Dicembre?! Cosa dici?

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Berlin Park, October.

Sitting between a pile of dishes that need to be set out for dinner and a stack of homework papers that Zoel has left behind, I’m hoping to get at least a few lines down here, before some force pulls me away. As you might have noticed, there hasn’t been much time for crafting long posts or adhering to a steady schedule on LHT lately. Or if your Fall has also been speeding by, maybe you haven’t noted our absence at all. In that case, thanks so much for choosing to spend a couple of minutes here today!

Our calendar has been packed with some of the usual Autumn activities like Fall Break vacation, Halloween, Birthdays, Thanksgiving, and a continuous marathon of dance, swim and piano classes, but also a couple of unusual additions. After our fall break road trip, which took us through Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic (Stefan posted a beautiful set of pics chronicling the journey here.), I hunkered down with my Cahiers d’ activites determined to remind my brain how French grammar works and my mouth how to pucker in that special way that makes French sound the way it does, and that’s best exemplified by the universally exclaimed oooohhh la la! I was aiming to pass a government-mandated exam that I needed in order to get a French passport. It would seem that pledging love until death do us part to my husband would not cut it. The authorities would also like you to be able to communicate in the country’s language. Reasonable enough I guess… although I suspect it also has to do with a plot to keep the language alive as English continues to take over the world. In any case, that little burgundy booklet would certainly make it easier for me to move around Europe. And besides, the three other people in my family already get to stand in the EU citizens line at the airport, and I feel kinda left out.

With all this in mind, I locked myself in my home office for two weeks at the beginning of November, cramming words and conjugations into my head, and quickly realizing that indeed the studying muscle does atrophy with disuse. Just two days before I was to hop on the train to the test center in Venice to see just how much had stuck, I went out to run last minute errands with Stefan in the center of Bologna. All of a sudden, as we were finishing up, he started stumbling like he’d polish off a bottle of grappa. As we walked down the archways of Via D’Azeglio he staggered to the left, then to the right. As he put our bags in the trunk, he nearly fell to the ground as as he slammed down the back hatch. Within an hour, I, along with the kids who had just gotten out of school, found ourselves with a shaking and vomiting Stefan at Sant’Orsola’s emergency room. Thankfully, their diagnosis leaned towards an ailment, Vestibular Neuritis, that wasn’t too grave, but that had debilitating symptoms that would keep him in the hospital for a week, and that now have him recovering at home, still a bit dizzy and clumsy. He tells the story in his on words with a lot more detail over on theapt.com, so please jump over there for his scary, witty, out of the blue adventure with spinning rooms and socialized medicine. Now, between you and me, I’m realizing as I write this, that it may all have been a ploy to keep me from taking that damn test… He’s never had much interest in my speaking the language of his family too well… skeletons, closets, etc.

If there is a continuous thread throughout all this expected and unexpected Autumn action, it might be one having to do with diving deeper into this Italian world, as if last Fall, we had just waded in knee-high, and maybe to the waist by last summer. In September, we decided to schedule all of the kids’ after school stuff outside of their international school. So, now piano is at a local place in Casalecchio with the exceptionally fit and Italian-speaking Filippo; dance is also in Italian, at a more modern place with all local kids; and swim is at the community pool, also with only Italian public school children. Zoel and Leeloo were a little nervous at first, but luckily, they saw they could hang pretty quickly, like within 10 minutes, so it’s worked out well! I’m definitely more at ease moving through my Bolognese world, launching into Italian with much less hesitation, knowing I won’t get it all right, but I’ll be understood and be able to understand, and no longer so confused by the customs at cafes, offices, pharmacies, etc… This has come in very handy as I navigate filling prescriptions and making appointments for Stefan through the “system”, which can be so incredible when you spend a week in the hospital and pay nothing, but so completely dumbfounding when you have to go to a special area of the local pharmacy to make an appointment for an MRI, and, after explaining that you need to do the test as soon as possible, the lady looks up at you and confidently asks, “How about June 16?”. Ma che cosa?! 

Despite these little particularities, we’re all quite comfortable here, I can see how a couple of years slips into 6 or 10, like it has for other ex-pats that we’ve met in Bologna. But in our case, we know my family would show up and physically drag us out of the country if we dared… so instead, we’re up to our necks in activity, enjoying the comfort, language, culture, music and all our good friends, looking forward to holiday time, and knowing that in a few months, we’ll have to start thinking about what comes next.

Lastly, before I get back to the bustle, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my PAPA! Have a beautiful day! We love and miss you!

 

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Target practice in Prague on Halloween.

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Contemplating the Salzburg gardens where Julie Andrews and the gang sung “Doe, a deer, a female deer…”

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My poor Stefan at the hospital trying to enjoy a curiously delicious plate of mash potatoes with grana, while the room spins.

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Zo celebrates his 12th birthday with friends in the midst of a lot of crazy.

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What it’s looked like on our hill for the past 2 weeks. Fog and rain, Rain and fog. That tree masquerading as a rooster to the left of the road greets us every morning as we head out through the mist to school.

 

 

Happy 25th Anniversary Berlin!

Happy Friday everyone! During the last 10 days or so, we’ve been enjoying another road trip around Europe during the kids’ fall break from school. Although I have yet to evolve a stress- and anxiety-free way to enjoy these longish, multi-country excursions with Stefan and the kids, they will undoubtedly still go down as one of the best parts of our time living in Italy.

This journey ended up taking us to interesting places that aren’t only historically significant, but that intermingle with our own families’ histories as well. We found connections in Dachau, Prague, and Vienna, but it was our visit to Berlin and its infamous wall that once separated democratic West Germany from communist East Germany, that was especially meaningful for me, and not just because this weekend marks 25 years since it fell. My family emigrated to the US from communist Cuba, and it was both comforting and frustrating to uncover just how similar the German and Cuban experience has been. As in the case of East Germany, the communist government in Cuba has erected obstacles, much like the very long and winding Berlin wall, which have split families apart and isolated a population.

That’s probably why I was glued to my little TV set in my college dorm room in 1989, teary- eyed at the sight of East Germans insisting on passage through the wall. A still very young news network, CNN, was broadcasting all these jaw-dropping images, and I remember calling my mother to ask if she was seeing what I was seeing. We sat there in silence on the phone just flabbergasted by the moment. Most of the East Germans weren’t interested in staying in West Berlin, although some had surely been yearning for that freedom for decades. Instead, the majority just wanted to be able to go where they wanted to go, see who they wanted to see. Shop, eat, visit with family and friends, and then head back home.

Somewhere between the long silences, we decided that my mom should just come over to my dorm room, so we could watch the coverage together. She was there within the hour and we watched as the gates opened and hundreds of faces poured through. Some were crying, others yelling happily, yet others looking completely astonished, as if they couldn’t believe this was happening at all. We were overjoyed for these Germans, as we saw a sister run into the embrace of a brother waiting on the West side; a group of teens, in all their late-80s gear, dance on top of the wall; and an East German soldier smile widely and give a rose to a girl on the other side, as if no one in the whole wide world was more relieved than he was. It was quite emotional up in that university high rise apartment. In part, of course, because the parallels to our family, stranded behind the formidable waves of the Caribbean instead of a cement wall, were far too clear. We couldn’t help but wonder, what if…

 

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

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The part of the wall that has been preserved with murals commissioned right after its fall, is part of the East Side Gallery. The neighborhood now feels like the Lower East Side of Manhattan, grittier and cooler than the rest of Berlin, but just as sophisticated and modern:

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This one’s for you, Mami!

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Leeloo’s come up with a very endearing new habit… listening to history through architecture. “Mom! It’s like I’m there and the soldier is giving the girl the flower!”

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For my Italian peeps/ Per i miei amici italiani:IMG_0512

 

This image evokes a way of life with which I’m quite sure my relatives are painfully familiar:

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How do you say “perestroika” in Spanish?

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Somebody made sure that I didn’t get too romantic about the whole thing with this insightful graffiti, in Spanish nonetheless! (Sons of bitches. Stop lying. We haven’t learned anything.)

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Yet, a girl can keep dreaming. IMG_0545

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I like that Leeloo serendipitously added her face to the hundreds in this scene, re-playing what I saw on my TV in ’89. She’s got quite a few cousins that I can’t wait to see pass through their own wall someday. Hopefully, not another 25 years from this anniversary.

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Welcome Back

As I sit here trying to put this post together after the 2+ month hiatus Gina and I took from Living Here and There (well, not from living here and there, but recording our experiences of it), I’ve found that my wheels are requiring gallons of grease and I’m needing to bribe myself with more than a few Netflix breaks in order to get rolling again.

I’m disoriented here at the keyboard and navigating around WordPress seems like wandering through a familiar but patently foreign land. It turns out that not all learned skills are as easy to return to as that bicycle and this particular practice, for me anyway, requires recalibrating and re-tinkering and time. As for sharing my thoughts (and my writing) with an audience of greater than one again…well, let’s just say I’m going to be here editing for awhile tonight.

That said, I’ve missed the company of my friend and the peek into her world over There, that this blog provides. That I got to enjoy a birthday lunch in SoHo with the actual, not virtual, Gina–as well as share a few meals and chats with her and the kids around my kitchen table–was a certain gift. Now, however, so many weeks later, our time together seems like a dream and I’m ready for some tangible, printable contact again.

Before we get started on what’s going on now though, here’s a little recap of what’s been going on Here, on this side of the ocean, for the past many weeks.

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August is my favorite month. Mostly because it was my favorite time of year growing up (my birthday falls during its first week) and while I don’t celebrate my birthday as whole-heartedly as I did when I was younger, Ray and Noah and I managed to do it up small this year and go on a birthday hike and out to dinner and eat cake. We also were able to see friends and family for various meals and cocktails during the beginning part of the month and soak up the still-strong sun and warm nights.

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Noah gussied up for my birthday dinner at Riverview.

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A late lunch that morphed into an early dinner at Michele and Dan’s.

The Hudson Valley is bursting with green in August and though sometimes the nights get chilly, the bounty of the harvest and the still-later-than-wintertime sunsets create an internal heat that keeps me from lamenting the coming fall (too much). In August even the river is balmy–the water temperature can reach upwards of 70 degrees–so Luca spends lots of time swimming and Noah and I spend lots of time chasing him around trying to dry him off.

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August sunset over Storm King Mountain.

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Swimming and stick-throwing.

Of course the cherry on top of my birthday week was Gina and the kids visiting us for a few days. To have them in our house again was so much fun and made me so very grateful for things like airplanes and trains and fossil fuel. The boys took up again like not a minute had passed since they were cavorting around Bologna last fall and, though Gina, Michele and I had to work hard to keep the yarns of our many conversations from becoming one giant, verbal knot of crazy, we managed to swim and hike and lunch and shop and drink a few gallons of wine. It was, to be trite, a divine time.

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Swimming at Michele’s.

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Gina & Leeloo considering the ducks on our hike around Little Stony Point.

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There’s always time for Minecraft (after lunch at Homespun).

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Snuggle pile in front of the TV. (Sometimes the moms get talking in the kitchen and forget that the kids get tired from all of the swimming and the hiking and the Minecraft.)

Even though leave-taking is becoming one of the brightest, no-longer-worrisome stitches in our relationship, saying goodbye to our friends is never easy and this time it especially sucked because our time together was so short-lived. (Here’s counting the days to Christmas in Philly!) Lucky for us, however, we saved our vacation until the end of the summer so we had something to look forward to once the Bouvarez clan had taken flight.

Cape Cod, Massachusettes here we come!

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Driving due east over the Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod.

Cape Cod is a tiny spit of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Boston. My parents spend a good part of the year there and I’ve been visiting the place for most of my life, so in many ways driving over that bridge feels like coming home.

Our time at the Cape is slow and easy. What with the long days at the beach, long bike rides along the rail trail, trips to Provincetown (one of my favorite places on earth), yummy seafood dinners and plenty of sand and salty air, the Unwinding and Relaxing are sure things. This year, in addition to my parents being with us, all three of my brothers and my sister-in law were there. Noah had a blast swimming and playing with his cousins, and I had the chance to catch up with my beloved family members–all of whom I don’t get to see often enough because they live all over the world–which made this year’s trip extra special. The lot of us crammed into the tiny kitchen of our Cape Cod cottage and talked and laughed and ate and were very, very loud. Just like when we were kids.

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The pilot & co-pilot hunkered down for the five hour drive.

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(Sometimes the co-pilot needs a nap.)

The minute we get to the Cape house we drag everything out of the car, put on our bathing suits and head TO THE BEACH!

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Cousins setting up the court for some kind of sand game involving paddles & balls.

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Noah and cousin Daniel braving the Atlantic with Uncle Dan.

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All set up for a day beneath the dunes.

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Obligatory sand pit photo.

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Clams the boys dug with help from Uncle Dan & Uncle Tom.

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Lobster Roll.

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My brothers and me. Rarely is it that we are all on the same sofa. Most of the time we aren’t all on the same continent.

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Grandma & Papa & the grandkids.

Each year Ray and Noah and I take a day to ourselves and head to Provincetown–a village on the very tip of Cape Cod–and each year, after we’ve had some lunch and a beer or two at Governor Bradford’s and walked the length of Commercial Street, stopping into our favorite shops and bakery, we seek out the real estate listings and try to formulate a plan to move there someday. It truly is one of the most magical places I know–artists and writers roam the beaches for inspiration, tiny piping plovers–an endangered bird that conservation groups rope off miles of shoreline for–roam the dunes for food and mates, and human beings of every color and stripe dress in sequins and glitter and bows and dance in the streets, whooping and hollering and being wholly and fully themselves. There’s a nude beach, a festival week that rivals Mardi Gras and more natural beauty than seems fair for one tiny town.

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View from the end of Provincetown Wharf.

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Noah on the boardwalk.

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Rules of the beach.

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Race Point.

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One last look back before getting in the car.

 

And then September arrived with all of its natter and noise. It’s a month laced with beginnings and endings–as I suppose any month is–but September’s changes seem stern and definitive and cruel. School started for Noah. I got a job. Ray is interviewing again.

The gazebo is empty now. This past Sunday we wiped down the patio furniture and took away the candles and hauled everything into the shed where it sits, packed away for the long, cold season to come.

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First Day of 7th Grade.

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Last gazebo dinner of 2014…unless Stef lets us ring in the new year out here. We could do it with a couple of heat lamps and a case of frizzante, no?

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Empty gazebo.

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Morning full moon over half-bald mountain.

 

I’m trying to stay positive despite this morning that came upon us with no warning about a week ago…

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As I was hiking with the dog the other day, , however, I (sternly) reminded myself to honor all of the beauty that autumn brings. The hills are on fire right now, bursting into a hundred shades of orange and red and gold. The sunsets are still stupefying. October will bring Halloween and Noah’s birthday and longer, darker, more restful nights.

And besides, homework isn’t so bad…

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and neither is reading your favorite book about your favorite holiday to your friend…

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nor September sunsets that look like this…

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The other day there were four bald eagles circling over the river behind of our house. Google will tell you that the meaning in this sighting is that illumination awaits.

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Two of the four eagles I saw circling overhead last week.

I’m looking forward to it.

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to Living Here and There! Before we launch back into things, it seems fitting to re-cap just a bit of what’s been going on over the two months since Christine and I took our summer break from these pages. After a busy June and July, the kids and I were just about to take off for our first trip back to the States in almost a year, and Stefan was off to Brazil to visit his brother.

Upon arrival in the US, we were met with a monsoon of love and attention from our family and friends who had planned all sorts of togetherness for us. There were orchard visits and pool days, long catch up sessions and family dinners, a visit to the warship New Jersey and Washington DC for Zoel, obligatory trips to our favorite big box stores, Target and Michael’s, – oh, if the Europeans only knew – and just a wee bit of singing and dancing too. And thankfully, there were also three days of hanging out with the folks on the other side of this page.

Wine-enhanced, candlelit dinner in the gazebo, check.

Long lunch on Michele’s terrace, check.

Sunday dip in the pool with the whole bunch, check.

Hike with Noah, Zoel, Leeloo and Luca, check.

Inspiring writing chat with Christine, check.

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Ray, Christine and me!

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Banks of the Hudson River.

Back in Philly, a Flower Tea Party celebration a la Cubana feted Leeloo’s 8th birthday, with her 20+ cousins and “cousins” taking over my parent’s house.

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75 cupcakes by the generous and talented Erin Nadeau!

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Mad Hatter Hat decorating!

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Best part of August for the kids… visiting with Nana, Abuelo and cousin, Milo!

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Stefan Salad, made for the first time without Stefan.

IMG_9849And before we knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes again – definitely the hardest part of this choice we’ve made to live abroad. Just 20 hours, two taxis and two planes later, we were pulling back into the vineyard in Casalecchio di Reno, greeted by flourishing fields of sunflowers, wheat, chick peas, plums, wildflowers, and of course, grapes. The feeling of having arrived home was definitely in the warm country air that day, not only because it was beautiful and because this is the place where the four of us have decided to hang our hats for the time being, but because papa (also known as Stefan) was there to welcome us after his trip to visit Uncle Sebastian (also known as tonton.) Three and half weeks was a long time to be without him and we were all happy to be back together again.

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Straight off the plane and into the fields. Ah!

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A little bit of Philly visited us at the very end of August in the form of my childhood friend, Andy and his lovely family, assuaging our leftover longing for the people back home. With them, we went back to visit Lucca, one of our favorite Tuscan towns, were we rode bikes atop its ancient wall and through the piazzas, chancing upon a vintage car show where we were able to get up close and inspect the beautifully detailed interiors and gorgeous exteriors.

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Our friends were even here to send Zoel and Leeloo off to their second year of school in Bologna!

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And what a difference a year makes! There were no morning jitters this time, unlike last year. Instead, we easily slipped back into our comfortable routine and were excited to rejoin our little international community after almost 3 months of not seeing anyone. The school yard was buzzing with parents and children just like the September before, but now instead of hearing booming noise, Italian words (and English, and Spanish, and French…) were discernible. The kids ran right over to their friends and launched into recaps of their escapades while Stefan and I were just as warmly greeting with Ciao’s and Bongiorno’s, Hola’s and Bonjour’s.

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So far, the start of middle school for Zoel and third grade for Leeloo has been beautiful. Rarely have I been so pleased with the efforts made by their teachers to get them motivated and curious at the start of a new school year! As a result, both of them have dialed up their efforts, and it’s been amazing to watch their determination to get new concepts and improve were they can.

While they’re at school, Stefan and I continue to move our projects forward (some of which I hope to share with you here over the course of the year!), sometimes only inch by inch, but forward nonetheless. After drop off one sunny September morning, we got to participate in our second vendemmia (grape harvest.) With clippers and plastic buckets in hand, we hit the fields with our neighbors and happily freed giant succulent bunches of grapes from the overtaxed vines. Earlier in the month, the director of the vineyard had walk us through all the steps they take to process the grapes and store their various kinds of wine, making our small part in the journey that more meaningful, and the glass of pignoletto frizzante that we had with dinner that evening that much more special.

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A few days earlier, Leeloo made herself at home on the wheels of the giant machine that shakes the grapes off the sturdier, younger vines.

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As we move into the heart of the Fall season, we’re planning some trips, projects and events that I look forward to chronicling here for you, along with the beautiful things that we find  here in the country and on our charming Bologna streets. Thanks again for coming back to join us!

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School’s inner court yard with leaves falling on PE class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Weekend in New England

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 5.42.45 AMWe’re sticking pretty close to home this summer but this past weekend we ventured out into the world for a few days–driving all the way to New London, New Hampshire–a little town in the central part of the state where my brother and his family live. It was one of those impromptu trips that you decide to take on a Tuesday night at 10pm after a phone conversation with a family member or a friend reminds you how much you miss spending time with someone. Despite Skype calls and text messages and Facebook posts, which allow me to see the faces of my family members who are scattered all over the globe, nothing can compare with the sweet nectar of face-to-face time, the sharing of a meal and just quietly sitting next to a loved one over morning coffee.

All sentiment aside, this particular brother (I have two others) also happens to be husband to my fantastically fun sister-in-law and father to my niece and three nephews (one of whom is Noah’s exact age and close ally) who provide tons of energy and an instant party, just by gathering in one room. All that camaraderie, our shared history and our eagerness to be together–combined with with the picturesque lake that they live on (and the plethora of kayaks, Sunfish boats, water skis and hiking trails that abound) added a perfect variation to our hitherto, extremely quiet summer.

New England (a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) has a unique cultural and aesthetic flavor, distinct within in its borders and markedly different from the border state of New York, where we live. New England’s heritage and culture was shaped by waves of immigration and its earliest Puritan settlers came from eastern England, contributing to the distinctive accents, foods, customs, and social structures found there. It’s also ridiculously pretty and clean.

We’ve visited New London on many other occasions, but almost all of the trips have been during the winter months–the region is known for its skiing and snowsports much more so than its boating and sunbathing–and we thought it might be nice to see the mountains swathed in green instead of buried under ribbons of white snow. We also decided to avoid highways on the drive north and, instead, took old, winding roadways that meandered through small villages and towns and along miles of land that remains untouched by urban sprawl. It was so different than the undeveloped land where we live–which either needs to be incorporated and protected as part of a land preserve or is for sale to the highest bidder.

Along the way we enjoyed a delicious lunch at an organic deli in Vermont, we stopped for gas and snacks at a quirky little station in the middle of a field in rural upstate New York and when we arrived in New Hampshire, wine and pizza waiting for us–along with a weekend filled with swimming, s’mores and succulent fun.

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Summer Nostalgia

When I was a kid, our family summer vacation always included going to the beach, and then doing next to nothing for a solid week. During the rest of the year, my dad’s schedule involved working 10-hour long days, usually six days a week, and my mom’s consisted of holding together everything else during those long days (and nights.) Given this, it’s not at all surprising that vacation meant parking ourselves under an umbrella on a hot, sandy beach with a cooler filled with sandwiches, soda and beer, and absolutely nada on the agenda. That kind of full stop is what I’m craving right now as we race past the middle of summer, with 2 trips out of the country, a few road trips, 3 sets of guests, and more than a few local events under our belt, and with much more to come before the end of August rolls around.

All of this movement has me thinking about one of my parents’ preferred locations for their restful summer pause from the stress of everyday life, Wildwood, New Jersey. If you’ve never been, Wildwood is a one-of-a-kind East Coast beach town populated by 1960s art deco motels, many of them conceived with a design theme like the Casa Bahama or Lollipop Motels. 

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It’s just a 3-hour drive from Philadelphia, but we’d get up extra early to pile all of our things into the Buick, and make it to the shore before lunchtime. I remember the excitement in the car as we neared our destination, and started to smell the fishy air of the bay and feel the warm, salty breeze coming in through the rolled down windows. Vacation began at that very instant. We packed our sony walkmans, mad libs, tiger beat magazines and invisible ink fun pads back into our sacks, knowing that soon we’d be winding through Wildwood looking for our colorful ocean side motel.

There was yet more anticipation as my dad went into the motel office to get the keys to our room. Which floor would we be on? Would we be near our cousins? Would the strangely alluring ice machine be closeby? Would we face the pool? The beach? Would we have a balcony? Which bed would my sister and I get? Would the room have a kitchenette? It was enough to keep two little girls giggling and bouncing around the giant backseat of the car for hours. Luckily for my mother, it was over in minutes, as we raced after my father to uncover all the mysteries held by our motel room. By that time, the cousins had probably arrived and were doing the same. A lot of running back and forth between rooms usually then ensued as our parents lugged in our bags and beach gear.

Shortly after a quick lunch at the motel’s diner and a change of clothes, we would all climb the stairs down to the beach to set up our spot for the day. Beach towels were arranged side by side, two or three umbrellas were driven into the sand and opened, the cooler was strategically placed between my dad and uncle, and our bags of multi-colored buckets, shovels and sand sifters were dropped close, but not too close, to the adults. And that was it. There we would exist, between the motel and the beach, the beach and the motel, for five or six days. Well, that was almost it.

We’d be deliciously exhausted by the sun, sand and water every evening, but managed, at least 2 or 3 nights out of the week, to make it over to Wildwood’s Morey’s Piers, a seemingly never-ending wooden boardwalk, packed with rides, games, food and t-shirt stands. I only wish I had a picture of the totally rad air-brushed baseball shirt that I got on the boardwalk in 1980… light pink sleeves and a white torso, a black and white checked background on the chest, my name in graffiti emblazoned over the top, complete with sparkling stars. In addition to getting totally awesome shirts, we tried our luck at picking yellow plastic ducks out of a spinning pond for prizes, devoured delicious funnel cake and cotton candy, and then tried to keep them down while spinning on the super loud music express train.

But in the morning, we’d be back at the beach with nowhere to run to, nothing on the schedule at all, no monuments, no historic sites, no lunch reservations, no crazy dinners, no event start times, and no summer homework. It was great for us kids, but frankly, we probably would have been fine anywhere school was out. I realize now, that for our parents, it may have been an even more special place, and the perfect way to rest their bodies and minds. They were too far from home and work to be weighed down by their normal responsibilities, yet the surroundings and people were familiar and comfortable. They weren’t tethered to a smart phone beeping with messages or news from the world outside the beach. All they had to focus on was not losing their joy-filled kids and keeping the overflowing cooler in the shade. Magic.

I’m very grateful for all the things were able to do and see over the course of one summer, but next time around, I’m going to keep Wildwood in mind, and make sure there’s at least one week of the summer just like it. For now, we’ll have to steal some lazy moments when we can, like this rare occurrence from yesterday, all of us sitting at the same time, in the same place. Magic.

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Happy 1st Anniversary!

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I’m sitting on the floor of the living room of this old farmhouse built in 1836 by the Modrone family for their workers. The beautiful evening light of the sunset is streaming into our backyard, my decaf caffè lungo is next to me on the table, and a strong feeling of home pervades. We’ve only been here a year? How is that possible? It feels much longer, certainly more than a year’s worth of events have transpired (trips, lessons, plays, visitors, a book, an album, more trips, more visitors, a blog, a graduation, a recital, etc, etc…).

Before assuming this very comfy position on the rug, looking out onto the sun-filled porch and the garden that’s just been soaked by a quick summer shower, I was in the Centro of Bologna, where I returned to Orea Malia hair salon for a new short haircut, with the very amiable Marco. About 12 months ago, to the day, I wondered into that same place, fed up with my long hair, and looking to mark myself with some outward sign that I had just uprooted myself and my family to start a new adventure in a galaxy far away from New York City and Garrison, NY. Since tattoos aren’t so much my thing, I settled for shaving my head.

Today, a smiling Marco greeted me warmly, and quickly got to work on a less severe looking short ‘do. Within a few moments, I learned that his daughter was now the person at the front desk, and that his very dashing son, who was clipping someone’s hair just a few stations away in his tan shorts, button-down shirt, and suspenders, was about to become a Papa. “Auguri! Tanti auguri Marco!” rang out around me. He was about to become a nonno and his daughter, a zia, and they were all buzzing with anticipation. Like so many here, this is a family business and their joys, dramas and troubles are shared with employees and customers alike, with no apologies and no pretending that their personal lives don’t intertwine constantly with their work lives, in the way we tend to do in the U.S.. On the way out, the soon-to-be auntie confessed that at first she was unnerved by the news that her younger brother was beating her to the child-having years, but that now, she was so very excited, never mind that we had only met a few minutes ago. She had created an instant intimacy between us in the way only people from Latin cultures (and possibly the Irish!) know how.

Happy with my new cut and buoyed by the joyful family, I floated down the marble stairs of the old building and down on to Via Ugo Bassi, a main shopping street in the center, and head toward the Palazzo, which dates back to the 1500s, on Piazza Maggiore. From there, I walked around to a small cobblestone street where Stefan, the kids and our good friends, Melissa and Oliver, who are visiting from NY, were waiting for me at a French cafe. The children munched on Croque Monsieurs (when they weren’t stealing pieces of my Quiche Lorraine) and the adults nibbled on their Salades Niçoise, a welcomed menu change since we mainly stick to the food that dominates our surroundings – salumi, pasta, pizza, tigelles and piadinas (both kinds of sandwiches), roasted potatoes and steak – partly because it’s everywhere, and partly because it’s so, so good.

From there, Stefan walked back towards the kids’ school, to grab two of Zoel’s friends who live in the neighborhood, and then head back home for a dip in the pool. Melissa and I decided to stay around the Centro to visit some shops. We had only been in Bologna for a month when she first visited, and I remember telling her at that time, how annoyed I was at not knowing where anything was or which way to go to get anywhere. I wanted to be able to download a map of the city directly into my head, along with a lifetime’s worth of Italian vocabulary and verb conjugations. The stress of the move had all but immobilized us, and we reacted by barely leaving the house during that first visit.

Today, instead, I move around these streets without thinking, by foot, bus, taxi and car, happy to share the few shops that I’ve found that suit our New York City-groomed tastes, cutting through a piazza here or down a side lane there. We have our favorite fish monger, butcher, grocer, our preferred trattorias, and the guys at “Two Brothers” cafe never fail to wish us a Buongiorno as we walk by. The language too, is no longer anxiety-provoking. I’m far from fluent in Italian, but might solidly be labeled proficient, and no longer feel that someone speaking to me is cause for alarm.

I know that these challenges are exactly what we came seeking when we decided to change country, culture and language, but it’s also clear now that they have sometimes been much more difficult to deal with than we had expected, especially over the first 8 or 9 months. For me, the biggest one was the initial uncertainty about EVERYTHING, although I was able to enjoy some of it as it was happening (See this post about early visits to the cafe bar), the newness and constant re-discovering of how to move about daily life was energy-depleting and sometimes, downright depressing. For Stefan, it’s been the inefficiency and arbitrary nature of Italian bureaucracy that’s almost driven him nuts. He’s returned from the post office or city hall many times, just about ready to pack up and “get out of this #$@^% third world nation pretending to be an actual country!”

The kids have probably made the smoothest transition, proving that old adage about the adaptability of the young. Together, our biggest test has been being an ocean away from our family and close friends. Their visits throughout the year, have undoubtedly helped us make it through this significant change relatively unscathed. They’ve brought news of home and products that don’t exist in Italy (see here!), but their presence has been the most needed thing of all. It becomes more obvious that there are certain conversations that you only have with particular people when they’re 2000 miles away, and those talks have to wait six months because Skype or the phone just won’t provide the level of connection you need in order to get going. You try out the topics on some of your new friends, but the reactions just aren’t right, so you wait.

And then there are Friday nights. Oh man, we miss our gentle giant, Ray, and his stories of kayaking and biking adventures, his tales of crazy clients and past travels; getting our groove on with Noah or cooking with him in the kitchen or hearing about his week and his thoughts and opinions about everything; conversation with Christine, time to sift through all the week’s events or contemplate the minefield that can be the life of a mom/wife/creator/worker, while drinking delicious wines or consuming a beautiful meal. You just can’t re-create that chemistry, so we’ve stopped trying, and look forward instead to our visit in August!

Despite those initial challenges though, we’ve definitely found another place on the globe to call home. Although we’re still growing into that relationship with Bologna, I already have no doubt that when we leave, we’ll always feel an attachment to this city. I’m curious to see how the children will relate to it as they grow older… Bologna might be that town I lived in when I was 7, or it might be much more than that. Stefan may continue to think of it as a place where nothing #$^%&$* works or maybe he’ll soften with time. Regardless, he will  miss Bolognese foods for the rest of his life. As for me though, I love living in this Latin culture. It reminds me of my Cuban upbringing in so many ways. The language is, of course, very similar, but it goes beyond that. There are so many intangibles, like the warmth of the people, and the familiarity that comes quickly in a society that transitions from formal to informal instantaneously when a connection is found. There’s the ridiculously dramatic, but oh-so-heartfelt pop music that fuels my rides around town, and there’s the fact that there’s always “a guy”, and if you can get to the right guy, anything is possible! In addition, there’s the tribe of international families that we’ve met here, who believe whole-heartedly in multiculturalism, multilingualism, travel and exploration, just like us.

At several turns this year, I’ve been left wondering how my parents ever chose to stay in an Anglo world, when all this Latin goodness exists, but then I spend 3 hours (or days!) trying to get an appointment to have some ailment seen, or the young men at the shipping office are bewildered by a request to include a return-address envelope in my express mail package.  In those moments, I remember that stuff actually works in my home country, and really, really well. I know we’re very lucky to have been raised there, but I am now, more than ever, acutely aware of what my parents lost when they had to change homelands and cultures. And I’m happy that my young family gets to experience a piece of this world, kinks and flaws included, at least for a little while longer.

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Staying Inn

While Gina and other members of the Bouvarez clan ready themselves for visitors galore, I am pleased that summer has arrived in the Hudson Highlands and that Noah’s school obligations are over so that I can tend to the cocoon of privacy and alone-ness I’ve been cultivating here at the River’s edge for the past year (and longer) and Stay Home Alone. I mention the past year because that is when our friends left for the hinterlands of Italy–more about that next week–and longer because it has taken me almost 44 years of living on this planet to realize that I’m an introvert at heart.

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It’s not a realization that I’ve taken to comfortably. It took more than three decades and a serious conversation at an ungodly hour of a brand new year to help me even recognize that being alone, and quiet, are the states that I covet most.

I come from a family of talkers–on my mom’s side anyway. My grandmother is from Sicily and she holds the stereotypical Italian disposition of being temperamental, easily angered and loud. Love comes easily to her, too, which is illustrated in her steadfast loyalty and support of her grandchildren, some who have gotten divorced, sworn at God and gone to jail. Still, she thrives on togetherness, on the charge of noisy conversation and sharing a room, and a meal, with her children and their offspring (and their lovers–though she publicly calls them ‘friends’). At the age of 90 she lives alone, happily most of the time, but it’s no secret that she prefers occasions when every chair in her house is occupied and the television is switched to Sports Center and the grand-dogs are begging for meatballs at the kitchen door.

My mother’s extroversion is even more developed. Her want to be out in the world, along with her ability to keep a conversation going, is legendary in the small town that she and my father live in upstate. Joining her on errands to the bank or the supermarket promises to take far longer than the time needed to complete the tasks on her list–there are tellers to talk to and check out girls–former students of hers–who she’ll need to catch up with. Last weekend I went home for a large family party and watched my mother work the room. No matter that it wasn’t a party she was throwing (it was her brother’s wife’s birthday), she took it upon herself to make sure each person was sated and content. She moved from table to table with anecdotes and queries about new babies, deftly sipping her drink and nibbling cheese between bursts of laughter. I watched her from my seat at our table, re-checking the door for the quickest route of escape, and marveled at her energy and her endurance. When I had arrived with her an hour earlier I said hello to my Aunt (the guest of honor), my cousins (the actual hosts) and my grandmother and then hightailed it to the bar. When my mother got to our table (convinced to return only by the announcement that dinner would be served shortly) she was glowing and happy and charged. If I had talked to that many people in that short of a span of time somebody would’ve needed to administer oxygen.

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Our quiet, empty table in contrast to Gina’s…though sometimes it gets filled with very close friends.

I seem a bit delayed in the knowing thyself department, so for a long time I thought that togetherness filled me up too. I’d throw parties and apply for jobs that required small talk and social skills. Whenever I tried to work a room I’d end up tongue tied and exhausted, but I persevered–thinking that triumph could be found in chit chat and charm but I was miserable and unsuccessful and I had no idea why. It also felt like a failing to not pass the torch of all that gregarious mojo on to Noah. He learned early that whenever we attend a school play or concert to flee to the car as soon as the curtain comes down and, at his baseball games, not to look for me in the crowded bleachers behind home plate, but under the tree beyond first base, alone.

This summer, as Gina’s house fills to capacity and friends and strangers enjoy witty conversations over breakfast and rowdy dinners under the stars, I’ll be here–a world away–(quietly) envying the party, but hopefully, finally understanding that my much more understated visit with her later in the summer will be just perfect for us. I’ll try to take solace in knowing that during those few nights in that gazebo in August we’ll be mesmerized not by the crowd, but by the hard lock of friendship and love and that while I might not be teaching Noah the art of social networking, I’ll be sharing with him the first sprouts of authenticity and what’s it’s like to live as yourself.

As for the big Cuban birthday party, I’ll let you know.

The Bouvarez Countryside Inn is Open for Business!

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(Click to enlarge photo.)

The pignoletto frizzante is appropriately chilled and bubbly, wedges of cantaloupe are topped with prosciutto di parma, mortadella, salame, and bresaola are arranged on platters, the cheese plate is full and the fresh bread is cut, one of Stefan’s summer salads is tossed in his delicious vinaigrette, and music fills the house and yard. It’s summertime at the Bouvarez house, and our first group of guests arrived this morning. We had our test run for the summer season last weekend when our very good friend/soul sista, Natasha, came for a quick visit. But this week, our Caribbean cousins took the overnight train from Austria, childhood friends ventured onto the continent from London, and our unofficial godchild and his momma made their way from Brooklyn USA via Amsterdam. And once again, every room is filled with people and things, and one long, satisfying meal, enlivened by the kind of  conversation you can only have with people you know well, seems to stretch into the planning and making of the next meal.

Along with their belongings, these friends and family bring their tales of far away lands and people, their first person accounts of what’s happening in the old neighborhood, stories about the dramas and comedies unfolding in different corners of the world, descriptions of travel and discovery, and news about the ideas and events captivating those around them. I suppose therein lies an unspoken transaction… countryside for conversation, fresh air and foods for connection, nature’s beauty for news from outside the boot. Frankly, I think we might be getting the better deal, but don’t tell them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Dinner 20

What We’re Eating and Drinking: Pepperonata and Rosé

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This pepperonata (white onion, red and yellow peppers and peeled tomatoes with a bit of salt, sugar and pepper, cooked down for about 30-40 minutes until it’s sweet but still peppery!) really deserves a hearty glass of red, but it’s warm, our pool is full of kids and the summer holidays have just begun, all of which cry out “Rosé!” There’ll be toasted farro bread along side the pepperonata, as well as lentils with broccoli and a little turkey for the kids.

Christine: OK, I don’t really care about the pepperonata (first, because EWW…and second because peppers make me barf–literally.) But have I told you that I discovered this whole world of ‘nightshade’ vegetables during one of my cleanses this past winter and realized that peppers aren’t actually intrinsically gross, but that I’m probably just allergic to–or at least have an adverse reaction to–these creepily named foods? Nightshades are a category of eatable vegetables that include tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, eggplants & peppers–most of which make me hiccup-y and feel icky. But it’s fine. I don’t care about this dinner tonight because WHAT IS that gorgeous colored bottle of wine on your table? Holy goodness that looks refreshing. Is that the real color or just the light?

Have fun with the kiddies and save me a glass and some toasted farro bread….I’ll be along soon.

 

What We’re Talking About: The lazy, hazy days have begun.

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Wizard of Oz or Stand by Me?  Zo and friends set off to explore a brook on the other side of the vineyard.

These last few weeks have been consumed by end of school year activities. This week alone, we had a Elementary School Graduation (Congratulations ZOEL!), a end of elementary party, a mini-musical (Leeloo danced, Zoel sung and acted), an end of unit/year party for Leeloo, as well as teacher presents to buy and give. One faculty member said to me today that she was starting to wonder if Stefan and I were on staff and if not, maybe we should be. Ha! Somehow, Stefan has also managed to give hours and hours of time to the release of his book and music. I, on the other hand, have gotten a little work done, but not much else, certainly not any writing other than the short entries for this blog, which I can’t even remember now. I’m looking forward to our summer schedule when there’ll be a lot less running around, although I’m a little terrified that these not-so-small people will suck up more of my time than I’m anticipating, or should I say, I’ll let them suck up my time because they’re kinda fun. I’m actually more than a little proud of how they’ve handled they’re first year living abroad. They’ve both grown and changed in many different ways, too many to list on a Friday Night, but maybe deserving of a separate blog post re-capping the year. If I had to pick just one thing to tell you about each in the meantime, I’d say that our once reserved Zoel has come clean out of his shell, and is known around school as a funny guy that’s really good at performing at assemblies and special events. (We’ll see how that evolves in Middle School when there’ll be all those older folks around!) And for Leeloo, I’d say that she’s as effervescent as ever, but she’s also developing a self-awareness that’s helping her figure out when it’s better to dial back the bubbly, and sit still. It’s just a beginning, but it’s a joy (and sometimes totally frustrating) to watch her trying to figure it out.

And before I go, Happy 20th! Before you know it, we’ll have done half a year of virtual Fridays together!

Christine: First the ‘Congrats': To Zo–a big milestone!…graduating from elementary school certainly is one of the big ones. (If only because middle school is, indeed, a beast.) Was he fine without all of us waving to him from the audience rows of folding chairs? Or without your parents there? (Were YOU?!) Congrats To Leeloo, too, for all of the performing (and the thinking about dialing back–and hopefully tempering the dialing back). And of course To Stef for the book and music. But, also, To YOU for keeping everything scotch-taped together–maybe the most difficult job of all.

That sucking-up-time thing is something I, too, was thinking about today as I weighed the (emotional) cost of fewer summer camps against all the weeks that Noah will wake up and be looking for me (to me) for SOMETHING TO DO. I guess what we have to do is try and carve out some sacred space for ourselves–which sounds way more Oprah-y than I mean. What I’m suggesting is that just because it’s summer, it doesn’t mean that we, the mothers (the stay at home mothers of older children), continue to need to spend all of our time listening to and following the whims of our OLDER CHILDREN. Even though that’s what is easiest. Even though that’s what we think *might* be best. EVEN THOUGH WE LOVE SPENDING TIME WITH THESE CREATURES. Listen, Noah is trying to convince me to get us season passes to Splashdown Beach…(do you remember that place? Stef & I spent a cicada-filled day there just before you guys left for Italy…it sucked!) and I am not going to cave in and do it. I love spending time with him more than I can describe in words, but hate it there, despite the fact Naoh loves it…and it’s not that the needs of my child don’t matter, but more that we’re not getting a season pass to something that only ONE of us finds fun. It’s time to understand that my needs matter–at least–or just as much as–his.

Which means, Yes, we’ll go to Splashdown once or twice this summer and YES we’ll go to a movie that requires 3D glasses…but not every day of the week. We’ll also take the train to NYC and find some obscure poetry reading to attend and some totally weird street art exhibit to take part in and a library to whittle an afternoon away at. Yes…I’ll drive Noah to the camps that make his eyes light up, and YES I’ll make sure that we have watermelon and ginger water at snack time, but I’ll also make sure that I also have a pitcher of nettle tea and ginger cookies (for me and my mommy friends) and that I make time to get through at least of a third of the books that I’ve reserved at the library and that Noah and I get to spend at least one night of week watching the sun set at the river’s edge…together. It’s a circumstance easier described than insisted on.

…I don’t really think I can do it, but I like to dream.