The Italian way of life

laelene Posted in general blog, lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , ,
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After Panda and I got to spend some time in Rome and the surrounding area, we learned a lot about Italian culture. I don’t seem to remember much of it from my first time in the country, either because I didn’t experience things the same, didn’t notice that time around, or forgot after all these years. I mean, it’s been 8 years! So here are some observations about how Italians seem to live their lives – while I still remember them all.

-They say “prego” a lot. Apparently this is a word that can mean many things in many contexts, so it is both highly useful for those who know it and highly confusing for those who don’t. Half the time I was wondering what the prego was supposed to imply in each given situation. The only one I got a hang of was when service folks used it to see if you needed anything. I’m pretty sure Panda used it a few times at times when it made no sense. 😛

-There are a lot of smokers, everywhere. At least they are on the streets and not inside! I’d forgotten how many more smokers you encounter on the streets of Europe and it’s really rather unpleasant. I’m always holding my breath, ducking clouds of smoke, and hoping I don’t stink of it myself by the end of the day.

roma trastavere train station in rome-Public transportation (and life) seems pretty lax. We got on many a train where our tickets weren’t checked at all. Not sure if the underground metro worked the same since we never ended up using that. The schedule generally works well, but the last night, we had a train that was 85 minutes late! At one point I found myself wondering why I wasn’t upset and why nobody else seemed upset either. That also seems to go with the generally lax approach. For us, it was because we were on vacation and just heading back to the hotel. No need to fret. For locals, perhaps they never even considered it a problem.

-Personal space is either nonexistent or like a one-inch radius from your body. I had multiple instances where people got too close for comfort, but they didn’t seem to notice a thing. At first it was just a couple who sat at the same bar stool area that Panda and I were eating at in McDonald’s (yes, we tried a local one). Out of all of the empty areas in the restaurant, they chose to be two seats away from us at the same table. I would have gotten a table to ourselves. Then there was a guy on the bus who swayed with the turns of the vehicle. Sometimes that meant bumping into me, despite the fact that he had a good two feet in front of him and even more to the sides. It was especially cringe-worthy because he reeked of cigarette smells. He also managed to brush hands with Panda when they were holding the same pole. At our stop, we both got off relieved to have some breathing room. Finally, there were the people who sat directly behind us on a long bench even though the entire rest of it was empty. And it was a loooong bench! I mean, you could easily seat at least 20 people on each side. Why did they have to come back to back with us, leaving just inches between our bodies? I don’t get it. Maybe I’m too Americanized. Funny enough though, this is something I expect in Asia, so I might not even notice it there.

-Street performers and hawkers are abound. Tons of musicians will perform all over the place and random people walk up to you casually selling battery packs for your devices, selfie sticks, flowers, or toys. For these type of people, the best policy for me has been no eye contact. Once you give them attention, they won’t leave you alone!

-In Rome for sure, but maybe more of Italy, they have little water spigots all over the place, which act as water fountains. The water never stops running out of them and you can go grab a few sips or fill up your water bottle at any of them. In fact, I remember my tour guide from my previous visit mentioning that all water fountains in Rome have drinking water – except Trevi Fountain. So hey, you really can’t go thirsty, can you?

And when it comes to food, oh my! What a difference…

italian outdoor seating on roads-First of all, they have some interesting outdoor seating. Oftentimes it’s a few tables and chairs that are actually on the road, off the curb. In more busy areas, they have a little barrier to create a sort of “room” for people to sit in. This would be life-threatening in the states, but in Italy it’s the norm!

-Just about every restaurant has morning and evening hours, with a break in the middle. Between 3-7, your meal options are very limited, so if you like to have dinner at 5 or 6, you better do your research. Dinners start late and go late in this part of the world. Personally, I’d rather eat earlier and get home.

-As you get each course, they tend to take away the food of the previous course. It seems irrelevant if you’ve still got a hunk of food on your plate. At first we were startled by this, but now I make sure to explain that I haven’t finished. I’m partial to eating a little bit of each course and switching between more than one at a time. This is why I love tapas, izakaya, dim sum, etc.

-This is the land of “beware what you ask for.” They tend to charge for all things, including bread, water, and sometimes even olive oil. If you really don’t care for it, don’t ask for it! Just say no (or no thanks).

ristochicco fettucine and roasted potatoes

I wanted fettucine with a tomato-based sauce, but they only offered a cream-based one that night.

-Menus are quite set (little to no flexibility to request modifications to a dish) and very seasonal – to the point that it’s a day to day, hour to hour kind of thing. That means that you can look forward to much fresher options, but it also means that the awesome picture you saw on Yelp may not be applicable to your visit. (Yes, that happened to me. Sad times.) I’ve seen some restaurants with very strict rules on ordering with no straying from exactly how the dishes are offered. The chefs are in control and rather finicky too. I’m not used to such particular ways and it doesn’t bode well for a picky eater like myself.

-Service is always slow. I’m not sure if it’s because of the relaxed pace of life or the fact that these establishments appear perpetually understaffed. Or if they’re “understaffed” by American standards because everyone takes it slow and they don’t need to go any faster. Either way, we’ve had to plan extra time for meals because we know it will take forever to get our order in, get leftovers boxed, and finally receive and pay our bill.

So there you go! Some of the lessons learned from our observations of how Italians do things. Have you experienced this too? What did I miss in my list?

I prefer to air dry

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , , ,
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I’ve used a blow dryer once on my hair. I couldn’t figure out this whole brushing hair and blow drying routine. It just didn’t make sense to me and I ended up blowing a lot of hot air at nothing. Afterwards, my hair felt like straw, it looked like a mess, my ears were burning, and I decided this wasn’t for me. That and I just don’t find it very useful to spend time in the bathroom getting ready. So all my life, I’ve air dried my hair.

Sometimes I comb it a certain way, braid it or tie it up. Sometimes I shake it all around and sort of let it fall. At night, I sleep on it any which way. When I get up for the day and it looks dreadful, I comb some water through or tie my hair back. I like showering in the evenings but my hair tends to fall better if I shower in the morning. I try to drag myself up when I can (not often successfully). Alas, I’d rather air dry my hair than spend time brushing and blowing it out.

For rather different reasons, I’ve also started to air dry my hands after washing them. At work, I go to the restroom many times a day since I tend to go through many mugs of drinks. Each time, a twinge of guilt hit me when I wiped my hands on paper towels. I tried bringing in one of my People Towel hand towels, but I kept forgetting to bring it with me. So eventually, I started to walk back to my desk without wiping my hands. By the time I got there, they were pretty much dry and I’d apply some lotion and be done.

You know, despite my reason for air drying hair to be due to laziness and my reason for air drying my hands to be due to environmental consciousness, they sort of have the same result. I save a bit of time and effort while conserving resources. I’m perfectly fine with that! Now you may notice that I did not mention air drying coming out of the shower, but since I’m reusing towels I feel like it’s far less wasteful. Plus it’d take a much longer time to air dry than just soaking up the water with a towel.

What do you think? Am I odd for being like that or do you air dry as well? If you don’t, would you consider it?

My new compost tumbler

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog,Tags: , ,
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This weekend, I received the compost tumbler that I ordered online! I wanted something compact that I could keep on my porch and put my food scraps in. The tumbling kind is perfect because you can rotate the mix around and distribute it more evenly for better “cooking” in there.

tumbling composter box with cat sniffing corner tumbling composter parts in box tumbling composter parts assembled tumbling composter stand partially assembled tumbling composter in progress brand new assembled tumbling composter inside compartment of tumbling composter

It was pretty easy to figure out once I tried out the components. There were a ton of screws to put in! There are some ventilation holes that can’t be sealed so I can’t pour straight liquid. I hope it decomposes well and doesn’t leak!

DANI Naturals: a hard case to crack

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog,Tags: , , , ,
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For secret santa last year, my pledge bros and I did a long distance exchange. Most of us are distributed around the world now, so it was a fun way to reconnect and send each other gifts. I got a lovely bottle of DANI’s lemongrass lavender reed diffuser. When my most recent reed diffuser ran out, I eagerly opened up the box for this one. Little did I know how challenging opening it would be! Since Panda and I don’t drink, we don’t have one of those wine bottle openers that might have helped with the whole process. Instead, this is what happened…

First we tried using pliers and other tools to grip the stopper and wiggle it out. It was the soft rubbery kind though, so it would just bend out of shape and wouldn’t budge. Eventually it started to break apart so I knew we needed to try other methods.

dani naturals reed diffuser bottle with paperclip trying to move stopper

So then I got a paperclip and started shoving it down the side of stopper. It was so tight I couldn’t get any sort of hook shape going.

dani naturals reed diffuser bottle with paperclip inserted at two points to leverage popping out stopper

I tried putting in the other end to leverage them against each other.

dani naturals reed diffuser bottle with nail trying to release stopper

After bending the paperclip until it was near the breaking point, we decided to get a nail and screw it in the top.

dani naturals reed diffuser bottle with nail to slowly move stopper

After MUCH wiggling, we saw progress! The dirty part is where we’d tried pliers and such. The bit of clean below that is how much slowly came out.

dani naturals reed diffuser bottle with stopper finally pulled out

I had to keep screwing the screw back down since it would start ripping out, but eventually we got that satisfying ‘pop’ of freedom!

tools used attempting to open dani naturals reed diffuser bottle

Can you believe it took all these tools and a good half hour or more to get this silly thing open? They really need to redesign the stopper.

At least now I get to enjoy the lemony smell of my reed diffuser!

Traveling as a tourist

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog
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 You see lots of cool things you like. Luckily I already have the large panda!

You see lots of cool things you like. Luckily I already have the large panda!

You get to relax and enjoy.

You get to relax and enjoy.

You have time to observe your surroundings.

You have time to observe your surroundings.

You love local touches, like this cute moose!

You love local touches, like this cute moose!

You go shopping and seek free stuff!

You go shopping and seek free stuff!

You take lots of photos. And selfies, of course.

You take lots of photos. And selfies, of course.

 You learn some new skills! Check out my towel monkey!!

You learn some new skills! Check out my towel monkey!!

Scenic sights

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Been away for awhile on a cruise to Alaska! Check out some of the sights so far. There’s all sorts of awesomeness, with more pics to come. 🙂

carnival legend leaving seattle port with space needle in background

Cruise ship view of Seattle.

sunshine reflected on deep black ocean water

Glittering black waters.

glacial ice floating in tracy arm fjord with glacier in background

Ice chunks floating in the fjord!! And that’s a glacier back there.

forest area on trails of skagway with spider in foreground

A little bit of land exploration too. Tried to get the spider in the foreground.

Wedding celebration!

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses
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A year ago today, Panda and I got married in a small civil ceremony at the LAX courthouse. Our parents and his brother were there for the quick and simple event. For the past year, we thought about putting together a “real” wedding but it just didn’t appeal to us. Ultimately, we had an open invitation to any relatives who could come and spend the day with us this year. My aunt and cousins, plus his uncle, aunt, and cousin were able to make the trip.

We totaled 13 people and spent the day taking pictures, driving, and eating. The restaurant we chose wasn’t my first choice (Nobu Malibu was) but it turned out to work pretty well. Japanese food might not have been to the taste of much of the party, but more general seafood certainly was. All I wanted was an oceanside view and we were right on the water, which is a lot better than I expected. I figured we’d have a giant table in the middle or back of the restaurant, away from windows, but we were right on the edge!

All in all it was a great time and just the simple sort of thing we wanted. 🙂splashing wave sandy feet

The DSLR plunge

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, photo blog,Tags: , , , ,
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I finally made one of my long-time wishes a reality with the purchase of a Canon T6i bundle! I’m really excited about this and very pleased with the quality of images I’m seeing already. Funny enough, my dad had his eye on the very same one so we ended up both getting the bundle at Costco. For the longest time, I told myself I’d get a DSLR once I tried my hand at some manual settings on my regular camera. I did play around with the options, but not as much as I wanted. So I let many years go by before I decided to go ahead with it because I keep dreaming of the awesome photos I can take and I want to have something nice to vlog with.

At first I was going to look for a used or refurbished T3i, which seems to be what all those YouTubers use. But when I found that the price wasn’t nearly as cheap as I’d hoped, I figured I’d be better off getting a nicer one in a bundle. The idea of an extra lens and battery, along with some other accessories, really appealed to me. Turns out I like brand new things that are well put together for me. I’ll pay for the niceties and all just so I can experience that awesome fresh out of the box feeling. My dad’s the same way.

We both eagerly tore into our respective boxes and played around with setting up and using our cameras. I didn’t even get a chance to use it in daylight yet, but I’m very impressed with what came from the dim night lighting that looks soooo much better on this camera. I certainly wasn’t used to such good shots coming from low lighting like that. Call me a happy camper!

My first subject was Molly and I got an awesome string of shots of her walking!

My first subject was Molly and I got an awesome string of shots of her walking!

The items on the kitchen counter looked great in the photo, far better than with the naked eye.

The items on the kitchen counter looked great in the photo, far better than with the naked eye.

I’m very pleased with this camera and I can’t wait to try some outdoor nature shots.

One LONG day

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , , , , ,
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5:30 AM: Woke up and got ready for the day.

6 AM: Checked out and drove to MCI/KCI (Kansas City Airport), with a minor bit of disorientation along the way.

6:42 AM: Returned rental car and caught shuttle to terminal.

7 AM: Settled in at gate for 8:05 flight.

7:30 AM: Mechanical issues prevent us from boarding.

7:50 AM: The flight gets delayed by 4 hours and I get my food voucher.

8 AM: I get a drink and turkey jerky, then return to the gate to find everyone standing in a gaggle. The flight was cancelled. -___-

9 AM: I notice text messages letting me know I was rebooked for a 2 PM flight to Houston and then a 5 PM to Dulles. After sitting around then waiting in line, I am put on standby for an 11 AM to Houston.

10 AM: My coworkers arrive for their 10:30 flight and I chat with them before they board. Nobody on standby gets on the flight (one poor woman was supposed to catch another airline to go to Italy, with this being her only other chance).

11 AM: The Houston flight is also completely booked and boarded. I get back in line for assistance. This time I’m put on standby for a 1 PM.

1 PM: I get called up for my ticket, but I hesitate because I’d gotten a first class upgrade on the 2 PM flight. The gate attendant recommends I just get on this flight in case something happens with the next one (you never know).

3 PM: We land in Houston after a mediocre flight in which the attendant completely skipped me for drinks after chatting up the lady next to me (who didn’t want anything). Ugh. Wasn’t even worth it since I didn’t really want to drink anything.

3:30 PM: I request standby for a flight into DCA that arrives an hour earlier than my 5 PM flight to IAD. Just want to get going! Gate attendant was rather rude about it, but did it for me.

4 PM: After a stressful 20 minutes waiting for my to-go order, I bring it and board the plane. Discover my seat is waaay in the back and not economy plus despite there being plenty of space. I run back up to the gate to ask for a better seat. Even though the only seat taken in row 7 was 7A, he puts me 7B, a middle seat. I sit in the aisle and then move over to the other window seat just as the captain gets on to tell us that we’re delayed until about 6:30 due to weather in DC. We de-board.

4:30 PM: I go over to the gate for the flight to IAD that I was originally on. I’m sent to the customer service desk, where thankfully there’s a premier access line with just two people. I get a seat back on that one, which is also delayed to 6:30 due to storms. I wish I’d taken the 2 PM flight and kept my first class upgrade. Alas, there easily could have been further delays or cancellations so I won’t dwell on it.

4:40 PM: Panda’s on his way home (it’s 5:40 Eastern) and I update him on what happened all day.

5 PM: I finally get to eat the tacos I got. First meal of the day.

6 PM: Board the plane and hope for a last-minute upgrade to first class. I keep checking and *boom* it happens! I happily go up to seat 1B.

6:30 PM: We head off and I realize how desperately I need a window seat next time. Neither side had their windows open and I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I’m not claustrophobic, but I do get some motion sickness when I can’t see the steadiness of the landscape outside. I also had a massive headache from artificial lights. I kept reminding myself that it was ok, we were staying level, and it’d only be three hours. A few times I thought it was a cross-country trip of 5 hours. I just tried to focus on playing games to stay distracted and eating the food that came along. Still, when I pulled up the flight map and saw we were over New Orleans, I really wanted to see what was outside!!

7:30 PM: I try to eat all the dinner, but my teeth are sensitive and I’m still full from my earlier meal.

8 PM: It’s cookie time! There’s something magical about a cookie that is heated up so it’s nice and gooey. Yum. The window in the row behind me has their window open and I can see some gorgeous colors of the sunset, with the outlines of some really cool clouds. I wish I’d been able to watch the light changing that whole time.

9 PM: We start our descent and the guy next to me finally opens the window! I notice a flash – what? I keep looking outside and it’s lightning! How jealous I am of what I missed.

9:30 PM (10:30 local): We land and I make my way out of the airport in record time.

11 PM local: We get home, finally. It’s 11 hours after I should have arrived and if I had driven straight from the hotel, I would have gotten home around the same time. What a day.

40 minutes

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses,Tags: , ,
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Panda and I (try to) have a tradition. Every night before bed, as we’re winding down for the night, we have our “40 minutes.” It’s time for us to talk about our day and share our thoughts before sleeping. It started when he had first moved out east and we’d sit on Skype, both doing our own thing, occasionally talking. I think it started off as 20 minutes and it’s fluctuated back and forth a few times. The point is to have time to each other; we don’t need to accomplish anything from it and we don’t have anything specific we need to say. It’s sort of like when you sit down to write and sometimes you just write your stream of consciousness.

By talking, we end up covering important issues some nights. Sometimes it’s an experience we want to share, sometimes it’s our life philosophies. I think it’s a nice way to put time aside for each other and be able to exchange ideas. However, it almost never goes so smoothly. Just in trying to enforce our “tradition” we often end up debating when we should have started and whether sleep is more important. Panda’s always trying to sleep early, but unless he announces 40 minutes, any talking is just normal conversation and not our special time. I’m weird like that.

And so the night continues, we us spending as much time talking about whether we should do 40 minutes as we actually do “doing” 40 minutes. It’s silly, but it’s a part of how we close out the night. It’s hard to close out distractions and I’m starting to think maybe we should have topics or questions to discuss so there’s a little less ambiguity around it. But I like to go with the flow and see where our thoughts take us. It just feels better to me.

Do you have any strange traditions in your family?

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