frolicking friday fotos: transportation

This picture makes me think 'Christmas in July.' I snapped this on a one-day excursion from Florence, Italy, to Cinque Terre. This Vespa was parked near the trail at Corniglia.


We bought a jungle.

I KNOW, I know. SO overdue for a post. But really, did you want to hear the cranky rants and crackling of my brain-going-back-into-gear? Re-entry into life state-side has been a load of reality-bites and a whiff of welcome-familiarity all swept into one dust pan. Now really. You would not have wanted to hear the play-by-play of us floating around the Pacific Northwest---with borrowed cars and beds---a long list of doctor appointments and soccer tryouts, forms to fill out, people to visit and houses to see... would you?

My brain has felt like someone has been giving me a constant swirly. Yeah. That.

But now that I have knocked out a bunch of errands, doctors have been visited, school schedules solidified and books purchased, soccer tryouts are well underway and yes we even made an offer on a house after-just-three-days of looking... it seems that the dust JUST might start to settle.

We bought a jungle you ask?

I like to tease. The truth is: when we took this year-abroad dream on, we knew very well that we would return with a starting-over-from scratch budget. (Fortunately James has a job; I begin my job-hunt come September). Therefore what fits our budget is: another fixer. And in this case it is a bit... overgrown. Which we really don't mind.

We looked for a home with 1. good 'bones', 2. good location, and 3. space. We wanted a home with ample land (by city standards!) so I could have my garden and cocktail parties, James and Caleb could have a 'shop', and Anthony could have his chickens (see his blog pickinachicken).

And we found one. And made an offer. And if all goes as planned, we close in the next few days... and THEN settle in. And call the storage company to deliver all of our 'stuff.' And that sounds SO SO good to us. Like nesting just before you have a child, or getting your home gussied up for the holidays. Opening our boxes and finally putting suitcases away will invoke a family-wide sigh of relief. Then I can dust off cookbooks, James can set up our home office, and we can all start digging in our very own yard. We will eat, sleep and find rhythm again as a family: in our very own home.

I said reality bites. Our re-entry has been bitter sweet---a pile of emotions. Its back to work, back to business, back to school, back to bills, tasks, obligations and the 'same old.' But you know what? There is good inside the familiar---comfort to be found. And I have started to realize that transitions are made easier if you plot a line of things-to-look-forward to. So although it is super sad to say good-bye to the year-abroad chapter of our lives... we have much, MUCH to look forward to. Like soccer teams with familiar faces. And for Anthony: high school. And for all of us: a new home full of potential. And family, cousins, friends, familiar haunts and developing careers. And in our neighborhood: a fantastic farmer's market, a nearby bike path, new restaurants and friends-who-live-close-by.

And besides, paint covers a multitude of sins. No, not rhubarb. But its a nice pic, no? I love going to farmer's markets, where I found this rhubarb---did I mention there is a farmer's market near our home? And I love the idea of growing my own garden, at my own home, with my own newly-painted walls (once we close I enter with paint brushes and gallons of paint on a whirlwind mission to cover every inch in just a few days...).

We are home---almost in our 'new home'---and even if it is a bit of a jungle (the yard is mostly dirt mixed with brush, trees and haphazard plants---bamboo included), we will be swinging from the branches in no time.


frolicking friday foto: kick 'em off

Need I say more? How adventurous are these?


frolicking friday foto: family fun!

Did I mention our family loves water slides? As part of our last-few-days in Italy, we found a huge water-park called AQUAFAN near the eastern coast of Italy. We spent a day and a half soaking up the sun and having fun! If water slides don't say 'family frolics,' I don't know what does!!?!?!


road trip: our last 10 days in Italy.

We are enjoying our last few days in Italy, together as a family. James landed a job, then shortly thereafter hopped a plane to soak up the tail end of our 'year abroad.' We have been busy closing up our lives in Florence, driving from Lucca to Parma to Bologna to the eastern coast of Italy until we hit 'beach.' Here is our itinerary:

June 14: leave Florence, visit Lucca, drive to Agriturismo near Parma. (dinner at agriturismo included some of the most amazing cured meats we have ever had!)
June 15: TOUR of Culatello/Prosciutto factory; TOUR of Parmigiano Reggiano factory; drive to Agriturismo near Bologna.
June 16: TOUR of balsamic vinegar factory near Modena (see picture), visit Modena museum, swim at agriturismo---see picture (huge delicious meals at agriturismo).
June 17-22: hotel near Rimini. Go to beach, waterslide park (AQUAFAN), play soccer/swim at hotel, watch World Cup games.
June 22: hotel near airport (James leaves 6am, Janelle/boys fly at noon).
June 23: board plane, return to states.

Quick notes: loved the tour of the Parmesan cheese factory; in the picture the wheels are still being submerged in salted-water (brining process). Later they age in rows, are regularly cleaned and turned and individually tested for DOP stamped-approval. The Modena factory was equally impressive (both tours were in all-Italian which means, the three 'boys' all caught the whole tour, and took turns translating for 'mom'). When else will you taste authentic 12, 25, 33 year-aged balsamic from Modena? Some were aged in multiple wooden barrels (cherry, oak, juniper, ash) while others were aged in successive barrels of the same variety of wood (think: 25 years aged in all juniper barrels). Fantastic.

More notes: we discovered the Po Valley is riddled with bike lanes, so already we are making plans to return. The Po Valley is full of agriculture, bursting with the production of fine meats, cheeses, white wines and more. We drove the stretch of it, and landed finally near Rimini for a spot of sun. It has been both sunny and rainy but we have managed soak up: 2-3 different nearby beaches, enjoyed a large water slide park (we recommend!), and found TV's-in-bars showing the next World Cup Game.

Our adventures will not come to end, even though we are wrapping up this long-planned, fully-enjoyed, worthwhile year abroad. When we land state-side, our re-entry will include sleeping at homes of friends and family, looking for a new home in Seattle, joining soccer teams and a family reunion in Montana.


frolicking friday fotos: artsy

Seem random? It is a bit. While living for these last 10 months in Florence, I push myself out the door and down new streets. It has been my goal to become super familiar with the history-rich, art-laden, tourist-loaded, fashion-hot Italian city. And while walking some of the artsy streets between Pitti Palace and Santo Spirito, I snapped this fitting pic in a shop window.


Happy Graduation ANTHONY! Your last day of school-in-Italy AND last day of Junior High!

You will always be able to say: I graduated the 8th grade in Italy. Perhaps the fan-fare will be a bit less, and your graduation dinner will have to wait until we reach state-side in a few weeks... but isn't it cool you can say you were in Italy in the 8th grade? 

You learned to speak a second language
. And saw countless works of art in Amsterdam, Paris, London, Florence and Rome. You rode your bike on average 8 miles a day: to and from school then to and from soccer. You tried every gelato flavor at our favorite shop on Borgo dei Neri; and tasted and tried various Italian wines, olive oils and cheeses, truffles, Belgium beer, Genovese pesto and wild boar. 

We watched Billy Elliot and Jersey Boys on stage in London, rode the tube and Eye; we enjoyed friends in Windsor. You tried croissants, toured Notre Dame and saw the Mona Lisa in Paris. You went on road trips to Venice/Murano, Cinque Terre, Rome, Elba Island (Napoleon's exile), Pisa, Lucca, 5 hot springs across southern Tuscany, countless little hill-towns, tours in Parma and Edam (cheese), Gouda (stroopwafels), Delft (ceramics), Modena (vinegar), Chianti (wine) and more museums than I can count. But you did count windmills as we cycled across Holland, didn't you? The final count: 132.

I guess your 8th grade year really WAS something to write home about. We look forward to hearing your perspectives going forward---as you learn your way through high school. When you talk about art, or take history, study geography and learn a third language... your high school studies will relate constantly back to this experience abroad---your 8th grade year. You may have grown over half a foot taller during this year; but I venture to bet you grew yards in your heart and mind.

We are so proud of you, for your adventurous spirit, for your willingness to dive into the unknown all in the name of learning. We will remember your enduring pace and cat-like reflexes on your bicycle (and give you the trophy for the tightest-packed panniers!), new soccer juggling records, your appreciation for art---including your talent for painting---your interest in mechanics, history, politics, creating a new dungeon and dragon class, architecture drawings and... chickens! (In case readers don't know this, Anthony started a blog about urban chickens---check out www.pickinachicken.com).

From Italy you will always remember your soccer goalkeeping coach Angelo, who was not only well-regarded as a coach, but as a person too. And you will remember Simone---your Italian language teacher---and all the special time you had with grandparents and cousins while they visited Italy for weeks at a time. And at school: Madre Christina and Madre Lupoi. Good-hearts in Italy.

Anthony, what 5 things did you like about Italy?

1. 'forced learning': you can't just take a break--you are always learning Italian because you are always around it.
2. Italian soccer: skill level/the talent, the keeper is highly valued/appreciated.
3. Feels good to be able to speak a second language (in a particular social context); presses you to think in new thought processes.
4. Culture: old towers and buildings, art, seeing the Duomo, history and antiquity in stone streets and walls.
5. Kindness: general Italian hospitality---we were even invited into a strangers' home for dinner when we were lost once.
6. Different Perspective: Italians look at/engage the world differently. How does Italy look at the US? At the world, life, etc.

Anthony, what 5 things do you most look forward to as we return to the states (Seattle)?

1. Being able to be able to communicate intelligently, and being able to show my personality more (in Italy it has been more about basic communication, since I was just learning the language).
2. Friends and family---seeing them and getting caught up.
3. Good water: drinking great, sharp and clear water from Seattle. All summer and year the water didn't taste very good---we bought a lot of bottled water.
4. Efficiency, timeliness, organization: clear schedules, guidelines, email communication, school expectations, practice times/locations.
5. 'Bigger is Better': larger homes, space for living, instead of small, compressed living spaces. Better for entertaining, stretching out, playing hard.

What does it feel like to graduate from 8th grade?

Its a new part of my life, when you start thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life (aka career, passion, interest). I feel older and more mature. It all feels new. New everything: new time in life, new friends, different/new classes, new opportunities, new skill sets will develop etc. Its a time of real growth and development (high school).

frolicking friday fotos: rustic art

For some reason I cannot seem to explain, I have a desire to take photos of old gates, door-knobs, locks, windows and bikes. There is something in them that is sturdy yet worn, artistic and beautiful but somehow harboring wisdom or secrets.

I often use them as screen-savers.


bye-bye Florence.

Its our last week in Florence. I cannot believe we are at this threshold, the tail end of our year-long adventure abroad. In case you hadn't heard: last spring we sold our home, cars and put our belongings in storage; we climbed a plane, landed in Amsterdam and assembled 4 bikes. Two panniers apiece, we cycled from Amsterdam to Paris, took the chunnel to London and finished the 2009 summer with a week-long soccer camp (for the boys) in Manchester City, England.

Then, we flew to Florence. Mid-August, we rented a temporary apartment, inserted the boys in an Italian school (aka full immersion) and they tried out/played soccer for a premier club. Over the first few months, James and I dealt with paperwork (many lines, many offices, many hours) for permission to stay. We toured every corner of Florence and much of Tuscany. Throughout the year, we had 3 week visits from both sets of grandparents (Dec, Jan) and my brothers' family (cousins!).

In February 2010, James returned home [early] to look for a job. For four months, February-May, Janelle and the boys stayed in Florence while James hopped couches and interviewed his way around Seattle. He recently landed a job, and is joining the boys and Janelle for a last 'hurrah.' We will all say goodbye to Florence on June 14, then take a road trip together: Lucca, Parma, Modena, Rimini then to Milan for our return flight to Washington state (June 23).

Our year was full of highlights and discovery, challenges from popped tires to circus dogs, logistics to art and wine and festivals, learning a new language (boys did, Janelle didn't, James already knew Italian) and so much more. I don't know where to begin, none of us can fathom how this year has changed and molded us; we will be digesting and re-integrating and reflecting for months---and years---to come.

James is working on canonizing our adventure in book-form; during our year, he did a fantastic job writing a post called 'top 5' for each month. Janelle 'canonized' much of the adventure here at familyfrolics, and also on her food blog, talkoftomatoes. The boys both kept journals, with lots of sketches and postcards, and observations along the way.

May: packed up lives state-side, boarded plan and landed in Amsterdam for a week.
June: cycling across Holland (windmill counting begins, baa-ing like sheep not uncommon)
July: cycling across Holland, Belgium, France.
Aug: London 10 days, Manchester United Soccer Camp, fly to Florence, swimming, soccer tryouts.
Sept: choose apartment, boys' school in Florence; tourist activities.
Oct: 3 week return state-side (unplanned---required for paperwork); visit Montana cabin, family.
Nov: daily life in Florence
Dec: 3 week visit from James' folks (Lucca, Orvieto, Civita, San Gimignano, Florence); Christmas festival

Jan: 3 week visit from Janelle's folks (Rome, Florence)
Feb: James returns to states; road trip: southern Tuscany/Elba Island (hot springs!)
Mar: daily life in Florence
Apr: 3 week visit from Janelle's brother/sister/nephews (road trips: Chianti, Cinque Terre, Venice)
May: daily life in Florence

I could put 50 links to the above months, but if you are curious and want to read more: in the left hand column there are archives by dates, click on any month to see posts for that month.

Our final month abroad [in Italy], June 2010 includes: finishing up the soccer season, saying goodbye at school, closing our accounts at the apartment, shipping home belongings, gearing up for the World Cup (what color will you wear?) and a final road trip (more about that soon).

By the way... just because we are returning state-side by NO MEANS means our frolicking is over. On the contrary we already have plans to visit a cabin in Montana, tour around our home city of Seattle, join up with soccer teams and pop up to Vancouver BC, Canada... all before the end of July.

Re-entry will no doubt be a whirlwind, and certainly we will appreciate the nuances of 'reality bites.' But even if we are sad that this chapter---this year long adventure abroad---is coming to a close, by no means will we stop embracing life to the fullest, at every possible frolicking moment.


frolicking friday fotos: world view

Sometimes pictures really are worth a thousand words. Or sometimes you love a picture but words can't explain why. I like this picture; it was taken in Florence, Italy.

I think I will title it 'perspective.' Or perhaps: 'world view'?


Gelato Festival

Memorial Day weekend for all of you in the states was for us in Florence: a 4 day Gelato Festival. Which means tents were set up in most of the main piazzas in Florence and we made daily walks to visit the numerous vendors stationed under each tent.

There were videos and how-we-make-it lectures, kiddie areas and crafts and most importantly: a whole lot of gelato. Our goal was simple: try as many flavors as we could stomach.

We bought little 'tickets' and handed them in for little bowls of tasteful delight. In no particular order, and hoping I don't forget any, we tried:
  1. lime
  2. strawberry
  3. biscotti
  4. cookies
  5. creme caramel (tasted like creme brulee)
  6. melon (cantelope)
  7. lemon (always a winner!)
  8. cream
  9. cheesecake (we added some strawberry and 'complimentary' whipped cream... yum!)
  10. cuban (chocolate, rum, cherries)
  11. a combo of caramel, cookies, sambuca, cream (cannot remember name)
  12. strawberry shortcake (for lack of a better name)
  13. strattiatella (think vanilla with bits of chocolate, a long time fave of the boys)
  14. pear and pecorino
  15. pine nut
  16. macadamia nut
  17. orange and cream
  18. nutella
  19. raspberries and cream
  20. mint

And I am sure I am forgetting some. Of interest: one vendor (each vendor typically served 5 or so flavors) had 5 chocolate gelatos, from chocolate around the world (think costa rica, venezuala, etc.). Another: I confess the pear and pecorino were as far as I ventured into savory, I forgot to try the 'riso' which is rice/risotto and deliberately avoided the funghi (mushroom!).

To this day, my favorite gelato is still honey (not to be found at the festival); I enjoyed it at an artisan shop while we were hiking in Cinque Terre. Though the cuban chocolate, melon and strawberry---oh, and creme caramel---were fantastic. No doubt I will be picking up a book on gelato-making when we hit stateside.


frolicking friday fotos: light

Candles in church in Venice, Italy.

I love the actionable event of lighting a candle; sometimes a prayer and a candle is all we can do.

If you post a frolicking friday foto, please drop the link in the comments, below.


Top 5 for February

As I have been forced to write the top five for February and March, I give to you today the top 5 for February! These are listed in no particular order; although my favorite is Elba. Other than the Chocolate Festival, my top memories from February were all from our Tuscan road trip (proudly promoted in previous posts---wasn't that was a tongue twister?). Anyways, here are my top five:

1. The Chocolate Festival was the most amazing assortment of delicious treats I have ever tasted. The shapes varied from sunny side up eggs, soccer cleats and rusty-looking wrenches to fruit engulfed in quick drying liquid chocolate! We enjoyed these chocolaty wonders by spending more than €20 ($30)!

2. The Medici Fortress of Poggio a Caiano was one of the minor villas of the Medici, but it was like a wonderland. The Italians don't know how lucky they are to have families that have past down villas that nowadays cost well over a million dollars.

3. The mineral-infested city of Rio Marina: If I'm rich one day (who doesn't dream for that?), I would buy a house there. The city of Rio Marina is so abundant with minerals (specifically Hematite) that the gravel in the park is partly made of crushed minerals. The beach is made of sparkling black particles from the eroded mineral, and the mountainsides are a rich red soil 'growing zone' for the minerals (it takes more than a million years for some minerals to evolve).

4. The San Filippo Hot Springs of the Maremma region are unique. The steaming hot mountain side is a distilled white from large amounts of calcium, forming in horizontal layers to rounded pools.

5. The Saturnia Hot Springs. A five star hotel could be formed around this original, yet luxurious destination. I suggest this as the one must-see/bathe destination if you go to a sulfur bath and/or through Maremma.

I'll give you the top 5 for march sometime soon.



frolicking friday fotos (round 6)

Am now posting frolicking fotos on fridays (if you post a frolicking friday foto---put your link in the comments below). When we travel as much as we do, and aim to soak up adventure and memory-making as we are... there are a lot of moments---and visuals---things that make us think, places that we love, art that makes us smile... and on and on. Frolicking fotos are like putting mental push-pins on our map of family fun. They are reminders of good times, pause-able moments, artistic perspective. And so on:

Pair of macchiatos. Shared by: Aunt Janelle and Nephew Jack in Florence, Italy. We snuck a coffee break during a walk-about-town with Aunt Janelle and the four boys: Anthony, Caleb, Sam and Jack (while the cousins' folks blitzed the Uffizi Gallery).

Just a few special moments each day makes all the difference.


My Day in Florence (Anthony)

A day in my life in Florence, is still a routine...

The morning begins: we are woken up, Caleb gets up and showers, then I roll out of bed---trying not to hit my head on the beam in our bed room---and shower. Then the usual: get dressed, eat, and leave on our bikes for school.

For everyone out there, school is great, and we are learning more Italian by the minute. They still have class periods like in the US, and have the normal subjects: science, math, history, English, along with French---and of course Italian (functioning as grammar class). For me the hardest class is French, and easiest (other than English) is Math.

School here is definitely a bit different; they do not have all of the high tech stuff like smart boards, projectors, and other gizmos that have become standard in the upper end private schools of the US. Here in Italy we still use black boards, do not have lockers, and even remain in the same whitewashed room all day---with the teachers rotating for different periods.

We usually arrive home for an hour or two, from 1:15- 2:45. During this time, we usually check email/get online, maybe watch an episode of CSI, and get a snack. Then we leave for soccer at 2:45---on bike of course. We arrive back home at about 6:30... to an almost always sumptuous dinner, experiment or no. After dinner we finish our homework, and then relax (which nowadays means I am researching for my new blog: pickinachicken).

You may have noticed the anomaly that I allotted about 3.5 hours for soccer. First, this includes the time that it takes us to bike between our house and soccer---about 20 minutes each way---add in a shower in the locker room, and the length of the practice.

Italian soccer in a few words is simply... amazing. They play with grace, calmness, and fluidity that feels different than American soccer. They constantly utilize their defense for a 3rd man situation, and switching the ball. They handle the ball with skill and do not immediately boot the ball up the field at the first chance that they get. They also have an amazing skilled offense with playbacks and through balls constantly. It has been a great education---and as a keeper, I have a great vantage point!

All of this is our day in Florence, nearly every single day... a truly amazing experience with Italians, fun and a little bit of history all around us.


Italian Lapses!

I currently declare myself the worst blogger ever! I have not written a post in over a year (or close)! I must say I'm very sorry to everyone for not posting more of our family experience (I bet ten to one my parents still did an amazing job on that)---and my experience.

Now that I have gotten my self over that stiffened hurdle, I will commence the topic for today: Italian Lapses! I have realized over the past month my brain has absently been shifting to Italian [over small sentences, words, or even when I get freaked out by something (amazing my mind can translate that fast, eh?)]. For example: today while painting, a foot from my face an explosion of fire burst out from the greases of our delicious dinner (turkey = yum), and instead of saying something I would normally say, I said 'O Dio!' translating to 'O God!'

And the other day it smelled really bad like fennel and I was just like 'Eew, it smells like.....fin....finocchio......um, and in English, that means... oh yes! Fennel!'.

One problem: this side effect also sometimes feels like brain loss! I have forgotten how to spell some simple English words correctly (not that my grammar is any better)! Well, that will all get better in time.

More to be written....



food frolics in Florence

I have been a little lax in my posting as of late: I have been sick, which means most of the frolicking for the past two weeks has been inside my head---or inside my Florentine flat.

And it has been raining in Florence for two weeks. Really!

But that doesn't mean I have been entirely out of commission. On the contrary, I have still been writing and cooking, hanging out in my kitchen and going on walks with Anthony and Caleb. And since you might be more of a 'family frolics follower' than of [my other blog] Talk of Tomatoes, I figured it would be interesting to give you a quick summary of my food-frolics from over there.

Here is a round-up of my talkoftomatoes' food forays, some of which could quite easily count as frolicking-in-Florence:


frolicking friday fotos (round 5)

Time for another friday-frolicking-foto (read more about this new weekly event). Don't forget to post your frolicking foto and drop a link in the comments---below!

When we were hiking through-and-between the 5 cities of Cinque Terre, I tried to snap some cool signage that included the city names. This one: Corniglia (the middle of the 5 cities).

I actually have a larger Cinque Terre album on our Facebook page, in case you want to see more of our ocean-side, Italianesque frolics!


Happy Mother/Grandmother's Day!

I ran across this poem the other day, and instantly fell in love with it. While I am in the middle of being a mother---and loving every minute of it---my own mother and mother-in-law have a very special place in our lives. And they offer that one-of-a-kind-only-a-grandmother-can-give love to our sons (and all of their grandchildren!).

This year abroad has really pushed all four of us to grow in ways we never imagined. Although we cannot rush the kind of wisdom that only comes from years of experience---my hope is that we try.


I like to walk with Grandma,
Her steps are short like mine.
She doesn't say "Now Hurry Up,"
She always takes her time.

I like to walk with Grandma,
Her eyes see things like mine do -
Wee pebbles bright, a funny cloud,
Half hidden drops of dew.

Most people have to hurry,
They don't stop and see.
I'm glad that God made Grandma,
Unrushed, and young like me.

poem by Thena Smith.

Happy Mothers and Grandmother's Day! 


April with family.

April this year was all about time spent with our cousins (Janelle's brother Keith, his wife Cindy and their two sons Sam and Jack came for a 3 week visit in April).

The weeks leading up to it involved mapping tours and reserving tickets to museums, pre-making and freezing dinners (meat loaf, ragu, chicken stock for mushroom risotto, pizza sauce, tomato sauce etc.), borrowing mattresses from nearby friends and letting the school know: Anthony and Caleb will be taking off 2 1/2 weeks. Bummer for them, right?

What I loved about their visit was the experience of having well-laid plans, then just relaxing into them. By that I mean creating an over-arching itinerary, including: a mini road trip, Easter dinner, logistics to visit Venice and Cinque Terre, see a few key museums in Florence. But inside of those well-drafted plans (the 'skeleton') we created memories. We spent time together, relaxing and enjoying Italy and each other's company. We embraced 'one of the good parts of life.' And it is all the little moments strung together, the big smiles and cousins playing-while-waiting and 'lets just see what happens' that THAT is why we frolic.

Here are some of the teeny memorable moments, strung together and woven into this little window of time with family... that I want to smile about, years from now:
  • Jack laying flat on his back---ears under---floating in a foot of hot water from the Petriolo hot springs. I watched him, while he watched the sky.
  • The boys taking framed pictures off the wall, to deposit them safely in the kitchen---lest they break while they play dodge ball in the living room.
  • Going on a walk with just the four boys and 'Aunt Janelle;' I had the boys take turns with my big camera and told them to each take 5 pictures of things that made them think 'Florence.' 
  • Same walk: Jack and Janelle shared a pair of macchiatos at a nearby bar. And I bought the four boys all 'matching' leather bracelets from one of the many vendors. Last I checked: they all still have them on.
  • Easter Sunday: seeing the Easter cart, being one of thousands of people jammed into the streets leading to the Duomo. At one point we grabbed each others' hips (all 7 of us) and choo-choo'd our way through the crowds for a closer look.
  • Easter Sunday: Easter egg hunt. All 98 of them inside our flat. (Easter dinner was good too! Right down to the tiramisu and Rubruhm---dessert wine I had picked up at a TASTE event).
  • Helping Cindy garner a 2-for-1 deal on 2 gorgeous leather purses. 6 months of 'Buon Giorno' to the same vendor;).
  • Walking with Keith to get a pastry early one morning, while his family still slept. When do we ever get one on one time? Very cool.
  • Grappa. When I first tried it, I likened it to drinking Windex. During this 3 week stint---which included a few bottles of Grappa (Cinque Terre, Chianti Classico, Verrazzano)---it grew on me. I think it grew on all of us...
  • Riding our 2 junk bikes with Keith to get our car for (mini road trip) the first time; we biked through seas of people, crazy intersections and on massively uneven cobblestone. After one of the larger/busier intersections I turned around to see if he kept up: and found him on my tail smiling from ear to ear.
  • One night in Venice, Keith and Cindy went to dinner and Aunt Janelle stayed in with the boys: they watched the movie Sherlock Holmes and I made them steak and colorful pasta (first try for them all: BLACK pasta... cool!)
  • Taking the family to climb the Duomo... and finding no line! Very exciting.
  • Watching Anthony blow a glass candy in Murano---and him saying to me afterward that he was on cloud nine. So was I.
  • Gelato in Cognilia; possibly our favorite gelato from the whole 3 weeks (and we had a lot of gelato). I found my new favorite flavor: honey.
  • Falling in love with---and buying---a glass bracelet from Murano. Charcoal oval beads. My birthday present from James (grazie mi amore!)
  • the church in Murano; it had [appropriately] an all-glass crucifix and everyone loved the floor tiles and circled-glass windows. Even better: spending just 5 minutes in the church with Jack---we lit a candle for Grandpa & Grandma Velt to say 'hello'.
  • Cousins' arms. So often the four boys would put arms around one another. 
  • Sam saying thank you. He was so good at saying thank you whenever I made him a meal or a snack or took them somewhere for a walk. Made my heart swell with warmth. Its so nice to be able to say 'you are welcome.' And if you know Sam, you would do just about anything for him just to see his glorious, warm smile;).
  • Evening on the terrace of Keith and Cindy's apartment in Riomaggiore; one evening I joined them for wine and grappa and a night of chatter and laughter. It was lovely.
  • The red swim suit story. You had to be there. I was.
  • Caleb and Keith together enjoying the same-love-for-rocks-and-beach-combing. Especially: when Caleb wrapped and presented Keith with black hematite sand from Elba Island.

    frolicking friday fotos (round 4)

    When in Venice...

    By the way. Taking in a ride in the gondola while romantic, is quite pricey. A hundred euros a pop. If you are visiting Venice on a budget, take matters into your own hands: find a boat stop for Gondolas, look for the sign that says 'Traghetto' and wait there. This is a quick ride in a [stripped down] gondola from one side of Venice's main canal to the other. It costs half a euro. If you are really aiming for clever, throw a romantic tune on your ipod---insert into ears... maybe buy a sandwich or treat to eat while crossing. For 2 euros you can go back and forth 4 times;).


    Top 5 for April

    5. Sam, Jack, Caleb and my activities. While our cousins were here we enjoyed many games, including cards (chicago rummy, nerts, and presidents), army guys in one way or another, and various games with thes rubber bouncy balls that did not break anything somehow in our frontroom. We played ball tag: essentially peg the other person. These all lead to laughs in the end---whether it was a ricochet to the face, or a hard ball to the stomach. Lots of fun!!!

    4. Duomo. Our climb of the dome is what comes to mind when thinking of the Duomo. It had amazing views, and a beautiful lantern (big structure on the top of the dome). The climb between the domes, made me think of the book that I read "Brunelleschi's Dome". It explains the ingenious design, building, and mysteries of the dome. Truly amazing, this dome is the largest dome in the world made without using modern day steel. It has resisted cracks even through major earthquakes, and the cracks that show now are only in the plaster, or only caused by what it was not made for: traffic. The constant vibration has now been banned for mthe streets around the Duomo, and made a pedestrian area.

    3. Venice. Our trip to this sinking city, at least for me was very exhilarating. We walked around, and saw a ton of churches, squares and glass shops. We visited the island of Murano, where I got to help blow a little candy from glass. We also visited the Rialto bridge where I bought a goal keeper jersey, and we saw the markets. It was very interesting to see this peculiar city, with it's canals, various styles of boats, palazzos, and people. We saw the Peggy Guggenheim museum, along with various other sites unique to Venice.

    2. Cinque Terre. Our trip to this string of 5 cities was filled with fun, sun, and hiking. We stayed in Riomaggiore, and hiked, maybe a train or two... to all of the other cities. Riomaggiore with it's restaurants, and main stretch of shops. We also visited Manarola with it's recycled crucifixion scenes on the hill, and a pretty marina area. After Manarola was Corniglia, a city with many beautiful views, and terraces. Then there was Vernazza, with a tower and fort, along with a slightly larger marina area that many shops and restaurants. The last city was Monterosso, with a sandy beach, however not as rich in culture, and there was not a ton to it. Nearby was another city not in the five, called Fegina, which was similar to Monterosso. Overall, relaxing with beautiful views hikes, lizards, and cacti.

    1. Vander Griend family visit. For the first two thirds of the month our cousins, along with our aunt and uncle, were here. We went with them to Cinque Terre, and Venice, and spent time with them in Florence. Much of the month of April was centered around their visit, which was a lot of fun and full of games, and a lot of good weather.


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