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, May 31, 2008

Off The Beaten Track

No--not in Italy--just from my normal postings which offer varying degrees of reflection, observation and experience. Today is functional.

The first is a recipe that I made this week which was particularly easy and good. If you read my blog upon occasion you know that it is not a food blog. Unlike many of my friends, my food obsession is eating not preparation. I prefer to sit down to someone else's labor and passion and then marvel over the talent and creativity. Fortunately, I have several friends in this category--except many live too far away to do more than allow me to enjoy pictures of their artistry.

So--straight away--my contribution to your kitchen:

Chicken Thighs, Roasted with Ginger, Chiles and Soy

2 tbs. minced fresh ginger root
1/2 serrano chile, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbs. vinegar
1 tbs. brown sugar

1 teas. oil
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

Combine all ingredients in a gallon freezer bag or glass bowl. Marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chicken, skin-up, in a baking dish just large enough to hold the pieces in one layer. Pour all remaining marinade over the chicken and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until skin is crisp and chicken is well cooked. Serve with the baking juices.

This was super good with very crispy, flavorful skin and chicken meat deliciously moist. I actually put it, along with potatoes, in the oven on a delay start time before going to Casey's Little League game--which they lost, unfortunately--and we had an aroma filled house and a good meal waiting for us. I had pre-steamed broccoli and so just needed to toss it with sliced garlic and oil (olive, of course,) heat for a couple minutes and dinner was served.

My second "functional" thought today is the frustrating evolution of secure packaging. I am not at all sure how the truly elderly (not me) or the visually impaired (maybe me) cope with the challenge of opening anything beyond an egg carton these days.

This musing was brought on when trying to open up a well-protected from theft or malicious insertion of poisionous substance package of sunscreen sold at Costco. Fo
olishly I tried tearing at it but soon realized I would have no more nails if I continued. Next came scissors, then bigger scissors before finally turning the project over to a MAN as it was clearly a MAN-size job. Now, according to HIM, he just ripped it--no big deal. I am not sure that is true and that he was not out in the garage with his carton slicer. But, it is open and I can resume my packing for Italy--actually, more thinking about it rather than the doing. We still have 2 weeks 3 days (not counting today and departure day) before we're in the air. But getting ready is fun--sort of!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Counting Days

A year ago we were living in Italy. The memories are full and continue to warm our souls. We miss it—Casey, Ken and I—every day. I don’t think a day goes by that one of us doesn’t share a memory or the longing to be there again. In a year one grows past the infatuation with the romance of Italy and begins to understand a little of the ebb and flow of life and people. The piazza becomes more than a place of charm and becomes a community. When the tourists go home for the winter, life settles in to a pattern of traditions and calm. It is a different place. Winter brings with it a sense of peace.

Now we are going back—we will land at the Florence airport less than a year after we waved goodbye and watched Alessandro, Camilla and Mario return to the vehicles that deliverd us and our luggage for the journey home. It was a sad day and no one was sadder than our Casey and his sorella Camilla—these children that bonded in such an unusual way. They seemed to become extensions of each other as they spent that year together.

This time is just for two months but we will be there. We talk of the things we will do, the places to revisit, the friends to connect with, meals at our favorite restaurants and the welcomes we know we will receive when we walk in the door. We will belong to our past for a short while.

It won’t be the same because it will be tourist season and we will blend in with all those who are seeking the magic of Tuscany. It is not our favorite season there—in fact, it is not the time we would go if not for restrictions Casey’s school year places on us. Tonight we again wondered if we should return for another year but, it is too late now. Our Permesso di Soggiorno has expired so we would need to repeat the excruciating visa process—which takes months.

I know though that once there we will not want to come back to the states. And, I know for sure that Casey will want to stay with Tommy and Valentina and all his friends. He will want to stay where he can roam and be free, explore and discover—where he can feel safe in the piazza and walk hand and hand with Camilla into the gelateria. He will want to stay in the place that is home.

But now, it is ahead of us and we will relish each of the 61 days and know there are more years ahead for us. And Casey will always have two worlds that he calls home—two places where he belongs. What a future he has!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Math for Grammas

While in Italy we were embarrassingly unsuccessful in helping Casey with his third grade math homework. Eventually his teacher, Maestra AnnaMaria, requested that we not try and to please allow Valentina, his tutor, to work with him. So, shaking off our humiliation, we consoled ourselves with the fact that math processes are different in Italy—quite different from here in the United States. We did feel a little better when we returned home and Casey’s math teacher had a difficult time following the process when Casey showed it to her.

Now, shift gears:

If you are a baby boomer or older or maybe younger and you can think back to grade 4, what were you doing in math? I think I recall sitting in Mrs. Willow’s room with multiplication and division flash cards—through the 9’s. Maybe we did long division but I really don’t think so. For sure we were not doing algebraic equations and logic. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember that until 9th grade with an English teacher temporarily assigned to teach algebra. She was every student’s worse nightmare.. steel grey hair pulled back into a bun, glasses perched on the tip of her nose so that she could peer over them at offending students (usually all of us) and a long chalkboard pointer that seemed more weapon than teaching tool. Add to this that she was totally clueless about algebra and you can begin to understand my then and now grasp of algebra or lack thereof.

Back to the here and now:

We are back in the US of A—our country, so surely we can help Casey with fourth grade math. Right? We speak the same language, the numbers are written the right way—our way and the teacher is available by e-mail. What could go wrong? This is what—Casey’s math is algebra—x’s and y’s and n’s and =’s and all those things--those things Miss Glasses on the End of Her Nose was to teach us so long ago.

Sadly, the only thing I remember of that class is being accused of leading the class in boisterous laughter when Miss Steely Eye’s drawer wouldn’t open because of a stuck ruler. I was justly or unjustly (your guess) sent to stand in the hall, fearing that at any minute Mr. Pinkney, the principal, would stroll by. Later I learned that was an unnecessary fear as he never left the sanctity of his office.

Anyway, Casey needed help last night so he brought his paper to me. And there they were—all my memories, buried with 50 years of living. Somewhere between that time and this, I did master equations and logic and, logic has stuck but equations and x’s and y’s again stump me. Humiliation visited again as Casey reclaimed his paper and went back to the table, saying he would figure it out himself and ask his teacher tomorrow.

Next time I will try harder. What is that TV program? Something about being smarter than a fifth grader? I think I need to find out when it is on and start practicing for next year.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mad Doesn’t Work

So, last night Casey was being a real nine-year-old pain. Bright though he may be, he hates to read. This I can’t understand as reading has been a mainstay of my existence and free time since I was old enough to hold a book. I can’t imagine not having at least one book, usually more, in progress--the fatter the book, the happier I am. Casey, on the other hand, likes them skinny and multiple levels below his reading level. Fortunately, this is changing a little as such books are pretty dull in terms of story line and excitement.

Last night when Casey was told to spend some time reading, I learned that you don’t have to read on weekends. What an interesting concept that is—a new thought! Of course, he had successfully avoided reading on several school nights this week so, in my mind, this was make-up night. We just didn’t see eye-to-eye on this, at all, which resulted in an out-of-proportion battle of the wills. As in most of these situations, no one won. I was mad and he went to bed early and nothing was read. Actually, I lost because I didn’t handle it well at all.

Continuing along this line, this morning I was still a little ticked and didn’t feel like being the warm, cuddly and loving gramma he has grown to love—and I wasn’t. When it was time for Ken to take him early to his Little League game as he was going out the door his last words were, “Gramma, you’re going to come to my game aren’t you?” I sort of growled and gave an undecipherable answer, knowing that I was being much more immature than my years allow for.

Within 3 minutes of the car pulling out of the driveway, the doorbell rang. By the time I opened the door, the DHL truck was pulling away. Looking down I saw a large, long box that could only hold one thing-- flowers—
From Casey to Gramma, Happy Mother’s Day.
And I had just sent him away with a growl. Do we ever learn or are we doomed to keep repeating mistakes?

I went to the game, which I was going to do all along anyway. Casey had two great triples, with 4 RBI’s. He was hot! I like to think it was because he saw Gramma in the stands and he was happy.

Mad is not good and it doesn't work!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Checking In

Just a couple quickies today for those of you who check in to see what's new and find that nothing is. I seem to be somewhat short of topics that motivate me right now...except....

Yesterday Casey added a new name for me--following the gramma-mom of a couple weeks ago. Yesterday it was Mom at a Higher Level. I had to laugh both at the words and the little mind that would even think of this. Of course, it also touched my heart.

Then there is a video clip that I took at the local Spring Fest last weekend. It reminded me of Carnavale and other extravaganzas in Piazza Matteoti in Greve last year. The stilt people were always there and, of course, Camilla and Casey were always in awe.

Stilt performers amaze me, too. I wonder if it is as hard as it looks? Anyone know? The day was hot and you can see the shimmer in the air--not the best video but it tells the story.