An Experiment- Five Minute Friday

11 Oct

Dear Friends,

Don’t ask me how I found out about Five Minute Friday, because I don’t remember. But I’ve decided to give it a try right now. ¬†Check out lisajobaker.com to learn more. Every week, she posts a theme to write on for five minutes straight, no editing. The theme this week is “Ordinary”. GO.

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She stared at him, his square jaw and styled-with-too-much-gel hair, the blue button-down shirt and jeans that didn’t flatter. She took that deep breath, the one that hurts because of real heartache, and in that moment, realized that he was not the one, or at least not the one she wanted.

Two hours earlier:

The conversation had begun typically. “Do you want to share the egg scramble and bacon, again?” he asked as they sat down in the booth with the worn red vinyl benches. “Yeah, and I want some of those yummy beignets, too, if that sounds good to you?” she replied cheerfully. “Sure, yeah.” It was only after they ordered and sipped their coffee until it was about half way gone that the mood changed noticeably. “So,” she said, “I was thinking that this weekend we could go look for a couch for the new apartment.”

“Um, ok, well, I’m not totally sure when I can, cuz I’m trying to finish that work project,” he answered, as he spun his spoon in his mug a little too fast. “Ok, um, well, do you want me to go alone? I mean, I could do a little shopping and then show you some favorites? I just feel like before I sell my old couch I’d like to know what we’re getting.”

After a long silence that spilled through the meal and into the walk to the car, she finally had the guts to ask.

“Are you having second thoughts about moving in together?”

Several minutes later, after they returned to his apartment, they sat facing each other at the dining table, and he finally said it.

And she said back, while the proverbial slap across the face was still stinging, “what do you mean, you’re afraid I’m too ‘ordinary’?”

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I am always saying I want to write more, and I think Five Minute Friday prompts might be a great way to ease into it. It is vulnerable to share writing to a broad audience, especially unedited! But, here goes.ūüôā

Thanks for reading!

Blessings,

Dana

Orvieto, Rome, and France

8 Oct IMG_5671

Dear Friends,

We have returned home as of last night. I’ve been working on this post for about a week, and just finished today. Being home (granted, for just 24 hours) has presented it’s own set of lessons, and it will be interesting and important for me to spend significant time letting the lessons seep into me. But, more on that in a different post. For now… here is the next installment of our adventure!

We left our apartment in Florence after a final night of some adventures with the power in our apartment. It went out, and then came back on, but at about 11:30pm we were just about to head to bed when we noticed the fridge leaking. There had been a coat of ice along the back of the fridge (they kept it really cold in there!), and apparently when the power went back on, the fridge did not. So, we had a puddle on the floor, and had to decide if we should call the landlord or what. Sky came to the rescue and ended up scraping off all of the ice off the back so that even if the fridge continued to warm, it wouldn’t create a flood in our kitchen. It was a small glitch in an otherwise smooth transition out! On our last morning, I woke up a little early to go for a cappuccino myself. I wanted to soak up the sounds of the city without Eliana singing or Sky talking.ūüôā ImageImageI will almost certainly be looking for a cost-effective espresso maker and milk frother for my home. I just cannot imagine not having this yumminess every day. (Edited: Ah ha! Turns out my coffee maker at home has an espresso attachment and a frother attachment. Done.)

The walk home was bittersweet, as I knew it would be my last time passing by these places that have become home. ImagePiazza san Niccolo. Favorite coffee place on the corner where the guy is standing in a red shirt.

ImageI really love the sculptural detail on this building with the row of women kneeling.

ImageI read about the hidden doors in Florence before we left the US, and totally forgot about them the entire trip. On my way to coffee, I saw a man coming out of this secret door, and was reminded that I should have been looking for them all along! It was a nice surprise moment on my last morning.

ImageThe entrance to our apartment is on the right, just under the red sign with the white bar.

Our landlord, Francesca, got us set up with a cab, and we were off to the train station. Image

For the first time, the station was surprisingly mellow, and Eliana did a short dance performance, naturally. She got shy when people walked by, but that faded pretty fast and she just went on with her show.

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The trip to Orvieto was smooth, but when we arrived, there was not a taxi to be found. We knew we might have struck it rich when we called our B&B and they offered to come pick us up. We were right. Casa Selita was absolutely PERFECT and everyone going to Orvieto should stay there. Check it out at http://www.casaselita.com. The town of Orvieto is perched high on a hillside and the B&B is located just outside the city walls.

IMG_5387 Image ImageThis is Casa Selita, and you can see the town of Orvieto up on the hill behind it.

After some playtime and relaxing, we headed up the hill for dinner. The views were fabulous, and I said more than once, “This is exactly what I needed.” I had been dreaming of a small-town experience, and Orvieto did not disappoint.

ImageImageImageWe ate almost every meal in Italy at home, so to go out to dinner was a real treat, and Selita made a great restaurant recommendation. When in Orvieto, eat at La Mezza Luna, and order the spaghetti carbonara. I’d never had it before, but it was out of this world. Get there right when it opens at 7:30pm, or make a reservation. The prices are more than reasonable and all three of us loved it.Image ImageThe homemade four-cheese gnocchi was fantastic, too (and rich, holy moly was it rich!).Image We woke up the next morning and had a delicious breakfast with our hosts and other guests at Casa Selita, and then went back to the town for some exploring. ImageThe breakfast room, and our new friends Donna and Doug from Canada. Image ImageImage

This is Selita! The property has been in her family for generations, and she renovated the farmhouse in 2005 to open the B&B.

It was market day in Orvieto, so we found our way there, and stopped for cappuccino in the main square. ImageImageImage It is hard to explain the charm of Orvieto. The photos look like any other random Italian street, but the vibe there is different. Knowing it is a small town surrounded by other small towns gives it a little mystery. It has a long, pedestrian shopping street and the market was really big- full of local honey, a fish shop, a candy shop, fruit shops, butchers, clothing, table linens, purses and luggage…they had it all! ImageImage IMG_5340 IMG_5369The duomo in Orvieto really has a spectacular facade. IMG_5348We had a quick lunch outside in this little piazza. There was a woman playing the guitar, which entertained Ellie and Sky while I waited at the table.

We were sorry to leave Orvieto and Casa Selita, but later that afternoon we got back on the train and headed to Rome. We were pleasantly surprised by the random airport hotel I had found online. The people were friendly, the room was large, and there was a nice pool. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to use it, but Eliana looked wistfully out our window and wished we had time for a swim. IMG_5389 We got up very early for our flight the next morning to Marseilles, France, where we met our life-long friend Lawrence. Lawrence lived with my family when I was about seven years old. She came to teach French at my school, and we were her host family. She stayed for a few months, and at the end of her stay, her then-boyfriend Georges came to meet her and they traveled around California for a while before returning home. Lawrence and Georges married, had three children, and now live in Lambesc, a small village in Provence. We have stayed in touch all these years, and in 1998, I made my first trip to France to see Lawrence. Sky and I went in 2004, and this was my third trip there. Coincidentally, Lawrence, Georges, and their youngest daughter, Irina, had been in California just this summer and stayed with my parents, so we had a chance to see them and introduce them to Eliana. Ellie was very excited that we were going to “live in their house” for a few days! Lawrence insisted on coming to the airport to greet us and guide us back to her home even though we rented a car. She was absolutely right. There was a massive thunderstorm that morning, and I don’t think we ever would have made it to her house without the help. We could barely see anything, some roads were so flooded Sky wondered if we should drive on them, and we speak maybe 15 words in French (numbers 1-10, Bonjour, and a few others… this count does not include champagne, Camembert, and the like). Anyway, we arrived at the house safely, and it was as peaceful and beautiful as I remembered. We were treated to a lovely lunch and, of course, ended the meal with a cheese course. Yum. IMG_5397 The skies cleared, and we definitely wanted to take advantage of our short time in France, so Georges and Lawrence took us to Roussillon, a village about an hour away. Roussillon is unique because the earth there is a red clay. It is beautiful! Eliana and Georges forged quite a special bond during our time there, with Georges carrying Ellie on his shoulders and playing hide and go seek with her. It was super sweet to see. IMG_5405 IMG_5417 IMG_5402You can see Eliana here on Georges shoulders. He tried to hide behind us for the family photo but no luck. That’s ok, he’s family, too! IMG_5399 IMG_5430IMG_5438 IMG_5454 IMG_5437

The following morning, we had a family adventure and went to the coastal town of Cassis. I had never been there, and again I was reminded that I really like exploring new places. Sky had the opportunity to meet with a physicist who lives there, and so Eliana and I took the time to run around the town. The beautiful harbor there is a highlight.

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IMG_5497You can see the ruins above the town a little bit in this photo. It was spectacular!

Later that afternoon, Lawrence took us to pick fruit at the property of a friend of hers. We grabbed figs, mostly, along with some pears and apples.

IMG_5505 IMG_5514 IMG_5521 IMG_5542One of my favorite little villages in Provence is Lourmarin, and it is special to Lawrence, too. She told me she goes there every week to get an ice cream and wander the town. We took Eliana to a small park, and then explored for a while. It was as charming as I remembered it from my previous visits.

IMG_5563 IMG_5565IMG_5568It was the end of the day, and shops were closing up. One shop owner took to the street with his guitar, and we were treated to a beautiful dance performance by Eliana. She came up with the idea to take one shoulder of her shirt down, and the performance was sensitive and playful.

IMG_5569 IMG_5575Here is a view of the town as we drove away.

Tuesday, when Lawrence and Georges went to work, we headed to Aix-en-Provence, which we braved despite all three of us being grouchy for some reason. Yes, it is possible to be in a lousy mood in the south of France. (I learned this in Italy, too, where I woke up on the wrong side of the bed once or twice.)

We had grand plans to go to the Museum of Natural History but we never made it. We enjoyed finding our way into town, exploring the Aix cathedral, and browsing in shops.

IMG_5577 IMG_5579There was a live person playing the organ when we were in the church- very cool!

IMG_5589Ellie and I found this¬†beautiful store that sold dance clothes, and we watched a REAL BALLERINA get fitted for her pointe shoes. There was a mini-barre in the store, and the woman practiced getting on pointe while testing her new shoes. We eavesdropped on their very elegant sounding conversation… ballerinas speaking French is just cool.

IMG_5595We had lunch on Cours Mirabeau, the beautiful main drag in town. It was market day, so the place was especially bustling!

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Sky and Georges cooked a Thai feast for dinner, and Lawrence’s mother and her husband, Daniel, joined us. It was great to see them again. Dinner was a big hit!

IMG_5605Chef Sky and sous chef Georges in the lovely kitchen.

IMG_5609Beautiful Lawrence and her beautiful mother.

IMG_5619 IMG_5620Dinner was a coconut soup and a ginger/lemongrass/yumminess chicken saute with garden grown zucchini and other veggies.

IMG_5623There were baguettes on the table, too. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a baguette with Thai food before, but when in France… turns out that a little bread was great with the sauces!

The Thai meal was followed by a cheese course, and then homemade panecotta by Lawrence with fresh raspberries. It was amazing!

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On our final day in France, we headed to Les Baux with Lawrence and Georges, and saw the Cathedral of Images. It was absolutely spectacular, and a must-see-everyone-loves-it kind of thing.  The Cathedral is a quarry that has been transformed into a multi-media art exhibit. The caves are a little chilly, so a jacket came in handy! The rocks are smooth enough that a massive projection system can project images all over the quarry. It is so well done and so majestic- a true delight for visitors of all ages. The show began with a short presentation that was more modern, and then we saw the art show. With beautiful music playing, the quarry becomes a multi-dimensional gallery.

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IMG_5641This is what the walls look like lit up, without art displayed.

IMG_5648 IMG_5651That’s Eliana and Sky, dancing, of course, in the middle of the show.

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Our experience at the Cathedral of Images was one of the highlights of our entire two month journey in Europe. It’s hard to explain, but everything about it just worked for us!

After returning to the house, Sky and I worked on some packing while Eliana sat outside and listened to her books on the ipod.

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We are so very blessed to have Lawrence and Georges, as well as their three kids, as part of our family. Moments of real connection over wine and cheese, in cars, in airports, while preparing meals, walking in small towns, and while playing hide and seek with Eliana.  Our gratitude for their hospitality and for their friendship is indescribable.

IMG_5660 IMG_5661IMG_5608Special thanks to Irina, who braved several days of a very clingy four-year-old. Eliana worshipped Irina!

After leaving France, we headed to Goteberg, Sweden overnight, and then spent a few days in Copenhagen before coming home. That blog post will be next!

Some links:

This man got a divorce and then wrote these amazing twenty tips for having a great marriage (from viralnova.com).

“Sometimes she will need to fly from your branches to go and find what feeds her soul, and if you give her that space she will come back with new songs to sing‚Ķ”

Sky and I work hard at giving each other space while remaining connected. I think some people in our lives think we spend a little too much time apart, and sometimes I worry about that, too. But, the truth is that we are better for each other when we support the other in spreading their wings. To do this with ease and grace is not always simple, but we try and succeed most of the time. It was really special to both of us to have so much time together on our trip without the distractions of daily life at home. We learned that we really do like each other.ūüôā

I loved this post about friendship (From adesignsovast).

“I have long maintained that who our closest friends are says a lot about who¬†we¬†are.¬† And on that dimension, I‚Äôm off the charts lucky.”

This piece is about college friends, specifically, and I have some really important, special friendships from that time in my life. I also have friends from high school and elementary school and friendships that are newer. I have friends who have seen me through too many heartbreaks to count, who I’ve lived with in small apartments and rented houses, and who got ready for the prom with me. I also have friends who I only see for a walk once in a while, or who I never see at all but when they are needed, they are there. There are people who have sat with me through really dark days, never judging me, sometimes empathizing so deeply that my pain was their pain. There are many who have shared my most joyous moments. I cannot express the depth of my appreciation for all of them. For all of you. My friendships have always been extremely important to me, and I want to continue to prioritize them even as life is so full and busy (which, by the way, I am hoping to change a little. We’ll see.)

This mother wrote a wishlist of the things she is hoping for her child. (From boston.com)

“I hope I raise a child who will stick up for a kid who‚Äôs being bullied on the playground. I also hope I raise a child who, if he‚Äôs the one being bullied, fights back. Hard. Oh, and if he‚Äôs the bully? I hope he realizes that his mother, who once wore brown plastic glasses and read the phonebook on the school bus, will cause him more pain than a bully ever could.”

I thought this list was really touching and a great reminder of some important lessons and values we can impart to our children… or at least, we can try!

I’ll be back soon with the recap of the last few days of our trip. Until then, as always, I send my gratitude for your support and well wishes.

Blessings,

Dana

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Italy- Week 5.

26 Sep

Dear Friends,

The leaving. Oh, the leaving. It is wrought with mixed emotions. Gratitude, sadness, fear, relief, they all have lived together these last few days. We leave tomorrow for a quick overnight in the town of Orvieto, and then a night in Rome, before heading to the south of France for a few days. The last week has been a mix of “I want to go there one last time”, packing and organizing, and last minute shopping. Today was our last full day here, and I have been brought to tears more than once, filled with tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to have been here, sad for all of the things we didn’t do (turns out five weeks goes really fast), excited for what is ahead on our trip, and wondering how it will feel to go home.

Last weekend, Eliana and I went for coffee and a walk and let Sky sleep in a little. Highlight of our trip #1: Spending sweet time with my incredible daughter. She amazes me every single day. (Now I’m teary again, thinking about my girl.)Image

There’s a little neighborhood piazza about five minutes from our apartment, so it’s a great spot for coffee when we don’t want to walk too far. Eliana always gets a croissant (called a brioche, here), and I get cappuccino.¬†Image

Later that day, we all went to a real sit-down lunch in Piazza della Passera and then did some window shopping. As we were leaving one store, a bicycle whizzed by, and it was the director of Eliana’s preschool! She shouted, “we’re going to the park, see you there!” Never one to miss out on an invitation like that, Sky took Eliana to the park, and I went home to make dinner and get ready for my date with myself to hear some Gregorian chanting at the San Miniato monastery. A text check-in about two hours later told me that they were at a birthday party and were busy eating cake! So, I ate my salad alone.

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I headed up the hill to San Miniato. Highlight #2 of our trip: being alone in Firenze. I really love exploring by myself, stopping when I want to, eating something when I’m hungry, taking my time, following my own rhythm. Taking time for myself while here has been a gift and I am really thankful that our plans unfolded in such a way that I was able to be alone so often. Furthermore, Sky and Eliana each had their own time, too: Eliana at her school, and Sky with his studies.

So, anyway, off I went to San Miniato. The walk was steep, but I soldiered on.

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Not surprisingly, there were a lot of people at the top taking pictures of the sunset view, eating panini’s, and sharing wine. But shockingly, not many of them wandered inside the chapel for the free concert. I think they just didn’t know about it.

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I took some audio of the concert; it was truly beautiful and transported me to a place inside myself that I have not felt in a long while. I am not sure how to explain it. It was a stillness and a peace that has eluded me for several months, a sense of presence where I was outside my head and only in the moment. I was super proud of myself for going, for even though I know the time alone is nearly always good, it is not always so easy to make it happen. As I walked back home, I was only aware of the quiet, as the sounds of the city were far away.

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Seeing the city lit up at night gives it such a different feeling.  Calmer, and even more majestic than daytime.

While here, I wanted to do at least SOMETHING super-local-feeling. Granted, the market shopping and just basic living necessities gave us that experience, but I spent a fair amount of time researching events, festivals, and the like on locals websites, and I wanted to make use of all that info! So, Sunday, we headed to South Florence, a part of town we had not been, and looked for the circus that I had read about. The day did not go as I expected, but as is common for us, it didn’t matter! It ended up being even BETTER. Highlight #3: Exploring new places and making each experience worthwhile. We love getting lost and finding what’s cool about where we are, and most of the time, we are successful. Every once in a while, we end up in a dud situation, but not often.

The “circus” wasn’t really a circus, or at least not while we were there. ¬†After finding some lunch (great pizza) and eating in in the park, Eliana played for a long time, and Sky and I had a great conversation on a bench. Highlight #4: Serious quality time with my fabulous husband. He is even more amazing the more I get to know him.

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The park also had a section with a bouncy slide, and ball pool (what is the official name of those things?), and Eliana managed to make new friends in about two minutes.

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Her new friends were a brother/sister duo.  The boy, Lorenzo, was about eight, and the girl, Sophia, was about six. The boy spoke a tiny bit of English, and Ellie might have broken out a little Italian. They were so kind to Ellie and they played well together for a long time! 

The best thing about this little section of the park was that the guy manning it brought out huge pieces of butcher paper and paint, and Eliana Picasso got right to work with a few other kids. It was totally brilliant; let’s do this at home in our parks!

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Ellie worked on some sections of this painting. She stayed longer than any other kid and was dead set that she needed to “finish it”.

After the bouncy/painting extravaganza, we headed toward the “circus”, but stopped to fill our water bottles.

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This was photoworthy because you can see that there were two choices- water with “gas” (bubbly water) or water “plus” (not sure what the plus is, but it was still water). Very fun to have both available in the middle of a park!

It turned out that the afternoon program was a free kids event that they called the circus olympics. Kids in the audience were invited to participate along with adults and kids who must have been part of a summer camp or something. IMG_5026

Eliana and I got right in on the action.

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Then Sky got jealous, and he tried to step in, too. ¬†That’s him on the far right, wearing the blue t-shirt.

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So, mission accomplished. Even though we didn’t actually see a circus, we definitely took part in a real local event! It was wonderful to explore a different area of town (very 1970’s instead of 1270’s), and get to spread our wings just a little more.

The trip home took us past the San Niccolo tower and down Via di San Niccolo, a pretty street that leads to our apartment.

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We were definitely starting to get sentimental at this point! Random photos abound.

Dinner: homemade minestrone soup and crusty bread. Delicious.

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As I said earlier, the week has been a weird mix of last stops, visits back to some favorite places, packing and organizing. I was on a mission to find a piece of jewelry as a special memento of my trip. Sky wanted to spend hours in a cafe studying and writing. Eliana went to school but stayed home one day because she had a nasty cough. We all tried to take care of ourselves and each other while enjoying the last days here.

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I had a solo coffee/brioche date one morning while I went looking to find a piece of jewelry.

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And I found something beautiful in this small shop! I even met the artist!

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Eliana and I went for a long walk that afternoon. She has been so enthralled with the art here, we wanted her to choose a small piece to bring home. ¬†She and I went looking at the street artists near the Uffizi and she chose a beautiful watercolor of the Duomo. Then she wanted her picture taken with the package! Highlight #5: Watching Eliana becoming increasingly interested in art- both seeing it and doing it. I don’t know what else to say about this except that it is truly incredible to see my child develop her passions.

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A favorite view.

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This massive bike race has taken over the city this week. All bus schedules are screwy, and there are many places you can’t even cross on foot. Every time a biker comes down the street, sirens go off, and they are escorted by a police motorcycle, then the rider goes by, followed by their sponsorship car. In the car must be some coaches or something because they are always yelling at the rider.

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An alternate route home from Eliana’s school took us past this beautiful green space next to the Arno, and allowed us to see some views we hadn’t seen before.

One day, Sky and Eliana and I went to lunch together near Santa Spirito. I had heard about this place, Trattoria Casalinga, known for it’s reasonable prices and large portions.

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We ordered the antipasto platter, which came with three different kinds of crostini.  One had chicken liver on it, and Sky was really macho about finishing it. We also had a platter of gourmet mushrooms, which was a surprise (we thought we were getting pasta with mushrooms), and a yummy pasta dish with meat sauce.

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Afterward, there was gelato, of course.  This place was a real find- Gelateria La Carraia.

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Here are a few random shots from the last few days:

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Waiting at our bus stop to take Eliana to school.

After Sky and Eliana wowed the crowd at the school party last week, we got a few requests for Sky to bring in his guitar and do some music in her class. We went together this week, and it was a big hit! Highlight #6: Eliana’s school. We are so very grateful to the people there for making her, and us, feel so welcome and comfortable.

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And then there was today, the last day. My ankle has been a little sore for some unknown reason, so I needed to take it easy, which really bummed me out. Sky took Eliana to school alone; it’s quite a long walk from the bus to her school, and we felt it was more important to rest my foot since we still have a lot of walking ahead of us! So, I made the most of it by taking the bus directly to where I wanted to go, which was Piazza Santa Croce. I had visions of sitting, writing in my journal, and soaking up the vibe.

First, coffee. It might have been the best cappuccino yet. Sky has a theory that the little hole in the wall places are the best, and today’s spot was definitely that! The croissant was really yummy, too, and I have mastered the art of dipping it in the cappuccino for the ultimate decadence. Highlight #7: The coffee. I will really miss it.

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My Santa Croce journaling dream was realized, and then I headed over to Palazzo Vecchio. I hadn’t been there at all, and thought it might be fun to take a little exploratory journey. ¬†It was a beautiful building, and I would have liked to see the museum, but given my ankle I thought it best to move on.

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When I headed outside to the Piazza della Signoria, I was met with huge, HUGE crowds. I’m not sure if they were all there to see me, or what. I doubt it, because no one paid any attention to me, but I couldn’t imagine what everyone was doing.

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I captured a classic tourist temptation: man eating a pizza slice with his horse and carriage. (I sort of wish we’d done this, actually.)

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My ankle was feeling good, and I really wanted to suck the marrow out of this last day, so I headed farther north toward the Piazza della Repubblica. The Straw Market is right there, so I did some browsing.

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This gelato place is called Venchi, and for some reason it is super popular. I found it overpriced, not that good, and the sales people were rude. But that’s just my opinion!

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My walk home took me over the Ponte Trinita, where I got some last looks at the Ponte Vecchio. Highlight #8: The beautiful views around every turn. Whether it’s a bridge, a piazza, a winding side-street, a fresco on a building…this city oozes with history and charm.

Later in the afternoon, we headed out to meet a jeweler who I worked with to design a custom ring. I love it! And, here he is! His name is Arlo.

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There was a good lesson learned in the making of the ring. It was not an easy process for a variety of reasons that were not in my control. I let it go, and found another piece at that small shop I told you about earlier. But Arlo came through for me, and in the end, I got two beautiful pieces that I will have forever. The lesson is that when something seemingly negative happens, it could be helpful to remember that something even better might be around the corner. Something like “when one door closes…”. Having an attitude of openness definitely helps! Highlight #9: Good life lessons learned on the road. ¬†There are so many, and they keep showing themselves in little ways. I have more reflecting to do on all that I am learning.

For our final dinner here, Sky made a delicious pork chop with eggplant, olive and tomato saute, fresh pasta with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, and a cucumber yogurt salad. Highlight #10: The food. Sky cooked nearly every night, and there was not one bad meal. We loved panini’s for lunch and pizza slices randomly (though I am, admittedly, a little panini’ed out now). The ingredients were so fresh, and we are inspired to cook new things when we get home. At dinner tonight, we all shared things that we loved about being in Florence, and it became clear quickly that there are simply too many incredible memories and experiences to say them all.¬†It was fun listing some highlights from the trip in this post… but the list is terribly incomplete.

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Sky made a point of making the Italian flag on our pasta. He’s so clever.

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So, that’s it. Our time in Firenze is over. Tomorrow we will take a taxi, a bus, and another taxi to the Tuscan countryside for one night, and then off to Rome overnight, and then to Provence, France. No, we are not seeing a darn thing in Rome. We just couldn’t do it all, and some hard choices had to be made!

I only have one link for you this week, and I promise it is worth watching.

This video about new research to be happier is making the rounds, so you may have seen it. (From upworthy)

I watched this video this morning, as I was getting ready to head out for my last day in Florence. I cried happy tears and thought about people I appreciate. I liked the action suggestion at the very end. ¬†Plus, just the video itself made me smile, because the “host” looks about fifteen and he makes fun of himself.

I thank you all, again, for your comments, support, and well wishes. ¬†With almost two weeks to go, we are excited to get back into “travel” mode and explore more of our beautiful world.

Blessings,

Dana

Ponte Grazie Firenze on a Gelato run

A parting shot. Sky took this of the Ponte Vecchio one night while on a gelato run.

 

Italy- week 4

20 Sep

Dear Friends,

Our time in Florence is winding down. ¬†It is hard to believe it, but we have been here for an entire month. This blog post has been absolutely PAINFUL to write. I’m not sure why, but I think it is hard to describe this week since I basically feel like we live here now. Who wants to read about grocery shopping? I mean, the first week, it was all “OMG, the market!” but now it’s part of our routine. It is still wonderful, but it doesn’t have the same pizzazz, if you get my drift.

We decided to take a little side trip to Elba Island.  Elba is the third largest island in Italy, and when Napolean was exiled, he headed to Elba. Now it is a great vacation spot for Europeans.

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Obviously, I didn’t take this picture. Not sure how to credit it, but it’s from Wikipedia.

Getting there required a bus, two trains, a ferry, and a taxi, but it was well worth it. I found Elba kind of randomly online, but once we started mentioning it to locals, we got a lot of affirmation!

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The main train station is so crazy. We’ve been there a handful of times now, and every time it is just as busy as the last.

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It is pretty handy that Eliana is old enough now to take a photo of me and Sky!

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After the bus and two trains, we headed for the ferry.

The ferry ride was smooth and comfortable. It was about an hour, and they had a play structure for kids inside!

Once we arrived on the island, I took a nice deep breath. We got a taxi easily, and headed for our hotel on the south side of the island. ¬†We really lucked out with Hotel Capo Sud. I basically just found it online, and they had room, and we went for it. It was perfect for us and we couldn’t have been happier.¬†The hotel was basically one building with regular hotel rooms, and then a handful of cottages. We were in a little cottage that had two bedrooms- one had a single bed, a desk, and armoire, and the other had a king sized bed and an armoire. There was a bathroom between the two rooms, and a sweet little patio out front. We had a view of the sea, but most wonderfully, the SOUND of the sea. ¬†Ahhh, it was really heavenly. I love that sound! The hotel was perched on a hill, with the main building at the top, and the cottages heading toward the water. ¬†Our cottage was second to last (as in, really close to the beach) and within about 3 minutes we were in the sand or at the pool. Did I mention the pool yet?ūüôā

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This is the view from our little cottage. 

We didn’t mess around. We got to the cottage, dropped our stuff, changed into bathing suits, and off to the beach we went. The water was incredibly clear, a beautiful color, and warm!

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That’s Sky out on the raft!

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There is a brilliant service provided in many European hotels, where you reserve an umbrella and beach chairs on your first day with the lifeguard. It is yours for your whole stay, so no need to get up super early to reserve your spot.

The hotel offered a half-board option, which I’ve never done before, but is very popular in Europe. Basically, our room rate was per person, and breakfast and one other meal for the day was included (lunch or dinner). ¬†We did dinner both nights, and it was fun to try out the food they prepared. None of it was fabulous, but all of it was fine. I enjoyed sitting outside on the dining room patio, and having a break from cooking was a treat.

On our one full day on Elba, the weather was pretty bad.  Stormy beaches are still beautiful, though, so we made the most of it.

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We tried a few times to be outside, and did get in a swim at both the beach and the pool. Eliana took a huge leap forward in her swimming and was able to swim on her own while wearing floaties. She kicked and used her arms appropriately, and did a great job! We were excited for her.

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We knew that the weather might be less than ideal, so Sky had downloaded a couple of family movies for us just in case we were stuck inside. Since the weather was as chilly as we thought, we settled in for the afternoon and enjoyed both Shrek and Mary Poppins. Eliana has been singing a lot of Mary Poppins songs the last few days.

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Later in the afternoon, we headed out to the beach again, where we were treated to an amazing dance show by Eliana.

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Surprisingly, those big clouds didn’t rain much on us. It was mostly just unappealing beach weather.

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I LOVE THIS PHOTO!!!

The following day, we woke up to bright skies, and we didn’t have to leave until midday, so we enjoyed more swimming at the pool and the beach.

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That’s me, taking a little swim. It was reeeeeeaaaaaalllllly nice.

One unexpected bonus of our trip was meeting a couple of families with young kids. One couple had a baby who was a year old, and Eliana enjoyed playing with her on the beach while we chatted with the parents. We exchanged email addresses and are hoping to keep in touch!

The ferry ride home made me a little seasick, but we did manage to snap some photos. Elba was simply beautiful. I would definitely go back, but next time, I’d rent a car and go explore some of the 100+ beaches on the island. We were kind of trapped at our little hotel, which was fine for our purposes, but next time I’ll stay longer and see more of the island.

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By the time we got home, we were all totally wiped out and we went to bed early.

Sky and I took Eliana to school the next day, and then headed to the Bargello museum. The exhibits there were mostly not my style, but the building itself was quite spectacular. I also loved a video they showed about how they restored a particular sculpture. Fascinating!

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We stopped for lunch at a fabulous hidden panini place in the most charming little piazza we have found yet, the Piazza Maggiore.

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It’s hard to feel the charm in this photo, but it really was special.

The panini place had apparently been in some guidebook because there were NO locals there and TONS of American students. Usually I would steer clear of that sort of thing, but we went for it and it was delicious!

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That afternoon, we went home after school for some laundry and rest time, and then out for gelato a little later.

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Our favorite gelato place near our apartment is about a five minute walk. You can see it on the right of this photo with the yellow sign in the window. Across the street is a little park, and across from that is the Arno, with a view to the central part of the city. It’s a great spot.

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Happy girl, Eliana, with the city behind her.

While on Elba Island, I made a list of the things I really want to do before we leave Florence. One of the things on my list was to go inside Santa Croce, a big church in a beautiful piazza. When I was last here, I think I went inside, but I couldn’t remember it at all, so Sky and I walked from Eliana’s school, stopped for coffee, of course, and then went to the church. ¬†The coolest thing about it was that it holds Galileo’s tomb, as well as Michelangelo’s tomb, and another couple of interesting people’s tombs…really neat.

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I will really miss my daily cappuccino.

The piazza in front of Santa Croce is always bustling with tourists, though last night we walked through at dusk and it was much calmer. I notice that I have different reactions to each of the piazza’s we see. The differences are subtle, because basically I just love piazzas. They are brilliant gathering places for communities. Why don’t we have more of them in the States? Eliana likes to say the word “piazza” and then gestures widely with her left arm, and say “that’s a wide open space”.

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Those porticos on the left add so much charm, and the streets on the far side are sweetly diagonal.

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The facade of the church is truly beautiful, and makes for some great photos, too!

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Here is the main cathedral. I thought the roof was really beautiful. There are some smaller rooms off to the sides.

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Sky in front of Galileo’s tomb.

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Michelangelo’s tomb. The bust is of him, and the three statues below represent his different mediums: sculpture, painting, and architecture. On this trip, we have seen his sculpture and his painting…not lucky enough to see his architecture!

There is a museum attached to the church, which we went through briefly. We were both a little museum-ed out. Afterward, Sky sat on the steps to do a little reading, and I went to the leather school that is next to the church. It was really neat to see students working on pieces that they would be selling later on. Several times on this trip I have had the chance to watch artists work in real-time and I love it.

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When I got back outside to find Sky, here’s what I saw:

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Yep, that’s him, with a book and his computer out! Nothing like a little contrast between history and modernity!

After lunch back in Piazza Maggiore at a pizza place, we grabbed Eliana and headed to the Bubbly Gardens, as Eliana likes to say. Of course, I mean the Boboli Gardens!

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These two photos were taken outside the Pitti Palace before going into the Boboli Gardens.

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The gardens were beautiful, and a nice break from the noise of the city. Green, manicured, and definitely with a bit of a “secret fairyland” vibe, we enjoyed just getting lost for a while.

I know I haven’t been posting dinner pictures, but I still take them every night. Boboli Garden day was punctuated with a beautiful pasta. Fresh noodles (we will never go back to the dry, packaged kind!), tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, broccoli, zucchini, kale, white beans, fresh pecorino cheese, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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Sky continues to cook almost every night, and I am so grateful!

Yesterday I took Eliana to school alone, and took myself out to coffee, where I got my very first Italian heart in my cappuccino.

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I took my time heading home and stopped for a few gifts, and met Sky at home. We just had about an hour before we needed to get Eliana, so we stopped for some yummy pizza, and grabbed our girl for an afternoon adventure in Fiesole. Fiesole is a little hill town about fifteen minutes from Florence. We needed to take two buses to get there, and had to be back at a particular time (that part of the story is to come later), so we were on a mission!

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Waiting for the bus.

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Fiesole has a charming central piazza. Off to the right are lovely views of Florence.

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Definitely a hill town! We got great views but had to work for them a little!

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Eliana strikes a pose. This was a very steep staircase!

After a gelato stop, we headed up to a vista point to see a big view of Florence.

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We took the bus back to town, and went to an event put on by Eliana’s preschool here, Canadian Island. It was a marketing event for them to try to get families interested in their English courses, but lots of their current families were there, and we were really happy to meet the parents of some of the kids Ellie has been talking about. ¬†The event was really well done and we had a great time.

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This could be an ad for the school, right?!

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This is one of the teachers reading a book in English.  The artist in the back is drawing the story as it happens, and the pianist provided some background sounds for the story.

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Here’s how Eliana felt about it!

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They had face painting, a huge twister game, trivia, and art supplies for the kids. There’s Ellie on the right in red.

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There’s Sky talking to the father of one of Eliana’s friends.

After the formal program, a number of the teachers got on stage and did some songs.  Some of the kids were on stage, too, and Eliana wanted to join in, so she and Sky went up on stage to participate.  As that fizzled, word got out that Sky could probably lead some kids songs in English on the piano.

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Eliana joined him immediately, and I put down my camera to get video. ¬†My girl sang, with a microphone, to about 50 random people at a cafe in Italy. She sang Puff the Magic Dragon, If I Had a Hammer, and Old McDonald. She belted it out, had some attitude, and even got the audience to participate with clapping (and animal sounds). She has perfect pitch and the personality to carry a crowd. I was in total shock. I mean, she’s not shy, but I had no idea she would take the stage the way she did. Between my half-laughing/half-crying state, I took some great video but, I have no photos to share.

Sky having the microphone was also a nice opportunity to publicly thank the people of Canadian Island who have helped us feel welcome and have provided such a great space for Eliana for these weeks. We are very grateful, and Sky made a sweet announcement acknowledging their efforts.

Today we got an email from the director of the school that said, “Thank you grazie!!!!!! ¬†For giving us a breath of fresh air, and for entertaining us for a while‚Ķ.Eliana is going to be the next Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday‚Ķ.. she was simply amazing!!!!!!!!!!! My compliments.” Proud mama moment.

On our way home, we stopped for a pizza that we brought back to the apartment. It was our first “take out” and it was delicious!

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Even though I was a little anxious to get Eliana home, fed, and in bed (it was late!), I did love walking home at sunset. We have barely been out late enough to see this, and it was gorgeous.

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I thought you’d appreciate the THREE cranes that impeded the view.

Today was mellow… off to school for Eliana, to coffee, and then to the Piazza della Repubblica for some errands and some shopping. I had heard about this cafe that has a wide range of coffees, and that is popular with locals as well as expats, so we decided to try it out.

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Here are Sky and Ellie at our bus stop. We take the C3 to school. Ellie flags down the bus.

Of course, I forgot to take a photo of the front of the cafe. It was called ChiaroScuro and is located at Via del Corso 36R. It was kind of posh. I liked it.

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The cappuccino’s were slightly larger than many of the ones we’ve had here, but they were basically lukewarm. We’ve found that to be true most everywhere. This makes for easy drinking (or gulping) but I think I prefer my coffee a little warmer.

We needed to go to the post office to inquire about shipping some things home, so we handled that as fast as we could, which was not fast. Italian time is ssssslllllooooowwww. I did some window shopping in the area, and passed through the Mercado Nuovo, where the golden boar is located.

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Like the tradition in Rome, the story goes that if you touch the nose of the boar, you’ll return to Italy. Done and done.

Sky and I headed to La Rinascente, the fancy department store, to have lunch on the rooftop. We had heard that there was a great view from up there and wanted to check it out.

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This photo was taken from our table. It was the best table in the whole place, and we had a lovely lunch overlooking the Duomo.

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We had a lazy afternoon at home today, with lots of blog writing, working, cleaning, and hanging out with Eliana. We re-enacted our trip up the Duomo (see photo above of those CRAZY people who did the same walk we did) as a little performance for ourselves, and took bows at the end. We went for a walk near our apartment and I took Eliana into a couple of artisan jewelry shops where she could watch the pieces being made. It was a sweet evening.

With one week to go, our emotions are kind of all over the place. This final week is going to be a little weird, too, because there is a massive bike race going on in the city. Many streets will be closed, creating traffic problems, bus issues, and schedule changes for everyone. We don’t know what to expect but the locals have told us to be prepared for anything. We assume this will mean walking to school, which is kind of long prospect, and much less flexibility in terms of transportation. Our plan is to enjoy it, make the most of it, and to keep expectations low.

This time next week, we will be in Orvieto overnight on our way to Rome, and then off to France. I can’t quite believe we are in the wrap-up phase and I want to be mindful not to check out early, as they say.

Things I will miss about Italy: the incredibly special family time. The coffee. Gelato. Walking everywhere. Cobblestone streets. Piazzas.

Things I will not miss about Italy: Construction everywhere, all day. Dog poop on the sidewalk. Mosquitoes.

These are incomplete lists, especially the first one.

I am not sure when the next blog post will come… perhaps on Thursday before we leave, but perhaps not until we are in France. We’ll see!

And now, for some links!

This piece is about having patience with other people’s kids, basically. (From themattwalshblog)

“A kid going berserk at a grocery store doesn‚Äôt indicate the quality of his parents, anymore than a guy getting pneumonia after he spends six hours naked in the snow indicates the quality of his doctor.”

Pet peeve: people who don’t have kids in tow glaring at me when I am in public with Eliana. It doesn’t happen often, because most of the time, Ellie and I are having a great time together! But when it does…grrrrrrrr. Have a little compassion, folks.

This is a photo collection of post-pregnancy bodies. ¬†It’s beautiful! (From Huffington Post)

“By showcasing moms, Jackson hopes to shine a light on cultural interpretations of female beauty and change women’s expectations for themselves and those around them.”

I have heard so many mothers bemoaning the loss of their pre-pregnancy body. Even if they have lost every pound they gained while growing their little people, hips might be wider, feet haven’t gone back to their smaller size, breasts are different… I love this project for the celebration it inspires.

This is a short article written by a previous colleague of mine about things teachers want parents to know. (From Huffington Post)

“You entrust us with your children for the school year and we are honored. But the relationship is not one-way.”

While I have not seen Kyle Redford (the author) for several years, I think of her frequently as a wonderful role model. Her professionalism, compassion, and thoughtfulness have often been guideposts for me. This short piece is a great set of reminders for parents as the year is still in it’s infancy.

This is a series of photos of ballet dancers in every day situations. (From leenks.com)

As always, I am so grateful for your emails and comments on the blog. Knowing that you are out there reading, and hearing your thoughts, is so meaningful to me.

Many blessings,

Dana

Italy- Week 3

13 Sep

Dear Friends,

I am homesick. ¬†I have been gone a month, and it is feeling like long enough. ¬†I’m a little grouchy, a little emotional, and a little tired.

But! I’m in Italy! For another two weeks! And then I’m going to other wonderful places! This is the trip of a lifetime! Every moment is amazing!

Week three was mellow, at least a lot more mellow than weeks 1 and 2.  There was a day Ellie had a little stomach bug so I went out for coffee and a little wandering while Sky read next to our Italian-cartoon-watching-sort-of-sick-but-not-that-sick-sweetheart-of-a-girl.

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Walking around alone is its own kind of magic or misery, depending on the day and the mood. Many days, the solo walk has been glorious and reviving, but days this week alone have sometimes been kind of lonely. Lonely sometimes feels like a healthy feeling, like I am growing, expanding my ability to be with myself. I appreciate those times all the more when I have lonely times that just feel, well, lonely.

There was the day we did absolutely nothing until after 2pm when we decided to head to “Fake Beach”; a spot on the Arno where Italians sunbathe and run into a chilly shower when they get too warm.

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Those rain clouds did, in fact, let loose on us!

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Yes, that’s Eliana, heading back toward us after taking her fourth shower of the afternoon.

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Eliana loved being independent enough to go to the shower on her own. ¬†“Ima, I’m gonna run to the shower, wanna come with me?” A quick “no, but you go ahead” was met with an “ok!” and her strong, fast little body running away from me. ¬†The afternoon was lazy and sweet. ¬†Sky brought his guitar and it competed with the horrible pop being played over loudspeakers. ¬†Cornhole was played nearby, and when the rain started, we didn’t rush to leave.

The week brought some routine after a month of no routine at all, as Ellie went to school every day. She is a total champ and her perspective continues to impress me. One day I asked her if the other kids played with her, and she said “not really”. I asked how she felt about that, and she said “sometimes I’m sad but mostly I’m happy all the time”. ¬†I am so thrilled by her positive attitude about everything. I can probably count on one hand the number of times she has said “I don’t want to do that”. ¬†She is up for anything and loves everything we do. She wakes up in a good mood, and is cranky only when tired or hungry. ¬†She is teaching me a lot about my own limitations in areas she is strong. I’m one to work to prevent problems but she doesn’t see problems at all, only adventures. I’m one to wake up quietly and slowly; she wants to hug me and tell me “I love you all the time”. She is definitely a glass-half-full person, and it is a joy to be around. What a teacher she is for me.

Sky and I went out to our very first restaurant in Italy early in the week when Ellie was at school. It was a sweet spot we found while wandering around. The food was delicious and we were happy as clams!

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Here’s the place! ¬†I know it’s hard to see, but there is a handwritten menu on the window.

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This was a wild mushroom risotto. Yum. It was rich and wonderful.

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This was a pesto made from arugula.  The pasta was really al dente!

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Happy Sky!

Another day we dropped Eliana at school, and then stopped for coffee nearby.

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There’s Ellie in her classroom at the back with her teacher.¬†

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This just doesn’t get old.

We needed to deal with some some logistics with a bus pass, so headed¬†to the main bus/train station. It was a classic Italian experience of long lines, confusing conversations, and a bit of a “who’s on first” type scene. The bus station no longer has any bus maps, they tell us to go to the post office. ¬†The post office doesn’t have them. Go to the tourist bureau. The tourist bureau tells us they aren’t printing them any more. “Finito”. So, we better hold onto the one we got! (Advice to travelers: get a few maps when you find them. Apparently bus companies don’t feel the need to re-print maps. Who knows who else will decide to stop printing maps!)

We split up and I went exploring by the San Lorenzo market and made my way alllllllll the way across Florence by foot. ¬†Sky went to a cafe by bus. (Just sayin’!) This was a good alone-time; I loved exploring on my own and found all kinds of little nooks and crannies. We met up around lunchtime at our favorite cafe, Le Murate.

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I found that the San Lorenzo market was just too hectic for my taste.  These less crowded rows of shoes were more up my alley but I resisted!

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This is the San Lorenzo church. I am continually in awe of the layered architecture in this city. Move just an inch here or there and the view takes on way more dimension.

After getting Ellie from school, we rested at home a while and then took a late afternoon walk. A quick gelato-stop and a little out-of-the-way exploring lead us to this beautiful view.

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That’s Ellie with her Hello, Kitty facepaint that she did at school.

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Wednesday I was not feeling well, so Sky took Eliana to school while I rested for most of the morning. In the afternoon, the three of us set out for the Uffizi Galleries. Yes, we brought Eliana, and she ROCKED IT.

While we were waiting for our appointed time, we checked out the incredible artists in the Piazza outside. Eliana continues to be entranced by the art.

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Visitors aren’t allowed to take photos in the galleries, so I can’t show you Botticelli’s paintings or anything, but we really had a great time. Eliana liked telling us about the paintings. ¬†We would ask her, “tell me what you see in this one,” and she would respond with incredible detail. ¬†Some of her answers will stay with me. ¬†For example, a woman in a chair praying was translated to Eliana’s brain as “she is trying to do ballet sitting down”. ¬†And, two different paintings (one a beautiful Goya) were described as “girls wearing my two wedding dresses”, one that will go “underneath” and one “on top”, meaning apparently Eliana would like to wear layers. ¬†We’ll see. ¬†I told her today that I still have my wedding dress and she could wear it if she gets married and wants to use my dress, and she said “I am going to wear my Hello, Kitty dress, then the one from the museum, and then the other one from the museum on top. No thanks, Ima.” I love a girl who knows what she wants!

There were some gorgeous views from the back of the gallery and from the rooftop.

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You can practically see our apartment in this shot; it’s basically behind the yellow building just upstream of the red building.

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We swapped drop off duties another day and Sky slept in while I took Ellie to school and then headed to the Salvatore Ferragama shoe museum. ¬†When I got there, the lady at the desk reminded me that if I came back that night, admission would be free as part of “Vogue’s Fashion Night Out”. ¬†More on that below! I went!

So once my plans were thwarted, I headed home to meet Sky. It was a pretty long walk, but it was another good alone-time and I enjoyed walking slowly, stopping in random churches and shops, and getting just lost enough to feel like I’m wasn’t on a commute but rather on an adventure.

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I took myself out for a fancy cappucino at Roberto Cavalli’s cafe. It actually wasn’t any fancier than any other cappucino, but people in there were SO well dressed it was a little intimidating. ¬†(Note to self: when hanging out around designer stores, consider wearing something other than tennis shoes.)

I passed by all the fancy stores on Via Tornabuoni.

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It’s basically like Rodeo Drive, but cooler, because it’s Italy. ¬†No offense, LA.

My walk home took me across the Ponte Trinita and through the Santo Spirito neighborhood before getting home to Sky. We went out for a nice lunch together, and then got Ellie from school.

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That afternoon we went to the crystal exhibit at the Museo Zoologico, the same place we saw the wax displays. ¬†The crystal exhibit is temporary and it was truly fabulous. ¬†I almost didn’t go, feeling a little burnt out and knowing I was headed out again at night, but I am so glad I joined Sky and Eliana for this museum.

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This was the first room of crystals. I am not even a crystal person but an audible “OMG” might have escaped from my lips a few times. I know the picture is a little hard to see; I just wanted to get a snapshot of the pure volume of the collection. The colors were exquisite!

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Ellie has come home from school with facepaint the last three days.  

In the middle of the exhibit, there was a short video teaching about the excavation of the stones, and it had a lovely soundtrack.  Eliana Ballerina made an appearance, and we got quite a fantastic performance right there in the museum.  IMG_4012

Yes, we got video. She is truly a beautiful, creative dancer.

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Some examples of the amazing stones.

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Here are Sky and Ellie being totally thrilled by modeling in front of Galileo.

That night was “Vogue’s Fashion Night Out”. ¬†Wondering what it is? Basically, the fancy stores in Florence are all open late, there are a ton of free drinks and aperitif type foods around, beautiful people are all over wearing fancy outfits and lots of men wearing no socks, and the streets are crowded! Totally NOT my scene, but I didn’t see how I could miss it. I hadn’t been out at night at all here, so I was looking forward to seeing what the scene was like. Sky, on the other hand, has gone out a few times on the weekends, and¬†was even able to squeeze in a performance at an open mic one night this week. He had a great time playing a few of his originals and meeting a bunch of people from around the world!

I put on my fanciest sundress, pretended like I knew something about doing my hair, and off I went.

The walk, as I suspected, was breathtaking.

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As soon as I walked over the bridge, mayhem ensued.

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There were these bags with lights lining the sidewalks. ¬†Very cool, but the year was wrong! It’s 2013, right?

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My first stop was the Ferragamo shop, where I was served a delicious piece of dark chocolate and a fancy beverage for sipping while browsing. After oogling the amazing shoes in the store, I headed downstairs to the shoe museum. I snapped this photo before being reprimanded. ¬†The museum is really well done, and isn’t only about shoes! Right now there is an exhibit about fairy tales. The whole thing has a very specific, sort of eerie vibe. ¬†I enjoyed it. After the museum, I went back outside where people were continuing to pour into the streets.

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This was a float and the people were on a carriage being transported by horses.

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There was a section of grass and bushes put out in front of one store, with couches, a bar, and cool tables.  I am not sure if it was private or what, but it was neat and everyone there looked very important. I steered clear.

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Lots and lots of people swarming in front of the beautiful Florence buildings.

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This shop had a magic show going on.  I had a lovely glass of champagne.

After about two hours, I headed home.  It was a good night.

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Today was special, because it was Sky’s birthday! The morning began with a family trip to take Eliana to school. ¬†We almost missed our bus, which wouldn’t have been a big deal, as they come every ten minutes or so, but it was fun to run and jump onto it!

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We go in a secret back door for older kids.

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Eliana’s attitude continues to be fantastic and positive. ¬†She skipped to school today from the bus stop, and didn’t hesitate when it was time to say goodbye. When we picked her up, her teacher told us that there were a lot of crying kids earlier in the day, and she put her head in her hands, shook her head, looked at Eliana, and said, “what are we going to do with all these crying babies?” and Ellie smiled, put her head in her hands, shook her head, and said, “I don’t know!” It was so easy to picture, and I am so glad that Eliana is making the most of being a little older than the other kids by being a great helper (and commiserator) with her teacher. Tanya (the teacher) said that Eliana has been doing some experimenting with Italian, which we were glad to hear! It is still gibberish, but I love that she is trying! Tanya also told us that she is one “turned on” little girl! I think I was glowing.

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I am so proud of my sweet, funny, affectionate, smart girl. She connects so easily and is able to let other people into her heart. 

After getting Ellie to school, we almost missed our bus AGAIN, but hopped on, and then we dealt with some money stuff (YUCK), got cappucino (YAY), and then went to the Museo Galileo, which is a beautiful small museum next to the Uffizi.  Sky the science nerd was in heaven. He thinks I just randomly heard of this place and mentioned it yesterday when we were talking about what to do for his birthday. But, being the researcher I am, I learned about it a while ago and knew it would be a perfect birthday museum. I held onto my little secret until this very second!

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This glass display is of thermometers from the 1600’s and 1700’s.

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I was, yet again, impressed by a museum in Florence. The displays were truly educational and there was quite a “wow” factor. ¬†Plus, the place was spotlessly clean, the exhibits were in great shape, there were free lockers, nice bathrooms, plenty of places to sit, and a manageable gift shop. ¬†I think Sky could have stayed all day, but we were off to a birthday lunch!

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Salad, lasagna, and bruschetta. It was great.

On our way back to pick up Eliana, we ran to catch a bus for the third time! We decided that it was a “two-coffee-day” so stopped at a favorite spot near Ellie’s school. ¬†Sky got a cappucino but I wanted something cold, so I got a decaf (shame on me) iced shaken blended thing. ¬†Of course it came in a martini glass!

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We got Eliana and headed home for some chores, but, there was gelato to be had! It IS a birthday, after all.  Not that it matters-we would have gotten it anyway.

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We sang a rousing rendition of happy birthday, and headed home sufficiently full to have us not hungry for dinner.

Tomorrow, we are headed to Elba Island for a couple of days.  Elba is the second largest of the several islands off the coast, and we are excited to have a little beach time. Eliana can proudly tell you that it will take a bus, two trains, a ferry, and a taxi to get there.

Once we return, Eliana will head back to school and Sky and I have a list going of all the things we still want to do while in Florence. ¬†It’s funny to think that we figured five weeks would be plenty of time! In some ways, it is, but in other ways we are just beginning to find our way here.

Sorry to only have two links for you this week, but if you are looking to be inspired, check out this post about a 4-year-old’s contribution to her mom’s very beautiful sketching. (From Huffington Post)

“I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman. It was beautiful, it was carefree, and as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created.”

Eliana’s love of art is something I want to encourage, and I think it’s beautiful how this mother allowed her child to join with her own artistic endeavors.

This article about Will and Kate accepting a special gift for their baby George is sweet. (From Huffington Post)

I so appreciate that the royal couple are not so high and mighty that they can’t make an exception once in a while.

For those of you observing Yom Kippur, I wish you a meaningful fast. I got turned onto a great little website this year where it sent me a reflection question every day for the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Next year they will send me my answers. The questions were things like “how do you want to be different at this time next year?” and “what was a significant event that occurred this past year and how did it affect you?” I enjoyed taking a bit of time each day to think about the questions and I think it will be fun to see my answers again next year.

We miss you all and thank you for your continued love and support.

Blessings,

Dana

Italy- Week 2

7 Sep IMG_3766

Dear Friends,

We’ve now been in Italy for exactly two weeks, and it is starting to feel like we’ve settled in. ¬†Our favorite food market has been established, we made a new friend at a park nearby, we’ve done two day trips out of town, and, perhaps most exciting, Eliana started preschool here! The longer stay is definitely showing its benefits. We are relaxed but not at all bored, and we continue to learn more about ourselves, each other, and our lives back home by being so many miles away. Sky said today, “These are the most special days of my life”, and I couldn’t agree more. We are so grateful we are here, so grateful for each other, and so grateful to all of our friends and families for your support and encouragement.

Late last week we decided to experiment with the bus system and head to Parco Delle Cascine, a big, beautiful park on the north side of the city.  Of course, first we headed out to coffee!  Our apartment is in a great part of town, about a ten-minute walk from Piazza Santo Spirito. We happened upon this place on our way to the Santo Spirito market.

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Market shopping followed our coffee drinking. Our neighborhood market is little, but we got some yummy cucumbers and other assorted things for dinner. It’s definitely a locals scene, making us feel especially cool.

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This is the beautiful plaza with the Santo Spirito church.

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The market stalls are around the piazza, allowing for mellow hanging out by the fountain.

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After returning home and gathering our things, we set out for the bus. It took me about two hours to navigate the bus website and make a plan, only to find out once we were at the stop that I had done something incorrectly. ¬†So, we improvised and found our way. It takes some focused energy in these moments for me to stay calm, even though it’s silly to be upset! I was frustrated that I had spent so much time planning and it was seemingly for naught. ¬†I stubbornly insisted I was right, when, of course, I was wrong. ¬†But, in the end, we got where we wanted to go. Lesson: keep my sense of humor. The outcome was the same whether I was cheerful or not. More pleasant for everyone (including myself!) if I’m cheerful. I recovered quickly and we had fun finding our way.

Our destination was Le Pavoniere, a beautiful outdoor pool.

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The pool was wonderfully refreshing and Eliana is getting more confident in the water, which is fun. We stayed a couple of hours and then noticed the rain clouds forming, so we made our way home. We did get caught in a downpour but it was all just part of the adventure!

We also had a fun day exploring the Central Market. On our way, Eliana was entranced by the artists on the Ponte Vecchio. One painter even let her do a few strokes on a piece she was working on.

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Our walk took us past the Piazza Repubblica, where Eliana became concerned about getting a balloon. She asked and asked and asked, and then became distracted by some dancers on the street. Sky offered that instead of buying a balloon, she could watch the dancers, and give them a coin. This was a perfectly acceptable idea to her, so she stopped asking about the balloon, watched the street dancers for a solid 10 minutes, and happily dropped a coin in their bucket. She amazes me.

The walk also took us through the Piazza del Duomo, and I snapped these cool photos.

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We passed through the San Lorenzo market, and then landed at the Central Market where we did some food shopping. The variety there was as incredible as everyone says!

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On our way back, we stopped for coffee and another carousel ride in Piazza Repubblica, which made all of us happy. The place we got coffee, called Paszkowski, is quite famous and apparently lots of important writing has taken place there by well-known authors. Our tradition is that Sky and I get our coffee, and Eliana gets a small pastry. At this place, they had adorable little tea cookies so we got a few to share.

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The next day, we took it slow in the morning, and then Eliana and I went for a walk around Santo Spirito neighborhood for some girl time. I was aching for hand-holding and exploring with her, and I knew she would be a great companion while I window shopped a little. She was very interested in posing for photos, which was fun, and we met a clothing designer in her shop named Maria. Eliana watched her work on making a dress for a while, and they became friends. It is really cool to see Eliana exposed to all of these different things as we travel, and to see what captures her interest.

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We’ve been back twice to see Maria! Ellie was really interested in introducing her to Sky, so we made a special trip for that.

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Another highlight from the week was a massive walk we took on Saturday. We set out for Piazza Michaelangelo, a very popular tourist spot high above the city to take photos. Of course, we had to do the same.

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The view from the top!

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It would have been easy to just go home after that, but I had done some sleuthing and learned about an additional stop at San Miniato monastery, which required just another five minutes or so of uphill walking. This place was breathtaking to me- I am not sure why- a few less tourists, a little quieter, even more stunning views. I took some deep breaths up there, felt my shoulders drop a little, and had a couple of minutes to ponder the amazing place I was in, literally and figuratively. This whole trip has been full of moments of incredible gratitude.

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The beautiful monastery

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The view from San Miniato

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My secret source had told me about a roundabout walk home that I was excited about. It was a few miles and a few hours, but well worth it. Twisting, residential, tree-lined streets, the quiet and fresh air…it was just what I wanted.

The last leg of the walk home took us through Porto Romano, past a secret entrance to the Boboli Gardens, and down Via Romana, a main drag through a residential neighborhood that we hadn’t seen yet. I am learning that as much as I love things to be routine and familiar, I feel especially alive when exploring new spots. The feeling of never knowing what is coming next keeps me on my toes, and in a place like Florence, what is coming is almost always worth checking out.

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Porto Romano. To the right is the secret Boboli Garden entrance.  To the left is the place we got gelato that day.

On Monday, we ventured by bus to visit the preschool for Eliana. We spent about 90 minutes there, talking with the director and the teachers, and having a tour. We got really excited for Ellie to have time with kids, and to learn some Italian. It seems like the best of all possible situations. The kids are all Italian, but the place is run by Canadians and the teachers are native English speakers. Her teacher, Tanya, told us that she is excited to be able to have a real conversation in English with a student! We think it will be cool for Ellie to be able to talk with her teachers in English when needed, but to learn Italian by being with the kids.

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The morning ride over Ponte alle Grazie from the bus window. Pay no attention to the massive crane. There is construction going on all over this city!

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Ellie really loves all the public pay phones around town. Every time she sees one, she says “Can I do that?!” and goes to talk to her pretend Italian friends on the phone. This one was on the way to check out the school. I have about fifteen photos of her like this all around town.

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I sort of snuck this photo of the school entry on the day we visited. Through the doorway under the sun, there is a staircase that leads to Eliana’s classroom. Behind the red curtain is a great train table and a bunch of puppets for puppet shows It’s a lovely space.

After our visit, we headed to the market at Sant Ambrogio to stock up.

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The walk home took us past Santa Croce. I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with photography.

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Dinner. Sky continues to be the master chef. ¬†I have made a tradition of photographing every dinner, and Eliana is now into it, too. She always wants to take the “first picture”. I won’t bore you with my daily photos of coffee and dinner but here’s a sample!

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Tuesday was a combination of errands, house issues, and a museum trip.  I barely slept on Monday night for some reason, so I was a little out of it. The highlight of the day was our trip to the Museo di Storia Naturale (the Natural History Museum).  This is a very worthwhile stop, especially if you have kids traveling in Italy!

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Here are Sky and Ellie in front of a statue of Evangelista Torricelli, who invented the barometer. Sky had a little science-nerd moment and Eliana and I were appropriately impressed.  Then we moved on.  :)  

The museum’s collection was divided into two sections. The first part was an incredible zoological display of a huge variety of animals, from the smallest (literally), to the largest. There were examples of huge beetles, sea urchins, flies, all kinds of things… and then… there was room after room of taxidermy. We saw alligators, birds, amphibians, lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my), giraffes, gazelles. It went on and on. The other section was about fifty wax renderings of the human body, inside out. They were gory and gorgeous. Eliana had a million questions and we took our time. ¬†I took some photos of that section but won’t make you see them.

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We are just monkeys, really.  

That afternoon, we had the best gelato we’ve had yet at a little place called Gelateria della Passera. I had vanilla with specks of real mint. I know some of you are tracking our gelato adventures; ¬†I definitely recommend this place!

By Wednesday, we were ready to do some exploring farther afield, and off to Siena we went. I had been to Siena many years ago, but Sky had not been before. It was really fun to find our way around. This time, my bus planning was seamless and Sky’s help was key!

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Eliana loved the bus ride, and kept herself busy looking out the window, coloring, and listening to stories on her ipod. (Shout out to Renee, again. The books you lent us are amazing and we are so grateful!)

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The ride took a little over an hour, and afforded some lovely views of the country hills, which I soaked up, when I wasn’t feeling carsick.

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I love this photo. First of all, it’s decent of all three of us. Secondly, HI TOURISTS! Note my hat, my funny outfit, my cross-body purse, the guidebook in my hand, and the random dude behind us. ¬†This a church in Siena. ¬†Don’t ask me anything about it. I can’t remember what it was called, and we didn’t ¬†go inside. But we got a photo, because we are good tourists like that!

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Sky wanted a photo of him and Eliana pointing toward “San Francesco”. There you go, honey!

The big piazza in Siena is quite famous, of course. There is that magical moment when you ease through the narrow alley into the broad open space. It was fun to imagine the horse races there that took place just a few weeks ago. Since it was really, really hot, we did what all the other tourists were doing, and found a shady slice of space to rest for a little while.

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The heat meant lots of things to different people but to us, it meant gelato.

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Ellie’s sugar high inspired quite a dance performance in the alleyway. I could make a pretty incredible youtube channel with her dancing all over Italy.

Our time in Siena was relaxed and a nice change from Florence. We were tired by the end of the day, and I felt like it would have been fun to spend the night there so that we could explore the nooks and crannies more. I think I’m getting into the Italian slower pace, and it feels so good. Life is fast. I literally feel like I am running most days when I’m home, and I don’t like it. This has been an issue for me for a long time, but especially since Eliana was born. I think it’s just the nature of life with a young child- there are places to be and things to do, and the added complication of another human who also has needs, and who needs me to take care of those needs. ¬†I find that the extra ten minutes I build in are inevitably eaten up by Eliana needing different shoes, or an extra potty stop before leaving, or whatever. And, if I don’t build in the extra time, frustration sets in because we are rushing. Rush rush rush. I am rushing a lot.

I love arriving five minutes early, I love heading toward bed with an hour to spare so I can leisurely go through my bedtime routine, read, and ease into sleep. I love getting up with enough time to get where I’m going. I love days that feel long even though I’m getting more sleep. I love not worrying so much about the routine, because I know the next day has built in flexibility. Granted, I am currently on vacation, and that not-so-small fact makes it pretty easy to slow down. But, I really want to remember this pace once I’m back home. It feels more sane and way more natural to me.

When you’re on a roll, you may as well keep rolling… so the next day we headed to Arezzo. ¬†Arezzo was a train trip instead of the bus, and Eliana listened to her ipod stories and colored the whole way while Sky and I napped. I was surprised that I could doze off, but I did!

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We really didn’t know much about Arezzo before we went. ¬†I wanted to do a day trip to somewhere I hadn’t been, somewhere reasonably close (it was about an hour by train), somewhere we could walk everywhere, and somewhere with a little charm. I spent a long time doing internet research and came across an article written about Arezzo that led me to believe it would fit the bill, and it did! ¬†After exiting the train station, a short walk took us to a pedestrian shopping street called Corso Italia, which led right to the Piazza Grande, the cathedral, and a pretty park with a small playground.

A word about playgrounds: we’ve learned that playgrounds are not a big part of Italian culture. There are only a few in Florence, and some are downright bad. ¬†Ironically, the two nice ones are super popular. ¬†So, we can’t quite figure it out. ¬†Locals tell us that the kids run through piazzas, and that play structure are not part of the culture, but the good ones are being used like crazy.

On our walk into town, we stopped at a bookstore and a few little jewelry stores. I had read about “Coffee O’Clock” and was excited to check it out. Sky and I have been having cappucinos every day, and we both wanted to experiment with other things. ¬†I had an iced coffee- it was delicious, with a little sweetness, and Sky had a really neat concoction of espresso in a glass made of ice. ¬†Eliana wants me to tell you that she had a croissant.

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We lingered at the cafe for a while, and Eliana did another dance performance, right there in the cafe. ¬†(Oh, they had free wi-fi, comfy chairs, and a nice bathroom, too. Thanks, Coffee O’Clock!)

The meandering led us up a hill, and we stopped for lunch around 2pm. It was the first time we have eaten at a sit-down restaurant since our first day in Italy! It was nice to sit outside, on the piazza, people-watch, and have a yummy salad. It was so good, actually, that we had a big salad as our main dish for the next two nights at dinner. We have been eating fresh vegetables and fruits a lot, but didn’t realize how much we missed just a good green salad.

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I know all these little streets look the same, but in person, they each have their own character. I love the experience of turning a corner and looking up. “Up” reveals all kinds of details that looking straight ahead doesn’t do. A big metaphor lies in there somewhere, but I digress.

Up the hill farther, we found the cathedral, park, and Piazza Grande.

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The Piazza Grande. ¬†This was another classic tourist moment. ¬†We were a little late to get back to the station for our return train, but really wanted to see the Piazza. ¬†I mean, who doesn’t want to see a piazza called Piazza Grande? We rushed there, snapped a photo, and left. ¬†I couldn’t tell you the first thing about this Piazza, except that it was pretty, and it was up yet another hill.

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Eliana waved goodbye to the train and said “Bye, train, I love you! Bye, Arezzo, I love you!”

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There was a secret path that led to a nice spot with a pretty view. ¬†It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but we snapped a selfie anyway!

Friday definitely ranks up there with the most exciting days we have had so far on our trip, as it was Eliana’s first day of preschool in Italy! We were a little nervous that she wouldn’t want to go, because we’ve been together all day every day for nearly a month now, but she surprised us by saying “I’m excited for myself to go to school”. ¬†We talked about the language barrier, and how when she says “do you want to play with me?” to her new friends, they will likely not answer! ¬†She seemed to understand, and wanted to learn how to say “play” in Italian. We’re confident that she’ll be speaking a lot of Italian within a few days.

We got up early for our bus trip.

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We got to school on time, and Ellie happily posed for a first day of school photo.

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Ellie put her things in her cubby (“it’s on the bottom with a caterpillar picture and my name”) and we headed upstairs to the classroom.

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This is Ellie and her teacher, Tanya. ¬†Eliana is simply obsessed with art. ¬†Anytime she has the option to draw or paint, that’s what she wants to do.

When we arrived, there were a lot of crying kids. Tanya explained that the first few days are typically pretty rough, but we knew Eliana would be just fine, and she was. After about 5 minutes and a kiss and a hug, Sky and I were off for our first couple of hours sans child in Florence. I’m not gonna lie: we were excited.

We had found a really cool cafe earlier in the week, and we were anxious to go back. Cappucinos in hand, we settled in for a while.

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We sunk into those big brown chairs for two hours of uninterrupted reading and writing.

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I forgot to snap a photo before I drank my cappucino.  It was delish.

About an hour after drop-off, Sky called the school to be sure Eliana was doing ok. Apparently the director offered to her that she could go to a different class for a while where there weren’t so many kids crying, but Ellie told her, “no, I’m ok”, and went back to her playing. That’s my girl.

The time went quickly, and soon it was time for pick-up.  We celebrated the first day with a panini and a gelato stop, where Eliana made fast friends with Marina and Silvia, the ladies who work at the shop.  We had so much fun chatting with them that we promised to return on Monday.  They fell in love with Eliana and gave her a free gelato!

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And, now today is Saturday, and we were blessed with no construction noise this morning so everyone slept in a little. ¬†Eliana seems to have caught a little tummy bug so we are laying low for now. ¬†I may venture out alone in a bit; we’ll see.

This coming week, Eliana will go to school every morning.  Sky and I plan to use some days for quiet writing and reflection time, and other mornings for adult sightseeing (museums, mostly).  We are also excited to do a lingering lunch somewhere.

If you are looking for some good weekend reading…

This article about how to nap confirms a lot of what I know anecdotally. (From the Wall Street Journal)

“Experts say the ideal time to nap is generally between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Napping later in the day could interfere with nighttime sleep.”

I was a great napper after Eliana was born, and now find it hard to do. But when I do, it’s wonderful. Unfortunately, my nighttime sleep seems to be pretty badly effected, so I try not to do it too often.

This essay by a dad who has a dress-wearing young son is moving and important. (From The Atlantic)

“…at this point, I wouldn’t want him to change. Because, if my son liked boy stuff and dressed like a boy, he wouldn’t be my boy, he‚Äôd be like a stranger.”

I am fascinated by gender typing, gender identity, and gender assumptions. This author’s wife writes a great blog called Raising my Rainbow but we don’t often hear about the dad. This essay is a wonderful peek into his experience with a young son who identifies strongly as a girl.

Back on the sleep theme, here is the song deemed most relaxing ever. (From Apartment Therapy)

The harmonic intervals – or gaps between notes – have been chosen to create a feeling of euphoria and comfort. And there is no repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next.

It is no secret that I am a little bit obsessed with sleep, especially my own. A bad night really messes me up, and I find that I am more frequently having a harder time falling asleep. This song might help!

This is a really beautiful post about the ride of marriage. (From flysoftly.wordpress.com)

“Most of all, we started listening and each moment of listening piled up until we could start climbing right up and out of our hole. We added laughter when we could muster it and that made the climbing feel lighter.”

I feel so blessed to have celebrated ten years of marriage with Sky this summer. We have been friends for 25 years. Our connection is stronger than ever, and we work hard at it every day. The most important lesson I have learned about having a strong marriage is to trust that the other person has your best interests at heart. ¬†If both people believe this and act accordingly, both people end up getting what they need. If either person (or both) doubt this, the relationship easily becomes a toxic power struggle to be sure that one’s own needs are being met.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy.

There are plenty of days when I’m convinced Sky only cares about himself and making sure he gets what he needs. This, in turn, makes me uber-self-concerned and I get all grouchy. ¬†This sometimes looks like this:

Setting: Our kitchen, 5pm

Sky: Hey, hon, I think I’ll go for a quick bike ride.

Dana (to herself): Once again, the dude just assumes I’m on top of the dinner plans. I actually have some reading I want to do but now I have to figure out dinner while Sky goes on his awesome ride. He didn’t even ask if I needed help.

Dana (aloud, not nicely): Fine.

Sky (to himself): I’m thinking there was something funky in her tone, but I’m not going to make assumptions here.

Sky (aloud): You ok?

Dana (more kindly but still not kind): I’m fine. Go take a bike ride. ¬†I’ll start dinner.

Sky: Oh, ok.  But I was thinking we could just have leftovers or go out.  I want you to have time to chill for a while.

Dana (to herself): Geez, I guess I was wrong to assume that he wasn’t thinking about dinner.

Dana (aloud): That sounds great, sweetie. ¬†Have a good ride! ¬†I hope it’s fun! ¬†I’m going to read for a few minutes.

Sky: Oh, good! I was hoping you’d do something for yourself. ¬†See you soon.

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Honestly, something like this happens ALL.THE.TIME in our house. If I had just given Sky the benefit of the doubt, we could have avoided the tense moment. Now, it was just a moment, and it wasn’t a big deal, but I think those little things add up over the course of a day, a week, a marriage. If I had just trusted Sky, I wouldn’t have gone to that yucky place in my head and wouldn’t have used a nasty voice that makes him feel bad. Furthermore, later that evening, Sky would likely call me out on my tone, which would require time out of our evening, plus I’d need to apologize, and apologizing is not always easy for me to do. ¬†It’s actually really easy with other people, but for some reason, I get stubborn with Sky. (Note to self: explore this in a future blog post).

So, that’s it for now. ¬†I am excited for a quiet evening at “home” in Italy.

Thanks for your comments and emails after my last post; I love hearing from you!

Blessings,

Dana

Sweden and Italy- we are here!

30 Aug

Dear Friends,

The problem with falling behind on blogging is that it is nearly impossible to catch up.  So, I won’t share too many details, as they are swimming in my gelato-coated brain anyway, but instead focus on a few highlights.  (Who really wants to hear about how I almost fainted somewhere over the Atlantic, anyway?)

For those of you who don’t know, we left our cozy existence in Santa Rosa in mid-August for an eight-week European adventure.  The stars aligned so that we were able to rent our house in Santa Rosa, Sky is working remotely, things worked out smoothly with Eliana’s preschool, and we took the plunge.  Thank you to the MANY of you who helped make this possible, with a special shout out to Renee.ūüôā

Let me say upfront that this whole trip is waaaay out of my comfort zone.  For a long time, Sky and I have talked about wanting to live overseas for a while, but circumstances were never right and that was secretly ok with me.  I like my creature comforts, I like knowing what to expect, I don’t sleep as well as I used to, I don’t like to fly, and I am convinced that Eliana needs x,y,z very specifically.  I’m plagued with questions about how we would manage our house, afford it (!!!!!), deal with the logistics around our bills, what if we got a jury summons? But, life practically handed us this opportunity, and we jumped on it. It would have been easy to come up with reasons not to do it (see my above Very Good Reasons) but I would have felt like the world’s biggest idiot, and I was already not in my best shape from a confidence perspective, so rather than beat my soul to a pulp, I said “yes” and immediately felt lighter. So… I am learning that saying “yes” is sometimes really the way to go.  Other times, saying “no” is the key to that “light” feeling. I guess the lesson is in learning which is which. Not rocket science, but important nonetheless.

While our original thought was to be gone for a year, or perhaps six months, it became clear quickly that a shorter trip was much more realistic given that we wanted to leave relatively soon; we wanted to be away in the fall and back by wintertime.  We spent about three weeks focused on researching house swaps in Barcelona, thinking that we wanted to be in Spain and knowing that we would save all kinds of money by doing a swap, but the right thing didn’t appear. Simultaneously, it became clear that spending the bulk of the trip in Italy was much more of the “bucket list” variety.  We started looking into renting an apartment here, and searching for a renter for our house in Santa Rosa. As our plans unfolded, things just fell into place. Sky would call this “synchronicity”. (Shameless plug: check out Sky’s work at http://www.skynelson.com.  It is really interesting stuff, and worth learning about!). I call it “things just fell into place”, but you get my point.

We have been gone about 2.5 weeks now.  It feels like longer in some ways, and in other ways, it feels like we just got here.

Our itinerary began with an overnight in Helsingor, Denmark, followed by nine nights in Sweden.  We are now renting an apartment in Florence, Italy for five weeks (we have been here just a week), and then we will head to the south of France for four days to explore and see some dear family friends.  Our trip will end with one more night in Sweden and then three nights in Copenhagen before flying home in early October. Whew. We are beyond grateful for the chance to do this, and will blog more regularly until we come home! Or, at least as long as we are in Italy. I promise this will be the longest post- playing catch up equals lots of words.

Suitcase of our stuff

This is what two months away looks like, after we took out as much as we could imagine. Two big suitcases, one little one, one big backpack, one little one, and a stroller. Oh, and a computer bag with two computers, an i-pad, an i-pod, and two cellphones.  

Our trip from SFO to Copenhagen through Chicago was smooth as can be (minus the near-fainting episode I referenced earlier) and I was especially impressed with Eliana, who was much more than just a trooper.  She played, read, slept (!) and otherwise was the best traveler of the three of us. We landed mid-day in Copenhagen, got our car, and spent a fabulous 24 hours in Helsingor, Denmark. Our hotel was peaceful and the perfect spot to catch up on some rest. We had an incredible dinner of chilled salmon, bread, cucumber, and a light cream cheese that we made into sandwiches. I literally could not keep my eyes open after about 6pm local time, so by 6:45, all three of us were in bed.

D sleeping on table

Family at hotel

Enjoying coffee on the grounds of the hotel. The view across the water to Sweden was exquisite!

The following day, we set out to see Elsinore Castle. We felt like cheesy tourists, but as is often true on the first day of a big trip, we really loved doing the sightseeing thing!

Elsinore

Ballet at Elsinor

I mean, it’s not really a castle without some dancing princesses, right?

Ellie door at Elsinor Sky Elsinore

After the castle, we thought we’d head toward the ferry to get to Sweden, but I was really taken with the beautiful streets of the town of Helsingor as we drove toward the ferry terminal. We found a spot to park, and did some wandering. What a charming, lovely place! We were all in good spirits, enjoyed window shopping, and had the first of many ice cream cones. While walking in Helsingor, I had the distinct, unmistakable feeling of JOY, the deep kind, the kind that almost takes your breath away. Suddenly, it seemed clear that this trip was exactly what I needed and was coming at the exact right moment in my life. I even said aloud to Sky, “I am so happy right now”, and I really, really meant it. Being outside my comfort zone, challenging my assumptions, figuring things out together as a family, going on a big adventure, seeing a part of the world I’d never seen- it was all so “not me” and so who I wanted to become.  Ah.  I felt the deepest breath I had taken for a few months.
Helsingor street

E ice cream

Helsingor square

Helsingor house

Soon, it was time to board the ferry to Sweden. We drove our car onto the boat, which was a first for all of us, and Ellie thought it was the coolest thing ever. The ride was just under an hour, and then we drove north.  We spent eight days in the small town of Hov, where Sky’s father’s family is from. It is just a dot on the map on the west coast, near the beach. The house we stayed in has belonged to Sky’s family for generations and it was special being there with Axel (Sky’s dad), Mara (Sky’s step-mom), Sara (Sky’s sister), and Randall (Sara’s husband). It is a little house and the ceilings are less than 6 feet high in some places, but it was a wonderful adventure, to be sure! Sky, Eliana and I shared a bedroom that had bunkbeds and a couch. Ellie slept on the couch, I was on the bottom bunk, and Sky was on the top. I really enjoyed sharing a room as a family and we all slept well. I had been very worried about jet lag but we took things slow and adjusted over the course of several days.  We loved seeing Eliana engaged with her grandparents, aunt, and uncle for sustained time, playing games, doing art, feeding the chickens, and snuggling. Playing “Dictionary” with a group of people who are that smart and that funny made for some great nights, and I also tore through two novels and wrote in my journal every.single.day. Yay me.

3 generations

Here are Sky, Axel, and Eliana in front of the house.  

Our days in Sweden were divided between time in cafes (great coffee in Sweden!), exploring towns like Bastad, LaHolm, and Angelholm, checking out nearby places like Hov’s Hallar and the local cemetery, and spending really wonderful time with Sky’s Swedish family, including second cousins, cousins once- and -twice removed, great-aunts, and the like. Turns out that many people in the nearby towns are all related somehow!  We also celebrated my birthday, which was fun.

Dana hov's hallar

Hov’s Hallar is a beautiful coastal spot with amazing rock formations.  Once we were there while some wild sheep grazed nearby. Another day we brought a picnic lunch and stared at the water.

Calle and Ellie

Here’s Sky’s cousin Calle with Eliana.   

Cousin Johann

This is Sky’s cousin Johan.  We had a lovely dinner with his family (wife and two young kids) and Sky’s other cousins Calle and Boell.

Marianne and us

Marianne is cousin Calle’s mother, making her Sky’s great-great-aunt or aunt-second-removed or something like that.  We had a sweet visit with her.

Sonia

Sonia is 94 years old and lived in the Hov house.  She is the mother of some other cousins, making her Sky’s great-great-great aunt twice removed or whatever.  You get the idea.  One night, we were invited to a wonderful BBQ and she was there, along with some other family we’d not seen yet on the trip.

Family Bastad beach

Here we are on the beach of Bastad.  It was chilly but really beautiful!

It was amazing to see Eliana connect with her family in this meaningful place.

Ladies golf

Cousin Josephine, Aunt Sara, Ellie, Cousin Boell, and Grandma Mara.  (We went mini-golfing- fun!)

E and Axel painting

Ellie and Grandpa Axel painting.

Randall and E at art gallery

Ellie and uncle Randall drawing together.

Josephine, Nicholas, Eliana

Ellie with cousin Josephine and her partner Nicholas.

Sara, Mara, Ellie

Eliana, Aunt Sara, Grandma Mara at a shoe store where they sell clogs, of course.

At the end of the week, we spent one night in the city of Malmo, which is the third largest city in Sweden. There was a huge street festival going on, so we enjoyed getting Eliana’s face painted and people watching, and then had dinner with Josephine and Nicholas. It was a nice stop on our way back to the airport as we headed to Italy.

Ah, Italy… we have been here 6 days and it is glorious.  We have rented an apartment just over the Ponte Vecchio (“Oltrarno”) in the San Niccolo neighborhood.  It is a perfect location- close to the historical sites, but in a residential area.  I had very few expectations for this leg of our adventure, and I have found myself settling in slowly to this new place.  My biggest concern about being in Italy was always what we would possibly do for five weeks in one place.  It is one thing to “not rush”, but I feel a little caught between “not rushing” and “not living here”.  I don’t want to be a tourist, yet we don’t have any friends here, Eliana isn’t in school, we aren’t working. It’s a strange in-between, but I think we are on track. We have taken our time learning our way around the city, stopping when the mood strikes, not worrying if there is a long line or if we have a few less-than-incredible moments. The beauty of the time is the ability to slow down in a way that we can’t do at home and we couldn’t do if we were trying to live here. In many ways, it’s the best of both worlds.

Now that we have been here a week, “plans” are shaping up.  I have found at least five day trips by bus or train that I’d like to do, we haven’t hit the major museums yet, we are planning to rent a car for a day or two and explore the countryside, and we are considering a couple of nights out-of-town somewhere. Plug in trying to keep up with market shopping, laundry, house keeping, cooking, and gelato stops, and things are feeling busy all of a sudden!

We have adjusted to the time zone, the smoking, the throngs of people, and the weather.  The thing that has required the least amount of adjustment? FOOD. Oh, my. The food. The fresh pasta. The tomatoes. The basil. The gelato. The coffee.  It is divine.

Gelato day 1 Coffee Gilli Dinner day 3 pasta

Sky has been very inspired here and has cooked us dinner every night so far. This was an incredible ricotta and spinach ravioli with fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, onions, and a little vinegar.  

Hot peppers Pizza day 4 Cucumbers day 5

Aside from EATING, what else is there to do in Florence but WALK, of course! We’ve been walking everywhere with our trusty backpacks and stroller. Eliana has enjoyed a carousel ride in Piazza Republica nearly every day, and we have loved meandering the streets together. There are interesting things to see and do around every corner.

Carousel

View up Dei Bardi

This is a look up our street.  Our apartment is on the left just out of view.

Family in cafe Ellie and Sky Ponte Vecchio

Eliana and Sky peering over the Ponte Vecchio.  She really liked staring at the water.

Ellie watching painter

Eliana was totally enthralled by this street artist.  We must have spent about 20 minutes watching him work his magic.  Seeing what catches her attention is fascinating and I am loving learning about the little details of her brain.

Rower San Niccolo piazza

A big unexpected highlight so far was walking to the top of the Duomo cupola, all 463 steps, and seeing the amazing views of Florence from the top.  I say it was unexpected for two reasons- one, when we got in line, we had no idea what we were in line for!  I thought we were simply walking into the cathedral, but the entry lead us directly onto the staircase and there was no turning back.  I’m glad we didn’t know what we were in for, as I’m sure I would have said it was too much for Eliana (which is code for “too much for me”).  I also say it was an unexpected highlight because even though I have not experienced such intense fear of heights in recent memory, I can’t seem to stop reminiscing about our adventure, remembering the amazing views, and thinking about how crazy the people are at the top every time we look up (which is often!).   My fear-of-heights reaction was so intense physiologically- lightheaded, dizzy, heart palpitations, sweating, the whole deal.  I also had one of the most pronounced experiences of “mama-bear-ness” I have ever had.  At one point, Eliana slipped a little, it was no big deal, but my heart absolutely jumped out of my chest and it took me several minutes to calm down.  I felt such a deep fear that it took all my focus to slow my breathing. When we got to the bottom, we celebrated with gelato, of course.

Dana terrified

I am totally terrified and hugging that column bigtime.

Ellie duomo stairs

Eliana loved every minute of this adventure, except for when she briefly wandered away from Sky’s watchful eye and he grabbed her back more harshly than she is accustomed to.

Florence from Duomo

Santa Croce cathedral from above.

Florence view Sky and Ellie looking over Florence

I snapped this photo and then literally had to walk away and hide my face from the crowd because I had started to cry, I was so scared.

Another highlight from the other day was a nice walk near our apartment.  The San Niccolo neighborhood is not smothered in tourists, so we feel like there is a little more space to explore.  The walk took us up a hill and then through a lovely street of trees before ending at a sweet playground.

wide archEllie and DanaSky and Dana

Photo of Sky and I snapped by Eliana!

Sky and Elliepretty patioplayground

While Ellie played, Sky and I sat at a picnic table and did some reading and listened to her talk to her imaginary sisters in Italian. On our walk home, we had a yummy pizza lunch at a nearby trattoria.

Ellie in pizzeria pizza focused

Along with our exploring and eating, we are trying to learn some Italian.  Sky has started choosing words of the day that we all work on together.  Eliana plays with the language a LOT, often speaking in gibberish that sounds very much like Italian!

On one of our walks, we went to the Leonardo DaVinci Museum, which houses huge models of his amazing drawings.  Eliana had fun trying things out.  It sort of reminded us of a very, very small Exploratorium.

Divinci museum 2 Divinci museum Ellie and Sky Divinci museum

I think Sky liked the museum, too!

Next week, we are going to visit a preschool that, over email, suggested that Eliana may be able to attend a bit while we are here.  We are excited to check it out and see what she thinks.  Having her interact with some other kids seems like a great way for her to learn some Italian, get a break from us boring grown-ups, and assimilate more fully into the culture here. We are also planning a day trip out-of-town somewhere, perhaps Siena or Aruzzo.

If, by chance, you are looking for links to check out this weekend, I have a couple for you.  I will try to be better about collecting them but I am currently very busy with cappuccino’s and the like.  I’m sure you understand.

This video of Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth singing a duet with an audience member was really great. (From lilist.com)

This letter to the author’s son on the first day of school should be required reading. (From Momastery)

“We don‚Äôt send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can‚Äôt lose it. That‚Äôs done.

We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.”

I think many people feel that school is for way, way more than academics.  This post is so good I might steal it for Eliana.

Friends, we miss you and thank you for your love and support.

Blessings,

Dana

We are heading to Europe!

8 Aug

Dear Friends,

I apologize for the silence. Life. Ah, life. It has been a whirlwind the last few months, and is about to get even more crazy! In less than one week, we will arrive for our two-month stay in Europe. I plan to blog some from there, though I doubt I will use my links format! I hope you’ll follow along.

For your reading pleasure in the meantime, here are a few things to check out:

This graduation speech about kindness was pretty spectacular. (From 6thfloor.blogs.nytimes)

“What I regret most in my life are¬†failures of kindness.¬†

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded‚Ķsensibly.¬† Reservedly.¬† Mildly.”

Graduation speeches can be so, well, empty.  This one made one strong point, and it was made well.

This collection of photographs is so awesome- the dude dropped New York City into the Grand Canyon.  (From The Atlantic Cities)

“‘One is so full and the other so empty,” he says. ‘One goes up, the other down.'”

These photos just flat out blew my mind.

This guide to understanding an introvert is pretty cool. (From Fastcocreate.com)

“Introverted people live in a human sized hamster-ball. ¬†(Not really, but you know what I mean.)”

For a long time, I have described myself as an “adapted introvert”. ¬†This typically gets a smile out of whomever I’m talking to, and they say “what do you mean?” I mean that I am an introvert in a world that functions mostly on extroverts, so I’ve learned to adapt, and even appear as an extrovert. ¬†Lately, I’ve wondered if I am actually an extrovert with a lot of social anxiety. ¬†Hold off on sharing your diagnoses of me, please. ¬†:)

In honor of our upcoming trip, here’s an article called 10 Surprising Things about Parenting in Norway (From Cup of Jo)

“But the hardest adjustment, she explains, is the lack of variety. ‘There’s a sense that there’s just one right way to do things. And everyone does it that way. In America there are different parenting styles‚ÄĒco-sleeping, attachment parenting, etc. Here there is just one way, more or less: all kids go to bed at 7, all attend the same style of preschool, all wear boots, all eat the same lunch‚Ķthat‚Äôs the¬†Norwegian¬†way.'”

We are not headed to Norway, but will spend time in several countries over the next two months. I’m fascinated by how parenting is different in different cultures, and how our assumptions are informed by cultural expectations.

Thank you to the many, MANY of you who have asked about the blog in the last few months. I really appreciate your interest and hope you’ll keep following me.

Until Europe!

Blessings,

Dana

Cathedral in Florence

What to check out this weekend: May 2, 2013

2 May

Dear Friends,

Here are my recommendations on what to check out this weekend, May 2, 2013:

This sweet couple got married in Boston the weekend after the Boston Marathon attacks.  Her essay about the changes they made to their plans and the valient efforts of those they love is heartwarming. (From Vogue)

“During our Harvard Square summers, we were in our early twenties, unpublished and awash in romance. Years later, on the day before our wedding, we stared out in a ghostly Harvard Square, spotting the occasional armed officer in fatigues on the sidewalk‚ÄĒa stark reminder of how much the world had changed.

Or perhaps we were the ones who had changed, or were being changed: the dangers were there all along, and we were no longer able to avoid seeing them.”

I have read a few stories like this one over the years- the ones about going-on-with-a-joyful-event-in-the-wake-of-tragedy.  I always find comfort in them.

This idea for capturing moments is darling and simple. (From Reaves, party of three)

“It’s going to be many, many years before these albums are complete, but it will be fun to read how their favorite things have changed over the years.”

I am always struggling with how to remember Eliana at various phases of her life. ¬†This is such a cute idea, and you really don’t even have to do the whole book thing.

There is always a lot of chatter about work/life balance.  This post talks about managing energy as the key.  (From A Blog About Love)

“And, consider this: ¬†just because your day is planned out and you have X amount of hours for this and that, you could still feel unbalanced. ¬†Balance is not external. ¬†Case in point: ¬†you could be sitting on a bench in the park on a gorgeous day and STILL feel like a frazzled mess. “

I do think this author can be a little overly positive, to be honest.  But I appreciate her perspective, and I thought she made some thoughtful points in this post.

Happy reading, friends!

Blessings,

Dana

What to check out this weekend: April 25, 2013

25 Apr

Dear Friends,

Here are my recommendations of what to check out this weekend, April 25, 2013:

Many things have been written about becoming a parent, but this piece discussing the grief around becoming a mother, specifically, had me in tears with recognition and gratitude. (From Blogher).

“Perhaps we can soften this whole thing by saying our identities are ‚Äútransformed,‚ÄĚ or we are ‘forever changed,’ but the fact of the matter is that the woman you once were is gone, and she will never come back.”

I remember at my blessingway, just weeks away from birthing Eliana, a friend courageously talked about the grief surrounding her change in identity when she became a mother. I so appreciated her honesty. This essay really reflects a lot of my feelings, as well.  (Thanks to Anna for finding this piece!)

Here are one hundred questions to ask yourself to inspire some self reflection (From Alexandra Franzen)

“If you had an extra $100 to spend on yourself every week, what would you do?” “How do you CELEBRATE your victories?” “Who‚Äôs on your panel of imaginary mentors?”

I am always collecting lists of questions like this, or other types of writing prompts.  I imagine that I will, one day, become a real journal writer, exploring the inner sanctum of my soul, and these kinds of lists will be my guide.  How many times have I actually done this? Zero.  Perhaps I should be asking myself why that is the case?

This article about not being able to breastfeed a baby really hit home for me.  (From Babble)

“The reactions of my fellow moms didn‚Äôt help. I stopped into the childcare room at my local food co-op to feed the baby, and the chatter in the room ‚ÄĒ a discussion of weaning adventures ‚ÄĒ came to a halt. They stared as Enna gulped back her formula-filled bottle.”

I spent the first few weeks of Eliana’s life in emotional upheaval over my inability to exclusively breast feed. ¬†There were benefits to the bottle, sure, but “breast is best”. ¬†I was so distraught that Sky even wrote in marker on my forearm “you are a great mom”, so I would see it as I cradled my newborn. What did it say about me that I couldn’t provide even the most basic need for my daughter? ¬†Well, first of all, her most basic need was for LOVE, which I provided in spades. ¬†Second of all, it said nothing about me, but I couldn’t quite accept that I was not already failing her. ¬†A doctor told me that my job was not to breastfeed, it was to feed. ¬†That helped for a minute, but I still felt that I was less-than the mother I wanted to be. I was terrified that Eliana would miss out on the wonderful health benefits of breast feeding, but she remains one of the healthiest children I know (knock on wood), while many breast-fed kids I know have significant health issues, allergies, food sensitivities, or are simply just that kid who is always sick. ¬†Eliana is not that way. ¬†Is it because she was formula fed? I doubt it. ¬†Are other kids sicker because they were breast-fed? I doubt that, too.

Basically, the end of this story is that we all are parenting the best way we can.  Our children become the people they are for all kinds of reasons.  To vaccinate or not? To co-sleep or not? To bottle or breastfeed? To work outside the home or not? We are all doing what we feel is best for our children and our families.  We have no right to judge, and we do not ever know what is really going on behind closed doors in each others homes.  It takes a village, but that village needs to be born of love rather than judgment.

(Thank you to my many friends and family members who support Sky and I on our parenting journey!)

This recipe for banana bread is among the best I’ve ever had! (From Smitten Kitchen)

I am not sure what the magic is here, but OMG this is good banana bread. ¬†It’s really more like cake. ¬†I brought it to a tech rehearsal this week for a show I’m in, and it was devoured. You don’t have to include the bourbon. ¬†:)

I’m in “The Full Monty”, opening this Friday night, April 26, and running for a month. ¬†This musical is based on the movie, and it is a really great show. ¬†I’d love to see you there! ¬†Go to the box office for tickets. ¬†Tickets are selling fast. so I recommend getting them ahead of time.

Happy reading, friends!

Blessings,

Dana

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