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, September 27, 2009

A Treat Is Coming

Sometimes I know that I could succumb to the insidiousness of self-pity. So far I've been lucky because as it lurks in the background and works to wiggle its way into who I am, I catch it and say "no way." I know that such is the road to dissatisfaction and waste of life--things for which I have no time. I prefer sunshine and green valleys.

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

A Month Later

A month ago today, I was tired, cranky, dazed and horribly incoherent. Having survived the trip home from Italy, I wondered if I would see normalcy again in my lifetime. By day two I thought I was fine, but when the end of the week came and I was still dealing with a frustrating tiredness, it hit me that I am getting older and adjustment takes longer. I just hate these reminders. If I can maintain denial I'm happy.

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 California in terms of desert, mountains, farm lands, forests and lakes. I like that we have a young and vibrant president. I like that I have friends in many, many of our 50 states. There is much I like here.

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

The Day After Labor Day

In much of California, school has always started the day after Labor Day and for most of my life this was the day I looked forward to with dread and anticipation. I missed the campus and the kids. The new year always blossomed so brightly, held so much potential--whether my vantage point was as a student, a teacher or an administrator.

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

Quick--An 11 Year Old on Loan

Today was one of those days-- if you would like an eleven year old for a few days, I have a loaner, postage paid. He's charming, handsome, funny and smart--well, not always..........

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.......