When people learn that you lived abroad in Italy for three years, they typically like to ask you about some fairly predictable things. After getting the basics, the conversation usually turns to food and wine. In regard to the former, it's amazing how quickly this question comes up: do you miss all the fresh food and produce? The answer is yes, but it's not quite that simple.
The fact of the matter is that fresh, amazing produce is available here, too. Particularly in Chapel Hill, between farmer's markets and local grocery co-ops, it's easy to find food grown and/or produced within a 100 mile radius that is delicious*.
What I really miss, however, is essentially being forced to eat seasonally.
I can't tell you how many times I would walk into a grocery store or the local veggie stand in Italy and mumble obscenities under my breath about just wanting an avocado or a pineapple or a decent eggplant -- damn the season! But, I would quickly get over it, buy whatever looked good (out-of-season produce in Italy could look scary-bad) and go on my merry way. We ate what was in season because it's what was primarily available to us.
And, you want to know something? We typically felt pretty darn good. We slept well, our skin looked great and we were rarely affected by the change-of-season cold and flus that are so common around here. We ate hearty foods in the fall and winter, and lighter fare in the spring and summer. We used our stale bread for pappa al pomodoro in the winter and for panzanella in the summer. It was the way of things.
So, when I find myself feeling sluggish or tired these days, I start to wonder if my return to all-season eating has gotten the better of me. Today, I grabbed out our stack of Mangiare di Stagione cookbooks -- a fantastic collection of recipes based on what's in season. Reading through the recipes immediately transported me back to Florence...shopping for myself and also indulging at local eateries. A lot of seasonal dishes (particularly sweets) have tradition and history wrapped in them and I loved learning more about these regional-seasonal specialties.
Things will quiet down here ever so slightly in a few weeks around the holidays and I may set out on a mission to get us back on the seasonal eating path. A tall order, perhaps, but one worth trying.
*side note: I'm fairly convinced that eating North Carolina's Holly Grove Farms Jalapeno Goat cheese is part of the reason I was put on this planet.
It's the time of year when bloggers start sharing all of their "top picks" and "gift guides." Generally speaking, I find these types of posts annoying and self-serving (they usually include tons of affiliate links) and full of products that are way out of everyone's price range.
So, today I'm going to share three affordable gift ideas for toddler girls -- three things we love and actually own. No weird affiliate links. Just stuff we love.
These Mix & Match "dolls" from Petit Collage are so cute. My mother-in-law bought them for Livia and we have so much fun with them. They are actually flat, thick cards that you can mix and match to create fun characters.
This doll house from Melissa & Doug is a modern take on your typical little girl's doll house. You can move the furniture from room-to-room, it has an "elevator" and you can buy a little car for the garage. We have a lot of fun with this and it's great for stimulating the imagination.
To say that Livia has an obsession with music would be the understatement of the century. She loves it. We got this KidKraft guitar for her 2nd birthday thinking she would love it, but maybe not be ready for it right away. We were surprised just how quickly she figured out how to hold and support the guitar and strum away. It's easily the best $30 I've ever spent!
So, there you have it. Three solid gift ideas for toddler girls that I can almost guarantee will be a hit.
It's been over six months since my last post -- six wonderful, exciting and fulfilling months. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't even have my primary computer (my much-loved and ever-aging 27" iMac) in the house yet. I won't claim that I've spent the last six months "unplugged" by any stretch of the imagination, but they certainly were less-wired and for that I feel very thankful.
During the height of our blog popularity -- from mid-2011 to mid-2012 when we averaged about 6,500 unique visitors a day -- I found myself in a constant state of experiencing life through the lens of "how am I going to blog about this?" It's a strange existence to be thinking about how you are going to present an experience to an audience when you should actually be experiencing it for yourself. I'm not complaining, just simply stating out loud that it's an interesting way to live.
Our regular blogging worked for us. It gave me an outlet for my writing and a place to share our experiences. The blog also helped connect us to future friends and to future clients. Lots of winning there that outweighed the negatives.
This time last year, however, as we began to seriously consider returning back to the U.S., I found myself less interested in the responsibility of blogging. Once we made the official decision to move back, I wanted to fully and, to be honest, selfishly, experience my last few months in Italy. I wanted to eat gelato without taking a photo. I wanted to stop on the Ponte Vecchio to take a photo because I wanted it, and not because I needed a photo for tomorrow's post. I wanted to absorb everything I possible could during those months.
Then, a funny thing happened. When we got back to the U.S. I found myself feeling that same yearning for privacy and personal experience and decided to take a break from blogging. It's been a relief and rejuvenating. It's also allowed me to focus whole-heartedly on setting up our new life here in Chapel Hill, NC.
I've been reading blogs for the better part of a decade. I've been in that position before of following someone for years and then suddenly…poof…they disappear from the internet. I know that they aren't bound to me in any way, but it still feels like losing a friend without any explanation, in a weird way. It's not my intention to leave readers of this blog in that way, but I do have to tell you that our time apart has made my heart grow a little fonder.
I'm not sure what shape or form this blog will take as we go forward, but I do want to thank those of you that still come (a surprisingly large number of people) looking through the archives and, perhaps, hoping for a new update. I recognize that the experience my husband and I had from 2011 - 2014 was unique to say the least and that, yes, we were even "living the dream." Italy was a huge piece of that dream for a very long time and Florence is weaved into the fabric of my being at this point. But, to be honest, I feel more so now than ever that I'm still living the dream. Life changes and dreams evolve along with it.
So, let's play catch-up. What's new in your lives?
Well folks, we've been back in the U.S. for just about two months. The time has flown by. We've been bouncing from place to place; sometimes for extended periods of time and sometimes for quick visits. We'll be moving on to the next and almost-final destination soon, but in the meantime I wanted to pull together my thoughts on what the first few months back in the U.S. has been like for us.
The biggest surprise? There hasn't been much reverse culture shock. I remember that sensation big-time after studying abroad ten years(!) ago, but this time around there hasn't really been any...at all. I think we've just been basking in the convenience of, well, everything too much to be bothered even in the slightest by any culture shock.
Pleasant surprises abound! You forget about how much joy little things can bring you. It's walking into a Target and seeing adorable makes-life-a-thousand-times-easier-products. It's finding Garden of Eatin' Red, Hot and Blue tortilla chips and biting into one for the first time in three years. It's unpacking some of our stored boxes and seeing photos, mementos from college and other things we'd forgotten about.
Speaking Italian is more fun here. It's like Italians in America have a radar for us, because we've met a handful of them and all they want to do is chat, hear about why we were in Italy and, of course, talk politics. If I'm being honest, it feels like there is less pressure to be perfect with our language. The people we meet are just so excited to speak with us. It reminds me a bit of the first few months in Florence when we initially moved there. Just excitement and a simple love of the language.
I miss the little things about Italy. I miss walking to the grocery and bread shop each day. I miss the little piazzas that always felt like the essence of the city for me. I miss Livia stopping to explore nooks and crannies that kids her age have been fascinated by for centuries.
I miss our friends more than anything. Was it nice to walk across the Ponte Vecchio and past the Duomo every day? Sure. But, I actually don't miss those anywhere near as much as I miss our friends. We met some amazing people during our time in Florence and not seeing them for a few months has been a big hit. It just reaffirms a very important fact about life: people make a place feel like home.
I'm going to be putting together some final guides and recommendations for Florence in the coming weeks and months. I want to get all of my favorites "on paper" before I start forgetting things. Stay tuned!