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.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Recycling At Its Strangest!

This will be a relatively short entry. I have been wanting to share this for the longest time but just recently captured the ultimate recycling phenomena pictured below.

Bella Italia works at being bella and so it is not surprising that it is really into environment, recycling and using biological products—produce, cosmetics, fabrics, cleaning supplies, etc.At a young age, children are instilled with the need to protect their environment. Currently, Casey’s class has an extensive unit on this topic. In fact, as I write, Casey and Valentina, his tutor--who is quite wonderful--, are preparing for his group’s presentation on plastics.

In Tuscany--maybe much of Italia--there is no such thing as trash pick-up in the United States style--putting out segrated trash cans once a week for the sanitation workers to empty into their big mulching trucks.

Instead here there are large garbage bins conveniently placed along the roads--blue
for glass and plastic, green for food stuff, yellow for paper and cardboard and grey for mixed bags.

When we first arrived, I found these to be a very unattractive component of the picturesque landscape of Tuscany. But, as we live here and become more and more residents and less and less tourists, my perspective has changed and I now appreciate the method. The only problem being that at this point, we can drive past innumerable of these along the road, not seeing them. This frequently results in our trash having an all-expense paid excursion to-and-from Firenze, returning to our apartment unscathed. Nicoletta told me it happens to her, too, so I don't feel quite so incompetent.

Now--for the ultimate in trash collection and recycling--I challenge you to find a similar service or commitment in Mississippi, Iowa, California, New Jersey, Montreal, Sydney--or anywhere for that matter. I do believe that Italians have it hands down.

We've seen several vehicles left like this one--always at this location. A car will sit here for a few weeks and then one day disappear only to be replaced by another one shortly thereafter. I keep hoping to be passing by at the time of a collection. I really, really want to know how this works. So far, no one has been able to explain it to me. It seems to be a mystery of the road.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Joy is a Boy

OK—it is probably nobody’s dream to be parenting in retirement—it certainly wasn’t ours. I clearly remember saying that such a thing would never,never happen to us. The empty nest fit us and the plans we had for our golden years quite well, thank you. But then—life happens, doesn’t it?

Now it is hard to imagine life without Casey and the joy and pleasure we find in him. Of course, there are days when I think of friends who don’t need to get an 8 year old off to school each morning; who can travel at will; who can have a leisurely restaurant meal any night they so choose; who don’t find themselves with a new peer group 30 years younger than they—in other words, they live lives appropriate to their age. But, these are fleeting thoughts as they can not lead anywhere good, and they deny the truth that through Casey we have a pleasure denied to our friends.

Yesterday I chuckled as I checked his room—it is so boy. When our children were growing up, there were 4 of them, I worked, and life was often consumed by the responsibilities of that period of life--rushing, rushing, rushing. Now, with Casey, I realize just how many things I missed and let pass by—not realizing the pleasure they bring. Or maybe—it takes perspective brought by the experience of age to fully appreciate the simplicity and the Tom Sawyer in an eight year old's mind.

Casey has a collection of “important” things that he is saving for a significant purpose. There is the plastic tear off part of the milk carton lid—a true treasure, the metal ring from the top of a soda can, innumerable colorful spoons that accompanied innumerable gelato cones, ice cream sticks with traces of chocolate still clinging, box tops, scraps of paper with imagined Chinese writing—products of boredom in school, broken toy pieces and then some indistinguishable/unidentifiable “things.”

I ask Casey, “Why do you have these” as I begin gathering them up. Then I see the horrified expression on his face registering fear that his treasures are on the way to the trash. That is when he explains that he may need them and he likes them and they are important. So—what can I do but put them back in their carefully arranged places as the smile inside me finds it way to the outside.

God is giving me a chance to savor what I had missed when there were four and I was too busy. He is giving me the opportunity to encourage this child's mind to be a child. I can enjoy his treasures with him and know that they are not ready for recycling--that they have a much more important purpose. I can thank God that He found a purpose for my "golden years" far greater than I had dreamed.

Yes, joy is a boy called Casey.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Good Friends, Good Food, Good Talk

San Diego seems far away and out of sight—homesickness has not been a big problem for me--so it is with a feeling of apprehension that I think of returning to the “fast life” of California. We have slowed down here in Greve in Chianti. We have lost that sense of urgency that seems to pervade daily life in the fast lane of rushing from here to there and back again. The pace here is slow and soul settling.

But we do miss our friends and that sense of belonging to a group larger than the three of us. We, of course, have friends here whom we truly enjoy and spending time together is fun. But, this is different than the comfort that takes time to develop and become real which exists with people you have grown to know over years of sharing lives. So, it was with great joy that we had dear friends from San Diego spend last week with us.

And--these friends didn't wait for the glorious time of spring to come to the Chianti--they braved coming in winter--a time when so few people travel that many restaurants and stores close for holiday. A time when it is cold (but not so much this year which is the warmest in 260 years), when the leaves and color are gone, when even market stalls close.

They actually came to see us--not Tuscany--what a friendship that is--one to treasure and we do.

Jan and Keith have been to Italy several times but in the manner that all of us do when we come for just a few weeks and with "things to see and things to do." This time they came to experience life as we know it--settled in, slowly, saying hello to friends at market, relishing window views, slow drives through the country side, coming home to plates of cheeses and meats, sipping wine before joining in to fix dinner, learning about fried artichokes, cheese and honey, fresh ravioli with sage and butter, cream in boxes and so much more. They saw lovely Italia through different eyes this time, and they enjoyed it.

We did do some day trips, exploring familiar places together--Lucca, Cortona, Firenze and little places around here--Volpaia, Montefioralle, Badia a Passignano, Castellina in Chianti, introducing them to the fun of exploring wonderful white roads.

And I learned somethings--like the huge San Lorenzo Market is closed on Monday's in winter. It was quite a shock to walk from the SITA station and see vast empty streets where normally there isn't space to walk. At first I thought that somehow we had lost our way to the familiar. Even many of the stalls in the Mercato Centrale were covered over and empty--it was all quite weird. Jan and Keith have been to Firenze but not the market which I knew they would enjoy--maybe next time. But, of course, in Firenze there is always much to do--if not one thing then another. We went to the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, wandered, ate and watched the countryside on the bus ride back.

Lucca was Lucca--not with as many people as summer but, because it is a living town with real stores and many live-in inhabitants, it was active and busy even in the rain. Stores and restaurants were open for business.

But lovely Cortona was a different story. The streets that are so jammed that movement is hard the rest of the year were eerie and quiet. Store after store was closed. Few restaurants flaunted menus as the doors were locked and shuttered. Our footsteps echoed.

Alex, a friend of mine, owns a shop in Cortona,
Il Girasole, but it was closed. Fortunately, we were able to call her, and, when we told her we were waiting right outside the door, she graciously left her home to open it for us. What lovely things she has! Much of her inventory is repro- ductions of Etruscan jewelry and pottery but she also carries beautiful linen items with authentic renaissance Florentine designs and soft cashmere stoles from the Chianti Cashmere Company. Jan and I didn't resist buying things--jewelry, linens, Etruscan artifacts--after all, Alex had opened up just for us!

Cortona is home to my most favorite
pasticceria shop in all of Italy. This is because of their totally wonderful meringue cookies filled with nuts--they are beyond delicious! Needless to say, I was more than happy when it was one of the few stores open that day.

So, when you go to Cortona, you really must indulge yourself, just have a salad for lunch. And if you are a chocolate lover, you may want to sample the ones filled with creamy chocolate. Um, Um Good!

With all that we did, I suspect their favorite was the meal at La Cantinetta di Rignana. What a wonderful meal that was--everything about it was "perfetto"--the ambience of the restaurant, the delightful personality of all of the staff and the marvelous food. It was a great evening. The restaurant is hidden in the hills and valleys of Chianti--you must take a white road to reach it, and yet people travel kilometers to spend an evening there. Just read about their cucina on the website and you'll make this a destination. To read more about it, check KZ's blog KZ in Toscana.

Jan and Keith left us early Thursday morning and it has seemed quite quiet since then--it is fun to have a full house with conversation and laughter. We will see them again in August--not here but there.