The last time I sat down to write was before the holidays, ending the year with a recipe that I hope some of you have tried your hand at or plan to in the future. So where have I been taking my time out? Home in Seattle!
While this is my twentieth year of life in Piemonte and absolutely consider it home, Seattle is too. I was born on what true Seattleites call Pill Hill and spent 27 years there before moving to Italy. When I moved to Italy permanently I naively thought being so far away from my family and friends would become easier with time. I was wrong! It’s not like I sit and pine for home, life is too short for that, but I always look forward to hugging the people I love and rarely get to see.
Working for Rick Steves I get to visit my native city once a year in January to attend our annual guides summit and tour member reunion and I always take some extra days on both ends of the trip to visit my friends and family. It is rushed, but better than nothing. When I travel with my boys, which we do every other year at this point, we always go during the summer. Summer is my favorite time to escape the heat and humidity of Italy and I can always take five or six weeks off since the boys are not in school and Italy tours drop off. Italy is simply too hot! Mauro comes with us some of the time but he only has a couple of weeks free in August. Instead, this year, we decided to come for Christmas, what a treat!
I actually did not want to come for Christmas. I am spoiled by my long summer trips, but Mauro insisted and I am so happy he did. We had a great family holiday! The last time Mauro spent Christmas in Seattle was in 1998 when he came to propose. It was the rainiest winter in 40 years and wonderful. On top of being in love and engaged, I interviewed for a new job as a guide for what was then, Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door. Winter of 1998/99 really was life changing and I am thankful!
2016 was the first time I have been home for the holidays since 2001 when I came to show off my new baby, Filippo. He was six weeks old and I could not wait for him to meet his American family. Mauro was supposed to come with us too, but his father had just been diagnosed with stomach cancer so he decided to stay at home with his parents…a little bittersweet, I know.
We arrived in Seattle on December 23. My brother Jeremy’s house is not gigantic and since my mom, her husband Fred, and my dad were all coming for Christmas Eve we launched a plan a couple of months earlier. Filippo and Emi would stay with my brother so they could maximize their time with their cousins. The rest of us would stay in a hotel with easy access to Seattle’s newish light-rail. It was almost like a second honeymoon! Mauro and I have only ever had one night together without our kids since Filippo was born. Date night? What is date night?
On the 23rd, my best friend Jessica came to dinner with her family. They always come to see me on my first night in Seattle. Jess brought a base to make ice cream and Jeremy got liquid nitrogen to freeze it. We had a great time with this little science experiment before falling into bed…off to a fun start!
Christmas Eve was busy too. Jeremy had done most of the shopping and we all brought something to the table. My mom was in charge of roasting red peppers to serve with Bagna Cauda, a typical winter antipasto from Piemonte made with garlic, anchovies, and cream that Mauro made. (I promise to share this recipe in the future.) We brought Piemontese cheese, Barbaresco wine and Panettone (a slightly sweet Christmas bread). My dad brought hard cider and a few liquors from Westcott Bay Cider and San Juan Island Distillery, a business he owns a small part of with his partners, the Pingrees, who now do most of the work. Jeremy made a magnificent crown roast and more ice cream with the leftover liquid nitrogen. Good company, delicious food and a warm house…this is as good as it gets! While talking over dinner we realized that this was the first time we had all been together since Mauro and I were married in 2000…far too long!
I am not going to bore you with too many more details…just a few pictures.
Two weeks was not long enough. We spent time at both my mom’s and dad’s homes. They live about as far apart in the state of Washington as they could possibly be, mom on Willapa bay and dad on San Juan Island. In between, we spent a couple of days in Portland Oregon with the kids. Our mini vacation from our vacation. On January 6th, Mauro flew home with the boys and part two of my trip began.
Every year Rick Steves hosts a guide summit and tour member reunion in the middle of January. He flies us guides in from wherever we are in the world if we want to attend and puts us up in a hotel in Edmonds Washington. We have general business meetings, interesting workshops and tour logistics meetings for each tour itinerary. The Friday and Saturday of this week are reserved for our tour member reunion. Anyone who has taken a tour in the past year is invited for a tour specific party and the public is invited for the slew of talks that are given all over Edmonds Washington. This year I participated in a talk about our Village Italy tour. Rick himself does many of the speaking events, and our guide team does others, like the talk I helped with. When I started working here in 1999, there were less than 50 guides, now there are around 160!
At the tour member reunion it is always fun to see some of the people who have traveled on my tours during the past year and beyond. At this last reunion I saw old friends who toured with me in 2006 on their first tour and just took their twelfth tour this year! I also got to see some of my favorite tour members from this year.
The best part of the week are the post work events that Rick organizes for us. Happy hour dinners where we get to hang out with each other. I consider many of my colleagues good friends, some of whom I see while working in Italy, but I really love catching up with those that I never get to meet while on the road…the majority by far since they are working in other European countries. This is the most interesting, stimulating and diverse group of people you can imagine. The week is fun, energizing and exhausting.
By the end of the trip I am pooped and happy to be able to spend a couple of days with my brother and his family before flying home. I was lucky to see my great friend Jessica too as she was getting ready for the Great March after inauguration day.
I miss my boys and am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again. I’ll see you back in Piemonte on the other side of the pond!