Why traveling is hard

“Go see the world!” I told my kids, knowing it is the best investment a person can make in themselves. To see the world as a whole, not just from the little window you judge it from….that’s a mind opener. But having to adjust your thinking to mankind’s diverse habits and living conditions is also what makes visiting new places so uncomfortable.

And honestly, for me, it’s been the little things: Cars shoved in every available space so that sidewalks are no longer accessable; a mutual understanding of what a comfortable room should feel like; the graffiti on everything…walls, historical monuments, even plants!

Fun fact: Did you know the spectators in the Roman colosseum left graffiti on their stadium benches?! Clearly the practice is as natural as breathing… I guess I’ve been holding my breath all my life…except that one time when I was sixteen. I almost forgot about leaving my mark on that bathroom stall.

It’s worth the pain of personal growth – 100 percent – but the whiney diva in me still wants to complain. But hold on – what if my warnings were actually helpful preparations only disguised as complaints?

My son just came out of the bathroom of our Airbnb in Greece. I swear, as I’m writing this, guess what he said!? And I quote: “you see that picture on the wall?” He points to a commercial ‘home is…’ addage hung on the wall. “Well to me, home is where you know how the shower works.”

He’s not wrong. The hardest part of adjusting is not having information. Being blindsided.  I came into Italy already forewarned that the driving was hyper-agressive and if I had a weak stomach I should avoid looking out of windows. So, oddly enough, that’s the one part of Italy I feel absolutely comfortable with.  Is it because I was an Italian driver in a past life, 🙂 or that I had already mentally prepared myself? 

The courage to drive with only inches between you and the other guy!

The video above might not want to behave. Here’s an image pulled from it. Although it looks like the blue van is parked, both these vehicles are driving.

With that idea in mind, I am tempted to write a grumpy traveler blog. A blog filled with things I wasn’t prepared for, things I was too ignorant of to be able to appreciate. I’d mention these things for the sake of helping others, of course, and not, as it would seem, for the sheer joy of bellyaching over my culture shock.  

Be prepared, my hopeful traveler! Be forewarned, not with the intention of avoiding cultural differences, but to feel familiar enough that you joyfully dip your toes in, immersing yourself into the possibilities of our amazingly diverse lives. 

Mozzarella, the right way

Image borrowed from walmart.com where I often by my mozzarella

I’ve eaten mozzarella my whole life.  I have it on pizza, quesadillas and inside my Chicken Florentine.  So imagine my shock when I tried to buy the stuff in Italy, the birthplace of this white cheese.

Here’s what I have learned: Mozzarella that is sold for transport must have a longer shelf life.  To do that, they must reduce the moisture content.  Every bag of mozzarella I had bought in America always said “low-moisture content”.  I always found that odd, since none my other cheeses wasted their packaging real estate going on about moisture.

But now I know why. It’s a subtle way of letting you know that you are not getting the original.  The original, by the way, is made from water buffalo milk. It is wet and sold in a watery bath.

I balked when I saw that.

Removing the mozzarella balls from their bag

But trust me, you’re going to want to pick up a ball and take a bite. All on its own this cheese is like a delicious appetizer. It has a firm outer crust with a gooey, yet stringy center. The balls are less salty than the mozzarella I grew up with, and have a strong milky flavour. This cheese is also much lighter and softer than the dense low moisture version. 

Aside from flavor and a very short shelf life, the differences between mozzarella balls and low-moisture mozzarella are textual. Low-moisture mozzarella has more stretch.  It also doesn’t leave wet pools of moisture on your dough when heated. Both reasons why low moisture is great for pizza and burgers. 

As much as I love my pizza and burgers, I’ve never cared for eating low-moisture mozzarella on its own. It’s too dense, and flavourless. These buffalo milk high-moisture mozzarella balls are absolutely delicious straight out the bag.

But I’ve recently discovered my favorite way to eat them is salt and peppered alongside sliced tomatoes on a small baguette.  Soooo good! 

Because this cheese has recently become more popular internationally, you can find this delicious gem even in America. I know Galbani in buffalo NY makes it…but I can’t promise they use water buffalo milk to recreate the original.

Just for fun…

I’m separating my euros to buy due caffè. Can you tell me which of these coins doesn’t belong? Bonus points to whoever can tell me where a person would spend it…

Hint: it’s American, and it’s meant to be fun.

Italian Ritz

I’ve been in Naples, aka Napoli – I swear I’ve heard it both ways, even here in Italy – for just over a week. I fell in love with their fried pizza (still too chicken to try the Italian style pizza), I’ve devoured many a cornetta, and even tried a mystery dish…it wasn’t a mystery to them, just to the American who didn’t understand the italian response to, “And what’s that?” and bought it anyway.

But it was high time I made some food myself.  So I biked to the store a block away to get the goods for a simple tuna salad on crackers. After discovering that asking for pickles will get you either olives or bell peppers, both pickled of course, and that this store didn’t know what a dill pickle was, I moved on to the crackers.

Would you believe I found Ritz? Seriously, good old Ritz crackers! At least, the box said Ritz. And inside the box were crisp, buttery round crackers with the traditional scalloped edges. They even had the seven perforations you find on every Ritz cracker.  But my mouth told me these weren’t Ritz. 

Also, I was suspicious to find they were loosely collected in the bag like Lays chips (Ritz are normally stacked like Pringles), so that might have clued me in.    

But, no, it was something about the mouth feel: they were dense, rather than light and flaky. Imagine biting into a slice of buttered bread when you were expecting a croissant. Like that. 

On the back of the box, instead of Nabisco, it listed the manufacturer as Mondelez International.  

I thought: Copyright infringement?!  Oooh, was I going to rat them out!  

Or was I just going to embarrass myself?

A quick internet search cleared things up for me.  It turns out, to generate sales outside of the US, Ritz uses a subsidiary. Instead of Nabisco manufacturing the crackers, they have Moldelez do the job. So all on the up and up. But, still, if you see the brand name, you expect the brand taste!  Funnily enough, another internet search led me to find that Mondelez (once Kraft foods) is also based in the US…so why are they the better choice for international sales?  *shrugs shoulders*

I also read some very unsavory things on the Mondelez “Controversies”section  of Wikipedia, but that’s someone else’s blog to write. 

Oh, wait, we still need to wrap up this blog.  The lesson I am quickly learning: even American food is made differently for overseas sales. 

In case your curious what other American foods might taste a little off when traveling internationally, the same Wikipedia page tells us Mondelez also makes Belvita, Chips Ahoy!, Oreo, Ritz, TUC, Triscuit, LU, Club Social, Sour Patch Kids, Barny, and Peek Freans; chocolate brands Milka, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, Cadbury, Green & Black’s, Freia, Marabou, Fry’s, and Lacta; gum and cough drop brands Trident, Dentyne, Chiclets, Halls, and Stride; as well as Jell-O, Tate’s Bake Shop and powdered beverage brand Tang.

So, you’re welcome. Enjoy your travels, enjoy your eating, and then enjoy not having to question why your American favorites might not taste exactly the same.

Ze Frank is so bad, he’s good.

(better than good, he’s the best!)

As you read this blog I feel I should state that although my books are for children, I don’t expect them to be my blog audience. This blog is for the parents. It’s not always innocent. With that out of the way….

No matter how hard my day gets, watching a Ze Frank video makes everything better. 

Every video is so mind-bogglingly informative, while also having you rolling on the ground laughing (in the way you wish you actually were when you text ROFL to your bestie). 

But if you’ve just crawled out from under a rock and have no idea who this guy is, it’s vital that I give you a huge heads up: Don’t play his videos when the kids are in the room. Or if you are sensitive to things like mildly crude humor and soft “language”- AKA words you shouldn’t use until upper elementary (or was I a fast developer?). Otherwise, if like me, you are a fun loving parent raising great kids, his videos are definitely for you. 

This video was one I wanted to share with you – not because it’s his funniest, it really isn’t – but owing to the fact that I am currently drumming up support for my upcoming book The Day of the Ants, and this video is about…you guessed it – ants, I figured I’d share the love that is Ze Frank. You’re welcome.



Can Ants Shrink and Regrow Their Brains? — Plant Science by Atrimed

For most ant colonies, there is a simple hierarchy: a single queen lays all the eggs, and a caste system of workers manages everything else – food gathering, baby ants, war, etc. The rest of the ants are sterile, only males & queens can reproduce. The colony normally dies when the Queen dies. The Indian […]

Can Ants Shrink and Regrow Their Brains? — Plant Science by Atrimed

A little something to brighten the day

When this “Friends Furever” video first came out, I watched it on loop. When I feel like reassuring myself that the world really is as amazing as I think, I find myself searching out this old and true comforter. I hope your day is bright and inspired!


Now I get it!

As I throw back the covers and plop onto the mattress I suddenly realize something very important. One of the reasons I get so little done each day is because I am so absolutely amazed by all the beauty this world has on display. Seriously. Today I spent 5 minutes just looking at a jumping spider. Their little white spots, their erratic but graceful movements, it’s just mesmerizing. Everyday something happens that is so beautiful, I am lost in thought for eons after. So if it takes me forever to get anything done – blog, updates, new books, now you know why. It’s not my fault this world is so amazing.


Just for fun…

I’m separating my euros to buy due caffè. Can you tell me which of these coins doesn’t belong? Bonus points to whoever can tell me where a person would spend it… Hint: it’s American, and it’s meant to be fun.

Italian Ritz

I’ve been in Naples, aka Napoli – I swear I’ve heard it both ways, even here in Italy – for just over a week. I fell in love with their fried pizza (still too chicken to try the Italian style pizza), I’ve devoured many a cornetta, and even tried a mystery dish…it wasn’t a mysteryContinue reading “Italian Ritz”


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So relieved!

Who here doesn’t check their email for long stretches? Common, raise your hands, I can’t be the only person who feels they are simply a catchall for spam.

Yes, that’s my excuse. I hadn’t checked my author email in six months. So when my publisher called me up to say they were finally ready to set a date for my latest children’s book (June 15th – just two weeks away!) I was jerked awake in a hurry (did I mention I had been sleeping when she called?? How professional: “Huh?” slurred into the phone).

It turns out she had been sending me email alerts for months:

“Artist is nearly finished!”

“Need your dedication!”

“Can you approve the proofs?”

“Hello? Are you getting my emails??”

She wised up and called me, and I began scrambling to catch up.

See, the book has been in the publisher’s hands since…well, it’s been a few years. The publication delays began with a need to switch the AWOL artist. Finding a replacement (the talented Nanda Sheehan) Took time, and then covid got nice and comfy with the world. Trips to Italy were canceled, groceries were ordered and left at doorsteps, and my publisher hunkered down as book sales dropped and toilet paper sales rose.

Fast-forward to my neglected email and that wake up call (literally!) I didn’t want to approve the proofs, I wanted a few changes made. Trying so hard not to come off like the bridezilla of the publishing world, I passed on 700 words of notes of a 600 word picture book. Yeah, I tried real hard!

But seriously, because I had been out of communication there was a lot I had to say. Sooooo…..to make a whiny story come to an end, I received a stay of execution. The book’s release date is now moved to a farther date and I can now go into the proper stages of panic as we get this book launched.

PS. You’re sure to love Nanda’s illustrations, they’re adorable!

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