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, April 27, 2006

"Other Stuff"

As the blog title says, sometimes I choose to venture away from Casey and Italy and make a foray into "Other Stuff" and this is clearly other stuff--much more innocuous than politics, which occasionally calls me or religion which defines whom I am.

For some odd reason--which I fail to understand--the counter I installed a few months ago indicates that this blog has a fairly steady audience. I suspect the draw is Casey--there is just something about him that calls to people. It was just today that a woman said to me "Casey is so special. He has such a kissable face." Of course, he does get plenty of those.

Recently, a friend told me about a free web service that provides basic information about visitors to the blog. The data it provides is interesting but sketchy. One of the more fascinating bits of info provided was a reader in Afghanistan--amazing. Now I am curious about where you are from--at least in broad form. So--I thought it would be fun to have a little poll. The results should be interesting. Thanks for playing! (If you want to be more specific about your location, just add it as a comment.)

What Is Your Locaton?
Free polls from Pollhost.com

And for those who read the last entry, you will be happy to hear Casey's latest confession to his new Italian tutor--"I'm really excited about moving to Italy--just a little scared." Can any of us feel that with him? I sure can!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Window into Our Boy's Heart

Last night was a little traumatic, a little sad as a window into Casey's heart opened a bit--what we saw was certainly not unpredictable--in fact, we have been expecting it-- but, when your child floods with tears, your heart weighs down as you try to comfort, console and make things OK.

San Diego has some wonderful Italian restaurants both in an area called the Gaslamp Quarter and in Little Italy. Most of these places are authentically Italian stemming from the "old country" heritage that is a part of San Diego's fishing history. Originally the food was primarily the heavier food of southern Italy but more and more it is including the cuisines of Rome and northern Italy--so a variety of options are always present. And then, as in anything in California, touches of the nouvelle California cuisine often find there way into the dishes. The result of this fusion is sometimes awesome--but not always.

Anyway, last night Ken and I decided that we wanted to go to one of our favorite places, La Strada--which is on 5th Street in the Gaslamp. Knowing that the owner, the chefs and most of the wait staff are from Italy--many from Florence, we thought it would be fun for Casey to wear his purple and red authentic Fiorentina shirt with Toni 30 on the back (for those of you not Italian--Toni is the top, idolized player for the Firenze Fiorentina Calcio (soccer) team.

Sure enough, he was a hit. As Italians do--several of them were effusively excited and wanted to know all about Casey having the shirt. It even turned out that the father of one of the women is part owner and chef of a restaurant in the piazza in Greve--as the saying goes, it's a small world.

In the enthusiasm of the moment and wanting to develop some comraderia with Casey, our waiter, who was from Roma, started a basic conversation with him in Italian--Come stai? Come ti chiami? All of which Casey knows and should be able to respond to as a proper Italian boy. But-------all of a sudden, he coudn't open his mouth, his eyes began to look like those of a deer caught by headlights, and sheer panic set in on his face. I knew we were going to a bad place.

Sure enough, the tears began, the sobbing started and the heartbreak of the fears he has been harboring burst out in full force. "I'm scared." "I don't want to move." "I'm going to be homesick." "Please can we just stay here?" He was inconsolable. So there in the restaurant he came over to me and I held him and let him sob his little heart out. It was so hard for Ken and I, knowing that he is afraid and understanding exactly why he is. Even though part of him is excited about going I don't know how much of that is real, how much is purely bravado and how much is no more than acceptance of what lies ahead. I do think he is torn between wanting the adventure and the fear of the uncertain. And I think the biggest fear is what's going to happen in the Italian classroom. Which--I am pretty sure was the catalyst for the dam breaking.

Having a conversation in Italian directed toward him and not understanding because of the speed with which it was spoken, panicked him. And then once he knew what had been said, I think he was afraid that he wouldn't be understood if he responded. And that surfaced the fear that rests within him about the school in Greve.

My mind lets me know why he is afraid but I am certain that I can not share the depth of his fear. How scary it must be to think not only of going to a place where he knows no one (as any kid who moves experiences) but to be afraid that he won't fit in or be able to talk and share and that kids might shun him. I think this gregarious, friendly little boy is already feeling lonely.

I am equally sure that he will be fine once we are there and he settles in--just because he is that gregarious, friendly boy. I am pretty sure that he will be the novelty that the other children flock to and because he will know more italian by the time we get there and because the children in the class already know that he is coming and because they have his picture in their room and see him everyday, he will soon be "one of them." But--that was no comfort to him last night--as sometimes it is.

So--as you think about him, say a prayer for his fears--that he will spend more time being excited than fearful. And--include in that prayer that he learn the language and read as well in it as he does in English. And a special thank you to all of you who have taken him to heart and sense a little bit why he is so dear to us.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Are We Bilingual Yet?

Let me put it this way--if we need italiano in order to eat, we are in a lot of trouble. I guess the simplest and fastest way to convince you is this little vignette.

While in Italy last October, I bought several books for Casey so that he could learn to read in Italian. Most of these are primer books--you know the kind that kids use when starting to read. They have turned out to be a good idea, as Casey's tutor has been able to use them with him and those they have read he understands.

Unfortunately, Lara has returned to Italy for a month and so Casey is without a teacher. She is so good with him and he loves his lessons. We all anxiously await her return in mid-May. My fear is that she won't be back.

Anyway, I have taken it upon myself to help him read the book
"L'Albero Giovanni E La Bambina". Which I believe translates into "The Tree, John, and the Little Girl". But I am not even sure about that--so you can see that we have a problem. How can the child learn when the teacher is ignorant?

And then there is the whole issue of pronounciation. Just where is the word accented? Usually not where my speech patterns want to place it. And--if you have ever given thought to why a person who does not speak English well is difficult to understand, it is usually because the syllable being accented is the wrong one; thus, our ear doesn't translate the word to our brain. So, even when I know the correct word and use it properly, often the person I'm speaking to has a very quizzical, "What is this lady saying?" look on his face. Which results in my total sense of incompetence. Maybe we need to be more sensitive to people in the USA who have English as a second language? Do you think?

Back to "our little tree." Fortunately, I have friends in Italy who are a simple cyberspace message away and so, yesterday, when on-line dictionaries failed me as I prepared to help Casey with the book, I was able to send out an SOS for translation. Of course, since this was regarding a pre-first grade primer, these friends were left with no illusions about my linguistic progress--clearly caterpiller slow.

After two hours of laborious, sweat producing work, finally I found that L'albaero giovanni odia il solletico" means that John, the tree, does not like to be tickled.--which is probably true of all trees with snails climbing on them. And--so the little girl, the tree's friend Sofia, enters the picture--Poi Sofia dà una grattatina al naso di giovanni. (Then Sofia gave a little scratch to the nose of giovanni.) Finally, as with all good tales, the ending brings a smile--Sofia, sitting near to John, reads a story and the tree is very happy.

Now--I am not too sure that this plot line is going to capture Casey who loves transformers, silly antics and exciting adventure, but, he will have a sense of accomplishment as he reads the book and, will, without fail, correct my pronounciation readily and willingly. He may not know what the words mean but he does know how to say them--like a real Italian boy would.

So, thank you to friend Guilia, of Spain and Italy, for helping out with this little exercise. If you will be visiting the central area of Italy, check out her Bed and Breakfast located in Urbino--Locanda della Valle Nuova. This is a lovely country home with organic farming and horse stables. We haven't yet stayed with her, but have every intention of doing so during our year in Italia. Casey will love the horses and we will love the food! And meeting Guilia, live and in person, will be a treat.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A New Fresh Look

Did you notice? How could you not? Pretty cool, right? I can say that because it isn't my handiwork--but a gift from a good friend.

Pauline Kenny, the creative founder of Slow Travel the web's premier travel community website and its companion message board Slow Talk took over my very sad visual presentation and made it First Class. Please give her a standing ovation!

Now, not only is the blog visually entertaining, but there are little niceties such as hover over links, a redesigned sidebar so that fonts match and more. I am so pleased--and grateful.

If you are a traveler but not yet familiar with Slow Travel, you are missing a travelers's treasure--a free one. Pauline started it 5 years ago with a small, unpolished website where travelers to Italy could share information. Since then she has developed it into a technologically sophisticated resource for travelers to world wide destinations.

We who love to travel know there is no resource more important and reliable than the advice, insights and experiences of fellow travelers--far more dependable than any guide book. And--this is what Slow Travel is all about. People sharing goods and bads, must dos and avoid at all cost experiences. If you have a question, there are always people with the answer--from where to stay in that very out of the way place to how to work your new digital.

There are now thousands of members from around the world sharing trip reports, reviews of restaurants and accommodations, photo albums, travel information, travel tips and, most importantly, friendships. Magazines and newspaper columns frequently seek Pauline's input and reference her site. She has become a leading guru of traveling slow--which means staying several nights or weeks in one location, absorbing ambiance and culture--the antithesis of 15 countries in 15 days.

So--when you plan for the next exciting location, begin with

Slow Travel

You won't go wrong.

As many have learned, half the fun of traveling is in the planning. Slow Travel takes that fun to a new level!

Thank you Pauline for Slow Travel.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Green Jackets--At Last!

It seems that Italy has taken a backburner to Casey recently--which is as it should be. Nothing owns our lifes' focus as he does--except the He that has given us these lifes. And so--it is finally time to get around to the Green Jackets.

As you have probably figured out by now--the "Green Jackets" is Casey's Little League team, so named in honor of the Augusta, Georgia minor team affiliated with the San Francisco Giants. The neat thing about being a Green Jacket is that the shirts are adorable, featuring a bee with sun glasses--a great shirt for 7 year olds but I'm not sure about the big guys that are wearing them. They do have personality!

Before going futher, I should tell you my history with Little League. At one point, when parenting at the normal parenting age, we had 4 kids playing at the same time--different teams. Now, if you know anything about Little League, you know that adds up to a minimum of 4 practices a week and 8 games. At that time in my life I was working full time which probably explains how I kept my sanity.

Now for the confession: I was one of those mothers who would pray that my kids' teams wouldn't be champs, and, I had very much mixed feelings about any of them making All-Stars. I wanted the already long seasons to be over and done with so that life could resume. Usually, though, someone had a champion team or made All-Stars.

I remember when all of this came to an end and I felt liberated--no more Little League benches, no more snack stand duty, no more grass stains on white pants, no more juggling dinners with late games, no more Little League, Pony League, Colt League or Bobby Sox, --ever. Saturday had a whole new meaning.

Never say Never--right! We are now into our third season with Casey. And things have not changed at all in the last 20 years--except the parents we now sit with are the children we used to watch play--we have entered a surreal world of twisted deja vu. And--we love it--well, sort of. We are more relaxed now and we have only one team to capture our alligence. Life is easier.

Casey loves to hit and he does it well--low and fast to outfield, usually left. So far this season he is 8 for 9--4 games only as the other 3 have been rained out in sunny San Diego. He has a great arm, throws well--far and controlled. But----he usually doesn't reach his potential at a position as he hasn't developed the reflex of knowing what to do at the right time and while throwing the ball is not a problem, catching it is. Now the coaches and managers are trying the kids out for pitcher as they are moving from the pitching machine to real life throws! This is when things become dangerous and bruises begin to grow exponentially.

Casey would really like to pitch but I'm afraid that he'll be devastated if (when) he hits a team mate. This is a side of him that I love and really don't want to see become hardened--compassion. Last week when one of the younger players was crying because he wasn't getting hits, it was Casey who moved over, put his arm around the shoulder, patted him on the back and told him that it was OK. These are the moments when you want to hug your child and tell him how loved he is!

Casey has a friend, Jacob, on his team. These two have been on the same soccer team for 2 years, the same baseball team for 2 years and the same basketball team for 1 year. Somehow their athletic careers are intertwined, which is quite strange as they don't go to the same school or even live near each other. Fortunately, the boys get along quite well and enjoy each other. It would have been terrible if they had developed a natural antipathy which sometimes happens between growing boys.

Here we are with Jacob at Rubio's after a game--for those of you not familiar with California culture--Rubio's is home to the famous fish taco, a culinary delicacy that helps define those of us living on the border of two great nations.

This picture was taken shortly after the two of them disappeared into the men's room and upon coming out paraded across the room holding out their protective cups for all the word to see. You have to laugh at the openness and innocence of 7 year olds. In another year or two they will die of humiliation if, for some reason, they have to repeat this performance. As it was, they just had the need to rid themselves of a very uncomfortable contraption for which they see no need.

Now we have a two week reprieve--Easter vacation is upon us and families scatter around the country--who knows, maybe the world--and so no practice or games for a while. And--the irony is that I will miss the stands, the cheering, the snack bar and all that Little League means. I await the day it starts again and we can once again watch the "slugger" do his thing. Life is strange and the years change us.

The pictures below follow Casey's three year career.

Diamond Backs............................. Padres................Green Jackets