One of the biggest joys of spending months at a time in Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples is the beach. Wherever you are on the island, it’s basically right out your door. Walk a few steps and you find the sea and sand. I’ve already described how the heat and the scent of the sea can cloud your judgment. Seriously, it can make you crazy if you let it. But it can also bring a tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere.
Give Me Peace, This Peace I Give
As a mom of a 6-year-old, I experience the beach in Ischia differently than when I was in my 20s. Back then, I was dating my husband. We were young and in love. And the beach was the sanctuary of our relationship. We made weekly dates to lie in the sand or exhale on a motorboat or drown worries at the thermal spa.
Now, we go to the beach to play with our son. We watch him roll in the sand. Then, he splashes in the water. He gives us salty kisses and begs for an ice pop. For a moment, I don’t have to think about work or the fact that I don’t spend enough time with him. The guilt can fall off my shoulders. Instead, the sun can bathe them, us. Everything is all right but for a moment.
Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples that is the home of my ancestors and husband inspires beautiful daydreams. Anyone who goes there for vacation will see it as paradise. The reality for those who live there is different. But daydreaming is not about facing real life; it’s about escaping it. So, as a gift to you (not to mention me) I thought I’d share some pretty pictures. Go ahead pretend you’re in the image. And forget about all that other stuff.
The centerpiece of the island is Castello Aragonese. This castle has been a dungeon, fortress, and even love shack. It’s best known for housing Vittoria Colonna. Guests can visit the castle’s interior, which is a museum. They can even stay on the grounds, which includes a hotel. Previously a monastery, the rooms are not the most comfortable. There is no television. And the beds are literally hard like rocks. But the view of the bridge connecting the castle to the island and the town of Ischia Ponte make up for it. Seriously, quella bella vista is the vision of romance.
Ischia’s biggest draw, of course, is its many beaches. This is one of the most crowded in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital and bustling hub. But it’s a nice place for its central location. Maronti in the town of Barano is the biggest and most popular beach. San Francesco in the town of Forio offers lovely views while you’re lounging. It’s also a bit quieter than the beaches in Ischia Porto and Barano. Some, however, prefer the sand or rocks surrounding Castello Aragonese. They jump in as though they are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law in the Talented Mr. Ripley, who had lived on the island while filming there. The Bay of San Montano, which is in the middle of the Negombo thermal spa is a great spot for families because of the calm waters. Of course, there is also the beach in Sant’ Angelo, the poshest spot in Ischia.
The photo above shows Bagnitello, a thermal pool park and beach area in the town of Casamicciola. Ischia sits atop a volcano. As a result, the soil is fertile, which might be why the fruits and vegetables are so plentiful and delicious. These volcanic beginnings also explain the thermal waters and mud, which are believed to have healing powers. Indeed, athletes often come to Ischia to sooth sore muscles, joints, and bones. The waters at Nitrodi natural springs in Buonopane help those with skin afflictions, such as acne, rashes, and fungi. You can stand under the showers there and then pull up a lounge chair overlooking Maronti. The most famous thermal spas, however, are Negombo, Poseidon, and Castiglione. Negombo is my personal favorite. They created the pools to look like they naturally evolved from the rocks in the hillside. The hammocks that are hidden away and overlook the Bay of San Montano will quickly become your happy place. Poseidon is the most well known of the three and offers lovely gardens alongside the thermal pools. Castiglione is the most quaint. It offers many pools, a warm atmosphere, and less chaos.
Best thing about daydreaming? I’m already there in my mind. Hope the same is true for you.
A photo bouquet centerpiece is a bit of eye candy that guests greatly appreciate at any celebration. I made the one in the photo above for my nephew’s birthday, and the best part was everyone could take home pictures of themselves as favors. I purposely included all the family members who were coming. And I dressed up the photos, to boot. My mom made chocolate lollipops, which added to the decorative element.
What You Need to Make a Photo Bouquet Centerpiece
Loaf pan or rectangular box (I picked up this one at the dollar store)
Edited, printed photos
Popsicle sticks, craft sticks, or wooden skewers (which I also found at the dollar store)
Pick Your Pictures
Try to find your favorite pictures. Start with the guest of honor. In our case, the party was for my nephew, but a few other people had birthdays around the same time. So, we included photos of all the younger people expected at the celebration. If possible, having at least one photo of each guest or a photo of the guest of honor with the friends and family at the party are all nice touches. You can also set up a photo shoot to capture images of the guest of honor befitting the theme. For example, my nephew’s party was Paw Patrol, so we had him wear fireman’s gear.
Pictures alone are fine and well. But you can have fun with this. It’s a party, after all. So, why not add emojis or mustaches? Or masks and crowns? Pic Monkey is my first stop when I want to add fun details to photos. I have added a chef’s hat and mustache to my then 2 year old son’s photo for cupcake toppers at his pizza-themed birthday party. For the photo bouquet centerpiece in the image above, I added all sorts of graphics, stickers, and accessories. Of course, you can also change the tint and color. You can crop the photo. You are really only limited by your imagination.
Print the Photos
Once you have put the finishing touches on the photos and you’re pleased with the results, you have to print copies of them. Even though I only displayed one of each photo, I made doubles and triples of some of them, so I could give them away to the people in the photo. To save money, you can stick to one each for the photo bouquet centerpiece. If you don’t have a printer capable of making all these copies, you can use a photo printing service. I often use Shutterfly or my local CVS or Walgreens. I find Shutterfly images are high quality, but Walgreens are nearly as good and usually much cheaper. CVS isn’t expensive but the quality is inconsistent.
Build the Photo Bouquet Centerpiece
After you have gathered all the materials, including the printed photos, you must build the photo bouquet centerpiece. The first step is attaching the sticks to the photos. I use a piece of adhesive tape. Next, make sure the styrofoam fits snugly into the loaf pan. If not, cut it down to size. Then, you must cover the styrofoam in tissue paper. I wrap it as I would a gift box and place it into the loaf pan. Finally, I stick the photos into the styrofoam as desired. I tried to stagger the depth of each stick, so you could see all the photos. The last step, however, is to add those shorter lollipops. Doesn’t it make for one sweet centerpiece?
Photo props give parties that little extra spark. They make the event festive and enhance the theme. Most of all, they give people an excuse to round up folks and take pictures to document the occasion, which is nice for hosts and guests alike. That’s why I’m drawn to all things photo prop. While I didn’t have the usual blow out Halloween party this year, I did want to make the house look festive for the kids. So, I started looking for a new photo prop, a different one than we’ve had all the other years.
Most of the time I invested a few dollars into a plastic poster board with holes in it for people’s heads. Don’t get me wrong. They’ve been cute and have served their purpose quite nicely. I have reused them for years in a row, and I even gave my Italian relatives one to keep. But I wanted something extra special this year, precisely because we weren’t doing our traditional gathering and so the photos look distinct.
Then, I saw it, a vision of Halloween with the perfect balance of spooky and sassy. In the Home Decorators catalog, I found a cloth photo prop. It was basically a white sheet with two black skeletons holding hands and two holes where the heads should be. It was simple in its color scheme and unadorned background. I loved it, but there was no way I was paying $40 for it. I immediately realized I could make my own for much cheaper, and so I did. Here’s how:
Cheap, white fabric – I found this remnant on a clearance rack at JoAnn Fabric and Craft Store. You could also use an old white or pale colored sheet. Fraying and holes just boost the spook factor, so don’t sweat them.
Iron-on paper in black glitter (you could also use plain black or another color, especially if you are using a different color background)
Pencil or chalk
Card stock in orange glitter
Iron and a hard surface (such as an ironing board)
The width of the remnant was perfect for my Halloween project, but I had to trim the bottom, so people wouldn’t be tripping on it and it would hang properly from the doorway. You might need to do more or less trimming than I did; it all depends on the original size of your fabric. Check where you plan to hang it and measure and cut accordingly.
Cut out the hole for the head.
I opted to make one skeleton as opposed to two because my remnant was narrow and it would be significantly cheaper. I would have had to buy a bigger piece of fabric and two sheets of iron-on transfer paper. This project was so the kids could have a little fun, not so I could break the bank. To cut out the hole for the head, I hung the trimmed fabric from the very place I intended to put it. A few pieces of packing tape did the job, by the way. Next, I stood in front of the fabric with my nose touching it. I took the pencil and I traced around my head. Then, I took scissors and cut the circle where I had traced my head. I was careful to cut just around the outer edge of the circle, so my trace marks would be cut out.
Make the skeleton and crown.
With the Cricut. This is simple enough. You can find a skeleton image in Design Space, the Cricut software, have the machine do the cutting, and follow the directions for ironing it on. The same is true for the crown. This is, indeed, how I did it. But you could also do this without a cutting machine. Using a razor blade and scissors, you can cut out the image yourself on iron on paper or even fabric (if you’re willing to sew). I would aim to use a larger-boned skeleton template if that’s the route you’re going because those intricate cuts can be a pain when you’re doing them by hand.
Adhere the skeleton and crown to the fabric.
Iron the fabric on the highest possible setting. Shut off the steam setting on the iron when you are ready to iron on the skeleton. Careful how you place the various pieces. Be sure to follow the instructions for properly ironing on the material. Put the iron directly on the iron-on for 30 sections. Then, use a piece of transfer paper or a white linen cloth over the iron on and slowly smooth the iron over the patch until it seems to be adhering to the fabric. Wait for it to cool down before you start pulling away the sticky paper. If you do it too soon, you can rip pieces of the iron-on off before they have stuck onto the fabric. I didn’t have another sheet of iron on paper in a different color, but I wanted a crown because I thought it would be cute. Using the Cricut again, I cut the crown out of orange glitter card stock and just sewed it to the fabric (with a sewing machine). Fabric glue probably would have worked too.
Voila’ you’re ready to put the photo prop on display and start taking those spooky pictures. What do you think? Share it on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter if you think this is a cool idea.
My little cousins are all grown up and heading to college in the fall. After the initial shock wore off – holy sh–, I was in college when they were born – I decided I wanted to share a special gift. I gave them some dorm essentials, such as a universal charger and a deck of cards, but I also wanted to offer up a bit of nostalgia and something special from home. Those first few weeks at school can really bring on the homesickness as I vaguely recall. It was, after all, so long ago now. Yup, I’m officially old.
Anyway, I found affordable, plain wooden boards with some intricate detail at Michael’s. Then, I gathered the paints that my son has (mostly Crayola washables and some finger paints). I took all the shades of pink and all the shades of blue we had, grabbed the paintbrushes, and called my 4-year-old son, 4-year-old nephew, and 6-year-old niece outside to my porch. They smeared all the different shades, including some with glitter, all over the two frames. We stuck to blue for the male cousin and pink for the female cousin. They had a blast and covered every single speck of the front of the frames as you can see from the photos above. I helped just a little bit. Mostly, I spent my time hosing down kids, who were covered in paint. Literally, I used the garden hose, and I still had to peel pink paint off my doorknob and wash it off the brick of the house. No big deal! Totally worth it! The end result looked professional, and my cousins thought we had bought the painted frames.
After the paint dried overnight, I used ModPodge to adhere a meaningful picture I had edited to include a sweet message and I had printed out by Shutterfly. I covered the top of the picture and the entire front of each frame in ModPodge to make sure it stayed stuck and to give the project a glossy finish. Then, I let that dry overnight, too.
I love this project and not just because it cost well under $20 to complete. It is handmade by the wee little ones and allows my cousins to carry a piece of their heart to college with them. When you’re looking for a gift with oomph and spirit, this is the kind of thing for which you are looking.
To look at most people’s family albums, you would think that mothers never go on a vacation – or do anything else – with their kids. After all, they are always the ones taking the pictures, so it’s like they were never there. When the women of the family pass away, you’ll be longing for images to hang onto the memories, to keep their faces fresh in your mind. But you may never find them.
Well, Walt Disney World has fixed all this, at least whenever mothers travel there. You can purchase Memory Maker, which allows you to carry a card or a magic band on which you can save photos taken by Disney Photo Pass photographers, who are waiting at various points of interest within the park and sometimes the resorts.
What drew me to the Memory Maker was the price. See, I always liked getting photographers with professional cameras to take pictures of my family. Not long before we bought the Memory Maker the first time in 2015, I had paid for holiday photos of my son and his cousins.
We went to the local J.C. Penney for those, and I ended up spending nearly $200 on a CD with all the pictures on it. There were about 5 photos of my son alone, another 5 of my brother’s immediate family, and 20 photos that featured my niece and nephew and my son. The portraits were lovely, and a few of them made for a nice collage for my parents for Christmas. But it was only a few photos and my husband and I were not in them at all. In fairness, scheduling prevented our presence but having us there would have only driven up the price. And the gray or seasonal school-photo backgrounds were outdated and not all that appealing. When it was over, despite being happy to have the pictures, I felt overcharged, and the buyer’s remorse kicked in.
On the other hand, Memory Maker promised us the ability to take as many pictures as we’d like of the entire family or different factions of it throughout the entirety of our trip. The backgrounds would be the sites at Disney parks (unbeatable if you ask me). Some of the pics would undoubtedly be with Disney characters at the very moment that my son was meeting them for the first time (precious).
Since my parents, brother’s family, and sister would all be there, we’d have full family portraits that included all of us. And we would get all this for under $200, about the same as the price for the CD of about 30 photos from J.C. Penney. With Disney, we’d have a month to be able to download all the digital photos for ourselves. We could even include decorative borders provided by Disney if we wanted to. One of the coolest parts was the possibility of magic shots. This is when the Photo Pass photographer asked us to point to something or look in a different direction, and then we’d find a cartoon had been added to the picture. For instance, my son was asked to look cold and gaze to his left in front of Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella’s Castle and Olaf, not to mention snow, showed up in the picture when we were ready to download it. In another shot, we’re all in front of Spaceship Earth at Epcot’s entrance trying to pull down my husband who is holding a large bouquet of Mickey Mouse-shaped balloons.
Even if you don’t purchase Memory Maker, you still can have Photo Pass photographers take your picture. You can then look at the pictures online and decide if you want to purchase one at a time. That deal will bankrupt you. In the year before I bought the Memory Maker, I wanted a photo of my family from a character breakfast we had attended. The ability to download the one picture after our trip cost about $15 and that didn’t even include having it printed. I would have gone broke for the nearly 1,000 photos I downloaded the next year with Memory Maker or even the nearly 500 I downloaded after the February 2016 trip we just took.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind. Purchase the Memory Maker because it’s a great price. In fact, Disney lowered the price of advanced purchases back in December. I had bought mine for said February trip the day before the price drop was announced. Instead of crediting me for the $20, Disney made me buy something from the Photo Pass online store. The print outs are overpriced, so don’t buy into that. Instead, I print out the images through my local Walgreens or Shutterfly to get a better price. So, I still had $20 to spend, and I looked at the products. The calendars, mugs, magnets, etc. are all better priced and perhaps higher quality at other online outlets. I decided on a 5X7 wooden frame with Mickey in the corner.
But I had to shell out another $7 for shipping. I was annoyed. I would have preferred to have just received the $20 back on my credit card. Another important point is that you must buy the Memory Maker before your trip to get the best price and to maximize its value, so that you can start taking pictures as soon as you arrive.
Still, compared to everything else at Disney, which is becoming more astronomically priced as I write this, the Memory Maker is a great deal and a genius idea. By the way, if you can’t or don’t want to buy into it, you can still ask Photo Pass photographers around the parks to photograph you with your own camera or phone. They will always say, “Yes!” So, there are no more excuses. Mom, you better be in the next batch of vacation photos.
ITALIAN MAMMA’S NOTE: For full disclosure, you should know that a member of my immediate family is a Disney employee, and I have gotten into the Disney Parks for free as a result. I, however, have always paid for my resort stays and the Memory Maker. And I’m in no way influenced about what to write or my opinions on Disney travel.
Weekends in August in Ischia, Italy can get pretty gloomy, at least for some of us. It’s the height of tourist season here, so the natives are busy hosting all the tourists. My husband has been working morning and night literally. When he is home, he sleeps. So, Baby Boy and I are pretty much on our own. The streets and beaches are littered with people, and all our friends are hard at work, too. So, we have been staying in. Still, home has its perks – delicious food (ordered in or made by the in-laws or me), making silly faces for iPhotoBooth pics, and the ability to iron all those white shirts that hubby needs for work. Ok, so the ironing wasn’t so much fun. But it certainly needs to be featured in a collage about an Italian mamma’s typical weekend. When in RomeIschia…
For those who are willing to venture outside New Jersey (and go to a New York mall, where you’ll pay tax on clothing), there is the ginormous Palisades Center in West Nyack, N.Y. Frankly, it’s so close to Jersey towns, such as Northvale, that it is hard to avoid it. With all sorts of sit-down restaurants, including an IHOP, food court, carousel, ferris wheel, ice skating rink, bounce house, movie theater, IMAX theater, and more stores than you can handle, there’s never a loss of things to do at this place. You could move in and still not get to all the events and activities. On Munchkin Mondays, select Mondays throughout the year, families are encouraged to bring the kids for special events and coupons just for them. (The last one was for St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.) At the moment, your kid can visit with the Easter Bunny and pose for a photo. Of course, the pictures are outrageously expensive (it cost 20 bucks for two stinkin’ prints). Still, you won’t be able to get over that smile, so you’ll be gouged and happy. Baby Boy is going to visit with the bunny again at the Bergen County Zoo on Saturday (should the weather hold up), and there are other malls getting in on the act, of course. These are the other places you can take a picture with the big bunny himself: