Sights and Sounds

Spring 1


Spring 2


Spring 3

Today has been a beautiful, Spring day in northern Italy.  While we haven't had much cold or snow, we have had a ton of rain recently.  That made today's sun and 60 degrees especially welcome.  

I came across a new salad recipe (Arugula Orange Salad) to try only to discover that I had sent the last of our oranges to school with Morgan for her snack.   I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and walk the mile to the open air market in the next town.  I'm so glad I did. I saw and heard such fun things.

Sights::  Gorgeous blue sky, snowy mountain tops, buds on trees, flower blooms, bees, people working in their gardens, a baby hanging out in his pack and play on the patio while his mama did housework and the first butterfly of the season.  (A sweet woman tried to point it out to me.  It took me a while to catch on to what she was saying.  Once I say it, I responded with "Ah!  Primavera."  I'm sure you are impressed with my Italian.)

Sounds:: The breeze as it moved through the trees, birds chirping, rugs being shaken out, "The Macarena" through open windows (that baby's mama knows how to rock the housework), "Que bella oggi" (It's beautiful today) from a sweet older woman who was sweeping her porch as I walked by, an extra hint of contentment and joy in the voices of all I met along the way.    

Que bella, indeed.  

Around the Table

November 17

 

In each of the last two cities we’ve lived, I have been part
of a group that regularly met to share a meal. 

In San Antonio, we joined with three other couples from our
church for a monthly “Supper Club.”  We
took turns hosting the meal with the host setting the theme and cooking the
main course while the others contributed sides and desserts.  It started a bit of a whim as some of us
shared our love for cooking and wanting to get together more often.  When we first started in 2004, there were two
children. In 2008, when we moved, we were up to nine children and one on the
way.  In the end, we met a bit less frequently
and our dinners were definitely busier as our kids were with us but we stuck
with it.

Fort Collins brought several groups over the years.  The meal exchange ladies typically
shared snacks and drinks as did the book club I went to for a while.  But it was with my sweet friends Alice and
Mindy that I spent the most time around the table with.  We also met at church and started a bible
study one summer.  This particular study
included recipes and simple menu suggestions along with the encouragement to add
some extra time to gather together and share a meal.

That’s exactly what we
did.  What happened during those summer evenings is that we connected in a way that went beyond sharing food or answering Bible study questions.  

Raspberry Ricotta Scones

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend inviting us to
the 1st “Foodie Club” meeting. 
Always creative, she chose “Sunday Brunch” as the theme for our Friday
night dinner.  Such fun. 

As I was preparing my contribution of raspberry ricotta scones and
quiche, it struck me that gathering around the table is such a great way to
build relationship.  In both San Antonio
and Fort Collins, the people we met with regularly were a part of our lives in
other ways yet it was those hours we spent sharing a meal, lingering with wine
or dessert and coffee that we really connected. 
Those are the moments when conversations wander to areas that don’t come
up in other settings or where debates are held thanks to the encouragement of full
bellies, candlelit rooms and that last glass of wine.  Eventually, if you meet often and regularly
enough, you realize that you are sharing more than a meal with each other.  

You are sharing your life. 

Food plays such an amazing role in relationships.  Preparing a meal is giving a bit of yourself
to those you are feeding.  Yes, you give
your time and skills but through those efforts you give the people you are
feeding the more important gift of nourishment for both body and soul.  When you think of it that way, the role
sharing a meal plays in all aspects of our lives. 

Celebration. 

Grief. 

Just getting through the day.

Regardless of the reason for gathering, a connection is made and if you do it
often and long enough, you will build a community. 

And that is something that makes life so very rich. 

We Went to Paris

Eiffel Tower, Feb 2013

Paris is the one place that I have dreamed of visiting for as long as I can remember.  I think it goes back even farther than when I started taking French in middle school but I know for sure it was no later than seventh grade.  For various reasons, even though I (we) have visited many other places both in Europe and else where, I never made it to Paris.   

Until a few weeks ago.  

Because of how busy the big cities get during high tourist season, we try to do our traveling when everyone else is at home.  This works well for us as most places we are interested in visiting can be explored well in long weekend seeing as we are only a short flight or reasonable drive away.  

Unfortunately, due to conflicts with Jeff's schedule, both of the breaks this semester wouldn't work for a trip.  In true Italian fashion, we received a notice in early February that the schools would be closed during elections.  So we jumped on the chance and booked a trip to Paris for two weeks later.  

In the nearly eighteen months that we have lived here in Italy the five of us have all adjusted very well to what vacations in Europe actually look like with kids.  As Americans, we are used to having each second "programmed" with things to do at every stop along the way.  Here, a trip is more about experiences, looking at old buildings and walking a whole lot.  Jeff and I have also learned to modify our expecations of what a family trip (let's be honest, it's not really a vacation!) will be.  

That being said, I was a little nervous as he and I discussed our hopes and plans for our time in Paris.  We all wanted to see and climb the Eifel Tower, Morgan wanted to see all of the fashion designers (love!) and the boys were interested in the castles but all three kids were adament about not being that excited about the art.  This was a problem given that Jeff hoped to spend at least several hours in the Louvre.  There were gentle reminders about meeting the needs and tolerance levels of everyone and off we went.  

Another view from the top

Once we got situated in our flat we headed immediately to the Eifel Tower.  Because I had looked forward to this trip for so long, I was nervous that I would be dissapointed.  I was afraid that Paris would live up to all of the hype especialy since my first visit wasn't the romantic getaway that I had always envisioned our first trip would be.  

The Eifel Tower did not disappoint.  As soon as we climbed the stairs out of the Metro station we spotted it and all five of us stopped in our tracks.  It really was amazing.  We grabbed some dinner.  And headed over to the tower to make the assent.  We had decided in advance that we would walk the 700 or so steps rather than take the elevator in an effort to save a little money and get some exercise.  

Everyone was on board except one who may or may not have cried the entire way up.  In he defense, it was really cold, windy and there were a lot of steps.  

Once we got up, it was stunning with lights of the city surrounding us.  Eventually, we made our (tearless) way down and found our way "home."  

Pont des Arts

We were up bright and early, as usual, on day two.  After the Eifel Tower, Jeff had ventured out to the supermarket to get breakfast items (and French wine!) while I got the kids settled.  He cooked breakfast and we were out the door by 8:00.  In hopes of seeing more of the city than taking the metro allows we decided to walk from our flat in the Latin Quarter to the Louvre.  It was a great plan, except that it was about 30 degrees, windy and snowing.  We persisted and enjoyed getting to know the city.  The kids especially loved the Pont des Arts (Lock Bridge).  As with the Eifel Tower, seeing the pyramid at the Louvre took my breath away. We headed in, got passes and headed toward the Mona Lisa stopping at things that caught our attention along the way.  

We got to the Mona Lisa and the crowds weren't as bad as we had been told to expect.  The problem was that none of us were that blown away by her. One of the kids actually said "I don't get what the big deal is."  

To be honest, neither did I.

In the Louvre

I thought that "The Wedding Feast at Cana" (the piece Mona Lisa spends her days gazing at) was much more impressive and I loved seeing artists copying different pieces throughout the museum.

But what do we know?  

We ended up wandering through this amazing museum for nearly four hours.  While that isn't enough time to even scratch the surface of all that there is to see, I was thrilled with how we all hung in there.   After lunch and spending the morning having to be quiet, still and extra respectful of others, we head out to explore Tuileries Garden, play on the playground there and then head to l' Arc de Triomphe.  The walk down Champs Elysees was a bit underwhelming.  There were tons of people, everyone was cold and we may or may not have had a crier.  Maybe we should have gone at night and been more impressed.  

We made it to l'Arc and climbed up to the top.  It was fun to see the city in the daylight but we didn't spend a ton of time up there.  We headed to the Metro station, got a bit lost, found a great place for beers and pommes frites before heading home where Jeff picked up take out and we settled in for an early night. 

Day two brought us to the Musee d'Orsay.  What I most looking forward too.  Again we were up early.  Jeff cooked while I prepped the kids.  We were out by 8:00 and again walked in the cold and snow.  This where we forgot the cardinal rule of travling with kids…visit your must sees first.  It seems obvious, but our natural inclination is to start at the ground floor and work our way up.  That's great except when the Monets, Manets and Reniors are on the 5th floor and it takes over an hour to explore lovely but unknown art on the main floor.  Throw in four hours of art at the Louvre the day before and even after skipping floors 1-4 (remember in Europe there is a "0") we had limited time in the best part. 

Let me say here and now, I could have spent hours examining each piece.  The detail, thought and stories all strike me as so beautiful.  Maybe it's simply because these are the pieces that are familiar to me, the ones I've studied most (though still limitedly).  

Regardless, it was amazing.  

I really should have gone back later in the day as Jeff suggested but hated to leave the family.  As I kept reminding Jeff, this wasn't our only visit.  

We headed out, grabbed lunch and then spent much of the day simply exploring the city.  I was really hoping to find pockets of the "true" Paris in the midst of all of the tourism and we did.  We made our way over to Rue Cler to shop for dinner (cheese, meat, baguette and wine…yum!!) and then headed home for an early dinner and bedtime.

Mirror Room at Versaille

Day three was probably the overall highlight.  We were up early (yes, again!) and grabbed a train to Versailles.  We were met with two inches of snow on the ground and an amazing display of wealth and grandure.  The Palace was interesting to walk through, much of the history from high school and college I retained only to get through the next test so this was a good refresher.  (note:  I'd love to take some history classes as I'm so much more interested now than I was then.)  

There were two things that bothered me about the Palace.  First, it was so crowded.  Jeff and I commented to each other through out the trip that if Paris was this crowded in February then what would it be like in the summer.  Second, the oppulance kind of offended me.  So much of what was built was for show and to make the king(s) feel worthy.  That makes me sad and a bit sick.  While this is a different time, I'm not sure that much has really changed but that's a different post all together.

Exploring the grounds at Versailles

Without a doubt, exploring the grounds at Versailles and Marie Antoinette's home was the best few hours of our trip.  We all enjoyed the vastness of the grounds, the peace, the freedom to run and the animals (chickens, sheep, cows and even rats!).  I can only imagine what it (and all of Paris) looks like in full bloom.  

 

The Farm at Versailles

The time we spent wandering those acres not only refreshed our sprits and burned off energy but reminded us of how much we want a good amount of space to call our own.  

It was a breath of fresh air.  

Literally and figuratively.

Sainte Chapelle

Notre Dame

Our final full day was a bit of a catch up day.  Because we were staying so close to Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle they seemed like stops we would just squeeze in.  That worked fine except for the fact that there was construction going on at Notre Dame and the towers were only open in the afternoon.  

Then is started raining.  And they closed.  

So, while we visted both and both were amazing (though at some point I have to wonder how many churches we will visit in our four years here) we weren't able to go up in the towers of Notre Dame which seems to be the highlight.  

Another trip is in order, indeed.  

 

Crepes!

Our final few hours were spent with more wandering and a stop at the crepe stand.  We had tried a few already but these were really good.  I'm not sure if it was the hot crepes on a cold, rainy day, the Emeril like man that made them for us or the Grand Marnier that Jeff and I had in ours but these were so good.  

Before we knew it, it was time to head back, pack up and settle in for a good night's sleep before heading to the airport the next morning.  

Moving On

header2

This space has felt tired and dead for a while.

A lot of it is that I don’t love the name, it’s too “mommy blog”, a bit narrow.  I didn’t feel excited to write in this space.

Basically, it simply seems like the time for a fresh start.

So, you can now find me over at The Shape of a Life.  I’m still getting settled but all of my previous post from Mama and More have been exported.  I’m hoping to use the new space to explore those moments (and choices) that work together to shape a life.

See you there!

Cooking Class: Gnocchi

Arugula for Gnocchi

My sweet friend Ashley arranged for a small group of us to have three private cooking lessons at a local restaurant.  The first class was las tnight and we learned how to make three kinds of gnocchi.  

For those that have never had gnocchi, I often refer to it as the pillow pasta.  In it's best form it's light, airy and a bit puffy.  

Manlio

Our host, Manlio (chef and owner), was gracious with our group of eight women and one man.  Most of us knew at least one other person but beyond that we were a great mix of friends and strangers.  As the night went on we connected not only with eachother but also with Manilo.  We had so many quesetions about both Italian cooking and Italian life and he answered each one with kindness and care sharing a bit of himself and the region with each answer. 

As we started cooking, Manlio walked through each step in making traditional, pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi.  They are all so good yet so very different in both flavor and texture.  

Stuffing the gnocchi with arugula and cheese

As the night went on, I was reminded of the greatest lesson I'm being taught here in Italy, patience.  In this instance our meal tasted so much better than many I've had.  In other daily situations (ie. the bank, grocery, etc.), I'm always reminded that life isn't an emergency and if we rush even the little steps we just might miss the greatest gifts within our grasp. 

Gnocchi with smoked ricotta

At the end of the night, after much laughter and conversation we gathered around the table and enjoyed an amazing meal.  Yes, we ate great food but more than that, we connected with each other, shared stories, and gave our time.  

It was a great night indeed.  

(I'll post a recipe once I'm able to try it at home at least once with readily available ingredients.)