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, August 20, 2007

Time Travel

Children empty themselves in unexpected ways--finding creative avenues to express and release emotions and dreams. We big people must watch closely for the message being sent and the heart that is being exposed. I relearn this almost daily.

Casey makes no bones about missing Italy, friends and all that was. In fact his latest blog entry again makes this plain Here and There. At night in bed, much as it was a year ago when he would ask to return to San Diego, he asks "Can we start packing? I really want to go back."

Spoken words and overt revelations are easy to read. They can be discussed quietly and sadness softened. But, there are more subtle ways of expression, too, and some of these can bring a tear or two, knowing that there is a private grief that needs to be left alone to find private solutions. Such is the time machine.

Casey's Time Machine
This takes Casey back in time to where he wants to be. He has developed quite a process for activating it--complete with sounds and movement. The machine has been housed in the middle of the office, the TV room, his bedroom, the kitchen and other places. Now it is ensconced in a spare bedroom which has temporarily been converted into a play room. If he goes upstairs and is quiet, we know he has gone traveling.

If you look closely, you can recognize all the little odds and ends he has drawn together to make this--a clock, the globe, levers, a mobile phone for commands, a radio, the core being the mind of the computer and then it all lays on the Fiorentina banner--symbolic? I think so.

He has introduced this glorious machine to some of his friends, and, being 9 year olds, they are easily entranced with make-believe and join Casey in making it real. It becomes an outlet for him and by sharing it with friends here, he begins to blend the parts of his life. The process is fascinating to observe and maybe learn from.

Ken and I are doing much the same thing--in different ways. We are reconnecting with people --something we needed time to do. We are resuming a life that was put on hold for a year but we are being selective about what we resurrect. We have become very aware of the consumer driven society of the US; the millions of things to make life easier but in reality make it crowded and sterile. The road to an easier life, we have learned, is in many ways the absence of things--not the proliferation. We are still overwhelmed by our house and belongings--more than we need and now more that we want.

We are different people--not necessarily better--just different. And this is a problem because there are 10 lane freeways here, big box stores galore, blazing neon on every structure, fast food establishments 3 to a block, strip malls and the revered Walmart. We can not change these things and so we must adapt--to all but Walmart.

We find that the skies we loved so much in Tuscany are here, too. The colors are different but the beauty still reflects the creator.

Friends are true and waited for us. Saturday we joined with many of them for food, laughter and reflections on the greatness of our God's magnificent universe. Thursday I am "doing" lunch with two good friends who add strength to my life. One of them babysat my plants all year, turning each of them into a virtual jungle. Had I stayed here I know they would have been long dead.

Casey and Ken are at the movies now and Ken can enjoy it along with Casey as English is his cup of tea--although, Casey would prefer Italian.

We have Thai and Chinese and Mexican and Peruvian and Vietnamese and Moroccan and more to choose from when we go out at night--although, strangely, our love continues to be Italian. As with our travels, we may occasionally branch out but always return to Italy and pasta.

Our pool is cool and refreshing and we play with Casey. He rides his bike in the park across the street and practices his karate.

Tonight we are having tacos--with chedder cheese and fresh tortillas--a treat delayed for a year.

So, as with Casey, we are learning to reenter a life that has always been ours but look forward to the next time in our other life--using our time machine--a United 747.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Italy on £8 a Year

Remember Frommer's series? Europe on $5 a day? Well, I have him beat--fair Italia on just £8 a year--a whole year. In all truth--that is what I did--honestly.

All it took was grapes and pasta--daily--for 364 days--almost a year. Sounds good? It was! Too good!

Last week I went to the doctor. But before I could see him, came the nurse. The one who ferrets out little secrets such as blood pressure, heart beat, etc. The first moment of truth was when I was forced to step on the scale and watch little weights slide back and forth until finding the perfect place to stop. Bravely, I then asked what the scales had said a year ago--and that is where Italy on 8£'s a year was born.

Since I had 20 £'s to lose before arriving in Italy, that now puts the total at 28 £'s. Intelligently, I have decided that the only thing to do is attack the 8 before even considering the 20. Of course, as I write, Ken has brought me a bowl of ice cream (not gelato.) What should I do? What am I doing? Guess.

The good news is that I don't feel as big as I did in Italy--the land of no female over a size 4, flat tummies and sexy bodies. There is no doubt that, in general, people from the United States are weightier than their counterparts in Italy.

Then grown son--approaching 40--said that I shouldn't worry about a little weight--a person my age, has earned the right to enjoy life without sweating it. Now, I am not sure how I should take that. Was it love? Am I that old? Am I on my way out? I am sure that it was confirmation that there are too many £'s.

Finally, Grandson Casey assures me, with all the finesse of a 9 year old who loves his gramma a whole lot, that I am not fat--just squishy and he likes squishy. Followed by "squish, squish, squish" as he gives little pinches. More confirmation, to be sure.

Now, I hate to think of disappointing Casey and leaving him with nothing to squish. What kind of gramma would I be? Should I just give in and enjoy my waning years? What about all the clothes I see which I really would like to wear--and look good in while wearing? Maybe Casey doesn't really need squish.

I do have a dream which may serve as motivation. We are returning to the place Casey now calls home next summer. I would love to be slim and trim then. Isn't it nice when we hear such things as "wow, you look so good!" Yes--28£'s it is.

Note: This is an entry with no illustrations.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Missing the Bidet

A common question asked of us these days is: "What do you miss about Italy?"

There is so much and it is so total.

But......today I realized that I do miss the....bidet.

Most Americans wonder about this bathroom fixture. What in the world does one do with it? Why do Europeans find these so important that they are even in the Autostrada bagni? Does anyone really use them there?

However, today was leg defuzzing time and I realized how convenient the bidet is for this--far better than any option available here. It's the perfect height, the water is nicely warm--it is easy and comfortable. I need one.

This plumbing marvel is also very useful for soaking clothes and watering plants. Casey's greyed karate uniform looked new after a few hours in the bidet and the plants thrived and grew. I wish I had the foresight to photograph this fixture for illustration purposes.

Another thing I miss is one found in all Italian kitchens--in fact, most European kitchens. This is the over the sink draining cupboard--a brilliant accoutrement. For the uninitiated this looks like a cupboard but in reality is a hidden place to drain the washed dishes and store them until their next use. Even with a dishwasher there are things we wash the old-fashioned way--by hand. The draining cupboard is such an improvement over the counter drain where one must either dry dishes right away (a real bore) or let the kitchen be cluttered and disfigured (which I hate). With this cupboard it is truly out-of sight-out-of-mind until you next need that pan. I would definitely have one installed here except that I have windows above my sink--no room for a cabinet.

What else do I miss?

Well, the vast variety of toilet flushers is a possiblity. No two are alike. Sometimes it takes several minutes to locate one in the current room of use. Is it high on the wall? A chain to pull from the overhead? On the wall at the side? On top of the toilet tank? On the floor? On the side? Where? The creativity in designing clearly requires a Lego builder's mind.

Another candidate for nostalgia is the glove that one must wear when selecting produce at the grocery store. In Italy, you may not casually pick up a tomato with nude fingers. When entering the produce section, the first thing that must be done is don one of the cellophane gloves found in a little dispenser. It is always easy to spot the newcomer who naively picks over the onions or broccoli with uncovered hands. People in the know look askance at this faux pas.

The top box

Along with the gloves, also comes the weigh-in. As you bag your produce, you weigh each item by pushing its number or picture. Out comes the price tag which is then affixed to the bag. All the checker needs to do is scan the code. We could really benefit from this technique.

See How Easy?
And--trash pickup--or absence of such. Italy is extremely environmentally conscious. Recycling is a priority with schools having major units on the need to respect land, air and water--Casey is horrified if we so much as throw a plastic bottle cap in the general refuge container.

But--door-to-door pickup is not common. Instead, huge containers are along the sides of the roads--green for bottles/tin/plastic, grey for general kitchen type garbage and yellow for paper products. People must deposit their items in these bins. I can not tell you how often we took our garbage with us in the trunk only to arrive back home with it--having forgotten to dump it. Our consolation was that our Italian friends often did the same thing.

The fact is that I truly do miss these things. They are part of who I am now. Of course, in traveling to Italy over the years, I was aware of these things--nothing was new to me--but having lived them for a sustained time, they are no longer a novelty. They are part of an everyday life that was mine.

Today I find myself hesitant to touch produce at the grocery store --it just doesn't seem right. I look for the glove and cringe to see carrots being picked over. Today I was at a fast food place (yes, I admit that) and the flusher was a very European knob on the top--I smiled. However, the bidet was missing--the room seemed incomplete.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No More Domani

We are home now—home in San Diego, that is. It is strange here and Greve seems very far away.

Did I really, truly live there? Did I really fling open the shutters each morning to the quintessential Tuscan countryside of rolling hills, lush vines and old farmhouses dotting the landscape? If I squeeze my eyes tight and play memories on my eyelids, will I be there?

Opening the Shutters

Casey, the night before we left, cried and sobbed and held tight to furniture saying he wouldn’t leave. I wanted to do the same but had to be the grown-up, providing the pain of reality. Sleep was hard for all of us that night.

That morning we left at 7:15. The Viticcio truck was loaded with our 700 lbs of belongings—9 32 kg duffels and 6 carry-ons. Alessandro drove Ken, Casey and I in the SUV. Camilla and Casey played and laughed during the drive into Firenze—too young to grasp what would happen in just a short while. Children are such creatures of the immediate present.

Before Leaving Viticcio

Look Close--How High Can You Count?

I was afraid that we would have problems at check-in with our four luggage carts in tow—each piled high. Although I had checked several times with both Lufthansa and United, I still thought the check in person would not understand the rules. But—we were pleasantly surprised when the young man who waited on us had no problem. We needed to pay for two of the pieces but that was cheaper than shipping.

Beginning of Awareness

Check-in Line

Once that was done, it was time for goodbyes—that instant when it all became real. Saying goodbye to Alessandro was hard for Ken and I but nothing compared to the pain Casey and Camilla were experiencing. They are so young that they haven’t had experience in hurting. They stood with the widest, most forlorn eyes—just staring into the other. I thought my heart would break watching them. They hugged tightly—just squeezing the other close. It was an emotional moment.

Then we turned and walked to the gates and they left for their car and the drive home—without us. Casey repeated over and over—“Please tell me that I’m dreaming. Pinch me so I’ll wake up.” This was his mantra throughout the 26 hour trip to our front door here in San Diego. As for me, in the dark of the plane, I found unbidden tears rolling down my cheeks.

So—our tomorows are over. We loved them. What will we do domani? Where shall we drive? What will we see? What’s going on in the piazza? What flavors of gelati will there be? How will the vines have changed? What will the sunset be? Each day was new and different—something to anticipate and enjoy. But, now they are no more.

Ken asked me yesterday if I was ready to go back. If it were easy to do, the three of us would be on the plane—domani..