I am happy to finally report that I just published my Down and Dirty Survival Guide for Newly Single Parents on Amazon Kindle (Kobo coming soon!). I decided to cull what I consider to be the most succinct and most needed advice into 21 easy to reference tips into a short guide.
The first phases of single parenting can be a mixture of feeling completely overwhelmed by the tasks that lie before you, and the being(s) so dependent on you. Sometimes you may actually feel relieved that you don't have to consult anyone else in your day to day decision making process as a parent. It depends on your situation of course. This guide is meant to help people - both women and men - navigate these first phases.
I entitled it the 'Down and Dirty Guide' mostly because it's short and gets to the point (sorry, fairly G-rated, except for a brief section on online dating). Who has time to read War and Peace when you just want some quick tips and inspiration for getting through the early days of flying solo in the parenting seat? I cover a range of topics from building a tribe, automating your financial life, questioning conventional wisdom, and getting a dating life, to name a few.
I'd be grateful to hear any feedback, or any topics you think I might have left out. I will upload a revised edition to incorporate future suggestions in the not too distance future. Please feel free the first few pages of it here….
I'm a big fan of appreciating irony wherever it crops up in my life. It makes me laugh and keeps me at least slightly sane. It's a good thing since there seem to be just endless opportunities to recognize it. The latest instance being how it seems like I complained for eons of the claustrophobia of my very small hometown back in America and how a trip to the grocery store inevitably involves at least three to five conversations in the produce aisle, by the frozen foods, and again at check-out with very likely a friend, your former therapist, your kid's teacher, just to cite a few real life examples. It can be exhausting. But in other ways, efficient, as sometimes you see the person you've been meaning to call but never get around to it.
Quite to the other extreme, in my newly adopted English town, I couldn't throw a head of lettuce in the supermarket and hit anyone I know. And it's not for lack of trying. I'm outgoing, I talk to people in public places, and I smile a lot. But after three months of living here, I still don't know a soul. When we lived in Italy, and as I wrote about then, Italians can also be very difficult to get to know, but there the shopkeepers became my 'friends' and daily social outlet. But Italy has many more small shops where people can buy everything they need without ever going to the supermarket.
Here there is a cheese/wine shop, and the supermarket, which is where I must go for the majority of my shopping because the other shops, ie, the fishmonger and the hardware store, are so ridiculously overpriced as to be laughable that anyone would actually shop there unless the world were ending.
It is not very often that you can come across a place in London that people who have lived their whole lives here have never heard of. It gives the recently transplanted a sort of 'in the know' cache that is rather hard to come by. This happened to me recently when a friend and fundraising colleague invited me to an event at the St Bride Foundation and Library. This little known treasure trove of graphic and typographic arts, as well as bastion of history of the printing and publishing industry, is tucked away on a side street off of Fleet Street.
The evening was an opening reception for an exhibit of finalists and winners of a unique bookbinding competition featuring incredible purveyors of this artisan craftsmanship from around the world. The competition entrants were given the remit to design a book, from cover, inside layout, to cover, of a Shakespeare play of their choosing. The design needed to reflect both the title and storyline in some way. The results were stunning. I'd really never seen anything like it. The bookbinders used everything from incredible variations of paper, to other materials such as cloth, metal, and gilted gold. I was told that each would then be sold to high end collectors for anywhere from £5,000 to £30,000 each.
Despite having been around since the late 19th century, St Bride's has only relatively recently opened its doors to the public, suffering from what one can only assume was either over-protectiveness of their collections, or simply, British clubiness. Although with Reading Room hours only open from 11-6pm on Wednesdays, it doesn't seem that they are yet throwing open wide the doors. But if you do fancy a walk through some incredible history of the printed word, the library holds some 50,000 books, which include all the classic works on printing technique, visual style, typography, graphic design, calligraphy and more. There are 3,500 periodicals including all measure of typographic journals, and an incomparable record of artifacts that, according to their website, "bring the history of print culture to life." There are also wood blocks, copper plate and lithographic stones to exemplify the various techniques used to reproduce images. Plus, there are nearly 200 special collections comprising discrete groups of material, archives from trade bodies or companies, collections on particular topics, or specialized forms of material.
The Institute is also home to the Bridewell Theatre and Bar which features lunchtime and evening entertainment. The Foundation is embarking on a major fundraising campaign during which they hope to offer more printmaking workshops and training, as well as raise its profile with the public and make it much more accessible than it is now. And if you're wondering, no, I don't work for them! I just happen to think that finding anything off the beaten path in London with this much history, is worth passing on.
St Bride Foundation
Bride Lane, Fleet Street
London EC4Y 8EQ
T. 020 7353 3331
For anyone who has ever experienced long-term travel, either by choice or vocation, or has had to live an itinerant lifestyle for other reasons, you can appreciate how living out of a suitcase can wear thin after a while. For the past couple of years, the boy and I have been packing and unpacking our suitcases at intervals ranging from two weeks to six months. We've gotten pretty good at it. However, there are still times when we can't find the right charger, extension cord, converter, game, book, journal, sock, the list goes on, and it is maddening and can make you feel slightly out of control of your world.
This is one of the reasons, among many, that we are in the process of trying to create a more permanent home at the moment. A base from which we can make shorter travel excursions around Europe, and eventually, beyond. But finding that landing pad, on a writerly budget in one of the most expensive cities in the world (London!), feels like scaling the Himalayas at the moment.
This weekend we had to leave our temporary lodging, with old family friends, in the posh and leafy neighborhood of St John's Wood where the boy invented the game of how many Lamborghinis and Bentleys he could count each time we went out. Easy access to Regent's Park was amazing and will be missed, but we will perhaps feel more at home in down to earth Ealing, with other old friends, while the flat hunt continues.
Regent's Park was especially good for pick-up football (soccer) games for the boy. He takes his football very seriously for a 12-year-old and is rarely intimidated by groups of adults playing rec games. His tact is to sidle up, size up the number of players on each team, angling for a group with an uneven number, and when a ball goes off the pitch, he runs to get it, and returns with it and a request to join the game. Sometimes he is fobbed off, but more often than not, they let him join. And they are almost always surprised when he holds his own and in some cases, runs circles around them.
But back to the day to day grind of apartment hunting. I have seen more flats than I can count at this point and my answers to the litany of estate agents' questions have become rote and clipped. I am trying to not be too picky, yet I don't want to move again too very soon, so some critical boxes must be ticked like safe, good transport, garden, and the possibility of at least owning goldfish.
As to living out of suitcases and long-term travel, here are a few tips I've gleaned and gathered from time on the road:
Room with a view.
I just spent a few days back in Vicenza, without my boy, who was off camping with his dad and step-family. A new and strange concept this -- son going off for several days with his dad. I'm really not used to this having been flying the solo parenting jet for so many years. I have to confess, I really enjoyed myself! (And missed him too of course). I needed to return to Italy, not for any kind of mini-holiday but because I'd left a suitcase full of stuff at my friend's house when we left last winter. We just couldn't carry everything with us on our train journey to Frankfurt to catch our flight to New York.
This time I stayed in an Airbnb residence I found which was fantastic and ticked my boxes of having good wifi and walking distance from everything. I was welcomed by the lovely Lou, my Spanish-Italian hostess.
There's a lot to be said for time and distance with a place. I found it amazing that I could ooh and ahh over all that Vicenza has to offer once the pressure of trying to live there was gone. A great reminder that visiting a place is never ever the same as trying to live there.
All that said, for me Vicenza is truly the perfect sized city. Walkable, lots of cyclists and therefore, safe for cycling, stunningly beautiful with breathtaking architectural history at every turn. The Vicentini refer to it as a small town yet it is a city of approximately 120,000 people. It's geography is pretty impressive too -- Venice is 60 kilometers to the east, Verona even less to the west, and it sits at the foothills of the magnificent Dolomite (Dolomiti) mountain range. Plus it's a quick flight from London into Verona's Valerio Catullo Airport. The municipality of Vicenza has just recently implemented FreeVicenzaWifi in certain public areas. My first attempt to use it was not successful and probably required about 13 more (some things in Italy don't change) but I did not pursue it as I had other things to do once I'd left the apartment, such as eat and drink of course.
If you just happen to be going to Vicenza here are three suggestions for a triumvirate of apertivos, dinner, and dessert that can't be beat:
1. Enoteca Piccola Osteria, Via Alfonso La Marmora, 72, 36100 Vicenza (#2 bus to Via Curtatone or 20 min. walk from center of town). This little wine bar has long been a favorite haunt of mine. Last year they got used to me - the oddball American scribbling away in the corner several days a week. The prosecco is the best I've had anywhere, ever. Plus there is an amazing selection of wines from all over the country that go oh so well with their selection of spongiatta, Italian tapas-like appetizers, ranging from 'Sarde en Saor,' a regional specialty and the most subtle, delicate sardines marinated in onions that simply melt in your mouth, to marinated octopus, meatballs cooked in red wine, tramezzini, the list goes on. They have main courses as well but no menu - they'll just tell you what they have available that day. And if you really can't get motivated to travel off the beaten path, Piazza dei Signori is practically littered with cafes, as well as ones tucked away on side streets, where you can get great, cheap apertivos like Aperol or Campari spritz for 2-4 euros each.
2. Righetti Self Restaurant, Piazza Duomo, 3, 36100 Vicenza. Yes, you read that right. They forgot the 'serve' part! Warm and homey, with the decor of an Italian grandmother's rustic country home, and particularly easy on the budget, a three course meal with wine can be had at this cafeteria-style restaurant for under 20 euros per person. The grill is a big favorite here and you can usually have a choice of chicken, beef, or fish grilled to order and they invariably feature the regional specialty of Baccala alla Vicentina, which is like a mash of fish in a cream sauce served with polenta. It is not appealing to the eye and I'll leave aside the possible analogies, but I can attest that it is tasty. Just be sure to 'set your table' with a place setting first before getting your food or they will get very annoyed with you.
3. Pasticceria Venezia, Contra Pescaria, 4, 36100 Vicenza. My Italian friends told me this was the best pasticceria in Vicenza and they did not steer me wrong. I'm not a pastry hound but these were truly pretty amazing. Macaroons in many flavors and colors and delicate pastries filled with cream that would make you die happy if they were the last things you ate. There is a small coffee bar attached where you can stand and consume your treats on site or have them beautifully wrapped for 'portare via' (take away).
Check back for more on Vicenza coming soon....!
Welcome back to Have Son, Will Travel – Phase 2! I guess I have some explaining to do. I still have a son and we have still been traveling. Though life has presented some unexpected detours. The past eight months have seen us in New York, Ohio, Nashville, Los Angeles, and now London. I left off with our story in Italy almost a year ago exactly.
The boy and I stayed on in Vicenza through the end of 2012, but writing about it at the time seemed like a needless bummer. I didn't really want to put anyone else through that. I'll just say it: living in Italy was hard. Really hard. I know it's not supposed to be that way. La Dolce Vita, yadda yadda. I'm here to tell you sometimes paradise has its dark side. Or if it doesn't, leave it to me to find it.
Schooling for the boy proved nearly impossible. He didn't have enough Italian under his belt, and so couldn't keep up, and felt isolated and bullied the month of middle school he endured there. Starting middle school can be tough anywhere, but in a foreign language, with no friends? It didn't seem fair to put him through that unless we were really going to be there long term. If I could have afforded a bilingual school it might have been another story.
My son, as I may have mentioned before, is I’m sure a lot like other boys his age (nearly 12) in that he likes to spend as much time as possible doing two things: playing soccer (insert sport of choice) and playing with his PS3 or computer games. Often trying to get him to do anything other than these things involves a form of very slow Chinese water torture (to be endured by me, not him). So it is with some degree of delight that this week I observed that Luc likes to get into the weightiest of topics at the strangest of times – always when we are biking in city streets, usually through challenging traffic, on the way to his soccer practice, which is at least 20 minutes each way.
On the way to practice the other day he posed the question: “Mom, what’s it like to be a woman?” which he has admittedly asked before. But after my initial glib response of “I don’t know because I’ve never been anything else,” he kept pressing for details. Now I know a window when I see one! I will certainly not ever miss the chance to help him grow into the progressive, aware, strong, and good man that I know he will become. So, this led to a discussion of what women’s place has historically been in the world and is today, in some places still.
I have to say it all came as quite a shock to him and in his lovely innocence he couldn’t begin to understand why a woman wouldn’t always have the same rights as a man, why they might get paid less for the same job, or why I have to be more careful going home at night by myself than he will ever have to as a grown man.
On the way back from practice the question was “Mom, what happens when we die?” which sparked a discussion on religion, what some people believe happens when you die, with each of us pitching our own pet theories on what awaits us all eventually, all the while dodging Italian drivers and navigating roundabouts.
I can’t quite figure out this predilection of his for heavy-duty conversations while in motion. It has happened before, sometimes in cars too, anything involving wheels apparently. But all I know is that his curiosity is alive and well and I’ll go with the probably still contrarian theory that gaming makes you smarter!
Check out these great TED talks on gaming:
Gabe Zichermann – How Games Make Kids Smarter
Jane McGonigal: Gaming Can Make a Better World
We are back in Italy after a 3 month hiatus in the US to obtain my work visa. The Italian is rusty but words keep popping up that I'd forgotten I knew, so all is not lost. Nothing like try to learn a language to stretch brain muscles you never knew you had. Luc and I have spent the last several afternoons at Vicenza's Parco Aquatico. It is baking hot and there is really nothing else to do but hole up inside until it's time to make a beeline for the pool. Thank God there is one! In this case, quite a deluxe public version that makes our beloved local village pool in Ohio look like a neglected and distant aquatic cousin.
The Parco Aquatico has two ginormous twirly slides, a sculplturesque pool with fountains with underwater 'tanning beds' -- places to recline that I can only suppose are meant to increase your tan, a main pool with a huge floaty 'mountain' that kids can climb with ropes or handholds and slide down the front. The pool is so big there are always two lanes roped off for lap swimming cross the width of it, which is the same as the length of most pools I've been in.
With less than a week of living in Italy to go, I will leave you with some parting thoughts. While living here has been both wonderful and difficult in many ways; it is not a cliche to say that it is a place of stunning beauty that time almost forgot and also a place where the business of day to day living and working can be made pretty damn hard. But it has, I can say, also been a very good place to get a lot of writing done. I have finished one screenplay, started another, and am working on a young adult novel. And I cannot close this chapter on Italy without acknowledging that our time here would never have been possible without the incredible generosity and hospitality of my friend, Marta, and her family.
Of course it is not just the inspiring environs, but keeping to a writing schedule that has been key. However, while sitting in my usual coffee bar this morning, I realized that one of the other main reasons is that I can so easily tune out all the Italian I hear around me. There are no English conversations to distract me, the Italian melts into melodious white noise that I cease to hear after a while. And there is also the fact, that because I am pretty obviously a foreigner, a tourist, it gives me a free pass to sit alone in any café, bar, or restaurant, while writing and observing away. I just don't seem to become self-conscious about it the way I would if I were back home.
I have my usual haunts around town by now that I frequent. The staff all know me and greet me like a regular. I am probably thought of as that lonely-woman-with-no-friends who comes in and scribbles in a notebook for hours. All right, I have to confess, when I have had friends come for a visit, I do take them back to these places, with no doubt some subtext of wanting the staff to see that I’m really not so strange after all, I truly am a well adjusted, somewhat normal human being!
The other reason it has been good for my writing is that free, or even paid, wireless service in public places in Italy is still relatively uncommon, at least in this town. All the months I’ve been here I have not seen one – not one – person sitting in a café with a laptop. We are not in Starbucks territory. So this means I must leave the greatest distraction – the Internet at home. A beautiful thing.
On the subject of writing, whenever I hit the wall and find myself stuck, which is often enough, I always go back to the most amazing book I’ve ever read that deals with any act of creativity: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. If you aim to compose a song, build a house, or start a business, and get stuck or have any self-doubts, read this book. It always manages to give me hope that maybe, just maybe, if I keep showing up every morning, like punching in at the factory, something good will eventually come of my efforts.
I really didn’t know, when we left home last August, how long this venture would last. I’m amazed and pleased that we have nearly reached 8-months of European living. Unfortunately, we won’t make it to Spain this trip, but I have promised L that will be our next destination. And with his new background in Italian, picking up Spanish shouldn’t be too hard. L came home from school the other day and said “I love my school and my friends there!” I couldn’t believe my ears. An all-Italian, Catholic school. Who could have guessed this would be a good experience for him? I so wish I didn’t have to take him out before the end of the year, but unfortunately the laws of tourist visas are bigger than us. But he has made some very good friends and we will be back.
Now, it is on to London for a brief stop, and then we are Midwest Bound. It will be good to be on home ground for awhile and recharge our batteries with friends, family, and a bit of small town American living. And so it is that now I will put this blog to rest for a while. I imagine it will be reborn eventually, in perhaps a different form. I will spare you any caterpillar to butterfly analogies right about now. The reality is much more prosaic. The months ahead will hold many changes for my superboy traveler and I, and now is the time for me to focus on the tasks ahead: Writing. Living. Work.
Thank you for reading!
(L to R: my morning perch; taming the beast, otherwise known as Ralph; late afternoon in downtown Vicenza; a lizard).
The river we cross on the way to school every morning.
I have been a bad blogger lately and I was wondering to myself the other day why this is. It is true that I entered my flat-out- really-busy season with work, but I also realized that it is because life in Italy has settled into such a normal routine, that I don’t really feel like I’m travelling any more. I think this is mostly an excuse, but I’m going with it.
Our routine, since I’m on the subject, has been to attempt to get L into school by 8:30am, by bus or bike, where he stays until 2pm and I go back down and pick him up. He is settling in well and seems to actually be enjoying himself. He has individual Italian lessons twice a week with Nelly, the English/Italian teacher, and has an assortment of the usual classes while he is there such as math, history, English, music, computer, art, and a real bonus, swimming. He says the food served for lunch is mostly amazing and he enjoys playing soccer after lunch every day. The best part of all is he has made a really good friend – a boy who speaks enough English that they can communicate well enough between them. He went to his house the other day for a birthday party. This is monumental! READ MORE....
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, life renegade