Friday, July 31, 2009

Living Green the Traditional Way

Stuffing the chair

Living in a city know for its art, statues and palaces it isn't surprising that there is a focus on antiques and restoration. The neighbourhood we live in is littered with furniture and art restoration places as well as little art galleries. I've no idea how the art galleries are making it, but the furniture restoration places seem busy. The thing is that there must be at least a hundred of these furniture restoration places in our neighbourhood an area a mile square. They're not just restoring antique furniture, but the furniture that people use on a daily basis.


On our daily walks we pass tens of these places, smelling of hay, wood shavings, lacquer and wax. On piano terra (ground floor) below apartments, and with open doors, these places seem like throw backs to another time. Yet this is the way things are done well and so this is what the Italians do. Appreciating workmanship and beauty, the work is done by hand. Chairs and sofas live long lives here, I expect beyond the human life span. Why don't we do this in the US? Or do we? Is it just off my radar? I wonder how many furniture restoration places are in Tucson? Or even tv repair places? I don't see them any more. Such a disposable society. It happens here too, Ikea does exist, but not at the same level.

Oh and workMANship...while the furniture stores seem to be exclusively the domain of men, the shoemakers, art restoration and picture framers have a high proportion of women working too. I find this gender division, or lack there of, in certain areas flies in the face of my stereotypes of Italian gender roles. I like that.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stocking up for those deep winter Tucson nights

We've just less than a month left. It seems unreal. I went to a few stores today and asked when they'd be closed...this Monday until the 20th, the 23rd, the 27th, until September. So I stocked up. You know, on the important stuff, cotton,alpaca,worsted wool and merino. Food, schmood. Then we got home and pulled out the rest of the stash I've accumulated since we arrived...

Oh dear.

Stash accumulated since being in Florence.

And to think, this is how it started.

In my defense, some of it is a gift for an avid knitter. The rest...I only have this to say:

Dear Family,

For the next few seasons all gifts from our household on the occasion of your birthday or various Winter holiday will resemble a knit or crochet hat, scarf or bag. I say resemble because I don't have a very good reputation for finishing my projects. Still, something to look forward to?

All my love,

Your wife/mother/daughter/daughter in-law/sister in-law/cousin/niece/aunt (Delete as appropriate)

ps. Dear mother in-law I will finish that hedgehog for you before this December. Honest.

I fear, however, that I may have imparted some of my less desirable traits to my daughter. This is how I found her after leaving her alone for just a few seconds in the living room with the yarn stash:

Mummy Yarn Love

I love yarn

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Clutching on to cool memories with sweaty hands

At some point in our plans to be in Florence this year, I got really excited by the idea of not being in Tucson this summer and getting to see a 'real' Fall. Mainly, I was under the false impression that I would be in a cooler place this summer rather than the blasting oven heat of my beloved desert. I had images of Ila and I prancing through parks, lined with trees and cool breezes. Well, we're not going to be here for Fall and if 96 degrees and 45-65% humidity is cooler...

The main thing is that air conditioning is not prolific here. You aren't jumping out of your air conditioned vehicle to be blasted for a few minutes while you make a dive for your air-conditioned office or home. Oh no, more like you step out of your barely-air conditioned home (if you're lucky)into a dripping semi tropical (without the green) environment to enter various business establishments that have no air conditioning at all, okay maybe a fan. This might be the reason why the locals escape for the month of August. Yes, that's right, the whole month of August! They're not stupid. They take off for the beach or the mountains and the city apparently slows to the speed of a snail. Hot, bothered tourists fly in for a day to do the usual and fly out. Shops close, cafes close, I'm assured there will be some supermarkets open.

I went into my favorite yarn store yesterday, and asked when they closed, Friday the woman said barely containing her excitement. She practically jumped up and down as she said it, a woman in her mid forties, typically reserved, jumping with glee! When do you open? I asked. September! Can you imagine what it would be like to take a whole month off? How relaxed you would be? How rejuvenated you would feel? Funny thing is, it isn't just Italy. The Germans do this, the French, the Scandinavians. While I'm a little concerned about what August is going to be like for us, I can't help think what a good idea this is. They think we're nuts for the lack of vacation time. The lack of balance. I think they're right. So, I'll be without the local English speaking newspaper, The Florentine, the neighbourhood American Bagel store, the sweet, but expensive, Danish kids clothing store along with a host of other now familiars for our last month. It'll be interesting.

Given the heat I think I'm going to ask D to print out a few rough copies of our Austria/Bavaria photos so that I can just imagine a cooler place. Thought I'd share them with you too. The top picture is from just by where we stayed on the Austrian/German border. I must admit I think this countryside some of the prettiest I've ever seen. We hoped to stay at a farm. D had done this on his visit here 15 years before with his sister and Aunt, but we didn't find any ones with room. So we settled for this Gastehause, which was none too shabby.
Ila's Heidi impression
Simple, clean, good food, welcoming family. A stream near by, cow bells, a forest to walk into, time to make daisy chains...
Ila and Mummy go for a walk
Daisy Girl
and even a little bit of snow
Yes we got snow driving home, in July.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Speed Demon

We had a play date yesterday afternoon with a little girl 6 months younger than our speed demon. I met her mum in a cooking class. It was fabulous.

The lack of interaction with kids of a similar age for our kid has been the biggest issue with our move here. Funnily, I felt so much guilt about having our daughter in daycare when she was 6 months old, and now I feel guilt about her not being in a good day care setting and with other kids her age rather than me. She desperately needs the company of other children of a similar age. You can't win. Is this guilt a generational thing? Would I feel so torn if I were 15 years younger? Or perhaps if this were 20 years ago?

I'm still behind with posts from Austria/Bavaria and last week to share, but for right now I wanted to share what my day often feels like.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When I'm a parent I'll never...

never dress my daughter in frilly, pink crap. Then again, I also said I'd value/listen to her opinions too. Can't have it both ways really can you? I will publicly admit I think it rather sweet.

Look out Heidi

When in the Alps..

No really, I don't know how it happened

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 mean there is something else important other than the Sound of Music?

The view from the Guesthouse

Not that we just went because it was the location for the Sound of Music, but somehow a lot of our conversation while we were in Salzburg went like this:

"Oo! Oo! Isn't that where Maria sings in the square, right by that fountain before she meets the Von Trapp family?"

"No, I think it's that square with the horses. This is the one where she is with the children and..."

I feel la la

"This is just like when Maria and the children are running along the river side..."


"Oh, lets sing "Doe, a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun." And yes, Ila does know most of the words now.

Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray a drop...

and "What do you mean? Edelweiss isn't an Austrian folk song?"
"Nope dear. Only if Rodgers and Hammerstein were Austrian folk artists."

You'll have to guess who was way out in left field about that one.

Oh, so we did stop by Mozart's birth place and inhale a few Mozart Balls, I mean Mozartkugeln. Chocolate, pistachio marzipan, etc. lovely.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Follow up to Dear Gabby

I have pictures and posts to follow from our trip, but I wanted to come back and touch base about the healthcare issue.
Thank you so much to those who emailed, or called, or wrote to Representative Gabrielle Giffords or their congressperson. If you haven't, please do so now.

I just had a quick gander at tweets @Rep_Giffords and she is being bombarded with tweets from a number of people who are very anti healthcare for all. Please, please, please let her know that there is a huge number of us who don't feel that way and feel that the health and success of the country is best served by health care for all. If you've already written, go ahead and write again. If you're on Twitter, let her know that way too. Seriously, the opponents write multiple times a day!

Kucinich's amendment to the Education and Labor Bill that would allow individual states to adopt a single payer system is maybe the way to go forward for now? It has to stay in the bill. Lets make sure that Gabby supports a bill that includes at least such an option! Video: House Committee Approves Kucinich-Sponsored Measure to Keep Single-Payer Option Alive

Shared via AddThis

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Great Bavarian Beer Hunt

Old Haunts

It takes cunning.

It takes stealth.

It takes a strong arm and a steady wrist. To lift the glass that is.

The Great Bavarian Beer Hunt was a grand success. Although we did have to pursue the beasties into Austria and beyond the original hunting grounds. We bagged several glasses, although many more were left untested.

Schneider Beer House, Germany

Schiender Beer House, Munich. A very happy man.

Andechs Beer Garden, Tutzing, Germany

Radler for me & Andechs Dunkel Weisse for him, bitte

The guest house near Berchtesgaden, Germany

Franziskaner Dunkel Weisse

Picture by the 2.5 year old. Best one of the trip.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Schweinebraten in einer Zweiebel

Yep, I've no idea either, but it tasted mighty fine although probably the heaviest meal I've ever had.
We're in Austria. D would argue we're in heaven. See the pictures below. Actually, we're in Innsbruck, home to the Winter Olympics on two occasions and it is pretty sweet.

I'm a little concerned...


I must admit it is rather nice for once not to stand out completely. After 5 months in Florence where we are instantly recognizable as not of Firenze, which is fine, but just sad somedays, this is kind of nice.

Alright and now is where I try to load up all the pictures I can in my remaining 10 minutes of internet time afforded me for the grand price of 2 Euros for 30 minutes.

A little funky wall
Funky Wall in Innsbruck

The view from our room. Not too shabby.
The view from the hotel

The golden roof thingee, one of Innsbruck's famous sights.

Alright got to dash. Don't forget to contact your congressperson about HR 676. Yes you. If you don't who will? Yes, it does make a difference...go on. Please.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dear Gabby

This post goes out to M & M, to A & her daughter and to my friend M and her sweet family. From one individual with underlying health issues that mean health care coverage dominates her life, to you, who definitely know the feeling. 

Thanks to Ilana for providing the ammunition to better understand the issue. Please note this post is not just about Arizona. If you're a voter in the US please read, at least the first bit.

One of the top galvanizing subjects of the 2008 presidential campaign was health care. However, it was not enough for us to vote at the presidential election with this in mind, now we have to make sure that our Congresspersons and Senators respect our desires. 

This weekend my dad went to the Single Payer Rally at the Tucson Convention Center which Congressman Raul Grijalva held. Dad was pretty impressed with Grijalva and also with State Legislator Phil Lopes and their thoughts on health care. My father's concern, like mine, is where does our Congresswoman Giffords stand on this matter? Specifically, where does she stand on HR 676? Can we assume she represents our strong convictions about the importance of health care for all? I checked in to Blog for Arizona, where they had an interesting post urging us to remind her what we, her constituents, want by emailing her. If you live outside Southern Arizona, do you know where your Congressperson stands? You can check it out here on Open Congress. Kudos to Ed Pastor for also co-sponsoring this bill. If you don't know who you congressperson is, check it out here

After our conversation my dad wrote an exquisitely eloquent letter to Congresswoman Giffords. I shot off a quick email and then read his letter. Realized the errors I'd made  I rewrote my letter nicking the general gist of the argument and a few phrases, supplementing it with my own experiences. It isn't my father's letter, but I've included my rambling letter below so you can take a gander. 

The general gist of today's post is won't you please, please, please send an email or give a call to your Congressperson today? You don't have to have the verbal diarrhea that I exude here, but just include the following:

1. Urging them to publicly and actively support HR 676
2. Remind them that you, as a constituent, do hold some power, voting power.  You can say "I won't vote for you if you won't represent me on something so important to me." 
3. If you have a personal anecdote that is appropriate, include it.
4. Remind them again what you want them to do: Support HR 676 and tell them what you will do if they don't support it. 
5. Request that they explain why they are not representing you if they choose not to co-sponsor the bill. 

If you want more information about HR 676 and the Single Payer System check out Physicians for a National Health Program

ETA:  Really this is too long.  Make yours shorter.  Do it now. Go on...

Dear Congresswoman Giffords,
I write to urge you to support and sign on as a cosponsor of HR676 and establish a single payer national health insurance system. I am registered as a democrat in your district. My vote for you in the future will depend on how you vote on the health issue.  Single payer is the way to attain freedom from the extensive medical bankruptcy that cripples our wonderful country.

Do not be swayed by the misinformation about single payer systems you will be bombarded with in the next few weeks. I grew up in the UK. A large portion of our family still lives there. Anecdotally, the comparison between the medical costs my mother and stepfather in the UK face and those my in-laws face are dramatic. My in-laws, who live in Nebraska, pay in one month for medications more than what very similar and sometimes even the same medication my mother and stepfather pay for an entire year. My parents in the UK receive personal, attentive care certainly comparable to what those with good insurance receive here. Putting aside anecdotes, data from WHO that reflects this personal cost difference; the substantial difference in governmental spending from the US to the UK and demands that you, as a fiscal conservative, consider and support a single payer system.

Contrary to rumors, those in the UK are free to choose their own doctors. The health authorities are accountable to the people. My mother sits on a committee (voluntary) that oversees and addresses issues within their local health authority. The bureaucracy associated with billing and claims, the limitations and regulation imposed on doctors by the insurance agencies are just not a concern in a single payer system. We in the US could have a simpler, more elegant and effective system than the broken system we currently have which does not effectively cover most Americans.

As I type this, my spouse is ordering our medications online. Currently we have insurance, ‘good’ insurance, yet we pay more than $300/month for four medications. Some of the preferred medications are no longer covered by our medical insurance. In the short-term, we can afford it, but our ability to invest and save for the future and contribute to the economy is severely hampered. Further, the fear of losing health insurance is a constant for me. One that dictates where I work and the salary I accept. How are we capitalizing on our people potential if the fear of loss of health insurance compromises their potential?

We believe that government is for the people and OF the people. Not of the insurance companies. I hope you hold the same belief, please reflect that with your public and active support for HR 676. If you do not at least support for a bill with a truly effective public option I will not vote for you again. I would appreciate a response explaining your decision if you chose not to support HR 676. 
Thanks for your attention.

A Little Gnocchi (okay, maybe I didn't sign off like that, but you get the idea)

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Martin Luther King Jr. 1966

Okay, now go back to the top of this post and email Gabby, or your congressperson today. Let your Senators know how you feel too. IF your Congressperson already co-sponsored HR676, thank them. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Some things never change...

It's 1:53am and I just finished my Italian homework.

Oh, we're off to Austria for our little jaunt. The hills are alive with the sound of music laaaaaaalalala...

ps. another cool thing or two to do in Northern England:
Visit Martin Mere a wetland and wildfowl trust. My parents took us there when I was but knee high to a goose. I remember having to be very, very quiet in the bird hides and being amazed at the grass on the roofs of the main buildings. We were quiet in the hides AND there still is grass on the roofs.
Martin Mere from the Harriers Hide

Check out a local park.
We caught up with one of my oldest friends (we've known each other for nigh on 30 years) her partner and son at Victoria Park in Widnes. There was a great big band playing, crown green bowling, a climbing wall, butterfly & iguana garden, tennis courts, the biggest awesome play area separated for the little uns and the larger kids and splash park. What a great space. Just to finish it off, despite looming rainclouds these folks steeled themselves against the mounting wind and soaked up a little sun. The Italians would have brought out the minks for such weather.Big band, big clouds but still sun

Finally, it was fabulous to see my friends and I'm hoping that a couple still might make it over to Florence. It was an even better trip for the sweet time we spent with my gran. She might not recognize us anymore, but both her and my toddler had so much fun with one another. I hope the remainder of her days are filled with such joy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Little Jaunt to Blighty

Living in Italy we had fantasies that we'd be off travelling around all the time, and we have done a little travelling, but not as much as we'd like. There is that pesky little problem of my partner's work assignment and my so-called twenty hour a week job. Please remind me anytime I say I want to work part-time that twenty hours quickly looks like twenty-five and then thirty. Anyway, getting over to Britain (with the exception of a few days for just two of us) has proved difficult.

This weekend we finally made it over as a family. Just for three days, but three really great days. While I sang the praises of Northern England as a tourist destination last time, it isn't going to stop me shouting them now. If there isn't a public art tour of the North there should be. You could even make it a Big Art exhibit. Starting with 'The Dream'. This is a huge sculpture on the old slag heap of the colliery I lived close to during my early childhood. Actually, by American standards I lived in its shadow for about 17years of my life, never moving than about 5 miles away. The colliery was closed in 1991, seriously impacting the already fragile economy of St. Helens (the big glass maker Pilkingtons had already reduced its workforce and Beechams had too.) Apparently, the land was handed over to the Forestry Commission and then after consultation with a group made up of miners and folks from St. Helens a proposal for a sculpture was developed. Commission by Channel 4's Big Art project, the community group didn't want something that looked at the past, they wanted to look forward and to the future and so The Dream by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa is fitting. Twenty meters high, white luminescent stone, the sculpture is the elongated head of a child in dream. Looking out from the top of the slag heap, now with a young forest on it, it looks out over gently rolling hills and was just opened this May. I don't think I ever noticed how pretty and soothing the countryside was there. It is spectacular. Well worth the visit.
The Dream

The Dream

We were on a roll so the next day we went off to see Anthony Gormley's Another Place on the beach at Crosby. One hundred cast-iron figures spread over several kilometers of beach, standing as the tide comes in and moves out. Static and yet not, subject to weathering and becoming quite crusty. This, like The Dream, is fabulous public art; accessible, provoking and stunning. This is the kind of art that can prompt reaction from all ages including a 2 and a bit year old. Plus no stuffy gallery snobs to contend with.
Antony Gormley's Another Place - Blundell Sands & Crosby

You can also add to your visiting list the Tate Liverpool and the The Walker Art Gallery. The latter was where I first saw a real Hockney, larger than life, 30 years on or so it is still etched in my memories. Hey, they even have tours and activities for the very young at the Walker. Next time we're in the area we're going here. What else would you add to your tour of the Northwest, specifically art or not? Mum? Suzanne? Oh and a few last plugs for the North and the Northwest of England.
1. The people are warm and funny
2. It is much cheaper than London and the South
3. The chips/fries are really good.

Oh and the kid picture:

Enjoying her wellies and the sea.
Blundell Sands - Mud, Sand and Art

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Thing about Florentine Women is...

They're skinny, cream-skinned beauties who don't appear to sweat, and never spill anything on their effortless white linen and cotton attire. I see them leaving the gelataria with cones piled high with sweet dairy goodness or laughing with friends over a glass of chianti. Unless they're in some special climate bubble they're in the same hot humid place as me, yet they don't look flushed or sweaty and they certainly don't have olive oil, wine and gelato stains on their clothes. Of course, most are not involved in hand to hand combat with a meter tall dictator when I see them, but still a disproportionate number of Florentine women are endowed with an effortless chic I think must be denied to me by a lack of the specific genetics.

In an attempt to at least not be quite as sweaty I do use deodorant, but since running out of my Mitchum Stick for Men, I've been stuck with some crap called Infasil, which sounds like deodorant for the below 24 month crowd, but I doubt it would cut it for them either. There just isn't much in the way of deodorants here. And honestly, something named Infasil just isn't going to be able to deal with my over productive sweat glands. Perhaps Florentine women are a different species from me? Kind of like those beasties that ride bicycles up Mt. Lemmon?

The thing I appreciate most about the Italian white linen clad, is the effortlessness of it all. With the Swiss there is effort, even linen doesn't crease. Italians wear linen, it creases, but in a way that looks stylish. I wear linen and well...

Yep, beaten down today I figured I could join the cream goddesses in something and got a gelato. Snob enough that it didn't taste fabulous I walked down the street to another gelataria to buy one to erase the memory of a sub par gelato. Some of this isn't about genetics...

and yes, you've just read a post about sweat and deodorant. Be pleased I didn't include the picture.

ps. Anyone know why there is such a dearth of anti-perspirants and deodorants here?