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, December 30, 2009
A year later, 2004, he was slashing his way through the Amazon Rain Forests of Ecuador where he also shared the Amazon River with deadly piranhas. Of course, being Casey, he managed an Ecuadorean girlfriend while exploring the Galapagos islands.
Then came 2005 and Alaska. Another big adventure ..this time with bears, whales, salmon and eagles...flying and soaring in and out of mountain glaciers...seeing the big brown bear snagging his dinner from the cold waters. And...another girl.
Finally came August 2006--the year he became an Italian. The year he and Camilla began their unique bonding and friendship that started the only way it could--the language of balloons. By the end of that year, August 2007, the parting was painful and difficult.
These two children virtually lived together for that year. They knew each others secrets and ways. As they said, they were closer than brother and sister, girl friend and boy friend. It was and is a friendship that defies description.
All of this is prelude to why I write now. It seems that becoming a middle schooler has caused a metamorphosis. Casey is no longer the child he was. He is providing clues as to the teenager, young adult and man that he will become. He has entered the twilight zone currently known as the "tweener years."
And..it all seems to have come to noticeable fruition in the last two weeks. A stunning transformation is taking place--clearly out of my control--as much as want to say "halt"--stay a little boy a while longer.
Thy symptoms are: girls are calling--multiple times during the day; name brand clothes are suddenly known to exist--Target just doesn't cut it any longer; "skinny" jeans are "de rigueur;" walking around with earbuds leading to the MP3 player hidden in the pocket is cool and there is a great necessity (unfulfilled) for a personal cell phone, preferrably an IPhone. I am beginning to sense that soon we will be on the periphery of his life--called upon when needed but the focus being outside of us. I know this will be normal but I don't like it--at all.
For now, though, he still walks holding hands, seeks reassuring hugs, laughs with me and jumps into bed in the morning. He's tall enough that sometimes his arm finds my shoulder. And as I write this, he comes in asking for a "huggie" before going up to prepare for bed. Maybe the boy will always be there to come forth at unexpected moments.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
It is now somewhere about two weeks later and what has happened? Simplification has proven unattainable. Our discussions are filled with elaborate dinner parties, dozens upon dozens of cookies and candy goodies, treasured decorations emerging from last year's storage cocoons, getting trees to drink (water), work parties, family gatherings and seeking perfect gifts. Christmas is upon us in all its secular grandeur. We have succumbed once again to the pageantry, warmth, richness of traditions and memories.
Fortunately, each of us appears to be selective in what we are choosing to do. I am not doing elaborate dinners and entertaining as I have done in the past. There were years when we would have three or four parties for as many as 80-100 people. I don't do that anymore--the energy has left. They are still with me, however, in good memories of friends and laughter. I like the memories.
For many years cookie baking was a hot item in my house. Many varieties filled boxes for us and neighbors. Eventually I realized the problem with this was that we ate so I stopped baking. This year I have returned to the cookie sheets but just a little. I have an eleven year old who needs the sweet aroma as he walks in after school.
But, my biggest simplification failure happens every year. My house once again is a child's wonderland--which is why Casey's having a party next Sunday. How many more years will we have the pleasure and privilege of welcoming pre-teens into Santa land? (Who would have thought we would once again be doing this. God has a sense of humor in His surprises.)
Actually, much remains stored in the rafters--it is just too much to get out 40 years of accumulation but there is enough out to make it special. And...I must admit to liking the color and memories as I turn the handle of the jack-in-box, watch Santa bounce down his chimney, watch as he dances when someone winds him up and scatter the snow in the Christmas globe. The truth, I think, is that the child remains in us.
"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given..and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace... Isaiah 9:6
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Last night I was looking at Puerto Rico, Mexico and Costa Rica. We've never been to Puerto Rico or Costa Rica and there are always new places to explore in Mexico. But...I was looking at Easter week and found that airline prices are sky high--if there were reasonable fares, they are long gone. This includes flyer miles. Cruising sounded good--all the fun without the work. But...friends reminded me that there would be shipfuls of teenagers that week--not relaxing.
So, now we have settled on Las Vegas for a few days. We can drive there--no planes. Southwest is probably reasonable but we would need to rent a vehicle so drive it will be.
Friends pretty well convinced me that Bellagio is the place to stay--after all where can one watch fountains dancing to the music of Andre Botticelli--oops, Bocelli? So I have spent today researching, looking for deals--everyone but me seems to be able to find these. It will be expensive as if one goes to Bellagio, one MUST have a room with a view of the fountains and since Casey will be with us ,we need a room big enough for us and him and still have a modicum of privacy.
A most friendly young woman at Bellagio, told me about a new (this month) all suite resort hotel connected physically and corporately to Bellagio--the Vdara. It is even possible to get suites with views of the performing fountains--of course, the view isn't quite as good as the place next door.
So my dilemma as I write is--Bellagio or Vdara? Vdara is a good practical choice given it has a complete kitchen--gourmet they say--and more space than a simple room. It is a smidge less expensive--well, maybe a couple hundred unless I get the "expensive with lots of room suite." We could have our breakfasts there and maybe lunch--save a few.
But, the rooms at Bellagio look really elegant and those fountains and Andre do sound good. I wonder if all the money I'm saving on no airfare can be applied to one of the large rooms? Think I'll make a decision by tomorrow or as we say in Italy--domani.
While there we'll take in a show or two--the ventriloquist at the Mirage is supposed to be totally amazing and so all three of us would enjoy that--Terry Fator. Do they let minors into the shows? Must find out about that.
Finding things to do should be easy. Maybe a helicopter to Grand Canyon or some such thing. Hoover Dam should interest an 11 year old, don't you think? And... I've been there and done that so I'll be pool side while Ken takes Casey. What a good thought!
So, now I can plan--March is a long ways away but at least it's on the horizon. And, Ken and I can take a quick trip to San Francisco for a dinner or two before then. Thank goodness for Uncle Jeff who loves Casey and will watch him.
Now, I would really prefer to be planning an Italy jaunt which is still on my mind as a solo act. We'll see.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Personally, I thought it was going to be too dry once he threw out the idea of canned tomatoes or broth of any kind but, it turned out really quite tasty. As you will note, he's a natural cook in that there are no such things as measures or quantities--just what seems right to the chef. Unfortunately, we didn't think to take pictures.
If you try it, be sure to leave a comment on his blog letting him know what you thought.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I must admit that he is on to something as I do have a proclivity for falling, stumbling, tripping and making a spectacle of myself. Some of us will do anything for our share of the limelight.
Ken says it's because I don't pick up my feet but only old people (older than I) shuffle when they walk. Besides...this tendency to not stay upright started years ago in the 6th grade when I fell in front of an oncoming car, scaring my mother horrendously.
- In Whistler, Canada I sprawled on the sidewalk--one cracked rib, one wasted Starbucks.
- Tripped on a cobblestone pothole in Montalcino Italy--fell flat on the downward incline--resulting in torn clothes and blood. This being market day, I had quite an audience.
- Fell up the stairs (landed flat across several steps) leading to St. Peter's in Rome--scared both son Jeff and the security guard who came running--probably afraid of a lawsuit--the Vatican has lots of money.
- Again fell flat on the sidewalk--this time in Paris on Rue de Rivoli. Ken just kept walking, oblivious to my plight. Casey and a very nice Parisian gentleman gently lifted me up, retrieved my purse and brushed me off. Ken never knew what happened.
- Tripped getting off the bus and up on the curb in Athens--one large, rather ugly, red swollen lump on my chin--very lucky not to have cracked my jaw.
- Gracefully tripped over a bench (looking the other direction) during lunch supervision at middle school--I was the vice-principal. Knocked myself out. When I came to I was again sprawled on the ground but this time with 500 very quiet kids surrouding me. A great cheer erupted when I stood up--kind of like being an injured football player on the field. Thirty some stitches through my eyebrow into the forehead--inside and outside. Ken took me out to dinner that night and decided I would need to heal before we went out again. He was sure that as people stared at me they were looking at him with great scepticism.
- Slid and bumped my way down a narrow circular staircase in our Italian apartment. Black and blue on all sides of the body, front and back. Sore and stiff for days.
- The staircase ride was so much fun, I did it again. This time spraining two fingers requiring taping them together with splints--making cooking difficult for a while.
- While sleeping, fell out of a very high bed onto a very hard tile floor, on the way down bounced my head on top of the marble nightstand. Did this twice a couple nights apart. Stayed awake checking for a concussion.
- Over the years I have perfected falling up stairs, doing so more times than I wish to innumerate here.
- Last week in the dark (and the impetus for this entry)--I walked into a door jamb that had not been there when I went to bed. Still have a painful knot on my eyebrow (not the same one mentioned above.) For awhile it was obvious and colorful. I am beginning to think I did something to the bone.
Friday, October 30, 2009
- Coffee pots that drip--in fact this is what set me off this morning. I have never had a coffee pot that justs pours coffee into the cup rather than including dribbles on the surface under the cup. I've tried holding the pot up high as my brother suggests, holding it close to the rim, holding the cup up to the pot, etc. Nothing works. Suggestions?
- Camera lag time between shots. It seems the perfect photo op occurs before the darn camera is ready. I end up with closed eyes, grim lips, hands in the way or whatever is worthy of deleting. The "burst" technique just doesn't seem to do it right.
- Phone calls before I want to wake up. So, now the phones are set not to ring before 6:30 on school days and 8:00 on weekends. Plus...the answer machine is turned off at night. If it's important, those who have it can use my cell phone numbers.
- A child that is growing up too fast--¾" in the last 4 weeks.
- Computers that freeze for no reason whatsoever. No matter how many times I punch ctrl/alt/del nothing happens. And..forget the esc key--useless.
- Family members that can't or won't learn more than how to turn a computer on and open e-mail. No names--(t)he(y) shall remain anonymous.
- Neatniks---drawers are meant to put things in--right?
- Eleven year olds who know more than I do about simplifying expressions. Did I ever know how to do that? Oh..that's right--algebra. I liked geometry.
- Recipes that leave out an ingredient. Although, sometimes it's just that I don't read well.
- Friends who are gourmet cooks and can whip up wonderful food and stunning presentations at a moment's notice.
- Doctors who make me wait.
- Waiters that make me wait.
- Oh well, any one who makes me wait.
- People who don't wait for me.
- Repair people who do not repair.
- Clothes shopping for my new non-8 size.
- Religious people who knock at my door. I have my own beliefs, thank you.
- Websites with music that won't turn off.
- Repeated requests from charities--I give what I want, when I want--why can't that be understood?
- Robo Calls---I hate them, passionately no matter what they say.
Ok--your turn now. Make my day a smiling one.
Friday, October 23, 2009
By last night, this is what you would have seen.
Check out the toes.
I am eternally grateful for my Slow Travel friends who encouraged me to embrace Traz rather than admonish child for his non-money sense. Thank you my friends.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Casey had his Washington D.C. experience last week. It was a week with many unique opportunities; a time to experience the camaraderie that develops so quickly in communities that live together for short times--we used to call them "mountain top" experiences; a chance to test maturity; a moment in time that will remain over the years.
He will be writing about it on his blog once he catches up on school work, takes a few tests, reads a book and all those things that school kids must do. Maybe he'll find an hour or so next weekend. So I'll let him tell you about dinner dances, embassy dinners, Supreme Court deliberations, bus accidents and all that stuff.
I think I'll share about an eleven year old rising to challenges, handling a week away from home and a little about the learning curve for gramma.
Before Casey left, we put extensive thought into how to prepare him for the week, what he would need, how he could access money, how to address homesickness and a myriad of other types of adult obsessive thinking. In the future, I must remember that such compulsive behavior fails to account for the natural proclivities of the child mind.
Here's the run down of our failures of guidance and Casey's total boyishness.
- No bath for 6 days
- Brushed teeth twice (and he wears braces.)
- Returned with a suitcase half full of clean clothes (he did change underwear.)
- Used his ATM card for unique souvenirs such as a $75 snow lion from the National Natural Museum and two plastic trash picker uppers. The second treasure's purpose has nothing to do with a commitment to ecology. It seems they will make perfect robot arms when he decides to be a robot.
Where is the copy of the Declaration of Independence? The feathered ink quills and parchment paper sold in bulk at Williamsburg? Horseshoes fashioned by the blacksmith? Candles? Anything that speaks of the experience? At this point, they have still to be found.
We had worried about Casey becoming homesick--well, to be truthful, he worried a lot about that, too. The morning he left, he didn't want to go. We gave him Ken's mobile so that he could call and keep in touch. And, he did call when the plane landed in D.C.--more for the thrill of using the phone than checking in. But, it was much more fun to take pictures with the phone than the camera.
After that, he called when the bus was hit by a car and when he took possession of Tras. As we sat at home, wondering what he was doing, how he was, missing him, his time was full of friendships, sharing a hotel room with other boys, adventure, learning and excitement.
Finally, he forgot the binder the program gave him which had his daily agendas, his notes, programs, etc--the things that we adults think are so important for future memories. I called the hotel and program and it may still be found. I hope so.
We need the binder to really find out about his week. It is coming out in bits and pieces--like today he remembered to tell us that he was chosen to demonstrate the routine of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. After that the kids called him "soldier boy."
So..what did I learn?
- Kids can take care of themselves and survive without all of the adult rules and concerns.
- Not to put so much money in his account-if it's there, it's meant to be spent.
- Not to worry about quantity of clothes.
- Let Casey use "poor judgement" and listen to the whispers that call from store shelves--friends helped me to understand this. Traz will be a long-term companion.
- Listen to the memories as they come and be thankful he has them.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
For a year we lived amidst the vines of the primary vineyard. Our apartment sat above the cellars and bottling rooms. Our windows looked over quintessential Tuscan country side. It was a year that encapsulated dreams. We loved each day and our lives continue to be enriched by the memories of those dreams.
Wine Spectator Loves Viticcio & I Greppi
Viticcio Toscana Bere 2007 Score 90 ($15)
There's a lot of Cabernet character on the nose and palate, with dried herbs and black currant. Full and very rich on the palate, with chewy yet fruit-coated tannins. Long and flavorful. Needs a little time to come together. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Best after 2009. 2,500 cases made. –JS
Viticcio Chianti Classico 2007 Score 90 ($20)
Shows a lot of bright cherry and berry character, with hints of coffee. Full-bodied, with fine, well-integrated tannins, clean acidity and a long finish. Drink now. 12,500 cases made. –JS
Viticcio Chianti Classico
Riserva 2007 Score 93 ($32)
Fabulous aromas of blackberry, dark chocolate and flowers follow through to a full-bodied palate, with supersilky tannins and amazing richness and subtlety. Goes on for minutes on the palate. Best from 2010 through 2015. 2,345 cases made. “Highly Recommended” –JS
Viticcio Chianti Classico Riserva Lucius 2006 Score 91 ($40)
Intense aromas of plum and blackberry. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins, lots of beautiful fruit and vanilla oak character and a long-to-medium finish. Generous and delicious already. Best after 2009. 1,300 cases made. –JS
Viticcio Toscana Prunaio 2006 Score 93 ($55)
Displays very ripe raspberry on the nose, with black cherry. Full-bodied, with supersilky tannins, toasty oak and an aftertaste of chocolate, coffee and fruit. A serious red. Sangiovese Grosso. Best after 2010. 1,250 cases made. –JS
Viticcio Toscana Monile 2006 Score 94 ($55) Oct. 31,2009 Issue
Currants, berries, lightly toasted oak and light coffee. Full-bodied, with lots of ripe fruit, soft, silky tannins and a rich finish. Ripe and beautiful. Lovely texture too. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Best after 2012.—J.S.
I Greppi Bolgheri Greppicante 2007 Score 92 ($28)
Delivers currant, toasty oak and coffee aromas and flavors. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a lot of rich fruit. Very polished and attractive. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Best after 2012. 5,265 cases made. –JS
I Greppi Bolgheri Superiore Greppicaia 2005 Score 93 ($70)
This has a fabulous nose of crushed raspberry and blackberry, with coffee, vanilla bean, tar and spices. Full-bodied, with rich, velvety tannins. There's plenty of fruit, but this is refined and persistent on the palate, with pretty oak influences. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Best after 2011. 1,500 cases made. –JS
CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR FRIENDS
ALESSANDRO, NICOLETTA AND SIGNORA FRANCA
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Last April I promised son Jeff that I would make it for his birthday but somehow it never happened—probably because it first takes a bank withdrawal to buy the veal shanks.
Tomorrow is Ken’s birthday and the gift to my men is last April's promise--which I made today. As with so many stews, it is better when given time to sit and absorb flavors. Plus making the risotto is that much easier when the meat just needs to heat in the oven.
OSSOBUCCO--BRAISED VEAL SHANKS
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
6-8 pieces of veal shank, cut into 2 inch pieces and tied with string
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup dry white wine
BROTH2 cups canned Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped with their juice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 frest parsley sprigs
2 cups broth-approximately (I used 1 cup chicken broth and 1 cup beef broth)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, very finely minced
1 tablespoon minced lemon rind
2 tablespoons chopped parsely
1 or 2 anchovy fillets, finely choppped (optional--I don't use them)
- Preheat oven to 350º
- Use a heavy broad casserole, 8-10 quart size, large enough to hold all the veal pieces flat-side down in one layer (or use 2 casseroles, but do not stack shank pieces on top of one another.) I use a large Cusinart cast iron dutch oven. Heat the butter over moderate heat. When it foams, add the pancetta, onion, carrot and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes, until carrot and celery begin to soften.
- Dredge veal shanks with flour, brushing off the excess. Heat the oil until it is ver hot in a large skillet over moderate-high heat and place the floured shanks in the pan. Turn the shanks until they are browned on all sides (I hate this process), then place them flat-side down in the casserole with the pancetta and vegetables.
- Skim all but about 1 tablespoon fat from the skillet. Pour in the wine and boil for 2 – 3 minutes while scraping the sides and bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour the wine and the deglazing over the veal shanks in the casserole.
- Add the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf and parsley to the casserole with enough meat broth so that the liquid just covers the veal shanks. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn th heat to moderate. When the broth begins to simmer, cover the casserole and place it in the preheated oven. Cook for 2 – 3 hours. Baste every 30 minutes to keep the meat moist.
- Just before serving, make the gremolada: Combine the garlic, lemon rind, parsley and anchove.
- To serve, remove shanks from the casserole and place on individual plates. Cut the strings. Spoon some of the sauce over each piece of shank and top each serving with a sprinkling of gremolada. (don’t skip this.)
It really is best to make this a day early as with most stew type recipes, it is better the second day after absorbing all the flavors. But…you can make it the same day.I serve this with Risotto alla Milanese if I am ambitious. If not, I use spaghetti. My family is split on which it prefers.
From Risotto by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman
Sunday, September 27, 2009
But, I must admit to a real sense of anticipation over an upcoming weekend. For Ken and I it will be the equivalent of the cruises and trips abroad our friends are taking--those elders who have normal retirements. You know, the kind that enjoy grandkids when they visit and relish the quiet when they return home. I think that's called "the way things are supposed to be."
Anyway, in a couple weeks, Casey goes to Washington D.C to participate in a week-long People to People World Leadership Forum. At the end of last year, his fifth grade teacher nominated him for the program. She saw in him the qualities looked for in a leader--kind of a nice compliment. In this day and age of early planning, it even has college resumé potential.
A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to us that this gives us a childless week--well, 6 days--to do something fun together. We thought of flying to NYC which is always a treat-haven't been there for several years now. But decided that translated to too much money and besides there are places right here in SoCal that we haven't visited in a very long time. After considering possibilities, we decided on Santa Monica. It's been so long since being there that I can't even conjure up a mental image but I do remember a boardwalk, interesting shops and good restaurants. Sounds good.
So we are going for three nights. Staying at the Huntley Hotel, which I hope is a as nice and well-situated as it looks to be. I hope that we can stroll and enjoy leisurely days doing whatever we want to do--which will include a little bit of shopping.
Then we have three nights to just enjoy fine dining without child. The first night we are meeting several friends from Slow Travel for dinner and talk at La Vecchia. This will be a fun evening as these get-togethers with friends always are--either here in the states or in Italy.
The last two nights will be just Ken and I, trying to remember how to converse over a table without incorporating eleven year old talk. I hope never to be like the couples you see sometimes, each looking in different directions with nothing to say to each other. It always is so sad to see.
We had thought we would go to Crustacean in Beverly Hills--we have eaten at their restaurant in San Francisco and love the roasted garlic crab and noodles but, after thinking it through, have decided to just stay in Santa Monica.
A friend suggested two restaurants, Valentino and Monsoon. They both look quite wonderful and I trust her judgment (she likes Crustacean, too) so that is what we will do the last two nights. Reservations are made and we're all set. Reading the menus is enough to make my mouth water all ready.
So--while child has evenings at embassies and dinner-dances on the Potomac, we'll be having our time too. A win-win.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
So now a month has passed and I am in what passes for normalcy; although Casey would tell you I am weird--and that that is normal. He thrives on having a weird gramma.
A recent aha moment came when I realized that I am comfortable here in my country in spite of my total infatuation with Italy.
Always in the past when we returned, adjustment was difficult as I so missed Italy and all that it offers. Eventually this longing led to the adventure of living there for twelve wonderful months. Returning to the US at that time was painfully difficult and traumatic as chronicled in entries from July, August and September 2007.
We have now had two more lazy summers there. We love those times and feel that we have arrived “home” when the plane lands. But this year we found the leaving a little less painful. Thoughts of home beckoned us—even Casey.
We know that we are just a plane ride away and that we will be back again and again. The sense of loss is lessened. Life here is just easier in many ways and this year I finally realize that I like that.
The wonderful roadways and byways displaying the beautiful scenery and landscape of Tuscany refreshes the soul but the ease of roadways and getting from here to there in San Diego is refreshing in its own way.
I love the little stores and shops in Italy where shop keepers are warm, friendly and delightfully helpful and food is always fresh but, I must admit, the frequency of large, get-whatever-you-need-in-one-place supermarkets has advantages. Yes, Italy has these in some places but for most people getting to them requires a considerable expenditure of time with the frozen things unfrozen by the time they reach home.
And…I love Costco where I can get all sorts of things—good new Tuscan olive oil, wonderful parmigiano-reggiano cheese from Parma, bufala mozzarella from Southern Italy, balsamic vinegar from Modena, fresh Dungeness crab from San Francisco, huge Alaskan crab legs, red-ripe tomatoes from Mexico and so much more. The biggest problem with Costco, as anyone knows, is that the “so much more” usually results in a huge deficit at the check-out stand. It is the ultimate venue for impulse buying but, then, what a deal.
I like my home here, for while it is in the city, it doesn’t seem like it. We have, by California standards, a large lot with pool, citrus trees, fountains and a fenced off area for a motor home (if we had one) which now houses Casey’s fort and bunches of other stuff—all in the midst of Ken’s gardening accomplishments.
I like my house—it is large and roomy with lots of storage. There is a park across the street.
I like that I have a church to attend—in fact a multitude of choices. When we lived in Italy, we would have our own little service, well—actually a Sunday School for Casey—each week. We are not Catholic and other denominations are few and far between—there was nothing near us. We believe in weekly attendance and very much want Casey to be grounded spiritually. This is the major reason we wouldn’t consider returning to Italy for another extended period—that and, unlike Casey, Ken and I have not been successful in learning the language. Living in another country without being fluent in the language is quite different from visiting, even when the visits are several weeks long.
I like going clothes shopping and finding clothes that fit. I know—Italy is the land of fashion and it’s everyone’s dream to fill back-home closets with fashions from bella Italia. The truth is that I have had minimal success finding clothes that I like and that fit while there. The reason? I am not sure.
I like the dollar rather than the euro. Now—that’s a no brainer. Not only is our currency exceedingly weak and so when you look at a €15 price tag, it is really $22, things in Italy (well, Europe in general) cost more than they do here even before the terrible conversion factor. A pair of Nikes that you might pay $100 for in the United States will cost close to $200 there. The three of us dining at a simple enoteca or trattoria approaches or exceeds $100. You use your credit card and so temporarily ignore the cost—until the bill comes the next month.
So, yes, the $ is better unless your currency is euro and you come here. Now, that’s a deal. People fly to New York just to shop the sales.
I like the visual stimulation in Casey’s classrooms and the diversity of teaching methods. I like that teachers put a premium on creative thought and development of personal opinion and justification of same. Casey had a wonderful third grade year in Italy and learned much. He grew and developed under the guidance of his teachers there; however, middle and high school is much different. Learning is very classical and didactic which is not negative and my friends’ children are brilliantly educated but the absence of nurturing critical thought is a negative in my mind. With that said, we may send Casey there for a year in high school at some point. As he is fluent in Italian and already has friends there, it might work well.
I like the ocean, the vast variety of culinary options, the richness of
I don’t like the bitterness of the far-right political crazies—the birthers, those who oppose providing health care to everyone, those who cry socialism at every instance as a means to stop progress, those who think it is OK to disrespect the President of their country, those who think ends can justify the means, those who find the shallowness of Palin to be attractive and beguiling, those who believe this country can run without taxes, those who do not want to fund schools, etc. I have little patience for these people but fear them. The hate that they spew can have only one conclusion if left unchecked and then the nation and we will suffer.
And...to complete on a positive note...I like the history I have with friends here. I have many friends in Italy but they are new and they are spread out. Here I have old--well, long time--people who know me well and I know them. We have shared families, joys and hurts over the years. They are comfort. I love (not said casually) my Italian friends and treasure them--there is no lack of caring among us. They have an understanding of me that my friends here do not have and I turn to them. But the history is not there.
With all this said, I still miss, love and will keep returning to Italy—a country and people that hold much of my heart. It is just that it isn’t so bad here, after all.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
But...I always hated getting up before the sun rose--primarily because this meant that I should go to bed earlier than I liked. Thus, out of sheer stubborness, I set 11 pm as bed time no matter how much sleep beckoned. It was a matter of determination--I was going to win, at all costs.
And so, when I was old enough to justify retirement, there were two factors which called me. One was I could sleep as late as I wanted in the mornings and two was that we could travel at will to anyplace, anywhere, at any time. There was such a sense of freedom as I envisioned finally calling my own shots in life.
...then, life does have a way of interfering with dreams. Our case is a fortunate one as while we lost those dreams we gained something special in return. Can't say that some of those "before" dreams do not still beckon and sound mighty good but their loss doesn't hurt or cause unhappiness. Life is good! I wouldn't trade the dream for the reality.
None of this is to say that I enjoyed the ear-splitting, less-than-harmonious jangle at my ear at 6:15 this morning. Time to get child up for school, make sure he had a good breakfast and an edible lunch, make time for morning prayer and devotion, double check the backpack for all that he would need for success (making sure Pokemon was not going to school with him) and..give plenty assurance that starting middle school was not to be feared but rather anticipated with great expectations--all followed by double doses of tight hugs.
Now that he is safely ensconced in school until 2:15, the reward for the 6:15 wake-up call is that Ken and I have almost 7 hours of freedom to do as we wish--come and go--not have our day regulated by child and his friends. This may not be the same as freedom to get up and go around the world at will, but for us, it surely is the next best thing or maybe the first best.
It is the day after Labor Day and school has once again started and once more takes charge of our lives--so we roll with this and look forward to the bird songs in the morning.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
I was so enjoying the laughter and play coming from the pool this afternoon as he and his friend made the most out of the last days of summer. It was so "all boy"--the stuff of storybooks until...
Ken asked "What's all over the floor?" I didn't know.
I looked and there on my new marble tile floor was this big brown oozing puddle seeping out of the freezer. Coke!? Yes, I remembered the boys had poured their coke at lunch from a two litter bottle.
Opening the refrigerator door, there was the bottle, lying on its side with a trail of coke running down the shelves, into the bins, over the edge, seeping down into the freezer. Upon opening the freezer, the coke exactly resembled ice cycles hanging from a roof in upper New York in winter.
We started cleaning and the more we cleaned the more coke leaked from cracks and crevices normally unseen. It just wouldn't stop. Frozen coke covered food, shelves, sides, all surfaces of the freezer. I have no doubt that months from now we will find frozen coke in the peas, pancetta and whatever else is hidden in there.
The refrigerator bins which of course are full of vegetables, fruit, cheese, meats were awash.
And the floor...........under the refrigerator, along the caulking, the drips kept coming. Tonight the ants will probably find the floor under the refrigerator and invite their armies to march.
Of course, the entire time we were dealing with this, the refrigerator doors stood open in an 86 degree kitchen and the boys continued their water play and fun, oblivious to the result of not putting a cap on tightly.
I will not share what I was thinking during this except to say that the thought of loaning him out for a while was very appealing. It's waning a little bit but a smidge of the thought remains. So....you may want to check it out before the offer closes. He is a charmer.......
Monday, August 24, 2009
Greve, like so many small Italian towns, remained changeless for many years. The same merchants, the same celebrations, the same habits and the same ways of doing things. But, this year, we saw many changes since we left last summer. Some had been in the works since we lived there--things move slowly--but were completed this winter--well almost.
A new piazza has been born with a different type of store and ambiance than the historical Piazza Matteotti which is the heart and soul of Greve, drawing visitors from around the world for years.
This new piazza, which is anchored by the Albergo Casa al Sole and lies across the street from one of our favorite places to eat, Enoteca FuoriPiazza, still has many empty shops but what is there now signals that changes are on the way for this sleepy town.
In back of this piazza and in back of the Coop is another new little place to eat. It has a small and attractive interior and outdoor tables on the patio that extends from the back of the Coop.
Along Via Vitttorio Veneto (SR 222/the Chiantigiana), there are new additions keeping company with the gelateria, shoe repair and other oldies.
The little wine museum in the Cantina below the Coop is no longer there. It has been moved to this new venue. The museum has a €5 entry fee.
Along Via Roma--the street that leads out of Piazza Matteotti--there are new shops along with the always there barbershop, laundry, small vegetable stores etc.
There have been a couple of changes in the established restaurants. Nerbone which is on Piazza Matteotti now has tables on the second floor veranda; however, it is not an extension of the restaurant below. Instead it is a place to sip a glass of wine and have some light refreshment. It's nice on a warm evening to sit there and watch whatever is happening in the piazza below.
Gallo Nero, which is on the corner leading into the Piazza, had been known for its pizza and its typical Tuscan menu. Over the winter, it completely revamped itself and now is rather upscale with rich red walls, white table clothes and fancy table settings. It specializes in grill meats. It no longer has pizza.
But, the biggest, most welcome change is this...........
In the winter months, how I would have liked to have had this available. Inside drying racks and clothes draping over the radiators became really old after a while.
So, this was Greve summer 2009. By 2010 there will be more changes--maybe even the new multi-level garage will be completed so that the piazza can go back to offering charm rather than serving as a parking lot. The new library will be completed which will be nice for the residents. If the economy improves there will be new stores in the new piazza and surely there will be more.
Greve-in-Chianti is on the move.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Now the amazing part. Last entry I mentioned that I bought some ceramiche in Florence a week ago--last Wednesday--just 6 days ago. It arrived today before I was even thinking about when it might get here. What a surprise when two large boxes were delivered early in the morning.
So, for those of you who wanted to see what caught my eye, here it is.
I am even more pleased with these pieces than I was when I saw them in the store in Florence. I know they are going to provide enjoyment over the years. Maybe I'll get more....
Friday, August 14, 2009
Note though—the absence of clothes, shoes and purses in the list. Impressive? Not really.
I found a wonderful little ceramiche shop (warning site plays music) Galleria Machiavelli in Firenze. So, I used whatever I might have spent on clothes for an exquisite bowl and a couple of other little things that are being shipped home, hopefully not to follow in the footsteps of last year’s table disaster.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of these delicious new things before leaving the store so will provide them later for those who care.
We leave our Italian home at 7:30 tomorrow morning to arrive at our California home at 10 pm tomorrow night--which will be 7 am here. Our flight doesn't leave until 10 o'clock but there is all that stuff that needs doing before boarding.
We fly from Florence to Frankfurt with a two hour layover there. Then on to San Francisco--11 hours and then a 3.5 hour layover before heading to San Diego. To say I envy people who live on the East Coast is an understatement! Now there is even a direct flight from Pisa to New York a couple times a week--paint me green!
Tonight our landlord is having a barbecue for the families--ours and theirs. There will be hamburgers for Casey who believes Alessandro makes the best hamburgers in the entire world; pork for Nicoletta and me and who knows what else--maybe salmon as Camilla and Alessandro like that.
I just returned from the gelateria with 1.5 kg of stracciatella, fragola, limone and cocco which will be the dulce. And, of course, since we live on a vineyard, there will be excellent Chianti or maybe a Super Tuscan. So we will end our stay as we began, but this time it is a farewell dinner poolside rather than the welcome home meal which greeted us when we arrived.
Marcella the owner and chef of our favorite restaurant in the piazza, Il Portico, knows that Casey loves lasagna and had promised him that she would make it for him this year. Yesterday she sent word that today at lunch was the day.
It is so hot here now that this was a really specially nice thing to do for Casey. Of course, it was then on the menu for other diners. And..I must say, Marcella's lasagna is by far the best I have ever had. So, when you are in Greve, check and see what's on the menu.
This is Bruno whom you have met before. He has the gastronomia next to the forno on the piazza. He is Marcella's husband.
As far as next year, we just aren't sure what that will bring. We may skip a year here and show Casey some of his own country for a change. This is a difficult decision, for sure.
Right now, I'm going to go down and watch the children in the pool one last time. It is sheer pleasure.
Friday, August 07, 2009
Long ago I read a comment from a woman whose husband periodically expressed frustration about comments she made while he drove. Her response was that she viewed her responsibility in the partnership as being to keep them alive. That resonated totally with me.
I wonder if Ken and I are the norm or unusual. Is his behind the wheel behavior male typical? It definitely is not behavior shared with female drivers--for sure.
In our car, Ken is the sightseer as his neck swivels 180 degrees to get a better view of whatever is on the hill (a cow, windmill, snow-capped mountains, who knows?)—all the while he is driving. Clearly the division of responsibility calls for me to keep eyes on the road--the car in front, the bend, the oblivious to traffic pedestrian or bicyclist, red lights, the car next to us which decides to change lanes as we are side-by-side and anything else that comes into the line of vision.
If you are thinking that this is paranoid exaggeration, I should tell you that Casey often sits petrified in the back seat, telling papa to keep his eyes on the road. Of course, he also tells papa when he is surpassing the speed limit, when he needs to shift or if he hasn’t slowed enough for speed bumps. At eleven he’s ready for his license—without ever having sat behind the wheel. But, I suspect when the time comes, he may emulate his papa--his role model.
Who keeps eyes on the road in your car? The person with foot on the pedal and hands on the wheel or the hapless person next to him?
Friday, July 31, 2009
If one were Casey, there wouldn't, couldn't have been a more idyllic week--nothing to do but swim, play, eat gelato, laugh and just be a kid out of school from morning until late, falling into dream land when the head hit the pillow--only to start up again in ten hours. What more can summer offer?
Now me---well, I played some along with other unique and mindless experiences. Since I am told that it is healthy to laugh at oneself and even more fun to have people laugh with you, I share a couple highlights.
1. I have lived many years and so it is difficult to find new experiences. But sometimes one descends uninvited and shockingly unexpectedly. This was true Sunday night when in a sound, surely dream filled, sleep...I levitated from the bed to the floor. On the way down--which must have taken at least a second or two as it was a long way--I hit my head twice on the marble corner of the night stand. Upon landing my body somehow contorted itself into a figure 8 pretzel. I'm not sure that I consciously awoke until meeting the floor. It all took place so quickly that it was almost over before it started. It took a while before I could minimally wrap my mind around what happened.
The rest of the night I slept restlessly wondering if I needed to go to the hospital for a head x-ray. Each time I woke up, my thought was "Oh, good, I'm here." Sunrise was a good sign. I still have the bumps and twitches, but am quite fine. Of course, I only sleep in the middle of the bed now--poor Ken.
The final event in this saga was the e-mail from my son, from whom I bizarrely expected sympathy. His message back was something to the effect that perhaps we should invest in the bungee cord market. Gotta love him.
2. Fortunately Tuesday brought another new experience that in quite timely fashion followed Sunday's fiasco. I had never been to an Italian spa and decided that this year would be a good time to try it. So, my friend Rita who lives in Chiocchio, right over the hill from Greve, and I decided to treat ourselves to a girl's day at the spa.
Rita had done this before so she made the arrangements and suggestions as to which treatments, beside the thermal pool, we should have. My job was to drive us about an hour or so away to the Grotta Giusti Spa in Monsummano Terme.
We had decided on a massage, of course, a mud bath treatment (I have always been curious about just what this was) and an inhalation treatment.
My body loves massages and so that was good; however, the most I can say about the mud bath is that I now know that once is enough. In my visions, you actually laid down in mud and settled in. I was pleased to find that really it is a bed of squishy, hot mud that is covered with a malleable piece of plastic so that the effect of being in mud is there but you stay clean! After I sank into this squish, the attendent covered my arms, legs and torso with heavy, mud-filled plastic oblong balloon type things. By this time, I was hot and wondering what I had gotten myself into. The mud is 47º (117º) and I was to be left there for 15 minutes.
After about 4 minutes, I began to melt and developed a frightening sense of claustrophobia in the little cubicle where I was imprisoned. After about 8 minutes, I began to think about Dante and hell and that the mud bath must be a forerunner to an eternity spent in the depths. Needless to say, it was a joyous moment when the attendant returned and freed me.
The next phase, though, wasn't a whole lot better--other than it was not hot. Given what looked like a white stiff heavy cotton version of a monk's robe and cowl, which was donned over the head, we waddled along until we found our way to the hydromassage area. Here we took the monk's outfit off, fortunately, we had bathing suits under them. A male attendant then took each of us (one by one) into a shower and while he stood behind a waist high wall, hosed us down with the equivalent of a fire hose--front and back, during which time we stood under a shower. This was very weird.
Finally, being hosed off, cleaned and bedraggled, we went to the inhalation room. There we spent 14 minutes with mouths wide open breathing in steam. If we didn't have our mouths wide enough, the stern matron would stride over and tell us to open wider. Following this was another 14 minutes with tubes up the nose, breathing through them was to help with nose, throat and ear obstructions or something like that. Sadly, we have no pictures of any of this---sorry!
At this point, both Rita and I were ready to return to the relaxation of the pool and spas and simply soak and relax before starting the journey home. We laughed and had a good time and I would do it all again with a friend. It is the companionship that makes it a day worth having--and, maybe, too, the massage. Thanks, Rita for going with me!
And.. there was more to the week. Lunch with Art and Barb and Judith in Deruta and more. But, this is too long now so will tell the rest another time.
Sunday Ken and I go to Piemonte for 5 days without child. It will be nice to be empty nesters for a few days--but, bet, we end up missing him!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Three years ago--minus 6 days--we began the adventure of calling Fattoria Viticcio in Greve-in-Chianti our home for a year. It was a quite glorious and wonderful year for all of us.
Casey met the challenge of attending the local elementary school and did well learning in a very different language. He loved the freedom of roaming and exploring the vineyards and hills; he loved playing in the piazza with friends as we finished our after dinner caffé; he loved Italy and began to think of himself as Italian. Above all, he formed an unbreakable bond with Camilla, the daughter of our landlord. These two children built memories usually found in story books--memories of idle summer days where there are no cares and the freedom just to be.
So, each year we return to the vineyard on the hill in lovely Tuscany. And each year I wonder what will happen when these two get together again--will there be an awkwardness stemming from new maturities or will they seamlessly begin where they left off the year before. And each year they prove that for them time collapses and yesterday was just the day before. It is a joy to watch such innocent friendship.
As far as Ken and I, we are doing what we do well--mostly not much. Yesterday mirrored so many of the days we had here--the days we treasure and enjoyed so much. We wandered roads with a destination in mind but soon forgotten when a different road beckoned to us. We found ourselves in Castelnovo Berendenga, which took just a short time to stroll through--not very much there to see or do. But, stopping in the tourist office, we found that San Felice vineyards and winery were quite close.
For many the highlight of visiting Tuscany is visiting wineries and tasting; however, for whatever reason, that just isn't us. But, liking San Felice wines and since it was time for lunch, we decided to go there, have lunch and then visit the enoteca and buy a couple bottles of wine. Which is just what we did.
The property is beautiful--an ancient borgo that has been transformed into a very elegant resort, and buying wines there is much less expensive than buying elsewhere. But, lunch was a major disappointment--costly and quite mediocre, unlike their wines. So, if you go, take time to explore the property, buy some wine and then eat elsewhere.
It is as beautiful as ever here--the views from each window have not changed, the skies are as blue and the clouds as white as always, the tree outside our door has donned its summer foliage and provides shade below, the sparrow nests are full and the rhythm of life continues as it was last year and the year before. It's nice to be here again.
Last night we went to dinner in the piazza--Alessandro, Nicoletta, Camilla and us. It was a good evening of conversation and laughter. As expected, the children finished before the adults and so left to roam the piazza while the "big" people finished up with caffe.
The day we arrived, Signora Franca, Alessandro's mother, made Casey's favorite dish--her lasagna and we ate outside by the pool. It was as if we were having a family reunion which, I guess, in some ways is just what it was. Gifts were exchanged with more rounds of hugs.
Now we have more days to laze and explore. Casey is going away to a camp in the mountains for 5 days with Camilla and Nicoletta and so Ken and I have an unexpected few days to do something by ourselves-kind of nice. After discarding Venice, Puglia and Rome, we decided to return to Piemonte. We have not had much time in that area of Italy and have always wanted to return. Fortunately, we were able to make reservations at a highly recommended Villa B and B--Villa Sampaguita. We are looking forward to leisurely drives, good food and visiting friends in Acqui Terme.
There is more planned--a spa day with friend Rita, lunch with friends in Umbria, a day in Florence with friends of ours and Casey's, meeting the parents of Casey's Italian tutor in San Diego, dinners with Valentina and Ricardo, Casey's tutor when we were here and other possibilities not yet confirmed. So...our few days here will be busy and full and August 15 is destined to come much too soon.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
How can anyone resist the charm in this?
Because we have been here so many times, we now have the luxury of just kicking back and relaxing. We've been here since Saturday and have yet to hit the hill of Montepulciano. Tomorrow we will go as Ken needs a new wallet--to replace the one so expertly taken from his pocket in Nice. Maybe lunch at Aquachetta.
We have spent the bulk of our time sitting around the pool or other places on the property--soaking in the exquisite views of the Southern Tuscany landscape.
This is where we spend a lot of our time. Right outside the door to our apartment. It is quite heavenly.
Last night we went to a small little castle borgo--Monticchiello. We have always made a pilgrimage to a restaurant there called La Porta. It has very special memories for us. But, last night we decided to try Tarverna di Moranda which has been highly recommended by friends.
We were very pleased that we went there as the food was outstanding. I had carpaccio from the best beef in Italy--the white Chianina cattle--which is the best I have ever tasted. Following that I had grilled porcini mushrooms--so, so yummy.
Sadly we were the only clients there. As we talked with the owner, we learned that business is very, very down this year. We discovered that again today when we were in Montisi and in San Quirico where we had lunch yesterday at Ristorante Al Vecchi Forno
Business is in trouble all over Italy and Europe. The world wide economy is wrecking havoc on the small businesses--which is the norm here. Today we traveled to Montisi--maybe 20 minutes from Sant Antonio. A friend uses this little village as homebase for her tours so we wanted to explore it.
By the time we lazily made our way there, it was a ghost town as all was closed until later in the day. But, it is a charming village where one can really feel the Italia of the past--which wasn't always so charming as it is today.
We had lunch at a totally delightful taverna that I now truly recommend. da Roberto-Taverna Montisi. Roberto is a gentleman of the old order, fluent in English, loves what he does and takes great pride in the quality of what he offers. His guest book is rife with glowing testimonials both to the food and the man. Much of his food is grown right there on his property. Be sure to scroll down to the English version to read of Roberto's food philosophy. It will hook you.
We had a conversation with him about the current state of tourism and its affect on business. Simply stated--it is bad--down anywhere from 30 - 50%. Roberto predicts that many places will go out of business as they won't be able to survive until the world economy upturns. It is really concerning to both the local economy and people and to those of us who enjoy traveling.
Here's a quick slide presentation of Montisi and the Taverna.
There are many small villages such as Montisi here in Southern Tuscany--each offering delightful days spent in exploration and discovery.