Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We STILL believe (and here's why)...

Perhaps this is something that's been widely publicized in most areas, but a few years ago we discovered this website which has become a yearly tradition--tracking Santa. If you want to know where Santa is (or has already been) check out this website, complete with live webcam on Santa's sleigh (you'll see the Coloseum in Rome--though we'll be in bed by then here in Italy--the Great Wall of China, etc.). Have fun with the younger ones in your family!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Naples revisited!

You may have' s raining in Italy!  It seems like it's been raining forever, with only brief sunny repites.  In fact, last Thursday it rained more in Rome in one day than it usually does in the whole month of December.  The Tiber River which flows through Rome threatened to rise over it banks and the local river beds which have ALWAYS been dry are suddenly swollen with boiling, churling foamy brown rapids and waterfalls!  Our cisterns were already filled in November, so all this water won't directly help us water our gardens come July.  We may just have to put in a well, but that's an expensive project as the water table is very deep (at least $15,000 worth of deep).

We DID manage to spend a mostly dry day in Naples yesterday.  Twice in three weeks...I guess we really like it!  My son is enthralled by the street with all the nativity pieces for sale...especially moving pieces which show a woman feeding the chickens, a man shearing the sheep, etc.  He wants to build a nativity "Presepe" this year out of painted boxes and pieces we picked up in Naples.  

We also were given a private tour of a church/monastary and a  nun took out a special vial which still contained some of Saint Patricia's blood, then solomnly held it out for each of us to kiss.  This previously Lutheran American woman did find that kind of strange, I must say.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The fog is lifting...(I think)!

Aside from the foggy humidity we've had outside the past day or two (which has given us a welcome relief from the constant picking and time to clean the leaves and sticks out of the crates of olives and steam clean the stainless steel containers) I've noticed my brain feels foggy!

I've noticed that I struggle to concentrate when teaching.  Day to day here at the house I don't notice anything much different (except I'm light-headed), but loading and unloading the dishwasher or hanging up the clothing doesn't take much mental effort.  Teaching the future perfect and comparing it to the future perfect progressive (don't ask!) does.  What gives?  

I'm in my mid-fifties.  Isn't it too early for "cognitive decline"?  I mention it to the doctor and he prescribed something natural to help me sleep (melatonin--which I have used in the past) and a supplement of vitamins that I'm supposed to take for 20 out of 30 days a month.  Now I DID run out of vitamins a few weeks ago, so perhaps I am missing something important?  Who knows.

In any case, I've discovered a great website to exercise the brain in the areas of attention, processing speed, and memory.  It's called Lumosity and it's won web awards and gotten lots of media coverage.  lt's a lot of fun to work on your own "personal best"(or invite friends/family to try and beat your scores) and they offer a 30-day free trial.  If you check it out, come back and let me know what you think (and when I stop playing, I may even check my blog for comments)!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New-oil bruschetta!

Would anyone like some? It's delicious, great with salt on toasted Italian bread.
Last week two women (I was not one of them for more than a half-day) picked enough olives just from the trees around our house to make more than 150 liters of oil! Pay is five liters of oil per day's work, but because there is just so much we'll be giving them six liters per day. By the time we're all done we'll probably have more than 500 liters. Pio's brother will be taking quite a bit of it back to the States in January...and we'll have more than enough to last us through another year (or three). The trees are making up for last year's meager harvest when we got 150 liters from 400 trees...this year from less than 50!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween in Italy

Halloween in Italy is mostly a big nothing. It's discussed in English class (Dante's class had to memorize "Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat" as homework this week) and the international schools may do something, but out here in rural central Italy, it's a quiet day, as usual.

We've given two Halloween parties over the past three years, but this year I just didn't feel up to it. I still haven't fully adjusted to working (and still being able to do anything else!), so the idea of 35 nine-year-olds running in and out of my house just didn't appeal. Plus, the bilingual woman and her teenage daughter who helped me last year run the games and prepare the food moved back to Toronto. It just seemed like too much work right now.

Luckily for D. and his friends another mother volunteered to host the Haloween party this year and the kids had a chance to run around in their Carnival costumes a few months early, eat a lot of junk food and tell scary stories. A light drizzle didn't put a damper on their fun. In the photo are just a few of those who arrived early.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

We've fallen...

...back an hour, that is. Have you?

In New York Sunday meant the newspapers and eggs and bacon on a roll. Here the Sunday newspapers don't appear any different than any other day (are they? well, they certainly don't weigh 3 pounds each!) and anyway, the articles are difficult for me to read in Italian, so I usually don't bother (which assures that they'll never get any easier, I know). So, instead I catch up on the terrific blogs that so many are writing (see "Blogs I Read" section), sometimes the newspapers online (though they're often full of bad news, so why bother?) and have Pio bring home a cornetto with Nutella inside! A typical sweet Italian breakfast, except I have mine with a cup of tea instead of cappuccino.

What a lovely Sunday morning. Sunny (where is that rain that was supposed to have arrived yesterday or the day before?), warmish...and only 7:15 a.m. (OK, "what used to be" 8:15, as we'll say every day for the next month around here, I guess we have trouble adjusting our routines)!

This is welcome as we will once again be able to walk at 6:30 a.m. and not have to wear our reflective safety vests. Oh yes, it WILL get dark earlier, maybe 6 p.m., which I'm hoping will make it easier to get Dante to bed at a decent hour (kids in Italy stay up LATE by American standards, partly because many only eat dinner at 7:30 p.m. or later).

Work is going well. How I enjoy working with motivated adults (no behavioral issues, hurrah!) and they make me feel like a genius just 'cause I can speak English! The ego is happy. The regular paycheck is nice...oh, and the free lunches from their cafeteria are really good (how I'd love to bring the family so each could choose what he wanted for lunch...fruit, pasta, rice, fish, meat, vegetables, salad, then we could all bring our trays back and walk away. No messy pots and counter tops to clean, no dishwasher to load...I LOVE it!) I'm just learning, however, little by little, the differences between American and British English when we talk about the weekend (I even told students the first week that they should say "ON the weekend" instead of "AT the weekend" thinking they had chosen the wrong preposition (American friends and family, AT is correct in British English!).

Now it's time to start the day...make breakfast for Dante, get dressed, etc. We're going out for lunch later with some friends at one of our favorite places (rustic Capofiume Restaurant, in the mountains about 20 minutes from here, with a freezing cold shallow stream behind it which is just beautiful--and delicious too my son tells me!).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oh such neglect!

Oh dear blog, I haven't written anything here in way too long! So catching up...

As I mentioned in my last post, I've started working. It's going really well, I like it, but...some of the students (all middle and upper level management in a multinational pharmaceutical company) are overworked and stressed out. Well, speaking English all day and being surrounded by stressed out people sometimes makes me feel like I'm back in NY!

I am struck by how healthy the cafeteria menu is...a choice of two first courses (pasta or risotto), meat, fish and/or frittata, vegetables, salads, fruit, yogurt and to drink: wine or water. No soda or sweets in sight. Employees pay a nominal amount for up to five items and it's really really good (cooked on site). Quite a perk in my opinion. I wish I could bring my family in for lunch everyday:).

Dante started fourth grade on 9/15. Right away the homework started, usually around 2 hours a night (up from 1.5 last year!). He seems to be handling it well with help from his tutor (the mother of the tutor he's had for the past couple of years--his usually tutor is on a semester abroad in Holland...the mother is actually an elementary school teacher in a local school). He does get out at 1 pm every day, so theoretically there is time to do it all. But afterschool activities haven't started yet...

Next Monday starts his "long Mondays", the one day a week when he stays at school until 4:30. Oh, how he used to cry in first grade on the way to school on Mondays! Now there are no more tears and it's OK...and the silver lining is usually there is no or very little homework.

Next week starts music lessons too. While he really wants to learn the guitar, it was explained that for the first year everyone will learn to read and play music on the piano where it's easier. Next year guitar. The lessons will be on Tuesdays from 5-6 p.m. and he will be in a group of four, all from the fourth grade in his school. We'll see how it goes with homework, which he'll have to do afterwards since his tutor doesn't arrive home on Wednesdays until 5 p.m. and I arrive home even later.

Also starting soon will be karate, Tuesday and Friday evenings, from 6:30-7:30. I'll see if he can only do it on Fridays as otherwise Tuesdays will be too busy. Maybe we'll do swimming instead, which has many different time slots. He HAS to do something, as physical education at school is ONLY once a week.

He's still wearing a dark blue grembuile (smock) with a white collar (but no bow anymore, thank goodness) and has a book and notebook for each subject. Something new this year--he's using a carry-on suitcase, with wheels, for his school bag. It was really too much to carry back and forth everyday on his back, although perhaps it could have counted as weight-lifting exercise!

On the home front we have way too many pets! The two dogs which we've had for a few years now (puppies of my in-law's dog Lea) have grown big. They are outdoor dogs with time to exercise everyday outside their pen. Well, the male, which NO ONE wanted to neuter (too cruel they yelled!) is escaping on a regular basis. We can't figure out how...

I have to be sure to keep the kitten away from him as I don't trust him with small, darting animals, so she's stuck inside more than I'd like, with a kitty litter box.

The turtles are truly low maintenance, just change the water and feed them...not bad.

But our guppies have gotten sick. The other fish in the tank (platties and mollies) seem fine, although one mollly did die while we were away so the theory is that perhaps they introduced a virus to the tank and the guppies, which are more beautiful but more delicate than years ago, caught it. Two have died in the last two weeks and the two remaining ones don't look so good...

Other news...

We had a great potato harvest his year and so I asked my friend to use about 10 pounds worth and make us some gnocci for the freezer. She made them yesterday. Yum!

And that's all that's new over here....(oh, my Folletto vacuum (a German brand I believe) that I've been waiting for FOREVER (well, two months) did arrive last week finally. Yea! I got busy and vacuumed my furniture and rugs, which were looooooooong overdue!

Have a good weekend everyone!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I got a job!

I was feeling a little funky this month with the start of the school year and me not working. Or was it that the bills here have piled up with workers putting down tile around the house, the materials for said job, etc? Pio's retirement check in US $, while going slightly further than last week, doesn't go as far as we need it to. So when I was once again offered a job that I interviewed for back in March, I accepted it without thinking too much. It is 40 minutes by car from home, teaching Business Engish to pharmeutical company professionals. They all seem like nice people, but after only two days (10-6 or 5 pm) I'm wiped out! Good thing tomorrow is my last day until next Tuesday!! And when will the first check arrive? October 11th, I hope!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

New SCHOOL Year, that is! After 18 years of being a full-time student and 20-something of being a full-time teacher, the day after Labor Day is ingrained in me as the REAL beginning of a new year. Today would be full of teacher meetings and setting up ones space (I didn't have a classroom, but rather office space, my last five years.) Lots of air kisses (on only one cheek, not both) and "Hi, how was your summer" going round, and a quick glance at the pay chart to see how much, more or less, I'd be making this year.
Ah, sigh.
Over the summer I turned in my resignation letter (it was either that or go back from my leave-of-absence) after much thought. For me it was the right decision for many reasons, but that doesn't mean it was easy. I worked with the same school system since the mid-eighties and grew up with a lot of people there (most of whom will be retiring at the end of this school year--now how did that happen?!). Next September I can begin to collect a reduced, penalized pension check (don't have 30 years in, won't have 62 years of age), but it's still more than I could make working full time here in Italy! (Which only points our how bad the economic situation is here...while prices for everything are high. But that's another post.)
For all you teachers, and students, out there...have a GREAT NEW YEAR!!
(Dante won't go back until September 15, though most teachers here in Italy started yesterday.)
P.S. The figs as pictured in previous post are literally as sweet as honey! I just wish I could get at least a kilo of them all ripe on the same day so I could make jam...maybe I'll go up and check the tree this morning, early, before I head into Rome. Lots more should have ripened since Sunday. I'm eating them raw rather than baking with honor of my "New Year's" resolution to lose a few pounds!
I haven't been into Rome for months and miss the chaos. Crowds should be slightly diminished, and heat too, so it's time. Visiting a friend for an Indian lunch and a bit of conversation in English.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And now it's the figs' turn...

We have a fig tree on the property, a bit of a walk uphill from the house. Pio has no idea who planted it, but I bet it was the birds. In any case, it's growing on the side of a small incline which actually makes it easier to pick the fruit, although eventually I'll need to bring a ladder to reach the top. And I'll have to keep checking on them, or the birds (or the foragers who think the tree has been abandoned) will have a feast. Today only two were ripe, within a week they'll be another 20 I'd bet. Lucky for us my father-in-law's tree has tons ripe now, so we're eating them. They're of a different variety, smaller, and obviously ripen a little earlier. They are SOOOO good.

I'm thinking of making the "Fresh Fig Crostata" recipe I found in a recent addition to my cookbook collection (which hovers around 100 titles!): The Best American Recipes 2005-2006. I got it on sale when I was in NY this summer and just couldn't pass it up. It's a compendium of recipes from a wide variety of sources: new cookbooks, restaurants, magazines, newspapers, back-of-the-box or bag and the Internet, published in the years mentioned in the title (I also have the 1999 version and 2000 ). My philosophy about cookbooks, if I find just one or two recipes that I love and make often, it was worth the money. So we'll see if this crostata recipe (a free form fruit tart on a butter crust) is a winner. I'll post a picture later and give you the verdict (now how exactly will this fit with the idea that I'm back walking for an hour every morning and hoping to lose the five pounds I put on pigging out and being a slug while in NY?).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Montepulciano fun!

When we travel we usually go to New York to visit family, and so consequently haven't really been to many places here in Italy. So when we decided to meet fellow bloggers we read regularly, Jane, Ken and their grandson Casey (Casey, Italy and Other Good Stuff and KZ in Toscana (or KC is So Cal), we chose to meet them while they were lodged in Montepulciano, a Tuscan town that we've often heard about (famous for their red wine) but had never visited.

We were lucky to get a room for three people for one night at La Terrazza de Montepulciano, a 12-room hotel right in the Historical Center of the town. The owners were very friendly and helpful and made us feel at home, but the room was a little noisy at night as our window faced the main drag. Oh well, we were so tired that after a couple of minutes we all fell soundly asleep, but I'm getting ahead of my story!

On our first day in town, we met them at a restaurant that had been recommended to us by our hotel, but we were mostly disappointed in the food, unfortunately. We then followed them back to their favorite place to stay, right outside Montepulciano, Sant'Antonio. It really is quite special with attractive one- and two-bedroom apartments, endless views and a fun pool for the kids to play in. It's a hard place to get into during high-season as they have lots of repeat customers who must book for a minimum of one week. But Dante got a chance to enjoy the pool and play with Casey and some other children there. The boys had fun while the adults chit-chatted about this and that from lunch straight through to an outstanding dinner, a Wednesday-night-only event at Sant' Antonio, prepared by a professional chef who is also part of the extended family. The meal was exquisite, perhaps one of the best I've ever had! I especially loved the famous hand-made Tuscan pasta called Pici, prepared with bread crumbs, and the ricotta cheese "pie" we had for desert which was only held down from floating off the plate by the fruti di bosco that sat on top..

The following day we walked around Montepulciano. I'm regretting a bit not buying that handmade soft leather bag I coveted (OK, it WAS one of the most expensive in the store and I would have probably needed to buy a coat and boots too that would have looked good with it...and where, exactly was I going to wear all this great stuff anyway? You see how my reasoning went, even though my birthday IS this coming week...) and then out to lunch at a small restaurant called La Porta in nearby Monticchiello. We wouldn't have found it if Ken hadn't led the way. The views of the countryside while driving there were stupendous! Rolling hills, cypress trees, baled up hay, sunflowers drying in the fields, views that went on forever, Tuscan-style. Just beautiful...and the food was really good too!
We've invited Jane, Ken and Casey to visit us next summer, especially if they go to Greve and then head down to the Amalfi coast...we're right along the way!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tomato time has begun in earnest...

We've been getting handfuls of tomatoes every few days for a while now, that I've either quickly made into the sauce for the day or sliced up with fresh mozzarella for a little salad.
But now the tomatoes are really starting to roll in, so to speak, so it's time to make sauce. Lots of sauce. When I get overwhelmed with them, I'll put them up in jars to use during the winter, but for now I'm making sauce with them, then putting them in bags for the freezer. Ready for a quick meal with little prep mid-winter.
Some women around here even throw tomatoes in the freezer whole to use in sauce come the winter. That's easier than cutting them up, stuffing them in jars, boiling the jars...maybe I'll try it. Now wouldn't you know it, but Dante's got a stomach thing and sauce gives him a bellyache. We've been eating "pasta in bianco" (with white sauce, today it was clams) instead. I miss red sauce!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lavender, lavender...

Have I mentioned I went a little lavender crazy this spring? I planted 42...yes 42...plants. Maybe I was just so happy I could grow them here. Maybe it's because I ordered a dozen from my local plant guy, bought them when I found them elsewhere, then felt commited to buying the ones I ordered too! (well, that accounts for 24 of them anyway!)And they smell so good.

So anyway, any ideas about what to do with all this lavender? Searching around the web I found so many sites which had lavender recipes. I had heard of lavender ice cream...but wow, I had no idea there were so many recipes in which I could use these beautiful, organic, lavender flowers! If I make something I'll let you know how it turns out.

Have you ever cooked with and/or eaten lavender or any other flower, for that matter?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Prato di Campoli

Prato di Campoli is about a 25 minute ride up the nearby mountain, and about 15 degrees cooler! It's part of a national park and has sheep and cattle grazing on the rocky hills. There are big open fields surrounded by deep dark forest (Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods dark!), picnic and camping areas and today, since August and holidays have begun, TONS of people! We were lucky to find a little space to parallel park along the road (after paying our 2 Euro parking fee) and Pio ran off to shoot a golf ball around for a while. Dante just ran around. I tried to start a new novel but the peace and quiet didn't last long. Once Pio got back we took a short walk into the woods where my ankles promptly became a feast for one pesky mosquito and we beat a retreat to the car and then the snack bar.

I forgot to bring along my camera, so no pictures (sorry) but the air was so fresh, it really was quite amazing!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Saint Anne Pilgrimage

Today is the feast of Saint Ann. Who is she you may ask? Well, I was Lutheran most of my life so I asked too.
She was Mary's mother, Jesus' grandmother. She is often depicted as an older, gray-haired mother with a young girl (Mary) who is sometimes then shown holding a small Jesus. Many women in Italy feel particularly close to her, as she is the patron saint of women in labor (now I find out!) and miners, as well as such diverse places as Quebec Canada, Puerto Rico, Detroit Michigan, Taos New Mexico and the Philippines.

Not far from where I live is a village called San Guiseppe le Prata (St. Joseph in the field), with a church named Santa Anna. She is the patron saint of this small town too, and today is their feast day, which means several special masses and processions with the church, as well as concerts and fireworks at night.
My girlfriends invited me to come along with them on a pilgrimage, on foot, from our town to Santa Anna , about 5 km away. So, at 5 in the morning I joined about 150 other women from the village (and a handful of men) on a slow two-hour walk to the 7 a.m. mass. While walking the women sang and said the rosary. After the mass we each bought a ciambella and caught rides home.
Ciambella is a local bread which we call the Italian bagel, but it's only similarity is that it's ring-shaped. In some parts of Italy it is a ring-like cake made for Easter, but here it is a very plain braided ring-shaped bread, hard on the outside and somewhat softer and chewy inside, about 10 inches in diameter. You break off a piece and start chewing. It's best when you have something handy to wash it down!
Auguri to any Anna's who may be reading this (as well as women in labor and older mothers)!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I was the canary in the coal mine!

Our flight home on Eurofly was interesting.

Let me begin by saying I didn't feel terrific even before I got on the plane. I had had a bunch of tests in the days before leaving NY, including a CAT scan with IV contrast which I did not properly flush out of my system (meaning I didn't drink tons of water while I was running around doing last minute shopping and packing). My neck was stiff and my left hand seemed a bit swollen. I thought I had sprained it while carrying shopping bags, one on each finger.

In any case, we had a great meal at Pio's brother's house before he took us to the airport. The check-in line was long, but moving and we boarded the airplane on time. We DID sit waiting in line for take-off for about 40 minutes, but since JFK had a few "near misses" recently, I was OK with that.

The food served wasn't good, but we weren't hungry so it wasn't a problem. Then the lights were dimmed and we all tried to get some sleep (it was late). Only problem was, I couldn't get comfortable. I was in a middle seat in the middle section. The person behind me had their reading light on and it was shining in my face. My son's heavy head was in my lap. The person in front of me had their chair all the way back. I think my claustrophobia was kicking in. I felt so hot! I started to feel queasy. I got up and walked up and down the aisle a few times because I suspected my swelling was getting worse (right hand was joining in). Finally, I decided to get up again because I felt nauseous, so I headed for the bathroom.

Well, the nausea subsided, and I decided to walk back to the seat to try and get comfortable again. Suddenly everything spun. The next thing I knew a man was leaning down over me from his aisle seat asking if I was OK and a stewardess had my head in her hands, asking me questions (what happened, was I on any medication). I had fainted!

Well, last time I fainted was in Junior High when they showed a film about the circulatory system that showed a beating heart. Let's just say that was quite a while ago.

I rested in the back of the plane and by the time I ventured back to my seat the A/C air circulation system was on full force. What a difference! Someone said that they had turned it way down to save fuel. All I know is that on that packed plane it was stuffy and HOT. And that contributed to my feeling sick.

Now that I've been home I've also not been that well. I've had swelling in my hands, ankles and knees, in addition to a stiff neck. I've been drinking water like crazy and eating melons and finally I'm beginning to feel better. I've already lost four pounds--of water I'm sure. The mystery of course is why I've been retaining water (and the irony is in NY I saw lots of doctors for lots of exams and was told just about every part of me from head to toe was FINE!).

In any case, I'm settling back in, entertained friends from NY last night, and will be getting back into routines. Oh, and it's downright CHILLY outside (58 degrees, low humidity at 7 a.m.).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bringing you up to date...

Apologies for not posting more often, but I'm organizationally challenged I guess! I want to include a photo, but where's the cord that connects the camera to the computer? While looking for that I get distracted with packing and unpacking as we went from Nassau County to the Scranton and then the Philly area of Pennsylvania, and finally to our house-sitting destination back in our former NY suburban town. Whew!

On top of all that moving around, Dante made his First Holy Communion yesterday. He was supposed to have made it last year, but we left N.Y. urgently in March. This past year he attended Catechism classes in Italy and we decided that rather than wait another year (in Italy the children typically make their First Communion at the end of 4th grade, but in the USA it's at the end of 2nd grade...Dante just finished 3rd) we spoke to the church we used to attend in N.Y.

Because the children here made their First Communion in May, he was the only celebrant, but Father Ted made it special. Afterwards family and friends had a great brunch together at a nearby restaurant (we started with breakfast items, then progressed to prime rib and pastas for round two), then back to "our house" for a pool party. The kids enjoyed that, even with the overcast weather.

Now it's back to tons of annual Doctor visits. I MUST start changing them to Italy, so my vacation here can truly be a vacation! Except dentists, as I love my dentist in N.Y. and haven't had much luck in Italy...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Knitting and me...

I like doing handiwork and crafts, but have never stuck with any projects long enough to get the professional-looking results I wanted. But with knitting, I am determined that things will be different!
When I was growing up I learned to crochet from my grandmother who had crocheted outfit after outfit for my Barbie doll, as well as lots of decorative items that were sold at church bazaars . Crocheting was fun, but the things I made always looked...well....not very sophisticated I guess you could say. Unlike knitting, where the items always looked a little...less homemade?
I finally noticed one day that there was a knitting store not far from my home on Long Island (and if you live in America you may have one near you too as it seems to be a popular hobby now). She had beautiful, unusual yarns, wools, silks, bamboo, corn, hand dyed, thick and thin (no acrylics)...and lots of sample items she had made, displayed around the store. I was hooked, so I started lessons.
I quickly learned how to knit and purl, increase and decrease while making scarves and shawls(thought they'd come in handy in Italy and they have!) . Then I decided that I had to have a pair of hand-knit socks before I die. So I decided to tackle them next.
Now the method my teacher taught involved knitting on two circular needles instead of a few double-pointed ones, which would be the traditional way. This has the advantage of stitches not falling off when you lay it down or tuck it away to work on another day. I had time to make one sock before heading off to live in Italy.
In Italy I haven't found anyone yet who knows how to knit socks, especially on two circular needles, so when I got stuck while working on sock #2, I decided to start another pair with a different ball of yarn, from the beginning, following a book where the instructions were spelled out line by line. I got up to knitting the heel, but then thought I had dropped a stitch as I saw a hole forming as I was going around, but I couldn't find the stitch to fix it. So I put my knitting away and made plans to visit my knitting teacher as soon as possible when I came to NY on vacation this summer.
I stopped in and she needed about two minutes to get me back on track (let's hear it for competent teachers)! So I finished up the blue sock I had started in Italy, and I'm working on the second orange/beige one to match the one I made in class. I LOVE the yarn which is self-striping and has a little bit of aloe vera imbedded in it to soften your feet as you wear them (imported from Germany).
In July I look forward to taking lessons that seems PERFECT for me...knitting two socks at the same time on the circular needles. Making two cuffs, two heels, two gussets, two toes, etc should reinforce what I'm doing making it easier to learn, but more importantly: when I'm finished knitting, I'll have a pair, ready to wear (yes, it may take me until autumn to finish them, so my timing should be perfect, but even if I get them done quickly, they're small and don't heat up your lap while you're working on them if the temps are high).
So, what handicrafts do you do? Any crocheters, knitters, scrapbookers, embroiderers, etc. out there?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shopping heaven!

America is shopping heaven. Anything you want you can get, either at a nearby small or large store, or by mailorder. The prices are good too as everything is almost always on sale!

So far I've bought: Buttermilk powder, baking powder, bistro Crocs for a friend who works in a restuarant (1/2 the price I'd pay in Italy), sneakers (also half the price I'd pay in italy), a cookbook I couldn't resist, melodic wind chimes (gregorian chant alto)...socks and underwear for growing son. I'll also pick up some paperback reads as my book club has picked its books through December.

I'm also going for all kinds of check ups. Easy to make the appointment, docs are fitting me in quickly, $18 co-pay, and understanding what the doc says make it all worth while. Eventually I'll start getting them done in Italy (I'll be starting with a mammo this Fall).

Two more mornings of golf camp, then we'll head to Philadelphia for an overnight with my aunt and uncle and a quick visit to the historical center. Saturday morning we'll head back to Long Island. The weather is beautiful, sunny, not too hot (not even warm enough to swim!). We're having fun...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oh Lucky Day!

OK, we arrived here in New York Saturday evening, and boy were we lucky!

Lucky that we arrived before the big thunderstorms that delayed flights up to six hours

Lucky that we arrived on time (which sounds like a repeat of the first lucky point, but we were flying Eurofly and we could have been delayed even if it were blue skies from start to finish).

Lucky that we had private tv screens, instead of having to crane our necks to see one movie for all.

Lucky they had a movie Dante liked (Horton Hears a Who) which he watched twice

Lucky we were near the rear which had 10 rows of empty seats. Dante and Pio both stretched out and slept for a few hours.

All in all, we had a great flight!

Yesterday I went into Manhattan to see my friend of many years, Lisa. Even though we speak often through Skype, there's nothing like actually seeing each other. We went to the City Grill near 73rd and Amsterdam and I had a chicken quesadilla with guacamole. YUM!

I've also started shopping (see Home on the Prarie post), buying two aquarium books for Dante, a pair of white kitchen Crocs for G (who works in a local restaurant back in Italy) and black "Capri" crocs for me. I also bought a quart of Rose's Lime Juice after reading in another expat blog (which one? did anyone else read it? Please let me know!) about how it's essential for all kinds of summer drinks (and can be added to our fave Gin and Tonic) but impossible to find in Italy (though they supposedly have an Italian distributor, I see on their website).

Lots more to look for...but tomorrow is another day! Actually, tomorrow we start with the doctor visits (annual checkups)and inbetween I hope to fit in a visit to my knitting teacher too (I'm still struggling to knit a pair of socks...somehow I get through the first one but get stuck on the second!)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Little House on the Italy.

Even though I'm in a rural area of Italy, we have stores. Even though gas costs $8 a gallon, I recently got my Italian driver's license. Even though these are the facts, I don't really shop that much.

Sure, we spend more than I'd like on groceries (local Sidis and Conad for the usuals, Panorama super-store when we want to browse around in a store with a larger selection of groceries and housewares and stationary and plants and electronics...). But other than food, I don't go shopping.
First of all, I'm not a shopper. I don't love going through store after store on a hunting expedition. I don't need the perfect pair of shoes to go with the clothes I wear around the house. Secondly, the weak dollar is killing us. Those 100 Euro shoes are $160. Expensive to start with, and just too much after converting the currency! Thirdly, parking is often inconvenient so I just don't bother to stop.

So, I make my list of what to buy while I'm in New York. I write it on the back page of our 2008 Diario so that it doesn't get lost and is always handy to add another thing. I spend little on extras all year while in Italy, but when I go to New York next week, I will buy: cooking ingredients (buttermilk powder and baking powder to make my favorite olive oil cake and buttermilk pancakes among other things, kirsch for my fruit sherbet recipes, Thanksgiving ingredients like cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin and evaporated milk), an indoor/outdoor thermometer with both F and C (so maybe I'll learn Celsius without even trying?) sunscreen, camp supplies for Dante, moisture-retaining beads for outside planters, spices and a good quantity of vanilla beans from Penzey's, tortillas, books, magazines, craft supplies, clothing for us all. The list goes on. While some of these things ARE available in Italy, I don't have the time nor energy to track down exactly WHERE to get them, or when I do I don't like the price/quality/currency conversion ratio. And of course when I try and close the suitcases, then weigh them, some things may get left behind to be retrieved on the next trip. (Hey Dad, don't you still have a big box of my stuff in your garage that I was supposed to bring back to Italy this trip when we'd be allowed six suitcases ? Gulp!)

I imagine myself like the American settlers who lived on the prairie, who once in a great while would head into town to do their shopping. A long period of frugality followed by a shopping spree. Now if only our six medium-size suitcases could hold all that a Conestoga wagon could!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Driving in Italy, LEGALLY NOW!

I've been afraid to say anything specific, but this afternoon I had my driving test...the practical, road test. Over the last few weeks I have taken a total of ten driving lessons. Why, some of you ask, since I've been driving in N.Y. for more than 25 years? Well, first, Italy does not have a reciprocal agreement with N. Y. State, so therefore after one year of residence here and driving on an International Licence, I had to get an Italian license as if I were a brand new driver and then take a road test...on a manual transmission. Why? Because the car in which you take your road test must be dual control and stick shift is the only kind there is around here (I heard a rumor that I could have taken it on an automatic dual control ROME! Talk about CRAZY drivers and traffic, no thanks!!!).

First I had to study for the theory test. I agree this was a good idea as some of the rules and signs here did have me mystified. The theory test consists of ten "situations"...they could be signs, intersections or situations. Each is followed by three statements which you have to mark T/F. They can all be true or all false or any combination, so there are really 30 questions. As a foreigner who "cannot read Italian well" I was eligible to take the test orally (though this is due to change around here on July 1 when it will be offered in several languages and no more oral exams allowed). I found the "who has the right-of-way" questions particularly amusing. Many of them had 5-street intersections, no stop signs, a tram passing through the middle, etc. Quite entertaining figuring out who goes first! In any case there were a couple of good online study sites that really helped (Web Patente and Scuola Guida).

Well, after passing the theory exam I started taking driving lessons. Driving a stick shift terrified me (I was frightened it would stall in an intersection and buck as I drove down the road) but it wasn't all that bad. Once I learned I could "ride the clutch" a bit (and in fact SHOULD when I was taking off in first gear on a hill) I relaxed a bit.

After ten lessons spread out over a month they made an appointment for my driving test. The actual test was soooo easy. I pulled away from the curb (on the only level piece of pavement in the whole town), put the car in second, then third, then pulled over on a straight piece of roadway. OVER. What? No 3-point turns, no parellel parking, no downshifting even? Nope.

15 minutes later I had my Italian license in hand Auguri Diane!! I drank half a bottle of champagne to celebrate, and Pio went down to pay the 650 Euros (approximately $1012. US dollars!) which was what we owed the driving school. Mammamia!
The cost breaks down to 500 Euros for the license and 15 Euros each for 10 driving lessons. The licence cost included all the paperwork, preparing me for the theory exam, accompaning me there, and use of their car for the road test, which is a must. If you don't take the license through a school you must rent a dual-control car and instructor for the test (the examiner rides in the back seat). It's probably money well-spent as they practically guarantee you that you'll pass and there's no waiting on lines (they do that for you)!

Pio's kindergarten picture found

Last year some teachers collaborated with old-timers and local historians to put together a book about the history of our little village. In it were many old photos that people unearthed in dresser drawers and attics. One was Pio's nursery school (asilo) class picture, and now they've given us a copy. Dante found it fascinating that 1) his father was ever little and 2) his father didn't always have gray hair and 3) it was taken in front of the church (window, door recognizable) which still stands (half a century later) on the piazza (of course).


So, we had a snake--garden variety?--hanging out near the rear foundation of the house this weekend. A few older Italians suggested we kill it, but why? He was outside, after all, and if he can't live in peace there, where can s/he? Maybe it will keep the mice away until we get a cat. (Our neighbor has a kitten all ready for us when we get back from NY in mid-July. ) This one was about 3 feet (a meter) in length and a little thicker than my thumb.
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Peonies in bloom!

This post is a little late, but I hadn't revived the blog yet when we actually did this, last month, and I love the photos!

Dante was off from school on Friday, April 25th (Liberation Day to celebrate the end of WWII in Italy, 1945) so we were looking for something to do. I'd been getting occasional emails from a garden park urging people to visit as they were only open to the public in April and May.

We decided to take advantage of the nice weather and Dante's day off (therefore we wouldn't have to hurry to get home by 1 pick him up from school) to go to Centro Botanico Moutan outside Viterbo. Viterbo is to the north of Rome, and we're to the south, so it wasn't exactly around the corner...but it was worth it!

The Centro Botanico Moutan is the most important and largest Chinese Peony collection in all the world--and it's privately owned. One well-to-do peony fanatic started it in the late 1980's. It's peony heaven! Unfortunately you're not allowed to wander around just admiring (people were breaking off flowers and pulling plants up by the roots we were told) so you must wait for a small group to gather so that you can take a tour. The tour doesn't take that long, maybe a half hour or so, then there's time to shop at the store which sells peony spa products or the peony plant shed, which is where the tours begin and end.

As much as I was tempted, I didn't buy any, as our garden beds weren't ready and I also thought it would suffer in the hot car while we went to eat lunch and drove home. But I will buy a bare root plant through mail order (yes, mail order in Italy!) which I'll plant this winter. Now to decide which one. I have to say...they were all beautiful! (If you live in Italy, click on the Centro Botanico hyperlink above and request a catalog. Prepare to be wowed.)

Italian Boy Scouts and the Abbey of Trisulti

On Sunday Dante spent the day on a field trip with his Italian Boy Scout group. They usually go out on a "caccia" (hunt--though there's no hunting!) once a month. This time they went to Trisulti.

Trisulti is a Benedictine Abbey about 30 minutes from us, up into the higher mountains. It was built in the 1200's but restructured in the 1700's. One of my favorite things to do there is visit the little store just inside the entrance where they sell their products. The Cistercian monks use traditional methods to make special honey, jams, liqueurs and medicine herbal bitters. I've read that their brandy and Sambuca are produced using recipes that are among the most ancient in all of Italy. I bought their honey and eucalyptus throat lozenges (1 Euro a bag)as I'm sick, but I wish I had bought a bottle of their "imperial drops". It is said that just a couple of drops can cure the flu. Good to keep a bottle in the medicine cabinet I say. Next time, for sure. They also have made a museum of their original pharmacy which is worth a visit, and outside the entrance to the church there's a large sundial on the wall--which really works!

If you should visit and drive up from Frosinone or Veroli, you'll pass a little restaurant on the left, about 5 minutes before you arrive at Trisulti. It's called Ristorante Capofiume (0775-476004). It's a fairly rustic place with a little garden and a short walk down to a beautiful little river. It's often crowded on weekends, so go during the week or call ahead! The food is typical of the area, delicious and reasonably priced.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Seeing red...

And I don't mean my roses!

Dante came home from school yesterday (Friday) with tears in his eyes. Usually he's very happy, so I knew something was up. He was upset because his teacher had written lots of words in English on the board (the colors, the days of the week, common nouns) and had told the students to write them in alphabetical order on a worksheet.

Copying from the board has always taken Dante a little longer than the others, the subject doesn't matter. He chose to not make a scrap copy of the words, but instead chose to write them directly from the board onto the worksheet. It was hard for him because he didnt have the ability to cross off the ones he had used already. As a result, he was the last one finished and the English teacher's 30 minute lesson for the day was over.

What got my blood boiling was the teacher said to him that "all the others write better than you in English" and "don't you do anything for the hour that you study with your mother every week?"

I went into school this morning ready to do battle with this teacher!! How dare she humiliate him in front of all his classmates in the one subject he shines in! Insulting me also that we weren't doing anything! Was she just trying to make herself look better at Dante's expense? Was she angry that we took an hour per week out of her class time and was trying to say: well, if you can't write English don't blame me?

And besides, what did copying words fromt he board and putting them in alphabetical order have to do with WRITING except at the most simplistic level? As anyone familiar with writing in English knows, it takes years of reading regularly, weekly spelling lists spelling patterns and PRACTICE to get proficient. It's not like phonetic Italian, which the kids learn to read and write fairly well within six months!

When I saw the teacher I said I wanted to make an appointment to speak with her. She came to the door to speak with me as she explained she has no office hours as she works in three schools. What she did explain is that it was ANOTHER teacher who came on very severe with him. Now that teacher won't be in until Monday. Just as well. I'll cool down a bit, but I will speak my
MORAL: When life has you seeing red, make strawberry frozen yogurt! (I am, again!)

Friday, May 16, 2008

A great year for roses!

So, I should be taking a driving lesson, or at least weeding a new patch of garden, but instead I'm thinking about how beautiful the roses are this year. Not just mine, but everyone's. In New York I always dealt with aphids and black spot, but here I've done nothing and look how beautful my little rose bush is! I'm thinking of going around with my camera (driving my automatic car and NOT the stick shift which I should be practicing on) and taking pictures of all the roses. Most of them have been in the ground for years, so they're gigantic and covered with color: pink, white, red, yellow. It's a great year for roses here in central Italy!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day! (Auguri alle Mamme!)

Dante recites his Mother's Day poesia to Mamma (that's me!).
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Making ice cream in the land of gelato!

So why am I sitting home making ice cream when I live in Italy, where great gelato is just a hop skip and a jump away? Because Pio picked up a Disney brand electric ice cream maker last Christmas from the local gasoline station, that's why! (He paid with gasoline credit card points and a little bit of cash.)

I had my doubts as to how it would work (it sits on big red Micky Mouse-ish feet...) but since local strawberries are being sold by the case at the local fruit store, I decided to make some frozen strawberry yogurt (with Fage Total Greek Yogurt--much richer than the usual whole milk yogurt). I found the recipe in my favorite ice cream cookbook, Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz, but it's also on his website.

Cutting up the strawberries and letting them sit for a while mixed up with some sugar intensifies their color and flavor. Nothing artificial, yet a pink any little girl would love!

And then I made my other most favorite flavor, chocolate! It's rich and creamy, which comes from using quality chocolate-- and five egg yolks! What to do with all those egg whites? Well, I'm not really an "egg white omelet" kind of gal, oh no, so I made the Meringue Nests (small crunchy marshmallow plates you can eat). So good I almost forgot to take a picture!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Death in Rural Italy

Last Sunday morning, 6:30 a.m., my beloved mother-in-law Lucia, passed away from a heart attack. While she was 85 and diabetic, like most deaths it was unexpected.

The women who lived in the neighboring houses came over when they heard the ambulance silently pull out of the driveway. They cried, then searched her closets to dress her in her best clothes: the outfit she wore to recent weddings and her 50th anniversary party more than ten years ago.

The funeral agency arrived and converted her bedroom into a small chapel. Her bed was replaced by an open casket on a stand. The mirrors were covered with tablecloths. A rosary was placed in her folded hands. I was surprised that she was not embalmed, but that is not done around here.

As the word spread through conversation and the manifestos pasted on walls throughout the village, people arrived to pay their respects and offer condolences. Some brought food. Slowly, flower arrangements spilled over into the living room.

On Monday morning my husband's sister, as well as his brother and wife, arrived from New York. More neighbors and local relatives visited, all day long and well into the night. On Monday evening the casket was sealed.

On Tuesday morning the rosary was said around the casket, then everyone walked behind the hearse and an open truck full of the flowers, as they drove to the local church where a funeral mass was said. Everyone who knew her or knew us was there. The casket was sprinkled with holy water and incense filled the air, then people offered their condolences once again as they left the church. A group of mourners once again walked behind the hearse as it wove down to the main street and made the turn to go up to the cemetary. From the turn we carpooled, a short ride up to Veroli.

Cemetaries in this part of Italy are above ground, in structures that have up to six levels. The casket was placed in a vault in the newest section, then sealed with bricks and cement and a marble door. Eventually her picture will be affixed as well as her dates of birth and death.

Lucia's passing has left a hole in our hearts. Very opinionated, and never shy to express them, she was at the same time generous to me, the daughter-in-law, living in a strange new land. She always sent me sauce, fresh eggs, jarred tomoatoes, vegetables and fruit from her garden. She made her little grandson happy with her generosity. Who else would slip him coins every morning when he headed off to first grade (and then he'd give away the "1 Euro" coins and keep the .20 and .50 because they must be worth much more)? Who else will hand over a 50 Euro bill so he can celebrate Christmas, his birthday, or the festa of the Madonna del Giglio? Who else will sit with me and have a cup of tea after Sunday lunch?

Lucia, you are missed. Rest in Peace.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

My worst fear came true...

Well, when I filled my canisters I hesitated before putting both sugar and fine salt in identical containers, but I thought as long as I was careful and didn't mix up the tops I'd be fine. Yesterday, while making pumpkin bread I apparently did just that.

Towards the end of its prescribed cooking time, I checked on it and broke off a large crumb that hung over the edge of the loaf pan... and almost gagged! It was AWFUL and I realized that I had put a cup of salt instead of sugar in it. I reluctantly threw it into the garbage, disappointed, especially because it still smelled pretty good.

Today I'll make a favorite, an olive oil cake. you only dirty two bowl s & a whisk and it always turns out moist and stays that way for days. The recipe comes from The Improvisational Cook, by Sally Schneider. It's a variation of her brown sugar lightning cake. The only changes you make is to substitue 1/2 cup olive oil for the melted butter, and instead of vanilla and bourbon flavoring the batter, you use 1 teaspoon each of lemon and orange zest and chopped fresh thyme (optional). Trust me, it's great, especially with a cup of tea in the afternoon!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Gardens, continued

I did mention we've been busy in the gardens...and this weekend is the big festa in our town (fireworks and everything), including a market which will have lots of plants for sale. Can't wait! I need hanging geraniums for the boxes on the terrace and D. wants plants for his own little garden he started this week.

Over the last two weeks we've planted 40 lavender plants (think I need to learn to make soap or at least sachets!), a cactus garden (out by the front gate, far from the water hose) and agrumi--which means citrus: mandarins, clementines, lemons. Also snuck a peach in and still want an apricot and pomegranate.

This morning on our walk a lady gave me 25 tiny baby seedlings. Each one promises to grown into a small round green bush that will turn red in the autumn, then self-seed before dying with the winter. No one seems to the know the name. I have the little ones each in their own "bassinet" (flowerpot) and all together in the "baby carriage" (wheel barrow) so I can move them around with the shade now that they're kind of wilty looking. They like the shade anyway, and I'll eventually plant them in the flower box they are building out by my front door, this weekend, maybe!

Time to revive this blog!

I've decided that WAAAAAAAY too much time has gone by since my last post! I was busy (ahem). Last summer we spent about 8 weeks in NY. I initially thought we'd need all that time to change Real Estate agents or find renters for our house in Suffolk County, but on our third day there we got a solid offer so we really could have come back sooner, but didn't want to spend the money to change the tickets!

In the fall I attended a CELTA training course to get updated on all the new methods and materials for teaching English as a foreign language. That course was two days a week in Rome. Aside from leaving my house at 6:15 a.m. in order to arrive on time, it was a great experience. Now I just need a job! I'm looking now to line up something for September/October, part-time, two or three days a week.

My friend G. has been helping me a lot to get my gardens in shape around the house. I have wildflowers and weeds galore! Little by little we are taming the beds nearest to the house.

Last week one of my cactus' bloomed! It was a spectacular sight. G. says if I plant it in the ground it will get quite big, so we did. In fact with plants she donated from her own garden we planted a section out by my front gate(and far from my water hose) of plants that like it dry and hot! Little by little...