La Dolce Vita

 

La Dolce Vita

You come back in two years with the bambini…

Italians are an optimistic (and family-oriented) people. Maybe it’s the wine. Maybe it’s Catholic doctrine. Either way, their admonition for us to get started with the bambini-making (allegro, per fevore) was easy to laugh away. But the idea of a return trip to Italy was taken to heart. When we traveled as a group to Eric and Jen’s Tuscan wedding in 2006, we made a wine-soaked promise to come back with the kids some day…assuming there were kids to bring. Ten years passed, children were born, careers changed, friends moved away, and we all earned a few well-worn creases at the corners of our smiles.

But the realities of work and school and other commitments made it tough for most people to sign-on for another tour. By the time we boarded our planes in early June, our envoy was reduced to a small but enthusiastic crew of Pritchards and Schultzes. Our plan was to rendezvous at a top secret location in the Tuscan countryside. We took a two-hopper to Rome (via Paris) – the better to accommodate our return. Any concerns we had about the kids managing the long flight were dismissed as they slumbered their way across the Atlantic.

After landing in Rome and picking up the rental car, we drove north through Umbria and landed for a night in Orvieto. This hilltop town with requisite duomo, gelaterias and charming back streets was the perfect introduction to Italy for the kids. A quick ride on the funicular and a slippery walk down the double-helix of St. Patrick’s Well certainly made an impression, but the dizzying array of gelato flavors set the tone for the rest of our trip.

Orvieto Gelato

Later that day, we wound our way north through the rolling hills of Umbria and Tuscany. What Google Maps lacks in charm and serendipity, it makes up for in brutal efficiency. While we were nostalgic for our hapless nighttime drive through Tuscany a decade prior, we certainly didn’t mind having a capable navigator on board, especially with two tired kids in the back seat.

Tuscan Hills

We eventually landed at the end of a dusty road, tucked beneath the hill town of Castaglione d’Orcia. Our landing pad for the week was a beautiful villa (or farmhouse, depending on your POV) on a working farm, complete with horses, chickens, two cats and a Lamborghini tractor. The Schultzes arrived a couple hours later, and we opened the first of many bottles of wine to toast our trip.

Vino

For the next week we settled into a nice rhythm of wine drinking, eating, swimming and day tripping around Tuscany. We had outings to Pienza, San Gimignano and Sienna, each marked by a lazy pace, good food and plenty of gelato. In San Gimignano, we revisited the the Town Hall where Eric & Jen were married 10 years prior. And in Sienna, we toured the incredible duomo with it striped columns and stunning frescoes. We alternated our day trips with a couple of lazy days spent poolside with dinner prepared by a local cook who spoke zero English, but made delicious, authentic Tuscan meals of us. It was all terribly charming and privileged, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Pienza

At the end of the week, we bid the Schultzes “arrivederci” as they headed north and we made our way south. We dropped off the rental car and embraced train travel for the rest of our trip. We arrived in Rome mid-day. After settling into our apartment in center of town, we showed the kids one of the best parts of any foreign trip: walking across the street and checking out all of the weird and awesome stuff in a local grocery store. I love the variety we have stateside, but we’re totally getting screwed on the price of pecorino and prosciutto.

Colosseum

We spent the next three days touring Rome: the Coloseum and Roman Forum, Vactican City, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Capiltolene Museum. We ate good food and took a twilight stroll through Trastevere and stared in awe at the Sistine Chapel and dodged speeding Vespas with each street crossing and had the rain chase us into the best damn burger shop this side of the Tiber.

Knick Knack Yoda del Papa

From Rome our journey continued to roll south, landing in Sorrento at the end of the line. Perched above the Bay of Naples and surrounded by lemon and orange groves, Sorrento was a great basecamp for the next four days of our trip and provided a view of Italy we hadn’t seen on previous trips. We spent a day at Pompeii, touring the dusty Roman ruins in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Before we left for the trip, we read David Macaulay’s classic City, which provided helpful background on the construction of Roman cities and made sense of many of the details we saw.

Pompeii Baths

The following day was a different kind of adventure in Naples. Our goal was very simple: eat as much pizza as possible. We queued up for the legendary pies at Da Michele (which absolutely lived up to the hype) and promptly walked directly across the street to try a different style at Trianon. Two hours, five pizzas, zero regret. We wandered through the back alleys in a pizza induced stupor and escaped the heat with an underground tour of the city, which provided claustrophobia-inducing access to ancient greek quarries, roman aquifers and WWII bomb shelters.

Da Michele

On our final day, we ignored the conventional wisdom (take a bus or a boat or a box of dramamine) and instead rented a convertible to tour the Amalfi coast. We white-knuckled our way south along the serpentine coastline with stops in Positano and Amalfi, soaking up the dolce vita before our long journey home.

Positano

One of our goals with this trip—our first international destination with the kids—was to get them excited about travel. Months later, after the sweet taste of gelato had faded, we got a glimpse of encouragement. In parent-teacher conferences for both kids, given their choice of topics, both had completed class assignments about Italy: Autumn wrote about Pompeii, and Carson wrote about the centuries-old paper factory we visited in Amalfi. Our list of vacation dreams (the Pritchard Wanderlist) is full of curious and exotic destinations, but Italy will remain in heavy rotation. The food, the people, the history, and the art all provide such a rich and inviting experience, we see ourselves coming back for decades to come.

BattleBots and a Big Surprise

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Season 1 of BattleBots was a summertime hit in our household last year. We try to limit the kids’ TV-time, but this celebration of creativity/industry/mayhem was perfect for a pair of geeks-in-training. The kids eagerly anticipated new episodes each week, debating the merits of each robot and constructing their own models in both Lego and cereal box formats. When Season 2 was announced, we started scheming how to get tickets to watch the filming in person. When we found out this season was being filmed in L.A. and not the Bay Area (like Season 1), we hesitated…for about 1 minute. We jumped on the site as soon as tickets were available and scored four tickets for two of the final rounds. We surprised the kids and told them at dinner the night before we left. We made the responsible choice and pulled the kids out of school on a Friday, hitting the road at 3:00 a.m. for the grind down I-5. We watched two days of epic live battles (no spoilers) at a studio near downtown L.A. along with 300 other robot combat fans. Watching the process of the show being filmed was almost as interesting as the battles themselves.

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After connecting with some old friends on Saturday night, we tucked the kids in late and packed our bags for the drive home. The kids didn’t notice when we got on I-5 southbound Sunday morning. Absorbed in their backseat activities, they didn’t notice as we pulled off the interstate 30 minutes later at Disneyland Drive and made our way through traffic past dozens of Mickey Mouse signs and billboards promoting the latest Main Street parade. It wasn’t until we were navigating through the parking garage and Jody handed them each their mouse ears that they realized what we were up to: surprise trip to Disneyland! The kids found their energy reserves and we clocked 20,000+ steps on the day. The full list of rides is below. We hit some favorites from our prior trip and discovered some new ones as well. We wrapped the day with an unexpected dinner at the Blue Bayou and a final journey down Splash Mountain. After changing into jammies in the parking garage, we were on the road by 8:00 p.m. and landed back in SF at 3:00 a.m. Monday morning, making it a tidy 72 hour adventure. Three hours of sleep and then  “Hello, Monday!” Epic weekend.

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Disneyland April 24, 2016

  • Finding Nemo Submarine
  • Astro Orbiter
  • Star Tours
  • It’s a Small World
  • Gadget’s Go Coaster (Toon Town)
  • Mickey’s House
  • Show: Mickey and the Magic Map
  • Show and Ice Cream Sundaes: The Golden Horseshoe
  • Thunder Mountain
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Enchanted Tiki Room
  • Dinner at Blue Bayou
  • Splash Mountain

Carson’s Cable Car Birthday

Our little man has been growing up in so many ways. He’s in his first year of pre-school, talking a mile a minute and (for better or worse) going toe to toe with his sister on a daily basis. He’s becoming such a fun little dude. In perhaps the least surprising twist of any young San Francisco lad’s development, he’s fallen in love with cable cars. He loves to ride them, he loves to visit the Cable Car museum and he loves playing with his toy cable car—the one with the real working bell—at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

For his third birthday this year, we decided to mix it up and take his party on the road…err, rails. At the end of a bone-chilling week (by SF standards), we were joined by our committed family who rode the California Street Cable Car over Nob Hill and down to the waterfront for a party in the park. It was a birthday we won’t soon forget.

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And you can see more photos from the day here.

Bring Out the Reese’s Pieces

I don’t remember Halloween being such a big deal in our family like it is in some, but I do remember my mom laboring over hand-made costumes like clowns and cats, and elephants. Sometime’s life feels a bit circular. When Autumn announced she no longer wanted to be a bumblebee this Halloween because “wearing the color black makes me feel sad”, we had to work on a fast Plan B. We re-purposed the bumblebee wings, found some inspiration from a Pottery Barn Kid’s catalog and voila, we had ourselves one “Autumn Fairy”. The night of October 30th as I’m putting in zippers and wrestling with sparkle tulle in the wee hours of the morning, I thought to myself, “How many other moms are staying up tonight doing exactly the same thing I am?” Lots, I’m sure.

We may have pressed the easy button on Carson’s costume, but he was just as adorable. Little man, no one can pull off a pumpkin beret like you.

We spent the evening with our extended family getting the cousins together in a fairy tale suburb of Marin. How perfect that Marley was a gnome (check out the amazing handmade costume by Lindsay & Wayne), Ashytn was a mushroom and their parents came as trees. A bunch of woodland storybook characters we were! Falling leaves and falling rain (hello Oregon childhood & wet costumes) along with the hoards of giddy kids made it feel like a scene from ET. Bring out the Reeses Pieces. Utter joy.

Sharing pics of my own mom’s creations for fun too – Thanks for the memories Mom. The ribbons on Autumn’s dress are dedicated to you. It may have taken 30 years, but we can finally cross that ribbon dress project off the list ; )

On the left: 1981 – Jody at age 4 (same age as Autumn above) in a clown costume my mom handmade. Brian had a matching one.

One the right: Brian as the cat, Jody as the elephant circa 1985? Nice work Mom.

Gravity is a Harsh Mistress

It’s amazing how a moment can go from laughter to complete shit in just a matter of seconds. All it takes is a little distraction, a bit too much confidence and the inescapable forces of gravity. Autumn recently graduated from the wee charms of her Skuut balance bike to a bona fide big girl pedal bike, complete with basket and custom license plate (sans training wheels). She’s still getting the hang of it, and as you can see from the video, so is Dad.

Not to worry. The tears were dry within minutes, and Autumn was smiling shortly thereafter. Dad is still a little freaked out.

First day of school! First day of school!

Wait, a year just passed? How did that happen? Yesterday Autumn started her second year at Presidio Preschool in their pre-K program. Even though she’s been going over the summer, the first day of school was still a big deal: new teachers, new students, new friends, and a new dress she helped make with Mom. I doubt we just started a tradition, but we had a great time and it helped establish her on her 17 year education track to become a dress designer – her stated career goal at age 3. We’re just trying to get our head around the process of enrolling her in a San Francisco kindergarten. We’ll need most of this next year to figure that out. Take your time little beauty. You’re growing up much too fast.

Ski Bunny – Short Film

Autumn’s been coming to Kirkwood since she was four months old. She knows the inside of the Red Cliffs Day Lodge as well as any local. Last year, we put her on skis for the first time and pulled her around the flats to try “skiing” for the first time. This year, we decided she was ready for something more. This past weekend, we hit Chair 9 at Kirkwood. She loved it. Four runs in a row—pretty good for her first outing. I’m sure it won’t be long before she’s booting up 99 Steps or hucking the mandatory air at the bottom of Heart Chute. Check out the video below. We feature one of Autumn’s favorite songs on the soundtrack and the post-run interview is pretty great.

If you get these updates via email, you can watch the video here.

Mobile. Agile. Big Smile.

Attention Heisman voters: keep your eyes on this kid.

Carson took his first steps just a few weeks ago. He’s making his way through the stage where walking is interesting, but crawling is faster. And with more walking comes more falling. He’s grown a bit tougher in his second year, so the total tear count is being held in check. Here he is strutting his way along the Ocean Beach promenade.

If you get these updates via email, you can watch the video here.