Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Letter

Holding place for Christmas letter

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

There's no Place Like Home

All our belongings are now safely with us! Today the shipments were delivered to the house. It was a mostly tranquil day that ended with most everyone (that is movers and me) being a little cranky.

A BIG thanks to Chaz, my friend and neighbor who lived through the same move experience just 9 months ago. She is the reason the beautiful armoire I bought for Emily is going to be lifted up the balconies and to her room on Friday! She was persistent and it definitely paid off.

By the end of the day, I was really Italian. I made the movers pasta pomodoro, and caffe. Well, in the morning i made the caffe. The afternoon coffee i burnt getting sidetracked with moving issues but luckily Kathy came to my rescue and cleaned it up for me.

The day was a little stressful but we got it done. I spent about 4 hours trying to clear a path through our bedroom and make our bed. The site of my comfy bed is just about the best thing I've seen in Italy to date!

Up early again tomorrow to pick up my Mom-in-Law who's currently flying to Rome! We are super excited for her visit.

Today I'm thankful for:

28. My friend Katia for taking the kids overnight for me

29. A smooth move

30. My BED! I'm pausing as I type to do bed angels :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tutto a Posto

"Tutto a posto." This is a phase that means "Everything is in its place." It can also be used in response to "Come stai?" or "How are you?". Well, today I'm feeling that term on many levels as I work into the night to ensure the things we already have here are in place before receiving both our shipments of household goods tomorrow!

Chris and I had a nice morning together as we took the kiddos to school, stopped at the bar for a cafe, and went to Brico (think Home Depot) for a few items. Then we came home (man I like the way that sounds!) and we walked through the house looking and discussing where everything should go.

Then Chris went to bed to prepare for working tonight. Yes, Chris has to work tonight, tomorrow night and the next night. The worst possible timing!

But, piano, piano (slowly, slowly) we will put our house together!

Tonight I am thankful for:

25. The men working on our yard who played soccer with Ivan for a few minutes

26. Emily and Ivan playing playdoh for an hour!

27. My landlord Giovanna for helping Emily with Italian homework and takin her with her daughter to rhythmic gymnastics tonight.

First Night in Our Home!

Last night was our first night in our new home! We don't get our furniture until Tuesday, so we had to adapt a little. We spent most of our night at Ikea (pronounced ee-KAY-uh in Italy) with a familiar Swedish meatball dinner. No matter what country you're in, Ikea is constant!

We were there to buy linens for the only bed currently in the house. The landlord has a beautiful brass bed he gave us to use in the guest bedroom so last night the four of us piled into it! :)

Poor Emily had homework that we all had put on the backburner until last night, so Chris made her a little cushioned spot in our living room area with a little lamp we bought to sprawl out and do her math and Italian homework. She was so tired, she couldn't remember how to do long division. But Daddy worked with her while I put the bedding together and put Ivan Bear to bed.

The house was a bit chilly going to bed. The hotel had unlimited electricity so we could be a little frivolous with the heat and air conditioning, but now we have to be a bit more frugal. Our landlord installed a pellet stove for heat which will be great, but we had not yet bought pellets so rather than using the radiators we turned on the heat from the air conditioner on the floor we slept in and it helped a bit. Today we will get pellets and use that for heat. The kids are learning now that they should wear slippers everywhere in the house. Luckily we have mostly wood floors, and they seem to stay warmer, but when you go into a bathroom, the transition is chilly on the feet! :)

Even though poor Emily didn't finish homework until 11pm, everyone was so happy to spend the night in our new home. We got ready and had breakfast on the patio and it was lovely. Somehow I only had an 8 minute drive to school and I still managed to be 10 minutes late :( but I was so thankful that it wasn't an hour drive!

This morning Chris asked, "Was it worth the wait?" and I replied, "I'm sure it was, but ask me after Thanksgiving dinner when my furniture is here, we are unpacked and I can prepare a proper American feast!"

Today I am thankful for:

22. Ikea Swedish meatballs with Salsa (gravy) and marmalata (lingonberries)

23. A bed that fit all four of us

24. My beautiful macchiato with cinnamon on top :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's Hard to Say Goodbye!

Well, as I type this we are packing up our belongings at the hotel and preparing to move into our new home.  We have been in Italy since June 3, and at this hotel since July 2.  The hotel has been our home away from home for over 4 months!

First thing is that I thought you might all like to see what a hotel key looks like in Italy.  First, I will show you a picture of something you have all probably seen or used.  A hotel key in the US:
Typical Hotel Key from US and Around the World

And this is a hotel key in Italy:
Italian Hotel Key(s)

The white clicker was for the gate.  The longest key let you in the room and one of the normalish looking keys let you in the pedestrian gate. Other than that I have NO IDEA what the other keys are for! I laughed when I saw these keys the first time.  I thought "WHAT IN THE WORLD?"  And I also thought it must just be this hotel...NOPE!  Guess what our house keys will look like.  Not too unsimilar.

Also, every door in the house has a key in it like these.  This is how they lock bedroom doors, bathroom doors.  They are huge and they always fall out at some inopportune time.

Oh well, enough about the crazy keys...since we have lived here in the hotel, we have really grown close to the two men that live on-site that take care of all of the maintenance of the hotel and provide security.

Both are from Ghana, Africa.  They both have families back in Ghana and they work here most of the year.  One of them has talked to me about his family in detail.  He has sons back home and a beautiful wife. He is hoping to bring his family here to Italy early next year to live with him.

They are Muslims, a culture I am fairly familiar with because I went to college with many Muslims...However, leave it to me to offer them a feast of food during Ramadan!  They both have their opinions about Italy and remarkably they are very similar to ours.  That there is good and there is bad here.  They taught me a lot about how Naples "works" and the corruption here.  They have been like uncles to our kids here all summer and into the fall.  They help me take groceries upstairs, they walk our dogs when we aren't home, wash our cars for a nominal amount and they adore our kids since they are far away from theirs.  I've been fortunate to have many lengthy discussions with them while I take the dogs out for walks.  They are truly remarkable men that are doing the very best they can for their families.  Occasionally they will ask us to buy them little things that are much too expensive in Italy or things that are "American" that they send home to their families.  Also, we sometimes will surprise them with something special.  For instance, one of the men really likes Mountain Dew soda that you cannot find here in Italy.  :)

Tonight we had an issue with a new neighbor blaring his music at 1am (gotta love this apartment living!) and one of the men came to get him to quiet down and then stopped by.  He saw that we were packing up our bags and he said, "Are you leaving tomorrow?"  We said, "Yes" and the look on his face was that of such sadness.  Watching him nearly brought me to tears.

When you move to a foreign country, you really learn to make friendships quickly.  And these men have been such a great help and support to our family.

I am wrapping up my night praying for them and their families.

Today I am thankful for:

19. Our friends Omar and Hassan.

20. Our friends Kathy and Ciro who have done so much to help us since we arrived in Italy!

21. Our friends Bill and Chaz who introduced us to Avellino!

May God richly bless them all!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Countdown to Moving Day

First of all, sorry this post is 12 hours late.  I'm hoping in the US it's still Friday in some places ;)  It just means it's double blog post day for me!

I don't want to spoil the ending, but it looks like at the end of this 5 1/2 month period of our sojourn in Italy, the family WILL get the house.  It hasn't been as easy as I thought.  You know the feeling when you go to a restaurant like TGI Friday's or The Cheesecake Factory and you get the menu and it's 10 pages long?  You may have been hungry for something when you got there, but after you see page after page of new ideas, you suddenly don't know what to order.  You may ask your server what they like.  And then you ask your friends what they're ordering.  And you still aren't sure, yet you don't want to hold up the entire table so you say, "Uhhhh, skip me until the end."  Well, that's what searching for a home in Naples has been like for us.

But looooooong story short, we found our house that made the most PROS on our PRO/CON list and we will be moving in on Tuesday!

I can't wait to unfold the events that occurred leading up to this.  If you like House Hunters International, you will enjoy the next series of blog posts.  If you know someone PCSing overseas, the info might also be helpful to them.  If you have lived through this sort of move, please feel free to add comments for others!

Today I'm thankful for:

16. The little bit of Italian I have picked up.  I'm completely able to talk to my landlords, the yard workers, the maid, the electrician, the painters, everyone working on my home! And I think it helped us find favor with our home inspectors yesterday.  And I introduced myself to an Italian neighbor!  Like my blogpost Meeting in the Middle Italians LOVE when I do my best to communicate.

17. The two bars walking distance from my new house.  Everyone that works in them are so nice and inviting to us!

18. Landlords that love us.  Their family is amazing!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is it Lunchtime YET???

I've written a lot about how wonderful the food is in Italy, but I don't know how much I've written about Eating in Italy. Eating and mealtimes has been the biggest cultural hurdle for me to get my mind wrapped around but I think it's finally sinking in to my brain.

If you are full-blooded American, you will be disappointed that you cannot find a restaurant that serves American-style breakfast. In fact, you won't likely find any restaurant open before 8pm! That's not a type-o. I'll explain momentarily.

Breakfast in Italy is cappuccino and cornetto (a sweet croissant). If you are at home, you might have a glass of steamed milk, a glass or juice and 5-8 breakfast biscuit cookies (and of course caffe). Cereal is a trend that is just catching on here. It's funny because there are directions on the box including that you pour cold milk (not hot) on the cereal. We think that's funny, but if you look at a box of pasta here you would not see any directions on preparation except for the number of minutes to cook. In the states, there are directions on the box (boil 2 quarts of water, add salt to water, etc)

You can eat anytime after waking. Some eat at home, some eat at a cafe bar. I think up until 11am is normal.

Pranza or lunch is usually eaten at home. Again, very few restaurants are open. Only in metropolitan areas and tourist areas, and 12 at the very earliest. If you work, you may get a panino (sandwich) or pizzette (little pizza-style pastry) at the bar. At home, lunch is pasta, and usually a substantial amount. Oh, and lunch is around 12:30-1:30pm. Very late!

At this time of day you will only find pizza at a lunch walk-up place in a metro area (ie: downtown Naples or larger suburb). There might be a couple of tall tables to stand at and eat or you would take it home. These places also sell yummy little trasures (none of them healthy) like croquette
made of potato and sometimes a meat filling, arancini which are deep fried, breaded balls of risotto or pasta and my favorite, zeppoline which are fried pieces of pizza dough salted - heart attack food for sure. But pretty tasty! Real restaurants have wood ovens for pizza and they don't heat them until dinner time. It takes 4 hours to get the oven to the proper, consistent temperature!

If you do find a restaurant they will serve you a multi-course traditional lunch. It's pricey and it's a lot of food. You can push back and only order one course too. It starts with a plate of fresh mozzarella di buffala, proccuitto crudo (raw) and maybe a salami of some kind. Then you would select from the primi piatti or first plates of pasta. And it's substantial! Then you would choose from the secondi piatti which is a main course. Then maybe a salad after that! It goes on and on! I usually only order from the list of primi piatti or insalate (salad).

So everyone eats a large pasta lunch and takes riposo (a nap). Yes, businesses completely shut down. You can't go to smaller stores, specialty stores, schools are dismissed, everything! Some gas stations are open and very large supermarkets, but everything else closes. I was in a United Colors of Benetton and they were hurrying to ring me up before they closed for riposo. it's a very serious thing.

So they sleep until 4 or so and return to work! Work until 7 or 8 and then it's dinnertime. 8 is the earliest you will see an Italian at a restaurant. 9, 10, 11 not uncommon. Makes me yawn just thinking about it!

The convenience of a 24 hour Denny's is greatly missed by this American girl! I really miss going out to breakfast more than anything! But no lunch spots and no dinner until 8 is just as frustrating. Even the few McDonalds here don't serve breakfast. They open at noon. Another of my favorite activities, going to lunch with a girlfriend is near impossible - but if you go downtown or near the seaside you can find something. I'm adjusting, and it's difficult, but the food is so good, it's worth waiting for!

Today I'm thankful for:

13. Zeppoline

14. The car our landlord let us borrow while ours is in the shop

15. Kids karaoke night on the base. Emily loves it!!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

American Family

Well, it's been an interesting week, watching my various friends post their views on Facebook.  Everyone is now settling down and has largely slept on the outcome.  I can feel the calm coming.

There are some issues of which I am happy with the outcome and some of which I'm not pleased with the outcome.  But there's one thing that I'm still remain happy about.  I'm American.

Every day in Italy, I see either Carabinieri (Italy's Military Police), local Polizia (Local Police) or Guardia di Finanza (Financial Military Police) pulling cars over to search your car or check documentation WITHOUT CAUSE.  First, in America, Military police have no jurisdiction over civilians - only military.  Second, there must be just cause to search a car or pull you over.  However in Italy, they just put up the red lollypop and you must pull over.  And you don't want to not see it...the guy behind the guy with the lollypop is ready for you.

At the same time, no government or police faction can do anything against the Italian Camorra.  Since they have taken over the trash collection in the Campania region, there are walls and walls of trash everywhere.  You can't even pull off the highway into an emergency lane because it's a wall of trash.  I have gone for runs around and through piles of trash.  And businesses must pay the Camorra il pizzo or a "Protection Fee" for operating.  Refusing to pay means that you are a target of terrorism, usually ending in the burning down of your establishment.  It's so ironic that you would pay the organization for protection from that same organization.

That coupled with a recent article of the air quality.  A study was just released that shows measurable amounts of cocaine and marijuana.  Also, because of the trash problem everyone burns their trash.  The air is constantly filled with smoke from burning trash.

No one and I mean no one obeys basic traffic rules.  I say no one, because if you are here long enough, you become one of them.  You drive like them or else they will eat you alive on the roads.  Now that I have been driving my kids back and forth 1 hour each way and the miles I put on in between, I think I have logged at least 300 hours of driving since I arrived.  The states have their share of crazy drivers and almost everyone speeds, but this is more than you can imagine.  Roads with Ferraris, 199cc scooters and everything in between.  You cannot believe it until you experience it.  There is a civility in the states that is not here on the road.  And I have never seen anyone pulled over.  Passing police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles with lights on seems commonplace.  It is almost lawlessness.

For these reasons and more, I am so thankful to be an American.  Sure there are things that I think we can learn from here too.  Like the quality of food and what is accepted.  There are strict GMO restrictions in place and the people generally make very fresh and healthy choices.  I've heard of people driving to Naples just for eggs because they are the best for pastries.  There are very few processed foods and those that are on the shelves (like breakfast biscuits and cookies that are very popular) have very simple ingredients - ones even I can understand!

But all in all, give me the good ol' USofA. Italians that have been to America all agree that our country is the greatest nation.  A man who pumps gas for me tells me about his Uncle in Philadelphia and how wonderful the US was when he visited.  He longs to save enough money to move his children there for a better chance at life.  That's the American Dream.  It's still alive in the world, and I hope that we can hold our country together for it to be realized for generations to come!

Join my family in praying for our nation.  This morning in the wake of our political elections I spent some time in prayer using this scripture from the Apostle Paul as inspiration of how to live as a citizen of both the US and Heaven.
“Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. For the Lord’s sake, respect all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king.” (1 Peter 2:12-17, NLT)

Today I am thankful for the following:

10. Landlords that are working around the clock for our home inspection.  They are flipping this house in 3 days time!

11. America.  Land of the Free...Home of the Brave

12. The foosball table at our hotel.  My son has had so much quality time with Daddy at this table and he has gotten quite good for being only 4!  Tonight they got to play before Chris headed in to work.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Divine Appointments

You don't always know you've had one until after it's over, but I believe in Divine Appointments.  I define them as the way that God curves time to allow an interaction to take place that is appointed by God.  Today I had such an encounter.

My divine appointment involved two friends, Kathy and Lindsey.  I was at the Navy Exchange on base to buy some birthday gifts for friends and got the call to help out my friend Kathy by looking for some things for her.  One of the items on her list that I was incessantly looking for was Play Doh.  The base sometimes stocks it, but it sells out very quickly.  I found it and piled it into my cart for her and for me!  I ran to get a few other things and headed to the register.

As I was checking out (and was almost running out of time to get my kids picked up) I saw my friend Lindsey.  (Time curbing 1: If I wasn't looking for things for Kathy, I would not have even seen Lindsey).  She spied the Play Doh in my cart and asked if I had bought out all they had.  I said, "No, there's still a little back there."  She asked me to stay and wait while she headed back so we could chat. I knew I'd be really late and I still had some things to shop for, but I felt this compelling need to stay (Prompting).  I called my friend Kathy who was planning to meet me if she'd instead pick up my kiddos from school and take them to play with hers for a while.  She said, "No Problem!  Take your time!"

So I waited for Lindsey and she asked about my home situation.  I told her we are so close!  Today, the current occupants left the house and the landlord is working hard to get it ready for inspection on Friday!  I went on to tell her that I have family coming to town next week though and I sure hate to think about us being in the hotel because I don't yet have furniture or anything in the house.  You are not able to schedule the move of any of your household goods until you have a signed contract in hand.

She asked me if I have talked to the Household Goods Office lately.  I said that I had been there recently to schedule an extension, but not about our move.  She encouraged me to go talk to them.  She said they went and greased the skids before their contract date and when they signed the contract they were able to get their goods the very next day!  Hmmmm....well, maybe it's worth a shot.

With my kids in capable hands, I finished my errands and went over to the Household Goods Office.  I started with the lady at the front desk who is always pleasant, and told her my tale of woe...5 months in a coming to town...Thanksgiving on the horizon...and she said, "Please, sign in.  I think someone will be able to help you here."

She sent me immediately back to one of the counselors.  There are two in the office, and I have always dealt with one.  Today I was sent to the other...and I'm thinking, "NO!  Now I have to get a new person in the loop! But I told her everything and she looked us up in the computer.

"What day is your inspection?"

"Friday.  And if we pass, the landlord will give me the keys regardless of the contract signing date."

"What day do you want to move in?"

"Friday (cheesy smile)...Just kidding!"

"What day does your family come?"

"My family comes I'd settle for Tuesday"

"I'm going to go ahead and schedule you.  If you don't pass inspection, call me Friday and we can change it, but if you do, we'll proceed with Tuesday."



I have a date!  I am fairly certain that we will be moving into our home on Tuesday!  With furniture!  Without a contract!  This is truly unbelievable.  I am so thankful for their grace to work with me and do something reasonable!

I left and I was so excited!  I called Lindsey and I told her she was my Divine Appointment today.  She made my day and I made hers!

As I said before, I am planning to write a 2-3 part blog on housing.  It's far too much to do in one post, but this is just one huge thing that happened for which I am truly thankful.

After I picked up the kids (Grazie Mille Kathy!) I went by our NEW house and saw the landlord, his wife and four other people working very hard to clean and paint our home that was left as a disaster!  :(

He told me that what they are striving to do in 3 days usually takes 1 month.  But he is willing to do it.  Well, there is some monetary incentive, of course, but he told me that it's because he knows we have been driving back and forth for two months to take the kids to school each day and that we have waited so long for this house that he is doing whatever it takes to get us in!  Also, he was able to have the power switched into our names WITHOUT A SIGNED CONTRACT!  Also unbelievable!  It can take up to 8 days to get power turned on, and he was able to do it with a phone call!  God's grace again!

I am so thankful and excited about settling in, that I can't even relax.  I am so tense and nervous and praying constantly for favor with the inspector that it will pass and we will be in as soon as possible!

Thank you for those in Italy and at home who have been praying for us.  Your prayers are felt in a big way.  My kids were so excited to run up and down the stairs of their new homes...spying their new rooms and imagining life here.

It was such a wonderful sight.

So when you recognize a divine appointment in your life, I encourage you to share it with people.  It's a wonderful encouragement to others and can really even encourage the one who was used by God.  You never know when God is speaking through you either, and I can tell you, it's even more amazing when you find out YOU were the one God used in someone else's life!

Today I am thankful for:

7. Italian Espresso

8. Fast friends.  So thankful for God bringing great friendships into my life so quickly here in Italy.

9. Divine Appointments

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grazie Mille! Running List of Gifts

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 
~ Matthew 7

As I mentioned, I am keeping a list of One Thousand Gifts!  An idea from the best selling book by Ann Voskamp, I am selecting 3 things each day for which I am thankful and sharing them with you on my blog.  In one year's time, I will have 1000 gifts to look back on!  The running list will be in this post that you can visit at any time :)

If you'd like to join me, leave me a comment with a specific gift you'd like to share or even a link to a copy of your own list!  We can encourage one another in our gratitude!

12. The foosball table at our hotel.  My son has had so much quality time with Daddy at this table and he has gotten quite good for being only 4!  Tonight they got to play before Chris headed in to work.

11. America.  Land of the Free...Home of the Brave

10. Landlords that are working around the clock for our home inspection.  They are flipping this house in 3 days time! 

9. Divine Appointment with sweet Lindsey and her tidbit of wisdom :)

8. Fast friends.  So thankful for God bringing great friendships into my life so quickly here in Italy.

7. Italian Espresso

6. Ability to buy Italian foods and American foods at whim!  I've met many ex-pats here in Italy that cannot shop on the base and they miss the comforts of home greatly!  I am blessed!

5. Google translate

4. Jars of tomato sauce on sale for 65 euro cents per jar

3. Motherhood. Any more on that subject and I'll start crying. I love being Emily and Ivan's mommy so much. :)

2. My husband who loves me, supports me and makes me a better person every day.

1. A God on the throne who loves me unconditionally and teaches me to love unconditionally.

Pasta is Pasta...or is it?

Sometimes I shop for groceries in town and sometimes I shop on the base.  I like to buy most of my produce, bread, lunch meats and cheese in town and then some of the staples on the base.

Most Italians I know say that Barilla is the best pasta overall.  It's made locally and I used to enjoy it in the states too.  So when the local Supermercati had Barilla for 1 euro per box, I stocked up.

I also had some boxes of Barilla pasta that I had bought at the base commissary.  I realized I had two boxes of Mezze Penne, one from the states and one from Italy.  Out of curiosity, I compared the two boxes.

The boxes had much the same layout with just minor differences.  The nutritional info is organized differently here for example.  But much of the marketing info was similar.

American Barilla on the left, Italian Barilla on the right
Same layout, recipe and similar statements about product attributes
Ingredients: Flour and water
I looked at the ingredient list for the Italian box.  It had semola di grano duro and water.  That's it!  Flour and water!  Like you make at home!  (Although I do like to add an egg in my homemade pasta ;)

Ingredients: Flour and a whole bunch of other stuff
Out of curiosity I looked at the ingredient list for the American box.  It had semolina, durum flour, niacin, iron, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid.


Why does the same pasta from the same company sold in America have all these additives and the one in Italy has only flour and water?

Upon further inspection, I see that the Barilla pasta from the states is actually made in the states, not Italy.  And it has all these extra things in it.

Before I moved to Italy, I started wondering about the additives we have in food in general, but it became more alarming to me after I moved to Italy and I find that there aren't as many additives in the food here.  I have also noticed that the kids are much more open minded to food here and like a lot of things better.

Of note, I bought frozen peas in town.  Emily ate them like crazy.  Even asked for seconds. Back in the states, in her own words, when I offered her peas she would say, "No thanks, I'm not a big fan."  A few weeks later, I bought frozen peas again, but this time it was from the base.  I offered them to her and she took a big spoonful and said, "Are these Italian peas?"  I said, "No, they are from the base." She responded, "Yeah, I can tell.  They aren't as good."

I can't even do justice to the quality the summer produce.  I'll just say it's amazing...fruit like peaches, apricots, watermelon...vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes...they are so ripe, you can only buy ahead for a few days or else they will go bad!

Even jars of tomato sauce.  The only ingredient guessed it.  Tomatoes!  And the sauce has a flavor like no other store-bought jar of spaghetti sauce you ever tried.  Saute a little garlic in some olive oil, add a few vine ripe piccadilly tomatoes, pour in the tomato sauce with a pinch of sea salt and simmer.  (And a few salsiccia (sausages) are a nice addition too!)  Too good!

It's a different approach to food...fresh and unprocessed to the extent possible.  This is definitely one part of Italy that I will forever take with me, and I will likely have issues with when I return home.  Pasta is a staple here like none other.  Yes, people eat pasta at least once a day.  My friends operate a food distribution as part of their ministry work and I love that the bulk of the food that is distributed...the foods that an Italian family cannot live without, are pasta, parmesan cheese and olive oil.  In the states, those are gourmet luxuries.  Here they are basics.  Staples.  No Italian pantry would be without them!

I know what you're thinking...can I tell the difference between the Italian Barilla and the American Barilla?  I tell you, I can!  You can tell that there is a freshness even in dried pasta between them and I definitely prefer the Italian Barilla!

So, who's willing to ship me Italian dry pasta when I'm in back in the states???

...Which brings me to my gifts!  Today I'm making note of the following things for which I am thankful :)

4. Jars of tomato sauce on sale for 65 euro cents per jar

5. Google translate

6. Ability to buy Italian foods and American foods at whim!  I've met many ex-pats here in Italy that cannot shop on the base and they miss the comforts of home greatly!  I am blessed!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grazie Mille! One Thousand Gifts

As we are preparing to move out of the hotel we've been in for almost half a year, I bought a gift for the hotel director to give her when we leave. She has been a friendly face and good-hearted woman to us during our time here.

Also being that it's November, I am noticing many Facebook friends post their daily gratitudes as they count down to Thanksgiving. It reminds me of a book a friend shared with me recently called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. She encourages everyone to come up with three things each day for which you are thankful. If you do it every day, by one years time you will have discovered 1000 gifts! She encourages bloggers to blog what they are thankful for as well. So in the spirit of Thankfulness, I've decided to take on the challenge.

Overt gratitude is a uniquely American trait. Not to say Italians and others aren't thankful for things, but the Americans express their gratitude much more quickly and frequently. It's almost shocking for some Italians when Americans are constantly bombarding with Grazie and Thank you. Ive been trying to observe Italians and how they react to each other in situations where Americans would instantly express their thankfulness in trivial and serious situations.

Today at the local Italian Supermarket, the cashier told the shopper "Grazie" at the end of the transaction. The shopper said, "Ciao Ciao". Bye bye. Many times I notice that if a store clerk says "Grazie!" the recipient just says "Ciao" or "Arrivederci".

If I receive good service and I say "Grazie" they respond with "Prego". "Prego" has many meanings and is commonly used as a "You're welcome". But when they say it in this context it almost seems dismissive. Like "Whatever, it's fine."

But many times you just don't hear it. Here in Italy, there is very little regard for personal space. People just bump you and say nothing. There can be miles of space and they will not divert from their path if you are in it. They will bowl you over without so much as a "Mi scusi!" In fact the only time I really hear that is between friends.

It's just a cultural difference. I think that is one part of me as an American that I will not be able to change. I'll just kill them with kindness and gratitude. "Grazie Mille" is at the tip of my tongue.

So here is my first step toward recognizing 1000 gifts:

1. A God on the throne who loves me unconditionally and teaches me to love unconditionally.

2. My husband who loves me, supports me and makes me a better person every day.

3. Motherhood. Any more on that subject and I'll start crying. I love being Emily and Ivan's mommy so much. :)

Be thankful! There is so many blessings in your life just waiting to be counted. :)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Meeting in the Middle

Tonight we ate dinner with our soon-to-be-landlord and his family. We've met together several times, but this is the first time we met together for dinner as families. The husband speaks English well, his wife speaks very little. And of course, I'm studying Italian.

Our daughters are the same age, and each is learning the other's language.  They are getting along better and better!  Play IS the universal language. The first time they met, I handed Emily my phone with a translator app.  They went from being shy wallflowers on opposite sides of the table, to walking the corso (boulevard) hand in hand giggling and sharing the phone back and forth - that afternoon!  Now they are able to talk and giggle and play!  They were on an adventure in the restaurant last night hunting monsters.  It's so neat to watch this multi-cultural friendship blossom!

There is a commercial on the AFN (Armed Forces Network) TV programming that is about a young woman in Germany ordering chicken from a food stand. She has her German/English dictionary in hand, and she orders her food. Then she goes on to the worker of the stand to stay, "Oh!  The chicken looks good and smells bad!". He looks at her with a funny look and then laughs it off and hands her the plate of food.

The commercial says you host country nationals appreciate you trying to speak their language even if it isn't perfect. This I have found to be very true in Italy. Maybe it's the hospitality of the southern Italian, or maybe it's just human nature. But when you try your best to speak even some Italian, it is appreciated and respected.

Tonight I received a great compliment. My landlord's wife said, "You've only been here five months.  You speak good Italian!" Trust me, I don't speak well. But I humbly ask for people to correct me while I try. I throw it out there. I ask, "Come si dice _____?" or "How do you say _____?". And then try to remember.

I am not working while we are here in Italy so I do feel that part of my "job" is to learn how to get along in this country with my family. And not just get by, but rather to thrive. I am thirsty to learn because we have met so many wonderful people and I hope that eventually my personality will show which is the essence of who we are.

And many Italians want to practice English. So it's a win win for us!  Going the extra mile and learning the language. Big keys to living in Naples!

Friday, November 2, 2012

9 Straight Days of Nights

Well, honestly I almost failed NaBloPoMo in 24 hours! I am laying in bed exhausted, trying to drown out the noise from the party happening at the hotel and drift off to La La Land. But I realized I haven't written a post today!

I have lots of material, but tonight I choose to dedicate the post to my HubbyPoo Chris who has worked 9 nights in a row. There's a big exercise going on and although he didn't have to go out with a ship, he still had to hold down the fort here and work nights.

I definitely realize that being a Stay At Home Mommy is a lot of work. Having been a working mom up until the last 5 months, it is difficult to not think that those non-paycheck earning Mommies don't have it a lot better than I did! But thankfully most nights I now get a full night's sleep. That is, when the kids and the puppies let me get one ;) But Chris has had to work every night for over a week. Trying to get enough sleep in between the hours of 9an and 3pm. Even though he's had to work, he's been so good about getting up "early" to play and spend time with us, to help me with kids, to take dogs out to potty and even take care of our car and housing appointments!

Hubby Poo, you ROCK! I love you so much and appreciate you more than you know. You never cease to impress me with your ability to endure the difficult times. I hope that you indeed get the day off tomorrow and how I so look forward to spending family time together this weekend!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaBloPoMo and All Saints Day


Just the motivation I need to get writing!  That crazy little thing up there stands for National Blog Posters Month.  November, we bloggers are challenged to write every day of November!  Hope you enjoy the ride!

Well, I posted the car woes last post.  This post is the Halloween insanity :)  We had lots of good Halloween fun and drama.  In Italy, Halloween is kind of celebrated.  Not really sure how much Trick Or Treating is done, but there are Halloween costumes for sale in the stores.  In the US, there are your fare share of goblins, ghosts, witches and skeletons, but especially among kids, many dress up as super heroes and princesses.  Here, the stores only sell scary costumes.  In the local stores I didn't find anything cute or sweet for kids.  The base did sell other costumes of course, but didn't have much selection.

Here, Halloween kind of goes back to a historical root.  It really is celebrated as the eve of All Saints Day.  On this day, the Italians go to their cemeteries and honor the dead.  Several flower stands are erected selling 20 roses for just €3 and other beautiful flowers to lay on the graves!  Everything is closed including schools and stores for 2 days this week for the festa.  We are enjoying some cold, rainy days indoors...

So last night was Halloween and we had quite a fright.  First it started gusting and storming.  I was going to take the kids Trick or Treating on the base, but the storm got too windy and wet and I decided I didn't want to even get in the car.  Driving in Naples is bad enough.  Driving in a storm is absolutely insane.  Driving in a storm, in the dark should be avoided at all costs!  I've had to do it quite a bit, but if it isn't essential, I don't go anymore.  I even kept the kids home from school one day this week because of the weather.  (Caution: About to go off track...)  Why is it so crazy?

Reason 1: Some cars drive half the speed limit, some drive double.
Reason 2: Pavement in the roads has ground marble in them.  Great because marble is dirt cheap here.  Bad because it is super slick.  So they build roads and stair cases indoors and out with marble - Unbelievable.
Reason 3: No one thinks it's important to replace burnt out bulbs in the car.  I don't know why, but 3/4 of the cars I see at night have bulbs burnt out.  MANY have both headlights out or both taillights out.  This makes them impossible to see in the dark.  I don't even know why this is.
Reason 4: It's Naples.  I think in the rain, they drive even more crazily!

Ok...back on track.  Halloween we snuggled in with blankets, popcorn and hot cocoa.  Then the power started going in and out.  This did not go well for our impromptu movie night.  Then the water went out.  About 9pm everything went back on and stayed on.  So we were back in business.  Chris had to work, so the kids and I enjoyed a quiet night with the puppies.

The night reminded me of a night when I was little and there was a bad storm on Halloween night.  I wanted to go trick or treating (I think I had a Bugs Bunny costume that year) but I couldn't.  My dad also had to work that night.  So my mom had gotten some of the big, giant iced cookies from SnoWhite bakery in Madera (Anyone remember that place?) They were like a thick, soft, gingerbread flavored cookie with sweet, sugary icing in the shape of pumpkins - I think I can still taste them from memory!  The power went out at home and we sat in front of the fireplace with candles drinking hot cocoa and just talking.  :)  A nice memory I had and I hope the kids have a similar memory of this Halloween. :) 

Ivan was a Pirate this year and Emily was Merida from Brave.  The movie here is called "Ribelle The Brave".  Emily decided she wanted to be Merida back in June and we put Grandpa Doug and Grandma Chrissie on the task to make a dress.  Emily has grown so much she didn't even fit into the Disney princess dresses anymore.  So just the day before the big festival on the base, the most beautiful gown showed up in the mail.  Emily was a perfect Merida.  She was entered into the local base photo contest for the best Halloween costume and we are awaiting the results!  :)  Here's how cute they both looked!

But all is not lost...even though the kids weren't able to go out Halloween night, they did have three other opportunities to celebrate and wear their costumes.  They went to Kids Karaoke, The Spooktacular on the base and AWANA club meeting in their costumes.  Also, in February, Italy celebrates Carnivale, and all the kids really dress up for this.  Another perfect opportunity for Emily to be Merida and Ivan to be whatever he wants to be.  This is the first year Ivan enjoyed dressing up.  So happy!  :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Carro Attrezzi

Yesterday I started Italian lessons.  Official, go to a class with a teacher, Italian lessons.  I have been studying on my own a bit, and struggling out in town, but now I'm going to a class on the base.  It's only been one day, but I think this will be good for me.  It is time set aside that can't be taken away where I can concentrate and learn.  It's also good because the teacher, being Italian and married to an American, also talks a bit about living in Italy and we can discuss cultural differences and understand them better.  Yesterday in class we talked about Emergency numbers.  She was shocked that in America, we have one number - 911.  Here, there is a different emergency number for each type of service, Fire, Police, Military Police, Ambulance, Road Assistance, etc.

Who knew how valuable that information would be???  Allora, (That's Italian for a whole host of words, used to change thoughts or to get one's attention).  After my Italian class, Chris and I went to the Autoport (mechanic on the base) and got all new bulbs for three areas of the car: Headlights, parking lights and license plate lights.  Right before we left, Chris started the car and asked me to listen to it run.  There is a slight whining noise that looks as if it is coming from the drive belt.  I said that's odd because in the $2000 we spent fixing everything on the car, we replaced that belt!  He said maybe it's just loose and he would look up how to tighten it.  Then we were off to pick up the kiddos.  On the way back to Naples, we were on the Autostrade, debating which way to go.  Chris was driving and we heard a loud "SNAP!"  Chris said he couldn't steer the car, like the power steering went out!  We were able to drive it ahead about a mile to an "SOS" turnout.  He started investigating and just as he walked around to pop the hood, I saw a warning message come up that said, "Major Power System Failure".  He looked at that belt, and sure enough, it had snapped.  We weren't going anywhere for a while.

It's the law in Italy that you have orange vests for each occupant of a vehicle and orange safety triangles.  So I jump out and grab the vests and suit everyone up.  Then we get out the triangles and set them up.  (At least we're legal!)  We called the Autoport because thanks to a friend who had car trouble this same morning, she had posted a question on Facebook where someone responded saying that you can call the Autoport for a tow.  They told us to call the emergency number 115.  We call 115 and get a recorded message! :/

Our last resort is the SOS box at the turnout.  We walk over to the box.  The little Brittish Flag symbol said that if we needed assistance, we should press the button and help will be on the way!  We push the button.  Nothing happens.  So we walk away and pray that help will be on the way!

No sooner do we walk away then a voice comes out of the Heavens!  "PRONTO!"  Well, not out of the Heavens but out of the SOS box.  We run back over and ask, "Parla Inglese?"  "NO!"  Well, Chris kept saying TOW TRUCK!  "Non Capisco".  (I don't understand.) So I grabbed my phone and translate, "tow truck".  It is "carro attrezzi"  I say, "Carro Attrezzi!"  He kept asking us for some other piece of information that we didn't understand and then hung up on us.  We now have to assume help will come...

We go back by the car and out on the country road that parallels the highway, a woman drives up and talks to us.  I explain that we don't speak Italian well and she said she could call for help.  We told her that we used the SOS box and she was confident someone would come quickly, 30 minutes or 1 hour at the most (Quick, huh!)  Then she offered to bring us some refreshments!  Like beer or something.  I asked if she could bring some water for the kids.  "Si!  Si!  Con gassa o ancora acqua?"  Here most people drink carbonated water (or water with gas).  I reply, "Naturale, senza gassa."  That means Natural water without carbonation.  She left and came back with 4 liters of cold water and 4 bicchieri (four plastic cups).  She even put foil over the cups so that we knew they were clean.  She was an angel, and that is the kindness of the southern Italian.  She would take nothing for her trouble and was happy to help us!

Soon after, a car from the Autostrade came up and tried to figure out exactly what we needed since they couldn't understand us at the SOS box.  At the same moment, a tow truck came and prepared to load us up!  Chris had just called one of our Italian friends, Ciro and explained the situation.  He then handed the phone to the tow truck driver and explained we needed to be towed to the base.  He was familiar with the base and knew exactly what we needed to do.  He explained the fees and just to put the car on the truck was 110 and an additional €1.30 per Kilometer!  I was prepared for that because I saw that on some of my friend's Facebook posts this morning.  Also, I knew that our insurance may reimburse us for the tow.  Allora, he loaded up our car and we loaded into the tow truck.  When we got in the truck, Ivan was dying to drive the it and wanted to push every button he saw.  The driver let him press the buttons that worked the lights and such.  He was very happy!

We went to the base and once we got in the gate (never a quick moment) we took it into the Autoport.  Luckily Chris had Euro cash on him because that's all the tow truck drivers take.  Then the driver said, (in Italian) "Hey, nothing for me?  Caffe?"  (He wanted a tip, that is the game of the southern Italian).  So Chris gave him another 10 because that's all he had, and sent him on his way.

Then I took the kids over to the food court so Emily could start homework and Chris talked to the mechanics at the Autoport.  Well, the belt snapped due to some bearings that went bad and caused the belt tensioner to also break.  And at least it's a European car, right?  So parts are easy to get, right? NO!

It's an American spec car, so all the parts have to be ordered from the US.  That means it will take 10-15 days to receive the parts and who knows how much labor!  (Mamma Mia!)

It just so happened that we also had Chris' Motorcycle on the base, so he had to drive to our hotel to get the car and pick us all up.  While I was in Italian class this morning, Chris had done two baskets full of laundry and we also had a lot of other things in the car: laundry soap, umbrellas, school bags for all of us and all the other things you accumulate when you commute.  So after we loaded up and fed dinner to everyone, we were FINALLY able to load up everything and go home in our second car.

We make it about 5 miles down the road, and the red STOP warning light and the temperature light come on in our second car!!!  MAMMA MIA!  Really?  We pull into a Q8 gas station and Chris jumps out to investigate.  The temperature light was on, but the car wasn't running hot, so we thought maybe it just needed coolant.  We talk to the attendant at the gas station and he speaks a little english!  YAY!

After some investigation they find that the car needed a whole liter of oil and liter of coolant.  We fill up the fluids and are back on the road with no issue.  Whew!  We finally make it home!  All in time to finish homework, go to bed and get up and do it all again in about 8 hours.

Although it's crazy that we had two breakdowns in two cars in a 6 hour window, I am thankful for many things!  Our friends who never hesitate to help us translate (thanks Ciro and Kathy!), the woman who brought ice cold water to us on the side of the road, two friends that offered us an extra car, Emily winning TWO stuffed animals out of the claw game on base, one for herself and one for Ivan which cheered them up.  That our second car was easily fixed.  That our car did not break down when we were on vacation in Tuscany or in a bad part of town!  That we were safe through the whole process!

This morning I safely made it to school with the kids!  Thankful for the small miracles!  :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Many Banks Does It Take to Live in Italy?

Today was banking day.  Which means draining and a bit boring.  If you are having trouble going to sleep, maybe this post will help!

No, it's not an Italian holiday, but it was an interesting day nonetheless - a bit draining and a bit boring.  If you are having trouble going to sleep, maybe this post will help!  We have been living in Naples for approximately 4 1/2 months using only our American bank.  We have a branch here on the base, so we are able to do most things easily.  Even withdrawing euro from a local bank has been easy.  They only thing we have been taking a hit on has been when we use our Visa or Check Card out in town.  We are charged a 1% International Transaction Fee.  Not a lot of money, but it sure can add up and downright clutter your bank statement!

In preparation for moving out of our hotel and into our home we have to establish an account with a bank that will allow us to electronically transfer funds to pay our rent.  It used to be that Americans would pay rent in cash and then the landlords would not claim the full amount for taxes...well, not the landlords and us are required to do these transactions electronically so there is a record of it.  Also we need it to pay any utilities in town that are not in the landlord's name and the Telepass.  Telepass is like the various toll booth passes in the states.  You are able to bypass the lines and have the toll automatically debited from a credit or debit card.  The Telepass works only on Italian system.  Stopping for tolls is not always a big deal, but when Chris rides his motorcycle, it can be downright dangerous for him to stop and fumble with a wallet at the toll booth.  So we need at least one unit for him to commute.

The other thing we have to consider is exchange rates.  When you are exchanging large sums of money for rent and other things, a small fluctuation in the exchange rate could result in $50-$100 difference depending on where you buy Euro.

On the base there are two options.  One is Banco Di Napoli (Italian Bank) and one is Community Bank (An affiliate of Bank of America, and American with special privileges).  Both have their good points and bad.

We first went to Banco Di Napoli and briefly heard them.  Their banking fees are expensive.  Some fees are monthly, some are quarterly, and in total, the add up to approximately 90 euro annually.  The advantages are they normally have the best buy/sell rate for converting dollars to euro and you could like the Telepass directly to your bank account.  The down side is that they do charge a 6 euro fee to exchange any amount of money, they have a lot of account fees and they charge for money transfers to the landlord and such.

Then we went to Community Bank.  Community Bank as I mentioned is an American bank that whole job is to provide military and military contractors a way to bank in the economy of the host country without being banking with the host country.  They can set up the electronic payments with landlords and with utility companies by doing cashier checks.  If you set up a recurring payment (for instance, rent is always the same each month) there is no fee.  However, if you do any one-time payments (like for utilities) there is a $2 fee for each.  However banking is completely free!  Free checking and savings.  Another perk is we can transfer money online from our other American Bank.  If you want an interest bearing checking, then you must keep a minimum of $500 in your account.  I doubt we would do this because they do charge $1.50 for each ATM use that isn't their bank.  And the only ATM machine that exists here is NOT convenient for us.  So it would only be used to pay bills.  The biggest downside is that although the exchange rates are better than we have been able to do up until now, they are almost never as good as Banco Di Napoli.  Also, the Telepass cannot be linked to this account.

There is one other option for the Telepass - The base provides a service that can set you up with a Telepass linked with an American credit card.  You have to pay a $48 deposit refundable 2 months after you return the equipment, AND you have to pay them a $10 fee per month for just providing the service!  OUCH!  That adds up!

So, what are we going to do?  Well, we are going to go gray (or gray-er) a little early and work the system.

  1. Chris has the task of creating a spreadsheet so on any given day, we can plug in the exchange rates at all the banks and find out who has the best rate that day. 
  2. We will open a Community Bank account and use that to pay the landlord and the kids Italian school via free Automatic transfer
  3. We will also open a Banco Di Napoli account.  This will give us even better exchange rates than the person walking in off the street and it will allow us to use the Telepass system hassle-free.  The fees here are just as cheap if not cheaper than the fees on the base for the Telepass and there are more benefits.  Also easy to use it if out in town or anywhere in Europe where the Euro is used.
  4. When it is time for use to transfer money, we will find out who has the best rate, buy euro and deposit it into the best account.  We will not hold large balances on any of these accounts.  Just enough to do what we need to do.
  5. We will also be researching some online currency traders to find even better deals on buying euro.
If you have more than $10,000 in an Italian bank you have to disclose it for tax purposes.  The last time I did this is when I had to withdraw over $10,000 in cash in a single transaction during the foreign adoption of our son.  It's not really an issue to do this but there are stiff penalties if you don't.  However I don't foresee ever needing that much cash in our Italian bank. 

Ok.  Glad I got all that down because I'll likely forget by tomorrow! :)  So much to keep straight!  But I think once the routine is established, it will get easier.

If any of you Italian friends or American friends have any advice to add I'd sure appreciate it!  Leave me a comment!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Civic Duty - Check!

Well, we did our civic duty today.  We voted.

Voting should have been easy, but it did take a little work.  We are permanent absentee voters, but I didn't realize in time that the Post Office wouldn't likely forward our absentee ballots.

So after seeing many, many, many reminders on the AFN Network (Armed Forces Network Television programming) and receiving many, many, many reminders via email, I finally logged into to see what our options were.  FVAP is the Federal Voters Assistance Program and assists all voters in getting registered to vote in your local county, helping military and others away from home or overseas getting their votes counted in the elections.  Since our printer is still in storage, we went to the base to the Fleet and Family Center to use their computers and printers.

It was pretty easy.  Since we were already registered, absentee voters, the process was that we had to submit a write-in ballot for the election.  I looked up the local and state candidates and proposition numbers and wrote in our selections for each.  We fed envelopes in the printer and the postage-paid, pre-addressed, official election envelopes, addressed with our proper address popped out!  Also, by doing this, it changed our mailing address for future elections to be our FPO address here in Italy.  Too simple!

California has some hefty issues on the ballot this year coupled with a presidential election, we had to ensure our votes counted.  Being a military family and having been all over the world, there truly is no country as special as the United States of America.  Regardless if you are democrat or republican, when you live in other parts of the world, you gain a perspective like none-other.  We have our problems, FOR SURE, but we have a system that allows us to work through them.  It may take us 10s of years to do so, but there are places where it takes 100s of years to work through issues.  In other words, we joke about the creature comforts of home and how they aren't always here, but there truly is NO place like HOME!

This time of year reminds me of this image of the Iraqi woman who voted for the first time in 2005.  This is the very freedom we are here for.  What we fight for.  What we stand for.  It's why I was proud to work in the Defense industry.  It's the reason I willingly married a military man.  It's the reason we can live for over a year without seeing my husband or my kids endure separation from their Dad.  It's the reason my family willingly leaves the USA and goes into the world.  It's the reason we are here now.

Vote.  Do it for all of us!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Italy vs. Europe


Well, today wasn't without it's moments, but nothing to really write an essay about.  Kids had a great day at school, I worked with the school director (over caffe) to plan their first annual Fall Festival and we got more progress made with the housing office to grease the skids into getting into our new home!  Friday we can start to make better educated predictions on when we will actually move in.

I do feel the need to mention as I was in a store today, all the stores seem to blare loud, obnoxious discotheque music.  It's almost always in English and almost always has very bad words in it.  It's really something to see moms and their little girls shopping tapping to the music and have no idea what they are singing!  I think I would have gotten a real kick out of this when I was about 19, but now that I'm a bit older than that, I just can't stand it!  I'm getting a little grumpy in my old age!

But I don't want to disappoint without a much cooler story than that, so with no further ado I give you the link to the video, "Europe vs. Italy!" that I mentioned in an earlier blogpost Please Don't Sneeze in My Cornetto

If you have been to Italy, you will really understand.  If you haven't, you may think that this is an exaggeration.  I assure you, it is not!

Enjoy and I'll see you here tomorrow!  Please subscribe and comment here on the blog.  As our membership grows, I plan to do some fun giveaways of authentic italian "stuff"!


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Mysterious Leak

I know you don't all possibly believe this crazy stuff happens to us every day, but believe me, it does.

Today, I had the joy of uncovering the mysterious leak.  I got home to the hotel from school with the kids, and of course, they are STARVING.  So me, being brilliant, took the second half of the amazing homemade chicken soup I made Sunday night on the stove to reheat it on this rainy day for an early dinner.

By the way, I recently found the most amazing "alphabet" pasta for the kids last week.  I cooked up some and added it to the soup.  It's made here locally in Naples and I cannot believe how nicely it cooked and holds it's shape.  I made chicken soup to keep everyone healthy in this time of season change when everyone around us is sneezing!  And the family had the most beautiful homemade alphabet soup ever!

So, I'm in the kitchen and my shoes are squeaking on the tile.  I knew that our housekeeper just cleaned today and figured the floors were just a little wet still.  But eventually I look down and notice a big puddle of water!  Not quite sure what to mop it up with, I go get one of our beach towels out of the closet (no more swimming for us anyway) and mop up the water.  I look to see if I can figure out where it was coming from but I can't.  So I go on to serve my babies their early soup dinner.

About an hour later I go back into the kitchen and alas, the puddle has reappeared.  Now I know something isn't right!  So I go to the office and tell the manager that the apartment has a leak.  She said, "Yes, this is entirely possible."  (Greaaaaaaaaaat! I moan to myself)  I figure it can be one of three things, the pipes going in, the pipes going out (yuck) or the rain water coming in the walls (Uh oh!)

So the helpful handyman comes over and investigates.  He moped up the area and said, "I don't think there's any more water."  I say, "Yes, there is!  I cleaned it up and just an hour later, there was another huge puddle!"  He said, "Well, just come get me anytime if there's another puddle."  REALLY????

So an hour later, I hit the pavement, in the rain, to knock on his hut and let him know, alas, there is another puddle.

He comes back over and investigates again.  He now tells me that my sink drain is probably clogged and that is causing the leak and he'll check again tomorrow morning.  He asks, "Will you be home in the morning?" I answer, "No, I have to take the kids to school."  He said, "OK.  When you get home we will check."  By then I will need an ARK!!!

So, he leaves and one hour later?  Another puddle!  But now I open my fridge to take the italian sausages out of the freezer and into the fridge for tomorrow's sausage and pasta dinner (one of Hubby's favs) and I notice that the ice buildup inside the fridge is melting!  Alas!  Have I found my leak???

I spend the next hour removing sheets of ice from the fridge walls and also scraping ice out of the freezer.  I notice that the dial in the fridge was set at 3 and I believe it was at 4 before.  Maybe I knocked the dial the night before and the fridge is just defrosting onto the floor?  Well, I cleaned up the fridge, cleaned up the puddle and will wait for morning to find out if I need to get a raft at Decathlon on the way home.  (Did I mention I can't WAIT to get out of this hotel?)

Frost-free refrigerators are something that I'm not sure exists in Italy.  It at least hasn't existed in either the base housing we started in or this hotel.  All of the appliances seem a bit different here.  I'm pretty sure I already complained about the washer and dryer.  But man, they sure can engineer a coffee maker!  :)

Here's a picture of that beautiful pasta.

It's shapes were just amazing, it didn't stick at all and it tasted delicious!  Molto saporito!

Good news on the housing front!  Our home we have been waiting for in Avellino is gaining momentum!!!  We may be in pre-contract next week!  Stay tuned for a proposed move-in date sometime soon!!!  (We are praying hard to be settled in so we can have a very thankful Thanksgiving in our new home!)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Here We (All) Go

"We are going to move to Avellino!". This is the thought I keep telling myself over and over again as I sit in my hotel room in Lago Patria. We have been here since June and have still not settled into a home. Oh, we have come close to many, but not actually moved in yet. It's probably going to be a three-part blog on the military housing process here in Naples when we do move, but for now, just laugh with me about our situation! :)

Looooooooooong story short, we are waiting for THE house in Avellino. But the waiting is getting frustrating and I am commuting my kids to school one hour each way in the meantime. So as I do after a while, I start to get frustrated and try to look for other options.

While my hubby and I were sojourning in Avellino while the kids were in school, we decided to drop in on local friends for lunch. I called to invite ourselves over and she told me another new family was also coming who wanted to live in Avellino before their appointment to see a house.

We went over and met this great family and had a beautiful lunch by the way. Then they invited us along to go to the showing! I was honored they would let us go with them as we had not seen this property before.

We decide to go and we're late already (darn last cup of espresso!) and after a brief discussion to carpool we each decided to take our own cars. Our mutual friends were going with their kids to translate, the family to see the appointment with their kids and us because after the appointment we have to pick up our kids.

Three cars of people to see one house.

So we all get into our respective cars and drive. Then we notice we are completely out of gas. We call our Italian friends and tell them and ask where we are going assume we could meet them. I'm talking to the wife. Meanwhile the husband is on the phone with the real estate agent who says, "My car is broken down and I need a ride. Come get me and we will drive together to the place.". Our car's warning panel reads, "-- MILES TO EMPTY TANK" My friend tells me the agent just won't tell him where we are going. We are passing a Q8 gas station close to their house and are so tempted to pull in but we know we'd get separated so we press on.

After passing three more gas stations we stop in Mercogliano, the next town over, and pick up the real estate agent. There is an Agip gas station in sight... (they honor the NATO gas coupons we use) but the caravan is turning around! Ugh. So now, we are driving back the same way we came, back to Avellino, and back to the very same Q8 gas station we wanted to pull into! We decide whatever we are doing here, WE are stopping for gas. Hubby pits in 10 liters and I get out to find out why we are looking at a gas station instead of a house. At this time, we are already 30 minutes past the original appointment time.

She explains to me that we are here to meet the landlord of the house! The agent didn't know how to get there. So now we are four cars into the caravan. When we finally all arrive at the house, we are four cars, an hour late and less than a mile from our friends home.

But this is so typical! In a place where gas is the equivalent of about $9 US per gallon, everyone does this crazy car tango instead of the agent providing the client information up front so that we could all plan ahead!

I know I'd be wondering, "Well? Was it worth it?" I have seen about 80-90 homes in Italy since we got here. This one stood out in the charm category. This landlord designed the home and it had a bit of whimsy, like we would be renting a wing of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. It had lots of striped wallpaper, art deco style doors, split level floors, staircases to hidden closet doors and some very sloped ceilings. The kids would have loved it! Downside, it reeked of smoke, you would live on top of the landlord, you had to share the garden (yard) and no garage. He told our friends translating that if he liked us, he would let us use the garage but basically we'd have to earn it. And the back patio was off limits! Too many restrictions for us!!!

Oh well. Va bene! We will just continue to be patient!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Please Don't Sneeze in my Cornetto!

This post is not for the faint of heart. Just a warning, read at your own risk!

Today my hubby had the day off, so we drove the kids to school and snuck away for a little espresso and cornetto (typical Italian breakfast).

We Took a leisurely stroll in the rain to a bar down the street. For my Americans, the bar does serve alcohol but mostly it serves caffe and pastry, especially in the mornings. There are always at least two bars in sight from wherever you stand in Italy. And everyone has their favorite one, usually based on the brand of coffee they use at the bar.

Today we walk in and it's very busy due to the rain - teenagers getting a little something before school, adults off to work downing an espresso and the little old ladies having cappuccino before grocery shopping. I was looking forward to a moment with Chris before we ourselves were heading off to an appointment.

Let me briefly explain the process at a bar. There are pretty strict rules to follow when you enter one. I read about them in a cultural indoctrination book and was taught them in cultural awareness training, but you can't appreciate them until you live them. Here is my version:

Rule 1: Starbucks is not a Caffe bar.
I know you can order a macchiato or mocha cappuccino or frappucino and you can order drinks in "venti" or "trenta" but Starbucks is not even close! The rules that follow will explain further, but when you don't understand, refer to rule number 1!

Rule 2: Pay first then order
This rule doesn't make sense, but at many bars the person at the register isn't a barista. So you pay, take your receipt to the "bar" and tell them what you want. Being new to Italy makes this difficult when you might want some sort of pastry and you don't know the Italian name for it! Or even how to order your coffee. But in time you learn. Best not to practice this at peak hours because you will be steamrolled by either the workers at the bar or the customers but at less busy times, like the afternoon when Italians take riposo is a great time to practice.

Rule 3: There is no line!
Italians don't wait in line for anything! The just push their way in front of you. If you think you are in line, you will never, ever get served. And once you understand this rule, everything in Italy makes more sense!

Rule 4: No cappuccini after lunch
In Italy, cappuccino is a breakfast caffe. It is enjoyed with a Cornetto which the rest of the world calls a croissant. It is usually filled with cream, chocolate or frutti di bosco (quite literally, "fruit of the forest" or "mixed berries"). No Italian would order a cappuccino after lunch unless the work the night shift and the evening is their morning.

Rule 5: You get what you get
I had been on vacation in Florence and went to the same bar there every morning. A friend of mine and I each got a cappuccino. Her's always had chocolate powder on top. Mine had a fancy cream design. We didn't order any differently. The guy at the bar made us what he wanted to make! If chocolate powder was handy, he'd dust the coffee before pouring the steamed milk foam into the cup. If not, he'd just pour a beautiful heart shape. Can you tell them that's not what you ordered? Sure! But you might not want to go back again. Italians drink their coffee so fast they probably don't even notice! Which brings us to...

Rule 6: No sitting
Ok, you can sit, but you'll pay for it. Literally you will pay! If you sit down then you actually don't pay up front. You are treated like you came into a restaurant and a server will take your order. And when you receive your bill, you will see the charge for "coperto". Coperto is a fee you pay at any restaurant. It's per person and can be spendy. Restaurants are usually 2-4 euro per person! Caffe bars are usually less, but when you are only paying 60 cents for a caffe, you're paying more for the seat you occupy than the caffe itself! Just stand and be quick about it. Drink up and move along. An Italian friend told me, "Italians are always in a hurry. To go where? I'm not sure. But it isn't to work!". No one is at the bar more than a minute or two after their caffe is poured. Drink and move along!

Rule 7: No tipping
Italians don't tip. At least not like Americans do. We tip for everything in America. In Italy, tipping is not required. If you feel you received extraordinary service you can leave a little something but not just because they did their job. A refreshing approach. Although I must say in a lot of places the service industry suffers because of it. They really need help in this area because although they are so friendly and welcoming, they aren't always the best at friendly customer service. I've seen good and bad and it's pretty 50-50!

Rule 8: Drink often!
It's so quick that you are in and out of the bar, and many Italians will stop in a bar 4-6 times a day! They may make espresso at home too. I think that this is how they stay thin or how they survive the late nights. I don't know but the enjoy caffe frequently!

Well those are the rules. Now back to my story :)

Again, very busy morning at the bar. Chris an I push ourselves to the register to order two caffe and two cornetto. As we were about to order, the man at the register grabs a used tissue from his pocket and sneezes big into it. Then he shoved it back in his pocket, gave the girl her change and served her her bottle of water and cups, caffe and cornetto! Eeewwww! Chris starts to freak out. I suggest we go to the next bar (as I mentioned before, there is always another bar half a block away) but a lady swooped in and took our order. She also got our cornetto while another gal set our little saucers down and prepared our caffe. (yay) But the whole time, we could not take our eyes of Sneezy! He continued to use that tissue until it couldn't hold anymore sneezes. Then he went to his bare hands!!! He didn't once go wash his hands. He was singing and sneezing all morning long. I was trying to distract my hubby with the YouTube video "Italy vs. Europe" (a must-see by the way) but alas, he could not take his eyes off Sneezy as he went to the kitchen and brought out trays of cornetti. Luckily we got out of there before Hubby got angry enough to punch him in the sneezer like he wanted to!

I just want to thank those lovely ladies for saving us today by stepping in and standing the gap between us and Sneezy Germ Man. They certainly deserved the breaking of Rule #7!

And my new Rule!
Rule 9: Please don't sneeze in my cornetto!!!