Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tissue Paper Madness

Tissue Paper Madness

So, in our apartment is this fabulous bathroom (the one with the Jacuzzi tub), but there are two problems with the bathroom:
1. The frigid temperatures
2. This window
Master Jacuzzi tub
Yes, the pretty arch window on the right with the frosted glass. The window means that the bathroom is the lightest room in the apartment, but it isn't all frosted glass. See the picture that the former resident had in the middle? That covers up a coat of arms in clear glass, and all around the edge is a clear border. So, anyone on the terrace above, or coming in this entry way, Entry way
may be subjected with a view of us going to the bathroom or getting out of the shower. That isn't necessarily a pretty sight and, after all, I am still British; my modesty does not permit flesh exposure below the neck or above the shoulder.

Ila and I spent the afternoon, post nap, ripping up tissue paper. We're going to make some sort of sunset/water tissue paper border for the clear glass. I'm not sure how to accomplish this exactly, but I thought ripping up tissue paper seemed like a good start, plus it was fun. D. didn't think that the newspaper plastered on the window was really the thing to do. Now, I need to see if I can find contact paper, or maybe something else transparent to glue the tissue too. Any suggestions? The neighbours are going to love us.

ps. Tomorrow is my first Italian language class.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

We Need Wellies

Definitely Welly Weather

On our way back from the UK, we stopped in Pisa. There were the typical toddler antics. You know, pushing down the Leaning Tower rather than holding it up.

Typical toddler

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hail, chips and truffles

This morning we embarked on our morning walk only to be forced back at the end of the cul-de-sac by hard little pellets of ice bombarding the pram and me, hail. Forget that. We did make it out a little later on, driven in part by gluttony. The love of the best little rum truffles, ever, from M.Ray Bakery. Baked goods in the UK are absolutely delicious.

In my last post, I was remiss in not mentioning the wonders living in a climate that actually has moisture in the air (and less sun) does for your skin. Julie, another week of this climate and my skin would be positively dewy. Perhaps we can turn back years of sun damage and dehydration if I just move back here? Hey honey, what do you think, lets move back to the UK so that my skin looks better? Hmmm, yeah, didn't think so.

This trip to England was also an important travel experience for Ila. She was finally introduced to her culinary cultural heritage, fish and chips. Ila appreciating her culinary cultural heritageactually to be more specific, a split. A split is mushy peas, chips and fish. Yummy. Actually, you'll notice on this plate she actually has pie too.

Tomorrow we're back to Pisa and then Florence. Hopefully, the weather will be warmer.

Night, night for now.

ps. I've been playing with the idea of maybe arranging to be on a walk around nap time and seeing what kind of nap Ila will take in those situations. Yesterday and today she fell asleep in the pram for about an hour and a half. Is this tempting the end of naps if I do this?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A brief interruption in blissful tales of Florence

Ila and I are back in the UK for a few days. Tourists to the UK often hit London, maybe Oxford and Cambridge, Stratford upon Avon, you know the cultural highlights. The North of England, Wales, Scotland, the west country and N. Ireland don't make the agenda. It is a shame.

Liverpool is a fabulous tourist destination if you're looking for a little theater, some interesting history, warm people, and lots of pubs. I definitely recommend it.

While I recommend L'pool I'd be hard pushed to recommend the town my family lives in. Today, as I pushed Ila in the borrowed pram, fighting strong gusts and what I think was light snow, I can't imagine coming back to the town my family lives in outside of L'pool for anything other than a visit. In another place, maybe outside the north, there would have been something more made of the historic center, but the place was gutted in the 80's with the loss of the big employer (the wire company) in town and then later by the opening of one of the biggest Tescos in Europe. I can remember factory bell sounding in the morning for the workers to get up and when it stopped. There is a lot of history here, really there is, but the decay of the town center just is so bloody depressing it adds to grim weather and derelict areas. Redeeming qualities to the area: I have family here, I still have wonderful friends here, the people are warm and funny, the chips are lovely, there is beauty here under the grey skies, Daniel Craig (he of James Bond fame) grew up here.

Now Daniel and I are just a year apart...what are the chances I met him in a pub here sometime before he took off to pursue a humble acting career?

Monday, March 23, 2009


My mum says that what she loves the buds and new leaves of Spring is that they hold the promise of Summer. I think I just like the promise of Spring most of all. This is the main pergola at Bardini. The wisteria are just beginning to bud, the hyacinths below are hinting at becoming green. I can't wait to see it in full bloom. We spent lots of time looking at pebbles, and water, at flowers, for nuts. One of Ila's favorite books right now is Each Peach Pear Plum by the Ahlbergs. At Bardini there is a small orchard of dwarf fruit trees, currently budding. Among them, peach, pear, plum, as well as cherry and apply. Another few weeks and it should be the sweetest smelling place ever.

For future trip tips, if when you get to Boboli Gardens the line outside going in is huge, go to the ticket office (the line is shortish), get your ticket and go to another entrance. Much quicker and less frustrating. This is the view from the Kaffehaus in the Bardini Garden. View from Bardini

This, because we miss our dogs so much that even petting a stone puppy brings us joy.
Even a stone doggy needs a little love

Saturday, March 21, 2009

For the girls - I'm loving it here, but I do miss Girly Night at the PP, SnB, and the bookclubs...

..and most of all your company. However, I've found something here that I think you will all appreciate (Mags, this might count as food p*rn, kind of.)

This place is about 10-15 minute walk from ours. All that stainless steel, I know you're thinking this is more Doug's thing, beer. Nope, this is wine.

Rebecca, forget the Trader Joe's wine in a box. This is the ultimate in cheap wine and ties in with the last post about reducing trash. Here you take a bottle and have it filled up. Haven't tried it yet, but just think of all those SnBs, girly nights and Bookclubs and how useful it would have been to have such a place, if the wine is good or even marginal.

Now, don't worry too much about Doug in this land of wine. The grocery stores may have an abysmal selection of beers, but just a few doors down from the wine place is this place - a brewery.

Between the location of the brewery and the close proximity of a couple of Irish pubs, I'm beginning to wonder about how the apartment was chosen. Anyway, all is not lost. I'll do some research and see if such places are worth their proximity. Another example of the Italians doing their bit to save the earth by reducing trash and recycling.

ps. Seeing who this post was dedicated to, I thought I might include a little more yarn p*rn. This kid mohair blend (80% kid mohair) was $3.40 a skein at an old lady store, right next to a bunch of 100% merino for similar prices. The store was wild, bras and support hose next to tablecloths and tea towels with places for cross stitching. Actually, looking at this yarn I think it is something Granny H would have knitted with.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Airing my laundry (clean) and my trash

Mummy's yarn
Trash, rubbish, garbage, whatever you call it, it is bit of a stinky problem, isn't it? When I taught elementary school, we took several elementary school classes to the landfill, part of that shock and awe campaign, "Look at this, isn't this awful. Don't grown up to trash the earth like I'm doing." but I don't think that approach really works. The connection might be made, but the pressure to act isn't immediate enough. I think the Italians (and the rest of the world) might have the solution.

We're actually pretty good back in the US, relatively that is. We compost a bunch (I was going to use an expletive there, but this is a family show.) and we try to cut down on packaging and use shopping bags rather than disposable bags, but moving here is encouraging me more. The first night we were here we had to take the trash out. Big deal eh? Except taking the trash out meant traversing down 70 steep steps, out into the cold night and crossing over to the next street to where the trash cans are, dropping off your stinky trash, which in our case includes diapers/nappies and back up 70 steep steps. Yep, trash cans and recycle for a fairly substantial number of people in containers not much larger than the ones that we have outside our back gate, just for our personal use. It is enough to make you try and cut back on how much you throw out and in doing that lower our consumption too. For example, the use of paper towels to wipe up kitchen surfaces or Ila's hands. Why am I using paper towels when I could use a cloth? We do a little of this at home, but not enough.

So, Ila and I set about making some.

Not quite as good as the ones we have from Aunt Ila, but they will suffice. A little mad crocheting here and there and there is a set of washable cloths. I just wish we had one of those huge pots that my mum used to boil up the teatowels and cloths when I was a kid.
Step one. to less consumption, less trash and less trips to the dumpster. And thats it really, isn't it? It isn't guilt, or concern for the environment that pushes us to change, but for matters of immediate ease and finance. Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to say 'us' and just keep to talking for myself, but as I look around at the proliferation of Smart cars and motorbikes here, the consistent use of timed lights for hallways, the absolute frigid inside room temperatures (Deborah, you were right about the insides of Italian houses - freezing), use of drying racks and lines and less reliance on pre and over packaged foods, I think that the average Italian must consume considerably less than us each year. While we're on the topic of consumption and I haven't yet mentioned food in today's post, We should mention it now. Ladies and gentlemen, that stuff you've convinced yourself is cheese, is nothing more than fake plastic cheese. Real cheese is so much better! I'm pretty convinced that all the EU regs are not being followed as those tend to take from the flavor of food. I didn't know you could like parmesan so much. Revolt dear countrymen and women, demand good cheese!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For Mags

Because you asked...
For Maggie

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Yarn is a beautiful thing

Yarn porn

On this, my fortieth birthday I present you with unadulterated yarn p*rn. Picked up at Santo Spirito's Organic Market (held every third Sunday of the month) for a ridiculously cheap price. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it yet. Suggestions accepted. For right now, I'm happy to just pet the yarn and know it is here.

I know I'm supposed to bemoan this point as I pass, without doubt, into middle age, but I'm really excited to be here. In the past decade I have met the most wonderful man and married him, been lucky enough have and parent my lovely child, shared my life and home with two dogs and two cats, have fabulous and rewarding friendships, found a job that I truly love and moved to a different country. Twelve years ago at this time I was still off work following a cardiac arrest that I was extremely lucky to survive. I do not take this day lightly, nor any day. I look forward to fifty, sixty and seventy as long as health and sanity serve me well. After a full, wonderful day my parting shot is this, Doug, Ila and I blowing out the candles on my birthday cake. May your birthday this year and every be filled with much joy too.

The whole family blowing out the candles

ps. Remember that picture and the olive trees that I had posted under the Arcetri post? I was asked by a complete stranger whether they could use it on their First Daffodils blog. Both flattering and wacky. Check it out. the photos is Friday, March 13th Daff of the Day:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Today was FABULOUS!  This is a very good start to a birthday weekend.  
Smelling the lilac (?)
Our neighbour from the temporary apartment told us about Giardino dei Bardini. We started off in Boboli, but decided to take the detour, just to check out Giardino dei Bardini. This isn't the big name Boboli Gardens, but a sweet smaller garden with amazing vistas of Florence. Terraced gardens, a wisteria pergola, honeysuckle, camellias, peonies, azaleas, oh this place is delightful. The ticket to Boboli gets you in the back door to Giardino dei Bardini. The garden opened to the public just 4 years ago after some protracted (30-40 year) struggle. This environment is more toddler friendly, fewer people, and more country garden than Boboli.  
Outside the fort
After all that running around a little nap was in order and necessary to be properly prepared for this evening's dining event.
Doug and I got to go out on a dinner date for my birthday. Bar Christian's lamb and the delights of last summer's Iron Chef taste bud bonaza, tonight's meal was probably the best meal I've ever had. We went to a restaurant, Cavolo Nero, recommended on a website we heard about from our friend R, Pig and Cheese. Holy cow, they were so right. We went with the Taster Menu. Goat cheese cannoli, some olive tapenade type thing for appetizers, the most succulent octopus I have ever had. Beef that melted in your mouth as if it was butter and a chocolate dessert, well, chocolate dessert.

Tomorrow, well today, I'm forty. Wahoo! Forty. I made it.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Blossoms at Arcetri 
So things have been a little quiet on 'A Little Gnocchi', because things are very much not quiet in the Little Gnocchi household. Both our jobs kicked up a notch this week. My students finally beginning to use my virtual walk-in hours, no more email answering during walk-in hours! Ahhhh, how will I manage it all? And Doug's work seemed to be moving forward too. For those in the know, they finally got the mirror on the test stand. Happy dance, happy dance. This, of course, during the week where we move to the new permanent apartment.

Moving to, not just visiting, a place where you don't speak the language kicks up the frustration level a few notches. Where do you get a phone? Soap dishes? Trash cans? I mean going out to Ikea via the free bus is cool a few times, but it quickly loses its appeal when you're dragging a two year old in tow and then walking through the center of Florence with large blue Ikea bags on the way back. So we're still without a phone, an iron (you know, for all that ironing I do), a hairdryer etc. For 24 hours we were also without pots, pans, silverware, cups, plates etc. I was pissy. Doug was patient. Anyway, that got me thinking about my mum.

Nearly forty years ago my mum and dad were living in Denmark and until just before I was born they were living in a hut like structure for students doing a residence at the field station. She is pretty sure they had hot water. Yeah, I'm spoiled. They were in a field in the middle of rural Denmark, I'm in Florence. They had hot water, I didn't on Wednesday, but really all I needed it for was to fill up the jacuzzi tub to relax and forget about moving frustrations. Did I mention the jacuzzi tub? It must have been incredibly isolating for my mum, pregnant, miles from anyone, but the cows, which apparently use to surround the hut and prevent escape. Here I am, in an incredible city, with the internet which via Ravelry and The Florentine I have found not one, but two knitting get togethers and an English speaking, once weekly playgroup, and ludoteches which are basically free organized playarea/groups with staff. Internet, I thank you.

The other big difference between now and forty years ago, ease of travel. My mum was isolated. Visits from friends and family were close to non-existent. Although apparently my Gran did have Guinness Beer regularly shipped to my mum after I was born to help with the breastmilk production. I know, that explains so much about me. My mum has been able to come out and visit twice and we've not been here a month yet.

My mum is here this weekend, playing with Ila, enjoying Italy, celebrating my birthday. England to Italy in 2009 is just not that big a deal. Have to love that. To celebrate her second visit to Italy, we shared the delights of our local gelateria, La Carraia. I know any excuse. 

La Carraia, is just south of the Arno, which makes the prices very reasonable and they have lovely homemade gelato. I've walked past at 5:30pm on a chilly day and the place was heaving. We wait a little while after dinner before indulging. I have to say, I'm more of a fruit gelato gal than a creamy chocolate gal. I know, you're shocked. 

Gelato is mind bogglingly good. I typically just try one flavour at a time, to make sure that my taste buds don't get overloaded and go into some sort of super stimulus breakdown. That is probably how I should address my moving frustrations too: one at a time.  And of course, to keep remembering how fortunate, how privileged and how spoilt I am by a life that occasionally sends along a few moving frustrations.             

Monday, March 9, 2009

Great Sights of Florence


Boboli Gardens

Ponte Vecchio


Santa Croce



Who Needs Michelangelo?
We're just that kind of family.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

This Mimosa's for you

Today is Festa della Donna, International Women's Day. The Italians celebrate and honor women by presenting them with sprigs of mimosa. The scent of mimosa is everywhere (Julie, you would love it!) A shame it isn't celebrated everywhere, although the Russian part of my family informs me that there are similar celebrations in Russia.

I went to the Santo Spirito antique fair this afternoon. The fair happens once a month, all sorts of stuff, bric-a-brac, posters from the 1930s, dried fruit, hippy stuff, punk clothing, handmade soap, plants. Not so much an antique fair, but good fun.

At several of the stalls were mounds of doilies and older linens. My gran used to have doilies on the tables and I never quite understood the purpose of them. For our wedding, one of Doug's relatives gave us some intricate crocheted doilies she'd made herself. I appreciated the gesture, but at the time wondered what I could do with them. Now, having done a little crochet I recognize the incredible amount of work that goes into such things and better appreciate, I think, the gift that was given to us.

Thinking about the doilies and the amount of work that goes into such detail, in conjunction with IWD made me think about this series that the BBC did, Blood, Sweat and T-shirts. I guess the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory isn't that far away after all. So, I leave you with that thought and my gratitude to all the women in my life, for all you do.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Today's highlights:

1. Being recognized on the street by someone almost as if we lived here

The wonderful chef, Nola, from the restaurant we were at last night recognized us and came over and said hi. Nola then proceeded to gush all over Ila. Someone knows us in Florence.

2. Remembering last night's meal cooked by Nola

Primo - First course (for all of us, not just me)
-Crespelle alla Fiorentina (Spinach, ricotta pancakes/crepes in a tomato sauce - yum)
-Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci (in a butter sauce & sage)
I love the use of sage leaves in food. We had this tremendous butternut squash tortellini while we were in Marin this summer that had a butter sage component. This dish reminds me a little of that. I obviously need to include sage in cooking at home.
-Filetto di maiale in crosta - Pork filet in bread crust. It sounds so plain and maybe a little bizarre, but it is a sinful plate of salt, carbohydrate and meat. Delicious.
-Swiss Chard sauteed
We need a little green

3. Avoiding lines and saving money
Walked into the correct office at the Uffizi at opening time (10am) and bought a family pass (100 Euros for the calendar year) with no fuss and no wait. This pass will get us into a bunch of places and I estimate will pay for itself in the next 3 weeks. If you're planning on visiting and want to see a bunch of places over a few days this maybe the way to go.

4. Finishing the beret
I made some errors in gauge. It is a little top heavy, but so soft AND purple.

Friday, March 6, 2009


I have an admission, and some blame to place.

I've read three out of the four Twilight series books. Yeah, teenage, vampire/werewolf, dysfunctional relationship, fatalistic drivel. Trish, it is all your fault. You gave me the first book. I have no control over my reading.

I had planned to get it out of my system on the airplane over, sure that the airport would carry the books, but no all they had were the top ten paperback books and a bunch of spiritual and self help books. No trashy teenage vampire books. Dang it. I had to buy the third one here and finished it in about two days. I am, however, putting off getting the fourth to read something with a little more substance. Given where we are, that is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of the telescope to study the skies (2009 is The International Year of Astronomy) and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. I'm thinking some reading that is a little more science based or historical. Any suggestions? Nothing too substantive though, I'm still recovering from Eclipse (book three of four).

Today we walked up with Doug to Arcetri Observatory. Outside the city walls, up in the hills, close to where Galileo was held in house arrest, Arcetri is set up among rolling hills and olive trees and is just what the doctor ordered after several days of rain. Today was beautiful. Armed with cornetti for breakfast and a few panini sandwiches for lunch we picnicked up in the grounds of the observatory. A good start to the day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

There was a little girl...

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good,
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad, she was...

oh I just can't say she's horrid, because she isn't, more - but when she was wild, she crazy, when she was two, she was terrific?
What do you think?

It is STILL raining here. I decided that rain or no rain we were going to spend all morning out of the apartment. We might be sweet, but we're not sugar and we're not going to dissolve. Please note the false bravado of someone who has spent the past 20 years in the desert. So we went back to Palazzo Pitti and visited the Galleria Palatina, the main art gallery. Hey, it might be just 7 minutes walk, but it was still in the rain.

The gallery was outstanding, but no photos, no cameras allowed. Not that other people were abiding by that rule, but I was too busy chasing a toddler around to whip out the camera and catch a stealth shot. Not that I would. So, I'm afraid I can't share. Just think Raphael and you have it about pegged.

We managed for a while looking for horses and babies in the pictures before Ila just wanted to run around. The museum staff were wonderful. Thankfully. I only got a few snotty looks from one of my fellow countrywomen.

Dear Fellow Countrywoman,

While I understand the wish to enjoy the art in peace and quiet, the focus of many of the paintings in this gallery is the child. If I want my daughter or any child to appreciate art, to know how to behave in such a place, it is going to take some training and experience. The first few times her behaviour might prove a bit of a disruption until I move her out of the space which, don't worry, I will. Please take a little joy in the exuberance of a two year old gasping and saying wow when she sees frescos on the ceilings for the first time. The artist is taking joy in the beauty that nature created, can't you?


P.S. I can take you any day. I have the snotty look down pat. As well as the teacher look. So there.

That said, I'm probably going to attempt the next gallery with Doug along. Maybe we'll keep to looking at architecture for right now.

Yesterday, when it was raining we had a flour day. One of the activity bags that Kerry packed for Ila included these great stretchy lizards. At Kerry's suggestion we buried the lizards in a shallow pan with flour and then went a lookin'. Ila loved this. The activity turned from playing with flour, patting it, letting it run through her fingers, sprinkling it to searching for lizards, stretching lizards, piling lizards up, and then burying lizards. Rinse, repeat. Much fun. At the end we were both covered in flour and so was the floor. Fun, so much fun.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Under the Tuscan Sun?

Under the Tuscan Sun?
What the hell? Its raining. Apparently, it is forecast to rain all week. I left the grey drizzle of England twenty years ago for sweet desert warmth, where the rain is limited in the winter and dramatic and entertaining in the monsoons of the summer. Now, I'm back to drizzle. At least it is amid impressive settings, warm company and delectable food.

We went to Parco delle Cascine this morning, before it started to rain. This is Firenze's huge public park to the west of downtown. It is impressive in size and if it weren't for the screaming child some foreigners (us) brought with them, quite serene. Just don't look too carefully for syringes, this park has a deserved sullied reputation for its night life.

I'm not well equipped for rain. I think I forgot my rain jacket even. Hell, I've barely used a raincoat in the past twenty years. So if it is going to rain for the next week or so, I'm going to have to get creative about what to do with a toddler, in a small apartment, with few of our usual toys and things. Any ideas? Those with kids, what do you do? I know we can still go outside, just looking for some inside options too.

This afternoon we pulled out one of the surprise activity bags that Kerry sent with us for the plane. Kerry, you're brilliant. I love these activity bags. Simple idea, a paper bag with some objects guaranteed to make a toddler squeal with delight. We've opened most of these already, repacked them and Ila still delves into them with gusto. Did I forget anything here Kerry?

Today's bag: Insect theme
Ladybird beetle shakers
Glittery butterfly stickers with paper to stick stickers on

I think that we'll try and come up with an activity bag for each day. Suggestions gladly accepted.
p.s. Happy St. David's Day
p.p.s At home date night tonight, movie, wine, and dessert. Got to love it.
More stickers