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.

Monday, December 25, 2006





to Everyone.

God came as Baby Jesus and

gave us hope and life.

We are off to Salzburg on the 26th and so won't say hello to you all again until sometime after the first of the year.

I wish each of you a...........................


Monday, December 18, 2006

Natale in Firenze

Firenze is just down the Chiantigiana from us--a short ride by car or bus. We go frequently--always pinching ourselves to prove that it is really us who so casually feel at home in this city of history. But last Saturday and Sunday were especially delightful.

We decided to stay the night so that we could wander at leisure with no thought other than enjoying the bustle of holiday shoppers, the store windows and decorated aisles, the crisp fresh air, the beautiful lights strung overhead like stars in the night --the excitement of a city at Christmas.

The first magical moment was at the Westin Excelsior when we were personally escorted to our room by the manager. Because Ken is a platinum member (a business traveler's perk for many stays), we were upgraded to an exquisitely beautiful suite overlooking the Piazza Oggnisanti and the river Arno. Suddenly we were part of the jet set.

See Casey--feeling quite at home in the privilege of luxury. I'm afraid that he is developing a somewhat distorted view of reality. He doesn't know that Motel 6 is just around the corner.

We left Greve early on Saturday
as there was a special English
language presentation by the Florence International Theatre Company at the Paperback Exchange store in Firenze. Friends of ours who live in the city had made reservations for their girls and for Casey. The play was a very cute rendition of the book Merry Christmas Strega Nona--a lot of humor and cornball stuff that children love so there was much robust laughter--which is always music to adult ears.

The rest of the day we window shopped but didn't buy much. I find shopping in Florence difficult. Department stores are arranged very differently than I am accustomed to in the Stati Uniti and I become overwhelmed quickly. The hundreds of smaller shops are very specialized so you need to move from one to another to complete an outfit. Eventually I just give up. Which doesn't mean to say that there were no purchases--just not as many as I planned. I did get a gorgeous sweater for Ken for Christmas and soaps and perfumes from the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia for gifts.

When we were in one store, a call came in from a friend with whom we had eaten earlier, telling us to hurry to the corso as there was a marching band. We caught up with it just before reaching Piazza Signoria where they stopped and performed for quite a while. It was very cute and we laughed as we listened to John Phillip Souza in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

The baton twirling young girls
were quite intense as they performed
their dance routines and tosses
--missing as many as were caught.

While we stood watching this, we heard a familiar bark--friends of ours from Impruenta were there with their little dog. We talked and walked with them for a while and ended up on the Ponte Vecchio watching famous golfers hitting balls onto platforms in the Arno--quite strange!

At night we went over the bridge to a nice osteria on the Oltra Arno (other side) and then joined Florentinians and visitors walking the streets, admiring lights and trees, drawing our coats tight as we enjoyed the Christmas air.

Finally we wandered our way back to the wonderful room awaiting us, stood on the balcony for one last look at the Arno in lights

and took off for dreamland.

Dreaming here was easy! But, leaving was hard.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Is This Home?

When Ken and I decided that we would move to bella Italia for a year--that we would not just dream but really do it--many people thought we were crazy, others applauded our choice and wished us well and still others envied our willingness to transplant and move to a country whose language we did not know, where we had no relatives and where life would be quite different.

We have now been here a little more than 4 months, have settled in and love it. Already there are discussions about how hard it will be to leave and what it will seem like to be back in the country of bigness, strip malls, fast food and processed foods. Will reentry be difficult? I think so.

We like the small villages here, punctuated by larger cities such as Florence and Siena-- cities that have existed for centuries and have so much to offer. Cities that seem to sing and hum with pride and self-assurance. San Francisco, Boston and New York are such places, too.

We love hopping on the SITA bus, and 40 minutes later finding ourselves strolling the streets and alleys of Florence, window shopping, quickly stepping into a museum, visiting with friends, appreciating the art and serenity in any one of a multitude of churches, eating--ah yes, eating, crossing the Arno and meandering through Santo Spirito, savoring the smells and vitality of the Mercato Centrale--and more, more, more. How envious we will be of our time here when we return to Stati Uniti.

We enjoy driving the country side, exploring white roads that lead to places without sign posts, to silent shrines,

hill top castles, monasteries and abbeys,

forgotten churches,

tumbled stone farmhouses, roaming sheep and delightful trattorias tucked away in small hamlets.

We wonder who lived in that stone house with its shutters hanging askew? What happened to them? Whose is it now? What would we find inside if we dared to go?

Is there a forgotten masterpiece in that little church?

Why does this hamlet exist so far from anyplace else? Our fertile minds fill with questions. So many mysteries. But it is fun and a world away from the life we left in San Diego. Time is so less the master here.

Sometimes we take off in the morning, not really knowing where we will end. We may go to a village an hour or so away and take time to visit the small Sacred Arte museum sure to be there. Or maybe we will stumble on a weekly market we didn't expect to find.

Some of these are quite large, covering many streets and selling a vast variety of items. Others are small with just a few vendors. But--no matter the size, each serves as a social gathering whether one buys or not.

Sometimes we find something but more often, after roaming and looking, we leave empty handed but never with the feeling that time has been squandered. We are a part of Italy and feel it as we participate.

Greve in Chianti has welcomed us. Store owners know us; restaurants save tables for us; butchers cut the meats we want; the local artist freely shares his life and views, his origins in Persia, not Iran; the little woman in the negozio di abbigliamento (clothing store) looks at me and knows exactly what size wool undershirt will be the perfect fit; Luca gives me the perfect haircut and Ken is quite comfortable with the other men of the village in the barbershop, catching up on local gossip--although, he doesn't understand a word of it. So different from the impersonal services at home.

We love where we live--it is the perfect place for us. Our landlords are gracious, fun and have become friends. Casey has a sister in Camilla. Our apartment has character, is comfortable and roomy (by Italian standards) and meets all our needs. We love coming back to it after a trip someplace else. Its location could not possibly be more lovely or beautiful--every day we drink in the views and countryside and enjoy the differences that seasons bring. It is home!!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Update to Short Takes


Well, things are very strange here so don't believe a word I say from day to day.

Today was incredible beautiful--no jackets, only a lightweight sweat shirt. We seem to be rotating between fall and spring with winter finding it very hard to muscle its way in.

Sara, the young woman who is more-or-less the office manager for Alessandro--and super nice, helpful and incredibly efficient, told Ken she heard on the radio that this was the warmest November in 150 years!! This may be nice for us but it isn't so good for the health of the vines which need cold weather to kill the parasites which infect them and the mosquitoes that infect us.


Our Christmas tree is up and I love it. Our little home is so warm and inviting and cozy that when I think of our big house in California, it is a little overwhelming. Tonight with the tree lights on, candles lit, two little packages under the tree and carols playing on the IPOD, it was just very nice. Now I am upstairs in the loft and the tree lights below are reflected in the glass door. One little tree and it lights up the whole house. Couldn't do that at our other home.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Short Takes

We have dug out the heavy coats--except that I bought a new one in Florence last week-it just seemed the right thing to do. Mittens, gloves, scarves and boots have infiltrated the wardrobe and reside in the basket by the door. Wool socks and silk camisoles are on the shopping list. Winter is coming.

Being from Southern California, we aren't used to a cold Christmas but it seems so right. At least it does now while the temperatures are still quite bearable--making the air crisp and invigorating. Until today early morning gray skies turned to sunshine by mid-morning but today we had gray skies all day. Someone said it was supposed to snow this week, but I don't think so.


By practicing on our spiral staircase, I now have a pretty good idea of what it would be like to ride a roller coaster without a coaster car. I also now know that you don't wear slippery socks on slippery hardwood steps. Being as it was a spiral staircase, once I slipped it was a bounce from side to side on the way down. At the moment, I am one big bruise and sitting is very uncomfortable. Who would have thunk that it was possible to bruise so many different sides of the body in one slide?

Or Merry Christmas to those who are monolingual.

For some reason I had thought that Christmas was much less commercial and glitzy here in bella Italia. But--every store you enter has Natale for sale with the same marvelous merchandise from China that my friends are buying in the US. Tree, window and home decorations, toys, linens, snowy globes, gift bags, paper, whatever you might need. We brought a lot of our favorite decorations with us so that Casey would feel at home (or, maybe so that we would.) So, we are very red and green here now.

Today we bought a live Christmas tree in a plastic pot. Trees here are not as perfectly formed and nurtured for their purpose as in the US. Our tree has such a unique personality and individuality that it demands to be loved--I will miss it next year, perfection will have lost its draw. Since we didn't bring lights, we must go to the piazza and hope to find some so that we can decorate tomorrow after school. When the season is over, Alessandro can plant the tree and Camilla will have a special way to remember Casey.

Gifts are given here but, from I am told, not to the extent as in the US. There is much focus on family and family celebration with gifts being smaller and less center stage. But--with kids I think that no matter what, presents are eagerly awaited. There are already some under Camilla's tree--Babbo Natale arrives early so that there isn't such a heavy load on the 24th. Now Casey comes home from school every day wanting to know if Santa has made it to his house yet- not that he believes in Santa but it is convenient to hold to the fantasy.

Alessandro and Nicoletta are in Morocco. Before they left we made arrangements to take Camilla and Casey to the local theater to see Happy Feet. Because of the smallness of the community, movies come for 2 day stands--something called the Movie Village Road Show. In the past, when she has taken the kids, Nicoletta has purchased the tickets and then the kids went in by themselves. (One of the treats of living here is the safety level--everyone knows everyone else and kids are safe.)

So, I get to the cinema, go to buy the tickets from the elderly man in the booth and hit a roadblock--I couldn't leave them. Kids have to be 9 to go in without an adult and Camilla and Casey are 8. He wouldn't budge and so that is how I ended up sharing a theater with a gaggle or two of children and seeing Happy Feet dubbed in Italian--I didn't even get the benefit of Robin Williams. I need to find out from Nicoletta her trick for getting them in. Maybe it's speaking Italian--do you think?

And Finally,


Camilla and Casey at market.

What should we do?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Maestre Anna Marie and Agatha

Several posts past I wrote about the Italian classroom and the many differences between here and the technology rich classrooms in San Diego--discrepancies that have not altered--nor will they for the predictable future.

But now I share a little about Casey's teachers and instructions as the poverty of glitz does not always tell the whole story and in this case it doesn't.

Maestre Anna Maria and Agatha care about their children just as Mrs. Hanna, Mrs. Kang and other committed teachers at Marvin Elementary School in San Diego do. They want their students to learn, to be good citizens, to be prepared for the future that lies ahead, to be happy and successful. They want to influence and impact lives for the good.

The children have hands-on, exploratory learning experiences--they leave the confines of the school ground to take walks, studying the leaves and foliage and then return to the classroom to learn about photosynthesis. They bring needle and thread and ribbon and red socks to school to make Christmas gifts. They walk to the nearby cinema to see a movie and just have fun during the school day. They take field trips to far away museums to learn to appreciate art and creativity. They are taught all those things that are important in developing an educated person--math, geography, science, literature, history, art, music, etc.

For a while I was quite upset--in fact, very upset, because Casey was expected to participate in English language instruction--What color is the sky? What are the days of the week? One, two, three.... Clearly, this was a major waste of his learning time. He asked the teacher if he could read one of his English story books and was told no. Finally, I wrote a note, explaining that Casey would be returning to the United States next year and that it was important that he continue to develop his reading skills. Now he is allowed to read; although, more often, one of the teachers takes him during that time and works with his italiano--which is "va bene" or a good use of the time. The children have English instruction just two times a week and so fluency isn't much of an issue.

Math is difficult which comes as a real surprise. Since math is a universal discipline, we thought that Casey would find a lot of success in this area--particularly as he had a perfect score of 600 on last year's California Achievement Test in math. But--we have learned the theory that a rose is a rose is a rose does not apply to math. Processes for getting to answers are very different and, to us, unnecessarily complex.

Since the philosophy in Italy appears to be conformity and didactic instruction with minimal allowance for variation or creative thinking, there is more focus on process than result. Casey is finding this difficult as he has been taught to think independently and inductively. Actually, we agree that process is important; the problem lies in the reality that more than one process can be used to reach an answer. Casey uses processes he has learned which are logical, clear and successful. He is finding it hard to learn new ways as he finds it difficult to follow the formal italian used in instruction and because, he expects himself to do well, he gets very emotional and distraught over this. Currently he is very discouraged because he is going to get "sufficiente" on the upcoming grading period. This is not a good grade--at all.

Another big difference, again due to the focus on structure and conformity, is seen in the current science test--the measurement for the grade report. In the US Casey loves making reports and standing in front of the class to give them. In fact, he usually has more "up front" time than other students. Last year he was even teaching his classmates an italian vocabulary word a day.

For this science test, students are expected to memorize a rather lengthy description of photosynthesis which they have written in italiano in their notebooks (2 pages worth). They then are to stand and recite it to the class. Casey is devastated as he cannot memorize the assignment because the words and syntax are totally unfamiliar to him. He literally began to shake when he told us about it--again, demoralized because of fear of another "sufficiente." In English he can give a very thorough explanation of photosynthesis using his own words so he clearly understand the concept and can apply it.

Today he is going to ask Signora Anna Maria if he can read it rather than recite. If she says no, then we will need to go in and see what can be done. We can't let his self-concept or motivation be damaged just because we have put him in this situation.

In our minds, the teachers should be making allowance for the fact that 3 months ago Casey spoke no conversant Italian and that today he can chatter away--not always grammatically correct but he's getting there. Unfortunately, it may be that the standard for him doesn't deviate from the other students--which would very much be in keeping with the insistence on form over substance here. So, next week when we have our parent conference--which is the way grades are communicated--we will find out if his fears are justified or if Signora Anna Maria and Signora Agatha are more flexible than we anticipate. I certainly hope so!!!!

Now to be fair to them as teachers and persons--they both make it very clear that they enjoy and like Casey, but then, who doesn't? They write "bravo" on papers. They pat him on the head. Signora Anna Marie even gives him little hugs and kisses. So we are not talking about unfeeling, cold people--it is the system that seems not to have made room for the motivation and learning techniques that the American system recognizes and uses. As I have said before, I would love to offer training in teaching techniques, motivation and class management and I am pretty confident that it would be well received by the teachers.

Now--for those of you who do not visit Casey's blog, this video will give you an idea of how he tries and what he is accomplishing--and what he can do when given some leeway. This is his story in Italian. The translation into English follows the video Enjoy.
The Ghost of Viticcio

In 2006 I was at Viticcio in my room when the ghost arrived in my room. He was funny.

At a certain point the lights went out in my house and the window opened and a big owl entered my room and I was scared.

I turned all the lights on and then there was nothing left and the window was closed.


Viticcio is where I live.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Artist's Palette

Once upon a time, for six brief years, I lived in upstate New York (a quite different country than NYC-by the way.) As a grown up girl from Southern California, I was transported into a wonderful fairy land of exquisite, unbelievable color and seasons. Even today I am in awe of the spread of God's creation in that part of the land.

Etched into my eternal memory is that first October when we drove to the Adirondacks and I saw leaves in maybe thousands of shades of gold, yellow, bronze, orange and green. I remember thinking that if I had been looking at an artist's painting, I would wonder why she had created something so garish and unnatural. It was simply breathtaking.

Now, here in the Chianti, I am again drawn into this scene--not quite as majestic and overwhelming as that of the Adirondacks--but still wonderful and awesome. A simple drive down the Chiantigiana or further afield through Empoli and Vinci over to Pistoia or a drive to anywhere else is almost visually assaulting. I wonder who can doubt the creator when there are things like this to be seen. Something as impersonal and unfeeling as a "big bang" certainly could not create this beauty or offer such a gift.

So--here are some pictures--they don't do justice to the reality--I need a better camera for that. But, perhaps you can feel it anyway.

Along the Road--Any Road

Vines in Vinci

Red, White and Blue

Our Tree All Dressed Up

Our Tree--No Clothes Now
Look Closely for the One Leaf

Memories of Grapes
Now the Vines Begin to Sleep

And His Majesty, the Olive Tree,
Stands Sentry Over all

Now winter comes and we will wait for the buds of spring. I remember the thrill of newness and sense of hope when they appeared each year. I am sure it will be the same here in lovely Tuscany. But we have the this season to watch and feel (brrrrrrrr) and love and absorb. As with Spring, Summer and Fall, it, too, will supply us with memories and joy. Life is full.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Slow Travel Friends

This is a special post about very special people--people who are dear to me and an important part of my life--even though it may sound quite strange to many. This is an ode to cyberspace where it is possible to have friends all over the world whom you know only through the keyboard and uploaded pictures--what a wonderful invention the digital camera is!!

For lovers of Italy, there is one and only one website to plan a trip, make friends, learn about wonderful restaurants, marvelous accommodations, the latest things to see and do--basically the place to find answers to whatever it is you are wondering. Slow Travel and its companion message board Slow Talk are the ultimate source for the serious traveler to Italy. Pauline, the talented lady who runs it, has been a friend of mine for years. She developed a fledgling idea born in 2001 into a resource that has now been promoted in Time Magazine, USA Today, Travel and Leisure, British publications, other magazines and many-many newspapers.

Slow Travel is a community of like-minded people--literally thousands of people who enjoy travel, are congenial, generous with information, respectful and fun. And--our being in Italy for a year offers the perfect chance to meet many of these people whom I call friends--both ones who are living here and those who come on much anticipated vacations. So, it is not surprising that when the opportunity to meet face to face arises, it is eagerly arranged.

The month of October was rich with these experiences and so now I introduce to you my cyberspace friends who have become face-to face, in body, friends. The truly amazing fact is that not one has been a disappoinment; each has been so much more than I had anticipated. What a testimony to marvels of the Pauline's creation and the type of people who are attracted to it.

Larry, Jill and Adorable Daniela Friends from Seattle

Casey--Babysitting Daniela

Santa Claus
from the Volunteer State

Jimmy and Tina

Barb and Art
True Transplants
Have moved to Umbria
From Kentucky

Jerry from Canada
He brought delicious maple syrup
and Captain Crunch for Casey.
Castello Verranzzano

Ellen and Chris
from the Great State of New Jersey
Osteria Passignano
And some treasured Baggies

Colleen and Jim
Fruit Loops for Casey
Grappolo Blu--Montalcino

All the way from Australia
just to buy handbags!

Liz from California and Roma
(in the beret)
and Tina and Jimmy
Dinner at Solo Ciccia

Another Jersey Girl
and Trix for Casey
(actually this was November)

Now you know some of our special people and what a rich month we had in October. Each and every occasion was delightful and added immeasurably to our year here. I suspect that there won't be another 30 days like these but that's just fine. Ken and I have plenty to do just being here in Italy--things to see, people to meet, places to go, restaurants to find and dreams to live.
What a life this is!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Where Etruscans Roamed

Italy has always been Italian and Rome has always been Roman. But you're wrong! Long before Romulus and Remus nursed from the she-wolf, the Etruscans produced a proud and accomplished civilization--as told by an abundance of pottery, tombs, funerary objects, metal works and frescoes left behind. Unfortunately, there is scant written record to address curiosity about these people who tantalize us with clues about what and who they were.

Throughout much of Italy, particularly in the Tuscan region, there are many Etruscan archaeological areas that have been uncovered and explored--and many still left to find. From these there is emerging insight into the people and customs, but understanding still remains both elusive and limited.

As you drive along the roads between villages, it is not uncommon to see little brown signs pointing up a hill or down a white road indicating somewhere in that direction can be found the remains of an Etruscan tomb. But--after chasing these signs a few times, you know that when you find it, you will probably be disappointed. Often what is at the end of that rainbow is very little--a mound, a small dirt enclosure, a gate that is locked--you are denied your quest after the journey. Once in a while though you are rewarded by a rare treat that makes you feel special for having seen it and then all the blind roads you have taken become worth it.

However--if you do your research, read your guide books, check the vast resources of the internet, talk with people, you will be able to plan time and itinerary to explore the special places where there is more to see and ponder. Such are the areas around the medieval hilltop towns of the Fiora valley in the Maremma hills of Tuscany--Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano.

Pitigliano is by far the largest of the three towns. It is an incredible site as you approach it and see it towering above you--seemingly a carved extension of the rock on which it is built. Once there you find a warren of lanes, blind alleys, curving narrow streets and steps. And, perhaps most interesting, are the structural remains of a medieval Jewish community.

This community was established in
the 16th century because of persecution within the papal states. Today there are remains of several buildings, including the refurbished synagogue,the ritual baths, the Unleavened Bread Bakery and the
wine cellar. There is also a small museum of Jewish culture in what was the first school and religious center.

Sovana and Sorano are very small villages that have periodically flirted with extinction but somehow have survived and now are destination places with hotels and restaurants. They, too, are interesting villages to explore--neither requiring much time.

In Sorano there is a very old fortress which has had little outside restoration but has one wing that has become small hotel. We stayed there Halloween night and found it fascinating and fun --particularly as we were the only guests and the entire staff went home at 10:30. Our room was lovely and the view over medieval Sorano from our window was beautiful--even more so at night.

Sovana, unlike Pitigliano and Sorano is flat and small and easy to walk. The Church of Santa Maria in the main piazza has an incredible altar piece from the 8th century and some lovely frescoes. At the other end of town is the fascinating Il Duomo which really should be visited. And past that are some Etruscan ruins

The Marble Altar in Santa Maria

In Sovana there is now a beautiful 4**** hotel for those who like to splurge--or for those for whom such a place is not a splurge--Sovana Hotel and Resort. Part of the structure is medieval but much of it has been recently built. There are exquisitely manicured grounds to stroll and a pool. It would be a nice place to stay for a couple of nights while exploring the Fiora Valley towns; however, my choice would remain the Hotel della Fortezza in Sorano just because it is such a different experience. Resorts are anywhere -- fortezzas are few (ask for room 16.)

But--for the adventurer in search of mystery, it is outside of Sorana that holds the intrigue. It is in the valleys, crevices and hills surrounding these villages that you discover the Etruscans. Here you find ancient pathways carved out of mountains--barely wide enough for one person to traverse--with high straight walls covered with moss. You can only marvel and ask "how did they do it?"

The Hildebrand Temple Tomb

In the Sovana area there are examples of the different types of Estruscan tombs--some of them very elaborate indicating the high degree of sophistication and artistic capabilities of these people who survived for 10 centuries--beginning somewhere around VIII BC--and who taught the Romans much. And, because all the major types of funerary architecture of the region can be found here---chamber tombs, facade tombs, niche tombs, burial ditches and incredible temple tombs--,it is quite unique.

A Facade Tomb
In some of the Etruscan burial chambers which are carved out high on the mountains are found Christian crosses and, even in one case, a Madonna and Child fresco. These were carved by hermits who used these chambers as homes in medieval times.

Niche or little cave like tombs are numerous throughout the area and would have been the most common type. As you can see, Casey had fun with them.

We had time to explore just a little of this wonderland and so have plans to return. Many of the objects found by the archaeologists are now located in museums in Orvieto, Siena and others in the immediate area, as well as Etruscan museums throughout Tuscany--Firenze, Fiesole, etc, etc., etc. We feel fortunate in having visited many of these museums over the years. We had a better understanding of what these tombs had held and an appreciation for the people who had created them. Seeing the tombs without that background would be less meaningful. So.........our recommendation is that you hit the museums first and then explore.