Wednesday, July 31, 2013



I now have NINETEEN cheerleaders.


Up from EIGHT on Saturday morning.

We are actually officially OVER capacity: squads max out at 17 this year, but we had 2 extra friends approved by the board last night - so THIS IS IT!!! We are the *biggest* squad in our entire league, so we definitely will be a strong presence! :-D

I'm still floored. SOOO EXCITED, but so surprised! And so very thankful that the board has faith in me to rock this. This poor team had zero cheerleaders this time last year, until 3 players' sisters were roped into it late in September with a half-hearted college girl coach. Demoralized doesn't begin to describe... And now, this. ♥ One of those moms from last year emailed me today how "beyond exciting" these changes are and what an amazing feeling the difference is already - and we've only had the parent meeting! First practice tomorrow, Cheer Camp Saturday.

I had prayed for God to send me the girls who needed to be on my squad...and wow, has He EVER delivered!!! I cannot WAIT to see what He does through them...

Sunday, July 28, 2013


"This is not a DEMocracy. This is a CHEERocracy, and I'm the cheertator." ~Bring It On

So this is how I'm feeling a little bit. :-P Yesterday was ALL cheer/football: I had my cheer coach recertification & coaches' meeting from 8:30 - 1. I spent all afternoon doing cheer recon, getting prices on accessories & making plans. Last night, we met with three other football families for dinner & a team mom meeting. I LOVE THIS STUFF!!!!! ...But it *IS* a lot of work. If you thought that first cheer email was long, the one I wrote yesterday would blow you away!

Part of that is b/c I had so much more info to share after my coaches' meeting. The other part is b/c my squad size just doubled! Yes, I SAID DOUBLED!!! This squad that I feared would have no more than 5 girls was already at 8...and now we are potentially at 16!!! SIXTEEN!!! Two new girls signed up this weekend (yay!), but the biggie is that another cheer squad of 6 girls didn't have enough football players to field their team, so the board of the league gave them to me.

I am thrilled to have a squad this huge!!! But right now, I am feeling a wee bit defensive. This other squad already had a coach, assistant coach, & team parent. Well, so do we. I'm taking their old head coach as my assistant (she & I seem very much on the same page :-) plus she's 15 weeks pg! she doesn't need to be running cheer at 8 months pg in Nov! :-P) and my team parent agreed to step down to let this other lady do it. I also told her other assistant coach that I would love whatever help she wants to give (with a big smiley face.) :-D So, see - I *am* being very accommodating!

...But this is still my show. And with a squad this big, there's no way to please everyone. No one on the new squad that folded into ours has a brother playing, so they all have tons of money & effort to pour into every cheer accessory available; I felt the need to let it be known up front that all of those things are optional for this squad. (Personalized this & that, etc.) Super cute stuff - I love it, too!!! But 5 cheer families have multiple kids in our league, and these extra costs mount up quickly. Example: before their squad folded, they all decided to get these $35 (on sale!) yoga-weight NFL jackets from Justice for their girls. They are cute, but not worth $35 (too plain) to me; more importantly, according to our league rules, they cannot cheer in them. They must wear only plain white leggings & a long-sleeved shirt under their uniforms when it gets cold. Yes, I know they all 6 bought these jackets, and they can wear them off the field together; but I'm not telling my other 10 girls they need to buy one, b/c I don't think it's worth it. [This is the defensiveness I'm feeling.] I don't want anyone to feel pressured to spend beyond their comfort zone, esp. b/c we *DO* have a number of required extraneous costs: cheer shoes, hair bows, pink poms in Oct for breast cancer awareness, several halftime dance props (no more than $5 each, but still.) I want these new people to feel welcomed, esp. b/c I know they're probably bummed their squad folded, and they don't get to do it all "their way" now (I know I'd feel like that), but I'm a little worried that finding perfect harmony may be a bit more difficult than I anticipated.

I don't want it to feel like a squad divided, you know? But I already got my first new complaint this afternoon about the practice time not being ideal. *Sigh* I'm sorry, but we have more girls that have brothers on the team, so we're going to practice the same time & place the football players practice. I did tell her I hoped to shorten practices in the future, if the girls have everything down solidly, and at that point we can start 30 min later, but not yet. She also had a concern about hair bows... :-P

Having a bigger squad is GREAT, b/c you don't HAVE to make as many concessions to individual people (there's too many to set that precedent) ...but you do get more individual opinions. :-P :-D It's no different than getting things rolling in any new leadership role; but I am a people-pleaser when it comes to those under my charge, so finding the balance is always a challenge.

Time to straighten my cheertator crown... ;-)

Edited tonight to add:
I've now heard from almost all of the new moms, and the rest actually sound more open and OK with the changes, so YAY!!! Y'all must've read this post & started praying for peace right away. :-) THANK YOU!!!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Happy Birthday TO ME!!!

Happy birthday to me!!! :-D Tuesday was my 35th - yay!!! Birthdays aren't the least bit upsetting to me. Maybe it's b/c I usually find myself being the "baby" in my groups of friends, so when my birthday actually rolls around, I'm a little surprised that I'm "only" turning that age now. :-P

I took this selfie after teaching Zumba Monday: (excuse my glow ;-))

I have to say, 35 looks better on me than even 25, or especially 15!!! :-D (Cliché but true: thank you, Zumba! ;-))

To celebrate my bday at Zumba today, I had the café make smoothie shots and bring them up in the middle of my class for all my participants on silver platters! Those ladies make me so happy to teach, and I wanted them to feel as special as they make me feel!!! ♥ Also, before class I discovered I had lost my Polar FT4 heart rate monitor watch (just the watch, I had the chest strap; must've fallen out of my bag on Monday) ...but the blessed Maria, who is in charge of housekeeping, had found it Monday in the locker room and saved it for me in her purse!!! Talk about saving the day!!! I lovelovelove where I teach ♥ SUCH great people!!!!!

JB absolutely rocked my bday surprises yesterday: calla lilies (my fave! purple = my fave color, white = carried in our wedding) and cake balls with my MONOGRAM in icing!!! Soooo *me*!!!!!

More blessings flow: JB's parents sent me a card to Sally Beauty!!! I am *sooo* ready to pounce now on the next Gelish collection that tickles my fancy!!! :-) ♥ THANK YOU!!!

I also got this from my alma mater :-D Heehee! Go Wildcats! ;-)

And my annual Beauty Insider bday gift email from Sephora:

I also got a free bowl at Genghis Grill (a Mongolian barbeque restaurant), buy-3-get-3-free at Kolache Factory, one free Sbux drink (you *KNOW* it'll be a venti 8-pump no water chai!!!), and a free large pizza from Grimaldi's!

What are your favorite free birthday deals? (Anything else I need to sign up for next year??? ;-))

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shine On, Shine On

My dear friend (& former college roomie) Stephanie has bequeathed to me the ...wait for it...

Are you all shocked to pieces? ;-) :-D

The rules are:

◾Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog.
◾Link to the person who nominated you.
◾Answer 10 questions about yourself.
◾Nominate other bloggers.
◾Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

And now for the 10 questions:

1. What is your favorite color?
Purple (I mean, have you looked at my blog background? :-P Have you seen my nails?)

2. What is your favorite animal?
Pet? Beagle
Exotic? Lemur

3. What is your favorite number?
23 (& JB's has always been 32 ;-))

4. Favorite non-alcoholic drink?
Starbucks tall 5-pump or venti 8-pump chai latte with no water (all milk) and BUBBLE TEA! Esp. almond or taro milk tea from Kim's Teahouse Tapioca (*hint, hint* next week's my bday! :-D ;-))

5. What is your favorite alcoholic drink?
Bud Light (or for special occasions: St-Germain)

6. Facebook or Twitter?
FB is my BFF; although JB just joined Twitter and thinks I'd really like it, b/c so many of my FB posts aren't questions or issues that need commentary, but are thoughts re: what I'm thankful for or things that make me happy, which just warrant likes

7. What are your passions?
#1 = faith & Jesus; food - esp. trying new restaurants; singing - esp. harmony; dancing - esp. when it makes other people happy & actually changes their lives for the better; football - esp. w/ our family & my Redskins; staying connected w/ beloveds across the country, hence this blog & FB obsession; photography & documenting life; Southernness - esp. monograms (I don't think it's overstating it to say monograms are truly a passion of mine, do you? :-P ;-))

8. Prefer getting or giving presents?
Both, of course!!! Who doesn't like to receive?!?! But it's just as wonderful to find the *perfect* notion that speaks to the heart of a friend whom you love and have them KNOW through this gift expression that you truly do understand them, you get them, and you acknowledge what makes their heart beat. I NEVER, EVER give a gift w/o meaning!!!

9. What is your favorite city?
Last year I would have just said, "Charleston, SC" and been done... but I truly love it here in Texas! And I've been thinking so much about Europe lately... I love traveling and finding things to be "my favorites" everywhere I go!

10. What are your favorite TV shows?
I love TV! Enjoying Everyday Life; reality competitions like The Amazing Race, Survivor, Master Chef, SYTYCD, Top Chef, Project Runway, etc; Downton Abby, Call the Midwife, The Newsroom, Homeland, The Americans, Who Do You Think You Are,... I have SO MANY! [And I really miss Friday Night Lights]

Finally, I pass this Sunshine Award on to the following fellow bloggers:
◾Andie at Sweet. Southern. Spirited., for shining refreshing NOLA mommy honesty
◾Tracey at Girls to Grow, for continuously refocusing the light of Christ
◾Nikki at Nikki's Notes, who is now enjoying the Texas sunshine near me
◾Katie at Blessed By 3 Miracles, who loves the sun & sand as much as I
◾Phyllis at Just Bcauz, who radiates love for her family of 5 as a working mom
◾Michelle at Southern Somedays, whose Southern grace shines even through (all too familiar) family uprootings

These are just a few ladies I know have been blogging these days. Of course, anyone else who reads this - even if you haven't blogged in a bit or have a private blog I can't link to - who wants to participate, PLEASE DO! Let me know you did in the comments, so I can come check out your post!!! :-)

Shine on, y'all!!!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Welcome to My Cheer Squad

I spent *HOURS* last night writing a welcome email for my incoming fall cheer squad; since I put so much time into it, and since it explains a large part of what our life will be like for the next four months, I thought it might be cool to include it here! I know we have several new cheerleaders who are not only new to our league, but who are also new to our area, so I wanted to give them as much info as possible; this league is an intensive commitment, and I wanted them to know up front what to expect. I also wanted them to know that while I have cheer experience, we're still kind of new to Texas, too, so they shouldn't feel alone. :-) I wanted to point out a few differences in this year vs. last year for returning squad members. The Falcons will be run as a much tighter ship under my tutelage. ;-)

Welcome to cheerleading for the 2013 Falcons! In the next few weeks, I will receive a lot more concrete information (exact dates & times for cheer camp, events, when to expect uniforms, etc.) from the league leadership to share with everyone; but at this point, all I know is that YOU are the fantastic families who comprise our squad!

Who am I: "Coach Susie" ("Coach Blake" is my husband, the Falcons football coach ;-)) I grew up outside Charlotte, NC in youth cheer and dance. I taught dance (tap, jazz, preballet, & creative movement) outside both Atlanta & Chicago and am currently a licensed Zumba instructor. This is my 4th year coaching youth cheer and my 2nd with this league. (We just moved to Texas last July; our family has moved 8 times over the last 13 years - crazy, I know! But we love it here and are settling in now FOR GOOD! ;-)) Last year, I coached the Texans, and I'm so excited to be with the Falcons now, to have our family all united on one team!

What to expect, practice-wise: the boys will regularly practice three days a week (Tues, Wed, Fri) but we will only practice two; definitely Fri (Fri is a great refresher before Sat games!) and whichever the majority of the squad wants: Tues or Wed. [Let me know your vote! I know we all have "stuff" - my cheerleader, Annelise, currently has gymnastics Tues AND Fri, and I have church singing rehearsals about one Wed a month; so I'm already going to be shuffling our schedule completely for cheer! I vote Wed & Fri for practice.] The practices will start out running an hour & a half, 5:30 - 7 PM, b/c we have so much to learn; but as long as we're getting all of our cheers & dances down solidly and not wasting time, I'm hoping to knock them down to one hour. Your cheerleader must wear her cheer shoes (no flip flops or sandals) and bring a large water bottle to every practice. Staying hydrated out in the heat is key! [Cheer shoes: they need all-white cheer shoes. We will be doing some simple stunts, so the flexible soles are very important. Perfect example. (I might buy myself a pair!)] Wear gym-appropriate clothes to practice (no dresses, skirts, jean shorts, etc.) We had a "practice uniform" last year (a pair of Soffe shorts & top) and if y'all are interested in that, I'd be all about it, again! I don't like adding extraneous costs, but I will say, it's nice not to tangle with your girls over what they're going to wear to each practice. ;-) Thoughts? Finally, hair must be up, out of faces. At each practice, we will warm up, go over cheers, and work on a halftime dance. Your cheerleader must be present, not only to learn the cheers and dances, but b/c where she stands impacts where everyone else lines up. We are a TEAM!!! :-)

Cheer Camp: not yet sure when it will be held (Aug 3 or 4? maybe?) but I want to mention this up front, b/c as someone who was new to this league last year, I would have liked to know what to expect. It's only one day for about three hours. All league cheerleaders from every team come together to learn a few cheers, some stunting rules, and get a head start learning a new halftime dance. Please make attending a priority! We won't learn a whole new halftime dance for every single one of the 8-10 game weeks (our squad did that last year; it was exhausting by Nov!) but we will do at least four or five, so getting this extra instruction time is priceless. League cheer shirts will also be available on Camp day - most girls *do* buy one. Again, totally not required, but it would make for a good practice uniform top.

What to expect, game-wise: we will cheer eight to ten regular season Saturday games (the board is still working out the schedule) starting Sept 7, and if we make the playoffs, into mid-November. The playing schedule is staggered, so the 2-hour games can be anytime b/t 8 AM and 4 PM. As soon as the league makes the final schedule (mid-Aug?) I'll get it out to you, so that you can plan the rest of your fall weekends. All cheerleaders must be at the field 30 MINUTES BEFORE GAME TIME. We cheer the whole game, with scattered water breaks. (We don't take a quarter off.) The girls will stay in "the cheer box" - an area beside the players' benches, sectioned off with cones, right in the center of the sideline. [I know this isn't where the Falcons cheerleaders stood last year, but this is the standard league cheer policy.] The cheer parents usually like to set up their chairs right behind the cheer box, and the girls can come to those seats for water breaks. At halftime, each cheer squad does a dance at midfield and then has a break. Whether or not the Falcons make it to the Turf Bowl (the league Super Bowl! so cool!) our girls WILL dance at that halftime, so plan on cheering in mid-November - playoffs or not. If the Falcons get knocked out early, our regular practices will be over, but we will have two or three division-wide cheer practices in Nov to learn the Turf Bowl halftime dance all together. (It was an amazing experience last year!)

Uniforms: I don't know when to expect them. As soon as I do, you will, too! :-)

Hair bows: OF COURSE we will have giant hair bows, but those do not come with the uniforms. Parent vote: make or buy them? Where did the Falcons get theirs last year? Texans bought theirs, but I *do* have bow-making experience on my résumé. ;-) I'm up for whatever!

Fundraiser: the league does a fundraiser every year. It's completely voluntary. Last year was selling grill spices; this year I think is stadium cups? Again, we'll know more in the coming weeks, but don't stress over it. (I just like to know what's coming at me ahead of time!)

Cutesy cheer stuff: I am all about team spirit paraphernalia! If you have any ideas or just like to spend hours scouring Pinterest for crafty fun, fill me in! One of the things I love about this league is the level of pride these teams take in their colors & mascots. I'm already thinking of spirit shakers we can make out of clear water bottles to hand out to our fans, a spirit stick for our squad, etc. Bring on the glitter!!! ;-)

Can my friend join our squad? If your cheerleader has a friend who would also like to cheer and is up for the commitment, it's not too late! Make sure she registers ASAP and let me know!

When do we start? The beginning of August! *Tentatively* mark your calendars for our first cheer practice to be Thursday, August 1st at 5:30 PM. (Yes, Thurs instead of Fri this time. ;-)) If the league gives me a different start day, I will let you know; but I want us to meet once before Cheer Camp, so we can get to know each other first. (Cheer Camp = hundreds of girls in one room, so if we have a little bonding first, it's much less overwhelming! :-))

Celebration: We are planning our team kick-off barbeque August 4th in the afternoon at [a football parents' home] for the whole football team & cheer squad. Mark your calendars; more info to come...

Sooo, KUDOS if you've actually made it through reading this whole dissertation!!! :-D Hang onto this email, so you'll be able to refer back. I'm obviously a big fan of communication, so email or text me ANYTIME with ANY questions! Reply with answers to all my voting & opinion questions, let me know if there's anything else I can do for you, and I'll see everyone in person in 2 weeks! Go Falcons!!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tackling Clinic

This week is full-contact football tackling camp, and we have been BLESSED! The clinic is run in FULL PADS & helmets. In July. In Texas. It's been over 100°F...until *this* week: 1st cooling afternoon showers in over a month = less than 80°F during camp! Couldn't be better!!!

Will is #24 - black helmet, red jersey, black pants



Setting up the video: Will is on the far right, playing defense (he'll run across the screen to the ball on the far left)

And this. I took the first 5 seconds, but the rest happened during the 1st scrimmage after I'd taken Annelise to tumbling:

Football mama bursting with pride!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Gelish: You Glare, I Glow

So two weeks ago, I was hit with Gelish drama. :-P I don't go out & buy new colors very often, just b/c Gelish lasts SO LONG. There's not much need for me to buy a few new colors in every new collection, (unlike my OPI days,) b/c it would take months for me to try them all out. I got my last new colors at Christmas and have been completely satisfied! ...Until Sally Beauty sent my birthday month coupon ($10 off $20) which piqued my interest. ;-) I can't say I hadn't noticed the new neon purple called "You Glare, I Glow" in the All About the Glow collection:
I don't have anything like it at all! So I got my heart set on that, as well as finding something as close to Tiffany blue as possible. Sally Beauty has always had colors from the previous 2 or 3 collections in stock, so I didn't think twice about their availability. When I arrived the next day with my bday month coupon, they were 100% out of every All About the Glow color and had no previous collections, either! (They did have a ton of basic colors, just not the new collections.) I asked the girl when they expected more, and she shook her head: never. Apparently Gelish is now going to make "limited edition" really mean something, and they are only sending each store THREE bottles of each new color!!! When they're out, they're out. Wow. OK, so I'm on board with that...but it didn't help me that day, b/c also apparently, this purple color has caused quite a stir amongst Gelish folk (I guess my style instincts are on-trend! ;-)) and it sold out EVERYWHERE. :'(

It took me four full days to get over my cheapness re: not being able to use my Sally bday month coupon :-P and instead, order it off Amazon. It arrived yesterday, and boy, it was WORTH it!!! This color is amazing:
It's the hardest color to photograph, though, EVER! This is my hand today in three different lights, and still none of these capture the true neon vibrancy. It's a solid crème opaque that sometimes trends fuchsia, other times more violet. It's the epitome of summer fun!!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ciao, Italia! 10 YEARS since ITALY!

How can it be possible that it's been 10 years since my & JB's last Italy trip??? (Even more upsetting, how is it that I haven't traveled out of the country since? Absolutely crushing realization for this girl who lived abroad and prides herself on being a world citizen. I know we've spent the last decade learning how to parent and moving a gazillion times, which has made leisure travel impossible; but I can't deny, it still makes my heart ache.)

I remember almost every part of this trip like it was just last year. It was my big "we need to do this before we have kids" request...and obviously a very valid one! :-D (It's also hard to believe this was 5 full years even before FB for me! :-P) I remember specific meals and dishes in every location. I remember everything...

Here's a complete photo recap!

Rome: June 30 – July 4, 2003
Hotel Orazia

Day One ~ We got to Rome at 9 AM on Monday, June 30th after a direct flight over from ATL and checked in to our hotel. That first day we went to all the ruins of the Roman Forums and the Colosseum area. That afternoon, jet lag kicked in, so that was the only evening we did absolutely nothing.
[First glimpse of the Colosseum down a long, narrow street]

[The ruins of the Forum]

[Inside the Colosseum]

Day Two ~ The second day, we spent roaming around the city center: the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, etc. We ate and ate and ate, (JB's fettuccine alfredo at Cafe Dolce Vita was stellar!) We sat around at every cafe we felt like and did lots of window shopping. On the way up to the Spanish Steps, we went into Dolce & Gabbana and they asked me if I'd like to try on an amazing $2000 dress with $900 shoes - ahhh...

[Trevi Fountain]
[The Column of Marcus Aurelius (and tiny JB at the bottom)]
[Fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon]
[Valentino couture]
[Fresh drinking water flowing freely throughout the city]

That night, we actually went to an opera concert in a beautiful cathedral! It was a concert of famous arias, (including my favorite, Nessun Dorma, and my audition piece for the Atlanta Opera, O Mio Babbino!) I cried.

["The Wedding Cake" as the Romans call it, lit up on our walk after the opera]
[Again, the fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon, but at night]
[Looking into the fountain, with the Pantheon looming large in the background]

Day Three ~ Day three we took a day trip to Pisa! I guess we can see why no one would spend more than half a day there; the tower and cathedral are about it, but we had a blast. It was a 3-hour train ride from Roma, but it was really pretty. We followed the coast up, so when we weren't passing gorgeous seaviews, we were riding through the famous sunflower fields of Tuscany in full bloom!!!

We had the BEST antipasti before lunch - fresh bruschetta and pecorino romano cheese with fresh pears. After lunch, we shopped around a bit and then got to go up to the very top of the Leaning Tower! JB helped me with my slight fear of climbing up tons of tiny circular steps, and it was AMAZING!
[JB leaning with the tower, (and yes - that tree is actually leaning for real, too!)]
[The degree of lean changes as you move around it.]
[Lunch in the shadow of the tower]
[You feel the lean dramatically at the bottom entrance!]
[The baptistery and cathedral]
[Along the Arno River]

Day Four ~ Thursday, July 3rd we spent all back in Roma. We spent five hours walking through the Vatican, looking at all of the amazing, famous artwork and being generally awed.
Also while at the Vatican, we went to the very top of St. Peter's Cathedral - yet another teensy stair-climbing-very-high-up triumph. The view was totally worth it!
[St. Peter's piazza]
[And the inside of St. Peter's gorgeous dome...]
[...done completely in mosaic!]

After the Vatican, we had a delicious lunch, (tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms in a light cream sauce followed by an awesome gelato sundae!) And what better way to follow a meal than to go see a bunch of skeletons? The Capuchin Crypt was incredible - all of the walls are seriously decorated with the bones of dead monks! We had dinner in front of the Pantheon, followed by the usual second cone of gelato (Italian ice cream - NOTHING like it in the world!!!) of the day.

Day Five ~ Our last full day in Roma, we went back to the ruins of the Palatine Hill beside the Forum and Colosseum, because we'd skipped them on Monday. We also did a little shopping; we got some bath soap made from Tuscan herbs right in front of us at a wonderful botanical bath and soaps store behind the Pantheon. JB got the most stunning humidor ever crafted at a leather store on the Via Veneto. We spent the whole evening on the Piazza Navona, reveling and celebrating the 4th of July!
[Everyone comes to stick their hand inside the Mouth of Truth. Legend says that if you have a penchant for telling lies, the Mouth will chomp down on your hand and bite it off!]

Baia & The Phlegraean Fields: July 5 – July 6, 2003
Hotel Il Gabbiano

Day Six ~ On Saturday, July 5th, we left Roma and went down to the Naples area. We went away from Naples to the west, over to Baia and the Phlegraean Fields. It's an area where so many myths - Odysseus, Icarus, etc. - have roots. Very heavily Greek-influenced.

During that day, we went over to Cuma. It's where the famous Cave of the Sybil, the second most famous oracle after Delphi, is located. You can go all the way inside to the very back. So eerily cool! This whole area is kind of out of the way and certainly not the simplest to get to, but it's amazing and more than worth it to get off the beaten tourist path. The history is astounding, and it's something that not every one who's been to Italy (or even the Naples area) has done.
After we left the Cave of the Sybil, we hiked up the acropolis there to the very top. At each stage, we thought, "This is the most beautiful view," (because it's right on the Mediterranean Ocean,) but it just kept getting prettier and prettier. There are the ruins of a Temple of Apollo and a Temple of Juno there, and you can climb all over.
Our hotel was home to a very famous restaurant; apparently it's the #1 spot in the area to get married, and we were there over a Saturday night, so there were two weddings while we were there. (And the food at the restaurant surely did not disappoint! Their pasta special was incredible.) The view from our room was also breath-taking!

Day Seven ~ The next morning, while still in Baia, we got to take a glass-bottom boat out on the bay. Almost 2000 years ago, Baia was built out more, and due to the volcanic and seismic activity in the earth, all of the old Roman roads and villas built by the emperors who'd vacation there have sunken into the sea. On the glass-bottom boat, we could actually SEE the ruins of roads and villas under the water!

Pompei & The Vesuvius Area: July 6 – July 7, 2003
Hotel Grillo Verde

Day Eight ~ After we left the Baia and Cuma area, we went back east past Naples over to Pompei (1 "i" in Italian) and Herculaneum for July 6th and 7th. Those two places were mind-boggling. I just could not get over the fact that ALL of what we were walking through had been completely covered by ash and mud from the volcano and that it had all been dug out to be able to see what we saw today. I grew up watching National Geographic specials on Pompei with my dad, so this was such a huge historical thing for me to see. All the guide books we read said you need at least 4 hours to give Pompei even a cursory look. Totally right! We were there for 5 hours and STILL didn't see everything!
[Mt. Vesuvius rising behind the Forum]
[The streets of Pompei were so cool! Apparently they used to flood often, so their "crosswalks" were big stepping stones, so you wouldn't have to wade through the water.]
[There were many ancient storefronts with huge jars set inside of marble counters. These jars were for mixing drinks for customers. Yummy!]
[There are two theatres in Pompei. The minor one (above) is better preserved. The Major Theatre (below) was slowly being restored.]
We were astounded by how much color is throughout the place still. Tons of bright red. I can't believe so many paintings survived.
There were also a few preserved bodies and several casts of some of the victims of the volcano that were found as the place was excavated. They were in glass cases to protect them. It wasn't freaky or scary at all. Just amazing...

We did Pompei and Herculaneum both in the same day. Our advice? Please don't try to do that. It's not impossible, because we successfully did it, but it's exhausting. The ancient, uneven stone streets are so hard on your feet, and the sun beats down extremely hard; we both got fried. After five hours in Pompei, we knew we had to leave, if we were going to make it to Herculaneum in time (~20 minutes by local train) to see everything there, too, before they locked the gates. Herculaneum was even better than Pompei! It's much smaller and better preserved, because it was covered in mud by the volcano, instead of burning ash, like Pompei. The mosaics there are fantastic! It originally was a very wealthy town, so it has some more showy sights. Everyone should see both, though; Pompei is so epic!

Capri: July 8 – July 10, 2003
Hotel La Minerva

Days Nine and Ten ~ Tuesday, July 8th, we went down to Sorrento to take the hydrofoil over to Capri. Next time we go to Pompei, we'll stay in Sorrento, because it's only ~30 minutes by local train, and it's gorgeous! The Isle of Capri is perhaps our most favorite place on the planet. No kidding. It is amazing! The most gorgeous azure water, lush plant life, a few beaches, mountainous rocky cliffs, killer upscale shopping, (every designer you can think of has a boutique there; best window shopping and dream trying-on in the world!) amazing food from people who make an effort to get to know you, because they know if you come once, you'll come back, again...I could go on and on. It's also the only place I've ever been where I can't find postcards that are as pretty as the real thing.
[Waiting for the hydrofoil]
[Cliffs of Sorrento]
[Our room in Capri]

The previous time I was in Capri (April 1999), I didn't go to the famous Blue Grotto, so we had to do it this time. You take a motor boat out around the island to where a bunch of little row boats are, because the motor boats can't get in there. You get in a row boat, (it was just the two of us together with the boat rower - very romantic!) and you literally have to lay down flat in the boat to get into the little hole of the cave. The boatman said, "You go in now in the love and you come out, you gonna have a baby with the blue eyes like the water!" [Sidebar: Will was born 13 months later! ;-) :-D] Once you're through the tiny cave opening and your eyes adjust, it is the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen. The most breath-taking blue sparkling up from the sea! We rowed around inside and our boatman sang a few opera songs for us! (The acoustics are GREAT in there!) He even sang the Andrea Bocelli song we love so much, Con Te Partiró/Time to Say Goodbye.

The food on Capri is FANTASTIC! It was the home of two of our most favorite restaurants in the WORLD...and they just happened to be right across the tiny street from each other! Da Gemma and La Cisterna. Da Gemma closed just last year (SAD!!!) but had the best gnocchi (and I am a gourmet gnocchi lover) on the planet! It was the perfect texture - not gummy or pasty nor falling apart. Perfect size and the sauce? That made it! Not drowning in tomato sauce. They knew that the sauce is a condiment to the pasta, not a whole nother dish, and they did it best: equal parts tomato and real Mozzarella di Bufala (the ONLY acceptable kind!) made it able for you to literally clean your plate...
[Sunset view from our table]
And Sal, the owner of La Cisterna, is the happiest man you've ever met in your life. He's lively, fun, and he's there at all times when his restaurant is open. He's a big jolly man, and he is fantastic! His house wine bottle label is what drew us in there in the first place. You can't tell me this charismatic guy wouldn't suck you right in, too!
[OMIGOSH! I found a pic of him online from THIS MAY! Sal shaved! :-D]
More around Capri & then the walk to dinner:

Rome: July 10 – July 11, 2003
Hotel Orazia

Day Eleven ~ We left Capri and went back to Rome Thursday afternoon, July 10th. (We took the hydrofoil to Naples and then the Eurostar high speed train from Naples back to Rome. So fast!) When we got back, we had this feeling of, "Ah, we're home!" Heehee! We had our last night's dinner in front of the Pantheon, again. (Different restaurant, though; there are tons right on the piazza there.)
[No filter! This was "back in the day" - over 5 years before I learned anything on Photoshop! You can see the natural blue sky at the cloud line; the sunset literally turned these clouds this pinky purple!]

Day Twelve ~ We woke up to a gorgeous Roman sunrise, caught a quick last European breakfast, and flew out at 9 AM. This trip was everything we dreamed it would be and more!

Arrivederci Roma...

We bought our very first digital camera for this trip. We had two CompactFlash cards to hold all our pics; each was 64 MB - that would hold 8 pictures with the quality cameras we have now!!! EIGHT!!! Thinking how dramatically technology has evolved just over the last decade, these pics seem pretty great "for the time." :-D ;-)

I planned this whole trip by myself - no tour guides, nothing but me and the 2003 internet ...and a lot of confidence in my European travel abilities. I had lived in Germany August 1998 - July 1999, and I wasn't the least bit scared about doing it on my own, b/c I had already done it on my own before. :-P Now, though? I have to admit, I'd be nervous about being a bit rusty, esp. w/ train nuances. And how has internet access everywhere (iPhones, people!) changed travel planning? I used to be able to teach people how to travel in Europe, but I'm worried I'm the one now who needs a refresher! :-P Not that it's on our radar anytime soon...but I pray one day not toooooo many years away! [After we get to buy our long-term house here and replace our vehicles, which are older & almost as old as this Italy trip! :-D]

World travel is just such a deep passion of mine, and going through this today has brought it all back to the surface. I still can't get over how long it's been...