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We live within easy driving distance to one of the world’s top wine regions, Napa Valley.

Napa Valley


But we seldom visit Napa Valley…

Hubby and I try very hard to be good parents, and good parents don’t drag their children to Napa Valley’s countless wineries to sip wine.

Then one day, one of these children got a driver’s license. We got ourselves a designated driver!

Our teen driver


Hey, hubby and I can both taste wine all day long. This gave us enough incentive to stop being good parents. We loaded the kids into our car, and drove to Napa.

The first stop was lunch, and our navigation took us straight to C Casa.

100% Gluten free restaurant

C Casa is one of the rare 100% gluten free restaurants in the country. When you have a celiac in the family, any 100% gluten free restaurant qualifies as a destination all by itself.

C Casa offered wide menu options, and we ordered the Bison Burger, Duck and Steak tacos, and roasted chicken.

Gluten free lunch at Napa

Since C Casa started out as a gluten free bakery, we ordered their lemon cake and donuts to boot. This pleased our 13-year-old celiac child immensely.

Our baby felt like a VIP at Napa. Many of their ice cream parlors offered gluten free cones,

Gluten free ice cream cone

and for dinner, she got to order a gluten free dinner entree that is the good food, ribs and fries!!

Gluten free baby back ribs and fries

We still feel like good parents.

Napa Valley is teeming with fine dining options, boutique shops, galleries, high end coffee bars,

Coffee bar

and loads of fine cheeses.

Huge selection of fine cheeses

But mostly, people come to Napa for its vines and wine, and its endless supply of beautiful wineries.

Winery


We visited a number of wineries, tasted many glasses of fine wine,

Wine tasting

and came home with 16 bottles. The four of us agreed that when these 16 bottles run dry, it is time for another drive to Napa.

Drive to Napa

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Over Easter break, the four of us hopped on a red eye flight to Boston, and took on a whirlwind week-long East Coast college tour.

Beautiful University campus

In 8 days, we drove a little over 2,000 miles,

East Coast college tour road trip

and visited 9 college campuses.

Campus tour

We felt a bit like rock stars, as we checked into a different hotel every night, and woke up in a different city every morning.

We saw enchanting campus that could rival the Hogwarts in Harry Potter,

Enchanting campus

as well as modern buildings with state of the art laboratories and research facilities.

Computer Science buidling

We got a good flavor of universities nested in bustling big cities, to small cities, as well as isolated college towns.

College campus tour


College dorm


Peaceful learning enviornment


Georgia Tech

The nine campuses we visited are all highly ranked universities in the country, and all impressed us with their ridiculously low acceptance rates. As my 16 year-old will enter her senior year in the fall, the task ahead seemed daunting. They all required excellent transcripts, high test scores, extracurricular, strong essays, all mixed in with a good measure of luck.

We returned home from our road trip exhausted, but our family had a lot of fun, and we learned a great deal from this experience.

The good news: My teen loved every campus we visited.

The really good news: We are already very proud of our teen for having earned the academic credentials to consider applying into these universities.

The super good news: While she will certainly make an effort to get into her top choices, there isn’t just one or two universities out there for her. In fact, there are many universities where she can learn and be happy at.

Soon to be college bound

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There was a charming organic farm adjacent to the small 16 room hotel we stayed at during our visit to Peru’s Sacred Valley.

An Organic Pervian Farm


This organic farm advertised an organic farm lunch that sounded enticing. I did not hesitate to sign us up for it.

Lunch at an organic farm


We arrived at the appointed hour, and were delighted to learn that this lunch will be cooked according to their ancient Inca tradition, straight on the rocks!!

Marinated meats cooked on hot rocks


The heat from the rocks prompted us to stand back. As we observed, the cooks placed potatoes, corns, various farm vegetables, marinated chicken, pork ribs, and lamb chops on the rocks.

Everything cooked in rocks all together


They had all the food completely covered under the rocks, then added heavenly scented herbs on top of the rocks,

Fresh farm herbs covered the hot rocks

covered everything with tarp, then top it off with dirt.

Everything under tarp and dirt


“Everything will be cooked to perfection in about 20 minutes!” our lunch host announced to us proudly.

He then led us to a tour of the farm. Peru is rich in corn and potatoes. In addition to these two main crops, this farm grow a huge variety of vegetables. We got to touch, feel, and smell a number of unfamiliar vegetables and herbs.

Meet Buckwheat grain

Since one member of our family must eat gluten free, we were excited to finally meet Quinoa in its most natural form.

Quinoa field


The farm raised farm animals too, as we saw chicken coop, pig pens, and lambs on the farm.

Chicken house


One of several pig pens


20 minutes went by fast, and we were lead back to their Inca oven.

The staff unveiled the food that has been cooked on the rocks, and filled the air with this incredible smell that made my mouth water.

Lunch is ready


Everything was cooked to perfection in 20 minutes!!

A variety of potatoes and sweet potatoes


Sweet corn


The meats were juicy and tender.

Chicken and pork rib with salad, and purple corn juice

I had not expected dessert on a farm lunch, but then our host delivered us this!

Dessert with homemade alcohol


The dessert came with 4 shot glasses of homemade traditional Peruvian alcohol.

“We gave you small glasses because they are very, very strong!” said our host, “but very good. You must try it.”

“Children can drink alcohol in Peru?” I pointed at my two children.

“If parents allow it, sure, they can drink alcohol here.” host said with a wide smile.

I took a sip first. I don’t like most strong alcohol, but this sip went down smooth. I would guess that this was probably a 40% proof alcohol, but it had a refreshing and a hint of sweet fruitiness after taste.

I don’t know if it is legal for young Americans to drink alcohol overseas, so I am not providing further details here.

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This was such a great idea 8 months ago. A grand adventure, one amazing experience, the mystic, and the bragging rights…

Endless Inca Trail stairs


But as I stood at the bottom of these rock stairs, catching up on my breath, I was filled with trepidation.

This was day two of our 4 day Inca Trail trek to the iconic Machu Picchu. We had been forewarned that this was going to be the most challenging day of this difficult hike.

By challenging, they meant insane.

The porters woke us up from our tents at 5AM. They wanted us to hike 11 hours that day.

By 6AM, we had eaten our breakfast and packed our day bag. The porters stayed behind to dismantle the tents and pack up the camp.

Packed up the camp site to move forward.


“Okay. Team. Now, we are going to climb up to reach the summit of this trail. This will take you about 6 hours.” our young mountain guide told us with a straight face, “It is all up, some parts will be very steep. You will need to watch your steps and use your poles.”

Our guide then added encouragingly, “You can do it! Anything is possible.”

This was not simply 6 hours on the stairmaster. These were uneven rock stairs. Lots and lots and lots of them. Some were very steep, all of varying height, and varying depth.

Then there was the murderous high altitude. There wasn’t enough air in our lungs just for standstill breathing!

Dead Woman's Pass at 13,800 ft on the Inca Trail.


We were climbing from 11,000 feet to the summit of 13,800 feet. To add to our joy, the mountain gods showered us with rain nearly all day. But there was one positive. The high altitude and rain made day two super cold. We were advised to not rest for longer than 2 minutes. We had to keep moving to stay warm. Awesome.

We reached the summit, a.k.a. Dead Woman’s Pass in under 6 hours. We were greeted with cheers and applause. Our mountain guide high fived us, as porters handed us hot coca tea and snack.

The summit of the Inca Trail.


I’d like them to rename this pass to Awesome Super Woman’s pass instead. I felt like an Awesome Super woman standing at the top of the summit.

Thrilled to have reached the summit of Dead Woman's Pass.


15 minutes later, our guide gathered us to continue our hike.

“We still have about 5 hours of hike to go. The first 3 hours, you will have some up, some down, and some flat. The next 2 hours are all down hill.” said our mountain guide.

We were so sick and tired of climbing up on the stairs, we cheered upon hearing the hike down.

It wasn’t long when I concluded that I didn’t much like the down hike either.

Endless stairs down the mountain.


The rain had made the rocks slippery. Many hikers slipped and fell while climbing down. My 13 year-old fell down the stairs 4 times. We were fortunate and no hikers were seriously hurt on these rocky steps. The hike down required a great deal of mental concentration, and careful footing.

I just like the flat terrains.

It's flat!

But these were scarce on the Inca Trail.

On Day 3, we only had to hike 6 hours. They said easy day, all downhill! You already know how I feel about downhill.

Our sore and shaky legs kept on the rocky descent.

Day 3 - mostly all downhill.

As we neared Machu Picchu, we could hear the whistles from the trains and can see the Machu Picchu town deep down in the valley. We also came across Llama traffic on our narrow path.

LLama traffic


LLama standing on an Inca ruin wall.


Day 4, they woke us at 3:30AM. We hiked with our troop with our headlamps on. They wanted us to arrive the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu before the masses arrive by train.

We arrived at the Sun Gate around 6AM, and found the Sun Gate covered in dense fog.

Dense fog at the Sun Gate.

We couldn’t see the Machu Picchu! No one was surprised. During our 4 day hike, we noticed that the fog came and went as it pleased on these mountains.

We sat and waited. 20 minutes later, the fog began to lift, unveiling the majestic Machu Picchu like magic.

Machu Picchu appeared as fog lifted.


We had arrived at Machu Picchu on a beautiful Christmas Day, feeling triumphed.

Merry Christmas ! We did it!!


The journey itself was the destination, and this was our grand finale.

Machu Picchu on a beautiful and sunny Christmas day.


We were right 8 months ago. A grand adventure, one amazing experience, the mystic, and the bragging rights…

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A while back……

“Mom! The Rolling Stones are having a concert on Oct 19th!!!!!” my 16 year-old.

These guys are still alive?!

It is an utter mystery why my teenage daughter would have the music taste of a male who might start to pay attention to the benefits of AARP.

“Mom! They are my favorite band. Please can we go? PLEASEEEE.” the teen.

“Are they coming to town?” me, with a deep frown to tamper with her enthusiasm.

“It’s in Las Vegas!” teen, unfazed by my troubling facial expression.

I cast an even deeper frown aimed sharply at my teen.

“The only problem might be that it is on a Wednesday night.” teen, still dreamy and walking on clouds.

She thought this was the ONLY problem!

This problem was good enough to latch on for a refusal. We are not retired people like most of the Rolling Stones’ fans. A flight to Vegas on a weekday would mean missing school and work.

I went ahead and broke the poor girl’s heart. I added how sorry I was that this concert wasn’t on a weekend.

“I know you love the Stones. If this concert had been on a weekend, I would totally take you.” I was laughing on the inside.

Two or three weeks after that…..

“MOM!!!! Rolling Stones is adding a second show in Vegas! On Oct 22nd. It is a SATURDAYYY!!!” teen, pumping both fists.

She had to be messing with me. But no! The Rolling Stones did announce adding a second show in Vegas, on a Saturday. UNBELIEVEABLE!!!

Last Saturday, the two of us touched down at the Vegas airport just before noon.

In honor of our Rock and Roll weekend, as soon as we dropped off our bags at our hotel, we took a taxi to Hard Rock cafe for lunch.

Hard Rock Cafe Las Vegas


Ah, their Pineapple and Coconut Mojito was amazing, nothing puts me in the mood for vacation better than a mid-day cocktail.

After lunch, we leisurely walked the strip and visited the big casinos. We shopped, ate snacks, and were wowed by each casino’s over-the-top extravagant decor.

We made our way to the newly built T-Mobile Arena about an hour before the show time, and joined thousands of fans already congregating there in eager anticipation of the show.

Rolling Stones playing at the T-Mobile Arena Las Vegas


The Rolling Stones rocked the arena for two full hours. I danced alongside my teen to the music.

The Rolling Stones


At around 11PM, we poured out of the arena with tens of thousands of satisfied fans. A mad maze of neon lights enticed us back to the busy strip, and we went on shopping.

Vegas at night


At midnight, we decided a burger sounded good. We sat down at a cafe for a second dinner, and reminisced about the highlights of the concert.

My daughter smiled ear to ear the whole weekend. It was priceless.

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We picked out a beautiful day to visit San Francisco.

Golden Gate bridge


It was sunny, clear, and warm.

We had another reason for driving north on Saturday. I found this 100% gluten-free restaurant in Sausalito, a town just north of San Francisco.

Crossing the Golden Gate to Sausalito


Sausalito is an upscale seaside town full of tourists, bikers, outdoor cafes, ice cream parlors, bakeries, and countless boutique stores and art galleries.

Sausalito


Sausalito on a Saturday morning


The trouble with 100% gluten free restaurants is that I always order too much food. At most regular restaurants, my celiac child often only has 2 meals to choose from, so at Copita, I set my baby loose to eat everything.

By the end of the meal, we still had 2 full plates that were hardly touched.

24 hour carnitas


Half roasted Chicken


But we still saved room for their amazing gf desserts. And we had to ordered an extra dessert to go.

1 left as soon as this dessert arrived at our table


After lunch, we headed to Pier 39, a.k.a. Fisherman’s Wharf.

San Francisco's Pier 39


Apparently a whole lot of people had the same idea. The Pier was packed with visitors.

We joined the crowd, sipped on drinks, bought snacks, fruits, and window shopped.

Pier 39's Mini donuts


Pier 39's fruit stand


We enjoy an outing to San Francisco every couple of months or so. We always have fun there.

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Merely a month after snowboarding at Whistler, Canada, we found ourselves on the sands of Maui for Spring break.

To the beach!

Yes, it is really rough being me.

We visit Maui frequently, and being regular visitors, we don’t need to jam pack our vacation days with activities that are must dos on Maui. Because we have already done everything twice over.

So, everyday we just keep doing what we enjoy the most on this island: hitting the beaches.

Maui's sandy beach


Early in the morning, we grab our gear, and head to our favorite snorkeling spots to snorkel.

I have taught both of my children to snorkel since they were five years old, and my teen can snorkel dive like a pro.

My teen chasing after a colorful fish


When you can dive, you can take beautiful photos of things under the sea close up.

A beauty under the sea


You can also harass a poor eel out of its cave to go somewhere else. Sorry!

An eel getting away from us


We hiked on little known trails to reach our favorite beach front restaurant.

Beach trail

Avocado and crab omelette


It is okay to order alcohol with your breakfast on Maui.

tropical drinks


Then we go for a swim in the ocean.

A morning dip in the ocean


In the afternoons, we go to our favorite boogie board beach to play with the surf.

Boogie boarding at Kamaole III beach


And we boogie board until sunset.

Boogie boarding until sunset


Then we go out and feast on catch of the day.

Whole Opakapaka fish


And we always remember to save room for dessert!

The Black Pearl


Next morning, we start over with snorkeling again, and repeat.

My little mermaid

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We came home late Saturday night, and found our home phone answer machine blinking like crazy. I have been offline and unreachable for a whole week.

We took the kids on a snowboarding trip to Whistler, Canada, last week. Although Canada does not feel very foreign from the US, it is indeed another country, so AT&T wanted to charge me a hefty roaming charge, plus international calling and text rates. I decided to shut my phone off for a whole week. I am cheap like that.

So, how was Whistler?

Spectacular!

Whistler Mountain Ski Resort


It’s majestic duo mountains were the home of the 2010 Winter Olympic.

It has a huge village, with an extensive number of restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops (the village had two Starbucks!), grocery stores, and endless shops throughout.

Whistler Village at night


We spent 5 glorious days on the slopes.

The kids riding down the slopes


It was never boring. In addition to a massive number to trails to choose from, the mountain was ever changing.

Which run??


You could have clear blue sky, and find yourself floating on top of the clouds one moment,

My baby on top of the clouds


to dense fog on a different section of the mountain,

Seriously foggy, can't see the trail ahead


to punishing whiteout condition,

Braving the whiteout condition


to warmer slushy conditions near the base.

It is so nice of the schools to offer a ski week off in the middle of the February every year.

The cool one.

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Seriously! I took Germany out of our European vacation itinerary because their restaurants are reputed to be gluten-free challenged.

How could a country known for its meat and potatoes be bad for people who only have to avoid wheat, barley, and rye? Apparently, they like to bread and fry everything, marinate sausages in beer, and they don’t like to be flexible.

Upon further research… Denmark and Sweden’s McDonald’s serve gluten-free burgers! Super. I added Denmark and Sweden to replace Germany.

McDonald's gluten-free hamburger in Stockholm.


Ever since my 12 year-old was diagnosed with Celiac disease a year and half ago, gluten has transformed our lifestyle. And now, even our travel route is dedicated to avoid gluten.

You might think the lack of gluten in my stomach is making me nuts.

Not so! Traveling gluten-free is hard. Let me tell you what happened in Paris.

Paris was our first stop, and we were there for 4 nights.

“Paris is easy. I have this gluten-free travel card in French, and the celiac forum said the servers in Paris are familiar with the gluten-free diet, and know what gluten is. “ I waved the travel card at my family.

French gluten-free restaurant card


Day 1: We braved the Eiffel Tower stairs all the way to deck two. On our way down, as we neared the Eiffel Tower deck one, the kids were hungry for lunch. We stood in line at an outdoor cafe to buy food.

“Bonjour, my daughter here can not eat gluten.” I showed the French gluten-free travel card to the young staff.

“Ah, gluten.” She said with a smile.

“You understand gluten?” me.

“Yes, yes, I understand gluten.” staff.

Awesome!! I don’t have to explain gluten to her.

“What can she eat here?” I asked her.

She looked around at her lunch display, shook her head at me.

“I am sorry. Everything has gluten here.” staff.

I stared at the various French baguettes and delicious looking baked goods through the glassed display.

“So, there is nothing for her to eat here?” I had hoped that a gluten-free version of these foods would be available.

“I am really sorry…no.” she looked at my daughter, and looked genuinely sorry for her.

“Ahh! There is a restaurant on deck two, and they may have gluten-free fries.” she told us.

I looked up, and was not tempted to play supermom that day. Deck two on the Eiffel Tower is NOT exactly upstairs from Deck one, it is more like 20 floors up.

“I’ll just have an icee, mom.” a small voice said.

I ordered sandwiches for the rest of us, and got the baby an icee, and a coke.

The coke and icee lunch on deck one of the Eiffel Tower


I felt terrible.

At a nearby gift shop, I found ice cream bars in their freezer, and after verifying with a staff that it didn’t contain any gluten, I bought it for the baby.

“Yay, I get to have coke and ice cream for lunch!!” the baby was excited over her “lunch”.

Day 2: We visited the Louvre. We went to the museum food court to widen our options. After walking a few rounds, it was clear that the only things that were “sans gluten” (gluten-free in French) were plain salad and fruit cups.

“I can eat coke and ice cream again for lunch.” the baby suggested.

“No! You can’t have that for lunch everyday.” me, “You will have to eat the salad or the fruit cup, or both.”

“I’ll eat the salad.” the baby said with downcast eyes.

The fruit cups did look tired and unappetizing.

Day 3: We were at the Musee d’Orsay when the lunch hour came upon us. I have come to dread hunger. The Parisians knew their gluten alright, because it is in everything!

“Great…salad and fruit cups again.” baby.

After we sat down to eat, I quickly noted that the baby was not eating.

“Why aren’t you eating your lunch? Eat more salad.” me.

“The dressing tastes bad.” baby.

The light purple colored dressing with little dots of herbs looked guilty as charged.

I felt terrible. I put down my Chicken salad baguettes, and went to look at food again.

I came back with a couple of pouches of mayonnaise. “Here, try eating your salad with mayonnaise.” me.

Baby gave me a funny look.

“Everything tastes good with mayonnaise, just try it.” me.

Baby tried, nodded her head, and ate pieces of lettuce dipped with mayonnaise.

“I will buy you ice cream later.” me.

Day 4: Paris was saved!…by a potato.

We were driving around the huge gardens of Versailles in a golf cart on day 4. As I snapped photos in Louis the XIV’s massive royal garden, and I was thinking, please! Anything but salad today.

An old man stood behind an old fashioned food cart got my attention. He was selling roasted whole potatoes. The potatoes cost 5 euros each, expensive largely due to the unlimited topping options that he generously piled onto each potato.

“One potato! With just butter and salt.” I ordered.

He smeared my potato with butter, and sprinkled salt on top. Then he waved his hand over his selections of sour cream, bacon, meat appeared to be sausages, chili, onions, and other foreign looking toppings.

“No thanks.” me.

He handed me the plain potato, totally unimpressed with me.

“A potato!!!” baby was smiling ear to ear.

“Oh this is so good” , “Yummy”, “This is the best potato ever”, the baby was chowing on the potato singing its praise loudly with each and every bite.

“Mom, I want a potato too.” 14 year-old.

I told hubby to turn around and go back to the potato guy. We bought a second potato from the guy.

“We just spent 10 euros on two potatoes.” I said to hubby.

It was money well spent. As we boarded the train bound for Amsterdam the next morning, the kids declared the roasted potato the highlight of Paris.

An afterthought:

Dining out is a challenge for people living with strict dietary restrictions. Traveling just magnifies it because you are living out of a hotel room in unfamiliar places.

We quickly learned that it isn’t enough to just walk into any cafes waving our foreign language restaurant cards, and expect to be well fed. Thanks to free wifi and the internet, we were able to conduct thorough research for the rest of the European cities we visited, and found specific restaurants that offered dedicated gluten-free menus or were very willing to accommodate people with food allergies.

We have had many more misadventures with eating out in Europe, but we have also had great finds and our celiac child did feast on many delicious and proper meals in Europe.

The gluten-free dessert at Amsterdam’s Haesje Claes.

Gluten-free dessert in Amsterdam

The gluten-free schnitzel at Prague’s Svejk Restaurant U Karla

Gluten-free dinner in Prague

The gluten-free Polish dumplings at Krakow’s Pod Baranem Restauracja. Just loved this restaurant, we ate there 3 nights in a row.

Gluten-free Polish dumplings in Krakow

Happy travels!!!

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Paris

We just returned home from a month-long European Vacation.

I actually had grand plans for my blog. I was going to do a travel blog in each of the cities. But…here comes the excuse:

Who knew that when you storm through Europe city by city, you are just so exhausted by the end of the day, all you want is to lay your head upon a pillow and hug your blanket. No kidding!

So I flopped on the grand European travel blogs. But here are some pictures to share from our trip.

Paris - still my favorate city in the whole world.

Amsterdam

Copenhagen - Rosenborg Castle

Stockholm

Krakow - Wawel Castle

Auschwitz Concentration Camp Museum

Prague - Charles Bridge

Budapest

Vienna - St Stephen's Cathedral

Santorini, Greece

Santorini Sunset

Athens - The Parthenon and the Acropolis

That's us!

Now I must go back and tend to my fierce battle with loads of laundry.

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