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.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Test 2 for Marta...using photos directly from the iPad

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Photo trial

Ignore this post. I am testing posting pictures via Blog Press for a friend.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Self Talk--How Useful Is It?

I haven't spent much time in life talking to myself. Such moments have pretty much been confined to self-recrimination when I've done something monumentally idiotic or when someone else has--like the driver in front of me. Of course, then, I am talking to him but he doesn't hear me. How could he with the mobile stuck to his ear?

Lately, though, I find myself in one way conversations much of the time. Not that I realize it right away. In fact, it may be hours before I make the discovery. It's the 12 year old in the house syndrome which I am becoming reacquainted with after a 28 year hiatus. How could I have so completely forgotten those days? Willingly, I think.

These dialogues go something like this....Casey, you need to pick up all that stuff from the floor....Yes, you can do it while you watch TV but make sure you get it done. (My mistake, I know.) Not until bedtime when I go back to that part of the house, do I discover that the only thing he heard was...you can watch TV.

Did I imagine the earlier conversation? Well, in a way, yes....it wasn't a conversation, was it?

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Giorgios Tuscan Lasagna

On the food thread on Slow Travel, I mentioned that I was making "Tuscan" lasagna which prompted the question "what is Tuscan lasagna?" Having mentioned that it uses a bechamel rather than a ragu type sauce and leaves out the ricotta cheese, more questions ensued. So....it just seemed easier to post the recipe which is from Group Recipes. We like it.

Word to the wise: unless you are a large family or need it for a potluck type affair, you may want to think of halving the recipe.

1 lb ground sausage
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 lg white onion-chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
4 celery stocks--chopped
4 garlic cloves-chopped or pressed
1 small can tomato paste
l cube chicken boullion
1 cube beef boullion
1 can chicken broth
½ cup red wine
olive oil
2 cups cheese--shredded parmigiano and mozarella
2 cups shredded mozzzarella
pre-cooked lasagna pasta (or regular lasagna)
cooking spray

  • saute vegetables in olive oil until soft and golden (use a pan big enough to hold the meat.)
  • add meats and saute until well cooked
  • add red wine and reduce
  • add tomato paste--mix well
  • add chicken broth and bouillon cubes
  • bring to a boil--if needed add water to cover
  • simmer at least one hour until broth has been reduced
Make BECHAMEL SAUCE while meat sauce simmers.

1.5 sticks butter
1 qt milk
salt and pepper to taste
  • melt butter completely
  • add flour until all butter is absorbed (about 6 tbs.
  • slowly add milk 
  • stir until smooth and silky--thickened but not too thick
  • spray baking dish with cooking spray
  • layer of meat sauce
  • layer of bechamel sauce
  • layer of mixed cheeses
  • repeat layers
  • finish with layer of  mozzarella and bechamel on top
Cover with foil and bake at 375° for an hour
Remove foil and brown the top layer under the broiler
Let rest for at least 10 minutes.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Italy on the Horizon-Yeah!

Two years? Not possible! My mind, in vivid colors, conjures up familiar places, friends' faces, favorite tables at favorite trattorias, slopes of green vines, piazzas, art extraordinaire, lagoons, Giotto--so many imprints from so many visits, so much nostalgia for our Tuscan year. And now we are returning after a year's hiatus--how could we have stayed away so long? Ah, I remember, Kenya called and so lions and giraffes replaced David and Leonardo for 2010. And.....I don't regret that excursion at all--it was totally, monumentally spectacular.

But now we go home in 27 days--whose counting, anyway? Casey and I leave on June 15 via United and Lufthansa--San Diego, Chicago, Frankfurt-Rome; Ken follows the next day via United with a by far better routing--San Diego-D.C.-Rome. Why? Because Casey and I used miles for business while Ken has a revenue fare with a business upgrade. He needed the last few ff miles to reach the heady 1,000,000 mile with nice life-time perks. It would have been good to get our free tickets to match his itinerary but no such luck and since free is free we took what we could get.

Casey and I will stay at the Luana B&B near the Rome Airport waiting Ken's arrival the next day and then head on to our most favorite of all places, beautiful and serene Sant' Antonio outside of Montepulciano. This year will mark 10 years since we first arrived at Sant' Antonio and began our friendship with the owners Nico and Elena. Casey and their children have grown up together. We came there days after 9/11/2001 when the world was in mourning with the US. It was a somber time which forged lasting friendships wherever you were.

We love southern Tuscany and have explored it well over the years but..there are always places missed and those to revisit. We will do both during our week there.

Casey, Sofia and Filippo will again renew their friendship as children do while Ken and I will enjoy time with Nico and Elena. As I write, I long to be there.

From Sant' Antonio we go to Verona for just two nights. We want Casey to see the opera Aida in the Roman Arena there--well, we want to see it, too, actually. The opera season there is world famous and a truly special operatic event. We bought our tickets a long time ago. I understand that the spectacle includes elephants entering down the aisles which will surely captivate Casey if the arias don't. Aida Pictures from the 2009 Season

From Verona, train to Venice-- La Serenissima (the most serene.) We have an apartment there for 6 nights--not long enough but better than our original 3 nights. We've been there before--once just Ken and I in 1999 and then in 2003 with Casey. His memories consist of the pigeons in Piazza San Marco and the gondola ride when he oh so politely told the gondolier "these boats are called canoes in San Diego."

I am totally looking forward to these days in Venice. It is magical there--even with the early summer crowds. I love wandering lost among the calles and canals, admiring the creative vision and genius of building such magnificent structures on water, the food, the Tintoretto and Titian masterpieces, the riding the vaporetto, visiting the islands and the food, again. There is so much we have not seen there that our days will be full.

We pick up our car on leaving Venice, drive to Padua to view the exquisite Giotto frescoes in the Cappella degli Scrovegni. The next morning we will head on to our "home" in Greve-in-Chianti where we will nest for 4 weeks. We already know the first or maybe the second night will find us at Il Portico with Marcella.

Once again Casey will have his birthday there--the 4th time. He will officially  become a teenager then--13! Very hard to believe that the little boy who went to 3rd grade there is now almost a grown-up. His teachers and karate instructors will be very surprised by how big he is and by the excellence of his Italian. His tutors here have done a good job with him.

I will take a 3 day vacation-in-a-vacation to Dublin with my friend Rita. Having never been to Ireland, I look forward to this brief, small sampling. Rita has been there so she will be my guru--nice.

While in Greve, the three of us will head to Umbria for 3 nights and take a cooking class from a friend of mine. I will be sure to blog about Rebecca's place where we will stay and Letizia's cooking class. I think this is going to be a blast.

So that is the outline of our plans. The details will be filled in once we arrive and I begin blogging again on a fairly regular basis. It is so much easier when doing something new and different--not like boring at home stuff.

A Presto

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Stealing from Jerry

I have a friend in Canada who was a teacher and now works for the teachers association. As anyone knows who has been an educator, those in his current profession are there because of a commitment to kids, teachers, education and tomorrow's future.

Jerry recently had a blog post about education in the United States that needs to be shared and circulated. I've never done this before--reposted someone else--but am compelled to this time. The letter he includes in his post is heartbreaking and true throughout our country--not just reflected in the classroom of the teacher who wrote it.

From Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants

A Teacher's Letter to President Obama


I had the pleasure of listening to Diane Ravitch speak to a large group of Ontario educators tonight. Diane is an American education historian - a former supporter of charter schools, standardization, and school choice - who has come to recognize that these movements are hurting students, harming the teaching profession, and destroying public education. Although she is of an age when many are wanting to put up their feet and relax, Diane is using her anger to travel the country telling any and all who will listen what is wrong with the pervasive education reform movement in the US.
Her stories were chilling.
One of the teachers that she wrote about was this teacher from California who wrote this letter to President Obama:

A Letter to My President - The One I Voted For

February 1, 2011

Dear President Obama:

I mean this with all respect. I’m on my knees here, and there’s a knife in my back, and the prints on it kinda match yours. I think you don’t get it.

Your Race to the Top is killing the wrong guys. You’re hitting the good guys with friendly fire. I’m teaching in a barrio in California. I had 32 kids in my class last year. I love them to tears. They’re 5th graders. That means they’re 10 years old, mostly. Six of them were 11 because they were retained. Five more were in special education, and two more should have been. I stopped using the word “parents” with my kids because so many of them don’t have them. Amanda’s mom died in October. She lives with her 30-year-old brother. (A thousand blessings on him.) Seven kids live with their “Grams,” six with their dads. A few rotate between parents. So “parents” is out as a descriptor.

Here’s the kicker: Fifty percent of my students have set foot in a jail or prison to visit a family member.

Do you and your secretary of education, Arne Duncan, understand the significance of that? I’m afraid not. It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty. We don’t teach in failing schools. We teach in failing communities. It’s called the ZIP Code Quandary. If the kids live in a wealthy ZIP code, they have high scores; if they live in a ZIP code that’s entombed with poverty, guess how they do?

We also have massive teacher turnover at my school. Now, we have no money. We haven’t had an art or music teacher in 10 years. We have a nurse twice a week. And because of the No Child Left Behind Act, struggling public schools like mine are held to impossible standards and punished brutally when they don’t meet them. Did you know that 100 percent of our students have to be on grade level, or else we could face oversight by an outside agency? That’s like saying you have to achieve 100 percent of your policy objectives every year.

It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty.

You lived in Indonesia, so you know what conditions are like in the rest of the world. President Obama, I swear that conditions in my school are akin to those in the third world. We had a test when I taught in the Peace Corps. We had to describe a glass filled to the middle. (We were supposed to say it was half full.) Too many of my kids don’t even have the glass!

Next, gangs. Gangs eat my kids, their parents, and the neighborhood. One of my former students stuffed an AK47 down his pants at a local bank and was shot dead by the police. Another one of my favorites has been incarcerated since he was 13. He’ll be 27 in November. I’ve been writing to him for 10 years and visiting him in the maximum-security section of Salinas Valley State Prison.

Do you get that it’s tough here? Charter schools and voucher schools aren’t the solution. They are an excuse not to fix the real issues. You promised us so much. And you want to give us merit pay? Anyway, I think we really need to talk. Oh, and can you pull the knife out while you’re standing behind me? It really hurts.

Sincerely yours,

Paul Karrer
Fifth grade teacher at Castroville Elementary School
North Monterey County, CA

There is nothing more fundamental to our society than public education. It is the greatest hope that all students have for a better future. Diane rightly recognizes that the US doesn't have failing schools, rather they have a severe poverty issue. Until steps are taken to ease that no reform on earth will 'reform schools'.

It's time to stop blaming hard working teachers for the poverty and inequality in society that holds children back from reaching their potential.

Thank you Jerry for writing this.