God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Big Three


These are THE major decisions we struggle with as we plan our move to Italy and they are entirely intertwined and interdependent--to approach them separately is about as effective as separating print from the page.

The part that makes complexity out of simplicity is the schooling. If all we needed were to determine location and from there go to housing, life would be simple. Although it would still be hard to choose where to live, we could do that in fairly short order. But--Casey complicates things immensely--Bless his wonderful, delightful, loving soul!


We have finally (I think) decided on placing him in an Italian public school as opposed to the International school in Florence. Originally we had wanted to do this but were concerned (and to some degree still are) about the language situation--he doesn't speak Italian. But--after cyber-conversations with many people who have taken this risk and their childrens' subsequent positive experiences, we have decided that Casey will do well, becoming bilingual fairly rapidly and successfully. This will become a part of the richness of this unusual year in his life.

A preview of Casey next year.
Photo by Peter Palmieri

This decision accomplishes two big things:
  1. We have more options for location.
  2. We have more € at our disposal.
Now the two issues we face in finding the right school and by default the right location are:

In Italy children traditionally go to school 6 days a week--lunedi-sabato. We do not want this for Casey. The good news is that 6-day school is not mandatory and there are schools that go for just 5 days--it seems each school can make an independent decision in this matter--strange! (They also seem to set their own school hours.)

2.) The other important factor is the kind of language assistance a school offers kids like Casey. It seems that all schools must provide a tutor or a pull-out type program for a period of time daily--provided by the government. But--some areas and schools have much more experience in doing this and already have English speaking children enrolled--much more accustomed and prepared to work with ex-pat kids.

Finding out which schools in which locations meet these criterium is not easy. Particularly when blending these things with some specific desires Ken and I have for our time there--becoming part of the ebb and flow of daily life, short trips to other areas, visiting friends we have made throughout Umbria and Tuscany, language school and whatever else strikes our fancy.

So--now we are in research mode--which involves much cyber searching, asking a multitude of questions of contacts we have had and are making in potential locations, finding circuitous ways to make contact with schools, contacting rental agents (much of which is in l'italiano)--and--rotating between wondering why in the world we are doing this and experiencing exhilerating anticipation. No misgivings--just butterflies.

Next Up: Location

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Planning is Half the Fun?" Oh--Say It Isn't So!

Well--I hope that's not true because if the experiential half is no better than this half, we are in BIG trouble! Who would have thought that planning for a simple year could be so annoyingly complicated. And then--the ugly spector of incompetence rears its head when my cyberfriend gets every thing done--from the initial lightbulb thought about "why not live in Italy" all the way through the settling into a Firenze apartment--in the space of three months. I used to be like that--a snap of the fingers and the dream was the reality. I guess fingers get weak as the years progress.
Now I am a little old gramma with a shriveling mind, leaking memory and a body that is hard to unfurl in the morning when a seven year-old jumps on the bed--ready for another day of exploring the mysteries of life.
Actually, the truth is that upon finally reaching that time known as retirement, with the plan to fulfill a 40 year fantasy of "sleeping in", what really happened is that my body clock reset itself so that I am awake and ready to go at ungodly hours of the morning. Ken, on the other hand, is reverting to teen years when sleep is an occupation--or so he wishes.
Enough of the rambles--on to Italy. The easiest way to approach this is to organize into topics, subtopics, detours and sidebars--so here goes:

Paperwork, the Los Angeles Italian Consulate and the Courts:
My latest attempt to penetrate the dark and mysterious recesses of the Italian Consulate appear to be as futile as earlier attempts. I am told that there is a building at 12400 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, 90025 which houses this entity in suite #300. However, I won't believe it until the lettering on the door says Consolato Generale d'Italia a Los Angeles and we actually stand in the presence of a rarified being holding the key to our visas.

Because phone calls are difficult and faxes and e-mails remain unanswered, I finally wrote a real letter and included a self-addressed stamped envelop. In the letter I sweetly, nicely, hat-in-hand, sent a copy of the order from the Superior Court of the State of California which states unequivocally that we can take Casey to the EU, including Italy (in case there is confusion) for the calendar years 2006-2007. I told them/her/whomever that I was having this and the guardianship orders translated and certified. I then asked if this would be sufficient or if there something else they would need like an apostille--for which the translator in New York is going to charge a lot of money as she needs to go to court, stand in line or whatever to get verification that she is whom she says she is and that the translation certification is legtimate. If I can avoid that cost it would be nice. But--surprise--I wasted two 37¢ stamps as there has been no reply. So-- we will get the apostille just to be on the safe side.

Sidebar: In case you wonder what an apostille is--as I did--when you present a document as being certified and notarized, the notary could be forged. The apostille is a seal from the state that the notary's seal and signature are on record and that the certification is legitimate. In other words, an apostille certifies the certifier. How many of you knew about this? We're not sure yet but believe that we may need to have our marriage and birth certificates translated and apostilled. Of course none of this runs cheap! Just to have the letters of guardianship and the travel order translated, notorized and apostilled will run about $200. Now--doesn't this all sound like fun?

Passports: It is time to renew Casey's--which is sad as he has so many stamps in his that it's hard to trade it in. The law says that as court appointed guardians, we can get his passport. All we need is to take in his old passport, a copy of the court papers and $. This should go easily (she said.) We have an appointment at the post office in a couple of weeks but we don't expect a problem. However, we are applying for renewal early just in case.

FBI Check: Yes--we need FBI clearance stating that we are not criminals and that we are upstanding, honorable citizens. First we need to get full sets of finger prints and then send off to the FBI for a report. Heaven help us if there is a problem with that. I have visions of Bush having put all Democrats on a "hold" list.

Of course, there is more paperwork but some of that will be put off for a while.

We need a copy of a rental contract for the period of time we will be there. The bizarre, catch 22 is that this must be arranged prior to applying for the visa--which we then hope will be approved. And--we must assure the powers that we are planning to leave the country in a timely fashion. S0--we need our in and out plane reservation--which is an interesting thing to accomplish since airlines only write tickets 330 days out. Oh well-will cross this bridge some other time. As others have gone before us, there are solutions--probably quite circuitous and creative.

This Post is a Two Parter in Order to Accommodate Attention Spans--Mine, Not Yours

Coming Next:

Location, Schooling and Housing--the Big Three!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Heartwarming Sequel

I was pleased and Casey thrilled when the mail box held a small package for him from Samaritan's Purse. Inside was a letter thanking him for his gift--telling of the encouragement they receive from the hearts of children such as he. Included was a miniature shoe box filled with 52 scripture cards--one a week for the next year.

Again Casey glowed and the meaning of giving and sharing and caring about others was generously reenforced. I know that it underscored the beauty of his heart gift and will make it that more memorable--hopefully it will be the beginning of a lifelong sense of compassion and responsibilty to others.

Onto other things: The Italy portion--and really that is what inspired this blog--has been rather ignored lately--mainly because nothing has been happening in moving our plans along. However,it would be in error to interpret this to mean that we aren't hard at work trying--I have been spending entirely too much time on the venture. It's just that there are so many dimensions and intricacies involved that I've been waiting (some might call it procrastination) to write about it all. But--the time has come so that in the years to come, my descendents have a record of all that we have done--which was really the impetus to joining the legions of bloggers in the first place. To my surprise, people besides me read it--amazing!

Then--as if raising a seven year old, planning to move to a foreign country--where they speak a language we don't, fighting with recalcitrant electronics and just keeping up with the daily challenges of living in a country that seems to be running amok weren't enough, we have taken on the maddening challenge of completely redesigning the exterior of our house. So, we are covered with scaffolding, workmen have taken over, we have become extraneous and in the way and, at least a thousand tiny and not so tiny decisions need to be made. Really--I am too old for all of this!!!!!!!!

Anyway, tomorrow or the next day or the next day, you will get an Italy update.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Compassion from the Heart

No--this is not Katrina; although, the gift of compassion does ring out in stories from the last many days. We clearly have been given the opportunity to prove our humanity and people from around the world are passing that test.
But this is a story from a few days before Katrina and tells of the purity and beauty of a child's heart. It's one of those times that brings tears of awe and wonder as we catch a glimpse of innocence.

We were watching that family program--you know, the nightly news. There was a vivid and heart-wrenching report on the tragedy of the Sudan--the inhumanity and violence that has occured there--women being raped and tortured, children orphaned, cruelty beyond comprehension--the opposite of the heights the human spirit can soar to as we see in the response to Katrina.

Suddenly I noticed that Casey, who had been creating Lego masterpieces, had stopped and was mezmorized by the TV--so entranced that even his breathing was noticeably slow. When it was over, he turned to us with questions we all ask ourselves but children verbalize. "Why do they want to do that?" "What's going to happen?" "Why are they so mean?" A little while later, he said "We should do something about that. What can we do?"

The next day he brought down his piggy bank and he and Ken counted out his money--all $12 in change. He decided that he wanted to send $11 to the children.

After a web search, we decided that the Samaritan's Purse organization would be a good place to send the money. Then, rather than just take the money from him and us writing a check, we made a family trip to the bank so he could experience taking his money in, handing it to the teller and getting a check to send.

The teller was wonderful. She told him what a "lovely and generous" thing he was doing and that it would come back to him and then he could do more. She put his name on the cashier's check with the notation that it was for the children of the Sudan. He was glowing from the inside out.

Finally, he wrote a short letter to Franklin Graham and the check was mailed. Now, he prays for the children every night--along with his prayers for orphans he has heard about in India and the victims of Katrina.

If ever we wonder what a child is like before being corrupted by "the world", God sometimes lets us see and remember.

I hope this has brightened your day and that hope has been restored and renewed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hello Again

Yep--we're back from Alaska and have been for a couple of weeks. But, somehow, updating this journal seems to have remained at the bottom of the to-do list.

Katrina--electronics (the bane of 21st century existence)--Casey--business matters--just the stuff of life have filled the hours and days. Now, though, it is time to catch up with friends and strangers who seem to check in here from time to time.

First--Alaska is breathtakingly awesome and beautiful--beyond expectations and imagination! We have traveled extensively--the top of the Jungfrau--the Serengiti--castles and fortresses-- Tibetan plateaus--deserts--the Great Wall--but nowhere has proof of God the Creator been more vivid than in the pristine, massive, mystical, pure, natural wonder of Alaska. In time I will update our website as this blog is not a travelogue but for now, here are a couple more pictures.

And--my most favorite:

What else is happening? Well, I have been drawn over and over again to watch and keep up with the tragedy of Katrina. The human suffering, the massive failure of our systems, the humbling realization that we are as fragile as any third world country, the open window on the truth of the disparity between poor and rich, black and white has all been forcefully laid out in the light of day or in the recesses of a Superdome and a Convention Center. And then along with that we see the greatness of shared humanity, the empathy that surfaces in the face of despair, the desire to relieve pain and distress--we see what is good and strong in this species called man. We, along with the world, wait to see where this great tragedy takes us and what will be done. Can we admit mistakes so that we can change? As a nation can we refocus our priorities? Can we take care of our own as well as we can wage war? Can we address a crumbling infrastructure and find the resources to rebuild? These are some of the thoughts that Americans of the United States struggle with these days. I pray that God will lead us through all that is ahead.
On to lighter fare--Electronics:
Within two days of arriving back in San Diego, the cable modem quit functioning, the computer which crashed two months ago did so again, the microwave gave up life, and more. So, several days were spent working through all of this--which meant absolutely nothing constructive was accomplished elsewhere. I am one of those people who knows little about fixing technology but who willing (some would say, stupidly) jumps from the cliff and tries, often leading to even greater problems. This round resulted in buying and installing a modem (easy), buying a new computer (on order as I wanted some customization) and at the moment, being still in the market for a new microwave. Can you believe that to replace a microwave venting fan costs $299? Certainly not worth it for an 8 year old appliance.
Well, in reviewing the title of the blog, I see that this entry falls into the "other stuff" category which is not really the purpose of the blog at all. It's purpose is to share the wonders of Casey and the trials and tribulations of preparing for residency in Italy--both of which have twists and turns to share. So--I will close this now and get to the real stuff tomorrow, maybe.
I end with this smile for the day: While driving in Alaska, Casey, being 7 years old, constantly wanted to know things such as "how much further?" or "how much longer?" The typical answer would be "in a while" or "a while longer." Finally, fed up with such non-helpful input, his response was "I hate whiles!" Don't you just love kids?