Monday, April 27, 2009

There but by the Grace of God go I*

Just to remember this moment forever
picture from almost a year ago

Every night, every morning, and often in between, I hold my daughter close to me and inhale. Glorious. She is so precious, so vibrant and so fragile. It is good to remember the sweet times when she exploring the “dark side” of all her two year old glory. You know those times, right? 

Becoming a parent has turned my understanding of my own parents upside down. Did I know I could love so much? I think I understand now, with surprising clarity, the immensity of my parents’ hopes and fears, and the impact of my choices on them. Watching the most important thing in your world toddle of into the wild and crazy outside world is scary stuff. Hell, my daughter is only two and it scares the crap out of me. I don’t even want to think about the teenage years.  

As scary as those thoughts are to me, I have the peace of mind of knowing that we’re able to provide for all of her, and our, basic needs. Things like having enough diapers and wipes is something we’re fortunate enough not to have to worry about – but a great many families can’t say that now, due to layoffs, foreclosures, and the other economic woes that surround us. Diapers, wipes, and sanitary supplies are some of the items most requested and least donated to those in need, and we all know how important they are in keeping our kids clean and healthy. If you hit hard times and had to debate between paying the utility bill, or for your month’s bus pass to work, or diapers for your little one, how could you choose? Hopefully, you don’t have to – and neither should other parents. 

With all that in mind, this year on Mother’s Day (May 10th), as I think of how to best truly honor my mother, I vow to move away from the Hallmark card and the flowers and back to the original sentiment behind Mother’s Day. I want to honor her and other mothers in my life by nurturing, by helping other mothers, other parents, other daughters and sons and in doing so building a better world my own child and all children. 

Join me in honoring the mother figures in your life by participating in the online Tucson Mama Diaper Drive benefiting Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, the nation’s first diaper bank. Donate more than $25 via our Tucson Mama Diaper Drive Amazon Wish List and email us at diaperdrive at gmail dot com the proof of purchase with your honoree's name before midnight on May 8th and we’ll send you a nice little e-card to present to your loved one.  

That’s right, forgo the chocolates that may be gone in a single evening, leaving only regret behind (am I projecting too much here?),  the flowers that will wilt and fade – instead, honor your mother with an investment in our world.  Won’t you join me?

ps.  This online Diaper Drive was inspired by the seriously cool Help A Mother Out organization

*This from a good little humanist

Friday, April 24, 2009

Even when you don't try you can't avoid a little culture here...

One of the coolest things about our apartment became apparent just this week. Below the bathroom (where mold is growing- not so cool, must contact the landlady about that) is an empty space. At least, I thought it was an empty space. Apparently, it is a music studio where voice and piano classes are taught. During the past week, each afternoon, we've been treated to some rather fine singing. Sometimes all we hear are scales being sung, but other times we receive quite the concert. Ila and I hang out on the big bed, look up at the ceiling and listen. Today it sounded like opera.

This evening we were treated to a whole other type of concert. Massive cheering and chanting in the alley/street that our apartment borders on. I open the bathroom windows to see this:
Communist March past the window, Santo Spirito
The communist party is apparently alive and well here. This was the tail end of the parade as they wound their way around to a rally in Santo Spirito Piazza. This neighbour is a lot more lively than ours in Tucson, for sure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Daisies & Buttercups

On the very southern tip of Boboli Gardens, close to the Porta Romana is a large, open, grassy area. Unlike the grass areas close to Palazzo Pitti it doesn't have large looming "Keep Off" signs, written in enough languages that you can't feign ignorance. Until recently, this area looked rather forgotten, too far from the Palazzo for most tourists, and too plain to be of interest to anyone, but the truanting high school students and parents, whose young children are eager to race around. 

This week, we saw the reason the field was left fallow. At least, a good rationale, if not the intended one:
Boboli's Daisy and Buttercup Field
The field has become the epitome of balmy spring and summer days. Sweet smelling clover, daisies a plenty to thread together or pick apart, and enough buttercups to drive the cholesterol through the rough. Blissful. Ila and I spent the better part of an hour there in the morning and then met Doug there on his way home from work in the afternoon.  Neither time did we have to share the space, although we would be happy to. It was all ours. 

Is this what they mean by slow parenting? Feels good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What weekends were meant for...

We have had a fabulous weekend. Once all of us were well again.
  • Operation Potty Train is now Operation Undies. 
  • Marge, my very wonderful MIL, Ila and I went to a fabulous park on Friday (more about that in a minute)
  • Doug and I got to go out for dinner together and eat and talk without once having to get up to chase a sweet, but spirited child around the table, out of the kitchen, off the dessert tray, or even from the neighbouring diners' tables. Date night is bliss. 
  • Yesterday, we went to the magnificent city of Siena. 
  • Today, lounged lazily around, as you do on a Sunday, only making a big effort to go out and meet a couple of Doug's work friends for a fabulous dinner.  
Ahhhh, its a tough life. Back to work tomorrow though.

View from Parco di Villa Strozzi

Back to the park discovery though. Not too far from here, the grounds of Villa Strozzi are designated a public park. A beautiful park with wooded nature trails, views of Tuscan rolling hills, dog walkers, places for children to play and places for folks to be quiet and contemplate. It is absolutely gorgeous. For the introduction to this beautiful place I must thank a woman I've never actually met, and know only via her blog, MammaAmericana.  

I found MammaAmericana's blog way back in mid-Fall when the possibility of our move became a likelihood. I checked out an expat site with some links to blogs and there was her blog all about her life in Firenze and her family. Whenever I worry that my blog is a rather self-indulgent exercise on my part I think about the huge help that MammaAmericana's blog has been to me in helping me adjust to Firenze. By sharing information about shops that she accesses materials for her crafty stuff, links to resources such as Firenzemoms4firenze,
and of course places like Parco di Villa Strozzi I have been helped immensely in adjusting to life here. If you stumble on this blog because you're about to move or visit Florence with a small child, I hope you find something useful here.  I certainly encourage you to take a gander over at MammaAmerican's blog as she actually knows what she is talking about. With that I leave you with images of my girl enjoying Parco di Villa Strozzi. Thank you MammaAmericana.

The train at Villa Strozzi Park
Parco di Villa Strozzi

Friday, April 17, 2009

I almost forgot...

...and how could I?

The inspiration behind the schiacciata, well beyond my MIL's adoration of this rustic bread and of course the bread itself: This book give away on Words to Eat By a wonderful food and writing blog which I was introduced to by Julie of TucsonMama, who has also mentioned this book giveaway. I figure between us and anyone reading our blogs we might win and maybe someone will share the book?

All you have to do is subscribe to Word to Eat By's feed which is well worth the time and leave a comment on the Words to Eat by site to that effect and I think that is about it. Check, of course. And what could you win? Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes by Emily Franklin. If you win and I don't, you'll share right?

En route to Domestic Goddess Status

Maybe not, but we made passable Schiacciata yesterday. Doug's mum has declared that she could live just off it. We used a recipe found here and we kind of used it. I'm very much of the cooking school that believes that measuring spoons and strict obedience to the recipe is for cooking woosies. If I'm going to be in the kitchen, I'm going to relish havoc in and on it. Of course, I'm also not known for my cooking skills. This approach can work though. My stepdad's late SIL, a wonderful Irish lady called Peggy made the best cake.  Watching her make them it all seemed to be a handful of this, a cup of that and the results were utterly delectable. It made it easy to say yes when she insisted you have a drink and something to eat as soon as you came in the house.  I'm afraid our results do not compare to Peggy's fine creation.  Next time we'll add more oil, let rise longer, knead longer and cook less. Still, it was all gone within 1/2 hour and Ila had a grand time kneading the dough.  

Making Schiacciata
We also made a trip back to Giardino Bardini to check out the pergola.  We planned to go back once a week, but then we had Operation Potty interrupt one week, and then something else another week.  We made it back finally and though it wasn't as sunny a day as when I took this image, it was still spectacular especially now with the wisteria blooming.
Bardini Pergola
The next shot was a blurred mistake shot as I realized Ila had picked some of the buds and seemed to contemplate eating them. Did I mention all parts of wisteria are toxic. We spent a few hours watching for nausea. Blummin' kids, walking hearts on the outside of your body, all exposed and vunerable. 
She was fine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pleasant Surprises

Held semi-captive not so much by OPT (Operation Potty Train), but by my bright red, raw and dribbling nose and the sinus swollen chipmunk cheeks; today I'm sharing not so much our exploration of the exquisite cultural highlights of Florence, but something more practical:

One of these things is not like the others,

Did you notice what was amiss in all but one of the pictures? 

A series of doors, only one with a mail slot and there are no mail boxes outside.

Just how does the mail get to the intended recipient?  

By many accounts the Italian Postal Service leaves something to be desired, but maybe the system isn't set up to be favorable to the postal service. In the morning, upon getting to the front door, which probably doesn't have a mail slot or box, the mail person just starts ringing bells of each apartment in the building in the hope that someone is home and will answer and open the door. Talk about cumbersome and impractical. What happens if no-one answers?  I don't know. 

Today was my turn to open the door. Wahoo. I did something for my neighbours. Maybe they will forgive us the ungodly hour that Ila wakes them on weekend mornings with her protests?
Last week, someone else answered the door and thank goodness because the mail person was carrying a piece of mail for little old me. My first piece of mail in Italy.  From an unfamiliar address in New York. Kind of a thick envelope. Ila and I climbed the stairs, with the young one carrying the precious mail and together we opened it to reveal:

My very first The East Village Inky zine! Hell, my very first zine. 

A gift from a wonderful friend back in the US. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Ila thanks you too. She has taken quite a shine to it and pours over it. I have to fight her for it. So maybe the Postale Italiane is just fighting an uphill battle against circumstance and when something is this important they make it happen?  From New York, US of A to Florence, Italy 3 days flat. I think that is bloody brilliant. 


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Batten down the hatches

Alright, maybe not quite stormy weather, but Operation Potty Train is in full force in our apartment this weekend which means only one adult gets to escape at a time from the apartment and the little one is held hostage in the apartment for three whole days. A friend in the know tells us that this approach reduces/inspires some parents to attempt only when completely baked. We're doing okay here without the help of illegal substances, but what a 'fun' ride. Needless to say so far the primary result of all this 'training' is one of us has to go to the bathroom every twenty five minutes or so and it isn't Ila. Well, you didn't drop by to read about potty training/learning did you?

Buona Pasqua!
Please note the deep contemplative look on I's face as she regards her first chocolate egg. It didn't stand a chance and was consumed rapidly and with glee once cracked. Thanks Suzanne, Alan and Sam
Today I can only share what I would have done if Operation Potty Train wasn't in full swing and if Doug had been well enough to be left with our young hostage (which, poor bugger, he wasn't). The plan was for me to attend the big parades in Firenze celebrating/observing Easter. This celebration seems to be a very big deal in Firenze. Street music, big bangs, fireworks, men in tights, and white oxen with flower bouquets on their heads and it all sounds like a great morning to me. As I wasn't there it doesn't seem right for me to say what happens so here, read about it over at Burnt to a Crisp Under the Tuscan Sun
Oh, and check out the firework display here:

At the time of all these fireworks we were giving up on the every 25minute toilet break and just going with hourly reminds to go to the bathrooms. The thing is, there is always going to be something going on, someone visiting and in between these things have to happen. Wish us luck on Day Three of Operation Potty Train and then we're going to be out on the streets of Florence diaper free! With that goodnight. Happy Easter, Pasqua, Passover, Springtime or just happy day to you what ever you celebrate.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Haiku to Schiacciatta

Carbohydrate loveliness
Better than chocolate

Schiacciatta, how I love thee

I have found my bready heaven here in Italy, with enough salt and oil to keep me H.A.P.P.Y. as well as bonny and fat. Schiacciatta is its name.

Blame my stepdad for being a flour miller. I may not be a wine snob, but I'm verging on being a bread snob. Previously the Tuscan bread bored me with the poor flour and lack of salt, but all that has changed now. Every morning, every evening if we're lucky we pick some up from Giovanni Galli's Bakery just off Piazza di Santo Spirito. Often, it is still warm by the time we sit back down at our dining table, that is if the bread made it home and wasn't guzzled on the way. This is how bread should be consumed, made that day, still warm and happily. Can you overdose on bread?

Oh, and this random piece on Twittering, because it is so right on and yet there I am...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not from today, but from Sunday. The thing about moving to a foreign land, where you don't speak the language, with a child is that you end up accosting any family that has a small child of a similar age. Last Sunday it was an American family that had moved to just outside Milan for about the same length of time as we are here. Their daughter, 3 years old, and Ila ran the mazes together. We need to find some steady playmates for Ila of a similar age. She talks about her friends at ECE every day. Amelia is 'called' multiple times a day on the phone.

Then of course there is that fill your own bottle wine shop down the road. I can now report that the wine is just fine. Of course, I'm not much of a wine connoisseur, but seven Euros for three bottles will help me as I establish my status as a lush.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I'll admit it. I'm completely shattered. This whole WAHM thing is great, really, really great, but just working after the short one has gone to bed means it is 1:20am before I even get to this part of my day and I feel like I've been on the go all day. I really need to foster more independent play in Ila. You know, so I can hang out, watch her and do something with that yarn I bought. Well that, and help her foster independence too. I know, no sympathy is deserved, this is fabulous even if I'm pulling late nights to do it. That said. I'm keeping it short today. 

Doug's mum, sister and niece are visiting currently and so Doug and I both took Monday off work to go to Venice with them. Even, if there was an inkling of sympathy it has disappeared now hasn't it?  Venice is, even when you experience little food poisoning, absolutely worth the visit. The bustle, the water, the architecture, the sheer craziness of the place. I'd like to go back and take a longer gander one day. 

The gondola ride was worth the money. Although for those about to visit us I suggest asking around a bit. We took an inside channel boat trip for less than 80 Euros and about 40 minutes. Others were charging 150 Euros. I assume for longer rides, but 40 minutes was lovely. And with that, I say goodnight. It really is too late to be up.

Monday, April 6, 2009

As safe and sound as we ever were.

I've had quite a lot of emails and a couple of phone calls about the earthquake that shook central Italy today.  Thanks for all the good wishes.  We are fine. I don't think Florence even felt the quake. I wish I could say the same for those in L'Aquila. L'Aquila, where the epicenter was, is about 100 miles SE of Florence.  

We were actually in Venice today.  Which was glorious, other than a touch of food poisoning.  Anyway, I'll catch up with that tomorrow.  

Thanks again.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Puritanical Modesty Meets Eric Carle

No br*asts please, we're British (or American) . Asterisks placed just to stop weird Google searches not because the human form should not be discussed or is in some way a shameful thing.
From the outside - Looking in Not Quite the Eric Carle Window
It isn't quite done, but this is the result of all that tissue paper mania the other day. Rather than using glue, we stuck the tissue paper to contact paper. Ila, her aunt and I had a grand old time sticking tissue, pants, fingers, and food to the contact paper . Enough of a good time that we may yet stick tissue paper to contact paper again.
Tissue Paper Madness Cont..
Once we'd wrecked havoc on the contact paper, and pretty much covered it with tissue paper, we put another piece of contact paper on top. Sealed in contact paper, hopefully the tissue paper won't bleed. We cut contact/tissue paper up into strips and curves and placed it on the window. Quite a successful family project, I think and all for less than four Euros.
Ila and her Auntie display their art work

And now for something a little different.

This week, here in Firenze, something changed. We're still getting rain, but the temperatures rose a touch, the mink coats disappeared, babes and toddlers were no longer dressed for 20 below (even though it was probably 60 degrees), and it just felt different, like Spring had arrived. The trattatorias and cafes started to dress the outside tables AND people began to sit outside. I think I'm going to enjoy this.

ps. M, I think I found the type of gnocchi I want to emulate, but I've only signed up for a Indian cooking class so far. Hey, I'll be able to make paneer. 
pps. The Italian language class was a great success, but now I have homework.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Finding Direction

Years ago, I suffered from insomnia. The only remedy seemed to be driving. So I drove, all over Tucson and listened to BBC World Service. After a couple of hours I would be ready to go to bed and sleep. I was averaging three to four hours a night.
It sucked.

I know, it is terrifying to think I was driving when so utterly sleep deprived, but at least I was informed. The insomnia went on for months too, ending only when I moved my bed, replaced the carpet (necessitating cleaning under the bed) and took the telly out of the bedroom. I ended up dividing up a map of Tucson into about eight sections and exploring each section. I didn’t cover much of the SE, nor the far NW, but a lot of Tucson. Now, I feel like I’m dividing up Florence and, with Ila, walking the city. Not because I have insomnia, but to have some structure in getting to know Florence/Firenze. Better still, Firenze is already divided into sections.

Rather than actually using a map when walking around, we use architectural landmarks. The maps here confuse me. It is easier to focus on a dome or a bell tower and head that way, not knowing what street you’re on. In Tucson, everything looked the same other than the mountains so you gauge everything by where the Catalinas, Rincons, Santa Ritas or Tucson Mountains are. Where I grew up, you can’t navigate by the geologic landscape as much as the by the gastronomic landscape: pub, the fish and chippy, the roundabout, mainly the pubs. Here it is by the churches, the domes, the piazzos, the bridges and the gates.

Don't Go Past HereEvery day, Ila and I make it beyond the old city walls. Mainly we’re just exploring the Oltrarno. Beyond this gate, an Indian restaurant, and a Japanese one, the brewery, a great paper store, wider streets, fewer tourists and better graffiti.

A couple of days ago we went to the far East side, and outside the city walls found a busy little children’s park right there along the Arno. It isn’t a bad way to navigate a city I think.

(Yep, I have no idea why I started with the insomnia connection either)
Public Art