Monday, December 28, 2009

A little feasting

We had decided to combat all despair and Christmas blues that might try to surface in the midst of our Christmas celebrations from missing everyone and the typical robustness of the holiday.  We were hoping that the reverse of the old adage "the more the merrier" was not true, which would leave us a very un-merry party of just two adults and two small children.

About a week before Christmas we made a family trip to the supermarket to pick out our Christmas tree. We decided on a lovely tree of 150 centimeters.  We also picked up some expensive Christmas lights (12 euro when not on sale!) and gold and red ball ornaments.  Savvy as we are, we got everything during their 50% off sale.  We got home and put up the tree, then as soon as we put the Christmas lights on it, Dominic shrieked, "Oooooo!!!" and was very, very excited.  It was all worth it.  Catie kept alternately standing on her tip-toes trying to grab the ornaments and puffing her cheeks while trying to blow out the Christmas lights. We completed the night by eating some homemade chocolate cookies-- after all, what celebration is complete without food?--and listening to some Christmas music. 

We celebrated Christmas Eve in style with smoked salmon, shrimp over linguine in a white wine sauce accompanied by salad and roasted zucchini and carrots. The only hitch was the shrimp still had tails...and shells...and legs!  So, we had to spend a little time at Christmas Eve dinner in the messy, somewhat nauseating business of taking the shrimp out of their crustacean wrappers.  Then we had homemade apple pie for dessert with a mound of whip cream.  And, of course, everything was washed down with white wine.  We each opened one present that night.  It was nice that Dominic and Cate opened a present from Grandma and Grandpa over Skype.  Technology can sure be great!   Dominic got a toy camera that flashes and makes various noises, including, "hello" in a Chinese voice.  He walked around for about an hour pushing the buttons and telling us to smile and look at him.  Cate got a little telephone on wheels, and she loves to hold it to her ear and babble.  It was hard to get them to bed after all that excitement, but they finally nodded off and Matt and I were left to clean up the mess from our festivity. 

Christmas day we had our traditional "special" breakfast of french toast, or fridge toast, as it has since become, with powdered sugar and cinnamon and sugar on top.  Yes, both powdered sugar and white sugar. That's why it's special.  A few days ago Dominic was looking into the refrigerator for something to eat and asked me, "Mommy, can I have some fridge toast?" After breakfast, we let the kids open up all their presents.  Dominic and Cate were quite the team.  Dominic busily opened everybody's presents, and then Catie reveled in ripping the wrapping paper into little shreds all over the apartment.  We were showered with love, even from afar.  There ended up being plenty of presents under our little tree. 

 Then we cleaned up and got ready to go to church at St. Anthony's Basilica, the really famous and gorgeous Romanesque-Gothic church here in Padova.  We were all bundled and ready to go an hour before church--quite a feat with two little ones--and trundled down to the bus stop two blocks away, only to discover that buses weren't running at all on Christmas day.  Oops.  Fortunately they were having services almost every hour all day, except during siesta, so we just decided to go later that day, giving ourselves even more time to get there by foot.

So we ate our Christmas meal.  We ate it in courses.  While this may seem like a rather posh thing to do, it was actually--like most traditions begin--an entirely practical decision.  With only 2 burners and a little stove, I could only keep so many things hot at once and keep the lights on.  So, we began with an Italian aperitif (a spritz: aperol and prosecco) and a salad.  After eating this, we took a little break and I finished getting some things in the oven.  Then we had duck consomme (broth) with prosciutto tortellini.  Again, we took a little break where Matt danced with the kids to Christmas music, and I finished cooking the rest of the food.  Then we reconvened at table for the third course of  roasted duck,  turkey, and mashed potatoes.  I was happy to learn that duck is surprisingly easy to prepare and very tasty.  Dominic especially liked the duck.  To end the meal, we finished the apple pie and ate too many cookies, just as it should be. 

After cleaning up from dinner, we sat around for a little while, then we re-bundled and put the kids in the stroller to make our way to church.  About an hour later, about 10 minutes before church started, we arrived at St. Anthony's to find standing room only.  We were standing with about 500 other people.  The place must have had 2,000 people in it!  It was amazing, kind of like being ushered into heaven.  The unseen choir regaled us with the Hallelujah chorus (in Italian), and the church looked and smelled just like a heavenly celebration should.  To top it all off, Dominic slept through the whole service (a bit sad that he missed it, actually, but nice for us!) and Catie acted as much like a doll as she looked in her Christmas dress.

It turned out to be a pretty lovely Christmas, despite missing everyone so much.  I'm just glad we don't have to do it again.  We can muster enough strength to make it through one Christmas away, but more would be pretty hard.  Thanks for all your prayers and love.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Abbiamo il nipote!

Fresh babe, still pink from mother's womb;
By pain and prayer worked slowly out;
Our Advent child, the coming one,
Was born at last this Friday morn.

Our nephew and godson, Michael Lawrence was born on December 18, 2009.  He weighed in at 7 lbs. 7 oz. and was already 21 1/2 inches long!  Sarah and Stephen were overcome with joy in welcoming a healthy son into this world after the nine months of expecting and then an unimaginable labor lasting 57 hours. Italy is great, but right now we wish more than anything that we were in South Bend to meet and hold you, Michael.  We love you.  Happy Birthday.

This year's Advent child has come.  
Let us now await the eternal Advent child.  
O come, let us adore him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I am awakened at 6 AM, Dominic's new waking hour, by a kiss on the cheek from an overly cheery little boy. "Good morning, Mommy. Can you get up?" Ugh...I guess. I have a little guilt as I admit this to you, but I do not leave the warmth of my bed out of a loving desire to spend time with my chipper toddler; rather, I get up and brave the chilly air to protect his sister, our possessions, and this apartment that we have a security deposit invested in. I follow Dominic to the living room and begin to make myself a cappuccino, feeling very satisfied with myself that I do not allow the milk steaming in a little pitcher to overflow this time. Meanwhile, I pop a croissant into the oven to toast for a few minutes. We settle into a chair and begin reading books together and singing Christmas carols. It's really quite lovely. That is, until the power goes out.

I sigh with exasperation and inwardly curse at myself for forgetting where we are. We are in Italy. Remember? In Italy you can't run 3 electrical appliances at once, even if they are just two little electric burners and a miniature oven. Remember? No, I did not remember. In the haze of the early morning, I forgot all the little quirks and blew the fuse. All right, Dominic, let's go press the button. I don another sweater and carry him, so I don't have to put socks and shoes on him (I have slippers on). We ride the elevator down to floor zero. We walk through the little hallway and stop. Frozen. With shock.

It's snowing!! I thought Padova never got any snow, and it is miraculously snowing. There are already at least 2 inches collected on the ground and large flurries just keep coming down. Dominic, without any prompting started singing in an adorable monotone, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." It was beautiful. I felt like God looked down on my homesickness and sent me some snow to make it look a lot like Christmas.

We ended up getting about five inches of snow.  Later that day, we took the kids out in the snow and had a great time together. Dominic simply could not get enough of the snow and didn't want to come in even when his hands were purple, and he'd gotten a snowball in the face (thanks, Daddy).  Cate just looked like a purple marshmallow that got stuck in snow.

I had to laugh at the Italians who clearly never have snow.  At six o'clock that night nothing had been plowed, or shoveled, for that matter.  I saw someone across the street scooping snow off her balcony with a dustpan.  Cars were trying to drive and brake with their characteristic speed and were just peeling out on every corner.  People were still trying to bike through the snow, usually giving up and ending up trudging through the un-shoveled sidewalk while walking their bike.  The next day, most roads were still not plowed.  I did see a tractor--a real farm tractor--on one road, though, sprinkling what I assume was salt, from a seeder.  My favorite thing, however, was all the Italians I saw walking around holding their large, pointy umbrellas to prevent the snowflakes from fluttering down on them.         

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Italian Pierogi

I am keenly aware that pierogi are Polish.  But I think in our attempt to recreate our Polish Christmas tradition here on the boot peninsula, the pierogi was besmirched by Italian karma.  My mother-in-law once told me my motto should be "Have Tradition, Will Travel."  I guess that comes with it's own risks.

We were determined to be in solidarity with all our family who were scattered about the United States making pierogi as well.  Normally we make hundreds of them together a few weeks before Christmas and then gorge ourselves with pierogi drenched in butter on Christmas Eve.  You can read about last year's pierogi experience here.  So we did our best to gather the necessary ingredients to make our favorite of the three kinds: cabbage pierogi.  For anyone who's been following our time in Italy, you know how difficult it was to find the right components for Thanksgiving.  Making a polish food turned out to be no different.  Cabbage pierogi are filled with cabbage and pot cheese.  Cabbage was no problem.  Pot cheese or farmer's cheese, as it's also called, cannot be found in Italy, unless perhaps, you have some sort of inside track with the cheese shop and know enough Italian to make use of this connection.  So we decided that well-strained ricotta cheese would have to do.  I chopped and boiled the cabbage two days before pierogi day.  Then I strained it several times and added the sauteed onions.  On pierogi day we added the ricotta cheese minus the one cup of liquid that came out of the two pounds, or should I say the 200 ml that came out of the 800 grams.  Tasting it, it seemed to have the right cabbagey taste.  It was just quite a bit creamier than normal.  Italian pierogi.

The dough wasn't really too bad to make, except that I have no US measuring cups, so I was stuck guesstimating how much looked like 4 cups or 2 tablespoons.  I judged the measurements all right, I guess, because everything turned out okay, although the dough was little less stretchy and far more orange than normal.   Have I ever mentioned Italian eggs?  For some reason at least half of them have yolks that are cadmium orange (almost neon!).  You can see this in the little YouTube video of our pierogi dough.  I rolled the orange dough out on our little counter with an empty Cabernet bottle, which also seems so very appropriate.  I'm not sure where Italians buy rolling pins, apparently not at the supermarket.  After rolling out the dough, I used our widest drinking glass to cut the circles out.  These were then transferred to the table for the pinchers.

And so, everything was thus set-up when our pinchers arrived.  We had invited Andreas and Astrid, our Danish neighbors to partake in the pieorgi with us, informing them that eating them meant making them. Being exceptionally tradition-loving and also up for anything, they were happy to join us.  So they came over, wheeling their son, Vilhelm, who was sleeping in his carriage, onto our terrace for his afternoon nap in the fresh air while we worked and visited inside.  They caught on very fast and, together with Matt, they all made excellent pinchers.  We only broke one out of the entire batch of 70!

While they pinched, I melted a pot of butter, boiled the pierogi, rinsed them in cold water, and packed them in layers surrounded by butter and divided by cellophane.  It sounds complicated, but since we were going fairly slowly, it wasn't too hard to keep up.  It was also an advantage that the burners are about 5 feet from the table, 1 foot from the sink, and 1/2 foot from the counter-top where I was packing them.  At least close proximity does have some benefits.  

We finished the pierogi in about an hour and a half, just in time, because all the kids woke up within ten minutes of our finishing.  We cleaned up the kitchen and readied ourselves for our Polish feast.

Frying up the first batch, we began consuming our butter-laden cabbage-and-ricotta-stuffed pasta (here I don't mean spaghetti or something, I just mean dough, which they also call "pasta").  Mangiamo!

Delicious.  A little creamy and a little yellow-looking, but delicious.  A taste of home (or of Poland) in this far away land of Italy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Life is short, but the memory is long

We went to Disney World in May 2009.  In case you've lost track, it's now December 2009, 7 months later.  Grandma and Grandpa were thrilled to be taking Dominic and Cate on their first-ever trip to Disney World and witness their joy at having lunch with Winnie the Pooh, riding on Dumbo, and seeing fireworks shoot off Cinderella's castle.   While Matt and I were excited, we were also a little skeptical about how much they would remember from the trip.  In any case, it would be fun while we were there, for sure.  And indeed, they had a superb time, regardless of how long the memories would last.

A  few days ago, however, Dominic through me for a loop.  I opened up the December issue of Real Simple, which my dear friend so kindly mailed from the US to Italy as a surprise, and found an insert about Disney World.  I guess they have a promo right now that if you volunteer for one day at an approved organization, you can get one day's free admission.  Not a bad deal!  Anyway, Dominic wanted to see what I was looking at, so I showed him the picture of the castle. "Do you know what this is?" He responds, "Yeah.  It's Mickey's castle. Remember? Dreams come True!"  

Wow.  He really did remember a lot from that trip.  Not only did he remember the castle and who he saw there (he also talks about Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Snow White dancing), he remembers what they told him to say.  All together now, "Dreams come True!"  As corny as it seemed to me, it seems like it truly was a magical moment for Dominic.  He still remembers it 7 months later after we certainly had not talked about it once.  Wow. I guess it's encouraging to know that all the experiences we're having and the memories we're making here in Italy are not for naught.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Girly Girl

The fairy godmother ("Auntie" Allison) brought the precious doggies! A new pink one and a new blue one to have as a spare, plus a baby pink rattle doggy (which is now affectionately known as Baby Pinkie) arrived in grand style, wrapped and everything. The kids were so excited to unwrap their presents and even more excited by the new doggies.

Since Cate has become rather attached to the blue doggy, I thought she might reject Pinkie. All the doggies were sitting together on the coffee table, and she totally passed over the blue doggy, going straight for the pink doggies, holding them to her heart with a big smile. While we were thinking this might just be excitement over the new doggies, as if to prove us wrong, she picked up the blue doggy, toddled over to Dominic, and gave him the blue one. She apparently thinks pink is for girls. :)

She also received a dress--also pink--in the mail for her birthday. When we opened it, she picked it up, and immediately tried to put it over her head, over her pants. When she didn't succeed, she just held the pink dress around her neck and proudly strutted around.

She also regularly tries to put on her dress shoes and when she fails, she brings them to me pointing to her feet. It's funny. I only dress her up on Sundays and she usually wears pink tennis shoes, but she just has this natural intuition that these shiny, black mary janes are pretty. She also knows that she wants them on instead of her regular play shoes. I think we have a lot of dress up and shopping in our future... After I put them on, she models them all around the house, showing them off to everyone, and running into things because she can't take her eyes off her pretty shoes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December Pictures!

Here are some pictures of our latest adventures in Padova. Actually, most of them are just the kids doing their thing around the house. We did make a little trip to Vicenza, though. The Christmas lights there were really spectacular, and it was extra special for Dominic because we were in the main piazza when all the lights turned on. It was fun to hear the entire city "ooh" at the same time.

We made an advent wreath from a yogurt container, wrapping paper, ribbon, and some taper candles. I would have preferred a more traditional wreath, but Italians don't seem to have them for sale anywhere. It'll do. Dominic gets very, very excited to light the candles each Sunday, and even Cate will stand in front of it and stare (when it's lit) and then stand in front of it pretending to blow the candles out (even when it's not lit). The Advent calendar is also a huge hit at our house, although I don't think Dominic has any idea that a box corresponds to a day. We open one in the morning after breakfast, and then later during the day he'll inevitably ask, "Can I open another one? Just one..." as he holds up his index finger and squints his eyes at me. St. Nicholas made an appearance at our house on December 6 filling the shoes of all four. Dominic could hardly sleep he was so excited the night before. We then celebrated the Sunday by having a special brunch of french toast with cinnamon and sugar on top. French toast may be Dominic's and Cate's favorite food right now.
During the last song at church Dominic said to Matt, "Just one more song. And then we get french toast!"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When the Tide Rolls In: Venice

Matt was in Venice again to do still more research at la Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.  (I just love it, here we have a quintessential example of Italy's adjectival usage.  La Marciana is a National Library.  Read carefully.  The Marciana is one of at least five national libraries in Italy: Rome, Florence, Milan, Torino, Venice, and maybe a few others.)  He went to Venice on a sunny day, clear blue skies all around. What he saw, however, shocked him beyond belief.   Piazza San Marco was entirely flooded, and the whole city was 1-1/2 feet deep in water.  The raised sidewalks, a series of planks that look like park benches are lined up end to end, were all up.  I guess the tide had rolled in; apparently, it was that time of the month. (I think that's how tides work, anyway).

But it was business as usual for the Venetians.  Despite have water around their calves in their shops, they were conducting trade and serving their clients without a hitch.  They all had high rubber boots on and some had one or two employees hauling bucket after bucket of water out of the store.  Matt saw a gelateria (ice cream store) taking orders and serving up cones from the ground, surrounded by water, to people leaning down from the raised sidewalks.  I can only imagine all the Venetians that must have been loitering on these two-feet wide planks with their little porcelain cups of caffe, reaching down to return a cup and to place a euro in the the hand of a rubber-booted barrista.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our Son, the Heretic

While saying Dominic's prayers with him last night, I discovered that he is in grave theological error. We said the usual "Our Father" and then I reminded him to think about what Jesus did for us: remember, he was born as a baby at Christmas, he grew up and did miracles, he died on the cross, and then he rose again. With his typical enthusiasm, he stood up and shouted, "He died!" But then he perplexed me. He laid down on the ground and began rolling back and forth. My perplexity was soon relieved, as he shouted, "And he rolled again!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Clash of Cultures

We witnessed first hand a most beautiful clash of cultures. This time it was the Italian culture and the Danish culture. I know I have already written of the Italian wariness of temperatures, which causes them to bundle children until they resemble marshmallows and to refrain from taking them out in any sort of inclement weather, such as a 60-degree day or slight sprinkles from a sunny sky. Well, it turns out that Danes believe with equal tenacity that fresh air strengthens children and is necessary for their development. All children take at least one nap outside each day, sleeping in their very plush and oversized "strollers," which are really just small beds on wheels. The exception is if the weather is minus 10 degrees Celsius or lower (14 degrees Fahrenheit), then they concede that the weather might harm even their hearty Nordic children. Our neighbors, being Danish to the core, take their son for a walk everyday, during which he falls asleep, and then they bring him back to the apartment and push him out on the terrace where he will sleep for two or three hours.

We went to their house for Vilhelm's second birthday party, and he was still sleeping peacefully on the terrace, although you could not see much of him under his down comforter. The other guests began to arrive as well, including their Italian friend, Marco. Marco is probably thirty and is neither married nor has children. We saw Vilhelm outside and, knowing their custom, laughed and asked when would Vilhelm wake up. Marco, upon seeing the stroller outside with poor Vilhelm in it, exclaimed, "But it's cold outside! He'll catch a cold! Do you always do this?" When they told him yes, he does this every day, unless it is below -10 degrees, Maro just shook his head in shock. It was beautiful to behold.

A Picnic

I'm wrapping sandwiches in aluminum foil when Dominic comes into the kitchen. He sees me and I prepare myself for his never-ending question: "Watcha doin' Mommy?"

Instead, he asks, "You making sandwiches, Mommy?"

"Yes, Dominic."

"For a picnic?"

"Yes, Dominic."

As I was wondering how he remembered what a picnic was, he also added "I love picnics."

"Really, why?"

"We go someplace. And we eat food. Outside."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giorno del Ringraziamento a.k.a. Thanksgiving

Preparations were most difficult for this beloved American holiday. Italy just isn't made for this sort of country-wide gluttonous feast devoted to the red-wattled gobbler. Thank God for the Native Americans and all their delicious foods that helped the Pilgrims through the harsh winters of the New World.

Fearing to be alone on such a communal feast, we invited our Danish neighbors, with whom we have become quite good friends, to share our Thanksgiving. They were quite excited to be able to come and see a real American Thanksgiving, so we felt that we needed to put together a decent spread. This, of course, required turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, ample gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, bread, and pumpkin pie, at the very minimum. Having only decided 4 days before Thanksgiving that we would be hosting the feast (we were hoping for an invite...but it never came, so we resolved to have our own), I set out looking for the proper ingredients.

But to no avail. The Italians just thought I was crazy. You want a what? A whole turkey? No, no, no; we don't have those. I had resolved that if I couldn't find a whole turkey, which was a very real possibility because I had not ordered one from a butcher several weeks in advance, I would just have to settle for turkey breasts or simply substitute a whole chicken. In the name of authenticity, especially for the sake of our Danish invitees, I opted for turkey, in whatever form I might find it. After trying four stores, I finally found a very, very large turkey breast and equally enormous legs. The turkey they came from must have been an inimitable foul. Mashed potatoes were no trouble except that we had no masher, so I sent Matt out for a handheld blender at the last minute. It worked a little too well, and they ended up being very pureed, kind of like Outback's mashed potatoes. Fortunately stuffing turned out to be a cinch, even though I'd never made it before and couldn't find poultry seasoning anywhere. I had scoured the internet for a recipe that was fairly simple and had a limited number of ingredients, finally deciding on chestnut stuffing. As for green bean casserole. . . well, cream of mushroom soup and French's french friend onions. Rather than trying to make some horrible concoction of substitutes, I simplified it to garlic string beans. At least it's a vegetable, right?

The pie was quite an affair. It certainly would have been easier to do without. But really, can you? I think that second to the turkey, pumpkin pie is most essential. I searched high and low for pureed pumpkin. (I'm beginning to think that Italians have some sort of superstition about the evils of canned food. Maybe it's the temperature change that the vegetables must go through the be put in the can. Other than tomatoes, hardly anything can be found in a can here, and certainly not pumpkin.) Okay, fine. I'll make my own pumpkin puree. Let's see just how Martha-esque I can be out of necessity. I spy the zucca. Now, how much does one need? Which kind? Lost in puzzlement over the three types: two squash looking ones and a more traditional shaped pumpkin, although very white, I call Matt on the phone to see if Google can answer my question. I guess the man next to me understood enough English to eavesdrop, though, because he began to tell me in Italian which pumpkin was best. Being a bit confused, I ask, "For cake?" (Because there's no Italian word for pie.) "Si, si, si," he responds, without seeming even a little ashamed that he heard my conversation. "And the price is better. Get this one." And then he walks away. Very mysterious. So I bought two of the kind he recommended. Whipped cream is also not to be found so I bought a carton of cream. Our Danish friends had told me that you can make whipped cream by shaking heavy cream in a ziploc bag with a coin in it. Brown sugar also does not exist in Italy, so I hoped white sugar will be okay. I stuffed my backpack with turkey, pumpkins, cream, and various spices, hopped on the bus and hauled all my groceries home, ready to begin the big preparations for Thanksgiving.

In short, cooking the food was much easier than finding it. I brined the turkey in a honey-lemon marinade, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it only took up half of our refrigerator. Then I began on the pie. Per internet directions, I had cut the pumpkins in half and placed them fleshy side down on a buttered baking sheet. I had just put them in the oven when my Indian neighbor stopped by with her little boy. Inviting them in, I explained to her that I was just about to make a pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving holiday. Since she likes to cook quite a bit herself, she asked if she could watch. Of course, I say. It also dawns on me that she has a little food processor which would solve my problem of how to puree the pumpkin. So we made pie together. Scoop the baked pumpkin out. Strain it--with a t-shirt--several times. Puree it. Continue as normal. Other than being very messy and a bit flat looking (we only had a ten inch metal cake pan), everything turned out perfectly. I ended up with about 3 cups of pumpkin puree left after making the pie, however, so I decided I may as well whip together some pumpkin soup for the occasion. Pumpkin soup really is easy and delicious. Cream and pumpkin and some spice.

Everything else really turned out quite well, although while I was taking the turkey out of the oven my racks began to break and one side of the oven collapsed inward. Rather than panic, however, I took it over to our neighbors and let it cook with the stuffing that was already baking in their oven. The whipped cream also gave me a little trouble. When Andreas, Astrid, and Vilhelm came over, I was in the middle of desperately trying to shake this cream in the ziploc bag with the euro in it into something more solid. Was a euro too much? Should it have been twenty cents instead? Astrid just told me to blow more air in the bag. Oh. Then Andreas offered to take over the shaking. I was only too happy to delegate. Apparently you need to shake hard and fast. We ended up with cream in just a few minutes.

We had borrowed their table and set up a lovely spread in our little apartment. Although, to be honest, I was surprised at how little a Thanksgiving for 4 looked when we set it on a big table. It didn't matter; we set in to our feasting with great delight. I explained what all the foods were and apologized that cranberry sauce was missing. I had scoured the stores for it and could not find cranberries anywhere. They also asked about this Thanksgiving tradition of ours, and we got to tell them about the Pilgrims and their odd outfits, how they were dying of hunger and were given food tips from the Indians on how to survive these dreadful winters. We also told them about how it wasn't made an official holiday until after the Civil War. "Civil War?" they ask, looking confused. "Who fought in the Civil War?" So then we had a little diversion on the history on the enmity of the north and the south, and how Abraham Lincoln reinstated a national day of Thanksgiving for the abundant crops that were still signs of God's mercy. At Thanksgiving we still celebrate our unity and the assistance of the Native Americans. We also give thanks for all our blessings by having a long holiday and eating enormous amounts of food at noontime with dear family. Then we lounge around and watch football or It's a Wonderful Life, we visit, we nap, and then we eat lots of leftovers as soon as we feel you can eat again.

It was really hard to communicate just how lovely Thanksgiving is. We gave thanks for all our family and friends who could not share our skinless turkey breast and flat pumpkin pie with us. We drank many glasses of fine wine for you on this our Italian Thanksgiving.

New Blog Features

Just wanted to let you all know that I installed a YouTube video bar on the left side of the blog. It is directly linked to my YouTube channel and will automatically update with little images of the latest videos, so you can see whether you've seen them. Also, if they happen to have thumbnails of the fight against poverty, African children, or something else, just wait a minute and they should switch to pictures of people you recognize. If you click on it, they will load and you can watch each video. I uploaded four new videos yesterday from November. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Italy Thankfuls

Making my list of things I am thankful for in Italy, I realized that at least 1/3 of them were types of food. While the administration and efficiency over here are, well, "lacking," the food over here is superb. I am thankful for pasta in all its shapes and sizes, for the multitude of sauces in which one can deliciously smother their noodles. I am thankful for pizza with wine and then gelato for dessert. We have never had a bad meal in Italy. Never. Ever. Let's give thanks to the God who made Italian food. ;) Other things I'm thankful for are:
  • The abundance of fresh, seasonal fruit. (Although I am worried about what winter, when nothing is in season, will be like.) We have eaten 8 or 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of the delicious, seedless Clementine oranges this month!
  • Matt and his dedication to us and his diligent work going day after day to different archives and persevering in reading Latin and Italian books and manuscripts. Also, Let's get this straight. This list is not in order of importance.
  • The kids. See above comment. Plus, what would I do all day without them?
  • Beautiful Italian architecture. Does it elevate my soul just to live here? Perhaps. Petrarch, Dante, and Livy are from here after all.
  • Beautiful art, everywhere.
  • Being forced to develop our own traditions: chestnut stuffing, Settlers of Catan in Italian, new routins, etc.
  • Skype and cheap phone cards. A few conveniences that make the distance seem smaller.
  • Our Danish neighbors. They are fun and interesting and keep us from getting too lonely. They also have a two-year-old boy, Vilhelm, who Dominic loves to play with.
  • Our little apartment. I'm thankful that we got an apartment, that it is fairly inexpensive, that it is clean, that we have an elevator, that we have a nice view, and that we have heat.
  • A chance to see wonderful Italy. This really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. "White collar poverty" certainly does have its perks.
  • The opportunity and ability to learn Italian. It really is a beautiful language.
  • Wine. Good. Cheap. Abundant.
  • Funny things the kids say and do. I'll indulge you in a few recent examples:
  1. Just a minute ago, Dominic was buck-naked running off to go to the bathroom and shouting back to his sister, "I'll be back Cate!"
  2. Because Dominic was not sitting in his usual chair at the dinner table, I said, "You need to move, this is where Daddy sits." He responds, "Yeah, that's Daddy's Happy Birthday Chair." That's a valid reason for a two-year-old. I love it.
  3. Cate has started bringing me everything. She will pick up any toys/papers/bits on the floor and hand them to me one at a time, even if I'm across the room. The best part is the uber-proud look on her face every single time she hands me something. Then she claps for herself. :)
  4. Dominic has begun quizzing Cate, just like an adult. He points to me and says to her, "And who's that, Catie?"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Things I miss Most About Home

This is sort of a pre-Thanksgiving post. While it could be considered to be a list of gripes about Italy, more important, it's a list of things I'm thankful for in the United States. As I was composing my list, I realized that most of them are matters of efficiency. Apparently, that's pretty important to me. I guess that's not surprising being an American and growing up with the 'Protestant' work-ethic. So, here's my list of American 'thankfuls'. I think tomorrow I'll do a list of my 'thankfuls' for Italy.
  • Family
  • Good friends with longstanding history
  • Knowing how everything works and where to find stuff
  • Whole turkeys at Thanksgiving
  • Cranberry sauce (cranberries are impossible to find)
  • Unlimited and free water at restaurants, ice
  • Second-hand stores, especially for kids clothes
  • 4-burner stove (we only have two)
  • Unlimited energy (we can only run either the burners or one burner and the "oven" or the power blows)
  • Fast internet and wireless(we have a single ethernet cord, and the internet powered by crippled hamsters)
  • Stocking up at supermarkets (going to the grocery store everyday was quaint at first, now it's a little archaic)
  • Being able to hop in the car and drive from point A to point B (not having to walk to a bus station, take the bus, take the train, take another bus, and then walk some more, especially with the kids)
  • Target (everything affordable, easy to find, and all in one building!)
  • The freezer (other Italians do have these)
  • Free shipping on
  • My sharp butcher knife and sharpener
  • Living space and multiple bedrooms

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Matt is Now 27

I hope you have all gasped at the fact my title has revealed. Some will gasp because Matthew Gaetano is already 27, well on his way to 30, over half-way to 50, and 1/4 of the way to 100. How fast it went. He's so old! How can this be?

Quite naturally, others will gasp because he is only 27. He is nearing the completion of his Ph.D., is married, and has two children. I remember when he was born. I remember his piano recitals. I remember him skipping around the house. How can this be?

So, thanks to Matt's wonderful Aunt Pat, this is a little blast into my dear husband's past.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Florence Revisited: Part I

I felt that I skimped too much on my descriptions of the individual cities we saw with my parents. So, in between other posts about current events, I'm going to do a series on Florence, Rome, Verona, and Padua.

If I had to characterize Florence--or Firenze (fee-Ren-zay) as it's called in Italian--in just one way it would be the 'City of Art'. Besides having two of the most famous museums in the world, every church is overflowing with resplendent art, piazzas contain gorgeous monuments, and even the streets themselves are extraordinary works of art. My dad, who is very skilled in the various construction crafts, just could not stop marveling over the intricate stonework of arched cobblestone patterns that was painstakingly laid on every street and sidewalk.

We set out to conquer Florence's major sites in just three days, but we were adamant that we would not sacrifice quality for quantity. The Uffizi was magnificent, although overwhelming in size. Room upon room in a u-shaped building of three stories, we took in Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Boticelli. It was a stronghold of amazing artwork. Besides the famous paintings, which were obviously delightful to behold, I think my favorite was the unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci. I was able to see a master's painting in progress. It was like standing in a piazza, glancing over da Vinci's shoulder, and watching him make a portrait come increasingly more to life, layer by layer of successively richer shades of oil paint and . The Accademia was much smaller and manageable and housed Michaelangelo's famed David. I was astonished at just how tall he was. Not only larger than life, but so large he filled a two-story room, it seemed. I must admit, I felt a little sheepish sitting on the benches behind the statue and staring at his "buns of marble." Look away, look away. Well, to be was actually his lower calves that were at eye level.

Despite being an artist myself and truly loving art, I am always astounded at how exhausting art museums can be. I feel like, from the moment I set foot in an art museum, I begin to wilt. It's like Matt in any store. Does anyone else feel this? From the looks on everyone else's faces, I conjecture that I'm not alone. Perhaps I have thirty good minutes before my feet begin to drag. I console myself by saying it's just too much art all at once, and it's hard to fully appreciate art out of its original context. I still feel that I need to look at every painting and read every description, even though I can feel my blood sugar plummeting and my attention shortening. After all, they're good enough to be in the Uffizi and the Accademia, the hallowed halls of Florentine Fame! (Not to mention that because of my pecuniary heritage I feel even more compulsion to really do an expensive site right and see everything.)

My perspective on art museums and sight-seeing is beginning to change. I was talking a friend of mine, an Art History Ph.D., and I asked her how she feels when seeing museums. She told me that she enjoys the art immensely but finds museums very physically and emotionally taxing. She also confessed that finds her tolerance has actually gone down with every year of education! She just blows through museums now because she knows which paintings/sculptures actually deserve attention and she doesn't bother with the descriptions. Perhaps rather than trying to get an art education by going to museums and galleries, I shall delight my fancy more. Just truly enjoying a few masterpieces should be enough for me to warrant the expense and effort, and it won't leave me wilted and weary at the end. So it is my resolve, with the blessing of an expert, to stop trying to see everything.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My New Secret...

No, I'm not pregnant. Don't worry when the day comes, I won't announce it on the blog first. Blogs are good for some things, like sharing funny stories, cute videos, and potentially insightful or at least tolerable posts, but not for such personal and life-changing news as that. I do still know the value of real interaction.

That being said, I do have a new, somewhat shameful, secret: 'little Shuffy' (my ipod Shuffle). My brothers gave it to me last year for my birthday, and I used it for both entertainment and motivation. While I was pregnant with Cate, it was especially difficult to motivate myself to clean. So, I would download the FlyLady podcasts and just listening to them would inspire me to do as she instructed. Shine your sink! It will inspire you to keep going. Work 15 minutes at a time, then rest. Tackle those "hot spots" each night and they won't become "4-star alarms." And follow my daily "mission" to systematically go through the house and de-clutter. Little Shuffy got me through the sloth of pregnancy.

After moving to York, I primarily used it for my workouts at the 'Y'. I would download a podcast from BBC and a podcast workout from Podrunner with 140-150 beats per minute. After updating myself on the state of the world from the perspective of the Brits, which usually coincided nicely with the workout becoming unbearable, Podrunner was there to save me. I coped by just ceasing to think. I became merely a beat, leg circle after leg circle (I was usually on the elliptical). The mantra was: just keep up, don't think, just keep going, don't think, just do it..

I loaded Little Shuffy with podcasts and music to entertain myself on the flight to Italy, should the children perchance fall asleep, leaving me awake, and desperate for distraction. Unlikely as it was, it actually happened. Little Shuffy to the rescue again.

Up until now Shuffy has been there to help me, to hold me up when I simply couldn't do it anymore. When I tired of putting the toys away, sweeping the floor, and doing dishes for the umpteenth time here in Italy, I remembered my trusty ipod. I loaded that baby up with music and podcasts on grammar, news, finances, Italian, and prayers. Since then, doing dishes has become a blissful escape. Not only do I learn something and take my mind off the tedious work I'm doing, I successfully tune out children shrieking (I can still hear them, don't worry, they're just less...loud). I used to dread the thirty-five minute walk home from my Italian class. It was dark, cold, and I was bored. Now, thanks to Little Shuffy, I actually look forward to my walk home. It's a chance to stretch my legs and learn something new. Last Monday, I actually walked a few extra blocks just to hear the end of the podcast!

When Matt offered to trade me dinner dishes for getting the kids ready for bed, I jumped at the opportunity. He had no idea how much this pleased me. While he wrestled with kids, changed diapers, read stories, and cajoled them into bed, I got to stand there, tune the chaos out, and listen to something. I can't believe I'm letting my dirty little secret out of the bag.

Well, I think he was on to me, anyway. The offer of a trade didn't last very long.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brainwashing at Breakfast

Still flush with excitement over the recent discovery of "water"--it is apparently neither liquid, gas, nor frozen--on the Moon, Matt tries to brainwash our son at breakfast.

"So, Dominic, do you want to build a space ship?"
"Yeah," staring at his granola.
"Are you going to be an aeronautical engineer or astrophysicist when you grow up?"
"Yeah," he doesn't bat an eye.
"Dominic, do you want to fly to the moon with Daddy? It'll be awesome. It's the the sky!" Daddy clearly displays far more enthusiasm than his son.
"Okay!" After sixty seconds of convincing, he's finally sold. "We gotta get to work." Mr. Boss takes charge.
Adding my two cents, I chime in, "But you'll be far from Mommy."

Then the next day.
"So, you still ready to go to the moon?" Daddy prompts to see if his brainwashing has worked.
"Yeah. We'll go far to Mommy."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Four Star Alarm!!!

Alert: We have lost a ragged pink doggy and an even more ragged blue doggy. These are precious items and a reward will be offered for finding them.

I don't know where, I don't know how. But it's a problem, that I know.

I can no longer put the kids to bed at the same time for naps or bedtime! I must resort to waiting until one falls sufficiently asleep, clutching the sole remaining doggy (blue) or cushioning their head with its shapeless comfort, before I sneak in and pluck it out of their arms so that I can give it to the other child so that they can fall asleep with the precious--and indispensable--doggy.

We tried buying Cate a replacement stuffed animal. It's a plucky yellow ducky that is quite squishy. She likes it okay and will even sleep with it if she's in a happy mood, but if it's been a rough day and she really needs comfort, she goes right for Dominic's doggy. It's hard to defend it as Dominic's personal property when Cate lost her identical (though pink) doggy. What am I to do?

(It's Baby Gund "Spunky" #58377 if anyone ever sees one...)

Buying Furniture for Children's Minds

As I read the twenty or so children's books we have here in Padova, I am struck by the importance they have in the education of my children. At two and half, Dominic can already memorize large portions of stories. Every night he recites the story of Baby Moses/Adult Moses while we flip the pages in his little Toddler Bible. He anticipates the action and can name everything in the pictures. He understands humor and likes rhyme. I am often surprised by the books that become his favorites. They often seem more complicated than I think he should be able to enjoy. Currently, The Saggy Baggy Elephant is at the top of his list.

Stories teach children right and wrong. They should make them love good heroes and despise villains, praising virtue and condemning vice. It is moral training on the most basic level. Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with reading a-moral stories. Silly Stories with Bert and Ernie is just that, silly. It may not develop their noble sensibilities, but it does foster a love of reading. I tend to think that this "lighter" reading is just fine, so long as the greater portion of their literature is more substantive. I certainly have a long way to go before having any sort of comprehensive view of children's lit. Thankfully, my future contains thousands more readings of children's books during which I will have the time to ponder these questions (at least between the kids questions of "Mommy, can you count them?" "What's that?" "What's he eating that for?" etc).

Anyway, I was wondering, what are everyone's favorite books from their childhood? Which books are so important or wonderful that you think my children will be deprived if they do not read them?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dominic Funnies

I've been collecting some of the funny things that Dominic has said lately. Here's a little recap of them.

Apparently, he's been assimilating the word "awesome" into his vocabulary:
  • He is about to climb a rock in front of the Colosseum and tells me, "It'll be awesome, Mommy."
  • Same day: "Are you awesome, Mommy?"
  • Then curious if he'll respond, I ask him, "Dominic, are you awesome?"
  • "Yeah...I'm awesome."
  • Same day: "Grandpa, are you awesome?" Grandpa, "Not so much, no. Only God is awesome."
"Can you 'finger out' the tv?"

While smooshing a pillow with all the intensity he can muster, he tells us through gritted teeth, "I wanna break it".

"Mi scusi," he casually says to me, as he tries to open a cupboard.

In an extremely adult way, he says to Daddy, "Let's see what's on here(tv)."

Peering into his pull-up he declares, "There's a lot of money in there!" (I gather that this is because I had explained that they were expensive and cost a lot of he should use the potty...).

"Daddy, you gotta shave."

His most famous declaration of two-year-old will: "I want to not!".

"I gotta catch a bus" - when we were waiting for Matt so we could get on a bus.

"I give it for Catey. She loves me." - Dominic took cookies off the counter. He took one for himself and one for her.

Cate folded her hands at dinner, during the prayer. Dominic looks at her and announces, "Cate prayed a little bit. Yay!" And then he claps for her.

Dominic sneezed a hearty sneeze, leaving little droplets on the floor. He tells me, "There's God-bless-yous there on the floor."

In the middle of the night he somewhat anxiously said, "I gotta find grandma. I gotta find her."

I told Dominic he couldn't have any more juice. A few hours later he's playing with the broken phone in our apartment and starts talking into it. "Grandma," he says, "Can you bring me some juice?...And kalua (granola)?" Then he put in another call to Uncle Stephen. "Unco? Can you bring me some juice?"

When we were talking about my parents coming to Italy, I told Dominic that Grandpa was coming on the airplane in a few days. Dominic says, excitedly, "Grandpa is coming. He's bringing his mower to me."

1st Birthday

A few days before Cate's birthday. I thought you might enjoy seeing a picture from Dominic on his first birthday. They definitely did not get the same gene package. :) I wish we could have had a big bash for Cate's birthday, too. We miss you all.

Address for Packages

We finally got to the bottom of the package mystery. Packages are best sent to the below address rather than our usual address (Residenza Galilei, Via A. Magarotto, 16, 35136 Padova, PD, Italy). It's the other apartment building that has a porter who answers when mailmen buzz...

Amy Gaetano
Residenza G. Galilei
Via Tartaglia, 9
35136 Padova, PD

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Aren't pictures worth a thousand words? Well, I'm going to save you the trouble of reading 75,000 words and have selected the best twenty percent for you to view at your leisure. Lots of things we weren't allowed to take pictures of, so, quite naturally, there are not very many pictures of some of the spectacular things we saw. Let's just say, it was a wonderful couple of weeks with Grandma and Grandpa!

Florence was crowded, rainy, and charming in its artsy way. We enjoyed a very central location and took in the local culture by eating at a late hour without the kids (we went as couples, taking turns watching the kids). The art museums were spectacular, but exhausting, as museums are wont to be.

Rome was, well, really old. It was sweet to see the ruins and imagine a thriving city there at one time, but honestly, Turkey has better ruins. Imagine that, better ruins. :) In Turkey they let you climb all over the ruins and really get close. But Turkey doesn't have the Colosseum or The Arch of Constantine. I really enjoyed seeing in person all of the things that hitherto have only been a page in an art history textbook. The process of getting to the Sistine Chapel was way more complicated than I ever dreamed it could be! We waited in line for 2 hours (our fault for not having reservations...but, as a plus, we went on a free day and saved a lot of money), then we were led through what felt like miles of anterooms gloriously decorated with frescoes, paintings, gold, carvings, etc. before we ever got to the Sistine Chapel. Once we finally got to Michaelangelo's masterpiece, you would have thought that we wouldn't have much art appreciation left in us. The man clapping his hands and bellowing out "SI-lence!" to the hoards below didn't help with that problem. Despite the downsides, however, it was still amazing. I have no idea how anyone, or even a group of people, could paint something so masterful and so beautiful. Extraordinary. St. Peter's Basilica blew my mind. It literally brought tears to my eyes. I love that it is still functioning as a church and not a museum or merely a destination for visitors. It was very prayerful and reverent as well as overwhelmingly beautiful and glorious.

The Colli Hills, about 40 minutes from us, are really quite lovely. It was nice to be out in nature and away from people after so many crowds, lines, and bustle. We enjoyed our hike to the top. Matt was such a trooper hauling Dominic up there in a baby backpack. Grandpa carried Cate in the other backpack and was a tropper too (she's just not quite as heavy). We saw some really gnarly vineyards, olive trees, and a persimmon tree. As a side note, we do not recommend not-quite-ripe persimmons. Psch, eckk, yuck! They taste like chalk and give you the worst cotton mouth you've ever had.

Verona was a charming city. It was a quaint little place full of its own wonders. The entire city is built upon Roman ruins. It has great shops, restaurants, and fun places to see. It was a joy just to wander around.

Lastly, we went to Venice. I know I've already posted about Venice, so I'll keep it brief. We went after a rainy day. The city had a slightly sewagey smell. But despite that, it was still a very endearing city. Because of the ill weather, we were able to walk right into St. Mark's Basilica without waiting at all. That was a miracle. It was a gold, Byzantine wonder. There are mosaics everywhere! According to Rick Steve's, who knows all, of course, the ceiling is as large as a football field and to do the mosaics would be like paving a football field with contacts (but of different shapes, etc!). We also took a boat ride to Murano island and saw a very brief demonstration on glass-blowing. I wish it had been longer because it was really fascinating. Mom and I gave in and bought necklaces with Murano glass beads. They're pretty cool, I must say.

At home, in Padova, we had a little (early) birthday celebration for Cate with a chocolate torte. She sure enjoyed that! It was wonderful to have Grandma and Grandpa here to celebrate it with us.

We had a fantastic time and wore ourselves out with wonder. Now it's back to the everyday grind, which is much less exciting...and exhausting.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Almost Back to Normal

My parents have been here for a wonderful two weeks. We did a whirlwind tour of Padova, Florence, Rome, the Euganean hills, Verona, and Venice. Wow, did we see some amazing things! I will have to post more about each of the places individually and put up some of the highlight pictures (this may take awhile to sort out since I took almost 400! Ah!)

We are just about back to normal, or whatever "normal" means around here. I guess it means grocery shopping, cooking, sweeping the floor 4 times a day, taking a trip to the park, and entertaining ourselves. It also means lots of Skype calls to all of our loved ones, since they are not here with us. For Matt, it means leaving the house at 8:30 to get to the library when it opens and spend a full day pouring over Latin making (we hope) discoveries and taking (again, we hope) copious notes on his computer using his newest love, OneNote--the MS Office note-taking/organizing software. Then, after a full day of work, he hops on the 6:15 bus and returns home to a freshly baked supper. kids washed, and a clean house (it's the ideal, anyway).

It has been a real treat to have Grandma and Grandpa here to visit, explore, and help watch the kids. I think Dominic and Cate will go into withdrawal when they leave (we might too, actually). Whenever something is broken, Dominic takes it to my dad and asks him, "Can you 'finger' it out, Grandpa?" We thought he just messed up the word until he was trying to fix his "broken" bread and was vigorously twisting his finger in the middle saying, "I 'finger' it out."

More to come. Soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Video: Hokey Pokey

I'm dangerous once I get started posting the videos... Matt has been taking the camera to the library to photograph old books, so most days I am "sans camera". He hasn't needed it for the last couple days, though, so I took full advantage by commanding my husband and the children to be interesting and then shot precious videos. Enjoy the Hokey Pokey.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Video Time!

I thought that everyone could use a little dose of the kids in action. Here's Dominic doing the song "Head and Shoulders" with Daddy.

And here's Cate giggling with Mommy.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Corruption of Italy

The corruption of Italy runs deep. In fact, it has even penetrated our little boy's imagination (and, apparently, my spelling abilities, since I just spelled it "immagination").

While reading Harry, The Dirty Dog for the one hundred-billionth time, I start asking Dominic questions about the pictures, hoping to break up the monotony. I ask him to find the fire hydrant, count the number of shovels, locate the coal car, etc.

He catches onto the game alarmingly quickly and starts asking me his favorite question, "Whaz that?"

After we played it his way for a few pages, I turn the tables, "Dominic, what's that?" as I point to a plate with leafy greens on it in the background of the cafe scene. The expected answer is, of course, "salad" or perhaps "broccoli," which remains his favorite vegetable, although asparagus and green beans are definitely challenging its preeminence.

"Iz basil," he casually tells me.

My windowsill herb garden appears to have left quite an impression upon him. Whenever he sees me pick some for a recipe he asks, without fail, "Mommy, can I have a basil (or rosemary, he correctly identifies them), for me?"

I have also discovered that he likes sandwiches, if they're not boring. I'll give you an example. A few days ago I made him a sandwich. It was asiago cheese and salami on a fresh baguette, not too bad, I thought, but he just picked at it, hardly eating anything.

He sees me eating my sandwich and, in his typical style, asks, "Mommy, what're you eating?"

Since I make it my policy to always answer these inquiries, I "patiently" respond, "it's a sandwich with zucchini, red peppers, cheese, and pesto."

At the mention of pesto, he perks up. "Pesto? I want some pesto."

Seeing no harm from this request, I get some out, slather it on his bread, reassemble the sandwich and give it back to him. He promptly ate the entire sandwich. Ever since then he asks for a pesto sandwich. See, Italy is corrupting him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


We were out to dinner with some friends, who made a detour to our humble abode in Padova during their grand tour of Europe, and Matt decides to try a more complicated Italian sentence involving the formal conditional and the infinitive, with an attached direct object--perhaps he wanted to impress them, I'm not sure. Anyway, we needed a little plate "piattino" for Dominic. He gets the waiter's attention, interrupts him from his very, very busy pace, and politely (and proudly) asks him, "Potrebbe portarlo un piattino, per favore?" (Basically, this means (or should have meant), "would it be possible for you (in the formal) to bring him a little plate?") Matt was then quite miffed when the waiter responded rather callously in English, "you want a plate?" Yes. That's what I said, didn't I? I guess he was just too busy to properly appreciate my use of the formal conditional with an infinitive attached to the direct object. Or is it really that obvious that we're not Italian? Maybe it's our pronunciation? Sigh.

A week later, in Italian class, Matt mentions this little anecdote to his teacher, telling him what he asked the waiter. The teacher, well, the teacher just howled with laughter. Apparently Matt had mixed up the direct object with the indirect object and had asked (using the conditional properly), "Would it be possible for you to bring him on a little plate?" Oops.

It should be "Potrebbe portargli (not portarlo) un piattino," if you're curious.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Burner Lesson

I wake up to Matt yelling, "Amyy!! Did you leave the burner on? You've gotta come see this! Now!"

"No, I didn't leave the burner on! Coming!" as I leap out of bed and rush to the kitchen, expecting fire, smoke, and charred skin. Anything with a burner and a two-year-old is bad. Very bad.

The burner is on and very hot. Fortunately, there isn't any smoke, or fire, and Dominic is fine. What I do see, however, is see coffee grounds and pools of murky brown water everywhere. On the floor, in the pan, in the sink, in a coffee cup, and on a spoon. Coffee grounds? They were in the fridge! Apparently, Dominic was trying to make some coffee. Whether it was for himself or for Mommy, he wouldn't say. Somewhat amused, but thoroughly upset that he could have been seriously hurt, I give him a long "talking to" about the dangers of the stove and doing things without Mommy or Daddy.

His innocent face and lack of true comprehension made me feel that my lecture was a bit futile. It reminded me of a story my mother told me. One of my older brothers, Josiah, was notoriously rambunctious and curious. My mother was trying to impress upon him the importance of safety, especially when playing outside near the street. With all seriousness and concern, feeling the need to make a strong indent on his soul, such that he'll never try this himself, she tells him, "Josiah, your best friend was almost hit by a car this morning..."

Eight-year-old Josiah responds, 'That's okay. I have lots of other friends."

That's about how futile my attempts at stove-safety felt today.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Foreign Tidbits

I was just making a quick list of interesting things I've found out recently, originally intended just for my own records, but I thought you all might enjoy them as well. I made friends at the park with a Finnish mother (2 kids) and our neighbors are Danish. Both speak excellent English, so I've been learning a lot about their countries. And, of course, there are random things we keep learning about Italy. So here they are, in list form.

-all children go to "school"
-take the public bus to school or parents bike them to school
-shop every day
-Albanians and Moroccans are the victims of much prejudice. But this is apparently different than prejudices in America, because these people "really are thieves."
-very sweet (and minimal) breakfast foods: croissant, brioche, choco-cereals, muesli, yogurt (even chocolate chip flavored! (straticella)), coffee, juice
- eat dinner late 9:30-10:00
-kids go to bed about 10:30 or 11:00
-everyone goes to the park at 4:00, after picking up kids from the school
-make payments on strollers. I.e. Peg Perego stroller with pram is 60 euro/month for 10 months!
-frequently ask me about the kids, "are they yours?" and "how old are you?"
-apparently, it is not rude to ask "how old are you?" and "how much do you weigh?" after all, everyone can see these things any way.
-I cannot find Shout, brown sugar, baking soda, jarred garlic, dried mint, ranch dressing, and the pacifiers are lame (no curved nipple).
-the pizza is delicious, but apparently, "American pizza" has corn on it. What?

-eat dinner about 6:00
-kids to bed about 8:00
-much recyling/thrift stores, hand-me-downs
-hardly any cars
-the trope 'you cannot eat pasta every day' is there as well. Too many carbs are bad for you
-English is compulsory in school. almost everyone, even grandparents, speak English.

-meat is more expensive there than in Italy. wow. 9 euro/kilo for chicken = $6/lb for chicken and ground beef. yikes.
-they eat dark bread (like pumpernickel) with various toppings for a traditional lunch
-almost no mothers stay home
-bikes everywhere. including a bike with a box in the front to house a child and another person
-buy a special bike and stroller instead of a car
-dissertation = "writing a Ph.D"
-liberal and conservative politics. but the support of the right wing party is necessary for anything to pass.
-more recently it is becoming right-wing. the police sent back 50-100 Iraqui refugees, even though it is not safe to send them back yet.
-eat dinner about 6:00
-kids to bed about 8:00
-concerned about 'sustainable living'
-minimum wage is 11-13 euro for someone without any education
-learn English from tv programs. nothing is dubbed.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Questura Continued = Not so Happy

Today Matt went to the Questura to be fingerprinted. Naturally, he needed a paper he did not have (for some reason, they require all the same paperwork that you already submitted copies of...even though you have a receipt showing that your papers were already accepted...) and, also, they wanted me and the kids there at the same time, even though they never told us that, and our appointment wasn't for another ten days, anyway...I got the paper, strapped Cate onto my front in the Baby Ergo, took Dominic firmly by the hand, and caught the next bus for the center.

Things went relatively well. I waited with the kids at the gate for 10 minutes. We waited inside for another 30 minutes. Then we submitted all our papers again. Waited another 20 minutes. Then we were called up to the window. They accepted everything! Then we put each finger on this little blue machine. Okay. So far, so good. Then la polizia asked Matt how tall, in centimeters, he is. Wow, we have no idea! After a bit of trying to make a reasonable guess, he tells her that he is 190 centimeters. His logic went something like this: a meter is pretty close to a yard and a yard is three feet. So...six feet would be two meters. He is 5 inches (half a foot) shorter than 6 feet. He remembered from school rulers that a foot was pretty close to 30 centimeters. So, he figured that he was about 10-15 centimeters shorter than 2 meters. Ergo, 185-190 centimeters. She scoffed in disbelief. Responding in half-Italian and half-English she said that he is certainly not as tall as a basketball player. I guess our calculations were in error. She guessed that he was somewhere in the 160s or 170s. A yard and a meter really aren't that close... One foot equals about 30 centimeters. 30 x 5 = 150 + 15 = 165. OH.

Funny bits aside, we did succeed. But after that, we needed to go to another building, down the street, to have another set of fingerprints taken by a bureaucrat with blue gloves who took his job very, very seriously. Having done that, we were finished. Well, at least for 40 days. In 40 days, we need to go back to the URP office to check something on the internet and get an appointment to pick it up, I guess.

Side note: On the way to the Questura, after we exited the bus, Dominic was throwing a little tantrum because he wanted to stay on the bus. In an attempt to appeal to his reason, I told him his behavior was not making Mommy very happy. He eventually calmed down and we kept walking. Later in the afternoon, he randomly asks me, "Mommy, are you happy?" I tell him, "Yes, Dominic. I'm happy." I respond, "Are you happy, Dominic?" He informs me, "No, Mommy, I'm not so happy." And that is exactly what he said, Matt can confirm it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Beautiful Venice: City of Wonders

It's a shame. My first glimpse of Venice made me think I was in Disney World. Magical, yes. Crowded, yes. And surreal. So surreal. Disney has certainly tried to recreate the Venetian magic (and succeeded, in some way), but lacks the mystical appeal of being a real place. Sure, Venice lives off tourism. It could not survive without it. But this is a real city, created by people without power tools and the internet.

The narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with picturesque seashell-colored houses. I find myself in the shade provided by the endless vertical swathes of pink, white, coral, ivory, and yellow houses. Gaggles of people gawk everywhere, squeezed elbow to elbow between the markets of the Rialto and the Ruga where you can buy Venezia t-shirts, "Renaissance" masks, Murano glass items, and chili pepper bouquets (see picture). But when you've climbed to the top of the Rialto bridge with the other 500 people, it suddenly doesn't matter that you're not there alone. The Grand Canal is an almost indescribable sight. Water everywhere, bright colors of tall buildings, bridges in marble, shiny black gondolas with singing gondoliers, and cafes everywhere, allowing anyone to sit and enjoy an expensive espresso to top off the marvelous beauty. I shall include a few pictures in an attempt to supplement my inadequate descriptions.

St. Mark's Square, likewise, is extraordinary. After following dozens of signs leading us through the maze of alleys, bridges (all with steps), secret passages, and streets that we swear are dead ends, only to mysteriously lead elsewhere, we arrive at the square for one of the most magnificent basilicas in Europe. St. Mark's. The square itself is immense, bordered by dark, aged columns and stone buildings (old offices and Palace). We witness a parade of veterans (or something) with their flags and music, marching very slowly through the hoard of people gathered there. Making our way to the end of the square against the lagoon, we look up and are amazed to see 3 more unbelievable buildings. What are these?! A city would be proud to have just one of any of these and here, in Venice, we are at the feet of two, and see three on the horizon. Upon consultation with my Rick Steve's guidebook, I see that one is merely the old Customs House and another is a "simple" church!

St. Mark's Basilica itself is the pride of Venice and clearly shows the unbelievable wealth and prosperity that Venice enjoyed as a hub of the trading route for centuries. I heard it said that every expedition from Venice was required to bring something back for the basilica and, as a result it is a masterpiece of opulence and art, almost a vision of how glorious God must be. And that is merely from the outside! A visit to the inside remains for the next trip we make there, with my parents (soon!).

Mostly, we just wandered the streets of Venezia, taking in the old city, observing laundry hanging from a third story window over a canal, seeing a bridge go right to a doorway, wondering why the Gucci, Pucci, and Louis Vuitton stores were on (what seemed to be) an obscure alley way, shooing pigeons away from our (stealth) picnic lunch, figuring out the best way to carry the stroller over the bridges, and deciding on which of the horridly expensive trattorias to eat at. It was lovely. Magical.

And in need of countless more visits.

Here, for pictures.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cate Update

Our little Cate has taken her first steps! Yesterday she took 5 or 6 in a row. So here she is, at 10 months, holding her own. I wanted to capture these on video for all to see before she really takes off and becomes a little girl, toddling after her big brother.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The 3rd Monday in Italy

Today is the first day that I have actually woken up refreshed since we arrived. The two hour nap yesterday coupled with sleeping in this morning (until 7:40 woo-hoo!!) probably account for this. Our little Italian colds have subsided and Cate seems to be interested in nursing during the day again. For a while, she was all mixed up and only wanted to nurse at night. Although she is still waking up frequently at night, there's hope that she's starting to adjust to the new schedule. I never thought it would take her this long!

Monday is just a general housekeeping morning. Grocery stores are only open in the afternoons on Monday (not really sure why, it's just the way they roll, I guess), so I've decided to spend the morning tidying up, doing laundry, getting a grocery list together, and entertaining Dominic while Cate catches a little nap. Dominic seems to like having some order in the apartment, if only so that he can have the pleasure of taking everything apart again.

Immediately after we got up and went out to the living room, he was trying to put his pillow in the drawer, then he handed me his sheet and said, "fold it, Mommy," and started trying to fold up the sofa bed by himself. In a couple minutes we transformed the room from Dominic's bedroom back to a living room. But now, all the cushions are on the floor, making alternately a train and an airplane for my imaginative, albeit toyless, son.

Off to get the wet laundry and hang it on the line...if I can find the missing clothespins (another favorite toy). Here are a few pictures of where I've found clothespins recently.

We were told that these are "happy birthdays" and Dominic pushed Cate away when she tried to touch them, telling her "no, no, it's hot."

This is the USB cord for my camera...

This is the curtain by the door to the terrace. Note, these are just a few of the random places we've found the clothespins. I also found them on the knob of every cupboard (curiously, always facing the same direction), on my shirt sleeves, and on the backs of our kitchen chairs. It's always a mystery where they'll pop up next.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Italian Bureaucracy 101

Just forget about doing anything quickly, or logically, in Italy. Just forget about it. We were mostly prepared for this after our Visa Escapades. Mostly. This entire last week has been sacrificed to the obtaining of the Permesso di Soggiorno or Permit of Stay.

First, we needed to acquire the notorious marriage certificate with the troublesome Apostille that was being sent to us in a Fed Ex package by Mom Gaetano. (Some of you may remember, this is the one that Mom and Dad Plopper applied for in Madison about 1 1/2 months ago!, then they messed that up, the mail lost it, I re-ordered it, they almost failed to match it up correctly, and it was still late, despite expediting, when it came to York the day after we left, Mom Gaetano had to mail it to Padova. Matt also wanted me to mention that this should remind us that these problems are not exclusively Italian.) Padova, however, cannot manage to deliver this package. Matt had to wait from 9:00AM, when, supposedly, there was an attempted delivery on the previous day. Then, after being out there for well over an hour, he asked a random delivery man if he knew about our FedEx package and was told to be waiting outside at 11:30. He was; they didn't come...until well after 12:00, so they claimed. Anyway, no luck. The only number they leave is a fast Italian message. I finally find someone to help me call them, they don't know where the package is, and we're running out of time. Foreigners must present themselves before they have been in Italy for 8 business days, and tomorrow, Tuesday, is the last day.

We go, without it. To where? That's exactly what we wondered. From what we could tell, we needed to go to the post office to obtain a "kit" (pronounced, "keet"). We rush to the local post office at 8:30, hoping to get it so that Matt can still go to class for the day. Nope. You must go to the central post office. Great. So, after waiting for the said Fed Ex package until 12:00, we decide it's not coming. We set off at a fast pace for the central Post Office. We make it there and get the two kits, only to discover that they are near impossible to decipher and that we do not know what to do with them. Having heard about the SAOS office, which assists immigrants in such matters, we set out to find them. We do. Now really begins the frenzied lines and waiting and backtracking of the last week.

At the URP (Ufficio Relazioni Publici or Office of Public Relations), we take a number and wait. And wait and wait. With the kids. Finally Paulita sees us, right as Cate starts to wail. I wait outside while Matt receives hurried instructions about what papers he needs. "Come back on Thursday," she says, "at 9:30." Wednesday is spent by Matt running around on buses, trying to obtain a tax number, and by me, signing a housing contract and making photo copies and getting tobacco stamps (long story!). Hoping to bypass the line at URP, we get there at 9:30, but already 4 people are ahead of us. She sees us after 2 hours, and helps Matt fill out his paperwork. Now we rush to the post office to wait in another line to submit this kit. Oops, wrong line. Start over. At last, after the scrutinizing eyes of the postal workere, his kit is accepted and he gets a receipt (making him legal, although this is not the Permesso di Soggiorno, he must still be finger-printed and then they mail it months later if everything is in order).

Paulita, of the URP, tells us that I must go to the Questura (Police Station) instead of the Post Office to submit my papers. She will meet us there and introduce us. I make more photocopies and buy more tobacco stamps. We go to the Questura half hour early (after going to the wrong place--we weren't given an address. Another long story!). There is a mob of people outside of a locked and barely identified wrought-iron gate, number 8. Are we even at the right place? I call Paulita and tell her we are there, and she tells me she'll be there in 10 minutes. 45 minutes later there is still no sign of Paulita. Finally, we see her on the inside of the gate, admitting people! Oh! She actually works here, too! She nods at us, and we are relieved that she knows that we are there and is going to help us. There is a mob inside too. Everyone is moving around, cutting in line, and pressing forward to be seen first. After an hour of being annoyed (it's hard to "budge" with a stroller), we realize there's no actual line. She simply calls each person when she wants. After two hours, she looks at our papers. Okay, everything is good. Husband, as Paulita refers to him, can go to class.

We wait another hour. Dominic has eaten 3 packs of crackers, 5 cookies, Nemos, and one sippy cup of juice. He has played with books, toy cars, shoes, and clothespins. Paulita tells us we need Matthew's post office receipt. Come back Monday at 8:00 with these copies. Feeling very dejected and like we'd wasted our whole morning, I call Matt. He suggests that he leave class, hop on the bus, get the receipt, make a copy, and return to the Questura while I wait there, preserving our place in line. Ok. I wait. He returns, having accomplished his mission. I'm so proud and excited about my heroic husband! We submit our new papers. Ok. Now you may see the counter. Phew. Almost there. Life can almost get back to normal.

But at the counter they tell me they can only grant a tourist visa for 90 days, not 300. What?! I ask them to ask Paulita (who is behind the counter). They conclude that it is ok, I can get one for 300, but not there. I must take a "keet" and submit it at the Post Office. Then I will get an appointment and return then. I must have looked very peeved and upset because Paulita immediately assured me that she would fill out the kit for me. "Come Tuesday at 2:30," she says. "Then go immediately to the Post Office." Sound familiar? Anyway, Matt and I spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out if there was any point at all to this whole morning... We went to a nice place (Brek) for lunch and the kids were sleeping. A silver lining?

So Tuesday I will go to get my filled-in kit. Then to the Post Office. If everything goes well, we will receive our appointments at the post office, we go to the Questura to have fingerprints done, to wait for the Permesso di Soggiorno to come, maybe before we leave, in the mail.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Markets, Buses, and Rickshaws

Sorry for the strange formatting. Blogger did something to my post and, with such a slow connection, I don't have the time to change it.

The open air markets in Padova are simply splendid. They are open Monday–Saturday mornings in downtown Padova and offer any sort of produce that one could want, just waiting to be bought, bright colors of fruits and vegetables in tidy heaps at each stand—even herb plants (this is where I got my superbly robust basil plant)! Also for sale are bolts of cloth, sewing notions, underwear, t-shirts, purses, and so on. And yet, curiously enough, if you walk by the Piazza Erbe or Frutta, which sit at the feet of the Palazzo del Ragione (Palace of Reason), all you see is a large open empty piazza with perhaps a few tables and lots of pigeons, and the famous palace front.

After the exertion of wandering around aimlessly, Dominic and I had worked up quite an appetite for something tasty. I chose two chocolate cannoli and a brioche (cream-filled roll, I found out, as I tried it). The cannoli were fabulous. I’m not sure why I bought cannoli, actually. I don’t really like them. But these were aaa-mazing. Flaky little pastries (think, very small croissants) with chocolate filling. Not gooey like pudding, not whipped like moose, not sweet like frosting, not hard like a chocolate bar, but just right. If you come to Padova, we will buy you chocolate cannoli. I simply cannot describe them. After I had my first bite of the cannoli, I selfishly decided that Dominic would not care if he had the brioche, and I ate both cannoli myself.

We’ve been in Padova for one week. Today, Saturday, much to Dominic’s supreme delight, we rode the bus to the “mall,” Brentelle. Brentelle houses the giant supermarket/Italian Wal-mart, Interspar (I believe some have actually called it a “hyper-market”), several clothing stores, and various other “mallish” type places. And, just like Wal-mart, going on a Saturday morning was a big mistake. In fact, Interspar might be even worse, since it’s not open on Sundays. But I needed Matt’s help to navigate the bus with the kids for the first time and to once again be the family hoss with all the purchases.

We were seeking an umbrella stroller, cell phones, an alarm clock, sundry kitchen items, and more groceries. I’m sure any new home owners or apartment dwellers can sympathize, but it seems like all we’ve done this first week is shop! We had some success at Interspar, but were limited by deteriorating happiness of the children, wildly chaotic store, and, despite what most think, a limit to my husband’s strength. We did, however, find an umbrella stroller. It wasn’t as cheap as I had hoped it would be. In fact, it was the only one there, so we were lucky to find one at all. It very mod-pod looking, and I have begun to refer to it as Cate’s rickshaw. Seriously, take a look at the picture. Am I wrong?

While we gave up on Interspar before we got everything, I did manage to snag an awesome cheese grater, one of those white ones that fancy Italian restaurants use, and I purchased some authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano (I had to do some research on this, that’ll be a post for later) to make my pasta sauce. It grates cheese like a dream. This will be a great souvenir, I tell myself as I shell out more euro for kitchen “essentials” (grated cheese is not very common here).

Here are a few Dominic Stories from the last week:

1) We stopped by the church near us to see if it was open. It was not. After Dominic sees me unsuccessfully try to open it, he announces, “I need keys.” And then asks me, “You have ‘em, Mommy?”

2) Dominic loves to press the elevator buttons. We live on floor 6 and the ground floor, is “zeerio.”

3) Preface: in our home, we refer to kisses as “power,” a practice I started to make good night and good morning kisses more exciting when Dominic was losing interest.

Now, Dominic wanted to watch Jimminy Cricket on Mommy’s computer. I told him that we couldn’t because my computer needed power. He proceeded, without any prompting, to kiss the computer. J