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.

Running

Today is launch day for my talented and thoughtful husband’s book and music! (Auguri tesoro!) And no, he hasn’t paid me to type these words… You can check out more about him and the projects at theconsideredlife.com or stefanboublil.com, and make a purchase at  Amazon.com (book) or iTunes (music) or iTunes (audiobook)!

ORDER

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With that exciting piece of news out there, my son and I had an interesting conversation the other day that has had a most unexpected result… running. I’ve never been a big fan of running for sport. Sure, if zombies are chasing you or you need to get out of the way of a collapsing building, I could understand why you might want to pick up the pace, but otherwise, aren’t you just running to nowhere for no good reason? Of course, running friends and family have always extolled its virtues, telling me its good for heart, body and mind. One of my first roommates out of college even got me running around the reservoir in Central Park for a few months, but only an invitation from my 11-year old could have gotten my butt to even contemplate doing it again.

He’d be the first to tell you that he’s not a sports guy, despite trying out baseball, soccer, tennis and a little basketball. None of these have ever been all that much fun for him, despite encouragement and support from the 11-year old living over on the right there, who does enjoy many of these. Since moving to Italy, going to numerous soccer practices with a close friend, and experiencing some World Cup fever, I think he’s definitely understood and maybe even appreciates how much hard work goes into playing that game or any sport well. But it isn’t sports, friends or his parents that have motivated this guy to run, it’s dreams of boot camp! Yep, boot camp. Who knows who’s boot camp (I’ve heard something about the U.S. National Guard) but he’d like to get in good physical condition so that it doesn’t kick his butt. Maybe living across the river from West Point for 4 years did this? Books about Roman soldiers?

Whatever the case, we’ve started by downloading the Nike + Running app (Thank you Lena!), and it’s the perfect motivator for the pre-teen with a mild screen addiction problem. It has smart tracking tools (how much you run, your time, calories burned and Nike Fuel points earned), a built-in coach (with which we easily started an 8-week training program), social media sharing (Instagram and Facebook friends here we come!) and the ability to hook up with friends or your mom so that we can challenge each other for the top spot each week.

Out on our hilly gravel roads, the running is not as easy as it might be in a city, but so far some fun is being had, our bodies are definitely being challenged, and it’s easy to see all the life lessons that this running to nowhere has the potential to teach, lessons momma probably needs as much as her son. We’ll see where all this takes us. If all goes well, maybe we’ll even try running a 5k in August!

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Paddling

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First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to Stefan on this, the LAUNCH DAY for his book and music projects and the official introduction of the considered life to the world! I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing a few moments of its development over the years and I promise you, neither the book nor the album should be missed.

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In other news, summer is here! I think I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but I’m just so doggone happy to be puttering around the house in bare feet with the windows open, the sloshing of boats on the river the soundtrack echoing through our house as the people and animal who live here settle into the rhythm of the season.

A change like this often comes with moments of bewilderment and it was during one of those murky mornings late last week, when Noah and I were bumping into one another in the kitchen and Ray was trying to get out the door to catch a train and Luca was whining because he wanted to go for a walk that I decided we needed to do something different–you know, in an attempt to flow with the slower pace and the looser structure of the day and not, ahem, paddle against it. Noah and I talked about finding a movie to see or going to the mall or, even, hopping on the train with Ray and heading into the city for a museum visit and lunch, but the sky was crystal blue and the breeze was gentle and warm and it wasn’t a day to be inside. So, I made the rare choice to go kayaking. You know, without our resident water expert around to guide us.

It’s not that I don’t ever go out on the river without Ray, but often it’s just easier and, to be honest, more palatable to have him with us. For safety and security reasons and because it’s obviously more fun, but also because he’s good at dragging the kayaks around and warning us about the changing tide and keeping Noah and I, two starry-eyed neophytes, focused on looking out for motor boats and tankers and other detritus that must be avoided whilst splashing about on this giant body of water in a plastic vessel the size of a bathtub.

Noah, ever the adventure seeker, was thrilled and did not miss a beat. Of course we could do it alone! No worries! He wanted to pack lunch. He wanted to find a swimming hole. He wanted to try to take the dog in the boat with us, too.

Luckily, I was able to keep my wits about me and made the executive decision to leave Luca home, but after making Noah promise to help me with the dragging-of-the-boat-down-to-the-beach and the paddling-up-the-river and the paying-attention-to-the-tide, we packed some snacks and a few jugs of water and headed out onto the Hudson.

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Happy.

We were treated to calm waters and beautiful scenery and we had a truly magnificent afternoon. It’s so interesting to visit places you’ve seen a thousand times before, but from an alternate point of view. We are lucky enough to live at the river’s edge and we watch it, awestruck, every single day. Our viewpoint, though, is always from above. We look down at the river and across at the mountains, perspectives that give us a sense of dominion or, at least, of safety over all that water and land. But to see everything looming above us, except the water of course–which itself seemed far more copious and deep once we were floating on top of it–made both Noah and I silent with appreciation. For the day and for one another.

 

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Our gazebo, seen from below.

Our house is perched up on a rock wall and even during the most violent storms (Sandy, Hurricane Irene) we never feel like there is a threat of danger or flooding. Once you’re down on the river, though, that certainty starts to shift. Sure the water in June is warm(ish) and the gentle lapping of the small waves against the boat seems comforting, but you also realize the river’s power and potential peril. When you’re depending on that water to keep you steady and moving, when the mountains form a bowl around you, when you are surrounded by rock walls that seem impossible to climb, you can get to thinking that maybe a storm could come through and send waves in through the back door.

You paddle on. Not afraid, but reverent and still. And curious.

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Our fellow travelers on the river–like these big tankers (we passed four or five) carrying everything from other boats (the one above is loaded down with yachts) to cement and gravel and oil–demand respect as well. While we enjoyed playing in the waves of their wake, we mostly stayed away and admired them from a distance.

Combing the riverfront we were treated to features of the shoreline we don’t usually get to see: driftwood structures built by campers or teenage revelers who find solace (and sometimes trouble) at dusk along the narrow beaches;

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and marooned logs and uprooted tree stumps, battered and smoothed down by water and sand.

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Even our beloved village’s waterfront, a place where we regularly walk the dog and eat ice cream and sit on one of the benches to read or write, seemed unfamiliar and exotic and strange.

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I’ll end today with a quote from The Considered Life:

“Escaping our familiar contexts seems to me one of the better and more tangible reset buttons that life, in its wise wisdom, has seen fit to make us believe was our idea…Such migrations do not necessarily have to mean visa-stamping and language-learning…The foreign-soiled experience can be had anywhere that feels alien to whoever you think you are or home to whoever you want to be…For I know that the crossing of borders and the changes in points of view, literal and metaphorical, supply me with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of what has come to mean so much to me: the quest for quality of life.”

Yes.

It’s going to be a good summer.

Campo Estivo? Summer Camp?

IMG_8316For the first time in six years, I am not signing anyone up for summer camp! I haven’t spent a single minute on finding interesting ones, working out schedules, doing paperwork for sign up, or monitoring deadlines while coordinating with other parents to see who’s going where.  And it’s not that there aren’t any options here. On the contrary, it seems there are more and more families with working parents that rely on the “campi estivi” to get through the summer just as we do back in New York. Tennis, soccer, swim and other sports camps, as well as more artsy or outdoorsy ones and mixed camps are all options in the Bologna area. But in this country, there is also widespread use of the “nonni” camp, otherwise known as lots of quality time with the grandparents. For many kids in our region, Emilia Romagna, this means a quick departure to seaside towns like Rimini, Ravenna, Cervia, Cattolica, etc, etc, as soon as school lets out (for public school here that was June 6!) to visit with the nonni for the summer, and “take the air” (there’s a widespread belief that kids benefit greatly from the cooler sea air of early June). Parents usually make the one-hour drive on weekends to reunite with their children and the grandparents in June and July, and then take a family vacation together in August.

Unfortunately, our nonni are across the ocean at the moment, but we’re skipping camp anyway! During the school year, we often run from place to place following the ever-packed schedule of activities, so these few months are the only time of year that the kids have to just BE. We’re looking forward to lazy days when nothing’s pre-planned and we can spend our time doing as much or as little as we want. The kids are finally both old enough to entertain themselves for hours, leaving Stefan and I part of the day for uninterrupted (or mostly uninterrupted!) work, but then we’ll also get to spend part of the day together. There’s plenty to do on this vineyard, plenty of places to explore outside, and no shortage of activities indoors. We also have a few trips lined up, including a few weeks in New York and Philly, and a steady stream of friends and family that are coming here and we can’t wait to see! The only downside to this plan is that it takes us a bit out of the Italian world we’ve gotten use to, and into our own little English-speaking cocoon. We’ll have to balance that out with playdates, dinners and Italian movies in the Piazza!

So although it was tempting to enroll them in camps that focus on things they didn’t get much time to do this year like music, science and theater, we’re opting out of organized activities for these next two months and hopefully resting and re-setting our bodies and minds with a whole bunch of unscheduled goodness.

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Summer Camp/Not Summer Camp Summer

In just a few weeks, the school year will come to an end here in the northeastern United States and many kids will head to summer camp. (More than 11 million children attend some kind of camp each year.) Some go to sleep-away sites–rural, privately run bastions of midnight pranks, artificially sweetened care packages and coming-of-age ‘firsts.’ Others will attend day camps, and follow a routine similar to, though much more informal than, the one they have at school. Summer camp is big business here in the states and another area of culture and childrearing that Americans have made competitive, somewhat elitist and a debate.

Not that I think that summer camps are bad places, mind you. Noah is signed up to attend a few weeks of various day camps this summer. One is an outdoor survival camp–a Native American inspired week of foraging and thinking about spirit animals and building shelters from mud and sticks in the woods along the Hudson River. Another camp he’s excited about is Shakespeare Camp–an education arm of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Noah will end the summer with a week of baseball camp (the least interesting of the bunch to me), but the one that brings him together with a few friends and teachers from school–always good connections to rekindle towards the end of the season when Noah’s not ready for vacation to be over. Without fail, seeing his friends and his favorite teacher (and having fun with them), makes the inevitable end-of-summer-beginning-of-a-new-school-year transition a little bit easier.

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After camp.

Not that I want to be thinking about the end of the summer yet. For heaven’s sake NO. I am ready for long lazy days of doing nothing (and HEAT)–which is why I sometimes wonder about this idea of summer camp. Growing up, I never went to summer camp. Each year our family went on a two week vacation around the fourth of July (usually to Cape Cod or Prince Edward Island in Canada) and then we spent the rest of the time at home. We didn’t really even do playdates. Granted I had three brothers to play with and swim with and, of course, catch frogs. Noah’s an only child, on the other hand, and while that comes with its own set of benefits, consistent companionship isn’t one of them. I like that summer camp allows Noah to enjoy some down time with other kids so he’s not just hanging out with me and doing adult things, which is typically his preference.

I also agree with the gist of this article I read a few weeks ago titled: Deceleration: How Radically Slowing Your Pace Can Make You Smarter. Generally, the author writes about the importance of slowing down our lives and our days and our hours, not just to reduce stress and improve health and enjoy of life more, but also to increase one’s ability to understand and engage with the world.  i.e. TO MAKE YOU SMARTER. Activities like spending time in nature or a few hours looking at the same piece of artwork or taking an entire afternoon to watch the clouds and then the sunset are life changing because by their very nature they are intrinsically different occasions than the ones we usually engage in to pass the time. When we slow down and focus on less action-oriented stuff, space opens up inside of us for a perspective shift; for a crack to break open in the shell of everything that we’ve been taught so that the light of what we know can shine through.

In the article above, the author writes about kids taking time at summer camp to do (not do) these things but this summer our family will be taking some time on our own to investigate this deceleration–without other kids or scheduled meal times or macrame in the afternoon. We’ll spend several weeks at the very end of the summer on Cape Cod (our favorite place on the planet) not doing anything at all.

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Nauset Light Beach. Eastham, MA.

Summer Clubhouse Renovation

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The previous tenants of our countryside home included 3 young girls for whom we believe this lovely “bush house” was built about a decade ago. By the time we moved in last year, the girls had become teens, and it seemed the clubhouse had been abandoned quite a bit ago. During our first summer here, we had so much to do with fixing up the actual house that no one really got around to taking care of this little place. As you can see, it’s sitting on a lovely spot at the back of our yard right before the fields of chick peas begin. The Cathedral of San Luca and Bologna are in the distance and in a few weeks the pool will be open a few meters to the right of it. All our pool stuff got thrown in there last year when the air got colder, and all kinds of little critters proceeded to make their home inside over the winter. Cobwebs, bee hives, cocoons and their inhabitants greeted us when we opened the doors up last month to see what we might do with the place, along with some gooey substances that it’s probably better I couldn’t identify. Luckily, my unflinching nature guru and mother-in-law, Francoise, was here to help do the first spraying of several beehives hanging inside. In the meantime, the kids decided they wanted to paint the interior sky blue, and Leeloo and I cruised Ikea for a few things to put in it. She found a Harlequin-patterned pillowcase to make into a curtain, and chose matching rugs that she could arrange into a flower with a black center for her brother (his favorite color.) Zoel started the clean up by hosing down the house, floor to ceiling, and then we (by we, I really mean I) got down to scrubbing and clearing out any remaining critters. Stefan dealt with a second spraying of beehives when we found yet another right outside the front door. Then it was time to blast some Top 40 and have some fun!

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With their mini rollers and brushes, Zoel and Leeloo laid down two coats of sky blue over the weekend.

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Leeloo explained she wanted to a little Jesus thing before painting her last panel.

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One of the hives with bee larvae and honey. Yum?

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If you’re wondering where Stefan is… check the chick pea fields.

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And now, the new and improved “meeting house” as so named by Zoel.

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The view from inside the meeting house.

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Better get the pool open soon. These children are desperate.

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Lunch after a hard day’s work!

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The design of a secret insignia and club passwords are under way.

 

Destination: Tennessee

Here is a photo-journal of our trip to the Destination Imagination Global Finals in Knoxville, TN. Noah and I spend four glorious days on (and another two traveling to) the campus of the University of Tennessee where we spent days walking around campus, hours preparing and rehearsing for Noah’s two challenges and many late nights pin-trading under the party tents. The experience was over-the-top from beginning to end, and I’m just beginning to acclimate to real life to a degree in which I can discuss it all. To be at a place to be able to write about it will take a few more days.

Still, I want to share some moments with you all now (after all the hype of my previous posts it’s just the right thing to do). The trip to DI Globals truly was a once in a lifetime thing (for both me and Noah) and though I realize that I’ve been speaking in hyperbole, I will assure you that I’m not when I say that I’m thrilled that I got to share the excitement and the over–the-topness of it all with my favorite person in the world.

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Here he is. Getting ready to fly. Noah’s a big fan of air travel. I, on the other hand, like to walk places. Luckily the weather was delightful on both days we had to travel and our flights were on time and, for the most part, relatively easy.

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When we arrived on campus we checked into our dorm room and then followed the crowd down to the square that served as the social center for kids from New York, Tennessee and Michigan. It took them about twenty minutes to start talking to one another and about twenty two minutes to find a ball and start playing a game.

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The opening ceremonies took place in an arena built to hold over 20,000 people. The place was nearly filled to capacity–a crowd much larger than the ones our kids from a town of 2,000 are used to hanging around.

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The opening ceremony consisted of a parade of states/nations, a rock band, the national anthem sung by an American Idol finalist, a laser show and this guy…who danced whilst hand-painting Einstein’s silhouette on a huge plexi-glass canvas.

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Early the next day, pin-trading commenced on lawns and under tents.

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For some folks, it got serious.

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The kids handled the pressure of their Main Challenge (and the giant room within which they had to perform it) with panache–even when their handmade, recycled tree fell during the middle of their skit.

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Post-Main-Challenge euphoria (or daze).

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Noah dressed up as Darth Maul for the Duct Tape Ball. Yep. A Duct Tape Ball. His entire costume (except those fancy socks and sandals) was fashioned out of duct tape. A World Record was set that night–the night that 3,000 kids covered themselves from head to toe in the stuff.

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Noah’s team was more than ready for their Main Challenge, but one of the trickier elements of the week was the Instant Challenge–when the kids are given a problem to solve and they have to come up with a plan to solve it in four minutes and then present their solution on the spot. Parents aren’t allowed to watch this part of the fun but, afterwards, the kids treated us to a little rap.

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Letting off some steam and nervous energy at the fountains–site of the the 1982 World’s Fair.

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A scene from the final night’s celebration. Noah’s team ended up coming in 17th out of the 90 teams that were competing in his age group in his division. Not too shabby for a group of kids from the sticks.

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Best photo of them all–Noah’s rendering of our descent into JFK. Home Sweet Home.

 

Device Indecision

“….and NO DEVICES!”

It’s the mantra that’s been on repeat here ever since we got an iPad for Noah for Christmas last year. I know, I know–it’s my own fault. I put the thing right in his hands and now I am trying to make it go away. More accurately, I’m lamenting my decision to give it to him in the first place.This iPad (with no data plan, mind you, it has to be hooked up to WiFi) was supposed to be a compromise. What Noah really wants is an iPhone (black, with a Star Wars cover) and I would rather he not have any devices yet, so we got him the tablet and hoped that its larger, more stationary nature might help curb the use of it on its own.

No such luck.

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Noah and Zo on their devices during a sleepover here last fall. You’d think that after being separated by an ocean for four months they’d want to talk and, you know, look at one another. Even Luca looks vexed.

It’s not that I don’t like devices. I love my phone and my computer so much that I’ve had to set up parameters around them for myself. Like many of us in this post modern world, my iPhone and, by association, the social media accounts that feed it, have become extensions of my identity. The things that I ‘like’ or post or share online define my public face and inform my private one. Liking and Posting and Sharing also take up many hours, so I have to be careful not to spend so much time crafting an image that I forget to actually live a life. But these are concerns of smartphone and tablet users everywhere. I’m not sure that I have much more to add to that discussion other than empathizing with all of us as we navigate through these uncharted, data-cluttered waters. The internet isn’t going anywhere and finding a balance between its exceptional usefulness and its woeful addictiveness is big work for us in our time.

Incidentally, that the internet and its accompanying devices are not going anywhere is the very argument that my kid uses when he tries to talk us into getting him a phone. He’s eleven and does not have one although “all of his friends do” (which is not, as it is, true, but I understand what it feels like to not be allowed to have the cool thing when even some of your friends do). Getting a phone is, for him, a pretty simple endeavor. It’s about owning a cool thing and being like his friends and having the ability to play Minecraft no matter where he is. For me, getting a phone for my child is far more complicated. It’s a decision layered with my beliefs about parenting and philosophies about screen usage. It has to do with realities about money, logistics about data plans and many, many concerns about safety and identity and creepy people who lurk just beyond a link.

Noah’s father (my ex-husband) thinks that Noah should wait until 9th grade to get a phone (luckily we have similar hopes about putting things off for as long as possible) but is two more years too long to make him wait? I mean obviously there isn’t a ‘right’ answer to that question, and obviously he is going to survive if he doesn’t have a freaking phone, but this decision is one that I’m rolling around with this spring. There have been several occasions, just over the past week, that it would have been easier FOR ME if Noah had a phone. He’s in so many activities that coordinating pick ups and drop offs and remembering whether or not I have to bring him dinner so he can eat it between his baseball game and play rehearsal would be infinitely easier if I could just text him a quick note before I drive to school for the seventh time on one afternoon. Today, Noah and his classmates are in New York City visiting The Met and since I got closed out of the chaperone list I have to wait for his return (and monitor the news for signs of trouble and tragedy) from afar instead of being able to check in with him or have the ABILITY to check in with him at my will.

I understand that there are pitfalls to constant contact and I really don’t want to become (more of) a helicopter parent, but one of the great assets of Noah having a phone would be staying in touch–connection being a good indicator of the mental and emotional health of teenagers.

But that’s not my point. My point, or rather my question, is about what is appropriate and when. My point is about how to reconcile that, in America, people who can’t pay their rent have $200 iPhones (not that I’m judging) including kids who can’t possibly understand the decision between buying a phone while paying rent, not to mention how complicated it is to stay safe once you put yourself out into the cyberworld.

As you see, I’m spinning my wheels about this. I have no great conclusion, just many questions and my hope is that Gina will be able to shed some light on how the Italians do technology and devices with their kids. (They don’t seem to be as wishy-washy and equivocal in their beliefs as me.)

Any thoughts about this topic out there?