Friday, March 30, 2012

Venice--Bridges, Doors and Windows

{Venice, Italy bridge larsons}
The most spectacular thing to me about Venice was the architecture; a visual history lesson with Baroque, Byzantine, and Gothic all lined up side by side, looming and reflecting in the shallow canal water.
{Venice, Italy doors}
{Venice, Italy windows}
I loved how the bricks, layered beneath stucco, showed through from years of erosion and humidity. The textures and colors ground this floating city and making it seem less precarious.

{Venice, Italy doors}
There were hidden lanes and low arches leading to secret doors all over the city. I couldn't resist peeking into them and wondering what human dramas have unfolded in these tucked away nooks.

{Venice, Italy bridges}

The shutters and balconettes frame windows that look out over grey-green water, bridges and boats carrying people and goods from place to place.

{Venice, Italy bridges}
{Venice, Italy windows}
The reflections of buildings and bridges in the water are stunning; views blurring the line between art and reality.

{Venice, Italy French windows}
 I had to snap this one of my adopted country's flag.

{Venice, Italy doors and reflected square}
And for all the talk and reputation as a city where you will get lost, it never happened to us. We tried even, but couldn't manage it. It's easier to follow markers in your surroundings than street signs that shift and change, plus it's quite small with square after square to help guide you on. Try as we might, there was no getting lost in Venice.

{Venice, Italy windows}
Some buildings looked so much like what you'd expect that they almost felt staged, fake, like I was standing on a movie set of Venice. Not many people live here year-round and you can feel that. It is very much a city powered by tourists.

{Venice, Italy windows}   

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You're the Spritz + Some Venice Photos

I'm back from my long weekend away in Venice, happy to see my four goldies and P-Daddy.

{leaving the airport, Venice larsons}
We had a great time and Venice is beautiful, no surprises there.

{Canals, Venice larsons}

I'll tell you more about it on Friday but I wanted to share some photos, plus a recipe for the cocktail in Venice.

{Besties and Spritz}

It's called a 'spritz aperol' and is made with an orange flavored Italian aperitif called 'Aperol', a splash of Prosecco and some club soda, garnished with an orange slice and green olive and served over ice.

{Rialto Bridge, Venice with romantic Brits larsons}

It is fizzily refreshing and go to your head easy to drink.

{Canal Giudecca, Venice larsons}

They make a few varieties of spritz, some with bitters or Campari instead of Aperol, but we decided we liked the slightly sweeter Aperol version the best.
{, image credit}

Here's how you make one if  you'd like to try one for yourself.
Preferably on a sunny terrace with two of your best friends. Chin, chin.

{Grande Canal, Venice larsons}

You're the Spritz, Aperol
recipe adapted from

3 parts Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash of club soda
chunky ice
half a slice of orange
one briney green olive

Fill a short tumbler or old fashioned glass with ice. Pour in the Prosecco or other sparkling white wine to a count of three.
Then pour in the Aperol aperitif to the count of two.
Add a splash of club soda or sparkling water.
Garnish with an orange slice and green olive, preferably on a long stick.

Makes one cocktail. But you could make a big, icy, refreshing pitcher just as easily, altering your pour time accordingly.

{gondolas in Venice}

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hey! I'm in Venice, Italy

You all know the Besties, A and K, right?

{Bestie K at Les Baux de Provence}

We have a little annual tradition of traveling together to a European city. I've tried to get them to meet me stateside in NYC but they'll have none of it.

{Bestie A in Paris}

Me in Europe equals an excuse for European travel. And they come all this way for little old me! Nothing to do with beautiful Italian cities, I'm sure.

We were on a bit of a hiatus last year due to health (A's) and fiduciary (mine) issues but this year we're back on track and we're off to one of my dream locations to visit; Venice, Italy.

I admit that I always figured I'd see this romantic city of watercolor and canals with P-Daddy, holding hands and getting lost strolling through the cobbled streets, him reciting poetry to me while I lazily drew my fingers threw canal waters from my perch in a gondola. Hmmmm. That's not happening.

Instead, I get to hang out with two of my favorite people in the world, holding hands and getting lost while strolling through the cobbled streets and laugh, laugh, laughing until I can't stand it anymore. Or until the hotel clerk calls and asks us to keep it down.
This has happened and we're not proud of it.

{me and K in Florence}
Add Venice to the list of beautiful places visited by me and the Besties and it looks not too shabby; Western Ireland, London, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Provence and Paris; you remember that one don't you?
{we three in Pisa}

We've done pretty well for ourselves over the past seven years.

I will be gone over the weekend so who knows what will happen around here.
It's party time when I'm gone. Think bike riding, tennis playing, late nights, junk food and eating in the living room while watching the Phineas and Ferb movie. All to an embarrassing soundtrack of what P-Daddy likes to call 'Summer Rock'.

I could be annoyed that there's always a party in the making when I'm off, but:

a) I'm having my own party

b) P-Daddy says he has to play it up real big when I'm gone so they're not all burdened by an overwhelming sadness and longing for me. Buying? Sold.

I'll take lots and lots of photos and have some delicious meals.
If you'd like to follow along with me you can. Just go to my Instagram page @aidanlarson to see what we're doing. I'll be posting here too.

But I promise to tell you all about it when I get home. Sound good?

See you next week.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pen Pals--From Texas to France and Back Again

One of the unexpected gifts I receive from this blog is friendship. 

We're pen pals in a modern world, each telling our stories, dreams, failures and fears. Reading, commenting and supporting one another across distances. I've made many of these friends, some close enough to actually meet in person and others who remain virtual but are no less important. 

One of these is Ashley, who not only writes a beautiful blog with a soft spot for all things French, Ts Ashley, but is also a mother, wife and 2nd grade teacher.

She has made a difference in the school life of my Middlest in a very unexpected way. 

At the beginning of the year she asked if the Middlest's class would like to correspond with her Texas class. They're all the same age; 2nd graders, likers of pizza and curious about other children even if they seem far away or different at first glance.

I got the enthusiastic agreement of the Middlest's teacher, you'll remember how kind she was to us at Thanksgiving, as long as I promised to translate the English letters for her. And I do this happily and in both directions.

It has been a fun French lesson for me. And an incredible life lesson for my American son living far away from his culture.

Ashley wrote this beautiful post about the letters and what they mean to the children and to us. I asked her if I could share it with you and she kindly agreed.
I hope you enjoy it.

Pen Pals: Writing Letters That Capture Innocent Whispers, Ashley of Très Ashley

Did you ever have a pen pal when you were younger? I had several and I’m sad to say that I’ve lost touch with most of them. I remember skipping back to the house after checking the mailbox when I was younger and I couldn’t wait to open my letter from my pen pal Susanna from Finland, Eritnatish from Iceland! Robin from Georgia, Melissa from Paris (Texas)! Holding the letter as if it were an acceptance to my favorite college; I would take in the stationary, the stamp, and especially the handwriting.
Do you ever notice how our true thoughts come out when writing a letter to a friend? It's easy to get a feel of someone’s personality by seeing their handwriting that you can’t see from the computer. I adore technology! There is instant gratification and it’s always getting better but technology is cold. Letters are warm.  Emails, tweets and texts are like short stories but a letter is more like a novel…it’s a bigger piece of the puzzle and a small clue to discovery of a mosaic of a person.
Since I was a child, I’ve loved going to the post office. I love the smell of it…musty, old, mildew, and magical! I have always loved the giddy feeling I get of dropping a letter down the blue shoot to go on an adventure. Then after impatiently waiting for the day I receive a letter back, opening up my mailbox to see if I recognize my friend’s handwriting.
I have shoeboxes full of old letters from my pen pals. I was an excellent pen pal up until college. I tried to keep up but that’s about the time “real” life starts happening and I’m sad to say, writing letters became less of a priority. Of course I still send Christmas cards and thank you notes, but those don’t tell about the random parts of your day that really let you inside to someone’s heart and help widen the world.
Last year when I read As Always, Julia I was inspired to write more letters again. I find that my thoughts flow more freely when I’m not trying to puzzle my words together on the computer…they just flow naturally like a list. There are windows throughout my day that I can find to jot down a note to a friend…whatever is happening in that moment, it’s a piece of the day that I want to share. Unlike a text or an email, a letter shows the spice of life.
Whenever I have sent a letter, I crossed my fingers that the recipient will write me back. At thirty-five, I still skip back from the mailbox, I even squeal with delight when I hold a little treasure we call a letter.
Last week I did my skip and squeal as I held a handful of precious treasures! Twenty-six beautiful letters (written in French) from seven and eight year olds and personally addressed to each of my second grade students. Oui, we have pen pals!!
Another reason I love technology is that you can meet and learn about interesting people all around the world. Aidan is a fellow Texan, she is my friend, but we have never met. I feel as though I know her from her writing on her blog conjugatingirregularverbs and I hope that one day our families really will meet. Aidan’s oldest son is a second grader in France and it is with her son’s classroom that we have found our pen pals.
My class was really happy and fascinated to learn more about a child their age that speaks a different language and lives a whole big blue ocean away. In my thirteen years teaching, this was one of my most happy teaching moments EVER!
I was hearing my class gasp with excitement and question everything. “Oh, Mrs. Cooley, my pen pal writes in cursive so well! Can you teach us how to write like this? Mrs. Cooley, my pen pal wants me to teach him American football but I’m not going to France anytime soon! What do I say? Mrs. Cooley, my pen pal does flamenco dancing…what is that?”  This is a perfect example of how children can teach each other. It was a lesson in handwriting, language, social studies, and reading all in one setting!
When I compare my class’ letters to the letters of their French pen pals, I see all kinds of possibilities…They will improve their writing skills and be motivated to improve their handwriting. They could continue to write to each other and one day possibly meet. But most importantly, it opens the door for culture. Pen pals can enjoy seeing postcards, stamps, practice learning a foreign language, and have a friend in a different part of the world.  
I saw firsthand the light turn on in my second graders eyes, they want to know more about life in France from a personal view of children their age. My thrill is in the pride I see in their eyes as they realize they are breathing life into an envelope and likewise as they anticipate inhaling the mysteries of replies.
The letters they wrote back to their French pen pals were sweet and charming. “Have you seen the Eiffel Tower? One day could you teach me how to play rugby? Do you have pizza in France? Do you have any pets? When I explained to one of my students what flamenco dancing was, she said, “Ooh…we have a lot in common, I cheer!”
Mark Twain said, “Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man- the biography of the man himself cannot be written.” I think it can be written through a letter; the clothes and buttons are but the paper and pencil. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Montpellier, France--Fountains, Sunshine and Sea

There's a linkup today over at the multi-talented and inspiring Gabrielle's blog, Design Mom. Maybe you've heard of it? Of course you have. 

Gabby's offered up some of  her blog space today to anyone who wants to share a little piece of their town. 

My town is Montpellier, France; a buzzing, energetic university town only minutes from the Mediterranean Sea.

{Mediterranean Sea}

{most fun fountain ever!}
Although I live in a nearby suburb I love popping into Montpellier for a nice dinner, to do some shopping and to meet friends.

{fountain in Antigone Quartier}

{Place de la Comedie}
We visited Montpellier years before we moved here and the city's many fountains and brilliant sunshine made a lasting impression. We had to call it home.

There are more than 300 days of sunshine per year and perfect temperatures of highs in the 80s F/30sC at the height of summer. 

{kids & Place de la Comedie fountain}
  For we sunshine loving Texans, it's the perfect fit.

{me and Ma Fille in front of Place de la Comedie fountain}
 C'est une belle vie!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Les Baux de Provence In Photos + Some Words

I've been to Les Baux de Provence three times now and each time I'm awed by the views and a bit creeped out by the history there.

The first time was on our honeymoon and we just happened upon its ruins of a medieval village and chateau perched high above it all. There were tourist buses parked down below and as we sped by in our rented Renault we couldn't help but stop.

{me in 1998 with a ghostly figure behind}

I went again last summer when K visited and we were on our mission to see all the Old Stuff in Provence. If you don't remember it you can read all about it here.
{me in 2012 with a Golden girl}

I've always wanted to take the kids because I knew they would think it was super cool and so it was on my list of day trips during the winter break. It was off season and therefore quiet, like it was in 1998 and not like it's become during the summer months.

{the real village busy in the summer}
There weren't any knights or peasants with microphones telling the story of the fortress while encouraging audience members to throw rocks with the catapult and other ancient weapons of war.

{ancient timeout}
I'm sure my guys would get a kick out of that too, but I have to say I prefer it a bit more old school and less manufactured fun. We were the only ones there for the first hour or so.

{directing the search for clues}
We brought our walkie-talkies and so the big kids were able to head off a bit ahead of us, checking in with a location update every couple of minutes. We could see them the whole time but it sure did make them feel like they were explorers.

They were given a booklet with a riddle to solve using clues placed around the site and they scampered along the rocks searching and calling out to each other.

{searching for clues with P-Daddy}
The Littlest hung out with us and we all caught up to each other for a picnic and some photos in the ruins of the chateau. 
{Littlest and one of the old windmills}
There are square boxes and holes cut out in the rocks which once served to hold beams and as medieval cabinetry. And arches from the walls of dining rooms and fireplaces are still there, all these years later.

There's also a wall of pigeon keeps that looks like a medieval mail sorting station, which I guess it kind of is.
{K's photo of the chateau, pigeon keeps to the left}

And the view.

Every vantage point offers something breathtaking.

To one side you have olive groves and row after row of carefully tended grapevines.

From another, you see the Valley of Hell with its monstrous rocks and hidden caves.

And if you look really hard, the Camargue area of our region leading to the Mediterranean Sea out in the horizon.

{horizon beyond}
You can climb a narrow staircase with centuries' worn holes deep in the steps up to the highest edge of the ruins.

{Explorers at the highest point}
The Littlest, Clementine and I stayed behind while P-Daddy and the Explorers checked it out. They were rewarded with more beautiful views.

{down to the village and surrounding Alpilles}
It's a must see in my opinion, obviously. I'll happily take anyone else who visits and wants to see it. A's family is coming this summer. I'll bet we'll have another happy day exploring the old chateau. I can't wait.