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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Verona and the Opera

Well, if you are on Facebook, you know now that Verona was a bust. Romeo and Juliet is a Shakesperean fantasy and Casey hated the opera! Why else go to Verona? Well, there was good food and Piazza Bra fascinated the twelve year old. Why would you name a piazza after women's underwear?

In a delusional state, I had thought that Aida, performed in the ancient Roman amphitheater, with all of its spectacular aspects--live animals, tomb deaths, armies, dancing, sphinx and other accouterments of Egypt (where we will be in December) would be enough to offset the arias but, it just didn't work out that way. Now I wonder why I thought it would.

To begin with, the opera did not begin until 9:15 when Casey was already ready for pillow time. Then, with intermissions, it was not to be over until 1:00 am.

Some time during Act 3, Casey informed me that "this is the most boring thing I have ever done." So, hearing the plantiff notes in his voice, when the lights next went up, Ken took Casey back to the hotel and I stayed on. So much for that cultural experience. Suggestions on what to try next?

R and J is a full-time business in Verona, though. Everyone crowds into the little viale where Juliet's "Romeo, Romeo...." balcony projects. For some reason beyond my understanding, people jostle their way forward to get a picture cupping a hand on the breast of Juliet's statue.

And....right there is the Romeo and Juliet shop where you can get red or white or pink or any combination thereof Juliet and Romeo embroidered pillows, towels, etc. with which to decorate your home, back home. (We bought several in contrasting color motifs.)

There was one momentous event to be shared about Verona...Casey finally became a true Italian male. Can you see in this picture why this is

We did enjoy wandering the streets and the fortress and had two very good meals there--at Osteria da Ugo and at Risotanti Greppia.

Coming up....Mystical, magical Venice

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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Kids of Sant' Antonio

Casey started coming to Sant' Antonio in 2003 Italy 2003 when he was not yet 5 years old. Sofia was not yet 4 and Filippo had just been born. He returned in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and now in 2011. As with Greve-in-Chianti, Sant' Antonio, outside of Montepulciano, resides in his soul. And Sofia and Filippo are and will always be friends of his childhood.

Today it was fun to watch them together in our apartment as they flipped through our pictures of Kenya. All three of them were on safari in Kenya within the last year and so it was fun for them to share memories and return through pictures--love the iPad!

YouTube Video

Of course, Caio needed to be a part of the action--more or less.

Today will be their last day together until next time but.....Nico is now hinting about bringing the famly to San Diego in January. That would be so cool! Scratch will love Caio.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Drive--A Lunch--A Garden--A Dinner

Well, the title pretty much sums up our day--lazy, lovely, delightful.

We have never driven over to Abbadia San Salvatore or the base of Mount Amiata--even though this is the first year of the second decade of our coming here to Sant'Antonio. So today seemed like a nice day to do just that--

It is an easy drive and the road up Mount Amiata is beautifully serene with tall trees and shrines hidden away in the shadows. There was a particularly lovely one I wish I had captured so I could share it here. But wishes don't bring much.

In A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany we had read of a promising restaurant, Ristoranti Anna, down the road from Abbadia San Salvatore in Piancastagnaio .. so we went in search of it. We did find it and were rewarded with an excellent lunch after working our way through the spoken menu. I had wonderful spinach/ricotta ravioli smoothered in arugala, little tomatoes and shaved cheese--yum!

On our way back, we went on Casey's favorite field trip--the gardens of La Foce. Most people who come here make this a must see on their first visit but it has taken us 11 years. We had been to La Foce but not the gardens which are only open on Wednesday afternoons. The history of this villa and its gardens goes back centuries but the most fascinating for us is the war years. In spite of what I said, this was not a favorite Casey experience. but, he did handle it with grace.

The day ended with the Sant' Antonio Wednesday night dinner which is a very fun evening. The food is good and it is a chance to spend time with the other guests from around the world. Tonight it was British Columbia, China, England, Australia and the United States.

While the big people drink wine and converse, the kids play outside on the grass. it's a good time for all.

Now it is bedtime. Buona notte!

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday--June 19, 2011--Sant'Antonio

On the way to dinner...

Nico, Filippo, Sofia and Casey.
Casey and the children have known each other since he first came here in 2003.

Last night was a fun, fun evening. Nico and his children, lovely Sofia and adorable Filippo, joined us for dinner at A Gambe di Gatto on the Corso. Elena, our friend--Nico's wife--the childrens' mama--is ill and so wasn't able to come. We missed her a lot.

I can say this is our new favorite restaurant in Montepulciano. It is small with only 7 tables. Manuale started us with tasting 10 different wines after which we selected the wine we wanted with dinner. Later he brought 7 oils to the table for us to choose one for our salad. At the end of the night, he presented the children with bags of gourmet cookies.

Filippo, Sofia, twin cousins from Rome, and Casey. It is such fun to watch Casey morph into an "Italian ragazzo." No one watching or listening would think that he is an American boy.

More Sant'Antonio...

The horse stable in days of yore...now the venue for famous Wednesday night banquets.

Sant'Antonio is magical...just ask anyone who has been here.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Close to Heaven

It seems that is where we are now--in the welcoming embrace of Sant' Antonio with its stones that once echoed the chants of monks in a 13th century monastary, olive trees with glistening, shimmering leaves moving in the breeze of the hilltop, laughter seeping from below as people discard cares left behind, blue, blue skies meeting the green gold fields. Yes, this has been the treasured escape of ours for many years. Last year we traded it for the expanses of the Mara and plaines of Kenya. And so it is good now to be back.

We have been here just four hours but have truly never left--it seems. Our friend Nico's smile is as wide and welcoming as always--his hugs true.

Casey has looked forward to seeing Sofia and Filippo but they are not here yet. They're in town with Aunt Paola and until all the guests have checked in, Nico can't go get them. So, Casey has found the next best thing....dogs. He loves dogs---well, animals of all kinds, actually. Caio, the dog of Sant Antonio is an old friend. Ula, is the huge, loveable, beautiful family member of a German couple in the apartment below ours. To Casey, they are his brothers.

So, we are here, the long road to travel is always worth what it takes. Sant' Antonio, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italia....Home

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Friday, June 17, 2011

We're Here--More or Less

Actually, it is less....less one person. Casey and I arrived last night, a little late but that was OK. it was a very long flight--at least we were up for a long time. We always take morning flights but this time, because we were using miles, we could ony get a flight leaving at 2:20 pm which was delayed until 4pm. This didn't leave much connecting time in Chicago, but we made it with 15 minutes to spare. Then over the water we were on Lufthansa in business which has these quite uncomfortable slanting seat/beds--didn't sleep much. By the time we got to bed in Rome--well, actually, Fiumicino...we were up almost 30 hours. Wow...no wonder we were walking zombies.

So, back to why we are missing one person..Ken is still in D.C. He left San Diego yesterday morning, scheduled to arrive in Rome at 7:30 this morning. But, because of weather problems in D.C., his flight to Rome was cancelled. Now, he is still there and won't get out until 5 pm tonight getting here tomorrow morning--hopefully.

All hotels around the D.C. airport are fully booked so he is in the Red Carpet Club for 27 hours. He'll make our 30 hours seem like not much. Hopefully, he will get some sleep on the plane--United has lay-flat beds.

We had a reservation at a lovely BandB in the hilltop town of Casperia tonight-- we really had looked forward to a super nice beginning of our trip. Now Casey and I are enscounced at the Hilton Airport Gatden Inn, awaiting Ken's arrival. At least the hotel is air-conditioned and a nice room with free wifi.

So, domani (tomorrow, for people with less Italian than even I) we will head to our most favorite retreat, Sant Antonio, outside of Montepulciano. There we will relax, enjoy our friends, Nico and Elena, eat well and know that life is good with just a few small bumps to let us appreciate it even more. Can't think of a better place to experience the good.

Now, let's pray that Ken does get out tonight! Let the vacation begin!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

My Prayer

Prayer is vital to my life. I believe that it is heard and answered--whether or not to my liking. Often I tell God what I want and how he can accomplish this desire, need, want, whatever. Foolish? Yep! But, oh so human.

So, along with my regular prayers for friends' health, safe travels, the work of missionaries, children's wayward ways, solace and comfort for peoples' sorrows, my spiritual growth, and more, I have added another urgency for the time being.

Please, Lord, help Casey mature between now and the start of school in September. Please?!

Prepare him to do his homework (all of it) out of personal motivation rather than parental oversight and prodding. Teach him to be joyful in geometry, Spanish, English, California history, science--not just in gym class.  Let him please his teachers--even those who are difficult to please..and, heaven knows that there are these.

Help him to understand that yes, he is only 13 and in the 8th grade but....what he does now counts and helps to determine his future. How he performs in these classes dictates where he will be placed in high school. Give him that unnatural ability to see the future in terms of his achievement, effort and depth of focus and desire.

He still wants to build with his legos, explore the creek below the park, play challenging games on his DS, improve in karate--in short, do all those things 13 year olds should do with their time. But...today's kids are being robbed of their childhoods by adults who forget their own childhoods. They are taking classes where teachers advise parents at the start of the year that it will be to the students' advantage to hire a tutor that year.Why? Because in the past, this 7th grade class, was not taught until high school.

The freedom to be Tom or Huck is long gone, but the heart of the boy that lived in them still beats in the boy of 2011. So, although my prayer is that Casey will grapple with and grow in self-motivation in his school work and accomplishments, we will see that he still has time for the boy things.

So, that is my prayer right now--a growing maturity that still allows for the joys and fun of being a kid. I believe that my God wants that, too, and will hear my prayer with a smile and a "yes."

For the record, he did achieve this year. And..we are proud of him.