Wednesday, January 13, 2010


In case it wasn't apparent from my last post, I would like to make it clear that I am extremely happy that my car is here. Just like Kyra Sedgwick in Singles, I really love my car.

Mall rat

So last night I baked pumpkin cookies. While they were in the oven, I tried on the excellent thrift store purchases I made earlier in the day, which include a perfectly worn-in pair of brown Doc Marten twin straps for $3. Oh yes. The beginning of the week filled with retail success: two malls and the thrift store.

Sunday afternoon, my friend C drove us to Vulcano Buono, a mall built to look like a mountain from the outside -- hillside with grass growing on it, in which are doors into the mall. C and I were just interested in seeing what was there and picking anything up if it caught our eyes. And I was looking for one of those stovetop milk steamer/frother thingies for making cappucino at home. It was wonderful to spend the afternoon with C. We met during the orientation events and I liked her a lot; she seemed like my kind of person. She's been busy with family and work, so we haven't had a chance to hang out.

I don't think I've written much about the fashion situation here (if I'm wrong, just skip ahead, of course). I was a little anxious, fashion-wise, about coming to Italy. I mean, Dolce & Gabbana were my favorite designers for more than a decade. (Speaking of D&G, how awesome is the top photo here? Totally awesome.) Luckily, things are not too fancy in my zone. I've heard it's very different in Rome -- crazy fancy -- but my less-than-36-hours there didn't expose me to anything too humbling.

What I have noticed is that styles are much more rigid. There are not very many things one can wear and still be alla moda, unlike everywhere I've lived in the U.S., where there's quite a range of options that are all fashionable. For example, bootcut jeans? Frump. The only stylish option is skinnies tucked into knee-high boots. In our area, the boots are mostly flat, riding styles, with a high number of wedges thrown in. (I've heard that it's all stilettos in Rome, but in two months I've seen less than a dozen pairs here.)

Then there's the color thing: purple is in right now. And by "in," I mean that there's such widespread adherence to this trend that the pedestrian areas in the city look like they were art directed. Fully 60 percent of the people, the tall and the small, will be wearing something in some shade of purple: scarf, sweater, tie, shirt, pants, bag. All the window displays feature purple clothing. My friend E tells me that it was pink earlier in the year, but things have shifted.

It's kind of impressive, but I am a little worried about when the trend shifts again, because then my purple t-shirts and sweater and scarves (which I am glad I already had when I got here!) will be so clearly "last season" -- a phrase I have only ever used in jest before. At the same time, I am kind of sick of the purple at this point, and it's only been two months.

At any rate, I was thinking about this because as C and I browsed from store to store, we started burning out. This isn't really surprising since it turns out that we're well matched in liking to acquire cute things but not liking to actually shop. We only did the first floor before we hit retail overload. In one of the last stores we went into, C pinpointed one of the problems: every store has the same stuff. Choose your price point and your fabric, but the clothes are remarkably similar from one spot to the next. And there are only so many purple sweaters a girl can see before burning out.

It is the saldi -- sales -- period, though. (Sales are only at certain times of the year here.) I got four sweaters and a sweater dress in what felt kind of like my seasonal Target t-shirt run in the U.S., in terms of stocking up. None of these items were purple (teal, grey, greyed spruce, and navy). C got a scarf and leggings and a sweater. And then we stopped and had a glass of wine at the conveniently located wine bar to revive ourselves from all those purple and lavender and violet and raspberry sweaters we'd seen.

Unfortunately, the kitchen store on the first floor only had one stovetop milk steamer/frother thingy, and it had a design-y wooden handle and was too expensive, so I passed it up. Fortunately, I ran into my friend H at the gym yesterday, and she was down with joining me on another shopping expedition. We went to a lower-end mall that's closer to home, and I met with great success in crossing things off my list.

On the way there, I also lost the right side mirror off my car. Well, I guess lost isn't exactly accurate. I imagine that the impact I felt was my side mirror hitting a parked car's side mirror, but all the parked cars were fine and intact, and my mirror fixture is still there. The glass is just missing. Hm.

At any rate, I did get a milk steamer (need to find out the actual name of that thing). I already think I may get a different one -- what I passed up because I thought was too expensive is probably just about right for the quality.

I also found:
  • the metal cross thingies (riduttore X, according to the shelf label) that go on the burner grates to make it so that I can sit the little moka (stovetop espresso maker) and little milk thingy on the stove and not have them fall through:
Sad milk jug, sitting right on the burner:

Riduttore X:

Happy milk jug, sitting up above the burner:

  • espresso cups and saucers that are (1) plain white and (2) did not cost a ridiculous amount of money; I have demitasse cups in my fine china: 

but I wanted plain ones:

to go with my white Fiesta ware (which will arrive once we find out if our request to move is approved and know where we should have our things delivered)
  • Viakal spray which is a scary don't-touch chemical that will thank goodness take care of the crazy calcium hard-water build-up on everything here

And then the impulse buys: peach juice, my new favorite; squid ink pasta; and prosciutto crudo (already eaten). I eat a lot of prosciutto crudo these days. And by a lot, I mean . . . well, let's just say a lot, shall we?

Oh, and since I'm talking food, here's a picture of a bag of my favorite candy here so far:

The trip home from that mall turned into quite an adventure. We didn't go the right way for the highway, it turns out, so I switched on the GPS, which got us home . . . after a while. It was all surface streets, with no lights or lines on any part of the road, of course. Dark, raining, the only light streaming from oncoming headlights and no line at the shoulder to watch for guidance. It was great, though, because I had no qualms about slowing down as much as I wanted. I knew that anyone who thought I was too slow would just go around me. I love that.

So we wound around and went long ways on surface streets, and finally the nice GPS lady started directing us to something she just called an alley. And we had to turn under a giant concrete overpass-looking bridge with lots of chain link all around, which I was sure was going to abruptly become a dead end with lots of menacing types waiting for us. But instead we curved around some more and then came out behind our community. Phew! But wait!

We drove around and further around and further around outside the fence, thinking the GPS was taking us to the gate. But no! "Arriving at home, on right," she says. And, well, yes, there was my apartment . . . some distance away . . . on the other side of the fence.

So, home safe and with thrifting scores on top of all that, I'm wondering: what was your latest shopping score, retail or thrift?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cultural differences

At last, we've discovered a use for the bidet:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Going forward

Happy New Year!
As is evident from the sporadic posting I've done here, I've been having a bit of a hard time with exactly what and how I want to share things here. I find general accounts of travelling and photos of famous places to be fairly boring, but that's what I've been slipping into. It's easy. It doesn't take much time. I'll spare you the early-'00s-style agonizing over what to write on the Internet and what to keep to oneself. Suffice it to say that I'm tired of boring even myself.

I'm very excited about this new year, though. 2009 was an epic year for me, incredibly challenging and rewarding beyond anything I imagined:
  • I became bilingual.
  • I lived on California's central coast, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

  • I was challenged intellectually and emotionally in ways I never had been challenged before.
  • I moved twice in eight months . . .

. . . from the west coast . . .

. . . to the east coast . . . .


to Europe.

  • I celebrated a landmark birthday (at the beach, as is my custom).
  • On that birthday, I had earth-shaking revelations about events and beliefs that had been shaping my life for decades.
  • I spent most of the spring, summer, and fall fighting to pull myself out of depression over and over again.
  • I spent most of the spring, summer, and fall doing intense personal work, examining what I was realizing, what was being revealed.
  • One day back in January, I realized I was about to start shrieking from stress and despair, so I put on my tennis shoes and went for a walk. As the year went by, I ended up losing 15 pounds and getting in the best shape of my adult life.

  • I ran my first 5K and finished seven minutes faster than I anticipated.
  • I learned how to make a life and keep going without a job, without friends close to me geographically, without a church home.
  • I made so many new and wonderful friends.
  • I saw spectacular fireworks, unobscured by fog.
  • I adored my first crab boil.

  • I drove all the way across the country, from sea to shining sea.

  • I lived in the east for the first time.
  • I got to visit my best friend twice in one year.

  • I traveled by train.
  • I learned a new and foreign public transportation system.
  • I sold my motorcycle, making the last quarter of 2009 the first time in 11 years that I didn't own at least one motorcycle.

  • I bought a bicycle, making the last quarter of 2009 the first time in 17 years that I owned a bicycle.

  • I discovered the joy and miracle of Skype.
  • I climbed a volcano.

  • I was continually astounded and humbled by my husband's love, integrity, work ethic, consideration and generosity.
  • I was continually moved by the love and generosity of my friends and family members around the globe.
I haven't made New Year's resolutions on a regular basis for some years. Instead, for last couple of years I've followed Christine Kane's practice of choosing a word for the year. I usually review my word on my birthday, since I was born just a few days off from the exact mid-point of the year. Back in San Diego, my friend B and I would go to the beach on the day between our birthdays (we were born two days apart) and review our paths and our words for the year.

Coincidentally, my word for 2009 was release, the word Christine Kane used as an example in the 2007 post that I linked above. I didn't choose it for any of the reasons she mentions in her post, and it didn't particularly resonate for me in any of the ways she describes as possible outcomes. That's the beauty of choosing your word for the year -- it will work on and within you in a completely personal way.

I chose release thinking that I needed to let go of the need to control everything, to be right, to be perfect or at least appear that way. I scrawled the word on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall across from where I sat in my home office so that I saw it whenever I looked up from working or doing homework. And as the year went by, there were many times when I laughed -- often somewhat bitterly -- over having chosen that word. I could almost hear God saying, You want to learn about releasing? Really? Okay . . . here you go . . . 

With each challenge I had, I found the need to release was key to moving on: release my desperate attachment to San Diego, to California, and to people I met and bonded with there; release my habitual ways of reacting and making decisions; release my identification with my past job; release my fear of feeling anything, of reaching out, of letting go.

When I let go, I found myself always in a better place -- that place was the present, where I was actually living.

I can't say that I mastered release. The word, the act, could be a lifelong project.

I can say that I am a different person now from who I was 12 months ago, just about all for the better. I am awed by how far I have come, how much I have learned, and how that has transformed my world. 2009 was, I guess, objectively agonizing. But looking back, all I see are miracles and grace.

My word for 2010 is unfold, inspired by a birthday card sent to me by my dear friend S, and by a transformative conversation I had with my dear friend E.

I'm excited. It's going to be great -- it already is great! With release, I felt that I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to gain from the word, although I knew, of course, that I'd get so much more than that. What a ride it turned out to be.

With unfold, however, I do not have that same sanguine confidence that I had a year ago. Unfold is already, right from the very beginning, a mystery, a little scary, a gloriously big box of wonder.

It's already begun to work in my life, as we look at the possibility of trying to move from our gorgeous little community down into the city. I have no idea if it will happen, but I've put out my intention and I feel joy and contentment as I walk forward to see what will unfold.

2010 is unfolding all around me, and I wish you a year full of both exhilaration and peace, of joy and discovery.