edge. I freaked as I am really scared of heights – mostly the falling part, so I didn’t hang out on the edge long before returning to the campsite. I didn’t sleep well that first night. I’ve always been a city girl, so the noises of the wild – coyotes and such – kept me awake for hours. It took me almost 20 years, but I’m a much better camper now. The next morning we drove around the canyon, took lots of pictures, and even walked down a bit before I freaked again (it was terrifying!), and we walked back up. It’s not like we were going to walk the many hours down the whole canyon anyway.

We hit the road again and stopped to explore Hoover Dam on the border of Arizona and Nevada, which is a very impressive dam that was built on the Colorado River in the early 1900s to minimize flooding and generate power. We then cooled off in the nearby Lake Mead.

Nevada

In the evening, we arrived in Las Vegas. I know Paris is the city of lights, but I have to say that sometimes I believe that it should be Vegas, since Vegas is surrounded by nothing but darkness, and then you have this town full of flashing lights from hotels, restaurants and clubs. It is quite a sight to see. We went to the Stratosphere, where there is shopping, food and casinos. Everything is in the Stratosphere. We also had a quick stop to see The Mirage at the Bellagio Hotel before continuing on to California.

California

My friend’s dad was a trooper and drove through the night, while we slept in the car. He woke us up to see the morning clouds of fog over the Pacific Ocean near Big Sur. I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before. We spent the next few days with some of my friend’s family near San Francisco. We got some sun while lounging at the delta and even took a day trip to see the California Redwoods. Then we met up with our other friend just outside of San Francisco in Davis, California. We spent a few days there, went shopping in Sacramento and spent a whole day wandering around San Francisco. Finally, it was time to pack up my friend’s van and start heading back to school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. However, we did make some stops along the way.

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The first stop on the road was Donner Lake, which if you don’t know the story of the Donner party and Donner pass, it is a very pretty place to stop.

Donner Lake

Idaho

While we did stop in Reno, Nevada, as we drove through Nevada, it was not a very impressive town, so I didn’t really even take pictures. I did the drive through the rest of Nevada into Idaho, toward Idaho Falls. Idaho is much more scenic than Nevada with greenery, rivers and beautiful bridges.

Wyoming

Our second day on the road, brought us into Wyoming for our next stop. We would spend multiple days camping at Yellowstone National Park. There are so many great sights to see and great hiking trails. Some of the highlights were: Old Faithful and many other smaller geysers, Mammoth Hot Springs, Morning Glory and swimming in the rapids. We spent a good amount of time searching for interesting animals. I personally wanted to see a bear (from a distance of course), but we had no luck, though we thought we came close with a black cow lol.

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After a few days we headed toward my friend’s family in South Dakota. If you aren’t a Close Encounters of the Third Kind fan, making a stop at Devil’s Tower before leaving Wyoming may not be for you, but it was amazing!

Devils Tower

South Dakota

Once arriving in Rapid City, South Dakota, my friend’s aunt took us around the Black Hills, and then we got to see Mount Rushmore. It is just as impressive as it is in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The skies were an interesting color too, which you can’t really see well in my old pictures, but there was a forest fire nearby that added a reddish tint to the skies over Mount Rushmore.

Black Hills

Minnesota

After our stay in South Dakota, we headed all the way up to visit my friend’s grandmother in Beaver Bay, Minnesota. We decided to camp one more night in a campground in Minnesota before heading toward Lake Superior. That was the oddest camping experience I’ve ever experience (I’ve now had a few outside of this trip), as the campground was completely deserted. There were no rangers to take our money and I don’t remember seeing any other campers either. To date this trip a bit, I had just seen The Blair Witch Project, and that is what this experience felt like, that we were all alone in the woods and would wake up to little rocks stacked outside our tent. We made the most of this odd situation though and built a huge fire and just behaved like the crazy teenagers we were.

Once we got to Beaver Bay, Minnesota, we ventured around the area. We went to Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse, which were all along the coast of Lake Superior.

Then it was time to say goodbye to our adventurous summer of exploring the US and head back for the start of fall term at school in Wisconsin. It was an amazing summer. I am very grateful I had that time with my friends and with all our family members that took us in along the way.

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

20 Years of Travel #6: Lucca, Italy

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with an obvious location, as it was our home for 3 years: Lucca, Italy (in the Tuscany region). This is actually a difficult post to write, because how can I put down into words how much Lucca has meant to us.

I’m going to start with the obvious….
Food/Wine

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My husband and I loved starting every day by going to our local cafes for our cappuccini

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and pastries…normally a cornetto or sfloglia. We would frequent Piccola Soave during the week and Da Sara on the weekends. It is worth mentioning that food shopping can be a bit different there. If you want the best vegetables, you go to the vegetable stands; for the best meat, you go to your local butcher (pictured on the right – preparing our turkey for our Thanksgiving celebration); and for the best “unsalted” bread, you go to your local bakery. The food there is so flavorful and fresh.

You can’t visit or especially live in Tuscany without having some wine! It is really hard to

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find bad wine there. Plus, for €3 you can get a great local wine that would cost 5x that in the USA. The nearby hill-town of Montecarlo has its own wine festival and is home to the well-known Fattoria di Fubbiano winery. However, the hills around Lucca provide some of the best wineries. We enjoyed our trip to Fattoria Sardi, but our ultimate favorite place for wine is the Fabbrica di San Martino. We’ve been there many times and never leave without cases of wine. Even my friend, who is not a wine drinker, found a wine she loves there.13055839_10153604589492986_7423048710852422585_o (1)

Favorite eatery options:

  • Risto-Bar il Caffe on Corso Garibaldi – was a favorite spot for lunch. I BIG hello to the owners: Roberto and Sabrina. I miss your food and company so much!!!
  • Trattoria da Ubaldo – it is possible that you may find a local comic book series that features the owner of this restaurant. He is an interesting character and a favorite with the locals.
  • Ammodonostro – provides a great sharing meal that includes bistecca alla fiorentina.
  • Osteria Miranda – located in Piazza Santa Maria is one of the few restaurants around that serves our favorite San Martino wine.
  • Trattoria da Leo – a favorite restaurant of the locals. Make sure to have the table wine and the after dinner refreshment of limoncello and grappa that is offered to you before you leave.
  • L’isola Che Non C’era – a great place to take a lunch break while your shopping on Via Fillungo.
  • Le Bonta – everyone in Lucca has their favorite gelateria (gelato stand) and this is ours. It is located right outside the Lucchesi walls.

Our second favorite thing about Lucca are the festivals, holidays and celebrations…

Festivals

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During the summer and fall, it feels like Lucca has a festival or celebration almost every day. Drums and flag throwing are included in many holiday festivities. These are some of our favorite celebrations:

  • Luminaria di Santa Croce – a candlelit procession takes place from the Church San Frediano to the Cathedral of San Martino (Duomo – pictured above). This processional represents the miracle of the Volto Santo (holy face crucifix) relocating 17011_10153061958712986_8573529136269828547_nfrom San Frediano to the Duomo.
  • Lucca Summer Festival – a large summer music festival that has brought many bands and musicians. During my time in Lucca, I got to see Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Eagles, Backstreet Boys, the Script, Gary Clark, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz (pictured on the right).
  • Effetto Cinema Notte – a celebration of cinema with musical performances all around the town from movies like Grease, Labyrinth, Chicago etc.
  • Verdemura Lucca – a portion of the Lucchesi wall is set up to sell plants and flowers and other organic products. It always made me wish I had more of a green thumb.
  • Lucca Film Festival – where directors are honored for their work and cinematic features. David Lynch and George Romero were previous honorees.
  • Il Desco – a market to sell local foods and wines.

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Favorite Highlights of Lucca

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So many wonderful things to see and do in Lucca. If you like churches, there are more than a hundred of those in this tiny walled-city. Here are some of our favorite things to see and do in Lucca:

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  • The Lucchesi Walls – Lucca is a walled-city. These walls are more than 500 years old.13407250_10153717328072986_8324403784892229909_n The top of the walls have been converted into a park for pedestrians, runners and bikers to wander around the city. My husband and I use to walk the walls almost every night. My friends and I would also take a walk around the wall after enjoying a hearty lunch.
  • Cattedrale di San Martino (Duomo) – the main catthedral of Lucca. This is also where you can view the Volto Santo (mentioned above).10516688_10152228726137986_4388737566867241416_n
  • Home of Giacomo Puccini – Lucca is the birthplace of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. Puccini created operas such as Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. I highly recommend seeing one of the daily Puccini performances. The singers are just amazing!
  • Museo di Arte Contemporanea Lu.C.C.A. – This is the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art. I got to see a display of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, who was a famous French photographer. The museum did a good job displaying such a large collection.
  • Villas & Palaces – Within the city center, you can visit Palazzo Pfanner and Palazzo13466250_10153717336682986_5258876858347279934_n Orsetti. Outside of the city center, you can visit popular villas, such as Villa Mansi and Villa Torrigiani.
  • Torre Guinigi (pictured on the right) – This is a tower in the center of Lucca that has a botanical garden on the top. It is a bit of a climb but worth it.
  • Lucca Italian School – When I first moved to Lucca, I decided to take a two-week Italian course at the Lucca Italian School. While I was nervous at how intense the classes were, because I didn’t know any Italian at all, I was blessed with a great class filled with wonderful people that I still communicate with on occasion. This course includes classroom work in the morning and then an afternoon excursion (field trip to nearby location) or event (cooking class, movies, etc.). It was a great experience, 1932335_10151990359127986_922716397_nand one I would recommend even if you are just coming to visit for a few weeks. This is the best way to immerse yourself in the town and Italian culture.
  • The Anfiteatro (pictured on the right)- a piazza completely surrounded by apartments and restaurants.
  • Shopping on Via Fillungo – there are many popular and also boutique shops on Fillungo. However, my favorite place to shop is a leather store called Officina della Pella, located right off of Piazzo San Francesco.
  • Chiesa San Michele (see picture below) – This ornate church is located on what used to be the town square. It is nice to just sit in one of the nearby cafes that overlook this church, but on a side note: you will pay for the view.

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If you are looking to explore Tuscany a bit, I highly recommend using Lucca as your main hub, as much of Tuscany is accessible via train from Lucca. It is hard to really describe how much our time in Lucca meant to us, and I hope this post does it justice.

For more information about things to do and places to see around Lucca (mostly day excursions we took), see the following posts:

10 Movies I’ll Be Watching This Christmas

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One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is watching as many Christmas movies as I can. These are some favorites that I hope to see this month:

  1. Elf
  2. Happy Christmas
  3. It’s A Wonderful Life
  4. Miracle On 34th Street (1994)
  5. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  6. The Night Before
  7. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  8. Office Christmas Party
  9. The Polar Express
  10. White Christmas

What are your favorite holiday movies???

Halloween Movies 2017

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my October book display at work

I’m continuing the tradition of watching Halloween-themed and scary movies in the month of October.  My list contains a wide variety of movies that I’m looking forward to.

  • 28 Days Later – George Romero got me hooked on the zombie phenomenon. Someone recommended this movie as someone who enjoys zombie flicks.
  • The Birds – Hitchcock should always make the list.
  • Cabin in the Woods – I always enjoy this movie.
  • The Conjuring – I’m most nervous about this one. I imagine I may be hiding under a blanket during most of this movie.
  • Halloweentown High – Silly Halloween choice, but I’m a huge Debbie Reynolds fan.
  • The Haunting – 1999 version
  • House on Telegraph Hill – 1951 psychological thriller
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show – I just found out that my husband has never seen this movie, so I have to rectify this.
  • Zombieland

Prior to October, I did rewatch the original IT miniseries just in case I decided to go see the new version in the movie theater. Has anyone seen the new one? How is it? What are your other favorite movies to watch at this time of year?

Movies to Get You in the Christmas Spirit

One of the many things I love about the holidays are the films. These are the ones that I will be definitely watching this year:

  1. Four Christmases
  2. Serendipity
  3. Die Hard
  4. White Christmas
  5. The Ref
  6. The Holiday
  7. Love Actually
  8. Elf
  9. Bad Santa
  10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Some of these are cheesy; some of these are action packed; and some I have never seen before. I enjoy them all – even if they don’t have amazing plots or oscar-nominated performances. They have great one-liners and fantastic music. What are your favorite holiday films?

Halloween Movies – 2015

Happy HalloweenIt is now a tradition in my house to watch scary and fun Halloween movies during the month of October. This is the list of movies I hope to watch this year. There are a few that I have seen before and some that are new to me.

  1. Rocky Horror Picture Show – Happy 40th Anniversary! “just a jump to the left..”
  2. Jaws – Happy 40th Anniversary!
  3. Ghostbusters & Ghostbusters II
  4. Blair Witch Project
  5. Carrie – The 2013 version as I haven’t seen that one yet
  6. Shutter Island
  7. The Ward – Can’t go wrong with a John Carpenter movie, right?
  8. Scream – R.I.P. Wes Craven!
  9. The Fly – The original 1958 version
  10. Sleepy Hollow

What are you favorite movies during the Halloween season?

Movies for Halloween

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Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of scary movies. However, I can appreciate the brilliance behind some of the more popular scary movies. Unfortunately I often just don’t like being scared or watching things with a lot of gore. Blood and violence make me a bit queasy. I do make an exception once a year during the month of October. It is my way of celebrating Halloween. The following is my scary movie watch list for October 2014:

  1. Chernobyl Diaries
  2. Rosemary’s Baby
  3. The Grudge – tried watching this years ago and could not make it through.
  4. The Woman in Black
  5. The Children of the Corn – definitely the 1984 version which I saw when I was probably too young to be watching movies like that.
  6. Paranormal Activity
  7. Cursed – this list had to include a Wes Craven movie.
  8. Psycho – the 1960 version. This list also had to include a Hitchcock (the Master of Suspense).
  9. Halloween – the 1978 version. I personally believe this is the best Halloween movie every made. I watch it every year.
  10. The Orphanage – (El orfanato) Spanish film

Out of all the movies listed above, I have only seen three of them all the way through. This will be a scaretastic month!

What are your favorite scary movies?