Posted by: Kristie | March 26, 2010

Swords to Plowshares

As we’ve mentioned here and there, we’ve been planning to do some farming on Brett’s mom’s land. The concept of Swords to Plowshares has become very important to Brett (and me too) so after talking it over, doing a little planning, and educating ourselves, we have decided to make it official — we’re starting an organic vegetable farm. So because this blog has become a mishmosh of our musings, we set up a separate dedicated blog to chronicle farm life.

Check it out at www.serenityvalleyfarm.blogspot.com or click on the pic below.

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Posted by: Kristie | March 21, 2010

New Season, New Looks

I love Pittsburgh in the springtime… ok, maybe Paris is still the better city for that phrase, but spring has arrived in the City of Bridges and I couldn’t be happier. We have made it through our first Pennsylvania winter — and, of course, it was one of the snowiest in the past 15 years. Nothing like jumping into East Coast living with both feet.

To celebrate the arrival of spring, which thankfully blew in with 60 degree temps and lots of sunshine, Brett and I both decided to drop a little weight, starting with our hair. For the past couple of years, I’ve been growing my hair out – partly for my husband’s adoration of long hair and partly to eventually donate it to Locks of Love. Locks of Love is a nonprofit organization that creates wigs for disadvantaged children with cancer. So once the weather warmed up and I didn’t necessarily need the back of my neck covered, I went for the plunge and chopped off 10 inches because honestly it was driving me crazy. I never wore it down, it would get caught while I was sleeping, it took forever to dry, and it constantly was knotting up. Now my hair is low maintenance and hopefully I helped a brighten a sick child’s day.

At the same time, Brett’s moppy head of hair was getting a little out of control and starting to drive him crazy too. It served him well in the winter, keeping that large head of his warm, but now it was time to go. And in grand Brett tradition, he couldn’t just get a normal haircut.

Posted by: Kristie | March 17, 2010

Bon-a-fide

Yes, that’s right folks. I am a bonafide freelance marketing and communications specialist. At least online. I officially launched my professional website to attract freelance clients and create an online presence as a I search for a job in Pittsburgh. The site features a rotating Article of the Week to let you know what’s going on in the communications world and a Tips and Tricks Blog providing snippets of information to help individuals and businesses communicate better. Check it out, spread the word and leave me feedback!

Posted by: Kristie | March 13, 2010

Vintage Kristie

I just discovered this video while going through my Texas Historical Commission files. It was taken at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, TX, which at the time (2002) was brand new. Side note: the museum is a definite must-see  if you’re in the area. I wonder if they still offer this service? Absolutely hilarious.

Posted by: Kristie | March 7, 2010

Buffalo Festival – Winter Style

Living completely up to my expectations, I am getting pretty sick of the weather. It’s March and I’m super stoked that this weekend was filled with 40 degree temps and sunny skies — that is sadly so exciting.

But, instead of constantly being irritated at piling on a bunch of clothes and boots just to run the store, I channeled my energy in a more healthy way, by drinking lots of beer and celebrating winter at the Powder Keg Festival in downtown Buffalo. In its first year, the festival featured all sorts of winter fun: tubing down the main skyway into the city, pond hockey, bubble hockey tournament, snowman building contest and the largest, Guinness-record-setting ice maze, beating out Toronto’s rendition in 2005. The lines were long and the logistics were a bit wonky, but for its first year, it was an entertaining way to spend the day outdoors. And definitely made piling on the winter gear worth it. For all of the photos, check out our gallery on Smugmug.

P.S. If you’re wondering where they heck we are these days, we’ve been splitting our time between Buffalo and Pittsburgh until our house hopefully closes sometime in March (the dang date keeps changing). Fingers crossed.

The crowd at the festival. It was packed during the day.

Brett received more than a few "nice goggles" comments

Bubble Hockey Tournament - they take this game pretty seriously

The world-record-breaking ice maze. The line took at least an hour during the day so we waited until the evening when all the kiddos were gone.

The pond hockey ice ended up being cancelled the second day. Too warm, creating poor conditions - now that's ironic.

Me and a little ice

Katie, me and Brett in the Ice Maze

Posted by: Kristie | February 16, 2010

Lake Como Snapshot

Traveled Oct. 14–17, 2009

Click to view all Lake Como photos

Our Observations/Info

Located in Northern Italy, Lake Como is where wealthy Italians (and others) spend the summer. George Clooney, probably its most famous resident, owns a house there and sadly one of the reasons we decided to go.

Don’t go in the off season, which starts in October. It was cold, had limited ferry service and just wasn’t as glamorous-seeming as it probably is in the summer. The beautiful people are not there in October. The plus side is there weren’t a lot of crowds and the rates were cheaper.

Shannon, Julie and I freezing on the ferry. Photo by Julie Plunkett

This is the one time renting our accommodations went awry. Our original lodging was a two-bedroom house situated on the lake, directly across from Clooney’s place (not that this fact influenced our decision). It was a little scary, too isolated and just not a good choice. Read all of the gory details.

If you’re not staying in one of the main towns of Varenna, Bellagio or Menaggio, having a car might be a good bet in the off season. The ferries run much less and on a limited route.

Check all ferry schedules — we ended up only using the one that took cars, not just the passengers.

We really liked Varenna. It housed the train station for the area, and it was charming, unlike the “fancy” Bellagio.

Shoreline of Varenna. Photo by Julie Plunkett

How We Got Around

Train from Cinque Terre to Milan. Cab to Milano airport to rent a car. Drove to Lake Como. Extremely glad we rented a car instead of relying on the reduced ferry schedule and bus. It would’ve been such a pain if we stayed in our original location. If you’re in one of the main towns, you probably wouldn’t need a car.

Once there, traveled to the different villages via ferry and car.

Where We Slept

Careno Rental via vrbo.com
Contact: Angelo
€60/night for 4 people
Stayed Oct. 14. Supposed to stay for three nights, but only stayed one. See Chaos in Como post for more info.

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Incredible price – only €15/person/night, but you definitely get what you pay for.
Large and spacious
A bit creepy due to its location, lack of acoustics and grotto off the bedroom.
Too far away from the main action of the area, especially for such a short trip.

Hotel Olivedo
€125/night (off-season rate)
Stayed Oct. 15–17

Hotel Olivedo in Varenna with our sweet little rental car.

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Great location, located across from the ferry dock and roughly a five minute walk from the train station.
Rooms were spacious and included a small balcony with a view of the lake.
Hotel also included a decent restaurant which was convenient and somewhat reasonable.
The owner is a little brisk and not overly friendly, but I think that’s just her manner. She was helpful when necessary.

Where We NomNom’d

Ristorante La Vista (Varenna) — This quaint restaurant was a bit of a climb from our hotel, but worth the hike. Rated the #1 restaurant on Tripadvisor, the place was quiet and intimate, and featured reasonably priced prix-fixe meals and a friendly husband-wife staff.

Restaurant in Hotel Olivedo (Varenna) — Although touted as one of the top restaurants in Varenna, our meal wasn’t very memorable. But it was convenient since this is where we stayed, and they made a great vegetable soup that was hearty and warming.

Gilardoni Alimentari (Bellagio) — A small shop for basic and delicious picnic needs with a decent fresh meat selection. We picked up buffalo mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, olives and some other goodies for snacking.

What We Did

Day trip to Switzerland — We thought it would be fun to take the bus over to Lugano, Switzerland, adding one more country to our trip. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would’ve chosen a more specific place, other than a random city that was nearby. The bus ride was quite an experience, packed with Italian teenagers on the way there and commuters on the way back — quite authentic and claustrophobic.

Large chess set in Lugano. Photo by Shannon Woody

Villa Carlotta — Out of Lake Como’s famed villas (which I had never heard about before I arrived), Villa Carlotta is supposed to be the best. Located a ferry ride away from Varenna in the town of Menaggio, the villa itself was beautiful but the gardens were the highlight.

The Grandiose Villa Carlotta. Photo by Julie Plunkett

What We Bought

Pashminas
Playing Cards

To view all photos, check out Lake Como Gallery

Posted by: Kristie | February 9, 2010

Pushing Forward

These past two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions. Actually more like one of those kid’s bouncy castles, where you can hardly stand up straight and you’re constantly jostled up, down and all around.

Soon after I found out about the loss of my friend, Brett encouraged me to look up the stages of grief. Unfortunately, Brett has had a lot more experience with dealing with death than I have and he thought that reading about what I was experiencing and about to experience would help. I must admit, I didn’t research it extensively, just a quick Google search to find the basics. I came across the Kübler-Ross Model first introduced in 1969, which defines grief in five stages:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Reading about these various stages and what they encompass did help me to feel better and somewhat “normal” about what I was going through. The problem is that the term “stages” implies that you will go through one, stop, and then move on to the next. In reality, I feel like my insides are a giant mystery bag of emotions and I never know what’s going to come out next. One minute I will be feeling ok, like I’ve finally accepted the death of my friend, and the next, I break out in tears because I realize we’ll never have another phone date. Many mornings, I struggle to get out of bed, feeling my body weighed down in a way I’ve never experienced; other times anger floods through my veins and I just want to scream at someone.

But I try to push forward. I get up each morning, having no idea what I’ll be feeling that day, but accepting that fact. I try to stay motivated in my own daily life, knowing Julie would be telling me to get off my butt and do something. Live the life she can no longer live. But man, some days it’s just so friggen hard because ultimately, I just really miss my friend.

Posted by: Brett | February 3, 2010

PA Sustainable Agriculture Conference 2010

Though it is with heavier hearts, Kristie and I will leave tomorrow for State College, PA to attend the 2010 PA Sustainable Agriculture Conference where we will gather heaping helpings of knowledge that will hopefully aid us as we enter our first year of sustainable organic vegetable growing.  At the very least, it will afford us some alone time where it will be just the two of us, away from living with either of our parents.

P.S. Don’t tell no one, but we have a tentative closing date on a house set for March 5th which we don’t want to jinx by broadcasting but we REALLY hope it works out.

Posted by: Kristie | January 26, 2010

Goodbye Sweet Friend

Today I found out that one of my closest friends suddenly and unexpectedly passed away yesterday. Julie and I met in college through a mutual friend and I remember liking her immediately – she was fun, energetic and had one of the best laughs, a laugh that made your whole body and soul smile. She lived in this awesome house in Austin and I have these vivid memories of painting blue and white stripes on her living room walls, heated games of Cranium on her Pier Imports glass-and-iron table, and, of course, the white VW bug convertible that she was still driving the day she died.

Over the course of the past 10 years, we both went through major life changes – she went to med school in Kentucky, residency in Virginia and eventually became an emergency room doctor – and me – starting a career straight out of college, buying a house and getting married. And even though our paths were so different and we went though our ups and downs, we were always there for each other during the major life moments.

As life got less crazy for both of us, we started seeing each other more regularly. This past October, she met up with us in Italy and we had such an incredible time together. We did a lot of talking, laughing and drinking wine. We learned we have similar travel styles and talked about taking future trips together. She taught us how to play Hearts and we spent hours talking about our dreams and the future. She realized she didn’t feel like a third wheel when she hung out with Brett and I and we planned to spend much more time together now that we would be living roughly 8 hours apart. We completely rekindled our friendship.

And so I am sitting here still in shock, alternating between denial and extreme heartbreak, realizing all of these dreams and plans won’t come to fruition. She won’t be coming to visit us in Pittsburgh to see our new home, and we won’t be going to visit her in Nashville to see the awesome apartment she had just secured. We won’t be taking anymore trips together and I won’t get to see her become an amazing doctor.

But what I do hold on to is all of the wonderful memories that are stored forever in my heart. I know even though she won’t be there in person, she will always be with me as I continue to travel through my life, cheering me on and laughing along the way.

I will miss you so much Jules and I feel so blessed to have had you in my life, even if it was too short. I will miss how your face scrunches up when you smile, the incredible octaves of your laugh, the way you would say NOOOOOO WAY, your beautiful curly hair that you never let down, and your amazing adventurous spirit. Rest in peace my sweet friend.

Posted by: Kristie | January 21, 2010

Chaos in Como

Part of my travel style is to veer off the beaten path. I tend to be weary of really popular places, trying to travel more like a local than a tourist. So when we started researching Italy’s Lake Como, we (including my co-planner Shannon), immediately gravitated toward some of the smaller, lesser known towns and, of course, rental places. I had visions of quaint, pedestrian-friendly towns complete with charmingly crooked walkways and tiny little trattorias with George Clooney hidden in a dark candlelit corner.

So we found this too-good-to-be-true rental property located in the tiny town of Careno. Two bedrooms, ridiculously inexpensive, large balcony with a view of the lake and even touted that across the lake was George Clooney’s place. Can you tell George was a constant theme, and possibly the motivation for going to this area?

Julie, Shannon, Brett and I took the train from Cinque Terre to Milan, picked up our rental car and set off packed in like sardines with luggage on laps and scrunched up legs. We hoped to get to Careno before nightfall but between the tiny, twisted roads and missed highway signs, it was pitch black by the time we arrived. And even when we arrived, we weren’t even sure we were there. That’s the thing about these small Lake Como towns – they are not situated on the roads, but rather down or up hills.

Once we figured out that we were in the “town” of Careno, we found parking and Shannon and Julie went on a recon mission to find the apartment, so we all weren’t hauling our luggage aimlessly around trying to find the place. Fortunately it only ended up being about a 5 minute walk (albeit a bumpy, cobblestoned walk with barely any lights) from the car.

Needless to say when we arrived, we were thrilled to relax and put our feet up — yet, there was really no place to “relax.” The living room had absolutely no furniture except for a couple of stacked plastic white chairs for the deck. The lack of furniture and the tiled floors helped every single sound resonate throughout the place. There was no door to one bedroom, just a 60s-sytle shell/bead curtain. From that same bedroom, there was a door that led to this underground, grotto-type of space complete with random dusty furniture.

But I think our favorite part was detailed warnings about what to do if the power goes out if there are too many appliances on at the same time. And sure enough, nearly an hour after getting there, the power blew. I think the culprit was the microwave and toaster being on at the same time. WTF! Brett (thank goodness for boys) had to go outside, find the fuse box, do some sort of jiggling and the power was restored.

The only positive attribute was its deck – and one of the reasons we liked the place when we first found it online. But that did not make up for its creepy vibes, lack of any sound absorption and the ease of power fails. Once the power was back on, we pulled out good ol’ Rick Steves and started calling hotels. We found two rooms at Hotel Olivedo located in Varenna, one of Lake Como’s main towns.

We ended up just emailing the owners of the rental property, left enough cash for the first night and busted out of there as early as possible the next day. That also reminds me of another crazy point, we emailed the owners because we could not get a hold of them on the phone. What owners are not available on the night they have renters arriving?

Ultimately, it all worked out and we adored our new hotel rooms, salvaging the rest of the Lake Como trip. Sometimes going off the beaten path brings you hidden surprises and authentic experiences, and sometimes it’s just creepy.

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