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.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Green Jackets and Dances

Did that get your attention? Honestly, it is the promise at the end of Cell Phones Don't Swim--the one about dances and baseball--and my getting too old. Well, except for the latter part, the rest is true.

Casey arrived home from school a week ago announcing his desire to attend the school dance on Friday night and that two girls had asked him to go. Now--he is all of 7 years old and in the second grade, still a baby. Until the week before he had curled his head into his shirt like a turtle when the subject of girls came up. So--this whole dance thing took us by surprise. First, because second graders going to dances borders on bizarre and secondly, because of his sudden embracing of girls. Could the male ego handicap of finding himself irrestible already be kicking in? Heaven forbid!

I was a little mollified when he clarified that he was going to go with Taylor whom he has been good buddies with since kindergarten and whom he was quick to clarify is a tomboy and not a "girly-girl." It seems that Taylor had been "going" with another boy who had unceremoniously dropped her for Daniella.

After checking with other parents and kids, it seemed that most kids were going and none of us felt that there would be much dancing or interaction other than the normal 7 year old foolishness. So, off Casey and I went to The Dance with Casey's instructions to me not to come in to the cafetorium--an order which I immediately clarified would not be followed.

So we get there and the first thing that excites Casey is that the PTF is selling light wands in various colors. Forget going inside where the action is supposed to be. It is much more fun to run around the school piazza charging other boys, seeing who can throw the circles of light highest in the air (with several disappearing for the rest of the night on top of the lunch court corrugated cover.) Soon children are reporting the presence of a bloody, shaggy toothed monster running around in the dark in back of the building. This elicits blood curdling, energetic screams from girls and boys alike--you know, the kind that separates second graders from the rest of the world.

Finally, in an attempt to subdue my at this time rather hyper, frenetic child, I corraled him and we went into the "dance"--which turns out to be an inside version of the outside activities without the light wands. Plus, Casey is now devastated because Taylor has decided that she is going to be with her previous boyfriend since his new girlfriend is a no-show. But--to the rescue came the soda and candy table in the back of the room which allowed Casey to join the other 150 kids sucking candy pacifiers. By now, it is abundantely clear that we need not worrry about our dear Casey being prematurely grown up. He is without question a 7 year old boy who loves baseball, basketball, and his collection of transformers. He has returned to finding girls akin to aliens from outer space--hopefully, an attitude he will maintain for several years.

Casey and Friends
There was a brief interlude when the purpose of the evening was realized.

Now it is late and I must admit that I am not going to keep my promise to those of you who have followed this little story--Green Jackets must wait until next time. Maybe by then you will have figured out what they are. Here is a clue. Till then--Ciao.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cell Phones Don't Swim!

Friend Rita in Chiocchio suggested that it might be a good idea for Casey to have a cell phone when we are in Italy. Because I have faith in Rita, I actually gave this some thought--even though every brain cell I had silently whispered " that's crazy!" OK--I've been known to do some pretty crazy bizarre things over the years, so why not once more? It makes life so much more fun than always doing the logical. In fact, we have more than one friend who thinks our entire Italy plan is crazy.

Well, yesterday Casey obligingly provided the answer to the "why not" question-- cell phones don't do well after submersion in a swimming pool!

I had an old phone which I planned on replacing, so--I gave it to Casey to play around with--you know, to feel grown up and like a big shot. Since it still had a functioning battery (but no sim), I thought he could have some fun with it. He was ecstatic.

It was just a short time before my whispering brain cells soon were chanting "We told you so!" Within the first five minutes he dropped it and the little antenna broke off. Shortly after that I look out the kitchen window and see Casey's Uncle Jeff (my son), leaning over the pool with his arm plunged down to the depth of the jacuzzi bench. As he pulls the arm out, there at the end of his finger tips is a wet, dripping cell phone and it wasn't his. Somehow Casey had managed to have his new toy fall in the pool as he was, in very sophisticated fashion, trying to attach it to his waist band.

The strange thing was that it was still working but, then, in our adult wisdom, Ken and I decided to open it up to dry off the battery and insides. And--you guessed it--after our ministations, it went dark and no longer functioned at all.

We have decided that Casey will not have a mobile for a while--like 10 years. Any bets on whether we will hold out that long?

Guess this whole entry will be a Casey entry--you know "Casey, Italy and Other Good Stuff"?

Another little tale of how he keeps us smiling:

A couple nights ago, while we were in a rip-roaring and exciting game of UNO--Casey claims to be "obsessed" with it right now--, he informed us that he wants to start listening to classical music. Now this is a fairly uncommon request coming from a 7 year old--at least none of my 4 kids were remotely interested in classical music at any time of their lives, let along at the young age of 7--when they didn't even know what classical meant.

Of course, we were prompted to ask him why and he explained that his teacher, whom we like very much, told the class that listening to classical music will make them smarter. Understand that anything Mrs. Kang says is gospel and woe unto us if we ever contradict her or have him think we have done so. If she were to tell him that the sky is really green, there would be no way to reason him out of believing that. So--in his mind, it is an absolute given that she has provided great insight into mind development. Actually, I think it is kind of neat that he values being smarter.

So--not wanting to miss a great opportunity, I immediately set up the IPOD in a speaker and he had his first taste of Pavarotti and Vivaldi. His reaction was rather mixed. He didn't ask to have it turned off but he hasn't asked for a repeat performance either. Tomorrow, when the UNO comes out, the music is going on again and we'll test his new resolve. I am hoping he passes the test.

Next entry: Casey--again--as I must share tonight's experience--an elementary school dance with a second grader. I am really too old for this! And--tomorrow is the first Little League game of the season--well, not really but his first 2 games were rained out.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Red Letter Day

WE HAVE OUR VISAS! Yes--it is true. The Foreign Ministry in Rome has approved Casey's application. What a relief it is to have that hurdle behind us and know that we can move ahead with confidence. It never made any kind of sense that approval would be denied; however, in dealing with a country's bureacracy logic does not necessarily prevail. It is reassuring that this time it has.

So--where are we at this point? Housing arranged? Check! School for Casey determined and ready? Check! Travel plans made? Check! Banking arrangements in place? Check! Bill payment plans in order? Check! Health insurance needs determined? Check! Yard and pool maintenance arrangements? Check! Deciding what to bring? You must be kidding! Language competency-Ken and Jane? Hardly. Language competency--Casey? Coming along in rapid fashion.

Oh my--this little sojourn is so much more complicated than we understood when first we dreamed. It really isn't until one actually starts planning the doing that all the complexities begin rumbling around in the head. What happens if the sprinkler system breaks (which happens not infrequently)? The water heater blows? The yard becomes a jungle? Mail? Taxes? Bills? Payment notifications such as insurances and taxes? Appliances break? And on and on and on.

Each problem or need has a solution; it's just that there are so many of these little details to address and resolve that sometimes my head feels like a topsy turvy spinner--skittering across the floor before colliding with some unmoveable object. Many people who embark on a similar journey sell their homes which simplifies matters considerably. But--that is not an option for us since our plans are for just a year--we think. We need a place to come home to. Plus we have been in this house for 29 years and the thought of having to sort through all of our accumulated treasures and junk is the nightmare in contrast to our adventuresome dream.

But,--we have it all pretty much under control with solutions formulated or at least in mind. And--with SKYPE bringing phone call expenses down to almost nothing between here and there, it will be easy for son Jeff, who is moving into the house while we are gone, to keep us informed of things we MUST know and deal with. Hopefully, these will be kept to a minimum!!!!

Our big concern for Italy that had us going in circles looking for a solution was how to get a car-- which we must have. Every lead we followed ended at an impenetrable wall--leasing wouldn't work, renting was much, much too costly, we need residency to buy and that takes several months, etc. So--what to do?

Again things just seemed to fall into place once we were there two weeks ago. Between our friends Rita and Lino and our landlord Alessandro, the problem was solved. Lino's car dealer will either lease us a car or sell us a used one which he will buy back less somewhere around €1500 at the end of the year. Lino will be working with him on that so that when we get there we will have options clarified. We still may need to wait for our residency before we can buy. But--no problem as Alessandro has offered us the use of one of his company cars until we can get things lined up.

It amazes us how everything seems to be coming together and how many little things are happening that we could never have asked for or expected. We know that the only explanation for all of this is that this segment of our lives is in God's plan for us and for Casey. That He is orchestrating it all--assigning a court judge who gave us the order we needed for Casey, gifting us with good friends we did not even know a few months ago, providing a landlord who is gracious, warm and welcoming, providing a built-in playmate for Casey, leading us to a location with a school that not only welcomes Casey but anticipates his coming, arranging for a helpful woman to work with at the notoriously inhospitable LA Consulate, and so much more. Clearly there are many who will say that all of this could have happened the same way for someone not crediting God, but, I know that for us, God has been the overseer and has paved the way. So, I thank Him.

Finally, I don't have any really relevant pictures to use with this entry but visuals are fun----so ---------this is Casey with his Italian tutor, Lara. He has taken to these lessons with more enthusiasm than we have ever seen him tackle anything else in his young life, even baseball--another good sign that we are OK with what we are doing. Right?

Ciao and A Presto

Thursday, March 16, 2006

-2 or +32--Not SoCal

At this moment we are sitting in the very private and almost luxurious upper level of a 747—most of our fellow travelers are sleeping—or at least seem to be. Until a few moments ago I was one with them, comfortably lulled by soothing piano music recently downloaded to the IPOD (what a wonderful invention this little gadget is!) With our noise canceling, symphonic earphones, I could stay up here forever—not really!

Ken and I are on the way home from our 10 days in Tuscany—preparing for the big event in July. These days have convinced us that the decision to embark on this adventure is a good one and that much richness will result for us and, most importantly, for Casey, whose little arms we can’t wait to feel in another 11 hours.

If you have followed this blog (it amazes me that people do), you know that in October I braved a solo trip for ten days in search of the perfect location for us to settle in for a year. At the end of those days, I fell in love with a place in Greve in Chianti called Fattoria Viticcio which sits on a hilltop in the midst of a thriving vineyard. Nearby a medieval castle perches on a higher hill along with scattered old stone farmhouses. If you close your eyes, maybe you can dream of it—a little.

Magically and perfectly, the owner showed me a two bedroom, two bath apartment—small by comparison with our rather large home in California—but almost spacious by Italian apartment standards. Plus, there were several other unexpected advantages, chief of which being Alessandro’s daughter Camilla who is the exact age as Casey and so they will be in the same classroom at the scuola. And so, after I returned home, showed Ken some pictures and extolled the positives, we gave a commitment to Alessandro and signed a year’s lease.

Thus—it was with some trepidation that I returned now with Ken—hoping that he would feel as I did and that I would feel in March as I had in October. And the verdict is--drumroll—yes, we are both excited and secure with the decision, anticipation flows through our veins. It is an exhilarating thought imagining the life experiences the year will bring to all of us.

Now—a little about the trip—the good and the bad.

First—it is cold in Chianti in March—this morning when we set out for the airport it was -2C—which is about +34F. Yep—you’re right—below freezing. These Southern Californians spent a lot of time being cold the last 10 days—frequently having conversations such as “And why are we doing this?” “Maybe southern Italy would have been wiser.” “Isn’t this why we left Syracuse, the snow belt capital of the US of A?” “Are we crazy?” And several more similar lead-ins.

But then, we would remember the fireplace in our apartment and all the wood Alessandro has and how cozy we will be in our little nest—until we need to go out to the mercato ( market), the pasticceria (pastry shop), the macelleria (butcher shop), wander the local piazza or whatever else suits our fancy. These little jaunts and the bigger ones to Firenze, Siena and points further will save us from the cabin fever which is sure to develop during long winter months.

Ken and I will have all day to explore the lovely villages and countryside, visit friends or just kick back and read while Casey is in school—from 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday. And then—Nicoletta, Alessandro’s lovely wife, and our friends Lino, Rita and delightful daughter Jackelyn in Chiocchio are anxious to teach me the joys and delights of the Italian cucina. I expect to be a new woman in the kitchen when we return to regular life in San Diego—although, long time friend Nico in Montepulciano is convinced that we will not return—that Italy will become our home—at Casey’s insistence. We’ll see—won’t we?

We visited Casey’s school and were warmly welcomed and shown around by Maestra Anna Maria-the math teacher and what we would call the lead teacher. Nicoletta had arranged the visit and, of course, Camilla has been talking to classmates about Casey for weeks now as she and Casey have a thriving e-mail relationship going.

The children swarmed us, asking questions, looking at the pictures of Casey we gave Camilla to show off and asking when we would be there. Anna Maria put Casey’s picture on the door so that the children can begin to view him as their classmate—which they already seem inclined to do. We were given a copy of the third grade curriculum and daily schedule—history, geography, mathematics, Italian, English, art, music, physical education, science and religion. We are pretty sure we will opt Casey out of the religion instruction as it is preparation for confirmation in the Catholic Church—which is quite different from our Baptist convictions. Kids who do not take the religion course are given some creative opportunities in art which he will enjoy.

Of course we had some wonderful meals, particularly one with Alessandro, Nicoletta, Rita and Lino at La Cantinetta di Rignana hidden in the middle of the woods above Greve. We shared steaks prepared with truffles, mushrooms, green peppers and one more which I forget. They were out of this world delicious. The six of us had a wonderful evening with the promise of many more next year.

Another opportunity we had while there—one that had not figured on our list of must do’s this trip—was to meet a local doctor who now will be OUR doctor. After I spent a day and a half in bed without getting any better, Ken talked to Alessandro who called his family’s doctor. Impressively, he came to see me rather than my having to make a trip to his office--a practice long abandoned here in the US. I had somehow developed an inner ear infection which messes up one’s equilibrium, resulting in a rather unfocused brain and nausea. After a couple of “sea sickness” pills, I was up and running once again. And on the plane now there seem to be no lingering affects--a concern that both the doctor and I had. For this I am thankful as 11 hours on a plane with the affects of an ear infection is not a pleasant thought--at all!

Time now to watch a movie--think it will be Walk the Line about Johnny Cash. So--will continue this in a Part 2 segment after jet lag recovery, emptying suitcases and spending time with Casey.

Until then--Ciao!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Passports Arrived!

Hallelujah! We are on our way Saturday!

The Italian Consulate came through and the passports arrived today in express mail. Of course, we weren't here when the mail carrier came and so then had to make arrangements with the post office to pick them up tonight. I feel that we live in a carnival fun house right now where every turn leads to another unknown. But---at this point, we will board United 900 this Saturday and arrive in Pisa Sunday afternoon.

We continue to move ahead on faith, as the passports still do not carry the much desired visa. The Eternal City of Rome still deliberates our fate! It would seem that a yes or no would not take long so suspect our apps are quietly sitting in a pile in some clerks office waiting for review. (I hope that's the situation.) There was a note with our passports assuring us that we will be notified as soon as the decision is transmitted.

There is no real problem with not having the visas now as we really don't need them until we go in July--we just wanted to be able to begin the "buy a car" process but we can't do that until we have residency which we can't get until we have a permissio di soggiorno which we can't get without a visa.

Tomorrow we make our last trip to the vetinarian's office to weigh our duffels. After scratching our heads and pondering where, oh where, could we weigh the bags that now seem heavier than the one we took to the airport for approval, we remembered the scales at the vet's. They graciously let us use them. So--if you ever have such a need and have a pet, you may find this to have been a worth while read.

All the arrangements are made for Casey while we are gone. His basketball team is undefeated thus they are going into playoffs and finals. We are sad to miss this excitement--but, Uncle Jeff will fill in for us.

Little League Opening Day is next weekend--again Uncle Jeff wears our shoes. Thanks goodness for Zio (that's uncle) Jeff.

Teachers have been notified, friends are ready to do whatever might be necessary, medical authorizations are signed and notorized, freezer is full for the college student taking care of our boy, and without doubt we have missed something.

Now we put our trust in God that all will go well, that no emergency will erupt, that Casey will not be emotionally upset while we are gone and that this is the beginning of the journey we have a head of us. Dreams are so often no more than sleep time visuals. Making one come true is very special.