Saturday, December 13, 2008

Memorable moments of 2008

I started this blog for a couple of reasons: one was to try to write more. Moderate success on that goal. Next was to substitute a newsletter and/or photos in our Christmas cards. The blog seemed a more efficient, paper-saving , state-of-the-art method for sharing news.

Well, it's Dec. 8, my Christmas cards are signed and addressed and have enclosed in them the notice to check this blog for news and photos of the family. Before I mail them, I figured I should post some of those. Nothing like a deadline for motivation.

2008 was an eventful year. Some amazing, some scary. The top two wonderful happenings were our trip to Italy and Diva's graduation from grad school. And as always, all time spent with the kids and grandkids. And, this year we were happy to have as guests in our home assorted family and friends whom we haven't seen in a long time, including Cosmo's cousin, one of my brothers, a very dear friend from my preschool teaching days who was in town seeing her oldest son off to college. A friend of mine from UM J school days also came to town and we spent a fun afternoon catching up on the "good old days" in Missoula.

The top scariest event of 2008 was when our little bella principessa, 'Nando's youngest, contracted a MRSA infection that had her in the hospital twice and then sent home to finish out her antibiotic treatments via IV, administered by her brave and steady mom. This quite terrifying episode took me over the mountain to central Washington several times over the course of a few months to help out where I could. Principessa healed up and recovered quite well once they figured out which antibiotic would work for her, and when they switched to the med in IV form instead of the oral that was upsetting her little tummy.

I doubt that she'll remember this, except through the stories that are bound to become part of the family legend. But her parents will NEVER forget the harrowing scare they endured watching their little one go through this ordeal.

And in yet another of life's paradoxes, I would say that even in the midst of this trauma, our family grew closer. Time spent with my daughter-in-law in the wee hours as we sat through the infusions was indeed precious time shared. And somehow we found things to laugh about, even when we were laughing through tears and to stave off the fear.

The other major event was our camping trip from the Far Side in our newly acquired pop-up camper, which we were so tickled to get. In fact, summer of '08 might be remembered as the summer of the camping misadventure, in which Cosmo and Gigi take to the road with high hopes and visions of camping across the US and end up buying a new car in Miles City, Montana, after encountering baffling car troubles almost beyond description.

For more details and photos of these events, scroll down.

Merry Christmas!
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

photos of Italy

From top:
The Vatican, St. Peter's in the background
Pisa with our cousins
Naples overlooking Mt. Vesuvius
Cantalupo Nel Sannio

Camping with Gigi and Cosmo

In late summer '07 we bought a used pop-up tent camper mid season, knowing that we didn't have any free time to take it out. So we designated summer '08 as the Summer of the Camper and planned several weekend trips and one long trip to visit Teed and the gang, and then to continue on with the boys for more camping with Gramma and Papa. We planned the first trip to a state park close to our house and dubbed that the "Shakedown Cruise," thinking that we'd learn what we needed to know about the operation, set up and take down of our new toy. We did learn a few things, mostly about camping in the rain (don't like it), that the heater works, and that unless we're with grandchildren there isn't much to be said for camping in a nondescript park that doesn't offer much more than our own back yard. (top photo is Cosmo during the shakedown)

Next trip was on 4th of July weekend when we trucked on over the mountain to central Washington and met up with 'Nando and gang. This trip got off to a bit of a rocky start when the camper fell off the hitch at the first stoplight less than a mile from our house. We learned how to make sure the hitch is secure and how to get it back on in the middle of a busy intersection and in the pouring rain. Once we got to our campsite the weather cleared up and we had a weekend of sheer fun with the kiddos, doing all the requisite traditional camping stuff: campfires, s'mores, corn on the cob, hot dogs, fishing. It was great. (Photos 2 and 3)

Then we headed out for the BIG TRIP. We planned two weeks on the road. Day 3 brought the beginning of the car troubles that plagued the trip. In spite of having had some major work done to the truck in preparation for the long journey, we the truck started acting up when we arrived in Bismarck ND. Basically it just died. Several phone calls to our mechanic back home and lots of speculation failed to answer any questions, but mysteriously the truck started to work again. Then we got not one, but two flat tires on the camper, and we learned how to fix those.

We made it to Teed's house and hooked the camper up to her van so we could take the boys on the next leg of the trip, leaving the truck for Teed and the perfesser to take to work while we were away. No sooner did we get out of town than they started to have trouble with the truck. We cut our trip short to get back to figure out what was wrong, and ended up having a second fuel pump installed by Teed's mechanic. (photo 4 is us with the boys back at their house)

Thinking we were good to go we headed home and made it about 500 miles before the truck just stopped once again, this time just outside Miles City, Montana. (Last photo. Notice the wide open spaces, cows and the proverbial Big Sky)

To round out the adventure, we called a tow truck which dropped us and the camper at a campsite, and took the truck on over to the local Chevy dealer, where it stayed for three days and was put to all the diagnostics they knew. Somewhere during Day 2 Cosmo started looking at buying a replacement vehicle and trading in the truck. Meanwhile back at the campsite, I engaged in lots of conversations with other campers and the campground staff and heard many opinions about what might be wrong with the truck. (It's pretty easy to engage a Montanan in a conversation about a pickup.)

We ended up buying a used Jeep which got us home safely. We still laugh about how naive we were to think that our first short weekend trip would be the shake down where we'd learn everything we needed to know about the camper. When we tell the story lots of folks ask if we have sold the camper. Perish the thought, after all we've got invested into the thing by now. And we really do enjoy being out in it, especially with the kids.

We have decided that we're not going to take it farther than 500 miles from home (a day's drive where we could be rescued if need be)

I do think this would make a good screen play, though. I see Chevy Chase playing the part of Cosmo. I'm still looking for titles and a ghost writer.

Diva gets her master's degree and the whole family gathers to celebrate

June 2008 was memorable in many ways. First because Diva earned her master's degree in Education from Oregon State University in the College Student Services Administration program. Two years of hard work, lots of studying, multiple internship assignments that amounted to full-time work in addition to the academics, AND one year of commuting from Eugene to Corvallis (about 40 miles each way) and one year of commuting from Portland to Corvallis (abut 60 miles). Cosmo and I are very proud of Diva's work. Prior to the formal hooding and graduation ceremonies, we were also fortunate to be there when Diva presented her thesis to her committee and fellow students. In this presentation she was required to demonstrate her mastery of the nine areas of competency upon which the CSSA program is built.

In June the whole clan traveled and gathered to celebrate for the formal graduation ceremonies. In our typical style that took on a life all its own, but that really is a hallmark of our family life. So Teed and her crew flew from Lake Wobegon to Portland and planned an extended vacation at the Oregon coast for the week after the graduation. 'Nando and his brood drove over the mountain from the east and started their trip with a few days here at our house, where they joined Cosmo's parents. who traveled from New York to be a part of the chaos, I mean festivities. We caravanned to Oregon to meet up with Teed and the boys, and of course, Diva, the woman of the hour who had planned multiple events for the whole slew of us, as well as for dennycrane's family. (Since event planning and organizing is integral to her advanced degree, she skillfully managed this over my protests and offers to help. )

In sum, a fun filled weekend of celebrating of all kinds. Pizza and movies at the community room of Diva's apartment complex. More caravanning from Portland to Corvallis for the graduation, celebratory luncheon, Father's Day dinner at a Ruby Tuesdays that will never be the same, and a grand picnic/barbecue at dennycrane's family home, where his quiet and unassuming folks were kind enough to graciously receive the likes of us. Mix that in with lots of cousin bonding time, swimming in the hotel pool, gathering at each other's hotel rooms to watch TV and visit and snack, and a rousing afternoon of baseball, kids vs. adults, with the kids winning by a big spread.

Cosmo's parents haven't had the pleasure of seeing our branch of the family tree in action like this, so it was a nice opportunity for them to get to know their great grandchildren a little better.

Italia, the trip of a lifetime

I still can't believe that Cosmo were able to fulfill the dream of going to Italy. This trip was so special for us, in so many ways. We were so blessed to have our wonderful travel agent plan this trip for us, and his fine work made it so magnificent. All of our accommodations were top-notch. In every city we had our own guide and a driver. We did take the train twice, once from Rome to Florence and once from Rome to Naples. Each time our guide deposited us at the train station, and upon arrival we were greeted by our new guide. All of our guides were charming, knowledgeable, friendly, accommodating, as were our drivers.

We went to Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, Siena, Assisi, Lucca, Naples, Pompeii, and Cantalupo nel Sannio and Casalciprano, the towns where Cosmo's grandparents were born. Because we were a tour group of two, our guides whisked us past long lines, and we were able to pack in so much sight seeing. Each day we met our guide and driver, they took us to the days' sights, then back to our hotel and we were on our own for the late afternoon and dinner. Always they oriented us to the neighborhood, recommended restaurants, and in the morning needed to know if we were pleased with the previous night's meal, etc.

To prepare for our trip, we listened to Berlitz CDs for months. We were able to get by, and it was fun to at least try, although almost everyone speaks English, except in the small towns in the north. On our one evening alone in Campobasso, we did have to get by with our minimal skills as we tried to find a restaurant. We kept getting lost, and stopping to ask for directions. It was clear we were close, but we never found it. We were on the piazza, and finally decided to just go to the first place we found, and amazingly there were no restaurants on the piazza. Come to find out, the way Campobasso is laid out: all the restaurants and trattorias are off the beaten path. We did find a little bar that served pizza and sandwiches and wine, certo. No written menus, though, yet we managed to order, pay our bill and find our way back to the hotel. The next morning our guide was so disappointed that we hadn't been able to experience the true local cuisine, and she was so apologetic. We, on the other hand, felt triumphant that we had survived on our own minimal skills.

Only superlatives can describe our experiences in Italy. The food, the wine, the people, the art, the architecture, the history. All magnifico. We also were able to spend an afternoon and evening with a distant cousin of Cosmo's and his charming wife, who showed us around Pisa and then drove us back to Florence and treated us to dinner.

We still haven't figured out the exact link as to how they're cousins, and we'd only exchanged emails prior to meeting them. But the genetic bond was obvious, and it was as if Cosmo had met a long lost brother. Their mannerisms, their attitudes, their sense of humor, all eerily similar for two guys who had never met.

It's hard to pinpoint one highlight of this trip, but going to the birthplaces of Cosmo's grandparents was an experience and a privilege that defies description. Cosmo grew up hearing stories of these towns from his beloved grandparents. Being able to go back and walk the streets that his grandparents had walked, was truly the opportunity of a lifetime.

Except for feeling like we were on cultural and information overload at the end of each day, trying to process all that we had seen--especially in Florence-- no aspect of this trip was wasted on us. I think we can safely say that we didn't go to Italy, but rather we truly experienced it. For me the most magnificent part was watching Cosmo reconnect to his ancestral roots. It was kind of like that John Denver song. He was going home to a place he'd never been before.

We got so immersed in the culture that coming back home was really difficult for us. Diva told us that this is a common experience of travelers, students who spend time abroad often go through a difficult reentry and need time and help to process that. We just fumbled our way through it; I'd say it took a couple of months and in some ways we're still not over it. We want to go back, but we've decided there a few places in the US we should see first, and hopefully we will ride out this economy and be able to do that and return to Italy some day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Old Dog; New Tricks

I recently started a new job, and I'm even getting paid for it! For the past four years I've been volunteering in a ministry that I helped to start at our church. We serve pregnant and newly parenting women, helping them when they don't have family or friends around to do the stuff that new moms need help with, especially right after their babies are born.

When the opportunity came up to join the staff at a transitional home for pregnant and newly parenting women, it seemed like a logical extension of the ministry and worth pursuing. I'm now on the substitute list for the regular staff. Since the house is staffed around the clock with either 24 or 48-hour shifts, there is plenty of opportunity to fill in for the regulars when they're ill or want vacation time.

I figured that round the clock shifts would take some getting used to, and that I'd learn a lot, and was that ever an underestimation! I've worked one 24-hour and one 48-hour shift so far, and boy, do I have some stamina to build. Working for 48 hours was a good way to learn the rhythm of the house and to get to know the residents. The time actually went by pretty quickly. The advantages are that I got a full work week into two days, and only had to sit in traffic once. But I wasn't prepared for how difficult the re-entry would be; it was a doozy! It took almost 24 hours to feel like I had readjusted to my regular life and my own home, and I was way more tired than I expected to be, in spite of being able to sleep in the staff quarters. And I actually got six good hours of sleep each night, since the house was quiet and there were no emergencies (like someone going into labor).

At this stage of my life, almost every experience seems to come down to the realization that everyone has a story. Each of the residents have a story, they each have hopes and dreams, they each want to build a better life for themselves and their babies.
Now they're living in a cooperative setting, sharing chores and living space, learning communication skills, dealing with not only their own kids, but all the kids in the house. Shared toys, shared space, shared bathrooms. And they're all trying to find jobs or get trained for jobs, and their ultimate goal is to move out of this place and into permanent housing. Whew! Kind of like dorm life on a manic hormone binge.

I feel so blessed to have the best guy in the world to come home to, and already I've roped him into a home improvement chore at the house. Two people have told me already that having Cosmo show up at the house to visit me or do chores will be such a bonus for these women to see the example and the possibility of a good and faithful man. Amen to that.

Tomorrow I work another twenty-four- hour shift. At last week's house meeting, I offered to bake Thanksgiving pies with anyone who's interested. I got a very enthusiastic response. One woman who is going to visit some family for the holiday, told me that even though she was looking forward to seeing her family, she was sorry to have to miss the pie making.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to earn a little money doing work that's so similar to the volunteer work I've been doing. I think I have something to offer here. I'm even more sure that I still have much to learn.

Friday, November 14, 2008

End-of-Season Thoughts of an Accidental Gardener

After nine years in Seattle, I'm still a little amazed that in mid-November, everything is still so green, albeit soggy; some flowers are still in bloom; and today I was gardening, well sort of gardening-- tending to outdoor plants, at least-- and not shoveling snow.

A master gardener, or any true gardener more masterful than I, might chuckle at what I call gardening at any time of the year. I've stumbled upon my skills, really don't know what I'm doing, but I do derive a great deal of pleasure from the annuals that I pop into pots of all sizes and place on the deck to watch in fascination as they take off, or don't, as is sometimes the case.

I'm fond of the usual stuff: geraniums, petunias, marigolds, lobelia, ivy and other assorted viney things. I look forward to my annual trek to various nurseries and garden departments to select plants in late May. I love transferring fragile little seedlings from their 1- or 2- inch plastic planters into their new homes, and more or less randomly grouping different varieties together to see how they'll fare throughout the season. I enjoy watching them thrive, seeing some take over a pot while others struggle for space. By the time August rolls around, when it's still light at 9 p.m., I relish the hours spent sitting out there, enjoying a glass of wine and Cosmo's company, and taking in all the color and what is to me, sheer opulence.

This year I planted a gerbera daisy for the first time. I placed it alone in an aluminum watering can that I've turned into a planter. This plant was the most fun to watch as it flourished throughout the season. Unlike other flowering plants whose blossoms branch off from the greenery, the flower of the gerbera daisy sprouts up from the dirt on its own stalk. At first it hides under the leaves, and the tiny bloom is face-down and green. As the stalk grows and the blossom gets bigger, its face gradually turns sunward and eventually it bursts upright, rising triumphantly above the foliage. My plant produced one flower at a time, but it seemed to pace itself so that as the mature flower faded, a new tiny flower crouched under the protective leafy wings, waiting its turn to make a grand and stately entrance. We enjoyed a perpetual flame of color from this delightful little princess all summer long. And even now there's still one more fledgling bloom hiding under the leaves, trying to win a race against time.

Today I swept the last of the leaves off the deck, removed fallen leaves from the pots, picked dead leaves off the plants, tossed the plants that were done for sure, and rearranged everything that was left. I was quite pleased with the result, and felt a great sense of accomplishment in prolonging the life of my container garden. The summer furniture's covered and put away, but the deck acutally looks quite lovely on this November day. We can continue to enjoy the remaining spots of color, even from indoors, even through the inevitable November rain.

And I'm rooting for that last little gerbera. I hope it has a chance to pop up into full bloom before it succumbs to the frost.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Day Brightener

Yesterday I received a Halloween card from my Auntie D. She's my mother's only sister, my godmother, and the most faithful card-sending occasion-rememberer I know. She not only sends cards for birthdays, anniversaries and major holidays, but also for Halloween, Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day. They always arrive on time, and always include a little note or a newsy letter.

What's amazing about her steadfastness in sending cards is that she has the most low-tech system imaginable: it's called a calendar. In spite of the number of accessible and affordable state-of-the-art, high-tech data storage, time management and communication devices that are available to us, how many of us still forget birthdays, fail to return phone calls, or are late for appointments?

Cosmo, whose core message on salesmanship is rooted in the basics of time management and the discipline of consistent behavior, regularly cites my aunt's "system" as the most effective of any he knows. Why? Because she's found a method that works for her, she's committed to it and she uses it.

I can't describe how much pleasure and comfort I felt when I saw that bright orange envelope with her distinctive handwriting amid the rest of yesterday's mail. I was transported back to my childhood and took a moment to remember just how important a role this sweet 70-something woman has played in my life. Along with my mother and my grandmother, she was the biggest influence of my formative years. Most of the things that are important to me and central to my value system, I learned from these three strong and amazingly different women. Auntie D is the sole survivor of this influential triumvirate.

I know everyone's busy anymore and I do appreciate emails and phone calls, but what a blessing to have somebody who has known me all my life, who lives 3000 miles away and has endured her own share of heartache, who still takes the time to reach out to me with lovely little things like a Halloween card.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Memories of Meals in Italy

As we settle into fall, with crisp days and cooler nights, I want to cook comfort food: hearty soups, stews, pasta dishes. What I really want is to return to Italy and to experience again some of the incredible meals we ate there. Recalling a few of the more memorable might assuage my yearning for now.

Our travel agent recommended Bocca Negra in Firenze. We walked there from our hotel on our second night in Italy, and this is the first place where Cosmo started to connect to his roots. the meal was fine, but it was the drama that currounded our meal that made the evening memorable.

We ordered a bottle of wine and when the waiter brought it to the table and uncorked it, before he even raised the cork to his nose, he made a face and then stepped away from our table and set the bottle down on an empty table nearby. Then he sniffed the cork and made another face, then went to the bar and brought back a wine glass. Poured a small amount into the glass, swirled, sniffed, tasted and spit out the wine into the glass. He picked up the bottle, walked quite resolutely away from us, slammed the bottle down on the steps leading to the upper balcony area of the restaurant, turned to us and said apologetically, “It’s bad—vinegar-- I’ll get another bottle.” He returned and repeated the entire tasting sequence carried out at the same neighboring table, I suspect this was all done to spare us the effrontery of getting a whiff of this noxious brew. When the second bottle met his approval he stepped over to our table and poured into our glasses. The wine was delicious.

Satisfied that he had given us a quality product, he again left the room, but on his way out, he stopped to tell the story to another waiter, who promptly retrieved the bottle from the stairs and took a sniff, then looked our way with a sheepish glance and said, “good for salads, not to drink.”

Our waiter left, and returned with our antipasti and was followed by the maitre d’, who also lifted the bottle to his nose, poured himself a taste, repeated the same reaction of disgust, looked over at us and also apologized. The two waiters and the maitre d’ then engaged in a lengthy discussion complete with hand gestures, and it was clear that they were commiserating on the horror of this situation.

This scene was repeated at least twice more, whenever another restaurant employee came into the room: our waiter recounting the event, the other person smelling and/or tasting to see for himself, agreement as to the poor quality of the wine, animated discussion about what an outrage this was. Cosmo and I were the only ones in the place who never got close enough to that bottle to smell even the cork. But we thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment that the incident provided.

Another memorable meal was in a tiny trattoria in Lucca called Da Leo .We had lunch there at the recommendation of our guide. It was a bit off the main tourist drag, just a little out of the way, but well worth the short walk. We were the only tourists in the place, it was obvious that every other patron knew each other and the staff knew each of the other patrons. We felt completely welcome, however, and we enjoyed watching the scenarios playing out as these neighbors visited with each other. Two children ate at a corner table with their father and then got up and ran around the place, hugging the staff and greeting patrons.We think one of the waitresses was their mom. A dog wandered in from outside and sniffed around a bit, was largely ignored, then left. An older gentleman tended the bar which was more like a tabletop bridging a space connecting the two dining areas. The bar was covered with wine decanters and the gentleman was filling and rearranging the decanters.

Our guide recommended the farro soup.Farro is a grain and it’s a local crop. I can’t even describe how delicious and rich this simple soup tasted. Cosmo also ordered the meatballs and grilled vegetables plate. The vegetables were something like a tempura, and the meatballs clearly had been fried in olive oil. Two sheets of plain brown paper separated the entrĂ©e from the plate and gently absorbed the grease. I had escallops of beef which were bathed in some kind of heavenly sauce, lemony and rich and perfetto. We thought we were in heaven and I only wished I could have gone around the room and snapped a photo of everyone in the place. The faces, the expressions, the stories!

Finally for memories to sustain, there's Tre Scalini in Roma. We went there after our morning at the ruins of the palace of the Roman emperor Ottavio Augustus and the Colloseum. The reservations had been made for us earlier, but our guide (who is an Italian version of a combination of Teed and Diva) gave us the option of eating elsewhere. We were all too happy to follow her recommendation. She escorted us in, introduced us to the owner, made sure we were pleased with the place, and left us with huge kisses and a flourished exit. We dined outside under a canopy.

To start, we were presented with glasses of proseco, the Italian version of a light champagne. Our waiter was superbly adept and of course gracious.We started with a minestrone for Cosmo and a creamy tomato soup garnished with fresh basil for me. Next we shared several plates including lasagna that melted in our mouths, eggplant parmeggiano that practically made me cry, and a lemony chicken dish. We were easily talked into the house specialty for dessert, a wondrous pile of chocolate gelato surrounding a cherry and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. For this we did not share, we ordered due.

We left Tre Scalini convinced that if we never ate another meal we could die happy, and went out onto the Piazza Del Navona, on a glorious sunny day. Cosmo went to a tabacchiera to buy himself a cigar and I wandered around the square to check out the vendors. We found each other back on the plaza, in front of a street performer who was singing O Solo Mio for an enraptured crowd. We bought some watercolor prints as souvenirs from one of the many local artists whose works I had browsed.

It took us about an hour to walk back to our hotel, and this was a good thing as it was an opportunity to work off a few of the calories. Not until we were on the plane headed back home did I discover that Tre Scalini is listed in the book “1000 Places to See Before You Die.”
(Photos from top: Opera on the Piazza Navone, Cosmo enjoys a cigar on the Piazza after lunch at Tre Scalini, Lunch at Da Leo, Espresso after dinner at Bocca Negro)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ah, sweet mystery of life

Cosmo and I have known each other for almost 39 years; been married for 37. I'm fond of saying that our socks have been tumbling around in the dryer together for a long time. You'd think that would mean-- after hanging around with each other for almost four decades-- that we know each other pretty well, that maybe there aren't many surprises. You might think that, but I'm here say it ain't necessarily so.

A dyed-in-the-wool romantic might think that I'm taking this in a starry-eyed direction, leading to a conclusion that has something to do with continuing to discover sweet things about each other after all these years. Yeah, that can happen, but that isn't what's on my mind these days. It's more mundane, and tied to everyday realities and it befuddles me.

Cosmo and I have been through a lot together. Sickness, health, richer, poorer, good times and bad. Raised three kids, discovered the joys of grandparenting, faced fears, uncertainty, a couple of recessions and unemployment, fought over and resolved many an issue, agreed to disagree on many more. Stood together in the face of adversity, basked together in triumph, have a boatload of memories that we can summon for each other with a brief phrase.

One might think at this point in the game we'd be well equipped to roll with the punches and just take life as it comes.

But it just doesn't always work that way. Obviously, we get through all the big stuff, but sometimes the little stuff can throw us more off-balance than a blanket in the washer and we find ourselves clunking around, making ugly noises and spinning out of control.

I hate it when that happens. And years of experience at this game hasn't really given me any insights as to why,or to see the warning signs that we're headed for one of these out-of-whack phases. It seems like one day I can look at this guy and hardly need to say a word before I know that he knows what I'm thinking, and the next day-- heck, the next minute-- he can say something that seems so utterly preposterous that I look at him and ask, "Who are you and how did you get inside my house?"

I just don't understand how on some nights we can reach for each other's hand in the dark without so much as a word, then wake up to start a new day and before the breakfast dishes are washed, get so off track with one another that we can't even find words to start a conversation.

And how is it possible to feel like we're facing a major issue one day and then be unable to describe the situation in a coherent sentence the next?

I know one thing, our basic natures make situations like this very unsatisfying for me. Cosmo will do almost anything to avoid conflict. I, on the other hand, am combat-ready at all times and I have an arsenal of weaponry at my fingertips. There's a scalpel for dissecting any situation, a shovel that helps me "get to the bottom of things," about a half dozen whips in various shapes and sizes--all suitable for beating a dead horse, a microscope to examine the minutest of details, an unabridged dictionary and a thesaurus to determine EXACTLY what was meant by any given comment, a keen ability to dig up the past, and oh, did I mention the menopause-related hormonal imbalance that makes me so easy to reason with?

So for the past week or so we've been bickering on and off about something truly trivial. Every time I want to revisit the topic (in other words, fight some more), Cosmo is maddeningly calm and insists on being distractingly logical. I'm convinced he does this just to make me more furious. Then life goes on and we sit down for a meal or talk about current events or share news of the kids, grandkids or something that happened to one of us that day, and poof, the storm clouds disappear for awhile. But we haven't really resolved the so-called "issue." I suspect we might not.

I wonder if other couples go through phases like this. Funny, but as many conversations as I've had about relationships, I don't recall ever talking about this particular phenomenon. As for me, there's no life lesson yet, no epiphanous moment, no rainbow-watching-kiss-and-make-up part or happy ending. When we get this way, there isn't even enough passion or anything fundamental enough to warrant a make-up kiss. It's just one of those crazy things.We'll get over it, we'll move on to other things, and in time I'll bet we find something really important to argue over,or enough time will pass and this will just fade into a distant memory and a moot point.

I guess not everything needs to be fully resolved or wrapped up in a neat package and tied with a bow. Some things are just mysteries, especially when we're talking about something as complex as a lifelong partnership with somebody who can still make me weak in the knees when he walks into the room, damn him.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Took the week off

When I started this blog a month ago it seemed like it would be a good way to keep myself accountable to my aspiration of writing. My goal was one post per week. I got to three for three and dropped the ball.

I thought about writing something last week (I know that doesn't count) but I was at odds with myself and the world, couldn't maintain focus, couldn't land on a theme, yadda yadda yadda.

If I've gained any wisdom and/or learned anything about myself since I started to feel grown up enough to even use the word wisdom, it's that this is the critical time for me: right here, right now. This is the place in which I've given up on one too many diets, exercise programs, plans for better self discipline, books, creative projects. The list goes on. I start strong, go for a little while, get to a hard place, miss a step, give up. OR...

Acknowledge that I took a week off, shrug and recommit myself to the goal, and start fresh today.

Years ago I was lying in bed, feeling fat, out-of-shape and sorry for my flabby self. As I gradually came out of my self-indulgent daydreamy state, I realized that I was actually staring at our NordicTrac and it was almost screaming to me, saying, "I'm right here, you idiot! The solution to your doldrums is about 10 steps away. Get up out of bed and come over here and move for 20 minutes."


In a brief but significant Aha moment, I learned something that day that for the most part has stuck, which is: usually the situation is not as complicated as I'm making it out to be, usually the answer is right under my nose, and usually it involves getting out of bed and doing something.

So here I am, back at the keyboard. I missed a week, but I'm writing now. In the past week I've looked forward to reading two of my favorite columnists in the local paper, only to find their photos and the announcement that they were" taking the week off." I guesss if it's ok for Nicole Brodeur and Ron Judd to do once in awhile, it's ok for me, too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Another Birthday Reflection

Today my "baby" turns 28. She's the only one of my children who, on her birthday, asks me to tell her the story of the day she was born. I just spoke with her, and in a 45-minute conversation we talked about everything from politics to job searches and interviews to the meaning of life, but we didn't get to the story of October 1, 1980. Now she has begun a day fully scheduled with work, time with friends and a date with her partner this evening at a restaurant she's been anxious to try. It's possible I won't talk to her again today, so I'll tell the story here:

The story really begins the night before when Cosmo and I went to a Marriage Encounter meeting with a group of people who had become our friends and support network in a surprisingly short time. We met at the home of the couple who would become Diva's godparents. Cosmo remembers vividly that the future godmother served doughnuts, but that detail escapes me.

What I do remember is that I shared with the group the fact that at this stage in the game-- my ninth month of pregnancy-- I was not at all sure that I had the wherewithal to be a good mother to three children. Somebody said point blank, "Why, dear, you're just terrified, aren't you?" At first I vehemently denied that I was that scared, but being the M.E. folks that they were, and hellbent on identifying FEELINGS, they weren't going to let me off until I admitted that, yes, I was feeling scared, maybe even terrified. And that being out on the table, we moved on, because in M.E. you don't judge feelings, you just identify them and let them be what they are.

But I went home with a few things to think about: first that I was, in fact, scared, and second that it was OK to be scared, and right around the corner from that-- now that the fear was identified and out there-- was the possibility that I could consider and talk about exactly what I was so afraid of. Hmmm... I couldn't quite articulate it, except that I was just not sure that I would be able to give all the time, attention and love that three children would need. Especially since the two we already knew were best described as Night and Day, and I just couldn't quite imagine what other personality flavors there might be.

As it turned out there wasn't much time to ponder any of this, because sometime during that night my labor started, and by 6:00 the next morning our next-door neighbor was settled in and ready to care for Teed and Nando and get them off to school, and Cosmo and I were packed up and heading off to the hospital.

The morning commuter traffic slowed us down a bit, but that didn't stop Cosmo from stopping at a convenience store for a pack of cigarettes. (Seems almost incomprehensible today, but wasn't a wild idea back then.) The plan was for Cosmo to be present during delivery (somewhat optional, maybe even a little controversial in those days), but as my labor progressed, at some point he announced that he felt faint; no surprise considering he had an empty stomach and was operating only on nicotine. (I, on the other hand, had had the foresight and rebelliousness to eat something before we left home, because I knew they wouldn't feed me at the hospital until after the baby was born)

It took the nurses about two seconds to whisk Cosmo out of the room and set him up with juice and crackers.Truth be told, I think they were of the school of thought that purports to fathers being better off out of sight during birthing, and were just as happy to have him out of the way. (Have I spelled out clearly enough that these were different times?)

With Cosmo taken care of, we got on to the business of delivering this baby. It all went pretty smoothly, and calmly, and I will always remember the doctor saying,"It's a girl," followed by the nurse cooing appreciatively, "Oh, she is BEAUTIFUL." And she was, just a perfect pink bundle, making her first appearance with little fuss, just showing up.

Blood sugar restored, Cosmo was first on the scene to admire and hold our little girl, to kiss me and assure me that all was well with the world, and to make phone calls to grandparents.

And all was well with the world, and over time I learned the age-old lesson that all experienced mothers know, that a mother's heart has plenty of love, and that each addition to a family only expands our capacity to love.

Nevertheless, I not only had fears about being an inadequate mother, I also harbored a very real dread of living in a prolonged state of sleep deprivation. Wisdom of the ages aside, of this I was certain: I don't do sleep deprivation well or gracefully or cheerfully. Not even a little bit.

I've heard that God answers all prayers, only sometimes the answer is no. I also think sometimes when the answer is yes, and we get what we ask for, it becomes more of a challenge to growth than the lessons learned through disappointment.

In any case, my selfish and immature heart had spent plenty of time in supplication, asking for a healthy baby who slept. A LOT. And amazingly, mercifully, I was granted exactly that, a beautiful, healthy baby who slept like a little bear in hibernation. Feed her, change her, rock her, put her down and she was out for the count, even with all the household noise that comes with two older children running around. And when she woke up, she'd coo and play patiently until someone came in to get her.

As she grew, her ability to sleep soundly became the material for many a family legend, including the time we were staying in a hotel and the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night and we had to leave the building. When we couldn't rouse our little sleeping beauty, Cosmo scooped her up, wrapped her in a blanket, carried her down multiple flights of stairs and into the parking lot where we stood with the other guests until we got the all-clear to return to our rooms. Cosmo carried his little bundle back up the stairs and returned her to her bed, her sleep undisturbed. And she didn't remember any of this when we told her about it the next morning. Now THAT'S a good sleeper.

Of course, that is only one quality about her that is noteworthy, but that's all material for other postings. Today is the birthday story.

So, Happy Birthday to the nicest surprise I ever got.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hyperbole? Perhaps, but maybe it's really THAT good...

(Reflections from Italia)

In March Cosmo and I went to Italy and experienced the trip of a lifetime. I came back determined to write regularly about the people, the food, the wine, the art, the churches, the museums, the countryside, of Cosmo's reconnection to his ancestral roots. I started a bit of a journal and then of course, lapsed. What else is new? One motivation for blogging is that it might just be my vehicle to continue to write in general, but more about Italy in particular. From time to time I'll post a memory from the grandest of the grand travel adventures, starting with this one:

Part of our difficult transition back into the U. S. was this notion that we still can’t seem to shake, that EVERYTHING is better in Italy. I’m pining for the capers that were on the breakfast buffet at the Bernini Palace in Firenze. The yogurt was creamier. The cappuccino was foamier. The wine was smoother. The service was more courteous. The clothes were more elegant. Even American gin tasted better with the zest of an Italian lemon floating in it.

And I know that for as long as I live, I will never, ever experience anything as transcendent as the pizza and wine we had in Napoli. No human interaction, no philosophical insight, no religious rite, has ever made me feel like I was truly “one with the earth” the way that simple meal in an ordinary Neopolitan trattoria made me feel.

This meal: in one microsecond of clarity that might be akin to the seeing your life flash before your eyes in a near-death moment, I swear I could picture the forest where the tree grew that was used to fire the woodstove that baked the flaky, crusty, smoky crust. I am certain I could take you by the hand and lead you to the farm that raised the buffalo from whose milk the mozzarella was made and identify the very blades of grass that she grazed on. I am almost positive I could pick out of a crowd the farmer in Parma who raised the pig who gave its life for the creation of the prosciutto that topped this delectable repast.

And the wine!! I like wine, have drunk more than my share and been exposed to enough tastings to be able to identify certain characteristics. I prefer white to red if I’m just drinking, but with the right food pairings, I appreciate quality reds. I have been privileged to partake in some outstanding samplings that taste so divine they literally take your breath away, and more often than not, they have come with a price tag of three figures. But I also learned from a true wine connoisseur (a man who built and stocked a wine cellar in his basement, a place that you would swear is in Italy itself, replete with climate control and the ID/inventory tags hanging off the necks of the perfectly angled bottles that lined the walls from floor to ceiling) that you don’t have to spend a lot to obtain good wine, nor does spending a lot does ensure that you will get good wine.

Nowhere is this truism better played out than in Italy, and nowhere in our Italian experience was it better exemplified than in the little trattoria in Naples that soothed my soul and my spirit with that memorable fare. The vino di tavula --rosso-- served in a carafe and poured into what we would call juice glasses here in the States. Virtually no bouquet, absolutely no legs, not especially robust or even full bodied, and yet... And yet.

At tastings you learn to identify where in your mouth the taste hits, and how to describe it: front of the palate, back of the throat, etc. Never have I had a wine that I tasted from the tips of my lips all the way to my stomach, and all at once. "Nectar of the gods" is a cliche, but it's the phrase that comes to mind nonetheless.

As with the pizza, I swore I could see the vineyard where these grapes grew, feel the warmth of the sun that ripened them, picture the gentle hills that protected the vines. And in the tasting, I connected with the very soil that nurtured them. Kind of like eating a mushroom, only this wine didn’t taste like a mushroom, it just evoked the same earthy, primal satisfaction. I’ve had some good cabernets that are could be described as going down like velvet ribbons. I can’t describe the sensation that this simple wine created, I just know that I was transported to another dimension, and I’m really not sure I’ll ever have another experience quite like that again.

It compelled me to go to the back and shake the hands of the two young men who had created this feast. I resisted the urge to hug and kiss them both, and if I could have adopted them and taken them and their ovens back home with me, I would have done so in a minute.

A tangential swerve: until eating that meal, I was really not liking Naples at all. Our guide and driver were charming, but the charm ended with them. I was sure we’d be killed in a hideous multivehicle pile-up before we ever got to our hotel. We had been warned by everyone and his mother about being careful of the gypsies, thieves and pickpockets. Our guide insisted we divest ourselves of all jewelry and doodads and to secure our money and purse before entering the streets. The first few shopkeepers we encountered were brusque and indifferent. For the first time since arriving in Italy I was feeling tense and edgy. I wanted to go back to the elegant, refined gentility of Firenze or the confident, cosmopolitan hospitality of Roma and be done with this crude bunch.

And then they put food in front of me.All was forgiven. Let the pickpockets have their way with me. Let the store owners make Brooklynites look like French diplomats. Let the autos collide on the streets. Just keep that pizza coming. And we hadn’t even had the breakfast pastries yet.

Interrogators in time of war have it all wrong. The way to get information from a POW is to first ply him with pizza and wine and pastries from Napoli and then threaten to take it all away. Even John McCain would have cracked in a heartbeat.

When we returned to Rome we talked to some other Americans who had just come from the south. Naples is just a stopover to the Amalfi Coast, they told us. You'd have to be crazy to spend any time there, what with the traffic and the pickpockets and gypsies, they proclaimed.

Aaah, pity; they'll never know what they missed.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Today is my oldest child's 36th birthday. Wherever we've lived, the weather has usually been the same on this date, and the same as I remember it on the day she was born: crisp, sunny, clear blue sky, warm but with a hint that fall is just around the corner.

Fall triggers many emotions and yearnings. I revel in the gorgeous warm days and feel wistful as the sun sets a little earlier each evening. My internal clock is still set to a traditional school year timetable, so I want to start a new project, meaningful and exciting. A mother's heart can't help but reminisce about how quickly the years have passed. It truly doesn't seem like more than three decades since Cosmo and I headed off for the hospital in that big old borrowed Cadillac to embark on the greatest adventure of our lives, without a clue of how unprepared we were to take on the awesome responsibilites that lay ahead for us as parents.

As much as I'd like to think of myself as middle aged, I doubt I'll live to be 112, so it's more likely that I'm in the "autumn of my years," as the song says, and that realization evokes the same urge to slow down the passage of time. Instead of trying to hang on to those passing minutes, I can shift my focus toward my goals of being fully aware of the precious moments and savoring each one; of living purposefully, of being truly grateful in all things, of practicing kindness until it comes naturally.

Then maybe I'd come a step closer to fulfilling all the promises I whispered into the ear of a tiny baby girl on a perfect September day 36 years ago.