#28: Visit a New Country – Italy (Rome)

Rome has been on my list ever since I decided I wanted to travel. Becky has been there once before, in art school, but didn’t get to do it the way she wanted – they were rushed through everything, never got to stop and enjoy anything, and her schoolmates would go to McDonalds. We wanted to do it right this time. As for scheduling, we stole an idea from Becky’s sister: Thanksgiving week! Flights out of the country are cheap, and it isn’t peak tourist season, so crowds are smaller.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

Day 0 was for traveling. One of our flights had been delayed, so we had to wait around while the helpful ticketing agent made sure we were going to get to Rome. There were 12 hours of flights, so we busted out the Carry-On Moscow Mule kit we had received as a gift last year, and watched I think 5 movies. There was also a 5-hour layover in Amsterdam, during which we tried to stay awake, mostly successfully. We arrived after dark at our cozy, perfect Airbnb in Trastevere, and after a lovely dinner, went to sleep for 10 hours.

Day 1 included a guided tour of the Colosseum, where we got to stand on a reconstruction of the arena floor and shout are you not entertained but not really because we don’t want to be that kind of tourist. It was really cold this day, so we stopped for lunch on our way back to the apartment, and took a nap. We knew we were going to be jet lagged today, so we deliberately planned an easy day, so in the evening we just walked around our neighborhood, got lost a few times, ate what turned out to be some of the best gelato in Rome at Fatamorgana, and started a habit that became a Thing – carbonara.

Day 2 was the day of rain. We had an umbrella, but as the day wore on it got windier and stormier. We did the “Heart of Rome” walking tour from the Rick Steves book, and found that the audio versions you get with the phone app are really excellent. We managed to see the Campo de Fiori market, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain, all without huge crowds. This is unheard of, and better than we could have hoped for.

Towards the end of the day, the storm intensified. There was lightning, but it was a ways away. Then, right as we were leaving Piazza di Spagna, a bolt struck, and it sounded like it was right overhead. It was time to find dinner. Indoors. We grabbed dinner at a place nearby, which is a risk, but we were rewarded with the best gorgonzola gnocchi we’ve ever put into our faces. On our walk home (once the storm had passed) we stumbled across the ruin of an old theater, that had modern buildings with people living in them right on top of it. Breathtaking.

We also started to really enjoy the coffee culture in Italy. It’s not like the USA, with the huge paper cups, and in fact it costs more to sit down at a table. You order your drinks at the cashier (due macchiati was our go-to) who gives you a little paper slip, belly up to a bar (yup, like in a tavern), give the slip to the barista, and they deliver you a tiny shot of espresso with a dash of steamed milk in under a minute. You drink it standing, because once it gets cold it’s no good anymore, so you’ve got maybe 5 minutes. It’s delicious and fast and if you can do it without making anyone speak English, it’s like being Italian for just 5 minutes. Pro tip: there aren’t a lot of public restrooms in Italy, and when you do find one it probably costs money, so if you have to go, duck into a bar! You buy a tiny coffee for just €1 (the cost of most public toilets), and you get to use a clean restroom.

On day 3 we had almost completely adjusted to the timezone. We discovered that our neighborhood bar was actually really well-known for having great coffee, and we walked back towards the Colosseum to where the Roman Forum is located. Again, the Rick Steves audio tour was excellent, and we loved walking the stone road where Julius Caesar did, and through the ruins of the basilica that Constantine built. We took a winding way home, and had our usual mid-day nap. (We got into this habit because of jet lag, but kept it because of practicality – people eat dinner here really late, and restaurants don’t generally open until 7pm. We weren’t going to last that long without a little break.)

In the evening, we met an Airbnb guide for a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone. Melinda took us through the old city, tasting food all along the way, and explaining the history of the places we were walking. it was just us and one other family, and we had a great time. There was a cheese shop (where we bought some pecorino to bring home), a seafood restaurant, a Sicilian bakery where we had the best cannoli we’ll probably ever have, and what we’re told is the best tiramisu in the city. It was so good.

Day 4 started off with another Airbnb Experience, this time through the catacombs of an old Catholic church! We had breakfast as a group (in Italy this means a pastry and a cappuccino), then walked about a mile to the Basilica di San Pancrazio, where our guide (who is one of the few people with access to the keys) led us down some stairs into the labyrinth of hand-dug tunnels under the building. There were lots of little berths where people would pay to be buried, and some of them still had bones in them! Super creepy.

On our way back into town, we stopped for some gelato, managed to see the cannon fire at noon at Terrazza del Gianicolo, stepped into the Spanish embassy to visit a tiny shrine in what is assumed to be the place Saint Peter was crucified, and back through Trastevere (drinking from the fountains called nasone – “big nose”) to an absolutely amazing butcher shop and the market in the square. All this in one tour!

Day 5 was our last full day in Rome, so we walked to Vatican City. The architecture is stunning, and it’s hard to imagine the amount of power and money that flows through this place. We went through St. Peter’s Cathedral, but not the museums – we’re not that into Catholic lore and history, and wanted to avoid the crowds. We walked around behind the city walls to Pizzarium Bonci, which makes supposedly the best pizza in Rome. It might have ruined American pizza for us.

We strolled home past Castel San’Angelo, past some heavily touristy areas that we usually avoid, and through a shopping district with really interesting window displays. After our siesta, we got some unique cocktails and snacks among the hipsters at Freni e Frizione (check out their menu!), and stood in line for 15 minutes at Trattoria Da Enzo, which was well worth the wait. They even had a dessert made of mascarpone and tiny little wild strawberries!

We were slated for evening flights on day 6, so we had a chance for just one more food tour through a part of the city we hadn’t seen before. We dropped into a basilica during Saturday Mass, which made me think of my childhood. We had snacks at a neighborhood bakery/grocery store that was truly amazing. And we helped make gelato at Gelateria Fassi, one of the oldest and largest in Rome. Strolling home, we saw the ruins of the old city wall and an Egyptian-inspired pyramid, and had a very unique experience in a public bathroom.

Then it was off to the airport, where, with the usual number of hiccups, we made our way home. This was a truly lovely trip, and we’ll treasure it always.

One thing we want to mention again is Airbnb Experiences. We have nothing but good things to say about them. They’ve always delivered exactly what we’re looking for – a person who lives in the place we’re visiting, showing us the places and things they love about it. It’s become so easy to book these things that we make sure to do at least one wherever we go now. Highly recommended.


#11: Read a Parenting Book

We’re definitely of the view that parenting is a skill. It’s something you can get better at. So every year we read a book on parenting together, and try to improve ourselves so we can have an easier and more effective experience with the short people in our lives.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

This year we chose Untangled, which focuses on the experience of parenting a girl going through teenagerhood. We’re not quite there (Lucy is 10), but we’re on the cusp, and we had been bracing ourselves for the worst. Having read this, however, it doesn’t seem quite so terrifying.

One of the best metaphors in the book is the swimming pool of adulthood. As a child, you stick to the side, maybe only put your toes in. As a teenager, you push out into the deep end every now and again to see what it’s like, but then you’ll come back. As parents, we’re the side of the pool, and we’re going to get pushed away every now and again, only to get warm hugs again the next day.

We’d definitely recommend this book, and not just to parents of girls. Much of the advice in here applies equally to boys, but it’s also important to help boys grow up into men who respect women. Having this empathy with the women in your son’s life can help you help him navigate that situation.

Parenting is hard. We’re happy to accept help, and this book was very helpful. A+.

#40: Grilled Cheese Grill

Way back in 2013, we tested the kids for food allergies, and they came up with an intolerance for dairy. It wasn’t a lactose thing, because certain preparations didn’t seem to affect them (cooked butter, raw milk). But it meant they were mostly shut out of the world of cheese, ice cream, and butter, except for pale imitations.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

This year we re-tested them, and they had both grown out of their intolerance! We started stocking cheese and butter again, and to celebrate we took them to the cheesiest food cart in Portland: the Grilled Cheese Grill. Their signature sandwich is the Cheesus: it’s a burger, but each part of the bun is a full grilled-cheese sandwich. That was too much for us, so we ordered three Baby Cheesuses, and sat in the school bus to eat. A giant hail storm blew through, pounding the roof of the bus, creating a truly memorable experience.

#93: Becky – Read War & Peace

I read a lot. But I don’t read many classics. For some reason, this year I got it into my head that I should read War & Peace. Although there are some 1300 pages, there’s only 361 short chapters. Perfect for one per day for a year!

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge.

Yeah. I can’t read like that. I ended up rushing through the last quarter in October, just to finally have it finished. Did I like it? Parts. Do I now know way more about Russia during Napoleon’s invasion? Yep. Would I recommend it to others? Hmm. Maybe.

#36: Attend a Musical

Our whole family loves live theater. This year we took them to the Oregon Children’s Theater production of Ella Enchanted, which was fantastic.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

Going to this show made us realize that they’re ready for some of our favorite Broadway shows, so we have some things to look forward to next year!

#74: Halloween Show

Every once in a while, we like to go to a kooky show at the Alberta Rose Theatre. A few years ago we did this for my surprise date, and we loved it so much we keep watching for things we can go to.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

Their 2018 show was The Nitemare B4 Xmas, a fan recreation of the music of the movie you probably already love. It was weird, magical, and an absolute joy. The opening act was Three for Silver, a lively sort-of-bluegrass band, and although that’s a little out of our usual wheelhouse, they were really good and we enjoyed them very much.

#58: Explore Vernon Neighborhood

Earlier this year, we did a true exploration of the Woodstock neighborhood. Well, when the kids had another weekend away at Trackers, we thought maybe we should check out the Vernon neighborhood.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

Vernon is really close to our old King neighborhood, which meant we had to tread carefully to (a) stay within the bounds of Vernon, and (b) avoid places we already knew well. This is a lively area of Portland, and we didn’t have any trouble finding new places to visit. Among our favorites: Hat Yai, Tea Bar, Proud MaryHandsome Pizza, Helser’s, and Boxer Ramen.

Our Airbnb was just perfect, and we’d recommend it to anyone visiting from out of town, especially since the neighborhood is interesting and walkable.

#89: Ben – Train to teach a technical course

I’ve been writing software professionally for almost 15 years now, but it’s just in the last few that people have started seeking me out for my knowledge. In 2015 I wrote a deep technical dive on a specific problem with Kubernetes (a software system that turns lots of small computers into one big one). This year I was asked to teach a course on Kubernetes.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

Kubernetes is a rapidly growing technology, and there’s a shortage of qualified instructors. An Irish company called Guru Team approached me to see if I’d be interested in teaching people about it. Would this involve travel to the UK and possibly beyond? Yes? Then yes!

Kubernetes is a pretty sophisticated system, and there’s a lot to know. A course that will prepare you for the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) certificate takes 4 solid days of lecture and practice. The test itself takes 3 hours. I know this because I went through all the training materials, did a ton of research, and passed that exam. How can you teach this course without being certified yourself?


At this point, I’ve checked off all the boxes, and I’m ready to teach! Hopefully my first course will happen in early 2019, and I’m excited to get started.

#94: Becky – Do the Puyallup

I spent the first decade of my grown-up life living in the Seattle area, and I loved attending the Puyallup Fair. There is an international photography exhibit as well as the usual awesome state fair stuff. This year I convinced a beautiful friend of mine to drive up with me and do the Puyallup. (It’s possible I had to entice her with the promise of a quilting exhibit.) It was a great day trip all around, complete with tons of fried food and all the treasures in the Collections Hall.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!


#54: Add two more monthly causes

Just like in 2016 and 2017, we wanted to continue expanding our contributions to causes we believe in. (Note: this post might be interpreted as political; whether you agree with our choices or not, we encourage you to contribute to those movements you believe in.)

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. 

This year we added two causes to the monthly-donation list.

  1. The DCCC is a clearinghouse for funding Democratic election candidates across the USA. In lieu of donating to specific candidates, we decided to support a broad base of them in one fell swoop.
  2. Advance Peace “is dedicated to ending cyclical and retaliatory gun violence in American urban neighborhoods.” They work closely with those young people most at risk for gun crime, and help them break out of the cycle of violence. It’s a small program, but has seen some real success, and we want to see them try it in more cities.

We know our dollars are going towards promoting causes and outcomes we believe in, and we feel better knowing that our good fortune is spread out a little bit.