Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer in Indonesia

The kids are screaming upstairs. Well, it's more of squealing. And until anyone comes to me crying, I will assume it is pure sounds of fun. (How's that for good parenting?)

I had a friend ask via email how my summer has been since getting home. I have been so busy recording our trip (and it is taking me much much too long), that the rest of our summer has drifted into oblivion...at least blog-o-sphere oblivion. So let me take a short intermission of trip-blogs to write what we've been doing the past three weeks.

We have been swimming. Since Jakarta is not very conducive or cooperative to outside playing at parks or long walks, we try to go to the pool as often as possible. And oh the imagination games that occur when there are no waterslides or lazy rivers to entertain us. Titanic, mermaids, and Shark-Attack!! are some of their favorites.

We have been celebrating. I woke up absolutely panicked (heart-pounding, gasping for breath) one morning after a vivid dream. The nightmare? In my dream all my children were all grown up. The panicked feeling remained with me for a good part of the morning. I had some serious reflection moments and realized that this nightmare is going to come true...just not for a few more years. And I felt strongly that I needed to make this summer count. Make some memories. Enjoy childhood. Enjoy my children. That sort of thing.

So we've had a camping day where we set up the tent inside and roasted hotdogs and marshmallows over the gas burner.

We had a Christmas day where we listened to Christmas music, ate cinnamon rolls for breakfast, made snowflakes, and had a special ham dinner. Today we are celebrating Pioneer Day, and this Friday we are having a 4th of July re-do day.

We have been playing boardgames and reading chapter books. We are doing fun things and enjoying the non-scheduled, laziness of summer. I guess you could say I've just been trying to live this summer to its fullest. And in my home, that means making the most of the quiet times, surviving the crazy times, and holding on to memory-making as though I were wielding a sword used to fight off the vicious passage of time.

Oh how grateful I am for summer.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grandma and Poppy

My parents have taken me to many amazing places. I had the priviledge of spending part of my childhood in beautiful Sitka, Alaska. And instead of normal summer vacations, our family had "adventures." Some of these included float plane rides to remote lakes with Forest Service cabins. During my teenage years, they took me to Cape Cod, MA where I fell in love with Boston and East Coast autumns. We continued the tradition of adventures with ski trips to Nestlebrook Inn and winter/summer drives out to P-town and the Coast Guard beach.

Then when I was in college, Mom flew out to meet me in England. We had the craziest, most wonderful time together walking to St. Peter's Cathedral, seeing "Oliver," and taking a train ride up to Scotland. We quite enjoyed flanking a Scottish guard in a kilt. And we were reprimanded by the local police for attempting to hike up a hill that had clearly been blocked off from public use. Oops.

Adventures. Stories. Memories.

So it seemed a special, full-circle kind of moment to have my parents join us in Italy for more family adventures.

Of course, I realize my parents were not just there to see me or Italy. The grandchildren were a large draw! And oh how my kids loved their "Grandma-Poppy-time." Grandma held Amelia's hand on all of our walks (taking breaks only to wipe the sweat off - it was hot!), Tman wore his hat, purchased by Poppy, with extra pride. Leasie loved driving the four-person bike with her grandparents. One of Madi's favorite outings was seeing Michelanglo's statue of Moses with just her Mom and Grandparents. And CJ hugged each of them any chance she got.

And my favorite moments with my parents? It would have to be my morning runs with Dad, our double-date dinner with the Colosseum looming in the background, and watching the sunset for the last time on our roof.

So Mom and Dad, thank you for all the adventures. All the stories. All the love!

Until our next adventure...


 It is funny to me that my favorite day in "Rome" was actually the day we took the train to Naples to see Pompeii. Perhaps it was the break from the routine or the thrill of seeing the Mediterranean sea, but I just loved it.

We had assigned seats on the train and we were split up between 3 different compartments. But CJ was extremely entertained by spending 60 minutes with me, 30 minutes with Grandma and Poppy, and 30 minutes with her Dad.

The most fortunate part of the day occurred when we got off the train. A man approached us asking if we were trying to get to Pompeii. He was a tour guide and his 10AM tour group was a no-show. He promised us transportation to and from Pompeii in an air-conditioned van and a tour of Naples afterward. We consulted and though nervous of a possible scam, we decided to do it.

The drive was lovely. With the Mediterranean shimmering on our left and the rolling hills leading up to Mt. Vesuvius on our right, I rode grinning ear to ear. At one point our guide said, “I have a treat for you! This is my voice on the CD” and sure enough he began singing along. He explained that for thirty years he worked as a singer on the cruise ships. So there we were in Naples being serenaded to popular Italian songs “That’s Amore!”

Pompeii was Hot and Dusty. And we had a stupid map. We spent much too long trying to figure out where we were and what we were seeing, when really we should have just let the kids run and explore. I realized this a little too late, and so the kids only had about forty minutes of good exploring.  But I loved seeing the Roman baths, the tavern, and the amphitheater.
I was struck at how big Pompeii was. I had imagined a small village. But this was a city that spread as far as I could see. After our three hours there, I would estimate we had seen only an eighth of the ruins.

We hopped back in the van for our Naples tour. We drove by the opera and the pub where Puccini wrote his operas. My favorite fifteen minutes were the stop at the pier. An old fortress created naturally protected swimming areas. Local Italians swam and sunbathed on the rocks and on anchored boats. Madi and Elise scrambled over the large orange tinged rocks to dip their toes in the water. How I longed to jump in or take a boat ride on the sparkling turquoise water.   

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Pieta

"What is a Pieta?" Leasie asks as we sit around the living room with our big Michelangelo book open on our laps.

"A Pieta, meaning pity, is a piece of art that captures the moment when Mary is holding Christ's body after he has died on the cross." The words catch in my throat as they leave my mouth; the emotion of the them reaches my heart. We move to the office where I pull up pictures of the Pieta on the laptop. And there, surrounded by my clutter of papers, bookshelves, and art supplies, we have a tender moment. 

This was months ago. All the way back in February. And from that moment, I have looked forward to seeing the Pieta at the Vatican more than any other site on our trip.

On Tuesday of our Rome week, we pay for a tour of the Vatican hoping to "avoid the lines" as advertised. We meet our Rome Walks tour guide, Valeria, across the street from the Vatican museum entrance. She is pleasant, informative, and patient with the five children. She is also extremely pregnant, and by the end of the tour I can tell she is exhausted from the heat, crowds, and walking. She also has a strange habit of snorting in place of a laugh - a bit distracting, but very memorable.

The Vatican is shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. We enter the museum at the same time as huge groups from a cruise ship - ugh. I do my best to keep CJ entertained (stickers, fruit roll, lolly pop), but after an hour of riding in the stroller, basically looking at the people's legs, she is cranky and uncomfortable. At one point, she hops out of her stroller and starts hiding behind some statues. A horrible picture flashes in my mind of a statue tumbling over, crashing in domino affect onto the next statue.

After that, my husband and I take turns holding her. She falls asleep in one of the statue rooms, and I utter a silent Hurray!

I have to request to see the Rafael rooms, and am glad I did. They are much less crowded. The older kids enjoy the School of Athens painting. And I enjoy imagining Rafael and Michelangelo peeking in on each others' progress.

Unfortunately, the Sistine Chapel is incredibly crowded. The whispers of thousands of people remind me of wind on a stormy day. The barking of the guards to "be quiet!" and "no pictures!" makes it difficult to have a peaceful moment. So while I appreciate seeing Michelangelo's painted ceiling, it is not a soul-moving experience.

However, I know the Pieta is still to come. And I am hopeful.

Leasie is the first to spot the statue. She tugs on my arm just as we enter St. Peter's Basilica and points to the right. There in a small alcove protected behind a glass wall is the Pieta. 
We make our way through the crowd until we are as close as we can get. I am struck by the gleam of the polished marble. Of the folds of Mary's fabric, so fluid with movement. I remember reading that Michelangelo's Pieta is a departure from traditional Pietas in that instead of focusing on the pain and gruesomeness of the crucifixion (normally depicted with blood and looks of terror on the subjects' faces), he has created a moment of peace. There is no blood. The wounds on Jesus' hands are so small, they can barely be seen. And instead of appearing stricken, Mary's face holds an expression of peace mingled with sadness.

Mary is cradling Jesus, just as she must have done when he was a small boy. And I for a few minutes, I forget that it is a masterpiece, even that it is a statue, and I commune with the holiness of Mary's heart-wrenching motherly moment. This moment when His work was finished. And Mary, who had kept all things in her heart, could hold Him.

Tears stream down my face freely as I lean over my own children. We exchange hushed comments and observations. This experience of seeing Michelangelo's masterpiece captured in stone is eclipsed only by witnessing the reaction of my children at seeing such a tender sight. Both Leasie and Meya are moved to tears. And I am grateful beyond words to have traveled thousands of miles if for nothing but to share this moment with them.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Crash in Villa Borghese Park

On Mondays most museums are closed in Italy. So we spend our Rome Monday at the Villa Borghese Park on the north side of Rome with Poppy and Grandma.

We walk the whole way there...with only minor whining from Grandma. But we forgive her because A) It is really is a long walk in the heat with lots of uphill, and B) she is suffering from plantar fastiitis - ouch! We find a recreation that is suitable for all of us: four-person bicycles. The bikes are also powered by a small motor that is activated by the pedal action. So you get a lot of power for a little pedaling - perfect.

We bike through the park past statues and under the shade of towering trees. We love the water fountains - the novelty of drinking out of the tap...especially in a park, is delightful after the forbidden tap-water of Indonesia.

Poppy revs his bike motor and gets heart-racingly close to our bike. Squeals of laughter from Meya. Leasie takes a turn behind the wheel, as does Madi. The prospect of steering, breaking, and pedaling all at the same time proves to be a challenge. More laughter. I have a flash of the future, and cringe at the idea of teaching my girls how to drive.

Madi does a great job steering around some work trucks on a dirt road. But when a young boy on a single bicycle crosses into our lane, she panics. She steers away from him, but forgets to apply the break. I'm not sure whether to scream or laugh. We crash into a rebar pole. CJ, who rides in the front of the bike, cries, "I could have died Madi!" 

Here are pics of the damage: Bent pole and small dent in the front fender.

I have another flash of my future and vow that my husband will definitely be the one to teach our children how to drive.

We end the day with games of frisbee and tag in the park. We bribe the children to walk all the way back home with the promise of gelato. And it does the trick.

Swimming and Cooking

"Let's have a pool party!" Madi requests. She is very specific in her request. There should be different kinds of cheese, nectarines, crackers, bread, and olive oil.

I go to the cheese counter at the grocery store in Molino del Piano, and I'm a bit intimidated. The case is stuffed with cheeses - wrapped cheeses, sliced cheeses, hard and soft cheese, golden yellow to white spotted cheese with blue flecks. Not only do I not know how to pronounce any of the names (except mozzarella and Parmesan), I really have no idea what to get. With my limited Italian, I just point, and the man behind the counter smilingly obliges. We end up with a plate full of cheese surprises. And none of them disappoint.

We take turns jumping across the pool to catch the frisbee, then run to the shade for a nibble of cheese and fruit. It is a memorable afternoon.

In the above picture Leasie is saying "This cheese is soooo good!" Then she's off for more frisbee.

I do love to cook. But my favorite cooking experience to date is here in Tuscany. The windows of the villa are open and the breeze carries the smell of jasmine. I turn my ipod to Andre Bocelli (the only Italian music I have brought with me) and hum as I saute the shallots and garlic in olive oil. The plump red tomato and fresh green basil add color and flavor to the chicken. I am inspired by the view of the hills, the olive groves, the grape vineyards.

We parade the dishes and food outside under the veranda. Everything tastes better outside, don't you think? As I look around the table and the landscape, I decide it is no surprise that the Italians are a happy, expressive, people who love good food and family. To be surrounded by this much beauty and bounty. I dip my bread in olive oil and enjoy this Italian moment.   

Friday, July 13, 2012

Conquering Giants (Tuscany Days 3-5)

We almost miss our train to Pisa. 

We get a late start and so we RUN 1.5 miles to the train station in Sieci. 
Now, for my husband or I, or even Madi, this wouldn't be too big a deal. But just imagine our entire family loaded down with backpacks for the day, CJ riding on my husband's back, and me carrying a folded stroller...all of us running on a dirt and gravel trail through the Tuscan hillside. Olive branches whip my arms. We yell encouragement and threats: "You can do it!" Or "We're not going to Pisa if we miss the train!"
Sweat trickles down my back. 

As with most things in life, the result of the run is well worth the required effort. We catch the train and enjoy a scenic hour ride to Pisa.

The first time we see the tower of Pisa we are walking down a narrow street. The tower leans in our line of vision toward the buildings on the left of the street. And all of us say almost as once, "It really leans!"

We take the necessary pictures. And then sit on the incredibly green lawn, in the shade of cypress trees, and laugh as others pose.

At the recommendation of a friend who recently had visited Pisa, we purchase tickets to climb to the top. My husband takes the twins first, and I take the big girls second. CJ, who doesn't reach the age requirement, is happy to stay on the ground to watch and wave.

It is a strange sensation to climb up a leaning tower. I place my hand against the cool stone wall to steady myself. My sandals slip on the marble stairs, which dip in the center and are worn smooth from hundreds of years of climbing feet. I fight vertigo - the height of the tower combined with the lean sends my sensory perception into a dizzy spin.
But the view from the top is worth every step. And I can't help but smile at the accomplishment. 

The Gelato in Pisa at La Bottega del Gelato just across the river is our favorite (and cheapest) in all of Italy. Conveniently located on our way to the train station, we reward ourselves (twice) with large helpings. I have watermelon and raspberry. 

The next day we return to Florence to see David. The children and I studied Michelangelo for a few months leading up to our trip. So we are all anxious to see one of his masterpieces.

David stands in an alcove in the Accademia Galleria. Soft filtered light rests on him so that the marble almost glows. I have a tearful moment as I circle David with my children and we marvel together at the perfection. How can stone look soft like skin? The veins on his hands, arm, and neck, so lifelike. 
I know I am looking at a masterpiece. 

Michelangelo carved David when he was only 26 years old. The piece of marble he used had been sitting, abandoned in a courtyard of the cathedral workshop. Numerous sculptors had attempted to make something of it, even Leonardo da Vinci was consulted, but it was never finished. It was nicknamed "The Giant."

To me, the significance of the Michelangelo's creation is partly in the success where others had failed or given up. The irony of making David out of "The Giant," to me, is beautifully poetic. 

CJ sleeps in her stroller through most of our time in the Galleria. However, she wakes just five minutes before we leave. She sees David and asks, "How did that man turn to stone?" And all I can think is, "Exactly."


I snap this picture of my girls on our walk back from the train station to our Villa. The sun is low in the sky, and the heat of the day has been replaced by the cool of evening. In my mind, I keep thinking about giants. A giant tower in Pisa. A giant slab of marble that became a masterpiece.

And I can't help but think of the incredible year we've had. We have had a year of conquering giants. It was a giant leap of faith to travel across the world to Indonesia, so foreign in every way to what we knew. It was a giant step for Madi to play soccer on the boys team. It took giant courage for me to get behind the wheel of the car and drive in Jakarta traffic...on the opposite side of the road! 
For Leasie and the twins, it took gigantic strength of character to be in new schools and be brave.

Conquering Giants. 
It takes great effort. 
But as with most things, the reward is worth it. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuscany Days 1-2

The view from our villa brings tears to my eyes. 
It takes three days before I can actually look out the window without getting all weepy. The contrast between Jakarta (the pollution, the traffic, and the hoards of people/motorcycles) and the beauty of Tuscany is overwhelming. I'm sure I would have appreciated Italy at any time in my life. But coming from Indonesia, I ache to see the green vineyards, blue sky, and rolling hills. The land folds hill to hill as far as I can see. And the tiny towns of Sieci and Molino Del Piano nestle in the creases of the hills. The clean air fills my lungs, and my soul is nourished just to walk and look.

The view from our villa comes at a small price. It is perched on top a very steep hillside (or a mountain, as the kids referred to it). The nearest town requires a serious one and a half mile trek through gorgeous countryside a là Van Trap style. Madi, Elise, and I ride bikes down to the local grocery store on our second morning. We go a little overboard on buying fresh produce. The peaches! The nectarines! The plums! It is impossible to find ripe peaches, nectarines, and plums in Indonesia, so it has been over a year since we have enjoyed them.

Because of our enthusiasm for the fruit, our backpacks are heavy. By the time we are half way back up to our villa, sweat literally drips down my chin. Still, we all agree that the peaches are worth it.

Here we are on one of our multiple hikes down to the train station in Sieci.
CJ's frequent and favorite "rides" down to the train. "Go faster Daddy! I like to bounce!" she encourages.

We wake each morning, not to the chattering of birds, but to a chorus. It is as though the birds there just know how good they have it.

The smell of jasmine outside our villa perfumes the air. Madi stops just to breathe deeply.

My husband is in heaven as everyone here in Tuscany seems to have a garden. We stop multiple times a day so he can admire vegetable gardens and watch Italians ride their tractors.

We make our way through the narrow streets of Florence and turn the final corner to see the Duomo for the first time. Huge. Majestic. The dome and cathedral rise above the rest of the city in dramatic proportions. The gothic detail on the cathedral resembles deliciate lace, and yet it is made of stone.

CJ insists that she climb all the steps to the top of the Duomo (this was no short climb!). She does a fist-pump dance when she completes her goal.

The view from the top is amazing. Definitely worth the 436 steps. While at the top, the bells of all the churches in Florence chime ten o'clock. We are surrounded with music.

The crypt under the cathedral is fascinating - a recent archeological find. We get our first glimpse at human bones displayed in gilded boxes. I love CJ's reaction:
Our first Gelato is in the piazza outside the cathedral. I have lemon. It is like eating cold lemonade. And while I am not a huge fan of ice cream, I am immediately converted to Gelato and pledge to have at least one each day we are here.

My favorite moment of the day is at lunch. We sit at Cafe Mastrociliegia in small Piazza San Pier Maggiore just East of the Duomo. Purple and white flowers drip from window boxes on the surrounding buildings. I dine on the most delicious pizza (how can tomatoes, cheese, and basil taste so fresh?) and salmon risotto. Then I hear the sound of an accordion - the quintessential sound of Italy. A street musician stands in the square and serenades us...and I am not only in Italy...I am in heaven.