3 Things I Learned about Myself in Italy


Terreeia has been bugging me about Instagram for months, but I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. For a while, I’ll be really diligent about it, and then months will go by and…


When we went to Italy I decided, This is easy! I’ll be in the most fabulous place in the world, the place that’s on everyone’s bucket list. This will be it: the moment when I’ll become an Instagram superstar.



I still believe that we should all pick one social network that we think we could be really good at, and then stick with it! Learn everything you can about it (like I did about blogging when I first started) and crush it. But I digress.


Here’s what happened:

So I’m in Italy, and every day—as soon as we sit down for lunch or dinner—I pull out my phone and post a photo or two on Instagram.

And then, of course, I’m following the feed and looking at all these totally perfect pictures of picture-perfect lives. And because I’ve never been able to stop comparing myself to everyone else who’s doing something better than me… even though I’m on this dream vacation having a well-deserved cocktail in some fabulous Italian cafe…I start to notice that I’m a teeny, tiny bit cranky.

That I’m not at a fabulous book launch party with 20 of my closest friends, including all the who’s who in the industry.

That I don’t have a fabric or furniture line.

And the list goes on.


Our room in Verona

When I came back from Italy, I felt really behind. The reason we even booked this trip to begin with this year was that I joined a Mastermind group and was asked the question, “Why are you doing all this? Maria, I see you’re pretty successful at what you’re doing, and that you work really hard and long hours. What’s it all for?”

Since I don’t have kids, I can’t say it’s for them like the rest of you can. So I said, “Well, I want to travel. I want to go to Italy, for example.”

And he said, “Good. Your homework for the next four months is to find 5 hours a week where you do more things you love to do. And book a trip to Italy.”

So that’s what I did.

Here’s what I learned about myself on our three-week trip:


Atmosphere is really important—even over really amazing food.

When people ask me what kind of food I want to eat, I say, “I don’t care. They can make vegetarian food anywhere. What’s the atmosphere like?”

For example, I love sushi, but I don’t eat it very much because I don’t like the decor in most sushi restaurants.

Terreeia and I were almost at the two-week point of our trip when we arrived in Florence. And we did not have dinner reservations, so that first night, we walked along, looking for a restaurant.

By now, Terreeia is used to going into a restaurant with me. She will mostly wait at the front while I’m being seated because more often than not, I’ll ask to be moved to a better table. She’d rather wait until she knows WHERE we are sitting, or even IF we are staying.

This happened a lot during the two weeks we ate out in Italy.

That evening, we walked into a restaurant that was almost empty (but it was early). I was enchanted. I was staring at the light fixtures trying to figure out how I could take a good picture so I could show you, while Terreeia asked if they had a table for two available.

The hostess said yes, and we walked right through this enchanting and lovely restaurant into another room, where a large group of about 10 diners was gathered at a boardroom-style table. This room had two tables of two alongside the noisy group.

I took one look and said, “No.” Then I turned around and walked out.

The hostess looked at Terreeia and said, “Maybe you’ll want to come back later and sit at the bar?”.


Our breakfast room in Verona

Terreeia was SO MAD. I could barely keep up with her as she stormed ahead of me down the street. Finally, when we had found a table at another restaurant I said, “Really, Honey? You don’t tell people you have a table when you’re taking them to THAT kind of table. You let them know in advance what their choices are because, clearly, it’s Saturday night and you’re basically full.”

“You’re right,” she said. “But this musical chairs you play at EVERY restaurant is getting old.”

“I know, and I’m sorry, but I AM a designer. It comes with the territory.”


Stay calm and read all the Instructions.

We hired a travel agent to book our trip for us. We rented a car for the week we were in Tuscany, and she had given us detailed instructions on exactly where to go to return it when we arrived in Florence.

But we had a lot of paper. Terreeia had stapled each set of instructions outlining where we were staying and which restaurants to eat at in each city. I was the navigator while she drove.

We followed the signs to the airport, except when we arrived, there was clearly no car rental return desk there.

We drove around in circles trying to figure it out. 11:00am was when it had to be back, and it was now 10:48am. Terreeia kept telling me to look through the papers AGAIN while I swore I was holding nothing useful.

At one point, I screamed at the top of my lungs in the car. It’s what I do when I completely lose my mind and feel like I have no control over a situation. Some people throw things. I scream.

Then Terreeia said, “We did see the sign once but kept going. Maybe we need to turn right instead of going straight like last time.”

Five minutes later, we were back at the rental agency, and that’s when I found the entire page of detailed instructions from the travel agent about the complicated route to return a car to the Florence airport.

That afternoon, when we arrived in our room, my ear hurt really badly. I randomly get this pressure, usually in my entire ear. Just touching it is excruciating. Usually, I just insert a few drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide in my ear and I’m fine, but this time I had to take Advil before the pain went away.

I thought I had an epiphany that day and wondered if maybe the pain I sometimes get in my ears has something to do with my screaming. It fits, but it happened again yesterday, and it was a perfectly calm Sunday. (Any insights you have would be great! I have had it checked out, and the doctor says there’s nothing wrong.)

It’s funny. I can’t remember being such a screamer until I started this blog and it turned into a real business. The first time my site shut down because I had a large spike in traffic, I lost my mind again. In fact, I remember I had a sore throat for two months after that. I was alone in the house when it happened, and I probably screamed about three or four times because I was so mad that there was nothing I could do to fix it.

Now that I have learned that these are just the things that happen when you have your business in the sky vs. a bricks-and-mortar location, I’m calmer when there’s a breakdown.



Nice hotel rooms are even more important.


The last three nights of our trip to Italy ended in Venice (above).

When we were looking at hotels in Venice, Terreeia told me about the Ruzzini Palace hotel that friends of hers had LOVED. When I mentioned it to our travel agent, she said, “Well, if you’d like to stay there, go ahead and make a reservation.”

At that point, I felt loyal to her because she had booked our entire trip so I said, “If you can find us the equivalent to that hotel, I’m fine with that.”

When we arrived at the hotel in Venice and walked into the lobby, my heart sank. It was a dump. We got our key and were delivered to our room, and it was even worse.

Lately, Terreeia has implored me to take five deep breaths and count to ten when I get upset and start to lose my temper. So far, it has not worked.

I basically turned on my heel and went back to the front desk, where I said, “I am not staying in this dump.” Next, I called my travel agent (it was 7:00am Westcoast time), and screamed at her to fix it.

Just to be clear, we had PAID for a luxurious hotel room. Obviously, I would not have been upset had we booked it ourselves because we would have known in advance what we were getting.


She moved us to one of the nicest hotels in Venice (above).

That experience ruined Venice for me. I spent the next three days feeling bad that I had lost my temper and trying to figure out how to never do it again.

rooftopdeckThe rooftop restaurant where we had breakfast each morning

I hate it so much that I don’t have control over my temper. I lose all my power at the same time, and suddenly it makes me look like I’m the bad guy, like I was somehow responsible for ending up in that crappy hotel instead of the travel agent, who was clearly trying to make more money by sticking us there.

I have never been on this kind of vacation. It seems like I travel a lot but most of it is for business. Being away about 5 weeks with the week at home in between Italy and Disneyland really brought this stuff to a head for me.

I still don’t know how to fix it but I really wanted to share with you because I truly am tortured about it and I always get enlightened by your advice.

I’d like to wrap this up with a lovely little, “Look, here’s where I was and now here I am fixed, but that’s not the case so I’ll just say I’m grateful that I was able to go on this trip of a lifetime this summer and that you came along with me.

xoxo Maria

Related posts:

10 Things I hate/love/share About Me

Sometimes I just Feel like a Loser

Make Something Ugly Almost go Away with Disney’s “Go Away Green”


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leave aREPLY

  1. I’m living proof of good advice having no effect on my behaviour. I’ve tried to stop myself from behaviours I seem to have grown into but despite every attempt to stop them I’ve failed. If you find the magic wand pass it on to me when you’re finished.

  2. Hi maria, you sound a lot like I did before I got diagnosed and treated for anxiety and depression. A low dose of zoloft has literally changed my life and saved my marriage. Like you, intellectually I knew I should be grateful for my wonderful life and gifts and family but it was never enough. I was always trying to search for the key to make me happy through creative pursuits which is a hallmark of creative depressed people, but I was constantly cycling up and down and lashing out and angry. You may want to talk to a doctor about your feelings. I really feel a new lease on life since my diagnosis & treatment.

  3. Maria, Good advice from everyone. If perfection is what you are after, forget it. You already are as perfect as you will ever will be. You were born that way so just realize it and stop grasping for that illusive ring. We would all like to be you or someone else but that will never be because we are already individually perfect.

  4. I’ve found most waiters and hoteliers would love to make customers happy, if it is in their power. So before you count to 10 and take deep breaths and try to accept an unfavorable situation, instead be solution-oriented. Give them the chance to make a change (to solve the problem) that would make you happy. If they just can’t, trust me, they will spend the rest of your visit to make it up to you. (THEN you can breathe and count!) Can’t tell you how many upgrades/freebies we’ve received because we let others help us be happy. Win-Win. (This works in all of life, by the way. Even/especially in relational conflict.) ps. I’m in Southern California, and how tempted I was to go to Disneyland and “accidentally” run into you!

    • So true, I really need to learn the ‘bees to honey’ way of operating! Would have loved to run into you at Disneyland 🙂

  5. Maria, I’m visual and sensitive too, and atmosphere is important to me. I get it. So, I’m not going to give you a lecture about your behavior, or tell you to lighten up.

    I used to be a therapist, and yet, I’m not going to tell you to get therapy either! IMO, you should look into hormonal and nutritional imbalances. I’ve found that to be more effective than talk therapy, and the results are quicker.

    I recommend contacting my holistic health coach, Leah Lund, who is a Neuro Nutrient Therapist. She has clients all over the world, and has a unique skill set. She’s very special. Check out her web page, http://www.onewholehealth.com

    My son and I have both worked with her, and we’ve mellowed out. She’s a lovely person, and creates individual plans based on what you need to repair chemical and hormonal imbalances. She has assessments you can take on her website. Journaling is part of the process too.

    I’ve been amazed at how much of our behavior is actually related to nutrition. Amino acid supplements really make a big difference for us.

    I also recommend reading books by Dr. Sara Gottfried and Dr. Christiane Northrup. Also agree with the suggestion to read books by Louise Hay, who turned 89 today, and is still going strong.

    Wishing you all the best!

  6. 1. Let go of comparing
    2. Let go of competing
    3. Let go of judgements
    4. Let go of anger
    5. Let go of regrets
    6. Let go of worrying
    7. Let go of blame
    8. Let go of guilt
    9. Let go of fear
    10. Laugh at least once a day


  7. Not sure you read this, but just in case:

    NEVER EVER EVER trust a travel agent unless she/he is your best friend and have been at all places they are telling you about. We lived in Italy (45 minutes from Venice as a matter of fact, in Vicenza) for three years. I very quickly learned that the ONLY way to eat in authentic and charming places was to ask the locals.

    -ALWAYS ask the locals
    -NEVER follow a stream of tourists
    -USE SOCIAL network to your advantage (find a city, contact/ask people posting there what to do/where to go/get THEM to do your research)

    PS: Hope you managed a trip to BURANO while in Venice? You are a color specialist and there is nothing more beautiful than the colors of the houses on Burano, charming and friendly people. The best places in Venice are all off the beaten path 🙂

    If you go to Italy again, let me know and I can point you to some awesome places around Venice, Verona etc…. Furniture makers, vineyards, olive oil (family) factories, and the most charming restaurants on the way.

    I have a horrible temper a well, but what helps me when I am about to blow up is to think: Will this kill me? Am I truly going to die if this shit don’t work in my favor? 99.9% of the time I know I will live through it.

    Hope you had a good time regardless, and one last tip: switch travel agents.

    • Haha, thanks for your advice, so awesome! I don’t know if I’ll use a travel agent again, that was so brutal. I did go to Burano, I’ll post about it soon! xo

    • Dear Liberal Mom,

      Can you please send me the name of an affordable hotel in Venice. I am going in September and the prices seem
      to have skyrocketed. I would like to be in walking distance of San Marco Square.

      I tried to book an apartment, but they seem to be really high also.

      Thank you Mary Ann

  8. im a little late in commenting but here goes Maria! The first thing I want you to remember is you are a truly amazing and talented woman! Look at what you’ve created and the following you have. There is no doubt in my mind that you will have your own line of fabric and or furniture it’s just a matter of when. We all get down from time to time and I went through something very difficult years ago which ended up being a gift from God/universe. I was depressed and went on stress leave because my boss at the time was shall we say about the most horrible, nasty micro manager you could ever meet. Anyway it’s a long story but I’ll keep it short. My father got sick right after I had my meltdown. It was because I was home that I could spend most of my time with him before he passed away. It was an epiphany I realized that if my boss wasn’t so awful I would never of been able to spend all that time with my dad and you know what? The depression left me and my boss found another job after that. It was like God put this person in my path so I could be with my father and not worry about money or work. This experience showed me that when we go through horrible times there is a reason, a lesson, a silver lining. So Maria next time you feel like screaming scream away then let it go knowing there’s a reason for it.

  9. Hi Maria,

    I haven’t commented in awhile and then I come visit and find out all kinds of new things about you! First I am so thrilled you went on your dream trip! 2nd when you look back on it, try to remember all of the great experiences, and in the future you may even be able to laugh about some of the not so good. (remember when we thought we were staying at a Palace and it turned out to be a dump!)

    The truth is that almost everything that happens is fixable and / or there is an alternative solution.
    A trip is one of the biggest adventures in life and I try to look at most days as an adventure that I never have total control over, only over the way I react to the day!, event, dinner, etc.

    You look great by the way!!

    The Arts by Karena
    Artist Lee Bowers

  10. I don’t know you at all, but I think you already have (at least the beginnings of) the solution to your problem. In other posts, you have talked about the importance of clients communicating with the designer they hire. So turn that around onto yourself as the client of the restaurant/hotel/travel agent. If one of your clients was unhappy with the job you’d done, you would not want her to let out a scream, you would want her to tell you what’s wrong so you could either fix it or explain it, right? Because you want your client to be happy with your work. Treat the restaurateur/hotelier/travel agent the same way you’d want your client to treat you.

    I also think, based on other posts, that you are already capable of this. You travel all over the place to teach seminars and take part in conferences, and I imagine you don’t scream in the middle of a convention center even if the projector goes wonky or the room is unbalanced. So you already have the skill–you just have to apply it to places you do business with and to your nearest and dearest as well as to places where you are “on the job.”

    Best wishes from an occasional reader and even more occasional poster who dreams of making her kitchen white.

  11. One thing that helped me on a recent trip was to tell myself before I ever left to “expect glitches, probably every day”. I framed it as part of the travel experience, told myself it wasn’t going to be perfect and to be like a river and flow around the obstacles.

  12. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, for sharing your good, bad and ugly!!! It makes me feel like I am not the only one!! I am so happy that you and Terreeia went on your dream vacation – you both deserved it!!!

  13. Oh Maria, I can relate so well to your outbursts. Something that may be worth looking into is the wonderful world of gut bacteria imbalance. Strep overgrowth in the gut is linked to angry outbursts that feel impossible to control. Sorting that and a few other gut imbalances has worked wonders for me. A holistic/biomedical/nutritional doctor would be the person to go to. Just a thought.

  14. Remember that all the best things about you have another side to them. If you are confident, decisive and know what you want, sometimes that is great and brings you happiness in your life, and other times those same personality traits might make you act spoiled or entitled, and bring you anger that only hurts you.

    On the other side there are people who would spend weeks (years even!) agonising about how they should have stood up for themselves and not accepted the bad hotel room. They think they´re weak, but in other cicumstances think of themselves as virtuously patient and agreeable.

    So instead of comdemning your nature, maybe work on ways to express it in a way that is more positive for you? Or even just accept that we all have our flaws!

  15. Maria, I have learned so much from you about design and color, and now with your brave post you are allowing me to learn even more about myself. I too scream when I get overwhelmed/frustrated. My life is so blessed and wonderful and I know it, but that unfortunately doesn’t stop the occasional angry outbursts. After I read you post last week, I didn’t think much about it again until I screamed (a small scream, mind you) after I couldn’t get my fussy, teething baby down for a nap. What I didn’t realize was that my husband was in the next room and heard me scream. Lovingly, we had a chat about it later that night where he told me “its just not ok for you to scream like that”. The next morning I woke up and remembered your post and have spent a few days reading through all the comments and making notes on books/techniques/websites that have been mentioned. So thank you for this wonderful resource that’s been created through the generous reader comments for those of us who share in your struggle. I’m eager to begin the hard work of addressing this issue in my life, and I wish you all the best as I know you’re doing the same!

  16. I’m planning a trip to Italy, and all these posters who live there or travel often and know the “real” places to go… it is so frustrating that I don’t know you and can’t get the real scoop! How does one find an authentic experience these days when they don’t know anybody local? You say “ask a local”, but you can’t very well walk up to total strangers and expect them to tell you their favorite places!

  17. We just spent a month in Tuscany,Lake Como and Ferrara and our villas were first class. When my family travels it is very important where we stay. Each villa was full of light,immaculate and beautifully decorated and of course with our own pool. We book through VRBO. Never never relinquish control and let a travel agent book you into a hotel. One of the most nicest places we booked was an estate that has two adjoining villas joined by their own pool,beautiful appointed, art objects and outstanding views . They
    are on ‘Facebook’ and the villas are on a mountainside near Lucca. It can ruin your trip if your accommodation is unsuitable.