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?