Pity Party and Plans for the Future

Sometimes it takes a pity party to reboot your life.

In the last month or so, the following things have happened to me, and they resulted in my spending a lot of solitary and moody time on the couch reading and watching movies and television.

  • My son told me that I was never going to get anywhere with my blog if I didn’t focus my topic. He’s a social media expert, so I imagine he is probably correct.
  • My physical therapist told me that my knee probably isn’t going to get much better and that I’m going to have limitations with my range of motion in my surgical knee no matter how much I exercise it.
  • I realized that wearing a Fitbit has positive and negative aspects. On one hand, I love the documentation of one’s life because I’m a born and bred social historian. On the other hand, the Fitbit also hands up my failures on a social media platform for me and my Fitbit friends to see.
  • I blew up at a party when a friend made a political “joke” that hit a nerve.
  • A dear friend told me that I have to get off social media and stop worrying about what other people think – including the comments sections of political posts on Facebook. I encounter so much hatred and ignorance that it makes me frustrated, and resulted in my rude behavior on Easter.
  • I missed seeing two annual flower shows that I love because I really didn’t have anyone to go with. My friends are all busy and interesting people with their own lives and it’s very hard to schedule activities together. Having active lives should be a good thing, but not if I have to wait to do something because we can’t schedule a time.
  • I read three books with bloggers as the primary characters. They were well written and the authors clearly had knowledge of the blogging world, but it made me look at blogging success through different eyes.

So, I’m declaring the pity party to be over, and this is what I’m doing to change my perspective. Continue reading

The Sunday Review: Italian Ways by Tim Parks

I’m an Anglophile recently masquerading as a Francophile. I have not been to Italy yet, but books about Italian culture are certainly on my radar, as we are planning a trip to Italy in the spring with travel writer Linda Dini Jenkins. When my husband bought me a book for my birthday by Tim Parks about rail travel in Italy, I was pretty happy.

europe, italy, tuscany, crete senesi, asciano area, nature train, historical diesel locomotive

Although I’ve never been to Italy, I’ve been a Frances Mayes stalker follower for many years. Her blog is a delight and most of my mind-photos of Italy come from her Bramasole books. I’ve previously talked about Frances here and I’ve referred to her many times over my years of blogging. I’ve also had guest bloggers share their wonderful experiences in Italy, including friends Debbie and Kathy. I’ve been putting together trips to Rome for relatives this week and I’ve been drinking a lot of Italian koolaid. I was ready for Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Although Mayes gave us some idea of the Italian sense of time and place,  Tim Parks’s almost sardonic take on Italy and its social structures came as kind of a culture shock to me. I should have know better; many of my blogging friends refer to issues with Italian trains, including Marisol at Traveling Solemates. We have our own issues here in Chicago with trains as well. I don’t know why I was surprised. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo is exactly what the reviewers say it is — a revealing look at the dynamic between tradition and innovation in modern Italy. Another reviewer describes Italian Ways in this way.

“For every moment that Italy annoys Tim Parks, there are two in which it delights him.”

That’s pretty much the premise of Italian Ways. Parks tells the stories of his train travel in Italy through vignettes of the rail system and of the people he meets along the way — and it’s funny and poignant.

In reading the Christian Science Monitor’s review of this book, I also clicked into their list of top ten travel books to read before you go to Italy. My goodness, I had forgotten about A Room with a View and Daisy Miller. Those are going to definitely be on my reading  list for this year, along with a few more visits with Woody Allen in To Rome With Love.

So — should you read Italian Ways? Yes, but be aware that as Andrew Martin of The Observer says, this is a “warts-and-all” look at Italy’s trains and culture. It’s not a love story to Italy like Frances Mayes has penned in Under the Tuscan Sun and its sequels. As a traveler, I want to know about the warts I might encounter while traveling, so for me, it was a great book! Thanks, Music Man, for an excellent birthday present.


Bicycle Togs — Travel Diary

With the availability of bicycle rentals in so many cities, travelers have the option of getting some exercise while seeing the sights from a different vantage point. Here in Chicago, Paris-style Divvy bike racks are popping up all over the city, and not just along the lakefront. I’m not talking about you hard-core folks who go to Provence on bicycling tours, but with soft-core city cycling comes the need for soft-core bicycle clothing and gear, and that’s where we’re traveling today.

Looks like Paris, doesn't it? But it's Chicago!

Looks like Paris, doesn’t it? But it’s Chicago!

As a middle-aged woman, the last thing I want to do is wear skin-tight bike shorts around town while sightseeing or going into a restaurant. I was thrilled when a friend referred me to Terry — the “original women’s bicycling store.” At Terry, I found the perfect solution to my dilemma, the padded bike skort.

Terry's Flare Skort is the perfect solution to bicycling in cities.

Terry’s Flare Skort is the perfect solution to bicycling in cities.

I own this skort in the print and in black. It has a padded bike short underneath with leg bands that are not too tight, and the skirt has two large hip pockets where I put my iPhone and use the Map My Ride app when riding around town. It comes in plus sizes and is comfortable enough to walk around in, even with the padded seat. It hits me just above the knee at my 5′ 2″ height, and is a respectful length. Normally I wash my bike gear in my washing machine, but this week I washed it in the bathtub (as I usually wash clothing while traveling). The padding took two days to dry, so be aware of that, but I probably could have squeezed out more water with towels. It will fold up into a small ball in the corner of your suitcase and come out looking brand new.

All over Europe, we have seen women commuting on bikes, dressed in their work clothes. I don’t know if they are wearing bike shorts underneath their dresses, but they could do that as well. With a simple bike short liner under your dress, you can pedal in comfort and modesty even in your cute sundress!

GotMyReservations -- Shopping by Bicycle

With a basket and my bicycle togs, I can get my exercise and my errands done.

I also picked up an old Vera Bradley small backpack at a garage sale this summer, and was really excited about it. It’s lightweight and breathes, so even if I actually carry it on my back, it’s comfortable. It’s big enough to put my wallet and my camera in it, leaving my removable basket for library books, groceries, or goodies from the farmers’ market. It’s a win-win, both at home and while traveling, but I would choose a more sedate pattern to use in Paris :).

Next time you are packing for a trip, try taking along a bike skort. Worst case scenario is that you will use it as a cute skirt…

I’m linked up today to Wanderlust Wednesday at Time Travel Plans,   The Tablescaper for “Oh, The Places I’ve Been”, Travel Photo Monday” at Travel Photo Discovery, and “Travel Photo Thursday” at Budget Travelers Sandbox, so stop by and get some more inspiration for your travel bucket list!


Food Styling Remix: Seafood Cobb Salad

I really struggled with the title of this post. I feel as though it should be Adventures in Food Styling rather than highlighting the Seafood Cobb Salad that I remixed and then photographed twice for my home kitchen. Whatever the title, I’m baring it all today in the hopes of helping you to be a better food stylist by learning from my mistakes.

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Closeup

Seafood Cobb Salad Remixed and Rephotographed

We are always looking for what we call “Joe’s Fish” when we travel — the local seafood restaurant that offers wonderful seafood at reasonable prices that only the locals know about. Recently on our trip home from Ohio, we were determined to take the time to find a good lunch place near Indianapolis. By using my Yelp app on my phone, I found Mitchell’s Fish Market in Carmel, Indiana, and we were in luck! While not exactly Joe’s Fish, Mitchell’s is a supper-club style chain with excellent seafood and meat options on the menu.


My out-of-focus photo shows you how Mitchell’s styled this Seafood Cobb Salad.

I ordered the special salad of the day, a Seafood Cobb Salad, and a lobster tail. As I do, I took a photo of the plate, but my iPhone seems to be having some issues with focusing. Maybe I’m doing it too quickly; I only include it to show you the original styling of this presentation.

Once home, I was determined to remake this delicious salad. I gathered together the makings of the original salad — two lobster tails, a can of crab, one pound of shrimp, two hard-boiled eggs, and a pound of bacon. Yes, the ingredients were expensive, but I made enough of the meat mixture to separate into frozen packets for at least four more servings. I spent a long time looking for the right recipe, but finally just created my own. I cooked the bacon until it was crisp but not crunchy, boiled the lobster tails for seven minutes and then immediately put them in ice to stop the cooking. I opened the can of crab, and thawed the precooked shrimp and pulled off the tails. I chopped it all into bite-size pieces. Pretty darn easy.

Most lobster roll recipes call for a mayonnaise-heavy dressing, but I tried lightening it up a little by adding a fat-free raspberry vinaigrette to some mayo. That worked nicely, giving the dressing a slightly sweet taste that was not overpowering. I put the salad on a bed of red-leaf lettuce and started taking photos.

This is where we get into the food styling fail. This is actually the BEST photo I got of the bunch.

GotMyReservations -- Seafood Cobb Salad Food Styling

  • To start with, the layers of the salad would have been prettier in a clear bowl, like this photo from Rachael Ray’s web site.
  • The egg is dominating the photo, rather than the seafood salad, and it’s not cut very carefully.
  • The deep red edges of the lettuce fade out without proper lighting and just look black — not very appetizing.
  • The plating of the seafood is not done carefully; it looks tossed on (as it was).


So what’s a girl to do? Remake the salad and buy a new lens.

With purchased lobster roll salad and more carefully thought-out styling, I rephotographed the salad with my new 50mm/f1.4 lens. What a difference!

First I tried it in a clear bowl a la Rachael Ray. My new Monet tea towel made a nice backdrop.

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Remixed Food Styling

 Then I tried it in the white bowl again. It’s amazing what a good lens and some careful food styling will do to essentially the same photo, isn’t it?

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Food Styling in White Bowl

What’s the moral to this story?

Both salads were very tasty; it’s pretty hard to screw up lobster. The bottom line is that in food photography, good equipment makes a difference, but it’s important to thoughtfully style the photograph before you use that fancy lens!

To Visit:

Mitchell’s Fish Market, 14311 Clay Terrace Blv., Suite 100, Carmel, IN  317-848-FISH

I’m linking up today at Open House Party Thursdays sponsored by No Minimalist Here. Be sure to stop by and visit some of the creative bloggers sharing their work!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

Broccoli-Cauliflower Swiss Cheese Soup: On the Menu Monday

I didn’t set out to make this beautiful cheese soup. It just kind of happened.

GotMyReservations -- Broccoli-Cauliflower Swiss Cheese Soup

I had a lovely small piece of steak thawing, and I thought about making beef stroganoff. I love everything about beef stroganoff, from the tender seared beef to the sweet sauce with a touch of sherry and cream. With perfectly browned mushrooms added to the mix, this recipe has been one of my staples for years.

Sounds fabulous, right?

But there’s a catch. We’ve been trying to do meat on the side and include lots of veggies on our plates. We’re not eating much white food either, and our list of no white food such as potatoes, bread, and rice includes the obvious noodles that would complement the beef stroganoff. Even if they’re whole wheat, they are still a healthy dose of carbohydrates that we are trying to avoid in our diets.

What is meat on the side?

If you are watching Food Network Star, you know that bright and bubbly Nikki Dinki was eliminated. I’m sad to see her go, but at least I have the consolation of being able to follow her lovely blog, Nikki Dinki Cooking. Her prospective show for Food Network would have focused on using meat as a side dish rather than as the main dish, and her recipes are creative and yummy. When I ran across her recipe for Cheddar Cauliflower + Squash Soup, I knew I had a winner for our meal.

Of course, I had to remix the recipe. To contrast with the beef, I wanted a lighter cheese, so I bought Trader Joe’s mix of Swiss and Gruyere. TJ’s didn’t have the cut-up squash that they sometimes carry, so I grabbed a bag of mixed broccoli and cauliflower. With a box of baby bella mushrooms to saute and serve with the beef, we were all set to go. At the last minute I realized that the milder Swiss cheese would need sherry and nutmeg rather than the spicy mix in Nikki’s soup, so I also grabbed a bottle of dry sherry and practically ran to the checkout.

GotMyReservations -- Broccoli-Cauliflower Swiss Cheese Soup Title

Nikki’s recipe is really easy to make and with the substitutions, it was perfect with the beef. I highly recommend this recipe, whether you make it Nikki’s way or mine.

I’m linking up to Metamorphasis Monday at Between Naps on the Porch and Martha Mondays Link Up Party at Watch Out, Martha! Be sure to visit some creative and inspiring bloggers to get more ideas!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

The Sunday Review: Mary Kay Andrews — the Princess of Beach Reads (and drives in the car)

Recently a friend asked for book recommendations on Facebook. Knowing that she was planning a trip to France in September, I responded immediately with some favorites from my literary journey through France over the last few years, including The Paris Wife and Extremely Pale Rosé. Everyone else responded with highly regarded cross-cultural novels and nonfiction, making my suggestions appear somewhat frivolous. But did I back down? Non! I offered up an even more frivolous choice — Mary Kay Andrews, the Princess of Beach Reads.

GotMyReservations -- Mary Kay Andrews Summer Rental AudiobookThis summer I read several important and lengthy novels, including Paris by Edward Rutherfurd and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. In the privacy of my car, however, I’ve listened to three Mary Kay Andrews novels, and trust me, they are the perfect beach reads (and car reads).

I’m always looking for books with a cooking connection, so pulling Deep Dish off the shelf at the library wasn’t much of a stretch for me. I DO live in Chicago, home of the best deep dish pizza in the world, just in case you forgot. Not so much about pizza after all, Deep Dish is a sweet little confection about the rivalry between two television chefs. Since it’s a beach read, you already know what happens to our dueling chefs — they fall in love and we hope they will live happily ever after. Nuff sad about that one.

Next up was Hissy Fit, another sassy tale about an interior designer who finds her fiancé fooling around with her maid of honor at the rehearsal dinner. Humiliated, she tries to rebuild her life by restoring and decorating a crumbling antebellum mansion for the “new guy” in town, who just happens to be fabulously wealthy and willing to spend whatever it costs. Hissy Fit surpasses what one might expect from the title, with charming and well-drawn characters and lots of references to antiques. Chick-lit romances usually end with the girl getting the guy, and this book is no exception, but Andrews has created characters that we like and some we dislike, and the reader cares about them. Another satisfying beach read.

Summer Rental is a beach read that’s actually about the beach. After reconnecting at a funeral, a trio of childhood friends decide to rent a house together at Nags Head, NC, for the month of August. Each woman comes to the vacation with expectations and secrets, and in this well-plotted and well-paced story, the secrets reveal themselves. In addition, they adopt another woman who needs a place to stay to escape her criminal husband, and of course there are the local men who become part of the ladies’ lives. The crumbling beach house really is an additional character in the story as Andrews creates an arc for the house itself — and Hollywood comes calling to rescue it and the hunky landlord who owns it. This book has just fueled my long-standing desire to rent a house on the Outer Banks someday.



Click into the photo to see Mary Kay Andrews’s advice on beach rentals.

Mary Kay Andrews is the pen name for Kathy Hogan Trocheck, who was a newspaper journalist and has written acclaimed mysteries under her own name as well as the lighter chick-lit fiction. Her deep understanding of life in the South, life in small towns, and her humorous yet gentle take on Southern behaviors make these books fun to read. She also knows a great deal about antiques and thrift-shopping, and it shows up in her characterizations — click here to see her junking tips!

Happy reading and enjoy your vacation!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)


Travel Diary: Provencal Linens at La Victoire

We all have our things that we want to buy when we travel. Some of you buy art, and some buy jewelry. My thing is linens.

I was determined to bring home at least one gorgeous Provencal tablecloth when we went to France in April. Normally, I settle for interesting tea towels and pot holders when we travel, but there was no chance I wasn’t going to bring home a special keepsake from our Provence trip.

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Lined Tablecloth

I won’t keep you in suspense; this is the one I bought.

On our first full day in Aix-en-Provence, I spotted La Victoire on the Rue Vauvenargue. While the men hung out at the market on the square, I made a beeline for the shop with my female traveling companions.

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Front Door

It did not disappoint.

There were tablecloths…

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Tablecloth Wall

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Tablecloths…and bolts and bolts of charming fabrics.

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Fabrics GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Animal Print Fabrics GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Fabric WallThere were tea towels and aprons…

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Towels and Aprons GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Tea Towels GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Patisserie Apron… and bags of all sorts made from Provencal fabrics.

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Purses

I didn’t have nearly enough room in my suitcase to bring home everything I wanted to buy, but I was really coveting the coated fabrics — so practical!

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Waxed and Coated Fabrics GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Coated Fabrics

There was also a charming English-speaking storekeeper and her equally charming grandfather (I think). He did not speak English, but he allowed me to take his photo after I explained that I was going to feature their shop on my blog. 🙂

GotMyReservations -- La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence Owner

If you want authentic Provencal linens, I highly recommend La Victoire in Aix-en-Provence. You can order from them online but a personal visit is more fun. 🙂

La Victoire 
34 Rue Vauvenargue
Tel: April 42 23 14 36
Fax: 21 58 00 April 42

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)


Montmartre in the Sun — Photo of the Day

If you haven’t climbed up to Sacré Cœur in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, you haven’t actually lived Paris.

GotMyReservations -- Montmartre in the Sun

Walking in the footsteps of the artists and performers, ladies of the night, and now millions of tourists, the narrow winding streets of Montmartre take you back to another time. Because its architecture and character is protected by a historic district designation, Montmartre doesn’t change much.

I recommend getting Rick Steves’s Montmartre Walk on Kindle for your smartphone or iPad and follow the tour up the hill. We did this on a sleepy July morning and by the time we got to the top, we were ready to enjoy the quiet reverence of Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. And the views from the top are worth every step!


GotMyReservations -- Sacre Coeur view

View from the top of the Sacre Coeur Basilica.

I’m linking up with The Tablescaper for “Oh, The Places I’ve Been”, Travel Photo Monday” at Travel Photo Discovery, and “Travel Photo Thursday” at Budget Travelers Sandbox, so stop by and get some more inspiration for your travel bucket list!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)



Wordless Wednesday: The Morning after the Wedding

We’ve all been here.

The brilliance of the leftover flowers competes with the pick-me-up of a strong cup of coffee on the morning after that special wedding.
GotMyReservations -- The Morning After the Wedding

Sometimes I even embarrass myself.

I keep telling my family and friends to get over their embarrassment when I photograph everything in sight — especially at restaurants. But I knew I loved that coffee cup the minute I saw it; I grabbed it away from the person carrying it so that I could photograph it. You can see that the drip from her mouth is still on the cup. I was ruthless.

Fortunately, I appear to be in good company.

This post from Pioneer Woman about her fascination with Fire King Jadeite restores my faith in humanity. This is not the first time that Ree and I have thought alike. I’m just sayin.’

I’m linked up to Wordless Wednesday parties at Create With Joy and 5 Minutes for Mom. Be sure to stop by and leave a comment or two for the creative bloggers showcasing their work today!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...