South Beach Itinerary

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This past weekend, I went away with some mom friends from my neighborhood. Joe volunteered to watch the girls, the very same girls who ended up being sick all weekend. Alas, poor abandoned family. At least I managed to pack the fridge completely full beforehand (bbq chicken, chicken salad, cottage cheese pancakes, hummus, hard boiled eggs, raspberries).

All the women on our trip have young children around the same age and are usually chasing children at the playground so what. a. treat. to have uninterrupted conversation and truly TALK to each other. I dropped in at the end of all the planning emails, so the rooms were reserved, most plane tickets booked, and dinner reservations already made. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of females trying to plan a trip via email, then you know how nice it is to skip most of it and just show up.

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I spent some time on Pinterest before we left so I had a hit list of South Beach places to see. Total side tangent: pinterest has become an incredibly effective travel itinerary guide. Personally I trace this back to their partnership with Foursquare which allowed them to pull all of Foursquare’s user location-tagged photos. These days even the most wayward cute gas station is discoverable on there. I suggest it as a first stop when planning a trip, even before food review sites or magazines. Thanks to this helpful blog post, this interview by Garance Dore, and many enticing photos, I put together a list I was excited about. I ended up visiting only a few of those places, but I was happy to have options ahead of time. (If you’re traveling to South Beach soon, here’s the board I put together from these recommendations.)

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I went out early one morning and watched as men from each hotel hauled out the beach chairs, then the chair pillows, then the umbrellas, tugging everything into even rows up as they went. The chairs spent the day as proud striped bandstands lined up across the sand, only to be completely dismantled and put away every night.

The water was extra-specially-blue and WARM.

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We stayed at the Ritz, which had wonderful service as always, and good food; though the style of the hotel wasn’t at all beachy which felt like a missed opportunity, and the food was overpriced. However, their pina coladas were excellent and their beach-food-delivery was shockingly fast. The Ritz has the type of service where you might be sitting in a hot tub (a rather glorious thing one can do when not-pregnant, right?), wondering about how to perfect the situation and get a cold beer, and minutes later, someone hands one to you.

I had hoped to visit and take a long soak at The Standard’s spa with their stylized ancient baths, but I called ahead and learned one needed to do a spa service for $135 in order to use the baths, which didn’t feel quite worth it when I already had so many fun things to do.

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Just a block or two down from our hotel was The Raleigh. Gosh what a wonderful treat to the eyes. I couldn’t get enough of the spot. I guess I’m more of an art deco type than a sleek hotel type. We had breakfast by the pool there one day, and another day my friend Jenny and I just sat on the front porch and people watched while sipping the delicious smoothies sold through their diner-esque cafe in the lobby.
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One hot afternoon after sweating in the sun for awhile, a few of us caught a cab down to My Ceviche for cheap delicious ceviche, roasted corn, spicy popcorn, and, if I’d only had room: a basket of stone crab claws. They don’t have tables, but if you order a drink from the bar next door, they let you use theirs.

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I personally didn’t make it to Under the Mango Tree but I sent some friends in their direction and they loved it. A bit of a hole in the wall, but very friendly and delicious. Smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, acai bowls, it is a perfect destination after a long walk on the beach.

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Our first night we had dinner at Casa Tua. This hip Italian spot felt very Hollywood, beginning with the tall hedge framing the whole unmarked restaurant. Gorgeous flickering lights and greenery welcome you in, once you finally find the entrance. Somewhat burly, hustle-y waiters frown when you ask for a custom cocktail. Amazing burrata and perfectly-done pasta, with a strong showing of seafood.

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The Sandwicherie: I confess, I circled this place and but didn’t eat there! It looked amazing and I love that they are open for 24 hours. I also love that (according to reviews) they drizzle vinaigrette on your sandwich. This spot was only a few blocks from our hotel, a great walk in any direction. I regretted that I didn’t make it to any Cuban food spots, though I got the feeling I would have had to head back into Miami to find the good ones.

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Thinking of our kids back home, all of us found ourselves watching the families on vacation around us. It seemed like a great spot for them. The sand was silky, the pool was warm, there was umbrellas and accessible food in abundance. Mentally I compared it to St. Thomas, though South Beach is definitely cheaper overall and with better food. For East Coasters, it would be about the same three hour direct flight as the Virgin Islands. Trust me when I say this is on my mind as I return to temps in the 30s here in Boston! Yikes.

Post script: even the H&M was glam:h&m

Up North

A few things I love from our time in the Traverse City area earlier this month. In the summer in Michigan everyone talks about going “up north” for vacation, even if it’s just a 30 minute or so drive north. I love possibilities in that phrase. Traverse City is a quick flight from Detroit, so it’s really quite easy for us to fly in from Boston. My parents have rented the same house for 17 years, so though it doesn’t feel like home, it does feel nostalgic and comfortable. I’m taking the girls back next week for just a little bit more vacation, lucky us!

gl1glen_havengltacosRoadside tacos, recommended by this fanatstic guide to the area on Megan Gilger’s blog.glboat_museumglpineconePine trees grow through the center of this ice cream spot.glevening

When Lux was four weeks old, we flew to Michigan as usual for my family’s vacation. There was some weird complication with my c-section healing up and the doctors told me I couldn’t swim to avoid further infection. Immediately it was the only thing I wanted to do. I could imagine the cold water enclosing around me as I dove down, my feet flipping halfway out of the water like dolphin fins. Being denied that freedom just that one time has made me so grateful for the opportunity to jump in ever since.

glen lakeglchocolatemy mom’s chocolate sauce on the stovetop in the eveningsglcake glcolorsglmorningsearly mornings with Joan, vastly improved by good coffeeglmixedMy brother and I went to see Chef at the Traverse City’s State Theatre on Free Popcorn Wednesdays. A cute foodie movie in a beautiful theatre, lovingly restored and volunteer-run!glpizzagldrinksThere are wonderfully casual wineries in the area to visit and more vineyards are being planted all the time (somewhat replacing the cherry tree orchards).glcherriesMy dad is obsessed with the ‘pizza bread’ from this market.glthefourth

 

 

me, you, and everything we want

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It’s easy to tack Brimfield dates onto a map of our marriage and recall the phases we were in at the time. How you shop together as a couple is always a relationship barometer. In the realm of your standard shopping trips–in which grocery shopping is probably the easiest category–there’s IKEA shopping. IKEA has a bad name, for reasons that I believe link back to the way they bait you into walking through their entire inventory. Then there’s clothes shopping, in which you always reveal more of yourself and your fears than you intended to, because you’re trying to ignore your fears and pretend they are not there with you in the dressing room. That’s a tough one too, but usually at least just one of you is making the decision, and the other one is trying not to stare at the clock in bewilderment.

But Brimfield has always meant shopping as a couple, making decisions as a couple, giving each other the side eye, as a couple.

First year: shopping as newly married, looking for a few pieces to prove we could buy things together and that our apartment had character. Second year: shopping as new business owners, hoping to find pieces that could frame our little market and bolster it. Third year: shopping as we were pregnant, hunting for the perfect old crib that would fit our tiny apartment, or the right artwork that would represent everything we hoped for the new babe. And so on, until what is now our sixth year, all so known as: yesterday.

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We had something of an argument a few nights beforehand when we tried to lay out all the things we expected the other to do. I expected Joe to present me with things he didn’t actually really want, and wait for me to say why we didn’t need them. He expected me to be a naysayer, and talk us out everything, including the exact things we needed. I expected to feel overwhelmed by the options and revert to strictly window shopping, and then feel a wave of buyer’s remorse as we drove away. We hashed this all out and felt much better. It was very adult, and my, how much we know ourselves now don’t we?

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But, as it turned out, this edition was much more about the fact that we were shopping, really and truly, with two kids. The children were not as taken with the affair as we expected—the big tents, their posts sunk into mud, their interiors filled with untouchables. The strange chilling breeze that alternated abruptly with a blazing May day sun. Joan hit her whining pitch early and stayed there, and I had no idea what was wrong and evidently, no satisfying solution. Lux was under-dressed for the cold breeze and curled up in the umbrella stroller like an unfurled butterfly, coldly staring back at cooing passerbys trying to say Hi. I saw things–gold bracelets! quirky watercolors! a rack of cardigans!–that I wanted to examine at leisure, but as soon as I paused, I felt the tug and whine to keep moving. Joe tried on a vintage plaid while Lux murmured complaints in the background at a dull roar. We looked at each other and muttered “mutiny.”

Had the threshhold been reached, I wondered.  Were we ignorant to gaily attempt this affair–so blithely executed by the hipster couples toting antique tin wash boards back their cars (yes, I really saw them)–as a young family?

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Somehow it turned around. We went back to the car for our trusty larger stroller and popped Joan in it, with a bottle. I took off my sweater, put it on Lux, and zipped her up in the vest she had refused earlier. I revealed to her a few of the secrets that had kept me walking so far–the prospect of lemonade slush and a fresh crepe. Her eyes widened and she agreed to continue hunting. Once she was walking by my side and outside of the stroller, she and the shopkeepers struck up an easy relationship. They slipped her tokens from their tables and dug through their piles to find prints of dogs and cats. The fields were full of puddles from the morning’s downpour and she was wearing her rain boots. Joan was shielded from the sun and actually kicked with glee when she caught my eye. We found a bag of wooden bobbins, some clothespins to turn into little people, a small metal toolbox for craft supplies, and a large metal trunk from India to holding the steadily-growing pile of dress-up clothes in the girls’ room.

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And I was so happy to have a child old enough to share my favorite foods. Brimfield is as much about the food stands—like a state fair, but with better food—as the antiques. It’s a vanity, perhaps a lunatic one, to pat yourself on the back that your child likes the same food as you when it’s fried dough and kettle corn. Nonetheless! There’s a thrill when you can nod with them and say “Right? It’s so good.”

Brimfield is an enormous antique fair in Western Mass that takes over grassy fields in the spring and fall. Here are a couple posts from others, with better photos than mine, if you’re curious for more: 1/ Design Sponge 2/ A Continuous Lean 3/ Soule Mama

 

St. Thomas

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It was a glorious week on St. Thomas. I couldn’t believe what an easy four hour direct flight it was. And on Jetblue, to boot. Thus we sallied into the airport accompanied by several bags of bluechips each, and plenty of DirectTV. If only Joan hadn’t spent most of the flight attempting to chew through my headphones.

We went to the US Virgin Islands so we didn’t need a passport for Joan and there were no customs to trudge through after we landed. (I was interested to learn that the US bought the islands from Denmark around the time of WWI, wisely outbidding Germany.)

Did I complain once about travel with children? Banish the thought. I love how a toddler will be delighted by a twenty minute ride, and the baby by an abandoned playground that you happen upon. I believe we were at the beach by 9am every day. Back to our hotel room for naps around noon, and then back out again in the evening. Several times we had the girls in the pool by moonlight.

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I can’t even imagine sailing up from Europe on some explorer’s boat, way back when, and seeing these islands. Just so beautiful, everywhere you look. Warm clear waters in a rainbow of blue shades, mangrove trees shading the beaches with their glossy green leaves, an eternal breeze keeping things comfortable, clouds blowing over before they have a chance to get stormy.

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton residences because a friend generously offered the use of their condo there. I would stay there again in a heartbeat. We didn’t rent a car and we rarely left the resort. This definitely wasn’t an integrated cultural experience where we hunted down a hip airbnb and tried the local places. It was a full-on relaxation fest.

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We packed half of my suitcase with snacks so as to avoid being reliant on the resort’s restaurants. A further plus to the snack suitcase was that Joe and I felt comfortable, budget-wise, indulging beachside in some of the ever-present frozen drinks. My favorite: a mint mojito blended with ice and coconut milk. Basically the best three ingredients in the world, combined into one. I’ll be doing that one at home. To avoid Lux seagulling our drinks, several times we ordered virgin versions for her, like a lime coconut mix.

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When we did go out, happy hour was a thrill. It’s illegal in Boston to have happy hour (what? seriously). Going to places that had $3 drinks from 3-6pm was delightful! Despite the temptation of frozen drinks, I also became a big fan of Presidente beer while we were there. Yum.

Several of the signature drinks on the island had nutmeg dustings on top. I thought that was great trick to mellow out the sweetness and add a little kick.

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We did wander over to St. John’s for the day, the other US isle. We did not see any of the feral donkeys as I had hoped, but I found some lovely local avocados, for $5 each. (For comparison, a box of butter at the grocery store was $7.50!) Bigger than my hand, as you can see, and quite sweet. We also stocked up at the local grocery store on butter, eggs, milk, kefir, bread, coconut water, cereal, and peanut butter.

I’m already scheming about coming back when the girls are older, renting a sailboat and visiting more of the islands. If we went again, I think we would rent a car, just to avoid tallying taxis fare into every foray that we planned. Particularly because taxi rides are valued by the number of passengers. Joan wasn’t counted, but Lux was. However, it was a treat to travel sans-carseats, especially for Joe (our resident mule).

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Colorado

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I like it for the fireplaces that are everywhere. I like it for how thirsty you suddenly are. Drink lots of water, breath lots of air. The air feels only lightly oxygenated; thin and effervescent compared to sea level. I like how even the kids that look like punk teenagers are probably athletes, outside for most of every day using their bodies and looking around them and being alive.

We just do it this one week every year, but for that week, we do it every day. We arrive and we take off our city clothes and put on fleece and long underwear in layers and walk around looking like adults in cuddledowns. After a few days our faces are burnished, ruddy cheeks with dry lips and patches of windburn. You see people rubbing chapstick over their lips constantly and patting on sunscreen and vaseline, but it does nothing. We wake up in the morning, look up at the mountain and wonder if it will snow. All anyone talks about is the snow. Will it snow, when will it snow, when did it last snow, what is the snow on the mountain like, how did it feel out there? Hey, how was it out there? you ask each other. Crunchy, soft, powdery, icy, white out, bright out, cold.

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My dad taught me to ski and for most of my childhood I associated it with something he wanted me to do. Like taking long bicycle trips, or practicing for cross country weekend races by running longer and longer routes throughout the week, it was not my idea, it was his. As a kid, skiing meant that there was a lot of heavy stuff to put on, it was cold, and there was every possibility I could get hurt. The chairlifts seemed thoughtlessly fast. My peripheral vision was cut off by googles, and snowboarders came too close. I don’t know if you can ever introduce your kids to something that you love without tainting it with your own passion for it. You want it for them so much. But still you plant the seeds, and hope when they start claiming things for themselves later in life, they will recall this mother tongue and be pleased to find it within themselves.

As one of my great aha! moments of adulthood, skiing recently became a real freedom for me. Now I see it: the pillowly cushioning silence of the snow. The hush shoo of my skiis swiftly skating over the ground. The crisp scrappy-edge sound of cutting through icy patches. The glorious aloneness of it. Picking a direction, easing down the slope towards it, and just a moment later, finding yourself racing towards it. Feeling fast and strong but feeling in control. I think I see why I didn’t take well to it as a kid. It requires something aggressive in you.

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The two runs I really loved this year are rated double green—the easiest you can do and supposedly for beginners, but I just love the pace of them. Ten minutes up of small up-and-down slopes. You go down a small hill and have just enough momentum to go up the next one. Then you do it again. Patches of trees are scattered throughout, to weave around if you want to feel like a rabbit racing through the woods. If it’s morning there are shadows and you can see little dips and bumps as you approach them. If it’s noon there will be no shadows, just dazzling white shining back at you. And then you ski almost as if you were blind, keeping your legs loose and easy.

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There are several perfect things you can do when you ski. One is to ski for a couple of hours and then take a break for a hot chocolate in the sun. If you already have warm snow gear on, in addition to being on top of a mountain, it’s toasty in the sun. Hot chocolate on the mountain is serve yourself. First you pay something like $3.50 for a paper cup. There’s a tub of marshmallows, and several canisters of whipped cream, and a push button hot chocolate maker that asks you to stop when the cup is 2/3rd full. It’s hard to do this.

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Another is take a chairlift up the mountain alone. Ten minutes of silence, the chair tugging its way steadily past the treetops. You, on a bench, not even a seatbelt to hold you back, swinging high over the ground, surrounded by views only the birds would see. The scatter of animal footprints below is suddenly so clear—their winnowing paths. It feels like you could embrace a passing pine tree, they are so narrow and soft up top.

And another is to take a chairlift with a stranger. I’ve been on chairlifts with fat men who are very good skiers. I’ve been on chairlifts with 80 year old men who are very good skiers. These trips always remind me that it’s an inclusive, happy sport. As the chairlift scoops you up, swings back for a moment, and then lifts grandly up into the sky you look at your new partner for the next ten minutes and grin. Oh, it’s great out here, they say. Yes it is, you say.

Michigan

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Michigan was gorgeous and heartbreaking as it always is. It is such a humble unassuming state. Boast about yourself more Michigan! I sometimes think to myself, when I compare it to the way Cape Cod and Nantucket strut around. It has amazing sand beaches, clear water, acres of cherry trees, the best corn you will ever eat, dense forests hiding ravines and trees of all sorts, and the most cheerful people.

A sweet and kind uncle of mine unexpectedly died after a bad fall and my family will be reeling from it for awhile. Because of the hubbub of flying with two kids, I didn’t make it back for the funeral. I feel lucky to hear stories from it and the nearly-all-nighter Irish wake, though it’s messy and exhausting to ask how everyone is doing and know that they are hurting. It was wonderful to see them but brought tears to my eyes to hear the edge on their voices from lots of crying and the lines on their faces.

We each brought things we loved to share. I brought coffee and homemade granola, Grace brought butternut squash soup, Jenny brought homemade salsa and gin from Traverse City, Andrea brought Amish cheddar cheese and dark chocolate cookies. We spent hours just sitting on the porch talking with the first Fall leaves blowing over our heads. That Fall wind….it’s like you feel the mass rush of birds flying south in it as it blows over your face. We walked the quiet beaches, wandered around the small town farmer’s market and gave my dollar to the high school boys belting out an awfully good guitar duet, walked along the river that cuts through town.

Oh this is the good life, I thought when I got out of the taxi back in Boston. My cozy home. My giggling toddler who can say “I. miss. yooo” when she sees me. My husband who got rid of all that pesky furniture we didn’t want any more and picked up a crib for Joan off craigslist. Weekend trips mean no vacation-hangover, just a blessedly simple pick-me-up and then back to life as I love it.

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Rockport

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We’re going up to Rockport for the holiday weekend. Lots of people in one house. Once you’re the one bringing noisy kids, you don’t mind this type of arrangement. In fact, it will probably be remarkably less work for me altogether! AND: I think there’s going to be a hammock. Sold.

Anyway, I know you all must have favorites up there…do tell! I’m a little clueless and haven’t had time to troll Yelp yet. So far I’ve just looked at Anna’s pretty photos a lot (that’s one of her’s up top). I mean, Bear Skin Neck? That’s an obvious first step.

Gelato

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I mean I really wish I had some great detail shots of gelato cones stacked up in all pastels, no drips and maybe a dollop of cream on the top. Oh but I ate them all! I can remember the flavors–banana cream with crunchy sesame seeds, ricotta with orange slices, grapefruit, dark chocolate and wine, strawberry, yogurt, almond, cream of cardamom, lemon basil, hazelnut…Joe had many versions of liquor-rich licorice, and pistachio made with nuts from various countries. Lux ate a little of everything.

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There’s magic in the gelato system. You can get a cone for a two-euro coin, there’s no tax. The exchange–they had you a cone, you hand them a small heavy coin, feels satisfying unlike any cash register experience in the states. Shops are everywhere, so even the slightest inclination for a snack, the faintest whiff of “wouldn’t it be nice to stop for a minute…” can be indulged. Gelato bolstered our trips across the city; several times I felt a little overwhelmed by the day ahead, and I would pick up a cone for myself while we pushed the stroller, even at 9am. And that easy “con panna” phrase that gets you a festive scoop of whipped cream on top. Is it traditions like this, this easy way of relishing a small refreshment, that earn Italians our envy for good living?

A gelato cone or cup is usually ordered with three flavors next to each other. Some people are very good at putting together medleys within this system. I am much too curious and stack the oddest things together. Once I pushed it to far and chose pear and gorgonzola as the base layer for my cone after a creamy vanilla and dark chocolate mix. Lux was the eager puppy who finished off that overdose.

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If you’re going to Rome, I think the Eat Rome app has the best list for finding all the amazing options. But our favorites were Gelateria del Teatro, Fanta Morgana and Gelateria Corona.

Pack rats on planes

Ah, the great roll of the dice that is getting on a plane with a child. The resulting adventure is always worth it. As long as you don’t introduce sugar halfway through, you’ll probably find yourself surprised by how many relaxing moments you have, staring at the Emergency Exit diagram for the 30th time. I like to order a cup of coffee as rogue challenge to fate. I always manage to finish it while still hot, and it is always delicious.

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Whether it feels like you finished your flight with a walk of shame or a nod toward infamy, someone is bound to say “oh she was so good” as you walk past. Translation: You’re lucky I didn’t hear that baby once from my seat.

Those who were so blessed, slept. Those who didn’t, blog anyway.

Packing entertainment for a near two-year-old means tapping into your inner pack rat. Find containers, most from the recycling bin, and hide things in them. Think color, tactile, cheap, and random. Random is the key because truly you have no idea what stage of object-love your child might be at that week. Hide everything until the plane ride (actually, for nine months and younger I think it’s better to introduce things here and there beforehand, because they like familiar objects in unfamiliar settings at that point). We explained several times, “We’re not unzipping that backpack because it’s chock full of treats for the airplane.” Evidently anticipation is inborn in humans from the word “me.”

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The number one winner in this group for the whole trip is that little Clinique jar full of pom poms on the far right. This is a jar that I purchased in the late ’90s and wisely left in my cosmetic bag for the next eight years, expensive moisturizer steadily declining into lord-knows-what-paste. It looks like glass but it’s actually thick plastic (clever, Clinique!). Not only was this the plane favorite, it was the restaurant favorite, the it’s 8am and sunny but mom and dad are still resting favorite, and the we’re-still-shopping stroller distraction favorite. Pom poms were strewn across the city for pigeons to mistake for chewy colored bread. “All of these will end up thrown across the plane,” Joe wisely observed when I brought them home from Target. “They were $2″ I gleefully replied.

But the very best advice is always going to be: ask at the desk as soon as you arrive at your gate to see if there are any open seats you can be moved near to. Lux was practically kicking Joe and I out of our seats on the way over so she could have her own space for awhile. It wasn’t lost on her that no one else on the plane was sitting on their companion’s lap. On the way back, by a miracle, she got her own seat and it was wonderful.

More Favorites, Rome

sling_piazzaI haven’t mentioned it here yet but I’ll be blogging for the Sling Diaries next session–once a month for six months! They sent me this gorgeous silk sling that Lux and I wore out this morning. We’ve had two cooler days–in the 60s–and it was wonderful to be cozy and wander easily across the cobblestones.

barberini_gardenbunny_outnaboutbarberiniLux and I spent an hour in this garden while Joe drew a church facade up the street. Of course Bunny couldn’t wait to visit as well and was given a perfect view of the place. It was the garden of the Barberini family so marble bee sculptures were everywhere. A bee might be the best emblem for a family–they look delicate and scary at the same time.

forum_wisteriawisteriaThe wisteria just takes your breath away. We’ve seen most of it near really ancient sites–that’s Joe and Lux up there at the Forum. It’s shady and smells unbelievable. The flowers look like luscious grapes dropping down even as the vine looks wise and elderly.

grecoThis cappuccino was accidentally our most expensive yet! I was in the mood to sit down and chose a grand cafe just down from the Spanish Steps. We sat on velvet booths and while Lux pestered the waiters in their tuxedo coattails, Joe and I had a moment to talk about a few of their renaissance paintings on the wall. We left twenty euro lighter (eight euro each!) but refreshed and caffeinated.

cacio_pepeFor dinner we usually don’t bother with a chair for Lux. Joe orders pasta and she absolutely helps herself. Sitting on his lap helps us sneak into tinier places and levels down her activity just a notch. Nonetheless, the iPhone as distraction has been resorted to twice. What a mechanism of mercy when you’re sure the game is up!

mosaicThis gorgeous labyrinth mosaic, found in an abandoned villa in 1893 and transported to the Capitolini Museum in Rome. Abrupt and without context, yes. But persevered for thousands to see and dally over for a few minutes.