Gettin’ a little reverb…

reverb10buttonThe musicians among you will know about that post title. Reverb is a very bad thing onstage.

Reverb10, though, is a very good thing. It’s an idea, a site, a movement of over 3,000 bloggers and counting… all reflecting on 2010 with one prompted question each day of December… and you know how I love completing the year and calling in the next! (If you’re new here and don’t know, you can see New Year’s posts here, here and here.)

A funny thing happened as I was signing up for and getting acquainted with Reverb10 this weekend. I read the prompts:

December 1 – One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

December 5 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

December 12 – Body Integration. This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? (Author: Patrick Reynolds)

and thought, “I can’t tell them that ON THE INTERNET!” So all that stuff about vulnerability…? It was pretty much out the window.

Another thing happened: I realized I’ve had such strong feelings about this year it’s been difficult for me to get distance, to answer these questions. For example, I was pretty sure my word for 2010 should be REARRANGE… but I just couldn’t shake that Ass-Kicking (Maybe that’s the word for my 2010?) feeling… so I put together a little slideshow to review the year, to stand back and have a look at what it was really all about.

This is not by any means everything that happened in 2010 (I’m not gonna tell you that.) It’s just some of the stuff I have photos of. In more or less chronological order:

December 4 – Wonder How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

One thing’s for sure… December 4’s prompt? How I cultivated Wonder? Spending time with great people, eating beautiful food, and seeing the world. Jerash in Jordan and the library at Ephesus in Turkey were awe-inspiring.

There’s something else… my daily walks with The Big Dog are as wondrous as anything else. So is sitting at dinner with someone I love. What I wouldn’t give to do that even one-third of the nights each year. Sometimes travel is just commuting. Don’t fall prey to romanticizing it, ok? How did you cultivate wonder this year?

Thank you to all of you who made these highlights of 2010 possible. And for the photos, too.

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What’s XpatAdventures about?

This blog has been a scary place for me lately. I’m never sure how much to say anymore and do you want travel info., personal narrative or how-to tips for making big life changes? There’s also always the nagging question, “How personal is too personal on the Internet?” I’ve been self-censoring and loathe all forms of censorship.

Meeting the Yahoo! Shine crew at BlogHer was a great opportunity to articulate on camera what XpatAdventures is now, five years after moving abroad, how it started and where it’s going… no matter where I go.

And I just have to say, because you know I am like that about my hair, I sooo wish one of them had told me it looked bad on that side… a quick run-through with the fingers & it’d have been A-ok!

We had a much longer conversation – they did a GREAT job editing.

The sweet interviewer asked me to post How-to Tips. She’s the second person who’s asked recently, so it’s on my to-do list. In September I’ll be working with Bindu Wiles on How to Whittle Down Your Stuff, Clear Your Clutter and Get on with Life. What would you like to know How to Do from XpatAdventures?

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Adventure Begets Adventure

The other thing about Adventures… in addition to inherent risk discussed in the last post… is that once you’ve set off, you’re out there. Stuff happens and all there is to do is make the best of it. When a bum trip happens — or a bad meal, room, or traveling companion — all there is to do is regroup, reroute, set off for greener pastures, or whatever makes you happy. Which is exactly what I did this week. Mom was here, and she’s a great traveling companion. So here’s a wee bit of our fun:

Tobogganing (video’s in little box below, transcript goes something like this)

me: “I’m gonna catch you!” (As in, “Hurry up so I don’t have to slow down!”)
her: “I want you to take a picture of me!” (I’m filming the whole thing.)
me: “Go, Nonna, Go!” (We call her the Italian word for Grandmother.)
her: “Brake. It says, ‘Brake.'”
me: “You don’t have to Follow the Instructions!”
her (later): That says, ‘Slow Down.'”
me: “Yeah, I ignore that…”
her: “That was fun!”

Note: the quality’s best in this small format here rather than clicking through to a larger version.

Of course, she did her obligatory twirl a la Julie Andrews. (If you are new to this blog, since I was about ten, my Mother has periodically felt an overwhelming urge to run through beautiful pastures (or other random settings) arms outstretched, singing, “The hills are alive…” Since I live in Switzerland this happens with great frequency. She prefers it if I sing while she twirls.

Mom twirling again

I also fulfilled a long-time desire to parasail. The best part of this was that it had rained in Switzerland for several weeks straight (I am not exaggerating). I’d really wanted to parasail to celebrate my 40th birthday. Waiting for the weather to clear, I booked for the morning afterward… and, lo and behold!, woke to the first crystal clear blue skies in weeks. An instructor, the fabulous Martin of Kandersteg, and I took a cable car up above town then hiked to a field above Almenalp.  He set out the gear and got us all hooked up…

Martin_parasail

we took a step and a half forward from where I took the photo below and then we flew and flew and flew over the valley…

Kandersteg below

Here are 18 seconds of it. It was far more peaceful than I expected (kind of like scuba diving that way). Landing was smoother than I ever imagined. No. bump, no bounce, no speed… I just stepped back down to earth. It was magical.

And that my friends is how a good Adventure goes down. This past week has been one of the best in years. The hotel we were in promises to make the Best of 2010 list. We’ve just experienced some of the best Switzerland has to offer… let me know if you’d like travel itineraries, tips, planning advice, etc. Oh! And this is what 40 looks like…

Thanks, Mom, for the great birthday Adventures!

40 Today

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What makes a traveler?

My Mother made a traveler of me, and it was her birthday yesterday. She seems to age backwards. Benjamin Button’s got nothing on her. In honor of her birthday and because I only got to wish her Happy Birthday over an in-and-out Skype call from Jordan, I thought I’d share this little excerpt from a summer 2009 post and a video I just made for her:

…“It was my Mother who made a traveler out of me, not so much because of the places where she went as because of her yearning to go.”  My own Mother went to travel agent school when I was a kid just to learn how to get better deals.  I remember her standing in our kitchen talking on the phone, the long curly cord stretched all the way out across the 1970s goldenrod wallpaper and olive green appliances. She beamed as she asked the airline reservationist if an open jaw fare to TPA would be a better deal than flying back into SRQ.  She learned the lingo of travel and away we went across Europe and the South, to places she’d read about in Gourmet and Southern Living.  So, like Mary Morris, it was my Mother who made a traveler out of me.  I have loved to plan and embark on adventures my whole life.  For a while there I’d forgotten.

My adventures are making my Mother’s true traveler nature emerge with remarkable frequency and force. She visits a lot.  I received this email from her out of the blue yesterday, under the subject line, “Thought from Mom”:

I have been checking frequent flier into Nice thinking I could get to Gordes for lavender and R & R but it takes 170,000+ miles so not possible.

I have a ticket in and out of Milan on hold until the 31st of July.  It is a 6+ hour drive from Lugano to Provence as best I can tell and a train ride is about the same.

So-because I have a window between Aug 6-17 I am thinking maybe four or five days at the Serbelloni would be what the doc ordered? I have emailed them about an apt and will see what the response is. Mufasa probably would like to take a trip!

And so it goes with my Mom. Here are a bunch of reasons I love her:

And for your further viewing entertainment I offer once again her Tarasp, Switzerland 2008 Julie Andrews a la The Sound of Music routine (be sure to catch the dog at the end… hunting rodents?):

Thanks, Mom, for making a traveler out of me. Happy Birthday!

Good Food We Ate in the Heart of Florence

I hear a lot of people say, “I don’t like Florence.”

To be honest with you, it upsets me a little every time… and not just because I went to school there decades ago and love it in the strange way you do places where you step foot off the train and it feels like home. It’s not just that.

Firenze che bello

It’s that, yes, there can be many tourists nel centro, in the heart of Firenze…  but there is also Michaelangleo’s Davide, Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Ponte Vecchio, the beautiful Piazza della Signoria, the cobblestoned streets where the Dark Ages blossomed into the Renaissance… and we’re going to let scheduling our visits at the same time as hordes of other tourists ruin our profound appreciation of the largest intact Renaissance city on the planet?  Come on, people!

ponte vecchio

This, by the way, is the Ponte Vecchio from my Mom’s room… there is no photo trickery here, there were no other buildings in between them.

What gets me even more is when people say they can’t find good food so they only ate panini or foccaccia standing up  in touristy bars. People, people, people.  If you can’t eat well in Florence, I’m not quite sure how I can help…

Here’s where we’ll start: one trick in places like this = in the early moments of meal times (as the bells strike noon, for example, or even a little earlier) follow the old ladies in very nice coats.

You think I’m kidding?

I’m not.

They will lead you to places like Fedra and Daniele’s All’Antico Vinaio, Via dei Neri 65/r, which we headed toward for lunch Friday (It’s closed on Mondays.).

deli lunch florence

It’s a rosticceria (think extensive deli, roast chicken, roast pork, simple enoteca) between the Piazza della Signoria and Santa Croce and has just a few tables in the back. It’s not fancy. I mean plastic plates not fancy, but  throughout our meal a steady stream of local Mammas and Nonnas purchased container after container of pasta & vegetables, and chickens ready for or fresh from the oven.

The best part? For 10 euros (!!!) you can get a large first course of pasta (including the hearty lasagna of many layers with a creamy bechamel) and a second course of 1/4 roasted chicken or other meat dish plus vegetables. I couldn’t believe the price was so low so I only ordered 1 vegetable (brussel sprouts, I love them!) but I could have gotten more. 10 euros! It was amazing. Never, ever say you can’t find good, cheap, quick food in central Florence. It was enough for two, especially with the lasagna as the first course.

Where to next?  Depends on what you’re looking for. If it’s cold and you’ve toured the Uffizi after lunch, have the thick and creamy hot chocolate at Rivoire, which has been serving since 1872 right in the Piazza della Signoria. It’ll cost almost as much as your lunch, but the people watching is fantastic. Linger. There are snacks at the bar I wish we’d noshed on.  We could have stayed longer and had hot cioccolata then segued right into prosecco and snacks at the bar before dinner. The people watching was that good. Could’ve stayed for hours.

For dinner right in the heart of town I like the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. We had two great pasta dishes this visit: the papardelle with cinghiale and tagliaerini with truffles. Yum. Dessert was oustanding: we had tiramisu, profiteroles and panna cotta. I’m not a big fan of panna cotta, but anything with that chocolate sauce on top would be great!

Cinghiale Bianco

berry semifreddo firenzeWe had another outstanding dessert at La Giostra, a place where the waiters speak a disturbing amount of English and are super-helpful. I’d say visit this place mostly for the experience of meeting the closest thing to Jack Sparrow you’ll ever see alive and in person in this lifetime (unless, of course, you are lucky enough to work on the films or know Johnny Depp in person) and the semifreddo drenched in freshly carmelized, hot raspberries and strawberries. It was marvelous.  If you know Johnny Depp, the Jack Sparrow-like owner is fabulous and the dessert is well worth the trip. The berries had a slight warm crunch to them from the just-hardening sugar. Note to Self: Must try that at home.

A mi piace molto Firenze. We enjoyed our trip very much and hope you will too… at least you’ll eat well now for sure!

They say if you rub the boar’s snout you’ll return to Florence again and again.  Maybe since I kissed him one day I will live there…

Stefan boar FlorenceMom boar Florence
kissing cinghiale

My Mother Made a Traveler Out of Me

In my early 20s I fell in love with a book: Mary Morris’ Nothing to Declare.  I read it in the winter of 1993 in a studio apartment over a garage in a Southern California orange grove.  My job at the NBC TV affiliate in San Diego was less than satisfying. They paid $7.50 an hour.  I’d lived in California a few months and didn’t have any real friends.  Nothing to Declare made me feel like at any moment I could chuck it all, hop in my little red Nissan Sentra and take off for San Miguel de Allende, just like Morris did.  It probably wasn’t even very far to drive, and would be a whole different world.  I could hide out, start over, steal away.

There was this passage I’ve never forgotten; sometimes I think of it even now, more than fifteen years later.  It begins, “It was my Mother who made a traveler out of me, not so much because of the places where she went as because of her yearning to go.”  My own Mother went to travel agent school when I was a kid just to learn how to get better deals.  I remember her standing in our kitchen talking on the phone, the long curly cord stretched all the way out across the 1970s goldenrod wallpaper and olive green appliances. She beamed as she asked the airline reservationist if an open jaw fare to TPA would be a better deal than flying back into SRQ.  She learned the lingo of travel and away we went across Europe and the South, to places she’d read about in Gourmet and Southern Living.  So, like Mary Morris, it was my Mother who made a traveler out of me.  I have loved to plan and embark on adventures my whole life.  For a while there I’d forgotten.

Katie as Julie c finaleMy expat adventures are making my Mother’s true traveler nature emerge with remarkable frequency and force. She visits a lot.  I received this email from her out of the blue yesterday, under the subject line, “Thought from Mom”:

I have been checking frequent flier into Nice thinking I could get to Gordes for lavender and R & R but it takes 170,000+ miles so not possible.

I have a ticket in and out of Milan on hold until the 31st of July.  It is a 6+ hour drive from Lugano to Provence as best I can tell and a train ride is about the same.

So-because I have a window between Aug 6-17 I am thinking maybe four or five days at the Serbelloni would be what the doc ordered? I have emailed them about an apt and will see what the response is. Mufasa probably would like to take a trip!

What are you doing in that window? If you need to be focused on work, a move, etc and could not relax I guess you could drive me to Como and I would go alone.  I want to swim, sit by the pool, read, walk and visit the lake villages that I have always rushed through. Any thoughts???

I wrote back:

Mom,

Sure I’ll go!

I’ll go anywhere you want.

I love that you are the kind of Mom who would write that email!

Like Mary Morris said, it was my Mother who made a traveler out of me.

How do you measure…?

Rent Seasons Of Love Music Video

So now I am finally getting around to the New Year’s business I love…
(and the above video makes a good soundtrack for these thoughts…)

How was 2006 for you when you looked back? What were you proud of? What moments will you hold dear forever? What did you learn? What did you celebrate as 2007 rolled in?

Two New Year’s Eves ago I was in the Stein Erikson Lodge in Deer Valley (Park City), Utah. Last year I was in a beautiful little restaurant in Lyon, France; this year I was in a home in Lingfield, England, near Brighton. They have funny traditions on New Year’s, those Brits. They all sang Auld Lang Syne at the top of their lungs and kissed every single person in the room. (This took a while.) This year I was with a man who loves me; that was nice.

In 2005 I learned concrete things… I wrote, “How to drive a stick shift car,” and “How to sell a house without a real estate agent.” In 2006 I learned bigger, more abstract lessons. I learned my own worth, and that love is all around me and I just have to reach out for it and let it in; I learned to be responsible for how incredibly powerful I am. I’m not always graceful with that, but I’m starting to get it! I learned to set clear, concise boundaries and just say so when something doesn’t work. That will make a difference forever — I will never be bullied again.

I’m proud of my Dating Game and being inspiring to so many people (especially that the valedictorian named me during graduation in May as the most inspiring prof she’d had) and my assisting with the Wisdom Course all over Europe.

This year I celebrate the night we skinny dipped in Mykonos, Greece and hollered out our New Moon intentions. I loved Mark’s, “I will skinny dip every year for the rest of my life!” I celebrate meeting wonderful people from all over the world. I celebrate really getting and living the phrase, “The world is my oyster.” I feel like I have become a citizen of the world this year, and it makes so much more possible. I celebrate that even though I am far away, the love with my friends and family in the U.S. has not gone anywhere. I celebrate the night with Lori that we saw The Blue Man group in the piazza in downtown Lugano and that Lori got a glimpse of “having it all” when she was here — I’ll never forget when she realized she could eat as much pastry and cappuccino as she wanted and she wasn’t gaining any weight!

This New Year’s I celebrate that I have had the opportunity to spend so much time with my Mother. What a rare and special treat. This year I celebrate that I am financially responsible. I celebrate Swiss chocolate and finding love and new friends. I celebrate travel.
2006 held more beauty than I can possibly describe. I think, too, for the first time I can say that if something were to happen to me, I have a sense that my life has turned out now; I have been a success. There was always somewhere else to get before… it hadn’t turned out yet. I have only begun to scratch the surface now, but life is beautiful, and full, and good. I’m thankful to have done and seen so much.

Especially I celebrate the power of intention; in 2004 I created COMMUNITY as the context for the year and I have that. Last year I said LOVE and I have that beyond anything I could imagine. 2007’s context is ABUNDANCE.

I am already so present to that I am rich in my friends. I celebrate you! Thank you all for being part of the adventure! Come to visit! Babies and friends are welcome, too.

What will 2007 be about for you?

the Montagnola Social Circle

I live just down the hill from a series of small restaurants called grotti — that’s plural for grotto. I think they started as caves or something, but now they’re just good, rustic, little local joints where families & businesspeople (pretty much everybody who knows where they are) gather for good, hearty food and drink. Mom and I went to one tonight. It’s called the Montagnola Social Club (in English). That sounds a lot fancier in Italian (Circolo Sociale di Montagnola), but it wouldn’t be much help at all to you now, would it? (You know another phrase like that that I just love but never say…? A whole fat lotta good that’ll do ya. HA!)

An aside: Montagnola, by the way, is also where Herman Hesse lived and wrote. If you’re a fan, you should come visit… there’s a nice walk and museum and they are very near my house.

Anyway, this place is always empty on Mondays in winter; I’ve been there with a small handful of professors many times. I’d never been there during summer, though. Wow! They’d strung fluorescent kitchen lights through the trees and a guy cooks on a huge outdoor grill over firewood. You share big, old, stone tables. We had local wine and sausages/cured meats and steak and veal and yum… it was great. The tiramisu was the real thing… homemade and chocolaty.

Mom got up to go to the bathroom at one point and sitting there surrounded by families and businesspeople speaking at least three different languages I thought, “Life is good.” The other photo in this collage is my neighborhood church as we drove down the hill toward home.

Mom heads back to the States in a day and a half and it is getting sad. Today we strolled along the lake with gelati (she always has straciatella, chocolate chip, and I nocciola, hazelnut) and shopped for shoes and clothes and souvenirs. It was fun.

I’m back off to London in about 8 days and I have to figure out how I want to write about that. You know what I noticed? When I was dating, dating, dating I related to it like it didn’t really matter… I was just meeting people, having coffee and meals, nice conversations, etc. Then one day Mom and I were doing laundry, I was getting ready to go to London and I had this thought, “It’s starting to matter.” Now I think in my head I think, “It matters.” and my little mind is just off to the races… no more simply being present with nice conversations and happy dinners… oh no… it’s all, “What if he turns out to be…?” and “What if I screw it up?” and “What if this isn’t the right choice?” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. (Think Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment as you say this to yourself.) Not helpful. That’s when it’s time to thank the little voice in your head and simply say, “Thank you for sharing.” I am having such a wonderful time even just talking with this man.