Sunday, March 31, 2013

Markets of Paris

     I enjoy visiting the markets in Europe, because they allow me to meet the people as they go about their daily lives. Since Paris has so many markets, I figured I'd better have to have a plan for my upcoming trip.  
     I recently purchased the book Markets of Paris Second Edition, by Dixon Long & Marjorie R. Williams. It's 300 pages of every kind of market you could imagine. There are markets for food, antiques, crafts, books, fabric, name it, it's there.
     This book is organized by arrondissement. Each listing shows the market type, name, Metro stop, date/times, as well as a brief description of the market. There are many pictures throughout the book to entice you.
     Included is a section of restaurants, as well as helpful books, blogs and websites. In addition, there are two maps with the markets plotted, to give you a good visual idea where they are located. The copyright date is 2012, and the size of the book is only 4 x 6, so it's current and small enough to pack. 

     I'll be taking this book to Paris. I'm sure I'll be checking out the museums, but the markets are where I'll really learn about the local culture. I'm so excited!
     When you travel, how do you learn about the local culture?

Source: Image

Friday, March 29, 2013

Introducing Buttercup and Meatball

     I’d like to introduce you to my precious little English Bulldogs, Buttercup and Meatball. Aren’t they cute? I am head over heels in love with these dogs. They are sweet, gentle, make me laugh, and are always happy to see me.
     Buttercup (on the left) is almost 4 years old and follows me wherever I go. She likes to lay right by my feet, and follows me from room to room.

     Meatball is 4 ½ years old and will do anything for a treat. As soon as the sun goes down he’s ready to call it a day and will give me a low growl until I put him to bed. He likes me to shut him in his house (wire kennel) so Buttercup won’t disturb his beauty sleep.

     They bring great joy to my life.
     How about you? Do you have pets you love?


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Paris Travel Planning

     As I’ve previously mentioned, Marc and I are going to Paris in May. WooHoooo...let the planning begin! Here are the books I’m using to help plan our trip. They both have lots of information about places to see and things to do, along with practical information about how to get around. There also is a very useful section on French words and phrases. In addition, there are plenty of maps and pictures…I need pictures to get my attention.
     These books, along with suggestions from my friends at Slow Travel are what I’m using to plan a fun trip to Paris.
     What do you use to plan your trips?
Source: Image_1, Image_2

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Do You Hulu?

     Yesterday I mentioned that we canceled our $79.99 a month cable TV and added Hulu for $7.99 per month. In the past we’ve heard about Netflix and Hulu as an alternative to cable, but never did anything about it.

     We decided to research these alternatives partly because we were looking for ways to save money, and also because there are only a few shows on cable that we actually watch.

     In my opinion, Netflix and Hulu are both good ideas. Netflix seems to have more movies and Hulu appears to have more TV programs. Since we have many movies on DVD, we decided to go with Hulu.

     We’ve been using Hulu for a few weeks and I feel liberated! Now I choose what I want to watch, and when the program ends I get up and do something else. I no longer get caught up in the mind-numbing trap of sitting in front of the television. If I want to watch TV, I have to make a conscious decision to watch a specific program.

     Not only are we saving money, but I have so much free time I was finally able to start my blog.

 So tell me…Do you Hulu?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Taking a Good Hard Look at How We Spend Money

     With talk of the Sequester being implemented in the near future by the US Government, many people are re-evaluating how they spend their money.

     Whether there’s crisis or not, I think it’s a good idea once in awhile to take a good hard look at how we spend money. Here are a few adjustments we have made at our house.

  1. The bill was $79.99 a month for cable TV. We canceled it and added HuluPlus (more about this in another post) for $7.99 per month.
  2. Go to the grocery store with a list and stick to it. This helps us not load the basket with every goody we see. It also helps us avoid returning home with tons of food, but nothing for dinner.
  3. Cook at home…what a concept! Now that we have the proper ingredients in the pantry we actually cook, instead of going out so often. This saves a lot of money and the food is much better at home.
  4. Only purchase food we intend to eat in a certain time period. This helps us not buy things that get lost in the back of the fridge and pantry. You know, like the cake mix that has an expiration date of 2009, or the Tupperware with the mystery food at the back of the fridge.
  5. Portion control…we now cook for two instead of five. If there are leftovers, we eat them!
  6. Pay attention to the cost of gas and adjust driving habits. Now we use the internet or telephone instead of driving to the other side of the city to see if Best Buy has a particular movie.
  7. Amazon is a great way to save money on books and many other products. Quite often the postage is free.
  8. Replace light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs and join the energy saving program offered by the local electric company.
  9. Re-evaluate home and auto insurance. We were happy to find that we already had great coverage at an affordable price.
  10. Refinance mortgage at a much lower rate. Although our payment went up slightly, we were able to lower the interest rate so much we went from a 30-year to a 15-year mortgage. WooHoooo…can you say happy dance?
     With these changes we are saving money and time…and the food is better. I’m sure there are many other things we can do in addition to the few I’ve mentioned. I’d love to hear about them.

     Do you have any tips on how to save money?

Monday, March 25, 2013

How About a Midnight Dessert Buffet?

     My good friend, Tracy, is preparing to go on her first Caribbean cruise. This got me to thinking about cruising. One of the things I really enjoy is the midnight dessert buffet. One day during the cruise you’ll hear the buzz all around the ship about the buffet. The only catch is you have to be able to stay awake till midnight, which sometimes is hard to do.

     At midnight, everyone is allowed to view and take pictures of the food. There are tables full of every kind dessert you can imagine and they are like tasty pieces of art. After the viewing, everyone gets to eat.

Don’t they look AMAZING?



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Introducing Baby Keira

     I’m thrilled to announce the newest addition to my family, Keira Marie. She is the first child for my oldest son, Keith, and Patricia. This picture was taken just two hours after she was born.

I think she’s a keeper!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Big Green Egg

     Have you ever heard of a Big Green Egg? It’s a ceramic cooker that can grill, smoke and bake. High temperature grilling is quick and easy, and slow smoking can be achieved even at a low 200 degrees. The Big Green Egg bakes bread, casseroles, cobbler and pies…even pizza! The air-tight ceramic cooking chamber retains heat and keeps food moist. What a great idea!
     Marc has been drooling over the Big Green Egg for over a year, so I bought him one for his 50th birthday.  His birthday isn’t until August, but I gave it to him early so he can have the whole grilling season to use it. I’m excited to taste his creations.

     Happy grilling, Marc!

Friday, March 22, 2013

How I Decorate My Walls

     When Marc and I purchased our home we wanted to find a way to make it interesting and unique. We have 10-ft. ceilings, so covering the walls was going to be a challenge. We LOVE to travel, so we decided to fill our walls with our own photos.

     This has turned out to be a fantastic idea! Everyday we walk through the house and are reminded of the places we’ve been and the great moments we’ve shared.

Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Mercato Centrale(Central Market) in Florence, Italy

A canal in Venice, Italy

A window in Venice

Gondolas in Venice
      I have to admit there is probably one wall-worthy photo for every hundred we’ve taken, but it sure is fun to find the “one” and choose just the right place to hang it.

      How do you decorate your walls?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Italian Days Food Experience – Part 3

     Our third stop on the Italian Days Food Experience was at Villa San Donnino in Modena, where we learned the secrets of the famous Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP. This is not the kind of “balsamic” you buy in the grocery store. This is a single family producing small amounts, using the ancient technique of aging local wine in oak barrels, as their family has done for generations.
     This product is protected by The Consortium of Producers of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, and can only be bottled after passing a series of tests by a board of expert tasters, in 100 cc bottles, the only legally approved bottle to be used by all producers. Each individual bottle is numbered and sealed. The Consortium also keeps a sample from each batch of bottles as a guaranty of the quality of the corresponding bottle lot. To be certified Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP, it has to be a minimum of twelve years old.
     We had the opportunity to taste 5-year balsamico and compared it with 15 and 45-year balsamico. It was so good we ate it on homemade gelato…YUM! We also brought home several bottles for our pantry.

     To cap off the day, Alessandro took us to a countryside trattoria, where we were served a “light lunch”, which consisted of more fabulous food and wine than I could eat in three days! When we were finished eating, we were delivered back to our hotel in a food coma, to take a long nap. It was a wonderful day!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Italian Days Food Experience - Part 2

     The second part of our foodie adventure with Italian Days Food Experiences took us to one of the best prosciutto producers in the region. This family owned business has been committed to the production of Prosciutto di Modena DOP for over three generations. This particular prosciutto is equal to the more famous Prosciutto di Parma, but without the same name recognition, since it’s produced within the city limits of Modena and not Parma. To carry the DOP designation it is subject to the same food regulations.

     We learned about the entire process of creating one of the most delicious pork products in the world.

Here is our guide, Alessandro, teaching us about the strict quality testing requirements.

This is just a small portion of the hanging Prosciutto…I wish it was legal to bring THIS home!

     At the end of our visit we enjoyed fresh slices of prosciutto.  They kept bringing it, and we kept eating it. It was so good!

     Tomorrow I’d like to share the next part of our “Foodie Tour” to a traditional “Acetaia” to experience the secrets of balsamic vinegar.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Italian Days Food Experience – Part 1

     The Emilia Romagna region of Italy is well known for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, prosciutto and balsamic vinegar. On a trip to this region we enlisted the help of Alessandro from Italian Days Food Experiences, so we could get a better understanding of these amazing products. This post is about Parmigiano Reggiano DOP cheese.

     Our day required an early wake-up call, so we could be at the small organic family factory in the Emilia Romagna countryside right after the morning milking.

     We witnessed the entire process, from the crafting of the curds by the master cheesemaker…

to the salt bath…

and the final aging process.
     The morning was capped off with a breakfast of freshly made warm ricotta, along with some sweet Lambrusco and plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano. It was so good I bought five pounds of cheese to bring home!

Stay tuned... tomorrow I'd like to tell you about the prosciutto factory.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bottega Vignoli

     On a recent trip to Italy, Marc and I made a special stop in the town of Faenza to meet the Vignoli sisters, Saura and Ivana. They are ceramic artists who create pieces in the traditional “Faience” style, with a twist. “Faience” refers to pottery that incorporates a tin oxide glaze on white earthenware pottery, but they are using copper oxides instead of tin. The results are AMAZING!

     When we arrived in Faenza, we walked in the rain from the train station to their studio, not fully aware just how far it was from the station. Saura and Ivana greeted us with such a warm welcome that we forgot we were cold and wet.

     Ivana demonstrated her painting skills as we watched her create her beautiful fish on a small bowl. We knew right then we would be going home with some of those fish.

     Saura gave us a tour of the studio and workshop, explaining all the processes and techniques. Then we went upstairs to the showroom. It was like the Holy Grail of pottery…one beautiful amazing fabulous piece after another! We were drooling and wanted to take everything home with us. The only thing that brought us back to reality was when Saura told us they didn’t accept credit cards. We figured out how much cash we had in our pockets and decided on one large piece. This is Saura holding our new fish vase. What do you think?


     Saura carefully packed and shipped the vase for us, then gave us a ride back to the train station. Two weeks later, our package arrived at our home without a scratch.  

     You can see more of this unique pottery at Bottega Vignoli.

A Party for the Princess

My precious little granddaughter has just turned three. 

This is Preslee before the party...
...and here she is after the party.
Happy Birthday, Preslee!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day

  On St. Patrick's Day people drink green beer and eat green food. We even wear a bit of green, or run the risk of getting pinched. Here are five things you may not know about St. Patrick's Day.

St. Patrick Was Not Irish
     His birth name was actually Maewyn Succat -- it wasn't until he was in the Church that it was changed to Patricius, or Patrick. St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, was born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, which is in Scotland. As a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and enslaved as a shepherd for several years. He attributed his ability to persevere to his faith in God.
Did St. Patrick Drive All the Snakes Out of Ireland?
     Despite the popular lore, St. Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland because the island did not have any to begin with. Icy water surrounds the Emerald Isle, which prevented snakes from migrating over.

Green may be the national color of Ireland, but the color most associated with St. Patrick is blue.
     The Order of St. Patrick was established in 1783 as the senior order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Ireland. The color associated with the honor needed to differentiate it from the Order of the Garter (dark blue) and the Order of the Thistle (green). So they went with blue.

Largest St. Patrick's Day Parades Are Held Outside of Ireland
     The first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in the U.S. The Irish have been celebrating the feast of St. Patrick since the ninth century, but the first recorded parade anywhere was in Boston in 1737. The parade was not Catholic in nature, though, because the majority of Irish immigrants to the colonies were Protestant. Ireland did not have a parade of its own until 1931, in Dublin. Even today, 18 out of the 20 largest St. Patrick's Day parades are in the states -- New York's is the largest.

Shamrock Used to Explain the Holy Trinity
     St. Patrick used a three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to pagan Irish, forever linking the shamrock with him and the Irish in the popular imagination. He would tie shamrocks to his robes, which is why the color green is worn.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Information courtesy of  ABC News
Image (source)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Food Network Magazine

     Today I received my new copy of Food Network Magazine. 

      I look forward to each edition, because it's always jammed packed with tasty new recipes, as well as handy tips and all the latest gadgets. The recipes range from very quick and easy to sophisticated recipes that should be tackled only when there is extra time on the weekend.
     What caught my attention this month were the six different ways to make French Toast. I can't wait to try the Baked Croissant French Toast with Orange Syrup. Doesn't it sound yummy?

     All the recipes in this issue as well as magazine subscription information can be found on .

Friday, March 15, 2013

Have Luggage Will Travel

I love to travel! The more opportunities I get to travel, the more I dislike dragging around luggage. I used to travel with a large wheeled suitcase, carry-on and purse. It was very cumbersome, but I thought I needed to pack everything but the kitchen sink.
Next came the wheeled carry-on, so I traveled with a large wheeled suitcase, wheeled carry-on and a purse. This was a bit easier to maneuver, but I was still packing a lot of stuff.
Then disaster struck. My luggage was lost in Paris, France while my plane went on to Pisa, Italy. I had NO luggage for several days.
On my next trip I decided I wasn't going to give the airline a chance to lose my luggage, so I bought a large backpack. I was forced to re-evaluate how much I was going to pack. What did I really need? It turns out I don't need a different pair of pants for every day. I also don't need a blow dryer, curling iron and flat iron, among other things. That was very liberating! Who knew? I spent almost 3 weeks in Europe with just a backpack. I had an apartment with a washing maching in one of the places I visited, so I was able to wash my clothes. By the time I was ready to come home I had purchased much more than I could pack in the backpack, so I purchased a cheap piece of luggage for about 25 euro. I packed all my dirty clothes in the luggage and checked it. Since I was on an international flight it was my one free piece of checked luggage. Then I packed all the nice things I had purchased in my backpack, so I'd be sure nothing would get broken. It was much cheaper than shipping my purchases home and they got home at the same time I did. I also have a cheap piece of luggage that I can give away to someone that may need it.
This time I'm going to try something new. I purchased this piece from the Coach store.
My next trip is in May, when I'll be spending two weeks in Paris. Since I'll be renting an apartment with a washing machine, I should be able to bring a minimal amount of clothing. I'll try to pack smart and only carry this piece and a purse. Can it be done? Sure it can, because I'm on a mission. Will I like it? I don't know. What do you think? Do you pack light?