Eat. Play. Run.

My quest to live in Rome, a bite and a step at a time.

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photo 3

Here’s the phrase I hear constantly:

“Aren’t you excited?”

Well, no.

I know that sounds weird to say. It’s not everyday that you move to Italy. But truthfully, I’m anxious.

My month at home in Pennsylvania has been more wonderful than I expected.  Here are some highlights:

  • I ran a half marathon with a dear high school friend, and saw my younger sister finish her first full marathon.
  • I spent time with several other high school friends, and traveled to Meadville to spend the day with a dear college friend.
  • My mother and I drove to Rochester, NY for a few days, to spend time with my aunt, cousins, and extended family.
  • My parents spoiled me with home-cooked meals, including my father’s freshly baked bread and smoked goodies (he makes amazing BBQ pulled pork).
  • I saw my niece and 3 nephews play sports: soccer, baseball, and softball. I must have gone to at least 20 games.
  • My father and I kayaked down the Clarion River (see photo above).
  • I ran several times on backroads, and had the pleasure of greeting two Amish men as they passed by in their horse and buggy (they replied by saying “hi” and tipping their straw hats).

But most of all, I got to spend an entire month with my family, staying with my parents, and getting to see my older sister, brother in-law, and niece and nephews on a regular basis. Sure, I’ve been home for visits, but I think the longest amount of time I spent at home was a week. This entire month was such a gift, and now the thought of not having them around sends me to tears. That makes it hard to be excited. Instead, I’m choosing to focus my time and energy on them until I get on the plane.

Another reason I’m not excited is because for the past few weeks, I’ve been second-guessing myself and my decision. Why am I going over there without a job? Is this a waste of time? Am I better off saving my money and searching for a job regionally, or back in San Francisco? Then I think about how far I’ve come in my planning, and how I would feel if I DIDN’T go. That usually helps ground me and bring me back to why I made this decision.

I know that once I step on that plane, the excitement will start to appear. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every last remaining minute with my family, and stay present.


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Amish Buggy

I’m spending the month of May back in Western Pennsylvania with my family. I grew up in Amish country, in a small town of 2,500, complete with one grocery store, three stoplights, and a lot of churches. As you can imagine, it’s quite the contrast from San Francisco. However, I’m thankful to be here. The plusses outweigh any minuses: family, good weather (it’s been in the ’80s), good home cooking, and quiet. My niece and nephews play a variety of sports, so I’ve been able to catch quite a few games. I’m also trying to run or walk daily to shed some extra pounds from all of the big meals I had last month. Take note: when you leave, everyone wants to take you out to dinner. Exercise accordingly for balance.

Upon arriving home, I noticed that my California driver’s license will expire in August. That’s a little troubling. In the event that I don’t find a job in Italy in 90 days, I’ll need to leave the country, and if I return to the States then I won’t be able to drive. Plus, I’m no longer a California resident, a fact that I didn’t want to admit to myself. I decided I’d be better off facing reality and headed to the Punxsutawney DMV for a Pennsylvania license.

Although I haven’t been a resident for almost 14 years, I was still in their system, and the process was pretty painless: 1) submit application/supporting documents, 2) pass eye exam, 3) pay fee, 4) take photo. The employee took note of my reluctance to let go of my California license, my last remaining proof of San Francisco residency, and assured me I could have it back once he invalidated it. He hole-punched it two places, handed it back to me, and said with a smile,

“Welcome back to Pennsylvania.”

Of all the places to get a homecoming, I never imagined it would be at such a universally detested place as the Department of Motor Vehicles! I couldn’t help but smile back as I thanked him and accepted my old license, now a treasured souvenir.

I walked out thirty minutes later with a license stamped with the word “temporary” in red across the front (my actual license arrived in the mail a week later). I examined this word for awhile, and reflected on how appropriate it is for where I am in my life: in a layover, on my way to the next destination. Directly below the word is my new permanent address, the home where I grew up and spent two-thirds of my life. The home I left almost 14 years ago. And the home and family that always welcome me back, that support me through every life change and every adventure.

Sure feels good to be Pennsylvanian again.




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San Francisco

Bay Bridge

I arrived in the Bay Area in September 2000. I still remember arriving at SFO with two bags, three grand in the bank, and an unwavering plan to spend only one year in California. This would be enough to complete a graduate degree and get an international education job back on the East Coast.

That was almost 14 years ago.

Like so many, the appeal of the “Best Coast” worked its magic on me. I loved the sunshine, the positive energy, the active lifestyle. I started running on campus, going on local hikes, and visiting San Francisco on the weekends to explore. For someone with no interest in cities, I was charmed by the diverse neighborhoods, the abundant public transportation, the gorgeous Victorians and sweeping bay views. So in 2001, I abandoned my plans and moved into a three-bedroom Edwardian in the Castro District with two friends. We were knee-deep in a recession and it was extremely difficult to find a job. Many questioned how I was going to make it work; I was an outsider with no local connections and little work experience. But a dwindling savings account is great motivation, and my full-time job searching paid off. Within four months of graduation, I had a job.

Thirteen years later, despite two recessions and three job changes, I’m lucky to still call myself a San Franciscan. On a daily basis I tell myself how much I love it here and how lucky I am to live here. Despite my love of travel, I always smiled with gratitude upon returning, happy to be home in my city, with no desire to live anywhere else.

Until I went to Italy.

San Francisco taught me to pursue your passions and live life to the fullest. And that’s why I spent a month in Italy, taking cooking classes, running a marathon, and traveling around the country. Like San Francisco, Italy worked its charm. Suddenly, I had found something new and exciting to pursue.

I decided to move to Italy in July, and gave myself nine months to financially, physically and mentally prepare for the transition. But most of all, it gave me nine months to say goodbye to San Francisco. I took time every day to admire, appreciate and give thanks to some aspect of my daily life: my neighborhood coffee shop, a streetcar, rolling fog, my funny coworkers, the sound of a friend’s laughter. I relished my runs in Golden Gate Park and the views of the Bay Bridge from my office window.

My last month in San Francisco was incredibly special. Although I was busy emptying out my apartment and packing, I was also unemployed. So I dedicated my time to doing all of the things that I loved about San Francisco. I ate at my favorite neighborhood restaurants. I lingered over coffee at my local coffee shop. I took the N Judah train out to Ocean Beach and watched the sun set. Most of all, I had so much incredible one-on-one time with close friends. We ate, drank, laughed, and shared memories.

On my last day, April 30th, I awoke early and set out for a 5-mile run through Golden Gate Park. I took my time and thought about some of my favorite runs. I stopped and admired the bison, watched the loons play on Spreckels Lake, managed one last push up that tough incline on JFK at Transverse Drive. I stopped when I got to the Conservatory of Flowers, bursting with tears and gratitude. Golden Gate Park. One of my favorite places in the whole world.

I met my oldest and dearest San Francisco friend at my coffee shop for lunch. Our friendship is strong, and I know it will continue no matter where we are. She is too important to me.

More frantic packing. A trip to Goodwill to donate some final items. It was unseasonably warm, in the mid-’80s. Before returning the Zipcar, I drove through the Castro one last time. The rainbow flag waved proudly over Harvey Milk Plaza; all are welcome here. I always felt welcome.

I then headed to Lower Haight, to Toronado, my first San Francisco bar. It’s only appropriate that it be my last. I drank two Anchor Steam beers at the bar and smiled at the large beer selection. Thirteen years later, I’m still impressed at and delighted by this place. How appropriate.

The final stop: Park Chow, my favorite neighborhood restaurant. The food here is solid good, the atmosphere lively and inviting. I chose an iceberg wedge and their signature fusilli with chicken and sausage. The flavors paid tribute to this city represents: bright and diverse, yet harmonious. My city.

To anyone considering a similar life change, my advice is to give yourself ample time to say goodbye. And give thanks.

Thank you, San Francisco.