These Days

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These days I'm…

Planning :: A girls’ trip to Paris with my mother/sister-in-law and a week in Tuscany over Easter break.

Listening :: To birds chirping in the mornings along with Haim, St. Paul & the Broken Bones and a variety of podcasts.

Moving :: Thanks to yoga, Barre 3 and a crazy loop from our town, up a hill ( small mountain) to the next town and back.

Dreaming :: Of a vacation somewhere tropical, just Jeff and I and knowing that I need to be dreaming of southern Italy, Croatia and the UK (with kids).

Thinking :: About summer plans and our last year in Italy. 

Watching :: Scandal and House of Cards.  I’m no longer shocked by any news I hear out of DC. 

Enjoying :: Each of the kids’ right as they are at 10, 8 and 7.  (Though I could do without some of the sass.)

Noticing :: How easy it is to get used to the sunshine and how much I miss it when it goes away.  I think Colorado spoiled me and moving back to the Pacific NW may be a tougher transition than I think.

Pondering :: Love, justice, why people focus on “the minors” and grace. 

Loving :: That all three of my babes are downstairs making birthday "surprises" for me. 

Feeling :: blessed, grateful, loved.

 

Well, then.

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So, there went October. Here's the thing about living in Italy. We're actually living in Italy. That means that work demands (or in my case, volunteerism) get crazy.  Soccer practice and games take place.  Friends throw parties and we have a tire blow on our way to Austria for the day.  (That was today's dose of real life.)  

The fact is, we've been in survival mode for the past two weeks.  Life has been crazy busy and I've been working hard to stay off the computer when the kids are home.  

Here I am.  

October came and went along with my 31 days…and I'm ok with that.  Even though it didn't all get put in writing or caught through the lens.  We lived out each day.  

Sometimes barely squeeking by but that's life. In Italy or in Seattle.  

Now we start stepping toward the holidays.  For November and December don't just mean Thanksgiving and Christmas but several big birthdays (10, 60 and 70!) with a few others thrown in, a visit from dear friends, travel, a few additional projects all along with the usual merriment.  

It will be good but it will be full and I want to choose each step carefully.  

Ring the Bells

February 2

There are many aspects of our life that are exactly the same
as they were when we lived in the states. 
We have the same furniture, I cook mainly the same things, our habits
are essentially as they were two years ago.

The one thing that is sure to remind me that we are in fact living
in Italy is the sound of the church bells. 

While the ringing of the church bells is traditionally done
as a call to prayer, we also view it as a very practical way to know what time
it is. 

I don’t notice them each time they ring, nor are we home all
the time.  But we almost  always hear the first bells of the morning ring
at 7:00 am.  Time to get up and start
your day.   (My personal rule for the
weekends is that I don’t get out of bed until I’ve heard the bells.)

Typically I hear them around noon.  Yes, this is a reminder to pray but I also
often think of it as a way to remind the community to wrap up what you are
doing and prepare for lunch.

The final bells we hear are around 7:00 (time for dinner!) and 9:00 which
signals the end of the day.

I love the tradition and the rhythm.  

There are some days when the bells ring at unusual times.  Today was one.  When I heard the bells ring at 2:45 I knew
that there must be a funeral taking place in town.  And just as I sat to write, the bells rang
again signaling the end of the mass and the beginning of the procession to the cemetery. 

While the gentle nudges to shift focus during the day are
nice, I think learning more about the specific types of prayer, Praying the
Hours or Liturgy of the Hours, would be really interesting.  It seems like it would be an amazing practice
to begin.

 

Two Worlds Collide

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Our experience living overseas is a bit different from most expats who pack up and move abroad.  For those families, once they board that plane and leave the US, their life shifts to that of the country they are moving to.  Because Jeff is Active Duty Air Force there are parts of our life that will always be tied to the "American Life" simply because he puts on his uniform every day and drives to base.  

Clearly, there is nothing wrong with having an American influence.  We are proud of Jeff's service and our home country but we also know there is no one "right" way to live.

No one best country.

Many people assigned to our base go the entire three years (or so) of their assignment without shopping on the economy or eating in a restaurant where only Italian is spoken.  I respect that choice but if I'm honest, I think it's sad because there is just so much out there to experience.     

So, for our family, our mindset has been that if we are going to live here for four years, we want to truly live here.  

Sure, we shop on base for some things (peanut butter and oatmeal are hard to come by in Italy) but we also go to our local corner store almost daily for fresh bread, cheese and milk. It's great that we're able to take advantage of our town's library (awesome for the kids to practice their Italian reading) but I'm so thankful for the library on base where I can borrow many of those books on my every growing to-read list.  Similarly, being able to gather with friends for burgers and fireworks on the 4th of July is great when you're far from "home" but you can bet we're just as likely to hit the festival in the town down the road.  

And so, we live in middle.  

The collision, really, of two worlds.  

The result is more than I could imagine.  

The best of both.

 

31 Days Living in Italy

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This Saturday marks the second anniversary of our arrival in Italy.  That simply blows my mind.  Each day, every adventure and every low point we've experienced has just gone by so quickly. 


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For those that may not know, we're a military family assigned to Northern Italy on a four year tour.  While this would seem like a dream to most, I initially resisted embracing this opportunity with all that was in me.  Our previous assignment was one that we should have been able to stay at through retirement and we loved where we were.  We embraced our community and lifestyle.  When that call came (the one that we had debated working towards getting but never jumped on) I was strong but deep down so sad.  All of our plans were out the window with four months notice.  

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But.

Now.

(And there is so much in between.)

Two years later I've fully adjusted to and embraced this gift we've been given.  It truly is the one that we'd gotten too comfortable to dive in towards.  My hope over the next 31 days is to share tiny pieces of the country that has changed my perception of life.  

La bella vita.

Italy.

 

31 Days Living in Italy

1.  Intro

2.  Two Worlds Collide

3.  Slow Living

4.  On Mourning

5-8.  Sick Days!  

9.  On Laundry

10. Ring the Bells

 

Summering

Not a shabby view.  Lake Garda

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We're about at the half way point of Summer 2013.  It's hard to know for sure because unlike in the States, our school doesn't release any calendar information until about two weeks before school starts.  It's a big unknown until we see the sign posted outside the school.  My best guess is that the kids will head back around September 9th and, for now, that's good enough for me. 

This summer has been one for the books.  We've had a good mix of free time and scheduled activities and have really enjoyed our time together.  Some of the highlights have been:

:: "Camping" (we were in mobile homes) at Lake Garda with three other families.  Nothing kicks off summer like a weekend away with 8 adults and 13 kids in an amazing part of Italy. 

:: Lots of time at the beach, various rivers and ponds playing in the sun.

:: Reading tons of books.  I'm not sure who has read more, me or Jack.  

:: Board games of all kinds.  Yes, even the dreaded Life.  It's amazing how much I loved playing that with my siblings and cousins as a kid and now I say a little prayer every time I tell someone to "go pick out a game".

:: A night in Verona to celebrate our 14th anniversary and experience our first opera thanks to sweet friends that loved on our kids while we were gone.  

:: Enjoying 30 meters of pizza with friends and neighbors at our town's pizza festival.

Throw in BBQs, birthday celebrations, dinner parties, a day in Venice with friends and I'd say the past 6 weeks have been pretty amazing.

 

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.  

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.)