Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bathing in Barca

In Spanish-- and in most romance languages actually--they do not refer to going to the beach as going swimming, even if you are going to get in the water. Instead, they called it bathing. It can be a tad disconcerting  sometimes for  to someone ask if you are going to take a bath when at the beach, because, for Americans, this obviously has a different connotation. And, I have learned, it is because in the US,  we draw a pretty hard line between the two.

The beach in Barcelona is nothing spectacular. It’s a manmade affair, a remnant from their Olympics in the 90’s, but on a hot spring or summer day, no one is worried about where the beach came from, everyone is simply happy that it is there. 

On one particular day, I took the long walk from the Eixample, all the way across town, past the Gothic Quarter, and over to Barceloneta where the beach waits to be filled to brimming by locals and tourists alike. But, it is pretty simple to tell the difference between locals and tourists. 

The tourists are wearing tops.

Now, I wouldn’t normally consider myself a prude. In fact, I like to think of myself as a kind of travel hedonist. But when it comes to taking off my bikini top off, stone-cold sober, in the daytime, on a public beach…there’s just something about my mother’s disappointed face that stays my hand from untying those bikini strings. I think, in general, that most Americans have a little Puritan remnant lodged in their subconscious. Something that just says, what if someone takes a picture? What if my boss sees this? What if my mother sees this? And any ideas of public semi-nudity are shied away from. 

Not so the Spanish. And strangely, even on beautiful woman, there is something…non-sexual about it. Just women, fat, thin, old, young, all shapes, all sizes, all colors, topless and without a care. Sangria is served on the beach (because, of course it is) and strange men walk around offering coconut pieces and sketchy faux name-brand sunglasses. And no one seems to care at all that there are breasts, just, everywhere. In fact, as long as the women are European, I am totally cool with it too. Girl power! Making choices about your own body! Yay, Feminism! 

And it was here, in this setting, top securely tied, eyes on the blue waves, soaking up the Spanish sunshine, that I learned a little something. 

A group of four American girls laid their towels out near me. How did I know they were American? Because they were loud, obnoxious, and speaking English. Anyway, they started  whispering, then talking, with lots of gesturing and pointing, while I tried to ignore them. But after a few moments it was clear. They were discussing going topless themselves. 

These were college-aged girls, and so I felt sort of big-sister-y for them. Part of me thought, YES, embrace Spain! Do it! And the other, Puritan part, longed to slap their acrylic nails away from their bikini ties. No! Pictures will surface! Forget every career choice you’ve ever imagined!

In the end, I said nothing. Merely watched, fascinated, as one by one they untied their suit tops, and listened as they  giggled every two minutes or so, which didn’t help pull off the attitude of careless-not-giving-a-damn by any stretch of the imagination. 

I learned a little bit that day about my own American-ness. There is a reason we don’t call swimming, “bathing” and I think it is because bathing has a connotation of nudity, and our American sensibilities just feel…a little weird about that. So, at the beach, the only bathing I’ll be doing is sun-bathing, with my top firmly tied on, thank you very much. 'Merica. 

This article originally appeared in My City Magazine

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Viaggio a Milano

A week and a half in Italy. It's never long enough, is it? Whether it's one week, two weeks, three...we never drink enough wine or eat enough pizza. We never sleep enough or meander around the streets or sit in the piazzas long enough. But we try. 

This upcoming trip we are slated for Bergamo, Lake Como, and Milano. We will be meeting up with old friends, hopefully making new, tasting wine, gazing at lakes, walking, walking, walking and shoving gelato down our throats. (I'm going for a new record)

So, here's a completely incomplete list of things. Basically just a few items that I currently can't live without abroad. 

In addition to My favorite Backpack, this is the other half of my carry-on duo. I like the way it opens, the ease of the spin and how lightweight it is. It's hard side luggage, my preference, and it's international regulation size. 

Ok, yeah, it's makeup. Why am I including it on a traveling list? Because when I use the Boy Brow, it not only makes my face look awesome, it also means I don't need to wear a lot of other thick makeup. It brings out my eyes, is easy to apply and really does eliminate the need for a lot of other layers. 
And yo, if you want 20% off, you got it: 20% off at Glossier

Because I live in white cotton shirts. I have their scoop neck as well, and it will also be accompanying me. The organic cotton is grown in the USA and the shirts are made here too. The shirts are soft, breathable and I love how chic they look tucked into my skinnies. 

Nisolo is a bomb-ass company, base case. They work with Peruvian artisan shoe-makers and the shoes are high quality and well made. I have a few pairs, boots and other sandals and smoking shoes. But this sandal is super chic, has a tiny heel for a little lift, and are very comfortable. I'll be bringing my Tieks as well, of course, but these puppies are comfortable enough for trekking around the capital of fashion, and looking damn good in the early summer while I'm doing it. 

I'll be bringing a lot of other stuff, but these are the first, newest additions to the wardrobe that I can think of.  

Check out the companies I mentioned above and their products which I have a huge travel crush on at the moment, and tune in next week for more Italy and pizza related content. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Those American Thighs

This is going to be a weird post today. But it does have to do with travel (as promised) and it is something that has been on my mind lately, so, I had to write about it. 

Next week I will have a post prepared about packing, and outfits, and trip planning and Italy and gelato and pizza, but  this week I have something else very important to write about. 

It's probably the single most important part of my traveling experience. 

It' legs. (Flipping your fins you don't get too far, legs are required, for jumping', dancin', strolling along down the, what's that word again....STREET)

When we travel, Mr. Nolandia and I will take the metro in a pinch or a tram when we're in a hurry, but we are walking most of the time. We are walking an average distance of 12-15 miles each day of our trip. Sometimes more. Often times this is on cobblestone streets, or up medieval or Roman built stairs or sometimes, straight up a mountain amidst swearing and sweat.  If we aren't in good physical condition, then we are stuck on the motor coach tour with the rest of the quitters. 

We aren't ready for that. 
We will never be ready for that.

Whilst exploring, there is nothing worse than sore feet. Even if your legs can take the daily beating, feet are another story. And, excuse me, but I am not waltzing around Paris or Milan in trainers. Gross. I understand "tennies" are having a moment, but no. Just, no. So, as I've written before, I'm a HUGE fan of TIEKS flats, (though I do not think they need anymore advertising since they are basically worshipped in the blog/pinterest world) and have worn them religiously for every trip of the past two years. And to work. And to the grocery store. And always. 

If you've gotten this far, and you're still like, wait, LEGS? Is  that what we're talking about? The answer is yes. Because, you guys, it is important. To really explore a place, you have to walk it. You have to get the feel of the streets on the soles of your shoes, you have to figure out directions and look up at the buildings or lemon groves or crumbling classical columns surrounding you and feel your place there. Your feet should pound the boulevards(Do you really want to miss any Paris architecture?) and walk the bridges (there are seven connecting Buda and Pest!) and find your way through mysterious twists and turns of an old medieval city, (Barcelona's Gothic quarter is a maze of surprises, every turn, something unexpected and new) But you can't see these places from a bus, or a tram, or the metro, or even a bike. To be seen properly they must be walked. 

And if you want to be able to explore properly, and not for one day and then have swollen throbbing legs for the next three days, you have to stay in walking shape.When not traveling, we take a daily run up to Fit Athletic Club for cardio and weights, and then I spend a lot of miles walking and running with the pooch. I like to clock in about 5-6 miles a day. We take all of our vitamins and supplements, extra greens, etc. And a lot of that, honestly, is about being healthy for our next trip.

Traveling isn't all spas and pizza and chocolat chaud and waffles from a street vendor, though I've written blog posts about all of those things. But, I never would have found those vendors, that life-altering pizza, those Turkish baths or that creamy Parisian hot cocoa without a map and the stamina of good health. 

I'll close by saying that people always ask me how and why we travel so often. I travel because I am able, and fortunate and drive a very old and junky car.  But traveling takes a lot from your body. It makes a lot of demands on your muscles and your bones and your emotional health and sometimes, your sanity. It's stressful, and exhausting, but, obviously worth it. So, when I hit the gym, it's to make my body healthier for more enjoyable travel. When I choose clothing or shoes, its based on how well they will pack for travel. When I get a paycheck from a bookstore or from an editor, it goes toward a plane ticket. My legs might be a little bigger than I like, but they are strong, and ready to walk, scramble, hike, run, and dance around this world. 

Up where they walk, up where they won't see this B on a tourist bus. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Marinated Feta


Just let that word float around in your consciousness, recalling probably every good memory you've ever had in your life. Cheese is on pizza. It's all over macaroni. It's roasted-toasted on a grilled cheese sandwich. You can make it from goats or cows or sheep or almonds (but why?) and maybe from humans, (I don't know for sure, but I am assuming, but also, please don't.)

This year the Nolandians have been growing an herb/flower/vegetable/nonsense garden on the balcony. Basically, we got way too excited about the prospect of growing things, and so we bought pots and with no rhyme or reason, we are growing all the things. One of the things, ( or actually two, since we have two large pots full) that we are growing is basil. And while we are psyched that it is growing so well, we have like... a lot of basil. I never realized how much basil I don't eat until we started growing it. I like some on top of a pizza, or tossed into my spaghetti, or thrown in a salad. Hell, I'll throw leaves into my sun tea and then also make pesto for dinner. But, it just keeps growing. Continuously.

So I am always on a lookout now for more ways to use this basil. And recently, I found one. A simple, moron-proof recipe for marinated feta cheese. (Bet you were wondering when I was getting back to the cheese.)

Story time:
Marinated Feta
1 jar.
A whole hella-lotta olive oil. Don't be cheapy. Buy some decent stuff. Extra Virgin. And I like my olive oil like I like my men--from Italy. (excepting Mr. Nolandia of course. He gets a pass)
A chunk of feta. Like, a block of it. But make sure it isn't too crumbly. Mine was a little....crumbled.And it didn't bode well.
Herbs. +Now for herbs, I used as much basil as humanly possible, some peppermint and spearmint leaves, (because YOLO) and some sprigs of rosemary. I picked these herbs because I am growing them on my balcony and they were just languishing there, needing direction.

Fill jar halfway full of oil
Cut cheese into one inch cubes. Or whatever size. You're the boss.
Drop cheese cubes and herbs into jar
Cover with more oil
Let sit for at least a day.
Eat within two weeks. But make sure that the cheese and herbs always stay covered in oil, if not, bad things.

Anyway, I felt like f*cking Giada after I made this and you probably will too. The cheese is great on salads (yo, the oil is already there!) and it is PERFECT as an oil/herb/cheese pasta topper. You're welcome.

See ya back next week for another travel based post, because y'all, we are ESCAPING for the motherland!
( and by that, I mean, Italy.)


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

This Little Backpack of Mine

Let me preface by explaining that I had a lot of ideas for today's post, but none of them were any good. At least, I wasn't interested in any of them. And I have a hard time  writing about things I don't care about, which is why I would make a terrible rookie journalist. 

So instead, I have written about my book bag/backpack/small travel accessory. 

But, wait, wait, it's not just a backpack, it's a semi-magical traveling backpack of wishes come true. (Hyperbole? Moi? Non!)

It's true. We travel a lot, (See Here) and so I have gotten better and better at packing, finding the right bags and luggage, and keeping my outfit creation skills on point. We only ever carry on, (unless we are bringing wine back from Italy or Spain. Which, you guys, sometimes has to happen.) and so our bags and suitcases must fit the strictest of international size and weight regulations. GAH

So, let me introduce you to my go-to small, personal item bag. This is the accessory "purse" that I bring on board a flight with my small carry-on roller. 
It fits:
Quart size liquids bag
Make-up bag
Passport holder and boarding documents (tickets/passes pre-purchased for trip)
Purse (actual purse.)
Charger cords
Pens (for customs documents)
Quart Size Medical bag (ibuprofen, pepto, etc)
Snacks for plane
Some type of small stuffed animal. For good luck. and also because I'm a GIANT BABY
Basically, it fits all my stuff. 

It's important too that it is a backpack, because it is easier to run with down the terminals to catch flights and I'm not constantly having to re-attach it to my roller. Mr. Nolandia had a situation where his small carry on would just repeatedly fall off his roller, and every so many dozen yards we would stop for him to re-adjust it. No bueno when running to catch a flight. 
If we are traveling somewhere less savory then we simply flip it around to the front so no sneaky fingers bust into our packs. But, for the most part, this has been a non-issue.

Inside the pack there are numerous little pockets, as well as cubbies on the outside for stashing things. The zippers have actually garnered compliments at the airport, --"Those are some great looking zippers! Real high quality!"-- and really, they are. I never knew how much I appreciated a good zipper until I finally had one. 

I've had this bag for our last 3 international trips, but Mr. Nolandia became so jealous that he was awarded one this past Easter, which he used for our trip to Mexico, and we are both prepping to use for our upcoming adventure to Milan. 

So, the bookbag is from Everlane. (Does anyone else call it a book bag? I do. I actually hate the word backpack. yuckkk)
And though I bought both bags my little old self, with no freebies from them, I can offer you a discount on your first purchase. Just make sure you:
 1. use the same email to purchase that you signed up with
2. Sign up first thing after clicking this link. Or else no discount for you. 

Anyway, the bag is great and I love it. Every time I see it in the closet it reminds me of where I have been and the exciting places I have yet to go. Pretty cool. 

So maybe this should be a thing. Next week I will give you another one of my favorite tried-and-true travel accessories, and then you can either dash to the website and purchase it, or disappointedly shake your head at the computer screen and wag a finger at me with your disagreement. 

But, truly, the bag is awesome. 


Wednesday, April 20, 2016


So, this is Yelapa. It's a small fishing village which is  a very uncomfortable 45-55 minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta. I wish I could tell you what lay within the jungles, behind the trees. I wish I could tell you about the beautiful waterfall that waits patiently for intrepid travelers to discover her. I even wish I could explain the joy and relaxation that come from sitting on reclined chair, just soaking in the sun and the endless turquoise and sapphire waters of the Pacific ocean as the waves lazily and rhythmically lap the white sand of the beach.

I wish I could. And it's not that words fail, and it's not that the undeniable marvelousness of the village is too wonderful to be described. But instead, I can't tell you about any of these things because I am a complete idiot who doesn't know how to read boat schedules. 

Allow me to explain. 

My husband and I woke up early one sunny morning in Puerto Vallarta and were asked by some friends to join them on a day trip to Yelapa. We looked over the existing plans for the day, namely, nothing besides a sunset cruise at 5pm, and we happily agreed. 

We rushed to the water taxi for the 10am departure. We took our seats and...then I threw my first fit. First of many. The water taxi, you understand, was pitched to me as a 30 minute adventure. But it is most certainly not. It is almost an hour. And as much as I love to explore, I do not, I repeat, I do not, like boats. Well, sailboats. And fishing boats, so long as they are a canoe or a row boat. But small motor boats? No, thank you. 

The scenery was beautiful, sure, but for approximately 5 minutes. And then it's simply the same scenery, for basically forever. But then finally, after multiple attempts from other holiday makers to ask the same questions, "Where y'all from? Where y'all staying? How many days you spending here?" (Blah, blah, no one really cares or remembers the answers to these questions), we made it to Yelapa. 

And it was gorgeous. I mean, unbelievably lovely. lush green jungle and terraced hills and dark, brooding mountains. Clear blue sky, white sparkling sand and water so blue and green and glittering that it looked like a screensaver on a computer. We were ready for our hike to the waterfall! We were told there was an old woman who made pie! PIE! Someone in a hushed voice said that this pie was the stuff of legends. Reverence immediately fell over the company of Americans assembled on the boat. Legendary pie, mystical jungle water falls AND this fairytale beach? It was almost too much. A holy moment, indeed. 

And then the captain, in heavily accented English, announced his customary spiel, recommending the bar over there that is owned by his son, and the parasailing over here that is ran by his nephew, and then...then he informs us that the boats return to Puerto Vallarta at...wait for it...Noon and four. 

That's it. Those are the only times. 

It was now 11:10am. Our already-paid-for, fancy, sunset cruise was at 5. We hadn't showered. Which meant, with travel time, that our only option was to literally get right back on the boat, and ride back. 

No waterfalls. No horseback riding. No soaking up the sun in a tiny fishing village. No PIE. 

So, as I said, I would love to sing you the songs of Yelapa. It would give me the greatest pleasure. But, I can't. Because I was only offered the most painful tease of Yelapa before I had to get back on the boat of discomfort and drift back toward Puerto Vallarta. 

Did I mention I hate boats?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Packing for Mexico

Look at this stank face I have going on. I should be grinning like an idiot. 

Don't mind me, just walking to this rock, to uh, look at it, as one does. Totally candid. 

Yes, this picture has been edited. Heavily. And with zero shame. That's what iPhones are primarily used for, right?

I know, I know, you wanted a lovely little packing list that has been made into a cutesy graphic and lists how many of each thing to bring for x amount of days of a trip with temperatures ranging from y to z in any given month. But I'm not that kind of blogger and this isn't that kind of blog. 

Basically, I went to Puerto Vallarta, on a whim, with Mr. Nolandia. We needed a life break from his crazy job, and I'm just all like, hey travel whatever, and so we went. Puerto Vallarta is plenty touristy, but we were lucky to find a little villa, which I will not tell you the name of unless you send me mucho dinero because I don't want everyone to go and then ruin it. This little villa was a few miles outside of town, right on the beach, with one whole wall basically just being open air terraces. It was heaven. 

The weather was hot, and subsequently the very Irish and fair-skinned Mr. Nolandia went up in almost literal flames, but I was left just very teasingly bronzed, which was wonderful. Did I mention this trip was a dream? I mean, for me, obviously. Mr. Nolandia was peeling and actually on fire from the heat of a thousand suns. 

Back to the clothing. 

So, I really don't own a lot of clothing. I know that sounds crazy, and that you may not believe me, but having a lot of...stuff.... makes me really ill. I am purging all the time. And that can be a rough spot for tropical vacations. Especially if you are trying the whole capsule wardrobe thing, which I am...but accidentally. I'm more of a capsule person by fluke than by choice. (because of the obsession with not having a lot of stuff) But, again, tropical vacations can be rough to pack for when you have limited things. Especially when most of your things must be work/life/travel friendly to various climates. 

The hat in the top picture is a Whole Foods purchase. It's from San Diego hat company, which is, a thing I guess. I saw it and liked it, and it became mine. It is my only hat. It looks so awesome though that I feel like I should have more. Am I right? The black maxi was what I wore on the plane with a jean jacket over top. The dress is from Brass, and YOU GUYS IT HAS POCKETS. Deep ones. So, like, big enough for my passport and my iPhone as I moved through security and customs. And there's something about a maxi dress on an airplane that feels like a blanket, and yet everyone thinks you're super chic. Win. Wins all around. 

Anyway, the rest of the clothes I packed were a white cover-up/mostly translucent dress with TASSELS! a pair of denim jeans with two Everlane tanks, a jumpsuit from Bobi Los Angeles and a crop top/thrifted skirt combo The skirt of which I sometimes wear to work(with an appropriate shirt, of course), because hey, versatility. 

My biggest thing: don't pack too much. I wore the same white dress to the beach every day with my pareo/wearable beach blanket tied around my hips. I wore the jeans never and I forgot what a bra was. 

The maxi was perfect for the flights both ways and for grabbing tacos the moment we got into town. We brought, literally, one carry on bag each. So, two people, two bags, 4 days. That's it. My purse even fit inside. 

So there you are. My packing list for Mexico. Pack light. Pack little. Get the most out of your clothes. If you have less to pick from on the trip, you have even less to worry about. 


Top picture:
Hat: San Diego Hat Company
Necklace: BuenoBueno

Hat: see above
Dress: VS (this is the one I wore every day. I was on the fence about the purchase, but we have Italy two times this summer, and so, a breezy white TASSELED dress was a must. 

Crop top: Brandy Melville, but like 3 years ago This is an interesting piece. It's not high quality, but it has lasted and it always fits like a glove. I can't bring myself to get rid of it, because I LOVE it.
Skirt: Thrifted, and then heavily tailored. I love my tailor. 
Large Roman Nose: My Dad. My dad gave me this nose. Thanks, Dad. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Storytime, Paris edition

Enjoy this little excerpt from my book of short stories. 

Maggie gazed out the window of her hotel. Yes, her life was truly charmed. The fresh, bright, spring sunshine of Paris flooded her opulent room, and she fairly pinched herself that it was all real. From the window, which she had propped open, she could see the Eiffel Tower. That great, powerful symbol of all things romantic, posh and quintessentially Parisian. She giggled to herself, and dipped her hand into the soft green box and came out clutching two pale green pistachio macarons. They were Gerard’s choice, and although they weren’t her particular favorite, the flavor reminded her of him. 

Where was he? She hadn’t heard him get up out of bed this morning. He must have gone out to fetch them breakfasts or to pick her up some little thing that caught his eye that he knew she’d like. He was clever at that. He always knew what she wanted, even before she did. She smiled to herself, realizing that her style was probably easy to identify--she liked things shiny and expensive. He had left her the most darling little note. It read, “Do not be angry, mon cher. I have gone. Will you miss me? xx Gerard”

What a little devil he was! Her mind easily drifted back to the day they had met. She had come to Europe on holiday with her sorority sisters, they were making the European tour during the summer after graduating from college. Their last free summer before they would be forced to settle down and become perfectly boring adults, a role that Maggie was blissfully happy to put on hold. She was the family favorite, and she could really do no wrong. Her parents were completely proud of her brother Simon, but as fond as he was of her, he had been a terrible bore about her “being less selfish”. He had admonished her right before she left about “being more appreciative for all that Mother and Father had given her”. Well, that was very well for him, he seemed to like hard work, but no, the universe held something different for Maggie. She could feel it. Nowhere had she felt it more than on the bridge in Prague where she met Gerard.
Her friends had begun to get on her nerves.   None of them had hardly any money, not compared to Maggie anyway. She didn’t understand why they would beg her to stay in hostels. Was it her fault that their pathetic parents didn’t have the cash to help them see Europe “the right way?” She couldn’t begin to understand their reluctance to spend their money on lavish nights out, or fancy new clothes. The way they were set on traveling seemed squalid to her. Dreadful. But when she and Gerard made eye contact on that windy day in the Czech Republic, she knew she’d found a kindred spirit.

He’d walked right up to her, brazenly. From the moment their eyes had met, he didn’t break contact. He approached her, and in his marvelous French had begun speaking rapidly. She had giggled, and it must have been an American laugh, because he instantly switched to a delightful, lilting, heavily-accented English. Her friends had found him attractive, it was impossible to find him anything else. But they were also wary. Why was he so forward?  Maggie was glad they had been shocked when she reciprocated his intensity. She had been more than happy to prove to Gerard that she was a cut above her silly friends. It hadn’t taken long after that. She had left the unsuitable 3 star hotel in Prague that she had compromised on, and soon they were staying at only the best. Gerard had shared her belief in “doing things the right way”, which of course had translated into sparing no expense. What was wrong with that? After all, she deserved it. 

From Prague they had gone on through Vienna, then Berlin, and now Paris. She was so happy they were finally here. She dipped her hand back into the pale green box next to her, her eyes never leaving the sturdy form of the tower. Her hand emerged clutching a white macaron. She couldn’t recall if it was coconut or vanilla flavored, and honestly didn’t mind which it was. Wasn’t life a beautiful dream?

She had been looking forward to Paris for many reasons. It wasn’t just that the city of love was the perfect place for her and her beloved Gerard. That of course, went without saying. But it was also the location of Gerard’s bank. Poor Gerard. He’d had such trouble throughout their time on the continent accessing his money. It was the only time she’d seen him upset. He would try to access his funds, have an issue, angrily call his bank and then reappear upset and tense. She would calm him down and console him. She would cover his face with soft kisses until he smiled again. Ahh, she loved the drama of it. It was almost like a movie, they would have a scene and then they’d embrace and declare their feelings, and hold on to each other tighter. He had plenty of money. It was obvious by his clothes, his watches, his mode of traveling. It was apparent in his tastes and attitude. She wasn’t worried about it. Now that they were in Paris, he would be repaying her for all of the trinkets and gifts he had picked out for her on the tour. Even though it was her card, and her money that had actually paid for them, it was only temporary. He would be reimbursing her. He’d said she needed those things. That a princess like her should have all of the baubles and diamonds they could find. He’d been so upset when his bank had declined the purchase. No, he was right, she did deserve it. And now that he finally had access to his money, all of the gifts he had bought with her money would be repaid. Gosh, but he was wonderful. And handsome. And generous.

He was always so cool. So careless. His clothes hung off of his lean, muscular frame as if they had been designed for him alone, (and perhaps they were!) His dark hair was worn shaggy and it smelled like lavender. His facial hair was scruffy, yet well groomed. As if he had planned for it to look that way. Yes, indeed, he was handsome. Effortless. His eyes lit up into an easy smile. A European smile. Not the wide cheesy grins of American boys. No, this was the easy, seductive, sultry lift of the corners of the mouth that only someone who is acutely aware of his own powers of seduction is able to manage. A man’s smile. Ahh, she could picture it perfectly. She could see that same smile as he had undressed her every night for their lovemaking.

And she? She had always considered herself brash and bold, but with him she felt like a ingenue. She felt like a perfect porcelain doll in his hands. She’d always been short, and petite with dark curls and a creamy complexion. In college she’d gone as “Sexy Snow White” every year for Halloween, but now she truly felt like she had been a sleeping maid in the forest, awakened now by the attentions of this amazing man. Yes, sleeping. Dozing from the tedium of a mediocre life with subpar expectations. It turned her stomach to think of all of sorority sisters she’d come on this trip with. They were all excited about their careers, and talked incessantly about their boring boyfriends, pathetic families and “making a difference in the world”. Ugh. She felt nauseated. 
Now she’d never need to be ordinary. They would all be (even more) jealous of her. They would all lament that their lives didn’t hold more for them. She’d show her stupid brother Simon with his dreary job. She’d flaunt her happiness in front of her overworked parents. She couldn’t wait for everyone’s reaction when she, Margaret Ashley O’Shea, brought the world to its knees. 

She smirked inwardly, she so loved to indulge these wicked plans. She was special and wonderful and she couldn’t help but be excited to throw it in everyone’s face. Turning away from the dizzying beauty of the sun glinting off the strong arms of the tower, she gazed back into the opulence of her room. The satin sheets, the thousand or so pillows, the remnants of the pink champagne they’d celebrated with the night before. 

They were always celebrating. Their one week anniversary, their love, their first night in a new country, their last night in a country. Everything was a celebration to Gerard. Last night he’d been in an especially good mood. He had toasted her over and over and drank the cotton-candy colored champagne out of her hot pink pump. She dropped her head back and laughed aloud at the memory. Silly boy. Where was he? It seemed like she had been sitting here, looking out this window and reminiscing for quite some time now. 
Her phone beeped, and she looked down to find yet another text from her mother. Her parents were in a frenzy about the amount of money she’d been spending. She clicked through and found another text from her old roommate, Tess. She hadn’t spoken with her since she left her in Prague. She felt a short, violent pang of guilt, which she quickly dismissed. Tess had messaged her to ask if there was any way she would be interested in meeting them for the last leg of their trip in London. She felt another stab of guilt and  dropped the phone back to the bed . Quickly, she picked it back up. Flipping back to her mother’s text, she saw that in all caps, she had written, “CALL HOME NOW. EMERGENCY”. It was strange. It couldn’t be a real emergency? Her curiosity got the better of her though. She quickly dialed home, making sure she had the country code. Her mother answered on the first ring. “HELLO? Maggie?! Darling, where’s the money? Where is all of your money?!”

She knew immediately what the problem was. With the life they had been enjoying, she and Gerard had fairly drained her account. She took a deep exasperated breath in, and sighed loudly. She wanted her mother to know how annoyed she was. She calmly explained she had loaned it to a trusted friend, but that it should be back in her account today. “But, Maggie, how could your friend spend that much money? It was a small fortune. Are you in some kind of trouble?” Maggie shook her head, and clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth. She ran her fingers through her curls, and remembered how ignorant her parents were. Speaking as if to a small child, (since that was probably just about the understanding her mother had of the world) she decided to begin explaining about Gerard and all of the beautiful gifts he had bought her. As she was describing the purses, heels, earrings, watches, pendants and bangles. Her hand danced over her jewelry box, and she was suddenly seized with a feeling not unlike a King in his treasure room, to see and touch all of her delightful accoutrements. But when she opened the lid, it was empty. Her controlled, nasal voice faltered for a minute on the phone. 

She feverishly ran over to her train case where she had put some of the other items, but they too, were gone. She grabbed for her wallet—empty. She slowly pulled the phone down from her cheek, and pushed the button to end the call. Her mother’s voice could still be heard as her finger found the button. All at once she crumpled into a seated position on what now seemed like an overly large, ridiculous bed. Her lace nightgown seemed insubstantial. She was cold. Cold everywhere. The freshness of the breeze outside, the golden fingers of the sun’s rays, even the Eiffel Tower itself, they all seemed to mock her. For, Maggie had realized that not only were her treasures missing, but all of Gerard’s things were gone as well. His bags, his shoes, his aftershave. His hair brush, his cologne, his favorite sweater. Gone. Only his musky lavender scent remained. 

She picked the note up, once again, and read it. “Do not be angry, mon cher. I have gone. Will you miss me? xx Gerard”. It sounded different in her mind this time. A goodbye. She knew then. She knew that she wasn’t special. She was just Maggie. She picked the phone back up and calmly asked for the police, all the while knowing he was too good and she was too stupid. Even if they ever recovered her things, she’d never recover all that she’d lost.

excerpted from Wide, Wild, Everywhere, by Yours Truly available on Amazon

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lambrusco Rosemary Fizz

We have been dreaming so hard about Italy lately. We have a couple trips planned to the boot this year, both northern and southern, and even though we have other trips planned, it is Italy that has our hearts. 

And speaking of hearts, how about the so-called, Most Romantic Drink in the World. I'm not sure if it's true, but this herbal and aromatic sparkler is easy to make and heaven to drink. A friend of ours brought over the ingredients to a brunch at Casa Nolandia, and all three of us were Mediterranean dreaming.

Lambrusco Rosemary Fizz
by Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, The Bubbly Bride

  • 1 orange wheel
  • 3-4 fresh rosemary leaves
  • 3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 4 ounces sparkling Lambrusco
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
Muddle orange wheel and rosemary leaves in the bottom of mixing glass. Add Grand Marnier and shake with ice. Strain into a champagne coupe. Top with Lambrusco. Garnish with the sprig of fresh rosemary.

So, drop some trousers, put on some Cole Porter, get your make-out lips ready and muddle you some orange and rosemary. Here's hoping that Lambrusco is enough Italian loving to get you through that Mediterranean fever. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Don't Be Fooled

Doesn't this look lovely? 

Well, it wasn't. There were dead fish lying about, horrible odors that came from a mixture of dirty water, rotting sea-life and general untidiness of the sea near Galveston. The sand was hard and damp, and the people at the beach, by and large, were a little unsavory. 

But doesn't it look charming?

I was in a bad mood, and spitting venom this day. I was snarky and mean and full of vitriol. I have never liked the water of the ocean overmuch, preferring the fresh water lakes of my youth. I was angry at Mr. Nolandia and annoyed by family concerns and anxious over the time I was spending on the beach rather than working on my newest book. I felt bloated and fat and unhappy with the sheer amount of my bottom that was falling out of my...bottom. 

But isn't it serene? 

Not that anyone needs to be warned, yet again, but I thought perhaps I'd lend my voice. Do not trust images, they lie easily. Do not trust the appearance of happiness or relaxation or calm. Do not be fooled by the lies we so easily can weave around the pictures we share. They hold gory, sad secrets.

Be wary, beware. We all have moments of ugliness, and also moments of beauty, and they can both be dyed the same color. 

But, really, isn't this dreamy?


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Chicago, the Old Neighbor to the West

It has always been easy for me to take Chicago for granted. Growing up in Flint, next to Detroit, Chicago was the nearest “big city”, and so it didn’t seem like anything very special or exciting. I accepted it as indeed, large, and containing many worthwhile museums and sights, but then cast my sights farther afield. 

It always seemed as if the places most exciting and worthwhile had to be warmer, more distant, somehow…not midwestern. And so, to my own misfortune, I never realized the unique wonders of Chicago until I was an adult. 

And I’ve been kicking myself over it ever since. 

Having traveled around the world, and experiencing many of the most “desirable” European capitals, I believe I can say with some authority that Chicago easily stacks right there amongst the most incredible places in the world. The architecture is inspiring and lovely, the juxtaposition of the more recently built skyscrapers among the marvels of older ones, the carefully crafted and designed structures sprinkled in between. A city designed not only by technological advancement in building ever skyward, but also constructed by beauty. A flourish in the details here, a hand carved staircase there, art and science existing harmoniously in the architecture everywhere the eye can see. 

And although the rooftop bars and luxurious dripping chandeliers and $20 cocktails around town are definitely high class, there is an unmistakable blue collar-ness to the city. A kind of “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” mentality that is attractive to me as a Midwesterner, but also an important characteristic of the city. Underneath the glorious Institute of Art, and the mesmerizing specimens at the Field Museum, there are real people, regular folks who made this city. There may be pomp and luxury, but there is also sweat, and elbow grease and ingenuity here. The mix of which, not unlike the architecture, is somehow more pleasing than any grandeur or opulence could ever be standing alone. 

The food in Chicago too, is something to be celebrated. Could there be anything more magical than a city known not only for making Pizza more fattening, but also for glorifying the hot-dog? Is there anything more American in existence? The fact that a James Beard award winning chef’s restaurant can sit next to a hotdog cart and the two of them get about the same amount of enthusiastic business is a testament to the food culture of the city. 

And the museums. Although mentioned before, it is necessary to return back to them. I have been to the Louvre. I have toured castles and been to the Hermitage and the Rijksmuseum and to the Rubenshuis.  I have spent a long afternoon in the Musee d’Orsay, explored the wonders of the Mauritshuis in the Hague, and have been a proud member of the Henry Ford Museum.  But, I can truly say the most wonderful museum I have ever had the pleasure to marvel at is the Art Institute of Chicago.  Period furniture and sculpture, modern and Renaissance art, resting near jewelry and mosaics from antiquity. Dutch masters mingle with Italian madonnas and scenes from the Spanish countryside. The museum itself is like these works of art, a masterpiece of beauty, sitting near Lake Michigan, beckoning tourists and locals alike. 

Yes, it was easy to look over Chicago. When I was younger, Rome beckoned seductively and Budapest called my name. Even the warmth of California and the charms of Disney World seemed more exciting than the neighboring city to the west. But Chicago should not be overlooked, rather, it should be looked over. Again and again. 

This article originally appeared in My City Magazine 
Author: Alexandria Nolan

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Chicago Views

I'd forgotten how gorgeous Chicago was. How full of history, and at the same time modern life and fabulous drinks and bomb-ass food. 

For me, it's easy to take Chicago for granted, being from the Midwest. Outside of Detroit, it was sort of the closest "big city" that came to mind. So, I never really thought of it at all. 

But the museums are incredible, the architecture--world class, and you know that pizza is as thick as my thighs. (Weird mental picture, or what?) 

Anyway, I'd forgotten just how much there was to do, to see, to experience. I'd forgotten how many of my friends were waiting for me in the Windy City, how many memories I'd left there the last times I'd visited. 

Chicago, we'll be seeing you again soon. 

But if you're visiting, check: 
Art Institute of Chicago- The American collection//Italian Renaissance Art is top shelf
Lou Malnati's -Arguably the best deep dish in Chicago//also great if you want a really bad stomachache
Little Goat- I recommend the Macaroni & cheese and the Chocolate malt. (Yup, dinner of a champion)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Traverse City Asylum

Spires rise eerily out of a deep, dense wood. As the car creeps closer and closer to the institution and its outbuildings, a strange sense of dread, of foreboding and sadness seem to crawl stealthily over everyone. The former Traverse City State Hospital, an asylum for a variety of mental illnesses, may no longer serve its original purpose, but the shadow of its past lingers still. 

Building 50 and Grand Traverse Commons, located in  Traverse City, is now a lively shop and restaurant filled destination, farmer’s markets, bakeries, wine bars and art deck the halls that used to house nurses and and patients, drug store rooms and treatment facilities. Its walls are whitewashed and bright, the hallways airy and cheerful. Speciality soap shops and Michigan made delicacies rub shoulders with hip coffee shops and a store that sells couture for dogs. 

As lovely as the renovation of the building is, one is somehow reminded constantly of the past. It is more than just the age of the bricks surrounding you, it is also in a feeling that sticks close from the moment you enter. It is not unlike the impression one gets when walking through Antwerp, the stately canal houses standing proudly, with a more modern dwelling tucked between every so often. It is the collision of the past and the present, because those modern houses only exist because of the tragedy of bombs falling in WWII. This same sadness and history is alive and well in Building 50. 

Many of the outbuildings have not yet been renovated and painted over yet. They stand, crumbling and seemingly forgotten on the property, haunted by the memories of the souls who  called the asylum home. The eerie caged-in front porches echo with long gone and forgotten rocking chairs and the sighs of those who had been left there, many forgotten themselves. 

Although I write of a feeling of despair, Grand Traverse Commons always seems to pull me back again. I think because it is such a beautiful old edifice, and that it has undergone such change— is inspiring. A new beginning for a battered and depressing place. A new start for the future, that invites us to lay the despair of the past to rest, and begin again. 

Want a copy of my book set in this creepy, spooky place? 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trip Planning

There’s a side of vacation that isn’t all that fun. Or relaxing. There is an aspect of planning a trip that is frustrating, stressful, and downright infuriating sometimes. And that, is picking the vacation spot, and coordinating the transportation. 

I travel often, usually heading abroad every other month. Sometimes it is for research for a book or an article, and sometimes it is for my husband’s work. Often, it is purely for pleasure and adventure, (with a little writing snuck in here and there). For some reason, it is this latter type of trip that makes for the most stress. 

First of all, where in the world to go? Literally. Our plans for London or Lisbon can be dashed after a look at the flight prices. Or the unbelievable price of the rental car paired with a cheaper airfare to Dublin may nip that destination in the bud. There are so many costs to consider. The flight is cheap but the hotels are horrendous, (Venice in May) or the hotels are a steal but there is nothing to do, (Venice in December.) 

He wants mountains and waterfalls, I want architecture and History. I like riding the train, he likes driving a tiny little car. Traveling with another person is an exercise in compromise and teamwork, and that begins the moment the wallets come out for booking. A 5 star hotel near the Eiffel Tower or a comfortable loft in St. Germain des Pres? 

So, one compromises. Perhaps a coastal village near Renaissance cathedrals to sate our appetites for nature and culture. An admirable 3-star with free breakfast instead of that 5-star we couldn’t afford. 

And after all that, there’s still the excursions to consider. But, fret not.

Vacations are supposed to be fun. Adventures through Europe usually call to mind arms full of shopping bags and well-dressed, hat-wearing people sitting leisurely at a cafe, a glass of wine in one hand and an espresso in the other. (And if there was a third it would be holding a croissant.) But so often these sunlit, pastel-perfect ideas of a trip fall short of our imaginations  in the midst of the hustle and bustle of “seeing it all.” 

We are equally guilty of this. It is hard not to attempt to check every last curiosity and “must-see” off our well-researched internet list or guidebook. But we hardly try anymore. It isn’t worth it, and it will make you hate traveling. 

My trip advice? Stress like crazy about finding the location and the transportation. Scream and yell and debate with your traveling partner over prices and packages, car rentals and train tickets, economy comfort seating and upgraded hotel rooms. Frazzle yourself over the logistics, and then when you’re there, kick back. 

See your top 3 sites in any given place, and then settle into a bistro chair and sip something sweet. Look around, smile, laugh. Talk about the castle or cathedral you visited earlier in the day. Sit on the beach and watch the waves. Admire the people around you and judge your own ill-fitting garments to theirs and promise yourself a wardrobe update. Buy a scarf. Buy two scarves. Eat the chocolate mousse, or the ├ęclair or the stroopwafel. Stay out past your bedtime, and then sleep late and enjoy it. 

It’s a vacation, after all. And once the planning is over, and you’ve arrived in that perfect location on that optimal flight, relax. You made it.