Friday, December 16, 2011

What makes me 1158 words.

Yesterday there were parent-teacher conferences at my son's Middle School. We had been up there for something similar just about five weeks ago, but this time they were showing us a "little" report card. What this means is that it's a pre-report card, an idea of how you're doing, as the real, mid-year report card, the grades which "count" are discussed at the end of January(I can't even say given out, because you take nothing home until end of June).

One teacher, the home-room teacher we could say, has the grades for all the subjects. You wait on a line outside a classroom door, inching up towards the front, waiting your turn. Once you enter, the home-room teacher gives you a little piece of paper with all the subjects listed and then reads off the grades, asking the student to write them down. This is a great improvement, and not all the teachers do this, but rather some people walk around writing down the grades on the edge of a newspaper or a store receipt. Yea for progress!

After at least 30 minutes of waiting on line I'm already beginning a slow boil as I ask whoever will listen to me...why can't they make appointments? "How would they do that?" my son, who is more accepting of the Italian ways, asks. "THROUGH THEIR WEBSITE, OF COURSE!" I say, which is a big joke because, of course, there is none. Organization and efficiency are not virtues here in Italy, so everyone sees hanging out at the school for two hours to talk to a teacher or two, for ten minutes total, as OK...or at least the way it's always been.

My son's homeroom teacher is the English teacher, so of course he does well in that subject, in fact a 9 out of 10. He finally has an English teacher who recognizes how well he is able to speak (he is madrelingua, after all!) because she herself speaks well and converses in English with him often. Previous English teachers hadn't a clue and would use the standard tactique of grading him medium well at mid-year and then higher at the end, to show he had progressed. Rubbish. He knew the colors and numbers in English in September and he knew them in June.

While he passed most of his classes at a Satisfactory level, he only squeaked-by in French. Dante was tutored twice a week for months in order to catch up with his class. The tutor helped him with all his homework and prepared him for the quizzes. They also did all the textbook Units that he missed from last year. But would it look if he had a decent grade? Like the teacher's efforts last year with the class had little value. So what happened? She had to give him a low grade to show that, of course, he's struggling. Rubbish again. She even told him NOT to do a section on the one and only test this semester because she thought it would be too hard for him...and then gave him a barely passing grade (but higher still than his pre- report card grade). In fact, if you add up the scores he's gotten in French this year and average them, they are considerably higher than his pre-report card grade.

Dante's Math and Science teacher was out the first two months of the school year. The substitute did little to no work with the class. When she returned it was BAM, right into difficult problems from almost the back of the text! He's not a whiz in Math, but attended tutoring for that also. OK, I'll accept his grade, but Science is Dante's passion and even before the teacher lectures he can answer all the questions. When he had his "oral interrogation" on the skeleton, he got two bones in the forearm confused, but another 50 questions correct. Unfortunately, he got the same, barely-passing grade.

In fact ALL his grades were the same except for English and Behavior, which were 9 out of 10. Yes, I was told, the teachers give their grades while looking at what the other teachers give. Teachers even made comments that you can't be "Bravo" in only one subject if you weren't "Bravo" in the others (so they doubt their own independent assessments?). WHAT!! Of course you can be great in one subject and stink in another. What about Einstein? What about learning strengths and weaknesses?

In fact, the grades are totally subjective. There is nothing qualitative that a parent can be shown to support the grade that was given ("That is private information" a mother was told!). I'm sorry to say that I think the teachers give whatever grade they feel like giving. The parents who regularly bring cookies for the faculty room, or who come in to fix the school's antenna, or are the local bigwigs have children whose report cards show terrific grades even if they work little (there are many example of this for evidence). Since not everyone can have terrific grades, the rest of the kids muddle by with mediocre grades across the board which don't reflect or encourage their passions, interests or take into account any learning difficulties they may have. Foreigners--and this includes Dante even though his father was born in this town--must work harder even still.

Part of the problem with the school here is that my son is shy and in a classroom situation he isn't the first to aggressively answer questions. So much of what they grade the kids on is "oral interrogation". This is perhaps the first mismatch between my son's learning style and the teaching methodology here. What about having a variety of assessment methods for different learning styles? Unheard of!

I wanted to talk to his Math/ Science teacher, but after waiting in line for 45 minutes to see her, she told me that I had to wait until she had spoken to all the parents of her homeroom students first. I admit I lost my temper at this point and stormed out of there, sarcastically saying, "Grazie" after explaining we had been waiting so long, the other teacher had told us to come, etc. etc. I have a real fear now that she will "take revenge" for my reaction on my son's grades this year.

So, I continue to find the education here in this little village appalling and I'm back at the point I was 18 months ago when I asked what are our alternatives. Then I decided to do a year of home-schooling with an American curriculum, but for that we had to leave Italy.

I've been offered an English teaching position in the after-school program in my son's Middle School starting in January. Maybe I'll start my own undercover guerrilla warfare plan. Cookies in the faculty room, anyone? Just to get us through the end of Middle School, June 2013! Not that I think local High Schools are much better...

If anyone has any suggestions that don't include $30,000 a year International School in Rome, I'd love to hear them!!

And for anyone who's gotten this far...thanks for allowing me to vent.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What makes me sing, in 400 words, exactly.

Following a prompt I saw in several places in my early-morning web browsing, I decided to write my own list of what makes me happy, in exactly 400 words. I hope you enjoy it, and then take 30 minutes to write your own.

My first cup of hot tea, milk, no sugar, in the morning. Eaten with toast spread with peanut butter and home-made jam.
Making home-made fig jam (and prune, and apricot, etc.) in spring and summer to enjoy in the winter.
Walking my four dogs up the hill, then back down through the fields.
Watching the new puppy find her place in the "pack of four".
Going upstairs to my office and sitting down to do yoga, meditate and write.
Being alone and being with others, in balance.
Being in the countryside and being in Rome, in balance.
Trying new recipes, finding one we all love and making it often.
Doing word games and jigsaw puzzles.
Discovering a new blog where the writing and content are both terrific.
Online courses, tutorials, youtube and Kindle books. and .it
Book club with an international group of women and books I'd never have discovered on my own.
Long, easy conversations in English. Speaking in Italian, and being understood!
Traveling, with trusted house sitters.
Finding some money squirreled away in a pocket that I had forgotten about.
Being a mother, being married. Having hear-to-hearts with both. Eating nearly all our meals together.
Discovering new music and ITunes music downloads.
Radio over the internet.

Winter: The fireplace, knitting and a great movie. Hot soup. Cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and broccoletti, brussel sprouts. Reading a book while snuggled under three blankets. The reflections the Christmas tree lights make on the wall and ceiling when they are the only lights in the room. My son's presepio, with figures from Naples and painted cardboard boxes. Baking cookies...and licking the beaters. Then eating the warm cookies. With a cup of tea, milk, no sugar.
Spring: The promise of planting seeds indoors while it's still cold outside. The pruned olive tree branches dancing in the wind. Bulbs blooming, and roses too.
Summer: Digging in the warm earth to plant seeds, bulbs, seedlings, trees. Picking a vegetable or fruit from the garden and eating it within minutes.
Shooting stars. Italian beaches...lounge chairs, umbrellas, snack bars and the Mediterranean Sea. Thinking: OK, in that direction is Greece, in that direction is Africa. Artisanal gelato. Home-grown tomato sandwich with mayo on white. Salads and BBQs.
Autumn: Berries, wildflowers,and mushrooms. The smell of burning wood. New oil bruschetta. New wine.

Being retired so I can notice and appreciate this all more easily!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ghosts for Breakfast

An intriguing thought full of possibilities, isn't it?   I'm afraid the reality is more pedestrian.  I realized that somehow my son is now watching Ghost Lab on the Discovery Channel here in rural Italy, with a panoramic view of the Apennines, while he eats his breakfast every day.  Once he goes back into school in September, he won't because he'll be leaving the house earlier.  But in these relaxed, sweet, homeschooling days, our mornings are more leisurely and that's his "must watch" show.  He likes it because it takes a scientific look at paranormal activities.   He's intrigued by the equipment they use.  But he is suspect of the fact that they ALWAYS find something (an image, a voice, a story).  But, as I explained to him, without that, there's no show!  I'm surprised that in the USA it was on late at night (2 a.m. at one point).  Partly because it didn't have enough viewers I suppose, to warrant a more prime-time slot;  but honestly, it seems more aimed at the young- adult market than at adults with insomnia.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

More gardening...

Another picture, from last summer, since I can't seem to access any of my new ones.

This is an active time of year (thank goodness it will get too hot soon to do all this work outside!) and we've been busy.

 We're preparing a new rose and lilac bed, and we've had to remove so many rocks that we were able to make a fence for it.  We bought "dirt" to put in this bed (since once we removed the rocks there was little left) and it turns out to be composted manure.  I'll need to mix it with regular dirt, so we need to spend more money and wait in order to finish this job.  Eventually I'll plant seven rose bushes which will hang down over the retaining wall, and four lilacs in the back row, doing their thing in early spring and hopefully providing me with some early bouquets.

  The vegetable garden is planted with close to 40 tomatoes (and Pio said he only wanted a handful this year!), lettuce, spinach, arugula, cucumbers, pumpkins, string beans, celery and...that's about it.  We may tuck a few other things into the rose bed as after all this year they'll be some space (zucchini maybe?, melons?)  Now if we can just keep the water flowing (sometimes my pump that's in the rainwater cisterns overheats) we'll be OK.   Over at the other house we have some potatoes in and we'll use these mostly to make gnocchi ,which we'll freeze and eat throughout the year (did you know that Thursdays are gnocchi day over here?  Yup, all the fresh pasta places have them on Thursdays).

We also planted 17 star jasmines, aka Confederate Jasmine (Gelsomino here) earlier this week which will climb up and cover a stone cliff we have in the back yard.  We planted one every 10 feet, so they should join together and really be nice rather quickly.  They're covered with fragrant little star-shaped flowers for months every year, stay green even in the winter, and don't require much water.  Can't ask for more than that!!

Up on that same retaining wall we have some fruit trees and planted a new lemon to replace one that died in the big freeze they had this past winter here (the orange and tangerines survived).  Rather than two lemon trees (there had been two), we put in a pomegranate also.  I love pomegranates!

Today we had three seminarians (student priests) from Rome over for lunch.  They were coming to town for a Confirmation and a meeting with the local priest, all in the afternoon, so they came early and joined us for lunch.  Pio knows them from when he drove them around to bless all  the houses for Easter.  It was a chance to show off the casareccia food we eat here... gnocchi, sauce, lamb, wine, salad, cookies, all homemade (not all in my home however!).  It was delcious, I must say.  The sheep came through to mow the lawn while they were here, and one (priest, not sheep) had a great time playing ping pong on xbox live kinnect with Dante.  They're really young (21, 22, 28), two from the USA and one from Mexico.  Nice fellows.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gardening in my Italian yard...

My absolute favorite flowers in my garden here in Italy (and I do grow quite a few!) are these three beauties, taken last summer.  I love the blue of traditional morning glories, the boldness of the sunflowers (I grow tall and short, yellow and burgundy, multi-flowered and one huge flower above a giant stem...I love 'em all) and roses.  Roses do particularly well here in Italy, they must like the soil or something.  This year I have black spot on some of them--I guess it's been wetter than usual, but the flowers are beautiful just the same.  If I had my camera/ computer connection working, I'd show you the bouquet I picked, pink and white roses!  Such an elegant sight, really, the combination works so well.  My other fav, not pictured here (now where is last year's picture?) are portulacas.  I love portulacas!  They grow with almost no water (they are succulents after all) and have the prettiest little miniature rose-like  flowers in the most beautiful colors...if I can  get my camera/computer connection working, I'll definitely make a post! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Excuses and a little something new...

I've been major-ly frustrated these last couple of weeks as I can't get my photos onto the computer.... on my old e-machine it says there's not enough memory left (it IS almost 10 years old so surely I can delete some things?) and my laptop doesn't even recognize that I'm trying to transfer photos into Picasso.  Dante's laptop is in for repairs (I FINALLY found his original disks, but we couldn't re-install them, so we called in an expert).  I need to devote some time to this soon.  I hate to post without a picture!

However, in the meantime, I've tagged all my previous posts and put the LABELS up top.  Now, it's easy to find all my posts about one particular topic without scrolling through pages and pages.  Minor thing and I'm not that happy that I wrote some of them with a capital letter and some of them lower case (anyone know if there's an easy way to changes tags without going to each post?), but it's a start.  Want to re-commit to writing here (now, we've heard that about 10 times before!) but I need to get this picture thing straightened out.  In the meantime, the garden is growing (I've got some pics!) and I'm still planting, and digging, and homeschooling too (10 more weeks worth of lessons--which we hope to finish in about 6 or 7 weeks with extra hard work, six days a week!).  ...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Flowers and showers...

I was all set to do a post, with pictures, of all the signs of spring's approach I've seen--the apricot and peach trees in bloom, the grape hyacinths popping up on the hills, even the wild asparagus that we've collected for our frittata.  Oh, and I can't forget to mention the spanish lavender which is an early bloomer too..but alas, the March rains have returned and it promises to be wet all week (at least it's not snow!).  If the sun peaks out later I'll take some pics, my camera is at the ready.   Have a good "last week of winter" everyone!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My four-month blogging hiatus!

OK, I am a slacker, but the last four months plus have been an adventure.
First, when we left Charleston we decided to drive up to NY.  We wanted to change our airline tickets with US Airways, but the change fee cost more than the tickets had (!) so we took less money and rented a car one way.  We didn't have to worry about luggage this way, and it gave us the ability to stop in Washington DC for a couple of nights and visits the museums and monuments.

Pio was feeling out of breath most of the time as we walked around and I was glad we had called ahead and made an appointment with the cardiologist he had when we lived in NY  We were thinking he'd schedule him for a stress test.  Wrong!

The cardiologist said that with Pio's symptoms (they were predictable, repeatable, etc.) he needed to go straight in for the cardiac cath.  OK, then we started thinking that Pio might need a stent because he was often out of breath with little exertion--and it no longer seemed obvious that it was his asthma acting up.

Long story short--the catheterization showed four blockages--including one in the main descending artery (the "widow maker"--60% blocked) and he was scheduled for a bypass operation the following day, November 18.  I must say the surgeon made it all sound easy and routine (for him!) and predicted that within one month he'd be able to fly home.

Well, Pio was an exception to the rule and has had a rough recovery.  He spent 3.5 weeks post-op in intensive care because of respiratory distress brought on by a "strong inflammatory response".  As they weaned him quickly off the steroids his lungs filled up with nearly two quarts of fluid--which required another 5-day intensive care hospitalization, leading us right up to Christmas Eve.

In mid-January he started cardiac rehabilitation while we lived with my sister in Pennsylvania.  He has felt better quickly, building up stamina and muscle tone after having lost 40 pounds while in the hospital!  He's put back on about 7 of those pounds and he is actually at his ideal weight now.  (Let me say that some of what he lost, I managed to find.)

In any case, we're thrilled that we've finally been given the go ahead to go home to Italy.  Pio is still on steroids, though at slowly-reducing levels, he needs his lungs x-rayed every two weeks to see if the fluid is returning, and he needs about six more weeks of rehab.  We're confident we can get this all arranged in Italy.

Our six months in the States have been trying, scary and exhausting (4 weeks+ in intensive care, homeschool teaching) but also  fun (Charleston, Washing DC, staying with family).  It's been great to see family and be able to say, "We'll see you tomorrow"...or "in two weeks"...or "at the birthday party". It's been great to NOT have Dante in school six days a week, but rather make our own flexible schedule (getting him to write all the curriculum-required essays in English, however, is another story!!).

 Living in Italy we are isolated from sisters and brothers and my father and cousins,nieces, nephews, kids and grandchildren.   Being local to them all once again has been great.  It's also been fun to catch up with friends over a cup of tea or a glass of wine...or even on the phone where the time-zone change is more easily managed if it exists at all.  Here in America it's standard operating procedure to go out with girlfriends...but I've not been able to duplicate that in Italy and I miss it.

The horrible snowy weather has had a silver lining.  Without guilt, I've sat down and watched netflix galore, while embroidering pillowcases as a gift for my friend who's been holding down the fort in Italy for us.  I'm also enjoying easily buying all kinds of  stuff (a new little Kindle, consignment shop clothing, for example) that are so easy to do here, but a full-days' adventure if done in Italy (and usually more costly too).

And our poor Blackie--how she's suffered in our absence!!  Seriously, we'll be glad to get back to the Italian relatives, friends, garden and our pets!  There's no place like home!

This picture was taken last month by our house sitters :).

How goes the homeschooling you ask...and will it continue once we return to Italy?  Stay tuned for another post--soon!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Charleston Cooks!...and now I can too!

Last week I took my first ever cooking class at Charleston Cooks! , a demo lesson:  "Taste of the Lowcountry" .  As I've learned, the "lowcountry" is the area of the USA coast between just south of Myrtle Beach all the way down to Savannah, Georgia.  It's about 4 hours long by car and is characterized by the melding of cultures (Indian, African, Spanish and French) and what was available locally--corn for grits, rice from the plantations and shrimp and other seafood found in the marshy waters between the mainland and the barrier beaches.  

The class I attended taught us how to make a chocolate version of the southern favorite, Chess Pie ( the name perhaps comes from a woman, responding to a compliment, saying, oh, this is "jus' pie" which in the local accent, sounds like Chess pie), a butternut squash pirlau (risotto dish with Carolina Gold rice), and "blackened" catfish fillets, which are really all in the somewhat spicy seasoning used to coat the fish before frying.  It was great fun!  The kitchen set up was great, with overhead cameras showing us what was happening on the stove and at the end, we each had a small plate of the food, a mini Chess Pie and a glass of wine.

It was interesting to get some general cooking tips  The first one was how to make piecrust (not necessary to cut-in all those pea-shaped pieces of butter until of equal, small size--it's actually betterr if they're not all tiny!) and how to ensure it's flaky, flaky, flaky (make a rectangle, cut it into thirds and stack them down into another rectangle and repeat several times until the butter gets too sticky to continue...this ensures lots of layers!).

Pumpkins and squashes have intimidated me in the kitchen, starting from how hard they are to peel.  Tip number two taught me to no longer be scared!  Quarter them, oil, and bake the pieces in the oven until soft.  Scoop the pulp out and pass it through a rice or food mill.  In the class we added it to the risotto right before it was finished and mixed it in.  Wow, was that good (I LOVE winter squash and all those A vitamins!).

The blackened catfish couldn't be easier...fry in a good quantity of canola oil (no, not just 1 Tablespoon!) after they have been thoroughly coated with the cajun spices.  Good and simple!

The $25 fee was fair as it included a small meal...but of course, I did spend a wee bit in the store afterwards, which is probably the hope of the teacher! I think I might go to another before I leave, it was that much fun...maybe a participation class next time and/or an author's class (Pam Anderson will be there in a couple of weeks).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Apple Store...we love you!

We joined up with a local home schoolers' group and one of the moms organized a class for our students at the downtown Charleston Apple Store (I think her husband is the manager).  Now the Apple Store is our most-frequented destination when we go into the city and improving his techie knowledge is one of my goals for our time in the USA, so he was immediately signed up.

They quickly taught the kids to use iMovie and each group of three (he was partnered up with 11-year-old boy-girl twins)  was to make a crazy commercial for a household item on the table.  They had a pair of wooden tongs which the boy twin quickly decided would make a great "puller of sister's hair".  They collaborated and made a cute commercial with lots of bells and whistle effects.  We hope to get a hard copy in the mail soon.

iMovie is really a great program...and now, of course, we all want an Apple iMac 21.5 inch desktop computer (it's so tower, wireless keyboard and mouse tablet, what graphics).! I was eyeballing it to see if the monitor could fit in our carry on....then we could just nonchalantly walk through customs in Rome...right?   Guess those free workshops are accomplishing what they set out to do...sell more Apples! And I bet they're soooo expensive in Italy!  No fair!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

We went yard-sale-ing!

One of the joys of Saturday mornings in America--if you're in the mood-- are the ubiquitous yard sales (where one man's junk is another man's treasure), and this weekend we decided to venture forth.  Of course, we can't really buy much with the strict weight restrictions on suitcases these days, but we thought perhaps there would be a few small things at prices to match.

The neighborhood where we are living had they bi-annual yard sale starting at 7 a.m and nearby Daniel Island had theirs on Saturday too.   Pio got a set of golf clubs for his golf buddy in Italy and two golf bags--one beautiful leather, and one hard for airline travel--for himself.  One of the clubs was identical to one he had bought for himself several years ago for $120...and he paid $20 for all.  Because golf clubs are very expensive in Italy, even with the shipping costs his friend will be way ahead.

 I got a nice light green leather 9West bag for myself ($1), a green bottle vase for a friend (25 cents) and an embroidered duvet cover for my king size bed that had just been dry cleaned (for more than the $5 I paid).  Dante was out looking for some video games or consoles, but only found a free Rubric's cube (to drive us all crazy) and some more shorts--it's been quite hot and I only brought two pair with us.

Yard sales, at least in my area of Italy, are unknown.  Maybe because:

A.  they are illegal (because sales taxes can't be collected),
B  .they are unpopular (because Italians don't like the idea of buying "used items" from strangers)...or
C.  Italians just do not have a lot of extra stuff laying around they need to get rid of.

 I suspect it's "all of the above"!  Though there are some markets where used things are sold, I've never seen things placed out in front of a person's home (well, maybe eggs or honey or a used car for sale, but that's different).

Anyway, this was the way we spent our recent Saturday morning, American-style.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Charleston, first impressions...

Well, less than a month ago we were eating bangers and mash--now it's grits (shown here with eggs and bacon for breakfast), washed down with sweet tea!

We've been in Charleston for about 10 days now, adjusting to life in the deep south and homeschooling.

So far we've seen dophins in the harbor, walked around downtown, ate some good meals (Jestine's Kitchen and Poe's Tavern are tied for first place in our book), spent a day at a plantation (where the guide-tour-in-training was a retired Bellport High School principal!) and briefly visited a few hot, but beautiful beaches.  Pio loves the golfing but has pulled a muscle so is out of commision for the time being.  Dante loves the Apple store, a generic version of which can be found is most cities (he dreams about owning an i-touch) and all the fried food.  As for me, I'm a sucker for the Spanish Moss which drapes from many of the trees and the different shore birds found here in the marshy low country we are surrounded by.

.Homeschooling is our other big adventure.  I think it's going well, but still it's hard not to have some self-doubts about the decision, especially if we are looking to re-enroll him in Italian schools in September 2011.  So far, I'm happy with our curriculum, and our supervising teacher (to whom we must send all work every two weeks for grading).  We'll get a report card and transcript as he's technically enrolled in long-distance learning program at a private school in Vermont.  Dante is cooperating nicely.

 It's just a little difficult  to find "ME" time as we do school most mornings and find the afternoons too hot to do anything outside.  The neighborhood kids Dante has befriended don't get home from school until 4 pm so there a boredom gap for Dante.  He's spending his time using Skype to contact his friends in Italy and find out what's new there.  He wishes he had his xbox 360 here to help fill some time in the afternoons.  He is enrolled in a Monday evening cartooning class and next week we meet other homeschooled kids at a roller skating party.

This coming week brings the  MOJA arts festival  and we've got tickets to two events that are billed as "fun for the entire family"   Tonight there's the kick-off Caribbean Street Parade and Reggae block party downtown, and we'll go for a while, then find a bite to eat.  Saturday there's a neighborhood yard sale (haven't been to one of them in a long while!), then the farmer's market in Charleston which I'd like to check out and maybe a wine tour/tasting in the afternoon (yes, Charleston has a winery).  Maybe Pio will feel a little less homesick?