The Trip: {Venice & Orvieto}

This post should have read, Venice, PISA and Orvieto…

…but that was before the rail workers went on strike, we skyped with friends in two nations to change plans, I almost died of thirst on a train, I gave a lady from South Africa two granola bars, and we walked over ancient cobblestones with our suitcases a mile out of our way after we got lost (for the first time) on our way to the station.

Oh, Europe. We love you.

{Cancellato, Cancellato, Cancellato… and lots of tourists in line for refunds}

During our stay in Florence, we planned a day trip to Venice, and to Pisa. One of those, as you now know, was cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances. However, the other, along with a gondola ride straight out of a book, or a dream, or a Disney theme park (whatever speaks to you) more than made up for it.

Who needs to see an ‘ol lopsided building anyhow.? That’s what I told myself, anyway… It sort of worked.

Venice:

{Made-on-the-spot espresso on the train, the Tuscan countryside, water taxi ride…}

The train ride to Venice was our first rail experience,  and we navigated it wonderfully. Mind you, this was the day before they were on strike, so we were blissfully unaware of the problems we could have faced… thank goodness! The city itself was packed with crowds. There was a boat race that day, so there were several thousand EXTRA tourists and spectators packed on to the narrow bridges and streets – quite a contrast to the relatively easy to navigate (and breath/have elbow room) Florence.

But, Oh…

…it’s so beautiful.

We purchased the Venice Pass (to bring us to the front of the long lines!) and took the vaporetto (water taxi) to St. Mark’s Square from the train station to see the Doge’s Palace and Basilica of St. Mark. The square was full of people, but the sights were beautiful. The “bridge of sighs” that passed between the palace and its prison (where prisoners would sigh as they took one last look at Venice as they crossed) was one of our favorite spots (top right, above!)…

{Narrow water-streets, our gondola, the Grand Canal… and that blue door}

After touring both the palace and the church, we wanted to get into the city to see the lovely little waterways and more of the Grand Canal – too picturesque for words! We ended a rather warm, crowded day with a cool, peaceful, romantic gondola ride (so, so worth it!), and some local cicchetti at al Pesador – a bar nestled right along the Grand Canal and the Rialto bridge… octopus, yum!

{Flavors, guide book review, the husband trying new things, fresh-water fountains}

We really enjoyed walking the streets, browsing the lovely Murano glass and traditional lace – both made on one of the hundreds of islands that make up this amazing, historic city. As we often felt during the trip, we had to leave too soon… but, more adventures awaited us!

Orvieto:

Because Pisa was a no-go, our next day was spent getting a refund at the train station, then spending some extra time in Florence before departing earlier-than-planned to Orvieto. It turns out, this was a blessing in disguise! We adored every moment we had in this tiny city-on-a-hill in the Umbria region with Hannah!

{Views, our suite of rooms and breakfast… oh, to be sitting there again!}

We stayed at B&B La Magnolia, and it was more perfect than I could have imagined. Serene, the owner, also owns the fun cafe & bar downstairs (where our breakfast was served the first day – above middle), and was wonderful to work with. Our suite was at the tippy-top of the historic building in the center of town, and had a fabulous view of of the city and countryside below. It was also just steps from Orvieto’s fabulous duomo, which was one of our favorite churches we visited on the trip… and that’s saying a lot!

The highlight of this portion of the trip, however, was getting the chance to see Hannah “in her element”! Now fluent in Italian (though she would deny it), seeing the place I’ve heard so much about from her over the last few years was amazing. She works with a college program that she attended while in school, and is getting ready to start her Masters in Fine Arts this summer. Orvieto has inspired her work in so many ways – it was easy to see how she fell in love with the views, the culture, the language and the people…

Speaking of the people, we also had the delightful pleasure of meeting Hannah’s talented, amazing friend – Federico. He is a shoemaker and leather craftsman that learned his art in Rome, and lives in Orvieto where he has a shop. We had a blast getting to know him, seeing his beyond-beautiful work, and taking advantage of his tour guide and pizza ordering skills :)

{The evening streets were dream-like, and the sunsets were not to be missed}

While here, we toured the duomo, visited ancient pre-Roman Etruscan ruins, walked down the St. Patrick’s well, climbed the clock tower and ate the most fabulous pasta alla carbonara and affogato known to man at Mezza Luna Trattoria (the restaurant with the amazing flowers hanging over the door, above). The pizza with spicy sausage and Gorgonzola wasn’t too shabby either… or the wine…

…let’s just say it was a good thing we climbed 10,000 stairs while on this trip.

All to quickly, we said goodbye… and were off to Rome!

…more coming soon!

P.S. On another note – Happy third Anniversary to my brave, strong, smart, Godly, devastatingly handsome husband… We always said we would go on adventures together… I’d say we’re off to a good start ;)

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Thought {full}

Tis the season to be thankful (and/or eat yourself into a food coma). At the FeshlyMinted household, we’ve been talking a lot about turkey, ‘taters, another important “T” word: Thoughtfulness.

In order to be the type of person that someone is thankful for, you’ve got to be thoughtful first. A spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a great boss… It’s those pleasant little moments of grace, or fun, or extravagance, or simplicity that make us so, so glad that they are in our lives.

The Husband has some great insight into how thoughtfulness works in a husband-wife relationship, and (without prompting / nagging / standing in front of the TV and begging / asking in a variety of accents to make him laugh) he jotted down a few ideas to share. Enjoy:

Thought {full}

I’ve realized that, unless I am intentional about going against my nature, every day I go through life zoned-in on me. What can I accomplish, what fires can I put out, and what anxieties and to-do lists will occupy my mind as I let little problems grow into big ones. Naturally, I drift into a life that is me-centered. I put my career first, my hobbies first, my t.v. shows first… Basically, I submit to my own desires and “needs”, and expect others to as well.

I bet you’ve guessed that this lifestyle doesn’t work so well with my wife… or in any relationship, really.

So, I thought I’d put some advice together that has helped me improve in the area of thoughtfulness – Not exactly an attribute that comes naturally, but one that means a lot in our home. Like, get you out of the doghouse, get you a nice dinner, get you a delighted, happy spouse to come home to, type of ‘a lot’…

For the gents out there:

Let me start this out by stating the obvious: Ladies are kind of confusing and unpredictable.

Yet, we like them (love them, adore them, share our lives with them) and they give us the support we need to allow us to be who we are, and who we are supposed to become. So, in their honor, here is some advice:

  •  Thoughtfulness isn’t about doing what’s easy. It’s about doing something out of the ordinary (aka – a surprise). If finances are tight, surprise the lady by spending the money on a dinner and a movie. If finances aren’t tight, don’t just buy a gift because it’s easy and quick, but instead, make something…write a letter…draw a funny picture and put it by the coffee pot. It’s all about extra effort. They’ll notice. Trust me. They notice ev-er-y-thing.
  • Girls want to be planned for and thought about without having to make it obvious. Girls joke about dropping hints, but in reality it’s how men discover ways to “surprise” our wives. It can be a tricky balance (and you might have to be pretty quick on the draw to beat her to that second or third “hint”), but there is no greater joy to my wife than something that is truly unexpected – no matter how small – and there is nothing better than seeing her light up with joy and the pride of being a wife of a thoughtful husband when I really, really hit the nail on the head with a simple note, or a fun date she wasn’t expecting.

{Send her to to Boston to see her best friend, buy matching coffees, mow the lawn, get her that goofy mustache corkscrew she was eying, give her a Snuggie and Food Network magazine for Valentines Day…}

  • It’s a little hard to admit, but really listening and finding out what your wife wants is pretty of important. I’m still working on this piece – all of us guys are. Hints and all, it’s not naturally easy. But it’s our job as a husband to “figure out” our wives and discover what puts a spring in her step. When you continuously pursue and serve your wife, in turn, she will gladly love, respect and serve you also. Think of it as a life-long treasure hunt… it’s fun!

Now, the ladies:

So, lots of women out there might be saying to themselves, “My man doesn’t have a thoughtful bone in his body. I should just quit reading now, and copy and paste the “man” section into an email and send it to him at work.”  Well, just hold the phone, because it might not entirely be your husband’s fault… and sometimes (cough- dear wife – cough) getting an email at work isn’t the best way to communicate.

Hang with me here!

  • Create an environment that makes it easy for us to be thoughtful. You probably know what I mean: Jabs with nasty absolutes like, “You never take me to the movies” . Or, when you’re with friends, you toss out:“The last time you bought me flowers was when my car broke down and you made me walk home in the rain. Haha!” (but no one’s laughing and it’s awkward). News flash: These types of comments make a man never want to never take you to the movies! It makes a man want to buy flowers for you, stomp on them outside the grocery store and walk away! Okay, that’s a bit extreme, but truthfully, the negative assumptions and attitude removes the fun of being thoughtful, and puts a bunch of prideful hurdles in the way of loving acts.  Side note for men: We’ve all been there when our minds says, “She ‘wins’ if I buy her flowers after a comment like that.” As men, we need to overcome the jabs as our wives learn not to throw them.

{Make your home a place he wants to be, don’t ask for a room with a hot tub when he just surprised you with a stay at a resort instead of a Days Inn, let him have his game time – and have fun with unexpected tickets even if you’re just there for the hot dogs, wait until a relaxed and focused moment to talk about your dreams and desires…}

  • Lose your preconceived notions. Right now, you might be a little depressed. I can hear some of your thoughts now: “But my husband probably wouldn’t ever do the dishwasher or take me on a nice date or do anything that requires thought unless I remind him.” Don’t fret ladies; there is a right way to prompt thoughtfulness. It all starts with removing expectations. It’s a step that you just can’t skip, because when a man does put forth the effort to be thoughtful and you expect something else or something better it will kill their motivation to do it again. Just let go, and I promise that you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The next step is…
  • Bring it up at the right time. Finally, it is very important that you don’t mention the things that are special to you right when your man is doing something they are really passionate about or absorbed in. For example: It is not a good time to ask a man to go on a picnic during a football game that he has been looking forward to all weekend. It is a good idea to chat about your dream vacation, future plans or favorite piece of jewelry over dinner. I admit it. We aren’t good multi-taskers. Take this into account… and leave the door open for your husband to get it right.

If you don’t learn to be thoughtful, you will miss opportunities to love.

Thoughtfulness isn’t just for marriage, it’s for everyone. So, call a grandparent, bake brownies for a neighbor, give someone in pain a hug, facebook message someone who affected your life, and just plain seek out opportunities to love. Try to live an entire day by being thoughtful – It’s tough, but it’s worth it. Let us know how it goes!

{TRI}ed and true

I am SO PROUD.

The Husband, who loves sports and games and golf, but is not terribly fond of pointless running (umm… remind me why we have to get sweaty if no one is even keeping score?!), successfully completed his first mini-Tri last weekend!

After an already great weekend, the two of us, along with our friends Destrey and Sheri (remember them from this adventure?), competed in a fun, low-key tri hosted at a local University. It consisted of a 250 yd. swim, followed by corn-hole, a 4 mi. bike ride, an egg race and a two mi. run. It was a blast, and the perfect way to attempt to get the Husband hooked on racing ; )

It was a small group, but we did well (Destrey got second place!). The Husband tore it up in the pool, and I only barely got an edge on him during the run. We’ve been swimming two days a week for about a month, and it’s been amazing to see his progress. He was brave just to jump in and try with such short notice (we only decided to do the race a few days before) and I think I might even be able to convince him to do another in the spring. It would be easier to persuade him if the required attire didn’t include obnoxious amounts of spandex…but I’m not complainin’ :)

Haha…awkward.

Anyway… to reward ourselves for a superior performance, even in nippy October weather, we enjoyed a post-race lunch at Wilson’s Sandwich Shop. It is a depression-era landmark, famous for its “Mity Nice Hamburgs” and “frosted malts”. Founded in 1936 by Stub Wilson, the meat for the burgers is ground fresh daily, and it beats any other fast-food hands down for quality and price.

You can’t go wrong with a hamburg, fries and a malt, but they also have awesome homemade pie, hot dogs, chicken, chili and spicy black bean veggie burgers (my choice for lunch – yum!). At Wilson’s, however, you CAN go wrong with how you order. It is an art form, and if you do it wrong you’ll get a glare and maybe even a tongue-lashing. Reminiscent of the “soup nazi“, these unwritten rules are part of this restaurant’s charm. It also makes it easy to spot newbies (like us!) who can’t seem to get it quite right…

Watch this video to learn more about Wilson’s! (And if you visit me, I might take you there… or try to get you addicted to racing. Maybe both).

Perfect end to a great weekend.

More adventures await!

Honey Mustard {for your Honey}

The kid to the left doesn’t look like he likes to eat salad. In fact, that kid didn’t like to eat salad until he married me…

No, no… it was ten years later. Geesh.

Anyway, this kid’s favorite salad is my own spin on a classic Honey Mustard Chicken Salad. It’s got all the good stuff: Homemade dressing, grilled chicken, pecans & dried cranberries. So delicious, and so good for you (shhhh…don’t say that too loud).

The secret ingredient: Greek yogurt.

So, make this for your man, or yourself tonight. I figured I can’t be the only one  desperately clinging to the last weak vestige of summer…and maybe you’re craving salad for dinner, too.

Honey Mustard Chicken Salad

Serves 4

The Dressing:

  • 1/2 Cup Greek Yogurt (Yummy protein! Fage is the best.)
  • 2 T Course Ground Mustard (Not that yellow ballpark stuff. I like Grey Poupon -Mostly because I like saying “Poupon” in a British accent).
  • 1 T Honey (My parents have bees, so I was lucky enough to score some of their delicious home-harvested honey)

The Salad:

  • 3-4 Chicken breasts
  • 6 Cups, or a “several handfuls” of Spinach and Baby Greens (Because that’s what I know you’ll do anyway.)
  • Enough Dried Cranberries, Pecans, Red Onion, Tomato, Cucumbers, Parmesan and Feta to make it look pretty and taste good. (I trust you to eyeball it – Add any of your favorite veggies!)

How-to:

    • Mix all dressing ingredients, cover, and set in the fridge. (I really like the bite of the mustard, so you may want to add extra honey if that’s not your thing. Just try a taste, and adjust as needed. The dressing will be thick, not runny.)
    • Grill the chicken  until done (or broil, bake, use leftovers), slice and cover to keep warm.
    • Mix the salad ingredients, top with chicken.
    • Serve in a pretty bowl with the dressing on the side. (Dressing may need to be stirred up after being removed from the fridge.)
    • Enjoy!

This dressing is what makes the salad, and is also big hit on sandwiches, and as a dip, too! Kind of like what you get in at McD’s for your nuggets…but way, way better. You might want to make a double batch…

Healthy {Happy} Husbands

What you tell someone to do they reject, what you help them discover they own.

I asked the Husband to contribute to this post, and he ran with it. Who knew all those things I hop on my soapbox about really sunk in? He’s got some great insights on what makes a Healthy {Happy} Husband (because who wants to sleep next to a force-fed salad-eating grouch? That’s even worse than the beer & cheese gut).

So listen up ladies, and enjoy!

The Husband’s Insight:

To a guy, presentation is everything, and rules are nothing. A list of rules about what-foods-not-to-touch-with-a-ten-foot-pole, don’t change who we are, they just make us want to throw things. That’s why many wife-enforced “diets” fail. But, if you learn how to effectively present new diet and lifestyle changes to your stud, it can make all the difference.

So, don’t make rules…make changes – slowly but surely- to who you and your family are. Like the quote above, your job is to help him discover healthy eating for himself.

Developing healthy eating habits is all about discovering that eating foods that are great for your body isn’t actually that bad…

{Notice the two appalled little girls in the corner? I think they see their future married lives flashing before their eyes…}

Alrighty, Ladies:

  • Don’t mess with “the favorites”. (ie: Cheesy potatoes/gravy/sausage/nachos/entire pizzas/tacos – All of which make men look forward to coming home to pound* a good meal) …just slowly reduce how often you serve the favorites. (*Note from Rachael: “Pounding” a meal refers to eating a lot, and eating it quickly….Thought this might help everyone who is not up on their Husband-lingo.)
  • Don’t get mad and don’t make eating an argument. Sometimes, a man just needs to eat a sleeve of Oreos.
  • Don’t surprise a man with something he might not like. Instead, present it beforehand as an adventure that you’re trying, and let him know why you think he’ll like it. (it’s a lot like that cheesy chicken dish you love! or, remember that dish we had on our honeymoon?). Help a man discover goodness.
  • Don’t overhaul entire food options. Start slow by mixing in healthy sides and  snacks to your usual menu (Like hummus! Used to hate the idea of it, but now I love it with pita chips, on sandwiches, you name it). Hummus is the new mayonnaise. Believe it!
  • Get to know the healthy stuff that he likes, and keep making it  – but not all the time. Remember, start slow and no “rules”. You’ve got time! Also, you can often find healthier versions of his favorites. Hello, organic fruit snacks.
  • Slowly start buying less and less of the unhealthy snacks and foods. If you’re hungry and you see grapes and nacho cheese,  a guy is gunna choose nacho cheese and eat it till it is no more. But, if you’ve got good stuff stashed everywhere, a man is gunna pick something healthy on his own.
  • Suggest and prepare the healthy options for him, and make it look attractive. The bottom line is that most men will eat what you put in his face. So, cut up and share an apple for a movie snack before he goes for his usual bowl of ice cream.
  • Don’t ask a man what he wants for dinner every night. Because if you do, he will pick “pizza or tacos” like I do. Make a plan and suggest some options. This is not to say you should never ask, because sometimes a guy really is craving something and it will make him happy if you fix it for him. But, most of the time, the fact that we don’t have to worry about it makes us happy… and you can slip in healthy stuff.

When you decide to make a change you have to become the kind of person that doesn’t enjoy the feeling of a food comma. It’s not easy. If it was, fast food chains would fail, diet companies would fade, and wives and girlfriends and daughters wouldn’t be reading this blog post! But, if you lovingly pursue a fun, healthy new lifestyle together, you’ll be more than happy with the results… in your relationship and on the scale.

{A few of “the favorites”. So special when you get to share them…}

I hope you learned a little from the Husband, and even found a few tips you can apply at home. Is there anything that help YOU keep your Man or your family happy and healthy?

Watch for more posts with some of the Husband’s healthy favorites!