Where do I begin about my little Freshie?

Sofia Basso (aka Freshie) is an 11-year-old girl, half American and half Italian. She is the daugher of my friends Giuliano and Michelle. Twelve years ago I went to Italy with my mom and stayed at a B&B in Vernazza, Cinque Terre called Camere Giuliano. This is where I met Freshie’s father, the owner of the B&B.

We became good friends. Shortly after, he met Michelle, who was traveling through Italy. I became friends with Michelle as well as continuing a friendship with Giuliano. Shortly thereafter, Michelle and Giuliano got married and had a beautiful daughter named Sofia.

Over the years I have traveled back to Vernazza where I maintained my friendship with Giuli, Michelle, and more, getting to know and enjoy their daughter. They welcomed me into their home every time I visited.

I remember one visit, Michelle and I took Sofia into the sea for a dip. Her father was quite mad and said the water was too cold and she would get sick. Well, we didn’t listen, and guess what? Yes, she got a cold and to this day he doesn’t let us forget it!


A few years passed of visits to Vernazza. Evidently Giuli and Michelle separated and Michelle moved back to her family in California with Sofia. For the past three years, every February, I flew to visit them in California. Giuli spent his winters with them in California and Sofia would go to Vernazza for a few weeks in the summer.

It was in California that I nicknamed her Freshie, because at times, well, she can be fresh, lol. She is my little Freshie! I see my Freshie every birthday/Super Bowl weekend. Thank goodness for Skype, which makes it easy for all of us to stay connected. I Skype Freshie at least once a week, and Skype Giuliano in Italy each week, too.

So let me tell you a little about my Freshie. She walks to the beat of her own drum. Freshie is a beautiful, down-to-earth 11-year-old. She is creative, as she tried to start a business putting out flyers offering to teach kids to ride a bike or skateboard or any sports type of activity. She is very smart and well-traveled for 11 years old. She has been to Croatia and Japan as well as other states in the USA. She has a great sense of adventure. Freshie even decided on her own to become vegetarian.

I have a great connection to my little Freshie. I have a weird way of making her laugh. If you mention Mitsy the Moose she will crack up, for this is an inside joke between us.

I love my Freshie and look forward to seeing her this February and going for pedis and going to Alice’s Restaurant (yes, the true Alice’s like the song). I also look forward to watching her grow into an amazing girl and woman. I am happy to be in her life and I know she will do great things.

xoxo my Freshie ♥  ♥  ♥

Yes You Can!


Image of Vernazza, Cinque Terre via Erin Johnson/Flickr

Who wants to travel?

Who thinks they can’t afford the trips they deserve?

I’m here to tell you – yes, you can! I will show you how.

I have traveled to many places over many years. Yes, I made my share of mistakes, but I learned from them. From travel in America, the Caribbean, to Europe. Today with and Airbnb and similar sites, it makes things easy. Do your homework! I use for my airfare as well as going directly to the airline sites. Kayak will search all sites and bring these prices to you. You can also set up price alerts to receive emails of price changes. Sometimes I have waited quite close to my travel dates to book air and got lucky with better fares.

Let’s start with travel in America. Decide where you want to go. If you are flying and can be a little flexible with your dates, sometimes a day here or there can change flight cost by a lot. If traveling to a certain city – for example. New Orleans – do a search on what you want to see. Check sites like TripAdvisor to get tips from other travelers.

I like staying at a hotel for some of the amenities. I never stay at hotels rated less than 4 stars – this almost always guarantees a nice, clean stay. If I can’t find a nice hotel in the right area for the right price, I will go to Airbnb. This site is trustworthy, as you can see many reviews not only about the home, but also the host. I have stayed at many great homes for a price better than any hotel. Sometimes going a little off season can be quite nice, with fewer crowds and lower prices.

If you need to rent a car, check multiple agencies and ask if they give discounts to AARP or AAA members, seniors, or students. My son paid half once because he was a med student. If driving to your destination, stop at a AAA office and have them give you a TripTik travel planner. They’ll help you plan your routes, including any stops for sights along the way. They can also book your hotels, too!

Now on to the Caribbean! The only advice I have for you is don’t go during hurricane season. I personally don’t care what island I go to, as long as they have great resorts with nice beaches. So I go on Cheap Caribbean and search the best package deals for the best prices and best resorts, on any island.

If you want tropics with a lot of thing to do and see, I suggest Costa Rica. Costa Rica has amazing beaches, small hotels, resorts, and Airnbnbs. It has volcanoes, mountains, rainforests, and wildlife mixed with adventure. Again, doing itinerary research online is best.

Also look at paid, organized tours and follow their itinerary but plan and book yourself to save money!

Now on to travel abroad! Which is my favorite, by the way.

I start by picking a time of year and destination. I have been mostly to Italy, but also to London, Paris, and Greece. I research flights on Kayak with flexible dates. Then I start checking Airbnb and Kayak for hotels and rooms in the various towns of interest. I usually know what I want to see, so that eliminates part of the planning process.

I have the perfect example for you. A girl that works for me and her spouse wanted to go to Italy and Greece this summer. Thinking they couldn’t afford it, thinking it would cost $15,000 for the two of them, a week in Italy and a week in Greece.

Well, I grabbed on to that and told them I will make it happen for much less.

So using Kayak for flights, two places I have stayed at, and Airbnb, this is what I found them. Are you ready??

Newark to Rome, Pisa to Santorini, and then Athens back to Newark. Three nights at Hotel Diana in Rome, three nights at an amazing Airbnb in Florence, and two nights at Camere Giuliano Basso in Vernazza (Cinque Terre). Then fly to Santorini from Pisa for a two-night stay on the beautiful island of Santorini, Greece, at a beautiful Airbnb. Then off to the Greek island of Crete to stay four nights at another Airbnb. All the Airbnbs are rated 5 stars with great reviews. Then a flight home from Athens.

The price? All for $5,000 for two people for two weeks! Now this does not include food, spending money, or transfers between cities/islands, but in both Italy and Greece the transfers are easy and affordable by either train, boat, or plane.

While in Roma if they take the hop on/hop off bus (which they have in all major cities), they can spend one or two days seeing whatever sights they want to see, then getting back on the bus for the next sight. If you buy your tickets for the sights from the hop on/hop off driver, you can go to the head of the lines. This is the most efficient way to see a city.

Once in Florence, there are small, not-too-pricey local tours into the Tuscan countryside to choose from. As for the city of Florence itself, you don’t need a tour, just do your homework! Same applies to Vernazza, Santorini, and Crete.

So we booked the whole trip and they couldn’t be happier!

Now there were times I flew to Roma with my first two nights’ hotel booked at Hotel Diana, where I walk the city since I have seen all the sights. Then I rent a car and off I go. No reservations! I find the driving pretty easy once out of the city. I drive through Tuscany and wherever I land by 3pm, I find the local information center where for free or a slight fee, they find me a room to my liking. I stop in little towns and wineries for tastings. Just enjoying the countryside and local charms is the most memorable thing to me. This kind of travel can be done on almost any budget, anywhere you want to go. It just takes the right kind of research and planning.


IMG_8383So one day four years ago my brother and I started noticing mom’s memory not being so sharp. At that time she was 77 and working full-time as head of affordable housing and public advocate for her town. We chalked it up to normal old-age memory loss.

A year later, her boss called my brother in for a meeting, as he also worked for the town, and they knew each other. He proceeded to tell my brother that mom couldn’t perform the functions of her job anymore. They had noticed for a while and loved her so much they carried her as long as they could. This was the beginning of watching our mother decline, as well as suffer, for she knew what was happening to her and hated it.

At this point we took her to see a neurologist, who diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s. We watched her go through the standard test, getting so upset because she couldn’t remember things.

IMG_8382Let me state that my mom was an intelligent, vibrant, and beautiful woman, loved and respected by everyone who knew her. She was still functioning at home on her own, and still driving. Then soon we realized she was driving without her (much needed) glasses. She would be gone for periods of time but always landed back home.

When she was younger, mom liked her beer and cocktails, but she had not had a drink in a few years. All of a sudden we started to find cases of Heineken hidden all over the house, empty bottles hidden in food cabinets, even the freezer.

At this point my brother and I met and decided to see the neurologist again. I’m lucky because my brother and I work as a team on these things, as we did when my father was sick. For many families, this is not the case. The neurologist told us she couldn’t live alone anymore and could no longer drive. Well, OH BOY, you try telling mom no more driving! So the doctor took the hit on that one to spare us. It was still a hard transition.

Now to find a live-in aide, which was not easy. We went through a couple of women. Mom was not going to like anyone coming in and taking over her house, as she still had a lot of her faculties. Eventually we found the right woman. She was sent from heaven: patient, loving, and understanding. She was a 45-year-old woman from the Republic of Georgia where in her country she was a police detective. They had a civil war and the government changed and she was no longer getting paid correctly Her cousin was an attorney with the same issues. They are both now in the United States caring for old people 24/7.

She and mom slowly because household partners, and eventually mom came to love her and depend on her. Their bond became incredible! But as the year went on, mom got worse. She didn’t know who me or my brother were, but she knew she loved us, always hugging and kissing us.

From the spring of 2017 through that August, my mom was obsessed with being  at my house and with me. Sometimes she would ask her aide to bring her over twice a day, as I live and work only 10 minutes from her house. If I tell you she came every day, I am not kidding! We hung out at my hair salon, on my deck, and in the pool, barbecuing all the time – and mom always hated pools! Going to dinner on the waterfront in Keyport all the time. Mom was so happy, as was I.

I asked her one day, “Where is Tracy?” She said, “I don’t know.” I asked if she knew who I was. She said, “You are my friend.” I said, “And you are my best friend.” We just enjoyed our time together every day. Some days I was tired, but I never said she couldn’t come over. Boy am I glad for that.

Eventually mom got worse, so we started filling her Heineken bottles with Crystal Light raspberry lemonade, lol. I would even bring them into restaurants and explain to the staff!

img_8384.jpgSometime in August of 2017 things changed again. Mom took a turn for the worse. She became afraid to walk on her own, she stopped speaking English, and reverted back to her native language, German (which none of us understood). She stopped feeding herself. Her aide fed her and dressed her. Soon she became incontinent and had to be spoon fed pureed food.

No matter what, she was still happy to see me and my brother. But she came to love and want her aide, Shorana, more and more every day. This was the way mom was until the last weekend in April of 2018. It was a Saturday and I was working when Shorana called: “Something is wrong with mom!” My brother ran over and soon called me to come.

I canceled my day and went over. Mom was in bed, unresponsive and weak. She has a living will and a DNR so no going to the hospital. My brother and I sat by her bed in fear, and confused. What was happening? We figured this was the next turn and she was dying. I said let’s call hospice, maybe they can send someone to see her.

Well, they sent a nurse that Saturday night. By then I had inclined the hospital bed to a sitting position, and for three hours got mom to drink some Ensure and electrolyte waters. Shorana put an ice pack on her face to try to wake her, and me holding her nose after every sip to prompt her to swallow.

This continued into Sunday as well. We were devastated and started preparing for the end. Monday morning a text from Shorana saying “Mom is back!”

I am not a religious person but THANK GOD! Mom was back to the way she was three days prior. We have no idea what happened but we are all so thankful to have her back.

IMG_8385My point in telling my story is to remind people to cherish every day you have with people that matter to you – family as well as friends. Realize what is important in this life. Family needs to pull together in times like these.

I will always be grateful for that spring and summer of 2017. I’m thankful that my friends always wanted to be around mom. But most thankful to the man I was dating at the time, who also came to love my mother. He never minded mom being over when he was there, too. He never minded that we had limited time to ourselves that spring and summer. He was rewarded by mom asking every time she was over, “Is that nice man coming over?” and her being so happy when he did come. Thank you, Duane.

A Mixed Bag

So let me start by telling you that I celebrate any holiday with good food!

So this year my son flew home Friday March 31st, the first evening of Passover. My son is Jewish. He spent Friday night in the city with friends, and came home Saturday where we were lucky enough to be invited at a seder at my client and good friend’s of 26 years. Might I add, a seder with 70 people, and it was also Stan’s 85 birthday. Well what a great night!

Gail, Stan’s wife, cooked all the food. She cooked for weeks and froze. It was held in the ballroom of her daughter’s clubhouse. Stan led the seder, calling upon people to read from the haggadah. It was a long seder, but so beautiful. The entire evening was so heartwarming and wonderful. They told me we were part of the family and are to be there every year going forward. My son enjoyed beyond!

The next day, Easter Sunday, my son made matzo brei for breakfast and then we visited my mother. She is in full-blown Alzheimer’s. Shane, my son, is so caring and calls her from school and is always wanting to visit her when he is home. For a fleeting moment, I think she knew who he was. We then went for Portuguese food for Easter Sunday at the Valencia restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Wow, was it great! I had clams and garlic sauce and Shane had octopus in a smokey sauce for appies. For dinner, I had grilled skirt steak, and Shane had Chilean sea bass topped with shrimp. Then dessert and cappuccino – amazing meal!

I sadly dropped Shane at the airport after the meal. Until next time!

Now, the following Sunday – Greek Easter. I had been going to my friend Lia’s parent’s house for Greek Easter for at least 20 years. This year, it fell the Sunday after regular Easter. Lia’s mom, Crystal, cooks like you have never seen. All the traditional dishes and Cyprian dishes, as she is from Cyprus. Mega amounts of each dish and we all go home with trays of food. And she also has a big container put aside for me so I can take home my favorite avgolemono soup, a lemon chicken-rice soup. Lia thinks she makes it better. (Not!!)

Most every year, the house is full with friends, aunts, uncles, cousins and more. This year was different. Mom is sick and in pain and going through chemotherapy. We all wanted to do everything but she wouldn’t give it up. Lia cooked a lot of dishes, and so did her sister, Olympia. I made a couple of things, but mom still managed to do a lot.

It was a quiet Easter, as it was just us, the family, and two friends of Olympia’s. It was bittersweet. We had a wonderful day, but mom was not doing well. As I write, the memories of past years flood my mind, bringing tears of joy and now some of sorrow. Mom needs to pass the torch to her daughters and share her wonderful recipes. I am honored to be a part of this family and its traditions for so long, and look forward to the continued relationship. Thank you, Crystal.

The High Road

5802619870_40661fcb47_zimage via Beau Lebens/Flickr

In my experience, there are many high roads we can take, as well as many low roads in life. I have personally experienced different let-downs in my life, and been hurt or disappointed by people, whether they be friends, family, or even sometimes clients.

I have many clients and friends who have come to me to get advice or just vent on these such issues. This is my advice and feeling on this matter – be hurt, get mad, but in the end, smile. Try to let it go, and in some cases – especially where family is concerned, TAKE THE HIGH ROAD.

People have said to me on many occasions that I should stop being so nice, stop doing what you do, and I always say and am a firm believer that I like who I am, and I like the way I am with people. So I refuse to change me because others don’t think like me, and hurt and disappoint me. We come to realize in life that family doesn’t always mean blood.

Life changes and so do people, so sometimes we let go of or lose people that we thought would be in our lives forever, as sad as that is. And in their place we form new friendships that even become part of our family. As sad as we are for our losses is as grateful as we should be for our gains. Every day there are things to smile about, a passing thought that makes us laugh or brings a smile to our faces. So when people or things get you down, I want you to stop and think of all of the things that make you smile & let the bad go!

You can’t change people, but you can change the way you let them affect you.

From my deepest place in my soul, take that high road and make yourself smile!

A Farewell Dinner

So my son’s friend “J” is Special Forces in the army. He let me know he and his wife were going to be in town before he gets deployed to Afghanistan for six months, so of course I had to have them over for dinner.

Let me backtrack by saying all my son’s friends used to be at my house every weekend as teens, sleeping all over the house (it’s a small house!). Sometimes they’d even sleep on the dining room table in a sleeping bag! And they loved my cooking as much as I loved cooking for them almost every weekend. When my son’s friend joined the army, my son was away at college. I decided to have a going-away dinner/BBQ, inviting all the boys that were in the area regardless of my son’s absence. Needless to say, it was wonderful, and whenever any of “my boys” are in town, they’ll still reach out and let me cook for them!

So as I was saying, my son’s friend and his wife, along with my friend Jen, were going to come over for dinner, and now I had to make the big decision of what to cook! I drive myself crazy over this, since I like to make my meals memorable. So for this dinner I decided to make pecan-encrusted chicken breasts pan-browned in butter (yes, butter makes it better – that’s the mantra in my house), then finished in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes. For a side, I made roasted asparagus (drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper) that I topped with Parmesan cheese. Of course, we had to have pasta, so I tossed some capellini with roasted garlic, EVOO, and fresh basil. I rounded out the meal with one of my signature salads: spring mix, baby arugula, grape tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds. The secret to a great salad is chopping the greens into bite-sized pieces so when everything is tossed together, you get a perfect mixture of all the flavors in every bite.

The meal was wonderful, but the company was even better. They brought me wine, and a gift of olive-wood serving utensils from Barcelona. We ate and laughed and had a fantastic evening together (and boy, can he still eat, lol – that’s why I always make plenty of food!).

My son’s friend cleaned up after dinner while Jen and I got to know his wonderful wife better. I’m very proud of J and will worry for the six months he’s in Afghanistan. Be safe!

Hello, and welcome!

Let me introduce myself.

TTI’m TT, a 55-year-old hairstylist and manicurist and former waitress and bartender. I’m also a mother of one (now grown) child, four dogs, and a cat! Every day I speak to a wide array of people, and from this I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn. With this knowledge, I’ve found that I can help many people with many things – I’ve actually become sort of the “go-to” person my friends and clients approach when they need recommendations or tips!

I love to cook, and I cook well. I love to travel, and I’ve been all over the world. I help my clients plan their own trips as well as their menus. There’s nothing funnier to me than a client saying, “My husband told me to ask TT!”

I’m also a jack of all trades and can tackle and fix almost anything – and if I can’t do it myself, I know the right professional for any job. My client Jeanne “Jellybean” Juvelier has been on me for over a year to create a book, and I finally thought, well, she’s right.

I want to bring my Tastes, Travels & Tips to you, and with today’s technology I decided to start this blog. (Thanks Jeanne!) I imagine all the people I can reach and help this way. Some friends have told me that I should have been a life coach, but I don’t want a different career. I just want to spread my word and help as many people with as much as I can.

So here I go!

Until next time,