The Color Lavender (aka the First-World Problems of Planning a Wedding)

“What’s your color?” people would ask me.

“I don’t have one,” I would say.

Apparently, most people choose a color scheme for their wedding. Guests would see this color in the dresses of the bridal party, in the flowers that make up the bouquets, in the centerpieces gracing the tables, and on the invitations. But me? I chose my venue because I walked in and thought, “I don’t have to decorate this place at all and it will still look good.” In other words, who needs centerpieces? I’m also the woman who, the day after I got engaged, bought myself some roses at the supermarket. They lasted so long, I decided I’d buy my wedding flowers there. The morning of the wedding. And my bridal party? I didn’t need them all to match. Because there was only one person in my bridal party: my maid of honor. I told her she could wear whatever she wanted.

“So you don’t have a color?” she asked.

“Nope.” She just smiled. This is what friends are like. They accept you and all of your oddities. (I have learned in these last four months of wedding planning that not having a “color” was seen as more than just a bit odd).

Then my sister Liz called and let me know my nieces (ages 6 ad 9) were wondering if they were going to be in the wedding.

“Sure. What do they want to do?”

“Flower girls, probably,” said my sister.

“Okay. Then they’ll be flower girls.”

Liz texted me a couple weeks later to let me know that the elder of her two daughters, Ava, announced that she will not be a flower girl. She will be a junior bridesmaid. “Um, okay,” I said. “Is there a difference?” I had to look it up. It seems age is the only qualification for such things: nine to fourteen year olds qualify for this role.

“She wants to wear a different dress than (her sister)Bella,” Liz told me.

“Sure. They can wear whatever they want.”

“You don’t have a color?”


“Well, what color are your flowers going to be?”

“Probably some pastels. Yellow, pink. Whatever they have at the supermarket that week.”

Because we were on the phone, I couldn’t see Liz’s eyes roll, but I knew it was happening. She didn’t say anything for a minute. She finds me baffling sometimes (often?). And I’m guessing she was trying to figure out how to continue this conversation with me.

I filled in the gap with, “Your girls always look cute. I’m sure they have some adorable dresses in their closets right now that would be perfect.”

I started to realize that me trying to make everyone’s lives easier by not dictating a color could, perhaps, be making their lives harder: too many options. Lucky for me, a few weeks later, my mother came down and we went to Michael’s to get ideas for flowers. And I loved a little gathering of lavender. “I can just carry this,” I told her. She put it in the midst of some blush colored roses and I said, “That looks nice, too.” So lavender it is.

But do you have any idea how many shades there are of lavender? I didn’t either, until I informed Liz of my selection. She went online to order swatches and texted me, “I am ordering swatches in lavender, lilac, wisteria, and Tahiti. The Dusk color is too grayish/brown, right?” I don’t remember what I responded. I might have rolled my eyes.

Thankfully, my maid of honor (Dawn) had requested contact info for my sister, Liz. I was overjoyed. Someone else to deal with the minutia of dresses and colors? Go ahead!

To Liz’s credit, she was concerned about the pictures. Something about Dawn and her girls matching. “Honestly, Liz, if they’re in three different shades of purple, I really don’t care.”

“Just don’t want the dresses to clash. That would not look good,” Liz texted.

“But it would be memorable:)” I responded.

“I don’t like the girls to look sloppy,” she wrote.

I didn’t get how clashing colors equaled sloppy. I gave up.

A few weeks before this, my three sisters, who are not in the wedding, were texting with me about my choice of color. Jessica asked, “Should Meg, Liz, Bethany (my sister-in-law), and I all plan to wear a shade of purple? Or do you want us in pastels?” I know most brides dictate the color for their bridal party. But a bride has to tell her siblings what to wear, too??? I have a hard enough time picking a color for a maid of honor, a junior bridesmaid, and a flower girl. Besides the fact that I am the least fashionable of all my sisters (in-law included), so why they’d want me dictating anything about their clothing was beyond my comprehension.

“You could wear red with orange polkadots and I would be fine with that!” I wrote. Jessica responded with an emoticon of a face with a puzzled look on it. Obviously, she didn’t understand my humor.

Thankfully, Meg understood. “We are not in the wedding party so why would we have to coordinate?” she wrote.

“We don’t have to coordinate,” Jess wrote. “I just thought maybe we would want to for family pictures.”

At this point, I was going to have to walk away. I tried humor. I tried patience.  So I went rogue and sent a text just to Meg, explaining that we take family pictures at every holiday, and we don’t coordinate our outfits for those! Meg then went behind my back and wrote in the group text, “Becky just informed me we take family pics all the time and don’t match.” Meg included an emoticon of a person laughing so hard they are crying their eyes out. At least someone understood.

So, to sum it all up, here’s the latest on my wedding planning minutia:

  1. I will have lavender in my bouquet.
  2. My maid of honor will wear lavender, or a color that goes nicely with lavender.
  3. My nieces will not clash with my maid of honor.
  4. My sisters will wear whatever they want.

I have said for a few years now that I just want a surprise wedding. Just like a surprise party. I show up. Guests shout, “Surprise!” I’m handed a bouquet, a wedding dress, and we get married. Then all the guests, whom I didn’t have to worry about inviting, eat food that I didn’t have to decide on. And there’s a color scheme. That I did not pick out. And if you asked me at the end of the night what that color was, I’d say, “A color? I didn’t know there was a color.”

On Planning a Wedding

I’ve always wanted to get married. I’ve never wanted to plan a wedding.

“If it were up to me,” Michael tells people, “we’d elope on a beach.”

“If it were up to me,” I say, “we’d have a party in the backyard. And it’d be potluck.”

But there’s a third party involved here: Dad. AKA The Man Footing The Bill.

Let me summarize: we’ve got a hermit, a frugal conversationalist, and a guy who’s been saving for years in order to throw his daughter a big party.

Michael has wondered when he will win out over my father. Well, not this time.

And so it is that our wedding will be held at a traditional venue. And our invite list includes 190 people. And we’re not only fine with that, we’re happy about it. Because ultimately, who cares? We just want to get married. Who complains about a dad who wants everyone to have a great time?

Thankfully, the planning hasn’t been difficult at all. We booked the second venue we looked at. The first officiant we talked to. The second photographer. The first DJ.

This doesn’t mean no research has gone into this. But lucky for me, Michael loves that part. Or just realizes if he doesn’t do it, it will never get done. I have zero desire to sort through sixty venues. Michael narrowed it down, showed me his favorites, I picked two, made the appointments, and voila.

But there are some things that take a Motherly Intervention. I hate shopping. Of all kinds. Clothes. Cars. Groceries. That whole minimalist thing? Probably stems from the fact that I’d rather live without than have to shop for something.  Mom came down in October to take me dress shopping. I booked one appointment. In 90 minutes, this place got me in and out of 35 dresses. We narrowed it down to three. A week later, I went back in and bought my dress. (Though not one of those top three, but that’s another story.)

Mom tried to get me to pick out shoes on her most recent visit, but, at the first store, we were told the summer shoes wouldn’t be out for two more weeks. I didn’t want do go to a second store, so I said, “Meg (my youngest sister) is coming down in a few weeks. Can we stop shopping if I promise I’ll buy shoes when she comes to visit?” Mom gave in.

My plan is this: The first day Meg is here, I’ll be working. So I’ll give her my car and the addresses of three shoe places so she can go do reconnaissance. So by the time I’m done with school, we can get this shoe thing finished up in no time.

Yesterday we booked our final vendor. And today I looked at the DJ’s questionnaire. “Write Yes, No, or IDK if you don’t know.” I had a lot of IDK’s.

  • Will you have a grand entrance? IDK
  • Music to enter by: IDK
  • Would you like to go into the first dance immediately after your entrance? IDK

These are the details I really don’t care about. Thankfully, there are wedding planners. One of the top “Careers I Never Want To Have.” My plan is just to say to her, “Tell me what people do.” Then, I say, “yes” or “no.”

There’s one thing I was sure of, however: I want to enjoy the time with my friends and family. So why on earth would I want to spend my cocktail hour away from them taking pictures? Let’s get those pictures done before the ceremony.

“So you’re going to do a First Look,” my sister Meg said.

“A what?”

“That’s what they call it. He has his back to you, you walk in, and as he turns around the photographer gets his expression.”

“Seriously? You’re kidding me. They have a name for this?!”

Meg laughs.

I relate this story to a few of my students, one of whom informs me where the “groom doesn’t see the bride before the wedding” thing comes from. “Arranged marriages. They didn’t want the groom to see her, because if he didn’t like what he saw, he might run.” Well, Michael has seen plenty of me. At my best and worst. If he was going to leave, he should have done it by now. So that tradition? Definitely not needed.



On Giving Thanks

Somewhere I heard about the book, “Thank and Grow Rich” by Pam Grout. I know all about the gratitude journal craze that’s out there now. I figured it was probably more of the same, but I liked the play on words so decided to get the book from the library.

I immediately liked the author’s style and at one point said to myself, “Her name sounds so familiar. . . ” So I looked at what other books she had written and there it was: The 20 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life. I bought that book in 2008. The first place listed? The John C. Campbell Folk School. I’d never heard of it. I googled it. Was fascinated. Sent away for their catalog, and signed up for my first-ever writing class. Yep. If it wasn’t for Pam Grout, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Pam has zero interest in 30-day plans. She says it’s quite simple really. To see amazing things happen in your life, just do two things: When your eyes first open each morning, say to yourself, “Something amazingly awesome is going to happen today.” Then, publicly communicate three things you’re grateful for. Text them to a friend. Write them on Facebook. Email them. Whatever. Oh–and they have to be different things every single day.

So I decided not to overload Facebook. Or my blog readers. Instead, I’d overload my dear friend and maid-of-honor-to-be, Dawn. I called and asked if I could text her each morning. “You don’t have to write back, or even acknowledge them,” I told her. “I think it would also be a fun way for you to know what’s going on in my life down here,” I said. (Dawn lives in NY, I live in NC.) In no time, Dawn wanted in on the fun. So every morning we text each other at least three things we’re thankful for.

“Interesting you didn’t choose to text me,” Michael said. I explained that I wanted to connect with Dawn a little. “But if you want to, I can send them to you.”

“So tell me again, how does this work? Three things I’m thankful for? And they have to be different?  No repeats?”

“You got it.”

“How can you do it without repeats?” he asked. “Don’t you run out of things?”

“Not at all! Here. I’ll read to you what I’ve sent Dawn the last few days.”

  1. I’m grateful for pasta cacio e pepe. I’m grateful for Read/Write (reads my students papers back to them). I’m grateful for Standards Based Grading. I’m grateful for Khan Academy’s online SAT program.
  2. I’m grateful for the 5 Walnut Wine Bar, the John Henry’s (the band there last night). I’m grateful for arriving at school in the daylight. I’m grateful for the down jacket that Michael bought me a couple years ago. (“Oh, nice,” said Michael) I’m grateful for my super warm mittens that Carly made.
  3. I’m grateful for the two snow days we had a couple weeks ago that gave me lots of time to work on my reports. I’m grateful for my co-teacher in Social Studies who always says things that make me feel like I’m a great teacher! I’m grateful for the ice pack my parents left here once that I use every day in my lunchbox. I’m grateful for Dad leaving cash hidden somewhere ever time he comes to visit.

“Okay, okay. I get it,” Michael said.

So this week I haven’t felt very stressed at all. And have felt genuinely happy and in a good mood. Not that I don’t usually, but this is more than my usual.

And then came yesterday.

Starbucks added $6 to my gift card after I wrote in to them to say I was having some trouble on their web site. When I went to use the card yesterday, there was a station behind the counter set up for what looked like making cake pops. And there were a few ruined ones sitting there. “I guess that means you get to eat them!” I said to the guy behind the counter. “Here,” he said, “Do you want a not-so-perfect cake pop?”  I gladly held out my hand.

Then, last night, on my way to meet a tutoring student, I stopped in to Whit’s Custard. Michael and I swore off Whit’s Custard for January. But yesterday was February 1st. So I eagerly waited behind a couple while they ordered their custard. Then the cashier said to them, “Anything else?” and the guy said, “Whatever she wants,” and pointed to me!

“Really?!’ I asked.

“Sure. Why not. Life is short,” he replied. I usually order a baby scoop, but I quickly decided tonight was a one scoop kind of night. I made some small talk with them, thanked them, and was on my way.

Now, would I have gotten all these free sugary treats had I not been starting every morning saying, “Today is going to be an amazingly awesome day”? Maybe. But I’m not taking any chances.

The January Eat-From-Your-Pantry challenge

A blog I was reading issued a challenge for January: try to eat things you already have in your house. AKA: the pantry challenge. We all have plenty of things in our pantries and freezers we haven’t seen, let alone used, in quite some time. So the challenge says to get that stuff out and use it! I’m pretty frugally minded, so I loved this idea as it meant I’d spend less on groceries and eating out.

So I did a preliminary assessment and found a few things:

  1. 12 pounds of dried black beans. Yes. TWELVE pounds. Because Michael was eating a simple meal of black beans, rice, and chicken every day for lunch — but he was buying it from Chipotle. So he decided we could easily make that dish ourselves. And so it was that instead of getting a couple one-pound bags of black beans to try out the idea, he went all in and bought 12 pounds. At the time of my assessment, the bag was unopened.
  2. Miso soup mix. I wasn’t sure if it was still good. But it was worth a try.
  3. Mushroom Risotto mix. I’m not one for mixes. This was another Michael purchase. I gifted him a survival course for his 49th birthday, and he bought a few of these “just add water” meals at REI for the occasion. This is the last one. He said he had no plans to eat it, so I added it to my list of possibilities.
  4. I had some linguine, a half-eaten bag of noodles, and some brown rice pasta. My goal is to switch to all brown rice pastas, mainly so I don’t have to hear Michael complain about how much pasta I eat. So I have to get rid of the linguine and the noodles.
  5. Luckily, I had also just bought a hunk of fresh parmesan. (If you’re still eating the Kraft kind in the green cylinder, you don’t know what you’re missing.) This meant I had all the ingredients for one of my favorite pasta dishes: cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper).
  6. Our freezer provided some more goodies. Two bags of turkey soup I made after Thanksgiving. A couple bags of turkey meat, which didn’t get closed properly so are probably not good, but I’ll try them. Frozen corn. Green beans. Tilapia (a large bag from Sam’s club — another Michael purchase that I think moved to our new house with us two months ago). And some frozen things our Christmas house sitter left in our freezer. I’ll pay her back next time she’s in town.

I started with the black beans. A woman once showed me how to make the real ones (the ones you make with dried beans, not canned), but I didn’t have the ingredients, and honestly I hadn’t made them once since I diligently copied down everything she told me. But Michael and I got an InstantPot for Christmas, so I googled a few recipes and then did a combo of what I found. I sautéed some onions and garlic (in case you don’t know, this is how to get any house to smell like you’re cooking something good), then added a pound of beans (after I sorted out the damaged ones), six cups of water, and a bunch of spices I had. Dried cilantro, coriander, cumin, fresh ground pepper, and a couple other things. I set the pot to cook on high for 20 minutes, then let the steam release for 10, then opened up the pot to find the soupy beans I’d imagined. I cooked off some of the water, and we tried them. Oh how good they were! I’ve made two more pounds since then, but then got a little bored, so didn’t make a batch this week.

I’d had the real cacio e pepe in Italy, but I’d never managed to make mine quite like theirs. I knew you were supposed to add pasta water to the sauce, but I always just cooked some pasta then tossed the drained stuff with some cheese and freshly ground pepper.  Good, but not quite it. So this time, I decided to follow a recipe. While the pasta was cooking, I melted a little butter and toasted the pepper, then added some pasta water and simmered it. Then, a couple minutes before the pasta was done, I added it to the pan along with some freshly grated parmesan. As instructed, I tossed it all with tongs until the cheese melted and some of the water burned off. MUCH better than previous attempts. I’ve had it a few times since.

And then it was the day before the neighborhood book club. This would be my first time at this event, and we were instructed to bring a salad or appetizer. So I opened the pantry and found a couple cans of cannellini beans and a small bottle of sun-dried tomatoes in oil. I googled, “recipes with cannellini beans and sun-dried tomatoes” and voila. I found a simple one that only required I add a little oil, red wine vinegar, onion, and a few spices. This was the “find” I was most proud of:)

In case you can’t tell, I actually LIKE to cook. And I had three snow days in January, so have had plenty of time. The challenge notes that you’ll probably need to buy produce, so I’ve added some onions, potatoes, carrots, bananas, and pineapple to my supplies. And bought some hummus as that’s my mid-morning snack at school. (We didn’t have any tahini, otherwise I’d make my own.)

I still have plenty of black beans. And haven’t had the risotto or miso soup yet. The turkey and tilapia haven’t been touched. So I think I’m going to continue the challenge into February!

Entertaining Dad

When my father visits any of my four siblings, there is always something for him to do. Usually some project around the house for which his help or advice is needed. Or a grandchild that wants to play. Or a magazine he can read. Or a television that he can watch.

But when he visits me? First of all, up until three months ago, I was his only non-home-owning child. So I didn’t have a running list of projects that Dad could help with. I don’t have grandchildren for Dad to play with. That was never part of my plan. And the only two magazines I subscribe to are Mindful and Cooking Light — neither of which appeal to my father, a man whose typical breakfast is donuts and whose typical lunch is hot dogs. And yes, we have a television, but I don’t think Dad can operate it without assistance.

So I feel like I must keep Dad entertained when he comes to visit. I need to find a scenic drive to some adorable small town. And we have to go out to eat. Because most things I cook would not qualify as meals by my father’s definition: my home-cooked meals rarely include meat and usually include some vegetable that he’s suspicious of. Or worse — one he’s never seen before. Which reminds me of the time Mom and I cooked parsnips and when Dad eyed them with a sneer and asked, “What the hell are these?” we told him, “Oh — they’re just white carrots.” He ate them. The next night, we had dinner at a friend’s house and he questioned a vegetable in one of their soups. “Those are parsnips, Lou. Haven’t you ever had them?” they asked. “Nope,” he said. Mom and I couldn’t hold in our laughter. “Actually, Dad, you had them last night.”

So parental visits to my adopted hometown of Asheville, NC have caused me some stress. Weeks before my parents’ arrival I would start polling co-workers for ideas of what to do with them. On my whiteboard, below the lists of clients and projects, I had a list titled “Parents.” In more recent years I’ve moved that list to my phone.

But three months ago, I did something that will make parental visits much less stressful. Or, now that I think about it, maybe just stressful in a different way: Michael and I bought a house. Not a new house–that wouldn’t solve my problem at all as there’d be no projects for Dad. Ours was built in 1986. As was evidenced by the popcorn ceilings and the bar sink on one living room wall. Above which are three shelves tucked into an alcove lined with mirrors. Yeah. I know. You’re jealous.

Purchasing a new home was not part of my 2017 plan. Neither was getting engaged. But Michael decided to propose on August 6. And within four days our wedding venue was booked and he was on the phone with a realtor. “So what made you decide to start looking at houses?” she asked Michael. “We just got engaged four days ago and I read in the manual that buying a house is the next thing we’re supposed to do.” Thank God for Michael’s sense of humor. Because mine was dwindling as we drove from one outdated home to the next.

But six weeks after we started our search, we closed on our first home. My parents had a previously planned trip to visit us the last weekend in October, which had now become the weekend we were going to move. But Michael told me to postpone their visit. “I want the house to be ready when they get here,” he explained. In the month between our closing date and Mom and Dad’s proposed visit, we were scheduled to:

  1. Put hardwood floors in the living room, dining room, and kitchen.
  2. Put new carpeting in all the bedrooms.
  3. Get the crawl space lined, a dehumidifier put in, and some floor joists bolstered.
  4. Paint most of the house.
  5. Move in.

“I don’t think you understand,” I told him. “My parents want to help. They love this stuff.” I paused. “Well, I’m not sure they love it. But they do it a lot.” I called Mom to confirm. She laughed. “Yes, I like helping my kids nest.” And Dad? He loves projects.

I know relationships require compromise. So despite my strong desire for my parents’ help, I told them we’d need to reschedule their visit. “We’ll keep it in the calendar in case Michael changes his mind,” my dad said. Thankfully, Michael did.

I didn’t see much of my dad on that visit. He and Michael were always off working on or getting supplies for some project. I can’t even list them as I don’t recall a single one. All I know is that Mom and I got plenty of bonding time while packing and cooking. Dad still wanted to go out to eat, but Mom and I knew we’d be exhausted at the end of the day, so we took breaks from packing to cook together.

Cooking is relaxing to me. For many years I was the only child who lived away from home, so when I returned for holidays I had plenty of time to help Mom cook for our holiday gatherings. Now I only go home for Christmas. “I SO miss you helping me,” my mother tells me. I try to hold back my tears. I miss it, too.

Mom and I were right. After the first day, Dad still wanted to go out to eat. We were exhausted. In their impatience, the men ordered pizza, which arrived just about the time the chicken and potatoes finished cooking. We let it cool and packed it away for lunch the next day.

Mom and Dad helped us pack, move, and then unpack. “I don’t know how you would have done this without us,” my mother said. I had no plans to do it without them. I did as Michael had asked and attempted to postpone their visit, but deep down I knew they were coming.

We didn’t go out to eat the entire time they were here. Unless you count Michael taking Dad to Chipotle for lunch every day. Mom made roast beef. Then stew. Our new neighbors brought over lasagna. “We can go out to eat next time we visit,” Dad said. Yep. And to my list of things to do when my parents visit, I will now be able to add a whole bunch of projects for Dad. Because I hear there are always a few on any homeowners to-do list.


Best Moments of 2017

It’s that time of year again. Here goes, off the top of my head, and therefore in no particular order.

  1. The moment Michael proposed. Of course.  
  2. The moment I tried on my first wedding dress. I detest shopping. So my mother came down and we booked an appointment. In an hour I had tried on thirty dresses. The women at Candler Budget Bridal made it not painful at all! And, in fact, I got teary when I saw myself in the first one. Mom and I narrowed it to three. Two weeks later, I bought one — from the same place, but not one of those three!
  3. The moment I decided to end my fourth Camino. I didn’t know it was a good moment at the time. But aren’t some of your best moments only deemed such in hindsight? I had planned on walking another week. But 90 degree temps are not my ideal walking conditions. 
  4. The moment I saw San Antón in the distance. I had seen it twice before, but I don’t think it’ll ever get old. 
  5. The moment I saw my co-hospitalero (volunteer) at San Antón sitting at the picnic table writing in his journal. I’d met Stefano just two hours earlier, and we were to work together over the next eighteen days. I had never imagined I would be paired with someone with whom I wouldn’t get along. But I never imagined I’d be paired with someone who complemented me so well.
  6. Speaking of compliments, every moment Stefano paid me one. On my cooking. On my teaching. On my patience with pilgrims. And a million other things. Living without water and electricity is a hell of a lot easier when you have someone flooding you with compliments multiple times each day!
  7. The moment my school year was over. Not because it was over, but because it was my first year teaching full-time, and darn it, I did a pretty damn good job. Allow me to drop all modesty for a moment. The summer before I’d walked into a classroom stuffed to the gills with twenty years worth of stuff teachers thought worthwhile to save, yet no one deemed worth throwing out. That was the first of many challenges to overcome. I called in help when I needed it (in the form of other teachers, administrators, and my mother), cried plenty, watched a great many things go better than I thought they would, and long before the year was over, I was thinking, “Wow. I really like this.” (For those of you keeping track, when I finish my second year in May, this will become the longest full-time job I’ve ever held!)
  8. The moment I was in France and a paycheck got deposited in my account. This was the first summer  1) I didn’t have to quit a job in order to travel 2) I got paid while I was traveling and 3) I didn’t have to look for a job when I got back.
  9. The moment I realized Angela Watson’s calendar program and productivity course were answer to my prayers. Thanks to her, four months after I began my first year teaching, I was leaving my job every day on time, and didn’t have to show up early to get things done. Which, if you talk to most teachers, is unheard of in one’s first year. (And sadly, for some teachers, in their second, third, and tenth years as well!)
  10. The moment I walked into our house after the closing. I had only seen it twice before then, and both times it had someone else’s “stuff” in it. Now I walked into a empty canvas and thought, “Wow. This is a pretty darn good place to start!”
  11. The moment we booked our wedding venue. Five days after we got engaged, no less. I don’t much care for all this hullabaloo around weddings and wanted the stress of booking a place off my plate. Thankfully, the second place we saw was the one for us. 
  12. The moment I told Mom and Dad Michael proposed. They were as shocked as I was — because Michael did not ask my father first. Which reminds me of a Scandinavian woman I walked with on my first Camino who, when I mentioned this custom, said, “Wait. You really do that? I thought that was only in American movies.”
  13. In my classroom, the moment I re-used something I’d laminated last year. I thought, “Last year, I had to find this activity, print it, laminate it, cut it, code it, and figure out where to store it. This year, I just get to pull it out and use it!”
  14. The moment I told my students I was engaged. I give my students a quiz the first day of school. I love seeing their faces fall when I announce it. I wait a moment, then tell them it’s a quiz about me. One of this year’s questions was, “Why is the date June 16, 2018 important to Miss Gallo?” (Answer: c) It’s the day she’s getting married.)
  15. The moments spent meeting Michael’s cousins for the first time. What delightful people! And I get to see them all again in June:) (For the record, Michael’s immediate family are wonderful as well, but this wasn’t my first time meeting them, so I knew that already!)
  16. The moments spent laughing with Michael. 
  17. The moments spend laughing with friends. Especially at knitting nights. Which are really just an excuse for women to get together and talk (ideally with some snacks and wine in hand).
  18. The moments spent laughing with my students. One that stands out: Student says, “Can I ask a question? Two questions, actually.” Me: “Nope. Not two. You only get to ask one today.” Silence descends. Students stare at me, mouths agape, not knowing what to make of this. I wait a few more seconds, then I laugh. The tension is lifted and they all join in.
  19. The moments spent listening to Michael tell me of his ring-buying process. It was so funny to me, I wrote an entire blog post about it. Click here:)
  20. The Monday I came home to work to see all the furniture set up in my new house, all our dishes put away in the kitchen, and neighbors there to welcome us with dinner. And not just dinner, but plates, napkins, utensils, drinks, and dessert! All I can say is: I’m one lucky girl. How many other people have parents who WANT to come help you move? And a fiancé who coordinates it all while you’re at work?
  21. The moment Michael and I walked into our new home after being away for Christmas. “It’s great to be home,” has taken on a whole new meaning.
  22. Every moment, when I was in Europe, that someone commented on a blog post or picture. Yes, I love traveling. But on your own, away from anyone you know, it can certainly get lonely. And my spirits perked right up every time I read words from people I’d known for years, or just days. 

As is the case every year when I write this post, I could go on and on and on. And on. But I’ve got students to teach tomorrow. And you’ve already read 1000 words of mine. So I’ll stop there.

Here’s to hoping all of you have many moments in 2018. Moments of joy, moments of surprise, moments of hope, moments of peace. Thank you for taking time from your days to read about mine.

Update: The Road to Italian Citizenship

In early 2017, after a two-year wait, I had my appointment with the Italian Consulate. I was told that I didn’t have enough proof that my great-grandfather never became a citizen of the United States. I had the letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services indicating they had no records of his naturalization, and I had a Certificate of Non-Existence of Record from the National Archives. However, I was told, “Just because they can’t find a record for him doesn’t mean he didn’t file for naturalization. There were multiple ways one could apply for citizenship in those days — locally or federally. You need to check locally also.”

The consulate also said that the best evidence would be a 1915 NY State Census record for Luigi. In those days, the census recorded if you were naturalized or an alien. If I could find that record and show that it lists him as an alien I’d be all set. The problem is I can’t find him on the 1915 NY State Census. I found his wife, living as a boarder with another family, but not him.

So I did some searching. Turns out Luigi Gallo arrived at Ellis Island twice. First in 1909, which I knew, and then again in 1913, which I didn’t. Up until this point, I thought the man headed from Ellis Island to Poughkeepsie and never looked back. Turns out I was wrong.

Luigi, at some point between Feb 28, 1909 and March 17, 1913 left the US and went back to Italy. When he returned, he told the immigration officers not that he was headed back to Poughkeepsie, but that he was going to a cousin’s place in New Castle, PA. This is the first I’d ever heard mention of one of my ancestors in this line leaving Dutchess County, NY.

So I looked into New Castle, PA. Turns out that in the 1890’s an Italian immigrant started a fireworks company there. Then a few of his employees took off and started fireworks companies of their own. Why is this significant? Because my great-grandfather worked with dynamite in Poughkeepsie. In fact, one day in 1913, he went to check on a piece of dynamite that didn’t explode. Unfortunately, someone tried it again while he was approaching, and he was hurt. He eventually succumbed to his injuries a few days later.

So why was my great-grandfather going out to New Castle, PA? Was he getting more training? Did he want to start his own company in New York? That will take some more digging. But the important piece here is that perhaps I can’t find him on the 1915 NY State Census because he was working in Pennsylvania at that time.

So I needed to get other proof. I consulted some genealogists.

“Technically, the consulate should have approved your application,” I was told. “What he said about people getting naturalized locally? Doesn’t matter. Because the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 required that all naturalizations be on record with the federal government. So the fact that you had a document from the federal government saying they couldn’t find him should have been enough.”

So here’s my lesson to you dual citizenship seekers: Learn some of the laws that might affect your application. Had I known about the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906, I can assure you I would have asked the consulate about it.

“And another thing,” the genealogist said. “Before 1922, if he was naturalized and then got married, his wife would automatically become naturalized. If you had a census record showing his wife was listed as an alien, that, too, proves he wasn’t naturalized.”

So the genealogist gave me a list of things I should obtain to bolster my case. The only problem was that we were one week away from the end of the school year. And three days after that, I was leaving for a seven week trip to Europe. I had a wild idea that I’d get it all done before I left. But I didn’t do any of it.

Then I thought I’d do it when I got back. But I got back just a week before school began. And on the day I returned, I got engaged. And then we decided why not do all the big expensive things at once? Let’s look into buying a house. So no, I didn’t get to that genealogy stuff.

“I think I’m just going to hire the genealogist and have him do it,” I told Michael last week. He thought that a good idea. But then came hurricane Irma.

Irma brought high winds and plenty of rain to my part of the country. This led to 25% of the buildings at school being without power. Which resulted in a day off. So after some lesson planning and some lunch, I got down to business.

What’s next? Once I get all of these letters and records (at least two of them will take 60-90 days to arrive), I have to resubmit all my paperwork to the consulate. (Thankfully I can do that by mail. I don’t have to wait another 2 years for an in-person appointment.) If they accept my application, it will take another year for them to process it. At which time they’ll send me a letter indicating I’m a citizen of Italy, and then I’ll figure out how to get my Italian passport:)

How to Buy A Ring: Michael Style

Let’s say your girlfriend of three-and-a-half years heads off to Europe for seven weeks–without you. You can’t believe she’d do such a thing. Again.

You heard all her jabs about getting married, and you’d really been considering it. Well, at least I’ll have seven weeks to find the right ring, you think. You want this to be a surprise, so not once did you ask her anything about what she would like. What’s the surprise if she picks the ring out herself? you think.

Lucky for you, your girlfriend is not one of those women who designs her ring on the Tiffany web site every once a while “for fun.” In fact, she hates shopping. The sheer number of options would paralyze her.

You, however, know exactly what you want. Oval diamond. Pear-shaped sapphires on either side. So you go on-line and begin your research. You learn about the four C’s. The bow-tie effect sometimes seen in oval diamonds. On, you buy a set of six tweezers with which to handle diamonds. On you look at pictures, then videos of diamonds spinning around so you can see their sparkle. You order one.

The diamond arrives. You head into the bathroom, where there is the best light, to view it. Then realize handling a diamond on the counter beside a sink which doesn’t even have a stopper in it is probably not the best idea.

You go to four different jewelers to get their opinion on your diamond. You call Blue Nile and have them do a “vault analysis” whereby they pull oval diamonds from their vault and give them a bow tie rating.

You return the Blue Nile diamond. Thankfully, buying diamonds on BlueNile is like buying tools on Amazon. Not happy? Return it in thirty days for a refund.

You decide to go with Jimmy at John Laughter Jewelry. He orders one batch of diamonds for you. You are not satisfied with any of them. He patiently orders another batch. Then a third. And finally you find your diamond.

“What’s her ring size?” Jimmy asks. You have no idea. You go home to find some of her rings. You look in the bedroom. The closet. Her office. Nothing. Not a one.

“I’ve seen her wear rings before,” you tell Jimmy. “I have pictures of her with rings on. But I can’t find a ring anywhere in the house.”

“Send me the pictures,” he says. You send six pictures of her to Jimmy. “I’m pretty sure she’s a five-and-a-half,” he says. “But we’re going to make a six because you want it to fit on her finger when you propose.”










You tell Jimmy exactly what you want. You email him pictures of ring designs, with arrows pointing to features you want to change, your instructions typed above the arrows.



On August first, five days before she’s due home, you pick up the ring. It’s exactly what you wanted. You thank Jimmy and that evening you head to Jargon, a new restaurant in town you’ve both liked. “I”m looking for a place to propose and I want to test the lighting at the table by the window,” you tell the hostess. There’s a couple sitting at that table, but that doesn’t phase you. You walk over and repeat your story. “Would you mind if I just pulled out the ring for a second?” They don’t. So you do. Nope. Not the right amount of sparkle.

Then you go downtown to Zambra’s, another favorite place of hers. “I’m looking for a place to propose to my girlfriend,” you tell the hostess. She brings you to a table she thinks is just right. Again you pull out the ring. Again there’s not enough sparkle. So you move to the seat on the other side of the table. Nope. She brings you to a second table. Then to the outside patio. Nope.

Over the next few nights you go to four more restaurants. At Rezaz, they bring you to the back, where a large ball of lights hangs down surrounded by six tables. “I can adjust it to however bright you want it,” they tell you. And you have them do just that. You sit at the table they recommend. Pull out the ring. Then you move to the other seat. And finally, you know where she will sit on the night you propose.


Pilgrims of San Antón

Flora and Antonio knew about San Antón. Maybe they had read about it in their guidebook. Ruins of a 14 century church. No electricity. No hot water. 12 beds. Dinner and breakfast included. Cost: by donation. Maybe friends who have done the Camino told them about it. Maybe they stayed at a place earlier in their Camino where the owner told them about it. I don’t know how they knew of it, but they walked through our gates at 11 AM and asked if there were still beds available. “You are our first pilgrims of the day,” I told them. They raised their eyebrows. “Really? We heard we had to get here early because it often filled up.”

“Yes, sometimes it does,” I said. “But we have been here for four days and have not had a full night yet.”

A pilgrim’s first view of San Antón

They looked around, mouths agape. It isn’t often that one gets to spend the night in a church that has been abandoned for 300 years. Stone walls towered above them. Birds flew in and out of windows that no longer held glass. They walked further into the structure, the stones crunching beneath their feet.

Hard to believe pilgrims get to spend the night in this amazing place. And I get to stay for two weeks!

I invited them into the kitchen, where I gave them water flavored with lemon and mint (from our herb garden). I learned Antonio only spoke Spanish. Flora, who didn’t know Spanish, spoke to him and her native Italian and they got along just fine. Thankfully, she also spoke English.

After writing their names, passport numbers, and countries of origin in our registry book, I told them dinner is served at seven. “We begin cooking at six and you are welcome to help if you would like, but it is not required.”

I showed them the dorm room: six sets of bunkbeds. Then I walked them over to the bathroom, explaining that we have limited water, so please don’t waste it. (Though since we have no hot water, pilgrims don’t usually spend too long in the shower.)

Just then, my co-hospitalero, Stefano, walked through the gates. He had just returned from a morning spent in the next town, 3 km (2 miles) away. (Every day one of us walks into town in the morning to purchase food for that evening’s meal. We have a butane powered refrigerator the size of a large microwave, so can’t store too much.)

Steffano making breadcrumbs with our stale bread.

I took our first guests down to the picnic table by the gates to meet Stefano. After exchanging pleasantries, Antonio asked if there was a place nearby to purchase food. Stefano explained that the only place to do so was in Castrojeriz, 3 km away. Antonio declared that he wanted to cook Spanish tortilla for us tonight. “We have eggs and potatoes,” Stefano said, knowing the ingredients of the popular dish.

“How many eggs?” Antonio asked. We all walked up to the kitchen. “Six,” we told him after checking our supply. (Thankfully, we don’t have to carry eggs back from town. The bread truck comes to us every day except Sundays. And it also has eggs and milk.)
Antonio thought for a minute and then asked about our potato supply. I slid back the curtain in front of our shelves and showed him the four potatoes sitting on the bottom shelf in a plastic crate. “And you have an onion,” he said, seeing it behind the potatoes. “That will be good. But I may need more eggs.” (Especially since, on any given night, we have no idea if we will have two pilgrims or twelve, or anywhere in between.) Despite the 90° temperature, Antonio shrugged his shoulders when Stefano reminded him it was 3 km further down the road. Antonio pulled a small day pack out of his larger backpack, and promptly took off.

Two hours later he returned, pulling his purchases out of his pack. A red pepper, green pepper, tomato, and then a half-carton of eggs dripping with the insides of the one that didn’t make it. We all laughed. And then Stefano and I asked him how much it cost so that we could pay for the ingredients. Antonio went on a long rant about how cheap things were in this part of Spain. And that this was his gift to us. Though Stefano and I had only been hospitaleros for two nights, and therefore had to cook only two dinners so far, we were still delighted to have someone else take over the cook duties.

For a video tour of the ruins at San Antòn, click here. 

Italian Men

“Maybe we should open the door a little bit, otherwise I think it will get way too hot in here tonight,” she said. Her roommate agreed, and she cracked open the door to the outside. She laid back down and felt a slight breeze wash over her, but she was still quite warm. And she was the one laying close to the door. Her roommate, she imagined, might not be feeling any of this.   

“Maybe we should open it up all the way,” she said. Her roommate agreed saying, “Whatever you want to do. My only concern is that YOU are comfortable.” She smiled. “I want you to be comfortable too,” she said. But she knew her roommate genuinely meant that his happiness was dependent on hers. After all, he was an Italian man. And she had learned a bit about Italian men in her travels.  

The first time she went to Italy, many people in the US warned our heroine about the forwardness of the men there, especially since she was a mere 23 years old and traveling alone. Indeed, she found them quite to be just that, but not in a way that she found offensive. It wasn’t as if they were making cat calls and whistling. It was mostly compliments. Still, she just smiled and said thank you despite their attempts to continue the conversation. Which she was amazed they did even after she told them she didn’t understand a word of their language. 

Six years later, our heroine found herself in Italy once more. This time she was with her 82-year-old grandmother, her brother, and two female cousins, the latter three all in their 20s as well. This time, it was put heroine’s turn to warn her cousins about the way Italian men approached women so easily and freely. But she was in for a surprise. She now knew to expect and accept the attention, but she didn’t realize that it would not be initially directed at her nor her cousins but at her grandmother. 

 Her grandmother wore her tour group name tag everywhere they went. In large capital letters it read “Angelina,” and then, in slightly smaller letters below that, it read, “Gallo.” Countless Italians stopped to talk to her– they knew the tag indicated she was in a tour group, but she had a very much Italian name. The grandmother, fluent in a dialect of Italian that is dying off with her generation, delighted everyone. And the men? They were smart. They saw she was traveling with three 20 something brunettes and thus they always began by complimenting Angelina on her beautiful granddaughters. Then, they would have further conversation with her, and only after charming her would they ask about the marital status of her three granddaughters.

Even when we were visiting Italian relatives, Grandma kept that name tag on!

 It was during this trip that our heroine realized that the Italian men were not forward just to pick up women. They had a genuine appreciation for the opposite sex. Like they were thrilled to death God had put them on the planet, and they wanted women to know just how thrilled they were. 

In 2005, our now 35-year-old heroine was walking the Camino to Santiago (a network of thousand-year-old pilgrimage trails across Europe). In one small village, she met a German man who was a diplomat in England. After their introductory conversations about their respective journeys, he complimented her on the dress she wore, but then quickly apologized. “I just remembered you are American. I was merely saying that you look nice in your dress, and I don’t mean anything more by it.” 

“I didn’t think you did, “she said. “And thank you.” 

“I’ve traveled enough to know that American women don’t like compliments from men because they always think men want something more,” he explained. They talked about how sad this was. And our heroine explained that she actually enjoyed how freely some European men complemented her.

The dress our heroine has worn on every Camino.

But when our heroine arrived at San Antón to begin two weeks of volunteering along the Camino de Santiago, she had forgotten all of this. She had initially been told that the other volunteer would be an Italian woman. But then learned it was actually a little unclear. Correspondence had been over the internet with someone with a woman’s name, but the picture identifying the person was that of a male. 

 So when put heroine walked into San Antón for the first time, she was surprised to see it was indeed a male volunteer she would be working with. She learned a female friend of his had set up the volunteering on his behalf. 

He was very kind, and in that magical way of things on the Camino, she knew they would work well together over the next two weeks. What she didn’t expect–or remember initially–was how many complements she would receive throughout the day. On her cooking. On her cleaning. On her ideas. And on that same dress she wore on our first Camino. 

Stefano (at the head of the table) and pilgrims preparing dinner at San Antón.

And she knew Stefano didn’t mean anything more by it. She freely talked about the wonderful things her boyfriend Michael did for her. She told Stefano about the surprise 40th birthday party he had thrown for her, and as they sat at the kitchen table Stefano said, “Tell me about it.” So she did. And then she showed Stefano a picture of the painting Michael had commissioned of her on the Camino. Stefano was certainly impressed. 

Her heroine’s 40th birthday gift from Michael.

 And then a pilgrim stopped by, and they went out to greet him. Stefano explained that they were the hospitaleros (volunteers). “I am from Italy, and she is from the United States,” Stefano said, pointing to our heroine. “And she’s the best hospitalera I could ask for.”