italy/france trip recap


Wow! Just got back from a 2 week trip where I, husband, and mom and dad and sister hit Milano, Como, Bellagio, Varenna, Pisa, Firenze, San Gimigniano, Lyon, and Oingt (pronounced as a nasally oo-ah). It was wonderful getting to see family (my husband’s family is all born and raised in Italy), celebrating our marriage with those who could not make it to the US for our wedding 2 years ago, and seeing some more Italian and French cities. Quite a trip! Happy to be home, but I’ve of course got some of those post-vacay blues.

Table setting at my in-laws house…bruschetta!
Bowls warming up for onion soup
Family (minus 1 sister) after a huge and amazing meal at an agriturismo in the hills above Lago di Como
Chestnut Fettuccine and Radicchio Risotto at the agriturismo
The city of Varenna on Lago di Como

I’ve been missin’ the cured meats, which I ate way too much of. Seriously. It was probably too much. This trip I found myself appreciating Speck more than I ever did in the past. I hadn’t noticed before that Speck and brie is something that is often offered together whether on a pizza or a panino. Although Breseaola is still my preferred cured meat. Yum, so good. I miss aperitivo and digestivo time. I could skip the primo piatto and secondo altogether in exchange for aperitivo/antipasto time. I tried several new digestivi this trip, one of which was Braulio, which is made from an infusion of a mix of plants, roots, and alpine herbs in the valley of Valtellina. I liked it, although didn’t love it. I miss gas stations with beyond beautiful and fancy crema-filled brioche and cappuccinos and panini and deals on beautifully packaged wine and chocolate and biscotti…aka the Autogrill. I miss how everyone, aunts and uncles and cousins, etc., asks you what you ate for your last meal and/or what you will eat for your next, because the passion for food and the art of the meal is so great that it is commonplace and natural to inquire. But most of all, I miss family. We don’t see them enough, of course, an ocean between us. It is especially evident with a little niece growing up so fast, with many milestones passed in between the times we see her. But I’m thankful for Skype and now that the husband is out of school and I will graduate soon, we will have more money, albeit probably less time, to visit. Gosh, I sound depressing. (Hopefully endorphins from all the working out I’ve been doing since I’ve been back will kick in soon…If not, I know starting my next rotation will help)

Duomo a Milano never gets old. Never.
Adorable city of Oingt, France
THIS marron (chestnut) molten cake at Chez Marguerite in Oingt, France

Onward, I was a bit worried about my progression with Italian on this trip due to the fact that, in being busy with school and rotations, I hadn’t been able to devote much time to brushing up on my Italian. Luckily, however, it all seemed to come back to me and of course progressed some. I acted like a translator this trip as my parents and sister do not speak Italian and my in-laws and husband’s family do not speak English, with some exceptions. That is a good way to improve your Italian (or whichever language) right there. When you are forced to translate, you are forced to learn and learn quickly. My head felt at times like it was going to explode, between remembering which language I was translating to and from. Multiple times I began to talk to my mother-in-law in English and parents in Italian, before seeing confused looks on their faces and realizing my mistake.

Right outside the bouchon we ate at in Lyon, called Le Musee


Hopefully we can make it back to Italy sooner than 2 years from now (that is what we have been averaging). Next time will hopefully and most likely will be a trip to Sicilia. That is where my father-in-law is from and much of the family still remains there. I have never been and am a little scared (my brother-in-law describes it as the 4th and maybe 5th dimension), but very very excited to go and experience it. Maybe a few days spent in Roma before heading down there too. If we are living in DC, there is currently a flight directly from DC to Rome, which would be oh so lovely!

At an Agriturismo for our belated wedding lunch. It was perfect.



Obligatory Pisa pic…with Dad trying too
Colle Val D’Elsa in Tuscany, maybe my favorite place of the trip
Agriturismo we stayed at outside of Florence
The last night in Italy we saw the Last Supper, beautiful








Well, I’ve got 5 rotations left before I graduate! It’s very exciting. I’m ready to get back into them after this long and nice vacation time and finish up strong. That’ll get me back into the routine of things here…But until the next one starts, I think I’ll be hanging on to memories and remnants of the trip. For example, I made homeade pasta last night at 9 pm and plan on canning some melanzane sott’olio today. And maybe buying some Campari? Yes, that sounds awesome. Baby steps:)



learning languages with the Tandem app

So I’m all about the pen-pals when I’m learning languages. Here are the reasons:

  1. Free!
  2. Easy…there are apps!
  3. I’ve made some AMAZING friendships that began as language pen-pals!

My first pen-pal was the old-fashioned type…through snail mail! I was in 5th grade and it was an opportunity through girl scouts to write with another girl scout in England. I remember that is was the coolest thing when she sent me a little photo of herself and I sent her a homemade friendship bracelet. We wrote to each other off and on for some years, but you know, in growing up and all that, we lost touch. Actually, I should totally try to find her old address and send her a letter. I’m gonna do that. Now I’m excited.

Anyway, I picked back up the pen-pal bug when someone mentioned it to me as a way to help me learn Italian. I joined a website called conversation exchange and met several native Italians who were learning English. We started emailing each other and I actually met one of them in person in Italy a few years ago. It was super cool and we still Skype and keep in touch.

About a year or so ago, I came across another platform for pen-pal meetin’…an app called Tandem. It’s super user-friendly and has many cool extra functions other than just a way to find new pen-pals and text and video chat them. You can search for pen-pals based on which languages you are learning and which you speak, specifying if you are a beginner, intermediate, advanced, or native speaker. The app gives you suggestions on statuses for your profile. These are conversation starters that help you connect with like-minded language learners. One I see often is, “Let’s talk about where we will be in 10 years.” So…some are kind of deep, but there are lighters ones like “Who wants to discuss our favorite movies?”, among others. You can also search others by categories that you’d like to discuss: like food, hobbies, art, etc. Also, if your are texting with someone, there is a cool feature that allows you to easily correct what your pen-pal wrote if it wasn’t grammatically correct. It allows the other person to quickly and easily see their mistake and understand the correction. Disclaimer: sometimes I take it a little too personally if the pen-pal I’m speaking with uses this feature too much, haha. Just saying.

Another awesome feature of the app is language tutors. There are certified language teachers that you can access and have video chats with for lessons of various lengths. They cost $5 for 20 min, $10 for 40 min, $15 for 60 min, and $22.50 for 90 min, BUT the first 15 minutes with each tutor is free! I’ve had two lessons for Spanish and Italian and have had great experiences with them. Very caring and professional. And about the cost, $15 for an hour every couple of months or so isn’t that bad of a deal. I like the idea of learning the language on your own and then checking in with a tutor for some speaking practice and native speaker pointers every so often. That way, you really learn a lot in those 60 minutes!

Well, that’s all I have to say here. Tandem app is free to download and use! BTW, I’m totally not getting paid for this and have not been contacted by Tandem in anyway for writing this post. I was just realized that this is starting to sound like I work for them or something. Nope, just a satisfied user! Oh gosh that sounds bad too…

Un bacione,

Layne Alyssa

medical Spanish in the ER

I’m four shifts away from being done with my ER rotation! It’s been a rough transition not only due to the 12 hours shifts, but also based on the fact that it is my very first rotation…and there is so much still to be learned! In addition to all the medicine stuff, knowledge of medical Spanish is a MUST in the ER I work in. I would say half to a little more than half of the patients I see are Spanish-only speakers. Translators are super easy to call, come super fast, and are super great where I work, but with that high of a Spanish-only speaking population, nothing beats whipping out your skills the moment when you get a negative after you ask “Do you speak English?”. And even more than that, it adds a level of trust and rapport between you and your patients. It’s more comfortable for them to speak in their native language to you than through a translator. This becomes particularly important when the patient is being seen for a difficult or vulnerable issue. I get that sometimes it’s just not possible to get all that you need from an interview if your Spanish is not top-notch, but I have seen it make all the difference for me just to try at least to speak a little Spanish.

So over the past 2 and a half weeks, the confusing mix of Italo-Spanish that comes out of my mouth when I try for Spanish has greatly improved. I’m fairly competent at this point at taking a history and doing a physical exam in Spanish. I have problems when the patient tends to ramble or is having difficulty straight answering the question I’m asking or if they have difficulty slowing down their Spanish. But I’ve got my questions down pat. It’s also difficult for me if I try to explain the treatment plan, but I suppose that will come. It’s been a lot to learn the medicine and to try to speak Spanish at the same time, so there are times (usually towards the end of a tiring shift) where I just call the translator. The great thing is most of my preceptors speak medical Spanish, so when we go in to see the patient together, we don’t have to re-call the translator. I think if I worked there for 6 months I would probably be set with the Spanish. Although I think I’ll get a fair amount of the Spanish-only population in my other rotations over this year.

I have found generally that it’s MUCH easier to learn a language for the medical knowledge compared to learning the language in its entirety. Which totally makes sense, I know, but I didn’t think about it until I started experiencing it. Here are some phrases that have helped me immensely at my time in the ER so far. I’d highly recommend these for anyone about to start rotations or starting to practice in a place with a high number of Spanish-only speakers. They are more or less in order of how they are needed. Hope it helps!

Hola. Me llamo ____. Soy una estudiante. Voy a hablar con usted, entonces hablo con mi jefe, y volveremos juntos. ¿Está bien? Hello. My name is ____. I am a student. I am going to talk with you, then talk with my boss, and we will return together. Is that ok?

¿Porque se llega a la sala de emergencia hoy? What brings you to the ER today?

¿Cuándo empezó? When did it start?

¿Dónde está el dolor exactamente? Where is the pain exactly?

¿Cuándo fue eso? When was that?

¿Cuánto tiempo dura cuando sucede? How long does it last when it happens?

¿Cómo es el dolor? Punzante, agudo, una presión, ardor, disparando? How is the pain? throbbing, sharp, a pressure, burning, shooting?

¿Ha hecho algo o tomado medicamentos para che sea mejor? Have you done anything or taken medication to make it better?

¿Se le puede ayudar? Did it help?

¿Hay algo que lo hace peor? Does anything make it worse?

¿Se va el dolor en otro parte? Does the pain go anywhere else?  

In una escala de uno a diez, donde uno es menos dolor y diez es el mayor dolor, que numero es su dolor? On a pain scale from one to ten, where one is less pain and ten is the most pain, what number is your pain?

¿Usted tiene nausea, vomito, mareo, dolor en el pecho, palpitaciones, falta de aire, dolor de cabeza, dolor o sangre cuando orina, estreñimiento, diarrea? Do you have nausea, vomiting, dizziness, chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, pain or blood when you urinate, constipation, diarrhea?

¿Ha estado hospitalizado alguna vez? Have you ever been hospitalized?

¿Ha tenido alguna vez alguna cirugía? Have you had any surgeries?

¿Tiene otros problemas médicos? Do you have any other medical problems?

¿Toma algún medicamento? Do you take medications?

¿Fuma? ¿Toma alcohol? Do you smoke? Drink alcohol?

¿Tiene alguna alergia a medicamentos? ¿Cuál es su reacción? Do you have allergies to any medications? What happens when you take it?


Voy a empezar el examen físico. I am going to start the physical exam.

Voy a escuchar a su corazón y los pulmones. Respire normalmente. Respire profundo, por favor.

Acuéstese, por favor. Lie down, please.

Echese hacia adelante. Lean forward.

Usted necesita algo para el dolor? Do you need something for the pain?

Eso es todo. Voy a hablar con mi jefe y volveremos. Gracias. That is all. I will talk to my boss and we will return.     

Un bacione,

Layne Alyssa



assessing how you learn

One (of the many many many) things I learned in my first year in PA school was the importance discovering which type of learner you are. Are you auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile, something that is not mentioned here, or a mix? I’m pretty sure everyone is a mix, but it may depend on which test you take. Secondo me, this is très très important. Not only is it important in learning everything you could ever want to learn, but it is important in learning languages too! Did you know that’s where I was going with this? 

Without further ado (ado, not adieu), click here to find out your learning type. Or just google search learning style quizzes and you can usually find one. Then come back to discuss!

I myself, am 59% visual, 24% kinesthetic, and 18% auditory. So, if you are close to being the type of learner I am, you probably find this blog more useful than someone who isn’t. Uhhhhh, Uh-oh, this is the first time I am thinking of this. Noted. 

So now take this info and apply it to your language learning! Auditory learner? Use podcasts, YouTube, and books on tape! Visual learner? YouTube, Workbooks, free language learning apps! Visual and auditory? Movies with or without subtitles! Kinesthetic? Try to write in the language you are learning! Use a dry erase board. (This is particularly helpful when learning a language that has a different alphabet like Arabic!)

Ok, come at me with your tips and comments on this post!

Un bacione,

Layne Alyssa

foreign film review

Bonjour à tous!

So I wax and wane on foreign films. I really enjoy watching them and it’s like my favorite category when watching the Oscars (does that sound snooty? I really don’t mean to sound snooty.) However, sometimes it can get a little tedious reading the subtitles when you are in a mood to relax (does that sound too third world problem-ish. Well yes, I think it definitely does.).

Side note: I actually really love subtitles. Much of the world uses dubbing, and while it’s more convenient to watch dubbing compared to having to read the subtitles, the best way to watch a movie is in the language it was written in, right? Even if you can’t understand it. side note to this side note: really this is an over-generalization that all the rest of the world uses dubbing and I also gloss over historical elements of why countries use the dubbing/subtitle/cinema translation system they do. All that is for another post! Moving on…

But there are occasions, especially when I am in the middle of one of my “learn ALL the languages” binges that I love watching foreign films. I will spend like an hour or two on Netflix or Google just to find THE best foreign film in whichever language I am in the mood for.

Quindi, in the past few weeks I’ve been in said mood and have watched two foreign films: Corazón de Leon and L’Auberge Espagnole. The first is an Argentine movie in Spanish and the latter is a French movie with parts in French, Spanish (it is set in Barcelona), and English too.

The purpose of this post (or posts, might make this a regular kind of posting topic!) is not to give the plots away, but to suggest movies that will help you learn your desired language (I mean, in this case, if one of those desired languages is Spanish or French.) Additionally, I watched them without subtitles, so I probably couldn’t give you a plot summary anyway (ideally, that was a joke. I mean, of course I understood every word in every language…uhh.) But below you will find a language learning tailored review for what I learned watching these movies and maybe what I didn’t learn too! Enjoy!

Corazón de Leon: This movie is ADORABLE. Hilarious, sweet, and with a good message, all at the same time. It’s all in beautiful Argentine Spanish, which I find to be one of the easier forms of Spanish for non-native speakers to understand. This is a romantic comedy, so it is nice for Spanish learners since the plot easy to follow and actually pretty predictable (like most romantic comedies). There are several scenes when the female lead feels strongly about her words and speaks rapid fire Spanish with no hope of me understanding anything (I watched those scenes like 3 times each and still got nuttin’). But other than that, my intermediate Spanish brain really enjoyed it!

L’Auberge Espagnole: This gem is from 2002. I had never heard of it, but my husband knew the Italian translation of the title and remembers it. I LOVED this movie because it had parts in all my favorite languages (except Italian, although there was an Italian character who said a bit of Italian parolacce, which I am very well-versed in). What I really liked about this film is all the different cultures represented in it. The “auberge espagnole” is actually an apartment full of foreigners in Barcelona, all living together in (somewhat) perfect harmony. I also liked that they switched languages throughout the film so many times. Sometimes I didn’t even register which language they were speaking. Maybe they start speaking Spanish after speaking English for a while, and I didn’t even realize they have switched. Ahh, so cool. Love it. 

Et voilà! Let me know what foreign films y’all are watching too, whether it be with subtitles or without! Or for language learning or just for fun! Also, don’t be discouraged if you feel like you don’t understand a lot while watching a foreign film in the language you are learning. Just try is the key! I have no idea what is going on when I watch a lot of these films, but I ALWAYS, however small it is, learn something.

Un bacione,

Layne Alyssa


Arancini and Fresh Pasta

This past weekend I hosted a pasta-making party! This is actually the third pasta party I’ve done. Pretty soon, I’m gonna be a pro! So this pasta party thing kind of came out of just us and some of our friends getting together to make a bunch of pasta and several sauces. Sage, fig, and goat cheese ravioli and salmon and cream spaghetti. Yum. And since it is a time consuming process, it just makes since to spend an afternoon making it with friends and then to making extra!

Side Note: You may notice on this blog that I reference Italian culture, language, and food more often than other cultures and their languages and food. As a little disclaimer, I am married to an Italian who was born and raised in Italy. So, I reference Italy a lot because I have a lot of experience with it! 
My second pasta party was spent with my parents and good family friends, making fettuccine with bolognese sauce. We added pasta made with semolina flour to this party! So good. And, lastly, we had last weekend’s party. I just finished my didactic year of Physician Assistant school, so some other PA-S2’s (what what) decided to celebrate by making copious amounts of pasta (although is it really ever enough?) and throwing some vino into the mix too. And (this absolutely amazing) cake! We made fettuccine and ravioli. <<Pause for easy pasta recipe>>

1 lb of pasta (we usually make 4 lbs each time. it freezes well!)

  • Put 3.25 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour on the counter
  • Make a well in said flour
  • Add 4 large eggs to center well
  • Use fork to slowly & gradually incorporate eggs into flour
  • Use hands to finish mixing ingredients together
  • If dough is too dry, add water a tsp at a time
  • Cover ball of dough tightly in plastic wrap and let dough rest for 1 hour
  • Roll out and cut pasta. We have both kitchen aid with pasta attachments and a hand-crank pasta roller/cutter. Both work well!

For our sauces, we made spinach & ricotta ravioli filling, bolognese, and classic carbonara. The ravioli filling and bolognese sauce turned out WONDERFULLY. They were both very flavorful, but not troppo salati. Comunque, the carbonara, which is a common offering of bacon, egg, and cheesy goodness at our house, fell short. I didn’t see it coming, but the soft freshness of the eggy pasta contradicted the lack of sauce found in the carbonara recipe. As weird as it is to say, use a boxed, store bought pasta when making carbonara. However, the problem could have lied with the fact that the carbonara was our third pasta course of the night and we were pieni and all pasta-ed out.


So pasta night was a success! And because I have a few weeks off now before starting clinicals, meaning I have time to cook, I decided to keep the creativity flowing by trying my hand at arancini. The first and only time I have had arancini was in Riomaggiore at a place called Siamo Fritti. See their wonderful creation below.

They sold all sorts of fried foods, as their name explains. My husband cited arancini as a something I had to try culturally-speaking, so even though it was 10 am and we were walking around in the blistering heat, that’s what we did. It was just okay. So basically it is bolognese (meat sauce) + a bit of cheese, wrapped in creamy rice (made to look like an egg), then breaded and fried. Oh, and there is some saffron in there for coloring. But I didn’t mess with that mess in my recipe. The name actually means little oranges due to their shape and color, and they have roots in Sicilia (Sicily!). 

So I think they turned out how they were supposed to, but this is probably the last time I make them. Mainly because they are like really fried and made my kitchen smell like the point of no return from fried. I mean my eyes burned all night from either oil droplets in the air or maybe the smoke that filled the apartment when I burned a batch of them. Who knows, really? Everything was just full of friend smell! OK, I digress. All in all, not bad, but I won’t make them again. On another unrelated note, anyone want to help me eat all these little oranges?

I have linked most of the recipes I mentioned in this blog, but if anyone would like more information on recipes I used or just about making pasta or arancini in general, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Note: the arancini recipe I used is in Italian, but it has a video! Might be worth it for ya to learn Italian just to use this recipe website…giallo zafferano. I think actually some recipes are in English too. Everything is so good and they make it easy to make! 

Un bacione,

Layne Alyssa

Siri, your free language tutor


You have a language tutor who can help you with your pronunciation in your pocket RIGHT NOW…in questo momento, a’ ce moment, en este momento! It’s siri! This language learning tool was recently brought to my attention and I really think it is a great idea. This is particularly helpful with pronunciation.

Because if Siri can’t understand you, you’re doing it wrong. Sorry for the harsh delivery.

Wondering how to do it? Just pull out your iPhone (or I guess another smartphone/device/tablet thingy that has someone who talks to you that is not a real person), go to the “settings” app, hit “general”, “siri”, then change the language to whichever language you would like to practice in quello momento. Then, you just talk! You can write out questions in your chosen language before hand and read those, write out questions in English (or your native language) and translate those in yo head, or just freestyle the whole thing, man.

One advantage to doing this exercise is you can talk or ask questions to Siri and see if they understand you, tweaking (or scratching it all!) your pronunciation as you go. Another advantage is you can see how much you understand of the response and actually even kind of carry on a strange little conversation, if you want. Own it, this is a step closer to one day being like, “Hey you are French? Well alors, je parle francais aussi!”. I mean, how cool would like be, right? Also, you can even leave your phone in said language and use said language from here on out to set your alarms, reminders, schedule events, call yo peeps, and anything else you can think of.

Just in case you need a little inspiration, ecco some example questions for you. Some are serious, some are not. Some are translated into Italian for those of you learning it, some are not:

  1. What time is it in San Francisco? Che ore sono a San Francisco?
  2. What is the weather like in Berlin? Come e’ il tempo a Berlino?
  3. Will it snow today? Nevica oggi?
  4.  What is your favorite animal? Qual e’ il tuo animale preferito?
  5. What is the meaning of life? Qual e’ il senso della vita?
  6. Tell me a story. Raccontami una storia.

Let me know how this works for y’all, you little lovers of languages.

Un bacione,

Layne Alyssa