four days in lisbon

Day 1

Fly in from London at 6:00 a.m.  Once in your seat, learn your flight has been delayed an hour.  Sleep on your husband’s shoulder.  Your neck hurts, but it’s 6:00 a.m. and the coffee service is a long way off.

Land in Lisbon much later than you would have liked.  Find the taxi line, to learn they nearly all take cash.  Try to take out cash from three ATM machines in the airport lobby.  Denied.  Denied.  Denied.  Ask the lady at the newsstand in French — the only language you both understand — where you can find a working ATM.  Go up three floors and emerge in a room containing nothing but an ATM.  Check your six.  Rush back downstairs, fists full of euros.

Take the thankfully quick ride down wide avenues and steep curves into Baixa.  The driver drops you off two blocks from your hotel, explaining in swishy syllables that it would take 5 more minutes to drive there on these narrow, one-way streets.  Walk.  Admire the black and white cobblestones beneath your already-weary feet.

Check in.  The receptionist walks you through a map of Lisbon.  Memorize the names of two tram lines, a couple of sights, and the neighborhood with the bars.  Wash up, change clothes, and beeline for the nearest tipple.

But the sun will set soon — the winter solstice was mere days ago — so take a detour in the waning light to snap some photos of at the Arco da Rua Augusta on Praca do Comercio.  Walk along the water and squint to admire the 25th April Bridge and Christ the Redeemer.  (You didn’t realize Lisbon had one, too.)  Wonder if this is what San Francisco would look like if it had been settled by Catholics.

Cut left and have a drink and some appetizers at Populi, because your hotel gave you coupons and it’s happy hour.  Go in with healthy skepticism, but leave full (codfish cakes) and buzzed (caipirinhas).

Head back to the hotel to scope out dinner options.  When it comes to the nightlife, you’ve heard that Bairro Alto is the neighborhood to beat.  And it’s just a stone’s throw from your hotel.  You worry for a moment, because you’ve also read the streets are very steep.  Then  you remember that you are from San Francisco (settled by drunken sailors), and you walk.

It’s steep.  But nothing comes close to Taylor Street.

Bask in buttery prawns, tangy sardines, and beautiful service at Petisco’s.  Order a bottle of vinho verde for a stunning 14 euros.  Realize this may be heaven in a glass, and panic that you may never find it again when you get back home.  (You will.)

Wander down the narrow, cobblestoned street, only to be pulled in just a few doors down by a thumping Brazilian band.  Drink 6-euro caipirinhas out of plastic cups that could be classified as buckets.  Breathe in cubic pounds of secondhand smoke, and consider your dry cleaning bill, but not the hospital one.  Dance with a middle-aged woman and her niece and nephew.  Grin, stumble downhill, and pass out.

Day 2

Wake up late.  This is a vacation, after all.  You deserve this.  (You couldn’t move if you wanted to, anyway.)

Decide to use your half-day to explore Belém.  It only has a couple sights, anyway, and it’s just a few miles down the road.  The receptionist had mentioned a tram, but you’re lazy and cabs are cheap.

Eleven euros later, wander up to the Torre de Belém.  You can say with confidence that you have never seen anything like this before.  That doesn’t mean you want to stand in the unmoving line to go inside, but it really is something of beauty.  Snap some photos, and dash off in search of coffee and anything but codfish.

Struggle to find any eatery along the waterfront that isn’t a cash-only café, an Italian diner, or a high-end restaurant.  Give up and settle on something that looks unassuming, but ends up being slow, expensive, and flavorless.  Kick yourself for not eating in Baixa before you left.

Barely sated, dash over to the Jerónimos Monastery before it closes.  Pop in and admire the ornamental stonework.  Check out Vasco de Gama’s tomb.  Try to remember exactly which one Vasco da Gama was.

Exit left and notice a charming street lined with shops and restaurants.  Kick yourself for not eating here.

Spot a very long line outside a restaurant.  The awning says Pastéis de Belém.  You remember your Portuguese friend saying you simply must try a traditional pastry – the Pastel de Nata – at Pastéis de Belém.  You eye the line with fear in your heart, but decide you have nothing better to do, and you’re still hungry, anyway.  Walk out ten minutes later and a few euros poorer holding two tiny, hot, melt-in-your-mouth pastries.  They are like creme brûlée cradled in a cup of filo.  Hail a cab, and savor them all the way back to Baixa.  (Yes, you’re eating in a car in Europe.  They’ll survive.)

You’re getting up early the next day, so skip the nightlife for a relaxed bottle of vinho verde with a view on the rooftop of the Bairro Alto Hotel.  Ponder your good fortune, and note that the secondhand smoke isn’t so bad in the open air.

Day 3

Wake up bright and early — yes, you, truly — and walk to Rossio train station.  Head up the escalators to the train platform.  Try to work the ticket machine.  Give up and go to the ticket agent.  Ask nicely for two round-trip tickets (~9 euros) to Sintra.

Tuck back downstairs for a coffee and a croissant.  (God forbid you make the same hunger-induced mistakes as yesterday.)  Board your train relatively full and relatively awake, and settle in for the 45 minute ride.

Disembark at Sintra station.  You know you need to catch the 434 tourist bus, which will take you up the winding hills to Sintra’s bevy of whimsical castles.  But you aren’t sure whether you catch it at the station or in the town.  You decide to walk into the town.

You should have caught it at the train station.  But the walk is nice, anyway.

Admire the perfectly quaint “historic town” and the whitewashed walls of the Royal Palace.  Get in line for the 434 at the foot of the palace. Within five minutes you’re paying the driver your 5 euros (cash) for the round-the-horn bus ride to the Moorish Castle, the Pena Palace, and back to the train station.

Hold on very tightly to your husband as the bus takes impossibly tight corners up extremely steep hills, and thank all the Catholic saints that you did not walk to the castles of Sintra.

Exit the bus at the first stop, the Moorish Castle.  It’s drizzly, but you don’t mind — there couldn’t be a better backdrop for a castle that looks drawn straight from a medieval fairy tale.  Think to yourself (actually, out loud, to your very understanding husband) that you feel like you’re Robin Hood.  Wait to feel embarrassed.  He enthusiastically agrees with you.  Renew your wedding vows (in your head this time).

Buy your ticket.  You get a discount for buying them in bundles, so get one for the Pena Palace, too.  Hike the half-mile up the hill and pop into the ancient church.  Trek further up the path until you reach the ramparts, jutting up from the earth against a blinding grey sky.  Scramble up the stone steps.  Look out at the ocean.  Walk along the edge of the world.

(Try not to get blown off.)

Take a thousand photos you wish had turned out better.  Wonder to yourself (actually, out loud) if you should have come yesterday, when it was sunny.

But decide that, no, you’d rather be Robin Hood.

Catch the 434 again toward Pena Palace.  Hop off when you spot a castle that looks like it’s been colored in by an entire kindergarten class.

Tour the outside.  Pretend you are a princess.  Tour the inside.  Take in the Sweet Life of Portugal, 1908.  (Sweet except for the assassination bit.)  Decide eventually that you are quite windblown and very tired.  Hop back on the bus, and exit at the historic town in search of warm sustenance.  Enjoy a hot meal and a large beer, with a heaping side of admiration from the waiter at the size of beer you ordered.  Tell him, “Thank you, I went to college.”  (Actually, you said that part in your head.)

When you get back to the hotel, take a hot shower and a quick nap.  You wake up famished, and your husband reminds you that he wants to eat piri-piri chicken while in Lisbon.  Follow your Yelp to Restaurante Bonjardim.  It looks empty, and the atmosphere is lacking.  For a moment, you question your decision.  But you are hungry!  And you’ve made a commitment.

The chicken is quite possibly the best you have ever tasted.

On your way back, tuck into a ginjinha to try ginja, a Portuguese cherry liqueur.  Have one shot.  It is delightful, and it is enough.

Buttressed by chicken, ginja, and your afternoon nap, hike back to Bairro Alto.  You have heard about fado, a traditional type of Portuguese music.  You’ve read that Tasca do Chico is the best spot for fado in Bairro Alto.  When you arrive, it is packed.  Flattened against the back door, you stay for one lovely song, and then promptly duck out.

Pop into a lively bar, full of singing patrons, for the night’s obligatory caipirinha.  You sing and dance along, but soon crave something more.  Scramble up the cobblestones until you hear a live guitar.  Find a stool at the bar — your sweet husband stands behind you — and grin at the guitarist as he works through all the greatest hits since 1975.  Sing alongside him, at the top of your lungs, until closing time.

The guitarist is Angolan.  Befriend him as the bar is closing.  He asks you to wait for him outside.  Wait.  Follow him and his friends all the way down the hill.  Speak Spanish — the only language you all understand — with his groupies.  End up at an 80s club near the water.  Sometime around 4:00 a.m., resign yourself to sleep.

Day 4

Sleep in.  This is a vacation, after all.

There is only one major sight left in Lisbon that you want to see.  You’ve been looking at it out your hotel window for days now, and you’d better finally go up there before it’s too late.  But grab a quick hamburger first, to be safe.  (You never want to see a codfish again.)

You’ve heard you should take the tram, because it’s a very steep walk.  But the line at the tram stop is more than a block long, and the tram is tiny.  Think perhaps you could take a cab.  Decide that you are from San Francisco, and you’ll walk.  It’s a beautiful day, anyway.  (Maybe you should have gone to Sintra.)

Shed coats, scarves, and sweaters as you ascend the bluff toward São Jorge Castle.  (It could give Taylor Street a run for its money.)

At the top of the hill, eye the line — many people wide and half a city block long — with fear in your heart.  Decide that you and your husband can take turns between standing in line and touring the nearby souvenir shops.  The line moves so fast, you’re the only one who gets a turn shopping.

Enter the grounds and beeline to the outer wall to see the view.  You have around an hour before the sun starts to set, so you dash into the castle.

Walk along the edge of the world.  The sun is hot, and the views are endless.  You don’t almost blow off this time.

As the light begins to wane, it’s time to get moving.  You have a plan — you always have a plan — to sip vinho verde on the walls of a moorish castle and watch the sun set behind Lisbon.

Find a table at the museum restaurant.  It’s not exactly on the edge of the wall.  Feel unsure about it.  Then eye a wine cart a stone’s throw away.  Tell your husband, “I’ll be right back!” and run — yes, really, run, in Europe — across the giant cobblestones to the cart.  You have exactly enough euros left to buy a bottle of vinho verde.  And you spot seats carved into the outer stone walls — seats on the edge! — from which you can watch the sunset.

Dash back to your very patient husband.  He takes the cash, and you claim an alcove.

Twist open the cap on the squat, clear bottle, and watch the bubbles begin to rise.  Through the liquid, cast amber by the setting sun, you see Lisbon.  It is a time capsule, a city of ancient kings and explorers, beautifully preserved in centuries of history. And yet it is also unashamedly alive, refusing to cower in the face of present-day adversity.

Pour the dry, refreshing grape into the plastic champagne glasses.  As the last rays of the sun disappear behind a red bridge, a thousand red-tile roofs, a giant Jesus, and the razor edge of the Atlantic, raise a toast to Lisbon.

Descend through the darkness back to Baixa, and back up again to Bairro Alto.  Duck into the charming Lisboa Cheia de Graça for one last sumptuous meal.  Smile at your husband across the tiny table crafted from wooden wine boxes.  Sign yet another 45-euro bill in disbelief, having just gorged yourself on a fabulous meal, plus a bottle of wine.

Stumble back down the black-and-white cobblestones.  Pass a live band in a twinkle-lit square.  Take your husband’s hand — it really is quite steep.  And ponder your good fortune.


how to host thanksgiving (and not die)

Rockwell Freedom from Want

In just over a week, I will host Thanksgiving for the third time ever.

The first year, we had a couple of friends over who, like us, weren’t able to head home for the holiday.  I made many of the dishes, but our friends generously brought lots of food, as well.  I was a bit intimidated by my inaugural hostess gig, but the evening ended up being fantastic.  It was a team effort all around, and in the end we enjoyed the fruits of our labor paired with warm company and too many bottles of wine.  In fact, by far the most nerve-wracking part of the day was deep-frying a turkey on our tiny front steps.  (I’m happy to report that no human body parts were harmed that day, and that I have never fried a turkey since.)

Last November, we hosted my husband’s immediate family.  We’ll be doing the same this year.  And while I love my friends and want them to love me (and my stuffing) back, I admit the pressure of having my in-laws for Thanksgiving raised the stakes a bit.  However, with a bit of elbow grease, a whole lot of planning, and frequent wine breaks, it went off without a hitch.

Whether you’re cooking for two or for twelve, planning ahead is key.  So without further ado, here’s a planning guide to help you pull off a festive, tasty, fabulous Thanksgiving!

One month out:

Plan your menu. As soon as you know about how many people you’ll be hosting — as well as their delightful dietary restrictions — start to plan out your menu.  For a first-time host, I suggest sticking to simple recipes of the Thanksgiving classics.  (Now is perhaps not the time to make your first soufflé, even if it is pumpkin flavored.)  Ask your guests if they have any particular favorites so you know where to focus your efforts.  And if it’s appropriate, don’t hesitate to ask them to help you out by bringing a side or dessert.

This year, I plan to make a cranberry walnut salad, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, and my mother’s famous apple pie.  I’ll also serve cranberry sauce out of the can — I mix cans of jellied and whole cranberry Ocean Spray sauces for a more balanced sauce — and a small ham from the Honeybaked Ham store.  (Don’t judge me.  And don’t ask me how to make ham.)

Gather the essentials.  Take inventory of your cabinets and make sure you have enough flatware, water glasses, wine glasses, silverware, and napkins for the number of people you’ll be hosting.  Remember to take every course into account; you won’t want to spend the time between dinner and dessert washing plates or forks because you’ve run out.  (Like me. Have I mentioned we have a tiny apartment?)

table setting

And now that you’ve planned your menu, you can determine exactly what cooking essentials you’ll need.  Make sure you have pots, pie dishes, and baking pans to cook and serve all your dishes.  We love our turkey roaster, but anything sturdy, preferably nonstick, and big enough for your bird will do.  And don’t forget the accessories, like a meat thermometer, baster, measuring cups, serving spoons, etc.  Think through the steps of every single dish, write down what tools you’ll need, and stock up on whatever you’re missing.

Order your turkey.  Rather than dealing with thawing out 20 lbs of frozen bird, I much prefer pre-ordering a fresh turkey to be picked up a day or two before Thanksgiving.  We’ve used Whole Foods kosher or pre-brined turkeys for three years running, and they are consistently delicious.  We just schedule a pick-up so we can get it on our way home from work on Tuesday.  Easy as pumpkin pie.

You’ll want to buy around 1.5 lbs worth of turkey per person, if you want some leftovers.  I always round up to about 2 lbs each, because there is literally nothing better than leftover cranberry turkey sandwiches.  (OK, now I’m excited for Thanksgiving.)

p.s. — Butterball has some great calculators for turkey buying, thawing, and cooking!

One-two weeks out:

Make a game plan.  Confession: I have multiple Excel spreadsheets dedicated to this dang holiday.  One includes a list of all the foods I plan to serve, and all the ingredients that go into those foods.  That gets turned into a master shopping list.  I also make a calendar of the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and write out what activities I’ll accomplish on each day (which is pretty much the list you’re reading now).  You definitely cannot cook Thanksgiving in one day, so mapping it all out will help you from pulling out all your pretty hair.

Go shopping.  I start to stock up on non-perishables, like canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, flour, sugar, oil, wine, etc. in the couple of weeks leading up to the big day, just to save myself from having to do one enormous trip at the end.  I’ll usually do my last big shop, including all perishables, the Monday before Thanksgiving.  Grocery stores are still fully stocked, and there won’t be as big of a rush on Monday as there will on Sunday or Wednesday.  (And don’t forget to pick up your turkey!)

Thanksgiving Sunday

Deep clean your house.  Pick up your dang Honeybaked Ham.

Thanksgiving Monday

Go on your last big grocery trip.

Thanksgiving Tuesday

Pick up your fresh turkey, and some fresh flowers while you’re at it.  Make your pie dough and refrigerate overnight.  If you’re making cornbread stuffing, bake your cornbread, cut it into 1 inch cubes, and let them sit on your counter overnight underneath a dry dish pie

Thanksgiving Wednesday

Bake your pies — they will stay perfectly fresh in your fridge overnight, and you will be so glad you made them in advance.  Make your gravy base, if you’re doing gravy from scratch.  Feel free to prepare anything else that will keep overnight, like your cranberry sauce or stuffing.  Clean any last small items, like dusty wine glasses or candle sticks, and set your Thanksgiving table.

Thanksgiving Day

Today’s the big day!  Basically, wake up early and never stop cooking until your guests arrive (and even then, probably keep cooking for a while). Don’t forget to take regular breaks to stretch, breathe deeply, and gulp wine.  At some point, also shower.  You’ve got this!!

Thanksgiving Turkey
hair clip optional, but encouraged.

Do you have any Thanksgiving must-do’s I’m forgetting?  Let me know in the comments below!  Wishing you and yours a beautiful Turkey Day full of gratitude, joy, and love.  (And wine.  So much wine.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

millennial love: an economic inquiry

Roy Lichtenstein Love

As a certifiable econ nerd, a wannabe anthropologist, and a sometime advice columnist without a column, I am fascinated by the supply and demand of modern dating.  For me, how we get together — or don’t — and why we stay together — or don’t — provides enough academic mystery to fill a whole library.  I can’t wait to read the studies that will someday (or, well, today) be published about this era of Tinder and Grindr and Coffee Meets Bagel.  Because times have changed, and, man, times are rough.

Much ink has been spilled about exactly how difficult it is for millennials (ugh, sorry) to find real, fulfilling commitment.  The journos say this era of “casual dating” has us confused,  or that courtship has died altogether.  We hook up on the first night, we have entire relationships over text, and we disappear before we even really date.

So, yes, behavior one factor of this bear dating market.  But for the well-rounded social scientist, behavior isn’t enough.  For one thing, casual dating isn’t actually a new thing.  In fact, “hookup culture” existed before even our parents were old enough to hook up.  (And, let’s face it, ghosting was probably way easier in the days before Facebook.)

There’s so much more to this than behavior.  And a lot of it is economics.

As you smarties know, economics is a social science focused on the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.  In the dating market, the goods are potential mates.  And the services?  Well…do I really have to tell you?

I’m joking, but only a little.  Essentially, as we all learned in Econ 101, there exists a supply and a demand for all goods and services, and the levels of that supply and that demand determine their value.  When it comes to dating, this value directly influences our willingness to pay — or text, or move across the country, or spend time with its mother — for that good or service.

The fact is, no matter how much we like to blame Tinder and texting and ghosting and casual sex for this generation’s dating woes, a lot of blame lies in that simple economic equation.

So what, as millennial men and women, influences our value?

Well, first of all, many of us are poor.  The Great Recession was great indeed, and we’re still feeling its effects.  When someone is struggling to make his share of the rent in the apartment he shares with his four buddies from college, he’s probably not willing to “pay” an awful lot for commitment.  Or when someone is just breaking into her career, she isn’t likely to give up a whole lot — say, the city she lives in — for any one “good or service.”  It’s a great thing that we want to be established before we get married; it’s just taking us longer than ever to get there.

But secondly, and I would argue more importantly, the demographics are against us.  (And by “us,” I mean heterosexual women. Lady-loving ladies, we wish we were you right now.)

In one chapter his new left-brain book, Date-Onomics, business journalist Jon Birger uses a case study of Mormons and Orthodox Jews to illustrate the harmful effects of male scarcity on women’s marriage prospects.  His description of Mormon college women shelling out cash for implants and Botox — to go from a “9.7 to a 9.9” to find and keep a Mormon man — is enough to make a girl give up altogether.

And it’s not just religious women who are suffering.  Many recent studies have pointed to education levels to explain why many women today are marrying down, or else not marrying at all.  This is because, for some yet unexplained reason, women today are more likely than men to graduate from college, meaning that in the same age group, there are more college-educated women looking for mates than there are college-educated men to mate with.

In our current dating market, marriageable men are worth more than marriageable women.

All of this is to say that, for young people, the supply of marriageable women outnumbers the supply of marriageable men.  And because the demand for the two values is about equal (because everyone needs love), the value of the latter exceeds the value of the former.  In our current dating market, marriageable men are worth more than marriageable women.  A millennial man with a Master’s and a mortgage is worth his weight in rubies.  This — not the ghosting, not the texting, not the sexting, and not the swiping left — this is why it is “hard out there.”

It’s above my pay grade to explain why this demographic imbalance exists,.  Perhaps there’s something to the idea that girls are less likely to be teased than boys for doing well in school.  (Or there’s always the argument that everyone gets a trophy and World of Warcraft is really damn addicting.)

But the fact is, the imbalance is real.  In the end, there’s only so much we ladies can do except keep swiping right.  So stop blaming yourselves, and keep placing your bets.  If you diversify, and do your research, that hot stock will come along.  Until it does — as with the Great Recession, stagnant wages, underemployment, and other economic f*ckery — it’s probably just best to blame our parents.

must-read: all the light we cannot see

Hitler Youth

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” 

For our Greatest Generation, the Second World War was absolutely defining.  Life, culture, and innocence were lost on a scale so grand that it is a wonder to know that anything survived at all.

My own grandmother and her parents left Paris in 1939, never to return.  I often think about how different her life would have been, had they stayed.  But despite spending the last 76 years tucked safely away in American suburbia, the injustice wreaked on her homeland still boils in her blood.

Marie-Laure, the young, blind protagonist of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, also flees Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion, with only her father, her cane, and a 133-carat diamond.

 All the Light we Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

The stories of Marie-Laure and her newfound family persevering within the ancient, sea-sprayed ramparts of Saint-Malo; of Werner and Jutta, towheaded, precocious orphans yearning to escape their colorless German coal town and entranced by a mysterious children’s radio program; of a dying sergeant major hell-bent on claiming the world’s treasures for his führer; of stargazing Hitler Youth, and resistant bakers’ wives, and old and young lives severed by violence; all intertwine in a tapestry of language, love, and light that will leave you wishing Doerr had written just one more beautiful chapter.

As the war’s last survivors approach the twilight of their years, this book is an enchanting reminder of all that they lost, and all that we continue to live for.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Happy reading!

i just want to dance: 12 essential albums turn 20

Lautrec, Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in Chilperic

Tonight the hubs and I will be reuniting with three of our favorite people. A million years ago we all met in Gay Paree, where we spent our days working for the man and our nights (and early mornings) in transcendent worship to the gods of the discothèque.

As if a sign from our deities of dance, MixMag just published “Two decades on: 12 albums that will still blow you away,” an homage to a dozen immortal dance records released in the year of Our Lord 1995, a time that will never be forgotten in the vaulted bowels of the disco: each scratch a testimony, every remix a gospel.

I’m not sure where tonight will take us — by the wee hours, very likely here (quelle scandal!)– but as I take my French bath (just kidding) and carefully apply my Pigalle-red lipstick (very serious), I’ll be pumping the dance music, reminiscing about our Duplex nights and looking forward to many early mornings to come, finding my way home with the best of friends.

Jouez et jouissez!

must-read: stop asking me how i afford to travel | gloria atanmo

Gloria Atanmo

I am very fortunate.  I’ve spent years of my life in countries that are not the United States.  I’ve gone abroad for work, for education, for leisure, and for love.

Of course, especially when I was younger, I had financial help for many of my adventures.  (Thank you family, godparents, and friends!)  But when people ask me questions like, “You’re going to Europe again?  How can you afford this?” — especially equally privileged people — I want to smack my forehead.

My friend gets the same question a lot (#besties), and when she read this great piece from Gloria Atanmo, she sent it to me immediately.  (My friends just get me.)

Gloria gets me, too.  She gets that travel doesn’t have to break the bank.  She gets that if you are flexible, and you do your research, and you make travel a priority (financially and otherwise), and especially if you can find a way to study or work abroad, you’d be surprised how very far you can go.

Jet set life on a backpacker budget?  Heck yes, it’s possible.  Happy trails!

Read Gloria’s Huffington Post article here, and find her blog here: TheBlogAbroad.

how to celebrate the 4th of july like a true patriot

4th of July parade

The 4th of July — or Independence Day, if you’re Bill Pullman (#chills) — is a joyful day for all Americans.  Patriotism gets everyone a little hyped up, but I daresay in this country especially we don’t hold back when it comes to celebrating our existence on this planet.  (On this national holiday, or ever.)  We fought for our independence…we earned ourselves a country!…and therefore, we shall drink beer and blow stuff up.

If you find yourself wondering, “How can I best celebrate this great nation?” and/or, “I’m not from here — what the hell is going on and how do I get in on the action?”, well, I’m here to help.  Without further ado, here’s a list of 4th of July essentials that would make George W. Bush declare, “Mission Accomplished.”

  1. Wear a patriotic cutoff sleeve Walmart t-shirt
    This is the first item because it is the most important.  An absolutely essential element of Independence Day patriotism is the red, white, and blue outfit.  But not just any outfit will do.  If you wish to fully communicate to the world your warm blooded Americanness, look no further than the t-shirt section at your nearest Walmart.  Identify a shirt that features at least two of the following: the American flag, a bald eagle, the Bud Lite logo, a NASCAR vehicle, the word “America,” and/or an unironic patriotic saying.  Immediately cut off the sleeves, pair with jean shorts, and be on your merry way.

    Walmart tee
    true patriots at work. (literally.)
  2. Watch a parade
    The parade is the most underrated element of a perfect 4th of July.  Yes, fireworks are awesome.  But so is watching your neighbors walk or ride by, dressed to the nines in their cutoff sleeve Walmart tees, celebrating your community’s place in the United States of America.  Who doesn’t love dogs wearing American flag bandanas, fire trucks honking their horns, high school marching bands playing terribly,  and low-rent politicians waving from Chrysler Sebring convertibles?  The parade is the spice of small town American life!  Don’t miss it.
  3. BBQ some meat
    When the parade is over, we all know what time it is: barbecue time.  Fire up that grill — charcoal, if you’re a real man — and dump on the burgers, dogs, and ribs.  Oh, did I just say ribs?  Why yes, I did.  Ribs are the Filet Mignon of the backyard barbecue.  And they actually resemble real parts of an animal, so they are terrifyingly awesome, just like this country.  This recipe looks both delicious and terrible for you.  Perfect.  Get on it!

    bbq ribs
    mmmmm currently adding ribs to the grocery list.
  4. Drink good beer
    Look.  I know your Walmart cutoff sleeve t-shirt says “Bud Lite” on it.  But that does not — I repeat, does not — mean you have to drink terrible beer.  Be a good citizen this year by filling up your cooler with a variety of delicious beers from a local brewery.  You might find a new favorite.  (Hint: it probably won’t have “light” in the name.)
  5. Watch — and use — fireworks
    OK, so this item is obvious.  Fireworks are the pinnacle of any proper 4th of July celebration.  Find your nearest show here.  But you can add to the pyro fun (if you can in your state) by safely setting off a firework or two of your own.  At least sparklers are legal just about everywhere.  There’s nothing more American than having the power to blow stuff up, am I right?!
  6. Celebrate your country
    In all seriousness (not that this post hasn’t been serious), Independence Day is a big deal.  Around 200 years ago, we defeated a seriously powerful nation (now our besties) with some wig-toting militias (okay, and the help of some other powerful friends) and have since gone on to become the most powerful nation on Earth.  This country has flaws.  (Many, many flaws. Dear God, the flaws.)  But we have a lot to be proud of.  So this 4th of July, rock that Walmart cutoff sleeve t-shirt, celebrate your community, stuff your fat American face with grilled meat, toast your friends and family with some cold local brews, light things on fire, ooh and ahh at the pretty explosions, and do it all with pride.  This much, at least, we have earned.

Cheers, ‘Murica!

fine wine of the month: double pinot grigio

Spring moved fast.  So fast that it’s almost the end of June already, and I have neglected to do a fine (but affordable!) wine of the month for this month…or last month.

So to make it up to you, let’s talk about two wines!
…Two wines, because I missed last month.
…White wine, because it’s officially summer.
…And pinot grigio, because it’s my favorite.

I like pinot grigio because it’s crisp, refreshing, a bit citrusy, and not too sweet, which is exactly what I’m looking for in a summer drink.  Both these bottles are now in regular circulation at our house, along with one other that I’ll feature later on.  (Gotta keep you coming back for more, right?)

The first wine is from Sterling, the same winery I featured in April.  This crisp and delicious bottle goes for around $13, but I found it on sale for about $10.

Sterling pinot grigio
anyone for an afternoon tipple?

The second is from Smoking Loon, a reasonably priced winery I haven’t featured yet but one I’m growing to like very much.  This bottle goes for a cool $10, and is perfectly refreshing on a hot and humid East Coast evening.

Smoking Loon pinot grigio
who needs air conditioning?

So next time you need a light and summery pick-me-up, head to the wine aisle and take home one of these beauties.  You’ll feel cool as a cucumber in no time.


se habla español

Sagrada Familia

I love foreign languages.  The new sounds, the different expressions of the hands and face, the values and experiences that lie behind each word and phrase and idiom…languages are endlessly interesting.

They can also be endlessly frustrating.  They are so hard to learn, especially the way we learn them in school.  I studied French for nearly ten years, grew up with it here and there in the home, and have spent a significant amount of time in France.  But, sadly, I can’t say I am fluent.

Despite all that, the beauty and mystery of foreign languages are undeniable.  They’re part of why I went to France in the first place, where I met my cute husband.  And they’re part of why I fell in love with him.  Because while I can “speak French,” he can really speak Spanish.  (Ay, amor.)

For years, I’ve been slowly trying to improve my Spanish.  I want to be able to be closer to my husband’s family, near and far.  I want to be able to speak Spanish in our home, with our future children.  And, selfishly, I want to finally master a foreign language.

So far I’ve taken a semester of Spanish in college; I’ve played around with fun apps like DuoLingo; I’ve been lucky enough to travel to places like Spain, Panama, and the Dominican Republic; and of course I’ve practiced with my husband and his family.  And I’ve learned a lot.  But deep down, I’ve always known that the only way this is going to work is through full, long term immersion.

I’ve often bugged my husband to speak Spanish with me more at home, but we’ve never committed.  But last week, I watched this excellent TED Talk, and I knew it was time to finally pull the trigger.

And so, friends, the hubs and I have commenced full, intense, frustrating Spanish immersion!  In our home, out shopping, in our texts…it’s been hard, hilarious, and too much fun.  It’s only been a couple of days but I can already feel myself picking up on the little things you usually don’t learn until later years of study, such as the different tenses, and things you may never really learn, like slang, intonation, and delivery.  I’m having a fabulous time, and my husband is being wonderfully patient.  (I think he secretly gets a kick out of seeing me struggle with words!)  We both know that in the end, it will be worth it.

Deséame suerte!  Besos!

layover in istanbul, anyone?

If you’ve ever flown Turkish Airlines (or even looked at flights on Turkish Airlines), you’ll know that every.single.flight. seems to stop through Istanbul.  Which is great if you’re traveling to Istanbul, or from Europe to the Middle East.  But New York to London?  Get ready for a layover about 2,000 miles out of your way, and often about 8 hours long.

That doesn’t seem very convenient (and it isn’t), but Turkish Airlines offers some of the cheapest international flights out there.  So for those who’ve never been to Istanbul (or even for those of us who have), the idea’s always been a bit tempting.

Well, friends, the business geniuses at TourIstanbul have made that endless, faraway layover, just perhaps, worth our while.  TourIstanbul is now offering free tours of Istanbul for anyone who flies through Ataturk Airport on Turkish Airlines and has a layover of more than 6 hours.


They pick you up at the airport, take you to top sites and restaurants, and drop you back off in time for your next flight.

Istanbul Map


I can’t vouch for the quality of the tours, and I’m certainly not being paid to talk about any of this. (I’m not that cool.) But this seems like a pretty fantastic idea for any traveler who’s looking to check a new international destination off their list, or who longs to return to this enchanting, ancient city.

Istanbul Blue Mosque

Bon voyage!