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.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Felice Anno Nuovo!

Felice Anno Nuovo a Tutto Amicos Qui e Li!

Our little family sits in front of a crackling fire while listening to rain tapping music on the windows--yes, it is raining in San Diego! For us it is enjoyable--making the four walls around us cozy and comforting; but, it isn't the best weather for New Year's Eve-is it? San Diegans do not handle wet roads well--it is such a novelty!

Today we began taking our Christmas decorations down and boxing them up--a strange feeling this year knowing that it will be a couple of years before they come off the rafters again. A few things we are keeping out to take with us to Italy. I say it is so that Casey will have some of our familiar traditions but--really--it is just as much for me. Ken, of course, who thinks I always pack too much if I take two pairs of shoes, has grimaced a couple of times--like the pretty Christmas paper napkins I snuck in the pile. "What--they don't have napkins in Italy?" Anyway, our Christmas stockings, nativity collection from our travels, a few favorite things--like the little Santa that bobbles down the chimney and special tree ornaments will accompany us.

Actually, it isn't much at all. We'll take it over with us in March and leave it with Rita and Lino in Chiocchio, which is just a few kms. down the road from Greve. Yes--we are beginning to think in kilometers and kilograms--rather than asking for 5 slices of ham (using my fingers to demonstrate), I will be able to speak! I will be so proud! Of course, the real question is "Will I be understood?"

Along that line, next time I write--remind me to tell you about my current language teacher--Casey. Yes--it is starting already. Yesterday he laughed until he cried trying to teach me how to say 14--quattordici. I start language school next week--hopefully, I won't slow down the rest of the class--language acquistion has never, ever been easy for me and I have tried multiple times with multiple languages. Somehow reading and writing are not beyond my capabilities but speaking and hearing are molto difficile!

Well, I was going to close with a unique and noteworthy picture of Casey celebrating New Year's Eve by blowing a noise maker through his nose while playing his armpit. But--the picture just didn't turn out well--sorry. Who or what else than a 7 year old would find such an activity to be delightfully fun and a talent of which to boast! Other than being patently gross, it was a rather hysterical form of entertainment.

So I close as I began:

Felice Anno Nuovo a Tutto Amicos Qui e Li!

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Day After Christmas

OK--I know that in some places today is what it's supposed to be --fresh fallen snow, icicles glistening in sun drops, fireplaces roaring with golden red flames and mittens and boots piled high at the door--but--here it is sunshine, shirtsleeves, shorts and a dip in the pool--or at least relaxing in the jacuzzi. Lest you doubt, here is Casey on Christmas Eve, taking in the rays. I know, it just isn't fair, you say. I wonder, do you?, why we are choosing to move to a place that requires winter clothes, boots and snow tires.

My friend Judith in Citta di Castello had her car door locks frozen the other morning--haven't experienced that since living in Syracuse! When we left that snow belt of the USA, we threw away all our ice scrapers and the other cold country paraphenalia--knowing we would never need all that stuff again. Oh my--where was our crystal ball?

Christmas was good! We went to church service on Christmas Eve. This is always a beautiful, moving, emotional celebration of the birth of Christ and the beginning of the hope ultimately realized in the crucifixion and resurrection.

Having Casey with us is always (or almost always, anyway) a joy, but never more so than on Christmas morning. Somehow Christmas morning is a time that belongs to children. There are few things that compare with the excitement and sparkle in little eyes as they anticipate what lies behind all the colorful wrappings and boxes. A child in the home at Christmas brings special pleasures and Casey does just that.

This year he struggles with the creeping knowledge that Santa Claus and his elves may be less than real. I know that he knows but he is choosing denial--for one last go around. He doesn't want to lose the fantasy--the magic--and I will mourn the loss of his innocence next year. Some of the sparkle dims when the enchantment goes away and the real world intrudes.

This year Santa even had a new name on a couple of packages--Babbo Natale. Actually, Babbo came on Christmas eve as his schedule was nine hours ahead of ours. Now, he will know us next year in Italia.

The Christmas holidays are a time of special family moments which are quite different from other vacation periods. During the day, we sort of do things in slow motion, go to the movies, help Casey ride his new razor scooter and bike and forget for a while the minutia of everyday life. At night we play games--Scrabble, Bingo or Uno--in front of a crackling fire and munch on cookies and candy. Casey loves the games and is old enough now to give some fair competition to his Uncle Jeff, Gramma and Papa. He is growing up!

Tomorrow night he wants a "movie night". This means popcorn and a family movie from Blockbuster or from his own pretty extensive DVD collection. This is quite an impressive decision on his part as it means giving up his daily allotment of 1.5 hours of TV. It is nice to know that we come in first sometimes!

He truly is a very loving boy who warms us with his cuddling and kisses and I love you's. And, each night I count my blessings when his last words are "I love you a million, trillion times and one more." What music could be more beautiful? We are blessed.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Italy Update Time

Well, it has been a while since updating the Italy saga--not that nothing is happening but we are at the bits and pieces stage--trying to get all the details set up for the much dreaded but anxiously awaited trip to the Italian Consulate in LA. It is rather inconceivable but nonetheless real that we could be denied our visa. The great dilemma continues to be the elusiveness of what it is that "they" require us to have. It's like a "we gotcha" game with only one side knowing the rules.

Anyway--the latest events, concerns and puzzlements are:

1. Our plane reservations are made and paid for--this brings a sense of true commitment. We leave July 30 at noon--arriving in Florence at 2 pm the next day. And then--our adventure as short-term expats begins! Our visas will be good for one year and so we will return to the US of A on July 30, 2007.

2. Ken and I are flying over March 4 - 15 in order to take care of details such as:

Kids normally need to be registered for school in January; however, my friend Rita--who is a real gift in our lives-- has talked with the school in Greve and since it does not handle enrollment via mail, they are quite willing to enroll Casey in March. Apparently all we will need is his birth certificate and his immunization records. As far as I can tell, Italy requires the same shots as California and so that is no problem--Casey needs no more immunizations until he is a teen-ager.

Casey's New School in Greve

Camilla--Alessandro's ( our landlord) daughter-- is in the same grade as Casey and already looks forward to our coming and helping him in the classroom. She and Casey have exchanged pictures. We will get there about 6 weeks before school starts and so, hopefully, he will have several friends from the sports center and park by the time the bell rings.

We have the rental contract worked out with Alessandro and so will sign and register it with the comune in March. We will then have that visa hurdle out of the way.
Alessandro has made this process easy, delightful and stress free--a harbinger of our relationship when we are living there. Every indication is that things will be smooth--both they and we are looking forward to a friendship between our families and the opportunities we will have to learn from each other.

The latest good news about our apartment is that it has ADSL computer hookup--which is not available in all places in Italy. For those of us who get upset when our high speed connection slows down a teeny-tiny bit, the thought of returning to a 28 or 56 speed dialup is nothing short of nightmarish!

Well, this is becoming a major focus of attention, frustation and concern right now. For reasons I do not and c
an not understand, there is little consistency within this world we call home when it comes to electronics, radio signals, frequencies, etc.

Basically, what we are wanting to do is take Casey's many DVD's and Game Cube paraphernalia over with us. Sound simple? Right? Wrong!

Televisions are different--the US has something called the NTSC signal system while Europe has something called the PAL system. DVD players need to output signals in the format that matches the TV. OK--then get a DVD player that works with Italian TV's--problem solved! Wrong, again.

When it comes to DVD's, the world is divided into 6 regions. The DVD's formated for one region won't play in another region. So, since USA is Region 1 and Italy is Region 2, we can't play our DVD's on a synchron
ized TV/PlayerPAL system.

Next solution: Get a DVD player that is 110-240 v; 50-60 hz and can switch between Pal and NTSC. This means we can play region 1 DVD's in Italy. Right? Right. But--we won't be able to play DVD's from Italy with this player. Plus, such a DVD player may not have the right connectors for the European TV which uses something called SCART rather than our coaxials and stuff like that. (If you understand about these things, you probably can tell that I don't have a clue about which I speak.)

So--I think I have figured it all out (with the help of a couple on-line gurus) and I think what we need does exist. It is a codefree, region free, dual current player with the ability to switch connector types. Now to decide where to buy it--here or there. One more thing to put on our "find-out about" agenda for March.

Next maze--figure out what to do about the Game Cube. Is there anyone out there who can make this journey into technological nightmare go away? If so, you'll earn a whole blog entry all your own! What a prize!

But now--it's time to think about Christmas and put Italy a way for a while.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Taking Communion with God

At our church, communion is served the first Sunday of each month. Today, while I listened to the words, ate the cracker and drank the juice, it occurred to me that I should write a blog entry telling of my beliefs and God commitments. A principle of my life has been that it is imperative to act upon beliefs and share them with others—be it spiritual, political, social action, or any other element that makes up whom I am. To do less is to devalue those beliefs and make them inconsequential.

For some reason, it has always been easy to speak up politically or for causes—even in the face of opposition and when doing so invited degrees of personal risk. Being to the left of center politically and being involved in “liberal” social causes (civil and human rights, universal health care, etc.) while living in strong right wing communities has never intimidated me—in fact, it has been rather invigorating.

But—this willingness to speak out and act on my even stronger and more consequential spiritual beliefs has been difficult. Why? I can only think it is because in so many cultures, both in the US and elsewhere, people who speak out about Jesus Christ and proclaim his sovereignty are often ridiculed and viewed as myopic and “right wing nuts.” Of course, I don’t want to be considered either right wing or nuts. Or, more simply put, I have been a coward.

So—it is now time to speak boldly and with clarity about what I believe and am convinced is true. It is very easily said and explained as, contrary to what people believe, being a follower of Christ is actually quite simple—it is bending the knee to the lifestyle and commandment of Jesus that is difficult.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. That His coming was foretold in the Old Testament and that the prophecies were fulfilled in His birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.

I believe as the apostle John said: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” and “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

No one states the road to salvation or provides the access key to heaven more clearly than Billy Graham—whom God has gifted with communication skills of such clarity that it is impossible to miss the message. As he preaches, it is essential to be “born again”--referring to a spiritual rebirth which requires that a person acknowledge:

  • that Jesus was born into a human world
  • that he is the Son of God:
  • that his death and resurrection were required as atonement for the sins of Adam and Eve (and consequently those belonging to the rest of us.)
  • that we must admit sin and accept the gift of saving grace by asking Jesus, the Son of God, to enter our lifes' and then walk together for the rest of eternity

So—it is about as simple a thing to do as blinking an eye and yet it is, for so many, a hard step to take. The tragedy is that eternity offers only two options--one provides a glorious forever and the other promises an eternity of pain. And so------for those of us who believe and know this truth, our greatest sin is not sharing it freely and openly.

How can I explain being concerned with the quality of life that people have or don't have while on this earth and yet remain silent on the greater issue of forever? The answer is simply that I have failed in being true to my own human standards and philosophy and, more importantly, failed God's expectation for me.

I think of the faith of children and its purity and wonder at what point the child leaves us. Three years ago when we were in the great cathedral in Seville, Casey stood mezmorized in front of a large crucifix. After a while, he turned to the stranger standing next to him and said, "He's not on the cross anymore, you know." I often wonder if that stranger ponders the thought of a little 4 year old.

The Faith of a Child

This was at the cathderal in Ortygia, Syracuse, Sicily. As we were doing what adults do, checking out all the nooks and crannies, Casey asked if he could kneel and pray. Sometimes I wonder why we were given this little treasure of a child. But--I thank God for him daily.