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."