Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Crisp of Fall

After the stifling heat of Rome, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Minnesota, these days that just linger on the mid-70s are the blessed first, dreamy wisps of fall.  That almost imperceptible crispness has returned to the air, and with it, a new clarity to our movements.  We can run again.  We can picnic at midday.  We can turn off the air conditioning.  It means a return of baking, soups, and new routines.  School has started again, and we, who are too young or too old for school, are home filling our time with letters and sounds, cutting and pasting, reading and re-reading, and taking field trips to fairs and farms.  

Next week I'll show Dominic and Cate one of the longstanding joys of my childhood: we'll go apple picking and gorge ourselves on the finest fruits of nature.  Honeycrisp, braeburn, and gala.  These are a few of my favorite things.  Biting into a juicy, extremely flavorful but slightly tart, and, of course, crisp, apple floods my tastebuds and my mind with all the memories stored in that bite.  Walking through enormous hanging plastic flaps into the giant refrigerator room at Bauer's Market in La Crescent, MN, where you could taste endless samples of its glorious apples fresh from its orchards.  Smelling simmering apples all day and then taking turns cranking and pushing the soggy apples through that crazy machine into quarts and quarts of deliciously pink applesauce to enjoy the whole winter.  Stealing apples from the college cafeteria and making apple crisp with all my new friends.  Bonding with the somewhat seedy (at that time) Konrad over his peace-offering of as many honeycrisp apples as I could ever want.  And opening my dorm door to the Valentine's Day surprise of a giant heart drawn with apples on my bed from my dear husband (now).

I just love the crisp bite of fall.  Isn't it amazing what things can be caught up with a taste or smell?  Ponder thus.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

US Tour

Sunday marks the beginning of our month-long US tour. It is something of a marathon, making a giant "donut", as my older brother calls it, from Pennsylvania (home) down to South Carolina (vacation), west to Oklahoma (wedding), north to Minnesota (family), east to Indiana (family), and continuing east to arrive back home in Pennsylvania 4 weeks and several thousand miles later. If I counted correctly, we'll be covering eighteen states. Each leg itself will be wonderful, but I'm not too excited about the many hours in the car with two toddlers, champs though they are at travel. But family reunions and weddings are amazing events and not to be missed, so we'll be there, traveling in style in our minivan. :)

View Larger Map

Since being home, we've been thoroughly enjoying the American comforts.  In particular, warm, luxurious showers with silken body wash, fluffy, large towels, shower doors that work, hot water that never seems to run out, and excellent water pressure.  Tall glasses of free ice water.  Big freezers.  Big refrigerators.  Loading up the car in our driveway and going straight to our destination rather than dragging ourselves, our stuff, and our kids to the bus stop, onto the bus, off the bus, onto the train, and then onto another bus, before arriving in ragged condition at our destination.  Mexican food.  Chinese food.  Burgers.  Steaks.  Roast beef.  Cheddar cheese.  Normal milk (not ultra-pasturized).  Orange juice (Italian orange juice is very bitter).  A large washer in my house and a dryer right next to it.  Lots of space, everywhere I look or go.  And hearing English, everywhere (well, except at Walmart, when all I hear is Spanish).

But there are things we miss about Italy and, I'm sure, as the novelty of these comforts and conveniences wears out a bit, there will be even more things.  I miss the cappuccino.  I miss the smell of cappuccino.  I miss hearing the ceramic clink of cappuccino cups from the cafes below our apartment.  I miss our Danish neighbors.  I miss seeing Matt all the time.  I miss always knowing exactly where the kids are.  I miss the delicious and cheap sweet peppers.  I miss the brie, fontina, and edam cheeses.  I miss the wine.    I miss being able to walk everywhere.  I miss the excitment of exploring somewhere new everyday.

So rather than long for what I can't have (everything), I'm vowing to appreciate what I do have.  Oh, and  to use my stovetop moka to bring a little Italy into my American life with a daily cappuccino. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Little video of Cate trying out the "new" Jack-in-the-box. I love how, for the first 3 days she played with it, she reacted this same way every single time she made him pop out. The beauty of being a year and a half old.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Video! Cate in her glory

We've returned! After 20 hours of travel, we were exceedingly glad to arrive safely in York, PA. The kids were surprisingly good, on account of your prayers, I have no doubt, as it was miraculous that we only suffered ten minutes of crying the entire taxi ride, check-in, security, flight, layover, security, flight, baggage claim, and drive. Endless cookies and juice boxes are also a big hit.

We couldn't be happier to be back in the US. It is amazing to have family and friends nearby or just a phone call away. To have a washer and dryer in my own house. To have more than 450 square feet to call our own. To load up a car and go whenever we want, without waiting for a bus that we frantically load, hoping we didn't forget anything or anyone. To eat Mexican, Chinese, and American food. To have a backyard. To have an amazing shower. To know how stuff works. To know how people work. To understand every word spoken to us or around us. The list goes on and on about why we're so glad to be home. Italy was phenomenal and a real adventure full of incredible moments and priceless experiences, but really, there's no place like home.

And with that, we are back to the business of living, American style (although I must confess, I just made a cappuccino in an Italian moka...).

In our little family, both Cate and Dominic are comedians. Dominic is the clever, scheming sort and Cate is the off-the-cuff, body humor sort. Most of you have seen or read stories of Dominic's tricks, but Cate's are much harder to capture. But thanks to our new camera and blessedly high-speed U.S. internet, I've got a little video to share her tricks.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Home on Wednesday!

As homesick as we've been getting in Rome, it's crazy to believe that our time in Italy is actually almost over.  We've had a stream of visitors this last week, giving us a fellowship and a great chance to re-do all the best sites in Rome right before we leave.  It's amazing to see how much we've learned about Rome since moving here.  I remember the first time I came Vatican City with my parents in October and not knowing where anything was, not being sure if this building was the Vatican Museum, not knowing much about the basilicas, or the trains, and now, after living in Rome for seven weeks, I can give a tour virtually without a map.  It's really been quite an experience.  But we're ready to pack up and fly home on Wednesday morning.  We're ready for family.  For friends.  For English.  For big stuff.  For lots of space. For so many small things.  We are ready.  USA, see you soon!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Cate just adores her older brother. She tries to do everything and anything he does, no matter what it is. He throws a stone, she throws a stone. He spits, she spits. He gives me a kiss, she gives me a kiss. I feel like if we can succeed in making Dominic a respectable, godly child, we will have automatically succeeded with Cate too.

Her copy-cat behavior even extends to clothes and potty training. He goes to the bathroom and she always tries to take her pants off too. Here's her most recent display of "brother-worship".

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I bambini (The kids)

Why do their hugs so often look more like attempts to strangle?
"You getting money, Daddy?"  I'm ready to spend it.  In fact, I'm researching my new toys right now! (see previous post)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why work?

Lest you all be too depressed by my last post, here is a little Dominic anecdote for your amusement.

Since the weather has been so beautiful, the kids and I have frequently been walking Matt to the archives in the morning.  And Dominic has been struggling to understand why Daddy needs to leave everyday and can't stay and play with him.  Also, the archives of the last couple of weeks either close down at 1pm or have a long "break" (quite irritating for him) between, say, 12 and 3ish.  So this creates even more situations where we are all together and Daddy has to leave, see below:
Dominic: Where is Daddy going? (asking for the fifth time, at least)
Mommy: To work.
Dominic: Why?
Mommy: To make money.

 (This explanation began especially when Dominic put a few Euro coins in the radiator ($3 worth).  As annoying as it was, we tried to use the moment to explain the value of money.  One way of doing this was to say that Daddy might have to work a little more to make up for the money that Dominic had wasted! this actually opened up a whole world for him.  Now, Dominic asks all the time if Daddy is leaving to go make us more money. When we go the ATMs, he thinks we are "getting" or "buying" money.  It must be confusing for him that Matt is gone for so many hours, if it's really that easy to "get" money.  He also likes to go around the house taking up offerings in his Elmo frying pan. probably are getting the gist--cash is clearly on his radar screen now!)

So, Mommy has just callously explained for the umpteenth time that Daddy went to work to go get money.  Daddy chimes in to qualify that he is doing much more than making money.  If that's all he were doing, well, things would look rather different.  He seriously engages with Dominic in a collegial way, as he tends to do with our three-year old son: "Well, Dominic, I am also in the pursuit of the truth about the past.  I am trying to correct misconceptions about the history of Christianity." And so on. When Daddy receives a blank stare, he does try a different tactic.  "Well, you know how you learn your letters, well, Daddy goes to work to learn other sorts of things.  It's just that I also get money for this for our family."

When money re-enters the picture, Dominic's attention has again been piqued and his eyes sparkle again. 

Dominic: Why do we need money?  
Matt: This is how we buy food, and how we have an apartment.  Do you know the books that you have?  We get them with money.  I'm going to work so you can have more toys...  

Now Daddy really has grabbed the attention of his son.  He was asking about how this happens and about what kind of toys I was going to get for him.  He didn't entirely get the point.  So, we finally drop Matt off at the archive.  As we walk away, Dominic says, "So Daddy's going to get us money for my toys."  I tried to explain, but it obviously didn't work.  When Matt returned home hours later and gave his little son a hug, the first thing he asked was,

"So...Daddy...where's my toys?" 

(OK, for comic timing, I should probably stop here, but there is another wrinkle.  When Dominic said this, Matt started laughing hysterically.  For some reason, when that happens, Dominic (with a little smirk on his face) still seriously points at his father and says, "No, Daddy. DON'T LAUGH."  We don't know why this upsets him since he's such a comedian.  But he has been told that it is wrong to stick his fingers in his parents' faces and to shout at them.  He has been taught that there are nice, acceptable alternatives.  Well, in this instance, he remembered.  His face entirely changes.  His voice gets softer and calmer.  And, with the sweetest possible intonation, he says, "No thank you, Daddy.  Please don't laugh.") 

Monday, June 7, 2010

The No-Good, Rotten Week

This last week I was caught in the clutches of the Eternal City, chewed up, and spit back out.  I was locked out of the apartment, my e-mail and facebook accounts were infiltrated by a hacker, and my beloved camera was stolen.  It was a no-good, rotten week in the state of Italy.

The first event was simple enough, it could happen to anyone anywhere. In fact, I'm sure it's happened to most of you at some point in your life. But when it happens in city of 2.7 million people and none of them are your friends...well, it moves from "inconvenient" to "crisis."

I loaded up the kids and the stroller for a "quick" trip to the grocery store so we'd be ready for our company that evening (friends from the US!). We were coming back after that so I just took two packs of crackers and a jacket for each instead of the usual assemblage of sippy cup, milk, lunch, snacks, rain cover, toys, books, etc. I also thought it'd be nice to carry a purse with all important items instead of my usual habit of sticking wallet, cell phone, and keys into various pockets on my person or the stroller. I put my purse together, opened the double doors, pushed the stroller and kids out, and shut the door, to realize immediately that I had left that same purse on the shelf and not on the stroller like I thought. Thus I was locked out without money or phone or even a phone number to call, in Rome. I had two kids and a stroller and nothing else save two packs of saltines. Matt wasn't due back until 5:00 pm, just before our company was due to arrive. What was I going to do?

Adrenaline pumping and all dignity aside, I sprinted full speed down our street and rushed down the metro stairs (stroller and kids in tow) to try to catch Matt who had left ten minutes before. We had no other chance. We knew no one save our landlady. I couldn't use an internet cafe without money and a passport. I couldn't call without a phone number to call. I couldn't get back in without the keys. Our only hope was Matt, who was on his way to a new library all the way across town, with a dying cell phone that wouldn't be on until noon, when he was supposed to call me. We made it to the metro landing, only to be thwarted by the fact that we had no tickets or money to pursue onto the metro. Now what?! Dejectedly I made my way back to the apartment, not sure what to do.  I was hoping that maybe there was enough Jack Bauer deep within my soul that I could pick the lock or something. But alas, someone shut the outside door which I, in my ingeniousness, had so carefully left cracked and we were completely locked out. I sighed and sat on the curb. Then in desperation, I started sifting through the crumbs in the stroller basket praying, and hoping against hope, that perhaps there were some coins hidden in there. Miraculously, there was one euro. I thought very carefully about what to do with that one euro. I could buy some food so the kids didn't start screaming in two hours. I could make two phone calls. I could try to find an internet cafe that I could persuade to let me in despite no identification. Or, I could go on that metro and find Matt.

I decided to do just that. Having looked up the directions for him last night, I at least knew approximately where he was going and what it was called, even though I had no map and didn't know the area. We had talked about meeting up for lunch because the place closed from 12-2, so I knew he'd have to exit the place at 12 if I couldn't find him or get in earlier. We took the risk of getting across town and having to walk the 6 km back to a locked apartment, but it was our only chance! Again, we braved the metro with the heavy stroller, relying on the goodness of a few Italians who helped me carry the stroller down the stairs. We exited and wandered for about 45 minutes before we found the right church. Then it was all in vain. We arrived at a beautiful church hidden behind a hill and a road with a locked cloister and a buzzer and no obvious library. I couldn't bring myself to ring--what would I say?-- so I resolved that we would just wait the two hours until Matt should come out. A monk was next to the bars, though, so I approached him and asked if there was a library there. He almost laughed out loud (in a kindly way) at the suggestion. A library? We are a very small monastery with just a tiny library for the monks, but nothing for scholars. Perplexing! Nevertheless, I decided to stay. I'm not sure why. Maybe I just couldn't bring myself to abandon hope. At quarter past noon, however, we still had no sign of Matt. Dominic was getting restless and Cate was beginning to scream. While I wanted to sit down and cry and indulge in my misery, I tried to hold it together for the kids, since we gad a long walk ahead of us without any food. Shoulders slumping forward, I plowed along back down the hill. We reached the foot and were just about to turn and lose sight of the church and piazza where we had been waiting for Matt, I looked one last time, out of desperation rather than hope, when I saw the red backpack. My legs responded with the sprinting power of the former tri-state champion that I was, and I heard my voice screaming his name at the top of my lungs, not caring that everyone on the sidewalk was looking at the lunatic running full blast with a red stroller screaming. Then I was behind him in a second. In my joy, I accosted him from behind, startling him far more than he deserved. I have NEVER been soo happy in my life. My best friend. My one friend in Rome. My friend with the cell phone, passport, and the money.

He took care of me, immediately taking command of the stroller to relieve my burden. He commanded that we stop for food. When refreshed, he found an internet cafe while I bought a few groceries. We called the landlady. He helped me with the kids in the metro. He ran ahead to meet the lady in time. He watched the kids so I could get dinner ready for company and he helped me tidy before they came. My one friend in Rome is a pretty good one, I have to say.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Video: Villa d'Este!

I thought a short video would help you picture this marvelous place with its astonishing array of sixteenth-century fountains. It even had a hydraulic organ! I think the Villa d'Este in Tivoli might be my favorite outing yet. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Italian Coin Craze

Remember the coin craze in the US when the Fed started minting special state quarters and only 4 new ones came out each year? There was a mad rush on every bank and endless phone calls for customers desperate to get their newly-minted quarters, desperate to snatch up a roll or two while they were still spankin' new, to fill that lonely CA or TX whole in their coin collection.  I worked in a bank for one of those years and dreaded every time a new quarter was released.

Fortunately, the Italian coin craze is not like that.  There is no mad dash over the euro, no coin collecting, and no urgent bank runs.  And therein lies the real problem: not only no rushing the bank, Italians don't ever (or...very rarely) go to the bank.  Not merely average citizens, but the shops, supermarkets, restaurants, etc, just never go to the bank.  They rely on their customers to have exact change or make change in such a way that they give you the least amount of change. The idea of requiring change from a vendor is seen as an insult of the highest kind, one only perpetrated by tourists.

Let me give you an example.  Just yesterday I was in the supermarket, a large grocery store chain called Billa.  It is always crowded and must have a thousand customers a day.  The kids and I went at 9am to avoid the hoards of crazed Italians staunchly marking out there territory before the deli, in the aisle, and waiting to check out.  You would think that -- this early in the morning -- making change would not be a problem (they open at 8am).  But shops do not make a morning run to the bank to get the change they might require for the day, like they do in the US.  My total rang up to 20.49 euro.  I handed her a twenty and then felt the need to apologize when I also handed her a five.  From experience, I knew this apology was necessary to avoid being shunned.  After all, I was asking that she give me two two-euro coins and a fifty-cent coin and a penny.  That's a lot of change isn't it?  How dare I not carry exact change?!  She looked at the five as if she didn't quite know what to do with it.  She pondered a minute looking at my shopping cart, then she spoke her brilliant scheme.  "You have a cart.  When you return it, bring me the euro." And she returned my five-euro bill and gave me fifty cents instead, expecting me to bring her the euro when I finished returning my cart.  To get a shopping cart, you put a one euro coin in as a deposit.  When you return it, you get the euro back. 

Other times, Matt has tried to buy bus tickets from a tabaccheria and been refused because he didn't have the right change.  He only wanted two, so it should cost 2 euro.  But, as no one else gives change either, he only had a ten.  This would entail giving him a five-euro bill, a two-euro coin, and a one-euro coin.  Outrageous!  Once it was around 9:30AM, and they asked if he would wait for them to grab change at the bank because they had none in their registers.  He just decided to buy enough tickets to prevent that waste of time.  (Once he had to come all the way back from a pizzeria because he only had a twenty-euro bill for a twelve-euro purchase! He needed to come back and grab enough coins... But he would have had to wait for the pizza to bake anyway, I guess.)

Routinely, Italians round up or down by up to 10 cents so that they can give you nothing smaller than a ten-cent piece.  Pennies are forgiven if they ever come up.  I'm not quite sure why they even exist.  And most prices are usually on the euro itself.  1 euro, 2 euro, etc.  The idea of .99, .85, etc is simply anathema to them, as it well should be. Who ever thought of doing things that way, anyway? And tax is already included, so, the listed price is the price you'll pay.  That's convenient.

But, here in Italy, have the right change, or you will be the utmost inconvenience and have scorn heaped upon your head.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day Trip: Villa d'Este

This is the beautiful Renaissance estate of Villa d'Este located in Tivoli, Italy, about an hour bus ride from Rome. It was a sumptuous feast for the eyes and lovely respite for the soul to walk amidst plush manicured gardens and gaze in awe at the water theater playing all around us. We strolled through magnificent fountains of ancient deities, some shooting water 20 feet in the air, some spurting out of stone boats, some lining a sidewalk arena-style, and still others toppling gracefully down the terraced hillside into a gazing pool.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How cool is the Colosseum?

We visited the Colosseum on my birthday. I figured it would be an absolute shame to spend two months living in Rome and never actually go inside Flavian's famed amphitheater. Built in just ten years during the first century ad and still standing today is quite a feat! It held 50,000 spectators and even had underground tunnels to pipe in water for their mock sea battles! Just standing in the ruins of it almost 2,000 years later still impressed me, but maybe I'm just easily impressed. Dominic, no, he didn't think it was that cool. Check it out for yourself.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

San Giovanni in Laterano's most compelling sight

After slathering up with sunscream, as Dominic always insists on calling it, we headed out for another adventure.  It was misting away for the fourth day in a row, so we decided to treat ourselves right and take the "short bus" (also thanks to Dominic, fortunately this name holds no connotations for him yet) and head over to San Giovanni in Laterano, a famous, enormous and old church in Rome and then walk from there to the Roman Forum and the Mamertime Prison where Paul and Peter were held.  The church was quite a sight, although not my favorite as far as churches go.  A few too many plaster cherubim for my taste.  The cloister was very peaceful, though, and would be a beautiful place to make the rounds and pray or contemplate.  The highlight for the kids, however, was not the astonishing gold mosaic of the disciples, or the palm tree and roses in the cloister.  Quite naturally it was the handicap ramp on the front steps of San Giovanni.  After our picnic on the steps, they just climbed the steps and ran down the ramp for at least half an hour, laughing till their little bellies hurt and attracting quite a few amused onlookers.  I was fortunate enough to actually capture a little video of it for you...

As usual, we got a little lost on the way back from the church.  We made up for it by stumbling upon the Villa Celimontana, which has a great playground and made the kids far more happy (and tired!) than the Roman Forum or Prison would have.  So, we revised our plans and took our time wandering back home, past the forum and Palatine hill through the Galleria and Via del Corso, back to our quiet little apartment.  I enjoyed a very peaceful walk home, despite having tired, tired feet because my tired, tired children were both sleeping contentedly in our awesome stroller.  I even stopped for a cappuccino and cornetto and ate it all by myself, at my own pace (usually I have to eat things faster than I like so Dominic doesn't beg me for more of mine, whatever it is, he's sure to want it).

Enjoy the video!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rome: Week 1

So, the real pictures of our new apartment are still forthcoming. But in the meantime, Dominic took a series of pictures from his point-of-view. Matt just flew home today for a week long mandatory "teacher training" session, taking with him loads of heavy books, winter clothes, and other no-longer-necessary items. So only now is the apartment just about settled enough to take decent pictures...stay tuned. We're having a great time and are getting the hang of making daily outings. There are some pictures from the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Castel Sant'Angelo.

Miss you all! Say some prayers for me and the kids this week while Matt is gone in Philly.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

At home in Rome

Or at least that's the goal.  We spent last week packing up, running around doing last minute errands and library requests, and saying good byes.  With the help of my very generous and kind neighbors--one drove me to the various (hidden) post offices and the others watched the kids--I mailed 80 kg of stuff so that we could just take the train with a few small suitcases, the kids, and the stroller.  I had been dreading renting a car and driving it in Rome.  Italian rental cars and all stick-shift, and I'm the manual driver in the family.  Unfortunately, Matt is the city driver in the family.  So...bad news for everyone.  He would have had to tend the kids while I maneuvered the tiny one way streets, going up on curbs, and cutting everyone off like my life depends on it, in an unnervingly small car.  I opted for the risk of using the Italian post.  In the past, Italian post has not turned out so well for us.  It was cheap, however, and I'd heard that inter-country mail works much better than international.

With misty eyes, we boarded the train for Rome, psyching ourselves up for the six-hour trip ahead of us.  We had decided on the slow, regional train.  Besides saving money, there was more luggage space, six-person cars with a door (better for the kids to be contained but allowed to stand), and a better chance of there being empty seats.  It turned out well.  After Florence, there were two empty seats, one for each kid.  They behaved themselves, and we had a fairly seamless journey.  Perhaps the only error of the trip was deciding to take the metro instead of a taxi from the train station to our apt.  We thought it should be no problem since it was only 3 stops on the metro and then 2 blocks.  And indeed, it should have been no problem, but Termini station has no direct elevator to the metro.  Neither does our stop.  The stairs were horrendous.  The bags were heavy.  Fortunately, some people were helpful.  We made it, but we were very tired.

We met our landlady with no problem and were escorted into our new place, just a few blocks from the famous Porta Popolo.  Despite having a strange floor plan: elevated loft with bookshelves for no reason, door and window that separate the living room and the rest of the house, and a galley kitchen with a sliding door, the apartment seemed clean and comfortable.  We had already decided the quality of our meals would go down a notch.  In Rome, we would sightsee and relish the once-in-a-lifetime experience rather than stay home and spend precious time making elaborate meals in a kitchen that made our previous apartment's kitchen seem spacious.  To be fair, although it's small, we now have the advantage of a four-burner gas stove and a larger fridge with freezer.  Don't even get me started on the glories of a gas stove!  Oh my goodness...  It is hot immediately (cutting down on cooking time immensely!).  It stops immediately (making it unnecessary to move pots when they need to stop cooking).  Fire, ah fire, how I love thee.  The freezer also makes it so we don't have to shop every day.  I can keep some things in stock there.  But, as I mentioned before, we'll be doing simple meals; no roasted duck or chocolate rum cake in Rome.  Instead we'll have creative picnics in amazing piazzas.

So we're settling in.  I'm finding the grocery stores that'll work for us.  The kids are getting used to the new place and enjoying the new sites.  Dominic was fascinated by the Roman Forum.  He just stared and stared at it, as I pointed things out and explained that a really, really long time ago these were the Romans houses, church, market, etc.  As if to add to my list, he pointed at a large stone and sagely added "And rocks!"  I think they'll enjoy our time here, although it will be very, very different than our calm routine in Padua.

And, as a good omen, all the boxes came on Monday without a hitch!

Pictures and more adventures to come later.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Got Milk?

The day began far too early.  Our "morning lark" leaped out of bed and scampered to the living room to unzip Cate's bed, so that his best friend, who was peacefully sleeping, would wake up and come play with him.  Perhaps you've noticed that I'm not exactly a morning person.  Groaning, I rolled out of bed and reluctantly followed after them, knowing deep in my heart that as painful as getting up was, it was infinitely less painful than cleaning up the results of the inevitable mischief should I continue to slumber.  The kitchen was a mess from our raucous and late night Settlers of Catan party: mugs, cups, plates, bowls, pan, pot, and lots of silverware.  I love having guests and I love making food, but I hate, hate cleaning up.  And unfortunately, in a two-room apartment like ours, it's impossible to forget about it because the kitchen can't exactly be "out of sight, out of mind."

But I digress.  The real trouble with the morning was that we had no milk.  The night before I had made a 6-cup coffee for us all and some hot milk to make our customary cappuccini (plural of cappuccino), but somehow after I put the milk carton away in the fridge, it tipped over and more than half a liter of milk leaked all over the floor.  This meant that the next morning, a Sunday of all days, we were out of milk. (All the grocery stores except the one at the train station are closed on Sundays.)  Sigh.  No coffee to brighten my morning.  Nothing to quench Catie's appetite for milk.  Another big sigh. 

Dominic asks "What's that?"

I respond, "What?"

He then attempts in a hilariously dramatic way to recreate my big sigh: "UUHHhhhh...."

"Oh, I'm just sad we don't have any milk." 

"What don't we got any milk from?"


The day seemed very bleak in my haggard, caffeine-less state.  We don't got any milk from our tiny, fridge with the stupid door and these dumb Italian milk boxes.  We don't got any milk from grocery stores being closed on Sunday.  Quindi (thus), Mommy don't got any coffee. 

I thought the day was just too early and dreary.   Four hours later, however, when we scrounged up some milk from the neighbors under the guise of needing some for our daughter, I hardly had enough energy to even make the coffee.  Yet twenty minutes later, when I was enjoying the smell and taste of a fresh-brewed mokaccino (made a moka, more on how those work next time), I immediately felt like the world was right again.  I loved my life with our little family in Italy once again.

And that's when I began to worry a little.  See, I love coffee.  I love the smell.  I love the taste.  The catch is, I love the taste with milk.  It's just a little too acrid for me without it; in fact, it's very scientific, I think.  I recall once reading something about the fat in milk binding to the tannins and neutralizing the astringency...presumably this is a good thing?  Anyway, the truth is, I just like it better.  I like having coffee immensely, but I don't like having to have coffee, if you know what I mean.  Maybe I should have given it up for Lent...although by this point I'd probably be addicted to it again.  Perhaps I'll switch to making 1/2 caff. for a while. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Best Souvenir Ever

We have acquired the best souvenir possible.  But it's not what you might think.  By now I'm sure you've ruled out the obvious:  a wooden pinocchio, a Venetian glass dish, a miniature Colosseum, a painting of a gondola or St. Peter's, a colorful scarf, an old black and white photograph of St. Anthony's Basilica, a fancy cheese grater, an Italian moka (coffee maker), etc.  These are all--with the exception of the corny miniature Colosseums, which are horrendous--very nice things that have their place and do actually represent a true part of Italian culture.  Our souvenir, however, is much more unique.  We finally have, in hand, our permesso di soggiorno to take home with us!

These permits of stay are really shiny, official looking cards; even the kids have their own.  For those of you who have been following our Italian saga from the beginning, you probably recall well the horrendous and entirely un-exaggerated episodes I told of the Italian consulate, police station, and immigration offices where we would wait for hours and hours only to be told yet another tall tale about what new document or special seal or pricey tobacco stamp we needed now.   From October until now we have just been waiting (legally) with our receipts for these electronic permits of stay to come. We found out that they were finally ready, so I went in person, kids in tow, a few days ago to make the appointment (naturally you must go in person to make an appointment) to collect the permits.  And today we went, to at last pick up the results of our five hundred dollars and literally thirty hours of running mazes of red tape.   To me, getting our permessi di soggiorno is the best souvenir we could ever get: proof that we have joined the ranks of the elite few who have successfully made it through the ever-changing hoops of Italian bureaucracy. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Three-year-old Dominic

...has a lot to stay and plenty of opinions to voice.
  • I don't like it.  I want to throw up in my tummy.
  •  I can't (finish his food) because I eat too much and my feelings will get hurt. 

We were walking to the park, and I was pointing out all the new life growing around us.
-See those bushes. They're blooming! 
-Where? Where are they blue?

Here's a longer story, but still amusing. It begins at bedtime, I'm putting him to bed and he overhears Matt talking on Skype in the other room about Notre Dame.
-Is Daddy talking about Notre Dame?
-What's he saying?
-He's talking about how we're going to go to Notre Dame to stay with Uncle Stephen and Aunt Sarah and Michael.  Would you like that?
-Yeah.  I would. I love them.
-And we will see Uncle Eli, Aunt Kathryn, Stephen, Eliana, Abigail, and the new baby very often. 
-The new baby!  I love the new baby!  
-Do you love babies, Dominic?
 (Out of curiosity, I just couldn't resist; no, no #3 on the way), Dominic, do you want Mommy and Daddy to have a new baby?
-Yeah.  I do!  (actually he got kind of excited here)
-But isn't Cate still a baby?
-(thinks for a minute)  No.
                                          ...She's a kid.

Next story. Cate was wearing a green bow to match her cute green skirt.
-I don't want her to wear that bow. Take it off.
-Why Dominic?  It's really nice.
-No.  I want her to wear the PINK one!

Yet another story. It was dinner time.  We were having some sort of pasta with vegetables and no salad.
-Mommy.  Can I have some salad? (At my slight resistance, he looked so very pathetic...) Please?
Well...I hadn't been planning on making salad but who can resist a 3 year-old's pleas for salad?  Wouldn't that make me bad mother extraordinaire?!
-And can it have carrots? and tomatoes? (more pathetic-ness) Please?
As you can imagine, he got his salad.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

To Queue or Not to Queue

I just had some friends, Trevor and Anna, visit who are living in London and came to Italy to do some sightseeing.  They brought this cultural difference about "queuing" to my attention, and it rings wholly true with my experiences.

So, the question is: to queue or not to queue?  If we were in England, the States, or any northern European country like Denmark or Sweden, the answer would be terribly obvious. Queue. Duh. In fact, there would be no discussion about it. Just get in the single file line and wait your turn, like everybody else.  Oh and don't talk about it.  That's rude.  Just wait.

In Italy, the idea of "queue" does not really exist. The mob mentality is king. For example, when we were trying to get our Permits of Stay.  We had arrived early and were waiting outside the ominous metal gate of the Questura police station, poised at the front of the line...or so we thought. People kept coming and coming and coming, but they wouldn't line up behind us, snaking neatly to the end of the block. No. They lined up next to us, making an ever wider line, occasionally going back a row as the space didn't allow any more horizontal expanding.  They were pressing on the metal gate, rattling the bars to get in, and shouting, like raved lunatics at rock concerts.  And, to our utter dismay, as soon as the door was opened, people smashed their way through, jamming their papers at the attendant in no particular order and rushing for a seat inside the waiting room.  And the attendants allowed this! Since I had to maneuver the double stroller and, of course, any double stroller no matter how high end or awesome, simply cannot compete against the highly adaptable pedestrian, I fell behind in the line while Matt pressed forward, hunting for the family, scouring places to sit and getting our papers in the stack.  This, however, gave me the chance to observe what was really happening.  After the gatekeeper got all the papers, she shuffled them around, moving one after the other into some sort of actual order.  It appeared that they were actually going to honor the appointment times after all and call the names of the earliest appointments first!  The mob was just waiting to get inside and get seats!  But this is just one example of what happens everyday.  The bus "lines" are exactly the same way, except no one is there to arbitrate.  It's not "first come, first serve," but rather "first and fastest (or pushiest)." Cafes are the same, tobacco shops (we buy bus tickets there), stores, and most certainly, government agencies.

The only two exceptions are the post office, deli, and the grocery store checkout.  The post office and deli are each run by a number system that is very similar to the D.M.V. in the States.  You grab a number from the machine.  Then you wait until it flashes on the overhead sign.  Presto, your turn.  In the mean time, everyone loiters around looking very ill at ease.  But nothing can be worse than the annoyance and paranoia at the grocery store checkout line.   At the supermarket, Italians are forced to queue.  It is as if it sucks the life from them.  They wait impatiently, always looking irritatedly at the people in front of them and behind them.  They snatch the divider stick and emphatically place it between your stuff and theirs. I know I've written about that before, so I'll spare the details.  (If you missed that post it's here To market, to market.)

Maybe it simply boils down to a language difference.  In English we have a the letter "q".  But in Italian, they lack the letter "q".  It has become painfully apparent that they don't have a "q" about queuing.

Monday, April 5, 2010

After Three Months, the Guest Blog You’ve All Been Waiting For

Now everybody just calm down. Don’t panic. Amy WILL be back with her always witty, always hilarious stories of our favorite world travelers. I am just adding a little something extra-may I say, some flair. But I guess you all will be the judge of that. (And for those of you who are gasping that I, the queen of procrastinators, finally got down to writing this, I forgive you.)

It would be impossible to relate all of the wonderful things I saw, foods I ate, and sounds I heard while in Italy. Words would fail to describe even just the views I got to experience from the windows of the train. That is why I am going to tell you about one city that most have probably not heard of, and the day that our traveling troupe did not plan in the least. Upon waking up that fateful morning, Matt, Amy, the kids, and I planned to take an excursion to the House of Petrarch. We wished to see the place where the love poem might first have been developed and where the frescoed walls were illustrated with sonnets depicting Petrarch’s love for Laura (the woman of his unrequited love). We took the bus and then the train to where we thought we would catch another bus and see the place we so longed for. But instead of finding another bus, we found a tourist hub where the man behind the counter explained that it would be quite a challenge reaching the house without pockets lined with euros. Instead of returning to the apartment defeated travelers, we allowed the courageous Amy to lead us onto the train where we took a ten minute ride to the city of Monselice- our knowledge of this place only coming from a brochure Amy had snagged in the tourist hub. None of us knew what to expect. Would there be anything to see, do, or if all else fails, eat? Would our spontaneity really pay off? (I’m imagining you all already know the answer.)

It did! Monselice was a quiet fortified city, set up on the side of the Eugean Hills. We took the walk on the Via del Santurario which led us uphill on a winding, cobbled street. Besides the hassle of pushing the stroller up the road, it was a quaint and old-world kind of experience. On the walk we saw parts of a castle and a Romanesque church, but the most memorable part was what we called the “Path of Healing.” Near the top the trek was a metal gate that opened to a row of seven small temple looking churches on the left and a view of the town below on the right. (A little wikipedia research told me that in the 1600s, pilgrims were allowed to visit these seven churches in place of the seven main churches of Rome.) A larger church at the end of the path was connected to a villa which was in turn connected to a large set of stairs. The view of the town from the stairs was nice, but the excitement of happening upon such an interesting place was the real fun. After spending some time up at the top, relishing in our find, we took the train and bus home. In celebration of our successful spontaneity and to top off our amazing day, we had “Movie Night With Aunt Lana.” Toy Story 2, Pizza, and snacks. What more could you ask of a single day?

Is it really worth it?

Or, as they say in Italian, "Vale la pena?" Is it really worth it to go through all the trouble of using artichoke hearts? Right now artichokes are just coming into season, so we can find them very easily. They're still not super-cheap, but they're at least affordable and incredibly tasty. I decided to have a go at using fresh artichoke hearts, harvesting them myself from a whole artichoke. With them, I was going to make an artichoke parmesan quiche that looked pretty delicious. If that went well, I had plans to make artichoke au gratin potatoes for Easter.  Marcella Hazan, author of my new cookbook, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, just made my mouth water for artichokes going on about how tender, enjoyable, delectable, and glorious artichoke hearts are.  When she wrote "the only exacting part of this recipe is in fact the trimming away of all the tough, inedible parts that usually makes eating artichokes a chore," I think she made a profound understatement.  It probably took me half of an hour to prepare two artichokes.  First, wash them.  Then, snap back all the leaves from the outside inward.  Next, run a paring knife around the inside to scrape out all the prickles, taking care not to damage the most tender heart.  Finally, still using the paring knife, peel the stem and trim any tough leaves (most of the outside).  To be fair, the second one went a lot faster than the first.  The results are below. On the left is a fresh and untouched artichoke.  On the right is the pile of discarded and unusable leaves, stem, prickles, etc, from the first artichoke I did.  Then, the tiny pile on the bottom is the artichoke heart and stem that I harvested for my recipe.  Really?  Is it worth it?

This pictures below is the artichoke after I had stripped it of inedible leaves and prickles.  Not the prettiest job (I guess that comes with practice, assuming I ever do it again).

And this final pictures shows the two cut up artichokes being sauteed in butter.  I must say, they were mouth-wateringly good.  It was a shame to have them covered up in a quiche.  I would have preferred to enjoy their delectable qualities alone, unsullied by any other flavors.  Perhaps next time, that's what I'll do.  Then they will be worth the trouble to enjoy their glory in full.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The delicate balancing act of mothering

Inspiration and time seem to have made their return at the same time.  Convenient, isn't it?  So, if I'm reading the stars correctly, this means my blog might just have some new posts on it this month!

Have you ever experienced utter amusement simultaneous with very sincere embarrassment? It was very unique, and even somewhat exhilarating, I must say.

The scene: a nice grill-out (with many people I didn't know) in a lovely park full of similar grill-outs.

I was getting something for Cate and had my back turned for about one minute from where Dominic was wandering around watching Italian children.  Suddenly I got the sense that everyone was looking in that direction.  I turn around to make sure it wasn't Dominic.  What do I see?  Dominic's bare bottom with pants around his knees, standing in front of a tree taking care of business no more than ten feet from our picnic.  To make matters even funnier, he was facing another group of picnickers. Again, no more than ten feet away.

For some reason, though, this struck me as utterly amusing. And yet, everyone was looking, waiting to see who the mother was that had such an indecent son.  So, while trying to hold my laughter in, and yet, feeling embarrassment in the center of my being, I went to retrieve retrieve my son and instruct him in the proper way to pee on a tree.  Thankfully, the people with the frontal view were amused. But really, how funny.  He had followed the right instructions.  He found a tree in a park.  I guess I had forgotten to instruct him to find a tree away from people. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Photos from Florence, Siena, Pisa!

I uploaded over one hundred images and videos to our Picasa web album.  So, if you're interested in taking a look at them (I didn't embed it directly because I was afraid my blog would start uploading, as my dad would say, slower than molasses in January) just click on that blue link.  There are also pictures in there of a funny photo shoot of the kids dressed up... (Grandma and Grandpa brought them adorable Easter outfits, so we put them on early so they could see them).  We had a great time with Momma and Poppa Gaetano.  They rented an apartment in Florence for a week, and then we made day trips to Pisa and Siena.  The weather was crummy for all but one day (Pisa), but it didn't matter.  Just being together again made all of us very, very happy. So between our joy and frequent cups of cafe, we had a marvelous time.  Blog posts to begin again soon...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tutto Okay

Another long blog absence...We were struck down by chest colds (Matt and Amy), fever (Cate and Amy), flu or perhaps food poisoning (Dominic and Amy), and an eye infection (Cate).  After 5 days, I think we're definitely on the mend now.  I'll spare the details, but there is one funny story that came out of this that is too good to pass up, which highlights Dominic's cheery personality and perfectionism all at once.

After Dominic threw up all over the bed, we gave him a bucket and instructed him on what to do.  He nodded and lay down to try to sleep.  A few minutes later we heard the dreaded sound and came in to see how he was.  But before we get there, we here this cheery little voice announce, "I'm not very good at this."  Apparently, he had partially missed the bucket.  Sweet Dominic.  Even in his sickness, is thinking about his performance...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Italian Fashion

"To be out of fashion is more criminal than to be seen in a state of nature, to which the Parisians are not averse." (Abigail Adams, becoming acquainted to French custom)

The Italians might agree...

These puffy, shiny jackets are all the rage.  Note also the man scarf on this stylishly-grayed husband. Knee-high boots (thigh-highs are also popular) and skinny jeans. Also notice their one child and his fur collar, who is sitting in their posh, very expensive stroller.  Gotta love the classic Italian style.  I'll try to periodically post some pictures of Italian fashion for your inspiration or amusement. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Art of Persuasion, Lesson 1

So, Daddy was instructing Dominic in the art of persuasion.  It was his turn to do the bedtime routine with the kids, and Dominic was putting up a huge fuss.  For some reason, he wanted Mommy to read his stories.  He threw himself on the ground, yelling I WANT MOMMY.  And he was getting nowhere.  Zero sympathy from me.

A tired Daddy, hoping to get out of reading Uncle Willy (Richard Scary's Bedtime Stories) again, whispered to Dominic that he needs to say, "Mommy, you're soo beautiful.  Mommy you're soo wonderful.  Would you read me a bedtime story?  Just tonight.  As a special, special treat."  So, Dominic came over and was trying to say it all just right to me.  But he got stuck after "Will you read me a bedtime story?" So he looked at Matt and said, "What next?" Matt, of course, fed him the rest of the lines.  Dominic carefully repeated them very sweetly to me.  But when he said, "As a special, special treat."  He paused and looked up very excitedly: "Can I eat it?"

I did end up giving in and reading him his bedtime story, so I guess Daddy's lesson in the art of persuasion was successful after all.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Answer Is

All right...the answer is... 
Why?  We have no idea.  In fact, I'm not really even sure how he knows about caterpillars.  I don't think he's ever seen a real one, we don't even have Eric Carlyle's book, The Hungry Caterpillar.  The only thing I've ever done is make little play-doh balls and stick them together, adding eyes to the front one, and tell Dominic it was a caterpillar.  And then another day he lined up a bunch of coins and proudly told me he made a caterpillar.  But scary?  And going to eat him? I have no idea...he's a weird little boy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


So, Dominic woke up crying in the middle of the night.  Mommy to the rescue.
--Dominic, Dominic, what's wrong?
--I'm scared.
--What are you scared of?
--They're going to eat me!
Okay, guessing time, what is Dominic scared of?

Friday, February 5, 2010


I came home from church today giddy with excitement at my conversation with Alberto.  I felt like a little school girl.  He was so interesting.  He was so nice.  He was so...Italian! 

No, not a crush, of course.  More like a sense of triumph.  Alberto is my once-a-week Italian friend at church.  The first week he came up to say hi, I felt so sheepish.  I could only reply, "Ciao.  I'm sorry I don't speak Italian, but I'm learning"  to his friendly Italian "overtures". 

About a month went by when this Alberto came up to me again and tried again to speak to me.  That time I was able to say a little more, although I still understood very little.  I could tell him my name, that I was married and had two kids, and what we were doing here.  We left on friendly terms, and I felt encouraged that I was able to say a little more. 

Since then, we've had several conversations, and each time he encourages me that I am speaking more than the last time, and certainly far more than the first time.   Sometimes I get discouraged that I can't say what I want, but it's hard to gauge my own progress.  This sort of outside measure has proved to be most encouraging.  Each time I am understanding more and able to say more. 

This last time, I felt great about our interaction.  One, I understood 75% of what he was saying and, most importantly, I was beginning to be able to ask questions if I didn't catch what he was saying.  For some reason, it has taken me a long time to feel comfortable asking a question regarding my comprehension.  I guess in order to do that, I need a reasonable assurance that a clarification will help me catch it the second (or third) time, otherwise it's just a waste of time and embarrassing.  Second, we had an interesting conversation about the US and Italy.  It had snowed about an inch again today, so I asked him if this was typical.  He told me that it was colder this year, and it doesn't usually snow in Padua.  I asked if he liked the cold, and he told me he much preferred the warmth (wild gestures here).  Then he asked about the weather of Philadelphia (we always say we're from Philadelphia, it's much easier for Italians, who have frequently at least heard of it, instead of Pennsylvania or York).  I told him it was colder in the winter and hotter in the summer than Padua.  He told me a funny thing.  "I thought so," he said.  "I remember very well the first time that I saw you, you had on a short-sleeve shirt and all the Italians were wearing long-sleeve shirts.  That was how I knew you were not Italian.  We were all so cold and you were not.  You could not be from here." 

Really, that was what gave it away?  I was giddy about this discovery.  Yes, I talked to a real Italian and I understood a more complicated conversation.  But I also uncovered something that Matt and I had been talking about.  What gives us away as non-Italians?  Italians don't often assume that we're from the US, for some reason.  Spain is actually the most frequent assumption; last week, Lana and Matt were identified as Portuguese!  But why?  Often we haven't even talked, or we say something that is very typical and, at least in our opinion, sounds pretty Italian.  What is it?  It seems that it is these very small cultural things, things that we don't even think twice about.  Like a short-sleeved shirt in September.  Because it is still hot. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cheerios and Salt

What's that proverb?
 A little sleep, a little slumber,
       a little folding of the hands to rest-
 and poverty will come on you like a bandit,
       and scarcity like an armed man. 
Yes, indeed. 

A little sleep cost us a box of cheerios.  And a shaker of salt.  A lot of aggravation. And thirty minutes of cleaning.

So what happened?  Dominic slipped out of the room without our notice.  We were slumbering peacefully away until we were jostled from happy-land by an unusual scream from Cate, who had, I gather, finally gotten tired of having Dominic in her pack n' play.  I'm not sure how long he had been there before she had had enough.  All I know is that it was long enough for Dominic to get breakfast for the two of them.  He had taken the two boxes of honey nut cheerios off the counter and threw them into Cate's bed, then climbed over the rail into bed with Cate and the cheerios.  Together they were smashing in cheerios, dumping them out into the pack n' play.  For easier access?  For play?  I'm not sure.   I guess they thought the cheerios were getting a little boring tasting, though, because Dominic then took the salt shaker off the table and began pouring it's contents on top of the cheerios. 

During the cross-examination of incomprehension at this travesty, I kept asking Dominic, "Why? WHY  Why did you do it?"  He was at a loss and just stared at me, not getting it.  He shrugged and added, "I pour 'em, for Catie.  See, I sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle," he told me as he demonstrated just how to shake a salt shaker. 

Sigh.  Well, at least one bag of cheerios was still sealed...

 Proverbs 24:33-4

As I took this picture, Dominic said, "Mommy are you taking a picture of my cheerios?  Do you want to take a picture of my doggies too?"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blog Sabbatical

I've been absent from the blogosphere for quite some time.  I do sincerely apologize for depriving you of my wit and charm.  I know that this is the reason you surf the net, perhaps even the reason you get up in the morning;  I am truly sorry. There are several reasons--most of them legitimate--for this unplanned blog sabbatical. 

First, Matt's sister, Marialana, came for a wonderful two-and-a-half week  visit.  Since she chose to spend her J-term here in Italy with us instead of taking an intensive three-week course at college, we made our best attempts to give her a little Italian crash course.  Matt and Lana took a little brother-sister trip to Florence and Rome for five days, doing a blitz of the major sites that would not have been possible with the pace and luggage of kids.  Once back in Padua, we did some more sight-seeing all together of Padua and the surrounding area.  We tried to take Lana to see Petrarch's house in Arqua Petrarca (about an hour away), but it ended up being impossible to reach by bus, so we ended up taking a ten minute train ride to the nearby town of Monselice, a charming village with medieval walls and a scenic walk/pilgrimmage of seven "churches" winding their way up a hill to a large church at the top.  

Leaving Matt behind to do some work in the archives, Lana and I took the kids to Verona together and, by a wrong turn, discovered the amazing Roman Theater and Archeological Museum.  I posted pictures of that about a week ago.  It was originally a Roman theater dating back to the second century (AD).  On top of this was a temple.  Then, the Gesuati built a monastery and the marvelously frescoed church of St. Jerome above this.  Built even higher up into the hill was the Castel di San Pietro (Castle of St. Peter).  As we went higher and higher, the view of beautiful Verona and its river just kept getting more and more spectacular.  This was a nice reward for poor Lana since she ended up carrying Dominic almost the entire way.  (Cate was already in the baby carrier on me, sleeping.)  We didn't get a chance to go to the very top because the castle is only open on Sundays, but it was an amazing find.   I think it was even more exciting because we found it by chance, peeking in through a side gate at the towering ruins, wondering, "What's THAT?" and then discovered that it was a museum with a cheap entrance fee!

Lana and I made a little trip to Venice by ourselves. We left Matt and the kids back at the apartment because of the frigid weather and the annoyingly abundant stairs in Venice.  It was still magical despite the weather.  We had a lot of fun trying out the cozy (code for: crowded, standing room at bar only) cafes to try a toasted panini, cappuccino, and fritelle.  The best cafes are, apparently, jam-packed with people.  You weasel your way to the bar, give your order to one of the two bartenders when they ask, wait for it, take it to some corner of the floor, trying to stay out of the way of the opening doors and the fifteen other people vying for room in the warmth of the cafe.  Should the cafe have a table or two, you will pay a premium for it.  The prices are often 100% more for taking you drink at a table instead of a bar.    You don't pay until after you consume your drink or food.  Very interesting.  They must make a killing.  All the panini and wraps are pre-made.  I'd say the average customer only stays 8 minutes.  One guy makes drinks and the other guy heats up the panini.  Very small space (although this particular place was very classy with polished wood bars, glass sliding doors, and a hanging, mirrored display of drinks.  Brilliant.  Amazing. 

So Marialana is the first reason that you've been deprived. I'll try to get her to do a guest post on something she saw for a fresh perspective on Italian life to make up for it. :) 

The second reason is that we intensified our potty-training efforts and with great success!  We can now proudly boast of having a "mostly potty-trained" son.  Perhaps by 3 he'll be completely there. Just diapers at night now, and we've had several days without any accidents--or splashes, as he refers to them (because he gets a slash on the paper instead of a star)--including going on several lengthy outings.

The third reason is that our internet has been dysfunctional, again.  Or still, depending on your perspective.  Server error.  Internet not working.  This time for four days.  I actually wrote a whole stash of posts off-line a few days ago, figuring that I should just stop stalling, get down to business, and restore the sunshine to your lives...  

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why I love Itay...

Lana, the kids, and I made a little day-trip to Verona and, after taking a backroute through the city, just happened upon this sight.  The bottom picture is to the left of the top picture and taken from the top of this theater-like thing.  They're both built into the hill and extend upwards for some distance.  What do you think? What is/was it?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Warmth, At Last!

The heater is finally working. I wouldn't say it got fixed. But it is working.

So, for about two weeks, I'd been calling, writing e-mails and dropping by our house "secretary's" flat to find a fix for our broken bedroom heater. Let me share the lovely Italian absurdity with you.

I see the "secretary", il Signor Federico, in the hallway. I take my chance to inform him of my need.
-Mi scusi. The heater in our bedroom is broken.  It isn't putting out any hot air.  Can we have someone come and fix it?
-The what? Where? Oh, okay. Right away.
I was skeptical. He probably wouldn't remember it at all.  It had taken 2 months to get him to get us a new chair for our apartment.  The first time he told me he needed to order one.  The second time he told me he was waiting for it.  And the third time, when I asked if it had come yet, he looked very, very confused and told me we could just have the chair from his apartment, which he promptly carried to our apartment.

So...about 3 days later, I went to the other residence to pay our rent at the other residence. Keenly remembering the last time, I requested again:
-Scusi, our heater does not function. It is broken.  It is very, very cold in our bedroom when we sleep at night. (Notice how much I repeat myself and how I simplify everything to terrifying horrible English in an attempt to get understanding and action).
-Oh, yes? I'm sorry but the man who can fix it is away. You will have to wait until Monday.
-May I have extra blankets since it is so cold?
-Ok. I will have the housekeeper leave one for you at your door.
One? But we are three people...Sigh. For the shock of a lifetime, however, I got
home and there was actually a blanket waiting for me! Hooray. Now at least one of us would be warm enough at night.

Monday came, I had waited the whole weekend expectantly, eager for heat to come with Monday. But Monday came and went and still no repairman. No apology. No nothing. Did I really think that someone would come? Really? Yes, sadly, I still believed that secretaries follow through, that repairmen come, and that heat matters. How American can you get?

Tuesday came and goes. Still nothing. I read a notice that Federico Fantuzzi had gone on "holiday" and would not be available to assist the residents, but if you should need assistance either wait until he returns or e-mail the Accomodation office. "Yes!" I thought.  This is my chance. I can go around Mr. Fantuzzi without being caught! I e-mail them right away. At least I have a chance of someone else hearing my plea. I then experienced the single most un-Italian thing I have ever experienced since coming here...

I got an e-mail response back in 30 minutes. He asked for clarification if it was the heater in the bedroom or living room. I responded quickly and then he again responded an hour later and said that someone would come that day to look at it.

Having learned from the last empty promise, I did not anticipate. I was not expecting an actual man to show up. So when the door bell rang just two hours after I got the e-mail promise, I was very startled and a bit confused at who it could possibly be at the door. But it was "the man" (yes, the legendary man who can fix everything! Dominic really believes that there is a miracle worker--who he refers to simply as "the man"--who can put broken crackers back together, take mold off walls, and make things work again.) He came! He looked at the heater and declared it to be "rotto". Literally, broken. The worst part was that he would not be able to fix it and needed to call another "technico" or so I learned via our interpreter on the other side of a cell phone that we passed back and forth. Would tomorrow be okay? Tomorrow would be perfetto.

Did I think that new man would ever come? No. With a window of "between 2 and 5," something was sure to go wrong. But, I got a phone call in Italian and I understood enough to know that the "technico" was here and coming. Oh my gosh!!! This is it.  We're going to have heat again! I hastily woke up a grumpy Cate and moved her to the other room. I shoved aside the beds and made a nice path to the heater.  He came in and examined the heater. He turned it on and looked at me strangely. "Non funzione?" "It doesn't work?" Lacking words, I simply responded, "Si, e rotto." Since he spoke no English and I speak little Italian, he gestured to me to come over and feel the heater. It was blowing out warm air. Inexplicably, it had begun working. How embarrassing!  But, was broken!  Even the man yesterday said it was! I tried to protest in Italian that I didn't know how it was working. It was broken for two weeks, but I don't think he bought it. He simply thought I was an ignorant and silly American girl wasting his precious time.  


And that is how our heater came to work without actually being fixed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Movie Time

In lieu of anything witty or inspiring, I offer you some video entertainment:

Take the Key and Lock Her Up

Chrstmas Lights!

Amy spikes a good one

Hot Cross Buns

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Did you know?

Not having any inspiration, I have turned to my ever-ready source of comedy once again.  Here we go.

1) Anyone growing up with the classic Bible songs will appreciate Dominic's latest...
"I'm in the Lord's R.V. Yes! I'm in the Lord's R.V. ..."
Now that's a funny mental picture.  I didn't know the Lord traveled around in a recreational vehicle, did you?

 2) Everyone knows the song, "clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere," right?  Dominic sang:
Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere.
Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.
First you pick up all the toys
Then you...
Here he got flustered and changed it to
Then you...get a treat.
Not remembering the next line either, he paused the appropriate amount of time for one line and then made up the words
Then you...get another treat!
I think I like his version better.  Clean up and get a treat.  Clean up and get another treat!  It seems like the perfect way to motivate myself.   

Thursday, January 7, 2010

To Market, to market

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig;
   Home again, home again, dancing a jig.
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog;
   Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

What could explain the Italian lifestyle more aptly than this little Mother Goose rhyme.  Again I go to market, once each day, and still every time I come home, I dance a little jig!  It's hard to just list all the quirks of an Italian shopping trip, so I'll just let you be a fly on the wall during a typical trip to the super-market.

I walk 3 blocks to the store, usually with kids in toe, but sometimes alone.  Upon reaching the parking lot, I decide whether I need a shopping cart (carrello) or shopping part, as Dominic calls it.  If I do, I must insert a euro as a deposit which releases the cart from the others that it's chained to.  If I don't need a shopping cart or can't use one because I'm pushing a stroller, I pick up either a regular plastic basket or a wheeled deeper basket, both conveniently and confusingly also called carrello

First is produce.  The produce department looks like a scaled down version of what we're used to in the US.  But don't you dare reach for any produce with your bare hands unless you want to incur the wrath (or disdain) of your fellow shoppers!  Stop.  You must get a plastic glove and the plastic bag to put the lettuce into.  All right, phew, now you can put it into the bag.  But don't forget to weigh it.  I have to put it on the scale, press the number that corresponds and wait for the label to print out.  I wouldn't recommend forgetting to do this as it will hold up the entire check out line while the cashier glares at you, then runs back to the produce department to print out the label.

Now on to the bread.  Take your pick of freshly baked type 00 bread.  I'm not really sure what "tipo 00" bread (pane) means yet, but it's delicious.  It's best when it's still warm.  Crunchy on the outside and soft of the inside.  I typically pick up a baguette for 57 euro cents and some rolls.   The only trouble is that the bread and produce are in the first part of the store so my basket now has several smashable items on the bottom.  Who designed grocery stores anyway?

All right, now I need to get some lunch meat (carne) and a roasted chicken (pollo da spiedo).  I've finally conquered the deli counter.  It took me 2 1/2 months to even work up the courage to try it!  But I've got it down now.  Not so for the fish counter.  Maybe next week...  So, I grab a number.  Then I loiter in front of the deli cases with the masses, always trying maintain the delicate balance of being close enough to see but far enough to be out of the main traffic, until I see my number flash on the screen or hear it yelled out, if the screen isn't working yet again.  I need to keep my ears perked and the stroller ready.  If I'm not up to the counter in a flash, no go.  They move on to the next person.  Once I got used to it, it's actually very convenient and keeps things moving.  "Hai bisogno?" they ask me.  Literally, "do you have need?"  Umm...yes.  Then I tell them what I want and how many "etti" of it.  (An etto is a tenth of a kilogram, or about 1/4 of a pound, as I just realized.)    I always pray that they don't ask me any questions otherwise I'm usually forced to just repeat my original request or resort to hand gestures.  After getting that, they ask, "poi?"  Literally, "then?"  I say, "vorrei un pollo da spiedo" or, "I'd like a roasted chicken."  After getting that, they ask, "poi?" and I respond, "basta" while making the "that's all" hand gesture (same in Italian).

Moving on.  Next, I go to the refrigerated dairy section for milk, yogurt, and cheese.   Not too difficult.  I just decide if I want whole milk (intero) or skim milk (parzialmente scremata). Yogurt is probably the easiest to choose.  They import German joghurt, but the containers look the same, and they always have pictures of the fruit on themYou can also get chocolate-chip flavored (straciatella) or coffee (caffe) flavored yogurt, if you wish...  Deciding on a cheese can be very overwhelming.  Cheddar doesn't exist.  Stare all I want at the cheeses and their tastes will become no more apparent.  Something with holes probably is a form of swiss.  Anything else, squeeze it gently to see if it's a hard or soft cheese.  Besides that? I see if I can recognize any of the names or I just take a gamble.  Almost all the cheeses we've tried have been delicious.  One nice thing is that in addition to the commercial cheeses, sold in prepackaged wrapping like edamer, asiago, fontal, etc. the deli has a refrigerator section with deli-packaged cheese sections.  They sell an 1/8 of a round of brie or feta or gorgonzola.  They sell wonderful "grateable" cheese like parmigiano reggiano (the real parmesan cheese), grana padana, and pecorino romano, but you'd better own a cheese grater because you hardly ever find any grated cheese, only the hard blocks.  But the cheese graters are amazing here, just like in fancy Italian restaurants. Today I picked out some provolone dolce for sandwiches and a block of the original, authentic parmigiano reggiano (my favorite) for making sauces and sprinkling on anything that might taste better with it (just about everything).

On my first shopping trips, I was so perplexed about eggs.  They're not in the refrigerator section.  Where are they?  I'm not really sure how or why, but they store them on the shelf, next to the "shelf milk".   It's a section with sugar, eggs, milk, and then coffee and tea.  Very strange.  So far we haven't gotten sick, though.  The eggs do have very orange yolks but otherwise they seem perfectly normal.  I prefer the "refrigerator milk" because I'm a little skeptical of what must go into this shelf UHT milk, but it does taste okay if you put in the fridge (room temperature milk still weirds me out).

The kids are getting a little antsy, so I'm going to keep this a short trip.  I'll buy a lot of the other things we need like canned tomatoes, pesto, pasta, boxed juice, and wine at Prix, a discount grocery store across the street.  I maneuver my way to the check out line.  If I have the kids and only a basket of groceries Italians will frequently tell me by their words and gestures to go ahead of them.  I can't tell you how many times I've gotten to skip the lines.  Let's just say that preference for women and children still exists here.   So now there's just one person in front of me.  With Dominic's help, we put everything up on the conveyor belt, being very careful to leave a large space between our groceries and those of the person in front of us.  And, most importantly, as soon as a divider stick is available we immediately put it between our stuff and theirs.  And again, as soon as possible, another one behind our stuff.   I haven't quite figured out the rationale for this but Italians are like hawks about this divider stick.  It's almost like a game that everyone plays--except that no one is aware it's going on.  If their is only a gap of 3 inches between your stuff and theirs they anxiously watch you, wondering when you're going to get it together and grab a divider stick.  Or if they're fed up they might ask you to pass them one, if they're still more brazen they might simply reach over you to get one, and if they're passive-aggressive, they will just re-pile their stuff to be farther from yours.  Are they afraid your groceries might eat theirs?  That the cashier will inadvertently ring up theirs with yours or yours with theirs?  Then what?  Can they not reverse this?  And where are they planning to go in the two minutes it takes to ring up their groceries? Won't they notice if Giovanni's sugar is rung up with their stuff? Or won't Giovanni notice if his lettuce sneaks up to the cashier and is placed in Mariana's bag?  It's bizarre.  But don't forget.  Not unless you want the death stare.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A few recent "Dominic's"

Here are some pictures of Christmas Eve and Christmas.  After that, I listed a few of the funny things Dominic has been saying lately.

  • We heard Cate screaming a sort of muffled scream.  Matt ran in to check on her and found nothing suspicious.
     M: What's going on in here? What'd you do?
     D: Nothing.  I'm just being her protector.
      It happened again just a minute later.  Matt went in.
     M: What's going on in here?  What happened?
     D: Nothing.  I'm just trying to help her be a good...uh...boy.
  •  After cousin Michael was born, we were discussing this with Dominic.  He told us, Michael came out of Aunt Sarah's belly.  Then Dominic rubbed his belly.  I fully expected Dominic to say something about having a baby in his belly.  Then he started rubbing his chest.  "I have Jesus in my heart. Mommy, you have Jesus in your heart.  Daddy, you do too."  
        • I was chopping up spinach and Dominic was standing on a chair next to me watching.  He kept saying, Mommy, be careful.  You'll chop your fingers off.  I told him, of course I'm being careful.  I have lots of practice and am very careful.  He insisted, Mommy, be careful.  You'll chop your fingers off!  I was having great trouble resisting the urge to laugh at his concern, but I managed to respond by thanking him for his concern, but again, I reiterated, I'm being careful.  I know just how to chop vegetables with sharp knives.  Mommy can do this.  Then he reached out and took my hand (the one without the knife in it) and pulled it away from the spinach.  No Mommy.  You'll chop your fingers off!