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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Road to Italy

...does not run smoothly.

One of our favorite things to do in lovely Italia is to explore the secrets and surprises along the "white" roads--those byways where sheep and tractors still cross the rocky, unpaved lanes that lead between villages, vineyards, farms and history.

But--it isn't charming or fun to traverse white roads in planning our future--particularly for a type A person who likes the ball to roll straight and fast--of course, this character flaw is in direct contradiction to the "Italian Way" as friend Nico delights in reminding me. Maybe that's why I love Italy so much--it is my diametrical opposite! Maybe I believe that "go slow" will become my nature and patience my virtue.

After finding the incredible airfare--which by the way may have been one of those computer glitches we hear about-more on that later--and being euphoric over the opportunity to meet the school and location questions head-on, there came a slight bulge in the bubble. And it was one that I should have foreseen.

November 1 is All Saints Day, a major holiday in Italy. Having been in Italy last year at this time, I know this. The country shuts down, cemeteries are groomed, graves are bedecked and great honor is bestowed on ancestors. We took great pleasure in observing this in Sicily when we wandered a cemetary outside of Sircusa the day before, when mausolems were been scrubbed, vases were being arranged, treasured pictures were being displayed. The next day, we found ourselves absolutely trapped in spiderwebs of traffic around the cemetery until an observant poliziotto came to our rescue and somehow threaded us through. Traffic was backed for miles. Now--I do think that Sicilians are much more into this observance than mainlanders are, but, like we in the United States, a holiday is never turned down.

The upshot of this is that schools are closed and people don't work--voila--a dead day (aptly put) for me. But--it gets worse. Since November 1 is on a Tuesday, a perfectly wonderful long weekend comes by shutting everything down on Monday. Now, I lose 2 days of accomplishing what I came for--leaving only 4 days to see schools.

But--having recently had conversations with Casey about half full glasses and that old cliche about making lemonade, I have listened to myself and adapted expectations and am fully convinced that all that needs to happen will.

The wonderfully encouraging and warming situation is that several friends in various parts of Tuscany and Umbria are stepping forward, going out of their way to help--offering property hunting assistance, checking with schools, locating B and B's/hotels, and so much more. So--in the long run, what orginally seemed disastrous has brought something better and valuable--the sense of becoming part of a new community of friends--a reminder of just why we are wanting the year for which we plan.

A week from today I will be somewhere between here and there--before then, the plans will change daily as we reevaluate the where's to look. Tonight it is the Montepulciano area, the "suburbs" of Siena, the Chianti and the area around Perugia, Umbria. Today Cortona was dropped and by tomorrow maybe the Siena suburbs. The remaining three all draw us and have definitive potential.

So--November 4, I hope to return triumphant--a location chosen, potential rental properties and an agent with whom to work and, most special, more people to call good friends.

Now--plane fare story. Today, having decided that I really could use 2 more days there, I called UAL to see how costly it would be to change the reservation. The person I spoke with put me on hold while checking with "the fare" department. When she came back, her comment was "you have a deeply discounted fare (this was quite emphasized). The fare department says it will cost $2000 to change the date." Somehow, that seems like an exhorbitant change even for the weird rate rules of airlines. I believe that somehow I checked the website at a magic moment and won the prize--a nice feeling!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quick Note--Off to Italy--Soon!

Having managed to produce a state of perpetual fog and confusion to encompass an often feeble and addled brain, I have decided that it might unscramble things if I go to Italy and check out schools and properties. Actually--I decided this weeks ago but airfare was so costly and routing so inconvenient that it just didn't seem feasible--particularly since we already have arrangements to go in February.

And then--today I called a friend from Hawaii who is now in Italy just to talk (and to ask her to pick up some cheese for me since we will see her at the end of November.) By the end of the conversation, she had me convinced that there was no choice--I had to get to Italy--sad thought that might be. (I think she is just tired of hearing of my indecision and "what should I do" e-mails.)

Then serendipity--when I went to the UAL site, there was an incredible deal--all the way from San Diego to Florence for $569. Didn't take much brain power to snap at that--even though it means riding economy as the fare isn't upgradeable.

So--off I go, alone, October 26. Can't wait. 10 days to check properties and schools and see friends and eat. What fun! Now I just need to make all the arrangements with schools and agents in Cortona, Sarteano and the Siena area. And--as long as I am flying to Florence, might as well check out the International School and properties around there--which had been our original plan.

Maybe when I get back the location section, which has been sitting in draft form for days, will finally be finishable. That would be sooo sssooooooo nice!

Afterthought: My good friend talked me out of cheese from Italy. It seems that Costco has great parmisiano. And, believe me, gourmet Italyophile Ann knows. But--I will miss thinking "this is the real thing" and remembering the market from whence it came--somehow Costco doesn't breed nostalgia!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Odds and Ends

This is supposed to be about "location"--but, at the moment, I want to forget all of that--trying to figure out what to do makes my head spin and I am very tired of feeling like a mental pretzel!!

So--let me tell you about Casey--because this is kind of a neat thing.

Obviously, it is important that he learn some Italian before setting foot in the Italian class room next fall. Thus, he is currently using the Muzzy language program--which has him mesmorized. And, although it is too soon to tell if it will be effective, at least, he is paying attention and isn't rejecting the idea of learning the language. He can't wait to get home from school or where ever so that he can watch the story tapes--over and over.

Then--we have just found out that a young girl who lives near us and who is the perfect age for baby sitting is fully fluent in Italian. Her family speaks Italian at home, including 4th grade twins who go to Casey's school. So, now, Mary Grace has become our "official" babysitter and will speak to him in Italian when she is here--plus, we are hoping, that Casey will be able to spend time with the family so that he has immersion experiences. If all of this works, he may be well prepared for what lies ahead.

The neat thing though is that he is "teaching" his classmates an Italian vocabulary word every day. The willingness of his teacher to let him do this has given some immediate purpose to his efforts--which, in turn, is serving as significant motivation. Aren't good teachers wonderful? Ones who know how to encourage and expand kids creativity and inquistiveness? We feel so fortunate this year.

At a local teacher supply store, we found a small wall hanger with velco strips so that he can post each day's word--which at this point includes: Buon Giorno, grazie, molto grazie and prego. Coming up are per favore, ciao, and several classroom related words.

Mary Grace teaches him pronunciation--which, believe me, is far, far better than my feeble attempts at anything more than the bare basics. Although I can say Pimsleur and some texts are getting us started on this language journey--is there any question as to who will become the more proficient--Casey or grandma and papa? Don't think so! I have no doubt that he will become our teacher and language assister.

But--more than spoken language, Casey is preparing himself in the true and real language of the boys of Italy--the language that breaks all barriars in a moment creating instant bonding and brotherhood:

Moving on:
Have you ever wondered why on some blogs and other interactive sites leaving a comment first requires copying a strange combination of letters? The answer is that there are bizarre and strange people who know how to automatically leave undesireable messages and advertisements in comment sections. So, in order to stay one step ahead of this unwelcome invasion, the verification step kicks in. In the past I thought this requirement was a real pain and then the spam comments began showing up--now I understand. So, I apologize to anyone who stumbles on this inconvenience but at least you will know why--here or on any other blog.

Next up: Location, unless I find more ways to avoid the entire issue!