10 Years

Today marks 10 years together.

A decade ago, we decided to ignore the very valid reasons we shouldn’t start a relationship – he had just gotten out of one and wanted some time on his own; I was applying to a nine-month teaching program in France. We had already been friends for three years, and we had spent the previous three months trying not to be together. It wasn’t working. We liked each other. We laughed a lot together. We clicked. It was terribly inconvenient.


Road trip, 2005

On November 14, 2004, my roommates and I decided to host an international-themed party. I suspect it was because we wanted to mix up a vat of our infamous sangria (plus, I’ll use any excuse to make egg rolls). Brian arrived late and whipped up an excellent Spanish tortilla in our tiny dorm apartment kitchen just when we were all starting to get hungry again. And just like that, we were becoming a couple.

Some of my most favorite people in the world were there that night – a fact I only appreciate now that we live too far away from them. It’s fitting that this was the time we decided to give this relationship thing a go, however impractical it was.

It has been a highly impractical 10 years. Deployments. Separations. Leaving old friends and making new. Ups and downs and so, so many moves. But it has been a wonderful 10 years, and I am grateful.


Barcelona, 2014

He still makes me laugh every day. I am still at my happiest when we are cooking together and drinking wine with our people. The first 10 years of this international-themed party have been pretty incredible, so let’s crank up the music, pour some more sangria and keep it going. I love you, Bri.

November 14, 2014   3 Comments

Paging Paige

I just spent 30 minutes Internet-stalking a child actress from the ’90s in a totally uncreepy way. Paige Tamada. Do you know her? No? Not familiar with her work?

Maybe this will refresh your memory.

Judy the Elf, The Santa Clause

Image source: Aveleyman.com

Yes, of course, Paige Tamada who played Judy the Elf in The Santa Clause! Obvi. IMDb tells me she had the sound judgment to pass on The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, but she did guest star several times on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Good call, Paige. Wise beyond your years.

I have a fondness for feel-good holiday films (some might say “obsession”), and The Santa Clause is a delightfully cheesy favorite. I ordered a copy on Amazon last week to add to my growing collection (along with Elf and Little Women — eeee! Movie marathon!) and was overjoyed when it arrived just in time for a Friday night viewing.

As we were watching, I shared with Brian and Kaila that a high school classmate once asked me, totally out of the blue, “Has anyone ever told you you look like Judy the Elf?” Um, no. Never. And no one ever has since. That’s a really strange and obscure reference that I probably shouldn’t get. But yet, I’m oddly, embarrassingly proud of this comparison. I mean, look at that little face! She’s adorable. What a compliment.

Anyway, back to my stalking. She hasn’t acted in anything since a 1999 episode of Ally McBeal, and I’m kind of distraught that I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing now. Well, some anonymous forum poster did say she went to UC Berkeley to study English, so it must be true.

Paige, if you’re out there, I hope you are well. I know you turned into a ridiculously good-looking adult, so you’ve got that going for you. Drop me a line, and we’ll grab a hot cocoa in Berkeley the next time I’m home. No one will even look twice at the ears.

November 16, 2012   9 Comments

Things I Don’t Miss about the US, #1-3

Around this time last year, I wrote a post about some of the little things I miss about the United States: coffee shops with Wi-Fi, getting anything done during the month of August, drivers who are capable of choosing just one lane on the highway. I love living in Italy about 95 percent of the time. The other 5 percent — when our house gas tank runs dry in the middle of a national truck strike, when the trash piles start to block traffic, when someone tells me “va bene” for the 100th time when all is NOT “va bene” — is a small price to pay for the privilege of living here.

On the other side of the coin, while there are many aspects of living in the States that I miss, there are also a few that I’m happy to be missing out on.

stromboli volcano

Sometimes a total disregard for safety is awesome.

1. The presidential election

Oh, calm down. I’m obviously going to vote in the November election (request for absentee ballot, sent: stop judging me) and I read the news, but two years of endless campaigning (read: baby kissing, finger pointing and mud slinging) makes me weary. And then a brilliant scientific mind like this guy comes along, and I’m especially grateful I don’t have access to 24-hour American news channels because I just might gouge out my eyes. Italy has inane news programs, of course, but I have the benefit of only understanding 40 to 50 percent (on a good day).

2. Check-pushing restaurants

“I’m just going to put this here for whenever you’re ready, no hurry…” That’s what a server says when she is indeed hoping you hurry up and pay your bill so she can turn the table and maximize the tips for her shift. I’m not saying this to blame servers for this system; they are vastly underpaid and overly dependent on tips to make a living, and I did the same thing when I was waiting tables. What bothers me is that the American obsession with speed and efficiency has made lingering over a good meal with friends damn near impossible. The last time I was home, I noticed a disturbing trend of servers delivering your check at the same time they deliver your food. BUT NO RUSH.

In Italy, we often have the opposite problem: we need to ask for the check several times before we get it, and no one is ever in any kind of rush. This can be annoying if we are running late or need to be somewhere at a certain time, but mostly, I love being able to sit, relax and enjoy a three-hour parade of food and wine and limoncello without anyone trying to push us out the door. Some things are sacred.

3. These pesky “safety” standards

Last month, Brian and I traveled to the Aeolian Islands in Sicily with our dear friends Jess and Peter, and on Stromboli, we climbed a volcano (see above). Like an active, liquid-hot-magma-spewing, no-joke volcano. It was a five-hour hike: one way was up a steep, rocky cliff face with no guardrails at dusk, and the other was more of a Hail Mary stumble down a slippery mountain of sand and large rocks in complete darkness. And in between, we sat and watched live volcanic activity erupting below us. And it was amazing. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The entire hike, I couldn’t stop thinking, “There is no way in hell this would ever happen in the States. It’s way too unsafe. That idiot kid leaping from rock to rock in front of me has a 1 in 3 chance of survival.” The Italians, on the other hand, make you go with a guide, hand you a helmet and a headlamp and tell you to go nuts. Va bene.

August 23, 2012   8 Comments

The Matala Moon, Crete & Joni Mitchell

I listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell growing up. My parents met while students at the University of San Francisco in 1971 and between the two of them, they have an impressive collection of rock and folk albums. As a child, I loved sliding the big records out of their jackets and cueing up Joan Baez, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and The Rolling Stones, but Joni was always a particular favorite.

Some of her music was weird and experimental and perhaps fueled by some of the pharmaceutical products of the era, but I loved how her voice sounded completely original and unlike anyone else’s. And those gorgeous lyrics.

“Big Yellow Taxi,” “A Case of You,” “Chelsea Morning,” “California” — I love them all, but for me, nothing beats “Carey.” When I was younger, I liked it because I thought it was pretty and fun and talked about mermaids. Then when I was in college, the song took on new meaning and became an anthem for my wanderlust and desire to live a nomadic life… at least for a little while. I emailed my mom about what significance the song had for her, and she said almost the same thing: “The song expressed my own longing to travel and see the world, and there was so much freedom and joy and excitement in it.”

Come on down to the Mermaid Café and I will
Buy you a bottle of wine
And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down
Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers
A round for these friends of mine
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil
Who keeps me in this tourist town…

Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam
Maybe I’ll go to Rome
And rent me a grand piano
And put some flowers ’round my room
But let’s not talk about fare-thee-wells now
The night is a starry dome
And they’re playin’ that scratchy rock and roll
Beneath the Matala moon

I never bothered to look into who Carey was or where I could find this Matala moon until I stumbled across this travel article from The Guardian. It turns out that Matala is a village in Crete, once popular with hippies and artists (including my girl Joni), and the inspiration for the song.

I liked this description from another Guardian piece:

This song is about her time in a hippy commune in Crete in the late 60s, a place she had found when, in her own escape from the fame and success of her first three albums, she set off around Europe. Carey was the cook at the Mermaid Cafe, who wore his red hair tucked into a turban, the “bright red devil who keeps me in this tourist town”. When Mitchell sings “It sure is hard to leave here, but it’s really not my home,” it is not laced with bitterness and regret but an optimism that the right path is to be found elsewhere.

Brian and I are heading to Crete next week for a few days, and we’ll be staying about an hour from Matala, near the beach town of Plakias. I have been listening to “Carey” on loop for weeks now in preparation. I love the idea that we might hear a little scratchy rock ‘n’ roll under the same Matala moon that she wrote about all those years ago. Sadly, the Mermaid Café is now closed, but we’ll be sure to find another spot to laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down.

May 24, 2012   7 Comments

Travelogue: Manduria Wine Tasting

Have I ever mentioned how much I love wine? No? Perhaps I was too busy swirling my glass and talking about bouquets of blackberry and hints of oak. Just kidding, I was probably fixing you up with another heavy-handed pour.

I am on a continuous quest to find delicious, unpretentious, affordable wines, which could become a full-time job while I’m living in Italy if I could find anyone to pay me to do it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find a good bottle of wine here, and there are so many different wine regions and varieties that a lot of our travel plans tend to start with the question, “So which wineries are we visiting?”

For Brian’s birthday in December, I planned a surprise weekend trip to the town of Manduria, in the Puglia region (in the heel of the boot, between Taranto and Lecce and not far from Brindisi, Ostuni and Alberobello). Manduria is famous for its primitivo wine, which we had fallen in love with when we stumbled across a bottle at a wine shop in San Diego a few years ago.

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Primitivo di Manduria is a DOC (denominazione di origine controllata, similar to the French AOC classification) wine and uses 100 percent primitivo grapes, which are genetically similar to those of California zinfandel (that may explain why this Sonoma girl likes it so much). But if you mention this fact to people in Manduria, you may encounter eye rolling and a good-natured lecture on the superiority of the ancient primitivo vs. the young whippersnapper zinfandel. Touché.

manduria wine tasting

Happy birthday to Brian!

Manduria doesn’t have the rolling hills or breathtaking vistas of Tuscany or Umbria, but the area has its own charm and beauty. It is not yet overrun with tourists like other famous Italian wine regions, which is wonderful because you get an authentic and affordable wine tasting experience but difficult because there is not a lot of winery information available online (in English or Italian). I did a lot of research, made phone calls and sent emails, but in the end, it was easier just to figure out when the wineries were open and show up for a tasting.

Where to Stay

B&B La Casetta
Via N. Ricciotti 31/b
74024 Manduria (TA)
+39 338 9701025

I can’t recommend this place highly enough. It’s actually its own stand-alone apartment in the center of the small city of Manduria, with a living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and small courtyard. It was well-maintained and well-decorated, and the owners had left water, coffee and breakfast foods for both days we were there. When we told them we were in town to go wine tasting, they offered to take us personally to their favorite winery, Produttori Manduria Vini (info below). They were lovely and hospitable and went out of their way to make us feel at home. The only drawback to their B&B is that it doesn’t have Internet access (this was fine since we were only staying for the weekend). Their English is also limited, so some basic Italian would be helpful.

Where to Eat

Osteria dei Mercanti
Via Giuseppe Lacaita, 7, 74024 Manduria, Italy
+39 (0) 999713673

This is an adorable place tucked away on a sidestreet. We ate and drank ourselves silly (try the orecchiette – the ear-shaped pasta typical of Puglia), and the prices were very reasonable.

Manduria Wine Tasting Guide

I did make an appointment for a tasting here, but it didn’t seem to be necessary when we arrived. The winery has a small tasting room where you can taste from bottles or from the giant gas-pump-like tanks. While we were there, several locals came in with plastic jugs to refill for just a few euros. We enjoyed the wines here and bought a few bottles (I liked the 2009 primitivo di Manduria 15, around 12 euros I think) as well as a 5-liter glass jug full of the self-serve primitivo (6 euros, including the jug).

This is a quiet, unassuming little place, but we found our favorite wine of the trip here. It’s called Pliniana Re Noire, and it’s amazing — full-bodied, rich, just plain delicious. And it costs 9 euros a bottle. We bought six and have been rationing them (semi-successfully).

Produttori Manduria Vini
Our hosts made good on their promise to take us here at the end of our wine tasting day, and they introduced us to the president of the winery (they also said he is a count – I’ve never met a count before!). He was so welcoming and gracious and took us on a private tour of the winery and the primitivo museum that was under construction and not yet open to the public. Incredible. Some of the wines here are a little more expensive, but the cheaper bottles are still very good. The Elegia and Lirica are both tasty and under 15 euros a bottle.

If you want an unpretentious, off-the-beaten-path wine tasting experience in Italy, Manduria is an excellent choice. We’ll definitely be back.

April 27, 2012   5 Comments

Please Stop Asking About My Uterus

Brian and I have been married for three years, and we’re nearing 30, so the question of children comes up more and more frequently these days. Many of our friends are starting to have babies (or at least starting to think seriously about having babies), so it’s a hot topic of conversation. This is all normal and fine. We’re not there yet, but I do like talking with friends or family members about future plans, and I don’t mind good-natured kidding about the imminent pitter-patter of little feet. I get jokes.

baby booties

What I do not like, however, is total strangers or remote acquaintances prying into my reproductive plans. It happens all the time, and it’s rude and it’s weird and it’s none of their business. Apparently, after you’ve been married five minutes, people who know nothing about you think it’s OK to discuss your lady parts. This is how the conversation usually goes:

Woman I’ve Never Met Before (at a party or barbecue or Navy function): So, do you have children?

Me: No, not yet.

Woman: How long have you been married? When are you going to have kids? You shouldn’t wait too long, you know! Young people always think they have so much time, but by 35… (knowing chuckle, implication that my uterus will become menacing and inhospitable any minute now)

Me: Well, we’ve only been married three years, so we’re not in a hurry. Plus, we’re really enjoying living in Italy and traveling and drinking wine and eating unpasteurized cheese… (trying to change the subject) Speaking of which, do you have any fun trips planned soon…?

Woman: Well, you say that now, but I know so many couples who have gotten pregnant here! There must be something in the water.

Me: (Blink, blink)

Stop SAYING that. I can’t count the number of times I have heard that idiotic phrase in Hawaii and now in Naples, almost always from Navy folks and their spouses. There is nothing in the water. Navy people just have a lot of babies. There is no need to make up silly explanations for it; I know how this works.

I always want to respond: You know what I take with my water? Whiskey and Ortho Tri-Cyclen.

Photo credit

February 12, 2012   15 Comments

One-Word New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year!

So, it’s January. Again? So soon?

I’m becoming one of those people who exclaims frequently, “I can’t believe it’s January!” or “I can’t believe it’s 2012!” or “I can’t believe the Kardashians’ 15 minutes aren’t up yet!” (That last one isn’t totally relevant but still true.)

new years resolutions

I don’t generally do New Year’s resolutions because I make too many to-do lists as it is, and Lord knows I don’t want one full of terrible items like “go running more” and “do my taxes before 10 p.m. on April 14.” That’s really a buzzkill way to start a new year. And I hate running.

I did successfully make a few (well, two: get scuba certified and host more dinner parties) resolutions in 2010 by following three rules:

1. They must be fun.
2. They must be flexible.
3. They must not inspire guilt.

I liked those guidelines because they made me choose goals that I was actually excited about, not resolutions that I shamed myself into picking.

This year, I’m trying something different: a one-word New Year’s resolution. A few friends have told me about this idea, and I love it. Instead of writing a laundry list of tasks I want to accomplish (and may resent by February), I am selecting one word to be my theme for the next year. I hope it will help me stay focused on what my priorities are and be a positive, gentle reminder when I get off track.

My word is for 2012 is: Grow.

I would like to grow in:

  • My personal relationships
  • My work
  • My travel experiences
  • My foreign language skills
  • My culinary endeavors
  • My reading
  • My support for causes I care about

Just to clarify, I would not like to grow in:

  • My waistline
  • My road rage
  • My Veruca Salt-like impatience

What’s your word for 2012?

January 9, 2012   7 Comments

One Year in Italy

Last weekend, Brian and I celebrated our one-year anniversary of living in Naples. What a beautiful whirlwind year it’s been. I still wake up most days not believing our good luck. The other days, I wonder why on earth anyone would set off fireworks at 7 a.m.

boat procida

Boat ride to Procida

In brief:

  • My Italian isn’t the best, but it’s a whole lot better than it was a year ago (I may have graduated from toddler to preschool Italian, very exciting).
  • I have mostly gotten used to driving here; sometimes, I even enjoy it. And I’m warming up to the idea of getting a moped.
  • At least once a week, I say, “Oh sweet Jesus, how am I going to live without this when we move back to the States?” while eating or drinking something amazing.
  • I never get tired of walking around tiny Italian towns with cobblestone streets, sampling at local wineries or eating in family trattorias with red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

winery sardinia

Another fabulous winery, Sardinia

  • Life moves at a slower pace around here, and I’m starting to accept that my impatience does nothing except infuriate me.
  • The mulled wine sold at outdoor markets in winter is perhaps the greatest thing ever.
  • La vita è bella. It’s been a wonderful year, and I can’t wait to kick off 2012.

Buone feste!

December 8, 2011   6 Comments

I Guess We’re Not 20 Anymore

Brian and I are about to embark on an awesome three-week trip to some beautiful European cities (Munich, Berlin, Oslo, Prague and Budapest), most of which we’ve never visited before.

I know. I feel like a jerk-face for having such a sweet travel opportunity. Does it make you feel any better to know that we’re not able to take the private jet and are having to fly coach and take trains like all the other commoners? I thought it might.

While we were planning this trip, I realized three things:

1. Brian and I have never traveled together for such a long block of time (the closest we’ve come was our 2005 road trip from New Orleans to Sonoma and back).
2. I haven’t traveled for three consecutive weeks or visited so many cities in one trip since I studied abroad in 2004 and then moved back to France in 2005.
3. Traveling at 28 with your husband is probably different than traveling at 20 or 22 with your girlfriends.

On all of my college and post-grad travel adventures, I had very little money (thanks for not letting me starve during the lowest points, Mom and Dad), very few plans and probably very little common sense. But we had a blast.


Gettin’ piratey in Mykonos

Among the highlights:

  • Losing my passport on the train from Paris to London and getting yelled at by the mean English lady who worked at the American Embassy
  • Crashing for the night in an anarchist squat with Nay Nay and Parisa in London (and feeling wretched the next day after eating the free vegan shepherd’s pie)
  • Karaoke-ing up a storm with Kaila and study abroad program friends near Place de la Bastille in Paris


Kaila in her natural Scottish habitat

  • Getting locked out of the Christian hostel in Amsterdam (the only one available that night, which happened to have a curfew) with Nay Nay and Parisa and trying to sleep in the train station after the bars closed




Parisa (Trouble #1) and Nay Nay (Trouble #2) in Amsterdam

  • Winning the pick-up lines bar trivia contest in Barcelona with Nay Nay and a team of Irish guys (and getting mugged on the way back to the hostel that night)
  • Getting lost on a mountain hike north of Barcelona and meeting a delightful old man and his goats
  • Befriending a bunch of New Zealanders with Jenna in Santorini, who convinced us to go swimming in a hotel pool (not our hotel), resulting in us running from security guards and going dancing at a club in our wet bathing suits

greek wine

Jenna and I discover you can buy 1.5 L bottles of wine in Greece for less money than bottles of water

  • Taking an 18-hour ferry with Jenna from Greece to Italy with no supplies except snacks, a pack of cards and a bottle of whiskey (we befriended awesome Germans who stayed up to play cards with us)

I pulled out the last comprehensive Europe guidebook that I purchased, a very well-worn copy of Let’s Go Europe 2004, that I used on all of these shenanigan-filled trips. I love some of the notes I’m discovering in the margins:

  • Brick Lane: Indian food, hipsters. Camden Town: shopping, coolness. (London, from Nay Nay)
  • Kebab = good (Zaytoons, Dublin)
  • I ♥ U (St. Malo)
  • LAME (Mulligan’s, Dublin)
  • Shelter City = psycho “Jesus is Lord” hostel (Amsterdam)
  • Obscenely well-lit (Cafe de Jaren, Amsterdam)

A gallery of Nay Nay awesomeness:

bugs in venice

Sad Venice: killing mosquitoes in our weird spaceship-shaped cabin outside the city

gelato in venice

Happy Venice: Eating the zillionth gelato of the day

crackers and mustard

A record low on food desperation: saltine crackers and mustard on the ferry to Corfu


Yarrrrrrrr! Can you tell the eye patch is homemade?

I’m looking forward to traveling with a little more cash and research on what I want to see and do (and I hope a wee bit more sense… no guarantees), and I know Brian and I will have an amazing, slightly more grown-up trip. We’ll stay in budget hotels and rental apartments instead of questionable hostels where you have to rent the sheets separately and sleep in a room with 15 other people. We’ll eat some good meals as well as bring bread and cheese for lunch on long train rides. Fingers crossed, we’ll return with all of our belongings and most of our dignity.

I’m probably a little too old to travel the way I did in my early 20s… but I am ready for my sweet ladyfriends to come back to Europe so we can see how we roll in our late 20s. Takers?

September 30, 2011   7 Comments

Things I Love: Julia Child’s “My Life in France”

Forgive me this “Julie and Julia” moment (did anyone else want to slap the whine right out of Amy Adams’ character in that movie?), but I’m a wee bit obsessed with Julia Child right now.

I finally started reading her delightfully unpretentious memoir, “My Life in France,” and halfway through it, I am convinced that we would have been best friends had we been contemporaries. I’m almost ready to take the plunge and buy her intimidating classic, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” There are so many butter-based sauces in my future.

I love how she falls in love with Paris, one of my most favorite cities, when she and her husband Paul move there after World War II. I love how she falls in love with French food and cooking and how she describes every memorable meal in mouthwatering detail. And I love how she falls in love with Marseille when she and her husband move there after Paris, even though it is not as outwardly charming as Paris and is often accused of being dirty and dangerous.

This is how my friend Julia describes it:

Marseille’s hot noise was so different from Paris’s cool sophistication. To may of our northern-French friends it was terra incognita: they had never been here, and considered it a rough, rude, “southern” place. But it struck me as a rich broth of vigorous, emotional, uninhibited Life– a veritable “bouillabaisse of a city,” as Paul put it.

Yes. She is talking about Marseille, a gritty yet beautiful city that I really like, but she could be also be describing Naples or New Orleans. Vigorous, emotional, uninhibited. Eccentric, vibrant, exhilarating. Just the way I like my cities.

August 31, 2011   6 Comments