Tuesday, December 23

this is me

His heart curls up into a hard little shell this time of year. Leaving me standing there, wondering what to think of my life. I stare at the emptiness for a while. For a long while, you know, until your eyes start to water and your world turns all psychedelic. And I blink and realize that it's not working. He's staying in that ball.

I teeter about, pathetically, until I build up enough of a base to step back and see what a mess I'm making of myself, and FORTUNATELY, I turn my back on the hard shell and whole-heartedly tell him to fuck off.

And things slide around and start fitting together again. I stop wondering about marriage and mothering and just do it. I build up steam and courage and strength. And I have time for everything. Exercise, baking cookies, bed time stories, back rubs, loving good morning kisses, and music. Much much more music. Books and art and walks through nature. I do instead of think.

And doing somehow gives me space to think. To really see my thoughts. And he is still there (of course, how else could he be to me) And I see myself reflected in calm deep water. Clearly. My problem is that I'm a clarity addict. Gradually, I slip into too much thinking and not enough doing. I see that now. Again.

Know without knowing. See without looking. Doesn't make sense. But if you don't think about it too much, it does.

courage campaign

I moved around quite a bit even before moving abroad. The last place I called home was California. I love so much about this amazing place. It's beautiful both in landscape and people. I love all those crazy California initiatives. I love the political spirit of the people.

I never imagined prop 8 would pass. A ban on gay marriages. And legal action to divorce couples married before prop 8 was passed.

How sad.

Please do not divorce. Love.

Monday, December 22

how do you say...?

Learning a language on the fly gives a person a big helping dose of humility. Daily routine builds up your confidence and then you unexpectedly stumble into uncharted territory. You're hit with that blow, and that blank expression when you realize you have no idea what to say, you fumble through it with grunts and hand gestures and walk away feeling like an ignorant dolt the just set foot in this new country that you've inhabited for a year and a half. It's happened over and over and over again. To me.

Starts with making your way around the place the first few months. You avoid markets where you'd actually have to talk to a live person until you get fed up with the dismal selection at the supermarket and arm yourself with the words for things like "cetriolo" (cucumber) and "pomodoro" (tomato) and TRIUMPH! You pull it off. The market ladies are sweet and smiling and don't seem to mind when you can't figure out how to differentiate between one stalk vs. one bunch of celery (yes, you can buy a single stalk of celery). Minimal amount of grunting involved to sort things out and you're off with two buldging bags of fresh produce for under 10 euros.

This experience does good for your ego... I can do this italian thing, no problemo. So you're off to the deli.

Yea, the deli. Who knew such fumbles could be had at the deli.

Prosciutto crudo, cotto, salumi... I know these things. Let's get the good stuff from the deli today.

You casually saunter up to the counter, number in hand, roll off your polite "buongiorno" like a native and say "Prosciutto cotto, piacere".

Deli guy: Quale?

Uhhhh... ok. There's four different kinds... quick, what are the prices... something mid range... oh, that's COOP... the store brand. Is the store brand any good? "COOP" you blurt out. Whew!

Deli guy: Quante?

With your mouth half open you think, How much? Well, duh! Why didn't I think of how to say how much. About a quarter of a pound? Oh wait, metric. They must do this in grams. How many grams is about a quarter of a pound? Oh crap, I'm so blowing this. I don't care how much! Just give me some prociutto cotto!

Deli guy: Un cento grammi?

Si. Yes yes yes... exactly! That's exactly how much I wanted. Oh, well, that's not very much. "Posso avere due cento grammi?" Ah... nice recovery.

And so you've learned how to order from the deli counter. Things are really looking up. You figure out bread, school supplies, socks for your punkette, all pretty much the same way.

And then, out of the blue...Oooh. That's a great purse. It's perfect. I've got time, let's go in and check it out.

Death trap... well, language death trap... all kinds of crazy new words here. Words like "straps, pockets, adjustable, suede vs leather, snaps, zippers"... and I don't know ANY of them! How do you grunt "are the straps removable?"

Like I said, humility.

Saturday, December 20

cooking without the box

We're staying home for Christmas. Just the four of us, nice and cozy. We've decorated a tree and things are very festive and comfortable here and none of us really wants to move out of this zone for Christmas.

So, to complete the homey Christmas memory package, I've decided to cook a big Christmas dinner. A bird of some sort. Punk and I took a look at the poultry section today and I remembered how much I hate preparing whole birds. Blaaaaaah... The case was full of bird carouses with feet and heads and beaks. Excuse me sir, I need my bird to look a little less bird-like, please. Not wanting to show what a chicken I was (
badumpbump) I picked a smaller one that was decapitated and claw-less under the guise of our small oven and us being only four. Maybe it is not as fresh as the others but I just couldn't imagine dealing with all those parts. It's bad enough that the thing flaps it's wings all over the place when you're washing it.
Now that we've got the bird, I need to figure out how to cook everything that goes with it. Here. Away from my friendly Safeway. Or Wholefoods (it is a special occasion). I'm used to stuffing it with good ole Stove Top, or in recent years, some yuppie/hippy variety of stuffing that nonetheless still comes in a box. How do you actually make stuffing? Do I use stale bread or toast it? This just smacks of smoke choking up the kitchen.

And cranberry sauce. No Oceanspray here. I hunted down some dried cranberries... maybe I could soak them and use them in the stuffing... hmm. This could be dangerous, I'm using my creativity. I'm thinking of a long grain rice stuffing with some kind of nut (almonds?) and cranberries. This would also circumvent the bread dilemma.

Jeeze! I just remembered! GRAVY! I have always cheated and used cans of gravy or at the very best used those powder packets mixed in with the cooked bird juices. What do you do? I think I saw my grandma once using flour. It's hard to remember as I was mostly just drooling all over the place and dying for dinner to be ready. Are there any spices in there? The powder packet stuff sure didn't look like flour... the must be something else to it.

Here's the part where I start cursing the Kraft Demons for the dependency they've caused.
At least I'll be able to get the mashed potatoes right, but the rest of this feast is in grave danger of coming out really, really bad. I never realized how much I relied on all that packaged crap you can find in the US. I always thought of myself as a sprout chewing health nut. Curse you Kraft! (and you too Nestle)

Wednesday, December 17

scuola materna

Did you know that free public school in Italy starts when kids are three? It's pretty cool. Scuola Materna. Kids from 3-6 years can go from about 9-3 and you can expand those hours if you want up to 7-5, also for free. Punkette's school happens to be in a convent, but it's public, but one of her teachers is a nun... church and state are far from separate here.

At the beginning I had a problem with the nun, but I recognized that it was just me and had nothing to do with the nun. I was just annoyed that she got put in the one class of the three they have that had a nun teaching. But I stuffed my issues away and encouraged my daughter to just be herself and don't pay any attention to the nun. Well, maybe not in so many words.

Punkette is quite a determined kid, so I wasn't too worried about her. They worried a lot about her and the fact that she was so quiet (she didn't know the language). I told them not to worry. They freaked out that she didn't wear undershirts and sweaters. I told them she is hot. They once put her in wool tights, and I think the poor kid must have been holding her breath because she exploded when I picked her up that day. Happened also once when they tucked in her shirt. Punkette complained a lot about not being able to do things herself. Last year she came home very upset that she was not allowed to make the hair in the picture she was coloring purple. They told her purple is not a color for hair. Also, they make her eat salad. This sounds barbaric to most US parents. But yes, they literally will stick the food into their mouths. I think this happened to Punkette once, so now she just eats it. When I ask her what she ate for lunch on any given day her reply is usually, "I didn't like it, but I ate it."

She's been going there for over a year now. Her creativity is creeping back into her art work at school. They seem to approve. She is also now sometimes referred to as "sorrella blah blah" because she talks so much. She is a friendly, focused kid and they're starting to see that and like that about her. They also seem to have given up on badgering me about dressing Punkette in warmer clothes and the fact that we're perpetually late.

Moral of the story? I suppose sometimes it's not so bad to tolerate and adjust to a new way of doing things. I guess that's what I signed up for by moving abroad.

Tuesday, December 16

birthday bliss

I am not one of those people who get's grouchy on their birthday and mopes around all day/week/month about getting older. I love having my birthday. I am bouncy on my birthday. Why not? I've got plenty to be happy about, right?

My birthday rocked yesterday. First off, I love Facebook. What a wonderful tool for staying connected. Between Facebook, email, and skype, every single one of my brothers and sisters-in-law sent me a message, as well as my parents, my grandpa, Aunts, friends from back in the states, friends I've made in Italy. I know it's electronic and easy, but KICK ASS! I love getting happy birthdays in any and every form.

My kids were too sweet. Punkone gave me a microscope that he got last year but had been replaced by a better one (it's really really crappy) but said that he thought I would like it since I'm a scientist and all. Punkette drew a picture of the two of us in rockin dresses... mine is purple with red hearts all over it. It's awesome and SO me.

I made my birthday cake from premixed batter that you squeeze out from a bag and frosted it with nutella since they don't have frosting here. It was yuuuummy. And then we played balloon volleyball.

I don't know exactly why, but 36 sounds just about perfect to me. I've got good warm fuzzies right though. Maybe it's like Brian up there says and has something to do with balance and symmetry. Or maybe I'm just a loony goon.

Saturday, December 13

found a piece of my soul

Occasionally you stumble into something that clutches your soul. The moment you lay eyes on it, taste it, smell it... it's grip knocks the air out of your lungs. You feel consumed and empowered at the same time. And you realize you've found a piece of your soul.

I stumbled into a bit of enlightenment in a mini-paradise called Amalfi. But my soul wasn't found in all the beauty, the streets, or the soothing sounds of an Italian village. Some of it is in the sea and the rocks and there's a bit in a scoop of chocolate peperoncino gelato, but not this time. We were taking a tour of the Duomo gardens, a paradise within paradise. Art work and artifacts from centuries past... bits and pieces of what had been, what brought Amalfi to where it is today. And behind a broken wall, the dark space hidden between the studs, this had been uncovered:

click on it to get a really good look... it's amazing

I can stare at it for hours. When I first saw it, a piece of the wall had recently been broken away, still raw and jagged. Seeing this humble, simple scribbling in the walls felt like looking into the veins of the ancient building. And like watching my own blood pump through mine.

It's funny how we find these things. Always where and when you least expect it.

Thursday, December 11

serenity now

The alarm got pissed at me this morning. I think he may quit. Or sue. Wait, we're in Italy... he'll probably go on strike.

"Get Up!" it said. "No" I replied. I turned my back and snuggled in with the punks. My circulation is nil. I have cold limbs, frozen fingers and toes. My blood is just not in a big hurry. It'll get there when it gets there. The punks are like two furnaces. So I don't complain when they want to climb into bed with me. Especially since my usual furnace was in Amsterdam last night. The sheets finally get thawed out and I sleep REALLY well.

"Get UP!" the alarm shouts despondently.
"No" I reply. Then, blinking my eyes open, "Is that the church bell?"
The alarm walks off in disgust mumbling something about not getting any respect.

OK. We're late. Do I flip and make my kids miserable for my laziness or do I just accept it? I decide to take it slow. Clothes, breakfast, shoes. And then slush. And snow. Kids walk R E A L L Y
S L O W L Y when there's slush and snow on the ground. I'm glad I'm not in a hurry. I keep telling myself that.

We arrive at the Elementary school and make our grand entrance.
Oh. School's Closed. Well I guess that's good. I'm glad I didn't rush to get here. Wait, now I can't go into work. Now I'm really not in a hurry.

We head back toward the center with the objective of Punkette's medical appointment. Good gracious these kids are snails today. Wait, I'm not in a hurry.

First on my list is to dump some of my baggage. And get an umbrella. And call a cab. I can't take this pace.

Medical center appointment done. Now that I know where the medical center is I realize that we are not very far from home and since we're not in a hurry, I decide that we'll walk. We stumble into the Thursday Market on the way. Cool! I forgot all about that. I can pick up some hot lunch. Especially since Punkette's school said she can't come for lunch since I forgot to call and let them know. Work is totally sacked for the day.

So we're all home. Warming up. Relaxing. And not going anywhere in particular.

Life in Italy is exciting, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 10

too much in photos

Yesterday morning I was thumbing through the newspaper at a cafe and opened to a photo of two men that had been hung to death in Iran. Their bodies were hoisted high in the air. Sacks on their heads. Too much.

I've seen lots of photos like this since moving to Italy. Screaming women cradling dead men. Dead children. People walking past dead bodies in the street. In the daily paper.

Does my reaction say I am ignoring the problems in the world? That I've been sheltered by American journalism? I'm not sure. Probably true. I know it's far from sunshine and rainbows. I know horrible, unthinkable things happen.

Maybe this shouldn't shock me. Certainly, I'm not used to this level of exposure in the papers. It seems disrespectful to me. This is real life, not a movie. These are people whose lives have come to a violent end. Yes, report on it, document it, write articles, and take photos... but images like this should be saved for a courtroom, not published in the daily paper.

Monday, December 8


I move in shadows
"let it go"
"love just a little more"
"and a little more"
"and more"

I know your heart
not perfect
not pure
not even always honest
but growing
and open
To whispers from shadows...

This is my entry to this weeks Thematic Photo.

Sunday, December 7

beautiful noise

The church bells mark our day. In the morning they ring at quarter to eight... not eight, but quarter to... so Punkone knows to start putting on his shoes and I make sure I didn't forget his marenda (snack). Perfect timing for him to walk the few blocks to school with his father without rushing. No one likes to rush in the morning.
They ring again at noon, when the shops close and again at 3 when they open. If I'm home, the three o'clock bell reminds me that it's time to get my shoes on and head out to pick up Punkette from nursery school at 3:15. The final bells at 7 pm mark the end of the busy day, time for pjs and brushing of teeth. It's almost as if they consulted us about the scheduling.

And then there's the music of the street musicians. It brings Italy in... where I'm working with the kids or picking up the house... into my head... romantic and exotic and bringing that awareness, that recognition that small things are so important, that you're doing exactly what you should be doing, by definition of the fact that you are doing it.

Friday, December 5

all camels are mammals

But all mammals are not camels.

Unless you're a human mother of two more humans, hoofing it back and forth to work, school, bakeries, parks, tennis lessons, music class... then you might be a camel too.

All that crap that I used to fill up the back of my hatchback with... I still need it, it still comes with us, it's just all piled on my back.

I try to hone it down. I have my backpack so I can try to stuff small parcels away. I empty it regularly. But I somehow manage to always end up feeling like a pack animal.

On my arms, shoulders, and back today, when I finally collapsed through the doorway:

1. My backpack, containing a change of shoes from work, wallet, cell phone, mittens, 3 mandarin oranges from lunch, a water bottle, a tennis racket and change of shoes for the punk.

2. Punk's school backpack containing, I think, about 10 or 12 bricks...

3. Shopping bag with sweets for movie night... a pandoro cake, chocolates and gummies, and roasted chestnuts for mom.

4. Two wet umbrellas

excuse me sir... can I borrow your burrow?

Sorry punks... I really do try to refrain from ripping your cute little heads off when you ask me if I can carry your mittens, a stick, or a piece of trash... But could you just take a look at me? Do I have a third arm I don't know about?

Don't worry. I didn't decapitate any punks. My patience flows from an eternal spring. And, despite the fact that I'm eating all this great Italian food, I'm still losing weight.

Thursday, December 4

questions raised

There is a lot about Italy that makes no sense to me. How can "orari continuato" mean open from 9am-8pm, or why I can't buy pain killers at the supermarket? Why are there doors in our apartment that don't go anywhere? and why am I suddenly dressing better?

Or, how in the hell did they build the panteon?

Why am I so enamored by this sculpture?

And how long did I stare at the ceiling before I realized the gecko wasn't part of the painting?

Tuesday, December 2

guerilla conversation

My social skills are in atrophy. They were not very sharp to begin with, but after a year and a half abroad, I'm starting to have real problems. First off, shhh, I'm blogging. Yikes. Second, my need to converse seems to be cumulative. The result of this is that when I do find someone to talk to, I assault them with conversation.
You can imagine the effect that has.

Actually, most people seem to take it in stride. If I'm lucky, they're also a foreigner and feeling just as isolated as I am and we just beat each other into the ground. But sometimes I accidentally unleash on an unsuspecting Italian.

I was pissed off today and I carried this stupid pissed off feeling around with me all day because I just didn't have anyone to vent to. It was driving me nuts. I kept telling myself to just let it go, it's a silly thing to be upset about... but I just couldn't shake it.

Poor Michele. He's one of the guys at work that speaks some English. I was trying to stick to casual conversation, fearing what might happen to what little relationship there was between us if I unleashed my brewing frustrations. But he's also one of those wonderful people that asks you how you're doing and really wants to know. And such a kind face.

UGH. I exploded all over him after lunch, just as we would normally have simply parted ways. I could even see the reeling in his face in the process but I just couldn't disengage. What a trooper. He hung in there and actually conversed with me about the situation. Validation. Empathy. And hardly any signs of shell shock. Ugh, this should be so much easier. But I think Michele and I could actually become friends. I just wish I didn't have to feel like a socially inept science dork in the process... oh, wait...

Monday, December 1

serenity of slush

It's been sleeting (nevischia) all through the night and it is continuing as I write. Slippy sloshy stuff everywhere. Right now I am LOVING my Sorels. I do mean LOVE. When I get home tonight I will treat them to a wax rubdown, they have been working so hard today. There were no buses running through downtown as trees have been falling down all over the place. I decided to hoof it, just halfway out of the valley and catch one of the buses that bypasses downtown. What I got were sardine cans on wheels. Too funny. I mean there were bodies pressed up against all the windows. The buses up to the university are generally packed, but this was ridiculous. I couldn't take the first one that passed by because the doors wouldn't open. I still had to jam my way into the second, but after 40 minutes of waiting out in sleet, you find a way.

Want to know the best part? The very best part? For the first time in a year and a half, people in general looked happy. IT WAS AWESOME! These stiff closed scowling northern Italians finally brightened up. Who knew!?! Slush! I was met with smiles and patience as we all slushed our way through the mess into work. When generally people would be bitching and moaning, serenity had taken it's place.