Pink cheeks make you feel younger

Italy and I have been having a long distance relationship since 2005. According to the math, that’s almost 10 YEARS

Ten years feels like an awfully long time. Especially when this past July 5th marked my ten year anniversary of legally enjoying vino. That’s one of the more joyous 10 year milestones. Other times I find myself talking about “back in the day,” aka high school, when the pay phone price increased from 25 cents to 50 cents (the outrage!).

In 2013, I vowed to return to Italy, but it was not meant to be (next year will be the year!). Faithfully, Italy has found every way to come into my life in unexpected ways and places, despite the distance.

There’s the obvious ways that Italy remembers me, like this wine:

Epicuro Nero d'Avola

Italy doesn’t even mind that its wine is housed in the Eiffel Tower. Italy has to be nice to France; France has their Mona Lisa.

By the way, this wine is around $5 at Trader Joe’s. Nero d’avola is a grape variety from Sicily. I’ve tried a few different brands of Nero d’Avola from Trader Joes and all have been good. I’ve been a fan of this wine for years when a Sicilian recommended it to me recently (just to confirm its greatness). This wine is light and refreshing and one of the few wines that I would describe as having a “grape” flavor. (Why is it that wines are always described as having raspberry, strawberry, or apricot notes etc., but never grape?!?!).

The other ways that Italy appears in my life are more unexpected: my two favorite co-workers gave me a Laura Geller makeup set called “It’s a pink thing” for my birthday:

"It's a pink thing"

“It’s a pink thing”

I turned it over to see where it was made, as I always do. And this is what I saw:

Laura Geller Blush - made in Italy

Holy love at first sight. Do you see those three words? MADE IN ITALY. I’ve noticed that a lot of the baked eyeshadows and blushes are made in Italy, but everything down to the lip gloss in this set is made there. As if I didn’t love this makeup enough already, I get so many compliments when I wear it. I swear it’s that perfect punch of pink that puts spring in my cheeks and a sparkle in my step.

I may no longer be 21, but I feel 21 with the wisdom of a 31 year old. It must be the makeup.

Where should I live? {Quiz}

So I took this quiz…What country in the world best fits your personality?

Positano-Italy.jpg

ITALY: You are complex person, yet you enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Your idea of a great day is to spend some time by the water, or have coffee next to your favorite landmark, then follow it up with a fantastic meal with mediterranean cuisine and excellent wine. You believe life is not for working too hard, but for enjoying the fruits of the earth, and you are more than happy to take a siesta.You are a lover of culture, and thrive in a town or city where you get to know those around you in depth. You appreciate fine architecture, art, music, and film, and need to be in a culture that values those mediums.
YEP. That’s about right. 

This requires wine.

I can’t believe this.

I was thisclose to realizing one of my dreams, years ago. Then life swept me down a current and that dream got tucked into a folder, shoved in a box, moved across the country, and kept in a closet.

Today I pulled out that folder, and I was in awe.

Everything is neatly organized. All of the forms are already filled out and put into envelopes. All I had to do was enclose a check and send them.

The date was marked 2009.

It’s 2014.

I could have had my Italian citizenship jure sanguinis by now.

How did five years go by without me realizing it? How did I let my dream be stuffed in a closet?

CRUSHED.

And that’s why I need wine.

 

Ispirazione

Sometimes those Italian-English cognates can be tricky. Inspiration/ispirazione are so similar that I almost was blind to the absent “n” in the Italian version.

Inspire. It’s from Latin origin, inspirare, which means “breathe life into.” I just love that.

I have so many dreams swirling in my heart and mind, waiting to take their first breath. Timing is everything in the process of being born. I assume that is true for babies or for dreams, except with dreams there isn’t always a physical reassurance that it is indeed happening.

I prefer the Italian, dare alla luce, which means “give to the light” (or so I heard in Under the Tuscan Sun). Can I please have my baby in Italy? Dare all a luce sounds so much more poetic than being born.

I took my sweet time being born, so much so that the nurses joked with my parents that I should be called “Patience.” How ironic that patience is not my strong suit! Sometimes it’s as if I were a two-year old gardener, getting anxious for my seeds to blossom that I pluck them right out of the earth the first time a green sprout goes looking for the sun.

Now I know better than to go picking seedlings before they’re ready, so I’m going to do the adult thing and inspire my dreams — that is breathe words of life into them, encourage them. I will hold my precious dreams lovingly in my heart until they are ready for the light. After all, the light is seeking my dreams, too.

 {source}

 

Sentimenti

I miei sentimenti–my feelings–are what propel me when I’m full of passion and determination, and what keep me stuck in the mud when I dwell on mountains too high and rivers too deep.

In Italian a sensitive person is called sensibile. I rather like that. It sounds a lot like the English “sensible.” “Sensitive” can conjure up all sorts of negative connotations, such as weak, reactive, or even mental. “Sensibile” sounds chic and classy; confident without being cocky.

Underneath the sometimes frantic exterior, sensitive people are tender, aware, empathetic, and intuitive. Feelings are the guideposts of life that tell us keep going, or make a change. That makes us sensitive people, those who are uber aware of their feelings, the sensible ones because we are listening to life.

********

Today a student interviewed me for a class assignment and asked me where I saw myself in three years. I’ve done this before: in X amount of years, I will have a loving husband, 2+ kids, a house and a good paying job. At the moment I can check one of those off, but should I feel like I’ve failed if I haven’t accomplished the others within my self-imposed time frame? And does my decent paying job even make me happy? No and no.

I finally figured it out. I shouldn’t be checking off a husband and kids like they’re some to-do list with some sort of self-determined due date. When I plan my future, I shouldn’t focus on obtaining things. That is 100 % wrong! The sensible/sensibile thing to do is focus on feelings. How do I want to feel? Not only in the next three years, but how do I want to feel now and all the days of my life?

I want to feel…

free 

passionate

energetic and enthusiastic

joyful and full of laughter

relaxed

inspired

creative

and most of all, connected to people and places, to nature and the earth, to God and myself in love.

*******

I’ve always known when it’s time for me to make a major change because I get a suffocated feeling like there’s a burden on my heart. After nearly two years at my current job, that feeling has come on full force. At first I panicked as I do when I don’t know how to make a change or even what to do next. The desired feelings need to come before the change or else we get more of the same. 

Feelings before manifestation–it sort of sounds like being a life magician and pulling feelings out of a hat. I can assure that it is not entirely impossible. Whenever people ask me about my best memory this is the story I tell:

I was living in France at the time and I was en route to visit a friend in Sicily. Since there weren’t any direct flights from southern France to Sicily, I decided to take a five hour train ride to my beloved Torino where I studied abroad in 2005. Not to mention the CioccolaTo festival was being held that same day. (This is the annual chocolate festival in Torino that fulfills the fantasies of every chocoholic). I was thrilled that I knew the city well enough to hop on the bus, get my chocolate fix, and then make it to the airport in time for my evening flight.

That was until I saw that my memories of the city had not changed in two years, but the recent Olympic games had installed futuristic looking digital monitors at the train station, and re-routed bus lines, among other undesirable changes. I felt a sense of betrayal that Torino had moved on, but I hadn’t.

I scratched my CiocolaTo plans and decided to do the next best thing: gelato at Princess Ice, my favorite gelateria where I always got nocciola (hazelnut) and cioccolato. Instead of the flashing blue ice cream sign there was a red and green for a roasted chicken shop (what?!)! So not what I had a craving for!!!! My hopes were dashed yet again.

Things looked up as I walked down Via Madama Cristina and like a mirage I saw the black and white sign indicating a Sephora that had not been there before. My heart beat a little faster…Sephora is my happy place. I don’t know what it is about that store…the perfume intoxication or endless rows of makeup…but it makes me giddy.

From Sephora I decided to go to my next favorite gelateria, Mastro Gelataio on Via Nizza. This place has literally hundreds of flavors, and the entire time I lived in Torino I only ate, you guessed it…nocciola and cioccolato. If I recall they were out of one of those flavors, so I decided to try mirtilli (blueberry) and crema (cream) instead.

As I walked down the street eating my ice cream, something extraordinary and magical happened, yet it was triggered by nothing of consequence. These new flavors tasted so unexpectedly good, and I was riding on the thrill of returning to my Italian city. The sky opened up and became brighter and bluer. I wasn’t walking, I was floating. The sunlight sparkled. In my heart I felt total peace and pure joy.

Nothing had gone as I expected, but everything was right. From that unexpected moment of joy, a wave of coincidental and magical events ensued.

Was it the gelato? Was it Italy? Was it me, or was it divine inspiration? What it taught me was that feeling good doesn’t need to come from anything profound, but is available to us at all times. I often think of this moment and strive to live from this place of peace mixed with excitement. Yet it has to come spontaneously and not be forced….

*******

On another note, I have no idea  what change I need to make in my life, but I know it will involve writing and Italy. In fact, I was talking to a colleague today who was married to an Italian and lived there for 28 years. She talked about how life is easier here in the States (for example they don’t have clothes driers and parking/driving is difficult etc…..hello, has she seen San Antonio drivers and roads?) But she did say that she thinks I would do well in Italy. I don’t know her very well, but  I was so pleased she gave me what I consider the ultimate compliment!!!

Here’s to feeling free, passionate, energetic and enthusiastic, joyful and full of laughter, relaxed, inspired, creative, connected to people and places, to nature and the earth, to God and myself in love for no reason at all, other than I want to feel this way all the days of my life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Italy

Last year I was determined to make a trip to Italy, but with moving to Texas, starting a new job, and having minimal vacation time, I wasn’t able to make it. It seems that since I wasn’t able to go to Italy, Italy has come to me.

San Antonio is the seventh (!) biggest city in the United States, with a population of 1.3 million people, and I think I have spent more time with Italians than Americans this year! I met one Italian, who invited me to a dinner with a dozen other Italians, who knew other Italians….Italians are magnetic; they all seem to find each other!

One of my Italian friends introduced me to a little gem of a restaurant called Luciano. It’s actually a chain pizza joint, and I had eaten at one of the other locations before. Their motto is “true Italian passion,” but I found the crust so thick and the toppings so dense that it screamed, “TEXAS!” That is, until the Italians showed me the original Luciano restaurant, which has a completely different selection of authentic dishes, as well as the Americanized versions.

With pizza that melts in your mouth and pasta perfectly al dente, I could have been in Italy!

IMG_0441 IMG_0443

Language Learning Through Song

Last time I was in Europe was in 2007 when I was teaching English in a French elementary school. The other day it crossed my mind that my French “babies” (then ages 7-11) would now be all grown up and in high school!

Has it really been that long since I’ve been to Europe? I really feel my age now that I can refer back to the highlights of my twenties as something that happened SEVEN years ago!

I did visit Italy when I was living in France seven years ago, but it has now been NINE years since I have lived in Italy.

Nine years ago + barely speaking a word of Italian since then + not to mention I was just a beginner from the get go = super rusty Italian. As in, when faced with a true, authentic Italian from Italy, I could not even remember how to say “see you later.” (Yes folks, that really happened to me today.)

I also told him “Italia mi manchi”  (“Italy I miss you”) instead of “Italia mi manca.” Whoops.

I’ve always been a perfectionist when it comes to language and have always hated to make any kind of mistake, especially with native speakers. I think that is what has kept me from becoming really fluent in any of my foreign languages, though. I always tell my students that mistakes help us learn, and you better believe next time I’ll know if I’m saying I miss you or I miss it!

No matter where I am, Europe or the States, non-native English speakers always seem to want to practice English with me. I don’t mind, of course, but I’ve got to stop using it as an excuse to not make a fool out of myself when trying to speak a foreign language. One thing adult language learners, including myself, have got to come to grips with is temporarily regressing to the communication skills of a 2 year old. It hurts our pride as capable adults not to be able to communicate what we want, need or feel, and therefore not really be known as we truly are. At least that’s how I feel!

I’ve decided to be a little more proactive with keeping up my languages (by languages I am referring to French, Italian and Spanish, the three languages I kinda know/want to learn at the moment), so that next time I come across an Italian (or French or Spanish native) I won’t be so tongue tied.

Whenever I meet a non-native speaker of English who speaks like a native, I always as them how they did it. Without fail, their answer is always, “I watched a lot of movies and listened to music.”

Music and movies have always been my method of choice to stay connected to my languages-in-progress when I’m at home in the States. There are so many benefits of using music to learn a language (movies will be a topic for another post):

#1: It’s enjoyable! When we are having fun, we are more relaxed and more likely to pick up on new language.

#2: Multitasking–listening to music goes well with driving, cleaning, running, etc. Just void out right now that tired old excuse of “I don’t have time.” Even if you only have five minutes to spare, listening to one song takes under 5 minutes.

#3: Songs are meant to sung, which doubles as pronunciation practice.

#4: Not to mention, the rhythm of music makes it easier to remember words and phrases.

#5: Songs are easy to access  on the Internet and there’s a great variety of songs out there for anyone’s taste.

#6: Exposure to vocabulary and grammar in context is the best, and only way to learn a language, in my opinion. Throw out those boring grammar books with mindless sentences about Juan or Pietro!

#7: Songs are authentic language, not some made-up contrived sentence created only for learners.

I can remember exactly which words I learned, and from exactly which song. I remember the first time I tried out a word that I had learned from a French song  with an actual French person, and it felt like total victory when he understood me.

Here’s the process I use when I listen to songs in French/Italian/Spanish:

  • Listen to the song and write down words that I understand, while taking note of the verb tenses
  • Listen again to see if I can add any words
  • Guess what the song is about from what I know
  • Translate the lyrics to English and then take note of any new words
  • Listen to the song again, usually with a feeling of “Ahaaaa, so that’s what that means!” I love when songs go from unintelligible sounds to meaningful words.
  • Repeat the song many, many times until I have it memorized (usually what I do with my favorite songs anyways, ask my brother about the time my favorite song was Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream! Haha, he’s such a good sport!)
  • If possible, it would be ideal to use the new words in speech or writing to really commit them to memory

So going through this process with one song might take me an hour or so. I once read that if you do something for an hour a day for one year (or was it three?? anyhow, consistency is key), you will become an expert. Hmmmmm….we shall see…..

There’s also an AMAZING website I have to share called www.lyricstraining.com. It let’s you listen to a song and type the missing lyrics as you listen, with three different levels of difficulty, and all different languages. I wish this website was around when I was studying languages at the university. Whoever designed this site is simply brilliant.

Some of my favorite singers:

Italian/Spanish: Believe it or not, there are A LOT of singers who sing the same songs in both of these languages. Two of my favorites are Il Volo and Laura Pausini.

Spanish: Shakira. How can I not say Shakira? I also really love Reik, who one of my Spanish-speaking Friends told me about, and also Julieta Venegas, who I used to hear on the radio all the time when I lived in California.

French: I love Natasha St. Pier, and I even got to see her in concert while I was in France! She’s not on the lyricstraining.com site, but she’s hands down my favorite French singer and she’s not even French. She’s Canadian! I also love Alizee, who French people consider the “French Britney Spears.”

Happy singing/language learning!

xo Kelly

 

 

 

 

Buon compleanno, mamma!

August 30 is a very special birthday, for one of the most special people in my life, my mom!

Happy birthday mom!

If I had been in Reno, I would have made my mom a delicious birthday dinner. I definitely would have made my mom a salad because she LOVES vegetables. So, to show my mom how much I love her and how thankful I am that she’s my mother, I made this fig, arugula & pecorino salad with honey balsamic vinaigrette.

Arugula, fig & pecorino salad

To make the salad: 

  • Throw together as much arugula, quartered figs with stems removed, and Pecorino shavings as your heart desires!
  • I chose Pecorino Pepato because it’s one of my favorite cheeses, but I think any hard white cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or even Manchego would be delicious!

To make the vinaigrette: 

  • Combine 1 tsp good quality honey (I like Mountain Forest Raw Honey from Whole Foods) with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and a dash of olive oil. Mix very well with a whisk.

The honey and balsamic vinaigrette brings harmony to this salad, balancing the tanginess of the cheese, the bitterness of the arugula, and enhancing the sweetness of the figs.

Fig

I’ve never really eaten figs before, except in Fig Newtons, because they were never readily available in my hometown. I tried a fig for the first time recently and was so smitten that I got a little overzealous last weekend at Costco and bought a huge container. I don’t know what I was thinking because there’s no way I could eat a big box of figs by myself before they go bad. I’ve been putting figs in everything since.

I told my mom my idea about making a birthday salad with figs, and the next words out of her mouth were, “figs would go well with arugula and Parmesan.” SHE READ MY MIND! Like mother, like daughter!

Good taste in food is just one of the reasons why I love my mom.

While I was growing up my mom worked full-time as an RN (and still does!), but she always put her family first. I remember we always had a healthy home cooked meal no matter what. I don’t know if I realized it as a kid, but what a blessing that my mom never allowed soda, candy, or sugary processed treats into our home! Thanks to my mom, healthy eating comes naturally.

In addition to healthy living, my mom has also inspired me by her love of all things Italian.I love that my mom and I say “ti amo” instead of “I love you” ever since I studied in Italy in 2005. Learning Italian and visiting Italy makes me feel connected to my heritage, and I’m so happy that my mom and I had an opportunity to explore Italy together. I’m looking forward to our next trip!

Thank you mom for your abundant generosity, I am so grateful for all that you do. Ti amo!

 

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup

On Saturday my cousin Katie got married in my parents’ yard. I wasn’t able to get the time off of work to make the trip to the West coast, so I watched via FaceTime. Thank God for technology, which lets us be in places other than our physical location!

Since I couldn’t be there in person, I made Italian Wedding Soup as a special tribute to my beloved cousin Katie and her new husband Louie.

Katie is part of some of my best memories.

Throughout our childhood, she would visit for one week every summer. We spent our time doing silly carefree things like sewing pillows, decorating t-shirts, and inventing plays. Our finest was Bellerella, inspired by Beauty & the Beast and Cinderella.

As we grew up, we bonded over our shared love of all things Italian. In fact, she took her first plane ride ever from San Francisco to Rome, Italy to visit me while I was studying abroad in 2005. (Brave girl for getting on a plane for 12+ hours for her very first time! That’s how much she wanted to get to Italy!).

Katie’s greatest gift is making people laugh. I’ll never forget when we were in a tiny compartment on an Italian train – just me, my brother, Katie, and a random Italian dude – and Katie was singing, Volare, cantare…” at the top of her lungs. The Italian guy didn’t know what to say, but he couldn’t help grinning.

Katie and I both love Tim McGraw and we’ve been to a couple of his concerts over the years. I remember that when Tim performed “She’s my kind of rain,” Katie called a certain gentleman named Louie so that he could listen to that song. Ten years later, Katie and Louie have found each other once again. When love is meant to be, there is no obstacle like time or distance that it can’t overcome.

Congratulations to Katie & Louie! May you be blessed in your marriage, and love each other more and more every day. I’m sure your days will be filled with lots of love, smiles, and laughter! 

Italian Wedding Soup

Recipe for Italian Wedding Soup

 

I’ve seen recipes for Italian Wedding Soup floating around for years, but I have never made nor tasted it before. I knew without a bite that it would be delicious: a soup of meatballs and spinach in broth. What’s not to love?

I found many, many versions of this soup while searching for a recipe online. What they all have in common is broth, meatballs, and greens. Variations may include or omit egg, tiny pasta, or additional vegetables like celery, carrot and onion.

This time I loosely followed Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe, but next time I’ll try Ina Gartens’ recipe to compare.

One thing I’ve learned from watching MasterChef is taste, taste, taste as you cook to adjust seasonings as necessary. Although I don’t cook with it enough, sage is one of my favorite herbs (I guess I like it so much that I accidentally bought two jars of ground sage!). After I tasted the broth it needed some depth, so I added about 1/8 tsp of sage (not that I was measuring, so don’t take my word on that!). It’s one of those herbs that’s really powerful. The amount needs to be just right, otherwise it tastes off if there’s too much. The sage-meatball combination is what makes this soup special for me.

Another alteration I made is chopping the spinach by rolling several leaves together and then slicing them horizontally into approximately 1/4 inch ribbons. In my opinion, there is nothing more unappetizing than soggy, slimy chunks of cooked spinach. I added my spinach at the very end so that it was slightly wilted how I like it. I think I might even add a heartier green next time, such as chard or kale.

I got curious about the origins of Italian Wedding Soup. Is this dish native to Italy, or is “Italian” a ruse? I’m not an expert in Italian food by any means, but after living there I do have a sense of what is native to Italy versus what is Italian-American. Things like chicken in pasta and  fettucine al fredo are nowhere to be found in Italy, but are touted as “Italian” food all over America.

Though I scoured the web, I could find little information about the origins of this soup. The scholar in me resists referencing Wikipedia, but it was the best, if only, source I could find (I was always told Wikipedia is not a valid source in grad school, but I beg to differ). It appears that the name of this soup is a mistranslation from the Italian minestra maritata, literally “married soup.” This name suggestions the idea of matrimony, but it in fact refers to the ingredients of meat and greens being “married” or paired together well.

Whatever the original meaning, I think it’s a nice Italian-American tradition to adopt this soup as a recipe for wedding celebration. Next month another cousin is getting married, so I’ll try another version of this soup in honor of her wedding.

Buon appetito!

<3 Kelly

 

 

 

 

The boys

These are my boys. BrothersI have two cats. They are brothers.

{French} le chat/les chats: J’ai deux chats. Ils sont frères.

{Italian} il gatto/i gatti: Ho due gatti. (Loro) sono fratelli.

{Spanish} el gato/los gatos: Tengo dos gatos. Son hermanos.

The other day in class, my students could not get over the fact that Americans refer to their pets as he or she, while I think it is entirely strange to refer to my pet as it!

Pronouns can be a tricky thing, especially in the Romance languages when nouns themselves have genders (independent of the animal’s gender). Take a look at this example from French.

We can tell a lot about a language just by analyzing the simple sentences above:

  • In French, Italian, and Spanish, the word cat is masculine (le/il/el).
  • In French, like English, it is not possible to drop the subject pronoun (Je/Ils).
  • In Italian and Spanish, the subject pronoun is not necessary because it is implied in the verb conjugation.

Some things that I think are interesting: 

  • It’s easy to remember fratello/fratelli, the Italian word for brother/brothers, because it is similar to the English word fraternity.
  • The ch in the French word chat is pronounced sh. When we say sh and g, they are pronounced very close in the mouth, which implies chat/gato/gatto are more similar than the written word would suggest.
  • Masculine words in Italian and Spanish tend to end in o, while in French the final t in chat is silent.

I love how French, Spanish, and Italian are different enough to be three separate beautiful languages, yet similar enough that if you know one, it’s easy to learn another.

My inner linguist hasn’t had this much fun since grad school!