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“Ciao,” I whisper, as I clasp her in a quick embrace. “Come stai?” I continue, deploying nearly half the Italian I knew in an effort to impress her. She kisses me on both cheeks. I am always grateful that Anthony’s aunt loves me, even if it’s merely an extension of her love for her nephew.

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My Trip to Italy and New Year’s Resolutions that Make Sense.

Podcast & Newsletter

Read Ep. 33 | Show Notes

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New Year’s Resolutions That Make Sense.

I always get annoyed this time of year. I go to the gym at the same time in the morning as I have year-round and all of a sudden, I can’t find a vacant treadmill in sight. Part of me applauds those who have resolved to improve their fitness with the new year and part of me just wants to get my damn run in. While I think that using January 1 as a catalyst for change is, perhaps, convenient and potentially useful, the fact that I can easily find a treadmill on February 12 proves that using an arbitrary date as motivation to change one’s life is, well, arbitrary. Moreover, so many people bite off more than they can chew with resolutions, to wit:

“I’m going to run a marathon this year! [even though I haven’t run more than a mile in a decade].”

“I’m going to lose 60 pounds this year! [even though my diet largely consists of Doritos and Taco Bell].”

“I’m going to become a YouTube star this year! [even though I’ve never posted anything to YouTube in my life].”

While I don’t want to poo-poo aspirations of self-improvement, there’s this tendency to hype up the importance of January 1 and thus the resolutions that attend the new year. But when our goals outpace our capacity and our reality, we set ourselves up for the big F: Failure. And failure can often lead to a lack of self-confidence and even despair–things that can stick with you long past 2023.

So, for this week’s newsletter, I thought it might be useful to suggest a handful of resolutions that make sense. They are doable at every level, to every person, and will, in my opinion, outlast the initial spurt of motivation that tends to fizzle within the first quarter. But before doing that, the following is a short recap of my trip to Rome, the ensuing holidays with my family, and how both of these things shaped the 2023 resolutions I intend to make for myself.

Dinner at Zia Menica’s.

Zia Menica and Anthony

Zia Menica’s eyes turn perfectly round when Anthony and I walk into her living room. Once more, I am startled at how much they look like Anthony’s when he is surprised or especially happy, only his eyes are hazel to her blue-grey. According to Anthony’s cousins, Zia, who is in her late 90s, has started showing signs of dementia, often forgetting things that happened a few minutes earlier. Notwithstanding her age, Zia Menica remains as impossibly put-together as ever, clad in a Sunday frock, dainty dress shoes, not a hair out of place. The shock written on her face as Anthony goes in for a hug suggests that news of our forthcoming arrival must have lapsed, but I am happy that we get to surprise her in this way.

“Ciao,” I whisper, as I clasp her in a quick embrace. “Come stai?” I continue, deploying nearly half the Italian I know in an effort to impress her. She kisses me on both cheeks. I am always grateful that Anthony’s aunt loves me, even if it’s merely an extension of her love for her nephew.

I once hosted her for dinner at my apartment in Chicago, back when Anthony and I were just dating and not yet living together. I was running late from the office and Zia arrived before I had a chance to change, so I ended up cooking the entire meal still in my suit dress and heels. In retrospect, I suppose that was entirely normal for Zia–the only time I’ve ever seen her wearing anything other than a dress and heels was when we were at the beach. When Anthony asked her after dinner what she thought of me, she answered, “Lei è una donna molto interessante.” She is a very interesting woman.

Dinner at Zia Meninca’s is a multi-course affair, starting with homemade pizza, followed by gnocchi and pasta fagioli, then some grilled vegetables, ending with various vegan desserts. Anthony’s cousin and his father’s namesake, Roberto (Zia’s youngest), is excellent in the kitchen and these family meals are always the best meals we have in Italy. One forkful of Roberto’s pasta and I’m convinced I need to fly him out to my kitchen for a 3-week boot camp on Italian cooking. To my right, Anthony chats comfortably, in Italian, with his cousin Daniela, Zia’s middle child who inherited her father’s medical practice. My heart swells a little bit every time I see Daniela. She is brilliant, opinionated, and temperamental, but I can never see her without remembering how much she cried when Anthony’s father grew sick in the weeks before he passed away.

We were seated at the kitchen counter of Anthony’s parents’ condo in Chicago. Anthony stepped out to run errands, Judy (Anthony’s mom) was at the hospital, so it was just me and Daniela for a half hour or so. She had just arrived from Rome and began asking all sorts of doctor-y questions about Robert’s condition. It occurred to me that it was the first time I’d heard Daniela speaking English, something she avoided doing almost as a point of defiance (and which I sort of respected, even if it meant I could never really communicate with her). As I did my best to answer her questions as thoroughly as a non-doctor could, she took her reading glasses off, began wiping them with the edge of her sleeve. Tears rolled down her cheeks, still ruddy from the Chicago cold, and her face finally broke in sheer frustration–whether at my terrible explanation of Robert’s medical condition or the fact that she could do nothing to save her favorite “Uncle Bob,” I don’t know.

Daniela’s heart is a cup, always overflowing, and in that moment, her cup had shattered. Rather than trying to put it back together, she let the shards lay there, scattered between us, and for that, I loved her.

To my left sits Eleonora, Roberto’s daughter, trying to coax some pasta into her 1-year-old son’s mouth as she asks me about life in Los Angeles in English. Roberto fills our glasses with generous amounts of stout red wine. Daniela is recounting her most recent trip to London. Her sentences are long–she speaks so quickly, her words running together like an avalanche of small pebbles. Andrea, her husband, pipes up here and there, as if punctuation to his wife’s prose. Roberto laughs in that full-bellied way that reminds everyone of his speedo-wearing devilishly handsome days, while Paola, Zia’s eldest child–a psychologist–eyes all of our plates to ensure that no one needs more pizza, pasta, or cake.


I’m able to understand only 25% of the conversations at the table–enough to laugh at some of Andrea’s jokes or pass the spinach. I look over at Zia Menica, sitting at the head of the table. She only speaks when I get up to go the bathroom, asking one of her children to make sure I know how to get there or see to anything else I may need. Her quiet attention ties the clink, clatter, and conversation of the table together in this warm, indescribable way, like the soft lull at the end of a particularly vibrant phrase of music. Later, we rate each of the vegan desserts–Eleonora prefers the berry tart, but Daniela and I vote for the cheesecake.

Before we say our goodbyes, I gift each of Anthony’s cousins with a copy of my book, over which they all ooh and aah. Andrea lingers over the photos of me and my grandmother. He flips the page and sees the black and white photo of my dad while he was in Vietnam. Adjusting his glasses, he asks,

“This is your father? Which war is this?”

“Vietnam,” I confirm.

“When was he there?” he follows up.

“Well, it would have been during college, towards the end of the war. I think 1969,” trying to do some quick math in my head.

“And your parents–they came to United States when?”

This I knew, having answered the same question so often. “Early 70s.” Andrea nods, continuing to peruse the photos from my childhood.

I go around to everyone, even Eleonora’s boyfriend, and perform the kiss-kiss before walking out the door. Our Uber arrives shortly thereafter and I nestle back into that space between Anthony’s jaw and shoulder and whisper,



“I love your family.”

“Me too,” he replies.

From left to right: Anthony, Paola, Andrea, and Daniela

COVID in Italy.

I’ll be honest–this trip to Italy was not my favorite. It rained for 9 out of the 12 full days we were there and halfway through our stay, Anthony caught COVID, relegating us to room service for several days. As a result, we missed the birthday party for his “nephew” (technically, Adriano is his first cousin, twice removed (i.e., Paola’s grandson)), though we dropped off his gifts and said hello from the stairwell of Paola’s apartment building before walking back to our hotel. We tried to make the best of things though, and perhaps I took my cabin fever out on my wallet. I spent far more on jewelry and clothes than I’ve ever done in Europe before. My favorite “gift to myself” consists of two rings made by a fourth generation jeweler I discovered right at the foot of the famed Ponte Vecchio. Federico learned everything he knows from his father, and I was proud to pick up a few handmade items for myself, my mother, my mother-in-law, and a friend.

One of the rings from Florence

Another was a mosaic shop tucked into an unremarkable stone facade at the end of one of those winding nameless roads in Rome. The window display was small but they left the door to their shop open and through it, one could see the walls covered with tiled birds, fish, fruits, and sunbursts. Owned by two sisters, every piece was handcrafted, with the same traditional tools that have been used for over 2,000 years. We picked up a number of items here, too, and we congratulated ourselves for finding unique gifts for our friends (and for ourselves).

Though I packed my knife, portable oven, soy sauce, and a tripod, I ended up cooking only once and did so without the cameras on. This was in part due to the overcast weather, but also because my jet lag was fierce and I usually petered out by around 4 pm each day. I thus had little motivation to cook, though I managed to perk up a bit in time to make my own version of pasta fagioli for Anthony’s friend and Italian tutor, Alessio. I picked out all the ingredients at Campo de’ Fiori, where a vendor, clearly a mainstay of one of Rome’s oldest markets, cackled at me in Roman dialect whenever I added something from her tent to my bag. As I picked through her tomatoes, celery, and shallots, a YouTuber who happened to be filming behind me explained, “She is Rome,” pointing at the old woman. Campo de’ Fiori can be a tourist trap and, in my opinion, doesn’t have the best produce. You can buy most of what they sell at a solid grocery store, without the markup. But, it can also be quite charming and I was glad I bought all my groceries from the hahlmuhnee.

At Piazza Campo de’ Fiori

Although I considered extending our stay by a day or two in case Anthony’s COVID didn’t disappear in time for travel and to make up for all the rainy weather (our last 2.2 days were gloriously beautiful), Anthony tested negative on the day before our flight back to LA, and, to be honest, I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. I always know it’s time to go home when the thought of leaving doesn’t make me sick with sadness. On the last night, we went to Paola’s house for dinner, where we were joined by Paola’s partner, Angelo, and Daniela and Andrea. Paola made my favorite–pane carasau lasagna, a lasagna with unleavened bread from Sardegna, a vegan béchamel, and a lentil bolognese. We discussed chess (Angelo is a Grand Master), Latin poetry, and Roman politics. I knew little about these subjects, but I liked asking questions that animated Andrea’s thick brows and split his wide mouth into a grin before he launched into another explanation of why things are the way they are in Italia.

Christmas in 80° Weather.

Our Christmas spread

My mom and dad were waiting for us at the end of a long (delayed) trip back to LA. I invited them to stay in our home while we were in Italy through the holidays. My brother and his family joined us a couple days later. My cousins, who also wanted some excuse to leave the blizzards of Chicago for a couple days were in LA, too, and tumbled into my living room on Christmas day. Omma, my sister-in-law (Young Jung), and I were already into Hour 7 of cooking by then. Our menu was truly a random hodgepodge of “what I want to eat today”:

  • japchae
  • carasau lasagna
  • focaccia
  • nachos
  • braised tofu
  • pecan paht pie
  • apple pie pockets

We ate dinner outside on the patio–certainly a first for me (an al fresco Christmas dinner)–and subsequently gathered in my family room to open presents, mostly for my nephew’s sake (whose gifts made up 90% of the Christmas booty beneath our sparkling fir tree). Afterwards, we loafed around draped over my sofa or splayed out on the rug, while Nat King Cole crooned in the background. Topics of discussion rose to the surface of our food-coma like air bubbles in a pond: how Jon met his girlfriend, Liam’s swimming prowess, YouTube’s fickle algorithm, the noodles in Koreatown, Zenas’s digestive distress from eating too much food in Koreatown.

Back in Chicago, when I was living in Wheeling, Illinois with my ex-husband, my cousins came and slept over regularly. We’d play video games into the wee hours, watch all three of the Lord of the Rings installments in a row while slurping up ramyun from the couch, or just talk about random things until we fell asleep. Often times, I’d be the first to say, “Ok guys. I can’t stay up anymore. I’m going to bed,” before heading upstairs with Daisy in tow. “Feel free to stay the night,” I’d offer casually, so as not to sound too desperate, because there was nothing that made me happier than still seeing their mess of shoes at my front door the following morning.

When things with my ex and me were going bad (really bad), there was very little that could loosen the grip of my anxiety. I’d spend most of the time in my closet, in the bathtub, or in my room, waiting things out until he’d talk to me again. Sometimes, Jaesun and my cousins would be around and make plans to go out for a movie, shopping, or dinner, and I’d agree to go with them, even if I wasn’t feeling up to it. I never ever regretted it, even if stepping back into the heavy stillness of my home was always a punch in the gut. Listening to their chatter, comfortably falling back into the rhythm of inside jokes and overall silliness was like coming up for air after being submerged in a pool of my own despair. How quickly the bubble popped when I was with them, how easy it was to breathe at the mere sound of their voices. Some part of their magic lingered, even when things were “good” between me and my ex, so that seeing a pile of their shoes on the welcome mat of my home in the morning filled an emptiness I couldn’t even name.

The day I left, my entire family descended upon my home in Wheeling, once more. My parents, brother, sister-in-law, uncle, two aunts, and all my cousins. They helped me pack everything. Jasmine put all my shoes in a box. Jaesun, Cheemin, Hyungsung, and Yoonsung packed the books. My uncle, the contractor, moved the heavy stuff, like my piano. My mom and aunts gossiped about this and that as they carefully wrapped all my cups, plates, and bowls. Young Jung made sure I didn’t leave behind something important–photos, yearbooks, my diary. My dad sat on the couch and drank coffee, lol, until my mom harangued him off his rear to help with this or that.

It wasn’t until everything was packed, placed neatly into the moving truck or the back of my Nissan, and it was finally time to walk out the door one last time that everyone grew quiet. In Asian homes, there will always be a lull before an exodus, as we put our shoes back on. And thus, I found myself surrounded by my whole family, who were crowded into the small space at the foot of my staircase, reshod and waiting for me to say something, I guess. I turned to face them but didn’t know what to say. Young Jung, the sister-in-law I barely knew, reached through the bodies pressed between us and squeezed my wrist. “Ok, I’ll see you all at the condo,” I said brusquely. And as if on cue, Cheemin replied, “See you there” and the we disbanded like drops of water on a window pane. They headed towards the garage where their cars waited in the driveway to my home, and I out the front door, by myself.

I never ever told anyone in my family–other than my mother–about how horribly things could get when it was just me and my ex-husband. I suspect many of them knew, though, as my mom wasn’t exactly known for her discretion. Cheemin’s “See you there,” was as much a salve as anything, though; code for “I know you don’t want to cry in front of everyone right now and I won’t let you.” In some ways, I hated that my younger cousins felt they needed to do this for me. I was older than them–the oldest of the family this side of the Pacific–and the responsibility of that role had been ingrained in me by my grandmothers since I could understand the word “Noonah” (older sister).

Even as I stretched out comfortably on my couch on the warmest Christmas of my entire life in sunny California, surrounded by the people I loved the most in all the world, I secretly wondered whether I’d been enough of a safety net for them, whether they’d started to question the dependability of the ropes woven beneath them after seeing me fall apart so spectacularly that day in Wheeling.

My [And Maybe Your] Resolutions.

Another gripe I have with New Year’s resolutions is that they are often not specific enough to be of any real use. “Get in better shape”–ok, but what does that even mean? Vague resolutions are too easy–too easy to meet or too easy to break. Therefore, each of the following will include a resolution specific to me; however, I encourage you to tailor the specific resolutions (if any of these appeal to you) to your own situation, to ensure they are realistic.

1. Spend More Time with Family. My family just left to go back to Chicago, but I see signs of them everywhere. There are Lego pieces dotting the rug and I can still hear Liam chirping from the floor, “Can we play Legos Gomoh? Please??” Omma is everywhere–I ate the ricecakes she and my sister-in-law brought back for me from Ktown and Anaheim for today’s second breakfast. Despite all the cooking we did, the stovetop is spotless and the dishwasher is practically empty. The pull-out sofa-bed my parents slept on is tucked neatly back together as a quiet little couch, even though I told Omma it was ok to leave it out for Anthony’s brother (who is due to arrive later today). As I was rummaging through my linens for a queen bed sheet set, one of my favorite memories with my mother sprang to mind–we were at her house squatting on the floor over one of those electric griddles, trying to make rice flour crepes, only they turned out all wrong and too watery and we were laughing so hard we nearly burned ourselves. I remember, even as I laughed until tears rolled down my face, that I harbored this hard seed of anguish in my chest because I knew that these moments with Omma weren’t infinite.

  • Specific Resolution: Call Omma every day. Visit Chicago at least 4 times.

2. Prioritize Recovery and Sleep. In all my traveling, I’ve taken a great deal of pride in the fact that I always maintained my fitness. I ran 8 miles on a rickety treadmill in the basement of my hotel in Rome on my wedding day. I ran throughout the streets of Gangnam on my trip to Seoul while the rest of the city was still asleep. And I’ve run more long runs in Central Park than in any other city save Chicago. But on this trip to Rome, I gave up after one 3-mile run around the Circus Maximus. Not only did it rain nearly every single day, I was operating on 2 to 4 hours of sleep a night due to jet lag. I’m not good at anything, much less running on cobblestones, with so little sleep. I decided to make sleep my priority and therefore, focused on walking as much as possible (thank goodness I brought a really good waterproof coat with me!) in the mornings and staying awake in the afternoons, so I wouldn’t be up at 2 in the morning watching Korean dramas on my phone. Deviating from plans–especially those that are written out on excel spreadsheets (as is the case with my training plan)–is not my forte, but cutting myself a little slack was the best thing I could do for myself. Not only did it give some of the blisters and calluses on my feet some time to heal, it afforded me the kind of mental recovery I didn’t even know I needed to be nicer to myself and, by extension, nicer to Anthony. 🙂

  • Specific Resolution: Go to bed regularly before 10 pm each night and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep–even if it cuts into my running time.

3. Learn Something New. Yesterday, while settling in to watch Navalny (a documentary about Alexei Navalny), I commented on how I’d never really liked watching documentaries until recently, to which Anthony replied, “How is that possible? Documentaries are the best–you learn something new when you watch!” I thought “learning something new” might be a great resolution. By this, I don’t mean watching documentaries every single night (though it could). Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn from scratch or even be better at? Ballroom dancing, baking, fencing? For me, despite having been to Italy now six times, my Italian speaking skills are embarrassingly poor. By now, I’m on the leaderboards of Duolingo, but I can’t even ask the taxi driver to get back to our hotel without stuttering. It’s like there’s a cork stuck in my throat and all the words I learned on my little app are stuck right beneath it. I know it’s a confidence issue and that with enough time, I’ll uncork myself and Italian will flow out of me like Prosecco, but until that time, I’d like to get good enough to speak Italian here in my own house, were I will be far less self-conscious. Luckily, Anthony speaks fluently, so I have a ready partner in this resolution.

  • Specific Resolution: Study Italian for 30 minutes M-F and hire an Italian tutor for weekly lessons.

4. Spend More Time Outside. As I’ve talked about before, I used to hate any form of physical activity. My favorite “sport” was playing Halo on my Xbox. I’ve come a long way in that regard. However, I’m still not a fan of outdoor activities. As I get older, I grow more anxious with every step away from the bathroom and I’m too much of a klutz to ride a bike without risking severe injury to myself and everyone else on the path. But because I’d decided not to run for the majority of my time in Italy, I walked everywhere. And the change of pace was nice. I was able to take as many pictures of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Pantheon as I wanted. I could walk with Anthony (I can never run with him), pausing for selfies, and continuing many of the discussions we started indoors. If we saw a restaurant that looked inviting, we’d take a look at the menu and note it for later. If we saw a pizzeria that had vegan options, we’d head on in and munch on pizza while we walked. One night, we walked all the way back to our hotel from Paola’s apartment, holding hands nearly the whole way, while drinking in the soft glow of lights from piazza to piazza. But in addition to how nice it can be to spend time outdoors, it’s better for your body. Dr. Robynne Chutkan, in both The Microbiome Solution and her newest book, The Anti-Viral Gut, discusses the benefits of “rewilding” our microbiome by exposing ourselves to nature after generations of over-sterilizing our bodies, compromising our immune systems, and otherwise jeopardizing our health and happiness.

  • Specific Resolution: Walk outdoors for 1 hour at least 3x per week and try a new outdoor location for a long run once per month.

5. Get in the Best Shape of my Life! Ok, maybe not the “best shape of my life,” but the “best shape I can reasonably attain?” After struggling with disordered eating for most of my life, I really want to challenge myself this year to eat in a way that is geared towards health and fitness–mentally and physically. This recent trip to Italy was supposed to be a bit of a test drive, to see whether I could eat without counting calories but also without binge eating everything in sight. In the past 5 trips I’ve taken to Italy, I ate pizza, pasta, and gelato every single day until my stomach started to feel like it was going to burn a hole straight through the center of me. We are taught to believe that trips should revolve around food–eat everything in sight because you might never get a chance to eat this super special food ever again! But Italy has so much more to offer than just food and so does life!! Therefore, this time around, I ate when I felt hungry and stopped when I didn’t. It was cold and rainy, so we had gelato only once and it wasn’t even really that good. I enjoyed the meals I ate, but also thoroughly enjoyed feeling blessedly un-bloated and light for the first time ever in Italy. So, for 2023, I’d like to combine my training (I plan to run another half marathon in May) with a more intuitive approach to eating healthy, whole food, plant-based meals, with an eye towards reducing refined sugar and fried foods, and increasing greens (the braised greens in Italy were one of my favorite culinary discoveries this trip!).

  • Specific Resolution: Delete calorie counters from my phone and cut out sugary desserts, except for special occasions (holidays and birthdays); incorporate greens into my diet every single day and stick with strength training 3x a week.

The Korean Vegan Kollective.

As you all know, I launched The Korean Vegan Meal Planner beginning in November 2021. Many of you are members and I wanted to share what we have been able to do, collectively, over the past year alone:

Kollective Impact of 2022:

66,807 plant-based meals

13 million gallons of water spared

445k pounds of Greenhouse Gas Emissions spared

668k square feet of forest spared

24k animal lives spared

To be blunt, these numbers are nothing short of extraordinary. I am SO PROUD of what our collective compassion was able to accomplish!! If you aren’t a part of this incredible community, check out the Big Announcement below!

The Korean Vegan Kollective

We’ve relaunched The Korean Vegan Meal Planner as The Korean Vegan Kollective!

And to celebrate, we are currently offering a full 12-month subscription for only $69, which is $30 off the regular price.

Type in promo code TKV2023 at checkout to take advantage of this limited time offer.

Use promo code TKV2023 to save $30 off an annual membership to The Korean Vegan Kollective, where you’ll get thousands of personalized plant-based recipes with complete nutritional info, smart grocery lists, access to food coaches, brand deals, and articles, videos, and inspiration from Joanne, Anthony, and the TKV Kollective Team. The Kollective is your one stop support group to help you meet your goals!

Updates/Random Things.

  • What I’m Watching: Well, as you might have guessed, between relentless jet lag and Anthony’s COVID, I had a lot of time to catch up on my Netflix over the past couple weeks. My mother introduced me to a great Korean drama called Dear, My Friend, a story about five women who are in their mid-to late 70s and grappling with what life means at that stage. The Netflix thumbnail really doesn’t do this drama justice, as the cast includes some of the most famous actresses in Korea, including Oscar winning Yuh-Jung Youn. I HIGHLY recommend this drama. We also just finished up the documentary on Alexei Navalny–very well written and directed, and Navalny himself is so charismatic, it’s hard not to fall in love with him and his family (even though he has done some questionable things “for the cause”). Given the exigency surrounding Ukraine and the Kremlin’s growing aggression in Eastern Europe, Navalny offers a prescient call to action to all those who oppose authoritarianism.
  • What I’m Listening To: In case you missed it, check out the most recent episode of the One Life One Chance Podcast! I had a chance to sit in Toby Morse’s kitchen and chat with both him and Derrick Green (another plant-based punk rock musician) to discuss growing up in Skokie, starting The Korean Vegan, saying goodbye to my “suit job,” and even my [limited] exposure to punk!
  • University of Illinois Cooking Event RESCHEDULED: The cooking event at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign has been rescheduled for February 24, 2023. I’ll be doing a live cooking demonstration and talk, as well as signing all your books! Keep your eyes peeled for ticket sale information!

Parting Thoughts.

“Babe?” I ask, looking up into his face, as I lean into his shoulder in the back of our Uber.

“Hmmm…?” he answers, continuing to stare down at his phone. We are rounding the Colosseum, on our way to dinner at his Zia Menica’s home, where Anthony’s cousins, their children, and even their grandchildren, will congregate over a white linened table laden with pasta, pizza, and red wine, all under the tender gaze of Anthony’s Aunt Menica. A soft glow escapes the craggy emptiness of the massive amphitheater and makes its way onto my husband’s chin like a dab of mustard.

I say nothing. And he doesn’t press me to continue. Instead, I nestle into that space between his jaw and his collarbone, the place that now feels as though it was as carefully constructed as the dome of the Pantheon, so that it would perfectly fit the shape and width of my face.

This is now a sort of game between us. I say “babe” like I’m about to ask him a question, he says “what,” and I reply, “nothing.”

He used to ask me, “No really, what?”

“I just like saying ‘babe,'” I’d answer. “I don’t have anything else.”

I told him once that this would be the thing he would miss most about me when I died, the random “babe” that chirped out at him from the far corners of our house, climbing out of the deep cushions of our sofa, or even hollering at him from the shower. Because it is always those small things that annoy you that you miss the most when they are all of a sudden cut off.

But this time, I did have something I wanted to ask.

Will you marry me? I wanted to say. We were already married, of course, but I couldn’t think of a better way, sitting there in the back of our Uber, to pick through some of the happiest moments of my life, the ones from our wedding right here in Rome.

But I am shy. And nervous around my husband. Which I sort of like, because it proves we still have things to reveal to one another, parts of each other we haven’t had the opportunity to fall in love with yet.

So I say nothing. He says nothing.

And the amber lights behind us keep our secrets safe.

For now.

– Joanne

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