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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Life Threw a Curve

Fortunately not a serious one in terms of life upsets and problems--more of a frustrating annoyance one would say.

I think somewhere back in time I mentioned that we were going to Morocco for ten days before heading into Italy for several weeks--of course we end up there as Casey needs to see his friends and we need to, too.

The trip to Morocco has been planned for months and eagerly anticipated as friends of ours who live in Nice, the man is from Morocco, were going to show us the country through the eyes of a native. His family still lives there and we would have visited them in their homes. And...Casey eagerly told everyone that he was going to ride a camel and even practiced making camel noises.

So it was a great disappointment when two days ago we received an e-mail from our friends saying that circumstances made it necessary to change their plans. And, because they were going to make all the arrangements including visits with their family, we had not made any of our normal intensive preparations.

Now we needed to make plans in a hurry as we leave a month from yesterday. We have 11 days to play with before we are scheduled for our yearly visit to Sant Antonio in Montepulciano and then on to our "home away from home" in Greve in Chianti.

In a matter of hours we played around with several scenarios--ferrying to Corsica, flying to Puglia, the Amalfi Coast, Ireland and Provence. Fairly quickly we narrowed our options to Corsica and Provence. Both were intriguing and answered two of the quirks we were dealing with--too much luggage for small airlines and not wanting to spend a lot of time traveling.

After quick questions on the France forum of the Slow Travel website, several people shared good information on both Corsica and Provence. Eventually, within hours of coming to grips with this dilemma, we charted our course and began making plans for Provence. Locating desireable places to stay that are not already booked--not an easy challenge. Within a few hours, I had possibilities identified and began the e-mailing.

Now we have booked at a highly recommended B and B which miraculously had 3 nights available and it was in the room for three people Le Mas Perréal. I have known of this place for several years and always thought...Someday. I felt that I had hit the jackpot when Kevin, the owner, e-mailed me back right away with the good news. My Someday had unexpectedly arrived.

This morning I had more good news from La Bastide du Paradou in Moustiers. They had availability for the next three nights. From there we will head back to Nice and into Italy. La Bastide looks to be very lovely and has excellent reviews. Kevin and other friends say the village is charming and picturesque--just what I like.

There is still a little problem remaining--the two days between Nice and before Kevin's. I tried several places that were recommended but to no avail--all booked. So I'm trying for Le Calendal in Arles which seems a really good spot for us. Hopefully, by tomorrow they will say "oui" and we will be set.

Amazing that this has been able to be completed so quickly. I wonder if it is because tourism is down in this disastrous world economic climate. I am sure that is so.

The lesson learned is that plans change and rather than let panic set in--shake it off and move on. What a great way to approach much of life!

And then finally, we'll stop in Bologna for the night on the way to Tuscany and have a wonderfully fantastic meal in one of the world's culinary capitols. Yeah!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Touch of Homesickness

Today I was missing Italy. Then I saw these beauties that now grace my counter.

They are lovely.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gramma, I'm Scared

Sunday night was earthquake time here in Southern California. I didn't feel it. Ken thought he did. Casey did. It awoke him and brought him scurrying down the stairs. He was scared, of course.

Ken took him back to his bed, told him that he would be OK, that he didn't need to be frightened, tucked the covers in and came back down. We figured that was it--the moment was over--all was well. We were wrong. We forgot what being ten is like when fear shows up.

An hour and a half later, at 10:30, Casey was back down. He hadn't been able to sleep as he had been laying in bed awaiting the disaster to come.

This was not good as he had very little sleep over the weekend. Friday he had gone to the Padre game with the church youth group and didn't get home until 11:30--seems the win was celebrated with fireworks. Then, Saturday night there was a camp out at the Little League field and some very wonderful friends who knew Ken and I weren't going invited Casey to go with them. How could we say no to this opportunity for fun?

Casey does not function without sleep and by Sunday night he had gone all weekend with virtually none. Knowing that he had school in the morning with a math test the very first thing, I was not happy that he was still awake and so failed to be sympathetic with his fears. My one concession was to take him back up the stairs and let him go to sleep in our bed--which he did immediately. When you are ten, there is comfort being in gramma and papa's big bed. It is almost like having arms around you.

Later in the night, as he was back in his bed and I was ready for sleep in mine, I thought about his fears and finally understood. The only earthquakes he has known are the ones on TV--China and Italy. He has seen buildings collapse and towns virtually disappear. He has heard the reports of thousands dead and has seen hundreds of caskets stretched out, covered with flowers and tears. No wonder he was scared out of sleep.

Suddenly, I wanted to wake him up and hold him and comfort him and tell him I understood. But, of course, I didn't as he needed to sleep.

We let him sleep in the morning and took him to school late. I had the chance to talk with him about his fears and explain that in Southern California there are building codes and what he has seen won't happen here--that he doesn't need to be so afraid and, most of all, that we are here to take care of him and keep him safe and hold him.

I had been right about his fears. All he could visualize and relate to was L'Aquila--in his beloved Italy. No wonder he could not sleep and needed not to be alone in bed. Next time I will be wiser.

And...he got 100% on his test--the only one in class to do so. Maybe going to school late has its bonus?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Abyss of Remodel Pergatory

If anyone has wondered where I've been and why it is been longer than usual between posts and why comments have not been answered--just chalk it up to the boggled mental state that accompanies a house full of carpenters, painters, plumbers, tilers, electricians, granite men, fireplace installers, wall finishers, contractor and whomever else wandered in and out over the last few weeks. I'm half inclined to believe that some never really belonged here and just came in for the entertainment. In the midst of this we had tree surgeons cutting way back my lovely, huge eucalyptus tree that shaded our bedroom and provided privacy from the lookie-loos on the hill above. The fact that it was a fire danger to us and our neighbors seemed secondary to its more important purposes.

My friends served as continuous sources of encouragement through out this process--explaining that when it was all over, I would be glad for the stamina it took to see it through. And....they, of course, were right. I love the results and the memory is almost gone.

Of course, there are a few remaining odds and ends--such as the missing decorative piece to the fireplace and a few missed places for grouting. But all that will be fixed. One of the new power flush toilets that works on 1.28 gallons of water per flush is taking two flushes so that isn't good. Guess I will need to push for a replacement there. But...it does have an automatically closing lid which is nice and, of course, necessary.

So what did we do?

Changed out tile counter tops for granite; redid the tile floor with beautiful marble tiles, removed wall-paper and painted the walls--love it, plus odds and ends.

Family Room:
Same marble tile floors, removed wall paper and painted the walls; depopcorned the ceiling; replaced wood burning fireplace with gas fireplace (works with remote control so just sit back, push the button and voila! instant fire and heat); had built beautiful cherry cabinets next to fireplace; surrounded fireplace with granite, installed recessed lighting and installed a 46" HDTV above the fireplace. What is really nice is that all the components are inside the cabinets and have infrared something or others which allow them to be activated through the wood doors.

Conversation Area in Living Room:
Marble tiled the floor (was carpeted)

Guest Bathroom:
Used left over granite for counter tops; denuded the wall papered walls and painted them; same marble floor as other rooms; new sink and hardware and the new low-flush toilet--this one is not the one that doesn't work.

Marble flooring

And that's it folks!

Now--you can be entertained by watching the before, during and after slide show. At the end I threw in some backyard pictures for a fine group of people who will be here next March joining a big Slow Travel Get-Together. Sort of a little preview of things to come.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hopeful Signs

Many years ago, before children, we were active in the civil rights struggles of the 60's and early 70's. For us these memories lie just around the last past corner--still fresh in memories. Monumental moments and experiences seem not to lose freshness as time moves on. Some things just seem telescoped in time.

Living in Orange County, California in those days meant that the ultra-conservative, racist John Birch Society and the latent Ku Klus Klan were powerful influences in many civic affairs and political foci of the day. People of color other than provable white were not welcomed. Prejudices and thought of racial superiority were rampant. Crosses were burned in lawns and painted on garages.

Such thoughts and actions were abhorrent to us, leading us to become involved in activities designed to open doors and break barriers. One of the activities which we were particularly committed to and involved in was the concept of Open Housing--where all people are welcome into housing and communities regardless of racial and ethnic identity.

Our first adventure began by meeting with an African-American couple to learn what their experiences had been as they sought housing in the area to which they had just relocated. They were engineers with impressive credentials from prestigious schools. Their company had transferred them to Southern California.

As we talked, they shared their frustrations as apartment manager after manager claimed that advertised units were no longer available. Not for a minute did they or we believe that this was true. The message was clear--people of color were not acceptable neighbors in Orange County. We clearly were living in a defined and carefully maintained segregated area of the country.

We joined a cadre of people who worked together to make change. The routine was that a family seeking a place to live would approach a rental office which advertised available apartments. If they were turned down--which was almost always the case--we would immediately go to that office and inquire about renting.

If we were told that there were available apartments, we would leave and shortly return with the people who had been rejected. Together we would face down the manager. Sometimes this worked and the apartment miraculously was ready and waiting, but, more often the confrontation opened the way to filing complaints with appropriate government authorities. Eventually such efforts resulted in Fair Housing Laws with substantial penalties for discriminatory housing practices.

I was reminded of these days in the past when I read this article last week--Voices Reflect Rising Sense of Racial Optimism. Is it possible that changes are happening outside those that come from the hammer of law? Can the presence of President Obama make a difference in how people see each other? It's a lot to hope for and we must wait to see if this is so. But..we can hope and pray.