Sunday, February 27, 2011

L'ultimo Giorno

Ah... the blog.  I haven’t been nearly as good at writing as I had hoped to be, but I guess that’s life.
Yesterday we left Giglio, and as I expected I have many mixed emotions.  I am, of course, excited to get back - but I will certainly miss this amazingly rich time we have had here in Italy as a family.  The truth is that during our three months here I never had a moment of home sickness where I wanted to just pack it all up and fly home.  What a blessing it has been to have been in very beautiful and comfortable home in an amazing rural, quiet and relaxing place.  
Though home schooling is definitely not in our future, the time the three of us have spent together has been rich.  When in B’ham our days fly by, and with Zoe at the gym we get little actual face time.  These three months have been nothing but face time!  I’ll miss taking evening walks together (with the dogs)  taking step classes with Zoe at the gym and playing lots of Nertz (sp?) and Banana grams around the kitchen table. I am hoping that as Zoe grows older and looks back on this time she will remember it fondly (and not as some kind of cruel torture).  This of course remains to be seen.
It is hard for me to imagine that after three months of living and traveling in a country the size of Arizona that I need more time, but that is kind of how I feel.  While Doug and I were taking our final walk through town (see facebook album) we stopped to chat with some people outside of the Tobacco  store where we buy our bus tickets.  One of the men there told us (and I absolutely believe him) that we could have spent three months seeing things only in Frosinone - which is the small province where our little “town” of Giglio is.  Never mind all of the traveling we did!  This man’s theory was backed up when we had a good-bye polenta dinner with our friends Gigliola and Antonio.  Gigliola invited her son and his family to dinner as well, and during the dinner her son asked us about visiting a number of smaller nearby towns that he said were fantastic to see... we had not been to any of them!!  Oh!  We need more time!  :-) 
But home we come... and even though it makes me a wee bit weepy to leave this magical time and place I know when I get off or the plane in Seattle I will be happy to be home. 

Ciao casa di Giglio... Speriamo di venire ancora l'un giorno

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God's Tattoo

As most of you know we were traveling this past weekend in Umbria.  We chose an amazing winery to stay at and it was truly beautiful.  It was the first time however that we have stayed at a place without internet access and so we were not able to communicate with family during an amazing celebration of Doug's dad Kirk as he turned 70!  The party they had was on Friday the 4th... what would have been Zachary's 17th birthday.

On that Friday before we went out our family was doing one of the devotions from our Kindle book (Dinner table devotions).  The entry was for February 1st because first of all we aren't doing very well at keeping "up to date", but most of all because I like the title... "God's Tattoo".  Here is how it started - I thought it was very appropriate for Zach's birthday.

"Have you ever seen someone with a person's name tattooed onto an arm or ankle?  Some people tattoo the name of the person they love on their bodies as an expression of their devotions to the person, and as a constant reminder of this person who is precious to them."

We really don't need a constant reminder of our precious son - we already think of him constantly whether or not it is Christmas Eve or his birthday. Seeing our tattoo every day makes me smile though.  My child who is part of the very fiber of my being has been physically etched onto my body.  For me it is so appropriate.

The discussion questions for the devotion go on to ask..." Do you think you would ever get a tattoo?  Does your family have opinions or rules regarding tattoos??"  Let's just say that we all had a little chuckle over that...

Happy Birthday my darling Zachary

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Built to last

Every evening Doug and Zoe and I walk our three dogs.  We only have two choices in terms of our route.  We either go down the hill to a fairly busy road and then back up the steep part of our driveway, or we go up the hill away from our house and then turn around and come back the way we came.  We usually go up the hill and back because I don't like the busy road and I'd also like to get the uphill part over with (the sooner the better)!

When we take the uphill route we pass a house (in both directions) that is "in progress".  There are 1/2 finished houses like this all over town.  It is possible that the economy has something to do with why these homes are not getting worked on. It's also possible that people are just working on them when they have the time and/or money.  What is fascinating to me, however is being able to see the bones of a house in Italy!

Now I grew up in  California, but I think the same is true in Washington... we build our houses out of wood.  They creak a little, they tend to "settle", but they don't fall down in an earthquake.  In Italy homes are made out of concrete!  The floors, the pillars, the walls even the roof... it looks absolutely crazy to me!  I'm sure that some of the wisdom of the concrete is that they are cooler in summer and all - but it still freaks me out.  The other morning Zoe asked us if we heard all of the thunder the night before.  Neither Doug nor I heard a thing!

Of course as we tour around this beautiful country we are often looking at buildings that are literally hundreds of years old.  They definitely build things to last!  As for me... I'm still glad that my house is made of wood... It may not be there a hundred years from now, but it will probably last through the next earthquake!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Back home from the "Veneto"

Wow... we're just back home from a week away in the Northern part of Italy.  It was very cold, but now snow, rain or wind - so I'm pretty sure we lucked out!!

We had so many wonderful experiences.  We started in Verona and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that even though I am fully aware that the whole Juliet's house thing is made up I really enjoyed it.  There were sets and costumes from the Zeffirelli version of the film and after watching "Letters to Juliet" it was fun to see the place where the club writes people back.  This is a town that seems like a perfect summer destination... bikers have the right of way here and it was a very friendly place to be.

After Verona came Padua and the churches we visited there didn't allow photos.  Our main destination however was absolutely stunning.  The Scrovegni Chapel is literally covered in frescoes by Giotto that were mostly about the live of Jesus.  Groups of 20 people are let in for only 15 minutes at a time.  This was painted in the very first part of the 1300's!  Amazing.  Look it up on line if you want to see what it looks like!  We also went to see the Church of St. Anthony (the patron saint of Padua) who is known as a great speaker.  To that end they have in this church as a "relic" his tongue!  It took all of my restraint not to walk through the Basilica sticking my tongue in and out like a lizard!  I'm such a bad example!  :0)

After Padua we spent three days in Venice... There is no city like it.  We didn't see a car or a scooter for the entire time.  Although there are lots of people - it is a really quiet city since there is no traffic noise!  We saw many more churches... amazing art.  I think the Doge's palace might have been my favorite here in terms of buildings - it houses one of the biggest single rooms in all of Europe, and then of course there is the jail cell and fascinating escape of the one and only Casanova!  Just walking around through the city however was amazing.  All of the little bridges and small alleys are so cool.  There are many plazas, wells gathering places... but no parks or trees.  We splurged on a lunch on the Grand Canal and then bargained for a reduced rate on a Gondola ride... we don't want to go home with any regrets.

I was really ready to head "home" to Gilio after a week away.  The dogs were thrilled to see us and it feels nice to just chill out.  I was immediately reminded however of what small village life in Italy is like. It is nothing like the tourist areas.  As I have mentioned before Gilio is pretty small  and has olive groves everywhere.  When we first arrived in December it was harvesting time and every weekend and many evenings families were all out picking their olives to press.  Here we are in January and now it is pruning time... for weeks people have been out trimming the trees.  For the last couple of weeks as we look off of our terrace we can see and smell small fires burning.  Hazy days.  Once the olives are pruned everybody burns the branches... but these people have other jobs, and it looks like really hard work.  Something I'm not sure I know anything about.


When we got home yesterday one of the cousins in the family was up on our hillside burning branches.  She is probably in her 60's maybe older. She is wearing her black dress (I've not seen her in anything else) and work boots.  Her husband is the shepherd that brings his sheep to "mow" the grass and makes cheese. 

 I am reminded of how thankful I am for this amazing opportunity to be relaxing in this amazing country.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More Random Thoughts from Italy...

Hey all!
Just back from a forced break from internet (and phone) for about a week.  I'm thinking that lack of internet might be the truest sense of sabbatical we get.  On our last sabbatical I'm not sure the internet really even existed... and I'm positive that we weren't able to share our stories and photos like we can this time.  It's kind of cool to stay connected - but I'm not beating myself up trying to make it an everyday thing like I thought I would.

So here are a few random observations...  
On Breakfast

  1. Breakfast "out" in Italy consists of a cappucino or straight espresso and some sort of bakery item... you stand up at the counter, eat quickly and walk out the door... 10 minutes max.  The idea of a big American breakfast is totally absent
  2. We did find a popover pan, and we have used it twice... but once it was for dinner. We also used up our stale bread by making French Toast...It's hard to go cold turkey on American breakfast!
  3. Breakfast "in" at my house in Italy generally consists of a big cup of hot milk with a shot of espresso in it with a whole bunch of cookies to dip in it.  Milk and cookies for breakfast... I'm in heaven
  4. The grocery stores have whole isles devoted to breakfast cookies - and they look nothing like Erin Baker's!! (a NW reference to a local "healthy" cookie!!)
  5. The coffee is strong and good.  Have not seen one Starbucks, and surprisingly I haven't even missed that.  
Popovers! Who knew there was a special pan!!
On Dogs
  1. I love dogs and I still don't want one
  2. Pompeii has a bunch of stray dogs that obviously live at the site... The dogs are fed and cared for and up for adoption.  You can bring a dog home with you from Pompeii... How cool is that?
  3. Having to walk the dogs twice a day is a great way to get out... but poor Doug walks them every morning by himself.  Oopps.  
  4. My daughter who says she really really wants a dog has not gotten up once to do the morning walk.
  5. The great thing about dogs in Italy is that nobody "picks up after them"... and I know you know what I mean.  In America I'd be sending dirty looks to people leaving that behind.  Here I just keep on walking and I really don't even think twice about it!
  6. We live out in the country.  Dogs live outside.  We got a "gift" in the driveway a few days ago that is too awful to describe.  
  7. I love dogs and I still don't want one
Pompeii doggie for adoption
On Exercise
  1. The walking here is great!  I've mentioned before that we walk in to town most every day to shop for our groceries, go to the bank etc.  We live on a hill so it is a decent workout
  2. My husband of course loves the Y and the weight machines.  We found out at the beginning of January that our little town has a gym!  We are now proud members of Work 'N Progress.  I have no idea why the name is in English - nobody there speaks any!
  3. Zoe love the gym at home where she does gymnastics but is not a fan of going to the gym here.  BIG props to her for doing something WAY outside of her comfort zone!  So far she has taken a dance class for kids in her age range (she now has 8 Italian Facebook friends), a stretch class with me that was mostly for old folks and today we did the Total Body Step class.  
  4. The gym here has a full time weight room "manager" who moves people from machine to machine so there is never a wait, and they make sure you are doing things properly.  You should see Doug trying to convince these guys to let him add more weight... It's hilarious!  I keep telling him that "when in Rome..."!  :0)
On Shopping and Growing Up
  1. OK, if you know me you know I enjoy fashion and shopping! Although  I must say my 20 years of marriage to a "bargain hunting" husband has dumbed down my instincts a bit
  2. One and a half months in Italy and I have not made one major purchase.  I have had lots of fun looking though!
  3. My daughter however has made two pretty big purchases and they are both items I would definitely pick out for myself.  An awesome asymmetrical cashmere/wool blend sweater and some very cool low black suede boots with a wedge heel.
  4. I know!!  Zoe is too big for mandatory MaryJanes, but high heels make my stomach flip... where is my little girl?  The teenager has taken over.  I must say it makes me a little bit sad - but her taste in clothes is usually right on!!
Awesome Black (big girl)  Boots.
More on food
  1. So, other than milk and cookies for breakfast we have done a lot of other types of eating (see blog for New Years Eve)!  
  2. The eat your big meal in the middle of the day concept is a really great one!  We eat a large meal at about 1:30 or 2 and then eat just a light dinner.  I've not gone to bed feeling hungry even once
  3. Pizza is generally only served at dinner time, but that means that the places don't start serving it until 7:30 or 8PM
  4. I mentioned before that pizza is square and you fold it to eat... brilliant
  5. Our friend Gigliola brought us fresh homemade pasta the other day and taught us how to make a really great mushroom sauce.  She also showed us how to make super yummy bruschetta, coconut macaroons and pan fried eggplant.  Yes, you read that right.  I like eggplant, who knew??
  6. On our last trip to Rome we ended up eating at a Japanese restaurant.  Edamame, Pot-stickers, Sushi (only for Doug).  It really tasted great.  Italian is my favorite, but variety is not a strong suit of this country!
Antipasti on our terrace at home

OK... it's time for me to go to bed!!  I'm sure I'll have more random observations another day.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Similarities and Differences...

We have now been in Italy for over a month.  I can hardly believe it!  As we have maneuvered our way around I have noticed a few things that are strikingly different (and a few similarities as well) from the good old USA... Here are a few of the things that I can think of...    
  1. Similarity:  parking tickets are given out (sadly for the family that preceded us here!)
  2. Difference:   the police are not required to put the ticket on your car... you just get a surprise visit from the postman with a registered letter!  Yikes!
  3. Difference:  the tickets are paid at the Post Office
  4. Similarity:  the Post Office is a nightmare! 
  5. Difference:  There is absolutely no line at the Post Office... people just crowd around.  My personal space bubble definitely popped!
  6. Difference:  The Italians have the same kind of commitment to using an umbrella as those of us in the NW have to not using and umbrella
  7. Similarity:  When it rains people get bundled up...  but
  8. Difference:  It seems that a coat in Italy has to be puffy and black or fur... no fleece in sight
  9. Difference:  Stores really do shut down for three hours every afternoon for people to go home eat a big meal and rest. At least in our little village - not so much in the bigger cities
  10. Difference:  When you order a slice of pizza you get a rectangular strip of pizza folded in half
  11. Difference:  Smokers... YUCK!
  12. Similarity:  My husband is great from the pulpit in any language!!
Sunday... Preaching at the Baptist Church in Gilio Di Veroli

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Southern Italy - here we come...

OK... so this one may be a long one.  I'm not quite sure what to tell and what to leave out!  We had such a wonderful journey South to Sorrento, Amalfi and Napoli... here are some of the highlights.

We took off for Southern Italy early Tuesday morning by train.  Amazingly we had absolutely no problems with weather or transportation so we made it to Sorrento by about noon.  The weather was a little bit overcast, but not raining so we decided to eat a quick lunch and hop on a bus down the Amalfi Coast road to take in the stunning views.

View from the bus of the Amalfi Coast
Stunning it was... however anybody who knows how I feel in a car on windy roads will not be surprised to learn that if I ever return to Amalfi again it will be by boat!!  The narrow roads and hairpin turns reminded me a little bit of Hwy 1, but this road narrows to one lane in many places so that cars and busses end up backing up to maneuver their way through tight places.  At some points the passing buses were quite literally only a few inches from each other.

Amalfi itself was very quaint.  We had a wonderful afternoon exploring and eating gelato.  When we hopped back onto the bus for the return trip to Sorrento I just closed my eyes and prayed!  Luckily it was dark so I didn't miss any of the spectacular views!

Wednesday was a bit rainy - so instead of heading to Pompeii as we had originally planned we took the train North to Naples. There we visited the National Archeological Museum where all of the important artifacts from Pompeii have been taken.  **A side note about Naples. We were warned in every book and by everyone we spoke to to beware of pickpockets.  We were trying very hard to be careful even though Doug was carrying the big tourist target on his back... commonly referred to as a backpack.  Suddenly, as I was walking behind Doug I noticed that two of the zippers on the pack were open!  Wow... no idea when that happened.  Luckily all that was available from those pockets were a Middle schoolers retainer case, some tissues and about four different types of chapstick!  Dodged a bullet, but let's just say I was even more watchful for the rest of the trip. Naples is a very big, dirty, city.  We walked around a lot trying to find the museum and now that we've been there I'm not sure I would ever feel the need to go back.

The museum itself was really amazing however, and quite worth the scary walk to get there. The items that have been recovered from Pompeii date back to at least a hundred years before Christ and they are stunning.  There are pots, lamps, sculpture, frescos and mosaics... unbelievably preserved by Vesuvius.
Sculpture from Pompeii that inspired Donetello
& Michelangelo

Mosaics from Pompeii

**As another aside as it relates to all of the amazing art we are seeing...  As most of you know Doug and I have been "home-schooling" Zoe during our trip.  It was just our luck that the 8th grade sex education unit came up during our trip.  Yippee.  Let's just say that if Zoe had any questions about the male anatomy before our trip, there will be no questions anymore!  Let me also say that viewing the "secret room" in the museum, which houses the frescoed menu of services for the local brothels of Pompeii, confirms (as if there was ever any doubt) that the human male has a bizarre obsession with their "part" that is thousands of years old!

Thursday we were going to go to see Pompeii itself - but never a dull moment for our family.  After our amazing breakfast at the B & B we headed up to our room to get ready for the day.  For some reason we couldn't make our key work, but these buildings and keys are really old!  So, we swallowed our pride and asked the owner for some help getting in.  Unfortunately there was an actual problem with the door and we were locked out.  Zoe and I didn't even have our shoes on so we couldn't go anywhere.  About an hour later they had broken into our room through a window and were working on the locks.  We were given a new room (one Zoe really liked because her bed was lofted at the top of a spiral staircase!) and decided to spend the day exploring Sorrento itself.  It was a wonderful day and a holiday (Epiphany) so there were lots of people out and about, a parade going down the main road.  We splurged on a Rick Steves recommended fancy ristorante that night.  It was a really fun day

Zoe's Loft

Epiphany Parade

   View of Sorrento Marina

Our last day was finally our trip to Pompeii.  The weather on Friday couldn't have been better... sunny and warm.  A perfect day to explore this really immense outdoor archeological site.  We spent about 4 hours wandering around the ruins with a clear view of Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.  We capped off the day with some fresh squeezed OJ... a regional specialty.  Back to our village we went.  We all noticed that on this trip that we heard more English than we have heard in a month.  Sorrento clearly caters to tourists whereas our little village certainly does not!  


Monday, January 3, 2011

Sunday... Church in Italy

When our friend Giliola found out that Doug is a Pastor at a Protestant church she quickly told us that there was a Protestant church just around the corner from her house.  She thought that it might start at 11.  So on Sunday we headed out the door to see what church would be like in Italy

Church in Italy
The church was not very full but there were a few families.  The Pastor was a woman and she and a younger woman each gave short talk.  The scripture was on First Corinthians 13... luckily a pretty familiar section.  After the service we were going to slip out, but an older gentleman stopped us on the way out to greet us.  He had read the Corinthians passage during the service with great passion.  It turns out that this man used to be the Pastor of this congregation.  He is retired now and they are trying to get younger leadership.  As one can imagine the Protestant church in Italy is pretty small and there is a shortage of Pastoral leadership.  This gentleman, whose name is Gioele (Joel) speaks wonderful english. He quickly asked Doug if he would like to preach some Sunday although he would have to check with the committee.  Doug said he would love to preach and was quite familiar with the committee process.  We're thinking maybe in February Doug could do something at this church.  So Joel walks around the sanctuary, talks with a few people and comes back to Doug and says "how about next Sunday?" !  Um... sure!  So next Sunday Doug will be preaching (with Joel translating) at the local protestant church.  It reminded us both of our last sabbatical in Scotland when we took a ferry to Northern Ireland and Doug preached a sermon there.  It will certainly be an experience to remember!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Years Eve... Italian Style

Our Italian friend Giliola who had us over for tea on Christmas day invited us for a New Years Eve party!  She and her husband Antonio had two other couples over along with our family.  All I can say in hindsight is, Wow... and also, I'm still feeling full!

Everybody was very understanding and we made it through about four and a half hours of  "semi" conversation.  We were served food constantly and we all tried lots of new things...even Zoe, although she drew the line at the pigs feet (nope, I'm not kidding!)   Here is a rundown or our gastronomic spectacle...

We arrived at about 8PM for dinner (!) There were light hors d'oeuvres being served of chips, popcorn, crackers  etc. We all gathered around the table and then the food started coming...

  1. Antipasti:  Olives, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Artichoke hearts, Mozzarella and salami.  Small amounts of all of these items - all were delicious even the eggplant (and if you know me well... enough said!)
  2. Pasta Fagiola:  We thought this was the pasta course, but I think it was a sort of soup course.  Small pasta noodles some beans.  Super yummy.
  3. Surprise!  More pasta:  This course was a yummy fettucini with porcini mushrooms, tomatoes and something that gave it a little bit of a spicy kick.
  4. At home I would have said that was great and figured dinner was over but noooo.  Next came the Meat course:  Plates filled with sausages, chicken and ribs.  Again, normally I would have enjoyed a lot of this course... but I was already pretty full!  I took small pieces of each type of meat and enjoyed it very much. 
  5. Salad was served with our meat course.  It was nice to have a slightly lighter fare!
  6. Next... wait for it... Lentils and Pigs feet.  I happen to like lentils, and I did try the Pigs feet (it didn't actually resemble a pigs foot)  It was not bad, but remember I was already so full I though I might burst.  In Italy lentils are eaten as a symbol of good luck and prosperity because they resemble tiny coins... I'm not exactly sure how the pigs feet fit in - I'll need to look that one up!
  7. Next came the fruit:  Ok... the Mandarin oranges here are to die for, and Giliola has a Kiwi tree in her yard.  As full as we all were, we all ate some amazing fresh fruit
  8. Last, but not least was a plate of dolce that Giliola had made herself.  Wonderful cakes and cookies that were not just Italian, but also Belgian because Giliola and her husband are originally from Belgium.  
  9. Zoe went on to top everything off with some gelato... 
An assortment of Dolce to top us all off!
Did you say gelato?  Sure, why not!
As with all meals there was wine served and champagne at midnight.  After the toast Giliola offered me some Grand Marnier which absolutely made my chest catch fire... yuck!  Weirdest of all was an alcoholic drink that we were offered in a very small glass that they kept calling marijuana!  WHAT?  Is that even possible??  I will have to look that up as well.  

The evening ended with Zoe getting to hold their new puppy (only a few weeks old) named Balloo.  Such a cute fat little puppy!  It was a truly special evening.  We fell so blessed that people invited us into their lives to celebrate the new year.  God is good.
Zoe and baby Balloo