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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

600 Miles from Home

I know that does not sound like much—particularly when talking about the grand state of California which runs 800 miles from our neighbor to the south-Mexico-to our northern neighbor, Oregon. However, right now in our lives somebody might question why or how we are so far away from home. Aren’t there things to be done? Arrangements to be made? Packing to attend to? Isn’t it true that in 33 days we board the plane for our home in Italy? All legitimate, logical, on target questions. Yes, there is lots to do--unfinished arrangements hanging in the air, piles of “stuff” lying around waiting placement into a duffel, a birthday party to pull together, two barbecue/swim parties to host, a car to sell…more, more, more.

And here I am sitting at the kitchen table at my brother’s home in beautiful northern California—almost to the lovely old town of Grass Valley with its Victorian charm and quaint store fronts--which disappoint once inside as, in today’s homogenous world, the wanderer finds souvenirs and knick knacks easily found elsewhere—maybe even at Target or Toys-R-Us. To be fair, though, and not wounding to those stores which do take pride in quality and the unique, there are treasures to be found for the special people in your life—that kind of gift which is as much fun to give as to receive.

We are here because Uncle Dan and Aunt Glennis are loved by Casey and special to us. And, although, they do promise to visit us in Italia—clearly a great sacrifice born of love--, it was important to see them before we leave. Casey loves to come here because Uncle Dan always finds things to do with him that he doesn’t get to do at home.

This morning was spent fishing on the lake on a boat and Casey caught a bass—an exciting experience for a city bred 7 year old.Now they are venturing a nature walk in the woods—looking for deer and, hopefully, staying away from stray mountain lions. When we visit here it is clear that Casey would thrive in such an environment as this. He could so easily be a “Tom Sawyer” boy!

At this moment, I can picture him and Camilla wandering the vineyards and hills of Tuscany together, exploring the castle on the hill, the horse pastures, the olive tree groves—taking pleasure in the purity of God’s creation. It will be good as these two children become brother and sister—fratello e sorella—for a short while, creating memories to last a life time.

As this clearly is being written in segments today—we have now moved on from the nature hike (where, amazingly, a rosy boa was spied) to riding “the hog” in the afternoon. Vroom---off they go with Casey‘s smile stretching ear to ear. A day with Uncle Dan is clearly a day of myriad adventures and fun—he is a man who loves river rafting, flying planes, physical challenges of life. The stuff of little boy dreams.

OK, I thought I was almost through but-no--there is one more adventure in store—a joy ride on the tractor—down through the trees and leaves, dodging deer with their fawns. The laughter and whooping floats back in the air as uncle (actually, great uncle) and (great) nephew enjoy each other and the fun they share. And it is such a pleasure for me to watch.

So we take a break from preparations, knowing that somehow it will all get done, and understanding that more important things are happening in these days. We will get to Greve in Chianti and the days of getting ready will be behind us but the imprint of the pleasures with Uncle Dan will forever be a part of who Casey becomes.

Casey and His Uncle Dan

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Life is Beautiful...

...here in San Diego. Today I am already homesick for here--even before we have left. Will a year away be difficult after all? Will the reds and yellows and greens and purples of vineyards reflecting the magical light of Tuscany be adequate substitutes for the greens and sun and golden glow of a perfect day here in paradise?

Today has been Father's Day here in the 50 states. A day when the earth stands still for a little while as homage and tribute is paid to all men who give of themselves and love others. Maybe those we honor are our fathers and grandfathers. Perhaps the honor is given to uncles who play with and cherish a niece or nephew. And then--it may be that man who gives affection, caring and time to a lonesome child who needs an adult to say "yes, you do matter." Fathers' Day encompasses so much more than a tribute to parenting. It is a day to acknowledge that nurturing transcends gender and becomes a reflection of who a person is--man or woman, doesn't matter.

So today was one of those days for us--a memory day. It is now night--but still light out. Ken has Casey upstairs getting him ready for bed and listening to night time prayers. When they are finished, my turn will come and I will go up, sing an off-tune song that is music to Casey's ears (and only his) and we will share a "kiss, a hug and a hold." A perfect end to a perfect day.

It has been a day that has shown God's creation in its glory. We have laughed together as we splashed in the pool--Ken, Casey, Uncle Jeff and I. The birds serenaded with music far superior to the music of man; the flowers were painted in magnificent colors never found on the artist's palette, the quiet breeze kept the the sun from bringing discomfort and we had fun. Somehow pools bring out the child in all of us and so we are all one in age as we throw water balls, stand on our hands and do the ever famous canon ball jump (some of us do send more water out of the pool than others!)

A day like today reminds us that nothing surpasses family in the satisfactions of life. And so this brings me back to where I started--is leaving a mistake? Is the experience worth the loss of today? I believe it will be but it is also today that will bring us back here--to laugh again with son Jeff and watch uncle and nephew enjoy each other in the special way families do. What a richness to treasure!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pots and Pans and .............?

Crunch time is looming. Lately we have been at that most frustrating of stages in our adventure--so much to do but so little to do. It's not quite close enough in time to pack and yet a sense prevades that we should be doing something--anything--knowing full well that a month from now we will wonder why we waited so long to do whatever those things are. And--my mind is just as muddled as that last sentence is to the reader. Now you share in our mindset.

Pots and Pans
One issue looms large in my mind--and it shouldn't as there is only one answer--NO! But, I want my pots and pans. I love my pots and pans--nice, heavy, fun to cook with Calaphon pots and pans. How can I cook with out them? They are so solid in the hands--so substantial--so cookable in.

Now--we are not shipping anything. We are taking only things that fit in our duffel bags--all 7 of them--70 lbs each. We only have the airplane weight allowance. Clearly pots and pans are out of the question. And--if we take them, they must come home. I know all this and my mind "capisce--ma voglio mia pentole!" To make matters worse, Ken is not providing much sympathy--to him a pan is a pan is a pan--clearly he is not at home in the kitchen nor does he understand the intricacies behind that marvelous meal that he finds on his plate. So, I will make do with what is there already and then will have abundant excuse as to why our meals are less than 5 star.


Other big questions loom and envelop us.
  • How many pair of jeans will we each need? Fewer then here since laundry will be less simple. Clothes dryers are not the mandated home necessity as they are here. Power supplies are more constricted and so items that most US kids aren't even familiar with in the 21st century--clothes lines and clothes pins--are the de rigeur medium thoughout most of Italy--except in winter and other rainy days when drying racks take over as much of the inside living area as possible. I understand that it can take days for jeans to dry and soft and supple they won't be!
  • And this is a biggie--the dollar is in serious decline right now, perhaps reflecting the impact of our burgeoning national debt. If a person stays put here, this does not loom as an issue of financial concern but for those who travel and/or live outside of the US this is a concern of major dimensions . For instance, if an item cost €100 that is $126.27. A few days ago, it would have been almost $130. And--the signs point more towards continued devaluation of the $ rather than improvement. So we deal with the question: "Should we buy things here that we know with certainty we can buy at local shops and stores in Greve and Florence but at an increased cost?" Wisdom is not always easy to come by and right now we are rather short of it.
  • How many books in English and how much local curriculum should we take for Casey? Since he will be learning how to read, write and learn in Italian, will he have time for work in English? We certainly have no intention of having this year be all work and no play for him. As a matter of fact, we hope that play and fun compose his main focus and memories. But--he will need to be able to hold his own in fourth grade upon our return. So another quandry puzzles us. (This is Casey's school in Greve.)
  • And finally--for now but now for real--how do we replace Rita and Lino who were to be our friends, mentors, safety net and more next year but, because life is never predictable or ordinary, are now moving to Boston two weeks after we arrive in Greve. We are devastated, but, we have faith that God always has a plan and so are confident that once there we will find people to fill the void. I wonder who they will be and what they are doing right now?
So--you have a sampling of where we are at the moment--a lot of thinking and not much doing.

Friday, good friends are having a party for us--I suspect that after that things will suddenly get very real, panic will set in and the count down will begin. And then we will be sipping the wines of Fattoria Viticchio as we survey the lovely views over the vineyards outside our door. Come join us.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Haircuts and Ravioli Sauce

You are right--my mind works in strange ways but--I wanted to discuss both topics and why bother with two different entries? It's so much easier to do it all at once. And then--I could also slip in how beautiful it has been in San Diego the last few days and the sense of paradise in my own back yard. Or--how about, we packed two big duffels yesterday and so it has started?

But no--think this will focus on an out-of-cycle haircut and a tasty, simple variation on a traditional ravioli sauce.

Casey is 7--a month shy of 8. And, until three days ago we had escaped the "every child" experiment of snipping off pieces of hair, resulting in unusal and unique styling. Then, that night, while we thought the quiet was due to diligent studying of spelling words, it wasn't; instead, he had decided that his hair was "puffy" and that he wanted it shorter. This toggled the green light to give himself a total cut--from front to back, side to side.

And--give himself a haircut, he did. Was it enough to cover the floor with cuttings? Yes. But, even it wasn't; there were matching holes above each ear and the forehead line appeared to have been shaved. It just didn't work.

Solution: A trip to his "hair stylist" the next afternoon--paid for with a good portion of the money he has been saving for heelies--tennis shoes with wheels in the heels. Sharlene, the stylist, spent most of the cut, chuckling and shaking her head. By the time she was through, Casey closely resembled a fuzzy peach.

And--he loves it--it's the look he was after when he started the project. I must admit, I like it too and it is perfect for summer. Understandably though, coming from a 7 year old viewpoint, he believes it highly unfair and inappropriate that he needed to tap into his own bankroll to pay Sharlene. Lesson learned!

On to Ravioli Sauce:

I make no claim to being a real Italian cook--in fact, one of my goals for the next year is to learn secrets of the Italian kitchen--ones I can bring home and wow friends with inspite of the fact that our produce will or can never be on a par with that of Italy. However, I do have a great and simple variation on the traditional sage and butter sauce for ravioli. Enjoy!

  • Saute thinly sliced shallots in vegetable oil until crisp and very dark brown. Drain on paper towels.
  • Toast some pine nuts.
  • Melt butter--when foamy, add sliced sage leaves and a little crushed red pepper.
  • Pour butter and sage over ravioli and dish into pasta bowls.
  • Sprinkle shallots and pine nuts on top.
Buon appetito!