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, February 28, 2006

Why Did We? How Could We?

I am sure the dilemma we find ourselves in has been faced by all who have become ex-pats (if only for a year)--what to bring and what to leave behind.

Today, as we were packing very large duffels for our preparatory trip to Italy on Saturday, I said to Ken: "You know, once we are there our mantras will be 'Why did we bring this?' and 'How could we not have brought that.'" What now seems important may not be, but, for sure, things we have left behind will call out to us in stereo as time goes by.

Last Sunday we packed--or stuffed--one of the duffels and trotted off to the airport to get an official opinion as to whether it was overweight or too big. Fortunately, we were OK on both accounts and so now have 5 large duffels crammed with stuff to leave with friends in Chiocchio until our arrival July 31. We also have two carry-ons along with a small computer bag for each of us. We are taking full advantage of all the luggage and weight allowances both now and for the final trip. This means altogether 850 lbs and 12 checked bags plus carry ons. Except for the M-bag of books sent USPS, what we cram in is what we will have.

Now--this includes clothes, spices, speakers for our IPOD which we have loaded with all our CD's, coat hangers (yes--coat hangers), beach towels, medicines, shoes, boots, coats, Christmas decorations, printer paper (1 ream because paper size is different in Europe and we may want our size for something), El Patio hot sauce, Smokin Joes Barbecue sauce, legos, toys, picture albums, pictures, kitchen knives, 2 computers and so much more.

I know that some of you are saying "Why in the world are they bringing that?" Believe me, I have heard it from Ken already. The answers are: 1.) It is convenient not to have to go out and buy everything right away 2.) I usually can't find the kind of coathangers I like when in Italy, 3.) I like some of my things--such as my knives 4.) Sometimes I am compulsive and don't make a lot of sense 5.) "Italy may not have it."

Of course, Italy is not a third world country and it is cultivated and civilized--in fact, it was this for centuries before the U S of A was even a gleam in someone's eye. From where else do we get much of the foundation for what we are if not from Italia and Greece? And isn't Italy the fashion and culinary Eden of the 21st century? So--why in the world would anyone think to bring a jar of Italian Spices with them--actually, I am not doing that--I've run out of room.

Seriously, though, it is difficult to make decisions and to be wise with those decisions. Yes--we can get most of what we want (except for chedder cheese) once we are there. But--with the dollar weak and the euro strong, the cost of buying things we can bring with us is a real consideraton.

So--we pack and pack and pack. Then panic because the car we have rented can't begin to hold it all. Remember those days of yesteryear--when a college activity was to see how many kids could fit into a VW (I remember reading of that in a history book) and you will understand the dilemma. Fortunately, Alessandro, our already wonderful landlord, is going to meet us at the Pisa airport and help transport our possessions. For people who have prided themselves in traveling light, this is all a little overwhelming.

On another note: The LA Consulate still has our passports--this is Tuesday and we fly out on Saturday--unless we can't. I talked with Patrizia at the consulate yesterday who promised that if the visa approval has not come from Rome by noon tomorrow, she will express mail our passports back to us--meaning we will get them on Thursday.

So--we calmly, serenely wait for this to happen--not daring or caring to think about what happens if they don't arrive in time. That is a worry for another day and it couldn't possibly happen--could it?

Stay tuned for the conclusion of this chapter of our crazy adventure--I hope it will be written in Greve.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sing Along With Casey

Casey's musical rendition of a classic favorite.

Can you understand him?

Does he have a future in l'opera italiano?

this is an audio post - click to play

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tears and Traumas When You are 7

What do we big people know or remember about being little? When our hearts break over coming face to face with some of life's realities--and not understanding that some things just are. These are moments when we big ones wish we could just hold and fix and say something that would calm the spirit and catch the tears.

But, sometimes the pain just has to burn and the sobs wear down and innocence loose a thread. Tonght was one such night. At first it was hard not to laugh and then the truth and depth of Casey's disappointment and disillusionment penetrated my adult perspective--honed by time and the acceptance of years.

Casey can not draw--this is a gift that just isn't his--I doubt that the tutelage of an expert would change this. But--he wants so badly to be an artist. For some reason this is a talent he values and feels provides self-worth. Maybe someone he admires at school and wants to emulate is an artist, maybe it is all the museums he has been to in his young life--one thing is certain, it isn't because of any gifts of nonna (grandma) and nonno (grandpa)--together, nonni. At my advanced age I am satisfied when my stick figure has feet and hands.

Tonight he was working on a school project--he is to illustrate a favorite story and make a quilt of the pictures. He decided to do David and Goliath as it offers great opportunities for colorful, powerful illustrations and the characters are so dynamic and defined.

But--his rendition of Goliath was hysterically funny--except he didn't think so. He burst into tears--the kind that comes from deep within the psyche. The kind that doesn't respond to comfort and soothing words. The kind that becomes body wracking almost convulsive sobbing and wailing.

I met no success in helping him-just couldn't find the right combination of thoughts and words to calm him, to suggest other approaches to the project or provide any sensible perspective on his plight. Of course, what could have been more foolish than "providing perspective?" He's 7--his only perspective is that Goliath looked terrible--that he had fat arms and teeny legs. And--more sobs.

Fortunately, about the time my helplessness reached my gut, Ken called from Tennessee. And he, magically and compassionately, had just the right things to say--promising help, reminding Casey of what a good "colorer" he is and sharing words that built confidence and self-worth.

Then I could hold and comfort as the sobs subsided, the tears stopped and the wails quieted. And again, I understood that no feeling can come close to the sense of purpose that comforting a child gives--it is a clarification of what our truly important role is and what is to be cherished. Comforting a child becomes an act of selfishness as the love that one feels and releases becomes a purifier and validator of having had purpose in life. As I pour myself into the love of the innocent, I am renewed.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Casey è un italiano!

Casey is so, so proud of himself.

His confidence is blooming.


Casey's Debut

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Buone Notizie

For those who are pathetically monolingual, buone notizie means good news (truthfully, I just now looked this up in the dictionary--honesty is important between us, isn't it?)

Thursday was a piece of cake! Our long awaited and much dreaded experience at the consulate ended up being in direct contrast to stories shared by others and belied the dismal record of communication we have had with them over the last few months. The staff who worked with us--Patrizia, Stefano and an unnamed receptionist--were warm, friendly, helpful, understanding and just plain pleasant people. The reception was a nice "sorpresa" because getting these visas is such a major hurdle in realizing our ”live in Italia” dream--having this step go well heightened our excitement and anticipation. God was good to us and the encouraging thoughts and wishes of friends accompanied us.

If you live anywhere in Southern California you know what the rest of the world doesn’t—morning commute traffic is preparation for life in the underworld. Because of this, we (including Casey) were up early, leaving at 7 am, hoping for one of those small windows of less congestion caused by variation in work start times. And—it worked! Thanks to car pool lanes, we sailed along, passing thousands of cars occupied by solo drivers—another SoCal phenomenon--treasuring the right to vehicular independence so much that we accept hours of sitting on congested freeways. We are strange people—those of us who live in the sun. Quite seriously, using the carpool lane—which was wide open with minimal usage—saved at least an hour and probably more. As it was, it took two and a half hours from our door to the consulate door.

Within 5 minutes of arriving, we were called for our “interview.” This consisted of speaking to our interviewer Patrizia through the type of window used by ticket takers at the movie theater. At the bottom of the window was an opening to slide papers back and forth between us.

Patrizia began by asking if we had a list of the visa requirements. I found this question to be hysterically funny and had to fight myself not to give the answer that first came to mind. Of course we didn’t have a list because their website does not provide such information and in my repeated contacts with the consulate we had never been told that such a list exists. It sure would have been nice to have had that information rather than having to guess and hope that we covered all the bases. If you have read earlier posts, you know that each of the 11 consulates in the US has separate requirements for a visa so what we did was to scour each website and then prepare every document that was mentioned on each site. This process resulted in our having some things that were not necessary for the LA consulate but, more importantly, it did mean that we did have everything they required.

I felt like shouting and dancing when Patrizia told us that our applications were complete—all was accepted just as we had prepared them. What a sense of relief and relaxation settled over me at that time! Have you ever felt stress melt? It feels sooo good!

We are still left with one concern—one that we anticipated—the guardianship issue. Approval of this was not in the scope of Patrizia’s authority. The papers need to be scrutinized by a higher authority in the consulate. That person will decide if she/he has the authority to accept the court orders, translated and apostilled, or if they need to be sent to Rome. Since the papers are abundantly clear and come from the Superior Court of California, specifically authorizing us to take Casey to live in Italy, we have high hopes that the question will be easily resolved. We will know this in about two weeks and we fully expect a positive decision—ultimately. It’s just that sooner would be nicer than later—particularly since we need our passports back for a March 4 trip.

Fortunately, they will send us our pasports by then, even if the decision has not been made. We will just need to send them back when we return in mid-March. Of course, if that happens then the whole point of going for the visa at this time fades away. We need the visa in March so that we can do the paperwork to get our Permesso di Soggiorno (PdiS) which is a permit to stay in Italia. A visa simply gets us into the country for long term; the PdiS lets us live there. The impetus to apply for the PdiS in March is that it will then be ready for us when we get there in August. This will allow us to begin to establish residency immediately which will speed up the process of buying a car. Are you getting the idea that the logistics of this simple little one year jaunt to Italy quickly become complex?

Anyway, right now we can focus on other things until such time as we hear from the embassy. Such things as learning italiano--molto dificile! Reading Vanilla Beans and Brodo. And---downloading all our CDs onto our new IPOD. Yep--we have joined the younger generation but, never fear, we don't walk around with little strings hanging from our ears. We do maintain the dignity of our age.

Post Script: I apologize to readers from Italy who already know about all these wonderful and delightful elements, but, you see, to my US friends, this is a whole new world. So, sometimes I cover these less than exciting details because I labor under the illusion that they might be curious.