Sunday, November 30

caldarroste e vin brule'

Yesterday I posted about Punkette's favorite winter treat (honestly though, she asks for it year round). I thought I'd tell you about mine today.

Since I can no longer snuggle under the covers all day with hubby, I like to get out, and these Italians really know how to celebrate a holiday. The Christmas markets have started, the lights are up all over the city and more people than usual are out enjoying the city.

In addition to the pleasures of the warm cafe' s serving cioccolata calda and espresso drinks, there are outdoor stands that sell, my favorite, caldarroste e vin brule' or roasted chestnuts and hot spiced wine.

I finally understand the dreaminess of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." The chestnuts are warm and smooth, almost creamy. And if you get them hot out of the roaster you can drop a couple in your pockets to warm up your frozen little fingers. The vin brule' is also nice and hot, done with spices similar to what you would use to make hot apple cider. Every vendor does their own version and this one I'm drinking now has quite a kick. Tastes like there's some grappa in here. Yeeowza! This is my kind of warm up.

Saturday, November 29

cioccolata calda

I love coming in from playing outside in the snow, peeling off all the wet clothes and warming my fingers up on a nice hot cup of hot chocolate. One of the true simple pleasures of life.

My Punkette is a chocolate lover. She could eat chocolate at every meal if I let her. Jars of nutella, chocolate eggs, croissants, gelato... yes, I'm afraid she's going to be one of those women. But when it comes to hot chocolate, not just any hot chocolate will do. It has to be cioccolata calda. Hot chocolate, Italian style.

You see, cioccolata calda is completely different from hot chocolate. You can sip hot chocolate. But cioccolata calda, you have to scoop it up with a spoon. In winter, they make up a vat of the stuff and keep it hot and turning all day. It's thick and creamy. And it's delicious.

Friday, November 28


heartache and despondence
as the snow flakes

Despite being up until 3 am, skyping with my extended family, I am bouncy as a tigger today. The snow is falling in droves and I just can't get enough. It is remarkably comforting. It's transforming this foreign land into everything I knew as a child... sledding, snow ball fights, cold red fingers... and I feel more like myself again. More connected and in tune with everything around me.

I'll leave the rest to my favorite poet, Anne Sexton...


blessed snow,
comes out of the sky
like bleached flies.
The ground is no longer naked.
The ground has on its clothes.
The trees poke out of sheets
and each branch wears the sock of God.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
I bite it.
Someone once said:
Don't bite till you know
if it's bread or stone.
What I bite is all bread,
rising, yeasty as a cloud.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.

Thursday, November 27

do you believe in Santa?

P: Why doesn't Santa die?
Me: Because he's more spirit than person.

There is a bum that lives in my neighborhood. He's about my age, more or less. Usually he's drunk. Sometimes he's not. And we recognize each other. I know this because he no longer asks me for money. I've never given him anything. When he's drunk I shuffle my kids away from him. When he's not, I ignore him completely.

But I don't really. Because I think about him. I notice when I haven't seen him for a few days. I notice when he looks sick, when he's cleaned up. When he's had a haircut. I wonder where he sleeps in this cold. And I wonder how long I will pretend to ignore him. Until I no longer see him anymore and wonder if he died somewhere? And I'll think with fading interest that I might have helped him out.

This is the worst kind of apathy.

I've been struggling to figure out what this post is about. I'm sure you can relate. I suppose it's me, recognizing the things that teach me something about myself. Simple questions from my kids get me wondering what I really believe. And how to define it. I question why I've never helped this person I see everyday. I think it's because I don't believe that giving him money would help, but that's an easy excuse. Am I more than that? Maybe not. I should be.

But I wouldn't be here (in every sense of the word) if I didn't take risks... with people and ideas.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26

culinary arts

I'm not an instinctive cook... meaning that I lack the natural sense of what foods and flavors go well together. I love cookbooks that give you a list of suggested side dishes or wine to serve with the meal. I can cook basic wholesome meals that involve little more than boiling water. Maybe stirfry. But if left to my own creative juices I usually end up with something along the lines of this:

Does everyone know what movie this is? Here is a hint:

I've even caught myself once saying the exact words "But it's got raisins in it... You like raisins" and I immediately took mercy on the punks and let them eat cold cereal.

Well, today I got creative. I wanted to make bean soup for lunch. To start I needed to brown an onion and a carrot in some olive oil. My carrots felt like they were made from rubber, so I went to see what else I had add to the pot besides an onion (this is where I usually run into trouble). Beets. Hey! That's a root (are you following the logic here?). Beets are good (in salad). I bet that would work.

And you know what? IT DID! The soup tastes AMAZING! Wait, let me see if the punks are eating it (I've been known to like some odd tasting stuff)... yep... they're eating it too!

Two thumbs up for beet the bean soup!

Tuesday, November 25


Although the mountains around here are already white capped, I didn't expect to see this outside my window so soon! We hardly ever get snow down in the valley...

I love snow. Growing up south of Chicago, snow was always a special treat to make up for suffering through the cold. It never snowed enough. We were always praying for it to come before Christmas and it hardly ever did (then we'd be praying for winter to end in April and it would snow). I'm not a huge fan of sub-zero weather, but if it comes with snow, I couldn't be happier.

Monday, November 24

Meme Shmeme

I've been tagged.
Thank you Cairo Typo at Wandering the World for giving me this award. I met Ms. TypO just a few short weeks ago near the beginning of this NaBloPoMo insanity. She will go down in history as the second person to post a comment on my blog and has since given me unexpected support, inspiration, and laughs. When we're shriveled and senile, these bits and bytes will live on to tell our stories of hyjinx and adventure.

Now, down to serious beeznuss... What's the deely with this Meme? The rule is you can only answer the questions with a single word. And I have to nominate 5 other bloggers to do the same. Well, I'll tell you a little secret. I'm kind of a rule breaker when it comes to these kinds of things. Friendship rings, chain letters, mail the 10th person on the list a pair of sexy underwear. Uh... no.

That said, I'll play along. Sort of. Because I like TypO so much and I really am flattered she tagged me. But, I'm taking liberties to shake this up a bit.

Here are five of my favorite blogs. Really really. You kick ass.

Lynda at Lulu's Bay
Amanda at Life in a Suitcase
Derfina at Life in the River
Pearl at Pearl, Why You Little...
and Gutsy Writer

As recipients of this award, I will elaborate on one of my answers for you. Just ask. And, If you feel so inclined, please meme away, I'd like to know.

1. Where is your cell phone?

2. Where is your significant other? work

3. Your hair color? brown

4. Your mother? frustrated

5. Your father? hunting!?

6. Your favorite thing?

7. Your dream last night?

8. Your dream/goal?

9. The room you're in?

10. Your hobby?

11. Your fear? compliance

12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? sailing

13. Where were you last night? bed

14. What you're not? short

15. One of your wish-list items? dress

16. Where you grew up? Plainfield

17. The last thing you did? hubby coffee

18. What are you wearing? clothes

19. Your TV? brain-cell-killing-hubby-loving-flat-screened-crabby-kid-making

20. Your pet? birds

21. Your computer? on

22. Your mood? smart-assy

23. Missing someone? yes

24. Your car? no

25. Something you're not wearing? diamond-encrusted-pumps

26. Favorite store? anthropologie

27. Your summer? Amalfi

28. Love someone? yes

29. Your favorite color? blue

30. When is the last time you laughed? barf-fest 11/08

31. Last time you cried? yesterday (don't worry mom, it was just Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Sunday, November 23

the elusive skate park

Punkone recently completed a month of reading 5 books a week to obtain a skateboard. I'm not usually one to use rewards, but he's been begging for a skateboard for years and I figured he should have the opportunity to work for it if he really wanted it so bad. Plus he needed the extra reading practice. He did his reading happily and diligently as we ticked off the days on the calendar. At the end of the month, Mom went out and bought him the board in addition to all the protective gear as promised.

Now he just needs a place to ride it.

photo by skatechick68

We've asked around and had a reliable lead that there was a skate park on the outskirts of town in an area complete with soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, an ice skating rink... It's cold, I don't know where we're going, and this is the first trip outside the kids have had in three days so I decide we'll splurge on a taxi.

We arrive at the ice skating rink and my plan is to ask someone who works there where the skate park is since I didn't spot it on the way in. Problem is that we don't find anyone who works there. People everywhere, but no one in any of the booths. Probably a Sunday thing. So we start asking other people. Other people in this case are mostly punk-ass teenagers. Punk-ass teenagers who seem to think that it's hilarious that we've shown up at an ice skating rink with a skateboard. They ignore my efforts to explain by acting out the difference between ice skating and skateboarding. And laughing their punk-ass butts off.

I give up and decide to head back to the outdoor fields we passed on the way in, figuring that it's likely to be somewhere over there anyway and at least we'll distance ourselves from the skateboard vs. ice skating confusion.

We stumble upon a rugby match in progress. This peaks Punkone's interest (who had been in despair at my failing to deliver him to a skate park) and we sat and watched the game for awhile so he could figure out the finer details of the game and Punkette could get some important coloring done.

After we've figured out who's playing, where the goals are, and how the players move the ball about the field our butts are frozen and it's getting colder as the sun has dropped behind the mountains. As I call the cab to go home, Punkone makes the wise observation that at least now we know where the skate park is not.

Saturday, November 22

mums the word

Today I escaped the house after a week home with my sick punkette.

First stop was the hairstylist for a long overdue hair cut. My stylist was a bit chatty, which is difficult for me because I need to use a whole different subset of words. Words outside of my usual elementary school or supermarket banter. But I put up a good show and the conversation ensued.

From there, I went to meet a group of expats for our first get together. Lots of new faces, and lots of talking. It took a while for me to convince my brain to just relax and speak English. Like easing it into warm honey. No really... just relax for awhile, I've got it all under control. My mouth finally gave my brain a few hours off.

And now I'm horse. Apparently my vocal chords are out of practice. After just a few hours of casual conversation I have a sore throat. It made me realize that I probably don't talk very much anymore. Maybe I should take up singing or read my emails out loud while my brain tries to catch on to this new language. What's going to happen when I visit the states in the spring for my brother's wedding? How will I socialize with all the long time no see relatives?

Obviously my brain is still on holiday.

Friday, November 21

I can only take so much

The day I started seeing my new asthma and allergy specialist. 1980. I remember lying on the table for hours while they pricked a 20X20 grid of allergens into my back and then waited to see which spots caused the most irritation. I don't remember the subsequent two injections in each arm. I only know about the injections because my mother recently reminisced about how patient I had been that day right up until that point. Apparently I lost it and got out my little 8 year old can o' whoop ass. Bet they didn't see that coming.

Thursday, November 20

zen and the art of grocery shopping

I decided long ago that I wanted to live abroad. I've always liked exploring new places and making friends along the way. Many summer vacations sparked my interest in mountain air, lush lakes, fresh ocean breezes. And friends that became pen pals, usually just for a few months, but connections that sparked my curiosity in looking at things from a different perspective. Mostly because of what it showed me about myself.

Adjusting to life here took me awhile. I felt myself ramming up against a different rhythm at first, trying to continue the only way I knew how. But our old routines didn't work here.

After a few months I grew accustomed to a new flow. It still felt strange to me, but I made it work. I diligently planned our routes and schedules so that I could get the things we needed every day without causing too much stress for myself or the kids. Since we didn't have a car and were restricted to a dorm size refrigerator, we got used to making frequent stops for small quantities of food or other items we needed every day. Since we no longer had a yard, a daily trip to the park was also in order. It used to be a preoccupation to me, but now it just flows. It's now a natural part of the routine that carries us through our day.

a favorite game is trying to stay on stones of a certain color; they use the man hole covers to "refuel"

And I find myself a bit mystified at how comfortable I've become. At how much I enjoy the rhythm I've discovered here. It is so different than any way I've lived before, and it brings me joy. Routine daily living feels like a meditation. Zen and the art of grocery shopping, if you will.

It cannot be the place alone. I think it comes from the awareness of what's required from us in our daily actions. At least that is what I hope. I hope that when it's time for us to leave, I can take this with me.

Wednesday, November 19

love at first sight

The girls over at wandering the world and lulu's bay have been gushing on about the loves of their respective lives. I read these posts from my high anti-consumerism horse as I have been good and have thus far been able to live without that special something in my life, which in fact were these boots that belong to bossy... after all, isn't it written somewhere, thou shall not covet thy neighbor's boots?

But I was soon to discover that, these boots were too easy to resist. They don't exist in my real world. It is easy to resist something that is without substance. Something that is simply eye candy. For it was quite by surprise, when yesterday, the forces of fashion pulled me across the street. To not only gaze in awe through the window, but to dare step inside. To be bold enough to feel the weight, the buttery silkiness of this dress.

The love I didn't even know I was searching for. The one that says everything about me that I didn't know needed saying. There has never been one so perfect, so exact, so timelessly me. And as an added bonus, my size arrives on Thursday.

Tuesday, November 18

heebie jeebies

Punkette has had a fever for five days now. My general rule is let it ride for three days and then after that have a doctor check things out. So, I hauled the punks off to our publicly assigned doctor yesterday, around 6 pm (they're only open 4:30-7 pm)...

We walk into the building and it's dark. This is unnerving, but not unusual. I just wish people would make a practice of leaving the hall lights on during business hours. But like I said, I'm somewhat used to this... we just turn on the lights and head up to the second floor.

We arrive at what I think might be the doctors office, only because the door is open and there are moms and a couple of kids sitting inside. It's also dark at the entrance and one panel of lights is turned on over the cluster of people waiting on mismatched chairs from a number of the past 5 decades. The space is defined on one side by a wall of wood paneling. The waiting room is an area carved out of what clearly used to be two rooms. The walls are bare and yellowed and there are a couple of notices taped on the wood paneling. No friendly receptionist... not even a grouchy receptionist. No posters or pamphlets about healthy children. No germ laden children's books, no fish tank...

a fish tank would have been nice

I gulp my nerves back down and say something like "I guess this is the right place" in as cheery a voice as I can pull off. The kids are not buying it.

Mom, this place is weird.
What kind of doctor is this?
Mom, I'm freaking out.
Man, I'm sure glad I'm not going to see this doctor. If I was the one seeing this doctor I would be freaking out.

I inform him that this is his doctor too and that he should just calm down and get comfortable. He continues to elaborate on everything about the place that gives him the creeps. Problem is, I totally agree with him. I tell him to zip it.

And I'm thinking... So, this is public health care. Well, the doctor must be good. How bad could he be? From the looks of his lobby he doesn't seem to care much about his patients being comfortable. Doesn't he care at all about easing the irrational fears in little minds? Think of the children! And now I'm starting to feel sick.

But we stay. I'm waiting to see this doctor. The truth is, he'd have to be Dr. Ross to pull this gig off. We're watching another woman in the room entertain a coughing, crying child and fidgeting in our seats trying to ignore the strange sounds emanating from behind the wood paneling, but straining to hear anything reassuring. Finally, the patients change. One out, next in. And we catch a glimpse of the doc down another dark hallway. He seems ok. Was that the doctor? Looks like some guy that just walked up from the bar. No crisp white coat or scrubs, no stethoscope... he doesn't look at all the way doctors should look.

not our doctor

Me: You see! (bull shit bull shit bull shit) He looks like a nice guy. (bull shit bull shit bull shit) I bet he's a great doctor!

We stay. Still another family ahead of us. I look at punkette. She doesn't seem that sick. I bet just another couple of days of rest and she'll be fine. What difference could seeing this doctor possibly make? But maybe this is just culture shock. Yes. I just need to ignore the intuitive red flags flying around (and the two punks) that are pleading with me to just leave.

Finally, I fold, and I call hubby. I describe the place. "Is this normal?" Granted, now I've just completely blow my cover with the kids. Well, it just doesn't feel right. All hands up if you think we should blow this pop stand! The "aye"s have it!

Monday, November 17

simple things

in the rut of routine find joy in simple things
sun beams

I walk home instead of taking the bus so I can
smell the breeze
see the mountains
feel my muscles
find my rhythm

the goofy smile you see on my face means
the punks are in school
I'm not in a car
it's raining
or you're really cute but I have no idea what you're saying

so excuse me while I soak up
the sights
the sounds
my confusion
and a fresh perspective

Sunday, November 16


Imagine, sitting in a van with three brothers on a twelve hour drive with a deranged man at the wheel. My father was a man on a mission during those summer vacations and if he didn't feel like stopping, we didn't stop (Unless of course the DQ fairies took control of the van and magically forced us off the highway).

Now imagine, this van pulling a full size camper, hauling ass down the highway, at say, 50 mph (I'm giving my Dad the benefit of the doubt and assuming he did slow down a little) while my mother holds my younger brother's head out the window so he can throw up. I'm sitting in the second of the two bench seats to afford myself the best view of this spectacle as it unfolds. Well, poor brother DOES throw up and in an instant I see the entire right hand side of our van splattered, plastered, ... yuck.

And I burst out laughing. Despite scoldings and the threat that doing so might mean that I'll have to clean it up (I didn't) I'm laughing, really hard. I'm laughing now, in fact. I really did feel bad for my brother, but I ended up on the floor of our van, crying with laughter.

No matter how hard I try not too, I always laugh at these situations. And it seems I'm afforded many opportunities to bust my gut.

I'm on a flight with my 15 mo son. A ten hour flight with turbulence. The kid is sick, but so far I've managed to avoid getting any on me. And I haven't been laughing. I'm miserable.

We're in a bit of a rough spot and it's fasten seat belts for everyone. I have my kid in my lap, trying to comfort him. In a sleepy stupor he throws up on me, not once, but twice. We're both covered in it and I can't even get up to change. I just look at my husband and see that look (that "oh dear god this flight can't get any worse" look) and I burst out laughing. I'm trying not to because I don't want to wake my sleeping vomit covered baby. But I'm crying with laughter. No longer miserable... feeling gross, yes, but not miserable. Even the cringing looks of the other passengers when I finally have a chance to get up and go change my shirt make me chuckle.

So perhaps, this is the moral of my life. All these "shit-hits-the-fan moments" maybe are just a reminder for me to laugh more. Pushing me to see just how much I can get from every second of this life. Today, for instance, my son poltergeist-ed in three different places in a glorious effort to get to the bathroom... these moments are the tangible evidence in my life that some greater force in the universe must love me.

Saturday, November 15

Castle Beseno

I love visiting castles. One of our favorites is Castel Beseno.

This castle is in excellent shape and has lots of space to explore.

This photo really gives you a sense of the size of the exterior grounds.

I like spotting hints of what the castle looked like when it was inhabited.

The punks like trying on armor and feeling how heavy the weapons are.

There is some guidance about how to put on all the armor.

Lots to explore and a fun way to spend a day with the family.

Thursday, November 13

the twilight zone

This very north of northern Italian towns feels different to me. I like that it feels different. That was the point of moving way the heck over here, to experience something different. I like that I was forced to kick my grande latte habit and learn to shop between the hours of 9 am - noon or 3pm - 7pm. It's unsettling and exhausting and exciting.

You get used to this level of unrest. You begin to notice even little things that are different. Almost no one is fat. In fact, most people are thin. How did they get this way? They eat whole pizzas and no one sends their kids out to play. Is it genetics? The cold? They eat gelato and drink aperitifs and have cake and soda... there's no tofu or sprouts or rye crisps... how do they pull this off? You realize that it had been years since you got a whiff of cigarette smoke. You're stopped dead in your tracks by the large crucifix hanging on the wall inside the bank. It's like swimming in a lake with seaweed that wraps up around your legs if you settle down... you just a bit frantically keep going and try to keep yourself from loosing it.

So it was in this wired state, that one weekend, shortly after we moved here, that we decided to rent a car and go check out the surrounding area. Not twenty minutes out of town, both the punks are turning white and threatening to puke in the car. 20 friggin minutes! These kids were stuck in the car for 20, 30, 40 minutes a day, every day before we moved here. Now they're scrambling to roll down the windows and screaming to get out.

So we stop, anywhere. Right now! (now I'm screaming because we all know who is going to be the one cleaning up the mess)

The place where we've stopped seems to be some sort of church fundraiser. There's a pavillion, food to purchase, music. Lots of picinic tables with families eating and kids running around. Some people dancing. We decide to join in... I am kind of hungry... sure I could go for some food. Let's see what they've go to eat... hot dogs, oh the kids will like those, french fries... ooh, I'll have some sausage. I've bouncing slightly with the beat of the band and noticing people walking away from the counter with their fries smothered in ketchup when it hits me like a minus 35 wind chill factor.

That's polka music

Cement, pavilion, picinic tables

Hot dog, french fries, ketchup... LOTS of KETCHUP

Everyone is drinking beer in plastic cups

Everyone is slightly overweight


We're in Wisconsin.

two stories for two punks

I have two kids. I waited out my first pregnancy on a sailboat. Albeit, that boat was docked pretty much the entire time, but living on it with an extra thirty pounds strapped to your hips proved interesting. In the rain, with no hot water on board. Just a little space heater to stave off the dampness. And it was a little space, so not problem. Snug as a bug I was. And I had Ann's Coffee Shop with a good selection of home cooked classics to turn to. Simple chicken salad sandwiches, grilled cheese with tomato soup...

Actually life was really good in the marina. Pelicans to watch and the clank of the boats wiggling in their berths. Not to mention lots of CA sun. Things were going well until I slipped down the stairs that lead into the cabin and fell on the bottom half of the hatch that I was trying to climb over. Fortunately, the blow was taken by my thigh and hip rather than my huge belly, but I ended up with a streak of bruises down my side that would make your stomach turn. The kind that turn not only black and purple, but then orange and green too. When we went in for our appointment that month my midwife asked my husband to leave the room. "Oh great," I thought. "Who will ever believe that I live on a boat and slipped down the stairs... on the other hand, who could make up such a story?" Turns out the midwife lived in the next marina so my husband was pardoned.

After an amazing birth and another pregnancy (this time land side) it was time for baby number two to emerge. I had grown to monstrous proportions this time, with access to a fully stocked kitchen and still nursing the first rascal. The hitch (there's always a hitch) this time was that we were planning a home birth. I was looking forward to giving birth in the comfort and privacy of our home... who knew that I'd be overcome by the desire to burst into a sprint during contractions. I'm sure my husband and mother thought I had lost my mind, but, hell, that's what felt good. Zipping in circles around my living room sofa. I was a woman possessed by a ten pound baby. This punk had had enough of womb life and wanted out NOW, and she was born from start to finish in under an hour. My husband still curses the midwife to this day for not being there on time.

And I think things worked out pretty well...

Wednesday, November 12


My post yesterday has had me thinking. As often happens to me, I end up arguing with myself. In this case, part of me is turning her nose up at the sentence "I no longer have access to the tools to throw my hat in the ring." Ha! she says. Get a backbone. Take charge. If you want to make some friends, do something about it. And she's right.

Opportunities much less daunting than a bus load of strangers are all around me. The gathering of parents at my kid's tennis lessons, the cafeteria line at work, pick up at school... I've become fatigued and I just need to pull it together and go for it. Again.

what could be more frightening than a group of moms waiting outside the elementary school?

My challenge to myself (any other takers?): get to know someone just a little bit better in the next 24 hours. Someone that you normally wouldn't strike up a conversation with. Let's get gutsy and see what we find.

Tuesday, November 11

behind glass

I have the habit, or maybe it's a hobby, of trying to see beyond what people are telling me. What they say with their eyes or what comes out in their expressions when no one else is paying attention.

It's easier to do this in a country where you can't follow the conversations of strangers. You have nothing to go on but what you read in their eyes. I sit quietly on the bus, and occasionally I spot someone who has so much more to share. Someone who thinks, writes music, wrestles with life and where it's headed. Someone with dreams that they're determined to live. And I want so much to know them and discover their perspective on life. But I'm left sitting there, tortured, because it's nearly impossible for me to risk anything further. I no longer have access to the tools to throw my hat in the ring and see the response. I'm stuck behind a one way mirror where I can see them behind a haunting image of myself with no way to break into reality.

Monday, November 10

learning Italian

I'm trying here. Really trying. If you want to see your Italian husband turn white, ask him what coglione means. In public, at a crowded cafe'. Ok... maybe the cafe' shouldn't be crowded. At least not with people you know. We don't want to bring on other health issues... just a nice pasty shade of white.

coglione (co.yo.nay) n. - literally, testicle, but with a very offensive undertone (don't use it in public), ie. @#*%ing jackass.

Obama scusa, Berlusconi e' un coglione.

Well, I figured as much, I just didn't think it was that bad.

You can tell I'm not Italian... I'm sure if I was, I'd never actually write such a word on my blog. Sorry Italians. I'm just learning here.

For instance, my husband, learning English among male colleagues in the lab, became particularly fond of the "f" word. His favorite sentence was "F... the f...ers." (ok, I actually taught him that one). I was really nervous the first time I took him home to meet Mom and Dad.

The fact is that it takes a childhood of warnings and evil eyes to really feel the impact that such a word has. For someone new to the language, even after they understand the meaning of a word, the physiological response still isn't there... it's hard to learn the gut wrench or devilish joy or the simple release of tension that you get from firing off a string of profanities in your own language.

I guess I'll get there, one faux pas at a time.

Sunday, November 9

romance and ox carts

When word got out that we were moving here, we saw a lot of swooning and misty day-dreaming eyes. Oh Italy. And while Italy is not all romance and ox carts, there is quite a bit that lives up to those idyllic expectations.

For example, I took this photograph yesterday afternoon. It's images like these that perpetuate the myths...

Can you get any cuter than old men in feathered caps riding bikes? Ok, I don't want to be disrespectful. These men in caps are Alpini (and they're generally charming as all get out). But since I'm not an expert, you can read all about the Alpini here. Today marked the anniversary of when this region became part of Italy and the Alpini, came out in droves.

See those two little white heads in the bottom left of the picture? That's the beloved Marchesa and Ingegnere enjoying the festivities from their window. This is one reason I love living in the center.

What did I say about ox carts? Will donkeys suffice?

I love the mix of young and old here. I love that old means centuries and young means decades. I read a headline here that said "A youth of 36 years was..." Awesome. I'm a youth. A Ragazza.

Aren't they cute?

I'll let you decide exactly who I'm referring to...

Excuse me while I swoon.

No sir, thank you. I'm fine, really... (how embarrassing, swooning on a street crammed with Alpini... what was I thinking?).

Saturday, November 8

spare parts

Three years ago, some friends of mine were getting rid of a garbage bag full of spare Lego parts. All those funky pieces that come in Lego kits designed to build just that specific thing. Their son had outgrown the Lego stage (will there come a day?) and their daughter, like mine, prefers the bricks. We had a small collection of bricks that my kids couldn't get enough of and although the memories of my Lego building days reminded me that this was indeed a bag of useless spare parts, I couldn't say no when they offered it to us.

That was three years ago. Punkone (pounced punk-oh-nay) was 5. And every day for two months he played with those Legos. He did nothing else but invent small ships, cars, planes, rockets... from that pile of parts. I was amazed. And thrilled. And I know it was literally every day for two months because everyday I was surprised to see him engrossed in the pile of parts. He even invented little ships for his baby sis to play with (since there is no better place in the world than the side of your big brother).

Today, like most Saturday mornings, he's there with his Legos. We've even added a few kits of our own over the past three years. But the perfection of the vehicles quickly morph into something squirley... invented from that sweet little brain and that pile of spare parts.

Friday, November 7

down time

I'm feeling a bit glum today. I thought this morning I'd say something positive about my new home since there are so many things I love about being here and it seems like I've been giving Italy a lot of flack on this blog. I thought the Castagna Festival at Punkette's school would help, but it didn't. Oh, the kids were cute with their song and dancing, but large social gatherings just don't do it for me lately. They D-R-A-I-N me. I guess I'm on a down swing in my language sinusoidal because nothing is getting through lately.

Look at this beautiful lake. We like to go here when the weather is nice. The air, the mountains, just relaxing at the shore. Awesome.

Non-people things at the festival were wonderful and perhaps my lingual isolation helps me to see these things more clearly. The new courtyard in the convent was a beautiful backdrop to the festival. There are four large fruit trees and there was a lovely covering of wet yellow leaves on the ground. My punk was clearly enjoying the performance and loving the opportunity to sing and dance. The roasted castagne (chestnuts) were delicious as was the Vin Brule (hot spiced wine).

But I can hide away's Friday, I need a nice hot pizza, a movie, and some wine... I'll find my zip tomorrow.

Thursday, November 6

the absence of travel mugs

Occasionally, when I have the desire and time to prepare coffee at home, but no time to drink it, I turn to my trusty travel mug. I like my coffee with a lot of milk and there must be at least four shots of espresso in there. A grande latte, Starbucks style. It's something that doesn't exist here. If you're accustomed to having Starbucks every morning, when you arrive here and take your cappuccino, you'll find yourself searching the bottom of the cup wondering where the rest of it is. It's extremely difficult to keep yourself from ordering a second, even under the raised eyebrows of everyone in the bar, and it's even in vain, because you'll find that another sip still doesn't satisfy your expectations. Yes, it's good, there just isn't enough of it. You're accustomed to warming your hands on the cup, sipping contently over the next 20-30 minutes of your commute. Or sitting in a plush chair and chatting with a friend for the next half hour.

Back to my point.

I occasionally, say "to hell with these puny cups of espresso" and make myself a large steaming travel mug of coffee and milk. Some days you just got to have it and today was one of those days (cut me some slack, I've only done this twice in over a year). So I fill up my trusty travel mug and I'm out the door.

And it is then, that I discover how many rules I'm breaking.

People stare. More than usual. And they are staring at the mug. This large silver canister in my hand. I'm talking eyes-bugging-out-of-heads staring. You see, they've never seen such a thing in their lives.

I know this because the other time I did this, I brought the travel mug with me to my Italian class. I thought people were just staring because they couldn't believe that someone would want to drink so much coffee. But that wasn't it. It was the mug. They didn't know what it was. My Italian teacher literally asked me "what is that?" I think she thought it was a bomb. I explained that it was my coffee. Still confusion. It's a cup that you put coffee into... it keeps it hot so you can drink it for a while. Slowly slowly lights are coming on... but they're still staring. Now it's because of the quantity and that I would want to drink while doing other things. Like walk out of my house with it and go to class.

So my mug goes back in the cabinet.

OK... I like to gripe about the reaction to my travel mug. I find it humorous. But the truth is, the absence of travel mugs in Italy is due to an aspect of Italian culture that I love. Italians value the time spent eating or drinking. It's just not something you do on the go. Everyone stops, and I mean S T O P S, twice (or three or four times) a day and goes to get a coffee. And then they stand together, at the bar or machine, and talk together. Maybe they look at and discuss the paper. When someone finishes, they wait politely for everyone else. They leave together. If it happens that someone does have to go off in a rush, it comes with desperate pleas for forgiveness. So there is no need for a travel mug, because it is not in their nature to travel while eating or drinking. I can see how my travel mug of coffee might have been seen as anti-social, or unhealthy even. And really, what is so special about my coffee that I have to haul it all over town with me? (Oh, but it is SO good).

Wednesday, November 5

io sono contenta

I had intended to resist commenting on the election. I just figured that, being here I've missed all the passion that's been stirred by the campaign. But that's not true.

There are not many Americans here. The few I know I rarely see (I think they must have been assimilated). People stick to the norm here and like it that way.

And try as I might (ok, I don't try that hard) I stick out. People know that I'm an American. I see the same people every day in my 4 block radius. I see the same people in the cafe, talk with the same parents and grandparents at the schools, often stand next to the same people on the bus. So, by now, they've figured it out, and some of them have even warmed up enough to find out exactly where I'm from.

I left the house today, more tired than usual after spending half the night restless (wondering about the election results) and the other half soothing my son back to sleep (poor guy is getting congested... yes, Mom, more vitamin C). But I was tired and not paying very close attention to the people around me.

I was soon pulled out of my stupor when Elisabetta at the coffee shop started talking to me. This is a woman who practically scowled at me for the first 4 months I took coffee in her cafe'. We've slowly made our way through a stage of polite greetings and now, after a year and a half, we pleasantly call each other by name and chat when the cafe is not too crowded. But today was something unusual...

E: Tu sai contenta!?! (are you happy?... notice the informal tu... we've come a long way baby)
Me...obviously tired and not prepared to plunge into Italian conversation: Scusa?
E: Ma perche tu sai cosi stanca? Il Electione! Tu sai contenta?!! (but why are you so tired? The election! Are you happy?!!)

Me... snapping out of it... and imagining that I would have to wait longer to know the results and not believing anything since the last time we've been through this, reply timidly: Spero per Obama ("I hope for Obama"... man I sound like such an ape in Italian).

She chuckles at me, shaking her unruly head of curls and hands me the paper. So this is how I learn the outcome of the election. Deciphering the local Italian paper and nearly wanting to cry when I've collected enough pieces of evidence to convince myself that it has been such a good and decisive outcome.

Si, Io sono contenta.

But it continues... At the preschool, you know, the one with the sweet little nuns and all the folks whose families have lived here since the dawn of time... the one where I am the one and only non-European... and one of roughly 3 non-Italians. At that preschool, I am stopped over and over again by literally JUBILANT parents and grandparents. One grandfather in particular, who I've actually discussed US politics with in the past, described to me how he was cheering out of his window this morning "We WON, We WON!" and he kept repeating to me "It's so good! It so great! It's wonderful!" (yes, he used them all... buonissimo, benissimo, stupendo). Even at the market, my fruit and veggie gals: You must be happy! How wonderful!...

So Obama has touched even this frigid town in the very north of northern Italy. Mountain people who seem so set in their ways, so closed and stubborn and judgmental... turns out, they are also looking for change; and now, they also have hope.

Tuesday, November 4


I live in the Palazzo Parisi. It was built in the 1700s. Now it's just an apartment building, with shops on the first floor and apartments in the three floors above, but it's probably one of the few palazzi from that period that still shows it's original design. Through a combination of desire, neglect, and historical preservation, much of the interior of the building has survived the centuries. Typically buildings of this age have been gutted and remodeled by now, usually two or three times over.

You enter the building through a pair of huge doors. The floor is still made of rough small stones, with two strips of large flat stones for wheels to roll smoothly. The ceiling is high and arched and the inner drive brings you to a grad open staircase leading up into the building. The staircase is wide with an iron railing at the beginning. The first floor (above the ground floor) held the parlor, dining, and ballrooms. The second floor used to be the family bedrooms and studies, of which I can guess there must have been 8 or 9 very large rooms. This is followed by the third floor servants quarters. You can follow the progression by the narrowing staircase and the railing that becomes a simple wooden one as you start up to the servants quarters. All this has been untouched and unfortunately is in obvious decay. The wood railing especially is obviously fragile with dry rot and one of the first reasons I didn't want to rent one of the upper apartments.

Marchesa is the woman of the house you might say. Palazzo Parisi. It has been in her family since the beginning. Her great, great (ok, I don't know how many greats) grandfather built it in the 1700s. And her family has always lived here, generation after generation.

Now Marchesa is in her late 80s. Like many of the people I've spoken with her age, she speaks English fluently. She has long wispy white hair and a sharp wit. She is harsh with most people but she always greets us warmly and smiles at the children and doesn't complain about the noise they make. In this sense, she is a good landlady. I'm glad to be on her good side and make efforts to stay there.

I'm calling this woman Marchesa because that's what she calls herself. Even her companion calls her Marchesa. It's a title of nobility, above a countess and below a duchess. I had to look that up. But she must have obtained it when such things as titles were granted in Italy... I have no idea about the circumstances, but she certainly carries herself and her affairs as I imagine a Marchesa would. With formality, precision, and pride.

Marchesa has a male companion. She made a point to tell us that they sleep in different rooms when we first met her. So, rest assured, there is no funny business going on there. For me, however, the funny thing is that she calls him "Ingegnere". Because he is an engineer. I call him by his name, Franz, but I dare not call Marchesa anything but Marchesa. Franz is a likable creature. He is straight, thin, also with wild white wispy hair. He has a firm handshake. He speaks quietly. And mostly takes orders from Marchesa. Orders that generally lead with "You idiot!". When we first moved in, one of the shower doors was missing. When we brought it to her attention she turned to him and hollered "You idiot Ingegnere! I told you to make sure the apartment was ready!" and then lathered us with apologies. I sometimes wonder what he's thinking when I see him out for a walk alone. Is he meditating? Serenity now, serenity now... or maybe he's just enjoying the fresh air.

Maybe it's just me, but I can't get over how they quite casually use these titles as names for each other... "Marchesa, can I get you some tea?" or "Ingegnere! You idiot! You left the socks hanging in the rain!"

Ok... one more thing and then I'll leave Marchesa and Ingegnere alone. The thing is that they have a car and I have yet to figure out how they manage to drive it. You see, Ingegnere can hardly see and Marchesa can hardly walk. And in both cases I do mean hardly in the strongest sense. She usually in a wheel chair and I know he can only see shapes and shadows just three feet from his face. So how do they drive this car? My hope is that her legs are stronger than they seem and she can manage the pedals. The only other alternative I can come up with is that Ingegnere controls the car under Marchesa's direction. I guess it would be much the same way they do everything else, although behind the wheel of a vehicle it becomes slightly more terrifying.

I wonder, if when, I'm an old character like Marchesa (do I dare imagine I could be anything like Marchesa) if I will be lucky enough to be with someone like Ingegnere. I don't mean someone I can chew-out mercilessly. I mean someone who makes up for what I'm not. Someone who fills that empty space in the world that I'm incapable of reaching... who brings it to me and I to him.

Monday, November 3

happy monday

It's Monday morning, it's cold, dark and you can hear rain outside. The last thing you want to do it get started with the day. And then your hubby rubs your back to get the blood flowing. When the five year old next to you starts bubbling with excitement about the festival she's preparing for at her school in 5 days. Your 7 year old punk gives you a bear hug and smiles when you ask him if he wants you to put his clothes on the radiator. After seeing the empty shelves in the cupboards and the fridge, you remember you have just enough left over pancake batter to fill the bellies of your two hungry hard working punks. And despite the overflowing baskets of laundry waiting, everyone finds their favorite socks clean and dry. You remember snack and lunch tickets and smocks and it doesn't matter that your whole family slept in half an hour... you still manage to get everyone out the door, on time and, more importantly, with smiles on their faces.

Sunday, November 2

sunday pancakes

1.5 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2.5 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar

1.5 cups milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons soft cream cheese

Mix the dry, mix the wet, then mix together.
Spoon on a medium hot frying pan, flip when the bubbles show up.