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.