1.21.2013

bowl of love.



Back in December, a little wrench was thrown in our day-to-day when Gabe switched to working nights on base....6pm to 6am. Although he works the same number of hours as before, the time he's home feels about 5 hours shorter...and the time I'm alone seems 10 hours longer.

Thankfully this schedule-change is only to cover understaffing through February. But if you or your significant other has worked the night shift, you know what I'm sayin'. It will mess with you.

I'll fully admit that in December I didn't greet this change with a smile. But this month (and year) I'm trying a little harder to control my emotions, and actively make the best out of situations. So, I'll say this...there are a few perks to the nightshift life: You can wear pajamas anytime. You can also eat Eggo waffles anytime. Because every time is bedtime or breakfast for someone in your household...and people are preeeetty understanding of this.

Not exactly win-win...but I'll take it.

Anyway, what I can control in this weird new schedule is food...putting some extra time and love into the one meal Gabe and I get to share every day. Maybe this type of love is lost in translation, since Gabe keeps telling me to stop spending hours in the kitchen and worrying about the dishes. But if nothing else, this schedule change will be great culinary challenge.

Today I made homemade soup for the first time. It wasn't fantastic since I was flying sans an official recipe and a few needed ingredients. But it was edible. To cover up the less-than-perfect taste, I made crouton hearts. Because when in doubt, just make it cute, right?

This was off the cuff, so I'm sure there are more sophisticated recipes out there. But if you want to whip up something cute on a short timeline with minimal ingredients...here you go!

Go spread the carb-love. ;)


Sidenote: Since I'm not an advanced cook and tend to make things without recipes, I always get nervous when I post recipes. You know, the "What if it worked for me, but not everyone else?" or "What if I typed/wrote down something incorrectly?" type of worries. So, after I made these I searched the web for a more exact heart crouton recipe to ensure that my recipe made sense or wasn't a fluke. Yay! Turns out crouton hearts look cute on salads, too! 

1.16.2013

word of the year

photo from rome, taken with an holga lens kit on my canon.

It seems that every year, many bloggers choose a word to reflect their hopes in the coming year. And while I haven't previously participated, this year I joined in.

My word this year is control. I realize that word is loaded. So stick with me.

On January 3rd, I found myself moping on my couch in a pair of sweatpants I wore when I was heavier. Sweatpants I'd saved as a "we're never going back here" reminder.

Turns out, I'd gone halfway back there.

I had been forced into my fat pants due to lost luggage on our return flight from Rome. The flight carrying our suitcases wouldn't arrive for 36 hours and unluckily for me, I'd packed every single thing I own...leaving me with no choice but to don the dusty fat pants and their emotional baggage....for 36 hours straight.

While sitting in my fat-pantsed misery, one foot up on the coffee table due to a stress fracture obtained in Rome, my husband emerged from our study, sarcastically proclaiming, "Well! It looks like the house sale might fall through. AGAIN."

He rather quickly unraveled the details involving a suspiciously low bank appraisal, contrary to the two prior on-track appraisals, which would result in a sale of our house for $35,000 lower than what we'd planned. Thirty five thousand dollars.

So, there I sat on January 3rd. No clothes. Half-broken foot. Getting screwed out of money could get us out of Kuwait as fast as possible. The day before I was a girl in Italy on her second honeymoon, and now I was just a girl in fat pants...being miserably out of control of her life in the desert.

Then in that moment, the word "control" hit me like a ton of bricks and knocked me down the rabbit's hole of exactly WHY the past 225 days...this crazy move to the Middle East...has been so difficult.

Back in my sweet old life, I had total control of what my life looked like and how I filled my days. I could work, go to school, go on little trips, wear what I wanted to, walk around in parks and museums for hours, go on long bike rides, buy flowers at the farmer's market and have parties with friends. You get the picture. But when I left all that behind and boarded a plane bound for Kuwait...almost every piece of what "control" looks like to me felt stripped away. No car of my own. No job. No school. No outdoor places to exercise. None of my favorite clothing stores. Not my style of house. Not my style of furnishings. No family. No friends.

In hindsight, I now realize I felt completely out of control. I spent months wishing I'd wake up in my old life, and discover that this time in a strange country was just one of those weird dreams you have after eating too much fancy cheese. And even now, I realize that in so many ways I've been trying to rebuild a life I loved back in the US, but I can never, ever replicate here.

It's just out of my control.

So, I found myself at the bottom of the rabbit's hole, wondering, "Okay. What CAN I control here?" And then slowly, slowly, slowly I built a rickety control ladder out of that hole.

I can control what I make for dinner.
Or how much money we spend on groceries.
I can control what color I paint my nails or dye my hair.
And whether I worked out today.
I can control who I spend time with.
And what comes out of my mouth.
I can control how clean my house is.
And what I fill my head with.
I can control how I view myself.
And I can choose how to view the world.

And yes. These are all very pathetic, house-wifey things to say...things I'd likely have laughed at four years ago. But it is honestly what I've got here. I can no longer just sit around and wish myself into my cute, cushy life from one year ago....or feel like I'm a victim of the life I'm currently in. I've spent months doing exactly that, and I have nothing to show for it but a larger pants size thanks to emotional eating. My old apartment is gone. My old job is gone. My car is gone. My cute things are gone.

That life is gone. (Not gonna lie, I teared up while typing that.)

But there are perfectly great days to be lived right here, right now with a guy who loves me...in a place that is definitely an adventure. And maybe it involves less thrift sales, craft stores, peonies, parks and museums than it once did...but those things will come again someday. I know they will.

And so, I choose to stop comparing my old life and my new life.

Instead I've given myself this mantra for 2013:


What can you control in this moment? 
If the answer is "nothing", change how you think about it. 
If you can't change how you think, stop thinking so much and go do something selfless.


So, that's that.

Do you have a word for this year?

1.07.2013

rome again: the rental experience.



I'm home from Rome, and I returned a happy girl. Once again it was beautiful, delicious and fantastic. But, since I was repeatedly asked the question "Where are you staying?!" when I shared photos during our trip...I'll leave the strolling through Rome photos for the next post, and share our accommodation info ASAP!

For the first time, Gabe and I made the somewhat scary decision to rent an apartment in Europe. Usually, we're very much hotel people. We like nice sheets. We like that we can ask the concierge where things are, or call someone to deliver coffee in the AM, especially in Europe where there isn't a quickie Starbucks stop on every corner. But, if you travel frequently, you know that all those nice little services really add up.

You've got to tip everyone. And in Europe the rooms are teeny.

Because we were staying over the holidays and booking late in the game, my favorite hotel in Rome was already full. Our remaining hotel options seemed wildly priced, poorly reviewed, less-than-ideally located or generally "meh". Although Gabe was skeptical, I excitedly took this as a kick in the butt to try something new...and dove into the search for a well-located, cute apartment in Rome.

note: I tore around our apartment about 10 minutes before leaving, trying to remake the bed and tidy things up for a few photos. Unfortunately, in my rush to take some photos...I didn't realize my ISO was turned way up from the previous night. Whoops. Let's just pretend the grainy look is vintage and charming. Er...something like that. ;)

After hours of searching and inquiring about rentals, we stumbled across this property on Via Margutta, through RomeLoft. The location couldn't have been better...it's the tiny, quiet street where Gregory Peck's character lived in the classic Roman Holiday. It's also where famous painters like Picasso once worked + lived...and now largely houses antique stores and art galleries.

Be still my heart. 

The reviews seemed legitimate ("It was great!", "It was pretty good, minus XYZ!", etc), and I was able to find a few others confirming a pleasant stay via Google. The photos made the place look dreamy. So, I inquired and within an hour had all the information I could have needed, plus some additional answers to questions I asked.

We slept on it, but booked the next day.



I was a teensy bit nervous. Good photo cropping can hide a myriad of sins, so I truly had to bank on reviews + my gut with this one. And I'm glad I did. Because, girls, I don't know if I can return to hotels. It was amazing. 

The experience of having a little apartment in a foreign city is absolutely unreal. Obviously there are pros and cons, but I'd say the pros won out on this trip. It was romantic, it was relaxing. We had a fridge that held at least ten bottles of wine + champagne + groceries. You know I drank them all and ate buffalo mozzarella like it was going out of style. Having a rental was a bit like getting to live elsewhere for a week. And I'm so, so glad we did it! Even Gabe was won over, and agreed that it's the best option...especially if you're visiting a city for the second time.

In the end, it was a small amount more work and research than booking a hotel...but worth every second. Here are some pros, cons and tips for those who are looking to make the leap from hotel to vacation rental!



:::::pros:::::


So much space. At least 10 times the average European hotel room! On rainy days, we spent more time at home, just relaxing.

A full kitchen...it saved  hundreds of euros by making breakfast + some lunches at home. And making real meals together in a foreign country is a bit romantic. :)

You're virtually undisturbed. No maid will be knocking on your door while you're prancing about in a towel, and there aren't loud neighbors to keep you awake.

Your neighbors are the real deal...not just other guests on holiday. They're great resources (if you speak their language, or they speak English), and in Rome they're happy to help.

No awkward tipping moments. (Do I tip the valet who just touched my bag? The maid? The room service guy? Do I tip the concierge who told me where the nearest train stop is?) You tip no one except the driver that picks you up, if you book one. Therefore, at least 100 euros saved.

It can be equal to or cheaper than a hotel. Ours was! Honestly. It worked out to about $350 USD/night. That's high for some folks, I know, and it's higher than usual because we stayed during the holidays. But given the rates I was seeing for nice hotels ($350-$700/night!), it was totally reasonable. Especially due to the size and location.

courtyard outside our door

:::::cons:::::

There's no friendly concierge to ask for directions, or to hail you a taxi.

There will always be quirks: A sink leaks. A drain is slow. You can't figure out the dishwasher. And there isn't staff downstairs to pop up to your room to fix it.

Having a kitchen is great, but finding a market or grocery in some European cities isn't as easy as a Google maps search. You might find yourself walking a mile with bags of groceries.

If you lock yourself out of your apartment, there's no front desk! It's going to be a bit of a wait.

Often you'll have to pay for a portion of your stay upon booking. (For us, it was about 30%.)

And most apartments do require a security deposit upon arrival. (This can vary anywhere from 200 euros to 500 euros. It's returned upon your departure, but it does tie up some cash for the duration of your stay.)

Because you have space, you may find yourself lingering at home...doing less sight-seeing, and staying in to relax. Just be forewarned! :)


::::tips:::::

Know the area. Because I'd visited Rome a few months prior, I knew exactly where this place was...in a sweet spot and very walk-friendly. But, I saw so many rental properties online that I'd never, ever book because of their location. If you're unsure of the area, throw out a question on a forum like Frommers or TripAdvisor to see if others can advise!

Book early, and set aside a few hours to research your options. The good ones go fast! Give yourself plenty of time, and don't get too attached to any one property. There are TONS of options if you start early. You'll find one! :)

Don't feel the need to overspend on a rental, and then nickel and dime the rest of your experience. You can find apartments for almost any budget (unless we're talking hostel budget). I spotted some as low as  $90/night, all the way up into the $1,000/night range.

Ask questions or request more photos before booking! It's YOUR cash. It's YOUR vacation.

Look for reviews! If you're booking through a site like VRBO or searching on TripAdvisor (my holy travel grail), you'll often be able to read reviews right there. If you're booking direct through a company's website, do a few Google searches to see what others have to say, and ensure that the reviews on their site aren't phony.

Go with your gut. If an owner is very slow to respond to your request, or something just feels off...don't invest your vacation cash with them! Unlike a hotel, you have virtually no rapport with this person and they very well could take your booking deposit and run.

Make sure you read all the fine print. Will you have to pay a security deposit? Is there a cleaning fee? Is there wireless available? Is the kitchen stocked with pots, pans, etc?

Use PayPal to transfer your booking deposit if at all possible. This way you're covered if you get scammed (from my research).

Do some research on grocery and tabacchi (if you smoke or want postcard stamps!) locations in advance. If you know where to look once you arrive, you'll save yourself lots of time searching for these sometimes hard-to-spot places! Also be aware that these places don't keep 24/7 US hours. If you're out looking for groceries at 10:30pm or on a holiday...you might be out of luck. Plan in advance! :)


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