Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving with Devin Francis

We were not without family on Thanksgiving. We had the pleasure of dining twice with a fellow Gonzaga Prepster, Devin Francis Biviano. Named after St. Francis, because his dad spent some time being a Franciscan monk. Devin did a great job filling in as Uncle, Brother, and Step-Cousin. He even hung out with Graham outside St. Chiara so that Tony and I could go in and marvel without being jostled by a three-year-old. Thanks, Devin!

Oh, and did I mention that we met him in Assisi?

Assisi. A place normally filled to the brim with Catholic pilgrims and tourists, and we had it to ourselves. Literally, we were the only ones in the restaurant where we had lunch, and then again when we had pizza for dinner. This means that the Basilica was not full of people, either. Such a treat.

When we reached the tomb of St. Francis in the basement of the Basilica, I was feeling strange and bothered and annoyed with myself for being far less spiritual than I once was. While Tony took Graham to see the tomb, I sat in a pew and thought that motherhood, I suppose, has been my excuse for never meditating or praying or even taking a moment to be grateful. I usually just feel preoccupied and as though I am barely hanging on. I realized in that moment that I need to take advantage of the times when Graham is entertaining himself or being entertained by someone else and do something good for my soul. Seconds after this realization, Graham was back in my arms asking me to hold him and take him to see the tomb again. I obliged, and while I was holding my happy, healthy child, I glanced down next to the tomb and saw many photos of children. I couldn't help but wonder if some mom out there lost her smiling child to illness or an accident and brought a picture of him to St. Francis for prayers and protection. I squeezed Graham a little tighter and offered up a huge prayer of gratitude and then cried my head off the rest of the day thinking about all those pictures around the tomb.

A good cry is always good for the soul.

So, what did you do for Thanksgiving? Who were you with? What were/are you grateful for? Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did you eat too much and pass out?

I would truly love to hear about it because I miss you and I am thankful that you listen to my rambling.

**Update** We are currently in Stuttgart, Germany where we have a good internet connection in our room, so I'll be able to catch up on our stay in Innsbruck, our day on the slopes, and the latest adventures with Mama Graham.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

on the road again

Yesterday, I purchased some chains for our tires, because today, we are driving North. We plan to get to Assisi this evening and spend Thanksgiving at St. Francis' place. On Friday, we'll head to the mountains of Innsbruck, Austria where we'll get in the holiday spirit by attending their Christmas markets. We also plan to teach Graham how to ski! On Monday, we'll continue our journey to Stuttgart, Germany, where Tony has to a little work during the week, and Graham and I get to play!

I don't want to make any promises, but I am going to bring the 'ol computer along and try to blog as we go.

I wouldn't want to deprive ya'll from my ramblings for more than a week.

We'll be missing our families and friends during this time and would like to wish them the happiest of Thanksgivings.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

agriturismo (aka air)

Dear Uncle Matt (aka Fatty Matt, Blainer, or J. Matt-as I like to call you after a few drinks-),

They have these wonderful things here in Italy called agriturismos. Have you heard of them? Generally, they serve fresh ingredients grown in their gardens along with fresh chicken, fish, beef, cheese and homemade wine. As a customer, you usually pay a set price for a "menu completo." This consists of antipasti, which is a million dishes ranging from cabbage to beans to salami to beef stew. Then, you get a "primi" dish, which is usually an assortment of homemade pastas. After that, you get a "secondi,"which is a plate of meat and/or fish. Then, you get "dolce," or dessert, which is always a wonderful surprise of a flan type dish or chocolate or cake or all of the above. And, of course, you are getting your glass refilled with house wine the whole time, and at the end they serve limoncello and cafe. Not only is the food outstanding, but the atmosphere is also picturesque. The ones we have been to feel like we are in someone's living room eating off their fancy china collection. The whole process takes at least three hours, and the point is to enjoy the food and the company. Bellisimo!

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because after our dinner at an agriturismo tonight, I began realizing how frequently we've been eating at them since we came to Italy. I started to wonder how in the world I am going to live without them once/if/when we move back to the United States. I decided that surviving without them is impossible. They have become like air to me. I need them in order to live (even if that means gaining a pound here or there, but whatever). The only solution I could come up with was to create one on your property.

We could rock Spokane's world with an authentic agriturismo. You already have the garden. All you need are some chickens. We could use Freeman to raise sheep to make cheese and cows for the steaks. We just need to figure out a way to get some fresh fish, but it's not impossible. All organic. All fresh. All the time. I will take cooking and wine-making classes, and learn some Italian design and language to make it feel totally authentic. You just keep planting vegetables. And get some chickens and grapes. And tell your dad to get some cows. Whata you say? Are you in?

Then, we could really shake things up and go international by serving your amazing paella from time to time.

Spokanites won't know what hit them.

Ponder it for awhile and let me know what you think.

peace and love forever and ever,
your favorite sister-in-law,
Katherine (aka Kitty Kat)

p.s. I took the photo with you and Graham, but the others were curtesy of one Stephen James White.

p.p.s. We could include the van somehow.

p.p.p.s. We really miss you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

tortured by shoe alley

I have big feet.

There, I said it. I have tried denying it or hiding it my entire life, but now I am owning up to it and even sharing it with you. I have big feet. I have always had trouble buying shoes. When I see a pair I like, I go find it in my size and it either doesn't exist or it looks more like a boat than a shoe. Because of this, I have squeezed my toes into uncomfortable little contraptions on more occasions than I care to admit. It's embarrassing. It's sad. I don't really like to talk about it.

Why am I talking about, then??

Yesterday, we went to a little place here in Naples they like to call "Shoe Alley." It is a large outdoor market where you can buy anything from a milk frothing device to a shoe.

I don't know where the vendors get their products, but somehow they are able to slash the prices and sell things far under the average retail price.

I was promised they had big shoe sizes. I was ready to find me some boots so I can fit in here in Europe. Before we left the house, though, I made a promise to myself not to squeeze into something uncomfortable, because these boots would have to carry me around the streets of Europe where we tend to do a ton of walking.

I saw many, many cute shoes and boots and dreamed that I was a fashionista who knew how to wear them. I was having visions of myself in skinny jeans or leggings with boots up to my knees.

Then I tried on a pair.....

It turns out there is no translation for my shoe size in Italian.

Some things are just not meant to be.

The end.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

the commissary

While we're on the topic of amenities offered to military personnel, let's not forget to mention the commissary (grocery store for any non-military folk out there who might not know what a commissary is, because I didn't until I married a Navy guy).

I like to think of myself as a cool hip chick who shops at the local Italian markets for all her food, but sometimes I find myself at the commissary and have to admit that, believe it or not, I'm not always that cool. Sometimes, I like to go to the commissary because the prices are good, it is easy to get to, there is always parking available, I know where everything is located in the store, the staff are friendly, and if you go in the middle of a weekday, they are not crowded. I don't like crowds, but I'll tell you about that later.

Only in the commissary could I leave my son and my wallet and all of our passports in the cart at checkout stand while I ran to grab the eggs I'd forgotten. Not to mention that while I was grabbing the eggs, the kind cashier was running to the other end of the store to find me some fresh cranberries.

Purchasing brands like Skippy and Kashi with US dollars in Italy is not exactly being hip and cool and supporting the local market, but it is comfortable, which is sometimes hard for an American girl to resist.

That's all for now.

bye bye

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

adventures with mama graham, part 2

Have you ever heard of a fitness yurt?

I hadn't until the other day when a friend asked me to join her for an exercise class in one. It is, well, exactly what you think it would be. A yurt where you do fitness.

One of the amenities offered to military personnel here in Naples is a large park. It has a 9-hole golf course, swimming pools, playgrounds, soccer fields, jogging and hiking trails, cabins where you can "camp," and fitness yurts. This park is not far from our house, so Graham and I have spent a good amount of time there, but never had we entered a yurt until today.

And boy was it an adventure.

Here is where I want to talk about my experience with young Italian women, so far. The ones I have met have all had somethings in common. They are strong, forward, somewhat sassy, but well-meaning and kind.

Today, we met Carmella, the fitness instructor. Strong, blunt, and beautiful. She was enthusiastic about packing us women into a small yurt and telling us to pump a million pounds of weight. She was also enthusiastic about form. I could feel her eyes burning on me when I tried to slack. I didn't dare look at her, but somehow she kept managing to make eye-contact with me to show me a better form or tell me to COUNT. I can't get her voice out of my head. It keeps telling me to "INCREEEAASE for BIIICEPS!"

Graham got to play around in a little kid corral and watch all the mamas sweat. I didn't realize how much he was falling in love with Carmella until he went up and gave her a giant hug and kiss at the end of the class. Completely out of character for him. She must be magic.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barcelona highlights brought to you by the iphone camera

Even if we had our good camera with us, I don't think it was possible to accurately capture the greatest highlight of our trip, which was Graham's first reaction to The Sagrada Familia. An intriguing spectacle in itself, he was even more captivated by the cranes pulling things all the way to the top where he could see the hard-hatted workers hammering and drilling. We had to stand outside for an hour waiting to buy tickets, and his eyes never left the action of the workers. Even when we took the lift to the top where we could see the ocean and a view of the entire city, he kept pointing out the people working and building the church.

I absolutely loved Barcelona. It was clean, the public transportation was incredibly efficient and smooth, and Graham got to see some guys perform tricks (break dancing, spinning on their heads, things Graham tries to do every night in our kitchen) on the street.

Tony was impressed with the street where the hostel he booked for us was located.

He was even more impressed with the swanky new hotel room we ended up staying in due to some errors from booking.com.

And even more impressed when we accidentally found ourselves strolling down a street where St. Ignatius once stood.

Tony also loved La Boqueria, which is a giant street market containing only food.

His favorite part of the market was the lunch we had at a little tapas bar ran by two elderly Spanish women.

As for me, I will cherish the time we spent with Our Lady of Montserrat and the mountains surrounding her.

I will also forever remember this trip as the first one we took after being reunited with the BOB.

Even if it was a little big and cumbersome at times...

Well, okay, now that I think about it, Graham really loved the Sagrada Familia and the Flamenco dancing, but I think the thing he will remember most will be the friend he made behind the Picaso Museum (that we spent a couple of glorious hours perusing),

and the sisters who fought over who got to sit next to him at the airport.

People tell me he's gonna be a heartbreaker....

Aw geeze.

Monday, November 15, 2010

boys can flamenco, too

Graham constantly ponders the difference between boys and girls. He tries to categorize them by saying girls like pink and boys are firefighters.

Hoping to change society's stereotypes one kid at a time, we're trying to teach his little preoperational mind that, yes, sometimes boys have long hair, and, yes, sometimes girls are firefighters.

Taking him to a flamenco performance in Barcelona couldn't have been a better teaching tool. There were men with long hair and they danced, get this, solo. They did not lead the women, and the women did not follow the men. Each dancer expressed him or herself alone. The women were real women, not like the images of impossibly skinny mannequins plastered all over the city. They flaunted their passion and fullness with tight dresses, stern faces, and deep, rich voices.

I suppose the best way to learn something is to experience it, and I like to think that Graham soaked in a huge lesson about gender and socialization and culture at that flamenco show.

Here's hoping his little brain will remember it...

p.s. more to come on our exciting adventures in Barcelona and how we came home to a new kitchen!

p.s. again. sorry I don't have any photos because we are still having camera problems.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

sick days

Nothing too exciting to report these days. We've all been pretty sick over here. Graham, of course, doesn't realize that he's sick and still has enough energy to ask a million questions and play all day. Someone might want to come make sure he's alright. I'm not really sure what he's been up to the past three days because my head has been glued to my pillow.

Things are looking up today, tough. I am feeling a little more skip in my step.

We plan to leave on a jet plane to Barcelona this afternoon.

Pray we make it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

can't complain

I love hot showers.

Scalding hot.

I despise cold showers.

And that's coming from someone who can usually see both sides to a story, who usually doesn't have a strong opinion one way or another, who usually proclaims, "Either way's fine."

I want to complain about the cold shower I had this morning after waking up sick. I also want to complain about the fact that I spent the morning waiting for my landlord and the kitchen guy to appear to do some renovations, but they decided it was too rainy to come today. Or, that I just spent the last 10 minutes mopping up puddles of rain that seeped (sorry for the word choice, Amy) in from our windows.

But, I am simply not capable of complaining after the lunch we had on Saturday at this place in Positano on the Almafi Coast with some wonderfully kind folks.

Instead, I feel grateful that I even have a shower and that I have a landlord who truly cares about the kitchen and about our happiness.

And so this, I think, is how life will go for me in southern Italy. I will constantly be reminded to rid myself of expectations and to take the bad with the good.

I'll take 17 cold showers if it means I get to continue relaxing at agriturismos on the weekends.

Have a pleasant Monday.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

but we're never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy

A list of the out of the ordinary, somewhat illogical (depending on your perspective), crazy things I have done this week:

A) purchased airplane tickets to Barcelona, Spain for the Veteran's Day long weekend.

2) purchased more airplane tickets to go to Oklahoma City in March to be a bride's maid in the wedding of the century! Never thought I'd be flying across the world to go back to Sooner Nation. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do when you have a BFF Amy.

C) pulled over to help two men with a flat tire, which is weird in this machismo culture.

D) surprised Libbey on this blog by telling her that before I go to the wedding of the century, I'm stopping by Chicago to celebrate St. Pat's Day and her 21st birthday. Surprise, Libbey!

Please note that I am saying, "I," not "We." Yep, that's the craziest part. I'm going without my boys.

Not that I feel guilty about it and am seeking reassurance that it's the right thing to do on account of the cost and all.

5) dyed my hair purple.

Just kidding. I didn't dye my hair, but I thought about dying it, which is pretty unusual for me. I'm thinking less sun-in bleach blonde and more brown/autumn. I've never dyed it before. What do you think?

I feel a poll coming on...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

adventures with "mama graham"

The summer Graham was born, Lauren headed off to Mwanza, Tanzania. She learned that mothers in that neck of the woods get dubbed "Mama Name of Their First Child." So, if I were living in Tanzania, which I'm not, I would be called "Mama Graham" until the end of time, even if I had ten more kids.

From thus, sprang an idea for a little series on this blog. Since I am currently a stay-at-home mom in a place where everything is an adventure, I thought that I would start taking Graham on day trips to discover all the sights surrounding us.

Yesterday, Graham and I got lost in the steam in the crater of the Volcano Sulfatara. We imagined we were street salesmen selling rocks to one another and then we dined on our picnic of pumpkin bread before testing our balance on the bridge at the playground.

The most adventurous part was driving around in circles until we finally spotted the entrance to this place. It's strange, because it is right in the middle of busy Pozzuoli, and it's only about 10 minutes away from our house. Not somewhere you would imagine seeing a volcanic crater.

I started with something relatively easy, because getting around here really can be a headache at times. As I get more courageous, perhaps our adventures will be more exciting.

So stay tuned!

Oh, and we also discovered that an iphone still takes pretty good photos even when you're not using it for phone service...

Who woulda thought!

Until next time!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

our view

Turns out I had a bar or two left on the 'ol camera battery, so I snapped these from my patio as the sun was setting. I know, I find myself gazing in disbelief, too. Several times a day, I just sit and stare and think about how grateful I am.

Above is Lake Fusaro, and the dots you see are traps for muscles. The island in the distance is Ischia.

I'm not sure if I've explained that we found us a nice spot in the "country," just a few minutes away from all the hustle and bustle. We are surrounded by citrus trees, grape vines, gardens, chickens, and lots of roosters. The vineyards and groves are not quite as picturesque as Tuscany, but we are growing to love the southern Italian roughness. We are able to jog to and around a lake (not the one in the picture, a different one), and we are allowed to pick limes, lemons, and oranges from our landlord's trees just outside our front gate.

Thought you might enjoy a little glimpse into our Italian life.

Ciao, ya'll.

Monday, November 1, 2010

food for thought

Right before my camera battery died and I lost all contact with the world, we drove to a little hill town called Taurasi, which was the host of a "Slow Food" festival.

I wanted to share our experience with you mostly to let you know about Slow Food. It is a wonderful organization that just might save the world if we choose to let it. Their slogan is: "Good, clean, fair food for all." Here's a little quote from their site:

Slow Food's approach to agriculture, food production and gastronomy is based on a concept of food quality defined by three interconnected principles:

GOOD a fresh and flavorsome seasonal diet that satisfies the senses and is part of our local culture;

CLEAN food production and consumption that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health;

FAIR accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for small-scale producers.

Apparently, there is a gigantic festival in Taurasi in August where thousands and thousands of people attend, but this one was small and relatively unheard of. We loved it, because we got a lot of special attention from each of the vendors.

We also got to sample lots of wines, breads, jams, and treats,

and Graham got to eat a ton of cheese. This boy loves cheese.

Anyway, if you want a little food for thought (hehe), then go check out the Slow Food website.

Have a good and not so manic Monday.