Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yes, but ...

Health Insurance Exclusions
Just in case you thought everything here in Florence was all peaches and cream, I thought I best share a couple of truly trying situations we have dealt with in the past few days:
Example number one:
Paying for private health insurance for the three of us.
Health coverage for us for a year = 1260 Euros total (we have to get it for a year for the residency card, not because we plan to stay a year)
Admittedly, the insurance doesn't cover a bunch of stuff including injuries resulting from atomic bombs, and jumping off spring boards (they have a thing about springboards in this policy which shouldn't be a problem because I hate heights even short spring board heights.) Oh, and they were so apologetic about the cost. Ummmm, for 1260 Euros we'd be lucky to cover this family for a month in the US if we had to get private health insurance.

If we were working for an Italian company we would be able to access the state system which actually has a fabulous reputation. The state system covers Ila as it is I believe. Some nonsense about looking after children. As if it isn't their fault their parents can't access healthcare. Anyone might think the health of our children had an impact on our society present and future. Hmmmmm...

Example numero due (got to practice my italfranish somewhere)

You have options on your electricity supply that limits how much you can access. We somehow got signed up for 3kW which meant today when we tried to have the ac on (92 degrees, 75% humidity) with the lights in the living room, the breaker went. We went ahead an moved up in the world to a 6kW allowance. I wonder why they do that? Perhaps they have a different rate for those who promise to keep their energy consumption low. Kind of cool possibly, but also just a bit weird.

and number three
On the train to Rome
Me: Hey honey, there is a guy selling beer here
D: Oooo...oh, yes, but it's Italian beer. I'd rather drink water.

See deep, deep suffering

I can tell you hear our pain. Well, maybe with the humidity and temperatures?

On a more positive note, this just appeared in a gallery down the street. It isn't greatest shot, but the actually picture is about 2 meters tall and is completely created using colored drawing pencils. Pencilled Venus

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Because this should be seen...

and because I'm bummed that the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 which banned Gay Marriage. Iowa before California on this? Of course Arizona is in the deep, deep, deep hole of despair on this and other matters

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Sightseeing the Toddler Way

As we watch the fall of Empires, why not go visit the seat of a fallen, yet still influential empire. Of course, the Roman Empire far outlasted the more recent ones.

We had grandiose plans, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Square, an audience with the Pope, the Colosseum, Spanish Steps,the Pantheon and then we got there and it was hot, and so we stopped for a drink and a little something to eat. Hit the Colosseum, very hot, so got a little gelato with our friend and Doug's colleague R who is from Roma. 



At that point we decided that the Forum was out, not enough shade. Perhaps a little Metro trip to the Spanish Steps? Then we got there and this beautiful park at Villa Borghese looked much more appealing (a virtual friend had suggested it). It was shady, and cool, and green...

Villa Borghese
Over Roma from Villa Borghese
Our grand plan down to the Colosseum & the park at Villa Borghese and Ila's first trip on an Underground. We do our sightseeing gently.
Anyway, sometimes the best sights and sounds are found when you're not looking for them, like the free concert in Chiesa di Santa Trinita by L'Orchestra dei Ragazzi that we stumbled upon on the way home from the station that night. An orchestra of 10 to 17 year olds performing music from the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. Spectacular.

Next time, perhaps we'll squeeze in a quick visit to the Pope. I'm sure he was disappointed that we didn't make it this time. 


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Just us & Galileo's Ghost

Galileo's Gaol
This week we got the news that we're back to Tucson for the beginning of September. We'd not so secretly hoped that we would have longer here and for a while it looked like our hopes may be realized. Sigh. We're going to try and pack as much in to the next three months as possible.

Yesterday, we marked our half-way point with a picnic dinner up at the observatory. Imagine rolling Tuscan hills basking in sunset, air heady with the scent of jasmine, the sounds of Italian 16th century music drifting through the air* from the Galileo library and a dessert of cherries picked from a tree at the bottom of the road. I don't have pictures that can even begin to capture how perfect this evening was, you'll have to settle for these and your imagination. Next time I'm bring a bottle of wine.

*At the top of the hill at Arcetri, within stumbling distance of Doug's office is the Galileo Library. On Friday night the library was host to a free concert in celebration of the 400 year anniversary of Galileo's work. The library is beautiful, but small. Just thirty people watched the concert, with a toddler we chose to sneak a listen from a safe distance.
Just picked cherries

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who should David throw the stone at now?

It has taken us nearly three months to go and see David. I know it is disgusting isn't it, uncultured slobs that we are, but fear of the lines kept us at bay. We shouldn't have worried, because of our passes we got to walk right in and skip the line. Ha!

So David is big. I mean really, really, really big, not quite as tall as an LBT mirror is wide, but still massive. I like David, he is a muckracker, a ramble rouser, a down with The Man kinda of guy. The sling held over his arm ready to bring them all down. Who would David and Michelangelo been gunning for now? Your suggestions below please.

Oh and no pictures with this post as they forbid photographs and movies in the Accademia and I wasn't feisty enough to stand up to the man and say I will use my camera

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy, happy, happy

Just a quick flight over, a 70 minute bus ride up from Pisa and she's here, my mum, for the weekend. Reveling in all the Ila goodness. The closest we've lived to each other in 20 years. More visits together in the past months than in couple of years. How glorious to live this close, but still distant enough that a visit is familiar and still exciting. I don't think she stopped grinning the whole weekend. And neither did we.
Knight's Garden
Good food, good wine, good company
Happy, happy, happy

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just like Pinocchio, but with an F.

I'm days behind with this. Lots of little anecdotes to share, but too busy to share, which is good, isn't it? 
Wednesday's Italian class confirmed that my lovely Italian teacher has me completely sussed. My taste buds and my stomach are the avenue to my heart and brain.  After a lesson reviewing how to order food she pulls out this odd looking bulb. 

Fortunately, thanks to my dear pal M. I did not appear like a complete uncouth, corn syrup sucking idiot and was able to identify the funky bulb - fennel, in Italian, finocchio. I think my teacher may also be attempting to save me from myself with the introduction of lots of healthy foods, in this case verdure fresche in pinzimonio. Apparently, this is a very Tuscan approach to vegetables in the summer. A mixture of vegetables cleaned, peeled.... il sedano, i caricoi, i ravelli and, of course, i finocchi served with the very best olio, sale, and aceto. Mmmmm finocchio. Ila and I give finoccio the big thumbs up.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free to Be... You and Me

It might be Thursday in the US, but it is now Friday here and so a new post to share two things, no scratch that, three things, before I go back to the inane drivel of an over privileged middle aged woman (yeah, I said it out loud) living the life of Riley.

1. The first item I didn't see at the time, it was part of the 08 campaign. I stumbled upon it on Brook Yung's blog, and how I got there? Interest piqued after watching B.Yung here and I got there? From following helpamotherout on Twitter.

Check out the other poets on B.Yung's blog. Love the Dolphin poem. You guys didn't know I'm a poetry fiend did you? Love the stuff, love it more when it kicks my ass and gets me thinking, "What should I do and how will I do that?" We'll get back to that thought.

2. At some point in the day, every day, Ila and I dance like the crazy is right there with us and there is no stopping us or it. Utter bloody joy. We have a compilation I put together for her birthday which starts out with Marlo Thomas and the New Seekers singing Free to Be...You & Me (the crazy starts a little slow) and the second line always gets to me...
"And I say it ain't far to this land from where we are" It isn't so far to achieve that dream. We have all the tools to make it happen, they're just not be used, I'm not using them. When I think about what is standing in the way of the dream of every child being free to be themselves, in the US at least, I think that lack of accessibility to healthcare is a, or even the, huge overwhelming stumbling block. When you consider the leading cause of bankruptcy and financial ruin is not some addiction to an illegal substance, not some gambling or shopping problem, but medical bankruptcy it is hard to ignore the impact the crappy lack of healthcare is having on our society. This along with the video above brings me to item three.

3. Kathy McClure, the purple bus lady and her blog  is giving voice to those who have lost it along with their health insurance. It is compelling stuff.  Kathy is actually doing something, making the case for a healthcare system that addresses the needs of the people. So, the question is what can I do? I'm not getting in a purple bus any time soon. Who do I write to, who needs to hear this? My congressman? My senator? Not sure I'll convince Jon Kyl given his history on healthcare, but if I don't try...
What else can we do, you know other than or in addition to donating to the Organizing for America ?  

Alright, I'm done now.  Well, at least for now. 

ps. Thanks to again for the lead on the purple bus lady.

Keeping within our quarter

Running the Pergola (Bardini again)
We've been fairly low key this week. Ila has been under the weather and so no-one has had a great night's sleep for about 5 days. Lack of sleep does not foster a sense of exploration and so we've kept almost exclusively to the Oltrarno this week. Hopefully, our friends B & G who were visiting will forgive us. The photo above was taken on Mother's Day before the cold really set in. Oh, how we love Bardini.

In saying we've kept it low key, it is hard to pass a day where you go outside without seeing something spectacular. Ila, B and I had a special Firenze treat this week when we stopped by the Giardino dell' Iris on the way down from the hike up to the Observatory. GIARDINO DELL'IRIS
The garden is open just for 18 sweet days. Who knew there were so many colors of iris? The picture doesn't show it, but the garden is not small and is set on a slope you walk down among a cloud of irises (sorry Wordsworth) to a pond with water lilies, no Rydal Water admittedly, but pretty idyllic all the same.

Ila has been thoroughly spoiled with B&G's visit, super silly adults in the best sense of the word who showered her with fun and excitement and some very cool gifts. B made a series of threading cards out of laminated photos of our Tucson home and garden and large colorful shoelaces and they are a huge hit! Ila spent a good 30 minutes (a long time in toddler time) with them yesterday and I think I need to break out my embroidery project and see how much I can actually get done under the guise of us both playing together.
Threading photo

Monday, May 11, 2009

And then Bear, the caterpillar was very sick

Bear is read to quite often. I love that she loves this book.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Spice Lab does Samosas

Northern England isn't exactly a culinary hot bed for much beyond good stodgy comfort food (breads and pastries) except for food from the Indian sub-continent. Boy, Indian food was one of the favorite picks for a meal out, but the idea of actually cooking indian food has never really been in the cards for me. Like most ideas about cooking I have, it never gets beyond the purchase of a pretty cookbook. I have Madhur Jaffrey's Far Eastern Cookery book, and have even cracked it open, but never actually cooked from it. It always looks a little daunting. However, stick me in a situation where I'm desperate for adult interaction and offer food and babysitting and I'm there.

One of the fellow mums, an American expat, who attends the playgroup hosted by Firenzemoms4moms at St.James church, has a couple of chef's degrees and has a business teaching cooking classes and honestly, she is bloody good at it. I now know how to make paneer (have to find a good saag paneer recipe now) which is really bloody easy and vegetable korma. This week we cooked vegetable and beef samosas and made a yummy apricot chutney. All easy peasey. Apparently, one of the big deals is the use of fresh ground spices. Not the stuff we get that has been pre-mixed and sat on a shelf for months or years. So next class I go to I'm going to learn how to grind spices myself and when back in Tucson you'll have to come over and make samosas.

Before I sign off for this evening I'd just like to say Happy Mother's Day and thank you for all those who supported the TucsonMama Mother's Day Diaper Drive. There was the equivalent of 1500 diapers donated. Very cool.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I give up. A post all about food.

Tacos in Firenze
Originally uploaded by rhubarbqueen
I've been suppressing the food chat worried that you might think that I'm just a big old glutton. The thing is, I am. The only thing saving me from myself here is that we walk everywhere. I'm not losing weight, but I might if I actually reduced my intake of gelato and pasta.

After three months it is actually possible to be a little tired of really good pasta, not very tired of it, but enough to crave some other type of food occasionally. Today as we walked back from the Horticultural Garden we stumbled across a fast food Mexican place called, imaginatively, Tacos. Briefly considering the absurdness of people who regularly live in Tucson, Arizona going to a taco place in Firenze we went in, ordered 3 tacos and a beer and sat down. They were bloody good. Better than most fast food Mexican places in Tucson, although not as quite as good as a fish taco or one of those sandwiches and grilled cebollas at a taco stand say in Magdalena Sonora. I know, we're heathens. Absolute bloody heathens. Mmmmm Mexican food.

I did go to a great Italian restaurant just down the street from us, il Santo Bevitore, on Thursday night as part of a Mums Night Out event (a bunch of expat mothers from English speaking or English/French speaking lands). Great company, and also a good lesson in eating in Italian restaurants without exploding. Restaurants here have multiple courses:
1. Antipasto (think starter)
2. Primo (soup or pasta)
3. Secondi (the meat or main dish, this is usually just the meat and you order...)
4. Contorno (the veg or potato side dish or even a salad)
and if you're up to it
5. Dolce (Sweets, good God, sweets)

Up until now I've been starting the antipasto, the pasta and a dolce. Sometimes I skip the antipasto and go for primo, secondi, contorno and dolci. I almost explode. No longer. After watching all these waifs eating, I'm going for a shared antipasto, salad (contorno), and the secondi and if the mood is right, which it usually is, a dolce. Il Santo Bevitore was definitely worth a second visit unlike another trattoria on the same street where Doug broke a toilet seat cover. I didn't tell you about that? Hmmmm, a story for when we get home.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

If I forget I love you, don't you forget I do.


My gran was in the Auxillary Territorial Service during WWII, the women's branch of the British Army. As German bombers rained hell on British cities, my grandmother stood behind the searchlights and tracked the oncoming planes with that artificial moonlight so the German planes might be shot down, stopped before they hit British cities. Not a job for the faint of heart. Rather like sticking a large red target on yourself and standing in front of a shooting squad.

Gran in her ATS uniform 1940's
My Gran in her ATS uniform, early 1940s.

Gran has dementia. Along with memories and basic skills, dementia is stealing her dignity. There are very brief respites where she has some recall, but only enough to know that she doesn't remember those around her, that she doesn't remember who loves her and whom she loves. Terrifying for her and heartbreaking for us. Now, the most basic skills are disappearing, how to wash her hands, how to eat an ice-cream bar (yes, I just counted eating an ice-cream bar as a basic skill), and how to go to the bathroom . My grandmother is in a UK nursing facility for those with severe dementia where there is some, albeit limited, provision for incontinence supplies, adult diapers. Our family is able to address the rest of the need and grant her a little dignity. What happens to those whose families are not able to meet that need?

Gran & I in 2004. She couldn't recall my name at this point but she was still doing yoga.

In the US there is no subsidy for incontinence supplies, it is not covered by medicare nor by other insurances. Incontinence not only affects those with dementia like my gran, but between 15-20% of adults over 65*. How many people who are perfectly healthy otherwise become homebound, for fear of an embarrassing accident and so sink further into poverty and depression?** How many of us who have given birth to a child have an inkling of what this might be like? I'll admit to that worry and even to the fact that I know that there is a 4-5 month wait to see the specialist I was referred to on this matter. 

The Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona has just launched its 7th Annual Adult Drive, and as TucsonMama nears the end of the Mother's Day Diaper Drive, I'd like to do a little push for cash donations (Facebook Cause Page, search under TucsonMama or Diaper or on the Diaper Bank's website) that can be used toward adult supplies or a donation via the TucsonMama Amazon Wishlist in honor of your mother and your grandmother. Let me know if you do via diaperdrive at gmail dot com and I'll send a sweet little ecard for you to print out and present to your honoree this Sunday. Truly, a way to honor mothers this Mother's Day with providing a little dignity to a mother.

* &** from

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Artichoke - carciofo
Originally uploaded by rhubarbqueen
At the observatory there is a small overgrown garden and in it carciofo, artichoke. Brilliant eh?

Which brings us to today: At the end of Italian class, my very polished Italian teacher pulled on a pair of impossibly small yellow kitchen gloves, dug into a plastic bag and produced an artichoke.

"Una, pulire i carciofi. You wear gloves so your hands don't become black and you can eat the stem, just cut the woody piece of the stem off.
Due, tagliare i carciofi in quarti.In Italian you can use the infinitive to give these directions. Also, put the quartered artichoke in in heavily lemoned water so it doesn't blacken.
Tre, mettere olio, tre spicchi di aglioe poco acqua in una padella.
Quattro, aggiungere poco sale e coprire.
Cinque, cuocere per 15/20 minuti a fiamma moderata."

The way to learning Italian is through my stomach.

Once home, I packed up Ila and we went to the grocers (the one where they all but put on a parade when she comes in, and come close to performing circus tricks to get her to say ciao.) "Vorrei quattro carciofi per favore." I'll let you know how it goes.
So pretty

Friday, May 1, 2009

How do you say Happy Mother's Day in Italian?

Despite being here for nearly 3 months, my grasp of the Italian language is practically non-existent. I've never been very good at languages. Hell, I barely speak English. However, for the past month I've been taking Italian classes, once a week, one on one lessons. It is fabulous, not because I'm picking up much Italian (the teacher is great, I'm just a very lazy student), but I love going to class. I love that this week my teacher clued me in on some Italian cooking tips. I'm thrilled that next week she is hopefully going to show me how to prepare an artichoke to cook (you see artichokes everywhere here in their just picked state), and one of the best bits: the 15 minute walk back to the apartment, with my backpack on, ipod in, pretending that I'm 20 and not 40. I walk over the Santa Trinta Bridge, watch the rowers training on the Arno, the students strolling to classes, the Florentines being unendingly patient with the tourists. I'm not any of them, but this still feels pretty sweet. The absolute best bit, getting back to the apartment and not being 20 with all the associated angst, byt being 40 and on the parenthood roller coaster and most of the time loving it.
Way back from Italian class

An update and a question for the TucsonMama Mother's Day Diaper Drive:

As of this morning, we've passed the $300 mark between donations via the Amazon Wish List & the Facebook Cause Application (search for Tucsonmama under Find Causes if you have that app). Wahoooooooooo! Our new target is $500 by Friday. Remember if you donate $25 on the Amazon Wish List or on Facebook Cause page and forward me your order statement to diaperdrive at gmail dot com I'll send you a card to present to your loved one.

Being able to help families in immediate need is really great, but why are diapers so expensive and why aren’t they subsidized by any governmental office? Do diapers have some wacky street value out of line with the stores? Is this just a matter of jurisdiction? How do we change this? Really, inquiring minds want to know. As the spectacular San Francisco group Help a Mother Out say: “If the government can make cheese, subsidize infant formula, AND childcare to the poor, why can’t they contract with Seventh Generation or gDiapers to manufacture diapers and then subsidize diapers?" Diapers aren't exactly an optional item and an item needed by the most vulnerable in our community, our children and the elderly. What do you think? Suggestions?