The Real Housewife of Santa Monica
Spain with Kids – Madrid Part 1

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Spain with Kids – Madrid Part 1

We just spent a month in Spain and I want to write down as much as I can before I forget it.

It’s been over 10 years since I’ve travelled internationally and I was rusty. I’ll share the biggies I learned re: traveling with kids (though some will be relevant for those traveling without!) We planned to move around a lot so we decided to pack light.



  • G and I got smallish roller bags that can convert to backpacks. I got an Eagle Creek one. He got a more expensive Osprey that has a detachable day pack and is carry-on size for airplane travel.
  • The girls used their Pottery Barn roller bags that they use for school.
  • We each packed a week’s worth of clothes.

Eagle Creek Lync System 26" Travel Pack


Osprey Meridian Wheeled Convertible Luggage 22"


Pottery Barn wheeled backpack


  • 5 short sleeved shirts
  • 5 pairs shorts/skirts
  • (I packed 3 pairs shorts and 5 dresses/shifts for hot weather)
  • 7 underwear
  • Swimsuits (2 for G and me, kids packed 2-4 each)
  • 2 bras (me only ha ha)
  • hat (for sun protection)
  • 5 socks
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 1 long pants
  • packable rain jackets (they come in own pouch) – did NOT use!
  • Flip flops
  • sneakers
  • (I also took Birkenstocks which I wore almost every day)
  • Ibuprofen (including Advil PM to overcome jet lag)
  • Bug repellent wipes
  • headlamps
Things to pack/do (that we didn’t and learned the hard way.)
  • 3-4 power adaptors (we had 2 cellphones, 2 iPads & G’s laptop and a mantra: ABC (Always Be Charging)
  • Extra USB/charging cables
  • Take photos of your passports and credit cards – store photos on iCloud in case of loss/theft.
  • BYOWC (Bring your own washcloth if you use washcloths)
In the past we have been “over packers.” We used to take a huge duffle bag with all of our clothes thrown in for 10 days at my mother in law’s beach condo. You can imagine the time spent searching through for complete outfits. Last summer I traveled for 2 weeks with the kids in the northeast United States. We then spent another week camping at Grand Tetons National Park. Time and space did not permit this kind of excess. Our dear friend Trish met us with her family and shared her packing method of rolling outfits together for her two boys which I incorporated for this trip.
  • Roll complete outfits together. Rolling clothes in general is a more efficient use of space in packing than folded clothes. It also tends to create fewer wrinkles. I rolled a shirt and shorts/skirt together and placed in roller bags. Kids could easily pick out an outfit on their own.
  • Socks and underpants went into a large Zip-Loc. (You can also purchase “cubes” at REI or a travel store but they are not cheap!)
  • PJs went into another large Zip-Loc.
  • Swimsuits went into a 3rd large Zip-Loc.

Shirt & shorts (1 outfit)

Roll that sucker up


Outfit burrito


Place in rollerbag for easy grabbing by a kid!


Zip-Loc 'O swimsuits – messy!


Roll those babies up too!


Shoes/Flip Flops in a Zip-Loc too – you don't want the bottoms of dirty shoes touching your clothes. (Or DO you?)

Two days after school got out we flew a red-eye to Madrid. Our kids are ages 8 and 6 so no strollers/diapers/sippy cups etc. We took two CamelBak water bottles for them one of which was lost within the first 24 hours upon landing somewhere in the airport in Madrid. The second was lost a week or so later.

The owner of the AirB&B apartment we rented had a taxi driver waiting for us. He took us straightaway to our apartment in the center of Madrid near the Prado Museum. The climate was similar to southern California’s: dry & hot. It was in the high 90′s when we arrived. We had been traveling since 3PM our time and it was now late afternoon and we were out of all fruit etc. that we had taken on the plane. Around 8 or 9PM I walked outside with the kids to find a store. It was still incredibly hot outside and we walked past several theaters and restaurants. The vibe was relaxed – people sat at tables smoking or drinking a beer or glass of wine and kids played at a nearby playground. I compared it to the Promenade in Santa Monica which is rigidly structured in comparison – if alcohol is served in restaurants in SM there has to be a metal fence around the seating area. There are no playgrounds in the immediate area either.

I bought some overpriced spaghetti, sauce, toothpaste, a coke and 2 beers for George. We were in no shape to go out as we hadn’t slept yet.

The next day we set out to explore a bit. We planned to stay 2 nights before heading to Barcelona. We’d give ourselves more time in Madrid at the tail end of the trip but for now we wanted to get out of the hot city. Before leaving the apartment I asked G where the passports were. He had all 4 of them. He planned to keep them in his daypack. I asked for mine as I didn’t think we should keep them all together. First stop was a restaurant the apt. owner recommended at the end of our street. It was called Taberna el Sur.

First outing in Madrid

Tiny sip of sangria

I saw other tourists in there so wondered if all the AirB&B owners sent them there? Anyway, it was really cute, friendly and had nice sangria. Maddie ordered a caesar salad and had her first lesson in ordering food in Spain. Try to order Spanish specialities instead of ordering familiar dishes as they will NOT be prepared the same way. We ordered croquettes (with jamon), camarones (calamari), a sort of caprese salad and I have no idea what Bea got or ate. That lunch was our introduction to a month of camarones y jamon (ham – usually Iberian).

We had to switch SIM cards first so we went to Vodaphone or maybe two Vodaphone stores until we switched them. The second Vodaphone store was inside a Cortes Ingles which is a department store. There was a pretty nice grocery store in the basement so we grabbed some sundries. The tap water is excellent in Madrid so there was no need to buy bottled water. G and I had managed not to lose our CamelBak bottles yet.

After getting our new SIM cards and Spanish phone numbers, we stopped in a plaza for a drink. It was around 9PM but still light out. In the plaza we just sat down at one of many tables and a waiter approached asking what we’d like. We had no menus so I asked him what kinds of wine he had. He said, “Blanco y tinto.” Simple! I ordered a copa de vino blanco – seco (DRY!) The wine was excellent.

From time to time people approached to sell us jewelry, carved animals, wooden trivets etc. One man tried to sell us fidget spinners. We answered “No gracias.” countless times. It was pretty obvious they could spot the tourists and beelined towards them. At first the kids betrayed me by yelling, “PLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEEAze????” re: the fidget spinners. After the man left I told them that they were falling into his sales trap and that next time they had better act disinterested.

We ordered  a second drink because it was so nice out and there were so many people out and about. The kids started playing in the plaza.

Kids were playing in front of "Despicable Gru" poster.


Around 9:30 or 10PM. So nice out!

A little boy joined the girls in the plaza. Instantly I romanticized them thinking, “The children are already befriending a native Spaniard!” but then his parents called to him in English. We struck up a conversation – turns out they were from the Bay area. So much for social immersion. As we talked with them the fidget spinner salesman approached again. We said no much more quickly this time and he seemed not to mind as he departed quickly. The CA family left and we paid our bill. Thrilled to see each glass of wine was 2.20 euros and the beers were 1.50 euros!

However, thrill turned to despair as we got up to leave and found no evidence of G’s daypack. We suspected the fidget spinner salesman had grabbed it from the ground by G’s foot. Inside were his and the girls’ passports as well as his copy of Lonely Planet Spain and his prescription reading glasses. We were supposed to leave for Barcelona the following day.

**To be continued…**

Leaving Oz

After 20 years in the Castro, my dad decided to leave for a flatter, easier life. St. Allison met me in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago to help get the show on the road. I guess she and my brother knew if I went alone many hours would be spent looking through old pictures and packing broken frames, plastic tape rolls with 1/4 cm of tape left on them and a lonely thumbtack.

The first morning there we did a lot of stuff like this:
I love that shade of pink. That was his dining room and I never got tired of looking up out the window seeing the pink interior wall against the white exterior wall and deep blue sky.

We also gave away all kinds of things on Craig’s List. I totally recommend that versus the dump as it involves nothing more than hauling junk to the curb and then posting pix with descriptions to the free section of Craig’s List. Saves things from the landfill too.

That said, I think we could’ve sold this rug my dad bought a million years ago in Portugal:

I got so many emails about this rug. But we didn’t dare tarry. Alli and I just couldn’t stop ourselves from hurling things down the staircases and out the door!

By Friday afternoon we were in pretty good shape so Allie and I took a walk down Castro.

I hadn’t been there in a while. These were new:

As usual I got sentimental and felt something wet well up in the corners of my eyes thinking I still haven’t had a drink at the Twin Peaks bar (aka The Glass Coffin) and things of that nature.

When I later lamented to my sister in law about never having seen a movie at the Castro Theater my dad quickly reminded me that we had. I already forget what we saw despite this conversation occurring last week.

The Castro is a beautiful, magical neighborhood! I was in my mid 20′s when my dad moved there and every visit was exciting not only due to being in a city but also because of the soft light, view of the bay bridge from his living room, hills and coffee. Yes, the coffee was GOOD. The coffee was STRONG. I was drinking double lattes with every meal because I lived in Naples, FL where the coffee and cuisine was nothing to write about particularly if you have trouble getting over the “e” at the end of “Grill” in 50% of the restaurant’s names. Olde Naples Grille and Buena Vista Grille. There is nothing quaint about a peach colored strip mall on the side of US 41, no matter how many “e’s” you tag on the end of a name.

That night my dad took us to Alice’s for dinner. No matter what you order at Alice’s, it comes smothered in the same brown sauce.

Shortly after reading this fortune I got a job casting (non-violent) criminals for a documentary series. These things never lie.

The next day Ali and I felt we were in good shape so we took a long walk down Mission Street to the Embarcadero. We explored many precious shops inside.

That night my dad had reservations at Zuni Cafe. I hadn’t been here in over 15 years because of 2223 (now closed.)

I couldn’t help but feel sentimental and a bit sad walking there that night.

Something magical about the lighting and the hills, the people etc.

We had a wonderful dinner at Zuni! We ordered:

  • chicken for two roasted in the brick oven; warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts
  • wild arugula salad
  • frisee salad
  • oysters

Waiting for our chicken at Zuni Cafe

Chicken must be ordered 1 hour ahead.

Chicken almost here!

Dad post gins/pre rose at Zuni

In packing we found this coaster Andrew made as a child.

Andrew ended up leaning towards the sciences and away from the arts

On Sunday we were doing so well we decided to take a drive down the coast, one last time.

Mini Road trip CA coast


Of course we had to eat first!

Finally we had to admit we were done and leave.

View of Castro from the apartment

View from Dad's apartment. It used to be possible to see the Bay Bridge until all the development.

One last look.

Good bye, Castro! Thank you for the memories.

I got a facelift!

Thank you!! Thank you!! I DO feel about 5 years younger! I AM well-rested!! No, it doesn’t hurt at all! The recovery has been amazing.

Wait a minute: I didn’t get a facelift – my BLOG got a facelift. Many thanks to my darling G, who worked late nights gittin’ ‘er done, Shane Zalvin for drawing the caricature in his non-existent free time, Serena Reid for painting the drawing with a minute’s notice, friends for giving me recipe & crafty ideas and the kids for providing endless material.

Since realizing I’m a Real Housewife of Santa Monica my goal is to share anything I find out along the way: things to do with kids, where to get a cocktail with your partner & kids (they get water), any good deals I hear about, a fun find, a local business I know you’d love. Once in a while I throw in a random rhapsodizing over the fragility of life, the beauty & the pain of it. But that will be kept to a minimum. All of the old recipes are here as well as some new entries I posted while we worked.

G is still working on the Recipes menu bar to make it more easily searched. The new sections (Kid Fun, Happy Hour & DIY) will get meatier as time goes on. If you notice any other odds & ends that need tweaking, please comment or email me at

This was a painless & non-surgical facelift. Hope my next facelift is the same.

Enjoy & thanks for stopping by!

Nerd alert!

My brother came to town last month. We took him to the park. The only reason we call him a nerd is that he’s an avian ecologist. Bird nerd.

We’re just jealous.

Allison had to stay behind with Stella. Rats!! But she (Stella, that is) doesn’t fly coach.

Went out to eat at Miyako’s.

M likes the cooked shrimp sushi. My own struggles with organization make me admire her precise shrimp stacking.

Biking home from Miyako's.

One morning we took Andrew to Clover Park.

Beer love!

I think Bea is looking forward to playing soccer with the big kids.

The girls suckered A into the TOWER. I’d like to know who installed this urine-soaked deathtrap in a children’s playground? Who?? Why??

Gratuitous tub shot.

We grilled out at home Saturday night. So nice not to have to clean up & rush off somewhere all the while trying to beat the nighttime rush.

Next morning we went for a hike at Sullivan Canyon. It was already pretty hot but the Canyon is shaded.

Bea in her hiking dress.

Someone put up a fun rope swing in there!


Mountain lion bait.

We were really hot & tired so we got us some Jamba juice & headed home.

Pup seatbelt

During Bea’s nap, Andrew & M read the books he brought them: “A Light in the Attic” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

On the way to LAX we took Andrew to one of his favorite restaurants – Killer Shrimp. It used to be a really small/alternative place on Washington Blvd. There was one in Studio City too. It only had one dish: Cajun style shrimp. You could get it unpeeled (best!), or peeled over white rice (hypo-glycemic nightmare), or over angel hair pasta (ditto). It’s served in a spicy broth with a colander of doughy white bread, perfect for soaking up the broth. Anyway, that’s how it WAS. It closed for a few years but it’s back! Now it’s more of a large family-friendly place with a full menu. It’s not vegetarian friendly in any way though. Still, I enjoyed the grilled caesar salad (which I make better at home) and a glass of chardonnay. Nice!

Whew – I didn’t mean to do a mini restaurant review there. But since I’ve gone this far: Killer Shrimp is family friendly with a bar, an aquarium of exotic fish, indoor & outdoor seating on the marina, and TV screens to watch sports (Great!) (Not.) The kid’s meals need some tweaking. They have a mac N cheese for kids but it’s HUGE and has real cheese in it v. American cheese. My kids really didn’t like it and it also tasted like they used a lot of flour. They also have sliders though and those worked out fine. They need to work on the portion sizes and offer something besides fries for the kids though.

At first the kids were well-behaved. And by kids, I include M’s doll.

But Bea started getting restless.

Time to go!

We miss Andrew & Allison!! We can’t wait to see them again & meet their new pup, Stella.


Colorado – Part 1

Before I start I want to announce or rather pre-announce the launch of my new blog page. In 2008 Cox-Fitz Chronicles was started as nothing more than a birth announcement for Maddie’s arrival. G made it at the start of the 3 day labor. He’s amazing! Well, G’s gone & done it again. He’s set the stage for MY new spin-off blog:

Real Housewife of Santa Monica.

Sorry, no link…YET!

It still needs some work – but SOON. Also – Cox Fitz Chronicles isn’t going anywhere – that will be the family blog. After all, I doubt perfect strangers want to watch 6 minutes of a toddler trying to nurse a doll.

Anyway, here’s my latest, non food-related blog posting. We just had a fun & active vakay in CO with our good friends & their good friends who are really cool. 6 adults & 6 kids. Wowza!!!! The casualties were: my favorite old belt (black with heart buckle if anyone finds it), my cheapie Banana Republic glasses, M’s brand new hoody (green with daisies), and my Patagonia jacket. I don’t care about any of it but the belt. Never having had a waist, this was the only belt with the tenacity to hang on to the untenable & keep my jeans from falling down.

Come back to me (belt)!
[- Cold Mountain]

Speaking of mountains, poor Colorado is raging with fire right now. Worrisome. Downright disastrous for wildlife, the 600+ families who’ve lost houses not to mention the exhausted firefighters. Aggh. Well, we didn’t know about the fires when we planned our trip, and we DO feel for everyone involved!

We headed out of LAX at a decent morning hour. G does not avail himself of coffee.

I thought my dad would be pleased to see this sign so I emailed it to him right away since he is “done” with flying and can also get pretty annoyed with the train at times. (He doesn’t like sitting near or talking to people.)

The Denver bathroom had these totally rad cans for trash & recyclables (composting).

Paper towels only!

Then next to it this one:

Trash ONLY!!! No paper towels. (Dummy!)

Am I really posting pix of the airport bathroom? Yes, yes, I am!

We headed right over to our friends’ Mark & Trish’s house in Denver. The girls had a blast playing with their little boys & Trish introduced me to a Moscow Mule. (And no, Chris Lynch, Root Beer is perfectly safe off his leash near this mule.) Very few pix b/c someone had to rescue Bea from the screen door each time she got pinned behind it.

Anyway, here’s a pic of our lovely hostess, Tricia with the Bea-dozer.

They live in a really progressive neighborhood which was built in the old Denver airport when they up & moved it. All the houses have porches and it’s totally walkable with a terrific park for the kids. They even uncovered a creek that had been under the runway of the airport! Amazing. My kids, being unaccustomed to nature, walked straightaway into the boggy mud with socks & shoes on causing me to yell at them a whole bunch which didn’t bother them any.

After a delicious meal, a few MM’s (Moscow mules) and an amazing strawberry rhubarb pie, we put the kids to bed and accidentally conked out ourselves. Nice work! Bed by 8:30PM the first night of vacation. Way to party! Forget “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” with us it’s “I’ll sleep now or I’ll be dead.”

After a stroll around the farmer’s market we bid our friends adieu and headed to Littleton to see my mom’s cousin, Harriet. (I believe Harriet is my first cousin once removed?) I hadn’t seen her in over 10 years and the last time I did it was at my brother’s wedding when my mom was still alive.

It was a wonderful visit. Harriet’s daughter Jennifer & her daughter Kelsey joined us along with Harriet’s husband, Arne. It was 90 degrees in the shade of their porch (which surprisingly didn’t feel very hot). We felt totally welcome there. There’s something about being with family that makes you feel that way. I was so grateful that the girls could visit some family, particularly someone who knew MY mom really well since we have none but my dad on the west coast.

Mark it with a B

I cut myself a sliver of this blueberry pie (don’t women always seem to cut themselves “slivers” of pie?), then Bea started acting up so I handed it to G instructing him to bring it in (I couldn’t carry Bea & open the door.) Thinking I was done with it, he tossed it.

Nutritionally & calorie-wise my body had NO NEED for that pie. But I really wanted it.

Harriet and I talked about my mom a lot and, for some reason, here came the waterworks. My mom died in September 2001 – just 8 days after the Twin Towers fell. You’d think I’d used all the tears I had by now. It must be having little girls that makes me feel strangely protective hearing Harriet talk about my mom’s (at times) lonely childhood. Yet it was equally touching to hear about how much Harriet and her sister Teddy loved & cherished my mom, who was younger.

While you’re growing up, it’s hard to think of your mother as a full person. Only after she died did I start finding out more about her life pre-Me.

Harriet told me that when she was small, she got to crying so much that the only way her parents could calm her down was to put her in the bathtub and run water over her. I guess the shock of the water snapped her out of it. Later, when she was grown, she shared this with my mom adding that she thought this was the reason she avoided confrontation as an adult. My mom told her that her parents had done the same thing to her adding, “It didn’t bother ME a bit!”

Harriet’s point was that two people can share the same parents but come out of childhood very different.

Harriet describes my mom as having been “spirited.” I know she didn’t avoid confrontation. Whew – that’s for sure. I suppose if you’re an only child to two people who are REALLY into each other, it might be hard to know where you fit. Unasked questions…unTHOUGHT of questions…

We left the special luncheon knowing we need to go back and make a little more time to visit properly. When you are hauling along two toddlers you are really conscious about out-staying your welcome so it probably hurt nobody to leave when we did.

The next day we headed to Breckenridge.

Thank gosh for naps.

It was beautiful. G has skied there quite a bit and even spent some time there with his family during the summer. I love the idea of Jack & Patsy strolling around the little town, window shopping & having a glass of wine in the afternoon sun.

We went to the Motherloaded Tavern.

The next day we strolled around the river side.

Then we got back into the car & headed to our final destination: Buena Vista.

Pictures of one's feet are all the rage in the summer.

Stay tuned & pray for photo editing talents to visit me in the night so I can make these posts more concise. I might even slip in a quick cocktail post to break it up a bit.

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