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What’s Your Super Power?

Super power on the AmaPrima ship

The ship we’ll be on. Not because we’re Prima Donnas or anything…..

“What is your super power?”

Have you ever considered where your powers excel? When guest instructing recently at Rancho la Puerta fitness resort, another guest posed the super power question to our tablemates and me at dinner. Pretty interesting conversation starter, n’est-ce pas? Nicht wahr? Si, como no? (You’ll find out in a minute why foreign phrases play out in this context).

What is your Super Power? Think you don't have one? Read this. Click To Tweet

The first respondent said she had no super power. Was that also your first mental reply? If so, reconsider once you hear the examples that came up. I’ll bet you are able to select at least one super power by the time you finish reading this post.

The next tablemate said her super power was being of service to others. She went on to clarify that she particularly excelled at caregiving. Turns out she was caring for both her aging mother and father and relishing the time with her father more than she’d expected.

The guest across from her decided her super power was a willingness to try new things. Being at Rancho la Puerta for the first time was an example she gave to back up her claim.

My Super Power(s) Revealed — to You and Myself

When it became my turn, I’d had time to think about the answer. Still, it was hard to refine my choice so I went with paired powers: Teaching and Learning. (Claiming two answers as one could be a secret power). After 35 years teaching fitness, English, writing, and more, I feel gifted with teaching skills. It’s always nice to have a match between what we love and what we do well, don’t you think? I thoroughly enjoy leading learners of all ages and types.

Which brings me to the Learning Super Power: I love acquiring new knowledge, skills, and experiences. Turns out I am pretty good at it too, which is quite fortunate since I am keen to keep my body and brain active and agile as I entrench myself in midlife. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, three of the top ten ways to keep your brain in shape  include:

  1. Being physically active
  2. Learning new things
  3. Challenging the brain

Learning a Language Leads to Learning Better Overall

Map for AmaPrima Super power

Look! A chance to speak German, French, English, and Dutch!

Most dramatically, learning a foreign language not only boosts brain plasticity, but also makes us better at learning across the board. As a Medical News Today article summarizing this new research from Finland and Russia puts it: “The more foreign languages we learn, the faster the brain responds and processes the data it absorbs during learning. In other words, the study suggests loading the mind with more knowledge boosts its ability to acquire more.” Language learners have an easier time learning altogether. Need more reason to travel if you want to age actively?

Why am I particularly excited about this confluence of Learning, Boosting my Brain, and Being Physically Active? Because my sister and I are about to embark on our first river cruise, thanks to Amawaterways.  After we ply the Rhein River from Basel to Amsterdam, we both decided to extend our stay and visit European friends and former stomping grounds. (DISCLOSURE ALERT: Yes, we are VERY fortunate that Amawaterways is sponsoring our adventure on the AmaPrima, though they did not ask us to write this post or any. We just want to take you with us on our journey in the ways we can!)

Talk about the ultimate in active aging! We will be taking advantage of the many hike, bike, and explore options the Amawaterways cruise offers. I will be able to relearn German (after living in Berlin for two years back in the 80’s teaching at the very first aerobics studio in Europe), practice my French which I studied for 11 years, AND gain new experiences. Nothing like building memories while boosting my memory!

Amawaterways scene Rhein

Images courtesy of AmaWaterways

Three decades from now I want to remember these adventures and languages and still have my Learning and Teaching super powers. What about you? What is your super power? Heck, make it plural and go for the gusto — what super powers do you claim? Tell us in the comments.

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Photo Credit for all three images goes to AmaWaterways.

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA













Packing the Right Outfit for Travel

I need your help choosing the right outfit for our upcoming trip to Europe.

AmaWaterways Rhein Cruise

AmaWaterways Cruise Ship

In less than two weeks, Kymberly and I are going on “The Enchanting Rhein River” cruise with AmaWaterways. For 7 days we’ll cruise the Rhein River, hike and bike the pathways of Switzerland, Germany, France and Netherlands, and go on city walking tours. We’ll be posting about our adventures on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and sharing longer posts after our return, so we hope you enjoy this fantastic adventure with us vicariously.

As we want to pack just one suitcase each (we plan to take various train trips after we disembark from the cruise), we are packing clothes that are easy-care, casual and semi-formal (simultaneously, no less), roll up into small balls for the suitcase, and attractive. The obvious brand that comes to mind is Chico’s, especially their new Travelers and Zenergy lines.

What 2 pack when U need 2 pack stylishly, yet sparingly? #MidlifeBlvd Click To Tweet

Here’s where you come in – I need to pick just one outfit. But I’m having trouble narrowing down the choices. Please can you help me decide? Help me pick one top, one jacket, and one skirt or pair of leggings. I’ve already spent over an hour on their website and this is my shortlist. To help you pick what might look best on me, I’m 5’5″, long torso, with fair skin and red (and grey) hair. This is me:

Chico's red vest

Red hair and a red Chico’s vest. And some very pale skin.

Soooooo, can you please help me choose the outfit that will look best on me? Thanks in advance.

Chico's red hoodie

Zenergy Red Hoodie

Chico's duster jacket

Travelers Open Front Duster

Chico's hoodie

Zenergy black and white hoodie










Chico's brown top

Travelers classic brown top

blue pullover top from Chico's

Zenergy off the shoulder blue top

black top from Chico's

Travelers studded black tunic








Skirts & Trousers

black leggings from Chico's

Travelers Classic Slim Pant

Chico's flare skirt

Travelers Classic flare skirt

black Chico's leggings

Zenergy pocket pull-on pant


In the words of Forrest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that.” Except to say I appreciate your help choosing the best outfit for me to take on the cruise.

Alexandra Williams, MA

This post is NOT sponsored, though I will get the Chico’s outfit you help me pick.

Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley and Highway 1

Last month I was part of a group that got to visit Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley in California. Located at the northern end of the Pacific Coast Highway Scenic Drive, and just 12 miles inland, it’s a combination of rolling hills and vineyards, estate wines, wedding-perfect landscaping, and architectural history.

statue at Holman Ranch, Carmel ValleyHistory
Back when California was still part of Mexico, the ranch lands were bestowed to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmel. By 1928 it had changed hands several times, and a hacienda was constructed. Nicknamed “Hidden House,” it was a hideaway for Hollywood celebrities. You can see many pictures of them on the walls of the still-standing building.
In the 1940’s it was expanded to include guest rooms and one of the first swimming pools in Carmel Valley. Fast forward to 2006, and the current owners brought it back to its original splendor, while adding vineyards, olive groves and wine caves.

wine cave, Holman RanchWine and Food
On our tour we got to taste a number of their estate wines, which have been rightly listed by National Geographic as one of the “world’s 10 best wines.” What appealed to me was their organic, high end Jarman varietals because they were created to honor co-owner Hunter Lowder’s mother, with a portion of proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.

Listed by Nat'l Geographic as having 1 of the “world’s 10 best wines,” Holman Ranch has that… Click To Tweet

wine barrel, Holman RanchMy dad, a former wine connoisseur, would love their estate wine club. Besides getting exclusive access to some of their limited-production wines (which I found out means you cannot buy them elsewhere), club membership is also one of the ways to gain access to the ranch grounds, events and guest cottages. My dad also would have loved the offsite Will’s Fargo restaurant (which is owned by the same family) where we got to have dinner as their special guests. I had a favorite waiter. He noticed I was a bit cold on the outdoor patio and brought me a folded up tablecloth to put around my shoulders. I think he liked me best!

guest cottage, Holman RanchThe Buildings
Even if you care nothing for wine, you’ll still want to stay on the property. Weddings, retreats, special events, (we were a group of 14 bloggers, though the property can accommodate 38 overnight guests), or corporate dinners are all options for staying overnight in one of the 10 “cabins.” I have it in quotation marks because my so-called cabin had a kitchen, living room, and two separate bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. It was divine, actually.

tall poppies at Holman RanchAfter touring the wine caves, we got a thorough tour of the – are you ready for this – game room, carriage house, great room, conference room, chapel, lawn and veranda, garden courtyard, rose patio, and stone terrace. We were also given complete access to the swimming pool.

bespoke cushion at Holman RanchWe had spent the previous night in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which was a few miles away, yet completely different. I was trying to decide which place I preferred, and came to the conclusion that they were tied for first because both places were amazing in their own right. The main thing they had in common was superior hospitality.

bay at Point LobosHighway 1
If you want scenery, take Highway 1 along the California coast instead of the inland freeway choices. After leaving Holman Ranch, I wasn’t in a hurry to get home, so I took this route for the first time in quite a few years. Even though it was foggy for much of the drive, I managed to get some great photos, and go on a few hikes. One warning – your nose will let you know when you’re at the elephant seal rookery just north of Hearst Castle.

lighthouse on PCH

Bixby Bridge, Highway 1

Pfeiffer State Park

Tunnel on Highway 1

elephant seals, Cambria

Text and photos: Alexandra Williams, MA


Redding: Kayaking, SUP Yoga, Hiking, Aqua Golf & Lorikeets

Does kayaking on a lake with a park ranger sound enjoyable? Or hitting golf balls into a river? How about practicing yoga on a stand up paddle (SUP) board in a quiet bay, or hiking to the top of a waterfall? Perhaps you’d prefer to stay still and become a landing pad for butterflies and lorikeets.

Crystal Creek FallsThese are the activities we had planned for our final two days in Redding last month. To learn about our adventures for the first two days, please read our recent post about Redding.

Whiskey Creek Lake
SUP yogaWhen we woke up Sunday morning, the sky was drizzly, but not too bad, so the SUP yoga class with Audrey was still on. Swimsuits on and towels packed in the car, we drove out to Whiskey Creek Boat Launch to find a few hardy souls ready to brave what had now become a very strong, cold rain. A quick vote was taken and it was decided to cancel class, a rare occurrence. We hope you’ll give it a try when you go to Redding, and say hi to Audrey.

Of course, as soon as we drove away, the weather turned sunny. Isn’t that how it always works? So we gathered up our good attitudes and hiked to the top of Crystal Creek Waterfall. By the time we came back down to the main pool, kids were swimming in it, and splashing under the falls. We imagine it’s a perfect spot to cool off when it gets over 100 degrees in the summer. On the way back to town we stopped at the Tower House Historic District to check out the former hotel, gold mine and cemetery.

Tower House Barn, Redding

Aqua Golf
Aqua Golf, ReddingIn the afternoon, we went to the Aqua Golf Driving Range, where you get to hit golf balls into the Sacramento River. Or, in our case, in the general direction of the river. The area is enclosed by a net, and the golf balls float, so it’s a recyling-friendly event.
We laughed so hard, and had a really fun time. We also discovered (my 19-year-old beat the pants off us) that being athletic has no relationship to golf swing skill. Face it, we were awful. Even the geese were impertinently walking right in front of us, daring us to hit a ball near them.

Turtle Bay and Sundial Bridge
Turtle Bay lorikeetsMost people who have heard of Redding know about Turtle Bay and the Sundial Bridge, and for good reason. We were at Turtle Bay at the right time to see the lorikeets and butterflies start their day, before the crowds arrived. butterfly Turtle BayWe even saw ducklings drop from the sky onto the ground just in front of us. Or at least that’s what it seemed like. Later we learned from Ranger Jim (see below) that they were probably wood ducks dropping from their tree nest. Wood ducklings, Turtle BayWant to know a secret about the Sundial Bridge? If you go during nesting time (we were there in May), look down through the glass partitions where the bridge supports attach to try and spot the swallow nests. We saw all kinds of nest-building going on, with the sparrows going in and out with their building materials. Super cool.

Sundial Bridge, Redding

The National Parks Service is celebrating its centennial, and Redding is the perfect base for… Click To Tweet

kayaking on Whiskeytown LakeWhiskeytown Lake has 36 miles of shoreline and 3,200 surface acres for recreation, and I think we had that entire space to ourselves. Park Superintendent Jim Milestone was our private guide, and he even spotted a bald eagle with two chicks waaaaaaay up in a tree. (Note to self: Get a really good zoom lens for future kayaking adventures). bald eage with chicks, Whiskeytown LakeThe kayaking (they also have SUP) is free, though they do have a donation box, so be a good citizen and put in a few Tubmans.  Besides showing us the lake’s treasures, Ranger Jim also shared stories about the history of the lake and President Kennedy’s visit in 1963.

The National Parks Service is celebrating its centennial this year, so we encourage you to hie thee hence to the area, using Redding as your base. And if you spot Ranger Jim (or bald eagle chicks), you’ll know it’s your lucky day.Ranger Jim, Whiskeytown Lake

by Alexandra Williams, MA

photo credits: Alexandra


Redding: For Those Who Enjoy the Outdoors

Lakes, dams, rodeos, bridges, caverns, waterfalls, hiking and biking trails, and gold rush ruins – these can all be found in the Redding area. What?! You’ve never heard of the place? Once we share all there is to do, you’ll be packing your bags for this Northern California city.

Crystal Creek Falls

Crystal Creek Falls in Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area

Always on the lookout for affordable destinations that appeal to active Boomer women and their families, we were the sponsored guests of Visit Redding this past weekend. And boy, did we pack a lot into a few days, though we never felt rushed. Probably due to the proximity of everything. Really, it’s only a 20-minute drive from the Fairfield Inn & Suites to Whiskeytown Lake.

On the lookout for affordable destinations that appeal to active Boomer women and their families? Click To Tweet
Glory Hole at WhiskeyTown Lake

The Glory Hole in Whiskeytown Lake has a 260 foot pipe diverting overflow from the dam.

In this post we’ll share our adventures from the first day two days, then share the last two days in an upcoming post (stay tuned for kayaking and lorikeets). If you like travel adventures that combine nature, new activities, free and low-cost sightseeing and sight-doing, then tour with us through this post. Then book your own active adventure to the Redding area.

Whiskeytown Waterfalls in Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area
Park rangers first knew of these falls in 1967, but kept quiet, as they didn’t have the resources to protect them, even though President Kennedy had proclaimed the 42,000 acre park a national recreation area in 1963. In 2004, a park biologist was examining aerial photos and rediscovered the falls.

Bottom of Whiskeytown Falls

Does this waterfall make me look younger?

The trail to Whiskeytown Falls is 3.4 miles round trip. Steep in parts, it’s worth the hike. Be sure to take the stone trail to the left of the falls to get some extra special views. Pack water and a snack too, as you’ll get thirsty watching all that water. Fair warning that this hike will give you a serious glute and anaerobic workout.

Whiskeytown Falls hike will give you a serious glute & anaerobic workout #VisitRedding Click To Tweet
Kymberly at Whiskeytown waterfall/ Redding

Does this waterfall make me look stronger? Photo credit – Kymberly

Shasta State Historic Park & Museum

Shasta State Historic Park

About halfway between Redding and Whiskeytown Lake you’ll see these ruins from the gold rush days. Across the street is the former courthouse and jail, including the gallows. Don’t “hang around.” Or do. Only $3 to visit the museum.

Shasta Dam and Powerplant
Want to be impressed by the former generation and your fellow humans? Take the tour of Shasta Dam. It’s free. Regardless of your views on dams, you have to marvel at the human ingenuity and vision that engineered and created this structure. One of us (Kymberly) almost skipped the tour, professing a desire to bike ride along the Sacramento river trails instead. Given that we southern Californians seem to have brought the mist and rain on our last journeys, off we all went instead to Shasta Dam. And was it ever a highlight. Hot tip: When the brochures and guides tell you to leave everything but your cell phone and keys in the car, they mean it. Security is tighter than our lips about what happened when someone in our family (not Kymberly) tried to bring “security contraband” past the security checkpoint and guard.


View from atop Shasta Dam

Shasta Dam from the top, looking down at the Sacramento River. The tour is absolutely worth your time. If you get Jo as your guide, you’ll have an especially good time, as she is a delight.


Redding trip Shasta Dam

Damn, we loved that dam tour more than we expected. You will too. Photo credit: Kymberly

Lake Shasta Caverns: Three Adventures in One
We promised ourselves on frequent drives between Santa Barbara and Oregon that someday we’d stop and visit the caves. This trip was that someday. Like Whiskeytown National Park and Shasta Dam, the caverns are easily accessible — about 20 minutes north of Redding. You take a 10-minute boat ride across the lake (bring your camera for spectacular views), then a 10-minute shuttle ride up, up, up, then you are in the cave. As for coming out of the cave, well … that’s on you and those several hundred stairsteps. You want out? Keep climbing. That’s the beauty of living an active life. You’re able to see and do more when you travel.

Lake Shasta Caverns

These limestone stalactites hang high above visitors inside the cavern in a huge room. When you hear the word “cavernous,” it probably originated from a place like this.


transport vehicle at Shasta Caverns

This WWII transport is now used to bring the buses back and forth when they need repairs. Yes, the buses can actually fit.

Redding Rodeo
Alexandra: This got a strong thumbs-up from my 19-year-old son, so off we went to our first-ever rodeo. It was actually quite exciting, with guys getting thrown off broncs that buck, and calves getting roped and tied (trussed?) in under 10 seconds.

Redding Rodeo

Horse said “get off me,” so the cowboy obliged. After he stayed on for the full 8 seconds. Not sure where he left his spine.

My son wanted to stay for the entire event, but I was hungry, so talked him into leaving early. We looked on Yelp and found Cafe Paradisio, a classy, comfortable place that’s run by a husband and wife who just happened to have two of their children about to graduate from UCSB. Eat here for sure – excellent service and intentionally underpriced for items such as Honey Stung Shrimp, Baked Salmon and French Press Coffee.

view from Lake Shasta Caverns

The view as you ride the bus up to the entrance of Lake Shasta Caverns. Breathtaking, isn’t it?


Flying to Redding- cloud view from plane

How Day 1 to Redding started. Super early o’clock plane to catch. Photo credit: Kymberly


Redding trip Shasta Lake

How Day 1 ended. Super enriching for brain and body. Photo credit: Kymberly

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photo credits – Alexandra, using a Canon. Kymberly where noted.

by Alexandra Williams, MA and Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

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Carmel-by-the-Sea Might Be Cooler than the Beach Town Where I Grew Up

I went back home this past weekend to a town I’d never actually visited. In other words, I went to a place that took me back to my childhood. It so happens that Carmel-by-the-Sea is similar to my hometown of Hermosa Beach, which means I felt right at home and nostalgic, as well as being transported back in time.

Carmel-by-the-SeaBoth are beach towns with lots of morning fog. Both are about 1-square mile big. Both are full of poets, painters, actors, writers and photographers.

plein air show in Carmel

A plein air painting juried exhibit in Carmel.

Carmel was incorporated in 1916; Hermosa in 1907. Both attract surfers, though the water is definitely colder in Carmel. And both have small cottages that were built generations ago sitting next to award winning, “to the lot’s edge” architectural wonders on every street. Don’t ask the prices unless you aren’t daunted by California real estate.

homes in Carmel

Old and New Carmel homes

As part of a bloggers’ weekend, I drove up to Carmel with the simple expectation that I would have a good time. Since so many of you are similar to me in that we like history and the personal touch, I’ll share some of the things I did and discovered that I think YOU might also enjoy.

Hofsas House
A gutsy, go-getter woman founded the hotel where we stayed – Donna Hofsas. In 1947 she lived in the cottage where I stayed while adding more rooms over the years. In a town that only allows two-story buildings, she talked the city planners into letting her build a 4-story hotel. How’s that for moxie? Then she commissioned the same female painter who did the fresco at Coit Tower, Maxine Albro, to paint several murals and other works at the hotel.

Hofsas House Carmel

The living room in Donna Hofsas’ original cottage.

Donna’s granddaughter now runs the bright pink Hofsas House  (as well as being on the city council), so ask her for the hotel’s secrets when you stay there. Hofsas House is on San Carlos Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue (see below to discover why I’m not giving you a numbered address).

bed in Hofsas House cottage

My cozy bed nook in the original Hofsas House Cottage.

On the details side, Carmel is more affordable than I expected. Even in high season, room rates range from about $150 – $275, with no stupid ***@** resort fee snuck in. Wifi, breakfast and parking are free.

Town Quirks
Did you know it’s illegal to wear heels higher than 2 inches in Carmel? You won’t get a ticket: the law was created in the 1920s to protect the city from lawsuits from people who tripped on the sidewalks. Great excuse to put on sensible shoes, eh?

Carmel shoe shop

These definitely count as sensible shoes. I should have gotten them.

The town has no street light or addresses. Walk around and you’ll notice that homes all have names. Keep in mind that the town was founded by creative types. They wanted a forested, European feel to the town, so bourgeois things such as number plates were verboten. Everyone has to go to the post office to collect mail. Certainly means all 3,700 inhabitants get to know each other.

home in Carmel

This is the “address” system in Carmel: all names; no numbers

For now, you can still have fires in certain locales on the beach too. This was exciting for me to hear, as we used to dig sand pits and have fires on the beach in Hermosa in the 60s. They were banned by the time I hit middle school.
No big box inns or stores are in Carmel either. It’s mom and pop all the way. Actually, the town is so friendly, even your dogs are welcome. Even in the inns, restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and shops, where you’ll spot water dishes and treats everywhere. Annnnnd, free parking.

dogs at the beach, Carmel

Dogs are welcome and encouraged in Carmel

Shopping, Hiking and Dining
Compliments of the Hofsas House, I received four Wine Walk Tasting tickets, each good for a wine flight at any of the 14 wine tasting rooms in town. Yup, I left Santa Barbara County’s wine country and landed in Monterey County’s. I also discovered two designer consignment shops, an Alice in Wonderland shop, a chocolate shop, and enough bakeries to keep my bread-baking, carb-loving self happy.

designer sunglasses in Carmel

I wanted these designer sunglasses from Foxy Couture soooooo badly

Alice in Wonderland store, Carmel

White Rabbit Store, where I bought a load of Christmas gifts. I was in this play as a child. And my late older sister played the White Rabbit. Very nostalgic store for me.

For lunch or a snack, I recommend Carmel Belle on San Carlos Street between Ocean and 7th (get the ginger apricot scone, stat!), or the Cheese Shop on Ocean and Junipero.

Carmel Belle, Carmel

Get the apricot ginger scone. And wine to go with it, of course.

For dinner, a friend and I went to Beach House Restaurant at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove (an 8-minute drive). It’s right on the beach, and our service and food were excellent. Plenty of options for vegetarians, too. FYI, the portions are huge, huger, hugest, so come hungry.

Pacific Grove

The view of some lovers from our seats at Beach House Restaurant at Lover’s Point

mud pie at Beach House Restaurant, Pacific Grove

I only ate half of this mud pie – the half above the plate.

Hiking is my meditation, so I walked along the beach, around town on the residential streets, Point Lobos, Big Sur, and about 20 different pull-out stops along Highway 1 as I drove south. On my next visit I might take one of the History Walks, though I could also be persuaded to do the art walks or food tours. I also want to hike along the Mission Trail Preserve. For those of you into birds, one of the secrets I learned from Carrie (co-owner of Hofsas House) is that the Carmel River is the place to be.

Final piece of good news that you will never think about in advance, but makes a big difference – Carmel-by-the-Sea is a safe place for women to walk alone, day and night. I went walking early in the morning, and felt at ease and quite peaceful. Even though I had my iPhone and Canon out (major tourist alerts), the locals out running and dog-walking all said hello. I truly had to resist the urge to say, “I grew up in a town that used to be just like this. Can we please chat about the good ol’ days?”

I want to go back soon. Preferably on a romantic getaway, but another girls’ getaway would work too.

by Alexandra Williams, MA

Photo credits: Alexandra Williams – Canon and iPhone


Milan: The City of Beautiful Design

Two days in Venice convinced me that every single bit of it is photograph-worthy. So when I joined my fellow Design Hounds for the train ride to Milan, I was a bit afraid I’d be in for a letdown. My most recent visit to Milan was in 1973, so I was in desperate need of updated memories. And this time I had my very own credit cards. And camera.

Moss covered building in Milan

This building is across the street from Villa Necchi Campiglio, on Via Mozart in Milan.

garden in Milan, Italy

Bunch of talking heads, perhaps? These fellows were hanging about at Palazzo Clerici.

entrance to Vittorio Emanuele shopping gallery

Entrance to Vittorio Emanuele II Shopping Gallery in Milan, named after the first king of a united Italy.

Not only did the sun shine on us for the entire visit, so did the design gods, as I saw enough to keep my status as “She Who Pauses Every Few Steps to Take a Photo.” Luckily, my friends were good sports (and also camera owners).

Selfie at the Duomo

World’s best (or most frightening) selfie in front of the Duomo. Click on the pic to meet Mary, the woman to blame (credit) for the photo.

From big (the Duomo is so big I couldn’t get it all in the frame without serious distortion), to small (a Gessi faucet shaped like stones), I was just as happy to roam around all day playing looky-loo as I had been in Venice. In front of Biblioteca Ambrosiana just blocks from the Duomo, I came across a placard for a walking tour of the area’s buildings of interest. Now I MUST return, as I love walking, history, and “old stuff.” The tour looked like it could take several days, so maybe I should return in the Fall or Spring when it’s not too hot or crowded. No matter, as a friend and I spent the morning in the Brera district, which I totally recommend you explore when you get to Milan.

Duomo, Milan, Italy

The front of the Duomo. Look very, very, very closely and you’ll see people at the top left, climbing the stairs to the top. Those people are not us.

Gessi Equilibrium faucet

It looks like two river stones, but it’s actually a working faucet from Gessi

Miessen in Milan

My back patio (or a Miessen display in Milan). Whatever.

I was especially looking forward to our visit to sponsor Gessi because I’d heard their showroom was a former movie theater, with an underground secret garden. How cool is all that, especially when Gessi’s bathroom fittings and fixtures focus on private wellness and the in-home spa experience?

Gessi sink and faucet

I don’t understand how MY sink ended up in THEIR showroom.

After spending most of the day in the sun, my descent into the cool dark of the Gessi showroom was enough to make my shoulders relax. I might have sighed too. Italian hospitality is pretty darn good. I was ushered into a lounge area where the other Design Hounds were seated. The top management people all came out to introduce themselves, and thanked us for coming. Then we were offered coffee (Italian coffee, not vending machine swill that tastes like used motor oil), champagne, water, and prosecco.

lighted Gessi faucet

Anyone with vision issues need a lighted Gessi faucet? #HandGoesUp

This was followed by a demonstration by artist-philosopher Marsel Lesko. He balanced large stones on smaller ones. We also watched a video of Lesko standing in the middle of a river, surrounded by numerous stones that he had balanced. What did this artist have to do with the company, I wondered? As it turns out, this is how Gessi works. Their mission is “to make everyday life more pleasant with objects of extraordinary beauty and functionality.” They want their faucets to be objets d’art, aspiration and decoration, so they look to nature as a source of inspiration.

Marsel Lesko at Gessi, Milan

We held our breath as artist Marsel Lesko balanced a circle of large stones on smaller ones.

After the demo we had a tour of the Indonesian, Scandinavian, and Moscow rooms. My favorite (nope, not the Moscow one even though I did Russian Studies at university) was the Scandinavian because it had the simple lines that I like. Besides, the Scandinavians like outdoor exercise and spas; I like outdoor exercise and spas. They value simplicity; I value simplicity. They are all tall and good-looking; I’m… good at side planks.

Scandinavian bathroom, Gessi

The Scandinavian in-home spa is so nice, there’s no need to leave the room, even for side planks.

I considered hiding in the showroom, knowing they had snacks, drinks and running hot water, but we had a farewell pizza dinner to attend, so eventually I came out of the shower (did you know Gessi conceived the first ceiling-mounted faucet) and took the metro home, resisting the urge to slip my number to Marsel.

Duoma close-up detail

Close-up of some of the details on the Duomo. Look for the griffin’s expression.

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Two “Hidden” Spots in Venice, Italy

On my recent trip to Italy with Design Hounds, I got to visit two places that are hidden in plain view: one on the island of Murano to the north of Venice, famous for its glass-blowers, and the other on Giudecca, the island most people see when standing at St. Mark’s looking south.

view of Murano IslandThe Seguso glassmaking dynasty began in 1397 with Antonio Filux Segusi. Twenty-three generations later (with the 24th in the wings), they are still the premiere creators (and award-winners) of luxurious glass.Seguso Glass Factory, Murano

Our tour included a complete historical overview from co-owner Gianluca Seguso, followed by a visit to the workshop, where we got to see the craftsmen creating beautiful pieces, such as a plate that became a bowl as it was twirled in the air. One thing I learned (the easy way, not the hard way) is that even when glass looks cold, it’s hot. Glad I’m a good listener.Seguso craftsman

As a surprise bonus, we got to enter the private studio of patriarch Giampaolo, who read us a love poem he wrote that’s inscribed on the back of one of his art pieces.Seguso glass

While I can’t guarantee you’ll have a poem read to you, I can say that you can sign up in advance for your own private tour. Like a number of magical places in Venice, it’s a private-ish place that isn’t widely advertised, so you’ll want to plan in advance.

seguso glassAfter we left Murano, our water taxi took us to Fortuny on Giudecca, home to some absolutely gorgeous fabrics. As you get close to the island, look around and notice how the architecture is different from that of Venice. In 1919, founder Mariano Fortuny purchased the land (a former convent that had been closed down by Napoleon) from Giancarlo Stucky, a close friend and owner of the wheat mill next door. That wheat mill is now the very imposing neo-Gothic Hilton Molino Stucky.

Fortuny Door KnockerThe Fortuny property encompasses the fabric showroom and the gardens and home of the former owner, New York interior designer Elsie McNeill Lee, also known as La Contessa. The factory is also on the property, but visitors are not allowed entry in order to maintain Mariano Fortuny’s trade secrets. Fortuny home office

Fortuny gardensAgain, thanks to the prior reservation made by the Design Hounds organizers, we got to see both the showroom (open to the public on weekdays – weekends too in the summer), and the adjacent gardens. As a matter of fact, we came right after major restoration had occurred, and one day before the pool was to be opened. Dang, missed a chance to show off my new bathing suit. Curtains at Fortuny Fabrics

Even if you don’t have a BA in Medieval Studies due to a love of European history, or didn’t grow up performing in musical theatre, thanks to a mom who had degrees in dance and costume design, you’ll still love both Seguso and Fortuny for their aesthetic appeal. Look at any painting of upper class Venetians from a previous century, and you’ll see what I mean.Fortuny fabrics

Text and photos: Alexandra Williams, MA

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I Went to Italy and Fell in Love

I fell in love in Italy. Not with a gondolier or pastry chef, but with architecture, history, new friends, art, the streets and canals of Venice, good design, and a refrigerator.

gondolier in Venice

Can you tell he’s waving directly at me? Yeah, me neither.

Along with a group of designers, I was part of a group that traveled to Venice and Milan. Just to be clear, I’m not an interior designer in any sense. I decorate my home in Early Dust Kitty. But I do know a lot about bribing the organizers wellness, leading an active, healthy life, and travel.

This is my second trip to Europe as the oddball blogger in a group of designers organized by Veronika Miller of Modenus / DesignHounds, and it’s fantastic to see through the designers’ eyes. Our trip was organized around a visit to the Salone del Mobile Milan, probably the world’s biggest kitchen, bath and furniture show. But of course, we spent a few days in Venice, which I’m highlighting here. Stay tuned for an upcoming post with pictures of Milan.

Venice Italy

My first view of Venice from my private water taxi

As you vicariously travel to Venice by scrolling through my pictures, I’ll share some information about Liebherr, one of our trip’s sponsors, plus tell you a story about my attack freezer.

Venice, Italy fire station

This is a fire station in Venice. Look for the red boats.

Canal in Venice, Italy

Sunlight reflected on a canal in Venice.

My younger son and I moved into a rental home that we own a few months ago. As part of our move we said goodbye to our fancy, new refrigerator and hello to a fridge that has only wire shelves that don’t do a great job holding food in place. And anything put in the back of the fridge freezes. Not a winning plan for my Dutch cheese or the celery. But the fridge is still better than the freezer, which has NO shelves at all. This means everything is sort of stuffed in. Every time one of us opens up the freezer door, the contents fling themselves at us and onto the floor. Every. Damn. Time. I hate the freezer with a passion. The freezer reciprocates.

Liebherr wine cooler

The one-touch wine cooler from Liebherr. Waiting patiently for the sommelier.

Liebherr is a German company that makes refrigerators (I should mention the wine coolers too, knowing how much you all like wine). Roughly translated, Liebherr means “Love the Man,” so you KNOW I’m all over that.

Liebherr fridge

Come to mama. Glass shelves and BioFresh drawers. I hope it fits in my carry on.

dinner with Liebherr

Josef is head of sales for Liebherr in North America. You should insist on smoking a bread stick with him every time a fridge or wine cooler gets it wings. Photo credit: Veronika Miller

I found my next refrigerator. It has glass shelves (ooh, aah), is Energy Star rated, and (drumroll please) has BioFresh compartments that keep my fruits, veggies, cheese and fish fresh for days longer than a standard crisper. This last feature had me at “hello.” I’ve even downloaded the free Liebherr BioFresh app in anticipation of receiving this fridge for my birthday (hey, Liebherr, it’s in August). The app tells you how long something would stay fresh in a standard fridge, how long it stays fresh in either the BioFresh or BioFresh-Plus drawer, and how to store it. For example, I picked the Zander fish from the app because it’s similar to my family nickname – Alex-ZANDER-a – get it? The app recommends the DrySafe (low humidity) over the HydroSafe (high humidity) compartment. When it’s wrapped and stored in the DrySafe BioFresh-Plus drawer, the fish stays fresh four times longer than it would in the pitiful excuse of a fridge in my house (and probably yours). I also learned that Zander fish has Vitamins A, B2, D & E, and Minerals Flourine, Iodine and Zinc.

bridge of sighs, Venice, Italy

The bridge in the background is the Bridge of Sighs, as it’s the last bridge prisoners saw on their way to jail

Venice, Italy

This plaza (also known as a campo) was 2 doors from our Venice apartment. And your eyes are correct – the tower leans.

laundry in Venice, Italy

Venetians seem to do their laundry in color categories. Obviously, it was blue day.

Details abound in Venice, Italy

Every square inch of this building and bridge is covered in details.

head detail in Venice, Italy

Close-up of a head over the door in Venice

limoncello in many colors

Limoncello comes in many flavors and colors. Try them all! Not that I did. cough cough

Now I just have to figure out if limoncello counts as a fruit. If so, I can store it in the HydroSafe drawer. Or the wine cooler. Or, you know, drink it immediately. I hereby raise a glass to toast my happy memories of Venice and Milan, and to Liebherr for helping make my dreams come true (both the travel AND the plan to oust my attack fridge).

sunset in Venice

Watching the sun set in Venice, Italy

by Alexandra Williams, MA

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California’s Central Coast (with Elephant Seal Pups)

I was THIS close to seeing an elephant seal get born.

Elephant Seals CambriaDuring our recent trip to the Highway 1 Discovery Route along the Central California Coast, we stopped at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery that’s about 6 miles up the coast from Hearst Castle. As it turns out, January is peak birthing season, so we saw lots of pups. The docent (the volunteers are there every day) pointed out one female who was acting as if she were ready to give birth. How exciting.Pregnant elephant seal

I was so determined to get a photo that would make National Geographic beg for my private number, that I stood in the rain for about an hour, squinting through my lens at the seal as she flopped about trying to get comfortable. Watching her trying to find a comfy pose gave me flashbacks to my own birthing experiences, and I sadly saw the resemblance between me and a large “come on already, let’s get this over with” elephant seal.

Eventually she fell asleep. I checked back in with the docent, who said it could take anywhere from an hour to 24 for her to give birth. I guess she wasn’t imminent enough to comply with my schedule. Dang it anyway.Cambria-Rocks-1

I didn’t have any childhood memories of seeing the elephant seals during family travels, but I discovered that the seals didn’t start coming to the rookery until 1990, which explains why (I was a full-grown A-Dult by the 90s). Now you can see them year-round.

Hearst Castle

patio at Hearst Castle

Hearst indoor pool

pool detail from Hearst CastleAnd this was my first trip to Hearst too, odd as that seems for someone who’s lived most of her life in California. Coming in January was perfect, as there were no lines at all. I especially liked the exhibit at the visitor’s center. Lots of pictures and history. I love history, and actually have my BA in Medieval European History. My dad said it qualified me for government work (that was the early 80s).

We were THIS close to seeing an elephant seal pup being born. Click To Tweet

Sunset near Cayucos

duck at Moonstone Beach

Besides our visit to Covell’s Clydesdales (click to read about it and see the pictures), we also went on quite a few walks – Moonstone Beach and Boardwalk, Fiscalini Preserve, downtown Cambria, and Harmony Headlands. Our hotel was El Colibri, which sits in a quiet spot right at the start of Moonstone Beach. For pics of my sister planking on a Fiscalini bench in the pouring rain, read her post about our multi-generational travel experience.Moonstone Beach rocks

Beach near CambriaWhen you go to Cambria, try any of the restaurants we ate at – Linn’s, Indigo Moon, Robin’s, Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill, and Black Cat Bistro. All of them were fantastic, and had lots of choices for vegetarians. Really, really friendly staff too. Really. I also suspect that sweet potato fries are the official food of the Central Coast. This is a good thing.Evening sky in Cambria

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Alexandra Williams, MA

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